Monday, April 30, 2012

What I'll Do Differently When I Get Back On The Trail

In the time I was out there I learned a few things before my knee got angry with me. I hiked 12 days, and was on the trail 14 including the two zeros in the woods. I did 115 miles, averaging 9.6 miles per day. Hiked in the rain, lost my food bag to a bear, climbed the equivalent of Mt Everest, and avoided shelters every night for the luxury of my tent. I took too much food outta the gate, and otherwise found some opportunities to reduce pack weight.  When I started hiking farther and faster, I uncovered a skeletal problem that caused me a lot of pain and anguish. All in all, a pretty good shakedown ...

So what will I do different when I get back on the trail?

I'll certainly hike at my own pace. I'll learn to start earlier, take more breaks, and hike later.

I'll hang my bear bag using the PCT method exclusively.

I'll do what I can to lighten my load. Which is pretty much what the rest of this post is about ...

As far as my clothing plan, the weather was freaky warm for March, and I was carrying layers for cold weather I had expected to be wearing. I really don't think I'd change much for a June/July southbound (sobo) hike. Maine and New Hampshire can be cold, snowy and windy. Summer will come fast as I hike south, and I'll have to rethink where I'll want to swap winter weight gear for summer stuff.

I carried way too much food out of Amicalola. Hell, a bear got my bag the first night out of Neel's Gap, and I still had enough food to get to Hiawassee. I was better coming out of Hiawassee, but I still erred too much on the side of providing for variety, and ended up with excess. I'll have to be more disciplined and carry only what I need to get to the next supply point.

I carried two wide-mouthed, 500 ml, plastic bottles on my pack straps and never hurt for water. I had an empty 1L Platypus in my pack that I could fill if it looked like a long haul between water sources. I can see where that might be insufficient for mid-atlantic summer drought conditions, but it worked well in Georgia. I had the AntiGravity Gear 1 Gal Silnylon Water Bag for fetching water for camp. At .6 oz, it stays in the pack. I used Aqua Mira drops to treat the water, and that worked great.

Lots of gear swapping going on to reduce weight and pack volume ...

I love merino wool socks and base layers. They're warm, comfortable, and they don't stink as bad as poly stuff. But they're slower to dry when wet. In an effort to have dry socks more often, I picked up two pairs of Darn Tough Vermont Merino Wool 1/4 Mesh Socks to replace my REI merino hikers. This design has very little cushion under the heal and toe, but they dry faster, and this change drops 2 ozs off my total weight. I just have to be sure I can hike in them without blisters.

Those Ex Officio boxers are comfortable. With just enough compression in the thigh to avoid any chafing. But they are poly, and they get funky fast. I swapped them for 2 pr of Icebreaker Men's Briefs. They are made of merino wool, I got em on sale, and they're each an ounce lighter each.

I hiked in the rain without putting my rain pants on. Even in a cold rain I was plenty warm as long as I was moving. The Mountain Hardwear Conduit rain pants weighed 7.75 ozs and didn't get much use. I'm replacing them with MontBell's Dynamo Wind Pants at 2.8 ozs. Constructed of 12-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon with Polkatex DWR finish, they'll keep me warm in a cold wind, shed all but the heaviest rain, and I can wear them when doing laundry.

I managed to keep my cell phone and camera alive without ever completely tapping my New Trent ACD66. Which, at 7 ozs, is a bit of a brick. I picked up a New Trent iRazer which has half the capacity, at half the weight. I replaced a long USB cable for a shorter one, eliminated another USB cable along with an Apple charger and an AC wall splitter. My recharging system weight dropped 5 ozs.

A spectacular fail was the expensive Zpacks cuban-fiber Pack Liner. When my pack cover filled with water, and my pack soaked out, the seals on the pack liner leaked, and my sleeping bag got wet. Fortunately, I found out inside a cabin at Neel's Gap ... Tried to seam seal it, but my best efforts failed. I see they now tape all their seams ...  I'm replacing it with 2-mil poly pack liners from Mountain Laurel Designs. They're 12" X 8" X 32", weigh 1.2 ozs each (.6 oz less than the Zpacks liner), and cost $2.50 each ... I'm gonna carry an extra one and put the others in mail drops.

MLD also makes cuben fiber dry bags, and their seams are bonded.  The food bag the bear got was a smaller MLD dry bag and I never had any water intrusion... They aren't bear-proof, but they appear to be water proof ...

I'm going to swap my 850ml MSR Titan Kettle at 4.2 oz, for my 3 oz 600 ml Snow Peak cup,  outfitted with one of Mini-Bull's lids. It fits my stove well, has more than sufficient volume, weighs less, and will leave more room in my pack. The cozy we made for the MSR worked great, and we're constructing one out of lighter material for the cup.

I carried my camera in a small Tamrac 5693 Digital 3 Camera Bag. I took awhile, but I finally figured out how to carry it comfortably such that I had immediate access to the camera. The protection it provides is excellent, but it weighs 7 ozs ... I'm thinking of carrying the camera around my neck, with a dry bag in my pocket, and losing the Tamrac.

I'm still waffling on the Gossamer Gear 3/16" Thinlight insulation pad I carried in addition to my Exped inflatable. It was there for extreme cold, which didn't happen, but I found it protected the Exped from anything that might poke up outta the ground. And it was nice to fold up and sit on. It weighs 4.5 ozs ....

I'm also waffling on the Vivobarefoot camp shoes. At 8 ozs a pair, they weigh less than Crocs, and are more secure on my feet. They were nice in camp, in town, and in the middle of the night when nature called. In Georgia and North Carolina, any stream of significance had some sort of bridge or stone crossing. I understand that ain't true in Maine, and the earlier I start, the wilder the crossings are likely to be. They weigh 8 ozs ...

I will be swapping my Salomon 3D Fastpacker Mid GTX Hiking Boots for the Salomon XT Wings. The Fastpackers are 34 ozs/pair, and while their GoreTex liners are great in snow, once they get soaked from rain or stream crossings, they stay wet. The Wings weigh 7 ozs less, they drain well and dry quickly.

In proof that ounces add up, that's 2.6 lbs if I make all the changes. That ought to get my pack's base-weight down to 19 lbs, and my skin-out weight down to 36 lbs with five days of food and a liter of water.

And, I haven't attacked all the little misc stuff yet ...  I'll bet I can find 16 things to get rid of, that weigh "nothing," and will get another pound off my back.


  1. Switch to a hammock and drop the heavy sleeping pad, and it will be cooler in the summer

    1. I've had some hammock envy ... Especially when I was unable to find a level tent site, In the end it would be an expensive transition, and would be heavier than the sleep/shelter system I'm currently using.

  2. Hubby and I did from Springer to Spence Field Shelter - figure in all the extra miles for water and town, etc., we rounded up to 200 miles. Lots of a wind, a tornado, and some hypothermia scares and we went back home to reassess.

    We did the SAME exact thing - got home, dumped out our stuff, and said to each item, "When did I use you? Were you worth it? Is there a better, lighter-weight version of you I could buy? Can your usefulness be had in another item?"

    We're going SOBO this year - yay warm weather! - and I hope to see you out on the trail again. :)

    1. Excellent! I don't have a date yet. If I'm ready to go by mid-Jun, I'll probably go soho. After that, I'm going to consider flip-flopping. Hope we run into each other.

  3. I'm glad to see the "If i were too" crossed out ... Did some hiking with my daughter this weekend with my knee braces ... Had no twinging or pain at all the entire time .. obviously found what will get me too maine! Those hiker's with braces know whats up ... those chopat's i got are amazing.

  4. Hey Bill! I just wanted to shed some insight on the Dynamo Wind Pants... I own two pairs (I owned another previously, but it became shredded when I used them as an outer on a winter trip- be advised they are delicate), and I am using a pair on the beginning and end of my thru. I LOVE these pants! They are excellent wind pants, and do what they were designed to do very well. They are light, comfortable, slide on/off with ease, hold heat and block wind flawlessly. I personally don't feel they make good rain pants, however. The description can be misleading, and I am guessing you may not have tried them yet. They will shed a very light rain, for a time. If it rains harder, or for a time, they soak through quickly. The problem is that they sog, and become like cold, heavy, wet towels on your legs. I prefer to not have them on in rain (I use a rain kilt). For everything else though, these pants are fantastic! Those socks are excellent too. I use them exclusively. My feet were pretty worn in before I started, so padding wasn't needed for me. my only suggestion there is to pick up a couple extra pairs ahead of time, I don't get 200 miles out of a pair before they rip. They dry fast and work well when paired with my mesh shoes, and remain my favorite sock. I wish you luck on your journey, and hope our paths will cross!!! -Walking Home

  5. I should also mention that in those first few weeks, we got little rain showers and stuff but I got hit with a solid week of long, cold rain, snow, and hail paired with freezing temps at night later on in the trip. I think raingear was essential!

    1. Thanks Ray. I understand they wet out easily. I'll reconsider packing my rain pants during the shoulder seasons ...


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