The fine art of assembling a backpack isn’t so much what you put in it as what you leave out. This is where many hikers make their heaviest mistakes. I’ve seen ridiculous on both ends of the weight dynamic — exorbitant excess (cast iron skillets) to ascetic austerity (tarp kilts of Tyvek).
To hike the A.T., I must carry everything I need to survive a minimum of seven days at a stretch. It is possible to resupply more often, but that pulls the hiker off trail for many wasted miles and hours. I’d rather move forward than run back and forth. Therefore, I’ve been examining every item in my pack for its value. I’m not an ultralight chick, though I may be singing that tune before the trail is done. Survival is the most important thing, but a bit of comfort can make a daunting challenge easier to embrace.
Four essentials are unavoidable. Nothing is more important than the pack itself. Its fit and ability to hold and properly distribute the load is critical. I love Deuter ACT Lite 60+10. It’s comfortable and durable. Shelter is next. Some means of protection from the elements is needed since space in trail huts will be at a premium in March. Modern tents, like MSR’s Hubba, are very lightweight while shielding occupants from wind, rain, and bugs. Sleeping gear — a seasonally appropriate bag (Marmot Angel Fire for cool temps, REI Travel Sack for summer) and pad (REI Lite-Core 1.5) — mean a decent night’s rest, which in turn means a good day hiking. I’ve got these items covered.
The fourth essential is all about energy — food, water, and cooking. Calories, hydration, and the satisfying warmth of hot cocoa at the end of a cold, damp day translate to happier, healthier miles on trail. This is where I’ve been concentrating my time and attention — how to maximize the food I can carry without sacrificing calories and nutrition. I will repackage food to reduce weight, volume, and trash and choose healthy snacks with the right blend of carbs and protein to support hard working muscles. A nifty little postal scale helps me track ounces and package appropriately portioned meals. As small as I am, I’d crash in no time without careful attention to body fuel.
Then there’s cooking fuel. I don’t plan to “cook” any meals as such, just heat water for various breakfast and dehydrated dinner options. A single sealable pouch to prepare these meals per resupply should work fine. No cleanup beyond rinsing the pouch and my drinking cup will be necessary. MSR Pocket Rocket stove, GSI Soloist pot, and a fuel canister comprise my current setup. I tested a small canister to see how many meals it would cover and am plotting resupply points around fuel availability.
Water is incredibly heavy (one liter weighs 2.2 pounds) and must be filtered or treated to insure its safety. Platypus’ GravityWorks is my filter system. It is very convenient to fill a hydration bladder in camp but less so on trail. I must carry enough water for the day’s hike (up to three liters) without hauling too much extra.
Clothes, personal hygiene, first aid kit, and safety/camp gear round out the pack. I’ll need a spare shirt, undies, and socks, rain gear, a couple of jackets to layer as needed, and warm, clean sleeping clothes. I’m also bringing my running shoes to wear around camp. They are very lightweight and can double as water or hiking shoes if needed. Given unpredictable March weather in the mountains, I should include gloves, a hat, and crampons. Dead weight if they aren’t used yet crucial if needed. Head lamp, spare batteries, rope, gear repair kit, trail profile pages, cell phone, air horn (bears), and SPOT messaging device are important safety items.
The heaviest non-survival essentials are my paper journal, camera, and voice recorder. Combined these weigh as much as my sleeping gear and tent together. However, they insure immediate impressions, characteristic details, and quiet reflections do not get lost in the daily blur of footsteps. These three things will help me open any “gifts” the AT may have in store for me and are my best bet to keep this adventure from becoming “just another hike.”