Companion blog: Adventures In Stoving

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Backpacking with Children - A Gear List for Two

I just did a little weekend getaway over the Memorial Day holiday with my five year old daughter.  Since my daughter is five, she really can't carry much in the way of weight – which means that I carry all the gear for two people.  And as a matter of fact, sometimes I have to carry my daughter too.
My daughter at the trailhead.
Since I'm carrying all the gear, and also because I'm a slightly pudgy middle aged man with a desk job, I need to travel as light as possible.  My pack, with gear for two, weighed in at 28 lbs/13 kg the night before the trip, including food, fuel, and two liters of water.  My base weight, that is the weight without the consumables (food, fuel, and water being the main consumables), was 20.2 lbs/9.2 kg, about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per person.  I should add that overnight lows were about 35°F/2°C, and that daytime highs were about 65°F/18°C with intermittent light rain.  Proper clothing and gear for the conditions were of course carried.  Had it been warmer, my base weight would have been lower.
My Mariposa backpack from Gossamer Gear, all packed and ready to go.  28 pounds (13 kg) total.
Perfect for a daddy-daughter backpacking trip
While 20.2 lbs/9.2 kg base weight is hardly a world's record, I thought 10 pounds per person base weight was reasonably good, and it's certainly tremendous progress for me personally.  I used to easily take 45 lbs/20 kg for a weekend trip just for myself alone.  I started getting into lightweight and ultralight (UL) backpacking around 2007.  I think it's amazing progress that my pack for two now weighs less than my pack for one did.
A pack seen recently out on the trail.
At 28 lbs, my pack for two people won't set any UL records, but I guarantee that it's lighter than a lot of one person packs.
For those parents wishing to go backpacking with their children, I thought I'd post my gear list (in detail) for those who might be seeking to "lighten up" so that they too can still get out on the trail.  I also post in hopes that I or others will see opportunities for further weight reductions.  I owe a great debt to the online community at BackpackingLight without whose help I could never have gotten my base weight as low as it is.

The first rule of pack weight reduction is weigh everything.  You'd be surprised at what some things weigh.  For example, I have a series of plastic bowls, all of about the same capacity.  You'd think that they'd all weigh about the same.  You'd be wrong.  Much to my surprise, one of the bowls was nearly double the weight of the lightest in the bunch.

I'll post the actual gear list below.  I'll post my general, high level gear list first, and then break down any pouches or bags into detail thereafter.  But first, some general comments about reducing pack weight:  Lightening up, at least in my experience, is a progression.  Here are some stages that you may go through:

1.  Focus at first on the "Big Three", that is your pack, shelter, and sleep gear.  These three things typically are the heaviest things you'll carry as a backpacker.  Each category in the big three should be kept to less than three pounds per person for lightweight backpacking and under two pounds per person for ultralight backpacking.

Tip:  Always buy your pack last.  Settle on your gear first, then buy a pack appropriate for that gear.  Buy the pack first, and your gear may not fit, or, even worse, it may be too heavy.  Non ultralight gear in an ultralight pack = misery on the trail.

Note that "big box" outdoors stores like REI operate based on volume.  In other words, the big box outdoors stores only sell things that they think that they can sell a lot of.  Such stores cater to the "average" backpacker.  The average backpacker doesn't take the time to research specialty lightweight gear.  If you want to lighten up, you have to think outside the proverbial box.  You have to realize that what the big box stores carry is only a fraction of what gear is available and is often "mass market" gear, i.e. not the best gear, just gear that the big box stores think they can sell a lot of.  More often than not, the best quality gear is not found at an REI type store.  Certainly ultralight gear is not.  So, if you want the convenience of REI, by all means avail yourself of it, but it will be far more difficult to find high quality UL gear.  If you really want to lighten up, you need to move beyond the very limited universe of REI type stores.
My daughter in a sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering, perhaps the best brand of sleeping bag available in the US.
You won't find Western Mountaineering products in the "big box" outdoor stores.
2.  After the "Big Three", start looking at any individual item that weighs over a pound, looking for weight reductions.

3.  After items over a pound, look at the quarter pounds

4.  After the quarter pounds, look at the ounces (I'm still very much working on this one).

5.  After the ounces, look at the grams (I'm not quite here yet).

Now, I know what you're thinking.  "Ounces?  Grams?  Really?  C'mon, Jim, you're just being obsessive.  I mean that's just nuts.  I need to loose pounds off my pack; an ounce or a few grams just isn't going to matter."

Well, it took me a while to really "get it" about ounces, so let me illustrate with a concrete example.  Note that in my main gear list below that there are over 50 individual items enumerated.  In fact, when you factor in the detailed listings of the pouches and such, there are over 70 items listed.  Now, shave one ounce, yes just one measly ounce, off of each item.  That's 70 ounces, which is just shy of four and a half pounds (two kilograms) total.  While you'll never feel the difference between a pack that is one ounce different from another pack, I guarantee that you'll feel four and a half pounds.  So, do you get it?  You've got to shave ounces.  Why?  Because they add up.  And, sure, you can't shave a full ounce off a one ounce item, but half ounces add up to whole ounces, and whole ounces add up to a whole lot.  Colin Fletcher, the father of modern long distance backpacking, said it well, "take care of the ounces, and the pounds will take care of themselves."

So, those are my general, high level thoughts on how to methodically approach lightening up one's gear.  The list itself is below.  In Appendix II, I'll put my definition of the terms "lightweight", "ultralight", etc.  Keep in mind that these are just my definitions.  You're sure to see other definitions elsewhere.  You'll note that I've spent a considerable amount of money on this gear, but that amount has been mitigated by a) careful shopping, b) buying used gear, and c) spreading out purchases over time.  Some of the really expensive items are items that will last for years and are sized such that my daughter can use them for years to come.

And the real reason to do this?  For the children.  Well, and so we can still keep getting out there too, but there's nothing more I'd rather share with my daughter than time with her in nature.
My daughter and I, Memorial Day Weekend 2015
I hope you find this post useful, and I welcome insightful ideas for further weight reduction.


Appendix I:  Daddy - Daughter Two Person Gear List (Base Weight Only)
So, without further ado, here is my gear list:

Daddy - Daughter Two Person Gear List (Base Weight Only)
May 2015, Day time high 65F/18C, Overnight low 35F/2C
# Category
Grams Ounces Pounds
1 Clothing Patagonia down hoodie sweater (for temps < 40F/5C)* 473 16.7 1.0
2 Clothing Child's WPB Shell Jacket 238 8.4 0.5
3 Clothing Child's Down Jacket1 230 8.1 0.5
4 Clothing Child's clothing, assorted. (sweats, socks, hat, mittens) 210 7.4 0.5
5 Clothing Long john top (Capilene 2) 175 6.2 0.4
6 Clothing Long john bottom (Capilene 2) 170 6.0 0.4
7 Clothing Flip flops (To air out feet; I struggle with athlete's foot) 134 4.7 0.3
8 Clothing Golite wind pants 120 4.2 0.3
9 Clothing Fleece glove/mittens (flip top, probably a weight penalty)* 100 3.5 0.2
10 Clothing Montane wind shirt2 95 3.4 0.2
11 Clothing Ghost Whisperer shell2 73 2.6 0.2
12 Clothing socks, 1 pair, midweight 68 2.4 0.1
13 Clothing Sleep balaclava3 43 1.5 0.1
14 Clothing Fleece hat 40 1.4 0.1
15 Clothing Down hoodie sweater stuff sack4 20 0.7 0.0
16 Hydration Steri Pen with batteries 123 4.3 0.3
17 Hydration 4 x Platypus bladder 1L 100 3.5 0.2
18 Hydration Spare batteries (2 x CR123) for Steri Pen 34 1.2 0.1
19 Hydration Plastic "basin" (for Steri Pen treatment) 18 0.6 0.0
20 Kitchen Trail Designs Ti-Tri Stove set up & 1.3 L Evernew UL Ti Pot* 248 8.7 0.5
21 Kitchen 2 x Plastic bowl (~45g ea) & 2 x Al spoon (~10 g ea) 110 3.9 0.2
22 Kitchen Titanium Sierra cup/measuring cup 43 1.5 0.1
23 Kitchen 4 fl oz (125 ml) alcohol bottle 23 0.8 0.1
24 Misc AMK Optimist First Aid Kit (FAK) + 1 x roller gauze 244 8.6 0.5
25 Misc Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) 196 6.9 0.4
26 Misc Potty kit (TP + hand sanitizer) 136 4.8 0.3
27 Misc Map (topographic) and Isuka roll-up map case6* 111 3.9 0.2
28 Misc Glasses (distance only; used Fresnel lens for reading) 109 3.8 0.2
29 Misc Misc Ziploc (chapstick, meds, matches, sewing kit, crazy glue, duct tape, tenacious tape)7 105 3.7 0.2
30 Misc BP Bag (Cordage, Liquid soap, Thermarest patch kit, ear plugs) 100 3.5 0.2
31 Misc Petzl Tikka headlamp5 96 3.4 0.2
32 Misc Pouch (sunscreen, fire steel, tripod) Tripod weight, see below 74 2.6 0.2
33 Misc Mammut S-Flex headlamp 49 1.7 0.1
34 Misc 2 Person Dental Hygiene Kit (brushes, paste, and floss) 45 1.6 0.1
35 Misc Snow/sand stake (used as trowel and as tent stake) 35 1.2 0.1
36 Misc Petzl Tikka headlamp case5 31 1.1 0.1
37 Misc Mammut S-Flex headlamp case 28 1.0 0.1
38 Misc Child's stuffed animal8 20 0.7 0.0
39 Misc Wilderness Permit in plastic Ziploc 18 0.6 0.0
40 Misc Ziploc as used diaper bag (carried inside trash bag) 9 0.3 0.0
41 Misc Trash bag 9 0.3 0.0
42 Pack Gossamer Gear Mariposa, Large* 884 31.2 1.9
43 Pack Child carrier, front 560 19.8 1.2
44 Pack Nylofume bag (as water proof liner) 30 1.1 0.1
45 Photo Camera with 1 battery 250 8.8 0.6
46 Photo Camera case9 84 3.0 0.2
47 Photo Mini tripod 45 1.6 0.1
48 Shelter Stratospire I tarp tent with bug net inner (used for 2 ppl) 1000 35.3 2.2
49 Shelter Tyvek ground sheet10 130 4.6 0.3
50 Shelter 8 x "V" Al stakes (could save 1.5 oz with Ti stakes) 100 3.5 0.2
51 Sleep Western Mountaineering Summerlite 6'0" sleeping bag* 580 20.5 1.3
52 Sleep Western Mountaineering Summerlite 5'6" sleeping bag  530 18.7 1.2
53 Sleep NeoAir original 3/4 pad & stuff sack 300 10.6 0.7
54 Sleep NeoAir X-Lite 3/4 pad & stuff sack* 240 8.5 0.5
55 Sleep Dry bag, 10L (holds both sleeping bags) 77 2.7 0.2
56 Sleep NeoAir Pillow & stuff sack 60 2.1 0.1
Total 9173 323.6 20.2
1 Of course lighter (and more expensive) options exist
2 Do I really need a windshirt and a shell both?
3 Was not really adequate for the temperatures
4 Tried using large Ziploc, but kept popping open.
5 Second headlamp is my old one. Used by child.
6 Definitely a luxury item. Works REALLY well.
7 Maybe I could eliminate one form of tape.
 8 If you're a parent, you know EXACTLY why. 20g well spent.
9 I've dropped and ruined some good cameras. Stays.
10 Could switch to Polycro. Not sure Polycro protects as well.
* A favorite piece of gear

Shelter Sleep Pack Clothing Kitchen Photo Hydration Misc
Grams 1230 1787 1474 2189 424 379 275 1415
Ounces 43.4 63.0 52.0 77.2 15.0 13.4 9.7 49.9
Pounds 2.7 3.9 3.2 4.8 0.9 0.8 0.6 3.1

Details of Miscellaneous Pouch
Category Item Grams Ounces Pounds
Misc Sunscreen (bottle 5g, sunscreen 23g) 28 1.0 0.1
Misc Gossamer Gear pouch 23 0.8 0.1
Misc Firesteel 23 0.8 0.1
Total 74 2.6 0.2
Nothing glaring here, but I could use a Ziploc instead of a pouch

Details of Potty Kit
Category Item Grams Ounces Pounds
Misc Toilet paper1 66 2.3 0.1
Misc Purell Hand Sanitizer, 2 fl oz bottle2, 1/2 full 46 1.6 0.1
Misc Gossamer Gear pouch 24 0.8 0.1
Total 136 4.8 0.3
1 Didn't carry enough; we ran out
2 This could be reduced in weight

Details of Miscellaneous Ziploc
Category Item Grams Ounces Pounds
Misc Tenacious tape 20 0.7 0.0
Misc Matches 18 0.6 0.0
Misc Crazy glue 15 0.5 0.0
Misc Duct tape 13 0.5 0.0
Misc Sewing kit 12 0.4 0.0
Misc Ziploc bag 9 0.3 0.0
Misc Medications 9 0.3 0.0
Misc Chapstick 9 0.3 0.0
Total 105 3.7 0.2
Notes: Drop the tenacious tape?

Details of BP Bag
Category Item Grams Ounces Pounds
Misc Thermarest patch kit 50 1.8 0.1
Misc Nylon Cord, 200 lbs test, ~ 25 feet 23 0.8 0.1
Misc Liquid soap 16 0.6 0.0
Misc Dacron fishing line, 100 lbs test, ~25 feet 6 0.2 0.0
Misc Ziploc bag 4 0.1 0.0
Misc Ear plugs 1 0.0 0.0
Total 100 3.5 0.2
Notes: Need to lighten up the patch kit
Kids in nature:  A voyage of discovery.
Appendix II – Definitions
The following are my definition of the terms "lightweight", "ultralight", etc. Keep in mind that these are just my definitions. Other people will have definitions that vary to one degree or another.  These weights are for an individual travelling solo his or her own gear.  For shared gear, divide the total weight by the number of persons sharing the gear.
Base weight less than the pounds shown
Moderate Lightweight Ultralight (UL) SuperUltralight (SUL) Extreme Ultra Light (XUL)
25 20 15 10 5

Base weight less than the kilograms shown
Ultralight (UL)
SuperUltralight (SUL)
Extreme Ultra Light (XUL)


  1. I am planning a simple father-daughter camping trip in a few days’ time. I browsed the internet for the best backpacking gear and I came across your article. I am particularly impressed by the Mariposa backpack from Gossamer Gear. It has the features I need. I also checked out some useful backpacking items from the following post: