How to Solo Backpack while Keeping It Light

All by my lonesome. I had never done it before: solo backpacked. This was a big deal, three days in the woods with no one else to share the misery of being lost, wet, and cold. Just me and my border collie climbing up mountains and wading rivers. As I packed for my trip I realized, the biggest difference in the solitude was not the absence of another voice to commiserate with, but suddenly there was no one to carry the tent poles, part of the stove, or one of the fuel bottles.

I stared at the load of gear that somehow needed to fit into my pack in dismay. After a night of packing, repacking, unpacking, cutting down, repacking, and repeating, this is the list of gear I came up with. The following items are the bare necessities plus a little. A hammock and a warmer jacket would have been wonderful, but not worth giving up a pack weight of 40 pounds, fifty with full water. Here is a list that might get you to the trail head sooner than I did.

NOTE: This list is for a high altitude ( 8,000 – 12,000ft ) mid-temperature (45 – 80 degree) trip with a well defined and well traveled trail. Items like GPS, PLB, and other great tools for minimizing risk are left out of this list due to my personal judgment call, but each trail and person require different tools. This list is a skeleton that should be changed and built upon for backcountry trips.

The Kitchen

Cooking Dinner - MSR Pocket Rocket
Cooking Dinner – MSR Pocket Rocket
  • Small Pot with Lid eat straight out of the pot, no bowl needed, you are alone.
  • Spoon no forks here.
  • MSR Pocket Rocket Stove I am in love, so small, so fast, so cute, so perfect.
  • Two Lighters in case one gets dropped in a puddle.
  • Fuel plus a little extra, hot water can usually fix anything.
  • Multi-tool Lightweight Knife I’ve been pretty happy with the Leatherman Skeletool.
  • Bandana for kitchen cleaning and drying.

* For food I opt to bring dried quinoa and rice, lots of nuts, and dried fruit. It’s cheaper than freeze dried mush *

The Hydration

  • MSR 2 Liter bladder the camelback 2.0
  • .5 liter Nalgene perfect for hot drinks and duct tape
  • 1 liter Nalgene for quick refills on the trail and extra for long dry stretches of the trail
  • Aqua Mira Water Treatment 14 drops and 25 minutes and you can drink all the water you want. Must find pretty running streams.

The Wardrobe

  • Warm Hat perfect for cool mountain nights
  • Baseball Cap please don’t get sunburned.
  • Sunglasses bring the shades, the make you look cool.
  • Bandana for sweat and messy hair.
  • Windbreaker easy to throw on for wind or to keep sun off.
  • Light Weight Synthetic Puffy keeping you warm at night.
  • Rain Jacket and Pants
  • Long Underwear Top and Bottom for sleeping in and for wearing if it gets unexpectedly frigid.
  • Warm Socks only for sleeping in. They will remain dry and clean the whole trip.
  • Camp Socks to wear after pealing off the sweat soaked wool ones.
  • Camp Shoes old sneakers that have enough holes to weigh nothing. Getting out of the boots right at camp is the best way to keep feet happy and hiking.
  • Wool Hiking Socks try them out before you leave.
  • Hiking Boots break them in way before you leave.
  • Gaiters can be a little hard core, but they keep out those sticks and small rocks that can dig holes into your feet. Worth it to me.
  • Hiking Clothes whatever bottom and top make you feel pretty, and keep backpacks and inner thigh fat from chaffing.

The House

My huge tent
My huge tent
  • Light Weight Tent I only had a three person one, the bugs also made me bring the tent body not just the rain fly.
  • Synthetic Sleeping Bag I brought a super light weight 45 degree one
  • Thermarest Pad rocks, what rocks, just a nice soft cloud to sleep on.

The Bathroom

  • Tiny Hand Soap for when Purell won’t do the job
  • Bandana for peeing girls. Hang it off the back of your pack so the sun can sanitize it.
  • Light Weight Shovel to dig 8 inch holes, 200ft from water, for the unmentionable

The Toiletries

  • Tooth Brush & Tooth Paste cut the handle of the tooth brush if you really want to get into to it.
  • Tooth Picks better than gum, and no one brushes twice a day in the backcountry. Plus they make you look like a badass.
  • Vitamins especially important on longer trips.
  • Sunscreen apply liberally a lot.
  • Small Aloe Vera in case you forget to apply sunscreen and get roasted. Trust me this stuff will keep you sane.
  • Baby Wipes for just about anything messy you can think of.
  • Chap Stick I bring a minum of 6, at least two with sunscreen, the rest are Burt’s Bees Peppermint because chap stick is not merely chap stick. I might have an addiction.
  • Purell keep those germs dead.

The Navigation

  • Map put it in a ziplock so weather can’t destroy your only hope if lost
  • Compass because you must always bring a compass
  • Watch optional but comes in handy while estimating distances and timing breaks.

The Protection

  • Deet 100% and one for the face … the bugs love me
  • Bear Bells so I didn’t have to sing loudly the whole hike to scare away the beasts.
  • Bear Spray for humans too.
  • Foot Kit I always bring a small bag of foot saving blister care to preserve my first aid kit
    • 2nd skin
    • Moleskin
    • Tape
    • Iodine
    • Band-Aids
    • Anti-Biotic Ointment
  • Small First Aid Kit easy to buy a premade one and get familiar with it before you leave.

The Extras

  • Thermarest Chair just stick your pad in the pockets and buckle: luxury awaits.
  • Hacky Sack just in case you make friends on the trail
  • Cards if it rains a lot solitaire might be fun 
  • Book must be a paperback by a nature writer
  • Journal you might think worthy thoughts while in the woods.
  • Pens to write down any revelations the rocks tell you.

The Suitcase

  • Osprey Ariel 75 liter scrunched down nicely for a shorter trip, though I still have yet to figure out all the uses for its buckles.

The Pet

Jett with her Ruff Wear Pack
Jett with her Ruff Wear pack taking a break after a long climb. My Osprey 75L behind her.
  • Ruff Wear Pack Jett got used to the weight after day one though I don’t think she ever liked it.
  • Water Bowl
  • Food Bowl
  • Treats for bribing the pups up long hills.
  • Food in ziplock bags.
  • Leash even if you don’t use one. It might come in handy.
  • Small Water Bottle for long stretches without water on the trail

Any questions about this gear list or more details please let me know

3 thoughts on “How to Solo Backpack while Keeping It Light

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