Words & Photos by Nicholas “Click” Reichard
SNAP! The sound of a baseball bat hitting my shins was a pain I will never forget. Except there was no baseball bat, I was a month into my Appalachian Trail thru hike and dealing with shin splints that made every step a nightmare. I remember it so well because it was the week of my 26th birthday, and my only wish was for the pain to go away.
To set the story straight I know the problem was my pack weight, which was largely due to my camera gear. I was quite new to backpacking and surely wasn’t the type of guy to brag about my knowledge when it came to the great outdoors. I was determined to keep going and willing to do anything to help ease the pain I had put my body through, but was I ready to take the steps to become an UL hiker?
Fast forward to today where I now have over 2600 miles under my belt and currently enjoying the final stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I still carry more camera gear than any thru hiker I’ve ever met, but my work as a photographer is why I’m out here. However the more miles I hike, the more I’ve learned I can live without.
For me the key to becoming an Ultralight hiker was to switch one piece of gear at a time and take it slow while gaining more and more confidence. Halfway through my AT hike I switched to the 3400 Porter Pack, which instantly cut my base weight by 2.5 pounds. At that point, and without realizing it, I had made one of the best decisions of my life. It might sound crazy, but setting out to hike thousands of miles takes a toll on your body, and in the past year I’ve cut my base weight in half. I attribute my ability to do this to the success of my previous hike.
If your thinking of taking the plunge into the UL world and hiking the PCT or any long-distance trail, my advice is baby steps. Every hiker is different and most thru hikers are extremely passionate about their gear choices, listen to them all and keep an open mind. Test different shoes, socks, etc because why not? Research can drive you crazy but just have fun with it, slowly you’ll find out what you need and what you don’t!
I doubt I’ll ever be a true UL hiker because of my cameras, but I’m ok with that. I think having the light state of mind is the right state of mind to have.