While the Southwest 2400 is our favorite backpacking pack, the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Daypack is our favorite pack for every other need. It is the waterproof ultralight daypack that we trust with $5K to $10K of camera gear in rain soaked places like Iceland or the Northern Coast of Ireland. It is our under-seat carry on pack on the plane. Then when off the plane, we can live out of this same pack for a week of hiking in foreign countries. It is an alpine climbing, done-in-a-day pack. We also use it technical canyoneering, skiing for groceries in a winter blizzard, etc. In summary, it may be the best multipurpose ultralight daypack on the market. Oh, and it also won National Geographic Adventure Mag 2016 “Gear Of The Year.”
Quick Specs – Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Daypack
- Volume: Internal: 1040 cu. in. (17L)
- Load capacity: Up to 25 lbs
- Weight: Size Medium 1.27 lbs | 20.35 oz | 577g
5 Key Features of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Daypack
- It’s nearly waterproof. Important when you’re carrying expensive cameras, electronics or clothing you’re depending on to stay warm, like a down jacket.
- It’s tough. The black Dyneema Composite Fabric (DCF), is strong and waterproof, but still light. Pockets are durable, solid fabric.
- It’s light. At just over a pound for a 17 liter capacity, it is significantly lighter than most waterproof packs.
- Fast gear Access. The clamshell, waterproof top zipper gives faster access to the main pack-bag vs. packs with lids, or roll-top closures. The Daybreak has the perfect combination of external storage: a large bellows back pocket; two side pockets for water bottles, etc.; a nice rear bungie system that you can attach a helmet, crampons or rainwear, etc.; and additional attachment points on both the back of the pack and on the shoulder straps. In summary, you can carry a lot of gear, organize it well and access it quickly.
- “Precisely what you need and nothing more.” And finally as with all HMG products the 20 ounce Daybreak Ultralight Daypack epitomizes HMG’s minimal but supremely functional design. As such, they’ve included small details like drain holes for the external pockets, a zippered security pocket for passport, wallet, cash and keys, etc.; and an internal sleeve pocket (I use for maps/papers on-trail and for my 13″ laptop when off-trail/traveling). Oh, and the waist belt is beefy enough to actually handle a decent load!
5 Reasons We Like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Daybreak Daypack
There are a number of cheaper functional daypacks. We’ve outlined some of our favorite daypacks in 3 lb Ultralight Day Hiking Checklist. So why is the $225 HMG Daybreak Ultralight Daypack our favorite?
- First we carry a lot of expensive camera gear and electronics on every trip. A few hundred dollars to keep it dry and safe vs. the thousands of dollars of camera gear seems like a good investment. [In, fact we often use it as a dedicated camera bag/pack on some trips. It’s much lighter and more waterproof than many camera-specific packs that weigh 3 pounds or more.]
- Second, we use our Daybreak Daypacks over and over again. As such the cost is very reasonable if you spread it out over many trips per year over a number of years. E.g. the pack goes on international trips (both carry on luggage and on-trail pack), X-country ski trips, surviving temporary immersion when canyoneering, mountaineering, and trips all around the world.
- We know that our packs will survive whatever the terrain or weather dishes out. The fabric is strong and durable and up to bushwhacking and abrasion on rocks. It doesn’t have annoying mesh pockets that snag and tear on everything in creation. And we know that the inside of our pack will remain relatively dry. This is especially important to us since we seem drawn to hiking wet and cold places like Patagonia, Scotland, Iceland, and South Island of New Zealand, etc.
- It’s excellent external storage keeps our most needed gear easily accessible. This is much faster and convenient vs. diving into the main bag for commonly needed items. The huge, rear pocket and shock cord attachment system are keys for this.
- Finally, the packs are amazingly light given how waterproof and durable they are. Greatly appreciated as much when traveling as when we are on the trail.
SPECIFICATIONS – DAYBREAK ULTRALIGHT DAYPACK
Small 1.26 lbs | 20.14 oz | 571g
Medium 1.27 lbs | 20.35 oz | 577g
Large 1.29 lbs | 20.56 oz | 583g
- Large external front pocket, great for hydration/snacks/rain jacket
- Removable ice axe attachments
- Front shock cord system allows you to lash gear or compress the pack
- Two angled side water bottle pockets that are easy to reach while wearing the pack
- Clamshell design and long water-resistant YKK zipper allows for wide pack access
- Lightly padded 1.5” hip belt with peekaboo pocket to store hip belt when it’s not in use
- Internal zippered pocket designed to hold phones/keys/money/etc
- Internal sleeve pocket helps to compartmentalize your gear (also fits a 13” laptop)
- Bright orange liner makes it easy to see what’s in your pack
- Comfortable ¼” padded back panel with chevron-stitched design
- Dyneema® Hardline shoulder straps with ¼” foam, spacer mesh and elastic hose keepers
- Adjustable sternum strap with whistle
External: 150D Dyneema®/Poly Hybrid
Internal: 150D Dyneema®/Poly Hybrid | 210D Nylon
Volume: Internal: 1040 cu. in. (17L)
Height: 21” (53.3cm) Bottom Width: 11” (27.9cm) Depth: 6.5″ (16.5cm)
- This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a slight portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I am never under an obligation to write page post a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear provided the author a sample of this pack for review.
Rain jacket “durability” is a complex topic not well understood by most people. This post debunks some durability myths and clearly lays out what to look for in a durable rain jacket. Finally, we list some of the very best durable rain jackets on the market that are also light!
If you can’t wait, jump to see our Best Durable Rain Jackets here. Or the new complete list of Best Ultralight Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking.
This is part 1 of a series on Rain Jackets:
- Rain Jacket Durability 101 – How to Select the Best Durable Rain Jacket
- NEW! Best Ultralight Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking
This includes a section Rain Jacket Breathability 101 or why waterproof-breathable rain jackets get an unfair bad rap!
What is Rain Jacket Durability?
In brief, rain jacket durability is a complex topic that includes the jacket remaining waterproof while continuing to breathe (vent body moisture), the shell fabric not ripping, seams not failing, and zippers, elastic adjusters, velcro etc. continuing to work without massive cleaning and maintenance.
|NOTE: There are many good reasons why you might not buy the most durable rain jacket! Case in point, is the 8 oz, 2.5 layer jacket above, my first choice for so many trips that it finally wore out. See more here…|
The Three Elements of Rain Jacket Durability
A. Outer shell fabric durability
The ability of the rainwear’s exterior fabric to:
- Resist tearing, punctures and abrasion damage
- Maintain its water shedding & breathability—usually with a durable, water repellent finish DWR
Note: outer shell fabric “wet out,” the breakdown of this water shedding property, does not completely stop all breathability as is popularly believed. See more below.
B. Inner waterproof/breathable (WPB) membrane durability
The ability of the shell’s inner WPB lining to maintain waterproofness AND breathability:
- The WPB membrane should remain physically intact under the wear and tear of garment use (not so easy in regular use with a backpack!).
- In particular the WPB membrane should not delaminate from the outer shell, develop cracks, etc. In this case, 3-layer construction jackets are likely more durable. That’s because their inner fabric liner protects the more delicate WPB membrane vs. the unprotected membrane of 2.5 layer jackets.
- The WPB membrane should not foul with body oils, dirt, detergent residues or other materials which will cause the WPB membrane to leak.
C. Hardware failures
- Zippers that jam, no longer mate at the bottom, or start auto-separating in the field
- Elastic adjusters on hoods, cuffs and hems of jackets. Velcro that looses its stick, adjusters/buckles that break or slip, etc.
So What Fails Most Often?
As the pictures above show, WPB membrane failure is likely the first and most common, non-fixable way rain jackets fail (leak). And note that while the examples are dramatic, many small cracks, punctures, and delaminations are not obvious but will still cause your jacket to leak. This is true for 2.5 and 3-layer jackets, although 3-layer rain jackets usually last longer. This is one reason why the outdoor industry still makes a big deal about 2.5 vs 3-layer construction.
|Note: Many outdoor companies like Patagonia, REI and Outdoor Research, offer good product warranties that cover zipper failures, membrane delamination, etc. This will protect your jacket as a long term investment. But if your jacket fails in the field you may have to suffer through wet until you get home and can ship it back for repair or replacement.|
On the left is a traditional fabric surface treated with a DWR that has already started to fail (wet out). Large wetted out areas will reduce the breathability of a rain jacket. In comparison, on the right is a newer, non-chemical water shedding fabric technology, Columbia’s naturally hydrophobic Columbia OutDry Ex Eco Tech fabric continues to bead and shed water.
2) “Wet Out” (DWR failure) – Outer Shell no Longer Beading/Shedding Water
Wet out is another common “failure,” altho it can be fixed. Wet out happens when the durable, water repellent finish DWR no longer beads up and sheds water. The most common reason for this is the DWR finish (a chemical) wearing off after many garment washings, and/or the surface getting fouled with dirt and other compounds. While this doesn’t cause the rain jacket to leak, it does likely slow down the breathability of the jacket (see more below). This makes it easer to sweat out the inside of the jacket if you are working hard. Your DWR can be refreshed by washing the jacket and treating it with a DWR restoring wash compound and/or spray. E.g. some of these form Nikwax.
Note: While, some newer fabrics like Columbia OutDry Ex Eco are inherently hydrophobic and don’t need a DWR. You will still need to keep the fabric free of dirt for best water shedding.
Myth: A Wetted Out Rain Jacket Doesn’t Breathe
It’s a myth rainwear stops breathing once it wets out. This is according to interviews I had with 1) Jeff Mergy, the Director of the Innovation Team at Columbia Sportswear (among other things tech. guy for OutDry Ex Eco Fabric and 2) Dr. Fred Wilson PhD a long term industry scientist who worked for both GORE and eVENT on WPB fabrics.
In an interview I had with Jeff Mergy, he stated that WPB membranes are still breathable when outer shell is wetted out but not as breathable. It is still not clearly understood how less breathable but Jeff believes it is significant. BUT he said that part of what consumers believe is “not-breathable” is often the clammy next skin feel of conventional WPB jackets. Columbia OutDry Ex Eco helps with this by having an actual wicking fabric that feels far more comfortable next to the skin. Even when the outer shell is wetted out. [Note: other 3-layer technologies with a fabric liner should have a similar non-clammy feel.]
3) Fouled WPB Membranes Can Leak
Body oils, dirt, and other compounds can contaminate the inner WPB membrane and cause it to leak. This is another non-permanent failure that can generally be fixed by properly washing your jacket. Nonetheless this is a problem in the field as it can’t be easily fixed until you get home. 3-layer jackets are less prone to membrane contamination since they have a fabric liner that keeps them away from your skin, dirt, oils and other sources of contamination.
From ‘B’ and ‘C’ it should be clear that keeping your rainwear clean, and refreshing the DWR are easy ways to improve the long-term breathability of an waterproofness of your rain jacket. So use products like these form Nikwax.
4) Hardware Failures
Another fairly common failure are front zippers that jam, no longer mate at the bottom, or start auto-separating in the field. In my experience zipper problems are second only to membrane delaminations for “non-fixable” failures. It is why I prefer beefier toothed zippers (vs. coil) on my rain jackets, or even a 1/2 zip rain jacket that eliminates the always risky mating of the zipper at the hem.
5) Ripping, Tearing and Puncturing the Jacket Shell Fabric
Finally, what rarely fails (at least in my 20+ years of using modern rain jackets) is the actual shell fabric of the rain jacket. I’ve used a large number very thin jackets over the years and they have rarely torn, ripped, punctured or had a seam fail. Generally, something else gets them first. (But I do avoid bushwhacking in sub 7 ounce rain jackets if at all possible.) Note that torn, ripped, punctured jackets are rarely covered under any warrantee, so the durability of a rain jacket’s outer shell fabric is a serious consideration if you think you might abuse your jacket.
The Best Durable Rain Jackets
Not long ago, a getting a durable rain jacket meant getting heavy bulky jacket that cost and arm and a leg. Now you can get a tough and durable rain jacket that is under 12 ounces and possibly as light as 6 – 8 ounces. And some cost less than you’d think!
The following are our picks for the Best Durable but still Lightweight Rain Jackets for Backpacking. The cutoff weight for inclusion is approximately 12 ounces. We believe that for this weight you can get sufficient durability, features, waterproofness and breathability for all activities short of severe bushwhacking and intense alpine climbing (and even then… ). And while we do not exclude running or climbing/mountaineering jackets they also need to be well suited to backpacking (and some are).
Note that many mainstream outdoor apparel brand offer “extremely durable” jackets. These jackets often use GORE-TEX pro with 50-70 denier fabric (or similar). They weigh 16-24 ounces and cost ~ $300-500. These have limited application in sports or professions other than hiking. We strongly believe they are far too heavy for hiking, backpacking or even lightweight mountaineering or climbing.
WEIGHT: 12 oz – $189
At at almost 1/2 the price of competitor’s jackets the Rhyolite is a great value!
TECH: 3-layer eVent DValpine™ fabric (20,000 g/m2/hr)
FEATURES: The REI Co-op Rhyolite is a solid three layer jacket at a great price! It has two well placed chest pockets and adjustable hem, cuffs and hood. REI made some good design choices with this jacket: the pockets are high enough to use when wearing hip straps and it has mesh pocket linings creating two large and effective chest vents (which we prefer over pit-zips). Additionally, the Rhyolite’s seam-free shoulder design is good when wearing a pack and should increase durability in this critical area. If you’re planning on buying this jacket, note that the hem comes up just a little short in the back, and the fabric is a bit on the stiff side (it didn’t bother us).
BEST FOR: Hikers and backpackers looking for a great value in rain protection with good breathability and great ventilation that can endure significant wear and tear. And it has the REI warranty! Note: the jacket uses the more waterproof/but moderate breathability 3-layer eVent DValpine™ fabric (20,000 g/m2/hr) vs. the more highly breathable DVstorm fabric (30,000 g/m2/hr).
WEIGHT: 12.1 oz – $199
TECH: OutDry Ex Eco fabric (“1-Layer” is our term, not the manufacturer’s, since the shell fabric & membrane are one in the same!)
FEATURES: An unusual entry, the OutDry Extreme Eco uses newly developed eco-friendly, “1-layer” technology to make a mid-price, full featured, lightweight rain jacket with elastic drawcord hood (and hood velcro), velcro adjustable cuff, drawcord adjustable elastic hem, and two mesh chest pockets (great for ventilation). From our use the OutDry Ex Eco fabric is waterproof, breathable, and quite tough. And the OutDry technologies inherent water repellence prevents wet out without using traditional PFC-based DWRs. The jacket has a roomy fit for layering and nice length in the back for covering your tail. Some have criticized the Eco for keeping in the heat, but we have not found that to be the case.
Note that compared to the other 3-layer jackets in this category, the fabric in these jackets feels odd, like your first rubber rain jacket in grade school. This may be off-putting to some. But we didn’t find it impaired its performance. And the all-white color while eco may not be some people’s ideal fashion statement for the trail.
BEST FOR: Someone looking for an extremely durable jacket for frequent use that has long term waterproofness and breathability and water shedding (without need to refresh a DWR). This jacket might well survive the longest when worn continually with a backpack.
WEIGHT: 10.9 oz – $279
Possibly the best all-around jacket in this group and at a reasonable price.
TECH: AscentShell 3-Layer, 100% nylon 20 D mechanical stretch ripstop face with 100% Polyester 12 D backer (30,000 g/m2/24h)
FEATURES: The Outdoor Research Realm is a close competitor with the Montbell Storm Cruiser — they’re close in price, weight, feature set. What makes the Realm unique is its high breathability (30,000 g/m2/24h!) AscentShell fabric which also has stretch and a super nice feel. The Realm has two double pockets in the chest (one mesh, one waterproof with a subpocket for an iPhone in the mesh pocket), dual drawcord hood, tough toothed zipper, huge hood, velcro cuffs, and stiffened brimmed hood. The Realm also has great range of motion in the shoulder area making it well suited for climbing as well as backpacking .
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for tough, highly breathable, full-featured rain that works equally well for hiking, backpacking or climbing. Note that the Realm does not have pit-zips, altho its fabric breathability makes these less essential.
WEIGHT: 10.0oz – $289
This is the #1 selling rain Jacket in Japan, a country crazy about hiking and getting outdoors.
TECH: 3-layer GORE C-KNIT Backer Technology 20-denier Ballistic rip stop nylon
FEATURES: The Montbell Storm Cruiser is a full-featured, durable jacket that competes with the Outdoor Research Realm. The Storm Cruiser has all the bells and whistles while remaining at 10 oz! Drawcord adjustable hem, velcro adjustable elastic cuffs, big pit zips, two big waterproof chest pockets (above that pesky hip belt), a good-sized coil zipper and a three way adjustable hood (it’s quite deep). For venting the Storm Cruiser has two large pit-zips vs. the Realm’s single mesh lined chest pocket. This may be more to some people’s liking.
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for tough, breathable, well designed rain jacket that has pretty much every feature, including large pit-zips! Note: This jacket is only available directly from Montbell.
WEIGHT: 8 oz
Note: The Patagonia M10 Anorak is the only jacket here that fits in both this 3-layer Durable Category and the ExtremeLight Category below. Quite an achievement if you can deal with the 1/2 zipper and minimal feature set! And it does have a nice chest pocket!
TECH: 3-layer, 2-oz 12-denier 100% nylon ripstop with a WPB barrier and a DWR finish
FEATURES: The M10 Anorak has a huge hood, deep chest zip and Napoleon pocket. The zip on the front contributes to the durability of the jacket (much lower risk of zipper wear and separation) and the reduced feature set leaves less to break while still allowing for full functionality. The jacket does have a snug fit — we had to size up to fit the jacket comfortably. But the Anorak is a standout pick in our list for anyone looking for durability that doesn’t weigh you down. Additionally, the Anorak further improves durability by using tough “welded seams” and moving seams away from the back, neck, and shoulder area (places where the jacket wears the quickest).
BEST FOR: The M10 Anorak is an excellent choice for someone looking for a long lasting fabric and feature set jacket that is incredibly light. Intended for athletes, the Anorak’s slim fit is extremely useful for runners climbers and others not looking for much insulation beneath a rain jacket. Given that, if you want to layer with the Anorak, you should consider sizing up.
ExtremeLight Rain Jackets that are a durable in their own way
5.8 oz – $450
Note: Hyperlite Mountain Gear: THE SHELL jacket is included for its unusually durable shell fabric, eVENT breathability and many full-sized features for its weight.
TECH: 2-layer, strong and super-breathable (32,000 g/m2/24hr) eVent | DCF-WPB fabric (formerly Cuben) with Dyneema® and eVent® materials technology
FEATURES: This is both the lightest and most expensive jacket of the group. Staying true to the HMG motto “less weight more options,” THE SHELL is extremely roomy, super-breathable (Breathability Rating: 32,000 gm2/24hr), and fully featured. It’s amazing that a sub 6 oz jacket can have an easy to operate, beefy, toothed waterproof zipper; a large, full-featured hood, and full-sized cuff closures. The Dyneema® Composite Fabrics (formerly Cuben Fiber) shell fabric is strong and compressible. The only thing to keep in mind is that the 2-layer eVent membrane is not protected with a fabric backing like more durable 3-layer jackets. Full review is here…
BEST FOR: Ultralighters looking for the very lightest jacket but with a tough outer shell fabric — and don’t mind spending significant $. It’s better for less frequent rain vs. week-after-week wear with a heavy backpack on, e.g. wet climates like Pacific NW.
WEIGHT: 6.2 oz – $300
Note: Zpacks Vertice jacket is included because of of its 56,000+ g/m2/24hr breathability!, 3-layer fabric (membrane durability) but still weighing around 6 oz and full-featured with pit-zips.
FEATURES: The Zpacks Vertice is nearly twice as breathable as the next most breathable jackets in this guide—56,000 vs 32,000. Its 3-layer construction has a fabric liner to protect the WP/B membrane. It’s also the most fully featured jacket in this group, with a large dual adjustment hood with stiffened brim, pit-zips, adjustable cuffs, a large chest pocket, & long protective hem.
BEST FOR: Ultralighters looking for the lightest jacket that is super breathable, fully featured including pit-zips, and with 3-layer construction to protect the WP/B membrane. Note that this has the thinnest shell fabric of any jacket (7 denier ripstop nylon). That being said, the fabric does not seem to be unduly delicate. Adjustment hardware is also among the smallest and lightest in this group making it harder to manipulate than larger hardware.
If you will frequently wear your rain jacket with a pack on and/or use it bushwhacking etc. one of the durable rain jackets above is likely your best choice. Just to be clear, there is no perfect rain jacket. And there are implications for choosing the most durable rain jacket. That is, a rain jacket that scores highly on all of the durability features above will be expensive to very expensive and likely weigh 11 to 12 oz. This is about double the weight of the lightest rain jackets. And it is likely 2 to 4 times the cost of an excellent value rain jacket like the Marmot Precip.
Why might you get a less durable rain jacket?
Alternatively, while many very light rain jackets have thinner less durable shell fabric and/or thinner less durable WPB membranes (usually 2.5 layer) — they do have many desirable characteristics that heavier, durable rain jackets lack — they are crazy light, compact, less expensive and they will still keep you dry! For example, during summer in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with their infrequent afternoon thunderstorms, your rain jacket is likely to stay in your pack unused for the entire trip, or possibly just a few hours in a couple T-storms. As such, it may be more than durable enough for its “intended use” and last many seasons. In this case you can save the weight and cost of a durable 3-layer jacket, and get by with something like a:
- 6 oz jacket like the Outdoor Research Helium II for $160
- 9 oz jacket like the REI Co-op rain jacket for only $70.
- 6.7 oz Montbell Versalite which includes large pit zips for only $169!
Note: Lightweight and budget jackets will be covered in a future post.
This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a slight portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I am never under an obligation to write page post a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.
I’ve been an REI member since the mid 70’s. Still, when a REI sale comes around, I get overwhelmed trying to find the best lightweight gear among the vast inventory. This year, I decided to prep by going for a 2 hour visit to my local REI Store, and then doing research online selecting more great lightweight hiking and backpacking gear. The result is my Lightweight Hiker’s Guide to REI Gear Up Get Out Sale.
- EVENT: Gear Up Get Out Sale. Save up to 30% off at REI.
- PLUS: Members Get 20% off one full price item and 20% off one REI Garage Item
- Coupon Code: GEARUP20
- Dates for the sale are 11/10 to 11/20, so get there early and look around to get the best selection.
Below, I share with you my strategy to get the best out of the REI sale. This is in the following sequence
- First: hit the REI GARAGE to use your 20% off any one GARAGE item. Stuff goes fast and sizes/colors are limited to begin with. I’ve noted a few items that I found to be good deals, but be flexible since sizes and colors can go quickly. And do some searching. If you’re a small or very large person, you can totally score here. I’ve only put in items that had several good sizes. Keep in mind that something labeled “men” might be good for women, and vice versa.
- Second: Hit the Regular REI Sale Items (I have some picks below). The best items on sale will go quickly. There’s a section below that has Regular Sale Items I thought were good.
- Third: shop Full-price Items. This is the last area I would look over. Again in a section below, I have noted some high priced items where 20% off would be welcome, as well as some lower cost options.
Two Quick Pics
Oh, and Patagonia R1 Hoodies & Pullovers are 30% off – might be my favorite sale item! Think of it as “fur for humans.” Possibly the most versatile cold weather base layer ever made. It works over an astonishing range of conditions. Mine has been to many a mountain top all over the world.
The 12 oz REI Co-op Rhyolite with its breathable 3-layer eVENT fabric is durable AND Light. At half the price of competitor’s jackets, it’s a great value! The Rhyolite jacket is on sale at at 40% off – $113!
REI made some good design choices with this jacket: the pockets are high enough to use when wearing hip straps and it has mesh pocket linings creating two large and effective chest vents (which we prefer over pit-zips).
Mobile Users – turn your phone sideways for best viewing!
Lightweight Hiker’s Guide to REI Gear Up Get Out Sale
Here are some ideas to use your 20% off one REI GARAGE item
Women’ Jacket – REI Garage $244.73
A steal if you also use your Members Get 20% off one REI Garage Item.
This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years. My wife and I both own one. It’s not the cheapest jacket but it’s light, and uses a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in both a jacket and a hooded version for a little more money. The hooded version is hands-down our favorite!
A good pair of hiking shoes, ain’t cheap. So these might be a good choice for the your 20% off any one Garage item.
These are Alison’s and my favorite backpacking and hiking shoes. These are the most comfortable shoe after a 30+ mile day on the trail. One key is the massive toe room that is so kind to trail-swollen feet at the end of the day. They are light and have a zero drop heel for a more natural stride. These come in both Men’s and Women’s models.
We also like the lighter and award winning Altra Superior shoes. We have even taken them technical canyoneering with good success. M’s model and W’s model. One thing that makes the Superiors stand apart is upper fabric is that it stops sand and grit entry while still being breathable!
Selected Regular Sale Items
Since this gear is already on sale, you can’t use your 20% off any one -full-priced item. But there are some great deals here that can lighten your pack.
30% Off All M’s Patagonia R1 Hoodies & Pullovers – possibly my favorite sale item!
Think of it as “fur for humans.” Possibly the most versatile cold weather base layer ever made. It works over an astonishing range of conditions.
REI Co-op Rhyolite Rain Jacket M’s & W’s
25% off All Swiss Army Knives
This is a great chance to stock up on some small holiday presents
And yes, the Swiss Army Classic is well, a classic ultralight knife. But at 25% off don’t stop there if you want something more elaborate for a front country camping knife (e.g. Swiss Army Huntsman Knife) or something in between for everyday carry…
25% off All REI Co-op Trekking Poles
We particularly like the REI Co-op Flash Carbon Trekking Poles. They are light, strong, and travel friendly. We’ve taken them all over the world.
25% off Big Agnes Copper Spur Tents and Footprints
If you want to cut a little weight, but keep lots of space, Big Agnes has you covered with their Copper Spur ultralight freestanding tents. They are some of the most spacious backpacking tents out there, which is great if you are going to be stuck in your tent playing cards for a while in bad weather, or just prefer highly livable tents. The Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 2 Tent is a longtime favorite among ultralight backpackers.
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 Tent $291.93
35% Off all Jetboil Flash Cooking Systems
The Jetboil Flash stove is an all-in-one stove, heat exchanger, pot combination. It’s a great option if you want hot water quickly in camp – it’ll get your morning coffee boiling in just two-and-a-half minutes. That’s 3-4 times faster than an alcohol stove system. At 15.2 oz, it’s not too heavy. Or you could consider the Jetboil FlashLite, which weighs 4 oz less, but has a lower 0.8 L water capacity vs. 1.0 L for the Flash.
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket – Men’s and Women’s 30% off now $138.99
A Patagonia Ultralight Classic! Compared to fleece its lighter and more compressible for equivalent warmth. And unlike down it still keeps you warm when wet.
If wool isn’t your thing… light and durable Patagonia Capilene Midweight baselayers are a great option.
We are particular fans of the Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck Long Underwear Top with its long, center-front zipper for easy venting when you work up a sweat, full underarm gussets and raglan shoulder seams that provide unhindered shoulder mobility, and elastic thumbholes that keep sleeves from riding up and provide partial coverage for your hands.
Suggestions to get the most from your 20% off any one full-price item
Warm, comfortable, light and compact. What more do you want?
The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir line sets the gold standard for backpacking sleeping pads. This is the “Women’s” version of the XLite, but it’s the right size for most backpackers (all the men I know use it). At 12 oz and with an R-value of 3.9, it’s warmer and lighter than the “Men’s” version. This pad will be a go-to piece of any backpacker’s sleeping kit.
Osprey Exos 48 Pack – $190
A Thru-hiker’s choice and a darling of the Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. The Osprey Exos 48 is light but will still hold enough gear and food for 7 days. Best of all, at under $200 it’s a good deal for a pack of this weight and quality.
REI Quarter Dome 2 Tent – $349.00
REI’s long-time favorite Quarter Dome Tent is a great option for those looking for a reasonably priced lightweight free-standing backpacking tent. If ultralight tarps seem too daunting, this will still help you cut weight, weighing just over 3 lbs, but the Quarter Dome remains comfortable with ample head room, and plenty of space for two backpackers. The increased room and livability from extremely vertical walls is what sets tent apart from most of its peers. (Now even more room with 2017 update.)
Note: Compare this to the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 Tent
This 2017 Backpacker Editors’ Choice will keep even cold sleepers warm. This Women’s specific bag is rated to 17 °F and stuffed with 850 fill power water-resistant goose down. The weight is not bad at a little over two pounds.
A value 3 season bag for under 2 pounds. Water-repellent 700-fill-power duck down keeps the price low. Strategic waterproof/breathable fabric panels improve its wet weather performance. This Women’s specific Joule bag is rated to 30 °F and the Men’s Igneo bag is rated to 30 °F.
Marmot Phase 30 Sleeping Bag – $399
This is 1/2 the weight of the bags above it! A very warm one-pound Ultralight bag wth high quality 850 fill power water-resistant goose down. EN rated to 33 °F, and with a full zipper which is a pleasant surprise in a bag this light!
A good pair of hiking shoes, ain’t cheap. So these might be a good choice for the your 20% off any one full price item.
These are Alison’s and my favorite backpacking and hiking shoes. These are the most comfortable shoe after a 30+ mile day on the trail. One key is the massive toe room that is so kind to trail-swollen feet at the end of the day. They are light and have a zero drop heel for a more natural stride. These comes in both Men’s and Women’s models.
We also like the lighter and award winning Altra Superior shoes. We have even taken them technical canyoneering with good success. M’s model and W’s model. One thing that makes the Superiors stand apart is upper fabric is that it stops sand and grit entry while still being breathable!
If the a big toebox isn’t your thing, these are some very light (under 10 oz) shoes that are super comfortable. They’ve got tons of padding to protect your feet, great ventilation and super grip from aggressively lugged soles. Like the Altras above, these have a low heel drop, which we prefer. In Men’s and Women’s models.
REI Co-Op Rain Jacket – $70
This functional rain jacket is under 10 oz. and a great bargain! Most of us end up tearing or wearing out a rain jacket after a few seasons anyway, so why spend the big bucks? This jacket comes in both Men’s and Women’s sizes (9.4 and 8 oz respectively), has zippered pockets and an adjustable hood making this 2.5-layer breathable waterproof jacket a an excellent deal!
REI Flash 18 Pack and Flash 22 Pack – $40 and $50
These little day packs are great. They are light in an era when many “daypacks” approach the heavy weight of long distance backpacks. With the weight savings you can carry a camera, a drawing pad and pencils, or some extra food.
Theses packs hold just the right amount for a day (18 or 22 L), and don’t have too many bells and whistles. Simple, inexpensive, and good. This simple drawstring design has been with us for years, because it has proven itself to be perfect for just about any day-long mission.
This post contains affilate links. If you make a purchase after clicking on the these links, a slight portion of the sale helps support this site at no additional cost to you. I am never under an obligation to write page post a review about any product. Finally, this post expresses my own independent opinion.
As of November, 2017 Amtrak offers service to Roanoke, VA. This makes another stunning section of the AT accessible via public transportation to most of the East Coast. This hike is just south of Shenandoah National Park. It’s every bit as beautiful as “The Shen” but wilder and without the crowds! The guide that follows gives you all the information you need to do this Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park. Leave the car at home and hike green!
(lead photo: dawn over the Shenandoah Valley from Cedar Cliffs Overlook. One of the highlights of this AT section is the great ridge walking with superb views)
A Series of Guides to Low Carbon Section Hikes on the Appalachian Trail
This is the 3rd installment of our no car needed, Appalachian Trail (AT) Hiking Guides. We are big fans of leaving the car at home when hiking. Because the AT goes through or near urban areas, it’s not difficult to section hike portions of the AT using only public transportation. Many of these are among the nicer sections of the AT. This guide is for an AT section hike that you can undertake solely using public transportation from Washington, D.C. and/or much of the east coast. This 134 mile AT section could be done in one long’ish week (7-11 days). It would also be a great hike for fall color viewing as it has much less foot traffic than the adjacent Shenandoah Park.
Trip 1: Low Carbon Appalachian Trail Section Hike via Train – Harpers Ferry WV to Harrisburg PA, 124 miles
Trip 2: Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry, 54 miles
Trip 3: this post Low Carbon AT Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park, 134 miles
Top 5 Highlights of this Section of the AT
- Amazingly wild and remote for Central/Northern Virginia. This section goes through many Wilderness Areas with few road crossings and tons of wildlife and wildflowers!
- Far less crowded — but as good as or better than the adjacent Shenandoah National Park
- Great ridgetop walking with superb views
- Cole Mountain Bald and Three Ridges Mountain (both great mountain tops)
- Many scenic bridges: including the James River Bridge (longest foot traffic only bridge on the AT)
Overview map of the route – Roanoke VA to Rockfish Gap VA (Charlottesville)
Quick Trip Stats
- The trip takes between 7-11 days [We did it in 6.5 days]. You can also do it in parts.
- 0 mile – trip start, Daleville, VA near intersection of I-81 and US 11 (Lee Hwy). It’s about 20 min N of Roanoke, VA
- 134 mile – trip end, Rockfish Gap, the intersection of the Blue Ridge Parkway and I-64. It’s about 25 min W of Charlottesville, VA, and marks the southern border of the Shenandoah National Park.
- 23,000 feet of elevation gain/loss
- It’s about 5 hours on the train from Washington Union Station* (Wash. DC) to Roanoke, VA. Train times are convenient, leaving Washington at 4:50pm (right after work) and arriving Roanoke at 10:00pm.
- It is another 20 minutes to trailhead via Uber or Lyft from the train station.
* NOTE: These trains actually originate in Boston so you can catch the same train anywhere along the Northeast Corridor and it will bring you directly to Roanoke.
THE DETAILED TRIP GUIDE
Appalachian Trail Section Hike – Roanoke to Shenandoah National Park
This guide is meant to supplement the many excellent general guides to the Appalachian Trail (AT). As such,
- Our guide gives more details for this specific section of the AT, and in particular how to access it by train and bus from much of Northeast US.
- Lighten your load: The GEAR (link) and FOOD (link) for the light packs we used to efficiently and comfortably hike the AT. A light pack will make the hike more pleasant for everyone!
- And finally, we discuss the places we most enjoyed on the hike in both text and photos.
What’s in this Trip Guide
- Logistics: link on how to use trains and other transportation to and from the start and end of the hike
- Some of our favorite places: link to Photo Essay & Trip Description
- Gear: a link to list of our LIGHT GEAR that made our trip more FUN (kept our packs around 15 pounds for the entire 134 mile trek without food resupply)
- Food: a link to list of the FOOD we took to save food weight but still eat healthy. Important since this AT section is lean on close-to-trail food resupply options.
- Waypoint and Mileage Table: link to Waypoint and Mileage Table
- Maps: link to our recommendations for maps and guidebooks
To Trip Start
This hike begins at Daleville, VA, just north of Roanoke, VA on US 220. We recommend taking the train, spending the nite in Roanoke or Daleville, and starting your trek first thing the next morning.
- As noted, there is a NEW train from Washington Union Station to Roanoke, VA that begins on Oct 31, 2017. The times are well-suited for a week or weekend trek. The train leaves Washington at 4:50 pm Monday-Friday and arrives Roanoke, VA 9:55 pm — about 5 hours. The saver fares are around $37, one way. Slightly different times Saturday and Sunday. See schedules on www.amtrak.com
- From the train station, you have several options. The train drops you right in downtown historic Roanoke. If you want to get a good nite’s sleep, and treat yourself, stay in the grand Hotel Roanoke (www.hotelroanoke.com), literally across the street from the train station. If you want to get closer to the trail (and stay somewhere a bit cheaper), you can stay steps away from the AT at the Howard Johnson Express, Daleville (a favorite of AT thru-hikers).
- Either way, you can catch an Uber or Lyft to the HoJo’s or the trail-head (about $25) from the train station.
NOTE: The combination of Uber/Lyft with the train (or bus) is a game changer for low carbon hikers. The ability to hook into a scheduled train or Greyhound route makes what used to be a “close-but-no-cigar” hike, into something quite doable.
At Trip End
The trip ends at Rockfish Gap, just before the Appalachian Trail enters the Shenandoah National Park. We found it surprisingly easy to get an Uber or Lyft from there to Charlottesville (we waited 10 minutes). Cost was about $35-45. Once in Charlottesville, take either the Amtrak train or the Greyhound Bus to get back up north.
By Train-cheapest train tickets are $25-30, one way
- 7:09am, Train 20, The Crescent -comes thru from New Orleans heading north early (goes all the way to New York Penn). But this train is often times late so watch the times on the Amtrak.com app, time is 2 hr 44 min to Washington.
- 8:52am, Train 176, Northeast Regional ONLY MON thru FRI — this is your quickest option if weekdays work for your hike at 2 hr 22 min. This train ends in Boston.
- 11:13am, Train 156 Northeast Regional ONLY ON SAT, SUN –this is your quickest option if the weekend works for your hike at 2 hr, 22 min to Washington. This train ends at NY Penn.
- 3:19pm, Train 50, The Cardinal, ONLY SUN, WED, FRI –comes thru from Chicago heading north (goes all the way to NY Penn) but can also be late so watch the Amtrak app for times. Time is 3 hours to Washington.
By Bus- cost around $20, one way 7 days a week
- 8:45am, 3 hours, (direct service to Washington D.C.)
- 4:50pm, 3 hours, (direct service to Washington D.C.)
The Appalachian Trail is possibly the most documented trail in the world. There are many excellent guides. Our favorite guide is David Miller’s (AT trail-name, AWOL) “The A.T. Guide Northbound.”
We supplement it with the following AT Pocket Profile Map(s):
“Appalachian Trail Map AT-9 – Buchanan VA – Rockfish Gap VA AT Pocket Profile”
The table below is in scrollable window or you can see the table full page here, as a Google Sheet
Tips for Hiking This Section
- Shelters are not consistently placed at even distances. You may end up with a longer or shorter day than you wished so carefully plan each day.
- There are a few steep and rocky climbs. Make sure you pay attention to elevation profiles.
- Late season water can be scarce high on the ridges. It’s good to know where your next water sources are (and if it’s dry have a backup(s) as well).
- This section has no on trail or close-to-trail food resupply options. To resupply for food, you’ll need to go significantly out of your way. As such, we did the entire 134 section without resupply for food. This made the hike significantly faster and more efficient. But our packs were less than 15 pounds including the food we carried. Please see our food list, “Best Backpacking Food – simple and nutritious” to get the best nutrition for the lowest weight while still being tasty. It matters!
Trip Highlights – a brief Photo Essay
Trip End – Rock Fish Gap
There is a great kettle corn truck here. It’s even Trip Advisor rated! Get some while you wait for your Uber.
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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.]
- 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)
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.]
4 – Protection from Sun and Bug Transmitted Diseases, Like Lyme
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!
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 ShelterLight 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
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.
9 – Hydration (prudent amount of extra water)
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 – SOS Device (satellite based, like inReach or SPOT)
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
[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
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)
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.
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 AppsFor 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
- 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.
- But as a backup, at least one hiking partner carries another smartphone with GPS App & offline maps. (sometimes even an alternate App and mapset).
- We do not need cell signal to use our GPS App.
- We get around 7 days of use before we need to recharge it—see more about iPhone/smartphone battery management.
- 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:
Traditional GPS Units
Finally, 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.
It’s no mystery that Gaia GPS is the best hiking navigation App. But the Next Gen GAIA GPS Hiking App is vastly improved. The new maps are stunningly sharp and legible. It is much faster, and easier to use. And possibly the best feature of Next Gen GAIA GPS is the full line of National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps. They are most trusted and highly-rated maps for America’s top outdoor destinations.
Lead photo: you get the exact same level of detail and quality on the Next Gen GAIA GPS as on the highly regarded paper versions of National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps. Better yet, you get ALL the NG TI maps with your GAIA PRO subscription!
Over the past four months I have been testing beta versions (and this release version) of the Next Gen Gaia GPS from the jungles of Columba, the mountains of Cuba, technical canyoneering in Utah, and hiking the BlueRidge Mountains. Here’s my take on the pros and cons of the new version:
Pros – Next Gen GAIA GPS Hiking App
- Addition of National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps, the most trusted and highly-rated maps available for America’s top outdoor destinations. They give you current trails, distances, and other official park info. Vs. USGS TOPO maps where this info is 50 years out of date or just missing.
- New vector-based maps look sharp and beautiful at every zoom level, with incredible legibility! The new vector map engine is much faster than the old raster-based one. Finally map files are much, much smaller, saving space on your phone.
- Great battery life. In non-tracking mode, I can get 7+ days of average GPS use before recharging. But more impressive, I can even run it in full tracking mode at around 2% battery drain per hour! That means I can generate 4+ days of beautifully detailed GPS tracks before I need to recharge my iPhone. See more detail how to best manage battery life…
- A more intuitive and faster user interface with icon-based top and bottom control bars. (There is also an option to close all menus down to get maximum map area! See screenshot below.)
- Worldwide vector basemap so you are never without at least one map type!
- Powerful search function that allows you to quickly jump to a location like “Yosemite,” or “Half Dome.”
- And a great Trip Stats Bar
For more information see: How to use Gaia on your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS
Cons – Next Gen GAIA GPS Hiking App
- I am not a big fan of the folder management system for maps, tracks and waypoints. It could use huge organizational improvements. I would like an “active folder” function where all new tracks, waypoints, and maps are automatically added to it. And it needs a way to bulk select and manipulate waypoints. Moving them into folders one by one, doesn’t cut it.
- Right now there is no way to completely disable the GPS. Now this is not such a big deal since GAIA only uses it briefly to get your position. And it is extremely battery efficient. But I am sure that some power users, wanting map viewing only, will want the option to disable the GPS.
- If you have a large inventory of maps in the old version, the new GAIA will attempt to automatically download all of them. Many users may be fine with this. Some may want more control to only download a few of their old maps. [A work around: You can stop the automatic download, delete the old maps you don’t want, and then resume the download.]
Important User Tips for GAIA. See: How to use Gaia and your Smartphone as the Best Backpacking GPS
Gaia GPS Website – the new version is iOS only at this point*
- The classic Gaia GPS app (iOS) will no longer be available on the App Store after May 22.
- People can continue to use the classic app with no interruption.
- Existing app users get an extended free trial with the new Gaia GPS. The more recently they bought Gaia GPS, the longer the trial (between 30 days and 2 years free).
- Also, existing users with “GaiaPro” subscriptions from the classic app get access to the new app at no additional cost, including all Premium maps.
* Android Classic GAIA PRO users do get upgrades to include National Geographic, and NeoTrex maps. Not so bad, since the NG Maps are one of the best feature of the upgrade.
The old Gaia GPS cost $19.99 and had an optional $39.99/year GaiaPro subscription. The new Gaia GPS has a free trial, and two price levels.
- For a limited time, the new Gaia GPS app costs $9.99/year for the Member level, or $29.99 for the Premium level.
- The Member Level lets you use the full app, and all but a few map sources – try it free for 7 days.
- The Premium Member Level gives you access to sources like National Geographic Trails Illustrated, hunting data, and other specialized maps.
And if this pricing seems a bit confusing here’s a FAQ on Gaia Pricing, Levels, and Features.
Many Great Maps to Choose From
One of the great strengths of GAIA is the wealth of maps available, free with your subscription. Some of my favorites are:
- National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps
- MapBox HD Maps – Outdoors, Satellite and Streets (all excellent, and vector-based)
- GAIA Topo (also excellent vector-based topo maps)
- USGS TOPO Maps
- Satellite Imagery
- Neotreks topo maps for the US
And a growing line of special and international maps
- Alaska TOPO
- New Zealand TOPO
- A number of international, official country maps for Europe. E.g. France and Spain
Forget synthetics! Down rocks. A lightweight down jacket is the most weight and cost effective way to stay warm. Lightweight down jackets are less expensive than synthetics,* they weigh less, but most importantly they are so much warmer! It is true that down jackets may be one of the most expensive items in your kit. BUT, if you want to stay warm and happy, nothing else comes close.
|Nov 21 2017: Just added a down jacket that blow the hubcaps off of previous ultralight contenders! It’s the puffiest most insane Michelin Man look of ultralight down jackets. The GooseFeet Gear – 1/2 zip Custom Jacket: At only 9 oz, and with 61% down, this jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer.|
See jacket comparison table below for full spec’s. And to see many other high value off-the-shelf down jackets and pants that will save you $ and keep you warm!
Debunking a Few Myths About Down Jackets
- Don’t believe the dire warnings about getting down wet—it’s hard to do. In over 40 years of backpacking all over the world in all conditions, I have yet to get my down so wet that it didn’t do a good job of keeping me warm. New water resistant shell fabrics and water resistant down only improve your odds.
- And make no mistake, a wet synthetic jacket is no joy! Keeping your jacket (down or synthetic) dry in the first place, is a better strategy. (See more on this below)
- *Down is the better long term value for staying warm. The only advantage to synthetics is the price. From there it’s downhill. I find synthetics usually lose loft after less than a season of use. This makes them a poor long term value. A good down jacket can easily last you 5 to 10 years.
Go for Down – Skip the extra shirts, pants, and base-layers
If you really want to be warm, Lightweight Down Jackets are where it’s at. That is, your money and gear weight is better spent investing in a warmer down jacket—or even down pants, down hat and down booties. All are far warmer per ounce than extra shirts, pants, and base-layers. You’ll be warmer, pack lighter and save money in the long run.
What’s in this Guide
I own, or have extensively field tested the vast majority of the jackets (and pants) below.
- Down Jackets
- Down Pants and Down Booties
- Note1: All garments below use Ethically Sourced Down (or something very close to it)
- Note 2: We only include garments where the manufacturer provides oz. of down fill. Unfortunately, some major mfrs have stopped providing oz of down fill even upon request—essentially stating “trust us, it’s warm enough.” We are from Missouri…
Lightweight Down Jackets in this Guide
* NOTE: “down volume in liters” is a rough approximation of jacket warmth. See more on this below.
The table above gives you a lot of ways to look at down jackets and their specifications since different aspects are important to different people. E.g. someone may be interested in getting the best value down jacket, while another is looking to get an ultra warm jacket for a cold trip.
- What’s the lightest?
- * What’s the warmest? Use “down volume in liters” as a measure of warmth. While “down volume in liters” is the most significant factor, there are other factors that contribute to warmth. A such, down volume is only a crude approximation/starting point for warmth. [Down volume in liters = 0z-down x fill-power-of the-down x 0.016 liter/in3]
- What’s the warmest for its weight? Take a look at “% down” and “down vol. to weight”
- What’s a good value? Take a look at “price,” when compared to “down volume in liters.” And finally, look at “down vol. to price,” which is a crude approximation of the warmth per dollar.
- How durable is it? All of these jackets are fine for use around camp and for rest stops. But note that jackets with 10D or below “shell fabric” should be treated with extreme care. These might not be good candidates for bushwhacking.
Introducing the Lightweight Down Jackets
|new GooseFeet Gear – Custom Down Jacket – $330 (as shown)|
The new warmth to weight king. At 61% down for its weight, the GooseFeet Gear Jacket trounces former top warmth-to-weight efficient ultralight down jackets like the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer or Montbell Mirage. Pictured is a custom 1/2 zip jacket made for me by Ben at Goose Feet Gear. Weight is 9 oz with 5.5 oz of 950 fill power down. It has a deep kangaroo pocket that is great for warming hands and has shopping basket size room for storing stuff in camp.
This is custom work so expect 6 weeks or so wait time. The upside is you get exactly the size and features you want! Note: that I purchased this jacket with my own funds and receive no commissions from sales.
|new MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket – $249|
At 44% down for its weight, it’s second only to the GooseFeet Gear Jacket for warmth to weight. The MyTrail HL Hooded is one of the best values in a super warm, fully featured UL down jacket. At 10.5 oz it’s light for its warmth with a generous 4.6 oz of 850-fill-power down. But best of all, it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth and you can get it on the shelf.
Pedigree: This jacket was designed by Demetri Coupounas (Coup) founder/owner of GoLite, creator of the legendary GoLite Bitterroot down jacket, likely the best, high performance UL down jackets of its time. And until the closing of GoLite it was the best value on the market! And while the MyTrail 850 Fill Hyperlight is short of the amazing loft of the Bitterroot, it’s still a super warm and light jacket.
|Feathered Friends Eos Down Jacket – $290|
This is Feathered Friends’ lightest weight down jacket, but don’t let that fool you. Though this clocks in at only 10.6 oz, it has 3.7 oz of 900+ fill goose down. That’s more than 30% more down fill than the popular, but more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. More down fill means more warmth! With a hood, and sinchable waist, this jacket can tighten down to keep all your precious heat in if things get cooler than expected, but the jacket is light enough to take with you on any 3-season outing. There are Men’s and Women’s versions, and as with all Feathered Friends’ goods, it’s made in Seattle, USA.
|Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Hooded – $350|
Mountain Hardwear touts the 7.7 oz Ghost Whisperer as “the world’s lightest full-featured down jacket.” For 1.2 oz more than the Montbell EX Light Down Anorak you get a full front zipper and pockets. MH uses a unique “Whisperer 7D x 10D Ripstop” fabric that is light, tough, down proof, and fairly water resistant. Oh, and the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer has won a ton of awards.
|new My Trail Co – Men’s 800 Fill Ultralight Hooded Down Jacketd Down Jacket – $149|
New this year or possibly an improved version of the the “Down Light Hooded Jacket.” Either way it’s filled with a generous 5.1 oz of 800 fill power down (up 1.5 oz!) but at 12. 5 oz, weighs less. At 40% down for its weight the this jacket is close on the heels of its more expensive brother the 850 Fill Hyperlight Hooded Jacket. Best of all, like other MyTrail products it costs significantly less than jackets of similar warmth.
|Montbell EX Light Down Anorak – $269|
At only 6 oz, this is about as light and as WARM as it gets! The Ex Light Down Anorak is 2 oz lighter than the highly regarded and more expensive Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer. It achieves this low weight in part by not using a full zipper. Instead, you get a hood and a kangaroo pouch pocket! These great pockets let you really keep your hands warm by putting them in the same space against your abdomen. Truly lightweight warmth, this is a perfect puffy layer to bring on high alpine adventures like the South Sierra High Route, or Wind River High Route. The only downside is that there isn’t a Women’s version yet.
|Montbell Mirage Parka – $379|
Weighing less than 14 oz, this is the lightest fully-baffled (a warmer but more expensive construction method) jacket we know of. Montbell has pulled this feat off by using 900-fill down and a very thin 7-denier ballistic nylon shell. Down accounts for over 40% of the garment weight—an incredible feat of design engineering! If you like to bushwhack through dense evergreens, this might not be durable enough for you, but for most backpackers, this will allow pushing shoulder season or even through winters in much of the country (although you may need more in the deep north, see the Helios below). Unfortunately, this jacket doesn’t come in a Women’s version.
|Feathered Friends Helios Hooded Down Jacket – $340|
If you need ultra warmth, this is the jacket for you! The Helios jacket is insane puffy and warm with 3x the down (warmth) of the lightest jackets here.
The Helios packs 2 oz. of high-fill down over the Mirage, and uses a more durable outer fabric. (It also weighs 4 oz more.) It’s made in the USA, and is purpose built with mountaineering in mind, so you know it’s warm! Feathered Friends is known for their high quality down and weight-conscious products.
| REI Co-Op Down Jacket – $99|
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a down jacket, REI has you covered. Their Co-Op Down Jacket weighs in at only 10.2 oz (in a non-hooded version). And while the jacket sets no records for warmth to weight ratios with 650 fill power down, it likely has enough warmth for most 3-season purposes. It comes in Men’s, Women’s, and children’s cuts. If you have an extra $20 to spend, we recommend the hooded version, because all jackets are substantially warmer with one!
Tip – Keeping your Lightweight Down Jacket Dry
The best way to keep your gear dry is not to get it wet in the first place. This means keeping the gear in your pack dry (especially your down sleeping bag, and down jacket).
- Pack contents dry: A trash compactor bag inside your pack is lighter and works considerably better than a pack rain-cover. Inside that, put your down bag and down jacket in their own waterproof or highly-water-resistant stuff sacks or more expensive but drier Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. I like a stuff sack of around 6-9L for my down jacket and 20L or larger one for my down sleeping bag/quilt.
- Waterproof backpack: Even better but a lot more expensive, get a Cuben fiber backpack, with a roll top closure and sealed seams along with stowing your sleeping bag/quilt and down jacket in Cuben Fiber stuff sacks. This is a great way to keep your gear truly dry and is less complicated and time consuming than pack rain-covers or liners.
|Montbell Superior Down Parka – $209|
8.5 oz, 2.5 oz 800+ fill power downAt under 9 ounces this is another great value in an ultralight, fully featured jacket. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.” While not the warmest jacket in the group, it should be more than sufficient for 3-season use.
|Patagonia UL Down Jacket or Hoody – $349 at REI|
This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years. My wife and I both own one. It’s not the cheapest jacket but it’s light, and uses a generous 3.5 oz of 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions for a little more money. The hooded version is hands-down our favorite!
| ||Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket – $230 at REI|
At $100 less than their UL jacket, this is a great warm layer for backpacking or any outdoor activity, really. It’s reasonably light (2.8 oz, non-hooded), and uses 800-fill-power traceable down. It comes in Men’s and Women’s, as well as hooded versions, for a little more money. Of course, there are adorable kids versions as well! Patagonia’s quality, warranty, and customer service are legendary, ensuring you’ll keep this jacket for a long, long time.
|Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash Jacket – $375|
Western Mountaineering has been making some of the finest and lightest down products since forever. And they are legendary for their immaculate construction and their long term durability. This jacket has been a staple of the ultralight crowd for years! Made in the USA.
|Western Mountaineering Men’s Flash XR Jacket – $375|
This is a warmer version (3.5 oz of down) of the Flash Jacket with a highly water-resistant shell. This jacket was my choice for a climbing trip to the Andes in Peru. I summited a couple of 20,000+ foot peaks in this jacket. And yes, that’s a steep price tag but it’s made in the USA.
Lightweight Down Pants and Down Booties
|Feathered Friends Helios Down Pants – $240|
13 oz, 4.4 oz 850+ fill power downThese pants are the real deal. Made with Feathered Friends’ legendary high quality down, these pants offer 4.4 oz of fluffy down, and weigh in at 13 oz. These pants are great for backpacking, but are meant for even more serious high mountain endeavors and offer full-length zips so you can put them on and off over crampons… or, if you’re just too lazy to take off your boots.
|Montbell Superior Down Pants – $169|
8.4 oz, 1.9 oz 800+ fill power downThese are one of the best values in insulated pants on the market. They are warmer and more windproof than fleece pants. As Montbell says, “Prized by budget conscious backcountry enthusiasts around the world, the Superior Down Series is “what you need” when a versatile warm layer is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium.”
|Western Mountaineering Flash Pants – $250|
6.5 oz, 2.0 oz 850+ fill power downThese are probably the lightest insulated pants on the market. Weighing only 6.5 oz, these are packed with 850-fill down and are built with Western Mountaineering’s standard-setting quality. Don’t get cold, and cranky in camp. Put on your Flash Pants and hang out – enjoy the outdoors, deep into the fourth season.
| ||Feathered Friends Down Booties – $99|
9.3 oz, 4.0 oz 800+ fill power downThese booties are the industry standard. With waterproof removable shells, you can take these with you as camp shoes, then remove the shells keeping the warm down socks on to keep your toes warm all night! These are a toasty-toe delight that will help keep you comfortable deeper into the shoulder seasons and make winter camping much more manageable!
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