Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Gear Notes from Our Latest Trip

As always, even with a few days on the trail, I've got a fresh batch of lessons-learned. Here they are, for the Internet and my future self to benefit from:

Outcomes of my Experiments

This trip, I planned a bunch of gear/techniques to try. Here's how they worked out:

  • Front pocket fishing kit: on one hand, I didn't catch anything. On the other, neither did my brother who had a real fishing setup. The fish just weren't biting. With a bit of practice, I was able to cast my line into the creek/pool just as well as if I had a real rod and reel. For use during hikes when a fishing hole is discovered, this setup can't be beat. This is a winner. If I ever manage to catch anything on this, I'll do a full review of it. Though, here's what it looks like (the watch is shown for scale).
  • Blue Diamond Almond Pot: It's small, but was handy to have yet another way to boil water over the stove. This fits nicely into David's nesting cook kit. Another winner.
  • Jiffy Pop Frying Pan: We tried to cook pancakes with this guy over the PocketRocket stove, and withing a few seconds, we had little more than a carbonized mess. Perhaps this would work over a fire, or if we could dampen the PocketRocket. As is, though, this was a definitely loser.
  • Heatsheet Tarp: I spent both nights under heatsheets, and used the technique I had heard about. Worked great, and both nights I was dry and comfortable. You can see the shelters I built here and here. The heatsheet shelter approach isn't particularly durable. But, for a couple of nights, and as a backup to sleeping in a tent I had near by, it was perfect. Notice that one night, I draped a painter's drop cloth over the setup and that definitely helped. Another winner.
  • Improvised Gravity Filter: The improvised gravity filter worked, but we're just so used to treating with iodine, that it wasn't really convenient to use. The iodine takes 30 minutes to work its magic, but is easy to do and can work while hiking on the trail. The setup definitely works, but I've got to give it an Eh rating.
  • Esbit Stove - For the first time, I tried using an esbit stove. At first I was disappointed - is that all it does? But, by the end of the trip I was really sold on it as a backup option or for the specific times when boiling water is the only cooking you'll be doing. 1 Tablet warmed up (almost, but not quite to a boil) 3 1/2 cups of water. It meant a hot breakfast on Sunday, instead of cold tuna fish. A winner.

The Gear

  • Nobody's allowed on the trail with plain old cotton socks (yeah, I'm looking at you Dad!)
  • Bring a pedometer. In the past, I found my eTrex was occasionally useful,but more often than not, I'd fight with it to get signal. I thought a pedometer would be a useful alternative, but talked myself out of bringing one as I thought it would be another gimmick. Boy, was I wrong. A relatively cheap, but fancy pedometer would have helped keep us from overdoing the mileage the first day. The clock on it would also be essential for any number of reasons. Even though I didn't need it for navigation, it still would have been awfully handy.
  • Make sure to bring 2-50ft hanks of Paracord for the bear bag. I assumed one 50ft length would have worked, but having 2 would have made setup much easier.
  • Bring your EDC, including cell phone and other goodies. Usually, I leave the non-wilderness part of my daily carry at home (like the cell phone and USK). I didn't this time, and I'm glad I didn't. I found myself using the cell phone and my foldable backpack, both items I would have left behind. Of course, the "E" in EDC stands for everyday, so bringing it along is really a no brainer. With my cell phone in Airplane mode, it was on for 3 days and still had 85% charge left at the end of the trip.
  • Love the Fold Flat Fozzil Dishware. Super light, and the different containers really come in handy during food prep, when clean surface area seems in short supply.
  • Hiking Poles. Next trip, everyone over the age of 39 is bringing them for help navigating nasty trails.
  • Bring a silk liner. I slept outside and the weather was perfect for my sleeping bag. My brother and Dad, on the other hand, were in a warm tent / cabin. They really appreciated using a silk liner.
  • Love the Tiltpod. We brought along David's tiny Canon camera, and he had a Tiltpod attached to it. The result, lots of group shots that were trivial to setup. David's got an eye for finding spots to to leverage this guy, so you may need some practice. Still, give its weight and value, it's worth taking the time to master.
  • Bring at one small fuel canister a day. Somehow I managed to talk David into bringing a single canister and we ran out. We had other options (the stove in the cabin, our esbit stove), but lesson learned.


  • Collecting raspberries and mixing them into our pancakes was among the most brilliant moves we made all weekend. The result: some of the best pancakes I've ever had. We also tried a batch with gorp mixed in - worked well, tasted good. Not quite as good as the raspberries.
  • Baking on a backpacking stove is possible! I tried the technique shown here, and to all our amazement, it worked! Here's what you do: buy a just-add-water muffin mix. Take a pot and fill it half way with stones. Line the remaining section of the pot with tin foil. Add water to the mix while it's in the bag, then pour it into the tin foil. Cook on your stove. To my shock an amazement, the cake was cooked through evenly, with no raw or burnt parts. Best trail desert ever.
  • Mixing up hummus on the trail was a good idea. Though, for future reference, we only needed 1/3 of the box.
  • Whiskey! How could we forget the whiskey?! Can't let that happen again.
  • Just add water versions of beans and rice and hash browns worked great. Though, we need to bring and use a lot more oil to make the hash brows really brown.
  • Freezing a block of cheese and bringing that was a brilliant contribution by David. It lasted the weekend and melted perfectly on tortillas.
  • A green pepper can last the weekend and works perfectly cooked in hash browns.

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