Given the range of gear choices we all face in undertaking a long distance trek, we thought we would share what we have in our backpacks, what has changed and what has worked so far.
The issue of equipment on long distance treks often quickly ransforms into discussions regarding the need to negotiate between need, priorities, costs, weight, durability, and the ability to resupply. Each of these are matters and concerns which are not easy to balance against one another.
Certainly our desire to hike and encourage others required us to be able to get online, post online, remain in communication with groups and schools regularly and to be able to take and post images daily – all which significantly altered what we carry as well as how much weight we need to trek with.
The reality is that there are a lot of great companies which develop and produce wonderful and durable backpacking gear. Over the years, our own experiences and preferences for materials and companies which have never let us down have pushed us towards certain products over others. This doesn’t mean that what our choices have been are the only options– they instead reflect what we prefer and NOT what must be used.
What does all of this mean? Well our gear is light, but not the lightest. This also means that it was costly but not the most expensive. Our kit also includes extras such as a 3 person tent for comfort and space (with an estimated 900-1000 days in a tent with someone else a little space is needed), and there are backups and first aid kits for peace of mind. In addition to which there are two seasons of gear (that are switched out as needed) to accommodate the changing demands of the weather and the time of year.
Choosing your Gear
As we emphasized in our previous blog on gear : If there is one message people should take away from any comments that we make or gear that we have chosen it is to find what you like, what works for you, and what you are comfortable with. It doesn’t have to be the lightest, the newest, the most expensive, or the trendiest – if it works for you then that is your gear. You will never need as much as you think and certainly won’t ever use as much as the outfitters are willing to sell you. The best piece of advice that we can give you is to : do your research, ask questions and try some of the gear out. Use your kit regionally and on weekend camping trips first to figure out how everything works, what you like, and whether you want to change things long before you are out on the trail.
Know how to set up your tent before getting to your site, know how to filter and purify water before setting out, and know how to start a fire and run your stove before setting out. We have seen far too many people hike out onto trails with new backpacks that they don't know how to adjust or show up in parks at 11 pm with a new tent still in its box and struggle throughout the evening to try to set up their gear for the first time.
What has changed in our gear?
So what has changed for us from the East Coast Trail in 2018
to our first year on the Great Trail in 2019 when we trekked from Newfoundland
to Quebec, to our second year on the TGT when we hiked from Ottawa Ontario to
Winnipeg Manitoba to our third year in 2021?
Well to be honest, not as much as you might think. Though our kit has shifted in accord with the
demands of each region, its weather and seasonal conditions, and the challenges
we encounter have have largely stuck with what we know and like.
East Coast Trail, 2018
Having trekked the Bruce Trail with the MSR Hubba Hubba 3 person we sought to cut down our base weight and considered a number of other tents from companies such as Zpacks and Nemo. However, when we went to buy and try them neither was in stock. As a result we eventually shifted to the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2 person so as to have only 2 lbs of tent on us. While the NX2 proved to be a durable, easy to handle and lightweight lodging, we also found it to be too cramped to provide a comfortable home for the two of us and our gear for 3-4 years. After 16 days in this tent together it was clear that another 1000 days was not going to happen as more space was needed.
The Great Trail, 2019 (Newfoundland to Quebec)
While in general we found our gear set up to be great on the ECT we ultimately changed tents again. In early 2019 before setting out onto the trail in Cape Spear we shifted back to a 3 person tent with the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL3 tent – which was as roomy as the 3 person MSR tent but had a lower base weight.
We also upgraded some of our electronics gear and purchased as long term battery pack to keep our cameras and devices recharged given the need to stay 2-3 weeks in the wilderness without outlets.
We also did not take our well liked collapsible Sea to Summit bowls and pack towels with us. Instead we began to eat out of the top and bottom of the cooking pot and utilize the day’s trekking clothes as our towels before washing them as well. Another last minute change was to change our MSR Mini Works pump water filter to a Sawyer Squeeze in order to carry a more compact filtration system in our backpacks.
The Great Trail, 2020 (Ontario to Manitoba)
In our second year, potentially beginning in Quebec but ultimately leading us through Ontario and Manitoba, we shifted what we carried to reflect the demands of the trail. With less of a focus on wilderness trekking and more time spent on urban pathways and rail trails we took weight off our backs and purchased a Radical Designs Walking Trailer – Wheelie V.
This trailer is amazing when the terrain suited it and led us to find unique solutions, or mail it forward, when the landscape was not as amenable.
The Great Trail, 2021 (Prairies and West Coast?)
Largest gear change in the coming year has been towards reducing the weight in our backpacks as much as possible. As a result, the most significant addition to our gear has been the addition of a second Radical Designs Walking Trailer, for the Prairies and the Arctic. This amazing trailer enabled us to carry more food and more water in 2021 and will do that in the coming years on the trail. This is especially important as we head into the Prairies and North were the distances between food resupply and water refill points becomes greater and greater.
With most of the ground water in the prairies being agricultural and (as we discovered last year) with most households already buying water we cannot reasonably rely on locating and filtering our own on regular basis nor upon asking families to help us refill our bottles at their expense. The only solution to this reality is for us to carry more food, more water, and more weight (7-10 days worth) – which at a certain point becomes both impractical and impossible. Realistically neither of us is able to effectively carry 10-20 liters of water in addition to the weight of our gear. As a result for the prairies and the Arctic the Radical Designs trailers are now the core of our gear transportation.
We have also had to buy a second battery pack for the longer stretches on the Prairies and Arctic that we will cross without the ability to recharge.
In addition to these changes we are also now carrying an RCGS Expedition flag as we are now an official Expedition for the Royal Canadian Geographic Society!
The Great Trail Gear List (for 2 people over 24,000 km)
- Gregory - Whitney 95 backpack
- Osprey – Xena 95 backpack
- 2 x Sea to Summit backpack Covers – Ultra-Sil
- 2 x Ben’s Invisanet Bug Nets
- 1 x bear spray canister
- 2 x Gossamer Gear UV Sun Umbrellas
- Aquaquest Tarp (10x10 SQ)
- 2 x Klymit Insulated Static V sleeping Pad
- 2 x Winter sleeping bags - Marmot - Never Summer 650 Down
- 2 x Spring sleeping bags - Thermarest Parsec 20F / -6C 800 Downfill
- 2 x SIGG water bottles – 1 l
- 2 x Nalgene water bottles – 1.5 l
- 2 x TOAKS Titanium cups
- 2 x Sawyer Squeeze water filters
- 2 x aluminum cups
- MSR Coffee filter
- G4Free Cooking Pot (only use 1 litre pot and lid)
- 2 x aluminum spoons
- MSR Whisper Lite stove or Bushbox XL stove (as regions and conditions dictate)
- Komperdell trekking polls
- 2 x Gossamer Gear Handsfree Umbrella
- 8 x OR Compression Dry Sacks
- 2 x Zpacks stuff sacks for food bags
- 2 x Osprey stuffable day backpacks
- OR Helios Sun Hat
- Arc’Teryx Cerium LT Hoody Winter Jacket
- North Face Hyvent Rain Jacket and Pants
- 2 x Icebreaker Merino Wool Shirts – Short Sleeve
- 2 x Icebreaker Merino Wool Shirts – Long Sleeve
- MEC Fleece Sweeter
- 2 x Columbia Convertible Hiking Pants
- 1 x Columbia Hiking Skort
- 2 x ExOfficio Bra
- 2 x ExoOfficio Underwear
- 2 x Paradox Merino Wool Leggings
- 3 x Darn Tough Hiker Socks light cushion
- Keen Sandals
- Keen Hiking Boots - Kloven Mid
- Bathing suit
- Winter mittens (winter)
- OR Sun Gloves (spring / summer)
- Merino Wool Winter Cap
- Osprey overnight bag – toothbrush, medicine, etc.
- Black Victorinox baseball cap
- North Face Dryvent Rain Jacket and Pants
- Patagonia packable down jacket
- MEC Fleece Sweater
- Merino Wool hiking buff
- 2 x Icebreaker Merino Wool shirt – Short sleeve
- 1 x Icebreaker Merino Wool shirt – Long sleeve
- 3 x ExOfficio underwear
- 1 x Tesla leggings
- 3 x Icebreaker Merino Wool Socks
- 2 x Columba Silver Ridge Convertible Hiking Pants
- Keen Sandals
- Merrel Moab 2 Hiking Shoes
- Osprey overnight bag – for tooth brush, medicine, etc.
- Garmin InReach
- 2 x head lamps
- Samsung Galaxy S8 cell phone
- Nikon Camera gear
- 2 x BatPower ProE 2 Power Bank with 26800 mAh
- 2 x Radical Designs Walking Trailer – Wheelie V
Gear that has been tested, proved true, and updated
Overall how has all this gear held up to almost 7000 km of trekking? The short answer is pretty well!
Well our Big Agnes tent has lasted but in the last year became distinctly less waterproof. We initially bought a new fly for the tent to help give it some new coverage but this new piece of gear was ultimately less waterproof than our used old one. Given the situation this fly was sent directly to Big Agnes and we never heard back from them. We sought to buy another but our local MEC is out of stock this year, so we have treated and patched our old tent and fly with the hope of getting through the next season but realize that we will likely have to get a new 4 season tent before going to the Arctic next year.
Our Kylmit sleeping pads did a great job lasting throughout the East Coast Trail, and from Newfoundland to Winnipeg Manitoba before they began to leak. However, to our surprise, the Klymit company was kind enough to replace these free of cost and so we set out in Year 3 with new sleeping pads! (A huge thanks to Klymit!)
We have also both had to replace our shoes a number of times (about 3 times a year). However in 2020 Keen Canada through The Great Trail have been very kind and provided me with new hiking boots for which I am very grateful!
I have also recently had to replace my Komperdell hiking polls that got sand in them during a river crossing and became impossible to adjust. Regardless, I am really happy with how my original trekking polls held up and expect my new ones to do just as well.
Similarly we have gone through several Sea to Summit Backpack Rain covers, but given how often they are used, laid down in the gravel of the trail and sat on they have done well. Regardless of having to replace them a few times we are happy with them.
Likewise our clothes (hiking shirts, and convertible pants) have thinned out but been replaced with new versions of the same gear. Icebreaker shirts have replaced Icebreaker shirts, just as Darn Tough Socks have replaced their kin. The rest of our clothing from our North Face rain gear to our ExOfficio undergarments have held up and have so far never needed replacing.
Finally, as those that follow us know, we have upgraded our electronics. I have recently changed my phone to a Samsung Galaxy S8 in 2021 to be able to run the Great Trail app. Just as we have had to buy new cameras twice after having bad encounters with ATVS in Newfoundland and a wooden board launched off a truck in Northern Ontario.
(1) Don’t need the newest, lightest, or most expensive. Don’t need to gain the approval of all of the ‘experts’ with your gear choices.
(2) Don’t need as much as you think or as much as the outfitters are willing to sell you.
(3) Get some gear, do some local hiking and camping, and see what you need each time. Figure out what works and what doesn't for you, then repeat until you feel that you have everything covered. Definitely try and test gear BEFORE setting out on a long distance hike.
(4) Hike your own Hike, and trek according to your interest and comfort.