Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Appalachian Trail Food Review

Throughout the summer reviews of the food I had stocked my boxes with were published here using the scheduling feature so you'd have something to read while I was out hiking :) My pre-reviews were written based on my experiences with the products in the months leading up to the AT. Despite eating everything in a variety of situations (from sitting on a plane to hiking in Death Valley to climbing Rainier) it's still hard to predict how exactly it will be to eat those things for weeks on end while thru-hiking.

So, here it is my final review of how these things stacked up on a thru-hike...

My original review of Navitas Naturals Products:
What worked: Goji Berries, Mulberries, various flavors PowerSnacks.
What didn't: Ziplocs of Coconut Water powder absorbed moisture rendering it unusable. Not Navitas fault, but a poor packaging choice on my behalf. Green Coffee powder wasn't strong enough in the later stages of my hike. I got tired of the Coconut Pepitas.

My original review of Salazon Chocolate.
What worked: It all did. Chocolate, Nom.
What didn't: I wish I'd brought 2 bars of chocolate per day.

My original review of Health Warrior Chia Bars.
What worked: The chia bars were awesome, but not enough. Could have eaten 4 at a time.
What didn't: I got tired of the protein bars. They had a pea protein aftertaste that started to become obvious when I was on the trail.

My original review of ProBars
What worked: The meal bars were perfect for breakfast. The Base bars were an excellent post dinner protein and chocolate treat. Bolt and Fuel products were nice variety.
What didn't: Nothing. I'm still eating Base bars for snacks at home...

My original review of Bogg's Trail Butter
What worked: The caffeine, fat, protein and overall awesome magic of Trail Butter fueled me throughout my hike.
What didn't: I wish I had brought 2-3 times as much.

My original review of Electro Bites
What worked: These saved me so many times. The humidity of the East was draining. Having these really kept me from getting into some serious problems.
What didn't: My distribution. I should have had more in the mid-Atlantic and less down south.

So there you have it folks. Most of what I predicted to be perfect for the hike was indeed. So, if you're looking for some new variety I can fully recommend these products.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

AT Gear Review: ZPacks 35 Degree Sleeping Bag

I purchased my sleeping bag from ZPacks and am not affiliated with the company in any way, although they did generously offer me a discount. This review was not requested by them and is my own experience with the product. You can see my full AT gear list here.

When I first opened the package containing my ZPacks 35 degree bag 3 days before I left for the AT I had a moment of panic. I could literally see the feathers through the fabric and the 1 pound bag felt like nothing in my hands. As someone who sleeps cold I was terrified it wasn't going to be warm enough.

I was wrong.

First of all, most nights on the AT were uncomfortably hot and humid. Often the bag was only over my legs or used as a blanket. But on the nights when the temps were actually in the 50's or below, it was completely warm enough.

Temperature Rating: As I said, I sleep very cold, so most nights I was wearing my clean fleece sleep clothes. These kept me warmer and kept the bag cleaner. I also wore a fleece balaclava (rolled up to just a hat). In conjunction with this outfit, the 35 degree rating was sufficient.

However, the night before I went into Damascus the temperatures dropped into the upper 30's. I was cold that night, despite wearing everything and cinching the bag tight. So, for me, the 35 degree rating is definitely a survival rating and not a comfort rating. This is true of almost every single sleeping bag.

DIY Down Jacket on a cold morning

Warmth to Weight: In the past I have used a 20 degree bag for my summer bag and been happy with it. This ZPacks bag was just as comfortable in the same temperature range and saved me an entire POUND off of my base weight. You can also order the bag with more (or less) fill for a negligible increase in weight.

Durability: The zipper and draw cord are very tiny. The fabric is very delicate. It may not be as durable in the long run as another brand, only time will tell. However, after an entire thru-hike there are no visible signs of wear or damage.

Major Drawback: No attached hood. Even with a hat I would have stayed much warmer if the bag had a hood. ZPacks makes a separate hood that is designed to make a functionally modular hat and sleeping bag hood (I assume). However, my personal preference would be to have it attached to my bag since I'm going to be carrying a different hat anyway. But, that's just me.

Keeping Dinner from freezing on a very cold night

Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who is thru-hiking. I know I'll be buying another one when this one dies. Or, maybe before with more fill for winter adventures... :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

AT Gear Review: Nightlight Sleeping Pad and Klymit Inertia Sleeping Pad

I used the Gossamer Gear Nightlight Torso Pad for my 2015 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You can see my full gear list here. I am a brand ambassador for Gossamer Gear and they generously provided this pad to me at no cost. The following review was not required by them however, and reflects my experience with the product. I coupled this with an inflatable Klymit Inertia Sleeping Pad for added comfort.

In the past I have used a single Thermarest ZRest size small with two sections cut off. I had toyed with the idea of using an inflatable pad on my AT hike, but was unwilling to trust my already compromised sleep to something that could leak.

I decided to combine two very light pads for an overall weight of around 8oz.

I was completely satisfied with this combination. I slept with my feet propped up on my odor proof food bag or my backpack depending on the regulations of the area I was in. The comfort of the two pads enabled me to sleep very comfortably in any condition and was much warmer than the ZRest. I will use this combination again.

The Klymit pad did not puncure or deflate. The Nightlight pad seems indestructible (as do most closed cell foam pads). The Nightlight also did not seem to compress and lose insulation over the duration of the hike as my ZRests have done in the past.

I did not do a side by side comparison, however it seemed like the Nightlight might be more insulating as a single layer than other closed cell foam pads.

The Gorilla Pack is designed with an external pad sleeve. It was an excellent way to carry a non-collapsible pad without sacrificing interior pack capacity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

AT Gear Review: Gossamer Gear Gorilla

I used the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack for my 2015 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You can see my full gear list here. I am a brand ambassador for Gossamer Gear and they generously provided this pack to me at no cost. The following review was not required by them however, and reflects my experience with the pack.

I was very happy with this backpack! I made a few modifications to it, namely removing the aluminum stay, cutting off excess webbing and straps, and replacing the backpad with my closed cell foam torso pad (also by Gossamer Gear).

Just before climbing Mt. Katahdin on August 1st 2015

Sizing and Fit: I wore a size small pack and hip belt. I prefer my pack ride higher rather than lower and have found that despite my 16" torso length a medium is far too long for me. The pack straps were comfortably padded and narrow enough to not fall off of my shoulders.

Capacity: The Gorilla may seem large for an FKT attempt, however, even traveling the way I did I often went 3-4 days between resupplies. Therefore the Gorilla was an excellent choice to carry everything comfortably. On shorter carries I could pack out high volume food, such as chips or popcorn, without having it awkwardly tied to the outside of my pack.

Start of a 4.5 day carry
Comfort: I mentioned already that the pack straps were comfortable. This was imperative for me considering that the last time I did a hike like this with another brand of pack it was not comfortable. I still have scars on my shoulders from it. I did get small pack sores on my shoulders and lower back again this time, but they were not as severe. I think when wearing a pack for 18 hours a day for two months some sores are inevitable. A good fitting pack will make them manageable.

Back after PCT
Back after AT

Durability: My Gorilla showed almost no signs of wear at the end of the hike. However, the airline ripped one of the straps off on my return flight home :( If you're checking your backpack, always put it inside something else! I tried to put it in a bag and they removed it. So, best to put it in another suitcase or carry on.
At the ATC in Harper's Ferry, WV

Friday, October 30, 2015

Food For the Long Haul: Navitas Naturals Superfoods

As an insider with Navitas Naturals I get a discount on their wide variety of products. This has enabled me to eat better at home and in the backcountry.

I've stocked my boxes throughout my hike with a wide variety of Navitas Superfoods. Everything I've tried from them has been excellent, both in quality and flavor. The nutritional value is exceptional.

While I've been eating a wide variety of their dried fruits, and Superfood+ Snacks for several months, my favorites that provide the basis of my nutritional strategy for the AT are:

Cacao Sweet Nibs: Full of antioxidants, magnesium, sodium, and iron. Essential trace minerals for muscle function and repair

Goji Berries: High in Vitamin A, Protein and Vitamin C as well as other trace minerals to keep me healthy.

Green Coffee Powder: Powerful caffeine to keep me moving when the sleep deprivation is overwhelming, coupled with all the fragile antioxidants and fiber of a whole bean undamaged by roasting.

Mulberries: High in Vitamin C and Iron. Critical for someone like me who has struggled with anemia for years.

Lemon Goldenberry Power Snacks: Tasty, calorie dense chunks of energy!

Cacao Almonds: Protein, healthy fats and delicious cacao! Yum :)

Coconut Pepitas: Wide variety of nutrients and healthy fats. Calorically dense.

If you're looking for variety or a way to incorporate healthy foods into your trail rotation, I highly recommend giving any of these (or their other products) a try!

I will mention my one fail here. I bought the Pomegranate Powder with the intention of mixing it with my water to make a tasty backcountry smoothie. Not so good. I'll stick to Nuun and/or Emergen-C and save the fruit powders for use at home in real smoothies!

First two days of food!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta Review

I recently received an UltraVesta vest from Ultimate Direction to try. Also known as the “Jenny” Vest it is designed by Jenny Jurek for women runners. I've been using UD vests and other products for years, long before I became one of their ambassadors. However, I've always used the men's vests, primarily the Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest.

Rockin' the PB Adventure Vest on Black Peak

I had seen countless friends rocking the UltraVesta at races and on fun runs in the mountains. I saw even more reviews and raves on social media. Finally, I decided to try one for myself.

About me sizing: At 5'8” and about 140 with narrow hips and wide shoulders I didn't notice this pack fitting me extraordinarily well in comparison to the men's packs. I would imagine that smaller framed individuals would find the maximum benefit from wearing this pack. However, the concession in capacity (water and gear) definitely isn't worth it for me as a go-to pack.

I pulled it out of the box and looked at the included hair elastic that was clipped on. I felt a little insulted. They don't include a free doodad on the men's packs. Why should I get a little purple hair elastic just because I'm a woman? Most of the guys I run with have longer hair than me. Does the Anton Krupicka Vest come with a blue hair elastic? I bet not...sheesh.

Regardless, I headed up Mt. Si.

Here's what I thought:

PRO: Like most UD vests, it is quite comfortable. I definitely noted that it rode higher on my body than other packs. However it stayed in place without swaying or restricting movement throughout the run and scramble.
CON: I felt like it rode too high. Most women have a low center of gravity and I am assuming that the UltraVesta is designed to counteract that. For me, I felt like it was making me top heavy in a way that the men's packs haven't done.

PRO: Super minimal pack that covers all the bases. There was room in the pack for a jacket and some snacks and the two 10oz water bottles and not much else. This is great if you're looking for a very minimal pack, but in general if I don't need very much stuff I skip the pack altogether.
CON: I ran out of water before I was even halfway through the run. I don't care if the 20oz bottles on the men's vests do look stupid perched on my boobs...I need to drink! I might consider carrying a handheld or a water bladder on particularly hot days if I'm using this vest.

Smaller water bottles ride more comfortably

PRO: Cute! CON: As stated above, I felt a little condescended too with the hair elastic.

PRO: It's certainly much lighter than other packs I've used. Mostly I felt like I wasn't wearing anything. That was a nice change from lugging a heavier pack with me.

The UltraVesta provides an easy, lightweight way to carry a few essential items. Excellent for long days in the mountains when you need just a tad more than a water bottle or want your hands free for poles. You will want to take into consideration the smaller water capacity when planning your route and either bring a treatment for the backcountry or plan a route that passes by fountains. The UltraVesta is comfortable and I will use it for races where frequent support is available.

Top of the Haystack!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Salazon Chocolate Bar Review

I am solar and chocolate powered. That's no secret. I discovered Salazon Chocolate a couple years ago while working at a food co-op. The bars boast gorgeous mountain scenery on the wrappers as well as the logo's of conservation and trail alliances that they support with the proceeds. I bought one and was hooked...salty, delicous Dominican chocolate...that helps support the wild places I love. Sold!
2% of profits of their Trail Series flavors go to support the "big three" AT, PCT, CDT
A chance exchange with a friend got me in contact with Salazon and soon I had several cases of chocolate to give away to people I meet hiking and to fuel me on my hikes. Did you know that a bar of chocolate fuels about 1 hour of hiking? Now, an hour of every day on the trail is fueled by Salazon :)

One of the main differences between Salazon and other chocolates is that all of their bars are salted, but not overwhelmingly so. Just enough. I sprinkle just a dash of salt on my Coconut Bliss ice cream too because a tad of salt compliments sweetness incredibly. If you have never expereienced salted chocolate, especially when hiking, then you might not understand how amazing this is. Not to mention after a long day of sweating, salts and carbs are critical to replace. Hence, salted chocolate is truly the best recovery food you can imagine...!

Ok, so enough with the justifying of why I enjoy chocolate so much. Here's the basics about Salazon that I love:

Fair Trade

And all of those components inevitably lead to incredible flavor.

I haven't had a bad chocolate from them yet, but since I tend to like darker chocolate (I munch on raw nibs) these are my favorites: 72% with Almonds, Coffee, Cayenne