I’ve learned from becoming part of the backpacking community that gear is both intensely personal and yet also a big loud part of the community. From discussing recommendations in Facebook groups to bonding over shared favorites with neighboring campers, we cannot get enough gear talk. The personal part is that we all hike differently. Something that might be worth six ounces to me might seem ludicrous to someone else, and vice versa. I heard a story this weekend at PCT Days in Cascade Locks, OR, of a man who carried a wooden paddle 2,000 miles just to paddle himself across one river. Hundreds of pairs of eyebrows raised at that. But the general rule, as the speaker telling the story pointed out, is to never judge. Hike your own hike, as we say.
Admittedly I’m a beginner. I have yet to pack resupply boxes, for example, but I’m getting there. And I’ll get lighter and smarter and more discerning as I go, I’m sure. Much of this will improve as I’m using certain things more and can justify greater spending; As I go I’ll learn what kind of water filter I prefer, etc. But for where I am now, even if it’s to change, I have a why for everything in my pack. One thing to know before we dive in, you do not have to go spend a fortune outfitting yourself all at once for your first foray into the wilderness. Start with a fair balance of buy, borrow, and rent. I’ll point out which pieces I get from where for you too.
So, here it is. All of it. Let’s start with the big stuff.
WHAT: Co-op rental from REI. (I named her Twilight because of her coloring.)
NOTE: Get sized so you have a proper fit!
WHY: Because something like this at this stage in the game is smarter. I’m spending less now before committing to a bag, arguably one of the most important things to make an informed decision on. Better to buy one that suits my needs once I know first hand what my needs and preferences are, and then I’ll use it for years, rather than spend hundreds of dollars on a not so great choice.
SLEEPING BAG AND PAD
WHAT: REI Co-op rentals as well.
NOTE: Your backpacking and camping gear will/may differ, meaning you may eventually have a camping sleeping pad that’s heavier and much more comfortable or temperature protecting, and one for backpacking that has those features in lesser extremes and weights less.
WHY: Ditto – learning and keeping costs down before I invest.
BONUS NOTE: Same for trekking poles. I borrowed them for my last few trips and haven’t landed on my own pair choice yet.
WHAT: I just bought the Camp Dome 2 from REI Co-Op, and I am obsessed.
NOTE: Weight is 4 lbs 8 oz.
WHY: Heavier than some other options on the market, but for $99.95 the extra weight is worth it to me right now. It’s super quick and easy to set up, has room for me and my pack, and, let’s be honest, is really pretty. I have a kind of OCD thing about colors, so that’s not all vanity, I swear.
WHAT: Salomon X Ultra Mid 2 GTX Hiking
NOTE: Try your boots on before you buy and use the little mini mountain thing at REI to make sure they are absolutely the right style and fit for you.
WHY: These are insanely comfortable, believe it or not, and I like having the ankle support. Many of the trails are not so smooth and definitely not so level.
BONUS NOTE: Bring camp shoes. You will one hundred percent want to get the boots off your feet as soon as you’re able to. I bring cheap/light rubber flip flops for now but I’m coveting these extremely light Birkenstocks. The weight isn’t listed but seriously they’re so light they weigh practically negative.
NOTE: Guaranteed for life. Really.
WHY: I heard very good things about wool when I was first shopping for hiking socks and did very well with the first style I mentioned last year. I grabbed a pair of CoolMax to take this year because all summer I’ve been training for a half marathon and am so tired having of hot feet.
WHAT: I wear lululemon’s Wunder Under pants on the trail.
NOTE: This is where I really differ from other hikers, but bear with me.
WHY: They’re moisture wicking, flat-seamed for no chafing, and I am comfortable in them. Period. Wear what you are comfortable in. I’ll say it again. Wear what you are comfortable in. I don’t like wearing shorts unless it’s THAT hot out and I’m not into the cargo pants style that move around. These are it for me. I can also sleep in the clean pair I intend to wear the next day and don’t have to pack additional sleepwear. Win.
BONUS NOTE: I love lululemon’s Namastay’put Hipster for my underwear. Seamless, wide-sided so they don’t cut in, and they feel like silk. This is all I wear every day on and off the trail.
WHAT: lululemon, again.
NOTE: Yes, there’s a pattern emerging here. I wear several different styles including Energy (medium support, more coverage), All Sport (higher support, less coverage) and Stuff Your Bra (holds stuff like snacks, phone/camera, sunglasses).
WHY: Comfortable, supportive, non-chafing, moisture-wicking. All the things.
WHAT: lululemon’s Swiftly line
NOTE: I pack a tank or tee style for each day* and then one long sleeved for evening or cooler days.
WHY: This I’ll stand by forever and ever. In addition to the features of the other apparel, they are body-temperature regulating AND ANTI-STINK. Best. Thing. Ever.
WHAT: beanie hat, lightweight gloves, lightweight sweatshirt, shorts, Bangbuster headbands, and good old fashioned bandanas.
NOTE: Brand loyalist that I am, all lululemon. (Except the bandanas.)
WHY: I wear the shorts on super hot days or at camp to relax, the hat/gloves on chilly nights or mornings, and I absolutely need a cozy sweatshirt for camp that doesn’t weigh too much to carry. (So, not a Scuba hoodie. It’s the best hoodie every and my favorite at home but it’s heavy AF.)
BONUS NOTE: Campsite apparel isn’t sweated in and can be re-worn, so I bring one of each of these items except for the shorts, which I’ll bring 1-2 pairs of depending on how likely I am to hike in them (based on temps). Headbands I bring one per day* and bandanas I bring for multi-use like wearing (head/neck), cleaning, drying.
*When I talk about headbands and shirts per-day, this is for about a 3-ish day trip. If I’m getting into 4+ days I’m going to start re-wearing more stuff.
WHAT: BearVault BV500
NOTE: Weights 2 lbs. 9 oz. Holds all your food and everything with a scent, like toothpaste.
WHY: Absolutely necessary. Bears kill people. Also doubles as something to sit on.
WHAT: Jetboil Zip Cooking System
NOTE: I borrowed this from friends and like it a lot.
WHY: The fuel is less than $5 and it’s light and easy to use (11.75 ounces).
WHAT: Sea to Summit X-Bowl
NOTE: You can eat everything out of a bowl. You only need one dish for your entire trip and this is it.
WHY: Weighs 2.8 ounces and flattens to take up extremely little space
WHAT: GSI Outdoors Infinity Backpacker Mug
NOTE: If you’re going ultra-light, sure, stick with just water from your water bottles. But for me, coffee.
WHY: I cannot believe how light it is (3.5 ounces), plus it has a lid, isn’t too hot to hold, and cleans easily. Must. There’s no better option for us coffee nuts.
BONUS NOTE: If you need creamer/almond milk or other fixins, these little bottles in various sizes are perfect for such things.
WHAT: 2 giant Nalgene bottles.
NOTE: Yeah, I put coffee before water. Oops. Weighs 6.2 ounces each unfilled.
WHY: Easy to fill, drink from, and pour out of, fit in accessible side pockets, durable.
WHAT: Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
NOTE: This is a different system than my hiking buddy and I used last year. Not sure yet which direction I’m going to go when I commit to having one for myself.
WHY: This is one I’m still learning about. I will say I also brought Potable Aqua tablets (3 ounces, the Sawyer Squeeze kit is also 3 ounces) with me this year because if I had any trouble with the pump or was particularly worried about water safety, I’d rather have an extra step for certainty.
WHAT: Sea to Summit Alpha Utensil Set
NOTE: This may be something I switch up to shed weight later on, though the whole set is 1.3 ounces.
WHY: Super durable, though I could get away with one multi-use utensil made of something even lighter in the future. Example, one of these sporks weighs 0.04 ounces.
NOTE: I carried two this trip which I would not normally do, but one also charges my phone and I did not want to be without a phone OR a lamp if I used all its juice.
WHY: The Goal Zero is one of my very favorite things. It charges up with a USB and charges my phone via USB. It has a stand that flips down to use or up to hide. It can hang from the ceiling of the tent. It dims or brightens. A very useful 8 ounces. I now also have the Moji lantern (also has dimming and hanging features, 3 ounces, runs on 3 AAA batteries), which I’ll take when I want two or will add to my camping kit.
WHAT: Black Diamond Cosmo Headlamp
NOTE: You absolutely need a headlamp for night-walking or other hands-free activities in the dark like pitching your tent, cooking, reading, etc.
WHY: Dimming is an excellent feature so you don’t blind your friends. The red light is also necessary because you actually see better with the red at night if you’re on your way to the loo or other campsite errands.
Now let’s get into little bits:
Compass/whistle combo tool which I clip to the pack near me a la Cheryl Strayed in the “mooooooose” story, REI’s small first aid kit with extra matches, and maps and guidebook pages (torn out of books – only bring what you need).
All in one large ziplock or a couple of small ziplock bags:
Small travel toothpaste, compact toothbrush, wipes (in a small ziplock –don’t bring the weight of a whole package if you won’t need the whole package), ditto for IB Profin and Excedrin migraine, hand sanitizer, body glide (trust), extra hairties, glasses/contacts things because I don’t want to lose a lens and walk off a cliff, small spray sunblock for body and small lotion sunblock for face, and Repel with DEET (all the deet!) and Mosquito Band bracelets which I wear pretty much all the time.
Deodorant I tend not to bring at all because the scent attracts curious wildlife and honestly what’s the point, though I did bring it this trip because I started at the PCT Days Festival and knew I could pitch it before heading out if I wanted to lighten up. I also brought peppermint oil this time for mosquito relief because I’m a baby when it comes to bites.
I put my ID, cards, cash, etc. in a small ziplock and call it the backpacker’s wallet. We can put my phone charger in this category as well.
I’ll bring one book. It has to be paperback, that’s my rule.
If I’m not worried about battery power (airplane mode can last a while and that Goal Zero lantern/phone charger keeps me going) then a killer playlist full of Hozier, the Lone Bellow, and Kings of Leon adds some vibes to my campsite.
I’ll also bring the smallest notebook I can find and one pen, because I must write all the things.
All in the BearVault! A freeze-dried breakfast and a dinner each day, packets of Starbucks instant coffee and maybe my little mini fixins bottles, a ton of snack bars, a bag or stacks of Ritz crackers, and mini peanut butter packets. If you’re going to take extra anything, take extra food. I take way more bars than I’ll eat because in a situation where I need something extra, that could save my life. Or, I have some to share.
I think that’s everything. And somehow it all fits in the Pack!
What would you leave out that I carry? What do you love to carry that I didn’t mention here?