For me, one of the great aspects of the backpacking life, is the freedom you feel when you only have what you can carry on your back. I get asked what I have on mine quite a bit, so below you'll find a list.
The advice below is mostly for new hikers, or people just curious about what I take, because with experience your gear will be modified and minimized until it is unique to your own comforts and needs. Mine certainly has evolved over the years. Nevertheless, I hope my list can help out a new hiker, perhaps save them some money, or give new ideas to a seasoned pro to consider or criticize.
With new ideas, products, and materials becoming available every year, adapting your gear list is a never-ending process, so please feel free to email me your ideas or advice at email@example.com, or post a comment below. I will never learn enough, so this page will change as I change.
Click on an item below to get more information.
- Kind of essential to carrying all my belongings on my back.
Mariposa Plus, by Gossamer Gear
1 lb, 10 oz.
I've bought a few packs, but this
is my favorite so far. It's lightweight, but still comfortable, which is
important to remember if you're looking for a lightweight pack. A one-pound backpack, with
a total packed weight of 21 pounds, might be less comfortable than a
four-pound bag with a total weight of 24 pounds. Lightweight is
important, but it isn't everything.
If you've never purchased a backpack,
go to a local outfitter rather than buy one online. It's important to get properly fitted.
Most outfitters will give you
sandbags to put inside the pack to simulate the full weight, so you can see how it
will feel on the trail. All packs will feel comfortable with
no weight in them.
Other than that, it's not
easy to recommend a backpack because everyone is built differently and
has their own personal preferences. To avoid buying three
packs like I have, borrow or buy used ones to save money until
you get the experience to know what you want.
Another tip, some
companies will repair their gear for free, for life. If you
find a pack with some kind of defect, call the
manufacturer and see if they'll fix it for free. I recently
sent a pack to Gregory Packs because a zipper started to
tear. They fixed it free and sent it back. It only cost me
$4 in shipping.
► Backpack Liner - Two Trash Compactor Bags, to keep my gear
dry and as a ground cloth for a tent
Two Trash Compactor Bags
No rain cover will keep your
gear dry in a downpour. Water always finds a way in, so I don't bother carrying one anymore. A bag liner is much more effective. Currently, I'm using two
large trash compactor bags. Two for double the protection, but also because I also use them as a ground cloth under my tent. I use trash compactor bags because they are inexpensive and thicker than typical trash bags. I personally don't think it's worth the money to buy $20-$30 waterproof bags. These are light and cost only pennies.
If using this method for a ground cloth, be sure to tuck in the parts of the trash bag that stick out under your tent. Otherwise, it will divert the rain under your tent and defeat the purpose.
Every once in a while, I get a small tear, but I patch it up with a piece of duct tape that I keep wrapped around my trekking poles. I have also made a ground cloth/bag liner out of Tyvek, which is custom cut to fit my tent's footprint. It's more durable, but heavier and I'll still tweaking the design and construction method, so I'll post more about that later.
► Shelter - One of two hammocks with a rain tarp, or a lightweight solo tent, depending on where I'm hiking.
Clark Jungle Hammock
Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock
Relaxing in a hammock
Camping where tents can't
11 oz. to
When I'll be among the trees at night for my whole trip, I
take a hammock. It's more
comfortable than sleeping on the ground, to me anyway, and I can stay above the mud and rain. I don't have to search out a flat piece of land free of rocks, roots, sticks, or thorny bushes. Hammocks also don't damage foliage on the ground, so they leave no trace behind. It's also nice to have a clean, dry, and relaxing place to sit
when hanging around camp.
Depending on temperature and whether mosquitoes will be an issue, I use one of two
hammocks. In cold weather, or
when bugs will be bad, I use a Clark Jungle Hammock Tent (NX-150). It's a bit heavy
(2.7 lbs.), but warm
and comfortable since it zips completely up like a tent.
love the Clark hammock, but if the weather will be well above freezing and bugs aren't a concern, I take a $19 Grand Truck Ultralight Hammock, to save weight (weighs only 11 oz.). This thing has lasted a lot longer than I'd
ever expect a $19 hammock to last, including a couple months on
the Appalachian Trail, and it still looks brand new.
I could replace it with something lighter, but I don't think
it's worth a couple hundred bucks to save a couple ounces.
If I'm going with a hammock, I need to also carry a rain tarp. I use a 9.5' x 6.3' nylon tarp, also made by Clark. I replaced the 6 nylon cords,
that attach the rain tarp to the ground, with 1/32" stretchy
shock cord to simplify setting it up and provide some give if I push on the tarp or cord accidentally. To simplify setting it up, I tied loops along the cord, so I can quickly attach it to rocks, branches, or sticks in the ground, without having to tie knots.
Don't buy black shock cords like I did. I'm embarrassed to admit how many times I've ran into them at night.
To save money, consider making your own rain tarp out of Tyvek, the home wrap material, which some hikers have found for free by asking for scraps at a construction site.
Tree Straps and modified ropes
Clark Tree Straps with Carabiners
These are 3" nylon straps that protect the trees,
while simplifying the hanging process. I have modified the
way the Clark hammock attaches to the tree straps, so I never have
to tie knots. If you can't tell, I hate tying and untying
knots. I looped the extra rope back through the hammock and
tied a series of knots to make several loops (see picture).
Now I can just clip the tree strap carabiner at whatever
length I need. Without knots! Woo!
Note: The carabiners in the photo are not the ones I use. Those wouldn't hold my weight. Use rock climbing carabiners. I just didn't get them before my hammock came in the mail a few winters back, and I got a little excited to set it up, so it went up without them, and in my living room.
Kelty Crestone 1
there is a chance I'll be spending a night above tree line,
or if I'm going into a treeless area like the Badlands, I take my Kelty
Crestone 1. This was the first backpacking tent I purchased,
but I'd like to update it with something lighter. Due to my
preference for hammocks, and my plans for making my own shelter,
which I'll start soon, I haven't forked over the money for a replacement.
Two Trash Compactor Bags
If I'm taking a tent, I use two trash compacter bags for a ground cloth
that I also use as my pack liner.
Whether I'm sleeping in a hammock, tent, or shelter,
I take a sleeping pad. In the hammock, it's more for insulation than comfort. I
used to carry a torso length piece of closed cell blue foam (5oz.). It was cheap and lightweight,
but not very comfortable, so I upgraded to a torso length Therm-a-Rest (11 oz.).
Eventually, I upgraded
to a full-size NeoAir XLite (12 oz.)
The full size
sleeping pad is much warmer since
it's under my whole body and it has a layer of Mylar inside it. Yet it's about as lightweight as a standard torso length Therm-a-Rest and packs down as small as a Nalgene
The downside is the cost ($160). I miss the
convenience of being able to throw the foam pad or cheaper/thicker Therm-a-Rest on the
ground without worrying about poking a hole in it. Overall, I'm happy with the
purchase, since I sleep better and warmer on it.
And since I use it more than any other bed.
15° F Mountain
Hardware Synthetic or 45° Synthetic
26 oz. to 45 oz.
course, the bag I take
depends on how cold it will be. I don't have much to add here,
other than I went with synthetic due to cost, even
though they are heavier than down bags. When
I'm ready to spend $300 or more, I have my heart set
on a Western Mountaineering down bag.
Although it's true that
a down bag will lose nearly all of it's warmth if it
gets wet, so far I've never gotten a sleeping bag wet, so
I'll get a down bag to save weight next time around.
I keep my sleeping bag in a water proof bag in
addition to all my gear being inside two trash
compacter bags, so I could drop it in a lake
and it should stay dry.
When buying your first bag, stay away from anything heavier than 3 lbs. You'll just end up replacing it with something lighter and wasting money. For a warm weather bag, stay under 2 lbs.
go without cooking and only carry foods I can eat
cold. Not cooking isn't necessarily about saving
weight, though. The weight savings
of being able to cook dehydrated foods can offset the weight of
a stove and fuel, depending on how heavy your cooking
equipment is and if you'll have a water source
nearby when you're cooking, and so don't have
to carry extra water for cooking.
My reason for
normally going without a stove is the
convenience of not having to wash dishes in the
woods, to save space in my backpack, and the
simplicity of not having to cook or boil water.
If I do plan on cooking
on the trail, I take the following...
I purchased a small
aluminum candy tin that you can sometimes find in
hobby or party favor stores. They are about 2" in
diameter, weigh only a few grams, and cost about
50¢. I stuffed some fiberglass insulation inside,
which is free in most attics or walls, heh. The
fiberglass acts as a wick and creates an even efficient burn and won't need to be replaced for months or years.
With this stove, I can boil a cup of water in 4-5 minutes, if at low elevation on a nice windless day. And it will continue to burn almost 10 minutes
after boiling. That's not bad for a 1 ounce stove that
costs 50¢ and 1 minute to make.
Cons: You can't
adjust your cooking temperature. This might be a
problem for those who love to cook on the flame, but
it's ideal for me because I only use it to boil
water for freezer bag cooking. More on that later.
My homemade windscreen also supports my pot.
I keep denatured alcohol in a 12 oz. Gatorade bottle
(people have asked if it melts the plastic. It
doesn't). The quantity I'll take depends on
temperature, wind, and elevation, but to make it
simple, I usually take about 1 ounce per meal and
usually have more than enough.
If you can't
find denatured alcohol in a small resupply town, you
can get the yellow bottle of HEET gas line anti-freeze in most gas stations.
work just fine in an alcohol stove, it doesn't burn
as hot, however, so you'll need a bit more to boil
water than with denatured alcohol. Make sure to get the yellow bottle, the Iso HEET
product in the red bottle
can form peroxides,
which may explode. Ask any seasoned thru-hiker
and they'll tell you an explosion in your face can really put a
damper on your backcountry experience.
I use a small aluminum
cook pot/mug. I still can't get myself to fork over $50 for a Titanium pot. Not sure it's worth it since
I've heard they require more fuel and time to boil water.
Aluminum is about 1/5th the cost, but double the
weight. However, if I'd have to carry more fuel, is it worth it?
Just any thick plastic spoon that I can't easily break. I don't buy expensive fancy spoons or sporks anymore. I always manage to break them. Next time you're in a fast food place, just save a couple plastic spoons and you're good.
When it comes to
questions of what I carry with me on the trail, the
food I take is the most common. It varies a lot, but
I have a few staples. Variety is important to making sure I don't get bored with my foods and eat enough. It's not always easy to eat the 4,000 - 6,000 calories you burn every day. And variety ensures you'll get plenty of vitamins and nutrients.
So, here's a few things I carry often:
Starkist Tuna Salad - In
the single serving foil pack. Not a lot of calories,
but decent amount of protein.
Peanut butter - Lots
of dense calories, fats, and protein.
Tortillas - My
"bread" of choice. I use it with the peanut butter
or the tuna salad. Or every once in a while I'll
make tacos with a foil pack of chicken, some taco
seasoning, and sometimes Mexican rice.
Breakfast Cereals and
powdered milk - Few things make me as proud to be an American as our breakfast cereal aisle. Have you seen the pathetic cereal aisle in any other country? It's a sad state of affairs. I love them all, and they are fortified with vitamins and nutrients. I think of them as dehydrated foods that you don't have to cook, so they might save some weight, but the downside is they also take up a huge amount of space in
your pack. For convenience, you can add cereal and powdered milk to a Zip-Lock bag, then when you're ready to eat, just pour in water, shake it up. Some cereals are great in trail mixes too.
Instant Oatmeal - I
even take this when I don't have my stove. They
aren't that great cold, but they're good enough. The fruity creamy ones are better cold, fyi.
Instant Potatoes -
Don't skimp, go with Idahoan. I never get tired of
instant potatoes on the trail. They have a lot of
varieties and unlike pastas, you don't have to get
the water to a boil to eat.
Ramen Noodles - You can buy 5 for a dollar, that's why. And if you're like me, you'll crave the salt after a long sweaty hike.
Chocolate - In any
form, but mostly bars and chocolate drink mix. I never
get tired of it, and it makes me happy. For hot chocolate, I prefer taking something like Ovaltine or Hersey's Cocoa. Then you can drink it cold or hot. And I actually think they're tastier when hot than any packet of hot chocolate. Add some powdered milk to add calories and calcium, and it's tastier that way.
Dehydrated Veggies - Before cooking, I soak these in water for a half hour, then add them to potatoes, pastas, ramen, or rice. Just to add some nutrients.
Dehydrated Fruit - For healthy snacking
Mixed Nuts - Sometimes I mix in the dehydrated fruit, a package of M&Ms, or some Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Fresh Fruit - I usually
grab some fruit to eat on the first day or the next morning after a resupply. I frequently crave fresh fruits, especially oranges, after being in the woods for a few days or weeks, but they're heavy and don't last long in a backpack. Also fresh fruit helps me avoid feeling
like an unhealthy piece of shit while on the trail, which is nice.
The food bag is not only to keep all your food together, but also so you can hoist it up in a tree at night to keep it safe from wildlife. Pretty much any bag large enough will do, but I wanted one I could put on my back as a day pack, that is also waterproof, so I made my own.
The reason I wanted one I could put on my back, is because sometimes I want to leave my pack behind to head up a side trail. The problem is, critters will eat a hole in your pack to get at your food. It only takes a few minutes. I've had it happen twice. Also, sometimes I may want to leave camp for a few minutes before I'm ready to hang my food in a tree. So, it's nice to be able to just throw my food bag over my shoulders and not have to think about that. I also made the bag rainproof.
2 lbs. 8 oz.
An increasing number of national parks are requiring a bear canister in the backcountry. This has caused bears to stop associating humans with pic-a-nic baskets. I actually like this rule, but I only take a bear canister if I'm in a park that requires it, or when in Grizzly Country.
If I do take the canister, I take my food bag also, so I can still use it as a day pack for when I want to leave my pack behind for a side trail. I made the food bag large enough to fit my large Bear Vault bear can. Wildlife may not be able to get into a bear can, but they can still smell the food and ruin a backpack while trying.
Backpacking gospel demands that 'Thou must never
wear cotton'. A commandment I wholeheartedly agree
with. Cotton doesn't wick moisture well, it takes
forever to dry, and is generally heavier than
synthetics. It's especially important to leave the
cotton at home when the temperature is low. Damp
clothing + cold weather = hypothermia. Silk and
Merino Wool is great for reducing odors. Oh man, will
there be odors. There's
little you can do about that. Don't fight it, embrace it!
I hike in a
lightweight/breathable pair of convertible pants. In
addition, if it's cold I take a pair of thermal long
underwear. I don't typically hike in those, but take
them to sleep in. If it's warm, I take a pair of
shorts for sleeping in. I let my hiking pants hang
at night to dry.
I take a synthetic t-shirt to hike in and a long
sleeve merino wool thermal shirt to sleep in. If
it's cold, I take two thermal shirts and no t-shirt.
Two pair, never cotton.
One for hiking, one for sleeping in and to wear
while the other is being washed and dried.
2-3 oz. per pair
Three pairs. One for sleeping, and an extra dry pair in case of rain and so I can keep my feet dry. Wet feet are prone to blistering. Darn Toughs are my favorite brand. Their unconditional guarantee is great. I even accidentally set a pair on fire while trying to dry them and they still replaced them for free. You see, as an idiot prone to daydreaming and with little to no short term memory, I need an unconditional and non-judgmental warranty plan.
If it's going to be cold, I take a sock hat. Also great for pulling over my eyes if I want to sleep in, which I do every single morning.
I have a MontBell insulated vest, a fleece pull-over, and a Mountain Hardware hoodie. I take zero to all three, depending on how cold it will get.
Rain and wind Jacket
If it's warm enough, I prefer to just get wet. I don't like sweating under a waterproof material that sticks to my skin, and I don't think any materials are breathable enough to be worth it. I mainly take it to wear over other layers in cold weather, and to block wind.
I only take these if it's going to be cold or snowy.
I've tried at least a dozen brands, but so far Salomon are my favorite. They will usually give a new pair to thru-hikers after you wear out the first one.
I also use Superfeet insoles, made with a layer of durable hard plastic. If only I used Superfeet earlier in my AT hike I probably would have saved $700 from an emergency room bill.
a list of things I always keep in my first aid kit.
Depending on location, I may add other things.
Although I take it several times a week off the trail, I rarely need it on the trail. Not totally sure why, but I know I will never go without it.
I take about one Excedrin for each day I'll be out. If my headaches go
untreated, they can be debilitating. Light becomes my enemy. They get so bad
that I get nauseated, which can send me into the woods vomiting all night.
That picture is a little bonus for my readers. Enjoy that.
High elevation also increases my chance of
headache, so I tend to take more if I'm going to be over 10,000 feet.
OTC Pain Medication
I take some kind of pain medication for minor aches. Aleve or Advil typically, but on a long distance hike, I also take something that contains a sleep aid like Tylenol PM.
duct tape, I use gauze to make bandages. Gauze
can be customized to any size, so I prefer just
taking a small roll of it, rather than carry
band-aids. Plus, I already have duct tape wrapped
around my trekking poles, which I also have for gear repair
and taping up hot spots on my feet.
Great for your teeth of
course, but I have also used it to sew torn clothes
and as lightweight string for various uses, like
tying a bag of food closed.
To clean hands after using the restroom and
after getting water.
Travel-size Toothpaste and Toothbrush
Only if I'll be spending a lot of time out of tree
I usually only take this if I'm going to be in the sun a lot or in a dry environment. It helps with wind burn as well.
Believe it or not, when hiking all day in the same clothes you hiked in the day before, they get kind of smelly and sometimes unbearably so. I have a lightweight solution. I wash my dirty clothes in a one-gallon zip-lock freezer bag.
I put some smelly clothes in the bag, fill it with water, seal it up, and shake. Then I drain the dirty water, wring the clothes out, and repeat. Usually about five times.
By itself, that helps out tremendously, but sometimes I'll then fill the bag with enough water to soak the clothes, then I'll add a tablespoon of OxiClean "Free". (Baking soda can also be used, but doesn't seem to do a whole lot of good. Please don't use detergents.)
Warm water works better, so you can heat some up on our stove if necessary. Now, shake the bag to mix it up and let it sit for an hour or so. Then I wring out as much water as I can and hang them from a clothes line (my braided mason's cord).
If they are still wet in the morning, I safety pin them to the outside of my pack. Or if they're still a little damp at night, I put them in my sleeping bag to dry while I sleep.
Is it safe? The perfume and dye free version of OxiClean will biodegrade into water, oxygen and sodium carbonate, so it is safe for the environment. That being said, leave no trace, please.
► Bandanna - Tons of uses. Probably the most versatile thing in my pack.
1 oz. each
Things I have used a bandanna for... The same bandanna was not used for every task, you need to know that.
I use them for camp towels to clean gear or cook pot. To wash up, dry my hands, or wipe away sweat. As a handkerchief. Or a Neckerchief in the cold, or to shade my neck in the hot sun. On a log, rock, or ground, to have a cleaner place to sit. You can clean wounds with them, make a tourniquet, or tie a splint. They are my napkins and pre-filters for filling a bottles with silty water. I've used them to swat at flies or mosquitoes. I've wrapped one around my eyes when I wanted to sleep in after the sunrise. I've rolled them up to add extra padding under a shoulder strap. Some people, not me, but some people might want to partake in Bandanna Wednesday on the AT and wear nothing but bandannas all day. I've tied them to my ankles as gaiters, around my face as a dust mask, or simply when I decided I wanted to look more like a cowboy.
Take two or three. They are cheap and light. Darker bandannas seem to dry faster in the sun, so that's what I usually use.
I use a headlamp with an option to use a red LED, to save your batteries while reading at night, and a bright enough white LED to hike at night.
I also prefer headlamps that use 2 AAA batteries. It seems like most of them use 3, which is inconvenient on a mid-trip resupply because you can't buy 3 or 6 packs. Also, some headlamps use odd-sized batteries that aren't easy to find in a small town or gas station.
I also only buy headlamps that can handle lithium batteries. Lithium cost twice as much, but seem to last twice as long as alkaline. Which means overall you'll spend the same amount of money, but carry half as many batteries. Note: Not all headlamps can handle lithium, check the package or with the manufacturer.
► Zip-Lock Wallet
- With a credit
card, debit card, cash, photo ID, and health insurance card. ► Mini Bic Lighter - They are easier and more convenient than matches, and it lasts me a very long time. ► Matches- Good to have a
backup. ► Kindle - I keep it inside a zip-lock bag and a homemade foam protective sleeve. If I'll be on a long distance hike with a resupply, I take the charger as well. I can carry hundreds
of books, maps, first aid and survival information, and any document I created myself. And it never weighs more than 7 oz. The battery can last a couple weeks on a charge.
► Cell Phone- with Extra
Batteries and a set of ear buds. I take short charging cable if on a long distance hike with a resupply. ► 40' of rope- I use paracord, mostly to
hang a bear bag at night.
► 15' of braided mason's cord - Strong for it's weight. I use
this mostly as clothes line, but it comes in handy for other purposes too, like
tying water bottles together when going to fill them up, lashing sticks together for making a variety of things, or to repair a
broken guy line on a tent or rain tarp.
► Toilet Paper- Kept in a zip-lock bag. It's better than
leaves, and makes a fantastic fire starter. ► Bug Repellent - 100%
DEET in an eyedropper bottle goes a long way. Just a dab on the back of my neck,
wrists, and ankles. Nothing repels bugs completely, but it helps. DEET may dissolve some plastics, rayon, spandex, other synthetic fabrics, so I apply with a plastic baggie turned inside out. I ruined a raincoat with DEET on the back of my neck, so I wipe off my neck if putting a rain coat on (mosquitoes aren't a problem in rain anyway). This doesn't necessarily mean it's bad on your skin though. Vodka and Coke can dissolve a number of things too, but it's not harmful to the skin. Like all things, follow directions, wash off at the end of the day, and use in moderation. ►
Camera - with extra SD cards, lens cleaning cloth, extra batteries,
charger if on a long trip, and mini Gorilla Grip tripod. ► Journal and Pen - I just use a Pilot G2 ink
refill as a pen. It's lighter and fits in my pocket better. I use a heat shrink tube to give it a nice feel. I write a lot. ► Map
► Compass- I only take one if
going off trail, or if a trail may not be marked well. I can always use the
compass app on my cell phone as a backup, and some knowledge about the sun and
stars. ► Safety Pins - For hanging wet clothes
onto my pack or on a clothes line to dry if wind might blow them off. Also, they may come in handy for gear repair
someday. ► Knife or Razor Blade-
If in the middle of nowhere, or backpacking off trail, a good knife is probably
the most essential survival tool you can carry. I'm usually on a well-marked
trail though, and needing one for survival is unlikely, so to save weight, I'll
just put a razor blade in my box of matches. I rarely need to cut
anything bigger than what a razor blade can handle. ► A Few Extra Zip-lock bags - I always find a use for them. Mostly used for waterproofing, food storage, and organizing. ► Trekking Poles - With some handy duct tape wrapped around them.
That's it. It's amazing what you can live without.