My entry to the backpacking world is a familiar story – upon deciding that I wanted to take up backpacking, I went to REI, bought what the sales-person recommended, and then set out bravely and alone into the great, wide woods. My pack weighed (easily) over forty pounds and I didn’t bring enough food. “Ah,” I remember thinking. “So THIS is what it feels like to be hungry.”
When I decided to hike the PCT, backpacking had been passed up for other weekend pursuits for several years. I pulled my dusty gear out of the closet and realized that I might want to make some upgrades. But where to start?
I went down the internet rabbit-hole – facebook pages, gear forums, reddit… The information was overwhelming. With so many choices, how do you choose? About this time, a dude I met at the local climbing gym mentioned to me that he had hiked the PCT in 2013. He’d finished the entire thing during his school break by doing, on average, over thirty miles a day. I was impressed. (Post-PCT, I am even more impressed.) “Thirty miles a day??” I queried.
“I went the Ray-way. Ray Jardine. Lightweight. Look him up.”
A pioneer of ultra-light backpacking, Ray Jardine is also the climber who invented spring-loaded camming devices (also known as friends), an ingenious piece of gear that revolutionized the climbing world. They now jangle off the harness of pretty much every traditional rock climber in the world, including my own. I’ve fallen on friends. They’ve held every time. “Well,” I thought, “I have to trust somebody.”
So Ray Jardine became my guru. I used his book Trail Life as the basis for my PCT gear and set-up. About 20% of his advice is pure genius, the other 80% I ignored. This is actually advice from Ray himself. As he says in the introduction to Trail Life (2009):
This book is about our trail life: our experiences during those backpacking journeys and other wilderness adventures, and what we have learned from those experiences. Yes, this book is also about our gear and techniques, but only from the standpoint of what has worked well for us. If the reader gleans a few ideas from this book, so much the better. But an even better plan is to discover what works best for you by making your own choices and interpretations.
So think for yourself and keep your hikes enjoyable and safe.
Every person brings different needs, priorities, and preferences to their backpacking experience, and every piece of gear comes with tradeoffs in the form of weight, expense, function, and ease of use. The trick is to balance all of it into a system that works for YOU. There isn’t going to be another person out there who has a setup just like you. The only way to figure out what is going to work is to get out there, so don’t wait around until you have the “ideal” setup, or until you get your pack to an “ideal” baseweight, just get something together, get on the trail, and experiment.
The best way to backpack is the way that gets you outside the most. I’m full of opinions, but it’s your own that matter the most.