SELF CONFIDENCE IS THE KEY
I think the barriers to enjoying outdoor life are minimal and mostly mental. People think that you need to have tons of special knowledge or gear, or be a super athlete, or need to worry unduly about bears. Not true. You don’t need lots of special equipment or highly specialized skills to hike and camp – even in remote nature if you are minimally competent and game. It ultimately comes down to self confidence and a little knowledge. The Sierra where I mostly hike is mild, temperate, and very friendly in summer. You have almost constant blue skies and perfectly clear billion-star nights. In the summer, you might get some weather between 1- 6 pm, if ever. It can rain or hail briefly, but you’ll dry out in no time. Personally I think if more people understood just how easy it is to get out there, they’d do it more often. There are no big hurdles.
CRUCIAL! LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD! YOU DON’T NEED STUFF
Lighten your load and you will be able to move faster, farther, with more ease, and a lot more happily. Most of what you think you need, you don’t. And it’s very liberating to just throw a few well chosen things into a pack and take off. I highly recommend that you internalize the philosophy of light hiking. Every ounce counts, but more importantly you will realize that you just don’t need that many things, and you don’t need to worry about everything. And, you’d be amazed at how much more pleasant it is to walk when you’re not weighted down like a mule. The reality you just don’t need much of anything to have a traipse outdoors for a few days. In summer and shoulder season I don’t usually bring a tent and just use a sheet of ordinary house Tyvek as a ground sheet. I carry probably about 22 pounds of stuff all in, including food and water for a 4 night trip (as in the top photo for a 3 night November outing in Dusy Basin at 12,000 feet). That’s not even extreme. It’s perfectly easy to carry and makes life a lot easier.
A few resources for help lightening up:
This website is extremely helpful and there are tons of really knowledgeable and cool people on this site. I got so much good advice here, it’s crazy. http://www.backpackinglight.com/
Andrew Skurka’s Blog is useful. Read his 7 steps to lighten up. I think his distinction between light and stupid light is useful. He’s also good at making a distinction between people who are primarily interested in camping, and those primarily interested in hiking. They’ll have different needs. Personally I don’t really care about camping, I just camp because I want to be remote and you have to sleep. You might quibble with some of his approach, but it’s undeniable that his own trips are pretty amazing. And his advice is based on experience of many thousands of miles in all different types of terrain.
High Sierra Topix
Good community for general Sierra info. Lots of long-timers here who know their stuff and have good feedback on routes, conditions, and inspiration. http://www.highsierratopix.com/community/index.php
This list is far from authoritative or absolute. It’s just my personal opinion and info that I gleaned. You may have a very different opinion or experience. Please note that while some of the tips are general, I’m mostly thinking about a summer outings in the Sierras here.
When you first get started, you should carefully plan everything that you will carry. Make a spreadsheet. Weigh everything. Be aware of the weight and MERCILESSLY cut out anything that unnecessarily adds weight. You don’t actually need that much. It’s very powerful once you’ve got things figured out to just toss a few well chosen things in your backpack and head for the hills, confident that you’ll be fine and have a great time.
THE SHORTEST SUMMARY
In the simplest terms here it is in a nutshell. More details are covered below.
Walking: Wear shoes, not boots. Ordinary jogging shoes are fine, but trail shoes are great too.
Sleeping: you’ll have a sleeping bag. For summer and shoulder a 30 degree bag is fine for me. You’ll also have a mat – some kind of inflatable air mattress that you can blow up with about 25 breaths will be fine. You can bring a light tent or you may think it’s not totally necessary in the summer.
Eating: you’ll bring a tiny ‘stove’ that is just a little fixture that you screw onto an isobutane fuel can. With this you boil water to make dehydrated meals. The rest can be salami, cheese, nuts, bars. Etc.
Drinking: Filter your water with one of the new simple mini filters. They’re about the size of a roll of quarters. I mostly don’t filter water from fresh running sources above 10,000 ft. And often pristine lakes up there too if necessary.
Carry it all in a light, smallish backpack (see top photo). You don’t need a giant 75 litre mountaineering pack.
If you want more details:
SHOES, SOCKS, AND FEET
- For most outings in the Sierra, don’t wear hiking boots. Trail shoes or ordinary jogging shoes are much better. They say 1 pound on your feet is 5 pounds on your back. And you don’t need hiking boots for trails or the granite, sand, scree, and talus you encounter in the Sierra. I wear Altra Lone Peak shoes and I have worn Treksta Evolution II in all kinds of conditions. Both are lightweight, have good traction, and the fit is perfect on my foot. Both shoes are shaped anatomically like an actual foot not like a foot form. The result is that the shoe is fitted at the heel and arch so you’re not pulling out, but generous in the ball and toes. I never wear boots when hiking near home, but got talked into it once long ago by a friend who did the JMT. I started training for the trail wearing North Face hiking boots. They were heavy, required breaking in and made my feet hot sweaty, white, prune like, and shriveled. That sucked and equals serious blisters. The only time I wear stiff hiking boots now is in the Alps of Italy where steep stiff tufty grass is everywhere and you need rigid shoes to ‘toe in’.
- Gore-tex sucks and is useless for shoes in the Sierra for normal summer hiking. If you have Gore-tex shoes, your feet sweat, and that sweat stays in your shoes. Moisture on your feet = prune feet (AKA maceration), blisters, and peeling skin. Here’s what foot ‘maceration’ looks like. Besides, if you get your feet wet, the Gore-tex will take forever to dry. With my Treksta or Altra shoes I can actually feel the wind blowing through and in dry Sierra conditions, you can walk through a stream and be dry an hour later. Forget about that with Gore-tex.
- Make sure you take good care of your feet. A stupid thing like a blister can really make life a pain in the ass, and bigger foot issues can put you out of commission. The book “Fixing Your Feet” was helpful if a little over-detailed for most hikes. Geared towards even the most extreme ultra runners, there was a ton of useful info in here. Wear shoes that are comfortable to you and don’t give you blisters in your normal life.
- I started wearing Injinji toe socks under a second pair of lightweight Darn Tough light hiking socks and used various techniques to keep skin smooth, dry and trouble-free. I haven’t had a single blister or hot spot on my feet in many years – including on 20+mile days.
- If you do get a hot spot or feel discomfort, the mantra is “stop, drop, and fix it.” Immediately! Don’t wait as it will cause problems that you won’t be able to remedy later.
- Before you hike, make sure your socks are free of dirt, rocks, pine needles or anything else. Knock your shoes out, and remove the inserts to make sure there’s nothing in there.
- I don’t use special inserts. I don’t need them and I don’t think most people do either. If you don’t walk in them normally, don’t put special ones in your shoes for hiking. Your feet need to bend, twist, grip etc.
- Shoe fit. This is really individual. You’ll want to try a whole bunch of different shoes until you find one that works great for you. However, you should never have to ‘break’ your shoes in to hike. That’s for heavy-duty mountaineering with rigid boots that take crampons. You should be able to pretty much wear your shoes right out of the box – even though it’s wise to field test everything before you go. If it doesn’t feel good when you first try them on, they sure as hell won’t feel good after 8 or more hours of hiking. What you really need to make sure is that you can wiggle your toes in the shoes, and that when you step uphill your heels don’t lift out of the shoes. If you’re an avid trail runner/jogger already, just wear what you use normally. If you jog in your New Balance, wear those. There are people in the Sierra hiking in sandals, toe shoes, flip flops – some people even go barefoot which is far beyond my comfort level.
- Size your shoes up 1 full size. Most people wear smaller shoes for everyday use compared to hiking all day, when your feet swell. On the way downhill, you need the extra room in the toes.
- Learn some lacing techniques that will leave your feet comfortable. You might for example cross over below your instep so that your foot doesn’t slide forward when you’re going down hill and jam against the end of the shoe. “Fixing Your Feet” has a good section on lacing.
- Some people like running gaiters which enclose the top of your shoe and go over your ankles so that dirt, pebbles, and grit don’t get into your shoes or socks. I personally don’t wear them and haven’t needed them, but others swear by them. A few years ago, I hiked up Mt. Ngauruhoe in New Zealand. This is the volcanic cone covered in cinder and scoria that doubled as Mt. Doom in Lord of the Rings. Gaiters would have been a godsend here but not of much use to me in the Sierra. You can choose standard gaiters or a lot of people love dirty girl gaiters which seem to be standard for the ultralight folks and despite the name, are for men, too.
When I’m out overnight now, my sleep system is super simple, lightweight, and pretty comfortable. I have a Big Agnes Sidewinder 20 and a Nemo 30 degree down sleeping bag that has a sleeve for an inflatable mat to slide in it. My mat is a Klymit Insulated Static V ultralight mat. I slip the mat in the bag sleeve and leave it in the stuff sack. I have a small cheap inflatable pillow that fits in the little sleeve for the pillow. I stick extra clothes under the pillow because I like a tall pillow. I toss and turn a lot, but I actually sleep OK with this system.* It’s easy, I don’t have to rollup the mat, and it’s one single piece in a single stuff sack. Simple, light, easy and effective.
*When I say, “I sleep OK” what I mean is I usually sleep poorly, but that’s just because I toss and turn and it’s not easy to do so on a small mat. Usually I fall asleep after dinner say, at 9. I’ll sleep until midnight and then I’ll stare at the stars until 4:30 and then I’ll sleep for 2 hours. That’s life.
I usually don’t bring one. I put a tyvek sheet down on the ground and put my mat and sleeping bag on top. I try to pick a good campsite that isn’t in a sinkhole where it’s cold and damp. I usually find rocks or trees for some wind and condensation cover and that’s it. Works great and gives you a majestic view of the night sky. If I’m in a spot likely to have mosquitoes I usually just bring a head net. Cheap, super lightweight and effective. In truth, I have only encountered insane mosquitoes once in the Sierra on the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. I lived. I recently purchased a 6 Moons Gatewood Cape rain poncho which doubles as a pretty large, effective, and simple lightweight tarp. It can be constructed with a few spikes and your trekking pole. I used it at Nydiver Lakes during a light rain storm and it kept me dry. In 2022 I used it at Dusy basin in November during heavy wind at about 10 degrees F. It worked to keep some wind out and dew off.
FOOD AND COOKING
- I don’t bring tons of extra food. Even though I can eat like a Viking, I personally don’t have much of an appetite when hiking. Not sure if it’s altitude, exhaustion, or just not caring.
- I’m currently carrying 25 lbs over my peak athlete weight. I don’t have to worry about starving to death.
- Food choice is personal. I rarely eat junk food, but trail eating is a little different. I usually skip breakfast or have a coffee cube – I just don’t feel like cooking in the morning. Lunch, I just munch on some jerky or sausage stick or salami. Dinner is a dehydrated meal – Mountain House or Backpacker’s Pantry or similar. You just add boiling water and eat out of the pouch with a long spoon and that’s it. I bring some Fritos because the crunch is good, and the fat and salt works well to fill you and give you electrolytes. I never buy Fritos when I’m not hiking but they have 3 ingredients: Corn. Oil. Salt. So, not the worst. Beyond that, I just don’t care. (And in non hiking life, I’m a person who cares about food quality)
- I don’t feel like alcohol at all out there. Some people do.
- Cooking. I use a Jetboil which great and very efficient. I used to use a Snowpeak Gigapower tiny stove with an auto-igniter. You don’t need the auto-igniter but it’s easier. The stove weighs 4 ounces. It’s a cool little foldable thing that screws onto a fuel canister.
- Cooking Pot. I don’t bring an extra pot or cup to cook or eat in. I just use the jetboil and eat out of the pouch. I used to use a Snowpeak Titanium Mini Solo Cookset. It just has a pot, cup, and lid. My fuel and stove fit in the pot and pack up real tight in the mesh sack that came with it.
- Fuel. I have mostly use Jet Boil fuel. I used to use Snowpeak small fuel canister. But any brand is fine. They are interchangeable.
- Long Handle Spoon. I use a spoon with a long handle. When you make pouch meals, you need the long handle to get to the bottom without sticking your whole hand into the pouch and getting food all over your down hoodie sleeve. Or if you don’t want to buy one, you can always liberate one from someplace that serves ice cream sundaes.
- What about not cooking? A lot of light hikers don’t bring a stove or food that needs cooking. For example, they might bring tortillas, bagged tuna, jerky, nuts, bagged humus and stuff like that. I like a warm meal at dinner. I could definitely do without it, but a nice hot meal at the end of the day is good.
- Tea or Infusion. You can make an infusion with lots of stuff. I don’t usually bring tea with me but I often boil up some pine needles. It’s warming, tastes good and there’s an endless supply that you don’t need to carry. Do some research, there’s plenty of stuff to make an infusion.
- Unless you’re doing an ultra-marathon in Death Valley, you should be able to get all the electrolytes (basically just salt) you need from your food. Salty food or snacks work fine. You don’t really need all kinds of special stuff.
- Bear Canister. At night, you will put all your food and stuff that has a smell (like your toiletries) into your bear canister and stow it about 50 feet from your camp. That way you don’t have smelly stuff in your tent where a bear will rummage for it – through you if necessary. When you do stow your canister try to wedge it between rocks and maybe keep it away from a river or lake or cliff. That way if a bear tries to open it, you won’t lose it forever. I usually am above 10,000 feet. Bear precautions mostly apply to lower elevations but you are required to use a bear canister in most of the Sierra. I use a smaller about 1/2 size bear canister which is much easier to carry around. It works great for 3 or 4 night outings. You’ll only want the bigger standard one for longer treks.
STUFF YOU WEAR
Don’t bring a ton of clothes. You can rinse and dry as you walk. Here are my choices although obviously it’s all really personal. This is just to give you an idea of what you will need. Personally, I think of it as 1) whatever you’re wearing, 2) a set to change into, and 3)some extra clothes for warmth like a down hoody and wool long underwear for camp/sleeping. Absolutely do NOT wear cotton. The saying is that “cotton kills” because won’t dry out and leave you susceptible to hypothermia. Just get some synthetic material or if you can afford it merino wool which is like magic.
- Shoes. Altra Lone Peak 6. NON-Goretex.
- Socks. Injinji toes socks under Darn Tough brand hiking socks. They are great! Very densely knit and excellent quality and Made in USA) I bring 2 pairs of the outer socks and 2 or 3 of the inner socks because they are very light and fresh socks are wonderful.
- Shorts. I wear some knock off Italian Nordsen hiking shorts and used to have the same two Columbia pairs in pretty much every hiking photo I’ve ever taken in the last 20 years. These days I’ve been wearing Prana Zion shorts. I like them to be a little stretchy so they don’t get in the way climbing. Get something light and synthetic that will dry quickly. I don’t use a lot of pockets. So even light running shorts are good.
- Shirts. I like to wear Columbia long sleeve hiking shirts – like the shorts – I’ve worn the same shirt for the lasts 10 years. They dry fast and have pockets. Any brand or non brand is fine. I usually have 2. DO NOT BRING COTTON. The old saying is “cotton kills.” You need something that dries out.
- Underwear. I started wearing REI athletic boxer briefs. They’re good, can be washed and dried quickly, and help with chafing. I bring 2 pair.
- Hat. It’s sunny up there. I use a generic long billed baseball hat. It has mesh sides. I got it at a liquor store near Palm Springs for 4 dollars. It works great. A lot of people use a trucker style foam and mesh hat with bandana draped in it for your neck for sun. That works fine too.
- Thermal underwear. No matter how hot at 3500 feet in Bishop, definitely bring some thermal bottoms and top to sleep in. It gets 30 ish at night at 11,000 feet, in summer. I like medium weight merino wool. Worth the extra expense. Learn a little bit about where to camp, (not in a sinkhole, not right next to bodies of water) so that you’re not camping in a super cold spot. Your need for extra gear will dramatically decrease.
- Down Hoody. I found a great Sierra Designs Gnar Hoody at the REI clearance rack for $75. It works great and keeps me warm at night. It is light and packs small. I’ve had it for 10 years and it’s still going strong.
- Beanie. Any good beanie will do. I had a great one from NorthFace with fleece lining. Warm, soft, and dense knit. (Although the new version isn’t anywhere near as good. Not dense and feels like viscose) Hats are important. They say if you want to keep your feet warm, wear a hat.
- Long Pants. Don’t need em during the day if you run hot like me. I hike in shorts in 30 degrees. Thermals are fine for night and if it gets cold you can wear them. (Again. Summer/Shoulder. Sierra)
- Poncho. Ponchos are good because you can thrown them on over you and your pack. And because they’re open and breezy, you won’t get all sweaty. I don’t care how good your rain gear is, if you’re like me, you WILL sweat a lot in rain gear. Plus, it doesn’t go over your pack. I got a cheap Driducks emergency poncho. It was like $5 and not cheap vinyl, but super light, practically disposable and probably fine for the Sierra in summer. I figure, it it rains one day, I’ll get wet, but I’ll dry out. Now I have a 6 Moons Designs, Gatewood Poncho made of silnylon (tent material) which doubles as a pretty roomy and sturdy tarp you can pitch with your trekking pole.
- Mosquito Headnet. Weighs almost nothing and saves a lot of pain and suffering if you encounter a lot of mosquitoes which you can do in some areas like Big Pine Creek. Get one for $5. You don’t need a $30 one.
- Bandana. The good old fashioned bandana. Classic. So many uses. So light. So cheap. So quick to dry. Mop sweat, strain water, wipe hands, cool neck, filter dusty air. etc.
- Heavy Duty Trashbag. In your backpack, you’ll want to put all your clothes and sleeping bag in a heavy duty trash compactor garbage bag. If your pack gets wet, your down sleeping bag, clothes, and down hoody won’t get wet. Down is pretty useless when wet. Keep it dry. You don’t need the expensive rain cover for your backpack especially if you have the trashbag and a poncho that fits over your pack.
- Flip Flops. Don’t need them. You can wear your shoes in camp.
- Water is very heavy. About 2 lbs per liter. That’s a lot – about as much as most ultralight tents! Know where your next water source is and only carry enough water to get you there. There is a lot of water in the heart of the Sierra. But be aware, California’s persistent drought is very real and permanent streams in blue on maps can be totally dry. But generally speaking in the scenic areas, like Evolution Basin, Dusy, Darwin, Minarets, etc. there is a TON of water.
- Drinking. Now I use the Katadyn BeFree 1liter squeeze bottle with filter. It’s super simple, flows great, and the light, built-in filter is integrated into the top. All you do is fill the bottle, screw the top on and drink. I used to use a regular plastic water bottle and drink from that. For filtering I would just screw my Sawyer mini filter on top of that. Befor that, I used to use a drink tube, but they can get swampy, they’re a pain in the ass to get in and out of a pack. I really think the new breed of squeeze bottles are a no brainer which are light, easy to fill, provide filtering, flow great and can be used with or without the filter.
- Water filtration/treatment is necessary in some spots – particularly lower down. Whatever you choose should be light, simple, and quick. Don’t bring a big pump filter which you don’t need unless you’re setting up a base camp and have to filter for multiple people over several days. By far the best solution for me is a the Katadyn BeFree that I discussed above. The small Sawyer mini filter is also good, but I don’t like their rigid plastic envelope bottles. They are hard to fill in a lake or stream that isn’t flowing rapidly. In the past when I used a drink pouch/tube, I cut my Platypus drink tube, spliced the filter in, and never had to treat the water in the container at all. I would just fill my water pouch from a stream and drink from the tube. Once on a hike of the Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand, I found a patch of snow, dumped it into the bladder and off I went. If water is mossy or filled with debris, just rough filter with a bandana. I don’t use that type of system anymore as I got sick of sucking out of a plastic valve, the pouch was a pain the ass to take out and put back in the backpack, and the tubes would get swampy. Up high (10,000 – 14000+ feet), I mostly drink water directly from streams in the Sierra. I’m talking fairly remote valleys where water sources are peak melt, springs, or similar streams that are just starting and where animals aren’t around too much. The Katadyn makes it easy cause it use the bottle and the flow is about the same as a normal squirt bottle anyway. Very simple and easy.
- For water bottles. Even if you use something other than a squeeze bottle, you still don’t need a Nalgene or steel canteen type stuff. Just bring something like old Gatorade or SmartWater bottles. The big mouth is good and they’re light and more or less free. Collapsible bottles are fine too.
- Stay hydrated but don’t freak out. Drink enough water so your pee is reasonably clear and drink it before you desperately need it. This helps with altitude symptoms. You don’t need to get crazy with over the top water consumption which can be counterproductive. Drink regularly when you feel thirsty.
- Backpack. I use a ULA OHM backpack which I like and have used successfully a fair bit. It weighs 34 ounces. It works great for most trips. I have a broad chest, so I like the “S” straps which sit better. Remember that if you’re hiking in the Sierra over night you will need to carry a bear canister so your pack needs to be able to comfortably accommodate one. The small canister is best unless you’re through hiking for many days at a time. (One cool note. The ULA stuff is all made in the USA and has GREAT customer service. After my first several day hike with it, I noticed it was squeaking a lot. I sent an email to them to see if there was something I could do. I got an email back from Chris McMaster the President who helped me trouble shoot at 10 pm on a Sunday. Basically all I had to do was put some talcum powder on the foam insert and problem solved.) Another note, a light pack that doesn’t fit well or distribute weight adequately is worse than a slightly heavier pack that carries well. Fit is personal. I think the ULAs work well. Ospreys carry very well and fit me well. Not sure about other brands. You don’t need a huge mountaineering backpack…it just encourages you to bring more junk.
- Tent/Tarp. These days I rarely use a tent in summer or shoulder season if the weather is due to be good. I carry a 6 Moons Gatewood Cape Poncho which you can rig up into a tarp cover. I have used an MSR Hubba 1 person which was pretty light at 52 ounces with the footprint. I really like Tarptents from Harry Shires. I have the Sublite which is made out of a kind of Tyvek. It weighs only 19 ounces. This is a big weight savings and seems perfectly good for the Sierra in Summer/Fall. The popular wisdom is that ‘it never rains in the Sierra at night in August’ The nice thing about the Tarptent is that you use your trekking poles as the support poles. Cool solution = less weight, less volume.
- Sleeping Bag/Quilt. I used a Big Agnes Sidewinder 20 degree bag which is designed for side sleepers like me. It works great. I used to use a Nemo moonwalk 30 degree bag that has a sleeve for your mat. That way you don’t slide around and if you’re not using a tent, your mat is protected.
- Mat. I use a Klymit Static V inflatable. It’s ultralight. Your choices are roughly a non inflatable foam mat which is not comfortable for a side sleeper like me, or an inflatable. These suckers are expensive, but you gotta sleep as well as you can, even though you probably won’t sleep great. Some people use half mats, just for their torso in order to save weight. There are also mats that fit into a pouch in your bag saving on underside insulation on your bag.
- Trekking Poles. I have used REI brand carbon collapsible ones. They don’t have shocks. You just adjust the length by snapping them in place. I love them and they’re very simple. They are actually made by Komperdell, I believe. Generic is cheaper. For a hike in New Zealand, I used Fizan screw tight poles and they were only pretty good. They didn’t stand up well over time. And I don’t like the twist closures. I like the snap shut ones. Some people think poles are dorky or for old people. They might look dorky, but pretty much all the elite long distance people use them when carrying a pack. It would be dumb not to since they are tremendously more efficient, energy saving, and reduce wear on joints and muscles. Plus trekking poles double as tent poles if you’re using a tarp tent. Now I use Black Diamond carbon alpine ones. They’re good – anatomical (have a left and right), and have cork handles which are nice if you sweat a lot. But they have a MAJOR design flaw in that you need a special small Allen wrench to adjust the snap closures occasionally, which everyone (me included loses). I would NOT buy them again for this reason alone. With other poles, the snap closures can be twisted looser or tighter without a tool. The gear store in Bishop actually keeps a tiny allen wrench in its shop because so many people with Black Diamond poles lose the tool.
- Bear Canister. Required in most parts of the Sierra. Choices are basically things like the heavy old Garcia which is about $70 and 44 ounces, the Bearvault canister which is about $80 and 41 ounces, and the Bearikade which is made of carbon fiber is about $250 and weighs 31 ounces. Other solutions like an Ursack seem cool and smart, but they often aren’t approved on the trail. I got the Garcia cause it was cheap and I could sit on it. I also heard that the Bearvault was a pain in the ass to unscrew. I saw my friend Dennis struggle with it at times. The Garcia requires a coin or metal piece to open so I just taped a coin on the lid so I wouldn’t have to root around for something every time I wanted to get into it. After the trip, I wanted to swap out the Garcia, but upon research I don’t think the money/weight trade off is necessary. You can also rent these from the companies which saves a lot if you don’t think you’ll be using them again or want to try them out. Now I have a 1/2 sized bear canister which is great for a few days out. It makes your pack much less bulky and annoying and it’s plenty big. Don’t get the big one unless you plan to be out for more than 4 nights at a time. Big bear canisters are a pain in the ass in your pack.
- Duct Tape. Roll about 10 feet of duct tape onto your trekking poles. You’ll never know if you need it and that way you don’t have to bring a whole roll.
- Knife/Multi Tool. A small pocket knife is fine. You don’t need a heavy Leatherman or multi-tool thing.
- Headlamp. You need a headlamp! For setting up camp if you get in late, for traipsing around at night, and most importantly for heading up the summit at 3am so you can catch sunrise from a summit. I’m not expert on headlamps. I got a mid range Black Diamond. It was fine. Make sure it doesn’t get too beat up and bring an extra battery. Some headlamps have 12 million settings and you cycle through a series of clicks to get to the various lights, strobes, etc. I’ve never needed them except for the red light setting is good so you don’t blind people walking around, and the strobe is useful in the case of an emergency.
- Emergency Blanket. Cheap. Weighs next to nothing. Handy in an emergency or just to keep extra warm if you need it. It’s really annoying and crinkly in your sleeping bag, though, so I would not recommend that.
- Lighter. Part of the 10 essentials and needed to light your stove if you don’t have an auto-igniter and if you do, when it fails.
- Ziplock Bags. Pack out everything you bring in. That includes used toilet paper. Bring a few gallon sized easy zipper bags. You’ll want one with the really dirty stuff that’s kinda separate. Also remember that this will have to go in your bear canister with your food, so you might want to double bag your used toilet paper. I put the toilet stuff into the used dinner pouches and then put those into a zip lock.
- Maps. Tom Harrison maps. They’re great. Waterproof. Tear proof. Good scale. All you need for most near trail routes. I am often off trail, so for more detail, I print and laminate Caltopo maps with packing tape. They’re great! Caltopo.com.
- Batteries. Extra cell, headlamp, or camera batteries as needed.
- You don’t need a trowel. For digging your cat hole ‘bathroom’. You don’t need it, that’s ridiculous. Use a stick or your trekking pole. (and dig the hole BEFORE you need it)
- Be a tortoise, not a hare. Walk at a pace you can keep up without having to stop all the time. Then just keep on trucking. Skurka says the key to going long distances is walking more hours, not a faster rate. Plus it’s more enjoyable. Walking up hill? Take small slow steps. I rarely stop during entire days of walking. I won’t even sit down except maybe once at lunch. Just keep walking if you’re trying to get somewhere. Skurka says he pees while walking. Too extreme and inaccurate for me, but you get the picture.
- If you’re through-hiking with lots of miles per day, you probably won’t care that much about spending a lot of time in camp. You’ll just want to get your pack off, maybe soak your feet, clean up, eat something and sleep. It’s good to get in before dark, but other than that go ahead and walk all day. I don’t really care about the camping part. It’s just a way to sleep so you can keep exploring. Anywhere above 10,000 feet, you can’t have a campfire, so it’s not like you’re sitting around roasting marshmallows over a crackling fire. The scenery and terrain you’ll cover is so amazing everything you do should be towards maximizing that. Star gazing is great, but you don’t need daylight for that!
- When you do rest, put your feet up. It reduces swelling in your feet and legs and removes lactic acid. I like to lie on clean granite and put my feet high. In 5 minutes, you’ll feel refreshed and ready for more. After 5 minutes you get diminishing returns. You might also try sleeping with your feet higher than your head.
- Studies suggest that ibuprofen may help with altitude issues. It might just mask headache, but it may be useful for you.
- Practice leave no trace. Aside from the absolute necessity of packing out everything you pack in, I even washed all my clothes in water with no detergent so that rinsing it in lakes wouldn’t leave chemicals behind. That might be insignificant and pointless but philosophically it seemed right. I don’t do that these days.
- A lot of people are surprised that I don’t really don’t like camping much. I don’t like hanging around a camp, cooking, or drinking beer. I’m not a ‘beers in cooler guy’. I just want to rest so I can do what I really like…exploring and moving through the landscape. One consideration you should think about is how you feel about camping. For me, I could walk all day, clean up, eat something and just crash out. Hanging out in camp is not why I go. I would rather be most places than in an organized campground next to a car in a lawn chair. I bring gear just because I want to be remote and don’t want to be limited to a day’s walk from a motel room. I like looking at stars after I wake up around 1 a.m. and before getting back to sleep. So I don’t bring any campground comfort stuff like a seat or mat, specialized culinary stuff, towel, flip flops, games etc. You may feel differently, but if you’re walking far, you’re probably more focused on moving every day. By all means, if you’re into stationary camping, pack for that and enjoy the hell out of it. But if you’re looking to do remote treks, you’ll want to pare camp stuff down to basically nothing.
I keep this very limited and very light. I don’t actually use much stuff. You may need more.
- Toothbrush. Light. The standard thing for light hikers is to cut off the handle to lose the extra weight. I didn’t do that, but I did have a cheap light toothbrush I got on a flight.
- Toothpaste. Bring a small travel size or just dry your own toothpaste drops in the oven.
- Floss. Good for your teeth when you’re eating a lot of salami and jerky and good for tons of extra uses. I once caught a trout in Paradise Valley with dental floss and a paper clip hook.
- Wipes. For hands and nether regions. I didn’t bring toilet paper. I Just use wipes. Pack it out. I would recommend non scented ones because if scented ones leak – they do it will spoil all your food.
- Sunblock. It gets sunny up there. Depending on how long you go, you might bring one or two small travel-size tubes.
- Lip Balm. Sometimes, I haven’t used mine early enough and have had blistered lips at the end. Dumb.
- Hand sanitizer. Necessary for moving from bathroom and water sanitizing to cooking and eating.
- Moleskin. Just in case for blisters or to use as bandages. I carry it, but have never used it. Lent it to a friend once.
- Other stuff may include super glue for sealing small wounds especially on fingers and hands (doctor approved), some gauze, antibiotic cream, anti-itch cream etc.
You’ll have to put your toiletries into your bear canister along with food. Make sure that if the toiletries have a strong smell or flavor that they be well isolated because it can mix with your food and that really sucks. I had some scented hand wipes which leaked into everything early in a trip. For 5 days I ate food scented like hand wipes. It was revolting, but what can you do – you have to eat the food you brought. Do you really want to eat hand-wipe-flavored cheese?
- You won’t have cell service except in a few spots like at the top of Bishop pass.
- REI is good for trying stuff out and they are cool, but there are tons of cottage makers of great gear all over the US. The best stuff is from the small passionate outfits.
- Field test everything you are using or bringing before you go. You’ll find that some surprising things will need adjustment or modification and some things will not work out at all. Much better to find it out at home.
- Expensive is not always really better. For example, if you use a windscreen around your stove flame, you can easily make one out of aluminium foil rather than buying one. It’s cheaper and lighter but not that durable after a while (just make a new one) Trash bags, ponchos, jogging shoes, tyvek etc. It’s all good. Key pieces like a backpack and sleeping bag need to be reliable and good quality, but with lots of other stuff, you don’t need to spend a ton of money.
- The best training for backpacking is backpacking. Fully load your pack and get it out on the trail – as much as you can before you go.
CURRENT GEAR LIST
Here is a sample gear list of what I would bring for a several night walk now. Small changes with food or minor clothing items occur, but this is pretty typical.
- SHOES – Altra Lone Peak 6, TREKSTA EVOLUTION II – sized up.
- SOCKS – Inner socks Injinji Toe Socks 2x. Outer Socks – Darn Tough wool over 2 or 3x (one pair clean for sleeping)
- UNDERWEAR – REI athletic boxer briefs 2x
- SHORTS – Brugi and Nordsen outdoor trekking shorts. Most popular brands work. 2x
- SHIRTS – Columbia Hiking shirts 2x
- WARM JACKET – Down Hoodie
- PONCHO/TARP – Gatewood Cape Poncho to Fit Over Back Pack/Doubles a tarp
- SUN HAT – Baseball Cap
- WARM HAT – wool NorthFace Beanie
- MERINO WOOL LONG JOHNS – Tall size so that they tuck in for warmth.
- MOSQUITO HEAD NET
- TRASH BAG – Heavy duty to keep clothes/bag dry
- STUFF SACK for extra clothes (to be kept in dry bag with sleeping bag and down hoodie)
- BAG – Nemo Moonwalk with stuff sack
- PAD – Klymit Static V with repair patch
- GROUND CLOTH – Tyvek Sheet 6 x 8 (will probably swap this out)
- INFLATABLE PILLOW – Generic
- TARP – Gatewood Poncho from 6 Moons as tarp
- STOVE – Snowpeak Giga with autoigniter
- COOKSET – Snowpeak Titanium Cup, Pot, Lid
- SPOON – Sea to Summit Longhandle
- FUEL – Cannister – Generic
- Piece of Fabric as potholder
- Lighter/Emergency Fire Starter
- Mountain House or Backpacker Pantry Dehydrated Meals
- Oberto Smoked Sausages
- Coffee Cubes
- Sour Lemon Hard Candy (for dry dusty throat)
- Half Size Bear Canister
- ULA Ohm
- Sawyer Mini Filter
- Water Bottle (any plastic water bottle or collapsible)
- Wipes for Toilet/General Cleanliness
- Hand Sanitizer
- Acid Reducer
- Small Toothbrush
- Small Toothpaste
- Superglue (for lacerations)
- Lip Balm
- Alcohol wipes
- Antibiotic Cream
- Emergency Blanket
- Black Diamond Alpine with Cork Handle (good, but easy to lose the allen wrench)
- Duct tape on poles
- Map – Tom Harrison or CalTopo.com
- Headlamp and AAA Batteries
- Pocket Knife
- Pencil and Paper
- Cell Phone
- Permits (Backcountry and Fishing)
- Zip lock bags for trash
- Waterproof matches and/or lighter
All in with some water this should weigh around 20 pounds. That’s a big, big difference from 35 – 50 lbs a regular old school backpacker would bring.
I always leave a trip plan with someone that details where I’m entering, where I’m planning to go, when I plan to come out, where I’ll be sleeping, what gear I’m carrying so that I can be identified. Here’s a good detailed one: http://reconn.org/form.html
As an example, I usually email my wife the plan and then tell her something like I plan to be out at 2 pm on Sunday but could be 8pm (sunset) and don’t notify anyone unless you don’t hear from me by midnight.
DROP ME A NOTE
If you have any questions about hiking feel free to contact me. I’m not the most knowledgeable guy on Earth, but I’m happy to share what I know or can at least suggest some other resources or people who might know better.