“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread–and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!” (Omar Khayyám)
Despite what we all know about me, I am not bringing a jug of wine. I don’t want to carry the weight.
There is a lot of debate over gear in long distance hiking. And let’s be clear that I camp so that I can hike, not the other way around. Meaning, I will do without some creature comforts if it means I can lighten my pack and make better mileage. The tent that you carry from your car to a spot 100 yards away? Ain’t gonna cut for me.
That said, I have not (yet) gone crazy ultra light either. You can definitely find areas where I’m redundant because I’m cautious and haven’t been out in really bad weather yet. And there are areas where the gear could just plain be lighter but I’m not ready/interested in paying the price. Just like the skimpiest underwear is pricier than a 3-pack of Hanes, you often have to cough up big bucks to carry less weight.
I’m going to break this into sections so the post doesn’t get unwieldy.
First off, there are the big four: Pack, Shelter, Sleeping Bag, and Sleeping Pad. These are called “the big four” in the hiking community because they are the most essential. You will find many a debate about whether someone needs an extra set of underwear (of even one pair – lots of commando out there!). But few are going to argue that you need a backpack in order to backpack.
They are also called the big four because they are usually the heaviest items. Pick these wisely in order to have a lighter experience. But don’t necessarily think the lightest will be the best for you. Carrying less weight is great – unless you picked the wrong pack and your back seizes up in mile 15.
My “Big Four”:
Pack – A 2011 women’s GoLite Quest. (The newer models are heavier and have a few more bells and whistles than mine) At roughly 2.7 lbs, you can find lighter packs. But it’s definitely not “heavy”. The weight has nothing to do with why I love it.
First, I love the design – One large compartment, one semi-big outside pocket, one semi-big compartment in the “top”. Then two small pockets on the hip belts that can carry chapstick, ear buds, a granola bar, etc. It’s pretty streamlined and simple. (Technically there are two side pockets. But they are so shallow I would not put anything in them that wasn’t also clipped on to a strap so it didn’t fall out. I think this is the poorest feature on the Quest and I believe newer models fix this issue. But since I carry two large items that use side straps (tent poles and sleeping pad) this design flaw doesn’t bug me as much as it might others.)
Other people love having more pockets and compartments sewn into their pack. Not me. Even if an item does not get back to its designated spot, I only have three places I can look for it. And each additional pocket comes with additional weight.
The second reason I love this pack is the fit. Typically, a women’s pack will fit a woman better and a men’s pack a man. Duh. Although I’ve known a few of both sexes to prefer it the other way around. In fact, K is borrowing Tom’s Osprey Atmos 65 because it fits her so well. You need to be aware in pack shopping that they do come in sizes – based on torso length – and it will make the world of difference once you find the right fit.
I have a pack cover that is water proof for when it rains. The cover squinches down into a small 2″ bag that I carry on one of the useful loops on the back of the pack. I also have the pack lined with a regular black trash bag. This is for 1) in case the pack cover fails/I get it on too late and 2) in case my water leaks. A lot of hikers consider using both overkill, but since there is often not room in the tent for my pack I like to put the cover on overnight to protect the pack from dew.
Shelter: A MSR Hubba Hubba. With an additional footprint, this weighs in on the heavy side of a free-standing two-person tent around a little less than 5 pounds. When Tom and I need a replacement, I will definitely weigh in that we can go lighter. But this is a great tent to have when you are partner-swapping. Once you get your mind out of the gutter we shall continue…
The MSR Hubba Hubba is a two-piece tent. The main compartment has a solid “bathtub” bottom (the bottom extends about 4 inches up from the ground so pooling water will not leak in) and the rest is bug netting. This is attached to a collapsible pole that gives the tent its shape. Over the collapsible pole, you throw on the “rain fly” – a completely solid cover for the tent to keep out, um, rain. It will also make the tent warmer. The fly and tent attach to the ends of the pole. You can stake the entire thing in the ground to keep it in place but it is not necessary. There are doors on both sides of the tent, so you each have your own exit/entrance. The rain fly doors are very loose and you stake them out into a patio or “vestibule”. This is useful to keep gear outside the tent dry and nearby.
The additional footprint is just another piece of solid material. Like a little tent blanket laid down first where you set up. It takes the brunt of whatever pokey stuff you may be laying on so hopefully the actual tent is spared.
The reason we chose to take the Hubba Hubba is that it is a completely rectangular. (Some two-person tents are made with a larger end meant for two heads and a smaller end made for two sets of feet.) This gives K and I the possibility to sleep head-to-feet and get some “me” time at night. Or at least some “I don’t have to stare at your fucking face” time. The bug netting portion on the inside has small mesh pockets to keep things close at hand so we each can have our phones/ear buds/glasses out without accidentally grabbing the others.
The Sleeping Bag – A GoLite 25 degree Quilt. At 2.5 lbs, this is awesome for a 25 degree non-down sleeping situation. But it’s not for the cold at heart. I do supplement it a bit, as I explain below.
A sleeping quilt is basically a sleeping bag with no zipper. It is sewn up about 1 foot down the back so my feet have a spot to snuggle. The rest is splayed open like a blanket. It has two places where you may tie ribbons through and cinch it closer to your body for more warmth but I am not bringing the ribbons. (And in searching for the link to the quilt, I found out the ribbons are supposed to strap the quilt to your pad. Huh. Learn something new every day. Still not taking them.)
I decided on a quilt after 1) being too hot in my 20 degree traditional bag 2) I saw Tom’s and how warm he stayed on a below 40 degree night on Pine Mountain in November.
I have to use a synthetic bag because I am allergic to down. In general, you can find the same temperature rated bag in down lighter than you can in synthetic. And please note that in the USA, a temperature rating means, “You will not die of hypothermia at this temp with this bag”. There is no guarantee of comfort or ability to not shiver the night away.
I find in general that the material sleeping bags are made out of make me sweat. Even when I’m cold. I just don’t like that slippery material on my skin. To remedy that and to help out on those colder nights, I use a sleeping bag liner. Mine is a Sea to Summit Reactor which is rated to add 15 degrees of warmth to the situation. It also is great to creep into on really hot nights when you don’t even want to touch your sleeping bag. It also doubles as a funk-compartmentalizer. Keeps your sleeping bag cleaner and keeps you from smelling yourself (it has a draw string you can pull up around your neck). Basically, I think bag liners are awesome multitaskers. Some people would say it is non-essential weight (less than 10 oz) but I say they’re wrong.
The Sleeping Pad – A Therm-a-Rest Prolite Plus Women’s Pad. A little over 1.5 lbs. You can find lighter, and I have my eye on one about ½ lb less with just a small decrease in the insulation value. (Although you have to manually blow that one up. Everything has its drawbacks.)
First off, let’s agree. A sleeping pad is essential. It’s part of “the big four” for a reason. Don’t try to camp without one. The ground is cold. Much colder than the air. And it is also lumpy.
Second, a woman’s pad almost always has a higher insulation rating because we tend to sleep colder. As much as I’m all about equality of the sexes, I’m not going to argue with physiology.
This pad is full size, meaning when I lay down my entire body fits on the pad. You can cut weight by choosing ¾ or even ½ pads. I don’t see the benefit.
It’s technically “self-inflating”. In theory, if I lay it flat and open the valve, in a few minutes I should have a nice cushion of air to sleep on. In reality, I do that then blow 10-20 breaths into the valve before sealing. It works well, so I’m not quibbling.
At first, I wanted to use a stuff sack and carry it inside my pack. I would start by folding it in thirds, rolling it up, cursing, re-folding, re-rolling, re-cursing. And even once I finally, finally got it in the sack I didn’t like how much space it took up in the backpack. So now I roll it up without folding and strap it to the outside. It’s a much easier way to start the day and gives me some breathing room in my pack. In case I change my mind about the wine.
I pair this with a Therm-a-Rest Trekker Roll Sack. Definitely a non-essential. But I love it. It has a single strap to cinch the pad in a small roll. Before I had to keep track of loose cinch straps every time I packed/unpacked. It protects the pad a little while it’s strapped outside my pack. Makes it easier for me to take my pack off and not worry about where it lands. And the pocket to stuff clothes in to make a little pillow? Awesome. I tried using stuff sacks as pillows, but those are usually made out of similar slippery/sweaty material as sleeping bags. The pocket is lined with fleece on the outside and feels great after a hard day. I don’t have to take the roll sack off the pad during set-up or take-down so it’s not even like another piece of gear I have to keep track of.
So there you go. My “big four” weigh in at about 13 pounds. In theory, I could knock a few pounds off by having my hiking partner carry half the tent (or carry a single person tent). I’m shouldering a bit more weight with both of my partners right now due to the fact I’ve had the ability to train and condition while they’ve done responsible things like make money. I would love to get this under 10 pounds and have my eye on possibilities, but this gear has passed several field tests and I’m happy for now.
Next time: All the other shit you need.