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!

EnLIGHTened Equipment Quilts

These 2 quilts are hands-down the best sleeping equipment I have ever purchased. I really can’t say enough about this company. This is a cottage-industry company that makes your quilt to order. You choose the color, the size, and the temp rating, and then they create your quilt for you. They will even do custom work for a fee. If you email them with questions, the owner Tim will email you back promptly (sometimes within minutes). I have 3 quilts from them already, including a children’s size for my son!

In order to save the customer some money, they offer 2 of their models in “X” configurations. X-models use cosmetic second 30D nylon shells in lieu of the normal 10D and 15D shells. I’ve looked very closely and can’t find these cosmetic flaws on my quilts. The workmanship on these quilts is impeccable. Tim and his small army of home-based quilters seem to take great pride in their work. Definitely check out Enlightened Equipment!

RevelationX, 10deg, 6′ length, Extra Wide, $235

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Let me open by saying that this is a 2012 model. There have been a few upgrades for 2013 that I will try to touch on as I go. As I said before, the “X” models use cosmetic 2nd 30D nylon shells. These fabrics are still completely functional, and the cosmetic flaws are impossible to find on my 3 quilts. A 10 or 15D shell would have slightly better skin feel, but at the lower price I can’t complain about the 30D.

The quilt uses around 18oz of 850 Down insulation, with a total weight of 27.3oz on my scale. This thing lofts up like crazy! Tim’s specs say 3″, but it’s more than that. The quilt uses a system called “Karo Step Baffles” to keep the down in place. This system creates a grid of boxes that are open in the corners. If you pat and knead the quilt, you can move the down around to create customized insulation zones. The “Karo Step Baffles” do keep the down in place while sleeping, but I’ve noticed that the down shifts a lot when you stuff the quilt into your pack. The 2013 model has longer baffles with smaller openings to limit this effect.

My quilt was is an “Extra Wide” in the 6′ height configuration. “Extra Wide” no longer appears as an option on the website, but Tim will make custom sizes for a small fee. HOWEVER, Between all the height and width options, you have 9 sizes to choose from already. There is bound to be one that fits. I had to get Extra Wide because I’m much fatter than your average backpacker, haha. The 6′ height is very generous. I am around 5’11” and I can get the quilt up over my head comfortably.

The footbox zipper, snaps, and drawstrings all function well. The 2012 model incorporates a system of grosgrain loops and shock cords to cinch the quilt around your body when the mercury really drops. I’ve never needed to use them because I have a 10deg quilt and haven’t had the chance to use it below 30deg yet. The system appears to be functional, but annoying. The 2013 uses a system of elastic bands to attach the quilt to your pad. This seems much more user-friendly (my ProdigyX uses this system). Other minor changes for 2013: A brand label and included stuff sacks.

I’ve used this quilt a few times in temps from 30-40 degrees. At temps near 40, I broiled under this quilt. I ended up unzipping the footbox to let some heat out. At temps closer to 30 I was still toasty warm, even without the shock cord system. I believe that this quilt would definitely be warm in the 20’s (and possibly below). If you sleep a little on the warm side, the 10deg rating is probably spot on.

Update: I used this quilt on a 17 degree night, and I was toasty warm (even without lashing it around my body with shock cord). I was pretty happy… until the condensation from my TarpTent wet everything out, haha. It got a little chilly at that point!

Sleeping bags have always been the biggest problem area in my backpacking system, but I think I finally found something that is perfect for me!

ProdigyX, 40deg, 6′ length, Wide, $145

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Since my 10deg quilt is complete overkill for Pennsylvania summers, I decided to purchase something a bit lighter. This time I bought a 2013 40deg ProdigyX. This quilt is identical to the RevX model in most ways, but the biggest difference is the insulation. Rather than 850 down, this quilt uses 4oz/sq yd. Climashield Apex synthetic insulation. I decided to use synthetic in the summer because I’m usually a sweaty dirtbag during the hot season. I cowboy camp when possible, and an unexpected shower would be bad news for a down quilt. I chose the 40deg over the 50deg “just in case”. A 50deg quilt might not be quite enough for me because I tend to sleep on the cold side. My down jacket usually gets left at home on summer trips, so I don’t have anything for backup if it gets chilly on an exposed ridge. Hence, I decided on 40deg.

This quilt weighs in at 22.0oz without the elastic straps, which I don’t plan on carrying in the summer. The “wide” width was good enough in this case because I’m only going to carry it on warm trips and won’t have to worry too much about in-leakage of cold air. In my 60 degree living room, this quilt is almost too warm, but I haven’t had a chance to use it in the field yet. Update: With a little help from my down jacket, this 40-Deg quilt kept me warm all the way down to 29 degrees! I wasn’t super toasty, but I was comfortable enough to get a good night’s sleep. Very happy with this quilt!