Thursday, October 25, 2018

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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

AT Gear Review: ZPacks Soloplex Tent

I purchased my tent 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.

I used my ZPacks Hexamid for several years, including my PCT thru-hike in 2013. It was starting to show the 4000 miles I'd put on it though and so I knew I was going to need a more stormproof shelter for the AT. I chose the ZPacks Soloplex.

I used to say my Hexamid was my favorite piece of gear. Now, it's a toss up between that and the Soloplex. Basically, I think no matter what shelter you choose from ZPacks it's going to be awesome.

Getting the tension just right
Footprint: The Soloplex takes more space to set up than the Hexamid, although I was still able to cram it under rhododendron and even on the trail a couple times. It takes practice to get the pitch right, but eventually you'll be able to set it up quickly and in a variety of less than ideal locations.

Vestibules: The overlapping vestibules tended to gap, but that was probably because I didn't have the pitch perfected. Evenso, water never came in, even in heavy rain. They provided lots of room for storing gear.

Condensation: I did get minimal condensation, but nothing more than I would expect with a single wall tent, and far less than I've had with other types. The higher dew point may have played a factor in this.

Set-up: It's a bit tricky to set up. Just like every other minimal shelter I've ever used. There are tricks and finesse unique to each type of tent and it takes a few pitches to get the hang of it. I strongly recommend watching the set-up video a few times and practicing at home. Even doing that I forgot a detail that I accidentally remembered in Virginia...and suddenly the tent was perfect...d'oh!

Setting up in the North Cascades

Space to Weight Ratio: This tent is huge. I felt like I had my own palace at night, not that I was awake very long to enjoy it. There was ample room for my gear and me (I'm 5'8"). Even when everything was wet there was enough room to shove the wet gear to the end of the tent and not touch it with my down bag while I slept. In fact, though this is certainly a one person shelter my boyfriend and I used it on our backpacking trip when I got home. He's 6'2" and we both used full length Thermarest NeoAir mattresses. Our gear had to stay outside and the zipper had a six inch gap, but we fit. That gives you an idea of how spacious this tent is...for only less than a pound. Mine weighed exactly a pound with stakes and the optional poles. Having broken and lost trekking poles I don't trust my tent set-up to them!

Highly recommended to any thru-hiker!

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


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Product Review: Navitas Naturals Coconut Chips and the Superfood+ Snacks



A while back the folks over at Navitas Naturals sent me some products to try out. I received Caramel Coconut Chips, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Cacao Hemp Almonds, and Cacao Goji Power Snacks. Here are my thoughts:

I'm solar and chocolate powered, so I was extra stoked to see Cocoa in two of the three products. I also love coconut. However, I'm not really a fan of pepitas, so those got sifted to the bottom of the hiking food box. One by one I devoured enjoyed the products on a range of activities from the Barkley Marathons, to plane rides and car trips, from peakbagging in Death Valley to a dayhike on a sunny spring day in Washington. 

  • Caramel Coconut Chips: These are a delicious sweet treat. I've enjoyed sweetened coconut chips from Costco, and Dang! before, but these didn't have a "these-have-had-flavors-added" aftertaste to them. I'm pretty sensitive to flavors in food, so I generally try to avoid them. Since these have three ingredients (coconut, coconut nectar, and sea salt) they tasted more "real" and not just sweet. Warning, it's hard to set the bag down.
  • Cacao Hemp Almonds: I don't know if the almonds used here are soaked/sprouted, but the texture seemed like it. The cacao coating was just sweet enough to overcome chocolate's natural bitterness, but not so much that you lost the flavor. The main problem with these is that the coating came off in the higher temps. Although, that didn't stop me from inverting the bag and licking it clean...
  • Cacao Goji Power Snacks: I've had similar products to this before. The flavor and texture are great, not too dry. I ate these on hikes and at the Barkley because of their calorie density. They were excellent.

And what about the pepitas you ask?

I finally opened them on the plane coming home from Barkley. And...
I ate the WHOLE BAG in about 3 handfuls.

For someone who isn't a pepita fan, I don't know what they did, but these are delicious. End of story.

Overall, if you're looking for clean burning, whole food, calorie dense, nutritious snacks to fuel athletic adventures and daily life these products are excellent choices. I'm looking forward to ordering more of each for my summer adventures!