A thru-hiker stands on a ridgeline.

The Gear a Thru-Hiker Relies On After 11,000 Miles| Outdoor Life Leave a comment

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The very first thing to find out about Jac “High Shelf” Mitchell is that—regardless of having hiked over 11,000 miles over 14 totally different thru-hikes—she doesn’t have a proper gear listing. 

“I ended doing packing lists or equipment spreadsheets some time in the past,” Mitchell says. “Now I take what I want and solely what I want and I belief that that’s ultralight to light-weight. I’m not a gram junkie.” 

I initially met High Shelf again when she did have a gear listing—all of us did—on the Pacific Crest Path in 2014. For many people, it was our first thru-hike, and placing collectively a gear listing was a ceremony of passage—a strategy to each discover weight to chop out of our kits and to visualise the hike itself, to see how each bit of substances would match into our life on the path. (Quite a lot of that turned out to be fantastical considering, however that’s a special story.) 

Since that first hike, High Shelf went skilled—thru-hiker parlance for committing to a life-style of mountain climbing, supported by occasional seasonal work, and residing in a van when she isn’t on the path to maintain prices down. Her travels have included every part from the well-known 3,028-mile Continental Divide Path to the extra obscure 770-mile Grand Enchantment Path.

We caught up as she was about to start out on a 700-mile part of the southern PCT and spoke about how her now huge expertise modified how she balances value, consolation, and weight in her gear selections, and what she appears for when placing collectively an ultralight backpacking equipment. 

The Large Three

You gained’t discover a lot of High Shelf’s Large Three objects—backpack, shelter, sleep system—in REI. Six Moons Designs and Katabatic Gear are each so-called cottage gear corporations, who design light-weight and ultralightweight gear for lengthy trails. For extra conventional backpackers, this sort of gear is nearly blasphemous—tents that use mountain climbing poles to remain up, backpacks with no inside body, and quilts which can be open on the underside. High Shelf had eliminated the interior body in her Six Moons Design pack for the part of the PCT she was heading out on, regardless that there have been sections the place she’d want to hold sufficient water for 20 miles or extra. 

“It’s a lot softer and extra versatile with out it,” she stated. That’s partly due to its working vest-style shoulders straps—an uncommon function even for an ultralightweight pack. “The straps are thinner, unpadded, and wider, masking extra of your chest with loads of pockets and storage choices,” she stated. “It suits you want a shirt or a vest—it actually hugs you, which is a few individuals’s nightmare. There’s undoubtedly a studying curve in determining easy methods to modify the pack to get it to journey properly. I wasn’t positive it was for me after I first began utilizing it, as a result of I needed to get used to adjusting it, and my physique needed to get used to carrying the load in a different way.” 

Early morning on the path within the Katabatic Flex 15. Jac Mitchell

Like a number of long-distance backpackers, High Shelf makes use of a quilt, which has no backside, moderately than a standard sleeping bag, even on a shoulder season hike. To make sure she stays heat when nights dip beneath freezing, she pairs her quilt with the Therm-a-Relaxation NeoAir XTherm, which, with an R-value of 6.9, gives among the greatest insulation from the chilly of the bottom of any of the inflatable sleeping pads presently available on the market. “I don’t use a pillow,” she famous. “Effectively, I exploit a backpacking pillow in my van, however I don’t use one on the path.” 

Setting up for the night inside the Six Moons Lunar Solo.
Establishing for the night time contained in the Six Moons Lunar Solo. Jac Mitchell

Her shelter—the Lunar Solo—can also be a Six Moons Design. “I’m not sponsored by Six Moons, it’s simply what labored out proper now,” High Shelf stated. “It’s truly the primary non-DCF shelter that I’ve used.” DCF stands for Dyneema Composite Cloth, as soon as often known as cuben fiber, a cloth that’s in style in long-distance mountain climbing circles because of its low weight and energy. However it’s not as sturdy as different supplies (for years a preferred DCF backpack marketed itself as solely being good for a single thru-hike) and sometimes is available in at a considerably increased value level than the silnylon that High Shelf’s Lunar Solo is made out of. “The Lunar Solo shelter that I’ve is $250 and the Zpacks Duplex that lots of people use—which is an analogous footprint, regardless that it’s two individual versus one individual, and is made out of DCF—is over $700.”

“I’m Not Jeff Bezos”

At one level in our chat, I observed that High Shelf hadn’t included a puffer jacket on her gear listing, regardless that it was a shoulder season hike. 

“Oh yeah,” she stated. “I do have an artificial Enlightened Tools one.” 

Like Katabatic Gear, Enlightened Tools is a cottage gear firm specializing in light-weight quilts, however they’ve additionally expanded lately to incorporate some attire, together with rain gear, wind shirts, and puffer jackets. 

“It’s OK,” stated High Shelf. “It’s heat sufficient. It’s compressible sufficient, but it surely simply doesn’t match notably properly, the material of the shell doesn’t have the best really feel. For me, all that basically provides up whenever you don’t have a closet filled with jackets the place you’ll be able to simply decide one other one.”

Presently, her solely down jacket is from Uniqlo, a Japanese life-style model that thru-hikers have lengthy appeared to for funds puffers and base layers. However their clothes is primarily geared towards city trend—it’s barely purposeful for alpine circumstances not to mention shoulder season ones. “For years and years, I had a Feathered Pals ultralight down jacket and I simply wore it until it fell aside,” she informed me. “I need it so dangerous, however I have to be working once more to get it.”

There’s a saying in thru-hiking that “kilos are low-cost, however ounces are costly.” Whenever you begin chopping weight out of your equipment—swapping out your previous four-pound tent for a two-pound one, upgrading from an artificial sleeping bag to down—you will get quite a lot of bang on your buck. However when you’ve upgraded the most important objects in your pack, it turns into dearer to chop weight, as you begin to tinker with the smaller odds and ends or swap to dear supplies like DCF or 900fp down. This all goes double for any gear that you just put on in your bodily physique, which is able to inevitably have to get replaced, typically a number of occasions on the identical hike. For instance, even best-in-class path runners sometimes solely final between 500 and 700 miles—it’s widespread for PCT thru-hikers to undergo 4 or extra pairs in a single hike—so High Shelf wears New Stability, which might normally be discovered on sale. “I’ll give a bit disclaimer that if there’s a chunk of substances you ask about and I’m like, ‘properly I’m not promoting this as the most effective for me or the most effective for this explicit route or circumstances’,” she stated. “However it’s what I’ve proper now as a result of I’m not Jeff Bezos.”

Having appropriate gear for the season and the trail’s conditions is a top priority on long-distance hikes.
Having acceptable gear for the season and the path’s circumstances is a prime precedence on long-distance hikes. Felicia “Dora the Explorer” Moran

One instance of that’s her alternative of REI-branded rain gear over different lighter—and dearer—fashions. In her expertise, ultralight rain gear—just like the Outside Analysis Helium, is inappropriate for severe rain circumstances, as the fabric wets out in something greater than sprinkles. “Within the shoulder season, carrying heavier gear that truly is wind and waterproof is greater than value the additional weight as a result of it retains me from changing into hypothermic,” she stated. “However the motive it’s REI model is it’s probably the most inexpensive GORE-TEX that I discovered that is also considerably mild. It’d be nice if I may afford Arc’teryx GORE-TEX however that’s $600 in comparison with $300 for the REI two piece.”

She informed me that her largest expense, by far, wasn’t any single piece of substances: It was meals. “I keep away from eating places as a lot as potential and actually lean into grocery shops however, with inflation, meals proper now’s dearer than it’s ever been in my lifetime.” Through-hikes usually result in excessive weight reduction—earlier than and after photographs will be paying homage to a fad weight loss program commercial—just because it’s virtually inconceivable to hold and eat as a lot as you want whereas on the path. “I’ve appeared a bit into what number of energy I want a day, and it’s round 5,000,” stated High Shelf, “however I eat about two to 3 thousand. I’m normally working at a pair thousand calorie deficit daily.”

Using a Ziploc baggie to cold soak a meal while hiking without a stove.
Utilizing a Ziploc baggie to chilly soak a meal whereas mountain climbing with no range. Jac Mitchell

In fact, one of the best ways to maintain prices down is to decide on gear that’s each light-weight and might stand as much as the pains of 10,000 miles—however even cottage firm gear designed for long-distance backpackers sometimes can’t try this. “I’ve used my Six Moons Design backpack on a number of hikes and I simply this week sewed a bunch of holes within the pockets, that are at all times the primary spots to go,” she informed me. “I may at the least preserve utilizing it for the remainder of the PCT this 12 months.”

However there are two objects which have been in High Shelf’s pack because the starting: the MSR Pocketrocket  and an Ibex 250-weight merino baselayer. She couldn’t inform me what the mannequin of the Ibex was, but it surely turned out to not likely matter: Since she bought that piece, Ibex shuttered, was opened beneath new administration, and moved its manufacturing abroad. “Their stuff simply isn’t as high quality because it was once,” she stated. “However this piece doesn’t have any holes in it, it’s as thick as ever. It’s the most effective piece of clothes that I’ve ever bought or owned.”

A reliable stove and baselayer can make all the difference in wet conditions.
A dependable range and baselayer could make all of the distinction in moist circumstances. Jac Mitchell

The MSR Pocketrocket is an isobutane range that’s identified for its simplicity, sturdiness, and reliability (I additionally nonetheless have my authentic Pocketrocket). Whereas MSR has since upgraded the design of the Pocketrocket to a barely lighter model, High Shelf informed me that she is “obsessive about the unique. The one motive I haven’t used it on each thru-hike is that typically I’m chilly soaking.” 

Why Ultralight Is Too Reductive

However High Shelf doesn’t assume that different backpackers ought to exit of their strategy to monitor down an authentic MSR Pocketrocket for his or her gear equipment. “The MSR Pocketrocket is a superb range, however if you happen to don’t get pleasure from it—like if you happen to love utilizing a Jetboil and also you’re settling for a Pocketrocket, your expertise goes to be poorer over time. Your morale goes to be decrease over time,” she says. “So simply grams and ounces and ultralight is far too reductive.”

High Shelf has a lot of standards for what she places in her pack past its weight. At the beginning, it must operate. “I really feel like there’s quite a lot of manufactured strife on the path as a result of it’s dramatic and attention-grabbing,” she stated, “the place somebody may have prevented being out of water for the final twelve miles by carrying an additional Platypus bladder.” She sees this as an issue that even skilled hikers have, both as a result of they underestimate the extent to which their wants are altering, or as a result of they’re “creating drama for drama’s sake.”

For Top Shelf, pictured here in her old Feathered Friends jacket, great gear is a way to fuel her spirit and morale on a thru-hike.
For High Shelf, pictured right here in her previous Feathered Pals jacket, nice gear is a strategy to gasoline her spirit and morale on a thru-hike. Jac Mitchell

However she additionally thinks that nice gear ought to fulfill our emotional wants: “What if the down jacket that matches and feels good on my physique and makes me happier is 2 ounces heavier? To me, that’s a no brainer. Psychological and emotional well being and morale actually provides up over the course of weeks and months. And we’re speaking about an endurance exercise that depletes and calls for a lot. It’s good to refill your cup in any method potential.”

Thru-hiker posing with Fritos.
Gasoline your thoughts in addition to your physique with meals on path. Jac Mitchell

“I’ve heard individuals in consuming dysfunction restoration discuss how meals isn’t simply to gasoline your bodily physique, it’s additionally to gasoline your emotional physique and your coronary heart and soul and spirit. So this concept that weight loss program tradition has fed us, that emotional dishonest is dangerous, interval, is unfaithful. No person must eat a Christmas sugar cookie, however can a Christmas sugar cookie really feel good? Can it add to a social expertise or interplay? Can it make your coronary heart really feel full or enable you to bond with somebody whilst you’re making them? Sure, and that has worth. It’s not simply energy in, energy out. In order that’s an analogy for the way I take into consideration ultralight.”

For High Shelf, long-distance mountain climbing as a sustainable lifestyle is about extra than simply sensible monetary selections in what gear she chooses. When circumstances are lower than best, having the best gear for her—gear that she each trusts and loves—makes all of the distinction, and it’s what provides her the psychological and emotional area to cycle by thru-hike after thru-hike. Whereas High Shelf hasn’t saved a pack listing available in years, she threw collectively an up to date one for me prematurely of our dialog.

Shelter and Sleep SystemSix Moons Designs Minimalist BackpackTrash compactor bag (pack liner)Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo TentPolycryo groundsheetMSR Mini Groundhog tent stakes (6)Katabatic Flex 15 quiltTherm-a-Relaxation NeoAir XTherm

Attire and OuterwearNew Stability path runnersDarn Powerful socksBrooks working shortsPatagonia underwearPatagonia sports activities braVuori T-shirtBuffTrucker hatIbex merino base layer topREI merino base layer pantsREI GORE-TEX rain shellREI GORE-TEX rain pantsBeanieSmartwool merino gloves

Kitchen and BathroomEvernew Ti U.L. Pot 900Humangear Titanium UnoMSR PocketrocketFuel canisterFood bagSmartWater water bottlesVictorinox mini pocket knifeSawyer Squeeze water filterIodine tabletsFirst support kitPetzl Zipka 200-lumen headlampToiletries (toothbrush and toothpaste, Q-tips, chapstick)Poop equipment (child wipes, Ziploc bag, Deuce of Spades trowel)

Actual World ItemsWallet (ID, playing cards, money)Cellphone, USB-C twine, Anker wall plugAnker 20,000mAh exterior battery

The laborious half, she says, about long-distance mountain climbing isn’t the strolling (“it begins to care for itself”): It’s the psychological sport. She is aware of that if she doesn’t are inclined to that, she gained’t end the hike. “Little issues actually add up, like a luxurious merchandise meaning one thing to you. Or a down jacket that feels good in your physique and creates a way of happiness whenever you put it on,” she says. “That creates a way of holistic continuity the place there’s not one other life; a life in the true world after which a path life. It’s like Jac and High Shelf and path life and frontcountry life are all one … This provides as much as not solely ending a thru-hike, however ending quite a lot of hikes.” 

Ideas on Going Ultralight

High Shelf informed me that understanding your private fashion and wishes is important to choosing the proper gear. Not that that’s a static factor. “In fact we’re all lifelong learners—we’re at all times adjusting and our wants are at all times altering and evolving.” She doesn’t have an ideal gear equipment that she’s working towards (besides perhaps that Feathered Pals puffer jacket). After I requested her what she would swap out if cash was no object, she informed me that she would experiment extra. “I’d swap gear out extra usually and check out extra combos,” she says, “as a substitute of sporting each single factor into the bottom as a result of I’m making an attempt to get each penny out of it.” High Shelf thinks that individuals ought to put much less strain on themselves to achieve a sure purpose weight of their pack, and focus as a substitute on how their particular person fashion interprets into the sorts of routes and trails they wish to hike. “It’s a continuum,” she says. “You don’t begin with the equipment that you just’ll finish with. It’s at all times in flux. Do as a lot analysis and speak to as many skilled hikers as you’ll be able to abdomen after which simply make your greatest educated purchases. After which work your weight down from there.

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