I like the gear I have. It’s been reliable and has worked just great over the years. But most of it won’t be coming with me because it’s heavy. It’s fine for canoeing, but I’m not taking it on this grand portage.
Let’s review the main things that have changed over the years and what I’m intending to take:
Like elderly tents, old backpacks acquire that nice vomit-y smell over time. I was long overdue to replace it. I read about a few new options, went with the ULA Circuit. It’s lighter. It’s working just fine. I concur with the reviews out there. ‘Nuf said.
All of my past tents were for two or more people. No brainer—a new tent would be needed. I know people swear by hammocks, but I couldn’t see myself, a side sleeper, being able to conform to sleeping on my back. I also like the convenience of having vestibules to store gear and/or cook when raining. I decided upon a TarpTent Notch because I’m using hiking poles that can be used in place of tent poles and because the Notch has two vestibules. I’ve used it a few times, and the size (and lighter weight) is working for me. I also had the “opportunity” of testing it during a heavy thunderstorm on its first trip. It stayed snug and dry.
My only areas of concern are:
- It isn’t freestanding. Four tent stakes are required. I just broke one last week attempting to force it into hardpan. I was able to wrap the guyline around a rock and the tent remained standing. I ordered and will carry one or two extra replacement stakes.
- The silica-coated floor is extremely slippery. On another trip, I had to quickly pitch the tent in the rain. It ended up being on a slight incline. My Therm-A-Rest NeoAir is also slippery. The sleeping pad likes to slide along the floor of the tent. Add a silky sleeping bag and/or liner to the mix and all sorts of nocturnal sliding can and will happen. None of this is fun. I woke up wondering if the hiking poles and four stakes will hold as I careen downward on the slope rolling into one of the poles. The answer to date is yes.
A Slippery Slope
My backup plan is to buy a Big Agnes Copper Spur ULX, that comes highly rated, but only if the TarpTent underperforms in some way along the trail.
Sleeping Bags and Pads
As earlier reported in my first post, I have a lightweight down sleeping bag that has been with me since day one. However, yesterday’s down isn’t waterproof and today’s down is—so I bought a Kelty Trail Logic 20, on sale, two seasons ago. And a new silk liner. To date, the bag has been perfectly comfortable, but hasn’t be tested in temps lower than 40. I’m prepared to swap this out/replace if needed but am hoping a later start date avoids too many cold nights.
A Therm-A-Rest® NeoAir XLite™ was added to our now growing collection of sleeping pads. I bought it based on weight and pack size. I was concerned about the “crunchiness” of the material, but it isn’t a big issue once inflated. I also was very surprised to discover that the NeoAir XLite is probably the most comfortable sleeping pad of all of our Therm-A-Rests, including a 2” quilted top precursor to the LuxuryMAP™ style I bought Sam when he started experiencing back problems. I will likely stick with this style in the future.
Stoves and Cook Kits
My sentimental Coleman PeakOne is awesome, but relies on white fuel (and a fuel bottle) and is heavy. It was my original backpacking stove. My new stove is a SnowPeak GigaPower Auto, (auto meaning no matches, woo-hoo!). I cannot believe how much I love the Piezo auto lighter. I’ve read that the igniter wears out over time, but I can live with the possibility. It’s a far cry from all the priming and pumping my old school Coleman PeakOne requires.
I prefer using a pot that offers me the flexibility to “cook” vs. primarily boiling water. Thus I eliminated JetBoil stove for this reason. I chose the SnowPeak GigaPower Auto stove over an MSR PocketRocket because it has four pot supports vs. the tripod support structure found on the PocketRocket and other lightweight backpacking stoves. This slight advantage provides one more point of contact helping to keep an unsecured pot more evenly balanced. Or maybe it’s only keeping me psychological in balance.
My original stainless steel pots will still go canoeing with me, but I bought a GSI Halulite 1.1 litre boiler for the backpack. The stove and a fuel canister conveniently fit in it. Again, I found limitations with JetBoil, in this case, the .8 litre pot size. It’s just a little too small for some pasta recipes and portion sizes. I also have a MSR 1.3 liter pot that I like (drainage holes for pasta!), but that’s a little too big for my solo needs. I will ship it to myself if I’m in need of a replacement pot.
For me, food preparation and recipe planning are part of the overall trip experience and I have always packed the majority of my dinners pre-trip. While most of my cooking follows one-pot or freezer bag cooking methods, food is less likely to stick to “Halulite” (anodized aluminum) than titanium when I would want to cook vs. boil. I also use a pot cozy to save fuel and retain heat. Pot cozies rock.
My first boots were the dad-recommended, blister-free, Red Wing work boots. My second boots were painful Dexters. The third pair were Vasque Sundowners (as seen above). A lot more options were available 20 years after buying that third pair. While comfy, the Sundowners were heavy. I bought a pair of lighter weight Lowa Bora boots, one half size larger than my normal shoe size. I felt hot spots, but figured they were part of the breaking in process. I continued to break them in on four-to-six mile hikes for over three years. Last fall, after a 12-mile day hike in Minnesota, I decided they weren’t coming with me on the AT. While I didn’t develop blisters, there was no way I would be bringing boots that made my feet hurt on day one.
Next up, hiking shoes. I then researched and bought a pair of Oboz Sawtooth LowBDry, one full size larger. Instant comfort right out of the box. No break in period. I’ve been wearing these on day hikes including a 15-mile hike on the Ice Age Trail this summer. These work. I also had been reading a lot about Merrill Moab Ventilators. Because both these hiking shoes look like shoes, I could rationalize buying a second pair to test and will likely keep regardless of whether they make it to the AT. I also bought them a full size larger. Again—instant comfort. These work too. But they aren’t traditional “boots” and Vasque worked well for me before…maybe I should revisit Vasques?
So I bought a pair of Vasque St. Elias GTX. Still lighter that the circa 1990s Sundowner. Why not a new pair of iconic Sundowners? Reviews indicated that they are now made in China and not the same quality as the original Italian-made version I had worn. I liked the feel of the St. Elias in the store, and if I’m going to consider hiking boots, might as well go big. And these came home. This time I bought the boots a full size larger. However, like the Lowa Bora’s, I still felt hotspots—and in the same places—primarily the outsides of both of my pinky toes. This now makes me wonder if I my feet physically changed over the years.
I don’t need to have two pairs of uncomfortable boots and two pairs of comfortable hiking shoes, so the Vasque St. Elias GTX boots are going back.
Big shout out for merino wool. I love it. Bought two Ibex short sleeve shirts that rocked during my gear trials this summer in 80 degree, humid temperatures. I already own long-sleeve shirts, long johns/tights and skivvies that will come along.
Have been contemplating skirts vs. shorts. Have experience some chafing while hiking in either option, but recently discovered Ice Breaker (merino wool) Zone Shorts (think biking shorts without the extra padding) that have reduced (and likely eliminated) that problem. I like wearing yoga pants under skirts anyway, so I can still retain my unique fashion statement while long-distance hiking. You’d think skorts would be a solution, but you can’t slip long underwear over them, the shorts part doesn’t always fit me right, more layers of fabric to dry out when wet, and you need to drop the entire thing for bathroom purposes. Am going with a skortless-skirt and zone shorts. I already own a few options from TitleNine.
Still working on this. I already possess an iPhone.
In conclusion, I’ve had oodles of fun draining the bank account acquiring updated equipment.
THE (MOSTLY COMPLETE) LIST
Backpack: ULA Circuit
Tent: TarpTent Notch
Sleeping Bag: Kelty Trail Logic 20
Sleeping Pad: Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite
Liner: Sea to Summit Silk Liner
Pillow: Inflatable (TBD)
Stove: Snowpeak GigaPower Auto
Cook Kit: GSI 1.1 Halulite Boiler (with reflectix cozy) or MSR 1.3L Quick Solo
Cup: 400 ml Evernew Titanium
Utensil(s): Plastic spork, Leatherman or Swiss Army Knife
Food Storage: Ursack S29 (Bear-Resistant)
Purification: Steripen and/or aqua mira
Water Bottle(s): 32 oz. Wide Mouth Nalgene (and purchased bottled water)
Umbrella: GoLite Trekking Umbrella
Hiking Poles: Komperdell Carbon
iPhone and charger
First Aid Kit w/Emergency Blanket
Personal Care Items
Boots: Oboz Trail Runners or Merrell Moab Trail Shoes
Camp Shoes: Crocs or Tevas
Raingear: Marmot PreCip and ULA Rain Kilt
Cool Weather Clothes: Hiking
Ibex Long Sleeve Half Zip
Ibex Short Sleeve T
Smartwool Long Underwear
Northface 800 Down Jacket
Cool Weather Clothes: Camp
Cuddl Duds Long Sleeve Shirt
Silk Long Underwear
1 Pair Smart Wool or Darn Tough Socks
Warm Weather Clothes: Hiking
Ibex Long Sleeve Half Zip
Ibex Short Sleeve T
Ice Breaker Zone Shorts
Warm Weather Clothes: Camp
Second Ibex Short Sleeve T
1 Pair Smart Wool or Darn Tough Socks
2 IceBreaker Sports Bra
2 Pair Ibex or Ice Breaker Wool Undies
2 Pair Smart Wool or Darn Tough Socks and 2 Pair Liners
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The ULA Circuit is magical and has served me well since Spring here in California.
My girlfriend’s dad owns a similar tartptent that he really enjoys. See you next year 🙂
I know you will be happy with the Notch. I owned a Notch, but after several seasons decided I wanted more room, so switched to a TarpTent Double Rainbow. The Notch, Double Rainbow – and all single layer tents – require care in pitching and care in finding the ideal spot, to alleviate condensation. But you are right that using your hiking poles is a great feature of the Notch. Consider carrying a small microfiber towel solely for drying the condensation before you pack up the tent in the morning. Oh, and to cure the slipperiness of the tent floor, buy a tube of GearAid® SilNet silicone seam sealer, and running strips across the floor every 12 inches or so. That will add enough tackiness to keep your pad from slipping if your tent is not quite level
And beware of your belief that the down in your Trail Logic 20, is “waterproof”. It most certainly is not. But it is water resistant, and will endure slight wetting better than conventional down. A drawback I have heard discussed though is that it may take longer to dry once it does get really wet. Just a thought.
Just used the Notch for a four night trip in Pictured Rocks. I brought along a small microfiber towel piece which I used to wipe off the raindrops one morning. Condensation wasn’t an issue this time. And while my campsites were level, I still will pursue the Seam Sealer idea. Finally, yes, I agree that the down won’t be completely waterproof–but still its better than it was 30 years ago. Will do everything I can to keep it from getting wet in the first place!