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My Gear List Philosophy

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When I started getting into lightweight backpacking, I spent a lot of time staring at my gear list to make sure I squeezed every ounce of weight out of it. That’s ok. It’s part of the process that every lightweight or ultralight backpacker goes through when they realize that they can be more comfortable by carrying less weight.

But as the number of trips and seasons that I hiked increased, I quickly realized that there’s no such thing as a static gear list. My gear list changes on almost every trip I take based on seasonal weather conditions, terrain, trail conditions, vegetation,  trip duration, remoteness, available daylight, wildlife and insect considerations, water availability and so on.

That might be obvious to you, but when people tout their gear lists online, you need to understand the conditions they’re designed to address and their limitations when applied to your needs.

While I can, just barely, break to the 10 pound Ultralight backpacking base weight (not including food, fuel, or water) in summer, most of the time I need to carry between 12-15 pounds of gear except in the winter when I carry 2-3 times that amount.

But all of the gear I bring on trips is dictated by an environmental conditions assessment which I run through before I start packing for a trip. Some trips require more gear and you shouldn’t skimp on bringing it because it add a few pounds to your load.

Do your homework and plan what gear you need to safely complete your hike around the requirements of your route.

As an example, here is the environmental conditions assessment I ran through before the 2-night backpacking trip I took over the weekend. The weather has turned colder with the approach of autumn and I’ve had to make some changes to my gear list to adapt. I was also hiking in a very remote area that doesn’t see a lot of foot traffic, during the start of moose rutting season, which is a potentially dangerous time if you have an encounter with an ill-tempered moose. Here are some of the variables I assessed in deciding what gear to bring on this trip, including the information sources I used.

  • Climate/Weather forecast
    •  Expected
      • Mid 50-60’s during the day, low 40’s at night w/possible frost on Saturday and Sunday night
      • Rain expected Saturday afternoon/ night
    • Gear
      • Switch from quilt to a 30 degree sleeping bag
      • Bring down vest for extra warm layer
      • Bring rain gloves to hike in cold wet conditions
      • Bring a gas stove instead of a wood stove for cooking, due to rain
    • Source
      • Mt Washington observatory weather forecast
  • Water availability
    • Expected
      • Long stretches with no water
    • Gear
      • Bring extra water carrying capacity
    • Source:
      • White Mountain Guide and maps
  • Water purity
    • Expected
      • Beaver live in the area
    • Gear
      • Purification recommended
    • Source
      • Previous experience in the area
  • Wildlife Issues
    • Expected
      • Moose and bear: close to moose rutting season and bears still active
    • Gear
      • Bring a Ursack for bear protection
      • Bring a whistle to scare away moose
    • Source
      • Previous experience in area
  • Daylight
  • Trail conditions
    • Expected
      • Very rocky, with steep climbs, and some mud in wet areas
      • Little to no off-trail hiking planned
      • Good camping along route
    • Gear
      • Trail runners will be fine
    • Source
      • The White Mountain Guide
      • Other hikers trip reports
  • Sun protection
    • Expected
      • Large areas of open ledges and sun exposure, particularly on Sunday
    • Gear
      • Bring sunglasses and floppy wide-brimmed hat
    • Source
      • Mt Washington Observatory forecast
      • The White Mountain Guide and maps
  • Insects
    • Expected
      • Mosquitos still present
    • Gear
      • Long pants, long sleeve shirt
      • Shelter with bug protection
    • Source
      • Previous experience in area
  • Navigation
    • Expected
      • Well marked trailheads but mileage isn’t listed on signs in wilderness areas
    • Gear
      • Bring compass, watch, map, altimeter watch
    • Source:
      • Trips reports from other hikers
  • Remoteness
    • Expected
      • Evans Notch is less travelled and we’ll be at more remote end
      • Cell phone access is non-existent
    • Gear
      • Bring inReach satellite communicator
    • Source
      • Previous experience in area

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19 comments

  1. This stuff needs to become more mainstream… Seems like the UL community though is bracing the planning process more, and becoming a happy medium between UL and Lightweight depending on their trip objectives and route conditions… no more ‘stupid light’ or dedicated goal of base weight. But, naturally as light as we can go is great!

    I only say it needs to become more mainstream because I think a majority still misguide the ‘stupid light’ coin from Mr. Skurka due to their own lack of outdoor skill sets. Thus, blowing off the UL philosophy, which is something I believe in. I think the skills needed for hiking is the backbone to becoming truly UL, and planning a great enjoyment.

    • I completely agree. When I teach people about UL and lightweight backpacking, I always explain that you need to compensate for less gear by having more skill. Planning what you need to be safe is chief amongst them, but you definitely need more skills to go lighter.

  2. These are all things hikers need to consider, be it for an afternoon or a week or two in the wild. Thank you for collecting all of this in one place. I’ve been going through this exercise myself recently planning a 3 day outing for some peak bagging in the Wild River, Carter range, area. I’m still working on getting my pack weight down and remembering not to bring too much, especially in the grocery department!

  3. As a philosophy, UL or SUL packing is great. You HAVE to pay attention to that stuff so you can minimize what you take. Fall is one of the seasons where most people add things: jackets, heavier sleeping wear, etc. The days of grabbing a sleeping bag and fishing rod (and a few candy bars) and heading out overnight on a fishing jaunt are gone.

    UL packing is always considering the worst conditions you expect, then taking the gear to *just* meet those conditions. It takes mental preperation to know what to carry and what to swap for something more reliable, or, what to leave behind.

    Good piece, Philip!

    • Came in handy this past weekend. Nighttime temps were 15 degrees less than forecast, so the added insulation really helped! Sun was very intense on Sunday, so added sun protection was necessary and many streams were dry so I had to carry extra water.

      • Yeah, the hills are often 10F or more, cooler than the forecasts. Late summer/early fall are about the dryest times to be out. Good Hiking!

  4. This is something that became very obvious to me while out tramping around on the LT this weekend. I did not need my headnet nor my bug spray. I was glad I brought the heavier Jet Boil for speedy drinks in chilly weather instead of the ETOH stove and packed a few more drinks than my normal food list would dictate.

  5. I see this as “the Norm” for trip planning and has been for my 50 years of Backpacking and has nothing to do with UL in my opinion, but of late, the UL bunch especially those working in or for or around the industry are getting to be a pain with their propaganda..I have taught my friends, new friends and relatives this way of trip planning for over 30 years. In the Military it was the norm as well for planning our operations. But back in the the late 60’s and almost up to the 80’s, mainly because of Industry propaganda, I remember carrying 65 pound packs as the Norm. I naturally began to shed my pack of unneeded weight with better planning. I didn’t need that Hatchet because I had a tent and did not have to build a Lean to. Lost 3 pounds right there. Back then NOAA was almost useless, so you just learned about cloud formations and how they indicated what was coming. Or you just planned on it raining. As the creation of lighter weight gear and the need for increased sales because of sagging sales (you only can sell so many sleepng bags, LL Bean was selling some 5 million a year at one point then it took a dive) the Industry began to push UL as a sales pitch more than anything else. Because people just were not buying new gear, they already had a ton of “new” gear and did not want to spend money on more “new” gear and so the UL propaganda began to appear in Out door Magzines who sold their souls to the Industry and in advertising in those Magazines who at one time actually had some creditablity. Just like Geocaching was created to sell GPS Units that were not selling at all. So the Industry printed articles on the joys of Geocaching, paid Magazine Editiors and Journalists to write and publish stories and sponsored contests to see who was the best user of the GPS and gave away big prizes, so they created a Market where at the time their really was none. It is so bad now that our local County Parks now advertise Geocaching as a reason to pay $17 a night for a tent site. In 200 acres they have 19 Geocaches on mostly formerly farm land. Sorry, a GPS is heavier, including spare batteries and a waterproof housing, and hugely more expensive than my topo map with the cut off edges and my plastic compass, see I am going UL!! But I do agree 100% with you Philip..Good Planning from every angle is the way to go…Instead of 4 big bandaides I now carry two. Instead of 4 Aspirin I carry two. I went from a 2.5 (71 grams) can of bug repellent to half a dozen individual wipes which saved almost 2 ounces, and those ounces do add up to pounds….

  6. Back when I was first getting into backpacking, I started trying to make a static “perfect list” that would work for all of my backpacking. This seemed to be the way that a lot of the gear list sites worked, or wanted you to work.

    As I went out more and more, and started doing winter trips, I realized that I will *never* have a static list, much like you have. You have to evaluate what you have every time, and make a list just for those conditions. My list even changes as the date approaches based on changes to the weather.

    I found that I could never use a static list of “winter gear” even, it was always customized based on where I was going. I ended up working on that problem for a long time and built it into what I ended up making for trip planning.

    I’m glad to find out I’m not alone in my gear packing idiosyncrasies!

  7. About ten years ago, my brother and I slogged 47 miles with 60 pound packs on the CDT in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Montana. On the last day, as we cooked breakfast with our gear sprawled over a significant chunk of that wilderness, a thru hiker, Geertje François, showed up with his twenty pound pack. We spent several hours visiting with him and soaking up his knowledge. We still stay in touch.

    We had all been impacted by five days of rain, sleet, and heavy snow and Geert had run out of food a couple days earlier because the weather had put him significantly behind schedule. We offered to share our breakfast with him and he responded that he was a vegetarian. I whispered in my brother’s ear, “Another couple days will cure that.” We did have plenty of other fare Geert could eat and we fed him well. Geert had pared his gear down to Gold medal caliber gram-weenie levels, however, he told us later that experience taught him his gram counting had gotten to the point it impacted safety and he started hiking with more contingency gear and supplies built in.

    My brother and I had hiked with way too much stuff and the thru hiker was going with far too little. Now, my brother and I backpack with about a third the weight we carried before and Geert hikes with a little more. It’s about being safely prepared for the conditions of your intended hike.

  8. Philip you can delete this if you wish, no hard feelings…I am planning an over night Fishing trip to a back country lake which will require a 3 mile hike to get where I want to go. 2 miles will be cross country travel in heavy mixed hardwood and conifer woods. I checked the Weather for the next 5 days. Clear skies, 81 deg days 64 deg nights, so I figured on a 60 degree night. Next I obtained my Topo maps and planned the cross Country section. Next I did a computer search for updated Map Information and Printed out a Satelite Photo of the area, then a Topo of the area and then a wider Topo of the area. I then compared them all to my large Topo adding features or spots like Springs and Mines and Seeps to the Computer Printouts. Next I took my Osprey Kestrel off the Hook in my Office/Library/Den/Specimen room Closet where it sits fully packed except for water for a 7 day trip. I dumped the contents out leaving an empty Packbag. Next I started with the First Aid Kit. I updated my Personal Meds but left the 8 day supply as it was to be always on the safe side in that area. The medications take up a small 2.oz plastic bottle. Next was the Food. I removed all but 3 days worth of Freeze dried Dinners even though it is an overnight trip, stuff happens so I plan on 3 days of food. I also keep an emergency ration pack of an MRE Entree, for this trip it will be Chicken&NoodleStew. I Removed 6 packets of Oatmeal, and two Freeze Dried Breakfasts and added a French Vanilla Mousse& Raspberries, and Sicilian Mixed Veggies. Then I removed excess packaged Powdered Drinks and Tea Bags and Instant Coffee from their plastic bag, followed by Sweet&low and the condiments which I switched out to a small plastic bag of Lawrys Seasoning which I like on Fish and Rabbit.. Next came Clothing. Being as it was going to be warm I removed the Goosedown Vest, Watch Cap, Gloves, Extra Socks, Long Underwear and the Marmot Rain Suit. I replaced the Rainsuit with a Light weight Poncho and added my Insulated Long Sleeve wind proof Sweater and a long sleeve T-Shirt for sleeping in.. Next I replaced the Cats Meow 20 Deg Sleeping bag with a SnugPak 40 deg bag which is Literally the size of a loaf of bread. Kept my inflatable Pillow and the Thermarest Prolite Pad.. Since I anticipate sitting in front of a camp fire and since it is currently raining there at the Lake, I kept the Thermarest camp seat to keep my butt off the wet cold ground and then I checked my Ground Cloth or Tent floor protector for holes.. On to my Kitchen; Sno-Peak Stove and one new cannister of fuel. Sno-Peak Titanium Solo Pot and cup, Titanium Spoon, Waterproof REI Matches. Magnisum Fire Bar with Striker, and Spark Stick, Small Lighter, Tea Candle, CampSoap in a small 2 oz. container, and finally a Cleaning pad cut down to 2x2inches. I checked the two Bandanas for cleanliness since I wasn’t sure I had washed them from the last trip. Next I checked my Fishing equipment which consists of a 1965 Wright&Mcgill Pack Rod which can be configured into a Spin Cast rod or a Fly fishing Rod in a light weight alumium tube. I choose the Spin cast reel for this trip. Next I choose 6 lures to bring. Two Rapala’s and two Rooster tails, and two Jigs I also bring along a couple of Hooks and a small Bobber should I come upon Fresh Bait.. For Fish Cleaning I carry my Victorinox Work Champ with a non-slip grip and a Locking main blade. Finally I put 3 new AAA Batteries into my Petzel Tekka Plus Headlamp, made sure I had 4 spares and my Mini-Mag Flashlight which uses One AAA Battery. Lastly I Checked my Nalgene Water Bottle for leaks and Nalgene 96 oz.Bladder for leaks.. There are Beaver in the lake so I will be Carrying my First Need Deluxe Purifier with a couple of packets of Chor-Flock as backup. I switched out Tents removing the Shires Two Man Squall Tarp Tent for a SnugPak BivyTent. Finally 150 feet of 300# Catfish line instead of Paracord. Everything is still laid out on my Living Room floor where I can take a look at it for a day or so as I walk by to see if I am missing anything or anything needs to be replaced depending on Weather and Food Considerations. I can do this since my entire house is a “Man Cave”. This is how I prepare for a trip…..

  9. Great story grandpa! I just returned from my first trip through the 100 mile wilderness and was unhappy with my starting pack weight. It was about 7 pounds heavier than I wanted it to be. ( some arbitrary number) but I was unsure of the pace my hiking partners could keep. I am glad I kept the food weight as it turned out to be just about right. I also felt chilly on the morning of the start day and grabbed a last minute fleece. Which I removed in 10 minutes of walking and never used again. I could have gotten away with a summer weight bag except for one night at Logan brook lean to. Where my 30 deg bag was perfect. On the last day I made it to hwy 15 before dark but luckily had enough food for hot dinner after a cold rain. Overall I had enough food, warm clothes, warm bag, and rain protection for a successful trip. I am 100% with you Phillip.

  10. I keep one big excel workbook of everything and make a new sheet for (nearly) every trip. Over time a pattern emerges matching certain gear combinations and certain conditions. Sometimes this is what I predicted. Other times I’ve been forced to admit that certain pieces of gear I wanted to like didn’t cut the mustard.

    I don’t see the point of making master lists as is popular on BPL, but I probably could come up with a few if I had to.

    • I have started keeping an excel list color coded into “Always take”, “Day hike only” and “overnight.” It is a living document that keeps changing as I learn things about what I need and don’t need. It serves as a detailed check list to keep me from forgetting something vital. When putting it together I was struck by how much of what was listed I always take whether for an afternoon or multi-day adventure. For a multi-day outing it seems like it was mostly switching to a bigger pack and adding the heavy things, tent, sleeping bag etc. as I tend to go well prepared on day hikes. I probably over pack for day hikes, but the weight isn’t that much and helps train for a bigger pack.

  11. Great post I noted a number of awesome points for my upcoming hike in late November. I also enjoyed the post by Andrew Skurka. Every time I undertake a project I do significant research that is part of the fun. And again I am enjoying your posts

  12. Is this the Higher Common Sense? 1. Do your research. 2. Think. 3. Pack. No question that “doing without the kitchen sink” requires some experience – I don’t have much of that so I err on over-inclusive side.

  13. Interesting. Gossmear Gear posted a blog-article about the lightweight cnundrum and why people don’t buy ultralight gears. Unfortunately, the authors focused on the sales of the gears, and not why people buy them.

    One can’t go ultralight without doing trip-plannings, writing reports and measuring everything. If it’s not written down, then one can’t really forsee what to take or add to the pack.

    So to me, ultralight = trip-planning, not gears.

  14. Friar Rodney Burnap

    The problem with ultra light backpacking is most of the time you are forced to buy very expensive gear for 3 and 4 times the cost that is most of the time so fragile it is warranted for one year or one thru hike . . .the way to go is light weight backpacking and learn to use a external frame backpack . . .where the extra 5 or 10 lbs won’t matter because external frame backpacks carry the weight better then a I frame pack. . . .

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