From the AT to the PCT: Shifting Gear

(Spoiler Alert) Both trails require the essentials.

Word & Photos by Robin Standish

Robin Standish | PCT 2016

I finished the Appalachian Trail (AT) in mid December, 2015. Hoarfrost glazed the landscape, icicles lined the slick, frosty trail, and a damp, east coast chill seeped through ever layer I wore. It was time to be done, though it wouldn’t be for long. A few months later, when the feeling in my toes had returned, and my hiker hobble lessened, I headed for the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I was confident in the hiking part, but was uncertain about how my gear setup would have to be altered.

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Double Duty: Lightening Your Backpacking Load with Multi-Purpose Gear

“If you can’t ride two horses at once you shouldn’t be in the circus.” – James Maxton (1885­-1946)

Text by Cam Honan


One of many ways in which a hiker can lower his or her pack weight is by using multi-purpose gear. A standard backpacking kit is literally full of such items.

Before heading out into the wilderness on your next big trip, try the following exercise. Clear the living room floor and spread out all of your stuff. Examine each and every article and ask yourself three questions:

  1. Do I really need it?
  2. What will happen if I don’t have it?
  3. Am I already packing something that would do the same job?
CamHonan Umbrella
Umbrellas provide protection from both the sun and rain. The wind? Not so much | Death Valley, Lowest to Highest Route, CA, 2014

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Packrafts: 3 Reasons To Use Them in Zion’s Narrows

Light, Flexible, Easy to Fix Packrafts: The Perfect Vehicle to Navigate the Narrows

Text & photos by Dan Ransom

This Trailhead is a Total Yard Sale: Packrafts, Paddles and Drysuits Hanging Out to Dry. A couple tents looked haphazardly pitched, and the trucks are caked in thick mud. Our arrival is probably not a very welcome alarm clock.

Kind of an odd scene I thought, when a voice calls out from one of the tents: “You guys running the narrows?”

This is the start of Utah’s Zion Narrows, one of the most beautiful canyons on the entire Colorado Plateau. It’s an incredibly popular destination, one I’ve descended all or in-part nearly a dozen times either as a backpacking trip or an exit to a nearby technical descent. But today we aren’t here to hike it, we’re here to float. And I’m using a packraft.

The guys we are waking up–they paddled this stretch yesterday. It’s an incredible trip they say, one of the best ever. But the approach. It’s miserable. There isn’t enough water. Takes way longer than anticipated. Beats the hell out of the boat. And by the time they got off the river and rallied back up the hill to snag their shuttle vehicle a quick moving thunderstorm blasted through the area and turned the road to complete shit. Hence, this morning’s yard sale.

And now, a little bleary-eyed and sleep deprived, they are looking curiously at our small packs, and wondering if we aren’t about to make some poor decisions ourselves.

“Those packrafts aren’t durable enough…. Right?”
Read the rest of the article & see the awesome photos here.

Backpacking Ultralight: Stay Safe, Warm, Well-Fed & Happy

The Myth of Backpacking Ultralight: It Doesn’t Make You Less Safe, Colder, Wetter & Hungrier

Text & photos by Alan Dixon.

In fact, I’ll wager that with my 5-6 pounds of ultralight gear I’m more comfortable, sleep better, and eat as well or better than most campers carrying 20 to 30 pounds of conventional/heavier backpacking gear. This is true for three reasons:

  1. Good camping skills: Good camping skills rule! They are far more important than the weight of my gear for keeping me safe, warm and dry. And I don’t mean fancy skills—just the basic, garden-variety skills that every backpacker probably knows how to do (or should know)—like putting on rainwear or a warm jacket when needed, selecting a good campsite, and doing a decent job of pitching a tarp or pyramid shelter, etc.
  2. Light gear appropriate for the conditions: I pick the lightest fully-functional gear appropriate for the actual conditions I backpack in. E.g. my light down sleeping bag/quilt, down jacket, and 6-8 oz rain jacket work as well as conventional (heavy) gear at 3 times the weight. I take gear that is appropriate for actual conditions for the time of year and location I am backpacking. E.g. I don’t take a 4-pound, 4-season dome tent, a +20F sleeping bag, and a down jacket for a warm May trip on the Appalachian Trail with expected lows in the 60s—you’d be surprised how many people do!
  3. Nutritious high-calorie food: Intelligent selection of my food, gives me 3,000 nutritious and filling calories of complex carbs, protein and healthy fats for around 1.5 pounds/day. This is the same number of calories provided by 2 pounds of average backpacking food. Over a 3 day weekend backpacking trip I get as many calories and as much nutrition, possibly more than someone carrying almost twice the food weight.

In summary: It’s not the weight of your gear but poor camping skills, poor gear choices and uniformed food selection that will make any backpacker more prone to being cold, wet and hungry. This is just as true for conventional (heavy) backpackers, as it is for lightweight or ultralight backpackers.

Good campsite selection: While I had the opportunity to camp higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with great views, I chose to camp in a warmer and more protected location in the trees. And discreetly camping out of sight, away from the trail and in the trees is a favor to others sharing the canyon with me. [Note that one tarp ridgeline is solidly anchored to a cottonwood]
Good campsite selection: While I had the opportunity to camp higher up on the canyon wall on a slickrock shelf with great views, I chose to camp in a warmer and more protected location in the trees. And discreetly camping out of sight, away from the trail and in the trees is a favor to others sharing the canyon with me (Note that one tarp ridgeline is solidly anchored to a cottonwood).

Read on to learn more about going ultralight.

Packraft Attire: 10 Things To Help You Stay Safe & Dry

Gear & Clothes That Can Make the Difference For Your Wilderness Packraft Adventure

Moe Witschard

Text by Moe Witschard // Photos by Moe Witschard & Mike St. Pierre

Maurice “Moe” Witschard is an experienced explorer, photographer and a filmmaker who loves packrafting and adventuring. Like all adventurers and packrafters he knows that it is key to stay safe and dry. In this blog post he shares 10 tips for your packrafing attire that will make your packraft adventure as safe and fun as possible.

Making smart choices as to what to wear often means the difference between joy and misery on a packraft trip. After packrafting extensively over the past 10 years, I have tried many different clothing systems. My present strategies are based on principles that I have taken from years of whitewater kayaking and backpacking. I apply them to my trips in what I believe is the most elegant of wilderness watercraft: the packraft. Here, I share my tips.

Read on for the 10 Tips.

Adventure Adaptability: The Key To Succeeding on Your Thru Hikes

Adaptability is one of the most important skills for a hiker to learn. Find out how it affects all stages of your hike.

Bethany Hughes

By Bethany Hughes

The only thing you have control over is yourself, your perspective and your actions. The elements couldn’t care less about your first ascent, your time record or your worthy cause. In thru hiking, as with all adventure sports, adaptability can determine whether you live or die. It means backtracking when you fought hard to get there. It means swallowing your ego.

Adventure athletes are a bull headed breed. We are out there to whet our mettle, pushing forward into new territory, testing limits–this all takes determination. Yet sometimes we have to turn around 300 feet from the summit. It means not dropping in if the snowpack is weak. It means not shooting that sick Go Pro video. Because before all else, Mother Nature demands humility.

Have I made the point about baseline safety, yet? Okay, now let’s talk about how adaptability comes into play at every stage, from planning to after-action review.
Find out more about adaptability

Multi-Sport Adventure: 8 Tips for Beginners

Bike/Pack/Raft/Climb: Steve “Doom” Fassbinder’s Recommendations for Aspiring Multi-Sport Adventurers

Typical multi-discipline trip with Fassbinder.
Typical multi-sport trip with Fassbinder.

“You’re almost always making it up as you go”, says Steve Fassbinder of his multi-sport exploits. “Doom” embarks on long-distance, backcountry adventures that typically include two to four of the following sports: packrafting, thru hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking.

“I’m figuring it out as I go,” he says. Fassbinder started racing mountain bikes, but eventually, the constant riding took a toll on his knees. When he discovered packrafting he realized he could take his bike and do these routes that were never possible before.
Learn more about multi-sport adventure.

Appalachian Trail Hiking Clothes: 5 Essential Items

Not All Technical Appalachian Trail Hiking Clothes Are Created Equal

Kendra "Lays" Jackson, Tyson "Tenderfoot" Perkins and Ashley "Bloody Mary" Hill hanging out on the Appalachian Trail mid May. Thru hikers rely on high-quality puffy jackets and high-quality rain gear.
Kendra “Lays” Jackson, Tyson “Tenderfoot” Perkins and Ashley “Bloody Mary” Hill hanging out on the Appalachian Trail mid May. Thru hikers rely on high-quality puffy jackets and high-quality rain gear.

By Tyson Perkins

A little catching up…

Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Looking at the maps in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s main building in Harper’s Ferry made it apparent that we have put a solid dent into our journey. Lays’ parents joined us for a short stint through the Shenandoah National Park, where it rained more often than not, but it was okay because of the waysides offered at almost every 15 miles. There, we fueled up on their bounty of affordable cheeseburgers and tall beers. Since then we have done a 26 mile slack pack in eight hours, sweated profusely in the humid air and caught up with some old friends we lost during our Trail Days endeavor. After making it just about halfway on the Appalachian Trail I thought I would take a good look at the technical hiking clothes I use day in and day out.
Read on to find out what clothing you should bring on your Appalachian Trail thru hike.

Hike the CDT: 5 Key Things You Need to Know

The CDT: Stay Hydrated, Oriented, Warm & Dry on the Hardest, Most Remote of the “Big Three” Thru Hikes

Some of the scenery on the CDT unparalleled.
Some of the scenery on the is CDT unparalleled. Photo by Jason Granite #WarriorTraverse

The Triple Crown of hiking is an almost mythical endeavor. These three trails take thru hikers and backpackers to some of the most scenic, remote and illustrious landscapes of the United States. The Appalachian Trail is full of history, tradition and lore. The moss-covered New England rocks and gnarly roots are emblematic of the long and deep culture of this famous footpath. And the Pacific Crest Trail winds its way through desert, climbs its way to the High Sierra and John Muir’s fabled “Range of Light” and onward to the volcanic peaks of the Pacific Northwest. It is a land of biodiversity and enchantment. And then there’s the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDT).
Read on.

A Season-to-Season Guide to Ultralight Day Hike Gear Lists

The Hyperlite Daybreak ultralight day pack at the summit of a tall, rocky mountain.
The Hyperlite Daybreak ultralight day pack being put to good use.

Thru-Hiking & Backcountry Expert Annie MacWilliams’ Easy Mods Add Four Season Functionality to Your Standard Day Hiking Gear

Since it’s not always an option to take five-month long hikes, I have really come to enjoy fast and light day hikes with lots of elevation and long miles. Having a system dialed in makes it easy for me to grab the right gear for the day and hit the trails without much thought, a nice perk when you’re short on time and trying to spend as much of it outside as possible.

For long-distance thru hikes, I’m used to having limited gear options–you essentially pick one kit for five months of travel and hope it works in everything from the desert to the high alpine. With day hiking or quick overnights, it’s different. I modify what I carry continually throughout the seasons to ensure maximum comfort and minimum weight.

My day hike gear list includes “standard items,” which I always carry. Then there are the “conditional items” that I need for the specific season or activity.

Regardless of the time of year or type of trip I’m doing, the first items I throw in my Daybreak ultralight day pack are a medical kit, ditty bag, snacks, water and an insulating layer.

Check out what is in her pack.

Long-Distance, Lightweight Thru Hiking Gear List (for the Grand Canyon)

Stripped Down Thru Hiking Gear List for Extreme, Lightweight & Extended Backcountry Adventures, By Mike St. Pierre

Long-Distance (Lightweight) Thru Hiking Gear List

“I used this thru hiking gear list for my Grand Canyon section hike, but minus the technical climbing and canyoneering gear, it’s basically what I’d bring on any long-distance section, thru hike or weekend backpacking.” -Mike St. Pierre 

Photos & article by Mike St. Pierre

As an ultralight long-distance adventurer, I dial in my systems to conserve energy with every step I take. The lighter my gear, the further I can go; the less weight I carry, the less the strain on my body and the less food I need. Going light just makes sense. And it absolutely doesn’t mean I’m uncomfortable when in the backcountry. I’m always warm enough, well fed and hydrated, and I sleep well at night. In this blog post, I share my thru hiking gear list from my recent 200 mile off trail section hike below the rim of the Grand Canyon. This extreme adventure incorporates long-distance hiking, rock climbing, canyoneering and serious map and compass skills, and is one of the most difficult thru hikes in the world. Water is scarce, established trails nonexistent, and the terrain is steep and difficult to navigate. It’s a trip that fewer than three dozen people have done (consider that 40 people summited Mt. Everest in one day in May 2016!). However, despite the specialized nature of some of the technical gear I carried, the basic equipment I bring on any thru hike or long-distance backpacking is the same. And my pack base weight is typically 8-15lbs., depending on the discipline. Check out my full gear list below.

Read the first two articles in this series here: “Planning & Prep: The Thru Hiker’s Guide to Multi-Sport Expeditions” and “Thru Hike Expedition Gear Planning & Food Prep.” As well, I detail my food planning for my first trip to the Grand in, “Food Prep & Recipes for Ultralight Thru Hike Adventures.”
Check out St. Pierre’s Gear Checklist.

Ultralight Gear for Appalachian Trail Hikers: 2-Person Planning & Prep

Exactly what you need & nothing more: ultralight gear for Appalachian Trail thru hikers

Ultralight gear for the Appalachian Trail. Everything Tenderfoot is bringing.

 

Text & illustrations by Tyson Perkins

Early summer 2014, my girlfriend, Kendra Ultralight gear for Appalachian Trail thru hikes.Jackson, and I took on our second 5000-footer together—Mount Katahdin. Soon after waking up the day of our ascent we met a 20-something New York City-based mountain guide, Peter. A veteran thru-hiker, he had a wealth of knowledge about backcountry travel and the Appalachian Trail. He taught us about shelters that set up with trekking poles instead of your common tent poles, trail names, “Trail Magic,” “Zero Days,” “Nero Days,” “Hiker Hobble” and cleaning yourself with baby wipes. We immediately got overly enamored and stoked on this magically ridiculous world and decided to hike the “AT.” Fast travel to the summer of 2015, and Kendra and I began taking on adventures such as the Mahoosuc Range between New Hampshire and Maine in a weekend and returning to work on Monday.

On our first forays into the wilderness, we took awkward thrift store backpacks and a beaten-down double sleeping bag. We cooked dinner on a heavy propane stove right near our Walmart dome tent. Needless to say we had a ton of fun using terrible gear, but knew there had to be better options out there. Through my job as a tent maker at Hyperlite Mountain Gear, I gleaned a ton of ultralight knowledge from the owner, Mike St. Pierre. The more I learned, the easier our trips became. And, more importantly, we enjoyed our backcountry adventures even more. And now’s the time. We’re taking all that we have learned since 2014 and heading out for our Appalachian Trail thru hike. In this blog post I detail our planning, preparation and gear.

Planning:

We really enjoyed planning the logistics of this trip, regularly geeking out over Excel spread sheets and line art graphs (Kendra developed the one published to the right) and the ultralight Appalachian Trail Gear we planned to take. We’ve meticulously categorized and sorted all our mail drop supplies along the AT, and we’ve mapped out our post office stops and planned out how we will meet up with Kendra’s parents in Shenandoah National Park. Everyone needs to take breaks, and we have come up with a plan to take some without compromising our March 4th to July 22nd timeline. If we stick to the plan, we’ll hike 16 miles a day on average. We’ve developed a “bank” system. Essentially, any miles we do over the 16-mile average we add to the bank, and once we have a days worth of miles in it, we can take a full day off. Also, we built in two full Zero Days. And, we planned our food and gear very carefully…

Shakedown:

Home-made dehydrated meals or Mountain House? Nalgene® or a SmartWater bottle? Eucalyptus or almond soap?!?! There are so many choices, some of which are easy to make, and some that seem like you are perpetually leaving something behind. Will I need a footprint for my shelter? Will down be a superior sleeping bag choice? These are things that we will not find out until we really take them out and put them to the test. Gear is really fun. Planning what to take was actually my favorite part of this whole endeavor.

Here is a quick breakdown of our ultralight gear for Appalachian Trail thru hikes: Check out the full list.

Pro Mountaineer Kurt Ross Shares His Alpine Climbing Gear List

Kurt Ross on "Crazy Train," on the Lower East Face of Longs Peak. Photo by Ryan Vachon.
Kurt Ross on “Crazy Train,” on the lower east face of Longs Peak.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ambassador Kurt Ross is a renowned climber and videographer. A self proclaimed “dirtbag,” Ross spends as much time as possible exploring icy wilderness areas. Last May he climbed the Southwest Ridge of Mount Francis, the West Face of Kahiltna Queen, an unreported route on the South Face of Peak 12,200, Bacon & Eggs on the Micro-Moonflower and the French Route on Mount Hunter with various partners. We recently caught up with him and asked him for his go-to alpine climbing gear list for serious lightweight adventures.

The decision of what to wear on your person and in your pack for a big alpine objective can be as nerve wracking as deciding what to wear on a hot date with someone who’s way out of your league. Why did she agree to go out with you anyway? You’re an alpine climber; you have no social skills. She’s probably just doing a favor for your friend who set you up. Wait. Don’t be so hard on yourself. She wouldn’t have agreed to do it if she didn’t see anything that she liked in you. You may as well give it a chance. Like, cast a large net or whatever. What was I saying?

People sometimes make fun of weight-obsessed climbers, but it really is important to cut as much fat off of your gear as is reasonable before attempting hard objectives. I’m not sure that breaking your titanium spoon in half and cutting the pockets out of your jackets is going to make the difference between sending or not, but I do think that general weight consciousness is worthwhile for big adventures. After all, the physical consequence of carrying every extra ounce is correlated to the the amount of spacetime you’ll be hauling it through. The simple unfortunate truth is that spending a bit more money to get that 900 fill, carbon, Dyneema®, helium filled stuff will make you a better climber/hiker/whatever to an extent. C’est la vie. Read More

Ultralight Photography For Thru Hikers and Backpackers

As part of our Stripped Down series, Ambassador Samuel Martin talks ultralight photography in the backcountry.

4400 Windrider Atop the Forester Pass. Photo By Samuel Martin
4400 Windrider Atop the Forester Pass. Photo By Samuel Martin

Samuel Martin maintains he’s an adventurer first, photographer second. His stunning landscapes and surreal trail photos bring the wilderness to life and show his love for the outdoors. However, photography is not something that truly meshes with the idea of lightweight backpacking. The heavy gear only serves one purpose; so lightweight photographers often find themselves facing the choice between sacrificing the quality of their photos or bringing along extra pounds. However, Martin has found a sweet balance between ultralight backpacking and the camera equipment he carries, producing photos while still being efficient and mobile. We caught him between adventures and asked him a few questions.

Do you leave other things behind so that you can bring more photo gear?
I definitely make sacrifices so that I can carry my camera gear. For example, on my recent thru hike of the John Muir Trail I ditched a second short sleeve shirt, a pair of pants, a pair of gloves, and many small miscellaneous items to make room for my gear. Personal preference and needs play a large part in what I leave behind. On some trips I don’t need a lot of warm clothes, so those get ditched. Other times I don’t need warm food, so the stove gets left behind. It’s important to evaluate the needs of each particular trip and go from there. Read the rest of the article.

Stripped Down Lightweight Backpacking Tips: Minimize Utensils, Optimize Toiletries, etc

Dade Lake, below Bear Creek Spire, Eastern Sierra. Photo by Brian Threlkeld
Dade Lake, below Bear Creek Spire, Eastern Sierra. Photo by Paul Clifford

A National Outdoor Leadership School Instructor (NOLS) for five years, Andrew Altepeter has taught hiking, lightweight hiking, climbing, mountaineering, canyoneering and skiing courses. Always looking to optimize his adventures, he modifies everything from his backpacks to his cooking kit and toiletries. He also carries the lightest gear he can find. As a NOLS instructor, he has the opportunity to share his knowledge of ultralight hiking with his students. Here are a few Lightweight Backpacking Tips ideal for students or any aspiring thru hiker or backpacker:

How To Prep for a Packraft Day Trip

The Stripped Down “Learn To Packraft” Series

2015 Packraft Roundup – Montana

By Roman Dial

Packrafting. First off, what the heck is it?

When you go “packrafting,” you are using a small, lightweight inflatable boat to cross and float rivers, streams or lakes, and even run rapids or cross saltwater bays and fjords.

Packrafts are tough and can do whatever bigger boats will do, but they also need to be easy to carry while you walk, run, bike, hike, ski or even fly.

Packrafts encourage amphibious travel, and they are used on some of the biggest multi-sport adventures in the world. Check out the American Packrafting Association’s website for more detailed information. Learn how to get started, gear you should carry and more.

Ultralight Gear List For Thru Hiking & Backpacking

Stripped Down Ultralight Gear List (3-season), By Mike St. Pierre

Mike St. PIerre - Grand Canyon 2016

by Mike St. Pierre

Going lightweight is not just a goal for my backcountry travel; it’s how I live my life. I believe embracing lightweight translates to going further, faster and suffering less in general. Less gear (and ultralight gear) equals more adventure. In terms of outdoor escapades, the first thing I did to lighten my load was address the “Big Three” (aka “Three Heavies”): my pack, shelter and sleeping systems. This article outlines what I take with me on the trail during the warmer months. Plus, I offer some recommendations for stoves, clothes, filters, shoes and more.

Read Mike St. Pierre’s list here.

Gone Light, Part IV: Bring Your Brain & Other Thru-Hiking Tips

Annie MacWilliams on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Annie MacWilliams on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Stripped Down With Guest Blogger Annie MacWilliams. This is the last in Annie’s blog series of thru-hiking tips & tricks for women.

Bring Your Brain: Really, most backpacking and thru hiking gear is gender neutral–tents, sleeping pads, cook gear, etc. But with each other these items, it’s important that you choose the right gear for you. Your brain is the best piece of gear you can bring, so know everything about your gear before you head out. Learn how to pitch your tent in different ways, in the worst conditions you can practice in. Anyone can pitch a tent in their grassy lawn on a sunny day, but a rocky hillside in sideways freezing rain? I failed that test on the Pacific Crest Trail and ended up getting a new tent shipped to me while on the trail. I needed my gear to work in the worst conditions, and user failure resulted in a very cold and wet night. Can you patch a leaky air mattress? Fix a zipper? Tweak a broken stove? If not, learn how. Read the rest of Annie’s final post!

Gone Light, Part III: Safety, Hygiene & Women Hiking Solo

Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.
Annie MacWilliams high in the Sierras.

This is the third of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. 

When you break it all down, there are some gear swaps you can make to lighten your load and some skills you can hone in on to better adjust to long-distance treks. But becoming a good thru hiker really comes down to your mental strength. I personally feel females make stronger long-distance hikers due to the ability of a woman’s body to delegate limited resources (think pregnancy). Plus, females tend to have a lower bar for the acceptable level of risk, and we have a higher bar for hygiene.

Read Annie’s latest Stripped Down post!

Gone Light, Part II: Sleeping Bags & Clothes

Annie Mac thumbs up
Annie Mac thumbs up

This is the second of four posts from our Stripped Down series, authored by Guest Blogger & Triple Crowner Annie MacWilliams. This series targets female thru hikers and backpackers, but most of the info applies equally well to aspiring male hikers. 

As I mentioned in my first post, female solo hikers carry the same things, such as clothes and sleeping bags for backpacking, as their male counterparts. You need shelter, a pack, a cooking kit and stuff to keep you warm and dry. So this series of articles is useful for either gender getting after it in the woods. However, there are some things I recommend to aspiring female thru hikers. After all, women are smaller, they often sleep colder and they can wear dresses in the woods. Read the rest of the article here!

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