Monday, January 31, 2011

Amazing Woman's Triple Crown

Just found this site, and will read it extensively.

Its written by a woman who earned the triple crown in 18 months.

She's 29, and has worked for Outward Bound.

Safety on the Trail

Enjoying the PCT Kick Off Party-Many Solo hikers and Partnerships Gather to enjoy some food, connections, and water cache information. Read my journals at
I know there are many people who can't fathom why a person would ever take the risk of hiking alone for weeks and months at a time.

There is much fear due to media mania when a hiker or backpacker becomes lost, injured, raped, or murdered.

Yet, these same things happen many times daily all across America, and no one stops going out alone.

There are some very basic precautions I've learned over the years. Some we know instinctively, some are just good reminders.

A Non Gender specific trail name is especially important for women. Only your trail friends will know that it is a woman signing the trail registers. I think its good to sign them every once in awhile because if you need to be found due to family emergency, there will be some clues.

Post to your online journals after you are long gone from the area. I met trail "groupies" who would track a specific person, then calculate how fast they were hiking, and surprise them at a shelter. This is unnerving. Two male strangers, having kept track via online trail journal posting site, appeared at a shelter in Pennsylvania and gave accurate data concerning some trail friends of mine. Although they would be arriving that evening to camp, I told them I had no information.

Do not be too predictable, or give too much information.

I find dogs are more threatening than any other creature you'll find in the woods or on trails. They are not afraid of humans, have a protective mode, and kill more people than bears do. Especially when they are with their families, or appear distressed, I always have my hiking poles ready if they can not be restrained.
I appreciate families holding their pets when we must cross paths.

Trust your instincts. If someone is giving you bad vibes, don't show any fear, but ditch them as soon as possible. Say nothing of your plans. Follow the same rule if you're hitch hiking.

Trail heads are much more dangerous than five miles in. This is where abductions take place. As you approach civilization and trail heads, look around and note anything that seems off. I turned down a beer party of trail magic while on the AT for that reason.

When the tread becomes slick from a lot of hiking on your shoes, replace them. You can easily wear out the tread before the tops are trash. Good tread is essential on wet ground, logs and wet leaves.

Bring enough food, and ration it. The only day you're going to feel stuffed is the day you leave town, or run across a very good cook-out trail magic.

You are more likely to pick up giardia from sharing gorp bags with people who don't practice good hygiene on the trail. Bad hand washing after pit stops contribute to spreading the bug more than bad water. Always carry chemical treatment for water, even if you have a water filter because water filters will break or become clogged.

Dehydration is a killer. Drink plenty, drink often. Eat salty snacks.

Hypothermia leads to bad decisions. If you're cold, do something about it. Put on the rain jacket, get something hot to drink, snuggle with a partner, exercise. Even in summer, the mountains make their own weather. You can see snow any day on the Pacific Crest Trail. Cold rain on the Appalachian Trail can chill you in higher elevations, especially the Whites in New Hampshire. The Colorado Trail has some of the highest elevations you'll ever hike. We camped on ice after a hail storm in July.

If you need to road walk, take special care. Several hikers have been killed by inattentive drivers.

These are just a few of the tips I would like to share. By being alert, and thinking ahead, we can hike safely. Know your limitations.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Benefits of Partnerships

Make use of a trail partnership and it will smooth the inevitable disagreements that will arise.
If water is down a steep slope, one person can watch all the packs while another goes down to get water for both people. This eliminates abandoning the pack or carrying it down. This situation is found both on the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail. Animals and humans are both known to raid abandoned packs.
When resupplying in town, leaving the pack unattended outside is not a good idea. Take turns shopping. Most stores will not let you carry your pack into the store. If you're alone, ask a clerk if you can park it by the customer service desk. This works at post offices and restaurants too.
In camp, it you're sharing a shelter, establish a routine where you split up chores. Make it automatic so that when you're weary from a long day, especially if the weather is bad, you don't have to negotiate. One sets up the tent while the other goes for water.
My partner and I cooked separately, bought food separately, and created our own camp routines. However, I set up the shelter and he went for water. This saved a lot of time for both of us. After that, we proceeded to clean up, cook, air sleeping bags, etc at our own pace.
In camp we would position ourselves to face each other, not so much the company but to watch our backs. Once, as we relaxed in camp, a bear stuck his head up over a log, just a few yards from my partner's back. Neither of us had heard his approach. "Rainmaker, there's a bear, behind you," I said, and the bear took off running down the hill.
I also noted a rattlesnake behind my friend Alexa while we ate breakfast under an overpass in the desert.
Other benefits include splitting large container when shopping for food or fuel. Buy the 42 ounce container of oatmeal and one pound box of brown sugar and split it for a weeks worth of breakfasts.
You can get an 8 ounce jar of instant coffee and split it. Ziploc bags are important backpacking gear.
If you resupply separately, and start to run low, your partner may be willing to sell you a few things. This is not to be abused. No one wants to be your pack mule.
I like to rise with the sun, catching the sunrise in my first mile. My partner likes to cook breakfast sitting in camp, after the sun rises. These are differences which have to be worked out. If you're not sharing a tent, but simply a loose confederation of friends, you can pack up at your own discretion and meet later on the trail.
If you decide to share a motel in town, arrange where to meet in advance in case one gets in first.
Hitching is safer in pairs, another advantage when heading to town. Town days are more fun with a friend, however, you may want to spend the night, and they don't. Splitting the cost helps.
When a male - female partnership is formed, its important for the woman to remain an equal partner. Not all women hiking alone are looking for a boyfriend.
Women, if you feel pressured to give up your autonomy, take a step back and think about the future. After a week of 24-7 with this guy, are you sure you can keep on?
Guys, ask yourself the same thing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Partnerships-G, B and Ugly

An obvious partnership is the married couple, the engaged couple, the college romantic couple.
If you're planning a long hike with them, its good to sit down and get all issues out in the open.
My mentor claims for every person you add to the group, the difficulty is doubled.
Meaning, one person on a scale of 1-10 would be like one. Two people, its doubled, or two. Three people, its 4. Four people would be an 8.
The reason for this is difference in body strength, more risk of someone getting sick, differences in passion and expectations, and general life events.
There was a couple who starting having relationship problems when she decided her load was too heavy. He kept carrying more and more of it, leaving her with just a light pack.
Another couple would debate each town stop, whether to get a motel, rent a car, what foods to buy for a resupply.
Hiking a long trail together doesn't usually mend relationships, but will put it to the test. If yours survives, you have a true life partner. You will have memories, good bad and ugly for the rest of your lives.
If your partner gets injured, bored, or leaves for any reason, you have to figure out if you'll continue. I've met people from both camps. Usually its the woman who ends up having to leave, sometimes for family emergencies, sometimes injury.
Hikers can meet their loved ones at intervals, especially on the Appalachian Trail because there are so many roads, and towns close enough to enjoy together. Phone calls and post offices make staying in touch easy, if you must separate.
Some will find loose partnerships of like minded hikers while on the trail.
We never even know their real names, so that getting to a motel and asking for a trail friend becomes very hilarious.
One time, I asked if Foxtrot had registered yet, the lady behind the desk looked at me, and asked for a real name. I described his appearance, and backpack. She just shook her head and exclaimed, "They all look like that!"
Partnerships can be beneficial, someone to look out for you, for company on long trails, share loads of specialty items.
Tomorrow we'll talk about some ways to enhance benefits.
I wrote a lot about this at

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Socks Shoes and other Views

Photo on top of Mt. Whitney. As you can see, lots of unique head wear. Statement, anybody?

Your mileage will vary.
I've tried tons of shoe, sock and sandal combinations, and have found my favorites.

The only way you can do this is get out there and try it.

Personally, I favor a brand name high top, with synthetic liner sock. In cold weather I'll do a warm layer as well.

Brand name because they last longer, have better tread patterns, and the flex is neither too stiff nor too soft.

I like a high top, but do not like wearing gaiters. You'll meet long distance hikers who swear by them. I trim back the shoe laces once they are tied. Seems they come untied more frequently if they are too long. Always heat seal the ends to prevent fraying.

The above photo shows my current favorite pair of hiking shoes, a Vasquez high top. During breaks or in camp, it makes a handy bottle holder.

I tried hiking in sandals on the first part of my Appalachian Trail thru hike, but tweaked my knees so bad had to take a week off to recuperate. But that's just me. I love the idea of sandals. Free air flow, no destructive moisture build up leading to soft feet and blisters.

Instead, I keep feet dry by letting them air at every opportunity. Sometimes that doesn't happen until the end of the day if I just hike straight through.

Three pairs of socks is enough for me to keep track of. One to wear hiking, one to wear to bed, one to wash and hang to dry from the pack. Keeping this rotation helps prevent nasty bacteria build up, and the sleeping bag clean.

A hat is always worn in the dessert. It shades the eyes, keeps sun off your scalp, and makes a statement. I'm not into baseball caps, so a sombrero type is my choice.

Lots of people have gravitated towards the camel back water carry system. I just use water bottles which are just recycled soda bottles. A whole study was done on durability, and they held up better than anything else. I love the fact they are free, can be swapped out, thrown away, or supplemented as needed as the terrain changes. For instance, on the AT, there is enough water you seldom need to carry more than a couple quarts into camp, and that during the summer in Pennsylvania, New York, and a few random shelters not built near a water source.

Then, you'll have desert conditions on the Pacific Crest Trail where you want 5-6 quarts. Once you hit the High Sierras, you can decrease that capacity, just disposing of the extra bottle or two at Kennedy Meadows.

Gloves, bandannas, and rain gear are all things hikes carry, depending on personal preferences. I like gloves over mittens because of dexterity. Mittens are warmer. If necessary, layer spare socks over mittens early morning for warmth, shed the mitten layer, and hike on.
I use my gloves as Pot holders.

I made my own silnylon rain gear, after testing on several lengths of various trails, knew I would never be a cold weather poncho person. I love the extra layer a jacket brings, using it for a vapor barrier on really cold nights. I'm always sure its dry before using it inside the sleeping bag.

This is the last Gear focused blog day.

Next we'll talk Partnerships.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Work Horse-A Look At Backpacks

A backpack is just the means used to transport gear down the trail.

Ranging upwards of $400 to refurbished thrift store finds, many people mistakenly view this theoretically simple device as a status symbol.

Brand names, whether they function well, are preferred over simple home made items for the image it projects. One guy, having looked over my packless system, and remarked,"Well you don't have to worry about anybody steeling it cause it doesn't look like its worth anything."

Which does bring up an important subject, Theft, or Vandalism.

Here's the gist of pages Icould write:

Horror stories abound: pack left near fence, guy in pick up truck loads it up driving away with it.Hiker buys all new gear to replace it.

Pack left on trail while hiker goes for water down steep embankment, bears rifle through it.

Left full of stuff leaning against the wall in an Appalachian Trail shelter, by morning overrun with newborn mice.

Pack flies off back of truck while hiker rides in cab, unawares.

My Pack less system utilizes the external frame, my ruck sack utilizes no frame, and my internal frame has been stripped of all non essentials to produce a sub two pound pack.Your pack is the closet where your lifeline is kept.

I always make a pack in natural, or stealth colors. Being able to blend into your environment is a safety as well as aesthetic issue.

The External Frame
Based on a rigid aluminum rack with shoulder pads and hip belt, the external frame is used by Sherpas heading up to Everest, mountain climbers, and old timers. Youth groups often utilize the external frame because they last forever and can be adjusted for fit via the attachment pins and holes bored into the frame for that purpose.
If you can find a frame at a thrift store that fits you, strip off the heavy or worn out pack material, use it for a pattern and make a new ultralight back to fit the frame. Or else, follow the YouTube video embedded above and configure what I refer to as a packless system.
To read more about it, visit my

home page where a link and photos will tell all, including review after months on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The Internal Frame

These are very popular, easy to use, colorful. Campmor, REI, Walmart, and hundreds of gear shops will keep you busy checking out all the features. Generally, you'll carry one pound of pack for every 1,000 cubic inches available. Fit is all important here. You still want the weight carried primarily on your hips. Even the strongest of guys, toting a weeks worth of food and water through the desert will find the shoulders just aren't designed for that kind of weight.
Look for reinforcements and careful stitching, especially where the stays are embedded into the pack. I repaired a friends pack when one stay ripped through the top fabric, collapsing one half of the pack's support. A heavy duty needle and dental floss, super glue for sealing edges will aid in this procedure. You can also harvest reinforcement web strapping from the end of the shoulder strap, heat sealing to prevent fraying.

We plan to do a whole week of blogs on gear repairs in February. Stay tuned.

Don't be in a rush to buy an expensive pack. If you're ordering online, check the return policy, check the self measuring advice, assess how much space you really need. Visit a store just to look around before you drop serious cash.

The Ruck Sack (No Frame)

You can make a no frame ruck sack backpack with just basic sewing skills.

This pack weighs nine ounces, and it was the first one I ever made. It successfully handled all my gear for my Thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. The basic concept is two concentric stuff sacks, one fitted inside the other, stitched sides and bottom to form external pockets.
There are plenty of patterns online for making your own pack as well.
Again, needle and thread, super glue and electrical tape make trail side repairs possible.
Depending on your trail, there will be times you'll need the capacity for 12- 15 pounds of food, up to 6 quarts of water, or cold weather gear. You can cinch on various stuff sacks, or expand the top to accommodate this. When shopping for a pack, look for built in anchor points for these sacks.
In my travels I've met long distance hikers who used an ultralight backpack without a hip belt. They adopted the fanny pack as a way to support the seriously loaded pack. My experience with that showed me to be sure the fanny pack was fully loaded so that in essence it provided a "shelf" upon which the main backpack would rest, thus taking a lot of the weight burden off the shoulders. A word to the wise: be prepared and you will enjoy your trail.

Friday, January 21, 2011


The soda can stove, sometimes called the Pepsi can stove is a fourth ounce marvel.

This simple soda can stove which I designed can be made with just one can, a jack knife and some tape.

Check out

for the fuels you can use with it. In the well, liquid fuels can be poured. An ounce of fuel will generally cook a supper on the trail.

Make your own stove by following directions found at:


Some people will carry cold foods and forgo the stove. This means eliminating coffee and light foods which save weight by being dehydrated.
Sometimes a break from cooking is a good thing. Peanut butter sandwiches, salami and cheese, cold cereal and candy bars take an important role to keep from culinary boredom.
Along with a soda can stove, a pot support, windscreen and simple pot with lid will comprise the cook set. Add a spoon, a plastic cup, a stuff sack for the entire kit to fit into and you're all set.
I use aluminum foil folded over to create a windscreen. The cup and pot can be recyled containers. Titanium is available at gear stores. Its light, but expensive. If you loose your kit on trail, simply head to the nearest store, buy some food in appropriate containers and fabricate what you need.
Stoves without moving parts, with various options for fuel is a very good choice for long distance backpacking. You eliminate malfunctions and hitch hiking into big times to find the correct fuel.
Coleman fuel does not work in soda can stoves.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mini Rant at FemaleSurvivalist

Yesterday I just had to rant on the crazy obsession with numbers.
I go to the trail to get away from all the competitive American type A personalities.
read and comment at your own risk ;)
Just playing. I do enjoy the feedback.

Versatile Tarp Configurations-Cheap Trail Living

I did a series of tarp configurations for my channel at YouTube:
I've embedded them here for your viewing convenience.

The first two videos use a 10 x 12 flat tarp. You can also use smaller tarps with these configurations. Of course, there are a myriad of other pitches, but these two seem to be the favorites.

If you get a 2-3 yard swatch (54 inches wide is the usual bolt width) and secure it to the tart with clamps or ball and line tie downs, you'll have a decent versatile shelter for under a $100 bucks. The silnylon ones weight about 20 ounces, with the netting, guy lines and some stakes, you'll have sleeping for two for under two pounds.
Ultralight tarps are easy to sew or buy them at Campmor. I saw a guy with the polyurethane walmart one on the Long Trail in Vermont. You can use tyvek also, which is 9 foot widths, by hand sewing or adding grommets for staking points.

Another popular option for the larger flat tarp, which does not need any hiking poles for support.
This is a very popular option for two people, who bring a ground sheet and use the full width to create the canopy.

I was sent a Brooks-Range 5 x 8 tarp to test. I came up with 5 pitches, ranging from shade to sleep quarters. A handy size tarp, especially if you wear a poncho or use a bivy, as a back up plan in extreme weather.

These configurations utilize extra cordage to create more floor space.

You can make your own 5 x 8 or longer tarp by buying 3-4 yard piece of silnylon and either hemming it to include staking loops, installing grommets, or utilizing the ball and loop (dead man) approach.

When chosing your shelter for a long hike, consider the weight, cost, set up time, and space.
Many people think a tarp would work for them, but find later that it doesn't offer the critter barrier they would like. Yet, sleeping in an Appalachian Trail shelter is more open, so by comparison, its fairly private.
Never do a long hike without a shelter. I've met people who thought they'd count on shelter floor space and had to crowd in with another, sleep under the shelter in the dirt or under a picnic table. Still others have just donned their rain gear and sat it out. Not fun.

There are many cottage industries that do ultralight shelters and tent like structures. Check out used gear if you're on a budget, either through e-bay or online hiker forums.

Check out :

for a search started on used ultralight backpacking gear.

Even Granny Gatewood had a shower curtain.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Gear for Long Trails-Thru Hikes

You can find gear lists for ultralighters, light weights and various sports by googling.
I have my various gear lists, with before and after notes linked to my home page at:
The stuff I started my thru hikes with was adapted and refined until by the end of the Appalachian Trail I was carrying just 8 pounds base weight.
But, I don't want to focus on weight. The more experienced you are the less you will carry.
Or if you are a big strong male, you may bring stuff just for the hell of it.
If you are a small cold-sleeping female, you'll need more in the way of clothing layers and decent sleep pad.
The sleeping pad is important in high elevations and cold weather. I've used a short trimmed pad, and you can get away with it if you're primarily sleeping in AT shelters, hiking late spring, summer and early fall, or carry a heavier pack which can be placed under the foot area to insulate against the cold ground.
Silnylon ruck sacks don't work for insulating under sleeping bags. Use it instead for a vapor barrier in side the sleeping bag in emergency. That of course is presuming its both dry and clean.
I believe in Hiking Poles. If you've ever done cross country skiing, you are well aware of the advantages here. Its like getting an extra two legs, and the upper body strength can be utilized to propel one up steep inclines, balance on narrow tread way, used when crossing fallen logs over raging streams (especially on the Pacific Crest Trail).
They are often used for supports in tarp and ultralight shelter configurations, as weapons for self defense against aggressive dogs, for digging cat holes.
You can use one or two. I've tried using one on the Colorado Trail. Had to keep switching off between hands. Using a pole keeps the blood flowing nicely to the hands. Otherwise, you will find yourself with numb hands, or holding the shoulder straps of the pack to maintain flow.
Adjustable poles are preferred(telescoping) because when it comes time to hitchhike, the long ski poles are more difficult to get into a small car,sometimes already crowded. Have a place on your pack where you can reduce and fully collapse the pole and secure it to the pack. Loop a cinching cord through the handle straps for added securing, especially when climbing hand over hand, taking the bus, or road walking.
You can buy them on the trail if you don't start out with a set. However, they will be much more expensive and you won't end up with the brand you like.
There are "shock" absorbing poles, with springs to cushion the striking of said pole upon the ground. I find them noisy and see no advantage. Also, you'll meet people who put an end on them to prevent the point from going into the dirt. They claim it prevents erosion. I like the points for traction, and feel it aerates the soil. The tiny holes make very little impact, if any, in my experience.
For clothing, I go with four layers top and bottom. The outer layer should be water proof. This can be a poncho which serves as your shelter. But, beware. If its cold and you must strip off the poncho to set it up, do so quickly and securely before you become chilled and hypothermia.
Having been hailed on in Colorado, during the heat of summer, I recognized the importance of vital gear pieces not serving multitude of purposes simultaneously.
Of course, your opinions and experience will vary from mine.
These blogs are just to stimulate thinking outside the box and give tried and tested ideas.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The All Important Sleeping Bag

If you have a great sleeping bag, you'll enjoy the trail much more. After all, you'll be spending at least 8 hours in it every night. Its no fun shivering. Improve the temperature rating of your bag by 10 degrees with a bag liner. Some are made of silk, or you can make your own by simply folding a 60 inch wide by 76 inch (2 yards) piece of fabric in half
and stitching the foot bed and length with a running stitch. This can be done by hand as well.

I have a 30 degree, 800 power fill down bag that has lasted hundreds of trail nights, and after a good washing in 2008, is ready for another hundred. A sales clerk who'd also thru hiked the Appalachian Trail suggested this solution to my Bag Quest. I wrote more about my Hydrogen Marmot bag at Gear Reviews

The first decision is down or synthetic. Previous to my AT hike, I'd been worried about not being able to keep it dry. After all, they say the difference between down and synthetic, besides weight, cost and pack- ability, is when wet synthetic will keep you warm. I've never had to find that out. I guard against wetness, as though my life depends on it. It does.

So, after coming to that conclusion, I bought my down bag in Damascus while hiking the trail. It weighs 24 ounces, $269 bucks at the time. I've never once regretted that purchase.

Of course a good down bag will cost you more than that now. Check out the sales at REI, become a member and get dividends end of the year. Get a good bag at Campmor, or the Porche of all bags, Western Mountaineering.
Personally, I wouldn't consider sub 750 fill because of the weight and quality. If you take care of it, it will last.

If you decide to go synthetic, buy quality. You should be able to find a synthetic bag for half the price of quality down bags, a consideration if you can handle the weight better than the cost. A thirty degree bag is a good choice, 20 degree is overkill for most hiking, 40 degree is too light in the mountains.
Don't ever use a compression stuff sack for your bag, down or synthetic. Use a silnylon stuff sack which has been lined with a sturdy plastic garbage bag, stuff and carry it inside the pack. Use a pack cover in the rain. The four layer system will keep your bag dry.

Never trust a "hot water" bottle inside your sleeping bag. Contrary to advertisements, even those Nalgenes will burst, and leak. If you're going to cook near the bag, take care no sparks put holes in the fabric.

Always put your tarp or tent (the shelter) where you can grab it in the rain without exposing your sleeping bag. Once your shelter is up, pull out the bag and fluff it. Reduce compression of the loft and you will increase both warmth and lifespan of the bag.

If you get to camp and the sun is out, hang the bag outside to air and fluff. This helps prevent moisture build up and freshens it without washing.

Follow washing directions on the label which comes with your sleeping bag. Even if you sleep in clothing or a bag liner, body oils, dust and pollen can degrade the insulation. A hand washing in the tub with gentle soap (even dish soap) and drying completely will improve the insulation value of an old bag.

Get a bag to fit. The above video is posted on my YouTube channel:

and embedded here for your enjoyment.

Over the course of my trails I've made bag liners from army blankets on trail because I started with a worn out bag. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That was my literal experience.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Budget Tips for The Trail-Part 4

You may have enough clothing in your closet to avoid any purchases. The following can help you identify them.

I love silk, not everyone does.
I've used it on all my hikes, long and short, but others say it breaks down too fast. True. But, you can buy long sleeve button down shirts at thrift stores for a buck and throw them away when you are done with it.

I've used the silk long underwear that Sierra Trading Post sells for $15 bucks. I still have ultralight silk tops from them. Love them.

Everyone knows to stay away from 100% cotton. Cotton is heavy, holds water, but feels great. Unless you're hiking the desert, cotton should just be avoided.
A guy once posted he used his cotton tee shirt to get through the desert by stripping it off at water sources, soaking it, and staying cool while it dried.
Don't forget, drying cotton at the laundromat takes time and money. Time you'd probably rather spend at the buffet or on trail.

This may work, but high deserts can still get rain and snow. I used a polyester blend sleeveless shirt in the desert, soaking it at streams when possible. Feels great. The northern California portion of the Pacific Crest Trail is a good place to use this technique as well. Not recommended for any portion of the Appalachian Trail. Its just too humid, even when its hot to bother with cotton.
In my opinion, this goes for socks as well. Yet, I met a guy on the PCT who swore by his white cotton socks. Your mileage will vary.

Check the labels at thrift stores before you buy something. You can shorten sleeves and pant legs, but fabric content is forever.
Some good blends are composed of nylon, acrylic, spandex, Lycra, polyester, silk and wool. If you find a piece that is excellent, and has less than half cotton content, you might consider it. Price, length of trail to be used on, weight and color all come into play.

Of course, if you come across brand name fleece, get it unless its too small. Too big can be modified. Cut sleeves shorter, but remember longer sleeves keep hands warm. Heat seal edges of cut down nylons and fleece to prevent running or over stretching. Then, if you can sew, even hand sew, hem it .

I made a fleece headband just to use in the Whites and heat sealed the edges. Once those were done , I threw it away without any regrets or pack weight

My Criteria for long distance backpacking clothing

Good fabric composition-nylon, polyester, spandex,acrylic, Lycra,silk, wool, fleece, without holes or showing signs of wear in critical spots (knees, elbows, seat) Warm layers should be compact with tight weaves or composition.

Fits well- Don't even be enticed by something too small. You might loose weight, you might gain muscle. If it doesn't fit right, you can't hike or sleep comfortably. As an ultra lighter, I've made my own gear and found when the sleepwear didn't cover the small of my back adequately, that became a cold spot. If the sleeves are too short, those two grams in weight are meaningless when your wrists are cold.
If the item is too big, and you can't or won't sew, it will take up extra pack space. Thin layers like silk and ripstop aren't big issues. Fleece wear and wool are.
Good color in my opinion is something earthy, stealth or green. When you get to town, it will all get thrown in the same washing machine, so light colors usually end up looking pretty bad. Flying Kitty wore a bright patterned skirt his girlfriend made him. Hike Your Own Hike always holds true.
Other considerations include
Zippers: which can wear out, or become stuck. Avoid this problem by avoiding zippers, or using chap stick on the teeth or coil to keep them tracking smoothly. Don't let zippers lay in the dirt or sand.
I do not use zip off/ convertible pants. I tried them, but they were heavier than nylon shorts with pockets and long underwear combination, which is a much more versatile layering system.
Draw cords: be sure they are anchored at the half way point. You'll know by testing this. Gently pull on one end of cord. If the other end becomes very short, you know there is no mid point secure stitching. Using an over hand stitch, anchor the cord by sewing through it and the fabric. On trail, you could get in a hurry and pull that cord too far where one end gets lost in the casing. Not fun.
Snaps and Fasteners: Check to be sure they are solid, hold well, and are not rusting. Some things get abandoned or donated because the snaps on the pockets no longer hold.

Campmor, Sierra Trading Post and REI have good stuff, but if you need to buy a sleeping bag and are limited in cash, finding clothing at bargain prices will allow you to drop that serious cash on a quality sleeping bag. I've used shorts bought at Walmart, bandanna from the Dollar Store. But when it came to my sleeping bag, I willingly spent the $269, and that was in 2002. I still have it. More about bags and sleep systems next week.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gigonomics-A New Word for New Thinking

The word for September 2010 is Gigonomics, according to Reader's Digest. It means the science of cobbling together a series of small often freelance or temporary jobs to make ends meet in a bad economy.

I'm coining a new word for us frugal ultralighters:

That's right: the science of cobbling together a series of homemade, modified, thrift found, alternative, cottage industry and main stream gear to use for an entire long hike or thru hike.

Bad Economy or not, ultralight backpackers tend to end up with a non conformist assortment of gear. Stuff we plan on wearing out or throwing out mid trail doesn't need to be high end and expensive.
Stuff we can modify or repair to fit us can be cast off or department store finds.

Then, the all important sleeping bag must be the best you can afford, with several factors taken into account.

Tomorrow, we'll talk about budget gear. How to make it, find it, modify, and what to look for in used clothing.

Next week we'll spend money at real stores assembling the necessities.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Cheap Eats-Budget Part 3

Every hiker has his/her favorite foods. The things we crave while on the trail, the things we splurge on once we hit town. I used to love a quart of full fat chocolate milk. A good Veggie Supreme Pizza. Lots of guys wanted a couple Burgers and Fries.
Once you fulfill those cravings, its time to head to the super market.
Hopefully, there are rows of shelves with affordable stuff. Not always.
Here is a list of basic foods, usually found even in convenience stores. If you can avoid hitchhiking a long ways into town, not only will you save money, but time and frustration. Unless I hitched alone, getting a ride can take awhile especially in the recession climate where more fear leads to more distrust. I hate hitchhiking. There, I said it.
Oatmeal can be sweetened with brown sugar or eaten raw. A great all around food for any meal or snack, full of fiber and protein. I buy the cylinder, not the preflavored prepackaged sweet stuff. Much better value for the money, and you can have it unsweetened if you get sick of too much sugar. Buy a one pound box of brown sugar, split it with a buddy, or eat on saltine crackers too.
Ramen Noodles get a lot of bad press. Lots of calories, can be solar cooked, used to fill out a skimpy Lipton Meal, or eaten raw like pretzels. We usually planned two per meal, saving the seasoning packages for broths which can be enhanced with pretzels, or odds and ends from the cracker sack. All you need is very hot water to cook them, very little fuel. A good thrifty buy. Use a gallon zip lock bag to repackage them and eliminate trail garbage.
Cheap On the Fly Gorp can be any combination of pretzels, Frito's, chocolate chips, raisins, m&ms, Captain Crunch, Gold Fish crackers, candy corn, hiker box finds. Put it all in a gallon zip lock bag. Love this for lunches, p.m snacks, dessert. I always have a quart bag that has the days allotment so I don't eat too much and short myself for the rest of the week.
Breads and Fixings can be anything from loaf bread, tortillas, bagels, buns, rolls and muffins paired with peanut butter, honey, cheese, cream cheese, hard sausages, jelly, frosting. Find stuff that's not in glass jars, though, and be careful heading into heavy bear country. Beef sticks are particularly odorous, even the wrappers causing trouble. I decided they were not worth the hassle after several sleepless nights. These combinations can form the basis of any meal. No fuel needed unless you want to make some instant soup with a good sandwich for supper.
Instant Potatoes, Rice, or Stuffing Mixes sometimes available, can add variety. Try to pick up those already seasoned. Instant potatoes can be served as a soup, just thin it down. Rice can be paired with tortillas. Stuffing Bread crumbs are good in soups, as a main dish, eaten by the handful. None of these items take much fuel.
Cornmeal and Instant Grits are great with beef jerky.
Poptarts, Candy Bars, Grandma Cookies, or any cookies are obvious choices. Sometimes bagged candy will be cheaper per ounce. Always buy the frosted pop tarts, especially if you are stuck with generic. I love telling the resupply of my friends the Honeymooners, on the Pacific Crest Trail. For the last 89 miles to Canada, they bought 52 candy bars and one package of Ramen.
As you can see, having a supply of gallon zip lock bags for repackaging and flexibility in food selections will go a long ways in staying on budget. If people are gifting you with stuff, always sort and put it in your food stuff sack before shopping. You may not need much to supplement it.
In really small stores, I walk through first to get an impression of availability before buying. There may be boxed cereal on sale, or chips. Don't forget the beverages. Bulk instant coffee or tea, not individual dunkers will save you a ton of money.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Post Office-Budget Tips Part 2

The other day I bought a beautiful pair of 100% UVA/UVB Protection , wrap around Sunglasses.
The perfect item to put in the all important Bounce Box.
Many new hikers use drop boxes. I tried that myself. Take several small boxes, fill them with assorted items,including basic food supplies, and enlist a friend to ship them to pre addressed post offices up the trail.
Problem with this, you're never really sure what you'll need in that town. You don't know if there will be a Walmart or Dollar Store where everything is cheap, if you'll have run out of deet by then, if you need that extra silk shirt, if you'll hate all the food stashed in it, there by forcing you to donate all to a hiker box.
My best friend and trail mentor taught me the value of a Bounce Box.
This box is a sturdy container which is shipped parcel post, insured up the trail by yourself. Every few hundred miles you can take out or put in items as needed.
For instance, your Pacific Crest Trail Guide, a 400 page book just for California alone, can be split into sections and accessed as needed. I only met one thru hiker carrying the whole book early on. Don't know if he ever cut into that book, but as an ultralighter, I burnt or threw away the pages in town once they were done. Paper is heavy.
Even the data book for the Appalachian Trail becomes unnecessary weight once the pages are used. Throw them in the bounce box for souvenirs, if you like.
The bounce box is best sent to small trail towns which have few stores. Bottles of 100% deet (bug repellent), sunscreen, hexamine fuel tablets, a head net for bug season, spare gloves or socks, dental floss, and anything else you would like to throw in are all good examples of items which may be totally unavailable in that small town just when you need it.
In Sierra City, on the PCT, I ended up with a spray can containing only 20% active ingredient Deet. Bulky, expensive and only 1/5 Th as effective, I learned to buy on sale all these essentials and make them available to myself on regular, self regulated basis.
By shipping the bounce box parcel post, you assure yourself about 7-10 days arrival time. Within a couple weeks, you'll get to that post office, open it up, sort through and take what you need. By shipping it insured, you can bounce it all ahead if you don't make it into that particular town, without ever opening it.
United Postal Service rules may have changed sense I used these services last, so check before you do this.
I used a yellow tool box which was large enough to accommodate my ice ax. I received it in Kennedy Meadows, then shipped it ahead to Tuolumne Meadows, in Yosemite, where I could replace it.
Sometimes shipping stuff home is not worth the money. On the Appalachian Trail I wore some extra layers going through the White Mountains in New Hampshire. These layers were all items I planned to throw away once I finished that section so they were all chosen with that in mind. With temps above 80, the I could strip away the extra clothing for my last month on the AT.
If you are able to research your intended trail towns, and determine which ones are small and desirable bounce box stops, write it down for your friends and family. If they wish to send a little, little! care package, have them address it Your Name, General Delivery, Town, State. And then, additionally, Please hold for Thru Hiker.
I say little packages because more than once I was the recipient of another hikers generous disbursement of goods simply because the loving family had shipped 20 pounds of food. No way will anyone eat or carry that much out of town. Thank you for loving us.
I recommend buying the bulk of your food, fuel and hygiene supplies at shops along the way. Shipping is expensive, food craving change, and you may decide to skip a town and not use that post office at all, leaving an abandoned food box.
We will write a post dedicated to innovative resupply later.
Please write if you have any questions.