When it comes to backpacking, Helen Biggs is a lady who knows what she wants. She’s been around the proverbial block: Biggs has done backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada, the Beartooths, Kelly Creek, the Wind River Range, the Sangalia Ridge in India, and the Kokanee Range in B.C. So it’s safe to say she knows what works. So much so, in fact, that she and her husband have a packing list that varies only slightly for each trip they do.
“Being out there simplifies everything-it’s just you, the trail, the scenery and the companionship,” she says.
These days, Biggs and her hiking companions look for destinations that have a good place for a base camp, along with ridges or summits for day trips so they don’t have to move camp every day. “Now that we’ve been to the Beartooths and the Winds, we really like those kinds of places where you can wander off trail.”
When shopping for gear, Biggs says she looks for “something that’s as light as possible but still performs as well as possible.” Here’s the gear that gets her through these ambitious treks:
Backpack: A Dana Terra backpack. It’s old, but “I can get most of my gear inside instead of having to hang my stuff off the exterior. It’s a little heavier, but it has external pockets for easy access to food or water.”
Boots: Biggs has a pair of Asolo FSN 95 GTX boots that are “lightweight and gore-tex lined for shorter hikes where I’m not carrying much,” and a pair of Lowas that are “heavier, stiffer, with better ankle support.” She also takes a pair of Keens to wear in camp. “You can’t just take a pair of flip flops, because you want something with support for water crossings.”
Tent: MSR Zoid 2. “It’s lightweight with two vestibules so we can each have a place to store gear and get out without having to disturb the other person.” She and her husband are considering a new Big Sky Evolution tent because it’s lighter and has more head room.
Sleeping bag: “We only take one sleeping bag and use a system called the doubler, which we got from Paul Fish at Mountain Gear.” It’s an extension system by Outdoor Research that zips their sleeping pads into the sleeping bag so that the doubler goes underneath and the sleeping bag goes on top. They use a special order down and gore-tex sleeping bag by Feathered Friends for colder trips or a Marmot synthetic sleeping bag for warmer trips.
“We also use Thermarest Z-lite pads to make life as comfortable as possible, and they double as a camp sit-upon.”
Clothes: Biggs loves multi-purpose buffs, Ex Officio clothing with bug-repellent, and zip-off pants. “I don’t leave home without my very lightweight MontBell down vest. I use it as a pillow at night and a layer if I need it,” she says. For raingear, she uses a Moonstone gore-tex pack light jacket and lightweight gore-tex pants by MontBell. She recently acquired an Ultra-Sil tarp/poncho from Sea to Summit that will replace her pack cover and poncho.
Water Filter: Pur.
Stove: The MSR Whisper Light, and she only takes one titanium pot to heat the water for her dehydrated meals. Biggs prefers the Backpackers Pantry meals, but she also carries GORP, oatmeal, dried fruit and M&Ms. “We count the M&Ms.”
Walking poles: Walking Poles: Leki ultralight Makalus. “I wouldn’t leave home without them.”
Accessories: “Of course a compass and maps, but we haven’t taken GPS stuff recently, mostly because it’s too heavy.” Other pack items include waterproof matches, lighters, a space blanket, a first-aid kit, a quick-dry towel, and a clothesline from Sea to Summit. Her husband also takes a collapsible fishing rod, and yes, it’s even on the packing list.
“Whatever works, we stick with it, but the industry keeps improving. We haven’t had much equipment failure so it becomes an issue of things that might perform better and be lighter.”
Think you can keep up with the Biggses? You’d better start counting those M&Ms.