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Backpacking 101: My Backpacking Gear

One of the more frequently asked questions I receive is "What gear do you take backpacking?" My gear closet is a constant evolution and I'm always trying new pieces (I still am not sure I have found a water filtering system I love) and upgrading old, heavy gear I bought when I first started backpacking. However, I know how overwhelming it can be when you walk into REI to buy backpacking gear for the first time only to discover the store feels like a bottomless pit and wait, there are how many different sleeping pads?! To help you narrow down a few of your seemingly endless options here is the current gear I have in rotation:


Sleeping Gear.jpg

1. Copper Spur UL2 - This tent has been to hell and back with me in terms of weather in the past two years and it is still functioning as it did when I first bought it. It's light (2 lbs 12 oz), easy to set up, and has withstood 24 hours of torrential downpour in the Alaskan backcountry. I cannot reiterate enough how much I love this tent, I recommend it to anyone who asks!

2. Big Agnes Ethel 0 - A lightweight, packable, down sleeping bag. I run extremely cold and since most of my backpacking trips are in the mountains I use this bag even in the summer.

3. Mountain Hardwear Laminina Z 34 Degree Sleeping Bag - On the rare occasion I'm not backpacking in the mountains I'll use this 34 degree Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag. It's 2 lbs 7 oz and very packable so it's always a treat to take this bag when I can.

4. Therm-a-rest Z Lite Sol Sleeping Pad - These sleeping pads are the best! Pros: They're cheap, light, and virtually indestructible. Cons: They take up space. If I'm heading into the backcountry where I know I'll be able to sleep on dirt, sand, or smooth rock I'll bring just this pad, however, if I know I'll be camping in rocky terrain (such as on moraine) I'll pair it with the Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping pad for extra cushion. These sleeping pads also make great seats for cooking and relaxing around camp.

5. Big Agnes Insulated Air Core Ultra Sleeping Pad - Like I said in the description above if I know (or suspect) I'll be camping on jagged, rocky terrain I'll bring this pad. I've laid it down on the most gnarly looking rocks and haven't felt a single one digging into my back. It's almost like magic.

6. Wool Top - Another item I'll change into the moment I get to camp, usually with a fleece and/or lightweight down jacket layered over it. 

7. REI Co-op Leggings - These are my favorite leggings I've ever found. They're comfortable and extra thick so they keep me warm even on brisk nights! I'll usually change into these the moment I get to camp.

8. Smartwool Socks - I like to bring (at least) two pairs of socks with me on trips. I'll use a heavier wool sock to wear at camp and sleep in and then I'll use lighter socks for hiking during the day. 

You're probably thinking a pillow is missing from this sleeping section but truth be told I don't carry a pillow and instead I create a makeshift pillow by wrapping my down jacket around my fleece. It works quite well and it's one less tiny thing to worry about losing!


Hiking Gear.jpg

1. Deuter Aircontact 60+10L Backpack - I have mixed feelings about recommending a specific bag because everybody and every body is different. Based off online reviews I initially went to REI looking for an Osprey, however, after trying on nearly every Osprey in the store it became apparent that it wasn't the brand for me. I tried on this Deuter and from the second I secured the buckles I knew it was the pack for me. My suggestion for finding the best pack is to head to an outdoor retail store and try on every pack they have in stock! 

2. Moisture Wicking Tanks - I like to hike in tanks rather than t-shirts. It's all about personal preference but whatever garment you choose make sure it has moisture wicking properties to keep you cool and dry while you're toiling on the trails!

3. Prana Meme Pants - I love hiking in "real" pants. For years I wore leggings while I hiked but their lack of pockets and incessant downward creep finally wore me to my breaking point and I invested in these Prana pants. It was such a great decision! They're comfortable and give me more than adequate mobility. For the dog days of summer I like the Prana Hallena shorts as a cooler alternative.

4. Black Diamond Trekking Poles - I'm a huge proponent of trekking poles. They help evenly distribute your effort between your upper and lower body on inclines and they take some much needed pressure off your knees and ankles on the descent! 

5. The North Face Osito 2 Fleece Jacket - Wearing this jacket feels like wearing a small blanket. Admittedly it's not the best for hiking so I usually only use it for cold starts and then shed it later or wear it around camp once the sun has set. 

6. Patagonia Down Shirt Jacket - A lightweight down jacket is always a good layer to have around camp. 

7. Marmot Precip Rain Jacket - A waterproof layer is a must when heading out into the backcountry. Weather can be unpredictable and a sudden rain storm can lead to hypothermia if you aren't properly prepared. 

8. Columbia Storm Surge Rain Pants - These are good for any Alaskan backpacking trip because it will rain on those trips but otherwise I usually don't bring these along on any other trips.

9. La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoes - When I want to go fast and I know I won't have to deal with hairy off-trail terrain I opt for trail running shoes over boots. I feel hiking boots can add unnecessary weight and slow me down whereas trail running shoes keep me light but still dig into the trail and offer me traction. 

10. Hi-Tec Altitude Lite I Boots - For off-trail terrain I love my Hi-Tec Altitude Lite boots. They're waterproof, lightweight and offer the needed ankle support for traveling over rough land.

11. Wright Socks - These are by far my favorite hiking socks. They're moisture wicking and super light yet they are double layered to minimize friction and blisters. 


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1. Jetboil Flash Cooking System - This is the perfect stove option if all you need is to boil water (ie. eat prepackaged dehydrated meals/oatmeal/coffee/hot cocoa). It's incredibly easy to use, boils water fast, and has no clean up (since you never actually put anything other than water in the stove). 

2. Black Diamond Spot Headlamp - A must-have for navigating around camp in the dark or for navigating the trail on those sunrise hikes.

3. Platypus GravityWorks Water Filtering Kit - This is a very nifty system for filtering large quantities of water. You simply fill up the "dirty" water bag with unfiltered water and then hang it on a tree or, if a tree isn't readily available, have a quick little arm workout as the water drains through the filter to the "clean" bag.

4. BearVault BV450 Bear Canister - Most backpacking trips I go on require a bear canister, if not for the bears for the greedy little rodents that will gnaw their way through your expensive tent to get to your snacks if they smell so much as a morsel of food.

5. First Aid Kit - This is a non-negotiable for any trip into the wilderness, even day hikes! You never know when something will go awry and it's better to be safe than sorry. 

6. Garmin Inreach - This is a great way to send messages in the depths of the backcountry where cell service is zilch. You can create preset messages that you can send out (along with a location) to a person of your choosing in civilization. For example, Alex and I have a set message that says "Made it to camp" that we send my mom. She receives it, is relieved to hear we are okay, and she can even click on the location and see where we set up camp! It also has an SOS button in case of emergencies. And it acts as a typical GPS device with topo maps. This piece of gear is expensive and it requires a monthly service fee on top of its retail price but if you regularly head out into the backcountry and you have loved ones that sit up all night because they're worried sick about your well-being it's worth it for their (and your) peace of mind.

7. Mophie Powerstation - A great option for keeping your phones and camera batteries full of juice.

8. Trowel - For digging those 6-8" cat holes and burying your poo!

Other toiletries I bring: a travel size toothpaste and toothbrush, lotion, sunscreen, bug spray, hairbrush, contacts, hand sanitizer and wet wipes.

Whew, that's it! It always amazes me that all of this fits into my backpack but everything is pretty compact. If you have any more questions about gear please don't hesitate to reach out to me! 

 Hole-in-the-Wall Campsite (Olympic National Park, September 2017)

Hole-in-the-Wall Campsite (Olympic National Park, September 2017)