It’s been years since I posted a complete backpacking gear list for a trip. Instead, I’ve been doing in-depth dives on specific categories (e.g. shelter systems, stove systems, first aid kits) that I believe are more instructive and universally relevant than lengthy gear lists that are specific to a single location, season, and group size.
Nonetheless, in this post you’ll find my gear list for my recent yo-yo of the Pfiffner Traverse, a 77-mile high route between Milner and Berthoud Passes in Colorado’s Front Range that passes through Rocky Mountain National Park, Indian Peaks Wilderness, and James Peak Wilderness. Overall, my kit was spot-on, and it’d serve as a helpful template for a similar trip.
Objective & conditions
There is a “right way” to backpack. Specifically, you should have the gear, supplies, and skills that are appropriate for your trip objective and the conditions.
The focus of this post is the gear. (Supplies and skills are beyond its scope.) But before going there, I will quickly discuss my trip objectives and the conditions.
The Pfiffner Traverse is an extremely ambitious route. It’s 40 percent off-trail, and it climbs or descends a whopping 760 vertical feet per mile, almost exclusively between 10,000 and 12,000 feet above sea level. I was trying to move fast, because I had limited time and because, well, I like to move fast. On this trip, every ounce mattered, and I did my best to pare extraneous items without being “stupid light.”
Below I’ve summarized the conditions. For visuals of the route, refer to these photos.
Temperatures were in the 60’s and 70’s during the day, and 40’s at night.
Precipitation was short-lived and limited to the afternoons, as part of the normal summer monsoon cycle.
Daylight was in abundance, with sunrise around 6 AM and sunset around 8:15 PM.
Footing was varied: established trails (dirt, gravel, and cobble rocks), firm and soft tundra, overgrown meadows, light bushwhacking with blowdowns, ample scree and talus, and lingering snowfields.
Vegetation was highly dependent on altitude, slope aspect, and drainage. Most of the route is in alpine or spruce/fir forest, the latter of which is punctuated by frequent water-logged meadows.
Navigational aids made for easy navigation. The topography is very distinct, and the hiking trails are well established.
Sun exposure was intense, with bluebird days, high altitudes, and highly reflective lingering snowfields.
Water was widely available in the valleys, but scarce when walking on or just below the Continental Divide.
Problematic wildlife was non-existent. I avoided high-use campsites and the associated populations of mini-bears (e.g. mice, squirrels, marmots), and the Front Range has very few black bears.
Biting insects were relatively scarce, even though July is the peak hatch, and were easily managed with pants and some insect repellent — or by limited stops to bug-free areas (e.g. windy ridges).
Remoteness is usually not a quality associated with the Front Range, but the Pfiffner Traverse is different in this respect. When off-trail, I saw no other hikers.
Natural hazards included lightning and, more importantly, steep lingering snowfields below high passes that hardened overnight. Runoff was not an issue: the Pfiffner Traverse stays high in watershed; plus, peak melt was in June.
A line-by-line gear list is further down this page. Here’s a big-picture look:
List versus reality
The 17.6-lb base weight sounds accurate, given that I was carrying a bear canister, ice axe, full-sided shelter, and a framed backpack. When I left the trailhead, my pack weighed 33 lbs, with food and stove fuel, but no water. That would leave about 15.5 lbs for 9 days of food, or 29 oz per day.
The MSRP calculation is wildly off. First, for very few items would I ever have to pay full retail. For example, I bought my $130 shoes for $60 and my $45 fleece for $22; and my $300 shelter is available for $225-240 several times each year when Sierra Designs offers a 20-25 percent site-wide sale. Second, I own some expensive gear that isn’t critical. For example, I could get by with a $170 altimeter watch rather than a $300 GPS sport watch, $30 Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles rather than BD’s $170 Alpine Carbon Corks, and my smartphone rather than a $400 compact camera.
Gear List: Pfiffner Traverse, Colorado Rockies in July
To make this list more viewing-friendly, open it in new window.
If you like the look and organization of my gear list, consider using my 3-season gear list template.