I stare into my gear room, aka my basement, in fear and awe of the packing I need to tackle the night before my seven-day ski traverse of the Pickets Range in the Cascades. What do I need to bring? Will I forget the most important item and what is it?
With so little time to pack for the adventures like my trip through the Cascades, a week in Moab, the Sierras and maybe a trek in Nepal or South America with the family, I Google packing lists and the results nearly send me to a bottle of Jim Beam. In the midst of my panic attack, I almost forget the most important packing principle: KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID.
After 30 years of backcountry travel, I still find the process challenging yet rewarding. I avoid system overload by using the Seven P’s to organize; Perfect Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
First, I use a baseline list to include my most basic needs – clothes, food, and shelter. I go through each day of my trip and write out my fuel needs and then add equipment for the specific activity. If my baseline weight is too heavy then I reassess.
The more weight you bring with, the slower you’ll travel and your chances for success may decrease. No matter the type of, whether self-organized or guided, you need to determine between what you actually need versus want.
I find the wisdom of Ray Jardine, author and Godfather of fast packing, incredibly useful at explaining why light is right. Jardine’s devotion to lightweight travel helps me wade through many packing lists, and distill what I need to thrive on a weeklong adventure.
7 tips to help you pack for your next adventure
1. Carry fewer clothes
This will make a significant difference by helping shed weight. For some this is heresy, they need clean underwear everyday! Certainly clothes and shelter are the easiest to examine. Temperature and weather forecast determine should determine what layers you need.
For every trip I plan to hike/climb/ski I wear one set of lightweight performance layers and sleep in a light long sleeve shirt, long lightweight underwear and socks to avoid blisters and chills. This system works well for three to four days of backcountry travel. For four to seven day trips, consider additional clothes to account for changing climatic conditions
Packing for dry warm desert weather conditions:
- Polypropylene t-shirt
- Long sleeve polypropylene shirt – lightweight and light colored for sunny days.
- Two synthetic sports bras
- Lightweight soft shell jacket
- Shade hat or baseball cap
- UV Buff
- One pair of liner socks – Polypropylene or Capilene
- Two pairs of wool/synthetic socks
- Two pairs of lightweight synthetic underwear
- One pair lightweight soft shell pants
- One pair nylon shorts
Packing for higher altitude above 10,000’, and temps between 25-70 degrees and wetter weather conditions:
- One Hard shell jacket with hood, waterproof, less then 15 oz and breathable, roomy enough to fit over multiple layers
- One Down/synthetic jacket with hood. My Choice is the Brooks-Range Mojave.
- One pair liner gloves – thin wool or polypropylene
- Warm wool or synthetic hat
- One pair medium wool/synthetic socks
- One pair lightweight long underwear – Polypropylene or Capilene
- One pair waterproof and breathable soft shell pants with full side zips
- One pair warm gloves – Schoeller/Wind stopper or wool
- One pair shell gloves or mitts if encountering snow, on alpine climbs.
- Gaiters – Make sure they will fit over boots for snow, dust and mud
If you plan to climb a route with snow and glaciers then a crampon compatible boot with the necessary level of insulation is needed. For mid summer climbing on peaks below 10,000 feet/3,000 meters you can try non-insulated boots. High altitude, wintertime ascents require insulated or double boots.
3. Upgrade to a lightweight sleeping bag/pad
You can drop at least a pound or more by using a ultra-light 800g down bag. I use the Alpini 30 for nine months out of the year matched with midweight dry thermal layers in colder periods. At 23 oz. paired with a Therma-rest Neo air or Exped air mattress your sleep system remains under 3 lbs.
Waterproof treatment makes the issue of wet down versus synthetic a moot point. To counter any dampness, carry a 7 oz bivy sac.
Sleeping Gear for winter/early spring and high altitude (above 10,000 feet/3,000 meters):
- Sleeping bag rated between -20º-0º F. Line the stuff sack with a plastic bag.
- Sleeping pad: full-length closed cell foam (mandatory) and Therma-Rest Neo-Rest air mattress for extra warmth and comfort.
Sleeping Gear for late spring through fall (below 10,000’/3,000 meters):
- Sleeping bag rated between 20º-40º F. Line the stuff sack with a plastic bag.
- Sleeping pad: Therma-Rest or Neo-Rest air mattress.
4. Buy Lighter Packs
“The bigger the pack the more you put in it,” this could be a quote from Lao-Tzu but it’s a simple truth. The biggest pack I carry for a seven-day ski tour is 4,000 cubic inches or 60 liters.
5. Carry Lighter Food
This can be tough as easy choices are instant oatmeal for breakfast and freeze-dried dinners but precooked bacon with powdered eggs weigh about the same as oatmeal with a lot more calories and flavor. Miso soup packs as an appetizer, rehydrates, and provides extra calories while reducing the size of dinner you need. Couscous along with a variety of sauce pastes with dehydrated vegetables and flat foil packets of tuna, salmon or chicken give you a large combination of dinners without breaking the bank and your digestive system.
Lunch should include a combo of nuts, chocolate, maybe a nut butter, and jerky or a dry meat alternative to keep consistent calories coming in without overdoing it with energy gels. Nuun water tablets pack a lot of electrolytes but not a lot of weight. For coffee people, Starbucks Via nails your need.
Floorless tents/tarps offer great cover, often weigh only ounces, and work great on ski tours when camping on snow and during mid summer on dry ground with limited bug problems.
The next shelter level includes single-wall tents or a mesh tent body to accompany your tarp/floorless tent.
Severe weather conditions such as persistent rain, wind, or snow demand tents with a rain fly, vestibule and ample space for your equipment. I use several different 4-season tents depending on group size. For two people, I prefer the B-R Invasion tent, which is ideal for light and fast trips in colder weather. I use Hilleberg hoop tents when travelling in larger groups and when staying in one camp for more than two days.
7. Carry necessary items that collapse down or perform dual functions
I use water bags and a steripen to avoid metal bottles that take up space when empty. I use flat wear bowls, which double as a cutting board. Titanium sporks and pots help lighten the load. For hot drinks I use a small thermos, which is essential for winter/early spring trips.
These packing guidelines provide a framework to plan for any activity. When switching from hiking to skiing to rafting, you only need to add the specific equipment and style of camping.
– Matt Schonwald