I’m a gear nerd. Let me just put that out there. I spend a tremendous (probably unreasonable) amount of time, reading, researching, and watching video reviews on various kinds of gear: running, tactical, backpacking, whatever. It’s a sickness. Since my reawakening to all things outdoors, my backpacking/hiking kit has gone through several evolutions. Usually, I find that after a trip is a good time to reassess what I’m carrying in the pack. I mean, what better time to take stock of what I have, and what should be cut or replaced with something better?
When you’re carrying everything you need on your back, weight should be the primary consideration. Is what I’m carrying worth the weight? That’s what I’m always asking myself. The catch here is that I can pretty much convince myself that something is justified. So it’s helpful to have an outside opinion. Usually, after a couple beers around the campfire, the topic of how much crap I’ve carried rears its ugly head. Most of the time I fend off the “you don’t need that,” conversation with, “but dude, it just saved the day.” There are, however, a few cases where I’m actually packing too much kit and I need to look at places to trim the fat. I’ll address this in more detail shortly, but the reason to mention it now is just to point out that any system needs review and adjustment.
The base of my backpacking system is, you guessed it, the pack. For day hikes I use the 5.11 Tactical Rush 12 pack. The pack itself is a bit on the heavy side, but it is just the right size for a day hiking adventure, and it’s molle webbing system is ideal for attaching additional pouches for accessories. I’ve used it now on several adventures and the only downside I can see in this pack is that because its not made specifically for hiking, it’s not super ergonomic. A lighter day pack with a waist strap might be better. But overall I’m pleased with it… For an overnight trip I have an (at this moment) untested REI Flash 45. I like the feel of the straps and the empty weight of just about two pounds makes it a solid choice. Once I figured out how to pack a little smarter, the 45L size is perfectly adequate for a two day trip. I’ll have more to say on this once I get it out in the woods and test it.
In list form, the rest of it looks like this :
GSI Pinnacle Kettalist
GSI Insulated Mug
GSI Titanium Long Spork
MSR Sweetwater Filter
1L Folding Water Bottle
Seattle Sports Water Bucket
Sven 15″ Folding Saw
Ontario Gen II SP46
Leather Work Gloves
B.D. Orbit Lantern
Black Diamond Head Lamp
Garmin Etrex Venture GPS
Map and Compass
Fire Starting Kit – lighter, flint/steel, trioxane, storm proof matches
First Aid/Emer Kit – basic first aid, space blanket, signal mirror, chem lite etc.
EMS Velocity 1 Tent
EMS Mountain Lite 35
ThermaRest +11 Sleeping Bag Liner (optional)
ThermaRest NeoAir All Season Pad
Big Agnes Inflatable Pillow
50 ft. Reflective paracord
This doesn’t include much in the way of cold weather gear, because I’m rarely camping below 40 degrees. I’ll usually take a packable jacket, fleece, light base layer, gloves and a fleece watch cap.
Like any good system, it is constantly evolving. This year brought a major change to my overnight system. I swapped out my tent, heavy synthetic bag and equally heavy sleeping pad for lighter replacements which in total saved me a six pounds. In addition replacing the Gregory Z65 with the Flash 45, weighing in at just two pounds, helped me shave a shocking eight pounds off my load out. EIGHT. Pounds. Dude, that’s significant. I don’t think I’m going to go as far as some of the ultralight set ups that you read about, but with these changes, I’m looking at roughly twenty five pounds completely loaded out. To give some perspective, when we hiked Whiteface, my pack weighed fifty pounds. And believe me, I felt every ounce of it. That was two years, two packs ago and a tent ago.
It occurs to me that in backpacking, much like in life, when experienced people talk, it is in my best interest to listen. I had been resisting my buddy’s constant haranguing over the weight of my day pack, until I ran myself into the ground on Moosilauke. That enjoyable moment lead to my finally admitting that my first aid/survival kit was absurdly heavy. Believe me when I tell you there is no worse feeling, nor greater motivator in the world than watching your buddy hump some of your gear. This simply will not do. So I trimmed and cut until I ended up with a far lighter kit with fewer, albeit more realistic options.
A month later when I set out for Sawyer Pond, I spent the night with two guys who had recently finished all of the 4000 footers in New Hampshire. An impressive accomplishment to be sure. During the night we talked a lot about where to save weight while still taking what you need (in their case: beer). On that trip I brought the Z65 for a total of about 32 pounds of gear. Not too bad, but it was that experience that got me thinking about how pack weight affects total weight and the benefits of down over synthetic. I came back with some new ideas about where I could cut down, and thus, this current revision of the system was born.
So now the fun part: testing and review. The only real way to know if your system is going to work is to get out into the wilderness and put it to work. My limited experience has shown me that the weak points in the system will immediately make themselves known. It’s usually the stuff that looks really cool, but in reality offers little in the way of practical use. A perfect example of this is my Alite folding camp chair. I thought this chair was just the coolest thing. Weighing in at 1.4 pounds I brought it along on several adventures, but really only used it once… For a few minutes. Now to be fair, they were several well earned minutes, but after three more trips on which it went unused, it became obvious that I didn’t actually need it, and the room and weight it took up could do much to help lighten the load.
It’s that real world trial and error, and advice from more experienced people that has helped me learn over the years. It’s my hope that one day I can pass on some of the knowledge gained from my successes and failures to someone just starting out, perhaps helping them shed a few unnecessary pounds, or ditch that piece of gear they “just have to have,” for something better/lighter, or more functional. Hiking and backpacking is hard enough, there’s no reason to make it any harder.