"Skin-out weight" may not mean a lot to non-hiker friends and family who are casually following my Appalachian Trail adventure just to see how I'm doing. But for the ardent long-distance hiker, particularly those who aspire to go 'ultra-light', it's all about minimizing Skin-out weight (the weight of everything you carry with you above and beyond your bare-naked body). Consider that whatever weight you carry, you have to lift it each time you take a step. The Appalachian Trail is about five million steps long. Suddenly one pound becomes five million pounds. Even a quarter of an ounce can make a huge difference over the long haul.
Because my plan is to complete the trail (twice) by out-and-back day hikes, I will not be carrying a tent, sleeping bag and cook stove. These are three of the heavier items a backpacker must carry. Below is an excruciatingly detailed list of what I will carry, with commentary on some of the choices:
- Leki Makalu trekking poles (2)
- a couple feet of Duct Tape wound around one of the poles (emergency repairs to clothing, etc.)
- two large plastic trash bags for emergency ground cover
- a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil nylon combination tarp and rain poncho (11 ounces)
- a length of cord (plastic bailing twine) to erect tarp into an emergency tent (about 50 feet length)
- two tea light candles (each burns for about an hour and a half)
- a box of wooden matches
- zip-lock plastic bags in sufficient number to waterproof matches and other sensitive items, plus spares
- a minimal first-aid kit consisting of band-aids and antibiotic cream
- ball point pen and index cards (I opted not to carry a pocket voice recorder)
- Katadyn Hiker-Pro water filter pump (11 ounces)
- Petzl LED headlamp with 3 AA batteries
- My trusty 40 year old REI daypack - still functioning perfectly
- Asics Trail Sensor 5 Trail running shoes (less than a pound)
- Columbia Titanium nylon cargo shorts (I carry a number of items in the pockets for convenience)
- Athletic Works polyester t-shirt (from Wal-Mart)
- Cotton briefs. Yes, cotton. Mandatory for me. (You want details?)
- nylon liner socks and heavy Smart Wool hiking socks
- cheap Casio digital day-date watch with wrist bands cut off
- Swiss Army knife with 11 different tools, including file/saw, scissors, tweezers, and entirely unnecessary Phillips screwdriver.
- nail clipper (more important than any of the tools on the Swiss Army knife. I have toenails that dig into adjacent toes when they get too long).
- aspirin or ibuprofin - 12 tablets in a cute little pill container on the same keychain with the nail clipper. This waterproof (with an o-ring) pill holder was a drug store give-away, and the most useful piece of free gear I own.
- cell phone. I'm debating whether to leave that behind. It's value is to signal for help in a dire emergency.
- sun screen (just a small amount)
- credit card, driver's license, and a $20 bill, all in a zip-lock bag
- Garmin Oregon 550t GPS unit. More than half a pound, and a luxury item really, but I wouldn't consider hiking without it.
- Canon Power-Shot 10x zoom camera. Totally a luxury item - so I can indulge my artistic urges when something photogenic comes along. This weighs close to a pound.
- reading glasses - mandatory for my 63 year old eyes to work the GPS and read maps.
- Spare batteries, two AA rechargables for the camera or the GPS.
- toilet paper in zip-lock bag--small roll
- Chlorine water treatment tablets for emergency backup--very light weight
- trail map - the ATC official map of the section I'm hiking.
Something that I do not hear hikers 'fess-up' about is their SKIN-IN weight. What body weight is optimal for long distance hiking? You've probably seen how scrawny marathon runners are. Well, there's no reason for a hiker who's walking that much distance every day to weigh any more than a marathoner. My advice is to eat the calories you need each day and don't carry *any* calories (in the form of body fat) that you won't burn before your next resupply.
What is a person's ideal Skin-In weight? Runner's World suggests that your ideal weight is achieved at a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5. Your BMI is easily calculated based on your height and weight. I'm 6'2" and weigh 148 pounds, giving me a BMI of 19.0 - exactly where I want it to be (just a few pounds of cushion before I drop into the unhealthy range).
So I'm primed to hit the trail, both skin-in and skin-out. Let the adventure begin!