Math Matters

Today was our big day.  We’d been putting it off for months, focusing on getting in better condition before carrying any serious weight on our weekend hikes.  But with only six months left before our thru-hike, and the temperature finally dropping, we decided it was time to take the plunge.

So this morning I swapped out my little Osprey daypack for the ULA Circuit I’ll be wearing on the hike.  Since I don’t have all my equipment yet, I put in a five pound dumbbell, various bottles of water, and some throw pillows to cushion the load.  I calculated that — including the pack — I was carrying around fourteen pounds.  It was heavy, surprisingly so, but far lighter than the 25+ lbs. I’ll eventually have to haul.  My husband loaded up his pack with close to thirty pounds.pack1

We set off shortly after dawn on the easiest section of trail we could find.  I could immediately feel the difference.  The added weight pulled on my shoulders.  Going uphill was harder, even on a gentle slope.  I experimented with the straps of my backpack, shifting the weight to various positions, a process I assume I’ll eventually work out.  But fourteen pounds was a lot heavier than I’d expected, causing more stress on my knees and feet – still manageable, but enough to fill me with doubts.  How could I possibly double this load?

I couldn’t, I decided.  Clearly I’d have to get the pack weight down before our hike.  But what could I cut out?  I obviously can’t survive without food and water.  Ditto a sleeping system (hammock, sleeping bag, under-quilt, and tarp). My fleece hoodie?  At 14.5 oz. it’s one of my heaviest items, but it’s incredibly cozy and soft.  Surely I deserve to bring ONE luxury item along as a reward for climbing over those mountains, right?

I kept reviewing my list as we hiked, mentally adding and re-adding the numbers, trying to figure out what to cull.  My pack weighs about two pounds.  The clothes I’ll take are another five.  My sleeping system is also about five pounds – a little heavy, but I need to be warm at night.  Add in toiletries and cellphone, several miscellaneous items, and it added up to the weight I was currently carrying — but still without water and food.  Growing increasingly more discouraged, I went through the list again.

We only went eight miles – half the distance we did yesterday without our packs.  Then we drove home, both of us sobered by the realization that we have a LOT more conditioning to do before the hike.  When we got home we weighed our packs – properly this time, on the bathroom scale.  As we expected, my husband was carrying just over thirty pounds.  The good news for him is that he is already at his maximum weight.  He has six months to get used to it, and he’s good to go.

I stepped on the scale next  — then stared at it in disbelief.  My pack didn’t weigh fourteen pounds.  It weighed twenty!  I got off and on the scale several times to be sure, both with and without the pack, but there wasn’t any doubt.  Thanks to my poor math skills, I’d miscalculated the weight.

I was thrilled.  The hike this morning wasn’t easy.  I definitely have a lot of conditioning to do, and I still have to increase the weight.  But suddenly, our thru-hike seems far more doable, our chances of success greater than they did before we set out.   Hurrah!  Now I just have to improve my math!pack3

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Comments 8

  • Linda Vance : Sep 20th

    Gail, math-wise, wouldn’t sharing a tent with your husband –say the BA Fly Creek 3– weigh less than each of you having a hammock system? I’m thinking 1.75 pounds for half the tent, .75 lbs for a sleeping pad, and 2 pounds for a bag, which would put you at 4.5 pounds for your sleeping system. And you could probably trick him into carrying more of the tent….

    • Gail Barrett : Sep 20th

      Linda, you are right. I’ve thought about this a lot, and a tent is very tempting. But I have arthritic hips, and even my plush mattress at home makes them ache (I’m a side sleeper). I tried some air mattresses at REI and nothing felt comfortable. Add to that our height — I’m 5’10 and my husband is 6’2″ — and by the time we got a tent big enough, we would be carrying the same weight. (I’m still checking and might be able to shave another pound off the hammock system). We have left this decision for last because we’re still thinking, but all things considered, I think I’d sleep better in a hammock. I’m still wavering, though.

      • Linda Vance : Sep 20th

        Ah, the height thing is indeed an issue. You might do okay with the BA High Volume Fly Creek 3, which has more foot height than the regular Fly Creek, but even then I’m not sure you wouldn’t find the bottom of your sleeping bag against the tent. I’m assuming you tried the Thermarest NeoAir Xlite pad, but did you also try the Big Agnes Double Z? I have an arthritic left hip and I found the Double Z provided great cushioning, even though it looks like a pool toy. Its drawback is the lack of insulation, but you’re starting at Harper’s Ferry, so the ground should not be as cold. This is if you go for a tent, of course. I don’t think it would work in a hammock.

        • Gail Barrett : Sep 21st

          Yeah, our height complicates everything. Even with a hammock, we will have to go up a size, which adds weight. We are going to stop by REI in a couple of weeks, so I’ll check out their pads again. My husband has a vivid memory of freezing on the ground during a cub scout trip, though (he was the leader), so he is sold on a hammock. There probably isn’t a perfect solution, but hopefully we can balance comfort and weight.

  • David Krachenfels : Sep 20th

    When I trained for a half marathon, I trained with all the equipment (or similar) that I was going to be using on race day. This helped me prevent injuries, chaffing and aided in a quicker recovery.

    With that in mind, that’s how I practiced before taking my first section hike. For my training hikes I started loading my backpack with what I expected to bring, not all of it but about 20 pounds. With each hike, I added more equipment to slowly get use to the weight. When I got use to the weight, I took on more challenging hikes. I ended up around 30 pounds.

    Food seemed to be the heaviest part of my pack. While I am clearly not as accomplished as some, I will say that Instant Mash Potatos, Tortilla’s, packs of Tuna and packs of peanut butter helped lighten the load.

    Good Luck on your trip!

    • Gail Barrett : Sep 21st

      Thanks for the tips, David. I agree that we need to slowly add weight until we are used to it. That’s what I was trying to do with my “fourteen” pounds. I’ve been wearing my pack with about ten pounds in it around the house whenever I can, and I can already feel the difference in my back muscles. Hopefully six months is long enough to build up to the final weight. Up until now we have been focusing on distance, usually hiking anywhere between 10-20 miles two to three days per week. From now on, we will probably cut the distance and add weight, or maybe do one day of each. The good thing is that we live right near the AT here in Maryland, so we can hike on the actual trail. True, it’s not a very difficult part of the trail, but it’s better than training on a flat road. As far as food goes, I haven’t figured that out yet, but I figure I’ll focus on that this winter. It’s a whole other challenge!!!!!!

  • R2Detour : Sep 21st

    Hope to see you on the trail next year. My husband and I have been on two shakedown hikes with full backs. They have indeed been eye-opening. We also are taking hammocks and I really like it but find the hammock to be a little solitary, so we will try a tandem hang under a single tarp. (Should prove interesting) I look forward to reading more about your training adventure.

    • Gail Barrett : Sep 22nd

      I’d love to see you, too, R2! What does your schedule look like? I like your idea about sharing a tarp. Do you need a special kind to accommodate two people? Or are you just going to try to squeeze the hammocks in under an ordinary tarp? Right now we are looking at the Warbonnet Blackbird hammocks and a Zpacks tarp with doors (for the privacy). We are both tall, so we will go with the XLC version of the hammocks.


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