September 11, 2019
Over years and thousands of miles hiking, paddling, and biking along the length of North and South America, Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes has been very intentional about what constitutes her carry weight. Is a piece of gear unnecessarily heavy? Is it useful or redundant? Long-lasting or wasteful? Sometimes the cost upfront seems high to achieve the optimal balance in your setup, but ultimately, you’re spending more to get less of all the right things.
Words by Bethany “Fidgit” Hughes
We’ve all been there. Scrolling online or wandering between shops and departments, piecing together a kit. For all the obvious reasons, we want to keep it light, but going through piece to piece we think back to our Boy Scout days, “Always be Prepared.” Or we reckon “better safe than sorry.” The clothing department guy got you into a hooded down jacket, and the woman at the sleeping bags sells you on a mummy bag. Whether you are new to backpacking or upgrading your kit, ounces, like dollars, add up. As the saying goes, “every ounce counts.” Being intentional about what you buy upfront pays off in the long run and in many ways. These are three reasons to think twice rather than pay twice.
You’ll Lighten Your Load
You wouldn’t waste dollars, so why waste weight? In the example above, you now have two warm hoods, where the jacket hood can meet both needs and be a pillow to boot! Your objective should be quite the opposite; rather than buying two pieces which do the same thing, you want multi-functional gear. Swami lays out some great examples on maximizing the utility of what you carry. Everything should serve multiple purposes.
One trick to lightening your weight is to hike with a smaller pack. As one of “The Big Three,” choosing your backpack is going to be formative to your experience in the miles ahead. It has been my observation that humans tend to fill whatever amount of space we give ourselves. This goes for your house or garage as much as your backpack. Thus, selecting a larger pack size invites carrying more gear, while smaller pack capacity will lean you toward carrying less.
As an example, when Neon and I were discussing pack sizes before heading off to hike the length of the Andes, I was concerned that we make sure to have enough space because we would be far from any chance of trading out gear. I initially leaned toward a 3400 Southwest, but we ended up going with the 2400s, which proved to be fine even on hauls of up to nine days. Whatever your sport (assuming some level of familiarity with what you need), consider that if you are debating between two sizes, I’d advise you go with the smaller. While reducing how much you carry and your pack weight have a lot of personal advantages, another consideration and benefit is the opportunity to reduce waste and help keep our planet our little cleaner.
You Reduce Waste
Conscientious purchasing and use of gear facilitates the reduction of waste. For as minimalist as we live, backpackers produce a lot of garbage packing resupplies and using single-serving products when in town.
For the past 5,000 miles, we have carried Stuff Packs that not only make a great food bag and can be used for side hikes, but they’re also are great for town chores and resupply, eliminating the need for grocery bags altogether. Another example is, after eating my first bar of the morning, I keep that package in my pocket and repurpose it as a trash receptacle for the rest of the day. This prevents micro-trash from scattering, compresses trash better than a Ziploc, eliminates the need to carry a trash bag, encourages me to pick up other bits of trash I find along the trail, and makes it easy to dispose of when I see a trash can.
While garbage is an easy target for cleaning up, another way to reduce waste is not to produce it in the first place. One way to do this is to purchase quality gear that will hold together and last longer. This is why I prefer to purchase soft goods from Patagonia, not just because they are made with quality materials that last a long time, but also because of their eco-conscious repair policy. While sticker shock on the front end can be a deterrent, look at your gear as an investment, and in the long run, it pays to purchase wisely.
Your Gear Lasts Longer
Simply put, "buy nice or buy twice." Having to replace gear that you cheaped out on the first time around not only wastes money and increases waste in landfills, but it can also compromise your outdoor experience in the immediate term.
In 15,000 miles of long-distance hiking, I have had some time and experience in testing the limits of gear durability. Quality soft goods, like clothing, usually last somewhere between 700 to 3,000 miles (socks on the short end, shirts, and pants on the longer end). Outer layers and quality down products, when cared for, can last 3000-10,000 miles. I have a Feathered Friends quilt, which has been in use for the past four years. Hard goods, like trekking poles and pocketknives, should be expected to last in excess of 10,000 miles. For most hikers, this is a lifetime of use, which means only having to make one purchase.
Research and thoughtful selection of each piece of gear in your kit lightens your load, decreases your footprint, and can last the duration of your hiking life. Not only should these larger considerations be weighed, but their effect on your immediate experience is just as significant. Even with all of these deliberations, it comes down to the fact that travel is better with a thoughtful selection of lightweight, multi-use products that don’t result in "going without" or suffering.