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Hiking: Planning My Backpacking Come Back

Updated: Oct 12, 2020

More than twenty years ago now, I took my first back-packing trip in the depths of the Costa Rica jungle. It was glorious, life-transforming, and the challenge of a lifetime. It was also my last back-packing trip.

My second decade of life was a little life-transforming as well. I married a man who has autism, had a few babies (a few of them with autism), began my nursing career, and returned to university for a few more degrees. I also traumatically lost one of my beloved children and poured my heart and soul into creating a midwifery practice in his honor. I served, sacrificed, grieved, and forgot to care for myself. I disconnected with not just hiking and even nature, but I lost tract of who I was entirely.

Now, into my fourth decade, I've embarked very mindfully on another life-transforming journey - a healing journey in rediscovering what is authentic to me. I've been digging in and reconnecting with all the loves of my childhood: #nature being among the greatest of all my passions. The kids and I have jumped in creeks all over the state, toured horse farms, and hiked many, many trails throughout all of our beautiful Indiana state parks. We also created a nature park in our backyard (this was our pandemic project) and walked #barefoot every single day. (I shouldn't admit that I've also collected more than 100 #houseplants.)

My next adventure, later this month, is to complete a three-day, two-night back-packing wonder. Eek! If you follow me on Instagram or our Eden facebook page, you're already aware that my longest, more recent hiking trips have only been about seven miles in length. Neither of these included my backpack. I don't even own a backpack.

I am not often easily intimidated, but remember that Costa Rica trip I mentioned? I almost died and I was fit and young then. In the event you are reconnecting with your authentic self, and nature is part of that, I thought I would share my findings with you in preparation for this great adventure. I also believe hiking is one of the best forms of physical fitness as it is remarkably #grounding.

Shelter: The Most Important Investment

This includes your hiking boots, your sleeping gear, and your clothing. Each of these have evolved greatly from my Costa Rica hike (although I am still hiking even today in the same boots and socks I wore all those many years ago). It seems there are so many more bells and whistles to hiking gear available today. Which are the most critical? What I wish I had given much greater attention, is the need to be warm at night and to pack light. Admittedly, when I planned my hike out of the jungle, I left behind more than half my gear for the Indians to utilize in whatever way they may see fit. I have visions of them straining their soup in my $50 nursing bras and laughing at all the rolls of toilet paper I thought would be vital to my success.

There seem to be about three or four basic options for purchasing a portable shelter. Among those options is where it gets intense, as there are literally hundreds of possibilities. If you're talented, you can find plans and purchase the materials, and craft your own. The easiest may be permanent shelter, such as the shelters found along the Appalachian trail. Keep in mind, these also shelter rodents and all other hikers sharing the trail. If you choose to carry your shelter, it seems you can choose from a tent, a tarp, or a hammock.

The tent offers complete privacy and bug protection. Depending on your tent, you may also achieve wind and rain protection. The design, weight, and cost varies significantly, as well as the complexities of each. Tents are the heaviest of shelter options and finding an inexpensive tent that weighs very little and still offers space doesn't seem to be super probable. What I have learned is it is incredibly important to keep the tent as lightweight as possible. It is one of the biggest items in your pack so offers one of the biggest opportunities to save weight. Trust me, your back will appreciate it.

Ultralight seems to be the new standard for all backpackers. They are lightweight without sacrificing comfort, space, or durability. The one person tent is generally about two pounds and a two person ultralight tent is about three pounds. Go simple. Avoid complex designs that require more poles and guylines. Simple designs are not only faster and easier, but generally more durable. Make sure it is easy to get in and out of by checking where the support frame is located.

Door count and location is also important, especially if you plan to share your tent. These doors should be side-opening so you can step right into your space in the tent. Doors at the end are okay, but it is much simpler to just step right into your space. Headspace is another consideration. You don't need a palace, but you don't want a coffin either. Waiting all day for a storm to pass in a tiny cocoon can be miserable. Look for a tent with a spreader bar in the ceiling, which expand the headroom area so you can sit up and move around without touching the top of the tent. They add minimal weight, but maximize space. Ideally, you want a tent that you can sit up in, but this bivvy tent lets you read and semi-sit up in them.

I wasn't clear in the difference between freestanding verses non-freestanding tents, but this I what I learned. Freestanding are more traditional and come with a framework of poles and keep the tent standing upright. They use stakes and guylines for stability but they are not reliant on them to stand. These can be set up anywhere and are stable. They are are also very fast to set up without requiring intricate webbings of guylines or stakes to tie down.

The non-freestanding tents or trekking pole tents are ultralight because they've ditched the poles. They assume you'll have your own trekking poles so use these as the support, but trekking poles aren't flexible so these tents end up more rectangular than dome-shaped. Guylines and stakes are required for it to stand, so they can be a little more complicated to set up. Finding good ground to stake them down and constantly tweaking the lines for optimal tension can be a hassle. Another point, you need the right size poles. The best trekking poles are adjustable, allowing you to pitch the tent at its maximum height. When you take down the tent, you can then collapse the poles for walking. These tents are lightweight, down even to a pound. They are compact so you'll have more space in your pack. They are also affordable. Another common type of tent is the semi-freestanding tent. These use the poles that hold up part of the tent, but need to be staked down to secure the entire tent. The Nemo Hornet Elite is a favorite.

Still more to consider though... single verses double wall. A tent may have walls which are tarp-like which is a barrier for rain or a mesh-like wall used as an enclosure to keep out bugs. A single-walled shelter is typically the tarp-like wall so they are light, fast, and compact. Without the extra wall, these can be really light. A double-walled shelter is usually the combination of both the tarp-like wall and the mesh-like wall. The advantage is the double-walled tents keep you completely dry. If you are backpacking the Appalachian trail and every single ounce matters, choose a one person tent, but otherwise a one-to-two person tent is the preference.

Material is yet another consideration, whether nylon or dyneema. Silnylon and Dyneema are the most common types of materials used for backpacking tent fabrics and both are great for their intended function - repelling the elements. Dyneema is a high-tech fabric that looks and feels like it was meant for space exploration. It is great for its strength-to-weight ratio. It will weigh less and be a little stronger than its silnylon rival; however, silynylon is much more affordable but needs very gentle handling so it doesn't rip.

Here are a few good options:

  • Big Agnes FlyCreek HV UL for one or two, at about 20 square feet, weighing two pounds and one ounce at $330 for one or $390 for two. This one is right up at the top of the list. They are durable and light enough to compete with non-freestanding tents. I really appreciate that the three sections of poles are all connected and collapse into a single 10" long bundle. The double-wall design is superior in keeping you dry and airy enough to ventilate. There are a handful of guylines to stake down which makes setup a breeze. The guylines also have reflectors so you don't trip over them at night - genius! The front vestibule is one of the most spacious, plenty of room to store your pack; however, this one does not have side doors.

  • Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL for one or two, at 19 square feet, weighing two pounds and three ounces at $350 for one person and $391 for two people. The side doors and the vestibules are the most awesome aspects of this tent. The side doors are fabulous for getting in and out of the tent. These doors also resulted in better ventilation. This tent is a little tight but also a smidge taller. The vestibule is also significantly larger.

  • GOSSAMER GEAR The One and The Two for one or two at 18.3 square feet, weighing one pound five ounces for $299 one-person and $389 for two person. This tent is beautiful. There isn't too much to complain about here. It has good weight, good internal space, good price, good ventilation, good vestibule storage, and two side doors. Set up is rather easy and straightforward. It is a non-freestanding tent however, so subject to those cons. This one also isn't available until mid-November.

  • ZPACKS Plexamid and Duplex for one or two for 15.5 ounces, at 21 square feet, for $555 for one person and $599 for two-person. Did you see the weight on this one? This one is durable, packs tiny, has high interior ceilings and big side-doors for easy access. The roof is single walled so inseparable, and it does have quite a few stakes and guylines. This one wins with weight but you pay for it in awkward design and lack of simplicity.

  • SIX MOON DESIGNS Lunar for one or two, at one pound ten ounces, for 31 square feet for $200. This one has lots of room and is easy to set up, but carry some seam sealer with you as the durability isn't incredibly high and there certainly is risk of the seams leaking.

  • Nemo Hornet 2 Tent allows stargazing and privacy, with two doors, weighing 2 pounds, 6 ounces at 27.5 square feet. Available in one person and two person. Has both bug and rainproof cover. Single pole Lifetime warranty. $370

  • Eureka one person tent with a two pole tunnel design is a very easy set up. Weights 2 pounds and 10 ounces. Twenty-one foot square foot inside.

The tarp is simple, spacious, and lightweight but requires separate poles and a bug net. They don't offer privacy either.

  • TARPTENT ProTrail and MoTrail for one or two, at 21 square feet, weighing one pound at 10 ounces at $199 for one person and $265 for two person. Tarptent is known to make the bes silnylon, non-freestanding tents. This is a minimalist tent. It is very durable, doesn't come with poles, and is affordable. Spacious and easy to set up. Single walled and ultralight.

  • Rainbow is another popular tarptent

  • Gossamer has a SpinnTwinn two person tarp that weighs only 8 ounces which has excellent reviews as well, but again, no bug protection

Hammocks are a low impact shelter that doesn't require flat ground, but they do require two strong trees that are at just the right spacing from each other. It seems they would be the most comfortable of the three options, that is if you aren't a stomach or side sleeper, and they may offer overnight opportunities that tents would not, such as along a rocky cliff or even in a wetter hillside. I am hoping I can squeeze in a hammock just to lounge in during the day. Insulation may be necessary on cooler nights. If you choose a hammock, with these straps, you have less than a pound of carrying weight.

  • This option, the Ridge Outdoor, looks incredible if you are committed to sleeping in it overnight. The really cool thing about this hammock is you can hang it so you can sleep flat. It includes a mosquito net, which is also removable. This one is made from Dynalon and can be set up in one minute. 400# weight limit at 32 ounces itself, with suspension.

  • Since I am wanting a hammock more for fun while on the hike, I want something super light and I found this tiny little hummingbird hammock. Check it out! It weighs less than a lemon and packs smaller than a coffee cup. Holds up to 300 pounds and is designed by a parachute rigger. It weighs 5.2 ounces itself. The hummingbird single+ is longer and wider for increased comfort. A hummingbird double is also available. Hummingbird ultralight tree straps are light at only 2.1 ounces and reviews are good. They're adjustable, quick to set up, and built to hold up to 400 pounds. There are no tree straps included, so make sure to pick this up.

I am less familiar with a bivy/bivvy/bivi, but am intrigued. As I understand, these are essentially a water resistant bag into which one puts their sleeping bag. Bivies are rather light (less than a pound) and maybe comparable to a rain jacket for your sleeping bag. There is just enough of an opening to crawl in your sleeping bag and get comfortable. The downside is you are closed in like being in a coffin so changing clothes in the rain may be a little difficult. The upside is they save significant weight you'd otherwise have to carry along your hike. These too come in a variety of options beyond the basic bivy, adding a face-lift which uses a hoop to keep the top off your face so you can read at night or check your phone. Bug nets are yet another option when choosing the bivy. Keep in mind, an ultralight tent is about two pounds.

There is also the option of sleeping in open air which may be perfect if you don't live in Indiana where the mosquitos will eat you as a snack and the weather changes from minute to minute, but this option does allow you to just throw down a sleeping pad and rest your tired head. If you do purchase shelter, don't forget to consider fabric, stitching, and coating. Check reviews. Expect weather. Double check weights.

Oh... but look what I found... as I researched hiking shelters and then reviewed the packing list I was provided, a sleeping pad was encouraged rather than any of the above options! This leads me down another interesting path of shelter options and now I am even more intrigued! The Big Agnes sleeping pad seems incredibly cool, especially with this bottomless sleeping bag, and honestly, I've learned the hard way that a difficult night's sleep makes for a much harder hike the next day. These may be well worth their weight, which is significant at about three pounds for just the pad and then another three pounds for the sleeping bag. I am thinking these don't need a bivvy?

The Sierra Designs Wicked goose 800 down spring/fall sleeping bag is only about $150 and also comes recommended by a hiker who just completed the AT. It is rated to 30 degrees and weighs about 1.4 lbs. This bag was marked down $100 and is currently out of stock so may not be available any longer. I will mention this again because it was such a huge issue for me: check the temperature rating on your bag. Many thru-hikers begin the Appalachian trail at the beginning of March so it's still getting quite cold. This Zpack is rated down to 10 degrees, and keep in mind, this is a survival rating, not a comfort rating.

The Kylmet sleeping pad was recommended to me by two different people. It is comparable in price and lower in weight than the previous option, but isn't suited for backless or ultralight sleeping bags. Rather, you use it within or under your sleeping bag. I understand that the pad has been completely updated and is a far superior product than it was even last year. The Ensolite sleeping pad, also sold as the REI sleeping pad, is another recommended pad that doesn't need inflating and is only about $5 to $10. This one is incredibly light and lasts forever; however, some say that those are for people who are ultra tough, and the more expensive options are well worth their investment, such as the NeoAir Xlite.

You're not going to believe this... but I just stumbled across yet another amazing option for sleeping gear - the quilt. I didn't really explain above, but when you sleep on your bag, the insulation below you is compressed so it hasn't any real ability to warm you; therefore, companies have started eliminating the back portion of the sleeping bag and created a fitted bag around the sleeping pad. The quilt is similar in that it is made of down but they don't fit around your face and head. In the cooler season you may want a down cap, but in the cooler seasons, it is easier to breathe with the quilt or kick your legs out. Some advise picking up a very thin liner to keep your quilt cleaner.

  • The UGQ Bandit seems to be the winner, but they are more expensive than the open back sleeping bags. The bandit is one of the least expensive quilts however, but the quality is superb. This particular quilt is the lightest one available, but are about a pound-and-a-half to two pounds. This one has pad straps and you can create a footbox. These are made to order so essentially custom fit which means I can't provide you with many tech specs. They are rated from 0 degrees F to 50 degrees F. Temperature control seems to be the key here. They also come in about fifteen different colors.

  • Here is a micro bag liner I found on amazon to include if you are opting for the quilt sleeping gear. It's about $20 and easier to wash and replace than either your sleeping bag or your quilt. Honestly with an open back sleeping bag, this might be nice anyway, sort of like having sheets on your bed.

  • Here is a much less expensive liner than the one mentioned above, which I discovered randomly on amazon so have received no recommendations for this one. It is only $40 though, weighing only 14.5 ounces. It has an R-value of 2.2 which keeps you nice and toasty down to 40 degrees F. I hadn't thought about the chemical smell on these pads, which would be a huge issue for me. This particular pad says it lacks this smell and doesn't have noise, which may also wake me.

If you go this route, you'll want a pillow and this Klymit Pillow X Inflatable was recommended, particularly because it has the four chambers allowing your head to fall right into the middle. It sells for about $17 on amazon.

Now let's talk hiking boots. Again, the options are wide. Waterproof seems a clear must for me, but this isn't apparently an overwhelming consensus. I feel like this made a huge difference for me in Costa Rica and I've hiked in the same boots and soaks all summer and haven't had any difficulty at all. My ankles are well supported and my feet stay dry. I've heard arguments for shorter shoes, more similar to tennis shoes and even barefoot shoes, and of course, the standard hiking boot.

  • Keen boots are popular.

  • Salomon's trail blazers are the most popular on the AT.

  • Brooks Cascadia 13 or 15 Trail Running shoes have been recommended. I am a fan of less is more, so wonder if I might prefer the running shoes over the boots, but having only ever hiked in boots, I do appreciate the stability they offer my ankles.

  • Teva strap on shoes were popular for camp shoes.

Update: With more research and a little more experience hiking, I've developed a new opinion on the hiking boots. See this blog post for a little more discussion.

Good quality socks are also incredibly important and again, many recommendations here.

  • Smartwool and Injinji liners (toe socks to prevent toe blisters) seem to be among the more popular.

  • Darn Tough socks were also receiving several recommendations for hiking, and are fancy. Pack at least one extra pair, but consider two extra.

  • Wool socks would be great when sleeping.

  • Marino wool running socks for Tall People were recommended for those whose shoes rub their ankles. These are inexpensive, about $15 for three pair. Wool dries quickly as well.

When it comes to clothing, there are again, many thoughts here. I overheat easily and if I am being honest, I am quite picky about what touches my skin. I'd rather be comfortable and look weird, than look cool and have scratchy material that rubs my skin in a way that gives me chills just thinking about it. I am also not a big fan of sunscreen so prefer to have a very light weight sun hoodie with sleeves and shorts or yoga pants (sun gloves). Most often I hike in a tank top as I appreciate the sun as I get breaks in the trees and then have some shelter again in the more wooded areas, but I am very mindful of my exposure. I get frequent sun on my skin for shorter periods so that I have a consistent tan and lots of vitamin D, but not the infrequent, long exposure circumstances which cause burns that are not just painful, but increase risk for skin cancer. There is always a happy balance here, but if I can avoid sun screen, I do. In fact, I haven't used it for several years now.

Purchasing running shorts with underwear included allows for less packing. These can be easily cleaned in the stream and hung to dry when at camp. Athleta bras have been recommended for those who need more support, and many have shared a recommendation for these sport bras. I've also had a hiker tell me I was really naive for wearing shorts when hiking because of brush or bites, which may be true, but I am not certain pants would keep the bugs away and shorts do help with temperature regulation.

North Face Dryzzle Hooded Jackets have been recommended for about $160. These breathe well and add a layer in cooler weather, as does the Patagonia Nano Puff jacket for $200. This is very light weight but will really keep you warm too. I like this Arc'teryz zip neck as well, and some have recommended this one for sleeping. This is another top recommended for sleeping. Here is a down hooded jacket from Mountain Hardwear. Patagonia also offers pants which can be slipped over shorts to keep warm or help reduce but bites and these pants from Arc'teryz have also been recommended for hiking.

If hiking in colder weather, which is far more popular than I would have anticipated, you want to think of your clothing preparation different. A fleece jacket and down shirt may be helpful. Smart wool leggings can add extra warmth. Winter gloves and a neck gator may also be necessary depending where and when you are hiking, and a beanie and NRS Neoprene booties. Ice cleats as well. Here are some possum down gloves.

When I was hiking in Costa Rica it was nice and warm during the day but incredibly cold at night. I was miserable! I'll never forget how horrible it was to sleep being that cold and exhausted. Next time, I think I'll be sure I have dry sleeping clothes which are different from my hiking clothes. Being dry and warm should make a huge difference in my overall hike. As I research in preparation for hiking the Appalachian trail, most have shared that it was really cold at night that first month they hiked so would recommend a sleeping bag with a higher down, 800 or above, and one rated to lower temperatures, because if rated to 20, that means you'll survive, but not that you'll be comfortable. This makes all the difference in my opinion.

I am told that many who hike the AT or thru-hikers only take one pair of clothing and then wear their rain gear (top and bottoms) without underwear at the laundry mat in town. This discussion however, what to wear when thru-hiking is a little different than what to wear when planning for a day hike. Rain though is a significant consideration. Rain skirts are mentioned in many blog and YouTube testimonials, but umbrellas are also on the "wish I had known" list for many hikers. Cheap and lightweight, and not just for rain, but also sun protection. Don't forget your hat and/or bandana.

Clean Water

Filtering your water while on a hike is imperative. I think I mentioned when in Costa Rica, one of my mates did end up with some sort of bacterial or intestinal issue and had horrendous diarrhea on our way out of the jungle. What a tough journey for him! There are a few options here. I carried a water bottle and had a separate filter back then, and it seems among our group there was a great bit of range in quality. I am now learning more about water bladders and camelbacks, and it seems that if going on a trail run or day hike the camelpack is an excellent option as it better distributes the weight, but if already backpacking the camelpack really isn't necessary and under your backpack, you'll just overheat. However, you could purchase a water bladder and stick it in your backpack. These can connect directly with your filter to make life a bit easier. Here are a few options I found.

  • Katadyn BeFree 0.6L water filter, fast flow, collapsible, soft bottle flask. These seem super cool. You simply fill from the stream and then shake to filter and drink directly from the drinking nozzle. It surpasses EPA standards, filters up to 1,000 liters of contaminated water without using chemicals. It doesn't hold much but I think this would be fine for me as I don't have huge aspirations of hiking too far without taking a break or too far from at least a stream. I don't tend to drink a ton while hiking, but more so after coming to a pause. I also like the idea of not having to carry a ton of water weight (or even two liters). By itself, this water filter is 3.2 ounces and costs about $38. It does come in a 2 liter option if my rationale for a smaller option proves very naive. The downside, there were several reviews of it being fragile or breaking at the seam making it unusable, so seems a back up option is necessary. One reviewer said to purchase the filter without the bag and then buying a bag with a 42mm connection from hydrapak.

  • Several have recommended the GRAYL Ultralight Water Purifier Bottle for $70 on amazon, which holds 16 ounces and is a fill, press and drink filter. It does have a hard shell unlike the Katadyn filter above, but also seems more reliable. The separate filters are about $30 each.

  • If you opt not to filter, AquaMira can be used when near farms or other more ominous areas of contamination.

I am not clear why so many recommend the Smart Water bottles because they are plastic, which is incredibly toxic. They may be nice to fill though and have one on each side of your hip in your pack, and it seems more and more people aren't filtering their water or might use a tablet purifier as a back-up if picking up water by a farm, for example. However, these are chemicals and again, why eat awful and put chemicals in your body or use those that harm the environment while trying to connect with nature?

Let's Not Forget the Back-Pack

This Gossamer Gear Ultralight Backpack for $180 doesn't seem to be super popular, but I haven't figured out why because it only weighs 24 ounces! It can carry up to about thirty pounds or 42 liters, and it has a full hip pad with lots of great features although it is frameless. This pack is made of 70D and 100D Robic Nylon material with DWR coating. I haven't any real idea of the weight I can comfortably carry, but I know on my Costa Rica trip my back-pack was VERY heavy. It had a metal frame, was made of very thick material, and I packed it with more than a week's worth of supplies, food, and medical equipment. Limiting myself to thirty pounds seems laughable, as I'd love to remain under twenty (although I kinda wanna pack both a hammock and a tent). This pack is less than $200 as well!

The ZPack Backpack was recommended by a hiker who just completed the AT and that adventure has moved to the top of my Bucket List by the way, but this pack is 20.1 ounces and crafted for the long distance hiker. It is a 55L pack so enough for a five to six day hike. The frame offers a unique arc that creates a gap between your back and the pack so you have air flow that helps keep you cool. The belts are interchangeable and it too, has a roll top. It is highly water resistant, but dry bags are recommended for the important items like your sleeping bag. Side pockets are available for 1 and 1.5 liter bottles, and positioned low and angled so they can be reached, although there is also ability to utilize a water bladder with this pack. There are a number of features that seem like amazing common sense with a plethora of add-ons, so this is definitely one to check out. These packs have a two year warranty, but I fear these aren't available anymore! They have a NERO pack which is about 10 ounces.

Osprey packs were recommended to me because they have a life-time warranty. These are gorgeous! Here are four I am checking out but will likely make a trip to try these on in person, if I can find a location near me.

Goodies for Inside the Back-Pack

Headlamps are on the list of must haves and so here is one that comes highly recommended at only 1.8 ounces, waterproof, and USB chargeable. What I really appreciate is the cover over the turn on button that protects it from being inadvertently being turned on during your travels and then being dead when you arrive at the camp sight. (Seems my link is broken so I'll have to search for another option.) I've also recently learned that the headlamp should have a red light feature to save the eyes of those around you and to help your eyes adjust to the night.

A GPS locator was recommended, but I have yet to adventure too far. Here is one that allows for GPS location just about anywhere and can be linked with your phone to send texts. It will monitor your hike as well, but it does have a subscription service fee which can be a little pricey. The GPS locator itself is about $350 on amazon. They are little at just over an inch and maybe well worth their expense in an emergency.

Trail stoves also have an abundance of options. I've had recommendations from all sides on this one.

  • The Trailblazer MiniMo is nice in that it has a cooking cup and insulated cozy so you can eat and drink directly from it. It also has a drink thru lid for straining or drinking coffee. The fuel canister packs into the MiniMo like a Russian doll. This stove can also convert to working with a frying pan. Really kinda cool at just under a pound, 14.6 ounces, but near $200.

  • The AOTU portable camping stove is only $16 and requires separate fuel canisters and cooking utensils. Here is another from BRS.

  • Here is another classic trail stove for about $21 on amazon. It has a nylon bag to hold the stove and has a windscreen. It can operate for 70 minutes on a gas cartridge, which is not included.

  • Most recommend carrying a mini lighter, $5, in addition to your stove even if it self-lights.

  • Why might I want this grease pot?

Long handled sporks have been recommended, which makes sense, although with so many cutting the handles off their toothbrush to save weight, I dunno. I purchased a bamboo toothbrush - lightweight and good for the Earth. Here is a plastic collapsable mug. I'll look for a more earth-friendly option.

The bear bag invites many opinions as well. Some sleep with food in their tents. Others hang it in the tree with these bear bags. Some use hard containers. Lots to think through here.

Wilderness wipes are about $10 and are apparently, SO AMAZING. One wipe per poo, I am told. Don't forget sun protection, sunglasses, lip moisturizer, baby powder, deodorant, small hairbrush, hair ties, toothbrusth, toothpaste, and your P-style. Some have recommended clippers, tweezers, floss, duct tape, needle, a tiny Bic Lighter, and hand sanitizer. I'll share a separate post on hiking hygiene as I've learned a few really cool tips here too.

I plan to take my phone for pictures, but I can see myself into the future investing in a better camera because admittedly, hiking for me is as much about appreciating the beauty as it is about moving. I have a camera I may consider taking, but the Sony A6600 camera body for $1,400 was recommended if you have the cash. The Sony 10-18 f/4 lens seems to be the only one necessary for nature images which are great with more wide lens. I wonder though how it looks when really dialed in as I really appreciate getting right up on a beautiful creature or botanical. Admittedly, my iPhone hasn't been able to capture many of the images I've wanted it to while hiking and this is an area I'll likely invest into the future. There are several recommendations for microphones, tripods, and such, but I am not sure I see myself moving into this level of vlogging. We do have a drone as the kids were excited to capture some of our hikes, but the local parks don't allow them, so we have to rethink this.

Goodies for Outside the Backpack

A knife is a must have and so many have been recommended. It seems the Esse knife is among the most favored brands and offers an incredible warranty. The question seems to be whether you want a straight blade and sleeve or if you'd prefer a collapsable or foldable knife. Your potential to meet an aggressive bear seems to be the determining factor here. Otherwise, not too small and not too big. Durable. Great grip. Neck knives are also popular. I wonder if that might make me a little claustrophobic, or bouncing on my chest might get aggravating over time.

Wallets for your ID and credit cards are necessary. Zpacks have a few options, as well as a zip pouch for your phone and sunglasses. The accessories for the Zpacks is definitely a great reason to check out their backpacks.

Treking poles seem to be a must-have for many. I do think this will be my first purchase. I've had a few hikers tell me they felt like they were gliding or even being pushed forward when they began using poles, and that the poles have saved them from falling more than once. Another hiker mentioned them making all the difference in his knee and calf pain after long hikes. And keep in mind that these can also be used for setting up the non-freestanding tent.

I've been told you can grab a cheap pair of twist lock snowshoeing poles, but their big baskets and rubber handles are not ideal for hiking. Trekking poles are ultralight and help to distribute your body and pack weight off your knees and onto your arms. My knees have never been sore, but my calves have and I'd appreciate some arm toning. Be warned, when you first use trekking poles, your arms might be sore for a few days.

What I hadn't considered though is the ability to look up from your feet a little more since the trekking poles eliminate the feeling of walking on a tightrope. I had hiked the red trail at Eagle Creek twice this past month and missed trail markers on a steeper climb because I was watching my feet. Poles help prevent from falling in slippery river crossings, log bridges, rocks, and muddy patches which I've also risked a few times this past summer. When in Costa Rica we were often reminded not to step in mud if we didn't know how deep it was, so trekking poles might have been handy here.

I haven't really heard many speak of this, but when I am hiking, I don't use airpods. I love, love, love music, but on my hikes, I listen to nature and the rhythm of the hike. My legs and feet and breath create a cadence that is very meditative. Working with trekking poles adds to that cadence, I am told. They also help keep spider webs off your face, although these don't really bother me much.

When choosing your trekking poles, choose poles that collapse for easy storage. Two piece poles aren't as small as the three piece poles, but also aren't as likely to break. There are several different ways poles can lock into place, a twist lock, a flip lock, or an unfold-and-slide lock. The twist lock loosens over time and may collapse on you. Flip locks are easy to use, don't slip, and last longer. The unfold-and-slide lock are less flexible on length and are a bit more fragile.

The end point of your trekking poles are what makes contact with the ground. These are either metal carbide or steel tips and are twice the size of the lead tip of a pencil. This sharp point is helpful to grip to the small contours of a rock or stab into a slick surface. Most metal tips last about 2K miles before needing replaced. Some provide mini rubber tips that are used to protect sensitive alpine areas or gear when the poles are stowed inside a pack. A hiker recently shared with me that he had no idea his new poles even had these, so don't forget to remove this protective tip.

There are also plastic circles fixed about four inches above the pole tip which help prevent the pole from sinking too far into the soft ground or snow. The wider the basket, the more they prevent stabbing into the ground, but these are really more useful in the snow, not as much in the warmer weather. They can make the pole a bit clunkier and heavier and may even get tangled in the trailside vegetation as you walk.

Shock absorbers are great for your arms, but some people feel a little unstable with the one or two inches of movement. Poles generally weight about a pound. Choose carbon fiber or aluminum poles to save weight. Aluminum is a tad stronger and more flexible than carbon fiber, but it is slightly heavier. Fairly negligible really. Finally, grips are your connection to your pole over long miles on the hike, so they should be comfortable. Again, three main types: cork, EVA foam, and rubber. Cork is the most popular and molds to the shape of your hand. This one is comfortable and feels natural. Its a middleweight option so not often found on ultralight poles. EVA foam is lightweight, feels comfortable but absorbs rain and sweat so gets spongy. It does dry quickly, but overall is less durable and certainly not eco-friendly. Rubber is the heaviest and is well-liked. It doesn't absorb moisture or oil from your hands and it adds more insulation, so great for snowshoeing or skiing.

  • Black diamond come recommended by a fellow hiker. These are 9-11 ounces are the unfold-and-slide lock variety, with a carbon shaft and EVA foam grips. $170 a pair. These are among the lightest pair and quick to deploy. You don't even have to fit the pieces together first. These poles are fixed length which simplifies the construction but also means you can't adjust them for different terrain or use them with a trekking pole shelter.

  • Leki Micro Vario Carbon poles are favored. They weigh a pound, collapse to 15 inches and are an unfold-and-slide lock variety. They have foam grips and are about $199 a pair. They are the cadillacs of ultralight trekking poles. They break down into three sections that slide to lock securely with a push pin. Once extended you can adjust the height using a metal flip lock. It also comes with interchangeable baskets and EVA foam grips that extend below the handle for steep ascents. They do have a shock-absorbing model.

  • The Locus Gear poles are 10.3 ounces, have the flip lock, carbon fiber shaft with EVA foam grips. These are $140 and are a favorite among the lightweight poles. A nice feature is that if one of the sections break, you can replace it for $15.

  • The Montem Ultra Light 100% carbon fiber trekking, walking, and hiking poles are ultra light, quick locking, and ultras durable for only $100. I am not clear why these are so inexpensive as they are ultra strong and only weight 15 ounces, made of the same material NASA uses. They have a lifetime replacement promise. They can adjust from 14" to 53" and have mud baskets, easily storable rubber tip protectors, and pole connectors.

  • Gossamer Gear three piece carbon trekking poles for $195. Cork handles and weighing only 5.3 ounces - wow! They extend to 130cm. They are a twist lock mechanism though. Beautiful poles.

A waterproof map and compass are other essentials to invest. I had a hiker recommend a 50' stripped para cord and a mini carabiner for a bear bag and then a 2 ounce food bag from Zpack.

Packed Weight verses Trail Weight

I saw this on several items and hadn't any real clue what this meant, so again, I dug in a little bit and discovered packed weight is the weight of the tent when you purchase it from the manufacturer and trail weight consists of the essential components like the tent body, rainfly, and the poles. The packed weight includes stuff sacks, repair kits, tie-downs, and stakes. Most people ditch those extra items so the trail weight is a little better approximately of the weight you will end up carrying in your pack.

Electronics & iPhone Apps for Hiking

Most do seem to carry their iPhones and earbuds. The Ankler portable charger, both 20,100 mah (12.45oz) and 10,000 mah (6.3oz)were recommended. All trails is an app that has been recommended, as well as Topo maps. Timex has an expedition watch that I need to check out. Currently I've been wearing my apple watch but this may not be ideal.

Luxury Item

This is sort of a phone conversation among hikers. Everyone has their precious itme, which may be a picture of their family, but many times it seems to be pop-tarts, beer, weed, or cigars. Others have shared that having a book was enjoyable on their breaks, some have said they would include a journal. I have also seen a harmonica, so have fun with this one.

Questions I Have and Still Need to Research

Why would I use a water bladder? Clearly these are for camelpacks, but why use this as opposed to carrying a water bottle? In Costa Rica I carried a waterbottle and I remember this being perfectly fine. Maybe this is more specific to trail runners? Maybe this is just easier to drink from on the trail? What is this play cap? Which filter is best as I do remember our crew working through a few of these. Might check out the Sawyer mini, the MSG pump, and the Steripen UV Light water filter.

I am still not clear on clothes, gloves, or which sport sandals to invest, although I plan to visit a few hiking stores in the near future and see what I feels right. I am curious too about first-aid kits. Are the snake bite kits really necessary? Small packets of Benadryl, Imodium, and Ibuprofen might be appropriate. One of the men on the Costa Rica trip did get a rather horrendous case of diarrhea. Gauze bandages might be wise, maybe a few bandaids and neosporin. Purell, a tick key, and a small bottle of liquid soap may be helpful. I suspect I'll try to craft my own of more natural options.

I just remembered food!! How do I get fresh greens on my daily hike! I can't imagine eating what is likely recommended, Ramen Noodles, granola bars, and what is a bear bag? If I go anywhere fun to hike, like Alaska, I should look into bear pepper spray. Oh, and a pot to boil water, cup, bowl, plate, and spork. Nutella. Popcorn. Instant oatmeal. Hot chocolate.

I've heard a shower may be helpful, baby power for hair, and to cut the handle off my toothbrush. Most apparently skip deodorant, but nope. That might ruin my entire trip, as would gross feeling hair. Biodegradable wet wipes? Bidet? Why a paracord? A safety whistle? A hatchet or saw? Extra knife? Pepperspray? And keeping it twenty pounds or less. How do I charge my phone, which I really don't care about other than having the desire to take pictures.

This is one of my favorite lists thus far, and her reasonings for why she chose these particular options - meet Dixie.

Alrighty, if you have suggestions, please share below! I'll update as I learn more -- Mitzi, Terri, Cara, and Heather - be prepared ladies!!

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Dr. Penny Lane
Dr. Penny Lane
Oct 04, 2020

Jerry, you rock! I've added a bit more information above that I've found - especially on hiking quilts and water filters. Today when I was visiting REI in Indianapolis, one of the employees shared that the guilts really are a better choice than the sleeping bag but they weren't carrying them yet. I did see an REI quilt in a roll sack on the shelf, but wasn't sure how it compared to the one mentioned above which had tons of great reviews. They also had Agnes sleeping bags with the open back and they were really nice, but neither store had the blow up pads. I really liked the NEMO sleeping bags but they didn't have the open back unfortunately…


I absolutions love the idea of getting back in nature and exploring what it has to offer. It looks like you have done some solid research on the gear and you have a good understanding of the equipment that’s needed. The only thing that I would add is that each hike when pack-backing is it’s on living thing, in that not all hikes require all the gear. Sometimes it’s even more enjoyable to travel lite and quick depending on the location and Terran. For example, in the north woods of Wisconsin you don’t need a camp stove but a tent with mosquito netting is a must!

Answers to a couple of your questions:

The water bladder is preferred because it…

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