This is an obvious work-in-progress. Click on any of the headings below to see what we think of each of the items listed. Will's comments are in green. Chris's comments are in red. The boot icons are grayed out for now. Eventually you'll be able to click on them to see a photo of the piece of the gear in action. Check it out and stay tuned.

Note: I wrote a much more poetic version of the paragraph above, but Dreamweaver crashed, scattering all of my hard work into the ether. For now, just click and read. We're updating this from week to week.


I use the Kelty Super Tioga external frame pack. It's pretty monstrous, and holds a lot of gear. I'm not much of an ultra-light backpacker. I've used it for over five years of hard-core backcountry hauling and it's held up pretty well.
My old pack was an external frame Jansport pack that suited me well for several years and for jmt2k. It was not all that comfortable though, so I bought a Kelty Continental Divide on sale at the end of 2000. It is an internal frame-looking pack on an external frame. I wore it on jmt2k2 and it was very comfortable but the pack itself was heavy (7.5#) and didn't hold as much as the old Jansport. So...I am in the market for a new pack that weighs less, is comfortable and carries a lot. Any ideas?
I don't use a day pack. Do I?
My Kelty pack has a "lid" that doubles as a daypack, but it is so heavy that I often don't bring it along on shorter trips. I always wear a small beltpack around my waist to carry essentials like lip balm, tissues, snacks and small map that I like to have at a moment's notice.
pack cover
I have a commercial style pack cover that's big enough to fit over the outside of the pack. I store it in a tiny pouch, which I clip to the outside of the pack. That way, if it rains, I can grab at a moment's notice.
I carry 1 or 2 extra large black garbage bags that can be used as a pack cover. I usually cover my pack at night in case of a surprise shower.

North Face Coriolis. I love this tent. While it could have larger vestibules, its two doors make for easy access, and on clear nights, I love being able to watch the night sky through the mesh ceiling. It's not ultra light, but neither is it dead weight. And it pitches in moments.
Will's Northface Coriolis that we used on both JMT trips fits 2 people comfortably. I have a Northface Tadpole for my own trips, which I love. It is roomy for 1 but can fit two very snugly. It is lightweight and easy to set up (freestanding!)
Umm...aluminum. Most of them bent. I've read that you shouldn't step on them to drive them into the hardscrabble. Guess, we shoulda read that a few years ago.
Don't forget 'em!
The North Face Coriolis has a fly that, with proper staking, works very well. Only once I've had to apply a little seam sealer on the inside to prevent water from dripping on our faces.
We used the fly when it was cold or expected rain but otherwise we didn't put it on.

sleeping bag
Moonstone "Great Divide" is the bag I've been using. It's incredibly warm, and when a second person is in the tent with me, I don't even zip it up, choosing instead to sleep under it like a blanket. It's down, so feather leaks can occur, but usually it's only a single, stray feather making a dash for it.
I have a Northface Cat's Meow (synthetic) that has a flannel-like lining which makes it very cozy. On jmt2k I borrowed Chase's Marmot down bag which packs much smaller and is lighter in weight. I bungee it to the bottom of the pack but also tie it onto the pack in case the bungee slips off (it has) and the bag starts rolling down the side of the mountain (it has).
stuff sack
Nothing like shoe-horning a huge, fluffy down thing into the tiny Moonstone bag on a cold morning with numb fingers.
The Marmot bag has its own stuff sack but I put the stuffed sack inside a larger waterproof bag. It always is at the bottom of the pack (outside) and in rain, needs extra protection.
sleeping pad
I use a Thermarest 3/4" LiteFoam XL. It's plenty thick and not unnecessarily long. I've decided that it's worth the extra weight to carry the bigger mattress. The extra comfort makes nights all the more slumberful.
I never leave home without my Thermarest. I have a comfy thick wide one but to save weight, I have started using an old short thinner Thermarest. I am only 5'3" and the thinner one gives me enough padding.
I have a Thermarest syntehtic pillowcase that weighs about half a milligram. Every night I shove my fleece jacket inside and voila! One lumpy pillow. Better than none at all.
I stuff old clothes and my down jacket into my sleeping bag stuff sack.

Cooking & Food
The Whisperlite is awesome. Simple construction. Easy to use. Easy to disassemble (which I've done while out on a trip, reducing the thing to its individual and highly-swallowable components.) And easy to pack up.
We have used the MSR Whisperlite stove with the shaker jet successfully for many years. It doesn't have a simmer feature but since we mostly just boil water and pasta it works for us.
fuel & bottles
Carrying two of the larger fuel bottles is actually serious overkill, but as usual, we err on the side of caution. Besides, you never know when you might get lost and need to light a two second signal fireball.
MSR makes fuel bottles in different sizes. We usually carry 2 at a time. 2 of the large size kept us in hot dinners and drinks for 9 days. We tried in vain to find white gas for the MSR Whisperlite but could only find Coleman fuel. We have read that white gas is better, hotter, cleaner, more contaminated, no different...but used the Coleman fuel successfully.
We almost always use the windscreen that comes with the Whisperlite. Sierra winds aren't cooperative. You need to know that if you want to conserve fuel.
MSR comes with a windscreen which is useful.
I've never had to ignite a Whisperlite using two sticks. And I hope I never will.
Don't forget them! Will usually takes a lighter and I take several packs of windproof and waterproof matches.
The heavier the better. We take along two cast iron skillets and a thirty-two quart stockpot. And then we leave them in the car, opting for the more practical single non-stick pot. If we can't cook it in that, we don't pack it along.
MSR makes a 2 pot nonstick cookset. The stove, pot grip and matches fit inside. We usually just take the larger pot if we're weight conscious.
food storage/ziploc
Ziploc is one of those brand names that has come to define the overall invention. Like Kleenex and Jell-O and Bubble-Wrap. If you have to bring along freeze-dried food (sometimes we do, just for a break) make sure you ditch the original packaging.It's a total waste of space and material. Ziploc is better.
I buy some freeze-dried meals but mostly dehydrate our own food and take it along in baggies with the top twisted close to the food, secured with a small piece of a twistie and the excess cut off. Ziplocs are okay but heavier and bulkier. I take a baggie each of various veggies and dole out the amounts for use each day with the directions inside the baggie if necessary. See the food link for more food info.
pot grip

Don't touch hot metal with your bare hands, please.

A useful item.
You really only need a spoon. Forks are good for twirling al dente pasta but al dente pasta is a rarity in the Sierra. A spork might be the best, just in case you run across some, because then you could spoon as well as jab, and not have to groan under the ponderous extra weight. But if you're forced to only take on single thing from your utensil list, make sure it's the scoopy one, not the other.
I take a lexan spoon and one of us has a swiss army knife or something similar.
See below. The Lexan bowls are good for everything.
I take a lightweight lexan bowl or a round tupperware-type bowl with lid that can be used to rehydrate food as well.
Again, see below. The insulated cup is perfect. And if you keep it clipped to the outside of your backpack, you can scoop up some Giardia from a mountain stream at a moment's notice.
For hot drinks I take along a lightweight insulated lidded mug that I clip to my pack. It can hold my toothbrush and paste during the day.
Bring some. We'll elaborate on that in the food department of this site soon.
More on this under food. I include a small square of a flexible plastic cutting board to cut garlic, salami, bagels etc.
water filter
The PUR Scout is a bit of an anvil, but it's a rock-solid piece of equipment. Like the Whisperlite, you can completely field-strip the Scout. That's always fun.
We used Will's PUR Scout on both JMT trips. We purchased a replacement filter for the jmt2k2 and had the original as a backup in a resupply. The filter malfunctioned at one point and wouldn't draw water so we used back up iodine until Will discovered that priming the pump fixed it. The literature indicates that giardia is not a major problem but the security of knowing we were drinking safe water was worth the extra weight. We have seen other people struggle and seemingly pump water for long periods of time but the PUR Scout (now Hiker) is fast.
water purification
Actually, the Scout is supposedly a water purifier, meaning it's got iodine in the filter for that extra-cleen taste. But that's not gonna help us if we accidentally drop the thing down the Lhotse Face. That's why we carry Iodine.
Iodine as a backup to the filter. 2004 note: I have started just drinking straight from streams.
bear canister
One of the most controversial backcountry topics is how to best protect your Skittles from the California Black Bear. The canisters we use do the trick. They're heavy as sin, but they prevent us from having to forage for berries. Someday, the brand name "Skittles" will come to mean "all food consumed by human kind" and this website will be hailed as prophetic.
We have 2 of the original Garcia Machine bear canisters. They weigh about 4# each but can function as seats too! We've never had a bear problem using them, so I am a believer. I resent the extra weight, but better to be safe than sorry. We each carried a canister which held 9 days of food for us. 2004 note: I just bought a Bear Vault, which is larger, lighter and transparent. No problems yet.
canister cover / bear bell
The bear bell, when balanced atop a bear canister, is supposed to warn us if a bear is poking at our Skittles. More often than not, it causes several minutes of pulse-poundning panic when a passing breeze pushes it off.
I have a canister cover but have never used it as such. It functions as an extra stuff sack. I sometimes carry a bear bell to alert me if a bear touches packs or canisters. Totally optional.
garbage bags
Pack it in. Pack it out. In fact, pack it in, pack even more out, because some people follow the maxim, "Pack it in, leave it where you accidentally drop it."
Used Ziploc bags hold trash and are kept in the bear canister. I carry 1 or 2 large garbage bags as pack covers.
dish cleaning
If you leave a sponge on a rock overnight, you're likely to discover the next morning that critters paid it a visit during the night, took multiple tentative bites, discovered they couldn't figure out why something so unpalatable smelled so good and then left in disgust.
All-purpose Campsuds (for washing dishes, hair, body), a small plastic scraper for pots and a small scrub/sponge are useful.

Don't need 'em if you've got the cool Columbia shorts I have with netting. Makes things a lot easier.
I usually take 2 pairs of coolmax duofold briefs, which I alternate. 2004- I just bought some boxer shorts, which help reduce chafing while wearing shorts.
I have socks by Thorlo. I take two pairs and alternate washing them with hiking in them. Makes sense, right?
I love my Bridgedale liner socks and take several pairs. I alternate them and wash a set every night. Over them I wear Fox River or other thicker socks. My feet stay happy with the smooth liners.
I take about three, all of them synthetic. Over thirty days they go through a few washings.
I usually take 2 coolmax T-shirts, one of which I wear all day every day and rinse out as needed. The other I wear only at night as my PJ top. I replace the hiking T shirt at each resupply.
long-sleeved shirt
This is kind of critical. You need something warmer for camp that's not too warm, in case the sun's still beating done. And heck, on cooler days, it's great for hiking. Synthetic, as usual, is best.
I usually wear a synthetic long sleeved shirt over the T-shirt for protection from the sun and wind.
I take just two pairs of shorts and switch them off every couple days. Some might even argue that one pair is enough. Some might also suggest that no shorts at all is best. I give those people a wide berth.
For JMT2K I wore black coolmax bike sorts for the entire trip. For JMT2K2, I wore navy stretch nylon bermuda shorts for the entire trip. It helps if your shorts are a dark color! 2004 note:To stop chafing, I just bought a Mountain Hardwear skirt to wear with boxer shorts. It is comfortable but tends to twist around so I can't fully recommend it. The combination eliminates chafed thighs, though.
A good fleece jacket is usually more than enough. Those with colder blood might want to bring something in down.
I take along my Lands End down jacket for cold nights and mornings. At night, it serves as a pillow when wadded in a stuff sack.
long pants
Useful for those cooler, blustery days, and act as solid sunblock as well. I have a pair of long, synthetic pants.
At night I wear silk long johns. I also take a pair of waterproof breathable pants for rain, wind or cold.
I've got a pair of fleece gloves by Columbia. They're not necessary during most of the summer season, but early or late season trips can get nippy, and those tent poles are cold!
A pair of lightweight fleece gloves keeps the chill off in the mornings and evenings.
Something to hike in and something to keep your noggin warm.
A wide brimmed sun hat is important. Mine was chewed by marmots last year so I am buying a new one.
This pretty much goes without saying. The cooler the better.
Indispensable. I wear glasses on backpacking trips so I take along clip- on lenses. 2004 note:I just bought a pair of Cocoons, polarized sunglasses that fit over prescription glasses, are comfortable and look sorta cool.
rain gear
I keep a rain poncho and a pack cover handy. In stretches of good weather, they stay deep within the pack, packed in tiny stuff sacks. If the forecast is dicey, I clip the stuff sacks to the outside of the pack for quick access.
I have waterproof breathable pants (Red Paw) and jacket (Lowe Alpine) from Campmor. It usually doesn't rain, but just in case.....
I don't use them, but I'm beginning to think I should. Maybe a different pair of shoes would be preferable, as the ones I have I refer to less than affectionately as "dirt scoops."
For jmt2k I wore tall gaiters that were a pain after a while. I had thought they would keep my legs from getting dusty. Not! For jmt2k2, I wore short OR gaiters that were great. Thet kept my outer socks dust free and my boots free of debris.
Whatever. It's up to you. They're so lightweight that I brought along several and wore a different one on each pass day.
Good for sweat bands, neck scarves, snot rags, wash cloths, pot holders, whatever.
hiking shoes
I'm not gonna tell you which boots to take. It's just too personal. The first time I hiked the trail I used a pair of North Face trail runners. They were terrific. Comfortable, light and nimble. I have strong ankles, so I'm not into the heavy boots. The second time I used a pair of Nike trail runners. These were nowhere near as good.
My old Vasque GoreTex boots killed my toes on jmt2k (but no blisters, oddly enough). I bought new Salomon Exit Mids for jmt2k2. My feet were comfortable although I got a few blisters. They lasted until '03, when marmots chewed them to pieces at Pear Lake in Sequoia. I'm in the market for a new pair.
camp shoes
None. My hiking shoes are comfortable and I don't want to have to haul along the extra weight.
Sometimes I take a spare pair of lightweight sneakers or just use Tevas.
See above.
I always take a pair of Tevas for stream crossings and occasional hiking. Good as camp shoes, too.
trekking poles
I have a big, fat walking stick. I picked it up on a hike between the Sunrise and Merced High Sierra Camps in Yosemite NP. I sanded it, stained it and planned to make it look really beautiful. Like most plans, that one fizzled. Now it's just a beaten stick, and it always came in handy when retrieving bear food hangs.
I always use Komperdell trekking poles. They have saved me from many a fall and help me going up or down hills.

I use Tropicana tanning accelerator. Just kidding. I use whatever's handy. My hands still look black when I get out of the woods.
My dermatologist recommends a sunblock with an SPF of 50 - like Coppertone Spectra 3 with Zinc Oxide
lip balm
The dry air just sucks the moisture right outta those lips. Apply lip balm often. You'll be sorry if you forget it.
Preferably with sunblock.
toilet paper
I'm not comfortable with the whole pine cone idea, so for me, a decent roll of toilet paper is essential, and yes, I DO pack it out.
For a month or 2 beforehand, I hoard partial rolls of TP and take them along in a baggie.
comb or brush
Probably a necessity for those with hair. I have no problem shaving off the exess before the trip and washing my noggin from time to time.
Mini brush is handy.
dental care
Who really cuts off half the handle of a toothbrush to save weight? I mean, really!
We share a travel size tube of paste. One year I tried a "backpacking" baking soda powder (to save weight) but it was gross.
Hardly necessary, but sometimes that little luxury is worth the extra weight.
We take the singler showe size but often we don't get into camp early enough to warm the water in the sun for long. It's good as a water storage system for washing and rinsing things. Just don't forget to pack it up when you leave camp, like we did during JMT2K. We retreieved it 2 years later, though!
hand sanitizer
When you absolutely positively want to wipe out germs.
A small travel size bottle is useful after trowel runs.
It's orange, to make it more visible at night, I guess.
We take along a plastic orange trowel.
foot powder
I suppose it could be useful. I never use it. I like to carry it along in case we meet someone on the trail who says, "Say, you have any foot powder?"
Some people might need this to ward off athlete's foot.
A small towel dedicated to kitchen cleanup is very handy. So is a small hand towel for rubbing on the face. Do not confuse this item with "trowel" above.
I take a PackTowl which absorbs a lot of water. I also like asmall dish towel.
Handy. Small. Fun.
Small, easy to carry, made to get wet.

First Aid
gauze pads
I make up my own first aid kit with a variety of pads.
I always take a variety of bandaids. I tried the blister bandaids on my feet but I found that they twisted off...
Ace bandage
I usually take along an ace bandage, just in  case. Haven't ever needed it though.
Aleve is my daily pain drug. Mid-morning and evening. I also take along leftover Tylenol with Codeine, Vicodin etc from past ailments just in case I have a sprain or serious pain.
This is crucial, of course. I rarely get blisters, but I hike with people who do. Mole foam is even handier, because it's so thick. Use it properly, though, otherwise it's useless.
I take it along but use athletic tape instead.
athletic tape
My husband recommended this and I use it all the time. I wrap my heels (around the back and up from the bottom) to prevent blisters where I usually get them on the insides of my heel. Each appplication lasts about 2 days.
antibacterial ointment
A small tube for cuts and scrapes is useful.
The poor man's sleeping pill. Actually, it doesn't work like that for me. It makes me drowsy if I take one, but I snap back awake after an hour or so. I generally don't get allergies out in the woods, but I'd make sure I had them anyway.
I don't have allergies but often my nose gets stuffy at night. A drowsy formula also helps ensure a good night's sleep.
insect repellent
On light bug days, a citronella solution works. Jungle Juice is my preferred armor during high mozzie season. It sucks to have to baste yourself in that stuff, but there's no conclusive proof that it stunts your growth.
I have used a sun and bug cream successfully when the bugs aren't too bad. When they are, have DEET on hand.
prescription medications
I take a variety of medications and just count them out and put them in a bottle. I also usually take along vitamin and calcium pills.
first aid kit
The best part about the med kit I have it the little booklet which describes the procedure for re-locating a dislocated joint. Because you just never know...
Will takes one with a little of everything. It is bulky, though, so, alone, I take a baggie with pads, bandaids etc.

wilderness/fire permit
Just get one. They're easy and free. And make sure you know where it is in case you're pulled over.
Keep it where you'll remember where to find it! We've only been asked to show our permit once on the JMT (within the first minutes) but numerous times on Mt. Whitney.
light source
For reading. Also for communicating with that submarine on the horizon..
I used to take a small lightweight flashlight and extra batteries but now we each have a Petzl Tika headlamp.
extra batteries
They're smaller than solar panels. If you have a digital camera and plan to be out for a while, the extra investment is well worth it.
camera & film
For years I carried a full SLR camera on all the trips, even after one of them jumped to its death. Now I carry a digital camera (Canon Powershot s410.)
I have a Canon point and shoot camera that takes pretty good pictures for its size and weight and lack of features.
We take a small pair of Pentax binocs.
map and guide book
We consulted Winnett and Morey's Guide to the John Muir Trail daily and took along appropriate sections of the John Muir Wilderness Nat'l Parks Backcountry maps.
I don't usually bring one. My protractor takes up too much room.
We don't take one. I know I know.....
If I were lost and I needed to make a noise, I would absolutely need a whistle. I can't do that whistling thing that people do at concerts. I wish I could though. It's noisier than clapping and I want the band to come back out for an encore.
A good idea if you get in a bad situation or become lost. See above.
nylon cord
Fifty feet. Easier to tangle. And great for MacGuyvering stuff if you need to. Bring some.
A length of rope is good for holding packs together, lashing items onto packs or the food bag hang.
pocket knife
Essential and handy. Just don't try to get on the plane.
I take a Swiss Army Knife. It has scissors, a variety of knives, file etc but is on the heavy side.
repair kit
We bought a small zippered survival kit with wire, duct tape etc from Campmor and added a Thermarest repair kit to it.
fishing gear
If I could fish worth a damn, I'd probably never leave the Sierra. Fish just see me walk up and laugh.

I don't fish but Markskor from has these recommendations:

  • Eagle Claw Trailmaster-6 1/2 foot-4 piece
  • Penn SS ultralight reel- 4 lb. line & extra 2 lb. spool
  • Perrine fly case-
    one side- 25 assorted small lures- panther martin, mepps etc.
    other side- 25 assorted flys- #12-14
  • 10 small "tear drop" bobbers- ones with eyes on both ends
  • hemostats
  • split shot
journal + pen
I journaled extensively on the first trip. I didn't journal at all on the second one. I don't know why. Next time, I'm writing a book.
I take a very small wire bound pad to write daily notes in - like how tired I was or what I ate. Important things like that. We also took a variety of reading material - fiction, nonfiction, the JMT guide book, crosswords.
What's the point? Unless it's got an emergency beacon (that doesn't trip accidentally) I don't need it.
We don't take none of that new-fangled stuff. Or a compass even. See above.