An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Gear

Part three of my interview with Sam Haraldson about his ultralight thru-hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Here’s part one and part two.

Anybody setting out to hike 1,100+ miles will probably think long-and-hard about the stuff they’re going to carry on their back all those miles. The line between being prepared and being slowed down by a heavy pack is a fine one. So it’s no surprise that my queries regarding Sam’s gear elicited his lengthiest response:

A campsite with Sam's ultralight tarp shelter.Gear. I like gear. I talk about gear a lot. Ask my girlfriend if I like gear. I bet you she rolls her eyes and says, “I have to fight for space in his brain because he thinks about gear so much!” If you visit some of my favorite Internet haunts such as BackpackingLight.com you’ll see that many long distance hikers spend a good majority of their pre-hike time working out the gear they’ll be relying on for the months ahead. The nuts and bolts of a long distance hike really break down into your physical endurance, mental fortitude and gear.

I follow an ultralight philosopy which is commonly defined as a sub ten pound pack weight not including food, water, fuel (referred to as consumables). My gear spreadsheet displays 10 lbs. 2.71 oz. as my pack weight, so by definition I miss the ultralight mark by a bit but one could argue that ultralight isn’t just about weight but mindset as well. I am of the opinion that use of certain pieces of gear define an individual as an ultra-lighter. These include the use of a tarp instead of a double-wall tent, trail-running shoes instead of boots, frameless packs, non-white gas stoves, quilts instead of sleeping bags to name a few. The weight savings of some of these items allow for the carrying of luxury items such as a camera, journal or mp3 player.

Cooking dinner using his Bushbuddy Ultra backpacking wood stoveA sub-set of the ultralight movement is the MYOG-heads. MYOG stands for make-your-own-gear and has a strong following on Internet forums. I inherited my grandmother’s Singer sewing machine and put it to good use sewing stuff sacks and a tarp for my trip. My girlfriend also sews and she made me a set of custom insulated booties for sleeping in.

I’ve seen some of Sam’s homemade stuff. I was impressed: minimalist but innovative. I swear they should produce and sell the booties.

A frequent criticism of ultralight backpacking is that the gear sacrifices durability for grams. It seems that Sam didn’t encounter many problems in that regard, or with his gear whatsoever, which seems to speak well of the practice, as long as extensive research and field-testing is performed.

Now, having defined what ultralight and home made gear mean to me let’s talk about what worked well and what didn’t work well. To begin I’ll start with what didn’t work which fortunately wasn’t much.

Sam's ultralight backpacking gearWhen I was leaving a re-supply point and had up to nine days of food and a day’s worth of water with me my pack may well have weighed nearly forty pounds. I was carrying a ULA-Equipment Conduit pack I’d modified with a plastic framesheet which was designed for loads around thirty pounds. Putting those extra pounds into the pack made for a bit of discomfort in the initial three days. After consuming the food early on in a stretch however the pack weights dropped and made for a very comfortable carry.

I sewed myself a custom tarp with front and rear beaks, eight tie-outs and of a large enough size to comfortably weather a storm. This was my first tarp sewing project and although it held together quite well if I was to do it again I would have beefed up the stitches at the tie out points thereby eliminating the “worry factor” I often felt during heavy winds.

The gear worries and complaints being stated I will now mention what did work and why. Overall I was very confident in my gear choices as they were researched exhaustively.

Sam's ultralight backpacking kitI read reviews, purchased, tested, sold, re-purchased re-tested and finally settled on a quality list. I ran this list by as many people as I could and compared it to lists of other long distance hikers. Looking over my list one will see biases towards certain brands. Most of my clothing was from Arc’Teryx because their reputation for quality is hard to beat. Black Diamond also has bomber gear and I relied on a few pieces of their gear as well. I also attained many items from BackpackingLight.com as they specialize in the lightest stuff on the market.

All the gear I brought I hold in the highest regard but a few items stand out as being very superb. As the year comes to an end and I determine my 2007 favorites I predict the list will be topped by two items. One being the Bushbuddy Ultra backpacking wood stove and second being the Montbell Thermawrap jacket. These two pieces of gear packed the highest value per ounce of anything I carried with me.

Sam's food before departureTo conclude I was happy with my overall choices in gear but were I to do it again I would purchase or sew a slightly more robust pack with a lightweight internal frame such as the soon-to-be-release ULA-Equipment’s Ohm pack. I would also be certain to beef up any gear I made myself and spend adequate time testing it prior to a long walk to be certain of it’s performance. Were I to take another long walk it is safe to say that many of the items I brought with on this trip would come with me again.

Don’t forget, Sam will be giving a presentation on his hike, titled “Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail,” at the Midwest Mountaineering Outdoor Adventure Expo in Minneapolis this Saturday at 11 a.m.

An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview:

3 thoughts on “An Ultralight Thru-Hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail, The Interview: Gear

  1. Forrest

    It’s interesting to read that he chose mostly Arc’teryx clothing for such a long trip through the back country. I tend to use their clothes and jackets for the hiking, winter cycling, and kayaking I do, and probably for most of the same reasons.
    .-= Forrest´s last blog ..Granite Mountain Lookout =-.

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