Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 3

West Virginia Vista
West Virginia Vista

Critter Conclusion:
In addition to the many deer i mentioned, i also saw a gang of turkeys towards the end of Day 2! It was getting dark and they were across a little valley, but i saw them take off from the ground and fly into some trees. There were maybe 12 of them. Again – no pics. I wasn’t worried about spooking them. But with the light and the distance, i did not think the odds of a clear pic were very good. And i was really tired and hoping to make it to camp before dark.

Pack Weight:
Things have changed in Backpacking since my youth. It is scary to think back on the things we learned when i was in the scouts. We carried hatchets, raw potatoes, canned goods, all kinds of weird heavy stuff. We would carry fresh fruits – lots of apples – and chuck the remains into the forest to decay naturally. None of that stuff matches up with today’s principles, and in many cases, rules and laws. We will have to come back to Leave No Trace principles later, because that it is important, but it is not gear review or Pack Weight.

Big Pack 1
Big Pack 1

My buddy Poppa Joe shared a quote that sums the whole thing up nicely: “The fun goes up as the weight goes down.” Warner Springs Monte

The lighter your pack, the easier it is on your body. The lighter your pack, the less crap you have with you in the woods – hopefully lending to a simpler experience with more time spent in the moment than fussing over gear. I have been gear obsessed for the least few years. I have two scales for weighing gear and several spreadsheets with products and weights and links to reviews and comparisons. In addition to simply enjoying good gear, i do all this now so that i won’t have to think about it in the woods.

Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)
Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)

Once i wanted to get beyond weekend trips, i started like most other beginners (experience not age), with about a 60 pound pack. You get in the woods a little bit, talk with some other hikers, buy a few different things and get your weight down below 40 pounds. This is still way too heavy. I did make a few changes, mostly buying a new pack, and got my Base Pack Weight (BPW)* near 30 pounds before i hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012. Things were better, but i discovered that this was still way too heavy. Almost everyone I met on that hike was thru-hiking the PCT and they ALL had these tiny packs.

* There is not a truly consistent standard for calculating BPW. The concept is that your BPW should be the weight of everything NON-Consumable in your pack. But how that gets interpreted varies. Do you include or exclude your water treatment drops, or vitamins, or toilet paper/wipes/hand sanitizer, or sunscreen, or stove fuel, or, or… Many folks, me included, tend to use BPW for everything but food and water. I like this system. It is easy to understand, replicate, and provides a useful standard for comparison.

From my talks with experienced long-distance hikers and other research, my goal is to get my BPW as close to 15 pounds as possible. It can be easy for someone new to backpacking to get set-up with a lightweight kit. It can be more difficult for experienced hikers to drop pack weight. There are many things that you can buy, but you really need to learn how to challenge ALL of your preconceptions. This has been a fun and enlightening process. Why do i have so many zip locks? Why are these things in this bag? How you keep your gear and spare gear organized at home does not have to be the same way you organize your gear in your pack. Without making very many new purchases, but focusing on analyzing my behaviors, i got my BPW for this hike to about 22 pounds! That is over 8 pounds lighter than my JMT kit, and included some winter specific gear that will not be in my PCT pack!

Check out how small Joe's pack is.
Check out how small Joe’s pack is.

My master gear spreadsheet, where i am tracking my PCT gear, includes gear that i do not yet have but which i have decided to purchase for sure, and has very few holes which represent items still under debate: will i take this or not, will i get this brand or that brand, etc. This spreadsheet is tracking two BPW numbers: with and without a Bear Canister. Many sections of the PCT require hikers to use a bear canister. I am thinking about carrying one the whole trip. Most people only carry one where it is strictly required. I like the bear canister. It is simple and effective, and it works against every critter, not just bears.

Very few people actually know how to effectively hang food out of the reach of bears. Even if you do know how, there are not many places that present the correct configuration of trees to oblige you. If you do have the knowledge, and nature does provide the correct availability and spacing of trees, this system does nothing to prevent squirrels, mice, possums, and any other kind of critter that can climb or fly from getting your food. Given all that, why wouldn’t people carry a bear canister all the time? They weigh about 2.5 pounds.

Joe is sitting on a Bear Can
Joe is sitting on a Bear Can

My heavy number, BPW with bear canister, is down to 17.9 pounds. I am at 15.4 without the bear can. We will see as i continue to fill the few holes in my list. I project that when the list is complete, i will be at about 19 pounds BPW w/Bear can. And that is why i think i am going to replace the tent i just replaced. I can lose about 2 pounds switching from my current free-standing tent to an ultralight single-wall tent that uses one or both of my hiking poles as the support structure. More on tents another time.

That is a quick look at pack weight. There will probably be more later. As i get closer, i am sure i will do a complete inventory series as well.

Feel free to let me know if there is anything specific you would like to learn about.

Rock On!

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