Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

2019 Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers

This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

2019 Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers – Expensive Gifts

This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

2019 Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers – Mid-Range

This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

2019 Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers – Inexpensive

This gear is smarter, lighter and more thoroughly tested than your typical buyer’s guide. Enjoy our picks of the best light and practical gear in our Smart and Light Gift Guide for Hikers and Backpackers.

2018/19 Torres del Paine W Trek and Circuit Trek – Quick and Easy Guide to Essential Trip Planning

These are two of the most spectacular treks in the world, but are neither strenuous nor difficult to access. This is the best guide to the Torres del Paine W Trek and Circuit Treks, in-print or online. This guide was inspired by Alison and I finding a scarcity of accurate and up-to-date information on how to plan for hiking Torres del Paine. In fact mainstream, supposedly reputable materials about the trek were missing essential information, out-of-date, or just plain wrong. Here is the information gathered from our recent Circuit Trek in Torres de Paine.

Table of Quick Links to Plan Your Torres del Paine Trek

IMPORTANT – Latest and Best Information for Trekking in Torres de Paine

CONAF continues to make logistical changes to this trek over time. Check this grey box for the latest important changes. Below are the top informational items to note for your trek for the 2018-2019 season.

Campamento Torres (área de acampar Torres) will be closed for the 2018-19 season! This has significant implications for the W Trek, As a backup until this resolves, you could consider booking Campamento Chileno (Área de acampar Chileno) with Fantastico Sur. It’s plus an hour or a bit longer hike up to the Torres de Paine (vs. C. Torres), but still doable. Because they have the monopoly, last year they only booked hikers who paid for full meals. Expect the same for the 2018-2019 season.

In January, 2017 CONAF instituted quotas which will continue in 2018-2019 for both the W Trek and Circuit Trek

  1. Advance Reservations are Required for All Your Campsites (W and Circuit)

You need to have all your campsite reservations in place before you enter the park. “You need to show reservations at each campsite in order to stay. This is being enforced. There are limited campsites so making your reservation is essential. (Overcrowding last year caused camp latrines to collapse and many people got sick. Due to this, multiple campsites are now permanently closed.)”

  1. There is an 80 Person Per Day Limit on the Circuit Trek (and it can only be done counterclockwise).

There is a 80 person per day limit for the “Backside” (non-W portion) of the Circuit Trek. This is passively regulated by the campsite reservation system (that is, if you have all your campsite reservations you are part of the 80 people per day allowed). This is being strictly enforced! There is a guard house (Guardería Coirón) on the backside operated by CONAF and and you’ll be asked to show proof of your reservations to proceed. Note: We have received reports of trekkers without reservations being sent back. [see Official Park Trekking Map]

  1. Reservations for the free Park (CONAF) Campsites Fill up Well in Advance
    Note: As of Sept 2018 CONAF is now charging the entrance fee when you book their free campsites. In addition, the process is now more complicated. Below we give you detailed guidance on how to best book your reservations.

Per CONAF:If you are unable to book in all the camps you want to visit, you must adapt your itinerary according to the camps you could get. Consider that there are two other camping and shelter providers where you can book: Fantastico Sur* and Vertice*. We remind you that if you do not have the corresponding reservations you will not be able to access the mountain trails and you should plan other visit options, as there will be control points where you must show the voucher or confirmation email of your reservation.

*Note: Can’t get a site on Vertice/Fantastico? Switch to ‘book in chilean pesos’ – yes it switches to Spanish, but google translate can help you out.

  1. There are now cutoff/closing times for most trails

The  Official Park Trekking Map now has cutoff times listed for many trails—that is you need to start hiking before that time to reach your destination. This is now strictly enforced. This map will still get you everything you need for the trek.


As of December 2018  there is a new app, Torres Del Paine Lodging, that will show you the availability of all campsites in the park (CONAF, Vertice, and Fanstistico Sur). While you will still need to book campsites with directly with CONAF, Vertice, and Fanstistico Sur, you will be able to see at a glance what is open (or not) for all three.

Fantastico Sur:  is now open for 2018/2019 reservations and their rates are online.  Use this button for their website FIRST

Below are three additional buttons—one has the rates for the 2018/2019 season, one is the booking form (you can email the form to make a reservation — may take a while), and the last is their policies including cancellation info. For the 2018-2019 season, their refugios in the W are open Sept 2-April 30, and in the Circuit November 1-March 31.


Vertice: Has their 2018-2019 dates posted already and it looks like they are booking reservations . Their W refugios are open September 1-April 30, Circuit November 1-March 30. Check their website for latest prices. 

CONAF: ****IS NOW OPEN**** But you still cannot book more than six months in advance (180 days before you go) for their sites of Italiano (open October-April) and Paso (open November-April). 

NEW INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE CONAF SITE: Scroll down to the “RESERVAR CAMPING CONAF” click on that link; next, you will see the entrance fees for the park. The campsites are still free. However, CONAF is now charging you the entrance fee when you book these free campsites so get ready to pay. Click on “comprar entradas.”  Now you will need to set up an account with CONAF. Use the “pasaporte” user access  (‘RUT’ is for Chilean residents). Once registered, follow the instructions to book the dates you need for each of the campsites (Italiano and/or Paso). CONAF will automatically charge you the $21,000 CLP entrance fee in addition to booking your sites when you check out.

Note: this is a trip guide. We are not a booking agency and have no special access to Vertice, Fantastico Sur & CONAF. As such, your best strategy is to deal directly with V, FS & CONAF yourself. Wishing you a great trek and we will continue to post information as we receive it. Warmest, -Alan and Alison

WHEN DOES THE PARK REALLY OPEN? Over the years we have received reports of some confusion and disarray in TdP, particularly around opening dates. So, keep in mind that the required booking system is still somewhat new to the park and clearly causing a lot more work for Fantastico and Vertice employees. As such, there is bound to be a difficult transition from the older, more free flowing system to this new stricter one. Our advice would be to continue to try and keep the communication lines open by contacting all parties, CONAF, Fantastico, and Vertice using all email addresses, Facebook, and phone. Also keep in mind that all three of these agencies are distinct and most likely do not communicate amongst themselves. You are the only thing they have in common which puts the burden on you to figure out what is going on.

“OFF SEASON” April 30 to sometime in November: Most Refugios and Private Campamentos close during the off season. Backside of O/Circuit guided only.

As of April 30 Most, most Refugios/Private Campamentos (Fantastico Sur and Vertice) are closed for the season. You can still camp on the W but obviously there will be far fewer resources. The “Backside” of the O or Circuit Trek (Serón, Dickson, Los Perros, Paso John Garner, etc.) is closed unless with an official guide. They will re-open to general use/travel at the start of the High Season, usually sometime in November.

Two Alternative World Class Treks in Patagonia

Looking for Something to do after Torres del Paine? Or are you finding reservations difficult and/or campsites booked? Then checkout out our guides to these two incredible off the beaten path Patagonia Treks  — Chile’s exciting New Patagonia National Park Trek Guide and the Cerro Castillo Trek Guide. No reservations required and you’ll see far fewer people.

Chile’s New Patagonia National Park may well become the “Yellowstone of South America” due to its rich diversity. The new Park has it all — the high glaciated peaks of the Southern Andes, wide valleys with ice cold glacial rivers, forests of southern beech hanging with moss, and startlingly green glacial lakes. Fairly unique to the park is its expansive grasslands supporting a vast array of wildlife. It’s easy to see herds of guanacos, condors, flamingos, armadillos and much more…

Cerro Castillo Trek Guide

The Cerro Castillo Trek is nearby and equally stunning. When, combined with the New Patagonia National Park Trek you have almost two weeks of fantastic trekking in a much less traveled but exciting region of Patagonia.


Overview of Torres de Paine W Trek and Circuit Trek

The Torres del Paine W Trek and Circuit Trek (or ‘O’ Trek) have a well deserved reputation as world class backpacking trips. The Torres del Paine Park has the goods, with stunning views at every turn. Massive glaciers, including the vast Heilo Sur (Southern Ice Shelf) the second largest non-polar ice field on the planet. There are immense towers of rock, rushing mountain streams and waterfalls, huge azure lakes, and sublime fields of wildflowers—Andean Condors with a wingspan of over 10 feet soar overhead. Finally, you’ll meet interesting people from all over the world. The Torres del Paine provides true global trekking.

The Torres del Paine W Trek the Circuit Trek are more accessible and more manageable than other world-renowned treks like the John Muir trail or Tour de Mont Blanc. The Torres del Paine treks are shorter and less strenuous. The classic W trek can be done in as little as 3 days. And we comfortably did the Circuit Trek in 4.5 hiking days with plenty of time to gawk and take photos. The treks do not have a lot of elevation gain or loss. All the hiking is near sea level so there’s no altitude to deal with. The park has excellent trails with good signage. It is almost impossible to get off route or lost. Water is plentiful and in the campsites can be drunk without treatment. You are never far from help. There are ranger stations and/or campgrounds about every four hiking hours. In fact, the Torres del Paine would be a trek in the park if it weren’t for periods of nasty Patagonian weather and strong winds—very strong winds. Even so, the Torres is an entry level trip for many backpackers and trekkers. It is also a great way to start trekking in South America which has almost endless opportunities for more fantastic treks!

Torres del Paine W Trek

Glacier Grey, a 7 km (4.5 mile) wide river of ice that flows down from the immense Heilo Sur (this Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the second largest non-polar ice shelf). Glacier Grey’s origin from the Heilo Sur is at the upper right of the photo between the snow covered mountains of the Southern Andes. If you only do the W you will miss this view. It was our favorite part of the trek. Alan’s HyperLite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest Pack is carrying less than 12 pounds (6 kg) at this point in the trip.

Current and Accurate Information for Torres del Paine

This guide was inspired by Alison and I finding a scarcity of accurate and up-to-date information on how to plan for hiking Torres del Paine. In fact mainstream, supposedly reputable materials about the trek were plain wrong. We hope to correct this with current and accurate information from our recent completion of Torres del Paine Circuit Trek (which includes the full W Trek). Much of this information is especially needed in high season when some park facilities (especially on the W Trek) are full, or near capacity and camping reservations well advised.

  • The top ranked Amazon guide and map for Torres del Paine are seriously out of date. The Cicerone Guide (updated 2013) & Standard large map of TdP (Zaiger) both have out of date trail and campground info. e.g. recommending camping in closed campgrounds. Listing nonexistent campgrounds and suggesting hiking on trails that are now closed to travel.
    • We provide a current park map with correct campground & trail information (jump to Park map)
  • Hiking times in most guides and park maps are too conservative. If you are a moderately fit hiker you will likely do better than these times. This is one case where hiking too fast is as problematic as too slow (since you need to reserve your campsites ahead of time). The major complaint that we heard was of people hiking faster than expected and arriving at their reserved campground around noon (and it doesn’t get dark until after 10:00 pm in the summer!). That is they could have easily hiked to another stage that day to the next campsite. (Here is a listing of our less conservative hiking times and distances for Torres del Paine)
  • Gear – Almost all guides will have you ridiculously over pack gear. Yes, the weather can be rough at times in Patagonia. Fear of this causes many (most) folks and even so-called “experts” and guide books to recommend massively over packing gear.  But there’s no need to stagger around with a heavy pack to deal with Patagonian weather. Rest assured, you can pack much lighter and still be warm and safe.
    • Alison’s pack with food was under 15 pounds (under 7 kilos) and Alan’s pack with food was under 17 pounds (under 8 kilos). Our gear easily handled the rain and strong Patagonian wind. (Here is a detailed list of gear we took.

We loved the backside of the Circuit Trek. Less people. More varied terrain. Idyllic valleys. Superb vistas. Pictured are wildflowers in full bloom in Valle Encantado (enchanted valley). We walked though fields of them for miles. They started as we dropped into the valley on our way to Campamento Serón and continued to Refugio Dickson. Along they way you get great views of the Patagonian Andes and even peeks at Heilo Sur, the vast Southern Ice shelf. Alison’s ULA Ohm 2.0 Pack is probably carrying less than 11 lb (5 kg) at this point in the trip.

Planning Your Torres del Paine Trip

Torres del Paine W Trek

Fair warning, not all days are sunny in Patagonia, but that doesn’t mean the Torres del Paine is any less beautiful. Clouds and mists swirling around the high peaks are every bit as stunning as a sunny day. Glacier Frances (a hanging glacier) from near Mirador Frances. The summit of Paine Grande the highest mountain in the park at 3,050 m (10,000 ft) is already obscured by clouds mid-afternoon. It’s typical in Patagonia for peaks to cloud in later in the day, even in good weather. Early starts are best if you want unobstructed views of the peaks.

Step 1 – Pick your trip: W Trek, Circuit Trek or ‘Q’

  • The W Trek is by far the most popular. Most people do it in a relaxed 5 days but it can be done in 3 days. It covers the standard highlights: Glacier Grey, Valle Frances and Glacier Frances, and of course the Torres de Paine, the gem of the Park. There are a lot of trekkers on the W Trek in high season. In addition to a many backpackers, the W Trek can be swarmed by day hikers going to the same key miradors (viewpoints) as the backpackers. W Trek campsites can be filled to capacity. On the bright side you’ll meet a lot of fun and interesting people from around the world.
  • The Circuit Trek or ‘O’ Trek does all of the W Trek, then continues around the back of the Torres del Paine to complete a full loop. We believe many backpackers could easily do it in 5 to 6 days. (We comfortably did it in 4.5 hiking days). We prefer the Circuit Trek. The “backside,” non-W part of the Circuit Trek, is every bit as beautiful as the W Trek but with fewer people (since its limited to 80 people per day). And you see a lot more of the park, which is more varied than just the W Trek. For instance, you walk for miles above Glacier Grey, a 7 km (4.5 mile) wide river of ice that flows down from the immense Heilo Sur (the vast Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the second largest non-polar ice shelf). This was our favorite part of the trek. And finally, the Circuit Trek gives you more time to enjoy this stunning park! [The tricky part of the Circuit is getting over Paso John Garner. This pass can sometimes be closed to travel by rangers due to high winds and/or low visibility.]
  • The ‘Q’ Trek is the ‘O’ plus the section between the Serano Visitors Center (see park map here for details) and Refugio Paine Grande. This section forms the tail of the ‘Q’ and adds a bit more hiking and sight seeing for those so inclined.

Torres de Paine W Trek

Our GPX map nicely shows the trek options: the two main Torres de Paine treks–the W Trek is in red and covers Glacier Grey, Valle Frances, Glacier Frances, and of course the Torres de Paine themselves. The Circuit Trek is the W Trek plus the ‘Backside’ which is in blue. It includes the Valle Encantado, Lago & Glacier Dickson, Paso John Garner, and walks along the incredible Glacier Grey–note this map shows Campamento Torres which is now closed. [click on image to enlarge]


Torres de Paine W Trek

Hiking along the shores of Lago Norgenskjold. (W Trek)

GPX File for Torres del Paine W and O Treks

Link to the .GPX File for the routes and waypoints for the Torres del Paine W Trek and Circuit Treks. It is arranged for the Circuit Trek but includes all tracks and waypoints the W Trek.

The Park’s Official Map

This is the standard map handed out (for free) when you get your permit at the Park Entrance. It is accurate and more than adequate to plan and safely navigate the route.

  • Trekking Map – Torres del Paine (main map) PDF  will open in a PDF viewer which you can expand and zoom in. IMPORTANT!  The ‘Circuit’ or ‘O’ Trek can now only be done counterclockwise from Hotel/Camping Las Torres to Campamento Paso. Campamento Torres is closed for the 18/19 Season (possibly permanently?). And as stated earlier, you’ll need proof of reservations for each night. (This is strictly enforced at Coirón Ranger Station and you will be sent back to Serón if you do not have reservations!).  

The Park’s Official Map is all you need to safely hike Torres del Paine. Note: Most if not all other maps and guidebooks are out of date with incorrect listings of campgrounds no longer in use, and trails and miradors (viewpoints) that are now closed to travel. [click on map to enlarge in a PDF viewer]

Note that of the side of the map now has cutoff times listed for many trails—that is you need to start hiking before that time to reach your destination. This is now strictly enforced. Look at the table “Horarias de Cierre de Senderos” (Trail Closing times). E.g. “Refugio Paine Grande — Area acampar Italiano – 18:30,” means that if you are hiking from Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, you must be hiking by 3:30 pm.

Step 2 – Plan your Day by Day Itinerary – how fast you’ll hike & where you’ll camp

Determining where you’ll camp each night is a critical first step to planning your trip since, during high season, you will need advance reservations. Note that the Park now has cutoff times listed for many trails—that is you need to start hiking before that time to reach your destination. This is now strictly enforced. See table above.

We give suggested itineraries for the W Trek and Circuit or ‘O’ Trek.  But we also give the table below which lists distances and hiking times for both the W Trek and Circuit Trek. With it you can modify those itineraries or make your own new itinerary.

There is no wild camping in the Torres del Paine (not in a designated campground). You must camp at one of the designated park locations. They are serious about this. They threw someone out the park for wild camping the week we were there. Thus you need to camp at a specific campsite each night. Reservations can be made ahead of time (see references below in Step 3).

Special Note about a contingency for a layover day(s):  You may want a contingency plan to spend at least one extra day on the your trek*. Weather conditions are notoriously difficult to predict in Patagonia. Localized, glacier and mountain influenced microclimates along with moisture flow from the Straits of Magellan, and generally strong circumpolar summer winds can interact to create strong weather of all sorts. Be prepared for high winds, rain and even snow, along with sunshine and calm. Many times in the same day. You may be forced to take layover a day by high winds*. Plan your route itinerary accordingly. Refer to Step 3, Reservations for how to include this in your itinerary. [*This is especially true for the Circuit Trek. The tricky part of the Circuit Trek is getting over Paso John Garner. This pass can sometimes be closed to travel by rangers due to high winds and/or low visibility.]

C= campamento (camp)   R= refugio (more facilities, meals and beds in addition to camping)

  • This table is a just starting point for planning. You will need to estimate your own hiking pace based on your abilities and pack weight.
  • Times in above table are for Alison and I on our recent trek which we averaged about 2 miles per hour (3.4 km/hr). We are reasonably fit and experienced hikers and carried packs under 18 pounds (under 8 kilos) . See our gear list for details. But we are both over 50 years old and by no means speed hikers. And during our trek, Alison was recovering from influenza.
  • Hours (hiking times between points) is just that—hiking/moving time only. Our hiking times include only short stopped tasks like tying a shoelace, snapping a quick photo, putting on a rain jacket, or filling a water bottle. They do not include stoppage or breaks longer than 2-3 minutes. We averaged 2 miles/hour the entire trek.
  • Hiking faster than expected can be just as problematic as slower. See below…
  • Hiking times on Park Maps and in most guide books are conservative (based on an “average” hiker traveling with a heavy pack and not intending on setting any speed records). If you are reasonably fit hiker you will likely do better than these times. We believe with an early start and decent to OK weather, most backpackers could probably do two stages in a day. You have 17 hours of daylight in January!
  • So chances are that you’ll take less time to get from place to place than their estimates. This is one case where hiking too fast is as problematic as too slow. The major complaint we heard was of people hiking faster than expected and arriving at their reserved campground around noon. e.g. they could have easily hiked another stage that day to the next campamento/refugio.
  • We suggest you get an early start and hike far when the weather is good. You may get bad weather later in the trip. There is a lot of daylight in the summer hiking season. The key to making miles is to keep a steady pace and minimize time lost on long stops.

A peek at the Southern Andes and the Vast Southern Ice Field. Nearing the end of Valle Encantado on the backside of the Circuit Trek. The day from Campamento Seron to Campamento Los Perros was one of our favorite days.

Step 3 – Reserve Your Campsite, Tent, Bed, Meals, etc.

There are four types of “campsites”: Park camps (public), private run camps, Refugios (all private), and one Hotel.  Only the four park Campamentos (campgrounds) are free. All others have varying fees based on the facilities they provide.

  • Park Campamentos are the most basic campsites. There are three free ones run by the park: Campamentos Italiano, Paso & Los Carretas. In high season, you need to reserve early as they are often full. They are reserved at CONAF (Park) offices in P Natales or at the Park entrances. These campamentos have designated dirt tent sites, an assumedly clean water supply, a common cooking area (which you are required to use when cooking with a stove), and a pit toilet quality bathroom. These are in the woods with no views–but advantageous for protecting your tent from being flattened by strong Patagonian winds.
  • Private Campamentos charge a small fee for use. They usually have a few more amenities. Often a small store, a cold or hot shower, tent rentals, and some even serve dinner (which you can reserve ahead or some times get seated day of). They do not have bed lodging. One of the best meals of our trip (in town restaurants included) was at Campamento Serón!
  • Refugios have beds (and, in at least one, cabins for rent) in addition to camping. They have nicer (sometimes substantially nicer) shower and toilet facilities than campamentos. Note: camping at a Refugio entitles you to use the nicer shower and toilet facilities, same as the folks sleeping in beds. This makes them an attractive alternate to camping at nearby Campamentos (e.g. camping at Refugio Frances vs. Campamento Italiano).
  • There is one Full-service Hotel (Las Torres) on the route, conveniently located on the W within day hiking distance to the actual Torres del Paine.

Four organizations handle reservations (with links to make reservations):

  • Park Campamentos: The Park now offers a way to reserve their free campsites online. The website is here, Reservas De Campamentos (free campsite reservations) and appears to only be in Spanish. If you can’t reserve online, then try going in-person to CONAF (Park) offices in Puerto Natales or lastly, to the Park entrances. If you can’t reserve in Puerto Natales, make sure you are first off the bus at the park entrance to get the best shot as W Campamentos Italiano, and Campamento Torres. This may not be possible in Puerto Natales or the Park entrance. With the online reservation system, it appears that the CONAF campamentos may be booked six months in advance although they are now charging the entrance fee when you book their free campsites.
  • Fantastico Sur* handles reservations for: Refugio Las Torres, Camping Las Torres (not the same as the closed Campamento Torres), Refugio Los Cuernos, Camping Los Cuernos, Domo Los Cuernos, Cabañas Los Cuernos, Refugio El Chileno, Camping El Chileno, Camping Serón, Domo Serón, Camping Francés, Domo Francés, and Refugio Torre Norte
  • Vertice Patagonia* handles reservations for: Refugio Paine Grande (camping, meals & beds), R. Grey (camping, meals & beds), R. Dickson (camping, meals & beds), and Camping Los Perros (camping only).
  • Hotel Las Torres (a full service hotel at one end of the ‘W’)
  • *Note: Can’t get a site on Vertice/Fantastico? Switch to ‘book in chilean pesos’ – yes it switches to Spanish, but google translate can help you out.
Logo Dickson from near Refugio Dickson (backside of the Circuit Trek).

Lago Dickson with Glacier Dickson pouring down from the Southern Ice Field. This is at Refugio Dickson, backside of the Circuit Trek.

Some notes:

  • Breakfast is 8’ish. You’ll get a late start if you choose to eat one from a Refugio. Lunch is around 12:30. Dinner is 7’ish.
  • Fanstastico Sur was responsive and very easy to work with. We easily changed campsite reservations, and dinner reservations when our schedule varied from planned (hiked faster than anticipated).
  • Vertice Patagonia was harder to work with. Credit card payments online didn’t work. Their office in Puerto Natales had limited hours (closed on weekend). People report having the best results via email.

Mirador Britanico in Valley Frances. Not all days are sunny in Patagonia, especially later in the day when the mountains are likely to cloud in. A waterproof pack like this HMG 2400 Southwest is nice on days that are threatening rain.

Step 4 – Plan your Gear and Food

  • Alan’s pack was under 17 pounds (under 8 kilos) with food
  • Alison’s pack was under 15 pounds (under 7 kilos) with food
  • We carried about 10 pounds (4.5 kilos) of shared food for the trip. We supplemented this with purchased food along the way.


Note that we have reports of bugs from Serón to Grey. We use the following on areas not protected by clothing: DEET (or the newer  Picaridin which doesn’t degrade clothing or plastics). We prefer airline friendly 0.5 pump sprays, which are small, pocketable and easily applied in the field.  Alternatively, for around $6 USD you can get spray at Cruz Verde Pharmacies in Puerto Natales.

You can also a wear long sleeved shirt and full-length pants factory-treated with insect repellent (permethrin). Pre treated clothing has near-permanent effectiveness (clothing  treated before purchase is labeled for efficacy through 70 launderings). You can also treat your own clothing with a Permethrin spray (Sawyer)  which lasts up to 6 weeks (or 6 washings).

Below is a comprehensive list of our Torres del Paine gear.You can scroll in the list below to see the entire list.

Our Gear List is best viewed here: (World-wide Trekking Gear List (link to original table). We took this gear on our Torres del Paine Trek except as noted:






Alison’s ULA Ohm 2.0 Pack

      • For hiking shoes we prefer light trainers/trail runners around 10-12 oz per shoe (280-340 g). For a variety of reasons we do not take Goretex/waterproof shoes.
      • Camp footwear: Trails can be wet and it’s just faster and easier to walk thru the mud and muck than waste time hopping and skirting around. We brought very light flipflops (2.5 oz, 80g) and Injinji socks for camp. The flipflops do double duty as shower shoes and camp footwear when worn with the Injinjis. Beware packing heavier camp footwear. A pair of Crocks is around 1 pound, and a pair of light running shoes can approach 2 lbs!
      • We did not take bear canisters. No bears in Patagonia.



I carried very light digital camera readily accessible on the shoulder strap of my pack

I carried a Very Light but high quality Digital Camera readily accessible on the shoulder strap of my pack.

  • Camera: for camera gear we take see Best Lightweight Backpacking Cameras. I took a very light 16 oz (450 g), but very high quality digital camera readily accessible on the shoulder strap of my pack. I could get it out for a shot in just a few seconds.

Note that trekking/camping gear can be rented in Puerto Natales at outfitters like the Base Camp of Erratic Rock. Another option to save both weight and time is to rent a tent at one of the campsites. To be assured of one you’d need to reserve one ahead of time, but we saw plenty of rental tents empty on our trek in high season.

Note that the table below is in scrollable window. Please scroll down to see the entire Gear List

Cooking, Stoves & Fires

Campamento Los Perros had the nicest cooking are of the trip.

Campamento Los Perros had the nicest cooking area of the trip. Some campgrounds only have a three sided cooking shelter with a roof or designated picnic tables.

Cooking stoves & Fires

See my information on Cooking and Lightweight Backpacking Stoves

  • The park is crazy strict about no fires whatsoever*. You can only cook with a stove in a designated area of the campground. Canister and Alcohol stoves are fine. *This is due to two devastating camper started fires in 2005 – 155 km2 (60 sq mi); and again in 2011 – 176 km2 (68 sq mi).
  • Fuel canisters are everywhere in Punta Arenas and P. Natales. Hardware stores, hiking stores, and many other locations. Even some of the small stores at Refugios along the route have canisters. There are many options in town (hostels, hiking stores) to leave your partially used canisters for others to use.
  • Alcohol fuel is available at Cruz Verde pharmacies in plastic bottles.
Burned trees at the start of the W Trek are a reminder of how devastating fires can be in windy Patagonia. It will take hundreds of year s for this area to fully recover.

Burned trees at the start of the W Trek are a reminder of how devastating fires can be in windy Patagonia. It will take hundreds of years for this area to fully recover.



Pringles, Pro Bars, Snickers, Milky Way, Pasta, M&Ms, Powdered Milk, Batteries, Fuel Canisters. The Alimentacion (food store) at Refugio Dickson. Fuel canisters (lower right corner). Pasta is the red and white checkered bag above the canisters. (click on photo to enlarge a bit)

Food for Torres de Paine

  • We brought 5 lb (2.3 kg) of food per person to do the Circuit for an expected 6 days on the route. This consisted of:
    • Breakfast and coffee for every trail day (we like an early start)
    • The majority of our lunches and daily snack food
    • Two dinners to cook on trail
    • Our dinner strategy was to cook two of our own backpacking meals; buy pasta, cheese and sauce on the trail for two meals; and have two sit-down meals along the way as the spirit and circumstances moved us.
    • We supplemented this with a modest amount of food purchased along the route
  • You can bring as much or as little food as you want. You can carry almost no food if you are willing to pay top $ for it on the trail (about 1.5 to 2+ times town retail cost).

Here is a piece I wrote on Backpacking Food: Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious – veggie and omnivore friendly

  • Follow all regulations (click for link)  (unfortunately, only in Spanish) regarding bringing food into the country, including declaring what you bring in! My best understanding from reading the reg’s and from reports from other trekkers as of Jan 2017, is that fruit, vegetable, meat and milk products cannot come into the country—including dried and dehydrated versions. They will check at customs when you enter Chile. According to other trekkers, sealed backpacking meals are OK. As such, you will likely need to at least partially provision in Punta Arenas (best/more options) or Puerto Natales to complete your food for the trip. We bought our cheese, dried fruit, and dried meats once we were in Chile.
  • Alimentacions (small food stores) are at all refugios and most private campgrounds. They have limited non-perishable supplies. Usually Coke, beer and sometimes wine, cookies, candy bars, and a few have basic camping supplies like fuel canisters. And many have pasta, tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese packets (which can be combined for simple but filling dinners).
  • There are sit-down style meals at the Refugios and at Campamento Serón if you want to pay for them. We ate two dinners while there, one was just OK at Frances, but the meal at Serón was fantastic. (Dinner seating is usually at 7:00 or 7:30 pm).

Bus Fernandez Terminal in Punta Arenas. Almost everybody is taking the bus to Puerto Natales to trek in the Park. In the foreground a large amount of the luggage is backpacks.


Most folks will end up flying into the Punta Arenas Airport. From the Punta Arenas Airport: All the guidebooks (and the buses themselves) say that the buses from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales stop at the airport. However, we did not find that to be the case during the high season.

    • We had to take a white/grey bus from the Airport to the Buses Fernández terminal in Punta Arenas, around 5,000 chilean Pesos per person. From there, we got on the next bus to P. Natales.
    • Or you can take a taxi from the Airport to town for around 10,000 chilean Pesos (approx. $16 USD in 2016)
  • Buses, during high season, in general run every hour (see schedules). While making reservations from a town was easy enough, we found making a reservation from the US difficult and, in the end, not needed.
  • Buses Fernández (the bus we took) Runs buses from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales (the usual town to stage from for Torres del Paine Treks). While they do get crowded, the bus companies worked together to make sure all customers were accommodated.
  • Buses Gomez (the bus we took) Runs buses from Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine Park (start of W Trek and Circuit Trek). Again, the buses work together to accommodate all who are going. The other bus company we saw actively operating in the park was “Buses María José” although we didn’t use them.
  • Update Aug, 2016: Bus-Sur also runs Puerto Natales to the Torres del Paine Park, and has a 7:00am bus. With a very early bus there is a possibility of catching the 9:30’ish ferry from Pudeto (see below).
  • Catamaran on Lago Pehoé (Site with transportation and park information) and the Actual Helios Patagonicos Site (in Spanish) – this is the ferry that gets you across Lago Pehoé from Pudeto (the bus drop-off) to Refugio Paine Grande, start of the W Trek going west to east. Note that in high season the ferry may operate more frequently than their schedule indicates—adding extra ferries as passenger demand increases. You pay on the ferry.

Bus service from Puerto Natales Chile to El Calafate Argentina (El Chalten)

The other high profile (fantastic!) destination in Patagonia is the Cerro Torre, Fitzroy area outside of El Chalten in Argentine Patagonia. Alison and I trekked in this area in 2005. To do that you’ll need to take a Bus (unless you have a rental car). We have not taken the bus between Puerto Natales and El Calafate but there is a fairly large bus terminal in Puerto Natales with a lot of bus traffic during the day. Bus-Sur and Turismo Zaahj offer service between Puerto Natales and El Calafate (gateway to El Chalten). We cannot personally vouch for the buses, having not taken them across the border to Argentina.

I have been advised that during high season, Dec to Feb that busses can fill up so it may be best to book well in advance (possibly before you arrive). Some readers have used a third party to book the bus. They report “we used Patagonia Extrema/Southroad to book – we paid a 35-40% premium on tickets, but it was worth it, as our Calafate-PN, PN-Park roundtrip, and PN to PA buses were all sold-out.

Also from El Calafate you can easily see one of the great natural wonders of Argentina, the Perito Moreno Glacier (scroll a fair amount down to see the pictures). It’s one of the few advancing glaciers in the world—it moves about 7cm each day. Because it is constantly moving, vast blocks of ice fall off the face of the glacier into the lake, calving icebergs with an explosive detonation that sounds like a bomb going off.

Chile’s Atacama Desert

The other incredible destination is to fly to the Atacama Desert. This is where Alison and I went last year post TdP. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Amazing salt lakes and wildlife! We saw 3 of the 6 world’s flamingo species while there. Amazing star watching, possibly the premier astronomical research location on the planet. There is El Tatio an immense caldera with its many geysers is in the Atacama Desert at over 14,000 feet (4320m). Its name comes from the Quechua word for oven. It is among the highest-elevation geyser fields in the world. El Tatio has over 80 active geysers, making it the largest geyser field in the southern hemisphere and the third largest in the world.

General Notes and FAQs

  • In high season, all portions of the W Trek are crowded with both backpackers and novice day hikers. You’ll have tons of company on the trail (we had some issues getting around groups of hikers). Many W campgrounds will be filled to capacity. But then solitude is not really the point of the W. We met a lot of fun people from all over the world on the trek.
  • You will see fewer people on the backside than the W Trek but don’t expect it all to yourself as 80 people are allowed in every day. In high season you’ll meet fellow trekkers on the Backside.  You’ll still share the camp with other trekkers but in calmer conditions.
  • The backside of the Circuit Trek is every bit as beautiful as the W Trek and it has more varied terrain.
  • You have 17 hours of daylight in January! That’s a lot of hiking and/or exploring time. Most trekkers should be able to hike two “stages” in a day.
  • We suggest you get an early start and hike far when the weather is good. You may get bad weather later in the trip or even later in the day. The key to making miles is to keep a steady pace and minimize time lost on long stops.
  • Keep eyes out for birds and wildlife. We saw Andean Condors quite close when hiking between R Frances and R Chileno. And Magellenic Woodpeckers in the woods between Dickson and Perros.


  • Water is everywhere. Usually you are 30 minutes or less from a stream or some other source. And according to local guides, and our guide book the water can be drunk without treatment. We filtered water on trail (a conservative option), but drank water untreated from our campground’s designated water sources.

Closed areas

  • Hiking is only allowed on designated trails. Off trail travel (even on marked routes that say guides only) is strictly forbidden.
  • The is no wild camping (camping anywhere in the park that is not a designated campground). They threw someone out the park for doing this the week we were there. (see Campsite Reservation Section)
  • Valle Frances area: Campamento Britanico is currently closed for camping. You can hike as far as Mirador Britanico but not further. The Mirador further up from M. Britanico (located at the base of Fortelezza) is closed.
  • Valle del Silencio area: Campamento Japones is closed to camping unless you are with a guide. And Valle Silencio and its mirador are closed to hiking (unless you are with a guide).
  • Campamento Torres is also closed. The closest to the Torres you can get is Refugio Chileno.
Park Tails are well signed. It is almost impossible to get off-route or lost.

Park Tails are well signed. It is almost impossible to get off-route or lost. I wish many US parks were as well signed as Torres del Paine.

Trail conditions 

  • Torres de Paine trails are well marked by an obvious and well trodden footpath and with orange blazes, and orange posts that mark the route. It’s almost impossible to get off route or lost
  • Torres del Paine trails are well maintained with good footing (with the exception of boggy areas). You can hike quite fast.
  • In boggy, muddy areas it’s just faster and easier to walk thru the mud and muck than waste time hopping and skirting around. And less risk of fall and injury.
  • Camp footwear: Trails can be wet and you shoes are likely to get wet too. We brought very light flipflops (2.5 oz, 80g) and Injinji socks for camp. The flipflops do double duty as shower shoes and camp footwear when worn with the Injinjis. Beware packing heavier camp footwear. A pair of Crocks is around 1 pound, and a pair of light running shoes can approach 2 lbs!

While beautiful, camping in the open is not a great idea due to very strong Patagonia winds. You are better off camping in the woods protected from the wind.

Weather and Tents

See my information on Recommended Tents, Tarps and other Shelters

  • Weather conditions are notoriously difficult to predict. Localized, glacier and mountain influenced microclimates along with moisture flow from the Straits of Magellan can interact to create strong weather of all sorts. Be prepared for high winds, rain and even snow, along with sunshine and calm. Many times in the same day. You may be forced to take a layover day by high winds. Plan your route itinerary accordingly.
  • Alison and I have had days in Patagonia where the wind was so strong we were unable to walk forward when not protected in the woods. Thankfully not on this trip.

The legendary Patagonia wind is rough on tents in the open. Alison and I watched this tent be crushed and its poles snapped by a strong gust–only 100 feet from our more protected campsite.

  • Always pitch your tent/shelter in the woods or with some other strong windbreak—not in the open! We saw a tent in the open a 100 feet from us crushed by strong wind gust, snapping its poles.
  • Tent rental is an option worth consideration. You save the weight of carrying a tent and the time and hassle of setting up and taking it down. They usually come with ground pads. Many times the rental tents are already pitched in the most desirable campsites. [Even tho we had our own shelter, we opted to rent a large, clean, and very nice tent at Campmento Los Perros to speed our pre-dawn preparation for going over Paso John Garner. It only cost around $12.]


While not as sexy as an open meadow, camping in the woods makes a lot more sense in windy Patagonia. Pictured: a tent platform well protected in the woods at Refugio Frances. A minimal camping fee entitles you to the full Refugio facilities including the nicest hot showers and best bathrooms of our trip.

Glacier Frances from near Mirador Frances. It's typical in Patagonia for peaks to cloud in mid to late afternoon.

Glacier Frances from near Mirador Frances. It’s typical in Patagonia for peaks to cloud in mid to late afternoon.

ultralight backpacking gear list

5 Pound Practical Ultralight Backpacking Gear List

Looking to reduce backpack weight to the absolute minimum? Then you’ve come to the right place. This ultralight backpacking gear list has the lightest possible gear that still makes practical sense.

Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

3 lb Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist – stay safe, be light, have fun!

Day hiking is supposed to be fun. And part of the fun is a light pack for easy walking. Unfortunately, most day hiking checklists are way too heavy.  But on the other hand, you DO want all the right gear to be safe!

So what to do? This ultralight day hiking checklist will help you select the right gear to keep your daypack light, a spring in your step, but still keep you safe and happy. Better yet, it has a lot of inexpensive gear so you won’t go broke in the process!

For most day hiking checklists: If you add up the weight of their suggested gear, your “daypack” may approach the weight of a heavy backpack for a multi-day trip in the backcountry. Not fun!

Problems with Most Day Hiking Checklists

This day hiking checklist is more comprehensive & useful than other hiking checklists. Here his why:

    1. Most lists don’t have weights for their gear. This inevitably leads to a heavy pack.
    2. They don’t give specific options for light gear or budget gear. E.g. the 10 oz!  $40 REI Flash 18 Pack or the value $40 Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles (on Amazon — 1/3 price but equal to the best poles!
    3. They are too focused on the 10 essentials and fail to recommend important items like packs, trekking poles; light, non-blistering hiking shoes; best strategies for Lyme & Zika protection, etc.

Summary of Weights

Day hiking backpack & rain cover0.7List includes a range of packs for both cost & weight
Navigation, Hydration, Emergency Gear…1.2also Knife/Multi-tool, Repair Kit, Insect & Bug Protection, Sanitation
Rainwear, Warm Clothing1.1Carried in pack (not worn most of time)
BASE DAYPACK WEIGHT (BPW) 3.0BPW = all items in pack = all items above
Clothing Worn and Items Carried (not in pack) 3.8Includes hiking shirt & pants, hat, shoes, trekking poles, stuff in pockets, etc.
Average amount of water carried in pack?Based on water availability & hiker preferences
See: Hydration in 13 Essentials
Snack food for day hike?Based on length of hike & hiker preferences
See: Nutrition in 13 Essentials
Camera Equipment Gear List (new page)Details for Serious Light Backpacking Cameras
Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

Buckskin Gulch Utah: One of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the world. It’s a fabulous 21 mile, semi-technical canyoneering day hike where a light pack makes a huge difference in having fun!

3 lb Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

Like most day hiking checklists this is based on a core set of “essentials.” In this case, my popular “13 Essentials for the Modern Hiker —A Realistic 10 Essentials.” (It’s worth a quick read if you haven’t done so.) But my list goes further to give you all the OTHER gear you need to be safe and happy on a long day hike.

Day hiking Backpacks

Pack opt 1$55 REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack 14.5
or smaller $28 Flash 18 10.0
 10.0Very light, inexpensive & functional UL packs. Blessedly minimal which is wonderful!
Pack opt 2Osprey Talon 22 M’sTempest 20 W’s DaypacksLots of pockets for fast access & gear org. Non-sweaty backpanel.
Pack opt 3$90 Moutain Laurel Designs Core 22L Pack 6.5-7.5 ozLightest pack here. Made in USA. Minimal, durable, utilitarian.
Your own “day” packMost small to medium backpacks! e.g. $16 High Sierra Riprap Backpack at Costco (25 oz)Most packs approx. 15 to 30 liters (900 to 1800 in3) should work. I’ve taken my city laptop backpack on daylong technical canyoneering trips!
Waterproofing for packGossamer Gear Pack Liner (1.2)
(alt: a trash compactor bag)
 1.2Both are lighter less expensive & more effective than a pack cover.
3 lb Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

Light & low cost daypacks L to R from lightest to heaviest:  [Far left – $90 MLD Core 22L Pack (6.5-7.5 oz) Made in USA. It’s the lightest pack. Minimal, durable, utilitarian design.], $28 REI Co-op Flash 18; $55 REI Co-op Flash 22 Pack;    Ultimate Direct. Fastpack  (not low cost, but efficient & full of pockets ), $16 High Sierra Riprap from Costco, the least expensive but heaviest.


Primary mapPaper: type of map & weight varies 1.0See  “Staying Found” in 13 Essentials Modern Hiker
CompassSuunto M-3D Compass (1.6)1.6Lightest compass with declination adjustment
Alt. navigationGPS App on Smartphone (~6 oz)See “13 Essentials for Modern Hiker” for more info. on GPS navigation and mapping via smartphone.


Water “bottle”Sawyer 32 oz Squeez Pouch 1.0 oz
Sawyer 64 oz Squeez Pouch 1.5 oz
1L commercial h20 bottle 1.0 oz
1.0See “Drink When Thirsty” regarding best practices for good hydration
Standard water bottles, e.g. Aquafina, work great.
PurificationSawyer filter (3.0)3.0To drink on the spot – greatly reduces water cary/weight. Non chemical.
PurificationChlorine Dioxide tablets (0.5)Light purification alternative. Filter backup.

Emergency Gear and First Aid

HeadlampBlack Diamond Ion (1.9 oz)
Black Diamond Spot (3.2 oz)
$11 Energizer Vision HD (3.0 oz)
 1.9Ion for a “usual dayhike.” (REI Garage closeout)
Spot headlamp if hiking dawn/dusk or dark
Value $15 Energizer @Amazon, Target, or Walmart
Batteries Spare1.0For headlamps and other essential gear
First Aid$12 Adv Med Kits Travel Medic 2.0
Adv. Medical Kits Day Tripper
 2.0or assemble your own. See: 1st Aid – 13 Essentials
See my Homemade 1st Aid Kit here
SOS/TrackerPreferred: inReach SE  (6.9)2-way communication (a big deal!), visible GPS coordinates, and trip tracking+SOS
SOS/Track (alt)SPOT Gen3  (4.8)Disadvantages: only 1-way com, no vis. GPS coord.
ShelterEmergency bivy 3.8 Prefer bivy over blanket. Can also take a light tarp.
FirestarterBic lighter, + fire starting material 0.5 Energy bar wrappers, or Coghlans Fire Sticks
See: Fire Starters in 13 Essentials

Knife or Multi-tool & Repair Kit


R-L: Cutting tools for ~1 ounce – Swiss Army Classic, Spyderco Ladybug, $14 Gerber L.S.T. Drop Point ,$4 school scissors

Knife/scissors$4 Wescott school scissors0.9More useful than knife – OK for plane carryon
Knife$14 Gerber L.S.T. Drop Point 1.2 oz
$10 Schrade Little Pal Knife 1.6
Fave. Can cut bread & salami. Light for 2.6″ blade
Schrade good value for light knife. 2.3″ blade.
Knife (alt)Spyderco Ladybug Knife (0.6)2″ blade – one of the lightest functional knives
Multi-tool Leatherman Squirt PS4 (1.9)More a multi-day item. Bring small one if you want
Repair Kit A minimal repair kit 1.0 See Repair Kit in 13 Essentials

Warm Clothing Carried in Pack (select based on expected weather)

shirt/baselayer/ mid-layerPatagonia R1 Hoodie
or Patagonia R1 Pullover
Think of it as “fur for humans.” possibly the most versatile cool  to very cold weather base layer. It works over an astonishing range of conditions.
Mid-layer topREI Co-op Fleece Jacket or
a light! fleece jacket you own
REI Co-op Fleece Jacket on Sale for $22 (a great low-cost, 200 wt mid-layer)
Mid-layer top TNF TKA 100 1/4 Zip Pullover  or
Amazon 100wt fleece w zipper
7.9Sadly it appears that 100 wt fleece shirts like this are a dying breed. You may still be able to find a few. Otherwise go for a 200 wt one, the Patagonia R1 Hoodie above or a Patagonia R2 garment
WindshellPatagonia Houdini Jacket (3.3)If I don’t bring, will layer rain jacket over my fleece
Warm jacketFeathered Friends Eos Down Jacket (hooded) (10.5 oz)For colder hikes, and especially at rest stops. Stuffed with 900 fill power down!
Wm jacket (alt)West. Mtn. Flash XR Jacket (11)Water resistant shell (for wet and cold hikes)
Value wm jkt$24 “32 Degrees” Down Vest 6.0“32 Degrees brand” Packable Down Vest @Amazon.
For more down clothing see: Recommended Down Jackets, Pants, and Booties
Warm hatOR Option Balaclava1.2Warmer than hat. Or a fleece beanie.
Gloves (basic)DuraGlove ET Charcoal Wool (2.5)Great liner glove – light, warm, durable!
Gloves alt.$13 Glacier Glove fingerless (2.0) 2.0Dexterity & warmth for photog. & other activities
Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

Good clothing is critical when the weather turns to crap!

Rainwear Carried in Pack (select based on expected weather)

Rain JacketOutdoor Research Helium II (6.4) 6.4From REI: less expensive than many at this weight
Rain Jacket (Value)REI Co-op Essential Rain Jacket – Men’s (8.8) REI Co-op Essential Rain Jacket – Women’s (7.6 oz) $70 is a great value for a sub 9 oz rain jacket with a solid and functional design.
RainJacket (alt)Patagonia Storm Racer  (6.0)Light! Minimal. Amazing it’s 3-layer fabric!
Rain PantsOR Helium Rain Pants (6.0)Light, inexpensive. Don’t bring on many hikes.
Rainpants (alt)Rain chaps or rain kilt (2.0 oz)For trips with low probability of rain, or warm rain
Rain Mitts (alt)MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2)Light. Waterproof. Add a lot of warmth over gloves.

Hiking Clothes Worn – NOT Carried in Pack (select based on expected weather)

Note: Read more on clothing suggestions for Best Ways to Protect from Lyme & Zika
ShirtRail Riders Adventure Top 7.3
or Sahara shirts like these at REI
Pers fave. For hot and/or brushy (not a baselayer)
Shirt (alt)$40 REI 1/4-Zip Tech Shirt 6.5 REI Co-op Merino Half-Zip (8.8) 6.5Versatile, light, 50 SPF, nice collar, zipper neck
Wool shirt & baselayer: for cooler weather – love new REI merio
PantsREI Sahara convertible pants (14) 14Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
Sun/hiking hatOutdoor Research Sun Runner Hat2.5Removable sun cape. Adaptable to most situations
UnderwearPatagonia briefs Mens
Patagonia briefs Women’s
2.0Dry fast, don’t hold a lot of moisture.
BraPatagonia Active spots braAlison’s favorite
ShoesAltra Superior Trail-Running or
Altra Lone Peaks
 18.0Light. Huge toe room. Comfortable! Superiors lighter. Lone Peaks more protective sole.
Shoes (alt)Brooks Cascadia (25 oz)Very popular trail shoe for hikers (& backpackers)
Shoes (alt)Lightweight trail running shoes
(you likely own a pair)
Most non-Goretex trail/road running shoes that fit
SocksSmartWool PhD Light Mini  or
Darn Tough 1/4 UL w cushion or
DeFeet Wolleators
1.8All are great socks. For most hikers, the thinner & less padding the better.
GaitersDirty Girl gaiters (1.2 oz)I rarely find the need for gaiters with long pants

Gear Worn – NOT Carried in Pack

Watch value$35 basic solar wrist watch1.5My favorite basic watch for hiking.
WatchSuunto Core w positive display 2.2Compass, altimeter, multifunctional timepiece.
SunglassesRx and non-Rx (polarized)1.0http://www.zennioptical.com/ for cheap Rx options
GlassesZenni clear Rx glasses (1.0 oz)Great glasses! for $20 or so. But 2-3 week delivery
CameraVaries depending on photo goals
Could be better using your phone!
See Serious Lightweight Backpacking Cameras
Poles value$40 Cascade Mtn. Tech Carbon15.2Personal favorite. 1/3 price but equal to best poles
Trek PolesREI Flash Carbon Poles (14.8 oz)Stiff, light, travel-friendly, won’t break off-trail/rough terrain (readily available)

Insect and Bug Protection

Hiking clothesSun & bug protective clothing is your first and best option…See clothing section above for best hiking shirt, pants, hats, trail shoes, etc.
Insect repell.Sawyer Picaridin lotion 14 hrs!
Pocketable Picaridin 0.5 oz spray
 1.0 Lyme Zika protection: Picaradin Lotion most effective & long lasting. Unlike DEET it has no odor & won’t melt plastic.
 Sunscreen Small 1 oz tube 1.0Or repackage your favorite into a 0.5 or 1.0 oz bottle. Best if applied before you go hiking.
Lip balmHigh SPF water resistant types0.2Minimal wt for dedicated lip balm
SunglassesNeedn’t be expensive (~ 1 oz) 1.0 e.g. Tifosi’s on discount in REI Garage
Best Ways to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Zika

Best Lyme & Zika protection: Picaridin (lotion) lasts 40% longer than most DEET products and lacks the downsides of DEET. It has no odor and doesn’t melt plastics or degrade clothing. In Hand: Airline friendly 0.5 pump sprays, last 8 hours are small, pocketable and easily applied in the field. Right rear: Picaridin lotion lasts 14 hours, and can be repackaged into small 1 oz squeeze bottles.

Sanitation – Leave No Trace

Potty needsDeuce of Spades Potty Trowel 0.6
$5 GSI cathole Trowel 2.9 oz
 0.6For digging catholes to bury human waste. See LNT Principle 3: Dispose of Waste Properly
Sanitizer/soapAlcohol based, e.g.  “Purell” 0.51/2 oz or 1.0 oz travel size in most pharmacies
Toilet paperPlain, white, non-perfumed Use sparingly. See LNT practices.
Wag bag To carry human waste out (2.5 oz)When reg’s require, e.g. Mt Whitney CA
Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist

Right: The 0.6 oz Deuce of Spades Potty Trowel, minimal TP, and small bottle of Purell allow for good LNT Waste Disposal for around an ounce. Left: “Wag bag” for when regulations require you carry everything out.

Finally a Few Tips

  1. Bring a change of clean clothes, sandals for tired feet, water, & a snack in the car for post hike.
  2. Read more on clothing and repellent suggestions for Best Ways to Protect yourself from Lyme & Zika and other bug transmitted diseases.
  3. Leave one trip itinerary/emergency info document with a friend and another in your car at trail head. See more: “Why You Should Make a Trip Plan and Leave it with Someone for Every Trip”
  4. Practicing Leave No Trace Principals: e.g. proper tools & techniques for waste disposal; using light, low profile tread shoes for minimal impact, etc.


This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

Adventure Alan - Lightweight & Ultralight, Backpacking & Hiking - Alan Godafoss

Best Backpacking Cameras 2018

This post takes the BS & mystery out of finding the right camera. A camera that meets YOUR needs & YOUR budget. And you don’t need an expensive camera to take superb backpacking photos. Some of the best lightweight backpacking cameras cost far less than you think. You might already own one!

The best backpacking camera is the one you have with you

Or put another way, the best camera is the camera you can quickly pull out and shoot. Many superb photos have been taken on iPhones. Being in a beautiful area and taking a photo in the right place at the right time matters far more than the camera.

That being said, if you are in the right place at the right time, some cameras take better photos than others. This post will help you 1) find your “best” camera and 2) give you techniques to get the most out of it when hiking or backpacking.

This photo was shot with a sub $500, semi-pro camera. The Sony a6000 with stock 16-50mm kit lens 

2018 Highlights

NEW Post March 2018 – 2018 Professional Quality Cameras for Hiking and Ultralight Backpacking
The Sony a7R III and a7R II are the perfect, full-on professional cameras for hiking and ultralight backpacking. They give you full-frame pro quality photos but without the weight. Contains a list of the best and lightest, professional full-frame camera bodies and lenses. [Note: This gear is heavier and more expensive than what’s listed in this post.]


Short on Time?  Skip to One of These

In addition to “The Two Cameras I Take on Almost Every Trip” (below), you can jump to:

best backpacking cameras

Cameras I take backpacking: L to R, iPhone, Sony RX100 and Sony a6000 or a6500. There is no right choice! Each camera has its strengths and weakness. BUT the Sony a6500 on the right has almost 3x the resolution of the other two – 15 pMP vs 5-6 pMP.

The Best Backpacking Cameras

I take the following two cameras on almost every trip:

  1. My Smartphone, iPhone X (but it could be an 8 or 8 plus, or a Google Pixel…)
  2. My $498 semi-pro Sony a6000 camera. With its light weight and great image quality challenging far heavier cameras that cost 2-3 times or more, it’s not surprising it’s the best selling camera in its class!

While my iPhone takes great pictures, at some point there is no substitute for a “true camera” like the Sony a6000 with a good lens. This is especially true if getting top notch photos is a serious trip objective. The table below shows why this is so.

* n/a values for iPhone(s) are unknown. But given their image sensor is 6.5x smaller than the RX100’s you can assume that Dynamic Range (ability to capture light and dark), High ISO (low light) performance, and Color Depth are all lower. BUT! here’s the huge caveat that closes the gap between smartphones and traditional cameras. The new iPhones (and other high end smartphones like the Google Pixel) are intensely applying sophisticated “computational photography” (software image processing) to significantly improve dynamic range, color, contrast, texture, etc. of their photos. See more on how to utilize this power below.

Perceptual Megapixels

Perceptual megapixels” (pMP) is a measure of the “sharpness,” the actual detail resolved in the final image.  pMP is the resolution of the combination of a particular lens and camera—not simply the native resolution of the camera sensor! As an example, for most 24 MP, APS-C (crop sensor cameras like the Sony a6000, Nikon D7200 or Canon EOS 80D) the perceptual megapixel resolution final image maxes out at around 17 MP or around 70% of the native 24 MP sensor resolution—even with the best and most expensive prime lenses. Zoom lenses typically resolve less, especially inexpensive ones. See more about perceptual megapixels here.

best backpacking cameras

I have a 20×30 print of this on the wall in my bedroom: I used a semi-pro camera with a sharp lens to capture fine detail and handle the huge dynamic range between the afternoon shadows and the bright snow and glaciers of the Andes in full sunlight.

Camera 1: A Smartphone – BUT Intelligently Used

What’s Good About Smartphone Cameras for Backpacking

  • Under the right conditions, and with the right technique they take some stunning photos!
  • “Zero cost” — You likely own a smartphone with a good camera, so zero additional cost
  • “Zero weight” — You’re likely  bringing your smartphone anyway, so no additional weight
  • Easy and fast to use (and you are likely proficient with it)
  • They do double duty as the best hiking or backpacking GPS

And the Newest Smartphone Cameras Kick Ass!

The new iPhones (and other high-end smartphones like the Google Pixel) are intensely applying  “computational photography” (sophisticated software image processing) to significantly improve photos. This includes dynamic range (ability to handle large differences from the lightest to darkest parts of the photo), color, contrast, texture, and even focus to their photos. The improvements can be dramatic. So much so, that many times the photos from the new smartphones often look better than photos from much larger “traditional” DSLR cameras. It may take a lot of editing of photos from a traditional camera to clearly see the benefits of a larger sensor.  That being said,  read my article:

10 hacks and accessories for better smartphone hiking photography

It will help you get the very best out your already great smartphone camera.

smartphone hiking photographyBasic Smartphone Photography Accessories L to R: [Joby GripTight Tripod at (REI) or new JOBY GripTight ONE GP Stand] both better for larger phones & are more adjustable), iPhone X on a JOBY GripTight ONE Micro Stand (smaller & lighter), Apple headset used as a remote shutter release, a Bluetooth Smartphone Camera Remote Shutter (Joby), Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh USB Battery (keeps phone charged for days of use),  Black Diamond Headlamp (gets you safely to and from the magic light of dawn & dusk for superior photos).

Camera 2: Sony a6x00 – when high quality photos are a major objective

best backpacking cameras

The full Sony a6000/a6500 kit: Peak Designs CapturePRO (mounts to backpack shoulder strap), Peak Designs Micro Plate (mounts to camera bottom), Pedco ultra-pod II (small tripod), Sony NP-FW50 Battery, and Newer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head.

For me, the Sony a6000 is a clear choice for serious backpacking photos. It’s an incredible value at less than $500 for a semi-pro camera! With the right lens it has superb image quality challenging heavier cameras that cost far more. It’s light, and is easily carried on the shoulder strap of my backpack. I have the option of a number of great lenses, many of them inexpensive. And perhaps most important, it is super fast to use with an excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF). In summary, it’s the perfect complement to my iPhone.

And here is how I use that system backpacking, so I have immediate access to my camera at all times. The camera is surprisingly light and non-intrusive while I hike.

For me the maximum weight of a camera is determind by what I an comfortably carry on the shoulder strap of my pack.

For me the maximum weight of a camera is determined by what I can comfortably carry all day on the shoulder strap of my pack. Pictured is a Sony a6000 camera with the stellar Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens (22 oz total wt). They are mounted to a Peak Designs CapturePRO on the shoulder strap of my pack. View a 15 second video below to see this fast system in action.

My Sony a600x System

Camera APS-C
crop format
Sony a6000 w kit 16-50mm lens*
new model: Sony a6500
16.0Among lightest 24mp APS-C cameras. With the right lens, it has image quality equal to much heavier cameras camera’s costing far more.
Sony a600 or a6500 – How To Choose?  See more below
Battery spareSony NP-FW50 Battery (1.5)Alt less $: Wasabi Power Battery (2-Pack) & Charger
MountPeak Designs CapturePRO 110g3.8Take more photos! Fast access to camera!
Attaches to backpack shoulder strap
MountPeak Designs Micro Plate 25g0.8Needed to clear a6000’s hinged LCD screen
Mini TripodPedco utra-pod II 114g, 4.0 ozFor small mirrorless SLR cameras
Tripod mountNewer® Fish Bone quick release for tripod head 51g, 1.8 ozFor quick attachment of camera with Peak Designs Micro Plate
 Full tripodFor serious photos (only 920g)Sirui T-024X Carbon Fiber Tripod w C-10S Ball Head one of the lightest and best. It’s the tripod I’m holding in the lead photo of this article.
Remote shutterWireless remote controlJJC Remote Control for Sony A6000 – reduce camera shake on tripod.
ProtectionGallon Freezer ZipLocTo protect camera gear from rain

Photo: Dolly Sods Wildness with the 16 oz Sony a6000  with stock zoom lens (in table above). I needed a small tripod, because 1) it was in the magic light of evening, and 2) I wanted  a slow shutter speed (~1-2 seconds) to get a slight blur of the water.

Sony a600 or a6500 – How To Choose?

I’m guessing many of you are confused as to which of these great cameras to get. To help you to decide on the right camera for you, I’ll try to summarize the key pro’s and cons:

Sony a6000: The a6000 has the same 24 MP resolution but is a few oz lighter than the a6500. It has a huge advantage in price. Currently it’s $448 vs. $1198 for the a6500. With that extra $750 you can buy some nice lenses and still come out ahead. E.g. the Sony 18-105mm F4 G OSS and/or the new Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv. for great landscape shots). The a6000 with both lenses will significantly outperform the more expensive Sony a6500 with the kit 16-50mm lens. The a6000 doesn’t have in-body image stabilization but if you stick to the image stabilized Sony lenses (OSS) this no big deal. On the other hand, if you are shooting with a non-stabilized lens like theSigma 16mm f/1.4, you’ll end up on a tripod sooner in low light to get sharp photos.

Sony a6500: The a6500 has the same 24 MP resolution but but has 1/2 stop more dynamic range than the a6000. This the maximum range of light to dark it can capture and still retain detail in the photo. But the most important upgrade to the a6500 is image stabilization built-in to the camera body. This means that you can shoot hand-held far longer in low light with non-image stabilized Sony lenses like the super sharp  Sigma 16mm f/1.4.  This is a pretty big deal for hikers and backpackers. Finally the a6500 has a touchscreen display. The best part of this is just touching the screen where you want focus. I find this especially useful to get super accurate focus when shooting on a tripod.

a6x00 lens upgrades

As noted in the table at the beginning of the article, you can get almost 3x better resolution with higher quality, but heavier and more expensive lenses. They are especially helpful if you think you might want to make large prints from your photos. My favorite lens for most trips, despite its weight and moderate cost, is the Sony 18-105mm G Series Zoom (far left in the photo below) and the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Prime Lens.


If good photos are a serious objective for your trip, here are some lens upgrades I frequently use: On camera is the Sony 10-18mm F4 G OSS zoom (15mm to 27mm equiv.); center is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 (normal lens); and far left the Sony 18-105mm F4 G OSS lens (27-160mm equiv.) Not pictured the game-changing landscape lens: the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv.)

Additional High Quality Zoom Lenses
Allpurpose ZoomSony 18-105mm F4 G OSS15.0Personal favorite (27mm to 160mm equiv.) Carries nicely on pack shoulder strap. Sharp, reasonably light. Good price. Image stabilized.
Wide Zoom Sony 10-18mm F4 G OSS  8.1Very wide angle (15mm to 27mm equiv.) Great for landscape/dramatic perspective. Image stabilized.
Additional High Quality Prime (fixed focal length) Lenses
Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens 14.3Game-changing lens for backpacking landscape photographers. Fast, superb resolution, 24mm equivalent. Use dawn & dusk. And low cost! Great w image stabilized a6500 for handheld use.
Normal HQ Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens 9.5Highest resolution lens for camera. Wide aperture for low light. Great w image stabilized a6500 for handheld use. Or a tripod w a6000
Normal HQSony 35mm f/1.8 Prime Fixed Lens 6.2Fast, superb resolution, normal lens. Use dawn & dusk. It has image stabilization, so perfect with the non-image stabilized a6000
Budget Lenses (but good!)
LandscapeSigma 19mm f2.8 DN, w hood 6.1For landscape. Light, inexpensive. 2x sharper at 19mm than the a6000 16-50mm kit lens
Normal budgetSigma 30mm f2.8 DN, w hood5.7Low cost good resolution for only $199! Light.
Mild-teleSigma 60mm F2.8 EX DN Art 6.7Mild-telephoto/portrait lens. Super high res! Only $240!
Astrophotography Lense(s)
Astro lensRokinon 12mm f/2.0 Wide Angle8.6Lens of choice for APS-C astrophotography. Inexpensive given its wide angle and speed!

Killer sub-$1,000 setup that can take down far heavier cameras costing 3x more:  Pictured the game-changing, super sharp landscape lens, the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Prime Lens (24mm to equiv.) with the Sony a6000 camera mounted on a Mini Tripod Pedco utra-pod II.

A Point and Shoot Camera that Can Run with the Big Dogs – My Third Camera

The very light and compact Sony RX-100  crushes smartphone cameras. It has image quality approaching the Sony a6000 with kit lens. This is in part because it has an image sensor 6.5x larger than the best smartphone sensors. It also has a high-quality Zeiss zoom lens. As such, the Rx100 occupies a valid but narrow niche between smartphone cameras and mirrorless cameras like the a6000.

But note that the RX100 has its limitations:  It is just a bit too large and heavy to be truly “pocketable.” Its image quality is not quite as good as the lower priced Sony a6000. And finally, its single lens while similar in performance to the a6000 kit lens, is not interchangeable.  Thus, the RX100 cannot match the 3x better resolution of interchangeable camera lenses for the a6000, like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Contemporary lens. Finally, it’s a bit delicate and needs to be treated with care.



The Sony RX100 Kit

point & shoot
Sony RX100 (280g)10.0Highest image quality for a P/S camera. But pricy!
Large sensor, good in low light, has EVF
Older versions of Sony RX100 If you don’t need the latest/greatest you can save $
And these are still great cameras!
Battery spareSony NP-BX1 (24 g, 0.8 oz)Alt: (2) BM NP-BX1 Batteries & Charger
Tripod P/SJOBY GorillaPod (44g)1.5For smaller P/S cameras. Also Pedco UltraPod

Hacks to Get Good Photos Handheld – No Tripod Needed

Non-technical Canyon Backpacking in Utah

Handheld photo with a mirrorless camera similar to the Sony a6000. The low light of the deep shade of the canyon late in the day was a challenge. A fast(er) lens, moderate 1S0 increase, and image stabilization all helped to keep the photo sharp with good color and low noise — without resorting to a tripod.

One of the major tenets of serious outdoor photography is that you need a tripod to get good results. But this not necessary true. There are some good options to steady your camera for reasonably-sharp photos before you need to resort to using a tripod. These also have the advantage of being a lot faster to use vs. setting up a tripod. And of course you don’t have the extra weight of carrying a tripod.

The following hacks, when combined, can gain you 6 to 8 stops (camera shutter speeds). This means that a photo goes from a completely unmanageable 1/2 of a second shutter shutter speed (super blurred when handheld) to a very manageable 1/120 of a second shutter speed which should give you a nice sharp photo!

  1. Image Stabilization, +2-3 stops: Check to see if your smartphone, true camera and/or lens has image stabilization (most do). Built-in image stabilization (IS, VR or OSS) gains you about 2 to 3 stops (shutter speeds) when handheld. This goes a long way to increasing the number of shots that you can take without a tripod.
  2. High ISO, +2-3 stops: There have been dramatic improvements in ISO performance (low light). For true cameras Sony probably leads the sensor technology here. Both the RX100 and a6000 have sensors with low light performance challenging that of much larger sensors. This gains you 2 to 3 stops. The RX100 (“working” high ISO ~600, about 2 stops) and a6000 (“working” high ISO ~1400, about 3 stops). For a smartphones like my iPhone 6+ its base ISO goes from around 32 to a working high ISO of around 125, so around 2 stops. [But note this is still far less than the ISO 600 to 800 of the Sony cameras. This an inherent downside of the smartphone’s sensor being 6x smaller than the RX100’s sensor.]
  3. Fast Lens, +2 stops: For true cameras, purchasing a f1.4 to f2 lens will give you about 2 stops over a basic f3.5 to f4.0 of point and shoot lenses and many DSLR kit lenses. If you aren’t striving for depth of field, a faster lens will increase the number of shots you can take hand-held.

Hack – Improvise a “Tripod” to Stabilize your Camera

You can get much of the benefit of a tripod to stabilize your camera by improvising a “tripod.” You can brace your camera up against a rock, tree, or even your trekking pole. Remember to squeeze off that shutter gently! Better yet, you can use folded garment (or other prop) on top of a rock, or fallen tree to make a an  improvised tripod/camera rest. Now that you are not holding the camera, remember to put the shutter release on a 2-second delay for sharpest results, or use a remote (see gear lists above).

For the Sharpest and Highest Quality Photos – Use a Tripod

But even with all the hacks above, if you want the very sharpest photos, ones that will enlarge to 20×30″ and hang on your wall, you will likely need a tripod of some sort. This especially true during the low light, “magic hours” of dawn and dusk. In those instances you want low ISO (~100 true cameras, ~32-50 smartphones) and and aperture of f/4 or more. This leads to shutter speeds in the range of 1/2 of a second or longer, not remotely doable handheld. The good news is that for just a few ounces you can get a perfectly serviceable mini tripod.

5 Most Important Features for a Backpacking Camera

Sometimes to get the highest image quality (e.g. 20×30″ prints to go on your wall), you need a sharp prime and a small tripod. In this case the Sony a6000 camera with the super sharp Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens  (50mm equiv. – normal lens) or Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Lens (24mm equiv. -landscape lens). At only 22 oz, this camera/lens combo has image quality equal to or exceeding the very best, and much heavier & costlier APS-C camera systems.

Mini Tripods

Any serious backcountry photographer should consider taking a small ultralight camera tripod like a Gorillapod or UltraPod. Compared to the techniques mentioned earlier, they provide better camera positioning and stability at a fraction of the weight of a full-sized, conventional tripod. These mini-pods are far from perfect. At some point, when conditions get difficult enough, there is no way around a “real tripod.”

  • JOBY GorillaPod. My choice for point & shoot cameras like the Sony RX100.
  • Pedco ultra-pod II 114g, 4.0 oz. This is my first choice for a smaller mid-sized cameras like the Sony a6000. Just put the shutter release on a 2-second delay and you will get sharp results even in low light.

A Light and Compact Full Sized Tripod

Finally, you may need (or want) a full sized tripod. This is especially true if photography is your main trip objective. One of the lightest, “full-sized” tripods with true stability for a camera like the Sony a6000, is the 2 pound Sirui T-024X Traveler Light Carbon Fiber Tripod with C-10S Ball Head. While heavier compared to the Gorilla-pod or UltraPod, it is far more stable and provides better camera positioning. And it extends all the way up to 58 inches, for a convenient non-stooping work height. Finally, the Sirui packs down to only 16″  so it easily fits in your pack.

And remember to use remote shutter release like this JJC Remote Control for Sony A6000 to reduce camera shake on the tripod. Or set the camera’s shutter to a 2 second delay.

How I Carry my Backpacking Camera – or how to get more photos

For me, it’s all about the speed and ease of taking a photo. Since I changed to using the Peak Designs CapturePRO mounting system on the shoulder strap of my pack, I get 2 to 3 x more photos per trip. More than I ever got with a point and shoot camera in my pocket!

Note in the video how quickly and easily I put my pack on with the camera already attached to my shoulder strap. No camera spinning around and twisting up the shoulder strap.


Lead photo above: Author working in Iceland with light but serious photo gear. [Photo credit – Peyton Hale]



This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I do not receive compensation from the companies whose products are listed. For product reviews: unless otherwise noted, products are purchased with my own funds. I am never under an obligation to write a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.

13 Essentials for the Modern Hiker – A Realistic “10 Essentials”

This article proposes a more realistic 13 Essentials that will better keep the modern hiker safe. This is because the Classic 10 Essentials (first proposed in the 1930’s) need an update for the 21st Century given the realities of a modern day hiker.

  • First, a major conceptual trap of the traditional 10 Essentials is that they are all gear. I would counter that the two most important “essentials” are actually skill and knowledge items: 1) good trip planning and 2) the skill of staying found.
  • Second, why should there be only 10?
  • Third, why do none of the 10 Essentials take advantage of 21st century technology?
  • And finally, some 10 Essentials are a bit arcane & don’t match the skills & habits of the modern hiker.

Lead photo: A “freak” summer blizzard in the Wind River Range. I was super grateful to have all my warm clothing, a bivy sack and 1/2 lb tarp. And even more appreciative I had the skills and knowledge to use them.

The 13 Essentials for the Modern Hiker

My revised “essentials” are to help people be prepared for emergency situations outdoors. As such, it’s a good idea to bring them whenever you are in the backcountry—whether it’s just a long day hike, or a multi-day off-trail backpacking trip.

The following 13 Essentials favors a pragmatic approach to bringing the right gear. First and foremost, it relies on your best piece of gear, what’s between your ears.

  1. Trip Plan
  2. Staying Found
  3. Navigation Tools (not always paper map & compass)
  4. Sun and Bug/Disease Protection
  5. Insulation (extra clothing)
  6. Headlamp
  7. Emergency Shelter
  8. First Aid Kit
  9. Hydration (extra water)
  10. SOS Device (satellite based, like inReach or SPOT)
  11. Nutrition
  12. Repair Kit and Tools
  13. Fire Starter


1 Trip Plan

Use what’s between your ears. More problems arise from poor planning and lack of information about a hike than from not bringing the right gear. So, whether you’re day-hiking or backpacking you should:

  1. Do your research on hiking distances, trail conditions, campsites and water ability. Good examples of this type of research are: Map kiosks/Information Centers at major trailheads or park publications like the excellent Zion Park Map and Guide, or guide books. Much of this info is now online.
  2. Then make an honest/realistic estimate of how far you’ll hike each day. Be conservative. You don’t want to end up stranded somewhere because you only hiked ¾ of the distance you expected. And in case you end up short, have a backup camp area with a water source.
  3. Get a weather report for your trip and then plan and pack gear for those conditions! Since 90% of hikers or backpackers take 90% their trips for 3 days or or less, this weather report should be quite accurate. My favorite weather app for both smartphone and desktop is Weather Underground.
  4. And once on your trip, you also need to watch the weather and be prepared to deal with “freak” weather. This is especially true in high western mountains where a summer blizzard is always possible. Even the lower elevation Appalachian Mountains can have some cold and severe weather in the warmer months. Usually park info sites will let you know what sorts of extreme weather might be possible. [Note: This does not necessarily mean going overboard with gear—just taking the right gear.]
  5. Leave a copy of your trip intineary with someone. See: How to make and use a Trip Itinerary.

2 Staying Found

Staying Found is the key navigation skill that experienced navigators always use but never mention.

The highly effective, “Staying Found” approach to navigation is within the capability of all hikers.

Good navigators rarely get lost because they have a good idea (Trip Plan) in their head of where they are going and what to expect. That is, they are vigilant and observant while they hike—always comparing what they see on the trail against the plan in their head. They continually monitor their progress and check for upcoming trail junctions, lakes, stream crossings, a steep climb, a section of bog & other features to confirm that they are on the right track. If they stray, they quickly identify & correct it. You should do likewise. It’s your first and best navigation “tool.”

3 Navigation Tools (not always paper map and compass)

10 Essentials

(left) 21st century navigation tool: Gaia GPS App running on an iPhone. (right) Traditional nav tools: A fully featured compass with declination adjustment and paper USGS topographic map underneath. Both have pros and cons.

Important Note: I respectfully suggest that people read the Navigation Tools & Electronics Appendix carefully before commenting on this important topic. In particular, it covers the strengths and weaknesses of navigational tools, their proper use and the ways they can fail (yes, map & compass can “fail” too).

For Navigation – Take the tools you can actually use!

The first question that requires an honest answer is, “what navigational tools can I actually use?” Like having a bicycle but not knowing how to ride it, navigational tools (like a compass or USGS topographic map) without the knowledge to use them properly are not tremendously useful. It might even be dangerous if your are relying on them to navigate and keep you safe, but under false assumptions about your skills.

Topographic Map and Compass

If you are skilled with a map and compass, then take them. They are reliable, light, effective, inexpensive and don’t require batteries, or cell phone signal [I bring them on every trip.]

Alternatives to Topographic Map and Compass

But if you aren’t confident using a topographic map and compass there are alternatives. You might consider using tools that you are more familiar with and easier to operate— ones that you can reliably use in the field. Two options are:

  • A Simple Hiking Map like the Zion Park Map and Guide and using Staying Found Navigation as described above. This is your first and best strategy even when you bring other navigational tools!
  • A Smartphone GPS App with dowloaded, Off-line Maps that does not need cell signal! (A quick test with your phone in airplane mode can determine if your App & maps work offline.)

A Smartphone GPS App Might be a Better Navigation Tool for Some Modern Hikers

Many traditionalists insist that a paper topographic map & compass are mandatory. But frankly, many modern recreational hikers may not have the map and compass skills to be able to rescue themselves using them. But they do have a lot of practice and skill navigating with their smartphones. And practice and familiarity are the key for successful use of a navigational tool!

Therefore, properly used* a Smartphone GPS App might be a better option for some.  [*Please see: Navigation Tools & Electronics Appendix for a caution and advice about using electronics in the backcountry, especially battery life management, backup batteries, and not relying on cell coverage.]


10 Essentials

Start of the JMT in Yosemite. Screen shot of NG Trails Illustrated Map using Gaia GPS on an iPhone. The beauty of a smartphone GPS App like Gaia GPS is that you have many map sources at your finger tips at no additional cost and weight. E.g. NG Trials Illustrated, full USGS 7.5′ TOPO maps, Satellite Imagery, and other specialized maps. [click to enlarge and see full map detail]

4 – Protection from Sun and Bug Transmitted Diseases, Like Lyme

10 Essentials

Full-coverage clothing is best for both sun and bug/disease prevention.

In addition to sun protection, I am adding bug protection to your basic trail needs. 2017 is forecast to be the worst year for tick/Lyme disease, and it’s only going to get worse in other parts of the US. Other diseases like Zika are also on the rise.

Your first and best option for sun and bug protection is appropriate full-coverage clothing like this. While chemical/skin applied sunscreen and bug repellants work (Picaradin Lotion is the most effective and long lasting without the problems associated with DEET) they are not nearly as long lasting or effective as sun & insect protective clothing and a good sunhat. And yes, wear those sunglasses. For more reading, see my piece on the Best Clothing & Repellants to Protect Yourself from Lyme and Zika.

5 – Insulation (extra clothing)


My warm clothing gets used on almost every trip. A good Down Jacket has saved my ass on numerous occasions such as a freak snowstorm on a summit, where I needed to stay warm enough to hike down to shelter and warmth. It’s also essential to keep an injured person warm until help arrives. Other invaluable pieces of warm clothing are a light rain jacket, warm hat and gloves like these.

While backup clothing is good, it’s usually best to first make the most of the clothes you are actually wearing. Towards that end, here’s a good piece on how best to use the clothes you are wearing: Top Mistakes Using the Layering System – How to Stay Warmer and Drier.

6 – Headlamp – A Good One!

10 Essentials

You need a seriously bright and long lasting headlamp to make an emergency retreat or exit. An example of a good one is the Black Diamond Spot Headlamp (right). The Black Diamond Ion (center) is marginally OK but would be better for following behind someone with a brighter light. On the left, the Petzl e+LITE Headlamp while low-weight and great for camp, is not bright enough for hiking.

If an emergency retreat or exit is necessary, your headlamp should be bright enough and last long enough that you can safely hike and navigate all night. To do that, you need a seriously bright and long lasting headlamp— putting out a beam of 50-60+ meters for ~12+ hours. A headlamp like this is likely in the range of 3 to 4 ounces. Examples: Black Diamond Spot Headlamp (Note: you only need one this strong for a party of hikers. The others following behind the leader can use smaller lighter headlamps, e.g. Black Diamond Ion.) And a spare set of batteries is always an excellent idea.

7 – Emergency Shelter

10 Essentials

Tarps & pyramid tarps provide tremendous shelter at a fraction of the weight & cost of a traditional tent. As such, they are light enough to be used as both a primary and/or emergency shelter. [Yes, another summer storm. This time the High Sierras.]

Light backpacking tarps (usually silnylon) make great emergency (and non-emergency) shelters. They provide tremendous protection from wind, rain and other precipitation. But make sure you have stakes and guylines for your tarp, and are practiced setting it up before your trip (having a pair of trekking poles to support the tarp provides you more options for pitching). And where you pitch a tarp makes a huge difference. Try and get out of the wind and into the shelter trees, rocks, etc. See more on selecting and using tarps. If you are backpacking, this could also be a light tent.

True bivy sacks like these also make good emergency shelters and even the light emergency bivy sacs are OK. I am not a big fan of the paper thin, mylar emergency blankets as they can’t really be staked out to provide a true shelter like a tarp. That being said, they are certainly better than nothing.

8 – First Aid Kit

10 Essentials

I prefer to assemble my own 3 oz First Aid Kit  (detailed list) as I can do a better job for less weight than pre-packaged ones. My kit includes bandages, tape, gauze, wound wipes, antibacterial lotion, and OTC med’s like Tylenol, Benadryl, Sudafed, Nexium, Imodium. I also carry some Rx meds like antibiotics. But you can also buy a pre-packaged First Kid Kit like one of these.

Most of the injuries I have treated have been scrapes and cuts (abrasions and lacerations) and all I had to do was stop the bleeding (direct pressure, always) and clean it up and dress the wound. I rarely get blisters since I train in the same shoes and socks that I backpack in. Even so, I carry Leukotape Tape and tincture of benzoin to treat hot spots and mild/early blisters.

A small first aid guide/booklet (often included in kits) is a good idea. Or even better, take a Wilderness First Aid Course at REI, or from NOLS or Landmark Learning.

9 – Hydration (prudent amount of extra water)

10 Essentials

A light, inexpensive, fast and effective water purification and hydration system: Sawyer Squeeze Filter and  Water Treatment Tablets

Yes, bring a prudent amount of extra water because human beings don’t do well without it. For hiking in the desert, extra water would likely be right after Navigation Tools on the essentials list. But for most hiking and backpacking in the US, water is usually available every few hours. With a filter like the Sawyer Squeeze you can drink immediately at water sources. This means both quick, effective hydration/purification and less water to carry. An even lighter alternative (and backup system for a filter) are Water Treatment Tablets.

You may be drinking more water than you need: The healthiest hydration strategy is to drink when thirsty. The saying “If you are thirsty, it’s already too late” and “If your urine is yellow, you are dehydrated” are myths. In fact, over hydration (hyponatremia) is becoming more of a risk than dehydration. I’ve extensively researched this topic with experts in sports hydration here: “The Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty.

10 Essentials

In cooler temps and/or where water is plentiful you may not need to carry as much extra water. Drink from the source, & you’ll likely not be thirsty by the time you reach the next water source. [But do know where your next water sources are.]

10 – SOS Device (satellite based, like inReach or SPOT)

10 Essentials

This is #10 because as noted earlier, prevention (having a plan, intelligently executing it), & having the right stuff (items 3 through 9) is your first & best way to stay out of trouble.

But even with the best planning and execution, stuff like a serious fall, an on-trail appendicitis, serious concussion, or a heart attack can happen. A SOS Tracking Device is the best and most reliable way to summon help in such an emergency. Two-way devices like a Garmin inReach allow you to get medical advice to care for and treat the injured party before help arrives. And they are a big help to arrange/coordinate a helicopter rescue potentially saving a life. For one thing, the EMTs know the exact nature of the emergency and come fully prepared. Read more on selecting SOS/Tracking Devices and their use.

Note: Another benefit of two-way devices like a Garmin inReach is to get in-the-field weather reports.

11 – Nutrition

10 Essentials

[Note: for a long day hike, 1 to 1.5 pounds of this nutritious food should work for most people]
It makes sense to bring an appropriate daily amount of food that is high in nutritional value and low in weight. (See: “How much daily food should I take?“) But unlike water, your body can go without food for much longer. Therefore, going overboard on too much extra food vs. a prudent amount is a trade off. Think of what other more useful gear for your safety you could bring for that same weight. For example, more warm clothes, a better shelter or an SOS device might contribute more to your safety. That being said, my favorite (extra/backup) foods are usually a high calorie energy bar, and homemade mix of dried fruit, nuts, and a few dark chocolate M&Ms. They are simple, fast, and don’t require cooking.

12 Repair Kit and Tools

10 Essentials

While a repair kit is nice to have, I’m not sure it is a true essential. But it’s light so no big deal. I maintain my gear, inspect it before each trip and then treat it with care on the trail. Therefore, while I do carry a small repair kit, I rarely use it. And when I do it’s not for what I would consider an “essential” repair.

I carry a small pair of school scissors (technically part of my first aid kit) which are far more useful than a knife and they can be transported on an airplane. I also have duct tape, needle and dental floss, a few cable ties and a small tube of krazy glue and one of Aquaseal, along with a some Gear Aid Tenacious Tape. All together they weigh less than 3 ounces. For non-do-it-yourself folks, Gear Aid also has a nice pre-packed Repair Kit altho I wouldn’t take all of the items. And if you own a NeoAir sleeping pad, consider NeoAir patch kit.

13 – Fire (lighter/matches/fire-starters)

10 Essentials

(right) Coghlans Fire Sticks are one of the easiest and safest fire starters to use. (center) A standard lighter is a first choice but Storm Matches are a good backup. (left) Most energy bar wrappers (mylar) also make great fire starters. And best of all I usually have a number of them in my trash bag.

While I do carry these fire starting items, they are last on this list. To this point, in over 40 years of hiking I have yet to use them in a dire emergency situation. Yes, I have started a fire a few times (where legal) to warm up and dry out a lot faster than getting into my sleeping bag in dry clothes—but this was more a comfort and convenience than an emergency. In contrast I’ve used my warm down jacket and my tarp a number of times for what I would consider to be an emergency or close to it. But my favorite fire starters, a lighter and energy bar wrapper (mylar), are already packed every trip so I have them by default.


Appendix – Navigation Tools & Electronics

A Critical Caution for Electronic Items

Neither an electronic GPS App with maps, or a paper TOPO map will figure out the best off-trail route for you. In both cases you’ll need to understand what they show you. That is, you’ll need to be able to tell where things like impassible cliffs are, etc. And you still need to make in-field assessments of the best route while you hike off-trail.

  • These electronic items need to work with full functionality without a cellular phone signal (voice or data). You should configure them to be used as such, and not rely in any way on having cellular data.
  • You should have backup batteries to recharge your electronic devices (phone, SOS/tracker, etc.)
  • Satellite SOS Device (or a cell phone if you have signal) should never be considered a license to do silly things or take unnecessary risks. And note that sometimes even when you can transmit emergency messages, a timely rescue is not possible. As they say, the best rescue is self-rescue.
  • Finally, to state the obvious, Goal One is not needing to make an emergency call/transmission in the first place. So do your pre-trip homework, be sensible and stay safe out there at all times.

Taking all this into account, electronic items are still serious tools that can do things that non-electronic tools cannot.


Pick the Right Navigation Tools for YOU!

I’ve used USGS 7.5′ Topo maps and a traditional compass to navigate for over 40 years. Much of this off-trail, in difficult to navigate areas. They worked then and they still work now. BUT that doesn’t mean a traditional compass is the best navigational tool for all people.

I suggest that there is no perfect navigation tool. All have strengths and weaknesses. In the end its a personal choice.  Select the right tools for you—tools that you have the skills to use and meet the navigational requirements for your trip. And whatever tools you decide on, you do need to know how to use them AND you’ll certainly want to bring a backup.

Paper Maps & Compass

a) Can I “use” a map and compass?

This is the first thing you should consider when deciding on the right navigation system for you. For example, can you can orient your map and compass to true north (taking into account declination), always find your location on the map, take a bearing to a point you want to navigate to, and then use the compass to sight and follow that bearing, taking into account elevation contours (reading Topo lines) and other physical features depicted on the map to make an informed decision on the best route. If not, you might want to 1) learn how to really use a map and compass and/or 2) consider a smartphone GPS App (or even a traditional GPS unit if you already have one).

b) What if you want to learn how use a map and compass?

If you want to learn map and compass skills, great. But to keep your newly learned map & compass skills sharp and effective, you’ll need to use them on a frequent basis. [Note: after teaching many people map and compass navigation, I’ve noticed a low retention rate for those that don’t regularly practice their map & compass skills each year.]

c) All types of navigation tools can fail – even maps

Contrary to what most say, paper maps and traditional compasses can “fail.” First, as stated earlier, many people are not proficient with them. This is a failure of sorts since the map and compass won’t deliver their intended function—and there are no backups to fix this. In addition, maps are accidentally left on a rock, they easily blow away in the wind, they mysteriously creep out of pack and pants pockets, and they can get ruined by water. A couple of times a year I pick up somebody’s full map-set that I found in the middle of the trail. Finally, compasses can be lost, misplaced or damaged (yes, I’ve had clients break a compass).

Smartphone GPS Apps

10 Essentials

The EasyAcc battery on the right will recharge the iPhone 6 Plus two times. (The wall charger and micro-USB cable [top center] are only needed if you’ll have access to electricity mid-trip). See more in Best Lightweight Backpacking Electronics Gear.

For many, a smartphone GPS App with downloaded off-line maps (no cell signal needed) may be a good choice for navigation. Many people are already skilled navigating with their smartphone since they frequently do it in their daily lives. And practice and familiarity are the key for successful use of a navigational tool! In addition to being fast and easy to use, this is both low cost and low weight since people likely already own a smartphone. That is, people have one, can use it, and are already bringing it.

Smartphone GPS apps (and traditional GPS units) work far better in low visibility conditions like white out and in the dark. I have navigated off of more than a few complex summits in complete whiteout with a GPS.

Finally, a big advantage of the smartphone GPS App is the maps are free and instantly downloadable. You can get superbly detailed maps for your hike in a matter of minutes. I’ve downloaded them from my motel room. In contrast, getting and/or printing paper maps is far more costly, time consuming and cumbersome (USGS 7.5 min Topo map are harder and harder to get).

Electronic Navigation Tools are not as unreliable as “experts” claim

  1. In five years of intense backcountry use my close hiking partners and I have never broken an iPhone or the GPS App. We’ve taken our iPhones on numerous packrafting trips in Alaska, winter rafting down the Grand Canyon, technical Canyoneering in Utah, climbing in the Wind Rivers and the Sierras, long hikes in the U.S.A, Turkey, Australia, Europe, and a canoe trip down the length of the Mighty Mississippi River. All without incident. No failures. No dead batteries.
  2. But as a backup, at least one hiking partner carries another smartphone with GPS App & offline maps. (sometimes even an alternate App and mapset).
  3. We do not need cell signal to use our GPS App.
  4. We get around 7 days of use before we need to recharge it—see more about iPhone/smartphone battery management.
  5. And a light USB battery gets us a couple more charges if we need them. The same USB battery charges all our other electronics like headlamps, cameras, and Garmin inReach. See more about field batteries for recharging electronics.

Always Bring a Backup Battery!

It’s critical safety precaution to make sure your electronics are always available for use. My three favorite lightweight and high capacity USB backup batteries are:

  1. Jackery Bolt 6000 mAh USB Battery (pictured right)- With two built in cables (lightening & micro-USB) it will charge just about any backcountry electronics. It has a faster charging rate than the EasyAcc below but has slightly less overall capacity.
  2. EasyAcc 6000mAh USB Battery This has slightly more capacity (tested) than the Jackery battery but has a slower charging rate & only a built micro-USB cable (altho you can attach your own lightening cable to charge an iPhone). It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 about 1.4x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 2.3x.
  3. Anker PowerCore 10000 (only 6.4 oz) this is the lightest option f you need to recharge your electronics a lot.  It can charge a large phone like a Galaxy S7 ~2.5x and a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 ~3.5x. Its limitation is that it only has one USB port for a cable.
  4. And of course for a SPOT messenger and many headlamps a spare set of lithium AAA batteries.

Traditional GPS Units

10 EssentialsFinally, traditional GPS Units like a Garmin Oregon run 16 hours on a single set of batteries that can be recharged. Assuming you don’t leave it on all the time, you could get weeks of use out of it before needing to recharge it or put in a new set AA batteries. These units are rugged and with reasonable care, difficult to damage in the field. But they are getting long in the tooth. The basic unit is quite expensive, where as you likely own a smartphone. And their internal maps are not as good as the ones for an App like GAIA GPS. Finally, any additional maps (beyond the pre-installed ones) are proprietary and very expensive. This only increases the already substantial investment into the unit itself.


Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist

9 Pound Full Comfort Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist

A 9 pound pack is all you need to be safe and warm. So, if you want to lower your pack weight but retain all the convenience and comfort of “traditional” backpacking, look no further than this Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist.

This Lightweight Backpacking Gear  Checklist is suitable for most backpackers on most 3-season trips in the lower 48 and most trips world-wideIn some instances, you may wish to fine-tune this list to your particular trip needs and/or backpacking style by selecting suitable optional or alternate gear in this list. I’ve also tried to list a number or items available from major retailers like REI, e.g. the excellent and reasonably priced Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket at only 6.4 ounces!

Note: feel like going even lighter? See: 5 Pound Practical Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist (link) New
The lightest gear that still makes practical sense. Focused on efficiency while staying warm, dry & safe

9 lb Lightweight Backpacking Gear Checklist – summary with weights

Backpack and Gear Packaging1.9Backpack, stuff sacks, food storage
Sleeping Gear & Tent/Shelter (conventional tent)2.8best high Western Mountains & treeless areas
Opt. sleeping Gear & Shelter  – (hammock)2.8 best East Coast and other wooded areas e.g. AT
Cooking Gear and Water Storage/Treatment0.8Stove, pot, cookware, water “bottles” & purification
Clothing in Pack (not usually worn)2.4Rain jacket, warm jacket, gloves, etc.
“Essential” Gear1.4Maps, SOS device, first aid kit, headlamp, knife sunscreen and small items not included in above
BASE PACK WEIGHT (BPW)9.3BPW = all items in pack = all items above,
less “consumables” (water, food and fuel)
1 Pint of Water1.0Average amount of water carried in pack
See: The Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty
Food – for a long weekend – 3 day trip4.53 days x 1.5 lb per day
Fuel0.24 fl-oz alcohol = 3.2 oz wt
Total of Consumables5.7 Water, food, and fuel
TRAIL PACK WEIGHT (BPW + consumables)15.0 For a long weekend – 3 day trip
Clothing Worn and Items Carried (not in pack)4.8Not included in pack weight: clothing worn on the trail, hat, shoes, trekking poles, stuff in pockets, etc.
Also see: Best Ways to Protect from Lyme & Zika
Camera Equipment Gear List (new page) ?Details for Serious Light Backpacking Cameras

Detail of Gear Checklist Items


Pack opt 1Hyperlite Mountain Gear SW 2400
 (some may prefer larger 3400)
 28.0Light, super durable, (waterproof, seam sealed bag), great frame/carrying capacity, good pockets.
 Pack opt 2ULAOhm 2.0 Pack (32 oz) Do-it-all pack, great value, durable, fits bear can.
Through Hiker Favorite PackOsprey Exos 48 Pack (40 oz)Good price. Larger pack. Fits bear canister. A staple on the AT and PCT
Pack UltralightMountain Laurel Designs 3500ci EXODUS (16 oz) No frame. Almost all Dyneema. Very little mesh. For shorter trips without bear canister
Pack UltralightGossamer Gear Mariposa 60 (29) Big volume, fits bear canister, lots of pockets
Waterproofing for pack2x Gossamer Gear Pack Liner (1.8) (alternate: a trash compactor bag)(1) liner for sleeping bag and insulating clothes
(1) liner for everything else

Gear Packaging & Food Storage

Bear canisterBear Vault BV500 (41) or Wild-Ideas Weekender (31)(when reg’s require) Wild-Ideas is lighter but pricy. Bear Vault is a better value
Bear can alt.Ursack S29.3 Bear Bag (7.8 oz)1st choice: bear storage req’ed AND Ursack approved
Food storageAloksak OP Sak 12.5″ x 20″ (1.0)control food scent – attract less animal attention
Food storageQuart-sized HD freezer bag0.5For storing organizing ‘todays’ snack food
Stuff sacksFor sleeping bag, clothes, etc.2.0Silnylon: keep gear organized, clean, protected
Map sleeveGallon-sized freezer bag0.5Gallon: fewer map folds & shows more map area
Eyewear casepadded nylon sleeve + Ziplock bag0.4No need for a heavy rigid case. The lightest cheapest sleeve your optometrist gives out is great.
TOTAL Backpack and Gear Packaging1.9 Lb

Sleeping Bag or Quilt and Pad

Sleeping BagItemOzComments
Sleeping QuiltHammock Gear Burrow Quilt +3014.5Pers fave. Great value! ~1/2 cost of sleeping bag.
Sleeping BagWestern Mountaineering SummerLite Sleeping Bag (19)Conventional +32 F sleeping bag. Light, warm, highest quality, long loft retention.
Sleep Bag (alt)Feathered Friends Merlin UL 30 (23 oz)For those that sleep cold. Closer to a +20 F sleeping bag with 12 oz of 900+ FP down!
Sleeping PadT-Rest NeoAir X-lite “Women’s”12.1Perfect size for most. Warm. Super comfortable! The best pad for both Men and Women.

Tents & Other Shelters (TarpTents, Pyramid Shelters, & Tarps)

For more shelter options see: Recommended Tents, Tarps, and other Shelters
Tent/ShelterMountain Laurel Des. Solomid XL [in Silnylon (17 oz)]14.0Pers fave. Extremely versatile shelter for low weight. (no bug netting or floor)
Tent/ShelterMLD Solomid InnerNet (11/7.5oz)bug protection/floor (only for when bugs are bad)
Tent (alt)TarpTent ProTrail – 1 pers (26oz)
Full rain & bug protection for one person (has floor)
Tent (alt)TarpTent MoTrail – 2 pers (36oz)Full rain & bug protection for two (has floor)
Tent (alt)Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent  (44 oz for 2 people)REI: One of the lightest freestanding tents
 Tent (alt)REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent  (53 oz for 2 people)REI: Good value in a lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. Lot’s of vertical room.
Tent/Shelter (alternate)MLD Grace Duo Tarp Silnylon (15) Cuben (7.8)Pers fave for many trips: Huge coverage. Low weight. Great ventilation and views.
BivyMLD Superlight Bivy (7.0)Perfect with tarp. When bringing will cowboy camp under stars most nights
Ground clothGossamer Gear Polycryo M (1.6)1.6Not needed with a bivy or shelters with a floor
Stakes8 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes .5oz ea4.0Hold better than skewer stakes. Red easier to find!
Guylines3mm MSR Reflective Utility Cord  2.4mm reflect cord (8×4-ft lines)1.02 to 3mm – all work well – diameter your preference

Optional: Sleeping Gear & Shelter – Hammock (*great for East Coast & wooded areas)

This link jumps to a hammock gear section at the end of the page. In areas with plentiful trees like the East Coast of the US I feel that hammock camping has many advantages. When in the Sierras or other areas with few trees, the opposite is true and I usually camp on the ground using a NeoAir mattress, in a 7 ounce bivy sack, only putting up a tarp when it is actually raining (or sharing a pyramid shelter with my hiking partner). [And I fully realize that some readers will be unconvinced by my enthusiasm for hammock or tarp camping even in areas with lots of good trees. Ground camping is just fine!]

Cooking Gear and Water Storage/Treatment

SeeThe Best Hydration – Drink When Thirsty. This debunks the many myths about hydration and dehydration like “If you are thirsty, it’s already too late” and “If your urine is yellow, you are dehydrated.” This article suggests that Drink When Thirsty is the best and healthiest strategy for hydration during exercise.

BottlesSawyer 64 oz Squeezable Pouch1.5For collecting treating water in camp – dry camps
BottlesSawyer 32 oz Squeezable Pouch1.0Use during the day (note: Platypus doesn’t fit Sawyer)
PurificationSawyer filter (3.0)3.0To drink on the spot – greatly reduces water cary
PurificationChlorine Dioxide tablets0.5For treating 2L bladder in camp
CooksetTrail Designs Toaks 900ml Pot, Sidewinder Ti-Tri, 4fl-oz fuel bottle5.3Lightest, most practical cookset on the market.
TD Kojin Stove stores unburned fuel.
Cookset (alt)Jetboil MiniMo Cook System, Jetpower 100 Fuel Canister (20.8)EZ to use. Much heavier than the alcohol stove cookset. Not “green” with non-recyclable canisters.
Cookset(cheap)TOAKS 900 ml Ti Pot  or
TOAKS 1.3L Ti Pot
 Light and inexpensive for titanium. Pair these with a canister stove like Olicamp Kinetic Isobutane.
Fuel container Twin Neck Fuel Bottle (1.2 oz) The best! Easy measurement! Secure storage.
IgnitionStandard (not micro) BIC lighter0.2Larger is easier to use with cold hands
MugSnow Peak Ti Single 450 Cup (2.4)
Fave: MLD 475 Ti mug (1.3oz)
1.3Eat breakfast & have coffee at same time
MLD 475 mug goes in and out of stock
Bowl/Mug (alt)Ziplock 16 fl-oz bowl (0.9 oz)Pers fave: “mug” and/or bowl. Cheap & Light!
Mug (alt)Starbucks “$1,” 16 fl-oz cup (1.6oz)Readily available, inexpensive, reasonably durable
UtensilPlastic spoon with big shovel
or TOAKS Ti long-handled spoon
0.3cut plastic spoon handle cut to fit in pot OR use longhandle spoon to get inside of food pouches
Coffee brewMSR MugMate Coffee Filter (1.0)For using ground coffee (and not Starbuck’s VIA)

Clothing in Pack (not usually worn)

Rain JacketOutdoor Research Helium II (6.4) 6.4From REI: less expensive than many at this weight
Rain Jacket
REI Co-op Rain Jacket, M’s (8.8)
REI Co-op Rain Jacket, W’s (7.6)
 $70 is a fantastic value in a sub 10 oz rain jacket!
A great basic jacket that gets the job done.
RainJacket(alt)Patagonia Storm Racer  (6.0)Light! Minimal. Amazing it’s 3-layer fabric!
Rain PantsOutdoor Research Helium (6.0)Light. Not expensive. Don’t bring some trips.
Rainpants(alt)Rain chaps or rain kilt (2.0 oz)For trips with low probability of rain, or warm rain
Mid-layer topTNF TKA 100 1/4 Zip Pullover  or
Amazon 100wt fleece w zipper
7.9For use as a mid-layer (and as a “windshirt”) Sadly it appears that 100 wt fleece shirts like this are a dying breed. You may still be able to find a few. Otherwise go for a 200 wt one, the Patagonia R1 Hoodie above or a Patagonia R2 garment
Mid-layer topPatagonia R1 Pullover (11.9)Alternative mid-layer if you can’t find 100wt fleece
WindshellPatagonia Houdini Jacket (3.3)If I don’t bring, will layer rainjacket over my fleece
Warm jacket1Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket  (hooded)10.5Stuffed with 900 fill power down! Warmth Important for rest stops and in camp.
Warm jacket2West. Mtn. Flash XR Jacket (11)Water resistant shell and 850+ FP down.
Warm pantsWest. Mtn. Flash Pants (6.5)
Montbell Superior Down Pants 8.4
For colder weather. WM pants light & warm!
Montbell’s a great value in down pants.
For more down jackets and down pants see: Recommended Down Jackets, Pants, and Booties
Warm hatOR Option Balaclava1.8Warmer than hat – great for quilt w/o hood!
Liner glovesDuraGlove ET Charcoal Wool (2.5)2.5Great liner glove – light, warm, durable!
Camp glovesGlacier Glove fingerless fleece (2.0)Dexterity at camp chores or climbing in cold Wx
Rain MittsZPacks Challenger Rain Mitts (1.0)1.0For intermittent use. Expensive.
Rain Mitts(alt)MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (1.2)For intermittent use.
Rain Mitts(alt)Outdoor Research Revel (3.5)For constant use: waterproof, durable, grip palm
Spare socksSmartWool PhD Light Mini  or
Darn Tough 1/4 Sock Light or
DeFeet Wolleators
1.8Will bring to wash & switch between pairs
Sleep socksDeFeet Woolie Boolie (3.0)No day use; sleeping and dry camp only
Sleeping topPatagonia long sleeve Cap LW (3.5)Dry/clean for camp. Only bring in very wet climates
Sleeping bot.Patagonia Capilene LW (3.4 oz)Dry/clean for camp. Only bring in very wet climates
Sleeping (alt)Terramar Thermasilk top & botInexpensive alternative to expensive base layers

Clothing Worn and Items Carried (stuff not in pack)

ShirtRail Riders Adventure Top or
Sahara shirts like these at REI
7.3Pers fave. For hot and/or brushy (not a baselayer)
Shirt (alt)$40 REI Sahara LS Shirt 6.5 
Smartwool PhD Light 1/4-Zip 8.8
Versatile, light, 50 SPF, inexpensive
Wool shirt & baselayer: for cooler weather
PantsRail Riders X-Treme Adventure (16)16.0Pers fave. Very durable, no velcro on pockets!
Pants (alt)REI Sahara convertible pants (14)Ex Officio and many others make similar pants
More on clothing for Lyme/Zika:Best Ways to Protect from Lyme & Zika
Skirt or KiltPurple Rain — Kilt or SkirtFor hot/humid weather. Skirt (women), Kilt (men)
UnderwearExOfficio Give-N-Go Briefs M’s
Patagonia briefs Women’s
2.0Dry fast, will rinse/wash most days
BraPatagonia Active spots braAlison’s favorite
ShoesAltra Lone Peaks (21)
Altra Superior Trail-Running
 18Light. Huge toe room. Comfortable! Superiors lighter. Lone Peaks more protective sole.
Shoes (alt)Inov-8 ROCLITE 295 (20oz)Pers fave. Light, sticky rubber, durable, low heel rise
Shoes (alt)Brooks Cascadia (25 oz)Very popular trail shoe for LW backpackers
Shoes (alt)Lightweight trail running shoesMost non-Goretex trail running shoes that fit well
SocksDarn Tough 1/4 Sock Light
DeFeet Wolleators or
SmartWool PhD Light Mini  or
1.8Light, thin, warm, simple, durable
GaitersDirty Girl gaiters (1.2 oz)I rarely find the need for gaiters
HeadwearOutdoor Research Sun Runner Hat2.5Removable sun cape. Adaptable to most situations
WatchSuunto Core with positive display2.2compass, altimeter, multifunction timepiece. No GPS
Watch/GPSGarmin Fenix GPS/Watch (3 oz)Accurate trip track: GPS, compass, altimeter, time
SunglassesRx and non-Rx (polarized)1.0http://www.zennioptical.com/ for cheap Rx options
GlassesZenni clear Rx glasses (1.0 oz)Great glasses! for $20 or so. But 2-3 week delivery
Camera (alt)Sony RX100 i-v or Sony a6000 or  Sony a6500See Serious Lightweight Backpacking Cameras
GPS/CommIphone &+ Ziplock ba (7.5)
and GAIA GPS maps on iPhone
7.5Primary GPS & map source (not leaving in car!)
GAIA GPS maps on iPhone better than trad. GPS!
Poles bargain$40 Cascade Mtn. Tech Carbon15.2Pers fave. 1/3 price but equal to the best poles
Trek PolesREI Flash Carbon Poles (14.8 oz)
BD Carbon Alpine (18 oz)
Stiff, light, travel-friendly, won’t break off-trail/rough terrain (readily available)

“Essential” Gear (smaller items not included in above)

MAPS11X17 Custom Maps in Ziploc
and GAIA GPS maps on iPhone
2.0Mapped with CalTopo and printed at Kinkos
GAIA GPS maps on iPhone  better than trad. GPS!
ChargingJackery Bolt 6000 mAh batt 6.0
Anker PowerCore 10000 batt 6.5
Charge an iPhone 8+ or Galaxy S7 ~2.5x & a smaller phone like an iPhone 7 ~3.5x.
SOS/TrackerPreferred: inReach SE+ (6.9)6.92-way communication (a big deal!), visible GPS coordinates, and trip tracking+SOS
SOS/Track (alt)SPOT Gen3 (4.8)Disadvantages: only 1-way com, no vis. GPS coord.
GPS & CommIridium 9555 SatPhone (9.7 oz)
or Iridium GO!
Make no mistake: voice communication is still the gold-standard for high risk trips
OpticsROXANT 7×18 monocular (2.0)Light: scouting/route finding, decent, inexpensive
Optics (alt)MINOX BV II 8×25 binoc’s (10.8)Scouting, much better wildlife observation, value
Pen/pencilFisher Space Pen0.2To mark up maps, take notes about trip
ToothbrushGUM 411 Classic Toothbrush0.4Full head. minimal handle (but not cut in 1/2)
ToothpasteTravel size 1/2 full0.7
Toilet paperWhatever is on the roll at home1.0TP only for polish, use found materials first
Soap/sanitizerDr. Bronners0.5Dr. Bronner’s – repackaged into small bottle
Sunscreensmall plastic tube about 1/2 full0.5for face & hands: most of body covered—large hat
Lip balmHigh SPF water resistant types0.2Minimal wt for dedicated lip balm
First Aid KitMeds, wound/injury, foot care3.0See detailed list at bottom
HeadnetSea to Summit Head Net (1.2)Mosquito netting – don’t take on most trips
Insect repell.Sawyer Picaridin lotion 14 hrs!
Pocketable Picaridin 0.5 oz spray
Lyme Zika protection: Picaradin Lotion most effective & long lasting. Unlike DEET it has no odor & won’t melt plastic.
Foot care kitBonnie’s Balm in small balm jar0.5In case of wet feet. Never get blisters.
CompassSuunto M-3D Compass (1.6)1.6Lightest compass with declination adjustment
Knife/scissorsWescott blunt tip school scissors0.9More useful than knife – OK for plane carryon
KnifeGerber L.S.T. Drop Point (1.2 oz)Can cut bread and salami – very light for 2.6″ blade
Knife (alt)Spyderco Ladybug Knife (0.6)2″ blade – one of the lightest functional knives
FirestarterBic Mini Lighter + trash0.2Energy bar wrappers are great fire starter
LightBlack Diamond Ion (1.9 oz)
Black Diamond Spot (3.2 oz)
$15 Energizer Vision HD (3.0 oz)
1.6Ion for a “usual” trips.
Spot headlamp if hiking dawn/dusk or dark
Value $15 Energizer @Amazon, Target, or Walmart
Light (alt)Fenix LD02 w spare battery (1.0)Best mini light available, attach to hat brim with clip
RepairTenacious patch, duct tape, glue 0.2Also consider NeoAir patch kit, and Aquaseal
Finance/IDID, CCs, and cash in snack Ziplock0.2More secure on me than left in car

First Aid Kit (detail)

First AidItemOzComments
Pain, fever inflammationNaprosyn (Aleve), Ibuprofen, or Tylenol (fever)0.4In ziplock pill bag available at pharmacies
Foot/blisterGauze + Leukotape Tape0.3For taping over blisters, or pre-blister areas
Foot/blisterTincture of benzoin in micro-bottle0.2For getting tape or Bandaids to REALLY stick!
Wound careBandaids + gel blister covers0.5Assorted sizes – your preference
Wound careAntibact. packets + wound wipes0.4Wound cleansing, infection prevention
Wound care (12) 4×4″ gauze pads + 1 roll gauze Use duct tape to hold in place (from above – Repair Items)
OTC medsBenadryl, Sudafed, Nexium, Imodium, caffeine tablets0.4All in tablet/pill form
Rx medsPersonal Dr’s Rx meds0.4
Pain seriousDr’s Rx Painkiller0.2For serious injury, tooth abscess, etc.
Storage/orgBag Poly 5×8  to hold 1st Aid Kit0.2 Keep size down. Can only put in what can fit in bag.
TOTAL3.0 Oz (included in “Essential” Gear)

Sleeping Gear and Shelter – Hammock (*best for East Coast and other wooded areas)

*See: Hammock Camping Part I: Advantages & disadvantages versus ground systems

HammockUltralite Backpacker Asym Zip
or Hyperlite Asym Zip
Hennessy most readily available commercial hammock.
HammockDutchware 11 ft Netless Hammock
Dutchware Hammock w bugnet 10
8.01.0 Hexon single layer fabric, with ridgeline
Top quiltHammock Gear Burrow Quilt +3013.0Trimmed vers. (+40 quilt w 2 oz over fill = +30F)
Bottom quiltHammock Gear “Phincubator” +30 14.060″ ver. of “Phoenix 40” with down overfill to get +30. (no need for pad under feet)
 TarpHammock Gear Cuben Fiber Hex
+ Zing-it ridge-line w hardware
 5.6Light, hammock specific tarp, huge protected area
Hammock SuspensionKevlar tree straps
Whoopie Hook Suspension
 3.0Kevlar straps, w Amsteel whooppie hook susp. Talk to Dutchware to ensure you get the right stuff
Stakes4 MSR Groundhog Y-stakes .5oz ea 2.0 Hold better than skewer stakes. Red easier to find!
 Guylines 3mm MSR Reflective Utility Cord  2.4mm reflect cord (8×4-ft lines) 1.0 2 to 3mm – all work well – diameter your preference
 TOTAL 2.8  Lb


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