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Gear To Hold Dear

An article in the Co-op Journal argues for a good pillow, and I agree. I've done my fast and light, and occasionally still have a minimal overnight, but age can confer wisdom, and a need for creature comforts.

I used to also have a warmer internal thermostat. Even light sleeping bags could seem too warm at night. Those days are over, as well as the days of carrying extra clothing.

The way I understand it, if you are not sleeping in all of your clothing (outside of your rain gear) you have either carried too much clothing or too much sleeping bag. Well, maybe one extra clothing item for emergencies. I also won't sleep in my hiking pants or shirt unless I am very cold, or on a fast and light mission.

So I began carrying an inflatable backpacking pillow from Coughlin's I found at a thrift store. After it broke, a little bit too early, I was considering reviewing backpacking pillows online. Before it rose to the top of my to-do list, my eyes caught a glimpse of water wings on the 50% off rack in my grocery store in South Lake Tahoe. It only took an instant for my mind to put the two together.

The first pair lasted longer than the designed backpacking pillow. The second pair I bought for full price and have been using for a couple of years now. I bought two pairs that day and still have the spare pair as a backup.

I also carry a chair converter for my sleeping pad so I have outed myself as not being a light and fast hiker anymore, as if that were even possible!

My question:

What what gear do you carry that dances on the edge of Essential and/or Extra Weight?

17 Replies

Agreed. Extra underwear and especially socks are a necessity. We planned a loop trek around Cottonwood lakes a few years ago. We made it 80% the way around, only to find New Army Pass impassible with snow drifts. With the weather turning south quick, we decided to take the long way back. Several hours hiking in snow and a spectacular thunder/ lightning storm, my feet began to deteriorate quickly (at about 21 miles in a day). I took my shoes off, rested my feet and changed to a new pair of socks and it made a huge difference. My most unreplaceable gear is undoubtedly Darn Tough Socks. They have no equal. Comfy, durable (lifetime warranty) and quick dry. 


I am a double pillow-sleeper at home, so it is a must on the trail. To get all the beauty sleep I need on the trail, I take a cotton pillowcase and a medium, Therm-a-Rest compression travel pillow. Into the pillowcase I stuff whatever is soft (or soft-ish), including pack cover (if not in use), any extra clothes, all stuff sacks, and so on, and twist the pillowcase closed and tie it off. This arrangement becomes my base pillow, and the Therm-a-Rest is my second pillow. At around 9 oz., the Therm-a-Rest is worth its weight in gold to me, and I sleep as well (sometimes better!) with the above set-up than I do at home.

We live in the Mid West/West, and there is always plenty of water along the trail. For trips longer than two or three days, when I am being super careful about weight, I will simply carry less water between stops to "make up" (and yeah, I know that's not how it works) for the extra weight. I seem to do fine by "cameling" up on a liter or so of H2O, and then sweating it out over the next 5 to 7 miles anyway.


My washtub abs. Definitely "extra weight" but on the edge of "essential" since they insist on coming along.

But seriously it's mostly gear that is heavier than it needs to be most of my trips that I have yet to justify having an alternative. Principally my 70L backpack that can comfortably carry 50lbs+ but weighs ~5.5lbs and my "good value" 20 degree 650 fill down sleeping bag is often too warm but could be lighter than its ~3lbs in any case. My max load out with a week of supplies, 2.5L water and a bear can was ~43lb and while I'm pretty sure it has dropped below 32F on a few trips from the morning frost or the fact that there is several feet of icy snow all around, mostly it it hasn't.  I'm looking for some lighter options but haven't found the right ones least not for a price I have so far justified. I generally have taken a tent that is larger than strictly necessary mostly because owning a 2P tent has more potential options so that is what I chose to own. I'm trying a solo trekking pole tent to see if the annoyance is worth the weight savings on casual trips.

For longer trips I do sometimes take 4 different hats (cloth wide brim for the sun, peaked running for rain under my rain jacket hood  or I want less hat, a beanie for the night and a buff (for whatever buffs are for) If you count the hoods its 6!   I have to admit that seems a bit excessive.    I do use them all at different times of the day and under different circumstance. I'm still trying to figure out if the Buff can replace the beanie. I'm not that fond of the Buff so far but it seems compellingly useful so I'm trying to like it. Technically, I suppose it is a head "base layer" rather than a hat 🙂

Otherwise, the only duplicate "changes" I take are socks (always) underwear (2 nights or more) and a t-shirt (3 nights or more - I have so far always worn a t-shirt under my hiking shirt). My clothing is layered and since I would only wear all layers at once in extremis, there is always a layer to change into for any likely event...kind of the point of layers. Unlikely events are unlikely. Improvisation takes over at that point. Keeping a change of clothes and shoes in the car is a good idea. For longer non wintery 3 season/alpine trips I generally take 4 layers of some sort counting t-shirt and underwear ("short" base layer?). I generally wear my "long" base layer to sleep and not to hike. Wintery conditions are a different animal which I have not attempted to backpack in...different rules may apply but apart from the impracticality of the possibility of rinsing out underwear when it is freezing, I suspect it is mostly just more and different layers.

While a pillow might not be essential to everyone, a pillow is essential if it gives you get a good nights sleep. The point after all is to enjoy oneself and "survival mode" is not the experience I'm generally searching for. I prefer a lot of pillow. I use a pillow for about a third of each day so it gets a lot of use. It's just as "essential" as anything else. Just like a sleeping pad, nothing improvised works as well and improvising limits where you can comfortably camp. I've even tried taking two pillows with mixed results...small ones move around far too easily. I'm considering a Goosefeetgear down "stuff sack" pillow to enhance my inflatable but justifying the cost is giving me pause.

Don't ditch the big pack yet.

I mean, the hats!


I frequently love my climbing rope, even when not used - it is good insurance. And when i am dangling above the void, for one reason or another, it is really priceless.

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BRAUN73F-lr-SharpenAI-focus red.jpg

REI Member Since 1979

The times I wish I had brought one...

Including climbing Mt Lyell's glacier and falling into a hip-wide crevasse. I twisted on the way down to self-arrest. My partner would have never gotten me out if I got jammed.

Continuing on to the Class 2-3 Summit included crossing a bottomless bergstrund. The other summiting party that day had a couple of ropes.

Top 10 for tough summits.


@Former community memberNot going to ditch it.  It's good for trips ~week or more with no resupply or possibly winter use both which I have still have ambitions for at some point. 

I'm aiming for a bear can capable lightweight setup for mild 3 season/alpine use up ~4 nights.  A different pack is the cheapest way to remove 2-3 lbs given that a decent quilt is ~$300+ and probably closer to $400 and I have to decide if I want to risk a 30 degree for that money.   Currently trying a Granite Gear Crown 2 38 which supposedly will carry 35lb+ comfortably.  Haven't got around to futzing with it much so I don't know how well it will handle all the hats yet.  Surprisingly it will fit a BV500 vertically.    I don't think that's going to be comfortable once packed but a BV500 is overkill for 4 nights anyway.  I need to get a smaller can.  However it bodes well for the hat collection.