Want to go really, really light? Take a hint from a guy who finished the Long Trail in less than 5 days.
Most thru-hikers trying to set a fastest known time try to cut their pack weight to the bare minimum, ditching everything extraneous in order to move as swiftly as possible. Almost none would stuff their backpack with rocks. But Joe “Stringbean” McConaughy had a good reason.
When McConaughy set out on June 10 on an attempt to break the self-supported speed record for Vermont’s Long Trail, he carried eight stones in his pack, each inscribed with the name of a Black victim of violence—George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery among them. The weight of those rocks, which added almost a pound to his pack, were a symbolic reminder of the systemic racism that affects Black Americans on the trail and off, as well as a reference to the 8 Can’t Wait movement for police reform.
It was McConaughy’s second attempt to set a FKT on the Long Trail, following a failed bid in 2015 and successful FKTs on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails. But this time, not even the extra weight could hold him back, and he smashed the previous record by more than a day, finishing the trail in 4 days, 23 hours, and 54 minutes.
The Long Trail is 273 miles long, with 65,000 feet of elevation gain. To finish in time, McConaughy hiked about 19 hours a day, averaging 54.5 miles per day. Along the way, he had to contend with mud and rough, rooty, and rocky terrain.
Clothing and Accessories: 4 pounds, 4.5 ounces
“This was the hardest terrain I had ever done over a sustained distance; I was expecting mud, rain, mild temps and endless rocks. The shoes worked great and I brought Injinji socks to prevent toe blisters. I still ended up with one on my pinky toe, and a few more from dried mud on my insoles, though.” — Joe McConaughy
Sleep System: 2 pounds, 5.6 ounces
“I tried to be as minimalist on the sleep system as possible. I ended up not needing the poncho for overnight rain protection. The bivy was super fast to set up ,and a quilt allows for great heating regulation and awesome weight. My Z-Lite Sol pad doubled as my internal pack frame.”
Hydration: 5.2 ounces
“Oh boy, did I have hydration problems. If I were to do it over, I’d bring 2 Sawyer Minis; as it was I gave into peer pressure and only brought one. On night 3, the o-ring on my Sawyer fell out, rendering it next to useless. I discovered I could create a one-time replacement by folding and inserting leaves between my water bottle and filter. It worked about 70% of the time and wasted a lot of energy.”
Pack: 11.9 ounces
“The Pa’lante Joey is my favorite pack. It’s minimalist, has butt pockets and front pocket access. On the other hand, I ended up with back chafing, but that had more to do with my decision to use a Z-Lite as padding. I also ended up with painful skin problems on my shoulders and ribs from chest strap rubbing; I should have done more backpacker showers to keep my skin fresh.”
Electronics 2 pounds, 1.9 ounces
“Along with hydration, this was my other pain point. To make a long story short, my headlamp died after accidentally turning on while I slept on night 4, forcing me to use my rapidly draining iPhone as a flashlight and costing me 2 or 3 hours. The SPOT was necessary to verify my FKT attempt, and I carried a GoPro to make a documentary, too.”
Personal Gear: 1 pound, 2.7 ounces
“I carried 8 rocks with the first names of Black individuals who were murdered by police and civilian brutality in order to acknowledge systemic racism and the fight for equality. Racism also affects Black people’s experiences with and perception of outdoor spaces; hopefully we can promote equal access for all people. Aside from that, I had a few normal personal items including Vaseline Lip Therapy balm (used for chafing and blister prevention) and a toothbrush (I should have used it more—I ended up with a throat infection).”