This is not a comprehensive list of all the gear out there…that would be impossible. We are not gear testers and do not buy gear just because it’s the latest and the greatest. We will give our honest, trail tested opinions here of the gear we have and use regularly. These are not brand endorsements, just our personal assessments that may help you make your own choices and deductions.
Navigation: I do NOT rely on GPS for navigation. Too many things can go wrong when you rely on anything electronic. I have a Lowrance handheld GPS that you can’t even get anymore. I use it for reference only. When in unfamiliar wilderness areas I turn it on and let it track me then only look at it in order to backtrack if necessary.
I always carry a Silva compass and map of the area. I prefer any Map Adventures map that I can get. They are waterproof, detailed, and easy to read. I also have several AMC maps that are waterproof. I find them a little harder to read, but they are available for more areas. I also have a couple Nat GEO maps, but rarely use them. Many of them do not have trail mileage which is critical in my opinion.
G: I wear KEEN and Merrell boots. I’ve been through several pairs of KEENs. I started with KEEN Targhee mid boots. They are definitely comfortable, but ultimately wore out too soon and the soles peeled off. They also didn’t give me enough ankle support. For light hiking they would be fine. I moved up the KEEN Durands. They were a huge improvement. Not as comfortable as a sneaker like the Targhees, but a much better boot. Much more solid and stable. The stitching started coming apart only a couple months after I bought them though. KEEn was good for it however and replaced them. I actually upgraded at that point to the Liberty Ridge model. Totally sold on those. Same as the Durand, but all leather.
My winter hikers are Merrell Moab Polars. They are excellent boots. Warm, dry, comfortable. I find the Merrell boots run a little narrow so I wear a half size larger than KEENs. This also allows for thicker socks. ALL my boots are water proof. I see no reason to wear anything else.
My trail runners are Solomon Fellraisers. A good all around runner. Excellent traction in dry conditions. Terrible on wet rock! I’ve fallen in wet conditions a few times and they are not waterproof. Soooo comfortable though! Like running on a cloud and I love the sliding/locking lace mechanism that tucks up into the tongue of the shoe.
G: One word…Smartwool! I wear them year round for hiking. I have different thickenesses and styles, but always Smartwool.
G: Outdoor Research Bugout gaiters for the summer and Outdoor Research full length gaiters for winter. They take a beating and just keep on going. I tried some cheap Eastern Mountain Sports gaiters. They lasted a few weeks before the buckles gave out. Waste of money. I also use the Outdoor Research Sparkplug gaiters for trail running. They work well, but the velcro holding them onto the heel of my shoes eventually comes off. I just keep replacing the velcro.
G: I wear Columbia Omni-Heat Reflective stretch baselayer bottoms. They are light, warm, move well and aren’t bulky. On top I wear an LL Bean hooded PolarTec top. It’s soft, warm and the included hood keeps the drafts out. It’s also antimicrobial. In summer I always wear one of my Under Armor sleeveless compression shirts.
G: I have a lot of shirts for various occasions. The first thing I grab is one of my LL Bean Ridge Runner shirts. They are long sleeve, quarter zip shirts with a zippered chest pocket. I also love my Rab Boreas half zip hooded pullover also with a zippered chest pocket. In summer I almost always wear one of my North Face Amp sleeveless shirts. Shortsleeve- patagonia capilene 2, prana
G: My Patagonia ball cap- just an old beat up cap. Also my CoolQ Mountain Hardwear running cap.
G: Many, many coats… Softshell- LL Bean , Rainjacket- LL Bean, Fleece- Mountain Hardwear, Hardshell- LL Bean, Windbreaker- LL Bean
G: Mountain Hardwear Bandito fingerless gloves with flip over mitts. Outdoor Research Meteor Mitts- waterproof outershell mitts with removable fleece liners that are fingerless with flipover mitts
G: Black Diamond Trail Pro aluminum poles. They have elongated foam grips that allow me to climb up hills without shortening the poles. I’ve broken the tips, lower and mid shafts. Replacements parts are inexpensive and easy to order on their website.
G: Where to begin…Running pack- Gregory Miwok 12. This is a great running pack. It holds a 3 liter Camelbak hydration bladder and enough food and supplies for a long run. It also stays snug to my back and doesn’t swing around even with the camelbak full. Day pack- Gregory Z40. I tend to pack a lot of stuff into a day pack, especially in winter with all the extra layers. This is a top loader which really expands well when you fill it up or compresses down when only half full. I also really like the huge side pockets. They are angled perfectly so I can grab a bottle from the side easily without taking the pack off. The aluminum frame and trampoline backing make it stable and comfortable. Backpacking pack- North Face Banshee 65. I love this pack. Really stuffs well with all my supplies including a tent, pad, bag food, etc. The hip belt and aluminum frame support the weight so well I hardly notice carrying 50 lbs. Lots of great storage and the side and belt pouches are big and easily accessible.
G: MSR Ascent
G: Solo tent- Big Agnes Tumble 1 Mountain Glo. Great backpacking tent. Lightweight with aluminum poles and built in lighting. Full rain fly. Quick setup with reflective tabs on the corners that help when setting up the tent in the dark with a headlamp. Two person tent- North Face Stombreak 2. Could be lighter and slightly less bulky, but for the price it’s hard to beat. Easy setup with a full rain fly and what I really like is the double door and vestibules. L and I can each have our own exit and place to stash gear. In both instances I’ve replaced the standard stakes with MSR Mini-Groundhog Stakes, a nice upgrade.
Sleeping Bags and Pads:
G: 3 season bag– Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Spark– Really compacts well with the compression sack that comes with it. Lightweight for backpacking and warm enough for spring through fall. It’s a mummy bag and you can really tighten it down and stay warm. I don’t do much camping/backpacking in the winter, but I do have a Eureka 0 degree bag that serves me well when needed. If I was to winter camp more often I’d probably invest in a much better bag. I love my Big Agnes sleeping pads. I have the Double Z and Air Core.
FOOD: I eat a lot of energy bars and freeze dried meals. These are my staple trail/backpacking foods. Beef jerky also plays a big role.
Clif Bars make up a majority of my energy bars. The Brownie bar is probably my favorite along with Coconut chocolate chip. The Clif Crunch white chocolate macadamia is also good. The seasonal Hot Chocolate and gingerbread ones are also good, but be sure to check out the new Nut Butter Filled ones. Seriously yummy! ProBar makes some excellent stuff. They tend to pack more calories in each bar and are fruit based. I really like the Meal ProBars, like the Superfruit Slam. I also enjoy the Honey Stinger Waffles. Most of the flavors are excellent, but the original honey is my favorite.
As far as beef jerky I’m a huge fan of Krave. All of them are good, but if I had a choice I’d pick Black Cherry Barbecue Pork as the best.
I’ve tried several freeze dried meals and there’s one thing I have to say: don’t experiment during a backpacking trip. Try some of the meals at home first. Some may not work well for you both in preparation and in consumption. Mountain House makes some good, great and bad meals based on my experiences. For breakfast I love the Biscuits and Gravy. Easy to prep, quick and delicious. I’ve tried all the breakfast meals. Anything with eggs in it turns my stomach. It’s hard to get the eggs rehydrated and I think they just taste bad. Alternatively I’ve often used the Quaker Protein Oatmeal pouches for breakfast. Easy prep, just leaves a little cleanup though. For the entrees I’ve tried most of them and have found them all to be acceptable. I really like the Beef Stroganoff, Pasta Primavera, and Chicken Teriyaki. The BackPacker’s Pantry stuff can be good, but I’ve not had as much success with it and it tends to weigh a little more and take up more space. The Wild West Chili and Beans tried to kill me. Almost got kicked out of the tent that night, if you know what I mean.
COOKING: I don’t make fancy meals on the trail so I don’t need much. I carry an MSI Duelist cookset with an Optimus Crux stove and MSR fuel canister, both of which fit perfectly inside the duelist kit. The Optimist Crux folds down and tucks into a pouch that attaches to the bottom of the MSR canister. I also carry the Sea to Summit titanium long handled spoon for easy eating out of freeze dried pouches.
WATER: I always carry the three liter Camelbak hydration bladder and start with it full. I also carry a 32oz Nalgene empty. The important thing to remember is the water filter. I love my MSR Sweetwater pump. Only need maybe and inch of flowing water to make it usable. It’s saved me many, many times.