Friday, June 27, 2008

What my gear ended up being so far

Here is what my gear has evolved to, along with some "reviews": 
Tent: Gossamer Gear The One. Sleeps one. Weighs just over a pound and uses my Leki ultralight trekking poles to set up. The titanium stakes barely ever hold the tent up. I have to use rocks most of the time. The spinnaker fabric is noisy in wind. Otherwise the tent is spacious and warm even though it's designed so that air blows freely through it. 

I saw a 6 Moons Designs tent made of something called Cuben fiber which is amazingly light and strong. It weighed even less than my tent and while not as tall as my tent, could sleep two. My tent sleeps only one. I was really impressed by the 6 Moons. 

The Tarptent Rainbow is impressive, too. Especially the Double Rainbow if you want to sleep 2 because each person has their own door to get out. 

All 3 of these are small companies. You have to order online. 

Shoes: I do not wear boots. I wear whatever doesn't hurt, usually shoes with a good, somewhat rugged sole and mesh uppers for breathability and quick drying. Low top because I believe strong ankles are better protection than atrophied ones. 

I wear Injinji merino wool toe socks with another sock on the outside. The other sock has been thick wool cushioning socks, thin nylon "liner" socks and many other things in between. Having another sock keeps the Injinji socks from disintegrating too quickly and helps keep less dirt from accumulating in between the toes. 

I had one pair of the Injinji socks go 600 miles. I had another pair go only 200 miles. The difference was the 200 milers were wet and my shoes full of sand almost every day. 

Pack: I started with a frameless pack but it could not handle the enormous weight of all the water I had to carry (up to 5.5 liters). I bought an Osprey Aura 65 and it makes the weight of that water feel lighter even though the pack itself is heavier. Many people do not like the Osprey because there is almost no padding on the harness. It can cut into my shoulders but it doesn't bother me too much. Others who have this pack have cut pieces of foam padding and duct taped it on the harness. I have had trouble with the hip belt pockets. The zippers are pretty much shot after less than a month of use. 

Sleeping: I use a GoLite down quilt rated to 20 degrees. Weighs less than 2 lbs. You kind of have to see it to understand, but it straps around your sleeping pad and you sleep directly on the pad. The quilt has a foot like a sleeping bag, but no zipper and it doesn't go all the way around your body. It does go all the way over your head if needed. I'm amazed how warm I have been. I use a Z-rest pad which is very warm. I usually sweat against it, which can be uncomfortable sometimes. 

About staying warm at night with a quilt and a tent that lets air blow through freely: Part of the system is that you have to choose your site well. I find that if I sleep half-way down a long descent rather than at the bottom where there is a lake or stream I am much, much warmer and there's little or no condensation on my tent. Also, I hike into camp and go right to bed. I do not sit around a camp site. A camp site is for sleeping. If I want to linger at a lake or stream I do that during the day and move on for a few more hours of hiking. I'll even eat out on the trail, hike another hour and then make camp. 

I have no idea how cold it has been, possibly the upper 30s, but the nights I have not done these things have been the coldest. 

Clothes: I wear tan long pants (the zip off kind but I never zip off, made by Ex-Officio), a polyester tank top (thrift store find, by Champion) and a tan, nylon long-sleeved shirt (by Northface). I also have nylon underwear and bra and wear a Sunday Afternoons sun hat. I carry no extras pairs of anything. 

I find this uniform is comfortable from the 40s up to the 100s without shedding any part of it. Every now and then I'll jump into a lake or creek to wash my clothes. My clothes dry quickly. In the 100 degree temperatures, I would wet my shirt and hat to stay cool. I only need sunscreen on my hands. 

Umbrella: I found a GoLite Chrome Dome umbrella in the trash. I wish I'd had it when walking through some of the more scorching desert. It's a miracle to walk under in the mid-day sun and helps me put in mid-day miles feeling less tired. I expect that it will be useful when it rains, too. 

Insulation: I have a Marmot DriClime windshirt. It's a great jacket but I've hardly ever really needed it. It works by providing a thin layer of insulation and a thin layer of wind protection. Together these two layers are very wind-proof and warm. I sometimes hike in it if it's cold enough. 

I also have a Patagonia down sweater. It works similarly to the Marmot, with a layer of insulation sandwiched between wind-resistant layers. I LOVE this thing. With the windshirt it's enough warmth for the absolute coldest I've been. I wear it when I get to my camp and sometimes sleep in it for added warmth. I never hike in it. 

I sleep with a fleece hat that has a chin strap and ear flaps. The chin strap keeps it on my head. I wear it when I get into camp until I leave in the morning, unless it's still cold. 

I have a fleece cylindrical thing that I use for a scarf. I can put it around my head or neck and cover part of my face. This is for very cold times and sometimes for sleeping to keep the micro-breezes in bed from making me cold. 

I have a pair of fleece fingerless gloves, sized XL. I can pull my fingers in because the size is so big, or push them out if I need my bare fingers. 

I have a pair of very light silk long underwear that I sometimes wear to sleep in. I have never worn them during the day. I could probably do without them, but they are handy when my clothes are wet.

Rain: I have a disposable tyvek coverall. I haven't been in any rain yet, but it worked well in light, wet snow. I also have a regular breathable rain coat by Sierra Designs but I've never used it except to sleep in one really cold night at 11,000ft. 

Camp shoes: I have some Crocs for camp shoes. I really only wear them when I have to get up in the middle of the night, or in resupply towns. My last pair of shoes were more comfortable than the Crocs and I considered sending the Crocs home. Crocs are as light as flip-flops and easier to walk around in. 

Cooking: I use an alcohol stove. I didn't make it myself. The Pepsi can stoves that people make are much better than mine. I'd recommend making your own stove. 

I use a small MSR Titan Titanium kettle for cooking and eat right out of it with a spoon. A spork is useless. A fork is even more useless. You need a spoon to get every last bite and clean off the pot when you're done. 

Some people save fuel by making a cozy for their pot out of foam or foil-lined bubble wrap. Then they can boil the food and remove from heat and let it finish cooking inside the cozy. I think this is clever, but I have not done it. 

I also have a small cup for cereal, lemonade or for measuring. I could probably do without it but I like it. 

I eat food you can get at a grocery store, not the backpacking food you get at an outfitter. Knorr dinners, Top-ramen, packets of tuna, tortillas and peanut butter, energy bars, cereal, poptarts, cookies, even onions, broccoli and hard cheeses. 

Knife: I use the small Swiss Army knife with the scissors, tweezers and toothpick. I use the scissors more than anything else. I have not felt a need for anything larger than this knife. 

I hope that's useful. Many of these things won't be listed in Backpacker magazine or available at your everyday gear outfitter. But they work best because they are lighter than most gear while possibly not as durable.

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