What’s in MY pack? Backpacking gear lists from a Great Smoky Mountains overnighter

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When I go backpacking alone, I trend toward an ultralight setup (base weight of 12 pounds or so, less when sleeping in trail shelters), but when my wife — Leah — and I are backpacking together I take a much more comfort-oriented approach. Instead of trying to cover as much ground as I possibly can, we hike at a casual pace, since the goal is having fun and we enjoy being outdoors together. Great Smoky Mountains National Park is only a few hours away from Chattanooga, and the many trail shelters along the Appalachian Trail allow us to skip the tent and travel in comfort while keeping our packs below 20 lbs.

Just over a month ago, we left home early on a Saturday morning for the Smokies, planning on a 25+ mile overnight hike. Our route was to begin at the Elkmont ranger station, taking us up to the Appalachian Trail via the Little River Trail and Goshen Prong Trail. From there, we’d stay in the Double Spring Gap trail shelter for the night, then hike west along the AT past Silers Bald, returning to our vehicle via the Miry Ridge Trail and Jakes Creek Trail.

Since we’d be staying in a trail shelter at about 5400 feet above sea level, we checked the weather forecast and were expecting night-time temperatures slightly below freezing. Being early May, the weather is unpredictable in the mountains, so we were prepared for difficult conditions; in reality, it never dipped much below +40F, and despite plenty of fog and mist it never rained. Because we’d be spending the entire first day gaining 3500 feet of elevation in 12 miles, we planned on dressing relatively light while on the trail, with warm items packed away to wear at camp and at the beginning of our ridgeline hike along the Appalachian Trail the following morning.

Ever since we published a series of backpacking gear lists this spring (an ultralight backpacking gear list, a traditional backpacking gear list and a beginner’s backpacking gear list) several blog readers have contacted me to ask which of those items I personally carry. After all, it’s one thing to compile lists of suggested backpacking gear, and another thing entirely to disclose exactly what I take on the trail. Well, what better way to follow up those gear lists, and answer that question, than with another gear list? Using the above trip as an example, here’s what both Leah and I carried in our packs (and wore) for our overnighter:

 

Jeff’s pack: Leah’s pack:
   
Gregory Z55 backpack Osprey Exos 46 backpack
Therm-A-Rest ProLite Therm-a-rest NeoAir
Marmot Plasma 30 sleeping bag Marmot Helium 15 sleeping bag
Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner  
Therm-a-rest compressible pillow Therm-a-rest compressible pillow
   
Arc’teryx Beta AR jacket Marmot Precip jacket
Patagonia Capilene 3 midweight crew Patagonia Capilene 3 midweight crew
Marmot Zeus down vest Marmot Venus down jacket
Arc’teryx Caliber zip neck Patagonia R2 jacket
SmartWool trekking heavy crew socks SmartWool trekking heavy crew socks
  Mountain Hardwear PowerStretch gloves
Columbia fleece hat Patagonia R1 headband
   
JetBoil Flash & fuel Sea to Summit Delta insulated mug (2)
MSR Miniworks EX water filter
Sea to Summit Alpha Light spork Snow Peak titanium spork
Platypus PlusBottle (2) Platypus PlusBottle (2)
   
Miscellaneous Clif bars, granola, etc Leah prefers PROBARs & PROBAR fruition bars
Instant oatmeal & Starbucks VIA (breakfast) Enertia Trail Foods “Switchback Shells” (breakfast)
Enertia Trail Foods “Pinnacle Pasta” Backpacker’s Pantry “Louisiana red beans & rice”
   
Jeff’s clothing worn: Leah’s clothing worn:
   
Columbia Altimeter shirt Mountain Hardwear Wicked Lite short-sleeve shirt
prAna Stretch Zion convertible pant The North Face Horizon tempest pant
ExOfficio Give-n-Go boxer briefs ExOfficio Give-n-Go Lacy Lu low rise bikini
SmartWool trekking heavy crew socks SmartWool trekking heavy crew socks
Merrell Chameleon 3 ventilator hiking shoes Vasque Breeze GTX XCR hiking boots
  Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles

 

We also carried some additional small items: trowel and toilet paper, a pocketknife, a first aid kit, trail map, headlamps, an emergency blanket, a handheld GPS, a freezer ziploc for garbage and some paper towels for cleaning our mugs. All told, my pack weighed in at just under 20 pounds, and Leah’s backpack was closer to 18.

So, what stands out about this list? Our differences in personal preference should be obvious. I don’t carry trekking poles when my pack is less than 30 pounds or so. We both carry a spare set of SmartWool socks, so we have dry ones to sleep in if we get our feet wet. I prefer a light 3-season sleeping bag & liner, whereas Leah is a cold sleeper and usually carries the warmer sleeping bag. I like to carry the Miniworks EX despite the weight; it’s so effective, I’d filter drinking water from a puddle on a horse trail without hesitation. Without a tent, my 55-liter pack is definitely too large for an overnighter, but it’s so comfortable I took it anyway. I only bring gloves when it’s snowing.

We both love the Capilene 3 crews, which are great for sleeping in and breathe well enough for cold-weather hiking. We also both prefer the Platypus bottles for hydration, as they weigh almost nothing and slide into the side pockets of a backpack more easily than a Nalgene bottle.

With such a temperature swing between the daytime high (while hiking uphill) and the evening temperatures (sitting at camp atop a wind-swept ridge), we found ourselves hiking in technical t-shirts, but wearing base layer + fleece + down jackets at the trail shelter. We were toasty warm at night — a bit too warm, actually — but that meant we could partially unzip our sleeping bags and sleep without wearing a hat, which was quite pleasant. After we split off of the Appalachian Trail and the morning fog burned off, the second day’s hike was primarily downhill, and those 13.5 miles flew by… we were back home in Chattanooga before dinner!

Remember, everyone’s needs and preferences are different, so there are a hundred different ways to fill your backpack for a weekend on the trail. Have questions? Post them below in the comments, or ask away on our Facebook page!

4 Comments

  1. anonymous said:

    August 6, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Personally, I wouldnt put as much trust in that Miniworks EX, now a LifeSaver water bottle, yeah I would. I promise I’m not a retailer or employee, but I do rugged “outdoor adventures” that last for 1 – 2 weeks, always solo. It’s impossible to port enough water, so I’m left to obtain water from **seriously** questionable sources. Bad water is not something I can afford when I am 30+ miles from civilization, even with my ACR/GPS. With the filtering capabilities of the LifeSaver bottle, I no longer feel it necessary to do a small prayer before I drink filtered water. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Thanks for the feedback! For what it’s worth, the LifeSaver bottle utilizes an activated carbon filter in conjunction with a ceramic filter, and the manufacturer specifies that the ceramic filter pores are 0.2 microns in size. These are exactly the same specifications for the MSR Miniworks EX, which uses a ceramic filter cartridge with a carbon core. Is it possible you are confusing the MSR Miniworks EX with the MSR Sweetwater filter, which uses a silica filter media instead of ceramic?

    In any event, it’s exactly that ceramic filter technology that I think justifies carrying these types of filters, despite lighter options being available, so we are completely in agreement. I’ve used my Miniworks to filter from a pool so dark with leaf tannin that it resembled coffee, and on a caving expedition where our water source was both murky and known to contain fecal coliform bacteria (I know… yuck!), without incident. I believe it is the lightest and most compact water filter to utilize a ceramic filter element.

  3. Ill be hiking the length of the AT in the GSMNP in Mid october. Will the weather be approximately the same? Ill be going pretty light – under 20 lbs with 4 days of food, but am wondering if I should bring even warmer clothing – Id rather be safe than sorry.

    Thanks for any insight!

  4. Here’s a good overview — Clingman’s Dome is the high point in the park and represents your worst-case scenario. http://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/weather.htm#CP_JUMP_47810

    The “typical” low up there in October is 35-40, but that can vary widely. You’ll be pretty well protected in the trail shelters. Expect wind in the gaps, and all bets are off if the forecast in Gatlinburg calls for a chance of rain! A few years back, in February, I was caught in freezing rain and stiff wind as I approached an AT trail shelter (Mollies Ridge) and awoke to find 4″ of fresh snow on the ground …and several more inches coming down. The mountains really do make their own weather in the shoulder seasons.

    My rule of thumb is to throw something like a Patagonia Nano Puff or a down vest into my pack as “insurance” beyond what I expect to need, temperature-wise; as above, I carry a Marmot Zeus Vest, which is 10 ounces and makes a handy pillow if I don’t end up using it as insulation!

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