2017 E5 walk: Gear
This might all be of interest only to serious gearheads.
I didn’t go ultralight, but I kept the principles in mind. My base weight, i.e. my backpack and everything in it, but not counting consumables, nor my everyday clothes (about 3½ lbs.), was very close to 20 lbs., which probably counts as midweight. I always carried a variable amount more than that — mostly water (up to 6 lbs.!) and some food.
|backpack & accessories||3 lbs.|
|clothes (incl. worn)||5 lbs. 15 oz.|
|food, water, & cookware||2 lbs. 13 oz.|
|sleeping||6 lbs. 4 oz.|
|electronics||1 lb. 9 oz.|
|miscellaneous||3 lbs. 15 oz.|
|total||23 lbs. 8 oz.|
My backpack was an Osprey Exos 58. It’s hard to go wrong with this; it’s kind of the default lightweight hiking backpack. It was indeed light and comfortable. It had a sleeve in the main compartment for a hydration reservoir, and a mesh panel to suspend the pack from my back, so my back could breathe a little bit. Access was via a simple opening on top, cinched shut with a drawstring. This made it a little awkward to access the contents, but fortunately I rarely needed to do so in the middle of the day: The only thing I stored in the main compartment that I ever needed to quickly access was my rain jacket, and my packing system left it at the top at all times. Also mitigating the access problem, there was a top flap with a zippered pouch that covered the opening, and I stored small things there for quick access — I used it for snacks, tools, emergency gear, and such.
The backpack wasn’t waterproof, and didn’t have any organization inside to speak of. I dealt with this in two ways. First, I had a waterproof rain cover for it, which I kept in the zip pouch and could quickly pull over the backpack whenever rain threatened. Second, almost everything inside the backpack was inside waterproof “dry sacks” (from Osprey and Sea to Summit) of various sizes and colors. Each item belonged in a particular sack, and each sack went in a particular location within the backpack, so that I always knew exactly where everything was.
- My shoes were Altra Lone Peak water-resistant trail runners. My feet need a large toebox, which this shoe absolutely has, and my simple orthotics fit perfectly in them. I wore one pair for the entire walk, but probably should have replaced them at about the halfway point. (Meghan sent a replacement pair to meet me in Paris.) Their short life is only thing I wish were better: They start to show their age at about 500–750 miles, whether on the trail or on city sidewalks, though I can (and do) certainly wear them longer.
- I had two pairs of Darn Tough wool socks, which I alternated between, and which were great, and a pair of Injinji toe sock liners that I used on and off. The promise of the latter is that they help prevent blisters; if they worked, I shudder to think of what my blister situation would have been without them.
- I wore one pair of Columbia Silver Ridge cargo pants: not fashionable but providing good sun protection and rapid drying.
- Shirt & outer layers
- I had one Smartwool T-shirt, and a Sunday Afternoons sun shirt (which they no longer sell). Once I got going, the two together were almost always sufficient for me.
- For head and face protection, I wore a Sunday Afternoons Derma Safe sun hat. This was perhaps the least-fashionable piece of clothing I had, but it was effective.
- I alternated between two pairs of Smartwool boxer briefs.
- I had a pair of Xero DIY sandals that Meghan assembled to my specifications, for wearing around campsites and specifically for camp showers. They were light, but the cord straps made them very awkward to put on and take off, and I could feel every pebble and crack underfoot (which was a selling point, but not one that I ended up appreciating). In hindsight, I should have just gotten the thinnest pair of flip-flops I could find.
- Inclement weather
- My outermost layer was an Outdoor Research Foray rain jacket. I normally kept this rolled up and zipped into its own pocket, and stashed in my backpack. When rain seemed to threaten, I got it out and looped it through a backpack strap, so I could put it on quickly. When wearing it, it had zippers at the hip to allow my backpack’s hip belt through, and it had zippers under the armpits to vent a little heat (though it was still usually warmer than I wanted). I also wore it when it was windy, or first thing on chilly mornings before I warmed up. On even colder mornings, I wore a Patagonia down vest, and sometimes an Icebreaker cap and gloves.
I’m still really happy with most of these clothes: Three and a half years later, I’ve gone through several pairs of the Altras (not water-resistant), I’ve gotten a few more pairs of Darn Tough socks1, I still regularly wear the vest and rain jacket, and I’ve replaced the sun hat with an identical one (minus the unsightly sweat stains). I’d probably wear more Smartwool clothes, too, if they weren’t quite so pricey.
I wore different clothes at night.
Food and water
- Food storage
- I knew there were no bears along my route: Unlike if I were hiking Yosemite, I didn’t need bullet-proof food storage. So, I put all my food in a “critter-resistant” Ursack Minor food storage bag, and the strongest-smelling things (salami, cheese, chocolate) in a waterproof sack inside the Ursack (hoping that waterproof also meant odor-proof). In any case, I never had any problems.
- I refilled my Platypus Big Zip hydration reservoir, holding 3 liters, every morning. Before I left, I spliced a Sawyer Mini water filter into the Platypus’s drinking hose. As it turned out, I never needed to refill from a suspicious source (though there were a handful of days where I almost did), but I think it was probably a good idea to have the filter, just in case.
- I planned to cook a lot more than I actually did. I brought a WhisperLite International camp stove, but I used it exactly once. A few times, the campsite or gîte had an available stovetop, or I simply ate food that I bought (bread and salami and cheese; crêpe; döner kebab). If I could go back in time to eliminate one thing from my kit, it would be this, and thus also its associated fuel bottle and spark striker; this would save more than 1¼ lbs. I did find my cookware and spork useful on the occasions when I cooked.
- In contrast to the stove, I used the Opinel folding knife (no. 8) often — typically to cut bread and slice cheese for a sandwich, but for various other food-related tasks as well.
- My tent was an MSR Carbon Reflex 1 (my heaviest single piece of gear aside from the backpack). It was exactly the correct size for me: I could lie down full-length, and could sit up more or less comfortably in the middle. At night, I generally stashed clothes and food at my feet, and my backpack and shoes outside under the rain fly. I also had a footprint for the tent, so that I wouldn’t need to worry much about the tent floor getting punctured by debris I missed when setting up. The one thing I wished was that the tent were fully self-supporting — instead, its structure required it to be staked into the ground.
- I slept on a Therm-a-Rest Women’s NeoAir XLite inflatable mattress. This was crinkly-sounding, but rolled up small, and always held its inflation overnight (I never found myself sleeping on the ground in the morning). As a luxury, to help inflate the mattress, I used a NeoAir pump sack — it worked as a bellows, so I didn’t need to inflate it solely with lungpower. I used a fitted sheet so I didn’t have to sleep directly on the plastic.
- I had a Therm-a-Rest AirHead pillow, which was probably another unnecessary luxury, but one I appreciated.
- Instead of a sleeping bag, I slept under a Therm-a-Rest Corus quilt. It attached to the mattress, so that it didn’t slide around or fall off in the night. Nights got as cold as 35 °F when I slept outside; when it was below 40 °F, I didn’t quite stay warm enough — I wasn’t in any danger, but didn’t sleep as soundly as I would have liked. And sleeping on my side, the edges of the quilt lifted up from the mattress enough to let a bit of cold air inside. I’m not sure I would recommend this setup to a side-sleeper, at least not in cold weather.
- I wore a long-sleeved Smartwool shirt, a pair of Smartwool long underwear, and a different pair of Darn Tough socks. When nights were chilly, I would sometimes wear my cap; when they were colder still, I wore my down vest; and on the coldest nights I also wore my gloves.
Outdoor gear enthusiasts may have noted that most of these (along with the stove and hydration reservoir) are from the same company. Meghan’s sister is a designer at Cascade Designs, and I’m grateful that she was able to get me a family discount — lightweight gear isn’t cheap.
- My phone was so critical to the walk that I wrote a whole separate page just about it.
- I used a RAVPower 16,750 mAh power bank to recharge the phone, for when I didn’t have access to a power outlet.
- My main reading device was a Kindle Paperwhite. I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle, and Tim Powers’s Declare.
- I charged everything with a 5W charger, suitable for European power outlets, that I bought from the phone store in Paris. I had a short Lightning cable and a longer micro-USB cable to charge my phone, power bank, and Kindle.
- My most important items that didn’t fit into any of the above categories were Black Diamond carbon trekking poles. I was skeptical of trekking poles in general, but the advice was almost universally in favor of them. So I brought them along, thinking that I could just abandon them if they turned out to not be helpful. I ended up using these whenever I was walking on a dirt trail, and often on paved roads; I only stashed them when I was walking through towns. They quickly became an extension of my arms.
- At night, in the tent or walking around, I used a Black Diamond Spot headlamp — this model had a red light mode so as not to destroy your own or other people’s night vision. I sometimes used my phone’s light, of course, but while it’s convenient, it’s not nearly as well-suited as a headlamp.
- Personal care
- I used three sizes of PackTowl Ultralite, each for a different purpose; I often attached them to the outside of my backpack and let them air-dry in the morning sun. I had a bottle of Campsuds concentrated soap, which I used for gear and in the shower; I could have easily gone another two months without resupplying. I had some kind of folding toothbrush, a roll of floss I had taken out of its container, and a bite guard that I wore nightly to keep from grinding my teeth.2 Finally, I had sun screen, moleskin bandages, and other miscellaneous things.
- Infrequently used
- I had a clothesline which I sometimes used, when a dryer wasn’t available or didn’t quite dry things enough. I had a non-food knife, the Victorinox Climber; it saw only infrequent action, and then only some of the different widgets, but it was just fine, and I was glad I had it. I probably should have used my Lonely Planet phrasebook more often than I did.
- I decided to leave my wedding ring at home — I’ve never come close to losing it, but somehow it seemed like it would be less recoverable if I (somehow) lost it on the walk. I got a substitute ring from a jewelry shop in Pike Place Market, and wore that on the walk.
- I kept a waterproof envelope with assorted papers tucked in my backpack, and a Zpack wallet with my passport and two credit cards in a pants pocket, usually a zippered one.
- Accumulated on the walk
- At various times, I bought a small pen, a tiny notepad, hand lotion when my skin got really dry, and a set of nail clippers because I was feeling prissy and didn’t want to use the Swiss army knife scissors.
- Never used
- A compass, a mirror, a first aid kit, a tent repair kit, miscellaneous cord, a trowel and paper, a whistle, and two EpiPens, all in case of various emergencies. Glad I had them; glad I never needed to use them.
The socks I wore on the walk eventually developed holes in the heels. Darn Tough guarantees their socks for life, but the walk was such a level of abuse that I felt like getting replacements would be cheating. ↩︎
My bite guard was actually one of the major reasons I always tried to sleep in a location with running water: I need to clean it every morning, or things get pretty grim. ↩︎