What’s in my wilderness backpack: Clothing system

After years of sorting through various articles clothing, I have my system down. I pretty much wear the same clothes in temperate climates and rotate a few other items in as needed. When I say “same clothes” I really mean it—I wore the exact same T-shirt and shorts for 23 days on the John Muir Trail, washing them every couple of days (see photo below). I don’t do any winter hiking so that eliminates one category of clothing. I generally backpack on the West Coast, using a broad definition: California, Alaska/Yukon, Peru. Rain may be expected but temperatures don’t generally plunge below the low-mid 20s.

Inga & Steve at the top of Kearsage Pass (Sierra)

Inga & Steve at the top of Kearsage Pass (Sierra)

Here’s my core list of ten items for a typical summer trek in the Sierra, where the days are moderately warm and nights are cold.

  1. Short-sleeved T-shirt: I hike in something like UA synthetic T-shirt with antimicrobial finish, preferably in hot pink so I don’t forget I’m a girl.
  2. Long-sleeved T-shirt: Usually used in the evening when the temperature drops, I prefer a loose shirt to sleep in. I have a half-zip synthetic shirt of unknown origin. It’s also available as a warmer layer, either by itself or over my short sleeved T-shirt if it’s very cold during the day. If I’m expecting bugs I substitute my ExOfficio Lumen Bugsaway shirt. Bugsaway clothing uses Permethrin so they repel insects.
  3. Shorts: I hike in Cloud Veil shorts that look similar to these. I have no idea what I’ll do when these finally wear out as I haven’t found anything else I like as much.
  4. Pants: I’ve had a lot of zip-off pants but find that I chafe mildly at the zipper line and almost never unzip them. I now use ExOfficio Damelsfly Bugsaway pants, which are very lightweight, comfortable and have a drawstring waist.
  5. Underwear: ExOfficio Give N Go bikini underwear is my current favorite, with a lacy top, as well as their sports bra. A black sports bra from Athleta can double as a bathing suit top, paired with my shorts. The Knix bra is made of a unique fabric that dries quickly.
  6. Socks: After 10 years of blister torture I’ve developed a system that works for me. I alternate thin, quick-drying Tilley travel socks with Injinji toe socks, sometimes switching at mid-day. I always take my shoes and socks off at lunch to air everything out, inspect my feet and change socks. Many times my Tilley socks will have dried out by the time I finish lunch, though. For night time, I prefer wool socks with a loose weave. I’ve used Darn Tough, Fit and a handmade pair by a Quechua woman in Peru.
  7. Warm layer: Uniqlo UL down jacket, which is only 6.5 oz and a fraction of the price of major outdoor brands. They also make a hooded version.
  8. Day hat: Tilley Airflo hat, unless heavy rain, then waterproof rain hat for day use
  9. Night hat: Fleece beanie, unless very cold temperatures expected, then I bring my Tuck’s Tooque, a Nepali-made wool hat with fleece lining for nighttime
  10. Gloves: Thin ski glove liners such as Dakine, or thicker ones for colder temperatures. In wet conditions, pair these with a waterproof over mitt such as ZPacks or Mountain Laurel Designs.

Weather-related additions


I hike in Merrell Moab Ventilators. Shoes are a very personal choice and these work well for me. I’ve used them for years, they require no breaking in period and I get no blisters. For backpacking I get a half size larger than my street shoe, though for day hikes I have a pair with my regular size.

Trail runners have become very popular. I like my light weight Altra Lone Peak trail runners for training and short backpacking trips. I still prefer boots for multi-week backpacking trips.

Reducing the amount of clothing I carry has made a big difference in lightening my pack weight. Being able to do laundry helps a lot since I don’t like being dirty for too long. When it gets really cold I put on everything I have and snuggle in my warm sleeping bag rather than carrying more clothing. To see more of what I pack refer to my checklist in Backpacking Resources and the articles listed below.

See related posts:

It was cold at 15,600 feet in Peru! Tilley hat, Buff neck warmer, SD UL Trench, Uniqlo down puffy and ExOfficio pants kept me warm

It was cold at 15,600 feet in Peru! Tilley hat, Buff neck warmer, SD UL Trench, Uniqlo down puffy and ExOfficio pants kept me warm

Disclosure of material connection: I received some samples of some of these products for testing purposes but the opinions expressed are solely my own. They wouldn’t be included if I hadn’t incorporated them into my standard kit. They include ExOfficio, Buff, Tuck’s Tooque and Sierra Designs products.