One Weight Weenie’s Desert Gear List

If you’ve read any of my other articles you might remember that I am not hiking the AT this year, but the Arizona and Continental Divide trails (along with the Te Araroa next year) and raising money for their trail associations.

That said, as with any good weight conscious gear list mine starts out with a description of the conditions I intend to use it in.  There’s no point in simply posting a list of items that fit categories when you don’t know what conditions they’re needed for.

Location: Southern Arizona and Western New Mexico

Time: Mid-March through May


Expected: Elevations between 1,000 and 10,000 feet on everything from well developed AZT tread to unmaintained trail and cross country off trail travel to road walking.  Long stretches exposed to sun and wind with little shade.  Travel in river canyons also anticipated.  Occasional spring snow at high elevations in March.

Gear required: High resolution paper maps, compass w/ declination correction, Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and GPS navigation backup.  Mesh trail runners will work for these conditions, prevent foot sweat and dry out quickly after water crossings.


Expected: Night time temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees F, daytime up to 105.  Occasional blowing rain storm or snow shower at high elevation.

Gear Required: Sleep system comfortable to 25 degrees, adequate to 20 degrees given proper site selection and with all extra clothing in use.  Umbrella for sun and rain, rain skirt and wind jacket will suffice for occasional storm.  Protection from sand in shoes and hiking through brush/thorns.


Expected: Based on the winter so far most sources should be running but dry stretches up to 25 miles long are anticipated.  Sources vary in quality from springs to cattle impacted ponds.

Gear Required: 5L water carrying capacity, water filter and chemical treatment.  Up to date water reports printed in towns or cache’d on smart phone.


Expected: Generally 4 to 6 days between resupply stops, many towns do not have a grocery store and require mail drops.

Gear Required: Backpack capable of comfortably hauling 8 to 12 lbs of food + water and gear.


On to the List! First the big three:


Z-packs 8.5×8.5 tarp with additional perimeter and center panel tie-outs, ~50 ft of 1-2mm cordage – 9.5 ounces

6 Vargo titanium stakes and 6 titanium Shepard hooks – 5  ounces

Ruta Locura Wasatch Bivy with additional tie out loop on foot box – 4 ounces

Total: 18.5 ounces

Based on past experience, all lightweight traditional double wall tents suffer from condensation (though some take longer than others), torn zippers and weigh 2 to 2.5 lbs without tent stakes.  Single wall shelters or single wall + mesh have the same problems with worse condensation and generally require trekking poles, which I don’t use and tend to weigh  1 to 1.75 lbs.  This setup is extremely versatile but does take more skill in campsite selection and time for setup than a bombproof 3 season tent.  Most nights the bivy will add wind protection and additional warmth to the sleeping bag.  In bad storms, it will protect from whatever blown rain gets past the tarp edges.  A square tarp is the most versatile shape which is importance since I’ll be relying on my umbrella and terrain features (trees, bushes, rocks, etc) to add height to the tarp.  Since this is the desert, I probably won’t need to set the tarp up very often and can either cowboy camp or use the bivy.  As a philosophical aside, this kind of camping makes me feel closer to the earth.  Rather than building a solid barrier between me and the environment, I feel more connected sleeping out in the open or under a tarp.


Feathered Friends Vireo UL – 14.5 ounces

Feathered Friends Daybreak down jacket – 7.5 ounces

Gossamer Gear Nightlight Sleeping Pad – 5 ounces

Gossamer Gear Thinlight Sleeping pad 1/8″ – 3 ounces

Total: 30 ounces

I used the Vireo on the northern half of the PCT with a heavier down jacket.  For this hike I plan on using a warmer base layer and the bivy to offset the small loss in jacket loft.  I should be comfortable down to 25 degrees and can add all of my clothing to push the comfort limit down to 20 degrees.  I may switch my sleeping bag in northern NM for a 27 ounce quilt I made from my old Marmot bag.


Six Moon Designs Swift Pack (discontinued) – 18 ounces

1 red water resistant stuff sack: – 2 ounces

Assorted zip lock bags: – 2 ounces

Trash compactor bag: 2 ounces

Total: 24 ounces

The Swift is a large-ish volume frameless pack that uses a sleeping pad for structure.  It’s comfortable below 20 lbs and not too bad up to 25.  Carrying 5L of water with 6 days of food will really suck but only for the few hours it takes to drink my pack lighter.  I don’t use a stuff sack for my sleeping bag because it takes too much time in the morning to pack up and requires time for the down to fluff back up in the evenings.  Instead, I line the inside of my pack with the trash bag and tie the top closed with a slippery half hitch for an easy open.  The water resistant stuff sack is to keep my hat, gloves, and sleeping clothes organized.

Big Three Weight: 72.5 ounces or 4.5 lbs  

(That’s less than many empty backpacks)


Clothing Carried

Feathered Friends Jackorak Wind Jacket – 3.5 ounces

Montbell Dynamo Windpants – 3 ounces

Z-packs Rain Kilt – 2 ounces

Cabella’s ECWS Baselayer top – 10 ounces

Patagonia Capeliene 4 Long Underwear – 6.5 ounces

Thick Wool Socks and fleece glove liners – 2.5 ounces

Fleece cap – 1 ounce

Golite chrome Dome Umbrella (discontinued) – 8 ounces

Total: 36.5 ounces

The Jackorak is very versatile and shedding light rain and keeping me warm while hiking.  It’s generally the only layer I need on top of my hiking shirt if I’m moving in cold or windy weather.  It dries quickly if I sweat it out on an uphill, unlike a fleece moving layer.  The rain kilt and wind pants may seem redundant but the kilt doubles as a groundsheet to sleep on or a improvised beak for my square tarp. The wind pants will add some scratch protection for my legs and add warmth for cold hiking.  The other items are primarily for camp but can be used on cold mornings.  The umbrella could be considered a luxury item but I find the shade negates the need for sunscreen and reduces my water consumption in hot weather.  It can also work as an impromptu beak for the tarp.


QiWiz Dual Fuel Burner, wind screen and Pot Stand – 1.5 ounces

MLD Titanium 850 mL Mug and stuff sack – 4 ounces

Lighter, matches, scrubbie sponge – 1 ounce

Total: 6.5 Ounces

I’m planning on using Esbit fuel tabs for my resupply boxes since they’re very light, relatively cheap and can be shipped via USPS.  For resupply’s bought in town I’ll use HEET or denatured alchohol since this burner can do both.  Esbit tabs can be tricky to light, a trick is to dab a smidgen of hand sanitizer on them and light that.  You can also lay a match next to them.


2x Smart Water bottles, 2L Sawyer bladder, 1L Sawyer bladder – 4 ounces

Sawyer Squeeze (regular size) with DIY prefilter – 3 ounces

Aquamira – 3 ounces

Total: 10 ounces

The smart water bottles are light and durable and work well with the Sawyer Squeeze.  The 2013 bladders are also much more durable than the original ones and should last 500 miles or more.  I can always add an emptied out 2L soda bottle if one ruptures.  5L of water capacity should work great if I camel up at water sources and avoid hiking in the hottest part of the day.


Iphone 4S, case and charging cable: 8 ounces

SPOT Gen 2 Satellite Messenger: 5 ounces

4,000 mAh External Battery: 6 ounces

Headlamp: 1 ounce

Total: 20 ounces

The iPhone will make logistics a lot easier, can store my map sets as PDF’s if the paper copies get lost and can use both Gaia and Guthooks CDT apps as backup navigation.  I may ditch the external battery if I decide my map and compass skills are enough to leave the phone off enough.  The battery charges via its own wall plug and has 2 usb outputs, so I can charge my phone without a separate charging port. I’ll be in extremely remote places with few other hikers so to not carry some kind of PLB would be irresponsible and I already own the SPOT from my PCT hike.  I’ll be collecting my check-in points with since the SPOT website only saves the last 7 days.  This is nice because you can make a map of all the places you hit the check in buttons and see where you were at difference dates.  Also my mom would worry too much without it 🙂


First aid kit, bandanna, toothbrush, floss and repair kit – 7 ounces

Maps and simple baseplate compass – 5 ounces (approximate)

Small notebook and pencil – 3 ounces

Total: 15 ounces

Simple badannas are surprisingly important to me for backpacking.  I use it every night to wash off my feet, legs, groin, armpits and face (not in that order…).  This keeps my gear cleaner and prevents blisters and chafe and is probably more important hygiene than brushing your teeth and flossing.  For the toothbrush I just use a simple travel toothbrush and don’t bother cutting the handles off of anything.  The notebook is nice for journaling, leaving other hikers notes and drawing.

Clothing Worn

Generic poly short sleeve button down shirt

Running Shorts with pockets

Suntuuo Core Altimiter Watch

Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Shoes size 11.5

Stoic ankle high synthetic socks

Outdoor Research Scree Gaiters

Synthetic baseball cap

Total: who cares!

This system has worked great for me in the past and I snagged a couple pair of Lone Peaks for 40% off last Fall.  I like the cushioning and wide wide width of those shoes.  They even have a little velcro tab for my gaiters! Running shorts are slippery, double as swimming shorts and underwear and seem indestructible.  I also find they breathe enough to prevent chafe and with the umbrella, my legs don’t seem to get sunburned after the initial tan.  I like button down shirts since you can open or close the buttons for more or less venting and they help make you look less homeless.  The socks are durable, thin and not too tight fitting – I’ve tried toe socks but find they just bunch up around the toe seams and cause more blisters.  Wool socks are nice too but can be too warm for the desert and take longer to dry out than synthetic.  The watch is really helpful for navigation.  It’s very important you keep track of when you were certain places so you can estimate how long you’ve traveled since then.  The barometric watch altimeter is reliable in only stable weather and not essential if you’re on a budget.

I haven’t bothered to list weights for any of this since it doesn’t really matter at this point.

Total Base Pack Weight: 160 ounces or 10.0 lbs

Not too shabby! Right on the nose of the “ultralight” category but I may switch a few things out and wind up slightly heavier or lighter before I leave.  I expect to be warm, comfortable and dry with this gear list for the conditions I expect.  Not only that, a 10 pound base weight with 5 days of food and an average water carry of 2L is only 25 lbs.  The lighter weight means less effort on the uphill, less strain on my joints and a happier hiker.  I find backpacking a lot more enjoyable when the weight is low.  Note that I use the term “average water carry” since if I start with 4 liters of water and finish with 0 liters, the average would be 2 liters.

The only thing I’m missing on this list is my camera – it’s either going to be a 7 ounce Sony RX100 or 1.5 lb Panasonic GF1 with 14-45mm lens.   The Panasonic is a mirrorless micro four-thirds DSLR and takes really really nice pictures.  I also like the user interface much better than the Sony.  Documenting thru-hikes is really important to me and I am disappointed with the photo quality from my PCT hike using a Canon S90. Right now I’m leaning towards starting with the Sony and switching to the Panasonic when I’m out of the desert and no longer carrying as much water.  Speaking of which, this is my desert gear list – look for my snow gear list in a few weeks!

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Comments 1

  • Jean Taggart : Aug 25th

    Mike! I’m hiking the AZT this fall! I was reading this and saw that you wrote it! Amazing. Thanks 😉


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