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White Mountains Autumn Backpacking Gear List Explained

White Mountains autumn backpacking gear list explained

The first half of autumn, from mid-September through October, is the best time to go hiking and backpacking in the White Mountain National Forest which spans central New Hampshire and Western Maine. The temperatures are cooler, the bugs are gone, and the fall foliage is spectacular in early October, reaching its peak on Columbus Day during the second week of October. Come November, the weather turns decidedly colder, and snowshoes are often required to hike the higher peaks by Thanksgiving. After that winter usually lasts into April and even later at the higher elevations.

I haven’t published my gear list in ages and I thought I’d write one up that details the backpacking gear I use in September and October for autumn backpacking (down to 20 degrees at night) before I have to transition to colder weather pursuits.

October 1, 2020. Mt Chocorua.
Mt Chocorua and The Sisters

Gear List Summary

Most of my trips in the Whites are one and two-night backpacking trips, often solo, and many involve climbing 4000 footers, although I often take off-trail detours to reach small fly fishing streams or bag trailless mountains.  I prefer wild camping in dispersed campsites and cook one-pot dinners at the end of the day. I usually switch from trail runners to lightly insulated boots when daytime temperatures fall below freezing. I’m less obsessed with gear weight than I used to be and lean more towards wilderness immersion than crushing big miles. I’m still a go-getter, but I’m a lot less interested in feats and more interested in making memories.

The total base weight of my gear list is 14 lbs 10 oz, which is about a pound or two more than I typically carry in summer. My Tenkara Fly Fishing gear weighs an additional 9.2 ounces, which is really a drop in the bucket when compared to more traditional reel-based fly fishing.

Packing

ItemNotesOunces
Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50 BackpackVentilated Ultra rolltop20.6
Exped Schnozzel 44L Inflation Sack
Also used as pack liner
2
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Shoulder Strap PocketHiking Office1.4

I switched from a Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 to a Zpacks Arc Haul Ultra 50 two years ago because I prefer carrying a backpack with a suspended mesh back panel for better ventilation. The past two summers have been brutally hot and humid, a trend that may well continue for the rest of my lifetime, and the Arc Haul is much more comfortable to carry. It’s also made with Ultra, a highly durable ultralight and waterproof fabric that has proven tough enough to withstand use in the White Mountain National Forest, where most backpacks go to die.

The Zpacks Arc Haul 50 is not a home run but I still like it better than any other pack I own. The roll top leaks in heavy all-day rain so I line it with an Exped Schnozzel which is a 44L stuff sack, I’ve put a few holes in the front mesh pocket, and the side compression system is insufficient for carrying heavy objects like snowshoes. I’m also getting tired of unpacking the roll top completely whenever I need to find some gear buried deep in the pack. It would be much more convenient if Zpacks put a zipper along one side of the pack that provided another access method, but the same could be said of all roll-top backpack makers.

But the Arc Haul Ultra 50 hip belt provides an excellent wrap around my hips, the torso length is fully adjustable, and it has daisy chains sewn to the front of the shoulder straps, so it’s very comfortable and convenient to use with all kinds of loads. I will switch to a warmer pack with better external attachments in the winter, but the Arc Haul Ultra 50 is still a joy to use for the remainder of the year.

Shelter/Insulation

Make/ ModelNotesOunces
Durston X-Mid 1 tentDouble wall tent28
6 Paria Needle Tent Stakes 2
Feathered Friends Tanager 20Hoodless zipperless sleeping bag18.6
Sea-to-Summit Insulated Etherlight XT Sleeping Pad4" thick air mattress15
Sea-to-Summit Aeros Down PillowLocks to pad2.5
Chopped down Zlite Sleeping MatFoam3
Sea-to-Summit Stuff SackFor sleeping bag, sleep clothes1.1

I switch back and forth between hammocks and tents and tarps every few years and I’m back in a tent this autumn after using a Hammock Gear Wanderlust Hammock System for a few years. I’m currently using a Durston Gear X-Mid 1 which I like because it packs up small and gives me lots of extra vestibule room for shoulder season weather when I want to keep my gear under cover and easily accessible inside my tent.

I use a Feathered Friends Tanager 20 hoodless sleeping bag in autumn because it’s less drafty than a quilt, with a Sea-to-Summit Insulated Etherlite XT sleeping pad and a Sea-to-Summit Aeros Down Pillow, which I’ve been using going on 4 years now. I sleep very well with this setup and have no plans to swap it out. I also carry a few segments of a ZLite foam pad on trips to use as a porch for my tent so my knees don’t get wet getting in and out and for use as a sit pad when cooking meals.

Kitchen

Complete ESBIT cooking kit including vaseline dipped cotton balls and three ESBIT cubes for a fast overnight 1 night backpacking trip
Complete ESBIT cooking kit including vaseline dipped cotton balls and three ESBIT cubes for a one night backpacking trip
ItemNotesOunces
Evernew Titanium Pasta Pot (M) w/lidFolding handles3.9
QiWiz Esbit "stove", pot stand, titanium wind screenMishmash of QiWiz components1
Light My Fire Firesteel 2.0Foolproof1.5
GSI Plastic SpoonLong spoon0.3
BearVault 425 Bear CanisterFit easily in my backpack.28

I cook and boil water with Esbit fuel cubes because they’re lightweight to pack and always burn no matter how cold it gets. I use 1 to 1.5 oz of fuel per day and unlike canister fuel or alcohol, there’s no empty fuel container to lug around after the fuel is gone. While I do use a QiWiz cookset, it is very minimal with a metal pot lid as a “stove” to prevent the Esbit cubes from burning the ground, a wire stove stand, and a titanium foil windscreen. The entire cook system fits into my ancient Evernew Pasta Pot (M), which is sized perfectly for the one-pot meals I like to cook on the trail.

Since I’m in black bear territory, I use a Bearvault 425 bear canister to protect my food and the bears at night. I also use it to store my cook pot and toiletries to keep smells out of camp. It fits nicely near the top of my pack because it’s so small (it’s the smallest canister that Bearvault makes). Unfortunately, Ursacks are no longer legal for use in the White Mountain Forest, and using a bear canister adds considerable weight to my gear list. But a bear canister is much more convenient to use than trying to hang a bear bag at night (which is the other legal method), especially in autumn when the days are shorter.

Water

The Platypus QuickDraw Water filter works with all platypus soft bottles.
The Platypus QuickDraw Water filter works with all platypus soft bottles.
ItemNotesOunces
Platy 34 oz SoftbottleDurable and Gusseted1.1
Platy 70oz SoftbottleDurable and Gusseted1.7
1L x 2 Nalegene UL Water BottlesDoesn't leap out of my backpack7.6
Platy QuickLink Water FilterWorks well with Platy bottles3

I’ve been using the Platypus QuickDraw water filter again this year in conjunction with Platypus 2L and 1L soft water bottles. I like the caps at both ends of the filter, which helps prevent cross-contamination of the clean end and prevents the filter from making all your other gear wet when it’s packed away. It has a fast flow rate and lets me use my Platypus bottles, which are gusseted on the bottom and stand up by themselves.

I prefer using the Platypus soft bottles for long water carries, which I do increasingly often to find dispersed campsites. They hold their shape better than other soft bottles when full, which makes them easier to carry. For example, I typically carry 5L of water for dry camping, and Platy bottles flop around less when carried in my pack’s front mesh pocket, than say a CNOC bottle which is much softer and more pliable.

I also switched to using 1-liter wide-mouth UL Nalgene bottles (3.8 oz each) two years ago. I usually carry two on trips. I switched to them because I kept losing taller bottles, including Smartwater bottles when I hike off-trail, which I do on almost every hike I take with a fishing rod. The squatter Nalgenes don’t get pulled out of my side water bottle pockets. In autumn, they’re also handy because you can put hot drinks in them and they have volume measurements on the side. It is really nice to be able to heat up a full liter of tea on a cold morning and sip it while waiting for my hot cereal to heat up on a cold morning. You can’t do that with a Smartwater bottle!

Office

Suunto M3 Compass
Suunto M3 Compass
ItemNotesOunces
Anker Powercore 10K Battery Pack w/cords USB cords7.1
Garmin InReach Mini2Satellite messenger3.5
Nitecore NU20 headlamp1.7
Suunto M3D CompassDeclination adjustable1.5
Casio Pro-Trek ABC WatchSolar powered, mainly use the altimeter2.2

The office is the brains of this operation and encompasses navigation, communications, photography, lighting, and power. I’m a map and compass person at heart and keep my Suunto M3 declination adjustable compass close at hand to check my direction and identify distant terrain features. I also wear a solar-powered Casio Pro-Trek ABC watch and use the barometric altimeter quite a lot when hiking, so I don’t have to get my phone out to check my elevation with a GPS. I almost never take this watch off, so maybe it should be considered as “clothing worn.”

Still, it’s nice to have Smartphone apps with GPS-encoded maps, so I can check my position and view maps on the phone that I don’t want to carry. I do a fair amount of off-trail hiking in addition to on-trail in order to reach remote trout streams, so it helps to have a wide selection of maps available in a phone app. In terms of apps, I use GaiaGPS for off-trail navigation, Farout’s White Mountain National Forest App for on-trail navigation, and Avenza Maps for navigating with historic USGS maps encoded as GeoPDFs or maps published by trail conferences that don’t use the Farout app.

I carry a Garmin inReach Mini2, so I can text the person I leave my trip plan with if I’m overdue or I’m injured. My iPhone 14 also has a SAR satellite messenger function, so I suppose the Mini 2 is redundant, but it is much more durably made than my Smartphone.

Photography: I use my iPhone 14 for all of my photography since the picture quality is so good and carry a small Anker battery to recharge it with if I run low on power.

Headlamp. I’m still using a Nitecore NU 20 (no longer sold) because it’s small and doesn’t have a complex set of lighting controls. My UK hiking buddy Martin recommended it to me several years ago and I’ve been using it ever since.

First Aid Kit

Band-aid Hydro-seal blister bandages review

Item Namedescqtyweight (oz)
Total Contents Weight (details below)14.2
HMG DCF Draw-String Stuff Sack1
Claritinallergies10
Benedrylantihistamine, sleep aid16
Immodiumdiarrhea prevention10
Ibuprofenpain relief20
Leukotape StripsStuck to release paper20
Bandaid Hydro-seal Bandages (assorted)Blister bandages (assorted sizes)10
1 Pair Nitrile GlovesBody Fluid Isolation1
Assorted Bandaids6
Alcohol PadsDisinfection3
NightguardDental1
N95 MaskHigh Quality Mask1

My first aid kits have always been self-assembled and are pretty minimal. I put the most effort into blister prevention and treatment, using Leukotape to prevent hotspots and long-lasting, padded, Band-aid Hydro-seal bandages if I get blisters. These are super sticky bandages that don’t come off for days and help heal the wound. They’re the same thing as Compeed bandages, sold in the UK, but much less expensive.

In addition to foot care, I carry the usual antihistamines, pain relievers, and anti-diarrhea pills. If you’re freaked out by sounds at night, earplugs are useful in autumn for blocking the sound of falling leaves. I also carry an N95 mask on my hikes to protect myself from Covid if I have to get close to someone, say an injured hiker I don’t know who needs help, or if I have to enter a structure with other people.

Clothing Carried

September 24, 2020. The Great Gulf Wilderness
September 24. The Great Gulf Wilderness
ItemNotesOunces
Lightheart Gear Silpoly Rain JacketBlaze orange6.6
Montbell Versalite Rain PantsFragile, but lightweight3.8
Montbell Ex Light Down PulloverInsulation9
Extremities Acrylic GlovesInsulation1.7
Patagonia Capiliene 1 JerseyNo Longer Made6.5
Patagonia Capiliene 1 Long UnderwearNo Longer Made5.8
Darn Tough Hiker Boot SocksSleep Socks1.7
Fleece CapSleep Clothes0.8

I carry a pretty standard set of layers for autumn weather. My rain gear doubles as wind protection above treeline and provides a thermal envelope when worn over a mid-layer. Hunting season starts in September, so it’s also nice that my rain jacket is blaze orange in color. It’s crazy that more companies don’t make blaze orange outdoor gear for hikers, isn’t it? I also carry a lightweight down puffy pullover that I mainly wear in camp or in my sleeping bag at night if I feel cold. Gloves and a warm hat are also good to carry, especially for above-treeline use or on cold mornings.

I’m a big believer in carrying a separate pair of dry sleeping clothes, which I change into when I get to camp so I can warm up over dinner. They’re good to have on hand if your daytime clothing gets wet on rainy days and if you need to warm up. They also keep your sleep insulation from getting funky, especially if you can’t wash up before going to bed.

I suppose I’m dating myself by using clothing from Patagonia that is no longer made, but I haven’t been able to figure out if they sell anything that’s comparable to the lightweight layers I already own, given their terribly complex and constantly changing product naming scheme.

Clothing Worn

September 26, 2020 Kinsman Ridge
September 26 Kinsman Ridge
ItemNotesOunces
Railriders Bone Flats PantsCooler in warm weather. Mesh vents along the sides.12.8
Darn Tough Hiker Boot SocksIndestructible3.4
Saucony Peregrine 11 Trail RunnersSuper Grippy, Mesh28.4
Under Armour Boxer JocksChafing Protection3.2
Outdoor Research Bugout Brim HatSun Protection2.5
Railriders Madison River ShirtSynthetic Button Down Shirt9
Ragged Mountain Fleece HoodieWicking Mid-layer11
Outdoor Research Thru GaitersCool gaiters1.9

I’m currently wearing a pair of Saucony Peregrines 11s ($65/pair) which I stockpiled a few years ago, even though Saucony is selling Peregrine 13s ($140/pair) at this point. Buying surplus, past model, trail runners is a great way to save money if you blow through multiple pairs per season. I will keep wearing the 11s until I need to switch to waterproof mids when the weather turns colder in late October.

I wore REI Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants (for the shorts) most of this summer but have switched to Railrider Bone Flats Pants as the weather has gotten cooler. These ventilate better than the Railrider’s EcoMesh pants I used in years past, another adaption to the warmer and more humid summers we’ve been having. The Bone Flat Pants are not pre-treated with Insect Shield, so you have to send them out to InsectShield yourself or spray them with Sawyer’s Permethrin if you want to prevent tick and insect bites.

Tenkara Fly Fishing Gear

Brook Trout
Brook Trout
ItemNotesOunces
Tenkara Bum Rod CasePerforated so the rod dries easily2.5
Tenkara USA IwanaSmall to mid-sized stream Japanese rod2.7
Yonah Packs Simple Pack Small Tenkara pouch2.0
Tools, TippetI tie my own flies2.0

With all this talk about fly fishing, you’re probably wondering what it is I do carry. The answer is not much, as you can see above. That is the beauty of Tenkara. It’s very elemental and simple. I can fish all spring, summer, and autumn with just 9.2 ounces of fly fishing gear.

I use a lightweight telescoping carbon fiber rod that’s made in Japan called the Tenkara USA Iwana and catch trout that are generally under 10″ in length. I’m strictly a catch-and-release fisherman and I use barbless hooks, which are easy to remove. I don’t always carry Tenkara Gear on hikes especially if I’m hiking with someone who just wants to go hiking or is not a fisherperson. But when I hike alone, I usually carry my fishing gear, and almost always when I go backpacking.

Wrap Up

Whew! There’s a lot of information there. If you have any questions about any of the gear I use or why I carry what I do, feel free to leave a comment below with your questions. I’m also happy to answer any questions you have about hiking or backpacking in the Whites in autumn.

About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 9500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 3000 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip has hiked all 650+ trails in the White Mountains twice and has completed 11 rounds of the 48 peaks on the White Mountains 4000 footer list with over 575 summits in all four seasons. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire. Click here to subscribe to the SectionHiker newsletter.
SectionHiker is reader-supported. We only make money if you purchase a product through our affiliate links. Help us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

22 comments

  1. Great article but missing the info that I really wanted. I too am old and currently trying to figure out what to replace my ancient capilene with!

  2. If you were taking a long trip, say six or seven days, would anything change in your kit (other than the amount of food, and maybe the size of the bear can)?

    • I might bring an extra pair of socks and underwear. I’d use the same gear list for hiking the AT or the Cohos Trail in September or October. In fact, I’ll probably backpack parts of them again this September and October in NH and Maine.

  3. Great comprehensive checklist for someone unsure what to put together! Fall is – by far – my favorite time to be out. Cool nights, no bugs, less crowds (generally). Looking forward to the next 10 weeks or so!

  4. Is there a point based on the calendar or weather conditions at which you ditch the bear can for the winter? I’m planning to bring my BearVault when I hike in October, but I’m also hoping for a February outing, for which I was thinking of leaving it behind to free up space and weight for winter gear.

  5. Do you have any reviews of wrist watches coming up? Also, for the Capilene, is that lightweight or midweight?

    • yes – I have a wrist watch review coming up and for capilene its, lightweight or silk weight, which they’ve mostly stopped making.

    • Capilene is lightweight and excellent. It’s always my undermost layer no matter what. Consider adding a BightGear Fissure jacket for mid over. The only drawback to Capilene being it stinks after a few hours wear. Could be me though. Buy some Cap, you won’t go wrong.

      • It also lasts forever. I have cap jerseys that are 15 years old and going strong. Wool jerseys die after 2 years. But the new stuff has a denser weave and is not like the old capilene, which was one step up from being fishnet with bigger gaps in the weave for wicking.

        • We’re getting to a certain age, Phil. Our age identified by the rings around our capilene. C’ya out there buddy.

  6. That’s helpful, thanks! I thought I’d read something about requirements being in effect April to November but then couldn’t find it again.

  7. How do you find the Railriders pants to fit? Are they true to the sizing chart on the company’s website? If I go by my normal sizing I’d buy a large, but a medium if by their sizing chart. Thanks.

  8. A mask? Why are you bringing a mask to the great outdoors? Are you expecting a dust storm? FWIW, A bandana works great in dust storm.

    • If I meet someone who needs help, I don’t want to get Covid in the process. Pretty standard body fluid isolation protocol in wilderness medicine.

  9. Hi Phillip,

    Noticed your comment about the Ursack being ‘no longer legal for use in the White Mountain Forest’. After some searching, I’m coming up short on any such restriction. Can you provide a source? Recently purchased a Ursack AllMight and would be bummed not to be able to put it to use.

    Thanks,,
    David

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