Tag Archives: backpacking

Tarptent Stratospire I – First Impressions

So after much more research and a chat online with Henry from Tarptent, I decided my new tent would be the Stratospire I for several reasons:

  • Suitable for folks of my height (6 ft) – although its a little tight compared to my Solong 6 the carbon fiber rods create head room and if I brush against the netting, it’s a double-wall tent so no condensation issues like the Solong single wall section.

  • Double walled with removable inner.  This is a big advantage over my Solong 6 for trips with multiple days of rain and no time to dry out the tent.  I can set up the Stratospire in the rain and then get underneath and set up the inner, as well as pack everything up in the rain and keep it dry before getting out into the weather to take down the wet tent.
  • Two doors – I really have got used to having an entrance/exit on my solo tent, and having a second door/vestibule for gear and tent cooking.  It’s a luxury that is worth some extra weight to me.
  • Large vestibules allow lots of room to dump wet gear outside the inner tent and have at least some drying out in long rainy days.
  • MLD Trailstar and Duomid look like great tents as well, but I personally went to the Stratospire so I could have two doors and less bending of my lower back getting in and out compared to the Trailstar (I have constant back issues so this was a major item).
  • I liked the weight savings over the Scarp, and Henry said the Stratospire has been used a good bit in Scotland.  Therefore, it should suffice for high wind situations assuming I guy it out properly.

The initial back yard setup was a breeze.  I got it almost perfectly pitched the first time with minor adjustment in two stakes.  The ends with the carbon fiber poles make the setup and adjustment very easy and give a little more head room inside when laying down.

The last week I have played around with different stake types at the different corners to see what works best, and also worked with the trekking pole adapters to see if I prefer the pole handle up or down. The pole adapters work fine, but are a little more finicky during setup so I decided to ditch them and deal with dirty handle tops if that occurs. You have to be careful to make sure the pole tips get in the grommets but the one time I allowed that to slip out the reinforced tent suffered no damage – well constructed!

As far as tent stakes go, I decided to carry two of the long Easton stakes that come with the tent for the ends with the carbon fiber poles, 4 Y stakes and 4 titanium nail stakes for the other corners depending on the rockiness of the ground, and a couple of larger ascent stakes and really light shepherd hook stakes for guying out the lines in different terrain.

On top of that I have seam sealed it twice -once all over, and again on the upper pole grommet stress points.  This worked for the most part but not 100% as I still got a drip or two and could see moisture built up in the reinforced area (photo above).  I queried Tarptent and Henry suggested that I use the two week old thicker sealant solution without wiping it off after application.  I did this and it seemed to work.  You can see below that the sealant is inside the seam (dark areas), and this did the trick under another soaking from the hose.

Overall I am very happy with the Stratospire I, in theory, as a balance of weatherproof, room, accessibility, and weight, but have not been able to real-world test it yet…a combination of work deadlines and lower back issues have made me cancel my monthly wilderness trips for now…stay tuned for a full review and update once I get back on the trail!

New Gear Reviews: Marmot Ether Driclime Jacket and Sawyer Picaridin & Permethrin

Just a quick note that three new gear reviews are available on that page…I have time on my hands while stuck in the house with a bad back/sciatica along with a busy work load.  New gear reviewed is:

TGO Challenge Obsession

The Great Outdoors Challenge

In the last few months, I have become infatuated, maybe even obsessed, with the idea of walking across Scotland – either on my own or hopefully, if accepted, in the TGO (The Great Outdoors) Challenge.  This annual event in May organizes a two-week crossing of the Scottish Highlands for around 300 folks.  They keep the entrants to a mixture of about half new and half returning walkers.

I can’t pin down one reason this event has captured my interest, but realistically it is a combination of multiple factors:

  • Interest in going back and hiking some of the areas I walked with my grandfather in distant memories growing up in Scotland.
  • The passing of my Scottish mother last year, leaving me as the last Scottish-born member of the immediate family.
  • My love for high, open country and walking in all sorts of weather.
  • The descriptions of the hiking including bog and stream crossings, that I have “trained” for all my professional career slogging through all types of wetlands.
  • Vague memories of towns and vacations in the highlands coming back stronger when I look at maps of Scotland.
  • My enjoyment of single malt Scotch whisky and good Scottish food (especially breakfasts and pies!).
  • Turning 50 in 2018 and hoping to celebrate with the walk through my birthplace in the highlands.

I’ll try to document my progress in researching, planning, applying, and (hopefully) going on the TGO Challenge from the start.  There are many excellent blogs associated with the Challenge, including some from newcomers.  I’ll add those to the links page as well over time as I read through more of them.  I am looking forward to this journey in a way I have never felt about any other backpacking trip!

Backpacking and Alcohol

I rarely strap a backpack on for an overnight or longer trip without a flask of my favorite single malt scotch tucked in a side pocket. For this week’s trip, I have decided on The Glenlivet 12 Year.

This is a habit I got into in the 90s and don’t mind the extra weight. Having a daily dram after dinner while watching the stars is a perfect ending to a day in the wilderness.

Some say it’s dangerous to drink in the back country, and I don’t disagree if you over indulge. Excessive alcohol can impair judgement during critical situations and can lower your body temperature and contribute to dehydration. However, a small amount like I enjoy doesn’t seem to make a significant difference even after a long day and in sub freezing temps has not made me noticeably colder (in fact seems to warm me up a bit!). Note that at high altitudes alcohol has a larger effect, so reduce or eliminate it for high mountain trips.

If you are going to carry something to sip on, check out my review of the GSI flask on my Gear Review page and drink responsibly.

Slainte mhath!

A couple of winter adjustments…

As I adjust my gear list for the current and upcoming cold weather season, I thought I would post a couple of the adjustments that I make besides adding cold weather clothes etc…

 

First off, for my alcohol stove I carry an extra little fuel container – actually an old camp soap container.  This 2 ounce bottle stays in my pocket and keeps relatively warm.  I find that the fuel lights better when it is not freezing cold.  It also has a handy dispenser cap that makes filling the stove much easier.  I will probably consider carrying it next year as well regardless of temperature.

The other adjustment that comes immediately to mind is going back to my trusty Nalgene bottles.  This has multiple benefits over Smartwater and other disposable bottles that are lighter.  First, they don’t freeze very quickly and once they do, the wide mouth allows you to chip away at the ice if needed.  Even better, they are tough enough to lay near the stove and help thaw out….in the photo above I am cooking bannock and also thawing my water bottle.

This is not all you must do to “winterize” your kit, but its a start.  See the links section for several sites with excellent winter backpacking advice.

Fresh Backpacking Bread

OK.  It doesn’t look pretty, but there is absolutely nothing I like better on the trail than fresh bread.  My standard recipe is “bannock” – a Scottish word for a type of flat bread.  Despite being born in Scotland, and moving to the US at age 10, I didn’t hear of bannock bread until the early 1980s as I started backpacking.  An old 1960’s book by Bradford Angier, “Home in Your Pack”.

Within this little book, with much outdated information, is almost a whole chapter on bannock including the simple recipe:

A little oil in a pan/pot, the right amount of water mixed in the ziploc with the ingredients, and about 5 minutes later you have fresh hot bread.  I eat it sometimes on a long lunch break with some cheese and bacon bits or other protein.  Most often, I cook it fresh for breakfast and eat it with a bit of string cheese or just on its own – breaking off nice warm pieces between sips of coffee on a frosty morning.

Variations that I seldom use but are excellent

  • add some berries picked along the trail
  • add less water and make more of a biscuit
  • drop it on top of cooked fruit like apples and it will quickly cook into a cobbler

This is not an ultralight meal, but it hits the spot on cold days.  There are few things better to satisfy hunger and warm your insides than this!

Solo Backpacking Safety – Decision Time

A couple of recent trips and non-trips got me thinking about my favorite way to travel in the backcountry – solo – and how that may affect decision making on, or off, the trail.  A couple of examples:

A few weeks ago I went on a trip to Shining Rock Wilderness in western NC while my wife was at a four-day event mid state.  I planned to drop her off on the way and pick up on the way back and have three nights in the woods.  Starting on day two, I began to feel excessively tired and also began to get a constant heart burn.  By night two, it was difficult to eat and I had no energy.  A decade or so ago (I am quickly approaching 50 now), I would have soldiered through and toughed it out.  However, since I was on my own and in a relatively untraveled part of the wilderness, I decided to leave a day early at a slow pace.  Turns out that I was definitely feeling sick and got a little worse, but luckily the heartburn was just that (and coincidental with trying a new dish in the field rather than at home like I usually do).  I don’t regret leaving a day early – better safe than sorry when solo at my age, and I have always promised my lovely wife that I would be careful to ease her worries.

Here we are a few weeks later, and due to bad luck I cancelled a weekend trip to VA to another wilderness area.  I was going to leave on Friday after work and have a short two-night exploration of an area I hadn’t been to in a couple of decades.  Woke up Friday morning feeling awful and stayed home from work.  It was difficult, with my trusty pack already to go and in mid-afternoon feeling a bit better, but I held with the initial decision to postpone a week.  Good decision as I slipped back on Friday night and am still feeling kind of puny on Saturday – not the fitness level you need to tackle several steep climbs and waterless ridges.  The pack is staying by the door ready for next weekend!

I guess the moral of the story is when going solo, and especially as you advance in “experience” (age), playing it safer is probably the best option for you and your significant others.

Backpacking Lights – Extra batteries or backup light?

While packing for a weekend trip, I realized I have been packing extra batteries for my headlamp (or previously flashlight) as a standard item in my “Repair Kit” for a long time.  This approach has a couple of flaws:

  • On a short trip, there is no need for additional batteries unless the ones in the light are already worn down or you expect to do a lot of night time activity.
  • The extra batteries don’t address a failure in the light except for dead batteries

So I decided to alter my gear list, and take just the headlamp with fresh batteries.  At the last minute while at the outdoor store, I saw a clip light for baseball caps.  On a whim I bought one and threw it in my pocket for the weekend.  Turns out, I like this little light – the Amphipod Swift Clip Cap Light – for a short trip.  I am working on a full review for Trailspace, but in short this thing weights a half ounce, takes up almost no room, and is a serviceable light for around camp.  I threw it on my ball cap in the evening to try it out and it worked fine for camp chores and walking around a bit.  It was also nice to have in my pocket when I arrived at camp in dusk and didn’t want to dig out my headlamp.  I would not hike with it at night as it isn’t super bright and has only one setting except for strobe.  You can’t pack it tightly as it doesn’t have a lockout, and it also has to cycle through the annoying strobe before turning off.  But for short trips with no need for extra batteries, the Swift Clip might be worth the half ounce in the event of a headlamp failure.

Don’t take my negatives above to be a detractor of the Swift Clip for its primary purpose. Amphipod does not market this as a backpacking headlamp.  It is probably much better suited for running and other activities for which it is designed.  However, I am always looking for items that have additional uses for hiking, and this is a great little backup light with no real weight penalty.

Birkhead Mountains Wilderness Trip Report

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I just updated the trip report page with a short weekend trip from last year to one of my favorite local spots…the Birkhead Mountains Wilderness in the Uwharrie National Forest in the middle of North Carolina.  This is a great spot for a day hike or 1 to 2 day backpacking trip.  The mountains are some of the oldest in the world and therefore are very low.  Water sources are good, and campsites are frequent especially off trail (but please use Leave No Trace principles unless you use an established site.  It’s an area I have taken several beginning backpackers for a first hike, but also has great off-trail bushwacking options as the hardwood forests (mostly second growth) are relatively open.  My wife and I have taken short weekend trips here to get out of the house and just spend time in the woods without traveling too far.  It’s nice to have something like this so local to the three major areas in NC (Triangle, Triad, and Charlotte).

Hi There!

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My first blog post…hmmm.  I’ll start with what my intentions are:

A blog about hiking, backpacking, and camping from a regular guy with kids and a full time job who has backpacked for 30 years.  Not from an expert, just “experienced” (you can read aging here if you want) enough to know there is a lot to learn yet.

I have no ties to outdoor manufacturers and I buy all my own gear, and generally keep favorites for a long time (not a gear junkie but I appreciate the good stuff as well as good deals).  I’ll post my genuine opinion of my gear under normal circumstances (don’t expect any test results from Everest or a thru hike of the PCT – there are other great sites for that). No extreme adventures or long distance hikes, just your average 2 to 7 day trips with a few longer ones scattered in at times.

And just as important or maybe more so for me, a place to put ideas on “paper” and have respectful discussions and disagreements about those thoughts.  Also a place for questions and comments from novice to seasoned backpackers where the answers will be honest and may include links to more experienced sites or folks when it surpasses my knowledge or comfort level.

Looking forward to the journey!