The reality is what you pack for an adventure, especially one into the wilderness backcountry is going to make or break your experience. The equipment we bring with us is what will determine our comfort, safety, enjoyment and our impact on the environment we visit. The packing process is a delicate balance between bringing what we want to have with us and remembering that you have to deal with the transportation of all this equipment. One of the many lessons I learned when doing my Thru-Hike of the appalachian trail is less is often more. Every ounce you put in your pack is another ounce that has to be carried. Although you may be tempted to bring many creature comforts at home along, the comforts they provide will often be outweighed by the misery of having to transport them.
More important than anything else when it comes to equipment is your selection of equipment can greatly impact the environment you are visiting. Poorly selected equipment or failure to bring the equipment you need could easily result in you damaging the environment we all enjoy so much.
In the case of a pre-organized trip like the one I am about to go on the trip organizer is likely to provide you with an equipment list. It’s important to take two things into consideration when looking at a supplied equipment list, why is this on here and what is missing from the list (and why is it missing). When I got the equipment list for my Leave No Trace Master Educator course the first thing I noticed was it was missing food, cooking supplies and shelters. The reason for this is simple the organizer has these things being distributed to the participants before departure. This process is known as group gear, where everyone carries a portion of supplies that will be shared when making camp. Personally I don’t like the practice as it means everyone is the group is dependent on each other and should someone get separated for what ever reason the rest of the group no longer has all the equipment required at the end of the day. I personally prefer the practice of everyone carries what they individually need.
Provided Equipment List Details
- Hiking Boots
- Liner Socks (2 Pairs)
- Backpacking Socks (3 Pairs)
- Wool Sweater
- Shorts (2 Pairs)
- T-Shirt (2)
- Synthetic Underwear – Top (2)
- Synthetic Underwear – Bottom
- Thick Polypro Pants (1)
- Fleece Hat
- Fleece Gloves
- Rain / Wind Jacket & Pants
- Cup, Bowl & Spoon
- Water Bottle (2 Quarts)
- Camp Shoes
- Notebook & Pen / Pencil
- Sleeping Bag
- Compression Sack for Sleeping Bag
- Sleeping Pad
- Backpack W/ Hip belt
- Small Pocket Knife
- Sunscreen & Lip balm
- Bug Net
- Towel and Clothes for night at Lodge
- Camera & Film
- Trail Snacks
- Field Guides
- Camp Chair
- Parachute Cord
- First Aid Kit
Note: Pack everything in plastic bags. Total weight of backpack, upon arrival should be between 25 – 30 pounds. Remember that group items such as food, tents and stoves will also need to be carried by participants and will add additional weight to your pack.
Looking over the course package I quickly found that we would only be traveling very short distances per day. Around 5 miles over moderate terrain. Next I turned to the wonderful world of topographical maps. I will be the first person to admit technology has made be a bit soiled and with in a few minutes I had a full topographical map of the Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area sitting in front of me on my iPad. I have personally found BACKPACKER Map Maker for the iPad to be one of my personal favorite applications when it comes to maps, its only downfall is use requires a live internet connection so while it is good for preplanning its basically useless in the backcountry. At only $4.99 its a steal! You can grab more info or purchase the app by clicking here.
What I quickly found in reviewing the trail maps is the area has a max elevation of only 1,527′. Since the introductory package was pretty clear that we are camping at established campsites and using the Appalachian Trail for our travels. Having hiked this section in the past I have a pretty good idea of what I am in for, regarding terrain. When I did my through hike of the AT, I averaged 15 miles a day in this area, so no concerns there. With a quick check of the weather it looks like we will be looking at day time temps in the 60′s and night time temps in the high 30′s – low 40′s.
With the information in hand on what I was in for travel wise and weather wise its time to get the gear packed and ready to roll. When ever I pack equipment I divide my packing into five sections: Survival Kit, Essentials, Wearables and luxury items.
Survival Kit: Emergency Items that I always bring with me on backcountry trips.
Essentials: Pack, Shelter, Kitchen, Light, Knife, Etc.
Wearables: Everything that will be worn on the body.
Luxury Items: Camera, Video Camera, Field Guides, Entertainment.
Total Dry Pack Weight: 25lbs or less
More details on my equipment choices can be found below. What about you, what do you carry to the backcountry? I am especially interested to know what luxury items people carry with them. Use the comments section at the bottom of the page to share what items are essential to you and read about what items are essentials & luxury items for others!
Everything you put in your pack has weight, and as you travel in the backcountry that weight is traveling on your poor feet! Many times people make the mistake of bringing to much stuff in an effort to be more comfortable at the end of the day. Now this sounds great but in practice what you are really doing is making your day more unpleasant in an effort to be more comfortable at the end of it. If you reduce the weight of your pack you are going to find that the need for extra comforts at camp just aren’t going to be as high. When in backcountry we spend the bulk of the day with a pack on our back and only a very short period of time camped. So which is better to be comfortable for the largest portion of the day or the smallest.
Personally I have opted to go with a Mountainsmith Phantom MT pack which is 3,800cu in in size. I love this pack, I purchased it on my third week on the Appalachian Trail to replace one that was completely wrong for the trip. Now it has become one of my favorite packs and has shared a huge number of memories. Everyone keeps asking me if I am going to get the mouse holes and similar repaired and I always decline as its part of what gives my pack character. Now sadly this pack is no longer made anymore so don’t bother trying to run out and buy one as you won’t find it.
If your looking for a pack other then the size look for a few key features that are really going to come in handily during your adventure. The first thing I look for is a removable portion of the pack also known as a summit bag. This is often the top portion of the pack and can be removed from the rest of the pack. This feature allows you to leave the largest portion of your pack behind while you head up to a summit or view point, also great for quick explorations around base camp. The next must have for me is a built-in hydration system, this allows you to quickly get a drink while hiking with out removing your pack. Last but not least I personally like compartments so I can keep things divided and easily accessible, I absolutely hate having to dig through my pack trying to find something.
While talking about your pack don’t forget to pick up a pack cover that actually fits your pack. Many packs have a paired pack cover. Spend the extra money and get the right one. I constantly see people using trash bags. The reality is that although a pack cover is going to cost you a but of money you won’t constantly need to be replacing them. The other benefit to getting the right sized cover is its going to keep your pack dry, wrong size cover results in wet gear!
Although hammock camping may not be for everyone it is worth considering and trying out. If nothing else for the comfort that it provides. When I used a tent I would often find myself waking up early and uncomfortable lacking a good nights sleep. Now its just the opposite in fact when I find myself traveling with a group others often have to wake me up to get me up in the morning.
One of the other great benefits of a hammock is you will no longer have any need for bringing a sleeping pad with you to deal with the discomfort of the ground, reducing your pack weight even more. The first question I get from everyone is well what about when there are no trees, well I can assure with a bit of creativity this is not a problem.
Some of the best hammocks around are made by Hennessy Hammocks. Personally I use a A-Sym Ultralight Backpacker version, that weighs in at less then 2 lbs! I have had mine for over five years now and it has seen more then 4,000 miles worth of adventure, and is still just as good as the day I purchased it.
A bag liner is a must have for everyone traveling the backcountry. The reality is your going to get dirty and not going to be showering every day and sometimes it might be more then a week between showers. Back using a bag liner you can keep your sleeping bag clean and reduce the frequency that you need to wash it. Anyone who has ever washed a sleeping bag knows its not an easy process, while washing a bag liner is no harder then washing a shirt.
As previously noted since I use a hammock as a shelter, I have no need for a sleeping pad. If you are still sleeping on the ground then you are definitely going to want a sleeping pad. I still keep one in my gear room but it hasn’t had any use since my first night sleeping in a hammock.
One thing I often see people considering a must have is a camp pillow. The reality is this is nothing more then a luxury item. If you need a pillow then an easy solution is to use a compression sack full of your clothes.
In addition to the stove your going to need a way to store water while you are on the trail, Nalgene is my method and is the pick for thousands of outdoor adventurers through out the world. Invest in a splash guard and you have yourself a pretty awesome cup as well. A lot of people look at a nalgene as nothing more then a beverage container but the reality is they can become a pretty useful tool for meal preparation as well.
On the topic of water, remember at lower elevations you are going to need a method of filtering water of contaminates. The last thing that you want to deal with is getting sick on the trail. All to often people think that since they are bringing the water to a boil when cooking with it there is no need to boil it. Boiling is not enough as the water needs to remain at a boil for a few minutes, and that requires stove fuel. A UV filter will take you a long ways, save you a lot of fuel and takes less then a minute. Check out the SteriPen Adventurer Opti for a good light weight solution.
Now I will be the first to admit backcountry cooking is a bit of an art form and coming up with good meals does take a lot of practice but it is very much doable. In the beginning stick with the pre-made add water meals and slowly but surely work your way into custom meal preparation. Now during this trip even though meals are part of the group gear, I have no idea what they will be providing so I will be bringing along some of my personal favorite items, to share with others.
When you are cooking in the backcountry remember meal planning is extremely important, if you forget an ingredient you can’t just run to the store to get it. The biggest challenge is getting the most bang out of every pound. Focus your meals around high protein and high calories meals. On extended trips you can easily burn up to 6,000 calories a day. Remember your bodies needs and consider supplementing your meals with vitamins to ensure your body is getting everything it needs.
Some things to also consider in your packing is the need for flatware and utensils. Flatware is not really an issue for me as most of the times I just eat out of the JetBoil Pot. Since the JetBoil won’t be coming along on this trip I have a nice little collapsable bowl and mug that weigh almost nothing. Utensils are simple go find yourself a nice titanium spork and knife set.
As we get closer to the trip you’ll see another post with some great trail snacks and meal options.
Next on the must have list is a good dependable knife. Stay away from the big heavy knifes all you really need is a small simple blade. Don’t make the mistake many people make of bringing along a big heavy knife. Remember its not a weapon your not going to be fighting off a bear or anything with it, its a tool.
Last but certainly not least on the must have list is a good set of trekking poles! These are going to help you not only on the uphills but more importantly on the downhills as a planting device. Just remember you need get eco friendly tips to avoid damaging sensitive portions of the trail.
Your feet are going to take the most abuse so will start from there. Start with a good pair of hiking boots that cover your ankles! Make sure you work them in slowly, don’t run out an buy a new pair of boots and put 10 miles on them the first day. My general rule of thumb for new boots is increase the mileage on the by 1 mile a day. So the first day in new boots limit your travels to 1 mile, the second day 2 and so on. Its said that 1 pound on your feet is like 5 lbs on your back, so you are going to want these to be as light as possible but still strong & durable. When you pickup your boots grab a pair of custom inserts as well, this is going to add a huge amount of comfort to your shoes. Under your boots you are going to want to wear two pairs of socks. The first pair is a moisture wicking sock and the second is a pair synthetic hiking sock. This allows moist to be pulled away from your feet while keeping your feet warm. BRING EXTRA SOCKS! The worst thing in the world in the backcountry is wet feet. Make sure you keep them dry and give your “dogs” a chance to dry out on a regular basis.
Moving up the body to the legs I have found the best thing here is a pair of convertible pants, this allows you to have your pants and shorts in a single item. When you want to be wearing shorts simply remove the legs. I caution people about wearing shorts on the trail as you are going to want to protect your legs from getting scrapped up from thrones, underbrush and similar. Under your pants your going to want a pair of wicking underwear shorts, make sure they come half way down your thighs. Chaffing is a real problem on the trail and its a result of friction! Its extremely uncomfortable so take precautions here, a good pair of wicking underwear will help a lot.
On the chest go with a wicking t-shirt like an under-armor brand or similar. Like your feet and underwear this will pull the moisture off your body. Keep a syntactic jacket in your pack for those days it gets a bit chilly. You are likely going to find you don’t need this very often except perhaps in the morning. If you find yourself getting cold it means your not working hard enough! Your body will generate body heat as you hike, personally I find I usually only need this in the mornings, and more times then not I just leave this behind.
For this I carry a set of LavaCore layers. These are easily one of the best inventions ever when it comes to base layer clothing. LavaCore is a specially made product that is good for almost anything. It makes for a great warm base layer, functions as a wetsuit, is warm even when wet, and dries extremely quickly. Using these for sleeping clothes allows me to reduce the weight of my sleeping bag by going with a bag rated for higher temps. Essentially you can add another 15 degrees of warmth to your sleeping bag by sleeping in the LavaCore items. They also serve as a great base layer if you find yourself unexpectedly dealing with cold temps.
Last but not least when it comes to camp clothes you may want to consider bringing along a pair of light weight camp shoes such as slippers, flip-flops, gators etc. This allows you get rid of the heavy hiking boots when your in camp and give your feet a break!
For me rain gear is nothing more then a light weight rain jacket. Most of the times when it rains I take it as a chance to have my trail clothes get washed. The only time the rain jacket really gets used is in heavy rains and normally when heavy rain arrives I seek shelter to get out of it. This is supposed to be fun after all and hiking in the rain is usually not all that much fun.
A bandana is the ultimate backcountry multi-purpose tool and I can’t even begin to count all the things I have used mine for. A while back I discovered a product known as a Buff Bandana. This is essentially a double layered bandana and can be worn in a huge number of different ways. After discovering this product I consider it a must have on every trip to the backcountry!
A good multifunction watch is a great tool in the backcountry. Although the time isn’t all that important the other features provided can be a great help. I wear a Suunto Ambit which provides me with a ton of information including but not limited to: GPS Navigation, Altitude and expected weather changes. Best of all when I get home I can download the GPS data from my watch to my home computer to give me my exact traveled route on the trail.
Don’t forget to bring along a good hat! We loss more heat out of our head then anywhere else in our body. A binnie hat can save you a massive amount of heat loss and help keep your ears warm. A more traditional style hat will help keep the sun out of your eyes. Speaking of the sun and your eyes a good pair of sunglasses go along way.
Dry Weight (Equipment Only): 17.9 Lbs
Wet Weight (Equipment & Water): 26.45 Lbs
Max Weight (Full Load – 5 Days): 41.4 Lbs
My Backcountry Equipment List
- Mountainsmith Phantom MT // 60oz
- Sea To Summit Pack Cover // 3.5oz
- Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 // 22oz
- Sleeping Bag Liner
- Hennessy A-SYM Hammock // 35oz
- JetBoil Sol TI Stove // 8.5oz
- SteriPen Adventurer Opti // 12.5oz
- Blackdiamond LED Headlamp // 1oz
- CRKT River Knife // 1oz
- Flatware & Utensils // 6.5oz
- x2 16oz Ultralite Nalgene // 6oz
- Leki Air Ergo Trekking Poles // 19oz
- Trash Sack
- Food Sack
- Clothing Compression Sack
- x2 Hiking Socks
- x3 Sock Liners
- Wind Jacket
- LavaCore Under-Jacket
- LavaCore Under-Pants
- LavaCore Socks
- Synthetic Underwear
- Synthetic Shirt
- Trail Jacket
- Convertible Pants
- Suunto Core Watch
- Hiking Shoes
- Survival Bracelet
- Camp Shoes
- Fleece Gloves
- Beanie Hat
- Disposable Contacts (1 Set per day)
- Toilet Paper
- Tooth Powder
- Anti-Cafing Cream
- Trail Wallet
- Journal & Pen
- Olympus Tough TG-810 w/ GPS
- Contour GPS HD Camera
- iPhone 4
- Gourmet Kitchen Items
- Portion of Paperback Book
- Backcountry Flask with a bite
- Smokes & Lighter
- Assorted Extra Batteries
- iPhone SD Card Reader
- SPOT Sat Messenger Unit
- Small Tupperware Dish
- Aluminum Foil
- Mole Skin / Second Skin
- Latex Gloves
- Goldbond Wipes
- 3″ Sterile Pad
- Magnifying Plastic Sheet
- Signal Mirror
- Krazy Glue
- Sodium Chlorite Tablets
- Sodium Chloride Tablets
- Razor Blade
- Fishing Hook
- Clothes Pin
- Alcohol Wipes
- Antibiotic Ointment
- Metal Wire
- Emergency Fuel Tablet
Wearables // 132oz // 8.26lbs
Personal Items // 12oz // 0.75lbs
Luxury Items // 67oz // 4.21lbs
Survival Kit // 15oz // 0.9lbs
- JetBoil Sol
- SteriPen Adventurer
- SPOT Messenger Unit
Not needed due to area of travel
- Trail Jacket
Not bringing due to lack of need
- Backcountry Flask with a bite
Drinking is a no no when in training