This page is a work in progress…I will change it many times until I get it where I want it, so please…
“Bear with me”
My Gear Guide
The gear that I use for every three season trip can be broken down into essential categories.
The Big 3 items are the ones that you can’t live without:
- Sleeping bag/quilt + Sleeping Pad
My tent was a simple, one man tent that I got off of Craig’s List. An MSR Hubba, one man tent, weighs in at just under 3 pounds with all the necessary accessories. (poles, stakes, footprint, rain fly) I bought it all for just under $80. You don’t need to spend a fortune on all new equipment. there are scores of people that bought the best equipment and used it maybe one time. Be patient, and the deals will come along. Check Craig’s List often, eBay, and newspapers (does anybody read those anymore?), gear sales at sporting goods stores and flea markets.
Read a lot of reviews, know what you are looking for, go to REI and try things on… sometimes what is great for the person that reviewed it, may not be right for you. There are many experts in the field, check out some listed in my links on the side bar, see what they have to say. I have, I bought some of the things that they thought were great products…and ended up going in a different direction in the end. Every trip you learn a little more, refine your repertoire for the next trip. Take notes; lots of notes of what worked for this trip and what didn’t. When you get home, dump everything out on the living room floor; separate what you used several times a day…and the things that you didn’t even take out of the pack the whole trip…and put them in a box, set them aside.
You will find that the key to your outdoor enjoyment, is how little you have on your back. The greater the burden, the lesser the enjoyment. Remember, you are getting out into the wild to enjoy nature, simplicity and solitude. Your creature comforts will be where you left them when you return home. You will find as I have, that the most important thing at the end of your day is how comfortable you are when you’re sleeping.
Being warm enough, and sleeping on a soft enough sleeping pad makes or breaks your next day of hiking. If you had a lousy sleep, trust me, you will not be a “Happy Camper” and enjoy your hike tomorrow.
Many expert reviewers and bloggers that came before me that have the money or financial backing, have posted reviews on different makes and models of gear. I am only commenting on the gear that I am using or have used, so it mearly my opinion for what has worked for me in my backpacking repertoire.
Osprey Exos 58
After reading much about many worthy backpacks from several reliable reviewers, I settled on the Osprey. It had the reputation for quality and lifetime repair from the manufacturer, a big selling point. Weighing in at only 2½ lbs., it was perfect for my 3 season needs. Not too many pockets and storage spaces, and for me that’s good, as I’m a “Pack-Rat”. I have a tendency to bring too much (in the beginning), weighing myself down from enjoying the trip. One of the things I like most about it, is the large opening at the top of the bag. It opens up like a V-shaped cone – similar to a Sherpa’s woven reed pack. You can actually get to the bottom and see what’s there. Unlike many other packs where the shape is like a laundry hamper, making it difficult to get to items that fell to the bottom of the pack. There are a few things that I would change if I were to make one for myself though. The belt storage pockets are too far back for me to get into with the pack on. They need to be closer to the front of the buckle for me to get things out of them easily. The other is the hipbelt itself. I have difficulty cinching it back down after removing the pack, as the straps go to the end making it difficult to pull back out. Other than that, I am very happy with it and Osprey’s quality.
The MSR Hubba tent, (since replaced by the updated MSR Hubba NX) is a one person tent that works just fine for me. I bought it used from Craig’s List for about $80. I did need to replace the rain fly, as the waterproofing had deteriorated and became sticky like flypaper. The replacement was easily done through Cascade Designs, MSR’s manufacturer in Seattle, Washington. The cost was about $60. It is easy to set up in wet and dry conditions also. If it’s raining, you can set up the rain fly first, then attach the tent part under the protection of the fly. (See MSR’s videos on their web site) The footprint is really overpriced at $45+, but it came with my tent purchase. I have added a piece of Tyvek that I got from a contractor buddy for additional protection. You can buy ready-made pieces off of eBay though.
I am now looking for another tent with more space for next season. Right now, I have my eye on 3 tents in contention for my hard earned dollars.
- MSR Fly Lite 2P tent to be released next March. It is a minimal tent with ample space for two people, or in my case, my gear. It uses guy lines and your trekking poles for set-up, reducing the weight of tent poles. It weighs in at about 1 lb. 9 oz. Cost will be in the $350 range.
- Nemo Morpho Elite 2P tent has an innovative design, using inflatable “air beams” instead of traditional tent poles or trekking poles for it’s structure. It is quite pricey at $600 retail, and is not light by most standards. Minimum weight is a little over 4 lbs. without footprint or stakes.
- Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 is the one I have been looking at for the longest time. It’s reputation for quality and livability, make it into my top three choices for my next year’s tent purchase. Priced at about $400 retail and weighs in at about 3 lbs.
Over the past year, I have used three sleeping pads. I have recently mentioned in my posts about all three of them, but will recap my thoughts on them here. I’ll start at the “minimalist”, least expensive pad, ending up with the current and most expensive pad that I am using now.
- Z-Lite by Therm-A-Rest, is a minimal foam pad, good for summer months and thru hikes for ultra-light backpacking adventures. Weighing in at only 9 ounces, it is a very good choice if your primary concern is reducing the overall weight of what your carrying on your trip. Price is about $45. I Used this one on one trip in the Desolation Wilderness this summer, when I was reducing overall weight, and the weather was on the warm side. As I have mentioned before, I am older and my bod just can’t take the discomfort of a minimalist’s approach to sleeping on the ground. This is the pad that I likened to stealing a piece of cardboard from the dumpster behind Safeway. I’m exaggerating, though it is more comfortable than that, it is not enough for a comfortable night’s sleep for me. More on this later…
- Trail-Lite by Therm-A-Rest was my first purchase. It has always been a good pad for me. Comfortable, easy to inflate (self-inflating), and has good insulating qualities. On longer trips, I was looking to reduce overall pack weight, the Trail-Lite weighed a little over 2 pounds. By itself, of course, that’s not heavy, but I didn’t want my Big 3 items (backpack, tent, sleeping gear) to weigh more than 9 pounds total. That’s when I went too far in the other direction and bought the Z-Lite. The Trail-Lite is priced at about $70 retail.
- Q-Core SL by Big Agnes is my latest purchase. It was very light, coming in at just about one pound, but the priciest one to date, about $170 retail from REI. It’s pack size was very small and even came with a small repair kit and stuff sack. It is not a self-inflating pad, so it either takes some significant lung power, or, buying the additional Big Agnes Pumphouse Inflator/Stuff sack, you can get it pumped up in about ten inflations. The advantage of the pump will come in handy at higher altitudes when you would like to reserve your lungs for meerly breathing. The only other remark I have about it, is that it is very a slippery surface for your sleeping bag. Big Agnes Sleeping bags come with a pocket that the pad can slip into. If you have another bag, such as my new Marmot Helium, you have a tendency to slide off the pad during the night. Very annoying…uuugh! I am contemplating using some rubberized drawer liner material to put in between, so I stay put. We’ll see next season. Other than that, I love the comfort and insulating qualities of the pad.
As I mentioned in one of my posts, the combination of the Z-Lite and Trail-Lite made a good combination. The insulating qualities of the foam pad with the air cushion of the Trail-Lite, made for a very comfortable night’s sleep. Of course now, the total weight was nearly 3 pounds, negating my desire to reduce pack weight – Such is life.
For several years I have used my old REI +15° mummy bag that has been a good partner on the trails. Over the years it has lost it’s loft and is not as warm as it used to be. Washing it several times probably didn’t help. Which brought me on the market for another bag. I read many reviews from many good sources. I looked at price (affordability), pack weight, and temperature rating. The bag of my dreams was a Feathered Friends Lark UL. Priced at full retail was over $500, about the same as the others in contention, but not affordable at the time. A beautiful bag though, +10° rating, 800 fill and made in Seattle, Washington. (I do make an extra effort to buy US made goods)
The other sleeping bag, the Marmot Helium, was the other one given the highest ratings for comfort, quality and pack weight. This is the one I ultimately bought and use now. The Helium weighs in at about 2 lbs. 9 oz., and has an 850 fill and priced in the $350 range retail. I got mine from eBay for about $200. Pretty good deal. It comes with a stuff sack and an storage sack for when you’re not using it. I hang mine in the closet to keep it aired out and it keeps the loft high for my next trip. (Many differing opinions on stuff sacks for your sleeping bag – I don’t use one, opting to “stuff” the sleeping bag into a trash compactor bag liner inside my backpack, then pack other items on top of the sleeping bag. I find that the pack seems to carry better with this arrangement – the pack just looks bigger) When making camp, I get my bag out first and drape it over my tent or hammock, allowing the loft to come up before it’s bed time.
Now, for a little bit about the most important part of your entire gear repertoire…your shoes…and your feet! This is your “Achilles’ Heel” as it were, of your entire trip. If your feet hurt in the 1st mile…what do you think they’re going to feel like after 10 miles, 20 miles? You get the picture. This is where you need to throw fashion out the window and concentrate solely on function and comfort. You can find pretty ones on Amazon and other stores online, but you absolutely must try them on and walk around in them. It is also important that you remember that your feet are going to swell after miles of hiking day after day. They need to fit for at least one size larger than you normally wear. Make sure that there is a large toolbox for your toes to have ample room before hitting the end of the shoe. All those hills and mountains that you climb up, you have to go down. If your toes constantly hit the end of the shoe not only will you get blisters but you may lose your toenails as well. Before I beat a dead horse , let’s move on to what I have chosen for my hikes and trail runs.
I have wide feet, so after trying many different pairs of lowrise hiking shoes on, I settled on the Merrell Moab Ventilator. It was available in a wide size, essential for my foot. The shoe also is mostly a leather reinforced mesh upper, allowing my foot to breathe on long, hot summer and fall treks. A great Vibram sole for good traction and a good choice me.
My other choice of shoe for trail running and hiking is the Altra Olympus. It has a very wide toe box and a tremendous amount of cushioning for ultra distance trail runs. Designed as a “Zero-Drop” shoe, allows you foot to plant and push off in an “anatomically correct” fashion. Zero-Drop, means that your toes and heel are on a flat plane, as though you were running bare foot, encouraging a more natural stride. Very important when running long distances. The Olympus is by far the most comfortable shoe I have ever owned. My feet feel as good at the end of my run or hike as they did at the beginning. Another excellent Zero-Drop shoe is the Hoka One-One. I found it far too narrow for my foot. If you have a narrow to medium size foot, you may want to look at them as well.
Equally as important as your shoes are your socks. I have tried the old school method of two pairs of socks at the same time, only to be miserable for an entire day. I found three pairs of socks that I take on my trips that are great form and function. Each has its own unique design, but they’re all quite comfortable on long trips.
Besides the choice of the sock, how often you change them is also key to your comfort on the long haul. If you take a break every two hours or so (and you should), sit down, take off your socks and put your feet up for 10 minutes of your 15 minute break. Allow your feet to breathe and reduce the natural swelling your feet get from hours of walking with that heavy pack. While having your snack, put on a fresh, dry pair of socks. Using safety pins, pin your damp socks somewhere on the outside of your backpack and allow them to dry in the fresh air and sunlight. Your feet will feel brand new with your new clean/dry socks for the next 2 hours until you take your next break. Treat your feet this way, and I doubt that you will suffer through the pain and discomfort of blisters again.
- Thorlo Pad Experia by Thorlos, is a very comfortable running/hiking sock that is padded on the heel and on the ball of your foot to your toes only. The middle of the sock is reinforced elastic for compression, to support your arch and instep over long periods of time. A great sock.
- WrightSock CoolMesh II by WrightSock, is actually two socks in one. A light and soft inner sock that is woven into the outer synthetic fiber sock, that allows perspiration to be wicked away to the outer layer, while the 2 layers move independently, thus reducing friction and the possibility of blisters forming. Another great, comfortable sock for the long haul. They are not as durable as I would like, as your heel may wear through the thin inner layer after a trip or two, but the comfort is worth it.
- Injinji Toe Socks take a bit getting used to the odd feeling of having each one of your toes to have it’s own little sock on it. Once you do, you’ll find the comfort, stability and support will last long into your race or through hike. They really do offer great support, allowing your toes to “splay” naturally when we run or walk. They do take a while longer to change every 2 hours, as they tend to stick to your toes pretty well. Give yourself some extra time for changing out Injinji socks at break.
Gaiters: normally when we think about gaiters, we think of wearing knee-high gaiters in the wintertime trekking through snow with our snowshoes, or alpine mountaineering with our crampons. Another type of gaiter is for hiking and trail running. Instead of keeping snow out, these shorter gaiters keep out dirt , sticks and gravel out of our shoes. This allows you to keep on truckin’ down the trail without stopping to remove your shoes and the pesky rocks and twigs. The gaiters I recommend are Dirty Girl Gaiters.
Dirty Girl Gaiters are made by “Goddesses”, and trail runners themselves. It is a great product , made by a great little “Brick and Mortar” cottage business for trail runners and hikers alike. They offer 20+ styles to choose from. I’m sure you’ll find something that fits your unique trail personality. Only about $20, you’ll wonder how you lived without them before.
Running Vests: Ultimate Direction and Salomon make some great running vests for ultras and shorter distances alike. Check out both sites, go you your neighborhood running store and try them on. See which one feels best for you. I chose the UD Scott Jurek. It feels like we are “ONE” when I’m running with it. It has plenty of space for the essentials in most weather conditions. Expect to pay between $120 and $150 for most popular ultra vests.
The Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vests come with two hard poly bottles. The Salomon are offered with soft, collapsable bottles, though UD does offer the soft also, but for about $22.00 each. They are nice on a long run, as you don’t have to put up with the “sloshing” sounds until your next fill up. Both manufacturers also offer 70 oz. bladders with bite valve for extra long runs. They run about $35.00 for either vest.
I’ll be posting more about my gear as time goes on… Come back again, I’m typing as much as I can, when I can…