For 3,000 miles I’ll be hiking through the Rockies, living with only the contents in my backpack. The Continental Divide Trail travels across diverse environments- alpine, forests, basins and deserts along the Great Divide that splits North America. I’ll start in Glacier National Park in early July with some additional pieces of gear for snow and colder weather. As the environment and seasons change, so might some of the items I carry. Here’s what I’m bringing with me to begin this 4 month adventure:
** I've added italicized post-trail notes on what worked, what didn't, and any changes I made throughout. For reference, I hiked southbound July 3-November 15th.
BACKPACK: Hyperlite Mountain Gear 2400 Southwest (28oz)
I love this pack made right in my home state of Maine. It’s made of a hybrid cuban fiber, which is breathable and waterproof- perfect for the anticipated precipitation. I also use a cuban fiber lining (found in a hiker box!) inside for additional protection from water during extended periods of wet weather. This pack has held up really well for me, so I’m excited to put it to the test on this trail.
The Southwest 2400 is still in amazing shape after another 3,000 miles. During my longest food carry it was borderline too small, so I'd definitely advise a 40+ liter pack unless you're covering more than 30 miles/day.
TENT: Tarptent ProTrail (26oz)
My silnylon tarptent has been good to me out West, holding up surprisingly well in windy weather despite not being a freestanding tent. If money weren’t an object, I’d get a cuban fiber tent, but for now this tent does the job. It’s a 1+ person, so ends up being roomy for me and Luna. The zippers recently busted on me after spending lots of time camping in the dusty desert, but Tarptent is great about sending new zippers and instructions to repair it at home. The only thing that annoys me about this tent is the amount of condensation it accumulates, but you can’t win at everything!
The ProTrail did awesome on the CDT, though I still had some condensation issues during less-than-ideal camp spots. I did send it home at the beginning of Colorado and replaced it with the REI Quarterdome for the colder weather. A freestanding tent was nice to have for more flexibility when picking camp spots on exposed ridges, though you could totally get away without it if needed. Most of New Mexico I went tent-less.
SLEEPING BAG: *Modified Paria Outdoor Products Thermodown 15F (36oz)
Paria had a great price tag for a 600-fill down bag. It’s incredibly comfortable and cozy, with a great drawstring hood and double zipper. The catch was it’s on the heavy side, so I took it to the sewing machine so I could shorten it to better match my 5ft frame. That cut out some weight and space in my pack, though it’s still my heaviest piece of gear.
I was SO SO happy to have a bag instead of quilt on this trail. The elevation and early winter made for very few warm nights. I was very comfortable in this, while a lot of hikers with quilts complained of being too cold from drafts at night. I never minded it's weight because of how comfortable I was.
SLEEPING PAD: Thermarest NeoAir XLite Short (8oz)
This is hands down the best sleeping pad. The small size comes to about my calves, which I’ve never minded. It’s 2 inches of padding is amazingly comfortable, and despite the lightweight material, it took 4000+ miles before it popped a hole. It’s got a patch or two, so I’m hopeful it will hold up for the entire Divide Trail.
Still going strong! I used 3 folds of a ThermaRest Z-Lite under my feet and was super comfortable. The R-Value is only 3.2 but I found it to be just enough in the colder weather.
GROUNDCLOTH: 3x6 ft sheet of Tyvek (3oz)
Light and waterproof, Tyvek can do it all: tent footprint, tarp, cowboy camping groundsheet, picnic blanket. This is relatively new to my hiking getup, and will be my first thru-hike with one. I know it's going to come in handy.
I LOVED having this on the CDT. I cowboy camped a lot and used this as my groundcloth. Also for all of my yoga and snack breaks.
WATER FILTER: Sawyer Squeeze (2.5oz)
The best and easiest filters out there! I used the Sawyer Minis for the longest time, which are great for drinking as you hit water sources, or filtering small amounts. But for this trail, I’m opting for the slightly larger, but much faster flowing, Regular. The bags that come with the filters are junk, so instead most hikers will use Smartwater plastic bottles since they match the thread of the Sawyer.
My Sawyer filtered a LOT of water this trail. I did have (as predicted) issues with it once temperatures got below freezing and had to keep it in my sleeping bag at night. Also the process of squeezing in cold temperatures KILLED my fingers, but not much you can do about it. By the end, the flow had slowed so much I needed to replace it.
SIT PAD: 2 Links of Thermarest Z-Lite (2oz)
Another great hiker box find, this pad has seen many miles and is still holding up strong. I use my sit pad to rest on during breaks, yoga, and it can also be turned into a hitching sign in a pinch. Luna sleeps on this most nights unless it’s cold enough that I have her sleeping bag.
I traded this in finally after a good 5,000 miles on one pad for a 3-link one I found in a hikerbox. Luna enjoyed this to sleep on many nights if it wasn't under my feet. Again, KEY PEICE OF GEAR.
SNOW TRAVEL: Kathoola Microspikes (12oz)
Opting for microspikes over crampons; no ice axe. An early July start, even in a high snow year, will mean some snow/ice travel at higher elevations (including the Chief Mountain alternate in Glacier, where we'll be starting). Microspikes have worked great for me hiking the Whites in the winter, especially when paired with trekking poles. I feel much more comfortable in them over full crampons. I'm hoping to only need these in Northern Montana and the maybe the Winds in Wyoming.
I brought Spikes through Glacier and used them a few times. In the Winds, they probably would have been helpful but I got by without. I got them sent out for Southern Colorado and was really glad to have them. Essentially, they have to be bounced around a bit depending on weather. But probably only necessary for Glacier and the San Juans.
TREKKING POLES: Black Diamond Trail Pro Shock
These aren’t ultralight, but they get the job done. Absorbs the shock well on various terrain and adjust down easily for my tent setup. The small baskets are great for snow as well. L.L. Bean was awesome and recently replaced them for me when one busted.
Still love these, but I left them in my hitch outside of Steamboat and had to borrow a friends after that....very very sad day.
Opsaks were great to have through Grizzly country. I only hung my food in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
BOWL- Sea-to-Summit X-Mug
On the PCT I started eating cereal or granola with powdered milk for breakfast, so this is a recent addition to the minimal dishes I carry. Definitely not a necessity, but nice to have if a friend is sharing their coffee or whiskey.
This was great to have for my cereal but I sent it home in Colorado because I was mostly eating bars for breakfast.
SPOON- Snow Peak Titanium Spork
In Colorado and Northern New Mexico, I used my Jetboil Mini Mo and it was AMAZING! I've never had hot food on a thru-hike before and it was crucial to moral when the colder weather came. I found I could eat more calories this way too. And hot tea before bed to help me stay hydrated.
Sleep clothes and warm layers. I love these polyester bottoms because they’re surprisingly warm for how little they weigh, and don’t funk up easily. The long sleeve top is light and breathable, and has held up through all of my previous hikes. I don’t carry warm layers to hike in, so if it’s freezing, I’ll hike in these; but generally never sweat in my sleep clothes.
Kept these, but swapped out the Techwick for a Smartwool 250 Midweight top for Colorado and New Mexico and wore it 24/7. It was essential for that stretch. But I still love these picks as baselayers and sleep clothes.
DOWN JACKET- EMS Feather Packed Down Jacket
My Patagonia nano down has been good to me on past hikes (and Patagonia was super awesome getting me a new one recently), but with the anticipation of some colder nights at higher elevation, I’m bringing my warmer puffy for now, and it sure is comfy. The EMS down jackets are a great value for quality, and include an awesome stuff sack to turn it into a pillow.
I was really happy to have a slightly warmer puffy for this trail. I wore it nearly every night and plenty of hiking miles through the cold. Worth the extra weight. Elevation doesn't mess around.
RAIN JACKET- North Face Venture 2 Jacket
For now, I’m opting to carry a jacket as a potential extra cold weather layer.
I sent this home with my microspikes after Glacier. It wasn't really waterproof anymore and instead I picked up a Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket in Denver and had that until Central NM. Also picked up some kids rain pants at a thrift store that was essential for the wind and precipitation in CO.
PONCHO- MCR Hooded Rain Poncho
Plastic ponchos weigh practically nothing, are cheap to replace, and are great in wet weather. This one is minimal, so it doesn't provide much warmth if the temperature drops. I’m bringing both a jacket and poncho to start, until I have a better idea what I like best in cold rain.
I think this trail is up on windy ridges too often for a cheap poncho to be effective. This fell apart by Wyoming and I got the Marmot Jacket soon after. I wish I had a light windbreaker for the entire trail (my GoLite was sent out in Wyoming). Would HIGHLY recommend a wind jacket.
TOWN DRESS- Velvet Whisper Tank Dress
Last year I started carrying a light, skimpy dress to have something clean to put on in town or when doing laundry. It only weighs 2oz and I like having something fun and different to wear, since I wear the same clothes everyday for 4-5 months.
Sent this home in Colorado once it got too cold, but was fun while it lasted.
SOCKS- Darn Tough Micro-Crew
I always carry two pairs of these. They are by far my favorite hiking sock and Darn Tough will replace them once they wear out which is the most amazing thing ever when you beat the crap out of socks over and over.
Wore out 4 pairs this trip. Added warmer sleep socks (REI Co-op Merino Wool Socks) in Colorado was super comfortable at night.
UNDERWEAR- ExOfficio Give-N-Go Sport Mesh Brief
These are light, mega comfortable and breathe well. I've tried a number of ExOfficio's underwear, and these are the best in all kinds of weather.
It’s nice to be warm. Maybe I’ll end up sending these home, but they’re light fleece.. worth it for the comfort.
I kept the hat and it was great for sleeping in to keep my sweaty hair off my sleeping bag. Swapped out for a Smartwool headband later on for better breathability and LOVED it. I sent gloves home right at the start in Montana, and picked up some North Face Denali Etip Gloves in Denver when it got cold. My fingers were often still cold in those, but they were fairly light.. just didn't offer any wind protection or real insulation. Would recommend a waterproof/higher insulation glove for cold sections or southbounders.
PERSONALS BAG: (12oz)
HEADLAMP (& EXTRA BATTERIES)- Black Diamond Gizmo
Simple design, pretty light, dimming & redlight options. Nothing crazy at 90 lumins.
BATTERY PACK- GoalZero Flip 20
I can usually get my phone battery to last 4 days on airplane mode. But with the tougher navigating (using phone GPS) and longer stretches between town stops on the CDT, I’m sucking it up and carrying a battery that holds 2 extra charges.
KNIFE- Mostly for blocks of cheese, and anything else that comes up.
HEADPHONES & CHARGER- Lifeline. Headphones are always in my hip belt pocket for a jam or podcast. Also nice to have for phone calls.
TENACIOUS TAPE- Things tear.
CHAPSTICK- Sunburnt lips are no good.
WALLET & PASSPORT- A ziplock with just the essentials: license, debit, credit and insurance cards. And a little cash.
LIGHTER- Fire and stuff.
NOTEBOOK & PEN- Writing.
STAMPS- Saves a trip to the post office to mail postcards.
This all remained the same for the entire hike. It was my first time carrying a battery pack and it was essential on longer stretches and cold weather. Sun protection is crucial on the CDT too because of the exposure and occasional snow travel.
TOILETRIES BAG: (9oz)
BODY GLIDE- Chaffing is a bitch. So are blisters. Glide is great for both.
TOOTHBRUSH & TOOTHPASTE- My teeth are usually cleaner than my hands.
NEEDLE & THREAD- There’s always something needing to be stitched up. Needle can also be useful for medical needs.
DEET- I rarely carry Ben’s unless the bugs are REALLY bad. It’s gross stuff. But mosquitos will make you go insane, and with word of some hungry ticks in places along the trail, I’m bringing it.
CLIMBING TAPE- For hotspots and problem areas on the hands and feet.
WIPES- True to my original trail name, I’ll treat myself to baby wipes sometimes. I’ve dried and cut them into smaller pieces, so they only need a drop of water to moisten. Washing the dirt off my face at night is super refreshing and gives me routine. In desert areas where there’s no option to soak in a creek, I use them to keep my feet clean and blister free.
FIRST AID- Benadryl for itchy bites, swollen feet or good nights sleep. Advil for various aches and pains. I always carry a week’s worth of probiotics in case of a digestive mishap. Also Neosporin, moleskin, and steroid cream for poison oak/ivy rashes.
TICK KEY (not pictured)- Inevitably, there will be ticks. This helps to carefully remove the entire bug fairly quickly on a squirmy dog.
I only carried Ben's 100% nasty-ass Deet in Northern Wyoming and the Winds. Depending on tolerance level, one could get away without. But it was nice to have the few days where the mosquitos were relentless. The ticks were not an issue at all, didn't find a single one on the pup, what a miracle! Glide was really nice to have in the dry weather to help control chaffing.
BASE WEIGHT= 9lbs
My baseweight ended up being 9lbs after I ditched a few items after Glacier NP (closer to 11lbs there), but was a few pounds heavier in Southern Colorado (13lbs) with additional gear. New Mexico I was down to 7lbs because I didn’t have a tent. I didn't get too hung up on the weight this time around. Since the conditions were constantly changing, I found myself swapping gear out a LOT. To anyone hiking this trail, I'd highly recommend having some things set aside for family or friends to mail out as needed.
Hiking the trail? Check out -> CDT Tips & Tidbits: Part 1