We did it! And deep thoughts about lightweight gear.

My kickstarter campaign ended a few hours ago, at $3,869! I can’t believe we did it! This means that after I pay kickstarter 10%, I’ll have $3,482. I was imagining that my campaign would just make it to $3,500, so after fees I would have $3,150. This is of course much less than I need to hike the PCT for five months and publish a book, but it’s the perfect springboard to make the project possible, kind of like how a book advance works. While hiking I’ll have some income from my train book, and my expenses on the trail are low enough and I’m good enough at living simply that I can make this work for me. But then my campaign went $300 higher than expected (!!!), and so now I’m thinking about doing something really exciting- buying a new lightweight sleeping bag for the trip! But not even a sleeping bag. A Quilt.

zpacks quilt

zpacks quilt

A quilt is the ultralighter’s answer to not having any gear that you don’t actually use. According to some people, the part of the sleeping bag that’s under your body is not actually in use. Which I guess it true, because insulation works by being lofty and you’re squishing the bottom of the sleeping bag with your body. So quilts don’t have bottoms. You can’t zip yourself up into them and pretend you’re a caterpillar. Quilts also don’t have nice warm lofty hoods that you can pull around your face to feel secure. All of this scares me. I LOVE being cocooned in my sleeping bag. But I’m trying to step outside of my comfort zone here. My pack is already pretty light, but I’ll be walking 2,650 miles and even a few extra ounces, over that long of a distance, adds up to considerable wear and tear on your body. Why not challenge myself a little?

Also, quilts are light.

The sleeping bag I have right now weighs 2 pounds 7 ounces, or 39 ounces. It’s a zero degree bag. I don’t need a zero degree bag for the PCT. Last night, in my rabbit hole of late-night gear research, I happened upon the ZPacks 10 degree quilt, which weighs just 19 ounces. That’s 20 ounces less than the bag I have. An extra twenty ounces carried 2,650 miles. There’s got a be some sort of formula that describes how much cartilage that will save in my knees. Also, I’m bringing a couple of “heavy” “luxury” items; my kindle, smartphone, and a solar charger. If I have a lighter sleeping bag it leaves room for the heft of these things.

But still, is it worth the $300 of buying a new bag?

I’ve also been going back and forth on what shelter I should bring. A very generous reader of this blog, PCT class of 2009, offered to loan me his gatewood cape for the journey, which is essentially a rain poncho that pitches into a shelter of sorts. The tarp/poncho is really light… but would it actually keep me dry in the rain? And how much time would I spend fiddling with it each evening? And what about the mosquitoes?

Trying to figure out lightweight gear for the PCT is like a game of “would you rather”.

Would you rather spend $300, or…. carry 20 extra ounces for 2,650 miles?

Would you rather carry 16 extra ounces for 2,650 miles or…. sleep under a tarp in mosquito season with only a headnet over your face for protection?

Would you rather carry heavy fragile electronic gadgets across the continent or…. go without reading material or reliable communication with the outside world?

Would you rather sleep on a thin foam pad on the hard ground or…. carry a heavy neo-air that may or may not deflate in the desert?

Would you rather carry a heavy water purifier or…. drink chemicals for five months?

Would you rather cover yourself in pesticide (deet) and neurotoxins (permethrin) or…. have mosquito bites? (This one is such a no-brainer for me. I would choose mosquito bites, duh! But I am from Alaska.)

Would you rather carry a stove and heavy fuel or… prepare your meals by soaking them in a ziploc bag filled with water in your pack while you hike?

and speaking of food-

Would you rather give yourself a migraine planning resupply boxes and then risk throwing out the food anyway when it arrives because you’ve grown sick of it or…. assemble meals that will sustain you for 20+ mile days from what you can find in a gas station?

How do you like your going without? Which sorts of going without are least intolerable to you? What is your going without “edge”, and how can you grow beyond it?

Life is work, existence is suffering. Now, for the next five months, you have the opportunity to choose precisely where you would like your ration of suffering to go. Since you cannot transcend it, how do you prefer it? Do you want to carry it on your back? Do you want to feel it when you sleep at night? Do you want it sent to you in the form of mosquitoes? Do you prefer the drudgery of eating almonds for five months straight or the slow death of poisoning by junkfood? Do you like your torture all in one place, but nowhere else? Then carry a 70 pound pack with every conceivable luxury.  Do you want your torture broken up into bite-size pieces that you can navigate one at a time throughout the day and night? Then carry an ultralight pack.

Here are the things that are most important to me:

  • Eating food that nourishes me and gives me energy as opposed to making me feel like shit (I seriously can’t eat sugar and thrive, it’s like I don’t have a pancreas anymore)
  • Getting a good night’s sleep (do I buy a neo-air and risk punctures in the desert or will I adjust to a rock-hard foam pad?)
  • Carrying a light pack

Somewhere beyond all of these considerations there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Also, I just found this blog– another woman leaving from Portland with my same PCT start date! She’s been writing about her food preparation anxiety in a way I can really relate to. And she takes such beautiful photos!

And also, THANK YOU AGAIN for supporting me in this project! Thanks to the people who pledged to my campaign in its final hours- Dan, Kjerstin, Stefanie, Jynene, Steve, Maddie, Panzerotto, Matthew, Jonas and Laura!

THANK YOU to all of my backers. THERE’S NO WAY I could’ve done this without you!!!

I am so grateful to you. To show my gratitude, here is a picture of Potato when he was a puppy, with my friend Adrienne:


4 thoughts on “We did it! And deep thoughts about lightweight gear.

  1. Will there be any general delivery PO’s were we could send you care packages along the way? Is there anything besides sugar and almond butter to avoid sending?

    So glad you are getting to go!

  2. Yay!!! I am so happy and excited you’re going!!!

    I have a question re: sleeping pads: What about carrying your closed-cell hard pad through the desert and mailing yourself your air mattress in your resupply nearest the end of the desert section? You could mail the hard pad home in the same box and not have anything extra.

    Have you seen this blog: http://budgetpct.blogspot.com/
    He has a few things to say about fiddliness vs. light-weightness in shelter systems. I thought that was pretty interesting. I would have leaned towards a fiddly shelter being okay because you’d get it figured out over the course of the long trip but he points out that when you’re cold and tired those things just become exponentially harder to deal with.

    As for the sleeping bag I have a zero degree bag and a children’s (I’m short – you might consider looking at children’s bags if you aren’t too tall, probably not much smaller than an adult size quilt and cheaper) 35 degree bag. I use the 35 degree bag 90% of the time because it’s so much -smaller-. It’s so much easier to stuff it in my bag that I’ll use it even if it means being a little colder. If you have a stove you can always make a hot water bottle if it’s cold and warm up that way. So that’s another bonus of a lighter sleeping bag worth considering.

    -Alli / snotrocketeer

  3. real full post, lots here.. ‘how do u like ur suffering?’ I cldnt be with u more, my top AT priorities r same. And this is life. My possesions are like filling my pack, every ounce counts so I discipline my flesh and bring it into submission knowing any pacifyer is not without a cost im most likely not willing to carry. Mobility is my greatest comfort.

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