When I was 21, I went on my first backpacking trip in Montana. Sure, I had done plenty of day hiking and camping with my family since … well, pretty much birth … but never on my own for multiple days. So, in 2002, I decided it was time to finally join the infamous Glacier National Park Trip that my father hosted every other year since 1978. It is hard to explain these trips to anyone who didn’t go on one with my dad, but just know that pretty much my whole life lovingly revolved around discussing, preparing, training, reminiscing, and planning for these adventures in the beautiful Montana mountains.
For 21 years I had been getting advice on how to backpack, what to bring, and how to bring it. But somewhere in the excitement, I failed to realize that you don’t compound that knowledge into a 75 pound backpack of stuff you “might need someday”. I took the recommended packing list and BROUGHT. IT. ALL. And then some. Extra food, 2 kinds of flashlights, 2 extra canisters of fuel, flannel pants for lounge-wear, jeans for when in town, a towel, a hand towel, a face towel … you get it. I was young and naive, but I learned a lot from that trip and have been fine-tuning my clothing needs since.
The Clothing category here is a representation of what I think is the absolute bare minimum clothes to stay warm, clean, and content. It would be possible to bring less and live off what is worn on my body for 5 months, but I consider most of these to be “must-haves” for staying healthy and happy on the trail. Combined, it comes to just 3 lbs and many are actually dual-purpose to meet other needs that I still “might need someday”. Hello Neiman!
And now, this week’s political questions:
Fleece or Puffy Jacket. A down jacket can be a lifesaver in the cold but is absolutely worthless in the rain. Even if covered by a rain jacket, the down will eventually soak from your perspiration, and once down is wet it is useless until dry again. So many opt for a Fleece Jacket instead, trading warmth factor for durability in wet conditions. I am torn. So for now, I am breaking a cardinal rule and bringing .. both. I prefer the fleece, knowing I can wrap the quilt around me at night if cold … but I know I am also going in early March and need guaranteed warmth. I’ll test this out during my prep hike later this month, but even though both are crazy light, I may need to drop one. Ugh, tough call.
Rain Jacket, Poncho, Pants, Skirt. This was never a question. If you have ever hiked for hours on end in the rain, you know there is nothing that will keep you dry. But I’m much happier in a lightweight jacket than a poncho. And as for pants, I’m in no mood to drench my bottom half in sweat too. I’ve never used one but picked up a rain skirt that is a great way to stay dry and comfortable on the trail. Super lightweight item and better multi-function use.
Clothing Stuff Sack. I mentioned before that I’m not a fan of the dry sacks people use these days. It’s hard to get all the air out for smaller packing, and they tend to break or annoy me over time. All my clothing will instead be in this tightly closed Sea to Summit Ultra-Syl stuff sack. The 9L bag weighs less than an ounce and holds everything (except wet rain gear stored in the outside mesh pocket of my pack). And yep, it’s orange.
Rain Jacket. I just upgraded my raincoat to the popular Outdoor Research Helium II. This jacket has no pockets or pit zips, but the trade-off is that it shaves half a pound off from my previous North Face coat. No pit zips could be a serious problem for perspiration, but at only 6.4 ounces, it’s worth taking the risk. Many thru-hikers used this in previous years, and stand by their recommendation afterwards. Also, this will be 1/2 of my outfit when in town while mwashing clothes.
Rain Skirt/Ground Sheet. As mentioned above, the EE Rain Skirt is a great alternative to pants. It will keep you mostly dry while also letting your legs breath. This is one of those gear items I’ll likely not get to test until on the trail, but along with the Helium II is a recommended option for those that want something, but not everything. This completes the other 1/2 of my town outfit. I’m going to look studly walking around trail towns with this “hiker tuxedo” but my modus operandi is always function over fashion. In addition, this will act as a ground sheet below my hammock or at camp if needed for anything.
Thermals Top and Bottom. Nothing fancy here, just good quality REI Co-Op Base Layer Top and Bottoms. This polyester long underwear is super warm and has a nice half-zip on the top for when it’s too toasty. After dinner, I’ll be changing into these as my “night clothes” to hopefully keep all food odors out of my hammock at night.
Extra Skivvies. Instead of bringing an extra pair of underwear, I’ll be sporting these lovely Nike Running Shorts with built-in liner. On hot days, they are great to hike in, and on any other day they have multi-function as underwear, swimsuit, and shorts. Great piece of gear for anyone hiking in warmer weather.
Extra Wool Socks. One pair of socks will not cut it. With 2 pairs, I can
always usually guarantee I have a dry pair of Smartwool Socks to put on. Cold nights get them at night, cold days get them as gloves, and when needed … they can actually be used for hiking as well. 🙂
Extra Bandana. I already shared my political and spiritual choice to switch to a Buff, but I secretly knew I was bringing this extra bandana too. This bandana will act as towel, washcloth, napkin, and more. There are 3 certainties in my life: death, taxes, and orange bandanas.
Fleece Jacket. It’s a bit heavy at 12 ounces, but the Patagonia M1 Fleece Hoody is great. As discussed above, I’m still torn on this, but I know I like to wrap it around my waist when I’m hiking, so it could technically be counted as “on body”. But this sweatshirt is reaaaaaaally comfortable for just about any purpose when camping, and it’s going to be really hard to go without it.
Puff Jacket. I picked up the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer about 50% off earlier this year in anticipation of this trip … but also because why would anyone turn down 50% on this jacket?? It is a great coat. Insanely light at 7.7 ounces and really really warm in the cold. I used this walking around Vancouver a couple weeks ago and was extremely comfortable. I don’t know how to choose between this and the fleece, so damnit, I’m just not going to. If weather permits, I’ll send this home after Damascus and then pick it up again in the Whites.