PART 2 — Thru-hiking the AT: Beating Both the Bubble AND the Smokies?
[Note: Previously, Oboz Footwear posted an article from Bruce “RTK” Matson, one of its ambassadors, entitled “Thru-hiking the AT: Beating Both the Bubble AND the Smokies?,” which can be found elsewhere in this “Community” section of the Oboz Footwear website. This article is a supplement to that initial article.]
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In part 1 of this article I discussed the tension between a thru-hiker’s desire to have as light a pack as possible and the type (and amount) of gear (and, of course, its weight) needed to confront the challenges of winter hiking and winter camping. My pack with the winter gear was about five pounds heavier – an almost absurd amount for any light-weight backpacker. That said, here is the clothing and gear I took with me in the Smokies, which I considered critical to successfully dealing with winter weather being dished out by the massive mountain range. I referred to this list often as my “winter supplement” in the sense that it added over five ponds to the kit that I planned to take all as a result of planning for winter, “just in case.” Thus, it’s unlikely I would have taken any of these items but for planning for winter conditions.
– balaclava (There may be no piece more valuable than this. I’m not sure I could have persevered through the bitter cold without this garment. Remember, you’re out in subfreezing temperatures for 8 – 12 hours a day AND you likely need this to sleep as well. For me, it was absolutely essential.
– gloves (I had REI Polartec gloves (pretty lightweight), which I supplemented with REI eVent waterproof mitten shells. These worked well. The shells were valuable for wind protection. For rain protection, they were disappointing, but got the job done. In terms of the “shell,” I’m not sure newspaper or bread bags aren’t more effective, and certainly lighter.)
– buff (One of my last and best purchases: Smartwool buff. Not as versatile as the larger, lighter buffs, but for winter use, do not underestimate the value of retaining/managing heat by wrapping your neck with this 2 oz. garment. It was integral to my overall heat management system during the bitter cold.)
– rain pants (I packed and carried real rain pants – REI Kimtah – heavy (almost a pound), but substantial. They were only to be part of my gear for the winter portion. I had them primarily for insulation, but protection from rain. Staying warm in the torso and legs was never an issue when hiking with a layer under rain pants. More than anything, wind is the killer. Substantial rain pants block that wind in a dry real and crucial sense.
– rain jacket (I took a more substantial jacket than I planned on for warmer temperatures. My Marmot Minimalist is heavy (almost a pound) but it’s substantial, Goretex, and longer than most, lightweight jackets. It’s hard to know for sure, but I was comforted – physically and psychologically – by having a substantial garment with which to take on the wind and the snow. Again (like the rain pants), I was more concerned with combatting wind than rain. But if we had had a co,d rain – which would have likely required more milder temperatures, my rain pants and jacket I believe would have served me very well.)
– Microspikes (No item made me question my winter gear choices more than the Microspikes.). They are heavy – 14 or 15 ounces. I carried them pretty far and really wondered, but when I was in the Smokies they were “worth their weight in gold.” Climbing and especially descending over the snow-packed and icy trails would have been daunting at best. For me it seemed nearly impossible. I finally asked some fellow hikers who didn’t have microspikes how they maneuvered the icy trails – they said they fell a lot and a couple had serious enough falls that resulted in injury.
– sleep system These items were selected with winter conditions in mind. Lighter options are available (and I plan to “lighten to load” when I get to Virginia and warmer weather) so they are in almost every respect also part of my “winter supplement”:
– 15-degree bag
– Polyester liner
– Sleeping pad with high R factor (this is not add incremental weight)
Last modified: May 12, 2018