Sunday, April 11, 2010

This will be my last post before I leave my laptop in San Diego and starting the trail. I’ll have written this post while riding a train in route to San Diego, during the night hours when there wasn’t gorgeous scenery to observe and people to talk with. No internet on the train, but power outlets were available. So this blog couldn’t be posted until today with a little copy and paste help from a word document.

The above picture shows every last bit of my gear, food(in the green and orange stuff sacks at my feet), clothes, and bare necessities for the trail, all spread out in my parents deck back home in Georgia. I thought it would be interesting to show you all how much I’ll be carrying on my back for nine months and that it can all be packed away and fit inside the backpack. My full backpack with everything you see in the above picture is shown to the left. With the two nalgenes(very durable/unbreakable water bottles) full of water and seven plus days worth of food the pack weighs in at thirty five pounds. Most of my equipment is brand spanking new or used by yours truly just a few times. I spent a great deal of time researching what pieces would be the best for me. This gear is my life for the next nine months. It will be my home, my bed, my kitchen and my wardrobe. This gear will ensure my safety, keep me comfortable, and may even save my life on the trail. So it was very important to carefully research every bit of it to make sure I was choosing the best. So, I compared different tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, stoves, pants, shoes, water treatment, jackets, and so on. With most items I compared I had to study their weight, durability, cost, size, and then the weight again.

I tried to find the lightest weight gear that could compact to very small sizes. On the trail, less is more. But at the same time, I needed to make sure this lightweight gear would be strong enough and durable enough to withstand the beating I’d be putting it through everyday for 5000 miles. And along with all that, would the gear be easy and comfortable to use. So after reading many reviews and asking around, and even trying out a few items in stores(not many stores with the gear I needed in Yellowstone National Park, where I had to do most of this planning) I feel confident in all my tools.

Looking at the picture above with my gear spread out, and going left to right, top to bottom, I’ll try to give you an idea what everything is. My sleeping bag is a Montbell ultra light super stretch down hugger. It weighs only 31 ounces, is rated to 25 degrees Fahrenheit and stuffs down into the size of a football. I had the opportunity to get inside one of these very comfortable bags in a Bozeman, Montana shop before purchasing it online. Pricy, but I feel like it is well worth it for how important it will be to me every night.The yellow egg crate design sleeping pad is the Thermorest Z-Lite. Very soft, light and affordable. A black bandana is resting on top of my sleeping pad in the photo, and will be used to keep the sun off the back of my neck, and sand out of my mouth in the case of an unlikely sand storm. Next to the sleeping pad are my Patagonia thermal underpants and long sleeve shirt, good for layering and keeping out the cold on those very chilly nights. Below that are my two Mountain Hardware, lighter than air, t-shirts. I love these. Moving over the other couch are a pair of Columbia convertible pants that are so light and thin, they fold into the size of a softball. They also unzip at the thighs to make shorts. Next to the pants is my very water resistant Stoic jacket. No bulk to it, but thick enough to keep out the cold, wind and most rains. Another plus was it has no seams, meaning it was welded completely together, giving it more strength and durability. Sitting in between the pants and jacket are three pairs of undies and a mesh Budweiser ball cap I found half buried in the orange sands of Arches National Park backcountry. Spread out, but not erected, is my single pole tent. It is the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo weighing in at 26.5 ounces and packs down to the size of a large bunch of bananas. It is a non free standing tent, meaning it must be staked down in order for it to stand. It requires only the one pole you see leaning against my sleeping pad, or a trekking pole, and six half ounce stakes found in the blue sack leaning against my sleeping bag. I bought this tent online last Spring, and was very pleased with it all summer backpacking in Yellowstone. Beside the tent are another pair of convertible pants(Mountain Hardware) that unzip as shown at the thigh, but are slightly thicker and heavier than the Columbia’s.

All the smaller items on the floor starting from the left include my cookware(blue shammy towel, MSR pocket rocket, Giga power fuel, pot, bowl, spork, 1/3 measuring cup, food scraper, and lighter, all in which fits inside the pot), stick of deodorant, homemade first aid kit in zip lock baggie, two nalgenes( one of which I have carried since my very first summer in Yellowstone), and my first pair of shoes. I say first pair, because I will go through at least six pairs in 5000 miles of trail walking. So, I have already purchased four pairs to be sent to post offices close to the trail when I need some new kicks. All my shoes will be light hiking or trail running shoes. NO BOOTS! Behind the shoes is my journal, sections I’ve torn out of a PCT guide book, trail data book, the new testament, PCT visitor permit, fire permit, and a special picture, all of which is sealed up in a zip lock baggie. Then I have a small jar of peanut butter(great calorie source) and my Duck pack. The Duck pack is a rain cover for my entire backpack while I’m hiking. A few different sized waterproof stuff sacks for storing my tent, sleeping bag, and clothes lay next on the floor.

Back below my cookware on the floor I have my Turtle Fur skull cap, that I proudly wore driving Bombardier snow coaches in Yellowstone. Next is a bright Petzel headlamp, mini camera tripod, four carabineers, GPS, compass, SPOT, eye glasses case, and a toothbrush. For easy packing and slightly lighter toothbrush, I will be using just the replaceable heads for electric toothbrushes. Below that are four pairs of North Face water wicking socks, iodine tablets for water treatment, insect repellent, multitool, and cell phone and camera chargers. Next to them are my Yak Traks. They are basically very simple lightweight crampons for better stability and traction when walking over slick snow and ice. Below those on the floor is my Platypus water filtration system. Lighter, faster, easier, and more water than a pump filtration system. It uses gravity to send water out of a “dirty” bag through a tube and filter, and then into the “clean” bag. Very cool! Next is my small Sony Handy Cam video recorder, that I’ll be using for still pictures as well. Used it all winter after receiving it as a Christmas gift from my family, and have been thrilled with its’ video quality and satisfied with the still photograph quality. It’s case is to the right in the photo above, as well as my monocular. This is the same as binoculars, but obviously with only one lens to peer through. Below that lies my two Leki trekking poles that will soften the blow to my knees, give me more stability in snow and river fords, and possible assist me in warding off any rattlesnakes I’ll encounter. Last, and certainly not least amongst all my gear is my backpack, in which everything I described above, will carry. It is the Granite Gear Vapor Trail weighing only an ounce more than my sleeping bag, but with the strength to carry forty pounds and keep me very comfortable.

All my food for seven plus days is included in the top photo as well, but is just contained in the orange and green stuff sacks at my feet. All that food was described in my previous post. So there is all is! My life’s necessities for 5000 miles of backpacking in 35 pounds on my back in the photo to the right!

I have now arrived in Sacramento, California from Denver, via Amtrak train. The station here, where I'll be for the next hour before taking another train to Bakersfield, has internet. So, maybe I'll have time to get another post in at the next station while I'll have to wait again. The train ride through the Colorado Rockies and the Sierra Nevada was amazing. Gorgeous views and friendly people, with their own excting stories, from a returning Iraq soldier to a family from little town of Big Piney, Wyoming.

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