When I first started hiking, it was as a scout and a kid many, many years ago. Like most of us from that era, my gear list consisted of a pup tent, department store sleeping bag, army canteen & cook set and whatever else I thought would be neat to have along. When I briefly tried to take up hiking again in my early 20s, it was pretty much an embarrassment. I went out and bought the largest capacity external frame expedition pack I could lay my hand on and proceeded to fill it with every imaginable piece of gear. It must have weighed in around 50-60lbs.
This isn’t an uncommon story. I hear it told over and over again from hiking and backpacking enthusiasts. My most recently outdoors incarnation is closer to 30-35lbs and is considered quite luxurious by the lightweight community (some might go so far as to call it extravagant, grin); things like a full length pad, spacious tent, a stove capable of trail cooking and reliable/robust water filter are all important to me.
While I’m not interested in the super ultralight scene, I do think there is still significant room for optimization in my load. So I thought it might be best to start with a new mission statement for rebuilding my backpacking “build” or “spec”. So what is important to me?
- I prefer bug and weather proof shelter systems. I’m not the “chew mosquitoes, sleep in pine straw and dry out later” sort.
- I like to actually cook things and have some culinary flexibility while backpacking. Simply “boil and hydrate” or no-cook dining doesn’t cut it for me.
- I despise chemical water purification; even the most praised varieties of this method fail to meet my standards for taste and speed (I’m look at your Miox).
- I do like backpacking luxuries, particularly gadgets; GPS for recording the trip (more so than navigation), digital camera for pictures, iPod for occasional musical interlude, pad & paper for thoughts and maybe a nature guide for reference.
- I consider not including food & water in your back weight to be “cheating”. If you’re going to carry it, weigh it.
- I like being “in the field”. I don’t like popping on and off trail for resupply unless we are talking about a very long distance hike (AT, PCT, etc).
- I don’t consider a bottle of ibuprofen and a multi-pack of bandages to be a first aid kit.
- Hygiene counts. I wash, shave and maintain a basic level of cleanliness on my outings. I don’t need a solar shower and portable jacuzzi but the “gone feral” thing does nothing for me.
- Durability and Price is important to me in gear. I know full well that one can spend thousands of dollars on extremely fragile, bleeding-edge gear with a lifespan of one season or less, but this isn’t an option for me. I am perfectly willing to tack on a few more ounces for durability and cost savings.
- Weekends are generally all that is available to me for backpacking trips, including travel time.
- I’m not an adventure trail racer sort. I’m horrified of the thought of jogging through the woods. I’m there for the journey, not the destination. However, I do prefer long hikes and lots of miles.
After all those considerations, I’d like my first draft hiking load to hit 25lbs or less for a full weekend’s hike. Obviously weather, climate and other considerations can greatly affect what you should carry, but let’s assume south eastern United States, surf to summit settings in all but the worst weather (snow storm and “monsoon”).
I’ve broken down the areas of gear consideration into a few large lumps and will be addressing my thoughts and designs on each of them as time allows.
- Shelter System
- Sleep System
- Cooking & Water
- First Aid & Hygiene
- Luxuries & Miscellanea