Monday, March 6, 2017

Gear Got Good

Gear got good. Really good. Whether it's something you wear, ultra light backpacking supplies, or a gadget to help you find your way, it works better and weighs less than the products did just ten or twenty years ago. Hats off to Science and Capitalism.

Back in the 70's when my hiking consisted of bushwhacking through endless paper company forests of northern Wisconsin, I had no map, no compass, no hiking boots, and certainly no cell phone or gps. Mostly I just memorized the terrain, as people have done for eons.  One time I got completely turned around. To get back to camp, I resorted to a trick I had read about in a novel that helped the main character walk in a straight line: I looked straight ahead to a feature and began walking towards it. Before I arrived at the feature, I looked for a second feature directly behind it, and walked towards that. I repeated the process for an hour or two and eventually came out onto a sandy road. I turned right onto the road, then kept taking rights until I came out onto the sand road I knew. No cars passed because this was in the middle of absolutely nowhere and there may have been more bears than cars. Eventually got back to camp and no one really thought anything of it. It's just the way things were back then. Today we have gps, nicely blazed trails, cell phones, and maps. And people ask me if I'm afraid of getting lost on the NET. Are you kidding? No, I'm not. No one can get truly lost in such a populated area. You can get turned around and you can certainly lose the trail, but that's not the same as being lost in the wilderness.

I lost the trail in a big meadow. GPS showed me where I went wrong.
(GPX of the NET in blue; my breadcrumb trail in red)
Gear to find your way:

1. GPS:
For longer hikes, I have a basic, no frills Garmin gps unit attached to my pack. Always check the weight before buying one, because some gps units are a lot heavier than others. It automatically records a "bread crumb" trail of my hike, so that if I get turned around, I can see where I've been.  It's important to have a good map installed on the gps unit. Heads Up: You generally have to buy the maps separately, and that might be another $100.  It may be possible to also find a gpx file of the trail you're hiking to load onto the gps unit. I did that for the Massachusett's section of the NET, and you can see that as a blue line on the gps in photo above.  I was hot and tired and could not find the trail. Checking the gps gave me a pretty good idea where I went wrong, and I was able to find the trail quickly.  GPS serves as a back-up to the paper maps. (See the Logistics Page for a link to the gpx track).

Cell Phone Screenshot, Google MyMaps
My "current location" is the blue dot
2. Smart phones can now be used as a gps unit for both driving and hiking, although it will wear down your battery faster. Google's MyMaps is my best friend while driving. Back at home, I use the PC to research the exact parking locations and add those to a custom "MyMap", in which I also add the approximate trail route. When it's time to leave home, all I have to do is pull up the map on my phone, select the destination I want to go to, and the Droid Lady gives me verbal driving directions. I also use Google maps to check my progress on a long trail, or to text my location to my family. The screenshot above is one I texted to my husband to let him know where I was (the blue dot).

There are also a variety of apps such as BackCountry which allow your phone to function exactly like a hand-held gps unit, with topo maps and it records a breadcrumb trail.

Tip: Carry an extra cell phone battery. They're cheap, and you never know when you'll accidentally activate some app that starts draining your battery. Another tip: If you are going somewhere that may not have cell phone coverage, cache the map onto your phone. Cell phones can still access satellites for gps locations even when they can't access the cell phone towers, but it only works if you've downloaded the map while you had cell phone service.

Ultralight Gear for Long Hikes and Backpacking: 
I never thought I could backpack because there was no way I'd be able to carry a 40 or 50 pound pack due to back and neck problems. Nor would I want to - it doesn't sound like much fun. Then I stumbled upon the world of ultralight gear, where every single ounce in a pack is carefully scrutinized. An entire cottage industry of ultralight products is thriving on the Internet, with some of the best products not available at the major retail outlets. After extensive research and shelling out some good money, I finally got to experience backpacking.   My total pack weight for a two-day hike, including 2 liters of water, was 22 pounds.

My core gear:
Tent 1 lb 12 oz
Backpack 2 lb 4 oz
Sleeping bag 1 lb 2 oz
Sleeping pad 1 lb 1 oz
TOTAL = 6 lbs 3 oz

Backpack:  I chose the ultralight favorite Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack.  The first pack didn't fit, so I sent it back and got the next size up. And I love it. Weighs 2 lb 4 oz. This is one of those items you can't get at the chain stores.

Tent: The options are endless. I settled on the Big Agnes Fly Creek tent for one, which weighs 1 lb 12 oz. The tent has a string of LED lights in the ceiling that made the tent a bit less lonely at night. I wish I went for the larger model though, due to my lanky dog, but maybe it was just the long October nights.

Sleeping Bag: Again, the options are endless and bewildering. A popular strategy is to use a sleeping bag that opens on the bottom to save weight. Normally you don't zip it up, but let it drape over the sleeping pad, which insulates you from below. Pricey! I was able to find a bag at with the dimensions I needed in the Bargain Bin, but it was still a lot of money. Weighs 1 lb 2 oz

Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest Neo-Air Xtherm. I didn't expect much for such a thin pad, but wow. It really works great. 1 lb 1 oz.  Later I purchased a gizmo that turns the pad into a chair. Haven't had it out on the trail yet.

Other Gear:  It doesn't stop there. With ultralight backpacking, every item is scrutinized. Is it necessary? Is it as light as possible?  After hours of research, reading reviews, and trying on rain coats in brick and mortar stores, I settled on a coat that weighs just 6.4 ounces and folds up into a nice little square. It's bulkier predecessor weighed 18.7 ounces.

Old rain coat 18.69 oz

New rain coat 6.38 oz

Cooking:  Some people just forego hot food, but if it's cold out, a hot meal is really something to look forward to. I settled on the traditional alcohol soda can stove. There are a lot of different instructions on the web for making a stove. The type I made took too long to get started, but eventually it burned hot and boiled a cup of water for a Cup o' Soup. The boiling cup is a super light-weight titanium alloy. Every ounce adds up.

Boiling water

The Dog: I think it's only fair that he carries his own food and water, don't you? My problem has been finding a pack that fits. The gear companies really let me down on this one. Quinn is a lean and lanky 25 lb terrier with an endless power supply. A few packs were advertised to fit a dog of his girth. Yes, the girth fits, but everything else was ridiculously big. The company I purchased the pack from was going to charge me shipping plus a return fee, and they were really snotty about it. I ended up just keeping the pack, and a few days ago I finally spend the better part of a Saturday resizing it by hand. Behold the before and afters. Can't wait to start using it.

Pack before alterations

Better fit for a small dog now

Trekking Poles: After I broke an ankle out on the trail, I bring a trekking pole. If you shop around online, you can find poles that are a lot lighter than the ones conveniently available at Walmart or wherever. I got mine on Amazon, and they've lasted incredibly well and are feather light.

It pays to shop around. There are some incredible supplies out there for hiking.

Friday, March 3, 2017

New England Trail Poster

I fell in love with a poster of the New England Trail which can be found online HERE. I was looking for a picture to decorate the letterbox logbook I've been carrying with me on the Massachusetts section of the trail, and the design fit perfectly.

I liked it so much my husband ordered a print and had it framed as a Christmas present. Love it! 

The poster reminds me most of Section 6 of the M-M trail, heading up Mt. Holyoke after crossing the Connecticut River and making my way around the big cornfield. It was such a joy to climb up the trap rock and look out over the fields and river.  It was a peaceful weekday in early fall and no one was around. 

Can't seem to find this beer, though....