This was the longest solo backpacking trip I have done. A lot of thought went into what to take and what to leave behind. The constant packing and repacking, in conjunction with viewing on-line weather forecasts had me trying to shed grams right up to the taxi arriving to pick me up and take me to the bus station. Previously thought must-have's were jettisoned into a small pile on the floor.
The weather had a lot to do with gear selection. The forecast was for mostly blazing hot sunshine with the possibility of some cloud and rain towards the end of the trip. With the Hardanger being a mountain plateau and mostly all above 1000m I knew that the weather could change at any time and snow was always a possibility!
The biggest gamble - I bought a GoLite Pinnacle specifically for this trip and future multi-day treks as I knew all my gear wasn't going to fit in my current biggest backpack, the OMM Villain. It was the four days of food that I had to carry that would have proved too much for the Villain so after doing some homework and reading glowing reviews from trusted sources I plumbed for the Pinnacle. At 905g it's incredibly light for it's 72 litres claimed total volume. I was a little dubious about taking an untested pack out for four days but after some tinkering with the straps over the course of the first day it proved to be very comfortable. Yes, I know it isn't as cool looking as some other technical packs, no, it's not as structured or has a ventilated back like others and it won't carry 20+kg for days on end. But, if you carry lightweight gear and want your backpack to simply carry the load and be invisibly comfortable then the Pinnacle is supreme. So much so I'm tempted with it's little brother, the Jam2, as a replacement for my beloved Villain. Blasphemy?
Clothes I wore - I run hot when I'm hiking or running so cool, quick drying clothes were a must have. I wore a TNF Vitesse Fuse long sleeve top during the day which was perfect. The long sleeves were useful not only on the cooler, windier high country but also as protection from the incessant sunshine. It was nicely ventilated in the extreme heat and dried in a flash when drenched with sweat or river water. The Nike Tempo running shorts have compression shorts built in and were amazingly comfortable. The also managed to just about dry out completely after their evening 'washing'. The Inov8 Debris Gaiters are amazing. Ultralight and perfect at they're job which was keeping stones and other small detritus out of my low cut shoes.
The big zeroes of the trip were my previously sublime Inov8 310s. The super comfortable, ultralight, grippy shoe have been my favourites for hiking in this year but whilst sat in camp on the last evening I noticed they had split across the sole of the right shoe. The split seems to have occurred along one of the lugs and I wonder if this a warranty issue. Countless others use these shoes for incredible thru-hikes so I'm loathed to give up on them yet.
Clothes I carried - Obviously my rain gear was not needed but I was happy to carry the Atomic DT and Reed pants as insurance, they weigh so little. The Reed's especially acted as evening camp wear while my shorts dried and they also proved midgie proof which was a relief! My insulation piece was my Montane Flux and as expected it proved to be WAY too much for the conditions. So much so that it never got worn. It was over half a kilo of deadweight and is being replaced by a piece weighing half as much. I should have taken my Generator vest which still wouldn't have got worn but would have been a lot less to carry!
Sleeping - I carried two new mats. The first was an ultralight (178g) 8mm closed-cell cut-down foamie I bought in a local shop that I primarily carried to act as a virtual frame for my lightweight pack and secondly as protection for the short Neoair. I'm not convinced it was needed to protect the Neoair but the Neoair isn't enough to act as a virtual frame for the Pinnacle. On the other hand the Neoair was a lightweight (260g) hero, proving to be amazingly comfortable (when half inflated) and waffer light. Hmmmm.
The big zero in the sleeping department was the Alpkit Pipedream 400 sleeping bag. It's actually a brilliant bag but it was quite simply too much for this trip. Maybe I'm the zero?! At 750g it's no porker but the fact that I've happily used it in December in Norway means it was always going to be too much. I never zipped it up and it was still too hot wearing nothing but a layer of merino. A proper summer bag/quilt is being sought, something sub 500g should do the trick.
Shelter - The Laser Comp is proving to be a gem to use. So easy to put up, big enough for one person and all their gear and of course pretty darn light at 1140g. I've replaced the ridiculous 2g ti pegs it's supplied with 4 bad-ass Clamcleat Y pegs and a set of Vargo ti 'proper' pegs to ensure it stays attached to the ground. I've also 'hot-rodded' the Laser Comp with a few genius modifications with the pole cover tensioner and door-keeper mod proving instantly practical. To vent the tent I simply used a couple of tiny 'biners to clip the lower end pegging point to the higher guyline. I only suffered from any noticeable condensation on the third morning.
It would have been perfectly practicable to take a tarp-type shelter and bivy in these conditions and is something I'll look into again. You'd save half a kilo and the protection offered would have been more than adequate with a good weather forecast.
Kitchen - I grabbed the usual Optimus Crux when I should have really gone with the Super Cat. The Crux is a fine flame thrower but I could have saved a lot of weight by going with meths. I normally use Primus canister feet to stabilise the Crux but for some reason they didn't fit the 200 MSR gas cart that I bought for the trip so they sat about doing nothing. Oh, and a long handled spoon is a hero when eating commercial freeze dried meals, no more 'Sauce Knuckle'. The slightly squared off spoon shape is also perfect for scraping the Real Turmat bags clean of every calorie. Is the spork dead? It's taking a well earned sabbatical from my backpack at least.
Miscellaneous - One of the biggest heros of the trip was the tube of Hydropel I carted around with me. This wonder salve keeps feet lubed and happy. I never once got a blister or hot spot and someone over this side of the pond really needs to import this stuff. Quite simply for me an absolute necessity for any long distance backpacking trip. The numerous stream/river crossings and unlined trail runners drenched my feet but the Hydropel never allowed the pruning, skin softening and blistering often experienced when wearing this sort of footwear. I'll repack it into a smaller container for future trips.
The trekking poles I took were my winter/skiing Black Diamond Expedition behemoths (with the straps and baskets removed) and proved absolutely essential across the snowfields and rivers. I'll be investing in a lighter '3 season pair' for sure. They make moving over rough ground so much easier, especially with a larger backpack. It took me a while to get used to them again, I don't generally use sticks for hiking but once I stopped 'thinking' about them they became part of my stride.
My weekend first-aid/repair/survival kit has gone on a serious diet since I got back. So much superfluous stuff in there. It is still a work in progress. Knowledge and skill weigh a lot less and a bit of homework and planning means you don't always have to carry a multitool, a Maglite, candles, saw, kitchen sink... For the emotionally robust I reckon it could be reduced to 6' of duct tape, a razor blade and some ibuprofen...
So what did I learn? I can go lighter, a kilo at least and still be perfectly comfortable even if the conditions had been less perfect than I experienced. With a good weather forecast and some options at your disposal it is perfectly feasible to carry a really light backpack and spend more of the day appreciating your surroundings and indeed seeing more surroundings as the lighter pack allows for higher mileage/longer days. There is no argument. Lighter is better.*
(* with caveats...)