I am a wiser person after taking roughly 330,000 steps over 205 miles of North Shore beauty.
In short, the trip was everything I hoped it would be. The trail was physically and mentally challenging every single day. There were no sections where I could just tune out and hike. I had to stay thinking every step. Whether that was because of rocky steps into or out of river valleys or because of muck, mud or slippery rocks coating the trail was no matter. I was engaged from step number first to step number last. And I loved every minute of it.
Everything I learned can be grouped into two categories: non-gear related and gear related. Because the gear-related education is longer, I'll tackle that last.
Base weight is a myth. You should never, ever be carrying only base weight. That would imply that you have no food in your pack and that you are out of water. I could see that one could have your last supply of food in your pockets, but you should never, ever be out of water. A recent issue of BACKPACKER mag says you could and should during a ten or seven day hike of the JMT, but I contest. If you turn an ankle or otherwise get hurt, you need a couple of things with you, and water is one of them (shelter and food are the others).
We saw a number of people on the trail, and only one day we saw no other backpackers. On Friday and Saturday, going through Tettegouche and Split Rock State Parks, we saw more people on those individual days than we did the rest of the trip. Of those people, we saw only two small packs. One guy had a GoLite Jam(2?) or Pinnacle and a woman had a smallish Osprey pack. I saw lots of 4K+ cubic inch packs, and lots of massive Dana Design packs. Nearly everyone looked like they were suffering under their load. Most were wearing their hipbelts too low. I wanted to ask them, "Are you having fun? Right now? Really? Under those 40+ lbs up that steep incline without using trekking poles?" They were in pain, and while the camping part was probably fun, the walking was not.
Whenever we told people how many miles we hiked in a day, they all responded by stating that we must be traveling very fast. We always said, "No." On average, we moving just over 2 mph. We weren't moving much faster than they were. We never passed anyone going the same way. What we were doing was walking longer. Our packs (my brother had a similar base weight, food and water weight) allowed us to take less stops, keep our packs on longer and left us less tired. We saved time by not taking long lunches or cooking breakfasts. Our days were about hours on trail, not miles per hour.
Packing up in the morning took about an hour. Most days, I packed faster than my brother. We were up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. and on the trail between 6:30 and 7 a.m. The miles flew by in the morning, when it was cooler. We hiked until about noon or one p.m., and then took a 15 to 40 minute lunch.
We swapped socks about every four hours. Dry socks helped keep our feet happy, despite their blisters. I developed one killer blister on my right pinkie toe, and my bro was more blistered over the course of his toes. These blisters started to heal and callus over, and had we been hiking longer, they would be much less of a problem.
Moving onto some specific gear:
I had one major gear failure and one minor (but expected) failure. My Salomon XCR Trail Runners died. On the last day, I wore holes in the stress points on the inside and outside of the balls of my feet. The holes went through the Gore-Tex lining and my feet got wet as I walked through some water. They will be returned to REI. I expect the shoes to take a beating, but I do not expect the water-proof lining to wear a hole. Also, while my Integral Designs eVent Shortie Gaiters performed flawlessly, their strap did not. It wore out and eventually the last elastic band broke. It was no biggie, but it was annoying. ID knows about the problem, but I have not seen a method to use a different strap. My brother experienced a similar problem with his pair.
My pack, a Granite Gear Vapor Trail, held up marvelously. As expected, the pack carried the weight well. Base weight was around 11 lbs, food was about 9.5 lbs and 2.4L of water is just over 5 lbs. Maxed out, I was never over 25 lbs. The pack is rated to 30 or 35 lbs depending on where you look, but it carried nicely. The hip belt cupped by iliac crests nicely. But it was too big. Probably a thousand cubes too big. It is rated to 3600 cubes, but I don't know how much of that is divided into the pockets, extension collar and main body. In short, I could have fit 12 days of food in there and then I would have been at the top of the main pack body. This tells me that the pack was too big, and thus, weighed too much. There is so much I like about the pack, but I need less volume and not so much padding. More on the perfect pack in a later post.
EDIT: Granite Gear got back to me. Custom Service Manager Dave Johnson had this to say:
"Our pack capacity figures do not include the side pockets or the extension collar. In the case of the VT, it is just the main part of the pack."
Packing the pack broke down like this: I stuffed my bag into its sack and put in the bottom sideways. My extra clothes took up the extra space on the bottom of the bellowed pack bottom. Other miscellaneous things then slip in the cracks. These items included glasses case, 50 feet of parachute cord, toiletries and journal. This gear did not go above the lower pocket seam. Food came next, and it gradually decreased. I put my insulating later in the pack liner and closed it. After closing down the extension collar, my bag of rain gear went below the side-to-side closure strap. My sleeping pad went next, and it was held in place by the front-to-back strap. The tent went vertically on the pack back. Food and extra clothes went in the left pocket while the maps, toilet paper, first aid kit and headlamp went in the left pocket.
Pad - 47" Ridgerest: This pad is worth all eight ounces of its weight. I dropped nearly a pound by going with this pad over a full-length Prolite 3. I stored the pad on the top of my pack and thus is was always accessible. I pulled it out whenever I sat down to change socks, break for lunch, pump water, whatever. It was nice to have out and ready. The length was not an issue, as the Vapor Trail is sufficiently padded to be used under my feet. This pad rocked, straight up.
Filtering is a chore best done as rarely as possible. Eventually, I thought it was best to just max out the bladders (2.4 and 2.5 liters each, respectively) and just hike. Getting water took up valuable time. We did it night and at midday, but it still took a long time.
Clothes: My clothing system worked extremely well, and bringing a long sleeve and short-sleeve shirt worked exceptionally well. The Thermawrap was key, and kept be exceptionally warm in all conditions seen. I did not use two pieces of clothing, and only used two more sparingly. I did not use my bug-headnet and my baselayer bottoms. I rarely used my pants bottoms and my bandanna. Despite that, I think all four of those items deserve a place in my pack. Their weight is minimal (especially the headnet and bandanna), and they have a high utility. If temps plummet, I need those base layer bottoms. On the North Shore, weather varies daily and I may need to wear everything I have.
The Double Rainbow performed flawlessly and it definitely in my pack for two-person hikes. The floor area is substantial and although the vestibules are tiny, I only needed space for trekking poles, boots and my water bladder (which lays on my gaiters). Henry Shires made a solid shelter. He sells tents on TarpTent.
We cooked on an alcohol stove. It consisted of boiling 13 oz of water, dumping pasta in and stirring until the stove burns out. We took the pot and put it on my sleeping pad. I threw my fleece hat over it and let it sit. After a few minutes, we stirred in the sauce, split the mix in half and then eat. I ate out of the pot.
We forgot a small bottle of body soap. It was on my list and somehow it didn't make it into either of our packs. This would have been used to wash ourselves and do some laundry. Clean socks make feet happy.
Lastly, while not technically gear, one's hiking partner is a vital part of the trip. My bro kept me entertained and discussed his loves of various TV shows, movies and games for miles upon end. This trip was originally planned as a solo excursion, but he made the trip wonderful. For that, I am thankful.