The Forge – Preparing for the Backcountry
One of the primary goals of the Forge is to learn to be self sufficient in the back country. With this in mind we suggest coming with the same kit that you would if you were doing a solo trip. This allows you to become familiar with your specific equipment.
Don’t expect to buy an item once and fall in love with it. Of the items listed below I have 3-5 of each and after a decade of backcountry adventures I finally have a kit that I am happy with. Even then, new items will come out that will catch your eye and offer benefits that are very appealing.
Equipment selection will always be preference based, and only through trial and error will you find the perfect kit.
That being said, you do not need to go out and spend $1000 at REI. Many pieces of equipment can be borrowed, or purchased used. People were running through the backcountry 40 years ago with much simpler equipment and still sleeping in comfort.
Here is my packing list for a 5 day backcountry trip. Below are some thoughts on specific pieces of equipment that you may need to acquire. REI has great write-ups as well that go into quite a bit of detail on each of these topics as well. They are typically printed up in that section and compare and contrast many of the options.
You will need either a backpacking, military, or hunting pack. All of these packs are high capacity (50-80 liters)3, have a frame, and a load bearing waist belt. Most any “backpacking” pack made in the last 15 years will suffice. One thing to ensure is that the pack is appropriately sized for you. This includes not only the waist belt but the chassis of the pack as well. Typically these are either adjustable, or they are sized based on height.
Reputable Brands: Osprey, REI, Kelty, Mystery Ranch, Gregory, Arcteryx, Black Diamond, Exped, Kifaru, Exo Mountain Gear
What I use: Exo Mountain Gear 5500
A 2-person, 3-season tent will work well for most people. A one-person ultralight shelter is very light, but if you get caught in inclement weather it’s a tight fit for you and your kit. Tarps and Tipis are another option. Tarps are often floorless and very light. In heavy winds they do not do as well as a traditional tent. Tipi’s seem to be an excellent blend of both as they are very stable and roomy. The downside of tipis is that they need to be pitched just right which becomes an art in itself. If there is a chance of bugs then a tent is a good option as they have floors, and typically a mesh base with a rain fly that attaches.
Reputable Brands: REI, Marmot, Nemo, Marmot, Kifaru
What I use: Kammok Kuhli
Sleeping Bag or Quilt
A 15-30 degree bag or quilt is recommended. Bags are slightly heavier and larger than quilts but are more readily available. Quilts are becoming more popular even for cold weather camping / hunting. They need to be used with an insulated pad as you will lie directly on its surface vs. a sleeping bag where you are completely wrapped. Typically they require straps to stay in place and create a seal around the user. Down seems to compress better but no longer insulates when wet while synthetic is heavier, not as compressible yet still keeps you warm when wet.
Reputable Brands: Marmot, REI, Kammok, Nemo, Big Ages, Mountain Hardware, North Face, Exped, Therma-rest.
What I use: Marmot Plasma 15 Down
For most this is a place where you don’t want to skip. If you are light sleeper going a little nicer here will pay off. Some get as thick as 3”. Inflatable pads are smaller but the every present danger of it popping is there. An inflatable used with a foam pad is a very solid combo. The foam pads also are great for lounging on hard surfaces. I’ve used a singular foam pad plenty of times before and they work fine if you’re roughing it.
Reputable Brands: Therma-rest, Nemo, Sea to Summit, Exped
What I use: Nemo Vector
I’ve used stuff sacks for nearly a decade but recently upgraded to an actual pillow. I wish I would have done it sooner. Many brands make great versions and you can try them all out at REI. Don’t want to spend the coin? Stuff you extra clothes into your sleeping back stuff sack and you’ll be fine.
What I use: Sea to Summit Aeros
A stove is simply to heat water for coffee, and dehydrated meals. Oftentimes you can share one stove with 2-3 people. Many are integrated cook sets that nestle into one compact container that have spoons, cups, and bowls. For most uses a canister type stove system will work. Don’t forget fuel!
Reputable Brands: Jet Boil, MSR
These come in a huge range of options but all serve the same purpose. I would suggest getting one that runs on 3xAAA batteries made by a reputable brand. I’ve used various brands and models and love the one I currently have. A backup is always a good idea, go cheap and small on the backup.
Reputable Brands: Petzl, Black Diamond, Princeton Tec
What I use: Black Diamond Spot
There’s an old saying that backcountry users say pretty often. “Cotton Kills.” Clothing should be either synthetic (polyester / spandex or wool. Clothing needs to wick moisture away from the body and dry quickly. The following items are suggested.
- Wool Socks – Darn Tuff, Smart Wool etc.
- Pants – ABC’s from Lulu, Stretch Zion from Pranha, Kuhl, Kuiu, etc.
- Shirt – Short or Long Sleeve shirt of technical fabric
- Fleece or “Puffy” Jacket for colder evenings
- Rain Coat – any will suffice
- Wide brim hat or ball cap
- Beanie and Gloves for colder trips
There are two primary options for footwear. Boots and Trail Shoes.
Boots are heavier, more expensive, yet provide ankle support and are typically water proof. I like boots when I plan to go off-trail quite a bit. These are the ones I wear when I hunt. I used to wear these Solomon’s – and they are still a very popular boot and they usually have them at REI.
Trail shoes are much lighter, less expensive, and are not waterproof. Those that are really don’t do much for you as it will just come in the top of the shoe. Typically if you wear low cut shoes I suggest wearing pants to keep out debris. Typically I suggest wearing pants period as although they may be warmer they keep you from having to pick rocks and other stuff out of your shoes. If I was to wear shoes I’d most likely bring these.
Ultimately you need to bring a shoe that is comfortable. The off-trail portions will be limited. So bring something that you can walk all day in without getting blisters. Whatever shoe you decide to bring make sure that you spend plenty of time in them prior to the trip.
DO NOT BUY SHOES JUST BEFORE THE TRIP. THIS WILL FUCK YOU.
There are quite a few options here and I use them all. Each has its pros and cons and depending on the situation I switch between them.
- Gravity filters are nice as you can hang them and leave them, they typically do 2+ liters at a time. Downside is that they can get clogged and you may have to back flush frequently to keep a good flow rate.
- Ultraviolet filters are very easy to use and after treating you can drink immediately. These do not remove debris so expect to drink bits and pieces of nature when using these. Often times I’ll use panty-hose to pre-filter the water which keeps it fairly clear.
- Squeeze Filters are similar to gravity filters but require you to “squeeze” a dirty bag of water through a filter. The larger the filter the more volume it will push and longer it will take until it needs to be back-flushed.
- Pump Filters require manual work to suck water from its source, through the filter, and into your bottle. These are great for when water is not flowing but sitting in small puddles. Downside is that you have to “work” for your clean water.
- Chemical treatments. Portable Aqua and Aqua Mira are great options. Like a UV filter they will often have debris floating unless you pre-filter. The downside of these is that they require time to work (20-30 minutes). I usually carry one of these as a secondary purification method on trips.
Unsure? Grab some Aqua Mira and see how everyone else’s works.
Some items are absolutely necessary, some are “strongly suggested” while others are strictly preference. Below is a short list of other items and short notes on why I bring them.
- Pack Cover – more often than not I’ll hide under a good spruce during a rain shower. But sometimes it can get a little heavy and having a water proof pack cover is nice to keep your goods dry. A large 3mm trash back will work in a pinch as well.
- Oh-Shit Kit – this is a small bag of items that always goes with me. It’s come in handy more than once.
- Compass and Map – Maps will be provided and any baseplate basic compass will work. I like the Suunto Mc2
- Gaia GPS app for Smartphones – although you’ll be learning how to navigate with map and compass you’ll consistently be referencing a GPS device to ensure you are on track. Download the app, start to play with it.
- Knife or Leatherman tool – a leatherman has many more features but if you are going for ultra-light then a small folder works fine.
- Bandana – a surprisingly useful thing in the backcountry. I strongly suggest bringing one.
- Belt – get a thin one as the pack can drive thicker belts into your back. A basic nylon one works fine.
- Water Bottles – after years of going back and forth between bladders and bottles I now use 2x 1 liter Camelback Chutes. They’re awesome.
- MSR Dromedary – I bring one of these to carry clean water after filtering putting my total capacity at 4 liters. If you’re not staying close to water it’s nice to have plenty for the evening / morning.
- Basic First Aid – Motrin, Aspirin, Pepto-tabs, Benadryl, Band Aids, Tums, Mole Skin etc. for little boo-boos and belly aches.
- Trauma Kit – Tourniquet, Combat Gauze, Pressure Dressing, Narcotics for major injuries
- Wet Wipes – game changer for bitch baths
- Sun-Block – a small tube for longer movements under the sun
- Small Shovel or Trough to bury those brown snakes.
- Book – with lots of downtime I love to read in the woods. Bring something you’ll enjoy and is small.
- Firearm – I always bring a weapon into the wilderness. Many backpackers would scoff at the additional weight but the added security for not only animals but people is worth the weight for me. It also serves as a long distance communication device for emergencies. Suggested ammo is Buffalo Bore +P.
- Binos – You will see wildlife if you are out and about at dawn and dusk. Binos are well worth the weight if you like to see wildlife.
- Trekking Poles – for heavy loads they are amazing. They also give your arms something to do while walking. Some shelters also rely on these to set-up. Usually 1 pole is sufficient for recreational hiking under light loads.
- Satellite communication device – a Spot or Garmin Inreach is a communication device that allows you to send messages to loved ones, each other, or to emergency services. One per group is sufficient.
- Fanny or Flash Pack – after trekking for 8 miles taking off a large pack is nice. When going on short forays it’s always wise to take certain pieces of essential gear such as a headlamp, rain coat, water, and compass. Many modern packs have a removable lid that serves this purpose.
- Charging Brick – if properly configured you should be able to operate 4-5 days without the need to charge your phone. If unsure then a charging brick is a good idea. I always bring one if I am staying longer than 4 days.
- Gloves / Beanie – even in summer months it can get cool. Sleeping with a hat is nice.
- Cup or Mug – many cook sets have these included. If not it’s nice to drink coffee and a hot whiskey and cider out of an insulated mug. I like this one.
- Whiskey – there are few things in the world better than sitting under the stars by a fire while sipping on whiskey with your friends. Well worth the weight!