JMT Gear: Early Edition
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve started to tentatively plan some details of my summer 2016 John Muir Trail solo hike. It’s still far too early to start dehydrating food and assembling meals, but (since I’m generally gear obsessed anyways), I’ve been looking at my past gear lists (and my gear closet) as a I start to put together a tentative gear list.
Exciting! Stuff! Things! It all feels a little more real.
After a lot of trips over the last few years (see my gear lists), I have a pretty solid grasp of what works and doesn’t work for ME. As is so often the case with backpacking, gear choices are intensely personal, and need to be balanced with comfort requirements, camp style etc.
In light of this, here are a few things I know about myself, after a lot of trial and error:
- I need to be comfy when I sleep, because otherwise I will eventually succumb to sleep deprived madness. This involves having a pillow, a pad that accommodates side sleeping, and something that allows me to easily turn without feeling tangled.
- Bugs love me. I am sweet ambrosia to ALL MOSQUITOS within a three mile radius.
- I get cold very easily.
Let’s start with the big three: backpacking, sleeping bag/pad, tent.
I’ll be carrying my beloved Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack. We’ve been on a lot of adventures together, from carrying 9 liters of water through Joshua Tree National Park, to luging snowshoes and a full set of snow camping gear around the sierras. I love the outside pockets, and at this point have a really great system for where everything goes. Also, it (apparently) accommodates a larger size bear canister (but we’ll see, since I’ve only ever carried a small Bear Vault 450 for shorter trips of a few days). Prior to owning this pack, I used an older version of the Mariposa, and have generally enjoyed the new strap design as well as the ability to stow trekking poles, which I often utilize on rock scrambles requiring use of my hands.
I really WANT to be comfortable with a minimalist tarp. I do, really. But I can’t. I can see it now, arriving at camp, and pulling out my tiny sub-one-pound tarp, to the awed gasps of my fellow JMT backpackers. I’d expertly tie it out, unroll my tiny thin piece of foam, and enjoy a restful night sleep. Here’s the thing though: In the real world, I just can’t get a good night sleep in something that isn’t fully enclosed. As I said, mosquitos love me, and as an extremely light sleeper, I do better when tiny crawling creatures stay outside. But you know what? It’s okay, because gear choices are personal, and I’ve accepted that I’m willing to carry some extra weight for a more comfortable sleeping setup. After recently giving the silnylon Mountain Laurel Designs Patrol Tarp + Bug Bivy a try, I’ve decided that for now, I’d rather go with a more traditional 1-person tent. I really like the idea of a this modular tarp + bug bivy setup, but after using it in Joshua Tree for an off-trail backpack, I found it to maybe be more trouble than it’s worth (getting in and out of the bivy is interesting, especially if you have a tiny bladder and have to do it ALL NIGHT). Sure, I probably just need more practice, but I’m not sure I really want to, considering I also just got a nicely discounted Nemo Hornet 1P tent, that weighs less than 2 pounds, and is really easy to set up. I’m hopeful that this tent will be the weight/comfort/sturdiness balance I’ve been looking for (at least until I can afford a snazzy Zpacks Soloplex shelter. Sigh. I can dream). I’ll be testing the Hornet out over the next few months, and will likely write a more substantial review as time goes on.
(Let me add: I think Mountain Laurel Designs makes great stuff, and I’d like to keep trying with the Patrol Tarp + bivy setup, but for now, it doesn’t feel like the best option for ME. That may be completely different for another individual).
I love using a quilt. As a side-sleeping night roller, I was constantly tangled in traditional mummy bags, and the hood was rarely, if ever, actually around my head. With my quilt, I can pull the top over my head on cold nights, and worse comes to worse, use my snazzy modular Enlightened Equipment Hoodlum to re-create that mummy hood feeling without actually being attached to a bag. For the JMT, I’ll probably be using my cozy Hammock Gear Burrow 20 quilt. As an extremely cold sleeper, I’d ideally be carrying a 10 degree quilt. However, I don’t feel compelled to spend more money on yet another quilt or bag (especially since I also have a wonderful Enlightened Equipment 0 degree quilt already for winter camping). So, 20 degrees it is.
I’m still debating my pad choice: the Exped SynMat UL 7 Air Pad in small, OR my lighter Gossamer Gear Air Beam sleeper in torso length. What’s the difference? While the Exped pad weighs approximately one pound, the Air Beam weighs in at 7.9 ounces. However, the tradeoff is that the Exped pad retains more heat due to some insulation, compared to zero insulation in the Air Beam. One way to deal with this on colder evenings is to layer the Air Beam with a Thinlight foam pad, which already rides in the back panel of my pack, and doubles as a nice sit pad for breaks. However, even with this combination I’ve gone through some super chilly nights with the Air Beam. I’ll also be bringing my beloved Sea to Summit Aeros pillow. As I’ve extensively talked about in past posts, having an actual pillow goes a long way in helping me sleep comfortably. After years of trying to use the classic clothes + stuff sack pillow combination, I’m happy to carry a few extra ounces for more neck comfort.
So, that’s where I am in terms of my big three. I’ve spent a lot of time doing short backpacking trips over the last year, and feel like I generally have a great grasp on what I personally need to feel comfortable while ALSO not overloading my back. Those short trips are not ONLY amazing ways to take a breather from our busy home lives, but also offer great opportunities to try different gear combinations and discover our personal styles. Clearly, my style has evolved to be somewhere in between “ultra light” and “traditional” backpacking.
And you know what? That’s okay with me.