My story

I like to hike and pack light. Lately I have been experimenting with various setups for making a 2-3 day trek along the Appalachian Trail. I have tried a few different methods of carrying gear within different packs. (I've used a KoolerTron, A.L.I.C.E pack and East German Pack.)

By far; my favorite is my East German, followed By the Koolertron. (I buy and use military, mostly, because I know it's rugged and will withstand my abuse.)

I like the East German pack because (once I changed the straps) it's comfortable, light, and waterproof, only downside is that it doesn't hold a lot. The Koolertron is comfortable, but not waterproof, carries a moderate amount, but a bit heavy because it's made from thick cotton canvas. The A.L.I.C.E made me feel like a pack mule.

These Latest three trials have taught me a few things about what I should and shouldn't take on my excursions.

My setup at current:

  1. 2, 1.5ltr (Military) Canteens with cup inserts.
  2. Light weight, compressible, sleeping bag (2lbs) by Eureka
  3. A small Pouch that consist of, protein bars, a couple small cans of beans, crackers and tuna in a can.
  4. Toiletries.
  5. Feather-light, compressible, Hammock (By Grand Trunk).
  6. 50' of Para cording.
  7. Knife.

All of this is on a Military Suspender-harnes-like rig, so that if need be, I can also attach the East German Pack to include change of clothes, wet weather gear, pack more rations, or anything else.

My Question

Does this sound like a well rounded, bare essential, 2-3 day trekking setup, if not what should I change?

Please Keep in mind that I am not looking to purchase a new pack, especially if they are the New, thin-nylon "Rip-stop" light weight packs with, or without, frame support. I am simply asking about the gear in tow right now.

My Current Gear without/with Back pack
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  • 7
    It sounds to me like your food weighs a lot more than it needs to. Canned foods are very heavy for the amount of food you get. You may want to consider freeze-dried or dehydrated foods that'll still keep well but be much lighter and consume less space. Canned beans for example, you're mostly carrying around water and metal. You can get dehydrated beans and cook them yourselves at camp.
    – nhinkle
    Sep 2, 2014 at 16:40
  • Good point. I never thought about the dehydrated beans. I tend to use my Canteen water for drinking, while any I find along the way for cooking as well as boiling for drinking. Thus is why I tend to take ready to eat food items. I don't care for those dehydrated "Maintain Meals", but on occasion I take beef Jerky.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 2, 2014 at 17:11
  • 2
    The dehydrated prepackaged stuff is definitely overpriced but you can make your own similar food on the cheap. For example, I often put together freeze-dried beans, freeze-dried rice, some spices, and powdered cheese, and it makes for a great dinner!
    – nhinkle
    Sep 2, 2014 at 18:03
  • 1
    What is your total base weight right now, i.e., the weight not counting food or water? About 5-6 kg is reasonable for a lightweight summer setup. The biggest single item in your total weight right now the 3 kg of water. There is no way to tell whether this is necessary or not, because we don't know the availability of water along your route or whether water purification is necessary on your route. E.g., if you're in the Sierra, then water purification isn't needed, and the correct amount of water to carry is normally zero.
    – user2169
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:12
  • 1
    The AT is very long. The gear you need for winter in the Whites is very different from the gear you would need for summer in GA. You could do 3 days in NY/CT/MA with nothing other than the clothes on your back and a credit card.
    – StrongBad
    Dec 14, 2017 at 1:57

5 Answers 5


For a bare essential setup, you'll do just fine. You might want to consider:

  • Better food selection
  • Duct tape
  • Emergency kit
  • Light source
  • Change the water containers
  • Mini-carabiner

Prefer non-canned goods because they are lighter, take less space and the resulting trash compacts better. You can find tuna packs too.

You can roll duct tape on your poles or bottle.

I carry a ziplock bag on me with some basic emergency items in it.

I would consider changing the water containers with a gatorade/smart-water bottle and perhaps bring a foldable container (platypus/evernew).

  • Good suggestions, though I would disagree on the water-container choice. I'm not sure what a plastic container has to offer over something better. My biggest concern with the water container would be to have a steel container that I can boil water in. Since no other cooking supplies were mentioned, I am assuming OP uses the water containers for heating water.
    – Loduwijk
    Dec 13, 2017 at 21:43

You don't mention any first-aid or survival items. I would include a first aid kit with maybe a compass and signaling mirror, maybe a firestarter of some kind. I would think that would add a negligible amount of weight to your rig.

  • 1
    I Honestly never had a need for A First Aid Kit. I usually travel with a sewing kit, so that already has needles if a suture needed to be done. As for Survival gear. I found that most of them are toys compared to the know how of using your surroundings. As for fire starting; I carry a flint stick on my Canter-keyring. I carry that on my person so I didn't mention it on the Rigging.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 2, 2014 at 15:24
  • 6
    @GeistvonPA no offense, but not carrying a first aid kit because you've never needed one before seems foolish. The point is that you may need it when you least expect it. There's a lot more to first aid than sutures; in fact, anybody not properly trained and equipped is going to do more damage than good by trying to close a wound with thread and needle. You should be carrying the 10 essentials, including a first aid kit, on any overnight trip.
    – nhinkle
    Sep 2, 2014 at 16:38
  • None Taken, nhinkle.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 2, 2014 at 17:05
  • I guess I am blinded by the "Survival is only limited by your imagination". Meaning that as long as I have a means to build a shelter, obtain food, and don't have broken limbs while doing so I should be able to survive using a Knife, cordage and a Container. I'm not ignorant to the fact that things happen and I may need some kind of medical attention while out in the wild, but with the earth being so populated, as well as being on a common trail, I guess it seems I am throw caution to the wind. I'm not MT. climbing/repelling, the weather can be bit humid, but I don't take unnecessary risks.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 2, 2014 at 17:20
  • 1
    If you bring a compass, consider to bring a map. The trail is fairly well marked except in some old non-maintained sections where the blaze are fairly faint.
    – ppl
    Sep 3, 2014 at 6:10

I suspect you are bringing more items than you have listed, since you've alluded to some of them in the comments. That said, here's what I see as missing or improvable:

  1. Flashlight. Is that because you carry it on you? An LED microlight is quite small. Letting your eyes adapt to the dark often works, but sometimes more is needed.

  2. Kitchen gear. Are you boiling water in the canteen cups or do you have a separate pot? Are you using a stove, or just a wood fire using found wood? (I see you have a flint stick; what do you use for tinder?) I assume you have a spoon?

  3. "Toiletries" can cover a lot; does it include a spade (or tent stake) for burying waste and a pair of tweezers for tick removal?

  4. Water. Do you really need to carry 3 liters? If water sources are plentiful, you could likely get by with 0.5 to 1 liter and treat as you go. Are you carrying that much because your only option to treat the water is to build a fire and boil it? Chlorine dioxide tablets, a Sawyer Mini filter, or Steripen make water treatment much simpler.

  5. Food. As mentioned, fresh food is heavy and canned food especially so. Re-packing may help, but use durable materials when spills would be trouble. I suggest looking into recipes for creating your own light-weight backpacking meals that you can carry and eat out of freezer bags.

  6. Repairs. You listed a ton of para-cord and mentioned a sewing kit; I might suggest a bit of duct tape and gauze. (If you have dental floss there's no need for additional thread, and unless you're hanging your food you probably don't need that much para-cord. For that matter, utility cord might be lighter, especially since you're probably not going to weave a fishing net or lower yourself down a cliff.)

    Similar to nhinkle's comment, there's no reason to suture in the back-country. While many first aid items are more about comfort, there's good reason to have tape and sterile gauze. (I'd point you to a story about someone de-gloving their toe, but I'm sure you're smart enough to wear shoes at night.)

  7. The "big 3" (sleep, shelter, and pack). It looks like the hammock is saving you weight over a sleeping pad and tent, and your sleeping bag is reasonably light as well. Other than the rig, it looks pretty light. (You may want a light tarp in case of rain.)

  • You assumption is wrong. The only thing I carry on my person is as follows. Knife (Can't ever have too many blades). Para-cording bracelet. Belt. Canter-Keyring with Flint stick/striker. a small amount of Toilet paper in my drop-pocket (so i don't have to constantly get into my pack or where else it might be). The Toiletries I mention in the list is T.P. Toothbrush and dental floss. that's all. I am an extreme-minimalist. I have no need for Flash-lights or kitchen gear as long as I can make a fire. Thank you for the other tips. I should make hard-tack.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 3, 2014 at 0:54
  • To answer your question (since reply space is limited). I boil and cook in the canteen cups, and have a spork. As for cooking means, I take what I need for fire, yes. I "Rough it", you can say. But seeing as how this gets off topic. I will assume that my minimalistic Gear is sufficient enough, other than a First Aid Kit. I can't help but wonder if most people try to pack everything, including the kitchen sink, instead of honing skills who others have used over hundreds of years ago?
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:02
  • Yes, I think many people "pack their fears", or don't know the old ways. But, technology can also save time or weight; I can get a pot of tea going quite fast using a canister stove, and a re-used Gatorade bottle makes for a very light water container. (Unfortunately out West we no longer have this thing called "rain" so wood fires are often prohibited.)
    – requiem
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:10
  • I carry that much water because I don't know how far the springs are from each other. I have used Chlorine Dioxide tablets in the past, not fond of them when I can boil or drink directly. Yes, that means no purification (I know the risks, stop judging every little thing and thinking I'm ignorant to the wilderness. This is about minimal gear, not about my skills. If we want to debate that then lets chat some place else, please.). I have used solar and other moisture trapping devices as well. All my bases are covered as far as for my health. besides, I wouldn't mind dying in the wild.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 3, 2014 at 1:14
  • 2
    @GeistvonPA The question what gear you need is highly connected to your (survival) skills. So please don't blame the friendly users here who try to help you. After reading your replies it often sounds ignorant for me. Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear any answers (suggestions and constructive criticism).
    – Wills
    Jan 6, 2015 at 9:44

If you are a coffee drinker, meaning you enjoy caffeine, you can bag some instant coffee grounds in a plastic bag and toss the grounds into your mouth and then drink some water. I would lie if I said it tasted good, but it does provide that kick in the morning.

I also find taking a couple strips of duct tape can go a long way. I usually find a surface like a water bottle or something and tear off a couple and put them on right over each other. From blisters to holes in a tent duct tape can really help out.

  • Not much of a coffee drinker, anymore that is. And don't really need caffeine. At most I take Mint Tea along. I have done the suggested and, rather than having black speckles stuck in my teeth, it's not even that bad.
    – GeistvonPA
    Sep 3, 2014 at 21:27

TL;DR short version

You have a reasonable list, though I would add a tarp or some other water-proof shelter that is quick and easy to set up and take down. This is to increase mobility or in case an emergency shelter is needed. Natural shelters are cool, but relying only on them slows you down a lot, I mean a really lot, and I'm still understating it. Just toss a tarp in your pack, even if it's a small one.

A knife, something for water that is cookable, something to start fire, a tarp. This does not include special items that depend on the location or duration; other than such specialty things, this list is it - all that's needed for short-term extreme-minimalist camping.

If longer than a few days, then some food too (for 2-3 days, identify and eat what you find). And depending on the climate, a sleeping bag.

Optional (but highly recommended): Water filter, rain coat, paracord.

Paracord only optional if plants very easy to use and good for lashing are abundant in the area.

Long Version

Since you started with packs, I'll just mention quickly that I prefer the military-grade molle ones. Mine has taken much abuse, including getting rained into and being left with water inside of it for a while, and it looks beat up but has not failed me yet.

You have stated, combining your question and comments (you should edit your comments into your question), that you are speaking about the bare minimum, extremely rough, minimalist survival scenario.

For that scenario, technically you do not need anything. I have heard of a TV show about a guy who goes out with nothing but camera and medicine (not even clothes!) and makes everything on the spot needed to survive. I haven't seen it yet but I plan to watch that some day. However, that situation is a silly way to spend a vacation, even if you are into the super-minimal setting.


So we need to lay some ground rules to judge by; you have given us a great foundation for that. My answer will assume that...

  1. you want to stay relatively comfortable

    a. no freezing

    b. no heat exhaustion (though I won't be addressing this much since I'm far enough north it's simply "sit under a tree" around here)

    c. no feeling miserable because of your conditions (ex: getting rained on when you were not prepared)

    d. no going without a reasonable amount of water for more than a day

    e. no spending 100% of your effort simply subsisting by foraging for food and water all day

  2. you want to do this with the minimal amount of help from modern civilization

  3. you want to be mobile enough that you can pack up your few belongings and move when you want or need to, and to be able to continue as you were in the new location

    a. I mentioned "or need to" to account for emergencies which require evacuation or avoiding natural events such as fires, tornadoes, etc.

  4. some extra items for extra comfort can be brought as long as they are tiny enough and lightweight enough that they do not get in the way at all

  5. you want to stay alive, and preferably not permanently injured in some way

    a. you did make this sound optional in one of your comments, but I'm going to ignore that in my answer, otherwise the answer could be "Just go out with nothing. If you die, so what?" ;)


Going with that, you meet or exceed everything except some form of shelter that allows you to retain good mobility.

My Commentary

Technically, you can make almost anything you need, but remember the parts about comfort, subsisting, and mobility; that's what keeps us reasonable. So here's my food for thought...

Knife: Obvious. However, sometimes I carry a multi-tool - a great survival multi-tool will have at least a knife and tiny saw, and preferably a few other useful survival things; I've even seen some that have little hatchet heads on the other end of them.

Water: I'm right with you on the water container: 1 or 2 containers that can hold water and which can be cooked in. At least 1 of said containers should be able to be able to be closed and be water-tight, which yours are. Like you, I would bring these with some water pre-loaded. I would also suggest that at least 1 such container be one that you can reach into easily - no small neck like some canteens have - so that you can more easily cook larger things in it or clean it; this might mean the other container is more of a pot than a proper canteen.

Rationale: having a closable, water-tight container has obvious benefits, but having a container you can reach into and cook larger things in is for multiple other reasons. Yes, you can cook things skewered on sticks or placed on stones (flat stones work well for cooking on), but this is easier to clean, and you can boil larger foods as well.

(Optional) A water filter will put even more water sources easily at your use. I would get the smallest, lightest-weight one I could find. If no other water sources are present, a filter allows you to clean the water from mud or even to dig straight down where you're standing and get water from the muddy pit you dig, assuming the water table is high enough. This also keeps your canteens cleaner; you could boil muddy water in them, but that's not pleasant and leaves them dirty.

I have seen some articles and videos about making your own water filters by crushing charcoal you make from your fire. I tried that, and it did indeed clean the water, but the water flow in the one I made was sooo slow that it could not be considered a reasonable source of drinking water for any extended duration. Maybe if I tried it a few times I could get one to work right, but if you are spending times making and remaking water filters in the wild then you've dropped out of the criteria I mentioned above that I'm using for this answer. Note though: when testing the water filter I made, I mixed up some very dirty, muddy, nasty water to put into it, and what few drops of water came out the other side were pure, clean, clear looking, but the water just wasn't moving through it quick enough.

Fire: Because the tools for fire starting are so tiny and light, the list is longer but it doesn't take up much space or weight total. I carry a tiny metal tin in my pocket. The tin contains the fire tools and it can be used to burn things in low-oxygen (ie: making charcloth). If I haven't replaced items, I am sometimes missing some of what follows, but the general contents are intended to be: ferro rod, weatherproof matches (matches are optional if you have all of the other things listed), charcloth, tiny pieces of charcoal, a small piece (1 inch by half-inch, short enough to fit) fat-wood, a small piece cut off a magnesium block, a knife blade removed from a small pocket knife, a short length of a metal-cutting hack-saw blade which was cut from a hack-saw using another hack-saw (this gets a great shower of sparks from the ferro rod), often a little folded up piece of aluminum foil, sometimes a tiny tinder nest if I have one that small prepared, and a little scrap of paper with all these contents written on it to help me remember what I'm missing when I restock it (which can also be burned if necessary). All of this fits inside the tiny tin which is less than a half-inch thick, is about an inch and a half long one way, and about 2 or 3 inches the other way, and it weighs much less than 1 pound. Not sure exactly - probably 2 or 3 ounces. It just goes in my pocket, so it is always easily available.

The knife, water container, and fire tools I would say are the 3 most important tools.

Some kind of shelter is very important to bring. I said that the previous 3 things are the most important items because you can construct your own shelter from what's available, and that is fun to do, however your mobility is severely restricted if you do not bring anything for shelter, and your trip is less safe.

A tarp is an easy thing to bring. A small one need not take up much space or weight. A tarp is highly recommended even for minimalist camping. If you had not specified a 2-3 day trip, I would list this as "must have," but not taking one even on a 2-day trip is still silly. Obviously, you could substitute other things for a tarp, such as a bivvy bag for example. A tarp can also help protect you from sun exposure and heat in areas where that is a concern. Having a tarp for shelter makes you much more mobile than using only natural elements for shelter.

(Optional, sort of) A sleeping bag is a must-have for me, as I am in cold weather territory: when winter camping here you need to bring something rated for sub-freezing temperatures. A zero-degree sleeping bag is the biggest, heaviest thing among my gear that I would consider a necessity. It is annoying but life-sustaining. If camping in warm weather, this is optional, cold weather not optional.

(Optional) If you get caught out in the rain when you do not have a shelter up, a tarp can be sufficient to keep you dry, but it is big and clumsy to just wrap around yourself. For this, I would suggest a rain coat. That might sound odd for minimalist extreme-camping, but 1) you can easily get dangerously cold from the rain, and 2) you can get tiny emergency raincoats that take up practically no space and weight. I have one I bought from a sporting store which only cost a few dollars, and when it's still in its package it is only a few inches by a few inches, and less than an inch thick. No reason not to toss that into your pack; if you don't need it you'll forget you even have it in there, and if you do need it you'll be so happy to have it. I still have not opened mine, as the few times I needed it I was dumb enough not to have it, and I was miserable instead.

Shelter is more important than people realize. Without food you won't die for weeks, without water you won't die for days, but without proper shelter it is possible to die in hours if the conditions are terrible or even just from rain if it's not otherwise warm out. If the weather changes from bright sun-shiny to down-pouring rain rapidly (I've seen it happen very fast), and you're not ready for it, you cannot get a fire or shelter made fast enough, so you need to have something ready to immediately protect yourself. The alternative is to sacrifice your immobility and never leave a permanent (or at least semi-permanent) shelter.

Food: For the 2-3 days you mentioned, you can bring a little bit of food if you want, but you can just as easily live off the land if you are sure of your plant identification. You are not going to starve by eating nothing but dandelions for 2 or 3 days. The better you can identify (avoiding poison/toxic plants is more important than knowing good ones), the more food you can forage out.

For longer than a few days, yeah, don't forget to pack some food. If I was going ultra-light for a week or two, I would probably bring a granola bar per day and a bag of trail-mix, still supplemented with the plants as before. And maybe a box of pasta to eat halfway through. My diet is unconventional, but the general idea remains.

Another note on fire: Even if you get good at making friction fires so that you technically don't need fire starting tools so much, tools are still good to have anyway since starting friction fires all the time will wear you out fast and require you to eat more.

(Optional) Cord: can't forget the cordage! Although you can forage for plants to use for this, paracord is so useful and doesn't take up much room that there's no reason not to bring at least some, even if you don't plan on using it.


For minimalist extreme-camping: a knife, something for water that is cookable, something for fire, a tarp. This does not include special items that depend on the location or duration; other than such specialty things, this list is it.

That's only a few pounds so far, and if you carry the knife in your pocket or on a belt and the fire tools likewise attached to you somehow, that leaves just the tarp and water container to pack, so a bag is not necessary if you don't bring any of the items below - just attach the canteen with a biner or tie it to you, and tie the tarp up and wear the tarp itself as if it were a backpack.

If longer than a few days, then some food too. And depending on the climate, a sleeping bag.

Optional (but highly recommended): Water filter, rain coat, paracord.

Additional Notes

Please note: none of this has mentioned first-aid, compass/map, or any other tools not directly related to your day-to-day needs that you are likely to encounter. That said, you should bring such things, and the above "optional" items too, even if you do not plan to use them. It doesn't hurt to bring along a few lightweight items. No matter how "bad-ass" you think you are (even if you really are one), it doesn't hurt to have a compass, map, minimal first-aid, etc. tucked into the bottom of a back-pack and to forget about them being there. It's the "not that you would, but that you could" mentality.

I will admit, though, that I usually do not bring compass and map. I have gotten lost as a result, but I just wandered around until I found a feature I could follow. However, whenever I have gotten lost it has not been in a huge park or preserve that you could get lost in for weeks, nor was it in a dangerous area; in such conditions I am much more likely to bring a map.

  • Despite my mention that camping without certain items - and even more-so also acting like the guy who goes out with nothing, naked - is silly... still, being able to go out with nothing and survive is still a good skill to have. Please do not think that I meant never do that at all. I have done a little bit with making tools from stone, cord/rope from plants, natural shelters, etc., and that can be fun too. But at that point it's not hiking, and might not even be camping, so is a different topic I did not focus on. Even doing that, I'd still bring tools even if not used, in case of emergency
    – Loduwijk
    Dec 14, 2017 at 16:30

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