How much does your pack weigh?
I’m constantly getting asked what my pack weighs. This is a little difficult to answer because:
- I don’t walk around carrying a f@#king scale.
- It’s constantly changing.
- I have to carry it no matter how much it weighs, and sometimes ignorance is bliss.
When fully loaded with food, water, and other gear my pack rarely weighs more than 25 pounds (11.3kg). The precise weight of my pack can fluctuate dramatically. I may have to carry up to a week’s worth of food in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, but in Glacier National Park lies my shortest stretch between stores: 11 miles (18km), or about four hours. On a similar note, walking those 35 miles (56km) between water sources means lugging a lot of H2O, with my general rule being 1 liter per 5 miles (8km). Sometimes water is plentiful and I don’t carry any, just filtering some when I need to.
I’m constantly taking off and putting on various articles of clothing, which further changes the weight of my pack. In Glacier I may or may not be carrying an ice axe and microspikes (like crampons but smaller), which at a couple pounds (~1kg) are really heavy. From Canada through northern Wyoming, areas frequented by grizzlies, I’ll be carrying bear spray on my belt.
Are you ultralight?
Not in the typical sense of the term, which usually refers to dry weights of fewer than 10 pounds (4.5kg). To get that low you have to make some sacrifices on quality of gear and bring a lot less stuff. The former can be accomplished through using cuben fiber shelters and packs, which aren’t terribly durable. Having spent 12 months working in Yellowstone during college, I know that the Rocky Mountains can be an unforgiving and harsh environment. I’m not taking chances when it comes to being unprepared on the CDT, which often follows the exposed continental divide ridgeline.
The list below can and will change as the trail goes on, and I’m not always carrying everything described here. It depends on trail conditions and hosts of other factors. But it’s a good guide to what’s in my pack.
Zpacks Arc Haul 62L – 24 oz, 680g
Zpacks is a fairly small operation run by some guy in Florida. Few companies make backpacks for people my size (or lack thereof). On the PCT I used a similar pack from the same company, albeit lighter and made of cuben fiber. That material didn’t prove to be terribly durable, and the shoulder straps were torn and coming off within the first six weeks. I’ve had this pack for a year and a half, having opted for a more durable plastic-like material. I used it for 10 weeks hiking through Iceland and Arctic Sweden, and again for six months in South America (Patagonia and the Peruvian Andes). It’s completely waterproof, and my stuff stays dry during storms without any liners.
Tarptent Protrail – 26 oz, 740g
I had a Tarptent Notch beforehand, which I used on the PCT, the Arctic, and South America. I collectively spent around 9 months in that tent, and it was starting to give out by the end. This new one is fairly similar in that it saves weight by using trekking poles in lieu of separate tent poles. I’ve only spent about 7 nights in it, but this nylon shelter kept me warm and dry in some fairly intense storms at 15,500 feet (4700m) so I’ve been pretty satisfied.
Zpacks down 10F/-12C bag – 22.6 oz, 640g
I brought a 30F/-1C bag on the PCT and it was nowhere near warm enough, so I changed to this one in late 2015. This bag kept me toasty during nights that were well below freezing in the Arctic and Tierra del Fuego.
Cooking and Food
MSR Pocket Rocket – 3 oz, 85g
This is probably the most popular stove I’ve seen on the trail. I’ve been using this since southern California on the PCT, and I’ve had no issues since then. It uses gas canisters, which I’ve found to be pretty easy to find almost anywhere in the world.
330mL pot and lid – 2.6 oz, 75g
I got this for a few dollars from Walmart and used it on the PCT, in the Arctic, and in South America. It’s served me well and I have no complaints. I usually just boil water and add it to my food in a plastic bag, which means I don’t have to clean the pot or hang it in a tree with my food whilst around bears.
Plastic spork – 0.4 oz, 11g
A friend of mine I’ve known since middle school gave me a spork for my hike! I’m excited for it to make the journey from Canada to Mexico.
REI waterproof 10L nylon sack – 2.3 oz, 65g
This will be my food bag, which I’ll hang in trees out of reach of bears when appropriate. We’ll see if it’s actually waterproof during the first storm on trail.
Waterproof matches – 0.6 oz, 17g
In South America I had a lot of issues lighting my stove with ineffective, cheap lighters. So I’ll be using these matches probably until I run out and forget about how much I hate lighters.
Fuel canister – 12.8 oz, 360g (when full)
Isobutane-propane canister with a screw-on top. A full canister generally lasts me about four weeks, and decreases in weight over that time. I only cook dinner, and usually that’s just to boil water.
Amazon Kindle Paperwhite – 7.2 oz, 200g
I bought this for my 2015 PCT hike, and it’s served me well in the almost 30 countries and 2+ years since then. This thing seems almost indestructible, and the battery life is still strong. I read a lot, especially on my hiking breaks, in my tent before going to bed, and in cafes on my days off. I have dozens and dozens of books on this thing at any time, and I love being able to get new releases on the trail or in faraway corners of the globe.
Wall adapter and charging cords – 3 oz, 85g
This keeps my shit charged, and thus my sanity intact.
Anker 10,000 mAh portable battery – 6.4 oz, 180g
Earbuds – 0.2 oz, 6g
I got some off Amazon for around $10, and they’ve been surprisingly high quality and semi-indestructible.
Huawei Honor 8 with case
This cell phone replaced my 3.5 year old iPhone. I’ve had it about three months, and have subsequently become an android convert. This serves as the depository for all my music, podcasts, and audiobooks with the help of a 64GB SD card, tripling the device’s storage. I’ve also downloaded the Guthooks CDT app, with topo maps and my phone’s GPS hopefully helping me from becoming lost and dying of thirst in the wilderness.
I got an American pay-as-you-go SIM card from H2O Wireless, which leases bandwidth from AT&T towers. Verizon is much better on the trail, but is also more expensive and this phone is incompatible with their network. It costs $27 a month for 3GB of data with unlimited calls and texting. By American standards that’s a decent price. When I leave the US I can just stop paying each month, since I don’t have a contract. I miss paying less than $10 a month for cell phone plans in Europe and South America.
McMurdo Fast Find 220 – 5.3 oz, 150g
This is a personal locator beacon (PLB). If something happens, I can press a button on the PLB. The device will send my GPS coordinates via satellite to local search and rescue, and immediately notify my parents. Because the CDT is relatively remote and can have long stretches without seeing anybody on trail, I decided to carry a basic PLB. I previously rented and carried one on Stewart Island, where I did a week-long hike off the southern coast of New Zealand’s South Island.
Petzl e-Lite headlamp – 1 oz, 30g
A new, lightweight headlamp since my old one died in Peru. I’d had the old one for years and it was held together by tape, so it was probably time to get a new one anyways. The new one has an option for red light, which doesn’t destroy your night vision. I mostly use my headlamp at night, when I’m paranoid about bears and will snap awake at a twig breaking and flash it everywhere in a panic.
Alpaca wool gloves – 1.2 oz, 34g
I bought these for $3 from some woman at a market in Peru. They’re surprisingly warm.
Alpaca wool hat – 2 oz, 57g
Also bought this at a market for just a few bucks.
Altra Lone Peak 3.0 Trail Runners
Switching from boots to trail runners was so worth it. They’re much lighter, and they dry out in minutes when they get wet. It’s a lot easier on my body than heavier boots. At least 99% of thru hikers eschew boots in favor of trail runners or tennis shoes.
North Face fleece – 7 oz, 200g
I’ve taken this on every trip since the PCT, and it’s somehow withstood all the crazy wear I’ve put on it.
Injinji toe socks – 1.4 oz, 40g
These are my liner socks. Since using these I haven’t had a single blister.
Darn tough hiking socks – 2.2 oz, 60g
These are my outer layer of socks. They’re 65% wool, 31% nylon, and 4% spandex. At the recommendation of other PCT hikers, I picked these up in California and have been using them ever since. The company is based in Vermont, and the socks are supposedly actually made there.
Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket – 9.6 oz, 270g
I’ve totally worn out two of these synthetic jackets already. Considering I’ve worn one almost every day for 2.5 years in climates ranging from the Arctic to 1000 miles off Antarctica, I feel like that’s not terrible. There was a 50% off sale for men’s small, which I hope to be a little more durable than the boy’s XL size I wore previously. It’s proven to be extraordinarily waterproof and warm on previous hikes.
REI midweight long underwear bottoms – 6.2 oz, 175g
These are pretty lightweight and kept me warm on the PCT, in the Arctic, South America, and on cold nights in former Soviet republics with awful heating. They were on sale for less than $11 at REI. Being able to wear clothes for 14 year old boys has saved me tons of $$$.
REI tech hiking shirt – 5 oz, 140g
Basic synthetic shirts have served me well in the past, especially since they dry quickly. After wearing the same shirt almost everyday for 11 months I decided to get a new one.
Salomon running shorts – 3.8 oz, 110g
After having issues with hiking pants rubbing my waist raw on the PCT, I switched to basic running shorts for the Oregon and Washington sections. They worked out great on that trail, and I appreciate the weight savings from the liner (no need to carry underwear!). I’ll probably switch to long pants for the New Mexico desert section, which has some prickly brush. Until then, I can combine these with long underwear and/or rain pants for warmth and brush leg protection as needed.
Trash bag for clothes storage – 1.6 oz, 45g
Basic and lightweight solution for keeping my clothes together when in my pack. At night I put all the clothes I’m not wearing into this and use it as a pillow.
Extra pair of liner and hiking socks – 3.8 oz, 110g
I like to change out my hiking socks every couple of hours, which also gives me the opportunity to air out my feet.
Random Other Stuff
Deuce of Spades Trowel – 0.6 oz, 20g
I’ve never been able to dig a decent cathole with my shoes or trekking pole.
Small z-lite sleeping pad – 10.2 oz, 290g
After my inflatable sleeping pad punctured for the second time, I switched to this on the PCT and haven’t looked back. Almost every thru hiker had one, and it doubles as a seat on hiking breaks.
Frogg Toggs rain jacket and pants – 10 oz, 280g
This lightweight and not terribly durable rain suit served me well on the PCT. If needed, I have a sturdier (and heavier) raincoat I can have mailed out to me from Ohio.
Toilet paper – 1 oz, 30g
Pack it in, pack it out. Toilet paper can take a long time to decompose in many environments, so I pack it out in a ziploc bag and dispose of it in town.
Pocket knife – 0.8 oz, 23g
I’m not really sure where I got this, but a small knife always comes in handy in the backcountry.
Small first aid kit
Just some alcohol pads, band-aids, thread, and needle. The latter two I use more than anything else, mainly to fix rips and tears.
I have a refillable 60mL sunscreen tube, travel size toothpaste, a travel toothbrush, chapstick, and hand sanitizer.
Wallet – 1.5 oz, 40g
Small ziploc bag with a credit card, debit card, national American ID card that’ll get me in and out of Mexico, and small amounts of cash. I hardly ever use cash in the US, but some places in the middle of nowhere don’t take card. My Schwab debit card refunds me all ATM fees from anywhere in the world (saved me $1300 in South America!).
Mosquito headnet – 1 oz, 30g
Please, God, never make me have to use this.
Paper maps – variable weight, up to 5 oz, 140g
Electronics can fail, so it’s good to have a backup. A veritable trail angel named Jonathan Ley updates CDT maps and routes every year, and has them available for free online. I ordered them printed from Yogi’s Books and sent to my parents’ house in Ohio. I’ll carry a few sections of trail maps at a time, mailing them to myself throughout the trail and getting rid of the old ones in town as appropriate.
Sawyer squeeze water filter – 3 oz, 85g
I’ve done thousands and thousands of miles of trail with this, and I’ve been pretty satisfied. You don’t get the taste from using bleach or other liquid-based purifying schemes, and it can turn brown water clear. That’s pretty nifty. I use a 1.5L Evernew plastic water bladder to help filter. I just put the dirty water in the bladder, screw the Sawyer Squeeze onto the top of the bladder, and squeeze the bag until the water has all come out.
Two disposable plastic water bottles – 1 oz, 30g
These are lightweight and found pretty much everywhere.