How decisions get made

I got to castella ca and found two packages waiting for me at ammaritis market. A “new” mid sleeve hiking shirt, a replacement section for a damaged hiking pole, new socks, and a fully functional air mattress make a beautiful tableau. But, I arrive Monday, wait until noon to finish with my food resupply and mail my damaged air mattress back home, and the next post office in Etna closes Friday afternoon. I don’t feel like doing the big miles to maybe not quite make it there in time. What to do with two new free days?

Immediately I decide to break the 100+ miles into five 20 mile chunks instead of four 25 miles chunks. My feet have been making some noise and I think I am due for some new shoes. I will have a lazy morning at camp, let my stuff dry out, and spend a little time at ammaritis looking for a hitch to the gear store in Mt Shasta. If nothing turns up, I may go ahead and walk to Etna and try to hitch to Shasta from there on Sunday.

That is how it goes. I am still loving this adventure. Living outside is magical.

…a few hours later… Some guys pulled up next to me in camp where I was writing and asked if I needed anything. So, I got a pretty easy hitch to Shasta for new shoes and a few essentials. I hope your lives are going this smoothly 🙂


May 10

Hey all. I am having some phone and/or external battery issues. No charge is happening. So if this is it for a while, don’t freak out!

Roughly 15 miles outside of Wrightwood now and will decide later whether or not to go in to town tonight or camp nearby and go in early tomorrow. This was not a scheduled stop, but I am behind schedule and need some more food!

Lots to tell you about. Hopefully this is an external battery and not a Phone issue. If it is phone related, I may not be back in action until after I get to Joe’s and can get into LA – around a week??

The Grand Canyon was spectacular. Turned out that just Joe and I hiked and it was nice to have that time together. My body held up well. My left leg is pretty much fine now. My right is the new target. My physical prep covered big muscles and cardio well. But there are a lot of little muscles below the knee.

I meant to take it really easy and just do 15 miles a day when back on the PCT, but my second day back on trail I did 24 to walk out of a snow/hail storm/damp cloud mass just sitting on top of this mountain. Done 20s every day and feel pretty good. I wish I still had my old speed. I am getting these 20s the hard way, through long hours rather than a fast pace.

Green Valley Part Two

I am enjoying my time at Casa de Luna. In addition to getting to spend some time with Joe and Terrie, I am doing final gear tests. The only bits of gear that I had not previously field tested while hiking and camping were my new camera, new tent, and new water filter.

The water filter is pretty straight forward and with the little tests I ran at home it seems fine.


I walked down to the community center, played 9 holes of disc golf, then climbed Jupiter Mountain to run some camera tests. The iPhone 5S performed well, so I do not think the new lumix will make the trip. In related news, I am also abandoning the lifeproof case. I have used one while hiking before, but only on short trips where I had also had a camera and a small iPod and just had the phone with me to not leave it in the car. The lifeproof case does protect the device but you can’t really use the phone with it on – or at least I can’t. With or without a headset – no one can hear me when talking on the phone – and I can just barely hear them. The still camera works fine (though I have yet to test how the flash works) but the case compromises any sound one may wish to capture in a video.

In an attempt to find a way to stay relevant, yahoo altered their Flickr policies and now offer 1 terabyte of free photo storage. I signed up and have been trying it out. There have been three drawbacks thus far: the first upload created around 15 duplicate images, I can’t figure out how to create new “sets” via the phone app, and I had to create a yahoo account – something I have avoided diligently for years. If I can get those two issues sorted out, Flickr should be incredibly useful during this hike.

The last issue is a big one. I don’t like my brand new tent. It is well made, easy to pitch, and the design is solid – it just isn’t big enough for me. I slept in it the past two nights and I can’t take my clothes off in the tent. There is just barely enough room to even get inside my sleeping bag and I can’t do that without running my head and other bits on the tent walls – which is not good.

Joe has several tents and I tried them all out today. The six moon designs Gatewood cape is a little small for me and the lack of a bug net is a big drawback. He also has an older model six moons lunar solo. This is also not big enough. They changed the design to accommodate taller hikers in 2012 – and this was the top tent on my list before I talked myself out of it.

Joe also has a zpacks hexamid twin tent. I was looking at the zpacks tents hard and liked them quite a bit. They are around half the weight of their competitors but about twice the price. After pitching the zpacks a few times, I replaced all the guy lines with fresh cord and linelocs (which I ordered from Zpacks and brought with me from PA) – then pitched it a few more times.

That tent feels good. I am getting better and faster with the pitch. I think I would already be quite good at it if this was a smaller one person model rather than the two person unit. Now I have to do the frustrating research/guesswork of comparing the dimensions of the models I tested today with models that are actually for sale to try and pick a winner.

Two pieces of good news: Joe will let me borrow a tent for awhile, you don’t need the shelter very often in SoCal this time of year. Freak rain and snow storms have happened and I shall be prepared, but those are not the norm. I should be able to hike with one of Joe’s tents, order myself a new one and have it sent to his house, and he will bring it along on our Grand Canyon side trip a few weeks from now.

Things could be worse. There are far harder challenges to face than this one, and I am lucky to have the help and support of a good friend and trail dog. Whoooooop Whooop!!


Physical preparation


Note – I am now operating via iPhone only. Bear with me folks.

A few people have asked me about physical conditioning. Some who have seen my daily itinerary have asked about my fitness to do an average of 25 miles a day over and over.

I feel good about my physical readiness for this trip. While I am a pretty active guy in general, I did some specific training to prepare for the PCT. I started in earnest in the spring of 2013. I began taking more and longer walks.

I live in a small town in Lancaster County, PA. This is farm country with nothing but rolling hills in every direction. We don’t have a ton of elevation change on any one hill. 300 feet is not a bad estimate of the average change. But there are generally at least 2 of these rolling hills in every mile. Several US cycling teams train in the area.

It did take me a while to get used to walking without having a canine companion, but I adjusted. I found a few circuits that I enjoy that do not require any driving. These are my favorite kind of hikes. Just walk out your door and go. I started doing a 13 mile loop with a 20 pound pack at least once a week and more often when I had the time. I would finish the circuit in about 4 hours including several short rest stops and usually a 15-30 minute stop to read and reflect in a beautiful gazebo.

I used these walks not just for conditioning but for gear tests. I tried out several pairs of pants, shirts, hats, and socks until I found the gear that really works for me.

I started running again after I quit smoking last November. Once December hit and the cold really set in, I joined a gym and kept running inside. From December 7th to early March, I only skipped three days. I ran (or hit the elliptical) for at least 1 mile every day. Most days it was 3-6 miles, and I kept an 8 minute mile pace on average.

In January, I started with a weight training program as well. Nothing too intense or extensive but the 30 minute machine circuit at my gym hits all/most major muscle groups and is a great place to start for anyone who has never done weights before. I did that every other day.

Despite the wicked cold and lots of snow, I still went hiking on some of my favorite woodsy trails at least twice a month through the winter. I hiked when it was 12 degrees, old snowpack in the woods, and fresh snow falling. I would take a 20 pound pack and hike 6-12 miles depending on the conditions.

The past few weeks I left the elliptical behind and went back to the treadmill to get my feet used to the pounding again and my body to walking instead of running or elliptical-ing. I set the incline for maximum, and the pace at 4 mph and rocked out for a solid hour. Sometimes I would do another 15 or 20 minutes but most days I would begin my cool down after the hour.

When I combine the past 12 months of physical conditioning and gear testing with my prior experience hiking big days in the Grand Canyon or Mt Humphreys in Flagstaff and completing the John Muir Trail through the Sierras – I feel confident.

None of this is to say that everything will be rosy. Some days will be hard. I just mean that I am really comfortable and confident with the capabilities of my body, my gear, and my mind.

I am ready. Let’s do this!



The magical manzanita forest at Casa de Luna. It will be interesting to see how much greenery is here when I am back in a few weeks…

Gear List – PCT 2014

Hi Folks! It has been awhile. I hope you are well. Aww thanks, me too! How is the family? The kids? Great, great, good to hear.

Holtwood Dam 3/22
Holtwood Dam 3/22

I have been super duper ultra busy the past few months getting ready for this hike – working on the plans, buying the last minute gear, figuring out my resupply strategy and buying food, packing boxes, testing gear and replacing a few items, and doing my real job, and working with my favorite volunteer group Lancaster Young Professionals. I have been the acting event chair for a gubernatorial debate to be held this October and had many tasks to finish up as well as finding and briefing/training my replacement. Work at RAI has exploded with opportunities, which is good, but the timing is problematic. My dad and I have gamed out as many scenarios as we can, done lots of contract work, and created plans for many different possible futures. Yesterday and today we have been doing all the last minute stuff before he gets on a jet to the MidEast. Normally, i would be going with him, but we both decided it made sense for me to continue on with my plan and let him run with the ball solo for a bit. Potentially missing some of the early stages of the pending business development just means i lose the right to complain about how things are set-up when i get back 🙂 I have also had to wear my tech hat quite a bit getting my dad up to speed on a new computer, introducing an iPad into our workflow, and preparing my mom to be as tech savvy as possible during the research portion of her sabbatical. That’s my paragraph long update and excuse – now to business!

Humbled receiving LYP's Humanitarian Award
Humbled receiving LYP’s Humanitarian Award 3/20 – Photo Credit: Melissa Engle Photography

If you research lightweight hiking, or ultra lightweight hiking, you will find loads of information and many, many gear lists. I get frustrated reading some gear lists. How one approaches hiking and gear selection can be deeply personal and i am not trying to change anyone’s mind about their process. But it does irk me to see so very many gear lists trumpeting Base Pack Weights (all gear and supplies except food and water) at or under 12 pounds that are about 15-20 items long. Any hiker can read those and know, there is tons of small stuff left off of those lists. Small stuff adds up. If you are taking the time to weigh your stuff and make and publish lists, just be real about it. That is my feeling. With that said, here is my actual, no expletive around, gear list.

Base Pack Weight without Bear Canister = 16.17 pounds
Base pack Weight with Bear Canister = 18.73 pounds

The Big Three Description Weight Oz.
Pack Gossamer Gear Mariposa 28.00
Sleeping Bag Z Packs 20 Wide XL with sack 22.70
Sleeping Pad Neo Air X Lite 12.70
Liner Homemade Silk 6.40
Tent, stakes, Stuff sack Tarptent Contrail 29.30
Totals – Ounces   99.10
Totals – Pounds   6.19
Kitchen Description Weight Oz.
Stove Pocket Rocket w/case 3.95
Lighter Bic Mini 0.40
Fuel Can Large Full MSR 227 g canister – 13.2 oz 13.20
Pot SP TI 600 w/lid 3.50
Spoon Yogi Orange 0.20
Cup Sea to Summit X Mug 2.20
Drying Cloth Cut Micro Towel 0.20
* Bear Can BV 500 40.95
Totals – Ounces   64.60
Totals – Pounds   4.04
Water Description Weight Oz.
Bladder/Hose Platypus Hoser 1L 3.15
Bottles 1L powerade 1.70
Reservoir Platypus 2 L 1.75
Reservoir MSR 4L 4.30
* Filter – Sawyer Squeeze Mini 16 oz Bag, filter, and Backflush tool 4.15
Purification Aquamira full 3.10
Water gear bag StoS XXS 0.40
Totals – Ounces   18.55
Totals – Pounds   1.16
Clothes in Pack Description Weight Oz.
Socks – Hiking second pair Smartwool PHD Run Mini Light Cushion M 1.65
Long Underwear tops Cap 2 Large 5.65
Long Underwear Bottoms Patagonia Cap 2 Medium 4.90
shorts Nike black with white stripe 4.00
Rain Jacket Marmot 13.55
* Rain Pants EMS (11.6 oz)
Balaclava Army 1.50
Down Jacket Golite 6.75 6.75
Hat Army Watchcap 1.25
Gloves Cheap cotton garden gloves 1.60
Camp Shoes Crocs – size 10 14.00
Bag for clothes gossamer gear poly sack 1.35
Totals – Ounces   56.20
Totals – Pounds   3.51
Incidentals/Emergency Description Weight Oz.
Whistle Fox 40 Sharx 0.45
Compass Burton Classic 1.25
Headlamp/main light Photon Light w/necklace 0.25
Kindling Sol Tinder Quik 0.05
Emergency fire starter Matches in Waterproof case 0.90
Skin Repair Super Glue x 2 0.45
repair kit/q-tips/earplugs sewing/gear tape/qtips/ear plugs 0.60
Tick Key Tick Key 0.15
Soap Dr Bronners 0.55
nail clippers toe 1.55
Microcloth – personal towel Cut up 0.55
Rope 2 mm 30 ft plus cord wrap 0.50
Headnet Sea to summit 0.90
Bandanna Lucas and PCT Class 2.20
Notebook/Pencil/Zip From Marie 1.70
iPhone 5S with lifeproof 5.35
charge cords 1 Lightning 1 mico usb 0.90
usb charge block Anker 5 port 8.45
Camera lumix DMC-ZS20 7.40
external battery Anker 6000 4.70
more cords camera 1.30
Headphones Sony DREX61IP 0.45
Tooth Kit brush/paste/floss/zip 2.00
Sunblock Sport 1 OZ 1.30
Watch Small w/band 0.60
Lip Stuff Bert’s Bees 0.25
Knife Swiss Army small 0.75
Maps HalfMile Sections per food drop 3.00
Summit Backpack Stuff Sack Sea to Summit 2.60
bags/Zips camera zip 0.25
bags/Zips anker hub/bat/cords zip 0.25
bags/Zips StoS XXS drawstring emergency 0.45
Totals – Ounces   52.05
Totals – Pounds   3.25
Toilet Kit Description Weight Oz.
Trowel GSI 2.95
Hand Sani 2 oz container 2.35
Triple Antibac-cream Equate hydro 1.00
Wipes MYO 10-pack from bulk pack 2.15
Trash bag 1 quart freezer zip 0.20
Toilet Gear Bag StoS XXS Drawstring 0.45
Totals – Ounces   9.10
Totals – Pounds   0.57

* items: Bear Can – only need for around 300 miles through the Sierras
Water filter – may send home after the desert, may keep whole hike
Rain Pants – i will not carry these for the ~1,700 miles of California. Might mail them to myself in OR or WA, might not. Never seen or heard of comfortable rain pants. Mine certainly are not. I kinda figure that i am planning to walk outside for 4-5 months, sometimes i might get wet.

Not part of Base Pack Weight Calculations, but important gear none-the-less:

Not in Pack Description Weight Oz.
Hike Pants EcoMesh pants w/belt 12.00
Hike Shirt Patagonia Cap 1 Large 6.75
Hike Socks Smartwool PHD Run Mini Light Cushion M 1.70
Hike Hat Tilley 3.80
Sunglasses Ironman Triatholon 1.10
Poles w/duct tape Leki Khumbu 21.00
Shoes Merrel Moad Vent (10 W) 34.50
Gaiters Dirty Girl Large 1.10
Insoles Super feet green E 3.90
Totals – Ounces   85.85
Totals – Pounds   5.37

There may be some other gear write-ups later, but there may not. Let me know if you have any questions or if there is anything you would like to know more about.

If you made it this far down the page, shouldn’t you get a little reward? Of Course! How about a short little movie combing still pics and video from this weekend’s hike near Holtwood Dam?

Family Hiking

My dad has been interested in my preparations for the PCT, and told me that he would like to go on some more hikes together. After we hiked Kelly’s Run to The Pinnacle (pics here) he was excited to do more trips. When i have time for overnight or gear shakedown hikes i head out to the AT and hike south. It is great to hike anywhere outside of rocky PA, and my last AT hike stopped just about ten miles outside of Shenandoah National Park. My family spent a lot of time in SNP when i was just a wee lad. I can remember park rangers teaching us how to walk like “indians” through Big Meadows, and many other trips. My dad told me that he wanted to do some overnight hiking with me and was very excited about the opportunity for us to return to SNP together, and to do it in the winter when the crowds would be quite thin and the views would be unlike anything you would see in the Park at any other time of year.

Kelly's Run
From “P” blue loop clockwise to orange to first camera to white to second black to orange to blue clockwise back to “P”. Gotta love PA!!

To facilitate that, we have to outfit him with some gear. That meant that he got his own section in my incredibly dorky but highly useful gear spreadsheet. We loaded a pack for him, using much of the actual gear he would need to carry on an overnight, and headed out to Holtwood Dam for a 12 mile shakedown hike. Including 3 liters of water, Vance was carrying 25.3 pounds when we left the car. I like the area near Holtwood, on the west side of the Susquehanna. There are lots of rhododendrons and streams and very very few other hikers – even during peak times. I have hiked around here many times, but there are three trips that stand out and i have made movies for you from the pics and video shot on those hikes.

Map of Holtwood Hikes
Hike 1 = Green to Green, Hike 2 = Red to Red, Hike 3 = Blue to Blue

Hike 1 = My first long hike here with Luacs in 2011 (7:50)
Hike 2 = Mother’s Day hike with Mom and Dad in 2013 (2:47)
Hike 3 = Shakedown hike with Vance in 2014 (7:55)

It was a cold day, but it is such a beautiful hike and we had fun. Vance handled the weight and the mileage very well. After that hike, he had a new appreciation for my anal approach to tracking weight and was eager to lose some pack pounds wherever possible. We have since changed things up, pulling or swapping out some gear and clothes. I also have a few more pieces of gear on order and a few yet to buy. We are looking at our first SNP hike to begin in late February and are both really excited about it!

Vance with full pack
Vance with full pack
Nick and Vance
Nick and Vance

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 6

Cooking Systems – Save the best for last!

The short story: i have been converted and now cook with denatured alcohol. I got a titanium Caldera Cone (plus titanium floor insert) matched to my Snow Peak 600 Titanium mug and now my stove and pot weigh 5.95 ounces! A fuel bottle, filled with enough to boil 2 cups of water eight times, adds 4.75 ounces. This is a big weight and bulk savings compared to all my old kits. I can boil two cups of water, all i ever need for both rehydrating food (2/3-1 cup) and having a hot beverage (the remainder), in about 5 minutes on 1/2 ounce of fuel. (Tests performed at low altitude ~ 2,000 ft, but low temps ~ 15 F.) And it is super duper quiet!

Snow Peak no lid
Snow Peak no lid
Snow Peak with lid
Snow Peak with lid

I had to make two adjustments to the Snow Peak. I ordered an aftermarket titanium lid, and i added some silicone tubing to the handles so that they can be easily held while the pot is hot. I got both ideas from Jason Klass.

The Caldera Cone (CC) is really neat. It comes with an alcohol stove and a combo unit windscreen/pot-stand. All the elements of this design work together to maximize efficiency. Each CC  is sized specifically for an individual cooking pot so that the pot is held the best distance from the flame created by the stove, and so that the windscreen/pot-holder channels heat to the right places. I ordered the optional “floor” for the stove and am so pleased with that choice. I cannot believe that these are optional instead of mandatory! Not only does the addition of the floor help to reflect heat into the cooking process instead of it being lost into the earth, it is much safer.

Caldera Cone Components
Caldera Cone Components
Caldera Cone assembled with Snow Peak
Caldera Cone assembled with Snow Peak

The main reason it took me so long to try an alcohol stove system was a concern about safety. Denatured alcohol is clear and invisible, even the flames are nearly impossible to see. Some forest fires have been started by people using denatured alcohol stoves. Like any system, it can be used properly or improperly and there are a few things one can do to make it safer. Adding a drop or three of food coloring to your fuel makes it easy to see the fuel in liquid form (though the flames are still tough to see). I chose green because it reminds me of the Mr Yuck poison stickers of my youth. Using a floor is also a fantastic safety aid. Even being very careful, it is difficult not to spill a few drops of the fuel when you are going for the primer pan, as one does in cold weather. If you have your stove centered on a metal floor before you add the fuel, any excess will burn on the metal and not the forest floor.

The caldera cone and floor easily fit against the walls inside my bear canister. The stove fits inside my cook pot. This protects both items and provides a kitchen with a minimal footprint inside my pack. A full kitchen kit with fuel for at least 4 days at 10.7 ounces! Incredible!!

Old MSR Pot
Old MSR Pot
Pot/Stove/Fuel Canister ready for use
Pot/Stove/Fuel Canister ready for use

Here are some pics and stats on my previous kitchen kits. For the John Muir Trail in 2012, i carried an old MSR pot, the MSR pocket rocket, and used canister fuel. This pot alone weighs 15.7 ounces. The pocket rocket weighs 4 ounces. And an almost empty fuel canister weighs 6.9 ounces. A full canister weighs 12.6 ounces. One of the many problems with the fuel canister system is that there is no way to accurately gauge how much fuel is left in a canister. At re-supply points, you have to decide: do i go to the next resupply point hoping that this canister has enough fuel to get me there, do i buy a new canister, do i carry both the old canister and the new canister, or do i leave a used canister with an unknown amount of fuel here for someone else? Another problem is that you are really not supposed to use a windscreen with a fuel canister stove. Makes sense. Do not trap and aim heat at your compressed gas canister that has a light torch on top. But that does make it take far longer to boil water in the field with these systems. This system weighs 19.6 ounces, or 1 1/4 pounds – without any fuel!! OH – and they are REALLY LOUD!

GSI Pinacle Soloist
GSI Pinnacle Soloist
Soloist with fuel can
Soloist with fuel can

I got this pot, the GSI Pinnacle Soloist because it is smaller, lighter, and a fuel canister fits inside of the pot! Pretty cool feature and not a bad system. The soloist weighs 8.4 ounces and it does still have way more capacity than i need on solo hikes, so i looked for another solution. I found another GSI pot, the Haulite Minimalist. This is a nice little pot. Weighing in at 6.45 ounces with all its accessories, it is not as light as Snow Peak, but it has a few cool features. The pot cozy is very convenient. It also comes with a pot gripper thingy so you can pick it up when it is hot. The pot gripper has a magnet inside it which is great if one cooks with fuel canisters because the pot gripper will stick to your fuel can and you will not lose it nor set it down in the dirt. The lid is pretty much trash. It is much heavier than it needs to be and it has a thick rubbery seal that extends past the edge of the pot, so that when you are cooking, it is difficult to not burn/melt the lid.

GSI Minimalist
GSI Minimalist
GSI Minimalist assembled
GSI Minimalist assembled

This is my primary backup pot and the one i will use when taking other folks (who do not have their own gear) out backpacking with me. My dad and i are planning to hike the AT through Shenandoah National Park in January and this will probably be his pot for that trip. Given that it is still a very useful pot, i am going to order a new lid for it from the good folks at four dog stoves!

If any of this is unclear or you would like more information, do feel free to ask questions! I have made my first official youtube video, and may begin adding some video components to future blogs and gear reviews. Ideally, i will wait until i have moved this blog to its new hosting place and can directly embed video, but if my multitude of readers have burning questions that only a video can answer, things could go another way…

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 5

Hydration Supplements

I have been a gatorade guy for many years. It was the first hydration supplement and it is very inexpensive. Gatorade powder while messy, is transportable. I learned as a young boy that i sweat a lot, and that i must take care to avoid dehydration. I had a few bad spells with this before i learned my lesson.

Newport 1984
Newport 1984

I aim for two quarts of electrolyte replacement per day when backpacking*. That can get bulky, heavy, and turn into a bit of a sticky mess when dealing with Gatorade powder. On my quest to lighten my pack and re-think old systems, i decided it was high time to investigate the modern world of electrolyte replacements. A little research brought these five products to the front. I read about each of them and created a chart to compare costs. Hydration Supplement Cost

With the results from the cost comparison in hand, i decided that i wanted to try the Nuun tablets. The tablet concept sounds great. No messing about with powder or figuring out how to get it from a ziplock into your water vessel. The Nuun tabs are also approved for use in hydration bladders. I have not tried this yet and am not sure if i will, but it is nice to know that is a viable option. The Camelbak tabs seem very similar to the Nuun on paper, and may even be marginally cheaper, but i operate by quarts or liters in the woods and wanted a supplement that would lend itself well to that system. Nuun formulated their product so that one tab dissolves in 16 oz of water, two tabs for one quart. Camelbak designed their system so that one tab dissolves in 24 oz of water. This does not work well for me. If you operate on more of a base 12 water system, that may be the product for you.

My local EMS had a tube of the Active Hydration lemon lime tabs and i tried them out. The taste was a little more like mineral water than i prefer, but the ease of use and the savings in weight made up for that. After that initial test, i ordered a variety pack of U Natural Hydration. Not only do these have fewer ingredients and additives, they are smaller and lighter. They taste better than the original Nuun lemon lime tabs i tried as well. Check out these comparisons to Gatorade powder:

3 Quarts Nuun U Natural Hydration = .7 oz
3 Quarts Nuun U Natural Hydration = .7 oz
3 Quarts Gatorade Powder = 7.55 oz
3 Quarts Gatorade Powder = 7.55 oz

Though Gatorade powder is still the reigning champ when it comes to cost, the savings in weight and bulk, and the added convenience of the Nuun tabs has made these my new electrolyte replacement solution.

Next time: Cooking systems

Rock On!

* I tend to both drink and sweat more than many folks. The amount of water i consume is one of the things other backpackers and fitness people tend to argue about with me. You hydrate your way. I’ll carry my own water. I drink 5 liters of water a day minimum – and that is just a normal day at home. Other folks argue with me that “you don’t need electrolyte replacements”. I say again, you hydrate your way. I have been near dehydration several times and it is no fun. I have seen other trained and fit athletes stopped in their tracks, and in serious pain and some danger, due to dehydration. The first aid techniques i have studied all agree that water alone is not the best way to fight dehydration. In addition to all that, it is really nice to have something besides water to drink 🙂

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 4

I am going to rock through Hydration Bladders and Base Layers quickly today, paving the way for two more posts in this series: Hydration/Electrolyte Supplements and Cooking Systems.

I tested Patagonia’s Capeline 1 and 2 upper body base layers on this trip, hiking in the Cap 1 and sleeping in the Cap 2. I liked both of these items better than my old system using Under Armour Heat Gear as a base layer. The fabric on the Cap 1 feels great and looks super high-tech. The Cap 2 also feels very good. The weave looks a little weird though. You can sort of see through the weave almost like on a wide wale corduroy.

Cap 1 is supposed to be the lightest series they make. Cap 2 should be a little bit heavier and a little bit warmer. I noticed no difference in the warmth of the two garments (on this hike and in subsequent use). My Cap 1 weighs 6.75 ounces and my Cap 2 weighs 5.60 ounces. My Cap 1 dries noticeably faster than the Cap 2. The Cap 2 costs $14 more than Cap 1. I am going to continue testing and observing through the winter, but so far, i think that the Cap 1 is my new long sleeve base layer.

I also tested the Cap 1 base layer bottoms and really enjoyed them. I do not like to have a lot of material in the groinal zone while moving about, so i hike commando style. But it was great to pull these on when i got to camp. They felt nice, kept me warm, and did not bunch or pull. At 5.55 ounces, they are even lighter than the old traditional red long johns.

The first hydration bladder i ever had was a Camelbak 3 liter model. I wanted a way to easily carry and drink water while dog walking and this was a great system. I have been using that bladder for backpacking as well. Only during my recent campaign to lose pack weight did i stop to think about my water systems. The Camelbak has some nice features, but it is also quite heavy for a bladder. I have switched to a Platypus Hoser 3 Liter. This is lighter and worked just fine. It does not come with a shutoff valve which is a drawback. One of the first things my buddy Jake taught me about having a hydration bladder is this: always engage the shutoff valve before you set your pack down. If you are in town, your house, someone’s car – setting your pack down on the bite valve can cause you to drain water all over someone’s property. If you are in the woods, worse than getting your stuff wet, you can LOSE ALL YOUR WATER. I was very careful on this trip to always set my pack down with the bladder side up and free of encumbrances.

I did order a shutoff valve but this had some issues upon arrival. A shutoff valve should have one piece that can “easily” be moved by a thumb or finger and a second stationary piece that acts as a stop. On the Camelbak, this system is simple and works well.

Camelbak Open
Camelbak Open

* Looking at these two Camelbak photos, you can see that the yellow piece moves and that there is decent access to the yellow tab when in the open position. *

Camelbak Closed
Camelbak Closed

On the Platypus, the piece that moves to activate the shutoff and the backstop are exactly the same size, so that you have to use a finger nail or other thin object to separate the two halves before you can activate the shutoff. This fails the simple and easy to do with a thumb or finger test, or even one hand test. However, a few careful cuts made with a tiny saw from a leatherman, and i was able to chop the stationary stopping piece down to size so that the moving piece is now easily accessible and easy to activate with just a thumb or finger. 

Platypus Open
Platypus Open
Platypus Closed
Platypus Closed

* Looking at the Platypus pics, you can see that the clear plastic piece moves. The blue plastic was the exact same size as that clear plastic tab. Now that i have cut away some of the excess blue plastic, this Platypus valve is easier to work than the Camelbak. It is difficult to understand how the shutoff valve cleared product testing “as-is”. *

Despite the minor inconveniences faced in getting a working shutoff valve, i like the switch to Platypus. Camelbak has changed their design since my last purchase years ago, moving all their bladders and hoses to a “quick disconnect” system. I do not like these. For me they are trying to fix a problem that does not exist and adding in more parts that can and will fail.My old Camelbak 3 liter weighs 7.55 ounces and my new Platypus 3 liter weighs 3.7 ounces. Platypus wins!

**UPDATE: the Camelbak shutoff valves DO fit the Platypus tubes. These are cheaper, available off the shelf at your local hiking store, and work much better with no modifications. My current set-up: Playtpus Hoser 1 Liter bladder with Camelbak shutoff valve as my drinky bladder. 2 liter platy closed with platy cap to re-fill. The 1 liter size makes it much easier to monitor your intake and not drink more than you intend. The smaller 1 L size is also super easy to flip up out of a backpack and re-fill without having to remove all your gear.

A final anecdote from the last hike. After all of my careful planning and thinking about gear, all the time spent going through my gear again and again, and all the time weighing gear – i forgot to pack a spoon. I ended up using the handle of my toothbrush to stir my food (oatmeal breakfasts – custom dehydrated bean mix dinners) and just made the meals thinner and drank them. Perhaps i need to make a checklist? My dad was ribbing me about it and saying “maybe you need to get another spoon!” The saddest part may be this, i have 4 hiking spoons…

I ain’t perfect. Live and learn. Adapt and evolve!

Rock On!

Fall Hike/Gear Review Part 3

West Virginia Vista
West Virginia Vista

Critter Conclusion:
In addition to the many deer i mentioned, i also saw a gang of turkeys towards the end of Day 2! It was getting dark and they were across a little valley, but i saw them take off from the ground and fly into some trees. There were maybe 12 of them. Again – no pics. I wasn’t worried about spooking them. But with the light and the distance, i did not think the odds of a clear pic were very good. And i was really tired and hoping to make it to camp before dark.

Pack Weight:
Things have changed in Backpacking since my youth. It is scary to think back on the things we learned when i was in the scouts. We carried hatchets, raw potatoes, canned goods, all kinds of weird heavy stuff. We would carry fresh fruits – lots of apples – and chuck the remains into the forest to decay naturally. None of that stuff matches up with today’s principles, and in many cases, rules and laws. We will have to come back to Leave No Trace principles later, because that it is important, but it is not gear review or Pack Weight.

Big Pack 1
Big Pack 1

My buddy Poppa Joe shared a quote that sums the whole thing up nicely: “The fun goes up as the weight goes down.” Warner Springs Monte

The lighter your pack, the easier it is on your body. The lighter your pack, the less crap you have with you in the woods – hopefully lending to a simpler experience with more time spent in the moment than fussing over gear. I have been gear obsessed for the least few years. I have two scales for weighing gear and several spreadsheets with products and weights and links to reviews and comparisons. In addition to simply enjoying good gear, i do all this now so that i won’t have to think about it in the woods.

Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)
Big Pack 2 (slightly smaller/lighter)

Once i wanted to get beyond weekend trips, i started like most other beginners (experience not age), with about a 60 pound pack. You get in the woods a little bit, talk with some other hikers, buy a few different things and get your weight down below 40 pounds. This is still way too heavy. I did make a few changes, mostly buying a new pack, and got my Base Pack Weight (BPW)* near 30 pounds before i hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012. Things were better, but i discovered that this was still way too heavy. Almost everyone I met on that hike was thru-hiking the PCT and they ALL had these tiny packs.

* There is not a truly consistent standard for calculating BPW. The concept is that your BPW should be the weight of everything NON-Consumable in your pack. But how that gets interpreted varies. Do you include or exclude your water treatment drops, or vitamins, or toilet paper/wipes/hand sanitizer, or sunscreen, or stove fuel, or, or… Many folks, me included, tend to use BPW for everything but food and water. I like this system. It is easy to understand, replicate, and provides a useful standard for comparison.

From my talks with experienced long-distance hikers and other research, my goal is to get my BPW as close to 15 pounds as possible. It can be easy for someone new to backpacking to get set-up with a lightweight kit. It can be more difficult for experienced hikers to drop pack weight. There are many things that you can buy, but you really need to learn how to challenge ALL of your preconceptions. This has been a fun and enlightening process. Why do i have so many zip locks? Why are these things in this bag? How you keep your gear and spare gear organized at home does not have to be the same way you organize your gear in your pack. Without making very many new purchases, but focusing on analyzing my behaviors, i got my BPW for this hike to about 22 pounds! That is over 8 pounds lighter than my JMT kit, and included some winter specific gear that will not be in my PCT pack!

Check out how small Joe's pack is.
Check out how small Joe’s pack is.

My master gear spreadsheet, where i am tracking my PCT gear, includes gear that i do not yet have but which i have decided to purchase for sure, and has very few holes which represent items still under debate: will i take this or not, will i get this brand or that brand, etc. This spreadsheet is tracking two BPW numbers: with and without a Bear Canister. Many sections of the PCT require hikers to use a bear canister. I am thinking about carrying one the whole trip. Most people only carry one where it is strictly required. I like the bear canister. It is simple and effective, and it works against every critter, not just bears.

Very few people actually know how to effectively hang food out of the reach of bears. Even if you do know how, there are not many places that present the correct configuration of trees to oblige you. If you do have the knowledge, and nature does provide the correct availability and spacing of trees, this system does nothing to prevent squirrels, mice, possums, and any other kind of critter that can climb or fly from getting your food. Given all that, why wouldn’t people carry a bear canister all the time? They weigh about 2.5 pounds.

Joe is sitting on a Bear Can
Joe is sitting on a Bear Can

My heavy number, BPW with bear canister, is down to 17.9 pounds. I am at 15.4 without the bear can. We will see as i continue to fill the few holes in my list. I project that when the list is complete, i will be at about 19 pounds BPW w/Bear can. And that is why i think i am going to replace the tent i just replaced. I can lose about 2 pounds switching from my current free-standing tent to an ultralight single-wall tent that uses one or both of my hiking poles as the support structure. More on tents another time.

That is a quick look at pack weight. There will probably be more later. As i get closer, i am sure i will do a complete inventory series as well.

Feel free to let me know if there is anything specific you would like to learn about.

Rock On!