Gore Tex and eVent and Pit Zips, oh My! (Navigating the Maze of Thru-Hiking Gear)
On my one and only previous backpacking trip – a week-long outing in Southern California in 1971 – I had no trouble buying equipment. I went to the nearest sporting goods store and rented a backpack, tried on a few pair of boots, and was good to go. The entire process took only an hour or two because there wasn’t really any choice in what to buy. Not only was the selection limited, but everything was bulky and heavy – canvas tents, huge, external frame backpacks, metal cook pots and canteens – which didn’t bother me a bit. Of course, back then I was seventeen.
Luckily for me, backpacking equipment has come a long way since then. Everything is much lighter these days, which is an enormous boon for my aging bones. Backpacks weigh less than two pounds. Camp stoves fit in the palm of my hand. Even socks have become high-tech, with moisture-wicking, odor-controlling, blister-reducing “smart wool” options I never could have imagined years ago.
Which makes choosing equipment for a thru-hike overwhelming. There is so darned much to learn! Take rain jackets, for example. After getting drenched on a recent day hike, I know that I definitely need one. But how many layers do I want – 3 or 2.5? Do I want a laminate or waterproof coating? ePTFE? eVent? Gore Tex? Pit zips or side vents? And how many psi’s? Every single item of equipment, from footwear to a lowly spoon requires countless hours of research lest I make a choice I’ll regret. As a result, I’ve been spending my days reading countless articles, studying experienced thru-hikers’ gear lists, and skimming online forums for any nuggets of wisdom that will help me avoid a mistake. Everyone has a different opinion, of course. Everyone recommends different options, depending on their personal needs. About the only thing I’ve been able to conclude for sure is that I really need to limit my weight.
As a result, I’ve only bought a few things so far — just a few items of clothing and my trekking poles. I’ve held off purchasing anything major until I can winnow down the selection and make an intelligent choice. But with only eight more months until the thru-hike, I need to make some decisions soon – starting with the one that could make or break my hike: my pack. Help! If anyone has a recommendation, I’d love to hear your advice!
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