Tag Archives: Trekking Poles

Love this tree I found on the trail!

Sugarloaf Mountain

With a three-day weekend for Labor Day, I decided to spend a full day focused nearly entirely on preparing for my thru hike.  This included some extended trail time, a little gear testing, and shopping spree at my local REI.  I will cover the trail here, as I am still sorting through the shopping bags.

Sugarloaf Mountain

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Sugarloaf Mountain is an impressive hill, at least for this area of the country.  It is a privately owned park and is open to the public for much of the year, at no cost.  There are four trails, designated by colored markers, which circle and climb the mountain at different points around it.  While each of the trails is a loop trail, they cross each other at many locations, letting you jump from trail to trail at will.  Each trail is marked frequently with painted blazes on trees, and a numbered post marker every half mile, making it near-impossible to get lost as long as you stay on a trail.

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The day was predicted to be about 80-degrees, and mostly sunny, so I filled my hydration bladder, packed up my daypack and headed out the door.  For this hike, I decided to do the Yellow Trail, a 7-mile loop that circles the base of the mountain and has only moderate elevation gain.  I figured this would be a good trail for the day, letting me cover some new ground and trying a trail I had never been on before.

Hiking solo is a great time to get lost in thought.  Here are some of the random thoughts that passed through my head that day:

  • I need to check the humidity, not just the temperature forecast.  80 degrees is fine, unless there is 95% humidity.  Wow.
  • I remember the woods having more song birds.  The constant drone of insects is deafening without the birds to break the noise.
  • Squirrels are sneaky bastards.  I was hit in the head by 3 acorns on this hike – and after each one, a squirrel started chuckling.
  • I hate being tall on a trail with lots of spider webs.
  • Sweat in your eyes hurts.  Sweat with bug spray hurts more.
  • I am pretty sure my trekking poles are trying to kill me.  They help me when I truly need the help, but when the terrain levels out and they are not as critical, they always seem to find a way of tripping me up.  Probably invented by a squirrel.
  • I need to find a strap to keep my sunglasses on my head.  It is hard to pick them up while carrying a small daypack, and I imagine it will be impossible with a full pack.
  • When a trail map says “minimal elevation gain”, the person who wrote it is likely lying.  Sure, there was lots of flat ground, but the “minimal elevation gain” was all found in a one-mile section.  Killer.
Love this tree I found on the trail!

Love this tree I found on the trail!

Gear Testing

This hike also gave me a chance to really try out some new gear, namely a pair of ExOfficio boxers I picked up from REI and my relatively new Oboz boots.  I had used both on my evening hikes around town, but this was the first I was able to put serious miles into a trail hike.  And both passed with flying colors!

I have had a difficult time finding a pair of boxers that kept things where they need to be but at the same time let things air out.  Guys understand the need to avoid swamp ass.  ExOfficio may very well be my answer.  These boxers were comfortable, protected my delicate parts, kept me cool and dry, and did not allow any chaffing at all.  In fact, had I not thought about this post while hiking, I probably would not have thought about them at all.

Same with the boots – at one point, I had to look down to make sure I actually put them on!  These Oboz boots are as comfortable as my daily athletic shoes, and just as lightweight.  The traction they offer is amazing, too, letting me hop from rock to rock without any fear of slipping.  I did have to stop twice to tighten my laces, but I mark this up as breaking them in and expected a little stretching.  These boots might be the only reason I actually get out and hike on days I am not feeling up to it, they are that comfortable.

These boots rock!

These boots rock!

I was feeling so good when I finished the loop that I decided to turn around and do the same loop backwards.  As you can imagine, it was quite a different hike!  First, the quick uphill was now a quick downhill, and the gradual downhill that I did not really notice on the first loop was a never-ending torture hike uphill on the second.  Ok, so it probably was not that bad, but it felt it.

I am glad I did the second loop though, as I learned a few things I would not have learned if I had stopped after one loop.  My first learning lesson was that while bug spray may say it works for 4-6 hours, sweating negates that.  Reapply often.  Secondly, I learned to stop for lunch.  While I ate a Clif Bar while hiking, it was not enough and I was feeling out of energy by the end of the second loop.  I should have stopped to eat a decent lunch like I had planned to, whether or not I felt I needed it at the moment.

One thing the extra distance allowed me to identify is that I still have some residual foot problems from my surgery I need to work out.  While my injury was strictly knee-related, I have had some issues with my left foot after being non-weight bearing for so long.  My doctor said it would work itself out, but I noticed a slight discomfort behind the ball of my foot that extended into the arch of my foot a little.  It was not enough to make me stop hiking, but if it is a concern at 15 miles, it will certainly be an issue with 2,200 miles.  Another thing I need to look into was that after I was done hiking, and had sat down, I developed an ache at the top of my foot across the top of where the foot arch is.  I have felt this before, so it was not new, but it got my mind thinking.  Perhaps a checkup with a podiatrist is in my future, just to ensure there is nothing larger looming there.  To be honest, I never really had my foot checked after the accident, as it was my knee and wrist that hurt, but maybe there was some small injury to my foot, as well.  Something to look into…

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Relaxing and cooling off in my ENO hammock after nearly 15 miles!

I will not be getting a chance to hike this coming weekend, as I have a motorcycle club fundraiser event and then need to spend some serious time on homework for a fire/rescue class I am taking, but after this hike and my gear preparations, I am feeling a bit more relaxed about where I stand.  Still more work to do, for sure, but not as far off as I had thought.  For anyone in the Frederick area of Maryland, I highly suggest checking out Sugarloaf Mountain, but be warned, the weekends can be crowded and parking is limited.  If you have any suggestions about my foot issues, feel free to use the comment box below, or 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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Weekend Adventures

After spending Saturday at a work detail for my motorcycle club (did I ever tell you I was in a motorcycle club?  Well, I have now…) I decided Easter Sunday was going to be a good day to get into the woods for a little outdoor therapy… not that I need therapy… umm, k, moving on…

Gambrill State Park

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I decided to try a new park, and headed down to Frederick, to Gambrill State Park.  I had never been to Gambrill, and was happy to find that there were multiple trails to hike.  While the trails are mostly multiuse, allowing hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, this weekend there were only hikers on them.  With temps in the mid-60s, a sunny sky, and a slight breeze, it was a great day to be on the trail.  And spring was certainly starting to show her color, which was good for the soul.

GambrillSP_140420_10_smallI started out on the White Trail – a fairly simple one mile loop.  I figured this would be a good warm up for the knee, and would let me see what the terrain for the area was really like before committing to something more than I could handle.  I am glad I started off here, as it gave some good trail walking with a few gradual ups and downs to get the knee loose.  This was the first I had been on the trail in about two weeks, so I was not sure how the knee would handle it, and the White Trail was a good warm up.  I also liked the symbolism of this trail, as it was marked with “White Blazes.”

Following the “White Blazes”…

Following the “White Blazes”…

Trekking Poles or Tripping Poles?

The White Trail also allowed me some time to get used to using hiking poles.  I have always hiked with a single hiking stick, but my Physical Therapist recommended using two hiking poles to help ease the strain on my knee.  (As a side note, my Mental Therapist, if I had one, would tell me I am completely nuts and should be committed… hence, why I do not have one!)  I did some research online and found a pair of Leki cork-handled trekking poles that were reasonably priced and came with a great factory warranty.  I used them once before, but the terrain that day was not conducive to finding a rhythm with the poles, so today was meant as a good training day for them.

GambrillSP_140420_07_smallI was surprised by how much the trekking poles helped… when I was not being tripped up by them!  Apparently, coordination is something I am lacking in, too.  I had assumed that the poles would be most useful on the uphill sections, and certainly, they were.  However, my lungs were weaker than my knee on those uphills, so I was stopping to catch my breath before I needed to rest the muscle.  (Note to self, add more cardio to the gym routine.)  I was surprised to find that I relied on the poles more on the downhills than I had anticipated, especially when I had to actually step down from rock to rock, or when drainage logs were in place.  The poles really did come in useful with balance and allowed me to lean on them when I needed a rest but did not want to sit down.  If you have never hiked with the trekking poles before, I highly suggest trying them.  Your knees will thank you.

I do need to figure out if I should be hiking with the metal points that come with the trekking poles, or if I should buy the rubber stopper ends.  During the hike, it was about 50-50 as to which one I wanted.  There are lots of rocks in the Maryland area, and the metal points do nothing but slide across the surface.  But I am not sure if the rubber ends would actually work or if the dirt and dust would make them just as slippery as the metal points.  Must do some more research on that…

After the White Trail, I decided to do the Green Trail, a two mile loop with varying degrees of difficulty ranging between mild to moderate.  Well, that is what the park sign said.  I am pretty sure someone needs a new dictionary with an improved definition of “moderate”.  There was one section of trail that was steep enough that I could literally look up the trail like I was looking up a wall.  Ok, maybe a slight exaggeration, but it sure did not feel that way at the time.

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My view from the top.

Unique Proposal

While hiking the Green Trail, I noticed the best part of the day.  Some young man (or woman) had made a few markings on sequential rocks along the trail.  I do not know who this kid is, but I like his style!  And I hope the answer was “Yes”.

"Will..."

“Will…”

"You go to..."

“You go to…”

"Prom with me???"

“Prom with me???”

I most likely will not get into the woods this coming weekend, but will hopefully get some walking in to keep the knee moving.  I would love to hear from you, so if you have any comments or topic suggestions, feel free to use the comment box below, or the Contact Me page up top.

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

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