TRAVEL, GEAR | MARCH 3, 2016
Superior Hiking Trail Gear List
Here’s what I packed for a three-day backpacking trip in Minnesota in late spring.
Last June, Rob and I hiked a few sections of the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT) in northern Minnesota. Backpacking appeals to me, mainly because I love seeing the world by foot (with camera in hand). But also because the activity itself is an exercise in discipline and minimalism.
Carrying everything you need on your own back forces you to take a critical look at what you’re packing. Everything must be useful and used. I like that.
The SHT is a 300+ mile foot path that roughly follows the ridgeline of Lake Superior. This trail is interesting because it offers a wide range of landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife. I think it’s a hidden gem for through hikers.
Rob’s goal is to hike the entire length of the trail in sections. The sections we hiked were between Lutsen and Grand Marais (you can see the area on this map). We encountered a few elevation changes, some swampy spots, a few streams, and a lot of dense wooded areas.
Here’s what I packed and some thoughts on what I might do differently next time.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only bad gear.”
Wise Old Wizard
- Packable puff jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff hoody
- Rain jacket: Patagonia Torrentshell
- Long sleeve: Patagonia Merino 3 pullover hoody
- Two exercise tank tops: 1 Under Armour and 1 Nike
- Merino Buff
- Base layer pants: Uniqlo Extra Warm Heat Tech leggings
- Two pair hiking pants: Columbia Anytime Boot-cut and Columbia Anytime Ankle
- Two pairs merino socks: Smartwool
- Gloves: Gorilla Gloves (found at hardware stores or in gardening section)
- Hats: Mountain Hardwear Butter Beanie, Adidas Climalite hat
- Shoes: Merrell trail runners and Ahnu Montara II waterproof hiking shoes
- Tent: Sierra Designs Flash 3
- Sleeping bags: Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 32 (Kristi) and Sea to Summit Traveler TR1 (Rob)
- Sleeping pads: Thermarest Neo Air
- Backpacks: Deuter Act-Lite 45+10 (Kristi) and Osprey Atmos 65 (Rob)
- Flashlight: Black Diamond head lamp
- Tech: Sony RX100, iPhone, portable charger
- Trekking poles: Black Diamond
- Cookware/dishes: Toaks titanium cup/mug, MSR Titan kettle, two aluminum water bottles, dual fork/spoon by Light My Fire
- Camp stove: MSR Micro Rocket
- Water: Sawyer Squeeze water filter and MSR Dromedary water bag
- Rope and two dry bags — one for food, one for garbage
- Moleskin, antibiotic cream, small first aid kit
- Multi-tool, knife, cigarette lighter
- Bug spray
- Personal items: Toilet paper, tooth brush and tooth paste, travel deodorant, unscented wet wipes
- Clif bars
- Instant oatmeal packets
- Pre-mixed trail mix
- Single instant coffee packets (Starbucks Via)
- Mountain House dehydrated food pouches (teriyaki chicken)
- Beef jerky
- High calorie, high fiber tortilla wraps
- Hard salami
- Platypus wine bag…and a nice malbec
We planned our food/meals perfectly. We ate everything we packed with the exception of the beef jerky (which was a nice treat we enjoyed on the drive home). We were surprised by how much we liked the odd tortilla wrap combo with salami and olives, but it had the perfect amount of healthy fats, fiber, and protein. The Mountain House meals are not the healthiest meal around, but they are very filling, calorie-dense, lightweight, and easy to prepare. Also I am a firm believer in rewarding oneself with a hot meal after a long day of hiking, so I appreciated having something other than sandwiches.
My layering system worked nicely. While hiking, I wore a tank top and Columbia pants, adding the merino long sleeve for the shaded parts of the trails. I wore my Uniqlo leggings at camp and for sleep.
My Patagonia Nano Puff and Torrentshell are a perfect and versatile outerwear combo. I was covered in any weather situation we encountered – cold, windy, rainy, or all of the above. Even though these were expensive pieces, I wear these two jackets all the time in my everyday non-camping life. I’ve had them for years, and they have held up very well. Worth the money. Pro tip: Nano Puff can double as a pillow.
I was very happy to have my Gorilla gloves while we were hiking. It was much easier to hold onto my trekking polls. Plus it’s nice to protect your hands when going through dense wooded areas as you inevitably wind up grabbing or deflecting branches, brush, and the like.
Our tent, sleeping bags, pads, and backpacks were perfect for this trip. Same goes for our cookware and tools. No complaints.
What I will do differently next time
I did pretty well with my clothing list, but there were still a few things I would do differently next time. I brought two pairs of quick-dry hiking pants rather than my typical 1 pair hiking pants + rain layer. Since it didn’t rain, I wore the same pair for the entire trip. I could have left one of the pairs at home.
After some trial and error, I have learned that I’m most comfortable hiking in long sleeves. I appreciate the sun and mosquito protection. Next time, I would bring a lighter weight long sleeve – either a thin merino or a technical fabric that is designed for use in warmer months. The Patagonia Merino 3 is very thick, and it was a little redundant in my pack since I already had the Nano Puff for a warm insulation layer.
Even though I intend to hike in long sleeves from now on, I do like having a tank top with for when we are resting in the sun or hanging out at camp on a hot day. Next time, I’d bring a single merino tank instead of two exercise style tanks. (Note: My favorite merino top is the Ibex Woolies).
I was nervous about my Ahnu hiking shoes causing blisters since they weren’t fully broken in for this trip. Therefore I decided to pack my well-used, well-loved Merrell trail runners as well. I figured I could wear the trail runners around camp. I regret this decision because the Ahnus worked beautifully and thus I didn’t use the Merrells at all. I wish I would have packed some sporty sandals (like Tevas) for wearing around camp and for going in and out of the tent.
If anyone out there is thinking about hiking the SHT for the first time, I highly recommend wearing a pair of waterproof hiking shoes or boots. The waterproof feature is key as you will encounter muddy/sloppy parts of the trail. Even on a sunny day, some parts of the trail are heavily shaded and will likely be wet. Having dry feet is an important factor in your personal comfort; trust me. I also would not recommend wearing a more minimal type of shoe with a lighter, flexible sole. The SHT is a rough trail with lots of rocks and exposed tree roots. Without a thick sole, you will probably have pretty tender feet by the end of the day.
We didn’t bring enough, and the one we brought was not strong enough. I had dozens of bites from mosquitos, gnats, ticks, and ants. It made for an uncomfortable week after the trip. Next time, I intend to pre-treat our clothes and tent with Permethrin and also pack both Ultrathon lotion and Repel 100 Deet.
If you have questions
If you are planning a backpacking or camping trip and are unsure what to pack, give me a shout in the comments or via my contact form. I love talking about camping gear and am happy to share my recommendations and learnings.
Look for some future articles about where to shop for backpacking gear (how to find good deals, fabrics to look for and some to avoid, brands that are worth your time).