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10 Backpacking Gear Myths

It’s amazing how some backpacking gear myths persist, even when there’s ample evidence to the contrary. Here are my favorites.

 1. Two people can fit in a 2 person tent.

The Dash 2 is a tight fit for two people with 20 inch sleeping pads. There is simply no room floor space left, width-wise.
Most two person tents are a very tight fit for two people and there is barely enough  floor space for two sleeping pads making it awkward to do anything except sleep.

Most two person tents are too small to actually fit two people unless they’re 8 years old. If you want *any* extra space in a two person tent, size up to a three person tent and make sure it as two separate doors, so you and your partner can get out at night to pee without falling over each other.

2. You’ll sleep warmer if you sleep naked in a sleeping bag.

Sleeping Naked in a Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Naked in a Sleeping Bag is colder than sleeping in clothes in a sleeping bag (duh!)

No again. If you’re too cold in your sleeping bag, put on some long underwear and a hat or a down jacket. The math is simple: the more you wear, the higher the combined R-value of your night-time sleeping insulation.

3. You need to wear hiking boots to go backpacking.

Salamon XA Comp 7 Trail Runners
Salomon XA Comp 7 Trail Runners

Wrong. Most long distance hikers don’t wear hiking boots anymore. They wear running shoes which are much cooler to wear in hot weather, dry faster when they get wet, and are much softer than hiking boots so they don’t cause as many blisters.

4. You need a backpack rain cover to hike in the rain.

Line your Backpack with a Trash Compactor Bag
Line your Backpack with a Trash Compactor Bag

Backpack rain covers are a hassle: they get ripped, torn off and lost, and they don’t do a very good job at keeping your pack dry in rain anyway. Most experienced backpackers line the inside of their backpack with a trash compactor bag instead which is much more effective and less expensive.

5. You need a tent footprint to protect the floor of your tent.

Tent Foot Prints
Tent Foot Prints

Footprints are just an easy way for tent companies to milk you for more money. Tent fabrics has come a long way in the past 40 years and almost all tents have bomb-proof waterproof floors that aren’t going to wear out unless you live in them full-time.  Even Kirstin doesn’t bring a tent footprint backpacking. Need I say more?

6. Waterproof breathable rain jackets are breathable.

Breathable Fabrics and The Emperor's New Clothes
Breathable Fabrics are the Emperor’s New Clothes

So-called breathable fabrics, such as Gore-tex and eVent, have been so over-hyped that their breathability claims are not believable anymore. If you want to stay dry in a rain jacket, get one with pit zips so you can vent your sweat the old-fashioned way by cracking a zipper.

 7. You need a 4 season tent to camp in winter.

Stealthy Nemo Obi 1P Tent
Nemo Obi 1P Tent

Most three season backpacking tents work as well in winter as during the rest of the year. If you expect heavy snow, a tent with steep walls is best, but there’s usually no reason you can’t camp in winter using your existing tent if you have a warm sleeping bag rated for cold temperatures.

8. Biodegradable soap is ok to wash with in streams and ponds.

Campsuds
Biodegradable soap is not safe to use in steams and ponds.

Nope. A lot of people I meet on backpacking and camping trips think that it’s ok to pour soapy water into streams and rivers if they use biodegradable Campsuds, Sea-to-Summit Wilderness Wash, or Dr. Bronner’s Castille Soap to wash their hands, shampoo their hair, or clean their camp cookware. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Getting any soap in a water source is not acceptable. The soap can cause all sorts of issues from increased nitrogen to actually causing significant harm to aquatic inhabitants. Plus, no one wants to drink water that you’ve washed yourself, your clothes or cookware with. Carry all dirty or soapy water away from water sources and bury or disperse it at least 200 feet away.

9. Waterproof hiking boots will keep your feet dry.

Waterproof Boots-001

No again. Waterproof hiking boots are only as waterproof as the coating applied to their exterior which degrades rapidly with use, or the integrity of the Gore-tex lining which quickly breaks down with wear so they start to leak. Waterproof shoes, even those with so-called breathable liners, trap perspiration from your feet, which makes your socks damp and increases blistering. Except in winter, when waterproof boots can increase insulation by trapping warmth, you’re better off hiking in non-leather boots or shoes that have some mesh so that they drain and dry faster when you get the wet and your feet sweat.

 10. You don’t need to carry maps and a compass because you have a GPS.

Garmin GPS-001

No. You should always carry a map and compass and learn how to use them. GPS devices (including cell phones) can complement a map and compass, they don’t replace them. While battery-powered devices are a convenience when hiking, you can’t rely on them in the backcountry. GPS devices are power hogs and you don’t want to be stuck in a lurch with dead batteries with no idea where you are or how to get to safety.

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134 comments

  1. I agree with all points except number 4. I always use a liner and if my trip is forecast to be a wet one then i will use a cover as well. I have never lost a cover because i tie in on and i have never torn it. I have pierced a few small holes in it. The thing is, depending on the sack material a wet sack is a heavy one. I also bring my sack into the tent and it makes sense to keep it as dry as possible and so not transferring the wet onto my sleeping gear.

  2. Amen, Philip. Waterproof, breathable is so over-hyped. In the Lakes of the Cloud hut one cold, rainy afternoon in June, all sorts of expensive “waterproof, breathable” gear hung in the bunkrooms, dripping onto the floor as chilled hikers changed into something dry and warm. One teenager got a huge laugh from everyone when he said to his father, “Dad, isn’t this stuff supposed to be waterproof?”

  3. Numbers 1 (Two people can fit in a 2 person tent), and 10 (You don’t need to carry a map & compass because you have a GPS) are particularly important cautions.

    I have a Mountain Hardware EV2 tent and on two occasions, a climb of Mt Whitney and a winter traverse of the Presidential Range, a friend and I found it to be totally inadequate for two people. I now use it only when I’m solo.

    Several times I’ve run in to hikers who were lost or at least disoriented as a result of GPS problems. Simply put, not carrying a map/compass is foolish, can be dangerous, and potentially fatal.

  4. I would only want to sleep in a 2 person tent with my wife or one of my kids. Other than that you would need to be REALLY good friends with your tent partner. I waver on the need for a pack cover. A pack liner will definitely do the trick, but my ZPacks CF pack cover is only a little more than an ounce.

  5. Number 5, tent footprints. If the tent is designed to be pitched without the inner tent, as a weight saving option, the footprint is usually required, so the manufacturers are not completely milking the trekker on that one.

    • Literally almost anything can function as a groundsheet. Polycro is cling on window insulation.

      If you want to cut significant weight, you can start by using a shelter that doesn’t have dedicated tent poles. It makes especially little sense to bring a “2 person”, 3 pound fly+tent poles with no bug protection if you want a “lightweight” shelter option.

      Everyone THINKS they’ll pitch their fly without the inner tent–which is why manufacturers advertise that feature. But I’ll doubt even 1 out of 100 people that contemplate that feature at the point of purchase ever sleep in their tent like that.

      • I always thought it funny to see people use all sorts of ground cloths under their tent and have it go way beyond the drip-line of the fly. At least the manufacturer will provide something that is properly cut so rain water will hit the ground instead of the ground cloth.

      • Agree, I very seldom see tents set up in fly-only mode.
        I am actually one of the last percent, as I use this setup a few times every hiking season. Despite this, I never use the tentmakers footprint, as it weigh in at nearly 7 oz. I bought a used tent, so I actually got the footprint when i bought it, but it cost about $60 otherwise.
        A few yards of tent cord and a polycryo sheet does the same, for less than $10 and 2 oz.
        Saving $50 by losing 5 oz of packweight is a good deal!

  6. Great list this – when you read it you realise that most are due to gear companies milking us – the problem is we WANT to believe that the jacket will keep us 100pc dry and sweatfree when struggling up in the rain, BELIEVE the newest ultralight tent will easily fit 2 (even though its not much different in size from my old 1 man)… etc etc etc

  7. The biodegradable soap myth extends to the idea that “biodegradable” soap is somehow special or environmentally special. ALL soap is naturally biodegradable. You need to make sure you don’t have artificial detergents (not biodegradable), but natural unscented soap (such as Ivory) is completely biodegradable. Also, it’s lighter to carry a sliver of soap in a baggie instead of a bottle of water with soap in it (Bronner’s). Some might find the liquid soap more convenient but if you are a gram weenie, why do you carry an extra bottle of water?

  8. Oh some of my favorites too..Great picks Phil…Other Myths; $350 for anything in the backpacking world is “reasonable priced” For who??? Most items contain less than $10.00 worth of materials and with insulation add another $10. cause they buy it in huge amounts and thusly get a deep discount that you who make your own gear will not get. Plus if they made overseas the labor costs are less than 50 cents an item…..

    So the average Mark Up on Backpacking gear is HUGE. A Friend of mine use to work for A-16 when they made their own line of gear.. She told me that s $350 sleeping bag only cost the company $18 to make and that included American labor. Might be more today but there is less than $25 worth of material and labor in any one Outdoor Gear item.. That explains why the original owners retired in their 40’s and let their kids take over to run the company..

    I disagree with Phil and whomever Kirsten is or thinks she is, (is that women from BP, I stopped listening to her years ago when she coined for me the phrase $350 is reasonable priced and one of the reasons why I do not subscribe any more when I was one of the Original subscribers in 1971) on Tent Footprints.

    Having ruined two expensive Tent Floors (MSR and Eureka) by Camping in a Pine Forest and the Desert and in High Chaparrel as found on the PCT. I discovered that Pine Needles puncture the floor material on tents with ease. Their tips are just as sharp and as pointed as a man made Needle from your sewing kit or loose hidden in the soft sand, as tiny quartz rocks and Cacti thorns. If they were bombastic then the material would be quite a bit heavier per sq. yard and add a lot of extra weight..So Phil test out your Tents in a Pine Needle Forest and or the Desert and report back to us.

    I do agree that the Manufacturer provided or made Footprints are a rip off because of the thin material they use. What I use an old Sportsman’s Blanket, the one with an Aluminum coated side and a Plastic coated reverse side, comes in many colors, mine is Olive Drab, which if I could show you a picture of with a bright light behind it, has large numbers of Tiny holes from Pine Needles and Cacti and very small sharp quartz rocks in Sand. But with the Blanket and the Tent Bottom combined, no water and no leaks in the tent yet…

    Someone mentioned Ivory Soap, well I read in an leading outdoor publication some time ago, that Ivory Soap is no more biodegradable than Bonner or CampSuds. But it does float and I like the smell of it, especially on a women, but, that is about it.

    It was my Parents Choice for their Adirondacks adventures in the 40’s – 70’s. I prefer CampSuds because I found it does a really good job in Cold water as well as Hot Water when it comes to grease or oil. . Bonner is good to, toured their Factory in Escondido when I lived about a mile away from them. And Critters and Bugs seem to be repelled by the Peppermint in Bonner’s. I can’t find it where I live now but I can find CampSuds easily.

    Another Myth: Those “healthy Granola bars”, I love the names on them “Earth” and “Harvest” and “Green Earth” even come in plain gray cardboard boxes to make them even more deceiving, and I forgot 40% post consumer waste or recycled.

    Some have as little as 5 grams of sugar and as much as 12 grams of sugar to a high I have seen of 24 grams of Sugar.. Why waste your money on a higher priced item and just buy a cheaper Snickers Candy Bar! You might find that your favorite Candy bar has less sugar and more nutrition than these Healthy bars do…

    4 grams of Sugar equals a level Teaspoon full. So if you eat one of those Healthy bars thinking it is healthy think again, 12 grams equals 4 fully loaded teaspoons of Sugar, 24 equals 6 teaspoons full of sugar, and that is where you get that “energy burst” from they brag about you get a Sugar high…And check out the myth of Sugar versus Honey and Sucrose and other exotic sugars. a Small Packet of Honey is better for you than any of these man made concoctions and with individual packets now readily available they are my choice…But I still keep that Snickers bar hidden away in my pack…

    • Wow, if I knew that all I had to do to be rich was to over-price my wares, I would have been rich by now.
      I hate to pay a lot for stuff that I’d rather pay less for, but I almost always end up owning a piece of junk when I shop like that.

  9. I disagree with number 2. I winter camp all the time, and when others are freezing. I am toasty warm. Think mittens instead of gloves.

    • Hi Keith,

      Perhaps you bring a sleeping bag that is adequate to keep yourself warm at the temps you encountered while your companions are pushing the limits too far with their bag/clothing combos?

      The mittens/gloves analogy is not without merit but remember that you will have cold fingers even with mittens if the mittens are inadequate for the temperature.

      • Oh my last trip, three of us had the same bag. Been doing it since I was a kid. So it has worked for me with dozens of bags.YMMV

      • Remember that any pockets of air around/against your body will create convective cooling. Unless stabilized by some form of insulation, this air will be in motion, creating convective currents that draw heat from your skins’ surface. It’s why an air pad doesn’t work without insulation.

        Convective currents also speed evaporative cooling by rapidly transporting moisture off the skin.

      • Scott, you’re right but convection depends on the size of the air pockets. If they are relatively small, there’s little of it. Even so, the convective cooling is probably small because the air pockets are relatively still. On the other hand, if you have additional insulation material in there (think e.g. wool etc.) you hold humidity that may otherwise escape through the down sleeping bag. The drier, the warmer. I think the point of this is that at least to the best of my knowledge really nobody has shown a comprehensive treatment of the question approaching anything that could be called scientific. I myself cannot make up my opinion because every night out is different, so I wouldn’t say to have enough empirical evidence one way or another.

      • I suggest you research how sleeping bags are rated (EN13537). There’s plenty of scientific evidence that shows that wearing long underwear in a sleeping bag makes you sleep warmer than without.

      • As Phillip mentions below, the EN testing protocol is based on extensive research. Also, on BPL Roger Caffin, Ryan Jordan, and Richard Nisely have written extensively on the subject.

      • I’m not sure how EN testing relates? I would be happy to read more on the issue by Ryan Jordan and others. But since there’s clearly anectotal evidence in both direction, all under uncontrolled conditions, a sound theoretical argument would be welcome.

      • the EN13537 standard is based on a rich peer-reviewed train of academic research done in controlled conditions that proves that wearing long underwear in a sleeping bag makes you sleep warmer than without.

      • The only copy of the EN13537 standard I found online (here: http://ldgd.kupoo.com/public/upload/media/BS%20EN%2013537-2002.pdf) merely states that the test manekin is wearing long underwear with a specific thermal resistance, but does not claim or prove anything.

      • I believe you’re butting heads with cultural bias, Chris.

    • Yeah I agree that myth is not totally true but also not totally false. The best thing to isolate is just pure air, so if you start wearing a lot of clothes in your sleeping bag you replace air with clothing and the clothing has a lower isolation. So instead of wearing your fluffy down vest inside the sleeping bag, thus compressing it making it almost none-effective, just put it on top of your sleeping bag to create a second air gap. So I use a thin layer of clothes inside the sleeping bag and secondary layers on top.

      • Can you explain why people insulate their homes with fiberglass insulation instead of air then?

      • That is using air. The fiber glass wool keeps the air spaces small, avoiding convection. Then there’s the question of moisture transfer from the body to the outside which has an impact too. This is negatively impacted by more insulation (e.g. wool will retain some moisture). Then there’s the question of heating more mass due to more insulation. Probably the reason why a down insulation feels immediately warm while a wool sweater takes some time to warm up. Point is, nobody has yet presented a truly convincing treatment of the question, IMHO. I can’t say from experience either, conditions seem too variable.

      • I think if we all start thinking about what heat actually is, the transfer of energy, and not an actuall physical entity, only then will this be finally put to rest for ever. Air is less dense then wool/silk most things that are solids. As the energy is transferred from your body to the outside air (this is inevitable according to the law of entropy) the layers of solids absorb and hold that energy longer than gasses

      • No. 2 is true. The more naked people you add to a sleeping bag, the warmer it is.

    • “think mittens instead of gloves”

      That doesn’t make sense. To be more accurate you should have said, “think mittens instead of gloves inside mittens”. That would be truer because having clothes on inside your sleeping bag would be like having gloves on inside of mittens. If you have clothes or long undergarments on then that would be like putting gloves on, and then putting mittens over the gloves. So, clearly, sleeping with cloths on inside a sleeping bag would be warmer than sleeping naked.

      By the way, if you are sleeping naked then you should at least use a sleeping bag liner so that your bag stays cleaner. A sleeping bag liner will prevent your bag from getting dirty with trail filth, and body oils.

    • I’ll share the bit of wisdom I received from my scoutmaster 30 years ago. Don’t sleep in any clothes you wore during the day, because they will be damp. Extrapolating from that, I’d say sleeping naked is better than sleeping in anything even slightly damp, but dry long underwear has to be warmer than naked.

      • I almost always sleep in the clothes that I wore during the day as long as they’re not filthy dirty and drenched. If they’re simply damp, my body heat will dry them out, even in a down sleeping bag.

  10. Waterproof boots keep my feet dry!

    • I’ve had problem where my feet sweat in waterproof boots and get just as wet as if I wasn’t wearing them. I wear them when the water in streams will be cold(spring/fall) but in summer I switch to trail runners.

    • So far I’ve found that every boot I’ve worn has a giant hole in the top which lets the water in. Not that I mind, and it’s a given when fording rivers, but for me a more useful factor tends to be the footwear’s ability to get water out again so that it’s not sloshing around in there all day. Some modern footwear’s good at this (sometimes combined with good socks), but not all of it.

    • Try wearing them outside the shoe store you work in.

  11. Disagree on 5. I have 2 ultralight tents and both have waterproof floors but they are definitely not bullet proof. Plus, I would rather get tree sap, bear crap, mud and any other ickies on the ground all over a footprint than on the tent floor. That way you can replace it rather than the whole tent when it gets messed up. If you don’t want to buy the manufacturer’s footprint, make your own from heavy mil plastic sheeting or tyvek.

  12. Good post, Philip. IMH(right)O a cheap DIY tent footprint is well worth the minor weight penalty, in exchange for reducing the tedium of grooming a tent site, the worry about an expensive tent floor, and the risk of leakage in the night. It’s the same logic as carrying a thin foam pad to protect the expensive air pad. You can’t always choose a smooth, grassy site, especially at mandatory campsites, and in some places, picking up all the sharp gravel would just leave a tent-shaped excavation with more sharp gravel at the bottom.

    • If you must bring one, its best to make your own – shrink-wrap for insulating winter windows works very well and is very lightweight. I’ve never ever had a problem with just using the tent floor on a campsite though.

  13. Rick-Pittsburgh

    Okay, here goes(numbers in correlation with above article subjects…)

    2- You can fit 2 easilt as long as you stack them(people.) In a pinch if I pull the inner from my Hille Soulo and just utilize the outer & footprint I 2 people is doable.

    …notice I said in a pinch.

    4- I have had a soaked pack freeze. This included zippers, etc. Not fun. A pack cover alleviates this issue. I have yet to have problems with a pack cover but then again I also as stated above I do utilize a contractor bag to line my packs.

    5- Footprints. I completely disagree for a few reasons. The biggest is that it is much cheaper to replace a footprint than it is a tent floor or inner.

    Also many footprints give 1 the option to fastpitch their tent as a single wall shelter. My BA Copper Spur had this option as well as all of my Hilleberg tents.

    7- I will keep this one fairly short.
    …I am not a fan of spindrift sandwiches. I have used a 3 season tent in some really inhospitable weather and have experienced white out conditions inside of my tent.

    Nope, won’t do it.

    • There’s a difference between “needing” a 4 season tent and “wanting” a four season tent. I’ve slept down to 15* in a three season tent the breathability qualities that made it a good tent in the Summer, made it a poor tent in the Winter, but it was better than being snowed on. I found draping a cheap tarp over the tent made it much warmer than the tent alone.

      I Stay warmer sleeping in layers, than naked in a sleeping bag. Taking clothes off is not going to warm me up, unless I’m sharing it with my GF, and she’s a furnace! (in the sack)

      As others have stated, its cheaper to replace a footprint, than a tent, but I used Tyvek ground sheets. Works fine.

  14. On (3), what’s the remaining case for boots if most people don’t wear them? Do they excel or remain highly recommeded in some environments where alternatives don’t cope?

    I still tend to wear them, at the very least because I feel safer, but possibly also because there’s still an embedded culture with boots in New Zealand and it’s hard to know how much of that is through lessons learned over generations in local conditions compared with simply not having so much modern tech available until relatively recently. Generally carry loads of 15+kg (Google tells me that’s about 33lb?) plus water, get quite muddy, often venture off-track or onto slippery routes, ford rivers and stuff, end up kicking steps in snow from time to time. But I know that some people do similar things wearing shoes.

    • There are times when I wear boots too – like when I need to kick steps and certainly in winter. My point is that most of the time you don’t HAVE to for 3 season backpacking on well developed long trails. Save your $300 dollars and go hiking in your trainers.

      • Hi Philip. Yes, I’m not meaning to dispute this. I’m really just curious of what people see as the differences which justify actually wearing boots compared with when they’re less necessary.

      • Yeah…after breaking my foot in running shoes last year, and being out for an entire hiking season, I’ll stick with my Asolo leather hiking boots, thanks. Up here in Washington state, it stays plenty muddy and my boots are easier to clean off. Plus, like I said… With all the slippery roots on our trails, the boots have saved me many an ankle twist. Would’ve saved my foot had I been wearing them. Definitely worth every penny of the $300!

      • The case for boots has been made well by izogi, Jen and NancyP and Michael Utterback below — ankle support and safety for rugged or unstable terrain. More than 10 miles from the nearest trailhead, I want my high-top leather boots for ankle support. But for a day-hike on a well-maintained trail, a light pack and with others to help if I get into trouble, a lightweight shoe or boot is fine. There are enough low-top boots with breathable uppers to deal with the sweaty foot problem. And if you’re worried about feet getting wet fording a river or sweaty feet, an extra pair of socks is worth the extra weight.

  15. I’m surprised this post has spawned so much conversation, as I thought most of this was pretty well accepted.

    My two cents

    4 season tents don’t serve much of a purpose when it comes to keeping you warmer. The only advantage is they are generally designed to shed more snow and the poles are stronger. When your backpacking you have to ask if the weight trade off is worth it. I don’t agree 3 season tents add more condensation. I had a very nice single wall Black Diamond 4 season tent and on cold nights it would be dripping from condensation.

    Wearing clothing absolutely makes you warmer in a sleeping bag. During a trip last month temps went down to about 0 and I was in a -15 bag. I was wearing every article of clothing in my pack including my down jacket over it all…. Why? Because I was warmer!

    Are 2 person tents really made for 2 people? No, not really. My buddy and I do winter backpacking trips several times a year. This year we did almost all of NY along the AT during Jan and Feb with an awful lot of snow and many nights below 0. We planned to stay in shelters the entire time, but we brought 1, 3 season, 2 person tent as a backup. My wife and I had driven cross country using this tent the entire way and it was tight for us with no gear (car camping). For perspective, I’m 6’2 and 230lbs and my wife is 5’2 and maybe 110. It would have been really intimate for me and my adult male friend, but if we didn’t make it to a shelter, it would have worked.

    I stopped using footprints in 2008. I spend roughly 50 nights a year outdoors. Of those, I would say 20 are in a tent (the rest divided between shelters and my hammock depending on where I’m going). By that math, with roughly 120 to 140 total nights in my tent with no footprint I have 0 holes and no sign of wear. I don’t see any value in a footprint.
    My advice would be to select your campsites more carefully and clean off the tents right when you get home.

    • Rick-Pittsburgh

      In regards to your comment about 4 season tents not keeping one warmer.

      I can assure you that on many an occasion I noticed a substantial difference between outside temp as opposed to the temp inside my tent.

      In my Hilleberg Soulo I noticed as much as a 15F° temperature difference.

      As far as the footprint thing goes not everyone spends their time hopping shelter and a lot of times there is no shelter to utilize.

      • To correct myself, a tent in general will be warmer than outside. My point is, I wouldn’t get a 4 season tent because you believe it will keep you substantially warmer than a 3 season tent. You should have an appropriate sleeping bag for winter conditions.

        And as I stated above, in the last 7 years I’ve spent well over 100 nights in my tent with no footprint and it’s held up fine. I clean it when I get home, but I imagine the things that would poke holes in your tent would poke holes through the footprint.

        Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time on trails without shelters. All over the West, in the Catskills and ADKs. They just don’t add a lot of value.

      • Winter tents are definitely warmer – but not “necessary”. As long as the tent inner is solid rather than mesh for the bottom half of the walls, and the fly comes down close to the ground —- the tent will be 10-15 degrees warmer than a drafty summer tent with an all mesh inner tent.

        Since out scout troop doesn’t have winter tents, and the scouts only own 1 sleeping bag, we just have them put a 200 wt fleece blanket on top of themselves inside their sleeping bag. It adds 10 degrees of warmth. A set of sweat pants and a fleece jacket make up any other warmth needs :)

  16. Why wear leather boots in shoulder seasons? Bushwhacking over rocky, rooty, leaf-covered used-to-be-trails. Better traction in well-mixed deep clay mud (think shared equestrian/foot trail) than my summer light trail shoes, which do not have nearly as deep treads. Keeps feet somewhat drier and warmer when trudging through sloppy mud in the slightly above freezing cold. Yep, they get hot, which requires carrying extra socks and taking a break every 2 hours to air out the feet and change socks. And as soon as the weather gets warm enough, the high-top leather boots will be given the final cleaning of the season and go into the back of the closet.

    Item 1.B. One person can’t fit in a one person tent if that person is over 6 ft. I am short, so I like my solo tent.

  17. Two people can fit into a two person tent. . . .if those two people are desperately in love.

  18. Michael Utterback

    I can see the merits of wearing running shoes for a short hike or a run/hike with a day pack but if you are doing a hike with a 50+ lb pack for multiple days far from any sort of rescue, running shoes are a very dangerous suggestion! You could easily, badly sprain your ankle and/or potentially break it! Be careful when offering this suggestion to others.

    • People should do what they think is best. I’m just saying that long distance hikers who carry heavy loads have pretty much given up on boots. I carry heavy loads through scree fields without an issue and find that I have more control with a soft shoes than a leather boot.

      • After spending many years in the Army and experiencing my fair share of sprained/rolled ankles when hiking in anything resembling a tennis shoe, I eventually transitioned to a minimalist daily shoe once I was honorably discharged. After the initial adjustment of lower leg muscles that weren’t used to being used to stabilize my foot, my lower legs are stronger and I have yet to have another sprained ankle even though I primarily hike in my NB Minimas now.

        Running shoes are only going to increase sprains if your ankles are weak from being overly supported on a daily basis.

    • In turn, I can assure you that having worn hiking SHOES (not mids, not boots) for the past 8 years with loads 20-40 lbs, for 700-900 miles each year, I have not sprained my ankle once. I did bruise them badly trying to wear boots. The boots hurt my feet. The shoes do not. (I did not wear the same pair of shoes, tho – I wear them out and buy a new pair each year.)

  19. Three season tents can be bad news for winter camping at elevations…say above 4000 feet in the eastern US. Three season tents are better than a tarp or most hammocks. They do not do well in high winds and in heavy rain/snow. Three season tents usually have just two poles. On two layer 3 season tents, the inside layer is usually mesh…the outside fly doesn’t always give full coverage. A four season tent has three or more poles, and two full…no-mesh layers. When the unexpected high winds hit, the three season tent can collapse or flatten and beat you in the head for hours. The four season tent, properly tied down can stand up to 75 mile an hour winds. How do I know this? I spent two February nights on Grassy Ridge Bald in a 3 season tent…the first night was cold…but I was fine. The second night saw high winds…gusts over 70…I think. My tent beat me in the head for hours…several times the poles came loose. Two nearby four season tents were fine. I bought a 4 season tent as soon as I got out of there; it’s really an anchor to carry…but no more 3 season tents for me.

    • Did I say that campsite selection was unimportant? I don’t think so. Use common sense out there or at least winter camp with someone who has a clue about what they’re doing.

      • Thanks for the great article Philip! I agree with you on winter camping with someone who has a clue. My group has been doing yearly backpacks in February in the higher elevations of NC, VA, and TN since 92. We thought that we knew that we were doing in 1992…and in 2015…and in most of the years in between. We were wrong. We still had LOTS to learn. We have always been well equipped, fit, confident, and experienced but weather conditions have socked it to us over and over. I guess that’s why we keep coming back

  20. #4 is correct advice, however I used my bright orange rain cover to keep me safe when having to roadwalk and it kept my pack in fairly pristine condition from dirt and such hiking so many miles. For the negligible weight, I thought it was well worth the bother.

    • I’d also never go out (here) without an internal pack liner. (It rains too much here.) But in recent years I’ve noticed people also using pack covers in combination with internal pack liners, and it’s not always such a pointless thing. For as long as it’s not going to be blown or torn off, they’re often useful for stopping the pack itself from absorbing too much water. When it’s raining, some packs can really soak up a lot, which can add to a lot more weight being carried.

      • [email protected]

        I agree 100%. Water is very dense and heavy. A wet pack and gear can add significant weight. I like to use a large 42 gal. garbage bag as an inside pack liner in case I drop the pack while fording a stream, and a garbage bag on the outside as a pack cover to keep the pack from absorbing heavy rain water. I then use the garbage bags as a tent footprint; so my pack liner and pack cover are dual use. The garbage bags can also be useful in an emergency for added warmth and protection from rain and wind.

  21. Great information mixed with humor. It is crazy how people believe everything they read from companies. Being smart and logical is the most sound advice you can give someone while making hiking and camping decisions.

  22. Nice list. I agree with most of it. Regarding the whole Gore-Tex topic it’s important to mention that although breathable fabrics aren’t indispensable, quick-dry fabrics can really make your life easier.

    There is however one mistake here. The shoes. Running shoes and sneakers are not suitable for hiking. They’ll work once, but long term use exposes you to some nasty injuries. There are however specialized hiking sneakers. Now I would gladly go into why all this is, but I don’t have the time, so I’ll explain that it’s all due to the density of foams and padding in the sole of the shoes, and the fact that when you’re carrying a pack you are heavier, and therefore creating more strain on your knees.

  23. “1. Two people can fit in a 2 person tent.” It’s a myth! Consider buying a three person tent for two people. I read years ago that a tent should have 20 square feet per person…which gives you 3 ft X 6 2/3 feet. I checked the REI website….many 2 person tents had only 30 sq ft; 3 season tents had just 40 square feet. After saying that, I’ve been very happy to share a 32 square foot Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight with another in a storm…I even brought my pack in. Also three of us…I was the only one under 200 lbs….were very happy in a 46 square foot Sierra Designs Alpha in windy below zero weather…after a tough day. My next tent will be four season…and will be 20 sq ft. per person. I won’t carry it all myself.

  24. So, for #4 are you supposed to put the liner inside the tent? I always just put a tarp down under my tent. I don’t wear my shoes in my tent, so I don’t see how it could get worn down.

    • I think you mean #5? A tent footprint serves the same purpose as a tarp under the tent, except it is made to fit a particular tent. Depending on the ground quality where you camp you may not need a tarp or footprint at all. The tent material will be sturdy enough. That said, there are counter-examples above, see Eddie S.

  25. I suspect conditioning and basic foot structure, and use of poles if needed, is more important than the type of shoe. It’s almost light-shoe time – woo-hoo!

  26. The two-person thing stems from alpinism where warmth and space are premium.

  27. I found this site via a post on a massage board. The person said 4 season tents are worthless and pointed to this article. As an author have the respect to present facts and not opinions disguised as facts. Reshaping facts, how products work or what works for what activity doesn’t help the public. It does them a great disservice and puts unknowing people at risk.

    Blogs/websites like this are why people die in the back country every year. Sure, there is some truth to each ‘myth’ and some are helpful, but people read this stuff and then come to Colorado or real mountains believing they are prepared. Every year people come to CO and have to ‘saved’ by other hikers or search and rescue. Drop the opinions, ego and personal beliefs and focus on facts. Give people facts about how things work and why they work the way they do. If you don’t know how something works, don’t guess. Learn how things work and educate others.

    The worst part is the wording on the site looks like it has been worked over a legal aid. There is just enough ambiguity in the text to absolve the author of any consequences due to someone using this info and getting hurt.

    • I’m another who thinks you should spend a little time here before judging. I’ve hiked all over the west in Alaska, Alberta, B.C., Washington, California, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas, and only one time in the Whites. I got my backside kicked by that trail in New Hampshire an order of magnitude greater than anything I’ve experienced in the Rockies. Prior to that trip, my hiking in the Appalachians had been in parts of New York, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia and I’d always considered the Rockies to be the “real mountains” in comparison, however, once you get to the Whites, you are in some really serious stuff.

    • Thanks to all of my readers who defended my honor until I could respond. 

      I never said that 4 season tents were worthless. Someone on your forum did. I use one myself but I’ve also done plenty of winter backpacking, mountaineering, and camping with three season tents, floorless pyramids, and even flat tarps in hard core winter conditions in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. 

      In my experience, three season tents are almost always sufficient for winter camping provided your properly plan and prepare your trip, you know how to pick a good campsite, prepare it, guy it out with deadmen, and if needed use your avy shovel to build a wall to block and wind or blowing snow that come up under the bottom your vestibule.

      When I guide winter backpacking and camping trips for the Appalachian Mountain Club in the White Mountains, I let people on my trips if they have three season tents, provided they have the required winter experience and gear. Eliminatng otherwise qualified participants because they lack a 4 season tent is madness, because 1) its not that important 2) there are so many ways to workaround any issues that can come up.

      I care about people going into the winter mountains unprepared just as much as you, and I’ve taught winter backpacking and hiking to beginers who want to learn how to do it safely. If you read through my web site there are loads of articles that go into great depth about it. 

      But like Colorado, we still have idiots in New Hampshire who think they’re prepared for winter when they don’t have a clue. Don’t blame that on me. My advice is get out and teach and guide so people can learn how to do it right. That’s what I do here and in person on the trips I lead. 

  28. I think it’s rather presumptuous of you to question the author without following his blog or having a clear understanding of his background and history. Phillip has extensive mountaineering and winter camping experience in “real mountains.” I don’t want to engage in a petty back and forth about his qualifications, but I would highly recommend you read through his blog and see if your position changes. He brings a wealth of knowledge that has proven invaluable to thousands of backpackers, climbers, hikers and adventurers.
    Also, having hiked extensively in both Colorado and NH, those 14Ks have nothing on the Whites. Terrain isn’t as difficult, inclines aren’t as steep and winters are for more forgiving. We know all about Real Mountains in the East.

  29. i like reading the tips and reviews on section hiker, I think he puts out a lot of good information will everyone agree with it no. Like hiking in sneakers would I do it no but a lot of people do, i have seen people in sandals before. Do i know everything about hiking and backpacking nope not even close.That is why I like this site and the comments it gives you ideas you may not have thought of or a better way to do things, everyone has to make up their own mind. As far as this site get people in trouble I don’t buy that, people get themselves in trouble, poor planning or just getting in or their heads or lets face it doing really stupid things. Keep up the good work on this site

  30. I have an argument for #1. I’ve found that cheaper 2-person tents usually have more room than more expensive, stream-lined 2-person tents from higher quality brands. My friends and I have been perfectly happy with Kelty and ALPS Mountaineering tents that would usually get sneered at by weight sharks. They are more weight (which isn’t a huge deal because it’s split between 2 people), but the trade off is we’ve always been comfortable with the amount of room, and especially the height compared to better tents. I wouldn’t use any of these tents in harsh wind conditions, but in the southern Appalachians we almost always have tree cover. They hold up fine in rain and snow. These brands aren’t the high end, but they usually make quality, cheaper products that weight more. The only Kelty or ALPS things I own are tents, synthetic sleeping bag, and a small daypack, all my other gear is generally from more expensive brands (except REI and EMS clothing).

  31. You might consider labeling each item Myth #1, Myth #2 etc. Some readers may not read the article title closely and just read the bullet points, skipping the details, and think it is a list of things you are advocating.

  32. I agree with all of these except #3 — running shoes instead of boots. It depends where you’re backpacking. If you’re in rocky terrain, such as the High Sierra, and you don’t want to snap an ankle, you’ll wear hiking boots.

    • See my answer above. I hike in the Sierra all year, and only wear boots in winter when I need to put snowshoes or traction devices on. I do not like boots, do not wear them willingly, and do not see any reason to during the 3.5 seasons I am not in deep snow – cross country, bushwhacking and all the other things I have done went just fine. I do see a need for approach shoes on some routes, tho.

  33. Brendan McNally

    I’m glad you addressed the issue of hiking boots. They are great for short hikes in wet conditions, but they are overkill in dry conditions or longer backpacking trips. In my experience, they can actually cause ankle injuries too, rather than prevent them.

  34. Thumbs up for the article. Most people need to ask the question – how hard core my hike is really going to be? I prefer light shoes and breathable fabrics. More comfort, less weight to carry, longer distances covered. When it really rains, one will eventually get wet no matter what – and if the weather really sucks, I simply don’t hike. I prefer simple but adequate gear that dries out quickly. True, this approach won’t cut it in extreme conditions but I want my hikes to be pleasant. I plan them in such way that I can avoid the real extremes.

  35. You sleep warmer in clothes that don’t have sweat in them. Putting on dry baselayers and dry clothes is best inside your sleeping bag. If you don’t have dry clothes then you probably would be warmer sleeping naked provided the bag was dry.

  36. It’s funny, I’d never even consider the ultra light silly hippy gear much of you must use, but I’d never give up a stout pair of boots. I’m from northern Michigan, where the weather is too unpredictable to skip about in trainers for a weekend. Put a good coat of sno seal on a good pair of leather boots (And you’re a fool if you think you need to spend 300$) and you have boots that can be submerged without leaking, unless you’re swimming in them for hours for some reason. That nonsense reminds me of people who think a Becker bk2 is too heavy to carry. I’m sure there’s some good experience to be shared here, but the comments and some of the initial post really illustrate the comical difference between recreational berkenstock backpackers and a woodsman(woman) who grew up in the back country and knows how to truly use the land to survive rather than having the latest electric yellow mountaineering gear. I won’t deny that there can be things to learn from the hiking as a sport crowd, for beginners that have spent their lives in the city, but they’d be better served by reading some Nessmuk and learning from those that don’t need thousands of dollars worth of silly gear to survive a week in the back country.

  37. This was definitely written by some weight weenie AT thru hiker. Most of these don’t apply once you spend 10 days in the Arctic.

  38. To Z and JN – if you happen to return here and read this, please consider the old expression “it is better to remain silent and perhaps be thought a fool, than it is to speak up and prove it”. Your disdain is seriously misplaced. You need to spend at least 60 minutes or more reading background about this site, this author, and this topic – lightweight backpacking – before venturing to comment.

    I also note how often folks who indulge in “drive by vitriol” generally fail to use an identifiable name. This is cowardly – if you feel compelled to offer strong criticism, be honorable enough to put your name behind it.

  39. Great list, Agree all. especially Waterproof & Breathable, Just not true for All materials this catchy phrase is applied too.

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