My Backpacking Gear (Updated 2019)

Originally published October 2012. Last updated in July 2019 with lots of new gear selections and a new section on sun protection. Many of the product links are affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something after clicking one of my gear links, I will get a small cut of the payment and it won’t cost you anything more.

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 the 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.


The gear I’m listing below is based around 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 strategy for backpacking involves striking a balance between lightweight travel and basic comforts. While I’ll never qualify as a true ultralight backpacker due to my camera gear, I do believe that opting for ultralight gear whenever possible can dramatically reduce your pack weight, allowing for more enjoyable hiking that’s easier on your body. In my gear list below you will see that weight is often a main priority.

Because I backpack so often and because backpacking is an integral part of my photography business, I am willing to spend extra money on expensive, premium, ultralight gear – for me this makes sense and is worth it. I often spend hours researching gear, scouring reviews and forums to discover niche products and to get a sense of the best ultralight gear options. Part of my intention with this article is to share my knowledge and experience of the very best backpacking gear available, and thus you will see that my gear list below is definitely aimed at the premium end of the spectrum. I realize that the excessive cost of some of this ultralight gear is beyond reasonable for casual or beginner backpackers, but at the least my recommendations can serve as a reference point to compare other products to. Keep in mind that there are many great products on the market beyond the ones I list here, many of which are far less expensive and perfectly adequate for backcountry comfort and performance. You don’t need specialized gear for everything; of course people have been hiking, camping, and enjoying the wilderness for many generations before any of this high tech gear existed!

 

MY SUMMER BACKPACKING SETUP

Summer backpacking gear
My summer backpacking gear in 2018. Some updated items listed below are different than what’s pictured here.

TENT: Nowadays I mostly backpack with my wife Claudia; we both agree that a fully enclosed mosquito-proof tent is the way to go (rather than floorless tents or tarps). For ultralight tents, the best options are trekking-pole-supported tents made out of Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), also known as Cuben Fiber. This material is ultra lightweight, ultra strong, and totally waterproof (so you can shake the water off and won’t ever have to pack a soaking wet tent) – but, it’s also ultra expensive. If you can stomach the price, the Zpacks Duplex is an impressively-well-designed single-wall tent. At a mere 19.4 oz. the Duplex is dramatically lighter and more spacious than comparable 2-3 man tents which are typically 2+ pounds heavier. If you do a lot of backpacking, the high price is worth it to save so much weight. The optional carbon fiber tent pole set converts the Duplex into a freestanding tent which is useful when camping in the desert on sand or slickrock. Their Triplex model is super spacious but its footprint is too enormous for many backcountry camp spots, and there’s no tent pole kit option for that size. Both Zpacks and Tarptent (and many other cottage tent brands) also make ultralight 1 person tents.

If the prices of those ultralight DCF tents seem absurd to you, the Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 is a good lightweight (~3 lb.) option for 2 people, and you can often find Big Agnes tents on sale for 20-25% off. We used a similar Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 tent for many years and really liked it, but the Tiger Wall is slightly lighter and has two doors.

For trips when we expect very windy or snowy weather, we bring a Big Sky International Chinook 2P Tent which is super bomber.

Budget options: Most inexpensive tents come with a significant weight penalty of several additional pounds or more, which I don’t recommend at all, but there are some obscure options that aren’t so heavy. The trekking pole supported MIER Ultralight tent (~2.5 lb, $130) looks promising. Or for an inexpensive ultralight option you could go for a floorless tent like the Black Diamond Beta Light (1 lb 3oz., $165 on sale).

SLEEPING BAG: Down sleeping bags are typically lighter, more packable, and warmer than synthetic sleeping bags. For backpacking couples like us, we are big fans of double sleeping bag systems which are superior because you gain a lot of extra heat by sharing the space with your partner (just be careful with those curry or bean chili dinners!). We use a Feathered Friends Spoonbill double bag, which is very warm (I estimate about a 15-20º temp rating) and weighs an incredible 2 lb 8 oz., just slightly heavier than most single person sleeping bags! It achieves this light weight because the down fill is only on the top and sides, not on the bottom which is unnecessary since down is squished and ineffective anyways when you’re laying on it. A similar option would be the 1-person Feathered Friends Penguin bag which can be paired with the matching Penguin Groundsheet to turn it into a 2-person bag.

For solo trips I use a Timmermade Wren False Bottom sleeping bag. It’s 20º temperature rating is perfect to stay cozy on chilly alpine nights. While comparable 20º down bags typically weigh around 26-32oz, the Wren weighs only 19.5oz thanks to 950 fill down and a zipperless design which (like the Spoonbill) omits down insulation underneath your back. Plus, Dan Timmerman custom makes each bag to your exact specifications, even with custom photo-printed fabric if you choose! Nice.

Budget option: The NEMO Kyan 20 Sleeping Bag has good reviews and is surprisingly light for a synthetic bag (2lb 1oz, $240).

SLEEPING PAD: The little orange thing is my sleeping pad, an Exped Synmat HL M Sleeping Pad. 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. Since trying modern air pads I haven’t looked back! 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. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad is a comparable highly regarded pad, but it’s not quite as comfortable in my opinion, and it makes loud crinkly noises when you move around. But, the Therm-a-Rest comes with a lifetime warranty, which is something to consider compared to Exped’s 2-year warranty. For couple camping we use the Exped Synmat HL Duo Sleeping Pad, which is the same thing as the Exped above, but double wide for two people.

TREKKING POLES: Trekking poles save your knees, give you extra hiking power from your arms, and aid in balance. Collapsible poles are preferred for their ability to fit into travel luggage, or to strap to your pack when not in use. Cascade Mountain Tech 3K Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles are lightweight, telescoping collapsible poles at a much lower price than most other similar trekking poles. I’ve learned that telescoping poles like this with quicklocks/fliplocks are more durable and reliable than the slightly lighter weight Z-poles such as the Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Trekking Poles pictured above. (I’ve broken 5 different sets of Z-poles, I’ve finally learned my lesson that this design just isn’t durable enough). I think it’s not a good idea to spend an exorbitant amount on poles since they do tend to break eventually.

PILLOW: I prefer to just fold a down jacket or sweater into the sleeping bag stuff sack.

CLOTHES: The bigger blue bag in the top middle is an Osprey Ultralight Drysack (6L) which I put all my clothes into. Another cool option for this is the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Backpack, which is nearly as lightweight but has backpack straps so can double as a small daypack for short hikes around camp. If you’re really a gram-counting gear hound, check out the feather light dyneema Zpacks Stuff Sacks. Or you can just use a plastic grocery bag or just shove your clothes directly into your pack. More details on clothes below.

RAIN COVER: Don’t want your backpack to get wet if/when it rains on you! Osprey Ultralight Rain Covers are nice, or if you’re willing to spend a bit more the Zpacks Pack Covers are dyneema and half the weight. Budget option: use a trash compactor bag as a pack liner inside your pack, then you don’t need a rain cover.

WATER BOTTLE: One Nalgene water bottle. A Gatorade or SmartWater bottle would work just fine too.

WATER PURIFIER: Some of my friends never filter water around here at all, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. There are a lot of options and different techniques for purifying water, and I’ve used just about all of them, but my absolute favorite is the Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Filter System. Gone are the days of tedious pumping or squeezing; with the GravityWorks you just fill up a 4-liter “dirty” bag, hang it in a tree, and wait 10-20 minutes for the water to flow through the filter into another 4-liter “clean” bag. It really works well, and if/when it does start to slow down after numerous uses, you can just reverse the process to back-flow and clean the filter out. Plus, you have a 4-liter dromedary bag which is super handy for camping in awesome spots away from water sources. This system is a little bit bulkier and heavier than other purification methods but in my opinion it’s totally worth it. The only drawback of the GravityWorks system is that it does take a while to filter the water, so it’s not practical for quick filtering while hiking. Also, the filter can be destroyed if it freezes, so you have to be careful about that. My second purification choice for times when I know I’ll need to purify during hiking, or when I want to travel really light, is the SteriPEN Adventurer Opti. This is a very light, compact, and quick UV purifier. Just make sure to carry extra CR123 lithium batteries.

FOOD: The white bag is my food bag, an Ursack Major 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. Or smaller critters either, for that matter. We once had some aggressive squirrels chew a hole through our tent trying to get to some toothpaste we left in there! As for backpacking food, we prefer to dehydrate our own meals, though we also sometimes eat the freeze-dried backpacker meals too (which are actually pretty good these days). But that is a whole ‘nother topic that I will try to tackle some other time in another post.

STOVE: My backpacking stove of choice is the Soto WindMaster Stove, which runs on standard propane/butane fuel canisters. This tiny thing is super lightweight and compact, has very nice flame adjustment for simmering, reliable auto-ignitor, and can boil water in breezy or windy conditions which contributes to fuel efficiency. Budget option: Make your own cat food can alcohol stove!

COOKWARE: I would recommend titanium cookware, even though it’s quite a bit more expensive. It will lighten your load and last forever. For the pot, cooking for couples or groups, I’d recommend something in the 1.5 to 2-liter volume range, such as the Snow Peak Titanium Pot. Perhaps solo hikers could use a smaller pot. I also like the Snow Peak Titanium Fork and Spoons, and their Titanium mug for coffee. The plastic style backcountry spoons/forks work fine too. Don’t forget to bring a couple BIC lighters in case you want (or need) to start a fire; and store them someplace where there’s no chance of getting wet.

HEADLAMP: How about an affordable headlamp that shines up to 360 lumens and weighs a scant 1.17 oz? Too good to be true? It’s for real: the Nitecore NU25 Triple Output USB Rechargeable Headlamp with Ultralight headband modification by Litesmith. It also has a red lamp which won’t attract bugs. Runtimes are as follows: Low (tent or reading light) 1 lumen for 160 hours, Medium (normal camp use or hiking on trail at night) 38 lumens for 8 hours, High (bright off trail night hiking) 190 lumens for 5 hours. The Turbo 360 lumen mode is only good for 0.5 hours. This headlamp is a great choice for shorter ultralight treks; for longer treks you might need a backup battery charger.

If you often hike at night (like I do for sunrise or sunset shoots) and you want something super bright that will illuminate a forest and blind every animal in a 100 yard radius, check out the Zebralight H600Fw Mk IV 18650 XHP35 Floody Neutral White Headlamp. This headlamp is sure to please even the most discerning flashlight geeks with its 1358 lumen max brightness, neutral warm light color tint (more visually pleasing and shows natural colors more accurately than the usual fluorescent cool white light), soft semi-flood beam, and exceptionally long battery life, all at a reasonably light 4.5 oz. weight. Runtimes are as follows: 0.9 Lm = 1080 hours, 55 Lm = 28 hours, 256 Lm = 6.3 hours, 1358 Lm = 2.8 hours (and there are numerous settings in between as well). This headlamp is the choice for longer treks, night hiking, or if you just appreciate high quality light color & beam. Another advantage of this headlamp is that it uses rechargeable, high powered 18650 lithium batteries which can also double as backup battery packs for other devices, using a lightweight charger adapter such as the Nitecore LC10 USB Charger.

KNIFE: If you wanna feel like Rambo you’ve gotta have a knife out there! But let’s be honest, its main job description is slicing salami and cheese. For these tasks the 27g Deejo is beautiful little lightweight knife (you can even customize the handle and engravings). For something a little more sturdy and easier to handle, the Kershaw Skyline knife is a nice one. I also carry a tiny multi-tool like the Leatherman Style in case I need to fix something with pliers.

TOILETRIES: Don’t forget your sunblock, toothbrush, mini travel toothpaste, and a travel bottle of hand sanitizer. As for TP, NEVER leave your toilet paper lying around after you’re done! This is the number one most common offense of careless and disrespectful backpackers. After finding a private place a long distance from any campsite 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.

FIRST AID KIT: You can buy a prepackaged first aid kit like this, or just compile your own. Additionally, if you bring a phone, there are some good first aid apps that could provide crucial reference info when you’re in the field, including First Aid: American Red Cross and Army First Aid.

SUNGLASSES and sunglass case if you’re anal like me about not scratching up your glasses.

PERSONAL LOCATOR BEACON: I always bring along the ACR ResQLink 406 Personal Locator Beacon. The way PLBs work is that if you have a dire emergency in the wilderness you can activate an SOS and the device will alert an emergency center via satellite, who will then initiate rescue knowing your exact GPS location. 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. The Garmin inReach is another option which has the advantage of being able to send non-emergency texts via satellite too, which can be handy for updating your loved ones while you’re out. But the Garmin is bigger and most importantly requires a recurring subscription which in the long run makes it far more expensive (whereas the ACR is a one-time purchase).

MAP/COMPASS (OR PHONE): You’ve always got to have a map with you on backcountry treks. Fortunately nowadays we can have all the topo maps we want with us on our smart phones, using apps like Gaia GPS or Topo Maps, with the added advantage that those apps will tell you your exact location on the map. The catch is that you have to make sure your phone doesn’t run out of batteries! Battery life can be lengthened by always keeping your phone in airplane mode and by carrying a compact battery backup such as the Anker PowerCore+ mini.

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

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

 

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 for many years and will make the difference between an enjoyable trek or 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.

Seek Outside Exposure Backpack
Seek Outside Exposure Backpack

I use and highly recommend the Seek Outside Unaweep-Exposure panel loader backpack, which I actually helped to design specifically for us backpacking photographers, but I’d recommend it to non-photographers just the same. You can read my full review of the Seek Outside Exposure backpack here.

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, from bottom to top (left to right), there’s the sleeping bag (not visible), sleeping pad and some other stuff, food bag, clothes bag, and finally the camera case on top and quickly accessible. The tripod gets strapped to the side.

The current Seek Outside Exposure model is a bit larger than my pictured version; it’s about 80L volume, 3lb 14oz, $450. If you don’t need so much volume or a panel loader design, check out their Gila 3500 backpack which is about 60L, 2lb 10oz, $340. Seek Outside also offers various other models and sizes. I am a huge fan of Seek Outside packs; while they may be slightly heavier than super ultralight packs, they have a beefy suspension that will carry heavy loads MUCH more comfortably than pretty much any other backpack. So rather than looking strictly at the backpack weights, it’s better to consider a carry-comfort/weight ratio, and in this regard the Seek Outside packs are among the very best backpacks on the market.

Budget option: Although I haven’t used one myself, the Granite Gear Crown2 60L (2lb 2oz, $200) is affordable, ultralight, has good reviews, and comes in three back sizes; but, just keep in mind that its 35lb carry capacity limits you to shorter backpack trips or ultralight packing.

 

Budget Comparison

Here is a list of my recommended backpacking gear (for a 1-person backpacking kit not including clothes, accessories, etc.) compared to similar but less expensive options.

Jack’s Picks Weight (oz) Price Budget Picks Weight (oz) Price
Backpack Gila 3500 backpack 42 $340 Granite Gear Crown2 60L 34 $200
Tent (2p) Zpacks Duplex 19.4 $599 MIER Ultralight 36 $130
Sleeping Bag Timmermade Wren False Bottom 20º 19.5 $420 NEMO Kyan 20º 33 $240
Sleeping Pad Exped Synmat HL 12.5 $169 Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest 14 $20
Trekking Poles Cascade Mountain Tech 3K Carbon Fiber 14.7 $58 Cascade Mountain Tech 3K Carbon Fiber 14.7 $58
Water Purifier SteriPEN Adventurer Opti 3.6 $83 Sawyer Squeeze Mini 4.2 $25
Stove (not including fuel) Soto WindMaster 2.4 $65 cat food can alcohol stove 0.3 $1
Headlamp Zebralight H600Fw Mk IV 18650 XHP35 4.5 $89 Nitecore NU25 (with ultralight headband) 1.2 $42
Total 118.6 oz / 7.41 lbs $1823 137.4 oz / 8.59 lbs $716

As you can see, it’s possible to compile a comparably lightweight backpacking kit for less than half the price as my picks. If you look closely, you’ll see that the most dramatic weight savings come from the tent and sleeping bag – that’s where you can save nearly 2 lbs right off the bat, but it’s going to cost you an extra $650!

Of course, there’s more to it than just the weight numbers; my recommended gear choices offer superior performance, comfort, and convenience across the board. So for me personally as an avid backpacker, it’s absolutely worth the ~$1000 premium for this top-of-the-line gear.

Also, just to be clear, you don’t necessarily need to go ultralight or spend $716 to get into backpacking; you can likely find all of the gear you need in used marketplaces or thrift stores for much cheaper than these budget listings.

 

CAMERA GEAR

Since this is a photography blog and I’m a photographer, here’s my current camera gear that I take with me on most backpacking trips, in case you’re interested.

Sony A7RIII camera
Sony 24-105mm lens
Canon 17mm TS-E tilt/shift lens with Metabones adaptor (Sometimes I will leave this one behind if I really want to travel light and I don’t anticipate much need for ultra-wide shooting).
Hoya circular polarizer
• 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.
Really Right Stuff TQC-14 Carbon Fiber Tripod with a Gitzo short center column, or when I really want to hike light I’ll take the Gitzo GIGT0545T Traveler Series 0 Carbon Fiber Tripod.
Really Right Stuff BH-25 Ultra-light ballhead with lever-release clamp.

Camera Toploader Chest Pouch
Toploader Chest Pouch

I typically carry the camera with zoom lens in a toploader chest pouch (in this case an F-Stop Droploader 15) which is rigged to my backpack’s shoulder straps with releasable clips. This keeps the camera handy for easy and immediate access while I’m hiking, and also nicely balances my backpack load by putting the camera weight on my chest and not completely on my back.

The wideangle lens and other filters and batteries I put into my backpack in an F-Stop Micro Tiny ICU. If/when I want to carry two extra lenses, I’ll use an F-Stop Small Shallow ICU in my backpack instead. The tripod gets strapped to the side.

 

OPTIONAL EXTRAS

Backpacking Gear 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:

• 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. Sometimes useful in Colorado, this is often a must for the desert. Check out the 6-Liter MSR Dromlite Bag or better yet, if you use the Platypus GravityWorks 4.0L Filter System then you’ve already got a 4-liter dromedary bag.

Bear spray. A must in places with grizzlies like Montana, Canada, and Alaska, but not really necessary in Colorado.

Bug spray and/or head net, depending 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. I like Ben’s bug spray, which doesn’t have such a noxious odor. If you are in a place where you actually need a head net, you might also appreciate a bug-repellant shirt such as the ExOfficio BugsAway Halo shirt.

Umbrella! If the forecast calls for a lot of rainy weather while hiking, an umbrella is a great item to have. Why? Because most waterproof rain jackets are not very breathable, and you will be probably be drenched with sweat in addition to being miserably hot in that jacket. An umbrella such as the Snow Peak U.L. completely solves that problem, and you will be SO much happier hiking in the rain with one.

Entertainment! Cards, Sudoku, a lightweight book (I wrote about backpacking books here), perhaps a Kindle, 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! Ounce-counters might prefer mini playing cards instead.

• For shorter trips and/or car camping, you might enjoy lounging in a hammock! Mine was gifted to me and I haven’t done any research about these, but I do know that you can get some pretty compact and lightweight hammocks these days. Don’t forget that in addition to the hammock itself you will need a set of adjustable hammock straps to wrap around trees and hang the hammock from.

USB battery recharger for recharging your phone and/or other devices. As mentioned above, the Anker PowerCore+ mini is a good compact choice for recharging your phone about 1-1.5 times. Or if any of your devices use 18650 batteries, such as the Zebralight Headlamp I described above, those batteries can double as backup chargers using a lightweight Nitecore LC10 USB Charger.

• A super-duper flashlight can be very helpful for night hikes. Sometimes I use the Coast HP7R LED flashlight, which has an incredibly powerful light and a slide focus that can be focussed to a tight long-distance beam that can illumate your path across a valley, or widened to a wide circle to illuminate an entire forest around you (good for calming your nerves if you’re paranoid about bears or mountain lions!). It also comes with two long-lasting rechargable lithium battery packs. The cost may seem excessive for a flashlight, but it will quickly become your favorite toy for hiking in the dark!

Binoculars. Not really necessary for most backpackers, but they can be fun for exploring the landscape from a high perch.

• And not pictured: the vices. A flask of whiskey, tequila, or [pick your poison] 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. Those of you in Colorado, Washington, or other personal-freedom-allowing states might enjoy bringing along some cannabis which I’ve heard goes well with being out in nature – and it’s ultralight too!

 

CLOTHES

My summer backpacking clothes.
My summer backpacking clothes.

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! Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily short sleeve shirts are nice.

• A warmer, long-sleeved layer for hanging out at camp, and at night. I like REI’s Sahara shirts.

• 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. A hooded down sweater provides a bit more warmth when needed. These can also double as a pillow when stuffed into your tent sack at night.

• A shell jacket to protect from rain and wind. The Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Jacket weighs only 8.5oz and shields you from wind and rain, yet has breathable underarm panels so you’re less likely to be drenched by your own sweat while hiking. These jackets have a trim fit so I’d recommend to size up so you can layer a down jacket underneath.

• 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.

• Shorts. Running shorts are very light and fast drying. Anything will work but the Prana Super Mojo Shorts are pretty sweet.

• Undies. As with everything else, go for something non-cotton like nylon/spandex/wool, which dry out quickly after a sweaty day of hiking. I usually bring along with a spare so that I don’t stink too badly after a week of trekking. I like Saxx Quest 2.0 Boxers.

• Long underwear. Smartwool Merinos are nice, as are Patagonia Capilenes.

• A sun hat, or a ballcap with sun cape or a handkerchief underneath to shade my neck. I love the Outdoor Research Trucker Sun Runner Hat which comes with a sun cape that shades my neck and stays in place even in windy weather.

• Gloves and a warm beanie for when it gets cold. The Outdoor Research Flurry Sensor Gloves are very comfortable and touch-screen sensitive.

• 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 super 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 efficiently so the headband doesn’t get all soaked like normal ones.

• Socks. Wool socks are more durable and will keep your feet warmer when they’re wet. I prefer lightweight wool socks like the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Sock, 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.

• 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. My current boot of choice is the Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Hiking Boot, which is sturdy yet still flexible enough for comfortable walking. I highly recommend swapping out your boots’ flat insoles with ones that have more arch support, such as Spenco Total Support Insoles or Superfeet.

• A lightweight pack towel to wash with. The best is to fully jump into a lake or stream, or you can splash-wash yourself next to a lake/stream, or if options are limited or it’s super cold out, you can just do a towel wash with a wet towel. By the way, don’t use soap or shampoo in lakes or rivers as the suds are pollution (yes, even eco-friendly soap). If you must wash with soap, get a pot of water and do it away from the water source.

 

SUN PROTECTION

Sun protection is one of those things that many people probably don’t worry about enough. Sure, maybe you’ll put on some suncreen in the morning and maybe you’ll get a bit of a minor sunburn by late afternoon but who cares, not a big deal, right? Well, let me tell you when your doctor informs you that you have basal cell skin cancer and you have to get several chunks of your face carved out, that’s a serious wakeup call! That happened to me recently, and sun protection became a top priority real quick. I wish I had been more vigilant about it in the 20+ years I’ve been hiking and backpacking in the high altitude Colorado sunlight. I hope if you’re reading this that you can learn from my lesson and make sun protection a top priority for yourself now before it comes back to bite you.

While sunscreen is a necessary part of sun protection, by far the best protection is physical protection, meaning clothing and shade. This is tricky though for strenuous exercise in hot weather; long sleeve shirts and pants can be unbearable in the heat. Fortunately there are some fantastic items available that are designed just for this.

• The Outdoor Research Trucker Sun Runner Hat comes with a sun cape that shades your neck and stays in place even in windy weather. In my opinion this is superior to traditional round brimmed sun hats because: 1) Sun hat brims often flop up in the wind, thus rendering them ineffective; 2) Sun hat brims often hit your backpack behind your head, which simply won’t work for hiking; and 3) Brimmed sun hats don’t shade your face or neck when the sun is lower in the sky.

Outdoor Research ActiveIce Sun Sleeves are a great way to keep your arms protected without slathering sunscreen all over them (and having to clean it off every night). The ActiveIce fabric really works: it has a phenomenal evaporative cooling affect that actually keeps your arms cooler than they’d be uncovered in the sun! Plus, the sleeves have thumb holes so they can cover your entire hands too except your fingers.

Outdoor Research ActiveIce Chroma Sun Gloves will protect your hands while offering durable support while hiking with trekking poles.

• Lightweight hooded sun shirts provide great sun protection, particularly when you’re just hanging out at camp or around town or whatever. I prefer models that don’t have a restrictive neck gaiter which I find to be claustrophobic on hot days. I’ve tried a bunch of these and my favorite is the Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoodie.

• I have not yet found any long pants that are light and cool enough to wear while hiking on hot days, so suncreen has to suffice for my legs.

• As for sunscreen, it can be difficult to find the perfect sunscreen that isn’t too greasy or chemical smelling, and doesn’t leave a ghostly white residue on your skin. The best I’ve found so far is Kiss My Face Face Factor SPF 50, which feels and smells pretty good on the skin. It’s expensive though. Don’t forget that you MUST reapply sunscreen periodically throughout the day. This is the main drawback of sunscreen: that most people (including myself) are too lazy or forgetful to reapply it, not realizing that its effectiveness declines after a few hours. Also, don’t forget to sunscreen every exposed spot, including your ears and temples.

 

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 (old photo).

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. I highly recommend the Black Diamond Expedition 3 Ski Poles (not pictured) which are durable, lightweight, and have a telescoping collapsible design with easy to use flicklocks.

• 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.

TENT: For solo outings my winter tent of choice is the Black Diamond HiLight Tent. This single-wall tent is lightweight, spacious enough for one person plus all gear, has plenty of ventilation if needed, and is pretty solid in inclement weather if you add a few extra guylines. But what I appreciate most about winter camping with this tent is its small footprint because it’s freestanding and has no rainfly – which means that you only need to stomp out a relatively small area of snow to pitch the tent, and its structural integrity doesn’t depend on lots of snow anchors (as with floorless pyramid-style tents). For a two-person winter camping tent I use the Big Sky International Chinook 2P Tent with storm flaps which can be covered in snow for a totally bomber shelter.

TENT SNOW ANCHORS: Obviously normal tent stakes are useless in snow. The easy solution, if you’re camping anywhere near a forest, is to just use sticks or tree branches as snow anchors. You loop your guyline around the branch then just bury the branch under the snow and stomp the snow down around it; the snow will harden around the branch forming a solid anchor. If you are camping someplace up high where there are no trees, you might need to bring dedicated snow anchors, which are basically like little fabric parachutes that you fill with snow and bury the same way.

WINTER-RATED SLEEPING BAG: You’ll need a much thicker and warmer down sleeping bag to stay safe and comfortable through frigid winter nights. My winter bag is a Sherpa Adventure Gear Tenzing -40º down sleeping bag, which fortunately I was able to pick up on sale for less than half off! Good thing, since winter down bags are dreadfully expensive. I previously used a Mountain Hardwear Lamina -30º synthetic bag; although much cheaper, this was very bulky and heavy, and not nearly as warm as down. For multiday winter camping trips you may also want a vapor barrier liner, which prevents heat loss and keeps your sleeping bag from getting wet from your body condensation, thus keeping it warming over longer periods.

WARMER SLEEPING PAD: A sleeping pad with a high R value is necessary to keep you insulated from the snow or cold ground in the winter. I use a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm air mattress, and I also bring a shortened 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.

• A LARGER POT (like 1.5-2L) is helpful for melting more snow at once for water.

WINTER-SUITABLE STOVE: For short winter camping trips I use a MSR WindPro II Stove. The main advantage of this stove over other normal cannister stoves is that the fuel cannister is positioned upside down so in cold weather when there’s less pressure in the cannister the fuel can flow out easier so it’s more reliable. That said, for multiday winter trips you’ll probably be better off with a traditional pump-style stove like the MSR WhisperLite. With a pump stove you don’t have to worry about your fuel cannister losing pressure in extreme cold temps, since the pressure is created by the manual pump instead. Also, since much of your time winter camping is spent melting snow, it’s much more economical to have a big bottle of cheap white gas instead of burning through lots of expensive and wasteful fuel cannisters. Either way, make sure you also have a good windscreen and heat reflector base for your stove. Make sure your stove is functional and reliable before you go – if your stove breaks or you run out of fuel, you have no water, and with no water, you must leave immediately!

SHOVEL: 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 like the Black Diamond Deploy Shovel are perfect for this; just make sure that it’s a metal one, not plastic. If you are building an igloo, you’ll appreciate 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! All that said, if you’re going out with partners, definitely bring your avy beacons, shovels, probes, and of course the knowledge of how to use them and and how to assess avalanche danger.

 

WINTER CAMPING CLOTHES

My winter backpacking clothes
My 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 for hiking in cold temps.

• A winter weight long-sleeve shirt and long underwear bottoms. 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. My new favorite winter item is the Patagonia Capilene Thermal Weight One-Piece Suit which is even more thermally efficient as there’s no gaps at all between your tops and bottoms (though sadly it looks like maybe it’s been discontinued?).

• Softshell jacket with hoodie. Softshell jackets are great for winter hiking as they protect you from the elements but are breathable enough for strenuous exercise, especially with big pit zips. The hoodie is useful for windy or blizzard conditions. You might think about erring on the larger size so you can wear this as an exterior layer over your poofy down jacket when you’re at camp. I like the Outdoor Research Linchpin softshell jacket.

• 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. I definitely recommend one with a hood, since it keeps the drafts out and insulates your head and neck much better. I’m a big fan of the RAB Neutrino Endurance Jacket.

• A down vest like the Montbell Alpine Light Vest can add a huge boost of body warmth for a minimal amount of extra weight.

Western Mountaineering Flight Down Pants. After years of lusting after down pants, I finally sprang for a pair and OMG, they are awesome! I can’t believe I’ve ever gone winter camping without them. 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. I like the North Face Freedom pants.

• 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. Unfortunately these days it’s very difficult to find flexible snowboard boots that also have high-end features like durable vibram rubber soles and boa lacing systems; the K2 Taro Tamai Snowsurfer Boa Boots are the closest I’ve found. For non-snowboarders you could also try a more traditional winter boot like Sorels, though I haven’t tried that myself and don’t know how well those work for long hikes.

• If your boots aren’t super warm, if the weather is crazy cold, and/or if your feet often get cold, you’ll benefit from some vapor barrier insulated socks, such as the RBH Designs VaprThrm Insulated Socks, which will keep your feet noticeably warmer over a longer period of time.

• 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.

• Depending on how snowtight your pants and boots are together, you might need gaiters keep the snow (and wind) out. Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters are good ones.

• Warm gloves, like ski/snowboarding gloves. Mittens are even warmer, but you lose dexterity. I prefer to have lightweight gloves along with the super warm down-filled Outdoor Research Transcendent Mitts.

• 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.

• Super warm beanie, such as the Mountain Hardwear Dome Perignon, along with a lightweight beanie for hiking.

• 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).

Colorado, Indian Peaks, Lone Eagle Peak, tent, Indian Peaks Wilderness, snow, lone eagle

Camping up in Indian Peaks, Colorado in the Big Sky International Chinook 2P Tent

 

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:

• 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.

• Be patient! If you’re not in a hurry to buy certain gear, just wait until it goes on sale, which eventually it will if it’s sold by any of the big online stores.

• 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.

• Sign up for sales newsletters from the big outdoor online retailers like REI, CampSaver, Backcountry Gear, Enwild, etc. I know you probably don’t want more ad emails in your inbox, but this way you can be sure to catch promotional deals; for example, many of these stores regularly offer discount codes for 20% off any full price item.

• 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 (or trade for) 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.

 

LEAVE NO TRACE

Through my trip reports and informational articles like this, I hope to inspire people to get out backpacking in the wilderness, because I truly believe it’s one of the healthiest and most satisfying things a person can do – physically, mentally, and spiritually. I also believe that the more people go out and immerse themselves in nature, the more likely they will be to support the protection and preservation of wild places. But on the other hand, this only works if backpackers respect nature and the wilderness while we’re out there. So I think it’s worth listing here the Leave No Trace Seven Principles which apply whenever you are camping, whether it’s next to your car or deep in the wilderness. I will add some further comments of my own to elaborate.

1) Plan ahead and prepare. Know the regulations and special concerns of the area, be prepared for possible weather and hazards, schedule your trip to avoid times of high use, and go in smaller groups rather than large groups.
2) Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Use established campsites whenever possible, or campsites on rock, hard dirt, or dry short grass. Don’t camp right next to lakes or streams, and don’t trample meadows and wildflowers.
3) Dispose of waste properly. See above my comments above about TP. Basically poop far away from any potential campsites, trails, or water sources, and bury your poop and TP.
4) Leave what you find. Don’t take artifacts or plants. Leave places as you found them.
5) Minimize campfire impacts. Do you really need that campfire? Especially deep in the wilderness, the answer is no, you don’t really need that campfire. Don’t create new fire rings, especially up on fragile tundra areas or near lakes.
6) Respect wildlife. Don’t harrass wildlife just to get a photo. Store your food properly. Keep your dog under control or leave them at home.
7) Be considerate of other visitors. This is so common sense but I think I should still spell out some things: Leave your portable speaker at home; nobody wants to hear your tunes in nature. Don’t camp right nearby other campers. And definitely no drones in wilderness areas!!!

 

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, and enjoying your time in the backcountry.

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.

85 thoughts on “My Backpacking Gear (Updated 2019)

  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 🙂

  30. Great info. Do you have any good resources you recommend on dehydrating food? I’m looking to get into it as the normal meals you buy are expensive

    1. Hi Nick, I’ve been meaning to do a post about dehydrating meals, but haven’t had gotten around to it yet. The gist of it is that you need a dehydrator with sheets, then you just make a meal as you like it (like pasta sauce, chili, burrito filling, etc.) then spread it out on the sheets and dehydrate. In the field you need to let it sit in water to rehydrate for a while, then just heat it up and it tastes fresh just like when you cooked it! This is typically tastier, more satisfying, and much more economical than the backpacker pouch meals, though of course it takes more effort. Perhaps I should get going on a post about this!

  31. Thanks Jack for the great post! Just curious, how do you like the Sony 24-105 lens compared to the Contax Zeiss 35-70? I currently use the Contax Zeiss 28mm, 50mm and 100mm lenses but have been considering the 24-105 for the convenience of a zoom and the weight reduction.

    1. Hi Justin, the Sony 24-105mm is surprisingly sharp. I think its weakest point is at full 24mm wide-angle when the corners can be slightly soft. But otherwise it’s razor sharp throughout its range, and certainly capable of resolving excellent detail for the 42mp sensor of the A7Riii. Although I haven’t done scientific side-by-side shot comparisons with the Contax Zeiss 35-70mm, I would say that the Sony lens is on par with excellent sharpness. Plus considering that the 24-105mm has a much wider angle and longer zoom, plus autofocus and optical image stabilization, the Sony 24-105mm has basically made the Contax lens obsolete for me.

      1. Thanks for the info! I forgot to ask, what is you packs base weight with you camera gear included? Thanks again!

    1. Oooo those gloves looks nice! But, I think I would stick with the mitts. My reasoning is that the purpose of the down mitts is for ultimate warmth in frigid conditions, regardless of dexterity. The gloves would not be nearly as warm at mittens. I don’t intend to use the camera with the mitts on, but rather they are how I warm my hands back up or how I keep them warm while I’m hanging around, kind of like sleeping bags for my hands. When I’m actually shooting I have lighter gloves that offer full dexterity, then I just try to keep my hands warm in my pockets or in the mitts between shooting.

  32. Jack, thanks for your valuable suggestion.
    I would like to get your further opinion on the gear in frigid environment as I will go to Baikal this winter and that is my first time to go to a place below -30°C. Did you wear any shell pants/waterproof pants on top of down pants? And could you share your experience on how to change the lens safely in this freezing weather?

    1. In Colorado the air and snow is usually pretty dry, so I just wear the down pants on top since it’s just easier to put on and off that way. But I suppose in bad weather you’d have better protection if you wore shell pants over the down pants. They would have to be large enough to do that, though!

      As for changing lenses, just make sure you do it quickly, and don’t breathe while you’re doing it or you might get fog on the lens or in the camera. Most importantly, be very careful when moving your camera from a cold to warm place, as condensation will form. When I take my camera into the tent, for example, I just leave it in its pouch/case and don’t even take it out. Or when I get home after a cold trip, I leave the camera in its pouch for at least a few hours.

  33. Hi Jack, how do you find your Big Sky Chinook tent, especially in terms of durability? It seems to be very light compared to similar tents, like Hilleberg Allak.

    Would you recommend it as a universal tent that’s supposed to last for many years and be used in all conditions including winter?

    1. Hi Michal, I think the Chinook is great. It’s likely not as durable as a Hilleberg; however, that’s why it’s lighter. In my opinion Hilleberg’s are simply too heavy to justify their durability — what’s the point of hauling around a tent for your whole life if it weighs twice as much as other options? The Chinook is the lightest 4-season double wall tent I could find. It seems very sturdy and well built, and I’m sure it will last a long time. As for “all conditions”, two drawbacks might be: 1) it doesn’t have great ventilation, so it might not be the best choice for humid/hot/wet weather. And, 2) you can find much lighter 3-season tents, such as Big Agnes (though those are probably less durable). Basically, I think the Chinook is perfect for winter camping and also camping in harsh, windy, and/or cold weather conditions. For summer camping there are better, lighter options.

  34. Great post! I love your images!

    I was surprised to see that you only carry one lens – Sony 24-105. Do you ever need anything else?

    1. Hi Dave, you might have missed it above, but I also usually carry a Canon 17mm T-SE wideangle lens too. These two lenses cover about 95% of my needs, though on some certain occasions when I have a specific photo in mind I may carry a telephoto, low light, or fisheye lens.

  35. Hi Jack,
    Regarding the RBH Designs VaprThrm Insulated Socks,, do you wear these as your only socks, or do you wear these over other socks? I’m buying some new boots, trying to determine whether to upsize to account for these

    1. Hi Ed, sorry for my late reply. When I wear those vapor barrier socks I just wear them alone. I suppose it could be nice too if you had a thin inner liner sock, but you wouldn’t want something too thick. I would probably just buy your size and that should work well even if you decided to go for a thin inner liner as well.

  36. Are you kidding me. Your privilege is showing. You have to ne a millionaire to afford this gear. How about caring for the little guy and giving some advise on affordable gear.

    1. Hi Jim, trust me I’m no millionaire. Backpacking is a big part of my life and therefore it’s worth it to me to research and oftentimes spend more than average on gear. So yes my recommendations are often towards high end gear which many people wouldn’t justify buying. I agree my article would be more comprehensive and useful if I listed budget alteratives more often. I also realize that it’s sorely lacking in gear recommendations for women too. I will try to broaden the scope next time I dive into revising this article. Thank you.

    2. Jim, just to follow up on this, with my most recent edit of this post in July 2019 I have added some good budget recommendations for the big ticket items like tent and sleeping bag, where a significant amount of money could be saved. I’ve also added a really nice cheap headlamp too, as well as other budget options/strategies sprinkled throughout. For most of the other gear there aren’t really comparable budget alternatives worth mentioning, and for things like clothes, of course it’s easy to improvise there.

  37. Stumbled on your page while researching gear ideas for a multi-day trip with camera and several lenses, have now bookmarked as my go-to reference for upcoming trips!

    Very useful tips and explanations. Will be a huge help in planning trips and considering gear purchases. Thanks for putting all the effort in!

  38. I really appreciate your page and have been using it to help build out my own backpacking gear.

    Question for you on the tilt-shift lens. What sort of adapter do you use to attach the circular filters?

    Thanks,

    1. Hi David, I’m glad this page has helped! The Canon 24mm tilt/shift lens takes normal 82mm filters; the 17mm lens has a bulbous front glass element so I just don’t ever use filters with that one.

  39. Hey Jack Where did you get and what kind of straps did you get to fasten your f-stop drop loader to your backpack?

    thanks Doug Gardner

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.