Unlike my first gear post, this one will follow a different format. Given we practice ultra-light backpacking, this requires justification for every clothing item because every ounce counts. Also, unlike a tent and sleeping pad, most of my backpacking clothes include race swag and even school clothes!
Keep in mind the goal of ultra-light backpacking is to bring only what is needed.
This was swag from the Chippewa Triathlon in 2007. It’s 100% polyester. My first adventure with this shirt was way back in 2008 when Erik and I hiked the Tour de Mont Blanc for our honeymoon. It’s been on almost every adventure since.
Justification: Sun protection, warmth, anti-chaffing, modesty- not that I’m modest:) This is my “dirty” shirt that gets all sweaty and stinky.
Why this one: That’s a good question! This shirt has been my adventure shirt for so long it’s hard to remember why I picked it but likely because it was a light color so it’s cooler in the sun and also the wrist cuffs are fairly tight so I’m not likely to get sun exposure from rolling them up. Now it’s just habit to bring it on adventures.
This was an age-class prize at the Birkie in 2013. It’s made from 100% microfiber polyester.
Justification: Dry shirt to wear for warmth around camp and while sleeping. I also refer to this as my “clean” shirt.
Why this one: I weighed all my wicking shirts and this one was lightest and comfortable.
Mont-Bell Superior Down Parka.
Justification: Warmth around camp and for sleeping in when it’s really cold. This jacket is my lifeline.
Why this one: Back in 2012, my engineer husband did a lot of research and determined the Mont-Bell Superior Down Parka had the best warmth to weight ratio. He got orange and I got boring black cause that’s all the was available.
My current model was purchased at Target in 2019; I can’t find the model anymore.
Justification: Uh…does this need explanation?
Why this one: It’s wicking and supportive and looks good.
I don’t recall how I came to own this shirt; it was likely a hand-me-down I got in high school.
Justification: Some support for around camp that is warmer than just a bra and comfortable enough to sleep in.
Why this one: It’s the only one I own that still has some support left…because I never get rid of my clothes.
ExOfficio Underwear– my previous models have all been discontinued.
I always bring with 2 pair (and sometimes, more recently 3 pair!) so I can wash one pair and not have to put on wet underwear although on my last couple trips I have been putting on wet underwear so I can always keep a pair dry.
Justification: Again, do I need to explain? I don’t wear shorts with built-in underwear.
Why this one: Erik bought me the pair pictured above within the first year we were dating. I’ve since traded up for a more bikini model. Wicking and quick drying underwear are essential and these fit the bill.
Back in high school, our cross-country running team hosted a “crazy shorts” meet every year. These chili pepper shorts were my crazy shorts my senior year of high school. They are made from 100% cotton.
Justification: Keep my underwear and skin clean when sitting, anti-chaffing, some sun coverage, modesty.
Why this one: I have no idea what inspired me to wear these on the John Muir Trail- I can only say my entire outfit was quite colorful! After the John Muir Trail they became my hiking shorts but they got all beat up so my mom made a second edition for more adventures!
Long Underwear (aka Long Johns)
These are some wicking long underwear that I also use for cross-country skiing, winter running, sledding, etc.
Justification: Warmth around camp and sleeping (and sometimes I hike in them if it’s cold).
Why this one: The long underwear I’ve brought with backpacking have changed over the years as my previous pair got too saggy in the waist. I don’t like to bring my best pair in case I sit on any pokey rocks.
I’ve worn pants on our canoe trips but only more recently started bringing them on backpacking trips, especially if bushwacking is in order! I’ve been using this old pair of scrub pants I got in nursing school since 2009!!! The more I wash ’em, the lighter they get!
Justification: Sun protection, bug protection, warmth, and leg protection for bushwacking.
Why this pair: Erik and his family got me into the idea of wearing scrub pants. I like these because they are a dark color so they don’t show the dirt, have a couple pockets, and rarely stick to my legs when I get sweaty.
Socks and Shoes
These are the least consistent in terms of what I bring because socks and shoes tend to wear out faster than other clothes. I don’t think justification is required.
Sock thoughts: For years I brought socks that were way too short and paid in the price in chaffing and blisters! I’ve finally learned my lesson!
On shoes: Hiking boots don’t work well for me. Their stiffness leads to blisters for me. I tried hiking shoes with really stiff soles for our Tour de Mont Blanc trip in 2008 but had heel rubbing. Since then I’ve been using running shoes, sometimes trail runners, sometimes road runners. Usually as long as I wear tall enough socks, I have zero blisters and running shoes are remarkably comfortable!
Admittedly, I often forget the gloves. These are uber important for when it’s cold and as I discovered in the Beartooths, can also help save the skin on my hands when doing lots and lots of bouldering! Over the years I’ve failed to bring gloves (and had cold hands in the mornings- or sometimes borrowed Erik’s), have brought liner gloves, and have brought heavy gloves.
I got my current sun hat way back in 2012. It’s obviously faded a lot since then but it’s pink and so I love it. It’s from Outdoor Research and my model has obviously been discontinued but it’s closest to the Solar Roller. Note, Erik re-sewed the straps on my hat so they are on the edge of the brim. This adds extra sun protection, especially if it’s windy, and sometimes keeps my glasses dry if it’s raining.
Justification: mostly sun protection but some warmth as well.
Why this one: it’s pink! Also, a drawstring is an absolute must as often it’s windy. Overall this hat is fairly comfortable and lightweight.
Swag from the Minnesota Finlandia cross-country ski race!
Justification: To keep me warm around camp, while sleeping, and sometimes hiking if it’s cold.
Why this one: The Minnesota Finlandia is my home-town race and I love supporting them so I’ve mostly been using this hat since 2014.
Over the years I’ve had three different sets of rain gear.
First: Marmot. This rain gear is fairly expensive and I quickly discovered it didn’t last long. I think part of the reality here is that the longer and harder it rains, it’s almost impossible to keep dry. I found that the Marmot gear didn’t stay waterproof for very long as the waterproofing flaked away and especially at areas like the shoulders with pack straps.
Second: Dri Ducks. This rain gear is incredibly lightweight, cheap, and packs down well. Downsides are that it rips easily (so we always bring Tyvek tape, which is lightweight for patches- and soon it becomes more of a Tyvek suit!) and the zippers are uncomfortable, particularly the top of the zipper that ends up by the face. Otherwise they make quite the fashion statement! In terms of actual rain protection, these seem every bit as good as the Marmot gear, perhaps even better, at a fraction of the cost. Erik wanted to upgrade to something more durable, so see below. Dri Ducks no longer makes this lightweight rain gear. Now it’s made by Frogg Toggs. If you busted your budget on the $600 tent from the last blog post and can only spare $16.99 for a rain suit, you are in luck:)
Third (current generation): Pants- the Versalite Pants Women’s by Mont-Bell. The color is listed as black navy and that’s no joke:) Erik got the men’s version first and I followed suit a couple years later. I first brought these to Alaska in 2018 and only used them a couple days. They seemed to keep me dry when hiking and added warmth while packrafting. I think I still got a little wet during a downpour on the river. Despite bringing these on a few subsequent trips, I haven’t had to use them.
Last year I bought the Frogg Toggs Women’s Ultra-Light Rain Jacket because it comes in hot pink. I also liked that it was cheap, like $25 cheap. So far I’ve only brought this jacket on one adventure, our Boundary Waters Fernberg Road Loop, when it never rained and so I never tested it. My initial feedback is that the jacket is heavy and does not pack down very tight so I’m considering switching to the Rain Hiker Jacket Women’s (in osprey color of course) by Mont-Bell.
In summary, here’s a slimmed-down version of my clothes list:
One thought on “Ultra-light Backcountry Gear: Clothing”