I have had quite a few questions about the gear I will be carrying on my Continental Divide Trail (CDT) hike, so I figured at least a few people would find a blog post about my gear interesting. I have made a couple last minute changes this week (shoes and video equipment), so I’m crossing my fingers those work out. My pack weight is definitely on the heavier side compared to others thru hiking the CDT, which makes me a little nervous. I’m still debating whether or not to leave the umbrella and sandals at home to save a little bit of weight, but for now I plan on bringing them. Outside of the weight, I feel pretty good about this gear, so I don’t anticipate a whole lot of changes along the trail other than getting rid of the snow gear at some point, but we’ll see how it goes. Pictures and a list of my gear are below.
Although it was a bummer to call it quits at Ozone on my first OHT hike when I had been planning on going all the way to Lake Ft. Smith (LFS), it did allow me to make some tweaks to gear and test those out after getting back on trail. You can read about my gear thoughts after the Woolum to Ozone section here. This blog will mainly cover the gear changes I made for the Ozone to LFS section and how those worked out. I’ll also cover a couple changes to make going forward. The image below lists out the gear I took on the Ozone to LFS hike.
Changes for Ozone to LFS
Camera/Video Gear: After my Woolum to Ozone hike I decided I needed to swap out my camera gear for something less bulky and lighter. I can put up with carrying my big DSLR on short trips, but carrying it for 3,100 miles was going to be a whole other deal. I decided on a Sony a6400. It was much lighter and more compact, and seemed like a good picture/video combo camera. I spent a good chunk of my free time between the two hikes trying to learn the camera. During my hike I found out it’s a little difficult using the same camera for photos and video, as I use different settings for each. I also generally have a polarizer on for photos and take it off for videos. I think I prefer my DSLR for photos, but it was definitely much nicer to carry the smaller camera. Part of the weight savings was offset by bringing along a gimbal for video. I haven’t gone through my video from the Ozone to LFS section, but I have a feeling between the new camera and gimbal, it will be a lot better than the video from my phone on the Woolum to Ozone section.
Footwear: This was a big one due to the blisters I got on the Woolum to Ozone hike. I decided to give my Darn Tough socks another try. I had used the Darn Tough socks before and had issues with really sore big toes, after which I switched to the running socks for a few different trips. I decided to try Injinji liners for the first time on this trip. I also used a surgeon’s knot on each shoe to try and keep my heel in place a little better. Finally, I brought along some sandals to use for creek crossings and wearing around camp. During the day I would usually swap out my socks at least once for some dry socks. I often felt like I was getting blisters during the trip, but I never actually had one form. That was definitely a good sign. Hopefully it stays that way for the CDT.
Insulated Booties: I have had some backpacking trips before where I had some issues with cold feet. Generally I’ll bring along a spare pair of socks to use for sleeping to help with that. Earlier this year when we had a really cold stretch of weather I tested out my sleeping gear to see how low I was willing to go with temperature. It actually did quite well, but I struggled with cold feet. After that I did a little research and came across the Enlightened Equipment Sidekicks. I ordered these before my Woolum to Ozone hike but didn’t get them until afterwards, so I decided to give them a try on this trip even though it wasn’t supposed to be particularly cold. I loved them. They were great to have on during the evening if I was just sitting around at camp, and they were great to have on in the sleeping bag. The only bummer about them is I can’t wear them to walk around. But for keeping my feet warm in the sleeping bag or sitting at camp, they worked great.
Ice Axe/Micro spikes: You’re probably wondering what the heck I was doing carrying an ice axe and micro spikes on the OHT. It was purely for practice packing them along. I wanted to see if I had any issues with where I packed them or put them on my pack. I didn’t come across any issues other than the ice axe makes it a little bit more difficult to go under low trees/branches. I would like to get out on some snow prior to getting on the CDT to get some practice with the micro spikes and ice axe, but I’m not sure if I’ll get around to that or not.
Changes to Make Going Forward
Chapstick: I’ll normally bring a tube of chapstick along on hikes, but for some reason I didn’t on this trip and I regretted it. I think that’s the worst chapped lips I have ever had, although thankfully they never split real bad. It finally got to the point to where I was putting olive oil on them to try and help them out. I’ll have to be sure and take some chapstick along on future hikes.
Mount gimbal/camera: Each time I wanted to take a video, I had to take the gimbal out of it’s bag, take the camera out of it’s bag, put the camera on the gimbal, get the gimbal set up, take the video, take the camera off the gimbal, put the camera up, and then put the gimbal up. It was quite the process. Haha. I’ll have to take some time to see if I can figure out a way to mount the gimbal with camera attached to my shoulder strap to make it easier to take video. The setup I used would work pretty well to protect the camera and gimbal in inclement weather, but it would be nice to have them more available during better weather.
Gloves: I used some brushtail possum gloves from Zpacks, and while they seemed to do a decent job at keeping my hands warm, they got hair everywhere. It nearly looked like I was bringing some sort of pet along with me at times. Haha. I’m not sure if I’ll switch them out, but I’ll at least look into other options.
Stretching: I always stretch after my runs, but for some reason I have never stretched after I finish a day of backpacking. I listened to a podcast during this trip where there was a discussion about stretching while thru hiking, and yet I still didn’t remember to do it. Haha. I need to get into the habit of stretching a bit each day after I finish hiking. I’m sure it would help.
Overall I was quite happy with my gear after this hike. I’m a little bit worried about being on the heavy side, but I have thought and thought and thought about my gear and feel like this is the best fit for me, so I’ll give it a shot. It’s definitely doable, but will make the CDT a little more difficult. I feel much better about my gear after the Ozone to LFS section than I did before. I’m sure there will still be tweaks made as I prepare for the CDT and as I go along the CDT, but I feel like I’m at a good starting point.
During our past backpacking trips, I had always suspected my brother and I probably weren’t eating enough. However, we had a system that worked and hadn’t had any issues other than being a bit hungry at times. A couple months ago I happened to come across Backcountry Foodie and I decided to do the math. It was no surprise when I discovered the calorie count we were getting was quite low. Haha. Not a huge deal for the short trips that we do, but I decided to try some new things on our San Juan trip anyway. Below I compare how we had been doing food and water, and how we did it on this trip.
Before: For drinking water we would fill up our camelback bladders and drink through a Saywer Mini at the end of our bladder hose. For cooking water and dishes we would fill up the Sawyer pouches and filter through a Sawyer Mini.
This Trip: We primarily used a Sawyer Squeeze screwed onto the top of a 1L Smartwater bottle. We had another smaller widemouth type bottle that we used for filtered water and drink mixes. We also had an Evernew 2L bag that we used to bring extra water to camp if the lake/stream was a little bit of a walk from camp. We had never used drink mixes before, but on this trip we tried out some Ultima Replenisher drink mixes to help replenish electrolytes.
Thoughts: If you can easily get the bottle out of your pack while hiking, I think the Sawyer Squeeze on a bottle is the way to go. The bottle was easy to fill up, the Squeeze has better flow than the mini, and the bottle was much simpler to get in and out of the pack than the bladder. Having the bladder hose to drink through is slightly more convenient (easier to reach than our bottles and drink on the go), but it was much nicer filling the bottles than filling the camelback bladders and getting the bladders back in the packs. The Evernew bag came in really handy several times while at camp. It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the drink mixes made any difference, but it was really nice to have something flavored to drink a couple times a day.
Before: We would each have a couple packets of Quaker oatmeal. We would each put the oatmeal into a bowl, I would boil water in my Jetboil, and then pour the boiling water into the bowls with the oatmeal and let the oatmeal hydrate. (320 calories)
This Trip: Lemon Blueberry Oatmeal recipe from Backcountry foodie. I packaged the oatmeal into Ziploc style bags. Instead of pouring the oatmeal into bowls, we poured it into empty Mountain House packets we had brought. We would then pour the boiling water from my Jetboil into the Mountain House packets to let the oatmeal hydrate. After we were finished we would rinse out the Mountain House packets and then use them for the next breakfast. (510 calories)
Thoughts: I thought the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal was just as tasty as the Quaker oatmeal, and just as filling, if not more so. It was a little more of a pain since I had to purchase the ingredients and make it myself, but it was really quite simple. The Mountain House packets weren’t as easy to eat out of as bowls, but they kept the oatmeal warm as it hydrated, which was really nice. It also meant we didn’t have to pack an extra bowl (my Jetboil includes a bowl). For extended trips, I would likely throw in some different meals to change things up, but for shorter trips like this, the Lemon Blueberry oatmeal will probably be my preferred choice. (On this trip, I did cut off the sealing mechanism for the Mountain House packets, as I have noticed on previous trips that after a couple times reusing the packets, the mechanism starts to come apart anyway. To close up the packets while hydrating, we would fold the top over and then put a clothespin on top.)
Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)
This Trip: no change
Before: Trail Mix. It was either a pouch of Great Value Tropical Trail Mix or Power Up High Energy Trail Mix. We would eat a handful or so out of the pouch. (~240 calories)
This Trip: Trail mix. This time I bought the bulk Canyon Runner Trail Mix at WinCo and packaged it into 3/4 cup servings in Ziploc style bags. Both of us really liked this trail mix! (480 calories).
Before: some sort of bar (Clif bar for me). (250 calories)
This Trip: no change.
Before: My brother and I would split a Mountain House meal. Prior to the trip I would repackage the Mountain House meals into Ziploc style bags to save room in our bear canisters. I would bring an empty Mountain House packet for making the meal. At dinnertime I would dump the meal from the Ziploc style bag into the Mountain House packet. I would boil water in my Jetboil and pour it into the Mountain House packet for the meal to hydrate. Once it was ready, I would pour half of it into a bowl for my brother and then I would eat the other half out of the packet. After we were finished, I would rinse out the Mountain House packet and reuse it for the next dinner. (~300-350 calories, depending on the meal)
This Trip: I tried some various Backcountry Foodie recipes, and my brother had full Mountain House dinners. As before, the Mountain House meals were put into Ziploc style bags before the trip. As with breakfast, we each had a Mountain House packet we used for hydrating and eating out of, and after the meal we would rinse them out and reuse them for the next dinner. (~600-700 calories for Mountain House meals, ~600-950 calories for Backcountry Foodie meals)
Thoughts: The Mountain House meals are really nice due to their simplicity. Purchase them, repackage them into Ziplocs, pour them into a Mountain House packet at dinnertime, add boiling water, and then let it sit and hydrate. The Backcountry Foodie recipes were a little more involved. I had to purchase the ingredients and make the meals beforehand. For the ramen meals, after hydrating, the remaining liquid had to be removed, and then the spices and oil mixed into the noodles. The Mountain House meals seemed to clean up better than the Backcountry Foodie meals, mainly due to the Backcountry Foodie meals using olive oil. I would dump the remaining water from the ramen into my Jetboil bowl, and since I was reusing the Mountain House packet, my bowl would get oil residue on it, which was kind of annoying. Taste wise, I thought the Backcountry Foodie meals were fine, and I imagine they are quite a bit cheaper than the Mountain House meals. They were also more filling than I expected. To me the Backcountry Foodie recipes seemed healthier since I was making them myself. If I have time to prepare meals before a trip, I’ll likely go with the Backcountry Foodie recipes, but I’ll have to see if I can come up with a little better system for making them while backpacking to avoid getting oil residue on my bowl.
Before: Peanut M&Ms. I would bring a sharing size pouch, and my brother and I would eat a handful each evening. (~280 calories)
This Trip: Peanut M&Ms a couple evenings, and a Backcountry Foodie chocolate pudding recipe a couple evenings. (~280 calories M&Ms, 368 calories pudding)
Thoughts: The Peanut M&Ms are really nice since they are easy and don’t make a mess. The chocolate pudding recipe has to be made before hand, and then water added when you’re ready to eat it. The first time I made it, I made it in the Ziploc style bag I had packaged it in, and that was a little bit difficult and messy to eat out of. The second time I made it, I made it in my Jetboil bowl. That was easier mix up and eat out of, but then the bowl had to be cleaned. It tasted great, and was filling, but definitely more of a pain than the M&Ms.
I was a little nervous changing so many things this trip, but all in all it went pretty well. Despite my brother giving me a hard time about it, it was fun to experiment with the Backcountry Foodie recipes this trip. They definitely take more effort than Quaker oatmeal and Mountain House dinners, but they also generally provide more calories and seem healthier to me. One downside to the Backcountry Foodie recipes is that a lot of the ingredients come in amounts much larger than needed for just a few meals, which can be a little frustrating. If you’ll be making a lot of meals, I think you’ll definitely get more bang for your buck with the Backcountry Foodie recipes. I also think some of them would be a great idea for trail magic if you do any of that. My brother and I definitely got more calories during this trip, which I’m sure helped, and I’m sure it helped having some drinks to replace electrolytes a couple times a day. Still some things to play with for my next trip though!
At the end of July my brother and I did our annual backpacking trip. This year we went to the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. You can read the trip summary here. I changed several things up on this trip compared to previous trips. Below I cover the major changes I made and my thoughts on how they went.
Trail Runners & Socks: Leading up to this trip I had been wearing some Lowa boots, and before that had worn Merrell boots. My socks leading up to this trip were Darn Tough socks. With both pairs of boots, my big toe on my right foot was generally quite sore by the end of each trip. It was so bad after my Eagle Rock Loop trip earlier this year that I knew I needed to try something different. I had discovered that most thru hikers switch to trail runners, so I started doing some research on those. I tried several different pairs and landed on the Brooks Cascadia 14. I have really liked Feetures socks for my running, so I decided to give them a try for backpacking. I was quite pleased with the shoe and sock combination at the end of the trip. My feet felt great at the end of the trip. There were some moments where my feet or toes started to get sore while hiking, but it was never anything that lasted. When I would get them wet, they would usually dry out pretty quickly. The main complaint I had with them was getting small gravel in them occasionally. I definitely plan to stick with these for now.
Sandals: Leading up to this trip I had been using a pair of Cabela’s sandals for crossing creeks/rivers and for walking around camp. They worked fine, but I decided to try some Xero Shoes Z-Trail Sandals since they are less bulky and weigh less. The first thing I noticed about the Xero sandals on this trip was that they were more difficult to take on and off. I also thought the Xero sandals were less comfortable. However, I plan on sticking with the Xero sandals since I feel the bulk/weight savings are worth giving up the ease and comfort of the Cabela’s sandals. Since I’m now going to be using trail runners, I’ll likely start changing into my sandals for creek crossings less and crossing in my trail runners instead, so changing in and out of the sandals will likely be less of an issue.
Maps: In the trips leading up to this one, I had brought along a couple different paper maps when available: a wider view topo map (such as a Nat Geo Trails illustrated map) as well as a much more detailed custom USGS quad map from MyTopo. While doing some research leading up to this trip I came across the Avenza Maps smartphone app. I decided to try that out for this trip. Instead of buying a paper Nat Geo Trails Illustrated map, I purchased the digital version on Avenza Maps, and plotted out several possible routes using the app. While it was a little bit of a pain to plot a path in the app, it was definitely nice to get a mileage estimate once it was plotted. For the actual hike, I still brought a custom USGS quad map from MyTopo, but I also played around with the Avenza Maps app. The Avenza Maps app was super handy for quickly figuring out where we were on the trail. However, I did find myself paying less attention to what we should expect on the trail based on the topo map, and thus not paying attention to what we were actually covering on trail, and thus not comparing the two to make sure everything made sense. Not a huge deal on this trip, but I could see a scenario where it would take me longer to realize I had gone the wrong way if I wasn’t checking the app too terribly often, whereas I might notice it sooner if I was paying close attention to what I was seeing vs what the topo map shows. The MyTopo map was much nicer when I wanted to look at a wider view than what could be seen on the phone screen. Finally, the Avenza Maps app uses the USGS quad maps as is, which could mean your route would fall on several different maps. The MyTopo maps allow you to customize the map so that a single map could include multiple USGS quad maps, which could mean your route may fall on a single map. So there are pros and cons to both. I could definitely see doing trips with only the Avenza Maps app, but it also makes me a little nervous relying completely on an electronic device, so I’ll probably keep bringing along a paper map as backup.
Camp Chair: My brother and I generally don’t hike for the entire day. We’ll usually reach our destination by mid afternoon or earlier. After that my brother will do some fishing, if possible, and I’ll usually try to get some pictures or do some reading. After my Eagle Rock Loop trip, I realized that it would be really nice to have a chair to use for reading or watching my brother fish, so I purchased the REI Flexlite Air Chair. This came in really handy many times during this trip. I wouldn’t bring this if I knew I would be hiking most of the time. But if I know that I will likely be done hiking early most of the days, and I have the space and don’t mind the weight, I’ll probably bring this along.
Bear Bag: On our previous trips, my brother and I have both used a BearVault BV450 for carrying our food. As I started to pack my food the day before we were supposed to leave, I realized my food wouldn’t fit in my BearVault. I could make it work if I didn’t bring along an extra day of food, but I didn’t want to take that chance. I checked to see if I could get a BearVault BV500 locally, but that didn’t appear to be possible, so I made a last minute trip to REI and got an Ursack Major XL. This weighed less than my BearVault, which was a big plus, and I was easily able to fit my food in it, along with some of my brother’s food. Thankfully we always had a place to secure it, but had we been above treeline, that would have been a problem with this bag. I was also pretty nervous about a bunch of water getting into the bag or the bag soaking up water if it rained hard. It never rained hard enough on our trip to see if this would happen. There is an odor-proof/water-proof bag you can get that goes inside the Ursack, so I may purchase that at some point to help ease the worry about water getting into the bag and potentially ruining some food. The BearVault is nice since you can pretty much stick it anywhere and it’s sealed from the rain, but if I know I’ll have places to hang the bag and there are no regulations requiring hard sided containers, I’ll likely bring along the Ursack on future trips.
Food/Water: I started to type this out and realized that there was enough to write a whole separate post, so be on the lookout for that post next week.
Last year after my trip to the Uinta Mountains in Utah, I posted a blog about getting my gear and myself to the trailhead and back. After looking back on the Utah trip, I decided to make a couple changes for the trip to the Sawtooths this year. I figured I would go ahead and share those changes and a couple thoughts/recommendations.
Before I get into the details of the changes, I figured I would provide a quick explanation of why I ship my gear instead of flying with it.
- There are a couple items I can ship that I can’t take on an airplane (even in checked luggage): bear spray and stove fuel. While I could buy these items in the city I fly into, I hate buying it, only using a small portion of it (or none of it at all), and then having to get rid of it.
- I have more confidence in shipping with USPS than with checked luggage on an airline. On my two trips so far, my layovers have generally been pretty short, and it makes me nervous that my bags may not make it from one plane to another if there is a time crunch. I would really hate to get to my final airport and not have my gear show up. With shipping it, I can send it early, and that way if something goes wrong during shipping, there is still some wiggle room.
The one major drawback of this is cost. I have flown Southwest both trips, and with Southwest I wouldn’t have to pay for a checked bag, whereas shipping cost me around $200 round trip for both Utah and Idaho. So there is definitely a trade off. For me, it’s worth paying the $200 and having a lower chance (in my opinion) of the gear not making it. If you fly with another airline that charges for bags, the shipping cost may not be as big of a deal.
So with that said, here were the changes I made this year.
Shipping 1 Package
Last year I shipped two packages. This year I only shipped one (same size). How did I manage that? Mainly by putting my sleeping bag in my carry on instead of shipping it. Last year, I knew it would be several days between when I shipped the packages and when I would pick them up, so I didn’t want to leave my sleeping bag compressed for several days to save room (not good for a down sleeping bag). But once I got to thinking about it after last year’s trip, I realized I could put the sleeping bag in my carry on and compress it, since it would only be like that for several hours (similar to a normal day of hiking). And with taking the sleeping bag out of one of the packages, I figured I could probably fit everything into a single package. Thankfully I was able to make it work. The pictures below show how I packed the shipped package if you are curious.
Larger Carry On
To fit the sleeping bag in my carry on along with everything else, I had to get a different carry on. Last year I used a laptop style backpack. This year I bought a true carry on suitcase that would hold more stuff than the backpack. In addition to the sleeping bag, I had some clothes for after the trip, a couple books, iPad, toiletry items, a pair of shoes, and other miscellaneous items.
The cost to ship my single package this year was nearly identical to what I paid to ship the two packages last year, and one package is definitely easier to carry around than two. So I will stay with the single package going forward. The single package ended up being around 40 lbs., so keep that in mind. I assume if you’re going backpacking, you can lift up and carry a 40 lb. package, but figured I would point it out anyway. A couple things to keep in mind when shipping the package though:
- Don’t ship too early. Based on my experience and what I have read online, the post office will only hold your package for 10 days (if you are doing general delivery). You can calculate shipping time on the USPS website, and thus figure out roughly which day you can send it to avoid sending it too early. If you are able to contact the post office, they may be willing to hold the package longer if needed. However, I tried calling the Boise post office that accepts general delivery many, many times (I would say at least 20) over the course of a couple weeks prior to shipping my package, and never got anybody to pick up. If you would like to send it a little earlier, I would suggest contacting the post office before you actually ship it.
- Matches: each of the four times I have shipped my package(s), the matches have caused some questioning/hesitation with the postal service employee(s). When I shipped my stuff back to OKC from Boise this year, one of the postal workers in Boise actually had me pull out the matches to make sure they were the proper kind. They have to be strike on box only matches, not strike anywhere matches. So be ready to get questioned on this, and it’s probably a good idea to have them somewhere easily accessible in case you do get asked to pull them out to verify they are the proper type.
Do you have any tips for shipping your gear or an alternative method you use? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments. If you have any questions about something I didn’t cover in here or my post from last year, reach out and I’ll see if I can provide an answer or share some knowledge I have gained from doing this a couple times now.