I have been backpacking since the mid 1980’s and although a bit older, it is still just as enjoyable to strap a pack on my shoulders and head into the forest or down the trail. Not only enjoyable, but not that much more difficult since I can still do similar miles and climbs. I think this can be attributed to two things:
- My better attention to between trip fitness and training.
- Acquisition of better and lighter gear.
It’s the second one I have been thinking about the last couple of days. My pack weight is now in the mid teens most (3 season) trips, which makes the miles go easier but also allows for some addition of items to make the trip more comfortable (and fitting into my “comfortably light” approach). Several items help buffer my aging body from aches and pains including:
NEMO Astro Air Insulated Lite (19.5 oz) – a full size 3+ inch thick air mattress that provides the most comfortable sleep I have had in over 30 years of backpacking.
REI Trail Chair (20 oz) – a camp chair for my back that lets me relax on the ground or even inside the tent since it doesn’t have legs. My lower back issues make multiple night trips without this a real pain!
Coccoon Ultralight Pillow (3.6 oz) or NEMO Fillo (9.2 oz) – an air or foam/air pillow for the night and chair lumbar support during camp hours. I trade these out depending on the length of trip, preferring the Fillo for short trips but the lighter Coccoon for longer ones. Trailspace reviews are coming soon on both.
Garmin Inreach (6.9 oz) – I compromised with my wonderful wife to allow her to keep track of my wanderings and not worry that I might have twisted an ankle or worse. At first reserved about electronics in the backcountry (I am a traditional map and compass guy), now I enjoy the mapping capabilities of it through my phone. Review is in the works.
Trail Designs Ultralight Glasses (0.1 oz) – doesn’t aid my comfort but these small reading glasses for the trail that help my old eyes see maps and GPS units better without digging out my reading glasses from the pack.
These are the primary items I would never have carried in the past (or carried lighter versions like a mattress), but add so much comfort and enjoyment to my trips that I never leave them behind now.
The additional weight of these items is around 34 ounces (if you assume the air mattress replaces a simple foam pad). This may seem like a lot of excess weight, but I still come in around 17-19 pounds of base weight for 3 season backpacking. Getting a good nights sleep and comfortably lounging around camp are worth way more than the additional weight to me.
One other piece of gear I’ll add often is a bear canister (BV 450 – 31 oz). I bought a couple of different sizes over the years as they are required in a couple of spots I spend a good bit of time. Although close to 2 lbs, I carry it in more places than I would expect as it eliminates the need to hassle with hanging a bear bag, which I used to enjoy but now try to avoid. Lots of people hang bear bags, but I rarely see one hung correctly at wild camp sites without bear bag lines etc already installed. The difficulty of getting it just right (distance from a tree and height on a strong enough limb) is just not worth it to me. Plus, when I get up to make coffee at zero dark thirty, I don’t have to fuss with getting it down. The BV series make handy camp stools as well. I used to not bring the trail chair when I had a canister, but I really need the lumbar support so now use both as a stool and backrest.
Top it off with my conversion to trekking pole use that has made the most difference to my bad knees and increased my mileage by a factor of 1.5 since I started using them. Never mind the number of times they have saved me from a fall!
You can’t stop aging but sure can make it easier in the back country with a little additional weight!