The Gear Game
We've been impatient these last eight months. Impatient to get out on the trail and get going, but life circumstances meant our start date was set for Dec. 5th, and in the meantime we needed something to keep us busy and feed our excitement about the trail. So, back in May, as soon as the weather was warm enough to invite us outside, we pulled out our old hiking gear and hit the trails...and the trails hit back - sore knees, sore backs, sore feet! This prompted a bit of internet searching while our bodies recovered, and one major discovery - ultralight backpacking.
For years we had both been packing the kitchen sink, and buying gear cheap (or using our parents) - meaning our packs weighed 35 lbs. or often more, even on short trips. So we started reading blogs of other thru-hikers, gear reviews and comparisons, and buying bits to take on our test hikes.
To say the least, it's been a long process, and we are so grateful to outfitters like REI and Zpacks who understand that trying a piece of gear at a store or in your home isn't the same as testing it on the trail. But all this begs the question - what did we end up with and why?
Almost every piece of gear we are taking with us to New Zealand has changed once, if not three times, over the past eight months of research and 6+ trial trips. To start with, below are pictures laying out the contents of our bags (though we may make slight swaps to even out weight in the end)...
Below we've attached detailed charts of what all these items are and how much they weigh individually. But first a few overall words of wisdom for those who may be dreaming up their own thru-hike adventure.
1. We aren't ultralight. As much as we've tried to shave off the ounces, we believe strongly in safety and (being filmmakers) certain electronic comforts. Our base weights (pack weight w/out food, water, and fuel) are roughly 15-17 lbs. Although we never reached the 10 lbs mark of a true ultralighter, we feel we've struck an important balance. While saving our joints and our minds from the fate of back-breaking pack weights, we still carry enough to keep us safe when circumstances take a turn for the worse, and a few luxuries that allow us to exercise our creative minds while on the trail (aka two kindles and a Fuji X100T camera).
2. Shoes were a struggle. The Te Araroa, and more contemporary hiker wisdom calls for light, fleet feet clad in low top trail runners. We've accepted this doctrine, as it allows shoes (and feet) to dry quickly and be nimble, especially when paired with trekking poles - but that didn't make picking the right pair easy! I (Alexa) swear I tried every type of shoe to be found in NYC, and a few more online for good measure! Only a happenstance meeting on a section of the Appalachian Trail and a friendly Aussie who let me try on her shoes after making her acquaintance 5 minutes prior, led me to the (at the time) brand new Salewa Ultra Train's. These shoes haven't gotten a lot of notice yet as far as I can tell, but they've been awesome the last 200 miles on the trail, and Andrew has decided to give them a try on the Te Araroa as well. With good protection, meshy breathability, and sticky Michelin designed soles, I'm hoping they continue to serve my feet well (especially since nothing else seems to fit!).
3. Merino wool!! It's not just because we are going to New Zealand - we promise! Some research on clothing materials led us to some important findings - the jist of which is that when you wear your clothes for a week straight without washing, its nice to stink as little as possible, and the natural antimicrobial characteristics of merino wool help! Not to mention its breathability and durability. Although we've both stuck with Smartwool for our socks, we found Icebreaker offers an amazing selection of everything merino, plus some great blends for those of us (Alexa) with sensitive skin. So here's to #WildernessFashion coming to you soon from A + A.
4. Zpacks is the best. Our tent, sleeping bags, some clothing, most stuff sacks, and Andrew's backpack are all of their creation, and they are perfect - lightweight, durable, and well conceived. Our tent has already withstood intense rain and wind, while being more spacious than we could have hoped for while weighing practically a pound. We owe much of our weight savings to our Zpacks gear - and although their semi-custom gear most definitely isn't cheap, every item we have from them was money well spent.
We could go on for pages about the details of what we've chosen to bring - every item was agonized over, and every item will be cherished over the next 6 months (or thrown to the wayside if it proves not worth its weight). Check out the charts below for the real breakdown of our gear, and for those going through the same ordeal as they plan their adventure, send us an email, we'd love to give our two cents and hear yours!