The Shocking Moment of Truth — or a Desperate Plea for Packing Help
For the past eight months, ever since I decided to attempt an AT thru-hike, I’ve been accumulating hiking gear. Since I tend to be somewhat anal (okay, totally obsessive), I’ve been doing exhaustive research, then buying each item piece by piece to be sure I’m getting exactly what I’ll need. So today, with my closet bursting — and less than three months until I begin my thru-hike — I figured the moment of truth had arrived. It was time to try packing my bag.
But as I pulled everything out of the closet and began spreading it across the bedroom floor, I couldn’t believe how much stuff I had. Mountains of it. Way too much to ever fit in my backpack. But maybe it only looked like a lot. After all, I’ve been doing my homework. I know everything should serve two purposes. I’ve collected dozens of sample gear lists and studied them with an intensity akin to a nuclear inspector, weeding out anything even remotely unnecessary from my pile. I’ve even calculated my toiletries down to the day so I’d know exactly how much to take (my travel size face cream, for example, lasts precisely two weeks). After all that meticulous research, there was no way on earth I had too much stuff.
Trying to remain optimistic, I sorted things into categories: my sleep system, my clothes, items I’d want in the outside mesh pocket like my water filter and tarp. When I was done I felt more organized, but it still seemed like an awful lot of gear. But looks can be deceiving, right? Fighting off my mounting uneasiness, I began to pack.
I put the underquilt into the backpack first — loose because it took up less space that way. However, the top quilt (Enlightened Equipment Revelation) took up a shocking amount of room no matter what I did. I finally crammed it into a compression sack, which helped a bit, and jammed smaller items around it. Then I added the items I needed to keep dry, like my sleep clothes, and finally, the remaining gear. I used stuff sacks for some, and put the others in loose, ruthlessly culling anything I could mail myself later, like extra insoles, or leave at home. Still, the backpack filled up fast. Alarmingly fast. As in OH MY GOD I’VE GOT WAY TOO MUCH STUFF fast.
Now I know what you’re thinking. I should have bought my equipment first, then gotten a backpack that would accommodate it all. I know that. I read that advice in multiple articles and blogs, but decided it didn’t pertain to me. At my age I need to hike light, and I figured that if I stuck to a medium-sized pack (the ULA Circuit), it would force me to carry fewer things. And I have to say that my strategy worked great — except for one tiny hiccup. I don’t have any room for food!
Yep. The good news is that almost everything else fits just fine. Even better, my base weight (without food or water) is 13 ½ pounds. It will probably be closer to 15 once I add my toiletries and cell phone, but I’ll keep working to lower that some. The bad news, of course, is that there is no way on earth I can hike without food. And right now the food bag simply won’t fit. I’m guessing that I need to put more things on the outside of my pack to accommodate the food, but I’m not sure how to do that.
So I’m sending out an urgent plea for help. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d be eternally grateful for any advice you might have. Because otherwise, it’s total panic time!
UPDATE: Here is my current gear list for anyone who would like to critique it. I decided to put the underquilt in loose instead of in the compression sack. By pushing down much harder, I was able to cram in a few more things.
Outside mesh pocket:
Sawyer mini filter and bag
Bug head net
Tiny Sea to Summit Ultra Sil bucket
Hammock gear cuben fiber tarp and stakes
Rain kilt (z-packs, doubles as a ground tarp)
Outside belt pockets:
Cell phone (doubles as my camera), sunscreen, chapstick, tiny bottle of Bonner’s soap, snack for the day, glasses.
Hanging on the outside:
Accordion sitting pad (12×15)
Rain jacket (Patagonia M10), doubles as a windbreaker
Pack cover (blaze orange for hunting season)
Lucy light (so it will recharge)
Inside a plastic waterproof liner in the pack:
Warbonnet Wookie underquilt (loose)
EE Revelation top quilt (loose)
Hammock (Warbonnet Blackbird)
Stuff sack with sleeping clothes (Under Armour fleece beanie, wool socks, smart wool mid-weight long underwear top and bottoms).
Down jacket (Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer), doubles as a pillow
Fleece hoodie (ExOfficio)
Summer clothes: shorts, t-shirt, socks, extra underwear
Thin spiral notebook and pen
(I’m using extra carabiners to attach things to the outside.)
Still need to squeeze in:
Toiletries, extra underwear, earplugs
First aid supplies in a baggie
Permits, ID, cash
Petzl head lamp
(This is assuming that I’ll be wearing my long pants, long-sleeved shirt, socks, hiking shoes, and hat.)
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