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[pct-l] Appropriate Gear for Conditions - Different Scenarios

Appropriate Gear for Conditions - Different Scenarios

The discussion of what's the appropriate gear will never cease. Which is
probably ok since the gear we carry and our usage of it, never ceases to

One of the things I tried to do over the last few months is to not
concentrate too much the different pieces of gear I carry. Instead I focus
on looking at different scenarios I'm likely to encounter on the trail. Then
tracing backward, I attempt to look at what gear is needed to first survive
the scenario then to be comfortable. 

I go from survival mode to comfort mode, instead of visa versa, simply
because I don't believe one can carry enough stuff to be comfortable under
all conditions. Plus, to strive solely for comfort, one must pack stuff in
anticipation of events that may never materialize. 

Our gear is kind of like an insurance policy we take out to first insure our
survival and second to insure a pleasant and exciting trip. How much we're
willing to pay for that policy, in terms weight and cost, will surely effect
other aspects of our hike. Too much insurance and we'll never get past the
trail head. Too little, well you fill in the blanks. Still our gear is only
one payment on our insurance policy. Others include, but aren't limited to,
a knowledge of the area, experience with a variety of conditions and an
honest understanding of our own limitations and capabilities.

In many circumstances these later insurances payments on our premium maybe
more important to our survival and comfort than any gear we may possess. 

Over the last few months, I've tried to make an unbiased reading - if that's
possible - of all the different posts on the Sierras with regard to
equipment, weather, travel times, etc. Unlike many members of this list, my
knowledge of the Sierras is virtually nonexistent. What I have is based upon
readings and a few short trips.

Still I've attempted to put together a series of scenarios covering my trip
through the Sierra. 

Scenario 1: Perfect weather, no bugs, no snow, and easy fords. (Hey we can
all dream.) While not overly likely in mid June, a trip like this doesn't
really require much in the way of equipment.

Scenario 2: Three days into the Mountains a storm hits. I'm carrying my
usual load of simple pack, sleeping bag, tarp, etc. Faced with this
prospect, I can see several options. Each of which has its share of costs
and benefits.

Option A - Turn Tail and Run - When faced with a mountain storm in strange
country, it's often difficult to really tell what the potential severity of
the storm will be. Local experience will certainly better prepare you to
first understand the signs of an approaching storm and possibly judge its
magnitude. Without that experience, or a weather channel implant in your
head, it's probably better to be safe than sorry.

Then the question becomes "Escape to where?". In this case the thru-hiker
can be somewhat at a disadvantage. The section maps in the guide book are
fine for following the trail in good weather. However, their range of
information is very narrow. This makes it more difficult judge the best
route to safety. One can easily walk of the map in an hour. Then what? In
this case, not having a $4.00 detail map that extends out beyond the
boundaries of the trail is more of a problem than anything else you're

Option B - Hunker Down and Ride it Out - If I'm stuck above timberline that
maybe a problem. A tarp doesn't provide for a pleasant shelter in a heavy
storm with high winds. While it's probably survivable, it's definitely not
on my Top Ten list of things to do on my summer vacation. 

If the storm permits, moving down below tree line is definitely preferable.
Setting up a tarp between a couple of stout trees can provide a good
shelter. In many way it's preferable to being in a tent. Tent poles have
been known to collapse from time to time. Without their poles, most tents
don't really lend themselves well to being setup between trees. 

Once the storms moved on then what? If just a few inches to a foot have
fallen, it's quite possible to continue on as if nothing has happen.
Provided that you've not been sequestered long enough to do serious damage
to your food stores. In that case, bailing out to town to re-supply is the
only real option. 

If a lot of snow has fallen, well you're really in a pickle. Hiking out in
waist deep snow is even further down my must do list. Assuming that is, you
can hike out. If I'd had the foresight to pack along a set of snowshoes,
things would be looking up a bit. But probably not by that much. I haven't
spent a lot of time using them, but I've spent enough to know you're not
going any where fast.  

In fact with deep snow, you've moved from the world of backpacking comfort
to survival. Now if I'm carrying a 40 plus pound pack, just what am I
carrying that would make my survival more likely? In actual fact, probably
not all that much. Unless I'm planning on sitting on my ass until the snow
melts or the rescue helicopter arrives, I'm going to need as much mobility
as possible. Something that gets increasingly difficult as pack weight

Also, I'm in the same predicament of Option A. Where do I go? Here's one
case were a 2 ounce map it far more valuable than a two pound stove. 

What about traditional equipment? 

In fact, how good is the traditional equipment in this scenario. A tent is a
nice shelter, but after struggling for hours down a mountain in deep snow,
are you going to take the time an energy to stamp out a suitable platform to
erect a tent. It's not very likely. In most cases you'll crawl into a tree
well and drape the fly over yourself. 

What about that stove? Surely it's got enough BTU's to melt a ton of snow
and make a great meal.  However, lighting one while hunkered down in a tree
well could be problematic. Getting it to fire without torching yourself or
your gear could be quite hard. Now image doing it with fingers stiff from
the cold or fatigue or shaking. 

How about that 7 lb pack that's designed to carry loads more appropriate for
a water buffalo while enabling you to prance down the trail like a gazelle.
It's doubtful it'll come in too handy now. While big enough to carry most of
your lifelong possessions, it's not quite big enough for you to crawl in and
use as an emergency bivy. 


In my case Flight is always preferable to Fight. So I'll endeavor to stay
mobile, learn my escape routes and try to say a step or two ahead of the

I'm sure many will disagree with either my scenarios or solutions. Which is
fine. I don't own the market on intelligence. I would encourage you come up
with your own scenarios and share your "Secrets of Survival" with the rest
of us.

Sorry for the length. Brevity isn't my strength.

Ron "Fallingwater" Moak
PCT 2000 Journey - http://www.fallingwater.com/pct2000

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