Gear: My Current ‘Big Three’
“How do you pack?” This is a question I get asked a lot when I share my hiking adventures, both online and by curious people I meet on trail. It’s a good question, because often what you have in your bag can make or break your hike in more ways than you might think. A multi-day hike (or long trail) needs both planning and spontaneous flexibility. You carefully plan what you take, but you also need to be able to make do when things go wron; if kit gets wet or you need to roll with unexpected plan changes! A heavier pack can mean you have lots of luxuries; nice food, extra battery packs, a kindle and a reassuring first-aid kit as examples, but it can also take its toll on knees, distance you’re able to cover, your energy levels and ultimately the positivity that’s needed to get you through the tougher days.
There’s a lot of buzz around being ‘ultra lite’ in hiking these days, and ‘gear-heads’ can be found competing over how light they’ve managed to get their ‘base weight’ down. Base weight refers to the total weight of your whole gear, excluding food, water and fuel. ‘Ultra-lite’ hikers aim to have their base down to 10lb or less. That’s not a lot. A lighter pack can be achieved by clear methods; survive with much less stuff, or spend more money on higher end gear which is often make with very light technical materials (and then also take less stuff). I have never even come close to being ‘ultra lite’ and I’m not sure I would want to, as I like a luxury item here and there…but I do think there’s plenty of room for me to learn to be a better packer.
You won’t find me sawing my toothbrush handle down to a nub and cutting my pack straps webbing a few centimetres shorter to save grams, but you also won’t find me lugging a couple of books and a seat for by the fire these days. I learned some hard lessons early on in my first thru hike – if I wanted to keep up my mileage and make the distances I needed without breaking myself in the process, then half my stuff needed to be sent home. So, in this week’s article let me take you through the basics key three items that are often known as ‘The Big Three’. I’ll explain what works for me these days and exactly what I took on the South West Coast Path. I’ll cover more of what’s in my pack next week, and you can see where you’d have made different decisions!
The Big Three: Pack, Shelter and Sleeping Bag/Quilt
Pack: I love my very light pack, but to be honest I do cram it with heavy junk a lot of the time so it negates its clever lightness! It’s a Gossamer Gear Mariposa – a 60l pack with a removable internal frame and only weighs 2 lbs (907 grams)! Most important for me, as I suffer with chronic pain, was that it would carry whatever weight I put inside in a way that worked for the movement of my body, and where my most painful areas can be (my right shoulder and right hip). It does, and it has plenty of pockets which is a feature I love because I can distribute my essentials in clever, regular spots so I know where to find them. Pockets also allow me even more freedom to organise the items in my pack in more areas, so I get a better distribution of weight around my body. If I only had one big space inside the pack and fewer pockets I’d definitely find it harder to organise!
Shelter: I chose a light 2 person tent for camping. Mine is a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 – 2lb 2oz (992grams). I think that even when I’m going to be the only person sleeping in the tent, a 1 person set up feels to small for me, especially if it’s been a poor weather day and my pack is soaked as well as my outer gear. I want room to move, sit up and put kit down so it doesn’t actually have to touch my dry things. Also if you have to stay in place for a half day or more because of rain or bad weather, then you don’t want to be lying in a tiny coffin shaped space for endless hours. This tent has two different exits in the fly, so you can use one fly as an exit and one to store your shoes/poles and cooking gear to keep them dry. Also if you’re hiking with a partner, you don’t have to climb over each other to get out for a midnight wee!
There are so many other shelters out there that look fun to use. I’d like to try a bivvy bag but haven’t yet. I liked sleeping under a tarp in dry, hot spells on the AT because it was roomy and felt like you were close to nature. The hammock sleepers with a tarp over them always look so snug that I’ve considered that as well. Lots of options, and it’s best to try them out, think about the terrain you’re hiking along (if there are few trees then hammock is hard!) and then decide what gives the best chance at a good, safe rest.
Sleeping bag: I now use a quilt and I love it. I hadn’t used a quilt before I hiked the Appalachian Trail, but I saw lots of my American trail family using them. I was originally using a Mountain Hardware sleeping bag but it didn’t have high enough rating (keep me warm enough) for the winter snows in the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia so I swapped it out for an Enlightened Equipment Revelation, which weighs just under 1.2lbs (546 grams) Super light, super warm and doesn’t make my tired and twitchy legs feel like they are trapped in the bottom of the bag. I love to let one leg escape the quilt, which just isn’t possible in a bag without getting cold everywhere!
More details on my current favourite gear for hiking in my next gear blog!
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