In anticipation of through hiking the Colorado trail, I’m throwing together a three-part series of articles – a working gear list for backpacking and through hiking. Split into the categories of; ‘the big three’, worn/wearable gear, and carried gear, these lists are intended to be tentative, and invite discussion. Please help me, and others who are reading and planning, by joining us in the comments below; share your recommendations or experiences with backpacking and thru-hiking gear – whether I’ve mentioned it here or not!
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The Big Three
In backpacking, your three main pieces of gear are going to be your pack, your shelter system, and your sleep system. Collectively, they will likely carry the heaviest price tag, and compose the majority of your pack weight. Narrowing this selection down can be tough – these are big purchases that you will rely heavily on, and hopefully use in a myriad of situations for years to come. They may also have accompanying accessories that some will view as optional, and some will view as required.
Will you go ultralight? Will you pack heavy? Will you be the (slightly more) sane person in between that seeks the perfect balance between weight savings and comfort level? There is really a lot to factor in here.
First you need to consider your trip – how long it will be, the nature of the area you will be exploring, and the conditions of the season you will be facing. If you are trekking for two weeks through Montana in the dead of winter, your needs are going to differ pretty drastically from someone venturing out for three days backpacking a section of the PCT in the heat of July.
For all intents and purposes this gear list is geared towards hiking the 500 mile Colorado Trail over the course of 1-1.5 months during the fair weather time period between late June through mid-September. Very loosely adjusted, it will suit any adventure within similar parameters.
Written from a female perspective, this gear list is easily adjustable to be male specific with very few tweaks.
For most backpacking ventures, a pack with anywhere between 55-75 liter capacity is going to do the job. Most backpackers and through hikers carry a pack that sits at about 65 liters. (keep in mind that a pack advertised at 65L will have variance in capacity depending on the size your torso dictates) Ultralight hikers (are usually very experienced hikers) tend to carry a smaller capacity bag, toting less and lighter specialty gear.
I am not an ultralight hiker. Maybe someday I will be, but honestly I doubt it.
My criteria for a pack are pretty limited. I’m looking for a standard 65 L, women’s specific pack that is well balanced and isn’t excessively hefty. Narrowing down the search criteria, I would specify; an internal frame, a mesh back panel for breathability, and a color that is pleasing to me and that may contrast with other selected gear in the event that I needed to be spotted from the air. At this point in time there are three packs that sit at the top of my radar – the incredibly popular (and for good reason) Osprey Aura 65, the comparable REI Traverse 65 (that I am currently hiking with to test), and the Osprey Ariel 65.
This pack is, at this point in time, the gold standard for thru-hikers. Osprey is a great company with incredible packs. The only reason I may not decide to go with this pack is (and I know this is petty) how much I dislike both color options. Osprey, aside from being a quality company that builds amazing gear, has the advantage here in my eyes for being a local Colorado Company (headquartered in the south eastern side of our lovely state in Cortez) Find the men’s version here
I have been testing this pack for about a month now, I picked this pack up for 40% off during this years’ REI Memorial Day sale. It is very likely that I will hold onto it and hike the trail with it, simply for savings’ sake. All in all it is a good pack and I do like it so far. REI has the advantage of collecting data about what works and what doesn’t from top brands and putting together really great gear, often at a lower price. The men’s version can be found
This pack is, much like the Aura, a very popular choice with thru-hikers. It has the advantage over the Aura of being airplane friendly, but costs more – and possibly a little less user friendly. The color options here are slightly more appealing to me, but I believe I would still choose the Aura in a side by side. The men’s version is the Aether
Most backpackers seem to carry a one person tent. Ultralight hikers often choose a minimalist tarp type that sets up with their trekking poles. Some choose, or need, a two person tent, and others go with a hammock system. I’m going to go ahead and shoot down the idea of an ultralight tarp for myself right now – kudos to those of you that feel secure going with that option; the weight savings must really be great.
It is also unlikely that I will go with a one person tent, for several reasons. First and foremost, I don’t have the type of disposable income that will allow me to have a backpacking tent that is separate from a general use camping tent – it must serve both purposes and therefore must boast enough room to comfortably fit myself, Charlie, our gear, and in a pinch another person or animal. Secondly, my paranoid brain won’t accept a tent with only one entrance/exit. This narrows my search down to a lightweight two person tent, or a hammock system
There are considerable pros and cons to either choice, and in the long run I’d really like to own both of these options. But for this trail? I haven’t quite decided. On the one hand, hammocking is really amazing – your shelter and your sleeping system are one in the same, your quality of sleep is likely to be greater, and you don’t have to find flat, comfortable ground to pitch your tent. But. You do need to reliably have trees or sturdy posts, and the entire setup is often heavier and more expensive.
With a tent for a shelter system, you carry your poles, tent body, fly, and (optionally) your footprint (or tarp, to protect the bottom of your tent) and, to pair with your sleep system, a pad and sleeping bag/quilt.
With a hammock you carry; the hammock, straps, ‘tarp’, likely an insect net, your underquilt, and top quilt/bag (in colder weather you may also carry a pad to slip into the hammock for added insulation)
Both options are good choices. It is likely that for this venture I will choose a two person tent and create a Tyvek ‘footprint’ for it to keep the cost of gear a little lower, but we will see. If I were to go with a hammock system, it would be Kammok brand all the way (except for my sleeping bag/top quilt because I have definitely already made that purchase…) Kammok is a newer, Texas based company with innovative gear, and I may or may not be obsessed.
Assuming I go with a two person tent, I am currently looking at two Tent options, neither of which I am particularly jazzed about – I’d love to hear suggestions from others…
I simply can’t decide between these two, which is likely why I am still so heavily considering the extra weight and expense of the following hammock system
The Hammock Route
Parts of the CT are notorious for mosquitos (I’m looking at you, Clear Creek) and I am not about that life. I’ll tell you about the time I came back from Clear Creek with (very literally) 248 individual, distinct mosquito bites. I had mosquito bites in places I couldn’t even see. Never. Again. So what I’m getting at is this, I would also likely buy and carry Dragonfly Bug Net.
What I can’t decide on yet is which of their two shelters I would purchase. I would very much like the Glider
On the other hand, the Kuhli costs significantly less and weighs less too (though only by three ounces)
Your sleep system is going to be dependent on what type of shelter system you have chosen. If you are using a tarp or tent, you’re going to need a sleeping pad, and a bag or quilt. Furthermore, if you will go with an inflatable pad, a foam pad (and for that matter what type of foam, closed or open cell, as well as full length, half length, or torso length) Most hikers are going to choose a lightweight down mummy bag for its superior warmth, and a full length pad. Ultralight hikers may opt for a mummy bag, an Ultralight quilt, and a half or torso length pad.
I can’t handle that. I already have my insulating bag, a lightweight water resistant down semi-rectangular bag by Sea to Summit. I chose this because I hate to be restricted in the way that mummy bags swaddle so tightly, and I have the option to unzip it into a trail quilt with a foot box, or sleep in the closed bag.
My bag is no longer made, but the updated version looks impressive. There are so many choices in sleeping bags it can be overwhelming.
Click here for a narrowed down list of options – on the left of the page you can then choose your height range, and if you prefer mummy or semi rectangular. It should be much more simple to choose from there. There are men’s and women’s bags because women tend to sleep colder than men, and require a higher down count to maintain the same temperature
You should really pick up a sleeping bag liner. It will help protect your investment by keeping your bag clean, and will also add a bit of insulation. I picked up the Cocoon Silk Mummy liner after narrowing down the list of options and finding it to be the best choice. Honestly though, it remains to be seen if I will be responsible enough to go through with taking it on this trip.
If you’re going with a hammock, you could opt for a trail quilt, or just use your go to sleeping bag for your top insulation. But you will need insulation underneath you. There are several companies that offer custom made underquilts, such as Enlightened Equipment, who make enviable gear. It is likely, however, that I would stick with Kammok brand and pick up the Koala underquilt
Now you need to decided what type of pad you want. Foam pads can be trimmed to your desired size for weight savings, but inflatable pads provide more comfort. Again, I’ve already made my purchase as far as my pad goes. I picked up this Big Agnes pad on sale, I really love it. It is an inflatable pad, so I do risk puncturing and having to patch it, but I prefer the comfort and insulation it provides. The bright orange is another plus when considering safety and visibility. Get it now on sale before its gone!
The therma rest pro-lite is another good option as a self-inflating, lightweight, insulated pad
If you’re going to go with a foam pad, you are definitely not alone. I would, like many thru-hikers, choose the therma rest Z Sol pad – it is incredibly economical, and really a great choice.
That wraps up my musings concerning the Big Three
What gear do you have, or what gear are you looking at?
Join the conversation below and help others get out there! Look forward soon to the next two articles covering worn gear and carried
Now, for the disclaimer – I am not a vet, adventure guide, personal trainer, doctor, nutritionist, or medical authority, this is meant to be only a source of information and inspiration, implementing these techniques into your daily life is something you do of your own free will and at your own risk.
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