Backpacking Gear Thoughts
I have been backpacking since the late 1900's. Ok 1995 to be exact.
I do not consider myself a guru of backpacking but a few thoughts about what I like and
why, may be helpful to some.
General Gear List
Over time I have found and made a list of the items I like to
carry and refer to it while packing, to avoid forgetting something. Listing it here might be a
good place for a beginner to get an idea of what to carry.
This is not intended to be an all inclusive list or a list of
the best items to carry. The list shows what I carry (you
will come up with your own list). The list of
what I carry and how I like to arrange it, continually changes as
I try and learn new things.
Click here to see the list.
If you decide to save a copy of this list for yourself, right
click the link and select save target as.
Most packs have a pocket on the very top of the pack. I
like to keep the gadget stuff here so it is easy access.
The other stuff that is good to keep in this pocket is a portion
of your toilet paper (incase you get an unstoppable urge) and a
portion of your snacks for easy access on breaks.
In the main compartment of the pack goes sleeping bag, tent (if
you decide to keep it inside), clothing, extra water storage,
water filter, stove and food.
In some of the other pockets of the pack keep things like a
water bottle, hat, gloves, a small flash light etc for easy
access without the need to dig through the main compartment
looking for them. The tent poles will also be strapped to
Opinions, Comparisons and Ideas
A sleeping bag that is stored in a stuff
sack is much easier to use and more compact than those than need
to be rolled up. When you are ready to pack it simply
start cramming it into the stuff sack.
Some prefer a down sleeping bag while others prefer
synthetic. The down will be slightly lighter then its synthetic
counterpart rated at a similar temperature. It is said that a synthetic
bag will provide more warmth than a down bag if they are wet. While this
may be true I tend to believe a wet sleeping bag is miserable no matter what
kind it is! Rather than try to pick the one that will be warmer when wet,
I prefer to focus on not getting it wet in the first place. Keep in mind
that some moisture will accumulate in it when you sleep, since your body will be
giving off moisture all night. So spreading it out in the morning to dry
in the sun for a while is a good idea regardless.
When storing a bag do not keep it in the
stuff sack. Keep it loose. If you store it in the stuff sack the bag
will loose some of its loft when it is taken out. Everything will be
pressed together from being stored that way. Having less loft will not
allow the bag to trap as much air. Trapped air is what helps keep you
I like the Big Agnes style bags. There is no
insulation on the bottom portion of the bag. Instead there is a sleeve for
a sleeping pad. The theory is most of the insulation value of the bottom
portion of the bag is lost when you are laying on it. Since it is
compressed it can not trap air and can not insulate well. Big Agnes puts a
sleeve for the sleeping pad there instead. A sleeping pad does not fully
compress so the air is still trapped. So why carry insulation in the bag
that will not provide insulation. The sleeping pad will provide the
insulation instead. So there is an over al weight savings. The other
nice feature of this is, you can not roll or slide off of the sleeping pad.
It is held in the sleeve of the bag so no mater what you do it stays with you.
That works great for people like me that change positions a lot when I sleep.
Cleaning a sleeping bag is not difficult
but does require a little more thought than throwing it in the washer and dryer.
The washer should be a front loader style (might have to go to a laundry mat for
this). The front loader style is gentler on the bag and is less likely to
rip it, and provides better agitation for better cleaning. Wash it on a
gentle cycle in cold water with diluted detergent or down wash. After it
is washed do a few more rinse cycles. I like to re-wash it a couple times
with no detergents at all. The extra rinse is to be extra sure you get all
the detergent rinsed out from deep in the bag. If detergent is left behind
it can stick fibers together and cause the bag to loose warmth. Dry the
bag in a front loading dryer as well. To help fluff the bag place 2 or 3
tennis balls in the dryer with the bag. The balls will beat the bag to
assist with fluffing it. Dry on a low heat and do not use fabric
I prefer the all air style sleeping pads as opposed to the
self inflating foam style. The all air pads are lighter, more compact and
have performed well for me (except when sleeping on snow). If the all air
style isn't quite warm enough for you there are versions that have a small
amount of fill in them to add more warmth and still be light and compact.
I prefer a free standing tent so I can set
it up anywhere, even a large wide open flat rock area. Not
only do free standing tents set up anywhere, they can be moved
after you have set them up. If you use a dome style free
standing tent and it is small enough it helps with your
housekeeping as well. When you want to sweep it out,
simply take all your stuff out, lift it up with the door facing
down and shake everything out. Poof a clean swept tent.
The tent also needs to be light. There really isn't
much to say about that except to remind yourself that every ounce counts when
you have to haul EVERYTHING on your back.
After trying some more expensive tents I keep going back to
a very inexpensive tent. I use the 2 man Junior tent from Walmart.
The tent is light, fast to set up, freestanding and fits me (6 foot) and my
gear. This tent holds up incredibly well in heavy winds. Another
plus is the tent costs less than $20. So if you happen to be rough on your
tent and trash it, another is not going to set you back much.
With that said there are a couple draw backs to the tent as
well. I am a fair weather camper for the most part. If it is going
to be raining a lot, I tend to not go. The tent works good in the rain
except the door arrangement. The entry has no awning and the door is
situated so rain drops in with the door open. Not desirable if you are
going to spend a lot of time in the rain. Since I am 6 foot, I sleep in
the tent from corner to corner and take up the full length of the tent from
corner to corner. So if it is raining a lot I need to be careful not to
touch the sides of the tent so the water does not wick through. If you are
shorter tan 6 foot this should not be a problem. For the occasional
downpour that the tent works fine. The only other draw back is
ventilation. It has plenty of ventilation for cool and cold nights.
But if you want to feel the breeze blow on you when it is 90°F outside at night
you are out of luck unless you leave the door open. If you do not camp at times
or in areas where the nights are that hot then there is no problem.
Freeze dried meals are
used a lot for my trips. They taste pretty good (depending
on the brand) and pack light and small. Most of the brands
sell packages that are made to serve 2 people. Sometimes
(if I'm real hungry) these are just enough for me but most times
they are too much. Below is the method I use for my freeze
First I unpack the meals at home and divide each one
in half (be sure you get equal parts of the spices etc in each half). I
place the individual half's in separate zip lock bags. Then using a
marker, label each bag with what the meal is and how much water is needed.
Now I have single serving meals instead of 2 serving meals. The bulk of
the store packaging is also thrown out so the food packs even smaller in the
For cooking the meals, use a 16oz. Nalgene Bottle.
Carefully pour the contents of a bag into the Nalgene Bottle and add the
prescribed amount of boiling water. It helps if you have an insulated
sleeve placed over the bottle. Shake the bottle (a lot) to be sure things
get mixed with the water well. Wait for about 10 minutes. If it is
cold out place the bottle in your jacket while you wait, this will keep the food
from cooling off as fast and will help keep you warm while you wait for your
meal to cook.
When it's time to eat pour the contents out onto a
plate or bowl or whatever. I use a Frisbee for a plate (doubles as a toy).
Enjoy. If I find one is not enough I just make another.
For clean up pour water (just a little) into the
bottle, close the lid and shake vigorously. Open the bottle and drink what
comes out. Drinking it keeps the food waste from being spread all over the
landside. Repeat 2 or 3 times or until the bottle is sufficiently clean.
I find it best to do the bottle clean up before I actually start eating.
When I am hungry the water tastes pretty good since it has some food in it.
If I do it after I eat and I am full the water is less appetizing so it is more
tempting to pour the water out on the ground. pouring it on the ground may
seem un offensive but doesn't work well with the leave no trace practice.
If a lot of people did this in popular areas things might not smell so nice.
Making only the amount of food you are going to eat
is helpful with trash too. If you make a large meal ad can not eat it all
you have more trash. I find it unacceptable to throw out and feel it needs
to be packed out. Packing it out means my trash is going to be heavier and
will start stinking soon. Not fun.
More elaborate meals can be planned as well. I have
friends that do pretty well for backcountry cooking. I am not that skilled
in the area so I can't give any worth while tips.
Snacks are important. You need fuel
through the day and if all your food is in meals you are less likely to eat as
much as you need. Fruit is heavy but is so enjoyable I personally love to
bring some along. Apples seem to fair best but with the right packing any
fruit is good. For some reason a piece of fruit can be Extremely
satisfying. Granola bars, nuts, protein bars, jerky, canned meats like
clams or tuna, cookies or any other snack food is great. Salty foods are
good to help keep your electrolyte levels up.
Electrolyte replacement is a good idea.
Mixing Gatorade or any other electrolyte replacement (I like EmergenC) in a
bottle of water is recommended. Another approach is to be sure your snacks
contain sodium and or potassium.
Presently I carry a Jet Boil stove.
It is fairly compact, boils water fast and is very simple to
use. The down side is you can not cook food in the pot.
The heat is so intense on the bottom food will burn even if you
are stirring it quickly. If you like to cook meals on the
stove this is not the stove for you. If you like to boil
water quickly for freeze dried meals or tea then this stove is
I used to carry a denatured alcohol stove that I made
myself. The design was light, compact and worked quite well. It was
an adaptation of the Pepsi can stove, but was smaller as it used Red Bull cans
instead. I had it all fit with windscreen, pot supports, silverware and
fuel in a small pot. When the Jet Boil came on the scene I tried it out
and put my BluuBull Stove aside. If you want to check out how it was made
and how it worked check out my page on making a BluuBull Stove.
Making Water Safe
It is a common misconception that water in the great
outdoors is safe. I prefer to use the
First Need water
purifier by General Ecology. You may prefer something
different. If you wish to read more about the water
treatment issue please check out my
Water Treatment Thoughts page.
I think it should prove informative regardless of what you
choose to make your water safe.
Clothing should be synthetic,
no cotton. Cotton retains moisture and can make you cold
and damp. Synthetic materials tend to wick moisture from
the body, get it to the surface and allow it to evaporate
quickly. Shirts and pants should be fairly light and
breathable to aid in cooling. If you need more warmth,
that's what the other layers are for.
As far as shoes are concerned I prefer a
running type of shoe. I have never been able to get comfortable in a
hiking boot. Hiking boots can give more support and provide some water
protection but are also heavier. Some swear by a good hiking boot while
others prefer the light easy feeling of a running style shoe.
Raingear needs to be breathable.
Gore-Tex is one material that provides protection from rain and breaths at the
same time. There are other fabrics out there but I have not taken the time
to research those so you're on your own there. A breathable material will
let your perspiration out instead of trapping it inside. If you do not use
a breathable fabric you will feel like you are in a sauna soon after you put it
on. You want to keep yourself dry and getting drenched in your own sweat
is not helpful. Even with breathable material you will accumulate moisture
inside your raingear depending on activity level. To help with this look
for raingear that has plenty of vents. Pit zips are a wonderful thing.
It is also helpful to have full zip sides on the pants. This allows them
to be put on quickly with out the struggle of getting them over boots.
When shopping for raingear, keep in mind you do not want it to fit snug.
If it is cold out you will want to be able to get it on over your other layers
like other jackets etc.
Thermal tops and bottoms serve 2 purposes. First the
obvious, they provide warmth. But even in warm temperatures they are good
for sleeping in. When it get warm it is tempting to sleep naked in your
bag. Wearing the thermals helps your body get rid of perspiration as you
sleep so you don't feel like you are sticking to the inside of your sleeping
bag. They also help keep the sleeping bag clean longer so you don't have
to try to wash it as often.
My gadgets / miscellaneous section covers
the stuff that doesn't ft in the other categories. Gadgets is a
very personalized thing and some people may not like to carry
too many extras. The essentials in the list are maps,
Knife, headlight and possibly a trash container.
The other items on the list I find useful and in some cases
like the GPS, Camera and pen and paper I can't live without them.
First Aid / Survival
Toilet paper is a must! I like to
keep some handy at all times incase an overwhelming urge hits!
The practice of shitting in the woods varies from place to
place. In some areas the general rule is to bury everything including the
toilet paper. Some areas want you to haul out your toilet paper (which is
why I carry extra zip lock bags). Some areas require you to haul
everything out, including your own waste. I have been involved in
discussions on this topic with a wide variety of beliefs. If you are at
all curious about how to handle it, ask the authorities in the area you plan to
visit. They have rules set up as a result of impact studies for the area.
The people that did these studies are a lot more informed about what is needed
in that area than the average person (it's their profession). So best
thing is to ask and follow the rules.
In general try to get at least 200 feet from a water source
or camp area, dig a hole 6 to 8 inches in depth, do your business and burry it.
Burying it not deep enough can leave parts exposed where flies etc can get to it
which can help spread disease. Your shit may not stink but it can still be
a health hazard. Burying it too deep will put it out of reach of the
natural bacteria in the dirt that helps break things down.