Backpacking Essentials Part II: Components of a Pack

It’s time for Part II of my Backpacking Essentials series! Today’s post is all about what to pack for overnight (or longer) wilderness excursions. It can be very overwhelming trying to decide what gear, accessories, and clothing to take on a backpacking trip. Nobody wants to lug around a heavy pack, especially if climbing steeper terrain or hiking 6+ miles each day is on the agenda.

When Tim and I first started backpacking together our packs were significantly heavier. Over the years were have learned a lot and lightened our loads considerably, which makes for much more enjoyable hiking. As a petite woman barely reaching 5’2″, I like to keep my total pack weight between 12-15 pounds. This allows for more mobility, comfort, and endurance. Here are my pack essentials for a 2-3 day backpacking trip:

  • Inflatable sleeping mat (Therm-a-Rest has an incredible variety)
  • Compressible pillow (I have the smallest size)
  • Sleeping bag (ours is homemade, very lightweight, and sleeps 2, so Tim and I can share it)
  • Rain jacket and rain pants
  • Extra socks (made from synthetic fibers, never cotton – cotton takes forever to dry and won’t keep your feet as warm)
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves (depending on the season and altitude of the hike)
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit (band-aids, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, safety pins, cotton swabs, etc.)
  • Toiletries kit (small tin of toothpaste, toothbrush, tiny bottle of biodegradable soap, lip balm, sunscreen, insect repellent, toilet paper, and a quick-drying hand towel)
  • Deck of cards (occupies time when you are lounging in your tent – Tim and I have made up so many silly card games!)
  • Camera (the heaviest item in my pack)
  • Pack liner (essentially a large plastic bag that goes into my pack first and keeps all of the contents dry)
  • Pack cover
  • Water bladder
  • Food, split with Tim

Since Tim and I always hike together, we have the luxury of splitting our gear to fairly distribute the weight. Here is what Tim usually carries in his homemade backpack (ends up being around 18 pounds):

  • Tent poles and stakes
  • Tent body, rain fly, and ground cloth (we have a tent we made ourselves and one we bought – we love both and choose which one to use depending on the season)
  • Backpacking stove (we have had ours for over 10 years and it still works well)
  • Fuel bottle for stove
  • Cook set, sporks (yes, sporks!), and cups
  • Pocket knife
  • Inflatable sleeping mat
  • Compressible pillow
  • Headlamp
  • Water bladder
  • Rain jacket and pants
  • Extra socks
  • Long underwear top and bottoms
  • Hat and gloves
  • Map and trail directions
  • Food, split with me
  • Pack liner
  • Pack cover


I can completely understand how the cost of gear might seem overwhelming. Tim and I have owned our gear for over ten years so the initial investment has been paid off several times over. Here are some tips to consider:

  1. Take your time when deciding which gear to buy. Read consumer reviews to get a better idea of how certain gear performs.
  2. Visit a local outdoor shop and check out gear you are interested in – ask questions!
  3. Take advantage of used gear sales, outlet stores, or friends who may be parting with gear that still has some use.
  4. Try renting some gear and test it in the wilderness to see if you like it.
  5. Don’t feel pressured to buy the most expensive, most popular gear. Buy what suits your own needs.
  6. Try making your own gear, if possible! It is less expensive, challenging, and fun.
  7. Borrow gear from friends/family if you can’t afford to purchase certain items.

Once you have your gear selected, you need to pack it wisely to ensure comfort and mobility. Filling a backpack requires some patience and practice. It is best to start by laying your gear out on the floor. Place the items that you won’t use right away in the bottom of your pack and end with the gear you will need quick access to. Also keep in mind that heavier gear placed in the bottom of your pack will balance your load better. I usually put my sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and pillow at the bottom and follow with long underwear, spare clothing, food, rain gear, and camera. Other essentials are stowed in the lid and side pockets of my pack.

Tim packs his gear in a similar manner. The best part about multi-day trips is that as the food supply diminishes, so does the weight of your pack! So… Eat up!

Hopefully this post will help get you out on the trail and snoring under the stars (or rainbows!) in no time!

Part III of this series will focus on clothing and footwear, so stay tuned!

Summer Adventures Part III

It’s time for the third installment in my Summer Adventures series! Did you miss Part I or Part II? Catch up quick because the fourth installment happens later this week!

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you know that Tim and I are lovers of outdoor adventure and travel. Last month we went on the most incredible backpacking trip. We have backpacked many, many, many trails and this particular hike instantly became our new favorite. Our three day trip was filled with icy lakes, thunderstorms, sunshine, glaciers, dozens of snowy mountains, rainbows, solitude, tacos (!!), wildflowers, deer, and dark starry skies. Where did we go? We went deep into the Three Sisters Wilderness near Sisters, OR. The trail we chose was a 25-mile loop around an extinct volcano called Broken Top. It was definitely challenging, but also overwhelmingly rewarding. Here are some photos highlighting the best parts:

Golden Lake – Located about a mile from our campsite on Day #1

Campsite on Day #1 – Broken Top and an unnamed mountain lake are in the background

Dinner on Day #1 - Soft corn tortillas filled with refried beans, smokey soy curls, bell peppers and avocado. We made these under the shelter of a huge pine tree due to on/off thunderstorms all night.

Tim eating tacos in the company of rainbows. There was a small lapse in the rain and we took full advantage of photo opportunities!

Sunset on Middle Sister and North Sister - This was the view behind our tent

Morning light on Broken Top, Day #2

South Sister

Green Lakes Wilderness – Understandably one of Oregon’s most beautiful and popular recreation areas

Mt. Bachelor – A popular skiing area during the winter months in Bend, OR

Can you see the hiking trail?

Dinner on Day #2 – Soba noodles, shiitake mushrooms, kale, carrots, and sesame ginger sauce

Tim making chocolate cake for dessert on Day #2

Eating chocolate cake with chocolate hazelnut butter on top

Climbing, climbing, climbing on Day #3

Lots of colorful wildflowers

Admiring a hidden meltwater lake with Broken Top looming above

Tim executing a perfect rock-n-roll jump on a rock in a glacial lake

Tim hiking across snowfields and red cinder

Me traversing across a massive snowfield

The Three Sisters – South, Middle, and North

That pretty much sums up our backpacking trip! It was unbelievably hot despite the snow and higher elevations. By the time we finally reached the trailhead on Day #3, we were sweaty and covered in layers of dirt, sunscreen, and vegan-friendly bug repellent. Plus, we stunk! Luckily there was an inviting, cool (translation: very COLD) lake to jump into near where we had parked our car. Needless to say, we dropped our backpacks and SLOWLY worked our way into the water. Refreshing!

Later this week I will post my final installment of my Summer Adventures: a recap of a family vacation in beautiful Nova Scotia! Stick around :)

Oh, and here is one more photo from the outtake file:

Apparently Tim’s timing is off…

Summer Adventures Part II

Are you ready for Part II of my summer adventure series?

When Tim and I returned from our cross-country road trip we were very tired. But, we did summon the energy to go blueberry (and marionberry) picking the next day. On that same trip to our favorite u-pick farm, we also took home five pounds of fresh pickling cucumbers – the first of the season! That afternoon I made blueberry jam, marionberry jam, and dill pickles.

A few days ago Tim and I decided to go on a day hike. We choose the highest hike on Mt. Hood, the Cooper Spur Trail. We actually started off on an unofficial trail and just followed a ridgeline until we reached a junction with the Cooper Spur Trail. This made for a strenuous, but very scenic 8+ mile loop. It was unbelievably quiet. The only sounds we heard were from our own movements, the occasional gust of wind, and river currents. Despite a gorgeous 75 degree Friday afternoon, we only crossed paths with a small handful of other hikers, all headed in the other direction. I love having a trail to ourselves!!

Mt. Hood

Can you see me standing on the rocks? The summit of Mt. Hood may look enticingly close, but it is actually still about 4,000 feet higher than where I am standing.

Our lunch spot yielded views of five mountains. You can see three in this photo (although they are hard to spot with the small size of the photo): Mt. Saint Helens, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. Adams. We could also see Mt. Hood (of course!) and Mt. Jefferson.

The trail and some more spectacular views

The trail on our way down presented views of Mt. Rainier (very faint on the left) and Mt. Adams. We also saw plenty of yellow and purple wildflowers.

People skiing in the distance

Tim admiring Mt. Hood (my favorite photo of the day)

We have plans for two backpacking trips in the next few weeks: one around Mt. Saint Helens and one around the Three Sisters. It’s time to start meal planning!

 

Annnnnnnd… It’s July (already?)!

Happy Summer!

Here is what I’ve been up to lately:

Summer weather arrived late in Portland this year (big surprise!) and despite my general dislike of rising temperatures, I am actually quite pleased with the sunshine lately. After all, warm weather fuels the growth of local berry crops! In the last few weeks Tim and I have picked close to 25 pounds of deliciously sweet, deep red, Oregon strawberries. Yesterday I turned some of those berries into jam. The photo above shows two pints of strawberry-orange jam. My list of future jams includes: raspberry, blueberry, peach, marionberry, fig-ginger, cherry, and kiwi. I am also quite excited to make dill pickles!!

Sandwiches are a quick and simple meal in the summertime. A few days ago I made panini sandwiches filled with chickpea spread, golden beets, green apples, olive tapenade, and sprouts. I found the recipe in the latest issue of Vegetarian Times. The combination might seem odd, but trust me, this sandwich was very satisfying!

Eating vegan ice cream is a great way to stay cool when the sun threatens to melt your shorts. Tim and I met up with friends today and enjoyed treats from Back to Eden Bakery. I had half of a Neapolitan cupcake and several generous bites of Tim’s banana split sundae (topped with peanut butter Newman O’s, Dandies, and house-made strawberry sauce).

A few weeks ago Tim and I went on an evening hike to Dog Mountain in Washington state. The hike is mighty steep but the views are very rewarding at the summit. Plus, we were greeted with tons of wildflowers along the trail and a gorgeous sunset. I am looking forward to August when the trails are lined with wild huckleberries (for making more jam, of course)!

I bought a doughnut pan recently and cannot stop making doughnuts! Eventually I will take the leap and try raised doughnuts but not until I have perfected the cake doughnut!

And finally, tomorrow I will be volunteering at Portland’s 2nd Annual Vegan Iron Chef competition. The event will be streamed live so you can tune in and watch the excitement from your lounge chair in the sunshine! Nifty, eh?

I hope everybody is enjoying summer (because my favorite season is coming up next!).

Just Another Rainy Day

Portland has been getting a lot of rain lately, more than I can handle (and I love the rain). I am convinced that once April arrives the rain will disappear and the sunshine will dominate the sky!

When Tim and I woke up this morning the sky showed promise. It was cloudy but the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance. We decided to take our chances and go hiking. We stopped at Food Fight to pick up some snacks and headed toward the Clackamas River. The sky darkened, wind swirled, and then it rained, steady and determined. We debated heading back home but eventually decided we would hike in the rain if we had to. Lucky for us, the rain settled enough for us to enjoy some time outdoors and the beautiful colors of spring:

And, despite trekking through several inches of mud, we had the trails all to ourselves. When we arrived back in Portland, the sun was out for a few memorable minutes! We heated up leftovers (effortless cooking!) and watched The Simpsons, all the while daydreaming about hiking in the sunshine soon: