Diving back in

4:07 p.m. on May 17, 2013 (EDT)
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After taking several years off from backpacking due to work, family, and injuries, I've been dipping my toes back into my old hobby. After one overnight trip last year, I realized that I'm basically back at square one in terms of physical ability. It's sobering to realize a relatively flat 7.8 mile overnighter can kick your rear. This is after years of going tens of miles in harder terrain per trip.

So for all intents and purposes, I'm placing myself back at the beginner level. Skills need to be refreshed, old gear needs to be repaired or replaced as needed, and my body needs to be reconditioned. After four years of inactivity, hundreds of miles on the trails means nothing in terms of my current ability.

My one true concern is the weight of my gear. During my teenage years and early twenties, 50+ pounds was a fairly easy load to handle over long distances. Now that I've got some nagging back issues, UL gear has become very tempting.

I'm considering easing myself back in with shorter trips using my current gear. My base load for my trip last year was 40 pounds, which means I have weight stripping to do over the long-term. For now, it's going to be a matter of leaving things at home, and later replacing gear as things either wear out or I find good deals on lighter items. I've worked out a gear list that would get me just under ten pounds for base load, but that's an investment I'll have to make over time.

I'm not sure if it's the wisest way of going about it, but I plan on extending my trips as my load gets lighter to ease back in. 55 pounds and five miles on the first day in years was rough, but the second leg was easier as my body gave in to what I was asking from it. Really, I just took too many things along. A camp chair, multiple books, and way too much clothing didn't do me much good since I didn't really need them. It was all extra weight I hauled around for no good reason.

For the next trip, I'm trimming the total load down to 40 pounds maximum. It won't be hard to strip that much weight by leaving the luxury items at home. I'd really like to get back to 30+ miles a trip, but I know it's going to be a long process as my body adapts and my gear gets lighter.

4:25 p.m. on May 17, 2013 (EDT)
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Do you know what the weight of your current gear is?  Tent, sleeping bag, backpack, etc.?  If you can provide a bit more info, listing out what you think is essential, the folks on the forum might be able to suggest someways to cut down what you're taking with you.


5:01 p.m. on May 17, 2013 (EDT)
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My equipment list that I know the exact weights of are:

  • Backpack 1: Camptrails Catskill - 4lb 14oz
  • Backpack 2: Jansport Scout - 3lb 9oz - It needs repairs I'll be doing over the next week.
  • Tent: Kelty Windfoil Ultralight - 5lb 12oz
  • Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware Crazy Legs 5f - 3lb 4oz
  • Sleeping Pad: Thermarest Ridgerest Deluxe - 1lb 4oz

I realize these are all relatively heavy compared to newer gear designed for reduced weight.

The only other things I consider essentials in my base load but don't have exact weights on are my:

  • 5-6 garbage bags for ground cover, pack cover, etc.
  • Mess/cook kit
  • Two small AA flashlights
  • Water purification tabs or drops
  • 2 2-liter bottles for water
  • Emergency fire kit
  • Rain gear, which I always bring along no matter the forecast.
  • Field guides, since I try to identify everything new I come across.
  • Basic toiletries (toothbrush, TP, etc.)
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizer for personal cleanup.
  • Small first-aid kit

The rest of the base load comes in the form of luxury items such as a hatchet, camp chair, and a digtal SLR camera with two lenses. These extra things add up quickly. The hatchet and camp chair are the first items I'm leaving out, which shaves somewhere in the neighborhood of eight pounds immediately.

A lot of my non-base load comes in the form of clothing, which I need to work on. Denim jeans are the entirety of my pants options out of what I currently own, aside from dress slacks. I quickly remembered why I had always avoided denim on trips during my last one. Refreshing myself on the concepts of layering and washing/hanging a few items rather than having fresh clothing for each day would probably serve me very well for trips beyond one night.

11:34 a.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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You got distracted from one of the important experiences of your life.  I am glad you are back on track.  It is helpful to update the equipment with some lighter stuff.  What is really important though, is to get in hiking shape physically.  Then you need to develop mental toughness to overcome the aches and pains, and inertia of a more sedentary life.  Go at a slower pace, but keep going.

Tell us how it goes.

1:07 p.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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Good for you! You'll be surprised how quickly you get up to speed once you start.

I like a lot of your list, but yeah, that's pretty heavy. It's all relative to your body weight, I suppose, but that kind of weight isn't kind to your knees. Do you have trekking poles? Maybe get something inexpensive to start, but they'll do some of the work for you and help you avoid injury.

Your tent kind of jumps out as a way to save weight, especially if you're camping solo. A tent in the 3 pound range, a sleeping bag at 2 or less, would make a nice difference. I'd suggest keeping an eye on gear swaps, ebay, etc. for things to pop up. The secondhand gear market is amazing, there are a lot of gearheads out there addicted to the new, who sell barely used things for half what they paid in order to save six ounces. Take advantage of them!

Similarly, when it comes to clothing there's no need to spend a big pile of money on brand-name gear. Look at that stuff and what it's made of, then go find the department store or secondhand shop equivalent. Light wool dress pants, for example, or no-name fleece, or store-brand polyester long underwear. Think modular. Base layer, insulation layer, wind layer, rain layer. In my chilly wet climate, I have two sets of thin poly long underwear, tops and bottoms (one set is for sleeping only). For bottoms, I have a pair of light but thick fleece leggings (not carried in our short summer), a pair of thin nylon pants, and rainpants. For tops I have a fleece hoody, a synthetic puffy hoody (again, not summer), a windbreaker, and a rainjacket. Add two pairs of wool socks (I'm decadent and carry three), and I'm good in all weather for trips of any length. Very little weight, and all of it will dry quickly.

Welcome back!

5:27 p.m. on May 18, 2013 (EDT)
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- Books, hatchet and camp chair. Obviously.

- 2 x 2 litre bottles of water weigh 4 kilos (8.8 lbs). If you use a high-speed purification system (Steripen, All Clear) you could get away with carrying one 750 ml bottle. 

- 5-6 garbage bags. I could see wrapping the gear in your bag in case it rains,  and maybe one more 'just in case'. British Columbia SAR suggests carrying one orange leaf bag in case of rain, as an emergency bivy, or for signalling. But not 5 or six. 

- Field guides are heavy, especially if you want ones for birds, flowers, plants, etc.  If you have a smart phone, consider buying a solar charger and digital versions of your favourites. Or you could carry a kindle and get the field guides and your other books. 

- One reliable flashlight or headlamp, not two. Unless you're hiking in the dark you can survive without one, so one is adequate. 

Islandess has the clothing system nailed. Base layer, insulating layers, pants and waterproof breathable shell. If you're really worried about rain, I'd suggest getting a dollar-store poncho and carrying a pair of rain pants. I don't worry about changes of clothes, except for spare pairs of socks. 

She's also right about the costs. You can buy a down sweater for $250 or for $25. Look for the cheaper versions for now and keep an eye open for used gear. Goodwill is a great place to pick up lightly used hiking clothes. 

And I hate to say this if you're a photographer, but I long ago swapped the big cameras for a small, general purpose one. Ounces rather than pounds. 

5:29 a.m. on May 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Don't forget most one time couch potatoes can shave lots of weight from their waist lines, it is basically free, and you'll really notice the improved stamina.


7:42 p.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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start out with day hikes. you have to get your ankles and knees conditioned for hiking again. it's a good way to avoid injury. start with a good pair of hiking boots. build up to a full pack gradually, older bones need a little more time to get in shape.

11:25 p.m. on May 20, 2013 (EDT)
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I appreciate the advice, folks. I'll be rummaging through what I have tomorrow and do a test pack to see how much I can trim from my base load just by leaving things at home. I've already taken the chance to test the old tent for leaks by attacking it with the water hose and readjusting my current pack for a better fit.

The only luxury item I can't see myself parting with easily is the SLR and a limited selection of lenses. P&S cameras and camera phones just don't have the capabilities I need, especially in the telephoto department. Getting out and taking pictures others aren't willing to because of the effort involved is a big part of why I head out there. Making sure I've got the best photo I can get out of the effort is worth the four extra pounds to me.

I will be swapping out my pack, tent, and sleeping bag first. With just those three items, I'll have saved over eight pounds going with newer UL gear. Tomorrow I'll take a swing at trimming my pack's contents, and try to get things slimmed down.

As for water volume, we've got a lot of karst topography in the park I get the most time in, which makes above-ground water surprisingly hard to come by at times. I feel safe cutting the volume I carry down to three liters during dry periods, and even further after a good rain. The springs and streams at Mammoth Cave NP are hilariously intermittent.

Fitness is something I've been working on. Walking everywhere instead of hopping in the truck has been working wonders for how I feel. Sneaking in some day hikes as folks have mentioned sounds like a great idea.

10:48 p.m. on May 21, 2013 (EDT)
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A good friend of mine always takes his SLR. His approach is to balance the SLR weight with everything else by using an Osprey pack and Osprey's pouch that attaches to the shoulder straps and sits in front of his hip belt. This way weight is more evenly distributed.  It works for him and it's something you might consider. 


11:54 p.m. on May 22, 2013 (EDT)
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That's fairly similar to what I've been doing with an older, small camera bag. Drop my two most versatile lenses and lighter backup body in the bag and hang it from the straps on the back from my hip belt. Everything's on hand, easy to have shooting in seconds, and it doesn't get in my way.

After some issues at home I need to clear out of my head and having the next couple of days off, I'm sneaking my first overnighter of the year in tomorrow. Being during the week, I don't foresee any issues with the good backcountry sites being taken as long as I show up early to reserve one.

I'm keeping it short and simple so I've got all afternoon to relax. 0.8, 1.2, 1.5, and 2.4 miles are the closest four backcountry sites to a trailhead where I'm heading that have access to the rivers, and I want to relax and get some fishing in if possible. There's not much stress an easy day away from civilization capped off by a fish and six pack of beer dinner can't get rid of. Ramen and beer in case I catch nothing else, just like I remember eating in college.

I'll post a quick report on how much I've reduced my base load before heading out.

2:03 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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After some serious cutbacks on my gear, my base load has dropped from the neighborhood of 40 pounds to 22.6 pounds. My back will be thanking you folks when I crawl in my sleeping bag tonight.

2:52 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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Fantastic, be sure to post photos and tell us all about it when you get back! 

11:06 p.m. on May 23, 2013 (EDT)
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5:15 p.m. on May 24, 2013 (EDT)
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So post a new gear list when you get back. Good job on cutting it back so well. 

8:16 a.m. on May 25, 2013 (EDT)
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LOL you sure are eager. That tent seems heavy to me for what it is. I have a Kelty Vortex II that weighs about that much and in a pinch you could sleep 3 in is. Admittedly snug but it is a tent for 2.

I like it roomy, but not heavy if i can afford lighter. Keep up with the reviews and your pack just might get real light.  :-)

8:19 p.m. on May 25, 2013 (EDT)
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good way to cut the weight. it is amazing how many more miles you can do when your not lugging 50 pounds.

1:13 a.m. on June 19, 2013 (EDT)
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Sorry about the long delay on a post-trip update. I've started a new job with one of the local cave conservation groups, and it's been sapping every bit of energy and time lately. Walking up a flight of ~250 stairs at least four times a day to the top of the sinkhole has been working wonders for my conditioning.

The gear list was mainly changed by leaving things at home. The only luxury items I brought were fishing gear (ate fine on four bluegill and a rock bass that evening, plus my packed food) and a book to help the sleeping pills take hold. I relied on my phone and left the camera gear behind for a change. The site was an old favorite that's changed quite a bit over the years, but I don't feel like I'm missing out on any grand photos.

Just a few snaps I fired off at random:


My only real problems were the garbage dump I had for a fire pit and the heavy horse damage to the trail. Other than that, it was a nice little overnighter to a backcountry site that I hadn't seen in more than a decade.

April 19, 2018
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