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.
Andrew, could you comment on your choice to use the Vargo pocket cleats after what I understood to be less than happy experience with them on WRHR? vs something more substantial like Kahtoola spikes? Simply light and better than nothing?
I am glad I had the Kahtoola’s on WRHR, they weren’t overkill there for sure. On Pfifner I guess you are dealing with hard snow and not glacier travel though.
Silly question perhaps, but I didn’t see any type of towel, washcloth, bandana, etc. on this list. What do you do to maintain personal hygiene?
Wash with water and air dry. If I need to scrub body parts, I’ll use my shorts or shirt, and re-wash that garment if appropriate.
Re: the Packa and rain pants. Rain chaps work well with the Packa; MLD’s weigh less than three ounces. Never tried a kilt – except when playing in a bagpipe band. 😉
Love these comprehensive lists, thank you!
Any reason for the Bushidos over the Ultra Raptors? Mind providing a brief compare / contrast?
I had a great experience with the Bushidos. They are less shoe, however, which might not be for you. Less midsole, less drop, fewer materials in the upper. They also fit a lower-volume foot. Overall, I think they might be the perfect “high route shoe,” if they fit.
I’m headed out to Alaska for the 1st time and I don’t want to overpack. What are the necessities for this time of year there?
If the bugs will be gone already, you can use this gear list, but add sleeping clothes and socks.
You might also want to consult these lists, https://andrewskurka.com/adventures/alaska-yukon-expedition/gear-lists/. They are outdated now, but they’ll still be useful.
Roger that, thank you!
I love the Raptors, but after 20 miles in the High Sierra they’re showing a surprising amount of outsole wear. According to La Sportiva, Bushidos use a harder rubber compound in the outsole – suggesting that they’d be more durable. Does your experience sync up with that?
No experience with the Ultra Raptors to make a comparative assessment, but I trust the CS folks to give you good info. After 160 miles of very hard use, my Bushidos still have good tread on them. It helps that they start with big lugs.
Thanks for the list. The Railriders men’s Eco-Mesh Pants are on sale now, $69 instead of $86.
What do you think about attempting the Pfiffner Traverse in early October? I know that’s usually borrowed time but it’s the only time I have.
At best, the nights will be cold and the days will be crisp. At worst, you’ll get completely snowed out.
October is a month of transition in the Colorado Rockies, and the conditions fluctuate between fall-like and winter-like.
Usually sometime in October, we get a big enough storm that the high country is shut down to hiking/backpacking. This year, for example, it hit on opening weekend of Second Rifle season, October 19. That’s a bit normal than average, but within normal. But in 2016, I was still scouting the route in late-October, thinking everyday was a gift. Even if it’s not a “big” storm, a few inches can shut down a lot of the Pfiffner — high and shady slopes may not melt out, or they will ice up.
If you want to go for it, I’d have an all-trail Plan B so that you can still stay out and keep moving forward if the off-trail segments are no longer in season. You may also want to identify another itinerary elsewhere in the state, like in the San Juans, which may avoid the storm that shuts down the Front Range.