Preparing for the AT Part 1: Geeking out about Gear

appalachian_trail_mapI’m off to thru-hike the nearly 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in March 2013. This is the first post in a series of posts about my preparations for the hike.

I was done reading gear lists. I had everything I needed. I’d spent hours researching every bit of gear I owned. It was all meticulously recorded in an Excel spreadsheet with categories, costs, weights down to tenths of an ounce, notes and totals. I was ready. Then I read Mike Clelland’s Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 Amazing & Inexpensive Tips for Extremely Lightweight Camping. I asked my brother if I could re-borrow his postal scale.

The best weigh to obsess about weight is to get a scale. Weigh everything at least twice. I started weighing the things that I wasn’t even taking on the trail. Why do I wear these shoes? They are so heavy. I could walk faster if I slipped into something a little lighter. If I stocked my cupboard with plastic cups rather than mason jars would I be better hydrated because the cup would be less heavy and I’d be more likely to lift it to my lips? What’s this 2.6 oz pen doing for my wrist? Am I an early candidate for arthritis or will I win more arm wrestling matches?

So, after reading up on ultralight (UL) backpacking, I decided not to just settle for a weight I could comfortably carry, but to push it as low as I could while still remaining comfortable. Get it? So I got a new lighter pack, new lighter sleeping bag, swapped my 13.6 oz Katadyn Hiker water filter for 3 oz Aquamira water treatment, replaced my firefly with a homemade alcohol stove, bought lighter rope, cut off all clothing tags and useless thingamajigs and ditched the whole river fording/camp shoe idea (my feet will get wet. Who am I trying to kid?). I effectively shed over nine pounds. My base weight is down to 13.45 lbs. True, it’s not the 10 lbs that would qualify me as a UL hiker, but truth be told, I am sweet on my hammock. I am not ready to switch it out for a measly tarp. I love sleeping and what I really, really love is sleeping well. So the hammock is coming.

“Gearing” up for the AT is a funny thing. This is a five to six month journey. I don’t expect to finish the trail with the same gear I start with. People obsess over gear though because it is all we thru-hikers carry for those five to six months. Food, shelter, clothing all carried in one pack. That pack will become an intimate part of me. The decisions I make now should not be taken lightly. On the other hand, I shouldn’t become overly consumed by these decisions. The gear in my pack is all replaceable and will all eventually deteriorate. There are plenty of outfitters along the way at which to make equipment changes or replacements and becoming attached to my gear only distracts me from the actual experience of hiking.

I’ll be updating my gear list page in the coming weeks and months. What one ridiculous thing do you think I should carry? Guitar? Novel? Pillow? Bear spray?

My vote was for fishing pole, but I talked myself out of that one. I can turn my hiking pole into a rod, my guy line into fishing line and just bring some fishing hooks. I can’t get fishing hooks to register as any weight on my scale. Score.

Preparing for the AT Part 1: Geeking out about Gear

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