Mags’ Backpacking Gear–The Color Commentary

A look at my gear, that while accurate, is probably not the most serious. 😉

My gear reflects simplicity, lightness and using whatever works. Some items are expensive (Feathered Friends bag, Montbell Windshirt), some are  at the other end of the spectrum (soda can stove, thrift store shirt).

I don’t look at ALL my gear; just the gear that I think is part of my “gear philosophy’ of trying to adhere to the KISS principle.

People seem very interested in what gear is used outdoors….

So here it is..some of the gear I use. Behold the banged up cook pot, the thrift store hiking shirt and the OD green wool pants in all their glory!

As with many of my postings, don’t take it all that seriously. I sure as heck don’t! 😉

( You can see the entire gear list here, too )


The Three Season Backpacking Collection

Sometime around May, I start pulling out my backpacking maps. Lost Creek Wilderness beckons, perhaps even a trip to the Sangres of Colorado and New Mexico.  I can’t wait to get out again!

I love backpacking more than any other of my outdoor activities. The simple act of placing one foot in front of the other, having all the essentials I need for days at a time, seeing one incredible view after another and enjoying the quiet and serenity that comes from any time spent in the wilderness. (And the beer after the hike. Beer helps. Always).

For me, three-season backpacking starts around Memorial Day weekend in the LCW and extends into earlyish-mid October where it all started in the LCW. That means a low of about 15F.   Towards the end, it is what  call ‘shoulder season’ and I’ll often throw in an extra hat and a ‘mini-puffy’.

With no further ado, here is some of my favorite gear for the three-season backpacking collection. No cutting edge fashion..but plenty of dirt bagging panache!

The  Solo Pack – Six Moon Designs Swift

My version is pictured above and a little different from the one currently available. It is a good pack for those whose base pack weight is at or below 10 lbs. When I go solo backpacking, it is my pack of choice.  Simple, light and functional Winner!


“I’m in a committed relationship and sometimes need to haul more crap / hut trips” pack: GoLite Jam


My pack is blue, has many sweat, salt and dirt stains, and is held together with dental floss. Otherwise it looks IDENTICAL!

On backcountry hut trips, I have to haul in more gear, food and wine (esp the wine).   I really need the bigger, more durable pack for:

When I need a pack to haul in 10 lbs or pork loin:

Real men cook. And haul in garlic infused pork roast. On skis.

Or the very important wine:

Keeping it classy with Wild Turkey and Franzia.

The important things you see.

The pack of choice for the past few years has been a a GoLite Jam. Purchased for $30 at a warehouse sale, it has hauled many pork roasts, boxes of wine, ski equipment and other gear over the miles of snow.

And now it is my pack of choice when I am hauling the two person tent, a ‘real’ stove and other items that a certain German national strongly suggest I bring on our backpacking trips.

I think she’s worth it though.

(And the pack was, too. 🙂 )


I’m lucky that for some reason she finds short, bald , Italian-looking guys attractive….



OLD SHELTER – Campor/ Equinox SilNylon Tarp

Light, fairly inexpensive and has served me well in the past. Personally I find anything less than 8×10 for a traditional tarp  does not work for me. Though I used  a different type of shelter on the CDT and yet another one currently(see below), I think the Campmor Tarp is still a great “bread and butter” shelter for those want to go lightweight and use a tarp.

Standard A-Frame set up. Sgt. Rock has a great tarp setup page with different ways to set up a tarp!

Non-standard sun shade for drinking beer behind my pickup. Dirt baggers find new and interesting ways to use old gear! 🙂


Continental Divide Trail 2006 – Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape

I’ve seen poncho tarps in the past and I was not impressed. Not much space for sleeping, turns into a big sail in the wind, too exposed overall for Western hiking. Then I saw Ron Moak’s design at the 2006 ADZPCTKOP . I was impressed! Very easy to setup, enough room for a person who is not overly tall  and though it does have potential to get too “billowy” in the wind, no where as bad as a traditional poncho.For an item of gear named after one of the pioneers of KISS backpacking it works well: simple, functional, multi-purpose.

It worked great as a shelter on my CDT trek.  I did not like it so much as rain gear. Then again, I never did get into ponchos..probably most drag on the ground for a short guy like me. 😉

For those who love ponchos AND love an easy to setup and light shelter, this shelter would fit the bill great!

A snowy day on the CDT. The Gatewood Cape kept me warm and dry. Alas, it did nothing for my frightful appearance!


Current shelter of choice – Six Moon Designs Wild Oasis


As you can see at the above link,  the Wild Oasis is essentially the  Gatewood Cape minus the poncho portion. I LOVE this shelter. Light, easy to setup, built in bug netting. It really does fit my love of the KISS principle!  If you hike all day and don’t spend much time in camp, it is a wonderful shelter!  The only downside is that it may be on the small side if you are taller.

In Casa Mags for the night on the Benton MacKaye Trail in 2009


The “I love to go backpacking, but I need a real tent!” shelter: The Lunar Duo

I’m very lucky. The future someone loves to go backpacking, camping, canyoneering and backcountry skiing.

What she does NOT like is cowboy camping, minamalist shelters and my tendency to make a mess of the kitchen after I cook. 🙂

So what’s a minimalist backpacker to do?

He gets the Lunar Duo. Light, simple to set up (two poles for set up and only 2.5  pounds!) and has two separate entrances. VERY nice for couples. For those who also want a “real” tent that is uber-spacious, it is light enough to carry by itself.

A non-dirt bagger seal of approval in the Snowy Range of Wyoming!


The Sleeping Pad – Blue Foam Pad: The Dirt Bagger Classic!

The ubiquitous close cell foam (CCF) bad…aka the Blue Foam pad.Just like the ones you used at summer camp. Cheap ($10 or so!), durable and light (cut down, it is around 5 oz). Not sure why I waited so long to use an obvious choice for a pad.

Blue Foam Pad

Not sure who even makes my pad. But, when you steal your images, you take what you get! is  a GENERIC blue foam pad..right? I am not really sure if I am qualified to use the pad pictured above.   The dude on the package looks way more badass than me….


COOKSET – Various alcohol stoves and a really banged up pot!

For many of my thru-hikes, I took a homemade alcohol stove. Quiet, good for boiling two cups of water, and works well for a solo backpacker doing 10 meals or less between resupplies.

And my cooking pot? A $4 thrift store special!  Works well for me.

Thrift store pot, wire cloth, tin foil for a lid, bottom of a soda can. Classy!


Current cookset: NO Stove!

To quote the article linked above:

Going stoveless works well for certain scenarios. There is no futz factor, resupply is a breeze and the weight is zero! I don’t know how much weight is saved overall (Some backpacking staples such as Lipton’s must be cooked,  but others do rehydrate fine), but not having to worry about cooking and needing water (for most meals) does make life simpler.  Naturally, fuel resupply is not an issue.  Going stoveless works best for warmer hiking and/or people who like to go very minimally.

Tip of the boonie hat to my friend Garlic for showing me the utility of this idea. I went forthwith on it when we did a section together on the Arizona trail.

For some reason I don’t have a picture of a NO STOVE stove?  Instead, here’s a picture me hoping I don’t poke an eye out in the middle of a trail-less, unfinished  section of the Arizona Trail.


“Generic Overly Sweet Sports Drink” bottles– Why pay $10 for a Nalgene Bottle? They are heavy and expensive. A Gatorade bottle or similar holds water, but is admittedly not as cool. But, does your Nalgene Bottle have a syrupy, sweet drink that is a color NOT found in nature? I did not think so!

One dollar. One ounce. Comes with a drink!


TRASH BAGS – Pack liner, stuff sacks liner and all around useful item. Why pay $$$ for a pack cover ?!?!?  I use whatever is on sale at the grocery store. 🙂



Duct Tape The eleventh essential! No outdoors person should be without this grey wonder! Fixes feet, repairs your pack and sometimes is only thing holding your shoes together! Never leave home without it!

“Duct Tape is like The Force “t has a dark side and a light sidee. It also holds the universe together”. -Anon.


Ziploc Bags – Map Case, holder of the gorp, container of the Mac N’ Cheese, water proof camera case. Up their with duct tape in the “must have” backpacking item!

I like to have my ziplocks contain my Pasta Formaggio con Frutta di Mare“. That’sMac N’ Cheese with Tuna” in bad Italian. Sounds fancier that way, no?


Polyester Dress Shirt Light.  Sun and bug protection. Dries quickly. $4 at Savers Thrift Store. AND it is button down so I can get snazzy when I hitch into town. Woo hoo! (Note: These shirts may also be rayon, poly-cotton 65/35 blend or what have you. Worn ’em all. Still here. Still works. Still cheap!

Hiker Trash

HIKER TRASH FASHION IN THE GREAT DIVIDE BASIN!   Don’t I make quite the fashion plate? Notice the cool sweat, salt and pack stains!!!! Good thing this photo is not scratch and sniff….


Generic Polypro Long Underwear

I’ve literally hiked several thousand miles wearing generic long underwear. Couldn’t tell you any real brand names. Whatever is one sale at the XYZ Marts, Sierra Trading Post or through discounters like The Underwear Guys.  It works for my three-season backpacking (I like wool underwear for winter, warmer when damp. Synthetics seems to dry quicker, however) without breaking the budget. It’s all polyester in the end! As for the smell? After a week everyone smells! 🙂


This underwear is featured on the hiker known as The Invisible Man.

Coast Head lamp (also branded under different names)

A simple head lamp for the little time I need one in camp. Takes a standard AAA battery (found anywhere!), weight about an ounce and is compact. Good for emergencies on day hikes, too!



My go to jacket: Montbell Light Shell Jacket

A lighter version of the DriClime Windshirt by Marmot, it is basically a high tech warm up jacket.  If you are on the go all day, and only need a jacket for brief times in camp or break spots, this jacket works well. I use it for spring skiing, too!

Alas, does not looks like Montbell makes this product anymore. A functional, well made product that is no longer made. So it goes!



C9 Branded Clothing at Target (Tar-zhey)

I’ve had fantastic luck with the long sleeve and short sleeve technical tees for long day hikes. The running shorts and socks worked well for both hiking and backpacking.  All the clothing is well under $20 and seems to last!  My favorite day hiking shirt is several years old and still going strong! (Smell or wear wise? 😉 )

Me in my standard backpacking attire. Target shorts. Target socks. Thrift store shirt. Boonie hat. Light pack.   (And a Box o’ wine of course for the weekend).  Photo is from Pawnee Pass on the Continental Divide in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.


Whole Year Round Gear

There are certain items and clothing I use all year. Be if for day hikes in the Foothills in late Fall/ early Winter, backpacking trips in the summer or wonderful ski tours on fresh powder,  you’ll find me using this gear at all times.  These items represent some of my useful pieces of gear and clothing just for the sheer versatility . You’ll always find them stashed in my pack or on me!


Swiss Army Knife, Classic –  I was once told that I could not be a real outdoors person. My knife is too small and light apparently.  Always did say I was a poseur… This knife merely slices open a package of food, cuts a rope and  does not let me do manly-man wilderness things like killings bears or some crap like that.



P-38 Can Opener Another surplus special. Less than .125 oz for the rare time I need to crack open a canned good. Has many other uses, too !




Boonie Hat Yet more surplus!  A boonie style hat is avail at fine military surplus shops anywhere.  Keeps off the light rain and the sun. About $10. Comes in many cool colors. If you really cheap, you can get one for free from your local military recruiter (and a 2-3 yr enlistment period!)

Works well for those special occasions…like eating fried chicken out of a bag on a 25 mile day hike.


Balaclava (EBay) light, warm, versatile and inexpensive.  One of two pieces of clothing I use all year!  Roll it up for a light hat. Roll it down for a neck warmer. Use it as an ear warmer. Wear it traditional for full weather protection. I’ve been using the same one for over a decade now and has been with me on many trips over the years.

Not to be  confused with a delicious Greek pastry . Mmmmmm!  The balaclava is not as tasty, but is less sticky to wear on my head….

No, I did not turn into a poster child for the Norway National Ski Team. This photo is from Wikipedia. 🙂


Surplus Wool Glove Liners (EBay)

The other piece of clothing I wear all year!  Warm when damp, cheap and fairly durable. I wear these by themselves on cool mornings and under shell mitts for both rainy days when backpacking and for cold ski tours. Two-three pairs generally last me a year.

Comes in black, gray and the ever popular OD green!



Take a bearing, adjust for declination and away you go. Unless you are doing the Uber-XTreme Siberian Eco-Challenge, a simple compass is all you should need.


My compass points NORTH as it’s main feature


Timex Indiglo Watch

See all those photos above? See the watch? Same one in all the photos.

My watch will not tell you the barometric pressure, make me breakfast, recite the Shakespearean sonnet of the day or tell me my blood sugar level.  Instead my watch tells simply tells the time. Has the date. And it glows. It also cost about $20.

And how to use a watch in the backcountry? A watch is useful for ‘dead reckoning’ and helps a lot with navigating!



The Mini-Puffy!

For shoulder season backpacking and something to stash in my pack during ski tours, I can’t beat the mini-puffy! Lighter and less bulky than a traditional ‘puffy’, the mini-puffy is just warm enough for quick breaks in colder weather. Stashes in the pack quite well.

Little known fact: Colorado has odd weather where everything seems sepia toned!

Winter Wonderland Gear and Clothing

Over the years, I’ve developed a few go to items for clothing and gear for winter.

I’ve grown to love winter since moving to Colorado.  Constant sunshine, blue skies and being able to glide along in the fresh powder.

What’s not to like?

Wool pants  The ordinal soft shell! Highly wind resistant, breathable and warm. Repels the snow. They also cost about $20 at your favorite surplus store. Plus you get that cool retro look!

Then there is looking a little too retro!


Funky Wool Ski Hat  –  If you can’t tell, I like wool in winter. Seems to repel the snow and be a bit warmer than synthetics. When it gets to be wetter/warmer  weather again, I’ll switch to synthetics for its less bulk and quick drying properties. . Just my personal preference. But the red and black wool hat looks way cooler than my fleece hat or balaclava! 🙂

Minus -5 degrees (or less!) without the wind chill. Snow is blowing. Hat is covered in icy snow. But I am quite happy: I’m not at work after all! 🙂

Backcountry Skis

Why skiing? Because there is something almost magical about gliding along the fresh powder with clear skies and the sun shining. The gentle sound of ‘swoosh’ as the perfect turn is made. And how winter does not become a time to stay indoors, but to experience nature in a different way.

Plus snowshoeing is boring. 😉

Why ski? Here’s a reason.  Shown is a view near Butler Gulch.



My favorite piece of winter gear! Keeps my cocoa and schnapps warm, the black coffee with condensed milk yummy, and the salty chicken broth perfect for those trips deep into the winter backcountry. Never take a winter trip without it!


My good friend Marni enjoying some hot chocolate one cold winter day!


Odds and Ends : Gear that does not fit anywhere else

For hanging out at a camp the night before a backpacking trip, car camping, hut trips or just general outdoor fun, there are some pieces of gear I seem to grab, but don’t know how to categorize. Base camp trip where I am hanging out more? Car camping?  Or just really once-in-a-great-while-but-still-would-miss item? It goes here!


M-65 Field Liner Pants (EBay)

The better half calls these the ugliest pants she’s ever seen. And they are!  But they are warm, compressible, fairly light and work well for cold weather camping of all types be it base camp, backpacking or car camping.  Meant to be worn under baggy army pants, they work just as well over long underwear or underneath your baggy rain pants. A dirt baggers delight!  A little sewing and you have some functional clothing!  I’ve used these in the Great Sand Dunes over Thanksgiving weekend and was very warm.  And at $10 or so a pair, I don’t mind if the occasional spark melts them a bit. Try THAT with some expensive down pants. 😉

Check out the similar jacket for a dirt bagger’s version of a Montbell Thermawrap!

M-65 Liner pants

Fugly! Functional! Comes in green!


Energizer 3 LED Head lamp

A bargain at $10 or so. Even comes with the three AAA batteries!  With the red LED, it is great when sharing a tent with someone, a backcountry hut trip or night hiking (won’t ruin your night vision).  The two main lights are good enough to see at night with if more light is needed.  And at 2.5 ounces, and the price, it is a good head lamp for someone who wishes to get into backpacking and does not want to break the bank. It is a great general purpose head lamp  at a bargain price!



Ugly-but-Warm bright orange wool balaclava!

This hat was a stocking stuffer from my parents one year. Blaze orange.Big. Bulky. Ugly.  And it  looks like I should be shooting deer in the UP, circa 1955, with it on.

But the darn thing is warm. Whenever I am doing winter backpacking, REALLY cold skiing or winter camping in general, I make sure it is packed.

Or maybe an extra from a movie about Finland in the 1930s????


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