Don’t be a stubborn curmudgeon with broken knees!
Nobody ever taught me about backpacking. My parents weren’t outdoorsy, and my friends’ parents weren’t either.
Yet when I was 19 years old I knew – more than anything – that I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail.
So I had some learning to do.
Naturally I turned to the internet. This was in 1999 and 2000, when the good websites about the Appalachian Trail were a grand total of about… 2. The influential book about carrying less gear, Beyond Backpacking, wasn’t published until 1999, so “ultralight” hiking as a modern fad was still in its infancy.
Many of the guys giving advice at the time were stubborn old curmudgeons, set in their ways. Seeing as how I’m one of the most stubborn people you’ll ever meet, I took all of their guidance to heart.
I got “real” gear. “Sturdy” gear. “Reliable” gear.
I got awful blisters, wrecked my young knees, and never made consistently good mileage. I never re-evaluated my gear… because I”m stubborn. Eventually I finished the Trail (Also because I’m stubborn), but it took me 7 months and 2 summers.
I didn’t truly come to my senses until 2008, when I shaved a whole four pounds just by getting a new backpack (Gregory Shasta vs. ULA Catalyst). I’ve continued improving since then, but still don’t consider myself among the SUPER MEGA ULTRA LITE HIKERS.
I’m not much of a gear junkie…
…but I’d like to be, and you should too. Smart gear junkies are lightweight hikers. Lightweight hikers don’t break their knees. You don’t want broken knees. My level of enjoyment and happiness on a backpacking trip goes up exponentially as my pack gets lighter.
So what follows is my list of current equipment that I’m using. In some cases I give commentary and list other items that look great too. This gear list could probably be better (“Better” as in lighter, duh). Why? Because I’m not a gear junkie and…
- I try to find things that I like and stick with them
- I’ve never worked at an outfitter, like REI
- I don’t like spending money
- I don’t get free stuff
If I were the kind of guy that likes to replace my stuff every year or two, then this list would be better. But I’m not, so it’s not. Like most of us, my budget has its limitations.
I never liked to replace my gear too often… but when it comes to cameras, though, all bets are off.
There’s no shame in copying my gear choices
Many of my own gear choices are actually ripped off of my friends. If I see something better than what I’m using, guess what I’m going to get next? It’s okay, we all do it… and if you don’t, you probably should.
Strict independence has its faults. I’m guilty of trying to be cool… trying to be “original” and “unique” rather than smart. Smart people don’t break their knees. Popular gear is popular for a reason, and it isn’t just good marketing.
Despite the caveats above (Namely being cheap and stubborn), I’d like to think this is a very good gear list. You could do much worse.
If you’re smart, then you’re going to copy other hikers. It’s how we learn what works for us, especially on places like the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. A week spent on one of these trails is the best backpacking education in the world – better than any amount of online research.
In fact, particularly for the aspiring Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, I recommend starting the trail with the cheapest stuff you can scrounge up. Start the trail with an extra $1,000 in your pocket. That way you have the freedom and good conscience to completely re-outfit yourself as you go. See what works for other hikers – see what they have that you like – and simply buy new gear in towns along the way. It will save you a ton of money and frustration.
I have yet to accept any free gear.
I do, however, get “pro deals” (Big discounts) from some brands because I live at the Grand Canyon, most notably (As far as this list is concerned) BIG AGNES and MARMOT.
My site is also an Amazon.com affiliate. When you click to Amazon and buy something within 24 hours, I get a small commission. So naturally I’m going to link to Amazon as much as possible. I don’t earn a dime from links to other sites, like ULA Equipment or REI.
Simple Backpacking Gear List – What I’m Using in 2018
First I present a simple list. My comments and alternate choices are farther below.
Links go to the exact items I use, which means that in some cases a newer model of the product could be available. If the exact item I use is not available online, then I’ve found a comparable substitute and marked it with the text “Or Try This.”
Many links go to mens versions because, simply, I’m a man. Grrr.
It should be simple enough to find a corresponding womens version of most items.
BASIC (Most Always included)
Backpack – ULA Catalyst
Pack Cover – ULA
Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1
Sleeping Bag – Marmot Pinnacle (15 degree, down)
Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Classic (Small)
Camera – Nikon D5600 DSLR
Shoes – Five Ten Men’s Camp Four Hiking Shoe
Trekking Pole – Wilcor (Generic store brand)
Headlamp – Black Diamond Spot
Utility – Victorinox Swiss Army Spartan Knife
Food Storage – Ursack Minor
Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket
Fuel – Isopro Canister Fuel (4 or 8 ounce)
Pot – MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set (Just the 2L pot)
Spoon – Coghlans Lexan Cutlery Set (Spoon Only)
Lighter – Bic!
Water Treatment – Aquamira Drops
Water Bladder – Camelbak Antidote Reservoir
Water Bottle – Nalgene and/or plastic Vitamin Water or Powerade
Watch – Casio Casual Sport
Parachute Cord – (Try this)
Compass – Silva Polaris
Ziploc Bags – My favorites are the freezer bags with the “Slider” zipper.
Pen & Paper
Bandanas – Bandanas!
Rain Jacket – Marmot Precip
Longsleeve Shirt – Columbia Men’s Bahama II
Underwear – Exofficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
Convertible Pants – North Face Paramount Peak II
Socks – Darn Tough
Beanie – Columbia Men’s Watch Cap
Sun Hat – Solar Escape Outback
Fleece Hoodie – from Kohl’s Department Store (Or Try This)
Puffy Jacket – Men’s Packable Down Puffer Jacket
Synthetic T-shirt – Walmart or Target (Or try this)
Gloves – Walmart
Long Underwear – Terramar Men’s Thermolator II
Thick Socks (Seasonal) – Smartwool
SPECIALTY (If required)
Day Pack – Hyperlite Daybreak
Smartphone – iPhone 6s plus
Smartphone Protection – Lifeproof Case
Emergency Beacon – SPOT Gen3
GPS Navigation – Garmin eTrex 20x
Traction Devices – Kahtoola Microspikes
Bear Canister – BearVault
Bear Spray – Frontiersman Bear Spray with Holster
Bug Spray – Repel 100 (98.11% DEET)
Head Net – Coghlans
Neoprene Socks (Seasonal) – NeoSport
Water Bag – Sea to Summit Folding Bucket
Webbing – BlueWater Tubular Climbing-Spec (30ft)
First Aid Kit
My first aid kit consists of Ibuprofen, Benadryl, a Swiss army knife (tweezers), bandanas, duct tape, and (occasionally) Neosporin.
My Additional Comments, Choices, and Wishes
Backpack I Have – ULA Catalyst – Believe it or not, I’ve only owned two backpacking packs in my life – the Catalyst and my old Gregory Shasta.
Backpack I Want – ULA Circuit – I should have switched to the Circuit long ago and saved a quick half-pound. I can justify not-doing-so only because my latest hikes have been desert expeditions requiring me to carry up to 16 pounds of water at a time.
Backpacks on the Radar – The Hyperlite Southwest should really be the pack that I want. I’ve seen them put to the test – not only are they the lightest packs out there, but they’re durable and waterproof (No more pack cover!). The only reason I don’t want one? Some of my friends use them (Received in exchange for endorsement) and I’m too stubborn and proud to follow. I guess I’m just dumb and want to break my knees after all.
I don’t have any hands-on experience with the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60, but it’s certainly another leader in lightweight backpacks. Gossamer undoubtedly makes great gear, but be wary of online testimonials, as Gossamer has a robust and successful “Ambassador Program.”
The Osprey Atmos looks like a well-balanced pack for beginners. The pack itself may be heavier, but this Osprey will certainly be more comfortable and more durable than anything I listed above.
Day Pack I Have – Osprey Talon 22 – Maybe the most popular day pack on the market – it’s great for all-round use and has served me well.
Day Pack I Want – Hyperlite Daybreak – This thing sure looks sweet.
Day Packs on the Radar – Osprey Stratos 24 is a beefier step up from the Osprey Talon, whereas the REI Co-op Flash 18 is a light, simple solution.
2018 Update: I finally ponied up the cash for a Hyperlite Daybreak. I’ve only used it casually so far, but so far so good! Stay tuned.
Tents and Shelters
Shelter I Have (One-Man Tent): – Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1
Shelter I Want (One-Man Tent) – Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 – It’s a great, lightweight tent and I see no reason to seek out a replacement. I like old-fashioned tents (As opposed to tarps and tarp-tents), and this one is as good as they get. This “HV” tent I’ve listed is the new, updated version that’s supposed to be roomier in the head space and foot box.
Shelters on the Radar – For a couple years my girlfriend and I used the 2-man version of the Big Agnes Fly Creek. It’s not the most spacious setup in the world and can be inconvenient without a second door, but the weight can’t be beat. The UL2 is a fine one-man tent too, especially in wet climates like on the Appalachian Trail where it’s handy to have all your gear inside with you. Check out the new “HV” version of this as well.
For 2018 I’ve switched for to the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 for my best 2-man tent. I was tired of the cramped conditions in the Fly Creek. The trade-off in weight is certainly worth it for me to gain that extra door. The zippers on the Fly Creek series have also been notoriously fragile for me, and the Copper Spur seems to be just a hair more robust. So far so good!
For something more reasonable in cost I was always happy with the REI lineup, like this Half Dome 2-Man Tent. I used their one-man tent (The Quarter Dome) for several years and it was great. I expect that the newer versions of these on REI are equally fantastic.
Six Moon Designs has been an industry leader in tarp-tents and ultralight shelters for quite a few years. I’ve never tried them out.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear has some neat-looking stuff too.
Sleeping Bag I Have – Marmot Pinnacle (15 degree, down)
Sleeping Bag I Want – Feathered Friends Swallow Nano (20 degree, down). I’ve heard great things about Feathered Friends for a long time but have never been able to justify the cost.
Sleeping Bags on the Radar – Kelty Cosmic (20 degree, down) looks like a great value!
Sleeping Pad I Have – Therm-a-Rest Ridgerest Classic (foam, small)
Sleeping Pad I Want – Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol (foam, small) My classic Ridgerest just gets rolled up to stow it away, whereas the Z Lite gets folded up like an accordion. I’ve never tried one of the folding foam pads, so naturally I’m curious about them.
Sleeping Pads on the Radar: I like basic foam sleeping pads. Granted they’re not as comfortable as the inflatables, but their simplicity can’t be beat. I do a lot of desert hiking where sharp cactus spines would destroy other pads. If I did want an inflatable pad, I’d probably find myself with a Therm-a-rest NeoAir Trekker.
I always go for the “short” or “3/4 length” sleeping pads and use a different material under my feet overnight (Extra clothes, backpack, etc.)
Shoes I Have – Five Ten Men’s Camp Four Hiking Shoe
Shoes I Want – Five Ten Men’s Camp Four Hiking Shoe
Shoes on the Radar – Shoes are the most subjective of all things on my gear list. Comfort and fit are paramount, especially for beginners. Durability (Relative to cost) comes next, and everything else is just noise
Merrell Moab Ventilators are excellent backpacking shoes too. Traditionally I’ve always hiked with these on regular trails.
With that said, I like Five Ten brand shoes because of their sticky rubber soles. Their grip is unparalleled in the industry. It quickly becomes addicting, especially for those of us that frequently go off-trail in exposed terrain.
Unfortunately Five Ten is notorious for sole delamination, where the sole peels off the upper shoe. They seem to have improved this defect in recent years, but I always seam-seal a new pair with Shoo-Goo just in case.
Headlamp I Have – Black Diamond Spot
Headlamp I Want – Black Diamond Spot (new upgraded model)
Headlamps on the Radar – I like using disposable AAA batteries in my headlamp (above), but Black Diamond also makes one with a rechargeable battery via USB, the ReVolt
2018 Update: I received the new version of the Black Diamond SPOT as a gift last summer but I’m still using my older model until I lose it or it dies, whichever comes first.
I was happy with a Petzl Tikka (link to current model) headlamp for a long time, but Black Diamond has outdone them in recent years. If you’re looking for a beefier and super-bright headlamp, check out the Black Diamond Icon.
Swiss Army Knives come in all shapes and sizes. Most are too heavy for a savvy ultralight backpacker, but the “Spartan Knife” is worth its weight to me… blade, scissors, tweezers, toothpick, can opener, bottle opener. Done.
The Ursack Minor is a great food bag. I’ve had one deflect countless rodents for years! If it’s too heavy for your lightweight sensibilities, get one from Hyperlite and watch the little critters shred your cuben fiber.
Stove I Have – MSR Pocket Rocket
Stove I Want – MSR Micro Rocket (Just to try it), or maybe the Pocket Rocket “2”
Stoves on the Radar – The Pocket Rocket is a venerable institution. I’ve had mine for almost ten years and it’s still going strong. A lot of people seem to like their JetBoil Systems too, or you can always build yourself a denatured alcohol stove (Do a Google search about “Pepsi Can Stoves”).
I’ve had this stainless steel pot for an eternity. Maybe somebody I’ll pony up the cash and go for this nice-looking titanium one. In any event, I like to have a big 2-liter pot because I’ll often cook huge meals for myself.
Spoons & Sporks (Seriously)
I use a simple lexan spoon from this set. I also have a long spoon that’s handy for freeze-dried meals. You may want a long titanium spoon instead, or maybe the neat titanium spork pictured above. Life should not be this complicated.
Water Treatment I Have – Aquamira Drops
Water Treatment I Want – Aquamira Drops
Water Treatment On The Radar – For many years the Katadyn Hiker filter (Formerly PUR Hiker) was the most popular method of water treatment. It’s what I used for a while, but it’s super-annoying and old-school. In addition to Aquamira, the three most common methods today are:
– the Sawyer Squeeze filter,
– gravity filters (with Platypus most popular among them)
– and Steripen ultraviolet treatment.
Pants I Have – North Face Paramount Peak ii
Pants I Want – North Face Paramount Peak ii
Pants On The Radar – The North Face pants work for me with their durability, loose fit, and ample pocket space. I’ve owned Columbia Silver Ridge pants too – these are thinner, less durable, and better for summer months. I’ve also heard good things about the Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants, but they’re not convertible and appear to have less pocket space than I prefer.
GPS Navigation and Emergency Beacon
Gadgets I Have – Garmin eTrex20x and SPOT Gen3
Gadget I Want – Delorme InReach Explorer
With the DeLorme InReach it’s finally possible to have GPS navigation and a Personal Locator Beacon in the same device! Hooray!
What’s some of your favorite gear?