Friday, February 26, 2010

Going light as a new backpacker

I think that new hikers who have no gear at all should start with the lightest they can get without going to any rash extremes. There's absolutely no reason to "graduate" from heavy to light if you don't have to. Much of the light stuff is better than heavier stuff anyway.

Rash extremes would include gear from small companies that are asterisked with a note that if you have to ask if this item is for you, it isn't. Rash extremes would include buying 40 degree sleeping bags when you expect to hike where it's down to the 20s. It would also include buying a cuben fiber pack rated to carry 12 pounds maximum when you don't know down to the gram what your gear weighs.

If you have heavier stuff and feel like not having lighter stuff means you can't enjoy yourself, don't think that way. Just go. Before you do, though, go through what you have and ask if you really really need it. You can remove a bowling ball's worth of weight by focusing on the details.

If it's something that is consumable, ask yourself if you really need to carry so much of it. If I'm going for a weekend, I don't bring a pint of fuel. I bring a couple of ounces. Enough to spill once or twice. I don't bring a full thing of mosquito repellent. I bring a tiny visine bottle of it. I can go a weekend without deoderant (heck a whole summer, too.) A full first-aid kit probably isn't necessary. Just take a few of the more useful items and leave the rest of it at home.

For the non-consumables, ask a bunch of what-if questions and see if you can answer them by removing stuff and making do with something else. Do you really need heavy long underwear to sleep in? Can light long underwear and your rain gear keep you just as warm? Do you really need a cup, plate, bowl, spoon, fork and knife? Can you eat and drink out of your pot with just a spoon instead? Do you really need a full set of pots or can you get by with just one pot? Can you wear all your clothes at once and be warm enough, and if so, can you leave home all the clothes you can't wear at the same time? Do you really need a pillow or can you make one out of some of your other stuff? Are camp shoes really necessary if your hiking shoes are comfortable and dry quickly?

Now get out there and go! Start learning. I learned a lot hiking the PCT. I didn't know it all beforehand. I still know less than the average PCT hiker. There's a lot of stuff you can tolerate without dying. I still get to learn that lesson from time-to-time.

Good luck.

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