Pacific Northwest Backpacking
Welcome to NOLS! It’s important to choose the right equipment for any outdoor adventure. This list is designed to help you make smart decisions about the gear you take on your course.
When you arrive, your instructors will look through the equipment you’ve brought and help you decide what to take into the field. You’ll then go into our Outfitting Department to rent or purchase any remaining items. We’ve made every effort to ensure that this equipment list is reflective of what you will need on your course, but your actual needs will vary depending on season and instructor judgment. We encourage you to keep the tags on all clothing, and the receipt at home, so that you may later return any unneeded items.
In addition to your course tuition, you will pay an equipment deposit. This deposit will be applied directly to the charges you incur for gear rentals and purchases. At the end of your course, you will be billed for any amount that exceeds your equipment deposit, or refunded any balance.
At NOLS, we fundamentally believe that you don’t need to own a lot of expensive gear to live and travel comfortably in the backcountry. By purchasing high-quality items and learning to care for them, you’re making a lifetime investment. Spend money on the few items that really matter, and don’t get lured into splurging on the trendiest fabrics or latest gadgets.
Please contact the NOLS Pacific Northwest outfitting staff at:
Phone: (360) 445-6657
Mailing Address: 20950 Bulson Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98274
Items under the Required heading are items that you must either bring yourself or rent or purchase from NOLS as available. Items under the Optional heading are not required, and you may bring them from home, buy, or rent from NOLS as available. If you see an X in the price column, that means that an item is not available for rent or for purchase as indicated.
Upper Body Clothing
NOLS uses a layering system where varied pieces of clothing are worn to achieve optimum body temperature control. The upper body garments listed here are either synthetic garments which retain their insulating properties even when wet, or nylon or Gore-Tex layers which help prevent heat loss by cutting wind, rain, and snow. You will need 3 insulating layers, plus a wind and a rain layer. All must fit comfortably over each other so they can all be worn at the same time. Your top insulating layers must be fleece, wool, Capilene, or an insulated jacket with a zipper.
A lightweight synthetic or wool t-shirt.
Base Layer (mid-weight)
A light- or mid-weight long-sleeve top, synthetic or wool.
Mid-Layer (expedition weight)
Heavier than base layer top, but lighter than an outer jacket. Aim for material that is fleece, wool, or synthetic.
Top Insulating Layer (fleece or insulated jacket)
A synthetic-fill insulated jacket that fits over your other layers and under your rain jacket. A hood is recommended.
Durable, waterproof, non-insulated jacket with hood. Coated nylon or breathable fabrics (like Gore-Tex, H2No). It is important that you can wear your rain jacket over all your base and mid-layers.
Fleece or Insulated Vest
A lightweight, breathable, durable nylon wind shell, in either pullover or zip-up style
A lightweight, breathable, durable nylon wind shell. Pullover or zip-up style
Lower Body Clothing
For your lower body, you'll need two insulating layers plus a wind and a rain layer. The layers should be able to fit comfortably over each other. Warmer (late July) courses may only need one insulating layer.
Underwear/ Sports Bras (2)
Briefs or boxers;some students prefer to go without underwear and wear quick-drying shorts with liners. Briefs may be cotton, synthetic, or silk.
Loose fitting nylon athletic or river shorts. No cotton.
Nylon or synthetic pants. These should fit comfortably over lower-body base layers. Soft-shell fabrics are acceptable, but lightweight “running pants” are not durable enough.
Base Layer (mid-weight)
Mid-weight synthetic or wool bottoms. Cotton and cotton blends are not acceptable.
Mid-Layer (fleece pants or puff pants)
$20 *fleece pants only
$150 *puffy pants only
Mid- or heavy-weight bottoms that fit comfortably over the base-layer bottoms. Fleece pants or insulated (puffy) pants work, too. (ex. Montbell UL Thermawrap pants).
A durable, waterproof pant that can fit over lower body layers. A full-length zipper is convenient for changing layers without removing footwear.
Nylon or synthetic pants. These should fit comfortably over lower-body base layers. Side zippers allow the pants to be put on over boots. Soft-shell fabrics are acceptable, but lightweight “running pants” are not durable enough. We recommend renting NOLS wind pants
Head, Neck, and Hand Layers
Fleece, wool, or synthetic liner gloves for sun protection and hiking on cold, wet days.
Warm gloves made of fleece or wool.
Baseball Cap or Sun Hat
Necessary for sun protection of your face and ears.
Wool or Fleece Hat
A warm hat made of wool or fleece.
Packs and Bags
Our packs are large expedition models, with a volume of 80-110 liters. We recommend you rent one of these packs. If you bring a pack, it must have a volume of 80-110 liters. Your instructors will examine it to determine its suitability for your course and route.
Plastic Trash Bags (3)
Heavy-duty lawn and garden bags; a 2 mil/33 gallon bag for waterproofing your compression stuff sac and a 3 mil contractor cleanup bag for waterproofing your backpack.
Ditty Bags (2-3)
Small nylon or net bags for organizing items in your pack.
Our advice? An expedition backpack is a major purchase. If you don't already own one we think you should use ours, gain some experience, then make an informed decision on your needs.
A synthetic-fill mummy bag with approximately 3 pounds of fill, rated to 0° or 10°F. Down bags are not suitable for the wet conditions often encountered in the Pacific Northwest.
Compression Stuff Sack
A large compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag.
$10 *foam only
A full-length closed cell foam pad to insulate and pad beneath your sleeping bag. We sell Therm-A-Rest full or ¾ length inflatable pad.
Our advice? A sleeping bag is another major purchase. If you don't already own one, we think you should use ours, gain some experience, then make an informed decision on your needs.
Hot drink container
A 12 oz. to 20 oz. insulated mug with lid or 16 oz. Nalgene water bottle.
A bowl (approx. 3 cups volume) with a snap-on lid. Re-sealable Tupperware type containers work great.
Lexan spoons are light and durable.
Hydration System (2)
At least 2 liters (64 oz.) carrying capacity is required. Must have one water bottle. We recommend the other be a Camelbak or the MSR Hydromedary bag with 64 oz. capacity. Two water bottles are okay.
Lip Balm (1-2)
We recommend SPF 30 or greater.
4-ounce tube with SPF 30 or greater.
Lenses should be dark and 100% UV resistant. You need a sturdy case and retainers. If you have prescription lenses and have limited visibility without them, bring your own or look for a good quality polarized clip-on. We sell Chums for $5.95.
Useful for a variety of purposes.
Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses
Bring spare glasses or contact lenses. Contact lens wearers should consider bringing a pair of glasses as backup.
LED headlamp preferable. Bring spare batteries. We sell Petzl and Black Diamond headlamps.
We have AA and AAA for sale.
Personal Hygiene Articles
We have travel-size toothpaste, toothbrushes, and feminine hygiene products for sale.
A 2 oz. bottle, alcohol-based is preferable.
A small, lightweight pad is fine. We sell NOLS waterproof expedition journals.
Pen or Pencil (1-2)
Bring some spares.
Water–resistant. An alarm and a light feature are helpful.
Small foam pad for sitting on at camp.
Our advice? Keep your toiletries to small sizes. We work to keep our pack weights as low as possible. Saving every ounce is essential!
Bring if you enjoy coffee for yourself in the morning. Coffee is not supplied in the NOLS ration.
Some students bring a multivitamin to supplement the diet.
Adjustable Trekking Poles
Bring if you like using trekking poles while hiking. 2-3 section, telescoping poles are easy to pack.
Compact camera with protective case. No heavy lenses/elaborate set-ups.
Buffs are synthetic pieces of multi-functional headwear (hat, bandana, neck gaiter, etc.) that many instructors use on courses.
A small bottle or tube. No aerosol spray cans.
Mesh headnet with drawstring to protect from bugs.
Durable hiking boots; all-leather or combination of leather and synthetic. Must have good support in the heel and ankle. We recommend taking the time to break in new boots before your course to prevent blisters.
Crew length. Socks must be heavy wool or wool/polypropylene blend. Wigwam and Smartwool are good choices.
Nylon boot attachment that protects the ankle and shins from snow and dirt. Must be durable and large enough to fit over double mountaineering boots. Lightweight trail-running gaiters are not sufficient.
If you purchase your own gaiters for a mountaineering course, be sure to leave the tags on until you test their fit with mountaineering boots. Often, mountaineering boots are significantly larger than hiking boots.
Running, cross-training shoes in good condition, to wear around camp. Avoid expensive shoes. Open–toed "river" or "mountain" sandals are not acceptable. Think lightweight! No cotton. We sell the Crocs Specialist.
Lightweight wool, polypropylene or Capilene "wick dry" socks.
Special insoles can provide arch support, stabilize your foot and heel, add cushion, and help volume adjustment. Suggestions would be Spenco Polysorb and Superfeet.
Our advice? Your boots are a critical piece of gear. Please be sure they are sturdy, provide enough ankle support, and fit properly with at least a liner and a wool sock. If you have any doubts about boots, please give us a call.
Medium-weight, off-trail backpacking boots work best. This type of boot is constructed with a full grain leather upper and typically has a Vibram® rubber sole. Some models utilize an injection molded, composite rubber sole with a randed welt to bond the leather upper to the sole. Both types of sole are acceptable. These boots are designed to provide good support for off-trail hiking with heavy packs or extended trips, and usually require less break-in time than heavyweight mountaineering boots.
The following list is not exhaustive and is to be used for suggestions only. The boots listed here should help define what type is acceptable for your course. It is fine to substitute a similar boot for one listed here provided the model that you bring is a good quality leather boot designed for extended backpacking expeditions with heavy packs.
Please see the “How to prepare for your course” link on your course dashboard for more boot fitting information. If you have any questions about fitting boots, call NOLS PNW at 1-360-445-6657 or email NOLS Admissions at email@example.com.
Asolo: Power Matic series
Lowa: Tahoe GTX, Tibet GTX, Banff
Garmont: Dakota, Expedition, Montana
La Sportiva: Latok Trk, Thunder GTX
Montrail: Blue Ridge, Torre, Traverse
Raichle: Mt Peak, Mt Trail
Scarpa: Delta M3, SL, M3
Technica: Galaad NB, Galaad SD GTX
Vasque: Switchback, Switchback GTX, Zephyr GTX, Zephyr II, Luna, Wasatch GTX, Sundowner Classic GTX, Clarion GTX, Summit GTX, Breeze XCR Hiking, Wilderness Vasque Chinook, Bitterroot GTX
*Please note that boot manufacturers often rename their product line. Visit the manufacturer's website or contact us if you have questions.
Shared Group Equipment—NOLS will supply
Expedition members share both the use of and responsibility for the group gear that NOLS issues. NOLS charges only for group equipment that gets lost or damaged. Keep in mind that NOLS evaluates gear from a number of perspectives beyond what an individual user might consider. Performance, durability and simplicity are all factors we consider when we select our
Tents and shelters
Trowels or shovels
Stoves, fuel bottles and fuel
Bear resistant food containers
Equipment repair kits
Our instructors carry adequate first aid kits. There is no need to bring your own.
NOLS WORLD HEADQUARTERS | 284 LINCOLN ST. LANDER, WY 82520, USA | 1.800.332.4280 | NOLS.EDU REVISED: Oct. 19, 2018 |