My Go To Backpacking Cookset

Nielson Brown Outdoors did a simple write-up about cookpots a few days ago and it got me to thinking I haven’t really written about what I’ve come to call my “go to” cook set up. There’s nothing special about it, and it’s not the most minimal or the lightest kit out there – but it works for me in terms of volume, weight, ease-of-use, and comfort. I do have other setups that I take out with me in exceptional conditions such as winter or when I’m trying to travel SUL but time and time again the setup below is what I use.


  1. Antigravity Gear alcohol fuel bottle
  2. Trail Designs Caldera Cone
  3. MSR aluminum pot gripper
  4. Trail Designs Caldera stove
  5. Snowpeak 900mL (handles removed, DIY lid)
  6. Backpacking Light Short-handled Titanium Spoon
  7. Backpacking Light 475 mL Trapper’s Mug


I’ve come to really appreciate this setup. I roll the Caldera Cone up and place it into the pot. Next the Trapper’s Mug sits inside that with the stove at it’s bottom, the fuel bottle atop that, and the spoon and gripper alongside it.  The lid fits atop all of it and it’s gets perfectly fitted into a silnylon stuff sack I sewed up a few years ago.

It would be very easy to argue that this kit could be minimized from seven items to four but I like having the 475 mL mug for coffee or whisky for sipping on while I’m preparing my meal.  The pot gripper is so sturdy and easy to use that the weight penalty is worth it to me.  And lastly although there are many who use stoves that don’t require a stand of any type I will argue then near-perfection that is the Trail Designs Caldera with great vigor.  It’s speed in heat transfer, nearly untippable nature, and general cleverness are well worth it’s weight in my ruck.

August Overnight into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

It’s been a summer of weddings on the weekends and work on the weekdays. My fiance, our friends, and I have managed to get out for a fair number of car camping overnighters with some good mountain biking and hiking during the days but the backpacking has been a bit sparse so far this summer. We penciled in a weekend trip to the Bitterroot valley to visit my long time friend Casey at the farm she’s been living and working on and to spend a night a short distance into the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Complex – a land I’ve not yet explored but have wanted to.

Peterson Lake

Casey and I have been friends since the late 90s having met in Fargo, ND during college. Luck would have it that we both found employement in Glacier National Park in 2004 without knowing the other was doing the same and since then we’ve managed to stay in touch every year or so when our paths could cross. It was serendipitous hearing Casey would be only a few hours away this summer so a meetup was definitely in order.

Sam, Torie, Casey, and Gus

We toured the small, farm that is being worked by the sweat (and tears) of just two gals who put in long, hot hours in the SW Montana sun to bring fresh, organic vegetables to the tables of people in the Bitterroot Valley. It’s about as honest of work as one can find.


Living in tents and teepees, and cooking at an outdoor cook shanty is about all the camping most people would need but Casey still enjoys getting away from it all and was amped to join us on a short trek up to Peterson Lake in the Sweeney Creek drainage of the Bitterroots.

Cook Shanty

Peterson Lake, Sweeney Creek, Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness

We arrived at the lake about an hour before dark and Torie picked a spectacular zone on the East shore of the lake. The former marshy end of the lake had dried up in the past decades leaving a flat, soft, dry, and grassy acreage perfect for our tents.

Golite Shangri-La 3

We dined on couscous and fresh, organic veggies (of course) and shared whiskey and hard cider after. Fire danger has reached it’s height in SW Montana and with restrictions and a high wind we opted to enjoy the light of the nearly full moon as opposed to some good ol’ “Ranger TV”. The noobs at the other end of the lake must have been blissfully unaware of the fire restrictions for we could see their “TV” blazing from the tree’d zone to the West.

Wood texture

Morning was relaxed, the hike was mostly cool and breezy, and we had time in the late afternoon to swing through Missoula for a late lunch with yet another friend. A weekend full of good times for sure.

The Best Laid Plans and Trips to the Vet

The route was picked last week, the meals were planned, and the gear lists were dialed. Friday night would be devoted to car shuttling and then a gentle valley approach of about four miles to a late night camp. The next day would be an aggressive mountain pass probably requiring multiple miles of over snow travel and then day three would entail a long exit valley out to the awaiting car.

Car shuttling

The car shuttle worked out great. It was a beautiful Friday night in SW Montana for a drive down long dirt roads with million dollar views of snow-capped mountains in the distance. We hit the trail at 19:30 knowing darkness would fall about two hours later so we hightailed it down the trail to walk as far as we could until dusk, then make camp.

The East Fork Mill Creek trail

Scared up a couple bears

Hiking at dusk means a higher chance at seeing wildlife while they’re foraging for dinner. We scared up two bears and two elk on our hike in.

Snow-capped mountains at dusk

My buddy Mike noticed a small trickle of water running across the trail and a good looking game trail that exited off to the side so we followed it to see if it would lead to a good camping spot – and it did. Complete with a little spring, very soft patches of earth to lay our bivies and tarps, and some stout trees to hang our bear rope were to be had.

This ain’t our first rodeo. Cooking after dark.

The sun rose at 05:00 and I leaned over to see if my dog was getting cold and wrap some of my sleeping quilt around him. My watch read 30 deg F and I could see frost on the grass all ’round my tarp. Times like this, lying under your tarp, wrapped in your cocoon of a quilt are some of those that just make you feel alive.


Mike was still sleeping so Gus (my dog) and I awoke, gathered some kindling, and got hot water going on the Bushbuddy. The frost was slowly melting in the sun which was also warming Gus and I and felt great.

Bushbuddy Ultra

Camp cookery

After breakfast we hit the trail hoping to get as much of an early start onto the snowfields we had to cross that hung a few thousand feet above us. We made great time and reached snow as we approached 8,000 ft elevation. All was going great, the trail wasn’t too hard to find, and everything around us was beautiful.

The dogs were exploring every which way as we proceeded uphill until something caught Jax dog’s eye. Many a wilderness trip has been shut down by a necessary trip to the veterinarian and unfortunately ours would be no different as Jax decided to pick a fight with a porcupine.

Jax has bad judgement when he comes to picking fights

We reflected on the situation, pulled as many quills as we could and considered our options. Continue hiking over and out to the end (15+ miles) or turn around and go back the way we’d come (8 miles plus backtracking the 2 we’d already done that morning for 10 total miles) and opted for the latter. Back the way we’d come.

Mike and I have been in the Mill Creek drainage three times and two of those times we’ve been thwarted in a larger goal. Once by raging whitewater and the second by a damn porcupine.

We hiked out pretty fast – or at least as fast as Old Gus dog would allow. It was a beautiful day and felt good to be hiking even if it was in the “wrong” direction.

Hiking out to the vet


We got back to the car and hightailed it back to town to get Jax to the vet for some quill removal. All went smoothly and we then had time for another beautiful drive to go and retrieve the car awaiting at the end of our intended destination. We made the most of the night by grilling some spectacular burgers and drinking beer.

Montana backroads

We’ll get up and over that pass someday. I’ve been at it from three angles and there’s lots of micro-country to be explored around the Boulder Mountain area. Just leaves me an excuse to go back!

Shoulder Season Ski Camping 2012/2013 – Part One

I injured my back in early winter and was unable to get out splitboarding as much as I’d like this winter but was able to get out on two meaningful overnight trips (second TR to follow soon).  One of my go-to ski partners, Jon W. is pretty much always up for an adventure no matter how marginal the snow so back in mid-November he and I grabbed touring and overnight gear and headed into the Deep Creek drainage of the Northern Absaroka range.  This drainage had burned almost completely black during the wildfires that raned in the NW U.S. during the summer of 2012 and hiking through this darkened landscape blanketed with white snow was both eerie and beautiful.

Our destination was an offtrail draw which is the headwaters of Deep Creek and located below the menacing NW face of Mt. Mcknight. A trail runs up the E/W length of Deep Creek but we planned to exit the trail at a natural departure point and hopefully find enough snow to ski into the headwaters. We knew snow levels would be low and opted for edged and shaped nordic skis (XCD) as opposed to splitboards which are our usual weapons for powdery descent.

Jon and I both have pretty good attitudes towards getting into the woods and regardless of the purpose of our destination (powder snow, quality singletrack, good whitewater) we don’t let the lack of action intended from that destination get us down. This trip didn’t provide as much snow as we’d like but we still had a great campfire and got to spend a night out under the stars in a pristine wilderness absolutely soaked in beauty.

There may not have been tons of snow but Jon didn’t let that keep him from getting rad on his 3-pin gear.

SuperUltraHeavy Winter Trip

The United States Forest Service has a series of cabins, fire lookouts, and other shelters available for rental at a nominal cost all over the country. In SW Montana there is a LOT of federal land and therefore there are a LOT of these rental cabins. Navigate your way to to see for yourself.


Spanish Creek Cabin


A couple weekends ago my lady, a friend of hers, and myself put some winter gear into a big ol’ Otter Sled (designed to normally be pulled behind a snow machine) that I hand fashioned into a pulk and set off for a four mile ski to the Spanish Creek Cabin in the Northern Madison Range of the Gallatin National Forest.  I was prototyping a pulk system that I will ultimately build onto my Mad River Rocket sled using a far lighter and better performing system.  I plan to cover this in more detail in a later post.


SuperUltraHeavy Pulk System


As you can see in the above photo weight was of absolutely NO CONCERN whatsoever.  I set three Rubbermaid tubs on the floor in the living room and told the ladies that if it fit into the tub I’d pull it in the pulk.  Water, food, sleeping bags, pillows, books, wine, beer, slippers, warm clothing, you name it – it all went in.  They each wore a small backpack with the day’s water and food in it and I wore a pack that I put my sleeping bag into (simply to give it some shape).  I attached the pulk with a couple carabiners and set off through the sticky snow.


The hike into the cabin is along an asphalt road that is not plowed in winter so the gradient is very mellow.  The area is very windblown however and given the low snow levels of the season there were many portions that contained exposed asphalt.  About a 1/4 mile into the ski I removed my skis, placed them onto the pulk and walked for about two miles over asphalt, hardpacked ice/snow, and through minimal drifts.  At about the two or 2.5 mile mark the snow levels increased and I was able to ski with the load behind me.


The system I was prototyping for the pulk uses a commonly-known method of two five foot lengths of PVC pipe crossed in an “x” pattern and connected to the hipbelt of the pack.  I ran lengths of rope through the PVC pipe for this prototype but the final version will not use rope.  The “x” pattern tracked behind me on uphills and downhills very, very well.  It did roll over on my twice when I was attempting some sidehills that were simply too steep.  I estimate however than in my upcoming design the load will ride much lower (aka no more spacious Rubbermaid tubs) and will therefore allow me to attempt steeper slopes with a lower center of balance.


This was also the first overnighter I took using the Madshus Epoch skis I procured this year.  In the past years all of my backcountry travel has either been on snowshoes or via my splitboard but I have been entertaining the idea of using a set of skis that would allow me to focus on making miles quickly and easily on trips where descending wasn’t the primary focus (as with splitboarding).  I chose the Epochs because they allow for excellent edging and control in offtrail as well as groomed trail situations.  To complement the ski I went with a vintage three-pin Rotefella Telemark binding and the Rossignol BCX11 boot.


Madshus Epoch skis, Rotefella 3-pin binders




How to Build an Igloo

Photo © Mark Genito


Sleeping outside in winter is cold. On top of that it gets dark early and campers often find themselves with little to do other than build a fire and sit around it sipping whisky. Don’t get me wrong fires and a flask amongst friends is a wonderful way to spend an evening but staying active is a far, far better way to stay warm. Some people choose to hike by headlamp into the evening thereby maintaining their warmth. Another way is to spend the afternoon and first hours of darkness building a snow shelter. Not only will building it keep you warm but sleeping in it can bring even the most frigid of temperatures up to a tolerable level.


Recently two friends and I set out on skis and snowshoes a half day’s walk into the woods with the intent of finding a good spot to practice and learn how to build an igloo. I have been reading about this topic for a number of years both online and in a couple of books. My favorite snow shelter tutorial is in “Allen & Mike’s Really Cool Backcountry Ski Book”. I did exhaustive online research some years ago on this topic and was dissatisfied with the tutorials I found. Perhaps there are many quality write-ups igloo building. Regardless I hope this post will add to the knowledge base for others wishing to try building a shelter of this type.


How to Build and Igloo – A Photo and Descriptive Tutorial


The following tutorial is both photographic and descriptive in nature. The photos will be paired with a description as detailed as I feel is necessary to describe the necessary action. Please feel free to use the comments section at the end of the post to discuss my techniques, describe tips and tricks you may have, or to ask me and other readers questions.


Step One – Snowblock Quarry Site


An igloo is constructed from blocks of packed snow. In order to cut these blocks you must first layout and prepare a quarry from which to cut them. Mark out an area approximately two ski lengths by one ski length. Begin to walk back and forth, up and down, around and around, and generally all over this area. Jump up and down, beat on it with shovels, and mash the snow down and around as much as you can. Put on your skis or snowshoes and then walk all over it a bunch more. The area will begin to harden the longer you work on it. The amount of time this takes will be dependent on the quality of the snowpack. Sugary faceted snow will take the longest, and snow with higher water content will take less time.


Sam work-hardens an area of snow that will become the quarry from which to cut snow blocks.


Once you’re done work-hardening the snow you can move onto the next step as the block quarry will now require about one hour of time to simply set up. Leave it be, make a note of what time it is by your watch or the sun and then be patient.


The block quarry marked with ski poles and completely packed out.


Step Two – Site Selection


While your block quarry is setting up you can begin to find the specific spot that your igloo will be built. The ideal location will be close to your block quarry so that you don’t have to carry blocks too far. As you would do when picking any camping location take into consideration coverage from the elements, nearness to water, elevation in relation to adjacent landscape, et al. The footprint of a snowshelter of this nature can be sizeable so finding a place that is relatively level and large enough is ideal.


Put one ski pole in the center of your building site, use the other to mark out a radius by “etching” the snow with the pole basket.


Once the specific site of your igloo has been determined tamp it out by walking around on it a bit. It’s not necessary to work harden this area like you did with the quarry but hardening it out a bit will provide a solid base for laying block on. Planning the specific radius of the igloo is a crucial step that will determine the size of your igloo when all is said and done. We were planning to all sleep inside and my reading proved that a 130 centimeter radius would be sufficient for a two to three person shelter.


Step Three – Cutting Igloo Block


Using your shovel roughly prepare the front and top of the block quarry into smooth surfaces that will form the first row of cut block.


Sam cuts igloo blocks.


Now the patience and waiting is over and it’s time to really get to work. If you’ve work hardened your snow enough you can begin to saw blocks from your quarry. Size can vary but 60 cm x 13 cm x 50 cm makes a block of excellent strength that’s not too heavy to transport. Use measurements etched onto your snow saw or cut sticks to specific length to mark out each block before cutting it. Use precision and accuracy at this stage of the process because the blocks will create a far stronger and better looking shelter if they are sized precisely the same those next to it.


To cut the blocks first make your cuts along the sides and rear. Lastly, saw the bottom of the block. When the saw finishes the last few centimeters of the bottom cut the block will drop down ever so slightly. Place your saw blade behind the block and pull toward you slightly. The block will tip forward and fall into the waiting arms of the person on your team who’s job is to begin moving blocks to the building site.


Step Four – Laying Out the First Course of Blocks


The wall of your igloo will be one block in thickness. Each block must lean slightly inward so that as your build upward the wall closes on toward the center and ultimately closing completely in on itself. Do not take this notion lightly. If you don’t lean the wall inward enough your igloo could become too tall by the last courses for your to reach the upper blocks. Leaning it inward too much will of course not leave you much headroom so attempt to weigh these options against each other continually as your are building.


The first block that is placed requires a special cut (as does the very last which will be discussed later) but the rest will typically all be of the same size. Cut the first block into two pieces as shown in the photo below. This will form a ramp for the second course of blocks to rise upward onto and over the first course once it’s come full circle.


The ramp formed by the first block


Jon preparing to lay the last block of the first course.


Step Five – Continuing the Block Wall Upward


The upper courses


In the photo above note how the second course of blocks ramps upward onto the top of the first. Also note at the rear wall the inward lean of the blocks. Lastly, look to the background of the photo you can see the block quarry and Sam cutting blocks. Sam has a foam sleeping mat under his knees to stay warm and Jon is standing on one inside the igloo to keep his feet warm.



Sometimes the blocks lean into the previous one, set up nice and quick and the builder can simply move on. Other times they need to be held in place as the snow sinters together. It is often nice to have a second set of hands to help with this job as seen above where Mark and Jon are both holding a block in place.


A ski pole can act as a prop to hold blocks in place while the builder tends to other parts of the construction.


In the photo above the handle of a ski pole is being used but flipping it around and using the basket end is even better as it spreads the surface area out.


Step Six – Chinking


As the blocks are leaned one next to each other there will undoubtedly be gaps that appear here and there. The person hauling block from the quarry can have a shovel handy to use to throw light snow onto the gaps. Where larger holes appear small chunks of snow can be used as chinking material to fill them.


Note the slight gaps in between the blocks. These will tend to get larger as the wall progresses higher and the blocks lean inward more significantly


Step Seven – Cutting the Door


Once you’ve reached four or five courses of block high you will begin to have trouble passing snow blocks over the wall. At this time it will be safe to cut a door into the side for passing block to the builder who has been stuck inside and may also enjoy the chance to escape for a breather. This door will eventually become the entrance to the igloo but keep it small at this time to maintain the overall wall strength as long as possible.


Using your snow saw simply poke a hole in the wall of the igloo at the base and begin sawing in an upward arc to create a half-dome shaped hole. Place the door into the wall so as to put as little pressure on any one particular block that gets affected by it’s own weight not having anything holding it up from below. It may be helpful to cement the joints between all the blocks associated with the door so they are cemented together especially well before cutting. This will be especially important once the doorway is enlarged to fit a human body.


Step Eight – The Final Block


When the block wall finally reaches the apex of the igloo there will be a solitary hole left. Using your snow saw, cut a block to fit the last hole and either force it up and into place or drop it down onto the hole from above (assuming you are tall enough).


Jon contemplates the final puzzle piece.


Step Nine – The Entrance Tunnel


At some point in the build process the person originally designated to cutting snow blocks from the quarry will finish that task and while the builder (inside) and the block-carrier (now the outside builder) continue to place block the quarry-person can begin to work on the entrance tunnel.


The ideal location of the entrance to your igloo will start about 50 cm below the level of the sleeping platform and then step up and into the igloo to meet the sleeping platform. This elevation difference will act as a cold-sink and cold air will be less likely to enter the igloo and warm air inside will be less likely to exit.


Dig a trench in the snow outside the igloo up to where the small door is that was cut earlier. There will most likely still be block debris lying about near the quarry and also probably more packed snow available to cut block from. Using the debris block and more blocks that you cut build a tunnel that leads to the door. This tunnel will act as a wind block to the entrance.


To erect the tunnel either use a technique similar to the igloo walls wherein each side of the tunnel slopes inward to form a curved entrance. Otherwise simply build two vertical walls and then lay large blocks across the top to form a square entrance. Build this structure from the outside inward toward the igloo so that there is a gap between the tunnel and the igloo structure until the last possible minute. This will allow easier access for the outside builder to pass blocks to the inside builder. Keeping out of each other’s way is key to efficiency.


Sam works on the entrance tunnel. Note the clothing choice – waterproof clothing is essential to staying dry while building a snow shelter


The igloo as viewed down the tunnel. Note the slight slope upward and onto the sleeping area inside. Ideally this would step up significantly more but we were working with a low snowpack.


Step Ten – Admire your Work


Jon, Mark, Gordie Howe, and Sam


The finished project


Food for an Overnighter

Overnight Backpacking Food Rations

I’ve been asked about doing a food-related post a number of times in the past and I’ve decided to make an initial foray into this with a post about overnight trips.  I will probably go into more in-depth food planning for longer trips in the future but for now here goes.

I’ve done backpacking trips as short as a 1/2 day out, spend a night, and a 1/2 day back to hikes as long as being out on the trail getting resupplies for a couple months.  When it all comes down to it however most of us are weekend warriors and we get a backpacking fix through a series of one or two night trips throughout the summer and maybe a week or two trip once every year or every two years.  A lot can be learned from the simple “24 hour” trip and the formula used to plan it can easily be multiplied by however many days one will be out on the trail.

The necessary planning that goes into these trips is extremely simple once you’ve done enough of them.  All that is needed is a simple gearlist to check off before venturing out and a small pantry of easy to grab food items.  That’s it.  Pile up your gear, grab some food, fill your water bottle, and hit the trail.

This past weekend three of us set out for an overnighter and I took a picture of the food I was carrying as an example of just how simple it is.  Everything pictured above are items I always have stocked in a box stored in an out of the way cabinet in my kitchen.  In the box are an assortment of bags of granola, packets of coffee, energy bars, chips, and dehydrated dinner choices.  Whatever I feel suits me for the weekend is what I grab.

Ultralight Backpacking Cookset

An hour or so is spent on a Thursday evening piling up my gear followed by 30 minutes or an hour with the pile of food and my scale weighing out what is needed.  I use Mike Clelland’s system for food choice which requires each backpacker bring 1.4 lb (.63 kg) of dry food per person per day.  This means that an overnighter will basically consist of a 1/2 day in, a night, and a 1/2 day out which all-in-all adds up to one full day, or 1.4 lbs of dry food.

My morning routine is almost always granola and coffee for this kind of trip.  On longer, big mile trips I may not heat water in the morning so coffee may wait ’til the late morning or be consumed cold but on a chill trip a relaxing cup of morning joe is pretty much the best way anyone can spend any time and that’s all I have to say about that.  Lunch and snacks for me are a combination of energy bars, chips, summer sausage, and cheese.  A nice balance of sweet food and savory foods is good because you don’t always know what mood you’ll be in and what kind of food you want.  If all you have is choco-minty-sugar-flavor energy bars and all you want to eat is salt-bomb-chip-nom-noms you might be let down.

Dinner is the most artistic and varying bit of my “formula”.  I vary in dinner foods from the super simple (ramen noodles covered in instant sausage gravy) to the gourmet (shrimp tettrazini cooked and dehydrated beforehand at home).  For easy to store pantry stuff I recommend instant mashed potatoes, ramen noodles, instant dry sauce packages, and whatever sort of dehydrated goods are available at your local grocer (corn chowder, split pea soup, dehydrated beans, et al).  Above is a combination of dehydrated corn chowder, beans, and assorted dried veggies, topped off with a beef bouillion cube.  I almost always carry a small plastic bottle full of olive oil (easy, dense, cheap calories) and a bottle of some sort of salt/pepper/Lowry’s/whatever type of seasoning.

The pictured quantity of food is tiny and fits into the bottom 1/3 of a 12.5×20 OPsak odor proof sack which is then put into a stuff sack.  The one photo’ed is a Hyperlite Mountain Gear cuben sack that is about as finely produced a stuff sack as exists on the market today.  The whole thing gets run into a tree on a 2.2mm piece of dyneema cord attached by a mini carabiner and will hang all nice and snug while I slumber away under my tarp a hundred meters away.

Happy nomming!

Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips by Mike Clelland!

I am friends with a lot of backpackers. I met a few through the internet, some randomly along the trail, others I’ve had the pleasure of working and guiding alongside. One of the most knowledgeable and accomplished of these is Mike Clelland!, a man who has spent thousands of nights in the backcountry ranging in territory from just outside his humble shack along the Tetons of Idaho to the glacier-strewn wilds of the Alaskan Wilderness.

Mike has a career history that spans quite the range. From drawing pictures on the Big Apple’s Madison Avenue scene to leading kids into the woods for weeks on end as a N.O.L.S. instructor he’s been there and done that. These two very different career paths can only merge in a select few ways. One of them is his passion for illustrating cute little backpackers and skiiers alongside the educational written word of his colleagues. He’s got his name listed on a handful of smart, witty, educational, and relevant book titles. Recently Mike struck out on his own and opted to pen not only the illustrations but the written tips of a new book entitled “Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips – 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping”


Mike Clelland - Ultralight Backpackin' Tips

Buy this book from Backpacking Light and read it.  Mike’s ability to balance humor and sensitivity alongside rigorous weight-reduction is amazing.  Right-brainers and left-brainers alike will read this and find themselves both amused by the whimsy of each page as well as astounded by the practical wisdom contained within.

“Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips – 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping”

How Can a Gear List Work For You?

Like a good number of readers of this blog I enjoy going over my gearlists. Gear gets old and needs replacing, new gear needs trying out, gear that is redundant gets left at home – the reasons a gear list can change are countless. Having an up to date gear list typed, organized, and at the ready is key to trip planning. Particularly, having a gear list at the ready, printed and posted near your gear or near the area that you arrange your gear for a trip is extremely helpful in expediting the preparation process.

For the past few years I’ve gone backpacking nearly ever summer weekend. I typically work until late afternoon on Friday and want to be able to head out the door immediately when done so I often pack for a trip on Thursday evening. In order to make this go as smoothly and efficiently as possible I had the idea a couple years ago to print my gear list and tape it to my wall. For the past year my roommate and I both reference two lists taped to the wall of our kitchen – one contains everything you need for a summer backpacking trip, the other for a day trip splitboarding.

Since my roommate and I both have different brands of gear and since choices between brands or models of gear may vary from trip to trip I find a generic list to be most effective. The list is broken down into a few columns:

  • Category – an organizational column such as ‘clothing’, ‘packing’, ‘repair’, ‘electronics’, et al
  • Item – referring to item type, aka ‘map’, ‘pants’, ‘backpack’, ‘tarp’, etc
  • Worn – the weight of any item that is worn on your person
  • In Pack – the weight of any item not always worn but more typically found in your pack

Of the above columns if you were even more a minimalist you could simply list all your “items”, leaving off the category and weights. I appreciate the Category column however as it allows me to mentally group pieces of kit together in my head as I mentally check off the list.

I’ve posted a gear list to the wall of the kitchen because it has a large section of floor space onto which gear can be piled. All my gear is stored in bins adjacent to the kitchen in my garage and the bins are loosely organized similarly to the categories listed on the spreadsheet. For instance, to start I would pull the shelter bin down off the shelf and grab the most fitting shelter for my trip. Next I would pull the Cooking/Hydration bin down and find the necessary water bottle, utensil, stove, pot, water treatment, et al.

I find that the majority of the list is in my head and I can grab items willy-nilly from the bins, throwing them into a pile on the floor without looking at the list. Then, once I can’t think of any more items to grab I go to the list and read it from top to bottom, specifically resting my eyes on each line so as to not gloss any one item over. Once I come to a list item that I have not yet added to the pile I immediately go get it, add it to the pile and continue reading down the list. This attention to detail will seem silly and wasteful to some but to me it avoids something that I consider really wasteful and silly – – getting halfway to a trailhead and having to turn around because you realize you forgot your hiking shoes.

Use this list as a template by viewing the shared document entitled gearlist_generic_summer.ods.

Gearlist Generic Summer
Gearlist Generic Summer