If you are new to the world of hiking, you may have heard people talking about the ‘big three’ and gone ‘huh???’. Well never fear, this post is here with a full explanation! The “Big Three” refers to the three heaviest items hikers carry: the backpack, the shelter, and the sleeping system (sleeping bag + pad). These three items are the most important purchases a backpacker will make, and also happen to be the most expensive. Buying lightweight versions of these items is the easiest way to cut a significant amount off of your base pack weight, as they are what will make up the majority of the weight you are carrying. You can cut ounces here and there with smaller items all you want, but it likely won’t make much of a noticeable difference if you are carrying a ton of weight in your big three items.
2/3 of my Big Three: shelter and sleep system (bag + pad)
As previously mentioned, these items can create quite a dent in your poor wallet, and buying them is a big investment. It can be especially painful if you already own heavier versions of these items and are looking to transition to lightweight hiking. However, making the switch is truly worth the investment, as your hiking experience will be that much more comfortable and enjoyable. Plus, if properly cared for, these items will last you for many years of happy hiking, ensuring you get your full money’s worth. The pain can also be lessened by selling your old equipment, which is easy to do these days through sites like eBay or Kijiji, or even backpacking forums such as Backpacking Light.
When I tell people about my plans for future thru-hikes, weekend trips, or even day hikes, one of the most common reactions I get is, ‘you’re going alone?!’. Our society has been conditioned to believe that women should not do anything or go anywhere alone, and most of us females have been ingrained with this belief from birth. The fact of the matter is that most of the risks faced by the solo hiker are independent of gender. That being said, solo hiking certainly does come with a fair number of risks, but most of these can be avoided with some simple planning and preparation.
I firmly believe that in the case of solo hiking, the rewards outweigh the risks, as long as you go into your hike with the proper preparation, knowledge, and skills. I recently completed my first solo overnight trip, and it was an incredibly empowering experience. Knowing you have the ability to survive in the wilderness as an entirely self-contained unit is a great feeling. There is also an amazing sense of peace alone on the trail, and I find myself able to destress in a way that isn’t always possible when hiking with others. Having the independence to truly hike your own hike is another benefit of hiking solo. ‘HYOH’ (hike your own hike) is the motto of thru-hikers everywhere, and the concept is very important in ensuring you get the most out of your long-distance hiking experience. Committing to hike with a partner or group can definitely cramp your personal hiking style. This isn’t to say that there is anything wrong with hiking with a group. Sharing in nature’s glory with friends and family is a wonderful and important experience, but there’s just something special about hiking solo.
The day is finally here!! Tomorrow morning marks the start of my first solo overnight hiking trip. I will be hiking the Highland Trail in Algonquin Provincial Park, which totals a fairly short 35 km. I’ve been busy all day with gathering and packing up all my gear and food, and thought it would be fun and informative to post a list of all the gear I am bringing on this trip. This will also be a good way to tally up all weights for my gear items, in order to find out what my base pack weight for this trip will be.
All my gear laid out! (Minus the clothes I will wear)
We all know that regular exercise is important to our health, and has the ability to lengthen and improve our lives… and we all know that hiking is a form of exercise! However, you may not be aware of just how large a wealth of benefits hiking has to offer.
First off, hiking is a great form of cardiovascular exercise, and is excellent for weight control. When I hike, my heart rate remains elevated in the fat burning zone pretty much the entire time (as opposed to running, where my heart rate will reach cardio and peak levels). Hiking also burns some serious calories. In fact, hiking uphill can burn a similar amount of calories as going for a jog. For me, a ten mile (mostly flat) hike was able to burn the same amount of calories as running a half marathon. Running is able to burn calories faster, but hiking tends to be much easier on your joints.
If you have stumbled across my blog, and are not already a lightweight backpacker (hi mom!), you may be wondering what the heck this ‘ultralite’ business is about. My first official blog post is for all the non-hikers out there, or hikers stuck in the ‘traditional’ practices of backpacking.
Wikipedia defines ultralite backpacking as a “style of backpacking that emphasizes carrying the lightest and simplest gear safely possible for a given trip”.
Probably the most important concept when it comes to ultralite and lightweight backpacking is base pack weight (BPW). A hiker’s BPW includes the weight of their backpack, and all of the gear inside or outside of it (excluding consumables such as food and water).
In the U.S., ultralite is officially defined as having a BPW of less than 10 pounds, while a BPW of less than 20 pounds is considered lightweight. If you have ever experienced what is called ‘traditional’ backpacking, you may notice that these numbers are significantly lower than the weights typically carried. Ultralite backpacking is a relatively new phenomenon, and many long-distance hikers of yesteryear (aka the 90s and earlier) would cover hundreds or thousands of miles with pack weights of up to 50 pounds or more.
In order to get pack weights so low, ultralite hikers can go to quite a lot of effort. EVERY. OUNCE. COUNTS. For an ultralite backpacker, the weight of a piece of gear is arguably its most important attribute. This makes the already complex process of gear shopping require even more research, as the weight of each item must be carefully considered. Ultralite backpackers can spend a lot of time and energy trying to find the lightest possible version of each item of gear. (Remember when I said I was planner? Yeah, days of research went into my gear list).
One of the more sophisticated shelters used by lightweight backpackers (from tarptent.com)