Written by: Justin Choquette
My happy place isn’t really a specific location, but rather it is the emotional state one experiences standing on top of a mountain peak looking over valleys and ridges that appear to go on forever. I believe there is no better way to experience the full expression of Mother Nature’s grandeur than by putting on a backpack and heading into the mountains, even if it is just for a night or for two weeks.
For me, I find that backpacking is where all of the world’s distractions and worries slowly fade away and sometimes I’ll even completely forget about them. Being able to survive with only the things on your back and experiencing an adventure that is completely human powered will maybe, just maybe, make you happier than you have ever been before.
If you work a nine-to-five job you can still head off into the mountains during the weekend, even if it’s for only one night. I am an industrial Electrician for a living. I work eight hours a day, five days a week. From 3pm on Friday afternoon until Sunday evening I am out backpacking and climbing in the beautiful rugged mountains British Columbia and Washington State.
In order to accomplish going on an overnighter or weekend hike, I normally begin to prepare for my weekend excursions on Wednesday evenings. I lay out all my gear and checking through my checklist to make sure I have all my essentials. Thursday evening I will pack my bag and if I am missing any gear I will head over to my local Valhalla Pure Outfitter’s to pick up the missing essentials.
If you are planning on heading into the mountains it is essential that you have the proper equipment and knowledge for the activities you are doing. If you feel that you need just a little more knowledge and confidence to be able to survive in the backcountry I highly recommend checking out BCMC. They provide a phenomenal mountaineering and backcountry course which could end up saving your life.
This is the gear that I bring with me when I head out into the mountains. It’s important to remember that these products are some of my personal favourites and I have found that they are the most comfortable and practical for the kind of activities that I do. When you’re purchasing your gear, here are a couple tips that I recommend following:
1. Look for a company that has a great warranty policy and that stands behind their products. I’ve found that Arc’teryx, Osprey Packs, Rab, MSR and a few other companies are the best for standing behind their products no matter what happens to them.
2. Find a product that is super comfortable and fits really well with your body because trust me, you do not want to have gear that is causing discomfort when you have to walk 40kms back to your car.
OSPREY Atmos 65 – MENS: The Atmos 65 is my go-to bag for those super light and quick backpacking trips into the mountains. I have found that this bag is one of the most comfortable backpacks on the market.
OSPREY AETHER PRO 70 – MENS: This bag is fantastic for expeditions that could span days or even months. It’s the perfect bag for when your heading up into the alpine for climbing expeditions with remote basecamps.
Arc’teryx ALPHA FL 45 BACKPACK: This is probably my favourite bag that I own. It’s super light weight and it’s perfect to bring along with you for a day of scrambling and climbing. A bonus is that this bag is also waterproof and can be flattened down so you can stuff it into your multi-day backpack for when you want to head out from base camp and climb one of the surrounding peaks.
OSPREY KAMBER 32 – MENS: This is a great bag if you are wanting to head off and do a nice simple day hike. This bag is very comfortable and has a lot of room to be able to fit your gear.
When dressing for the out doors you want to dress in layers. The reason you do this is to remove these layers before you start to perspire. The goal is to prevent your inner layers from getting damp. Damp fabric is also very uncomfortable against your skin. One important thing to remember is NO COTTON. Cotton absorbs water and takes a very long time too dry. This keeps you feeling sweaty when it is hot out and will also brings on chills when the weather becomes colder.
The first layer you wear should fit close to your skin, but not so tightly that it impedes your movement. You want to buy clothes which are breathable and depending on the weather you will want something that also keeps you warm and dry or cool. VPO has a great selection inventory of base layer clothing that you could choose from.
This is typically the layer that will provide you your primary warmth while in the backcountry. I usually recommend you bring two of these layers when your heading into colder weather.
Fleece: Bringing a fleece is a great way to keep warm during those cold West Coast nights. Rab makes a great fleece called the Rab QUEST PULL-ON.
Puffy Jacket: These jackets are one of the best things that you can have in your bag. I highly recommend checking out the Arc’teryx CERIUM SL HOODY. I’ve found that it’s super warm and it compresses well. This is a bonus for when you don’t have very much room in your pack.
Water Resistant & Breathable Shells
The first thing you want to have in your bag is a lightweight, compressible waterproof/breathable jacket and pants especially if you live here on the West Coast.
ARCTERYX BETA SL JACKET: Arc’teryx makes some of the best jackets on the market. I have found that the Beta SL is one of the best lightweight jackets that they make. You could wear this jacket in a monsoon and still be completely dry.
ARCTERYX BETA SV BIB: Hands down this is the best pair of shell pants I have ever purchased. They are highly versatile and are built for rugged mountain conditions. One of my favourite features is the two-way zippers which allow you to unzip the side of the pants for ease of removal over boots and crampons.
Footwear is one of the most important things when you go hiking or backpacking and it is something that you do not want to go cheap on. Just remember the shoes are like tires for your feet and when you are 25kms down a hiking trail you don’t want to get a “ flat”, such as having your feet covered in blisters, because your feet are your only mode of transportation.
SALOMON QUEST 4D 3 GTX: Surprisingly comfortable, the SALOMON QUEST 4D 3 GT are one of the best boots I’ve ever worn. They are fantastic for multi-day backpacking trips and I’ve found that they are very breathable and will always stay dry even if your walking through small creeks and puddles.
LA SPORTIVA TRANGO TOWER GTX: If I’m scrambling up a mountain or crossing a glacier I will be wearing these boots 99.9% of the time.
LA SPORTIVA TX4: I’ve found these shoes fantastic for a nice and easy day hike. They have fantastic grip for when your hiking up scree and mud.
ICEBREAKER LIFESTYLE CREW SOCKS – LIGHT CUSHION: Socks are also very important. I’ve been using the LIFESTYLE CREW SOCKS for a couple of years now and I absolutely love them. If you are heading out for a multi day hiking trip I highly recommended bringing two or more pairs of socks.
MARMOT CATALYST 2P, 2 PERSON TENT: This is my go-to tent for when I’m heading out on a backpacking trip with another person. The MARMOT CATALYST 2P is a very roomy and livable tent. It is super light and very simple to set up and take down.
OUTDOOR RESEARCH HELIUM BIVY: I love using a bivy bag for when I go on solo backpacking and climbing trips. If your looking for something that is very minimalist and ultralight I would definitely recommend purchasing one of these.
Sleeping Bags & Pads
THE NORTH FACE FURNACE, -7C: This is the first sleeping bag that I purchased a few years ago. Backpacking here on the West Coast can be very wet and cold. But having a bag that combats the moisture in the air and dries really fast is super important especially if you’re spending more than one night in the backcountry.
MARMOT NEVER SUMMER ,-18C: I will primarily use this bag when the nights start to get colder. This is probably the best all-round bag that I’ve come across. The MARMOT NEVER SUMMER is the ideal bag for trips when sub-freezing weather is imminent. This bag retains your body’s warmth while maintaining a super-high warmth-to-weight ratio.
THERM-A-REST TRAIL SCOUT: This is the sleeping pad that I’ve been using for a few years now. It’s a lightweight mattress perfect for when you’re wanting to keep weight to a minimum. I’ve found that it holds air all night and folds down into a compact size that will perfectly fit into your backpack.
Food & Cooking Supplies
The one up side of cooking in the backcountry is that everything tastes better especially when it’s warm.
For stoves I will either use MSR’s POCKET ROCKET STOVE or JETBOIL’s FLASH 2.0. Both of these are fantastic choices for using in the backcountry. Depending on how much room I have in my bag I seem to use the Jetboil the majority of the time because it boils water insanely fast and is really easy to clean and pack away.
This is one the items you do not want to forget when you go hiking or backpacking. Trust me it really sucks when your standing on top of a mountain and you go into your bag and you realize that you forgot your food in your car all the way down in the valley. Here is a tip for when you’re packing: if you are planning on going for a 3 day backpacking trips pack enough food for five or six days because plans always change and you never know if you might end up spending a couple of unplanned extra days in the backcountry.
Water Bottles & Filters
When you are backpacking it is very important to have clean and safe drinking water. I use the KATADYN VARIO DUAL TECHNOLOGY MICROFILTER to filter my drinking water. LIFE STRAW also makes a great water bottle with a filter built into it which is great if you’re trying to cut down on the weight in your bag.
GPS & MAPS
It’s s always a good idea to bring along a GPS or a map especially if your planning on heading off of the trail and into the woods. If you would like to learn more on how to use a map and a compass I would suggest checking out BCMC for more information and courses regarding this.
ABOUT JUSTIN CHOQUETTE
Justin Choquette is an adventure and lifestyle photographer based out of British Columbia, Canada. As a kid, Justin spent his free time outside Mountain Biking, rock climbing and hiking in British Columbia’s beautiful mountains. That sense of wonder and freedom that Justin got from nature as a child never went away, and there is still nothing he would rather do than play outside. Although now you’ll find him with his camera in tow!
Always one to forge his own path, Justin’s distinct photographic style captures the intrepid human spirit engaging with diverse, remote, and off the beaten path landscapes. Justin genuinely enjoys living on the edge, and the excitement and anticipation that he experiences for each new destination and adventure comes through in his unique and creative compositions. Follow along on Justin’s many adventures on his Instagram page: @justin.choquette