Rain makes a great hike

appalachian-trail-waterfallI love hiking in the rain, let me tell you why… First let me start by telling you that while on the trail one stretch of rain lasted 18 days. Some of those days the rain was long and hard. Other days it was light and short but for 18 days it rained.

Here is what I learned about hiking in the rain.

1. Attitude makes all the difference. At first I hated it and couldn’t wait for it to dry up and go away. Then I found myself looking for the good things about the rain. I can hear you now, “What can be good about rain?”

The rain makes the colors of the forest deeper and more vibrant , the greens are greener and the blacks blacker. Rain cools the temperature and the air is sweet, you can taste the air rather than breath it. I love it when it has been a really hot day and the rain soaks the ground and steam rises from the earth like a boiling tea pot.trail steam

2. Be prepared for rain. Not being prepared can make for a miserable and even dangerous hike.

How do you prepare, you ask? Have the right cloths. Synthetics, not cotton.

The really important thing to remember here is synthetics draw moisture away from your skin and help you stay warm. Wool works too but I don’t recommend wool due to the weight and how long it takes to dry out. The old timers out there are screaming at the screen “Wool is the best!!!” I do like wool for keeping warm even when wet but the problem with wool is that it fills up with water and then it is not as effective at keeping the surface of my skin dry. This is especially true of socks. during that 18 day stretch of rain I had both wool and synthetic socks. I found that if I did not stop and wring out my socks every couple of hours my feet would get pruned and start to blister. The synthetic socks did a better job keeping my feet dry. Wool also takes a really long time to dry out.

Side Note… How to dry out your socks when it is raining day after day. Here again synthetics are the hero. I found that if I put my socks under my fleece sweater on my shoulders or if I was napping I would put them on my chest under my fleece and the synthetic socks would dry in a couple of hours. Wool socks took too long to use this method.

During warm weather I find it easier to just get wet and dry out when it stops. Cold weather on the other hand can be life threatening. The problem with hiking in the rain in cold weather is two fold. First is getting wet from the rain coming down and second is getting wet from the sweat your body produces while hiking.

Proper clothing and outerwear can help with both of these if you have the right gear and or you use it properly. I use layering to regulate my body’s temperature and sweat production. The layer right next to your skin or base layer should be a synthetic thermal underwear(during cool or cold weather). Then a fleece(synthetic) sweater over your base layer and finally your outerwear.

What is outerwear? This can be many different things. This layer could be a $500 Gore-Tex Jacket (nope, not kidding $500) or it could be a $15 nylon wind breaker. The merits of these outerwear choices can be discussed in a different post. The proper use of these jackets is important. If you are getting hot and start to sweat a lot, then you need to unzip your pit zips if your jacket has them. You may also need to vent your main front zipper to let some heat escape. Whatever the options your jacket has for venting, use them to cool it down and not sweat so much that you get soaking wet. I have been soaking wet from sweat and then when I stopped found myself freezing my butt off and getting close to hypothermia. One last tip on this subject, when you are hiking and are about to take a break from hiking or stopping for the night you will want to zip up and batten down the hatches a few minutes before you stop. If you stop then zip up you may find your self with a chill and unable to get warm.

3. Rain can equal more wildlife. The wildlife will have a more difficult time hearing you coming and you can often time see them before they hear or smell you. You will have to be paying attention as they are often not moving and you can pass right by them if you are not observant. Bonus tip: If it looks like it might be getting ready to rain but you still hear birds chirping and being active then you still have some time to get to or make shelter. If you notice a significant silence in the forest (no birds) then you know the rain is about to start. There are other tell tale signs for coming of rain like curling of tree leaves and the thickness of the air but these are not as noticeable as the birds.

4. This point is sort of subjective but it is my blog so there you go. Rain makes things interesting and is memorable.  In other word I remember the sections hike with rain more than those without. I also feel like a real adventurer during these rainy hikes. After all most people are indoors, warm and comfy. They are not outdoors daring nature to smite them with wind and water.

Well there you go, this post is a rainy day reflection of what I learned those glorious 18 rainy days on the trail.

 

 

Save the World and Charge your Phone!

Biolite Campstove

I love discovering new gadgets. This feeds both my geek and outdoor passions.

BioLite CampStove Demo & Story from BioLite on Vimeo.

Primer on Sleeping bags

This post is about what kind of sleeping bag there are and what to consider before buying. The first question to ask yourself is what am I going to use the sleeping bag for most? Is it weekend hiking or long distance hiking? What weather am I going to be using the bag in most, cold or warm?

There are two overriding types of sleeping bags based on the materials of the sleeping bag. There are synthetic filled sleeping bags and there are down feather sleeping bags. The pros and cons of each will need to fill needs based on the answers to the previously posed questions.

 Synthetic Sleeping bags are heavier and bulkier than down sleeping bags. Synthetic Sleeping bags are less expensive than down sleeping bags. Synthetic Sleeping bags dry fast, down sleeping bags do not. Synthetic Sleeping bags keep the user warm even wet bag is wet, down bags don’t. Synthetic Sleeping bags provide a little cushion and insulation under the user, down bags do not.

Down Sleeping bags last longer than synthetic bags, 20-30 years is not uncommon life of down bags. Down Sleeping bags compress better than synthetic sleeping bags. Down Sleeping bags are lighter weight than synthetic sleeping bags.

What does it all mean? The question today is which fill to choose? The synthetic bags win in many ways and most of all the safety for wet weather is very important for most people. The down bags are the best for long distance hiking due to weight and size. It is a personal preference you must decide for yourself. 

We will address the other aspects of sleeping bags in a later post.

Internal or External, That is the Question

This is one of the most asked question I answer related to backpacking. It is too bad there is not a simple answer. Don’t you hate it when someone answers your question with a question? Well unfortunately I have to ask. What kind of backpacking are you going to be doing? What kind of backpacker are you? There are many variables here. Let me give you the basics of the packs and the design issues involved and hopefully this will help you make a more informed decision. The design of the backpack internal or external is designed to make the load in the backpack more comfortable to carry. One way that these packs do this is to distribute the weight to areas of the body that are better able to carry this weight, like the hips and to a lesser degree the shoulders. This is a challenge for a backpack since it is usually a bag of sorts. Aha..in comes the frame. External frames distribute the weight to the frame and then splits the weight between the hips and shoulders through a waist belt and shoulder straps. The internal frame does the same except it has a frame inside the packs fabric. The internal frame pack design attempts to keep the weight closer to the body than the external frame pack. This makes sense if you think of someone standing with a bowling ball in their hands. If that person holds the bowling ball at arms length (Farther away from the body) the weight of the ball feels heavier than if the person held the ball close to the body. The weight is the same but the position makes a real difference. Thus internal packs can make a payload feel lighter than its external counterpart. However, the internal pack has some downsides. The first is heat and airflow. The pack is directly against your back and this will retain heat and inhibit airflow. Another downside is pockets and accessories. The internal pack does not have a frame on the outside of the pack to tie things onto and designers of internal packs generally try to keep the packs size and shape narrow and slim, usually minimizing the additional pockets etc. There are additional issues about pack design to write about but this is a good start.  Backpacks are a very personal item and is subject to personal preferences. There are some situations like trail running and climbing that the internal pack is obviously a better choice but for general use and backpacking it is to each his own. I will post more on pack design and concepts.

What is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking?

This is the question you often ask yourself while you are huffing and puffing up the trail. This and how do I get rid of some of this weight. So what is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking? It may surprise you to learn it is probably the backpack itself. Most people think about the capacity and the durability of their pack and forget to think about the weight of the pack. Most pack weights exceed 5lb. when empty. I know that doesn’t seem too heavy but it is when you have to carry it all day over extreme terrain. I suggest you reexamine your pack size and see if you can downsize your pack to a smaller size to save some weight. Pack materials have improved and the pack weights have come down as a result. Look for a lightweight pack that fits your needs and try to avoid buying a pack that is bigger than what you really need. Most weekend backpacking trips should not require over 3000 cubic inches. This is a tight squeeze for some but it can be done. Think about what you pack and ask yourself “Am I sure I will use this item this weekend?” If your answer is “I might not” then you should probably leave it out.

Flashlight Technology

This is a very large subject to cover in one post so I won’t. The technology changes in flashlights have been amazing. The LED bulbs are showing up every where from tail lights to flashlights. This is a good thing as these bulbs last longer and take less energy so batteries last longer. They are also much smaller, lighter and cooler. The LED has improved the headlamp too. Headlamps were bulky and sometimes too heavy to stay on your head. Now they are light and slim. If you are a backpacker this is a no brainer. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I chose not to carry a flashlight as it would save weight. Instead I used my Bic lighter for light. If I were to hike it again I would carry the very light Micro LED.
Photon X-Light Micro LED

Potable Water…what’s potable?

The word “Potable” means suitable for consumption. While in the woods you may not have access to clean, drinkable water. To deal with this situation you should carry some method of filtering or purifying the water you find. There are many very good ways to get drinkable water. Let’s start with the least expensive. Just add water and boil, yep that is it. Now your first question is “How long do I boil the water?” the answer is 0 minutes. Just be sure it gets to a boil and you are good to go.  Ok, so the down side to me about boiling water is that it takes time and when it is hot outside nobody wants to drink warm water. There is nothing like getting to a beautiful, ice cold, babbling brook and then having to wait to boil the water to drink it…yuk. There are some other methods to make your water drinkable. One method is to filter the water using a water filter. There are many great filters on the market. Many of these filters filter to .2-3 microns these micro filters are able to filter over a quart per minute. This means ahh…cold, refreshing drinkable water. Now that is what I’m talking about. Another method is the purifier, which usually employs both filtration and a chemical like iodine to kill the water borne virus.  Both micro filters and purifiers are usually pumps where you put the intake hose into the water source and the outtake hose goes to your water bottle. I recommend a micro filter but you should have a bottle of iodine tablets as a backup. Some people use the iodine tablets and don’t use a filter and that is fine too as long as you are willing to deal with the wait for the iodine to work and the taste of the iodine. One way to deal with the taste is to add tank or some other drink mix to the water after the iodine has done its work. Another way is a vitamin C pill crushed and added to the water to counteract the iodine. Be sure to wait the required time for the iodine to work then add the mix or vitamin C pill. The micro filter that I recommend is the Katadyn Hiker. The reason I recommend this over the MSR Sweetwater is simplicity of design and reliability is what you need if you are depending on it for you water. When I sold these products at the outdoor store we had more returns on the Sweetwater than the Hiker due to the pump handle breaking. When reading the descriptions on these micro filters it will tell you that the pump will tell you when you need to replace the cartridge. What this means is that the flow of the water going through the pump will slow down and the pump gets really hard to pump. So be careful not to break the pump when that happens. I am not saying the other micro filters are bad I just like the ease of use and simple design of the Hiker. Please do your own research before buying the pump for your situation. This material is provided by the author for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. The author assumes no liability for any individual’s use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein.

Leatherman Tools and Kleenex

“Leatherman” tools are an all in one tool that has pliers, knife and screwdrivers in one compact collapsible tool. These tools are very handy for camping as it saves space and the headache of trying to find these items separately. When looking at buying a multi-tool you should know that “Leatherman” is like “Kleenex” in so much as the name is concerned. That is, just like Kleenex is what many people call tissues when it is really a name brand of tissues. The Leatherman brand has become synonymous with multi-tools. So buyers beware. There are other multi-tool manufacturers that are good but there are also some brand knock-off pieces of junk. In this case it is often you get what you pay for. The low quality knock-offs use cheap steel that don’t hold an edge so your knife blades are always dull and some of these tools handles will bend under stress. You should get “hands-on” with this purchase to make sure you like the way the tool functions and its features, for example the first generation “Gerber” multi-tool would pinch the users palm as you squeezed the pliers. I am not saying you need to buy a Leatherman brand tool. There are many other companies that make great multi-tools but avoid the cheaply make tools.

 

What you need to know to buy a great tent!

This post is for those folks who are going to use their tent five or more times a year. Scouts buying personal gear, this is for you. Assess your needs.tents How many people is the tent going to sleep? In what kind of weather conditions will I be using this tent? Will I be carrying the tent and how far? I am going to say we are buying a two-man tent for camping and some short backpacking trips in the south. In this case we are looking at 3-season tents that will sleep two persons. The quality we are looking for in this case is good to very good but not the very top of the line as it is excessive for the situation and we will need to save what money we can to buy a sleeping bag in a later post. Look at the tent poles, the fiberglass pole tents are heavy and they break and wear out fast. This is also an indicator of the overall quality level of the tent. We want to avoid the fiberglass pole tents. The aluminum pole tents are the minimum. There are levels here as well such as the manufacturer of the aluminum pole, like Easton Company is the best aluminum pole maker and the cost is a little higher. The construction of the tent is important. Bathtub construction is where the floor seam is situated like a tub so that the floor seam is not on the ground but instead is lifted up to the side of the tent thus affording it protection from the elements. Full coverage rain-fly is where the rain-fly covers almost all the way down to the ground, overlapping the bathtub floor sea. This insures the occupants of the tent stay dry. The rain-fly should cover the door to the ground as well, not just over it. The tent stitching should be a lap-felled stitch and well finished with no unfinished edges to unravel. When the tent is pitched the fabric should be taut and smooth. Some tents use clips to attach the poles to the tent and others use fabric sleeves, there are debates about the differences but in 3-season tents these are unimportant and shouldn’t figure into the decision. Some tents have a vestibule, which is nice for storing your boots and gear out of the weather, but it is an absolute necessity. Name brand is not the most important but I do recommend you go with a recognized manufacturer. Now here is my opinion on brands, the manufactures that are makers of all things outdoor are not the best gear manufacturers usually. I am going to ruffle feathers here. For example, Colman Company, they make great general camping stuff but their tents usually lack the quality you are looking for in this case. Follow the above guidelines, and remember these are just guidelines. If you are not sure and want an opinion, leave me a comment and I will give you my two cents. Happy tent hunting!

Boots are worth their weight in gold!

Unfortunately they often do weight as much as gold and for every ounce of weight on your feet equals 8 lbs. in your backpack. So go as lite as you can for what activity you are doing.

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