My Biggest Trail Liability: Sticking to Tried and True

As I map out my pack list for the AT, I am realizing that my biggest liability in terms of pack weight is sentimentality.  I like my gear.  I’ve spent years accumulating it. Sure, there are lighter options, more functional pieces I could take, but over time I’ve grown attached to certain things and I don’t want to leave them behind.

GSI Pinnacle Soloist

Five years ago, before I knew anything about gear or backpacking, I added the GSI Pinnacle Soloist to my Christmas wish list. On the pot itself there is a picture of a mini-stove, so after Christmas I took the pot to REI and pointed to the picture, and said, “I want this,” and walked out with the Optimus Crux Lite; a stove that fits into the palm of my hand, and also my pot. I love that my cook set is self-contained.  Everything fits inside the pot: fuel, stove, bowl/mug, can stabilizer, scraper, dishrag and soap, and then is closed up tight with the lid.  It came with a stuff sack that doubles as a wash basin that I have long-since abandoned; i.e., inadvertently melted.  I like that the bowl has measurements inside so I can accurately judge how much water I am adding to my dehydrated meal packets.  I’ve tried other pots, including the MSR Titan kettle that weighs almost two-thirds less than the Soloist, but I keep going back to my GSI set.  The titanium doesn’t seem to retain heat as well as the aluminum, which could be user error; my other camp kitchen essentials don’t fit in as nicely, and, I admit this is silly, but the GSI set was one of the first pieces I ever got and now, as I embark on this epic hike, I feel like my GSI pot deserves to go too.

Camelbak All Clear Purifier

I’m not singularly attached to any kind of water filtration system, but again, and you’ll notice a trend; the Camelbak and I go waaaaay back.  I picked this up circa 2014—so long ago that you’d be hard-pressed to find it in stores, or anywhere, really.  I returned from a three-day hike still awestruck after watching one of the gals in my group purify her water by shaking the bottle for 60 seconds.  I drove straight to REI to pick one up for myself, stopping only once along the way for Benadryl, because that was also the trip when I fell into poison oak.  Since that fateful (itchy) trip, I’ve taken this filter on countless day hikes, backpacks, and even countries where water quality was questionable—I even picked up the strainer attachment so I wasn’t swallowing twigs and dirt because while drinking purified water zapped with UV light is great, chewing on purified water zapped with UV light, not so great.  In a fit of gear purging and consolidation, and because I also have the MSR AutoFlow Gravity Filter (which is probably also more robust than I need for the AT), I’m sad to say I donated the filter but kept the bottle.  It’s just a regular Camelbak 750ml bottle, but in a gram-counting world, it’s definitely heavier than say, a Smartwater bottle—and even though I no longer need the water filter instructions printed on the side, this is still my go-to bottle staple.

Bear Canister

As a PNW hiker, I almost always need a bear canister. I waffled for a long time on buying one, and once I finally did, I had to watch a few YouTube videos before I could figure out how to get the darn thing open.  It’s a pain to fit into the pack, it’s a pain to open (probably for the best), and it’s ridiculously heavy.  But it also doubles as a chair or table, is virtually indestructible, and I’ve dedicated a fair amount of time to personalizing my BearVault, including the sticker from my very first backpacking trip in Big Sur; a trip which, surprisingly, didn’t put me off backpacking altogether. But that is a story for another time.

Room for Improvement

At the end of the day, however, I am a pragmatist. So, while there are some things I won’t hike without, there are plenty of things on my pack list that I am open to changing out—like my sleeping bag.  I picked up the Feathered Friends UL Flicker 20-degree bag a few weeks ago.  It’s lighter and warmer than my other sleeping bags, and I lucked out with a 20% discount due to a small stain that I still can’t find without a microscope—but who am I to argue with stringent QC standards.  I tried to fit all my gear into the REI Flash 45 pack that accompanied me across the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and have since used on all of my local outings. Unfortunately, even if I were able to manipulate my gear in such a way that everything fits (I can’t), the pack is not meant to carry the weight I will need for the AT, so I broke down and bought a new pack.  Well, to be fair, I’ve bought five new packs and returned four of them (thank you, REI return policy, again)—but I have high hopes for the Osprey Aura 65.  Only time will tell if these recent pack and bag choices will be the next things on my list of pieces “I can’t hike without,” but as is my goal with any gear that I buy, I want it to last so long, that by the time I need to replace it, they don’t make it anymore.

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Comments 3

  • Kyle Nineff : Jan 3rd

    Great review and background on some of your gear! Glad to see you are taking some familiar friends to unfamiliar places. Will be interesting to see how they fare on the AT. 🙂

  • John Galloway : Jan 5th

    Great article, I think the famous trail phrase “hike your own hike” should apply to gear also.

  • Cheryl Nineff Dambrosio : Jan 8th

    A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. A book begins with the first word. Many years ago, when our family was going to England, my Dad told me that a trip consists of three parts. The first is the planning. The second is the actual trip. The third consists of the memories. And, Dad emphasized that all three parts are equally enjoyable. Christy, I see you are well into the first part of planning. The rest is yet to come. Wishing you health and safety with each step. The blog will help us enjoy the journey with you — rain or shine.


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