Thursday, May 23, 2013

My Current Backpacking Gear Kit

The Tetons and Snake River, Ansel Adams, 1942
My last post detailed my car camping gear. Here I'll focus on my backpacking gear. Unlike my car camping gear considerations, where I'm often planning on being able to support a group of people, my backpacking kit features a two person kit when my wife joins me, and a slightly simpler kit when only packing for myself.

There are lots of different approaches to backpacking, and everyone makes gear choices based on their approach, their geography, and their budget. My approach is to keep it simple, but comfortable. I'm trying to slowly go lightweight/ultralight, but my current gear isn't there yet. I tried to separate items in to the following categories:
  • clothing
  • cooking
  • first aid
  • food & water
  • hydration/purification
  • other
  • pack
  • toiletries
  • sleeping

Pic of my typical trail garb
Clothing can become one of the most expensive aspects of your backpacking kit. I could save a bunch of weight by upgrading my clothing, but it isn't worth the cost right now.
  • (packed) warm hat: Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon Hat (2.8 oz): This hat is really warm, and combined with a Buff, is all I've needed when sleeping in my quilt at 25 degree overnight temps.
  • (packed) gloves: simple PolyPro Liners (1.1 oz): these won't last forever, but they're cheap to replace
  • (packed) base pants: Wickers lighweight synthetic bottoms (6 oz): Made in the USA. I might also pickup a wool bottoms layer at some point, but these have been great and they are priced right.
  • (packed/worn) base top: Icebreakers 200-weight longsleeve merino (9oz): I used to have a Wickers top that I liked, but ended up wanting wool for odor control. I like to hike in the base top plus a synthetic tee on top. From my limited experience (and my wife's comments), the wool does really resist odors longer.
  • (worn) fleece 1/4 zip: North Face 100-weight Polartec fleece (9 oz): I got this at the garage sale at REI, it was missing a tag, but it didn't seem damaged. I wear all the time around camp or even hiking if it is chilly out. It breathes well and dries relatively quickly. 
  • (packed) rain shell: Columbia Watertight Jacket (15 oz): This jacket works well, but it is heavy and a size too big for me. I'm planning on getting a new one next fall. 
  • (worn/packed) boxer-briefs x2: Champion Tech Boxer (3 oz): I love these things, and am slowly switching over all my underwear. 
  • (packed) vest puffy: REI Spruce Run Jacket as vest (16 oz): This is a discontinued jacket now, and I only ever use mine in vest-mode by leaving the removable arms and hood at home. It is basically just a PrimaLoft-Eco filled puffy, but the extra pockets and hardware make it heavy.
  • (worn/packed) light hiker wool socks x2: I have Teko brand socks (1.4 oz), but I'm not too picky really so long as they are wool or wool blend and not too thick. 
  • (worn) baseball cap: Just an old hat. I've never weighed it actually. It doesn't offer great ventilation or sun protection for my neck/ears, but I've always worn it, so there.
  • (worn) belt: Right now I'm using a leather belt. I was using a thin nylon belt from an old pair of convertible hiking pants, but I didn't like that I'd keep having to tighten the nylon belt. The leather belt is overkill, I'm just not sure what to get. 
  • (worn) Buff: Buff brand Buff (1.3 oz). Probably my favorite gear purchase of the last year after my quilt and my backpack. This thing rocks. I find uses for it all the time. I use it most as a beanie, balaclava, or scarf. I've used before in the backyard as a dust mask too. 
  • (worn) hiking pants: Columbia Ultimate Roc (17.2 oz): I really like these pants. They fit well, and they are water resistant (to a point). I don't like to hike in shorts, so I pretty much live in these when camping and backpacking. 
  • (worn) light hiking shoes: I've got some New Balance 889's (12 oz) that are very comfortable, but I'd like to get something little less rigid soon. If you want a light hiker thats more boot than running shoe, check these out. If you want a light hiker thats closer to a running shoe, look elsewhere. 
  • (worn) sunglasses: I try and find a balance of style and comfort on the $10 rack at the drugstore (1.1 oz).
  • (worn) synthetic short sleeve tee: REI Sahara Shortsleeve (7 oz): I really like these tee's. They dry fast and are comfortable. They do start to stink after a couple days though and will need a wash.
  • (worn) watch: I have a solar powered Casio (1.6 oz) so I don't have to worry about batteries. I never take it off during a trip, and its always been fine in the water/shower. 

What you dream about on day five
I actually really like cooking, but in the backcountry, I limit my "cooking" to boiling water. I don't even put food into the pot usually, because it would add another dish to clean.

  • Bear Vault BV500 (41 oz): I include this in my cooking list because I almost always opt to just take the canister. Few of my trips are in areas that don't require or strongly recommend canisters, so I've sort of gotten used to it. While this isn't the ultralight approach, I try and take solace in the fact that it is a little more considerate of plants and animals than hanging. 
  • Bowls: GSI Nest Cup/Bowl (4.3 oz): This is really just two bowls, and that's how we use them. If we only take dehydrated meals, I'll usually just take one bowl and one of us eats straight out of the Moutain House bag.
  • Cups: GSI Infinity Mug x2 (3.2 oz): We like hot drinks, so we bring two of the GSI cups. It is great having the little insulation sleeve, and they hold plenty of volume, but the cups don't nest. Still my favorite cup for car camping, I may look into something lighter for the trail soon.
  • Fuel:  4oz canister (7 oz): I'm not picky about brand; I've used them all and they all seem to perform nearly the same in 3-season conditions. For a weekend I'll take one 4 oz canister. I don't think you can buy these online from REI. 
  • Knife: Leatherman Juice S2 (4.4 oz): Many ultralighters use smaller tools like the Micra series, but this one is my favorite balance of weight and size because the blade is still long enough to cut through my salami and cheese in one go, without getting food-goo all over my hands or in the knife's folding mechanism.
  • Spoon x2: Stoic Ti Long Spoon (0.56 oz): Looks like some plastic long handled spoon from Dairy Queen may be a bit lighter, but I like the durability of these. Long spoons are a must if you cook in freezer bags or the Mountain House bags - keeps your fingers clean. 
  • Stove: SnowPeak LiteMax (1.9 oz): This little stove rocks. It isn't quite the lightest out there anymore (check out the Fire Maple 300T at 1.6 oz) but it works everytime for me.
  • Kettle: GSI Haulite Kettle (5.8 oz): I like kettles because they boil water efficiently, make pouring easy with the built in handle/spout, and are a little less likely to spill all the water if the stove gets tipped over. This GSI kettle is about as light as it gets without going into titanium, and the opening is large enough that you could still mix up some instant potatoes, cous cous, or beans in it if you wanted to.
  • Tinder: DIY cotton+vaseline (0.6 oz): I don't often hike into areas where backcountry fires are allowed, so I don't often bring tinder, but when I do, I bring Dos Equis, I mean cotton slathered in vaseline.  

First Aid
I don't think that carrying enough medical supplies to treat truly serious injuries is practical. I've gotten my first aid kit down to items that I feel will help keep me comfortable following a very minor medical issue (headache, blister, small cut, etc.) and don't expect to be able to perform surgery in the woods.
  • Small first aid kit (3 oz)
    • pad repair kit
    • duct tape
    • tweezers
    • 4 2x2" gauze pads
    • square of moleskin
    • 10 assorted bandaids
    • 3 claritin
    • immodium
    • 4 antibiotic packets
    • 2 afterbite
    • 2 antiseptic towellets
    • 3 safety pins
    • assorted aspirin, advil, excedrine, ibuprofen
    • mini sewing kit
  • 3M Ultrathon Bug Cream decanted into a small dropper bottle (0.8 oz)

Only the Essentials on this Group Trip
Food & Water
I created a separate category for food and water weight because how much I pack is a little different every trip, and the weight changes over the course of the trip. Even though canister stove fuel is also consumable and its weight changes over the trip, I usually start with the same amount of fuel every trip, so I put in in a different category. Water is a little over two pounds per liter, so I try and carry no more than two liters when walking. 

Here are a few foods I often take with me:
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Crackers
  • Peppered Salami
  • ProBar
  • Powdered milk and granola
  • GORP
  • Mountain House meals
  • Starbucks Via
  • KoolAid powder
  • Dried fruit
  • Jerky
  • Candy bars
  • Peanut butter
  • Tortillas
  • Justin's Nut Butters

Hydration & Purification
Here's all the gear related to keeping clean water available. I've used iodine tablets before, as well as Aqua Mira and pump filters, and I like the Sawyer Squeeze (3.9 oz) the most. The linked 2013 model comes with the new improved water bags, so definitely go for that one. Evernew water bags are popular for "dirty bladders" because the threads fit the Squeeze. Platypus threads do not. The squeeze works well in a gravity setup too, which I've used basecamping. Related accessories include a bandana (0.8 oz)for a pre-filter, an old bladder with the top cut off for a scoop (0.2 oz). We also carry either plastic water bottles (1.5 oz each) or or 2L bladders (1.3 oz each) for storing clean water.

Some organization required
This category is sort of a catch-all for other items. Some could go in other categories, but it works fine this way for me.

  • Headlamp: Streamlight Enduro (2.7 oz): cheap, effective, and light for the price
  • Mosquito nets/clothes sack: Sea-to-Summit UltraSil Mesh Stuff 15L (2.5 oz): these work well as clothes stuff sacks and fit well enough over my head to use as a bug net if needed. They might not be enough for long hikes through clouds of bugs, but they've been fine for me so far in 3-season use.
  • Compass: Suunto M3 Compass (1.6 oz): I rarely need the compass for the hikes I currently do on well-marked trails, but I'd like to try and use it for some off-trail hikes into alpline fishing lakes in the future
  • Cord: 25 feet of accessory cord (2.5 oz): There are far better cord types out there, like this cord from Lawson Outdoor, but I haven't dropped cash on it yet because since I carry the bear canister most trips, I don't have much use for cord other than repairing gear, replacing shoelaces, or in a first aid situation.
  • Playing Cards (3.3 oz): I used to have a deck of half-size cards to save weight, but lost them. I recently bought these on amazon, but they are TINY, basically 1/4 size, and too small to shuffle, so I'm back to a regular deck.
  • Kitchen sink: Sea-to-Summit 10L Sink (1.7 oz): I bought this because it is pretty cool for groups, where you've got multiple people washing their hands or face, or doing a group's worth of dishes, because it can conserve water. However, I've really only put it to use once in the backcountry, and probably won't bring it along unless I'm on a big group trip.
  • SnowPeak Hozuki Mini light (1.9 oz): I like this little light. It hangs easily from the loop in the top of my tent, and has a very nice low mode, which is just enough light to read by in the dark, and is a much softer glow than using a headlamp. It is definitely in the luxury category, though.
  • REI Snow Stake Trowel (1.0 oz): Cathole shovel. Check.
  • Wallet/keys/phone: I usually put my ID, one credit card, and some cash into a Zip-Loc and that's my wallet. I use my phone as a GPS in the car, but don't like leaving it in the car at the trailhead in case of a break-in, so I carry it with me.
  • Map of the area, usually printed from CalTopo      

My Zimmerbuilt Pack
My pack is the latest addition to my gear kit, and getting a new pack saved me four pounds of carried weight. My wife's pack is a bit heavy, but its comfortable for her, and relatively new, so we haven't upgraded it yet.
  • Packs: Zimmerbuilt (32 oz): A few months ago I purchased a custom 60-70L pack from Chris at Zimmerbuilt (photo credit to him). I bought such a large one knowing that I would be carrying the BV500 canister often and wanted to be able to fit it anywhere in the pack horizontally. I've only carried the pack about 40 miles so far, but it is a fantasitic, especially compared to the old external frame Kelty I had for years prior to this. My wife uses a Deuter 60+10L pack. It fits her well, but it is a little bit too much space for 3-season trips.
  • Pack liner: I used to use pack covers, but switched to liners for simplicity.

I've gone and decanted many of the liquids in my kit into small dropper bottles. A lightweight rite of passage, I guess. I was really impressed how much my toiletries bag shrunk. I used dropper bottles like these.

    Recent Pitch
    Shelter & Sleeping
    Getting a good night's sleep in the woods has never been tough for me, but my wife is more sensitive to cold, crawling bugs, and the thickness of her sleeping pad, so my choices so far have been to go more luxurious here than some, but I'm glad I have.
    • Tent: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 (3 lb 3 oz): I considered a large number of tent and shelter options, and wasn't sure what I wanted. Turns out, my dad had been listening to me complain about needing a new tent, and at Christmas I got a brand new Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3. A fantastic tent, and the one which I'd pretty much decided on anyways (something from Tartpent or Zpacks were my next choices).
    • Sleeping pads: Big Agnes Insulated Air Core (27 oz): These pads are comfortable and warm, but they are not light, at least not by current standards. For myself, I'd like to try using a shorter pad with my pack or a foam sitpad under my feet. Maybe something from Thermarest. For my wife, she could use a regular length pad rather than the long-size she has now.
    • Quilt:  I'm using an Enlightened Equipment RevelationX 20 degree top quilt in long and wide. 
    • Sleeping bag: My wife uses a Marmot Pinnacle, which is a 15 degree bag. She loves it in cooler weather, and would rather have to unzip it a bit in temperate weather than risk sleeping on the cool side.
    • Pillows: My wife uses a ThermaRest Medium Compressible Pillow (9 oz): I actually prefer very thin pillows even when sleeping at home, so I don't bring a pillow. If I end up sleeping on my side, I'll just roll up any extra clothes as a pillow.

    Discovery Park, Seattle
    In Closing
    Because I cater our kit to each trip, it is difficult to estimate exactly what our base weight is when we hit the trail. On our last trip, I measured our packs after they were fully loaded for a 2 night trip in good weather with some luxury items (wine for example), and my pack was 26 pounds, and hers was 17, so we're doing pretty well. I hope someone found this interesting!

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