The Caffeinated Hiker’s Gear Guide

Your choice of gear can make or break a hiking trip.  Your gear is what will keep you warm, dry, comfortable, hydrated, and fed. It is important to carefully consider each piece of gear you choose to bring with you into the wilderness. In this post, I will list and briefly review each of the major pieces of gear I take with me on overnight hiking trips! Keep in mind, hiking gear is a very personal matter, so what works for me may not work for you. Lots of research and trial and error will go in to creating your own perfect gear list.

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Western Uplands Trail Day 2: Big Miles to Susan Lake!

Daily Stats

Date: July 31, 2016

Distance hiked: 34.9 km // 22 mi (Clara Lake to Susan Lake – along third loop)

Steps taken: 49,633

Time on the trail: ~9.5 hours

Calories burned: 3,593

Fuel consumed: 1 cinnamon raisin bagel w/ peanut butter, 1 packet instant coffee, 1 snickers bar, a few handfuls of dried fruit, 2 tortillas w/ peanut butter, 2 cheese strings, 500 mL gatorade, 1 pack M&M’s, 1 clif bar, 1 box white cheddar macaroni, 1 pack hot chocolate mix

Wildlife spotted: loon family (+ many other loons calling), more tiny toads/frogs, 2 huge toads, 1 medium-sized toad, a couple of normal frogs, TONS of moose scat and tracks (but still no moose!), plus the usual assortment of woodland creatures

Today I officially hiked my longest hike ever. Today I hiked 22 miles, breaking the record I set just one week ago today.

Unfortunately, I did not sleep well last night. I tossed and turned for hours, and my mind just would not shut off. I did eventually grab a few z’s, but I don’t think it amounted to much. My alarm went off at 5AM (even though I was already awake) and it was still quite dark out. I waited a few minutes inside my sleeping bag, but eventually made myself start to get dressed. I emerged from the tent with my head lamp on, which marks the first time on my solo trips that I have been outside my tent in the dark. The horizon at the edge of the lake was beginning to glow pink and orange, but nothing much was happening yet sun-wise.

I went over to where my food bag was hanging and brought it down, and started getting things ready to make breakfast. The smaller woodland creatures were quite active in the dim light, as a large toad hopped right over the hip belt of my pack, and a small mouse ran right up to inspect the contents of my food bag.

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A spectacular sunrise on Clara Lake

I boiled water for coffee and grabbed a bagel and some peanut butter. When everything was ready to go, I headed over to a large rock by the lake to eat while watching the sunrise. At this point, things in the sky were getting more exciting. It was bright enough to switch off my headlamp, and the sky slowly caught fire with colour. It was absolutely gorgeous, and made getting up pre-dawn totally worth it.

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Western Uplands Trail Day 1: A Walk in the Woods

Daily Stats

Date: July 30, 2016

Distance hiked: 23.2 km // 14.5 mi (Parking lot to Clara Lake)

Steps taken: 35,758

Time on the trail: ~ 7 hours

Calories burned: 2,750

Fuel consumed: 1 pack peanut M&M’s, a few handfuls of dried fruit, 1 cheese string, 12 triscuits w/ PB, 1 nature valley bar, 1 pack Sidekicks Thai Sweet Chili Noodles, 1 pack hot chocolate mix, 1 clif bar

Wildlife spotted: 1 bear (on road while driving in), tons of tiiiny frogs or toads, 1 huge toad, 1 garter snake, loon family, moose tracks in the trail (but no moose to be found), plus the usual woodland creatures (chipmunks, squirrels, birds, etc.)

I left home this morning before dawn. My destination: the Western Uplands trail in Algonquin Provincial Park. This backpacking trail is split into 3 separate loops, and if all 3 loops are completed has a total distance of about 75km. I plan to complete all 3 loops on a 3 day/2 night trip.

The classic trailhead shot and the bridge that started it all

The day started off on an exciting note as I made my second ever wild bear sighting while driving into the park! It was a small bear (probably not small enough to be a cub from this year, but not yet full grown), and it was casually foraging on the side of the highway that runs through the park, directly across from one of the camp stores. Of course, this meant there was a large gang of bear paparazzi across the road. I was driving on the side of the road that the bear was on, and drove by slowly with it just metres from my car! I pulled over just ahead, and the car behind me followed suit, but a park ranger quickly approached and signalled us to move on. All this before I had even obtained my permit!

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The Backpacking “Big Three”

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.

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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.

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What is ultralite backpacking anyway?

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).

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One of the more sophisticated shelters used by lightweight backpackers (from tarptent.com)

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