Empty Your Pack: A Weekend Warrior in PNW Bear Country

When you have to carry a bear canister, it pays to pare down the rest of your gear. Active Pass member Matt Wise shows us how he does it.

Photo: Matthew Wise

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Active Pass member Matthew Wise at Upper Royal Basin in Olympic National Park.

Ah, the dreaded bear canister. Even the lightest ones are bulky, heavier than a bear bag, and having to carry one can affect every gear choice. Here, Active Pass member and weekend warrior Matt Wise, 51, spills his kit to show how he accommodates the bear canister [read: How to Pack a Bear Canister] when he heads into the trails in Olympic National Park, where bear canisters are often required. In his five years of wilderness backpacking, he’s discovered that less is most definitely more when it comes to weight. That’s a lesson he learned the hard way on a too-heavy overnight to the Buckhorn Wilderness in 2019.

Now, Wise is in a regular cycle of replacing heavier gear with lighter versions. “I dialed my base weight down to just under 20 pounds, which is hard because of the wide range of weather I have to anticipate and the need to carry a bear canister most of the time.”“When I weighed my loaded pack before leaving, it came in at 45 pounds,” he says. “At the time, I didn’t think much about that ridiculously heavy load for a one-night excursion because that was my norm. The first three miles of the route was on the very lovely, well-groomed and  mildly rolling Upper Dungeness River Trail. Then immediately before Camp Handy, I took a hard-left, forded the Dungeness and broke through brush into a meadow to find the Goat Lake Way Trail, which is a unmaintained boot trail. From there, it was only 1.8 miles to the lake. But that 1.8 miles had more than 2,800 feet of gain. That night, I tossed and turned worrying about the descent. As I did, I vowed to never carry such a heavy load again.”

Total Pack Base Weight: 19 pounds, 13.1 ounces

Gear I’ll never part with: Personal locator beacon

“I would never leave behind my Garmin InReach Explorer+ for a combination of reasons, the biggest of which is its SOS button. Most of the time, I go solo. Knowing I can get help if I’m hurt or in a bad situation is invaluable. It also gives my wife peace of mind when I text and send her tracking information. It’s bulky as compared to the InReach Mini, but at 100 hours it has twice as much battery life. It also doesn’t depend on a phone for its GPS mapping, because it has a good size screen.”

My luxury item: Sleeping bag

“My 23 degree Zenbivy Bed is my luxury item. I know I could shave more than a pound off my base weight with a lighter sleeping bag, but I sleep so much better in the Zenbivy Bed versus a traditional bag. I change positions frequently when I sleep. I’m on my back, side and stomach. I also like to bend one knee when sleeping on my back. When I’m in a traditional sleeping bag, especially a mummy, I get twisted up and feel constricted. That makes me wake up more often.”

Weight (oz.) Gear
73.6 Pack: Mens Deuter 65+10
48.5 Tent: Nemo Hornet 2P (with footprint)
41 Sleeping Bag: Zenbivy 23
9 Sleeping Pad: Klymit Insulated Static V Lite
2.6 Pillow: Zenbivy Light
13.7 Rain Jacket: Outdoor Research Guardian Jacket
3.0 Water filter: Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System
6.1 REI 32 oz Water Bottle
8.6 Cookware: GSI Outdoors Halulite Boiler Pot – 1.1 Liters
2.6 Stove: MRS Pocketrocket
2.1 Eating utensils: spork
33.6 Bear Vault
7.5 Garmin Inreach Explorer Plus
4.3 Headlamp: Black Diamond Revolt 350
3.2 Batteries: Extra AAA for headlamp
3.0 Extra Stakes: MSR Ground Hog Stake (6)
2.9 Knife: Swiss Army Super Tinker
2.6 Compass: SUUNTO MC-2/360/IN/D/NH
12 First Aid: AMK Ultralight/Watertight .9 Medical Kit
2.4 Backup flashlight: SOS Solarlight
1.8 Fire kit: UCO Stormproof Match Kit
0.6 Trowel: TheTentLab Deuce Ultralight
1.3 Buff (original)
0.6 Beanie: Smartwool Cozy Cabin Hat
16 Camp Shoes: Merrell Hydro Moc
14.4 Coala Tree Jacket (puffy)

Worn weight: The North Face poly baselayers, REI Co-op lightweight pullover, Darn Tough hiker sock, Merrell Pulsate Mid Waterproof Hiking Boots, Black Diamond Alpine Ergo Cork trekking poles.