Tag Archives: Pack

Damascus

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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.

M.R.O.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Current Gear

I have started to research and collect data and opinions on gear that I will need for a successful Thru Hike.  As such, I figured it would be good form to list out the gear that I currently have, along with some of my thoughts on it.  My goal in preparing my gear is to make sure everything has as many “uses” as possible, while limiting my base kit weight (without food and water) to less than 25 pounds.  I am sure this will all be tweaked as I hike.  Obviously, a lot of this list is incomplete or outdated, but you have to start somewhere.  Also, keep in mind that most of my backpacking experience was done with a group of 4-12 people, so some items here are too large or heavy for a single hiker, but when not so bad when spread across other hikers.  Try not to judge just yet, this is still evolving, but here is what I have in my gear box as of right now.

Backpack – Jansport Middleton external frame

Weight:  Unknown

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This pack has seen a lot of miles.  And it shows.  Unfortunately, the bag is starting to break down and crumble, so a new pack is certainly in my future.  But I will miss this old hauler.

Backpack – dad’s Jansport Klamath 75 Internal Frame

Weight:  4 lbs. 13 oz.

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This is my dad’s backpack, which he has loaned to me.  I plan to try it on a short hike soon, to see how well it suits me and my needs.  I have never really used an internal frame pack before, so the actual stuffing of it has me a bit intrigued.

Tent – Eureka Timberline 2

Weight:  5 lbs. 13 oz.

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This is a great 2-person tent.  I first used this style while at Philmont.  It has great interior space,  is very quick to set up, and is freestanding, which comes in mighty handy in rocky areas.  However, at over 5 pounds, it is a pretty heavy tent for a single hiker.  Two people can easily split the tent and tent poles, etc.

Tent – Eureka Solitaire

Weight:  2 lbs. 9 oz.

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I bought this tent with the intentions of using it when I was hiking solo, but the interior feels so small, that I tend to only use it on short trips.  Other than how small it is, it is a good tent.  It is a little heavy for the size, though.

Sleeping Bag – old Slumberjack (Unknown temperature rating)

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This bag has seen more miles and nights in the woods than most people can imagine.  It has been on every backpacking trip I have ever taken, including all preparation trips for both Philmont Treks.  And it still works, albeit it should come with a nose plug if you plan to burry your head inside.  I would like to retire this old bag, but my heart strings are wrapped tight.  But my nose may win.  Phew!

Sleeping Bag – Slumberjack Superpacker 20-Degree Bag

Weight:  3 lbs. 6 oz.

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This bag was a gift from my dad, years ago.  I have used it a few times as a non-backpack bag, and it is comfortable and warm.  It is stuffed with synthetic fillers, so it is a bit heavy, and does not compress down as small as a down bag would, but with the addition of a bag liner for a few extra degrees, this may be my starter/finisher bag when it is colder.  I will most likely try it once on a weekend backpack trip, so see how it packs and carries.  But I do have my eyes on a nice new winter bag from Nemo.  If I win the lotto.

Sleeping Pads – ThermaRest and RidgeRest

ThermaRest Weight:  30 oz. +/-

RidgeRest Weight:  14 oz.

ThermaRest on the left in orange; RidgeRest on the right, in black.

ThermaRest on the left in orange; RidgeRest on the right, in black.

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Yep, I have two pads.  No, I do not normally carry both.  I used the ThermaRest self-inflating pad for both of my Philmont treks, and pretty much every camping trip since purchasing it.  The RidgeRest was a cheap pad used as extra insulation during cold months.  I have backpacked with both, when hiking in the winter, but do not foresee that being the case for my Thru-Hike.  I am still considering purchasing a new ThermaRest, as they fold down much smaller and lighter than this “original model”, which only rolls up and would need to be strapped to the outside.  Since it is a non-essential upgrade, I will most likely wait until closer to my trip to see how the funds are flowing.

Stove – Coleman Exponent Feather 442 Dual Fuel Stove

Weight:  24 oz.

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Again, this was a stove that we first used at Philmont.  Yes, it is big.  And yes, it is certainly heavy.  But it is the most reliable stove I have ever used.  Plus, it is a dual fuel stove, which adds to its versatility.  There is a small capacity fuel tank on the stove, but most people carry a red MSR bottle with extra fuel.  Unfortunately, that is more gear and weight to carry.  This stove would be great for canoeing trips or car camping, but is a tad heavy for backpacking, especially if you are a solo hiker.  It was used with good outcomes during a Philmont trek, when there were a dozen people carrying all of the “shared” equipment.

Stove – MSR WhisperLite International

Weight:  11 oz. (not including MSR Fuel Bottle; 6 oz. plus fuel)

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Another Philmont item.  We used this stove a lot on our prep hikes and on the actual trek.  It is small, lightweight, and uses the same fuel as the Exponent, so together, we had two stoves.  The one thing I do not love about this stove is the “bottle on a line”, as the fuel bottle has a habit of tipping the stove if it is not on level ground.  Easily overcome, but was a learning experience.

Stove – JetBoil Sol

Weight:  10.5 oz. (not including fuel canister)

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This is a recent purchase, based on lots of reviews and feedback.  I have not used it, and am not sure if I will take it on my Thru Hike, but ultimately, I wanted to see if the product was worth the hype.  It uses canister fuel cans, which offers some convenience as long as you can find replacements when needed.  The mug holds 0.8 liter of water, and reportedly boils that in 4 minutes.

Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket

Weight:  3 oz. (not including fuel canister)

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I bought this stove about a year ago… mostly because it is a 3 ounce burner!  It uses the same canister fuel that the JetBoil stove uses.  I have used it once and was impressed with the output from such a small little thing.  Reportedly, it can boil a liter of water in 3.5 minutes.  If the JetBoil does not work out, this will most likely be my Thru Hike stove.  Plus, it offers a bit more flexibility as to which cup/pot I use than the JetBoil does.  Ironically, the JetBoil mug can be used on this burner, it just does not lock in like it does on its own burner.

Pot – GSI Halulite Minimulist Pot

Weight:  6.3 oz.

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I bought this a while ago for use on the Pocket Rocket.  It is a nice lightweight single person pot that can double as a cup.  It comes with an insulating sleeve to keep food warm, and a travel cup style lid to minimize spills.  Again, if the JetBoil does not make the trip, this will be used with the Pocket Rocket.

Utensil – Sea to Summit AlphaLight Long Spoon

Weight:  0.4 oz.

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Seriously, this is feather-light.  At 0.4 ounces, I could carry a dozen of them and not notice.  Do not worry, I am only going to carry one.

Hydration – PUR Hiker Pump Filter

Weight:  11 oz.

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I was first exposed to this filter at Philmont and shortly after returning, bought my own.  I have used this throughout Michigan, including a week-long backpack trip on Isle Royal National Park, where it was used to supply all three hikers with all the water needed.  It still works like new and shows no signs of wear.  But it is a bit on the heavy side, so I am researching a few other options, just to see.  I am not against using this pump, though.

Hydration – Water Bladders vs Nalgene Bottle vs Gatorade Bottle

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I have always used a water bottle for all of my outdoor adventures.  Recently, I acquired two different hydration packs, one from Osprey and one from Camelbak, and am learning how to drink from them without choking.  I also like the no-cleaning-required Gatorade Bottle option, where you just toss it out and buy a new one at a resupply when one gets nasty.  Still not sure what will accompany me on the trail.

Hiking Boots – Unknown Vasque Hiking Boot

I have long been a Vasque fan, and have owned easily a dozen pairs of their boots.  This pair is ok – not too heavy, but still offering me some ankle support.  But they are old and need to be replaced pretty much as soon as I find a replacement.  I am just undecided on whether I want to stick with “hiking boots” or if I want to try the lighter trail shoes.  More testing required before that decision is made.

Camp Shoes – Holey Crocks

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Yep, I own a pair (two actually, but the other does not have holes so does not count here.)  Yep, they are ugly.  Yep, they are the most comfortable after-hiking shoes I have ever found.  And they are lightweight, waterproof, float, and can be strapped to the outside of the pack, if needed.  And since fashion is not one of my fortes (just ask my sister…), these WILL be in my pack.  So there.

Socks – Lots of them…

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I have not found a specific sock that I am in love with, and am enjoying trying the different brands and styles and lengths.  I am sure I will settle on one or two, but for now, I have a box full of socks to pick from.  Not really.  I have like 4 pairs.

LEKI poles

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These are a new addition to my gear closet.  Following surgery, my physical therapist recommended I start using dual hiking poles when taking day trips in my local area.  She said it would help ease the stress placed on my still-recovering knee muscles.  I have used them a few times, and can already see the benefit.  Just wish she would have written a prescription for them so health insurance would actually pay for something.

Headlamp – Energizer

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This is a Wally World special, bought as a quick solution to some nighttime motorcycle maintenance I was trying to perform.  It worked perfectly for that, using three AAA batteries.  It has a red light, and three different brightness settings for the white light, but it is a bit heavy compared to other headlamps out there.  Again, since it is only a weight issue, I will consider this category filled for now… unless someone wants to donate the funds for a new Petzl.  Please.  My knees will thank you for every once saved.

 

This is just a starting point.  Obviously there are some key components missing or undecided, and a few items that could be upgraded to something newer and lighter.  This list was something I created more for me than for you, so I know what I have and what I need.  I just decided to post it here to feed your curiosity.

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.”

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