zanehikes

gear review/talk

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When I’m not on trail I tend to nerd out on gear… Here’s my quick sum up of most of the gear I had on the CDT with me. Or at least the stuff I think is worth mentioning.

Please note that I give some (ok, many) unsolicited suggestions and pieces of advice, but please don’t blindly follow my words, you probably weren’t anyway. This is based on my own experience and what I prefer for my hiking style. Get out there, do more research, look at videos, and make your own decisions based on your personal experience and preferences about the gear that YOU want for the way YOU hike! 

By the way, I’m definitely going waaay lighter in the future and here’s what my future ultrafeared-gear list could look like…

 

ULA CIRCUIT PACK

Great pack. Mine was orange. I took out most of the bells and whistles except for the little zip pouch on the inside where I’d keep my wallet. I also cut off the top strap (one that goes over the part where you roll it down) and wish I hadn’t. I could’ve kept an extra pad there or my snowshoes when I was using them. Honestly though, great pack. It’s simple: a main storage area, a big back mesh pocket, and side pockets for easy access to water bottles or bear spray or food rehydration jars or gloves, etc. The hip belt is extremely comfortable and has HUGE hip belt pockets. Everybody was jealous of my hip belt pockets. They’re awesome. Though the Circuit isn’t quite as light as other options like a Hyperlite pack, or an Osprey Exos, or the Gossamer Gear Mariposa (don’t get a gossamer gear gorilla unless you really have a light baseweight), Zpacks pack, or even a Granite Gear pack,  it was absolutely perfect for me on this trail with the gear I had (rarely carried more than 30-35 lbs and often started my food carries with 20-30 lbs total). It has no serious signs of wear or any tearing after 2700 miles and could easily do the rest of the Triple Crown.  If I go hiking again, however, I’ll be taking far fewer things and shorter food carries, so I’ll be switching to a small, frameless rucksack-like pack like the MLD Burn or Gossamer Gear Kumo and rocking a fanny pack instead of a hip belt.

If I were to recommend a first time pack for a first time thru-hiker it would be my pack, the Osprey Exos series (48L is a good size pack, but you also see the 38 and the 58), the Gossamer Gear Mariposa, or the Granite Gear Crown VC 60. I think they’re all great packs. The Ospreys are great because you can try them on at REI, and they have great warranties so you can return and get new ones in the middle of the trail if yours is getting worn out (not a problem for ULA packs).

 

Mountain Laurel Designs Cuben Grace Tarp Duo

Well I spent a paycheck on this tarp, and I’m glad I did it. I got the .75 cuben which I think is pretty darn durable. I love my tarp. With stakes (all MSR groundhogs because they’re strong and reliable) and lines it weighs about 14.1 oz, weighed at a post office. I could probably switch to lighter stakes and shave off 2 oz if I really wanted to. I love the simplicity of a tarp, the weight savings, the minimal condensation when it actually rains (I often stay drier than people with tents and tarptents), and all the space I have under there. There are even little hangers where I can hang wet socks to dry overnight. A tarp isn’t necessarily “bomb-proof” in a bad, sideways rain storm, but then again, neither is any tarptent or tent out there. Yes, pyramid styles do perform well in windy rain, but I’ve found that pitching my tarp low and in a smart location (tree protection) and also occasionally using my umbrella to plug up the front end of my tarp works pretty darn well. I’ve never gotten wet other than the usual condensation or some spraying if I did a bad job at pitching. I only got up a few times in the middle of the night after a storm started to readjust some things. When it rains, I can shake off a lot of the water in the morning and roll up my tarp. It dries in the dry sun in about ten minutes or so. If the sun doesn’t come out, it doesn’t really matter if my tarp is still wet (as long as I don’t rub up against it at night, which I don’t). It’s more my groundsheet that’s the issue, but I have a special way of folding it up to keep the dry side dry (kind of) and also sleeping on top of a dry neoair pad helps a lot. Anyways, I loved my tarp set up, but I have a pretty low standard of living. If it isn’t going to rain, I cowboy camp (no tarp). I use polycryo (window shrink film) as a groundsheet, and I don’t care if spiders or bugs crawl on me; I’m too tired. I was lucky with mosquitos and got away without any bug netting. There were a few nights in the Winds when I had to spray the back of my head with deet and cover myself with my rain jacket, but it wasn’t that bad. I would’ve been miserable in the Sierras I think, so I’m gonna work on making a bug net that will fit over my umbrella and have elastic to tighten around my torso.

I really recommend tarping. It’s so simple, and simple is the name of the game out there. It still has its disadvantages and discomforts. It really boils down to experience and what you prefer or what scarring nights you want to avoid having again. There are lots of options out there, relatively expensive ones like Big Agnes tents, Hyperlite stuff, Yama Mountain gear stuff, or the Zpacks hexamid and relatively inexpensive silnylon tarptents like Tarptent (Rampaige had the Notch) and Six Moon Designs (Handstand had the Skyscape Trekker, RightOn had the Gatewood Cape with bug netting he sewed on). If you wanna get a simple, ultralight tarp, Gossamer Gear is making their tarps out of spinnaker again, no one else makes stuff out of that material… interesting.

Sorry I’m rambling on this, but I like tarping! You might not. For me, thru-hiking is more about the walking part and less about the camping part, so I just need something that works well when it gets ugly out there. I think tarps work well.

 

 

ZPACKS 20* SLEEPING BAG

A solid sleeping bag is the key to a good night’s rest and happiness on trail. Down bags are great. They are super light and compress to a small size. Zpacks bags are stripped down to be as light as possible while still keeping you warm, and I think they do a great job at doing that. A few complaints for an otherwise awesome bag: 1) it’s expensive, if I were to get another bag, I’d get an Enlightened Equipment quilt, which is almost the same thing for so much less money; 2) by the end of the trail, some of the down was clumping up and not insulating me well, especially at the top of the bag in the top few baffles, this should go away if I wash it and dry it; 3) I think the baffles are badly designed and it’s hard to fluff the down to stay above you and not under you (compress down beneath you does nothing). Other than that, great bag. Western Mountaineering bags were also very popular. I think it’s worth looking at synthetic-down bags if you’re gonna be hiking in a wet area (PNW or East Coast).

 

Therm-a-rest Neoair Xlite

Best inflatable pad in the game. Most thru-hikers on trail had these. I slept so well on mine. I sleep better on trail than in town. I wish I had gotten the small, torso version to shave 4oz, but I could also just carry less water to shave that weight… Anyways, awesome pad. Just be careful about popping it, especially if you use polycryo as a groundsheet and not Tyvek. I caught a cactus in New Mexico and had to patch it. I also popped it in the Thorofare in Wyoming and ended up sleeping on the cold, hard ground for 3 nights. I woke up every hour and thought a grizzly was going to eat me. Patched it and now it’s fine. My pad has sort of always lost a little bit of air over night and my hips touch the ground by the morning. I don’t mind. It helps me get up, or I blow it back up, take a piss, and drift off into blissful morning-sleep.

Shoes

I walked the trail in 4 pairs of Altra Lone Peak 2.5’s. Roughly one every 700 miles. Altras are great and probably the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. Many thru-hikers and ultra-runners agree. The zero-drop takes some getting used to, but the roominess and wideness is great for lots of walking. I actually don’t think they’re good for me because my family has such tight calves and achilles. After it snowed, my overworked achilles hurt like heck. My feet decided to swell up in the Great Divide Basin, and I got a pretty nasty blister on the top of my left big toe joint from it rubbing on the shoe. It eventually healed over with an infection on the inside (painful and lots of pus), so I had to get antibiotics in Cody. Other than that though, my Altras kept my feet pretty happy most of the trail.

I’m gonna try to walk in Chacos from now on if conditions allow.

Guitar

I had a Washburn Rover. It’s a great travel guitar. I ditched it in Lordsburg and got it back again in Grand Lake, CO. Unfortunately, the neck snapped off when I shut a trunk door on it during a hitch in Cody, WY. I rarely played it on trail when I had it because I was often alone at that time and pushing long days and big miles. Having a guitar on trail is definitely a huge luxury item (2 lbs!), and I wouldn’t do it again because I’m simply too tired to be creative when hiking fast. However, on my next hike I’m gonna carry a little journal in my fanny pack to write down lyrics I think of in the middle of the day. It’s so nice to play a guitar after not touching one for weeks; creative bursts! Now I gotta work on that album I told myself I was gonna write after trail…

Umbrella

AWESOME piece of gear. Montbell has a lighter version, but it’s in pieces and utterly fails in the wind. Mine can withstand some wind, especially if you use the stiff arm method. Umbrellas are the best light-rain gear, hands down. I have it easily accessible, so if it rains hard enough that I don’t want to get wet (or at least my head and torso), I whip it out like a samurai sword. Pretty feared move. It also serves as an extra shelter plug-up for sideways rain or a tarp pole if I lose a trekking pole. It’s also great to be in the shade all day when hiking the desert stretches!

SAWYER (sit! not squeeze!) FILTERS

Do not get a Sawyer Mini. You can thank me later. I absolutely recommend a REGULAR SIZED SAWYER. However, there are a few things you can do to achieve ultimate sawyer sit nirvana: 1) throw away the bladders and syringe you won’t need those; 2) peel off the label, it just looks cooler without it, and also #ultralight, shave those grams; 3) designate a 1L plastic bottle (smartwater, aquafina, etc.) as your dirty, collection bottle; 4) filter the water by collecting in your dirty bottle, screwing on the sawyer, and SITTING on the bottle. you will smile as the water comes gushing out and collected in a different bottle, immediately ready to drink. you might have to unscrew the sawyer a few times to let the air back in before sitting again and maintaining maximum stream strength; 5) leave the sawyer on your dirty bottle so you can drink/suck through the filter, too; 6) carry smartwater-nipple-bottle-caps to back flush your sawyer every once in a while and get some of the gunk out, if you do this one sawyer will last you the whole trail; 7) MAKE SURE YOU SLEEP WITH YOUR SAWYER EVERY NIGHT, if it freezes, any water inside the filter will expand (#physics) and ruin the filter. stuff like Giardia will be able to flow through the cracks, not good

I used bleach (1 or 2 drops per liter and wait 15 minutes or more if colder) in NM and CO, switched to a Sawyer mini in WY, then got a Sawyer regular in Darby, MT for the rest of the trail. I would use a Sawyer regular from the start. I like the taste of water that isn’t bleachy. Aqua-mira is another good option, but it’s annoying to wait for the chemicals to mix.

I feel like I might be able to get away with not treating most of my water, in which case I would just carry a tiny dropper of bleach, but I’m scared that Giardia could ruin a hike for me. I didn’t treat a lot of water sources (mostly snowmelt, streams in wilderness areas, piped springs and springs coming out of the ground) and was fine. Some people treat everything and get Giardia (maybe they get it from other people who don’t hand sanitize after going #2). Some people don’t treat much water at all and are fine. I dunno if I wanna take that risk though, sawyer sitting is pretty simple and easy and only takes a few more minutes. I treated water like 4 times in Colorado.

Clothing

This definitely changes depending on the general weather pattern. I wore the same t-shirt and MLC shorts for most of the trail everyday, but had different long-sleeve-button-downs at the beginning and ending of the trail.

Injinji toe socks are great. I had thick wool CDT socks as luxury, dry sleep socks every night. I used Showers Pass waterproof socks in the San Juans; those were pretty awesome and helped out a lot.

I rocked my 47 Pomona cap the whole time. It was a little heavy and warm, but I love it. Next time I’m either gonna rock my Fratagonia duckbill cap or a sweet visor. I’m a big fan of ball caps and not that into 360 brim hats, but that’s just me. I sometimes use a handkerchief to cover my neck, but the umbrella also helps.

Rocked my old Patagonia long underwear every night. Not really sure what degree warmth they are. They weigh like 7oz and work well for me. They’re black and grey striped.

I had a Frogg Togg rain jacket. I’m pretty sure it’s lighter than every other rain jacket out there and only costs like $20 (that includes rain pants too). I really never needed rain pants until northern Montana. They would’ve helped to keep me warmer during the snow, but whatever. The rain jacket does not breath at all, but I never really use it unless it’s cold rain and the umbrella isn’t enough. It also gets holes in it and wears thin. I probably should’ve gotten a new one for northern Montana because I still sorta got wet on the inside, especially if the rain went sideways. With my fleece underneath though, it works pretty darn well.

I had a light fleece and mountain hardwear down hooded ghost whisperer for most of the trail. I ditched the puffy from Grand Lake, CO to Leadore, ID. I would’ve survived without it, but I really love sleeping in my down jacket with the hood and using the fleece as a pillow. I’m also ridiculous warm if I wear everything (long underwear then shirt, fleece, puffy, and rain jacket).

I love fleece gloves too. They just get worn out on my trekking pole handles.

I’m interested in investing in a slightly heavier fleece as my main jacket (they’re so awesome they still insulate when wet… kind of). I should probably get a better beanie, mine was this knit REI one that wasn’t that warm. I’m also interested in checking out Patagonia’s “air merino” stuff. Obviously ridiculously expensive, but maybe worth checking out.

Electronics

I had my iphone (also functioned as GPS, camera, and ipod), earplugs, anker 6700 mAh external battery, kindle, DeLorme, a double outlet-usb converter, iphone charge cable, and micro-usb charge cable for kindle and delorme and anker (kindle and delorme rarely needed to be charged). That system was great and worked for me. The anker was more than enough most of the time and just right for my longer, 5-7 day stretches. It just takes a long time to charge in town, which is kind of annoying if you just wanna do a quick in and out. Solar chargers work well on the CDT because we are exposed most of the time, RightOn had one. You don’t have to charge it in town, which is nice, but they are much more expensive than the Anker batteries. Not really sure how much they weigh. He had a SunTactics one.

My future set up, though, will probably feature just my phone, my ipod nano (the tiny  square touch screen one), and the cords and double outlet block thing. Undecided on the kindle. If I hike the PNT, 1200 miles in roughly 40-45 days, I will likely be too tired to read. For longer trips I would probably take a kindle. Cutting out the delorme and anker would cut out at least 12oz, and the kindle would put that over 1 lb I could cut out.

I’m not a big camera or video guy, but GoPro’s would probably be great on a thru-hike.

Cooking

Mmm dinner. I had an MSR pocket rocket. It did the trick. My pot was a little small but could still easily hold a ramen+knorr rice side or a ram-bomb (ramen and idaho potatoes). Those were my staple dinners when I had a stove. I also got super into making drip coffee in northern Montana with a little MSR filter thing. Good stuff.

You could probably shave 1 or 2oz if you really wanted a lighter stove. Snowpeak’s stove might be lighter. Boston Chris had a $10 stove from China that weighed less than an ounce. It was really loud though and might’ve been inefficient (end up buying more fuel).

I dropped my stove in Steamboat Springs, CO and didn’t get it back until Helena, MT. The no-cook, cold-soak method works really well for me, especially if I am alone and pushing big miles. I had a kool-aid jar (gatorade powder jars work better or ziploc twist-lock containers). I’d put my knorr rice + ramen in there and fill it up around 5pm. It hydrated in about 1.5-2 hours. Then I would stop to eat dinner, keep walking, then eventually stop to sleep and have some nutella before bed. Works great. Simple. Obviously, you miss hot meals when it gets cold at night, but I often don’t really notice the difference.

I really don’t know much about alcohol stoves, but I’ve heard about “caldera cones” and someone told me about this website: http://zenstoves.net/Stoves.htm . Check it out.

Poles

I like hiking with poles, especially on ups and downs. They also serve as my tarp poles, which is pretty important. I have Leki, telescoping poles. They have lasted a long time and are fully adjustable for my tarp poles. Cowboy Stripper got really pissed off at his Black Diamond z-poles (the tri-piece, foldable ones). Mine are aluminum. Carbon fiber poles are lighter (why lighter, gotta work out your arms, right?) but will snap if you get them caught in rocks or snow and bend weight on them, especially when it’s cold.

 

Well I hope this helps anyone who is prepping for a long walk. Honestly, gear only does so much. You can change things and drop things as you go pretty easily (Amazon and the USPS are your best friends). You can have the nicest gear in the world, but it’s not gonna walk a trail for you. Get out and hike or run to prepare for your long walk!

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