This article first appeared on 50Campfires.com and was written by Jana Huffman.
Breathtaking views, wolves howling, rushing rivers, deep gorges, waterfalls, flushing grouse, frosty mornings, moose tracks, star gazing, birch forests, waterfalls, and more waterfalls. The Superior Hiking Trail is a 310-mile trek that follows the Sawtooth Mountain’s rocky ridgeline along the shoreline of Lake Superior from the Canadian border to the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. It’s truly a hidden gem of the hiking world.
I’ve hiked sections of this trail all my life, but there are many miles that I’ve never explored.
I decided that the only way I’d be able to experience the entire SHT would be to start at one terminus and section hike every mile. This fall, I started at the Northern Terminus and logged my first 50-miles on the trail.
I learned a lot about myself and my gear on this solo trip. Here’s some of my favorite gear that’ll be in my pack for the next section.
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Heading out on a solo backpacking trip can be incredibly intimidating in the cell phone dead zone.
The ZOLEO Satellite Communicator is first on my list for a reason. Having this little thing strapped to my pack gave me the peace of mind to enjoy the view with more confidence. It connected with my phone with such a straightforward interface that made it feel like I was just “texting” with the few friends and family I gave my ZOLEO number to. I’m pretty sure my mom was happy about that too!
Selecting the right pack that you want to load up with 30lbs of gear and strap to your back for 50-miles is a decision that you shouldn’t make hastily. Men’s and women’s packs cradle your shoulders and hips differently… and every brand offers a different fit. It’s important to listen to your body and not get hung up on the gender on the label. I have a longer torso, so a men’s bag tends to be a better fit. I was genuinely surprised by the comfort and suspension of the Versant. It’s fully adjustable in the torso and hip belt to give you many options to get the right fit dialed in for YOUR body. The pack’s lid also converts into a sling bag – perfect if you want to explore a spur trail without hauling all of your gear. A really unique feature is the U-shaped zipper that provides access to the entire contents of your bag. I have to admit that I was nervous that the zipper would pop, but it seems like solid construction.
Good sleep is absolutely essential on a backpacking trip. You can skimp on other things, but not on your sleep system. Our 50 Campfires team has been a fan of NEMO for many years. For this trip, I tried out the new Firefly Backpacking tent. The Firefly performed exactly the way that I’ve come to expect from any NEMO product – outstanding! It is really durable – which I appreciated in this rocky terrain – but still very lightweight. The peak height was perfect to be able to sit up with room to spare. The dual-sided vestibules made it easy to store my gear on one side use the other for going in and out. It is an excellent cross-over tent that is a great option for backpacking or even car campers looking to lighten their load a bit.
Dialing in your backpacking sleep system takes a lot of trial and error. It’s the worst when you end up tossing and turning all night, feeling every rock like the “Princess and the Pea.” The Astro Lite is just an all-around great option to get plush thickness without adding a ton of weight to your pack. As a side sleeper, I appreciate that so much! One of my favorite features is that it is slightly thicker at the head end of the pad so that your pillow doesn’t go flying out from under your head all night long. It also comes with the Vortex pump sack to inflate the pad. This is a MUST! No more seeing stars from hyperventilating as you’re trying to set up camp. Fill the sack a few times and push it into your pad, and you’re set.
Having had my fair share of run-ins with bears on the trail over the years, I always have a can of bear spray on me while hiking or backpacking. Counter Assault is really the authority in bear sprays. They were the first to market, and now they offer the spray with the longest spraying distance and spray-time on the shelves. Bear spray is the most effective deterrent for an aggressive bear, and an attack can happen in seconds.
This should be a must-have gear item if you’re exploring in bear country.
Backcountry trekking can mean experiencing some pretty harsh conditions. The Fire Lite is a weatherproof electric lighter that lets you start a fire by just pushing a button. I typically bring at least two sources of fire on any given trip. The Fire Lite made starting a fire every night super easy. With temperatures in the 20’s, it was really nice not to have to fumble around. I didn’t even have to take off my gloves. I also loved that it has a flashlight feature. It came in super handy when I was night hiking and had to change my headlamp batteries. Having gear that serves two functions is always a bonus!
When you are scrutinizing every item you put in your pack, clothing can be something that can add a ton of unnecessary bulk and weight. Merino wool is such a simple but technical fabric, keeping you warm even in cold, wet temperatures. One of my favorite brands is Smartwool. It is incredibly soft, and the fit is flattering. In colder temperatures, I pack two sets of Smartwool tops and bottoms.
One set stays at the bottom of my sleeping bag and is only worn for sleeping. At $100 the price tag is a little steep (still worth it, in my opinion). Keep your eye on the clearance rack at REI and build up your gear one piece at a time.
Carrying a good medical kit is like having an insurance policy… you may never use it, but it could mean the end of your trip if you don’t have one. The Ultralight Watertight Medical Kit .5 is perfect for a 1-2 person backpacking trip.
To cut down on space, there isn’t an instruction book included. It’s meant for an experienced adventurer who has a basic understanding of first-aid. I tested the 2-stage waterproof bag at home before heading out – completely submerged, and everything was still dry.
Meal preparation is one of the most stressful parts of planning for a multi-day backpacking trip. Most prepackaged freeze-dried or dehydrated food options are full of boatloads of preservatives and sodium. The 50 Campfires team was first introduced to Good To-Go years ago, and it’s been one of our favorites since the beginning. All of the meals are carefully created so that they are both healthy and delicious. My new favorite is the Chicken Pho. Honestly… I’d actually consider buying it for home when I’m too lazy to cook.
It’s so frustrating when you’re trying to get all of your food out of your meal pouch, and it requires you to put your fist inside of the bag and scrape your knuckles along the sides. The Bambu reusable long-handled spoon is 9.5 inches long, so you won’t get your hands dirty. It’s really durable and lightweight. An added bonus is that it’s eco-friendly. If you love the outdoors, every little bit helps.
Hiking with trekking poles takes a ton of stress off of your joints, maintain your balance, help you keep your pace, and quite simply, it gives your arms something to do on longer stretches like a road walk.
I recently got the Alpine Carbon Cork poles from Black Diamond, and I’m loving them. The carbon fiber pole is super light and has a fantastic ergonomic fit and grip. They are also easy to adjust. This is a great option that’s built for four-season terrain. If hiking or backpacking is something that you like to do often, investing in a solid set of trekking poles is a good idea to consider.
The MSR TrailShot was one of my favorite pieces of gear from the trip. I have a tendency to get a bit dehydrated because I just simply don’t want to go through the “hassle” of having to stop and take the time to filter water. The MSR TrailShot makes it super easy to get a quick drink or fill up along the way. It’s small enough to fit into the hip belt of your pack, and you can use it like a water fountain to safely get a fresh drink of cold water at any stream or river you may come across.
Starting a fire in the backcountry (where approved and safe) can be incredibly challenging. Wet wood, limited kindling, and unpredictable weather conditions all add to the frustration. We’ve been using the QuickSurvive Fire Starters all year… and really digging them. They are waterproof and even light when they are wet. They burn for up to 10 minutes at 750 degrees. More time actually enjoying the fire vs. laboring over it makes it essential to add to your pack. There are smaller packages than the 50-piece canister, but why not have more hassle-free bonfires in your life?!
The last piece of gear isn’t one you’d actually bring with you into the woods; it’s something you’d use when you are unpacking and putting away your gear at home. Properly drying your hydration pack and avoiding the funk that can develop if it is put away wet is more challenging than it may seem. Many people use paper towels stuffed inside, hang the bag in a closet, or even freeze them if you’re using them frequently. The BōnDry hydration pack dryer absorbs all of the moisture inside the pack, wicks it up, and then it evaporates out of the top.
Literally, you just wash out your water bladder, throw the BōnDry in, and put your gear away. So simple!