Backpacking Gear Check

April 3, 2014 — Leave a comment

Just when I believe I’ve got it all figured out… I have to run off and change something.  And by “change,” I mean different.  Not necessarily better.  Just different.

Pack weight is the holy grail of backpacking and experienced long-distance backpackers are always looking for ways to reduce their pack weight.  Some forego the comfort of cooking hot meals on the trail.  Others purchase insanely priced and light-weight materials and even others go so far as to cut the unused straps off their backpacks.  When it comes to saving weight on the trail, I don’t believe I’ve seen it all — but I’m definitely not surprised by what I see.

I wouldn’t consider myself a chronic over-packer, but I tend to obsess over items I pack that don’t get used.  At the end of the hike, I’m always evaluating the gear I brought to determine if it is truly necessary.  Can that item be replaced by another item that performs other tasks or was it really required for my comfort or survival?  If I’m guilty of carrying more than I should, it’s always water.  I’m still haunted by that weekend on the Art Loeb Trail when carrying THREE LITERS of water between sources wasn’t enough.  I still refer to the Art Loeb Trail as the Bataan Death March.

In some instances, these items are for specific purposes.  For instance, a first-aid kit.  Not exactly something you’re going to complain about bringing should you ever need anything in it.  (And since I consider Second Skin and mole skin as part of my first-aid kit, I’m often using it anyway.)  In some cases you pack things that you don’t end up using because someone else used theirs (fire-making materials, for example).

So here is a breakdown of the gear I took on this trip.  Total pack weight, with 2 liters of water, was 29 pounds (according to my luggage scale).  That’s approximately a 25 pound pack without water.  Easily one of the lightest packs I’ve ever had but I believe the new goal will be to shave another 4 pounds off my total pack weight.

Replacing these items would save weight, but cost more money:
REI Ridgeline 65 Pack — I’m certain I could cut this weight in half if I moved to a lighter pack; say a 45 liter capacity.  Of course, that means I have to carry less or more compact stuff.
Hennessey Hammock Expedition Asym Classic — When the ridgeline in this hammock broke, I replaced it and the suspension system with a Whoopie Sling “All in One” system.  Replacing the webbing with thinner straps and the thick cordage with Amsteel probably saved me weight but the aluminum rings and carabiners probably negated that weight savings.  Replacing the carabiners with toggles might save some weight but replacing the hammock with one made of lighter material would save more.
Sierra Designs Wild Bill 20 Sleeping Bag — This has been a great sleeping bag for many years, but this may be one of the first pieces of gear I replace.  I need something that will compress more and newer bags easily weigh a pound less.  Again, it’s all about how much you’re willing to spend for a lighter pack.
REI Trekker Sleeping Pad — Some sort of insulation between your body and the hammock (or tent) is necessary, especially during early Spring, late Fall or Winter camping.  This sleeping pad weighs about 1.5 pounds… and sprung a leak on this trip.  I haven’t investigated to determine if it’s repairable, but there are other options.  Brian actually used a short length of Reflectix.  Not only was it super light-weight, but also reflects body heat!

Clothing choices:
Clothing choices are always tricky, especially when you’re transitioning between seasons.  It’s hard to balance between bringing too much and dealing with what you’ve got and didn’t bring.
Shorts — Didn’t wear, but brought for convenience.  I would have worn them but didn’t feel like digging them out of my pack and putting them on the second day of the hike.
Starter brand Under Armor long-sleeve top and pants — I slept in these and used them as additional layers during the morning/evening hours.  No change.
REI synthetic briefs (1 pair) — Didn’t use the extra pair, but I think I’ll keep an extra pair, just in case. o.O
Wool socks (1 pair) — Worn on the 3rd day when my feet were starting to look gnarly and clean, dry socks were what the doctor ordered.
Long-sleeve Nike Dry Fit pullover — Worn on the 3rd day when the cold front moved in.
Light-weight gloves — Didn’t use but would have been handy on the 3rd day if I didn’t leave them at camp.
REI Skull cap — Used off/on during the trip as climate dictated.
REI hat — I think I forgot to mention this in a previous post. Worn the majority of the trip and only removed in favor of the skull cap.
North Face rain jacket — Used on the 3rd day, but I believe the material has given up the ghost.  Time to replace this jacket.

No change to this gear:
All this gear was used.
Jetboil SOL-AL — I could possibly leave this at home and use a campfire (if available/permitted) to heat water.  Would require packing a fire-proof container, though.
Trowel
Toilet paper
Hand sanitizer
Petzl e+LITE (headlamp)
Leatherman Skeletool CX — I carry this every day in my pocket, infinite uses while on the trail.
REI Hiking Poles
Crocs (best camp shoes ever!)
Body Glide
Platypus 1 liter collapsible water container

Gear taken but not used (likely won’t take again):
Sandwich bag Ziplocs — Anything you can fit into a sandwich-sized bag, you can fit into a gallon-sized bag.  I’m a bit obsessive with protecting items from the weather so always tend to pack more than I need.

Gear taken but not used (will take again):
Epi-pen — Not the season for wasps, but better to have and not need than to need and not have.
50′ Paracord — Bummed a ride on someone else’s hanging food bag, but would have used otherwise.
First-aid kit — Always
1 gallon Ziplocs (x2) — Not used; Maybe reduce to 1 in the future?
Compass — Always, but I forgot the map to make this a useful item.
Whistle
Firestick fire starter — Always have fire-starting material.
Lighter
Home-made fire starters (x4)
Poncho — Usually always in the pack independent of the forecast.  It’s light enough I believe it’s more convenient to have than risk getting unnecessarily wet.
A sample pack of baby wipes — When TP ain’t enough to get the job done.

Gear I will change out:
Knock-off brand CamelBak & Water purification tablets — As previously mentioned in comments on another blog post, I’ll be re-doing the way I manage my water.  Ever since that dreaded trip on the Art Loeb, I’ve always been obsessive about how much water I have on hand and check it frequently during breaks on a hike.  Because the CamelBak is packed in my bag, I can’t ever immediately know how much water I have left.  During this most recent trip, I was never less than a liter between water sources, but I didn’t know that until I checked.  I believe being able to immediately see how much water I have on hand would be more useful and less stressful.  I’ll supply that 1 liter plastic bottle with a 1 liter Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter (that I would keep full until filtered, providing me with 2 liters total water on hand).  Essentially the weight doesn’t change, just the method I use to manage water.
Yard-waste trash bags (the huge ones) (x2) — I’ll reduce this to just one.  I like to use yard bags as a barrier between my gear and the ground (especially if wet).  It can also serve other purposes if necessary but they do have some weight to them so two was too much.

Food choices on this last trip:
Not sure if/how I’d switch out my food choices — freeze dried meals are about as light as they get.
Mountain House Entrées (x5)
Mountain House Breakfasts (x2)
Jack Links beef jerky (1 bag) — More of a “comfort food” on the trail, while I enjoy a bag of beef jerky on the trail, it has a pathetic calorie/weight ratio.
Publix California trail mix (1 container repackaged in Ziploc bag) — Easy to eat while on the go, great energy (calorie/weight ratio) and tasty.  Always room in my pack for trail mix.

In summary, a backpacker’s load-out is dynamic: it frequently changes depending on the distance, terrain, season and purpose of the hike.  What I packed for this trip will be slightly different for future destinations in a different season.

Weight-wise, backpacking during the colder seasons typically results in heavier pack weight due to packing more layers or heavier sleeping bags.  Therefore, I’d expect my pack weight would be less for any Summer expeditions I might attend.  My greatest weight-savings would be in down-sizing my backpack and purchasing a lighter (more expensive!) sleeping bag.

Functionally, the only thing I presently intend on changing is water management.  After carefully observing how each person on my last hike managed their water needs, I decided that Brian, by far, had the best approach and I intend on copying it verbatim. Of course, I’ll keep that collapsible 1 liter bottle, just in case we return to the Art Loeb Trail.

Aaron Melton

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