Editor’s note: This is the seventh of an eight-part series by writer / photographer Brian Buckner about hiking in the Cuenca area. To read the earlier installments, see the links at the bottom of the article.
By Brian Buckner
I’m going to make this one pretty easy, on me anyway. I’m going to tell you what packs I currently use and what’s in them. I’m a moderately experienced hiker and I often hike at 12,500-feet of altitude, past that, 13,000-feet a couple of times a month. [All the gear I outline here has served me well so far at these elevations and, at times, under very challenging, even dangerous, atmospheric conditions.]
The way I carry my stuff around is pretty simple.
I use a pack made by F-Stop to carry a pro camera body and up to three lenses and all kinds of other support gear. The pack itself is very heavy duty with extra padding since its job is to protect your camera gear from dust, rain and impact. Serious miles might be more than anyone would find fun while wearing this since the pack, by itself, is heavy. I try to keep it to one lens or maybe two and just a few basic items. And, I use a 3/4 liter water bladder that is contained within the pack. With the water bladder, a pro body and two lenses the weight is doable.
Also onboard is my rain- and cold- weather gear. I can make at least seven or eight miles with this setup. If the challenge is a steep climb with that gear load, the distance goes down accordingly. If it’s really steep, I might not be able to do it with this pack and have to resort to something a little lighter.
All Around Day Pack
I have an Osprey 35-liter day pack with a water bladder in it also. It has a built in light aluminum frame they call “air speed.” Support with loads is pretty good and I have enough room to pack enough for a very light overnighter, if I want. This is the perfect size pack to handle some serious snacks and your rain and cold weather gear. Strap on a light bedroll and ground cover and split the makings of a two person tent with a friend and you’ll be able to watch the stars come nightfall without having to head back to the trailhead. That’s the limit though, for this size pack.
Both these packs have loops and elastics for ice axes or trekking poles, a very handy feature to store your poles when you’re not wanting them. I use separate rain covers with both these packs, they are water resistant but not waterproof and the rain covers add much security. Some packs come with a cover built in on a short tether to keep you from misplacing it. Other company’s charge you separately for the rain cover. F-Stop includes theirs as does Lo-Pro, Osprey does not. However, their packs are awesome and you might just have to buy a rain cover to go with it like I did.
What’s In that pack?
If your pack can’t accommodate a water bladder, then just use bottled water and store the containers in sleeves that the pack should have for water bottle storage. Edie likes to use her refillable 24 oz Nalgene bottle in lieu of store bottles. I keep a small first aid setup in my pack. I have a small bite kit for venomous snakes or spiders. Also on board, two serious elastic ankle and/or knee wraps. These are a very important and low weight item that I hope you’ll never have to use. Maybe you’ll just stare at them and think bad thoughts about my suggestion that they should always be with you. An ankle or knee injury is not only painful but can incapacitate you. One or both of these just might get you back to the trailhead if need be. Always carry a multi-tool like a Leather-man or a good quality medium bladed folding knife. This is another indispensable item, being able to cut a variety of materials cleanly and quickly is important to me. I use a Spyderco “Police” with a half serrated blade that can cut a 2” stick in half if it has to. I also carry a smaller sized Leather-man that contains pliers, screwdrivers, file, knife, awl. etc. You’ll need a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen, or both. I use sunscreen and wear a bandana. SPF 50 is a good place to start. The Andean sun here along the equator is formidable. Make it a habit to apply sunscreen to exposed areas before exposure. Don’t forget your ears!
I’ve mentioned trekking poles. Some people swear by them but others don’t use them. Some think it’s a sign of being an incompetent hiker. Actually, it’s a sign of your mental competency to always have them with you. They are equally as valuable on ascents as they are on descents, taking a load off your knees in both cases. Plus, they can give you better traction and balance in most situations. I use Black Diamond brand, carbon fiber for the two upper sections and aluminum for the lower. They are very light and strong too. Edie uses the same brand but she uses poles whose three sections are all carbon fiber. That’s more the trend so I’ll be upgrading when need be. These things wear like iron. I have about ten thousand miles on my current pair.
Headlamps and snacks
You will need some snacks to keep your body fueled along your route. Use high protein, low weight items that avoid the need for refrigeration. Various types of jerked meats, dried fruit and nuts should be your staples. I always travel with high percentage cacao chocolate. It gives me a physical and psychological boost and helps me forget my tired body and achy feet after too many miles in a day.
While you are at it, throw a headlamp in your pack. The headlamps these days are not those of the past. For a little cash, you can have an all LED headlamp with at least one really bright LED and a set of smaller lights for battery saving closer in viewing. I use Black Diamond but there are several good brands.
The more batteries they take, generally, the brighter the light output. I have a single one-watt LED flanked by two 1/4-watt LED’s. This doesn’t seem like much but I can see out about 200’ with the single 1-watt LED. I use the two smaller ones to lighten the way when I’m on the trail, reading or gathering fire makings. Some of these headlamps use several batteries, mine uses 4 double A’s. [That can feel cumbersome on the back of your noggin even though I do it anyway.] However, mine has a neat little pouch that holds the battery compartment so it can be worn on your body like a bandolier and now your headlamp is featherweight on your head. Another plus to this is that batteries last much longer when they are kept warm. I keep my little harness under my clothing, next to my body where the batteries stay as warm as they can. It doesn’t matter a lot unless you are climbing at elevation in the cold and wind. In that case, wear them close to your body as I’ve described if your headlamp has an off-board battery feature.