Gear

gear list for the Te Araroa

Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.
– Unknown

The Blissful Hiker does it!

Packed weight for five months on the Te Araroa under 15 pounds and she’s still taking professional audio gear. Praise the ultralight gods, and all my pals at Minnesota Public Radio.

I want to give a big thank you to Granite Gear, La Sportiva, Tarptent, Leki, Balega, SawyerWestern Mountaineering and Midwest Mountaineering for supporting me. I’m grateful to advocate for these fabulous companies while I (heavily) use their gear on the trail.

And also a huge thank you to John Reamer and Associates for supporting the making of my audio narratives.

gear blog

The little light that could

At only three ounces, the Black Diamond Spot is a great little light with lots of functionality, if you can just remember how to turn it on and off.

Many years ago, my mom, who was a Forensics coach, took me with her to the All-State Finals to cheer on her very best students. There was so much talent that day, but our favorite by far was a kid from a Chicago suburb. He was competing in original comedy and his story revolved around what might happen at an amusement park if you had poorly trained staff. It went something like this:

Here’s how you run this ride, kid. Simply open the door, close the door, spin the room, and drop the floor. Got that? 

OK, boss…let’s see…open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. I think I’ve got it. Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Hey, this is easy! Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Open the door, close the door, drop the floor….uh-oh.

These lines became a family joke for years, and I share them today because they capture what has turned out to be my complete ineptitude in following fairly simple instructions for my otherwise cool headlamp.

The Spot has two sets of directional lights plus a red light so you don’t blind your friends.

I love my light-weight, multi-functional Diamondback Spot headlamp. She is a bit like me, a former model, and at 3 oz and around $40, a steal.

That being said, this past weekend Richard and I were lazying in bed and my mind was on packing and preparing for the Te Araroa and I blurted out my dilemma. No matter how hard I try I to memorize the functionality steps, by the time I’m out in the field, I immediately forget them, fumbling about in the half-light and inevitably ending up with a flashing red light or a dim white beam on the periphery.

Rich was aghast that I was headlamp illiterate, so in hopes of proving to him that it’s not as easy as it sounds, I hopped out of the coziness of our marital nest to grab the headlamp – as well as my laptop so I could share the helpful little Diamond Back video I watched on repeat trying to cram for my next outdoor adventure.

“Does this mean we’re getting up now?” Rich asked in a slightly exasperated voice.

“Not at all! You can just sit right there, and we’ll watch together.”

Thankfully, Black Diamond uses a straight forward searchable title, “How To Use The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp” and in no time, the video was up and running. Why exactly they chose to use a porn-film soundtrack, we’ll never know for sure, but the instructions are admittedly fairly straight forward beginning with power on…

The steamy beat and the perfect youth of our headlamp-models begin their familiar show and I explain to Richard all the reasons I like my headlamp – inexpensive, lightweight, multi-functioning – it can also be shut off to save the battery draining. Though this has not always worked out perfectly for me. If just one piece of gear presses against the on button for a little too long, it can undo the function. I have often opened my pack to find it glowing, the light on high beam and the batteries down to nothing.

Sure, I could simply pop out the batteries as I pack, but it’s just another bit of awkwardness to open the headlamp unless you don’t mind bending your thumbnail backwards. Richard showed me how you have to pull up and not back. And, ta-da, that did the trick! It just popped open – with batteries flying everywhere, lost in our sea of sheets. The batteries don’t lock in place with a satisfying click. No doubt to save weight, they just sort of perch there. So consider yourself warned not to open your light over a canyon or a rushing stream.

Meanwhile, back to the tutorial, the music twanging away as our happy headlamp wearers with perfect teeth and perfect skin smiled effortlessly. They surely were never ones to lose batteries when they opened the headlamp. These are the faces of people who memorized each and every function on their first go.

I hate them.

I found opening the back to replace batteries nearly impossible without a tool, the batteries usually fall out and you have to be careful closing it or it snaps with one side gaping open – sheesh!

Regardless of my negative attitude, they remain patient as if speaking to a very slow child.

Click once to turn on.

I turn on my light and immediately shine it into Rich’s face. “Turn it off!”

Click again to turn off.

But then things begin to get really tricky. They tell me to turn it off then on so the white light will change from the center (proximity) to the outside (distance) OK, got it. On and off and on. On, off, on. On-off-on…drop the floor…

I feel chuffed at this point. I made something happen! And the next section, too, is a breeze. I’m on cloud nine. Battery consumption is measured by three lights. Green means you’re at full power, yellow is only adequate, and red means you’re running down. And you can even save power by dimming the light, simply hold the button down and the light will slowly dim, hit bottom and blink at you, then begin brightening again.

This is fun!

But soon dark clouds move in as I enter territory meant to confuse this Blissful Hiker. It seems if you want to switch the light to red so you don’t blind your hiking pals, you better pay close attention.

With the power off, hold the switch down for three seconds.

OK, easy enough. And then my lovely headlamp friends tell me just repeat it and the white light pops back on. So hold down the switch three seconds – from off! – and the red light magically comes on.

It works!

But wait, there’s more. It seems the universal sign for an emergency on the trail and to get the attention of passing airplanes or paragliders is a flashing light and this little light of mine has that function too. Instead of holding the button down, you click it three times and you get the strobe light.

But didn’t I just click three times when I was switching from proximity to distance?? I am so confused!

“Just think of Dorothy wanting to get back to Kansas,” Richard says helpfully.

It works, but I’m sure that in the field I’ll likely simply give up, put the light away and go to sleep no matter the time. But I soon find that even that is a challenge.

With power off in the white mode, hold the switch down for 6 seconds.
The light will cycle through red, then the blue indicator light in the battery window will activate.

Makes sense, but maybe it’s because the light has to pass through white to red before the little blue light flashes to tell me all is well that I want to release the button too soon. Stay the course, Alison, don’t let up, don’t go into the light!!

The light goes out.

And all is well.

At this point you’re probably asking, why not just upgrade, Alison? I am sure things are on the upswing in the headlamp arena and I can afford a new light. Call it laziness, call me cheap, call me determined to become the William Tell of headlamp functionality, but I am not giving up on this little light of mine.

Not yet anyway.

I don’t really use my headlamp all that much except for tent selfies.

Specs at a Glance

  • Lumens :  300
  • Weight With Batteries :  3.1 oz
  • Max Distances :  [High] 80 m; [Low] 16 m
  • Max Burn Time :  [High] 30 H (est.); [Low] 175 H (est.)

Disclosure

alison young is too cheap to buy the up dated Spot but did buy this older model.

gear blog

Granite Gear Crown2 60 backpack review

Granite Gear's Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it's on your back.

Granite Gear’s Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it’s on your back.

The Granite Gear Crown2 60 is a superbly designed ultra light backpack ideal for multi-day backpacking and long distance thru-hiking. Weighing at its max at only 37.76 oz. this pack can easily be configured for different types of trips bringing the weight down to a minimum of 22.56 oz. while still offering a huge capacity. Small touches like three large mesh outside pockets and two zippered hip pockets make this pack my top choice.

I have been using Granite Gear backpacks exclusively for the past seven years and I’m always blown away by their simple, sleek design, their ruggedness in the face of extreme conditions and their superior functionality. This pack is lighter than both my Vapor and Meridian packs, but the material feels far more durable.

You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.

You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.

The Crown2 60 is basically a large bag that rolls up and closes with four adjustable clips. Inside is a zippered hydration pocket with a hang clip. There’s a removable top lid, two modest-sized zippered hip belt pockets, two very large stretch woven pockets on the sides and one extra large stretch-woven pocket on the back. There are two large ice ax loops at the bottom and four smaller gear loops on the top of the lid.

I love the top hatch, which is more solid on its own than past Granite Gear models and can be removed should I only need a “purse” on occasion or have no need for the full 60-liter capacity. That being said, when the capacity needs to be fully utilized, the six compression straps are well placed and easily deployed. The back mesh pocket is a great addition since the Vapor and Meridian days and will likely see lots of wet gear in rainy New Zealand. Though the hip pockets are small and a bit awkward to get into, they are the perfect size to hold this DJ’s iPhone and microphone – as well as compass and lipstick.

I am not much of a pack liner gal, instead I opt for Granite Gear’s fabulous eVent dry bags with compression capabilities.

Crown2 uses the “Vapor Current mark 2” compression molded polypropylene frame sheet. You can always remove it and replace it with a dual-purpose foam pad. The frame works in combination with the molded foam back panel that’s designed with ventilation channels, mesh and a slight lumbar bump. It molded well with my body and wicked sweat effectively as I struggled up some good climbs.

The shoulder straps are padded with an S-curve, great for us gals, and the hip belt is easily customizable. Note that there is a women’s belt option, but I found it far too tippy for my use with the unisex fitting beautifully on my curvy hips. The Crown2 has two tiers of side and front compression straps.

The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.

The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.

I am a hiker who loves top-notch zippers and this pack’s got them in spades. The buckles feel they’ll last five months with a satisfying click that says this baby is not coming undone, though I did find I needed to ensure I matched the outie buckle into its innie slot precisely or it would jam, but I noticed this only on the chest strap.

I did not opt for the rain cover as I use Granite Gear’s superb eVent drysacks – that easily compress to nothing even without straps – for all things that must stay dry. I find it helps me stay organized and allows me to set things on wet ground if needed while packing and unpacking. But there was one hike when I pulled a bag of clothing out of the pack, a green bag that blended in with the grassy bank. I left it there and never found it again. While there’s a good argument for manufacturing gear in colors that fit in with the places we hike – and it’s certainly unlikely I’d leave behind my entire backpack – I would have preferred a brighter color like stoplight red or slow-children-at-play orange. Having said that, I must say that “ole drabby” is really starting to grow on me even if Richard says she looks like she was cut from an army surplus tent. I am falling in love and can’t wait to have her on my back on the Te Araroa.

I can't wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.

I can’t wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.

Specs at a Glance

  • Dimensions: 23.5″ X 13″ X 8″ (3660 cubic in.)
  • Max weight (medium unisex): fully configured, 33.9 oz./minimum, 22.56 oz.
  • Max recommended load: 35 pounds
  • Capacity: 60 liter
  • Removable components
    • Top Lid: 2.56 oz.
    • Frame sheet: 6.08 oz.
    • Hip belt: 6.56 oz.
  • Gender: Unisex, with optional women’s hipbelt
  • Torso lengths available: short/regular/long
  • Hip belt: adjustable
  • Materials: 100D High-tenacity nylon and DWR treated zippers

Disclosure

Granite Gear supplied alison young with this pack for use on the Te Araroa.

gear blog

Stove test!

I leave for Northern England and the Coast-to-Coast in six days and until a few moments ago, I was still ambivalent as to which stove to bring. A little scientific research made for an obvious winner

Monday night stove test.

Carry as little as possible, but choose that little with care.
– Earl Shaffer

On a week’s long walk of the Superior Hiking Trail several years ago, my hiking partner required lots of stopping on ridges to sketch and paint as well as to partake of a spot of tea. His paintings were nice, but what impressed me most was the lack of fuss as he heated up water.

Just take a look at my tent, and you’ll understand that I am a gal who prefers the fewest moving parts and accessories possible. The Jetboil was love at first sight. Compact, lightweight, and easy to use, I soon had my own, putting her through her paces on the John Muir Trail, the Drakensberg Traverse, Paria Canyon and numerous shorter walks.

Dinner on the GR5 near the Mont Blanc.

But several backpacking friends scoffed, assuring me I could make my own stove for pennies, it would weigh less than an ounce and it would burn clean. One friend, composer and avid backpacker Jake Runestad, showed me how to make a cat stove, a kind of can-within-a-can wrapped in carbon felt. I happily took this mini contraption to France for the traverse of the Alps on the GR5, though it took me a few days to ascertain where to buy fuel – known in France as alcool à brûler. I felt kinda dumb once I realized it’s ubiquitous, used everywhere to keep fondue melty.

Pot cozy made from pipe insulation.

Another backpacking pal helped me make a space-age cozy out of pipe insulation, best for getting my one-pot meals to rehydrate. Life was good that summer and the cooking was quiet. But since that trip, my mini stove has not been used at all and I here I am, needing to decide which will go on this trip.

So today, I did a scientific experiment with some surprising results:

cat stove deets

  • 3 oz cat food can lined with carbon felt, 6 oz tomato paste can with both ends cut out and three air holes near bottom nestled in the felt plus a plastic cough syrup measure – 1 oz
  • 16 oz nalgene – empty 3 oz, full 16 oz – lasts 5-6 days
  • wind screen – 1.5 oz
  • titanium pot, 25 oz – 5 oz, with cozy – 6.5 oz

total: weight and volume 25 oz

advantages: burns clean, cheap fuel can buy anywhere, no canister to recycle

disadvantages: need to burn all alcohol, can’t simmer, slow cook time, open flame

Jetboil deets

  • Stove, cup, platform, lid – 15 oz
  • Fuel, 4oz canister – full 6.8 oz – lasts 5-6 days

total: weight 21.8 oz, volume 33 oz

advantages: fast cook time, all-in-one design including cozy, canister fits in pot

disadvantages: loud, have to carry empty canister, lighter breaks easily, hard to find fuel in some parts of the world

Misc:

  • lighters/case – 2 oz
  • long handled spoon – 1 oz
  • single blade – 1 oz

…and now it’s time for the cook test!

Jetboil brought two cups of water to a rolling boil in under four minutes!

Roger Bannister timing.

The cat stove didn’t perform quite as gloriously. It took eight minutes to get two cups of water just shy of boiling, only to the point of kinda bubbling.

Wow.

Well, for me on this hike, it’s pretty obvious. Coming in at a lower overall weight and higher volume plus Roger Bannister record boiling time, the winner is the Jetboil.

And you never know, I might need a large enough cooker to entertain any hikers I might meet brave enough to test my Whole30 compliant backcountry cooking!

gear blog

And the winner is…

alicoop!

My tent doesn’t look like much but, as an estate agent might say, ‘It is air-conditioned and has exceptional location.
– Fennel Hudson

Christening #alicoop before her maiden voyage.

Congratulations to Eileen Ho of Ann Arbor, MI for coming up with the most popular name for my new Tarptent Notch Li, all ready for her first thru-hike on England’s Coast-to-Coast in ten days!

A big round of applause to all who entered. I loved all the names on offer and who knows, she may get a nickname along the way.

Stay tuned for ‘adventures in the alicoop’ by following the blog.

alicoop, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

 

gear blog

Boots or trainers?

I need help choosing footwear for the Coast to Coast walk in June. What do you think?

These four have taken me to many marvels.


Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
– Khalil Gibran
My toes are deformed. They have not always been this way, but in the last several years arthritis has taken hold and sadly, I look far less lovely in open toed sandals.

I took the time to consult a podiatrist on the subject, who brushed aside my worries, saying this is the most common type of arthritis out there. If it doesn’t hurt too much or impede my lifestyle, he advised, just go with the flow.

The good news is that except for crimpy toe moves when climbing and an occasional twinge after long walks, I don’t have pain at all or, for that matter, any loss of mobility. But my goal is to keep this long-distance walking thing going as long as I possibly can, so I’ve made a few changes, like giving up regular running.

And considering giving up the hiking boot.

Rocky, uneven and perpetually damp Alpine trails loved heavy boots.

In the past, I was a full-on advocate for the leather hiking boot. Just look at those beauties with the fancy old-school laces screaming “Serious backpacker, coming through!”

In boots, I feel the grip slogging up scree-filled slopes, boulder hopping or negotiating seemingly endless switch-backing descents. And when carrying a pack overland like I did on South Africa’s Drakensberg traverse where trails are non-existent, I treasure the torsional support, the power to fend off loose rocks and wade mini-mud puddles.

Light-weight leather boots never dried in Northern MN.

But in the last several hikes, my boots seem to be failing me. They feel heavy, hot and confined – and this even when I buy men’s sizes with a wider toe-box. My toes press against the leather, cramp – and goddess forbid – develop blisters.

Unhappy feet mean unhappy hiking.

And that’s why my new heroine is thru-hiker Liz Thomas, known by her trail name of Snorkel. Though loads have tried to convince me over the years, she helped me see the light explaining that heavier boots – warm, durable, and rigid – have their place and are perfect for mountains, and long daily walks to and from work in Minnesota winters.

But those very attributes might be working against me when it comes to summer-time fast, multi-day walking. Boots might not only be cramping my foot but adding weight to stride – try another SIX pounds in the pack. If you ask me, I’d would much rather carry that in snacks.

Classic hiking boots were far too hot in southern France.

The other fail was all about water. Dreaming for perfect weather on the C2C might be a nice pastime, but it would also be a refusal to come to terms with the facts. There’s a reason there are lakes in the Lake District. Trail running shoes dry much faster than boots, even my Merrell lovelies with a gortex liner end up pooling water under the sock.

On the Paria river in northern Arizona, my lightweight boots held all that water wet and froze solid one cold night, giving a whole new meaning to cement shoes.

Muddy, wet and frozen boots felt like a set-up for a mob burial.

While I may never walk a trail barefoot or in any sort of minimalist getup, I am feeling more convinced to do this upcoming walk in trail runners – albeit with a wide toe protected box protected and more aggressive sole than your typical running shoe.

If worse comes to worse, I can do as the fell runners do in the north of England and wear a plastic bag as a sock!

Trail running shoes were ideal for a Fell race.

Share your thoughts on shoe choice, brands, styles, stories below. Bring it on!

 

 

 

 

 

gear blog

home-on-the-trail

This is my new tent for the Coast to Coast walk next month.

She emerges smiling, but will she in June?


Let the beauty of what we love be what we do.
– Rumi
Possibly the biggest purchase a thru-hiker will make – and the most obvious place to cut weight – is with her tent. So much goes into choosing. Will it withstand wind? Wind that carries sand?  Will it need to protect her from torrential rain? Is snow expected? What luxuries does she need? Will she be sharing or going solo? Is she willing to set up with trekking poles? How light – and thus spendy – is she willing to go?

One of my fav tents in a fav spot.

For my last long distance hike in the Alps, I took the Nemo Hornet, but had epic condensation issues with a fly that left no air gap to the main body of the tent.

The part of the tent directly over my head.

22 ounces of joy.

I also found that tent to be a pain to set up and longed for my favorite in a closet stuffed with tents: a single wall, non free-stander made by a company called Tarptent. It’s massive for a single and is up in a snap. I was nervous to take it to France with so much humidity, but had a thought to take a look at what the company is up to these days.

My timing was spot on. They have just come out with a kind of hybrid tent with a cuben fiber outer over a silnylon inner. This fabric known as Dynamee is used to make sails. Strong, impenetrable and super ultra lightweight.

Roomy and cozy.

Of course, it’s not cheap, and I’ve been warned dynamee will get beat up. How it handles in the seemingly continuous rain showers of England’s green and pleasant land remains to be seen, but the inauguration has occurred and next steps are to sleep in it over the coming weekends when I’m safely car camping.

  • what: Tarptent Notch Li with partial solid insert, inner: silnylon, outer: dynamee
  • weight: 22 oz.
  • packed size: 16×4 inches, it is not recommended to stuff dynamee
  • includes: four stakes though I may take two more to stake out the apex
  • cost: $559

First time practice set-up amidst Victorians.

My new home-on-the-trail may not be the prettiest and that might be a good thing to perhaps keep would-be thieves at bay!

Name my tent in the comments for a chance to win a prize! 

 

 

Gear

Don’t shun (-tion) the “Ten Essentials”

Before any hike, you should ask the question “could I spend the night here?”
– blissful hiker

The ten essentials don’t take up much space in your pack: Navigation, Illumination, Habitation, Insulation, Protection, Medication, Reparation, Incineration, Nutrition, and Hydration

Have you ever set out on a beautiful sunny day that turned into a wet misery half-way through? Did a snowstorm suddenly change course and dump right on your course? Maybe you missed a turn and when backtracking, got lost? That’s the reason the “ten essentials” were created, to help prepare us for the unexpected.

I had fun making each “essential” end in the same suffix, reminding me to never “tion” them, even on a short day-hike.

this sign tells it like it is based on the misfortunes of many an unprepared hiker

  1. Navigation – I always throw in a map and compass. If it rains, snows, or there’s a white out, a compass will keep you moving in the right direction. One wilderness survival course noted that a compass can also keep you from walking in circles should you get lost (!) I have a GPS with spot locator beacon for multi-day hikes that allows me to stay in touch with the outside world should I have an accident or become delayed. But it’s best to keep in mind that rescue could be hours, even days, away.
  2. Illumination – In case you’re be-nighted, you should throw in a headlamp. An extra set of batteries in a ziploc is not a bad idea too.
  3. Habitation – Could you sleep out here tonight? I like to have an emergency bivy sack with me. They’re very light and small and could also help if you get cold. Depending on where you go, a more comprehensive bivy is worth the weight.
  4. Insulation – “Dress in layers” and bring extra layers. Hypothermia kills fast and just being shivery can leave you feeling crabby.
  5. Protection – The sun might be free, but it can burn your skin and bring on heat exhaustion. I find sunscreen messy, so I dress like an Arab in long sleeves, long pants, and hat. Umbrellas are awesome.
  6. Medication – Throw in the basics, like bandaids, tweezers, aspirin, etc. Consider where you’re going when packing a first aid kit, do you need a splint, an epipen, ice pack? I always take the ever-versatile athletic tape.
  7. Reparation -When the sole comes off your boot, you’ll be really slowed down. Believe me, I know. You can store a bunch of duct tape on your water bottle. Safety pins can repair almost everything.
  8. Incineration – I throw a lighter in a ziploc and cotton balls slathered in vaseline in another ziploc for a fail-safe fire starter.
  9. Nutrition – Take a few extra calories for a happy, healthy, fueled hike which may last longer than you anticipated.
  10. Hydration – Remember you can survive three weeks without food, but only three days without water. Iodine pills weigh next to nothing and kill most bacteria. Don’t forget a water bottle.

There is no 11th essential, but I’d add take along a good attitude, one ready to turn back and give up the summit if the day turns against you. The hike will be there tomorrow and it takes a balanced person to avoid getting into the position to need the essentials.

~Hike on and have fun, alison

Storms brewing near the saddle between Mount Shavano and Tabeguache Mountain, CO

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