Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Bad, The Good and The Try Next Time from our Weekend in the Woods

Here's a handful of lessons learned from our recent Shenandoah Backpacking Trip.

Room For Improvement

Beware of nonstick pots - As detailed in my trip report, our brand new non-stick pot kept sliding off our petite backpacking stove. So yeah, that can happen. Keep that in mind when you buy your next backpacking pot.

Master those flashlight modes *before* bed - we made sure that M and B had high powered flashlights. However, because we went to bed before it got dark, we didn't have a chance to experiment with them. The result: at 3am they blinded themselves with hundreds of Lumens of light, when the low powered setting would have been ideal. I used a Nitecore Tube this trip and was quite happy with it. Press the button once and you get dim mode, press it again and it's bright. So simple, you can figure it out while being half asleep.

Sporks over spoons - while prepping our trip I could only find one Light My Fire Spork. I decided it was outrageous to pay $2.00 for what amounted to a plastic spoon and brought Menchie Spoons we had around the house instead. Preparing dinner, the one Spork we did bring kept getting used. So yeah, the $2.00 Light My Fire Spork is officially worth it in my book.

It's a mistake to look at the weather and say 'surely it will be too cold for mosquitoes' and leave the mosquito coils at home. Yeah, that was me. I decided to save a few ounces of weight because obviously the forecast called for it to be too chilly for mosquitoes to be active while we were at camp. I was wrong, the weather was awesome and the bugs were enjoying it as much as we were. Shira's not letting me make this mistake anytime soon.

My SDR listening attempt was a bust - I was hoping I could use Software-Defined Radio to at least pick up NOAA weather stations, if not ranger chatter. My first attempt at this was a dud: I heard nothing but static. Perhaps I need to up my game by bringing a better antenna or at very least trying my listening experiments at a higher altitude.

What Worked

The SOL Escape Bivy plus Recamp Ultralight Sleeping Bag is an impressive budget sleep system. It was ~65°F when I climbed into my Redcamp sleeping bag to go to sleep. By 1am, when I awoke, the temperature had dipped down to ~55°F and the bag alone wasn't keeping me warm enough. I put on my Frog Toggs jacket and slid my sleeping bag into the SOL Escape Bivy. For the rest of night was toasty warm. When I awoke, there was no condensation to be found. I find this combination of bag and bivy to remarkable: for less than $70 you get a lightweight, compact sleep system that will keep you warm to the 50's if not below. The sleeping bag liners I've used in the past never delivered substantial warmth, while old school bivy sacks were a condensation nightmare. The SOL Escape is a game changer, and turns the Recamp into a truly useful sleeping bag. Next time I may experiment with just sleeping in long underwear and the bivy itself.

Warning: if you choose to use an SOL Escape bivy, chances are you're going to look pretty pathetic. But at least I was warm!

The PCT Bear Bag Hang rocks. It's hard to believe that after nearly 30 years of hanging bear bags a new technique can come along that's a game changer, but that's what the PCT Hang delivers. Seriously, take a few minutes and check out this approach to securing your food. After having tried this method in the field, I'm officially sold. As for the food bag itself, my go-to is a large sized True Liberty bag. They're incredibly strong, clear which makes reviewing the contents easier and they claim to block odors.

My Flip & Tumble Shopping bag got extensive use - On our last few backpacking trips I've brought my Man Bag along, including its every day carry contents. It contains many of the essentials I'd be bringing on the trail, and the non-backpacking items keep coming in handy.

Case in point: the reusable shopping bag I carry with me. I found there were a number of times we had dropped packs, but still needed to haul food, water or equipment. The Flip & Tumble was the perfect way to do this. At dinner time there tends to be a minor gear explosion, as heap of accoutrements needed to prepare a meal make an appearance. Rather than having stuff spread out haphazardly, I hung the Flip & Tumble up on a nearby tree and used it to store these easily lost items. If you're traveling as a group, I'd suggest tossing one of these bags in with your gear and see how much use you get out of it.

On a related note: I'm sure I look like a goofball wearing my man bag as a chest pack on the trail. But, it's comfortable and oh so functional, so I'll take the fashion demerits.

Opinel Knives are an impressive budget option - The Opinel has a reputation for being high quality, super sharp and cost effective knives. After having used one this last trip I concur. The locking mechanism isn't perfect, but it's far better than a style that requires you put your fingers in the path of the blade. Perhaps I'm used to small knives, but I found the #7 to quite adequate and the #8 to be almost too big. If I have a need to pick up another one of these knives, it'll probably be a #6.

The Garmin InReach is a Game Changer - Our parents bought us a Garmin InReach Mini for our anniversary and we used it for the first time this trip. We didn't do a whole lot with it: we sent a present message when we started the trip and one when we ended. But man, what amazing piece of mind you get knowing you can communicate with the outside world. I hope we'll never need to use it in a true emergency context, but it sure is nice to have it.

What To Try Next Time

Split shared gear into personal gear - This trip, rather than having one large hand sanitizer, each person had their own small version. The result: less searching through packs looking for the single source. I'm planning to extend this concept further. For example, rather than one team first aid kit, set up each individual so they've got their own small kit. In theory, this will add convenience (got a blister? you can treat it using the gear you have easy access to) and split weight fairly. The downside may be the total additional weight carried. I'll bust out the food scale and game out a few different options.

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