After hiking sections of the Great Divide Trail (The Wildest Thru Hike, or so they say) and the even wilder Gros Morne Traverses, we have seen rough trail conditions and variable weather. We have adapted our kits to cope with wet, with bugs, with sketchy trails (or nonexistent ones), with fluctuations in temperatures from hot sunny days to snow and ice on our tent.
But in choosing the Arizona Trail for our next hike, we are going to be challenged by a completely new set of variables. There will be some items in common, but enough differences to make it worthy to consider.
First, the temperatures will be higher. And drier. The elevation we will be dealing with will be higher also – even the Great Divide Trail does not reach the heights of the American Rockies in terms of elevation above sea level. The highest pass we hiked was Wonder Pass at just shy of 7800 feet. The height of Mica Mountain, our first big climb on the AZT is 8594 feet. Another thing to consider is when we did the GDT our home was at about 2000 feet, so the difference between the trail altitude and our home was not nearly as great as this time, where we live is just 50 feet above sea level. So, while it is possible we may see the remains of the winter on the AZT at certain moments, what we will have to plan for is management of water supplies and protection from the sun, and keeping cool (well, cooler anyway).
The AZT, we have been told, has bears but not like the Grizzlies of the Canadian Rockies. The consensus seems to be one doesn’t even require bear spray or food storage precautions they are so seldom seen. So that will lighten our load in one direction.
|ThermaRest Z-Lite Foam Pad
|Extra 1L Water Capacity
|Mid or Insulation Layer
But we will add weight in another area: our shelter. Many “Cowboy Camp” the AZT but we are going to bring our DurstonGear XMid 2P just in case. However, we have heard that the rocky desert and its abundant poky things will require consideration as well so we are adding weight there. So here’s a nerdy chart for you:
Going from pants to shorts will be interesting for me. I have always done the convertible pants thing, but for this trip I am just going to stick with shorts. Cheryl will probably have some leggings but she runs colder than I do.
Dropping the bear stuff will be a significant weight savings, and I am still processing breaking the cardinal rule of food in the backcountry – no food in your tent! Not sure how I am going to feel about it on trail but it seems that’s what people do on this trail.
The extra water capacity won’t add much weight if empty (Smartwater bottles don’t weigh much) but full that’s an extra 2 lbs. The GoPro is Cheryl’s weight – I take the tent so she carries the camera.
The question of base/midlayers and raingear is interesting to me. I know myself, sporadic storms are better dealt with in a fleece than a rainjacket/pants because I just wind up soaked with sweat in them (I only use rain pants to protect from morning dew and water off foliage). I’d rather be wet and warm in a fleece and dry out quickly than locking in all my own moisture! But, bringing two insulation layers (fleece and puffy) seems redundant with this trail. I’ll never wear them both. A puffy provides insulation on cold mornings and evenings, and wind resistance on windy days. The fleece provides water tolerant warmth but no resistance to wind. I am thinking just the puffy may be the way to go. I’ll have a set of technical base layers with me if it’s REALLY cold but doubt I’ll use them. They could also be used in a pinch if it’s raining, as they will still provide some warmth if wet. But I really don’t see it likely we will experience hours and hours of soaking rain on this hike.
The last thing to discuss is the tent/sleeping changes. I have seen horror stories of air mattresses being punctured in desert conditions. We watched a thru hike video of a couple who used larger egg crate mats as their sit pads, giving more area to recline and relax on during the day, and use under their air mattresses for extra insulation at night. We really like that idea, not so much for the insulation (Cheryl runs an X-Therm and I have a Tensor Alpine) but for protection from possible punctures. We will also bring a footprint for the tent – we have never needed one up to this point – it’s a durable tent! But it has never faced desert, so we will err on the side of caution.
One other tiny thing we will bring along – we like the idea of a cowboy camp, but find it hard to believe creepy crawlies won’t amble over to us at night so we are bringing Dan Durston’s “Stargazer Kit” – it weighs next to nothing and allows us to pitch the inner part of our tent without the fly – best of both worlds!