Our gear test hiking trip we did at Devil’s Lake was an excellent idea. It forced us to get out there, be one with nature, with all of our gear. We made sure we took everything we’d have on the AT, even if we wouldn’t need to use it, to feel the “real weight” of our packs while hiking. We actually used a lot of the gear we brought (tent, sleeping quilts, sleeping pads, stove, etc.), and therefore were forced to think about some things, and learn a few things as well.
Here’s what we learned or decided to change:
1. Ground Slope. When setting up the tent, if there is a slight ground slope, set the tent up so your feet are facing downhill. The first night we set it up horizontally, with Greg on the lower side and myself on the higher ground. So, you guessed it, I was rolling into him all night long (he didn’t seem to mind), but it’s very uncomfortable trying to find a position to relax in and not have to brace your body all night.
2. Rain gear. We both had the 2-in-1 rain covers called “The Packa,” which cover both our packs and us (sort of like a poncho, but more fitted around the pack and the jacket part actually has arm sleeves, underarm vents and zippered front). We can also adjust the cover so it fits just over our pack, and if needed later, can pull out the sleeves without taking our pack off to pull on the coat part. The guy that runs The Packa asked specifically for our heights and types of backpacks we had. For me, he made the pack cover size quite large for some reason (my pack actually comes in 3 different sizes, mine is the smallest). So my rain cover combo was HUGE over my pack. Greg’s was a normal pack cover size, and his pack barely squeezed into it. So – we switched rain covers! And we are both happier now. Sure, the rain coat part on mine that covers my body is pretty big, but the other one was big anyway, and fits Greg fine.
Here’s The Packa made for me, but was too large over my backpack area:
Note: Since this time, Greg has decided not to use The Packa, and has returned it (The Packa is a small company with awesome customer service). He’ll be wearing his already-owned Mountain Hardware Rain Jacket, along with a rain kilt.
3. Greg’s sleeping pad. Greg’s pad was a closed cell foam mattress (cannot be blown up), it just folds up and is a bit bulky to carry. My sleeping pad is a blow up one, keeps me off the cold ground, is super comfortable, highly rated among thru-hikers and deflates nicely into a small, compact bag. As is usually the case, Greg has come around to my way of thinking – after seeing my pad in action and having a couple of uncomfortable nights on his, he has since decided he’d like one like mine. This allowed me to cut off a small section of his old closed-cell mat for a sit pad for myself! There won’t be a lot of places to sit on the AT, and a lot of times the ground will be muddy – so I can use this to sit down at breaks and also as kind of an “entry mat” to my tent entrance.
My new “sit pad” cut from Greg’s old sleeping pad:
4. Sleeping Bag Liner. After Devil’s Lake, I decided to purchase the Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner – this is a very thin liner that you can use inside your sleeping bag or quilt. This has a lot of purposes. If it’s really cold out at night, it will keep you warmer, as much as 15° F. If it’s hot out, I can just use my liner bag and throw the quilt off (as I won’t have a separate summer sleeping bag). Also it will keep my sleeping quilt cleaner, and therefore in much better shape. I recently saw a video by Nichole Young who did her thru-hike this year (2016), she had a very light-weight pack and swore by this liner. That sealed the deal for me!
5. Stakes for the tent. Since our Devil’s Lake trip, we’ve switched out our tent stakes for carbon fiber stakes because they are lighter and stronger (will not bend when pounding in, even if the ground is cold).
Here’s a new carbon fiber stake:
6. Brain. On my Osprey 48L backpack I have what’s called a “brain” – a little pack on the top that is removable. I really like my brain and think it’s so smart, it has 2 separate pockets for organization and a key chain clip. However, after hearing MULTIPLE thru-hikers say they started with their brain, only to get rid of it sooner rather than later, I have rethought my brain. It just becomes inconvenient – you have to flip the brain part up to get into the actual backpack, and being that you are in and out of your backpack hundreds of times a day, I can see how this would get annoying. Also the brain is not protected from rain like the inside of my pack is (I use a contractor trash bag liner to help keep things dry inside). So, after much thought – I will be going without my brain, and will get a small dry bag to keep my first aid and electronics in, instead.
Here’s my pack with the brain, and with the brain removed (poor headless backpack!):
7. Cooking. Our little pocket-rocket gas stove worked great! It actually boiled the water in both of our pots VERY quickly. What we learned is we need to practice making the KNOR rice side’s (like… how much water to use, and how long to leave them sit after the water boils to make the rice the right consistency). Also, instead of pouring the rice directly into the pot of boiling water, we are going to pour the water into the rice bag itself (it has a metallic liner and will hold boiling water). Then we’ll place the rice bag inside of a koozie, seal and set aside to “cook.” Thanks to Darwin On The Trail’s video, I made myself and Greg a koozie out of a sun visor. Bonus: our cooking pots will be used to boil water only and will stay clean – we won’t have to wash them out!
Here’s my koozie I made (with a cool sticker Greg got me for the back):
Another thing I realized is Greg’s cookpot has tight plastic pieces around his handles and lid cover so you can touch them after the pot gets hot. Mine does not – so I had to use my shammy like a hot pad. I’m thinking about going to the hardware store to see what I can do to remedy this. I did use my hot lips when we made coffee one morning, and they worked great (they prevent your lips from getting burned from the rim of the cookpot). As a general rule, we will be giving up our daily morning coffee while on the trail, for a couple of reasons: we can reserve fuel (we’ll only use our stove at night for dinner), it will be less weight to pack, and it will save us time in the morning. Now, we will have some “emergency” Starbucks Via packets for those desperate situations where we just really need a pick me up.
My “hot lips” and coffee I made on our Devil’s Lake trip:
8. Brushing teeth. On our Devil’s Lake trip I used water from my water bottle to brush my teeth in the woods. However, it got me thinking… like what if we are in short supply of water, or is there possibly a better way/easier way to do this? I consulted with my pal Nichole, and she told me what she did. I tried it, could do it just fine and I like it! Much easier and reserves water, so here it is – what I’ll be doing on the trial (can’t speak for Greg): Using NO water, put a TEENY TINY dab of toothpaste on my brush, and brush my teeth. That’s right – dry. After you brush for a bit your own saliva helps to make the paste foam up and spread it around. Then spit. Spit again. You don’t even need water to wash out your mouth – you actually spit virtually all the paste out, and what’s left over makes your mouth minty fresh! Now, you can kinda suck out the paste/saliva from your toothbrush, and spit that out as well. Then when I get to town I will clean my brush out really good. May sound gross to you, but this will work great for me.
Here’s my toothbrush. Greg sawed off the handle for me (gotta save weight where you can!):
There’s still a few more things we need to try/test before our hike (like hang a bear bag, use the Sawyer Squeeze to filter water..); but I crossed a MAJOR item off my “to try” list the other day: I WENT PEE IN THE WOODS! Yes, I did! Don’t laugh, I was nervous about this as I had never in my life done this before. I studied up on it, have been doing lots of squats at the gym, and I’m happy to report – it went perfect and flawlessly! What a powerful feeling.
On another note,I wanted to share my backpack bling: “The Appalachian Trail Women’s Group” patch (awesome womens-only group on Facebook, which I’m one of the admin’s for!) and a little “AT Maine 2 Georgia” colorful good luck trinket I made:
That’s all for now! Happy Trails! — Jen
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