Category Archives: Gear

Source: Google Images

Three Weeks

Today marks the three week mark from when I will be leaving my little town and driving to my parent’s house in Michigan.  All of my belongings will be (hopefully) tucked away into two separate storage garages, with my Harley stashed at the club house and a few key belongings in the truck and trailer with me.  My entire future will be wide open, at the mercy of the fates.

What this means for me presently, though, is that the stress levels have reached atomic bomb proportions.

In an effort to reduce some stress (or maybe just procrastinate from doing some of the things I should be doing a little more…) I figured I would give a quick update here.

Financial Setbacks

You may have noticed my previous post, stating my hike might be cancelled.  The past two months have really been an eye opener for me.  Previous to this, I had my finances laid out fairly well, confident I would have enough for my ongoing bills, for food and lodging along the trail, and even for a little “extra” in case of any unplanned expenses.  However, I am now on the verge of having to cancel my trip for lack of funds.  An unexpected root canal at the dentist (dental insurance is a joke…), a landlord that decided to not honor his word to help me find someone to take over my lease, and a few unexpected training expenses so that I can maintain my National Registry Paramedic certification, along with a slew of other odds and ends that have crept into the expense category have really put a strain on my savings account.  The worst of it, though, is that the annual bonus I have been counting on to help fund the majority of this trip is not going to be anywhere near what it has been in the past, and may very well be the last straw that breaks the bank.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

A friend suggested that I start a “Go Fund Me” campaign, where anyone can donate any amount they prefer towards my cause.  But I hesitate at doing that because A) my “cause” is a personal goal, not something truly worth a campaign fund, like helping a family who lost everything in a house fire to replace clothing and such so they can actually lead a normal life again, and B) this is my goal, so I shouldn’t expect others to help.  Besides, I’m not sure I have more than a handful of readers, so I’m not sure how much good such a campaign would do.


For the most part, all notifications have taken place . There might be an odd friend here or there I haven’t spoken to yet, but I believe I’ve hit the majority of people in my life.  And in three days, I need to give my office my “two weeks’ notice”.  Yep, the nerves have kicked in for that one.  I’ve only had to quit two jobs before, and I have never asked for a leave of absence, so I am not sure how this will go.  On one hand, I think my Director will understand – he went through some serious knee injury just before I had my knee surgery, and will most likely be able to relate.  On the other hand, though, I am in a position within my office that cannot go empty for too long.  There are two people who report directly to me, and will need direction on a daily basis.  So I do not expect the office to “hold” my desk for me.  Ultimately, I am guessing that I will get a “give us a call when you are done, and if we have a spot for you then, we will discuss your return” sort of answer.  While it’s expected, it doesn’t ease any stress levels.

I have been surprised, both pleasantly and unpleasantly, by the types of responses I have gotten.  Fellow thru hiker and Appalachian Trials Blogger “Big Tex” wrote about these phenomena back in November, explaining there are four types of responses you will get when you tell them about your plans – Passive Negative, Aggressive Negative,       Passive Positive, Positive.  At the time, I hadn’t experienced it, but now that most notifications are made, I can confirm his entire post, which you can read here.  Big Tex describes in his findings that the Positive people will be the smallest grouping, and the Passive Positive the largest, and for the most part, that’s been my experience as well.  While I will wait to pass final judgment until after my hike, initial “categorization” has placed a large number of people into the “supportive but not helpful” grouping.  I suppose a thru hike is similar to performing a Facebook Friend purge, where you unfriend the people who you haven’t talked to in a decade, or those you don’t even recognize by name anymore.


While I know I promised a full post-Christmas gear post, I haven’t had the time to photograph and write up all of it.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to test most of it, either.  This winter has been odd, more rain and slush with intermingling frigid temperatures and high winds than anything else.  And given my time crunch, I doubt I will get a chance to write a full post before my hike.  But I love bullet lists, so let me summarize, and throw some gear porn on here for you.  I also wrote about most of these in my Wish List post.  Santa was VERY good to me, too!

Plasmic Rain Jacket_small

A wonderful rain jacket – the Mountain Hardware Plasmic.  Lightweight and durable.

Xmas 2014_01_small

  • Family pictures.  By far one of the best presents was from my niece, little pictures of my family including a few of her Royal Cuteness.
  • Leatherman Micra multitool.  Under two ounces, full of useful tools and small enough to go unnoticed in a pocket during a TSA search (do not TRY this, just guessing…)
  • Big Agnes Double Z sleeping pad.  Four inches of air-filled comfort.
  • REI Travel Sack.  Compact and lightweight summer bag.
  • Black Diamond Spot Headlamp.  While I have a headlamp already, this one provides twice as much light, has more power-saving settings, and has a red light.  Oh, and weighs less.
  • Sea to Summit Mosquito Head Net.  At one ounce, I will carry it as insurance, whether I need it or not.
  • A couple REI Mini towels.  Lightweight and useful.
  • Dr. Bronners Soap and Hand Sanitizer.  Necessities.

Xmas 2014_02_small

  • Nalgene 96oz. Cantene.  Plenty of storage capacity, yet collapses to nothingness when not in use.
  • Buffs.  A pair of useful head wraps.  One will most likely be my pillow case, to keep my pillow from becoming disgusting.
Source:  Google Images

Source: Google Images

  • Gift Cards.  Wonderful, wonderful money, with which I purchased the sleeping bag I have been dreaming of (and will soon be dreaming IN…), the Nemo Nocturne 15* bag.  Bring on those cold nights.
  • (Also from Gift Cards)  Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Liner, in an attempt to keep the hiker funk to a minimum inside my cocoon of warmth.
  • (Also from Gift Cards)  Exped Air Pillow.  Either for my head or for my knee, but at three ounces, why not.

I have officially switched boots.  The Oboz shoes I had previously thought were wonderful had started to cause some discomfort.  In an effort to keep getting in shape, I switched to a pair of unused Keen Targhee II Mid High boots I had sitting in a closet.  I have been using them for a good month now, and have had little discomfort at all.  In fact, from day one, they felt like they were already “broken in”, which I discovered is a common comment in reviews.  I would like to try out a pair of Brooks Cascadia trail runner shoes, but I know that I wouldn’t use them at the start of my hike due to the snow.  Perhaps when I am ready for my first boot replacement, though.

I am still searching for the right pair of shorts.  I tried one pair, and liked them as shorts, but under my pack, they became uncomfortable, so the search continues.  I am headed to REI soon to gather the last bit of items I need – a few stuff sacks, a couple spare sets of socks, maybe a fuel canister.  Otherwise, I think I have everything I need, save for a few small odds and ends.

While I am stressed out beyond anything I have ever experienced before, I cannot wait to get on the trail.  Maybe this is my current form of “running away”, as I’ve been accused of doing throughout my life, but at this point, I don’t care.  Sometimes retreat is the only way you can survive.  Three weeks… I can do this.

Source: Google Images

Source: Google Images

If you have any comments, advice, or ANY TOPIC SUGGESTIONS, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”


Christmas List

While my birthday may have passed, Christmas is just around the corner.  Since I am out of topics to write about, and there is still a list of items I need for my trip, I figured I would post that list here so my family (and anyone else who feels so inclined) can shower me with gifts.  Ok, maybe a shower of gifts would hurt, but you get the idea.  If you are interested in purchasing any items on the list, please be specific – I have tried to list exact sizes where applicable, but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me.  And while I have listed mostly single-source links, feel free to search around, as other stores may have better prices.  (If family wants to use my REI number so I get extra credit for the purchase, contact me and I will forward you that number…)  And now… let the shopping begin!

Absolutely Needed

The following items are those I considered essential purchases for my hike.  Translation:  If you don’t buy it for me, I have to buy it myself.  Hint, hint.

Big Agnes Double Z Pad

Big Agnes Double Z Long Sleeping Pad.  No arguing it, I have tried it in the store, borrowed one and tried it in my family room, and LOVE this sleeping pad.  Definitely need the LONG size, though.

Sleeping Bags.  There are numerous sleeping bags I am considering, so in order of preference, they are:

Nemo Nocturne

  • Nemo Nocturne 30 (30* bag, Long Size).  I love everything about this bag… except the price tag.  The peanut shape allows for good foot/leg movement, which is my biggest issue with mummy bags.  I like this bag enough that if I have to buy my own sleeping bag, this is the one I will be buying, even if I can’t get a deal on it.  (Fingers crossed for a good sale, though!)

Sierra Design Backcountry Bed

  • Sierra Design Backcountry Bed 3-season (30*, Long Size)  This is more of a blanket system than a sleeping bag, but since I toss and turn and roll around in my sleep, this will probably strangle me a lot less than normal, tight-fighting mummy bags.
  • Montbell Super Stretch Burrow Bag #3 (30* bag, Long Size)
  • Sierra Design Backcountry Bed 2-season (40* bag, Long Size
  • Montbell Super Stretch Burrow Bag #5 (40* bag, Long Size)

REI Travel Sack

  • REI Travel Sack Long.  This will be my summer sleeping bag, as it is smaller, lighter, and well-built.

Rain jacket.  I only need one, and both of those listed below will do the job well.

Mtn Hardware Plasmic

  • Mountain Hardware Plasmic rain jacket (XL or XXL)
  • Marmot Precip Jacket (XXL)

Leatherman Micra

Leatherman Micra.  Everyone needs a good knife.  This is small and more than adequate for a backpacking trip.

REI Mini Towel

Mini Towel (x2).  I don’t really care about the color, since fashion is my sister’s thing, not mine.  (Love you, Jen!)

Dr Bronners Soap

Soap.  Unscented, 2 fl ounces.  Not that I will be bathing with a lot of frequency, but it would be nice to keep dishes and hands clean on occasion.  Am guessing I will need a refill at some point in the trip, but I can order or buy that when I need it.

Sea to Summit Head Net.  I hate bugs.  This weighs next to nothing.  Good compromise for those evenings in camp.

Sea to Summit Liner

Sleeping Bag Liner.  Either the Sea to Summit Reactor Mummy Bag liner,


The Sea to Summit Silk Liner.  From what I can tell, there’s not a lot of difference in these, so whichever is easier to find is fine.  If they make it in a “long”, I’ll take that, as I am taller than most normal-sized bags.

Exped Pillow

Exped Pillow.  Medium size.  Honestly, I probably won’t use this for my head much, as I can just throw some clothes in a stuff sack, but I like the flat shape of this pillow for my knee.  And yes, my knee is more pampered than my head…

Nalgene Cantene

Nalgene Cantene.  96 ounce size.  This will be used for the days I am at a campsite without reliable water sources, so that I have enough water for dinner, drinking, and whatnot.


Buffs.  I am in no way claiming to be buff, but these are great for makeshift bandanas, work well as a pillow case, can be used as a washcloth, and help to buffer the wind and cold.  I’d like two, actually. Gift Certificate.  There are a lot of books on my Wish List that I want to add to my Kindle before I go.  I have a feeling I will do a lot of reading at the end of the day.  And many of the equipment items on this list are on Amazon, as well.


The following items are those that are not critical to my trip’s success, but are definitely in the “I really want” category.  There is still some research and debate going on about these, so if you decide upon something in this portion of the list, please let me know what your thoughts are, as I may have altered my choice.

Nikon D7100

Camera.  I am undecided which one I want, but I know I want a new digital SLR camera.  There are three Nikons I am looking at, which vary greatly in price, weight, and quality.  I had hoped to obtain some level of sponsorship from a local camera shop, but they never responded to my inquiries.  I am planning to stop in one last time before I give up hope for their assistance.  Ultimately, this one may come down to the money available – while the more expensive one will withstand the rigors of the trail better, at least I won’t be wasting as much money with the cheaper model if (more like when… it’s not a very “solid” camera…) it breaks.  I won’t list the actual cameras I am looking at, so if you want to contribute to this, just add a note that this is where you want it to go.  And if I don’t have the funds for it, I suppose my cell phone or point and shoot camera will do, although the quality of my pics won’t be where I want it.

Cotton Carrier

Cotton Carrier camera strap system.  If I do end up buying a new camera, I am certain this will be the way I carry it.  I have seen it in the store, and watched a few Youtube videos comparing this and some other carrier systems, and everything I have seen proves this is a great way to keep your camera accessible, but out of the way.

Black Diamond Spot 90

Black Diamond Spot Headlamp; 130 lumens version.  I have the 90 lumens version, and it works fine, but I have never tried to night-hike with it.  Also, the newer, more powerful headlamp has better power management, letting it last longer.  Again, it would be nice to have, but it isn’t critical at this point.

Non-Trip Related Items

I have probably never discussed this, but another of my hobbies is fountain pens.  I thoroughly enjoy using fountain pens while doing my journaling, when writing correspondence to friends (to those waiting a letter, I am sorry, I have been too busy to sit down and reply!), and really enjoy experimenting with all of the different ink colors.  I have two pens, each with a different color of ink, on my desk at work, and a few more at home, and have grown so accustomed to writing with them that it feels a bit odd to write with a ballpoint anymore.  I know these won’t go with me on my hike (too heavy and sometimes too finicky if not kept clean…which would be hard to do on the trail.) but I would like to add a few items to my collection.

As a side note, I highly recommend anyone interested in getting into fountain pens to check out Goulet Pens.  Goulet Pens is an online store with a great selection, great prices, and the best customer service I have ever experienced.  The owners create tons of informational and educational videos and post them to YouTube for everyone to enjoy, and are just an all-around great company to do business with.  To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind that it would be fun to work for them once my hike is over… that’s how much I like this company.

Pilot Vanishing Point

Pilot Vanishing Point Pen.  Black with Rhodium Accents, Extra-Fine.  I love the functionality and sleek design of this pen.  I have a feeling this pen will become my “everyday carry” pen.

Noodlers Gruene Cactus

Bottle of green ink.  Noodlers Gruene Cactus is a great ink.  I first tried it as a sample, and went through the small amount of ink provided very quickly.  And for some reason, I really enjoy writing with green inks.  Must be from all the Kermit the Frog shows I watched as a kid…

Aston Pen Pouch

Pen Pouch.  Every good pen needs to be protected, and this pouch does a great job.  I have one already, with a different pen in it, and would like a second pouch, as I am almost always carrying more than one pen with me.


Orange Detroit Tigers hat.  This one is probably for my family to purchase, since not too many others live in Michigan.  Mom, it was at Meijer this summer, where they have all the sports clothing.

I also have a few magazines and “memberships” that are up for renewal, that if someone wanted to contribute towards, it would be greatly appreciated.  I will refrain from listing the pertinent personal identification information here, but if interested in one of these, contact me and I will figure out what information you need.

  • Woodturning Design magazine subscription renewal.
  • American Woodturning Association membership renewal.  Another hobby is wood turning – using a lathe to create bowls, pens, and the like.  Unfortunately, living in an apartment, it’s hard to do this hobby much.
  • HOG (Harley Owners Group) membership renewal.  As long as I own a Harley, I will be a member of this organization.  They produce a great map book every year, and offer outstanding motorcycle-specific roadside service.  I don’t leave home without my membership card!
  • MyRoadID account renewal.  This company provides peace of mind.  I wear a dogtag-style necklace that has a phone number and a personal identification number on it.  In the event I am in an accident or otherwise am unable to talk to medical personnel, they can call the phone number and obtain my name, address, emergency contacts, allergies, medical history, etc.  With all of the traveling I do with the motorcycle club, this little item just gives a little more security.

So there is my Santa List.  Hopefully he overlooks most of this year and puts me on the “Nice” List…

Dear Santa

If you have any comments, advice, or ANY TOPIC SUGGESTIONS, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”



Gear Updates

I realized it has been a while since I discussed my gear purchases, and since I know how much everyone likes to talk about gear, I figured I would fuel the conversation some.  Here are a few of the decisions I have made so far.

Water Filter

After a long day hike where I had need to pump two bottles of water, I decided to replace my existing PUR Hiker water filter with a lighter (and slightly faster) Sawyer Squeeze.  I debated between the two Sawyer products – Squeeze vs Mini – and made my decision based on numerous online and in person reviews.  While the Mini works just fine, I was told it has a slightly slower filter rate.  Quite a few people also told me that the Mini clogs up a lot more than the Squeeze, due to its slimmer design.  For less than an ounce of weight, I decided to go with the larger of the two.



Those same reviews also told me to find a replacement for the Sawyer water bags that comes with the Squeeze, saying that they do not hold up to the rigors of the trail.  I have heard mixed results about the Platypus bags, some saying that the threads are different than those on the Sawyer.  However, I did find a YouTube video exclaiming high praises for the Evernew Water Carry bags, so I purchased a 2-liter bag from Amazon to use as my dirty-water collection bag.

Let me tell you this – these Sawyer filters are GREAT!  So much easier to fill a bottle than the old fashioned pump filters.  Think of it as going to the garden hose vs having to use an old cast iron well pump to get a bucket of water.  No real comparison.


There really was not a decision to be made when considering whether to buy a new tent or not – the two tents I had were either very confining inside, or extremely heavy.  After a lot of review reading and visiting a few different stores to actually see specific tents, I decided on the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2.  I considered the UL1, but the weight penalty for the two-person version was negligible to me, and was outweighed by the comfort given with some extra space.  Besides, if someone I am hiking with needs a dry place to sleep (or needs to escape the bugs for a while), I will have space for them.  Regardless, compared to my existing tent, this one saves me over 5 pounds!  Yeah, that old tent is heavy…





I have set it up a couple of times, to familiarize myself with it, but have yet to spend a night in it.  Soon, though.  One noticeable difference between old and new was the material used.  This new tent uses an extremely thin fabric, and I would be lying if I said I had no hesitations about it.  But numerous people have told me that it is far stronger than it seems it could be, and the sales figures show that it is a popular model.  Nothing stays popular without a good track record for quality.  So we shall see.


Thanks to an early birthday gift from my mom, I have purchased a SPOT device.  There really was not a debate with this, either, as I know it will help calm her down while I am out in the woods.



For those that are unaware, the SPOT device is a GPS enabled device that sends a predefined message to your personal network page, a private website on the SPOT site, dedicated to you.  This message includes your GPS coordinates and a web link to view your location on Google Maps.  It can also send a text message with this information to those whom you deem worthy of tracking your progress.  Where this device shines, though, is when you have an emergency.  When you activate the distress signal, your GPS coordinates are sent directly to the GEOS Rescue Coordination Center, who then arranges to get help to you as quickly as possible.  As is typical of modern technology, though, the service contract actually costs more than the device.  But if it makes mom feel better, it is worth the money and the 6 ounces added to my pack.


Anyone who knows me knows I despise clothes shopping.  Even for my hobbies.  I hate trying things on and due to my height vs weight, I inevitably either end up with something made for floods (pants too short but fit in the waist) or for someone twice my weight (decent length, but enough space in the waist to put two of me).  But it is a necessary evil, I suppose, so I sucked it up and tried on a few things.

For pants, I have purchased and tried out a pair of The North Face Silver Ridge convertible cargo pants.  While I will probably not use them as shorts much, the pants are made of a thin material that breathes nicely, moves easily and feels cool and comfortable.

I found a nice Patagonia Down Sweater (aka my puffy jacket) on the clearance rack, so I grabbed it.  Just wearing it around the store, I am guessing this jacket will become my winter jacket this year.  I just hope I do not wear it out before I even get on the trail!

During the same clearance sale, I was able to pick up some Patagonia Capilene 3 mid-weight long-sleeve and long-pant base layers.  I have not used them personally, but have a friend who swears by them, and since they were on clearance, they were no more expensive than the store brand I was planning to buy.

As I wrote about in a previous post, I am nearly committed to the ExOfficio boxers for my underwear.  I will most likely throw a loose pair of boxers in, for in camp, too.  I am still trying out all the different socks I have out there but I will most likely not be buying anymore.  I have two pairs of Point6 socks, three pairs of Darn Tough socks, and a pair of REI hiking socks.  I think I am set.

Still in the Works

Obviously, there are still a lot of things I am not decided upon.  Or just have not purchased yet.  While at REI, the salesman showed me a nice summer sleeping bag that was real inexpensive, which may be my solution for the middle of the hike, but I am still contemplating what to do about a winter bag.  I own a 35-degree bag, but it is older and heavier than what is out on the market now.  While I hesitate to spend the money for something new, I like the thought of shaving of nearly two pounds with just one purchase!  (Update:  Since originally writing this, I have gone on a quick overnight trip… and my current sleeping bag does not even fit in the sleeping bag compartment of my backpack.  Fail #1.  So it MUST be replaced…)

Similarly, I am still looking at all the different sleeping pads out there.  Mine still works, but I am trying to not have anything strapped to the outside of my pack, and my current pad will not fit inside, even with summer gear packed.  Maybe Santa will be kind to me this year.

My last big purchase item under review is a camera.  I am still contemplating what system I want to bring, and whether I need to upgrade before my trip.  I have an old digital SLR camera, but it is heavy and not always the most reliable camera I own.  If I decide I want a dSLR with me, I will most likely need to upgrade before I leave.  But if I am content with a point-and-shoot camera, I already have a decent one, and would only need to buy some more memory cards.  Decisions, decisions.  I am trying to get a sponsorship with a local camera shop, and that deal may make or break my decision of camera.

If you have any comments, advice, or suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.  I would welcome anything you can offer!

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”



Damascus 02_small

I was finally able to find an empty day in my schedule where I could make the nearly six hour drive down to Damascus, Virginia, to visit with the two outfitters down there.  I had been to Mt Rogers Outfitters during Trail Days but the building was bulging at the seams with hikers – people who actually needed something RIGHT THEN – so I did not stay real long or take up too much of the staff’s time.  This time was much different…

I love the scenery in the area!

I love the scenery in the area!

Oh, for anyone who has only ever been to Damascus during Trail Days, I implore you to visit during a non-T.D. weekend.  It is a MUCH different experience!  During Trail Days, the whole town seemed like a giant carnival, with wildly dressed (or undressed) people around every corner.  Driving into town now showed a nice and quiet mountain community, with lots of bicyclists and people just strolling through town.  There was a beautiful house for sale just down the street from one of the outfitters, and if I had the $500k for it, I would have considered moving there!

Sundog Outfitters

When I got into town, I stopped first at Sundog Outfitters, mostly because I had not been there before.  Inside, it became clear that bikers and tourists were more of their target client, with a minimal backpacking stock.  Lots of beautiful new and rental bikes lined the floor.  And truly, that is not being fair – there was a nice side room full of tents, sleeping bags and backpacks, with a decent selection and variety.  But upon waking in, it was obvious bikes were the priority – probably because most of the northbound hikers have been through and the bike tourism sector seemed to be blooming.

I cannot say the trip was worthless, though.  While walking around, I found a shelf of Black Diamond Spot headlamps on sale for $20.  It is not the headlamp I had been looking for, but at half price, I could not pass it up.  I may or may not use it on my hike, but for now, that is one less thing I need to worry about.


Mt Rogers Outfitters_small

After Sundog, I headed over to the ever popular Mt Rogers Outfitters.  I browsed the shelves for a while, making mental wish lists and reminding myself I am on a budget, and headed to the backpack section to check them out.  One of their employees – “Bill…Just Bill” – came to help me out.  This man was AH-MAZE-ING.  He was a walking breathing backpacker gear guide!  We started by looking at the pack my dad loaned me.  He loaded it up with sandbags until it totaled 35 pounds, and showed me a few ways to adjust it.  His advice was simple – the pack could be made to work, but ultimately, it did not truly fit my back, I could feel a few pressure points, and it was on the higher weight side of the lot.  Ironically, it was almost too large, even though when sized, I am a large for most manufacturers.

Then Just Bill loaded up the same sandbags into five other packs (and two of them, twice…) to show me some options.  The first pack was the Osprey Aether 70.  I have tried this on before, and I know it fits comfortably, but I am also afraid of the over-five pound weight.

Then I tried the Osprey Atmos 65.  Immediately, I liked this pack.  I had tried it before and now wonder if I had tried a different size, because this pack felt like a different pack altogether.  When cinched down, it felt like the back was hugging my body, making it extremely comfortable.

Next up was the ULA Catalyst.  Again, this pack was comfortable, but in a different way than the Atmos.  While the Atmos hugged me, this pack felt as if a round duffle bag was strapped to my back.  It felt different, but it was a comfortable pack.  The padding and straps were minimal, but were more than adequate.  I liked the simplistic nature of the design, and the material seemed a bit better than the Osprey.  Strong contender.

For comparison, Just Bill weighted up a Deuter Act Zero 45+15 SL.  Immediately, I did not like this pack.  While the construction was top-notch, and some of the little features were better than the others, the pack made me feel like the Hunchback of Notre Dame more than my old external frame pack ever did.  And while I was intrigued by the concept of the padding, which allows a space, and therefore airflow, along your spine, it just did not feel comfortable on my back.  If it was uncomfortable in ten minutes in the shop, I cannot imagine wearing it for six months.

Ultimately, I asked Bill to reload the Atmos and the ULA again, for a better comparison, and after that, decided the Osprey was for me.  I liked the back-hugging feel of it, and just felt more at ease with it than the ULA.  Bonus – it was on sale!  That said, if the Osprey does not hold up, the ULA will be my next pack!

After that, Just Bill discussed a lot of other things with me.  We talked about winter weight vs summer weight, and he showed me one of last year’s packs, the smaller Osprey Exos 46, which he said a lot of hikers “downsize” to when they drop their winter gear.  I tried it on, and know what size I need if I decide to go this route mid-hike.

Explaining my footwear issue, Bill took me over to the wall-o-shoes.  He explained that they only carry a select few brands but have had no complaints.  He pulled one low-rise boot (shoe?) down for me, the Oboz Sawtooth, and had me try it on.  Wow, I know why nobody complains.  I barely noticed it was on my foot, and walking up and down the mini-hill in the shop proved that the shoe had griping power!  These were hands-down the most comfortable hiking boots I have ever tried.  One of Bill’s coworkers walked by and mentioned he had three pairs, one of which has over 1,500 miles on it, and is still going strong.  I brought up my fear over not having ankle support, and Bill confirmed what I have read elsewhere – your ankles will strengthen on the train and it will not be an issue.  Just take it easy at first and you will love the low rise shoes.  Sold.

Bill then led me around the shop, showing me some rain coats, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, and other items.  I was up front with him about my budget for this trip, and he informed me it was not about the sale, but about the information.  He has my complete respect.  He showed me a few sleeping bags, gave me his recommendation for pads and rain coats, but never once pushed me to buy anything.  Bill, I will be back.


After a quick lunch at the Blue Blaze Café, I stopped by the town park to snap a few pics, and then headed home.  The trip was definitely a productive and worthwhile trip, but it sure made for a long day of driving!  I want to thank Just Bill for all his time and patience, and the overall knowledge he shared with me.  He even asked his boss if he could have the afternoon off to do some day hiking with me – unfortunately, he was denied.  Next time, Bill.

Damascus Caboose_small

Next up for the gear research is sleeping bags and sleeping pads, I think.  There is SOOO much out there to look at, I am a little overwhelmed.  While I technically have both of these, my thoughts on weight were confirmed – I can cut over a full pound of weight if I buy newer, lighter gear.  Things to ponder.  If you have any advice on bags and pads, or have any general comments, advice, or topic suggestions, please use the comment box below or use the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”


My Wish List

I like lists.  Lists to tell me what I need to do.  Lists to tell me what I have done.  Lists of my lists.  Lists make my stressed out over-analytical life a little less chaotic.  So here is a list of the items I still need to purchase or re-evaluate.  Some are just general titles, as I have not started looking into them yet.  Some are specific models I am looking at or may even have decided upon.  I welcome any and all feedback and suggestions you might have.

Pack (with appropriate Pack Cover)

Pack – Considering:  Osprey Aether 70 (5 #; $275)

Pack – Considering:  Osprey Atmos 65 (3# 10 oz; $250)

Pack – Considering:  Gregory Z65 (3 # 6 oz; $230)

If my dad’s pack does not work out for me, I am looking at an Osprey Aether 70, but the five pound empty weight has me a little concerned, so I might look at the Osprey Atmos 65, as well.  I have looked at the Gregory Z65, but found the Aether to be more comfortable… but at two pounds less, may be a front runner.

Sleeping System

Sleeping Bag (Summer) – Considering:  Montbell 40-degree Super Stretch Burrow Bag (2 # 3 oz; $135)

Sleeping Bag (Winter) – Considering:  NEMO Nocturne 15-degree Sleeping Bag (#3 3 oz; $400)

Technically, I have a winter bag.  While it has worked on an overnight trip, it is a bit short and I worry that I will tire of the cramped space for a long trip.  I have read numerous reviews and like the idea of the NEMO Nocturne’s “peanut” shape, which would allow my feet to move a little more than in a traditional mummy bag.  Either way, I am quite certain I need a summer bag.  My current bag is a 20-degree bag, and I am thinking that in the heat of the summer, it will be far too warm for me.  The Montbell was recommended in a Backpacker magazine, but I am still searching for the right bag for me.  Some have even suggested just using a fleece blanket, and that very well may be an option.

Sleeping Bag Liner – Considering:  Sea to Summit Silk Stretch Mummy Liner 10-degrees (5 oz; $75)

Sleeping Bag Liner – Considering:  Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Mummy Bag Liner 15-degrees (8 oz; $57)

I am considering one of these sleeping bag liners for multiple reasons.  First and foremost, I think it will be a lot easier to wash a liner in town than a full sleeping bag, and let’s face it, any help to minimize hiker stank is a welcome addition.  Secondly, if I decide to use my existing sleeping bag, this liner will help give me a few more degrees of warmth in the very beginning, when I expect the coldest weather.

Sleeping Pad – Considering:  ThermaRest Prolite (16 oz.) or Prolite Plus (1 # 6 oz)

Sleeping Pad – Considering:  Big Agnes Insulated Aircore (1# 4 oz; $90)

My sleeping pad still works, but it is the old fashioned “original” ThermaRest, which only rolls up.  As I am trying to minimize how much gets strapped to the outside, I am thinking about one of these pads.  It is amazing how small they pack down!


Need, no.  But a small addition may mean the difference between sleeping well and tossing and turning.  Honestly, I would probably use this between my knees when I am side-sleeping or under my knee when I am on my back.  A stuff sack of clothing will work just fine under my head.


Water Storage – Considering:  Nalgene Wide-Mouth Canteen 2.8 L (2.25 oz)

Water Storage – Considering:  Evernew Water Carry Hydration Pack 1.5 L ($12) or 2 L ($18)

Water Filter – Considering:  Sawyer Squeeze Filter (3 oz; $30)

Ultimately, if I decide to ditch my pump filter and go with the Sawyer Squeeze, which is MUCH lighter, smaller, and longer-lasting, I will get the Evernew hydration pack to use as a dirty-water bag, as it has the exact threads the Squeeze uses.  I plan to have two water bottles, or perhaps one bottle and one hydration pack, for my filtered water.


I am just beginning to look into clothing.  Things have really changed since the last time I bought backpacking clothing… there are SO many options!  So if you have something you really like, especially if it is budget-friendly, PLEASE post a comment or send me an email!  Thank you.

Underwear – Something to prevent chaffing and assist in wicking to keep me as dry and comfortable as possible.  Any suggestions?

Wool Bottom – Merino Wool Midweight Bottoms

Pants – Considering:  North Face Paramount Convertible Pants ($60)

Shorts – Considering:  North Face Class V Board Shorts ($45)

Short Sleeve – Synthetic t-shirts

Long Sleeve (x2 during cold) – Merino Wool Midweight Long Sleeve Top


Jacket – Considering:  Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Parka (10.7 oz)

Jacket – Considering:  Patagonia Down Sweater (12 oz; $200)

Rain Coat – Considering:   Montbell Versalite Jacket * (7 oz; $150)

Rain Coat – Considering:  Columbia Rainstormer (12.2 oz; $120)

Gloves – Considering:  North Face Apex Gloves ($55)


Shoes / Boots – Still searching

Socks – Still evaluating

Misc. Items

Compression Sacks / Stuff Sacks – Considering:  Granite Gear Uberlight Drysacks (0.7 oz; $40)

Headlamp – Most likely something from the Petzl line

Shammy Micro Rag – Dollar Store special (1 oz)

Gaitors – Considering:  Outdoor Research Crocodiles (9 oz; $65)

SPOT Device, to calm my mother’s nerves (5.2 oz; $150, plus a 1-year subscription service)

Knife – Leatherman Juice S2 (4.4 oz; $60)

Rope – 50 ft. w/ Quick Link (taking suggestions for proper rope type)

Bandana – 2 Buff Bandana (1.6 oz; $21)

Maps – AWOL’s AT Guide for 2015 (8 oz)

Journal / Pen

Luxury Items  (All are up for discussion)

Backup Power – Brunton Inspire (5.4 oz)

Phone – new iPhone 5 Life Case, assuming I keep the iPhone

Camera – Still considering my options

I would love to hear your thoughts on any gear you have taken with you or have any direct feedback on.  Please use the comment box below or the Contact Me page up top.

Until next time, remember to “Spin the Compass.”