In gearing up for this trip, my greatest consideration was weight and volume. For 39 days, I would be hauling everything I needed on my back. With backpacking this is always the case, but on a solo trip, since I would not be able to “split” items with another partner, it was heightened to a new level.
There were a few main areas that I had to focus on in my gear considerations:
- Variability of Conditions (snow, ice, rain, etc.)
- Comfort on Trail vs. Comfort in Camp
- Durability of Equipment
Variability of Conditions
I started my route in the San Juan mountains in late May of 2018, which meant that even with such a low snow year, I was still likely to run into occasional snowpack. The lingering snow fields I encountered were mostly rotten, meaning that postholing was frequent and annoying.
I had previous experience with early season conditions on my John Muir Trail hike in summer of 2017, when most of the trail was covered in a deep, heavy snowpack. This trip, however, was going to be much different. I would have to decide:
- Was I going to take an ice axe?
- Was I going to bring along crampons/microspikes/some other form of traction?
- How often was I likely to be camping on snow?
These are the answers I ended up coming to:
(1) No Ice Axe
I decided that the snowpack I was going to encounter was infrequent enough to justify bringing an ice axe, and that for the few sections (only one I can remember) that I might need (or want) some additional protection from sliding, that I could use my trekking poles. It is important to note that I felt comfortable with this because of my previous experience in early season conditions, as well as mountaineering. Your opinion may vary.
(2) Bring along Microspikes. . .can mail home if don’t use them.
Since my hike was going to be broken up into a series of resupplies (stops in towns to pick up food), I decided that for the initial section through the San Juans I would bring along Microspikes as an additional precaution for traction over the snowfields. I had not had much experience with early season Colorado snowpack before (yes, the snow condition does depend on where you go), so I figured better safe than sorry.
To be honest, I did not use the Microspikes once, and sent them home in my first resupply package. Along the way in Salida, CO, I found a pair of Microspikes left behind by another CDT hiker at a hiker hostel, someone who had clearly shared my same sentiment. The snowpack was simply too rotten and not firm enough for microspikes to do much good. Nighttime temperatures rarely, if at all, dipped below freezing, so no firm snow or ice was present, only a rotten mush. In this rotten mush, your feet would sink, rather than remain on the top surface, and you would slip and slide around, regardless if you had small spikes underneath your insole.
(3) Camping on snow would be infrequent. . . if at all.
From reviewing atmospheric snowpack data from NOAA.gov, I could tell that while I might be travelling through occasional snowpack during the day, I would almost certainly be able to find a camp without snow at night. This meant that I would be fine with a 3-season tent, and I opted for a non-free standing model (Sierra Designs High Route FL1) to minimize weight. I was confident enough in my ability to find a camp spot with decent soil to stake out my tent. If the snowpack had been different, I might have opted for more comfort in a free-standing tent with an actual floor to keep me insulated from the ground.