This is for my family and friends who asked about how we were going to survive while meandering towards Maine. If looking at, or reading about, backpacking gear does not hold your interest you should move along. Listen to music or something.
Sleeping and Shelter Stuff
The AT is unique, as far as hiking trails go. It has temporary hippie communes set up every ten miles or so. They call these communes “Shelters”. For the most part they are nothing more than three walls and a roof. It gives all us social slackers a place to crash when we’re done walking around talking to birds, eating Snickers bars, and seeking out truth.
The problem with the shelters is two-fold. They can get crowded. In a rainstorm or during the coldest nights they fill up fast. We are starting earlier than most (March 1st, 2015) so we shouldn’t have to contend with crowds, but just in case we will be bringing our very own sleeping arrangements. Hammocks and tarps.
I chose the Warbonnet Outdoors Blackbird. Warbonnet is a small operation based out of Colorado, and it is the creation of some guy named Brandon. He makes hammocks and tarps, and they are da’ bomb. Durable, and much lighter than the thing your dad had hanging in the backyard, these creations are made for backpacking. They are also made in ‘Merica, so I did my civic duty by purchasing this. Hammocks give me a significant comfort level, unheard of in the backcountry, yet they do have some drawbacks. The cold. In temperatures below 50 degrees you will get chilly, and you will have to have something underneath to insulate your body. Since your bodyweight compresses what is underneath a sleeping bag is useless. What to do? An under quilt. It hangs under the hammock forming an air pocket to keep you warm. It will be added weight, but the benefit is I won’t have to sleep on the ground like an animal, or with the animals. Mice, to be specific. The shelter system along the AT was built by these rodents in order to sucker hikers in so they could get to their food and sleep warm in their sleeping bags. I won’t have any of that.
What about rain? I’ll use the Warbonnet Mamajamba tarp. Pitch it nice and tight over my bedroom. It’ll work. You’ll see.
I am going to make a decision about sleeping bags or quilts later on. It is not cold enough to judge what would be comfortable. If I can get away with it I’ll probably use the bag I have now, an REI Flash, which is rated for temps in the 20s. If not I’ll either make a backpacking quilt, or buy something else from Warbonnet. EBay is an option as well. The under quilt could be a DIY project, using a poncho liner, but I’m dubious on its ability to handle anything below 50 degrees. We will be carrying closed cell foam pads to use when we “go to ground” or use a shelter, and those do double duty as insulation in a hammock.
Carry My Stuff
In the backpacking world hikers tend to judge each other based upon how they carry their gear. Packs are something that put you in a clique. Lightweight, super-lightweight, ultra-lightweight, ridiculously-ultra-minimalist-lightweight. If you looked at the HYOH post you already know Grandma Gatewood took a gunny sack and thru-hiked the AT. That’s gangsta lightweight. A true minimalist. But then again, she did not have the benefit of a fully developed space program which gave us freeze dried food, spectra fabric, and Tang. It is possible to thru-hike the AT with very little. Most people, living comfortable suburban lives, tend to think you should carry the equivalent of what you use at home for every task or situation. That is not necessary, or feasible. Think of your pack like your car. Now, consider the engine. Is it an 8 cylinder Chevy Silverado with four wheel drive? Maybe it’s a Honda Civic. How about a SmarCar? The engine is you. I don’t know about you, but I do not relish the idea of hauling 40+ pounds of crap on my back for 15 or 20 miles up some hill, just so I can have an elaborate camp set up. Celebrities, especially women, have plastic surgery so they can maintain that under 30 look. Break out a scalpel and start cutting weight so you can too. That’s my advice. A base pack weight of less than 30 pounds. Less than 20 is ideal, and that is what I’m shooting for. Base pack weight does not take into consideration food and water. Get your pack weight close to or under 20 and you can load up on food, which you will need enormous amounts of (despite resupplying every 2-3 days). Less or lighter gear means you will be able to carry salami and a bottle of bourbon. I still need something that can handle up to 30 pounds (beer, bourbon, and bologna). I tried several different packs, including my GoLite Pinnacle, but decided on the Osprey Atmos 65.
It remains in the lightweight category (technically), but allows me to move more stuff in if I need to. Who knows what my son may want to shed from his back? If it is something essential I will have to pick up his slack. Might as well have the ability to do it.
I have an MSR Pocket Rocket (get your minds out of the gutter). And it works well. The only concerns I have are fuel availability and weight. Canister stoves are convenient, and they work well. I like the MSR but what if…
- I hit town and I can’t find anybody that carries the canisters
- It runs out of fuel, I switch canisters, and then I have to carry an empty canister
- It breaks
I’m going with the Fancy Feast stove, or some other crap I make. An empty can (cat food, tuna, Pepsi), aluminum foil for a windscreen, and denatured alcohol (or Heet in the yellow bottle), KAPOW! Dinner is served.
“Dude, your kitchen is made out of trash!”
Yeah. I know. But it’s light, easy to use, the fuel is readily available in just about any QT or mom and pop, and if it breaks… I just have to buy another can, feed a feral cat, punch some holes in it, and start over.
Those are the basics (sleep, carry, cook). If anybody has completed a long distance hike and can offer some “worked for me” advice feel free to punch it in.