What equipment do I need to start backpacking?
of practical ministry and backpacking,
You don’t need too much money and you don’t need 95% of what is offered on line—most of the stuff offered online and in outfitters stores is sold to people who like to collect backpacking stuff and think about trips they seldom take—not to real backpackers. I’ll give my opinions here—of course there are other ideas you can listen to… but having backpacked about 10,000 miles of the following approach has worked for me, though if you read earlier versions of this article you’ll find significant shifts over time.
The central value: P-A-C-K L-I-G-H-T. Take less. The lighter the load the happier the trip. Buy the minimum… borrow stuff until you really get serious about backpacking—many novices get all excited about a trip and buy too much stuff then have to replace it later. When you are ready to buy, there are three things that will cost you bigger money—these three may even become “lifetime” investments. They are
1. A sleeping bag (the most expensive thing you’ll buy—from $150-$600)
2. A pack ($75-$150)
3. A shelter (about $100 for the lightest/best, far more for a whole tent)
Everything else is cheap and easy—a sleeping bag, pack and shelter are the only three you need to borrow or buy for your first trip.
The best book on backpacking is Ray Jardine’s Beyond Backpacking. Ray helps you see lightweight backpacking as a mindset—a worldview that will pervade the rest of life. It is 500 pages but has short chapters and is easy to read. Ray avoids the confusing approach of trying to introduce you to all equipment and hiking styles and compare the advantages and disadvantages of each (like most backpacking books do). Rather he presents “one way” to backpack (the “Ray way” it is often called on the trail). This simplifies things. He may have some crazy ideas (an umbrella—which I made fun of for a long time) but most us of are nutty 10% of the time—and the other 90% of his advice is great. Also consider reading the more poetic version of long distance backpacking.
This is writen to a novice
considering their first hike—not to elite fastpackers. Like all introductory articles (and courses
for that matter) they are only true temporarily—that is when you become an
advanced backpacker some of the following will not apply. But to start off the following will help get
you going. This article serves as
an equipment guide for my
Backpacking course at
OK HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED IN DETAIL:
The Big Three
1. Sleeping bag. Your single greatest expense is a mummy bag. Borrow one for starting and save the following information for buying one later. I have 11 sleeping bags—mostly because I keep buying a better one. Buying a good one from the start is the smarter. Most people get a 30-40 degree bag…and Goose down is the best fill…the higher the number the better the down (e.g. 900 fill down is the gold standard…600 fill down is cheapest/heaviest). I have and still use a down sleeping bag I bought in 1957—they are lifetime investments. Polarguard 3D is the next best after down—cheaper but wears out over time—giving less warmth though still weighs the same. After that comes Polarguard II then there are junk bags sold by Dick’s sporting goods and Wal-mart made of Polarguard (classic) and Holofil . My opinion is down is best to buy, but the most recent generations of synthetics are fine—and only a pound or two more, which for newbees doesn’t seem too bad I suppose. The sleeping bag I like most is a Marmot Lithium® bag (see links below for products). This bag goes down to zero (for me only to 20 degrees—I’m a cold sleeper). It weighs 2# 8oz and is 900-fill down. But that bag will set you back a many week’s wages and it is beyond the scope of a student purchase. I say buy a good down bag with a high number and you’ll be set for life—until then borrow junk bags from other people. You can sometimes get closeouts at Sierra Trading post (http://www.sierratradingpost.com) on equipment—that’s where most of my poverty-stricken students buy stuff. SUMMARY: buy goose down and the higher the number the better and borrow until then. Spend the money here when you are ready—it may be about a third your total investment in backpacking equipment. You’ll probably spend at least $200 for your bag—and as much as $600 if you buy the very best.
2. Pack. Forget fancy expensive packs—all they do is make it easier for you to carry too-heavy loads. Some packs weigh 8 pounds empty—my pack weighs about 8 pounds full. My opinion: the best packs are Go-lite packs. My pack weighs 15 ounces—The pack I’ve used the most is the Go-lite breeze® pack which costs about $75—but they are hard to find now and may have been discontinued. I’ve carried it several thousand miles so far. It is tiny—but that’s what I want—a small pack that will force me not to take stuff. However the Breeze does not have a waist strap (which enables you to carry over 20 pounds—something I don’t want to do). I also have used other light packs and currently like my Granite Gear Virga that weighs a hair over a pound (by the time I cut off extra stuff I don’t need). Many of these other packs have a “waist strap” (which the Breeze lacks) and are thus more comfortable when I’ve got ten days food—but for anything less than 7 days I go for the Breeze—it forces me to take less. On the last 3000 miles of trail I’ve sewed the Breeze onto the Virga—so it functions as a Breeze with a Virga carrying harness and waist strap.
I do also own a Go-lite Gust for use in winter for mountaineering when I’ve got to carry a bunch more stuff and snowshoes, crampons, ice axe etc. This pack is huge and even has a waist strap. But even this gigantic pack only weighs 18-19 ounces and costs less than $100. A pack that weighs more than two pounds or costs more than $100 is a waste and you eventually toss it if you get serious about backpacking. Buy something cheap at about a pound or two. Better yet—use that old frame pack from your parents or friend that weighs 4 pounds then after you’ve slept out 20 nights and walks 300 miles you’ll know for sure what you want. Nothing is worse than buying new equipment and discovering on your hike that you made the wrong choice. Even if your borrowed pack is lousy at least you didn’t spend money on it! One more thing—ALL packs are uncomfortable. There is no pack in the world that makes carrying 10 pounds 20 miles “comfortable.” If you go hiking and complain, “my pack hurts your shoulders” there is probably nothing wrong with your pack at all—carrying 10 pounds 20 miles will always hurt! All we hope for is a “pack that hurts less.” While I’d suggest waiting to buy a sleeping bag if you have ants in your pants to buy something—buy a pack and you’ll at least not spend more than $100. Bottom line: Borrow a pack until you can buy a light one.
Shelter (Tent/Bivy/Tarp) I believe the best single plan is neither
a tent nor a bivy (a waterproof cover for your sleeping bag) but a “tarp.” The cheapest way to do this is to buy one from Wal-mart and
some cord—that may set you back about ten dollars. But it will be heavier than one of the fancy
ones I’m about to tell you about—two pounds for two people instead of one
pound—but it works just fine until you are ready to buy. There are no lifetime purchases here—the
field is developing so fast that in 2 years everything I say here now will not
be valid—which is why a Wal-Mart tarp is probably best. I suggest a !0X12’ tent (or if you want to
sleep three maybe 12X12’. When you’re
ready to buy I suggest you aim for a one pound tarp that will hold two
people—sometimes three people. I got my
first one from Lynn Wheldon
Of course if you are handy you can make your own ultralite tarp (Henry Shires now gives away the plans to his first tarptent). If you buy “silicon impregnated nylon” by the yard and sew one single seam you can make them into tarps—sealing the seam with silicon caulk you buy at a hardware store. You can get your tarp for about $25 that way.
Other Stuff after the “Big three”
Once you have your sleeping bag, pack and tarp the rest can be borrowed, gathered or bought here and there. Here is my basic list:
___Sleeping pad—always. I used to carry a Ridgerest or a Z-rest pad from Cascade Designs. I buy a full length pad and cut it in half—so it only used by my shoulders to hips—the rest of me isn’t that heavy. So mine weighs less than 8 ounces. The pad then does double duty as the back support for the go-lite packs (The idea is to curl up the sleeping pad into a circle and pack down inside it so it doubles as a pad-support in the pack—no use having a pad in your pack you don’t use all night!) Either of these pads will cost you about 30 bucks and will last for years. I have both and prefer both depending on my mood. (as I got old I used Therm-a-rest inflatable pad—which come in just under a pound—but for many, if you are really serious about backpacking and walk far enough you won’t need a comfortable bed—you’ll be able to sleep on rocks you’ll be so exhausted!) As a cheap alternative get any old pad from a nearby sporting goods store. I have even seen people use a big sheet of bubble wrap for a pad—though if you are heavy you might have to contend with popping at night when you turn over.
___Garbage bag—almost always. Try a lightweight garbage bag for rain protection for my sleeping bag. I only use it when it rains—sticking the sleeping bag in the garbage bag inside pack. I don’t try to keep my pack covered or dry—I keep the stuff in it dry. The only time I don’t carry a garbage bag is in the desert. More recently I have used the sea-to-summit pack liner bags which are 100% waterproof…they weight about the same and a garbage bag but don’t wear out.
___Sleeping bag stuff sack—seldom. Occasionally I use a ½ oz Go-lite silicon impregnated nylon stuff sack for my sleeping bag—but mostly I stick my pad inside my pack like a big “O” then stuff the sleeping bag right down into the bottom of my pack—after all a pack is essentially a huge stuff sack isn’t it? Why put a stuff sack inside a stuff sack?
___Ground cloth—never. I use my sleeping pad for my upper body and my empty pack for my feet. Your pad IS a ground cloth—so that only leaves your feet to stick on something above the dirt—a pack works great for this.
___Flashlight—seldom. A tiny little key-chain LED light works fine. In the woods, once my eyes adjust, one of these little ½ ounce lights is all anyone needs. I’ve crossed snow-covered passes in the high sierras at midnight with it. They last 100 hours so you don’t even need an extra battery. Occasionally for mountaineering I carry a $40 Black diamond LED headlamp—but only because I spent the money for it and feel obligated to use it—it was a waste to buy. Actually you seldom need a light at all—most hikers go to bed when it is dark. Usually one light per group is enough really to search in your ditty bag for your ear plugs at midnight when your tarpmate is snoring. And if you place everything you may need at night in your shoes you don’t even need the tiny keychain LED—I don’t carry one any more.
___Wallet-always A little snack-size Zip-loc "wallet" with my license (I need it to claim general delivery mail at post offices) a credit card & a cash advance card, some cash and a few pictures of people I love. Leave fat leather wallets at home.
___Pen-paper—seldom. I no longer carry writing materials—but when I did, I took a refill (not the pen just the ball point refill) to write notes, plus a single sheet of paper per week to write on (or before that a postcard-per-day on which to write a journal that I’d send to my wife whenever crossing a road or meeting hikers headed to their car that day). Now I usually borrow a pen when in town to write letters and I just remember anything I need to remember while hiking figuring if I forget it wasn’t worth remembering. Writing things down doesn’t fit with the outdoors in my mind. Remembering and talking does. This is the reason praying and talking about spiral things fits the woods while reading the Bible and journaling doesn’t seem to fit—at least for me.
___Maps or data sheets—usually. I just take the map or data sheets for a week or two—sending the rest to
post offices along the way. A “data sheet” is a listing of the miles on the
trail and points of interest—stream crossings, campsites, tops of ridges,
roads. (The “companion” book on the
___Camera--sometimes I used to take a disposable camera… then I got a 3 oz Casio, that was perfect but eventually went bad (maybe it was glissading down those glaciers with it in my pocket???) I then went with a Casio S100 which I promptly lost in the bed of a pickup truck while hitching back from town. Now I just use the cheapest digital camera offered by Wal-Mart that I can afford to lose. Often I take nothing and get email addresses of other hikers who took my picture. Cameras are not for the views (they never look as impressive as real life) but to take pictures of people—that’s what you’ll treasure over the years.
___Razor—sometimes. If I decide to shave (I often don’t). On long treks I send a razor to each town or put some in the “bounce box” (a box of supplies sent to the first re-supply town which is repackaged and sent ahead to the next town, then the next, “bouncing” along ahead of the hiker). On hikes less than a few weeks I seldom take a razor.
___ Deodorant—always. I take a tiny bit of deodorant, usually cream deodorant in a snack zio-loc. just because I’m uncomfortable smelling myself in the woods—there are many nicer things to smell. Most of the students I hike with do not carry deodorant though. I notice this.
___Soap—never. I used to carry ¼ of a “motel bar” of soap but of course one should never use soap in running water. I’ve found out that water alone works just fine. You don’t smell as badly in the woods—it is committees that make you stink, not hard walking. Besides I sometimes just take a “deodorant bath” and don’t use water at all.
___Toothbrush—seldom. I used to start off with a toothbrush with the handle sawed off—then after a week or so on a long trek I’d send it home and just use some floss or snap off twigs for a “woodspick,” and use my bandana or my tongue. I seldom take a toothbrush. If I did I wouldn’t take toothpaste of course. Here is a good place to remind backpackers that they aren’t trying to “take a small or light edition of all the regular things we use in life.” Rather, backpacking is “zero-based planning.” We start with nothing and ask, “what do I absolutely need?” This eliminates most everything we use in regular life—that’s where the spiritual value of “simplicity” emerges.
___Bandana—always. Multi-purpose use-for-everything item. Towel, washcloth, sunshade, pot-holder, sweatband, toothbrush. But to save weight I rip mine in half or sometimes quarters and take only that part.
___Toilet paper—always I carry six single ply sheets of toilet Paper per day rounded off by an extra day. I carry this in a Zip-loc bag—sometimes with an additional ounce of Hand Sanitizer. Lightweight fastpacking women carry 18 sheets a day with more conservative city-women carrying as much as a half roll of TP per week. In some places you will have to carry it out in a separate plastic bag, in other places you can bury it. About 1/3 of all long distance hikers (500+ miles) are women and many of those carry a reusable dry-out-on-the-pack “pee rag” but hardly any women starting out can even imagine such a thing and just carry extra TP.
___Plastic Spade-sometimes. To
dig a ‘cat hole.” If I’m out east or in
___Mosquito repellant—sometimes 1-2 oz bottle with at least 50% DEET in it—better yet 100%. (Sometimes also a face net @ 1/2 oz.). Depends on the season of course. If you are going to be hiking more than 30 years straight and using DEET every four hours you might be concerned—but less than a few years straight it appears to be safe.
___Sunscreen & Lip Balm-sometimes. I usually start off with a ½ filled tube of Chap Stick® lip balm if I am going to be in really windy territory, above the timberline, on snow or in the desert. Same with sunscreen—if I’m above the timberline for days at a time at higher elevations, or walking in the Mojave desert I take an ounce-a-week of sunscreen. Otherwise I do without this weight.
___Ear plugs-occasionally . (If I have a snoring roommate.)
___ Bleach. 1-2 Oz household bleach to treat water (I use a little Visine® bottle to carry mine). I use 2 drops per liter…up to 4 drops if I’m really nervous about the water. After treatment let it sit for about a half hour (20 min. minimum). Chlorine is what my city uses so I do it too. If you wait a half hour to let the chlorine kill the invisible creatures then you can drink it. Bleach is a few percentage points less effective than a water filter—but never clogs up and is 100 times lighter and 90,000,000 times cheaper. If you are a fearful person then a filter is the best bet—but not as important as sanitizing your hands often—the research shows filter-users get sick quite as much as bleach users (and even as much as the I-don’t-use-anything hikers… mostly because of their hands carrying bacteria and viruses—not due to the water they drink.
___ Knife—seldom. I used to carry a ½ ounce tiny key-chain knife. There are so few things needing cutting on the trail I no longer take it. If I need a knife I wait until the next town or borrow one from someone I run into.
___ Lighter--seldom. The tiny mini-lighter between three people is perhaps nice—though I doubt it. It might be nice for someone to have one. Serious backpackers seldom or never build fires except for romantic purposes. Campfires are dirty, leave too much mess, ruin the environment, the sparks ruin high-tech clothing and tents, and most backpackers practice “leave no trace” practices and thus don’t build a fire for it is almost impossible to “leave no trace” of it later. It is nice for one person in a group to have a lighter though because every rule is for the breaking sometimes.
___ Baby Powder—sometimes. I often start a long hike with 2-3 oz. baby powder for the first week to powder my feet every hour to prevent blisters. I don’t actually know if it helps—I wonder if stopping every hour, taking off my shoes and airing out my feet and changing my socks, letting the other pair hang out to dry on my pack the next hour is what really does it not the powder. Baby powdering is the excuse to do all that. After a week I quit carrying it.
___ Tape—always. I take a few feet of Duct tape or adhesive tape per week to tape up my “hot spots” where a blister is developing. A bit of prevention before blisters develop is worth pounds of curing after. As soon as you feel tenderness STOP and tape the hot spot. Always. Never fail!
CLOTHES FOR WEARING
___ Tee shirt--always. I usually wear a non-cotton Starter® soccer shirt from Wal-Mart at about $12. Just don’t wear cotton unless you are hiking in the desert or like a clammy damp feeling. More recently I’ve been wearing a simple short sleeved regular (non-cotton) shirt and like it better yet.
___ Shorts/pants—always. I usually wear a cheap pair of nylon running shorts usually. I like running shorts with pockets. In the cold and in the desert. However recently I’m wearing a lightweight pair of full-length “cargo pants” I got for Christmas—at about 6 oz. Forget cotton or jeans.
___ Hat-always. Baseball hat or floppy hat in the woods, Stocking cap in the cold. When I’m above the timberline or in the desert where the sun is a problem I wear a wide floppy hat (sometimes straw, sometimes cloth) that protects my ears from the sun.
___ Socks. I usually wear two pairs of liners on each foot. Two pair of thin socks dry out faster on my pack between changes than one thick pair. Some of my poverty-stricken students use men’s dress socks or women’s thin nylon socks they buy at the dollar store®. I use more expensive non-cotton liners but I’m not sure they’re not much better than what my students wear. In the cold or in rainy territory or sometimes when I just feel like it I take Smartwool® socks—my favorite thicker socks (I have one pair I have logged over 1000 miles on). But they are expensive. Cotton can work, but once they’re wet—they’ll never dry and you’ll be carrying or wearing heavy wet socks from then on. During the last thousand miles I havae been wearing one pair of liners and one pair of smartwool socks—and take nothing as backups.
___ Sneakers—always. Any sneakers you feel comfortable in is fine. I personally am a totally committed fan of New Balance® sneakers. I get about 500-600 miles per pair of NB shoes. I used up four pairs of NB 804’s then they quit making them. (805’s are lousy for the trail—forget them) Then I used up five pair of NB 806s until they disappeared too. I used up a pair of NB 871s in the desert and they blew out in 350 miles. I have a pair of NB 915 waterproof sneakers for snow and rain—but they suck—literally. Finally I found a close-out on NB806s and bought several pair. Recently I’ve been using NB1011’s but they aren’t as good as the old 806s.Whatever find comfortable sneakers and break them in with 100 miles before your big hike. Here’s the rule: use a sneaker that makes your foot feel good and one that has some lugs on the sole. If you’re hiking less than 300 miles just go in your old sneakers and buy nothing new as far as shoes go. If you carry a gigantic pack (against my advice) or have really weak ankles you might need heavier “boots” like hunters wear but you’ll find few of them on serious backpackers now. If you don’t sprain your ankles often, and you will be carrying a light pack, sneakers are the best bet for backpacking. If you are headed off on a 500+ mile hike do one additional thing—even with New Balance sneakers: toss out the cheap insole and put a proper one in. I use Superfeet® insoles—I’ve had these insoles last over 2000 miles—through four pairs of shoes—and they are sweet (they are NOT soft, so forget “soft”—you don’t want soft). Bottom lin4e: for a short hike use comfortable sneakers you already own. For a longer hike buy sneaks ½ or a full size larger and break them in with 100 miles. (your feet swell ½ size or more after 100 miles—hence the larger size for longer hikes)
___ Glasses/contacts—never. I never take glasses backpacking even when I was required to wear them to drive a car. The first summer I left them home and hiked all summer without them I returned home and tried my glasses on and they “felt weird.” My optometrist tested my eyes to discover my eyesight had improved by 50% over the summer—just from forcing my eyes to do it (I rally wanted to see the views I guess!). Anyway, this is not scientific, and may sound made-up, but it happened to me. I never put glasses back on—even after I got my new prescription. IN fact when I went to renew my license I passed the eye test that I’d failed since I was a teen. You decide. Biology professor, Burt Webb always takes contacts and never has problems—well, almost never—there was that sandstorm in Washington once….
___CLOTHES FOR CARRYING
___ Socks—sometimes. A second “set of two pairs” of thin sock liners I used to take but more recently I just wear wet socks and walk them dry when the rain stops. I used to rotate—drying out four socks while I’m wearing the others.
___Sleeping hat—always I carry a thin stocking hat for sleeping, chilly mornings, and hypothermic-inducing rain. I’m a baby when it comes to cold—so I wear a sleeping hat even in the summer. If you are a hot-headed sleeper you’ll get away without this probably.
___PJs—sometimes. I used to carry silk boxers as PJs then I slept in whatever I walked in and wash out my stuff every few days when the sun shines—putting it back on to dry while I walk. The last 1000 miles I’ve taken a light shirt and silk running shorts as “PJ’s” since I often no longer carry rain gear—I just get wet and since I have a driy set of stuff to put on and a dry sleeping bag I’m ok.
___Rain suit--sometimes In rainy territory (like the Appalachian
Trail) I used to take a nylon rain suit—and still do if it is going to be in
the 40’s and low 50’s—mostly for warmth not protection form rain(I still get
wet inside from sweat). Any one will
work, it doesn’t even have to be expensive or breathable. I have a Go-lite jacket and pants that weigh
15 ounces combined, but to tell the truth…any tight-woven nylon suit will work…
even the Wal-Mart brands I bought for $20 are almost as good. Face it, when it rains and you suit up, you
get wet from the outside by rain, or the inside by sweat…now which do you think
is the fresher experience? In cold
climates, rainy spots or when I am above the timberline I always take a rain
suit. In the smack-dab-middle of the
summer on the
F. Cold weather additions (when it is going to be in the 30’s or less)
___Fleece or wool sweater, or even a lightweight down jacket. Walking in a tee shirt is fine at 33 degrees—I use so much energy walking it feels perfect. But sitting down for a break at that temperature requires something to fight the chills with. In cold weather I put on fleece & my stocking hat during breaks, and sometimes for the first hour of a chilly morning. If I’m expecting temps in the teens I take a lightweight down jacket instead of the fleece. If below zero I carry a NorthFace parka.
___XXL Totes® OK it sounds crazy—but if I’m hiking in the snow I often still walk in sneakers, I just add XXL Totes® (the zip-up kind to the outside of the sneakers) to the sneakers to get a 100% waterproof shoe. They last about a hundred miles in the snow, and longer if you have duct tape.
___Ice axe, snowshoes, crampons, rope. If doing mountaineering.
___Tent. Sometimes I trade my tarp for a small mountaineering tent for snow.
___No-cook Food-always. Why cook food while hiking—if I were there for the eating I’d stay home or go to the Outback®. I go no-cook and I love it better. For a short hike of a week or less I just gather together as much “junk food” as I’ll need and pack it away for a delightful week of munching, crunching (and trading with others.) Almost all the students I now hike with go no-cook too. Backpacking is mostly walking not keeping house. On hikes longer than 300 miles I carry as my primary staple “PowerShakes.” I drink 2-3 a day. The “PowerShakes” recipe is: a) enough dry milk to make 1 Qt; b) a scoop of Whey protein powder (sometimes two); c)a few tablespoons of Nesquik for flavoring—that’s it! This recipe makes one liter of cold delicious drink—just put the mixture in cold water & shake up then drink it. Three PowerShakes a day gets me about 1500 calories more than half my diet—the rest of my diet I get from munching at every break on the other stuff: dry cereal, Fritos, candy bars, breakfast bars, nuts, raisins, coconut, pop tarts, tortillas, peanut butter, , jelly, cheese, pepperoni—gee whiz just writing this makes my mouth water! I say “If you want to cook start cooking on your tenth backpacking trip”—if you’re starting out go simple at first. For me no-cook saves time, fuss, and all kinds of weight in your pack. (However if you ignore this and bring your stove, pot and fuel I hope you make me some hot chocolate on that chilly morning! Recently I used the JetBoil on a hike and was impressed—but not enough to go back from dry food.
___Water containers-always. You
need 2 one-liter Gatorade® bottles or wide mouth coke bottles.
Maybe three at the most. If you are rich
or going out for more than 300 miles (or in the desert) try getting a
which will set you back fifteen bucks or more to get about the same weight as a
Gatorade bottle, but it collapses flat while not using it. Forget
expensive Nalgene containers--they are for
people who pretend to be outdoorish (though if you are mountaineering and it is
going to be below zero they are required for you can put boiling water in
them). In the east on the
___Spoon-always. Cook or no-cook I take a spoon. If I’m no-cook I stick a box of crackers in a plastic bag and crush them before carrying them on the trail—they get crushed anyway so I just beat the pack to it and crush them myself Then for snacks I get out several of these bags and eat them with my spoon—discovering what they are by taste if not sight. Using your fingers invites the transfer of virus and bacteria to your food and mouth. While the hot-cookers are still cleaning out their pots I’m on the next pass drinking in the views. (as you can see backpacking isn’t really “camping” it is hiking. I use an expensive ($15) titanium spoon that is not really any better than a spoon from Wendys® --(though if you eat Peanut Butter in the cold a backup plastic spoon may be smart—they invariably break the third day).
___FOOD—of course. I take about 1 pound of food per day—no more, but younger folk sometimes take 1 ½ pounds a day and if the hiker has absolutely zero “stored fat” something two pounds per day. It all depends on how much “spare food” you already carry around your waist. The first month I’m out backpacking I get 1500-2000 calories a day from my pack and another 1500-2000 from my waist. I usually lose about ¾ pound a day when backpacking. After a month I have to carry almost two pound of food a day. Some hikers do short 4-5 day trips with no food at all like John Muir did regularly but I’ve never been able to go longer than a day or two without food. I do however take no food for the final day out—ever. I carefully plan to have no food left the final day walking into town (or to my car on a shorter trip). Being hungry for one day is a good experience! The primary thing to remember about food and backpacking is “food is fuel.” Where you really get the sensuous food-eating experience is not on the trail but once a week in town—and the more you’ve adopted the “food-is-fuel” philosophy on the trail the better those three Pizzas taste in town!
TOTAL WEIGHT My own pack including all the above (excluding food/water) weighs about 5-6 pounds. That sounds light—but consider this. If I have seven days to make it to the next town/re-supply point I’ve got to add seven pounds of food to that—now I’m 14 pounds (young students who hike with me often carry twice mye weight in food) . And if I’m starting out in the morning and the first water is a half-day away I’ll be adding 2 liters of water/4 pounds to that and presto—now my pack weighs 15 pounds. A pack should never weigh more than 20 pounds.
On the other hand, on that 7-day trek, the final morning after I’ve eaten all my food that week, I’m now headed into the next town, down a stream all day thus needing to carry no water… I’m carrying only 5-6 pounds going down hill with two XXL pizzas waiting for me at the end of that 20 miles…watch me speed!
Other stuff some take
?___UNDERWEAR. many thru hikers—both men and women--don't wear 'em figuring they only retain moisture and invite rashes. If you do, you'll want some that wicks away moisture. Sometime I’ve worn silk boxers. You have to make the call here and nobody will know what you’ve decided unless you tell.
?___FLIP-FLOPS/SANDALS I don't take these to save weight, but many hikers carry them, especially those who wear heavier hiking shoes—to give their feet a chance to rest at night or for a quick trip to the bathroom. I take the insoles out of my sneakers and wear the sneakers in the evening…my warm feet then dry them in a hour or so. Another advantage of sandals is for river crossings--otherwise you get wet feet and have to "walk them dry" the rest of the day. I just ford rivers in an extra pair of socks. However remember in backpacking most of the time is spent… well, backpacking. Walking. The long evenings you imagine (from car camping) don’t happen to backpackers much. They take their long lounging time during the day when it is warm and the sun is shining. Even “supper” is eaten along the trail before more walking. Most good backpackers walk right up to the moment of darkness (often sometimes until an hour after dark—the trick it to see how long you can walk before turning on the light). When all day hikers arrive at camp what do they do? They find a place for their tarp and set it up, roll out their sleeping bag crawl in it go to sleep all within about ten minutes. Most serious backpackers do their “campfire chats” in the pleasant afternoon breaks not in camp. If you want a long evening snuggled around a campfire chatting and telling stories go car camping. If you like long breaks, many-a-day gathered around a stream or an overlook chatting, laughing and telling stories throughout the day then backpacing is your thing.
?___Pee bottle. Many men hikers (and almost all men over 60) carry an extra bottle dedicated to keeping them from having to get up several times in the middle of the night and make a stumbling trip out into the dark.
?___ Walking Sticks I have a
wonderful pair—but I seldom use them except on the
Commentary by Burt Webb
1. Shelter - I am slowly becoming a tarp convert, but there have been several nights in bug-infested regions of southern Washington and on very stormy nights on the Knobstone that I have been thankful for my Clip-flashlight CD tent. Weighs more than my tarp 36 oz compacted to 12, but there are occasionally reasons that I like it.
2. Shoes - ok, I am a techie - I liked the NB 803 and the 804, but after that the NB company moved away from good tread and toward the mass market of high school and college campuses. So, my new favorites are the Nike Air Zoom Steens and Air Teochalli shoes. In addition to hiking I am a pretty active trail runner (30 - 70 miles/week) which makes me REALLY picky about my shoes. I am with Coach D though on Superfeet, they cost $20+ but are worth every penny!
3. Bag - I am saving for a Marmot Helium as we speak.
4. Pack - GoLite all the way.
5. NuSkin - I gave up on the duct tape and athletic tape last year. nuSkin is light and stay stuck longer than the others.
6. Platypus - My pack has a built-in Platypus hydration system. I love it and have stayed more hydrated with it that without it. Worth the weight.
7. Socks - I like Smartwool all the time - but I prefer the light hikers or low-cut runner socks.
8. Hat - Tilley, a little more expensive - mine was a gift - but worth it! Sheds water better than anything I have ever had.
9. Hiking poles - a toss-up. I sometimes hike with them, but often don't. For me, it depends on how much descent there will be on the hike. I can climb with no problem, but going down my knees need the support of poles.
10. Shirt - I am becoming a longsleeve devote. Always drifit or similar fabric, but a cool good-fitting long sleeve shirt protects your skin from UV without being too hot.
11. Gloves - I almost always carry drilite gloves. They keep my hands warm on cool mornings and cold evenings.
12. Food - I NEVER COOK on the trail. I had my last pot-full of mushy macs and cheese 4 years ago and have never gone back. I use backpacking as my opportunity to defy every eating rule that I keep during the regular year. Chocolate every day! Chips, bagels, huge hunks of cheese and sausage! More Chocolate in the form of cookies and candy bars and hard candies! Sugary drinks like Gatorade and cool-aid and High calorie protein shakes. Not the itchy kind sold at Wal-mart, but the good ones that Coach and I created several years ago. They are Tasty!
13. Fitness - It is possible to jump out of the car and hike 18 - 24 miles a day, but to do it, you must be pretty fit all the time. Here are my recommendations:
* Run - 30 - 60 minutes each day with one longer run each week 1.5 - 2 hours.
* Stair climber or Elliptical runner (set at maximum incline) 20 - 40 minutes a day 3 weeks prior to hike
* Weight training - especially back and shoulders, but some leg work helps too.
* Gut work - the best, hands down is: the inverted bicycle ride - lay flat on your back, hands behind head, hips flat on the ground, and work your legs like you are riding a bike. Start with 3 sets of 30 seconds and work up from there.
14. Medicine - I have a small zip-lock bag that coach calls my mini-pharmacy. I have everything from imodium to ciprofloxacin... but only enough to get us out of the woods. Just a few of each. Be sure you know which is which!
15. Camera - go mini digital; one per group is usually enough. Carry one with a big memory card that can take short videos, and give it to your most picture happy hiker. Keep it handy so you can take pics quickly.
16. Bodyglide - if you are prone to chaffing, and you know who you are - get a mini tube of Bodyglide. It is, hands down, the best body lubricant I have ever used. That is speaking from hundreds of long runs, 7 marathons, and (very soon) my first Ultra.
17. Persistence - you must have inner strength and the ability keep going even when you feel like quitting.
Commentary by Kerry Kind
Here are my equipment comments, especially related to the Knobstone Trail. It is not really a list, because Keith’s equipment list, complete with explanations, is the best you’ll see anywhere. I don’t disagree with a thing he says, but I will still end up taking an extra thing or two beyond what he takes.
For example, I do better with the trekking poles on the Knobstone trail, I believe for several reasons:
1) Each foot experiences close to 50,000 impacts on the Knobstone. The trekking poles lessen the force of each step, distributing the impact so your upper body shares in some of the work. I was able to go farther in a day. This also contributes to fewer problems with hot spots and blisters.
2) When you are walking a long level stretch, you may feel that the trekkers are superfluous. But there aren’t many of those on the KS. The poles come into their own when you are climbing, helping to take some of the burn from your thighs, and when you are descending, helping to reduce the impact to your feet.
3) My first knobber, I fell down on a slippery creek bank my first night, landed on my left arm at an awkward angle, and dislocated my shoulder. It popped back in right away, but that arm was pretty useless for the rest of the hike. Last Easter, I used the trekking poles for the first time. There were a number of times, especially on steep descents, that it was definitely safer using the poles, and a couple of times they literally seemed to save me from a dangerous slip.
I am heavier and clumsier than most perhaps, but that’s why the trekkers are for me.
I use an unbreakable plastic spoon. You can get one for about a dollar at Dick’s, I think, and it is super lightweight, maybe even lighter than Keith’s titanium.
My shoes are New Balance 806 trail runners. It may be that you can’t get them anymore, but newer lines may be similar. I would not set foot on the trail with anything else. They have traction, durability, they dry quickly, and most important, comfortable. Get a size that gives you sock room. I wear two socks: Fox River sock liners next to my skin, and then SmartWool Lite Hikers. The SmartWool socks are extremely durable, they are warm even when wet, they are cushiony comfortable, and they dry quickly enough on the outside of your pack. The Smart part is they way they wick moisture away from your feet. So I wear one set and bring a spare set of each.
Yeah, I do the duct tape thing on “hot spots.” It works. I will probably bring a few commercial blister pads, as well. Not because I expect to use them, but someone else on the trail with me will be having a problem because they brought the wrong shoes. I have been there, so I bring the pads so I can give them away and maybe give someone a lift.
Scripture is always appropriate. I should just memorize long passages ahead of time and practice them on the trail. That isn’t me, though. Instead, I’ll prayerfully select a few passages ahead of time for devotions, reduce them down and then print them on the back of Keith’s trail data sheet for this event.
I took a cell phone on my last KS hike, but should not have. I thought it might be good for getting weather information and for the potential serious emergency. I got weather forecasts a couple of times, but several times when I tried to get a signal I couldn’t get one even on roaming. There aren’t many towers around there; it is very rural. Wasted weight.
I use a flexible water container that has a tube that attaches to it. Mine is called a Dromedary, and it will hold 4+ liters, though I don’t need to fill it on the KS. I put it in the top of my pack and bring the tube loosely around my side and it has a clip which secures to the chest strap of my pack. The end of the tube has a pinch valve that I can squeeze with my teeth and suck water out whenever I want a sip, which is pretty often. I think it is important to stay hydrated by drinking pretty steadily. And you won’t want to stop every mile and take a bottle out to get swig or two. I bring a thin plastic one-liter water bottle as a backup, and to mix power shakes or sun tea in.
For a sleeping pad, I use the ThermaRest. I use the lightest weight one, 16 ounces. It is inflatable so you are on an air cushion. This one is only 1 inch thick and ¾ length and stuffs into a small space. I tried the hard Ridgerest first and took it on a couple of hikes, including Montana. I would get up in the morning with my back hurting. I sometimes have problems with my back. When I tried the ThermaRest, no back problem! So that is why it is worth it for me.
First aid: I bring a little bit of Neosporin ointment to put on cuts and scrapes, to reduce chances of an infection. The bandana will work as a bandage or a sling, if those are needed. Most first aid is knowledge, not supplies, right, doc? Medications, though: as someone who had a heart attack a few years ago, I will carry aspirins and nitroglycerin. And I’ll bring some pain medication in case my back acts up.
I don’t have much to say beyond Keith’s exhaustive list. He’s so right on clothes and the Big Three and shoes, etc. Actually I think it is Big Four with four being the right shoes.
All for now,