JMT 2017 Gear List: What worked, what didn’t, and what was just plain dumb

*If you’d like to skip directly to the gear list, scroll down to the bottom.*

Introduction: Heavy pack = insane determination to go ultralight (because sometimes I was so annoyed with my 35-lb pack that I was tempted to chuck it over a cliff)

When I was just beginning to get into the outdoors, I thought that everybody just bought a kit at the beginning of their ventures and then were magically set for the rest of their lives. I also thought that there was no difference between brands, that overpriced materials were the exact same as cheaper ones and were only expensive because of exorbitant marketing, and that a pound or two didn’t really make a difference in the overall experience of backpacking.

Yeah, I was wrong.

It’s almost impossible to know what works (and what doesn’t) until you try it out. What works or what is comfortable for one person may be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst for another. I have come to terms with the fact that I will probably be tinkering with, tweaking, and adjusting my system for as long as I’m hiking (which, hopefully, will be a long time). Also, the extremely lightweight material that ultralight tents, packs, and sleeping bags are made of (e.g., cuben fiber) are quite expensive to produce and difficult to work with, and that is reflected in the price of products made with these fabrics – but with significant savings in weight and water resistance, leading to potentially more enjoyable trips. A few ounces might not seem like a lot at first, but when you consider “a few ounces” across all of the pieces of gear in a kit, you’re looking at pounds that add up, slow you down, and make your back and hips very sad.

Even though my pack wasn’t that heavy – the heaviest I clocked it at was 38 pounds – it was still frustrating and sometimes painful to carry. If I hadn’t trained for months beforehand, I dare say it might have endangered my chances of finishing the trail. It was hard to put on after a break or when I was getting tired. It felt like I was carrying a literal bear on my back. I missed my base weight from the Camino in 2015 – a scant 10 pounds because I didn’t have to carry a tent, sleeping bag, or stove – and I am now determined to whittle down my kit to be as close to “ultralight”as I possibly can before my next big ventures (spoilers: there are vague plans in the works).

A quick disclaimer before we get to the gear list: I am by no means an expert in the gear department (yet!). Take my advice with a grain of salt, and always hike your own hike.

 

Gear list

Here is a very rudimentary gear list, starting with my “Big Three,” then clothing, and going on from there. Green font indicates an item that I particularly enjoyed or found useful. Red indicates an item that didn’t work well, was hard to use, was too heavy, or was otherwise not a good choice and I will be looking for alternatives. No color indicates no particular feelings one way or the other about it. When appropriate, notes about the item are included in parentheses after the name/description.

“Big three” (Sleeping system, pack, shelter), with weight

  • Pack: Osprey Ariel 65 L (approx. 4.3 lb. I’m emotionally attached to this thing because it’s seen me through a lot of traveling, and it is one tough little bugger. But it’s way too heavy, has the worst water bottle pockets I’ve ever seen, and squeaks like crazy no matter how I load it.)
  • Tent: REI Dash 2 + Footprint, split the weight with Timmy (just under 3 lb total, around 1.5 lb for me. It worked fine, but I’d ideally like to get a better, more lightweight, more flexible sleeping system for solo hiking, like a tarp or a tarp-tent and a bivy sack.)
  • Sleeping bag: Kelty Cosmic Down 20-degree (approx. 2.5 lb. This is a comfortable, warm bag, but there are way lighter bags out there. I’d ideally like to keep this one for car camping or overnights and get a lighter one, like an Enlightened Equipment quilt, for backpacking).
  • Therm-a-rest Z-Lite closed-cell sleeping pad (I’ve loved this thing since the day I bought it- it’s simple, you never run the risk of it getting a leak like inflatable pads, and it’s super light. Definitely not the most comfortable, though, but you get used to it).

BIG 3 WEIGHT TOTAL: approx. 8.3 lb (I aim to get that down to about 4.5 before my next trip).

Clothing (no idea how much any of these weigh)

    Clothing worn:

  • Patagonia Baggies Shorts (so comfortable, great pockets, dries so fast)
  • Synthetic Columbia shirt
  • Injinji toe socks (will never hike without them. Magical blister prevention).
  • Smartwool mid height PhD hiking socks
  • Trucker hat
  • Buff bandana (a favorite- you can use it for EVERYTHING – blocking the sun, blocking dust, turn it into a hat, wipe out your pot, wipe off your face… a magic garment.)
  • Watch
  • Random sports bra + pair ExOfficios
  • Suncloud Ricochet Polarized Sunglasses (I dare say that these saved my trip. The snow was glaring, unimaginably bright – so glad I bought good glasses at the last minute, at Timmy’s suggestion. The lenses are curved, meaning that much less light is likely to get in. Also, these were super cheap for higher quality “active” type shades – on Amazon they were something like $25)
  • Salomon X Ultra Mid Aero boots (These finally turned me off to boots in general and Salomon specifically. The shoes rubbed painfully on the insides of both of my big toes, and my right toe is still numb from it. Ibuprofen helped save the hike. I’m going to try the trail-runner approach from now on).
  • Outdoor Research mid-height gaiters – I liked that they kept rocks and snow out, and they were particularly useful for those miles-long snowfields. But they were a bit too heavy for my liking and I’d ideally like to switch them out for lighter ones.

Clothing carried:

  • Mammut Wenaha rain jacket (love it in real life, but way too heavy for the trail – will be switching to a lighter shell for hiking)
  • Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket (great piece of gear, but in the future I’d like to find one that’s a bit lighter, or perhaps switch to a vest).
  • Melanzana Microgrid Fleece Hoodie (possibly my favorite item; warm, lightweight and comfortable, could even pair with a lightweight down vest for a truly versatile cool-to-cold weather kit)
  • Marmot wind jacket (good piece of gear but was redundant with the rain jacket – in the future I’ll just bring a combination wind + rain shell)
  • Underarmour thermal tights (a favorite)
  • Waterproof neoprene socks for camp (the single worst idea I’ve ever had – I brought them to avoid having to have cold feet in wet shoes at camp, but separate camp shoes like flip flops or Crocs would have been infinitely better.)
  • Extra synthetic shirt (waste of weight – everything got smelly anyway. In the future I’ll just bring one shirt).
  • Extra pair Injinji liners
  • Extra pair Smartwool socks
  • Fleece gloves

Hydration/food/cooking

  • BearVault BV500 Bear Canister (required by law and a smidge inconvenient – approx. 2 lb of plastic)
  • Platypus GravityWorks 2L Water Filter (Surprisingly, I was not happy with this choice, even after a bunch of research. It was wonderful at camp, but irritating to use when I had to fill up along the trail. I will be switching to something simpler and lighter).
  • CamelBak 1.5 L hydration reservoir (A pain. Nice to have water instantly when walking but too annoying to fill up, probably will only use on day hikes from now on)
  • Collapsible plastic water bottle from Walmart (I used one on the Camino and it was fine, but this one was weirdly shaped, didn’t fit in my water bottle pockets, and broke about a week into the trip.)
  • MSR PocketRocket stove (a classic. I love this thing. One of my favorite pieces of gear – sturdy, simple, reliable, efficient. There’s an even lighter and smaller model out now as well.)
  • GSI Outdoors ultralight cook set – Pot, pot cozy, spork, pot grip – simple, gets the job done, perfect size for storing small cooking accessories.
  • Lighter

Electronics

  • iPhone SE – served as camera as well. Obviously a great item to have on the trail, because in addition to being a phone and camera you can also load trail apps, which I did and which I found extremely helpful to supplement our GPS.
  • Garmin InReach Explorer+ GPS Messenger (a last-minute purchase that I was SO glad I had. My friends and family could track our progress, and I was able to send pre-set and composed messages to my mom. We had zero cell reception out there, and it was really a comfort to have this. Also used its GPS features to supplement the phone app).
  • Anker mini battery pack + charging cord (Impressively powerful for being the smallest external battery that Anker makes. In the future I might even just bring this if I’m hiking solo- for two of us the charge ran out after a couple of phone and GPS refills, but for one person on a frequently-resupplied trip, just this would be fine).
  • Anker Solar charger (A little clunky, but it worked quite well, charged the battery fast. Might be simpler to just use a larger external battery in the future, but I’m pleased with how this worked).
  • iPhone charger cord
  • Apple earbuds
  • Petzl Tikka Headlamp (I love this headlamp. It’s super bright and super efficient – I didn’t change the batteries a single time and the light was still bright at the end of the trip. There are definitely lighter headlamps out there, but this one is a real champ.)

Toiletries/necessities/first aid

  • REI Weekend-sized first aid kit (Total overkill. Nice to have the supplies in case of an emergency, but the thing had like 8 pieces of gauze and a bunch of medicine I’d probably never use. In the future I’ll probably combine parts of this kit with more frequently used medicines like Ibuprofen).
    • Also, more importantly, what would have been even better than a good kit would be to have taken a Wilderness First Responder class – what’s between your ears is way more important than what’s in your kit, and in contrast to Timmy, I know absolutely nothing about wilderness medicine. If something had happened to him, we both would have been totally screwed. I won’t run that risk ever again – I will be taking a WFR course before my next major trek, no excuses.
  • Contact case + small container of contact solution
  • Glasses + case
  • Wet wipes (always a wise choice for staying hygienic on the trail)
  • Small hand sanitizer
  • BodyGlide (good for preventing chafing and blisters, but Vaseline often works just as well)
  • Small sunscreen (bought more at resupply locations)
  • Lip balm with SPF

Miscellaneous

  • Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles (Amazing. I don’t know how I ever hiked with no poles or one pole before this. Really helped my balance, and they’re lightweight).
  • Extra plastic bags (quart, gallon, and shopping bags – for trash and reorganization)
  • Tom Harrison John Muir Trail Maps, carried in a plastic bag – great set of maps. You should always have a paper copy to back up your electronics, and know how to read them! Timmy carried a compass; otherwise I would have brought one. 
  • 15L Outdoor Research Waterproof compression sack for sleeping bag (Overkill. Too heavy. Just use trash compactor bag if you’re worried about your down bag getting wet.)
  • Sea to Summit 2L dry bag (I use this almost every day for small electronics and necessities both in “real life” and on the trail. Came in handy for my phone, cords, and the Anker battery)
  • Sea to Summit Waterproof phone case (Useful, and I’m glad I had it, but perhaps not totally necessary given that I already had a dry bag)
  • Outdoor Research 10L compression sack for clothes
  • Rite in the Rain mini notebook and pencil (Awesome. I love these notebooks. Great for recording thoughts and events without having to worry about it getting wet)

That’s it! I think I got everything, but if there’s something I forgot I’ll update this post. Feel free to ask questions if you have any! There is definitely a lot of room for improvement in this kit, and I’m looking forward to getting more streamlined in the future.

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