Small Business Saturday Gift Guide

  
I’m a little late to the game this year, but I wanted to remind you all that today is Small Business Saturday and encourage you to support small businesses. To help you along, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites.

Hiking and Camping Gear

  • Gossamer Gear makes great ultralight backpacks, shelters, and trekking poles. My personal favorites are the Kumo and Type 2 backpacks.
  • ZPacks specializes in all things cuben fiber: Shelters, packs, rain gear, and accessories. I love their stuff sacks anad dry bags. 
  • Warbonnet Outdoors makes high quality backpacking hammocks and accessories. Their Traveler hammock and Yeti Underquilt have worked great for me!
  • Dutchware Gear creates innovative hardware and accessories for your hammock and tarp. You won’t realize how badly you needed their stuff until you try it!

Apparel

  • Purple Rain Adventure Skirts makes high quality hiking skirts. If you’re gonna go hiking, you better be comfortable. I never hit the trail without mine! 
  • Hiker Trash makes T-shirts, hats, and other accessories for the hiker trash inside all of us. Fun designs you should check out. 

Dog Gear

  • TurboPUP produces high quality meal replacement bars for you dog. Never fumble with ziploc bags of kibble again. Just  grab some bars, and you’re set for your hike or road trip. 
  • Groundbird Gear makes lightweight backpacks that are custom fit to YOUR dog. They’re built by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who focuses on making functional packs without the excess stuff you won’t need.

Disclaimer: I am currently a TurboPUP Brand Ambassador, and was previously a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. I have also done gear testing for Groundbird Gear and Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. None of these companies have asked to be listed here, and they had no preview nor editorial control of this post. All opinions contained here are my own.

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My Hammock System (Version 1.0)

This year, my backpacking kit took an evolutionary leap that I never expected: I picked up a hammock. I’d always said I wouldn’t do it. I couldn’t imagine a hammock system that wouldn’t detrimentally affect my bottom line (read: “Base Pack Weight”). My friends’ systems seemed heavy, and some internet research didn’t yield very promising results. Sleeping on the ground under my Cuben Fiber tarp was lighter, no matter how you sliced it.

While planning my summer trip to the White Mountains, I started researching campsites for the Pemi Loop. The AMC Campsites were prone to filling up on summer weekends, and finding LNT-friendly “stealth” camping options (at least ones that were large and flat enough for our group to camp together) would have been tricky. One of my cohorts for this trip, “other” Dan, is a hammocker, and I began thinking that a hammock might be the answer. We wouldn’t need to find a flat spot to make camp, and that extra freedom would be lovely.

I began searching for a light and cost-effective hammock system. Either I’ve gotten REALLY good at gear shopping over the years, or I got really lucky. I had my entire system chosen and outlined within a few days. 

Hammock (17oz, $70)

I chose the Warbonnet Outdoors Traveler. This is a fairly straightforward gathered-end hammock. The 1.1oz Double-Layer version is rated up to 275lbs, which is plenty to support me(240lbs) and any stuff I may bring to bed with me. It also allows me to slide a CCF pad between the two layers for added bottom insulation in cold weather. I spent the extra $10 for the Whoopie Sling suspension, which is lighter than adjustable webbing straps, but still easy to use. The Traveler also has a Structural Ridge Line, which makes tensioning the hammock much easier. The SRL is also handy for hanging socks and things to dry. I picked up a few Metolius FS Mini Wiregate Biners (1.8oz for the pair) to connect the Whoopie Slings to the tree straps.

Tarp (5oz, $60)

I made out like a bandit on this tarp. I got a Mountain Laurel Designs UL Asym Hammock Tarp. I got this tarp at a closeout price because MLD wasn’t making the Spinnaker version anymore. This is just as light as their current cuben fiber version, but I saved a ton of money. This is a very minimalist tarp, which is designed to provide the best coverage when you are laying diagonally in your hammock. I made some slight modifications to save weight (cut off the LineLoc tensioners and switched to lighter guy lines. I haven’t encountered any real rain with this hammock yet, so I’ll withhold my opinions until I have a little more experience. 

Underquilt (12oz, $190)

I went with a Warbonnet Yeti 3-season under quilt. This torso length quilt weighs in at 12oz on my scales. It attaches very easily to my hammock (takes less than 30 seconds), and has kept me toasty warm down to about 40degrees with no additional bottom insulation. I used it in the 30’s once also (with a Gossamer Gear NightLight under my legs), and was also very warm. This quilt is very easy to reposition while laying in your hammock. 

This system seems to be working pretty well for 3-season use so far. I may need to adjust my bottom insulation when winter rolls around, but for now, it’s good. This setup is about a pound heavier than my old ground-based sleep/shelter system, but it’s worth it. I’ve never slept so well on the ground, as I do in my hammock. Do any of you hammock? I’m always looking for suggestions!

John P. Saylor Trail Gear and Food List

The John P. Saylor Trail is a very short backpacking trail in central Pennsylvania. At 17 miles long, I could very easily complete it as a day hike, but I need a quick getaway and a chance to test out my new hammock set-up. This will be an overall dry run of my gear for this year’s Spring/Summer/Fall backpacking seasons. I’ll run through a few highlights for you, but the complete list (including food) can be found HERE if you just want the hard numbers.

Shelter and Sleeping

I’ve sold my trusty ZPacks Hexamid and picked up a new hammock system for this season. The hammock is a Warbonnet Outdoors Traveler. This is a very simple gathered-end hammock, but the quality seems pretty good at first glance. I chose the Double Layer 1.1 variant with whoopie sling suspension, which weighs in at 17oz. I chose a double layer because it creates options for using a sleeping pad to supplement my bottom insulation.

Speaking of bottom insulation, I’m taking a 2 pronged approach. As my primary insulation, I went with a Warbonnet Outdoors Yeti 3-Season Underquilt. This is a torso length under quilt that weighs in around 12oz. The Yeti is made of DWR-coated ripstop nylon and filled with 6.5oz of 850 down. According to the manufacturer, this quilt can be used down to 20 degrees. To supplement this quilt in colder weather, I’ll be using a Gossamer Gear Nightlight sleeping pad under my legs.  As weather warms up and I get more comfortable using this setup, I’ll probably leave the pad and quilt at home (for a weight savings of a full pound), but for now I’m bringing it all along.

My top insulation will be my Enlightened Equipment Revelation X quilt. I’ve reviewed this before, so I won’t bore you with the details again.

 Overhead, I’ll be hanging a Mountain Laurel Designs UL Hammock Tarp. This tarp wasn’t my first choice. Don’t get me wrong, MLD’s quality is top notch, but this tarp provides VERY minimal coverage and requires me to pitch it perfectly every single time. I worry that I don’t have enough practice with it yet. The tarp is also constructed of Spinnaker, which is very light, but also very noisy in the wind. I would have preferred a larger cuben fiber tarp, but the price became the deciding factor. Hopefully, with some practice this tarp will grow on me, and I won’t have to spend money to buy different one.

I’ll write a more complete review of this system after I get some field experience with it.

Cooking

After a solid year of use, I’ve retired my Trail Designs Caldera Cone Ti-Tri System. I had a good run with it, and it performs very well, but the pot, cone, and stove combined for a total weight of about 6oz. The system I’ll describe below only weighs 2.2oz.  I’ve decided that the fuel efficiency isn’t worth the added weight. I typically backpack for no more than 5 days at a time, so rationing fuel isn’t a critical point for me. My “new” cooking system is actually one of my old systems. I’ll be using an Esbit Titanium Wing Stove (0.5oz). In spite of the fact that Esbit solid fuel stinks and makes the bottom of your pot filthy, I’ve come to like the simplicity. The tablets don’t require me to carry the added weight of a fuel bottle. They can also be blown out and used later, which is very simple and convenient. With an alcohol stove, I either had to let excess fuel burn itself out (a waste) or snuff out the stove and try to pour the unused fuel back into the bottle (a hassle). My pot is a 2-cup flat-bottom Foster’s beer can pot made by Zelph (1.2oz). Around that, I’ll be wrapping a simple windscreen made from aluminum flashing (0.5oz). This is a very simple system that has worked well for me in the past, and I’m looking forward to using it again.

Food

Since this is a very short trip, I decided to stick to my normal day-to-day diet. I’m currently having success with Weight Watchers, so I didn’t want to jeopardize that progress. The food I packed for this trip isn’t necessarily extremely healthy, but I did account for everything in the WW system.  I only packed about 800 calories per day. I’ll be able to eat breakfast before I leave the house on Day 1, and I’ll be back to my car by lunch on Day 2. This will allow me to keep my food bag light. I didn’t do a particularly great job keeping my food’s average Calories/Ounce high (only 103 cal/oz), but on a trip like this, that’s OK.

I’ll be carrying 2 Muscle Milk meal replacement bars that I picked up as part of a promotion at GNC. I didn’t know what else I would use them for, so they will be Day 1 lunch and Day 2 breakfast . I packed a granola bar and some cashews to curb my mid-hike munchies. For dinner, I packed Minute Rice Multi-Grain Medley (quinoa, brown rice, red rice, and wild rice), which along with a tuna packet, will be my dinner. Some of my favorite Easter candy also made it into the mix (Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs and Cadbury Caramel Eggs).

I’ll check back with you after my hike and let you know how it all worked!

Hike Prep: Loyalsock-Link Loop

Loyalsock Canyon Vista in summer.

This weekend I’ll be leading a great group from Berks-Lehigh Hiking and Backpacking on a 25-mile, 1-night hike on the Loyalsock-Link Loop in Pennyslvania’s Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. This hike will start at the eastern terminus of the Loyalsock Trail. When we reach Worlds End, we’ll pick up the Link Trail and head more or less back the way we came. We’ll rejoin the Loyalsock Trail and hike back to the cars.

Gear Choices

The weather forecast is still in flux. I’ve seen forecasted overnight lows ranging everywhere from 9-30 degrees, so I’m going to plan for 9 degrees. This might make me carry some things I might not end up needing, but I want to get my packing done early. My total bas weight will be right around 10lbs for this trip.The extra gear will also give me an opportunity to use my Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack, which normally has too much volume for my purposes. I haven’t really had the chance to give this pack a fair trial, and I’m looking forward to carrying it.

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My Gorilla: Packed and Ready to Go

My shelter as (almost) always will be my Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tarp. In order to help cut the cold wind, contain a little extra heat, and add some extra protection from precipitation, I’ll be supplementing my tarp with a Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy. The Long/Wide size only weighs 9oz, but provides enough space for me and my dog.

For sleeping, I will be using 2 pads. My Exped SynMat UL 7 is pretty warm but isn’t quite enough, if the temps drop into the teens. I’ll be adding a torso length Z-Lite Pad to provide a little extra insulation. I’ll be covering up with a 10 degree Enlightened Equipment RevelationX quilt. A balaclava and all my layers can provide a little extra boost just in case the mercury really starts to drop.

Since I’ll be freezer bag cooking, my cook system’s main purpose will be boiling water. For that job, the Trail Designs Caldera Cone Ti-Tri and Gram Cracker stove suit my needs perfectly. Esbit isn’t usually my fuel of choice, but I was out of alcohol. This decision was based on laziness, but it actually saved me about an ounce of weight. The Gram Cracker is lighter than my alcohol stove, and this way I won’t need to carry the weight of a fuel bottle.

Those were just the basic highlights, but you can check out my complete gear list HERE. As always, thanks for reading!

Hike Prep: 3 Days on the Allegheny Front Trail

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A signpost from my last hike on the AFT.

“The Allegheny Front Trail, or the AFT as it is commonly called, is a relatively new addition to the trails of Pennsylvania. The trail encircles Black Moshannon State Park and offers a number of vistas as well as excursions down off of the Allegheny Plateau along some very scenic mountain streams. Being nearly 42 miles in length, it is a nice trail for backpacking that could be done in as little as three days but more typically done in four or five.”PAHikes.com

This was the first trail I hiked after my foot surgery 2 years ago, and it was a defining experience in my backpacking evolution. After 4 days of walking on a sore, beat-up, slightly deformed foot, I made a promise to myself. I vowed to lighten my pack load drastically, so that my next trip would be more enjoyable. So, this hike will be a coming-of-age journey in my Ultralight career. This time, with members of in tow, I plan on shaving an entire day off my previous trip, while feeling better and having more fun at the same time.

I plan on pushing all of my gear a bit past the temperature ratings in order to save weight. With forecasted lows in the 30’s, I will carry my 40 degree quilt and my uninsulated pad. I’ll wear all my extra layers to bed to give my sleeping gear a boost.

Here are my gear highlights (all weights from my scales, not manufacturer specs)!

Check out my COMPLETE GEAR LIST!

I’ll be eating a lot of Pack-It Gourmet on this trip. They aren’t the most efficient meals to pack (lots of packaging, low calories per ounce), but many of them are damn delicious! For this 3-day trip, I’ll be packing 2 breakfasts and 2 dinners. I plan on eating a big breakfast before hitting the trail on Day 1 and a big lunch/dinner after finishing on Day 3, so I can eliminate the weight of those meals from my pack. I don’t usually pack full lunches because I snack pretty much all day while I hike. Here’s an overview of my menu (weights include packaging):

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My meals from Pack-It Gourmet

  • Breakfast 1: Pack-It Gourmet Creamy Italian Polenta (4.4oz, 260 cal, 59 cal/oz)
  • Breakfast 2: Pack-It Gourmet Santa Fe Breakfast Corn Pudding (4.6oz, 320 cal, 70cal/oz)
  • Dinner 1:  Pack-It Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili (6.8oz, 570 cal, 84 cal/oz)
  • Dinner 2: Pack-It Gourmet All-American Burger Wrap with The Works (5.6oz, 470 cal, 84 cal/oz)

The Burger Wrap is a “Bring Your Own Bread” meal, so I will bring 2 tortillas.

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My Pro Bars: Superfood Slam, Superfruit Slam, and Koka Moka

I’ll be packing three Pro Bars to snack on. They are 3oz each, and average about 120cal/oz. The two flavors I’ve tried already were pretty good, so I’m excited to give these three a whirl! In addition to the bars, I plan on visiting my local butcher for 8-12oz of their homemade summer sausage. Since it won’t be too warm, there will definitely be some cheese in the mix… I’m thinking gruyere. To round out my menu, I’ll toss in some good old fashioned trail mix and some chocolate. I will also pack a few tablespoons of olive oil to add some flavor and healthy fats to my meals. For my morning coffee, I’m packing Starbucks VIA French Vanilla instant coffee. At almost $1 per serving, they are kind of expensive, but I only splurge for backpacking trips. Depending on my final weights, I might repackage a bottle of wine into my PlatyPreserve.

This post isn’t finished yet! I’ll be updating it with pics, video, and info as I get deeper into the packing process!

Cheap and Free Ultralight Gear

So you want to try ultralight backpacking, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a new hobby? In this article you’ll find sturdy, lightweight “alternative” gear that won’t break the bank.

Finding newer and lighter gear inevitably means spending more money, but there are areas of your ultralight backpacking system that can be improved cheap (or even free) items around the house.

Camp Kitchen

Stoves: You can make your own camp stove out of an empty soda can or even a cat food can! These weigh less than an ounce and have no parts that can fail in the field (valves, seals, etc), and unlike conventional stoves, the fuel (HEET or denatured alcohol) can be found in most gas stations/hardware stores, if you need to resupply mid-hike. The bottom line: $0.50-$1.00!

Water Bottles: Any plastic bottle will do! Many backpackers like to use SmartWater or Gatorade bottles from the grocery/convenience store. These are MUCH lighter than Nalgene bottles or CamelBak reservoirs, plus have one added advantage: If it gets scuzzy or gross, just recycle it and pick up a new one! Small ones also work as a flask (for your backcountry cocktail needs) or a fuel bottle for your alcohol stove (Just be sure to label it properly!). Bottom Line: $1-$2!

Cutlery: I love my long titanium spoon, but $7-$20 might be a little steep, if you’re trying to assemble a full backpacking kit on a budget. For short trips, “borrow” a sturdy plastic spoon and/or fork from a fast food joint. It’s even lighter than my titanium spoon, and you can just toss it when it gets ratty. Bottom line: FREE!

Condiments: Full bottles of condiments and spices can be cumbersome and heavy. “Borrow” ketchup, mustard, mayo, jelly, sugar, salt, and pepper packets when you visit restaurants. That way you only pack what you absolutely need. Bottom Line: FREE!

Hygiene

  • Toothbrush: Sounds dorky, but cut one in half to save size and weight ($1)
  • Toothpaste: Make toothpaste dots! (Free! you have toothpaste at home anyway!)
  • Hand Sanitizer: Smallest bottle humanly possible ($1)
  • Soap: Dr. Bronners or Coghlan’s soap (Both cost about $3 for 2oz). Repackage into smaller bottles to save weight ($0.25 or free if you reuse household dropper bottles).
  • Toilet paper: Pull a few days worth off your roll at home. Package in a ziploc (free!).
  • Trowel: Use a stick or one of your tent stakes instead! (free!)

Tools and First Aid

Knife: This one isn’t for everyone, but I’ve learned that I almost never need a knife while backpacking. At most, I use it to cut cord, bandages, moleskin, or to open food packaging. I pack either a utility knife blade or a single edge razor blade as my “sharp thing”. You can make a little sheathe from a cereal or granola bar box! Bottom Line: Pennies!

First Aid Kit: People tend to go overboard when it comes to these. First and foremost, don’t pack items beyond your level of training. Just because Cabela’s sells backcountry staple/suture kits, doesn’t mean you have the skills to use it. Also, snake bite kits are useless. Make your own first aid kit! You can also use other gear (trek poles, clothes, utility cord) to pull double duty for first aid. Start with a Ziploc baggie. Fill it with:

  • 5-10 Band-aids (various sizes)
  • 2 sterile gauze pads
  • Smallest roll of athletic tape you can find
  • A few single-use packets of triple antibiotic ointment, alcohol pads, hydrocortisone, etc
  • 2 or 3 butterfly closures
  • Precut moleskin for blisters
  • A few doses of ibuprofen, anti-diarrheal, and any prescription meds you need.

Bottom Line: $10 at most

Repair Kit: 

  1. Wrap a few feet of duct tape around your water bottles or trek poles. Use it to patch holes in just about anything. Even works for first aid (in a pinch). Don’t bring the whole roll!
  2. If you like to have a sewing kit, pack a few feet of dental floss and a needle. Floss is stronger than common thread and works great for field repairs. Don’t bring the plastic container!
  3. Superglue: Fixes everything from gear to lacerations!
  4. Utility cord: 50 feet is enough to replace shoe laces, fix your tent’s guy line, and hang a bear bag! ($13 for the stuff I use).

Bottom line: Even with the expensive cord I use, less than $25.

Do you have any more suggestions?

Katabatic Gear Bristlecone Bivy

This ultralight bivy (Size Tested: Regular Wide) weighed in at 9.1oz on my scale. It has a Silnylon floor with an eVent top and a mesh screen over the head. This bivy also has stake out loops and a tie-up loop to keep the fabric off your face. The zipper goes 1/4 of the way down the bivy, so you don’t have to wiggle and shimmy into it. The Wide width is absolutely HUGE inside. I fit my 3″ thick inflatable pad, my 10 degree quilt, and my ample belly inside AND still had room to spare. I could have fit my pack and extra gear in there with me and still been comfy. I’m actually considering getting a Regular width for summer because the wide will be completely unnecessary with my thinner sleeping gear.

At first glance, my favorite detail was the sleeping pad tie-down system. This is meant to limit the inevitable slip caused by Silnylon floors, however I found that this alone was inadequate. My tarp actually got knocked down twice because my pad slid over, and my leg pushed my trek pole over. I’m going to add some SilNet stripes inside to limit slip on my next trip.

We had a rainy night, and the windblown rain beaded up nicely on the eVent upper. It did get damp inside after the tarp collapses, but the eVent isn’t made to take a real soaking like that. I’m confident that the bivy would remain dry under normal use. The large mesh area at the head created a nice airflow in the bivy, which along with the breathable eVent will help limit condensation in most situations.

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(Stock Photo from katabaticgear.com)