Finally the part all my fellow geardos have been waiting for, the gear.
Since we settled on a three day trip in the mountains last time we’ll structure around that. Below is a general list of items. It’s not perfect but it gives you a good starting point.
You’ll need a decent sized backpack to start with. The main thing to look for will be the shoulder and waist belt set up. A small pack can have extra stuff strapped on to it and a large one can be compressed down. But if they’re don’t have a good suspension or it doesn’t fit you you will be in for a very uncomfortable couple days. In the old days you could go to an REI and they would help you measure and fit a pack to you. Now they’re just another progressive boutique store. A real shame, as it was THE go to store for years. As for brands, I really don’t know anymore. My dad was a big proponent of buy once cry once so almost everything I have is stuff that he bought years ago. the only stuff that’s begun to wear is the waterproofing has gotten gummy, but everything else is fine. So I haven’t looked into the different brands in years. But for the most part as long as the pack has good support the brand doesn’t matter. If all you have is an old ALICE ruck just swap out the belt and you’ll be fine. I haven’t tried it yet but I’ve heard that just swapping out the ALICE belt with a MOLLE belt works really well.
The belt needs to be rigid as the majority of the weight should be carried on the hips. I forget the actual recommended ratio but it was something along the lines of 70-80% on the hips and 20-30% on the shoulders. This is not a quick don and doff thing.
Below are some visualizations for how out pack the items in you backpack. These always depict internal frame packs but the same basic principles apply.
Backpack Styles; pick you poison
The benefit of the internal is the slimmer profile with less to snag and the body hugging nature of it allows more mobility. The benefit of the external frame is ability to carry larger loads and airflow around the back.
What’s in the Box… er… Pack
First things that you will need is a shelter and sleeping gear. I like to start packing with these as they are the bulkiest items so I want to get them sorted first. I’ve used both mummy bags (avoid the old fashioned rectangle ones) and poncho liners on trips and could go either way at this point. I would say a mummy bag is a must for anything alpine unless you’re pretty hot blooded. Don’t forget a pad. The sleeping bag will be at the very bottom of you backpack, and the pad will either be lashed to the outside or if it’s one of the newer inflatable/collapsible ones, in next to the bag. There are a lot of different ways you can do a shelter, from simple poncho to cabin tent. Even though weight and space are at a premium I still recommend a tent. Even if you are soloing I would suggest a small tent over a bivy sack or hammock. A tent gives you protected space you will appreciate. If a storm comes up or the mosquitos are out in force you can stay in the tent, eat dinner, read a book, change. Plus it protects you gear from the elements and creepy crawlies. This should be pretty obvious but make sure your tent is appropriate to the group size. One good thing about going in a group is that you can break up the tent so save space and weight. Or you can have one person do the tent and another the food, etc etc.
As for placement in/on the pack in an internal frame it will be vertical near your back and on an external like an ALICE, I would probably put the tent horizontal under the top flap.
Food and Water
There are a number of different ways to do this section. Water treatment has a number of different methods such as boiling, filtering, chemical treatment or even UV light. And a lot of options out there to do each one of those. I grew up using a ceramic pump filter but now supposedly these little squeeze ones work just as well at a fraction of the cost and size. A lot will depend on your budget and the area you’re in. I bought a Sawyer Squeeze to try on my trip this year so I will let you know how it goes. Boiling is tried and true but you will need to remember to bring extra fuel for the stove (and obviously a stove too) plus you can’t do it on the fly. That’s more of an in camp activity, and you will have to wait for it to cool before drinking as well.
For actual water carriage I usually use Nalgene bottles, but good old canteens are good too, and some kind of bladder if I can. Rigging a bladder to the pack some how is really handy and is a good way to make sure you stay hydrated. When it’s right there and you can sip without stopping or some kind of unpacking you’re more likely to stay on top of it. Side note, hydration is a big deal at higher elevation as it helps keep altitude sickness away and you dehydrate much faster in the dry air and sun. The only downside to bladders is that you can’t easily refill them. so having a Nalgene or canteen available is a good idea that way if/when you run out of water you can switch to the bottle and quickly refill it.
For food I usually stick to freeze dried but MRE style is good too. You will just have to balance out your weight and requirements. Pro tip, the freeze dried meals feed half of what they say they do. So if the bag says “meal for 2” or “feeds 2” it really feeds one. If you are a little more picky our want to really up that comfort factor you can make your own meals too. My dad did pasta one year and it worked out really well. Just get a bunch of dried ingredients and a little container of sauce and voila. For the meat he froze precooked and cut up chick and wrapped it in tin foil then put in in the top of he pack so by the time we got to camp everything was thawed and ready. Even good old Ramen noodles work. Just use your imagination. The only thing you want to avoid like the plague is anything canned. They are very heavy and difficult to pack out. Yeah you’re not leaving you’re trash behind. I WILL have words with you if I catch you. On that note one of the nice things about food like the freeze dried or MRE is that you can use the pouch as a trash bag when you’re done. When packed the food will be toward the lower middle or outer middle of the pack.
So since we are doing a 3 day trip that means 2 dinners, 2 breakfasts and 3 lunches for each person. For lunch I usually just do Clif bars or something similar and some beef jerky since the first and third days you will be on the move during lunch most likely. The middle day if it’s static can be whatever you prefer. I like the bars because they’re get a good chunk of calories into you quickly and can be carried in your pockets so you don’t even have to take you pack off to get to them. A lot of locations require bear cans now as the bears have wised up and figured out how to get the stuff out of the trees like we used to do. While the cans are effective and keep the bears out of your stuff they are and awkward item to pack. So you may have to adjust your load. Have one person do only food or put both food and other items in the can. They really are a hassle, but at least you get to use them as a chair or table.
This is going to be anything you use to prepare food basically. You can go extra basic and ditch the stove entirely if you are using MRE type meals but that does mean the food will be heavier so that may not work for long duration trips. But for our 3 day that wont be an issue. However it is nice to be able to make coffee or hot chocolate in the morning or heat up water for bathing etc. If you do take a stove just check into the different options out there. I have been using a Whisperlite for decades and like it. Whatever you use just make sure you know how to service it and that it works before going. Pro tip, on liquid fuel stoves the higher the elevation the fewer pumps it needs to pressurize. It will probably say in the directions but if not just pump a couple times, check, then pump a couple more so on until it squirts out. I think the for the small fuel bottles its only 10 pumps for 10,000′ but I wasn’t counting.
n the old days all the serious outdoors people used just a sierra cup for everything but I’m on the fence about them these days. I think if you were trying to go ultra light and that was the only cup/bowl/shovel you were going to take then it serves its purpose. But it is pretty bad at all those tasks. Last time I went I just took two Nalgene cups. (basically a canteen cup) and they worked fine. They worked well enough that I debate the necessity of a pot. Pot is still probably a good idea for a group though. Otherwise you have to boil the water for each meal individually. Just make sure that whatever you are putting on the stove isn’t aluminum. Stainless steel and/or titanium for the fancy pants.
Don’t forget the accessories like utensils, stuff to clean up, matches and pot holder. A little scrubber and some hot sauce are always welcome.
As for packing this it will be next to the tent or middle of the pack closest to you back. Although I usually keep the fuel outside and low so just incase of a leak it wont get on anything.
So for 3 days you really don’t need much. You could probably even do just one exterior set of clothes and have the undergarments be multiples. Depends on your area, if you think its likely to be pretty messy you may want an extra outer set. So lets say you will start with wearing 1 pair of pants, a thin long sleeve, an under shirt, socks and underwear. If the weather is exceptionally hot you can ditch the long sleeve but it really helps with the sun and any bugs. If you go without you may end up being caked in a lovely combo of sweat, bug juice, sun screen and dust but the end of the day. Then in your actual pack you’ll want 2 other sets of under garments and socks. You may want some sort of pajama type stuff for wearing inside the sleeping bag so you can keep it clean. And a second shirt and pants at your discretion.
All of this should either be some sort of synthetic or wool material. The old adage “cotton kills” has a lot of truth to it.
Now following the layering principle the next level should be some kind of sweater of fleece jacket. I prefer fleece personally, just make sure it’s a thick our quality brand one. In summer this is you’re main insulation layer when it gets cold. Then nest you’ll want some sort of “hard shell” to go over that in case of rain. Basically a waterproof windbreaker. You could use a soft shell jacket to do both rolls but I find them too porous. The storms in the mountains tend to be short but strong and the soft shells don’t seem to keep out the wind our rain when its more that anything light.
If you’re doing a winter trip you will what to do something more substantial like a ski/snowboard jacket. A snowboard jacket actually worked really well for me on one of my trips and they have lots of ventilation for when you are exerting yourself and a reinforced seat to prevent rips and water from sitting.
Clothes will be packed to the outside of the pack as they’re lighter. And the hard shell should be in an outside pocket you can get to quickly.
I’m not sure if I should include boots in the conversation as you wear those but make sure they have good ankle support. Wearing low tops or shoes is just begging for a sprained ankle. Don’t have to be fancy as long as they are ankle high, and somewhat stiff, and have a shank of some kind in the sole, and be comfortable. Stuff like Goretex is helpful but not critical. You may want to consider some kind of sandal for in camp. Feels pretty good to be able to take your boots off after a long day. Personally I’m on the fence as I seem to just end up with extra dirty feet and getting stabbed by pine needle and branches so your mileage may very.
These are easy to forget. But make sure you have some toilet paper (preferably biodegradable if you can find it) toothbrush, soap (biodegradable if possible. I usually just use camp suds for both the kitchen and myself) and any other odds and ends you might need like eye drops or contacts. I often take wet wipes in place of the soap and towel. They work well and the antibacterial stuff in them kills the bacteria that causes your stink so it acts like a bath and deodorant in one. I also keep regular use pills here rather that the first aid kit. stuff like tums or Aleve/ibuprofen that you would take on a fairly common basis so you’re not having to break open the first aid kit. This stuff should be in a pouch/bag in the outer middle of the pack as you wont need it until you make camp and it’s fairly light.
There are premade kits out there our you can assemble your own. I’m a lazy cheap skate so I usually just though some band-aids, gauze, surgical tape, and ace bandage in a zip lock and go. But I think I’ll start carrying a real kit this year. This should be somewhere easily accessible on your pack. Likely and outer pocket or the top pocket on an internal frame pack.
This is all the random necessities a like map, compass flashlight etc. This stuff will be where you can get to them easily in either the top or external pockets of the pack. Some of the key things are the map and compass, a light, fire starting, signaling mirror, some twine or cordage, small knife/multitool. These thing I keep in a little bag or pouch that can be stuffed into a pocket. I’ll do a detailed post on this mini kit another time. You’ll also want to consider some kind of digging tool. Mainly just for burying your poo but sometimes you need it for other stuff. Just a little plastic garden or folding one is plenty.
Putting it all together
The recommend weight for all this was said to be 30% of your body weight. Granted that is of a healthy individual so know yourself before maxing it out and then sucking wind when you get out there. So for the math challenged, if you weigh 150lbs then the back loaded should be 45lbs, if you weight 200lbs the pack should be 60lbs. So you may have to adjust your contents. Or go nuts, it’s your knees not mine. Once everything is in its place make sure you cinch everything ups tight and there is nothing loose or hanging. Especially any strings or straps need to be secured. Would be pretty embarrassing to end up airlifted because you snagged you back on a tree and split your head open. One thing that looks hokey but it really makes a difference are trekking poles. They look like ski poles but are adjustable and usually have a little shock in them. supposedly when used correctly they take 10lbs off each step. As well they help keep you stead on rough trails. My knees have been crunchy since high school so they help me a good deal.
This has come out pretty long as is so I’ll break the survival prepping bias out into a separate post.