In this article I am addressing our new improvements to our hiking gear and how they greatly improved our hike. There are a couple big motivators that made this happen that I’ll discuss along with how these geeky gear changes have led us to want to tweak the things we carry even more.
To start, a big thank you to superman hiker Andrew Skurka, author of the book The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail. For those not in the know on the big names in long distance backpacking, this guy is absolutely amazing. He’s our age and has put in over 30,000 miles of hiking already, and not the simple conventional thru hikes of the AT or PCT. He’s done those (as part of longer trips) but for example, he’s also been dropped off in the Alaskan wilderness for months, walking 30 to 40 miles per day covering some of the most amazingly remote wilderness available in the world. So when we saw his book published by National Geographic earlier this year, we jumped on it, and we are certainly glad we did.
While I’d say it’s fair that we thought about our gear on occasion, after reading Skurka’s book, we realized how far we were from the geeked-out gear world of many hikers out there; we realized just how much we could improve with some effort, and though we’d talked about making changes after our AT hike from the summer of 2011, we hadn’t actually made any strides towards improvement. Once we read his book however, Julie was typing up a spreadsheet and weighing nearly everything in our apartment! We began analyzing every piece of gear for usefulness and weight. We also began thinking about how to be better prepared for the environment we were heading to.
What all this inspection led to was a fairly major overall in our hiking plans and style. We kept a couple of the basics intact including our Granite Gear Vapor Trail packs and our REI sub-kilo down sleeping bags. But from there, the packing and planning shifted gears. For example, after the AT, we didn’t think we were tarp tent kind of people. We liked the ease, comfort, and hominess of our REI 2-person Half Dome free standing tent. Problem is, it weighs around 5 pounds! Thanks to Skurka, we switched back to the two pound TarpTent. We also finally ditched our MSR Whisper Lite stove that uses white gas for fuel. Instead, we followed Skurka’s instructions and built our own stove out of a Fancy Feast cat food can. We gave the food to our friend’s cat, punched holes in the can, and filled it with antifreeze (Heet) that we could pick up at most any gas station. It burned great and weighed less than an ounce. We also ponyed-up and bought a sweet titanium cook set that weighs next to nothing. We stuck with chemical treatment for water which is lightweight and easy, and I even decided to give hiking poles a try – I doubt I’ll ever go back to not using them. Lastly, we got ourselves better prepared for the weather with appropriate gear. We added some weight with wind jackets and for the first time in three trails, I carried a rain jacket. While this may sound crazy to go without one, my old philosophy was that if it was wet out, I’d simply hike in as little clothes as possible and keep everything else dry for camp time. Not such a good idea at 12,000’ elevation. The extra clothes provided me with a much higher degree of comfort on the CT trip, and for minimal weight gains.
We also changed our food plans significantly. While we used to talk up the idea of doing things on the fly and buying food as we went, this time we planned it all out and sent ourselves food to post offices along the way. We focused on dense food that was high calorie, reasonably healthy, and packed down well. Julie used a food scale and measured calorie content of everything we carried so we had between 3500 to 4000 calories per day. My favorites were the addition of 500+ calories of dark chocolate per day. We had good snacks and filling cooked meals. Better yet, we were always able to keep our packs from being too full with bulky items (like potato chips).
I’m happy to say that the changes made a big difference on the positive side of the enjoyment scale for our Colorado Trail hike. We were generally comfortable for the conditions, we were overall a little cleaner as we brought soap with us – again a first for us, and we ate much better than we did on the AT where we often found ourselves resupplying out of gas station convenience stores.
I’d also say that we’re well on our way to becoming gear geeks ourselves. We talked extensively on the CT hike about gear we could improve on and since our return to Seattle a few days ago, Julie has already been reading up on lighter packs, sleeping quilts instead of bags, and a whole bunch of other cool things to improve our quality of life on the trail for our next hike.
So in conclusion, we’d like to officially say thank you Andrew Skurka for putting together an excellent gear guide that helped us get our butts in gear and get more comfortable out there on the trail. While it isn’t rocket science, sometimes it simply takes hearing about how someone else does things to actually make improvements for oneself.