Gear Field Test

Field Test

This would work so much better if I could imbed the pics with the text. Well, it is what it is. Most of you (all 3 of you who actually read this!) realize that I’ve been kind of obsessed with this idea of hiking the AT when Josiah graduates. I’ve actually read extensively on the subject from journals to “How To” books to equipment guides etc. Some of the best advice I’ve gotten from veteran hikers is “Get out there. Hike.” So we’ve done that, mostly day hikes. Most day hikes can be accomplished with minimal investment. A few months back Jo and I did our first overnighter on Rim of the Gap in the Mountain Bridge Wilderness area. We quickly discovered that we were ill equipped for overnight trips. When we went to Nanty-fest, our intention was to buy equipment for re-sale. It seems I’m a little too tentative for that and will need to work on that area. However, we did find some great deals on some stuff for ourselves. Between that and shopping local outfitters we found ourselves reasonably equipped for an overnight hike. We chose to do a section of the Foothills Trail for the length, the intensity, and it’s proximity to the Chatooga River. So aside from the pleasure of hiking itself, this trip was a field test, for our equipment as well as our own endurance. Is this something I actually enjoy enough to do everyday for 3-5 months? Well, we learned a lot about hiking, camping, ourselves and equipment. This’ll deal primarily with the equipment. Hope it helps!

1. Backpack. I’m a big boy. Big boys need big packs, apparently. So 98% of the packs I tried on at Nanty-fest were too small. One of the sellers showed me how to measure my torso and select an appropriate size pack. Short version is: I found one pack that was large enough and it just so happens that it was an external frame Jansport. I got it for $20! (Here’s an example of my buyers timidity: I could’ve bought 2 of the same pack for $35 total and re-sold number 2 but…) Anyhow, after several trial runs with the pack I learned how to load it with my gear and long story short is…we made friends. It’s very low on frills, and high on potential. I like the separate compartment located on the bottom which allows me to access my stuff without having to dig my tent out. The external frame made my external packing more stable; I was able to strap my sleeping bag to the bottom and my sleeping pad to the top. There are extremely helpful side pockets as well as two daisy-chains on the back. Once I learned how to adjust the pack where my hips carried the bulk of the weight I was surprise at how well I was able to carry my load. I had intended to keep it under 35 lbs but ended up lightening some the other hiker’s loads which quickly sent me over 40 lbs. I felt it. You should feasibly be able to carry approximately one third of your own body weight. Not sure who came up with that butit wasn’t someone built like me! 65 lbs would’ve run me into the ground in a just a couple of hours. The only negative I saw with this pack was it’s tendency to hang on limbs. Because it was an external frame, I found myself snagged on a branch more than once over the weekend. My limited experience with packs makes me far from an expert but on a scale of 1 to 10 (until I come up with a hip, clever rating scale I’ll just use numbers!) I give it a 9.

2. Tent. I love (well, loved) our tent. It’s a 4 man/ 3 season Coleman we bought used for $20 at Nantyfest. This tent would not be a good choice for the AT due to it’s size and weight which is still considerably small and light for a tent it’s size. It had to be divided up between Dana, Jo and myself even for our short excursion. I got the tent, Jo got the poles and Dana got the fly. (Teehee) It took 2 people to set up due to it’s “old school A-frame design but was crazy fast to set-up. Only one problem: Apparently the previous owner had put it up wet. There was a dis-colored streak about 3′ from the bottom that ran the length of the tent on both sides. We discovered this shortly after I accused the boys of tearing the tent on their way out. Apparently the discoloration was due to mildew or some like-minded evil. Needless to say our tent didn’t survive the trip. Lesson learned? When buying used, set it up and inspect it no matter how friendly and helpful the hungry college kids are who are trying to sell it. Rating: It’d been a 10 if not for the mildew. As it is? Doesn’t even register. Tents with holes just aren’t worth much.

3. Camp stove. Oh my gosh! This is one of my favorite purchases. Considering the fact that I bought it for $25 from the same guys that sold us the tent…well, it kinda makes up for the tent. This stove operates on a really small can of iso-butane/propane gas whichyou can pick up for around $5. It folds up into a case about 1 1/4″ x 3″ x 3″. It ways mere ounces. I can unpack it, set it up, and light it in under a minute and have a substantial mess kit pot of water boiling in less than 5 minutes. No kidding. I actually brought an 8″diameter by 10″ high enameled cook pot because I was cooking for 4. 6 minutes to boiling. I cooked almost all of our meals on a half-full container and still brought home fuel. You can buy this same campstove new for about $50. It’s worth every penny. This one get 5 stars! Did I just change the rating system? I think I did.

4. Sleeping bag. Yeah. Not my wisest purchase. Unfortunately when I mess up, I mess up big. I bought 3 of these Ledge 20 degree oversized bags at once, paying almost as much for shipping as I did for the bags. First, the good: Love the size of the bags. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big boy. I sleep on my side with my knees to my chest. I decided to buy a bag I could move around in. Plenty of room. For a 20 degree bag, it also packs up reasonably small. Now, the bad: a. When the bags arrived, I unpacked one, crawled in it, and cinched up the mummy bag style opening (great feature) around my head. It tore. Yup, right out of the box, it tore where the drawstring comes out of the bag. b. 20 degree my big white booty! I had on thermals, was sleeping in a 3 season tent and I still froze. I guess this explains how they were able to pack it up sosmall. This also explains why serious hikers invest in a good goose down bag. Definitely worth the money. In spite of the issues I’m going to keep the bags primarily due to how much it’d cost me to return them. I’ll add a fleece liner and make due until we can afford some good ones. Sticking with the cosmologicaltheme, I give the bag 1 star and it’s falling…

5. Self-inflating sleeping pad. I almost never sleep when camping due primarily to extreme discomfort. I’ve tried sleeping pads in the past that are bulky, hard to inflate and even harder todeflate and roll-up. Everyone I talked to suggested Therma-rest. I bought the thickest one (2″) Half-moon carried (display model was only $65!) haunted by the fact that it would weigh entirely too much to ever carry on the AT but thinking, “Can’t go 5 months without sleep.” Here’s what I found: Very simple to inflate as well as deflate and roll. Held it’s air all night long. Was much more comfortable than any self-inflating pad I’d used before.”What’s the problem?” you ask. I still was uncomfortable. My hip wasn’t as much of a problem but my shoulder kept me tossing and turning all night. Pad gets 5 stars, my aging body gets 2.

6. Water Filter. Out of everything we bought, this is my absolute favorite. I paid full price for this Katadyn 3 micron water filter at Half-moon and I’d do it again. After dozens of confusing conversations with hikers, salespeople and salespeople who were obviously bs’ing me, I settled on this model for several reasons: It doesn’t have a ceramic filter which makes it better suited to cold weather. Ceramic apparently will freeze and break. Dependability. I talked to several people who have used the same filter for years with no problems and no giardia. Simplicity. So freaking easy. Mine even comes with it’s own pouch and internal zip-loc bag so you can keep your intake hose from contaminating your output hose. The filtered water is not only safer but delicious. I’d have a really hard time switching to tablets. The Katadyn is a necessity and gets 5 stars, only because I can’t give it six…or can I?

7. Stuff sacks. Went to buy stuff sacks at an outfitter and was shocked at how mucha little bag can cost, so I went to Wally-world. 3 pack was like $10! Yeah! Got home, opened the package and the first one I pulled out had a slice in it. I figured it was still a bargain so I loaded ’em up and threw ’em in my pack. Day 1, the 2nd sack tore. Sack3 is still hanging in there but I don’t give it much hope. Some things you can buy at Wal-mart. Apparently stuff sacks aren’t one of them. Here’s a tip: There’s a army surplus/ outfitter store on Wade Hampton Blvd. in Taylors that is going out of business. Everything in the store is 50% off… and yes, they have stuff sacks…ultra-light stuff sacks. Better hurry, though. Their last day is December 31.

8. Zipper Tag Thermometer. Another thing you apparently don’t buy at Wal-mart. This little thermometer/ compass made by Coleman held great promise for me. I was sorely disappointed. In the middle of the night as I was burrowed deeply in my 20 degree bag freezing my kahunas off, it read 100 degrees. I won’t even qualify this one with a rating.

9. Shoes. I bought a pair of Salomon XA PRO 3D Ultras at Mast General Store for just over $100.00. They’re trail running shoes. They’re not a boot and not designed for rigorous long-distance hiking. Having said that, they performed extremely well. The toe-box was a little small for my tastes but certainly not claustrophobic. They are a light weight shoe and I never even noticed any drag on my feet due to weight. My feet remained cool the entire hike and the tread hardly ever slipped in the slimiest conditions. 5 big ones.

10. Knife. One day I’ll buy a Leatherman or something comparable. I’ll keep it in my pocket. Regardless of what’s in my pocket I’ll carry the 9″ Gerber survival knife on my hip. Not because it’s sharp (though it is) or even useful (it certainly is so) but because of an interesting phenomenon. When we came out of the woods after the hike and entered the Jack in the Box for some much appreciated junk food, I noticed I was getting some grave appraisals from people we encountered. It was something I’m not used to…something akin to respect. Yeah, there’s just something about a 9″ knife on your hip that makes people look at you different. Funny thing is, I didn’t realize until later on that it was the knife. Maybe I thought it was that rugged outdoors glow from being on the trail for several days or just my imposing masculine physique. When we went to check into the hotel Jo asked, “Dad, you’ve still got the knife on your belt.” “Yes, yes I do , son, Yes I do.”

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