Tuesday, March 10, 2015

John Muir Trail Planning: Gear

As noted previously, I'm planning to hike the John Muir Trail this summer. I'm blogging my planning and journey here as I go along. Now that I've got a permit and an itinerary and I'm well into training, it's time to talk about gear.

Previous JMT posts:
As with any backpacking, weight is key. Even dropping an ounce or two per item is worthwhile. But, as they say, you can drop your pack weight the most by reducing the weight of the heaviest items: your backpack, tent, and sleeping bag. In my case, I opted against an ultralight pack because when I tried one, my back hurt from the lack of support. So I'll be traveling with:
  • Backpack: Gregory Cairn 58, Size S: 3 lb, 13 oz.
  • Tent: TarpTent Rainbow: 2 lb.
  • Sleeping Bag: Nemo Rhapsody 15: 2 lb. 2 oz.
  • Total weight: 7 lb 15 oz.
How did I choose my pack size? First of all, it must be large enough for a bear canister, so smaller sizes are mostly too small. But if you get an overly large pack, then you tend to fill it up and end up carrying more weight. I think my pack is on the small side of what's needed for the JMT - but I can make it work.

My tent is a bit unconventional, as it's single walled and non-freestanding. But it pitches fast, it's spacious, it's light, it was a great price compared to similar weight tents, and I love it.

As for the sleeping bag, I can't say enough about how much I love the company, NEMO. While I was buying gear, I was also researching an article that was ultimately accepted by and then killed by Outside magazine (no biggie - that's something that happens when they have too much and need to drop something). For the article, I interviewed NEMO at length. Truly, they are wonderful. Also, I love that the bag is spoon-shaped. It tapers at the waist but flares out at the knees, which is great because I am not mummy shaped and I like having the room to move my legs around in my bag.

My gear list is a work in progress and I might switch out a few things for lighter ones (as noted below) before I head out on the trail. That said, here's most of what I've got now.
  • Bear Canister: UDAP No-fed-bear Bear Canister (2.4 lb)
  • MSR Miniworks Water Filter: 16 oz.
  • NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad, 66": 14 oz.
  • Fuel canister (110 size): 10.4 oz
  • Snow Peak Titanium pot/pan: 7.1 oz.
  • Camelback 100 fl. oz water bladder: 6.5 oz
  • Sea to Summit silk sleeping bag liner: 4.6 oz.
  • Folding Metal Trowel: 4.1 oz.
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp: 3.4 oz.
  • Cheap Canister Stove from China: 3.3 oz. (Similar to MSR Pocket Rocket)
  • Total: 6.8 lbs
So the total weight so far with everything I've listed is nearly 15 lbs. I guess I don't qualify as ultralight.

A few notes on these items.
Water Filter: This is heavy. Normally I like it because it filters out sediment, whereas a chemical water purification option like AquaMira wouldn't. But AquaMira's smaller and lighter (just 3 oz). For the JMT hike, I might go the AquaMira route to save pack space and weight.

Sleeping Pad: I've just switched from the Thermarest Prolite Plus, which is heavy and uncomfortable, especially since I sleep on my side. I thought about going to the NeoAir Xlite instead of the Xtherm, and that would have been several ounces lighter - but not as warm. I've also heard stories about these pads crinkling while you sleep on them. I don't know if this will bother me or not. I can't imagine it will outweigh my pleasure at carrying 7 fewer ounces in my pack. (Actually, considering how much my base weight will be, maybe the Xlite was a better idea... The 66" version is 11 oz, 47" is 8 oz, although I'd be annoyed to have my feet hang off the end.)

Cook pot: I'm not thrilled with my pot and pan and might switch them out. They are Snow Peak brand and titanium with a non-stick coating. The pot lid functions as a frying pan and that's nice. Both are too large for my needs as a solo hiker, and I hate the non-stick coating. However, the low conductability of the titanium means that I can easily drink out of my dishes without burning my lips. (To date, I've been making coffee in the frying pan and drinking out of that. Silly, but functional.) If I switch to stainless steel, I'd burn my lips when I drink.

Water Bladder: Usually I try to avoid drinking or eating out of plastic. I typically hike and backpack with stainless steel Kleen Kanteens. To me, they are worth the weight. However, once the bear can goes in my pack, the big water bottles no longer fit. That's where the water bladder comes in. It actually fits in the pack. This bladder holds just 3 liters. It wouldn't work in the desert at all, but up in the Sierras where the most I'll ever go without a reliable water source is several miles the day I summit Whitney, it's no big deal.

Sleeping bag liner: Since my bag is down and some say you can't ever wash it without it losing its loft, I would rather not get it dirty. And on the trail, I will be dirty. So I'll get this liner dirty, and then I'll wash it. I went with silk because it doesn't absorb water like cotton does and I prefer to avoid synthetics when possible.

(Lack of) Pillow: I stuff all of my extra clothes into the stuff sack for my sleeping bag and use that as a pillow.

Other light items, 10 essentials, etc:
  • Space bag: 2.9 oz
  • 2 oz. Dr Bronner's soap: 2.7 oz.
  • Compass: 1.7 oz
  • Whistle with cord: 1.4 oz
  • Sparkstick: 1.3 oz
  • 3 AAA batteries: 1.2 oz
  • Mirror: 0.9 oz
  • Swiss Army Knife: 0.8 oz
  • Bandana: 0.8 oz
  • Camp towel: 0.75 oz.
  • Prescription drug container filled with cotton balls (dry tinder): 0.6 oz.
  • Titanium spork: 0.5 oz (I really hate sporks, btw)
  • Toilet paper
  • Lip balm
  • Tampons (good for first aid and tinder as well as their normal use)
  • Toothbrusth
  • Toothpaste
I will need to add:
  • Maps
  • A first aid kit
  • A tent repair kit (maybe)
  • Coffee cup (maybe)
For first aid, I'm thinking lots of band aids and 2nd Skin for blister care, Advil, Percocets, and Compazine (a nausea pill). I might take a wilderness first aid class prior to my trip to see what else is important, but I already know I get migraines (i.e. Percocets and Compazine) and blisters, so I'm already planning for those.

Also, you'll note two major categories of items not mentioned here: food and clothes. I'll address those in other posts.

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