The main goal of my Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) hike earlier this month was to use it as a “shakedown” hike for my upcoming Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike. I wanted to get some systems/routines worked out, figure out if there was any gear that I didn’t like or that didn’t work, etc. There was plenty of new gear to test out. In order to mimic my CDT hike, I took along several pieces of gear I normally wouldn’t have brought along on this hike. This blog has some thoughts on what worked, what didn’t, and planned changes. (You can read my trip report here.)
Pack: Once I figured out how to wear the pack correctly and got it all adjusted, I was quite happy with it. There are three main concerns I have with it though. First, the waist straps. I have to have the waist straps cinched down as tight as they will go. Hopefully if I lose some weight along the CDT it won’t cause the pack to stop fitting. Second, the water bottle holders. Getting my bottle put back in on this pack is much more difficult than on my other pack. Third, there is really no spare room. It might be a little tricky figuring out how to carry extra water for parts of the CDT. I think as long as I don’t have a big food carry and big water carry all at the same time, I’ll be ok. Also, I don’t think this is quite as comfortable as my other pack. But, even with all that said, overall I was pretty happy with the pack, especially for saving a couple pounds over my other pack.
Experience in wet weather: I haven’t done a whole lot of hiking in wet weather. I have been stormed on up in the mountains, but I have never had day after day of rain and creek crossings and have done little hiking while it was actually raining. It was good to finally get some experience in that type of weather. My rain gear kept me dry from the rain, not so much from the sweat, which is a problem with most, if not all, rain gear. I quickly learned to tuck my shirt into my rain pants when it’s raining, otherwise the bottom of it gets soaked. Other than my tent (which I’ll discuss later), I didn’t seem to have any problems with water getting somewhere it shouldn’t be. Based on the forecast when I started the trip, I expected to be walking in the rain much more than I actually did. Although the experience was good, I was glad I didn’t have a lot of walking in the rain.
Mileage: I was quite worried about being able to string several 15ish mile days back to back to back. After I got my pack figured out, and excluding my feet, I was actually quite happy with how my body did. I was definitely sore and worn out at the end of each day, but I was able to make the mileage I needed, and my body seemed to recover pretty well each night. I even was able to get in just under 20 miles one day. I’m not sure how I would have felt by the end had I done the whole 164 miles, but this was at least an encouraging sign. I hope to start off a little slower than that on the CDT, but it was good to see how my body handled this mileage right off the bat. As long as I can get my feet figured out, I’ll feel pretty darn good about the physical part of it.
Creek Crossings: One of the things that made me most nervous during the trip was creek crossings. There were only two that ended up being fairly difficult: Buffalo River and the west crossing of Hurricane Creek. Thankfully I hit the water levels at a good time and made it across safely each time.
Maps: I had started out mainly using the Guthook app, but as I went along, I found myself looking more and more at the OHT Backcountry Maps from Underwood Graphics. It was really nice to pair the maps with Guthook as one often had a camp spot listed that the other didn’t.
Water: Speaking of Guthook, I was a little curious starting off since water sources on Guthook often had several miles between them. I brought bladders to carry extra water if needed (I actually wanted to try a big water carry at some point). Shortly before starting I had someone mention that “water was everywhere” and they were correct. There are many, many creek crossings that aren’t marked in Guthook. Some of them may dry up during certain times of the year, but I would be willing to bet there are a lot of them that don’t. So there is no shortage of places to stop and refill water.
Foods: I tried several foods on this trip that I hadn’t tried before. I really liked the yogurt covered raisins and dried mango for snacks. I’ll have to keep those in mind for future trips.
What Didn’t Work
Footwear: as I mentioned in my trip report blog, this is an obvious one due to the blisters. I’ll definitely have to figure out how to prevent those. I think next hike I’ll try using liners and different socks as well as lacing my shoes a little different. Hopefully that will help. But it was just as much about the constantly wet feet. I wore trail runners and crossed the creeks with those on. I didn’t bring any other shoes. Between the rain and creek crossings, from day 3 on my shoes were rarely dry. It was really annoying to get to camp and have nothing else to wear other than wet shoes when I wanted to dry out my feet. One option to fight this would be to bring waterproof boots and separate shoes to cross the creeks. This would help a lot where there is relatively shallow water running along the trail that gets into trail runners. My big problem with this is that it would add a lot of time to creek crossings. I had days where there were as many as 4-5 creek crossings that would have required changing shoes, which could add upwards of an hour spent crossing creeks. If you’re not on a time crunch, not a big deal. But if you’re trying to knock out some miles, this is less than ideal. What I’ll likely do if I hike the second half of the trail is bring some sandals to wear around camp at the end of the day. That way I can at least try to air out my feet for a bit at the end of the day. I’ll also likely bring an extra pair of socks (three pairs total) and try to change out socks a little more often. This shouldn’t be as big of a problem on the CDT, but it does have me reconsidering whether or not I want to bring along my sandals.
Camera: bringing along my DSLR has always been a hassle, but one I’ve been willing to put up with for short trips. I didn’t take my DSLR on my first couple backpacking trips and I still regret not doing that. However, after this trip, I realized that I likely won’t want to deal with the DSLR for 3,100 miles (distance of the CDT). I have already bought a Sony mirrorless camera to use instead, so the bulk and weight of my camera gear will definitely be going down, although it will be offset some by bringing along a gimbal for video purposes.
Umbrella: This is one of those items I normally wouldn’t have brought on this trip, but I plan on taking it on the CDT, so I wanted to give it a try. I tried it out right at the start of the trail while I had some room on the dirt road and quickly realized that I needed to figure out a different way to mount it. I was able to mount it, but it was so low I could only see a few feet in front of me. I’ll have to try and figure out a way to mount it a little bit higher.
My Mind: I forgot my sunglasses in my car, and then forgot a tent stake on two separate occasions. Hopefully I don’t have that frequent of instances of forgetfulness on the CDT.
Tent: In order to cut down on weight I bought the REI Flash Air 2 tent, and this was the first trip to use that tent. Between the condensation on the inside (an issue for all tents with that type of design) and issues with water getting inside the tent when it was raining, I wasn’t a huge fan of it. I believe the main issue with water getting in the tent was due to a bad seam, but I know there was also a little bit of water splashing into the tent when it was raining heavily. I’m debating on whether or not to use my old tent (which I like better but would add around 1 lb to my weight and I’m already on the heavy side) or exchange for a new Flash Air 2 and hope that the water getting in is due to a manufacturing defect on the tent I have.
Phone Case: I used a brand new waterproof case on my phone for this trip, and at some point mid-trip it broke. The piece used to turn the phone on/off silent fell out. I was able to put it back in, but it wasn’t in there very well. Thankfully that didn’t cause any issues. I have already purchased a different case to try on the next hike.
Slow Getting Going In Mornings: I got better towards the end of the trip, but some of that was due to not eating breakfast at camp and not brushing my teeth. It also didn’t help that I spent several minutes every morning but one drying off my tent. Hopefully I can get a little better at getting going in the morning as I get systems and routines worked out.
Sleeping Pad: This worked with the exception of apparently not being waterproof. This was another new piece of gear for this trip. I honestly like the sleeping pad I was using before much better, and it is waterproof, but it is much, much louder when I move around (which I do a lot), so I decided to go with this one. As long as I don’t get water in the tent, this shouldn’t be a big deal, but it was still a bummer to find that out.
Foods: I found out that I’m not a big fan of Idahoan potatoes (at least the mix I got). The Idahoan potatoes mix was also a ton of food. I could barely finish it. I also realized after I got home that the two pasta mixes I brought along required milk, which I didn’t have with me. Not sure how they would have turned out without the milk. Haha. Note to self: look at ingredients needed and instructions when purchasing food to bring on trail.
So, although cut short, the trip definitely did what it was supposed to do in providing feedback. I think it will actually turn out to be a good thing to make some tweaks and try those on my next hike (hopefully the second half of the trail). A second hike should give me some good practice with the new camera. I’m going to need it. And fingers crossed the blisters aren’t an issue on the next hike!