Decisions about outdoor gear can be overwhelming. The options seem endless, and there are constantly newer, better, lighter, and more innovative products coming on the market. Sometimes my eyes glass over when I walk into large outdoor retail stores. Where to begin?!
However, I've discovered that decisions about gear can be really fun and interesting! There is so much to learn. My gear stash has slowly evolved over time, starting with deals at used gear sales when I had no clue what I really needed to a very precise, researched plan of exactly what I want. My gear includes traditional and heavier items I would use if guiding a backpacking trip with students to lightweight options for thru hiking.
When I first started buying outdoor gear, there were not as many women-specific options on the market. My first backpack and sleeping bag were designed for men. They worked fine for the years I used them, but after buying a backpack and sleeping bag designed specifically for women, I could totally tell the difference!
Regardless of the type of backpacking trip you’re considering, below are a few of my favorite items for this "What's in Your Bag" series post.
When I thru hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, people I met along the way would ask me about my favorite piece of gear. I always answered, "My skirt." There are other pieces of gear I will swap out for my next thru hike, but a skirt? Nope. Since transitioning to a hiking skirt, I've met fellow skirt/dress/kilt hikers along the way. All of them say the same thing.
Hiking in a skirt has a few key advantages that I found. One advantage is the peeing situation. I no longer have to take my pack off and expose everything when peeing in the woods. Once you learn the system, it’s quick and easy! The airflow helps with breathability, cleanliness, and infection-prevention. It's a cinch to layer up and down when the weather changes. And, finally, I find that I have less chaffing in a skirt. When I wear shorts or pants, the material bunches up as I walk, rubbing on my inner thighs. Maybe this isn't true for everyone, but I have found the skirt makes a big difference.
The Purple Rain Adventure Skirt is my skirt of choice for hiking and backpacking. It is lightweight and cool, made with DWR finished fabric, and it has a moisture-wicking waistband that doesn't bunch and rub your skin raw under your pack waist belt. The pockets are in the perfect spot for keeping your GPS/phone on one side and your next snack on the other. And it dries extremely quickly after an afternoon thunderstorm.
I wasn't sure of what size to order, so I contacted the owner of Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. Luckily she lived in the same city, and she let me come over and try on a few! My skirt has seen a lot of trail days . . . it is probably time to order another!
My ultra-organized, don't-like-clutter personality requires that everything going into my bag has a specific place where it lives. That is one reason I love the new SegSac by Gobi Gear. I don't use many stuff sacks in my backpack (you can't pack the bag as well), but when I do, this is one that makes the cut.
A lightweight stuff sack with four vertical chambers, the SegSac makes organizing and finding clothing and gear super simple. This stuff sack works great for climbing and car camping trips, too, fitting perfectly into my Patagonia Black Hole Duffel Bag (just throwing this out there as a favorite non-backpacking piece of gear!).
My only suggestion to Gobi Gear is to make a smaller size of the SegSac. A smaller size could be used for toiletries, first aid kits, a place to keep cords/chargers/electronics gear and more. Gobi Gear, let me know when a smaller size is on the market. You've got your first customer!
After spending four months on the trail and sleeping in it almost every night, my Copper Spur tent feels like home. I love sleeping in it, even on a nice night when I could sleep out under the stars!
I want to feel confident in my shelter when I'm in the backcountry, and this tent has never let me down. I'm warm and dry during snow and rain showers, relieved from mosquitos during the summer hatches, and there's a great view of the stars on dry nights when the rainfly is off. The Copper Spur offers me enough room for gear, to hang wet clothes, and even do a little yoga (yes, even downward dog) after a long day.
Big Agnes makes quality products, and they stand by their work. While the Copper Spur is one of their ultra-light tents they also offer one tent that is lighter than the Copper Spur (the Fly Creek). I don't think you can go wrong with either option!
I tend to sleep on the colder side, so I choose to go with a down mummy bag to get a good night of sleep in the backcountry. I have found that down keeps me much warmer than a synthetic bag, even if the temperature rating is higher.
There is the argument about down getting wet and being difficult to dry out. However, with all the new technologies out there for treated dry down, it seems to be less of a concern. I do most of my backpacking in the Pacific Northwest (talk about wet!), and the treated down does well.
My bag of choice for the PCT was the Sierra Designs CLO 18 degree with DriDown. Sierra Designs also has some great DriDown backcountry beds and quilt options if the mummy bag isn't for you. My bag isn't the lightest option on the market, but it is affordable and has everything I want. Plus, if my bag is wet in the morning from condensation I can pack it away, set it out for a half hour at lunch, and the treated down dries out quickly.
This next section is super specific to women, but I think it is an important topic to visit. I'll keep it brief and avoid much detail, but if anyone wants more specifics about my system, I'm happy to connect.
Most of my education about backcountry travel came via men. They had amazing experience and knowledge, and I'm grateful for what they taught me. It wasn't until a few years into my backpacking journey that I came into contact with more female outdoor educators and backpacking gurus who changed my life when it comes to good feminine hygiene and limiting the risk of infections in the wilderness.
The number one staple is the pee rag. Designate an old bandana to take on your backpacking trips. Use it to wipe with after peeing, tie it on the outside of your pack, and let the sunshine do it's work of drying it and killing bacteria with UV rays. I rinse it every few days along the way (collect water in a used ziplock to "wash" the bandana and avoid rinsing it directly in the water source). This is a fantastic alternative to packing in and packing out toilet paper.
I don't typically backpack with toilet paper, anyway, which can get tricky if I'm backpacking during my period. The EZ Towel tablets are a game changer. Just wet the lightweight, compact tablets with a little water and you have a small towel to work with. They are light and more durable than TP.
One of the not-so-fun things about backpacking as a woman is packing out feminine hygiene products. If you are looking to avoid some of that weight and hassle, the Jade Sea Sponge is a great option.
A fellow thru hiker introduced me to the EZ towel and the sponges. I love gleaning insights from fellow hikers and refining my systems! As I mentioned above, I'm happy to share some tricks of the trade for any women who have questions about easy processes to stay clean and comfortable out there.
Part of outdoor experiences is just getting out there! You could buy the best products on the market and spend tons of money but not really enjoy the activity.
I have led students on backpacking trips who don't have the best gear, shoes, and clothes for what we are doing and they survive. They still love it and end up having an awesome time.
The items mentioned above came from a lot of experiences, trial and error, research, and conversations. Figuring out what works for me and what kind of backcountry traveler I am took time. If you're new to this or unsure what to buy, I encourage you to rent or borrow some items. Get out there and discover what you like and don't like. Then you can let the rest of us know what's in your bag!