Packing, Part 1: Six Months of Wilderness Living
Choices have been made. It’s surreal and exciting! You’re packing; your feet begin tingling for trail. You can almost taste dewy, morning air and see sunlight peeking over the horizon. Then you panic. Because you have no gear. Or your gear is too heavy. You thought everything would be OK. How are you going to walk 2,185 miles with gear like this?
Use Your Resources When Packing
It’s OK. I’ve been there. I decided on a whim that this was the time for me to hike the Appalachian Trail, but preparations are both crucial and daunting if you have no idea where to begin (which I most certainly did not). Fortunately, thousands of resources exist out there to guide you in this exploratory journey.
I am also here to give you a general breakdown of what gear I have chosen and why, as well as some great alternates that I found. I’m especially interested in providing some detailed insight for my ladies out there taking on this feat.
When I began searching, I had a bit of trouble finding blogs of women who had completed the trail and had detailed their gear (and other intimate notes) for others to read. When I did find them, they seemed to periodically skip over some of my big questions, so I’m here to clear the air.
So, Let’s Begin
First off, learning general details about the trail is going to be a good starting point for finding out what you’re up against.
- What temperatures am I likely to face at these different elevations?
- What the heck does Katahdin feel like in September/October?
- What are my highest and lowest elevations?
- Where am I going to want to plan for shorter day/What will be the toughest portions?
Another great way is to go ahead and invest in the AWOL guide. This provides a wealth of information on everything. (Don’t stress, though. The plans will come. The AWOL guide is great for the later part of your prep in which you map out your journey.)
I began Pinteresting pictures and following links to informative blogs, following suggested hikers on Instagram to watch their progress for the 2018 year (I did this by following @thetrek.co and @appalachian.trail on Instagram) and viewing The Trek website to access more blogs and info.
Documentaries are also a great place to learn (you can see some suggestions in my previous blog post).
Then, I began reading about and viewing the kind of gear that others had used in order to narrow my searching. I started with The Trek’s ultimate packing list.
Relatively lightweight but sturdy pack. The consensus from my research and from bouncing ideas off other hikers (join the Facebook groups) was that roll tops with a light internal frame will be your best friend.
Good back ventilation (this ended up being my final deciding factor).
A few external pockets for emergency items.
Good, solid straps that distribute most of the weight you’re carrying to your hips. Shoulders weren’t made for the extra unnecessary weight, even though they will grow stronger. But you don’t want your shoulders opting out every time you take off and put on your pack.
Lastly, you want a pack with a solid hip belt, which also helps distribute the weight but it mostly gives you support and cushion. You will be walking a long way, so make sure it’s adjustable, cushioned, and has pockets for things that you will want quick access to.
I chose the Granite Gear Crown 2 60. It’s a 60L pack with a carrying capacity upward of 35 pounds (Make sure to check the max carrying capacities. They will usually be listed under the specs). One thing others pointed out repetitively is that you don’t want to get a pack that’s too big, because you will naturally adjust to the size of your pack. Therefore carrying more unnecessary things. The goal here is relatively lightweight.
Side note on budgeting
I am on a pretty strict budget for the trip. I will have plenty of money on trail, but I wanted to be considerate of my funds when picking my gear. So several times I opted for things that cost a little less without sacrificing quality. Although I felt that the Granite Gear was ultimately the best of both worlds. It was initially my first pick, and then after a loooooong process of searching and narrowing, it became my top choice.
Side note to my side note
Also, just because something makes the list doesn’t make it the best choice or the best choice for you. The hiking community likes to use the phrase hike your own hike. The same goes for your gear. Bottom line, read everything about the packs you’re interested in and watch videos. I loved the Mariposa, but it didn’t have as high a packing capacity and in the video was used for a section hike of about three weeks rather than a six-month escapade. So I chose the Granite Gear.
Many people opted for Ospreys, which by far seem the most popular choice. However, they were a tad more expensive and I wanted to go with something a little lighter in weight, since I wanted to keep my base weight as low as possible. And less weight I’m packing in gear is more weight in food. I will discuss base weight more in a future post.
My shelter was one other difficult choice I had to make. Again, I’m trying to keep a relatively reasonable budget when it comes to my gear, so I had to dig a little deeper for this one. Your pack, shelter, and sleeping bag are your big three. They will likely be your heaviest items and also the most crucial to having a successful thru-hike.
I fortunately receive some great perks through my job, so I was lucky enough to acquire a Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL 1 for about $310 with the footprint.
What to Look for in a Tent
I primarily looked for space, lightweight, and insulation specs. Also, ease of use. The BA Copper Spur is crazy quick to put up once you figure it out (I set one up in the REI store before I purchased). This is the fanciest tent I’ve ever had, so it took me a second initially, but once I saw the finished product I was sold.
I super love that it opens from the side, allowing me to move in and out of my tent without having to crawl down, out and over all of my things, which could potentially add more dirt and moisture inside my tent. It also has a great rain cover with a nice little vestibule for my pack. Although I have enough room to pull my pack inside with me if I want. It’s also a three season, which is something I will definitely want when packing through six months of varying temperatures.
This is normally a pretty pricey tent, so my backup was the REI Co-op Quarter Dome 1. This tent has virtually the same design with only about five ounces more in weight and comes in at $279.
Other hikers opted for even more lightweight options like hammocks or Tarptents (I would love to try one at some point) which are quite a bit lighter.
Here’s another breakdown from The Trek.
This is a tough one because I also got a pretty good discount with this one. I opted for the North Face Hyper Cat. It’s roughly two pounds and is a 20-degree bag, which will be good for the various seasons. It seemed like this was around the weight of most of the bags.
Bottom line, you want something lightweight that is insulated and will pack down. I listed a few other more popular options, but this one is ultimately on you and your tolerance for cold weather. Some others chose camping quilts and other variations. You can also cut more weight by choosing more pricey name brands. Unfortunately, a lot of ultralight weight options are going to cost a pretty penny.
Again, another comfort preference. I chose the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite Sol because it’s only 12 ounces, I don’t have to inflate it, and it will give me good separation from the ground (especially in the cold). In my previous camping experiences, I have gotten tired of blowing up sleeping pads. I have one that partially self-inflates and then I only have to blow it up a little. But if there’s anything I know about myself, it’s that when I’m tired, I’m tired. And I just want something I can lay out and collapse onto.
We (Will and I) chose the MSR Pocket Rocket 2. I considered an alcohol stove, but I honestly don’t mind packing the fuel for ease of starting it. However, I would like to check out alcohol stoves in the future. You can even make them yourself if you’re crafty like that. This one also fits right into our cook set, the GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Cookset. There were a few other cook sets I liked, but this one was the most reasonable price-weight ratio. And we may ditch parts of it once we’ve used it a few times, cutting down the weight even more (every ounce counts).
Some people suggested packing a long handle spoon and a pack towel mini for cooking and cleanup. I’m not sure yet whether those are things that will be necessary for us, but I look forward to putting up our shakedown list after a few runs with the new gear.
OK, the last thing I will address in this post is the filtration system and reservoir. I’m going to be using the Sawyer Squeeze filtration system both because it got the most chitchat and I also get a good discount on this as well. This filtration system also fits Smartwater bottles, which is probably what I will carry instead of my Camelbak because of the weight. It also filters a bit more quickly than the mini, so keep this in mind when searching. You will find plenty of other people saying this.
My reservoir will be the Camelbak Antidote 3L. I have a tendency to get dehydrated quite easily, and one of my biggest fears is not having enough water. I may not fill this all the way up for most of the trail, but my thinking is that it will be especially handy when I make it to the areas with far less water. There are a few other options listed on various sites, but I went with my gut. As it turns out, my gut speaks for me a lot (especially when it comes to food and water).
Here is the link to my AT packing guide breakdown:
What suggestions do you have? What gear are you packing? What are you looking at? Why? What feedback do you have for me? Did I leave any unanswered questions I should address in a future post?
Thanks for reading. I will address the specifics of clothing, stuff sacks, food, etc., in my next post. To all of my fellow hikers, get out there and get lost!
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