Backpacking versus Thruhiking as seen through Gear

For the last two weeks, I have been a backpacker.

Now I’ve been living out of a backpack for the better part of a year. But I’ve been a hiker, and the two are – I’m seeing – quite different.

A hiker is one who gets from point A to B under their own steam. Not so a backpacker, who will move from place to place by dint of bus and thumb. Their rule is daytrips, not multiday sojourns through the woods. And they will live primarily in towns – in real dwellings! – not in the places between places like a thrubie.

The result is a stark difference in needs of gear.

A thruhiker is a study in minimalism. Weight is the enemy. Volume is the lurking foe. You have to keep room for many days worth of food and long carries of water. But on the other hand, your needs are mininal too. You forsake comforts. Most of the time you can dress like a ragged hobo. On most thruhikes you can do so even in towns. On most thruhikes, it’s not just possible – it’s expected.

Whereas a backpacker has to look generally presentable; be able to take care of their appearance and civilized needs; and carry enough in the way of creature comforts that they can enjoy sleeping in a 20 person bunkroom and not have to spring for the private bed.

Towards that end, I’ve dreamed up my ideal gear list for backpacking, as opposed to thruhiking. Here it is.

PACK: 70+ liters. Bells and/or whistles… not really a big prioriry. My Hyperlite 5400 is decidedly overkill – but it’s a Big Backpack, and so, is fine.

TENT: None, probably. (Pardon me for a moment of cackling. No tent!)

SLEEPING BAG: Enough to keep you warm in a drafty hostel. Probably a 0C quilt and a liner would cover you for every eventuality. But you could also just… not. Which. Again. Cackling.

WATER FILTRATION: Only if you’re going where the tap water is not potable. Otherwise, just bring a bottle.

COMPUTRONICS: A phone and Bluetooth keyboard would probably sate me. But you could just carry a laptop. My chromebook is a delightful machine with 17+ hours of battery life. Not bad.

POWER: Why skimp? Bring a ginormous power bank for days worth of security. I’d also bring a universal plug adapter. Those things are basically a passport gone practical.

CLOTHING: You need to look presentable. For me: A pair of jeans, a pair of khaki shorts, a pair of black boardshorts; two merino polos (khaki, black) and one merino longsleeve. Trailrunners, maybe jandals, a even a pair of leather loafers. Cold weather gear can be heavy, not down – or even skip a puffy for a merino sweater.

FOUL WEATHER GEAR: An umbrella. :-)

TOILETRIES: Brush, paste, floss. Deodorant. A nice bottle of Dr Bronner’s. Small DE razor, travel shave brush, bit of shave soap. I might even bring my little buzzcutters – or I’d go to the barber every 10 days for a trim, which, honestly, i rather do enjoy. Especially when traveling.

COOKING: You won’t need your own heat source. You might not even need cooking gear at all. I’d bring my new 3-in-1 coffee mug, grinder, pourover filter. I’d pack out real coffee, likewise loose tea and a ball. I’d also keep with me a pepper grinder, hot sauce or sambal oelek, and some snacks – but no more than half as day’s worth. (*cackling*)

SPACE: A thru-hiker doesn’t need to pack much of this. A backpacker does. To buy things – luxuries, presents for home. To be flexible. Mutable. To live, not orthogonal to real life, but somewhat more paralell to it.

I don’t know if I enjoy the backpacker’s life. It got boring fast – but I’m still very new at it. Maybe I could make it work. Maybe if I could be a digital nomad. Maybe if I could hike, or do something else Ambitious at each place – or even place-to-place, blurring the lines between backpacker and thruhiker.

But for the moment, I think I’ll stick to hiking. More laurels… more camaraderie… better calves :)


~ by davekov on 2 April 2019.

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