Gear

Blistex ‘Lip Vibrance’ review

Blistex Lip Vibrance has been my go to lip protection since I discovered it seven years ago walking the John Muir Trail

Why do I LOVE Lip Vibrance so much? First it’s the restorative emollients – shea butter, grapeseed oil and vitamin E. It feels smooth, and rich.

Then there’s the sun protection at SPF 15. This isn’t your zinc oxide for alpine climbing, but Lip Vibrance protects pretty darn well on most exposed sun-shiny days.

Where can I get it?
Walgreens, Walmart, Amazon and CVS

Next, it’s absolutely lovely color. Every blissful hiker gal needs just a touch of color. This is pink and a glossy.

There’s a little mirror on the back. I wouldn’t use as a signaling device but works great in case you need to get food out of your teeth or when you want to make sure you’re coloring within the lines.

A couple of years back, I was unable to find Lip Vibrance at my local drugstore, so I purchased a competitor’s lip protection. It melted in my pocket and when I went to put it on my lips, a huge glob came right off in a huge smear. Blistex Lip Vibrance never, EVER melts in the field.

I gotta have Blistex Lip Vibrance and so I give it FIVE ANITAS!!


Gear

Post thru-hike gear wrapup: Hammock Gear quilt

My Blue Moroccan Hammock Gear was just right for the TA.

Here’s something I get asked a lot – How the heck do you wash your down quilt or sleeping bag?

For starters, you should probably not wash down until things get really out of hand. So let’s use our imaginations to take us to that moment of out-of-handedness when a good washing is all one can do.

Imagine putting your face right up against your furry dog. If she’s freshly cleaned, this might be a delight of fuzzy, nuzzly therapy. But had you two just returned from a long doggie run, your nose would likely receive a less-than-pleasant whiff of mousy, musty animal-odor.

That would basically describe my Hammock Gear Burrow quilt after I finished walking the Te Araroa. It’s not a totally horrible smell, but it’s mighty strong and it left me no other choice than to go through the arduous, time-consuming, gently-caring, get-completely-wet-and-covered-in-soap, hand-washing process to bring my HG “Blue Moroccan” (full review and specs) back to her fresh, fluffy self.

It was so worth it not just because I’ll have her ready for the next thru-hike, but also because this quilt is now on the list as a go-to piece of equipment and I want to take very good care of it.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xlite

Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir is a “crinkly cloud of warmth” and ultralite.

Quick, what is the most important activity on a thru-hike?

If you answered, “Hike,” give that reader a Kewpie doll. But, indulge me just for a sec, and let’s rephrase the question just a little. To hike, you need to be strong and focused, and to get there, you need to be well fed and well rested. Each morning you have got to wake up replenished and refreshed, ready for the next day’s rigors or each step is potentially a misery. So I’d say, the most important activity on a thru-hike is a good night’s sleep.

That’s why choosing the best sleep “system” is critical. I conducted a test last year with the two ultralite Therm-a-Rest mattresses I own and decided the time had come and gone for me to manage a good night’s sleep on a closed cell foam pad. They’re just too uncomfortable on my bony hips. So, my choice these days is the blow-up style of mattress and I did not regret choosing Therm-a-Rest’s NeoAir Xlite for 101+ nights on the Te Araroa.

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post thru-hike gear wrapup: Icebreaker T

I wore my merino top every day for nearly four months.

Except for extra pairs of socks, undies and camp clothes that double as layers on cold days, there’s really no such thing as a “change of clothes” when thru-hiking. So when it comes to deciding what to wear, you better choose wisely.

I purchased a Smartwool long sleeved shirt to take on the Te Araroa. Sizes run small and it fit snugly and felt too hot most days. By the time I arrived in Hamilton on day 31, I knew I needed to make a swap for something looser and lighter. I was thrilled when my Kiwi tramping pal Irene mentioned the local outdoor store was having a sale. I headed right on over and nabbed a T-shirt made by New Zealand’s Icebreaker.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Columbia OutDry ex-reign rain jacket and pants

In New Zealand, when it rains, it pours.

If you’re going to be outdoors for any significant amount of time, you are going to eventually get wet and if you plan to walk the Te Araroa, you will get very wet. I always carry sturdy rain gear on my thru-hikes. I know it’s a cardinal sin in the ultralite community, but on the TA, I saw a few trampers with minimalist gear shivering on the verge of hypothermia and I was glad I packed the full kit.

Obviously, top-notch waterproof gear that is also breathable is indispensable for hikers. It’s also hard to make. That’s because unless you’re a fisherman and want a heavy, 100% impermeable rubber coat that won’t allow water in – or out – you have to make some compromises.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: La Sportiva Akyra mountain running shoe


Shoe swap in Wellington, New Zealand.

You might recall that it was one year ago, while hiking the Coast-to-Coast and aliloop-of-the-lakes in England, that I became a true believer in using trail runners for backpacking. It turns out this is not just a fling. We’re talking full-on love affair made to last for the long haul and that’s because for the Te Araroa, I had fantastic results wearing La Sportiva Akyras. (full review and specs)

In the words of Saturday Night Live’s Stefon – New Zealand has everything: the steepest climbs and the nastiest descents on ankle-twisting rock and mud, narrow catwalks of tussock-covered strips-of-slip requiring the twinkle-toes accuracy of an Alex Honnold, miles and miles of sand and sea, plus water, water and more water in the form of streams, rivers, and wetlands. By day five, my Akyras were sandblasted and mud-caked beyond recognition. But that’s just cosmetics. These babies kept me nimble and secure, one pair per island of over 2,000 miles walking.

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Kavu Fishermans Chillba


Kavu is all about living a big and awesome life.

It’s not that I have anything against baseball caps. I often wear them hiking, biking, kayaking, running, skiing, climbing – you get the idea. But for a long-distance thru-hike, I really need to cover more territory. I am a pony-tailed hiker most of the time, and there’s a lot of exposed skin. A wide-brimmed sun hat is de rigueur so I don’t need to go through the daily ritual of slathering sloppy sunscreen on my ears and the back of my neck.

Before I hiked the John Muir Trail in 2012, I wandered into Midwest Mountaineering here in Minneapolis and stumbled into a relationship with Kavu that changed my life. Kavu is an acronym for an aviation term describing the perfect day: “Klear Above Visibility Unlimited.” I mean how can you not want a bit of this sensibility on your body while hiking – especially on a thru-hike when some days might possibly be a bit less-than-perfect and you gotta push through anyway with a big smile on your face?

Gear

post thru-hike gear wrapup: Granite Gear Crown2 60

Olive Oyl was a bit wide with all her pockets full, but she felt great on my back.

When I purchased the iPhone that would become my camera, typewriter, microphone, editing studio and means of communication with the outside world, I needed to ensure it was big enough to handle all those tasks, but small enough to fit easily in the hip-belt pocket of my backpack.

“Olive Oyl” – my Granite Gear Crown2 60 pack (full review and specs) – easily held my mini computer. In fact, it fit like a glove, and the rest of the pack was plenty roomy enough to nestle in all the gear I needed for a four-month tramp with room to spare for around ten days of food.

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post thru-hike gear wrapup: Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec pole

Even with my Lekis bent from a spectacular fall, I continued using them for another 1,000 miles.
Photo credit: Neil Macbeth

Gusts were at “extreme gale” in exposed areas and squally showers blew sideways the day I crossed Nelson Lakes National Park’s Traverse Saddle in New Zealand’s South Island. I made it to the top with enough clear sky to shoot a selfie even if I was barely able to stand.

Going down, per usual, was far more difficult than going up as I picked my way over a slippery stretch next to an avalanche path. The wind lessened as I descended, but the path stayed hidden in tussock, muddy and strewn with loose rocks.

And then, I fell.

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Hammock Gear Burrow quilt review

I am afraid of heights.

ali in the alicoop swaddled in a down ‘quilt.’

At least according to Ohio-based Hammock Gear, who – despite the name and mission – happily provides its superior quilts to us ground-dwellers.

I am delighted with the traditional mummy set-up I have been using for years. But lately I’ve read excellent reviews about sleeping quilts, and after a lot of nights of feeling a need for my legs to sprawl, I began to think hard about having more of a blanket over me than being swaddled in a cocoon.

At $180 for a 20-degree, extra wide, zippered-footbox, premium 800-down quilt, I thought what-the-heck and took a chance on Hammock Gear’s Burrow Econ. D-day is exactly two weeks from last night, so it was only fitting I have Olive Oyl schlepp the new purchase to the backyard, set up the alicoop and take her for a spin on a damp October night with temps dipping into the mid-30s.

Hardly backpacking, but a good one-night-stand to test out the Moroccan Blue before heading to New Zealand in two weeks.

First let me explain what a quilt is in the backpacking world. It looks like a traditional bag, but one that’s been sliced open like a seed pod à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That riven section actually goes beneath you. The idea is that you don’t need down under your body. In fact, what you compress with your weight loses its warming power and, the argument goes, is wasted. Quilt-makers put all the coziness where you need it, making it a more efficient piece of gear. I admit, climbing into my new Moroccan Blue quilt at first took a bit of trust as it was just my tender backside against my Therm-a-Rest, but in time, things came right up to temperature and I felt toasty warm.

I opted for a zippered footbox – rather than sewn – to stay flexible should temperatures rise and I want to transform my quasi-bag into a blanket. What is noticeably missing is a full zipper and a hood. This saves a lot of weight. A comparable 20-degree bag weighs nearly a third more than this 24.5 ounces of thru-hiker bliss. Less weight, less volume, less faffing about to maintain loft means a much more blissful hiker.

Hammock Gear understands that a hoodless, backless down ‘blanket’ with a box up to the knees is going to invite pockets of drafty air to any side sleeper. They recommend a wide width for tucking in, and cords to affix the quilt to your mattress. I ditched the cords, as anyone who has slept near me knows I’m a pretty fidgety sleeper, but opted to spend an extra $20 for more coverage. I am 5’7” and 135 pounds, and the quilt closed me in like a tube. HG puts a snap at the neck and a cinch cord to seal the deal. Though no hood meant I slept wearing my beanie, a buff and down coat. I do recommend choosing bigger and wider, and depending on your temperature needs, choosing colder. 20 degrees was just right for temps hovering in the mid-30’s.

That being said, an added benefit of keeping your head out of the bag is less moisture build up to compromise the down. But the sleep system does take some getting used to. I come from the generation that was told sleeping nude in a down bag is warmer than clothed. An alternative fact created by the back-to-the-land hippy culture, no doubt, but one I seem to have a hard time shaking. With a quilt, you’ll need to sleep clothed, mostly your head and neck, but likely also your upper body. Quilts are roomy so this shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a rethink on how you feel coziest at night.

The open section of the quilt goes under your body.

Down is my go-to even in summer bags. It’s hands ‘down’ – pardon the pun – superior warmth to weight ratio than synthetics. Most manufacturers are using water-resistant shells these days, so keeping your down quilt dry is easier.

If you’re thinking about cutting weight, you are already on track to own an ultra-light mattress. I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite. It’s ideal for quilt-sleepers: warm, comfy and sits high so the quilt drapes over the sides and forms a seal. With hundreds of nights on this pad, I have never sprung a leak, even in the desert.

I realize it’s a one-night stand for me and the Moroccan Blue, but we’re off to a good start and she is my ‘bag’ of choice for the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: 24.59 oz
  • Length: 5’7″ to 6’2″
  • Width: wide
  • Temperature rating: 20 degrees
  • Footbox: zippered
  • Down fill: 800

Disclosure

alison young purchased this quilt from Hammock Gear.

gear blog

Soto Amicus review

A whole lotta power and stability in a tiny stove.

Amicus means friend in Latin, and I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Soto Amicus is a canister stove with built-in lighter (optional) It has superior features are far more expensive stoves including four rick solid folding pot stand supports and a recessed burner head that performs decently even in reasonably windy conditions, makes this sub-three ounce stove my first choice for the Te Araroa.

The unique recessed burner head provides superior performance when the wind kicks up and you’re hungry.

I have been vacillating between using my home made alcohol ‘cat stove’ and the very easy to manage, all-in-one Jetboil. But with a keen eye on ounces, I wanted to cut weight and the Jetboil rebuild seemed a bit risky.

I came upon the Sotos on Massdrop. For under $30 I felt it was worth a try and I am impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship. It feels solid with each arm locking into place with a satisfying and tight click. The cook surface is wider than most and will support wider pots.

Reasonably fast boil time.

While the piezo lighter adds a few ounces, it is built to last running through the stove’s center, protecting it from impact and adding to its reliability, though I will take a mini lighter just in case.

I did a quick test with 25 ounces of water at a rolling boil in four minutes at 45 degrees outside and at sea level.

The stove fits inside my Snow Peak titanium pot along with enough fuel for six days.

I then placed a fan directly facing my wee stove and the cook time was noticeably slower – about fifteen minutes! – but the flame never went out fighting against the artificial breeze.

Warning! It is never recommended that a backpacker use a windscreen due to the efficient and focused flame. You don’t want to create a ticking bomb. Rather look for a natural wind break and don’t bring your fan on the trip!

Specs at a Glance

  • Size: 1 1/2 inches x 3
  • Weight: 2.8 ounces
  • Fuel: canister
  • Energy rating: 2600 kcal/h
  • Ignitor: Piezo
  • Included: a sturdy stuff sack

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Soto Amicus

I had 25 ounces at a rolling boil in about four minutes.

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

Balega socks review

Balega is a Zulu word that means “move with speed.” I’m happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.

If you want to hike with the ease, agility and the fleet-footedness of a seasoned ultra trail runner, and keep your feet cool and blister-free, Balega socks are for you. Balega means to move with speed and while that is not my ultimate goal as a backpacker, I appreciate that whatever is protecting my foot is indeed the ultimate arbiter of success in any walk.

Balega scores high for me because of a moisture wicking fabric they call “Drynamix” that is soft and breathable and just as advertised keeps my foot dry. I chose the slightly heavier Blister Resist sock that combines mohair with Drynamix. These socks are soft and cozy – and may prove to be a bit much for the beaches and rain forests of New Zealand’s Northland, which is why I am taking pairs of Enduro V-Tecs in my bounce box. They are synthetic and contain a compression band for the mid-foot, supporting just so without feeling too tight.

Both socks are made without seams, which help prevent blistering, but fit like a dream with a snug heel cup and elastic grippers that prevent slippage. And each have strategically placed ventilation panels that aid the wicking process which will be key as I walk in and out of rivers and find my feet caked in mud throughout my five-month sojourn. Sounds fun, eh?

But maybe more than just feeling thrilled that I have found the best sock for my long distance thru-hiking, I also have some real warm fuzzies when I think that the additional pairs of Balega socks I buy will help support Balega’s outreach programs in their home country of South Africa. There was even a little sticker on each pair with a picture of the person who inspected – and washed – my socks before they were sent out. Just like that beautiful Zulu word Ubuntu, meaning “shared humanity,” I feel there is a bit of this wonderful company’s energy walking each step with me on the Te Araroa.

Disclosure

Balega supplied alison young with socks.

gear blog

Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-tec review

My Lekis go everywhere with me and keep me upright.

The Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec is a foldable bomb-proof aluminum trekking pole with an awesome cork handled grip and outstanding adjustability. That is why these trekking poles are my top choice for thru-hiking and multi-day backpacking.

While on the Coast-to-Coast, I met a woman who turned up her nose at the Alicoop – my Tarptent that requires trekking pole support – because she simply never hiked with poles. I stifled a rude response on the lines of, “Well, you must never have really hiked, then,” and simply shrugged my shoulders, knowing she had no idea what she was missing.

I bought my first pair of Lekis – Makalu – after walking the Superior Hiking Trail. Steep, rocky, and slippery, I vowed to never walk a trail again without the option of becoming a four-legged creature. That was twelve years ago, the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Leki.

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The Micro Vario trekking poles fold down to 15.5 inches.

I purchased the Micro-Vario Ti Core-tec because I wanted something that would fold down small and fit in my pack easily. I am simply amazed by the care Leki used in designing these poles, which break down to just over 15 inches, held together by a snazzy plastic coated wire.

It takes a few moments to get the hang of it, but the single locking mechanism is combined with a “push-pin” adjustment that locks all three pieces in place. There’s a wide range of adjustment and the locking mechanism doesn’t require any hardware to tighten, just an easy-to-use dial.

I have always shied away from carbon when it comes to trekking poles after I watched a hiker snap an ultralight pole in a steep rocky section of a recent hike. While the Micro Varios weigh 20 oz – a bit on the heavy side for an ultra-light backpacker – they have proven incredibly durable when I needed to toss them off small cliffs to await my eventual downclimb, put all my weight on them leaping over streams, or when I’ve needed to boulder-hop, crack up scree or plunge overland down a steep gully.

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Leki does not skimp on comfort and that is crucial when you’re walking 8-10 hours per day.

Meanwhile Leki focuses on making their poles some of the most comfortable I have ever tried. The cork-handled grips fit beautifully in the hand and remain inviting even after seemingly endless days. Leki has also updated the straps since my Makalu days with a softer but tough fabric.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: 20 oz.
  • Minimum length: 15.5 in.
  • Shaft material: aluminum

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Micro Vario trekking poles from Leki.

gear blog

Tarptent Notch Li partial solid w/silnylon floor review

The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in its field.

The Tarptent Notch Li is a fantastic ultra light shelter for the solo thru-hiker looking for simplicity and durability, while not sacrificing comfort. Made of dynamee, the Notch Li is essentially waterproof. It sets up super fast with the use of trekking poles that remain outside the living space. The twin-peaked catenary ridgelines add rigidity in the wind and rain as well as create an enormous living space with two entryways and two vestibules. Notch Li is my choice for a home away from home.

I bought my first Tarptent when I walked the John Muir Trail in 2012. The single-walled Moment was the envy of all my hiking friends because it set up in literally seconds and was roomy with an enormous vestibule. I have since added an inside layer provided by Tarptent to alleviate condensation, but when I planned to walk on the soggy Coast-to-Coast, I decided to upgrade to something more reliably dry.

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Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It’s lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.

The success of the Notch Li begins with its fabric. Formerly known as cuben fiber, dynamee is considered the most revolutionary material used today to make outdoor gear. It’s technically classified as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. The fiber has low density that allows for high load dispersion. Fifteen times stronger than steel and extremely light, it is the strongest fiber in the world. But wait, there’s more! It’s also waterproof, resistant to UV light and chemicals, and is extremely durable.

But that doesn’t mean you can just stuff the Notch Li in your pack. You need to handle it with care by rolling it into its dynamee bag. The feel is a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but I endured absolute downpours and there was not one drop in my tent.

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The outside doors are held back with magnets.

I opted for the partial solid interior made of silnylon which saves a bit of money on your purchase but I had a few other reasons for this choice. While dynamee is strong and waterproof, it’s translucent and I like a wee bit of privacy. I also hike in places with blowing sand and heavy rainfall. The solid wall rises fairly high inside. It does cut down on views when supine, but it also keeps splash and detritus from finding its way through the no-see-um screen. The partial solid silnylon interior adds a few more ounces, but I felt it was worth it. I did not purchase nor have I used a footprint due to the floor’s ruggedness, but I do choose my sites carefully.

The Notch Li sets up like a dream. It is a non-freestanding tent with each corner supported by carbon struts that create a triangle. You simply roll out the tent, stake down each end with the provided Easton aluminum stakes, insert your trekking poles – which remain outside the living space, entry and exit – and stake down the sides. You should be able to do all of that without getting the inside wet because the two parts remain attached. The outer does not use zippers, which takes a little getting used to. I found I needed to slightly loosen the tension before attaching the poles into their loops and then ensuring the points of my poles stayed in place once I tightened up again. There is a little tab below the hook that helps when opening and closing the door but you do have to get the hang of it.

IMG_2006

The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.

The tent held up well in wind, though there is an option to attach another set of guylines. That being said, you will need two more stakes to make the tent more stable in inclement weather. The six-panel design has advantages as does the ridgeline which makes the Notch Li more stable when loaded, though I have yet to take it out in snow.

Did I mention there are two doors? The Moment only had one, and that seemed sufficient, but once you are spoiled with two, you will wonder how you survived. This gives you two vestibules for storage, organizing gear and hanging out. But if the midges are as bad as they were this summer in the UK, you will be staying tightly zipped inside the tent. But don’t despair because the inside is huge. Richard is 6’4” and crept in for a test and found he had enough room to lie down and sit up. I am smaller so had loads of room for my bod, my gear at both head and foot as well as room for a few items along the side. I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite, which fit inside beautifully. There are also a couple of strategically placed pockets as well as a ceiling hook.

img_0794-1

The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp “Spooky” in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.

This tent is in one piece, the inner tent attached to the outer, but you can take them apart if you prefer to use one without the other. This requires more stakes and for my uses, it never made much sense to use the pieces separately. However, I needed to have them apart when I returned home because I had so many squashed midge carcasses inside it was the only way I could clean the tent. It was a breeze to detach and reattach parts.

I love this tent and I should mention that my Notch Li was named by a contest. She’s the alicoop and will happily be my safe little chrysalis on the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Seasons: 3+
  • Weight: 21.76 oz.
  • Interior Height: 43 in
  • Floor Width: 20 – 34 in
  • Floor Length: 84 in
  • Minimum number of stakes: 4
  • Packed size: 16 in x 4 in
  • Doors: 2
  • Vestibules: 2
  • Materials: dynamee and silnylon
  • Support: trekking poles

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Notch Li from Tarptent.

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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