Saturday, March 14, 2015

Keep it simple - Basic essentials to family backpacking

In 2009 I had won a photo contest and the prize was a $500 gift card to Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).  We (hubby Joel and I) decided to use it towards purchasing backpacking gear.  Namely tents, sleeping bags and pads, camp stove and the other essential items specific to backpacking.  We pretty much started from scratch and had to outfit two adults and two small children aged 2 and 4 years old at the time.  Needless to say…we went a tad over budget but managed to purchase all the gear without depleting the pocketbook entirely.  Over the years some of the gear has been replaced.  We switched from blow up type sleeping pads to the Therm-a-rest type, which are much warmer.  Replaced hard metal dishes with plastic bendable snap together type dishes.  They fit anywhere and take up no room.  Then we added an axe, tarp, and backpacks for the kids plus backpack covers.  Other than that we are pretty much still using the bulk of gear purchased from MEC back in 2009.

The gear is quite simple.  Nothing fancy but meets our needs.  It facilitates us doing what we love and to be honest, I don’t measure the quality of my outdoor time on what I am sleeping in or eating from.  Who thinks back on a backpacking trip through pristine backcountry and says, “Hey, my tent looked absolutely beautiful or those dishes made the meal so much better.” In fact, before writing this blog post, I had to scour through hundreds and hundreds of photos to even find a photo of our tents and backpacking dishes to no avail.  So I made a point of taking a few photos of our gear while out on our last backpacking trip.  They turned out terrible because I was so distracted with the ocean views, rope swing near a cascading waterfall and exploring sea caves.  Even as I write this I can’t focus on gear!

FOCUS Jill! As I started to work out the details and ideas for this blog post I thought about who my readers may be.  I am very cautious about claiming to be an expert on anything as I just do what works for me and the family.  I certainly am not an expert on gear and am happy to use whatever I have or rely on the gear Joel researches and buys.  Part of the appeal to backpacking is how empowered I feel with less.  That is what I want to share with my readers.  Perhaps you have never backpacked before, perhaps you want to bring the family along, maybe you are looking for the “what to buy” or maybe you are just curious how we do it. Whatever the reason may be, if it gets you inspired and out backpacking then I am happy.

A quick look at how we set up camp...in 17seconds

I consider our backpacking gear to be a modest collection.  There is still a financial commitment required to build up an inventory of backpacking supplies but it can be managed.  We certainly do not have the most expensive gadgets or top of the line gear.  Of course the proper gear can make the experience more enjoyable and easier but it should not deter you from backpacking at all.  There is a wide range of products to suit everyone’s pocketbook.  What we find important and value is that it works and facilitates us getting into the backcountry and spending time together.

Back in February we were able to sneak in a quick backpack adventure along the Juan de Fuca trail. It was an overnight backpack trip (day 1 hike in and stay overnight, day 2 hike out).  Pretty simple and basic as far as backpacking goes.  But it will give you, the reader, a look what our adventure family uses to make it happen.

Backpacking gear (most of it pictured here)

2 tents (with footprints) - MEC Camper 2
4 sleeping pads – Therm-a-rest 2-lite, MEC Reactor Explorer 2.5, MEC Kelvin 3.8, and Therm-a-rest Pro Plus Women
4 sleeping bags – 2 Chinook Thermopalm Mummy 32F, Chinook Microloft Hooded 23F, and Outbound Hike Lite Mummy 26F
MEC Integral Designs Silttarp
4 Backpacks – 2 MEC Brio (older models and think they are 60 – 90L sizes), MEC Deuter Junior, and MEC Aria 30L plus 3 MEC backpack covers
MSR Dragonfly liquid fuel stove (fuel canister and lighter)

MSR Base 2 Pot and a GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist mug
2 Guyotdesigns Microbites cooking utensils, 2 GSI Outdoors Pouch Spoons, and 4 Sporks, 2 Pocket knives, and assorted Fozzils bowls and plates

Gerber Gator Combo Axe II
2 large and 2 small Tektowels
2 LED Cree headlamps and 4 Black Diamond Spot Headlamps
First Aid and safety supplies (would include maps and guide books when applicable)
Toiletries (mini versions)
The extra stuff:
Gopro Hero 3 with a few attachments and a Nikon camera plus extra lens and battery
2 cell phones
The Life Saver III battery pack
Charging cords – (enough to get tangled in…pet peeve)
1 stuffed animal, a deck of cards, 2 books, and a KEEN journal and pen
Luxury items:
Bottle of red wine in a Platypus Platy Preserve wine bladder.

3 Firelogs – we brought ONLY because of the short hike and being February, a fire was an option.  Normally Vancouver Island experiences fire bans due to dry conditions so this was a first for us, having a fire while backpacking.  Other times we are hiking in the backcountry and fires are not permitted.
Footwear and clothing:
Men’s KEEN Marshall WP

Women’s KEEN Gypsum

and Boy & Girl KEEN Chandler CNX.  Being the WET-coast, kids also wore rubber boots because they both have outgrown their KEEN hiking boots - time to go shopping.

4 Raincoats (MEC, Patagonia, and 2 North Face)

4 pairs of extra socks (kids always get wet feet) 

4 toques, pairs of gloves, under armour wear (shirt and pants)and light sweaters

We all wore hiking type pants (mostly MEC brand) and non-cotton type short and long sleeve shirts.

We are pretty basic with our cooking and food is always a hassle, namely how much we have to bring because the kids are constantly hungry. Being only a quick overnight hike, I was able to keep them somewhat satisfied this trip.  That is not usually the case.

Supper was one of our 1 pot wonder meals - 2 Mac & cheese, pre-cooked chicken and fresh cauliflower.

2 Backpackers Pantry strawberry cheese cakes for dessert 

Breakfast – I pre mix oatmeal and brown sugar in a bag, 2 small vanilla yogurts, 2 apples, 2 oranges, instant coffee and cream packed in a small container.  (risky, I know)

Lunch and endless snacks - bag of mixed munchies, 8 Oreo cookies, 8 granola bars, peperoni sticks, 8 bagels, cream cheese spread, 1 bell pepper, salami, 2 apples, 2 oranges, bag of babybel cheese, 2 Gatorades, 4 water bottles, and water purifying drops.

For us, this is what works.  There is certainly room to improve the gear as far a weight and size are concerned but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”


  1. Love the pics, Jill! : ) We don't have high end stuff either, but a few nice things to save weight/space. I think you're doing it right 'cause you're getting out and using the stuff!!! That's most important, right? Love the wine in the Platypus. : ) I've joked about doing that but usually am too weighted down and bring something stronger in a flask. Maybe on Juan de Fuca since the distances we're doing will be short!

    1. Thanks for the comments. Can't wait to hear about you JDF adventure. Tried the flask but went back to wine. Preference I guess. Cheers!