I received an email this week letting me know I was one of the lucky ones to be accepted into the TGO Challenge! As an ex-pat like John Muir (see above photo of us hanging out together the other weekend), I can’t wait to go home!
I can’t find the words that match my anticipation…it’s been an obsession of mine for over a year now. Something about going back to where I was born and walking across the Highlands for 2 weeks enthralls me. I’ll also get to visit my mom’s resting place near Glasgow on the way in…a real pilgrimage for me in my 50th year.
Now let the planning really begin…plotting a route over hill and glen will take up many of my winter evenings when I’m not under pack.
My wife and I were visiting my dad in-law the other week in Kentucky, and I had the opportunity to throw a pack on and visit the Big South Fork National Recreation Area on the TN and KY border for a couple of nights.
It turned out that Patman (a fellow Trailspace Review Corps member) was able to do the same, and we took the opportunity to meet in person. My wonderful wife shuttled us up the Divide Road so we could walk south on the John Muir Trail, Tennessee style.
The trail was relatively flat as it ran along the plateau above the Cumberland River, so I had a pleasant Friday afternoon walk with great company. Patman mentioned a meteor shower that weekend so we tried to hunt for the best campsite view, but settled for a nice flat spot with sparse canopy. We didn’t see any meteors that night, but had a good evening of backpacking/gear testing talk and found many similarities in our approach and attitudes toward our favorite pastime.
Saturday started cool in the 50s. A pleasant walk along interesting geology…
And a very pretty section of trail. I was glad we had the chance to meet and also allow Patman to hike sections of trail in his local area that he hadn’t seen before.
The views began to open up quickly down to No Business Creek and the Cumberland River.
Two Trailspacers at the John Muir Overlook.
The overlook itself.
Patman on one of several bridges on the well maintained trail.
No Business Creek.
More interesting geology…it just kept cropping up!
We stopped for a late lunch at the Cumberland River and enjoyed watching a deer and later two backpackers (father and son) cross Stations Camp ford.
And then parted ways as Patman had plans to camp in an open field on the way to his car and meteor watch, while I was planning on an early exit so my wife and I could start the long drive home. With his multiple trips per month, I am sure he pulled off another ten miles after lunch without me holding him back!
I think Mr. Muir and myself were probably the only two Scottish-Americans on the trail that day, and I enjoyed seeing his profile as I hiked that afternoon. The fact that he and I moved here from Scotland around the same age has given me a connection that is difficult to explain.
I could include a bunch of rock photos, each one slightly different from the last, but since this is not a geology website (and I am no geologist) I’ll refrain.
Not sure if this is on purpose, as there is a Big Clifty Wilderness a few hours north.
The JMT here may not compare to the High Sierra version, but views of the Cumberland River Gorge were frequent.
After a solid 15 mile day with temperatures in the upper 70’s (but not much climbing), I enjoyed a great campsite (thanks for the advice Patman!) on the rim of the gorge.
View out my bedroom window.
Dusk view…followed by glimpses of a few meteors that morning before…
a beautiful sunrise!
Looking back from the south, maybe with spellcheck?
A sobering memorial along the trail to a child who died in infancy.
Views of the Gorge were frequent and it was constantly filled with rolling fog which I really liked – I stood at several outcrops for a number of minutes despite the time constraint that morning and just watched the fog roll by in silence.
Looking north along the Cumberland River from Angel Falls Overlook…I could only hear the falls that morning.
I love trees rooted in rock.
After my last view from the rim of the gorge, I dropped down through more interesting geologic features.
And some slightly confusing ones…man-made?
Then down to the river itself and a pleasant stroll to the pickup point…this last hour reminded me of the walk back to Lincoln Woods parking lot from the White Mountains trip this summer, just drier and without the railroad ties.
The low water crossing at Leatherwood Ford was out and the reroute took me across the road but gave a nice view of the original crossing.
Overall, a really enjoyable trip with good company. I’ll be back in colder weather as a nice local option when in the area.
I finished up another review after about 6 months of testing: the Merrell Moab Mid Ventilator boot review is posted on Trailspace. These boots have been discontinued but are still floating around the internet and available at a discount if you are lucky. If you are looking for a good entrance into the idea of quick drying ventilated footwear without plunging into trail runners this might be a good option. I like these boots but do question the durability/ construction quality. I have several more in the works to clear out my backlog this fall/winter and make room for some neat testing opportunities from Trailspace.
Well, the application for the TGO Challenge came out on September 15. If you are not familiar with the Challenge see this post.
I was on the trail last weekend but immediately filled out the online application Sunday night when I got back. I didn’t think I could get more obsessed with this idea than I already was…but I was mistaken. Since I got a (very prompt) response from the organizers letting me know I passed the qualifications screening, I can’t seem to get the idea out of my head for more than a few hours.
The last time I spent more than a week in Scotland was when I was growing up there…I am on the left on the shore of Loch Lomond. Now I am hoping to spend two weeks walking across the country of my birth!
Now that my hat is in the ring, so to speak, for the potential lottery in November, I am spending a lot of free time poring over maps in more detail. I already had a couple of potential routes picked out but as it gets more real, I am revisiting my initial thoughts. So far I know that I want to approach this as three consecutive approximate 4-5 day trips, which is my typical routine now. These are my tentative sections and each location includes a hotel stay to dry off and rest (one each at the start and end, and two in the middle).
Dornie to Drumnadrochit
Drumnadrochit to Braemar
Braemar to Stonehaven (stay in Montrose)
There may be an optional added campground or hotel at Newtonmore or Aviemore if I need it or want a longer break for equipment issues, resupply etc. Otherwise, my current plan is to wild camp the rest of the days. Each of the four locations also has a castle I would like to see (Eilean Donan, Urquhart, Braemar, and Dunnottar) and be major landmarks on which I can focus – something that always helps my progress. There are many other landmarks on the way but there is something about seeing these spots that really inspires me.
I won’t know until early November if I get in, but there is a silver lining…those qualified folks that don’t get picked are guaranteed a place the next year. So it’s just a matter of time before I attempt to walk across my homeland! In the meantime, I’ll be training by seeking out the boggiest areas, steep rocky trails, and windiest, wettest weekends I can find!
On what is becoming an annual tradition, I decided to get out of the heat of the late summer around Raleigh and head to high elevation for a few days. Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC has a series of peaks running between 5 and 6,000 feet which generally means cooler nights and some wind – perfect escape this time of year.
Although I was heading in late on a Thursday afternoon, I knew it would be crowded at the more popular high elevation access points on the weekend, so decided to climb up from the Big East Fork trail head where I was unlikely to see anyone. Being only a week after the remnants of Hurricane Irma passed through the area, the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed near Asheville for maintenance, so I had a slight delay and detour getting to Highway 276 and the trail.
It was late afternoon when I finally had that comfortable feeling of slipping a pack on my back and beginning to walk. The bear canister requirement and camping area restrictions were still in place but I was prepared (although the pack was a couple pounds heavier than usual).
A beautiful and easy climb along the banks of the East Fork Pigeon River was a great start to the trip. I got a preview of how much rain Irma had dumped here during the first couple of stream crossings – both were knee high or above and roaring downstream.
In addition to the high creek crossings, Irma had left a number of blow downs to negotiate…
and also covered the trail in many areas with a carpet of green leaves…
I think folks heading to the western NC mountains next month for leaf watching may be disappointed!
The last part of my afternoon involved a climb up to Grassy Cove Ridge for a camp in the highlands. This was a relatively steep 1,000 ft climb away from the stream, made worse by my loading up on water at the last stream crossing to allow for a dry camp if needed. The turn onto the Grassy Cove trail is hard to find – have to cross the stream through a campsite and head up the hill to the right. However it was not hard for me as a couple of folks were in the campsite – a local guide and a gentleman from my home country of the UK (never got his name but he was from Wolverhampton). If you need a guide in the mountains, I would check out Wildland Trekking – didn’t get the guide’s name but he seemed like a good guy during our little chat.
The climb was at a faster pace than I usually go due to encroaching darkness and wanting to set up my relatively new tent in the light for better practice. I was pretty beat by the top so camped in the first decent spot with a good view after a slight respite along a relatively flat and beautiful section of trail.
It turned out to be a great little spot, although next to the trail which I don’t usually like. Being the quiet side of the wilderness and a Thursday night, I was mercifully left alone.
It took a little while to dial in the pitch of my TarpTent Stratospire 1 on the slight slope (my bed area was flat but the coverage of the SS1 is so large it included a rise in terrain. Nights like this really help me to get more familiar with the shelter and its nuances.
The next morning I got moving after coffee and grits along what turned out to be the theme of the weekend – a wet and muddy trail. My boots (although non-Goretex and easily draining) were continually soaked in the up to 4 inches of water standing or flowing over a lot of the trails. While this sounds nasty to some, it thrilled me as my weekend was going to conclude with applying for the TGO Challenge to walk across Scotland next year…no better time to make sure I am happy with continuously wet feet!
I followed a trail running south under Tennent Mountain and wrapping around Graveyard Fields and after just one minor dead end, wandering down a false trail when the real one turned on a rock outcrop with a nice view…
I arrived at the approach road to the Black Balsam parking lot and immediately hopped north along the Art Loeb Trail. There I finally encountered a few folks and decided to stay on the ALT rather than sidetrack to the top of Black Balsam where I saw quite a few people hanging out.
Instead I continued along the side slope of Balsam until the trail turned up Tennent Mtn, where I stopped briefly to take a few photos and enjoy the scenery, but didn’t dawdle as I was not alone and really wanted to wander in peace and quiet.
A short hop down the ALT north toward the Shining Rock occupied me until my stomach informed me that snacks would no longer suffice and it was time for lunch! Since I woke in a heavy dew and the outer tarp of my tent was pretty wet, I decided to lounge in the sun at Ivestor Gap and dry things out.
The last couple of years I have been bringing fresh stuff for the first 24 hours or so, and enjoyed a wrap with cheese and fresh tomato (along with some bacon bits and hot sauce!). I helped a group of three young men figure out which peak was Grassy Cove Top…they were looking for an old mine shaft! I will have to check the papers and see if they struck it rich…I would think helping identify the right peak would be worth a cut!
Dried out, and satisfied, I headed for the Shining Rock with no real itinerary in mind. After a brief stop for water at a reliable seep, I was approaching the Rock when I began to hear quite a few loud people enjoying a beautiful Friday afternoon. That was not what I was looking for this afternoon, and I decided to circle back south and do some side trail exploring. After darting down a mile or so on a side trail toward Daniel Boone scout camp just to check for camping areas, I decided to stay on Ivestor Trail and head for either the top of Black Balsam or a lower gap site with great views.
As I passed back through Ivestor Gap the balds looked like they were about to be clouded in so I opted for a lower elevation gap on the trail to Birdstand Mtn with great views both north and south.
The extra mile of walking was well worth the effort for a beautiful camp with the aforementioned great views of Shining Rock Ledge to the north and Black Balsam and Sams Knob to the south.
I don’t know if it was more practice or a flatter site, but the SS1 was perfectly pitched first time tonight – very satisfying! I considered not putting up the inner bug net, but there were some seriously large beetles flying around – didn’t worry me but they would wake me up!
I enjoyed Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili and a dram (or so) of Highland Park 12, along with some leftover PIG Mexican Chocolate Mousse – an extravagant meal! I tried to conserve dishes and clean up by boiling water and hydrating the chili in the bag, but as usual didn’t like it and popped it into the pot for a little simmer to make everything just a little more like home cooked food.
The night was incredible – full stars and a crescent moon. After midnight the clouds rolled in but stayed high – I am sure Black Balsam and the other balds were low visibility. The cloud layer sat just above the Shining Rock ledge and with the moisture in the air created a double ringed halo around the crescent moon! My camera phone couldn’t capture it though…
Saturday morning arrived with another damp tent so I hung around camp letting it dry out a bit (the inner bug nest was dry as a bone). Then it was back to Ivestor Gap, up the Art Loeb (with a water stop just south), and onto Cold Mountain.
The Narrows north of Shining Rock and Stairs Mountain are one of my favorite sections of the Art Loeb Trail – a knife edge ridge with great (although intermittent) views west (above) and east, as well as occasional glimpses of Cold Mountain.
On bad weather days this can be a tough hike as there isn’t much shelter and there are a lot of scrambles up and down rock formations on the ridge. I met one hiker coming the other way – trying to do the entire 30 mile Art Loeb trail in a day!!! I hope he fared well.
It took longer than anticipated to get to Deep Gap at the base of Cold Mountain and I decided to stop for lunch and fully dry the rest of my gear. After another fresh tomato and cheese wrap or two, and a casual semi-nap, I realized it was later than I thought. I decided to skip the summit of Cold Mountain (save it for next year!) and get going back to the Rock then head east for an early departure to the car the next day. A couple more shots along the Narrows…
I watered up south of the Shining Rock again then headed onto the trail to Old Butt Knob, which is the trail that actually passes by the Shining Rock. I was not in a big rush to get to my last camp so lingered at the Rock for a while fueling up with a snack, grabbing the obligatory photos, soaking in the view, and chatting with a nice couple from Asheville who were doing a day hike loop from the same trail head on 276.
After the break I hopped east past Old Butt and onto Chestnut Ridge to find a good campsite. I passed the Asheville couple and then confused them thoroughly by passing back again in the opposite direction…a habit of mine to find a campsite then walk about ten minutes further before turning back around…I really don’t like waking up and hitting the trail only to find a better campsite 5 minutes down the trail!
My last camp was a well used site right beside the trail but it was peaceful and allowed an early exit so I could get home with time to spare on Sunday. No-one passed by until dinner time when a couple with 2 large dogs arrived after the killer climb up from the Hwy 276 parking area and asked if there was a bald nearby…once I told them I had hiked another hour downhill (so their trip would be at least an hour and a half) they smartly turned around – nice to see folks make good decisions rather than push on without water and under prepared.
The views weren’t as good from this site, but I enjoyed a home-made pasta soup dinner and the last of the Mexican Mousse followed by the last of the Highland Park 12 – that’s my favorite daily dram when I can’t decide from which part of Scotland I want my whisky.
The next morning I decided to get a quick start so breakfast was a pre-dawn coffee followed by the last of my snacks (3 mini Snickers bars).
The drop down to the stream and parking area was short – about an hour – but steep (the picture above doesn’t do the drop justice). However the views kept cropping up most of the way down…
My knees were thankful for my trekking poles and the larger flat trail along Shining Rock Creek was a welcome relief for the last stroll out.
Overall, I had a great trip – got to test my legs with some good climbs and drops, as well as pull 34 miles over a little more than two days hiking, and really test out my wet and muddy trail feet. Feeling great after that little test I hopped home and promptly threw my hat in the ring for the TGO Challenge to cross Scotland next May. I hope the November lottery is good to me and I get that chance!
Just a quick note as I just completely revamped my original Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri stove with wood-burning Inferno insert. This stove is still my favorite piece of gear after three full years of use. I can’t recommend it more highly unless you just want to boil water and add it to a bag of food (if that’s your style then there are cheaper options). If you want versatile fuel options, the ability to simmer food, and one of the best wood burning stoves out there all weighing in under 5 ounces, then check it out.
I am starting to catch up on some of my incomplete gear reviews, and recently posted new reviews on Trailspace (with links on my Gear Review page) for the new 2017 model of the Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel stove and two utensils: the Humangear Gobites Duo spoon-fork combo and the Vargo Titanium Folding Spork. All are solid pieces of gear and good ideas, but may not work for every type of backpacker – see the details of each review to determine if its something of interest. I have added two of these to my regular backpacking kit, but you’ll have to read the reviews to find out which one got left out!
Stay tuned for a few more in the next month as I clean out my gear review backlog to make room for some new gear tests.
My wife and I had a couple of days free between family events in Pennsylvania. We decided to take a short overnight backpacking trip in West Virginia, as we wouldn’t have time to do a 16 hour round trip to see the total eclipse. So it was off to the Dolly Sods Wilderness…
For those not familiar with the area, the Dolly Sods are basically a plateau of rolling hills bisected by a couple of large streams. Around 4000 ft elevation and relatively undeveloped, the area was once used as a bombing practice range for D-Day…
There are warnings about un-exploded ordinance still present in the area, although from what I understand the last find was in 2014. It did make me limit the amount of bushwacking and stick to the trail at least for this trip with the missus! The parking areas were busy with campers and day hikers, but we soon lost most of the people as it was a Monday. I imagine this area is very busy on weekends.
After starting at the Blackbird Knob Trailhead, we had a short hike in and diverted north on the Red Creek Trail. We set up a luxury shaded lunch area in an open spot with great views to the south so we could enjoy the partial solar eclipse.
My wonderful wife had packed a couple of pairs of eclipse glasses that we bought back in the mid-2000’s. She never forgets stuff like this – each of the kids and the neighbors were distributed pairs before we left town. After a relaxing first-day lunch of fresh tomato and cheese in tortillas with hot sauce we chilled out and watched the eclipse develop.
Our lunch tarp was folded back and we enjoyed the first half of the eclipse…no great photos unfortunately as camera equipment is too heavy for my old knees! This camera phone photo through the eclipse glasses is the best we got…and doesn’t really show the 90% eclipse coverage that was present at the time!
After we reached the maximum partial eclipse, the temps for an August afternoon were a fantastic 70 degrees so we decided to hit the trail again and take advantage of the cool down, and pause every once in a while to check on the back half of the progress of the moon over the sun.
Backtracking to the Blackbird Knob Trail we traversed the wilderness from east to west. We had a beautiful afternoon walk along rolling hills and across pretty streams…
After a last check on the waning eclipse…
We then descended along the rocky and muddy Big Stonecoal Trail. The amount of mud reminded me a lot of the White Mountain boggy areas – the Dolly Sods is well named!
Although planning to hike into the evening after the long eclipse/lunch stop, we found a fantastic campsite that couldn’t be passed up…I usually don’t use established camps if I can avoid it but how can you walk past the Camp of Thrones?
The large campsite allowed my wife to test out her first hammock as we have had trouble finding a comfortable tent system for her back issues…a future gear review is in the works. This also enabled me to continue testing my Tarptent Stratospire 1 that I plan to use as my shelter in the Scottish highlands next year.
Dinner consisted of a couple of Packit Gourmet meals (Texas State Fair Chili for me and Trailside Pinto Bean and Cheese Burrito for my wife) before they expired…both were delicious but I have a bias toward their chili!
A peaceful starry night and relatively cool morning allowed for a nice hike down to the Rocky Point Trail through many of the varied natural communities in the Dolly Sods. It seemed like we changed communities every time we blinked…the next few photos were taken within 45 minutes of each other…
grassy slow-moving stream valleys,
partially shady evergreen forest,
fern covered pine forest,
scrubby bog areas,
large rocky streams,
and rocky outcrops.
My wife and I really enjoyed the morning hike as it wasn’t too wearing except for sections with small shifting rocks, and the temperatures stayed relatively cool.
After a very steep but short climb up to the Lion’s Head, we arrived at a really great view and lunch spot. Be sure you wander all the way out to the scenic spot on the rocks – a little hard to find but just use one of the unmarked trails until you get to the edge and then follow it to the open views.
I searched for a while but found no man-made features in the viewscape. We enjoyed another lunch of our tomato and cheese tortillas.
You are not likely to fall off the edge unless you are silly…this is as close as I was allowed to go to the edge!
but watch your step as the cracks and crevasses between the rocks are deep…
The afternoon hike was much warmer than the previous day and we were wishing for another eclipse to cool it down! Fortunately the open high country was broken by forest copses and pretty stream valleys to camel up and take breaks.
Due to our family commitments we had to cut our trip to one night, and missed out on the northern section but we really enjoyed this beautiful wilderness.
I’ll be back to further explore this fantastic area and all the trails!
Selection of a good spot to camp is one of the most important aspects of a backpacking trip for me…I tend to spend at least 12 hours in camp so it directly affects over half my trip! Note that this doesn’t apply so much to use of existing campsite locations, although even then you should be very careful of pitch location within the site. Even at an old faithful campsite, conditions can change (i.e. weaker limbs on trees than the last time you were there).
I have a 3-level approach to selection of a camp site:
Pre-Trip Site Selection
General Site Selection
Pitch Site Selection
I thought it might be useful to go through each of these steps one by one in case folks are interested, and use both a good and marginal site result as two case studies.
Pre-trip Site Selection:
When planning a trip, I tend to avoid established camps and prefer Leave-No-Trace (LNT) campsites off-trail. The first thing I do is establish my general mileage and route for the day. This determines roughly where I will end up, which leads to the general camp location. I look for an area on a topographic map with relatively flat contours and proximity to water. This does not mean I camp by a stream…in fact over 2/3 of my camps are dry. What it does mean is that I have the ability to “camel” up on water for the night and next morning within about an hour or so of the potential camp.
Here are two general areas I picked out for different trips…first in the White Mountains in NH and the second an unnamed quiet spot in an overused wilderness area close to me.
In the White’s, my wife and I wanted to have a quiet camp one of the two nights (the second was pretty much constrained to a tent platform site) and also shave off some of our second day climb up to the peaks. An area on the USGS 1:24,000 topographic map looked like it had some potential off the Twin Brook Trail. I was pretty confident we could find something for our 3-person tent, but since it was new territory I had a backup plan of dropping back down to the 13 Falls tent site below it….although that would mean re-climbing the next morning.
Here are several potential sites I picked out year’s ago at one of my favorite backyard wilderness playgrounds. This area is mostly wooded and lower elevation so I wanted a fair weather site that got a lot of breeze and also some winter views after the leaf fall. Several potential knobs not too far from water sources below are circled on the map.
General Site Selection:
Once I arrive in the general area, I will spend a good bit of time hunting around for the right site. This may include wandering an area of several acres or heading further up the trail to see what’s around the next bend then backtracking if it doesn’t look as good. I think that is the hardest part – going backward at the end of the day and feeling like you are losing ground. However a good camp site is well worth it and most of the time I don’t regret that versus settling for a less ideal campsite. This process can often take me 30 minutes or more.
In the White Mountains, this general selection took about 45 minutes. I first had to ensure that we were 200 feet from the trail (Forest Service rule) which wound around the area…a couple of sites were 200 feet from where I left the trail, but less from the trail ahead or behind due to the curve. The ground was also extremely hummocky with few spots large enough for a 3-person tent that I was carrying since it was a couple’s trip with my wife. This micro-topography is not something that you can pick out on topo maps, and unless familiar with an area it is a wild card. I passed up a couple of spots that seemed to have historically been disturbed.
They were flat but had too much vegetation that I didn’t want to damage (especially the ferns).
We finally settled on the slightly higher area at the edge of a flat saddle that seemed to have potential to be a little boggy but was not wet this time of year. You can see the lack of hummocks and relative lack of slope in this photo. The site wasn’t ideal but dry enough based on the season and weather patterns.
In the other wilderness area with the three potential knobs, the site selection was easier. The first (northernmost) one I hit was exactly what I wanted…flat topped and enough soil to get some of my variety of tent stakes to hold.
Pitch Site Selection
With both general sites selected, it’s down to the tent pitch selection. First and foremost is safety…looking out for widowmakers and other loose branches that might damage the tent if the wind picked up. This factors in with my preference for at least a decent chance of seeing stars so gaps in the canopy at forested sites are important. Here is an extreme example of where you don’t want to camp!
Once I have a suitable pitch site for safety, it’s all about a good night’s sleep. If the weather is good, I’ll lay down on the ground for a few minutes (usually on a ground cloth) and make little adjustments in the orientation of the pitch site to account for minor slope, roots, etc. I try to avoid doing any site improvements so I can leave no trace in the end.
Finally, its the orientation of the tent – which way will the doors open and where will the pack go? There is rarely a perfect campsite, but there are a lot that come close.
The White Mountain site turned out better than expected,
and the no-name wilderness camp has become a frequent peaceful stop for me on short winter trips when I can’t wander farther from home.
The research and field search for camping spots has become one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of my backpacking over the last decades. Happy hunting for campsites!
I have been backpacking since the mid 1980’s and although a bit older, it is still just as enjoyable to strap a pack on my shoulders and head into the forest or down the trail. Not only enjoyable, but not that much more difficult since I can still do similar miles and climbs. I think this can be attributed to two things:
My better attention to between trip fitness and training.
Acquisition of better and lighter gear.
It’s the second one I have been thinking about the last couple of days. My pack weight is now in the mid teens most (3 season) trips, which makes the miles go easier but also allows for some addition of items to make the trip more comfortable (and fitting into my “comfortably light” approach). Several items help buffer my aging body from aches and pains including:
NEMO Astro Air Insulated Lite (19.5 oz) – a full size 3+ inch thick air mattress that provides the most comfortable sleep I have had in over 30 years of backpacking.
REI Trail Chair (20 oz) – a camp chair for my back that lets me relax on the ground or even inside the tent since it doesn’t have legs. My lower back issues make multiple night trips without this a real pain!
Coccoon Ultralight Pillow (3.6 oz) or NEMO Fillo (9.2 oz) – an air or foam/air pillow for the night and chair lumbar support during camp hours. I trade these out depending on the length of trip, preferring the Fillo for short trips but the lighter Coccoon for longer ones. Trailspace reviews are coming soon on both.
Garmin Inreach (6.9 oz) – I compromised with my wonderful wife to allow her to keep track of my wanderings and not worry that I might have twisted an ankle or worse. At first reserved about electronics in the backcountry (I am a traditional map and compass guy), now I enjoy the mapping capabilities of it through my phone. Review is in the works.
Trail Designs Ultralight Glasses (0.1 oz) – doesn’t aid my comfort but these small reading glasses for the trail that help my old eyes see maps and GPS units better without digging out my reading glasses from the pack.
These are the primary items I would never have carried in the past (or carried lighter versions like a mattress), but add so much comfort and enjoyment to my trips that I never leave them behind now.
The additional weight of these items is around 34 ounces (if you assume the air mattress replaces a simple foam pad). This may seem like a lot of excess weight, but I still come in around 17-19 pounds of base weight for 3 season backpacking. Getting a good nights sleep and comfortably lounging around camp are worth way more than the additional weight to me.
One other piece of gear I’ll add often is a bear canister (BV 450 – 31 oz). I bought a couple of different sizes over the years as they are required in a couple of spots I spend a good bit of time. Although close to 2 lbs, I carry it in more places than I would expect as it eliminates the need to hassle with hanging a bear bag, which I used to enjoy but now try to avoid. Lots of people hang bear bags, but I rarely see one hung correctly at wild camp sites without bear bag lines etc already installed. The difficulty of getting it just right (distance from a tree and height on a strong enough limb) is just not worth it to me. Plus, when I get up to make coffee at zero dark thirty, I don’t have to fuss with getting it down. The BV series make handy camp stools as well. I used to not bring the trail chair when I had a canister, but I really need the lumbar support so now use both as a stool and backrest.
Top it off with my conversion to trekking pole use that has made the most difference to my bad knees and increased my mileage by a factor of 1.5 since I started using them. Never mind the number of times they have saved me from a fall!
You can’t stop aging but sure can make it easier in the back country with a little additional weight!