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Gear Round-Up: Alaska

Packing for a ten day backpacking trip was a logistical challenge (read: nightmare). I needed to pack enough food, gear, and clothing to last me ten days in the wilderness without any sort of resupply. The longest I had spent in the backcountry without heading back to civilization was two days so this trip was about to smash that record.

Thankfully, Expeditions Alaska sent me a very thorough pre-departure packet that detailed all the gear the founder carries with him in the backcountry and I planned to follow that list to a T. So with my list in hand I headed to REI to stock up.

It's really hard to believe that everything in the below picture fit either on my body or in my backpack, but it did. It took a few tries to figure out how to most efficiently and effectively pack everything but after I found a solution it was easy to re-pack every morning. Here is a recap of everything I brought and how it held up!

Gear

Deuter ACT Lite 60+10L Backpack: I love Deuter packs. Before I bought a Deuter I was using some generic backpacking pack that was a one-size-fits-all-humans sort of deal and it did not fit this human properly, yet I used it for nine months. Since buying the Deuter my only wish is that I had bought one earlier so I didn't have to walk all those painful miles with a heavy, ill-fitting pack on! The 60+10 size was able to (barely) hold all my gear, but even coming in at a hefty 47 lbs. this pack felt comfortable on my body. 

Black Diamond Trekking Poles: Unless you are an expert backpacker trekking poles are a must in the Alaskan backcountry. I brought my trusty Black Diamond poles and they aided me through some of the roughest terrain I have ever encountered in my life. 

REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent: I bought this tent specifically for this trip. Alex and I always go backpacking together so we only have two person tents. In order to cut down on as much weight as possible I wanted to buy a one person tent. I was looking for something light and affordable and the REI Quarter Dome 1 fit the bill. Its trail weight comes in at a light 2 lbs. 2 oz. It was also incredibly easy to set up, by the end of the trip I was setting it up in just a couple minutes!

BV500 Bear Vault: You can't go hiking in Alaska without taking proper precautions against bears and this includes storing all scented items in a bear canister. I brought the BV500 and was able to cram, and I mean cram (those poor tortillas), my ten days worth of food in this canister. It adds an unfortunate amount of bulk and weight but is a necessity in bear country. 

REI Insulated Sleeping Pad: I upgraded my Therm-A-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad to an insulated pad for this trip to save space. It definitely saved space but blowing it up every night and trying to cram it back in its bag every morning for ten days was not enjoyable. I'm glad I had it because it was comfortable but after nearly passing out a few times I'm on the market for another insulated pad that doesn't take so much wind power to blow up. Or perhaps my boyfriend with swimmer lungs will be able to help me in the future! 

REI Habanera Sleeping Bag: This exact model is no longer available but the Marmot Trestles has a similar degree rating. I love my Habanera. It is rated at 13 degrees Fahrenheit and I have taken it on trips where the temperature dipped well into that range and have been comfortable. The sleeping bag is down-filled and lofty and I am able to be completely engulfed by it, like a caterpillar cocooning up before it turns into a butterfly. 

Lowa Renegade GTX Hiking Boots: I am sad to say this trip was the end of these hiking boots. They are amazingly comfortable boots and left my feet completely dry even on the full day we spent hiking through rain. Everyone else on the trip was commenting about their feet being soaked but mine were still toasty and bone-dry. Then came the moment I put my foot down in swamp-grass and felt water seep into my boot. I investigated the situation and found that the seams were busting out near the big toe on both boots. I spent the remainder of the hike futilely trying to evade any standing water. These boots were returned to REI. 

Keen Newport H2 Sandals: These were my camp shoes and river-crossing shoes. They did their job. They are a little heavy and stay wet longer than I would like but they are comfortable, secure, and solid so they are winners in my book.

Jetboil: I actually didn't bring this because it takes isobutane fuel and I was told we couldn't fly to Bettles with isobutane. It turns out the Bettles Lodge sells isobutane and privately operated planes can fly with the fuel so I could have brought it. Instead my guide kindly boiled me water every night for my dehydrated meals. 

Trowel: Yep, this did its job.

Knife: I always bring a knife into the backcountry. You never know what you'll need to cut! 

Flashlight: I might as well have just brought a paperweight instead of the flashlight because it would have been just as useful. The sun didn't set, I don't know what I was thinking! 

Clothes: I brought 3 pairs of hiking socks and 2 liners. For my "camp clothes" I brought wool long underwear. For hiking I brought my REI Sahara Pants and a Columbia hiking shirt, the polyester blend is perfect for hiking in Alaska. It wicks moisture and is impenetrable to mosquitos. I actually enjoyed watching mosquitos land on me and try to find a place to stick their poker. They couldn't! For layering I brought my Patagonia fleece, Patagonia puffer (which is admittedly a girl's size L), and North Face rain jacket. I also reluctantly bought a pair of rain pants per the guide's insistence and am so glad I did because they saved me when we were bushwhacking in the pouring rain. 

What isn't shown: my water filtration system. I picked up a Sawyer Mini before heading out on this trip and I was impressed with how well it worked. I opted to cut my camelback tube and thread the filter through the tube so the water was filtered as I sucked it up. The filtering didn't seem to impede the water flow noticeably and I didn't have to futz with filtering water into bottles. This also allowed me to drink as I pleased instead of stopping and drinking out of a bottle. I love this system.

 

Food

Figuring out how much food to bring was actually pretty easy. I figured out what I wanted to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each day. Then I added up all the calories of the food and divided by the number of days I would be out in the wilderness to make sure I was going to get enough calories each day. I was aiming for 1,700 calories a day and came in at 1,650. For breakfast each day I had a tortilla slathered in peanut butter and a Clif Energy Blok or Gel. For lunch I would have a Clif Bar and a handful of trail mix. Dinner was one of my Mountain House dehydrated meals (beef stroganoff for the win!) or after I ran out of those my least favorite meal of tuna on a tortilla. Dessert was a block or two of chocolate. As far as having enough food goes I ran out on the last day. Thankfully one of my group members packed extra and kindly gave me two of her bars.

Photography Equipment

This is one place I was not willing to skimp on. Photography is one of my biggest passions and despite the fact that all my gear was going to come with a hefty weight penalty I was willing to shoulder that cost, literally. 

Canon 6D with the 16-35mm f/4 lens: This is my walkabout camera set-up. Every photo you see of mine that isn't taken at night is taken with this setup. I love it! 

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens: This is my night photography lens. Unfortunately, the sun never set so I didn't use this lens once on the trip! 

10 lithium batteries: My Canon takes lithium batteries and the only way these can be charged is if they are plugged into a power source. No solar chargers work on these guys! So I stocked up on them just in case I went through batteries like a madwoman. I didn't, I only used four batteries, but now I have a reference point for how many batteries I go through on an extended trip.  

Intervalometer: This is what I used to take time-lapses and also all the photos of myself on this trip. I love this little tool so much. I can set the number of photos I want to take, the interval at which I want them taken, plug it into my camera and the camera will continue to take pictures until its hit the limit I entered or I manually stop it. This was perfect way to get photos of myself without using the 10-second timer and running back and forth between the camera and wherever I was sitting or standing. Instead, I would simply set the intervalometer to take a photo every few seconds so it would capture me as I relaxed on a river bed or rock. I prefer taking pictures this way because they are authentic. I really am sitting on the rock just enjoying the scene, it's not posed and I didn't get up and leave right after the photo was taken. 

4 x 64G SD cards: Due to all the time-lapses I took on this trip I filled up 2 of these SD cards.

Filters: I brought my 10-stop ND filter, graduated ND filter, and circular polarizer.

ProMaster Carbon Fiber Tripod: This is actually Alex's tripod that he let me borrow for the trip. I also have a ProMaster but his carbon fiber version is under 3 lbs. and when every ounce counts I'm going to do everything I can to get the weight down.   

While it sounds like, and certainly felt like, I brought a lot of gear I found nearly every single piece of it useful. Had I done a little more research I would have realized there was no need for a flashlight or night lens but alas I thought that I might just need it. Maybe we would find a cave! Maybe the sun would fall out of the sky! Next time I will know better.