Going Light Vs Being Comfortable

Before I started my thru-hike in 2015, I was obsessive about getting my pack as light as possible. I cut the tags out of my clothing, spent thousands of dollars on lightweight gear and weighed everything on a scale before I even considered putting it into my pack. When I started, my base weight was about 15 pounds. Not the lightest in the world, but it was pretty light. I noticed that throughout the course of the hike, my pack ended up getting heavier and heavier. This is because I realized that there are certain things that are just worth carrying that make day-to-day life on the trail infinitely more enjoyable.

I am by no means here to bash ultralight backpacking. I still take full advantage of the principles of this backpacking philosophy, especially the take what you need and leave what you don’t part. I don’t see any reason to make my pack heavier than it has to be. I have simply come to learn that pack weight isn’t everything and that there is no reason to deprive yourself of a few simple comforts to make your life better while you beat the living hell out of yourself for over 2,000 miles.


Things I Prefer not to Skimp on:

Food and Water

I would literally be willing to save weight anywhere else but here. These are the only two things that are going to keep you healthy and alive while backpacking. I would rather not take that risk. This is not to say that you need to go overboard with your food and pack 10 days worth between a three-day stint between resupplies, but if I want to eat something, I sure as hell am not going to let the weight of the food deter me from throwing it in my pack.

Sleeping Pad

I have used the foam sleeping pads and have slept on the bare ground and in all honesty, it sucks. I will take the few extra ounces of weight for the inflatable sleeping pads any day as long as I can get a good night’s sleep. As much as you’d like to think it, you are not a machine, you need to sleep well to recover and prepare for the next day’s hiking.


Inflatable Pillow

Call me spoiled, but sleeping on a stuff sack of clothing is really not my gig. Coming in at around 2 oz, my inflatable pillow is worth its weight in gold. As mentioned above, nothing beats a sleeping well on the trail, except for maybe pizza.

Water Bag

Having a large water bag to carry down to a water source and to haul water back up to camp is a huge time and effort saving tool. The larger the bag, the less trips you have to make to the water source. The one I cared was about 6 liters and gave me all the water I needed to refill my fiancé and my water bladders and to cook for dinner and breakfast. All of these types of bags are made of plastic so the weight they add to the pack is nominal and totally worth it!


Backup Battery

When I first started the AT I had a very tiny backup battery that also functioned as a wall charger for my phone. That thing flat out sucked. It took twice as long to charge my phone because it was charging its internal battery as well. It also barely recharged my phone when it was fully charged. In Virginia I upgraded to a fairly substantial, as far as pack weight is concerned, backup battery and loved every second of it! I could then read my books at night, listen to my music and audiobooks and take pictures without fear of my phone dying on me all the time. It was worth every ounce.

Portable Speaker

Ok, this was a major luxury item but I loved the shit out of it. My fiance, our friend Lucky and I spent countless hours listening to audiobooks together starting around Pennsylvania. This staved off some of the monotony of the day to day hiking of the trail and really allowed us to grow our personal relationships with one another. We would wake up and be excited to hike so we could listen to more of the book we had been sucked into. There may or may not have been multiple dance parties as well. It was one of the best items I ever decided to add to my pack!

What I Learned

Saving as much weight as possible is always a good idea. This puts less stress on your body and can allow you to hike farther and longer because you don’t have as much weight bearing down on you all the time. I however noticed that thru-hiking doesn’t have to mean that you must be like a buddhist monk searching for enlightenment by living in total deprivation. You are still YOU out on the trail, just a cooler, scrawnier version. If you feel the need to throw an extra pound or so into your pack to make your life better and to make you happier, don’t let a number on a scale deter you. If you can handle it (which you can) then add the extra 6 oz for god sake!

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Comments 13

  • Stan Stasiewicz : Apr 28th

    Planning on a thru hike next year. You mentioned a backup battery pack but didn’t say what brand. Also, what mobile company are you with? Anyone using Google’s Project Fi?

    Thanks and safe trip,


    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : Apr 28th

      I believe the backup battery was a brand called Anker that I found online and had shipped to a hostel. I’m not sure the brand really matters as long as the battery can provide you with multiple charges. I used Verizon service on my thru-hike.

    • Darrell Barrett : May 6th

      I use Project Fi and love it. However, it doesn’t work too well on much of the AT but does in most towns.. I carry two phones; my Google pixel xl on Fi and an LG g5 using a no contract Verizon sim. Boom Mobile gives you access to Verizon’s domestic roaming partners which is important in many rural areas such as Hot Springs. But, Fi through US Cellular does in a few rural areas like Hot Springs and N.H.

  • Dean : May 2nd

    Great post. I’m a fan of the ultralight philosophy someone shared with me made and have made my own as well… Ultralight is a means to an end: going further, faster and more comfortably. If having a pillow allows you to sleep better and feel more refreshed, thereby hiking faster and further, then the goal has been achieved.

    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : May 9th

      I agree 100%!

  • Clydesdale : May 3rd

    I love my Aeros pillow!

  • Sweeper : May 5th

    Bronco, I made it to Hot Springs last year before I gave in and bought an inflatable pillow. Packed it up and put it in the stuff sack with my sleeping bag every day, hardly even knew it was there! Another “luxury item” I liked was my crocs.

  • Scott "clorox" Moore : May 5th

    I Thru- hiked the trail in 2002. At that time cell phones weren’t really an option, nor were chargers. I didn’t have anything electronic. I didn’t have a pillow, but a sleeping bag sack stuffed with a bit of clothing sufficed. Always have plenty of food and water.
    The one thing that always cracked me up was how everyone would ask me “what kind of gun did you take?” I’m pretty sure a gun weighs three or four pounds plus there’s no way in heck I would ever take one of those up there. It was truly the experience of a lifetime. April 1st to September 1st.

    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : May 9th

      I still get asked if I took a gun. Not a chance!

  • Steffy Z : May 5th

    What speaker did you bring?

    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : May 9th

      It was a JBL Clip

  • Roo : May 7th

    I just hit Pearisburg after starting my flip-flop in GHSP (woot!) and promptly began shopping for a new charger. It sucks not to read because my phone might die! But my Top Ten piece of gear in my pack right now is my trekking umbrella. BEST. THING. EVER!

    • Paul Bronco Fuzinski : May 9th

      I still use my charger all the time off the trail


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