For the prospective Israel National Trail hikers — plus the die-hard gear-junkies and all who find joy from reading about the trade-offs between spoons and sporks — here’s a long delayed gear review on my carefully curated “backpack of things” I carried last autumn along the Israel National Trail (INT).
For context, my trail stats:
- Israel National Trail, completed North to South (Kibbutz Dan > Eilat)
- ~ 1090km / ~ 700mi
- Sept 20 – Nov 10, 2019 (52 days: ~ 47 hiking, ~ 5 rest / weather)
My general gear / packing philosophy:
- Start with less than you think you need. Add from there.
- Go light, or go without.
- Know your weak points and mitigate (e.g. mine: finicky ankle = ankle brace, distaste for long periods of sun exposure = “sunbrella”).
- “Shiftzur” stuff – שפצור – Hebrew slang used to describe “makeshift or jury-rigged improvements to an existing component” (i.e. modify gear to make it better suit your needs – doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive).
Notes about this list:
- This is a base weight list (no food / fuel / water included).
- Some items I switched out midway through – noted in descriptions.
- Some items I shared with Eran (hiking partner), thus divided weight / excluded weight from my pack – noted in descriptions.
- For the most part, I LOVED the gear I took – so you’ll read lots of rave reviews here.
- I recognize this is a higher-end gear list. I have slowly and strategically collected most of this gear over time, and I was also in the position to invest in some new gear pre-trail, too. I recognize this gear isn’t accessible to everyone. And that’s ok! Your hike will be just as fun with whatever gear you have access to.
- See bottom of post for spreadsheet with item weights.
More info on my summarized trail experience here, first 140 miles FAQs here, and “day in the life on the trail” here. And now onto the juicy reviews…!
PACK + SHELTER
backpack [Gossamer Gear Gorilla 40L] – I will never (likely) use a different backpacking backpack ever again. Small yet spacious, this bag held all of my gear (very comfortably) and allowed me full mobility, comfort, and ease. Pros: large mesh outside pocket (where I stored all my food for easy access), breathable straps, convenient hip pockets, simplified design, pack’s size forced me to be diligent with gear choices. Cons: I pushed the pack’s weight limit a few desert mornings when I added 5-7L of water to my base weight, and after 700+ miles I did see some wear on the straps (to be expected) / mesh.
pack liner [Gossamer Gear] – I lined my pack with this plastic sheet to protect the gear inside. A garbage bag will do fine also – but this one is virtually indestructible.
quilt [Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20] – Instead of a sleeping bag, I carried a 20 degree F backpacking quilt. I’ve always felt super constrained by mummy bags. The quilt, alternatively, lets me stretch out under it or cinch it up into a bag, which was perfect for fluctuating desert night time temps. I’ve also tested in California’s alpine weather, does great!
sleeping pad [Nemo Switchback] – Fully support using an egg carton sleeping pad versus a blow up pad. Pros: impossible to puncture, never need to repair, ready to throw out on the ground for any lunch break, can be folded into a seat, doesn’t deflate. Cons: depending on your backpack, can add extra bulk outside. Not as cushiony as a blow up (until the blow up pops!).
pillow [Sea to Summit Aeros Premium] – Could have gone without this, but so glad I chose to bring it along versus the old “stuff sack and clothes” route. Pro tip: only fill your pillow 3/4 to allow for a little give, more like a real pillow!
ground cloth [Gossamer Gear Polycryo] – I slept on top of this ground cloth (with my sleeping pad and quilt) while sleeping outside without a tent the first half of the trail. It protected my gear from wear big time.
tent [Quechua QuickHiker 2] – Eran and I used this tent (nicknamed “spaceship”!) for the latter half of the desert section. Wind + moisture + bugs had all convinced us that a tent would improve our sleep quality and thus our trail experience. I’m glad he picked it up when he did, as it definitely was not necessary for the North section. I was fairly impressed with this tent style / brand (average compactability, weight, sturdiness), but I’ll probably go with Gossamer Gear, Zpacks, or Big Anges when I invest in a new tent myself.
camp stove [Jetboil] – I despised this piece of gear. The Jetboil’s flame and heat were too powerful and difficult to control. Simmering rice (an essential Israel-hiking activity) was impossible. I did like the Jetboil eating container and cup, but I quickly started sharing Eran’s stove for cooking instead. Post-INT, I bought a stove like his for backpacking, plus a duplicate of his beloved cup.
spork [Sea to Summit long handle] – I adored this piece of gear. The long handle was great for digging to the bottom of a cup of rice, it was durable and easy to clean, and super lightweight. However, personal opinion: the fork part of sporks are quite annoying for the relatively small amount of time you actually need to stab something. Since returning, I’ve converted to a spoon version instead for all backpacking needs.
bandana – I carried one bandana exclusively as a surface for dry food prep / consumption. This kept a lot of my other surfaces (e.g. sleeping pad, pant legs) clean and also didn’t weigh as much as a plastic plate / additional surface.
lighter – Also carried matches just in case.
hiking shoes [Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoe] – For thru-hiking, I can’t rave about using trail runners enough. I’ll never go back to boots. Ever. Pros: trail runners are lighter, breath better (read: less moisture accumulation), save your feet from blisters, dry out easier (if they get soaked), don’t need breaking in, and are overall more comfortable. Cons: lacks ankle support (takes a few weeks to build up ankle muscle strength), tread wears down quicker than most boots.
camp shoes [Xero Z-Trail sandals] – For post-hike evenings, and around-town shoes, these are the best of the best. Pros: lightweight, adjustable (read: wear socks with them), and comfortable (in my opinion, they surpass Tevas, Chacos, Crocs, and SOURCE). Cons: less support than brands listed above, but that’s the point of them!
hiking shirt [Patagonia Capilene Cool Sunshirt] – My gear item MVP. I wore this shirt every single day I hiked. Pros: thin yet durable, incredible sun protection, quick drying, thumb holes to keep sleeves down, anti-chafe, (mostly) odor resistant, easy to wash. This shirt also lasts forever, I’m still wearing it today! Note: some folks like hiking w/ button down shirts (dubbed “bar mitzvah shirts” by Eran) instead because you can unbutton them for air ventilation.
hiking pants [Outdoor Research Ferrosi] – Long pants are essential for sun protection. I hiked in the tan version of these pants 90% of the time. Pros: kept my legs protected and cool, stretchy, soft, easy to wash. Cons: seams started fraying (between legs and on bottom) after ~400 miles, lighter color showed a lot of dirt (if you care about that!)
sun gloves [Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Gloves] – Small and mighty, these sun gloves saved my hands from long days of exposure on the Negev plains. They’re nerdy and totally worth it.
hiking socks [Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew] – The only pair of hiking socks I’ll ever wear. I carried two pairs for the whole trail, rotating them out as needed. Pros: breathable, odor-resistant, can withstand infrequent washing, no blistering, the company will even send you a replacement pair when your current ones wear out – lifetime guarantee. Cons: NONE.
gaiters [Dirty Girl] – I HIGHLY recommend adding gaiters to your set-up. Paired with my trail running shoes, these gaiters kept rocks out of my shoes and my shoe laces in check. While my hiking buddies had to stop frequently to remove Negev debris from their boots, I sailed along without discomfort. Plus, they look really dorky and fun.
underwear [Patagonia Women’s Active Briefs] – Thru-hiking underwear preferences varies person to person. I love this style, fabric, and fit. I carried two pairs (one dark pair, that could double as swim bottom) for the duration of the trail.
sports bra [Patagonia Women’s Barely Bra] – Another personal decision, but I’m going on five+ years of wearing this as my exclusive hiking sports bra. Supportive, wireless, chafe-resistant, quick-dry, and can double as a swim top. I started the trail with two of them (one for hiking, one for post-hiking), but I quickly ditched one of them.
t-shirt [Icebreaker Merino Cool-Lite Sphere Short Sleeve Low Crew] – The only shirt I brought (other than my hiking shirt) was this gem of a T. Comfortable, versatile, “dressy” enough not to look like total trash in town, thick enough to wear without a bra (I thought), odor resistant, and resilient as hell. I wore it every day after hiking and to sleep. Highly recommended.
jacket [Patagonia Houdini] – This was the only jacket I carried from Kibbutz Dan to Philip’s Farm. Pros: lightweight, semi-wind-resistant, and a perfect summer evening layer. Cons: runs on the smaller side and doesn’t have pockets.
jacket [Patagonia Hooded Nano-puff ] – I switched this jacket out for the Houdini at Philip’s Farm (beginning of the desert). Pros: compact-able, washable, resilient, and warm…it provided regulated warmth for desert mornings and evenings as we entered into November. I love the hood and pockets, too! Con: runs on smaller side.
shorts [Nike Tempo] – I only hiked in shorts a few times (not ideal for sun protection), but they were great to wear in town, on rest days, or on warmer evenings. Pros: washed easily, dried quickly (recommend to cut liner out shorts if you’re carrying underwear). Cons: chafing.
leggings – I started the trail without leggings and purchased a random pair in Arad (beginning of desert section). They were my “camp pants” that I wore post-hike and often slept in. Pros: allowed perfect mobility for stretching out after a long day, good for keeping bugs off, and just warm enough for the autumn evening desert temps. Cons: some folks just don’t like leggings. (Side note: Eran wore leggings under his shorts most days and raved about their sun-protection and anti-chafe ability. A rec for dudes – and ladies!)
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toothpaste + toothbrush – I started the trail with one of those fancy two-piece travel toothbrushes…which quickly broke. I replaced it with a kid’s toothbrush. Just as small and light!
hand sanitizer – Essential for when clean hands were essential (e.g. administering first aid).
soap – Multi-use soap or shampoo, refilled in a reusable mini-bottle. Used for all washing needs.
sunscreen – Purchased along the way. Protect yourself!
hair comb – Lighter and more compact than a travel brush. Necessary for keeping the luscious locks under control. 🙂
baby wipes – We carried a pack of these for removing sunscreen at the end of the day, and other needs.
tampons – Shoutout to all the period-blessed bad-ass hikers out there. I used tampons, but I wish I had used a menstrual cup like Lunette Cup. After the trail, I started using this cup in daily life, and it’s incredible. On the trail, it would have been much easier and more sanitary than tampons.
guidebook [“The Red Book”] – There are lots of options for navigation along the INT. Eran and I chose to go old-school and (mostly) only use this book and its paper maps (no apps). He had a Hebrew version, I had an English. Pros: accurate, easy to use, thorough…and humbling and humorous! We nicknamed it “Yaacov” after the book’s author. Cons: some folks feel it underestimates the difficulty of sections…I didn’t agree with this, but can see it (Side note: we also made a “Yaacov holder” for Eran’s backpack out of a water bottle, sock, and medical tape, allowing Yaacov to be easily accessible…this is a “shiftzur”!)
poles / “sticks” [Black Diamond Ergo Cork] – Highly recommend. Pros: durable, adjustable, steady, comfortable cork grip.
hat [Outdoor Research Sun Runner Cap] – Wore this hat for the first half of the trail, until I lost the back flap part! Pros: maximum sun protection, convertible into ball cap, comfortable. Cons: dorky, limited ventilation, doesn’t allow for periphery vision.
hat – Picked up a second random hat in Beer Sheva as a replacement (see picture). This one was less dorky (wide brim, flop back) and provided better ventilation, but not as great sun protection.
knife [No.6 Opinel Carbon Steel Pocket Knife] – Sexiest knife alive. It’s cheap, easy to clean, simple to use, and sufficient for everything short of filleting a fish (unheard of in the desert!).
sunbrella [Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking (Chrome) Umbrella] – This wasn’t an essential piece of gear (fairly sure I was one of the first to use it on the INT), but it radically improved my experience / internal temperature when walking in exposed areas for hours on end. Pros: allowed for maximum ventilation (no hat needed), provided shade from waist up, could “shiftzur” to be tied to pack (hands free), helpful for when it rained. Cons: difficult to use in low / narrow clearance areas (e.g. trees, narrow canyons), holding it only leaves you with one hand for a pole, may solicit silly comments from fellow hikers (until they overheat and get jealous!).
headlamp [Petzl] – Simple and functional. Replaced batteries once.
trowel [TheTentLab The Deuce #2] – Essential in North when hiking through semi-populated areas and softer ground. Unnecessary in South where feces dry up quickly and you can take care of business far off trail.
first aid [Adventure Medical Ultralight/Watertight 0.7] – I heavily modified this first aid kit, but it’s a great starting point. Also removed extra zipper pouch around it to cut weight.
ankle brace [Bauerfeind MalleoTrain Plus] – I have a horrible tendency to twist my ankle. Hiking in trail runners was worth it, but definitely didn’t aid in supporting my ankles. Half way through the trail, Eran gave me his ridiculously high-end ankle brace from the army, which I proceeded to wear every day. Problem solved.
bandana – I cut a bandana in half diagonally, one part was used as a pee rag, the other as a snot rag. Actually wish I had just carried two bandanas or cut the one I had in half to form two rectangles instead of triangles (triangle tails were annoying to deal with).
sunglasses – Impossible to go without.
bladder [Camelback 3L] – I carried this bladder for the first half of the trail. It was annoying to fill up, began to leak, and wasn’t ideal for using to transfer water to cook with for meals. Thumbs down.
hydration bottle-top screw-on [Source Convertube] – I switched my bladder out for this contraption at the beginning of the desert. I wish I had used this all along. Pros: easily attached to plastic water bottles we received cached water in, easy to clean, made unscrewing and using water for cooking much easier.
earbuds [Apple cord earbuds] – Opted for earbuds with cords. Wireless earbuds have to be recharge and fall out.
sat beacon + charger [Garmin inReach Mini] – Pre trail, I thought I might be walking alone for long stretches, so the Garmin came along with me. This is definitely not needed for the the INT (tons of cell reception and people along the way) and more of a tech toy. That being said, if you’re looking for a sat beacon for other trips, I can’t recommend this one enough. Pros: lightweight, superb battery life, insane coverage.
external battery [Mophie] – Helpful to have for long stretches of days in the desert without phone recharge ability.
Israeli / Europe USB wall plug in – If you don’t already have one, buy a cheap Israeli / European wall plug (example). I have one with two USB inserts so I can simultaneously charge my phone and Garmin. (Carrying a converter, if you have a different country’s plug in, is extra weight, extra pieces, totally unnecessary.)
watch [Timex Ironman] – Nice to not have to pull out phone to check time. Good alarm.
phone / camera [iPhone X, charging cables] – Highly recommend taking a phone with an excellent camera. The landscapes are too good not to have pictures of later on!
journal + pen [Moleskine Cahier Journals] – Super fun to journal throughout the trail to document experiences. I love these lightweight paper ones!
wallet [Ziplock bag] – Held drivers license, credit card, Rav Kav (Israeli transportation card), photo copy of passport, some cash.
wrap / towel [sarong] – I carried a simple, thin, cotton fabric that acted as a towel, changing room, bug-shield, sun-protector, and so much more. 10x better than any expensive / special travel towel you can buy.
book – I heavily utilized the trail book boxes (lending libraries) and Eran’s generous book loans for trail entertainment. I briefly tried carrying a Kindle and hated it (see “OTHER” section).
sling-shot – Eran carried a hand-made slingshot for fun. We spent many lunch breaks shooting tiny rocks at other tiny rocks. It was fun to have a unique item on the trail…other hikers carried little stuffed animals, instruments, funky hats, frisbees, or shesh besh (backgammon)!
*Gear I considered taking, but didn’t. Or, gear I had for a hot second and quickly ditched.*
long underwear top + bottom – Unnecessary (too hot).
warm hat / beanie – Unnecessary (too hot).
rain jacket – Umbrella served this function. It only rained a few times when I was hiking (most storms we anticipated and planned rest days for).
anti chafe [Squirrel Nut Butter] – I had zero chafing issues on the trail, but when I do have chafing this is the stuff I use. It’s magic and smells divine.
mosquito net – Used a few times in desert, then ditched in a book box. Flies were more of an issue than mosquitos, and our cotton fabric sarongs were enough to ward them off.
Kindle – Too annoying to have to charge, not much lighter than a regular book from a trail book box, fun to be constrained to the book box selection, plus I simply despise reading on screens unless necessary. That said, two considerations: 1) if you’re not excited about picking up books others have touched w/ current COVID, a Kindle is ideal; 2) if you prefer to read in a language other than Hebrew or English, bringing your own book / Kindle is a good idea.
A GENERAL NOTE ON FOOD
breakfast – Coffee, oatmeal, honey, chocolate, peanut butter, crackers, sugar, silan (date paste).
lunch – Bread / tortillas, tahini, tuna, cabanos (sausages), crackers, cucumbers, tomatoes, hummus.
snacks – Cookies, nut mixes, sahlab, halva, Lays, Bamba, Apropo, dried fruit, cereal, granola bars, dates, peanut butter, coffee, tea.
dinner – Rice, cabanos (sausages), olive oil, tahini, spices.
favorite town foods – Burgers, vegetables, pastries, popsicles, Krembo, ice cream, eggs, homemade trail angel meals.
*Also, I’m gluten and dairy intolerant and had zero problems finding safe food to eat on the trail. If you are unfamiliar with Israel, the country is very friendly in this way, even at the gas stations and in small villages! (Also very easy to be vegan or vegetarian on the trail).
Questions encouraged, and here’s the GEAR SPREADSHEET (w/ item weights)!