Pacific Northwest Backpacking

Equipment List

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.

Here are some thoughts to guide you as you pack:

  • First, use gear you already own! You’ll be comfortable in tried-and-true clothing. Bring more layers than you think you’ll need; your instructors will help you choose your best options. You can always leave items in storage on campus.
  • Second, rent key items from NOLS. When it comes to gear, every adventurer has their own preferences. In the field, you’ll have the opportunity to hone your preferred system. We recommend that you rent, rather than purchase, several “big ticket” items, such as a sleeping bag. While you are not obligated to rent gear from us, there are several reasons why we suggest it. Our rental gear is high quality, chosen specifically for the heavy use it receives on courses. Rental prices are reasonable, so you can try out gear and make informed decisions on future adventures.
  • Third, purchase specific items from our Outfitting Department. To make shopping simple, we offer basic kitchen utensils (mug, bowl with lid, spoon, 32-ounce water bottle), personal care items (lip balm, sunscreen, bug spray), and camping sundries (headlamp, batteries, lighter). NOLS is a not-for-profit organization, and revenue from our Outfitting Department goes to serve the mission of the school.
  • Fourth, visit a local outdoor store. Most gear shops, from REI to mom-and-pop shops, are familiar with NOLS and its courses. We encourage you to keep the tags on all equipment and clothing, and the receipt at home, so that you may later return any items you don’t use.

Equipment Fees

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.

Quality over Quantity

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.

Questions?

Please contact the NOLS Pacific Northwest outfitting staff at:

Phone: (360) 445-6657

Email: pacific_northwest@nols.edu 

Mailing Address: 20950 Bulson Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98274

How to Use This List

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.

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

T-Shirt

X

$27-50

A lightweight synthetic or wool t-shirt.

Base Layer (mid-weight)

X

$39-100

A light- or mid-weight long-sleeve top, synthetic or wool.

Mid-Layer (expedition weight)

X

$49-165

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)

$40

$59-165

A synthetic-fill insulated jacket that fits over your other layers and under your rain jacket. A hood is recommended.

Rain Jacket

X

$99-160

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.

Optional Items

Fleece or Insulated Vest

X

X

A lightweight, breathable, durable nylon wind shell, in either pullover or zip-up style

Wind Shirt

$20

$75

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.

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Underwear/ Sports Bras (2)

X

$20-40

Briefs or boxers;some students prefer to go without underwear and wear quick-drying shorts with liners. Briefs may be cotton, synthetic, or silk.

Hiking Shorts

X

$55

Loose fitting nylon athletic or river shorts. No cotton.

Hiking Pants

X

$72

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)

X

$45

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).

Rain Pants

X

$109-145

 A durable, waterproof pant that can fit over lower body layers. A full-length zipper is convenient for changing layers without removing footwear.

Optional Items

Wind Pants

$25

X

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

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Liner Gloves

X

$12-25

Fleece, wool, or synthetic liner gloves for sun protection and hiking on cold, wet days.

Fleece/Wool Gloves

X

$20-40

Warm gloves made of fleece or wool.

Baseball Cap or Sun Hat

X

$18.25-29

Necessary for sun protection of your face and ears.

Wool or Fleece Hat

X

$18-25

A warm hat made of wool or fleece.

Packs and Bags

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Backpack

$90

X

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)

X

$2-3

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.

Optional Items

Ditty Bags (2-3)

$1

$5-11

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.

Sleeping Gear

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Sleeping Bag

$60

X

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

$8

X

A large compression stuff sack for your sleeping bag.

Sleeping Pad

$10 *foam only

$50-110

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.

Miscellaneous Items

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Hot drink container

X

$11-22.75

A 12 oz. to 20 oz. insulated mug with lid or 16 oz. Nalgene water bottle.

Bowl

X

$6.50

A bowl (approx. 3 cups volume) with a snap-on lid. Re-sealable Tupperware type containers work great.

Spoon

X

$.75-7.50

Lexan spoons are light and durable.

Hydration System (2)

X

$11-

34.95

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)

X

$2.50

We recommend SPF 30 or greater.

Sunscreen

X

$15

4-ounce tube with SPF 30 or greater.

Sunglasses

X

$55-90

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.

Bandanas (2)

X

$3

Useful for a variety of purposes.

Prescription Glasses and Contact Lenses

X

X

Bring spare glasses or contact lenses. Contact lens wearers should consider bringing a pair of glasses as backup.

Headlamp

X

$29.95-

39.95

LED headlamp preferable. Bring spare batteries. We sell Petzl and Black Diamond headlamps.

Batteries

X

$0.85/ea.

We have AA and AAA for sale.

Disposable Lighters

X

$2.00

Personal Hygiene Articles

X

$1.50-32

We have travel-size toothpaste, toothbrushes, and feminine hygiene products for sale.

Hand Sanitizer

No Charge

X

A 2 oz. bottle, alcohol-based is preferable.

Notepad

X

$2-10

A small, lightweight pad is fine. We sell NOLS waterproof expedition journals.

Pen or Pencil (1-2)

X

$0.75

Bring some spares.

Watch

X

$34-50

Water–resistant. An alarm and a light feature are helpful.

Sit Pad

$5

X

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!

Optional Items

Coffee

X

$11/lb.

Bring if you enjoy coffee for yourself in the morning. Coffee is not supplied in the NOLS ration.

Vitamins

X

X

Some students bring a multivitamin to supplement the diet.

Adjustable Trekking Poles

X

$30/pole

Bring if you like using trekking poles while hiking. 2-3 section, telescoping poles are easy to pack.

Camera

X

X

Compact camera with protective case. No heavy lenses/elaborate set-ups.

Buff

X

$25

Buffs are synthetic pieces of multi-functional headwear (hat, bandana, neck gaiter, etc.) that many instructors use on courses.

Insect Repellent

X

$5.50

A small bottle or tube. No aerosol spray cans.

Mosquito Headnet

X

$5

Mesh headnet with drawstring to protect from bugs.

Footwear

Equipment

Rent

Buy

Notes

Required Items

Hiking Boots

X

X

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.

Socks (3-4)

X

$10-18

Crew length. Socks must be heavy wool or wool/polypropylene blend. Wigwam and Smartwool are good choices.

Gaiters

X

$75

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.

Camp Shoes

X

$30

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.

Optional Items

Liner Socks

X

$6

Lightweight wool, polypropylene or Capilene "wick dry" socks.

Insoles

X

X

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.

Recommended Boots

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 admissions@nols.edu.

Examples Of Acceptable Boots*

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

gear.

Tents and shelters

Compass

Trowels or shovels

Stoves, fuel bottles and fuel

Maps

Bear resistant food containers

Fishing gear

GPS

Equipment repair kits

Reference books

Binoculars

Cooking gear

Ground cloths

Water treatment

First Aid:

Our instructors carry adequate first aid kits. There is no need to bring your own.


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