Gear Review

Colorado Trail

The hiking was gloriously easier with lighter packs, especially getting to the top of mountains like this one outside of Breckenridge.

I thought about this post a lot while I was out hiking, as we were constantly evaluating our gear in terms of its functionality and weight, and always talking about ways to get lighter without losing much of that functionality. In the end, I think we could go lighter on almost every item in our pack; it’s just a matter of how much money we want to spend in doing so, and weighing the pros of shaving ounces with the cons of spending money. I also just glanced at Ray Jardine’s website and found that he sells kits to make your own ultralight quilt, tarp tent and packs, so more I’ll be doing more research on that stuff as well.
So, with that being said, here’s a list of the items in our packs and how they performed. While we don’t yet know what we’ll purchase to lighten up for the CDT, we know a little bit of what’s out there, and will be researching and making the smartest purchases possible over the next months in order to start the CDT as light as possible without spending too much money.

A huge piece of preparation that we did for the CT was to read Andrew Skurka’s book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide, and it was invaluable in not only explaining all the technical sides of gear, but in making recommendations based on the conditions we expect to encounter. I’ll probably even read it again before making any new purchases, and I attribute much of our success in lightening up to his experience and the book. While we didn’t employ every single one of his pieces of advice, it made us aware of how to lighten up on every piece of gear. It was well worth the purchase.

While this post is quite long, it includes every single item in our pack. I made a spreadsheet as part of the preparation for easy access to a list of items, a description of each, each item’s weight, and overall totals of gear worn on our bodies and gear carried in our packs. Another item to note is that we benefit greatly from hiking as a couple. We share the weight of many items, and I’ve noted which items we carry between the two of us.

Tent – 2 person Tarptent by Henry Shires. It weighs 41 ounces with the tent, 5 stakes, 1 tent pole and the tent bag, and it uses one trekking pole to give it height. We sort of lucked out of having this tent, as we received it as a gift last year while hiking the Appalachian Trail. We were sitting in a shelter in Maine, talking to another section hiker, and we mentioned we were in the market for a tarp tent. He was quick to offer up his own tarp tent, which was at home in his garage. Later down the trail, when we reached Caratunk, we had a tent waiting for us at the post office. It was amazing to be given a tent, and a light one at that. Since we received it with just a week left on the AT, it never truly got tested, so the Colorado Trail was the first test of the tent. This cut our previous tent weight drastically, as we used an REI half-dome which neared 5 pounds. The REI tent is a fabulous tent for car camping, but the weight was just unforgivable on a thru-hike.
Overall, the Tarptent performed fabulously in the rain, in the wind, and in the cold. There were a few evenings when we woke up to heavy condensation on the inside, but I think it was due to our user error in setting up in a bad ventilation spot, especially when the air outside was so cold. I’ll have to re-read this part of Skurka’s book about picking good tent sites. With the typical Colorado sun in the morning and early afternoon, the tent was easy to dry out, but still not pleasant to wake up to wet tent walls.
It’s a single wall tent, so we were nervous about the rain, but we spent several evenings in heavy rain that lasted hours, and it never leaked through. We could go lighter on the tent, either with a newer tarp tent, or some other tarp system, but if we don’t, I know that we at least have a light, functional tent already.

Pack – Granite Gear Vapor Trail (both of us used one). 2 lbs, 5 ounces each. We bought these packs before hiking the AT last year because we found them at a super cheap price, and because Matt had hiked with a different Granite Gear pack on the PCT and really liked it. We didn’t want to spend the money on new packs for the Colorado Trail, and wanted to squeeze out another thru-hike out of them.
Overall, I would say they’ve been great packs. I like minimal zippers and compartments, and this pack is just about as simple as possible. My reasons for getting a new pack would be to cut weight fairly easily (I just saw a ULA pack that was 21 ounces online) and to get a pack with pockets on the hip belt. I like to have easy access to a camera, sunscreen and water purification without taking off my pack, and the Vapor Trail doesn’t have that great of access, so I ended up rigging a small, 2 ounce pouch to my hip belt for these items.

Matt’s pack is a bit too long in the torso, so he’ll most likely get a new pack simply for the fit, and after just a quick search online for ultralight packs, like ULA, I don’t think we’ll have a problem in finding a lighter pack that will work for both of us. The heaviest our packs got was 25 pounds out of Creede, and we had 6 days of food, which I would hope is our max on the CDT. I haven’t done enough research to know this yet, and will do it before making a pack purchase, but it’s a high likelihood that we’ll get new packs.

Sleeping Bag – REI Subkilo (both of us have one). Weight is 32 ounces each with the compression stuff sack. We used these bags on the PCT and the first half of the AT. At that point, they didn’t seem to have the warmth they used to, so we bought brand new ones halfway through the AT because they were on sale, and we really didn’t know any different, and didn’t care to research.
Like the packs, this seems like it would be an easy item to upgrade in terms of lighter weight without compromising function. Skurka talks about using down-filled quilts, and we’ll most likely explore that option, or just lighter bags. We’ve been happy with the subkilos because they’ve always been warm, they compress down to a football-sized bag, and are still fairly light. But, we’ll most likely reserve our current ones for car camping and will get new bags.

Sleeping Pad – 6 foot Ridgerest cut in half for 3 feet per person at 7 ounces per person. This was the first time we’ve ever cut a sleeping pad, and it felt oh so wrong to get it brand new in the mail, and then just cut right through it. We got over it pretty quickly knowing our weight was cut down to 7 ounces, and it covered from our neck to our hips (our extra clothes were our pillows), and even our knees if we wanted to scrunch up on the mat. We used our packs to cover the rest of the ground, and I have to admit, it was completely comfortable. I didn’t miss the extra feet that I cut off, and certainly didn’t miss the weight. This is an item we’ll most likely use again on the CDT, unless something else light and relatively inexpensive comes along.

Water Purification – We’ve improved vastly over time since the PCT in regards to our water purification, and this time, we used Aqua Mira. We used a pump on the PCT, which broke the day after Kennedy Meadows, and from there to Tahoe we didn’t purify. I can’t believe we were comfortable drinking straight from the water sources, but here we are, 5 years later, and so far, so good. After Tahoe, we used bleach for water purification, and then used bleach on the entire AT last year. We’d always wanted to try Aqua Mira, so we did, and overall it was just about perfect. It weighed 2 ounces and the first bottle lasted until Salida, which we reached on the 12th day. We purified water for 2 all that time, as well as Matt’s dad for the first 3 days. I mailed ourselves extra Aqua Mira to Twin Lakes, which we hit 3 days before Salida, so we did carry a bit extra for 3 days. We’ll most likely use it again, as the only downside was waiting for 5 minutes every time we mixed the two drops in the caps, before pouring it into the water.

Stove – Our beloved MSR Whisperlite was finally left behind for this trail, and we took Skurka’s advice in carrying an alcohol stove made out of a Fancy Feast cat can. We used the Whisperlite stove for both the PCT and AT, but it was time to retire it to car camping, and to test out the .3 ounce cat can stove, which I made at home before leaving for the trail. Matt and I each carried an 8 ounce (capacity) bottle of fuel (Heet) and 8 ounces lasted about 7 meals. The stove worked great, with a few minor setbacks, like cooking more on one side, which was my faulty construction in the holes I punched. There wasn’t a hugely noticeable difference in cooking in higher altitude, and the only time we needed a little extra fuel was to cook angel hair pasta, which we plan on precooking, then dehydrating, before the next hike. We’ll definitely keep this stove going forward, especially because I can get a new one for about $1, and because our friends, Rocketcop and Jess, get to feed their cat Bleu with the actual cat food.

Pot – We splurged on this item and finally bought an MSR Titanium set of cookpots, a 1 liter, a 1.5 liter, a lid, and a pot grip. In total, the set weighs 10.6 ounces. We carried the entire set to start because we thought we’d be cooking two things at once for us and Matt’s dad, but that didn’t end up panning out. We had a Fozzil bowl that weighed 1.4 ounces, which Matt’s dad used, but then took home with him. Going forward, we’ll just use the 1.5 liter pot, cut out the smaller pot, and will carry a Fozzil bowl. I’m not sure if we’ll take the other stuff, like the lid and pot grip, but most likely will. I wish I could say we share food so nicely that we can eat out of the same cookpot, but in the end, someone might feel slighted of their fair share, so we need to carry a separate bowl in order to split the meals. Thru-hikers get pretty territorial over their food, and we are certainly no exception!

Poles – My trusty Black Diamond Poles, which I bought for $60 in Tahoe on the PCT, are still holding up just fine. They weigh 21 ounces while Matt used brand new MSR UL2 poles, which weigh 15 ounces. (Note: we get a discount on Cascade Designs stuff, so hence all the MSR stuff) While I love my poles, I will probably upgrade to lighter ones. This was the first time Matt used poles after 2 AT hikes and a PCT hike, and even after just one day with them, he said he’d never go back to not using them. He loved them, especially on down hills. With just a quick search online, Gossamer Gear has ridiculously light poles, both fixed length and adjustable, that we’ll definitely consider buying (5.4 ounces for fixed length, 8.2 for adjustable).

Headlamp – This was one of those hidden items that we never really gave thought to when talking about cutting weight. But this past February, while I was running through the night during a 100 mile trail race in Texas, I noticed my headlamp just wasn’t as bright as it used to be, even with new batteries. We tossed aside our heavier headlamps from 2007 and exchanged them for 24 Lumen Black Diamond Gizmo headlamps that weigh 2.2 ounces each. While they aren’t meant for extended night hiking, we bought them with the only purpose of camp chores. We tend to avoid night hiking altogether, so these headlamps were perfect for us, and only cost $15 each.

Pack Liner – This was another item I can thank Skurka for recommending. Since the PCT, we’ve used the same finicky pack covers that never really seem to do that great of a job keeping our stuff dry. We copied Skurka and each carried a 20 gallon, 2 mm thick, trash compactor bag (2.2 ounces each) that fit inside our pack, with plenty of excess space to roll it down and cinch it, kind of like a big dry sack. We walked through several downpours and our stuff never got wet or even showed signs of being damp. This was a great upgrade for keeping our gear dry, and for cutting our weight. We switched out the trash bags in Salida, after 12 days, but it wasn’t really necessary. 3-4 weeks per bag is what we’ll do on the CDT.

Shoes – Matt wore Adidas Adizero Tempo XT (trail running shoes, 11.2 ounces per shoe) and I wore the Brooks Cascadia (trail runners, 10.2 ounces per shoe). Both of us have worn plain running shoes on past hikes on the PCT and AT, and finally switched to trail running shoes instead. We were both really happy with how the shoes felt, and how little wear and tear they showed, even after nearly 500 miles. It helps that the trail was relatively smooth most of the time, especially compared to the AT. I’ll have to read a little more about the rest of the CDT to see if the terrain gets much more rocky than what was on the CT. I’d definitely repeat the Cascadias, and Matt will either repeat the Adidas or try out another trail runner.

Water Bottles – We each had a 4 Liter capacity for water, and only carried 3 liters once later on in the trail. We each carried one Gatorade bottle (1.9 ounce), one 2L Platypus bottle (1 ounce), and one 1L Platypus bottle (not sure of weight because we got them for free right before the trail). We contemplated starting with just the Platypus bottles, but heeded the advice of a friend (thank you Alex!) and took the Gatorade bottles because they were much easier to fill from all the water sources. Going forward, I may carry a smaller Gatorade bottle to cut its weight, or just find a lighter 1L bottle, and carry the other Platypus bottles. It was great to carry such a high capacity but not have any bulk when carrying just 1L of water most of the time in the Gatorade bottle while keeping the Platypus bottles in the pack.

Clothing – Matt carried the following clothing: two polyester running shirts (3.6 and 4 ounces), one pair of Adidas running shorts (3.6), two pairs of Asics running socks (1 ounce each pair), a Columbia visor (1.8 ounces, purchased for the CT), a Timex running watch (1.8 ounces), sunglasses (.7 ounces), a Nike windbreaker (7.7 ounces), a Marmot Precip rain jacket (12.4 ounces, purchased for the CT), Columbia zip-off hiking pants (12 ounces), an REI synthetic down jacket (14.3 ounces), and running gloves with mitten tops (2.4 ounces).
I carried the following clothing: two polyester running shirts (2.6 and 3.9 ounces), two pair of running shorts, Adidas and Nike (3.0 and 3.1 ounces), a sports bra (1.2 ounces, new for the CT), a Columbia hat (2.5 ounces), two pairs of Asics running socks (1 ounce each pair), Dirty Girl Gators (1 ounce per pair, new for the CT), a Suunto Vector watch (1.9 ounces, new for the CT), a Scott windbreaker (6.4 ounces), a Northface Bella rain jacket (10.6 ounces, new for the CT), a Cordillera synthetic down jacket (12.5 ounces), Sierra Designs Nylon rain pants (7 ounces), running gloves with mitten tops (2.2 ounces), and a Buff (1.3 ounces, new for the CT).
Clothing was something we wanted to cut down in weight, but also not spend much. Over the years of running so many races, and having access to so many discounts through friends, we have accumulated quite the stockpile of running gear. While some of our items could be lighter, we decided to use what we already had for most of our items, and only bought a few new items.
Basically, we know we can go lighter on pretty much every item. We were happy with how all the clothing items performed except for the gloves. They never really warmed our hands up, weren’t good in the rain without waterproof covers, and only seemed to work if our hands were already warm. This is definitely something we’ll upgrade for the CDT. Matt was happy with all of his clothing, except the Marmot Precip purchase was a bit of a letdown. It said it was 10 ounces online, but ended up being 12.4 ounces and a little big on Matt once we got it. It performed great, but we were bummed that it weighed more than we expected. We should have exchanged it for a smaller jacket, but were cutting it close on timing before the trail. We’re great planners, but procrastination tends to plague us at times.

My items that I loved were my watch, my sportsbra (only the ladies can appreciate this), my gators, my windbreaker, and my rain jacket. As a gift for this hike, Matt bought me a Suunto watch that has the time, a barometer, a compass, and altimeter. With a name like Stopwatch, I’d better have a pretty sweet watch, and now I do. I just need to learn how to use it better. I loved being able to confirm our location with our altimeter, and found the barometer very helpful with Colorado’s ever-changing weather.

On past hikes, my sportsbra never dried overnight, always seemed heavy, cut into my shoulders under the weight of my pack, and felt like I was putting a cold, wet sponge on my body every morning. I vowed to find a solution for the CT and finally did. I bought a 1.2 ounce, “bandini” sportsbra from Target, and not only was it lightweight, but it also dried within minutes of getting into camp each night, and the straps sat closer to my neck, so they didn’t cut into my shoulders. Huge improvement!
I tried out Dirty Girl Gators from the advice of Skurka, and also loved them. They’re lightweight, comfortable, cute (I went for the bright yellow beehive design), and tough. My only downfall was when the Velcro fell off the back of one of the shoes. Duct tape held the Velcro on after that. Going forward, I’ll either mail ahead more Velcro or superglue the Velcro to the back of my shoes.
My windbreaker was technically new because I got it right before the trail, but I won it as a doorprize at a trail race, so it was free. I had planned on spending $40 on a 4 ounce windbreaker online, but opted to carry the heavier, free jacket. I’ve never carried a windbreaker before, but loved it as an alternative to a long sleeve running shirt, and wore it nearly every day at some point in the day. With how the weather changed constantly during the day, and day to day, my layering system of a t-shirt, windbreaker, a synthetic down jacket, and a rain jacket, was perfect. My rain jacket was also new, a discounted North Face one from REI Outlet, and I was really happy with its weight and performance.
Again, we could go lighter on most of our clothing. Depending on the price, we will on some items, and we’ll leave some others alone. Most importantly, we figured out our layering systems and I found myself using every piece of clothing every day, yet never wanting more clothes, whether it was my hiking clothes during the day, my extra layers in the mornings and evenings, or the extra clothing I slept in overnight. The only item we’re definitely upgrading will be gloves.

Random Cooking Stuff – 4 ounce Oil bottle (.5 ounce), 8 ounce Fuel bottle (1 ounce each person), Windscreen (1.6 ounces), Lighter (1 ounce), REI campware soup spoon (.5 ounce each person). Not much to say about these items, but I wanted to make sure I include all the gear we carried. Between the two of us, one person carried the oil, the windscreen and the lighter. The weight listed for the bottles is the actual plastic bottle, not counting the oil or the fuel. We each carried a fuel bottle and a spoon. The windscreen is from our MSR stove, and a bit heavy compared to Skurka’s homemade foil screen, so we’ll probably cut some weight for the CDT by making our own next time. We would have also liked a backup fuel source rather than just one lighter, and took a chance by not carrying a backup.

Random Packing Stuff – Each of us carried just one stuff sack, with Matt carrying a Sea to Summit waterproof sack (2 ounces), and me carrying an REI nylon sack (2.6 ounces). I’m not completely sure about their exact size, but each can fit our sleeping bag and all our clothes. We took the advice of Skurka, and kept the stuff sacks to a minimum, using them just for our food and random items. Our sleeping bags and clothing were loose in our packs and clothing was stuffed in the empty spaces between the bigger items. When we weighed the stuff sacks we had originally planned on carrying, we each had over 8 ounces of stuff sacks, so that was a great piece of advice from Skurka in order to avoid carrying an extra half pound of stuff sacks.
We each carried a 1 ounce Ziploc quart sized bag for our wallet (.6 ounces) and for any other items that needed waterproofing, like our phone and camera. Between the two of us, we carried 3 large Opsacks, which each weighed 1 ounce. We put our food, stove and any other items that may have had a scent or been near food into the opsacks each night, and used all three when we had 4-5 days of food. We slept with them in our packs in our tent each night, and never had an attempt on our food from a bear or rodent, though we took precautions by not cooking where we camped and by camping in unestablished campsites when possible. While I can’t say they worked because nothing ever smelled our food, they didn’t not work since nothing ever tried to get our food.

Other Small Essentials – Basically, everything else in our pack that was either kept in our one stuff sack or in my hip pouch (2 ounces) for easy access.
Toothbrush and floss – 1.9 ounces, shared between the two of us.
Dr. Bronner’s soap in a 2 ounce bottle – 3 ounces, 1 bottle covered both of us for about 10 days. Served as soap, dishsoap and toothpaste. Honestly, disgusting taste for toothpaste, but we’ll continue to use it for all its functions.
Sunscreen in a 2 ounce bottle – 3 ounces, 1 bottle covered both of us for about 7 days
First Aid Kit – 6.9 ounces (roll gauze, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofren, Vaseline, ducttape, bandaids, in a sandwich sized Ziploc)
Cell phone and charger – 4.6 ounces for the phone and 2 for the charger, charger also worked for the camera
Mosquito Net – 1 ounce per person
Data Book – 2 ounces
Glasses and Contacts – Only for Matt; 6.2 ounces including his glasses, contact case, contact solution and Tupperware to hold it all. He really needs to just get Lasik surgery so he can cut out this weight!
Birth Control and tampons – 1 ounce. Obviously just for me, and mainly listed for the women who want to know how I live outside for months and don’t have a period. I take a birth control pill that allows me to only have one period every 3 months, if that, and the few tampons I took were for a “just in case” scenario that every woman appreciates being prepared for.
Toilet Paper – 2.2 ounces for a half roll. Each half roll lasted us around 6-8 days. We carried one half roll between the two of us.
Camera – 4.6 ounces. Sony Bloggie that takes photos and videos, with an internal 8 GB memory, and which has an internal USB connector that connects right to a computer or our phone charger. While the pictures aren’t the highest of quality, we love that it has so much memory, and that it takes videos.
Rope and caribiner – 2.8 and .8 ounces. We took these items for bear bagging and only used them as a clothesline to dry our clothes when we washed them in streams on sunny days. We could probably cut weight by either not taking them in the future or getting lighter items.

That’s every single item that we carried in our packs, and what we thought about them. After listing them out with their weight, I feel like we can definitely go lighter with some research, time, effort and money. Again, Surka’s book is a great read if you’re looking to go lighter or just get a better handle on the appropriate gear for your particular hike. He also discusses food in the book and has sample gear lists for different hiking environments.
The one item we didn’t carry which we both missed was an ipod, or some kind of music device. We plan on bringing some sort of music device for the CDT, which can hold music, books on “tape”, lectures, etc…It was such a short hike that it was not awful without music, but if I’m signing up for a 4 month hike on the CDT, I need something to take my mind off the miles.

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