Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Shenandoah Backpacking Lessons Learned

Our weekend backpacking trip in Shenandoah is now behind us. Here's a few key lessons learned:

What Worked

  • I'm loving the wrist kit approach for keeping track of essentials while on the trail. This trip I had a knife, lighter, flashlight, whistle, compass and P51 can-opener in the wrist band, and had no discomfort (the items were taken from my keychain). Heck, I was able to sleep with the wrist band on and didn't give it a second thought. That's key, as fumbling for a flashlight in the middle of the night is always such a pain. I was worried that the setup would be uncomfortable to wear in the heat, but it really wasn't too bad. If nothing else, it did it's job as a sweat band. This piece of gear has changed status from experimental to required.
  • I'm still finding the Nitrile Dipped Work Gloves to be a winner. On the trail, they let me explore random flora and fauna, and comfortably grip rocks and other debris. In camp they made chores easier to accomplish without worrying about getting my hands especially nasty. Oh, and they helped expedite the process of digging a cat hole, which I'm quite grateful for. I'm sure they make an odd fashion statement on the trail, but I can live with that. Here's a shot of me wearing the gloves and wrist band. Sexy, right?
  • Before we set out on the trail I showed off our gear to my brother David, and he noted a lightload towel in one of the piles. He sang their praises, but I explained that I wasn't planning to bring one. I was expecting to depend on my Buff, instead. At the last minute, I swapped out the Buff with a new Lightload Towel, and boy am I glad I did. I was reminded just how functional Lightload Towels are, keeping up with Shira's bandanna and being more absorbent. They're dirt cheap, and when completely "used up" (which it wasn't this trip), I can burn it for disposal, guilt free. At about $2.30 each I didn't mind throwing grimy tasks at it; tasks I'd rather not subject a $20 Buff to. Good call David.
  • At the last minute I tossed in one of my 5 minute Tyvek Haversacks into my backpack, and I'm so glad I did. At camp, the shoulder bag acted like a set of extra pockets, allowing me to carry bear bag supplies and such with ease. Later in the evening, it saved my knees as I used it while kneeling down to build a fire. Finally, at the end of the night, I used it as a bucket and hauled a large amount of water from the stream to the fire pit. The seams of the bag leaked, but I was still able to move a heck of a lot of water in short order. One lesson I did learn: when carrying water in the sack, the folded over cover quickly tore. It's not a huge surprise, as I'm sure folding the bag repeatedly had weakened the material. I did some quick repairs and was back in business. Given that the bag weighs next to nothing, I'll definitely be bringing one on our next trip.
  • As I noted in my trip report, we found and ate copious amounts of blueberries. I was definitely glad to have the Wild Edibles App on my phone, as it let me verify the berries before we took the plunge. There are free plant identification apps out there, but I'm glad to pay for Wild Edibles. The content is rock solid and is backed by a real human, rather than just being copy paste from other sources.

What Needs Improvement:

  • We brought along 4 Citronella tea lights to ward off bugs from camp. We lit one the first night, and it appeared to do its job. It even had an unusually long running time for a tea lamp. The problem: I wrapped them in tinfoil and then put them in a plastic bag, and then put them with our other smellables, meaning, our food. Unfortunately, the smell permeated the tinfoil and plastic, and a bunch of our food items ended up tasting like Citronella. I don't mind the smell of Citronella, but Citronella M&M's, yeah, not so much. Next time we'll have to be more careful about separating them from our food. Or maybe, we'll just skip them. What can I say, the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
  • Here's an obvious one: Check the alerts for the park that you're heading off to. Had we done this, we'd have seen that a critical trail in our route was closed.
  • And another obvious one: Google for the trails that you're heading out on. We had our route plan, yet, I never bothered to actually search for specific information on the trails we were going to be on. If I had, I'd have found an entire website dedicated to one of them. This isn't as critical as checking the alerts on the park, but does make for good sense.

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