What’s in our packs: Backpacking

MSR Hubba Hubba tent set up near Hawkeye Point, Goat Rocks Wilderness

There are many different approaches to packing for backpacking. Some people pack ultralight, others pack for maximal comfort in camp at the expense of carrying a lot on the trail. I think we’re somewhere in between: we like to be reasonably comfortable and not re-wear clothes too much, but we also like to pack light enough that we have energy for side trips.

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List last updated: May 2024.

Shared gear

  • Tent: MSR Hubba Hubba 2p. We had previously used an MSR Hubba Hubba NX. Along the way, retrofitted it with carbon fiber poles from a newer model and re-sealed the seams twice. After 10 years of use, the zippers were becoming increasingly finicky and small tears started to develop. The current model (Amazon) has made some changes to its color, materials, and window area, but retains many of the features we love – 2024 will be our first season using the new model, and we hope we are able to make another decade of memories with it. We use it with a footprint (Amazon) as well as MSR’s discontinued “mud mat” for one of the two vestibules.
  • Cooking and eating. As we mostly eat oatmeal for breakfast and dehydrated meals for dinner, we use an MSR Windburner stove (Amazon) which mostly boils water. Over the years, it has proven fast and reliable.
  • Bear vault. We use a Backpacker’s Cache bear canister (Amazon). We’ll take this on most trips, including when we expect to be able to hang food, since it’s foolproof for keeping all manner of animals out and means we spend less time fussing with hanging food bags.
  • Map. While we tend to use digital maps on the trail (in the inReach app), I try to also have a paper map as a backup. I also love unfolding a paper map at a viewpoint (if it’s not too windy) or in camp at night and adding to my understanding of the landscape. The scale of a paper map shows just so much more, in more detail, than any digital map I’ve used. For the Pacific Northwest, we particularly like the Green Trails Maps series (Amazon).

Sean’s packing list

I’ve used an Osprey Aether 70L backpack for the past 10 years. Apart from when a group of marmots decided to chew up the shoulder straps for salt, it has held up well. When the Marmots ate my bag, I was pleased with the ease and speed of Osprey’s warranty repair. Osprey seems to have divided this line into an Aether Plus 75L (Amazon) and Aether 65L (Amazon), as well as a lighter-weight Aether Pro 70L (Amazon).

The Aether that I have supports Osprey’s modular accessories, and so I use it alongside an Osprey DayLite 20L (Amazon). This gives me a small bag that I can use for short excursions from camp, which I find much easier and more comfortable than converting the lid into a separate bag. It also gives me, essentially, an extra small pocket and an extra large pocket for organizing materials on the trail. I believe Osprey has made some revisions to their accessory system over the years, so double check that anything you buy works together if planning to do this.

For stuff sacks, I like Sea to Summit’s ultra sil bags (Amazon) for their weight, but ALPS Mountaineering’s product (Amazon) feels sturdier and its straps are easier to work with. I’ll use the Sea to Summit bags for clothes and the ALPS bag for my sleeping bag and other materials.

  • Passport (if international), wallet, and cash in a small SealLine waterproof case (Amazon)
  • Kindle PaperWhite (Amazon) in an XL SealLine waterproof case (Amazon).
  • Garmin inReach Explorer+ satellite communication device (Amazon). I bought it as a device I hoped to never use. Now, I like running it in the background as a navigation aide and to use the GPS traces to help tag my photos, without running down my phone’s battery. See our notes on why we bought the inReach and what it was like using it for the first year.
  • Clothes
    • Clothing in a stuff sack.
      • Short sleep shirts: Smartwool – Merino 150 short sleeve shirts (Amazon). Smartwool resists odors better than the polypro shirts I used to carry. I max out at carrying ~3 shirts, but I do like not wearing a shirt more than twice on a trip.
      • Long sleeve shirts: I typically carry 1 long sleeve wicking shirt and 1 Smartwool quarter zip (Amazon).
      • 1-2 pairs of Prana Zion convertible pants. If we’re hiking through brush or bugs, I tend to prefer pants to keep things off my legs, and I’ll deal with the added discomfort and weight of zippers to have the option of switching to shorts. For trips more than three days, I usually bring two pairs. This is a bit excessive, but I’ve appreciated the option of putting on a dry pair of pants if the previous day’s did not dry well.
      • 1 pair of Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants (Amazon). These are my backups for hiking and my morning/evening wear. They are light and comfortable, but I worry that if I wore them as my primary hiking pants, they would rip easily on rocks.
      • Leggings, if the weather indicates.
      • 1 half-zip fleece (Amazon). This is part of my layering strategy for the trail and for evenings/mornings in camp.
      • Patagonia Micro Puff Hoodie. It collapses small and has a hood to keep me warm (or to keep bugs off!). I’ve found that it sheds down less than the Eddie Bauer puffy I had before this.
      • Sun Hoodie. My most recent addition, as I was finding that I often don’t want to wear my hat in camp but do want a lightweight layer for sun and bug protection. I bought a Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hooded Shirt; it’s light, soft, and super comfortable.
    • Sleeping bag. I use a Nemo Nocturne 30. As someone who tends to roll around a decent amount when sleeping–especially if I am sore from a long day of backpacking!–I appreciate the added shoulder room.
    • A pillow. After seeing how much Kyle liked his, I got a Sea to Summit inflatable pillow (Amazon).
    • Socks and underwear in a stuff sack.
      • Hiking socks.  I’ve used various brands throughout the years, including Wigwam, REI, and Smartwool. My go to brand these days is Darn Tough, with a mix of “Boot Cushion” (Amazon) and “Hiker Micro Crew Cushion” (Amazon). I carry 3-4 pairs; for longer trips, I plan to wash and reuse.
      • Liners. I currently prefer FoxRiver liners (Amazon), since they are light and their seams are minimal. I carry one pair per day because I really value clean liners.
    • Buff (Amazon): Good for when I don’t want to wear a hat, as a backup if my hat ever blows away, to keep my neck warm, and to keep bugs off.
    • Sun hat: I like the Outdoor Research Transit (Amazon); it offers reasonable coverage and breathability.
    • Gloves. I am currently trying Outdoor Research’s Versaliner gloves (Amazon), which combine a glove plus liner – I’ll need to get through a season before I see how I like them.
    • Beanie
    • Rain coat: I use an Arc’teryx Beta Lt Hybrid Jacket (Amazon). It’s pricey but lightweight and effective.
    • As needed: 
      • Gaiters. For heavier gaiters, I’ve been very happy with the Outdoor Research Crocodiles (Amazon). We first bought these for our trip to Scotland, and they’ll come with me if I expect a lot of walking in unpacked snow or a particularly wet hike. I recently added Outdoor Helium gaiters (Amazon) as a lighter option, when my primary concern is rain.
      • Traction devices. We use Hillsound Trail Crampons (Amazon). They have a bit more bite than micro spikes but are still pretty light.
      • Rain paints. One downside of my go-to hiking pants, the Prana Zions, is that if they soak through, they can take a long time to dry. For trips when heavy rain is a strong possibility, I’ve added Mountain Hardware Ozonic pants (Amazon). So far, I’m happy with them.
    • Standard trail stuff, in a mesh sack:
      • First aid kit
      • Headlamp. Kyle grew tired me not having a red light and variable brightness, and so he recently upgraded me to the Black Diamond Spot 400 (Amazon), as I wanted something with a red light and variable brightness. They also make a rechargeable version (Amazon), but, as of 2023, it still uses Micro-USB, a connector I am trying to phase out of my gear.
      • Fire starter
      • Trowel
      • Toilet paper / zip lock bags
      • Knife / multitool: I use a Leatherman Wave (Amazon)
      • Utility cord, which we also use as an ad-hoc clothes line.
    • Water bladders: In 2022, I switched my primary bladder from Platypus to an Osprey 2.5L reservoir (Amazon), which I found easier to fill and load into my pack than the Platypus. I also carry at least one auxiliary 1L-2L Platypus bladder (Amazon) depending on the route.
    • Water filter. I use a Platypus GravityWorks filter (Amazon), which is particularly convenient for camp as we can just hang the bag and let the filter do its thing.
    • Toiletries: deodorant, nail trimmers, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, backup sunscreen. These go in the bear vault.
    • Towel: I use an REI Large pack towel.
    • Sandals: Teva Hurricane 4s (Amazon). I use these in camp,and they double as my plan for fording any rocky streams.
    • Camera. I normally carry an Olympus OMD EM-1 Mark III (Amazon) with a 12-100mm (24-200 equivalent) lens (Amazon), which I carry on a Peak Design Capture Clip (Amazon). For 2024, I’ve added a Panasonic 9mm (18mm equivalent) lens for wide angle landscape and astrophotography (Amazon).
    • Trekking Poles. Black Diamond collapsible poles (Amazon). The flicklock mechanism has been much more reliable than the screw mechanism on my previous polls.
    • Charging. This depends on the trip duration.
      • 20,000 mAh battery (Amazon),
      • Anker Solar Charger (Amazon). For 4-5 day trips, I’m likely to bring a solar charger. That way, I’m not on a budget for total amount of energy, so if I do something foolish, like leave the Garmin on overnight or accidentally record an hour of video with my camera in the bag, I can recharge. However, with the switch to the 20,000mAh battery, I’ve been carrying it less.
    • Sunglasses

Kyle’s packing list

My backpack of choice for the past five years is the Gregory Baltoro 65L Pack (Amazon). Aside from an initial swap of the hip belt to a better-fitting size, and an early warranty claim to replace the extremely thin included raincover, I have otherwise been quite satisfied with the way this pack fits my slim build.

Depending on the trip, I pair the Baltoro with either the included Gregory Sidekick accessory bag, or my long-time favorite REI Flash 18. The day pack serves as a water bladder sleeve when inside my main pack, and a lightweight day pack for side trips after establishing camp.

  • Passport (as needed), wallet, cash
  • Kindle PaperWhite (Amazon) in a SealLine waterproof e-case (M) (Amazon)
  • Clothes
    • Clothing in 2 stuff sacks:
      • 1-2 Smartwool NTS Micro 150 combo short sleeve shirts (Amazon). These resist odor far better than any synthetic shirt and dry quickly.
      • 1-2 Icebreaker Tech Lite short sleeve crew shirts (Amazon). These resist odor far better than any synthetic shirt and dry quickly.
      • 1 half-zip fleece (Amazon). This is part of my layering strategy for the trail. On warm days, I generally wear this in camp as a cozy layer at night and in the morning.
      • 1-2 long sleeve wicking shirts. The Smartwool PhD Ultra Light LS (Amazon) and Smartwool Classic All-Season Merino Base Layer (Amazon) are my favorites. These resist odor far longer than my previous synthetic pick, the Mountain Hardwear Butterman Crew (Amazon).
      • 1-2 pair of hiking shorts. My current pick is the Patagonia Quandary Shorts 8-in Inseam for their rugged versatility, style, comfort, and practical pockets.
      • 1 pair of Arc’teryx Lefroy Pants (Amazon) as a backup for cold days. I love these pants for their durability, stain and water resistance, and comfort while wearing a pack, due to the integrated belt. The newer version is the Arc’teryx Gamma Lightweight Pant (Amazon).
      • Icebreaker Oasis Leggings (Amazon) in case of cold weather, and for layering while at camp.
      • A comfortable t-shirt for evenings/sleeping: the Patagonia S/S Nine Trails Shirt
      • Sleep shorts
      • Underwear: A mix of Icebreaker Anatomica merino wool boxer briefs (Amazon) and Smartwool Merino Sport 150 boxer briefs (Amazon). I prefer the benefits of merino wool when backpacking.
      • Hiking socks. I love socks from Darn Tough for their comfort and durability. I pack a mix of the “Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion” (Amazon) and “Hiker Micro Crew Cushion” (Amazon) and tend to keep at least one pair clean and dry each day.
      • Liners. I wear liner socks less frequently these days. When needed, I prefer the lightweight FoxRiver X-Static liners (Amazon), as they have minimal seams and produce minimal friction with merino wool socks.
    • Buff (Amazon): I occasionally use this to keep my neck warm on cool/rainy days, or when I don’t want to wear a hat (or as a backup if my hat ever blows away).
    • Outdoor Research Swift Cap (Amazon)
    • Sunglasses + cleaning cloth
    • Outdoor Research Commuter Windstopper Gloves (Amazon)
    • Fjallraven Merino Lite Hat – a beanie (Amazon)
    • Patagonia Nano Puff Hoodie – the Nano is very lightweight but warm (consider the Micro Puff if backpacking in colder weather)
    • Icebreaker Merino 260 Quantum IV Long Sleeve Zip Hoodie (Amazon) – a versatile layer that is warm when you need it to be, and breathable sun-protection otherwise. I particularly love the thumb holes on the sleeves and the large hood (great for buggy locations).
    • Rain coat: I use an Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket (Amazon), which is expensive but incredibly lightweight, effective, and long-lasting (mine is 9 years old).
    • As needed:
      • Gaiters:  Outdoor Research Crocodiles (Amazon).
      • Traction devices: Hillsound Trail Crampons (Amazon).
      • Counter Assault Bear Spray 8.1 oz w/Holst
      • Counter Assault Bear Bell w/Silencer
    • Standard trail stuff, in one of my pack pockets:
      • First aid kit
      • Headlamp. Petzl Tikka (Amazon)
      • Toilet paper, folding trowel, zip lock bags
      • Sawyer Mini Water Filter + 1L bag: Great, affordable, lightweight filter. (Amazon)
    • Water bladder – I used a 2L Platypus (Amazon). Like Sean, I also carry an auxiliary 1L Platypus.
    • Electronics pouch: USB charging adapter, battery, 2 lightning cables, headphones, earplugs
    • Toiletries: body powder (for foot emergencies), deodorant, face wipes, laundry detergent sheets, nail trimmers, hand sanitizer, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste. These go in the bear vault.
    • Towel: PackTowl Original XL (Amazon), a basic towel that is both lightweight and fast-drying
    • Sun protection: 1 large Sawyer Stay-Put SPF50 sunscreen (shared; Amazon) and 1 chapstick. Over a two-week trip, the two of us will use at least 75% of the 8-ounce bottle. This sunscreen goes on thick but, as advertised, lasts longer than other suncreens we have used.
    • Sleep
      • Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 Degree Sleeping Bag (Amazon)
      • Sea to Summit Silk Blend Mummy liner (Amazon) works great with a matching mummy-shaped sleeping bag. This is great for both keeping a down bag clean and for particularly warm nights when you don’t need to fully in your bag.
    • Sandals: Teva Hurricane XLT2 (Amazon) for camp and stream crossings.
    • Trekking Poles. Black Diamond collapsible poles (Amazon)

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