Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Ultimate Direction Ultra Jacket Review

I received one of Ultimate Direction's new Ultra Jackets in the mail while I was out on the AT. It was a great homecoming gift!

Yay for new gear!

Since then I've taken it out on everything from drizzly PNW runs around town, to the cold, crisp autumn mornings of the midwest, and downright wintry conditions on nearby summits.

Teneriffe Summit

I have been nothing but impressed. In fact, it's been finding its way into my pack and onto my back more often than my beloved Houdini jacket these days...

Things I love about it:

  • Foldover mitts at the end of the cuffs
  • Built in brim in the hood
  • Full coverage hood
  • Waterproof
  • Even in pouring rain the inside pocket seems to keep my iPod dry

Things to consider:

  • I've never found anything to be truly breathable and waterproof, no matter what the manufacturer claims. This jacket included. However, I have learned to just look for a waterproof jacket that will keep me warm. This does.
  • It's a slim fit. If you want to layer over top of anything other than a single shirt size up one (or even 2) sizes.
  • It's gusseted in the middle, which is flattering, but I find tends to be a bit restrictive when combined with a pack

Overall, I love this jacket and highly recommend it!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Sawyer Products Chemical Treatment Reviews: Permethrin, Picaridin, Sunblock

As a brand ambassador for Sawyer Products I was able to utilize several topical chemicals on the AT that I found essential to my health and success.

First of all, I used Permethrin to treat all of my clothing, gear, and shoes. This included the 5 pairs of shoes I sent myself in resupply boxes (and the many pairs of new socks I also mailed myself). As a result, I only found two ticks on me. They were both on my left arm at the same time, immediately following a thrashing through head high grasses near Pearisburg, VA. I flicked them off, no harm done.

Secondly, I used Picaridin insect repellent instead of DEET. As I said, no tick problems. The time I did find ticks I wasn't actually wearing Picaridin. The only times I felt like the Picaridin wasn't working was when I was sweating profusely in the northern Mid-Atlantic states. I'd apply the repellent and the mosquitoes and black flies would leave me alone for approximately 3 minutes. However, I'm not sure even 100% DEET would be sweat proof in those conditions.

I also used the Sawyer SPF 30 sunscreen in the northern part of the AT. I also use it when climbing and mountaineering. It doesn't need constant reapplication even in sweaty conditions, which I appreciate, and provides adequate protection from the sun.

For anyone considering a thru-hike of the AT I HIGHLY recommend treating your gear and clothing with Permethrin and using either Picaridin or Deet while on the trail. Ticks carry a lot of yucky diseases (not just Lyme).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sawyer Filter Review

It's a bit of a long story, but near the summit of the mountain where the idea for the Appalachian Trail was birthed I ruined my hydration system. The story involves animal dung, a spring, my bite valve, and gravity.

But prior to that, my Sawyer All-In-One filter and In-line adapter was working amazingly!

After that, I resorted to using a leaky Platypus as a squeeze bag for my filter and probably wasted countless hours until I finally threw the whole thing away in Damascus and switched to chlorine and a new Platypus Hoser. For the last 400 miles. At which point it didn't really matter anymore...but I digress.

Back to the filter.

Sawyer Squeeze Filters are excellent. I have been using the mini for a couple of years and have loved it. There are two main drawbacks:

  1. The squeeze bags wear out and burst annoyingly soon. As in after only a dozen uses or so. Buy extras.
  2. Squeezing water is a slow and tedious process, especially for large quantities.

Therefore, starting the AT with the All-In-One (higher flow rate) and an In-Line adapter for my Ultimate Direction bladder (note, if you use a bladder by Nathan or UD the adapter will not fit the hose. You'll have to use a platy or camelback hose instead) was the perfect solution.

  1. Easy to drink and filter at the same time
  2. Stop just long enough to fill the bladder and keep moving

The only drawback to that system was that the bladder was then always "dirty" water. When I filled from a municipal source I actually contaminated clean water only to filter it again as I drank. But, that was really a minor problem.

So, the moral of this story is this: Use the Sawyer All-In-One with the In-Line adapter if you use a hydration bladder. And, always use a bite valve cover.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

On Affiliate Marketing and Being True to Myself

"You should optimize your blog."

I wasn't sure what they meant, but after a brief explanation I realized they meant monetize my blog. Using affiliate marketing. Ads.

It didn't sit right with me and I dismissed the idea.

But then I heard it from someone else. And another person.

So, I looked into it. I talked to several people with blogs similar to mine and they explained how easy it was to make passive income. I decided to try it.

It still didn't sit right with me. I felt a little yucky inside, but I ignored the feeling. The idea of passive income while out pursuing my passions seemed so good. Not to mention I had control over ads, links, etc and could make sure that they were only for products I fully endorsed.

To be clear, I don't have a problem with advertising on blogs, or affiliate marketing. Everything from Google to Facebook reads your text messages, calendars, searches, browsing history, etc to tailor advertisements to you. I'd rather choose to click on ads on a blog of someone I trust, knowing they may get a portion, than to blindly let the megalithic behind-the-scenes marketing algorithms attempt to influence my spending habits.

I put the affiliate marketing in place before I left for the AT. I let it do it's thing for 3 months. In the end though, I still felt uneasy about it.

When it came right down to it, when I was absolutely, completely honest with myself I had to face up to the fact that, while I don't have negative feelings toward the concept...

I wasn't being true to myself.

Utilizing affiliate marketing, or marketing in general doesn't suit me. I'm not a salesperson. Trying to be one, even in a passive way, wasn't authentic.

I never intended to make a living off of hiking. I never intended to be famous. I never intended to be a brand ambassador for anyone. I never intended to become an advertisement.

And guess what? I still don't.

I'll never make a living off of hiking because I'm not interested in, or willing to do the things that would allow me to do so.

I don't care if I'm famous. Hell, I deliberately try to keep my plans secret because I like being by myself. My goals, adventures, and trips take place because I want to do them. If no one cares about the route/peak/trail and what I'm doing on it...Guess what? I don't care. I'm doing it anyway. I'm not in this for glory, I'm in this to live my life to the grandest, fullest, most maximal capacity I can. And whatever catches my fancy next, I'm going to go after with the same ardor and dedication that I have brought alternately over the years to writing, thru-hiking, running, climbing, and FKT's.

I use the products I want to use because I like them. I've turned down offers of gear, ambassadorships, and freebies because I didn't want them/couldn't use them/thought they were crap. I'm not going to start cooking my food because someone wants me to use their stove and cookware. I'm not going to stop wearing a dress because a company wants to cover me in their apparel.

I will tell anyone and everyone exactly what I think about the products I use. Good or bad. Pluses, minuses, pros and cons. I will do so with integrity, and tact, but it's going to be honest. And if a company cannot deal with that, then I will  politely decline to be affiliated with them.

I took down the affiliate links on my blog. I still review items I think people would be interested in. I try to note the things I received for free to review, but in reality, that doesn't affect the content of the review.

As far as passive income goes...I am working on a series of e-books that can be downloaded for a nominal fee. I'd rather sell my expertise and information than try and turn my blog into an advertisement. Because, that is authentic and genuine...

That is being true to myself.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Altra Lone Peak 2.5 Review

I've been wearing the Altra Lone Peak since version 1, and while it remains my favorite, version 2.5 is definitely a close second.

Lone Peak version 1

I wore Lone Peak 2.0's for the first 1,100 miles of the Appalachian Trail this year. I slipped my first pair of 2.5's on at Harper's Ferry, WV.

AT Center in Harper's Ferry

I walked out of there pretty much singing. My feet were oh so very happy.

Reasons I love the 2.5:

  • Slipper comfort
  • Lighter than the 2.0
  • Breathable
  • More durable upper*
  • Just the right amount of cushion to protect foot while still feeling connected to the terrain. 


  • The tread seems to wear down quicker than I'd anticipate

I put the 2.5's through their paces this summer. I was very impressed overall and certainly feel like these are the best iteration of the Lone Peak since the original. I found that they fit the same as the 2.0. As with all Altra shoes, the ZeroDrop and Foot Shaped Toe Box allow my foot to be a foot and act as nature intended.

Somewhere in Virginia

*Granted, the terrain I wore the 2.5 on was not as technical as the parts I wore the 2.0 on, however, I didn't notice significant wear, even after 500+ miles.

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!