The Big Epic

Connecting with Nature - One Adventure at a Time

Tag: Gear

Trying a Rain Skirt

Andowen prefers to hike in a skirt–with shorts or leggings underneath. Unfortunately, the pretty skirt she used to hike in fell apart–so many mended tears it can’t be fixed any further! We talked about it, and decided to design our own skirt–wanting a a knee-high length and water-repellent material. Hopefully, this skirt will be more sturdy when sitting on rocks and climbing over fallen tree trunks. Ideally, it will also help keep her legs and butt dry when we hike in the rain.

We bought rip stop nylon and copied a wrap skirt she already wears at home.

We chose contrasting colors of thread to make it more fun. I even figured out how to make buttonholes with my sewing machine–followed by snipping the hole open with scissors. (The ribbon waistband pushes through the buttonhole to complete the wrap of the skirt and allow both ends of the ribbon to be tied.) Andowen tried the skirt under the hip-belt of her pack. At first, it kept sliding up–just like the old skirt did. Pulling her t-shirt over the skirt waistband took care of that problem. 

After a few weeks of hiking, we can report she is highly satisfied with this skirt. In drizzling rain and when sitting on wet logs or mossy rocks, it has kept her dry as hoped. It shows some scuffing, but has not ripped like the previous town-wear skirt kept doing. Plus she appreciates the ease of movement this skirt provides. She can even practice “sword”-fighting with full freedom when we are in camp for the night! 

She likes it well enough that I’m planning to make my own wrap skirt when we get home–ready for our next hiking adventure in the summer.

WATER…we need water…

Hikers have to think about water all day long. Out in the woods there is no magic tap to turn for water to come pouring out whenever we want it. We have to find a water source, filter the water, carry water back to camp, and carry water in our packs for while we are hiking. (Read more about this process HERE.)

It felt weird at first, but we have gotten comfortable with using a “bite-valve” to have water at the ready the moment we are thirsty. We have been happy with the water reservoirs we have carried in the past. BUT…sometimes they leak when we don’t get them tightly closed. This means we run short of water when we need it…and it means the stuff in our packs get wet. Blergh! There is a nifty interior pocket for a water reservoir in our packs. BUT…the full bladder must be put in the pack before our other stuff and it is impossible to refill the reservoir without pulling it back out of the pack. That’s hard to do when the pack is filled to the top! And carrying a full day’s supply of water gets heavy. 2-4 pounds may not sound like much but it’s HEAVY to a backpacker! So…this trip we are trying a new method of carrying water. We bought a “Blue Desert Smartube” kit for each of us. This has an adapter to connect with any water bottle.

This solves the above problems with a reservoir: Bottles are easier to tightly close. They fit in exterior pockets, so no leaking inside the pack. In addition, we can carry less water and stop to filter more at water sources we pass during the day. This lessens the weight we have to carry–which always makes us happy! 

Now that we are a few weeks down the trail, we can report that we LOVE our new system! We have made only one change to it which is to carry an extra bottle cap to use (rather than the tubing) when carrying both bottles back to the shelter from a water source. 

Bear Food…

When we are in the woods, it is important to protect our food from bears…and protect bears from our people food!

The most common way to do this is by hanging a “bear bag.” This involves putting all food (and other smelly things such as ointments or wipes) in a bag, slinging a rope over a tree branch, and hauling the bag high enough in the air that a bear can’t reach it. (I’ve written about the challenges of this process HERE.)

This can be a very frustrating process. There might be no appropriate branches (trees too tall or branches broken off from overuse by so many hikers near shelters). The rope might get stuck in the tree. Last time we tried, we had to cut off the rope and leave part of it dangling (bad for the woods and worse for my temper)! Enough is enough! Bears are getting bolder in some areas. And we are getting tired of hanging a bear bag.

We considered a “bear canister” — a plastic bin that supposedly prevents bears from getting to the food inside. This sounded like a great idea–and I was willing to carry the extra weight for the convenience of not hanging a bear bag each night. BUT…it took up most of the room in my pack. And I wasn’t about to figure out how to strap it on the outside of the pack. So back to the store that canister went… This trip we are trying out an “ursack.” It is made of kevlar–claw and fang resistant. There have been cases of a bear slobbering all over the sack and pulverizing the food inside, but by morning the bear will still be hungry and there will still be at least crumbly food for us to eat!

Because it protects the bear from getting to the food, it does not need to be hung from a branch. It can be tied to a tree trunk. 

A few weeks into our trip, I have only one regret about switching to Ursacks to protect our food. I only wish we had done so sooner!

Getting from Point A to Point B; Without Getting Lost

(Trail Companion Guide + Phone app + White blazes = Navigation)

Some folks get lost when driving a route they have used for months. Others apparently have an internal map in their heads including compass directions and a marker of where they are at any given moment. I’m somewhere in the middle.

Fortunately, there’s no need for an internal compass when hiking the Appalachian Trail (although it obviously wouldn’t hurt!) During the planning stages of making a tentative itinerary, I studied the latest edition of “The Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion.” This guide offers detailed information in chart and written form about shelters, water sources, road crossings, and re-supply points. It has elevation charts of each mile of the trail including icons for pertinent information. It also includes maps of towns near the trail. I’ve torn out the relevant pages to carry with us and refer to as needed. AT Guidebook

There are detailed topographical maps of the Appalachian Trail. Rather than buying paper sectional maps that need to be repurchased as they are updated, I’ve chosen to buy an app for my phone. Guthook’s AT Trail Guide allows us to zoom in to see close-up details of the route, including relevant photos. Although it can be used with the GPS feature on my phone, we will use it off-line as a more traditional map. Unlike paper versions, updates are free. AT phone app

Finally, we will travel the AT by following the white blazes. These 2 by 6 inch vertical rectangles are painted in white on tree trunks, rocks, and signs. They are generally located within sight from one to the next. Blue blazes indicate side trails (to shelters, towns, roads, etc.) As explained by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy,  if we don’t see the next blaze down the trail: “If you have gone a quarter-mile without seeing a blaze, stop. Retrace your steps until you locate a blaze. Then, check to make sure you haven’t missed a turn. Often a glance backwards will reveal blazes meant for hikers traveling in the opposite direction. Volunteer trail maintainers regularly relocate small sections of the path around hazards or undesirable features or off private property. When your map or guidebook indicates one route, and the blazes show another, follow the blazes.” White Blazes

With three types of navigational aids and two pairs of eyes, we should do just fine in getting from Point A to Point B without getting lost!

Help! What Gear Do We Need?

We will be hiking in the woods for two months this fall. Everything we need will be carried on our backs, which means we must find light weight gear at the lowest possible price. That, of course, is always the dilemma: in the outdoor equipment world, the lighter the gear, the higher the price. In addition, there are a zillion gadgets and doodads available, to make life more comfortable while living outdoors. Well…more comfortable in camp, but every extra ounce makes the hiking more painful. HELP! How do we sort through all the options and find the best balance between weight and comfort and price?

We are among the lucky ones. We have not just one but two REI stores right here in town. What? You don’t recognize REI? It carries a wonderland of gear for every imaginable outdoor adventure. Don’t worry, the folks working here are friendly and full of information. Most of them will encourage your adventures (no matter how crazy) and will patiently answer a million questions. Let me introduce you:

Welcome to REI--doorway to adventure!

Welcome to REI–doorway to outdoor  adventures in every season!

We started our quest with the most important piece of gear: boots. For a long distance hike, we need footwear that is sturdy, gives good support, and is both breathable and waterproof. Most important of all, these boots must be comfortable. Unfortunately, the purple boots were too narrow for daughter to stuff her feet into. But she quickly found a comfy pair that at least has lavender laces and purple trim! Shoe shopping for me is usually a Goldilocks story: this pair is too tight, that pair rubs my anklebone, the other pair cramps my toes. Ahhh…but with the advice of an REI expert, the second pair of boots I tried on fit “just right.”

So many choices of boots

So many choices of boots

A few weeks later, we returned to the store to find a backpack for each of us. Our friendly REI worker measured our backs and explained the nuances of a proper fit. Again, daughter quickly found a pack that is comfortable. She loves that it is bright green with a big yellow (silk) flower attached. I love that the frame is adjustable, just in case she grows another inch or two in the future. It took me longer than finding boots, but eventually I found a pack that has a long enough hip belt, comfortable shoulder straps, and ventilation behind my back.

A Rainbow of Backpacks--in every size, style and color!

A Rainbow of Backpacks–in every size, style and color!

Finally, we had to choose a sleeping bag and tent. Who knew that there were so many options?! REI has a handy-dandy bench on which to lay out a pad and sleeping bag, then climb in to try it out. I was relieved to find a modified mummy bag: I hate being wrapped tightly at night! We also piled into a tent to check the space. Yep, it is worth the extra weight to gain a few extra inches of floor space since daughter is a restless sleeper.

Try out the gear--right on the sales floor at REI!

Try out the gear–right on the sales floor at REI!

In choosing gear, it is certainly possible to do online research and make online purchases to save pennies here and there. But I have become a loyal REI member: all products returnable for up to one year, generally competitive prices, and the ability to test out and try on everything in the store. Best of all, the staff is WONDERFUL! Check them out next time YOU are considering an Epic Outdoor Adventure!

THANKS for your patience in answering a zillion questions over a million visits, Mark!

THANKS for your patience in answering a zillion questions over a million visits, Mark!

(Details of our gear list can be found on Trail Journals HERE. Product reviews and specifications can be found at the REI website HERE. Note: I have no affiliation with REI…I just love the store, its products and its staff!)

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