jupiterhikes

Life of the Wanderlust

Category: Gear

Review: Pa’lante Packs Simple Backpack

This year I’ve had the great pleasure to carry a new pack!

For my thru hike of the 4,800mi Eastern Continental Trail, I took a chance on a new company, and purchased the Simple by Pa’lante Packs. They weren’t in production yet, but I had been seeing photos of it online. Similar to the pack I had been using for the last few years, but an improved design.

“Hey that thing looks awesome, take my money.” Is to my memory, the message I sent Andy Bentz. He mailed it out to me while I was on trail, and I received it the same day I picked up a very heavy resupply (6 days.) Immediately I was stoked on how comfortable it was, even while carrying 15lbs of food on top of my gear.

image

Grabbing a snack from the secret bottom compartment

Andy Bentz and John Zahorian are the two founders of Pa’lante Packs. Some info on Andy’s making history can be seen in this cute video, showing packs he’s made in days past, leading up to what you see now in this final product!

Since receiving it I’ve now carried it for the last 2,800 miles, and this is what I think about it.

Basic Info

  • Volume: 35L or 40L
  • Price: $210 – $250
  • Weight: 13oz
  • Frameless and Hipbeltless
  • Material: X-Pac

Where can you find it? PalantePacks.com

image

Size

They come in both a 35 liter, and 40 liter. Very low on internal volume, but in a world where ultralight backpacking is becoming more popular this is a perfect size. The bigger the backpack you buy, the more stuff you tend to fill it with, and then consequently have to haul up that mountain!

For me, with a 6lb base weight the 35L is just right. I’ve carried 6 days food in it without issue, even thinking I had room for more. I would go for this size if you’re looking to seriously nerd out on gear, for most everyone though, I think the bigger size might be wiser. If you’re unsure, definitely go for the larger 40L. You’ll be happy you did when you want to pack out bonus foods from town!

As a frameless, hipbeltless pack it does well. The shoulder straps are large enough with enough thickness to take the heat of heavier carries. I find it’s comfortable up until around 25lbs.

All in all the small size is something I really like in a backpack. It gives me the ability to maneuver freely.
image

Durability

Amazingly, after 5 months of use every single day. Sleeping on it. Rubbing it against, and sitting it on rocks. Brushing it against trees and branches accidentally…. there isn’t a single hole, not a single tear, or even any real sign of wear. Even the stitching is holding up, without fraying or coming loose. It’s almost the same as when I first got it.

When it comes to durability most consider ultralight gear flimsy or that it won’t last. In the case of this pack that is clearly not true! I could easily get a second multi thousand mile thru hike out of this pack.

I had remembered seeing pictures John posted online when he first came up with this design. I was skeptical about the bottom pocket, and it’s durability. After 2,800 miles of abusing it without a single hole forming I’m convinced. The east coast is very rocky, Maine and New Hampshire are no cake walk, so to come out unscathed was really impressive, and admittedly surprising.

I give it a big thumbs up for durability! Unlike cuben fiber packs this X-Pac material is gunna last. I expect I’ll get another few thousand miles outa this one, at least.

image

Design

  • Waterproofness: The fabric used for the body of the pack is waterproof, but overall water will get in the seams. So I still use an internal liner like a trash compactor bag.
  • Single strap top closure: I love the single strap! It sinches down so nicely, creating an excellent seal. The last pack I had before this used a Y strap, and I greatly prefer the single.
  • Shoulder strap pockets: One of my favorite features of this pack. The stretchy integrated shoulder strap pockets! I like that I have everything I need right at my fingertips. These pockets are perfect for a camera or phone, snacks, guidebook pages or maps, trash. Really handy, and sleek. I highly recommend getting them added to your pack, as they are optional.
  • Secret bottom pocket: Annnd my favorite feature is the bottom pocket. Large enough to fit almost an entire days worth of food. But why do you care? Because every time you’re hungry, you can just reach under and grab a snack! No need to stop. Just keep moving! Alternatively, keep a rain jacket, or wind jacket under there for quick access.
  • Aesthetics: I mean, it’s super cute. Really small. Black. Beautiful. Clean.
  • Side pockets: Good height to grab my water bottles while walking. Stretchy enough to hold two bottles in one pocket. Or as I often do my umbrella, and a water bottle. Or my rehydration jar, and a water bottle. Tight enough so that they  don’t slip out when jostled.
  • Shoulder straps: Comfortable width, shape, and thickness.
  • Draw cord compression: Unsure of what to call it, but it needs to be mentioned. On one side of the pack there’s a small cord that can be pulled tight, to either compress down loose space inside, or firmly secure an item there. Personally I use it most when I have wet socks, or to dry out a wet groundcloth. Sinch the item down, and let it sit outside your pack all day. Or if you’re looking for a place to stow away trekking poles or a trekking umbrella while not in use, this is it!

image

Extra Thoughts

John has used this pack for thousands of miles, and I’ve used this pack for almost 3,000 miles. He loves it, I love it. I hate to gush er whatever, but of all the gear I’ve been using this year, this pack is the only thing I wouldn’t swap out if given the chance. Since leaving Canada and receiving this pack, its been wonderful all the way down to Florida.

It’s made for efficiency. Most everything you need during the day is at hand, and I love that. So until these boys come up with something similar but smaller and lighter this will remain my main hiking pack.

The waterproof material, the clever pockets, a pack that won’t deteriorate after a single season…

So if you’re looking for that perfect backpack for your next thru hike, the Simple from Pa’lante has treated me right.

image

image

Eastern Continental Trail: Food & Resupply

This is a glimpse into what it looks like to be a truly obsessive planner.

To think about this, and nothing else for a very long time.

You’ve seen my gear, you’ve seen my maps and guides, some of my training, and now you see the final bits of logistics for this trip. Soon I’ll be on trail and forget about most of this… which is the point. To go through all of this now so that later on I can relax, and focus on hiking.

In 60 days I start walking south from Quebec on the Eastern Continental Trail.

Food

20160422_202641-1

Most of the food that I’ll be sending myself for 6 months worth of backpacking. Still missing a lot of extra goodies.

20160502_220142

The local Taco Bell may not be so pleased after you take this many hot sauce packets in one visit. (Added to my dinners.)

Things to note:

  • Gu Energy Gels – My electrolyte replacer, and a caffeine boost.
  • Powdered Greens – Help fight the war on not getting the nutrients I need.
  • Clif Builder Bars – A dessert of sorts, full of protein to help recover, and build muscle as I sleep.
  • Protein Powder – Not my only option for breakfast as I may still send powdered coconut milk with cereal/granola, but it is an extremely fast and efficient way to get some additional calories in the morning.
  • Endangered Species Dark Chocolate – A lovely daily treat.
  • Dehydrated Refried Beans – The dinner of champions, I mean… thru hikers on a budget. I’ll add taco bell hot sauce, as I’ve taken hundreds of them, some avocado when I can, and tortilla chips or fritos to make a nice dinner.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil – Not the other kinds! This kind. Add it to my dinners for an extra boost in calories, and flavor.

When in the market to buy a couple thousand dollars worth of food for a few months worth of hiking I had a couple rules to adhere to. I wanted food that was cheap, fast, and at least somewhat nutritional.

Much like many hikers I’m not made of money. I’ve worked long and hard at a job I don’t exactly feel so attached to, as anyone who knows me could tell you, and I’ve put this on myself so that I can now proceed to do what I love. So naturally considering my financial situation, and not wanting to spend any more time working than I have to, when searching for food my aim has been to look for the best deals imaginable. Pretty much all the food I purchased with the exception of a few items I really wanted, I was able to get for a very low price. Either due to the quantity I was purchasing or simply through shopping around. I had considered reaching out for sponsorship but in the end that’s not really my style, and just as well it seems as though I don’t need to sell my soul to do this. Even if it would have just been small handouts!

Another way I’m saving money on this hike is by doing it faster than most would. My goal is 6 months, and if you so like you could easily calculate what type of daily mileage I’ll be doing to reach that(about a marathon a day for 6 months.) I suppose I like the challenge, or maybe I just like walking a whole lot. Whatever it may be there’s a lot that goes into a high mileage day. In general less breaks, a streamlined process of doing things, an efficient manner of walking, a very light pack, and in regards to the topic at hand… eating on the go. So when I say I wanted food that was fast, what I really mean is that I was looking for food that I could eat while I am walking. Or in other words, a whole ton of snacks vs meals. As you probably quickly noticed a lot of my food choices are in bar form. Something I can easily grab every hour or two while I move, and continue without much of a pause.

Food that has worked best for me in the past is represented above, with the addition of a few new items I’m trying out for this hike. Keeping in mind the other two stipulations(cheap and fast,) buying 300 bars of Snickers wouldn’t adhere to my third rule of purchase. I wanted foods that are at least least somewhat healthy, and naturally vegan too. Candy doesn’t cut it, and I really try to cut out as much of that sugary mess as I can. Although I can and will do MUCH better in the future. The high burst in energy followed by the swift crash isn’t something I need to be consuming while walking 12- 14 hours in a day. Although I’m not a total slave to this mindset, as I do have over 100 bars of chocolate ready to be shipped and eaten. Something to keep me happy and motivated, but certainly not a large portion of my diet. Not pictured is also a whole lot of fruit I’m dehydrating for this trip, I hope to have a nice sized bag for every box. Another wonderful treat I wouldn’t be so happy without. To offset any nutrients I’m not getting from my foods I’ve taken a page(or two) out of Scott Williamson’s book and will be adding powdered greens to my daily diet in hopes that it will help with recovery, growth, and my overall health along the way.

So before the inevitable comment comes saying I’ll get so tired of all this food… so what! Variety would be nice, but variety also means more money, more of a headache in finding the products, and getting enough calories per day from the selection I’ve chosen. My main goal is simply getting the calories I need to go the distance. To me, calories directly relate to how far I’ll be able to travel, or how long I’ll have energy. A nice meal is great, but simply living, and eating is greater. Next year on the PCT my food choices will certainly be different, as will every year after that, I’m sure. I look forward to learning more about the subject of nutrition, as I think it’s such an important topic that most hikers seem to overlook.  As I learn I’ll continue to tweak. For now, like a cat, eating the same thing day after day I’ll still be satisfied so long as I’m fed.

Per day I’ve planned to eat about 4,500 calories, which will actually somewhat put me in a deficit. Hikers doing similar things as me burn close to 6,000 – 6,500 calories a day, which to most people would be a dream! To me it means I gotta haul around some big heavy bag to munch out of. Food is really heavy! Much heavier in comparison to everything else I’ll be carrying for this trip. My food weighs about 2.5lbs for every day, so for a 5 day carry in between towns, which is common for me, would weigh 12.5lbs. That’s almost double the weight of everything else I’m carrying!! Being I won’t be getting all the calories I’ll be needing solely from my mail drops I plan on pigging out at restaurants in towns, and buying extras in grocery stores. Extras like peanut butter, nuts, chips, avocados, and naturally… as many fresh fruits as possible. I see a lot of thru hikers that lose an absurd amount of weight while on trail. I feel this is mostly because they aren’t filling that empty void that is the thru hiker stomach with enough food. Obviously, they think they are! But I’m skeptical. Of course weight loss is inevitable, but beyond 25lbs for an already skinny guy would be quite a bit too much, so these bonus foods will be very welcomed.

Ressupply

20160422_194012

21 different packets of guides and maps being shipped to different towns down the east coast…. and a cat, helping me sort my papers.

20160429_193628

There once was a time my mom had a living room.

Planning a mega trip like this has come with its fair share of ups and downs. Many nights slaving over spreadsheets, guide books, trip reports, and maps. Ready to poke my eyeballs out, and call it a loss.

The guides are what I started with, a good amount of time went into finding all of them. Then naturally their adjacent maps, and finding what was most up to date. As for a trail like the Pinhoti in Alabama there are 3 or 4 different ones you will find, and could use. Say I was only hiking that trail, this would be easy. That’d be it! Find the guides, the maps, plan my trip, and call it a day. That’s the mindset I have had to adopt, one step at a time. One trail at a time. Doesn’t matter where I start, so long as I start.

The ECT is a route connecting a bunch of trails, which has added an extra factor of fun. 4 individual back to back thru hikes, with smaller lesser known trails or routes in between. In total it’s more like 7 long hikes. Or rather 7 individual trails I’ll be walking to form this journey across the country. So I’ve more or less simply planned a thru hike of each! To be connected by foot when I get to the end of one, all the way to the Keys.

In the photo above you see some of the fruits of my labor. All of my guides and maps sectioned out to be placed in individual boxes sent to myself with my food at places along the trail in which I’ll need them. It’s been tireless, but it’s done. All my maps and guides are split into 21 sections for the 4,800 mile ECT. Sorry to the guide book makers, as you may have guessed from the photo I tore your book to pieces! It’s okay, they’re much lighter now.

Before a trip I like to have anything I can get done prior to departure totally finished and polished to help streamline the process while I’m out there. Anything so that once I get out there I can strictly focus on the hike. That’s part of why I’m sending myself so many boxes. I can get in town and immediately have all the food I need, toilet paper, soap, maps, guides, extra gear, everything. No wasted time. No headache. All the headache is spent prior to the hike in regards to any logistics. I don’t need to be worrying about things I could have done prior to leaving. This also helps speed up the process, and in turn speed up my hike.

Pretty much everyone ever will say you don’t need to use mail drops for the Appalachian Trail. Same with the Florida Trail for that matter. Well, I don’t care! Their hike is not mine, and maybe they’re missing what makes drops a good thing for those who are looking to go a little bit faster, eat a little bit healthier, and spend a little less money. Probably 90% of my food on trail will be coming from the good old US Postal Service. As will my permits, maps, extra gear, and guides.

I want to be on trail as much as possible, and not be spending a lot of time in town, as typically time in town means more money spent, and more obviously less time hiking. I don’t want to stay longer than it takes me to get a meal or two, and pick up my package.

ECTresupply

Quebec to the Keys, and where I’ll be getting food along the way.

My itinerary is extremely flexible, as there are many towns in between those mentioned above, but what you see is for the most part my plan, subject to change while I’m on the move.

Something I want to do for this trip is not hitch any rides, but instead walk from the trail to all my resupplies. Not because I’m worried about those that might be picking me up in the middle of nowhere, but simply as a personal thing that I find interesting. So in that respect you’ll notice (“Mi Off”, means how many miles off trail I have to go,) all the towns I’ve chosen are as close to the trail as humanly possible. Kind of in the same mindset that I don’t want to spend much time in towns, I especially don’t want to spend much time going to and from. I used a bit of Matt Kirks resupply list from his former speed record to formulate mine for the Appalachian Trail, and had some help from John Z too. From there I used those same ideas for all the other sections of trail. Long hauls in between towns, about 140miles, and only stopping at towns that are on trail. I’ve aimed to cut out as many unnecessary stops as possible, as well.

“Days” indicates how much food I’m sending myself for any given section. It’s more of a guideline, and as you’ll notice it’s set at a fast pace. Thus giving me flexibility. I’ll send myself the food I’ll need for that distance, and buy extra in town if I don’t believe I can make those miles with just what came out of my box. I can also have post offices redirect a box elsewhere, or simply I can go into a different town closer to me. This number of days also let’s me know at just a glance how much food I sent myself essentially. 1 day, being so many snacks, 1 breakfast, and one dinner.

I hadn’t always wanted to do so many mail drops but a year ago I went vegan, and that kind of planted the seed of sending my own food. Food I know I enjoy, food I know has worked for me in the past. On most long distance trails, being vegan and not sending yourself food like I am isn’t that big of an issue. There are plenty of grocery stores and towns along the way. So why am I doing this? I’d like to avoid a gas station resupply if possible but it also stems back to a lot of what I’ve already mentioned, I’m planning a fastpack, and boxes do indeed make the process faster.

Something else you may notice is that I’m trying to avoid sending directly to post offices if I can. They have weird hours and aren’t open on Sundays, so I’ve looked into as many hostels, outfitters, and even visitor centers that will hold a box for me, to avoid the dreaded “I’m here but you’re not open,” feeling. The hours of a hostel are way nicer to live around than a government building, considering I don’t know when I’ll get to any of these places, and I’ll be wanting to make my miles.

All of this planning is in an effort to avoid little tasks, or in a lot of cases regarding this hike, big tasks. All those chores are already done!

Extra Gear

IMG_20160216_175931

I’ll likely need more, but in the past I’ve gotten about 800 miles out of Altra Lone Peaks.

20160419_050629

Soap! Dr. Bronners of course, repackaged in small bottles. Wash your hands, the water isn’t going to make you sick, but dirty hiker hands will.

20160429_201931-1

Extra gear of mostly a random nature. Some things on the other hand are very important.

Things to note:

  • Platypus 1 liter bags – I have 2 extra. This is a long hike… Although the Appalachian Trail may have water sources everywhere, the Pinhoti Trail and beyond is a different story, so I may have these sent to me for the section between GA and FL.
  • 10×9 tarp – Much larger than the one I’m bringing, if I find the one I’m using is too small I’ll swap it out for this. Unlikely, but nice to have the option. Have I mentioned already my primary shelter for this trip is a poncho tarp?
  • Plastic screw top containers – This is what I use for rehydrating my food. They come in packs of three, and it may be nice to get a new one here or there over the course of the 6 month trip.
  • 6oz water bottles – I’ll fill these with olive oil before I go, and ship them inside a ziploc with my boxes.
  • Pack liners – A pack liner keeps the inside of your pack and its contents dry. However I use the thin ones(of course,) and they do fail after so many miles of use.
  • Socks – There’s nothing like a fresh pair of socks. More specifically, I love me some purple toe socks! One day I’ll be hardcore enough to use thin nylon dress socks. Today is not that day.
  • Ground sheets – Much like the thin pack liners, these groundsheets(which I sleep on) do fail. I have 4 of them here.
  • Aquamira – My water purification of choice. Don’t know exactly how long these 7 will last me, but they are cheap on amazon.
  • Headlamp – I use a small handheld flashlight, so this headlamp is extra. I love to night hike! Especially early morning for hours while it’s still dark. If my smaller flashlight isn’t enough, I’ll have this sent to me.
  • Batteries – Both for my necklace LED light, and my handheld flashlight. This is just about enough for the whole trip. Maybe more than I’ll need at times, but I’ll save the extras, and dispose of the dead.
  • Headphones – I’m not taking any with me from the start, but I may want them in the future, only time will tell!

I have a lot of extra stuff guys! The majority of this I’ll need. In efforts to save small amounts of weight(why carry the whole bottle if you can split it up into 18,) or money here and there, I’ll be sending myself a lot of replacement supplies along the way. Constantly running out of this or that, and simultaneously getting more.

Most of these items will be dived up into my boxes sent at times when I know I’ll need it. Knowing when items like a food bag, pack liner, shoes, etc will fail has come with experience. When certain items inevitably need to be replaced their sibling will be sent to me along the trail. Ideally just before the time when I actually need them! The rest will sit in a bin at resupply central in case I need any of it, I’ll just ask! My resupply manager will handle any potential changes as I won’t be leaving any of the boxes sealed when I leave. So although I’ll have everything prepared for what I think will happen, it’s always subject to change.

At the back end of this big logistical effort is my my mom, my resupply manager. Without her this trip wouldn’t go so smoothly. She will be sending me these packages, and making any changes to them from home before they are sent out to me on the trail. A big thanks for taking on this task, as it’s pretty much been pushed on her! Thanks mom!

So I guess the question now on peoples minds is why must I have every detail figured out? It’s just who I am in any aspect of my life. I believe my obsessive nature to be something that makes me different. Maybe not in the way most can be obsessive, but how I apply it to what I love.

This entire trip could be done without the majority of my preparations. Obviously it would be a very different experience, but to me, this is fun. This keeps me on track, it keeps me focused, and gives me something to look forward to every day. Not only that I have this magnificent trip ahead, but also… I get to think about this every damn day, no matter where I am, or what I’m doing. It has been a joy. Even the brief moments of headache are all forgotten in the end.

I’ve learned so very much, and I’m only just getting started.

– Jupiter

Mail Drops? Mail drops.

 

20160427_040845

Boxes that aren’t yet filled.

MAIL DROPS AREN’T FOR EVERYONE. This we all know, but for me, they’re awesome.

TL;DR I’m vegan, and I don’t want to waste time in town, I want to be on trail. These reasons alone make mail drops worth their weight in gold. JK, because they’re ultimately fairly cheap, considering what I’m sending myself(food I like, and wouldn’t find on trail.)

Since I’m getting almost 100% of my resources through the mail on this coming thru hike I thought I’d address drop boxes and why I like them really quick. As most will tell you that they’re a waste of time, or that they’re unnecessary. They’re not! For some that is true, but not everyone, otherwise why would you see so many of the best hikers in the world using them?

For those unaware, in long distance hiking, like really long distance, 300-8,000 miles in one go, distance hiking… You have to get food some how! How you wonder? Every few days you get off the trail and go into a local town, or sometimes there’s a town directly on the trail, and you pick up food for the next stretch between towns. Some do this every 3 days, some like to stay on trail longer and may wait as long as 6 days(or even longer) without resupplying. Obviously this is done because carrying 4 months of food on your back would be extremely difficult. I welcome you to try!

Most folk will find the nearest shopping center and begin perusing! But there is another way! What if… you had a box with all the extra gear, maps, guides, and food that you need waiting for you right there? That’d be pretty cool! Well actually, that’s reality. That’s precisely what sending and receiving a mail drop is like. But what makes that better than just buying it in a town?

Why am I using the postal service as my means for resupply vs just getting everything in town?

  • I’m saving money! By scoring food through deals at home, or online, I can skip out on similar food, or the same food that’s price is gouged in some small convenience store along the trail. Grocery stores every week have different sales. There’s no guarantee that when you go into town for resupply you’ll find anything you want on said sale. So how about before leaving for your trip, getting some cheap food that you love… and then sending that to yourself for later! This is especially great for meals you can buy bulk for less.
  • They’re faster! By the time I get to the hostel or post office I’ve sent my mail to, grab my box, and get back to the trail(or a restaurant,) you’ve just now stepped foot in the grocery and begun the process of shopping. Only to leave the store and see me exciting the nearest buffet, long after I got my package. There is no contest. A box is a faster resupply. All your food prepared just the way you like it. Portioned out just the way you like it. There is no fuss, no hassle, and chances are your mum probably added some cookies from home in said box. They’re faster, period. For those looking to do really speedy thru hikes, this is definitely a way you can cut down on time spent in town.
  • No more searching for extras! That convenience store you’re about to steal the TP from? They need that, other “customers” need that, and chances are it’s poor quality paper anyway. With a drop box…. you can have that fancy 30 ply shit your girlfriend uses! You know the kind, it smells like lavender. My point is, you need more than food. You may need toothpaste, a new t-shirt, more water purification drops, extra socks, batteries, nail clippers, a razor, etc. Who wants to run around town looking for these extras, whatever they may be? I just want to get them, and go.
  • I don’t want to eat gas station food! This situation may be somewhat uncommon but sending yourself mail drops really allows you to go nuts and buy a ton of super cool foods you’d never ever be able to buy on trail, if you have the money. This is great for those of us who want to eat healthier, or have special dietary needs, and may not salivate as much as the next guy when staring at a honey bun. I can send myself healthier foods, hell, dehydrated foods! The kind where my mom makes it for dinner, and I take all the leftovers, and stick it in the dehydrator! Delicious, and avoids the tough decision between couscous or ramen noodles every night(couscous always.) Mail drops give you the freedom to spend the months before your hike gathering super amazing foods to eat on your hike.
  • They allows me to carry less! That pound of guidebook and maps you’re carrying? I split it up into little pieces that weigh next to nothing. Each section will be sent to when I will need them on the trail! If you’re thru hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, you’ll probably need an ice axe and crampons in the Sierras, so why carry them from the start? Put it in the box being sent to that section! For me, it’s really the maps and guides. 4,800 miles across 7 different trails. Holy maps! Why do I need a guide book for the Florida Keys section of my hike when I’m starting in Canada? I’m also carrying less weight because before leaving on my hike, I can search for and buy foods that have a high caloric density, vs whatever I may find out there.
  • They’re more organized! Do I want to sit outside of a grocery store tearing up boxes and packaging to put into ziplocs, or portioning out what I’ll eat for the next 4 days? I don’t. In my box all of that is done. I have the exact food I need, I have the maps and guides I need, the extra gear I need. Everything. The only thing I need to think about is not how much food I should buy and where I’ll resupply next, it’s where the nearest restaurant is.

So that’s kind of some random basics off the top of my head. If you want to send mail drops on your thru hike… do it! Don’t let some fool on the Appalachian Trail forums tell you it’s stupid. You may regret that decision, but that’s how you learn!

I will say the advantages of the mail system become more apparent the more experience you gain. Do you know how many triple A batteries you’ll go through in 6 days? How about how many socks in 2,000 miles. Knowing stupid stuff like this makes mail more beneficial to you, as you can send what you need, when you need it. Not sooner, not later. It removes the hassle of making these decisions on trail, as boom 800 miles in, I got a new pair of shoes. Didn’t even have to look at Amazon once!

Without a doubt the BIGGEST reason I’m using mail is because of the speed. I want to spend more time on trail, and less time in towns.

I won’t mention cons here, because I don’t care! Like everything in the hiking world, do your own thing. Do what is right for you. Chances are mail drops aren’t right for you! Despite these benefits that work in my favor, they don’t work in everyone’s favor.

There are many trails in which you don’t need to use mail drops, and frankly I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone. You’ll probably already know before reading this if that’s something you should be doing. But… Just because they may be unnecessary, doesn’t mean there aren’t many benefits to them. As stated above!

Love em or hate em……

Happy hiking!

– Jupiter

Ode to Tarp Camping

zpackscorrection

Gator bait. Wonderful view of the sunrise the next morning, and all night I got to witness the most fantastic meteor shower from the comfort of my tarp and sleeping bag.

Under a tarp I feel free.

No doors, no walls. Sheltered from the rain in just the right ways. No less, and no more. Free to observe my surroundings even in a down pour. Free to reach out and touch the very thing I came out here to experience.

A tarp allows me to pursue the style of backpacking I prefer most. Light, fast, and efficient. Unburdened by weight, by things, free to do as I wish, and I wish to hike. Carrying only what I need, teetering on the edge of highly prepared, and crazy.

For my 4,700 mile ECT thru hike I’ll be using a tarp as my shelter. A rather small one at that, a 5×9 poncho tarp. Not only is this my house for the night, it is also my rain gear. For this hike I’ll be coupling it with a water resistant bivy, which acts as a shell for myself and my quilt while I sleep. Giving me a little added protection from the elements. In total this setup weighs just slightly over 1lb, and also allows me to forgo a rain jacket.

While a poncho tarp still being the reigning champion of ultralight shelters, some of the larger tarps are an absolute palace. A true wonder to hang out under. With twice or three times the space underneath them that any tent could offer for a fraction of the weight and cost, a tarp is hard to push aside as something you’ll never try. For me, it only took once. I haven’t looked back since!

Here I thought I’d showcase my tarp and bivy a little bit, as this will be my home for 6 months. The cuben fiber Pro Poncho Tarp, and the silnylon Superlight Bivy by Mountain Laurel Designs. My tarp is my space ship, and I am the captain on this journey through the galaxy.

The Eastern Continental Trail starts in Canada and travels the entire length of the east coast along the Appalachian mountain range, far down into Florida. I’ll be going through just about everything this side of the continent can throw at me, and I’m very confident in this shelter system to not only be extremely light on my back, but also in it’s ability to keep me dry and happy.

Lean-To

Often used as a really fast and efficient pitch. Although not the greatest protection in a storm as rain can blow under on three sides, and you only have protection from the wind on one side. For those nights where you’re camping in a spot with a beautiful view and only need a little bit of insurance this is what I would use. Or similarly for those nights when a big storm isn’t imminent, and I just want to get in and out.

2016-03-08 22.36.50

Pitched up against some shrubs this actually does extremely well in rain, and also offers a quick exit, with an extremely easy setup/take down.

A-Frame

Great in a storm but you have absolutely no head room. If you pitch it higher for more space you are almost asking for rain to splash and blow underneath defeating the purpose. As much as I’ve used my tarp in this configuration for the value of protection, it’s not always ideal for that home-like atmosphere. Still, I love it, and it has always been my go to in the past. Possibly because it was the first pitch I learned. This is also probably the most standard of all tarp configurations.  By pegging the corners to the ground this becomes extremely useful in nasty storms.

2016-03-08 22.40.37.jpg

My sun umbrella used to pitch the back end of this a-frame. Could possibly be used better open to block the head end from any rain.

terp

View of an A-frame from the top.

Half Pyrimid

Some say this doesn’t give you much space, but I have usually been pretty happy, although I don’t deny that its not as roomy as some other pitches. The half pyramid is great for shedding wind coming from a certain direction, while also providing a bit more coverage than a lean-to on the sides. I’ve used this in some nasty conditions and it worked well for me. I always tried pitching the open side up against a tree or in some bushes to keep rain from splashing inside. This was the second pitch I learned, and boy did I over use this one. Extremely easy to setup.

half 2

Obviously you want the elements to be facing the opposite direction from the opening. Perfect for deflecting wind off the back.

 

 

Flying Diamond

I don’t use this very often but it excels at covering you from high wind on one side. I’ve read of a guy who used this pitch exclusively on a thru hike of the PCT. Possibly because it’s easy to do. It does provide good coverage against rain, and plenty of space to store gear being it’s very flat, but very little head room.

2016-03-12 20.41.29

Not my favorite, but also not to shabby if you’re looking for a bit of protection.

Flat Tarp

Much like a lean-to but far more head space, and room to sit up underneath. Potentially a more preferable pitch under the same circumstances. Although this looks very open it truly provides a lot of coverage. A quick change in guyline length in the front or adding some small ones on the back corners makes this great for light rain. Easy and quick to set up, and allows easy access/egress. A small tarp provides the most coverage when it’s pitched as flat as possible, making this(and variations on this) a good option.

2016-03-08 22.29.26.jpg

Tying lines off to trees can make this a very worth while pitch.

I am obviously no master, but have found that these basic pitches, with many variations on them, do me right when I need them most.

Why a Tarp?

I think a better question is… why must I be so difficult!!

I used tents for most of my backpacking life, and no, not yet have I tried hammock camping! A tent was safe, it was easy, it was obvious. I had 4 walls to protect me from the boogieman, and keep any prying eyes away from my candy and chips. I had a floor to separate me from any unwanted ground condition. I had space to live in. I had peace of mind. But you know what they say about comfort zones. They need to be broken. Nothing good ever came from someone who never steps outside.

I decided since using a tarp as my shelter would mean my backpack would weigh pounds less, I should give it a try. Who doesn’t want their pack to be lighter? I knew it would require me to learn how to tie a few knots, at least once! So I did. Got myself a tarp, briefly learned, tied, and forgot said knots. Set myself up for my first trip with an a-frame configuration, and would you believe it? I really enjoyed myself.

Everything a tent had, a tarp could do as well. In a few cases a tarp does it even better. I still had my peace of mind, and with every trip I take my confidence in my tarp grows.

In other words, I was now much happier with my $90 tarp than I was with my $400 tent. A fraction of the weight, for a fraction of the cost, with twice the space.

 

borahgear

A silnylon BorahGear 10×9 tarp on the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. This is more than enough room for 2 people to live happily. I still own this one, I call it my party tarp!

Tips & Tricks

  • Bugs: In Florida, we have a lot of mosquitoes during certain times of the year so I’m often asked about what to do. Here’s a few options. Find a spot to camp that allows for good airflow, and pitch accordingly so a breeze can run under your tarp. The moving air often times helps to literally blow them away. Also, look for campsites away from water, as that is the spawning ground of these vile creatures. In times where that’s not enough, and mosquito are so thick I can’t think, I’ve used a bivy bag. It goes under your tarp and shields you from the hoards, as well as providing other benefits like a guard from splashing rain. Sometimes call a “net tent,” you have the choice of taking it with you, or saving the weight in other seasons by leaving it at home. Some earplugs will help to forget about them, as well as Permethrin and deet to keep them away all together. Should go without saying but in the winter, bugs aren’t an issue. In a lot of states, bugs aren’t an issue at all. In most cases I at least carry a small headnet with a hat to prop it off my face, and my quilt keeps the bugs off the rest of my body.
  • Site selection: Look for bushes and trees that will compliment the way you’d like to pitch your tarp. Tree cover or a nearby shrub can really add to the room you can make yourself underneath, covering areas from blowing rain that otherwise would be wide open. Having a canopy above you also greatly helps reduce condensation issues. For more info on that check this out.
  • Setting up in the rain: Don’t wait until it’s already raining! Do the safe thing and find shelter before the storm hits. If that’s not applicable to you, it’s quick and easy to pitch a tarp and stow your pack beneath it in a storm. With tents I found that I’d always get water inside them, some tents you even have to erect it and then put on the rain fly, leaving your bed open to the elements while you fiddle with the second half of your shelter. When it comes to tarps, once you have it pitched, that area underneath is safe to unroll your dry ground sheet, unload your gear, and relax.
  • Bigger is better: The bigger the tarp, the happier you will be. With a small tarp there isn’t much room for error, where as with a large tarp(say an 8×10 or bigger) you have more than enough space for you and someone else to seek refuge away from the weather.
  • Avoid drainage ditches: Rather, don’t set up in a rut, or depression. A tent offers a “bathtub floor” but in a tarp what’s seperating you from the ground is just a sheet of fabric, not raised walls. This is of no issue, and is not to be worried about, if you aren’t going to set up in a dished site. This often means, avoiding campsites that are used over and over, and looking for a spot less worn.
  • Polycro or Tyvek: I think the rule is, use Tyvek for ground that may have lots of pointy things, like rocks or desert flora, because the material is much more durable. Polycro is far lighter but won’t last as long. So for you inflatable mattress users, Tyvek may be the better option to avoid puncture. I use Polycro and haven’t had an issue on my trips to the AT or FT.
  • Mini carabiners: I got the idea from Pepper of using ‘biners as a way to easily change which tie outs my guylines are on. It does add some weight having 8 really small ones(for you gram geeks) but the ability to quickly change how I want to set up my tarp makes it worth it to me.
20150720_192840

Solo camping with a 6 pack. There was a storm that night, and I live to tell the tale. Happily drinking my beer while the rain fell around me.

Final Thoughts

There’s no doubt that a tarp takes a bit more thought than a tent. Which often has meant it’s more for a hardcore user, but I don’t think a hardcore backpacker has to be the only one to enjoy the benefits. I certainly wasn’t when I first started using one. With just a little bit of research you can get going. Although, for your tarps maiden voyage I would avoid high bug season. Not needing a bug net while sleeping under a tarp is truly magical. The openness to nature is one of my favorite things about tarp camping. Amplified when bugs aren’t around.

Not all tarps are created equal. The different ways you can set up a tarp are seemingly endless, and they even come in many different shapes and sizes. What you have seen here is a flat tarp with a few panel pull outs. It’s been good to me, but then again a shaped tarp(a mid, or something similar) may even be a better option in a lot of situations. If you’re looking for help on deciding what to get, drop me a line. There is no perfect shelter, but this is what I like.

How to Pitch a Tarp – Suluk46

5 Tips for a Successful Tarp Pitch

11 Reasons to Switch to a Tarp

zpackstarp

Tarping on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) with my old Zpacks 7×9 cuben fiber tarp. I figured if I pitched the back end towards the water, the gators would have a much harder time getting to me in the night. Yeah, I really did that. Although more as a joke, not as a real problem. Gators don’t like humans.

 

Remember… practice makes perfect.

Jupiter

Final gear list for the ECT

Check out this gear… in video form! Youtube

This is what I’m carrying on the Eastern Continental Trail.

  • I’m starting in Quebec in July, and will probably be done with the first leg of the trip, the International Appalachian Trail, by August. Here I will dance with the caribou, square off with moose, and speak broken French with the locals.
  • Then off to the very strange community that is the Appalachian Trail for 3 months, August through November. Hopefully meeting up with a friend who is yoyoing the AT, and we’ll walk south. We will eat vegan food, enjoy big miles, and witness fall in the Appalachians.
  • I’ll leave him at Springer to tackle a section of the Benton Mackaye Trail, continuing on to hike the Pinhoti Trail, and walk to Florida on roads. This will likely be how I spend early November. Getting lost in Alabama.
  • Finally reaching the Florida Trail, and my home state, celebrating my birthday on the trail, Thanksgiving, and likely Christmas too. What are holidays anyway? Finishing up with this grand adventure in the Florida Keys around new years.

Some 4,800 miles down the east coast.

ECTmap

This is the time line I’ve laid out to avoid harsh weather in the north, and hike through Florida when it’s not a sauna. Seriously, where else can you hike in January? I only mention this stuff because my gear is chosen wisely based on the conditions I will face on this specific trip, for these specific conditions.

I don’t recommend you follow in my footsteps, or make the same choices in your gear as I have. Get out, use what you own, and change things as you go with the experience you’re gaining. The stuff I use is very dial to how I like to do things. I suggest you find how you like to do things.

Backpack

  •      Backpack – Pa’lante Cuben Simple                                                         7.4 (ounces)
  •      Bag Liner – Mountain Laurel Designs pack liner                                 1.3

Sleep System

  •      Quilt – Mountain Laurel Designs FKT synthetic quilt L                      15
  •      Pad – GossamerGear Thinlight 1/8″ (torso length)                             1.1

Shelter System

  •      Tarp – Mountain Laurel Designs cuben ProPoncho 9×5                    6.4
  •      Guylines – 4 / 6ft, and 4 / 3ft lines w/ mini carabiners                      1.7
  •      Bivy – Mountain Laurel Designs silnylon Superlight                         6.7
  •      Stakes – 6 Titanium shepherds hooks, and 2 titanium V shape      1.9

Water / Kitchen

  •      Water Bottle – 2 SmartWater 34oz                                                         2.8
  •      Food Bowl – Ziploc 2cup 16oz screw top container                           1.4
  •      Food bag – 20 x 12.5 OPsak                                                                      1.2
  •      Spoon – Plastic                                                                                           0.4

Clothing(Carried)

  •      Neck Gaiter – Blaze orange                                                                      1.4
  •      Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro                                           2.2
  •      Hat – Zpacks synthetic micro-fleece beanie                                       1
  •      Rain Jacket – OR Hellium II                                                                     6
  •      Long Underwear – Montbell Zeo-line Tights                                      4.1
  •      Jacket – Montbell Thermawrap                                                               8.4
  •      Glove Liners                                                                                                1.3

Misc.

  •      Flashlight – Fenix LD02 + extra AAA battery                                      1.4
  •      Bug Repellant – 98% Deet, repackaged                                                 0.2
  •      ID, Money, & Credit Card – In a ziploc                                                  0.4
  •      Knife – Swiss Army Knife classic S                                                        0.8
  •      Lighter – Mini Bic                                                                                      0.4
  •      Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy s5                                                            4.9
  •      Exra Phone Battery                                                                                    2
  •      USB Cord – Charging phone                                                                   0.3
  •      Wall Charger – Single port charger                                                       0.9
  •      Maps & Data – Cut up guidebooks and maps                                      ~0

First Aid Kit

  •      Soap & Toothpaste – Dr. Bronners, repackaged                                 0.2
  •      Toothbrush – Sans handle                                                                       0.1
  •      Advil & Tylenol – Mini ziploc                                                                  0.2
  •      Ziploc Bag – Holds FAK and Misc.                                                         0.2

Total base weight of pack (the weight without food, water, fuel or worn clothing)

  •      < 6 lbs~

Worn on my body: Altra Lone Peak 2.5s, ball cap, long sleeve button up shirt, running shorts, Injinji toe socks, LED flashlight necklace, and sunglasses.

16179110_378263712539578_6100895422966209145_o

Even with such a small backpack, I am still learning how to, and wanting to lighten up further.

Jupiter

To trekking pole, or not to trekking pole

If my trekking poles were to break, I wouldn’t replace them. I would leave them behind. This was the unpopular answer to a question about using trekking poles on my upcoming thru hike. Unpopular because a whole lot of people seem to be absolutely enamored by the aluminum or carbon walking sticks that tie up their hands while they walk. Why? I know why, I’m just not yet sure I myself care.

The more I got to thinking about this subject, the less I want to use them. Not only that but the less I remember using them during the past 2 years of hiking. When you see photos of me, I often have them in hand but it’s a farce. If you’ve actually hiked with me, I am almost always just carrying them! Not often, actually using them.

Not to mention I’m constantly forgetting them places. These are some expensive ass sticks to be forgetting! I guess I’m so far removed from being wed to them that regardless of the retarded price tag, I still can’t remember to put them in my car after a trip. So if you’re ever at a trail head, and find 180 dollars laying on the ground, that’s mine, I can pick it up from you whenever.

So why am I such a hater? Maybe I can point out some pros, why I don’t care, and some cons. I will say I was totally going to carry them on my ECT thru hike, and then someone unknowingly made me rethink that decision! Now, I’m unsure if I’ll be starting with them anymore.

Screenshot_2016-05-17-05-43-19-1

One trekking pole? Two trekking poles? None? The use of them is obvious is certain situations, but they aren’t so necessary in every situation! Just another burden to be carried.

So why do people like trekking poles so much anyhow? Is it simply to look like some 4 legged spider human, cruising up and down mountains? Although an appealing look, I gather there’s much more to this.

When I cut the hipbelt off of my backpack, if I had asked the opinions of some of my hiking friends prior about that decision, I certainly would have been flamed. Look at me now, I love the freedom of not having a hipbelt, and frankly I feel I’m missing nothing. This only works because I carry so very little weight on my back. My baseweight (all the contents of my backpack not counting food or water) for summer hiking has been 5 pounds and under. Now my thru hike approaches and I’ll be starting out with something in the 6 and a half pound range. Much like the hipbelt, I think trekking poles are more useful to those who have heavier loads. Those who may need more support. As folks shave weight from their pack, and reach lower baseweights, they may discover that trekking poles are no longer a necessity. Although this is obviously still very much a personal preference thing.

Back when I carried a heavy pack, hiking poles were a true gift. As my pack got smaller, it seems like naturally I just stopped carrying them, stopped using them, or maybe stopped needing them. For those who may be a little unstable under the weight of their pack, or who are looking for extra knee support. The poles truly are worth every ounce, and then some.

20150822_065537

Here I thought they would help me navigate the swamp, really they just got in my way. As seen in my hand, where they stayed just like that.

I’m young, I’m fit, and my pack is really light. What are trekking poles supposed to be doing for me? Aside from the obvious answers some simply say, “they make you go faster.” Which is funny, because people already tell me I’m going too fast! Apparently, I could be going faster even. Less time on my feet during the day is appealing, but personally I don’t particularly see this as much of a positive virtue of using poles. I’ve argued this before but I think your body wants to go at one speed. By propelling it faster and further than its internal pace dictates aren’t you potentially opening yourself up to injury? Maybe not. It’s just a thought. Although I will not argue that poles can save your knees on downhills, but I will argue that for someone in my situation I may not need that. I don’t already have any knee pain while I hike, and aside from a short recovery period from a running injury, my ankles have never caused me problems either. So for me, maybe they aren’t worth the weight.

Or maybe the hassle. On a hike that’s going to last upwards of 5 to 6 months, things are going to break. Obviously for the sake of your wallet, and sanity, hopefully nothing breaks! In a perfect world… one pair of Altra’s would last me 5,000 miles. Alas, I’ll be replacing my shoes at least 6 times. Other folks often have to replace not just shoes, but backpacks, inflatable sleeping pads, pillows, and… you guessed it, trekking poles. A friend told me that one of his buddies on the AT snapped his poles twice, and another friend broke them 3 times! No wonder so very many people go to Leki, maybe it’s not because they’re amazing poles. They are blinded by the warranty. (Another company comes to mind for the same reason.) How about I avoid this all together, and not use any.

Poles may be smart but I’m just not convinced that they’re for me. I have 4 more months to decide before I fly to Canada to begin my long walk home.

There’s a small group of hikers that choose to go stick-less, some of these hikers being among the best in the world. Joe Kisner, Scott Williamson, Lint, Francis Tapon… to name a few. Just something to think about. The question arrises, if they do it why not I? I had the same question about thru hiking in general. Rarely if ever do you hear about a seasoned thru hiker getting off trail to quit, yet at the same time you hear numbers like so many people quit within the first so many miles of this trail. It begs the question, why can these hikers do this year after year, flawlessly, when so many others quit? Hmmmmm. Maybe these top hikers are the ones we should learn from(exclusively) instead of Joeschmoe on youtube. Although a dangerous game, I think for the most part they set a wonderful example. More of them use poles than not, but then again that group who goes without does just as well.

Now I’m not saying hiking without poles is the answer to all of lifes problems(on the trail) as they are a godsend to most, but the more I have thought about it the less I want to carry mine. Try it sometime yourself, it’s liberating. Bring oranges to peal while you walk. Might as well.

Asking someone if you should remove your hipbelt is like asking someone if you should go without trekking poles. Just don’t.

“I’m not arguing that people should ditch their trekking poles or any other piece of gear. Hike your own hike. Many backpackers couldn’t hike at all without trekking poles, so it’s wonderful that they exist. I’ve made some comments about trekking poles because they are an easy target and many people don’t fully consider the implications of carrying them.

Also, I’m not so sure that most new hikers have even tried hiking without poles. They go to an outfitter who convinces them that they will be miserable without poles. And that’s probably true, because most backpackers start off with massive loads that are hard to carry without poles. However, soon they lighten up, but then they forget to ditch the poles along with the other useless gear they tossed. I’ve known some backpackers who have revisited the idea of hiking pole-less and they’re surprised that it’s as easy as… walking! I prefer having my hands free, but someday I may use them because I can see their utility.”

– Francis Tapon, triple crowner and the first person to yo-yo the CDT

Sometimes two are nice, sometimes one, other times none.

Maybe I’m just a hater.

 

Jupiter

The wonders of no cook meals and going stoveless

If you’ve ever been backpacking you more than likely carried a portable stove, but have you ever thought about leaving that at home? 2 years ago I did, and since then never looked back. The benefits of not carrying a camping stove in this guys opinion outweigh the cons, especially for those who like to travel fast, light, and free.

DSCN0386

Circa 2012 somewhere on the AT, going cross eyed waiting for water to boil.

While looking for ways to lose weight from my backpacking set up I tried all kinds of different stoves, and just as many different pots. Much like everyone else I started with a very bulky canister stove, although it was the least hassle of the bunch the sheer amount of space it took up in my pack, and the overall weight led me looking for something smaller, and lighter. I tried a cat food can alcohol stove, and I enjoyed the small size, but after a few accidents involving setting things on fire that shouldn’t be on fire, and crushing the stove itself on more than one occasion, I was still longing for something more fool proof. Even if you’re very careful with an alcohol stove, as many are, the weight of the fuel you need for an extended trip, and the hassle of finding the fuel in towns(much like canister stoves,) leaves much to be desired. The fuel was now my biggest problem, as an alcohol stove by itself is very light. So I bought a wood burning stove, and I won’t lie I love that thing. Its more or less a titanium cone that you feed little sticks into, making a small very concentrated fire underneath your cook pot. This is a great novelty, and I would love to use it on a much longer backpacking trip like a thru hike, but the unreliability becomes an issue quick. Having to make a fire in the rain, or in an area without much material to ignite would be a real bummer, not to mention fire bans, and leave no trace ethics.

11247127_383607538498511_391776213_n

My Vargo wood stove

I burned through a few different iterations of the above mentioned stoves, and in the end I was still not pleased. Somewhere in the midst of researching I came across the idea of no cook meals, and an article talking about the method of stove-less cooking, a soaking, and re-hydrating of sorts. All that is required is a small plastic bowl with a lid that screws on securely, your spoon, and some water. No fuel, no heavy metals, no bulk, and extremely light weight! Now this is something I could finally get down with.

Stove-less coking is also known as the soaking method. To re-hydrate my food I add it to a container with a screw top, put in a little bit of water, and let it soak for an hour or two while I hike. When I’m ready to eat my meal it has absorbed all of the water, and is at the ambient  temperature of my surroundings. These screw top containers can be found anywhere, I use one made by Ziploc but I’ve also seen powdered sport drink, and gelato containers used, as well as simply re-hydrating meals in gallon Ziploc bags. That’s right, a ziploc bag. You don’t even have to carry a pot if you don’t want to.

When hiking with local groups people get the impression that I don’t enjoy food, or happiness, or that maybe I’m a masochist. In reality I’m eating better now than I ever was when I used any sort of stove. That’s mostly due in part to the research I’ve done since, but I truly believe that there isn’t much left to be desired with a stove-less setup. Contrary to what you may think.

Without further delay here are some pros, and cons to the stove-less lifestyle. Keep in mind that back in the day of thru hiking this was probably more popular in regards to the percentage of people using this cooking method due to the weight of camping stoves at the time. Although stoves are now lighter they are still not necessary.

Weight Savings

First and foremost this began for me in an effort to reduce my backpacks overall weight. Instead of carrying fuel, stove, windscreen, and a titanium cook pot. Now all you’re carrying is a small plastic container. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist… but lets break that down with a canister stove for example, being more people use these than anything else. Specifically the most popular stove, the MSR Pocket Rocket.

Typical lightweight Cookset

  • Pocket Rocket Stove: 3oz
  • Fuel Canister: 8.2oz
  • Windscreen: 0.2oz
  • Titanium Cook-pot: 5oz
  • Titanium Spoon: 0.6oz

Total: 17oz

Stove-less Cookset

  • Plastic Bowl: 1.4oz
  • Titanium Spoon: 0.6oz

Total: 2oz

TOTAL SAVINGS: 15oz

This demonstration is using a fairly light weight stove system already, not considering some of the heavier cooking setups(like the JetBoil) where the savings would be far more pronounced, potentially 2 or even 3 pounds off the top.When it comes to the ability to drop 1-2 pounds from your backpack you won’t find an easier way to lose a considerable amount of weight on the cheap than going stove-less.

Now a lot of people say that no cook systems are actually heavier because the required food for such a cooking method is heavier by default. I’ve found this to be untrue, and probably a justification for not trying it. I use the same food you do, but in a different way. Most backpacking foods that have to be cooked, can also be served in this manner.

Simplicity

In addition to being extremely light weight you probably noticed a stove-less setup is far simpler than its brethren, requiring only a quarter of the gear. That’s less you have to lug around, less space used in your bag, and less overall clutter. Personally I like less clutter while backpacking, even more so than I like ultralight gear. There’s something magical about picking up your things in the morning, or setting up at night, and not having a whole mess of gear to organize, and sort through. The less stuff I am carrying the happier I am, not only for the comfort of a lighter pack, but also the efficiency of having less to deal with. Not having an entire cook kit that I need to set up, clean up, and keep organized is a very big positive for me.

The experience as a whole is very hassle free, and I very much like that. After a long day on my feet, rolling into camp, the last thing I want to do is sit there and wait another 10+ minutes for food to cook. I just want to eat! After some time of using a stove while hiking I found the whole process to feel much like a chore. I enjoyed the food of course, but the act of preparing it lost it’s touch very quickly. I’m sure a lot of you have witnessed the look of despair on someones face when it comes to not-so-patiently waiting for water to boil and food to reconstitute while backpacking. Especially on longer trips where you’re so hungry others watch you go cross eyed while staring at your stove.

The shorter the trip the less noticeable this is, but while on a thru hike or backpacking trips of excess of 2 weeks hiker hunger kicks in. Suddenly you are helpless to your stomachs need to consume food, you want it, and you want it now. Maybe you too will find that on an extended trip cooking no longer has the allure it once did. If you find yourself dreaming about a simpler life… why not try stove-less cooking!

20150828_131655

Time Savings

Cooking takes time, twice or three times a day heating up, and tending to a meal is time that could be spent doing other things. With a no cook system on the other hand I roll into camp at the end of the day my food has already been soaking, and is ready to eat immediately, or whenever I so please. Leaving me time to do the things that are either important for the morning and next day, or things that I want to do for entertainment. Freedom to do some bird watching, exploring, setting up camp, taking care of my feet, collecting water, reading or blogging on my phone, watching the sunset, tending to personal hygiene, and most importantly… sleeping! I’m not tied to my stove for 20 minutes, and thus that time is now open for more rewarding tasks.

While hiking solo I often don’t eat at camp, I’ll soak my food while I walk, and a few miles before camp is when I’ll have my dinner. This reduces the smell of food at the campsite I eventually do pick, and allows me to use that extra energy from my meal to get in a few more bonus miles. With a stove-less setup this process is super quick, and easy. Food is ready, and I can be in, and out without any extra chores to tend to. Just eat and go go go.

By having some extra time around camp there’s the added incentive of collecting wood, and making a relaxing fire to sit around while you eat your no cook creation. Maybe you even packed in some vegetables wrapped in tinfoil, a luxury very much worth having on occasion. Now the fire is a necessity to cook your delicious meal, and you didn’t even need a stove!

Less Accident Prone

You don’t want to be the one setting that campsite table, wooden shelter, or forest ablaze. Same goes for cooking inside your tent, I think the dangers of burning all of your camping gear should go without saying. Yet a lot of people still do it. Maybe to stay warm, if only for a very brief fiery second.

Next time you’re on the AT go in one of the shelters, and take a closer look at the flooring, or the skinny tables some of them have. You’ll notice black rings burned into the wood, probably in every single shelter up and down the AT. This is from stoves setting fire to those shelters, most likely alcohol stoves. Don’t be that guy. Knocking over a canister stove wouldn’t be that big of deal in a lot of cases, but it is like a miniature torch, with boiling hot water sitting vicariously atop. Take it from me you don’t want boiling water falling in your lap, and although I don’t have experience with a stove falling on my crotch you probably don’t want that either. An alcohol stove in comparison to a canister stove is much more dangerous. When tipped over accidentally you then have fiery liquid spreading on the ground, on you, or your gear. Forest fires have been started in this way.

When it comes to alcohol stoves, I’ve crushed mine, rendering it useless, and I’ve had others crush it for me, as if I couldn’t do it myself. Left with food that must be cooked, and no means to cook it. In otherwords, stoves can fail. Even if you’re careful there may be a systems failure. I’ve been there, and yes I still tried eating the extremely crunchy meal that refused to reconstitute in water. It was less than enjoyable.

I’ve heard a story from a trail I frequent where I’m not sure if the canister of fuel wasn’t screwed on fully, or the seal was really old, but the end result of this was the canister more or less exploding, flying through the air, hitting some poor man in the crotch! I don’t often hear or read stories of this nature, but that did happen. Probably not something to worry about, but remember that for some folks their first time using a backpacking stove is on the first night of their 2,000 mile backpacking trip.

I don’t mean to scare you as these dangers can mostly be avoided, but what if your stove breaks or malfunctions? Problems that the stove-less hiker doesn’t ever have to think about. What can fail in regards to a plastic cup?

In a lot of western states there are frequent fire bans, in which case no cook meals may become one of the few options you have.

Some of these are very extreme situations, and you may likely never experience any of them, but it’s something to be mindful of. Even if you’re very careful accidents happen. Be safe, and don’t leave your things unattended. Or go stove-less, and feel free to kick around your plastic cup all you’d like.

10890851_736217633131139_2042580548_n

An alcohol stove kit. Not shown is the table I set on fire, or my crotch after I spilled boiling water on it while trying to put the fire out.

More Pros

  • The logistics are really easy as you won’t have to find fuel in town.
  • No cook meals often use a little bit less water to reconstitute, making the option of camping away from a water source more appealing.
  • No worrying about your stove not working in the cold, or fiddling with it in the wind.
  • It’s better for the environment!!!
  • Less odors are produced when you don’t have a flame to disperse the smell while cooking at your campsite. You’re “cooking” while you walk dispersing any smell in small amounts over a great deal of time.
  • You save money! That cash you were going to put towards a stove, and the never ending need to buy fuel for it, can now go to a nice hostel, or a few big meals in town.

Regardless of how much I like it, there are downsides. In an effort to be objective I’ll mention some things that not everyone can get down with. Sometimes, a stove is easier.

Research

It’s no secret that I research the crap out of everything. It’s in my bones to do so. Stove-less meals, and recipes are no different. Unfortunately this is a downside as the information isn’t readily available as to whats possible. The options are truly endless, but not many present the information forward, and those that do often haven’t been doing this for a long time. This leads to a lot of trial and error, as well as uncomfortable amounts of searching through other peoples food choices. That is, if you really want to explore the depths of the soaking method.

I’m not sure if I love to research or hate it, being very obsessive about learning every facet of backpacking, it is still something I must do. On the other hand I know quite a lot of people who downright refuse to do any research at all regarding thru hiking. They can still be just as successful without all the hair pulling, mind numbing, reading about various topics. It’s certainly not for everyone, and if you don’t want to explore no cook meals beyond what I will provide then maybe this isn’t the best option for you.

There is a plethora of food that can be prepared with a stove without any prior thought, this is not the case with stove-less cooking. The advantage of carrying a stove comes in the form of ease. Walking into a grocery store and knowing that almost nothing is off limits as to what you can make. This is similar for no cook meals but it definitely takes much more thought, research, or experience. Then again it’s often not very easy finding fuel for your stove.

No Hot Meals

There’s no denying that a hot meal while hiking can be a huge moral booster. Giving this up for most is difficult. After a very long day hiking sometimes what you want is a warm meal, and I won’t deny this.

When Pepper set the Colorado Trail unsupported speed record his base pack weight was stupid low. Yet he still carried a stove. Why? He had all the lightest gear and only the bare essentials, and then a stove. He figured if he was doing 40-50 miles a day, day after day, a big moral booster for him to keep going would be a hot meal at the end of the day. His luxury item was a stove. For him the extra weight and hassle was worth it on that particular trip.

For a lot of people not having hot coffee in the morning is a big deal, and would prevent them from going stove-less. Did you know both Folgers, and Starbucks makes instant coffee? No heat required. Yeah, you can have your cake, and eat it too. For those that think it’s not strong enough, double up a package! Add sugar, add cream. I don’t care, it’s super delish. Starbucks happens to have many different flavors to boot. It’s still not hot, but it is coffee.

There’s this myth that circulates everywhere during winter or on cold days. That hot food helps to warm you up and possibly prevent hypothermia. This is not true. It is the act of your body digesting the fuel, the calories, that warms you up. Not the temperature of the meal. So please don’t tell me that’s why you need hot food.

10956673_761851463883614_1002725726_n

Sometimes a hot meal is just what you want.

More Cons

  • There’s no lying that this style of cooking most benefits a more go go go attitude. Some very much enjoy the time spent cooking, and this would be a con.
  • The food isn’t always lighter. People who are new to stove-less cooking often wind up carry heavier foods, like canned food, and instead of having real meals just snack all day long.
  • As mentioned above you can’t cook everything that you want. Some items, without a dehydrator, are off limits.
  • Sometimes your stove-less creations come out less favorable than planned, vs meals you know right off the bat will be great.
  • You may be an outcast during dinner time being you don’t have anything to cook along with the others. Assuming you haven’t packed out something to cook in the fire.
  • Not everyone gives a damn about how much their backpack weighs. That’s cool too!

 

Now that we’ve gone over some pros and cons here are some tips, and two simple meals that are thru hiker friendly. As in you can buy these ingredients at a grocery store.

Tips and Tricks

  • Keep everything clean. Boiling water kills any bacteria growing in your cook pot, since you won’t be doing this you need to make sure you wash your plastic cup frequently.
  • Add less water than you think you need until you know what works best for you. You can always add more later! A soupy, watery creation is not always desirable.
  • Don’t want to be an outcast at camp without anything to cook? Pack in some veggies in tinfoil, and cook it over the fire! Now you’ll be envied by all of those eating their one thousandth packet of Ramen. I do this all the time, and it’s wonderful
  • Re-hydrate your food as you walk. A few miles before camp or an hour before when you want to be eating dinner add your food and water to your bowl.  When it comes to be dinner time your food will be ready to eat! Same goes for breakfast. Have a snack when you wake up, and prepare your breakfast in your plastic container for a few miles up the trail.
  • Check out stores with bulk bins like Whole Foods, as these stores often have dehydrated foods ready for your no-cook meals.
  • Pack out fresh produce from the store. You’ll be happy you did. Not only for the nutrients but for the enjoyment of fresh food. Instead of that second(or third) package of cookies try bananas, or a couple avocados, your body will thank you. Often you can add these fresh foods to your stove-less creations
  • Try your recipes at home before you try them on the trail if possible.
  • If you can get your hands on a dehydrator, anything that can be dehydrated can be re-hydrated by simply adding water.
  • Get creative, and have fun!!!!!

Sample Recipes

There will be more of these to come but here are two that you can give a go on your next backpacking trip! Here’s two really simple options to try. These are the first two recipes I   In the near future I’ll do separate posts for more elaborate meals.

IMG_20150215_083853_484

Put it all in your pot and add water!

Breakfast – A tasty cereal of sorts

What you need:

  • Granola of your choosing. I like the ones that aren’t doused in sugar. Sometimes the ones with dehydrated fruit already in them.
  • Dehydrated coconut milk is my favorite and I encourage you to try it, but any dehydrated milk will do.
  • Cranberries and dried blueberries!
10802552_685520178229028_1465305780_n

Couscous is love.

 

Dinner – Couscous with everything

What you need:

  • Near East brand couscous(it re-hydrates the best) I always seem to go for the “toasted pine nut” flavoring. Usually I only use half the box for one meal.
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Pine nuts
  • Raisins, you can never add to many raisins.
  • At some grocery stores you can find dehydrated vegetables in the produce section(sometimes called dried veggie chips, but not always.) Also in the soup section there are often dehydrated veggies made to be added to soups.
  • Olive oil!! The fuel of thru hikers.
  • Spice of your choice, but it’s still good without! I frequently go without. Curry powder, garlic powder, etc.
  • Tuna packet on top. I went vegan 8 months ago, but this is another option for the carnivores out there.

Final Thoughts

If this isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. That’s totally fine, but I encourage you to try it sometime. Hopefully after reading through this post you’ll be more inclined to try it on your next trip, and maybe even embrace it yourself!

I hope that this was informative, and serves as a solid resource for those interested in stove-less cooking.

In the coming months I’ll do a big posts containing more of my meal recipes in detail. I’ll link to it here when completed.

If you have any comments or concerns about this that maybe I could address, feel free to leave them below in the comments. This may not be the end all be all of eating on the trail for most, but it is for me.

Do I sound bias? Maybe so! I’ve tried all options, and this is what has been the most enjoyable for me.

If you’re looking to go lighter, be more efficient, and live simpler while on trail this is for you.

food

I no longer eat meat but this is from my first stoveless backpacking trip

 

Jupiter

What I’ll be carrying on the Appalachian Trail and Florida Trail

(This has been updated)

In 2012 I set off on the Appalachian trail for a section hike with a backpack weighing in the range of 60-70lbs. This was one of my first real backpacking experiences… and I sure learned a whole lot! I learned that all the comforts of home I was carrying didn’t actually add anything to my enjoyment of the wilderness. By the end of that 250 mile section my ankles hurt, my back hurt, and I hobbled around for a week after.

Since that hike I really started to look at my gear in an effort to lighten up as to learn from the past. I began pairing down what was necessary, and developing a style of my own along the way. Through the course of hundreds of trips, and mountains of research  I found that as my pack got lighter, walking got easier, and life got simpler. I am no longer in pain, and I now enjoy being in the woods even more!

Since deciding to take on 4,000 miles of the Eastern Continental Trail, I’ve collected all the gear that makes me the most happy, I’ve spent a whole lot of time on the trail, and I’ve stayed tried and true to the philosophy that less is more. My base pack weight, the weight of my gear without counting food or water, is just under 7lbs to start the AT, and I’ll likely get that down to 6lbs once the weather warms up. This is the gear I’ve been fiddling with for the past two years. Everything has been used thoroughly, and prior to that researched endlessly.

My gear list can be found here if you wish to look at individual weights and everything in a more condensed form. This list is live so when I change something you can see it there.

http://lighterpack.com/r/2pj411

Some of this gear is expensive, some of it isn’t. I could have thru hiked last year but I wanted more time to hike in my local area for training, learn new skills, and continue my research. I’m very happy with this decision. It has allowed me to buy the exact gear that I want, and learn how to use it as second nature. You’ll find that with sufficient research most ultralight gear is actually cheaper.

Everything on this list is something I fully support, unless stated otherwise. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t be carrying it.

If you too are looking to shave weight from your pack, don’t rush it. With experience will come weight savings. Only after spending a very long time in the woods have I gotten to this point. I am still always looking to lighten up, try new things, and become more efficient with the gear I use.

This is a series of mini reviews of the gear I’ll be starting out with on the Appalachian Trail for a mid June start up north, in Maine. I expect low temperatures for the first 500 miles, and a whole lot of rain for the entire trip. I will be going solo, and plan on taking advantage of shelters in heavy storms. I will continue past the AT to the Florida Trail, and my gear will remain the same. I expect to reach Florida sometime around October or November after finishing the AT in September… if all goes as planned. A faster thru hike is my goal, and I think my gear reflects that.

Backpack

Mountain Laurel Designs Burn 32L Backpack

I love this pack so much I bought 2 of them! I have used it for the past two years, and its gone over a thousand miles without any sign of wear or tear. It’s everything I ever wanted in an ultralight pack. It’s frame-less so I use my sleeping pad to give it rigidity, and save weight. This pack is minimalism at its finest with no useless flairs or features, and weighing in at only 11 ounces! Fast and efficient, everything you need, and nothing more. The most food I’ve had in it has been 9 days and that was pushing this pack to its absolute limits. I wouldn’t carry more than 25 pounds with this thing which is why I don’t recommend it to most people. It was made for really low weights, and a more fastpacking versus backpacking attitude. I really like the design, and since I’m going for a faster thru hike, carrying less than a normal amount of gear, this backpack suits my style perfectly. I actually cut off the hip belt it came with on the first one I purchased, and for the second one MLD made it for me without one. My pack weight is so low I don’t need the extra hip support, and thus it’s just dead weight to me. It allows a quicker style of use, and I dropped a few ounces in the process.

MLD makes the Prophet which is slightly bigger and would be more suitable for most people. The Burn is tiny, at 32~ liters you seriously have to pair your gear down to only the essentials. Non bulky, lightweight, essentials at that! The small size is possibly one of my favorite parts about it. I see day hikers carrying bigger packs than me. I used to use a GossamerGear G4 which was of similar style but really wide. The Burn has a really skinny profile, and I love that in comparison. It doesn’t catch on anything protruding into the trail, and sits very centered on my back.

I’ve taken this pack through some harsh conditions, and put the pain down on it. It’s held up through everything with no sign of slowing down. It’s made of a very strong, and light weight fabric called Dyneema. Able to withstand even the most brutal of falls, scrapes, long term use, and general mishaps. I know this pack will not fail mechanically on me in any way, even after thousands of miles. Mountain Laurel Designs has done an amazing job of making a well built, durable, and extremely lightweight backpack. Very comfortable as well! The most comfortable pack I’ve used to date. In comparison to carrying my monster from the AT in 2012 or any pack since, this is a dream with shoulder straps.

I will use this pack for all my future hikes. The small size is pushing it for a thru hike, but I think with my minimalist kit I will be able to happily manage. One day I’d like to make my own pack but even then it would roughly be the same design as this.

Mountain Laurel Designs Pack Liner

The idea behind a pack liner is that if you have a big bag full of your gear, sealed, it will keep out any water. Most traditional backpackers will use a pack cover which just covers 2/3rds of your pack and lets water seep in through your back. A pack liner keeps everything out, where it belongs. A pack liner weighs less than a pack cover and does its job exponentially better. The reason I bought the MLD pack liner versus the typical trash compactor bag that you can find at any grocery store is that the MLD version fits my tiny pack better. A true trash compactor bag would be far more durable but I like how this fits. It’s ever so slightly lighter as well. I guess I couldn’t resist. So far the MLD pack liner has held up over the last year of serious hiking. I expect I’ll have to replace it sooner than later. Came with two for just 5$.

Sleeping

Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20 Degree Quilt

Enlightened Equipment makes some quality quilts! I highly recommend them. I also own a quilt from another highly regarded cottage company that I use for warmer weather, and I’ll say the difference between the two companies is night and day. When it comes to quality my EE Enigma is top notch. Everything about it. The degree of warmth, the stitching, the small details, and the low weight are all on point. It’s a worth while company to look into if you’re contemplating a new sleep system.

What is a quilt? A quilt is a sleeping bag without a back or zipper, which saves loads of weight! I choose a quilt over a bag because when you lay in a sleeping bag you’re compressing and crushing the insulating material, and it’s no longer keeping you warm. Only the fabric on top of you is actually doing anything for you. So all that fabric you sleep on top of is dead weight. Potentially a large sum of weight, that you have to carry! A zipper is too since you just tuck the sides of the quilt under neath you. This can create drafts if you happen to untuck one of the sides while you sleep by rolling around, but I haven’t had a problem with that yet. I like how this quilt comes with vertical baffles, which hold the down in place better, instead of horizontal. With horizontal baffles the down tends to migrate to your sides leaving your front exposed without insulation.

I got this with a rating of 20 degrees as I’ll be starting my hike in Maine just after winter. There will still be cold nights and I could get away with less but I’d like 20 degrees so that I could use this same quilt on other trails with more harsh weather. It’s a small luxury but It’s actually lighter to carry a slightly heavier sleeping bag than to get that same warmth from extra clothing. The downside to that idea is that to stay at your peak warmth you must be in your sleeping bag and not able to be hanging around camp wearing your extra clothing. With my style of hike hike hike, camp to recharge, this is what I want. Since I’ll be hiking all the way south into winter I also foresee running into some cold nights in Florida assuming I’ll be hiking the FT in November/December. So 20 degrees seemed like the proper choice all around.

Some people like for their jacket to have a hood or for their sleeping bag to have a hood, you wont get that with a quilt. I believe this way is a more modular system. You can’t remove the hood, and you certainly can’t wear your bags hood while you hike. Thus I carry a beanie to sleep in or hike in. Same effect with many more uses.

While on the Appalachian Trail it’s going to warm up maybe 500 or so miles into my hike, and at that point I will send this home and swap it out for my much lighter 40 degree bag. Once I’m very sure it’s not cold anymore this will drop half a pound from my back just as I’ll be picking up the miles!

GossamerGear Nightlight Torso Length Sleeping Pad

Do I like this pad? Yes. Would I recommend it? No. If you camp in a location with a lot of natural ground cover like leaves, grass, or pine needles it’s great. Those things provide extra insulation from the cold hard ground. More comfort and padding. If you are one to choose a campsite near a shelter or in an area commonly camped on this pad will not be comfortable, it will purely take away the “edge”. Unless of course you like a stiff bed. So you will commonly find me camping in locations away from shelters in areas that aren’t used often or ever before. I do like this pad, and I will continue to use it until I am older, and require something more cushy. The pad is stiff but if I sleep on my back, and follow the guidelines above I get good sleep, and sleep comfortably sleep with it. This pad is also used as the frame for my frame-less backpack giving it form and rigidity, and as my camp chair while lounging around after a long day. It also happens to be extremely light at just 4.9 ounces. Which is why I would only recommend it to those who are really looking for the lightest possible setup.

It’s a great foam pad but you have to think about your sleeping location a little more than the next guy. It’s only the length of my torso, from my shoulders to my butt so I use an inflatable pillow under my head, put my backpack under my feet for added insulation from the ground, and to elevate my feet at night for better recovery. The bottom half of your pad is mostly useless, so cut it off! You can even do this with inflatable pads if you have one, using a hot iron to seal it up again. It’s your upper body that really needs the most insulation unless hiking in winter, while your backpack can separate your legs and feet from the ground.

Exped Ultralight Air Pillow Medium

Of all the camping pillows in existence I’ve found this one to have the most positive reviews. I’ve personally found it to be very comfy, and I have happily carried it on all of my hikes in the past year without issue of breakage or a bad nights rest. Before this I used my shoes, blown up ziploc bags inside a stuff sack, clothes inside a stuff sack, and my food bag as different pillows. Yes, seriously, my food bag. Although all of those are good choices, this pillow is really comfortable, and offers superior sleep. Getting a good nights rest is very important to having a strong day of hiking, and you won’t go wrong with this cushion of air. Even the fabric on top is nice against the face, and doesn’t feel like plastic. Sometimes it slips out from under me a little but due to its curved shape I always wake up with it under my head. I remember this pillow as being on the pricier side but I would still buy it again if the one I own breaks beyond repair. I do worry about it busting so I do try to be very careful with it. I highly recommend an inflatable camp pillow, and this one works wonderfully for me.

Shelter

Mountain Laurel Designs 5×9 Cuben ProPoncho Tarp

I’m a tarp guy. I wasn’t always. I used tents for years and even bought a really nice one. Then I decided I’d get a cheap tarp and try it out. I never looked back. There is much beauty to behold in a flat tarp. You can set it up in almost endless configurations depending on your skill, and the weather. If you have a really amazing view you can set it up to have a nice vantage. If you have a crazy storm you can pitch it low, and away from the weather. Most tarps provide much more space than a tent, and they do it at a small fraction of the weight. Only recently have tents gotten to a point where they weigh 2 pounds or less. Where as I could buy a tarp that weighs around 4 ounces and it would provide twice the space. This particular tarp gives me 45 square feet, doubles as my rain gear, and only weighs half a pound with all of its guy lines. When my options are a 2lb tent with a 6oz rain jacket, or an 8oz tarp that doubles as a rain poncho, I’m saving almost 2lbs off of my back. A tarp is another one of those things were the amount of skill, experience, or research you’ve done will dictate how useful it is. Or rather how much fun you can have with it, and how happy you’ll be with your decision. Practice, practice, practice, much like everything else.

One of the tips to having a lighter pack is having more multi-use items. This poncho tarp embodies that. As I mentioned, I’m saving pounds off of already really lightweight tent setups. Not only because tarps are by nature lighter weight, but also in this case it’s multi-use, eliminating another piece of gear from my backpack, the rain jacket. As tarps go this one is rather small at 5×9 so I am risking it with the sheer amount of rain on the east coast, but with the intention to use shelters when needed, and my brain when choosing a site to camp I think I can out smart the weather. If you’re not already very experienced with a tarp I would not recommend this particular shelter. The overall size makes it a tight fit, and increases the risk of use by a considerable amount if the conditions aren’t good. A more comfortable size for a new tarp user would be 7×9 or upwards of 9×10. The small size does dictate that I generally set it up lower to the ground in a storm, and have to be more careful with where I’m camping.

This is a very specialized piece of gear, yet as a tarp still remains flexible. My choice of bringing it on the AT is that if need be I can stay in one of the many shelters that litter the trail. I plan on taking advantage of those lean-tos when I can as the margin for error with this piece of gear is rather small in bad weather. In constantly wet, and raining conditions without the option of these shelters this tarp wouldn’t be a very wise choice. To make things easier I use mini carabiners(instead of having to tie knots daily) to make setting up, taking down, and changing to poncho mode easiest in inclimate weather. Carrying an umbrella really helps the transition from rain gear to shelter in a storm, as well. For the Appalachian Trail, with all its rain and glory, I’ll be using the shelters very frequently to escape the rain.

The whole product is extremely well built, and designed. The rain gear aspect of it is awesome. This essentially replaces a rain coat, rain pants, and a pack cover. I absolutely love that my shorts stay dry, and that I don’t have to wear rain pants or a rain kilt using this poncho. It goes over my entire body, and my pack, keeping both the outside, and its contents dry. The hood on it is really well made, and as I understand was recently redesigned in the version I have. It fits great over my head and I can cinch it tight so when I look around it follows with me. Has a cute little brim too, keeping the rain out of my eyes.

My biggest factor for looking into this in the first place was how much I disdained rain jackets, and their lack of breathability. All rain jackets have big issues with breathing, you simply sweat them out, negating almost all reason of wearing them in the first place. Being a poncho this breathes extremely well by letting air flow in from under my arms, and the dress portion around mu legs, keeping me dry of perspiration and rain. You can tie the poncho close to your body with a guy line for really bad weather, or you can let it hang loose and have maximum air-flow. This is wonderful in a very wet climate, with sweltering humidity, like the AT and FT. Being a Florida hiker, humidity is nothing new. A rain jacket simply wasn’t working for me, and this was the answer. I now hike more comfortably than ever in the rain.

Most peoples issues with tarps are that they think they’ll either get wet in a downpour, or the bugs will get them. A tarp is actually even better in a storm than a tent. You have multiple ways to set it up, plenty of space, and once you set it up no more rain is falling, and you can peacefully put down your dry ground sheet for a water free zone. Having to set up a tent in the rain I found that I would get rain in the tent, and then have to mop it up before I could do anything. That isn’t an issue with a tarp as it stops the rain before you put down your ground sheet. When it comes to bugs, they are an issue in Florida, it can be remedied with just about any bivy or bug netting. If you set up your tarp so that a draft can blow through, the bugs will be blown away! If you pitch your tarp away from water then you are avoiding even more of them.

Overall I’m very happy with this tarp, and the experience of using a tarp as my primary shelter as a whole. There’s nothing like the feeling of closeness with your surrounding wilderness you get while being under a tarp, and not zippered up inside a rigid tent. The same goes for being in the rain under your tarp. You’re there, you see it, you could touch it, but only if you want to. It’s really magical to hang out dry, while the rain falls around you.

Mountain Laurel Designs did an amazing job with this tarp. I wont be using a bivy with it as I find them too confining. Maybe in the future I will.

How to pitch a Tarp: Suluk46

How to minimize condensation

Stakes – 8

I use titanium stakes to keep my tarp pitched to the ground, tight, and in position. I also use them as a poop trowel. Titanium is lighter than steel, and more sturdy than aluminum. I have found only using the skinny shepherd hook stakes isn’t quite enough unless you put rocks on them to keep them in place when the ground isn’t so stable. So I use 6 shepherd hook stakes and 2 stakes on the most crucial points, the ridge-line, that are shaped like a V. The V shaped stakes are so much more secure in soft sand or ground with a lot of brush.

Ground Cloth

A ground cloth is almost a necessity with a tarp. I guess I’ve seen people without them but that is beyond my knowledge thus far. If you’re using a tarp you’ll want one of these. Polycryo versus Tyvek is the question. The only reason I would use Tyvek over polycryo is that Tyvek is more durable. If I were using a blow up sleeping pad and was worried that rocky ground might pop it this would be the answer. I use a foam mattress so this isn’t an issue. Polycryo is far lighter and will still keep me off of the ground. As I mentioned with the tarp is that once you get it set up you can pull out your ground sheet and you have dry ground to organize your things, eat your food, and sleep.

I’m using the size medium from GossamerGear. This stuff is some sort of common construction material used for windows. Forget the name exactly but large quantities can be gotten for cheap. I buy from GG because it’s still pretty cheap, they give you two of them, and they probably last a good 500 miles or more depending on where you’re using it.

DIY Bug Net Condom

Weird name huh? I attribute this marvelous piece of gear, and idea to Lint. Lint has been a big inspiration to me while researching the hiking world, and this is a totally ingenious idea that he came up with.

This will be my bug protection, which will be much needed up north at the start of summer, in the land of lakes, Maine.

It is a large bug net that is close to 5 feet in length, and it slips ontop of an umbrella. When I lay down to go to sleep I slip this bug net over my umbrella, open it up, it keeps the netting off my face, and gives me living space. It’s like a miniature tent… for my upper body. The net only goes down to my torso, and gets tucked into my quilt, creating a seal between me, and the nasty mosquitoes trying to suck my blood. My quilt acts as the second half of my bug protection, which is why this is so light. This particular system weighs less than most bivies(the alternative option for tarp users,) and I find it to be vastly more comfortable. I have room to eat inside, read, I don’t feel claustrophobic like I do inside a bivy, and most importantly it keeps all the bugs out! I love how simple it is, there are no zippers, and I can easily take it on or off of me. I don’t have to stake it down, or tie it up to my tarp like most bivies. I just take out my umbrella, and open it inside the netting! Some who choose to tarp in bug season, and want to go extremely light only use a bug head net with their sleeping bag over 95% of their body. That system fails when it’s to hot outside, and you wish to take off your sleeping bag, thus leaving you exposed to the bugs. This is similar to a bug head net but 5 times the size, and more robust! Being that your umbrella is behind your head you also have the added benefit of rain protection at your head end.

Love this piece of gear although the one downside is it does nothing for splash from rain coming in on your sides or your foot end. If you are experienced with a tarp this can be prevented with site selection, and how you pitch your tarp. Due to the heavy rain on the Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail a bivy would be the better option, but with the availability of shelters every 10 miles on the AT I can always hide out in one for the night if need be.

Water / Eating

Aquamira Water Purification Drops

My favorite of all water filters. It’s a chemical solution of chlorine dioxide, and an activator. When mixed and added to water, will kill bacteria, viruses, guardia, and crypto. It is two bottles that you mix in a little cap, let sit for 5 minutes, add to 1 liter of water and hike on while you wait another 15 for it to do its job. This is why I love it. I spend 5 or so minutes eating a snack while the liquid readies and I’m off again. I started first with a pump style water filter that weighed a pound, was bulky, and had tubes everywhere. You would sit there and pump away until you had water. It was annoying and eventually got clogged and took more effort, time, and patience to get it to work. I swapped to a Sawyer Mini which was toted as the lightest water filter on the market. Again after just a few trips the filter got clogged beyond repair and I wound up drinking all sorts of unfiltered water cursing the darn thing out. At best the flow rate on the Sawyer Mini was terrible. It would take me anywhere from 20-30 minutes to squeeze a liter out of it. After not long I couldn’t squeeze anything out of it.

I met this guy on the trail who laughed at my aquamira drops and how I had to wait to drink my water. I added my mixture and was a mile away before he had half the amount of treated water than I did.

Bottom line is Aquamira is efficient and extremely light weight. The more disgusting the water the longer you should wait to drink it. It says to use 7 drops of each but I only use 5 on most water. Never been sick and I’ve certainly drank my fair share of putrid water. I love the get up and go style which is what I center my entire backpacking kit around.

If I were to switch to anything beyond this it would be bleach. Same idea but only 1 bottle necessary instead of the 2 for Aquamira.

2x Smart Water 1 Liter Water Bottles

These are my choice of water bottles. They are lighter than Gatorade bottles and the long and skinny profile fits well in my backpack pockets making it easy to remove while walking. I like these over a water bladder because a bladder and the tubes weight a whole lot more than people think. This is the easiest way for someone to drop weight from their pack as it seems like most people use a bladder without giving attention to trying two bottles.

On the AT water comes frequently and is plentiful. Frankly I could do this trail with less than 2 liters of carrying capacity but the 2 liters is specifically for camping. Have extra water for food, the morning, and less trips to a source in general.

Plastic Ziploc Screw-Top Container For Soaking Food

Going stove-less on the trail. This isn’t my first bout of stove-less cooking, I’ve been doing this for most of the last two years with the exception of a few overnight trips. Some say this is masochistic to not cook food for weeks or months while hiking. I personally love it. I used to carry a canister stove with the big bottle of fuel and that was obviously very heavy and bulky. I decided to switch to a cat food can alcohol stove. That was pretty awesome. Much lighter than the canister stove, looked badass, and it was very small. Until I stepped on it. I made another, and once lit a table on fire, another time I burned my leg pretty bad. I decided to stop using those. They are very accident prone. I actually had someone else step on the final one I made! Squished my cat food can like a mushroom in Super Mario Bros. I love the alcohol stove idea, and I think everyone should make one as its a very good thing to know. They’re also known as a ‘hobo stove’ as you can make them very cheaply and pretty much wherever you are. The true and biggest problem with them if you’re careful enough to avoid accidents or areas with fire bans is the fuel you have to carry! A big bottle of HEET or a repackaged smaller bottle of denatured alcohol. So for short trips they’re sweet as you wont find many stoves lighter. For long trips the weight of the fuel outweighs the benefits.

After all this fiddling with stoves I found some articles online talking about stove-less cooking. Its more of a soaking, or a re-hydrating. You put your food in your plastic screw top container, add some water, and let it sit for a mile or two as you walk. Boom you’ve got ‘cooked’ food. It’s completely hassle free, it reduces on smell by a considerable amount, and the food tastes the same at room temperature as it does hot. If you’re hiking big days you won’t even care. Did I mention how much lighter this is than a stove? I just looked up your typical cat food can stove, and eating system for a former AT thru hiker. The total weight including fuel was 1 pound. My screw top container and my spoon(my entire cook-set) weighs 2 OUNCES. That’s 14 ounces saved, or in other words almost a pound. There are few places you can lose this kind of weight from your pack without upgrading gear and spending a bunch of money. That’s significant.

When eating stove-less I do a lot of couscous, noodles, powdered mashed potatoes, and granola with powdered milk. I’ll add anything and everything to these meals. spices, dehydrated vegetables, olive oil, etc. I recommend trying this sometime and you may be surprised. The possibilities of no cook meals are endless especially if you have a dehydrator. I’m currently working on vegan meals that are extremely healthy, once I have a few of those nailed down I’ll likely do a post about that.

These screw top containers can be found at your local grocery store. You could also use a peanut butter container or a gelato container. Has to be screw top and you must be sure it won’t leak.

Food Bag – OPsak

This is my food bag. Its an odor proof bag in the size of 20 x 12.5. I can fit about 5 days of food in it and I will put my first days food in my backpacks outer pocket if I need to carry more. I’m not going to go to far into detail but I have no intention of hanging my food away from animals unless there are bear poles available. No, I don’t want your opinion on this 🙂 Using this bag isn’t fool proof but it adds to a degree of being careful that I hike by. This bag is a piece to a puzzle of an overall low odor strategy. If you want a serious review check out “swami” who is a man with more than 55,000 miles of backpacking long trails under his belt.

At night I keep this bag under my feet to elevate them and reduce swelling while I sleep. It could also be used as a pillow. Another really great idea if you are worried about critters is to keep your smelly shoes and socks on top of it to mask any additional odor. This is a trail tip from Bobcat.

Fits nicely in my pack, holds a considerable amount of food, and best of all I’ve yet to have critter or ant problems using it. Nice bag, would recommend.

Titanium Spoon

A plastic spoon is lighter, you can also cut a plastic spoon in half to take it to that next level. Yet here I am with a titanium spoon? For all of my shorter trips I go plastic. In the cold though, plastic has a tendency to harden and then break. A fate I don’t wish to subject myself to while somewhere in the mountains. I’ve had to carve wooden spoons before and I don’t particularly want to do so again out of necessity. The titanium offers peace of mind. I’ve tied a piece of orange string to this one so that I can more easily see it, and hopefully not lose it.

Clothing

Initial thoughts: Being that I’m living in Florida most of these clothes don’t have the miles under them that I would like to give a fair review. I have used each piece of clothing in ~20 degree Florida weather a few times, but it’s not a true judgement. A SOBO hiker experiences less harsh weather due to the time of the year we start. I plan on starting with all of this, and sending most of it home within the first 500 miles of the trip. I have done extremely extensive research and believe these clothes to be MORE than enough for the conditions ahead.

Bandana

The multi purpose item of all multi purpose items. You can use as a towel, protection from the sun, water filter, pot cleaner, tent drier, handkerchief, or in my case… I chose orange as my color and thus protection from pesky, hiker hungry, hunters!

Socks – Injinji Trail 2.0 midweight micro

I love these socks!! No blisters, ever! I attribute this to the socks, and shoes I wear mostly, with a good helping of foot care when I can. Toe socks feel weird at first, and takes just slightly longer to put them on but you’ll not only get used to the feeling but also addicted to the feeling. Being able to wiggle and move your toes independently inside your shoes is a wonderful thing. I got the really thin socks as that is what works best for me to avoid hot spots, and the eventual blister. I chose pink so I could know which ones are mine in a group laundry load. Just kidding I want to look really cute in my pink toe socks.

I carry 2 pairs in total, one I’m wearing and one in my pack. I wash them as often as I can and switch them daily. Taking care of your feet is the number one priority while hiking, and these socks in combination with my shoes are a very crucial component to that. I tried sock after sock after sock until I came upon these. No other sock compares.

Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket

An incredible jacket. Extremely light at just 5.3 ounces. This goes into my layering system as all of my clothes are capable of being worn at the same time for maximum warmth. I don’t plan on using this in the rain. It’s more of a not while hiking item. Only being used at night or in the morning. I do believe there to be warmer jackets but for the conditions I’m facing this one has me stoked. Just so damn light. For the quality it’s actually fairly cheap too.

Zpacks Fleece Beanie

My jacket has no hood nor does my quilt. This is the solution. More versatile than having a hood on either of the two aforementioned items a down or fleece beanie is the way to go. I can wear it when hiking, I can wear it when sleeping. It’s only 1 ounce and I probably won’t send it home for the entire 4,000 mile trip I am attempting. Something I can’t say about most of my other clothes. I plan on sending home most everything else as soon as I can tell summer is upon me.

PossumDown Glove Liners

Just a thin layer for my hands. It’s important to me for my extremities to stay warm. Although I could use my extra pair of socks as mittens or put my hands in my armpits I think the 1.5 ounce glove liners are worth it so I can maintain dexterity and actually be useful in the cold. Not overkill like most gloves, just right. I think I could save half an ounce with a different pair… maybe that’s too picky.

Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket

For the weight of 1.6 ounces, and the ability to scrunch it up into the size of a golf ball, it really can add some warmth. I expect to be hiking in this on bald mountains, and always have it handy. It cuts the cold out of the wind and traps a bit body heat in while not being suffocating. The perfect balance of breath-ability in comparison to the other top wind jackets. Not to be used in the rain but in a light drizzle or heavy mist would work great. I’ve heard great things about this jacket, and I look forward to testing it more outside of Florida. A wind jacket would be best used in the desert in lieu of a rain jacket but I’m using this as an extremely light breathable layer to add to my clothing system.

Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants

I wear the shortest of short hiking shorts. Not the best when its cold or windy. These pants will cut some of the wind, and give me a bit of warmth for my legs. Being that summer will be just around the corner when I start my hike in Maine I think these will come in handy until I’m much further south. While hiking you don’t need much to stay warm as your body generates enough heat for itself. The wind jacket and wind pants are probably all I’ll need on chilly or windy days on the trail. The other clothes I’m carrying are more for while I’m in camp. I debated carrying long underwear instead of these but in the end as a southbound hiker walking during mostly the summer I don’t feel I’ll need more warmth than these pants provide. In much colder conditions I would carry both the long underwear, and these wind pants.

Sea-To-Summit Bug Headnet

Works like a charm. Can see through it well, keeps the bugs off my face, only 1 ounce, fits over any cap, and only looks just slightly stupid! When I first saw these it was on the AT years ago, a couple sitting on a log, miserable, and both wearing bug head nets. The black fly were particularly bad that week and this couple was literally crippled by the biting flies. I thought these people looked mighty silly wearing these nets as I was doing great. Maybe as a Floridian I have a higher tolerance for bugs that bite. I’m carrying this on the AT because the bugs in the north as I’ve heard, specifically the 100 mile wilderness in Maine, are a nightmare. So I figure for 1 ounce it could save my sanity for a few days.

Misc. & First Aid

Golite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella

I love my umbrella!! It is without a doubt my favorite piece of gear. It’s silver, and I use it more in the sun than in the rain! Either way it’s the most amazing, and wonderful thing you can own or take backpacking, in my opinion. Sun umbrellas are huge in places like Asia, you wonder why Americans haven’t caught on. Hikers have! Or at least I have. A sun umbrella is the style for me. It’s constant shade when you’re out in the sun, on an exposed trail, or it’s shelter from rain. I can huddle up under it in a storm or when I’m taking a break from the heat. At a half a pound I think the ultralight community is split on its worth, but it’s been decided time after time for me. When using it constantly in the sun I am able to carry less water, and thus evening out the weight of the umbrella. Even on a trail like the AT I think this umbrella will be extremely useful. Not for the sun but for the constant rain. Have you ever been rained on for days on end? I have, and it’s a lot more fun when you have an umbrella.

After Golite went out of business many other companies have sprung up to take this large market of sun umbrella lovin’ fools.

Fenix LD02 Handheld Flashlight

A single AAA flashlight is what I desired for my light weight madness, and this is what I got! There are many on the market that are quite unreliable but I’ve found this one to be excellent. It has three settings with a low of 8 lumens and a high of 100, for reference a candle produces 13 lumens. In other words the low, and medium setting are very dim. Yet I find myself exclusively using the low setting. If you’re scared of things that bump in the night this probably isn’t the flashlight for you. I use this as my primary source of light, and often night hike with it. In the night a flashlight is better than a headlamp because it’s held lower and thus extends the shadows of obstacles on the ground, making it easier to navigate. For me this flashlight is amazing. It comes with a clip that attaches to the brim of my hat to take it from a handheld to a head lamp. I always carry at least one extra AAA battery just in case.

Bug Repellent

I bought some Visine so I could dump it out… and put some DEET in it. It’s not much but I don’t often use it. When I do I put it on my clothes, as deet actually works because the mosquitoes don’t like the smell. That’s the secret of DEET, the smell. My worst experiences with bugs should be in Maine. I have coated my clothing in Permethrin, which is also a bug repellent, I’ve found to be exceptionally good against ticks. It also helps with mosquitoes allowing me to use less of this terrible chemical.

DEET: A registered pesticide

Swiss Army Classic Knife

I have the smallest of all the Swiss Army Knives. I primarily use it to cut food. the tooth pick and tweezers can come in handy as well as the scissors. Almost the most minimal knife you can carry. If anyone is looking for a gift idea I’d love a Derma-Safe knife 😉

Mini Bic Lighter

I rarely, if ever, make fires on my own. A little bit of leave no trace ideals, a little bit of too much work after a long day. I will probably be making them far more than I typically would since it’s a nice moral booster. Nothing like sitting by the fire while camping.

Cell Phone – Samsung Galaxy S5

It’s a pretty rad phone. Takes far better photos than my last phone! I was really stoked on that. I love to take photos. I never knew it would be such a big part of my hiking. I used to think that these experiences were for me, and what I saw and did was mine alone. Now it’s the exact opposite! I love to share my experiences backpacking through photography, and hopefully more in this blog. I am carrying both a plug, and a USB cord for my phone to keep it charged. When hiking I keep it in airplane mode 90% of the time, and that does an incredible job saving the battery from dying quickly. Having a smart phone is great just in case I need to order a piece of gear online while I’m on the trail or to look up the weather or maybe play some music. My phone will be a pretty big deal to blog from the trail, and post pictures as I go. I hope to keep in touch and let everyone know how I am doing along the way!

RAVpower 10400mAh External Battery

My biggest issue with this is how long it takes to charge. If I do find I don’t need it I will certainly get rid of it. If you do buy one pay attention to the charge input and make sure its more than a measly 1.5A! Otherwise I love this battery pack, I can charge my phone about 3 times while in the middle of no where. It gives me the opportunity to fiddle on my phone, make calls, upload photos, and message friends in my down time. I also have to carry a small USB cord to charge this. I could probably use a smaller, lighter, external battery, but I already happen to own this. 6600mAh would probably suffice. Although, I do very much like using my phone for various reasons, that I would not to like to lose the ability.

Dr. Bronners Soap

This is both my tooth paste, and hand soap! Dr. Bronners is magic. Just read the label on the bottle at the grocery store, the hype is real. I use the peppermint flavor, and it’s certainly not for everyone. I happen to like it as a very little bit goes a long way with this stuff. So I get to carry less, and not have to carry both soap, and toothpaste. Hand sanitizer does very little to clean you, and is not effective for giardiasis. Next time someone offers you some of their food, don’t take it. A vast amount more people get giardia from someone elses dirty hands than from unclean water.

Toothbrush

In true ultralight fashion I cut off the handle of my toothbrush. I’m still fully able to brush my teeth even with the inch long handle that is left, and I saved a full ounce from the original thing! Not a big deal to most but when your backpacks base weight is at times 80 ounces in total or less, one full ounce is a big deal in getting to that level.

Advil & Tylenol

I use Advil for inflammation and Tylenol for headaches. People use Advil so much while hiking it’s almost disgusting. It’s so common to take daily that it’s known as “Vitamin I.” I prefer not to use it as often as possible because it simply masks the problem instead of treating it. If you’re taking Advil frequently you’re choosing to ignore the problem, and likely letting it get worse. Listen to your body, and treat it right. Advil only when necessary.

Imodium

Imodium is for… stomach issues, lets say. I’ve never had to use it but I do carry 2 of them at all times, just in case.

Safety pins, Needle, and Thread

This is for blisters but I hardly get them so it’s more reserved for gear repair. If you do have a blister thread the needle through it, and leave the thread in there over night. This allows the fluid to drain and the blister to dry.

Earplugs

Earplugs are essential on the Appalachian Trail, mostly because of sleeping in shelters in close proximity to hikers who snore loudly. Also hikers who roll into campsites late at night, hikers who wake up earlier than you and make a lot of noise, or hikers who are generally disrespectful after 8-9pm. This is one of many reasons I usually camp away from others, at sites less often used or never before. Just get some earplugs, you won’t use them a lot but when you need them, you need them.

Leukotape

Duct tape and Leukotape being the two most useful tapes out there to carry backpacking. Duct tape for gear repair, Leukotape for medical issues. Leukotape can be used to improvise in many ways but it’s most common use is foot problems, more specifically blisters. This stuff is super sticky, once it’s on you’re not likely to have an issue with it coming off assuming you applied it when your foot is dry. Most other tapes will move around in side your shoe, bunch up, and come off. Now in my ultralight fashion I personally don’t want to carry a whole roll of this stuff, nor do I think I need it. I cut off strips of this, and put it on slick paper that stickers come on. At the post office you can get sheets of shipping labels, take those off, and put tape on in its place. Most do about 1 foot strips to avoid any contamination from your fingers as once you touch the tape it looses quite a bit of stickyness. In the field you cut up your 1 foot strip into the size that you need. My Swiss Army Knife scissors work great for this.

Bonnies Balm

The Appalachian Trail, and the Florida Trail are both very wet environments. You can expect your feet will be wet very often, and there is no way to avoid that. Now there are many ways to deal with wet feet, and Bonnies Balm or other wax salves are a great tool to make constant wet feet a non issue.  I apply it at night before I go to bed to the bottoms of my feet and let it sink in while I sleep. This is effectively adding another layer to your skin, and making it so water can’t seep in, and be absorbed as easily.

How to minimize the effects of wet feet

Zpacks Cuben Fiber Repair Tape

Although duct tape is most useful for repair in most situations this repair tape is made specifically for Cuben Fiber gear. A very expensive, very light weight, and very sought after fabric. My shelter is made of cuben so I am carrying this if the worst shall happen, a rip, tear, or hole shall appear. You can get tents, packs, bags, clothes, just about anything you could ever want made with cuben, and it’s guaranteed to empty your pocket book while making your pack lighter than everyone else’s even when they carry less than you. It’s kind of cheating in some regards when you just buy your way into the ultralight weight (under 10lbs of gear,) without taking the time, and gaining the experience prior to whittle your loadout down safely. It is wise to carry a little bit of this tape if you own cuben gear.

Carried Items

 

Hat

I like a ball cap while hiking, nothing too fancy like those large sun hats. It’s just enough to keep the sun or rain out of my eyes, keep my scalp from getting burnt, and keep bugs out of my hair. I’ve had an Appalachian Trail hat since 2012, and it has been my go to ever since I bought it. I do really love big floppy colorful sun hats but I tend to be too serious to be wearing them often.

Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Shoes

I absolutely love these shoes. Coupled with my thin Injinji toe socks, this is the secret to my personal comfort, and blister free hiking, even while covering ultra-marathon distances day after day. One of the things I like most about these shoes is the really wide toe box, giving me plenty of room to spread, and stretch my toes. Having breathing room in that area is very important to me as I used to get blisters in between my toes from other shoes that were more narrow. I no longer get blisters of any sort, and although I’m sure a part of that is how I take care of my feet, I believe my choice in shoes and socks are a very big part of how I take care of them.

Altra shoes are probably most noted for their “Zero Drop.” Meaning your heel and your forefoot are at the same height vs most traditional shoes where your heel is typically twice as high as your forefoot. This seems dandy to have more cushion under your heel but in reality it promotes an unnatural style of walking. If you ever have the chance, give these shoes a try, and see for yourself. After a thousand miles of wearing them happily, and comfortably I’ll never go back to another brand.

I wear the version 2.5, which is new. So far as I can tell they are more breathable than their former 2.0 version, and offer more cushion under your feet than the previous iteration of this shoe. The breath-ability is great in most situations, although I’ve found in Florida while hiking in soft sand or really silt ridden swamp they tend to let in more sand than I would like. Not that big of an issue if you have time to dump it out occasionally. The breath-ability is good in another sense, besides keeping your feet cool, if you are hiking in really wet conditions these shoes dry out very quickly compared to other shoes I’ve worn. Maybe not over night but once you get walking on dry ground again it isn’t long before your shoes are completely dry again.

These shoes come with a velcro trap on the back of the shoe to hold gaiters in place, so for those of you that like gaiters you’ll love this. No more taping and gluing velcro to your shoe that eventually falls off. Now you have a designated shoe made for such gear.

I’m a big Altra fan after experiencing a big change in comfort during my hikes after buying my first pair, and now after ruining 3 pairs I recommend them to everyone. One friend specifically is now just a big a convert as I am. If you have the chance, and are looking for new shoes I highly advise trying these out.

These will last you anywhere from 600-800 miles depending on how you treat them. I will probably go through 6 of them during my 4,000 mile hike.

Ditch your boots

Spread your toes

Shirt

My favorite shirts are long sleeve, button up, with a collar. Although I may not smell so good while hiking I at least look classy!  The long sleeves are good to fight the war on bugs, keeping ticks and mosquitoes off of me. Ticks being a big issue on the Appalachian Trail this is something very much so worth thinking about. The long sleeves also help in a big way to avoid sun burn, and add another layer to my arms if the temperature drops. Synthetic, never cotton. I soak all of my clothes in Permethrin, a bug repellent. Not fool proof but really does help with ticks.

Shorts

I’m a big fan of short shorts. Like, really short shorts. Like 1inch inseam, short shorts. Almost feels like I’m wearing nothing at all, and are extremely comfortable to hike in. I get a tan as I’m walking, and get to show off the legs that are carrying me on my journey. One true advantage of shorts or if they get wet, they won’t take nearly as long as pants to dry out, and they’ll be far more comfortable while wet. Although with lyme disease, and ticks on the Appalachian Trail I’ve been told I’d be wise to wear pants. I think with taking precautions like being tested during my hike, and checking myself daily I’ll be ok. I guess I just like shorts too much. Black is my color of choice, and the shorter the better. Wish my shorts had a pocket of some sort but it seems none of the shorts I ever order have pockets.

Native Sunglasses

Over the course of my life I’ve ruined a whole lot of sunglasses. So naturally after ruining my last pair I decided to get a really really nice pair of Natives. A most logical decision. Well I do very much like having sunglasses while hiking, and these just happened to have a life time warranty. So in the long run maybe I’m actually saving money? Sunglasses as the name says… keeps sun out of your eyes, and just so happens to make you look super cool. On trails with a lot of snow they are a must so you don’t blind yourself, the Appalachian Trail and the Florida Trail don’t happen to have a lot of snow. Still, I’ll be wanting them in the future, and for the time being they are nice to have for less pertinent comfort.

Photon Freedom Micro LED Flashlight

I love this thing, and I totally recommend it to everyone. It’s a small necklace with an LED light at the end. I wear it all the time, and find many uses for it in my every day life even. I mostly use this around camp at night to save the battery life of my actual flashlight. It only produces a small amount of light, but it’s just enough to do camp chores or answer natures call during the night. It uses one of those stupid watch batteries but it does last a long time so it’s not like you’re replacing it often.

GossamerGear LT4 Carbon Trekking Poles

Very nice poles. When I first got them I didn’t believe how light they are. It’s seriously incredible how little they weigh. Since with every step you are swinging these back and forth, the less weight means the less energy is expended. Anyhow, this comes with its downsides. The poles are made of carbon fiber, and from what I hear it isn’t the most durable in high winds under pressure, or when getting them stuck in between rocks. Using these I’ll have to be more careful not to break them as I would with cheaper aluminum poles. GossamerGear doesn’t offer any sort of warranty like Leki, who has a lifetime warranty on their trekking poles. I’ll be using these to set up my tarp, and again I hear in really high winds they snap like twigs. So I’ll have to avoid camping in really windy locations and opt for more covered areas for camping, a wise choice regardless but having the option would be nice.

I wanted the lightest poles, and that’s what I got. In fact I didn’t even want to use trekking poles for a long time. I still don’t. I think that using them you are compromising your walking style by having to pay attention to your pole placement vs just your foot placement. Also by using trekking poles, overall you’re using more energy being you’re no longer simply walking, now your arms are getting a work out effectively tiring yourself out faster than the next guy. One last thing, trekking poles typically propel people forward, making them go faster than your natural walking style would allow. The ability to walk faster sounds like a good thing but now you’re pushing your body in a way that it isn’t accustomed to, potentially causing injury. These are the reasons that have kept me from using poles for as long as I have, although I eventually decided that I was happy I haven’t used them for a long time to develop my walking form, it is now time.

Trekking poles help immensely to go both down, and uphill. I choose to use them mostly because I want to avoid injury at all cost. Injury specifically in my knees. By using the poles to guide myself downhill I’m removing a lot of the impact that my body is receiving, and hopefully making life better. I may or may not still send these home, it’s undecided. Some people love them, some people don’t. I think I’m closer to the latter although I see their merit.

Patagonia Lightweight Travel Mini Hip Pack

First of all Patagonia is a great company, I’ve experienced nothing but the most excellent of customer service from them, and top notch gear to boot! I guess “hip pack” is the new word for “fanny pack.” Are fannies not cool anymore? Hell yeah they are! I love a fanny pack. Besides from being really stylish it’s also really useful. I don’t use a hip belt on my backpack, and this gives me the option of carrying a few items in which I don’t need to take off my pack to get to them. I often keep my water purification, phone, map, identification,  money, snacks, and other miscellaneous gear in this. Patagonia makes this fanny pack in a whole bunch of awesome colors, and many different sizes. I got the mini but I think I might have liked one size bigger even more. You know… for extra snacks.

Final thoughts

This has been pre-thru hike gear reviews. When I finish I’ll do something again similar to this but with the new found knowledge of 4,000 miles behind me.

One thing I hear a lot about ultralight gear is that it isn’t durable. This is simply not the case, and I believe it’s a poor justification for ones own pack weight. My pack for example is BOMBPROOF, and it’s only 11 ounces to boot. It’s not made in a factory, it’s constructed and sewn by hand out of very strong material, by a man who runs a cottage company where customers are everything. What makes it, and a lot of my gear lighter is that it has less features. That’s the big difference in light gear vs mid weight, or heavy gear. The amount of useless add-ons, and extra features adding grams, ounces, and you guessed it… pounds. I have never felt that any of my gear wasn’t as strong as a big box companies “heavy-weight” gear. Just because it’s heavy doesn’t equate to more durable. Similarly, just because it’s light doesn’t make it fragile.

The true idea behind ultralight backpacking is traveling more comfortably. Isn’t that what everyone wants on a long distance backpacking trip? You don’t have to be doing big miles to take advantage of being happier while you walk. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the death march that is carrying a really heavy load. It’s not fun, and at times detracts from your wilderness experience. I’ve carried the 70 pound pack, and everything in between, I didn’t start out with an ultralight pack. By carrying less, and or lighter gear you’re able to walk more freely. As my pack has gotten lighter I no longer face as many problems, I’m no longer in pain, and I no longer get blisters. This equates to freedom, to me. The freedom to do what I want without being burdened by my pack weight. This may seem like fantasy but it’s true. While keeping my brain busy with dreams of sugar plums… and my base pack weight, I just happened to come across other useful information which has also guided my pain free hiking. The safest way to carry less is to know the conditions you’ll be facing extremely well. By knowing what you’ll be going through ahead of time you’re more able to pick the lightest gear for the task. By doing so you’ll be safe, and more comfortable than that guy carrying all that “what if” gear. By knowing whats to come, without leaving it to surprise, you’re more able to plan properly. This is purely why I do so very much research.

The mind game that has been, how to take my pack this far, has been a whole lot of fun. I feel like I learn something new every single day, and it’s a constant process to evolve further.

Regardless of what you carry all that matters is that you’re having fun. This happens to be part of the fun for me 🙂

HYOH

-Jupiter

© 2018 jupiterhikes

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

%d bloggers like this: