Thursday, March 15, 2012

The bearable lightness of backpacking

I believe that I have said before that back in the day, the wilderness rangers would wander down to the barn, where we would oh-so-casually hang our loaded pre-hitch packs on the scale to see what kind of weight we would be carrying. Typically mine would top out between seventy and eighty. We didn't complain about this because, well, that would be wimpy. Instead, each of us threw out little remarks like, "Oh, it's light this time. Only sixty-eight pounds!" Unlike regular hikers, we collected the stuff that people left in the backcountry, so by the time we returned our packs were even heavier. Secretly, I kind of liked having a heavy pack. Secretly, each of us thought we were badass.

Which makes me laugh as I prepare a gear list for the JMT. Now people are in pursuit of the lightest gear possible, and "base weight" is the new catchphrase. As in, "my base weight before food and water is eleven pounds!" That is now considered badass.

I don't know what my base weight will be, but I am aiming for a total weight of less than thirty pounds. I know I could go super lightweight and only take a tarp and a pack with no stays, but the whole point is the balance between comfort and lightness. Time will tell if I can get there. So far the main items I will be carrying are:

Pack: Deuter women's ACT Lite 60 (something like that anyway). Gone are the days of the seven pound Gregory packs! This one is about two pounds.

A Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 tent. Yes, I could share a tent with one of my companions, but I don't sleep that well anyway, and this tent is featherweight. No tarping it because, well, mosquitoes.

A Go-Lite sleeping bag of +20. My go-to summer bag.

My Thermarest NeoAir. Love, love, love.

Aqua Mira water purification tablets. I like filters, but they are heavy and can clog. I can deal with plop and fizz for three weeks. Also, I got something similar to giardia when I worked in the Sierras, so I'm not willing to take the chance of untreated water.

Clothes: Mostly lightweight smartwool and icebreaker to keep the stink down. A skort, for fashion. My lightweight down puffy. Rain gear. Pretty much I will wear the same clothes for three weeks.

Merrell pace glove shoes for river crossings and camp, and to hike in if I need to. I will mostly hike in my Ahnu boots.

Miscelleaneous first aid stuff, toiletries, and my luxury item, a Kindle and solar charger, so I can read at night.

For a stove, my friend may bring her whisperlite, we have not decided yet.

And this: 

Because (gasp) there are bears! It is one pound something ounces which kind of bugs me, but when I worked in the Sierras the bears were a menace. You regularly piled up rocks beside your tent as weapons for the inevitable midnight visit. The bears were so smart that they figured out how to climb a tree and jump down on your food bag, bringing it to the ground. Since these canisters have been required, the problems have reportedly abated significantly.

My friend Ken used to say I had "packing anxiety" because I would pack for a trip way in advance, then unpack and throw things out, repack, and so on.  I wouldn't say I am anxious, not yet. After all, the trip is five months away. Plenty of time to weigh, and throw out, and repack. Right?

If you do a lot of backpacking, what is your weight goal?

14 comments:

  1. Good idea to bring the Pace Gloves - they feel great and so light on long uphill stretches when you have tired feet. And as long as it is warm outside, you can just walk through streams and they'll dry really fast.

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  2. Planning for packing is so fun! I had about 30 lbs on my trip with Meghan Hicks and it was comfy,

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    1. Yep...I can handle 30. Any more and it is just a slog.

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  3. I'd make myself crazy trying to pack for a trip of this length. You'll have to share your gear list after you get back and let us know what you found essential.

    The water shoes are a great idea. My feet are happy to be relieved from the boots when we camp for the night and take midnight potty runs.

    I'm probably wayyyy too heavy, 25 lbs. for a few day trip, but I love being comfortable. I've had a bunch of "pack too light, freeze at night" trips and those just ain't fun, ya know?

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    1. Ha ha. I have a friend who we call Go light, freeze at night for that very reason.

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  4. I love packing! For me it is a great puzzle trying to fit in just the right items for maximum comfort and minimal fuss. Often the more restrictions (carry-on only, limited car space, ultra-light, water restrictions, etc) the more interesting it is to me to think about what I'll take.

    I've been working on the long-range gear list for a 6-day backpacking trip at the end of May since December.
    I did one practice pack already and I'm sure I'll do a few more before May.
    I hope you post more about what you're planning to take and why!

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    1. Oh yes, the obsession about what to take has just begun.

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  5. i'm backpacking on monday in the black mountains then again i april in canyonlands. i'm curious about a) those purification tablets (is there a taste?) and b) the bear-proof canister (what's it called so i can do a search on rei.com?)
    thx mary! wish i could hike the jtm w/ you.
    kt

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    1. Katey, I am jealous of your backpacking so early. The canisters are called bearikade and are the lightest around but spendy. Not sure about the taste...I think it is better than iodine. I would bring a filter on a shorter trip.

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  6. Don't forget your camera! Hopefully you can connect your solar charger to it too.

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  8. Just dropping by to say I've been reading and loving your blog since I saw it mentioned in Permanent Vacation! I am only SEVEN WEEKS away from my first seasonal job, managing an espresso shop in Glacier Park this summer. I am so excited and I'm looking forward to my inaugural summer with the seasonal tribe.

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  9. Yay Bethany. I hope you love it.

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  10. I'm aiming to be the lightest I've ever been for my PCT epic!! There's been some new purchases that I aim to test drive in May and June, but I want to be around 20 lbs. loaded with food and water. It's going to keep my joints healthy - we're talking about hiking all day every day for 4 frickin' months! There's a bunch of companies designed for thru-hikers by thru-hikers - guys who have a shop in their garage. I've bought some stuff from Z-Packs and Mountain Laurel. Awesome. And exciting!

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