What’s in MY pack? Backpacking gear lists from a Great Smoky Mountains overnighter
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:
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.
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 more 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.
* Yes, I know this doesn’t qualify as TRULY “ultralight” to those that use a hammock and whoopee slings, or or sleep with a tarp shelter that isn’t fully enclosed. Perhaps “superlight” is a more appropriate term; it’s a very light setup, but not to the point of masochism.
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 cold and/or rainy 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 3,500 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.
Note: It has been a couple of years since this trip, so we’ve updated the list to include the current versions of the gear we used!
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 50-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!
A few notes here. First, while I’ve listed our base layers and the clothing we brought, there’s not much of an explanation of why and how we layered our clothing for this trip. As mentioned above, we ended up hiking in tech tees and layering up with base layers and mid-layer fleeces as necessary. If you’d like more information on layering outdoor clothing, check that link for a more in-depth article.
Second, you’ll notice both of us carried Osprey Packs. This is no accident; I believe Osprey makes the best backpacking packs in the industry, and I personally own a full range of them, something I’ve written about before. Having a good pack is every bit as important as what you put in it, perhaps more so; don’t sell yourself short, get properly fitted and purchase a quality hiking pack.