Tis the season to see what i have in my backpack, what i can rid of, which pieces of gear need some new seam sealer or dental floss stitching, and how it’s all going to fit when I try to repack it! In this post, I run through my entire gear list, starting with everything laid out in the systems I use to organize everything into my pack (sleep system, clothing, food and water, etc.) then break down each specific componenent of the systems (tarp, guylines, stakes, etc.). This year looks like a combination of new school and old school: multisport, ultralight, modular, long-term, front and backcountry backpacking. Walking across the country gave me a loving commitment to a guitar, and New Orleans taught me how to use it. The PCT, the Florida Trail, and the AT gave me a toothbrush with the end cut off. Moab put me in someone else’s boat, sent me into the bowels of Cataract Canyon, and spit me out with a boat of my own. And surviving long enough to share some posts, videos, pictures, and podcasts from Baja California has me packing some things I never thought I’d take on a backpacking trip.
THE BIG FOUR (1. Backpack 2. Shelter 3. Sleeping Bag 4. Sleeping Pad) 5. Hammock)
FOOD AND WATER (7. Food and Water Storage, Cooking, Water Filtration/Purification, Desalination Bottle, Hunting/Trapping/Foraging/Fishing)
SURVIVAL AND MISC. (8. First Aid 9. Life essentials 10. “Oh Shit” Gear Repair Kit 11. Trekking Poles 12. Tools)
THE BIG FOUR
My backpack is a 70L Seek Outside Gila 3500 made in Grand Junction, Colorado. I chose this one after a reading a review on the Sectionhiker Blog that mentioned it was good for heavy, multisport loads. Not to mention, living in Moab, UT right around the corner, getting a pack from Grand Junction is shopping local. It even came with a note signed by all the people who made my pack thanking me for supporting their cottage industry business. And sure enough it has been a work horse for me while I worked as a whitewater raft guide on the Colorado River this season, and it is still in great shape. The external frame construction suits my habits as a packrafter, and as someone who lives out of their backpack for fun and for work. Yet for an external frame, it is designed with all ultralight materials and construction. Old school meets new school. It will definitely see its fair share of heavy loads and wear, though just like the old school Kelty’s, it is extremely durable and parts are easy to replace, making it a pack I’ll likely use for the next decade or more. I’ll also be wearing an 11L North Face fanny pack as a chest pack to carry my boat and boating gear, but more on that later…
I had a silnylon 8’x10′ tarp that lasted me 3 years of thruhiker use, but ever since cuben fiber hit the scene, I always wished i could get a cuben fiber (now officially referred to as DCF- Dyneema Composite Fabric) tarp to cut the weight of my tarp in half and get rid of the sag that silnylon tarps have when soaking wet. When I found a totally clean 8’x10′ Hyperlite Mountain Gear tarp at the Moab Gear Trader for only $150 two months ago, I finally got to use all of my built up consigner credit from the rest of the year and get myself the fancy, fresh new tarp for next to nothing. Being exactly the same size as my old silnylon tarp except for the modern high-tech material, it is familiar to set up, but there were a few added benefits that came with this one- namely line locks and little double-gated “S” caribeners that make staking out the guylines even easier. In addition to my tarp, I can also use my DIY rain skirt, which by undoing the velcro along the side becomes a 2’x3′ rectangle of waterproof fabric, as a door for my tarp in a blustery storm. The tarp came with 12 titanium stakes and in the same shopping trip I found a polycro groundsheet that works as an all-purpose clear, waterproof sheet of plastic.
My sleeping bag is not a bag but rather a quilt- sewn footbox but instead of a zipper on the side, there are little snaps that snap the underside together. It is the Enlightened Equipment Revelation Apex 30°, with synthetic Apex Climashield insulation. Some hardcore ultralighters might at this point wince at the thought of carrying the extra weight of synthetic insulation over down, but they would be lying if they had never had a shivering night of wet cold down sleeping bag (or really 2 or 3 nights given how long down takes to dry out), jealous of their snoring friend over there in their North Face Cat’s Meow that had been the butt of all the jokes up until that point. I like to cowboy camp. Many times have I drifted off under the stars only to be awakened by a drop of rain to the forehead, rolled over in hopes that it will go away, and stubbornly sat there cold and restless as my bag gets wetter and wetter, too tired or too unwilling to set up my tarp until absolutely necessary. I am also a tarp camper, so the odds of my sleeping bag getting wet are pretty high either way. Therefore, a synthetic quilt with the highest performing insulation on the market, and a fair balance between ultralight and versatile.
A modern ultralight classic- the Thermarest Z-lite. The durable, ubiquitous closed cell foam mat that makes sleeping outside possible and that’s about it. While not delivering the most comfortable night’s sleep of all the sleeping pads out there, it can never develop a leak, and in fact itself lives on the outside of a back, being squished and scraped and poked all day with no ill-effect. I use it daily as a seat when stopping for a snack, as yoga mat for my morning and evening stretching routine, and have also used it at least once if not more as an umbrella in the rain, shade in the sun, a packraft sail on a gusty day, as a back panel in a stuff-sack-backpack, and as a way to prop up the edge of a bucket so it sounds more like a kick drum inmy bucket-drumming rig(ultralight is for buskers too). Plus, although i’ve never had to do it in a real-life scenario, I have found that cutting off a couple panels of the accordion-folded Z-Lite work well as padding for splints. A universally useful and abuse-tolerant material, closed cell foam is an ultralight staple.
Hammocks are like bagpipes- you either like them or you don’t. I happen to very much prefer sleeping in a hammock whenever possible, and take it as a point of pride to use the hammock to camp in spots where it would otherwise be impossible or exceedingly uncomfortable to sleep: on the side of a steep hill, over water, over rooty or rocky soil, or high up in a tree. With the flat tarp strung up high, I sometimes get the feeling of getting out of a bed when I swing my legs over the side, gently rocking forward and back to put shoes on, then stand upright still under my tarp, rather than going through the contortionism and laying-like-Dracula-with-arms-at-your-sides involved with living and sleeping out of a small freestanding tent. The hammock I have is the ENO sub 7, essentially your standard nylon hammock slightly larger than child sized, and the suspension system I use is the ENO Helios, a piece of cordage braided into itself in a fashion that is self-locking, commonly referred to as a “whoopie sling”. The Florida Trail taught me how to sleep off the ground, and now this hammock is a key component of my sleep system.
The clothes I wear every day, all the time are the ones that are most dependent on the seasonal climate conditions I expect to face wherever I am. If I am cross-country skiing, my every day clothes will be much different than if I am paddling a sea kayak or hiking across a desert. Given that I’ll be starting my trip in the thorny, hot and dry coastal desert of the Baja California peninsula, my next-to-skin clothes ought to be light and highly breathable, and be able to protect me from the pokeys as well as the unrelenting rays of the sun. It comes down to 8 items-
- A superlight t-shirt and a pair of mesh-lined shorts (so no need for underwear) from the North Face’s aptly named “Better than Naked” series,
- Any one of six pairs of lightweight low-cut Injinji toe socks which have been a game-changer for me as far as toe blisters go
- A pair of “minimalist” Altra Superior 3.5 trail running shoes which I have used for years because I like their extended toebox and zero-drop design
- A pair of Superfeet Orange insoles built for high-impact support inside the shoes
- A set of old and well-used shin-high nylon gaiters I found at a thrift store here in Moab to keep the sand out of my shoes and my ankles from getting thrashed
- Some Smith Attack Max polarized sunglasses with 2 interchangeable lenses for low and bright light conditions
- A full-brim visor I made by cutting the top out of a full-brim hat which not only saved me a whopping like 30 grams worth of weight (chyeah bruh!) but can also fit over 2 buffs to give me full shade on cold but sunny days
- And my Black Diamond Trail Ergo cork-handled trekking poles with the wrist straps replaced with adjustable paracord loops. The trekking poles are perhaps the piece of gear in my kit with the most uses, but more on that later…
Let me begin by saying that I am not bringing a puffy jacket to baja. Not bringing a puffy might be a cardinal sin in the backpacking world nowadays, but I submit that packing my puffy would actually be heavier and less flexible than the system I have designed and constructed. As a newbie, one of the first things I learned about packing clothes for a long-distance backpacking trip was to use layers rather than relying on one piece of gear to do it all. In my eyes, the puffy jacket is exactly the type of catch-all that defies that rule. It has left me sweating through the insulation on those days where its too warm to have it on, but too cold without it. Once it has been soaked with sweat, mother nature usually decides that then is the perfect time to drop the temperature down by 20 degrees and now I’m shivering in my only real insulative layer, scrambling to crawl into my sleeping bag. Instead of bringing the puffy, I have created a system focused on the parts of my body that are most often the first ones to get cold, using some pretty goofy looking pieces to build what would otherwise be a pair of pants, a jacket, and some rain gear. The order I’ll go in to cover each item I will do song-wise. I also encourage you all to sing aloud now whether you are reading on your phone while on a public bus, or deeply buried in your midden at home with your 13 cats- head, shoulders, knees, and toes.
Head. To keep my ears and nose warm, I have packed three polyester buffs of very slightly differing thicknesses, one of which I found at a thrift store in Bozeman Montana, one was thrown at me during a parade in New Orleans, and one I absconded from the lost and found at the rafting outfitter I worked for in Moab, Utah. Two of these can be worn on the top of my head and the other around my neck which I can pull up over my face. The hood for my rain jacket will help cut the wind and the full-brim visor worn over the hood does a remarkable job of keeping my head and face dry. For buggy conditions I also carry a Sea to Summit Mosquito Headnet, which is one of those pieces of gear that is worth its weight in gold when you need it.
Shoulders (and torso in general). The next layer on top of my “Better than Naked” T-shirt is a lightweight wool t-shirt made by Icebreaker, coupled with wool arm warmers made by DeFeet, which when united serve the same purpose as a long-sleeve wool shirt except that on those in-between temperature days, I can wear just the sleeves to keep my arms warm without my armpits and back from getting any sweatier. On top of that goes a Rail Riders Journeyman, a long-sleeve shirt made of a spun nylon/poly blend, with mesh strips extended down the flanks, and treated with InsectShield© to give me the perception that I am protected from the unwarranted aggression or curiosity of bugs. I am a vocal fan of the deep side-entry chest-pockets with zipper closures, occasionally using them to hold my phone while listening my favorite podcasts on the go. In my chest pocket, I can use headphones without getting tangled up in every time I take my pack off like i would if it were in my hipbelt pocket On top of that goes yet another long-sleeve button down shirt, this time the redundantly named North Face North Dome Shirt, a stretchy, white, woven polyester/elastane shirt that if it weren’t for the oil slicks, red Utah sand, and sleeve-wiped mustache leftovers, would look very professional or businessy in my opinion. I would feel justified wearing it to a wedding, though my mother would adamantly disagree, as she has in the past, with my idea of what makes a shirt “nice”. The sleeves are too long and the weird paracord/button attachments on the cuffs broke almost right away, which gives me reason to roll up the sleeves one or two rolls and tell myself it looks “outdoor-professional”. On top of that goes my rain jacket, a true gem that if I had known and had the cash at the time I would have purchased 10 of, my North Face Hyperair GTX jacket. Effectively and visually like a highly breathable trash bag, the black jacket is made with Gore’s proprietary “Shakedry” technology which is like the permanent cousin of DWR (Durable water resistant) sprays and coatings. Gore still makes a version of this which Andrew Skurka (sort of) called the Holy Grail of rain jackets, but I like the design of the North Face one better, especially the velcro cuffs. For my hands I’m going full on dirtbag and relying on a pair of socks and spare dry sacks to do the job when needed. In the past I’ve carried waterproof rain mitts, but found that they were so not breathable that my hands would be wet with sweat inside, but they’d be warm, sort of like how VBL (vapor barrier liners) work. Using the dry sacks ought to serve this purpose for me at a fraction of the weight, and can also of course be used as dry sacks when not on my hands.
Knees (butt and legs too). Unlike the clothes packed for my torso, all the insulative bottom layers go under what I wear every day, in this case the ultralight shorts. If I’m dressing for max warmth, the first layer I’ll put on is a pair of wool boxers made by IceBreaker. Light, comfy, simple. Next goes a pair of North Face polyester baselayer leggings that I cut off at the knee. Why cut them off at the knee you might ask? Because to keep my knees and shins warm, I also cut open the toes on a pair of wool Under Armour socks that I can pull up past my feet to use as leg warmers. This gives me thinner multiple thin layers around my crotch and one thick layer around my knees/shins. Just like my t-shirt/arm warmers combo, this essentially creates a pair of wool/polyester pants that I can wear in parts, keeping my crotch sweat-free but my knees nice and warm. For rain protection I made a DIY rain skirt out of a discounted pair of rain pants, which I wrote a separate post about here. It is lighter than my rain pants, hangs just below the top of my nylon gaiters to give me adequate protection for my knees while walking, and as I mentioned earlier, can be used as a standalone 2’x3′ sheet of waterproof material for a variety of different purposes.
Toes. For my feet, I’ve packed one pair of thick wool socks and one pair of thin neoprene socks which I will alternate between depending on whether or not it’s wet. If it is wet, I’ll likely use the neoprene socks on my feet where they can be totally soaked but still warm. If it is dry, I’d rather have them on my hands because my hands will need the wind and waterproof(ish) neoprene more, not producing heat nearly as much as my feet. If I get caught in some seriously unseasonably cold weather, I can always cut a piece off of my emergency blanket and glue them to the bottoms of the insoles in my shoes to keep my toes warm.
FOOD AND WATER
Food and Water Storage
Food Storage. Pretty easy. I just stuff everything into dry sacks and call it good. Because I can supplement my food supply with the bountiful fishing and foraging opportunities presented along the length of the Baja Peninsula, my food pack will also be old-school: flour, dry beans, oats, raisins, oil, coffee, salt and pepper. Those staples will give me what fish and cactus fruits cannot, and are all fairly high-calorie, low-cost, low volume foods. It’s amazing how many calories are in one sandwich-sized ziplock of flour (nearly 2,000!) But as someone who is passionate about leaving a measurably small impact on the world, I prefer to use the regular roll-top dry sacks to store my food because they will last far longer and are less likely to accidentally spill inside my pack.
Water Storage. Also pretty easy. Eight collapsible 2L Platypus bottles, a 3L Platypus reservoir with hose and the teat, and a super durable MSR 10L Dromedary Bag, making my maximum water storage around 29-33 liters (the 2L platy bottles can actually fit closer to 2.5L if filled to the lid), or about 7.5-8 gallons. I will never carry that much at once, but depending on how easy it is to find or create fresh water (more on that later), I may have to carry up to 6 gallons of water (50 pounds!) through some barren sections of Baja like the Magdalena Plain where there is may be no fresh ground water for over 100 miles. I may be able to network my way into getting someone to drop water caches for me, or be surprised to find freshwater sources, but I’m going into this assuming that I will have to carry all of my water. The leftover empty bottles can be inflated with air to use in my DIY PFD, as a dive float (tie 4 inflated bottles together on a long piece of cord, tie a rock the the other end, drop the rock to the bottom and let the bottles float at the surface, and I will always know where I am underwater if i can see/grab the line), or as something to give to/trade with soneone who would appreciate it
My stove system is the Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri with the Inferno wood stove add-on and the titanium floor. The components of this stove system include 2 thin titanium cones, a classic Dr. Pepper can alcohol stove, a set of grates that fit inside the inverted smaller cone converting it to a wood burning stove, 2 titanium stakes that feed through holes cut out of the outer cone to rest my cookpot on, and a thin titanium floor to further insulate the system and prevent me from scorching the ground under my pot. It’s a clever system, and to understand how it works, it’s probably best to watch this video. I use a TOAKS 1350 Titanium Cookpot to boil water, which for a sense of scale is big enough that I can cook 2 family sized Knorr Pasta sides in one pot for dinner. I also have a tang container that stores my first aid kit inside my pack, but can also be used to rehydrate foods on the go. Boiling water in my pot, then pouring it over dry beans inside the tang container, insulating it with my Z-lite sleeping pad, and letting it soak all day means that by dinner time my beans are about ready to boil one more time before digging in. Plus, by rehydrating ny food inside the tang container, I’m less likely to burn something onto the inside of my cookpot where it would be hard to clean off. To eat, I use a long-handled Titanium spoon, one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given (thanks to my sister for this one!), and I light my stove with a flint striker and a knife. The combo of the wood stove and the flint striker, while adding a marginal amount of weight to my pack, totally eliminates my need to pack out fuel of any kind, including matches or a bic lighter (still goong to carry these to start though). If I am likely to camp in a place that does not have an adequate natural fuel supply, I will simply have to collect what bits of fuel I can find throughout the day to use later that night to cook, or go full on hiker trash and eat a no-cook meal or cold rehydrated rice/oats and olive oil.
Nobody likes to get the shits out in the backcountry. Nobody likes to get the shits period. I’ve heard the tales of people shitting their brains out after drinking unfiltered or unpurified water from a contaminated source, as well as the tales of people drinking the Mexican tap water. We are generally equally disgusted and delighted to hear those tales, because although it wasn’t fun for the shitter, it’s always fun for the people who get to hear the story afterwards. To avoid hearing my own tail and having to tell the tale afterwards, I’m bringing with me a Sawyer Micro Squeeze Filter and a pill bottle full of Potable Aqua Chlorine Dioxide Tablets for purification. The chlorine dioxide tablets are prohibitively expensive, but it can be a real bummer in some cases if you don’t have them (kind of a stretch, but there’s a pun in there, and is this a shitty pun itself?). Thankfully I found two 30-packs on sale at the local gear store for 40% off, and had some old MSR aquatabs that have yet to expire. There is a ton of packaging in these boxes relative to the amount of chalky tablets that come in them, so I took all the tablets out of their packaging and put them into an empty pill bottle with a cotton ball in it to keep the internal environment as dry as possible so they don’t prematurely degrade. Not sure how long those 60ish tablets will last me, but certainly a while because I won’t have to purify every source I find.
DIY Desalination Bottle
I already wrote a post on the design and build for this neat tool in my kit, so here I’ll just briefly talk about what purpose it serves in my Food and Water system at large. The desalination bottle may be what makes hiking the long stretches of dry desert along the coasts of Baja possible. Graham Mackintosh used desalination techniques when he hiked 3,000 miles along the coastline of Baja back in the mid 1980’s and in 2020 I have applied my ultralighter mentality to the same demands he faced then in building this bottle. With the polycro groundsheet and my packraft, I can also make a solar still by filling my inflated packraft with seawater, placing my Tang container cup or my cookpot in the center, and draping the clear polycro groundsheet over the top with a rock in the middle to make the surface concave so that condensed drops of water will drip from the underside into my cup/pot. With the ability to generate all of my freshwater, it means I wouldn’t have to pack out 50 pounds of water when I leave town. If it doesn’t work like I hope it will, I could always try to acquire a burro companion like Graham did, and hope that it can smell water better than I can.
This is a new world of possibility to me. The closest I’ve ever gotten to living off the land was eating wild berries along the side of the Appalachian Trail in the MidAtlantic, a far cry from Bear Grylls eating raw fish brains, or especially from indigenous people and cultures all around the world who have been much more literally “living off the land” for as long as people have been people and before then too. I have, in classic modern white man fashion, done a ton of research about the flora and fauna of the Baja Peninsula and the surrounding coastlines to try to get a sense of what is possible as far as supplementing my food supply goes, but have literally zero practice in doing so. As far as my intention is expressed in the gear I’m carrying, I’ve got some spare guitar strings I can use to set snares, some monofilament fishing line and some fishing hooks, a good lockable folding knife, and a DIY sling, made of paracord and 2 short pieces of webbing, given to me by a friend and coworker. With a small hole drilled through the basket at the bottom of my trekking pole, some paracord loops for eyelets, and a small reel ziptied to the handle, I could make a decent DIY fishing pole out of one of my trekking pole, but living in the desert in Utah with no coastline for over a thousand miles in any direction, I couldn’t find the right reel to do the job in any local shop. A friend recently recommended I try using the trekking pole and some surgical rubber to make a spear gun for fishing too, but I have decided to wait until I get there to begin experimenting with this stuff. It may turn out that it is a completely unviable way of trying to supplement my food needs given how inexperienced I am and how unsuited for the job my gear is. The nature of hunting/trapping/foraging/fishing is that it also takes time, and requires you to hang out in one place for a while, which is worth it if you can actually get some food out of it. It could also be very costly if I fail, having burnt through my other food and water resources without making any progress towards my next planned resupply. Ideally, I will get the chance to learn from some of the locals about how they may live off the land, and if I am able to succeed in even a small way, it means that I have the ability to take 20 or 30 days to hike a 100 mile stretch of barren coast instead of having to run it in 6 days because that’s all the time my food and water will last. For now, I’ll have to swallow my pedantry (what is more pedantic than using the word pedantry?) and keep my eyes and ears open for learning opportunities.
The contents of my first aid kit were chosen with a specific scenario in mind- taking care of myself for just long enough to GTFO of wherever I am and get to professional medical help. It is not for the common minor cuts and scrapes that happen from time to time while travelling in the backcountry, so there are only 2 Band-Aids in my first aid kit and they are both knuckle bandaids because those are perfectly designed for their purpose and to improvise a solution that works exactly as well if difficult. Instead, most of what I packed was drugs, antibiotic ointment, and just enough to keep a wound clean and be able to put a clean dressing on every few hours or every day as needed. I have one bottle’s worth of ibuprofen, one of acetaminophen, one of antihistamine, and one of anti-diarrheal, all taken out of their bottles, wrapped separately in cellophane, placed into a small ziplock bag, and put into the bottom of the Tang Container that serves as the rigid waterproof shell for my first aid supplies. The reason for packing out whole bottles of drugs is because I will probably get a headache, or catch a cold, or get the shits more than once, between towns with pharmacies or stores stocked with meds, and those ailments/afflictions don’t just last 4 hours. 2 anti-diarrheal pills is not enough for a 3 day gut-sumper, and 100mg of ibuprofen is not enough if I break my ankle on a rock and have to hike out. For those more serioes injuries, I have 4 sterile dressings still in their plastic, one roll of gauze, a semi-transparent dressing, some wound-closure strips, a plastic crush-vile of betadine, 3 alcohol prep pads, and one 1 oz. tube of triple antibiotic ointment. For bug bites and blisters, I have one sting relief pad, and 6 very small pieces of mole foam in 2 sizes. The Tang container is wrapped with 50 yards of leukotape and 10 yards of thin, transparent, super sticky medical tape. The goal is to never have to use any of this stuff, but the reality is that I will have to at some point and when I do I’ll be glad I brought whatever it is I needed.
Going through all the small items necessary to live as a modern human in the real world demands not much more than a dispassionate description of each item and its purpose, so here it is. I’ve got a passport, an ID, a 48 page pocket sized Field Notes Journal for short notes; phone numbers, addresses, that kind of thing. A gift from my dad, the Fisher Space Pen is one of thise innocuous little REI checkout counter knick knacks that works in super cold weather and upside down, as advertised. While I have yet to confront the issues of writing under water, over grease, or in the zero G vaccuum of space, I’m sure it can do all of those things too. I have a SPOT Gen3 GPS receiver to let my parents and the world know that I am OK and so that I can have an “OH SHIT” button if only absolutely necessary, plus be able to track exactly where I camped each night.
“Oh Shit” Gear Repair Kit
When I and my pack go tumbling down the hill and I’m left with a broken backpack frame, a bent trekking pole, busted guitar strings, snapped webbing and buckles, holy water bottles, and ripped shorts, I don’t want to be left high and dry with no solution and no help. It comes down to some really essential pieces of gear with specific applications in mind, combined with the know-how and the patience to fix the problem the right way. 2 extra sets of guitar strings, still in the packages for the sake of the new string smell, are an easy fix for busted strings, and the scissors and file on my mini swiss army knife can cut the tails off the strings above the headstock and get the bridge pins out no problem. A 4″x9″ piece of clear Tenacious Tape, 3 yards of superlight ripstop nylon from a thrift store tent floor leftover from making a DIY PFD, some sewing needles, nylon thread, seam sealer, and safety pins constitute a sewing kit that’s good for a torn shoulder strap, a loose tongue in my shoe, or a blown out pair of shorts. 50 feet of Dyneema paracord are plenty enough to replace guylines, shoelaces, backpack webbing, or sunrotted shock cord, and a spare teat for the Platypus bladder, an extra zipper pull, a spare O ring for the Sawyer filter, 7 spare buckles, and 3 key rings should satisfy the rate at which tiny components of gear get lost or busted over time. A mostly used set of epoxy resin and hardener tubes should be good enough for a busted frame or trekking pole, at least long enough for me to craft a suitable replacement. Anything beyond that, especially in the way of electronics, I’ll have to just carry the dead weight and replace it when i can. Proper care and maintenace is the rule with not having to use the first aid kit, and its the rule for the “Oh Shit” kit too.
I make special mention of my trekking poles as a stand alone component within the broader category of Survival/Miscellaneous gear because it has, of all things in my gear repertoire, the widest variety of purposes. This should come as no surprise, because before the trekking pole, the walking stick and the staff had long been versatile tools when wielded by dexterous hands, enough that the word we use when referring to employeess- “staff” -came to represent the people who carried them, as in staffs of office. A little more than 100 years ago, Teddy Roosevelt said “Speak softly and carry a big stick”, using a metaphor that also points to the fact that he was the type of dude that carries a walking stick and knows a few different ways to use it. The trekking poles, with their collapsible design, carbide tips, slightly cock-eyed and oblong handles, and baskets on the bottom, trade the strength of a walking stick for less weight and performance. However, that they are long, straight, and reasonably rigid means that they can do a lot of the same things, and a few of the things it can do are because of its specific design. My trekking poles are how I pitch an A frame with my tarp. They are my fishing pole, my splints, my dull machete navigating overgrown trail corridors or thorn bushes, my paddle shaft, what makes me look big to bears, and what seperates me from the hotel hopping, train travelling, cafe touring European-on-holiday backpackers in the eyes of those townies who wonder where i’m going. With my trekking poles? Somewhere difficult to get to, that’s for sure.
Just like the items in my repair kit, some of the items in my pack are not modular, but serve a specific purpose that I find an application for every day. The most important of these are my maps. I’m carrying the Natgeo Adventure maps of baja and have the INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía- the National Intitute of Statistic and Geography in Mexico) topo maps and high-resolution satellite maps of the entire peninsula downloaded into the GaiaGPS app on my phone (30+GB of data) so that I will have a hard time getting lost. As a companion to these maps, I’ve got the classic whistle/compass/thermometer/magnifying glass that Boy Scouts get for selling popcorn, another one of the most useful tools in my whole kit based on how often I use it. It will help me know where I’m going (totally different than knowing where I am), which is made even easier when travelling on a peninsula or between mountains and the coast. It allows me to record the daily and nightly temperatures simply for the sake of doing so, and to look at the fine print on the maps, and at life and rocks on a very slightly magnified scale, and to, I don’t know, get a job as a lifeguard? I mentioned the knife and the flint striker, but the knife I’d actually use to start a fire is my mini swiss army knife with the knife, file, and scissors, the scissors and the tweezers being the most useful components of that tool. For light, I’m carrying a Black Diamond Revolt USB rechargeable headlamp and a small solar powered light with a USB output, so that I should be able to see in the dark no matter what. A Sea to Summit EVent Compression sack keeps my sleeping bag dry and compact when not in use. Some tools are modular, like a PCT 2014 “thruhiker to town” bandana I was given for free by a trail angel that is my dish and wash rag as well as the bandana it was was made to be. I’m carrying a titanium backpacking trowel called “The Deuce”, made by The Tent Lab for digging digholes to poop into, for digging deadman stakes, or for digging up oysters on the beach. A Sea to Summit EVent Compression Sack keeps my sleeping bag dry and compact when not in use, and the 6 silnylon dry sacks are good for containing just about anything- my food, my clothes, my hands, as deadman stakes in the sand, etc. I’ve got some thrift store swimming goggles for studying the intertidal life along the coasts, and for collecting food from shells or fish or whatever I may be able to get my hands on under the surface. A thrift store purchased ultralight and discreet Eagle Creek fanny pack around my waste can keep my passport, ID, credit card, cash, phone and PADI diving card stuffed into the front of my shorts so that ideally if I am held up I can keep all of my small valuables safe. And one 3’x4′ high resolution paper satellite image of North America with my route superimposed onto it, and a description of what i’m doing and what i’d like to learn on the back, which I will carry in my pocket to be able to show people in the moment. The concept behind this trip is kind of complex and fluid, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so being able to show people the scale of my trip is a good way to communicate its complexity without trying to explain it all verbally.
“Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand” -Stevland Hardaway Morris AKA Stevie Wonder
I remember dancing to Ray Charles’ “Mess Around” in the kitchen with my dad when I was maybe 3 years old, teddy bear in hand, PJs on, playing with my fingers on the table like it was a piano, and switching to air saxaphone for the solo. When I was maybe 6 or so, my dad used the stereo system in our basement and a handheld camcorder to film “music videos” with me and my siblings and some family friends’ kids. My song choice: Shake your Tail Feather, also by Ray Charles, and as I knew it at the time, the song from the Blues Brothers movie. When I was 12, I played my first show ever, sitting behind a drum kit for the horror punk band my brother started (he was the guitar player, so I had to be the drummer) and let me be in. We played a battle of the bands at the 9:30 club in DC when I was 13 and we won 3rd place, the prize for which was $1000 worth of studio recording time at a studio in DC, and we released our first “professional” album. Throughout high school I played in a post-rock band called Sea of Words, booked and played shows at the Charm City Art Space in Baltimore, and once or twice rode in my buddy’s Volkswagen Vanagon loaded full of gear to Alexandria, VA to play a show in someone’s shed or their garage. I played bass 1, bass 3, and tenors in the drumline in the marching band, orchestral percussion and mallet percussion for the wind ensemble, trombone for the jazz band, cello for the orchestra, sang bass in the choir, and more than once was asked to get a “house band” together for the annual High School Talent Show. Even after high school, I was asked to judge for the school’s Battle of the Bands one year. In my senior year, I had an independent study class where I got to dick around in the practice room every day with the stockpile of instruments the band program had at their disposal. I was going to go to music conservatory, specifically Peabody, but when push came to shove I didn’t go. I walked across the country instead. It was a hard pill to swallow at the time, giving up my far-fetched dream of becoming a professional musician, but I was determined to learn how to become self-sufficient and do something hard, to inspire others, and just see what was out there. So I brought a Martin Backpacker guitar, and it literally never left my side for the next year. There were entire weeks where I would play while walking all day. By the time i reached the Pacific Ocean, my guitar was one of the only tethers I had to my former self. I had become an entirely different person. I had grown up, found a zen state, been sunburned, frozen stiff, wind-blasted, and foot-sore, and I had taught myself how to really play the guitar. That same Martin Backpacker followed me onto the PCT the following year, was retired and replaced with a new one for which i took with me on my hikes of the Florida Trail and the Appalachian Trail, my first year working as a whitewater raft guide on the Colorado River out of Moab, Utah, and my adventure in New Zealand. That one was then retired and replaced with the guitar I have now, the ultimate backpacker’s guitar: the Klös Carbon Fiber Acoustic. That’s right, carbon fiber! I can and have paddled a boat with this guitar. It is the most durable, and most essential piece of equipment I carry with me. 2 winters of working as a full-time street musician in New Orleans taught me how to play jazz, and proved that as long as I have my guitar, I will never go hungry. I might lose everything else in my backpack, but if I have my guitar, I can always make friends and make a few bucks. Even if I lost the guitar, I can and have made a shocking amount of money playing bucket drums on the street. For the cost of a bucket and a pair of drumsticks, I can make a working wage with easily the highest profit margin of any gig with which I have ever employed myself. Point is, music is an integral part of who I am, and I would not be myself if it were not a part of my life. I would be restless, go crazy, and the first course of action would be to get myself a new guitar. Music is the emotional language and my guitar is the instrument that lets me play the blues when I need to console myself, let’s me play country and western when I want to tell a story, let’s me play jazz ballads when I want to swoon a lady, let’s me play campfire songs and pop standards and relate to others in a way that words alone cannot express. It is the ultimate networking tool, a necessary creative outlet, and the lynchpin to my sanity. And the carbon fiber guitar is the compromise that my lifelong musical self and my more recent, adult, ultralight backpacking self have made with each other for carrying less, but still having music at my side.
He learned incessantly from the river. Above all, it taught him how to listen, to listen with a silent heart, with a waiting, open soul, without passion, without desire, without judgment, without opinion- From “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse
My 3 seasons working as a whitewater raft guide on the Colorado River has given me a deep love, appreciation, and respect for the river, and for water in general. It has taught me how to stay in the current, when to eddy out, and gave me a glimpse into something I first discovered when walking across Nevada in the middle of summer, 11 months into my walk across the country. That something is hard to describe, but words like zen, nirvana, enlightenment, contentment, and peace are all in the same archetypal family. Very practically, it has taught me about reading water, how not to flip your boat, and what can happen when you do. So I got a packraft, the Alpacka Scout, a mini single chambered bucket boat with an inflatable seat, an roll bag pump, and a small patch kit. For those who have run whitewater, you can imagine what I mean when zi say that it is essentially an advanced whitewater swim position. I have run the Class 3 rapids of the Green River Daily outside Green River Utah, and have taken it through New/Cloudburst Rapid on the Moab Daily at 40,000 cfs, in each experience totally flooding my boat to the point that it is more of a submarine that I am still sitting in, but never flipped it. For paddles, I made my own paddle blades based on this design from esteemed outsoorsman Forest McCarthy out of a recycling bin with a jig saw, a drill, and some sandpaper, which can be lashed to the handles of my trekking poles, trekking poles lashed together and voila, an ultralight packraft paddle. This past month, I also made a DIY inflatable PFD (personal floatation device, or life jacket) using a $1 nylon tent floor from a thrift store, 3 lanyards, 6 buckles, some inflated Platypus bottles, and a sewing machine. Altogether my system weighs somewhere around 4 pounds and all fits into my 11L North Face fanny pack. Thats pretty damn light and compact for a boat that is capable of running some mellow whitewater if you ask me! This boat will allow me to explore areas that would otherwise be inaccesible to me, like some of the islands in the Gulf of Caifornia, and many of the major rivers of the Mississippi River drainage, for example. Just like my guitar, it is not at all necessary for my survival, but it opens the door for me to go just about anywhere: terrestrial, marine, lacustrine, or fluvial.
Electronics AKA Shit I Need To Carry For You to See This
This trip of mine is not about “checking out”. In fact, my goal is quite the opposite. My intent is to bring the worlds of all of the ecosystems, people, and cultures I will encounter along the way directly to you through the internet. I have been asked before if I will ever write a book, but if you’ve made it this far, you can see why that is obsolete. With Dudetrek.com, I can make regular updates over time, share pictures, audio, link to other content, and do it all without paper, on the digital mediums that most people use to communicate ideas and experiences nowadays. But while creating engaging content on a regular basis is one thing, and travelling in the backcpuntry is another thing, both of which require a specific set of equipment and experience, documenting backcountry travel regularly over the long-term has its own unique set of challenges. How do i keep batteries charged, keep electronics dry, have the ability to upload photos and videos with large file sizes onto Instagram, Facebook, Youtube, and Dudetrek.com? How do I capture the picturesque beauty of coral reefs, small birds perched on a faraway branch, the hairs on the legs of a beetle, and the flow of water and clouds over time, all in a way that I can write intelligently about them and share it online? How do I create, compile, edit, and share all of those pictures, videos, interviews, music, and writing with just what i can carry in my pack? The short answer: with a proportionately huge amount of electronics. I have a Canon Powershot SX530 camera with a 50x optical zoom to snap photos from super close or super far away, and 200GB of SD cards, 3 spare batteries, a chunky USB camera battery charger, the USB cable that connects it to everything, and a padded camera bag that I strap around my neck for quick access during the day. All of the photos you see on Dudetrek.com were taken with this camera. I also have a GoPro Hero 4 Black, a head strap, 3 batteries, hardware, and the associated cables, all of which is what will make documenting the underwater world possible, and supplement my ability to film along the way. Of course, I also carry a phone, the tool I’m using to write this very post, and it is a Samsung Galaxy S9+ with 128GB of internal storage and a 400GB microSD card for external storage. It is the workhorse for everything on Dudetrek.com and for all the digital resources I can carry with me in the field. My phone, the primary means of communication that I and most humans in the world have with one another nowadays, is what makes sharing this possible, along with that new age hiker trash/grifter talent for sniffing out free wifi. Add an Anker dual USB port charger to plug into a wall when available to charge the phone, and a 51″ tripod with a bluetooth remote control for my phone camera for stable photo-taking, selfies, and any photos/videos that are easier shot hands-free.
THE FULL RUN-DOWN
Microsoft excel spreadsheet with everything on it
Its hard to say exactly what this all cost me, but it wss definitely less than $1000 out of pocket. Much of my clothes, and much of my gear was gotten for free through working for the North Face or gifts from family. A lot of the gear was purchased with pro-deals, or for next to nothing at the thrift store. Some of this stuff I’ve had for a while too, so even spending that <$1000 is split up over the years. The challenge to come will be in eliminating gear costs- sponsorships may help, but as I learned through my DIY projects, anything in this gear list can be made for far less money with some crafty engineering, the right tools, and a lot of patience.
My gear represents a mix of old school (external frame pack, repurposing clothes/gear, synthetic sleeping bag, wool instead of down, tools for “living off the land”, tarp instead of tent, DIY gear) and new school (quilt instead of a bag, toe socks, trekking poles, packraft, titanium, cuben fiber, plastic, solar power, and all the shit i need to carry for you to see this and the entire digital sphere that encompasses that), and some parts of my gear are of a style entirely of my own (guitar, rain skirt, DIY PFD, full brim visor). However, the gear is only as good as one’s skills and experience in using it, where there is a nearly infinite amount I still have to learn in making my gear provide the most for me. This is a chance for me to get back on the trail, hone my skills, and knowing myself and the general tendency for people to pack more than they need, I may get rid of some if not a lot of this shit along the way. Perhaps soon after starting. And thats part of the learning process too. Ideally, as my skills grow I will find that I need less and less, but so long as I have folks that are interested and reading, perusing the archives of Dudetrek.com, I’ll still be carrying all that shit you need to see this, and for that I am grateful. In life, far beyond the limits of backpacking as a sport or a lifestyle, the relationships I have with others is the piece of intangible life-gear that is most important for me to carry with me. So if you read all the way to the bottom of this post, learned anything along the way, or just want to wish me luck as i depart for a whole new world of adventures, leave it in the comments below. And consider donating some money towards helping me keep this going by following the links on the Dudetrek.com homepage.
Thanks for reading, and happy trails!