Last summer I got to hike the hike of my life. Or so I thought.
Hiking the John Muir Trail was an incredible experience, both incredibly challenging and incredibly rewarding. I got to travel through passes higher than I’d ever been, and finish with a night on the highest summit in the Lower 48. Even better, when I finished the trail I got to spend a couple weeks wandering the National Parks in California. I got home from that trip in a great mood. I had overcome many personal obstacles to accomplish that trail. It had made me stronger in every possible way.
Eventually the “mountain high” started to wear off. Sure I made it out on a handful of day hikes before winter set in, but it just wasn’t the same. I missed the simplicity of trail life. The city is too busy, too noisy, too demanding…
It wasn’t long before my brain latched on to an amazing idea. What if I could hike the Pacific Crest Trail through Washington?
I let the idea percolate for a while in my brain. I didn’t tell anyone for the first few weeks. Instead I took the time to mentally look at the idea from different angles. I started mentioning the idea casually to a couple of friends. These were non-hiker friends, so they couldn’t really offer an opinion. After a couple months of sitting with the idea, I finally screwed up the courage to tell my husband. I honestly wasn’t sure how he’d react. I shouldn’t have doubted him. He was on board almost immediately.
So in 30 days I hit the trail, hiking 500 miles over 6 weeks in July and August.
Over the winter I slowly started to put plans together. I also started acquiring lighter gear.
Today I finally got all my gear together.
I used LighterPack.com to keep track of the weight of every item. It’s particularly interesting to compare my gear to last year’s load.
Last year I hiked the John Muir Trail with my husband. We didn’t have to worry as much about the weight of our gear because we were distributing items between us. We brought a lot of extras: warmer sleeping pads, a larger tent, a pot and a fry pan, and even a hammock. My base weight (before food & water) last year was about 25 lb.
I am proud to say that this year I’ll be looking at a similar base weight, but this time I’ll be carrying everything myself.
I’ve had to make lots of changes to my gear in order to achieve this optimal base weight. REI’s post on Ultralight Backpacking recommends starting with “The Big Four.” I’ve swapped out 3 of the 4 items.
PACK: Osprey Exos 48 (2.4 lbs) instead of Osprey Ariel 65 (4.7 lbs)
TENT: Marmot Force 2P (3.9 lbs) instead of Sierra Designs Asp 2 (5 lbs)
PAD: Exped Synmat UL (1 lb) instead of Big Agnes Insulated Double Z (1.9 lbs)
Making these changes has helped me to save over 4 lbs of weight.
Another category I’m making some major weight adjustments to is my camp kitchen setup. When hiking with my husband we like to get into camp early, relax, and make a backpacker’s gourmet dinner. Last year we cooked things like fry bread, fry cookies, pancakes, and stir-fry. This year I’m keeping my meals super simple. Heat water, reconstitute, eat. No dicing, no frying, no flipping. I’ve traded in the JetBoil large pot and pan system for the Flash. I’ll also need fewer utensils, and less fuel. Making these changes saves me another 2 lbs of weight.
For everything else, it’s a matter of figuring out the essentials and dropping weight ounce by ounce. My new water filter, the very popular Sawyer Squeeze, saves me half a pound, as does my new ultralight Marmot raincoat. Paring down my first aid kit also freed me of half a pound of weight, carrying enough for one hiker instead of two.
Deciding what to bring on a thru hike is definitely a game of compromise. But bit by bit, ounce by ounce, items drop away. The most amazing part is how simple life becomes once you hit the trail and are able to carry all of your essential needs on your back.
For a breakdown of all the items I’ll be bringing with me, click HERE.