My Backpacking Gear

Mountain goats, Weminuche Wilderness, San Juan Mountains, Colorado, tent

Mountains goats check out our campsite in the Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado.

Backpacking into the mountains is a great joy of mine. It feels adventurous and liberating to venture into the wilderness with everything you need to survive (and even stay comfortable) on your back. By backpacking you have the means to “live” – albeit briefly – in paradisiacal locations that boggle the mind and soothe the soul. But, first you need to have all the proper gear to do it.

As Terence McKenna observed, humans are probably better categorized as crustaceans, since we basically live our lives moving from one shell to another, whether it’s a house, car, office, or a tent. Which is to say, we can’t just wander off naked into the woods and expect to be one with nature! Fortunately for the modern adventurous crustacean we have an almost endless array of high tech, lightweight clothes, sleeping bags, shelters, and tools to keep us alive and happy while walking in the wilderness.

Recently I’ve received a bunch of emails asking me about my backpacking gear. I realize that it can be a bit daunting for someone who is interested – but not experienced – in backpacking to figure out what equipment they need to bring into the mountains for an overnight or multi-day camping trip. You need to travel light, but you also need all the stuff to keep you warm and dry. In this post, I’m going to list and explain all the gear that I use on backpacking treks. I will also include some helpful tips along the way.


I’ve been backpacking for many years now, and I’ve learned several valuable lessons about gear. Firstly, you will never stop buying gear! It is a constant cycle – just when you think you have everything perfected, something wears out and you have to buy another. Secondly, it definitely pays to buy the BEST stuff that you can, especially with the big-ticket items like the backpack, sleeping bag, and tent. Believe me, if you skimp on cheapo gear, you will eventually buy more replacements and upgrades, and will end up spending far more money in the long run. If you buy the good stuff from the start, it will last longer and you’ll get better performance and have a better time.

Please keep in mind that all the gear I’m listing below is for backpacking in the mountains of Colorado. In the summer here we have warm days, frequent thunderstorms with rain, and chilly nights. In the winter it’s often sunny but also it can be windy and bitterly cold. The consistent variety of Colorado’s weather means that the gear I use here will be similarly suitable for many of the world’s mountains.

 

MY SUMMER BACKPACKING SETUP

Summer backpacking gear
Summer backpacking gear

From top to bottom and left to right, generally, we have:

Black Diamond Distance Trekking Z-Poles: ultralight aluminum trekking poles. Collapsible, which is good for traveling. The carbon fiber version of these are even lighter, but extra care must be taken to not snap them in rocky or snowy terrain. Trekking poles save your knees, give you extra hiking power from your arms, and aid in balance.

• In the black Sea-to-Summit dry bag is all my clothes. Osprey makes really nice lightweight square-shaped dry bags. More details on clothes below.

• The white bag is my food bag, an Ursack Bear Bag. This super strong Spectra fabric food bag is much lighter than a normal bear canister. You put your food into an odor-proof plastic bag inside, then tie the bag to the base of a tree away from your tent. Bears cannot tear the bag or the rope, so they can’t steal your food. Remember: NEVER STORE ANY FOOD IN YOUR TENT! Do not give bears a reason to come knocking. As for backpacking food, that is a whole ‘nother topic that I will try to tackle some other time in another post.

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 Tent. This is my one-man tent. I’ve used a variety of one-man tents but this is my favorite so far. Nowadays I mostly backpack with my wife Claudia, and we bring a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 tent, which is very spacious for its weight. You can potentially go even lighter with a floorless tarp style tent or pyramid style tent that uses a trekking pole for support. But, we think the comfort of having a sealed-up mosquito-proof tent is worth the little extra weight. Plus, with these tents you can take the rainfly off in hot weather, or to enjoy the stars on a clear night. Or, with the matching footprint you can leave the inner tent behind and just use the poles and rainfly for an ultralight setup.

• In the orange stuff sack is my Western Mountaineering Apache MF 15º down sleeping bag. Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends are two companies that make the lightest, warmest sleeping bags available, using top quality down fill. The 15º temperature rating is perfect to stay cozy on chilly alpine nights. Claudia and I both have these bags, with left and right side zippers so that we can zip them together – romantic, huh? Note that a single bag would compress smaller than what is shown in the picture above, which is both bags packed together.

• The grey thing on the right is my sleeping pad, a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm. For many years I used a regular old RidgeRest foam pad, but I would have to find a perfectly flat spot for the tent, and would still sleep uncomfortably on my side. Last year I tried the NeoAir air mattress (which is just as light), and I love it! Now I have no problems with bumpy ground, and can sleep comfortably on my side. It’s also very warm. Yes, there is always the danger that it could leak or pop; I carry the patch kit just in case of emergency.

• One Nalgene water bottle. A Gatorade bottle would work just fine too.

Katadyn Hiker Water Filter. Some of my friends never filter water around here at all, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. There are lighter water purification tools, but I prefer filters because they keep the fresh mountain water taste, and can also remove some of the funky tastes that some streams have. *UPDATE: I’m now using a Sawyer Squeeze Filter System – it’s lighter, cheaper, and has a longer filter lifespan than the Katadyn. Plus, the water bags used with the Sawyer can double as dromedary bags to haul extra water when necessary. (Thanks Jackson for the Sawyer tip!)

MSR aluminum pot. This pot is great; better than other ultra-lightweight camping pots I’ve owned before.

Soto OD-1R Micro Regulator Stove, with 4 oz. isobutane fuel canister. Super compact and lightweight, boils water fast, simmers well, and has a reliable auto-ignition. This is a new addition to my kit, and I love it!

• Waterproof rain cover for the pack.

• Plastic camping spoon and fork. BIC lighters.

• Basic first aid kit, sunblock, toothbrush/toothpaste, hand sanitizer.

Petzl MYO RXP Headlamp. This thing is super bright and essential for my pre-dawn and post-sunset hikes. I bring 3 extra AA lithium batteries as backup.

• Basic Swiss Army knife for cutting up salami, and multi-tool mini knife in case I need to fix anything with pliers.

• Sunglasses

• Watch. Very important for the early morning wake up calls!

• Compass and map. Don’t leave home without them.

ACR ResQLink 406 Personal Locator Beacon. These things have gotten so light, compact, and cheap, that there’s really no reason to not have one with you at all times in the backcountry. I’ve written about personal locator beacons before on this blog; but this new model is tiny compared to the old one I had! *UPDATE: I’m now using a DeLorme InReach SE; a similar product, slightly heavier and a subscription fee is necessary, but with the extra bonus of being able to send text messages via satellite. The ability to text could provide a huge advantage in an emergency situation, or just to send updates to a loved one back home.

• Oh, and don’t forget what I forgot to include in the photo – toilet paper! And just a quick note about this: NEVER leave your toilet paper lying around after you’re done! This is the most common offense of careless and disrespectful backpackers. After finding a private place a long distance from camp or trail, you should first dig a hole at least six inches deep, then bury everything when you’re done. Sometimes it’s easier to find a big rock, roll it over, poop in the hole, then roll it back in place. If the weather is damp and wet you can burn your TP, but of course never attempt this if there is any chance whatsoever of sparking a wildfire.

Glacier National Park, Montana, camping, tent, Cracker Lake, July

Our tent at a spectacular camp spot at Cracker Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana - July.

 

CAMERA GEAR

Here’s my current camera gear list, though this is subject to change!

Canon 5DII (I use a Sony A7R with Canon lens adapter now).
• Canon 24mm TS-E II tilt/shift lens
• Canon 17mm TS-E tilt/shift lens (Sometimes I will leave this one behind if it’s a long trek and I don’t anticipate much need for ultra-wide shooting).
• Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens
• Marumi circular polarizer, 82mm size to fit the biggest lens, with step-up ring for smaller lens
• Hoya 10-stop neutral density filter.
• Remote trigger (for longer exposures)
• Two extra batteries. Usually 3 batteries will last me for a 7-day trek, if I’m careful.
Gitzo GT-1541T Traveler Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Gitzo short center column.
Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ultra-light ballhead with lever-release clamp.

Tamrac camera bag

All my camera gear (except the tripod) fits nicely into a Tamrac 3350 Aero 50 Photo Bag F-Stop Small Shallow ICU case, which then gets put into the top of my backpack. The tripod gets strapped to the side.

 

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Optional Extras

Here are some things that we may or may not bring, depending on the trek and/or how much we’re willing to carry:

• Bear spray. A must in places with grizzlies like Montana, but not really necessary in Colorado. Claudia brings it anyways.

• Bug spray and/or head net. Depends on the location and time of year. During the summer months we usually bring bug spray, but not the head net, which is only needed in places where the mosquitos are horrendous; usually it’s not that bad in Colorado.

• A dromedary bag. This is useful for hauling water, allowing you to camp in awesome locations that aren’t necessarily near a lake or stream, like high ridges. We don’t use this much in Colorado, but it’s great for the desert.

• Entertainment! Cards, Sudoku, a lightweight book (I wrote about backpacking books here), and maybe a lightweight journal or sketchbook. I have these great knot-tying playing cards, so when we’re not playing Rummy I can brush up on my bowlines, bends, and hitches!

• And, the vices. Whiskey is always a treat when backpacking with friends. I met some guys in the wilderness once who were proponents of packing Everclear instead, because as they claimed, “it’s half the weight!” I just can’t go there, though.

 

CLOTHES

Summer backpacking clothes
Summer backpacking clothes. Guess what’s my favorite color?!

The main rule of camping clothes: NO COTTON! When cotton gets wet, it does not keep you warm, it is heavy, and it takes forever to dry. It’s better to use wool or high-tech hiking fabrics, which are lighter, will breathe better, keep you warmer, and dry faster. Here is the essential summertime backpacking clothes list:

• Lightweight, breathable hiking shirt. This will get sweaty!

• A warmer, long-sleeved layer for hanging out at camp, and at night.

• A sweater. I’m a big fan of down sweaters, like Patagonia’s, which pack light and compact, but provide LOTS of warmth, especially when layered under a shell jacket. This also doubles as my pillow when I stuff it in the tent sack at night.

• A shell jacket to protect from rain and wind. I am a HUGE fan of the Outdoor Research Foray Jacket, one of the most perfect pieces of equipment I’ve ever used. Why? Because it shields you well from wind and heavy rain, yet it is very lightweight and breathable, so you can wear it while hiking without sweating to death. Also, it has full length pit/side zips that can zip all the way apart, turning the jacket into a poncho when it’s really hot and wet outside. Plus, the pockets are positioned up higher than usual so that you can still use them while you’ve got your backpack’s waist belt strapped on. This is the perfectly designed backpacking jacket.

• Shell pants, with full side zips so you can pull them on and off over your boots, and have plenty of ventilation while hiking. I like the Outdoor Research Foray Pants, and the Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pants.

• Long underwear. Smartwool makes some nice ones.

• Lightweight running shorts. Running shorts are very light and fast drying. I also take nylon/spandex boxers, which dry out quickly after a sweaty day of hiking, along with a spare so that I don’t stink too badly after a week of trekking.

• Socks. Wool socks are more durable and will keep your feet warmer when they’re wet. I try to find the lightest-weight possible wool socks, which can be a challenge since most wool “hiking” socks are far too thick and warm for comfortable hiking. On longer treks, I’ll take three pairs of socks, one of which I keep for camp and sleeping.

• Gloves and a warm beanie for when it gets cold.

• A sun hat

• I sweat a lot so a sweat band is a must for me to keep my sweat out of my eyes; I don’t care that it looks totally dorky! Check out the Halo Headband which has a much thinner profile than usual sweatbands, so it fits nicely under a hat. It also works great – the sweat evaporates so the headband doesn’t get all soaked like normal ones.

• Sturdy boots. When I was younger I used to wear skate shoes when backpacking – because they were comfortable. That is, until I had to go to a physical therapist for my damaged knees. Now I wear leather boots with good insole inserts that provide better arch support.

 

THE BACKPACK

A backpack is probably the #1 item where you should really be careful what you buy, and buy the best available. A good backpack will last a long time, and will make the difference between an enjoyable trek and a grueling death march.

When you’re shopping for a backpack, make sure that you load it up with lots of heavy stuff in the shop, so you can feel how it really holds a heavy load. A good pack will put most of the weight comfortably on your hips, not your shoulders, and it will sit straight without pulling backwards on your shoulders. Don’t pay much attention to all the bells and whistles, like a bunch of cool pockets or whatever, but rather the main priority should be how well it carries a heavy load on your body.

Here’s a tip: a sign of a good backpack is one where the shoulder straps and the top of the internal pack frame rise up above the shoulder pads at least a couple inches – this keeps the pack straight on your back without pulling backwards.

Backpacking

Shown in the pictures here is my previous backpack — a custom made McHale panel loader backpack. I now use and highly recommend the Seek Outside Unaweep-Exposure panel loader backpack, which I actually helped to design specifically for us backpacking photographers. You can read my full review of the Seek Outside Exposure backpack here.

Backpacking

I am a big fan of panel loader packs, which means that the whole pack unzips like a suitcase, instead of just having a top pull-tie opening. It’s so much easier to access your stuff when you can unzip the whole pack, instead of having to dig through from the top.

Above, you can see from bottom to top (left to right), the sleeping bag, clothes bag, food bag, and finally the camera bag on top and quickly accessible.

Backpacking

The tripod gets strapped to the side.

 

MY WINTER CAMPING GEAR

Winter camping is a whole ‘nother ballgame. It’s more of a suffer-fest than anything, and I don’t really recommend it to anybody. However, during the winter I still get that urge to go out and backpack in the wild and take photos. Typically I don’t go winter camping more than once a month, because it takes at least a month after each trip to forget how brutal it was!

In any case, here’s what I take on winter backpacking trips:

Winter camping gear
My winter camping gear

Instead of listing every single thing again, I’ll just list the main differences from the summer setup.

• Winter poles. You need to have the big snow baskets on them, which the summer trekking poles don’t have.

• Since the bears are probably hibernating, I leave the bear bag behind (I could be wrong about this!). I also take less food, since I typically don’t go out for more than two nights at a time in the winter.

• The MSR Twin Sisters Tent is a great winter tent. It can fit two people, but in practical use, it can fit one person and their gear (you probably don’t want to leave your stuff outside in the winter). Using the ski poles for support, this floorless tent only weighs 2 pounds! When camping on deep snow, I use snow anchors instead of stakes (which are useless in snow). You just fill up the fabric panels with snow, then bury them. Also, I shovel lots of snow over the tent’s snow flaps, which creates a bomber, windproof setup. A couple advantages of the floorless tent are that you can dig down lower below the tent for more space to sit, and the tent doesn’t fill with snow which could melt and get everything wet.

• My winter bag is a Sherpa Adventure Gear Tenzing -40º down sleeping bag, which fortunately I was able to pick up from SteepAndCheap.com for less than half off! Good thing, since winter down bags are dreadfully expensive. I used to use a Mountain Hardwear Lamina -30º synthetic bag; although much cheaper, this was very bulky and heavy, and not nearly as warm as down.

• In addition to the Therm-a-Rest XTherm air mattress that I mentioned above, I also bring a short RidgeRest foam mattress, just for extra insulation and as an emergency backup in case the air mattress pops.

• 2-3 Nalgene bottles. In this case, they must be Nalgene bottles, or similar sturdy thick plastic bottles. The reason for this is because you can fill up the bottles with hot water and put them in your sleeping bag to keep warm at night! Also, by having multiple bottles, you can fill them all up with melted snow water in one sitting, then have water for the day.

• MSR pump stove. (I forget the model of mine, but you can see the latest MSR stoves here). The key here is to have a pump stove, not a fuel canister stove. The reason is because at very cold temperatures, the fuel canisters can lose all their gas pressure, rendering the stove useless. With a normal MSR fuel bottle, this is not an issue since the pressure is created by the manual pump. Also, much of your time winter camping is spent melting snow for water, so it’s nice to have a big bottle full of fuel. If your stove breaks or you run out of fuel, you have no water, and with no water, you must leave immediately!

• Whether you’re digging out a snow cave, building an igloo, or simply carving out a flat spot for your tent, a shovel is a must for winter camping. You can also use the blade as a platform for the stove. Ski/snowboard avalanche shovels are perfect for this; just make sure that it’s a metal one, not plastic. If you are building an igloo, you’re going to want an oversized shovel to move lots of snow around quicker and more efficiently.

• Remember to keep your spare batteries inside your down jacket at all times to keep them warm (cold batteries die sooner). Some people recommend keeping your boots inside your sleeping bag at night, but I don’t do this.

• What’s not shown here are skis or splitboard, and all that entails, or their mobility-challenged little cousins, snowshoes. One way or another, you’ll need a way to get through all that deep snow!

• I also have not included avalanche beacons or probes – here’s why: I do not know anybody else who enjoys winter camping, so I always just go out alone; thus, beacons or probes are useless to me. I do, however, only go winter backpacking on routes that are safe from avalanches – no steep slopes whatsoever. This severely limits my options, especially in the San Juans where the mountains are mostly all steep. But I would rather return home safe!

 

WINTER CAMPING CLOTHES

Winter backpacking clothes
Winter backpacking clothes

Obviously you’re going to need more warm clothes in the winter! Again, NO COTTON. Here’s my list:

• Performance long-sleeve shirt. I use old Duofold ones which are nice.

• A winter weight long-sleeve shirt. These are heavyweight shirts that are not meant for hiking in, but just for sitting around in the winter. Very, very warm for the weight.

• Poofy down jacket with hoodie. The most important piece of clothing! A big, thick down jacket will keep you toasty warm on even the coldest days. Mine is a Patagonia Fitz Roy hooded down jacket (another lucky SteepAndCheap.com score!), but there are lots of alternatives. I do recommend one with a hood, since it keeps the drafts out and insulates your head.

• The down sweater comes in handy again, as an extra underlayer if it’s really getting cold out.

Western Mountaineering Flight Down Pants. After years of lusting after down pants, this year I finally sprang for a pair. OMG, they are awesome! I can’t believe I’ve ever gone winter camping without them. You might even see me walking around Ouray with these things on like the Michelin man this winter. The nice things about these particular pants, aside from the usual excellent down that Western Mountaineering is known for, are the full length side zips for when it gets too hot, and reinforced butt and leg materials.

• Ski/snowboard pants. The summer shell pants won’t cut it in the snow. Make sure they have side or thigh zips for ventilation while hiking.

• Snowboard boots. (Unless you’re skiing). Whether you’re splitboarding or just snowshoeing, snowboard boots are comfortable and warm. I prefer very flexible boots; you don’t want to spend three days in stiff boots. For example, if you go to Burton.com, they show the flex ratings for their various boot models. I like the cheapest, most flexible boots.

• Down Booties. As opposed to down “slippers”, down booties have rubber soles so you can walk around in them on rocky terrain. They are very lightweight and easy to pack, and they are comfortable and warm for when you’re lounging around camp, melting snow.

• Gaiters keep the snow (and wind) out of your boots and pants. I like Outdoor Research’s Verglas Gaiters.

• Warm gloves, like ski/snowboarding gloves. Mittens are even warmer, but you lose dexterity.

• Hand warmers. Very important! Especially for photographers who must use thinner gloves when fiddling with the camera, hand warmers will keep your blood warm and your fingers from freezing.

• I forgot to include it in the photo, but a neck gaiter helps to keep heat below your neck, as well as keeping your face warm and shielded from wind. The Hoorag is a useful and versatile neck gaiter that is much lighter and more compact than a typical fleece neck gaiter (which is usually too hot and bulky anyways).

Hurricane Pass, Tetons, Wyoming, camp, night

Winter camping on Hurricane Pass, on a gorgeous calm moonlit night in March.  In the background are the Grand Teton, Middle Teton, and South Teton. Wyoming
 

SHOPPING

If it’s not entirely obvious by now, collecting all of this gear can be a very expensive endeavor! Here are a few ways that you can cut the costs:

• Make SteepAndCheap.com your homepage! Steep and Cheap is basically a fire-sale division of Backcountry.com, where they offer one deeply discounted item at a time, hour after hour, day after day. Discounts of 50-75% off are not unheard of. And they DO have good stuff on there quite often!

• If you’re shopping online, always search prices first before you buy something. Tools like Google Shopping or PriceGrabber.com help to find good deals.

• Spring is probably the best time of year to find great deals on gear; many online retailers slash prices and have big sales to try to unload last season’s gear before the next year’s inventory comes in. This is an especially good time to buy winter gear, with down jackets and ski gear often on sale for 50% or even 75% off. Around Memorial Day time (late May) almost every shop has big sales.

• Go to local ski swaps. In many towns, at least here in Colorado, there are big annual ski swaps, where companies and stores unload all their old stock at cheap prices, or where people sell their used stuff.

• Do you have a friend in the biz? I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity a number of times to buy a batch of gear from friends who have the coveted “pro deal” – items direct from the warehouse for less than wholesale price. This is probably more likely to happen if you live in a mountain town, where mountain athletes live.

 

I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve found some helpful tips and suggestions for attaining and/or improving your backpacking gear collection.

Please remember that there are many different strategies for backpacking, and many great products on the market beyond the ones I listed here. My strategy for backpacking involves striking a balance between lightweight travel and basic comforts.

If you are discouraged by the sometimes outrageous prices of some of this gear, remember that people have been enjoying the mountains for hundreds of years, using gear that was probably worse than what you could compile from a thrift store nowadays! As long as you can get the basic essentials, you can make it happen.

60 thoughts on “My Backpacking Gear

  1. Very nice post – I’ll keep this link handy to send to people asking about gear, since your gear list is very close to mine (as I would expect).

    How does that Twin Sisters hold up to wind? As in, at what gust levels do you start to worry? I’ve been thinking about getting something along those lines. I have a Bibler/BD Fitzroy when I need something indestructable, but at 6-7 lbs it sometimes is overkill.

    1. Hey Floris, the Twin Sisters does great in the wind, better than any other kind of tent that I could imagine, except for perhaps some kind of super heavy-duty Everest style tent. The thing is that when you bury the snow anchors and snow flaps in snow, the snow freezes up and the entire tent is cemented in place. When you pull the tent down, you literally have to dig it out with a shovel.

      I had one terribly windy night up on aptly named Hurricane Pass in the Teton. I knew a storm was coming in, so I built a U-shaped 4-foot snow wall on the windward side of the tent. I still thought that tent was going to explode – and I do think that if anything happened because of the wind, it would be that the tent would simply explode – the seams would bust, but it wouldn’t get knocked down. Anyhow, the tent survived that night like a champ, and when I woke up in the morning the snow wall was totally eroded down to the snow blocks that were standing there with no “mortar” anymore!

      1. Sounds good – I think I might go ahead and get one then!

        If you ever are in the market for a “floored” winter tent for two + gear, I can highly recommend the Bibler Fitzroy.. it handles 50 mph gusts with just 2 stakes 🙂 (for the price, and weight, it had better)

  2. Great post, thanks Jack! My son (6) and I go backpacking every year with another dad and son. I have to carry most of his gear too so weight is all important. Good ideas like yours from personal experience are always a great help. The bear bag is a great idea as the last trip we only had one and it was not enough anyway. The canisters are heavy and bulky too!

    I’m looking for a new backpack; I’ll check out the McHale. The last trip I was cursing my pack. I am with you that to enjoy the trips the most the best gear is important. On Outward Bound in high school I backpacked with leaky tarps in the rain… no more!

    What is the small camera in the summer backpacking picture? I struggle with the weight question and still having a great camera.

    1. Hi Andrew, yes I forgot to mention that little camera – it’s a Panasonic GX1 with 20mm pancake lens. It’s a very nice little camera, kind of like a mini-dSLR with its interchangeable lenses and larger sensor size. I keep that in a little chest pouch so it’s handy for “action” shots while hiking. That camera would be worth investigating for a lightweight option with image quality superior to usual compact cameras. In fact a lot of companies are now offering similar “mirrorless” compact, interchangeable lens, larger sensor cameras. Fuji, Sony, Olympus, and Samsung’s offerings are intriguing too.

  3. Whoa, Jack, this is really awesome! Thanks so much for all of the great info, appreciate you taking the time to put something like this together!

  4. Good stuff, Jack! Looks like your approach is pretty similar to mine. One note from a photographer’s perspective: a friend gave me a GoLite shelter, one of the ultra light ones that sets up with your trekking poles. I like it a lot, but I don’t like that your poles are then committed once you set up camp, and you therefore can’t use them to hike uphill at sunset and sunrise. That fact has made me generally choose the Big Agnes instead.

    For water filtration, I’m really loving the Sawyer Squeeze. It’s small, light and simple, with no important parts to lose. I’m not sure it’s really much faster than a pump, but it just feels easier. And you can use the bags to haul some extra water for a dry stretch if necessary.

      1. I wouldn’t say I’ve used it a ton, but after I got it I did a three-day, an overnight, then a six-day before I bothered to clean it, and even then I only cleaned it because it seemed wise, not because it had really slowed down much. All those trips were watered by clear mountain streams, the Escalante would probably be a different story, of course. But it would still be very easy to clean in the field compared to most filters.

  5. Thank you for this post.
    From being a drummer trapped in yucky rehearsal rooms it will take a while for me to find my way to the wilderness (especially because there is no wilderness where I live), but this one will definetely help!
    Thanks again, also for those inspiring pictures!

  6. Jack,
    This is an awesome post! Thank you for all the good info. One question about the floorless winter tent, so you just set up right on the snow underneath? Doesn’t it melt under you and you sleep in a puddle? I’ve never wintercamped, but been thinking about going for a weekend this year (in the NE). I like the idea of a floorless tent, but can’t wrap my head around the practicality?

    1. Hi Jeff, with the floorless tent, I do bring a tent-floor sheet (or sheet of Tyvec) to keep things off the snow. The advantage of this style tent is the minimal weight. Also, the tent sides go all the way to the ground, with snow flaps that you cover completely with snow – so the tent is for the most part airtight and aerodynamic in heavy winds. It’s a bit more of a hassle to set these kinds of tents up in the snow, compared to a regular 4-season tent, but they weigh a LOT less!

  7. We use the same Tent! Love that tent, nothing better. Lastly, I can’t remember the last time I filtered water!!! I’m likely doing it the way your freinds do it; carry two liters of tap water to higher elevations, only drink from streams that shoot or trickle straight out of the mountainside above 10,000-ft. Dont drink lake water or from streams that collect from numerous tributaries. So far so good. One day I’ll pay!!!

  8. Hello jack, your gallery are truly wonderful! I spend hours to read your blog and see your gallery, and it’s just stunning! I’ve never hike a snow mountain before, so this post is pretty intersting.

    Come visit my country Indonesia someday, we have many great volcano here! Have a look on my blog http://www.wiranurmansyah.com/mountain

    Thanks and have a nice light!

  9. I’ve been hoping for some time you would prepare a write up like this. Thank you! How does the Tamarak bag work for you when you leave your base camp to shoot; Do you just use the bag with shoulder strap?

    1. Hi Trey, my backpack has a cool feature where it can collapse to a smaller daypack size for hiking from camp, which is how I carry the camera in that situation. If I’ve just wandering around the area around camp, or doing a very short hike, I’ll just carry the Tamrac bag and tripod in my hands.

      Another solution might be to find an ultralight daypack to take along just for this purpose. It would have to very very light and minimal for this to make sense though.

  10. What a great post Jack,
    I’m on the market right now for a new backpack for my 4×5 setup; I’m a bit tired of using a classic tubular design mountain one.
    Any suggestions?
    Thanks in advance,
    Have a great year!

    1. Hi Nicolas, I don’t know of any good ones offhand; my suggestion though is to find a panel loader backpack where the entire backside zips open so that you can access all your gear quickly without having to unpack the whole bag. Some packs (such as F-Stop packs) have the padded back panel that unzips which is even better since you can put the pack down and upzip it easily from under the shoulder straps.

      1. Thanks Jack, I think a panel loader is the best choice. I’ve been looking for quite some time for a commercial, photo backpack and they are usually too small for a several days trekking. Then there is the tripod. I’m using a series 3 systematic and after trying different options for quite some time, made an inner holder for my tripod, now it rides inside the pack, aligned with my spine and gear, it doesn’t get caught in foliage and in public places it doesn’t scream- I’m a photographer!
        The only way I know to balance a heavy tripod is to carry the tent and the sleeping bag on the other side, very few bags have this option.
        Anyway, thanks for the post again and for all the “food for thought” I’ll keep looking for a big panel loader.
        Best!

  11. Great post! How long do you typically pack for on your trips? I noticed you didn’t have a ton of clothes, which is nice, but just wondering how long your trips typically last.

    1. Hi Micah, I usually go backpacking for anywhere from 2 – 6 nights. As for clothes, I always keep one set of “clean” shirt/socks/underwear for sleeping and lounging around camp; the other hiking clothes get pretty sweaty and stinky but who cares when you’re in the wilderness! Sometimes I rinse out dirty clothes in streams.

  12. Hi, love your pictures and your website. I was reading your winter camping blog, I thought i’d add that as far as using Nalgene water bottles to put hot water in and warm up sleeping bags. If you put two top ramen noodle packs in the Nalgene you’d be amazed how much longer the bottles stay warm, like almost all night.

    1. Hi Kirk, thanks for the tip! That’s interesting… The downside is that in the morning your water would taste like Ramen. Then again, breakfast would be ready already! 🙂

  13. Glad I clicked here – never heard of bear bags. Ill check them out. Hows 4th of July there in the upper elevations? Needing ice axe 5-10% of time is 1 thing, 50% is another matter. – beartown and molas pass are closest snowcover reports I can find. Hopefully its 1 month til Weminuche!

    1. Hi Tom, my guess is that by the 4th of July most of the snow should be melted out and the tundra will be looking pretty green and inviting! There will probably be the occasional snowfield still, but usually by then the ice axe is stored in the attic!

  14. Thanks Jack – encouraging news. Was hoping Id find you had a gallery to see in person in Ouray. Ive visited the ARt Wolfe and Mangelssen sites once or twice – but cant count how many times Ive been on yours. Jaw dropping gorgeous, and great for helping plan a trip. If only there were more jobs in Ouray or SIlverton. A 14er in Illinois is 14 feet – dont bother adding the 3 zeros.

  15. i’m Nature photographer and trekker i’m trekking all high himalya of Nepal India tibet leh ladhak and Bhutan nice to seen
    this page and ur post wow Backpacking Gear…

    Darwan Naithwal
    INDIA

  16. I have to say that this statement of yours, ” Which is to say, we can’t just wander off naked into the woods and expect to be one with nature!” is wrong. Check out Alone in the wilderness. It is about a man going butt naked into the outdoors and being one with the land and it’s wildlife. 🙂

  17. Hi
    I just love your pictures! So amazing! So beautiful. You also manage to take some incredibly good shots with people doing activities in “not long-exposure” shots – any recommendations for filters and techniques for these kind of shots?

  18. Great post and ideas.
    As an avid backpacker and photographer, I’m forever rigging up systems to carry my large Nikon D7000 and zoom lens. I prefer to have my camera strapped to the front of me to use at a moment’s notice. If it’s tucked away in my pack, I wouldn’t use it and therefore it would be added, useless weight. So far I’ve tried a number of systems to no avail. Either they get in the way or the camera bounces around and nothing is comfortable.
    What would you suggest? I saw someone once with a fanny-pack type of holster for his DSLR. It worked well and he said it did not interfere.
    Thanks!

    1. Hi Shannon, I used to carry my slr that way – in a chest pouch. It was kind of a self-rigged system but worked well: I had a Lowepro top-zoom pouch with two upper straps connected to loops on my backpack shoulder straps, then two lower straps connected lower down on the backpack. All straps had clips, and the lower two straps were connect via elastic bands to provide a bit of flex for mobility purposes. This system worked well for me, also with the bonus of balancing the load better by taking the camera weight off your back.

      However, I quit this technique for two reasons: First, it becomes a pain to get into and out of the backpack when you’re dealing with all those camera clips up front. Secondly, I always shoot from a tripod, so I have to take the pack off anyways to access the tripod, not to mention gaining access to other lenses, filters, etc. So nowadays the camera is in the backpack, and I carry a smaller pocket camera (currently a Ricoh GR) on the chest strap for quick action shots or snapshots.

  19. Great article! Just came across this site while researching gear needed for backcountry photography. I already bookmarked this for future reference. In this post you stated, “as for backpacking food, that is a whole ‘nother topic that I will try to tackle some other time in another post” and I am wondering if you ever wrote that post.

    1. Hi Luke, no I haven’t gotten around to that one yet. We’ve been big into dehydrating our own meals in the last few years, so it’s a bigger topic to tackle… but I will get it done sooner or later….

  20. Just moved to Aspen,CO from OK as the new postmaster here. I always wanted to go backpacking and I love your post. I’m bookmarking it for future reference. Thanks for sharing!

  21. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I especially like the way you pack your backpack and am in the process of repacking and re-organizing my gear and stuff before heading out in May on a long-distance hike. I like the idea of a few larger stuff sacks instead of smaller sacks for separate items. The McHale panel loader backpack looks like a great and practical pack. How do you carry the camera bag? Bumbag or harness? I found that depending on how the backpack is packed the same weight can feel much different, i.e. lighter or heavier. I have an Osprey pack and shall see whether your packing method would make things easier and the pack feeling lighter.

      1. Thank you so much for your reply! After I posted my question I read all the replies again and realized I missed your reply and suggestion on how to attach the camera to the shoulder straps of the backpack. I was making something similar with dog collar straps and hooks I took from lanyards. Just had no idea whether anything ought be attached to the shoulder straps of the pack and did not want to be caught during the hike with something that may break. The straps you suggested in the previous reply further above actually work well and are very suitable especially for quick access to the small ‘action’ camera which I now will take along as well. The larger stuff sacks are easier to pack too and stuff is easier to find. The hike we are going to do is mainly an unsupported long-distance hike of 135km with photography as we go, so the 35mm camera will also be suspended from the straps attached to the shoulder straps. I found this works quite well and to carry the camera this way does not feel that heavy at all. Thank you for the link to store.seekoutside. Much appreciated.

  22. No long I discovered your blog, must trying the remember the time I was in the mountains and caves. You canno image how thankfull I am with the time you spend sharing your material. We may found some comments in very old posts, but this is because I just recently came across you pictures. Thanks.

  23. First thank you for your great summary of your gear, your experience with it and your review of it.. Btw, please excuse my English, it’s not my first language. Living in Norway, I have the pleasure of hiking during different year seasons, and there is no doubt that the right gear is important. You have many good suggestions and advices.
    That said,I often go hiking with different people who have different gear, – some cheap, some very expensive, and some look like a mixture of a Christmas tree and a military tactical special force guy, with a knife so big that it’s not useful for anything other than dreams.

    I think the most important is to think through how you are going to walk, paddle, ski or sleep as comfortable and with as less strains as possible. I disagree regarding the expensive versus the cheap gear. My experience is that middle range often is good enough. If a seam goes up, I glue it with duck tape and repair it when I come home. After the repair, it’s often more sturdy than ever before. My good old shoes got new soles last autumn, and I saved a lot of money on that. Walking poles is not for me. I think it’s better for balance to walk without and if you need to cross a river, you can use a stick you find in nature.

    All this said, I don’t mind good expensive equipment. I just see that people I hike with, special the young ones, thinks it’s required with such equipment to find the pleasure of the nature. Thats just sad.
    The most important thing is to know how to handle nature and to have good enough equipment to stay out in a comfortable way.
    I think there are pretty many people who have paid a lot of money for a few trips during the year. Often only one or two trips.
    The only thing I envy you, in a good way, is your camera. To be able to show nature and your wilderness experiences, and to tell the story. The equipment is a minor thing that often can be replaced by experience.
    Look at that old mountain guy living on a farm by himself. The knife in his belt, is an old cheap knife, used over many years, worn down after setting it up a thousand times. He don’t have all that modern equipment, but he manage by his experience. Surviving year by hear in minus 35 Celcius . We have a lot to learn from those people.

  24. HI. You should really check out Osprey backpacks, they make quality gear with all the necessary compartments and the best part it come with a “all mighty guarantee” so in anything happens to your bag they’ll fix of replace it.( the warranty last 100 years). Also MSR makes a lighter version if the domadary bag called the dromalight.
    Cheers

  25. Hi Jack,
    Thanks for your input on gear. I am due for some upgrades and found your suggestions helpful. How are the tent zippers holding up on the BA tents? I have had some frustrating zipper experiences as of late on a BD tent I purchased just a few years ago. I replaced the sliders but I am still having issues with both doors. I have resorted to using my 20 year old Wild Country Quasar for backpack trips over the BD tent (much heavier but the zippers still work!!!!). I saw you like the author John Mcphee. I am a a big fan of his books (Basin and Range, Rising from the Plains, Coming into the Country, Irons in the Fire, many more). Such a curious individual…….
    As always your work and website are a fav of mine to visit. With almost 28 years of exploring the San Juans and Weminuche, it is wonderful to share your remarkable perspective of a landscape I love and cherish. I can relate to many of the ski tours (N Face of the Battlehsip, N and W Face Red #3, Cirque Mtn to name a few) and the remote places you have visited in the Weminuche.
    Thanks Jack!
    Chris

    1. Hi Chris, thanks for your comment and compliments! As for the BA tents, yes I’ve had problems with the zippers before on their tents; they are great tents but they do tend to put flimsy undersized zippers on them. For that reason I make sure to buy them from someplace that has a rock solid return policy, since BA themselves will charge a fee to repair them (which is pretty lame when you think about it). That said, our latest BA Fly Creek 3 tent does have a slightly beefier zipper which seems like it will last a bit longer. I really like that tent, so if/when that zipper finally busts I may just hire a tailor to sew a super beefy zipper on there.

  26. Hi Jack,
    How is the Contax lens you have? From what I read it seems to be very sharp across the range. In case you had a chance to look at other lenses, how would you compare with it a Canon 24-70 verII or a Nikon 24-70?
    I’m looking to buy a a Nikon 24-70 ver2 and it’s quite expense. I can buy a Contax 35-70 of ebay and convert it to Nikon for a fraction of price.
    Let me know you about your experince with the 35-70.
    Excellent post about your backpacking gear!
    Thanks,
    Florin

    1. Hi Florin, yeah that Contax/Zeiss 35-70mm lens is fantastic! Very very sharp throughout the range, like you said, and also quite compact and lightweight. Of course it’s manual focus. It also has a macro mode which is fun sometimes to play around with closeup focussing. I don’t have experience with the Canon or Nikon 24-70’s so I can’t compare. But I would only hope that those would be as sharp as the Contax. ~Jack

  27. Hi. Awesome piece of content, you’ve got here! Just came across your site while checking out gear needed for backcountry photography. You should see the Osprey backpacks, they make very top class gear, with all the necessary compartments.
    Keep up the good work.

  28. Hi Jack, this is fantastic content!! Thanks for sharing. I’ve been searching the web for such info on backcountry shooting and nothing else comes close to the in depth detail and quality info you’ve provided here from what I’ve found! Thanks. I’m eager to test out one of the Exposure packs. I’ve tried a lot of camera packs including the F Stop Satori. However with the Satori I wasn’t happy with the fit and weight to capacity ratio. I know a lot of people like this pack but I found it uncomfortable when loaded up, and a bit limited for storage for more than a day.

  29. Hi! Great stuff you have shared here. I was searching for backcountry shooting info when I found your site and I have to say that you have explained the whole thing in great detail. Thanks a lot for sharing 🙂

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