Backpackers gear down for long distance hikes

Deb Hunsicker uses shade from umbrellas while taking a break in a desert portion of the Continental Divide Trail.  Umbrellas might be considered a luxury item for a long-distance hiker, except on days like this. (Phil Hough)
Deb Hunsicker uses shade from umbrellas while taking a break in a desert portion of the Continental Divide Trail. Umbrellas might be considered a luxury item for a long-distance hiker, except on days like this. (Phil Hough)

Phil Hough and Deb Hunsicker have winnowed their long-distance hiking gear to a base weight (sans food and water) of 15-19 pounds, depending on how many luxuries they bring, such as MP3 player, GPS, camera, umbrella, cell phone, book or extra chocolate.

Extra fleece and clothing and an ice ax for early and late-season hiking adds a couple of pounds to a load.

They tote more than ultralight hikers, who pack less than 10 pounds base weight. But overall, they travel much lighter and cover more miles with less wear and tear than average backpackers, who carry around 30 pounds.

Their preferences include:

Tent: Tarptent (under 2 pounds), tarptent.com, plus Tyvek ground cloth,kept on outside of pack while traveling for rain cover and quick emergency shelter.

Rain gear: Umbrella (doubles as sun shade), golite.com, allows fast walking in rain without body heat buildup. If light raincoat must be worn, umbrella allows hood to be left down and top unzipped for ventilation.

Stove: Alcohol stove (less than 2 ounces), rei.com, fueled by denatured alcohol obtained at hardware stores or convenience stores (except in Southern California and Arizona) in the form of Heet brand automotive fuel line de-icer. (Heet in yellow bottle burns hotter).

• Jet-Boil stove for two, jetboil.com, is nice in colder weather, but 1.5-liter pot is on small side for long-distance hikers. Hough compensates by eating more snacks.

Boots: Merrell Moab Ventilators trail-running shoes, merrell.com. “I usually don’t wear waterproof shoes in summer because my feet sweat less, which is most important overall,” Hough said. “When it rains, I just walk in wet feet. Even waterproof boots get wet, but at least these boots dry quickly. I carry three pair of socks, so I always have a dry pair for sleeping and one for emergency.”

Sleeping bag: Semi-rectangular sleeping quilt for two (1.5 pounds summer, under 3 pounds cold weather), from Western Mountaineering or Nunatak, nunatakusa.com. With linen bottom to hold sleeping pads.

Sleeping pads: Z-Lite closed cell folding pad (under 14 ounces), is light and durable; can’t puncture.

Pack: Ultralight Adventures, ula-equipment.com, are one of several ultralight pack manufactures they prefer. Minimalist packs weigh less than 2 pounds with few bells and whistles, little padding and are geared to hauling base weights of 20 pounds or less.

“It’s rough on a dry stretch when you have to carry 15 pounds of water,” Hough said. “In those cases, we might use bags and carry one in our hands.”

Food: Constantly evolving options enhanced with home food dehydrator to prepare foods such as red beans and rice, ground turkey chili as well as home-made spaghetti sauce dried to consistency of fruit leather to go with pasta.

Long-distance hikers rely on sending food ahead or buying from food stores along the way. “We eat a lot of standbys, like mac and cheese, tuna packets, mashed potatoes with McCormick gravy sauce, which is a great warming comfort food. I carry a spice bag to make the same things taste different.

“We eat dried cereal with powdered milk and lunch on pita or tortilla with peanut butter or tuna plus dried nuts and other snacks. We enjoy fresh fruit for the first two nights out of a food supply stop.

“We always have peanut butter to ward off hunger or add a little warmth at night.”

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