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Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers
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German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 05:11:54 MDT Print View

After thousands of miles hiking, cycling and paddling on three continents in very different climate zones and seasons I realised that my gear requirements are very different than most other hikers'. Most hikers stay within one climate zone and/or season and can customize their gear towards this specific requirement. As a result they can lighten their load much more because the range of application is very narrow.

As a long distance hiker I have to meet the much broader requirements of different climate zones, saisons and cultures. My trips usually last for several months and sometimes even longer than one year.I thought I share my gear specific long distance hiking experiences and my thoughts on gear with you.

When reading this post please keep in mind that all my thoughts are geared towards hikers going over such a long distance that they traverse different climate zones and/or seasons. But even if you are not planning on doing such a long hike, these ideas might be interesting. They can help you to buy the most versatile gear you can use on very different trips.

I am looking forward to your feedback and your experiences in similar situations. I will also use this article on my blog, so please let me know if there are other types of gear you want me to discuss.

You will find this article and more information on the kind of hiking, cycling and paddling I have done here on my blog .



On long-distance hikes you will usually have to meet different gear requirements for changing climates and seasons. You can solve this problem with two different approaches:

- You can carry only specific, i.e. the lightest gear possible and change your gear when you enter a different climate or season. Although this will keep your pack weight down you pay a high logistical price. Your exchange gear has to be stored, shipped and picked up. All this involves time, money, the help of other people and the risk of gear getting lost, being late or misplaced. I used this approach on my thruhikes of the PCT and CDT. All worked out well but I realised the amount of effort I had to put into it. Also this logistical approach is relatively easy on the American long distance trails because you stay within one country and one postal system and there is a great network of trail angels that can help you in shipping and accepting packages for you. But when I started doing multi-national trips and trails in areas with no trail angels and no friends this approach became too difficult or almost impossible. I had to adapt to the new situation and started using a different approach:

- You carry more versatile gear - and accept the weight penalty in order to avoid logistical hassle. Or in other words: You have to find a good balance between being as light as possible but also having the adequate gear for very different situations.

In reality my hiking style has become a mix of the two approaches. Although I try to cover as many situations as possible with my gear, I still buy new equipment along the way or even have it shipped to me occasionally.

But still my gear thoughts are geared towards long distance hikers long traversing different climate zones and/or seasons who do not want (completely) to rely on the logistical approach.

So what sort of gear do I use now? I will try to describe the kind of gear I use and give brand examples for it. That does not mean that the specific brand I use is the very best or only one available - it is just meant to be an example.

Tent: My tent is my home for months on end and my only refuge in foul weather. I have come to the conclusion that I am willing to accept a slight weight penalty in order to have a hassle free, reliable and comfortable shelter. Any compromise on these topics has a psychological impact on the enjoyment of a long hike. I want to be sure that - no matter what - in the evening I will be in a nice and safe environment where I can relax and don't have to worry about bugs, wind and rain. Therefore I have stopped using tarps. Although they are great for certain environments my long hikes will almost certainly get me to areas where a tarp is not the optimal solution. I do not want to deal with extra bug nets in mosquito country - I want a fully enclosed tent. Stealth camping in heavily populated areas like Europe I want a tent that has a camouflage color like green or brown and that provides protection from curious views. Whoever spots my tent should not be able to see from outside who is sleeping inside. Hiking the PCT and CDT I was very happy with a non-freestanding tent. I was almost always camping in wooded areas with forest as wind protection and good ground to stake the tent down. This type of tent showed its limitations when I hiked the Florida Trail and the Arizona Trail. The swampy ground in Florida was too soft to hold stakes in heavy rain and my tent collapsed regularly on me. In Arizona I had the opposite problem: The desert ground was often too hard to get the stakes in far enough and the strong winds pulled them out. Hiking in Europe I encountered a new challenge: Very often I came across open shelters that I wanted to use for wind and rain protection. But in order to avoid sleeping on dirty ground or being bitten by mosquitoes I wanted to set up my tent inside the shelter. Unfortunately this is very difficult or almost impossible with a non-freestanding tent. All those reasons made me change to a freestanding tent. Still, despite all these requirements I want a light weight tent and this can be achieved with a single wall tent that uses trekking poles. Oh, and this being my home for months it has to be comfortable, i.e roomy enough so that I can sit out a day of bad weather in it without getting crazy. To sum it up: My shelter must be fully enclosed, freestanding, windstable, in a camouflage color, roomy, single wall and lightweight, preferably using trekking poles. A tent that fulfills all these requirements and works very well for me is a Tarptent Rainbow.

Sleeping bag: Like almost all my fellow thruhikers I started my hiking career on the PCT with a Western mountaineering down sleeping bag which worked very well in the Western USA. Over the years I expanded and bought more and more WM bags for warmer and colder conditions still believing in the UL mantra that down is always better because it is lighter than synthetic. But once I started hiking outside the relatively dry Western US I quickly learned about the disadvantages of down. In damp conditions down clumps and loses its warming abilities. Long term use adds to the problem as body oils also make the feathers clump. Despite washing the bags with down soap the problem persisted. I found down to become very unreliable. Any foggy night or wet tent wall would deteriorate its warming abilities and I never knew when I would be able to dry the bag again. It took me a long time but after several years of frustration with down I started using synthetic. The big downside of synthetic is its higher weight. But I could compensate it by changing from a full sleeping bag to a quilt. This was a big step and I was very nervous how my new setup would work out. I first tried it on a hike across the UK where the climate is so damp that I knew I would almost certainly encounter problems with down. The new synthetic quilt worked out so well that I have never used a down bag again. Synthetic is so much more reliable than down. No matter how much you abuse it, it will still keep you warm. Touching wet tent walls, condensating breath and foggy nights were not a problem any more. Even if I could not air the quilt for several days or even a couple of weeks, it still kept me warm. I also could not see that the synthetic insulation was deteriorating from being compressed every day. And now I honestly wonder why synthetic is not more popular. A synthetic quilt has definitely become my default sleeping system. I use a BPL 240 quilt for 3 seaons and an Enlightened Equipment Prodigy 20F quilt for fall and winter use.


Sleeping pad: Whereas I have found the perfect tent and quilt for me I have not found the perfect sleeping pad but only the best compromise available. Close cell foam pads are great because they are cheap, reliable and relatively lightweight. But they have two downsides: They are not very comfortable. This does not really matter very much on short trips, but sleeping on it for months on end I want a bit more comfort. Even more important, cell foam pads are too bulky. I find it hard to fit a foam pad into my pack and always have to strap it onto it. Not very practical, especially when you have to bushwhack or crawl under obstacles. The pad is always in the way. So I moved one step up towards being more comfortable and started using Thermarest Prolite pads. A short one for 3 season use and a regular length Prolite Plus for fall and winter. So far I have not found a better solution although the TAR Prolite series (or any other similar inflatable pad) comes with one built in defect: After about 6 months of constant use it will start delaminating. Luckily this is covered under TAR's life time warranty and this is also the only reason why I stick with TAR. The delaminted pads are usually exchanged without much hassle and there are TAR dealers worldwide. Despite the fact that I don't even use a groundsheet underneath my tent I have never had a puncture in a TAR Prolite in all my hiking career. Several years after the NeoAir series had come out I was finally lured into buying one myself, a NeoAir All Season. This turned out to be one of the biggest mispurchases in my whole hiking career. After only a couple of weeks of use I got my first puncture which was very difficult to detect and repair in winter conditions. This frustrating experience confirmed my belief that the NeoAir series is still too delicate for real long term use. The conclusion for me is that a robust inflatable pad like a TAR Prolite is, although far from being perfect, the best compromise between weight, bulk, comfort, price and durability.

Backpack: In order to be able to cope with long stretches without resupply possibilities I want a backpack with a rather large volume and the ability to carry food for over a week. The Golite Gust was ideal for that. It was huge, the Dyneema material very robust and the pack had a hipbelt. But unfortunately it has been discontinued sending my out to search for a new pack with a volume of at least 65 litres or 4,000 cuin. The Gossamer Gear G4 met this requirement and also features mesh pockets which turned out to be invaluable. Stuff in these mesh pockets is easily accesible which is very useful for snacks or maps. You can use the mesh pockets for drying wet or damp clothes. And you can use them to stow your water bladders. This way you can balance the heavy water load much better, you have easy access to your water containers and you won't get your clothes or other gear wet if one of your water containers leaks. Backpacks made out of Silnylon or any other lightweight material only have a limited life expectancy due to the fragility of the fabric. I usually get at least one year of constant use out of them but still price becomes important for an item that is almost a consumable. I therefore would not buy a very high end backpack like the German Laufbursche or HMG cuben packs. I am looking for backpacks that have a volume of at least 4,000 cuin or 65 litres, feature mesh pockets and a hip belt and are priced under 200$ like the Gossamer Gear G4.

Cooking system: I started out with an alcohol stove but quickly realised that this is not for me. The longer I hike the more I want a quick and reliable stove. Handling an alcohol/Heet stove turned out to be too complicated and fiddly in windy and cold conditions. I wanted an easier and foolproof solution and turned to a lightweight gas canister stove. I have to admit that alcohol/Heet is more widely available than gas canisters but I have always been able to find them in Western countries. I studied charts comparing the efficiency of different fuel types and that confirmed my assumption that gas canisters win over alcohol for longer stretches without resupply. As I am normally cooking lunch and dinner this is an important factor for me.Still, it very much depends on your personal preference what kind of stove you use on a very long hike and I can see that alcohol stoves might work for other people. My personal preference is a lightweight gas canister stove with a piezo igniter like the Snowpeak Titanium Gigapower. I have used a MSR Pocket Rocket before but was very much disappointed with it because the thread wore out after about half a year. I use a 1 litre pot which has to serve various purposes. I want a flat pot rather than a high cup because I can use it for washing stuff and small items of clothes in it. I can even use it to wash myself. And I can fit a medium size gas canister in it. I find it easier to have a pot with handles than a seperate pot gripper. Titianium has turned out to be the ideal, albeit expensive material - but it has been worth it. I have been continuously using my titanium pot for 5 years. If I had to replace it would buy another 1 litre flat titanium pot with handles.

Rain gear: I have been experimenting with different types of rain gear like umbrellas, ponchos and rain jackets and pants. Although umbrellas and ponchos are ideal for certain conditions they are no allrounders. For my purposes a rain jacket and pants are the most versatile combination. Umbrellas and ponchos have disadvantages in certain conditions: You don't have your hands free using an umbrella. Your backpack is difficult to access under a poncho - and you can trip over it. Both are very difficult to use in windy conditions. Rain jackets and pants can also be used as a wind breaker. I have used all types of fabric from Goretex Paclite and Event to Tyvek. In my experience they are not very different on the long run. No fabric will keep you completely dry in extended periods of heavy rain. An expensive eVent jacket won't perform much better than a cheap Tyvek rain suit. Both have their issues and will break rather quickly after long term use. Therefore I just go for the cheapest solution: a Tyvek type rain suit like Frogg Toggs and O2 rain shield. Although these materials are the most delicate at least they are cheap. I don't mind replacing a cheap Tyvek rain jacket every year or even every 6 months, but I don't want to buy a new expensive Goretex Paclite or eVent jacket every year.

Water purification: Trying to be as light as possible rules out a water filter - too heavy and too bulky. A Steripen relies on batteries which can easily fail and run out. Too risky for long trips. A Sawyer Squeeze is only good if you can be sure you won't encounter freezing as the filter system will be destroyed by frost. Boiling water uses too much fuel. That leaves only chemical treatment like Aquamira. It is lightweight, compact, reliable and "freeze-thaw" stable. Another option are chlorine tablets like Micropur that have the same advantages but leave a stronger aftertaste. Aquamira bottles can leak when the container gets crushed. For that (unlikely) event I carry some Micropur tablets as a backup for Aquamira.

Edited by GermanTourist on 03/19/2013 09:16:50 MDT.

Alex H
(abhitt) - MLife

Locale: southern appalachians or desert SW
couldn't agree more on 03/19/2013 05:48:12 MDT Print View

Christine, thanks for another thoughtful overview, your experience is vast and amazing and I have arrived at essentially the same conclusions as you (even though I don't have the wide experience you have). I also tend towards a less complicated/logistically difficult system. I hate to rely on others too much to make sure my stuff will be there when I really need it.

Ike Jutkowitz
(Ike) - M

Locale: Central Michigan
Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 09:10:14 MDT Print View

Thanks for taking the time once again to share your thoughts. Your perspectives as a "professional" long distance hiker are much appreciated.

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 09:42:10 MDT Print View

Thanks.

I would argue that your thoughts on this are not just applicable to long distance hiking, but to anyone that wants to pare down on gear and have a simple, versatile kit without a bunch of redundant items in the gear closet.

The proliferation of very specialized ultralight backpacking gear has likely doubled or tripled the amount of gear that devotees own. "Simplicity" and light weight on the trail that results in major gear hording at home.

Marty Cochran
(mcochran77) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Water resistant down sleeping bag on 03/19/2013 10:43:53 MDT Print View

Christine

Someone needs to give you a sleeping bag with Water resistant down so you can test this new product in an extended damp application.

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
Water resistant down on 03/19/2013 11:01:41 MDT Print View

Marty,
thanks for the comment! I have been eying the new developments of water resistant down for quite a while and I am very curious how it would fare. But so far I have not read any reviews of extended use and therefore I am still a bit reluctant to shell out a couple of hundreds of dollars for a new bag with questionable result. But this new "material" might really be an alternative for me at some point.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 11:35:41 MDT Print View

Thank you for your excellent insights!

I think the difference with long distance hikers and travelers is the simplicty of their kits. The list gets boiled down to the real essentials. Most of my hiking trips are overnighters and I'm not into high mileage fast-packing, so I can take whatever food or gadgets that strike me.

As far as the range of clothing, I can see the clothing list changing with extremes, but I usually hike in an area with changeable (and wet) weather and micro climates, so my 3 season kit always has some puffy insulation and rain gear and I can handle a temperature range from 20f-80f.

I also use a prolite short pad when volume is an issue. I supplement it with a Z-seat sit pad. I do use Polycryo or Tyvek.

+1000 on synthetic sleeping insulation, and clothing too. Down is light, and it feels good, but not when it gets wet. Waterproof down will help, but you still have to overcome the basic structure of down, and synthetic filaments are the best alternative we have to date. My pet theory is that many hikers over compress their synthetic bags while attempting to overcome the volume issues and shortening the life of the product in the process.

I've taken to hammocks lately, and I understand the limitations for traveling over a wide range of conditions, but I highly recommend them for rough or wet ground and insects.

Thanks again for the great insights.

Hiking Malto
(gg-man) - F
Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 12:13:59 MDT Print View

I agree with Mr Jardine. I believe that there is such a push to get a spreadsheet base weight low that specialization occurs more than it needs to. Case in point. Xtherm vs xlite. If you own an xtherm do you buy an xlite to use in the summer. May make perfect sense if you have enough nights out that you will wear out both in a fairly short time.

The OP touches on something larger that often gets lost in "what's the best gear" conversations. Regional differences are huge. I am learning this now that most of my hiking is on the east coast vs out west. My little tarp that rarely saw use is not ideal IMHO for east coast conditions. I learned this on a hot summer night in NJ. Not having a tent caused me to have to bundle up in my bivy for bug protection. Yes I could buy a bug bivy but that is buying yet more gear when I would rather spend money hiking. So I adapt.

Christine, thanks for your insights.

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 15:31:09 MDT Print View

But even if you are not planning on doing such a long hike, these ideas might be interesting.

Absolutely. There are good reasons why versatile, reliable and comfortable gear is desireable for short hikes too. For instance, some places have very "changeable" weather where you can expect at least 3 seasons in any given week. Then there is the (expensive) possibility of having too much gear - and then the frustration of choosng what to take. Hiking is what I do to get away from too much choice in everyday life. Simplicity is worth something, even a little extra weight.

One comment on my own gear - I use a lightweight remote canister stove all year round. Used together with adaptors from Markill/Edelrid and Kovea, I can use almost any type and shape of canister, which can be very useful if a small village shop has only one type.

Josh Brock
(needsAbath)

Locale: Outside
No work? on 03/19/2013 16:15:40 MDT Print View

Thank you for your insight and everything you said makes total sense.

So what youre saying is I need to go out and get more new gear except this time make it versatile....JK


I just wish I had the oppertunity to do long hikes. With two young kids and being in the insurance Industry. I cant leave for more than a couple days. If I'm gone a week my insureds start to get frustrated.

Roger Dodger
(RogerDodger) - F

Locale: Wess Siide
Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 17:14:52 MDT Print View

Christine,
Always a pleasure reading your write-ups.

I have been a minority here on BPL for enjoying a freestanding tent and a synthetic sleep system. I feel somewhat validated. When I really need down at low temps, the moisture and humidity is also very high, also murphy's law on getting dry equipment wet.

I stay away from liquid fuels and esbits, because in California they are not allowed in many wilderness zones. Only canisters with shut-off value.

Also read on your blog about the air pad that failed, and you had to check into a hotel to troubleshoot the air leak in a bathtub. Good info. Thank you.

A couple of "Ah Ha!" moments reading your post:
1) using a cook pot to wash small items or even as a bath cup for personal hygiene.

2) storing the bladder on the outside of the pack in a mesh pocket, instead of the built-in sleeve. Genius REBEL!

As for the pocket rocket failing, there are many Chinese after-market $9 stoves flooding the the market, look for JOGR on Amazon. at that price, when it's worn out in a year, no major financial loss.

Thank you so much for the write up.

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Re: Re: Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/19/2013 17:45:33 MDT Print View

I enjoyed this and am amazed at how ultimately disposable gear tends to be. My only disagreement would be on the pack. If you are ripping through silnylon packs annually, why would you not spend money on a pack that will last several years?

Edited by FamilyGuy on 03/19/2013 17:48:27 MDT.

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
Thoughts on gear for long-distance hikers on 03/20/2013 03:13:01 MDT Print View

@RogerDodger
The big problem with the cheap PocketRocket type stoves is NOT the financial loss. Even the PocketRocket is relatively cheap. The big problem is that the stove usually starts failing in the middle of nowhere. If your canister is still full of gas the stove will still continue working for a couple of days even with a worn out thread. But if it is less than half full the gas pressure is not high enough to make the stove work when it is not completely screwed down - and then you are screwed.... I have encountered that problem twice and ended up tying the stove down onto the canister with a rope/wedge combination which was an awful lot of work and probably not very safe either. And then you have to get out into civilisation and procure a new stove. Not very easy and definitely time consuming.

@FamilyGuy
I try to find the right balance between durability and weight. A backpack that would last several years of continuous use would be made out of a way too heavy material. All the lightweight materials I have tried (Silnylon and Spectra/Dyneema) have started to fail after about 1 - 1,5 years of continuous use. But Silnylon and Apectra/Dyneema have different issues: With a Silnylon pack the problem is getting a hole or tear in it. If you don't repair it immediately it will start ripping further very quickly and become "life-threating". This will not happen with Dyneema which seams to be much more tear-resistant. But Dyneema is much more prone to abrasion. After half a year of use the heavily used areas of the backpack will already become almost see-through. Unfortunately, this starts happening first at the bottom of the pack and I was always afraid that it will break with heavy loads. I therefore had a new bottom sewn into my old Golite Gust backpacks. The big problem with my GG G4 backpack is not the fragility of Silnylon but the quality of stitching which fails first, but can easily repaired in the field.

Diane Pinkers
(dipink) - M

Locale: Western Washington
zipperless tent on 03/20/2013 06:41:55 MDT Print View

Christine, you've said that the zipper is often the place that tents fail--so how about a zipperless tent?

https://www.bigagnes.com/Products/Detail/Tent/fishhookul1

Personally, I"m a little dubious about how well it will keep bugs out, but there are no zippers to fail. Probably heavier than your Rainbow as well.

German Tourist
(GermanTourist) - F

Locale: in my tent
Zipperless tent on 03/20/2013 07:35:57 MDT Print View

Diane,
thanks for the interesting link, but that tent is not for me. As you have already mentioned it is heavier and more expensive than my TT Rainbow. I also doubt that it would withstand serious mosquito attacks and definitely not midges.
By the way: Changing the zipper slider is quite easy. As long as you know how to do it and carry spare sliders failing zippers are not much of a problem.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Problem with Pocket Rocket on 03/20/2013 08:32:55 MDT Print View

"Even the PocketRocket is relatively cheap. The big problem is that the stove usually starts failing in the middle of nowhere. If your canister is still full of gas the stove will still continue working for a couple of days even with a worn out thread. But if it is less than half full the gas pressure is not high enough to make the stove work when it is not completely screwed down - and then you are screwed.... "

I have Pocket Rocket

One canister barely worked. I really had to screw down Pocket Rocket hard to get pin to fully open Lindal valve. I haven't had it that long, used maybe 10 other canisters successfully.

I wonder if that's a Pocket Rocket defect?

I just assumed it was a canister problem.

Stuart R
(Scunnered) - F

Locale: Scotland
Re: Problem with Pocket Rocket on 03/20/2013 10:28:37 MDT Print View

Jerry - there is a general problem with canisters and two problems with the Pocket Rocket. The canister problem is the tolerance on the valve, specifically the dimension from the rim of the valve (where it is crimped onto the canister body) to the internal valve. Most canister top stoves accomodate this tolerance by having a big fat rubber washer on the base. Unfortunately this washer goes hard in the cold, so it takes more force to compress (see also next problem). The pin in the base of the PR may be a little shorter than some, so it does not fully open the Lindal valve and gas flow is restricted. Some more recent stoves have eliminated this washer (eg Gnat).
The problem Christine was refering to is the aluminium UNEF thread on the base of the PR. Only the very tip of this thread engages with the canister thread, so once the tip gets worn off the stove will not screw onto the canister at all. A brass thread on the stove lasts longer.

Josh Brock
(needsAbath)

Locale: Outside
Pocket Rocket no problems on 03/20/2013 11:07:33 MDT Print View

I've had a pocket rocket since it first came out and have screwed in hundreds of canisters. Used it down to 10 degrees base sitting in the snow and it has never failed me? I also find it funny that people find it difficult to do things with it other than boil water. I have made biscuits, fondue, steak and a number of other things with it, and a gsr Kettle, with no problems. I will probably get a new stove just cause I want one, no other reason, and retire that one to a "bug out bag".

Just wanted to throw the other less popular review out there.

I am sorry yours failed though. And, I dont know enough about stove engineering to comment on that. All I know is mine works and has for a while with no issues

USA Duane Hall
(hikerduane) - F

Locale: Extreme northern Sierra Nevada
Pocket Rocket no problems on 03/20/2013 14:07:56 MDT Print View

I had a small problem with mine, but after unscrewing and reconnecting and screwing down a little more, got the stove to work. Other wise, great stove. I have the MicroRocket now, it is loud.
Duane

Gary Dunckel
(Zia-Grill-Guy) - MLife

Locale: Boulder
Pocket Rocket on 03/20/2013 14:30:42 MDT Print View

"The pin in the base of the PR may be a little shorter than some, so it does not fully open the Lindal valve and gas flow is restricted."

I'm thinking that is the problem with the Pocket Rocket. When I had a PR, I found that it worked fine with MSR canisters, but when I used it with those from Primus or Snow Peak, I had to screw it in a little tighter for the gas to come out. I have no experience with any other MSR canister stove, but perhaps they designed their canisters a bit differently and then designed their stoves to match up. All other non-MRS stoves work fine with MSR canisters, for me.