Why Are You Carrying All That Stuff? (December 2019)


In July 2017, the Spokane Spokesman-Review ran a story called “What’s in your daypack?” It’s premise was that when heading out on anything other than the easiest trail (and maybe even then), you should have with you what’s needed to survive an incident or accident. I felt more than a little vindicated after reading it.  My years spent hiking, climbing, and mountaineering taught me (usually the hard way) to be prepared, to be ready to self-rescue if possible, to have some means of mitigating the sufferfest (either mine or someone else’s), and – above all – to not put others (like SAR folks) at risk because I was poorly equipped for prevailing conditions.

I know, I know; many, many people go on hikes with little more than a t-shirt and shorts, flip-flops, a phone, and a can of warm soda (a dubious variation on “go light, go fast”), and 95 times out of 100 the poop doesn’t hit the rotor.  So why carry all this stuff?  Well, life is, and always will be, a little (or a lot) like shooting craps.  May you always roll sevens; but if (or when) a hike rolls you snake eyes, this stuff is really, really nice to have along.  Think of it as a hedge on your hiking bet.

Back in the day being “equipped” often meant carrying around what felt like a sack of concrete – actually, it probably did weigh that much. Now, however, thanks to the continual evolution in outdoor gear toward lighter, stronger, and more compact, it’s easier than ever to carry enough to avoid censure (or doom) due to insufficient equipage.

Hiking gear choices are highly personal – and potentially wildly contentious – every how-to article, posting, or book (and there are plenty out there) seems to offer a different set of choices, each backed by fierce, usually opposing, opinions.  But, over the years, I’ve often learned a thing or two by looking at other’s lists.  So, solely in the spirit of might-spark-a-helpful-idea or good-for-a-laugh, I’m offering up my own idiosyncratic three-season day hiking gear list. If even one item below suggests how you might avoid or minimize unnecessary suffering, then win-win!

Gear Worn

  • Hat, trucker style (3.0 oz). I can’t bring myself to wear one of those goofy wide-brimmed sun hats except on raft trips.
    • Hat, REI insulated and waterproof (2.2 oz). Carried during the colder months and used as needed.
  • Hiking shirt (6.4 oz). A long-sleeve synthetic shirt (REI Sahara), t-shirt or zip neck gives you more control over sun exposure, insect attacks, or brush than does a short-sleeve shirt.
  • Hiking shorts (7.3 oz). LLBean sells a nylon (Supplex) cargo short with built-in underwear that’s tough, quick drying, and well ventilated.
    • Hiking pants (14.6 oz) + underwear (2.7 oz). When conditions (cold, bugs, brush, etc.) don’t encourage wearing shorts.
  • Hiking socks, wool, pair (6.0 oz). I no longer use liner socks, preferring instead thick SmartWool trekking socks for their cushioning. My feet don’t seem to get any hotter or sweatier as a result, nor do I get blisters, nor do my feet get sore.
  • Hiking boots, pair (36 oz). These are a highly personal, but critical, choice.  I’m currently using Merrell Moab 2 Ventilator Mids for general hiking and Lowa Arco GTX for rougher trails, cross-country, and easy snow.
  • Boot insoles, pair (6.2 oz). ABEO performance orthotics help me considerably with cushioning and support, particularly with lighter boots like the Moabs.
  • Gaiters, shorty (3.1 oz). These keep stuff out of the boots and off the (expensive) socks.
  • Hiking glasses, prescription (1.5 oz). I got safety work glasses so they’ll survive my getting whacked in the face by tree branches when going cross-country.
  • Bandana, cotton (0.7 oz). An item with many, many uses.

Gear Carried

The Daypack

The LovedOne’s shoulders were becoming increasingly intolerant of any weight being placed on them, making it hard for her to carry a regular daypack, regardless of whether it had a hipbelt or not. So she got a strapless ME-2 Pack (38.4 oz). This has proved to be an inspired, hike-saving choice, one that continues to work well for her as both a daypack and a backpack. My back has absorbed a lot of abuse over the years and has started to do some pay-back for that. I’ve started using a Mountainsmith Day lumbar pack for most hikes but have kept the ZPack Nero pack for cold-weather hikes where more, and bulkier, clothing is needed.

The 10 Essentials

    • Map(s), paper (0.1 oz). I always have a paper map or maps with me, showing my planned route, any GPS waypoints plus some of the surrounding area. I print these as needed on waterproof paper using CalTopo.
    • Magnetic compass, Silva Type 17 (1.5 oz). This is a tool, like an ice axe, that only works if you learn how to use it first.
    • GPS receiver, Garmin 64s (7.9 oz). This is now an obsolete GPS model.
      • Spare GPS batteries (1.8 oz).
    • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), ACR Electronics ResQLink400 (5.4 oz). This device is not intended for two-way communication – its more powerful transmitter is intended only to provide a last resort signal for help.
    • Whistle (0.5 oz).
    • I realize that many hikers use their phone as a combo GPS, camera, and distress caller (assuming they can get a signal). All other considerations aside, this makes their phone a potential single point of failure. I’m more comfortable with separate camera, PLB, and GPS devices plus a map and compass. I rarely take my phone on hikes or backpacks.
    • Sunglasses, prescription, in a crush-proof case (3.8 oz).
    • Sunscreen (1.2 oz).
    • Lip balm (0.1 oz).
    • Hat (see Gear Worn above).
    • Jacket (8.1 oz). Patagonia micro puff.
    • Mittens. A light weight (2.6 oz) REI pair are carried year-round but swapped-out for a heavier (4.4 oz) SWIX pair in the colder months.
    • Rain mitts, Zpack Vertice (0.9 oz).
    • Rain jacket, Outdoor Research Helium II (6.4 oz). A light jacket for deflecting rain, wind, bugs, or sun; in bright orange for protection during hunting season.
    • Rain pants, Outdoor Research Helium (5.4 oz). Light and good for keeping off rain, wind, bugs, or when plowing through wet (but not too sharp) vegetation.
    • Hat, REI balaclava (2.0 oz).
    • Buff (1.4 oz).
    • Long underwear, Icebreaker merino (6.2 oz). A nice item to have if you habitually wear shorts to hike.
    • Headlamp, Princeton Tec Sync (3.0 oz). This type of headlamp uses a rotary switch, rather than various confusing button presses, to select operating modes.
      • Spare headlamp batteries (1.8 oz).
  • [5] FIRST AID
    • First Aid Kit (3.0 oz). Another highly personal set of choices that can change with the type of trip you’re doing, the seasons, etc.
      • Based on actual use, mine has been pared down to: Ibuprofen tablets, Acetaminophen tablets , Ibuprofen PM tablets, Povidone-iodine swabs, Triple antibiotic packets, 4″ roll kling gauze, absorbent surgical gauze pad, band-aids; benzoin crush tube (for blisters), blister pads, and electrolyte tablets – all in a ziplock bag.
    • Insect repellent wipes, Ben’s 30% DEET (0.3 oz).
    • Hand warmers, HotHands, 2/package (1.6 oz).
    • Toilet paper (2.7 oz). You want to use sticks, leaves, pine cones, or snow? Been there, done all that but never again.
  • [6] FIRE
    • Butane lighter, BIC (0.5 oz).
    • Waterproof/windproof matches, UCO Stormproof (0.5 oz)
    • Fire starting tinder, WetFire (0.5 oz)
    • Multitool w/ scissors, pliers, screwdriver: Leatherman Squirt PS4 (2.3 oz). Carried on a lanyard with an extra whistle and a tick puller.
    • Repair tape, Tenacious Tape (1.0 oz).
    • Parachute cord, 6 feet (0.8 oz).
  • [8] FOOD
    • Energy snacks (2.3 oz).
    • Emergency food (3.0 oz). Nuts, jerky, canned sardines – anything that will keep for awhile and which you won’t be tempted to eat at the first hunger pang.
    • Water bottles, 2 (3.2 oz). These are recycled 1 quart sport drink bottles; light, tough, and cheap. Easier to clean and/or replace than a hydration bladder. This is a minimum – where and when you hike may require carrying more water.
    • Water purification, Portable Aqua tablets, 6 (0.1 oz).
  • [10] SHELTER
    • Emergency bivvy sack, SOL (5.2 oz).

Optional Items

  • Trash compactor bag (1.0 oz). These heavy duty bags are useful as a truly waterproof pack liner, large stuff sack, trash bag, etc.
  • Trekking poles, Black Diamond (8.9 oz each). One of these is fine for hike & bike, air hiking, or easy snow (with a basket change). Two poles (again with basket change) are needed when snowshoeing.
  • MICROspikes, Kahtoola (11.0 oz). These are not a replacement for real crampons but can be very useful on icy trails where a slip/fall could ruin your day.
  • Waterproof valuables pouch (1.0 oz). For my wallet and car keys – stuff I never leave in the truck at the trailhead.
  • Camera, Olympus TG-6 (10.2 oz). I have other cameras but this one is really tough (shock and waterproof) and also takes good snapshots. My phone also takes good snapshots but is not nearly as rugged as this camera.

So, excluding food and water, and depending on which optional items are taken, gear worn comes to about 4 pounds and pack weight to about 7 pounds. This is enough of the right stuff to have a very good probability of covering any reasonable contingency I’m likely to experience (or have experienced) on a day hike. I may not be comfortable, but I (probably) won’t die. Another plus (beyond staying alive) is that it’s only a few more pounds (depending mostly on the amount of food taken and whether you cook it or not) from a dayhike to gear for a 5+ day backpack.

A pair of old hiking boots