Sunday, June 20, 2021

What to wear while hiking - footwear

 Shoes, boots, sandals, oh my.



A little bit about what I used on my feet on my PCT hike.


I guess I should start from inside the shoes, with socks.

I tried a variety of socks. Thick socks, thin socks, single layer socks, double layer socks, regular socks, toe socks.


Feet are important while hiking, but until we're hiking big miles, day after day, we tend to take our feet for granted, or at least I did.

Footwear that work for day to day activities back home may not work so well on the trail.

For socks, I ended up wearing two pair. An inner toe sock, and the thinnest Darn Tough running sock that I could find over the toe sock.

Toe socks, in case you don't know, are socks that have individual toes, like gloves for your feet.

I found that the toe socks helped prevent blisters between my toes. Those seemed to happen because of friction, and that was exacerbated by dirt that filtered through my shoes and socks. The toes socks took the abuse instead of my skin.


Big toe blister pre-toe socks.


Blister on the toe next to the big toe. Again, pre-toe socks


I used thin socks because thick socks took up too much room in the shoes, and I didn't want to have to buy even larger shoes, plus the "padding" in thicker socks really didn't hold up and just pilled up or flattened out.

Generally I wore short, ankle socks. The socks were really just to absorb friction between my shoes and feet. Later in the trail, when I switched to boots, I wore slightly taller outer socks to work with the boots, but still stuck to thin socks.


For shoes, I started with Altra Lone Peak shoes. These did not work at all for me. Lots of other hikers used them, and seemed happy with their choice, but for me, I could never find a lacing technique that would keep my heels from slipping up and down on every step.

This heel slippage led to large blisters on my heels, and the fabric inside the heels of the shoes actually tore, basically making the shoes unusable. Later in the hike I did find a pair of abandoned Lone Peaks that had the heel completely cut away, so perhaps someone else had the same issue.




I changed shoes to La Sportiva Wildcats and was much happier with those. My heels stayed put and all was well with the world. The downside to these is that they are exceptionally well ventilated. I mean, the top material of the shoe is a very porous mesh material. While this is good for letting your feet breath, it is not so good at keeping your feet clean. So, every night my feet were quite dirty, as the dust of the trail filtered through my shoes and socks and deposited itself on my feet.

So, every night, and often at our lunch breaks, I would use a wet wipe to clean my feet. I also used wet wipes to clean the rest of me every night, but feet generally took priority.



Lunch break, shoes off, socks off, insoles pulled out of shoes. Dump sand and dust out of shoes, let everything air out. 


At the end of the day, I would remove the insoles from the shoes, shake out anything that had gotten in, and undo the laces as much as possible, opening up the shoes to let them air out overnight. The shoes would always be wet from sweat, and it always felt better to put on dry shoes in the morning.



Dirty toes.


Even with the better fitting shoes, I did still get blisters. At one point I was dealing with blisters and still wanted to hike, so I experimented with hiking in sandals. I have a nice, although heavy, pair of Chaco sandals. I used those, but still wore socks. It might look silly, but with so much sand and gravel on the trails, the socks provide friction protection for your feet. Plus, those sandal straps that are nice and soft on your feet, will quickly become saturated with salt from your sweat and become stiff and uncomfortable as they rub against the soft skin of the tops of your feet.

Hiking in sandals.


The sandals were okay, but they don't provide the cushion or support of a regular shoe. If I were carrying less weight, or perhaps if I was hiking a trail where it was more humid, sandals might be a good option. Here in the dry West, sandals let your feet dry out, and the few people I met who were committed to hiking in their sandals had to carry products to hydrate their feet to keep them from cracking. Lots of ventilation equals excessively dry feet.

But, sandals were good for camp shoes. Especially lighter ones than the Chacos. I carried a pair of Bedrock sandals to use in camp. Also useful for water crossings.



Camp sandals, minimally hike-able in a pinch.



Share Bear carried a pair of ultra light water shoes for creek crossings in the Sierras. They seemed to work well enough. I can't remember if she also used them for camp shoes.


Share Bear putting on her water shoes at a creek crossing.


One of the most annoying things involving shoes, is getting a pebble or bit of rock of stick or whatever in them. What the normal reaction to that? Yeah, stop and take the shoe off and shake the offending object out.

You can't be doing that while hiking. Well, you could, but it's a whole big production when you're carrying a backpack and it breaks your rhythm and uses energy unnecessarily.

So, the solution? Gaiters. I used lightweight low height gaiters from Dirty Girl Gaiters. Yep, a specialty vendor that just makes gaiters. These are lycra gaiters that are just to keep dirt and rocks and whatnot out of your shoes, while still being very breathable so your feet don't sweat too much. They worked great, although as part of holding them down, you have to put a piece of velcro on the heel of the shoes that you are using. Not a big deal, although the self adhesive velcro doesn't last. Super Glue between the velcro and the shoe keeps everything in place.


Later in the trail, when things were getting wet and cold in Washington, I switched to boots because I was tired of wet feet. I tried on a few pair and ended up with a pair of Solomon boots (hey, they make good ski boots, why not hiking boots?) that promised to be waterproof and breathable thanks to the marketing giant that is Gore-Tex. They did their job reasonably well, combined with some much more serious gaiters to fend off wet trailside bushes. The boots I got are light weight for full boots, being more based on running shoes than old full grain leather boots.


I don't have a great shot of the boots in action, but this shows a bit of why I changed from trail runners to waterproof boots.



One accessory that we all carried in the mountains were Micro-Spikes. These are rubber and metal cages that fit around your shoe and provide metal teeth on the bottom to grip snow and ice. If you have to cross a snow field or some ice, these provide some extra security. They do take some time and effort to put on, so quite often I'd skip them for short patches of snow, or if the snow was fairly level or had a good trail stomped into it from other hikers.


One thing that shoes do much better than boots is drying. If your footwear gets wet, shoes are much more likely to dry at least somewhat overnight than boots. But in general that's not a huge issue. And once you are hiking, if your socks are mostly dry, then the heat from your feet while hiking will help drying the socks and shoes as you walk. Having shoes or boots that hold your feet with a minimum of slippage will help reduce blisters, as will socks that stay in place so any friction is taken by them instead of your skin.


Obviously, what worked for my feet isn't going to work for everyone.


Mighty Mouse was happy with her Solomon trail runners and also her (I think) Brooks Cascadia shoes.

Although I think the Solomons had a tendency to grow a hole by the pinky toe, and the Brooks would tear in the flex zone of the toes.

I did have one of my La Sportivas that had the outer mesh tear open along the whole length of the shoe, but one failure among a few pairs of the things while hiking hundreds of miles per pair is acceptable to me.


That's not good... thankfully there was an inner layer that held together.



That's one thing. Any pair of shoes that relies on foam for cushioning isn't going to last for the whole trail. I can't remember how many miles I got out of each pair of shoes, but 3-400 miles would be acceptable to me. and each time I changed to a new pair, I could immediately feel the difference. Hiking in shoes that are worn down punishes your feet.


Interestingly, the juggernauts of athletic shoes, Nike and Adidas has almost no representation among the hikers that I met on the trail. I'm not sure why that is, especially considering that Nike might be considered to be the pioneers of the trail running shoe, with their Lava Domes, a pair of which I had in middle school. I suspect that the smaller companies might listen to their customers a bit more closely and be willing to change shoe designs more quickly to fix customer reported issues. Plus, long distance hikers tend to be a little anti-establishment. It's never cool to be wearing the mega-corporation's products.


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Hiking Gear Reflections - backpack(s)

 Okay, so more musings on camping gear, this time backpacks.


Strangely enough, given my experimentations with tents, I only used one backpack for the entire PCT.


I did, however, use a couple belts, because while I started out with an XL hip belt on the pack, I ended up with a Medium.


The pack I used was a Unaweep from Seekoutside.

https://seekoutside.com/unaweep-4800-backpack-olive-green/


I think I might have seen one other person on the trail with a Seekoutside pack.


So, how'd I end up with that pack? I read a bunch of reviews of packs online, and liked the ones that I read about this pack.


However, at the time I was purchasing gear, the selection was limited, and the pack that I got was fine, but it had a big zipper on the pack bag that I didn't really want, but that's all they had. I was really buying the suspension system, the pack bag was a secondary consideration.


Why a zipper? I suppose that someone thought it was a good idea, with the zipper you can get to things in the bottom of the pack without unpacking everything.


Why didn't I want a big zipper on the side of the pack? Zippers aren't in general waterproof. So, if it's raining and there's a big zipper on the side of your pack, you're going to have to use a pack cover to keep the water out. And a pack cover is an extra piece of gear, taking up space and adding weight.


If you use the appropriate sealant on the seams and threads of the pack you can make it basically waterproof, especially on a pack like this one that is, in essence one big bag with a roll top closure, like the design of a dry bag that you'd use for a rafting trip.


But, since I had the zipper, I carried a pack cover.


There are a bunch of things that I looked for in a backpack. I actually have several different packs that I've accumulated over the years, but I wanted something new, and more focused in design.

Thing that I wanted:

- Reasonable weight - I didn't go for the lightest pack available, but didn't want to carry too much extra weight.

- Capable of carrying extra weight while remaining comfortable - Some days I carried over 12 liters of water, that's a lot of extra weight and some ultralight packs don't make for good carrying when the weight gets past a certain point.

- A single compartment - Some packs have a separate compartment on the bottom for a sleeping bag of whatever, I didn't want that. Basically a single big bag with a couple water bottle pockets sewn on is what I wanted. I got a zipper, but only because the pack bags without the zipper were out of stock. All my gear was in stuff sacks, so it was kind of self organizing, I didn't need the pack to have compartments that might or might not fit the stuff I was carrying, which did change from time to time.

- Simple pack bag closure system - a roll top with buckles is going to be more reliable long term than something with a zip. My bag had a zip on the side that I used a few times, but the top entry was a roll top that let you roll down more with a a smaller load, or just roll a couple times if you really had a lot of stuff inside the pack.

- A design that wasn't necessarily reliant on the stuff inside to support the shape of the pack - some of the lightest packs are reliant on the hiker using a specific type of sleeping pad, since the foam pad provides the structure of the pack when it is packed. I used an air inflated sleeping pad (although I added a foam pad towards the end for more insulation), so I wanted something that had structure on its own.

- External water bottle pockets that were reachable without taking the pack off - for the PCT, I think almost everyone uses water bottles, not camelbacks or other bladder systems. And the water bottles were almost always 1 liter Smartwater bottles. Yep, the disposable water bottles you might buy at the supermarket if you were into buying water at a huge markup for no good reason. I'll talk about why I used those bottles later, but between the Smartwater bottles and Gatorade bottles, that's pretty much all I used, and what I saw the most of on the trail. And the pack needs to have pockets that you can not only get a bottle out of, but put it back into. The pockets on my pack will each carry two Smartwater bottles, and that pockets are situated so that I can get the bottles out and put them back while walking. Very important.

- A couple small pockets either on the shoulder straps and/or the waist belt to hold snacks and a camera and phone - My pack didn't have any of these, so I found some very light pockets online and strapped them to the waist belt and shoulder straps. Sewn on pockets would have been nice, but these mostly worked. A bag of peanut M&Ms in the belt pocket is a great thing when you need a little bite but don't want to stop and take the pack off and dig around inside.

- A comfortable waist belt - Some ultralight packs don't have much of a belt, I wanted something that would kind of cup my hip bones, taking the weight of the pack. This might be a personal thing, but it's what I've found worked for older packs. Unfortunately waist belts with nice padding add weight, so some makers skip them in the interest of keeping the weight low.

- Some way to hold wet gear separated from stuff that needed to stay dry - My pack has an external pocket that clips onto the back of the pack bag. The pocket can hold stuff, plus bulky things can be stuffed between the pocket and the body of the pack. Some days my tents went there, when it was wet and I didn't want it to be inside the pack.


So, most of my older packs have a plethora of pockets and lots of corresponding zippers. As I mentioned above, zippers aren't particularly waterproof, and if used a lot when dirty, they tend to wear and possibly break, and when a zipper closure breaks, it's a pain to deal with.


The current trend in lightweight packs is toward packs that have as little structure as possible, or at least as lightweight a structure as possible.


The packs we used to use when canoeing had strong, rigid aluminum frames that the pack bag was pinned to. Other items like tents and sleeping bags and pads were then strapped above or below the pack bag. This basic design goes back a very long time, the old trappers and traders used external frame packs, albeit wooden ones, to carry outrageous loads. It's a proven design.


However, external frame packs tend toward being weighty by themselves. And when you are hiking, it's nicer to carry as little weight as possible.


Here's the only external frame pack that REI has on their web site.

https://www.rei.com/product/164599/mystery-ranch-terraframe-65-pack-mens

I actually have an older version of this behemoth, the Dana Designs (they changed into Mystery Ranch at some point in time) Terraframe. It's heavy. REI lists the current one at nearly 6 pounds.


My pack is actually considered heavy compared to many others, at 3.4 pounds.

But, It'll carry basically any load that I can lift without collapsing on itself.


If I had more packing discipline, or I didn't need to occasionally carry crazy amounts of water, a lighter pack would have done fine.


I would have saved about a pound and a half with something like this:

https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/products/3400-junction


But, you have to be more careful with packing, and how you distribute weight, and if you have to carry a bear canister, the size and shape of the bear can may make packing the rest of your gear awkward.


Basically, I like the extra room that my pack has. I have space to carry a lot of stuff, but I tried not to do too much of that. But toward the end of the trail, I was carrying bulky items like a fleece jacket, and that takes up a stupid amount of space in the pack if you're not wearing it. Which is why almost nobody uses fleece jackets on the trail, but that's a topic for a different post.


So, I used a weirdo external frame pack designed by people who typically design hunting packs meant to carry dead animal parts. What did the sane backpackers use? Well, obviously, not that.


Let's look at Mighty Mouse's pack.

https://www.ula-equipment.com/product/circuit/


That's a ULA Circuit, which I'm pretty sure is what she has.

It's also right around 2 pounds, a very nice weight.

It obviously works for her. She bought it for her 2014 PCT attempt, and kept it for all of this hike without any problems, or at least nothing major.

And lot of other people used ULA packs. I'd say they were one of the most used packs.


But, packs are very individual things, and there are lots of makers out there. On the trail, there were lots of different packs being used. Most people seemed happy with theirs, although there were a couple that had issues.


Would a pack from REI work? Sure, but most of those are meant to survive a level of abuse that most PCT hikers aren't going to give their equipment, and thus end up weighing more than needed. Interestingly, the gear that PCT hikers use is quite often going to require gentle treatment. The fabrics used in the packs, and the tents are thinner and more delicate than what you'd use in something designed for a Boy Scout. So, the packs from small makers like ULA or Gossamer Gear or Hyperlite are in general going to be a little delicate. They'll last for their intended use, but you're not going to want to drag them across rocks too much, or toss them down without looking out for pointy things.


I might have carried an extra pound or so in pack weight, but I didn't mind that because I felt that the comfort and carrying capacity afforded by the frame and a good waist belt were worth it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Hiking gear reflections - Tents

 So, it's been five years since I hiked the PCT, and I've been trying to go through and clean up my blog entries from back then and reposting them to Facebook.

A couple friends have asked about gear, partially from the long distance aspect, but also just for shorter adventures.

So, here are some thoughts, I'm starting with tents.


Sorry if this is a bit rambling, I do tend to go off on tangents. Okay, I rethought. More general ideas up front, personal and PCT related ramblings later.


To start, a hiking tent is fulfilling different needs than a car camping tent. Obvious, but people sometimes forget that.

Car camping, pick almost anything. If it rains and the tent leaks, run to the car. If it is windy and the tent falls down, run to the car. If it...run to the car.

If you're backpacking and more than a day's hike away from your car, you get uncomfortable.

On the other hand, if you try to carry a bomb proof tent while hiking, that's going to make you uncomfortable because the thing is quite likely going to be heavy.

Look for a tent that's less than five pounds for two people, probably three if you're going solo.

Modern tents in that range are easy to find, a quick search of REI finds 12 two person tents in the 3-5 pound range. There are even lighter tents, but the prices go up exponentially as the weight goes down.

Keep in mind that these tents, while plenty strong to stand up to wind and rain when properly set up, are delicate things. sticks will poke right through, and please don't walk on the floor in your shoes. (also try to remove pokey things from the area where you are setting up the tent on.

As far as features, I'd recommend side door(s). A door at the end of the tent might make for a lighter overall tent, but a door on the side, or two doors for a two person tent, is much more usable.

Other things like sewn in pockets and such might be handy, but I view them as mostly unneeded. On a backpacking trip your tent is there to keep rain and bugs off you while you sleep.

For the money, something like this REI tent would be great:

https://www.rei.com/product/147863/rei-co-op-quarter-dome-sl-2-tent

I also like the Big Agnes tents, and they were probably the most numerous of the big manufacturer tens on the PCT.

In the five years since I hiked the trail, the selection of ultra-light tents from these bigger companies has greatly increased.

If you want to spend the money, you can get a sub 2 pound tent with room for two people.

But, there are small makers who can do better, but with trade offs, keep reading below for my adventures through three of them.

Keep in mind that the tent weight listed by the manufacturer is a best case weight. That is, the tent with the absolute minimum of tent stakes and nothing else.

Real weights include extra, better stakes. Plus maybe longer guy lines (I used much longer lines so I could wrap them around rocks and such when pitching in sand).

And, of course, a ground sheet.

Some people don't use ground sheets, but I always have. They keep the bottom of the tent from getting dirty, which is really nice when you're packing the tent up in the morning. They also provide a little extra abrasion resistance and maybe keep some sticks or whatever from poking through to the floor of the tent.

On this trip I experimented a bit with ground sheet material.

I started with some super thin but strong plastic, but I never felt great about it, and it was so light it was a bit tough to work with or keep in place when pitching the tent.

Then I went to a piece of Tyvek, which worked great, but was a bit heavy.

I eventually ended up using a piece of silnylon, a very lightweight nylon that is pretty much waterproof.

Silnylon has the disadvantage of being a dust magnet, but a quick shake and snap in the wind and the dust mostly flies off. It also stuffed into a stuff sack very easily.

The other source of extra weight are tent stakes. Most tents come with some junky aluminum stakes that are very light, but will also bend hopelessly if you look at them wrong.

In the past I've used aluminum stakes that have sort of a Y profile to them. They work okay. On the PCT I used some titanium wire stakes. They don't look like much, but they penetrate hard ground well and don't bend easily.

In sand, almost all stakes are hopeless. Put your stake in and push it all the way into the sand. Then find the biggest rock you can and put it on top of the stake.

Or, do like I did and tie a couple extra feet of line to the tent guy lines and wrap that around the biggest rock you can move into place.

I like to use reflective cord, like this: https://www.rei.com/product/829843/msr-ultralight-utility-cord

It's easily visible in your flashlight at night, and also lightweight and plenty strong for tent lines.


Looking at the major manufacturer tents, they all now seem to have at least one vent at the top, which is vital for ventilation.

Ventilation? It's a flimsy bit of nylon, why does it need ventilation? Yep, ventilation. It's what keeps the inside of the tent dry(ish).

When you are in the tent, you are breathing, and when you breath out, you exhale a fair amount of water vapor. Your body also warms the air inside the tent, so the walls of the tent are almost always going to be colder than the air inside, and that leads to the water vapor in your exhaled breath to condense when it hits the tent wall. Thus those little drops of water inside the tent.

To minimize that condensation, you need some air flow. Putting a vent at the top of the tent lets some of the warm air out, and hopefully some air enters at the bottom edges of the outer layer of the tent. That movement of air will carry some of the moist air away before its water vapor is deposited on the tent fly. And if there is enough air flow, everything can stay nice and dry.

So, when you pitch your tent, if possible it's good to put the vent facing away from the wind, and leave the bottom of the fly up off the ground  in the windward direction so the air can flow in low and then out high. This isn't always possible. But in general it's best to leave as big a gap at the bottom of the rain fly of your tent as possible. If it's pouring down that might not be possible if rain drops are splashing water in, but in a steady rain you're just going to have to deal with condensation no matter what kind of ten you are in. A bandana or some other small towel comes in handy in those cases.


Most of the tents that you might find at an REI are what's called double wall tents. That is, they have a tent body made up of a nylon floor and nylon and netting walls and ceiling. Then outside of that goes a nylon rain fly. The nylon on the walls and ceiling of the tent body are not coated, and thus water vapor from exhaled air in theory should be able to pass through the inner layer and condense on the outer layer, or rain fly.

In practice things are a bit more complicated, and really how much condensation there is on the inside of the tent depends on how humid the air is and if there's a breeze through the night and if the tent is positioned to take advantage of that breeze.


Conversely, most of the cottage industry that is centered around ultra like weight gear has settled on single wall tents, where there is no inner/out tent, just the tent, with obviously, one layer or wall.

More potential for condensation near the occupant, but also a whole lot less fabric needed, or for the same weight, much stronger fabric useable (Some mountaineering tents are single layer using waterproof/breathable fabrics, but those are for special people).


I used three different tents on the trail, all from small cottage industry companies, basically because I like to tinker.


I started out with a two person tent this: https://www.tarptent.com/product/motrail/



The Tarptent Motrail is a pretty light tent with a generous amount of room for two people, and tons of room for one.

It weighs a little over two pounds, plus whatever you use as a groundsheet.

You have to use your hiking poles as the tent poles, so if you don't use hiking poles, you're out of luck, or you add weight by carrying some dedicated tent poles.

I got this tent well before the hike, so I had time to seam seal it. Most tents that you'd buy from, say, REI, come seam sealed from the factory, but most tents from small cottage industry outfits require that you do your own seam sealing.

Seam sealing in this case requires that you use a thinned silicone to coat all of the exposed threads along the sewn seams of the tent, inside and out. This takes a little time, and a fair amount of space.

The Motrail is made out of a material called SilNylon. It's basically ripstop nylon, you know, that thin nylon with a square pattern in it, that's been impregnated with silicon. Most waterproof nylon for tents and such is coated on one side, usually with a thin membrane of polyurethane. Without that layer, the nylon isn't particularly waterproof. This sandwich also requires that the outside nylon side have a coating so the nylon doesn't absorb water, this is sometimes called a Durable Water Repellant coating, or DWR. When the fabric gets dusty or dirty, this doesn't work so well, and water will then stop beading up and running off, and instead be absorbed into the fabric, getting the nylon wet even if it doesn't pass through the inner waterproof coating.

With Silnylon, the nylon is coated from both sides. The resulting material is very slippery, and sheds water very well.

Silnylon does tend to relax a bit when wet, or even if the humidity goes up, but that's a trait of the nylon, so all tents that use nylon tend to sag a bit when it rains. A quick adjustment of the tension lines will pull everything tight again.

There are other fabrics that don't sag when wet, but the trade off is that either they are expensive, or that they lack the elasticity or durability or nylon. 

At the time, I thought I'd have someone else sharing the tent for the first week or so of the hike, so it made sense to carry a two person tent. Unfortunately that didn't happen, so at Mount Laguna I went into the outfitter, just to browse...


An aside, one of my hiking partners, Share Bear, used a different Tarptent model, the Rainbow. She was very happy with that tent, and I suspect that I would have been too.

https://www.tarptent.com/product/rainbow/


But I was looking for something lighter.

And thus I talked myself into trying the next tent.

Well, they don't make it anymore, but it was basically this: https://www.sixmoondesigns.com/collections/ultralight-tents/products/skyscape-trekker

But made out of a material called Cuben fiber.

Cuben is, well, google it. It's basically a waterproof, super lightweight, super strong fabric.

Unfortunately it also costs a lot and isn't easy to work with when sewing fancy shapes like a tent needs.

At any rate, the new tent weighed a pound. Yep, just a pound.

But, it was also smaller, so at night my pack had to sit outside. I had a silnylon pack cover, so not s huge deal, but still, it's nice to have the pack under cover and not just laying in the dirt next to the tent.

Interestingly, the new tent, although smaller and lighter, didn't pack down as tightly. Not a huge problem for me, as I had a generously sized backpack.

The Skyscape actually worked pretty well, at least as long as it wasn't raining. 

One of the problems is that it just didn't have enough venting up high to adequately disperse the moist air that I breathed out as I slept, leading to quite a bit of condensation on the inside of the roof of the tent.



At some point people who were interested in making their gear lighter started looking at what they were using for shelter, and decided that they could ditch heavy double wall tents for something lighter.


For example, here's a tent that my family owned a couple of, and used for canoe camping: https://eurekacamping.johnsonoutdoors.com/tents/backpacking/timberline%C2%AE-2-person-tent


The Eureka Timberline. A typical tent before dome type tents took over the market. Nice tents, and worked well for us, especially since when canoeing, the longest portages where we had to carry packs (and the canoes) were on the order of a couple kilometers.

The minimum listed weight was something close to six pounds. Add some more for stakes and a couple more if you had the optional vestibule (nice to have to keep your boots dry) and you're looking at quite a bit of weight.


So, long distance hikers wanted lighter shelters.

The ultimate would be to just toss the tent out and sleep under the stars. At least until it rained.

Some people go with just a tarp. Not a blue plastic tarp, but one made out of the same stuff as a tent would be. Nylon of some type, or on the ultimate end, Cuben fiber. Weight? Maybe half a pound. Excellent, we're done!

Well, not everyone likes to live with all the critters, so sometime people add in a net shelter under the tarp, and we're on our way back to a tent.

On the trail there were the whole spectrum of shelter choices, but in general people tended toward shelters that weighed around three pounds or less per person.

My hiking partner, Mighty Mouse used a tent from Big Agnes, I think it was some variant of the Copper Spur.

https://www.bigagnes.com/Copper-Spur-HV-UL2-2020


A very nice tent, coming in right around the three pound mark.

If I were a smarter man, I probably should have gone with something like that, and would have been perfectly happy.


But I didn't.

And so, with my very light, but very small inside, tent, I encountered snow up on the ridge on the north side of Big Bear Lake.

And this tent was never meant to shed snow, so I had a restless night, having to kick snow off the foot of the tent all night, since the weight of the snow was pushing the tent fabric down onto my sleeping bag.


After that I began to look into different tents.

As I said, I probably would have been happy with a tent like the one Mighty Mouse had, but I wasn't sure that I'd fit unless I got a bigger one, and then the weight would go up.

That's another thing. If you're small, you can get comfortable in a small tent. Sounds obvious, but it's a consideration. Especially if you're looking at things like dressing or undressing in the tent, while sitting on an inflated air mattress.  Mighty Mouse had plenty of room in her tent, but I don't think that I would.


My next, and final, tent ended up being a variation on the tarp plus bug net idea.

A Mountain Laurel Designs Duomid: https://mountainlaureldesigns.com/product/duomid/

Basically a pyramid shaped tarp, with a single pole in the middle. I used one of my hiking poles with a carbon fiber extension to make it long enough.

Then inside that, I hung a mosquito net inner tent that had a silnylon floor. That gave me half of the tent as an enclosed area with a floor to put my sleeping back in, and the other half to keep my pack and other gear in at night.

Yes, weight increased, but much more room, and funny enough, this packs smaller than the lighter tent, due to the silnylon packing down better than the cuben.

This is the tent setup that I used for the bulk of the PCT.




I guess there are a few downsides. 

It requires (as did all my tents on this trip) staking out, as it is definitely not a free standing tent. Then again, all tents really need staking out, unless you like to chase after them when the wind blows.

Opening the door flaps, you only have a view in one direction. Closed, there are no views. I don't see a problem here. A nice view in the morning is great, but how long are you going to stay there? If the sun is up, the tent is probably going to heat up quickly and you'll get up and out anyway.

The pyramid shape, while fine for one person, could be a trial for two, at least at this tent size. You can't sit too far from the center of the tent because that's where the head room is, especially in the netted sleeping area.

And of course, the design of a pyramid means that its footprint is quite large compared to other tents, particularly done tents where the walls are much more vertical. this meant sometimes it was tricky finding a good space to fit the tent into. However, the nature of the tent, in particular, it not having a sewn in floor, meant that I could pitch it over part of a bush or a stump without problem, as long as the sleeping area was clear. 

There are bigger pyramid tents, and in fact as met a family of four who were using a pyramid tent that the father had made. Much bigger than my tent, and it worked for them.

The upsides for me were numerous enough that I kept with this tent through the rest of the trail.

It was super stable in high winds. I camped in a bit of a wind tunnel one night. The trail wove its way through a wind farm that day, and there just wasn't much choice of where to camp. I was able to pitch my tent (stake down the four corners, crawl under then erect the pole from inside) in the wind without drama. During the night a couple other hikers had their tents pull up stakes and collapse or threaten to do so to the point where they had to get up and fix things in the night. One couple packed up and hiked out in the middle of the night because their tent collapsed on them.

Taking down the tent was easy. Since the inner net part of the tent never touched the ground (it was on top of the ground sheet) it just got unclipped from the tent canopy and stuffed into a stuff sack.

Then ground sheet would get taken out of the tent (just had to lift up a bit on the center pole to pull the ground sheet out from under it) and shaken off then stuffed into its own stuff sack.

Finally, take out the pole, then drop the tent canopy and pull up the stakes. Stuff the canopy into a stuff sack.

If that sounds like a lot of stuff sacks, well, okay, but they were silnylon stuff sacks and weighed pretty much nothing.

Rain was no problem. Steep sides shed rain easily. Plus, being able to get into the tent, then zip up the door while still wearing dirty, wet shoes and rain jacket without getting my sleeping bag wet was a bonus. On the couple occasions where it was raining in the evening I was able to sit inside the tent, with the door open and use my stove to boil water for my dinner with the stove safely outside the tent.

Snow. Hah, the thing that prompted me to change tents. Well, I didn't get snowed on again until toward the end of the trail, up in Washington. But snow isn't a problem for the pyramid shape.


Ultimately, if you are going to do a little backpacking, overnights or a couple nights, I'd get one of the freestanding semi-done tents from REI or Big Agnes or Nemo or Marmot or whoever you like and be done with it.

If you're thinking that you want to go ultralight and don't mind paying the price, go for a Cuben fiber (also called Dyneema) tent from a boutique manufacturer.  I probably would have been very happy with a Duplex from Zpacks, but they were all sold out when I was looking for gear. The small cottage manufacturers tend to run low on inventory in the January-March time frame when people are gearing up to hike the long trails.


Here's the Duplex: https://zpacks.com/products/duplex-tent


I might also look at the Cuben version of the pyramid tent that I have.


But, most people consider the Cuben tents to be good for one long trail. The material seems to wear out and be prone to tearing or pinholes after around 300 nights on the trail. Maybe more for some people, but for most of the target users, that seems to be fine.


I still have my silnylon pyramid tent (well, I have all three tents still) and I'd use it again if I did another trail. I know it works and I have no real complaints. It kept me dry, didn't ever threaten to fall down, is easy to set up and take down and is acceptably light.


Just as a note among many notes - I mentioned, way up above, tents that were single wall but that used waterproof/breathable materials. Think materials like Gore-tex, but perhaps a little lighter, as most Gore-tex tends to be combined with heavier materials. These tents aren't really designed for normal uses, they are from the mountaineering side of things, and if that's your cup of tea, then sure, go for the Black Diamond Firstlight, you masochistic crazy person. Just make sure to dig yourself out a breathing hole when the snow covers your tent.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Deer Lick Camp to Canadian Border

Canada and the end of the trail. 

Slept in today, figuring that there weren't too many miles to go before the border and also putting off packing up in the steady rain that had been falling all night. 

It turned out that I set up partially in a dip that turned into a puddle with the falling rain, so the foot end of my tent was sort of a water bed. Happily, my inner tent kept the water out so I stayed mostly dry, the only water that got to my sleeping bag was condensation on the inside of the tent that got knocked off by the splattering of rain drops on the outside of the tent. It's a phenomenon that seems to happen with tents made of silicone impregnated nylon. I guess water doesn't cling to it very well. Other waterproof nylons don't seem to have the same issue of water getting sprayed off the inside of the tent. 

Sherlock and Sunshine were still packing up when Mighty Mouse and I headed out. 

We passed a few of the other PCT hikers who were on the same alternate as we were as they were breaking camp. They passed us a few miles later. 

The trail was in good shape with only a few blown down trees. Plenty of water in some spots, but it was our last day. 
The trail came back out to Ross Lake and emerged at a cabin where several hikers were hanging out on the porch. 

Mighty Mouse, Aviator, Kodachrome and I walked down the road together and found Tim waiting at the border. Not mush to the border, a survey marker and signs for the respective parks on each side. There was a monument obelisk up a steep slope in the clear cut strip that runs along the border. Across the lake the clear cut was visible going up and over the mountains. 

A bit later Domestix, Blue Bird, Speedy and Saint Nick made it to the border. 

Tim drive those four about ten miles down the road to a spot with more parking lots and more traffic so they would have a better chance of getting a hitch out the 30 more miles to town. 

Sherlock made it next and then finally Sunshine made it to the border. After a few photos, Tim returned and six hikers piled into the SUV, our packs on the roof. We drove to Hope, BC and directly to a pizza place. 

The hike was over, finished. 

I will probably write a reflection piece some time, but right now I am nearly home. 

I stayed with relatives in Vancouver for a few days, sight seeing and visiting. 

On Tuesday I caught an Amtrak bus to Seattle and then boarded the train to Los Angles. If you haven't travelled by train and have the time, I'd recommend it. But get a sleeper car room if you can. The seats are fine and sleep is possible, especially in business class, but a flat bed would be better. 

Looking forward to whatever life brings next.


The last day begins!








Tim and Kodachrome and Aviator










Sunshine!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

East Bank Trailhead to Deer Lick Camp

East Bank trailhead to Deer Lick camp. 

Not quite sure how many miles I hiked today, somewhere around 20. We are off the PCT route now, piecing together a way to Canada that doesn't involve slogging through snow in the high mountains. 

Instead we are following the eastern side of Ross Lake, a 30+ mile long lake who's northern end encroaches into Canada. 

The trail is in good shape, not too many blow downs to cross, and a couple impressive suspension bridges. 

Part of the trail today was along the route of the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT). That trail goes from Glacier National Park in Montana to the tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, 1200 miles or so. 

If all goes well, this should be my last night of camping on this trip. I am not going to finish at the traditional PCT terminus at Monument 78, but at this point I don't mind at all. Just give me a border, a finish line.





















Mighty Mouse's blog for today: http://www.timandgerri.com/blog---2016/day-182-18-october-260741

Monday, October 17, 2016

Highway 20, Rainy Pass to Highway 20, Rainy Pass

Turned back at mile 2591 

Started out up the trail from Rainy Pass and only made it three miles before the snow was about a foot deep. We were still three miles from the top of our first pass, and had about a thousand feet of elevation gain to go. I heard a small avalanche somewhere above the woods the trail was in, no danger from that snow slide, but that combined with the increasing snow depth convinced a couple of our companions that they wanted to turn around. 
Mighty Mouse and I decided to turn around as well, so we hiked back down the trail, passing back out of the snow to slush and rain at the trailhead. 
Back to town to contemplate the future and finding a safe route to Canada.
















Mighty Mouse's blog for today: http://www.timandgerri.com/blog---2016/day-181-17-october-mile-258863-259163-258891