Tuesday 4 January 2022

Thoughts on choosing backpacking gear & why I haven't been for a hill walk yet this year

A picture from 2020 - I hope we all have views and days like this in 2022

My first post of the year usually describes either the last walk of the previous year or the first of the new one. I feel this starts the year off in the right way. This year that'll have to wait though as I currently have a hole in my hand from an operation for Dupotryans Syndrome just before Christmas. The hand is bandaged and holding a trekking pole or ice axe would be awkward and painful, and also not a good idea as I want the wound to heal, which means doing as little as possible. Maybe next week I'll be able to do more than short local unburdened walks. 

In the meantime here's the last of the four pieces I wrote for The Great Outdoors last year in conjunction with Hilleberg. This one is an introduction to selecting backpacking gear for both comfortable walking and camping. 

To enjoy backpacking you need to be as comfortable as possible both when walking and when camping. This means compromises are necessary when selecting your gear. With a minimum of ultralight gear you may be very comfortable on the trail but not so happy in camp. Take heavy gear for camp and walking may be painful due to the weight of your pack. The former may be acceptable if you’re going for fast times and high mileage, the latter if you’re only a walking a short distance to a camp where you’ll stay a few days, but for most backpacking a middle way is best so you can be reasonably comfortable all the time. It’s all too easy to suffer unnecessarily.

Whilst cutting any unnecessary weight is always a good idea it’s the big items – pack, shelter, sleep system, cooking gear – that make up most of the weight. If there’s a choice between two items that perform the same I’d always go for the lighter one.

Solo hikers have the most difficulty in compromising between weight and comfort as you can’t share items. Duos and groups can split tents (poles, pegs, inner, outer) and cooking gear (stove, pots, fuel) between them.


The pack needs to be big enough to easily hold all your gear and comfortable with the weight you’ll be carrying. Ultralight packs are great with ultralight loads but usually unsupportive with heavier ones. I’d always go for comfort when choosing a pack. Cutting some weight doesn’t make up for sore shoulders, hips or backs. 


The key with your shelter is that it should be capable of standing up to the expected weather conditions. Knowing the limits of your shelter is important, especially for mountain camping in winter. Then there’s space. Can you sit up, stretch out, store all your gear, cook in the porch in bad weather? For short trips a tent without much room may be tolerable to keep the weight down. For long trips I’d rather have more space and a little more weight.

Sleep System

A warm night’s sleep is essential for enjoying a trip. Shivering through a long night (and they always are long when you’re cold) is miserable. And hiking the next day when tired is dispiriting and could be hazardous if you find it hard to concentrate. For a good night’s rest your sleeping bag and sleeping mat both need to be warm enough for the lowest likely temperatures. For comfort a thick inflatable mat is a good idea, though this isn’t necessary for warmth. 


This is perhaps more personal than the other choices as it all depends on what you like to eat. If you’re happy eating quick-cook one pot dried meals a tiny stove and a small pot are all that’s required. If that thought makes you shudder and you’re prepared to carry the extra weight of fresh food and do more complex cooking then larger pots, maybe even a frying pan, will be worth the weight.

Clothing & Other Items

Clothing is an area where it’s easy to take more than you need. Other than socks and underwear duplicate items aren’t needed. Garments should all fit over each other so if it’s exceptionally cold you can wear them all.  

Other items can be divided into the essential – e.g. map, compass, head torch, first aid kit – and the optional – e.g. camera, books. The latter may be regarded as essential by many (including me) even though they’re not needed for hiking or camping. But remember the aim is enjoyment so a few luxury items are a good idea.


  1. Good luck with the recovery from Duproyens disease my dad has that but hadn't had the operation yet only the injections which only dekay it - no doubt I will have it in later life

    1. Thanks. I didn't have any injections. I had a fasciectomy in my left hand last spring and it's certainly much improved.

  2. Loved your High Summer book on your hike in the Canadian Rockies. My wife and I hiked the Great Divide Trail a few years ago and it was interesting to read about the area then and now.

    - Dan

    1. Thanks Dan. I guess there have been some changes. I haven't been back since that walk in 1988.

  3. Hi Chris, I've been an avid hiker for most of my life but only recently have I discovered your literature. I really enjoy your style of writing and your No frills way of reviewing gear etc.
    I am based in Australia now but originally from the UK and am looking forward to returning home for an extended hiking holiday soon. Thanks for your inspiration Chris. All the best, Andy, West Australia