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After those last two downer posts, I had to get back on the happiness horse. Luckily, I tend to be a pretty optimistic, easy-to-amuse person, so a very simple activity these last few weeks has significantly boosted my mood. What has brought me to this new state of cheerfulness? Trekking equipment. Thinking about it. Organizing it. Buying more of it. Packing it and unpacking it. (I could continue …)

Recently, I have begun to tentatively plan for a very long hike. There is almost nothing on earth that makes me happier than waking up each morning with nothing on my agenda but lacing up my hiking boots and having a full day of walking ahead of me. (Except maybe doing it the next day and many more after that … or maybe the thought of getting into my tent at the end of a day and organizing my little living quarters before snuggling in for the night.)

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

But before all that happens, just planning out all the parts gives me great joy. Simply put, I LOVE hiking gear and just taking it out and playing with it can lift my spirits immensely. (I know – you’re getting worried about me now, but I’m pretty normal – honest!)

What has gotten me back on this equipment kick in the middle of winter? Tonight, I will attend a meeting on through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2000+-mile trek from Georgia to Maine. I really doubt this particular hike will turn out to be my first attempt at an epic trek because it takes a good six months and I still have a job (and all that equipment funding!) to think about. While this one is likely to be in the more distant future, I am reading up on the Camino de Santiago (only 30 days or so), the Via de la Plata (6 weeks), and other protracted hikes that can still fit into my summer break from teaching. (Feel free to pass along ideas!)

Many of the longer treks I’ve done to date have been supported by horses, yaks, and other beasts of burden, so I could pack just my medium duffel and a decent-sized daypack with all my goodies.

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But now I’m excited about my new, bigger pack – the repository for everything I’ll need for a multi-week or –month hike. Weird as it may seem, I find myself smiling just loading it up, experimenting with compartments and gear and trying to get everything down to the lightest weight I can since every bit of it will travel on my back and shoulders.

All packed up and nowhere to go

All packed up and nowhere to go

When I think about those contents and go shopping, I am similarly delighted, but I’m not always a buyer. I’m a sometime-sucker for the coolest, lightest, smallest, most waterproof, warmest hiking and travel equipment I can find, but I don’t really believe a lot of the product hype. It’s so much fun to look at and consider, but it really doesn’t have to be the strongest, techiest, most perfect product to be of great value to me. For example, I adore my Big Agnes sleeping bag. At three pounds, she’s a hefty gal compared with the ultralights, but I’ll carry those extra two pounds for weeks if it means I’m toasty warm and can move my legs inside the bag every night on the trail. For years, I carried an ancient North Face backpack with minimal features (no pole loops, no chest strap) and I was happy as a clam in my comfortable old friend. On the other hand, I was willing to shell out (no pun intended) for an Arc’teryx rain jacket, and it’s been worth every one of the many dimes I spent on it.

The clothing is less fun than the other gear but still an enjoyable venture. I’ve owned some of the ugliest pairs of hiking pants ever manufactured; only in the last few years have outfitters been trying to slim these pants down and make them a little more stylish and interesting to buy. So yes, I do care about my pants, but trendiness does not factor into many of my other travel clothing choices. My base and mid-layers are frighteningly old and worn, and my baseball cap has seen better days, but sometimes we avid trekkers take perverse pride in our aged gear, glancing a bit condescendingly at the perfectly-attired hikers we encounter on the trail in their color-coordinated outfits and shiny new watches with a million functions.

And what seems cool in the store may not pass the test on the trail anyway. REI, EMS, Backcountry (and the mother-of-all-gear-shops in Namche Bazaar on the trail to Everest, if you’re ever in the neighborhood) can put me in a state of almost drug-induced euphoria, but I’ve purchased my share of “waterproof” gloves that were sopping wet in 15 minutes, a handy little compass-thermometer-carabiner combo that was wildly inaccurate, leg gaiters that leaked, and “quick-dry” clothes that never dried for days on end.

Then again, sometimes a product is so perfect that I’m terrified I won’t be able to replace it. Years ago, I found some Keen hiking boots that were so comfortable and hardy that I’ve now stockpiled multiple boxes of them in my size and favorite colors. I only hope I can keep trekking as long as the supply lasts.

Good for another 2000 miles?

Good for another 2000 miles?

Meanwhile, I am spending these gloomy winter days happily sorting my stash of gear and roaming around the internet in search of some lengthy rambles and, suddenly, I am sunny and smiling again!

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