Backpacking Gear List
Mt. Pleasant, Virginia - May 2015
It's no secret to anyone that knows me or maybe even to those who've read my books that I'm an avid lover and overall enthusiast of the outdoors. I've spent a great deal of time over the years camping, hiking, and backpacking, and I have a certain affinity for the latter of those three activities.
While I do not consider myself an expert by any means, I have learned what gear works and doesn't work over the years by means of trial and error. Getting older has taught me what my body prefers: lightweight, functional, long-lasting gear that does what it's supposed to do. So, as opposed to offering a list of items based on an "expert's recommendation," here's a gear list according to what I use and prefer.
Anything not listed or covered here is something for which I haven't gained a preference, or believe one brand is better than another.
Osprey Atmos 50
(for shorter trips)
Osprey Atmos 65
(for longer trips)
Kelty Coyote 80
(for extended trips)
This is me modeling my Atmos 50 during a photoshoot for REI. (kidding)
Notice the overall seriousness of the mood here. There's nothing fun about trudging uphill for an hour with 30 pounds on your back.
Osprey makes solid gear (everything but their hydration bladders anyway, but I'll get to that later) and backs it up with a lifetime warranty. The AG (anti-gravity) backpack is something I can wear all day long and feel as though I've worn nothing. It doesn't bother my shoulders or my hips. Even on breaks when most other backpackers are dropping their packs for a rest I'm leaving mine on; leaving the rest to wonder why. I'm perfectly content with letting them wonder.
The Kelty Coyote and I became friends a long time ago during a trek near Harper's Ferry, WV on the AT. It's a rugged, durable pack that is capable of holding a ridiculous amount of gear-almost to the point of over-packing. I only use it on extended trips and it's currently being put to use in my work vehicle as a "get home bag."
Tent / Shelter
Tarptent Double Rainbow
(for solo or duo trips)
Tarptent Cloudburst 3
(for family trips)
Weight: 41 ounces (2lbs 9oz)
Weight: 52 ounces (3lbs 4oz)
Our Cloudburst 3 set up near the Staunton River in the Shenandoah National Park. I'm in the background contemplating on taking a bath.
Henry Shire's Tarptents exploded into the market in 1999 as an ultralight alternative shelter and have since become a major competitor that much larger companies have tried desperately to keep up with. Each design is unique and they're made to be rugged and set up in a matter of minutes. They're constructed of single-wall silicone-impregnated nylon and are 100% waterproof. They're also among the lightest weight shelters available...and that's why even for a solo trip I don't mind carrying a two person shelter like the Double Rainbow. The only issue I've ever had is internal condensation, but I've learned to pack one of these cut in half for just that. Problem solved.
Sleep system / Quilt
Enlightened Equipment Revelation
(3-season or > 30° F)
(< 30° F)
Enlightened Equipment is a "cottage industry" company dedicated to making some of the lightest and most functional camping gear in the world. All of their products are made in the USA and as well, made by hand-and made to order right down to the thickness of the material and down type and fill. My personal Revelation is a 950 DownTek treated, 30°, long (6'6"), wide (58") weighing in at just under 17.5 ounces.
The Marmot Ion is a fantastic sleeping system and it is nothing short of being warm as hell™ even in frigid conditions. It's gained my trust to the extent that I even mentioned it in This We Will Defend in Chapter 15. Both of these sleep systems are going to cause you to part ways with some cash, but in return you're getting functional, lightweight gear that also packs small and lasts for years provided you take care of them and store them properly; allowing the down to expand and retain its loft. Nikwax has great options for keeping down clean and working like new for years.
Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
Two of our three NeoAir XLites inflated and ready for use at a campsite in the Shenandoah National Park, Summer 2015
Want a sleeping pad that feels like sleeping at home, insulates you from the coldest ground and weighs in at less than a pound? Add to that the fact that it also packs down smaller than a typical 32-ounce Nalgene bottle, and the NeoAir XLite is what you end up with. I've searched for years for a mattress like this one and finally found it. My personal NeoAir is the previous year's model I picked up at REI for a steal during their clearance where I also picked up two more; one for the wife and one for the youngest. The only drawback is the crinkly noises they make and the fact that they are slippery as hell--especially inside of a sil-nylon tarptent. You can paint lines of silicone on the mattress in intervals to thwart this. Incidentally, this item was also mentioned in book 2, also in Chapter 15.
Ultrathin merino wool
any brand: REI, Smartwool, Darn Tough, etc
If you want to know what the best shoe is to wear on a hike, ask a an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker. A great majority wear and swear by these trail runners right here. I've provided an Amazon link, but the best place to purchase these or any footwear for that matter is an REI due to their return policy. Once you buy a pair, you can return at any time for just about any reason and get a new pair. While you're at it, pick up a pair of Superfeet Green insoles. You won't be sorry--and if you've ever suffered from Achilles tendinitis...you can consider it a thing of the past after wearing these bad boys.
I've worn two pairs of socks on my feet (liner & outer) for years while hiking and backpacking, but never quite understood the concept behind it. I just knew that it helped or otherwise prevented me from getting blisters. After reading this book by semi-famous ultra-runner and ultra-runners' foot doctor John Vonhoff, I learned why; along with a host of other great information about how to take care of my feet both before, during, and after a trip. It's well worth the price of admission.
I wear Ininji liners underneath of ultra-thin merino wool hiking socks. I don't get blisters and my toes have plenty of room to move. It's a winning combo.
Here's one bit of advice I'll leave you with: wash your socks inside out, especially if you wear merino wool. They'll last two to three times longer if you do.
Prana Zion Convertible
They're rugged, stretchy, and the most comfortable pants I've ever worn. In fact, I have multiple pairs that I wear at home and even at work. They're highly resistant to rips and tears, and they dry quickly after getting wet. Perfect for the backcountry.
I still have the first pair of Zions I ever bought and wear them on outings. They're over two years old. Well worth the money spent in my opinion.
Undergarments / base layers
Under Armor Boxer Briefs
There's a story behind every piece of gear I choose, including the underwear I prefer. That being said, I swear by UA Boxerjocks, especially the longer 9" inseam versions. They won my loyalty about 12 years ago when I found myself on a hike with some family members who told me they knew the trails well enough to leave maps and navigation aids behind. Well, as the story goes our 4 mile hike turned into a 13.5 mile hike that I was in no way prepared for, especially considering the clothes I was wearing. Chaffing took on a whole new meaning. Since that day I've worn UA Boxerjocks and have never had an issue since. The newer versions don't seem to last as long as the original pair I bought (which I still have and wear occasionally) but they're still worth the price of admission.
Patagonia Capilene earned my respect as well for being the most comfortable lightweight base layers I've ever owned, in any weather. They've changed their format over the years, once calling them "silk weight" and then changing to "Capilene 1" and now they're just "Lightweight;" but it's the same product under a different moniker. My silk-weights are my go-to base layers any time of the year, even in hot, muggy weather. The material wicks the sweat away from your skin, and keeps you comfortable, and as well, keep the mosquitoes at bay. They're a little on the pricey side unless you can find last year's version at Campmor.com. Terramar Thermasilk gets an honorable mention here as well. I own both brands but prefer Patagonia.
Outdoor Research Helium II
The OR Helium jacket is expensive, but amazing. It weighs next to nothing, is 100% waterproof and "breathable," and packs up in its own little inner pocket to stow away neatly in your pack if you prefer. (I just shove it in my pack and use it to fill gaps and voids) On a less expensive note, the venerable Marmot Precip jacket is a definite go-to rain jacket with the patented "pit-zips" to keep the air moving underneath while you're wearing it. I own both and typically take the Helium jacket on my light-and-fast trips due to it's lightweight, minimalist design. The Marmot goes with me everywhere else. Of course, you can't beat the coverage of a simple poncho in a storm, especially if it covers your pack as well. But, to each their own. Either way, get a pack cover and use it, even if all the items inside are protected. If your backpack gets wet, it'll become much heavier to carry.
Sawyer Mini Water Filter
Platypus Big Zip
No. I'm not a fan of the LifeStraw. First of all, it's not field serviceable. If it gets dirty, it loses performance. It also can't filter as much total water as the Sawyer. You can't manipulate it into a gravity or an inline filter system--i.e. it's more versatile. For the same money, the Sawyer beats the LifeStraw by a marathon. It goes without saying though that the LifeStraw folks have gone beyond their means as far as marketing goes to make it a #1 best seller on Amazon for years above and beyond the Sawyer, and well...common sense. The Sawyer not only filters more water, it filters it better: down to .01 micron. There's only one caveat about hollow-fiber filter technology though...don't let it freeze. Inside it's almost always going to be wet after its first use. If it freezes, water expands and will wreck your Sawyer. If you backpack or go outdoors with it in colder weather, put it in your pocket to keep it from freezing and carry a backup means of water filtration/purification.
The Platypus Big Zip LP is the only water bladder I've found that's damn near indestructible. I use them for dirty water bags in my gravity setup because of how easy they are to fill with water and also how easy they are to clean. A smaller one also resides in my backpack's bladder pocket, where I've fashioned an Osprey quick-release for easy re-filling.
There was a time when I swore by Nalgene bottles for carrying water on the trail, but I've since changed my mind in lieu of lighter-weight, more versatile options. A smartwater bottle weighs next to nothing, has familiar threads that mate easily to the Sawyer mini filter (and other easy-to-find accessories I'll mention later) and is made of fairly robust plastic--so much in fact that AT thru-hikers use them to carry their water. I guess the coolest thing about them is that when you buy them they also come with water already in them. :) They also come in multiple sizes so you can find one that will fit just about any situation.
Pictured above was my original gravity setup I made using the Sawyer Mini and accessories found on Amazon listed below. Pictured to the right is the setup in action using a standard Sawyer Squeeze bag, which I keep as a backup. I've since replaced all the tubing with silicone since it's more resilient and doesn't have a memory effect like poly tubing. After poly is folded for awhile it tends to want to stay that way.
Water purification / backup options
Aquamira Frontier emergency filter
Next to exposure to the elements, dehydration can kill you pretty quick. Also...it's never fun getting sick by ingesting something living in questionably nasty water. We always need a backup and/or secondary (and tertiary) method of filtering and purifying the water we find in the backcountry before drinking it. Aquamira is a tried and true option and Aquatabs are used all over the world and can even be used long-term without harmful side-effects. As a final backup option, I keep an Aquamira Frontier emergency straw filter in the survival kit dry bag inside my pack at all times.
more coming soon...