Equipment Used on the Journey--December
March 17, 2012"I'd love to do what you're doing, but I couldn't carry a 40- to 50-pound pack across the mountains." My wife and I lost count of how many times we heard that during our recent thru-hike of the 2,174-mile Appalachian Trail.
In the olden days - oh, say, about 10 years ago - these people would have been right, but not anymore. Lightweight materials and a new way of using them have brought about a revolution in backpacking equipment.
Even with each of us carrying five days of food (including food for MacAfee of Knob, The Amazing Appalachian Bouncing Dog), two quarts of water, and enough gear so that we would be prepared for snow, rain, and temperatures in the teens, our packs never weighed more than 28 pounds.
Here is rundown of what we used. You may find a few things to help you or someone on your holiday gift list lighten the load:
- Gossamer Gear (www.gossamergear.com) Backpack, $100
Weight: 16 oz.
After-hike opinion: The G4 uses your sleeping pad to give it form, while the shoulder straps and hip belt accept unused clothing (I used the optional 1-oz. foam pads). Designed to carry light loads, there's no need for a lumbar pad. With up to 28 pounds, it was as comfortable, if not more so, than any pack I've used.
Save some money: Obtain a free pattern and material list from the Web site to sew your own G4.
- GoLite (www.golite.com) Women's Pinnacle Backpack, $130
Weight: 1 lb., 7 oz
After-hike opinion: Laurie carried this pack designed specifically for the female torso. Foam padding on the back, shoulder straps, and hip belt provides the form, as well as adding comfort. Made with gridstop nylon, it's quite durable compared to other lightweight backpacks.
You go, GoLite: Kudos to GoLite for embracing ultralight principles years ago.
- Bilgy Too Tent (about $130 for materials and pattern that are available from www.questoutfitters.com or www.seattlefabrics.com)
Weight: 2 lb., 4 oz.
After-hike opinion: The Bilgy is available only as a sew-it-yourself item; designer Bill Gurwell estimates it takes 20 to 50 hours to assemble. The tent is a netting shelter with a floor that is sewn directly onto the silicon-nylon tarp. Your two hiking poles serve as the frame. It was spacious enough for Mac, Laurie, me and all of our gear.
Batten down the hatches: Having lived in the tent for many months, I can attest to its ability to weather unruly Appalachian Mountain storms.
- Western Mountaineering (www.westernmountaineering.com) Apache 15-degree ($375) and Caribou 35-degree ($260) 850-fill Down Sleeping Bags
Weight: Apache 2 lbs., 1 oz.; Caribou 1 lb., 4 oz.
After-hike opinion: What are they doing to geese? Are they genetically engineering them to have fluffier down? When I first started hiking, 500 fill down was the best you could get. Whatever is being done, it translates into warmer bags for less weight. We used the Apache during the colder months and, to save ounces, Laurie switched to the Caribou for spring and summer.
Nothing Beats a Good Night's Sleep: Western Mountaineering's generous sizing permitted my wide girth to be comfortably accommodated.
- Montbell (www.montbell.us) 30-degree UL Superstretch Hugger No. 3 Sleeping Bag $270
Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz.
After-hike opinion: I also switched to a lighter bag during the warmer months. I find many sleeping bags confining, but an innovation by Montbell has changed that. Elastic stitching allows freedom of movement while at the same time drawing the down closer to my body to minimize the dead air space that would need to be heated.
Is Anybody Paying Attention? The elastic stitching is such a clever improvement that I'm amazed other manufacturers don't employ it.
- Therm-A-Rest (www.thermarest.com) Women's Prolite 3 Sleeping Pad, $94.95
Weight: 1 lb. 4 oz.
After-hike opinion: Oh, those brainy folks at Therm-A-Rest. They just keep finding ways to make their sleeping pads lighter. My first pad from them weighed well over 2 pounds. I'm also here to tell that pink isn't just for girls anymore. I carried this rose-colored pad because its full length and added padding in the hips kept me warmer during cold winter nights. During warmer months I used the Prolite Small at only 11 ounces.
Slip Sliding Away! The siliconized nylon floor of the tent we used was so slippery that I tobogganed to the back as soon as I lay down. Applying beads of sticky silicone seal on the sleeping pad solved the problem.
- MSR (www.msrcorp.com) Simmerlite Stove $99.95 with MSR 11 oz. Fuel Bottle $10.95
Weight: Stove 8.5 oz.; Fuel Bottle 2.8 oz.
After-hike opinion: We chose the white gas-powered Simmerlite because it's the lightest stove available that can boil a pot of water in three minutes - something valued when you are cold and hungry. We switched to a 2-ounce homemade alcohol stove (search the Internet for "soda can stoves") once the temperatures warmed up.
Environmental Note: Alcohol is renewable, produces fewer toxins than other fuels, and is water-dispersible.
- Platypus (www.platypushydration.com) 1 Water Bottle $7.95, Hoser 1 $17.95
Weight: One liter bottle .8 oz.; with hose 3.0 oz.
After-hike opinion: I foolishly carried two Lexan bottles for more than 16,000 miles. By switching to the soft-sided Platypuses (Playtypi?), I instantly lost a pound - and had a hydration system I could sip on the fly.
Added Bonuses: Freeze for an ice pack or heat for a warm camp shower. When filled, they make great pillows.
- GoLite Virga Rain Jacket $80 and Reed Pants $70
Weight: Jacket 9 oz.; pants 6 oz.
After-hike opinion: Gore-Tex has lost market share in recent years, and GoLite's breathable, waterproof Alchemy fabric is a reason why. Costing fewer dollars, the jacket and pants kept me dry, weigh a half-pound lighter than most others and require scant pack space.
An option: GoLite's Whim Pants ($50) weigh only 4 oz. and offer a lighter choice if you expect to encounter only drizzle and not heavy rain.
- GoLite Cumulus Sweater $200
Weight: 12 oz.
Fleece jackets are warm and water phobic. However, they are also bulky and heavy when compared to the Cumulus Sweater. It uses 800 fill down, meaning it has lots of loft to capture your body's heat.
Please squeeze: The sweater squeezes to almost nothing when crammed into your pack.
- Thorlo (www.thorlo.com) Socks $12.99 to $17.99
Weight: depends on style and size
After-hike opinion: Thorlos are the only socks that have been on my feet for more than two decades and 12,000 miles of long distance hiking. Need I say more?
Be Patriotic: Thorlos are made in the U.S.A.
- GoLite Dome Umbrella, $25; Sea to Summit (www.seatosummit.com) Trekking Umbrella, $34.95
Weight: 8 oz. each
After-hike opinion: Laurie was dubbed The Umbrella Lady on her first AT thru-hike. For years I resisted using one, but after watching her come into camp dry while I arrived soaked, I embraced the concept and have been grateful ever since. On summer days, you can hike without a jacket and still stay dry.
Bug off: The umbrellas kept gnats from flying into our eyes during rest breaks. They also provided relief from the sun.
- SteriPEN (www.hydro-photon.com) Adventurer Water Purifier $129
Weight: 3.6 oz.
The SteriPEN is possibly the most exciting water treatment method to come along in decades. Press a button and ultraviolet light destroys bacteria, viruses, and parasitic protozoa. Best of all, you can drink the water immediately.
Seems like magic, but must work: We didn't suffer any waterborne illnesses.
- New Balance (www.newbalance.com) 977 Boots, $109.95
Weight: 1 lb., 2.4 oz.
After-hike opinion: I wore the comfortable 977s for the first few hundred miles of the hike. Beefier than trail shoes, they provided good support when carrying heavy loads and kept my feet (more or less) dry when slopping through melting spring snow.
. . . And, too boot: The 977s are in good enough shape that I expect to get many more miles out of them.
- New Balance 810AT Trail Running Shoes, $85
Weight: 12.4 oz.
After-hike opinion: If you get the weight off your back, why keep it on your feet? The 810AT's outsole provided good traction and protection from roots and rocks, while my feet felt like they were walking on a soft sponge. I obtained them just a day before the hike, but experienced no problems due to lack of break-in.
Size Matters: Many manufacturers only offer medium, but New Balance's shoes come in a variety of widths.
- Vasque (www.vasque.com) Velocity Trail Shoes $90
Weight: 1 lb. 12 oz.
After-hike opinion: Laurie liked the Velocity's lightweight and aggressive ground gripping traction.
The shoes are soft and flexible, and the dual density footbed protects feet from sharp rocks. The nylon lining held up well and the breathable Nubuck leather helped keep her feet cool.
A tough shoe: Despite the rugged Appalachian Trail terrain, each pair of the Velocity lasted more than 700 miles.
- Black Diamond (www.bdel.com) Enduro CF Trekking Poles, $119.95 pair
Weight: 16 oz. pair
After-hike opinion: Trekking poles transfer a significant percentage of weight onto your upper body, saving knees and ankles when pounding out the miles. I liked the foam grip and the ease of adjusting the length. We heard many stories about hikers bending and breaking trekking poles; our Enduro CFs had no such problems.
Environmental Plea: Many popular pathways are being chewed apart by trekking poles' pointed tips. Use the available rubber feet.
- High Gear (www.hgihgear.com) Axio, $100
After-hike opinion. In addition to sporting a Swiss-made alitmeter, the Axio has a barometer, thermometer, various alarms and a chronograph (fancy talk for a watch).
Truly waterproof: Never took it off during the entire hike--rainstorms, skinny dipping, or taking a shower to wash off trail grime.