Colin Fletcher’s Gear List: Then and Now

Fletcher’s basic gear list.

Colin Fletcher is widely recognized as the father of modern backpacking. The co-author of The Complete Walker Volume 4, last published in 2002, he helped popularize the use of gear lists and gear weights to organize and reduce the weight of backpacking gear. The content of that book still influences my backpack gear selections today.

In the summer of 1959, Fletcher walked over 1000 miles through the deserts and mountains of California, from Mexico in the south to Oregon in the north. His journey lasted for 6 months, in which as he writes, “my pack was my house.”

I recently came across Fletcher’s gear list which he published in 1960, in Field and Stream Magazine.  I’ve reproduced it below in two parts: the first part which he used to backpack in hot weather and desert conditions, and the second, a list of equipment that he added when walking across the mountains in colder weather. That journey is chronicled in his book, Thousand Mile Summer.

While Fletcher’s gear list is fun to read through and was remarkable for the time, I thought it’d be amusing to speculate about what his gear list would look like today, with the latest gadgets, clothing, and backpacking equipment available to long-distance hikers. There is quite a contrast between then and now, which I’m sure you’ll appreciate.

Colin Fletcher’s 1960 Gear List

When Fletcher drafted his gear lists, the notion of “base gear weight” (gear but no food or consumables) or “skin-out weight” (everything including gear, food, consumables, and the clothes you’re wearing) didn’t exist yet. That said, the following gear list is a pretty good estimate of what we’d now call his base backpacking weight, which includes just his gear, the clothing he carried, and camera equipment, minus food.

The base weight of his hot weather gear totals 569 oz or 35.6 pounds. This is a perfectly respectable pack weight, considering that he was carrying an early down mummy sleeping bag that weighed 90 ounces (5 lbs 10 oz) and a modified external frame backpack that weighed 67 ounces (4 lbs 3 oz) but could haul up to 80 pounds. Fletcher kept his gear weight down by cowboy camping without a tent or sleeping pad during the first part of his journey, finding soft places to sleep on, by sleeping naked, and only using his extra clothing for ground insulation when required.

Items Weight (oz)
Steel cup 3
Margarine container 2
Two nesting cooking pots 20
Camera 2 and 1/4 x 2 and 1/4 32
K-2 filter in case 2
Camera lens brush 1
Writing materials 12
Camera, 35mm 26
Six Rolls 120 film, b&w 7
Toilet articles 14
Moccasins 18
Toilet paper 7
Six rolls 135 film, color 9
Towel 2
Camera tripod` 14
Exposure meter 6
Shorts 3
Whipcord pants 31
Woolen Sweater 34
Poncho 19
Detergent container 2
Salts and Pepper Holder 2
Fork 1
Spoon 2
Sugar container 2
Two pairs socks 7
Spare shirt 9
Staff 20
Waterproof matchsafe 1
Nylon cord (30 ft) 2
Spare spectales, 2 flashlight bulbs 2 oz 2
Book matches (6 books) 1
Nylon boot laces 1
Small scarf 1
Snakebite kit 1
Bandana 1
String shirt 9
Paperback book 6
Carborundum stone 3
Binoculars, 6 x 30 14
Cellophane tape 1
Compass 5
Boot wax 2
Fly dope 2
First-aid kit 3
Wallet (w/ can opener) 6
Flashlight with batteries 5
Mummy sleeping bag 90
Three half-gallon water canteens 39
Backpack (modified external frame) 67
Total (oz) 569
Total in Pounds 35.6

Fletched would hike for about a week at a time, carrying approximately 10 pounds of food between resupplies at small stores or post offices, where he’d forwarded food. He used water purification tablets, probably iodine to treat his water, and pre-cached water in several desert locations. In addition, he had the ability to carry up to 1.5 gallons of water at a time in three half-gallon aluminum canteens, since this was before the age of soft water bottles or trail angels.

Added Equipment for Mountainous Terrain

Fletchers Gear List Additions for the Mountains
Fletcher’s Gear List Additions for the Mountains

Like any good backpacker, Fletcher only carried what he needed through the desert and then added additional gear to his pack when he had to hike in cooler weather at higher elevations in the mountains. In addition to heavier clothing, Fletcher liked to catch trout to augment his diet. He also used a white gas stove in the mountains, instead of burning sagebrush, because it was less of a hassle to use and much more reliable to cook with. White gas was available at the stores he resupplied at in those days, although I doubt it is today. The total weight of his additional cold weather/mountain gear (see below) comes to just over 10 pounds.

Item Weight (oz)
Tent, stakes, poles 49
Longjohns 9
Parka 22
Woolen helmet 3
Woolen gloves 4
Fishing accessories 6
Fly reel 7
Heavy woolen shirt 16
Fly-rod case, aluminum 9
Fly-rod 4
Heavy woolen socks 5
Spinning reel 9
Gasoline stove and cover 14
Heavy wollen scarf 5
White-gas container 4
Total (oz) 166
Total in Pounds 10.4

A Modern Take on Fletcher’s 1000 Mile Gear List

If Colin Fletcher were to hike his Thousand Mile Summer Route over today in 2022, what would his gear list look like and how much would it weigh?

Here’s a stab at a modern gear list for him that replaces his:

  • heavy photography equipment with an iPhone 13 Pro Max(the photo quality is really incredible)
  • cooking pots and white gas stove with a lighter weight canister stove and nesting cookset
  • fly rod, reel, and spinning reel with a Tenkara fly fishing setup
  • his big 4 with much lighter weight alternatives including a multi-use poncho tarp, a foam sleeping pad, and warm down sleeping bag, and a backpack capable of hauling all his gear, food, and 1.5 gallons of water when required.

These changes cut his gear weight in half and illustrate how much has changed in terms of backpacking gear and photography between 1960 and 2022, some 60 years later.

Additional substitutions can also be made for the gear he carried on the mountainous/higher altitude portion of his journey with the inclusion of a freestanding tent, lighter weight clothing, and a much simpler and lighter weight fishing setup. These would have dropped his gear weight from 10.4 pounds down to 5.8 pounds, which is also respectable, considering the added comfort and convenience that these modern items would have provided.

Wrap Up

This was a fun exercise that illustrates Colin Fletcher’s ingenuity in 1960 as well as the benefit of more modern gear for long-distance adventures. If you’ve never read any of Colin Fletcher’s trail memoirs, I’d encourage you to give Thousand Mile Summer, a try, since Fletcher was a gifted writer.  The Man Who Walked Through Time (Kindle, Audible, Paperback, Hardcover) is another one of my favorites, one that I reread every few years because it is so good.

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