Group Gear for Lightweight Wilderness Travel


Last week I spent four days in the Bob Marshall Wilderness with Scout Leaders from around the country training them in the art and practice of ultralight backpacking techniques for the Backpacking Light / Montana BSA course. Our goal is simpler, yet more profound, than just playing with gear: thinking about the best ways to impart the knowledge to Scouts in a way that helps them grow, and be encouraged about traveling through Wild Places.

We split the twelve of us into two crews of six. We traveled separately along our own off-trail routes throughout the week, and then camped together two out of our three nights, so we could share war stories.

I like traveling as a group, and sharing gear, and relying on each other. Camp routine as a group is a rewarding way to achieve comradeship. Two people gather firewood, start the fire, and prepare the meal. Two people set up the shelters. Two people hang the bear bag and treat everyone’s water.

My crew in May 2011 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, an enjoyable lot of fine company from diverse backgrounds, united with common interests in Scouting and lightweight wilderness travel.

When it’s all done, we’ve accomplished something together quickly and efficiently, and strengthened our connections to each other. Connections that you can’t get when you have six people traveling solo with all of their own gear.

This connection culminates at dinner time. We say grace, we eat together, we clean up together, we enjoy a fire together, and we chat about the glorious day behind us.

This all happens better when we share stuff. This post is thus about Group Gear.

Group Gear

My approach to group outfitting has been cultivated by the following:

  • Adherence to and support of the Patrol Method in Scouting;
  • Travel through the high mountain environments of the Northern Rockies
  • Travel with group sizes of 6-8 people
  • Travel with groups of like-minded individuals.

Consequently, you may come from a different framework than I, and may need to adjust your approach accordingly.

Pre-trip collaborating: planning an expedition route across the Beartooth Plateau on a wall map tacked to the outside of a remote USFS Forest Service Cabin.

When I travel with groups, we share the following:

  • shelter gear
  • cooking gear
  • firestarting gear
  • water storage and treatment gear
  • bear bag hanging gear
  • navigation gear
  • first aid gear
  • breakfast and dinner food

Here’s a comprehensive group gear list for a typical three-season trip with a group of six persons. Weights aren’t indicative of resolution achievable by using scales accurate to a tenth of an ounce, because even though tenths of ounces matter to gram counting solo hikers, nobody really cares about them in a group.

This list was pretty close to what our crews took into the Bob, except where noted.

Shelter Gear

  • GoLite Shangri-La 6 Shelter – 55 oz
  • Qty (2) Seek Outside Carbon Fiber Adjustable Poles – 16 oz
  • Qty (6) 8″ Easton Tubular Stakes – 7 oz
  • Qty (10) 6″ V-Channel Aluminum Stakes – 4 oz
  • 210d oxford nylon stake bag – 1 oz
  • 30d silnylon shelter bag – 1 oz
The GoLite Shangri-La provides an environment of bustling activity for kids and adults alike. Here, Boy Scouts enjoy the business of morning preparation for the day ahead while chatting, laughing, and dreaming together.


  1. When possible, putting the entire group into a single shelter creates a great sense of connection. Four-man groups can be accommodated under a large (10′ x 14′) silnylon tarp or large pyramid (10′ x 10′). I like putting larger groups under one of the double-pyramid GoLite Shangri-La’s, and I generally prefer pyramid shelters to tarp shelters in the winter (better protection from cold wind and blowing spindrift, along with steeper walls for snow-shedding), and smaller (more wind-resistant) shelters in high mountain environments.
  2. Carbon poles are not recommended for winter, or with less experienced hikers, because they require extra care, and break under heavy snow loading. Aluminum ones are available for about 30% to 40% more weight, and much more strength.
  3. I like using long stakes for the four corners and at least two guylines for large shelters. Small stakes can round out the rest. Large shelters grab a lot of wind, and generally, are inappropriately matched to thin skewer stakes.
  4. A thick and durable stake bag allows the stakes to be stored with the shelter, and the stake bag packed with the shelter, thus protecting the shelter from being punctured by the stakes.
  5. When traveling with this type of floorless group shelter system, each group member should pack along a lightweight ground cloth or bivy sack for ground protection in the shelter.
  6. For our last Scout Leader trek, we took one two-man flat tarp and one four-man pyramid tarp, to give the leaders a little more experience with multiple shelters.

Cooking & Firestarting Gear

  • Primus Express Spider Stove – 7 oz
  • MSR Windscreen – 3 oz
  • Open Country 4 Quart Billy Pot – 13 oz
  • MSR Alpine Folding Spoon – 1 oz
  • Adventure Medical Kits BAK Hand Sanitizer – 1 oz
  • Light My Fire Firesteel Firestarter – 1/2 oz
  • Tinder-Quik Firestarting Tabs – 1/2 oz
  • Esbit Tablets – 2 oz
  • 4×5 Loksak Bag – 1/2 oz
  • Poly Bag – 1/2 oz
A simple, fast, light, and very effective group cooking system based on the Primus Express Spider and the Open Country Billy Pot. This setup, from a group traverse of the Teton Crest in September 2010.


  1. The Primus Express Spider is a compressed gas canister stove that can be used with an inverted canister, which extends its applicability to winter conditions by allowing for the fuel to be liquid-fed to the stove (thus eliminating canister cooling that degrades compressed gas stove performance in cold conditions). In addition, the Spider is light, durable, and has the large flame head required for rapidly boiling water in large pots.
  2. The windscreen is essential for conserving gas, especially in windy conditions.
  3. Open Country makes two types of pots – the 4 Qt Aluminum Kettle, and the 4 Quart Billy Pot. The Billy Pot is 3 oz lighter, has a nonstick coating on the inside, and more rounded edges that allow for slightly easier packing.
  4. Cooks use the MSR Alpine Folding Spoon to ration out dry foods into personal mess kits, which can be as simple as a bowl and spoon (mug optional). Generally, with this style of cooking (see Foods section below), you simply add hot water to dry food, and let it rehydrate in personal bowls. I recommend that each person carry a Glad Ziploc Bowl with a homemade “cozy” made from Reflectix that can be used to insulate the bowl after the water is added while it is “cooking” – a process that takes 5 to 10 minutes with most dry foods.
  5. Hand Sanitizer is kept in the cook kit to make it as easy as possible for cooks to maintain good hygiene. We use BAK instead of alcohol because in high mountain environments, dry skin results in cracking, especially on the hands, and alcohol stings!
  6. Our firestarting kits are stored in the 4×5 Loksak bag and include the firestarter (which is used to light the stove, too), firestarting tabs, and Esbit fuel tablets. I recommend saving the fuel tablets for emergencies only (e.g., when you absolutely have to get a fire going fast in wet conditions).
  7. All of the supplies will fit into the cook pot, which then goes into a cheap poly bag, such as the Backpacking Light size S Pack Liner, for storage inside somebody’s pack. I recommend the poly bag in case you cook over fire, thus protecting pack contents from soot.
  8. On the Scout Leader course in the Bob, we cooked quite a bit over fire, and only used the stoves here and there. Fire is more fun. Stoves are more useful in sensitive areas, or when you’re in a hurry.
Two Open Country 4-Quart Kettles preparing dinner water for a crew of 12 in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Water Storage and Treatment Gear

  • Platypus 6L Bags – 4 oz
  • Aqua Mira Kit – 3 oz
  • Aqua Mira Pre-Mix Bottles – 1/2 oz
  • Water Kit Storage Bag – 1 oz


  1. When all members of our group are carrying enough water bags or bottles for “a few to several” liters of capacity per person, then we usually don’t bring any big water bags like the Platypus 6L. But if we’re traveling through some place like the Beartooths or Wind Rivers, where water is plentiful and you only really need to carry a single 1L water bottle, a large group bag is nice for in-camp use.
  2. The trick to making Aqua Mira efficient for group travel is the pre-mix bottle. I use a Backpacking Light MiniDrop bottle for this purpose. In the morning, we add about 100 drops of Part A and 100 drops of Part B into the pre-mix bottle (e.g., enough pre-mix to treat 14 liters of water). Then, when it’s time to treat water, we dispense 14 drops of the premix into a 1 liter bottle of water that needs to be treated (28 drops into a 2L bottle, etc.). With large groups or on treks where we’re consuming a lot of water, we might have to make another bottle of pre-mix during the day.
  3. Like any group gear “kit” that contains small parts, I like to have a dedicated storage bag, which is well worth its minuscule weight for its ability to contribute to group gear organization.

Food (Bear) Storage Gear

  • AirCore Pro Rope – 6 oz
  • #3 S-Biner – 1 oz
  • Rock Sack – 1/2 oz
Troop 676 Boy Scouts get ready to 'hang' their bear bags over granite cliffs near Rough Lake in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, July 2010.


  1. If everyone brings their own food storage stuff sacks (and odor resistant plastic bags to line them with), then group bear bag hanging gear can be as simple as a big rope.
  2. I like to use Backpacking Light AirCore Pro Rope for group hanging because (a) it’s strong enough and (b) it’s nice and slick which makes it easy to pull over tree branches with a lot of weight. Food weights that are heavier than about 30 pounds are hard to pull, so consider having multiple ropes on trips where you have to hang more than 15-20 person-days worth of food.
  3. The rock sack is simply a little stuff sack that is big enough for a baseball-sized rock. Put the rock in the sack, tie the end of the rope to the sack, and sling it over a tree branch. This saves the pain of tying a slick rope around a round rock and watching the rock sail into oblivion while the rope falls into a lifeless clump at your feet because it fell off the rock.

Navigation & Emergency Gear

  • Satellite Phone – 8 oz
  • Maps – 4 oz
  • 12×12 Loksag Bags (Map Case) – 1 oz
  • Brunton 7DNL Compass on Lanyard – 1 oz
Navigating the old fashioned way - by map and compass - in the Tobacco Root Mountains, March 2010.


  1. The GPS and SPOT are optional devices. A GPS can save time, and a SPOT is a neat device for blogging your trip locations to your friends.
  2. With groups, I highly recommend a satellite phone. With a satellite phone, you have the flexibility to change exit logistics, get an emergency weather report, and as needed, deal with a life-threatening emergency fast.
  3. I like sharing the map and compass with the group. Navigation is an activity ideally suited for collaboration, and having everyone looking at one map connects group members.

Learn More About Group Travel

I explore group gear and techniques in more detail in the Ultralight Backpacking Boot CampExpedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training online courses, including:

  • Group travel philosophies and styles (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Personal vs. group first aid supply considerations (Boot Camp & Expedition Planning)
  • Group food planning, packaging, and cooking (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Case studies in group travel (Boot Camp, Expedition Planning, and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group social and psychological dynamics (Expedition Planning and BSA Leader Training)
  • Group leadership considerations (Expedition Planning & BSA Leader Training)
  • Executing the Patrol Method with lightweight gear (BSA Leader Training)

[ilink url=””]Learn More About Group Travel in My Online Courses[/ilink]

What Would You Use?

I’m interested in learning about your favorite group gear, and what you might consider for shelter, cook systems, water treatment, and more when you hike with your family, troop, or crew of pals. Please leave your feedback below!

Pointedtip Mariposa Lily, Bob Marshall Wilderness (Photo, Sigma DP2)


Pointedtip Mariposa Lily (Calochortus apiculatus), Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana

Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/2.8, 1/160 sec.

This post is dedicated to my wife Stephanie because her favorite types of photos that I bring back from my trips are those of wildflowers, and the lily is unique because of its ability to retain its beauty in spite of having to grow in the harsh conditions of an arid, rocky forest. The Mariposa Lily is also known as the Madonna of the Rocks, after da Vinci’s famous painting depicting the maternal care of the human race in the midst of earthly turmoil.

The Pointedtip Mariposa (some lazier flower guys call them “Pointed Mariposas” and Patterson may even classify this one as a Cat’s Ear) is one of the most beautiful flowers in Montana because the season in which they look really good is pretty short, only a couple of weeks in late June and early July (no relationship here to my wife, FYI, her growing/beauty season is longer). They’re mostly found in drier, forested valleys that see a bit of sunshine to the forest floor. I’ve seen them only in NW Montana – in the Bob Marshall Complex and the Swan Range, along with the Sawtooths in Idaho and the Pasayten in Washington.

Don’t let those little dark spots scare you off – they’re not bugs, but the nectar glands.

The bulbs are edible, meaty, and probably pretty nutritious. They’re OK raw, and taste like a potato. They’re awfully good when they are briefly boiled, and exceptional stuffed into the belly cavity of a cutthroat trout caught in the same stream that flows below the higher banks where you’ll find the flowers in partial shade of conifers. They’re even better soaked in salt, then roasted in tin foil in the coals of a wilderness cookfire. The petals are less flavorful but make for pretty salads, and the flowerbuds are sweet, and wonderful, like an avalanche lily but more filling. Eat them in mid-June, before the flowers open up.

Sunrise on the Walling Reef, Bob Marshall Wilderness (Photo, Sigma DP2s)

Walling Reef Sunrise

Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana (Sigma DP2s, ISO 50, f/11, 1.6 sec.)

Waking up to this is not a bad gig, but this is what I had to work with on Friday morning.

The problem with this view is that I could see it out of the window as I taught an indoor class for a couple of hours Friday, and it was distracting.

However, I had the opportunity to pack everyone up so we could actually walk towards, and behind that big mountain.

It’s called the Walling Reef (to the right) and is one of the most fantastic limestone cliff reefs in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The mountain to the left of it is also a big deal, it’s called Old Man of the Hills, and it’s an easy climb to the summit. Traversing the Walling Reef, on the other hand – that’s for goats – but there’s a good bench hidden on the E side of the crest with a Class 3 entry/exit to the south that’s doable, but a little scary and exposed.

In the middle of the two is that big canyon, the North Fork Dupuyer Creek. That was our target, and we spent Friday night back up in there, tucked neatly into the Wilderness Area.

Sorting Gear in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Photo, Sigma DP2s)

Sorting Gear

On the North Fork Dupuyer Creek, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana
Sigma DP2s, f/11, 1/20 sec.

I spent a few days over the past weekend on the eastern slope of the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the vicinity of the Walling Reef. This campsite was just inside the canyon, so there’s mountains all round and sunset here means it gets cold quick. Here, I’m basking in the day’s final bit of heat, which is captured inside my tarp, before the sun goes down behind Bennie Hill, looming in the background.

Hard Times in the Bob Marshall Wilderness (Sigma DP2)

Hard Times, Bob Marshall Wilderness

Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/2.8, 1/800 sec.

These arrowleaf balsamroot flowers won’t make it into Flower Photo Field Guides but they will have better stories to tell than the sissy flowers down in the forest.

They look like how I feel whenever I go off trail in the Bob.

Last year, my petals fell off during a traverse from Mid Creek to Silvertip Creek, which had some of this:


“Not A.T.”, Upper Mid Creek, Bob Marshall Wilderness

Sigma DP2, ISO 50, f/2.8, 1/160 sec.

View more photos from last year’s traverse here.

I’m heading back this weekend and expect:


  1. More snow.
  2. Less flowers.
  3. More hardship.

In other words, it will be another perfect trek.