Keith Drury’s Backpacking equipment list

 What equipment do I need to start backpacking?

By Keith Drury

(Professor of practical ministry and backpacking, Indiana Wesleyan University)

You don’t need too much money and you don’t need 95% of what is offered on line—most of the stuff offered online and in outfitters stores is sold to people who like to collect backpacking stuff and think about trips they will never take—not to real backpackers.  I’ll give my opinions here—of course there are other ideas you can listen to… but having backpacked about 10,000 miles now following this approach has generally worked for me (though if you read earlier versions of this article you’ll find significant shifts over time).

The central value:  P-A-C-K   L-I-G-H-T.  Take less.  The lighter the load the happier the trip.   Buy the minimum… borrow stuff until you really get serious about backpacking—many novices get all excited about a trip and buy too much stuff then have to replace it later.  When you are ready to buy, there are three things that will cost you big money—these three may even become “lifetime” investments.  They are

1.     A sleeping bag (the most expensive thing you’ll buy—from $150-$600)

2.     A pack ($75-$150)

3.     A shelter (about $100 for the lightest/best, far more for a whole tent)

Everything else is cheap and easy—a sleeping bag, pack and shelter are the only three you need to borrow or buy for your first trip.

The best book on backpacking is Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking. Ray helps you see lightweight backpacking as a mindset—a worldview that will pervade the rest of life.  It is 500 pages but has short chapters and is easy to read.  Ray avoids the confusing approach of trying to introduce you to all equipment and hiking styles and compare the advantages and disadvantages of each (like most backpacking books do).  Rather he presents “one way” to backpack (the “Ray way” it is often called on the trail).  This simplifies things.  He may have some crazy ideas (an umbrella—which I made fun of for a long time—that is, until I walked across the Mojave desert) but most us of are nutty 10% of the time.  90% of his advice is great.  Also consider reading this more poetic version of questions about your long distance backpacking experience.

This article is written to a novice considering their first serious backpacking trek of several weeks—not to elite fastpackers.  Like all introductory articles (and courses for that matter) they are only true temporarily—that is when you become an advanced backpacker some of the following will not apply to you.  But to start off, the following will help get you going.  This article serves as a quickly written equipment guide for my Backpacking course at Indiana Wesleyan University.


The Big Three

1. Sleeping bag. Your single greatest expense is a mummy bag. Borrow one for starting and save the following information for buying one later.   I have 11 sleeping bags—mostly because I keep buying a better one.  Buying a good one from the start is the smarter.  Most people get a 30-40 degree bag…and Goose down is the best fill…the higher the number the better the down (e.g. 900 fill down is the gold standard…600 fill down is cheapest/heaviest). [We will teach you what 600 and 900 is in class].    I have (and still use) a down sleeping bag I bought in 1957—they are lifetime investments.  Polarguard 3D is the next best after down—it is cheaper but wears out over time—giving less warmth though still weighs the same.  After that comes Polarguard II then there are junk bags sold by Dick’s sporting goods and Wal-mart made of Polarguard (classic) and Holofil.  My opinion is down is best to buy, but the most recent generations of synthetics are OK second place bags—and only a pound or so more (which for newbees doesn’t seem too bad yet).  The sleeping bag I like most is a Marmot Lithium® bag.  This bag goes down to zero (for me only to 20 degrees—I’m a cold sleeper).  It weighs 2# 8oz and is 900-fill down—the gold standard (you can’t even get 900-fill down except when enough of it becomes available to make some more bags). But my Marmot Lithium would set you back a many many many week’s wages and it is beyond the scope of a student purchase.   I’s say buy a good down bag with a high number and you’ll be set for life—BUT until then borrow junk bags from other people.  You can sometimes get closeouts at Sierra Trading post ( on equipment—that’s where most of my poverty-stricken students buy stuff when they insist on buying it.  SUMMARY: buy goose down and the higher the number the better and borrow until then.  Spend the money here when you are ready—it may be about a third your total investment in backpacking equipment.  You’ll probably spend at least $200 for your bag—and as much as $600 if you buy the very best.

2. Pack.  Forget fancy expensive packs—all they do is make it easier for you to carry too-heavy loads.   Some packs weigh 8 pounds empty—my pack weighs about 8 pounds full.  My opinion: the best packs are Go-lite packs. My pack weighs 15 ounces—T the Go-lite breeze® pack which costs about $75—but they are hard to find now and may have been discontinued.  I’ve carried the breeze several thousand miles. It is tiny—but that’s what I want—a small pack that will force me not to take stuff.  However the Breeze does not have a waist strap (which enables you to carry over 20 pounds—something I don’t usually want to do). I also have used other light packs and one of my favorite heavier light packs was the Granite Gear Virga  which weighs a hair over a pound (by the time I cut off all extra stuff I don’t need).  Many of these other packs over one pound have a “waist strap” (which the Breeze lacks) and are thus more comfortable when I’ve got ten days food. On the most recent 3000 miles of trail I’ve walked I simply compromised and sewed the Breeze onto the Virga—so it functions as a Breeze with a Virga carrying harness and waist strap—combined 1 pound 3oz.

            I do admit also own a Go-lite Gust for use in winter for mountaineering when I’ve got to carry a bunch more stuff and snowshoes, crampons, ice axe etc. This pack is huge and even has a waist strap.  But even this gigantic pack only weighs 19 ounces and costs less than $100.   A pack that weighs more than two pounds or costs more than $100 is a waste and you eventually toss it if you get serious about backpacking.  Buy something cheap at about a pound or two.  Better yet—borrow that old frame pack from your parents or friend that weighs 4 pounds, then after you’ve slept out 20 nights and walked 300 miles you’ll know for sure what you want—something lighter.  Nothing is worse than buying new equipment and discovering on your hike that you made the wrong choice.  Even if your borrowed pack is lousy at least you didn’t spend money on it!  One more thing—ALL packs are uncomfortable.  There is no pack in the world that makes carrying 10 pounds 20 miles “comfortable.” If you go hiking and complain, “My pack hurts your shoulders” there is probably nothing wrong with your pack at all—carrying 10 pounds 20 miles should hurt!   All we hope for is a “pack that hurts less.”  While I’d suggest waiting to buy a sleeping bag if you have ants in your pants to buy something—buy a pack and you’ll at least not spend more than $100.  Bottom line: Borrow a pack until you can buy a light one.

 3. Shelter (Tent/Bivy/Tarp) I believe the best single plan is neither a tent nor a bivy (a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag) but a “tarp.”  The cheapest way to do this is to buy one from Wal-mart and some cord—that may set you back about ten dollars.  But it will be heavier than one of the fancy ones I’m about to tell you about—two pounds for two people instead of one pound for two people—but the Wal-mart tarp works just fine until you are ready to buy.  There are no lifetime purchases here—the field is developing so fast that in 2 years everything I say here now will not be valid—which is why a Wal-Mart tarp is probably best.  I suggest a 10X12’ tent (or if you want to sleep three maybe 12X12’.  But when you’re ready to buy I suggest you aim for a one pound tarp that will hold two people—sometimes three people.  I got my first one from  Lynn Wheldon in Pennsylvania (He also has GREAT lightweight packs).   Lynn is a do-it-yourselfer and is passionate about both backpacking and his Christian faith (and integrating them—see his videos).  You can get a similar tarps from Go-Lite – --which is what I now use (And IWU also uses—if you are a student, check the IWU outdoor office for either renting or buying Golite equipment—they are a dealer.  Golite tarps will cost you about $100—50 bucks a person.  I’ve used a Lynn Wheldon or Golite tarp for 5 years now—though I have some tents—they mostly stay in storage or I use them for “car camping.”   Ok that’s not completely true—I have several Henry Shires tarptents now when I go backpacking with my wife Sharon in mosquito country—they weigh about 2 pounds.  I think the Shires tarptents are the wave of the future but they’re really new still.

Of course if you are handy you can make your own ultralite tarp (Henry Shires now gives away the design plans to his first tarptent).  If you buy “silicon impregnated nylon” by the yard and sew one single seam you can make them into tarps—sealing the seam with silicon caulk you buy at a hardware store. You can get your tarp for about $25 that way.

Other Stuff after the “Big three”

Once you have your sleeping bag, pack and tarp the rest can be borrowed, gathered or bought here and there.  Here is my basic list:

A. Sleeping: (beyond sleeping bag)

___Sleeping pad—always. I normally carried a Ridgerest or a Z-rest pad from Cascade Designs. I buy a full length pad and cut it in half—so it only gets used by my shoulders to hips—the rest of me isn’t that heavy.  So my pad weighs less than 8 ounces.  The pad then does double duty as the back support for the go-lite packs (The idea is to curl up the sleeping pad into a circle and shove everything else down inside the “O”—then the pad doubles as a pad-support in the packpack—no use having a pad in your pack you don’t use all night!) Either of these pads will cost you about 30 bucks and will last for years. I have both and prefer both depending on my mood. (as I got old I used more often Therm-a-rest inflatable pad—which come in just under a pound—but you risk a blowout with these) If you are really serious about backpacking and not just simply “taking a walk” you’ll hike far enough that you won’t need a comfortable bed—you’ll be able to sleep on rocks you’ll be so exhausted!)  As a cheap alternative to the above get any old pad from a nearby sporting goods store.  I have seen people use a big sheet of bubble wrap for a pad—though if you are fat you might have to contend with popping at night when you roll over!

___Garbage bag—almost always.   I have used a lightweight garbage bag for rain protection for my sleeping bag.  I only use it when it rains—leaving it neatly folded until it rains.  When it is about to rain I dump out my pack and open the garbage bag then put the can’t-get-wet stuff in it carefully inside my pack. I don’t try to keep my pack covered or dry—I keep the stuff in it dry. The only time I don’t carry a garbage bag is in the desert. More recently I have used the sea-to-summit pack liner bags which are 100% waterproof…they weight about the same as a heavier garbage bag but don’t wear out.

___Sleeping bag stuff sack—seldom. Occasionally I use a ½ oz Go-lite silicon impregnated nylon stuff sack for my sleeping bag—but mostly I stick my pad inside my pack like a big “O” then stuff the sleeping bag right down into the bottom of my pack—after all a pack is essentially a huge stuff sack isn’t it? Why put a stuff sack inside a stuff sack?

___Ground cloth—never.   I use my sleeping pad for my upper body and my empty pack for my feet.  Your pad IS a ground cloth—so that only leaves your feet to stick on something above the dirt—a pack works great for this.


B. “Office” (One large zip-loc bag containing all these little things)

___Flashlight—seldom.  A tiny little key-chain LED light works fine.   In the woods, once my eyes adjust, one of these little ½ ounce lights is all anyone needs.  I’ve crossed snow-covered passes in the high sierras at midnight with it.  They last 100 hours so you don’t even need an extra battery.  Occasionally for mountaineering I carry a $40 Black diamond LED headlamp—but only because I spent the money for it and feel obligated to use it—it was a waste to buy.  Actually you seldom need a light at all—most hikers go to bed when it is dark.  Usually one light per tent is enough really to search in your ditty bag for your ear plugs at midnight when your tarpmate is snoring. And if you place everything you may need at night in your shoes you don’t even need the tiny keychain LED—just reach for it in your shoe, so I don’t carry one any more.

___Wallet-always   A little snack-size Zip-loc "wallet" with my license (I need it to claim general delivery mail at post offices) a credit card & a cash advance card, some cash and a few pictures of people I love. Leave fat leather wallets at home. 

___Pen-paper—seldom.  I no longer carry writing materials—but when I did, I took a refill (not the pen just the ball point refill) to write notes, plus a single sheet of paper per week to write on (or before that, a postcard-per-day on which to write a journal that I’d send to my wife whenever crossing a road or meeting hikers headed to their car that day).  Now I usually borrow a pen when in town to write letters and I just remember anything I need to remember while hiking, figuring if I forget it wasn’t worth remembering.  Writing things down doesn’t fit with the outdoors.  Remembering and speaking does.  This is the reason praying and talking about spiral things fits the woods while reading the Bible and journaling doesn’t seem to fit.

___Maps or data sheets—usually. I just take the map or data sheets for a week or two—sending the rest to post offices along the way. A “data sheet” is a listing of the miles on the trail and points of interest—stream crossings, campsites, tops of ridges, roads. (The “companion” book on the Appalachian Trail) Few hikers carry maps for anything else but reading material—they are just for fun.  Same with a GPS—they are toys like an iPod.

___Camera--sometimes  I used to take a disposable camera… then I got a 3 oz Casio, that was perfect but eventually went bad (maybe it was glissading down those glaciers with it in my pocket???)  I then went with a Casio S100 which I promptly lost in the bed of a pickup truck while hitching back from town in California.  Now I just use the cheapest digital camera offered by Wal-Mart that I can afford to lose. Often I take nothing and get email addresses of other hikers who took my picture.  Cameras are not for the views (they never look as impressive as real life) but to take pictures of people you meet—that’s what you’ll treasure over the years.

C. Toilet kit (One large zip-loc bag containing all these little things)

___Razor—sometimes.  If I decide to shave (I often don’t).  On long treks I send a razor to each town or put some in the “bounce box” (a box of supplies sent to the first re-supply town which I repackage and send ahead to the next town, then the next, “bouncing” along ahead of me).  On hikes less than a few weeks I seldom take a razor.

___ Deodorant—always.   I take a tiny bit of deodorant, usually cream deodorant in a snack zio-loc. just because I’m uncomfortable smelling myself in the woods—there are many nicer things to smell.  Most of the students I hike with do not carry deodorant.  I notice this.

___Soap—never.  I used to carry ¼ of a “motel bar” of soap but of course one should never use soap in running outdoor water.  I’ve found out that water alone works just fine.  You don’t smell as badly in the woods—it is committees that make you stink, not hard walking.  Besides I sometimes just take a “deodorant bath” and don’t use water at all.

___Toothbrush—seldom. I used to take a toothbrush with the handle sawed off—then after a week or so on a long trek I’d send it home and just use some floss or snap off twigs for a “woodspick,” and use my bandana on my teeth and tongue. I seldom now take a toothbrush.  If I did I wouldn’t take toothpaste of course.  Here is a good place to remind backpackers that they aren’t trying to  “take a small or light edition of all the regular things we use in life.”  Rather, backpacking is “zero-based planning.”  We start with nothing and ask, “what do I absolutely need?” This eliminates most everything we use in regular life—that’s where the spiritual value of “simplicity” emerges.

___Bandana—always.  Multi-purpose use-for-everything item.  Towel, washcloth, sunshade, hat, pot-holder, sweatband, toothbrush.  But to save weight I rip my bandana in half or sometimes quarters and take only that part.

___Toilet paper—always   I carry six single ply sheets of toilet paper per day rounded off by an extra day.  I carry this in a  Zip-loc bag—sometimes with an additional ounce of Hand Sanitizer.  Lightweight fastpacking women carry 18 sheets a day with more conservative city-women carrying as much as a half roll of TP per week.  In some places you will have to carry your TP out in a separate plastic bag, in other places you can bury it.  About 1/3 of all long distance hikers (500+ miles) are women and many of those carry a reusable dry-out-on-the-pack “pee rag” but hardly any women starting out can even imagine such a thing and just carry extra TP.

 ___Plastic Spade-sometimes.  To dig a “cat hole.” If I’m out east or in Indiana or anywhere there is soft soil and no rocks it is worthy tool for the group.  Where there are rocks I usually find an embedded rock to do a “rock-turnover” for the same duty.  And if the soil is very soft, the heal of your boot can dig a hole 5-6” hole pretty easily too.  The point is to get any bowel movements deep enough into the soil so than when the downpour of rain comes it does not wash over it and into the nearby creek for future hikers to drink, but down into the purifying soil—so use a spade, rock turnover, or your heal to care for this business.

___Mosquito repellant—sometimes  1-2 oz bottle (with at least 50% DEET in it—better yet 100%). Sometimes I have used a face net @ 1/2 oz. instead.  Depends on the season of course.  If you are going to be hiking five days a week for more than 30 years straight using DEET every four hours you might be concerned about this chemical—but less than a few years straight it appears to be safe. (except don’t get it only anything plastic—go ahead and try something before you leave!)

___Sunscreen & Lip Balm-sometimes.   I usually start off with a ½ filled tube of Chap Stick® lip balm if I am going to be in really windy territory, above the timberline, on snow or in the desert.  Same with sunscreen—if I’m above the timberline for days at a time at higher elevations, or walking in the desert, I take an ounce-a-week of sunscreen. Otherwise I do without this weight.

___Ear plugs-occasionally .  (If I have a snoring roommate.)


D. Utility Kit (One large zip-loc bag containing all these little things)

___ Bleach. 1-2 Oz household bleach to treat water (I use a little Visine® bottle marked “BLEACH” to carry mine).  I use 2 drops of household bleach per liter…up to 4 drops if I’m really nervous about the water.  After treatment I let it sit for about a half hour (20 min. minimum). Chlorine is what my city uses so I do it too.  If you wait a half hour to let the chlorine kill the invisible creatures then you can drink it.  Bleach is a just a few percentage points less effective than a water filter—but never clogs up and is 100 times lighter and 90,000,000 times cheaper.  If you are a fearful person then take the filter your momma bought you—but anyway, treating your water not as important as sanitizing your hands often—the research shows filter-users get sick quite as much as bleach users (and even as much as the I-don’t-use-anything hikers)… mostly because of their hands carrying bacteria and viruses when they eat chips or crackers with their hands. Most illnesses are not due to the water we drink.

___ Knife—seldom.  I used to carry a ½ ounce tiny key-chain knife. There are so few things needing cutting on the trail I no longer take it. If I need a knife I wait until the next town or borrow one from someone I run into, though I don’t recall ever needing one.

___ Lighter--seldom.  The tiny mini-lighter between three people is perhaps nice—though I doubt it.  It might be nice for someone to have one.  Serious backpackers seldom or never build fires except for romantic purposes.  Campfires are dirty, leave too much mess, ruin the environment, the sparks ruin high-tech clothing and tents, so most backpackers practice “leave no trace” camping and thus don’t build a fire –it is almost impossible to “leave no trace” of it later.  However, it is nice for one person in a group to have a lighter because every rule is for the breaking sometimes.  And, if you cook food you’ll need a lighter, but more on that later.

___ Baby Powder—sometimes.  I often start a long hike with 2-3 oz. baby powder for the first week only, to powder my feet every hour to prevent blisters.  I don’t actually know if it helps—I wonder if stopping every hour, taking off my shoes and airing out my feet and changing my socks, then letting the damp pair hang out to dry on my pack the next hour is what really does it, not the powder.  Baby powdering is the excuse to do all that.  After a week I quit carrying it. Plus it is hard to erase the powder in the dust “leaving no trace.”

___ Tape—always.  I take a few feet of Duct tape or adhesive tape per week to tape up my “hot spots” where a blister is developing.  A bit of prevention before blisters develop is worth pounds of curing afterward.  As soon as you feel tenderness STOP and tape the hot spot. Always.  Never fail!


E.  Clothing (mostly to wear, not for carrying)


___ Tee shirt--always.  I usually wear a non-cotton Starter® soccer shirt from Wal-Mart at about $12.  Just don’t wear cotton unless you are hiking in the desert or like a clammy damp feeling.  More recently I’ve been wearing a simple short-sleeved regular casual (non-cotton) shirt and like it better yet.

___ Shorts/pants—always.  I usually wear a cheap pair of nylon running shorts usually. I like running shorts with pockets. However, recently I’m wearing a super-lightweight pair of full-length “cargo pants” I got for Christmas—at about 6 oz. But, forget cotton or jeans. “Cotton kills.”

___ Hat-always.  Baseball hat or floppy hat in the woods, Stocking cap in the cold. When I’m above the timberline or in the desert where the sun is a problem I wear a wide floppy hat (sometimes straw, sometimes cloth) that protects my ears from the sun.

___ Socks.  I usually wear two pairs of liners on each foot, nothing moe.  Two pair of thin socks dry out faster on my pack between changes than one thick pair.  Some of my poverty-stricken students use men’s dress socks or women’s thin nylon socks they buy at the Dollar Store®.  I use more expensive non-cotton liners but I’m not sure they’re not much better than what my students wear.   In the cold or in rainy territory or sometimes when I just feel like it I add a pair of Smartwool® socks—my favorite thicker socks (I have one pair I have logged over 1000 miles on/in).  But they are expensive.  Cotton can work theoretically, but once they’re wet—they’ll never dry and you’ll be carrying or wearing heavy wet socks from then on. During the last thousand miles, however, I have tried wearing one pair of liners and one pair of Smartwool socks—and take nothing as backups. I’m not yet sure about this.

___ Sneakers—always.  Any sneakers you feel comfortable in are fine. I personally am a totally committed fan of New Balance® sneakers.  I get about 500-600 trail miles per pair of NB shoes.  I used up four pairs of NB 804’s then they quit making them.  (805’s are lousy for the trail—forget them) Then I used up five pair of NB 806s until they disappeared too.  I used up a pair of NB 871s in the desert and they blew out in 350 miles--yuck.  I have a pair of NB 915 waterproof sneakers for snow and rain—but they suck—literally.   Finally I found a close-out on NB 806s and bought several pair.  Recently I’ve been using NB1011’s but they aren’t as good as the old 806s. Whatever, find comfortable sneakers and break them in with 100 miles before your big hike.  Here’s the rule: use a sneaker that makes your foot feel good and one that has a some tred on the sole.  If you’re hiking less than 300 miles just go in your old sneakers and buy nothing new as far as shoes go.  If you carry a gigantic pack (against my advice) or have really weak ankles you might need heavier “boots” like hunters wear, but you’ll find few of them on serious backpackers nowadays—boots area for city people pretending to be backpackers.  If you don’t sprain your ankles often, and you will be carrying a light pack, sneakers are the best bet for backpacking.  If you are headed off on a 500+ mile hike do one additional thing—even with New Balance sneakers:  toss out the cheap insole and put a proper one in.  I use Superfeet® insoles—I’ve had these insoles last over 2000 miles—through four pairs of shoes—and they are sweet (they are NOT soft, so forget “soft”—you don’t want soft). Bottom line: for a short hike use comfortable sneakers you already own.  For a longer hike buy sneakers ½ or a full size larger and break them in with 100 miles. (your feet swell ½ size or more after 100 miles—hence the larger size for longer hikes)

___ Glasses/contacts—never.  I never take glasses backpacking even when I was required to wear them to drive a car.  The first summer I left them home and hiked all summer without them I returned home and tried my glasses on and they “felt weird.”  My optometrist tested my eyes to discover my eyesight had improved by 50% over the summer—just from forcing my eyes to do it (I rally wanted to see the views I guess!).  Anyway, this is not scientific, and may sound made-up, but it happened to me.  I never put glasses back on.  In fact when I went to renew my license I passed the eye test that I’d failed since I was a teen. You decide. Biology professor, Burt Webb always takes contacts and never has problems—well, almost never—there was that sandstorm in Washington once….



___ Socks—sometimes.  A second “set of two pairs” of thin sock liners Ior whatever I’ve decided lately I take.

___Sleeping hat—always  I carry a thin stocking hat for sleeping, chilly mornings, and hypothermic-inducing rain.  I’m a baby when it comes to cold—so I wear a sleeping hat even in the summer.  If you are not bald-headed and are a hot sleeper you’ll get away without this.

___PJs—sometimes.  I used to carry silk boxers as PJs then I slept in whatever I walked in and wash out my stuff every few days when the sun shines—putting it back on to dry while I walk.  The last 1000 miles I’ve taken a light shirt and silk running shorts as “PJ’s” since I often no longer carry rain gear—I just get wet when it rains like the birds do, and since I have a dry set of PJ-stuff to put on and a dry sleeping bag I’m fine.  In hypothermic danger above-the-timberline territory I would act differently, of course.  

___Rain suit--sometimes  In rainy territory (like the Appalachian Trail) I used to take a nylon rain suit—and still do if it is going to be in the 40’s and low 50’s—mostly for warmth, not protection from rain (after all, while hiking, I still get from sweat).  Most any one will work, it doesn’t even have to be expensive or breathable.  I have a Go-lite jacket and pants that weigh 15 ounces combined, but to tell the truth, any tight-woven nylon suit will work, even the breathable Wal-Mart brands I’ve  bought for $20 are almost as good.  Face it, when it rains and you suit up, you get wet from the outside by rain, or the inside by sweat…now which do you think is the fresher experience?  In cold climates, rainy spots, or when I am above the timberline I always take a rain suit.  In the smack-dab-middle of the summer on the Appalachian Trail I just get wet with the birds, and dry out when the sun comes back out like the birds do. 


F.  Cold weather additions (when it is going to be in the 30’s or less)

___Fleece or wool sweater, or even a lightweight down jacket. Walking in a tee shirt is fine at 33 degrees—I use so much energy walking it feels perfect.  But sitting down for a break at that temperature requires something to fight the chills with.  In cold weather I put on a fleece & my stocking hat during breaks, and sometimes for the first hour of a chilly morning too.  If I’m expecting temps in the teens I take a lightweight down jacket instead of the fleece.  If, below zero I carry a NorthFace parka.

___XXL Totes® OK it sounds crazy, I know—but if I’m hiking in the snow I often still walk in sneakers, I just add XXL Totes® (the zip-up kind to the outside of the sneakers) to the sneakers to get a 100% waterproof shoe.  They last about a hundred miles in the snow, and longer if you have duct tape.

___Ice axe, snowshoes, crampons, rope. If doing mountaineering.

___Tent. Sometimes I trade my tarp for a small mountaineering tent for blowing snow areas.

G. Eating:

___No-cook Food-always.  Why cook food while hiking?  If I were there for the eating I’d stay home or go to Outback®.  I go no-cook and I love it better.  For a short hike of a week or less I just gather together as much “junk food” as I’ll need and pack it away for a delightful week of munching, crunching (and trading with others.)  Almost all the students I now hike with go no-cook too.  Backpacking is mostly walking not keeping house.  On hikes longer than 300 miles I carry as my primary staple “PowerShakes” designed by biologist Burt ebb and myself.  I drink 2-3 a day.   The “PowerShakes” recipe is: a) enough dry milk to make 1 Qt; b) a scoop of Whey protein powder (sometimes two); c)a few tablespoons of Nesquik for flavoring—that’s it!  This recipe makes one liter of cold delicious drink—just put the mixture in cold water & shake up then drink it.  Three PowerShakes a day gets me about 1500 calories more than half my diet—the rest of my diet I get from munching at every break on the other stuff: dry cereal, Fritos, candy bars, breakfast bars, nuts, raisins, coconut, pop tarts, tortillas, peanut butter, jelly, cheese, pepperoni—gee whiz just writing this makes my mouth water!  I say, “If you want to cook, start cooking on your tenth backpacking trip”—if you’re starting out, go simple at first. For me no-cook saves time, fuss, and all kinds of weight in your pack. (However if you ignore this and bring your stove, pot and fuel I hope you make me some hot chocolate on that chilly mornings! Recently I used the JetBoil on a hike and was impressed—but not enough to go back from dry food.)

___Water containers-always. You need 2 one-liter Gatorade® bottles or wide mouth 1-liter coke bottles. Maybe three at the most.  If you are rich or going out for more than 300 miles (or in the desert) try getting a collapsible "Platypus" which will set you back fifteen bucks or more to get about the same weight as a Gatorade bottle, but it collapses flat while not using it. Forget expensive  Nalgene containers--they are for people who pretend to be outdoorish (though if you are mountaineering and it is going to be below zero they are required because you can put boiling water in them).  In the east on the Appalachian Trail you need to be able to carry 2-3 liters at the most.  In the California desert you may need far more (there are places on the PCT in the Mojave where you need to be able to carry 9 liters of water between the springs which are 40 miles apart—nine liters is about 18 pounds of water!) But normally two liters or at most three are enough

___Spoon-always.  Cook or no-cook I take a spoon.  If I’m no-cook I stick a box of crackers in a plastic bag and crush them before carrying them on the trail—they get crushed anyway so I just beat the pack to it and crush them myself.  Then for snacks I get out several of these bags and eat them with my spoon—discovering what they are by taste though not sight. Using your fingers invites the transfer of virus and bacteria to your food and mouth.  While the hot-cookers are still cleaning out their pots I’m on the next pass drinking in the views. (as you can see backpacking isn’t really “camping” it is hiking.  I use an expensive ($15) titanium spoon that is not really any better than a spoon from Wendys® --(though if you eat Peanut Butter in the cold a backup plastic spoon may be smart—plastic spoons invariably break the third day).

___FOOD—of course.  I take about 1 pound of food per day—no more, but younger folk sometimes take 1 ½ pounds a day and if the hiker has absolutely zero “stored fat” something two pounds per day.  It all depends on how much “spare food” you already carry around your waist.  The first month I’m out backpacking I get 1500-2000 calories a day from my pack and another 1500-2000 from my waist.  I usually lose about ¾ pound a day when backpacking.  After a month I have to carry almost two pound of food a day.  Some hikers do short 4-5 day trips with no food at all like John Muir did regularly but I’ve never been able to go longer than a day or two without food.  I do however take no food for the final day out—ever.  I carefully plan to have no food left the final day walking into town (or to my car on a shorter trip).  Being hungry for one day is a good experience!   The primary thing to remember about food and backpacking is “food is fuel.”   At the resupply stores you see backpackers acting like they’re in the library—reading the backs of food containers to add up the calories until they get their quota for the following week.   Where you really get the sensuous food-eating experience is not on the trail, but once a week or so in a resupply town—and the more you’ve adopted the “food-is-fuel” philosophy on the trail the better those three Pizzas per-person will taste in town!


TOTAL  WEIGHT   My own pack including all the above (excluding food/water) weighs about 5-6 pounds, including the pack.  That sounds light—but consider this.  If I have seven days to make it to the next town/re-supply point I’ve got to add seven pounds of food to that—now I’m 14 pounds.  And if I’m starting out in the morning and the first water is a half-day away I’ll be adding 2 liters of water/4 pounds to that and presto—now my pack weighs 15 pounds.  A pack should never weigh more than 20 pounds.  If your pack weighs more than 20 pounds leaving town with water and food-you lose.

On the other hand, on that 7-day trek, the final morning after I’ve eaten all my food that week, I’m now headed into the next town foodless all day, and I’m walking down a stream all day thus needing to carry no water…  so I’m carrying only 5-6 pounds going down hill with two XXL pizzas waiting for me at the end of that 20 mile day…watch me speed!


Other stuff some take

?___UNDERWEAR. many thru hikers—both men and women--don't wear 'em, figuring they only retain moisture and invite rashes. If you do, you'll want some that wicks away moisture. Sometime I’ve worn silk boxers.  You have to make the call here and nobody will know what you’ve decided unless you tell on yourself.


?___FLIP-FLOPS/SANDALS I don't take these to save weight, but many hikers carry them, especially those who wear heavier hiking shoes—to give their feet a chance to rest at night or for a quick trip to the bathroom. I take the insoles out of my sneakers and wear the sneakers in the evening…my warm feet then dry them in a hour or so. Another advantage of sandals is for river crossings--otherwise you get wet feet and have to "walk them dry" the rest of the day. I just ford rivers in an extra pair of socks. However remember in hiking most of the time is spent… well, hiking.  Walking.  The long evenings you imagine (from car camping) don’t happen to backpackers much.  They take their long lounging time during the day when it is warm and the sun is shining.  Even “supper” is eaten along the trail before more walking.  Most good backpackers walk right up to the moment of darkness (often sometimes until an hour or more after dark—the game we often play is to see how long we can walk before turning on a light or giving up).  When hikers arrive at camp what do they do?  They find a place for their tarp and set it up, roll out their sleeping bag crawl in it go to sleep all within about ten minutes.  Most serious backpackers do their “campfire chats” in the pleasant afternoon breaks not in camp.    If you want a long evening snuggled around a campfire chatting and telling stories go car camping.  If you like long breaks, many-a-day gathered around a stream or an overlook chatting, laughing and telling stories throughout the day then backpacing is your thing.

?___Pee bottle.  Many men hikers (and almost all men over 60) carry an extra bottle dedicated to keeping them from having to get up several times in the middle of the night and make a stumbling trip out into the dark. 

?___ Walking Sticks  I have a wonderful pair—but I seldom use them except on the Appalachian Trail.  You don’t need them in the West, and if you go light enough.  However, if you carry more than 20 pounds, have weak ankles, or bad knees, or are walking in the treeless desert and need them for tent poles they are a wonderful addition.  Some folk swear by them (see below). I used to love them but eventually came to reject the notion of carrying something weighing two pounds that was supposed to make walking easier! But I do carry them on the Appalachian Trail,  route designed by the Devil to kill you.

Keith Drury, Indiana Wesleyan University  

Other helpful pages

·      Caring for your FEET while walking

·      Studies on water treatment



(Other views on the above list by experienced backpackers)

Commentary by Burt Webb

(Biology professor, Indiana Wesleyan University


1. Shelter - I am slowly becoming a tarp convert, but there have been several nights in bug-infested regions of southern Washington and on very stormy nights on the Knobstone that I have been thankful for my Clip-flashlight CD tent. Weighs more than my tarp 36 oz compared to 12, but there are occasionally reasons that I like it.


2. Shoes - ok, I am a techie - I liked the NB 803 and the 804, but after that the NB company moved away from good tread and toward the mass market of high school and college campuses. So, my new favorites are the Nike Air Zoom Steens and Air Teochalli shoes. In addition to hiking I am a pretty active trail runner (30 - 70 miles/week) which makes me REALLY picky about my shoes. I am with Coach D though on Superfeet, they cost $20+ but are worth every penny!


3. Bag - I am saving for a Marmot Helium as we speak.


4. Pack - GoLite all the way.


5. NuSkin - I gave up on the duct tape and athletic tape last year. nuSkin is light and stays stuck longer than the others.


6. Platypus - My pack has a built-in Platypus hydration system. I love it and have stayed more hydrated with it that without it. Worth the weight.


7. Socks - I like Smartwool all the time - but I prefer the light hikers or low-cut runner socks.


8. Hat - Tilley, a little more expensive - mine was a gift - but worth it! Sheds water better than anything I have ever had.


9. Hiking poles - a toss-up. I sometimes hike with them, but often don't. For me, it depends on how much descent there will be on the hike. I can climb with no problem, but going down my knees need the support of poles.


10. Shirt - I am becoming a longsleeve devotee. Always drifit or similar fabric, but a cool good-fitting long sleeve shirt protects your skin from UV without being too hot.


11. Gloves - I almost always carry drilite gloves. They keep my hands warm on cool mornings and cold evenings.


12. Food - I NEVER COOK on the trail. I had my last pot-full of mushy mac and cheese 4 years ago and  have never gone back. I use backpacking as my opportunity to defy every eating rule that I keep during the regular year. Chocolate every day! Chips, bagels, huge hunks of cheese and sausage! More Chocolate in the form of cookies and candy bars and hard candies! Sugary drinks like powdered Gatorade and cool-aid and the High calorie protein shakes. Not the itchy kind sold at Wal-mart, but the good ones that Coach and I created several years ago. They are Tasty and almost enough to live o without anything else!


13. Fitness - It is possible to jump out of the car and hike 18 - 24 miles a day, but to do it, you must be pretty fit all the time. Here are my recommendations:

* Run - 30 - 60 minutes each day with one longer run each week 1.5 - 2 hours.

* Stair climber or Elliptical runner (set at maximum incline) 20 - 40 minutes a day 3 weeks prior to hike

* Weight training - especially back and shoulders, but some leg work helps too.

* Gut work - the best, hands down is: the inverted bicycle ride - lay flat on your back, hands behind head, hips flat on the ground, and work your legs like you are riding a bike. Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds and work up from there.


14. Medicine -  I have a small zip-lock bag that coach calls my mini-pharmacy. I have everything from imodium to ciprofloxacin... but only enough to get us out of the woods. Just a few of each. Be sure you know which is which!


15. Camera - go mini digital; one per group is usually enough. Carry one with a big memory card that can take short videos, and give it to your most picture happy hiker. Keep it handy so you can take pics quickly.


16. Bodyglide - if you are prone to chaffing, and you know who you are - get a mini tube of Bodyglide. It is, hands down, the best body lubricant I have ever used. That is speaking from hundreds of long runs, 7 marathons, and (very soon) my first Ultra.


17. Persistence - you must have inner strength and the ability keep going even when you feel like quitting.





Commentary by Kerry Kind

Here are my equipment comments, especially related to the Knobstone Trail.  It is not really a list, because Keith’s equipment list, complete with explanations, is the best you’ll see anywhere.  I don’t disagree with a thing he says, but I will still end up taking an extra thing or two beyond what he takes. 


For example, I do better with the trekking poles on the Knobstone trail, I believe for several reasons: 

1)     Each foot experiences close to 50,000 impacts on the Knobstone alone—in just 44 miles! The trekking poles lessen the force of each step, distributing the impact so your upper body shares in some of the work.  I was able to go farther in a day.  This also contributes to fewer problems with hot spots and blisters.

2)     When you are walking a long level stretch, you may feel that the trekkers are superfluous.  But there aren’t many of those on the KS.  The poles come into their own when you are climbing, helping to take some of the burn from your thighs, and when you are descending, helping to reduce the impact to your feet.

3)     My first knobber, I fell down on a slippery creek bank my first night, landed on my left arm at an awkward angle, and dislocated my shoulder.  It popped back in right away, but that arm was pretty useless for the rest of the hike.  Last Easter, I used the trekking poles for the first time.  There were a number of times, especially on steep descents, that it was definitely safer using the poles, and a couple of times they literally seemed to save me from a dangerous slip.


I am heavier and clumsier than most perhaps, but that’s why the trekkers are for me.


I use an unbreakable plastic spoon.  You can get one for about a dollar at Dick’s, I think, and it is super lightweight, maybe even lighter than Keith’s titanium spoon. 


My shoes are New Balance 806 trail runners.  It may be that you can’t get them anymore, but newer lines may be similar.  I would not set foot on the trail with anything else.  They have traction, durability, they dry quickly, and most important, comfortable.  Get a size that gives you sock room.  I wear two socks:  Fox River sock liners next to my skin, and then SmartWool Lite Hikers.  The SmartWool socks are extremely durable, they are warm even when wet, they are cushiony comfortable, and they dry quickly enough on the outside of your pack.  The Smart part is they way they wick moisture away from your feet.  So I wear one set and bring a spare set of each.


Yeah, I do the duct tape thing on “hot spots.”  It works.  I will probably bring a few commercial blister pads, as well.  Not because I expect to use them, but someone else on the trail with me will be having a problem because they brought the wrong shoes.  I have been there, so I bring the pads so I can give them away and maybe give someone a lift. 


Scripture is always appropriate.  I should just memorize long passages ahead of time and practice them on the trail.  That isn’t me, though.  Instead, I’ll prayerfully select a few passages ahead of time for devotions, reduce them down and then print them on the back of Keith’s trail data sheet for this event. 


I took a cell phone on my last KS hike, but should not have.  I thought it might be good for getting weather information and for the potential serious emergency.  I got weather forecasts a couple of times, but several times when I tried to get a signal I couldn’t get one even on roaming.  There aren’t many towers around there; it is very rural.  Wasted weight.


I use a flexible water container that has a tube that attaches to it.  Mine is called a Dromedary, and it will hold 4+ liters, though I don’t need to fill it on the KS.  I put it in the top of my pack and bring the tube loosely around my side and it has a clip which secures to the chest strap of my pack.  The end of the tube has a pinch valve that I can squeeze with my teeth and suck water out whenever I want a sip, which is pretty often.  I think it is important to stay hydrated by drinking pretty steadily.  And you won’t want to stop every mile and take a bottle out to get swig or two.  I bring a thin plastic one-liter water bottle as a backup, and to mix power shakes or sun tea in.


For a sleeping pad, I use the ThermaRest.  I use the lightest weight one, 16 ounces.  It is inflatable so you are on an air cushion.  This one is only 1 inch thick and ¾ length and stuffs into a small space.  I tried the hard Ridgerest first and took it on a couple of hikes, including Montana.  I would get up in the morning with my back hurting.  I sometimes have problems with my back.  When I tried the ThermaRest, no back problem!  So that is why it is worth it for me.


First aid:  I bring a little bit of Neosporin ointment to put on cuts and scrapes, to reduce chances of an infection.  The bandana will work as a bandage or a sling, if those are needed.  Most first aid is knowledge, not supplies, right, doc?  Medications, though: as someone who had a heart attack a few years ago, I will carry aspirins and nitroglycerin.  And I’ll bring some pain medication in case my back acts up. 


I don’t have much to say beyond Keith’s exhaustive list.  He’s so right on clothes and the Big Three and shoes, etc.  Actually I think it is Big Four with four being the right shoes. 


All for now,