How does one prepare for a six-month hike?
Initially, lots of gear research. Scouring other hikers’ gear lists, paging through BackpackingLight.com forums and comparing materials, manufacturers and weights trying to assemble the “perfect” gear list. When you’re not out on the trail actually hiking and camping, you can live in an internet-based fantasy land where The Ultimate Trail Runners and The Ultimate Baselayer mean that all of your backpacking problems will be solved. This is not actually true, of course, but it’s what you tell yourself when you’re up at 2AM for the third night in a row reading reviews of titanium sporks.
If you’re aiming for “ultralight,” this is when you start entering weights into your gear spreadsheets in grams rather than ounces because ounces aren’t fine-grained or accurate enough for comparison purposes.
Then come big purchases. Before our 2014 Collegiate Loop hike, I upgraded my pack from the $115-on-sale three-pound-two-ounce REI Flash 65 I’d carried on the John Muir Trail to a $330 one-and-a-half-pound ZPacks Arc Blast 60L cuben fiber pack. I went from one-pound-plus Black Diamond hiking poles I’d bought in 2008 to go up Half Dome to 5.4oz Gossamer Gear LT3C fixed-length poles.
All of that starts to seem reasonable once you’ve spent hour after hour figuring out how to shave as much weight as possible off of your base weight—the weight of everything you carry outside of food, water, and clothing worn. Exact cutoffs are up for debate, but “lightweight” is generally a base weight under 15 or 20 pounds, “ultralight” is under 10, and “super ultralight” is under 5 (which involves stuff like sleeping in a full-body puffy suit under a poncho instead of a sleeping bag in a tent). But lighter is generally better because when you’re walking all day every day, how much you carry really does add up. Hiking with a 30-pound pack in Colorado last year was markedly easier than hiking with a 40-plus-pound pack on the JMT.
So we’ve ordered gear, made gear, hiked with gear, replaced gear. I’m feeling pretty happy with my choices (listed on the Gear page), but it’s all speculation until I’ve been hiking with them mile after mile, day after day. Right now I’m at a base weight of about 16.5 pounds—heavier than I’d been hoping for, but better than any previous hikes. I’m hoping to whittle that weight down once we’re out on the trail. I’ll report back on how it goes.