The Gear I Take

Oamaru River

There Are Easier Ways to Carry a Tent, Oamaru River.

I like to tramp or hunt the good ole’ style, with pack on back, tramp in for several hours then set up camp. Better still is to wander around and to stop for the night where ever you happen to be. Some call this fly camping or crash camping but to me this is just part of wandering in the outdoors. In my early wanders, if I came across any game I would drop my pack and take off after the animal. There were occasions after the hunt was over, I took some time to find my pack, so I don’t do this any more. Once I wandered off late in the evening from my campsite and I went a little too far. It ended up okay but I don’t do that any more either, so one does has to take care. I think it is the freedom that appeals to me mostly, something like the anarchic freedom of life in the woods, that is without rule, and as J R R Tolkien wrote; “All who wander are not lost”. To do this comfortably one has to have good gear and most importantly to me, lightweight gear.

Many trampers and hunters use helicopters, 4×4’s and even four wheeler motorbikes to access their preferred spots and weight is of no concern to them. It is always interesting to check out gear though and how others go about things.

Several years ago I went on a 10 day high alpine pass trip and the total weight was 23.343 kilograms. This included the clothes that I was wearing and 2.655kg of camera gear. That’s about 51 to 52 pounds in the old Imperial and that makes it sound a lot heavier too. I certainly felt it was heavier!

Times Past: Gear Taken for 2 on a 12 day Urewera Trip, 1962.

Times Past: Gear Taken for 2 on a 12 day Urewera Trip, 1962.

Getting along in years, my past habit of shaving off labels, shortening toothbrush handles and that sort of thing, wasn’t going deeper enough. I didn’t want to take any shortcuts with gear but I needed to reduce this weight somehow and I wanted to get down to 15 kg as I figured this was enough for an old fella.

The first thing to do was to weigh all my gear. Manufacturer’s weights generally seem to be quite optimistically light! Then I made up a spreadsheet on my computer, listing all my gear along with the weight of each item. I left a blank column and here I put the weight of an item that I thought I’d take on my next trip. As I place an item’s weight in the blank column, it’s added to the grand total at the bottom of the column. I have separate pages for camp gear, clothes, camera gear, and one for food. The grand totals on each page are added up and this gives me my total pack weight. This forms my checklist too and it is really important not to leave any essential item behind.

My gear list includes two sleeping bags, two sleeping bag covers (or bivvy bags), a gas stove and a white spirits stove so I have many choices of gear and weights to choose from. Anything that is placed in the blank Carry column effects that grand total sum at the end so there is much pondering on which item to take and shuffling of weights back and forth in the columns!


Item Details Weight (grams) Carry
Pack Macpac Cascade (with side pockets) 3270
Pack Go-Lite Quest Size LG; Capacity 45lbs/20.4 kg 1397 1397
Sleeping Bag Pinnacle, Macpac, with stuff sack 727 727
Sleeping Bag Neve, Macpac, with stuff sack 1100
RAB Super Light Bivi Blue eVent with stuff sack 452 452
Sleeping Bag Cover Hollow Log, One Planet, no stuff sack 934

After each of trip, I make a small list on another page of the total pack weight taken, with weights of the gear, food, clothes, etc. I have found this to be quite helpful as a safety check especially with the food. Divide the food weight by the number of days away and use this sum as a check on future trips to give an idea if you have too much or not enough. Soon after a trip I like to note what foods were good and what didn’t work out and note things like the amount of stove fuel used, what clothes I didn’t wear and such like. All useful information that can help reduce future trip pack weights.

Good manufacturers will list the weight of their product and this will show that they are genuine outdoor people. To make sure I buy lightweight gear, I like to take along a set of scales when I go shopping, although one feels a little embarrassed when the scales are produced at the sports shop. After suffering some ribbing, raising of eyebrows and scoffing, from the shop assistants, generally they soon become quite interested in the different weights of similar products. You really can’t tell the difference by just holding the item in your hands. I try to select my gear so that each item will do at least two things and as an example, I use a large plastic bag as a pack liner to keep my gear dry but it can also be used as an emergency rain jacket, water proof sleeping bag liner, water carrier and such like.

Of course what I take depends on the time of year, type of country and for how long. On winter trips gear is always heavier, with more rain gear and more food too, but the weather is cooler making travel more comfortable. My favourite times are late summer and autumn. (Spring and winter too, when I think about it.)

Surplus Trimmings from my Cascade Pack

Surplus Trimmings from my Cascade Pack: 141 grams removed.

Some general comments on gear that I carry. Bear in mind that I don’t rush off and buy the latest of anything but will seriously consider any new gear that offers considerable improvements. I have had a number of items for many years and they are equal to any of today’s products. Good design and make works. Even so, I will cut off any surplus pieces such as; labels, ice axe loops and such like that I do not use. I do leave alone pack strap tie downs as the extra length could be useful on other trips. The next thing is to leave at home any useless item such as stuff sacks. Some are okay like sleeping bag stuff sacks but do you need one for a tent? I’ll even take out the cardboard inner on toilet rolls. Don’t laugh – they each weigh 6 grams! That 6 grams is enough for ten visits to the toilet. This all appears to be highly amusing to non-pack carriers – but just ignore them. If you do run out of toilet paper, use what our ancestors have been using for thousands of years – moss and this is environmentally friendly too.

I take a Macpac Cascade pack for most longer rougher type trips as they are very rugged and well built but they are heavy! I can cut this weight by more than half by taking my Go-lite Quest pack. Now this little beauty needs due care and attention no doubt, but at 1.397kg, it is excellent for open bush summer travel. Care needs to be taken with packing this pack and handling though.

A Cosy Night! Boulder Lake.

A Cosy Night! Boulder Lake.

I have been using sleeping bags, bought in the mid-nineties and they are a Neve’ (with stuff sack) weighing 1100 g; a Pinnacle (with stuff sack) weighing 727 g, both are supposed to be 100% down with rain wear outer fabric, and made by Macpac. These bags look like the ordinary but they have no down on the bottom. Instead there is a sleeve in which you can slip in an air mattress. I use a three-quarter length Thermarest Prolite 3-S weighing 373 g. As I’m getting on in years, I figure I’ll be taking the air bed regardless now, so I’m happy to use these bags. The Neve’ gets a bit hot at times so my favourite is the Pinnacle. I like to take a RAB Super Light Bivi (sleeping bag cover), eVent (no stuff sack but with some insect netting added by my wife, Shirley) weighing 463 g. With this kit, I can doss down almost anywhere and have a good night’s sleep. There are some hitches though. The down in the bags should extend a little further, to go under the torso, say three inches on each side, and it would be better if the down also extended on the base from the feet to about mid-calf, as the three-quarter length air mattress doesn’t go right down to ones feet. Yes, I know, this is adding extra weight but worth it I feel and I’m sure good field testing would have sorted this out.

By using a mattress in the sleeve of the bag, the problem when turning over of getting “exposed” with just a layer of nylon is solved. Quite frankly, I can’t understand why sleeping bags are made with down on the base as when you lie on down, it ceases to insulate, so why carry that extra weight? My Pinnacle in the stuff sack measures 180 mm diameter by 240 mm long while the Neve’ measures 200 m diameter by 280 mm long, so they save a lot of bulk in the pack too! I do use a Kathmandu silk liner (no stuff sack) 162 g and this, besides keeping the bag clean, also adds a little warmth. Together, these are a great combination. Unfortunately, Macpac don’t make these sleeping bags anymore so I’m taking really good care of mine!

I do have a tent – a Great Outdoors Cycle 2 as I like the style. It weights 2.545kg but is not what I really want so rarely take it. I’m looking for a two person, one hoop, the same way as I lie, two skin, erect together or not, with the inner that can be taken down first, insect netting and weighing less than 2 kg (preferably much less than that!) That’s all. I’ve wasted too much money buying tents that have failed to live up to expectations and certainly they haven’t been tested in the field properly. I’m still looking, so I take my sleeping bag cover and if the weather looks a bit iffy, I’ll take my Campmor siltarp 10×8 weighing 518 g. Tents take up a lot of room on the ground and with the sleeping bag cover it is much easier to find a place to stretch out. If it is to be a rough night out, I’ll take a cheap fly from The Warehouse (480 g) and if it gets damaged, the loss is not great. Fly’s certainly flap about in windy conditions but one can usually find a sheltered spot and if it’s really bad, I set it up, slung low, so that it clears just my head and gear. Though I do try to store all my gear at the head of the sleeping bag cover, using the softer items as a pillow and the food in plastic bags beside my head. If rodents are about, their rustling in the plastic bags right next to my ear will hopefully wake me.

I do like to take a groundsheet to protect the base of my sleeping bag cover. A The Warehouse/Mitre 10 type weighs 335 g. but a piece of building Tyvek building wrap weighs just 192 g, will last several trips but it does make a noise as one tosses and turns during the night. I do like to have all my gear protected if anything goes wrong. I remember one night in the Kaimanawa’s my mate and I were bedded down under a fly with a strong wind blowing. We thought we had picked a sheltered spot amongst some stunted beech, when in the darkness, we heard a mighty roar across the valley. It woke us up and we wondered what it was. We soon found out! It screamed over our camp and just ripped the fly to pieces. My mate had his gear scattered around under the fly, so he had to get up on a rescue mission while all I had to do was to pull the cover over my head. When we could see the next morning, we hastily packed up and raced back to our car. The wind was still gale force with trees falling around and we didn’t want to be trapped by falling trees on the road home. There are times though, when even a leaking hut, seems like a five star motel.

I still like my MSR Whisperlite, white spirits stove (330 g) but my gas type mix of butane/propane is lighter (265 g) and much improved with the newer mixes that they have today. It is important though to give the gas cylinder a little shake before each use or you will just burn off the top layer of gas. They are quick to light but one has the empty gas cylinders to carry out. (Or you should do!). I’ve worked out that I use 25 g of gas per day per person and when home I weigh the partly used cylinders and write on them how many days are left. Don’t forget to take off the container weight. With white spirits, I allow 100 mls for one person per day and I have a 350 ml and a 600 ml fuel containers, depending on the length of the trip planned.

I have a Snow Peak titanium 600 mls billy. Mostly, I use the billy for the main meal and the top lid as a mug. Together they weigh 157 g but care must be taken in cleaning the titanium billy. The billy is wide enough to slip in a small loaf of bread and this keeps the loaf from getting crushed. I carry a small Mercator folding knife about 110 mm long at 75 g, (and generally leave at home my Gerber Gator, which weighs 155 g), and a polycarbonate spoon (10 g). You don’t need a fork or any other dishes. I also I have a Petzl Tikka Plus torch at 76 g but I hear that new models weigh less and probably throw more light too. How often does it happen that you buy the latest and then see a lighter model in a shop window on your next visit to town?

I have a Leica Trinovid 8×20 binoculars weighing 228 g. I do admit that one of the most enjoyable parts of wandering is to glass the surrounding country and I spend many hours just observing the wildlife. I remember one morning in the Kaimanawa Forest Park, I watched eight different deer going about their business. The furthest were little dots in the distance while the closest perhaps 400 metres away and it was one of the most enjoyable “hunts” I’ve had – and I didn’t fire a shot! If I was using my old cheap pair of bino’s I’m sure I would have been lucky to have spotted a third of the animals I saw that day. Really it was a waste of effort to carry them so it’s best to spend as much as one can afford.

Although I never used to carry water I now have a 2.5 litre Platypus water container weighing 99 grams, which I find handy especially when fly camping. I’ll just make sure it is full later in the day when water is available, and this is enough for dinner that evening and breakfast the next morning. Sometimes though I will take the one litre Platypus; it just depends what the country is like. I don’t place the water carry bag inside my pack in case it bursts and wets my gear but find it works well resting in one of the side pockets of my pack.

No Struggling Here, Mt Owen.

No Struggling Here, Mt Owen.

Walking poles? Okay, I admit to succumbing to the use of poles I tried one of the usual vertical handle type but found my wrist ached a bit after a day’s walking and then I heard about Pacer Poles (see my review of the Pacer Poles These poles are a more natural fit and work really well for me. My balance is still fairly good but crossing streams these later years, I admit my balance certainly isn’t what it used to be and I find that using these Pacer Poles help me no end. I have a pair of them and find them useful also for steep descents and on rougher type of country too. In addition of course, they can be used for poles in erecting a fly.

I copy the section of the map that I intend to wander in, from the 1:50 000 topo map, on A4 instead of taking the whole sheet. I like to have a large scale copy of the area, just in case I wander a bit too far. Slip the couple of A4 copies into a light weight plastic bag to keep them clean and dry, for only 10 grams instead of the regular map which weigh from 73 to 77-grams. I do have a Garmin Etrex 30, GPS and it weights a lot more than one sheet of A4 paper. Oh, dear!

My old type Personal Locater Beacon weighed only 185 g so I’m not impressed with the weight of the new model, at 293 grams. Most new tech stuff boast half the cost, or twice the capacity and half the weight not the other way around!


My Clothes Selection

Times Past.

The Look of Times Past.

I have a Gortex Wapiti coat by Swazi and it’s great for the extremes, quite heavy at 1185 g but generally I’ll take Marmot Precip rain jacket which weighs 371 g. I used to like a longer raincoat that covers ones shorts but now I’ve gone to a rain jacket and like to take a pair of leggings and these weigh 298 g (Mountain Designs; Photon). The leggings are great for staggering back home along a track in the wet and as a wind break in the cold alpine winds. You will note that the last two items weigh much less than the Swazi jacket and are generally more versatile too. If I am travelling in rough stuff, I know the light weight gear will soon be torn to pieces and that’s when I’ll take my Swazi!

Will and his gear

The Old and the New: Hey, We’re Talking About the Gear Here!

I have a Stoney Creek Polartec, windproof micro plus jacket and this should have been worn out long ago. It weighs 575 g and I find it most useful and one of my favourites, even in cold conditions. It will take a good shower of rain too but I do admit, I go to extreme lengths to stay dry. Wet gear is heavier! Mostly though, I’ll take a Marmot Dri Clime windshirt (311 g) and if I expect colder conditions, especially around camp, I’ll take a Rab Neutrino Generator jacket (394 g). I would prefer down filled but I admit synthetic will keep me warm even if it’s a little damp. Besides, I’ve looked for a lighter down filled “camp jacket” but I haven’t been able to find one yet.

My first layer is a Stoney Creek powderdry singlet, bought in 2002, still going strong and weighing 172 g. I bought a new one but unfortunately, it weighs more and doesn’t seem the same. The next layer is a Stoney Creek micro fleece ‘something’ shirt weighing 244 g. Stoney Creek underpants too at 59 g. I also have a pair of Macpac underpants and they weigh 55 g but I find they keep slipping down so I prefer the Stoney Creek ones. I take about five layers of clothes and could wear the lot at once if required except for spare underpants and the singlet. Although it is heavy (1.156kg without the hood), I do like my Stoney Creek, Windproof, Silent Series jacket. It is great for a wet and cold wander through the bush and it’s pretty good on the open tops too.

I like the polafleece 100 shorts that Shirley made for me for the colder weather. Over the summer, I like to wear nylon shorts, as they are lighter and dry quickly. I also like to take a pair of long trousers as a spare and for wearing around camp. Lighter material for the summer and polar fleece for winter. Wearing long trousers around camp keeps the sandflies at bay too. Shirley made me a polar fleece sweatband. Actually she has made me two; a narrow 20 mm one and a wider 30 to 40 mm wide one. I use the narrow one during the summer months while I find the wider good for winter conditions. They come in handy as a face cloth too.

Thinsulate gloves or mittens (91 g) are great for cold fingers. If it is really cold, I take my Kathmandu Gore-tex gloves that can go on over the mittens. I do have a pair of polyprop mittens at 35 g, meaning decisions, decisions!

I think a hat is important and I prefer a fur/felt hat, but will generally take a cotton type with a large brim (a Tilly). Although they say it is, but it isn’t waterproof, however it will take an hour or so of rain before it starts to leak around the sweatband. These hats pack down well too when not needed. A thin supermarket plastic bag over the hat will certainly keep the water out even if it becomes a little noisy! I think it is worth while to have a hat brim all the way around as it sheds water from running down the neck and wetting underclothes. This is really important to me, especially if conditions worsen, to keep clothes dry. I go to extreme lengths to keep dry as wet gear weighs more!

If the weather is cold, I like to wear my Hunting and Fishing Micro Beanie hat around camp. Besides keeping my head warm, it covers the sandfly landing strip up top. I’ll use it too, under the hood of my Swazi Wapiti coat if it’s cold and wet. It is important to keep clothes clean as they will work better – besides being a little lighter.

I really like my Meindl – Island Pro boots (1.928kg). Expensive but good. For rougher country and winter trips they will do the job well. For summer trips or mostly track work, I will take my Zamberlan 48D Zephyr GT boots which weigh 1593 g

My previous light weight boots were a pair of Hi-tec Mitre Peak boots (1.396kg). Strangely, they had a hole on the side, where the tongue connects to the boot and on the first stream crossing water poured in, so I glued the lower tongue to the main boot and then I could tiptoe through small creeks and keep my feet dry. One shouldn’t have to do things like this though.

I don’t mind getting my feet wet at all but it seems pointless to suffer wet feet all day as a result of just one creek to cross. There was one valley I used to go hunting in during the 1960’s and I was continually in and out of the river for days on end. It was a good spot and even the trout fishing was good. In this country, boots only lasted a year or season and even then the hobnails would come out because the leather was continuously waterlogged. To overcome this, my Dad and I would get a piece of hide, nail the hobnails in and then rivet them using old copper nail boat washers. There is a name for them but I’ve forgotten. I think we might have used some horseshoe nails actually. It was a long time ago and the memory is hazy. When done we would visit the boot-maker and get him to replace the old soles with our new ones. Although heavier, no hobs came out after this!

Before your next trip, especially during the winter months, weigh the gear that you select as you take it from your store cupboard. Spread it all out in the sun then after a while weigh it all again. I’m sure you will notice a difference especially with your sleeping bag, These ‘drying’ savings could be more than the weight of your toilet paper?

By carefully selecting my gear, I have managed to cut my weight down from 23 kg to around 15 kg for four to seven day excursions. This included food and a Canon S90 camera. Sadly the heavy Canon was left at home.

I read somewhere that one should carry no more than 20 to 25% of ones body weight and that for me means my target weight is from 14.4kg to 18 kg. That’s from about 32 pounds to 40 pounds in the old measurements and that’s quite enough isn’t it?