I am a creature of research and more research. I, oddly enough over the years have become a semi-expert in many things mostly useless but they help me sleep at night knowing that I am confident in my choices. Hiking the John Muir Trail was not any different and maybe my biggest challenge yet just because of the number of items and the options to choose from. My ultimate goal, as it has been over a year or so, was to continue to lighten my backpacking kit while retaining smart options that allow me to be comfortable and prepared. I also wanted to be able to carry with me a small professional camera kit, this will not always be my concern but it was for this trip.
Attached at the bottom this will be an excel sheet that I have put together. Many tabs and lots of sums. It worked as a checklist, a gear list, all the weights of the items both worn, carried, and even the few pieces of equipment I left behind but may take on other trips. Its also a list of foods I will have that to help me figure out how many meals and snacks I need to have, including their weights. Its also a chance for me to add the prices of things to help me see how much I need, want, or have to spend on items and help me budget the trip overall. And then finally a re-supply list of when and where, along with a list of small items like lip balm, tape, etc. Like I said, pretty nerdy but really helped me while packing or tracking down those missing items.
Here are a few big items that I chose and will share my thoughts of why I chose them and how I felt about it after the trail was finished. I was also able to get a small amount of sponsorship from some great companies which was amazing, and my reviews for their products as well.
To start, I opted to go with an ultra light or UL pack. Again, there are so many options out there. A ton of information can be found on the forum www.backpackinglight.com. I chose a ULA Circuit bag. I later almost changed my mind but decided to go with what I had. The thing I learned about choosing a bag half way through the process was that I should have purchased all of my stuff and then chose a bag that fit my kit. Instead I chose a bag and and then my stuff which was backwards. I went with the ULA because it was a little cheaper and a little bigger then some other options but also had a lot of thru hikers positive reviews out there. I had not done this before but trusted the community and ultimately I was happy with the bag. It just barely fit my bear bin, but ended up working out nicely. I wish it had a stretchy material as the big mesh front pocket like some other bags but ended up being ok. I like the fact that it has almost no "small stuff" pockets on the bag except for the two pockets on the hip belt which I used everyday for snacks and my two lenses. www.ula-equipment.com
For a tent, oh man, what a battle. But I went with a Mountain Laurel Design (MLD) Trailstar tarp tent. I ordered the silnylon version last season and never really got a chance to use it except for one two day trip. Its a great tent and it's really well reviewed but I ended up selling it when I got back. I don’t hike with hiking poles, just a personal preference, so I pitched this tent with some carbon poles I had made. It worked fine but it was one item that just made this tent pretty big for a UL tent. I did share it with my trail partner but ultimately I wanted something smaller, lighter, and took up a smaller ground space. I have a Hyperlite tarp tent I found recently used that I will put to the test in the future. www.mountainlaureldesigns.com
For sleeping options, I had my trusty Exped SynMat UL and matching pillow. I probably will go with a foam option in the future only because it was just slow to put up and take down everyday that eventually got annoying. Really comfortable but slow. One of my sponsors was a great small company called Enlightened Equipment that make sleeping quilts and hammock quilt systems. Really nice guys and the best prices on such gear in the business. It was my first opportunity to sleep with a quilt system with separate down hood. I was very happy with the usability and weight savings on the item. I didn’t bring a down jacket with me on the trip so I instead unclipped the bag and used the bag and the hood as my jacket and hood around the fire and late at night while shooting long exposure photography. I opted for a 40 degree bag which was super light and small, but I should have went with a 30 or 25 bag. I had a few design notes that I had after comparing with other quilt owners on the trail. Some of the other really expensive options out there had some details that I would like to see in the Enlightened Equipment options. A overstuffed foot box and overstuffed horizontal head/neck area would have been nice to keep in the warmth. I think even the 40 degree bag would have been ok more often if my feet were warmer and I had better loft around my neck to help seal out the cold. And for both the separate hood and the bag itself, the draw cord toggle and cable came out right in front of your face, this was the most annoying part of the bag, it was just always in your face sometimes waking me up with it in my mouth or on my eye, etc. Otherwise, I’m sold on backpacking quilts and would like to see EE come up with some options or fixes for these options. www.enlightenedequipment.com
The stove. I thought my system was pretty good with the Clik Stand and Evernew pot. It could have been smaller and I will continue to try and lighten the kit up a bit but overall but this was a good kit for two people on the trail. My water filter, I really wanted the Sawyer Mini Filter to be awesome. Its small, light, and does a great job as a micro filter. But, I purchased it to put on my Platypus 70oz bottle. It fit, or so I thought, but then broke the 2nd day. It wouldn’t screw on. Turns out the screw filter size is the same size but did not seal so it just leaked out 10 times as much as it filtered. I ended up finding some water drops which was my original option in a food drop that someone didn’t want. I ended up taking it back to REI when I got home but was annoying because it was just dead weight. I actually just drank a lot directly from the streams which was fine and I suffered no sickness at all. I wouldn’t do this in very many areas but the high sierra’s are pretty clean water wise. www.clikstand.com
For my bear bin, I had a trusty BearVault which was fine but I wanted a little more room and a little less weight. The only real other option is the Wild Ideas carbon fiber bear bin. Expensive but I felt that in the long run, this would be a good choice. Plus, if I ever needed the cash, these things sell like hot cakes every time they come up used for just a few bucks less then when purchased new. They also offer a rental option and discount for thru hikers if you contact them. I wanted another option then the ones offered so I opted for the custom size and got a 12” model, which will be called the “Ranger” for next year as its supposed to be a new model offered. Great guy and fantastic product. www.wild-ideas.net
Camera equipment and the ability to power it were the biggest choices as well as the heaviest so I wanted to be thoughtful on these options. I have been a film shooter and a Canon SLR shooter for a number of years. I shoot primarily a vintage Leica camera for film work and a pro kit of Canon glass and bodies. My problem with the Canon equipment is its usability and size. You can’t argue with its quality but the 12-15 lb kit with camera, batteries, lenses and tripod, this just wasn’t an option for me. I have been dreaming of Leica digital for many years and the price is just too high to justify. Last year the release of the Sony A7 series brought a full frame camera in a smaller mirrorless body that was very interesting to me. And the lens options with adapters for the Sony allowed me to use my existing Leica lenses. So, upon finding a good deal on a used option, I went with it. I was overall very happy with the Sony/Leica set up. So much smaller than my Canon kit and I have not turned back actually. I ended up selling my Canon body when I got home and use a Canon adapter to my Sony now unless a job calls for something in particular and I just rent. Anyways, I feel like I got top quality images from the Sony, amazing Leica and Voightlander lenses, and I took a tiny tripod with me that did just fine with my long exposures. The battery life gets complained about but when I turned off the bluetooth and WIFI options this was not a problem. I only brought 3 batteries and recharged them never even needing the third after shooting everyday. I also used a clip and hand strap on the camera from a company called Peak Design. I now have a number of the items they offer from there line and really happy with the Capture Pro Clip. It kept my camera on my shoulder strap out of the way and accessible at all times. I’m looking forward to some of the new options they are coming out with in the near future. www.peakdesign.com
Power was my next hurdle. I have really liked Goal Zero from the start of their company. They are quick to change things up based on reviews and in field use, always making there gear better and more efficient. They also sponsored me with a few small items. They passed along the Lighthouse 250 lantern which was too big to pack but I use it all the time camping and even as a night light next to the bed. They also passed along the Guide 10 Plus solar kit. I took an extra set of batteries to keep charged up and hung the solar panel on the back of my pack. It was easy and kept me powered the entirety of the trip. About half way through the hike the Guide 10 on/off switch broke making it unusable but the panel kept going strong directly to my phone and camera. When I got home I emailed customer service and they sent out a replacement right away. Great company and all there stuff from multiple generations of equipment all works together great. www.goalzero.com
If you have any ?’s you would have for me, go ahead and pass them along and I’ll do my best to answer them. And here are some images from my fantastic sponsors. Thank you so much for the opportunity to represent your brand and to enjoy the fruits of your hard work. Many more adventures to come.