As many of you know now, I have gotten bitten by the backpacking bug after almost a decade away from any kind of outdoor adventure at all. One of the great things about this hiatus is that the state of outdoor gear has improved by leaps and bounds since I last had any interest in it. It is now within the reach of most folks to backpack long distances well outfitted carrying less than 15 pounds of gear, and sub 10 pound loads (food/water not included) are becoming commonplace.
Excited by this turn of events, I set out to see what I could do to outfit myself with everything I would need/want for long distance backpacking while keeping the weight under 30 pounds From Skin Out (FSO). FSO weight includes not just gear, but all clothing worn and all food and water needed.
Why thirty pounds? I came to that number based on an initial calculation of my Lean Body Mass (LBM), which is your body weight minus all body fat. For me, it comes out to about 143.5 lbs. Once that was established, I began looking at information on long-distance hikers, and came to the conclusion that most of those who were successful (success being defined as completing at least one, preferably multiple 2000+ mile hikes) carried FSO loads of between 1/4 and 1/3 of their LBM. Armed with those rations, I calculated that I would want a FSO weight of between 35.7 and 47.8 lbs to give myself the best chance of success.
I made a spreadsheet to cover all of the component groups that go into long-distance backpacking, inspired by the categories used in The Complete Walker IV:
- Pack (The Closet)
- Shelter (The House)
- Sleeping System (The Bedroom)
- Cooking (The Kitchen)
- Navigation (The Office)
- Hygiene (The Bathroom)
- The “Murphy” Bag (medical/gear repair)
- “Luxury” Items
- Rain Gear
- All/Warm Weather Clothing
- Cool Weather Clothing
- Cold Weather Clothing
I began plugging gear into that spreadsheet to see what I could come up with as reasonable load totals given the gear I thought I would want along and what I could find online that was as light as possible without sacrificing comfort. What I discovered quickly was that, given the advances in backpacking gear in the last decade, it was almost impossible not to stay below my 1/4 LBM number of 47.8 lbs. figuring that if light was good, then ultralight was better, I adjusted my targets to be between 1/5 and 1/4 of LBM, or 28.7 and 35.9 lbs. Now I had a better challenge on my hands.
The spreadsheet got tons of new gear, in nearly endless permutations, dumped into it, and I came up with several interesting conclusions:
- Outdoor clothing is not designed for lightweight backpacking. It is designed for mountaineering and sold to backpackers to increase sales.
- Backpacks are mostly designed for carrying very heavy loads, and most of the “light” backpacks on the market are the same heavy frames with smaller bags attached to them.
- There is a vibrant and radical cottage industry in ultralight backpacking gear, full of genuinely cool people making really great gear.
- “Take care of the ounces and the pounds will take care of themselves”
- I really like nitpicking details.
Over the next couple of months I will be posting details of the various component groups of the backpacking gear I have chosen, as I finalize my selections and test everything out. Special attention will be paid to the particular choices I make because I am vegan, though with a few exceptions, this does not impact most backpacking gear too highly. Stay tuned.
Table of contents for Backpacking Gear 2009
- Gearing Up For Long Distance Backpacking
- Backpacking Shelter