The first half of autumn, from mid-September through October, is the best time to go hiking and backpacking in the White Mountain National Forest which spans central New Hampshire and Western Maine. The temperatures are cooler, the bugs are gone, and the fall foliage is spectacular in early October, reaching its peak on Columbus Day during the second week of October. Come November, the weather turns decidedly colder, and snowshoes are often required to hike the higher peaks by Thanksgiving. After that winter usually lasts into April and even later at the higher elevations.
I haven’t published my gear list in ages and I thought I’d write one up that details the backpacking gear I use in September and October for autumn backpacking (down to 20 degrees at night) before I have to transition to colder weather pursuits. My hiking goals have changed significantly in the past six months and that’s had an effect on my gear list and priorities.
How have they changed? I’m back to climbing the higher mountains in the Whites which is a much more mainstream pursuit than off-trail hiking in the remote northern parts of New Hampshire. I’ve also doubled down on Tenkara Fly Fishing which pairs well with hiking in the Whites because there are a gazillion streams adjacent to our hiking trails and I like fishing in places that you can only access on foot. While the fishing season ends soon, on October 15th, that hobby has had an effect on my gear choices that may prove interesting for others, particularly people who are interested in combining a second outdoor hobby or sport with backpacking.October 1, 2020. Mt Chocorua and The Sisters
Gear List Summary
Most of my trips in the Whites are one and two-night backpacking trips, often solo, and many involve climbing 4000 footers, although I often take off-trail detours to reach small fly fishing streams or bag trailless mountains. I prefer wild camping in dispersed campsites and cook one-pot dinners at the end of the day. I usually switch from trail runners to lightly insulated boots when daytime temperatures fall below freezing. I’m less obsessed with gear weight than I used to be and lean more towards wilderness immersion than crushing big miles. I’m still a go-getter, but I’m a lot less interested in feats and more interested in making memories if that makes sense.
The total base weight of my gear list is 14 lbs 12 oz, which is about a pound or two more than I typically carry in summer. My Tenkara Fly Fishing gear weighs an additional 8.1 ounces, which is really a drop in the bucket when compared to more traditional reel-based fly fishing.
PackingThe Gorilla’s side compression straps and top pocket are much better for carrying Tenkara rods and tackle.
I switched from the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400 backpack to the new Gossamer Gear Gorilla 50 this summer. The Gorilla 50 has a much better side compression system and better pockets for carrying my long Tenkara fishing rods and gear than HMG’s packs and there’s much less overhead in terms of accessing my fishing gear when I come across a nice-looking stream.
The Gorilla 50 is also a far more comfortable backpack to wear, even with heavy loads, because the hip belt and shoulder straps are much more padded. I also find it easier to pack my backpacking gear in the Gorilla 50, especially bulkier hammock gear and insulation, because the pack feels deeper (front-to-back) and the Robic fabric stretches more to accommodate my stuff sacks, unlike DCF which has no stretch at all.
The Gorilla 50 is not a home run. The fabric gets soaked through in the rain and it’s nowhere as durable as the HMG Southwest packs in terms of abrasion. The stretch mesh pocket is also prone to catching on vegetation and ripping when I wander off-trail. But overall, the Gorilla is much easier to use for my current multi-sport needs.
Shelter/InsulationIt’s much easier to find and camp in dispersed sites in mountainous terrain with a hammock while keeping your impact minimal.
I switch back and forth between hammocks and tents and tarps every few years and I’m back in a hammock this autumn, after getting hooked on it over the summer. I’m using a hammock shelter for a few reasons.
- I prefer the solitude and wilderness connection that come from camping in a dispersed campsite. Illegal, high-impact camping has become endemic in the White Mountain National Forest along the popular trails and I find that camping in such sites ruins the pleasure of sleeping outdoors for me. Using a hammock, together with a willingness to dry camp away from water sources, gives me the option to use less impacted, pre-existing campsites or pristine, legal campsites with very low impact, in terrain that would be unsuitable for tarp or tent use (ie. sloped terrain).
- I’ve grown weary of using inflatable, often uncomfortable, or noisy sleeping pads that only last for a year or two of use before they start to leak. That’s never a problem with my hammock setup. I sleep like a baby in my hammock, surrounded by warm quilts, lying flat with my feet slightly elevated.
- Switching to the integrated Hammock Gear Wanderlust hammock system was an eye-opener for me this year. All the components work really well together and having an 11′ long hammock instead of a 10′ one is much more comfortable for me because I can sleep flatter without a calf ridge.
All these shelter and insulation components weigh out close to 6.5 lbs which I’m sure I could trim down weight-wise by a pound or more, but I’m not that motivated to do it. They all work really well together in terms of integration and I’m inclined to just enjoy what I have instead of seeking to optimize it. It’s perfectly manageable for me as is.
KitchenComplete ESBIT cooking kit including vaseline dipped cotton balls and three ESBIT cubes for a one night backpacking trip
I cook and boil water with Esbit fuel cubes because they’re lightweight to pack and always burn no matter how cold it gets. I use 1 to 1.5 oz of fuel per day and unlike canister fuel or alcohol, there’s no empty fuel container to lug around after the fuel is gone. While I do use a QiWiz cookset, it is very minimal with a metal pot lid as a “stove” to prevent the Esbit cubes from burning the ground, a wire stove stand, and a titanium foil windscreen. The entire cook system fits into my ancient Evernew Pasta Pot (M), which is sized perfectly for the one-pot meals I like to cook on the trail.
Since I’m in black bear territory, I use an Ursack to protect my food and the bears at night. I also use it to store my cook pot and toiletries to keep smells out of camp.
WaterThe Platypus QuickDraw Water filter works with all platypus soft bottles.
I’ve been using the new Platypus QuickDraw water filter this year in conjunction with Platypus 2L and 1L soft water bottles. I like the caps at both ends of the filter, which helps prevent cross-contamination of the clean end and prevents the filter from making all your other gear wet when it’s packed away. It has a fast flow rate and lets me use my Platypus bottles, which are gusseted on the bottom and stand up by themselves.
I prefer using Platypus soft bottles for long water carries, which I do increasingly often to find dispersed campsites. They hold their shape better than other soft bottles when full, which makes them easier to carry. For example, I typically carry 5L of water for dry camping, and Platy bottles flop around less when carried in my pack’s front mesh pocket, than say a CNOC bottle which is much softer and more pliable.
I’ve also switched to using 1 liter wide-mouth UL Nalgene bottles (3.8 oz each) this year. I usually carry two on trips. I switched to them because I kept losing taller bottles, including Smartwater bottles, when I hike off-trail, which I do on almost every hike I take with a fishing rod. The squatter Nalgenes don’t get pulled out of my side water bottle pockets. They’re handy because you can put hot drinks in them and they have volume measurements on the side. They’re also better for cold weather use below freezing because they don’t have a neck that can freeze. Plus, if you turn them upside down the cap won’t freeze shut.
OfficeSuunto M3 Compass
The office is the brains of this operation and encompasses navigation, communications, photography, lighting, and power. I’m a map and compass person at heart and keep my Suunto M3 declination adjustable compass close at hand to check my direction and identify distant terrain features. I also wear a solar-powered Casio Pathfinder ABC watch and use the barometric altimeter quite a lot when hiking, so I don’t have to get my phone out to check my elevation with a GPS. I actually never take this watch off, so maybe it should be considered as “clothing worn.”
Still, it’s nice to have Smartphone apps with GPS-encoded maps, so I can check my position and view maps on the phone that I don’t want to carry. I do a fair amount of off-trail hiking in addition to on-trail in order to reach remote streams, so it helps to have a wide selection of maps available in a phone app. In terms of apps, I use GaiaGPS for off-trail navigation, Guthook’s White Mountain National Forest App for on-trail navigation, and Avenza Maps for navigating with historic USGS maps encoded as GeoPDFs or GeoPDF maps I create in Caltopo.
I carry a Garmin inReach Explorer+, so I can check in with my wife every morning and night with a pre-canned “OK” message that puts her at ease when I’m out in the middle of nowhere. It’s also very useful for sending her updates if I need to do a route change or I’m running late, so she doesn’t call Search and Rescue to come and find me. I like the keyboard functions on the Explorer+ more than the ones on the inReach Mini, and the fact that I don’t have to slave my phone to it via Bluetooth for better ease of use, burning through two batteries instead of just one.Typing a custom message on the Garmin inReach Explorer
Photography: the Canon GX9 Mk II is a very compact, USB rechargeable camera with a big sensor that’s good for low light conditions. I unified my electronics to all be USB or Lightning rechargeable two years year, so I can recharge it in the field with a power pack, which I did just the other day with my Anker battery when cold temperatures unexpectedly drained the camera battery overnight. I might switch to a Smartphone camera in the future, but I’m not there yet.
Headlamp. I’m still using a Nitecore NU 20 because it’s small and doesn’t have a complex set of lighting controls. My UK hiking buddy Martin recommended it to me several years ago and I’ve been using it ever since.
First Aid Kit
My first aid kits have always been self-assembled and are pretty minimal. I put the most effort into blister prevention and treatment, using Leukotape to prevent hotspots and long-lasting, padded, Band-aid Hydro-seal bandages if I get blisters. These are super sticky bandages that don’t come off for days and help heal the wound. They’re the same thing as Compeed bandages, sold in the UK, but much less expensive.
In addition to foot care, I carry the usual antihistamines, pain relievers, and anti-diarrhea pills. If you’re freaked out by sounds at night, earplugs are useful in autumn for blocking the sound of falling leaves. I also carry a K94 mask on my hikes to protect myself from Covid if I have to get close to someone, say an injured hiker I don’t know who needs help, or if I have to enter a structure with other people.
Clothing CarriedSeptember 24, 2020. The Great Gulf Wilderness
I carry a pretty standard set of layers for autumn weather. My rain gear doubles as wind protection above treeline and provides a thermal envelope when worn over a mid-layer. Hunting season starts in September, so it’s also nice that my rain jacket is blaze orange in color. It’s crazy that more companies don’t make blaze orange outdoor gear for hikers, isn’t it? I also carry a lightweight down puffy pullover that I mainly wear in camp or in my hammock at night if I feel cold. Gloves and a warm hat are also good to carry, especially for above-treeline use or on cold mornings.
I’m a big believer in carrying a separate pair of dry sleeping clothes, which I change into when I get to camp so I can warm up over dinner. They’re good to have on hand if your daytime clothing gets wet on rainy days and if you need to warm up. They also keep your sleep insulation from getting funky, especially if you can’t wash up before going to bed.
I suppose I’m dating myself by using clothing from Patagonia that is no longer made, but I haven’t been able to figure out if they sell anything that’s comparable to the lightweight layers I already own, given their terribly complex and constantly changing product naming scheme.
Clothing WornSeptember 26, 2020 Kinsman Ridge
I modified many of the items I wear when hiking during the day this year. Chief amongst these was switching from La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Runners to a pair of Saucony Peregrines 11’s, which have a lower drop and a wider toe box. I had a lot of ankle and forefoot problems this year, the fallout of a bad ankle sprain in July 2020, and cycled through a variety of footwear looking for relief. The Peregrines have helped clear up those issues, keep your fingers crossed, and I will keep wearing them until I need to switch to insulated winter boots when the weather turns colder.
I also switched from wearing Railrider Eco-mesh long pants this summer to REI Sahara Convertible Hiking Pants, so I could hike in short pants. We had a terribly hot and humid summer and I needed more ventilation in my nether regions to survive. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve hiked regularly in short pants, so who knows, maybe I’ll keep doing it next year as well. When I hike off-trail, I do zip the lower legs back on the pants and wear gaiters with them for insect protection. I have friends who also like these pants and they send them out to be treated by Insect Shield, which I am also considering.
Tenkara Fly Fishing GearBrook Trout Item Notes Ounces Tenkara Bum Rod Case Perforated so the rod dries easily 2.5 Nissin Fine Mode Kosansui 270 Small stream Japanese rod 1.6 Flybox, Tools, Tippet I tie my own flies 4
With all this talk about fly fishing, you’re probably wondering what it is I do carry. The answer is not much, as you can see above. That is the beauty of Tenkara. It’s very elemental and simple. I can fish all spring, summer, and autumn with just 8.1 ounces of fly fishing gear.
I use a lightweight telescoping carbon fiber rod that’s made in Japan (which is a good thing) and catch trout that are generally under 10″ in length. I’m strictly a catch and release fisherman and I use barbless hooks, which are easy to remove.
I don’t always carry Tenkara Gear on hikes especially if I’m hiking with someone who just wants to go hiking or is not a fisherperson. But when I hike alone, I usually carry my fishing gear, and almost always when I go backpacking.
Whew! There’s a lot of information there. If you have any questions about any of the gear I use or why I carry what I do, feel free to leave a comment below with your questions. I’m also happy to answer any questions you have about hiking or backpack in the Whites in autumn.
About the author
Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its backpacking gear reviews and hiking FAQs. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide, a distance of approximately 2500 miles, completing a second round in 2021. Philip is the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. He lives in New Hampshire.
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