Ten Ghosts of Gear Past

Over the years, what I do outdoors and what gear and clothing I take to facilitate these outdoor activities has changed.

And some pieces of clothing and gear have stayed consistent over the years. Pieces of equipment and clothing that I tend to use over and over again. And always has a place in my kit.

But there are some pieces of clothing or gear I’ve used a lot in the past. But I abandoned for various reasons. I am not talking about 6-pound, 5500 cubic inch monsters such as I wore when I started backpacking.

No.  I am talking about gear and clothing for my PCT thru-hike and later years. Though my specific equipment changed since 2002, my overall gear system has not for solo three-season use (foam pad, light sleeping system, sub-1lb shelter, etc.).

So here are some items I used to use a lot. But have been regulated to extra clothing, backups, or simply given away. Some items are lighter than what I currently use. But lighter is not always right(er).

These items are still very functional. And no doubt work for other people well and their systems. These just no longer work well for my system.

  • Windshirt

From Patagonia

Why did I use it?

A wind shirt is a piece of gear loved by many people. The Patagonia Houdini is the baseline example of this popular type of garment.  Super light,  packs up easily, blocks wind, gives some warmth, and helps regulate the temperature when on the move. I used to use one as part of my kit quite extensively.

Why I no longer use it?

Primarily, I think a wind shirt is a limited use item for me and my hiking style. A light rain jacket with pit zips coupled with light fleece works better for my style of hiking. I feel this combo gives me more versatility for three-season+ use.

No surprise that my use of a wind shirt stopped when I re-discovered the utility of a light fleece. My hiking style is such that I put out a lot of heat and even the most breathable windshirt is not as breathable as fleece in most conditions. When it is merely windy, but not cold, my thermal layers usually work well enough for me. Naturally, when it is windy and cold, the fleece works well.  Additionally, fleece keeps me warm in cold and wet conditions coupled with a rain jacket.   Speaking of which, I sometimes will wear my Montbell Versalite as a wind layer on some rare occasions.

Any exceptions? 

I use an old school windbreaker anorak for ski touring. A windbreaker means a discount store wind shirt made of heavier material and is, of course, less expensive. 🙂  But I use the anorak in the same way as a wind shirt. Just for deep winter (snow) use.

  • Marmot DriClime

Why did I use it?

The Marmot DriClime, and later the Montbell equivalent, is an article of clothing I used extensively for my hiking up to and including the Continental Divide Trail.  Once a thru-hiker favorite, they are light, block wind, pack easily, reasonably warm and resist light precip.

Why I no longer use it?

Very similar to why I no longer use a windshirt. If even more pronounced. This garment type does not breathe well and is of limited versatility for me. I occasionally would attempt to use it on a day hike, but quickly reminded myself why I prefer a simple fleece pullover instead. Even when moving.

  • Photon II keychain light

Why did I use it?

I wrote about the Photon II before, when I was enamored of all things lightweight, and concerned how my spreadsheet looked. And why I used one.

Why I no longer use it?

A keychain light is still part of my kit. It is more of an item I use on my keychain for quick use or as a backup that I happen to carry. I’ve started using a Fenix UC02-style light. At less than .5 oz and rechargeable, a handy little piece of hardware to have on my keychain that I use several times a week.

  • Glacier Glasses

from REI

Why did I use this item?

When I started winter activities in Colorado, I went all out with what gear and clothing I thought I should get. As many people who read things on the internet and do not have a lot of practical experience typically do.  And what did I get? Heavy shell pants and the matching jacket (discounted at Sierra Trading Post !) were among the first items I purchased. And glacier glasses, of course

Somewhat expensive, fragile, and extensive sunlight blocking glasses for alpine and high altitude use or vast snowfields and glacier travel (ah!)

I had visions of being Ed Visteurs apparently!

Why did I stop using this item?

Because I crushed them with my skis.  And then my more experienced backcountry skiing friends mentioned that they stopped using them a while ago for similar reasons.

So I switched to sunglasses. And then safety sunglasses in particular. They are more durable, block UV rays effectively, and are inexpensive.

Now, if I took on real glaciers and snowfields, or trekked extensively for higher altitude pursuits above the Colorado 14ers,  I’d need real glacier glasses.  But I don’t work in those environments.

Naturally, I carry real ski goggles for the odd time when the snow is blowing fiercely, and the sunglasses don’t cut it.

  • Expedition Weight Polypro

Sporting the exp. weight polypro with my Sorrels in Escalante National Monument in 2003.

Why I used them?

When I started winter backpacking and camping, these surplus layers were the bomb. Not expensive, warm, and very comfy. The thick polypro and fleece inner lining certainly kept me warm!

Perfect for changing into; be it for dispersed car camping or winter backpacking if my base layers became damp.

Why did I stop using this item?

Because they are heavy and serve one purpose. Even when car camping, I find the newer Layer II Gen 3 Polartec grid fleece thermal layers that work in conjunction with lighter layers to be more versatile and practical.  As a bonus, I don’t have to change out of my base layer at all to wear these newer layers.

  • Flat Tarp

Why I used a flat tarp?

An 8×10 flat trap is versatile, quick to set up, light, and (with the right pitches), amazingly weather worthy.

Why did I stop using a flat tarp?

Because the footprint is too large I find, and it is not always optimal finding a spot. And a smaller tarp often needs a bivy sack to use effectively.   I use a small pyramid tarp-like shelter and find it better for my solo needs.

  • Titanium tent stakes

Titanium stakes. From Amazon.

Why I used them?

Much as with my idea for the Photon II, I went with titanium stakes because they were very light. And that’s it. My spreadsheet looked good!

Why did I stop using this item?

Except they are easy to lose, do not have good holding power except in optimal conditions, and I found they are one-trick-ponies for my needs. On my long hikes, I ended up going with other stakes that worked better because, well, I lost the Ti stakes. I finally wised up and went with other stakes that may have been slightly heavier but work in a variety of conditions and for diferent uses.

My current choices?

  • MSR Groundhog minis for backpacking. A good, all-purpose tent stake that is somewhat expensive but is light (.35 oz), versatile, sturdy and holds down well. Works well for the off-the-beaten-path areas I often favor.
  • Coghlan’s Ultralight tent stakes: The budget alternative for above that happens to be much longer.  I use them in my car camping tote. The areas for car camping tends to have harder ground and beats on stakes. Why not use the budget, but still capable, alternative?
  • Gutter Spike Nails:  For true dirtbagging or tarp pitching in camp, use 7″ aluminum gutter nails.  Good holding power, durable, light (.40 oz), and at only $5-$10  for a pack of ten, very affordable. Make a loop with a double overhand knot out of bankline, and you are good to go.

Quick tip: There is an easy way to place tent stakes without bending them, esp in hard ground found in well-used sites such as found in National Parks or similarly designated areas.

  • Wool thermals

Why I used them?

Because, though expensive, they do regulate temperatures better than synthetics overall. And I found them to be more comfortable.

Why did I stop using this item?

Because I found the durability to be crap. And, frankly, the performance is not that much better versus synthetics. I triple crowned in generic polypro and beat the crap out of my Paradox thermal layers in all four seasons and for hundreds of nights and hundreds of miles. And that is not an exaggeration.  Would my backpacking, hiking, ski touring, or even camping be enhanced by “better” thermals? Probably not.

  • Shorts

Why I used them?

Well, they are shorts! Great for hiking…on trail.

Why did I stop using this item?

Because my hiking changed from mainly on-trail pursuits to off-trail, scrambling, bushwhacking, etc.

I find pants more versatile. I’ll still use shorts for day hiking esp on-trail. But overall I prefer long pants.

The only time I used shorts for backpacking in recent years? On the Appalachian Trail this past summer for a sixty-mile loop.

The only time I wished I had shorts? When I hiked the Collegiate Loop in September 2017 during some mild weather.

In both cases, the route encompassed well-maintained trails during mild weather.

  • Mummy Sleeping Bag

Why I used them?

Well, it is a sleeping bag! Warm, good space-to-weight ratio, and it is what you are supposed to use. Right?

Why did I stop using this item?

Because I find sleeping quilts to be more versatile, comfortable, and just as warm for three-season and even my winter use once I became used to them. I use an old winter bag as a quilt. And my winter car camping bags are semi-rectangular and sized large with ample room, anyway. And they zip into a quilt, too!


I don’t claim my reasons above are the best reasons for everyone. These are just the reasons for me and my outdoor preferences. I am sure that in ten years what I use will change as well.

Until then?

As I like to say: I will try to get out as much as I can. And that is never enough!

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5 years ago

Nice list. I like windshirts, but prefer the soft shell type. More breathable than the examples provided, although also heavier. I hate the Coughlan stakes, though. They are the easiest to bend I ever used. And unlike others, bending them back results in breakage. Of course, it can depend on the type of soil one treks on…

5 years ago

Softshells, I was thinking more along the lines of lighter fabrics than the Costco one. I have the Black Diamond Alpine Start and Rab Boreas, and both meet my needs for breathability and wind resistance.

5 years ago

I bought a 2.5 oz. Montbell wind shirt some years ago after being chewed on by horseflies and deerflies in the Wind Rivers–I wanted something the flies couldn’t bite through. (They chomped right through my permethrin-sprayed hiking shirt). The wind shirt became my most-used garment! It’s what I wear during fall hikes on cool, windy (but not rainy) days. On warm days when the flies are out, it’s what I put on during stops. I don’t use breathable rain gear (it’s too pricey, too heavy, not breathable enough, and it soon leaks). As for the Ti tent stakes, some outfits… Read more »

5 years ago

I don’t have the Fenix UC02, but I do have a couple of Coast HX5 flashlights which will take either a AA cell or a 14500 Lithium Ion cell. I suppose that you could us an AA NIMH rechargeable with them and I have a few of them that charge on a USB cable. The 14500 cells that I have require a separate charger. There is supposed to be about a three times brighter beam with the Lithium Ion cells, but I haven’t done a side by side comparison. It happens that I have one light with a Lithium Ion… Read more »