I started backpacking 5 or 6 years ago with the most basic set-up possible. I’m a big believer that new hobbies shouldn’t have to break the bank, so I was using as much of my car camping gear as I could, buying only the cheaper backpacking gear. I think my first stove was about $12, compared with the easily $100+ ultralight stoves. After all, what if I didn’t stick with this hobby?
Over the years, as it’s become clear that I’m going to continue backpacking in the foreseeable future, I’ve started replacing gear with lighter weight options or getting duplicate gear for different purposes. Most of my travel involves sleeping outside, so I figure if I spend a few hundred dollars on a quilt, that’s easily less than a three night stay in a hotel.
“What is the purpose of your trip?”
Until recently, I was using the same backpacking set-up for all occasions. But, someone asked me a seemingly obvious question recently that changed the way I look at my packing lists: “What is the purpose of your trip? Is it a hiking trip or a camping trip?” The intent behind this was to say, if you’re going on a hiking trip (aka section-hiking, through hiking, or any trip where you’ll be walking for the vast majority of the day) pack your light or ultralight set- up; if you’re going on a camping trip (like hiking out to a lake to hang out, go swimming and do day hikes) then pack the cushy set-up.
Below I’ve posted my backpacking gear list for our recent PCT hike. But, I’ve also added a special note at the end about what I do or take differently when I’m on a backcountry camping trip. I’ve also made some notes about what I like/dislike about a few of my gear choices or things I plan to change in the future.
My base weight for hiking trips is ~11lbs whether I’m splitting gear with a hiking partner or hiking solo because I swap a few things out for lighter options if I’m on my own. The list below reflects my shared set-up which I was using this summer, so if I were to carry all these items my base weight would be ~15lbs.
The Big 3
pack: Gossamer Gear Mariposa Medium Size (29.8 oz).
- Bag: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Regular Bag (29 oz). They don’t make this bag anymore and this is my most obvious place to lighten up. I plan to buy a quilt in the next couple of seasons because they’re super comfortable and much lighter weight, but it wasn’t in the budget this year.
- Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neo Air XLite Women’s (13 oz). I appreciate that folks lighten up by bringing much thinner pads, but I’m a fussy sleeper so I prefer to have a little extra warmth and padding. Therm-a-Rest does make a lighter, smaller pad that’s good for backpacking in summertime.
- Pillow: Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow, Ultralight, Regular Size (2 oz)
Shelter: Mountain Hardwear Nimbus Ultralight 2P Tent, semi-freestanding (45 oz, including ground cloth). I actually don’t love this tent for 2 people and probably would prefer a trekking pole tent with two vestibules (this tent has one entrance). I usually have to pee in the middle of the night, so luckily my husband can sleep through a foot in his face every night as I maneuver out. Also, after hiking enough to develop a little hiker-hobble, getting in and out of this is kind of a pain in the ass. It’s a very spacious one-person tent though.
There are a few things I do differently for backcountry camping trips. If my load is heavy because we’re bringing something like beers for lake chillin’, I use my Gregory Pack which has a better suspension system and padding but weighs about 5lbs. That’s also the pack I use for winter camping. Ironically, I don’t carry the pillow for camping trips because I have more layers to use as a pillow that aren’t integrated into my sleep system. Lastly, we have a Mountain Hardwear Aspect 2P freestanding tent that I prefer, but weighs a pound more than the Nimbus. If we’re REALLY hanging out, I may also bring a 10×12 tarp to build a sun shelter or kitchen area.
Feet & Hands
- Injinji Midweight Toe Socks. Two hiking seasons ago I started getting gnarly blisters between my toes and these have worked out pretty well thus far. They aren’t wool though, so they take a little longer to dry. Others swear by the toe sock liners for blisters, but these bunch up between my toes and aren’t comfortable for me.
- La Sportiva Raptor Boot + Gaiters – These are about the lightest pair of boots I could find and the traction is amazing. I have to wear boots for a few reasons related to my MS, but having something lighter on your feet really does make a difference. Gaiters are less helpful with a mid-ankle boot but I just hate getting my shoelaces caught on stuff while bushwhacking or getting tiny rocks in there. I also noticed that the gaiters help keep my shoes ties since the laces aren’t flopping around.
- Xero Z-Trail EV Women’s Sandals. These are for river crossing, letting my feet air out, rare shorter hiking days and hanging out in towns/resupply spots. I know many folks like to go without the second pair of shoes, but I just really like having these.
- Smartwool Merino Wool Glove (liners).
- Mountain Hardwear Crater Lake Sun Hoodie (Hiking Shirt)
- Wool Top (PJs & Midlayer). I originally brought a long-sleeve on our trip and ended up sending it home and buying a short sleeve. I’ll continue to use the warmer layer for colder months, but it just wasn’t necessary for summer.
- Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket
- Montbell Versalite Rain Jacket
- Mountain Hardwear Trail Sender Shorts
- Synthetic Bottoms (PJs & layer if it’s cold). For summer, I used a thin pair of exercise pants. In the colder months, these are long-underwear bottoms.
- Montbell Versalite Rain Pants – I strongly considered the Outdoor Research ultralight pants which have a few more features like pockets and a bottom that zips, but decided to go with the slightly lighter Montbell pants because I very rarely use them. I never used these for rain…mostly for laundry day and mosquitos.
When I’m backcountry camping, I bring more layers because I know I’m going to be hanging out more during the colder times of day like early morning and evenings. I bring a fleece and swap out my wool sleeping layer for a nice cotton T-shirt. I bring a slightly heavier pair of gloves for making cold morning coffee for everyone…I am always the first person up. I also bring a pair of hiking pants that I use in camp. For Spring/Fall/Winter trips I may even bring my extra cushy fleece pants.
Cooking, Food Storage and Water
This list is what I use for two people. There are some differences when I’m only packing for one person here, including the Sawyer Squeeze filtration system and a lighter stove. We’ve found that for the two of us, the gravity set-up just works better for filtering the volume of water we need.
- Smart water bottles 1L x 2
- 2L Platypus Gravity Filter + 2L Reservoir/Water Bottle
- ZPacks Large Food Storage Bag for bear hangs + 50ft of paracord
- Spoon, Cup, etc.
I’ll bring a 1.5L Nalgene, which is heavier but nice for a few different reasons including durability and the ability to put hot water in it. I swap my 2L Playtpus bags out for 4L so we can make larger volumes of water for multiple cups of coffee, tea after dinner, etc. I almost always bring a bear canister into bear country if I’m camping. I figure that this is the most leave-no-trace option, I’m less likely to lose my food and the bears are less likely to get habituated to people. Plus, it makes an extremely uncomfortable camp chair that I never use (I’ve never understood this recommendation!). I understand not wanting this for higher mileage days because it’s uncomfortable and heavy, but if we’re just heading out for a chill adventure this is my storage method.
Bifurcating these two lists has made me much more comfortable for both types of trips. I continue to make small tweaks, but this gear has worked well for me!
Any major differences between your thru-hiking/section-hiking set-up and your backcountry camping set-up?
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