Outdoor Gear

My recommendations on the following pages are focused on backpacking gear, but most of the observations are applicable to a variety of outdoor activities.  I also have a list of my “gear for life“. I strive for simplicity and gratitude.

Ultralight Approach

The key to ultralight is to use your head… having enough experience to know how to deal with various situations, and to carefully think about what is needed (or more likely not needed).

I was the prototypical boy scout.  I wanted to “be prepared” for any situation, so I carried everything including the kitchen sink, whether or not it was likely to be needed.  Over time I have come to appreciate the ultralight backpacking and climbing styles popularized by Ray JardineMark Twight, the folks at BPL, and these days /r/Ultralight. While I don’t completely embrace all their ideas, my approach has been strongly influenced by them.

I spent a year trying  super ultralight (SUL) approach. SUL is carrying less than 5lbs. I recorded my last super-ultralight gear list from 2007 when I decided I like more comfort than could be achieve with such a weight minimization focus. I also figure out that while I can push and do 30 or in one case 50 miles on a summer day, that my sweet spot is more like 15-20 miles/day. I have found that my light-weight approach captured in my 3-Season Gear list keeps me as safe and comfortable as my heavy-weight friends in camp, and is significantly more comfortable when I am moving.

Gear Obsession?

If you haven’t figured it out yet… I am used to be a gear-a-holic. I was obsessed with figuring out what was the best gear. Pretty much every weekend I was doing at least a short trip to test new items. It seemed like I was spending more time thinking about gear than using it.

After several years I decided to rein my spending, and to get more focused on using rather than buying gear. I started that transition by committing to a zero-cash spend in 2006. If I wanted something new, I had to sell items I already owned to cover the cost. In 2012 I pretty much locked in the gear I am still using today except for items that had to be replaced because they wore out or was lost. Generally I replace items that wore out with the identical product.

Lists and Reviews

Other information you might find useful include:

Buying Stuff

Other People’s Recommendations

I am not following outdoor gear as closely as I used to. As a result, some of my recommendations might become dated. There are several sites that I use when I want to see a list of current products that are likely to have category leading performance:

  • Cleverhiker comes closest to my personal taste in equipment. While I don’t stack rank items exactly the same as they do, I never find myself saying “Why did they include XYZ in their listing?”
  • Greenbelly Backpacking Guide has a recommended gear section (need to scroll down) which I find is very readable. I tend to agree with Cleverhiker in actual picks, but Greenbelly’s pages are often more complete. 
  • Adventure Alan does a good job covering ultralight equipment. I  appreciated Alan’s articles in the early days of backpackinglight.com.
  • Outdoor Gearlab covers a wide variety of gear types, but I never agree with their stack ranking. Sometimes items are in their list which I find myself saying “Really? You liked it?”. Most of the time items I think are the best appear in their lists, just not top rated by them.
  • Gear Junkie for outdoor industry news and reviews.
  • Frank Revelo has a pragmatic, moderate cost, often DIY approach to gear which is refreshing


  1. Hi Mark,

    Random question and a bit of a throwback at this point – I am a huge windshirt fan (the more breathable kind) and noticed you used the old Patagonia EssenShell a ton – do you have any estimation on approx what the CFM would be on that thing? BPL is always looking for the magic windshirt (and the Wild Things one is actually pretty perfect in my opinion besides the color) and I figured MAYBE the essenshell would work for me. Sounds like the sizing is huge though so that may not be good for me……

    Saw you had some articles on IT musings as well – will have to check that out

    1. It’s been several years since I had the EssenShell. It’s CFM was ~10?… wasn’t as high as I would have liked but better than the options I was able to find at the time.

      1. Not too shabby – I think I am going to pick one up to test after sealing the seams. I found some “splicing” tape that is a thin PET backer with a silicone adhesive I am hoping will stick well to silicone coated fabrics (Silnylon as well). Was hoping to tape the interior seams of several items. Testing it on a Wild Things windshirt but now I am second guessing if I have the version that is Epic fabric or not – their CS told me that the newest version in Multicam is no longer Epic and this one was produced in 2017. Seems like a lot of them dont have the epic tags.

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