– Equipment

When you start researching modern backpacking techniques, you’ll notice that seasoned distance hikers have a particularly strong obsession with individual item weight.  “The Big Three” items – Backpack, Shelter and Sleep Setup – account for the bulk of a hiker’s pack weight. Generally speaking, distance hikers try to keep each of these items at 2lbs 8oz or less.

Ideally, thru hikers or anyone with a particular interest in pack weight that is starting out with equipment for summer backpacking would be able to – with careful research, selection and some skill development – keep the combined weight of these three items at under 6 lbs.

We’ll discuss The Big Three in excruciating detail below.

Beyond those, there are a few more essential items, but you’ll increasingly find they are optional or seasonal in nature (noted with *)

Other Small Items

  • ECTA Map Set.
  • Compass.
  • Pencil and Ziplock Bag (for Map).
  • Sunscreen.
  • Sunglasses.
  • Insect Repellent. *
  • Mosquito Head Net. *
  • Toiletries (Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss, Toilet Paper, Soap, Q-Tips, etc..).
  • Hand Sanitizer.
  • Knife. *
  • Dog Attack (aka Bear or Pepper) Spray.
  • Head Lamp.
  • Rope.
  • Medical First Aid Kit.
  • Emergency Fire Starting Kit.
  • Duct / Gorilla / Tenacious Tape. *
  • Space Blanket. *
  • Carabiner Clips (aka Clothespins). *
  • Cell Phone / GPS. *
  • Backup Battery or Solar Panel (for above). *
  • ZipLock Bag specifically for Cell Phone / GPS. *
  • Small Trowel (shovel). *
  • Luxury Item. *
But first…

Consider your source


Before getting into the nitty gritty of this equipment list, I’d encourage you to also check out a few resources that will give greater detail on lightweight techniques and equipment for distance hiking that go beyond the scope of this text. Generally speaking, this is not a topic that is addressed well by commercial sources, as most progressive ideas come from individuals and cottage manufacturers.

Ultralight Makeover by Mark Roberts. While Mark doesn’t give equipment recommendations specific to a thru hike, he does focus on keeping pack weight low for shorter trips while backpacking, often in cold weather (he’s based in Finland). It’s a good primer for anyone new to lightweight three season backpacking. In Mark’s introduction page he gives a great example of why it’s important to consider the source when looking for equipment recommendations for lightweight hiking.

The Hiking Life by Cam Honan. Cam has a wealth of knowledge and he shares freely at his web site. An avid hiker – having completed the triple crown in a staggering 236 days – he has developed a wide range of skills for hiking in North America and abroad. Shared on the site is an introduction to gear that is based on far more experience than what I’ve provided below (check the Gear link in the top drop-down menu). It provides a perfect illustration of how gear has evolved over the last few years and the importance of matching your mix of equipment to the environment.

Backpacking Know-How by Andrew Skurka. Listed on the right-hand-side are articles by Andrew, perhaps the best known long distance hiker to extol the virtues of going light. Having hiked great distances through a variety of conditions, he is particularly justified in being disappointed in some mainstream equipment – and certainly doesn’t hold back when it comes to debunking inflated claims by gear manufacturers. For a more complete take on what he’s learned, check out his book – The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail.

Where to Buy?


The more you read about lightweight gear, the more you’ll notice a theme… the lightest and most innovative equipment is generally offered by small manufacturers. For a newbie, this can make the process of acquiring the very best of what’s available somewhat unique – a weird mixture of retro and non-traditional – you can deal directly with a small company, often even with the person that designed the product, but at the same time, the interaction is all done online. All the cottage manufacturers sell direct to the user, and return policies vary somewhat – so you’ll have to do some additional research in that area.

When it come to marketing, advertising and distribution these small manufacturers lack the resources of the big players. As a result, as a user you will likely be unaware of these companies and their offerings. Some users maintain master lists of these small manufacturers…

The Awesome Companies Mega List by Gary Yelland. (alternate link)

Lightweight Gear Manufacturers Database by Mike Ferrara. Mike’s site also has a forum for users selling used lightweight backpacking gear.

Erik Asorson and Ryan Gardner have also created pages that list some of these manufacturers.

Another site worth checking out is MassDrop. They have an interesting retail model…;

1 ) Users in various loosely defined Communities (Outdoors, Ultralight, Audiophile, Photography, etc.) indicate their interests and create polls to vote for items they’d like to buy.

2 ) MassDrop reaches out to the top-vote-getting manufacturers directly, to see if they’d be willing to arrange a bulk order.

3 ) Agreeable manufacturers come to an arrangement with MassDrop on product specs (if applicable), pricing, shipping and delivery times. The offering is then presented to users as a Drop.

4 ) When the Drop completes, manufacturing is started on the sold items. As a result, users often have to be willing to wait several weeks for delivery… the trade-off for getting the best deal on the most innovative gear.

Generally speaking, this model works particularly well for both the user and the small manufacturer. Cost is kept down for all involved…; promotion costs are non-existent, the items are made to order, and sometimes even to spec, but also “mass-produced”… at least on the scale of a small manufacturer. Throughout the process, the product never has to enter the retail channel and suffer the associated markup.

(I have no affiliation with MassDrop… other than being a paying customer).

Unless you’re very lucky though, the best deals are generally direct.

The process of obtaining equipment beyond The Big Three can be more traditional and straightforward. If you’re living in an area that lacks good outdoor equipment retailers, REI has an absolutely fantastic return policy and they understand that people buy gear to test it / return it if it’s not suitable. Their policy has influenced the entire industry, so other retailers, such as MEC in Canada, have a good policy too – check the policy of your selected retailer before purchasing.



Expect to spend: $100 – $300

Backpacks are a very personal choice, and there are a lot of options. They are usually categorized by capacity – measured in litres – yes litres, even in the USA. The size obviously depends on your amount of gear. Just as a FWIW example, I’ve never needed larger than a 45 litre pack while hiking the ECT.

Your backpack has to be comfortable from the start when it’s fully loaded. Don’t forget to take into account the weight of consumables for the longest stretch between resupplies. Thankfully on the ECT, depending on the speed at which you hike, it shouldn’t be more than a few days at a time between resupply – @ a little over 20 kpd the longest stretch between on (or near) trail grocery stores is about 3 days.

Options are:

Framed or Frameless:

Most modern backpacking packs have some type of concealed internal frame. These frames come in many shapes, sizes and materials – they run the full gamut, everything from simple foam inserts to embedded aluminum rods. Packs with foam sheets that help form the frame of the pack can often have these inserts removed, allowing them to double as sit pads in camp. Others have a more rigid metal or composite frame that creates an air space between your back and the pack, increasing ventilation. Some manufacturers are even experimenting with new innovative external frame designs that allow a greater range of attachments and versatility.

The main function of all frames – either internal or external – is to give the pack structure and transfer weight to the hip.

Frameless packs are generally used by those who have slowly reduced their base weight to an ultralight level. Once the base weight goes under 10 lbs, minimalist backpackers will often turn their weight reduction focus to the pack itself. The reduction in equipment to this level also leads to a drastic reduction in required volume, so frameless packs are often small, simple and very light – the pack itself can be under 2 lbs down to just a few ounces. Users of these packs will often employ some technique to create structure, either through use of a sleeping pad or careful, strategic packing. Almost all frameless packs have a maximum recommended load rating of under 20 lbs, some even less – keep in mind that’s a fully loaded weight, including food, water and fuel. As such, while these packs are something that a backpacker can aspire and evolve to, they generally are not a good choice for those new to the activity.

Backpacks have a interesting Catch 22 situation; the heftier backpacks from the large manufactures are very comfortable and can carry a lot of weight – but the backpack itself is heavy. It’s not uncommon for a backpack from a well respected manufacturer to have a weight capacity of 50lbs – but that same pack itself can actually weigh 4 or 5 lbs… empty! With this type of “traditional” backpack it’s going to be hard to achieve 10% base weight.

That’s where the cottage manufactures come in; companies like ULA Equipment and Mountain Laurel Designs specialize in lightweight backpacks for thru hikes. Generally speaking, a medium size (40 to 50 L) framed backpack from one of these vendors weighs about 2lbs. A larger (50 + L) framed pack can be under 3 lbs. On the longer trails in the States, you’ll see more of these backpacks than anything else. Despite the long distances that thru hikers cover, they rarely use the very large expedition-style backpacks that would traditionally be recommended.

In recent years some large manufacturers have noticed a significant gap in their lines, the lightweight product offerings, and have begun to react. But they have a lot of catching up to do – the cottage manufactures are well liked, well respected, and they make and support great products.

You’ll first need to get an idea of how much equipment you’ll have, then select a backpack. If you’ve bought-in to the idea of going lightweight or minimalist, you’ll have less stuff to put in your pack, so it will be that much smaller. If possible, after doing some online research, try some packs on in person – even load in some weight. To determine the capacity you’ll need, a good starting point for someone starting out with 3 season backpacking is around 50 litres – start research in that area and add / subtract from there.

For more on this topic and to avoid the most common pit-falls, check out what Cam Honan and Mark Roberts have to say. Cam has a great tip for those testing out the comfort of a large capacity pack in-store.



There are a lot of options in lightweight shelters for thru hiking: Tarp, Bivvy, Tent or Hammock.

Tarp + Bivvy

Expect to spend: $250+

The combination of a Tarp and Bivvy is likely going to be one of the most versatile and lightweight shelter systems that you could use on a thru hike. The setup is extremely simple – the Bivvy is basically just a waterproof breathable cover for a sleeping bag / quilt and the Tarp suspends over-head, often utilizing trekking poles for support. Although the concept of this shelter is very simple, it relies on the user having a greater degree of knowledge in regard to knots, site selection and weather than they otherwise would have. The main drawbacks are in this required level of skill for efficient setup and use, and a minimal level of protection from biting insects (often utilizing nothing more than a mosquito headnet).

In terms of speed and adaptability, it’s the ultimate arrangement: depending on the weather, one could use just the Tarp, just the Bivvy, both, or neither.  In terms of weight, it’s also difficult to beat: the simple construction of both components dictates that they are not only often inexpensive, but extremely light to carry. A complete Tarp + Bivvy + Guy Line Stake Kit can come in at under 1.5lbs.  Add a few optional – but very multi-purpose – components such as a Tyvek Ground Sheet, an extra Pack Liner and a good quality Space Blanket and you can be well equipped at well under 2lbs.


In its simplest form, a Tarp is just a piece of material (silnylon, cuben fibre, polycryo) with tie-out loops on the perimeter. More elaborate options include models that mimic a complete shelter with an option to connect netting (approaching the level of a single wall tent) to models that are somewhat small, but have a hooded opening in the middle that allows use as a poncho – which eliminates both rain gear and a pack cover (if so equipped) from the base weight.


The simplest form of the Bivvy is a tapered bag with some form of closure near the head. Some models add insect protection and support poles to provide structure. In general, a Bivvy provides protection from the elements for just the user and sleeping bag / quilt – no more – so more elaborate models tend to be as heavy as a lightweight single wall tent, without the advantage of extra space.

This setup is often the equipment of choice for the experienced distance hiker. However, while these components – or some combination of these components – can be extremely lightweight and flexible, it’s worth stressing again that they do require a greater level of skill for setup / use. Even moreso than with the selection of a Hammock, it is critical that users of this shelter system become very familiar with it before hitting the trail.

Tarp + Bivvy in summary:

Advantages: Very light to carry and flexible in the combination of setup options, dependant on environment and weather.

Disadvantages: Site selection and skillful setup are paramount. Requires practice and patience. Insect protection is often provided by just a headnet.


Expect to spend: $160 – $400 +

There is nothing better than a tent in mosquito season.

If you’re thinking a tent is the way to go, and you’re hiking solo, try for a 1 person model under 2.5lbs. All ultralight 1 person tents share one thing in common – they’re small. They can feel really cramped inside – almost claustrophobic – this of course being how the manufactures keep weight down. If you think you’ll have room inside for all your gear and do-dads, think again. For this reason, a tent with some type of gear loft or system of hooks can help greatly in keeping things organized. If having extra space to relax and organize equipment on the floor sounds appealing, you may want to opt for a 2 person tent. Some hikers actually prefer to take a little extra weight – maybe 1lb or a little more – to have that luxury.

Save as much weight here as your budget will allow – lighter tents are more expensive. If you’re really serious about saving weight with the most innovative designs, your best bet is to go directly to the cottage manufacturers. For more mainstream products, your options are only limited by your level of patience with research… and you budget. You can save money by buying a “last model year” or “older design” on sites like Sierra Trading Post or CampSaver. In Canada, I’ve heard Live Out There is good. And of course there’s always sales and deals to be had at the major outdoor retailers – REI (US) and MEC (Canada) – and with the crowd-source deal sites like MassDrop.

There’s a greater variety of shelters on the long trails now than ever before, but tents are still very common for a variety of reasons. The one you select is almost as much of a personal choice as your footwear.

Freestanding vs Non-Freestanding (guyed out):

Freestanding tents are heavier, but easier and quicker to setup for a novice. Non-Freestanding tents have to be staked down and guyed out (secured with a rope) – not always easy on the ECT – that rock thing ya know – and as such they may be unstable in rainy / windy conditions if they’re not setup taught and just right. However, some Non-Freestanding tents can use one or more trekking poles in their setup, which can get the weight down to well under two pounds – if you already use trekking poles. Note that, whatever tent you buy, you may be able to save weight by ditching the included stuff sacks and replacing the included stakes with lighter ones. The type of tent you select will also depend to some degree on your skill level with rope / knots, or the amount of time you’re willing to devote to developing this skill.

Double Wall vs. Single Wall:

Generally speaking, this is related to the previous point: Many Double Wall Tents are Freestanding, which translates to them being foolproof – quick, easy and convenient.  Single Wall are generally Guyed Out, which translates to requiring a little more setup time and skill. For obvious reasons DW tents tend to be the heavier of the two types, perhaps by up to 1lb, but you generally have the option of sleeping with the second layer (the rain fly) off in good weather, allowing you to star gaze through the inner mesh layer. SW tents tend to suffer from internal condensation (particularly in cold weather), although this issue tends to get exaggerated. With so many options available, it’s difficult to make a simple recommendation, but…; For a beginner who just wants to get started with minimal skill development and fuss, look for the lightest DW tent that’ll fit your height and budget. If you’re sure you’ll get into this backpacking thing and don’t mind developing some slightly more advanced setup and knot skills, go SW.

Tents in summary:

Advantages: Easy to setup / use. Secure feeling. Privacy.

Disadvantages: Greatly limits your options in terms of places to stop for the night.

Ground Sheet (add to Tarp + Bivvy or Tent):

For any type of ground-based shelter, you’ll also likely want to add a bit of weight in the form of a Ground Sheet – this basically protects the bottom of the tent and generally keeps things clean and dry. Perhaps the most common ground sheet used by distance hikers are DIY rigs that they cut from a piece of Tyvek. Tyvek is the brand name for a DuPont product that is used in many applications, but you are most likely familiar with it from it’s use in the construction industry as an external water barrier – water vapour can pass through it, but liquid water cannot. From the perspective of a hiker, that’s a very attractive material – waterproof AND breathable. It’s light, cheap and extremely durable. You can usually get a piece of Tyvek at a very low cost, if not free – if you have any residential construction going on in your area, more than enough can be had late in the afternoon for the price of a half case of beer, if you catch my drift. It can also be bought in less than roll quantities (1 roll = 900 sq ft) on sites like eBay.

A Tyvek Ground Sheet has two minor drawbacks however;

1) – It can be noisy when you’re moving around on top of it, or in windy conditions for example. It’s a weird material to describe – it sort of resembles a waxy waterproof paper. The simple solution is to throw it in your clothes washer (wash it alone, regular cycle, cold water, no detergent) then hang it up to drip dry. After a wash, it will shrink slightly and retain all of it’s favorable characteristics, but will become more supple – like a very thin soft fabric – and less noisy.

2) – It can be extremely slippery if you step on it. So… don’t step on it.

The DIY bit is easy; after you wash & drip dry your piece, spread it out (there is no front / back, contrary to popular belief), setup your tent on top and mark around the perimeter with a sharpie. Cut inside your line by an inch or two to make it a bit smaller than your tent floor. The “smaller” part is important – it shouldn’t stick out from under your tent. If it’s too large – peeking out around the perimeter – this effectively funnels water that runs down the outside of the tent to an area on top of the Tyvek and between the tent floor.

A Tyvek Ground Sheet is usually only a couple of ounces, and it will greatly speed up the process of breaking camp in the morning. This can also be useful while hiking in wet conditions – tuck it in an easily accessible place and it can be thrown down to make anywhere a dry place to sit.


Expect to spend: $200 – $500 +

As I’ve said before, finding a camp spot on the ECT can be a bit of a PIA, especially for the distance hiker that wants to stop based on convenience of time, not location. For every one site I’ve seen that’s suitable for a tent (flat, level, not wet), I’ve seen ten good places to hang a hammock. It’s as simple as this – to setup, you need two appropriately spaced trees of a size larger than your ankle – that’s it. What’s below doesn’t matter. Hammocks work very well on the ECT, and if you’ve watched any of the Thru Hike Playlist Videos on YouTube you know I’m not exaggerating.

For most people, sleeping in a backpacking-style Gathered End Hammock is also far more comfortable than if sleeping on the ground, but they’re also more involved than a tent – there’s a learning curve in setup AND use;

You have to learn how to properly hang the hammock & pitch the tarp overhead.

You have to learn how to position yourself and your underquilt for comfort throughout the night.

You have to deal with organizing your stuff which hangs above you from the ridgeline.

Components of a Hammock:

If the difference between the required level of skill in using a freestanding tent vs. a non-freestanding tent is “significant”, then the difference in skill level from a freestanding tent to a hammock would be considered “very significant indeed.” This is because, in a hammock, there are a variety of modular components to manage:

The Hammock – where you sleep. Starts at about $20 and up.

The Suspension – holds the hammock up – generally known as tree straps and whoopie slings. This part is adjustable to accommodate tree spacing of anywhere from about 14 to 20 feet. All together about $40.

The Ridgeline – just a piece of rope – something like 550 Paracord – attaches to either end of the hammock and goes along it’s length & above you when you lie down. Cost n/a.

The Tarp – hangs over the hammock. Starts at about $100. This can also be a DIY rig. I’ve had great success with a siliconized space blanket – very very lightweight + keeps you warm! $10.

The Underquilt – hangs losely under the hammock, for additional warmth. If it’s going below 15C @ night, you’ll need one. Most are goose down, for some serious warmth, starting at about $200. Again, this can also be a DIY rig – I’ve had great success with…. a siliconized space blanket! Super light and effective for summer nights, down to about 8-10C. $10.

The Bug Net – optional / seasonal – hangs over the ridgeline and over you, or you can just use a mosquito head net.

That list may seem daunting, but it’s really very simple to setup a hammock after you’ve done it a few times, once you’ve gotten the hang of it (Sorry, no pun intended. Really!). Site selection is also very quick, since you spend time just looking for two good trees – as opposed to mucking about on the ground clearing away sticks / rocks / etc.. For a thru hike on the ECT, the selection of a hammock is primarily about flexibility – once I’ve decided to stop for the night, I can usually find a spot to hang within a few dozen metres in either direction, and I can usually setup and sit down in comfort within a few minutes.

Many hammock users piece together those components; a combination of online shopping and DIY or MYOG. There are also some cottage manufacturers that specialize in each separate component, such as Warbonnet Outdoors. There are also a few “complete” (or nearly complete) although less flexible systems that are popular, such as offerings from Hennessy Hammock, another of the original and widely respected cottage manufactures. There’s even a hammock / tent hybrid from a non-cottage manufacture that looks very interesting – the Exped Scout Hammock Combi. Generally speaking however this is another area – similar to the ultralight backpack and tent categories – where traditional big name gear manufactures have not caught on / caught up – so you shouldn’t necessarily expect a decent selection at most local / online retailers. In fact not until 2015 did MEC in Canada even recognize the category – they had a wide selection of inflatable camp pillows tho! ….don’t get me started on MEC.

Another consideration is that “hangers” (as hammock users are known) are sometimes left out of the social aspect of backpacking if, for example, they’re not camping in the same area as “ground dwellers” (the somewhat jokingly derogatory term they have for tent users). This can be the case more often than you think – I’ve slept in my hammock on the side of a hill so steep that I had to attach my backpack to a tree to stop it rolling away. Needless to say, there were no tents in sight. This lack of interaction can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on your perspective – up to you.

LNT and Hammocks:

Perhaps the most underappreciated advantage of using a hammock is that it fits beautifully with the idea of LNT. Since you’re not sleeping on the ground, you do very little damage to your environment. You hang from the trees with wide webbing (like the seatbelts in a car) and your tarp goes overhead, suspended from those same trees. If it’s raining, your tarp is first up / last down, which provides a place to cook / hang out – off the ground and out of the weather. After you’re done the next day, you’ve trampled the ground far less than you would have using a tent. It’s beyond LNT… there’s something simply beautiful about traveling through the forest day after day while in such harmony and compliance with nature.

Despite what some hammock advocates say, I’ve found that, once fully equipped, hammocks are not significantly lighter than a tent. A one person hammock (most are for a single person) with the components outlined above will weigh about the same as your average one person ultralight tent. My lightest tent is almost exactly the same weight as my mostly DIY fully equipped hammock.

With all that said, I’d still encourage anyone who considers themselves an “out of the box” thinker to give it a try as the advantages of hammock camping outweigh the disadvantages, especially on a hilly, thickly wooded trail like the ECT.

(Since setting up a tent is something most are already familiar with, I’ll add a few links to get the newbie started re hammocks. The Ultimate Hang by Derek Hansen is loaded with illustrations to help the new user along. Alan Dixon of BackpackingLight.com fame has a good three part series on Hammocks from the perspective of a former tent user. And the grand-daddy of hammock info online is HammockForums.net – these people are hard core enthusiasts, so don’t go there looking for objectivity. 🙂 )

Hammocks in summary:

Advantages: With an exception of about 30km of trail, you can setup anywhere along the ECT. Very LNT. Very comfortable, for most.

Disadvantages: Learning curve in use & setup. Hangers are sometimes social outcasts (may also be an advantage, if you’re out there for solitude or just to cover a lot of ground).

Sleep Setup


The two items where you’ll likely spend the bulk of your budget and do most of your research when getting started with backpacking is in the areas of Shelter and Sleep Setup.

In terms of bedding, very few backpackers will use just a Sleeping Bag or Quilt, especially if sleeping on the ground. Besides being uncomfortable, the ground will rob you of heat. For our purposes below, we’ll refer to the combination of Sleeping Bag (or Quilt)  +  Sleeping Pad  =  Sleep Setup.

Sleeping Bag / Quilt

Expect to spend: $150 – $800 +

Options are:

Bag or Quilt:

Backpacking Quilts are basically a bag without an bottom or hood. Ray Jardine, a pioneer in lightweight backpacking, came up with the idea in the early 90’s, and it later gained wide acceptance with hammock users (they already have dedicated bottom insulation in the form of an underquilt), but the idea has come full circle as quilts are now becoming more popular with ground dwellers. This creation stems from the fact that, in a sleeping bag, the material that is compressed under your body provides little to no warmth. This is particularly true of down filled bags. The one-trick-pony sleeping bag hood is also jettisoned, as it’s functionality can be replaced by an already-in-my-pack bennie. A quilt discards these parts to save not only weight, but also cost – it varies, but quilts generally are lighter and less expensive than their conventional counterparts at the same temperature rating. Selection of a quilt necessitates that more thought be put in the time of year / weather when you’ll be hiking, and consideration of what you lie upon (IE. the sleeping pad, covered in the next section).

Quilts are on the leading edge of backpacking innovation, and as is usually the case in this situation, the best offerings are from small cottage manufacturers – Jacks-R-Better, Enlightened Equipment, Loco Libre, Little Shop of Hammocks (Canadian) etc.. In this area in particular the big names are embarrassingly behind and have yet to catch on / catch up. For those selecting a quilt over a bag, this is good news – the big brand names in the world of sleeping bags will generally charge up to twice as much for a bag whose equivalent temperature rated quilt can be obtained at a great price from a small manufacturer.

For more info on Quilts, check out Change Your Bedding by Mark Roberts – he’s done an excellent (and humorous) job of describing the individual components as a system and introducing the concept of quilts to the uninitiated. Also see Joe Brewer’s (far less entertaining, but informative) video entitled Why You Should Switch To A Backpacking Quilt and Alan Dixon’s The Art of Sleeping Warm, A Guide to Sleeping Bags and Quilts.

Down or Synthetic Fill:

Goose or Duck Down is warmer than Synthetic fill insulation in an equivalent weight bag. Down needs to be kept dry to be effective, where as synthetic is still somewhat useable (supposedly) when it’s wet – and it’ll dry quick. Many manufacturers also now offer down that is treated to be water repellent, and there are wash-in products that can add these properties to an existing bag / quilt.

Personally I’ve always used down bags and have been very careful in terms of keeping them dry – I’ve never felt the need to switch. Down is just so warm and light – there’s still no synthetic that can match it.

Mummy or Rectangular (bag only):

If choosing a bag, mummies are always lighter, but some people can find them confining. Mummies are warmer, as there’s less excess interior space for your body to heat up. Most serious backpackers that use bags will opt for the mummy style – rectangular bags are mostly used in car camping.

Despite attempts by the industry to standardize, temperature ratings on bags and quilts are still subjective. If I’m doing a hike in the shoulder season, I’d take something rated down to about -3 or -4C (27F), which for a conventional sleeping bag could generally be up to 2.5lbs in weight, or for a good quilt a little more than half of that. For summer backpacking, a conventional bag rated to about 4 or 5C (40F) is a good trade off between weight @ about 1.5lbs, and warmth, with an equivalent quilt coming in at under 1lb.

Generally speaking I like to give myself a 8 to 10C buffer between the lower end rating and the expected low for the area / season that I’m hiking; IE. With a bag or quilt rated to 4C I know I’m going to be very comfortable at night in temps down to about 12 to 14C. The point is: Your selection here will greatly depend on the time of year that you’ll be hiking. Most hikers, after they’ve become well equipped, have both a warm weather and cold weather option at the ready.

Consideration of layering is also often a good idea for someone starting out with equipment. The general idea is to combine two (or more, but generally two) bags or quilts together for use in cold weather. There’s tremendous flexibility in this concept – a sleeping bag can be combined with a quilt, down with synthetic, etc.. Selection is very much user dependant, but with careful research, selection and controlled testing, the possibilities are endless. Enlightened Equipment has a good, concise article on the concept of layering.

All this is assuming you want to spend less than $300 to $400 on a bag or quilt. I’ve often heard people say “Spend $700 on a good one – you won’t regret it” – and that certainly is true. You can knock anywhere from a few ounces to over 1/2 a pound off those weights if you’re spending north of $500. However, for someone starting out with equipment, that’s a fairly hefty price to pay for the corresponding reduction in weight (IE. that amount of cash can easily save more weight in another area).

An example of a good, well respected value brand in sleeping bags is Kelty with their Cosmic Down Bags. An example of a lesser-known brand with good value is Aegismax with their UL Down Bag (incidentally, whose basic design also allows this model to double as a quilt). If money is no object there are a number of sleeping bag manufactures battling it out in the high end – this is where you’ll always find the absolute lightest of offerings.

Finding good value on a Quilt is easier, as the category is largely free of the hype, noise and inflated pricing that can often be associated with large trendy brand name players – and the cottage manufactures, with very few exceptions, have great value. Currently Jacks-R-Better, Enlightened Equipment (US) and Little Shop of Hammocks (Canada) are great places to begin your search. Quilts are generally made-to-order, but from what I understand some of these vendors have ready made / ready to ship products in stock year-round. There are also some good quality value brand quilts from Asian manufacturers that are starting to appear on sites like Amazon and eBay.

Sleeping Pad

Expect to spend: $50 – $140

This could be considered optional during the summer months, but it will give you a much better night sleep – so probably worth the money and weight. It should be considered absolutely essential in the shoulder seasons – it will insulate you from the cold ground in a tent, or from the cold air moving below a hammock. The best sleeping bag / quilt in the world will be practically useless without a pad in the shoulder seasons.

Note that, while it is possible to use a sleeping pad in a hammock, it’s less than ideal – not the best form of insulation. Having a sleeping pad with a hammock setup can be very flexible however – with the addition of a ground sheet, you have the option to cowboy camp whenever you choose – it doesn’t get lighter or faster than that.

Options are:

Closed Cell Foam:

This is generally the “Blue Foam Roll” you see at the big box retailers. An improvement on this – one that is widely used by thru hikers – is the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol. These things are light, indestructible, and even a little bit comfortable! Check Google Images for the Z Lite Sol and you’ll likely see a picture of one with a thru hiker attached.


More comfortable than closed cell foam pads, but a little heavier. They come in self inflating and blow up varieties, and can get pretty expensive. They are also prone to puncture, although you’d have to be pretty careless in practice to do this – I’ve found them to be more durable than expected.

The brand to beat is Therm-a-Rest. One up-and-comer whose products I’ve enjoyed using is Klymit. Their pads have unique designs that offer comfort, light weight, quick inflation and they often come at about half the price of an inflatable Therm-a-Rest.


Stove (optional)


I’ll use the term cooking here, but I’ll say “cooking” (in quotes) because the most a thru hiker is usually willing to do after walking all day is to rehydrate a pre-cooked meal. 7 or 8 minute rice and pasta dishes are popular examples (IE Lipton / Knorr sides).

It’s worth noting that camp fires are against official ECTA Policy. If there are other hikers in your area however, there’s a very good chance someone will have one anyway, in which case you’d likely be welcome to cook on their fire. The simple fact is it takes a tremendous amount of effort and energy to process wood. As such, camp fires should be considered a way to possibly supplement your cooking method, as opposed to being the sole heating source for meal preparation.

Options are:

Isobutane Canister Stove

Expect to spend: $30 +

These “stoves” are actually just a burner with a pot support. There are many types… the most common being a small palm sized burner that screws directly to the top of a fuel canister, using the canister as it’s base. Those are tiny and lightweight, but you have to be very careful when using them with a windscreen – which is sorta needed on the ECT – as the windscreen will also cause the fuel canister to heat up, with disastrous results. As such, I’d recommend a “remote canister” isobutane stove – it’s the same idea, but the burner does not attach directly to the top of the fuel canister – it attaches with a metal braided hose, placing the burner away from the fuel. They are a little heavier but more versatile, allowing you to use a windscreen safely and worry free, offering more stability for your pot, and allowing you to invert the canister in cold weather for greater efficiency. Isobutane stoves in general also allow precise control of the flame with a screw valve – so you can do more than simply boil water – you can actually cook if so desired.

For more detail on the difference between various Isobutane Canister Stoves, check out One Stove to Hike Them All at Adventures in Stoving.

Advantages: Easy to use. Boils water quickly. Safe.

Disadvantages: Heavier than Alcohol Stoves. Fuel canisters can be difficult to find “on trail” (consistently available in St. John’s only).

Alcohol Stove

Expect to spend: $0 – $30

These “stoves” are also just a burner, but they’re DIY as well – very easy and inexpensive to make with a soda can or a cat food can. They can burn a variety of easy to find fuels – most commonly Methyl Hydrate – to varying degrees of efficiency. Since they’re made from a can, often aluminum, they’re also very lightweight and have no moving parts to fail – a simple yet beautifully designed item – the very epitome of the KISS principle. The main problem with these stoves is they have no valve to control flame output, so you have two settings… Off, and Full Inferno. You can make a “simmer ring”, but it requires practice to use effectively. As such, Alcohol Stoves are good at boiling water and not much else.

Alcohol Stoves are also somewhat more dangerous than remote canister isobutane stoves – besides having no way to control the flame, the flame is totally invisible in daylight when using alcohol based fuels. Never add fuel to a burner unless you’re positively sure the flame is out – place your hand a few feet above and slowly lower it to see if it’s generating heat. In windy conditions, use a windscreen and extreme caution to ensure the burner and flame are stable. Also be extremely carefully to not kick over a lit burner. You have to be very careful in general with this type of stove – they are popular because of their extreme light weight, but they are in fact so dangerous that several trails and regions in the US have banned their use, requiring that hikers use a stove that has an on / off mechanism (a valve).

While there are no such restrictions on the ECT, I must again stress that if you choose to use this stove system, it’s essential that you perfect safe use and cooking technique before hitting the trail.

For all you’d ever want to know on this topic, check out Zen and the Art of the Alcohol Stove.

Advantages: Lightweight. Easy to find fuel. DIY. Very durable. No moving parts to fail.

Disadvantages: Not quite as safe as a Canister Stove and no option to simmer easily (no control of output / no valve). A little slow.

Personally, on the ECT I find it’s a toss up between these two options. For a new user, I’d probably suggest the Remote Canister Isobutane Stove. It’s relatively lightweight, it’s easy / stable / safe to operate and to protect the flame from the wind, it’s quick to setup and use after a long day hiking and – most importantly – you won’t have to wait long for your meal. For the very weight conscious backpacker, an Alcohol Stove may be preferable, with the added benefit that fuel is easier to locate – there are hardware stores in Witless Bay and Cape Broyle that are on or very near the road route. Again, more time needs to be devoted to practicing safe and effective use before getting on trail with this system.

More info on Re-Supply Strategy is available on the Novice Backpacker page. For an in-depth discussion on re-supply and how that relates to your selection of a stove system, check out the blog post entitled Lightweight Cooking with Grocery Store Trail Food.

Other options include:

Not cooking at all – cold food: Saves weight, as you carry no stove, cookset or fuel. Some hikers use a jar – a plastic peanut butter jar or something – to hydrate cold food. Call me old fashioned or soft, but I like something warm to eat now-and-then. Is that bad?

Small Wood Stove: Dirty (soot). Slow. Can be hard to find dry fuel / establish a fire in damp / wet conditions (wood, twigs, grass, cones, etc.).

Solid Fuel Stoves (Esbit, Hexamine): Slow. Fuel is somewhat expensive and difficult to find on trail.

Liquid Fuel Stoves (MSR Whisperlite, Primus Omnilite): Complicated, heavy. Generally used in very cold temperatures or at higher altitudes.

Heat Exchanger Stoves (Jetboil, MSR Reactor): Fast. But heavier, single use, expensive, and most importantly, unable to invert cannister.

If you’d like a visual to go with these options, Dave Collins has a video entitled Ultralight Backpacking Stoves @ YouTube. For a little more detail and a comparison of options, see Paul Magnanti’s article Backpacking Stove Comparison in Real World Use.

Cookset (Pot / Utensil / etc.) (optional)


Expect to spend: Complete @ ~ $60 +

It’s usually easy to spot a novice backpacker by these components – some start out with a complete one person setup, emulating something right from the kitchen. Some experienced thru hiker “kitchens” have as few as three components;

Pot: A Titanium or Aluminum Pot. Usually about 1L, give or take, often with fold out handles, a bail handle, or both. Starts at about $35 for the lighter offerings.

Spoon: Preferably with a long handle to dig down into a pot or MRE bag. Some hikers become very emotionally attached to their spoon for some reason.

Tin Foil: Makes a lightweight pot lid – until it blows away. Lay the spoon on top.

That’s basically all you need. You may want to add a cup – steel, aluminum or titanium – something metal, so you can use it on your stove / in a fire, if required. I personally don’t like plastic, and it’s for this reason that I think plastic cookware should be avoided, as you’ll be doing your warm meal preparation on some type of flame. I had been using this 3 piece setup for a while, and was making it work, until I noticed a hiker in a movie was using the bottom 2/3 of a oversized aluminum soda can (700+ ml) as a cup. I gave that a shot, and I now have a coffee cup that weighs an amazing 0.5 oz.. That second vessel adds a lot of convenience to the simple cookset outlined above, and this 4th piece does double duty as a protective container for my emergency / first aid kit – and my first aid kit helps my cup from getting flattened. It’s a win / win / win.



Expect to spend: $4 +

Many hikers just use a mini bic lighter. With the amount of wind on the ECT, I prefer something just a bit more robust – a windproof lighter (aka mini butane torch) has an ignition and the flame shoots straight out, even when held upside down. These lighters use liquid butane, which is reliable in cold temperatures, are usually refillable, are available in a range of styles and sizes and usually come with some sort of safety cap. I use a small plastic one. Another example is the Ronson Jetlite. Cigar stores / smoke shops are usually a good source for these – if you want to pick a lightweight one in person. Note that “windproof” is marketing BS, as most of these lighters will not stay lit in a strong breeze, but they’re far less annoying to use than a conventional lighter in windy conditions.

While backpacking, you’ll need a lighter most often to light your stove for cooking. If you’re using a canister stove, the burner itself may have a piezo igniter built in (you’ve seen piezo lighters on gas BBQs, for example). I actually prefer not to use those, and remove them, as it’s a perfect example of a single use convenience item. My lighter has been used for many things – to light a campfire, to burn a rope end, to sterilize my knife, and yes, to light my stove. That piezo igniter is just dead weight – it’s not much dead weight mind you, but it’s weight that I can be more comfortable without.

Also note that, as part of an Emergency Fire Starting Kit, you need a second ignition source – one lighter just won’t cut it. I carry a knife that has a firesteel built in, which will work without fuel and when it’s wet / windy. Frankly though, a lighter is quick and convenient, so I’ve selected that as my primary source, with the firesteel coming in as an even more reliable backup.

Water Treatment Setup


One of the main ideas that you have to embrace when concerning yourself with pack weight is obtaining drinking water from natural sources in the backcountry. Consider this: 1L of water weighs about 2lbs 2oz. If you use 2L each day at camp, that’s over 4lbs to carry from the trailhead, not to mention consumption while hiking. So in my case, for example, that would mean water would account for at least 1/5 of my desired total carry weight.

Water is heavy. If there is any trail on which you should be taking advantage of natural sources, it’s the ECT. There are good water sources on average every 3km, and really great ones averaging every 6 or 7km. Check the Water Report Tab in the Spreadsheet for a list of sources. Although sources are plentiful and likely of good quality (not much agriculture along the length of the trail) you’ll still want to treat before consuming, just to be safe. Generally speaking, when drinking from natural sources in North America, of primary concern are (listed here in order of physical size, from largest to smallest):

Protozoa – 50 to 10 microns in size – most commonly Cryptosporidium and Giardia
Bacteria – 2 to 0.2 microns – such as Salmonella and E. coli
Viruses – 0.4 to 0.02 microns – like Norovirus and Hepatitis A

Note: Listed sizes are very approximate. 1,000 microns = 1 millimeter. For reference, a sheet of copier paper is about 100 microns in thickness.

There are basically two types of treatment:

Step One, Filtration: Removes Sediment, Protozoa, some Bacteria

Expect to spend: $25 +

A modern filter (such as the Sawyer, below, filtering down to approximately 0.1 micron) will remove the larger stuff – Sediment (plain old dirt) and Protozoa, covering the two most common nasties for hikers – Cryptosporidium and Giardia (which causes Giardiasis, aka Beaver Fever).

There are various forms of filters – pump, gravity, squeeze. Pumps are fastest. Gravity and squeeze are more reliable, as they have no moving parts – but they can be slow. Gravity and squeeze are also easy to clean on trail – you simply blow water back through in the “wrong” direction to push debris out. Pump filters are prone to clogging, which leads to the user pushing too hard, which leads to breakage.

Step Two, Purification (aka Disinfection): Kills Bacteria, Viruses

Expect to spend: $10 +

Purification will take care of the rest of the very small stuff that passed right through your filter – stuff that you probably don’t want to be drinking like Bacteria (Salmonella, E. coli) and Viruses (Hepatitis A, Norovirus – not just for cruise ships anymore!).

This is usually done with chemicals, such as various types of chlorine in the form of drops or tablets. You can also purify water with UV light. Chemicals, although clearly not as healthy, are the more practiced method, as they’re lightweight and generally thought to not cause harm when used in lower concentrations. The UV light method is good in theory, but the devices are not bullet proof and they do require batteries, and spare batteries, so there is a penalty. Whether you use UV light or chemicals, Purification takes time – depending on the method, ranging from around a few minutes up to an hour or more.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to Filter first, then Purify. It’s not a good idea to skip one or the other – Step One / Filtration won’t catch any tiny Viruses, and Step Two / Purification won’t kill those larger Protozoa. It’s this two-step process that makes the water totally safe to drink.

Chlorine Dioxide is a single step form of treatment that will deal with everything – from Protozoa to Viruses. It’s most common in a dual liquid form, but is also available in tablets. Unfortunately, it doesn’t remove Sediment (sand, dirt) and is somewhat more expensive per use than average Chlorine. Many users also notice an unpleasant taste and smell from their water after treatment. YMMV.

If all this sounds terribly frightening, don’t worry – to put things in perspective, you are relatively unlikely to get sick from drinking water directly from these sources. It’s also worth noting that simply boiling water – having a rolling boil for 1 minute (aka lots of big violent bubbles, not those little ones) – is also a single step form of treatment that will take care of all the stuff listed above. In practice though, this is often not a practical method of water purification while distance hiking – it uses precious fuel, and hot drinking water is not terribly refreshing.

Personally I use a combination of gravity filtration and chemical treatment, in tablet form. If I’m going to be boiling water for a meal, I’ll often filter, although not really necessary, then skip the chemical treatment step all together.

Filtration: Sawyer Squeeze. This is a gravity filter, but you can also squeeze (force) water through. Weight is 3oz. It has a newer, smaller and lighter younger brother – the Sawyer Mini @ ~2oz – but the flow rate is slower, and painfully slow after a couple of years use.

Purification: Aquatabs. I find them everywhere – even big box stores. $10 for 50 tablets. 1 tablet treats 1L of water. No discolouration, no taste. The tablets themselves are tiny and they’re packaged in a paper / foil sleeve, so weight is negligible.

Treating water in the shoulder season when the night time temperatures could dip below 0C has it’s own special set of challenges. Generally, chemicals are not as effective, and filters, once frozen, are rendered not only useless but ineffective when thawed. If you expect the temperature to dip near the freezing point during the night, a common trick is to cuddle up with your water filter – protect it from freezing, and it’ll continue to protect you. Luckily, this is a time of year when backpackers often have a particular interest in preparing a warm meal – and therefore, boiling water. So in case I need to say it… in the colder months, just boil your water.

If you’d like more info on this topic, the US CDC has a good article on drinking water with a PDF containing a handy table that describes limitations of the various treatment methods.

Trekking Poles (optional)

Expect to spend: $50 +

It’s a personal decision whether or not to use poles. I never really believed in them, until my first time hiking over 30 kpd – then all of a sudden, they were essential. When you’re walking 20 + kpd, you’ll find that they will help transfer some of the strain from your lower body to your upper body – over long distances, they’ll reduce wear and pain in your knees and feet. If you combine them with a tent that can use trekking poles as tent poles, you’ve got a much lauded multi-use item (explained above).

Options are:

Carbon Fibre or Aluminum:

Carbon Fibre is lighter, but more expensive and fragile than Aluminum. If you happen to wedge an Aluminum pole (between rocks say – a common example), it will resist and possibly bend, but even then would possibly still be usable. A Carbon Fibre pole would very likely snap and shatter in this situation.

Adjustable or Fixed Length:

Fixed Length poles are generally lighter and stronger. Adjustable poles are more versatile though in terms of packability and multi-use functionality. This is a good example of an area in which the absolute lightest option may not be the best pick.

Twist Lock or Lever (aka Flip) Lock:

Most Twist Lock Poles have a built in shock absorber, but this is widely regarded as a bit of a gimmick and the lock mechanism in general is not considered as simple, strong or durable as the mechanism on Lever Lock Poles.

There are of course many brands and price ranges. Personally I’ve used a set of carbon fibre, adjustable, lever lock poles by Cascade Mountain Tech for several years. They’re perfectly fine – fairly light and surprisingly inexpensive. I should add however that there is one brand in particular that thru hikers will go on and on about given half the chance – Leki. This obsession is not so much about the product itself, but apparently about the after sale support. I’ve heard multiple accounts of Leki Customer Support doing outstanding work in terms of helping thru hikers who have broken poles on trail. This is one of a handful of situations in regards to brand names where I think it may be a product worth checking out.

For more info and visuals on poles (and another important topic, footwear) @ YouTube there’s a video on Ultralight Backpacking Footwear and Trekking Poles by Dave Collins.

Other Small Items


  • ECTA Map Set – These maps don’t have the level of detail some thru hikers may want, but they’re absolutely essential and among the best money you’ll spend. Maps are included for each section, and often you’ll get an idea of the road walk route through communities. Each map comes with an accompanying page of text that describes the trail, but the vernacular can be difficult to understand.
  • Compass – @ YouTube there’s a video on Navigation with Map, Compass and GPS by Dave Collins.
  • Pencil and Ziplock Bag (for Map) – You may need to mark your map / take notes, and in case of rain, you’ll want to keep your current map dry.
  • Sunscreen – Even in cold weather – it’s about protection from the sun, not the heat.
  • Sunglasses – All seasons.
  • Insect Repellent *
  • Mosquito Head Net * – This can double as a simple stuff sack for small items, like socks and underwear. I use mine year round for this purpose. This most basic head net design, just a bag sewn out of no-see-em netting, is best combined with some type of brimmed hat, such as a baseball cap – it can go over the hat to keep the netting and critters off your face.
  • Toiletries – Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Floss, Toilet Paper, Soap, Q-Tips, etc..
  • Hand Sanitizer – Also doubles as firestarter in an emergency.
  • Knife – Some people go nuts with this – they think they’re going into combat or something. Realistically, it’s used during meal preparation. In the past I’ve use the Mora / Light My Fire Swedish Fireknife. It has a 3.75″ blade and a firesteel integrated in the handle, so props for multi-use. In terms of a knife, even this may be overkill however… I’ve found that a smaller, lighter knife is adequate.
  • Dog Attack (aka Bear or Pepper) Spray – A small < 1.5oz personal / palm size spray is usually sufficient.
  • Head Lamp – A small LED variety using button cells is usually sufficient. A backup light source may be a good idea – perhaps a tiny, lightweight LED light. You’ll get into habit of going to sleep soon after the sun sets, so batteries during a 2 week thru hike will not need to be replaced if you start fresh. If you plan to do some night hiking, consider up-sizing your headlamp a bit, perhaps even going with a rechargeable or taking an extra set of batteries.
  • Rope – A few dozen feet of 550 Paracord is ok, but frankly a little heavy for it’s weight / usefulness ratio. I use either blind cord or – for a very lightweight but extremely strong option – Dynaglide.
  • Medical First Aid Kit – You can get a pre-packaged kit, but it’ll be lighter if you put together your own, including only the stuff you think you’ll need – and more importantly, things that you actually know how to use. Of concern are cuts / scrapes and twists / strains. Don’t forget to add any medication you need, as well as some Vitamin I.
  • Emergency Fire Starting Kit – You should carry 2 ignition sources: your lighter (usually with your stove) plus something in this kit. Waterproof matches or a firesteel are common choices – just something in case your lighter fails. Personally I’ve selected a firesteel (basically just a magnesium rod) as I’ve found it to be easier to use than matches, especially in windy conditions. You can also pre-equip yourself with some fire starting materials in case of an emergency, even if the fuel wood you gather is wet. You could of course use natural fire starting resources, but this is considerably more difficult. Petroleum Infused Cotton Balls in combination with Wax Covered Pods are a good choice – all DIY. To light, the Cotton Ball is torn apart into a nest to receive the Pod sitting on top – even a single spark from a firesteel will get this going. Burn time is about 10 minutes – often long enough to dry damp kindling. You can carry a dozen Cotton Balls and 3 or 4 Pods for just a few ounces of weight – in very wet or cold emergency conditions they can really be worth it.
  • Duct / Gorilla / Tenacious Tape – Has a variety of uses. Take a few feet wrapped around a trekking pole or water bottle.
  • Space Blanket * – The siliconized variety, such as the SOL Survival Blanket are larger, more durable and quieter than the standard mylar variety.
  • Carabiner Clips (Mini Binder Clips + Mini Carabiners + Rubber Band) * – These items combined are basically like super clothespins – very versatile. I carry 4 or 5 – they’re constantly in use.
  • Cell Phone / GPS * – If you are fortunate enough to have a phone with a removable battery, these are generally lighter than external backup batteries, but you won’t be able to charge unless it’s installed your phone. This may have to be considered a burner battery unless you’ve thought ahead. Some phones have quick charge capability – a nice plus if you’re strategic enough to maximize re-supply time (ask to leave your backpack with the cashier in the grocery store, and see if they’ll allow you to grab some power for your device at the same time). Another good attribute for a cell phone is one with expandable removable storage – if you plan on documenting your trip in photos or videos, a second empty microSD card is a great thing to have tucked away. For more info on selecting a phone best suited to backpacking, check out the device selection article at GoTakeaHike.ca.
  • Backup Battery (or Solar Panel, for above) * – The necessity of this depends on how critical the device is to you while hiking. For use with a cell phone, I’ve found power stored in a light internal or slightly heavier external battery can provide enough recharges for a fairly quick thru hike, especially if the phone is used sparingly and in airplane mode. A Solar Panel will be heavier (unless it’s DIY), and you’re at the mercy of the sun for power, so ideally it needs to be coupled with a battery. It’s worth noting that some iPhones apparently can be quite finicky when it comes to “non-standard” sources, like a solar panel. If you’re stuck with that problem, the external battery (perhaps coupled with the panel) may be your only option.
  • ZipLock Bag specifically for Cell Phone / GPS * – For a non IP rated (not dust / waterproof) phone, this bag needs to be readily available while you hike – slip your phone in it before rock hopping some of the smaller, non-bridged rivers.
  • Small Trowel (shovel) * – for digging a hole / covering “organic” waste. Ugh. Or, just use a stick.
  • Luxury Item * – usually a small, light item whose primary purpose is to keep you sane.

Gear Tips and Tricks

In no particular order, here are a few other miscellaneous tricks from the trail.

Garbage Bag Pack Liner:

Your backpack may be advertised as waterproof, but it likely isn’t. The first thing to go in your pack should be a new, large trash bag – contractor grade garbage bags are good. Everything goes in that, usually with your sleeping bag / quilt on the bottom. When your pack is full, either roll the excess down or fold over the top and tuck it down before cinching the pack’s top drawstring – now it’s waterproof.

In camp, this Pack Liner Bag is more useful on the outside; with a small hole in the bottom corner, the hang loop on your pack can feed through for hanging from a tree branch, and the bottom can be tied in a loose knot. This will provide not only weather protection, but will also minimize odor of any pack contents – so the scent of your food or other items will be less likely to draw animals. Note: It’s generally a good idea to hang food at night, but with the lack of large predators on the ECT, this is often not practiced by hikers, with little consequence – see Safety and Food Storage for more on this topic.

I’ve also used this garbage bag in camp for other functions, and sometimes I’ll even take a spare cheap / light garbage bag as a backup – when it’s raining, this is used in myriad ways.

Night-time Warmth from Extra Clothes:

Unused clothing? Cold Night? Cold Morning? Stuff excess clothing in your sleeping bag. That clothing will help insulate your bag during the night, and the clothes itself will be warm in the morning. Extra clothing in a stuff sack is also commonly used as a pillow.

Small Condiment / Toothpaste Tubes:

You can start collecting mustard / ketchup / salt / etc. packets before hand, or make your own with used Mr. Freezie Tubes, sealed with a curling iron. This can be used for toothpaste as well, or a plastic drinking straw also works for the type of item for which you need a smaller quantity. The technique to fill something as small as a straw with something as thick as toothpaste is easy – insert the straw into the tube, seal around the opening with the top of your fist, then squeeze the tube and suck on the straw at the same time. Using either the Mr. Freezie or straw method, on trail squeeze out some of the contents as needed, and reseal with an elastic band around the tip. This makes lightweight packaging for whatever-you-want.

Another popular method for toothpaste is to dehydrate small blobs… simply squeeze out drops onto some tinfoil a few weeks ahead of time. After they fully dry, put them in the smallest ziplock you can find with half a teaspoon of baking soda. On trail, you chew them a bit with a mouthful of water then brush.


Continue to the next page: Footwear and Clothing.


  • 6 months ago Add Added a top sub-menu. As these pages get long, I'm resisting the urge to stuff everything in a database and have menus dynamically created, which often leads to a clean but difficult to navigate design.
  • 7 months ago Update Added text describing MassDrop and a link to Mike Ferrara's Gear Manufacturers Database. Cleaned up the area. Removed links to discount sites that have become little more than purveyors of heavy do-dads and outdoor fashions (ala MEC).