Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Christmas List

My campsite in Yellowstone National Park:

All I want for Christmas is backpacking gear. My current tent is great for car camping. It's way too heavy to carry on a backpacking trip, though. Santa took me shopping online at Amazon and I should get my presents in time for Christmas.

I just found out that BCO is going to be hiking the Lone Star Hiking Trail in Sam Houston National Forest starting in February - one weekend at a time. It's part of the Texas Forest Trail region I've been wanting to explore. I was excited to see that I won't have to do this part of it alone. I have no experience backpacking, so this is a perfect learning opportunity. It's good practice for the Appalachian Trail I'm going to hike one day.

I don't have thousands of dollars to spend on ultra light, ultra heavy duty equipment and conditions in Texas are not likely to be severe even in February, so they are not necessary for a weekend trip. The cheapest gear falls apart after a couple of uses or doesn't perform as required even for ideal conditions, so they are not a bargain. I settled for light enough, good quality, and affordable.

I found a tent that weighs just under 4 pounds and got good reviews from users for keeping them dry, easy setup, and durability.  I also bought a ground tarp to place under the tent to keep it drier, warmer, and make it last longer.

I found a sleeping bag that weighs just under 3 pounds which is rated to 30 degrees, so it's probably comfortable to 40 degrees. I can add a silk or fleece liner to make it warmer if needed.

I ordered a backpack that smaller women reviewers loved. I'm only 5'1", so that's a big plus.  It has a space for a water bladder.  One of the comments was, "Most quality packs are well over $100 and some even approach $200 for this kind of quality. I was so blown away with the quality construction and all the "extras" that I'm still a little speechless." I didn't see any bad reviews for the pack (and Amazon buyers have no problem handing out bad reviews), just a few minor details that could be improved upon. I'm thinking it will be more than adequate for an overnight hike.

My bill, including shipping, was 250 dollars. I still need to buy a few more things, but I think I got the most important items.

Any suggestions from experienced hikers and backpackers out there are appreciated.


gayle said...

Sounds fun!! I have no experience hiking.

John said...

Looking forward to hearing about your trip. Sorry I can't offer any help. More of a biker than a hiker, althought the hill behind my house is still a high priority hike.

the mom said...

What kind of ultralight food will you bring? Powder mix? Like soups and stews? And water... will you find stream water, or will you have to carry bottle water?

Last night I read your entire blog. Very interesting! Have you made up your mind about studies yet?
And I found out we kind of have one thing in common; casino. I used to work as a croupier, and my husband is a gambler.

Vince said...

Compeed or whatever you have over on your side is an absolute must. And why did you put the bike inside the fly-net in the first photo.

Poppy said...

That's a nice list and effective shopping! I'm not an expert on backpacking so I can't say much about that... only be careful you don't put your tent on an antheap, like I did. :D

I have to say, though, I like useful Christmas presents too. :)

Sage said...

I have a few miles under my feet and commend you for your commitment to hike your eventual goal of hiking the AT.

You were wise to get a pack for your size. That's a major plus. Your cook kit is another big component--I now use an MSR multi-fuel whisperlight. It can burn gasoline, so you don't have to work hard to find white gas. But for just a day or two in warm (Texas) climate, I'd suggest looking at some of the alcohol stoves (they can be made or purchased inexpensively. I carry a thrift store aluminum pot with the handle removed and a lid that is an old frying pan. I've rigged my pots where I can use a stick as a handle (but mostly I use my bandanna). I carry a metal sierra cup (great for getting water out of small springs) and a plastic insulated coffee mug (good for keeping things hot)... I should do a post on all this! Anyway, if you have questions, feel free to ask. I'm not a geeky type of backpacker--I use things till they wear out and still have the old Kelty D-4 backpack I brought just out of high school.

Jen said...

@gayle: I don't have much, so I'm glad I found this group.

@John: I'm looking forward to going. I'll take good notes so I can write about it. Go tackle that hill!

@the mom: You read all of it? Wow. Thank you.

They sell meals for backpakers that weigh almost nothing. You add hot water and have a hot meal. Plus, I've still got some of the MRE's they passed out after the hurricane last year. Those are not the tastiest meals ever, but they are edible and very filling.

My pack has a space for a water bladder that should hold most of the water I'll need for an overnight trip. I'll bring some kind of filtration system just in case it's not.

@Vince: I had never heard of Compeed. I had to Google it. Liquid bandage sounds like a good idea. I'll add it to my first aid kit.

That flynet was also a shelter from the rain. The table was a convenient, dry place to chain my bike.

@Poppy: Oh, that would not be pleasant, especially the fire ant heaps we have in south...

@Sage: I have a little stove I bought on my last camping trip that uses canned fuel, but I'd like to find something lighter. I'll be comparison shopping at Academy and REI. I have some very light weight cooking pots that came in a mess kit. I don't have the coffee mug...I'll add that to my list. I may have a lot of questions. I'll be posting more as I get prepared, I'm sure. Your comments and advice are very much appreciated. THANK YOU.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Sounds like you're planning a great adventure - finding the right balance between cost & quality (the point where spending more doesn't make it any better for your needs) is such a tough one, and it sounds like you've put a lot of thought into where that point is for you. I love camping, I'm probably going to be camping in Greenland next summer :)

Vince said...

I knew you had something, it was after all developed for either Vietnam or NASA, not fully sure which.
The women here swear by them for their fancy shoes and the Pharmacist gives a man some very odd looks. You remember that small town look. But nothing on earth protects you feet as long as you put them on when you first feel any blistering.

Kathryn said...

I still can't get over that they have sleeping bags that are under 3 pounds. So, they tent and the bag and the food and your clothes and the extras should only weigh...what? 30lbs? Piece of cake!


I commend you for loving the great outdoors.

("Hello? Room service?")

Jen said...

@Rachel Cotterill: My funds will be limited for the next couple of years so every purchase has to count. Greenland? You should blog about it so we can go with you -virtually...

@Vince: I'm not prone to blisters. Never developed one either training for or running marathons...but there's a first time for everything...I'll take it.

@Kathryn: I'm hoping for 25 pounds or less. Can it be done? We'll see...I do love the outdoors. (Room service doesn't suck, either.)

Rebecca S. said...

Once, on a river rafting trip one of the guys we were with brought a flask of cognac and shared it. I highly recommend adding that to your pack.
Seriously, I hope your pack has a good hipbelt to take most of the weight on your hips and off your shoulders - it does sound like you know what you are doing, though. And you are tough and fit. That counts for a lot!

Jen said...

@Rebecca S.: It got good reviews. I'll have time to take it on a test drive or two before February. I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm researching and attaching myself to people who do.

Tallshag said...

Backpacking is one of my great loves of the outdoors even though it has been awhile since I knew anyone who wanted to go do it with me. And getting all your stuff ready is just part of the fun of going. Here's a few tips (most of which I learned the hard way) that will probably improve the overall backpacking experience for you as a first-timer.

1) Weight is not your friend! The two things you must bring (water and food) are the things over which you have the least control when it comes to weight.

Water weighs 8 pounds a gallon. Food is mostly water. Some of the dehydrated backpacking food tastes OK but all of it is too expensive and while light to carry, still requires water.

CHECK IN ADVANCE if there will be water where you are going and if there is, don't carry much. If you have no choice but to tote water, use plastic soft drink bottles. They are cheap, surprisingly tough and weigh very little. Although, those East German canteens I gave you are also light, can be carried on a belt, hold a liter and have their own cups.

2) If your hike is only a day or two, you very well may can do without a cook stove and fuel if you bring pre-cooked food and build a fire to heat it, if desired. That will save you some weight and space. Think citrus, prebaked potatoes, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, pre-cooked bacon, celery, French bread, etc. Plus, those type foods don't leave any garbage to tote home.

3) Since this will be your first time, absolutely, positively do a "test pack" of everything you plan to bring. Load it all up and walk it around...not just around the house or around the block but for a mile or two...maybe on one of the walking trails you like close to home?

The old standby backpacking advice, that a person does not want to pack more than 20 percent of their body weight, is good advice. But more than anything else, a test pack will help you decide what you must carry, and what you can leave home.

4) Wear the waist belt of your pack as snug as you can stand it, because the more weight it bears, the better. Leave the shoulder straps slack or you will chafe, your back will ache and you'll be miserable. This is another thing you can learn quick and fine-tune on your test pack.

5) Take a fanny pack and inside it carry the very small items you anticipate needing often or to which you will want easy access. That will save you a good bit of having to stop, take off your pack and dig around inside it, plus it's easier to keep up with the little stuff that way. I wear mine 'backwards' i.e. in front rather than on my fanny.

6) If you have to leave a car at the start or finish point of your hike, do not leave anything inside it that you will be perturbed to find not there when you return. If it's a state or federal park where you are going, count on a ranger to drop you's one the main things they do. If you do have to leave a car at a trailhead, tell the rangers it will be there and for how long.

7) Of course there's more but those are the biggies that come to mind...and the fact that it has been too long since I went backpacking! If you like your initiation into the world of backpacking, there's a guy in Alabama who'll go with you!

Jen said...

@Tallshag: 20 percent of my body weight is not very much. I had planned to load it up and get used to carrying it. There's a 3 mile loop that starts across the street.

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