You Know You’ve Been Backpacking a Long Time When…

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Home Forums Campfire Editor’s Roundtable You Know You’ve Been Backpacking a Long Time When…

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    Companion forum thread to: You Know You’ve Been Backpacking a Long Time When…

    Rex Sanders takes a walk down memory lane (er, trail).

    Dave Heiss
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    OMG, Ensolite pads. I had one of those because at the time there were really no other good alternatives, but I hated it – along with my heavy leather boots and 50-60 pound loads for a typical 7-10 day trip.

    Great trip down memory lane. Thanks Rex. It appears that you started backpacking a little earlier than I did (for me, 1974) but I share many of the same memories.

    Nick Gatel
    BPL Member


    Locale: Southern California
    BPL Member


    Locale: I’m a pilot. Almost anywhere!


    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Thanks for trigger a lot of memories I had forgotten. Things that in particular made me smile included

    • 2 AA mallory/duracell flashlight fletcher advocated and fun trying to not lose the metal connector and the rocking switch when changing batteries
    • melting sneakers on a really cold/wet night
    • manual rangefinder camera, the Kodachrome mailers, and waiting to see the pictures
    • canvas leaking after being touched and the wonder of nylon tents with aluminum poles
    • excitement and then disappointment with tube tents
    • messing with sno-seal

    Memories not listed but came back reading your article

    •  a scratching wool button down shirt as a “soft-shell”
    • Tents with snow tunnel entrance
    • Dinty Moore beef stew which was great until the first time tried at home
    • Kendal Mint Cakes
    • Tropical “chocolate”

    To Nick’s comment about long lasting. I purchased a 60/40 parka in ~1974 and used 6-8 months each year until 1992 when gave it to a friend when downsizing to move.  The friend I gave it to was still using it in 2010.


    Alex H
    BPL Member


    Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW

    Great piece Rex.  Been there, done that, had the fishnet T-shirt.  Only part I did not do was the PCT.

    Hey at least the Mallory flashlight you could easily hold in your mouth while seeing to start the Svea stove in the dark!  Had to wait for the REI catalog because the only store was in Seattle for a long time.

    Not as good as Nick’s pieces but:

    Equipment and Technique through the years.

    Walking into the 6th Decade

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Rex – Fun read – Thank you (and I loved the bullet style).

    My first backpack was purchased in 1976 – an orange and blue external frame monster that we bought at K-Mart.  My boots?  GI Jungle Boots from the Army/Navy Surplus Store.  My two aluminum canteens came from there too (and fit perfectly in the top side pockets of the pack).  I also carried a P-38 can opener (which I’m surprised wasn’t on your list).

    Our tents were Eureka Timberlines (2-person), but I cannot for the life of me remember what I used for a sleeping pad or bag.  It’s possible (and even likely) that it was a flannel sleeping bag from Coleman.

    Thanks again – good memories!

    Kevin Babione
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pennsylvania

    Salt tablets!

    William Chilton
    BPL Member


    Locale: Antakya

    Here you go @verber; one thing fewer you need to feel nostalgic for.

    Paul Wagner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wine Country

    Sierra Club Cups:  Heavy steel that cooled hot drinks quickly but still burned your lips.  And noisy as hell as that banged on the outside of your pack.  Only good for drinking water straight out of a stream, back when we did that.

    And hiking in jeans.  Long hikes.  Many days and many miles, in jeans.

    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Colorado

    What a blast from the past Rex! Thanks for the memories.

    Jon Fong / Flat Cat Gear
    BPL Member


    Locale: FLAT CAT GEAR


    MSR Alpine cook set (Stainless Steel) /MSR Whisperlite

    Candle Lanterns


    Bob Chiang
    BPL Member


    Hi Rex,

    Thank you for writing and sharing this article, and thanks everybody for your additional comments, they certainly bring back memories for me too.  I haven’t thought about my fish net t shirt or jungle boots for a long time.  The boots were really good for canoeing: with the drain holes and mesh insoles.

    I even have a similar camera:

    Rollei camera

    Did anybody else receive a complimentary (if I remember correctly?) copy of the very first issue of Backpacking Magazine?  I remember thinking, a magazine about backpacking?  That will never last!  ; )   FWIW, I thought the same thing when mountain bikes were introduced.

    I’m surprised nobody has mentioned sewing kits: Frostline, Holubar, & Altra sewing kits.  I still use my Frostline Big Horn winter sleeping bag.  How about candle lanterns?

    Nick & Alex, thank you for sharing the links to your web pages.  After all these decades, I’m learning a lot about pack fitting!  Not in the same league as you guys, but here are links to pictures and a couple of stories about my old adventures.

    Mark Verber
    BPL Member


    Locale: San Francisco Bay Area

    Bob’s pictures triggered another memory.  Eureka Timberline tents being the standard for groups: YMCA, Boy Scouts, my high school backpacking club, etc.  Not the lightest, but seemed to stand up to abuse.

    Alex H
    BPL Member


    Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW

    Bob Chiang, I am still wearing a Frostline Down vest around the farm that my sister sewed for me in the early 70’s for her Home Economics project.  There are a few duct tape patches on it.

    I forgot about the canvas tent halves we used from Army Surplus so that your partner could carry their half, I bet at least 4 to 5 pounds per half.  Early trekking pole supported but we always used a sturdy stick.

    Cameron M
    BPL Member


    Locale: Los Angeles

    Very nice, you covered most of it.

    There was the misery of breaking in new leather boots by walking around with them wet.

    Early UL- we used to cut off the white edge borders of topo maps to save weight.

    How about the white polypropylene 1L water containers that had the red plug + green screwtop to hold it down the plug. They actually worked and lasted forever, but always had that plastic smell..

    Two-part soap container boxes with ridges.

    Ditto, snap-together plastic egg carriers

    Bausch + Lomb glass mountaineering glasses with leather sides.

    Carnation low-fat dehydrated milk.

    Vinyl plastic poncho.

    Aluminum cookware with your Boy Scout troop number engraved on the handle.

    That would be Troop 49, Beaver Patrol-

    AK Granola
    BPL Member


    My mom sewed our gear from Frostline kits, not sure what they used before that, probably canvas. My parents’ honeymoon was a backpacking trip in the Tetons, in the late 1950s. Rolled up jeans, heavy leather hiking boots, flannel shirts, and of course – the pipe and cigarettes.  The photos are now well faded.

    I didn’t have the burden of carrying that heavy stuff as a kid; my parents did all the work! Mostly Boundary Water trips. Until my dad started recruiting his students to come along; they got a free trip out of it in exchange for the labor. My dad hiked until age 85 in high tops and a wool plaid shirt. He too never saw the need to follow fads, plus when you grow up dirt poor you don’t even think about all the crazy spending we do today. He saved on gear weight by not carrying so much stuff. He would always treat us all to a piece of small town coffee shop pie after a trip; that was being a big spender! He was so much tougher than just about anyone I know. The old fashioned gear just made him tougher. I recall one childhood trip where we discovered, well away from transport and civilization, that mice had made nests in our sleeping bags over the winter! We made do. I think they replaced them after that though!

    From my own first independent adventures, I still have my old orange thermarests, heavy synthetic bags, pot and pan sets, etc. I never use it. It’s gradually going out the door as I meet people who need the stuff; I can’t throw things away. I haven’t yet broken the spell of the materialism of backpacking though. It isn’t really where the fun lies, it just takes the place when I can’t get out.


    Eric B
    BPL Member


    I had several pairs of Raichle boots. They were fine boots, but they were combined with ragg wool socks. The boots and socks are long gone; the memories of the blisters remain.

    My first good sleeping bag was a Snow Lion. It was preceded by army surplus stuff, and followed by a Marmot bag, when they were just a small outfit in Grand Junction. The accompanying Ensolite pads are long gone; they cracked in the cold no matter how slowly and carefully you unrolled them.

    How about the ‘Easter Seals’ headlamps? The ones with the red headlamp and black rubber headband. I had one that took 4 ‘D’ cells in a separate battery pack; later I had one that took a single lithium ‘D’ cell on the headband. The damn things kept turning on in my pack, so I cut one side off the switch and added a small cord. You had to pull the cord to turn the light on. Inconvenient with mittens, but at least the battery wasn’t dead when you pulled it out of your pack.

    Still have my Svea 123 that my Mom gave me in high school. But the Patagonia pile jacket she gave me for a different birthday is long gone; finally discarded after several zipper replacements. Long gone too are the Patagonia polypropylene long undies that came out around 1980 (nowadays we’d call them ‘base layers’). After a week in the mountains that stuff would develop a most god-awful stench; I should’ve returned it for a refund; even demanded additional compensation for the olfactory insult.

    Still have my realized ultimate reality pitons, too, and plenty of Crack’n Ups, Lost Arrows and knifeblades. And besides the Chouinard gear, there are the Leeper skyhooks, the Forrest Copperheads and Titons, some of Roland Pauligk’s nuts, even a MOAC, and (maybe the coolest of all) I still have a few Latok titanium pitons left, despite leaving a number of them here and there in the Alaska mountains. All long-gone brands that made Good Stuff.



    Rex Sanders
    BPL Member


    Glad I brought back mostly fond memories for so many of you.

    If you’d like to spend too many hours going down the rabbit hole of backpacking gear history, explore OutInUnder.

    You might be surprised at how much influence R. Buckminster Fuller had, directly and indirectly, on the design of most backpacking tents made since the 1970s. Why so many Sierra Designs tents included large pieces of white fabric for many years. How 60/40 cloth got it’s not-quite-accurate name. How the Oval Intention tent name is a triple pun, and why the VE-23 and VE-24 tents followed so quickly. Browse old North Face, Sierra Designs, Patagonia, and other catalogs. Plus much more.

    Nostalgic and educational. Highly recommended.

    Other great backpacking gear history sites:

    Bruce Johnson’s “History of Gear Project”

    Monty Dodges’s “Retro Outdoor Gear”

    — Rex

    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    “BackpackingLight” equipment used in the late 1940’s and 1950’s when I was a Boy Scout.  Things have changed a bit wouldn’t you say!

    David Thomas
    BPL Member


    Locale: North Woods. Far North.

    My Boy Scout gear in the 1970s was similar to Ken’s in the 50s and 60s: canvas pack, aluminum canteen with cotton cover, foam pad, two-part, button-together army surplus pup tent, goofy mess kit with a pot that was too small and two plate/fry pans that did neither task decently.

    The “red headlamp and black rubber headband. . . .  4 ‘D’ cells in a separate battery pack” persisted for a long time here in Alaska by dog mushers because they needed the remote battery pack inside their parka to keep it warm.

    A few mis-steps I corrected pretty quickly: I only used a Sierra cup for a few years before switching to a plastic “Alps Cup” I got from a Dutch GF:
    I had the very nice, super-heavy 3-piece Boy Scout utensil set:

    But replaced them with lexan utensils before ever going backpacking:

    David Gardner
    BPL Member


    Locale: Northern California

    MSR’s original GK International that burned white gas, kerosene, diesel fuel and weighed over a pound.

    I still occasionally use the REI rectangular down sleeping bag my dad bought me in 1974, mostly as an overquilt for cold-sleeping companions.

    Late 60’s early 70’s Kelty external frame pack: “The Cadillac of Backpacks”

    1974 Alpenlite external frame pack with the main frame curving forward above the waist to attach the hip belt at the sides of your hips – still have that one, but only use it for hauling firewood.

    John Vance
    BPL Member


    Locale: Intermountain West

    This reminded me of all the great gear companies that have come and gone that I purchased gear from.
    In no particular order.  Snow lion, Black Ice, Camp 7, Gerry, Hobular, Alpine Designs, Caribou Mountaineering, Wilderness Experience, and Pivetta, just to name a few.
    The Pacific Crest Trail experience wasn’t any different in 1983. The CDT in 1984 was very adventurous and mostly just an idea and I’ve yet to finish southern Colorado and New Mexico…

    Dave Heiss
    BPL Member


    Locale: Pacific Northwest

    Me in 1975

    Ensolite pad? Check.

    Wrap-around external frame pack (Golden Bear, from Big 5)? Check.

    Blue jeans and t-shirt? Check.

    Big ‘ol synthetic sleeping bag (Holubar)? Check.

    6.5 pound “ultralight” 2 person tent? Check.

    Classic metal desert canteen? Check.

    Me in 1975

    Ken Larson
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Michigan

    My first FRAMED pack was WW2 US MOUNTAIN BACKPACK RUCKSACK I purchased at a Army & Navy surplus store. It was a pack I could fit everything I needed in it…….though it weighed a TON!

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