Any hike, be it a thru hike, day hike or multi-day backpacking trip requires specific gear designed for the conditions the adventurer will encounter. From the weather to the trail itself, hiking in the great outdoors tests the capabilities of the explorer mentally and physically. Choosing proper gear for the journey is paramount. Just like not all hikers and trails are the same, so too, not all gear is created equal and therefore what works for one hiker might not work for another. Not to mention, what works on one trail, might not work on another. Gear choices can be just as long a process as planning out a long hike. It is highly recommended that you do your homework before heading out on trail and know the conditions you might be exposed to and if the gear you are considering is even right for you. We would also encourage you to use the gear on a few test runs before the real adventure begins. From the pack you use to each piece of gear you’ll carry on the inside and outside of it, they are all vital components to a successful hike.
The gear we chose, for the Colorado Trail, was based, not only on our own personal research and experience, but the reviews and experience of other hikers. There is a vast community of hikers out there, as well, a vast amount of gear choices and just as many opinions. Ultimately what we chose boiled down to our own experiences with each piece of gear. Some, of which, we had already been using, tried and tested on trail. Some gear was new to us, pre-tested beforehand and some was trial and error on trail. Luckily we reside in Colorado and are used to hiking in the Rocky Mountains. Much of our gear was already in place for our hike. Some we needed, some we wanted and some we just wanted to upgrade.
If you know someone with a specific piece of gear you are interested in, speak with them, ask to see or use it. Stores like REI will also set gear up in the store, let you try on clothing and help fit you with a pack. But don’t just hand them you wallet either. There are also plenty of cottage companies out there that have cutting edge gear, generally considered ultralight and better suited for long distance thru hikes. These can be expensive, though, are very lightweight and use quality materials. Used, and or, last years models can also be a great way to save on costs, look for discount stores such as Sierra Trading Post. We have used all of the above methods. Just like the gear itself, research each company, their return and warranty policies.
Take into account the actual hike you are planning for. Is this a thru hike, multi-day backpacking trip or just an outing for the day? Our choices vary greatly depending on the type of hike we are going on. On a thru hike we prioritize weight, whereas a day hike we don’t necessarily even think about pack weight. A multi-day hike on the other hand will be a blend of the two, leaning more towards creature comfort than weight savings, all the while not overdoing it. It is a balancing act. Going ultralight or cutting way down on pack weight doesn’t mean being uncomfortable, it just means making wise choices and, yes, opening up your wallet a bit more in some cases. But, very few people actually fit into the thru hiker category. We ourselves are not considered thru hikers, even though we did thru hike the Colorado Trail. Again, it’s a balancing act of making gear choices that are right for the individual based on the trail being planned for and the amount of money you are willing to invest.
Hike your own hike, plan your own schedule and choose your own gear! Only you can make these decisions based on your own needs. Don’t get carried away by what’s popular or what the influencers are saying. There is a lot of great gear and gear companies out there. Talk to them and make sure they are listening to you and your needs. Not only is it a balancing act, it’s a process, a process, that if done correctly, will result in a comfortable, memorable and successful hike, regardless of length and duration.
All that said, we get a lot of questions about our gear, especially since we have returned from our thru hike of the Colorado Trail. Below we have created a list of essential gear we chose for the CT in 2019 and have attempted to answer “what worked and what didn’t?” This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but does cover a majority of our gear. If it seemingly sounds as if we had no complaints, keep in mind, we took a very long time researching these choices before heading out on our hike. Some items were trial and error on trail, admittedly not the best time to experiment with new gear. Below we list our gear, a quick review accompanied by a video.
- Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System
- Part 2: Cook System, Food and Storage, Water and Filtration
- Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene
- Part 4: Electronics and Safety
- Part 5: Q & A
Part 1: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System
- Gossamer Gear Mariposa. A new product for us, that was a 60 liter workhorse on trail that had just the right amount of internal space and external pockets for our gear. The empty weight of the pack averages 2 lbs, depending on hip belt size and accessories. We both recommend this pack for thru hiking and multi-day adventures. Complaints were few. The top “lid” outer pocket is a bit awkward to access when it is strapped down. The removable frame can get in the way when stuffing large items down inside the inner compartment. The load lifters on Miller’s pack both failed on trail, a week apart. By all appearances the stitching was to blame. This did not render the pack unusable, just lessened the comfort level. We contacted Gossamer Gear and a new pack was sent immediately.
- Zpacks Duplex (2 person tent). At 1.5 lbs (including 6 stakes) this is considered an ultralight tent. Zpacks is a small cottage company using Dyneema (Cuban Fiber) composite materials that are extremely lightweight, waterproof and highly tear resistant. This was a new product for us and is the first two person tent we have ever used that was truly made for two people. We used it in all types of weather, prior to and during our Colorado Trail thru hike. We definitely recommend this tent for any outing, be it one night or thru hiking. The price is a bit high, but after using this product we would definitely buy it again in the future.
- Sleeping Pad: Exped Synmat Duo (winter version). Another new product for us to pair with our double sleeping quilt, see below. It replaced both of our Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite pads, which are better suited for mummy style sleeping bags. We went with the winter version for increased R-value (R-5) in the higher elevations along the Colorado Trail. We could have chosen the lighter, summer version and stayed comfortable, so this was a personal choice and added weight. At 2.5 lbs (including pump sack) we considered this a luxury item, though only .5 lbs heavier than the regular version (R value 3.3) we accepted the extra weight for our own comfort level. With two separate air chambers, a great option for those who like different hardness levels to their mattresses, this has become a favorite for us. We did get a small hole later in our hike, easily patched and continues to work well. No complaints.
- Sleeping Quilt: We used an Enlightened Equipment Accomplice (10° down) weighing 2.5 lbs. We had never used a quilt before. This replaced our two mummy style 21° sleeping bags. Bottom line, we will never go back to a traditional sleeping bag again. The comfort level of having a quilt over a bag is night and day. Movement is not restricted, shared body heat with your partner is a big plus, lightweight materials keep overall weight down without having to take away from the comfort level. Complaints, none. Would we chose a single quilt over a sleeping bag, yes. Enlightened Equipment is a cottage company.
- Pillow: Exped Air Pillow (Large). Weighing in at 3 oz it is a middle ground “blow up style” pillow. Basic in nature, it did the job. Nothing special here, other than being lightweight. We chose to inflate them half to three quarters full for our comfort level. Complaints? Slippery material caused it to move easily on the sleeping pad. We wrapped them in a shirt and that help to stop movement and give it a softer feel.
Part 2: Cook System, Food and Storage, Water and Filtration
- Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket. We still use the original version of this great lightweight canister stove. Weighing in at just over 2.5 oz, it might be small, but it is highly effective at heating and boiling water quickly. Paired with the right cook pot (see below) we can boil water in about one minute. Keep in mind, we heat or boil our water to clean our utensils, re-hydrate our meals or make coffee and tea. We are not doing any other style cooking with this stove. We prefer to use MSR canister fuels over other brands, a result of high altitude use. The stove cools down quickly after use.
- Cook Pot: Snowpeak 1400 Titanium Cook Pot. Solid, lightweight (4.4 oz) and holds a medium sized fuel canister and stove when packed away. Though larger than what we necessarily need, the weight difference is minimal. On the plus side, because of its size, the water level in the pot is low causing the water to heat and boil faster, saving on fuel consumption. Being able to store everything together saves on space in our packs. Complaints? Can be hot to touch immediately after a boil, though it does cool down rapidly. More expensive than aluminum.
- Utensils: Sea to Summit “long handle” sporks. Spoon and fork design in a single item. Long handle is great for eating from meals that are packaged in deep bags. Lightweight and easy to clean. No complaints.
Water and Filtration
- Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze. Lightweight (3 oz), non-mechanical, easy to use, easy to clean and rated to 0.1 micron. The filter easily screws on to a Smartwater bottle and our water filter (see below ). We replaced a heavier pump style filter several years ago and have been using this filter ever since.
- Water Bags: CNOC Outdoors 2 Liter Vecto. This amazing and very versatile bag is the perfect compliment to the Sawyer Squeeze for an all around thru hiker water system. The Vecto can be filled on either end, one end having a threaded water bottle style opening ,the other a full bag opening for fast fill in streams, creeks and lakes. The Sawyer Squeeze filter screws right on to the Vecto. We filled these bags and pushed water through our filter and also hung the bag for a gravity fed system through our filter. Other uses include, pillow, cold compress, shower (with attached valve) just to name a few. Complaints? None.
- Water bottles: Smart Water. Easily attached to our water system components, fit great in side pockets of our backpacks and easily found in just about any store that sells bottled water.
Food and Storage
- Storage: Ursack Major bear bag and Loksak Opsak liner. This is a personal preference in Colorado. Most areas of Colorado do do not require a bear vault, however, keeping food and other items with odors sealed and off the ground is always recommended. That said, the trees in the higher elevations are not suited for hanging bear bags. That is where the Ursack comes in as it can be tied to the trunk of a tree. Complaints? Heavier than other standard bags, though lighter than a vault. Expensive. The Opsak liner “zip-lock” feature can fail after long term use.
- Backpackers Pantry. Plenty of flavors to choose from while keeping your palate entertained. Just pour hot water in the bag, let re-hydrate and eat. Simple trail food with a not so simple taste. We chose vegetarian and gluten free meals.
- Mary Jane’s Farm. Several organic options and flavors to choose from while keeping your palate entertained. Just pour hot water in the bag, let re-hydrate and eat. Simple trail food with a not so simple taste. We chose vegetarian and gluten free meals.
- DIY Meals. We put together our own meals using bulk products from Harmony House and dry foods for an organic grocery store, ie instant potatoes, rice etc.
- Bobo Bars. Basic, hardy and filling. Make sure you choose as many different flavors as you can find otherwise you’ll be carrying them around instead of eating them. Miller liked to spread peanut butter on them for an extra protein blast.
- Snickers. The ultimate thru hiker food! This became our breakfast about halfway through the trail. It just works.
- Stinger. Various bars and snacks that we enjoyed the entire hike. The waffles and chews were the best.
- NuGo. Various bars with added protein. Hardy and filling. Don’t overdo it, you get tired of the same flavor over and over.
- Justin’s. Peanut butter and almond butter packets. These are great, add them to just about anything, including meals, or just eat from the pack.
- Starbucks and Mount Hagen instant coffee singles. We wound up drinking our coffee cold to save on fuel consumption and no prep time in the mornings. Just dropped two of them in a water bottle and started hiking.
- Emergen-C. Added to our water to balance electrolytes and help hydrate.
- Louisville Jerky. One of our favorites! Vegan, huge on flavor and perfect for hiking.
- Resupply Points. Frisco, Twin Lakes, Mt Princeton Hot Springs, Salida, Gunnison, Lake City and Silverton.
Part 3: Clothing and Hygiene
- Shirt: ExOfficio Lightscape Digi-Stripe Shirt: Great comfortable, lightweight shirt with sun protection, which has side and back vents to help in staying cool. I only felt a bit too warm in some of the lower elevations and hotter days.
- Pants: Baleaf Women’s Yoga Pants: The entire Baleaf yoga pant line are super comfortable that allow for ease of movement.
- Skirt: Mountain Hardwear Dynama Skirt: This skirt has been a favorite of mine on all of our hikes. Comfortable fit with large pockets for keeping items close at hand. I used this skirt without the yoga pants on warmer sections and days.
- Panties: ExOfficio Women’s Give-n-Go Sport Mesh Bikini Brief: Lightweight and comfortable
- Sports Bra: Champion: Simply put, an inexpensive, comfortable sports bra.
- Socks: Injinji and Darn Tough: Perfect combination that were comfortable and lasted the entire hike, and then some.
- Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 14 Trail Runners: I started out with Altra Lone Peaks, which wreaked havoc on my Achilles tendon. I wished I had understood more about the zero drop before I purchased Altra shoes. I switched out to a pair of Brooks which have become my favorite trail runners.
- Gaiters: Dirty Girl: I wore my gaiters at all times which were great at keeping dirt and rocks out of my socks and shoes.
- Jacket (Puffy): Arc’teryx Cerium LT – Hooded Lightweight and very warm, especially when temp rises above low 30s.
- Rain Gear: Frogg Toggs and Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella: I used the umbrella primarily for keeping the sun, which it did well. Frogg Toggs is great lightweight inexpensive rain gear but tends to tear somewhat easily, but the price makes it worth using.
- Gloves (Dry/Wet): Outdoor Research VersaLiner Gloves: They served the purpose for this hike, but not the warmest gloves I have used. The outer removable shell, used to keep gloves and hands dry, was the primary reason for taking these gloves on the hike.
- Base Layer: Smartwool Merino Wool 150 Base Layer top and bottoms: Great base layer that can be used for sleeping or for layering.
- Shirt and Pant/Short: Columbia. PFG long sleeve shirt. Long pants with zip off legs. Great outdoor clothing that uses moisture wicking technology. Trail tested for years. No complaints.
- Briefs: 2 pairs of Exofficio Give-n-Go Briefs. Like Columbia, Exofficio uses lightweight technology in their fabrics to create great clothing options for outdoor adventures. No complaints.
- Socks: 2 pair of Smartwool ankle socks. Comfortable, took a pounding for 500 miles and are still in great shape. No complaints.
- Shoes: Trail Runners. Hiked first 75 miles in Altra Lone Peaks 3.5 and switched to the Hoka Stinson ATR 5. Altra has a great foot box and worked great for needing extra room, but the shoe lacks impact comfort with its “zero drop” design. The Hoka was great for impact and held up well for the remainder of the trail. Comfortable and lightweight. No complaints.
- Gaiters: Dirty Girl. Their gaiters are fun, choose a pattern that suits you! Definitely worth having these on to help keep dirt and debris out of your shoes. No complaints.
- Jacket (Puffy): Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer. Super lightweight and warm down puffy, despite first out of the box impressions, once I wore it on trail I was sold. Packs down small. No complaints.
- Rain Gear: Frogg Toggs and Six Moons Design Umbrella. The rain gear is cheap, basic and does the job. Would not recommend for daily use in wet environments as the quality of the materials is not great. For drier climates like Colorado they were great. Complaints: none for the price. The umbrella was better at keeping the warm sun off than a driving rain, though when the wind was not a factor it worked great. Very lightweight. Complaints? Tends to fly away in wind.
- Gloves (Dry/Wet): Outdoor Research VersaLiner Gloves . Not the warmest gloves in the world, but did okay just below dry freezing temps. The outer liner works well with light moisture. Decent for occasional use. In long term cold and wet conditions would recommend something heavier.
- Base Layer: Smartwool Merino Wool 150 Base Layer top and bottoms. Primarily used for sleeping in. Great lightweight product used in layering. Very comfortable. No complaints.
- Taking a birdbath with Wet Wipes in the tent
- Dr Broners Soap for our gear, clothing and selves
- Filtered Water
- Hotel bathtub and laundry rooms to clean our clothes
Part 4: Electronics and Safety
- Trekking Poles: Miller used the CNOC Outdoors Vertex Z-style Carbon poles with the straps removed. When not in use they fold up nice and compact. Debbie tried them but found the length to be to tall, after adjusting below recommended height lines, they kept collapsing on trail. Miller did not have the same issue, but was also using recommended height. Debbie switched to the Cascade Mountain Teck poles sold at Costco and had no issues afterwards. Great price on a pole very similar to the Black Diamond carbon poles. The CNOC and Cascade poles were lightweight, 16 oz or less, and held up great on trail. We also used the CNOC poles to set up our Zpacks Duplex each night.
- SOS / GPS / 2-Way Satellite: Garmin inReach Explorer Plus. Nice to have on trail when there is no phone service. Built for the outdoors and has several great safety features no thru hiker should be without. Thankfully we have never had to use the SOS feature, but it is nice to know help will come if we ever needed it. We paired it with our phone (see below), using its larger screen to view the topo maps and send / receive messages while keeping the Garmin packed away in our pack. No complaints. Battery life is good, but can run low if you use the messaging feature a lot.
- Phone: Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus. It’s a phone, what can we say. We used the cameras, typical phone functions and coupled them with our Garmin inReach. Instead of carrying the Colorado Trail Guide Book, we took pictures of every page and accessed the info in our phone.
- Video Camera: To save weight we reluctantly left our full size DSLR cameras at home for this hike. We took a Go Pro Hero 7 Black with us and have mixed reviews. All of our videos were shot using this small and very lightweight action camera. The in camera stabilization is pretty good, though suffers in low light. The higher the resolution setting you use, the faster the battery will drain. We shot in 1080p and usually got up to two days use on a single battery. During normal light thge footage is quite good for what you might expect from this type of camera. Chief complaints, we found that the camera could easily be turned on if bumped, needless to say, we found the battery dead on more than one occasion. There are also several built in microphones that are quite sensitive and pick up on handheld noises.
- Power: Anker PowerCore Plus 26800 PD. This “brick” kept all of our electronics charged up easily for 4 – 6 days at a time. Well worth the extra pound of weight. It fast charges as well, keeping recharging times to a minimum. Great product. Complaints? It’s heavy!
- Bear Spray: UDAP 7.9 oz canister. Like the SOS feature on our Garmin inReach, we have not had to use the bear spray. It’s nice to have, but thankfully it is unused. On a side note, we have never felt threatened by an wildlife on trail or in camp in Colorado.
- Lighting: We use Black Diamond headlamps. Lightweight and have a great luminosity when on trail or at camp. Red light feature is good when you want to be a little more stealthy. Great battery life. No complaints.
- Umbrellas: Debbie used the Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella and Miller used the Six Moons Design Silver Shadow Mini. Both about the same in weight, Debbie’s an ounce heavier at 8oz vs Miller’s at 6.53oz. The biggest difference, the Six Moons Design is much more compact. They both work well to keep rain, small hail and sun off you, though, like any umbrella, tend to want to take flight in high winds. A lightweight umbrella is definitely worth having on trail.
Part 5: Q & A
The last in the video series of What Worked – What Didn’t on the Colorado Trail where we answer the questions you sent in. In all, 19 questions that we found universal among most people with other tidbits thrown in here and there, the details are pretty much covered in the videos above. It is a bit long, almost three hours. There is a time stamp included if you would rather go right to the Q&A portion you are looking for.
- Q1 What camera gear did you use? 2:00
- Q2 Personal protection. Gun, bear spray or other? 4:11
- Q3 What clothing did you take? Would you change anything? 6:31
- Q4 How did you resupply? Hitches into town? 18:00
- Q5 What was your food plan? 49:38
- Q6 What was in your resupply box? 1:00:00
- Q7 How did you stay clean on trail? Clean clothes and gear? 1:04:51
- Q8 How did you deal with storms? 1:13:17
- Q9 Did you like the Zpacks Duplex Tent? Would you change any gear? 1:24:25
- Q10 How did you handle your water needs? Filter, chemicals, boil? 1:35:25
- Q11 Was is cold at night? On trail? Coldest temperature? 1:51:48
- Q12 How did you divide your gear weight? 1:58:11
- Q13 Did you see any wildlife? 2:08:10
- Q14 How much weight did you lose on the CT? 2:15:36
- Q15 Would you hike the same time of year again? 2:19:58
- Q16 What was your favorite part of the CT? 2:26:57
- Q17 What was your most pleasant surprise on the CT? 2:30:11
- Q18 What was your most unpleasant surprise? 2:37:00
- Q19 Did you feel prepared after starting the trail, having trained for it prior? 2:43:55
We hope you enjoyed our Colorado Trail thru hike and the accompanying gear videos. If you have any questions feel free to contact us.
See you out there!