I’m sitting here drinking coffee and watching the sun come up, anticipating an adventurous overnight hiking and camping expedition in the Morgan Monroe State Forest. Looking back through my previous posts, it amazed me how quickly we learn and grow, adapt and change. When I first posted my review of the contents of my Big Green Box, it was honest and off the cuff. Now that I’ve had some brief experience with the gear on some day hikes, I can update you with what worked, what didn’t, and what changed.
I originally said that I’d be taking a mid-weight fleece top made by Sierra Trading Post. It is too bulky. But fleece is everywhere, and I’ve also been lucky enough to find a couple of merino wool sweaters at Goodwill. My ultimate goal is to keep my clothing bag as small and lightweight as possible. That is hard to do with cold weather hiking and camping, but the goal is always to be as light as possible. I also added a Columbia TurboDown jacket, and have tested it a couple of times in temperatures in the teens. It is a great jacket but when you’re wearing down, you really have to manage your sweat with intelligent placement of base layer, and a layer or two that will get that moisture as far away from your skin as possible. It heats your core up quickly.
I will be sticking with one pair of zip knee’d trekking pants when I get on the AT, but for now, I’ve been using a variety of military surplus summer weight BDUs and ACUs. I like having those pockets, but I’m really just playing around with them.
Earlier I said I’d be hiking commando. I’ve reconsidered and opted for UnderArmor compression boxer-briefs.
I have also rediscovered my military issue polypros (short for polypropylene). There’s a newer version out that has waffle cuts made in the underneath side of the fabric, and those channels hold heat, but there really isn’t much wrong with the original polypros. I have tops and bottoms, and find they’re a great addition to my extreme cold weather set up.
Last time when I talked about which backpack I’d be rocking, I was wrong. I’ll just come right out and say it. I ended up buying a Kelty Trekker 65 external frame backpack. Let me also state that I bought it before going to see A Walk in the Woods and seeing Katz (Nick Nolte) rocking the exact same model, but that didn’t increase or decrease the coolness factor of my Old School kit. I liked Nolte in 24 Hours, and loved AWITW the book, but the movie was mediocre. The thing is, when I’m thru-hiking, I want to stand upright, not bent forward. And internal frame packs push you forward and put a strain on your back. I’ve worn enough internal frame packs in my military career, and want the simplicity and adaptability of an external frame. The only real contender today is Kelty. They took the original great idea and teched it into the 21st century with modern versions of hip belts, straps, and load lifters. It takes some time to get it’s frame dialed in to your frame, but once you get it, this pack is very easy to carry and adjust to where you want the weight to sit – on your shoulders, on your hips, or somewhere in between.
I also decided to go with an REI Passage 1 single person, 3 season tent with footprint. My son, who is planning to thru-hike with me, is mesmerized by hammocks, and he’ll be testing and reviewing different models. Once things warm up, I may play around with some hammocks, but at the end of the day (literally) I’m a tent guy. The last couple years I spent as a teenager in the Boy Scouts, I camped almost exclusively in hammocks, and got really good at it, and loved the simplicity of only carrying the hammock and a rain fly. But I want the option of the extra weather protection a tent affords.
Footwear? Yep, I went with the Merrill Moab Ventilators and I. Absolutely. Love. Them. I also replaced the insoles with Super Feet greens, as I said I would, and I haven’t been disappointed. Let me address the phenomenon of people hiking in trail running shoes. I think it is great. Maybe I’ll try a pair or two between now and the thru-hike. Maybe they’ll change my mind. But I haven’t encountered a single problem with my Moabs except that they compressed the tops of my feet when I was breaking them in, but they’re all good now. They’ve worked for me and I don’t see any reason to switch that up.
Trekking poles? Yes, I bought a ten dollar pair just to get used to them, and I realize that ten dollar poles won’t last forever. I’ll upgrade somewhere down the line, and I’m open to suggestions on which ones are lightest, toughest, and best.
Now let me say a word about my JetBoil Flash. This piece of tech is miraculous. I have used it to boil two cups of water in three minutes when it was 16 degrees out. And that is all I will be using it for on the trail. I have discovered BetweenTheBlazes (YouTube) method of trail cooking by reconstituting dehydrated meals inside a cozy while you hike, and all it takes is off-the-boil water.
My water will be purified, along the trail, by a Lifestraw personal water filtration unit. For filling my bottles, I’ve chosen the Sawyer inline system. Yes, I know that during winter camping, I can’t let it freeze, or I’ll be back at REI to plunk down another $40 because freezing damages the membrane. I’be created a cloth bag tied to a lanyard that goes around my neck, and my Sawyer will rest next to my base layer for warmth and inside my sleeping bag at night on subzero excursions.
And about the Nalgene bottle comment I made? Yeah, I ditched that. My Sawyer works with any standard threaded water bottle, narrow mouth Gatorade or PowerAde bottle, and those are ubiquitous not just along the trail, but literally everywhere. They’re lightweight, disposable, and uber-abundant in a variety of sizes. Hiker trash seem to love the bigger Smart Water bottles, and they simply can’t be wrong.
I may or may not carry a knife on the trail. A lot of people recommend a multi-tool instead. I’m mulling it over.
I also made an impulse buy at Wally World last week. See the pic embedded with this post for a visual. This is the neatest thing I’ve seen in awhile. Why didn’t someone mass market these sooner? Full body lightweight mesh netting? Count me in. I’ll be reviewing them once bug season returns, but the idea of being able to walk undisturbed by ticks, chiggers, skeeters, sweat bees, and cow flies is super-appealing. Will they allow enough air flow? Will they get caught on flora and ripped by rocks? Will they be sewable? How long will each pair last? They’re only eleven bucks, so we’ll see, but I’m excited about the possibility of these working, because it means that in warmer, buggier weather, I can hike in a pair of shorts and maybe a compression shirt, with the addition of the meshies…and hike unviolated by the kingdom Insecta.
I still don’t plan on bathing regularly on the trail, but I will be looking for strategies to keep the funk at a minimum.
So that does it. There you go. Feedback is appreciated!