Several days before our departure, as I was finishing my checklist for our trip to Thailand, my daughter asked me: “So mom, what is the next thing you’re going to obsess about?” I told her she should not worry, and that something new would pop up, and so it did…
I’ve always enjoyed hiking and even did a week long hike with our photography class in the Alps, back in 1986, weeks after the Chernobyl disaster had spread its fumes all over Europe. We were advised to be very careful with our water sources and that it was possible that snow could be somewhat radioactive…not a great start of our trip.
We had to plow through the snow at times, with a backpack that was way too heavy (if I remember well it was over 50 lbs). A mistake I would not repeat this time, as we are preparing for a section hike on the “AT” (Appalachian Trail, 2,184 miles – 3,515 km). The three main long-distance trails in the US usually go by their abbreviations, PCT (Pacific Crest Trail, 2,654 miles – 4,270 km), and the CDT (Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles – 5,000 km). Finishing all three of them will get you the Triple Crown designation.
Several of my camping friends had talked about doing overnight hikes, and as we talked more, we all got inspired and started doing research and trying to find the right gear. So, there it is my new obsession, my new project.
A great source of inspiration is my friend “Airlock” (her trail name, you can read her trail journal here), who had finished the AT in 2015. She started in March and arrived at Mount Katahdin Summit September 19. Her journey included several “zero days” a term hikers use for a rest day, when you either stay at a shelter, in town or with friends.
Of course, reading “Wild” contributed some hiking inspiration as well. Some call me adventurous, but hiking alone doesn’t appeal to me. That first time in the Alps was with about ten people, and I had a great time. I feel more comfortable, just in case something happens, and you can help each other through tough moments and share gear and food. As we were talking about the gear we want and needed, I suggested consulting my friend the thru-hiker (someone who walks the entire distance in one trip, usually several months). The day before her visit I went to the REI garage sale. I was very late (10 am), but after following people who had scored carts full of equipment, that they were reviewing, one great backpack (Deuter 45L+10L) got eliminated, and I grabbed it like my life depended on it (which could be true).
They added 28 lbs in the pack and adjusted the torso height, and both (cute) REI guys said it was made for me. I then asked for a little more discount as there were two small stains on it—in the Netherlands, we say: “No you have, and yes you can get”—I got yes and walked out of the store with a $190 backpack for $60! It is the Deuter Act 45+10L backpack, I tested it during a 2-day hike recently and I am very pleased with it.
The most important thing I learned from my first multi-day hike was to limit weight, and by getting a large backpack for example 65L you’ll keep loading it and adding weight that will possibly make your hike a nightmare. A “petite” woman (she told me she was from the Philipines) said she tried my pack (the 45+10L), but wanted a 65L so she can bring everything she wants. I tried to discourage her, her pack was almost as tall as she was! Oh well, I tried…
I wanted to wait with the other gear, and first get input from my friend Airlock, she hiked for more than five months, and I was eager to pick her brain. My friends had already bought a lot more (they also went to the garage sale). So we were able to discuss the pros and cons of their gear and what Airlock had used. We also reviewed (female) hygiene and safety (of course!).
Airlock saw 6 bears during these 2184 miles, and I believe 4 of them were in my home state, Virgina! They never bothered her or her campsite, even though she only slept in the trail shelters on a few occasions and pitched her tent just off the trail most of the time. Bears and snakes scare me, but ticks are actually the most dangerous!
I asked my friend what are “musts” to have and what you should definitely not bring. The “big 3” take the most weight and the most out of your wallet; the sleeping system (pad and sleeping bag), the tent, and the backpack. Since I’m not thru-hiking I can work with a slighty cheaper and heavier gear set. My friend’s pack was about 23 lbs on average, which is pretty light, considering that your food usually weighs around 2 lbs per day. I reviewed many blogs, hiking journals, books, youtube videos, and documentaries, including several from the “ultra-light” hiker league, to further investigate the lightest, affordable gear.
There’s an even lighter league, the minimalist, their total packweight is no more than 12 pounds. For the ultralight that is about 20 pounds, and “lightweight” is up to 30 pounds (the max I’ve set for myself). I’m officially an ounce counter now. For exampe, my goal for my sleeping system (pad and bag) combined weight was around three pounds (48 ounces) or less. My pad is 19.6 oz and my down sleeping bag is less than 1.9 lbs, making it a total of 50 ounces, not bad.
It can get lighter than that, but then you’re looking at a $140 pad and $500 sleeping bag! The elimination and weigth game is fun, especially when its also cheap! Of course I’ll only find out during my hiking if it was indeed the right choice. I found this $25 “scout” tent that’s less than 4 lbs, even if it doesn’t work, it won’t break the bank, I’m just not ready for spending $500 on a shelter.
Every ounce counts! Food is around 1.5 to 2 lbs per day. Usually you pack for an extra day just in case. After 3 or 4 days you replenish at the store (along these trails is it not hard to find food stores or any other store, like gas stations. What you eat, when and how much is a very personal choice. It also depends on how hard (terrain) and long the hiking is. I’m thinking of a 2 or 3 week trip, so I need to plan my replenish locations.
First, we’ll do a one night, 2-day hike to test more gear, and also get our children adjusted to full-day hiking and become familiar with using their gear. No, I’m not obsessed, this is just my enthusiasm. When my friend Airlock explained why she loved her trip, she said: “It’s a project, and I love managing projects”. I love my new project…
Ok, let’s see what I have purchased so far.:
- Best hiking shoes I’ve ever had, the Salomon XA Comp 7 Trail Running Shoes, no need to walk them in, no blisters!
- The ultralight (0.88 oz) BRS stove for just under $16. Works like a charm!
- 3-season 32F down sleeping bag, 1.9 lbs just under $100!
- Scout backpack tent at 3.8 lbs for $25.
- Ultra-light 4-season sleeping pad $75.45 (other brands are over $140)
- Tested these hiking poles on rocky trails for 2 days and very happy with them.
I’ll provide more updates on the hiking project soon, stay tuned!