Snowy hike to the Pinnacle

On Friday (1/30), My dog Pickle and I took a snowy hike on the Pinnacle and Pulpit Loop. This route uses the Appalachian Trail and a blue-blaze to form an 8.7 mile loop and goes by the two best vistas on the AT in Pennsylvania: The Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock. Check out this gallery of photos!

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Gossamer Gear Jamboree

From January 16-20, I attended a gathering of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors in Moab, Utah. Trail Ambassadors from all over the country gathered to hike and hang out for a few days, and it was a blast! Read my full write-up over on the Gossamer Gear Blog! Also, check out hashtag #GGUtahAdventures on Instagram!

TurboPUP to Appear on ABC’s Shark Tank

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My good friends (and Pickle’s hiking food sponsors) over at TurboPUP have made a cool announcement! They’ll be appearing on this Friday’s episode of Shark Tank on ABC!

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, people with business or product ideas pitch their plans to a panel of high profile investors (AKA Sharks). Their ultimate goal is to convince one of the sharks to invest in their company.

I wish Kristina and her dog Odin the best of luck on the show, and I urge you all to watch on Friday 1/16 at 9ET/10PT!

The New Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack

I recently had a chance to try out my new, upgraded version of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack. Typically a pack like this is a little too big (volume-wise) for my short weekend jaunts, but when colder weather rolls around I end up needing a bigger pack (cold-weather hammocking required a LOT of insulation). With expected overnight temps in the mid-twenties, I thought my 3-night hike on the Loyalsock Trail would be a great test for this pack.

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

With a Total Pack Weight (Gear + Consumables) of roughly 25lbs at the beginning of the hike, I initially thought that the Gorilla was very uncomfortable. I tried adjusting the hip belt and shoulder harness, but it never really got better. While taking a break near the end of the second day, I saw the problem: I had installed the aluminum stay backwards. This stay is meant to contour your back and transfer weight to your hips, and installing it backwards created a VERY uncomfortable situation. Once I fixed my mistake, The Gorilla became extremely comfy. The stay and padded hip belt kept the load resting nicely on my hips and off of my shoulders.

The new shoulder harness was much softer and more breathable than in the previous version of the Gorilla (the old shoulder straps used to rub my neck a little). The shoulder straps are also a more ergonomic shape. They were designed specifically with women in mind, as an attempt to create a truly unisex pack. I can’t speak to their success in that endeavor, but they did make the harness more comfortable for me (a burly, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, fat man). My only complaint as a “wide” individual is that there wasn’t enough slack in the harness to give me a great range of adjustment options. I was plenty comfortable, but I had to keep the straps at nearly their maximum length. This made it impossible for me to utilize the rib strap, which was a disappointment because I love using the rib straps on my other GG packs. I did get a chance to briefly discuss this with Gossamer Gear, and it seemed like they were aware of the issue and planning to fix it in future production runs. Even though I was a little disappointed, this was not a deal breaker. I’m an odd shape for a backpacker, and I’ve become used to the fact that 99% of gear isn’t designed for a person of my body type.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basic dimensions and shape of the pack remain similar to the previous versions, a few other things have changed for the better. The old shock cord compression system was replaced with adjustable compression straps, which (in my opinion) are much more functional. The cord and LineLoc buckles, which used to secure the Over-The-Top lid, were also replaced with webbing straps. The straps make the pack closure just a tiny bit simpler to adjust.

The new Robic Nylon fabric is a nice improvement over the old Dyneema Gridstop. Not only is the Robic nylon much prettier to look at, but it is also very tough and seemed to be fairly water resistant.

The new Gorilla also features trekking pole holders, which make it easy to secure your poles to the pack when you’re not using them. I used this feature a lot because I don’t use my poles that much. The system keeps the poles very secure while hiking, but you have to be careful when you set the pack down on the ground because the tips of the poles can get pushed out of the holders.

All-in-all, the upgraded Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a fine pack, and I plan on using it through the winter. If you liked the previous version of the Gorilla, you will love this one. It is a much more polished product, which I find to be more comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. If you get a chance, check it out!

Disclaimer: As a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, I received this pack free of charge. I was not obligated in any way to write this review, and all thoughts and opinions contained herein are my own. Gossamer Gear had no editorial input into the writing of this review.

Small Business Saturday

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! With Holiday Shopping Season fast approaching, I just wanted to remind everyone to support small businesses this year. There are tons of them in the outdoors industry, and they need and deserve your support! Here are a few of my favorites:

Gossamer Gear – Ultralight Backpacks, Trekking Poles, and Shelters

TurboPUP – Complete Meal Bars for your furry hiking companion

Warbonnet Outdoors – Hammocks and Hammock Accessories

Dutchware – Titanium hammock hardware and other odds and ends

East Ridge Outfitters – My favorite local gear shop, located in Blandon, PA

ZPacks – Cuben Fiber Packs, Shelters, and Accessories

Hikertrash – Apparel for the fashion forward hiker

Ground bird Gear – Custom backpacks for your trail dog

Remember to shop small this holiday season!

Hike Prep: The Loyalsock Trail

Sixteen months after my epically embarrassing bail five miles into the Loyalsock Trail, I’m ready to give it another go. There aren’t any stomach bugs floating around my house this year, and I’m in much better shape. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to finish this hike strongly.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

For those who aren’t aware, the Loyalsock Trail is a 59.2-mile-long backpacking trail in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. It starts north of Montoursville, PA along PA-87 and ends north of Laporte, PA at US-202, and it’s traditionally hiked Eastbound. Following the trail is very easy as it travels through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. Yellow plastic discs are emblazoned with a red “LT” and affixed to trees at very regular intervals along the trail. Signs are also available at many road crossings and some trail intersections.

My companions from Berks-Lehigh Hiking & Backpacking and I will be hiking this trail “backwards” (Westbound), with estimated mileage splits of 9/22/17/11. We’re aiming to camp with my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Brian Horst at Mile 11. This will be my group’s final night on the Loyalsock Trail and the first night of Brian’s Eastbound hike with his group from DC UL Meetup.

My Gear Selection

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a test run of my winter kit on this trip. It’s still a little too far out for the forecast to be reliable, but I’d say that overnight temps could end up being anywhere from 25-45F. These temperatures won’t push my gear to the limit, but they will give be a good idea of what things I need to tweak before winter arrives.

For those who are interested in the raw numbers, you can view my complete Gear and Food ListUPDATED 11/5/14 – Added a backup battery for my phone and an extra fleece layer. 11.6lb Base Pack Weight… yikes!

My primary addition for winter will be the Gossamer Gear Thinlight (59″ x 39″ x 1/4″, 9.6oz) pad. This unassuming piece of gear will play a pivotal role in keeping me warm in my hammock.  When slid between the two layers of my Warbonnet Traveler hammock, it will help insulate me against convective heat loss (heat taken away by the air moving beneath you). I plan on using this in tandem with my Warbonnet Yeti and am hoping to be able to push the combination down to at least 10 degrees. to keep me warm on top, I’ll be using my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment top-quilt.

Instead of using my beloved Aquamira to treat water on this trip, I’ve picked up a Sawyer Mini filter. This filter is made to screw onto the top of a flexible reservoir. Once the reservoir is filled, you screw the filter on, then squeeze the reservoir to force water through. Since this fits my 2L Platy Bottle (which I take on every trip anyway), I’m going to leave the Sawyer reservoir at home. To maintain the filter, you just fill the supplied plunger-style syringe with clean water and force it through the filter in the reverse direction of normal flow (called “backflushing”). The filter and syringe combine for a total weight of 2.6oz.

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Sawyer Mini filter with cleaning plunger.

Because we’ll be getting a late start on Day 1, we’re going to have to hike nearly 9 miles in the dark. Even though I love my 1-ounce Petzl e+Lite headlamp, it isn’t bright enough for any kind of real night hiking. That’s why I’ll be carrying my Petzl MYO RXP headlamp. I picked this lamp up a few years ago (for use on night hikes), and it is VERY bright. It does a great job of lighting up the trail, but it is also VERY heavy, weighing in at 6.2oz. I’d never carry this lamp unless I absolutely needed it.

Since I’ll be carrying heavier, bulkier gear and 4 days worth of food(10.4lb Base Pack Weight, 19.6lbs BPW+Consumables), I’ll need a bigger pack to put everything in! That’s where my brand new Gossamer Gear Gorilla comes into play. This pack has 10 liters more volume than my usual pack (the previous model of the Gossamer Gear Murmur), and it also has an aluminum stay to help transfer the weight of the pack to my hips. The Gorilla was completely redesigned this year, and I’m excited to finally get it out on the trail.

Food Selection

Dinner on night one will be an Italian hoagie. It’s heavy to schlep into the woods, but it will be delicious and well worth carrying. The other two nights, I will be enjoying a high-class meal consisting of instant mashed potatoes and Spam prepared and served in a freezer bag.

For simplicity’s sake, I will be eating the same thing from breakfast and lunch every day: a tortilla with Justin’s Almond Butter and Bacon Jerky. This may seem like an odd combination, but it has become one of my favorite trail foods this year. It is easy to prepare, and there is no cleanup at all. To me, those are both trademarks of the perfect hiking meal. Just squeeze the almond butter out of the packet, slap on some bacon jerky, wrap it up, and eat while you hike!

My snacks will include an entire bag of Fritos, a block of cheddar cheese, chocolate covered coconut chips and chia bars. I’ll also be bringing along some of the dietary supplements I use during my gym training (Whey Protein Isolate, BCAA’s, and a Sleep/recovery aid).

My Hammock System (Version 1.1)

As a relatively new “hanger”, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the joys of camping in a hammock, but I know that I’ve still got a lot to learn. With only a few trips’ worth of hammocking experience under my belt, I’m not quite ready to dump money into a whole lot of flashy upgrades. However, I have found a few economically priced tweaks that could make my current system more functional and easier to use.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my set-up, here is a quick list of the major components:

My hammock setup

My Hammock Setup (Version 1.0)

New Tarp Guys and Hardware

In true gram weenie style, I had immediately dismissed the need for any tensioning hardware in my original set-up. I also chucked the “heavy” cord that came with the tarp and replaced it with the much thinner, lighter ZPacks Z-Line cord that I already had at home. I learned a few fancy new knots and figured that I was good to go. I was wrong. Trying to tie knots in skinny cord with cold fingers turned out to be really hard. Things got even more difficult when it was windy and that skinny, light line blew all over the place. I had officially gone “stupid light”.

As I was perusing tons of hammock websites, looking for insulation ideas for the approaching winter, I discovered a simple solution to my problem: The Continuous Ridgeline. Instead of a separate cord at each end of the tarp, the CRL is a single piece of cord that runs between both trees. The tarp is then affixed to that cord via hardware or shorter cords using prusik knots. This setup makes it much simpler to center the tarp over the hammock because you can just slide it along the ridgeline, instead of having to untie/re-tie knots.

Being a generally lazy person, I opted to purchase a CRL kit from DutchWare (which, as it turns out, is located just one county over). The DutchWare Continuous Ridge Line kit is comprised of a 30-foot section of 1.75mm urethane-coated Dyneema cord (DutchWare calls it Lash-It or Zing-It depending on color) with a “Dutch Hook” connector spliced on one end and a “Tarp Wasp” near the other end. Two “Soft Shackles” (made of the same 1.75mm cord) act like prusiks to adjust the position of the tarp on the ridge line. Weighing 0.7oz, this kit is only 0.2oz heavier than my “Version 1.0” guy lines. That tiny weight penalty is well forth it for all the hassle I’d be saving myself.

New Hammock Suspension

While browsing the DutchWare site, I came across something else interesting to tweak my hang. I currently use the stock whoopie sling suspension on my Warbonnet Traveler. The whoopie slings are girth hitched to the ends of the hammock. You clip the whoopies to the tree straps with carabiners, tension them, and you’re done. This system works well, but in an attempt to perfect my hang, I ordered something new.

DutchWare’s Whoopie Hook Suspension is only subtly different. Their slings come with a small titanium hook spliced onto the adjustable end. After removing the old suspension (just a matter of untying a few girth hitches), you girth hitch small loops of Amsteel to the ends of the hammock and knot the fixed end of the whoopie slings each to one end of a tree hugger strap. You wrap the straps  around the trees and then use the Whoopie Hooks to connect the whoopies to the Amsteel loops on the hammock. Tension, and you’re done!

At first glance, I saw two advantages of this system. First, the DutchWare Whoopie Hook is significantly lighter than a carabiner, so this suspension saves me 1.4oz over my old one. Second, the position of the hook creates a “break” in the suspension, where rainwater will drip off instead of running down into your hammock. I had my doubts as to the strength of these little hooks (supposedly rated to 1000lbs), but a huge amount of positive feedback online convinced me to give them a try.

Whoopie Hook Instruction Card

Whoopie Hook Instruction Card

Final Verdict

The new components worked very well. The Continuous Ridge Line was a revelation. I can’t believe I didn’t stumble on this earlier. I did make a small mistake using the Dutch Wasp in the field, but it didn’t cause any problems and was cleared up when I got home and looked at the instruction card. The ease of use alone makes the CRL a great upgrade. It only took seconds to center the tarp over the hammock. When I used separate guy lines and tied knots, the process took much longer.

The Whoopie Hook suspension worked as advertised, but that was more a weight savings move than anything. I like it, but it didn’t WOW me. It’s basically the same suspension I had before but laid out backwards and with different hardware.

I should have another hammock post up in a few weeks, as I attempt to transition my hammock kit into colder weather. Keep your eyes peeled to find out if I get a case of Frozen Butt Syndrome!