Packing and planning and more packing


We leave tomorrow for the Benton MacKaye Trail, and we’ve been busy this weekend packing and planning.

The Benton MacKaye Trail is a weird length for us.  We’re somewhat used to planning a 2,000+ mile thru-hike, and we’re also used to planning shorter weekend length trips.  The Benton MacKaye Trail is just short of 300 miles, so we figure it will take us about 3 weeks.

We’ve planned to stop about 5 times to resupply along the way, and we’re sending ourselves packages at 3 resupply points.  We have had to call ahead to make sure that resupply points are actually open this time of year (most were not), and if so, make sure what their winter hours are.

Packing our resupply boxes

Meanwhile, we also started packing for a winter hike.  That means more layers, and warmer sleeping systems.  After considering the gear that we had, we finally decided that we should actually take two sleeping bags each.  After trying to fit all my gear in the backpack that I am most comfortable with, I found that it barely fit.  I had to find an old compression sac (stupidly weighing an additional 5oz) in order to squeeze my two sleeping bags inside.  A larger backpack would have been smart, but I’ll make do with what I have.

We made our final pile of gear and weighed it all.  Here is the outcome:

Dormouse Total Pack Base Weight: 11.4 lbs

Dirt Stew Total Pack Base Weight:  15.5 lbs

Clothes worn
Manufacturer Weight (oz) Weight (lbs)
Tanktop Champion 2.8
Shorts Brooks 4.1
Wool bra ibex 1.6
Socks- short, thin Darn Tough 1.4
Shoes Astral 19.8
Gaiters Dirty Girl 1.1
Ball cap Outdoor Research 1.9
Total: 32.7 2.04
Rain pants Lightheart Gear 4.7
Rain jacket Golite (RIP) 6.6
Fleece hat Found in Zion 4 years ago 1.4
Liner gloves Merrel 1.1
Overmits REI 1.2
Down hood Zpacks 1.6
Neck Warmer Outdoor Research 1.5
Long sleeved caplene baselayer Patagonia 4.2
Long underwear bottoms Golite (RIP) 4.4
Socks- short, thick Darn Tough 1.7
Socks- long for sleeping Keen 2.1
Underwear Vanity Fair 1.2
Fleece, R1 Patagonia 10.6
Down puffy Golite (RIP) 6
Clothes stuff sac Sea to Summit 1.1
Total: 49.4 3.09
Backpack – Gorilla Gossamer Gear 28.3
Sleeping pad- prolite women’s Thermarest 16.4
Pack liner Gossamer Gear 1.2
Sleeping bag – 20 degree Zpacks 17.6
Sleeping bag- 10 degree Western Mountaineering 33.4
Compression sac Alps Mountaineering (found) 4.9
Bandana 1
Headlamp Princeton Tec 3.1
Toothbrush and toothpaste 1.6
Hand sanitizer 1
Dropper bottle with bleach 0.9
Ear plugs 0.2
Chapstick 0.2
P-style 0.8
Tiny towel 0.3
First Aid Kit 6.8
Pee bottle 1.8
Shoulder pocket Gossamer Gear 1.6
Folding keyboard iwerkz 5.1
iphone 6 apple 5.4
Wallet 1.3
Onces Pounds
Total Gear: 132.91 8.31
Total Gear + Clothes Carried: 182.31 11.39

Dirt Stew:

Clothes Worn
Manufacturer Weight (oz) Weight (lbs)
Hiking pants REI 12.1
Synthetic underwear EMS 3.2
T-shirt synthetic Hanes 4.8
Socks- long Farm to Feet 2.6
Ankle brace 5.2
Shoes Brooks 28.9
Total Clothes Worn 56.8 3.55
Clothes Carried:
Down puffy Golite (RIP) 6.9
Socks- long Keen 3
Socks – short Farm to feet 1.2
Long underwear top Icebreaker 6.8
Long underwear bottom Icebreaker 5.9
Synthetic underwear EMS 3.2
Backlava wool REI 1.6
Fleece EMS 7.1
Gloves- liner Smartwool 1.7
Overmits REI 1.3
Neck gaiter Columbia 1.3
Rain pants Sierra Designs 7.6
Rain jacket Golite (RIP) 7.8
Hat Mountain hardware 2.6
Stuff sac Big Agnes 1.2
Wallet 1.2
Total Clothes Carried 59.2 3.7
Two person Tent- The Two Gossamer gear 29.7
Tent stakes with stuff sac 4.5
Sleeping bag- Humming bird Feathered Friends 28.2
Sleeping bag Zpacks 21.1
Stuff sac Sea to summit 1
Pack liner Gossamer gear 2.4
Backpack  Gossamer Gear 34.5
Sleeping pad- neoair Thermarest 7.6
Pillow Klymit 2.3
1L storage Jar (for cold soaking) Nalgene 6.8
Bowl – plastic 1.5
Spoon- plastic 0.4
Spoon- titanium MSR 0.6
Bandana 1.2
Maps (2 nat geo maps) 6.6
BMT guide book 3.5
Headlamp Princeton Tec 2.8
Toothbrush and paste 1.4
Chapstick (with spf) 0.3
Flip phone 3.1
Camera and case 8.7
Bleach in dropper bottle 0.5
PLB Res Q link 5.2
Chargers- camera, iphone, flip phone 5.2
Umbrella Euroschirm 8.1
Food bag  Lightheart Gear 2
Onces Pounds
Total Gear 189.2 11.83
Total Gear + Clothes Carried 248.4 15.53

Splitting up Gear Among Hiking Partners

Since the question of how we as a couple split our gear while backpacking has come up numerous times, I thought I would write a post in response.

First, let me say there is no right or wrong here.  Every couple is different, and has different priorities, this is definitely a HYOH (hike your own hike) subject.

So, what do we do?  How do we split our gear?  How do we decide who should carry what?

Who Should Carry What?

Who Should Carry What?

Since Dirt Stew is bigger, faster and stronger than I am, he carries more gear.  This helps to even things out at least slightly, although even if Dirt Stew carried everything and I carried nothing, he would probably still be faster.  We like to think of ourselves as a team more than individuals, and we both bring our own strengths.  But even though we are a team, we realize that there are circumstances where we may become separated, and we have kept this in mind when splitting gear.

In general each of us carries his or her own food, water, clothes, sleeping bag and pad.  Any backup gear is split (i.e. one of us will carry a water filter, while the other carries a bottle with aquamira or bleach).  Dirt Stew carries most of the communal items like the tent, first aid kit and “kitchen items” such as our Tupperware container, bowl, and spoons.  Dirt Stew will also carry extra water.  Dirt Stew’s clothing is naturally also heavier than mine because of his size, and so is his required food and water.

A general rule of thumb that has worked well for us is to have each of us carry the same percentage of our body weight.  Since I weigh roughly 2/3 as much as Dirt Stew, I carry roughly 2/3 as much weight as him.

I have put together a gear list for both our Appalachian Trail hike and our intended gear list for our Pacific Crest Trail hike.  You will need to scroll down towards the bottom of those pages to see the gear lists.  Please feel free to check those out to see in more detail what we each carried.  Since the Appalachian Trail was our first thru-hike, we learned a lot about gear choices between that trip and our Pacific Crest Trail hike.  We have purchased a lot of new lighter weight gear for our PCT hike.

In general, Dirt Stew carries roughly 5lbs more weigh, but if either one of us gets tired, sluggish, or starts feeling unwell, the other will take weight off of them.  We have even gone so far as to carry the other’s entire backpack.  There are no absolute rules.  Communication is our best tool, and pride is our Achilles heel.

Cookless Backpacking Food

A lot of people have asked us about what we’re eating on the trail, and how we’re resupplying to get more food.  I usually wind up telling people that we’re planning not to bring a stove, and I get a myriad of reactions, many of which basically amounts to “you’re stupid.”  Let me first try to explain why we’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail without a stove, and then let me explain what we’re actually going to eat.

On the Appalachian Trail, Dirt Stew and I found a routine that worked fairly well: Dirt Stew would set up the tent while I would cook dinner.  We decided this after Dirt Stew proved once and for all that he was incapable of cooking anything without spilling it all over the ground, for which he earned his trail name.  Personally, I think it was just a clever tactic to get out of the cooking chore.

As far as I can tell, there are three benefits to cooking/having a stove:

1. There are more food choices available to you, some of which are arguably lighter than non-cook foods.

2. You get to eat hot food.  Not only is this nice, but it could also warm you up on a cold day.

3. Your stove can boil water, which can serve as an emergency water purification method. Although this requires boiling for 5 minutes according to most sources.

The drawbacks to cooking/having a stove:

1. You have to carry a stove, a pot, fuel, and a lighter.

2. You have to spend time cooking, which is not only tedious but also can actually result in you getting cold.  If you didn’t have to cook, you could jump right into your sleeping bag and keep warm.  I strongly discourage you from cooking while in your sleeping bag (note to self, add this to the list of annoying things to learn from experience).

3. You have to keep in mind where you are going to find fuel.

4. You are likely to bring food that has to be cooked.  I think there is nothing worse than not having the choice to cook or not cook.  If it is pouring rain with strong winds, do you really want to have to cook that mac and cheese you brought?  Your alternative is to eat it raw.  Yuck.

The biggest concern for Dirt Stew and I was food availability.  We were afraid that by not bringing a stove, we would be limited to eating nothing but snickers bars for the whole trail.  But through some experimentation and research, we actually found that there is a large variety of food that can be eaten cold!  In fact, a lot of food we normally eat hot can actually be eaten cold.  Let me now give you lots and lots of examples so that you can plan your next backpacking trip and leave behind the stove, pot, and fuel.

Our kitchen now consists of two spoons, one twist and lock 2 cup Tupperware container, and one bowl (mostly because we’re bad at sharing).  Also, the Tupperware container allows us to have roughly an extra liter of water capacity.  (EDIT: We found that a twist and lock container wasn’t strong enough for us.  We found a wide-mouth Nalgene seal-able bowl that worked great and was strong and is still basically like new after 2,500 miles).

Twist and lock container requires a long spoon.

Twist and lock container requires a long spoon.

What’s on the menu:


Most of our breakfasts are going to be really yummy “handmade” oatmeal packets.  I got the idea here.  My modified recipe which I put in ziplock bags is: 2 cups of oatmeal (either the quick kind or the slow kind, or a mix of both), 1/4 cup Nido or instant milk, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/4 cup (or more) of one of my “flavors”, of which there are many: nuts, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate chips (and some powdered chocolate), coconut, raisins, etc.  I also sometimes add up to a tablespoon or more of chia seeds, flaxseed meal, and oat bran depending on what I have.  These oatmeal “packets” taste really good when you just add cold water.  They probably serve 2.


Powdered hummus with Frito’s or other chips, or on Tortillas.  Nutella or peanut butter on tortillas or any other bread-like food… or actually on anything, really.  The same goes for tuna or chicken packets (I don’t think we’ll actually eat many of these). Pepperoni, slim jims or beef jerky if we want meat.


All of these dinners can be rehydrated with cold water, and taste delicious even cold.  We use the twist and lock container to rehydrate some of these while walking.  Some of these dinners barely need any time to rehydrate.   Instant mashed potatoes, instant stuffing mix (really good with craisins), couscous, instant hummus, instant refried beans and/or instant black beans (with chips), instant ramen.  There are also many many soup mixes that work well with cold water.  We also plan on taking leftover town food with us to eat at least on the first night out, especially pizza and sandwiches.  I can see us carrying A LOT of pizza 🙂


Lots and lots of nuts and chocolate.

Many different bars: probars, cliff bars, luna bars, snickers bars, Butterfinger bars, builder bars, and many many more types.  There are probably more types of “bars” than I could possibly imagine.  Along with bars, we also eat a lot of Little Debbies/ hostess, which I know are basically the definition of junk food, but they’re kind of… really… good… and have a lot of calories and fat: honey buns, cosmic brownies, swiss rolls, oatmeal rounds, etc.

I’ve made many different trail mixes so that we don’t get tired of any particular one.  Here are some examples: Almonds and dark chocolate.  Cashews, white chocolate chips, and dried dates.  Peanuts with M&M’s and raisins.  I also found a prepackaged spicy trail mix that is delicious.

Candy:  The world is your oyster with candy.  I just found giant-sized Toblerone bars on sale and bought about 20 of them to put in resupply boxes.  Dirt Stew really likes Hot Tamales.  How awesome is it that you can just buy a bunch of your favorite candy and eat it with minimal guilt?


We’ve made some protein shakes that include carnation breakfast, a scoop of protein and powdered milk, and they taste delicious.  We’re also packing some Gatorade mix and lemonade mix.  I’ll particularly be glad to have these when water sources look like muddy puddles (probably because they are muddy puddles).

Ok, that’s about it folks.  I hope you find some inspiration here and feel free to leave more food ideas in the comments.  Happy Trails!

Preparation Angst

I’m kind of going nuts here.  I keep looking at Yogi’s Handbook, and looking at resupply strategies, and looking at the boxes that litter my living room floor wondering how on earth I’m going to make all this come together.  Somehow there is so much more preparation involved with this hike than our AT hike.  I’m not sure if it is because I’m making it more complicated, or because it actually is.

I think there is something particularly daunting about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after hiking the Appalachian Trail.  It has to do with how many miles per day you are used to going on the difficult AT terrain, and how many miles you are expected to cover on the PCT.  I keep winding up with resupply strategies that involve roughly 150 mile sections.  Either I’m going to be hiking 30 miles a day, or I’m going to be carrying a shit ton of food.  Either way, I’m scared.

On top of that, we’re starting in snow, and I have no idea how many miles we’ll be able to do in snow.  The difference between 10 mile days and 15 mile days makes a big difference over 110 miles.

Should I just stop worrying about it so much?

Should I really just stop wasting my time planning and get outside and go for a run so I’m in better shape to do those 30 mile days?

I think it is particularly daunting for us because we’re going southbound, and so we don’t get the luxury of an easy 700 miles to “warm up with”.  We have to plan our resupply’s for Washington State now without knowing what our pace will be, but knowing that we’ll need to move as fast as possible.  Should I just over-pack my resupply boxes just in case?

Also, I really have no concept of how much Dirt Stew is actually going eat.  I feel like I’ve never had a good concept of how much food he needs, even after 6 years.  It doesn’t help that he gets sort of panicked when food is scarce.  The minute he comes home for work he shoves several hands full of peanuts into his mouth.  I have no idea how many calories that is.  Just on a normal day, I’ll cook food for what I think would be good for 5 people, and I eat my portion, and somehow the rest is gone by the end of the evening.

People say that you carry your fears with you.  Literally. Folks afraid of being cold carry too many clothes.  Folks afraid of getting hungry carry too much food.  Folks afraid of getting lost carry maps, a guide book, a GPS and a PLB.  Just take apart someone’s backpack and you’ll find their fears hiding inside.