Long Distance Backpackers don’t carry much; so what we do carry is an inordinately big deal to us. The cool kids know weights of gear down to the ounce. Some folks don’t carry tents others of us swear by them.We all love our down; jackets, sleeping bags, and in the case of the frequently nearly famous Mr. Mountain Goat, a beanie.
While my gear isn’t going to make any Ultra-Light or Top 10 Gear List, they are a big deal to me. So I’ma tell you about my 5 most favorites.
1) First and Foremost, is my Rainbow Sun Hat. 8 years ago I was a Ranger at Philmont, and picked her out of a shop window in Manitou Springs, CO to make myself easier for crews to find amidst the sea of bodies in Base Camp and then out on the trail.
She has overseen many thousands of miles of adventuring, all across the world. Today the top is heavily faded, telling of the countless sun rays she’s stopped from torching my face/giving me cancer. Hummingbirds don’t dive-bomb her nearly as often anymore.
But under the brim, she is bright and hopeful as ever. Though cotton is not an advised trail fabric, I make an exception here. For, on a scorching hot sun day, a quick scoop into a cool creek, dumping the water over myself as I slap her back onto my noggin and adjust the chin strap (which is a re-appropriated strap from once upon a time glacier sunglasses) is heaven. She’ll hold the damp for hours. When it’s a downpour, the brim flexes, fitting under my rain jacket hood but still protecting my face.
2) Next up: Rain Jacket. In Mallorca, I had been stalking the gear shop on Cami Manacor, lusting after its firm little brim and ‘blend into the forest green’ but my ‘Ambassador’s
pittance allowance’ put it entirely out of range. Then my Grandparents came to visit for Christmas, and since then we’ve weathered everything from tropical storms to Washington deluges. Mountain Hard Wear claims it’s made from 100% Nylon and 100% Polyester. That’s 200% jacket.
Let it be noted: Pit Zips are the greatest development since Doors. Venting virtues aside, these are what enable me to slip out of the jacket without having to stop or take off my pack while hiking.
3) My Uncle and Aunt gave me a Pocket Knife (Leatherman Juice S2) for High School Graduation. He has dismantled countless things, from MP3 players to door knobs. Clipped twine off bales of hay, cut dingle-berries out of sled dog butt fur, cut thousands of slices of cheese, blisters, nails, and maybe clipped a fence wire or two…
An all around handy tool, though a bit heavy for the trail.
Anyway, we’ve recently experienced an upgrade in trail blade. For example, it’s actually sharp, lighter, and more compact. Also, I can throw it and it usually sticks; making me feel like I could hold my own in Gangs of New York.
4) 2 Liter Camelbak Bladder. Once upon a time, when I was a kid, Dad dropped a fatty investment at Cabela’s and outfitted the family for backpacking. I’m pretty sure this is the origin of my bladder. Having hiked with it for so long, it’s hard to stay properly hydrated without the convenience of the hose and the option to drink while walking. Sometimes I try to drink out of wide mouth Gatorade bottles but usually just end up spilling everywhere, so I use those for water collection and camp drinking.
The hose is corroded by DEET where it brushes against my shoulder and is wrapped in duct tape in one spot. The mold cultures inside no longer even pretend to go away, so I just bleach it every couple years. If you have any ideas for more effective cleaning, let me know!
What I can tell you is this thing has survived many rough climates, from prickly places like Missouri and the Mojave Desert to freezing, rocky alpine. The reservoir itself has yet to get a hole. Tough and True; love it.
5) Crazy Creek Camp Chair – Another Philmont acquisition, the better to nap in while crews took 3 hours to break camp. Since then it’s been used as a leg splint, sleeping pad, and the handle makes it a convenient briefcase for when camp is a bit away from the water. I load up water bottles, purification, laundry and creek-side wash-up stuff, pull the Velcro tight and feel quite professional traipsing down to the waterside.
Though I didn’t carry it on the PCT, having a chair allows one to feel a bit more ‘civilized’ when out on the trail. Perhaps it was reactionary that I carried it on the CT, because of Rif-Raf calling me a ‘Dirt Sitter’ for 2600 miles. But now I lounge in style during breaks and in camp; the key is keeping it somewhere accessible on your pack.
After years of use, he’s on his last stay. Internal support rods have tunneled out from the fabric and stick into the dirt, evacuating the chair when I pick it up. So there’s another 5 minutes of having to sit in the dirt and try to wiggle it back in. But I do, because it’s worth it. Though I sense the need for an upgrade/visit to Philmont in the next few years…
These are my Favorite of the favorites, because of their durability and stories. Writing this out has made me realize how many were gifts from people who support and encourage my passion.
To each of you I offer a deep and heart-felt thank you.
You’ve made my world a more comfy place. Thank you.