Highlights of My 1986 Gear List – Big 3 weight = 12+ pounds

I never thought I was a hoarder until recently.  I also did not think I was overly sentimental until a few days ago when I was cleaning out a closet to get our house ready to sell.  In digging through years of collected junk, I found some of the first  backpacking equipment I purchased at age 27 in 1987 – pack, stove, and my first tent.  Times have changed.  I have gone from a Big 3 combined weight in 1986 that about matches my entire base weight of 12 pounds for this year’s trip.

Sleeping Bag – 2 pounds, 14 ounces

The Jansport down sleeping bag I’ve had for 35 years provides me the proof that down is almost always the only good choice when it comes to sleeping bags.  I have used it for more trips than I can count.  It was, initially, a 20 degree bag, but now is really a summer sleeping bag.  OK, that is not bad for a bag that is older than the average thru-hiker and has been washed, always by hand, many times.  Not a bad purchase to say the least.  Take care of down and it will last decades.

Tent – 4 pounds, 8 ounces

The annoyingly bright blue Sierra Designs tent was retired years ago, but apparently I had such sentimental attachment to it that I moved it several times in Baltimore then to DC and then, 16 years ago, to Arizona.  It was a fairly early generation of double walled tents and used some a wooden (bamboo?) poles with elastic shock cord.  The  blue color must have been the thing in 1986 since it matched my Jansport sleeping bag.

I have a great memory of being in this tent in Shenandoah National Park in the summer, maybe 1987, with a friend.  We had set up our tents near some trail, the name of which I have long forgotten.  About midnight, a giant and very violent thunderstorm began, and the lightening was striking pretty near to where we were.  I was thrilled.  My friend was close to tears.  He thought he was going to die.  That is one of the few times I had a real glimpse of me as a thrill seeker.  My friend quit backpacking after that – apparently not a thrill seeker.

Backpack – 5 pounds, 5 ounces

In 1986, internal frames were still fairly new, and you’d see “older hikers” (who were likely a decade or two younger than I am now) still using external frame packs and kind of looking suspiciously at the internal frame packs users.  That pack has sat in my garage for years; it is damaged. The brand is some off brand, but it served me well for a decade and was never considered abnormally big or heavy back then.  My total weight was often around 45 to 50 pounds, even for a weekend trip, and, no, I did not carry a cast iron frying pan.

.Pad –  5+/- ounces of Pain

I used a very thin closed cell foam pad back then.  I am not sure of the weight.  I’d guess it was about 5 ounces based only my guess, and it literally allowed me to feel every pebble or acorn under me.  It is far too spartan for me these days.  I like comfort for sleeping.

Stove, windscreen, pot, plate – 3+ pounds

If you are wondering how I got my total weight up near 50 pounds, my cooking set-up will help you understand.

My Bluet stove was pretty much state of the art or at least that I what I thought.  It weighed over a pound, and included a big wind screen. I keep it inside a big aluminum pot that you could cook dinner for 4 with and a matching lid. My multi-tool, which included a fork and spoon, had to have weighed at least 6 ounces.  My entire kitchen set-up was likely well over 3 pounds.

Thanks to the Engineers Who Make Us UL

So what is the point?  Well, first of all, in 1986 backpacking was not nearly as popular as it is today.  I think one of the main reasons for that is the explosion of innovative ultralight and lightweight equipment that is available today.  In most cases, all my equipment was 2 or 3 or more times heavier than what is typically used today.  Even my “heavier” backpack, an Osprey Exos, is half the weight of that giant thing I used for a decade and the Exos is infinitely more comfortable.  So the comfort and decreased injuries related to modern equipment has given backpacking a boost.  A lot of this innovation has been driven by cottage manufacturers such as ZPacks, Gossamer Gear, Enlightened Equipment, ULA, etc.

At 61, I’ve found that UL does not always equal ultra-comfortable.  Each person has to find their Goldilocks balance.  I tend much closer to UL than many people are, although I draw the line at cold soaking and going without my MSR Wisperlite.  Food is important and hot coffee in the morning, every morning, is vital. I do think that all of us have benefited from the engineering work of smart people who have shaved pounds, then ounces, and then grams off the weight from each piece of equipment.  I know I have totally changed my approach to buying gear and often wonder if I would still be backpacking 35 years after I started if we did not have the great gear we have today.

Picture:  Sunrise on the AT in Pisgha National Forest,  North Carolina, October 2020.


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Comments 2

  • Jerky : Jan 20th

    I loved my Peak One Integrated stove from the 80s and 90s. Still have it and it works but I can’t imagine schlepping it into the backcountry again. The contrast in weight between it fully loaded with fuel and a pocket rocket with canister is vast. Pretty impressive that you’ve kept your down bag going for over 30 years, even if it’s lost a bit of loft.

  • pearwood : Jan 20th

    My beautiful Svea 123 from the 1970s still works like a charm. I expect my kit will be a mixture of old and new. I won’t ultralight by any means, but I learned decades ago that if my total carried weight got over 40 pounds I wasn’t having fun anymore.
    Steve / pearwood


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