Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

A new stove: Trangia mini

I had been a white gas stove guy from way back in the days of Svea stoves – yup, I just really dated myself! More recently I had used a series of fine little MSR stoves, but a few seasons back I was persuaded to try the little MSR canister stove. It is very small, light, quite simple, and it works very well for the most part. Since I usually can minimize the amount of time I need to run the stove – especially when I’m only cooking for myself – I’ve been able to complete fairly long trips with a single canister. Downsides are that it is still somewhat loud – which seems to be the price you pay for a hotter stove – and that the canisters are expensive, hard to manage (you can’t really know how much fuel is left after some use), and raise some concerning disposal issues.

A few years ago my ultra-light backpacking friends began showing up for trips with some stoves that I couldn’t have even imagined people using a decade ago. All of them were alcohol burning stoves and they ranged from simple, small burners from commercial sources to tiny, featherlight home-grown designs created out of soda cans. At first I was skeptical, having relied on more traditional equipment for some decades, but as I watched my friends use these stoves I began to see their value, particularly for the solo backpacker who mostly needs to simply boil a small amount of water.

I finally took the plunge last month and ordered the very inexpensive (about $20) Trangia mini stove. This consists of a small and simple aluminum wind-screen/stand and a small brass stove that is not much more than a fancy bowl into which you pour a bit of alcohol and then light the whole thing. (Yes, there are lighter stoves and lighter stand and windscreen options, but I didn’t want to begin by, for example, constructing my own stove – as some friends do!)

The “stove” fits neatly into the bottom of my tall Snow Peak solo pot and leaves plenty of room for my spoon, a lighter, a small square of cloth I use as “small towel and pot grabber,” and a tiny plastic bottle of soap. The wind screen is a bit more awkward, but I use the space efficiently by packing it with something else stuffed into it.

Fuel is simply alcohol that you can pick up at your local hardware store, though REI and probably other outdoor stores stock it as well. One can will probably last most people at least a full season. The fuel comes from agricultural sources rather than gas/oil wells, so while the actual effect on the world is small, it seems like a positive step. These stoves also save resources in one other important way. It would take many, many regular fuel canisters to power the stove for the same amount of time that one can of alcohol will last. So, one can of alcohol and one small bottle to carry what you need on the trail is all you’ll use.

The first time I tried it on the trail last week I found myself using more fuel than necessary – at first by a factor of two. Over the course of a four-day trip I got a better handle on how much fuel is needed to boil a particular amount of water, and once on the final morning I manged to bring the water for a cup of tea to a boil just as the fuel burned out. I carried 8 oz. of fuel for this trip and used about half of it – and didn’t use it all that efficiently. I think that it would be quite reasonable to use an ounce or less per day with some care. Unlike the home-brew stoves, the Trangia burner includes a screw-on lid that supposedly allows you to put out the stove before it finishes burning and then store it with the remaining alcohol available for the next use. I didn’t try this. It also includes a detachable top that has a rotating piece that lets you manually lower the flame to simmer. I would rarely have a need for this since I mostly just boil water on the trail.

The stove does take longer to bring a given amount of water to a boil – perhaps 50% or more additional time. If you travel solo (or travel with a group but cook individually) this isn’t a big issue since you’ll probably just add a few minutes to your cooking time. I quickly learned to get my water in the pot and start it boiling first and then to take care of other food preparation issues like getting out the dinner and so forth. Another advantage is that the longer cook time is essentially silent! You’d be surprised at what a difference this makes.

If you have ever had a stove “go bad” on the trail – yes, it happens – you may appreciate the retro simplicity of the alcohol stoves. There are no moving parts, no jets to clean – basically it just holds the alcohol and you light it.

My verdict after one use is that:

  • I’ll definitely use the stove for solo travel.
  • I did not find the slightly longer cooking times to be an issue.
  • I enjoyed the silent operation of the stove.

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Gear Reviews, Technique | , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

A Car Story

Since my outdoor adventures involve a significant amount of travel, and since the price of gas and environmental concerns make it more and more necessary to think about the impacts of such travel, I thought I’d write something about the car we bought last year. Yes, a Prius. Continue reading

July 29, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Environment, Equipment | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on A Car Story

Gear Review: Black Diamond Zenix IQ Headlamp

The Black Diamond Zenix IQ Headlamp must be overstocked or discontinued, because I see it at least once per week over at steepandcheap.com for a price in the low $20 range.

I have this headlamp and I’ve been quite impressed with it. I’ve used it on a number pack trips, for night photography jaunts, and for car camping and it has worked like a charm. It is one of the newer LED headlamps that puts out enough light to actually navigate a dark trail – unlike the earliest models which were designed more or less for around camp use.

It has two basic modes of operation. In one the more powerful central lamp comes on and in the other a pair of smaller LEDs at the edges of the light unit come on instead. The former provides brighter light but consumes battery power more quickly, while the latter is only bright enough for camp chores but is draws less power from the batteries. In both modes you can switch between several different brightness levels and a blinking mode. (The latter is useful for giving your backpacking partners a severe headache – or for a long lasting emergency signal light. A friend of mine used a lamp with a similar feature to guide me to camp once when I arrived many hours after dark.)

If this headlamp has a downside it might be the smallish and somewhat difficult to press control button. Once you figure out where it is it works fine, but it is still difficult to operate even with light gloves on. Well, it might have one other. At a time when some of the very small and dimmer backpacker LED headlamps weigh around 1 ounce, this one is a bit bulkier and heavier – but still quite a bit smaller and lighter than the headlamps we used in the pre-LED era.

But in actual operation – at least for typical backpacking use – if you are looking for a long lasting headlamp that puts out enough light for actual hiking, this could be the one for you.

June 19, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Gear Reviews | Comments Off on Gear Review: Black Diamond Zenix IQ Headlamp

My Take on 'Sleeping Systems'

Having just read a post at the Mt. Whitney and Eastern Sierra Hiking Blog (see “On Backpacking…Sleep System“) I thought I’d add my two cents on this topic.

To my way of thinking, a backpacking “sleeping” system includes several components: sleeping bag, pad, ground sheet, shelter, clothing – and for some, a pillow.

Sleeping Bag – My current first-string sleeping bag is the Marmot Helium that I purchased a few years ago. This is a really fine sleeping bag with 800+ high-fill down, great design features, and a weight of around 2 pounds. The high-fill down decreases the weight and allows the bag to stuff smaller, taking up less space in a smaller pack. The version that I use has only a half zipper – this decreases the weight and cost a tiny bit and isn’t a significant drawback for me. The 15 degree rating is sufficient for me into the colder October season in the Sierra and is more than warm enough for typical summer conditions.

I have also used a lighter 30 degree bag, Continue reading

May 31, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Equipment, Technique | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on My Take on 'Sleeping Systems'

Trail Photography Pages

When I wrote my earlier post – before coffee, I think – I completely forgot that there is an extensive page right on this site that addresses a bunch of backpacking photography stuff. If you want to find out more, take a look.

December 7, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on Trail Photography Pages

A Backpack For Your Backpack

I saw post at Trailcraft today about the idea of taking a daypack along on your pack trips. This is not as wacky an idea as it might seem, at least if you take a few layover days and explore the surrounding terrain.

I used to carry pretty heavy “old school” internal frame packs. (Before that I used to carry really old school external frame packs, but that ancient history is a story for another time.) My favorite from that era was my gigantic Mountainsmith Crestone II – a capacious single compartment pack that was excellent in every way… except that it weighed around seven pounds. One nice feature of this pack – a brilliant feature, actually – was that the large top pocket converted into a functional fanny pack that could be used to haul just enough gear on most day trips away from base camp.

After I finally “saw the lite” and began to move to lighter equipment I picked up my current favorite pack, the Mountainsmith Auspex. Although not a true ultralight pack, it is about half the weight of the Crestone II. Its capacity is smaller, but sufficient for multi-day trips. Much of the weight savings comes from simplification (no side pockets, etc.) and lighter materials, but it still has an excellent, fully padded suspension system. When pressed, it can handle significantly more weight than the lightest ultra-light packs.

This pack is easily roomy enough for a 5+ day trip, but beyond that things get tight. Fortunately, Mountainsmith produce a small, attachable companion pack, the Boogeyman. It weighs in at only 1 pound, has a minimal but decent set of shoulder straps, and attaches nicely to the back of the Auspex. It is truly a minimal pack, though made of decently sturdy material matching the Auspex – there are not pockets whatsoever and a no stiffeners. But it is sufficient for summer day hikes away from camp since it can handle extra clothes, food and water, and a few other essentials.

It attaches to the back of the Auspex in a somewhat cumbersome manner, but it nicely extends the capacity of the pack such that I’ve done trips of up to 9 days with this setup and I think I could go longer. (I’ll find out this summer on a 10-12 day trip in the southern Sierra.)

Unfortunately, the Boogeyman pack is no longer made, and I’m not sure that the Auspex is around any longer either. But there are other similar options out there that work more or less the same way, and I can report that it is a good strategy for both extending the range of your lightweight backpack and for carrying gear away from base camp.

June 11, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on A Backpack For Your Backpack

On Hiking Poles

No, not hiking Poleshiking poles… Though I suspect that they use them in Poland, too.

I see that <a href="Tom has posted a link to aWildebeat report on hiking poles today.

A short excerpt:

Well what we saw in that study was as — at the lesser slope, the fifteen degree slope… some people used the poles very effectively, a lot of people didn’t seem to make use of the poles at all… As the slope got steeper, then we saw a distinct difference in terms of both men and women tended to use the poles… Then at the steepest slope, when we got them at twenty five degrees, then everybody used the poles much better …

See Tom’s post for links back to the full story.

A few comments of my own on hiking poles.

For a long time I thought that hiking poles (a.k.a. “trekking poles”) were for effete wimps. I couldn’t imagine myself ever using such things. (Though I wasn’t above picking up the occasional trailside stick and using it to get past rough patches, over a snowfield, or across a creek.)

Then some friends of mine started showing up for pack trips with old ski poles. Though I was still skeptical, these were my friends and hiking buddies, so it was a bit harder to dismiss them. This was especially true when one of them would toss me a pole to use on a creek crossing. ;-)

I finally decided I had to give them a try and perhaps 5-6 years ago I picked up a pair. I purchased a decent set of lightweight REI poles that collapsed down to what I regarded as a reasonable size to attach to the pack… and that is pretty much where they stayed. I ended up carrying them 20 miles for every mile that I used them.

But time marches on, and I got older. Recently I have made it my policy to use the poles pretty much all the time when I’m carrying a backpacking load. Advantages? They do help with balance on rough terrain – and they help a lot if you find yourself hiking after dark. They provide some relief on uphill trails also, especially for those of us who learned to diagonal stride for cross-country skiing and can add a bit of push with our arms. I use them on the downhill sections but, contrary to what my friends tell me, I don’t think they really take much of a load off my knees – though they may slow me down a bit and soften the blow for that reason.

Another advantage is that with the right kind of tarp or tent (or tarptent…) the poles can substitute for normal tent poles.

Related to the story that Tom links to, a few years ago I discovered – much to my surprise – how useful poles can be on really rough terrain. I had assumed that poles would be fine for trail hiking but that off trail they would be a burden not worth the bother. On a hike up
Giddy Giddy Gulch on Mt. Shasta I discovered how wrong I was. Using the poles I was no longer a somewhat unsteady biped, grabbing for nearby boulders if I got a bit off balance. Instead I was a confident quadruped, able to keep three points of contact while moving one foot. Except in very rough situations (verging on bouldering) the poles turned out help a lot.

So, now I use them in all of these circumstances… and encourage others to do the same.

May 25, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on On Hiking Poles

Dan's Equipment List: Camp Gear

  • ***Pack
    – I am a confirmed internal frame pack user these days.

    When I started backpacking in the 1960s (!) virtually everyone used aluminum external frame packs. The best were from Kelty and Jansport and they were fine packs and generally regarded as a great step forward compared to previous alternatives – none of which I ever used. My Kelty Tioga pack was a true classic and served for years. I could – and unfortunately did – carry huge loads in this pack. On two long trips when I had more youth than brains (I possess less youth now, if not more brains) I carried loads as heavy as 75 pounds, with sleeping bag, pad, and other gear at the bottom and tent and ground cloth attached to the top.

    Nearly everyone I’ve met regards modern internal frame packs as a tremendous improvement, especially now that manufacturers are focusing on getting the weight down. (For awhile the good packs weighed upwards of 7 pounds – way too much, and mostly due to design overkill.) They are almost infinitely adjustable. Those new to these packs may find that annoying at first, but once you learn your pack you can quickly fine tune it to different loads, different terrain, and the effects of your recent overeating.

    More than with the old external frame packs, the fit of the particular pack you select can make a tremendous difference. When I acquired my Crestone II I had been looking at another pack by the same manufacturer. I was very disappointed in the fit and carry of that pack and almost didn’t try the Crestone. However, once I loaded it up and tried it on I realized that it was a completely different pack – and one that fit me very well. So, think of fitting an internal frame pack more like you might think of fitting a pair of hiking boots. Certain brands and models have a particular fit that may or may not be right for you.

    The recent trend toward reducing pack weight has brought welcome changes. While my Crestone II probably weights about 7+ pounds, my current main pack (see below – the Auspex) weighs in at just more than half as much at four pounds. Yet is is a very comfortable pack. Most of the weight loss comes from using lighter materials, thinner foam, and fewer zippers and attachments.

    In the last few years ultralight packs have come on the market. I have one (though I haven’t tried it as of this writing) that weighs less than 3 pounds, and some of my friends use even lighter models. I think they offer some very interesting possibilities but I’m still a bit leery of the very lightest models. One ripped out seam at the wrong time and your trip could turn out to be very miserable.

    • My main pack has been a great “Mountainsmith” Crestone II – no longer made. It is large, comfortable, well-designed and built, but rather heavy by today’s standards.
    • I also have a smaller “Gregory” pack with about 3000+ cu. in. capacity. I’ve used it for trips of up to 3 or 4 days.
    • My current first-line pack is a newer, lighter, and slightly smaller (compared to the Crestone II) “Mountainsmith” Auspex which has a 4000 cu. in capacity and weights about 4 pounds. I have used the Auspex on a number of trips including 2-day ski-camping trip; a week-long canoe/backpack trip in British Columbia; and a 9-day Sierra backpack and more – and I continue to be very happy with this pack. It is comfortable and rides well and can easily manage at least a 5-6 day load.
    • With the addition of the small “Mountainsmith” Boogeyman (1 pound, 1000 cu. in) pack strapped to the Auspex, I have carried up to nine days of gear and could probably squeeze in up two 14 days worth if necessary.
    • Gear nerd that I am, I just acquired a
      ***”Gregory” G-Pack
      at about half price. This is a smallish (3000+ cu. in) pack that weights less than three pounds. Although the suspension is fairly conventional the pack material is a very light nylon and the pack bag design is quite basic. I had the opportunity to use this pack on a couple of short trips during the summer of 2005. I can report that it performed very well even though I was likely carrying more than the recommended weight. It is a very comfortable pack, it is reasonably easy to load and unload, and the external pouches are useful. On the downside, the lightweight material is, as I anticipated, less durable than that used on heavier packs. I picked up some small rips (but not big enough to case a major problem) on the heavier material at the back of the pouch where I store my tripod. I will continue to use this pack on trips where I’m comfortable using a bit of extra care in order to save some weight.
  • ***Pack cover
    – no pack is waterproof so I carry a cover. I augment the cover with plastic trash compactor bags in camp. The cover and/or trash bags are useful for keeping things organized and protected in camp even when it is not raining.
  • ***Tent
    – having been caught in real storms a few times I often like to carry a real tent. Over the years I have collected quite a few:

    • I have a “Sierra Designs” Tiros tent for serious conditions, such as winter camping. It is a very solid little two-person, but really a bit heavy for backpacking.
    • I picked up a “The North Face” Coriolis a few years ago. It is a smallish three-season tent, but it has a great fly/vestibule system and is very stable in wind.
    • Since I solo backpack at least once each season I also have a “Walrus” Zoid 1.0 tent. This is a wonderful little tent with a nice vestibule. (Though my old – and now worn-out – Sierra Designs Divine Light GoreTex tent still sets the standard for me.)
    • This is not a complete list. A friend and I have an informal contest to see who could outfit the largest number of people for backpacking. If I include all of my tents – including some that are officially retired – I think I could house at least 15 people…
  • ***Tent alternatives
    – Despite what I said above, I sometimes forego the tent in the interest of simplicity and light weight.
    • I use a Moonstone bivy sack on some trips and I have become more fond of this approach recently. (Note: I won’t claim that this specific bivy is the best on the market – partly because it no longer is on the market and partly because it is a very basic model. For example, it has no side zipper, making entrance and exit a bit of a squirm – but saving a bit of weight.)
    • [Macro error: Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-Syltarp” because Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-Syltarp” because it doesn’t exist in the list of shortcuts for this site.]
      (5′ x 8′) “Integral Designs” Siltarp. During the summer of 2003 I combined the Siltarp with my bivy sack. It worked well on a week-long trip to the Pioneer Basin in the Sierra Nevada. I did not encounter real rain – just some light sprinkles – but the Siltarp can be set up in so many ways that I think I’ll continue this experiment. (If nothing else, devising new and different ways to set it up provides hours of campsite entertainment…) Update: I used this setup in heavy afternoon Sierra thunderstorms during the summer of 2004 and I can report that it works quite well – if you don’t mind the claustrophobic feeling of parking yourself in the bivy for a few hours. Photo: Siltarp set up as a windbreak at Fourth Recess Lake.
    • On very short trips when I am absolutely, positively, bet-my-life certain that it will not rain I may simply take a ground cloth and sleep in the open. Of all the options, this one is the best.
  • ***Ground cloth
    • Cheap plastic cut from rolls at the hardware store works well and can easily be customized. On short fair-weather trips I use these sheets under my sleeping bag and leave the tent at the trailhead.
    • Tent footprints are a good option when I can find them on sale. (They are a lot more expensive than plastic sheeting.) I use a footprint under my bivy sack since gravel and branches could easily puncture the bottom.
  • ***Sleeping bag
    – I have three.

    • My smaller and lighter Marmot Arroyo is a 30 degree bag that weighs around 2 pounds and packs very small. Buttressed by extra clothing, this bag has been sufficient for Sierra summer trips, even when the temperature falls to below freezing. (Update August 2005: I think I have discovered a downside to using marginally warm bags like the Arroyo. As such bags age – at least in the case of the Arroyo – the down loses some of its resiliency and the bag is not quite as warm as when it was new. When the bag’s temperature rating is very close to the actual temperatures in which you use it, eventually it seems that the bag is no longer quite warm enough. While this may not dissuade some from using such a light bag, it is good to be aware of this.)
    • The older one is a Marmot Never Summer bag which is supposedly good down to near 0 degrees. Sleeping bag temperature ratings are inexact, and I find myself a bit cold near the lower end of this bag’s range. Sometimes (e.g. – winter) I’ll also bring along the Arroyo bag to buttress the Never Summer bag.
    • During August 2005 I finally decided that my Arroyo was losing loft to the point that I was cold a bit too often at altitude. I found a great deal on the Marmot Helium, a 1 pound 13 ounce, 900 fill bag that is made lighter by using lightweight fabric and only a half-length zipper. It is rated to 15 degrees and looks like it should work at that temperature, and it weighs virtually the same as the Arroyo and packs almost as small. I used it for the first time on a late-August 2005 trip into the Yosemite backcountry and I’m quite impressed with this bag.
  • ***Pad
    – the lightest 3/4-length “Cascade Designs” Thermarest pad I can find – except in snow conditions when I take a thicker, full-length pad. In real snow conditions (read “winter”) I’ll take both.
  • ***Flashlight
    – Newer LED lights have, at the risk of overstating the case, revolutionized evening activities in camp. Rather than carefully hoarding battery power by shutting off the flashlight whenever possible, people now often just leave the darn things on for hours since they can last 30-100 hours (or more!) on a set of batteries. Of course, as in all things, there is a downside to this “improvement” – artificial light cuts you off from the beautiful mountain night. I like to turn headlamps off and enjoy the darkness.

    • I long used a “Petzl” Zoom headlamp. It is large and weighs nearly a half pound, due to the burly construction and the large battery. However, it does cast a bright beam that can light the trail/route far ahead.
    • A few years ago I tried out a “Princeton Tec” Solo headlamp. This small unit uses a couple of AA batteries and includes two reflectors; one that casts a more focused beam. Eventually a LED bulb/reflector unit became available as an option and I found myself using this almost all the time.
    • My main light is now a “Petzl” Tekka Plus LED unit. It is very small and weighs something like 2.5 ounces and, as with all LED units, it burns forever on AAA batteries. I have never actually used up the batteries, although I change them annually just to be on the safe side. To increase battery life it provides three output settings, the longest of which supposedly provides several hundred hours of battery life.
    • I also picked up a “Black Diamond” Gemini headlamp on sale recently. This lightweight unit runs on AA batteries and combines a traditional bulb with two LED bulbs. I bought it when I knew I was going to start an October 2003 hike at sunset; I wanted the bright light for route-finding but the LEDs for longer battery life around camp.
  • ***Candle lantern
    – largely supplanted by the LED headlamp these days, except in winter when the candle lantern slightly but perceptibly warms a tent. (Update: I think it is safe to say that I no longer use a candle lantern.)
  • ***Nylon cord
    – useful for many things; replacement boot laces, clothesline, etc.
  • ***Clothespins
  • ***Backpacker’s chair
    – sometimes I take one of those lightweight jobs that uses the “Cascade Designs” Thermarest pad, but not so often now that I’m striving for a lighter pack.
  • ***Compass
    – though I rarely need it. (I haven’t found a good reason yet to purchase a GPS unit.)
  • ***Topo maps
    – though don’t make map-reading the focus of your travels. Look around and use your senses to find your way when possible, especially when traveling cross-country.
  • ***Bear-proof food canister
    – I resisted carrying them for many years, but they do provide almost complete peace of mind in bear country. They are now required in certain parts of the Sierra. On the plus side, they do make great camp stools.

    • I have used the Garcia models since the beginning. I own two so that I have one to share on longer trips. These are fine, though there are more recent models that may be better. The opening on the Garcia models is a double-edged sword. It is pretty fool-proof and I can’t imagine how a bear could possibly get one open. On the other hand, opening requires a tool such as a knife or a coin. In addition, the small size of the opening can make loading the canister a bit tricky.
    • I own the small version (model BV-250) of the BearVault canister. This unit is about 2/3 the size of the normal canisters and weighs less than 2 pounds. It uses a different lid that unscrews. I was overjoyed when this canister was introduced; it is a great piece of gear, especially for solo backpackers or those who travel with others on very short trips. The standard bear canisters are quite large and bulky, especially when you try to squeeze them into smaller light or ultra-light packs. This model is enough smaller that it doesn’t create a problem. A solo backpacker who packs carefully should be able to squeeze up to one week’s worth of food into this canister. Be careful to avoid screwing the lid down too tightly – it can be a “bear” (groan…) to unscrew it.
    • Other models are available, including some in the same low price range and others that are extremely expensive but which may save a few ounces.
  • ***Large plastic trash-compacter bags
    – useful for many things; wet stuff in the tent, protecting pack and other gear outside the tent, etc.


May 18, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on Dan's Equipment List: Camp Gear

Dan's Equipment List: Disclaimer

This list is a perfect example of a project that got out of hand. It started out as a simple packing list for friends who were accompanying me on a pack trip. However, the more I thought about it the more I realized that there is no single equipment list that covers all situations of weather, season, style, trip length, terrain and so on. Plus, I like to make lists. So, here you have my formely-brief-but-now-absurdly-long list.

This list is a starting point – I never take everything on the list. And even though I know that my way is the best way, I hear that some people have successfully backpacked with different equipment. The nerve! ;-)

After more than 35 years of backpacking I’m still revising this list. I’m not sure if this is because I’m changing, the gear is getting better, or if its just too darn much fun to shop for new equipment!

The list is updated from time to time as I acquire and use new equipment. Last update on August 21, 2006.

Read the disclaimer before making your own informed decisions about whether or not to rely anything that you read here.


May 18, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on Dan's Equipment List: Disclaimer

Dan's Equipment List: Clothing

[Macro error: Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-DressedOnRidge” because Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-DressedOnRidge” because it doesn’t exist in the list of shortcuts for this site.]
My clothing preferences have changed over the years and continue to change today – as products improve, as my backpacking style evolves, and as the old gear wears out. When I started I relied on wool gear for warmth, believe it or not, along with down and cotton/nylon blends. It worked well, but these days – with exceptions I’ll describe below – synthetic materials rule.

While you can get by, at least at first, with gear that you might already have for other purposes, the best backpacking gear is not likely to be stuff you would want to be seen in elsewhere. Take a look at the photo at right. I rest my case.

Photo at right: Traveling light on a windy ridge above Pioneer Basin. Gear includes The North Face shorts over Moonstone tights, Asolo boots, Marmot Windshirt, Nordic Gear hat, Mountainsmith Boogeyman pack.

If I were starting to acquire new gear from scratch, I think I might work from outside to inside and from bottom to top. Outside because your shell is perhaps your most critical layer in challenging weather – get wet and you’ll be in a heap of trouble. Bottom up because good footwear can make or break any trip.

At first you might want to acquire gear that could serve more than one purpose. For example, you might consider a heavier Goretex shell so that you could use it around town and for skiing. With boots you might err a bit on the heavy side so that you would not find yourself under-equipped on a longer or more rugged trip. Eventually, as you fill out your basic kit, you can go back and start to acquire more specialized equipment; in particular, some of the lighter and more fragile ultra-light gear.

***Main Layer

  • ***Poly T-Shirt
    – I carry 2 unless the trip is very short. One of my friends carries an extra light shirt to sleep in, thereby keeping his sleeping bag cleaner – or should I say “less filthy.” Some people use cotton but I stick to poly t-shirts. I agree that cotton is more comfortable (poly has a tendency to hold a static charge and to get smelly) but a cotton shirt is a liability in wet conditions. I hold out for decent shirts even if they cost a bit more.

    • I picked up some nice “The North Face” shirts at a great price from one of their outlet stores some years ago. I used to swear that I’d never pay that much for a t-shirt, but they really last, they fit well, and they are durable.
    • “REI” also sells some decent ones at a reasonable price.

  • ***Long-sleeve button shirt
    – In 2006 I finally gave in and purchased one of these lightweight long-sleeve shirts designed for hiking, and often advertised for their sun protection capabilities. They are available from many manufacturers – I looked at versions from “Mountain hardwear”, “The North Face”, and “REI” before finding one from Ex Officio on sale.

    • Somewhat to my surprise, I find that this shirt is not too hot (the light fabric and loose fit help here) and that the adaptibility of the shirt is excellent. Sleeves roll up, collars are adjustable for more or less sun protection, etc. In August 2006 this was my normal outer layer on a pack trip to the Big Pine Creek area of the Sierra. I like all of my gear to integrate well (perfectly, actually) – I want to be able to combine any and all layers as needed – but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that with this shirt yet. Adding a lightweight polypro long-sleeve t-shirt adds warmth not provided by the button shirt alone. However, unlike my lightweight zip turtlenecks from “the north face”, this shirt doesn’t fit well between an inner and outer layers. I’m working on that…
  • ***Poly long sleeve top
    – In recent years I have tended to wear a light long sleeve shirt most of the time, largely to protect myself from high altitude sun – a more real concern as one gets older.

    • Originally I carried long underwear tops – the old poly ones that look terrible and quickly developed a permanent funky smell.
    • Later I switched a very light El Cap zip turtle-neck from “The North Face”.
    • More recently I picked up a “mountain hardwear” long sleeve shirt made of what I’d describe as cycling jersey fabric. It has ripstop at strategic points: in back against the pack and on portions of the arms.
  • ***Poly zip turtleneck or windshirt
    • Until recently I used a mid-weight zip turtleneck from “The North Face”. It is a great piece of gear, though other alternatives have proven a bit more effective for backpacking.
    • A Marmot windshirt has largely replaced this layer. It is just as warm and more versatile, especially for trips away from camp where it provides adequate wind protection.
    • In late 2003 I found a cheap price on a “Mountain Hardware” Conduit SL waterproof/breathable windshirt on the closeout rack at REI. It is a great piece and is sufficiently waterproof for day hikes – though it won’t replace a waterproof shell for backpacking.
  • ***Long Pants
    • I used to take army surplus wool pants. They are cheap and work well. However, they are heavy and they tend to smell, well, wooly. (They also have the advantage – or disadvantage, depending upon circumstance – of making you look like a ranger, especially if you wear button-down work shirts. People regularly offered to let me check their wilderness permits in the days when I wore wool pants and a khaki work shirt.)
    • More recently I have tended toward a pair of very light cycling-style tights worn under shorts (for sun protection as much as warmth) and a slightly warmer pair of tights for evenings and cold weather.
    • I now have a pair of “Cloudveil” soft-shell pants that I got on sale – they use Scholler “extreme” fabric that is stretchy, warm, wind and water resistant. They are wonderful for fall and winter but I don’t generally take them on summer trips since they are a bit heavier than I need.
    • I also own a pair of lightweight “REI” soft-shell pants. They are good for summer situations where I am likely to wear long pants most of the time, though I find the material a bit scratchy. Unless you insist on wearing shorts – and I do less and less – a pair of lightweight softshell pants plus a set of light long underwear should work in most conditions.
    • In December 2004 I picked up a pair of Caber Hybrid pants from “the north face” on sale. These high-tech multi-fabric pants fit somewhere between “normal” pants and breathable/waterproof shells (see below) and are most useful worn over long underwear for skiing and similar winter activities. In other words, they are rarely practical for backpacking.
    • I now wear the ubiquitous convertible pants with the zip-off legs that seem so popular on the trail alternating between versions from “REI” and “mountain hardwear”. Being more concerned about sun protection these days, I rarely remove the legs to turn them into shorts – but this feature is also useful for getting pants legs out of the way when I have to wade creeks.
  • ***Short Pants
    – I used to always hike in shorts, but these days I’m more likely to wear long pants. Chalk it up to aging skin that is less tolerant of high altitude sun.

    • I used to use baggy “Gramicci” cotton shorts. They are pretty durable and extremely comfortable.
    • When I use shorts these days I take baggy and very lightweight poly shorts from “The North Face”. I may even toss them in the pack “just in case” since they are so light – and they give me something to wear on laundry days.

***Inner Layer

  • ***Underwear
    – poly fabric. Boxers or briefs? That is a question only you can answer. Fortunately, backpacking provides plenty of time for pondering such weighty imponderables. ;-) Update 2006: OK, I’ve pondered long enough. For backpacking I use the boxer-like (though they fit more like cycling shorts) polypro underwear from “rei”. I’ve found that they reduce the chance of chaffing under long pants – and, trust me, that is a Good Thing on a long pack trip.
  • ***Long underwear
    – Bottoms only (though see my notes above regarding long sleeve poly shirts.) In the Sierra Nevada, during summer at least, many people may not need long underwear at all. However, I often bring a light set to reinforce lightweight long pants in the evening chill or, more critically, to stretch the lower temperature limit of a lightweight sleeping bag. This may may also help keep your sleeping bag a bit cleaner. The heavy weight versions are overkill in typical backpacking conditions.

***Outer Layer

  • ***Jacket
    – there are so many choices here that it is hard to pick one… so I don’t pick one – I have a number of choices:

    • I have frequently taken an Arc’teryx Delta lightweight fleece jacket. It has a well-executed basic design without a lot of frills. I like it a lot.
    • Sometimes I add a very light fleece vest (currently a basic one from “REI”) if the weather will be cool.
    • I also have a heavier Marmot fleece jacket with all the extras: lots of pockets, pit-zips, etc. Because of the extra weight and larger stuffed size I’m afraid I have relegated it to The Closet Of Gear For Loan.
    • I surrendered to gear lust recently and bought the softshell Vector Thermal Jacket from “The North Face”. This is really pretty much a cold weather jacket since it is heavier than “normal” fleece, but it is quite water and wind repellent – a great jacket for skiing, but too heavy and bulky for backpacking.
    • I have an old “Sierra Designs” pile jacket that is very nice – though not likely available anymore. It has reinforced shoulders but is otherwise pretty basic. Pile seems to loft more than fleece per unit of weight, so might use it under a shell in winter conditions.
    • In really cold weather I have used my ancient “Sierra Designs” down jacket with detachable hood. Nothing beats down for light weight, insulation, and compressibility. (The durability of this jacket is a double-edged sword. While the long useful life of this peice of equipment is testimony to the value of buying quailty gear, I’m beginning to wish the darn thing would wear out so that I could justify getting something newer. This jacket has lasted nearly 30 years!)
    • Recently (fall 2004) I succumbed (yet again) to an acute case of gear lust (and gave up waiting for the death of the Sierra Designs jacket). I purchased the Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket. This minimalist down jacket weighs only 10 ounces (!) – and replaces the light fleece jacket and light fleece vest and wind shirt I often carry. It is astonishingly light but demands extra care since the material is so thin. Update 2006: In practice this is an excellent piece of gear. Most of the time I don’t need it, but it is great for cool fall evenings and for getting up at 5:00 a.m. to photograph the (freezing) dawn.
    • I now also own the “patagonia” Micro Puff jacket. What a great piece of gear! It packs small, is more tolerant of moisture than down, and provides decent warmth – though not as much as my down jacket. I use it mostly on day hikes, though it could replace the light down jacket for pack trips – a friend of mine uses it for just that purpose and is quite pleased with it.
  • ***Vest
    • Many years ago I owned a Frostline goose down vest. (If you recognize that brand, welcome to the ranks of backpacking geezers!) Some people still use down vests, but they aren’t for me. They seem like too much insulation for something that doesn’t warm your arms at all. In addition I treat vests very casually and I’m afraid that the down version wouldn’t stand up to my abuse. However, there is a Western Mountaineering vest version of my Flight Jacket that is extremely light.
    • I have a rather thin but wind-resistant REI fleece vest that is about the right combination of light weight and a bit of extra warmth – and it is cheap and durable. I find it useful to add just a bit of torso warmth without adding a lot of weight or bulk.
    • The “patagonia” Puffball and the more recent Micro Puff vests look interesting. They use a synthetic fill and weigh about the same as the lightest down vests. The Micro Puff saves weight by foregoing “frills” like a zipper and pockets. Update: At some point I saw a Puffball vest on sale – I have an eye for these things – and picked it up. Another great piece of Patagonia gear! (I don’t own a lot of Patagonia stuff, but I have to say that every piece I have acquired has been well designed, well constructed, and functional.)
  • ***Breathable/waterproof shell parka
    – Over the years I have acquired several:

    • I have a pretty serious Marmot parka made of triple-laminate GoreTex material. It is a great piece of gear, but generally a bit heavier than necessary given some of the more recent lightweight offerings. I use it in the winter or when I know I’m going to deal with significant rain.
    • I also own a lighter – but less protective – “Sierra Designs” Peakbagger jacket. It performed well on several trips, though I feel like I have to be more careful of its lightweight fabric. In addition, I feel that the fabric is not quite fully waterproof; it has became damp inside during heavy rain – and, no, it was not sweat. (A reminder that “waterproof” is something of an imprecise term?)
    • In 2005 my colleagues at De Anza College marked (celebrated?) the end of my term as Academic Senate President by getting me a Marmot Precip jacket. I’ve had a few chances to use this excellent and very light piece of gear (combined with the matching pants) since that time. It is a well constructed jacket, is very light, provides good coverage, and packs small. It seems more waterproof than the older Peakbagger, though I think it breathes less.
  • *** Breathable/waterproof pants
    – I have multiple pairs:

    • I have a pair of full-zip Gore-Tex pants from “REI”. Full-zip pants have the advantage of allowing me tp put them on and remove them while wearing boots. They have the disadvantage of extra weight. (Some people claim leakage through the zippers, but this has not been a problem for me.) I rarely use these for backpacking any more, since I prefer to eliminate the extra weight of the full-zip pants. I do use them on day hikes and for some winter trips.
    • I also own a pair of very light “Sierra Designs” Peakbagger pants which use a GoreTex-like material. They have short zippers and are made of somewhat fragile fabric, but they are very lightweight and they stuff small.
    • As of 2006 my first-line rain pants are the Marmot pants that match my Precip jacket. (Why didn’t they put a second, inside pull on the rear pocket? One can just barely stuff the pants into the pocket, but then can’t really close the zipper due to its single pull.)
    • I also have a pair of “the north face” Caber Hybrid Pants, as mentioned above – useful in snow but too heavy for backpacking with the exception perhaps of true winter conditions.
  • ***Light gloves
    – There are several different thoughts on gloves for backpacking.

    • A few people don’t carry them – I didn’t when I was much younger. There are still many trips on which I carry them but don’t put them on.
    • I used to carry an extremely light pair of “liner gloves.” They were just barely warm enough to take the edge off of the cold.
    • Somewhat warmer and barely heavier are inexpensive fleece gloves. Pay a bit more and get better material and better (even leather) grip surfaces.
    • Mittens are probably warmer for unit of weight, but this advantage is outweighed by the clumsiness factor for summer backpacking. They are great for winter.
    • I own a pair of very lightweight “mountain hardwear” conduit fabric gloves which provide some degree of waterproofing at a very light weight.
    • I have a pair of “REI” One Gloves. These well designed gloves are made of soft-shell fabric and have high-quality lightweight leather palms. I occasionally take them on pack trips, though I think the “mountain hardwear” gloves described above are better for real rain.

***Head Gear

  • ***Hat
    – wide brim to protect from high-altitude sun. As I get older, the brim gets wider.

    • In my 20s I never wore a hat.
    • In my 30’s I wore a cap – usually a cycling cap. I still sometimes carry such a hat to keep the rain off my glasses while relying on my parka hood in the rain.
    • [Macro error: Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-NordicGearHat” because Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-NordicGearHat” because it doesn’t exist in the list of shortcuts for this site.]
      In my 40s I began to wear a “REI” backpacking hat – one of those embarrasing army-style khacki models. While somewhat effective you couldn’t pick a less attractive hat. I’m currently using a wide brimmed cotton hat from Nordic Gear (see photo at right) which provides great sun protection. (Yeah, I’m older than 40 now… ;-) Although it is a bit on the heavy side, being constructed of heavyweight cotton material, it also survives abuse including being rolled up inside my pack at times. Its wide brim is a bit longer in back and it drops down to provide extra neck protection. It has a long adjustable chin strap that can be tossed behind my head when I want it out of the way, or tightened down securely in windy conditions. If I have one quibble about this hat, besides the weight, it is that I can’t really wear it under the hood of my parka to keep rain off of my glasses.
    • [Macro error: Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-SeattleSombrero” because Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-SeattleSombrero” because it doesn’t exist in the list of shortcuts for this site.]
      I also own an “OR” Seattle Sombrero Goretex hat. (Photo at right.) This is a very well designed and useful piece of gear. In light to medium rain I prefer it over using a parka hood since it does not restrict vision or movement. The sides of the had can be velcroed up “Aussie-style” though I rarely bother. As nice as this hat is, I would rarely carry it on a pack trip unless I was expecting rain – as I was on a trip over Chilkoot Pass in Alaska a few years back. In summer Sierra conditions – meaning warm to hot – it falls short as an all-round hat because it isn’t breathable enough.
  • ***Stocking cap or fleece cap[Macro error: Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-WarmCap” because Can’t include picture “GEARPHOTO-WarmCap” because it doesn’t exist in the list of shortcuts for this site.]
    • I like my Gore Windstopper fleece cap. My current favorite is the infamous Dome Perginon model from “mountain hardwear”.
    • I have also used a “the north face” model that has ear flaps and a neck strap for extra warmth.
    • Recently I picked up a very lightweight “Mountain Hardwear” cap that will save a bit of weight in my pack.


  • ***Shoes
    – I have changed my tune here recently:

    • I have long used (and still use when appropriate) heavy “mountain boots” that can handle anything but weigh a ton. My current pair are from Vasque and are designed to take crampons. But I finally have to admit that they are not very comfortable for normal backpacking. So…
    • During the last couple of seasons I have tried running shoe-type footwear with great results on shorter trips. Since they do not provide a lot of support or waterproofness, I restrict their use to shorter, less-rough trips in weather that is likely to stay dry. Current favorites are Merrell Reflex shoes. I’ve managed to use up a few pairs of the low-top model, and I now also own a pair of the mid-height Goretex version. I find the low ones more comfortable – the mid height model has a bit of a sloppy fit, at least for my particular feet. I use them in the winter, however, for day hiking. Compared to “normal” hikng boots, this type of shoe wears out considerably faster. (I once finally had to simply throw out an old pair of leather Pivetta boots that refused to die.) I rarely get more than a season of use out of this type of shoe. The tread pattern is first to go and eventually some part of the stitching often gives out. Still, it is much more comfortable to hike in this type of lightweight footwear in less-severe conditions.
    • I recently acquired a pair of lightweight Asolo Gore-tex-lined boots. These are a great compromise; they combine extra stability and water-proofing with fairly light weight. They are my current first-line backpacking shoes.
  • ***Heavy Socks
    – I like “Smartwool” brand. When I use the lighter shoes I go with shorter and lighter socks.
  • ***Light Socks
    – I wear liner socks even with the lighter shoes. Cycling socks make decent liners when using shorter hiking socks.
  • ***Extra Shoes for camp
    – currently a well-beaten pair of sandals. I generally only take them on longer trips, especially if I’m wearing my heavy boots. On short trips with lighter footgear I save weight by leaving them home. I’m more inclined to take them if I know I’ll be crossing streams. Recently I picked up a pair of inexpensive Teva footwear designed for use in creeks.

***Other Stuff

  • ***Swimsuit
    – or not, or wear shorts.
  • ***Dark glasses
    – you’d be crazy not to take them on high altitude trips.
  • ***Extra glasses
    – I don’t want to be caught without prescription glasses so I carry an old pair as a backup.
  • ***Glasses cases
    – hard cases


May 18, 2007 Posted by | Equipment | Comments Off on Dan's Equipment List: Clothing

%d bloggers like this: