(Created in 2010, just before our Resurrection Trail hike…)
For years my family has masqueraded outdoorsy while trapped in the gear of a penniless waif. Every year we traipse into the local wilderness store and fantasize about how different our adventures would be if only we could afford the fancier garb. Surely it’s more pleasant to hike the side of a cliff if you look like you popped off the cover of Alaska Magazine, a 3-D hiking Hercules.
We’ve come to the end of many a trail swearing off all things woodsy, every aching muscle from bruised-side-sleeper-shoulder to inflamed-oozing-blister-heel reminding us why next time someone suggests an overnight hike, we’ll skewer them with their walking stick. So when spring came upon us this year and the question, “What are we going to do this summer,” arose, we came up with a plan. We gazed deep into our savings account for a last goodbye, booked our first four day hike, and hit the internet in search of the perfect life.
Ah, looking back at the ignorance with which I first began…so sweet, so naïve…I had no idea this would be more complex than advanced organic chemistry. Apparently, with backpacking, it’s all about finding the most compact product available weighing no more than a mosquito—which by the way, will be eating you alive because mosquito dope is too heavy to bring along.
But how far do you go? Do you dismantle the flashlight until you’re carrying a miniscule bulb with a watch battery attached via ultra-light wires, thus eliminating the .003 ounce outer shell? Do you forget about toilet paper because it’s too bulky and assume moss will be ever available or does the toilet paper earn it’s keep by carrying your granola bar in the inner cardboard tube, thus using all available space? When forced to carry on our backs everything we might need for a week in the woods, suddenly the line between need and want becomes very thick and heavy.
My first step was backpacks all round. A decent one ranges in price from about a hundred bucks to upwards of a thousand. They are measured in interior cubic inches and ounces and the ratio of the two is directly proportionate to how much money you’ll be forking out. Some of the big names I looked at were Mountain Hardware, Go Lite, North Face, REI, Osprey, Big Agnes, Gregory and Sea to Summit. All were light weight, lots of pockets, rain repellent and roomy. I read hundreds of reviews, scoured tips, scanned forums and tried a few on. I pondered advice from novice to experts even finding one guy who cuts the extra length from each strap to lighten his load. I made lists of pros and cons, agonized, lost sleep…and in the end I chose the brand “Go Lite” because they came in cute colors. No, really, Go Lite, from everything I read, is a reasonably priced gear choice for shoppers looking for quality but not break their back or their bank. For just under $200 each…and far less for the youth size…we had our pouches and were ready to fill them.
Sleeping bags too are measured in ounces and compact size but also have a temperature rating. We knew we were too pansy to sleep outside in winter weather so a +20 bag was good enough. Also, anything rated for colder temperatures got heavier and larger. Again we looked at the same brands, except the one I kept going back to was Big Agnes. It’s not only fun to say you are sleeping in a Big Agnes, but they put out a roomier bag than most. Specifically, they design a bag for a woman, which is meant to fit the shape of hips. I was more concerned with the ‘curling up’ space, as I am a side sleeper. I hate, hate, hate a mummy bag. By the time I crawl into bed after a day of hiking I already feel like death…I don’t want to look I’m being prepared for burial. I settled on Mountain Hardware 20 degree bags for the kids because they make one that is someone short, yet will fit my teenagers. Tt sold at our local Wilderness Way for only $80. For Dan, myself and Billy (who is approaching six foot) I went with Big Agnes bags…a fatty called Lulu for myself and a narrower, yet full figured bag for the men. Under $200 each at REI.com.
After careful scrutiny, weeks of research and approaching this from all angles, I’ve come up with one basic truth. The sleeping pad is non-negotiable. It must be thick. It must be comfortable. And I don’t give a crap how much it weighs or costs. But now a slave to the light weight theme…and a little addicted to finding a good deal, I did my best. Big Agnes to the rescue again, I found a non-insulated (again, no cold weather camping happening) self inflating foam filed air mattress on REI online for only $49. It inflates to 2.5 inches thick, deflates to a dainty 4×8 inch pouch and weighs just over a pound. Nice.
I then spent $150 on 14 pairs of socks and I don’t want to talk about it.
Now at this point…if you’ve been doing the math, we’re already in a good chunk of money. With tents, boots, dishes, clothes and other paraphernalia left, I began to re-evaluate my thinking. Like with the mattress pads, for instance. Does everyone need one? Can’t we take turns? Mya will sleep like a vampire in a laundry basket…does she mind sleeping on the ground? Is the nine year old the most likely to get wet feet (on purpose) so he’ll need waterproof hiking boots…or is he also the least likely to whine if he gets a blister, so send him on his way in last year’s school shoes? Does Destini actually need any of this or is she going to play teen girl every time we plan an outing and fake cramps to stay home? Is she a total waste of money?
Really…how financially deep into this hobby are we talking? But caught up in the buying frenzy, and too far in to turn back now, I kept clicking “purchase”…over and over again.
The same cycle continued for tents, rain wear, hiking boots, cooking utensils, stoves, water filter and food. Examining the best of the best, weeding out the worst rated products and settling for the best we could afford. At the brink of financial failure I put the brakes on the buying …right after I bought the kitchen sink. Seriously, it’s light weight, folds into a pocket-sized pouch, and can haul two gallons of water for washing dishes. What will they think of next?
The hard part is over. Now all we have to do is rise from the couch, spend six days jig-saw-puzzling our six cubic inches of Barbie-sized gear into our backpacks, and get out into the woods. Hoo-rah.