Earning the Trail Name Pitchit

I’ve read blogs about hikers wondering what their trail name will be. Should you come with one as a pre-emptive name, so they are not named for something memorable/weird they did?  Or wait to be christened by others, and tagged for something they may not want to be remembered for?

I’m coming with one I already earned.

In 2002 with my section hiking buddies, most a bit older than me, hiked through the rain forest aka The Smokies.  We had all been backpacking since the 1970s, and they had not yet given up the “heavy” aspect of backpacking.

I read somewhere that there are these basic categories when it comes to gear weight:

Ultra Heavy: 75+ pounds.  Think the Marines.

Heavy: 50-65 plus pounds – you carry everything you think you would ever need or want, with an emphasis on comfort while camping.  Of course, this takes away comfort while hiking, but you muscle on!  This was traditional backpacking in the 70s.

Moderate: 35-50 pounds – you’ve replaced older, heavy things with newer material lighter things, and jettisoned that old Coleman lantern.  I saw a lot of heavy and moderate backpack loads in the first days after Springer.  Hope they stopped at Mountain Crossings to get down into

Light: 25-35 pounds – you’ve spent the extra money for newer, much lighter tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, left some of the comfort stuff behind, double use a lot of your equipment, etc.  Comfort while hiking is more important, comfort while camping less so. You constantly evaluate utility, weight, and volume.

Ultralight: 20 pounds and less – you’ve spent gobs of money to get the absolute lightest gear, and forego a lot of comforts to have a more comfortable hike.  This values the hiking comfort over camping comfort.

Super Ultralight: less than 10 pounds. Great comfort while hiking, minimal comfort while camping.

My buddies were still in the heavy category.  They even insisted on two (white gas) stoves and two sets of nesting billies, FOR FIVE PEOPLE so we didn’t have to wait so long to eat each course for dinner.

I had transitioned to the line between Moderate and Light,  usually at around 35 pounds.  However, for this trip I was carrying over 45 pounds, because my friends were starting with 45 pounds BEFORE food and water weight was added.  So I put more of the food in my backpack, but whined and complained and stewed my way up the trail SOBO into the Smokies. Which is 6 miles of up.  Because of the weight, breakdowns and blisters ensued for all.

At Newfound Gap we took stock.  One of my best buds had massive blisters on his heels.  He blamed his new boots (earning the trail name Boots) but I said carrying excessive weight was also a factor. Of the five of us, two had to bail out, so we called a shuttle for them.  They would stay in a cheap motel and meet us at Fontana Dam.  With beer. Three of us would continue backpacking.

While we waited for the shuttle, I yelled “Shakedown!” and insisted that we go through each other’s packs and downsize.

I was brutal.  I’m surprised they let me stay in the group.  I threw out repair equipment they hadn’t used in decades, but had brought “just in case,” including a large number of cotter pins, which few packs used any more.  Out went the extra cook gear, though I had to argue that one stove was plenty for three people. We measured exactly how much fuel we needed to take, added 10%, and got rid of lots of fuel. (At the end of the trip I was sweating it; we ended with about 3 ouces of fuel left. If we had run out…….)    Our Trail Boss had a full bag of hard cinnamon balls; I made him say how many a day he wanted each day (3) and multiplied that by how many days we had left (5), led him through the math, and made him take only 15, leaving over half the bag behind.  He howled.  He was very gracious two days later when I Yogi’d a cinnamon ball off him.

So they changed my trail name to Pitchit.  We shucked a lot of weight, and made it to the end.
Now the staff at Mountain Crossings does this for hikers, but they are much more gracious about it. And thruhikers voluntarily submit their packs for review.  Sounds like a cool job.

For this hike my target is 22 pounds of total gear before food and water.  In warm weather I can hit 20 lbs.  I can’t quite get to Ultralight status once I add food and water; I want too many comforts, even for a Pitchit.  I still hassle my friends about taking too much heavy crap.  They still ignore me, mostly.

Five years ago another buddy and I took our kids backpacking.  He wanted to do the Smokies.  I mostly remembered the rain and pain of the previous trip, but my kids hadn’t been there, so off we went.  He’d heard the story of my trail name, and we decided to go to the exact spot at Newfound Gap where I’d earned the name and, of course, take a picture.

Pitchitrantmemorial(2)When we got there it was roped off to protect it as they reseeded, but it also looked like a roped off, historical preservation spot. (See pic)

Nice to be remembered.


Dave Michel, aka Pitchit


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Comments 3

  • Dylan : Apr 9th

    It’s awesome to see more people embracing the light weight bug. My base weight normally jumps between 8-10 lb. I guess it all depends on what you mean when you say comfortable in camp.

  • Jeremy Morris : Apr 19th

    Awesome post! I’m working on trying to drop the 17 pounds down to 15, not easy! Can’t believe people would regularly hike with over 50 pounds of stuff!

  • Christine Letsky-Anderson : Apr 19th

    Falling right between light and ultralight is perfect for me. It allows me a few creature comforts, but also a manageable load on the trail.


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