I once read an article by a woman who quit the Pacific Crest Trail mid-hike. One of the reasons was that she never quite found her “trail family,” though I got the impression she was even more disappointed by her lack of “trail tail.” (Yep, that’s a real thing.) Another reason was that she found the thru-hiking culture elitist — apparently, all anyone ever talked about was how many miles they’d walked, when they’d started, and what gear they carried. Mostly they talked about their gear, with the ultra-ultra-light folks looking down on those who carried a few extra pounds, whether in their packs or on their bodies.
What made me think of this is that a woman contacted me a couple of days ago. Four years older than I am, she is also thinking about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s been nice connecting with someone more in my demographic than is generally prevalent in the hiking forums, someone who shares my particular worries.
Our last few exchanges have been about — drum roll — you guessed it! Our gear.
Since neither she nor I are planning on doing monster miles (don’t you love all these thru-hike terms I’m throwing at you?), we both agree that comfort is more important than a bit of extra weight — a comfortable pack, a comfortable sleep system, a comforting amount of emergency supplies. (Some of the lightest of the ultra-light hikers dispense with such “unnecessary” things as an emergency medical kit, a compass, extra socks, iodine tablets or something like that for a backup water purifier.)
In case you’re curious, these are my “big three” — the term for pack, tent, sleep system: Gregory J53 pack; Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, Big Agnes double z insulated sleeping pad, and a zero-rated Enlightened Equipment camping quilt.
I couldn’t decide what size tent to get, so I ordered the UL2 (which means an ultra light two person tent). I immediately regretted not ordering the UL1 (a one-person tent) because it would have been a bit of weight saving, but the tent I ordered is a good size for me, and the weight just doesn’t seem worth worrying about. (Though thru-hikers worry about every fraction of an ounce. Some even cut off the handle of their toothbrush and trim the various straps on their backpacks.) So far, the only time I’ve used the tent was on my cross-country trip — I was so cold, I put the Big Agnes inside my big dome tent. I really enjoyed having a canopied bed!
A zero-rated quilt or sleeping bag is one that will keep you alive, though not necessarily comfortable, at zero degrees. My quilt barely keeps me warm when the temperature drops to thirty-five degrees, but I also have a second, lighter quilt I could bring, or perhaps half of a fleece throw. Why a quilt? I don’t like sleeping bags. Too confining. And it takes too much time to unzip. With an aging bladder, I figure I need to be able to get up as quickly as possible. (Too much information, I know, but this is the sort of thing I have to contemplate that young hikers don’t.)
And the sleeping pad — what can I say? It’s a bit heavier than what some people bring, a lot heavier than what the ultra-ultra light hikers use, but it is comfortable, and it keeps the ground temperature from being a problem. (Normally, I sleep propped up on a few pillows, but somehow, I can’t see me wandering the wilderness with a huge mound of pillows tied to the outside of my pack, though it would provide amusement to anyone who saw me.)
My “big three” weighs a total of ten pounds, which doesn’t sound like much until you consider all the other stuff I will need to carry. I’m hoping to keep clothes and the small bits of gear to a maximum of eight pounds, which would give me a base weight of 18 pounds, which is respectable, but I don’t know if I can do it. I, for one, need to have extra socks and other such amenities. And then, on top of that, there is all the food and water that needs to be carried. This should be enough to make me want to give up on my impossible dream, but oddly, all it does it make me consider how to get rid of the impossible part and keep only the dream.
There. Now you too got to participate in gear talk. Wasn’t that fun?
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Unfinished, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.