On Gear: A Thru-Hike Prep Existential Dilemma

To Find Out: Can We Hack It?

In Walden, Thoreau writes: “Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Indeed, a major motivation for taking to the trail is to eradicate the excess of (sub)urban life, to be one with our egg-and-sperm-given body, and see how we survive sans the trappings of everyday existence. Do we still have our basic survival instincts, or have we become too dependent on trappings and technology to weather the wilderness?

This is not to say that fleeing to the forest is  the only way to become less dependent of and obsessed with what Thoreau refers to as “detail” and what we would call “excess shit”: Millenial Minimalism is a thing, and it does seem that many youngish adults are eschewing the American Psycho aesthetic of lavish apartments and designer duds and directing their purchasing power towards travel and life experiences. Additionally, one can embrace transcendentalist ideals while living in a one-bedroom apartment and working a desk job. However, for those of us who have decided to take it a little further, the extreme nature of, well, being in nature without constant access to everything, confronted with 2,190 miles of “I Dare You,” is so fucking alluring.

The Just-Invented Moleskine Quandary

And yet, based on fake news reports and my own analysis of 3,456 hiker blogs and websites, every successful thru-hike is preceded by seventeen straight days of clicking into the cavern of backcountry gear websites. Afterwards, there are hundreds if not thousands of dollars dropped on equipment weighing less than the card swiped to get it.

It’s the Moleskine Quandary: The sleek black notebooks are a “minimalist’s” dream since they’re simple, small, and sleek. But they’re also mad expensive. You can get two marble composition books for a dollar at and 99 cent store in the Bronx, but that’s kid of trashy and the lines aren’t college ruled. So while the possessions are pared down, there’s not always a money-saving technique involved; thus, what seems like a lessening of consumerism and commercialism is actually an adherence to a different type of marketing, which excludes people who do not have disposable income. There is something that grates me tremendously about the process, even as I partake in the purchase of packs, pads, and Permethrin.

In Commencement, As I Begin to Pack

I know it’s false to assume all thru-hikers indulge in this ritualistic breaking-of-the-bank account at an outdoor outfitter prior to traversing the terminus of the AT. I also get that safety is the number one priority on the trail, and high-quality gear that will last through torrential downpours and high winds is indispensable over the course of five or six months. But as we future SOBO hikers prepare to head off onto this epic journey of thought and contemplation, I will indubitably spend time wondering about the juxtaposition of nature, money, race, class, and whether public lands are truly public.

What does everyone think? Am I trying to intellectualize the issue because I feel guilty about the fact that I bought a tent that cost (nearly) more than a month’s rent? Are other people paralyzed in the sock aisle of EMS? Drop me a line – ultralight utility or just plain rope.


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Comments 5

  • David : May 28th

    Huh ?

    • Tim, Su & San : May 28th

      Great article, simplicity in life is key to happiness, who needs all the clutter! I rid my home of the clutter, my heart and mind soon followed, freedom how sweet it is!!!

  • Emily Downie : May 31st

    Thank you for this article, Something I have spent a lot of time thinking about as i’m currently in the contradictory process of giving all my shit away and buying new expensive camping shit. Definitely an important conversation that needs to be had more, especially when talking about inclusion (trail is white AF).

  • Megan : Jun 3rd

    I’m enjoying your writings LilyMG. I’m preparing for my SOBO hike and trying not to spend too much time “researching.” I also did a huge purge of things last year, and battling with not wanting to accumulate too many “things” for a thru-hike. For that reason, I will probably not be such a light hiker as the next guy- my practically brand new, nearly 3-lb. sleeping bag will have to do, as with many other “regular” weighted items. I figure whether or not I complete a thru-hike has little to with whether my pack weighs 30 vs 25 pounds.

    Keep up the great posts.

  • MH McGrath : Jun 4th

    Get over it – read Horace Kephart – go with his light pack (modern materials) – have fun! (Based on my 2000+ nights under canvas)


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