How I lost 25 lbs.

Posting this one without pictures. Just a bunch of information about my gear. I will also be posting a video version of this soon.

A Little History – Starting Too Heavy

In 1993, I stood on the roadside at the southern end of the 100 mile wilderness in Maine and hefted my 55 lb. pack onto my back. With nine days food plus an extra meal for good measure, plus a couple quarts of water, my base weight was around 35 lbs.

While I’ve reduced my cold weather weight down to about 20 lbs., and 15 lbs. for warm weather, I’m still blown away when I see ultralight hikers carrying bags that are only 8-10 lbs. Hell, my backpack alone from 1993 weighed 7.5 lbs. While I’m sure folks could do a pack teardown and easily reduce the weight I’m carrying, I’m just stoked to have as little as I do. It’s all about perspective.

So before I begin my list of what I’m carrying now… a little perspective. My original pack was the EMS 6500 Canvas Pack. It was one of the better packs sold by EMS back then and weighed 7.5 lbs. This was the first item I replaced in 2020 since the ability to drop over 5 lbs. with one item is unquestionable. My three-season freestanding tent was considered extremely light for the time at 4.2 lbs. Finally my Northface 20 degree synthetic sleeping bag weighed about 4 lbs. And my old Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad was about 2 lbs., so my basic system was close to 18 lbs. I can’t even imagine what else we had with us that took up the other 17 lbs, but to give a general idea, we were carrying an old army multifuel stove and a canister of unleaded gasoline for fuel. Carrying this much weight just seemed like what you did at the time. I was 22 years old and this didn’t seem like a huge deal to me. On the other hand, my father was carrying almost as much as I was and he was 55 at the time (3 years older than I will be hiking the trail), so I can’t even imagine doing that now. But he is an amazing individual who is planning to hike at least a month of the trail with me this time… at the age of 84.

The Big Three – Backpack, Tent, & Sleep System

Obviously these are the items I researched the most since they are titled the big three. My research methods consisted of countless hours of you tube videos, especially watching Dixie, lots of review sites, countless hours discussing gear with the amazing staff at REI. I would occasionally purchase, field tests for a weekend, and returns some items to try something else out.

For my pack I ultimately chose the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. I’m 5’7″ so I chose the medium pack with a medium hip belt. Their website says the weight is 31.5 oz. however my scale says 35.3 oz. I compared this with the Hyperlite Mountain Gear and the Z-Packs Arc Haul Backpacks. First of all, they are all stellar backpacks. I loaded each one with 20 lbs., 30 lbs., and 35 lbs. and took them for long walks. I really wanted to prefer the waterproof dyneema backpacks, but ultimately I found at the 35 lb. limit (the most I think I would ever carry, the Mariposa was the only one that really felt stable on my back so I went with it. Also, I loved the external pockets it sported.  This was not the case with the HLMG pack.

For my shelter I chose the Zpacks Duplex. Before deciding on a tent for my through hike, I bought the River Country Two Person Tent after watching Dixie’s review on a $500 tent vs. a $50 tent. I purchased this tent for $4o and took it on my trek though Great Smokey Mountain National Park and a few other long weekend trips. This is a great budget tent that only weighs two lbs. but does require trekking poles for setup. If I were just doing short trips I may have stuck with this tent, but I don’t want to live in it for six months. Entry is though the small end, which is awkward in the rain and cold, and ventilation is ok but not great, plus it lacks for headroom. However, this tent really helped me determine what I valued in a tent. Most important is entry from the large side. I did attempt the Tarptent Stratosphire tent, and again while I really wanted to like it, the setup was not intiutive at all and eventually I returned it and got the Zpacks Duplex. At 18 oz., this is the perfect tent except for the fact that I can’t look out the mesh at the stars on a perfect night because there is no mesh (it’s a single wall tent). I will take that tradeoff for all the other things I love about it, and if the weather is truly perfect I can always cowboy camp.

Finally is my sleep system, which consists of 4 items and a total of 3.75 lbs. I need good sleep to perform well when I’m hiking, and have taken a few extra steps and a bit of extra weight to reach optimal comfort. I prefer to carry a little more weight to achieve a good nights sleep. I’m what I call a rotisserie sleeper, and therefore need the full width sleeping pad and have opted for a quilt which lets me roll easier. I love my Hammock Gear Economy Burrow 10-degree quilt. It has a simple elastic system to attach it to your sleep pad and help keep it in place. This really works, even for someone who rolls alot. You can also unzip the footbox and use it as a full open quilt. This is great should I have company on the trail and it get warmer (but not warm enough to abandon my quilt). In the summer I just use a fleece liner as a bag. I also have a silk liner which is great extra warmth for all seasons and makes the sleeping pad a bit more comfortable. Finally I carry the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad in the large size and a Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow also in large. There is one last item in my sleep system which seems excessive and is a total luxury. I met a hiker carrying a mini air pump for his mattress and decided to try it. It only weighs 3.5 oz., can fill my air mattress and pillow about 5 times. It charges via USB, and avoids having to fill by mattress with my breath, which is both really annoying at the end of a day of hiking, and also tends to shorten the life of an air mattress by allowing mold to grow inside. I’ll definitely let you know if this particular piece of equipment is worth the extra few ounces and the additional electronic item to keep charged.

Clothing – Packing My Fears

I’m not going to go over everything here, just the highlights. A full list of all my gear is available with the link at the top. However, I would like to mention a few items. Also, as we tend to pack our fears, I will admit that my biggest fear is being cold. I’ve lived most of my life with very little body fat (though I’ve been working on that the past couple years) and also tend to be a cold sleeper. March promises to be a cold start, but I’m still likely overpacking for warmth in the beginning. I can always send stuff home I don’t need, and I’d rather make sure I’m warm and hike a few less miles in the beginning of my trek. Much of the clothing I have was acquired for my trip through Great Smokey Mountain National Park in early May, where I had freezing temperatures, thunderstorms and snow, so I know how much of it works.

I’m trying out socks I’ve not tried before. From following Jay Wanders Out I’m appreciating some of his advice. I’m dedicated to hiking in trail runners, and that usually means wet feet. I have no issue with this when the weather is warm. But when it is close to freezing and the trail turns into a riverbed from the rain, it becomes very uncomfortable. I’m going to try out the Dexshell waterproof socks with Injinji Liners. This is likely just for my hike up through the Smokey’s. From there I will simply switch to the Injinji midweight socks. My toes are closely spaced, and I tend to step on my own pinky toe, so the individual toe socks really help to avoid blisters.

For the rain, I’ve got a Marmot rain jacket (which I tend to wear constantly) and EMS rain pants. Once the weather warms up I’ll send home the pants, but for the cold weather they are indispensable. I’m also carrying a pair of waterproof mitten shells and a very light collapsible umbrella.

My complete layered clothing is as follows. On the bottom I start with EMS synthetic odor control boxer briefs, then either lightweight REI pants, or my SportKilt (which makes the boxer briefs optional). On top I always wear a sleeveless champion synthetic shirt as my base layer, followed by a long sleeve synthetic exercise shirt, then a Patagonia R1 Full Zip Hoody, then a EMS 800 fill puffy, then my rain jacket. Add or remove layers as needed. The R1 hoody is a brand new addition and was my last acquisition because I wanted something to hike in that is breathable and warm in colder weather. That combined with the long sleeve shirt may be overkill, but I’m not chancing being cold out there. Success for me will be directly linked to physical comfort.

I do carry dedicated sleep clothing which is all Marino wool. I also carry multiple bandanas. I use these as head covers, washclothes, napkins, etc. I feel like I can never carry too many, but I’ve limited myself to 3… maybe 4. I also carry camp shoes. At the end of the day, when I put on my dry clothes and socks, I like to have dry shoes as well. When I head into warmer weather I will change out the Crocs for Tevas. Just a style and comfort choice, they weigh about the same.

Feel free to ask me about any other equipment on my list I did not mention here.

Survival, etc. – Packing Their Fears

Since one of my partners is a doctor, the other a medical anthropologist, and I’m an undertaker so I know all the things that can kill you intimately, my first aid kit alone is 20 oz. Besides that I’ve got microspikes for the cold weather, extra cord should I possibly need it, an InReach Mini as required by both of my partners, and a bunch more stuff. Essentially, I’m carrying just over 4 lbs. in just the survival/hygiene category. No apologies here, but I’m sure any ultralight backpacker would have a field day stripping down my stuff from this area.

Kitchen – Keeping it Interesting

I love to cook and I plan to eat well on the trail. I’m the kind of hiker who tends to carry bags of spinach and a couple avocados with me in my food bag. I like to eat my big meal of the day at lunch, taking some extra time at a water source to cook my hot meal, do some yoga, and generally chill for a bit to break up my day. I won’t be cooking in ziplock bags as I don’t relish the idea of consuming microplastics for 6 months of meal prep. I also have no issue with drinking the food rinse water from my pot cleanup. It’s the food equivalent of asking for the dirty water with my Manhattan. I am a bit concerned that my Toaks 750 ml. pot will be a little too small. It will do fine for boiling water for dehydrated meals and for morning tea, etc., but may not be big enough to actually cook pasta sides with spinach and dried veggies or other concoctions in. If I need to upgrade to something a little larger along the way I will cross that bridge when I get there. I’ve also got the Toaks long handled spoon which is awesome for the premade meals in a pouch. My stove is an incredibly inexpensive and very fuel efficient canister stove I got on amazon from AOTU. They say you get what you pay for. If this one lasts more than a month I got my money’s worth. Really interested in how well this holds up. I will keep you all informed.

Electronics – Too Many Gadgets?

Since I plan on doing some experimental Vlogging of this trip, I’m bringing along my GoPro. I’ve never Vlogged before, so I may or may not continue with this the entire trip, but am bringing the equipment anyway just to see how I like it. I will begin this process with a gear video to accompany this post. So that means in terms of extra weight, I’ve got my GoPro, extra batteries and cables, and my battery bank (which I had for the phone anyway). When I hit towns I will also have to deal with charging my headlamp, mattress pump, and wireless earbuds. All my electronics including the phone weigh just over 2 lbs. I found a really nice mount to attach my GoPro to my hiking pole, which lets me turn it on an film as I walk really easily, or stab the pole into the ground and have a simple monopod for video or pictures. I also go myself a new phone for Solstice, and switched over to Verizon, so hopefully I will be well connected for my journey.

Weight Lost, Weight Gained

Over the past thirty years, I’ve learned a ton about hiking and backpacking, honed my skills and my equipment, and changed my approach. As I’ve gotten older and sustained a few injuries from running and weight training, I’ve learned to incorporate a strengthening flexibility routine into my practice. A few years ago I become a Yoga instructor, and try to make it part of my daily routine, especially out on the trail. Also, for better or worse, I’ve gained about a pound a year since I began my backpacking journey. While I’ve reduced the weight in my pack, my net mass has still gone up a bit, which means my knees still have the pleasure of carrying a fair load. Fortunately, this is a long journey, and I’m sure I will both hone my backpack and my body to be a bit more efficient.

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Comments 6

  • Stallspeed : Dec 27th

    Sounds like you’re dialed in. One thing I found useful was a neck knife. It’s readily accessible. You don’t have to try to dig your knife out of your pockets (which sometimes means undoing your hip belt), and you always know where it is. I used a CRKT Folts Minimalist. You can get it on Amazon or other outlets on the net.

    • Michael Brown : Dec 27th

      I’ve considered one. My lockblade that I carry clips to my pack strap, so I’m thinking that does pretty much the same thing for easy access, but then I have to remember to move it to my hip at the end of the day so it’s still easy access. Did the neck knife swing at all or does if just hang like a necklace?

  • Angela : Dec 27th

    Sounds like a comprehensive list!

  • Sabrina : Dec 27th

    You do a great rundown of all your gear! I love that you tell us a bit about why you chose some of the pieces, and I’m especially interested in what you discover about your gear as you travel.

  • Mj : Feb 14th

    Did I read that right? Is part of your sleep system criteria allowing for an on trail hook up?

    • Michael Brown : Feb 14th

      Not really my intent when speaking of company on the trail. Sure, it would be great to have one of my partners join me for short sections of the trail, or even a day or two, so it’s nice to make space for them. But anything else should probably be kept to hotel rooms post shower.


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