Trail Zealot

Colorado hiking, Appalachian Trail thru-hiking, and more...

Camping & Hiking Gear List

While preparing for a camping trip with friends, I thought it might be helpful for me to run down all the items I normally bring. Below you'll find a labeled picture of my gear setup with explanations for each item. I hope this helps!

Gear splayed out on a bed
  • A: Ground sheet for tent
    Let's start at the true bottom of the campsite. This is a truly optional item. The idea is to extend the life of your tent by reducing the stress put on its floor. Chances are, you won't always have a perfectly smooth campsite, so the ground sheet takes the brunt of the puncturing force from rocks, roots, and the like while you roll around in your tent or whatever. Correspondingly, I would imagine it makes the ground not feel so bumpy when you sit in your tent, but I don't really know how pronounced that effect is. Also, it keeps the underside of your tent drier and cleaner than if it went straight on the ground. I use a cut-to-size sheet of Tyvek that is super light, a relic of my ultralight days on the Appalachian Trail.
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  • B: Tent
    Ok, it is what it is. Three things I look for in a tent: ease of setup/breakdown, free-standing (meaning it doesn't need to be staked into the ground to stand up, a really nice feature for Colorado's rocky ground), and low-weight (if you're backpacking). I have a pretty heavy North Face 3-person tent, and a much lighter 2-person Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2. Both use the same support design, a series of criss-crossing rods that flex to give the tent its dome shape. Each end of the rods is fitted into a grommet at the base of the tent itself, putting the bottom of the tent into tension as the rods try to flex. This makes for a nice and stable tenting experience. Also, the bottom of most tents these days is something called a "bathtub design", which just means the waterproof bottom of the tent curls up a bit on each side to create a barrier against standing water. This design approach really works; I once awoke in the middle of the night in a rainstorm when the tent started to float, but no water got in! More of a boat than a bathtub, maybe.
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  • C: Sleeping bag
    Pretty straightforward, except gear retailers might try and muddy the waters to make it seem complicated. There are a few main choices to make: male/female, regular/long, synthetic fill/down fill, temperature rating, and weight (if that matters). The gender choice is not just branding, for once; women's bags are a relatively new trend that reflect women sleeping colder and having different body shapes than men (smaller shoulders and wider hips). Synthetic fill is usually cheaper than down for the same temperature rating. Also, down doesn't insulate when it gets wet. So why would a person choose down fill? It is much, much lighter and it packs down tinier. Also, the membranes of sleeping bags have become advanced enough to at least repel water, making the water issue not so bad. The temperature rating depends on the context; in the same bag, a women's rating would be a higher temperature than men. What's more, there are comfort ratings and bare minimum ratings, which specify the temperature down to which the bag is enjoyable, and the temperature down to which you can survive. All sleeping bag ratings assume you're sleeping on a pad, because the ground is a massive heat sink and makes bags way less effective. A bag's price is set by the interaction of three variables: fill type, temperature rating, and weight. Want a cheap bag that's warm enough for low temps? OK, that's a heavy synthetic fill bag. Need a lightweight but not-super-warm bag? That's lightweight down, and it might not break the bank. What about a summertime bag on the East Coast? Just get synthetic so you don't have to worry about getting it wet or spending a lot of money. It won't be a heavy bag anyway. That's the one I'm bringing because it's warm out: a light Mountain Hardware summer bag.
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  • D: Sleeping pad
    Read about sleeping bags if you are wondering if this is necessary. You just have to get a layer of insulating material between you and the ground. Bag fill compresses under your body weight and loses its effectiveness when you lay on it. The secret of insulation is not really the material; it is air. Goose down isn't somehow magically warm, it's just puffy enough to trap lots and lots of air for its weight. Get down wet, and all the air pockets go away, and it sucks. Synthetic fill doesn't squish when wet like that, but it still squishes when you lay on it. So the principle of a pad is just to get some air beneath you. There are big puffy pads that you blow up with your lungs like a pool float (with a similar chance of rupture...),, self-inflating pads that are less puncture-prone, and solid pads that are the most rugged but the least comfortable. I took the "Mama Bear" approach, and went with a self-inflating Thermarest Prolite. It's still the one I used on the Appalachian Trail. Having shopped for a sleeping pad only once in 2012, my knowledge isn't exactly up to date. But that's the basics.
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  • E: Day hiking backpack
    A smallish backpack that is able to fit all the gear I might need on a summer day hike. On backpacking trips or winter day hikes, I need to carry more gear than this backpack can allow, and I bust out my 60-liter backpack from my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. But on a day hike in the summer, this 28-liter Osprey Manta pack encourages me to bring only what I need. It also has a spot for a 3-liter water bladder, which is a nice touch and helps keep me hydrated in the dry hot air.
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  • F: Sleeping bag liner
    Another relic from the Appalachian Trail. It's a silk liner that adds a little warmth to your sleeping bag and keeps it clean. Helpful when you haven't showered for a few days and you wanna curl up in your sleeping bag. It is a long, tedious process to wash a down sleeping bag, so I use this liner to stretch the time until I have to do it.
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  • G: Hat and watch
    I love my watch. I love knowing what time it is, even when I'm not hiking. My watch and I bonded big time on the Appalachian Trail. It would gently wake me up in them orning and help me figure out what pace I was traveling during the day. Very nice not to pull out a phone to accomplish those simple tasks. The hat is new. I'm still figuring out how to wear hats, as I have little practice. I forgot to bring this hat on the trip I took this gear photo for, so you can kind of tell how much I value hats. They are helpful for preventing skin cancer, which is a noble pursuit.
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  • H: Wiping stuff
    Things get dirty. So there's a bandana to wipe my cookpot, my hands, and my face. Things get wet, especially overnight. So there's a super-absorbent auto towel to wipe off my gear and tent. Like seriously, it's so absorbent. Just wipe it all over the wet inside of my tent, wring all the water out, and repeat. There's one more wiping item that you will usually need on an overnight trip, and it's not pictured here. I will let you figure that one out.
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  • I: Med kit etc
    Some items are tiny, and often used together. In the case of my med kit, those items are: sunscreen, toothpaste, tiny toothbrush, superglue, ibuprofen, and SPF chapstick. Bug spray can be useful in camp, but I don't usually bring it. I just zip myself in my tent to accomplish the same effect. I put all these things in a quart freezer bag, which tends to be robust nd not leak. I used a freezer bag for my phone while hiking the Appalachian Trail, and it survived all moisture. So that's my evidence.
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  • J: Portable charger
    Yeah, I'd like to be a person who doesn't rely on tech for anything. But I use my phone. And, if I can help it, I'd like not to worry about the charge on that phone. For 14ers, I use my phone as backup navigation, because it uses GPS to locate where I am on the route. I also like to write journal entries on my phone at night while I'm camping. So that justifies me having a portable charger like this one. Two USB ports, and you just stick the thing in the wall to charge it. It can be really helpful to not worry about what % your phone is on, even when you're camping and hiking! (But keep your phone in airplane mode to extend the battery a ton)
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  • K: Headlamps + dedicated stuff sack
    Headlamps. Essential. Nuff said. But I'm a verbose dude. The woods are a dark place at night. No sources of illumination unless you're fortunate enough to have a full moon. So, bring headlamps to see at night! I bring my headlamp even on long day hikes where I don't expect to be out at night. Because you never know. And you seem like an overprepared ninny until your overpreparation comes in handy. I like to choose a headlamp that has two brightness settings as well as a less-intrusive red lamp. Using red lamps around camp keeps fellow campers happy, as you're not shining a bright white light into people's eyeballs when you turn your head towards them. Also, using a dimmer light when appropriate keeps your own eyeballs adjusted to the darkness. I keep all the headlamps in a single stuff sack, which is a fancy waterproof bag. I like to be able to easily locate my headlamp, especially in the dark, so having a dedicated stuff sack helps. Side note on stuff sacks - they are a great, lightweight organizational tool that helps you group things in your bag, with an added benefit of keeping stuff dry. Finally, I transport my headlamps with the batteries OUTSIDE the headlamp. Too often, I've gotten to camp and had a dead headlamp that was turned on in my bag. What's more, the stuff sack keeps all this stuff together. See? STUFF SACKS!
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  • L: Optional clothes for the next day
    This is a luxury of car-camping: an extra set of clothes. Sometimes when camping, you just need to change out of your current set of clothes for some reason. These are just comfy, fun, purposeless clothes that are clean!
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  • M: Day-hiking clothes
    My typical uniform for a day hike. Darn Tough Socks. Running shorts that aren't too short. A technical running tshirt. All three of these items perform well when wet. I can sweat all day in my shirt and shorts, and they dry out right away. My socks are wool, so they insulate even when wet. And they don't smell so bad. Also, they're Darn Toughs, which are guaranteed for life, which means when they wear out you send them back and they send you a fresh pair. So yeah, I love Darn Toughs. I also always have my sunglasses, which are Natives. Also with a lifetime guarantee. These are a rare pair of sunglasses that fit so well, I forget they're on my head.
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  • N: Food system
    You gotta eat at camp. You gotta. This is the most bare-bones setup I'll bring: a stove, cookpot, stuff sack with food, and a bladder for water. The stove is an ultra-tiny white gas model with a wind screen to keep it from going out, that fits inside my cookpot even with the wind screen. So it's very compact: a cookpot that contains a tiny spork, lighter, stove, windscreen, and a little silicon thing that allows you to pick up the hot stove. Then the stove has a coozie to stay warm and allow handling, and a lid that allows you to drink a beverage directly out of the pot. This is a versatile setup that's more appropriate for backpacking. I brought it to camp, but we also had pots and pans and whatnot that we put on a giant grill and over the fire. In terms of food, I like to have clif bars, Knorrs pasta and rice sides, couscous, sharp cheddar cheese, pop tarts, and candy bars. At least when I'm moving a lot!
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  • O: Camp clothes
    Colorado mountains have some pretty wild temperature swings. You can count on getting cold at night, even in the middle of summer. So here you have it: comfy camp clothes. Long underwear bottoms beneath synthetic hiking pants (I love pockets), a technical long-sleeve running shirt beneath a Patagonia Nano-puff (which I love so much I won't even begin to talk about), and a beanie. I also bring some gloves along, which may or may not be helpful. I tend to strip down when going to sleep in my sleeping bag, because clothes actually prevent my body heat from being shared throughout the bag.
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  • Not shown: Mittens
    My mittens got covered up by the annotations for this photo. But I love them dearly. They opened up the entire cold-weather hiking season. My hands would just get so cold, but these bomb-proof Black Diamond mittens have made that a distant memory. They are super insulated (sacrificing a bit of dexterity), and the palms are leather for durability. Just great mittens. I don't normally need them in Summer, but they sure do quiet my nerves when they are in my pack.
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