Originally published October 2012. Fully updated August 2018 with all new gear lists. I’ve also added affiliate links, which means that if you purchase something after clicking one of my gear links, I will get a small cut of the payment and it won’t cost you anything more.
Backpacking into the mountains is a great joy of mine. It feels adventurous and liberating to venture into the wilderness with everything you need to survive (and even stay comfortable) on your back. By backpacking you have the means to “live” – albeit briefly – in paradisiacal locations that boggle the mind and soothe the soul. But, first you need to have the gear to do it.
As Terence McKenna observed, humans are probably better categorized as crustaceans, since we basically live our lives moving from one shell to another, whether it’s a house, car, office, or a tent. Which is to say, we can’t just wander off naked into the woods and expect to be one with nature! Fortunately for the modern adventurous crustacean we have an almost endless array of high tech, lightweight clothes, sleeping bags, shelters, and tools to keep us alive and happy while walking in the wilderness.
Recently I’ve received a bunch of emails asking me about my backpacking gear. I realize that it can be a bit daunting for someone who is interested – but not experienced – in backpacking to figure out what equipment they need to bring into the mountains for an overnight or multi-day camping trip. You need to travel light, but you also need all the stuff to keep you warm and dry. In this post, I’m going to list and explain all the gear that I use on backpacking treks. I will also include some helpful tips along the way.
On Monday morning my alarm woke me at 2:00am in my tent at Navajo Lake in the San Miguel Range near Telluride, Colorado. Groggy after only four hours of sleep, I started trudging up towards Mount Wilson under the light of the waning full moon. I could smell wildfire smoke in the air, and the stars were quite dim, but I didn’t think too much of it and continued on my mission to get to the summit for sunrise. Three or so hours later, after much rock hopping and a bit of airy scrambling, I stood on the 14,246-foot summit of Mount Wilson… disappointed with the view. My hopes of a glorious clear Colorado sunrise were crushed by the sight of thick smoke filling the valleys and shrouding the mountains. As I sat on the summit waiting for morning, I knew that my sunrise photo was toast and felt like my whole endeavor was a collosal waste of effort.
But then the sun rose as a red orb filtered through the haze like a lunar eclipse, becoming oranger as it rose higher and casting a warm glow over the smoky landscape. The surreal and somewhat apocalyptic scene wasn’t what I expected but it made for a unique photo opportunity after all!
I learned later that all the smoke came from an 800-acre wildfire west of Montrose. As luck would have it, the wind was blowing due south pushing all the smoke right into the San Juans. That’s a lot of smoke for a relatively small 800-acre fire!
In late July we went on a 6-day backpack trek in and around the rugged Grenadier Range in the Weminuche Wilderness of the central San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Along the way we scrambled up several 13ers, hiked over numerous high passes, and visited some gorgeous remote alpine lakes. Continue reading >>
After returning home to Colorado at the end of June we did a quick one-night backpack trip in the Uncompahgre Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. That evening we hiked up to a high ridgeline to watch the full moon rise behind Wetterhorn Peak at sunset. It’s nice to be back in beautiful Colorado!
In June after our Salkantay trek to Macchu Picchu, our next big Peruvian adventure was a 7-day trek around Nevado Ausangate, a giant 20945 ft (6384m) peak in the Cordillera Vilcanota south of Cusco. This is a high mountain range – almost the entire trek is over 14,000 ft elevation, the majority of hiking and camping is over 15,000 ft (4500m) elevation, and the highest pass tops out at about 16,750 ft (5100m). Although the month of June is typically the dry season in the Peruvian Andes, this trek turned out to be more like winter camping with all kinds of wild weather including blizzards, howling winds, and near-constant cold temperatures. Continue reading >>
In early June we flew to Cusco, Peru for some mountain adventures south of the equator. Our first hike was the famous Salkantay to Macchu Picchu trek. Of course Macchu Picchu is the #1 tourist destination in all of Peru and perhaps all of South America for that matter. The most famous way to walk to Macchu Picchu is the Inca Trail, which is extremely popular and requires reservations months in advance – something that we hadn’t planned for. A popular alternative for trekkers is the Salkantay trek, which passes over a high alpine pass below the glaciated peak of Nevado Salkantay, then traverses around several jungle valleys until reaching Macchu Picchu. There are several possible itineraries for this trek; we opted for a guided 5-day version. Continue reading >>