Gearing up! Why I am not going ultralight.
As I finalize my gear for my upcoming BMT/AT thru hike, it is obvious that my gear does not fall within the category of ultralight, and maybe not even lightweight. I will probably hit the trail with about 35 pounds on my back, but this number may swing closer to 40 pounds if I choose to carry more food between resupplies.
Some have told me this weight is too much. They say that the lighter the gear, the more enjoyable the hike. I believe this is true up to a point, and this point varies among hikers. For me, the point at which lower weight does not equal a better hike happens when my comfort is too severely compromised or my wallet becomes too light (ultra-light can be ultra-expensive!).
My gear philosophy is that gear is a means to an end. Gear enables me to experience the outdoors and facilitates my enjoyment of that experience to the extent possible from the contents of a backpack. This is not to say that gear choices and weight are irrelevant. Years ago, I backpacked with a 60 pound external frame pack and I would NOT recommend it to anyone! However, a 35-40 pound pack seems to work out just fine for me and strikes a good balance of comfort, price, weight, and durability.
With that said, here are a few specific reasons I choose to carry what I carry:
A good night’s sleep is important.
I have always had trouble sleeping well in the woods. That’s okay if I am out for a weekend overnighter, but not if I plan to hike more than 2,000 miles. For a good night’s sleep, a traditional tent and sleeping bag can’t be beat. As a side sleeper with a bony frame, my air mattress and air pillow ensure sore hips or a crooked neck will not keep me awake. I like being able to pitch my tent just about anywhere with success, and since I loathe trail shelters, I need a home I am comfortable in each and every night on the trail. The weight for my shelter and sleeping system are well worth the ZZZZZ’s they afford.
Extra clothes are worth it.
Prior to my AT section hike in 2015, I read an article that suggested I shouldn’t carry any clothes I couldn’t wear at one time. I’m glad I ignored this advice. After a couple days of hiking in a cold rain, I was sooooo happy I packed extra dry clothes. It made all the difference in the world to my mood and outlook.
Waterproof AND breathable is a lie!
On the same hiking trip, I decided to use one “waterproof/breathable” rain jacket as both a rain and wind shell. After ten hours of rainy hiking one day, I and my rain jacket were drenched in sweat. The next day was beautifully clear, but cold and windy. Needing a wind shell, I had no choice but to put on my still-soaked rain jacket because it WAS my wind shell. Not fun! This time around, I am taking a separate wind shell and replacing my rain jacket with a Packa.
Luxury items are awesome!
My big luxury item on this trip is a 7” tablet which I will use to read e-books, write in my journal, and make blog and social media posts while in town. Why not use my smart phone, you ask? Well…I don’t have one! I am one of those anachronistic people who still use an archaic flip phone. Carrying the tablet will add extra weight to my load, but it is well worth it considering the value it provides when I am stuck in my tent for hours.
Carrying more food can be a good thing.
I have a fast metabolism and need to eat tons of calories to avoid unhealthy weight loss. Skimping on food is not an option for me, so I tend to carry a lot of it. I also prefer to minimize my resupply days on the trail. Unless the trail passes right through town, I sometimes carry a week of food at a time. Sure, it weighs more, but it saves the hassle of hitching into town and also saves money I would inevitably spend at the local beer establishments along the way!
It is better to be safe than sorry.
Call me a coward, but I would rather be overprepared than underprepared in the woods. Safety is especially important to me this year because I will begin the first 300 miles of my hike on the Benton MacKaye Trail, a MUCH less traveled trail than the AT. For this reason, I am taking maps, a compass, and a PLB (personal locator beacon), all of which add weight to my pack. Is my life worth a few more ounces? I think so.
In conclusion, I should probably post the picture everybody was hoping to see. For more details, check out my gear list, and remember, HYOH.
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