Everything I’m (Not) Carrying on the CDT

We’re two weeks away from setting out on the Continental Divide Trail! The last month has been full of hike prep, wrapping up work, and soaking up time with loved ones. Our son Isaac will join us for part of the hike, so we’ll see him in July. For our other kid Avi, our annual tradition is to go to concerts together in celebration of their birthday. Last month I visited them in Maine, and then we drove down to Boston together to see Magnetic Fields and hang out with some old friends.

Last call at Lone Star Taco Bar with Avi the Indoor Cat.

Okay, enough blurry margaritas, it’s time to make final decisions about what gear to carry as we set out from the Mexico border, and what to send to ourselves at various points north.

You can check out my gear list to see exactly what I’m carrying. You might notice a couple of items marked as zero weight, including the tent. These are things Todd will carry but that are essential to my kit as well. (Not to worry, I’m still doing my part by carrying a bigger share of food!)

Below I’ll hit the highlights and explain when and why we’ll add or swap out gear. I’ll wrap up with some of my less typical gear choices. I’m doing it wrong, and so can you! 

Stereotypical thru hike gear photo: all objects on a table with labels showing

Most of what I’ll carry, not all at the same time. Pictured but no longer with us: OR Helium wind/rain jacket. RIP, old friend.

Big Three–Backpack, Shelter, Sleep 

Backpack: ULA Ohm 2.0 + ULA pack cover

Once upon a time I had a Gregory 70-liter Deva that weighed at least 6.5 lbs. empty. It had so many pockets, yet I found myself tying things to the outside to carry even more. Yikes! It was heavy, uncomfortable, and I was constantly misplacing things.

Then I lightened up by switching to the 2.5-lb. Gregory Octal, which had a mesh suspension to keep my back dry. However, the back pocket fabric was so stretchy that if it wasn’t packed to the gills, things in the bottom would droop over the hip belt and hit me in the butt, and the shoulder straps would squeak and groan above 22 lbs.

After hearing favorable things from other women hikers, a couple of years ago I switched to the ULA Ohm 2.0, which I’ve used for almost 1,000 miles and will use for the CDT. I’m very happy with it for hikes of any distance.

With full starting carry for the CDT, including food for the first five days.

My favorite feature of the Ohm is the hip belt, which has four points of adjustment instead of two, so it can be adjusted with a flare (tighter at the top edge of the hip belt, looser at the bottom edge), making it more comfortable on my hips, and easier to adjust as I lose weight or eat a few giant meals in town. It also has a stretchy but firm back pocket, generous hip belt pockets, and cords to cinch it down compactly for any size load.

What I don’t like about the Ohm: the thin removable foam sit pad that provides structure to the back of the pack is very sweaty. I keep fantasizing about some kind of natural fiber mesh panel I could put there instead–anybody out there tinkering with 3D-printed hemp or seaweed or something?

How the ULA Ohm looks with a full hammock carry and a down puffy on top. Tiny guy on my shoulder not included.

Shelter — Tent vs. Hammock

In the desert of southern New Mexico and in the Great Basin in Wyoming we’ll share a tent because there are no trees; otherwise, we’ll use hammocks and tarps, except when we unexpectedly can’t, and have to sleep on the ground anyway. We’re open to changing our minds and sticking with the tent. I prefer the sleep I get in a hammock, and on nice nights we can skip the tarps and see the stars. On the other hand, it would be nice to be together every night, and to have a shelter that we can set up above treeline when a storm is coming in. For now, the plan is to switch to hammocks in Silver City, NM, and mail the tent to my brother, who will mail it back when we need it in Wyoming.

If the snow in the San Juans is still very deep when we get to Chama, NM, we might flip up to the Great Basin and complete the other “mandatory tent” section to buy some time.

So much room for activities. Beard shakedown proceeding nicely.

Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo tent, 43 oz. + 7 oz. ground cloth 

This easy-to-pitch high-domed two-person tent is very spacious for its weight, and while not instantly easy to set up, it’s easier than many trekking pole tents. It has doors and vestibules on both sides and uses two trekking poles plus two very light collapsible aluminum spreader bars and six stakes.

We’ve only camped in it one night, and condensation was a problem–but that was in Michigan on a night below freezing. We look forward to napping in the desert in this bad boy.

Dreamhammock Darien 11′ custom single-wall hammock with bug net, in burnt orange, 19.5 oz.

My orange hammock with integrated orange bug net lets me wake up at sunrise surrounded by an orange glow. Plus, I can use it as a signal flag if I need to. I chose a continuous ridgeline, Amsteel whoopee slings, soft shackles, and ultralight tree straps for max comfort and minimum hardware weight. (If that all sounds like alien language but you’re hammock-curious, check out Shug Emery on Youtube.)

Underneath: a small piece of Tyvek (3 oz.) that forms my “patio,” to keep my feet clean when I’m using my hammock as a lounge chair in the evening, and where I keep my water bottle and bear spray overnight.

Whole campground to ourselves in Craig Lake State Park on the NCT, 2022. Tarp pitched low to bear strong winds.

UGQ 11′ Hex Tarp, in olive drab, 16.5 oz. + 3 oz. ground cloth 

The best companion to a bright orange hammock is a tarp the color of tree bark, which is great for hiding in plain sight, both for safety and to avoid interrupting other people’s experiences of the wilderness.

It is such good camouflage, the first time I hung my tarp at dusk I immediately lost it when I walked away to tie up my food bag.

If it’s raining, the tarp can be put up first, and can be packed away last so everything else stays dry underneath it in the meantime. It’s much more fun than dealing with a wet tent in the rain.

Sleep System

In the tent we’ll use two Nemo Tensor Ultralight Insulated inflatable sleeping pads, connected together with universal straps from Exped. We took a single shakedown (aka test run) camping trip in nearby Pinckney, Michigan on a cold night in March, and found that if we tried to huddle together for warmth, we only pushed our sleeping pads farther apart. With pads strapped together, there is no cold abyss between us, and we can overlap our quilts for more warmth.

When we switch to hammocks, we’ll have the option either to stick with the Nemo pads and under-inflate them a bit for use inside our hammocks, or to switch to our UGQ Zeppelin underquilts.

Cedars are a sure bet for bare ground to camp when there are knee-high ferns for miles in all directions.

A down underquilt is like a sleeping bag that hugs the underside of the hammock. Special hooks keep it from sliding out from under you in the night, and elastic cords permit adjustments from inside the hammock. An underquilt keeps the wall of the hammock warm anywhere the underquilt overlaps it. By contrast, if you use a pad inside a single-wall hammock on a chilly night, your arms will be cold where they make contact with the wall of the hammock off the sides of the pad where there isn’t any insulation.

This all makes carrying a underquilt sound like a slam dunk, but it provides no insulation if you sleep on it on the ground, while a pad can be used either way. For now, we’re holding open the idea that we might carry both the pads and the underquilts once we ditch the tent.

Top quilts to the rescue! Yes, I know I used this photo before. This time it’s relevant.

In both tent and hammocks, we’ll use our UGQ Bandit top quilts–mine 30°F, his 20°F with an overstuffed toe box. I add a Tioga silk sleeping bag liner from Western Mountaineering. It provides an additional layer of light insulation when it’s too cold to be in open air but the quilt’s too hot, and it keeps my skin away from my quilt, hammock, and sleeping pad so they stay fresher.

Finally, I have two different pillow options: a Nemo Fillo Elite inflatable pillow for the tent, and for the hammock a UGQ down pillow on a tether that clips to my ridgeline so I don’t keep losing it in the night. They both weigh 3 oz., and as with the underquilt, the down one is much more practical in the hammock but serves almost zero purpose on the ground. Choices, choices.


Dances with crayfish.

Like most thru-hikers, rather than wearing traditional hiking boots I wear meshy, fast-drying trail runners. The idea is not to avoid water but to walk right through, knowing my feet will squish themselves dry soon. My favorite brand for the past few years has been Topo Athletic, lately especially their Traverse model, which was designed with long-distance hiker feedback in mind.

The Pursuits come with unique insoles that are made of little bouncy beads of foam that have been melted together, rather than being open foam on the back, so they don’t get wet. I use prescription orthotics, so I took the opportunity to turn these into camp shoes that weigh only one ounce each.

Next time I’ll make them sock-compatible.


Starting in the desert, our concerns will be keeping cool, blocking sun, and avoiding carrying anything unnecessary so we can handle the long water carries while we build up our trail legs.

I’ll wear a Smartwool merino short-sleeve tee in a fun mango tie-dye colorway; Nike running shorts with the lining cut out, for hot weather now and for doing laundry in town later; Branwyn merino bra and undies–in a light color, so they don’t draw heat through my clothes (learned the hard way); CEP tall merino compression socks, for more oomph in the heat of the desert, and for some shin protection while wearing shortsI’ll top it all with a Detroit Tigers baseball cap, and fingerless sun gloves so I won’t have to constantly slather my hands in sunscreen.

In addition, I’ll carry an Appalachian Gear Co. 80/20 alpaca sun hoodie because alpaca is stink-proof and super comfy in a wide variety of temperatures, and synthetic sun hoodies feel like wearing a plastic bag, blech. I’ll carry an extra pair of Darn Tough micro crew socks, a Smartwool 250-weight 1/4 zip pullover, and my default hiking pants, Bushwhacking Leggings from Alpine Fit, which are mosquito and briar-proof on the front panels.

This alpaca sun hoodie also works as a shade hoodie.

When we get to Grants, NM, and start heading into the first real elevation of the trail, temperatures will drop, and will drop even more when we get into Colorado. We’re sending ourselves thicker wool tees and swapping out sun gloves for liner gloves. I will add a pair of thin wool-silk base layer leggings that are so old I can’t read the tag, an Icebreaker merino beanie, and my Rab microlight down jacket. And finally, once we get into mosquito territory, which may be Colorado or maybe not until Wyoming or later, we’ll swap out tees and socks for some that we’ve pre-treated with Sawyer permethrin, which repels ticks and mosquitos, and kills them on contact despite being non-toxic to humans and pets once it’s dry.

Unexpected roster change: 

I just got a new Montbell Versatile rain jacket because my beloved OR Helium is kaput. It had stopped being even water resistant a while ago despite Nikwax treatment. It took the logo falling off into my hand for me to acknowledge it might be due for retirement. Loving the Versatile so far–more pockets, longer tail, only a couple ounces heavier. We’ll see how it fares!

Eclectic Gear Choices, aka, what I’m doing wrong

Here are some things I’m carrying that might make another hiker raise an eyebrow.

Water — Katadyn Steripen Ultralight UV sterilizing pen + UL Nalgene

The most popular water treatment option is the Sawyer Squeeze nano filter, which screws onto a Smartwater bottle or can be set up like a gravity filter. They’re lightweight and relatively inexpensive, and they filter out bacteria–but they don’t kill viruses and they will break if frozen or dropped. They also tend to get clogged and slow down, and then they go in a landfill.

My longstanding preference is a UV pen that takes 90 seconds to kill viruses and bacteria when immersed in a liter of water. To accomplish this, I need a wide-mouth Nalgene bottle for at least one of my bottles. Because a UV pen doesn’t work by filtering, it also won’t remove any sediment, and is less effective on cloudy water. I carry a Katadyn 40-micron pre-filter that screws onto the Nalgene. If the water is super gross, I can pre-pre-filter through a bandana.

The blue glow is because of orcs.

Why is this the “wrong way?” An ultralight Nalgene 1L bottle weighs four ounces, a SCANDALOUS amount of weight according to some, when you can have a Smartwater bottle with a sport top for 1.2 oz. But a single-use plastic water bottle is not meant to be reused, and as it degrades in the sun day after day, yucky things leach into the water. So to get to the 7L of water carrying capacity I’ll need in the desert, I’m bringing one UL Nalgene, two CNOC silicone 2L water bladders, and a Vargo Bot, which is a titanium cooking pot that has a watertight gasket so it’s also a water bottle. (More about that when we talk about food!) For the seventh liter of carrying capacity, I have just one Smartwater with a sport top, mostly to use as a backcountry bidet (I’ll let you look that up).

New for this trip: the updated, USB-recharging version of the Steripen. To be clear, the one I bought in 2013 still works great, but it is a bit annoying and unsustainable to replace its batteries. The UL version is lighter, too. I’ll keep the old one (pictured) as backup.

My luxuries? Lots of little potions!

Another thing I do “wrong” is that I prioritize skin care on trail. This isn’t out of vanity, but because I have very sensitive skin that is prone to irritation and damage from sun, wind, sunscreens, etc. While many hikers half my age delight in setting aside skin regimens during a hike, if I did that by the end I would probably have done some damage I couldn’t undo.

A typical hiker will carry a small amount of sunscreen, some kind of simple soap like Dr. Bronner’s or Camp Suds, toothpaste or toothpaste tablets, Aquaphor or another healing ointment, and maybe some SPF chapstick.

I carry all of these, including the stereotypical Visine bottle full of Dr. Bronner’s,  and I also have several adorable dropper bottles with color-coded lids that contain: squalane-based face cleanser, a peptide serum with copper, and plant-derived squalane for moisturizing, all from The Ordinary, plus eucalyptus oil to prevent foot fungus. I carry more sunscreen than many, and reapply it liberally–but only Think, the one brand that doesn’t make me break out. Finally, a cut off section of a pack towel, in addition to the 1.7 bandanas I’m carrying, just in case.

Do I sound like the Princess and the Pea?  Maybe, but can she start a fire in the rain?

Next time:  Food! 

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Comments 1

  • Scott Bischke : Apr 16th

    Great luck Liz. CDT rocks! We did it 1 state at a time from 1999-2002, as I recall. Two thoughts, and you will soon enough know from your own experiences:

    1) You may be pulling water from some sketchy cow troughs or dirty ponds (I recall one really bad but critically located one in the Mal Pais). Important to know how well (or not) your steri UV light works in cloudy water
    2) I suspect you will find far more areas without trees for mounting your hammock than you are guessing.

    Really hopeful you teo have a super trip!!

    Scott B


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