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A backpacking gear list: Its importance and core functions

On a trip planning checklist, what’s the most time-consuming task? Making travel plans, preparing food, selecting a route — yes, they can all rank up there. But gear selection probably tops the list, especially for new backpackers and for veteran backpackers without experience in a particular location or season.

A gear list will make this process much easier, for current and future trips. In its most basic form, it’s a grocery list of equipment that is either worn or carried. But with some additional organization and columns, it can be much more.

(If you’ve never created a gear list before or if you simply want a better one, consider using my backpacking gear list template. It is user-friendly, comprehensive, and downloadable.)

Virtual packing

An explosion of gear may not be well received if you do not have a spare room or man cave. In contrast, a spreadsheet takes up no space, is accessible with a cloud-synced device from anywhere (e.g. home office, commuter train), and can be edited quickly.

A gear explosion in Amanda's 600 square foot apartment. It did not go over well when she arrived home from work.

A gear explosion in Amanda’s 600 square foot apartment. It did not go over well when she arrived home from work.

Systems organizer

Even a stripped-down kit will have 50+ individual items in it, and 75 to 1oo is probably the norm. By categorizing the gear into distinct systems — e.g. Clothing, Footwear, Shelter, Sleep, Packing, Tools & Utility, Personal Items, etc. — the task at hand seems more manageable. It is easier to concentrate on 5 to 10 items than ten times that amount.

Pack weight calculator

Little can be done at the trailhead if your pack is uncomfortably heavy. Weigh all your gear beforehand using the AWS Table Top Postal Scale (or similar) and tally these weights in the gear list. To reduce pack weight, eliminate unnecessary items, or replace necessary items with lighter alternatives.

12.5 pounds for a 3-day/2-night trip in the UP's Porcupine Mountains, nice!

12.5 pounds for a 3-day/2-night trip in the UP’s Porcupine Mountains, nice!

Track, budget, and fix gear

Mark items that must be purchased, that have been ordered but that have not yet arrived, and that need to be repaired before field use. Add the expected cost, to help compile a budget.

Collaborate with group members

By sharing a virtual spreadsheet — like via Google Drive or Microsoft Office 360 — you can collaborate with group members. This allows you to monitor others’ progress, to compare selections, and to create lists of shared systems like for shelter, stove, and navigation.

A check list

During the final pack-up, use the gear list as a check list to confirm that you have everything. It’s frustrating to discover on the trail that you forgot to put back your liner gloves after using them earlier in the week on brisk morning run, or that your spouse needed some of your OTC medications.

A final pack-up, using the gear list (on my computer) as a check list.

A final pack-up, using the gear list (on my computer) as a check list.

Justify your selections, and create a reference for future trips

Unless you enjoy making the same mistakes twice, take notes of why you selected a particular item and how that item actually performed in the field. When you’re preparing for your next trip, you’ll have a record of whether it excelled or failed, or was critical or unnecessary.

One Response to A backpacking gear list: Its importance and core functions

  1. Shawn K. October 3, 2016 at 9:32 pm #

    To deal with the gear explosion while laying things out for final packing, I use a large flat sheet on the floor or bed. If I need to relocate the lot, it’s easy to grab the four corners and tote the entire load to another area.

    I tried the GearGrams site for my master list, but I’m transitioning to a Google spreadsheet, as you suggested. It’s simpler, and easy to access on multiple devices. I hadn’t used a formal list until recently, and it’s definitely worth the time to go that route for any activity that relies heavily on having the right gear on hand.

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