In late October and early November we spent a dozen days camping and backpacking around in the deserts and canyonlands of southern Utah, including the San Rafael Swell, Robbers Roost/Dirty Devil area, and Cedar Mesa. Though the days were short and the nights cold, it’s always worthwhile to spend time in these wonderful, wild, and lonely places. Continue reading >>
With fresh snow in the San Juan Mountains and dreams of winter I couldn’t resist heading up high for a quick early season winter camp at Ice Lakes Basin near Silverton. I got a little more than I bargained for with two feet of fresh powder and knee-deep postholing through a snowstorm up there! In the morning I was treated to some fiery light for a few moments at sunrise, for a different kind of autumn color. Continue reading >>
After trekking in Switzerland and visiting Claudia’s family and friends in Germany, we finally arrived back home in the San Juans just at the tail end of what seemed to be a nice long season of autumn colors here. Though I missed the bulk of the autumn action, there were still bits of colorful aspens left along with fresh snow on the peaks! Every season is my favorite season, but autumn is really my favorite season!
In mid-September after our treks in the Bernina Range and Val Masino in southeast Switzerland and north Italy, Claudia and I traveled north to the famous Jungfrau region near Interlaken in Switzerland. I’ve visited these mountains in the winter and spring, but this would be the first time I’ve been hiking here in the summer season. We opted to hike a 5-day hut-to-hut circuit along the mountains surrounding the town of Grindelwald, via the Faulhorn, Gleckstein, and Bäregg huts, to Kleine Scheidegg, and ending in the Lauterbrunnen valley. Continue reading >>
Eight days into our trek around the Bernina Range, we took a little train and bus detour and visited Val Masino in Italy on the southern end of the same greater range. The mountains around here are sometimes referred to as the Val Masino Alps, or the backside of the Bergell or Bregaglia Range. Renowned in climbing circles, Val Masino is a unique and spectacular valley surrounded by soaring vertical granite peaks. We spent a couple nights in San Martino, the village at the heart of Val Masino, then hiked up to Rifugio Gianetti for a night, then over a pass and down Val Codera. Continue reading >>
In early September we flew to Zurich, Switzerland, took a train to St. Moritz, then embarked on a 9-day trek around the Bernina Range in the Rhaetian Alps. Named after the tallest peak in the range, Piz Bernina, the Bernina Range is a rugged and heavily glaciated mountain range along the border of southeast Switzerland and Italy. Our clockwise route took us across into Italy then back to Switzerland again, staying in alpine huts every night along the way. Continue reading >>
In mid-August Claudia and I backpacked for eight days into the Needle Mountains in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. This was I think the sixth or seventh time I’ve done a week-long trek in this particular range, but I was still able to find some new routes to take and new places to camp and photograph along with some old favorites. These mountains never fail to challenge and inspire! Continue reading >>
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!