MARK SIREK Administrator Posts: 313
edited June 12 in THE GEAR LAB

Words and photos by Liz “Handstand” Kidder @lizkidder, IG - @lizkidder

The Shakedown 2.0 has fresh legs and a belly full of Nutella! Get in step with some familiar faces and some new contributors as we dive into what some of our favorite backpacking friends are carrying these days and why. There's sure to be some new advice, trail-earned best practices to share, and other tips and tricks to add to your own adventuring! Gear has obviously changed–it's one of the few constants we gearheads can rely on in this day and age–so let's see how it's worked its way into our contributor's packs.

We’re stoked to present our longtime pal Liz Kidder’s current kit! Jump into the comments and share any questions and/or some of your own findings.


I’d like to preface by saying that I strongly believe there’s no right or wrong gear, no better or worse gear, it all just comes down to personal preference, circumstances and what works for YOU. I’ve probably backpacked 3,000+ miles but I still wouldn’t consider myself an “expert” and I certainly haven’t had a chance to try everything on the market. But after hiking the Appalachian Trail, the Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, and some other random smaller trips, this is what’s currently working for me. Take what you want and leave the rest.


I adore my Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs. Yes, packs, plural. I’m the proud owner of four of them. Hey, sometimes you need something a little bigger or smaller or with certain features—and other times you just wanna get a new pack because you deserve a little treat. Anyway, I’ve been rocking the new(er) Unbound 40 lately which is top notch. The size is perfect for my typical backpacking set up (40 liters if you didn’t catch it in the name). The extra-large side pockets that fit TWO Smartwater bottles are clutch and the secret underneath pocket for stashing my rain gear is such a sweet new feature. I also love that the roll-top design doesn’t have a Velcro closure (my hair always got stuck in the Velcro of my other ones).

THAT BEING SAID, my heart will still always choose my Windrider 55. This is the pack I used on the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail and it’s just so… rugged looking. I have the black one and I weirdly love that you can see all your junk through the mesh pockets (meant for airing/drying stuff out)— it makes you look kinda hiker-trash-y, but like in a bad ass, good way. The newer packs have the high fabric pocket, which I guess is “cleaner” looking. I also like the hip-belt strap on my Windrider better (it’s thicker, so I suppose it’s a little heavier) but it really helps suck in the ole muffin-top. I’m a loyal Leo and me and my Windrider have been through some shit together. I honestly feel like I’m choosing my favorite child right now—don’t tell my Unbound 40.


As far as a sleeping bag goes–pls send halpppp. Per a friend’s recommendation in 2017, I bought the L.L. Bean 15 degree 850 Down Women’s Mummy sleeping bag and I’ve loved it and cuddled with it every night on trail since. L.L. Bean is definitely not a known thru hiking gear brand–in fact, does anybody outside of New England even know what L.L. Bean is? It’s a Maine-based outdoor recreation and clothing brand. Anyway, aside from the bright pink color, the bag slaps. Kept me very alive and mostly warm through freezing temps. Unfortunately, though, it’s been loved to death and as it happens with down bags, it’s lost some feathers and is unlikely a 15-degree bag any longer. I really need a new one before my (hopeful) PCT attempt next year. Would prefer to not freeze to death in the Sierras.

Now here’s the real conundrum: they no longer make this bag, or anything similar. How upsetting. My attention span hasn’t allowed me to get into too much research yet about a new one, which is where YOU come in. Suggestions? And before you start in—I’m anti-quilt. I will not be convinced otherwise. I LOVE the hood on the mummy bags (if I’m not using it as a hood, then I’m using it as a pillow) and I don’t want ANYTHING resembling a hole down by my freakishly cold dead feet, and tbh, you can still mostly unzip a sleeping bag and use it like a blanket so I really don’t get what all the fuss is about. But to satisfy the quilt-lovers that so happen to be reading this, or food for thought for those of you still in the market—I bought my husband an Enlightened Equipment customizable quilt a while back (before HMG came out with theirs) and he absolutely loves it, so there ya go.


I haven’t searched high and low or anything, but you really don’t have to look further than HMG to assist in all of your organization dreams. People that know me often describe me as OCD—there’s no actual diagnosis or anything, but I’m very passionate about organization and very particular with my system for packing. Everything has a place, always.

On the bottom of my pack, you’ll find a size-small Pod with all of my clothes—the pods by HMG perfectly fit the shape of their packs so there’s no space wasted. It’s adds even more to the waterproofness and zips around the outside, making it easy to keep my clothes neatly folded, and to find exactly what I’m looking for without digging everything out. Honestly, one of my favorite pieces of gear, I even use it when I’m like normal-traveling and staying in hotel rooms.

Next layer of my pack-cake is my sleeping bag, which I keep in an HMG Roll-Top stuff sack. I also have my sleeping pad in that layer, which is rolled up meticulously and secured with an elastic band and doesn’t need its own bag. Next layer up is that heavy (but worth it) food bag. I’ve been using the Zpacks one for years, but HMG recently came out with a Roll-Top Food Bag, so I just got mine at Trail days a couple weeks ago and am stoked to use it on my next trip! Above my food, I keep my two, small HMG stuff sacks for my electronics and my toiletries. And then all the way up top (so I can get it out quickly if it’s raining), I keep my shelter, which lives in the HMG stuff sack it came in. It’s all incredibly easy to find and I never lose anything. *knocks on wood


The HMG Mid-1 is my home of choice for my solo adventures. Like their packs, I have a literal collection of HMG tents and the Mid-1 design is absolutely perfect. At a whopping 16.8oz, this thing perfectly balances the weight to size ratio. The interior length is EIGHT FEET LONG, so there’s plenty of room for me to stretch out, even with all my gear laid out inside. The set up is a piece of cake and only uses one trekking pole to do so. Its pyramid design is super sturdy, even in intense conditions.

The HMG shelters are all made with Dyneema material which is lightweight, durable AF, and 100% waterproof. I have the single-wall design so there can be some condensation on a cold/wet night if you’re shut in tight, but that’s just to be expected with single-wall shelters. They also make the tarp/insert separate so you could get a double-wall version for a few extra bucks if you want. It also has dual peak vents up top to help with air flow and there’s a very respectable vestibule area where I can keep my shoes and any wet gear. The outer doors open all the way up for maximum views and breezes on a nice night. I love a one-person tent because I can squeeze it in anywhere, whether it be a crowded campsite or a stealth spot that’s not exactly a spot.

When I backpack with my husband, we’re currently using the HMG Unbound 2P, and I love this tent for a lot of the same reasons above. My favorite feature of the Unbound 2P is the huge dual-entry doors & vestibules on either side that fully open – chef’s kiss.


Six years later and I’m still rocking the tried and true Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite inflatable sleeping pad. Well, to be fair, I’m on my second one because my dog’s nail popped mine during an unrelated weekend at the lake for the 4th of July. I probably could’ve patched it but I just got a new one instead, which is now, not new anymore. My most recent update on this pad is that it apparently got moldy. When I unrolled it on my first night on the Colorado Trail, I noticed one side was covered in tiny black spots. I thought back to the last time I had used it and realized it must’ve been damp when I packed it up on trail, and then it sat like that for months. Note to self: always unpack and fully dry out your gear when you get home from a trip. Anyway, I was horrified at first, but I didn’t really have another option in the moment so I just decided to flip it over and sleep on the bottom side, which seemed to be clear of the mold. It was fine and I got over it and continued to use it this way for the rest of the Colorado Trail, and ever since.

As for a pillow? Nope. That’s a luxury item that doesn’t really tempt me. I just use my puffy, or on a cold night when I’m wearing all my clothes, nothing. You’re exhausted from hiking anyway–you get used to it.


I bought a Vargo BOT 700 at Trail Days in 2018 when I was on the Appalachian Trail. At that time, I was going stoveless— eating mostly tortilla wraps for dinner stuffed with peanut butter, dried fruit & honey. However, a month and a half into my thru hike, a hot Mac n’ Cheese dinner was sounding reaaal good. I was attracted to the BOT because it has a screw-on lid, a feature meant for cold-soaking. I was carrying an empty ice cream container for that reason and realized that with the BOT, I could have the option to cold-soak OR to cook on a fire once in a while, while still not carrying a stove and fuel. So I bought it, and that’s how I continued all the way to Maine—still mostly wraps, but treated myself to hot apple cider or a hot meal once in a while.

A few years later, while hiking the Long Trail, I caved and bought a stove. It was a cold & rainy that first week on trail and my husband’s pasta meals were smelling SO GOOD while my wraps just weren’t hitting the spot anymore. At our first resupply stop, I picked up the MSR PocketRocket 2, and I was still carrying my Vargo BOT that I could use with it. This ultralight stove weighs in at only 2.6 ounces and is extremely compact. You pair it with your standard Isobutane fuel canister and it’s all very quick and efficient. I’ve had it for a couple years now and it still cooks up my Mac n’ Cheese as perfectly as the day I got it—I really couldn't ask anything more from this little piece of gear.

That being said, I am considering going back to stoveless for a PCT thru hike. My personal viewpoint on this is that it’s so much quicker to “make” dinner when you’re just throwing a wrap together, and there’s essentially no clean up (AKA swirl n hurl). I also don’t have to go hunting down fuel when I’m in town which is BIG points. And lastly, when you’re doing big days like that, back to back to back, you just get hungry enough that you’re not so picky about it and honestly, quicker trumps better, if that makes sense.


I cannot recommend enough that you go out and get yourself a CNOC bladder–like, immediately. I popped a few different bladders in the first couple months on trail, and then someone recommended getting a CNOC—the unpoppable bladder. I’m not sure that they claim it’s unpoppable, but I’ll go ahead and make the claim for them–I am STILL using the same one, six years later! Not only is it durable AF, but it’s also got a “wide-opening” side that makes it quicker to fill up, or sorta possible to scoop out of a puddle. I’m really passionate about this one guys. Do it. Aside from the bladder, I carry several 1L Smartwater bottles, depending where I’m hiking and how much water I’d potentially have to carry at a time.

As for water treatment, I don’t think this is too groundbreaking, but, I use the Sawyer Squeeze water filter. Doesn’t everybody? Classic, quick & easy. I hear that the mini clogs up easily and is slow so I’ve always carried the regular size one. They also say that if you let it freeze, it can compromise it but you wouldn’t necessarily know it, so I’ve bought new ones over the years after winter hikes or whatever, just to be safe. I’ve never gotten Giardia, so I’d say the system works.


For my typical hiking avatar outfit— I wear an Under Armour t-shirt, Under Armour fitted shorts, and Darn Tough socks. Probably the most important thing to note here is that the socks MATTER. If you don’t know, Darn Tough is a lovely company out of Vermont, with delightful customer service and a lifetime guarantee—they aren’t cheap but once you wear through them, you can just send ‘em in and they’ll send you a new pair, which makes them cheap in the long run. They make all different styles of wool socks for different activities, with different thicknesses. I use the full-cushion socks, and I swear that’s why I never get blisters! I also wear the high ones (Paul Bunyans) that come up to my knees which has become like my signature style.

In my pack, I carry an additional t-shirt (so I can wear one/wash one), one additional pair of socks (always gotta have a dry pair, right?!), and some extra warmer layers. Additional layers are obviously going to depend on the environment you’re hiking in, but for general purposes, I recommend having a warmer top layer (I use a Minus 33 merino wool base layer), a puffy (currently rocking the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer 2), a rain jacket (honestly, if there’s a perfect one that actually works, let me know), and a random lightweight pair of pants to sleep in or occasionally throw on over my shorts on an extremely cold day.

Shoes. In my opinion, don’t listen to anybody on this. You really gotta experiment and find what suits your feet. I’ve bounced around a lot in this department but seem to always land on Salomon’s. Trail runners over boots for long distances though, for sure.


Historically, I’ve used some version of a typical Black Diamond headlamp. Within the last year or two, in an effort to cut weight, I switched to a tiny flashlight –the RovyVon Aurora A5 G4. This little 2-inch powerhouse only weighs 0.4 ounces, has 650 lumens, multiple lighting modes and is rechargeable. I love it, but a few things to keep in mind: it’s tiny and easy to lose. I keep it on a little elastic so I can wear it on my wrist at camp/overnight, problem solved. Another consideration: if you like to night hike, or end up setting up camp in the dark, a headlamp is definitely easier than holding a flashlight and doing everything one-handed. Although if you wear a hat, this flashlight does come with a little clip-attachment, so that solves that problem. I don’t wear a hat so, when necessary, I just used the elastic and basically secure it to the top of my head with my hair. Sometimes we gotta improvise amirite.

Other electronics I carry include a dual-port wall plug, charging cords, headphones and two 20K Anker battery packs which is a little excessive, but necessary when creating YouTube videos while on trail. Battery packs seem to evolve every year, becoming lighter weight and faster to charge, so I’ll probably pick up some new ones before the PCT.


After hiking a few thousand miles, I finally felt comfortable enough to whittle down my “survival kit” a little. This is a tough one because there are plenty of things you just never need–until you do. Here’s what is in my current kit:

• A small pocket knife
• Mini lighter
• 1 fire starter packet
• 2 alcohol wipe pads
• 2 triple antibiotic single-use packets
• 2 bandaids
• Tiny pill-bag (Tylenol, Benadryl, Zyrtec)
• 2 pre-cut strips of gear repair tape
• 2 strips of pre-cut blister tape
• Needle & small amount of thread
• Emergency poncho

Sometimes, depending on where/when I’m hiking, I also carry my PLB device (Personal Locator Beacon). The PLB is basically just a “red button” in case of emergency, and I’ve never had to use it. If I’m solo-hiking in winter and/or in remote places, it gives me peace of mind and is honestly just the responsible thing to do. I like this one because you just buy it upfront and theres no monthly charge to use it (you just have to re-register it every two years). However, for the PCT next year, I might consider upgrading to the Garmin inReach mini. I’ll keep ya posted.


I’d consider my hygiene/toiletries kit pretty basic, minimal and necessary. Toothbrush and toothpaste obviously—little travel sizes. Enough toilet paper for a few uses and a trowel—only when I’m hiking in places that it’d be otherwise difficult to dig a hole. Hand sanitizer and a 2oz. Dr Bronner’s soap which is concentrated, lasts a while and can be used for so many things. Sometimes I really go rogue and bring wet wipes. If you want to do that in an ultralight sense, you can take the wet wipes out of the package and dry them out before the hike, then just add some water to use them at camp. Pack ‘em out, obviously. For long distance hikes I think its necessary to bring nail clippers and I’ll also usually bring a disposable razor. I like to keep my toiletries in a small Opsak odor-proof bag because I don’t usually hang them with my food (please don’t come for me) since I like to have some of those things overnight.


My current trekking poles are Black Diamond Trail Cork, which are aluminum with the cork handles and extend to 140cm. These are fairly lightweight, but my priority with trekking poles are definitely durability over weight, since I’m not carrying them–they’re carrying me, I suppose. I’ve probably done about 500 miles on this pair so far, and I feel confident that we still have many miles ahead of us together.