Thru-Hiking Gear That Can Make or Break a Relationship
We've been married 13 years and backpacked more than 12,000 miles together. This is what we've learned.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
In the new normal of inescapable household intimacy, the pettiest irritations can quickly escalate into intolerable aggravations. For some couples, this might be the ultimate test. But if you can survive quarantine together, you can certainly survive a long-distance hike.
Having backpacked 12,000-plus cumulative miles on the Appalachian Trail together, as well as sections of the Pacific Crest Trail and New Zealand’s Te Ararora, we can say with confidence that the gear we chose for long treks saved our marriage. And after years of testing, we’ve found that certain gear picks change the way we interact with each other and make it easier to coexist on the trail.
Shelter and Sleep Systems
When we decided to spend most of our fifth year together on an Appalachian Trail thru-hike, we knew we had to upgrade our shelter for more space. Our biggest complaint about our single-wall tent was that the front door—the only door—forced us to clamber over each other and our stuff in the vestibule if we needed to get out. It also lacked ventilation, so if one of us accidentally hit the tent wall in the morning, it resulted in an unwelcome shower of condensation.
Forking over the big bucks for our Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL2 tent ($450) stung at the time, but it has become our stalwart gear champion years later. (We’ve used multiple Copper Spur models as the line has evolved, and we recommend them all.)
This tent is one of the reasons our marriage is still thriving after hundreds of backcountry nights. Besides Patrice’s late-night bathroom trips being less disruptive thanks to two side doors, one of us brings more stuff than the other, so each of us having our own vestibule is like having individual closets. The steep walls yield 40 inches of headroom, and the 29 square feet of usable floor space helps prevent bumping elbows and fraying nerves.
Respect for personal space (and an average of one shower per week over several months) is also the reason we’ve maintained individual sleep systems. We have both opted for Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir XLite sleeping pads (starting at $145), but because Patrice is a cold sleeper, she sticks with a Therm-a-Rest Parsec 20-degree bag (starting at $370) and packs a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor liner ($63), just in case. Justin uses varying blankets and bags, such as the Feathered Friends Flicker UL Quilt sleeping bag ($439), depending on the temperature.
Cookware and Food
Trail-food habits certainly run a wide gamut. We met a hiker in New Zealand who chomped on cold ramen in order to go stove-less. Another guy on the Appalachian Trail carried a four-pound jar of peanut butter because he didn’t realize it would be easy to resupply. But we don’t judge, because we have our own quirks, like eating cold oatmeal out of the packets to speed up our morning routine and spare us dish duty.
Truthfully, we are lazy backpackers. And there are some choices we agree on, including meals and meal prep. We’ve done nothing more than boil two cups of water in our 1.4-liter pot from the GSI Outdoors Halulite Microdualist II cookset ($65), using our MSR PocketRocket 2 stove ($45), to put together a dehydrated meal night after night.
The most creative we get is to save certain meals for special occasions. We had Mountain House’s beef stroganoff ($8) the Thanksgiving we spent on top of Guadalupe Peak in Texas and ate Backpacker’s Pantry’s fettuccini Alfredo ($11) to celebrate Valentine’s Day in New Zealand. We spice up birthdays with a dehydrated dessert, like the Backpacker’s Pantry mocha mousse pie ($4).
Neither of us has a romantic notion of camp dinners over an open fire—too much time and effort. Plus, we are grazers, so splitting a two-serving meal at night is usually enough. At the end of a 20-mile day, we like to equally divide camp chores and keep our routine low fuss. There aren’t even any dishes, since we eat right out of the package with our long-handled GSI Outdoors Essential Travel spoon ($4).
Suffice it to say we’ve eaten more dehydrated dinners than we want to admit. We are so obsessed with this routine that when we thru-hiked New Zealand’s Te Araroa, we toted 76 dehydrated meals through customs for fear that we wouldn’t be able to find reasonably priced meal varieties overseas. Admittedly, we felt silly when the agent spilled the meals across a metal table and said, “You do know we have food in New Zealand, ay?”
Backpacks and Other Essentials
The same laziness applies to our water situation. Justin’s water intake is more camel than human, but Patrice has an unquenchable thirst and sweats when she looks at the sun. We match our opposite needs by using our Sawyer Mini water filter ($22) to drink on the spot during extended breaks at the various water sources. In addition, Patrice always carries a Gregory 3D Hydro 3L reservoir ($40), while Justin’s weight-saving strategy is to be more conservative, carrying maybe one liter on the hottest stretches.
You’ve probably figured this out by now, but we’ve never claimed to be ultralight, so that goes for our packs as well.
We lug around our life on our backs with the Gregory Deva 60 and Baltoro 65 (women’s and men’s, respectively, both $300). They’re our favorites because of their numerous pockets and compartments. We prefer this organized system to keep an efficient camp life. While Justin tends to shoulder more of our joint gear—particularly the tent—Patrice totes lunches and dinners, resulting in diminishing daily pack weight.
We fill our packs with our own snacks (gummies are a necessity) and personal gear. Justin’s luxury list is admittedly longer than Patrice’s, like his Therm-a-Rest Air Head Lite pillow ($35), a spotting scope, and one too many extra layers (another reason having his own vestibule has been a relationship game changer). One luxury item we agree on: our favorite card game, Monopoly Deal ($8).
It took years of misadventures and failures to perfect our backpacking system. If only we could go back in time to that first backpacking trip together in 2003 to tell ourselves that sharing one foam pad is not worth the cost savings.