i don’t know why it has taken me so long to write about the larger pieces of gear i’ve been using. it seems like it would have been a great thing to write about before taking off while i was being anxious and obsessive about it all.
i recently went out to a lake with some pals and managed to take some pics of some key pieces while in use, vs. on the floor of an urban abode.
first, the pack holding everything. it’s a ula catalyst made in utah. it really is a workhouse of a pack. i traded in all my other packs at next adventure to afford it. i totally over packed this sucker and it still held up super, keeping the weight on my hips. the folks over at next adventure were amazingly patient with me as we mixed up the sizes of the hip belt and the different straps. ula makes an “s” shoulder harness and a “j” design. at first i was kinda frustrated with all the different straps and such to cinch and compress, but i quickly found my way around them and appreciated every last one of them. i really liked the roll top closure with the different options of clipping it closed either with the side straps, or on top as you would a dry bag. i also used the hell out of the external mesh pocket for trekking poles, rain gear/wet gear, tent, and umbrella. the pack is still a bit bigger and heavier than i want to have, but it has been great for essentially carrying my whole life on my back.
next let’s move on to my little home. it is a big agnes copper spur ul-1. i scouted it at pct days in cascade locks last summer. i climbed in and out of all kinds of shelters on demo. for me this tent has a really good living space to weight to price ratio. i watched for deals and sales and rei eventually had a great sale on all big agnes products, so i cashed in my rei dividend and picked one up last summer. it may look familiar because its test run was to the wallowas and central oregon hot springs. the reason i like this tent really involves the weight and living space. i did decide to get the ground cloth that goes with it vs. getting a piece of tyvak because i do like the idea of pitching it with just the fly, which i have done a couple of times when in need of some quick shelter from the wind and rain. i could also imagine using this set up if i needed to creat some shade since i can still get some good air flow to stay cool. i could also see myself using this quick set up where i wanted to go fast and light, where mosquitos won’t be an issue.
i should say that i had and have some prickles about buying from big agnes this time around. they have always been a great company. their products are made in steamboat springs, colorado. they make high quality gear that is pricy but not completely out of range for an average adventurer. however, there is a cultural shift in the outdoor world that is annoying to me, and totally shouldn’t be. so on the side panel pockets where i usually store my glasses, headlamp, watch and such, they have added a place to run an earphone line so that you can store your device and listen to music, podcast, show…whatever. i know i shouldn’t be bothered by this, but i kind of am. i am trying to get away from all that, so why build in a way to stay connected? also, big agnes has started this mountain glow series where they add led lights to the tents and have linked up with goal zero (which i do use) to charge them via. i don’t know, i guess this is just too much for me – technology in the outdoors wise. people already use too bright of headlamps and blind me when i am out at night wondering around looking at the stars, why all the extra light? i know i should get over it. if it helps get more people out to fall in love with wilderness, great. i reckon i am just becoming a cantankerous old fart.
now, there are two things i am really excited about adding to my quiver of a good nights sleep. first, my sleeping pad. i have experimented with so many pads and up until now, i have stuck with thermolite self-inflating pads. i tried to use some of the ultra-lite like their neoair and another by nemo, all really good products, but not so much for me. so while at the same pct days i met the folks from klymit. they were super nice. they had several of their pads out to test. i had read about some of their lightweight pads that seemed kind of torturous in pics, but once i laid out on the static v, i was so happy! i can finally sleep on my side and not feel my pelvic bone get friendly with whatever rock i missed in clearing my sleeping space. on top of all that, it isn’t set up high where i feel like i am going to roll off, which i am prone to do whether its a bed or a sleeping pad. so when they told me i could get one for 1/2 price that day, i went for it. that night i rolled up my 3/4 thermarest i’d been using for years and blew this one up. it really did only take 15-20 breaths (even after a visit to the beer garden). and i slept great!
some things i’ve learned using this now, is that less is more. i do like this pad better when not completely filled with air. also, the side rails do really work for me. so far i have not rolled off the pad unless i did so on purpose to cool my legs down on a hot night or during a particularly invasive hot flash. sure i can’t just throw it in my tent and let it self inflate while i do other chores around camp, but the good nights sleep i receive is worth it. oh, and i did get the insulated one which did pay off while in the high country a couple of times in test trips where the temp dropped into the teens and i was using 30 or 40 degree sleeping bag at the time.
now for the piece of equipment i am truly excited about, my new sleeping quilt. that is right, i made the switch from a bag to a quilt. i wasn’t sure if it was gong to be right for me at first, so i went to rei and bought and returned a couple different bags. i tested out some other bags at various gear shops and events. however, i am such a tosser and a turner, that i am never really comfortable in a sleeping bag. in addition, i prefer to sleep on my side or stomach, and bags just get all twisted up and the hood on the mummy bags have almost suffocated me a few times. however, most quilts are down filled and i just can not bring myself to do that. enter enlightened equipment! they are based (and made to order) in minnesota. so i got to pick out the colors, temperature rating, and insulation of my quilt. and to be honest, i tried to use some woman’s specific sleeping bags, but really? do they all have to be pink or pastel, or glow-worm green; so getting to pic the color was a huge plus for me.
anyway, the quilts are super versatile. there is one small zipper at the foot box, so the quilt can be closed around the lower parts of the legs, or fully open…like a quilt or blanket you use at home. also, the foot box has a drawstring enclosure so you can still have it closed around the legs to hold in the warmth, but you can easily stick your feet out the end. this came in super handy on cold nights where i was so tired and wanted to cozy in, but my feet where on fire from the day’s walking and trying to heal the blisters. i spend many nights wrapped up, but with my feet dangling out.
another feature of this quilt is the sleeping pad straps. so there are two of them, one towards the bottom and one towards the top. the one on the bottom is great for just keeping the quilt in place. the top one i use on really cold nights when i want to make sure that i hold in all the body heat possible. mostly, so far, i don’t use the top one much except on the coldest of nights. the advantage of this system is the versatility. i don’t need a summer bag and a winter bag (well unless i go super high late/early in the season). this quilt is super comfortable regardless of what is happening temperature wise.
more pluses….it is so light! when it came in the mail, i thought the box was empty! it is easy to pack up… i just really like this sleeping situation. it is so nice to not feel like i am wrestling my way to get some rest and recovery. the only thing i am still trying to work out is sleeping directly on my pad. i don’t really like it that much. i currently use my sleeping bag liner that is stretchy, but i am looking at some of the pad covers, but some of them are made out of the silnylon too, so i don’t know. i like my liner, so i’ll probably just stick with it, but some quilt designers are recognizing this is an issue for some. mostly this is only an issue if i want to sleep naked, which i don’t do much because of night sweats and hot flashes.
the other major piece of equipment that i replaced was my cooking system. i’ve used my trusty msr pocket rocket and gsi minimalist system for so long, at least 8 years that i wasn’t even thinking of replacing it…that is until one of the folks at next adventure suggested the evernew cook system. the appalachian series is so light i can’t believe it, however what really sold me on it is that i can use alcohol, fuel tablets, or wood for fuel! so that means that i can mostly scavage small twigs and drift wood (almost always dry and ready to burn) for free! so much less fuel to carry and buy! i still have some fuel tablets from the little stove i used on the jmt a few years ago when i didn’t really cook much on that trail. i bought a little alcohol fuel for emergencies, which i did need a few (ok several) times on the rainy coast. but for the most part, if i thought ahead and picked up sticks through out the day, i could store them in places where they might be able to dry out enough to make dinner.
i did go to antigravity gear and got their appalachian kitchen upgrade. mostly this involves a couple of cozys for soaking and post-cooking simmering, a little ring that goes under the alcohol stove for increasing its already efficient efficiency, and a container to soak your dried food while you are walking so that the cooking times are quicker, thereby using less fuel. it is a great system and i am enjoying the learning curve involved in figuring out this whole new way of cooking. and if i am too tired at the end of a day to work all this out, i just boil some water and make miso soup, tossing in some crumbled soy curls and dried veggies and nutritional yeast for a quick dinner.
the only thing i think i will change is maybe a bigger pot. the pot it comes with, 500 ml, is perfect for most meals, but if i want to cook up some pasta, or saute some veggies first, i think a little bigger pot might be nice, especially in the morning. this is the time i actually really like to use the stove most. i like to boil water for a hot beverage whether it is for coffee or tea, and then a warm breakfast on a cold mountain morning really helps warm the muscles and spirits for a day’s adventure.
shoes. so i was really trying to only get gear that was made as locally as possible. not just designed, but manufactured and made by people as close to me as i could find (and afford), and that pay people doing that work a wage that supports them beyond just getting by. the gear wasn’t too difficult, but clothing and shoes is a whole different issue. then one day i discovered carson footware. these are minimalist trail running shoes that are designed and sewn in portland oregon! so i called them up and asked if i could come down and check them out before ordering on-line. i was able to bike (also it is right off the max line, so it is easy to get to) out there. the woman who greeted me and helped me find the right size (their sizing philosophy is the most consistent i have ever found in shoes) and style, was also the person who sewed my shoes! in fact shoes were being sewn by another person while we talked. when i went and picked them up about 10 days later i got to meet the owner. he was great! i explained what i was trying to do and he was so supportive.
sliding into these shoes is like putting on a nice pair of slippers. they stretch and form to my feet even on long days where my feet really swell up. they dry quickly and are fairly breathable. the traction is fantastic. i didn’t slide once, even where the mud and landslides were happening all around me. i’ve read that they have just added a soul with even more traction. there isn’t really much padding, so if you need that, this isn’t your shoe. however, if you like zero drop and having solid contact with the ground….go get ’em!
i did get a goal zero charging system (thank you to my aunts who gifted me this in support of this venture). it has been great. i charge my phone, my headlamp (a petzel), ipod, and tablet with it. in fact i still use it even though i am in an apartment. i put it out and charge up the venture 30 and then use it all week to charge up my phone and headlamp (which i use as my main headlamp while biking around at night in ashland) also, for reading at night at home instead of turning on a lamp. there is just something comfortable about using a headlamp. maybe it is the red light that i use most often.
so i think that is it for most of the big switches in gear acquired. some other choices i made? i decided against a gps system. so much money upfront and additional investment in digital maps and batteries or charging time, and subscriptions to satellite use. yet, i did get an abc watch. it measures the barometric levels, altitude, and has a digital compass. this one also informs me of the tides; in addition it keeps track the moon phases (which helps even more with understanding the tides), alarms, stopwatch and timers, temperature sensor and some other things that i don’t understand. the barometric reading and patterns have come in really handy in reading when storms are moving in and out. it is also helping me develop some internal understanding of weather patterns. the compass is great for setting bearings and following a route, but really, on the coast…not much needed there. also, the external ring of the casio pro trek is a solar charger, so i don’t even have to plug it into anything nor change any batteries. i just have to make sure that every-once-in-awhile it is exposed to light.
but i digress a little for not getting a gps unit is that “they” still suggest having paper maps just in case of tech failures. plus, i have a phone with gps that shows me where i am even if i don’t have cell reception (a fun note: while on the coast it often pinpointed me as being actually deep in the ocean hahaha). if i end up getting super remote and alone i will consider getting a spot locator that will send help when needed. then i won’t have to deal with satellite subscriptions and all that. there are so many apps for smart phones now, that i don’t know how long gps units will be helpful for folks not going way off the beaten path. also…i really like maps. i love to pour over them and see what is where and what all the options are. for example, if i hadn’t had other maps while doing the jmt, i would have never found the hot springs that were just a short detour off the trail. why? because they are not on the official route. so mix and match. and have fun.
i still have not replaced my water filter system. i enjoy pumping water. i don’t like the chemical taste of treatment drops or tablets, and i don’t trust the pens. the gravity bags coming out and micro filters that are being developed are probably great, but my good old fashion katadyn has never let me down. i do keep a bottle of gse drops incase i am felling unwell, or i feel that the water may not be the best even after a filter, but i have only ever used the drops when i fee like i am getting sick…like catching a cold. i have had this pump for like 20 years and it has never ever let me down. sometimes i let it down. like when i left it out one night and the water left in it froze. and really pumping my water is a kind of meditative activity where i get to know my water source and those around it better. i really like pumping water as the sun is setting or rising. water sources are so busy during these times.
what else? most of my pics are either from my phone or a canon powershot sx160 is. i’d like to upgrade to a really nice digital slr, but that is going to have to wait until i get famous. so get use to this camera. its great. i have been using canon cameras since i was in high schools, so over 30 years, and they have always done what i envisioned.
you already know i use the pstyle as a standup urinary tool. prior to menopause, i used the diva cup for menstruation in and out of the woods. i don’t use a trowel for digging a cat hole. i either use a tent stake that i keep in the carrying case of the pstyle or a stick i find lying around. it isn’t hard to determine how deep 6 inches is once you get use to it. but also, i try to dig a little deeper hole just to be sure. i don’t use t.p. i have been working on some other techniques. some involve using smooth rock that i collect through the day, rub clean and then leave in the cat hole. i have also used a special water bottle to create a kind of outdoor bidet, which in nice and clean feeling. but i feel like these issues are super personal. there is no right way, but there are certainly some wrong ways. so study up on leave no trace principles and find a way that works for you.
if you have questions of other things i may or may not be using and why or why not, let me know. i’m not much of a gear head, but i do like learning new skills and how to use different tools. it is fun to develop the best tool to take out into the world, and that is the good ol brain. learning to adapt to different resources and situations and how to use what is handy and available to make things even more enjoyable without inflicting more human interference is a wonderful skill to continue to develop. i look forward to pushing myself even more in this area.