Musings on IT, data management, whitewater rafting, and backpacking

Friday, January 27, 2012

500 Miles on the PCT – Lightening Up

In August 2003, I tried to hike 500 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail through the High Sierra in California – in 30 days.

Here's how I reduced my pack weight ...

The single most important piece of equipment I bought never went on the trail with me: an inexpensive digital scale! Weighing everything to the nearest gram is quite important. Manufacturers weights are averages (or exaggerations), and after you modify your equipment, you need to weight it again.

Modify your equipment – every gram counts! There's no gear police that will swoop down after you remove the straps, logos, cords, belts, and other doodads that you don't need. You might even add something, but think long and hard. Be brave and cut that hole that makes something work better. Weight and function are far more important than appearance.

On my first weekend trip, I used old equipment (some very old). That gear worked OK, but was over 25 pounds base weight.

Piece by piece I bought lighter versions of my old gear.

After a couple more weekend trips trying the new gear, I was still over my target base weight, and several items didn't work well.

Time to re-think everything from the ground up. Back to Ray Jardine's books and the Internet.

Lightweight backpacking requires new skills, not just lighter equipment and book learning, so I tried new equipment on my training trips.

On one trip, I used a poncho as a tarp, which failed miserably – too small for me. I switched to a Tarptent Virga with sewn in floor, about the same weight as a tarp plus ground sheet plus poles (I don't use hiking poles). Unfortunately, on a training trip with that tent, a tick snuck under the unsealed entrance. I got bit and infected with staph, and had to end the trip early. I used that tent for the PCT, since in the High Sierra, ticks are not a big problem.

On the same trip, my gas cartridge seal leaked, and I soon had an empty cartridge, a smelly pack, and no way to cook. I switched to an Esbit Pocket Stove with Esbit tablets, slightly modified. Much simpler, lighter, and more reliable.

All the training trips taught me which equipment worked, didn't work, or needed modification. I made many other equipment changes, large and small, based on those experiences.

For my final training trip, I used exactly the equipment I planned to use for the PCT – I didn't want any surprises in the High Sierra.

My base weight was higher than I wanted, but I didn't have enough time to reduce it any further.

Final Equipment List – Weights are from my digital scale.

Carried
OuncesDescription
31.2Granite Gear Vapor Trail pack, after trimming
26.0Western Mountaineering Megalite 30°F sleeping bag
8.2ThermaRest Z-rest pad, after trimming
24.9Tarptent Virga with floor
3.5Esbit stove + windscreen
0.7Lighter
5.5Snow Peak Ti Solo cook set
0.6Lexan spoon
0.5Scrub pad, mesh sack
1.4Soap, 1 oz in squeeze bottle
1.4Antiseptic hand gel, 1 oz in bottle
3.4Water bottle 2x1.5L
3.2AquaMira water treatment
37.0Bearikade Expedition canister
1.1Black Diamond headlamp
0.3Spare battery, fits headlamp and camera
4.5Sunscreen
3.0Bug repellent (3M Ultrathon)
0.6Toothbrush
1.7Toilet paper in plastic bag
2.0Trowel
1.4Pack towel
9.6First aid kit
3.8Whistle, mirror, tape, matches, firestarter
1.1Chouinard sewing kit
4.0Stuff sacks
4.1Maps
1.6Drivers license, credit cards, cash
5.4Olympus Stylus Epic film camera
2.0Film, 2 rolls
0.3Comb
2.5Cord to hang food
2.3Trash compactor bag
3.5Journal, pencil
9.8Silnylon poncho
8.7REI fleece top
7.1REI polypro tights
5.6Montane Lightspeed jacket
3.4Montane Featherlite pants
5.0Socks, 2 pair
1.3Clear glasses
1.3Glasses case
0.8Reading glasses
1.3Glasses case
1.4Fleece gloves
1.5Fleece hat
1.1Bandanna
250.6Total Ounces Carried
15.7Total Pounds Carried
Worn
4.0Tilley hat
1.3Sunglasses
8.5REI MTS T-shirt
1.9Suunto Vector watch
7.1Patagonia Baggies shorts
2.5Socks
4.0Orthotics
29.8Asics Gel-Eagle Trail II shoes
59.1Total Ounces Worn
3.7Total Pounds Worn

Since the PCT trip, I've reduced my base weight by a couple of pounds, based on more experience.

Next – the trip

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