In Sickness and In Health: A Shelter Love Story
/ December 06, 2019
How long have you been going light?
I think I was born ultralight. My parents split when I was young and ended up in different states. I commuted between North Carolina and Florida several times each year and I hated hauling a large bag. I was kind of small and spindly, so I got really efficient at packing. I’m a 12-year-old girl, and I’m like, “Forget Teen Beat. I’m learning about packing cubes and stuff sacks!” As airlines tightened their carry-on restrictions, I got smarter. Eventually, I’d show up with two weeks’ worth of stuff origami-ed into an overnight bag. It was like trying to beat the boss of a video game, but the boss was increasingly crappy airline constraints. I’ve never paid to check luggage on a short trip. I just can’t do it. It feels like losing.
I developed this luggage obsession at an early age, which morphed into a gear obsession as soon as I started becoming active. I’ve been hiking since age 17, and I’ve been slowly upgrading my gear and downsizing my pack weight ever since. Moving into a bite-sized Sprinter with my husband, two cats, and a dog cemented the fixation. Everything has to be small or light—preferably both.
I bought my first Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack and the Echo II shelter in 2016. With them, I’ve visited 49 states and 47 national parks. I’ve bushwhacked my way into our country’s least-visited national park, Alaska’s phenomenal Gates of the Arctic, which has no roads or trails at all. You’re scrambling through 20 miles of Arctic backcountry before you even step foot into the park. I’ve climbed in the Canadian Rockies and the Tetons, in Montana’s Greater Yellowstone and Nevada’s Great Basin. I’ve hiked rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon. Last summer, I completed a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail with my husband, Grayson.
What’s the base weight of your pack before adding consumables like food and fuel?
10.2 pounds in the Summer, 12.4 pounds in the Winter.
Beyond the “The Ten” items, what other kinds of gear do you make room for, and why?
I always carry something to read. I look for magazines with really small type and minimal ads, like The Sun or Alpinist. Yes, I tear out the pages as I go. If it’s a longer trip, I’m going to carry camp shoes and a small sit pad. If I’m feeling really spicy, I might pack out a beer with a favorable ABV to weight ratio. Going lightweight affords me the option to add comfort pieces without becoming uncomfortable.
Are you currently forgoing any of the ten pieces? Why?
I ditched my stove and cookset as soon as summer hit on the AT. I was traveling with a group of four guys and I was the last one to do it. Something about eating cold-soaked couscous from an old Jiffy container felt even grubbier than usual. But, once I said goodbye to the self-respect of a hot meal from dedicated tableware, I never looked back. Unless the weather is frightful, I doubt I’ll carry a full cook setup again.
I also sent my headlamp home after I broke my toe in North Adams, Massachusetts, which is about 600 miles from the AT’s northern terminus. A month earlier, I severely sprained two fingers falling on those damned Pennsylvania rocks, and I couldn’t imagine doing ANYTHING in the pre-dawn with such handicaps… right? Turns out, the fever to finish is real, and I was hiking in the dark all of the time. Stupid move that further endangered my critical remaining digits.
What has achieving this low base weight done for your trips outdoors? How has it impacted the way you travel?
I am comfortably lightweight and not maniacal about it. For me, it’s an investment in risk mitigation—almost like a savings account, but in reverse. I’ve got padding for additions and adjustments (and injuries, too). If I need to add something for safety, comfort, or weather, I don’t stress about it. I spend a lot of time training. I’m in the gym seven days a week. I eat my veggies. Good health is a gift. If I have the means to protect it—from the elements and from unnecessary strain—I’m going to. If there’s pressure, I want it to be of my own making. Big miles, technical terrain, and unfamiliar territory are all acceptable sources. Leaky tents, bulky packs, and unorganized kits are not. A low base weight breeds versatility, safety, and the confidence to lean harder into the unknown.
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