Here’s one for the gram weenies and gear nerds. I’ve decided to swap out a few of my venerable backpacking items with newer, better alternatives.
I’ve been using the Fenix HL50 for the better part of six years now. It’s IPX8 waterproof, and can be configured to run both AA and CR123 Lithium batteries. It’s durable and utterly reliable, but it has two shortcomings.
The first is that the switch is too sensitive. Even in my hipbelt pocket, I’ve had it turn on accidentally. Because of this I unscrew the battery cap just enough for the battery to lose contact. It’s an annoying task to add to my morning packing routine, but a necessary one, as there are no other lockout options.
Another annoyance, particularly in AT shelters and other crowded camp areas, is that there is no red light feature. More than one hiker has grumbled at me to turn on my red light, so I’ve decided to buy a light that actually has one.
This is the Nitecore NU25. I’ve been using its bigger brother, the HC65 at work for months. Nitecore has impressed me with their quality and reliability, so I’ve decided to give the NU25 a shot.
Not only does it have an auxiliary red light, it also has a simple lockout feature. Additionally, it’s USB rechargeable, and it has a battery level indicator. The run times are very similar to the Fenix HL50, although the NU25 is a bit more delicate and less waterproof. It’s a full two ounces lighter though, coming in at 1.2oz with my DIY headband.
Shout out to Backcountry Banter for his great review and instructional on the NU25!
Auxiliary Water Storage
Secondary water storage on the AT is a luxury item. There’s water everywhere, but when I roll into camp I only want to make one trip to the spring. I typically filter two liters to cook and have overnight, then an additional two liters to roll out with in the morning.
I’ve been using these 2-liter Sawyer bags for a while. At 1.6 ounces they’re light and fold flat when not in use. The problem is that they’re not at all durable. Sometimes failing in as little as 150 miles of use.
These CNOC bags are more expensive, and they’re heavier at 2.7 ounces. When I met a section hiker who stood on his to prove the durability me, I was sold! They also feature a slide lock on one end, which aids easy filling. This solves another issue with the Sawyer bags, which are difficult to fill from pools and slow moving water sources.
The AT has changed a bit, particularly the availability of some products, as others have gained popularity. It is because of this that I had a more and more difficult time finding Aquamira on the trail.
Aquamira has been my water purification of choice for many years, because it’s light, compact, and impervious to cold weather. The two downsides are that it takes time to work, and it’s a consumable. The filter time is much faster than similar products, a total of twenty minutes from stream to mouth. The bottles are opaque though, and it’s difficult to accurately gauge how much you have left. More than once I’ve run out in the middle of a weekend trip, or on my first day out from town. No biggie. I always keep backup tablets, three days worth, in my first aid kit.
With limited on-trail availability, and at $15 a pop, I’ve decided to go back to the Sawyer Squeeze filter.
The Sawyer Squeeze has two points of failure. As noted above, the squeeze bags are garbage. Secondly, If you freeze the filter itself, it becomes garbage too. This is very easy to do in the mountains, with temperatures dropping below freezing in places like the Smokies, even in mid-May.
That said, with the new CNOC bag, I’m pretty confident this will be my new go-to system. In the summer months especially, having instantly drinkable water is really nice. Additionally, these filters will thread onto just about any water bottle if needed.
At $30 for one filter, it pays for itself overtime. As for weight, the full sized Sawyer is 2.9 ounces. Full Aquamira bottles are exactly the same weight.
Cables & Cords
Weight creeps in where you least expect it, and charger cables are no exception. I have saved no less than 1.5oz by switching from a 6ft USB C cable, to a 1ft version. Additionally, instead of carrying a full cord to charge my MP3 player, I’ve found this adapter instead. While the weight savings is only .3oz, it’s 50% reduction in weight for this item.
Often when going lighter, looking at percentages is more valuable than weight itself. A 50% weight decrease is a big deal. If you can do that across your whole kit, think of the implications!
Before hoping back on trail, I am considering two other major gear tweaks. The first would be to go stoveless, and cold-soaking my food instead. This shaves 3 oz out of my cook system right off the bat, and it can save an additional 3-12oz in fuel.
Much like Aquamira, fuel for alcohol stoves is becoming less and less available on the trail. My assumption is that most of us alcohol stove users have gone to cold-soaking, and I’m just late to the game. It would be nice to never have to worry about sourcing fuel again. Cold-soaking is also very efficient from a time perspective. You simply pour your dinner into an empty ice cream or peanut butter jar, pour in some water, and seal it up. Roughly 30min later, you have edible pasta/mashed potatoes/oats, etc.
While I do love hot food during the winter, I really don’t mind cold food in the summer. Instant coffee just goes straight into my water bottle these days.
The second big change I can make is swapping my tent for a tarp and bivy. The tent pitches faster, and is more weather proof, but the tarp is roomier and less prone to condensation. An added benefit is that the bivy can be used in a shelter, adding comfort on buggy nights.
I’ve used tarps extensively, with and without a bivy, for years. I’ve been hesitant to use one on a thru-hike, and I really don’t know why. I suppose it’s the “home” factor, the privacy, or just the simplicity of pitching the tent in a single unit. Regardless, the 12oz+ in weight savings is pretty alluring!