This is ‘Our’ way. Not the ONLY way. And probably not even the BEST way.
It’s just the way we do it.
So, go ahead. Dig through our packs. And help yourself.
It’s easy to get a little gear greedy. To always want the next best thing. But, we’ve kept our packs stuffed with a pretty humble collection of accessories. Not necessarily because we are purists ~ though I sometimes wish we were so inclined ~ but in truth, because we never really had the luxury of going that far. We started out borrowing and then scraped up just enough stuff to get the two of us out there before we even began to fathom buying gear in quantities of four so the kids could come join us in the fun. By the time we started multiplying our purchases we had to be really smart because the kids were growing – so big investments didn’t last long or pay-off. We have three girls but nothing was purchased in the color of pink because we also have one boy and eventually it all got passed down. By starting out our accumulation at a meager pace we came to realize that you don’t really NEED the ‘best’ gear out there. Would it be nice? Certainly. Would it be fun? Heck ya! There is some REALLY cool stuff out there. But, unless you are heading out into frigid temps or torrential downpours or rich:), a few essentials in varying degrees of awesomeness are all that’s really necessary.
This is our Gear list.
As it is in life – take what you need and leave the rest behind:)
Packing It In
They same home is where the heart is and when we leave the world behind we take our hearts and cozy them up in a few different domes. We have a Marmot three-man, a NorthFace two-man and an older Alps four-man tent. The two-man used to be our go-to for big trips but last year we lost one of our four-man tents and purchased the Marmot to replace it. It’s kind of the perfect in-between. Even when it’s just the two of us we like to pack it along. It’s still relatively light and leaves rooms for us to keep our packs inside. When we all venture off together – we take all three:). We could fit in the Alps and the Marmot, but everyone is strong enough now to carry to a tent. So, we bring a little more room along for the ride. When we first started out we would often just bring the 2man for us and the 4man for all of the kids.
Our sleeping bag collection is quite eclectic. At first we just loaded up our car-camping sleeping bags. But, they were big and bulky, taking up a lot of space and weighing us down a bit. So, over the years we’ve replaced some of the big stuff with light weight bags. The older girls use our old bags, because their packs have more room and they’ve never thought a new sleeping bag was a cool birthday gift (go figure). Chase and Hads both asked for better bags. So, we got Chase the Klymit KSB20 one year while they were at Costco, of all places. It’s warm and light and packs nice and tight. You walk away with a few feathers in your hair after a snooze but its worth it. My dad got Hadley her bag off Amazon when she turned 11. She has the Hyke&Byke Quandary 15 and LOVES it. It keeps her so cozy she sometimes sleeps in it at home. I have the Marmot Trestle 15 and as a cold-body, it has never let me down:) Mikey geared up with the Sea To Summit Trek. It is definitely our most expensive bag, but it packs up amazingly small, taking up about the same amount of space as a water bottle. It also zips open all the way, so you can use it as a blanket or just unzip a little breathing room at the foot of the bag – which is a special little perk for his opposing hot-body.
What Mat-ters Most
If any of us are really honest, we’d tell you that we love to sleep in the wild but we never really sleep well. It’s generally a long dream filled night but in a strange sort of way, we enjoy it. We have a lot of different mats and all of them do the trick, softening the blow of the hard forest floor and shielding us from the cool ground. But, while Hads only uses the foam accordion, the rest of us like a little air in there. Mikey has had a little half mat made by Pacific Outdoor Equipment for over 8 years. Like his sleeping bag, it packs up small and has shown through the years that its very durable. But, as of late, he prefers our Big Agnes Mummy Mat (which the kids sometimes use to float in the lake:). So, Chasey has taken over the matured POE mat. We got him the Klymit V when we got him his sleeping bag at Costco, but its a little tricky to roll back up tight enough to fit into its tiny little bag so he lets me use it. It feels amazing and I don’t mind a little challenge now and then so I appreciated the hand-me-down. The older girls have ThermaRest Scout mats. We’ve had them for years and although they don’t have much cush to them, they make for a nice firm mattress out in the wild and are really affordable.
As with all of our gear, our kitchen has taken on a slow progression. But, our very first purchase was the MSR Pocket Rocket. It comes in a nice little red container and screws right into a little gas can that will fuel your fire as you heat up your well earned meals. When we go alone we usually pack in two gas cans just to be safe. But, we barely and rarely tap into the 2nd can. When we go as a family we usually bring in three. We always end up with some half-sies and I sometimes I even throw one of those in someone’s pack. We boil a lot of water when we are all together and I’d rather be safe than sorry:) Mike likes to start our fires with a flint and steal so we always bring some along. It is a nice back-up in case matches get wet. I also always bring a little measuring cup. It takes the guessing out of ‘just add water’ meals. Our pot situation went from a little kettle to a bigger lightweight stainless steal ditty, on to bigger and better things. Our go-to now is the Sea to Summit Xpot. It’s amazing, lite weight and durable. I munched the lid packing it up too tight in my bag once but she still keeps on boiling cracks and all.
The water out there is usually crystal clear but, looks can be deceiving and you never really know when it’s hiding bacteria that may or may not give you a run for you money (pun intended). You can scoop it up and boil it to safety or you can filter it and sip on it while its cool and refreshing, which is always quite glorious on a hot day or after a long trek. We went with the MSR Hyper Flow Micro Filter for quite a few years. Sometimes we still bring it along as a back-up or on long dirth paths where we know we’ll need to fill up on the go. But, we fell in love with the GravityBag and its convenience pretty early on and now we don’t go anywhere without it. The Platypus GravityWorks comes with two dirty bags you can fill up and hang from a tree or rock or your husbands long arms. And then you just sit back and let gravity do its magic. The water flows down through a filter and right into your Nalgene bottles. One bag fills about two Nalgenes. It’s genius.
When you’ve got to go, and eventually you will, you have a couple of options. Many trails have pit-toilets or a privy somewhere along the way. They do not provide much privacy but the views are often amazing. But, when the wooden thrones are not available or you’d just rather wander off somewhere a bit more clandestine (make sure it is 200ft away from camp, water and the trail) don’t forget your handy-dandy shovel. The one we’ve used for years is kind of heavy but we dig it:) because it gets the job done. Recently we purchased a lighter plastic trowel and it’s fine too but it doesn’t fold up nice and takes up more room. Whatever you use, make sure its tough enough to dig 6-8″ deep. Leave no trace – especially when it comes to the stinky stuff. Don’t be sh*tty.
Dishing it Out
In our early years we dished up our grub in whatever we had around. Mugs can play dual roles, which makes them an efficient use of space and weight, but sometimes your coffee ends up tasting a bit like dinner. So, eventually we started bringing bowls. I would consider these a perk – not a necessity. I got the kids plastic bowls at FredMeyer, in varying colors (because some of us don’t clean our dishes as well as others and the only thing grosser than germs might be getting a taste of your brother’s left-over beef stroganoff while you’re trying to enjoy your cheesey mac) at the end of summer on clearance. Mikey and I get to use the Sea to Summit Xbowls – because we’re fancy like that.
There are lots of options here and I suppose, as it is with anything, it’s all just a matter preference. When we first started out we went topless (not as fun as it sounds:). But, as we went along we felt like upgrading to lids was a good idea. They kept our sacred morning coffee, cozy cocoa and an occasional dollop of mid-day noodles or early morning mush just a little warmer for just a little longer. And plastic always seems good enough. It’s is light and easy and costs less – which always plays a party in our decision making process since we have to pretty much multiply everything by six.
Put a Spork in It
You could go disposable here and just pick up a cheap box of plastic picnic-ware at the grocery store for a couple bucks. But, in an effort to be a little less wasteful and because I love a multi-tasker, we went with the Spork. A spoon and fork all in one! Its brilliant really. We have plastic dual-sided sporks, metal sporks and bigger bowled plastic ditties. Mikey’s favorite are the stainless steal ones. And they were the most expensive – and I think for good reason. They never break. Or at least they shouldn’t:) The big scooped plastic spork is my favorite. They sturdy enough and the deep scoop makes sipping on noodle soups a bit easier. But, the kids all use the dual-sided spork. They come in a variety of colors so we can tell them apart (somehow I raised little germ-a-phobes who don’t like to share spit bacterium with their sibs), they cost less and they do the trick. The only downside with these little buggers is we have had a few break. So, I always bring along an extra.
Blinded By the Light
I don’t have a whole lot to say about the headlamp other than, for us, it’s always been a must. Everyone needs a light in the darkness. Whether you are on a crawdad hunt, hiking into camp long after the sun has gone down or just chillin’ fireside side – light makes getting around in the dark a whole lot easier. You can spend a lot of money on illumination but we tend to lose our like we lose socks around here. So, I usually try to find them for under 10 bucks. Mike, of course, has a fancier light – but it just does what all of ours do, it lights things up:)
A Thinkin’ Spot
There are all kinds of places to rest your bum in the wild: boulders and logs and stumps galore. And, when all else fails, there’s always the dirt beneath your feet. No one needs to bring their own seat. But, we kind of started a tradition of buying ourselves a backpacking gift every year right before our big anniversary hike. After six years of building up our gear we got to a place where we were allowed the luxury of trying out a few extras. These Crazy Creek fold-able pads were our first bit of fluff. And they were worth every penny. The aren’t too fancy or too heavy and they fold up into an nice little roll that can be attached to the back of your pack. You really can sit anywhere – but sitting back is a whole other extravagance and these little ditties give you the ability to do so. Whether its a riverbed of rocks, a meadow full of blooms and buzzing beings or a place to lean back on the beach they really do take the edge off. The kids kept stealing them from us when we went on Family Packs so we eventually invested in a few more and then just a little while ago we stepped it up with REI’s Flexlite chairs. Getting up off the ground is a nice change of pace. And if I had to choose one of the other I’d probably choose the Flexlite thrones. But, those get stolen too, so I often find myself leaning back in our original Crazy Creek pads without feeling even a tiny bit robbed.
The ENO hammock is another piece of opulence that we probably would not have indulged in. But, we got ours as a gift one year for Christmas and love it so much that we’ve now gifted it to several of our family members who get out and about enough to make good use of it. It’s a late afternoon nap in the shade, a cozy little spot to get lost in a book and our kids’ favorite spot to just hang out. Hammock camping, where you skip the tent all together and just sleep in the trees, has become really popular. Our oldest and youngest do it every once in a while. But, their cozy tents, solid padded flooring and the company of others always draw them back.
If the Shoe Fits
I have never owned a hiking boot. I can’t say I ever really want to. I think it’s worth mentioning, once again, that we are not pros. And our backpacking adventures span the months of May thru October – avoiding cold weather and rain as much as possible. I can imagine that a good hardy boot would do wonders keeping your toes warm and dry in less radiant weather. But, I cannot attest to that. Whether it’s a six mile weekend or a trek covering over thirty, I have never hiked in anything but a minimalist trail-runner. I’ve never gotten a blister or a bruise nor do my feet feel tender or sore. I think you can buy a boot and wear it for years and years and years, until it almost becomes one with your foot. So, I would had to say that is the one down-fall with trail-runners. They don’t last forever. In fact, with all the hiking and running we do on the side I usually have to buy a new pair every year. Fortunately, they cost less than a boot and with the kids’ ever growing feet – they’ve always made more sense. Mike has gone both ways but ended up with crazy blisters on one of our big hikes in a boot so he wears a trail runner now too. For years he was a Brooks Cascadia fan while I loved my Merrells. But, recently we have fallen in love with the Altras. The toe box is perfect for my bodacious bunions:) and they have just enough Cush without stealing the feel of the earth beneath your feet. The kids have all worn the New Balance Minimus which was my favorite early on. But, most of the time we just throw them in whatever we can find on sale:)
One year I found the Vivo Barefoot Ultras on sale at 6pm.com. We’d been wanting a camp/water shoe and the price was amazing so I got as many as I could. I wish I could have gotten them for everyone though. We absolutely love these little extras. They let your feet breathe once you’ve made camp and are perfect for river crossings or swimming in an Alpine lake. They are comfortable and roomy and can even be warmed up with some wool socks.
Pick Up Sticks
The first backpacking trip Mike and I went on was stick-less. And we managed just fine. The second trip we went on was a long one, so we grabbed some old ski poles and when we hit snowfields we were so glad you had them. If you are crossing snowfields or streams, climbing a steep path or descending one, trekking poles are a gift. They dig in, balance you out, give you an extra little umph when you have big step upwards and onward and lighten the blow of repetitious downward steps. Now all six of us have an own pair than can be adjusted to your accommodate each of us individually and whatever the trail has to dish out.
Layering it On
It’s important to be comfortable when you are hiking and, for me, to be stay warm when you are not. Shorts or pants that won’t shimmy down while you hike with your pack on. A good half-zip fleece. Long johns for layering or PJs. Nice athletic socks for the hike in and warm woolies for camp. A down jacket. An extra pair of shoes of some sort. *And a decent rain jacket, just in case. Again, we don’t do much backpacking in crazy weather. So, we are not too particular on our brands. We sport Marmot, The North Face, Mammut, Outdoor Research and Nike along with a random variety of brands that just happen to do the trick for the right price at the right time. I think the key with clothes is to not under or over pack. Don’t be afraid to wear the same thing over and over again. You’ll get used to the smell:)