Ultra-light Backcountry Gear: Clothing

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.

Adventure Shirt

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.

Camp Shirt

This was an age-class prize at the Birkie in 2013. It’s made from 100% microfiber polyester.

Admittedly a repeat from my last blog, but this is the only photo I can find of me wearing this shirt in camp.

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.

Down Jacket

Mont-Bell Superior Down Parka.

Erik and I in our matching Mont-Bell down jackets on the summit of Longs Peak; July 2013

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.

Adventure Bra

My current model was purchased at Target in 2019; I can’t find the model anymore.

Snowbank Lake Trail, September 2020

Justification: Uh…does this need explanation?

Why this one: It’s wicking and supportive and looks good.

Bra Top

I don’t recall how I came to own this shirt; it was likely a hand-me-down I got in high school.

The only photo I could find with me wearing my bra top. This is Erik and our friend Emily after we completed the Northern Forest Canoe Trail in 2012.

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.

Swimming in the cold Loch with Taylor’s Glacier in the background, Rocky Mountain National Park, July 2013. On top is my old Sport Hill bra. The lines on this one aren’t terribly attractive and I was losing support (but still couldn’t get rid of it) so since I have upgraded to the bra above although I will say a good wicking bra is a must. The underwear are from ExOfficio.

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.

A slight detour up Half Dome (this photo was taken after we did it) from the John Muir Trail, August 2012 with Erik and my bro. You can see my shorts complement my colorful outfit!

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.

Wearing my long underwear on the summit of Longs Peak, July 2013

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.

Adventure Pants

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.

Yes, I know, this is a ridiculous gloves photo, but it’s just so badass I had to include it. Here I am busting out above the gnash after climbing the gully of death on Montana’s high point, August 2017. If you look closely you can see I’m wearing full on ski gloves!

Sun Hat

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.

Having some fun with a big horn sheep horn, Banff, June 2017. By now you’ve likely noticed that I almost always wear the same clothes adventuring:)

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.

Warm Hat

Swag from the Minnesota Finlandia cross-country ski race!

Enjoying the sunset on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, October 2014.

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.

Rain gear

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.

Sporting my Marmot rain gear in Savanna Portage State Park, May 2007, before embarking on the Savanna Portage. Yes, we are those people who actually do the crazy route on these sign posts.

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:)

Operating the hand-powered locks in the Saranac Lake, New York area while wearing our matching Dri Ducks rain gear, Northern Forest Canoe Trail, June 2012

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.

Dry Ducks rain jacket and Mont-Bell rain pants for me (clearly not the most stylish). Dry Ducks rain jacket and Mont-Bell Dynamo Wind Pants for Erik. Gates of the Arctic National Park, July 2018.

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:

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