The Obligatory Gear Post
There’s no two ways about it, thru-hikers (and hopefuls, like myself) are obsessed with gear. We like to blog about it, read about it, watch YouTube videos about it while brushing our teeth (well, OK, that’s just me), and perhaps most importantly, send out pictures of it artfully arranged in a Tetris-inspired geometric display that would give Piet Mondrian a run for his money. (This typically occurs moments to days before we unartfully shove it in our packs and run it into the ground over the course of our treks.)
Why would should you care? Well, if you’re an aspiring thru-hiker like I was when I read countless of these posts, perhaps you shouldn’t (reading a gear list from someone who is about to embark on—but hasn’t yet completed—a thru-hike is pretty much like the visually impaired leading the blind). Despite that, there’s still a sort of magic to the notion of reducing your primary personal effects to 15-odd pounds, and I can still remember the first time I was struck by such magic: I was researching sleeping bags for my upcoming trek in Peru in June 2017, and I stumbled across Nathan Bauman’s CDT gear list video. Despite growing up backpacking, I’d never seen anything like some of the gear he was carrying—had never heard of Cuben Fiber or seen a quilt before—and had no idea how he fit it into such a tiny pack. At 15 pounds, the things I’ll be carrying don’t fully rival the magic of his about nine-pound base weight, but I’m pleased with it despite that. Thru-hiking is about figuring out what you need to survive and what you can live without, and I’m happy about where I’ve landed. What you should know is that it is highly subject to change—that my gear already looks quite different than the initial list when I started my major planning for this hike in the fall—and will likely continue to evolve as I go down the trail and realize that this thing isn’t warm enough, or that thing is useless, or that I really don’t have time to read my kindle after all. But without further ado, the gear I’ll be starting off with is as follows:
The Big Three
The holy trinity for thru-hikers and the bulk of the weight and substance of their gear consists of three items: tent, sleep system (realistically this is bag/quilt + sleeping pad), and backpack.
–Zpacks Arc Haul: I love almost everything about this pack. Weighing in at just a little over 1.5 pounds, it’s pretty much a feather, but the frame is strong, the ventilation is amazing (the back panel “arcs” out to allow for airflow between my back and the pack), and the fabric is surprisingly durable for the weight (I’ve bushwhacked with this thing and butt slid down White Mountains rocks and nary a tear so far). I also really like the organization that the external mesh pocket, two side pockets, and huge dual hip belt pockets provide. After several trips with it, I feel like I know how to pack it and where everything is once it’s in. Downsides are minor: the load lifters tend to slip and the stitching on the shoulder straps gives me blisters if I wear it with a racer back top.
–Big Agnes Copper Spur Platinum: An expensive but amazing fully freestanding tent. I tinkered with not-freestanding shelters but found that I didn’t have the energy to get the perfect pitch/location they require (and was anxious about it, to boot, after my tent collapsed on me in the middle of a windy night in the Grand Canyon). This puppy goes up and down in a flash and should be roomy enough to accommodate friends that are joining me for parts of the trail.
–UGQ Bandit 10 Degreee Quilt (24 ounces): I love the quality of this light quilt (for those of you who haven’t heard, quilts offer a lighter alternative to mummy bags by forgoing the hood and zipper, and essentially must be arranged under you so that the open portion faces your insulation-providing sleeping pad). This is a beautifully made piece of gear, but as with many quilts and bags, I find the temp rating to be unreliable. (On my Colorado Trail section hikes, I found myself shivering on nights in the mid 30s that didn’t break the freezing point). To overcome this, I’ve paired it with:
–Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor sleeping bag liner: Allegedly an additional 15 degrees of warmth in an eight-ounce package. I’m hoping I can mail it home by the Oregon border when the nights warm up.
–Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite: These things are insanely expensive but they are made of miracle sleep. Even my somewhat camping-averse (but very supportive) mother thought that lying on it was akin to sleeping on a cloud. I got the women’s version, which is shorter but adds more warmth for the weight (R value 3.9).
–REI Sahara Long Sleeve Shirt: A desire for protection from the reportedly mutant mosquitoes in Oregon converted me from a tank top hiker to a hiking-shirt-wearing junior-explorer/park-ranger wannabe. We’ll see how it does when it gets really hot.
–Spandex shorts: Had some ants crawl up my running shorts while lying on the ground during a break in Colorado and I think I may never go back.
–Altra Lone Peak 3.5: I’m a believer. Once you convert to the clown shoe toe box, you’ll never go back.
–Dirty Girl Gators: All the cool kids wear them. My tan lines will never be the same.
–Patagonia Barely Bra: Insanely comfortable. I splurged because I’ll be wearing it for more than three consecutive months.
–Arc Teryx Cerium Hoodie (9.5 oz): REI Garage Sale for the win — I snagged this incredibly warm and light puffy for a fraction of it’s sale price.
–Awkward pink long johns (7 oz): I’ll be sleeping in these weirdo 32 degree brand Kids XL tops and bottoms that my mom got me from Costco.
–OR Helium II rain coat: Like others report it wets out eventually and it doesn’t breath as well as something with, well, pit zips, but it’s light, makes a good windproof layer on top of my puffy, and should be OK for the PCT, a relatively dry trail.
–ZPacks possum down gloves: these are new so I haven’t tested them yet. The consensus seems to be not to wear them while using trekking poles, as they’re fragile and wear down. I managed to lose three gloves in 4 days on the CT (lost my original, fortunately very cheap) pair, then found a pair, of which I lost one glove, so if I can hold on to these, I’ll call it a win.
–Light Hat: This hat is metallic silver and looks absolutely ridiculous on me, but it’s light and Vic and I bought it at the Ragged Mountain outlet in North Conway, so there’s that.
–Extra pair of Darn Tough quarter length
–Extra pair of ExOfficio underwear
–Sony RX100 M3
–Ocean Signal RescueMe PLB: If I get in big trouble, I can use this to signal for help by transmitting my position and an SOS signal to search and rescue via a government satellite network.
–Kindle paper white: I’ve decided not to start with this (I’ll take study materials for the medical boards instead… w00), but may have it sent in eventually.
The big news is that I’m not taking a stove. Yes, it sounds crazy, but honestly, after a long day of hiking I’m usually too tired to get excited about cooking anyway. I’ll be eating a lot of crackers and cheese, tuna (which can be purchased in relatively lightweight foil packets), dried fruit, nuts and nut butters, tortillas, salami, and candy (none of which need to be warm), and also cold soaking minute rice and dehydrated beans, ramen noodles, and couscous, which all rehydrate well without hot water. Yes, I’ll miss hot chocolate, but c’est la vie.
–Talenti gelato container (this will serve as my bowl and I’ll use it for cold soaking the food mentioned above.
–Opneal Pocket knife: I bought this years ago and while the blade has dulled significantly and it’s rusted a bit, I’m still partial to it.
–ZPacks bear bagging kit: The great accomplishment of my CT hike was getting better at bear bagging food.
–Katadyn BeFree water filter
–Smartwater bottles, two to three (so much lighter than Nalgenes; I’ll never go back for backpacking)
–Toothpaste/toothbrush (handle still in place. Call me old fashioned.)
–Contact solution and case
–Baby wipes (one per day)
–First aid kit
–Toilet paper, trowel
–Peestyle: Ladies, think about adding this to your pack the next time you’re in the woods. Once you start peeing standing up you feel about ready to conquer the world.
–Bug net (not pictured)
–Trekking poles (carried)
–Write-in-the-rain notebook + pen (for nightly journaling)
I’m hoping to send this home by the end of week two, but it’ll probably be needed when I start in the still-snowy North Cascades.
–Camp Corsa Nanotech ice axe
–Rain pants (pictured in packed clothing)
The ounces add up, and long distance hikers are obsessed with them. So for an itemized tally of what my gear weighs, check my lighter pack (or just glance at the summary below). The Tl;Dr version is that my pack will weigh 15 pounds when I start, and should get about 1.5 pounds lighter when I shed my snow gear one to two weeks later.
I bought a lot of this stuff used, and for any aspiring thru-hikers out there, I highly recommend joining used gear swap Facebook groups (I rejoined FB pretty expressly for this purpose and it’s been worth it), following the Gear Swap forum at backpacking light, shopping on REI used (I bought my last pair of shoes there for more than 60 percent off and they look brand new! and/or waiting for big sales/Massdrops. Thru-hiking is expensive, and you don’t need to spend all of your money on full-priced gear.
So that’s it. That’s what I’ll carry. Can’t wait to update you about how this changes, and more importantly, how I change, as I head down trail. Until then,
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