Gear is starting to come in. Boxes show up and its like an extra birthday. Song bursts forth, “Happy PCT hike to me” (of course, to the tune of Happy Birthday). But only a few lines before I get too obnoxious for the wife, the dog, or myself.
Last spring, I went on a backpacking trip that was also a Leave No Trace Master Educator course in the Galiuros Mountains in southeast Arizona. Nice two for one deal. This was also the first backpacking I had done in a couple years. My pack weighed in around 45 pounds including food and water. My 47 year old body complained regularly during the hike and for several days after.
Shortly after, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail moved from discussion to decision. But no way could I heft a 45 pound or heavier pack and carry it day in and day out for months. I also wasn’t interested in going ultralight. Ultralighters take on a level of risk and discomfort that is not for me. I prefer to be prepared, self-reliant, and fairly comfortable in the backcountry.
So, I rummaged through my tubs of outdoor toys. (I store most of my gear in Rubbermaid Roughneck Storage Boxes decorated with stickers from outdoor gear manufacturers). My rummaging surfaced stuff that I was using on the trail all the way back to the early ’80s. And it all weighed a lot. So I came up with a new approach for my hiking gear.
Keep an Open Mind
Set aside past learning, prejudices, and biases about hiking gear.
Get rid of the old gear list and evaluate each piece of gear. Do I really need this? Do I really use it? Is there a lighter version? My sturdy, way cool old Leatherman Super Tool goes everywhere with me. It has since I got it back in 1995. All 9 ounces of it. A Victorinox Classic Swiss Army Knife weighs 1.3 ounces and will slice cheese, open food packages, cut parachord and mole skin, and spread peanut butter. Spreading peanut butter is mostly what I do with the multitool in the backcountry anyway.
Is there another way of doing some outdoor task for which I bring gear? Like transporting water? I carry a couple one liter Nalgene water bottles (6.2 ounces each) and a 2 liter Camelbak Antidote Reservoir (6.4 ounces). Cool colors, durable, nice drink tube and all that but weigh in empty at 1 pound 2.8 ounces. A couple cleaned and re-used 1 liter plastic beverage containers and a 2 liter Platypus Platy Bottle carries the same amount of water and weigh 4 ounces altogether (6 ounces if I add a drink tube).
Can I do this with less stuff? That’s one of the points of it all – getting away from the complexity of civilization, living with just the basics for awhile, getting rid of the extraneous. My standard cook kit includes a MSR Whisperlite Stove, 0.33 liter MSR Fuel Bottle, MSR Alpine 2 Pot Set, a GSI Fairshare Mug, and a Sea-to-Summit Spork with a total weight of about 3 pounds (48.1 ounces). If I simplify this to a freezer bag cooking approach I can get rid of one of the pots, the mug to eat out of, the complex white gas stove. I can use an alcohol fuel stove with wind shield, plastic alcohol fuel bottle, a 0.9 liter titanium pot, pouch cozy, long handled plastic spoon, and just eat out of the zip lock bag the food was heated in. This cook kit only weighs 6.8 ounces. Three pounds to under half a pound. Right on.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
There are a lot of folks backpacking lightweight and ultralight. They’ve already tried out a lot of gear and know quite a bit more than I do on the topic. Since I’m kind of lazy (err, efficient), I’m pretty much copying what they’ve been doing. They say get the big three – backpack, sleeping bag, and shelter – down to 5 pounds. Okay, I’ll give that a go. They say wear trail runners instead of heavy boots. I’m game. They publish a lot of gear lists and gear discussions on the internet. Makes it oh so easy for me. Thank you.
Here are some sources that helped me out with my new approach:
- – Backpacker Magazine’s The Ultralight Handbook,
- – Paul “Mags” Magnanti’s Lightweight Backpacking 101,
- – Andrew Skurka’s Seven Steps to Lighten Up,
- – “Ultralight Hiking” and “Gear” in Yogi’s PCT Handbook Planning Guide,
- – And, of course, numerous gear lists and discussions on PCT-L, BackpackingLight.com, TrailJournals.com, Postholer.com, or otherwise floating around in cyberspace.