This will be a bit of a nuts and bolts post about the gear I plan to take mixed with a bit of psychology all under the banner of my gear list. The full list of all the gear I plan to take (at least at the time you are viewing it – I will change it up and until the minute I am starting the trail…and then again many times after I start) appears at the end of this post.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that some of the attraction of long distance hiking is the gear. While I have what I think is a below average need for things general, it’s balanced by an above average drive to understand and be able to compare things. There is lots to understand and compare in the world of long distance backpacking gear.
My very first long distance trip was a section of the AT through the Shenandoah valley. I took a 90L pack…with 10 days worth of food…and a tent in addition to a hammock. Although I never weighed it, I’d bet some bitcoin dust that it clocked in well over 50 lbs. I had two things working against me (or more specifically against my legs and back): an overwhelming need to be comfortable combined with a total lack of knowledge of what to expect / prepare for. And so I prepared for everything that I could think of that might happen. In that quest for comfort no matter the conditions, I overlooked something really obvious and really important: whatever I took, I would have to carry. I finished that trip but not without a fair amount of discomfort while I was hiking that was never quite compensated for by the luxury in camp (especially since most times I was rolling in just before dark somewhat due to the weight slowing my pace).
My next big trip out was a section of the AT through the White Mountains. I had learned a bit, but need the terrain and weather of the whites to really hammer it home. For this trip I slimmed down to a 60L pack…with three days of food (enough to get to a resupply at he mid point)…and one tent for two of us. But I still had some luxuries: a large Kelty tarp to be able to setup a group area regardless of the weather, too many changes of clothes for just a 6 day trip and 3 or 4 different lights. I did weigh my pack this time and with a liter of water and the 3 days of food it came it right under 35 lbs.
I continued to refine my kit over the next few years as I learned about what to expect and what I needed to be comfortable on the trail and in camp on a variety of early, peak and late season hikes all over the east coast. I’ve used a 38L pack for the last 6 or so trips. I’ve ditched the tent and changed to a hammock (to be clear, the lightest tent setup is lighter than the lightest hammock setup…but the hammock setup I moved to is lighter than the tent setup I had). I’ve moved to down quilts from synthetic bags. I’ve gotten accustomed to one set of hiking clothes and one set of camp / sleeping clothes.
Over all this time I have faithfully observed the old maxim of
Ounces turn into pounds and pounds turn into pain.
I have reduced y cold weather base weight to about 16 lbs. Loaded with 3 days of food and a liter of water, my pack comes in at about 25 lbs. Less than half of what I took with me on that first walk through Shenandoah in 2017 and yet more overall comfort on the trail and in camp.
I still have some trimming to do I think before I take those first steps in March. There’s another maxim I still need some work to be able to follow:
Don’t pack your fears.
What am I still worried about and what is in my kit in response that I might eliminate if I can shed the fear the things are there to soothe? (Side note: it will have to be a post for another time to cover the things I am worried about that there is nothing I can pack to address 😆).
- I’m worried about being able to get through the Smokies in a reasonable amount of time and injury free if there is snow and ice…so I am packing along the micro spikes.
- I’m worried about being cold when I sleep for the first month or two…so I am taking a 20 deg under quilt rather than a potentially lighter and more flexible double layer hammock with a sleeping pad (which would let me use shelters if I wanted or needed to – the setup I have now is only useful if I can find a place to hang)
- I’m worried about being able to maintain a comfortable temp when I’m hiking…so I am taking more clothes that I need to so that I can have lots of layer options to add on when I am cold and strip off when I’m warming up.
- I’m worried about having food that I will eat (hiker hunter is real…but so is looking at your food and not being interested in anything you have) so I am taking a larger kitchen than I might to give me preparation options (hot meals, cold soaking, etc).
- I’m worried that my entire colder weather kit won’t fit in my 38L bag so I might have to start with my 60L pack, swapping out for the 38L when I swap to a warmer setup (shipping home some layers, swapping out my 20 deg full UQ for a 40 deg 3/4 UQ, etc).
My goal here is not to get to some arbitrary “ultralight” base weight. I am also under no illusion that by going lighter I am going to come close to setting any kind of FKT. It is simply the continued optimization I started on the first day carrying a 60 lbs pack: what do I really need? What can I make more than one use of? What can I do without?