This last year (2021) we have traveled across the Country in some pretty remote areas. From Mountains of Montana, to the deserts of Arizona. 2021 was mostly in the High Desert with little to no humidity and not a lot of water. So our gear choices really reflect the environment that we hike in the most. Keep that context in mind, it may provide some insight and value into why we prefer certain types of gear over others. Condensation being the key word here.
Consumer Disclaimer: There is no single piece of gear that can transform your backcountry experience. Transformation comes from spending time in nature, and experience on the trail.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear North Rim Backpack
The Hyperlite Mountain Gear North Rim Backpack is one backpack model we recommend for the specific use case where you need a backpack that’s durable enough for alpine or desert rock scrambling and heavy bushwhacking, and waterproof enough for extremely wet environments. It has sealed seams, a secure roll-top closure, and highly abrasion-resistant (woven Dyneema) outer fabrics. Hyperlite has proven to be a leader in the backpack industry with packs that do indeed hold up after a few years of heavy use. We sure do like Hyperlite
Osprey Straightjacket Compression Sack
Compression, Compression, Compression. This 20-liter Osprey Straightjacket Compression Sack has been our gear choice for more than five years, and it goes with us on almost every backcountry trip. Unlike a traditional compression sack, which compresses gear from the ends of the sack, creating a short cylinder, the Straightjacket compresses the sack in the transverse direction, which makes it thinner without affecting its length. That way it fills out the bottom of your pack nicely without having to pack gear around the ends of it. In a typical 3-season kit, the Straightjacket houses a 20-degree down sleeping bag, an inflatable insulated sleeping pad, pillow, down jacket, extra socks, and long underwear – our entire camp bedroom in one spot.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods
Do you like a backpack that is nicely organized? We have used these Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pods for the past three years and now can’t live without them. The ability to organize your pack using Pods has simply made my life easier. A zippered-access stow bag means you can access anything in a Pod without unpacking or digging around for it (which we hate). Because they are shaped like the cross-section of a backpack, they nest neatly inside and allow me to more easily pack my pack without the dead air spaces caused by cylindrical stuff sacks. We use one for storm clothing, one for cooking gear, and one to three for packing food (PRO TIP: leave your Ursacks unpacked and stuff those loosely to fill dead air spaces in your pack). We now own five Pods and all of them are regularly used. As of yet no seam or zipper failure.
ZPacks Water Bottle Holder
Typically, not a fan of hydration bladders, drinking through a squeeze filter, dislocating a shoulder to access a water bottle pocket on the side of my pack, or stopping just to take a drink of water from my bottle. Shoulder-strap attached water bottle pockets that hold a smartwater bottle are perfect solution. We usually only use one (the other shoulder strap is usually reserved for my bear spray, which is a must in Yellowstone). We prefer a pocket with cylindrical structure (rather than a stretch pocket) to make access easier. The ZPacks Water Bottle Holder is light and perfectly sized for my favorite on-trail bottle – a 20-ounce smartwater bottle.
Shelter or Tent Systems
Tarptent Notch Li
We have used Tarptent Shelters for years. Tried and True and is a lightweight option for a new backpacker or seasoned backpacker. If you are going to invest in a Tent, take a look at the Tarptent Notch Li. Dual vestibules and a mesh inner tent, a very easy pitch, and enough storm resistance for most 3-season conditions make this an extremely versatile shelter.
Hyperlight Mountain Gear Flat Tarp
We are avid tarp users. Using a tarp provides uswith a creative outlet for seeking a more primal connection with nature. Pitching a tarp requires more time, skill, and energy than pitching traditional tents. However, having open air around us with some overhead protection completely changes my wilderness experience. Our tarp of choice is the Hyperlite Mountain Gear DCF Flat Tarp. We prefer flat tarps over shaped (e.g., catenary curve) tarps because they can be pitched in different configurations. we normally pitch our flat tarp in an A-frame, a hybrid A/lean-to, or prow configuration.
The Feathered Friends Tanager 20 CFL is a awesome 3-season sleeping bag. It’s a simple hoodless, zipperless tube with an even distribution of down throughout its horizontal baffling. The Feathered Friends Tanager CFL 20 weighs only 20 ounces but is a very efficient design – no hood, no zipper, tapered mummy shape. We can cinch up the collar, roll around, and not have to worry about cold spots. We have been using Feather Friends Sleeping Systems for years now. You can combine it with an Enlightened Equipment Enigma Apex Quilt
For a sleeping pad, we use a Nemo Equipment Tensor Insulated Pad. Because we have 2 dogs that think they deserve a spot on our pads we opt for the wide version of the pad so we can lie on our backs and keep arms on the pad, or lie on our side and scissor our legs without having them hang off the pad. The wide pad adds so much to our comfort! Our favorite feature of this pad is its stability, a result of a high density of welded baffles arranged in a grid – much better than either horizontal or vertical tubes.
Of course gear changes depending on where you are going to be spending most of your time. For us, we are spending this Winter in Montana. So our gear choices are about lightweight and warmth. Not every piece of gear will be perfect. But understanding manufactures and the quality of your gear can often save money in the end. Gear is expensive, so look for quality that will take you years into your trail experience.