Tag Archives: backpacking

The 10 Essentials of Backpacking

So we have covered all the big items and all the clothing you normally bring on a backpacking trip. Now it is time to cover the 10 essentials of backpacking and all the other little items that you might bring on a camping trip.

The 10 essentials are mainly described as survival items. For reference I will simply list the 10 essentials here as they are listed on Wikipedia.

1. Map
2. Compass (optionally supplemented with a GPS receiver)
3. Sunglasses and sunscreen (Sun protection)
4. Extra food
5. Extra water
6. Extra clothes
7. Headlamp / flashlight
8. First aid kit
9. Fire starter (matches, chemical heat tabs, canned heat, or a magnesium stick)
10. Knife (Cutting Edge)

To these you can add even more things like water purification, insect protection, repair kits, and signaling devices. Instead of describing how each thing works and what it is for I will try to keep it brief and try to just list all the odds and ends that I have in my pack.

So map and compass are pretty self explanatory. But learning how to use them takes time. You want a simple lightweight compass that allows you to do declination using your map. Most good backpacking maps are topographic maps and you should have a map that provides enough detail for where you are going. I will also be carrying the Colorado Trail Databook which lists all the way points and water sources on the trail.

As far as sun protection goes I already mentioned in my previous post that I prefer to just use clothing to cover most of my body and sunglasses for my eyes. I just don’t use sunscreen at all but it is a personal preference.

There is a reason you should have extra of everything. You never know when you are gonna be stuck outside for longer than you expected. Remember the rule of 3’s. 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours of weather exposure, 3 days without water and you could die. Extra water is more important than food and extra clothes is more important than water. Always have an extra layer for whatever weather you expect to encounter.

It is always good to have an alternate source of light, just in case you need to navigate in dark or find an item in the dark. I personally love LED lights that use those flat small lithium batteries. The best one of the market as of this writing is the Photon Freedom Micro LED. These things are small and inexpensive. You could buy 2 or 3 and have them in different places (pocket, backpack, around neck, etc.) If you feel the need to have a hands free model you can always use a headlamp as well. I will be carrying two small LED lights.

The subject of a first aid kit could have its own blog post, but I figured I would talk a little about it here. Whether you are buying or making a first aid kit it is good to think about how each thing in it will function. You need something to clean wounds (high pressure syringe, antibiotic wipes, ointment, etc.), something to cover the wound (dressings, etc.), and something to hold it on (bandages, gauze, athletic tape, duct tape, etc.). If you break something a splint can be made out of wood or other things found in the wild. You simply need a decent amount of tape or an article of clothing to stabilize the effected area. You should also have some moleskin for blisters.

Lastly you need good medicine. Ibuprofen for pain. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) for allergic reactions. Loperamide (Imodium) as an anti-diarrheal (Diarrhea causes too much dehydration while you are in the backcountry and must be controlled). Hydrocortisone cream for burns, cuts, bruises, etc. Depending on your trip you may want to take some stronger prescription strength medicine, but you obviously need to consult your doctor first. Lastly, lastly you should always gain training in first aid before you try to use some of this stuff.

Now to talk about fire starter. I am a big believer in having multiple ways to start a fire. Matches, lighter, flint, firesteel, magnesium, camp stove, etc. I would say that matches are the cheapest, easiest way to start a fire. Specifically you should invest in waterproof and/or strike anywhere matches. You can be in trouble if you have matches that only strike on the box and you don’t have the box or it is ruined from water or something else.

I am just now getting good at using steel and magnesium to start a fire. Magnesium shavings burn really hot and fast and will light practically any tinder very easily. All you need is steel grinding on steel to get the sparks you need to start a fire. Like most things, practice makes perfect.

I don’t plan on starting any fires right now because of the open fire ban, but in an emergency situation I have what I need to get a fire going to warm myself up and dry out my clothes.

And the last of the essentials is a cutting edge, otherwise known as a knife. A knife can do so many things for you. It can help you build a shelter, it can help you get together tinder and fuel for a fire, it can help you produce sparks to get a fire started, it can be used to help you prepare food, and it can be used in self defense. One of the best survival knives out there is the Swedish Mora Knife. Many people swear by it, and the one I bought only costs $15. You won’t find an equivalent knife for the price, weight, sharpness, and durability as this one. I also have a pocket knife with scissors among other things, a paraframe blade, and a SOG Seal Pup. I am not sure which combination I will take but I will definitely be taking more than one.

Here is a quick list of the last few odds and ends I have.

Mosquito net to keep the bugs away from me. Whistle for signaling help. Cotton balls covered in petroleum jelly for tinder. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap (A backpacking classic). Camp towel that is small and like a shammy. Extra 550 paracord. Some extra plastic wrap and aluminium foil for various random uses. And a camp trowel for burying human waste. Feel free to use rocks and sticks for that purpose but having a trowel is much easier and better in my opinion. Oh, and don’t forget toilet paper. 🙂

Now that we have talked about what comes out of the body (oh, and all the other essential things a backpacker needs), we will talk about what we put in the body to fuel it on these long journeys. Until next time…

This is part of the “Through Hiking the Colorado Trail” series…

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The Final Gear List (With Price and Potential Upgrades)

I think I finally have my gear in order for hiking the Colorado Trail. Here is a list of everything I have, what I used to have, what they cost, and what I may replace them with in the future.

Backpack

Used to have the REI Morningstar (5 pounds, $99 on sale), bought a GoLite Quest (3 pounds, $79 on sale), wish for a Gossamer Gear G4 (around 1 pound, $125 or make your own G4 with $40 kit).

Sleeping Bag

Used to have an old Slumber Jack 15 degree sleeping bag (weight?, $50) that treated me well. Also have a Northface 0 degree bag (probably up around 5 pounds, $99), and I barely use it cause it is too warm. Currently using a Ledge Featherlite 20 degree bag (3 pounds, $40). Wish for some type of 20-40 degree quilt, probably GoLite’s Ultralite 800 fill 1 or 3 season quilt. (1.2 – 1.5 pounds, $125-$150 on sale).

Quick Update: Just found what is perhaps one of the best makers of backpacking quilts out there. They are called Enlightened Equipment and specialize in quilts for backpacking. The quilt I am looking at starts at $165 (Revelation X) and can weigh under a pound! So for the extra money I might buy one of these instead. Especially if I am not ready to buy when GoLite still has a sale going on.

Shelter

Used to have an REI 2 person half or full dome tent (5-6 pounds, $200-$250). Switched to Etowah Gear 8×10 urethane coated nylon shelter (1.5 pounds, $45). Also bought a $10 “ground cloth” from Walmart, the Outdoor Products 5×7 nylon tarp. It weighs a half pound and can double as a rain jacket, bivy sack, etc. Wish for a cuben fibre (4-8 ounces, $250 plus) or silnylon tarp (13 ounces, $85 plus). If I had to buy a tent again I would probably buy Tarptent’s Double Rainbow which weighs 2.5 pounds and costs $275.

Pad

Still have a full length Insulmat (2 pounds, maybe $40?) which is equal to their current Adventurer SI. I just decided to switch to a Thermarest Ridgerest 3/4 length which is 9 ounces and cost $20. So far the reflective surface keeps me really warm.

Water Filter

Have always used a Katadyn Hiker (10 ounces, $70) and never plan on giving it up. The price for tablets don’t convince me to buy them for the weight savings. A filter can be used for up to 500 gallons and even at 2 gallons a day I will only filter about 60 gallons altogether on the Colorado Trail. The equivalent in tablets would cost at least $70 so the filter wins at cost savings hands down. For those only doing a few weekend hikes a year, you might want to think about just sticking with some chlorine dioxide tablets.

Quick Update: I just found out about this new filter called the Sawyer Squeeze. Basically it is a filter system that weighs under 3 ounces and can be put on your pop bottle to drink out of like a straw. Or you can just used the supplied pouches and the filter to squeeze water into your clean container. Costs $50 so if I was in the market right now I might buy the Sawyer Squeeze over the Katadyn Hiker.

Stove

Primus Alpine Micro which they don’t make anymore. Equivalent to their Express Stove Kit with Titanium Pot. $75 for the kit, stove weighs 3 ounces, titanium pot weighs just over 3 ounces. Fuel canister weighs 8 ounces for a total of around a pound. Yes, alcohol stoves are lighter, but if you are out for a week or more this stove begins to win out. In cold winter weather you should switch to a white gas stove.

Well that is about it for the major stuff. So with a $79 pack (3 pounds), $40 sleeping bag (3 pounds), $45 shelter (1.5 pounds plus a couple ounces and $10 for rope and stakes.), $10 for a ground cloth (8 ounces), $20 for a pad (9 ounces), $70 water filter (10 ounces), and $75 for a stove kit (about 8 ounces without fuel), that brings the total price to $350 and the weight up to about 10 pounds.

If someone was just getting into backpacking and wanted to go cheaper I would recommend that they buy the Outdoor Products Arrowhead Pack at Walmart for $30. At 2.2 pounds it is probably the lightest and cheapest pack, and most functional pack as far as size goes that you can get at that price. It is big enough to roll your sleeping pad (20 inch width) in and you can stuff your sleeping bag in the inside of your pad. I would use the same $40 sleeping bag, and buy a cheap blue 8×10 poly tarp ($5) and some rope ($5), and stakes ($5). I would also buy the $10 5×7 tarp for a ground cloth and the maybe buy plain blue foam padding for $10. You can buy some chlorine dioxide tablets for around $10, and use esbit tablets with a bought or custom made stove for $7. Or just eat food that doesn’t need a stove at all. So going the cheap way will get you started for about $120 or so.

I have a little over 3 weeks left before I leave for the trip and during the next 3 weeks I will dedicate a whole post to clothing, emergency items, and other miscellaneous items such as knives. Until then…

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

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How to Go Lighter by Glen Van Peski of Gossamer Gear

While checking out the gear that Gossamer has on their website I ran across this well put together article on how to backpack lighter by the founder of Gossamer Gear, Glen Van Peski.

How to Go Lighter

Out of all the things he mentions this little section is perhaps some of the best advice I have ever heard…..

“Changing your hiking schedule

For people who get this, it can be a significant weight savings, simply by changing the way you hike. Most people like to hike all day, or most of the day, get into camp, set up their tent, cook dinner as night falls, and sit around until its time for bed. This means you are sitting around, not generating any heat from activity, during the coldest part of the day. In turn, this means you are probably bringing long underwear or a puffy jacket that is too warm to hike in, and the only purpose is to wear it around camp. Consider instead:

No breakfast or later breakfast

The early morning will be one of the coldest parts of the day. It makes no sense to stand around in the cold. The best bet is to pack up quickly, throw a food bar into your pocket, and start hiking. The activity will quickly warm you. Then, when the sun is shining brightly and you come to nice sheltered or scenic place, stop for breakfast.

Do the main break in the late afternoon

In the warmth of the afternoon, it’s great to take a long break. It gives you a chance to dry out any damp gear, and it breaks up the day. You can pick a scenic place, near water, which may not be good for sleeping at, but is perfect for cooking the main meal. You can enjoy the meal without shivering. Heck, you might even take a little nap if so inclined.

Hike on, and dry camp

Then, hike on. You’ll be fueled by the meal, the cooling evening is great for hiking, and the miles will pass easily beneath your feet. As daylight wanes, you can pick a stealth camp without worrying about cooking. You don’t need flat rocks, logs to sit on, or water. You don’t need to worry about cleaning up in the cold and dark. You don’t need to worry about attracting bears from the smells of cooking. You hop into your sleeping bag warm from walking. And best of all, you saved the weight of the clothes you didn’t need to bring because you weren’t standing around in the cold!”

I have tried this and it works. You will be amazed at how well this works even on the coldest and rainiest of days. I have been out on days where it was 45 degrees and rainy with just a pair of shorts and a performance tshirt (not cotton) on, and have felt perfectly warm just because my activity level was so high. If you can get into a nice dry warm sleeping bag with dry clothes on you should be perfectly fine.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

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Gear Testing

So I went up to the mountains last night to test out all my new gear. At least half my gear is new as of right now. Meaning it hasn’t been field tested yet. I recently bought new GoLite zip off pants, a pair of Merino wool socks and a Merino wool long sleeve shirt, a new GoLite backpack, a 20 degree ultralite sleeping bag, and a new tarp shelter.

Of all my new gear the tarp shelter is the cheapest and possibly the best! I bought a 8×10 blue tarp for $5, eight stakes for $3, and some rope for $3. It is super spacious for one person, even pitched down to ground, and could easily fit two people, especially if the sides are pitched a few inches off the ground and you use side pull-outs. Best thing is it only weighs two pounds total. If I spend the money on some more expensive silnylon then I can get the weight down to a pound.

My new pants worked great to keep me warm all the way down to 32 degrees. I was actually surprised. I brought some spandex long underwear just in case, but I don’t think I will need them. Actually thinking of pulling those out and replacing them with a lightweight runner’s short I can sleep in.

I am a little disappointed in the Merino wool. I put all my clothes in the wash the other day and let them air dry. My fleece jacket and my performance t-shirts dried extremely fast. I was actually impressed with the fleece jacket which was a Columbia gear jacket I bought on sale for about $35 if I remember correctly. The Merino wool socks and the shirt took forever to dry. They say that Merino wool still performs well even if it is wet, but I think I prefer gear that dries quickly. They also say Merino wool doesn’t hold body odor so maybe I just need to field test it more.

The temperature did get down to 32 degrees at night. It was about 45 degrees when I went to bed and 31 degrees when I woke up. I kept my pants, t-shirt, and fleece jacket on to sleep in along with a beanie hat. I stayed very warm in my 20 degree bag which I am pretty happy with. I’m sure I would have been fine sleeping in the proposed runner’s shorts and a long sleeve shirt instead of the pants and jacket. I guess I need a little more field testing in cold weather to see where my comfort zone is.

I bought the Ledge Featherlite 20 degree bag because it was an inexpensive deal at $40. (If you haven’t figured it out I am trying to go as light in my gear as possible for the least price.) I also bought the GoLite Men’s Quest backpack for $79. It is hard to go cheaper on something that needs to hold up well and hold all your gear and food and everything. I am pretty happy with the bag expect that I wish it had some bigger side pockets, and possibly some extra pockets up higher on the side. At the same time, I think it forces me to pack a little lighter than what my 7 pound expedition pack allowed.

So my shelter system weighs about 2 pounds, my backpack weighs a little over 3 pounds, and my sleeping bag weighs a little over 3 pounds giving me a total of about 8.5 pounds. The problem is that I have a 2 pound Thermarest that I may also need to replace to get the weight down more. My other gear including my stove, water filter, knife, compass, first aid kit, etc. weighs about 4 pounds, and my extra clothes weigh about 4 pounds. This brings my total up to almost 19 pounds. Adding in my camera and lenses adds about 2 more pounds bringing the total up to about 21 pounds base weight.

My longest resupply on the Colorado Trail might have me carrying as much as two liters of water (4 pounds) and about 12 pounds of food bringing my highest possible pack weight to about 37 pounds. As of right now I feel that this is still a little too high so I need to come up with a few ideas to lessen the weight.

The most obvious place to reduce weight is in my sleeping pad. Most inflatable pads weigh 1.5 to 2 pounds. You can shave off a few ounces by going with a 3/4 length option, and there are some “Prolite” versions that go down to a pound or just below. The problem is that they all cost almost $100. I refuse to spend more on my sleeping pad then every single other item that I carry.

The key is probably to switch to a foam pad which is both lighter and cheaper. Gossamer Gear makes the lightest pad which is their NightLight Torso length pad weighing about 3.5 ounces and it currently costs $21 plus $4.99 ground shipping. Thermarest makes a Zlite and a Ridgerest that are anywhere from $20 to $35 and weigh anywhere from 9 ounces to almost a pound. Looks like I just need to field test some of these, especially the Gossamer Gear one. So depending on the option I pick that is at least a pound or more less weight.

I don’t plan on changing my pack, sleeping bag, or tarp shelter at all. Of the three I would have to change to a lighter down sleeping bag or quilt as I mentioned in the last post before I switch to a lighter pack. I also have to get better at this whole ultralight backpacking experience. Meaning I need to learn a more few tricks of the trade before I go with a down sleeping bag (which is useless when wet), and a lighter pack (need to clear more things out before I can go lighter).

Next up would be my extra clothes. 4 pounds actually isn’t too bad when it comes to having extra clothes in a place where I could get snowed on, even if it is June when I will be going. I plan on wearing my 10 ounce GoLite pants most of the time, unless it gets too hot in which case I will zip off the bottom portion. And again, with my wool socks on they kept my legs pretty warm down to 32 degrees. I also will be wearing a very lightweight performance t-shirt, both of which don’t count towards the 4 pounds of extra clothes I will be packing.

The extra 4 pounds includes a fleece jacket (just under a pound, essential), rain jacket (just under a pound, as of right now essential but maybe can go without or be replaced by something lighter), extra socks (couple ounces, essential), extra performance tshirt (around 3 or 4 ounces, non essential but nice to have as backup), extra merino wool longsleeve shirt (6 ounces, probably essential on cold nights), a heavier longsleeve spandex athletic top and long underwear combo (just over a pound, I think these are nonessential on all but the coldest of nights (sub 32 degrees plus wind) or if my other gear gets wet and I can’t dry them by bedtime for some reason.

I think I am going to drop the extra heavy spandex gear and throw in a 3 ounce running short for backup and to sleep in. I just can’t see needing more than 5 layers of clothes (2 tshirts, plus longsleeve, plus fleece, plus rain jacket) even in the worst of conditions, but I may be wrong. In any case, this solution would also drop a pound.

The extra 4 pounds in my gear include a Katadyn Water Purifier plus a 3 liter Nalgene bottle (14 ounces, essential unless I go with tablets, but the problem there is that I will need $40-$50 worth of tablets to have enough water on the whole Colorado Trail), my stove system which includes a primus stove, fuel, and titanium pot (just over a pound with fuel or a few ounces just counting the stove, and essential because I do want some hot foods and drinks along the way), a first aid kit which I need to go through still, a gerber 4 inch blade (4 ounces, always need a knife right?), a lexan spoon, emergency poncho (4 ounces), matches, compass, led light, dr. bronners soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, camp shovel, and duct tape.

Starting over with my shelter, backpack, and sleeping bag we get 8.5 pounds plus maybe half a pound with a Gossomer Gear pad which brings me up to 9 pounds. Adding 3 pounds of extra clothes instead of 4 brings me to 12 pounds. The extra 4 pounds of random gear may be hard to reduce especially when I feel like the water purifier and stove are essential. If I use the emergency poncho in place of my rain jacket I can save almost a pound there or get rid of the emergency poncho altogether. In any case, my total pack weight will be about 16 pounds instead of 19 pounds. About 18 pounds with my camera and lenses.

Here is the thing though. When ultralight backpackers talk about their gear they often list it in a way that makes the weight look smaller than it really is, especially when talking about base weight. Technically my base weight is only 15 pounds with this new setup because I counted my pound of fuel in the equation. Fuel is normally counted as a consumable. A lot of ultralight backpackers also don’t count their “extra” clothes as base weight if they can wear them all at the same time. Besides maybe my extra socks I could wear all my extra clothes and count my base pack weight as 12 pounds. Going to a down sleeping bag, a lighter pack, and a silnylon tarp would easily bring me down into the elusive sub 10 pound ultralight backpacking range, but it just isn’t worth it at this time.

This is part of the “Thru Hiking the Colorado Trail” Series…

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