Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Gear Reviews from the 2013 PCT FKT: Part 2

A thru-hike always puts gear and clothing to the ultimate test. Daily use for months on end is more than most items are manufactured for. During my speed hike I added the quantity of hours per day used to that equation. Since I never took a day off and seldom stopped for breaks most of my gear was under constant bombardment except the 5 hours a night I was sleeping. Therefore the pieces of gear that stood out as all stars I can highly recommend. Other pieces I wasn't as happy with. However, keep in mind that these reviews are only about how these things worked for me. Every person is different, has different needs, a different hiking style, and may have different results. Analyze my kudos and complaints in light of how they would apply to your hike/hiking style. This is not an exhaustive list of my gear, just the items I feel deserve a review and/or people frequently ask about.


ThermarestZ-Rest
Grade: A

I have used this brand pad on all 4 of my thru-hikes and everything in between. It works as the frame for my rucksack pack and does a good job of insulating me.
Pros:  Does what it says
           Virtually indestructible
Cons:  There are lighter options


Golite 20 Degree Down Sleeping Bag
Grade: A
Website: http://www.golite.com/Womens-Adventure-20-Three-Season-Regular-P46980.aspx
I have the older version of this bag. In fact, this was its 3rd thru-hike (plus all the other miles I’ve put on it!). I’ve had it for 8 years. It’s not as warm as it once was, but it’s still a great summer bag. If that isn’t a ringing endorsement in and of itself, I don’t know what is. I just bought the newer version and anticipate at least another decade of use.
Pros:  Lightweight
           True to warmth rating
           Short sizing as well as long and regular
Cons:  New bag doesn’t have the foot vent the old one does
            Zipper catches a LOT on the baffle. This might be user error though…

Gossamer Gear Polycro Groundcloth (Medium 2 pack)
Gossamer Gear Titanium Stakes
Grade: A

I have had mixed results with the groundsheet. I started the CDT with it in 2006 and it shredded before I got out of Glacier National Park. I was hesitant to try it again until this hike and I was incredibly pleased to find that one groundsheet lasted the entire trail (although it did tear in half in Northern Oregon, the sheet was still large enough to cover the ground under my body).
Pros: Ultra light
          Stakes are practically indestructible
Cons: Groundsheet may tear if not handled carefully.

IcebreakerBase Layers
Grade: A+

I have used these base layers and a pair of Smartwool socks as my sleep/emergency dry clothes on three thru hikes (2 PCT and 1 CDT) as well as everything else I’ve done since I bought them in 2005. The shirt and socks are the originals and I replaced the tights for this hike. Love them and can’t imagine using anything else. Ever.
Pros: Warm, even when wet
          Less prone to stink than synthetics
          Great feel against the skin
          Durable
Cons: They will eventually unravel/get holes since they are a natural fiber. I never recommend Smartwool gloves for this reason. I have never gotten a full through hike out of a pair.
           Heavier than synthetics

PlatypusHoser Hydration Bladder: B+  

Hard Plastic Bite Valve Cover: F   http://www.cascadedesigns.com/platypus/platy-accessories/bite-valve-cover/product

SteripenTraveler Mini: C  

MSR Aquatabs: A  

Aqua Mira: B    http://www.aquamira.com/

I’ll just review my hydration and water treatment all at once. I have used the Platypus Hoser since my first thru-hike in 2003 (Appalachian Trail). I have always loved its ease of use and capacity for little volume. However, the one and only time I have ever gotten sick in the backcountry was when red algae (from snow) started growing in the hose unbeknownst to me. HORRIBLE things ensued for a week. Therefore, I am leery of putting snowmelt into it. I am also not a fan of the tinted blue hose they use now. The bite valve cover kept making the bite valve fall off. This was kind of a big deal in the desert since water would gush out of the hose until I could get it kinked and the valve back on. It also trapped all kinds of nasty around the bite valve and required regular cleaning. I used the Steripen through the desert, but I dropped it once and it broke in the Sierra. I used a combination of Aquatabs and Aqua Mira the rest of the way. I usually don’t treat my backcountry water and aside from the aforementioned red algae incident, I have never gotten sick. Therefore, my assessment of whether certain water treatments work or not may be skewed since I may be one of the lucky folks who is immune to Giardia.
Pros: Platy is light and low volume
          Steripen is easy to use/reliable/nearly instant
          Aquatabs are easy to use and ultra light
         Aqua Mira is easy to use
Cons: Platys can leak, tinted hose makes seeing mold/algae difficult/bite valve gets dirt and crud in it
           Steripen in heavier than other options/fragile/requires special batteries which are hard to find and illegal to mail USPS
           Aquatabs treat 2 liters and are difficult to break. I rarely needed 2 liters at a time so ended up carrying extra water weight. 30 minute wait time for treatment.
           Aqua Mira: I call it my water treatment placebo. It is not FDA approved to kill anything in your water that could make you sick. I used it when I had to drink water I didn’t want to so that I felt like I was doing something. Heavier than Aquatabs.

InjinjiSocks
Grade: A

I started out in an older model lightweight sock. These did not hold up. I switched to their Performance 2.0 Original weight mini crew and was delighted. Adequate ankle coverage is essential. The original weight is durable enough for day after day of use.
Pros: Durable
          No toe blisters
          Excellent wicking
Cons: The Light Weight version will not stand up to thru-hiking.


Petzl Tikka
Grade: B

My headlamp was great for in camp, but it really wasn’t bright enough for night hiking. I need to explore lighter, brighter options if I were to ever do something like this again, especially on a trail that requires more navigation. The route finding ascending Muir Pass was very difficult with this headlamp.

The Zebra Print Dress :)
Grade: A
Website: N/A  Scour the thrift shops near you!
Fashion, Function, Fun.
Pros: You can pee standing up, ladies
          Cool when hot, warm when cold
          Unique
           Lighter than shirt/short combos
           Cheap. I paid $1 for this one

Cons: They wear through after about 1,000 miles

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gear Reviews from the 2013 PCT FKT: Part 1

A thru-hike always puts gear and clothing to the ultimate test. Daily use for months on end is more than most items are manufactured for. During my speed hike I added the quantity of hours per day used to that equation. Since I never took a day off and seldom stopped for breaks most of my gear was under constant bombardment except the 5 hours a night I was sleeping. Therefore the pieces of gear that stood out as all stars I can highly recommend. Other pieces I wasn't as happy with. However, keep in mind that these reviews are only about how these things worked for me. Every person is different, has different needs, a different hiking style, and may have different results. Analyze my kudos and complaints in light of how they would apply to your hike/hiking style. This is not an exhaustive list of my gear, just the items I feel deserve a review and/or people frequently ask about.

ZPacks Hexamid Solo+Vestibule
Grade: A+
What can I say? I LOVE MY TENT! I slept in it every night except one. I am not a cowboy camper. I don’t like bugs and spiders and ants. Blech. I was always envious of people with uber light tarps until I found this: A fully enclosed, single person tent that doesn’t feel like a coffin and weighs only 1 pound! (inclusive of stakes, guylines, and the manufacturer pole–I don’t use trekking poles). Having a home that is a constant on a long journey like this was very comforting to me. Crawling into my tent every night gave me a sense of calm and happiness.
Pros:   Lightweight
            Fully enclosed
            Easy set up
            Roomy…I have even squeezed another person in there on a different trip
            Well ventilated/minimal condensation issues
Cons:   I wouldn’t want to use this without the vestibule. My experience has been that in heavy rain
there is some splash/drip that comes in around the edges. The vestibule eliminates that issue on
one side so you can snuggle up to that edge if it’s really coming down.
            I haven’t had this out in pouring rain yet. Therefore I can’t say what it would be like in those
conditions. However, if you have in mind a hike like the PCT where foul weather is rare then I
highly recommend it.

Glacier Peak Wilderness


PatagoniaHoudini Jacket
Grade: A+

This jacket was the workhorse of my layering system. I wore it probably 50+ days out of the 60 I was on the trail. It offered excellent protection from everything: sun, cold, wind, bugs, etc. It weighs less than 2oz and packs to the size of a Clif Bar!! Despite constant use it shows no real signs of wear except some discoloration where it was under the pack straps.
Pros:    Extremely light
             Cute color (yes, this matters!)
             Versatile
             Dries in an instant
             Hood
             Stash pocket
Cons:    None

Northern Terminus



Altra LonePeak (Note: I used the Original, but subsequent models are equally good.)
Grade: A-

I have been running ultras in these shoes for about a year. I love the roomy toe box and the neutral “Zero Drop” sole. These are a more minimal shoe however, and I noticed that on this hike my feet took a serious beating. A shoe with more cushion would have made them much happier, especially in the first 1,000 miles.

Pros:     Roomy allowing plenty of space for swollen feet to expand
              Neutral sole allowing a more natural, nimble foot movement
Cons:    Not much cushioning
Old and New


ULA CDT
Grade: C
Website: http://www.ula-equipment.com/product_p/cdt.htm
Let me say the grade for this pack is based on some serious issues *I* had with it. Hundreds of PCT hikers use ULA packs every year and love them. I’m not sure if the problems I had were due to the pack construction, the nature of my hike, or my own biomechanics. ULA is a great company and makes great products and I wholeheartedly recommend them. I think I might have bought the wrong size of pack and that it contributed to some of my problems.

Pros:   Hipbelt pockets–This was a major selling point for me. It gave me an accessible place for my
phone/camera, chapstick, sunscreen, snacks, etc.
Accessible slash pockets on the sides–Again, indispensable for me. This is where I put my food
for the day since I ate while I walked.
Lightweight
Bombproof construction–I’m not nice to my pack…and it has held up beautifully. The main mesh
pocket is shredded from brush and wear, but otherwise the pack is in great condition.

Cons:  Painful shoulder. Despite a balance and light packweight my right shoulder strap dug in and
chafed me something terrible. I have scars, not to mention the days of pain. I don’t know
whether the strap was not properly padded or whether it had to do with my biomechanics, but it was miserable.

Back sores/chafing. I had incredibly painful chafing and sores on my back nearly the entire hike. I believe part of this was due to my back never getting to air out or a recovery day to heal. I think the pack size was too large for me and therefore hung down too low as well.
Southern Terminus