In a few weeks, I’ll be running another one of my very popular Intro to Backpacking seminars at Harriman State Park. I ran my first seminars at Harriman State Park in November and December of 2015. Among the attendees was a very enthusiastic young lady who now goes by the trail name “Kremlin.” Kremlin was having a rough time fitting into civilized life and was looking for something more exiting to do. She asked me if I thought she should go on a thruhike, and I said “do it!” She started her hike from Katahdin after 6 months of preparation and finished just around Thanksgiving of 2016. Recently she referred a friend to me to get some thruhike advice of his own.
Thruhike Advice: Gossamer Gear Mariposssa
Future Thruhiker: “I upgraded from my old 65L Vaude backpack that was almost 5 pounds to a Gossamer Mariposa which I am definitely pleased with – Kremlin recommended it and I’m assuming that you recommended it to her since she said you have one, too, so thanks for that! Any recommendations on ways to improve it? I’ll be doing a bunch of shakedown trips next month and one of my goals is to figure out if there is anything on it I can get rid of.”
CampingJay: “You’ll love the Mariposa! I’ve had one for 2 years and I use it for extended trips and all winter backpacking. It’s really comfortable and has all of the features you need and very few you don’t. Which version do you have? The latest version has removable top-lid. I’d suggest leaving that home. I never use the wire frame, just the foam pad; but you may want to try a weekend out with it fully loaded with 10 days of food before you ditch the wire frame for the whole hike. (hopefully you’ll never actually carry 10 days worth of food, but that’s the recommendation for the 100 mile wilderness.) I guess that’s in the beginning for you, so you can ditch the wireframe in Monson. Anyway, the only other suggestion I have is to line it with a plastic trash compactor bag, but you probably already know that. You might want to cut off the silly trekking pole holders. They hold the weight of the trekking poles too far from your center of gravity, which really wears on the hips after a few miles.”
Thruhike Advice: Tarptent Notch
Future Thruhiker: “Sleeping arrangements are a little bit of a concern for me at the moment (ok maybe a big concern). I have a Hennessy Expedition A-Sym hammock with the under pad foam insulation, and that alone (without the rain fly) weighs almost 4 and a half pounds. I’ve taken that on shorter 3-4 day trips just for the fun of having a hammock but I don’t think I would be comfortable with that for 5 months, so I’m leaning towards tent. And of course my current tent – some Alps Mountaineering 2 person monstrosity I bought several years ago without any concern for weight – weighs, complete with stakes and rain fly, close to 5 pounds. I’ve been checking out Tarptent and I’m leaning towards the Notch right now. The Pro Trail seems nice, too but I like the side entry of the Notch. I think Kremlin said that you own a couple Tarptents so I’d realllly like to hear about your experience with them.”
CampingJay: “The Tarptent Notch is an excellent choice. I’ve been using one for 4 years now and its consistently my go-to shelter. I toyed with flat tarps for a while, but eventually concluded that a notch with 4 stakes was lighter than a tarp + 12 stakes + oodles of lines + a ground cloth. The notch is bomber in almost all weather and sets up in a minimum footprint. If you carry a bit of extra cordage, you can use it to guy out the ridgeline during heavy winds, but most of the time the design holds up just fine on its own. I have both the mesh and solid interiors. The solid interior is definitely warmer, but I think on a thruhike you’ll want the breathability of the fully mesh interior.
” I was really excited about the Protrail when it came out and recommended it to a few people, but have since stopped. Despite advertisements, its tricky to set up and not very stable in high winds. Its very difficult to pitch it with taught sides. The side panels are also very large and act like sails. It is a bit cheaper than the notch, weighs an ounce less, and gives you more interior space; but I think the Notch’s superior handling of weather is worth the extra $50 + 1 ounce. “
Thruhike Advice: Enlightened Equipment Revelation
Future Thruhiker: “For a sleeping bag I have an REI Flash 29 down bag – about 1 pound 11 ounces – that I’ve been mostly fine with but I’ve been reading a ton about the advantages of down quilts online. Any advice there?”
CampingJay: “1lb 11 oz is a really good weight for a store bought bag! If its comfortable and you’re looking to save money, keep it. If you have extra cash to spend, like having the latest gear, and want to go up several notches in comfort, definitely consider switching to a quilt. My #1 choice would be an Enlightened Equipment Revelation or Enigma. EE makes an excellent product at a really good price. You can get yourself a completely customized quilt for less than $300. That’s half what you’ll pay for an off-the-shelf product from Western Mountaineering or Feathered Friends, and its supporting an All-American Small Business. I’ve got 3 EE quilts myself and have helped dozens of people buy them. No complaints yet! The downside to EE is that they have a long leadtime, sometimes 6-8 weeks or more. They are getting better about keeping a good stock of ready-made products, so you could get lucky.
“The alternative to EE is the Jacks R Better Sierra Snivler. These are also great products and ship the next day, but they’re not customized. They’re basically all the same size and just come in a 20 or 40 degree version. This is a good option if you’re impatient.”
Thuhike Advice: A Few Other Thoughts
CampingJay: “If those are your big concerns, then you’re thinking smart. Those should be your big concerns. The other one is your sleeping pad. For that, I’d recommend a torso length or full length Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite. I use the small size in the summer. Its just the right length to support from my but to my head and let my legs hang off the end. Its only 8 oz, but very warm and comfortable. Together, the pack, tent, quilt and pad make up your Big 4. If you build your kit around an ultra light Big 4, you’re going in the right direction. With the mariposa, notch, revelation, and xlite, you can easily keep your base weight (weight without food, fuel, or water) under 12 lbs.
“When you’re designing the rest of your kit and packing up, remember the rules of 3 for survival: You can survive for 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter, 3 days without water, and 3 weeks without food (no, you can’t hike for 3 weeks without food, but you can lie and wait for help!) This in mind, shelter items should comprise most of your weight: tent, quilt, pad, and clothing. You don’t really need to carry much weight for water: I only carry 2 1-liter Nalgene bottles, an Aqua-Mira kit, and an empty gallon water bottle or foldable gallon bladder for camp storage of dirty water. As for food: my kit consists of a 700 ml pot that doubles as a mug, a snow peak canister stove (you may want an alcohol stove for thruhiking) a long handled spoon, a nylon bear bag with 30 feet of line, and an extra large zip lock bag for protecting my gear from food odor.
“Everything else you may want to carry (books, watches, cameras, batteries, playing cards, fishing gear, alcohol…) is all optional. The name of the game, as Kremlin has probably mentioned, is to move as quickly and lightly as you can between towns. Towns are where you’ll hang with friends, splurge on yummy meals, drink beer, and do all that fun stuff. “