3 Ways to Avoid Gear Failure

As a gear shop along the Appalachian Trail, we have folks pop in all the time to ask about a failed piece of gear. “Can it be fixed? If it can’t, what can I get that will be more reliable this time?” We always do our best (and a few of us are actually really decent at and enjoy trying) to fix whatever may land in front of us. Trekking poles are common and typically are straight forward. They are either broken for good or most likely just need a deep cleaning to function properly. Packs are common as well and the culprit is usually a faulty buckle or strap. We do our best to come up with a mate for it and have even gone as far as to sew it on for folks.

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Many times, a trekking pole that will no longer lock tight just needs to be taken apart and cleaned of any dust, rust and debris that has collected inside of it.

But if we are realistic, we hate seeing these failures. Sometimes it is the result of overly loved items that are coming by their failure due to honest use. Every now and then the failure is due to misuse of the item, like putting far too much weight into a pack, causing strain and stress on key structural points. Other times it is a result of plain, old, cheap gear. This is the most upsetting sort of gear failure because the owner feels as if they did not get the expected life of the product out of it before it left them hanging out to dry somewhere along the trail.

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Putting too much weight into your backpack can cause certain points of the pack to start taking too much pressure and strain, resulting in a failure of the pack.

Thankfully for avid backpackers everywhere, there are a few ways to easily avoid gear failure. There is nothing worse than when you are days away from your next town stop and a majorly important piece of gear like a pack or tent fails on you. When backpacking, you are so reliant on the gear you carry. Not to mention that fixing items with just what you have in your pack can sometimes be difficult. Here are a few ways to avoid gear failure and be prepared for it if it does arise.

1. Buy High Quality Gear

Fly Creek UL 3 Tent with Fly 2-zm

The easiest way to avoid unwarranted gear failure is to buy a good product to begin with. The backpacking gear world is full of small businesses creating gear for the love of living an outdoor lifestyle, not for a quick buck. Some of these companies have become mammoths in the eyes of thru hikers and avid backpackers because they make a such good product. Think Big Agnes, the most popular tent on all of the AT; ULA, the second most popular pack on all of the AT, every pack of which is hand sewn in America! (No wonder they hold up so well!) But no one or nothing is absolutely perfect. When one of these companies does have a reported failure, they stand behind that product and act in a timely manner to help out the customer. Working in the outdoor industry and being big time backpackers ourselves, we hear the occasional stories of broken packs and tents or parts from these companies (and several others) where hikers have been mailed replacement parts or replacement gear while on trail! So be smart and help set yourself up for success by investing smartly in your gear. The old adage “You Get What You Pay For!” has never been so true as in a sport where you consistently execute major wear and tear on your gear everyday.

2. Treat Your Gear Well

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Once you have saved your money, done your research and purchased that high quality piece of gear that will become the basis of your survival on trail, you must commit to treating it well. If the fabric of your sleeping bag gets stuck in the zipper, don’t yank it out, gingerly extract it. When setting up your tent, be sure to pick a good area, not a patch of rocky land or a cluster of thistle and briars. Make sure you are aware of the recommended base weight for your backpack and the max load it is meant to carry. Going over this rating becomes more of a recipe for disaster as time passes. Check the floor of a shelter for protruding nails or other sharp debris before placing an inflatable sleeping pad down. Generally speaking, be responsible and think about your gear and what is best for it! Just a little bit of forethought can save you so much grief on trail.

3. Use Preventative Measures

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Over a 6 month, 2,000+ mile trail, things will definitely begin to breakdown a little bit. Replacing or fixing gear is just a part of thru hiking. You will probably go through several pairs of shoes and multiple shirts but you should’t have to go through several packs or tents or pads. These are items that should last you throughout the hike and they will if you take care of them and give them just a little TLC. Carrying a small amount of thread or floss with a few needles means you can reinforce an area of your pack if it begins to show signs of stress or excess strain. Carrying a small amount of Tenacious Tape will assist you in fixing holes in a sleeping bag, down jacket or tent. Some people carry the patch kit to their sleeping pad in hopes of being able to find the hole while on trail to fix the pad. Waterproofing your rain jacket and tarp/rain fly with Seam Sealer before setting out on trail also helps insure their ability to keep you dry. Being able to stop small problems from becoming big problems is the key to keeping your gear functional for longer and extending its life to match the length of your thru hike.

 

NOTE: If you have a piece of gear fail on you, be sure to truthfully note why. Was it something you did? Was it a mistake or misuse of the item? If you are going to ask a gear manufacturer to replace a piece of gear for you, be sure that you are coming by that new gear honestly. Trail Karma is real!

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Escape to the Mountains: Route 2

Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! And at the same time, we understand that hiking and backpacking in cold weather isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. This is a neat idea for spending a day off in the mountains that is much more cold weather friendly. You owe it to your sanity to break free of that cabin fever and we’ve got just the trek you need! Here is the second of two driving routes up into the mountains and out of Atlanta that can help you escape and offer fun things to do along the way!

The Eastern Route: I-85/GA-400/US-19

This route takes you out of Atlanta through the North Atlanta suburbs. It is the most direct route for anyone in East or South Atlanta and suburbs such as Conyers, Covington, Lawrenceville, Buford, Cumming, Roswell and Alpharetta. This route covers approximately 150 miles of road and takes just about 3.5 hours of drive time (from Atlanta). Of course, you will want to jump out of the car every now and then and check out some cool little mountain towns, neat country stores, beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous mountain views! They’re all along this route!

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Your route in it’s entirety

Step One: Get out of the City

If you live in or south of the center of Atlanta, get to I-85 and go North! Follow signs for GA-400 N and US-19 N. Alternatively, if you live North or further West of Downtown Atlanta, work your way to GA-400 N. After a while, the city will begin to fade away and GA-400 will loose its limited access and become US-19. Follow Signs for Dahlonega and join up with GA-60 N into town. Dahlonega is a great town to top off the gas tank and grab some lunch if you need.

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Step Two: Start Seeing Cool Things

As noted before, Dahlonega is isa great place to stop and get acclimated to the mountains. Grab lunch at the Picnic Cafe, also known as the Dahlonega Dessertery, or at The Crimson Moon (which has live music on weekends if you want to shop by for dinner and tunes on the way home) and walk around the square for a while. Check out the General Store for some old time candy and ready yourself for a day of fun!

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Follow signs out of town for US-19 N and stay right at Stone Pile Gap, splitting ways with GA-60N. When the road T’s at Turner’s Corner, take a left on US-129N. As you crest the top of the winding mountains, you will see Mountain Crossings on your right. This stone building houses a gear outfitter and gift shop and the view off of the overlook is incredible. Take some time to stretch your legs or even go for a hike up Blood Mountain, 2.2 miles up the Appalachian Trail.

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Take a right out of the Mountain Crossings’ parking lot and start heading down the mountain. Five miles down the way, you will come across Vogel State Park on your left. Swing into the park for some great views over Lake Trahlyta. You can hike around the lake and on the far end check out the falls.

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After leaving Vogel, take a left out of the park onto US-19N/US-129N. In a few miles, take a right on GA-180 and follow signs for Brasstown Bald Visitor’s Center. Brasstown Bald is the highest point in Georgia and offer spectacular views. It is advisable to check in with the Visitor’s Center before committing to the drive up to the peak if it is wintertime. The road up to Brasstown Bald, GA-180 spur, is incredible steep and is the first road in all of Georgia to be shut down during inclement weather. But, if the weather during your visit allows, the crystal clear winter views from the top of Brasstown Bald on the tower are breath taking.

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Backtrack down the steep GA-180 Spur and take a right to retrace your steps on GA-180 until you see GA-348 on your left and turn left. This is the second most likely road to be closed in Georgia during inclement weather but as you will see with Brasstown Bald, this also means it offers the best views in Georgia. This road will criss cross you over the Appalachian Trail in two places. The first will be Tesnatee Gap on your right. If you pull off into this parking area and begin walking on the AT to your right, it will bring you to Cow Rock in 1 mile. It is a steep climb, but a great hike to warm you up, get your blood flowing and give your some great views of the mountains. If you aren’t in the mood for a hike, continue driving a short ways to Hog Pen Gap. You may see people Ice Climbing if it is the middle of Winter and you can catch from great views without having to leave the car. The third pull over (the first of them to be on your right and the one that is past the AT) will provide you with the ability to swoop through in your car and snap some grandiose photos.

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If you continue down GA-348 you will soon come across several chances to view waterfalls. Once you have descended from the high mountains, on your right you will seen signs for the Dukes Creek Falls Recreation Area nearly immediately followed by Raven Cliff Falls Recreation Area. Dukes Creek is approximately 1 mile out and 1 mile back to view the falls and Raven Cliff is 3.5 miles out and 3.5 miles back but both hikes are relatively east. Raven Cliff in particular has little to no elevation gain.

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After getting your fill of the falls, keep on GA-348 until it T’s into GA-75A. Turn right onto GA-75 Alternate and follow it to GA-129 N, taking another right. In no time this will loop you back to Turner’s Corner, where you will take a left back onto US-19S towards Dahlonega. Retrace your steps back to town for dinner or to get back to 400 and head home. This is a great little route to show you some new places to have fun in the mountains, even in the winter!

Find This Route On Google Maps!

Escape to the Mountains: Route 1

Just because it is winter doesn’t mean you have to stay inside! And at the same time, we understand that hiking and backpacking in cold weather isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. This is a neat idea for spending a day off in the mountains that is much more cold weather friendly. You owe it to your sanity to break free of that cabin fever and we’ve got just the trek you need! Here is the first of two driving routes up into the mountains and out of Atlanta that can help you escape and offer fun things to do along the way! Stay tuned for Route 2 next week!

The Western Route: I-75/I-575/GA-515

This route takes you out of Atlanta through the North Atlanta suburbs. It is the most direct route for anyone in West or South Atlanta and suburbs such as Canton, Marietta, Kennesaw, Dallas, Douglasville, Newnan and McDonough. This route covers approximately 190 miles of road and takes just about 4 hours of drive time (from Atlanta). Of course, you will want to jump out of the car every now and then and check out some cool little mountain towns, neat country stores, beautiful waterfalls and gorgeous mountain views! They’re all along this route!

Your route in it's entirety

Your route in it’s entirety

Step One: Get out of the City

Get to I-75 and go North! Follow Signs for I-575N after passing Marietta and continue on as I-575N turns from a limited access interstate to state highway GA-515. The drive from Atlanta to Blue Ridge takes approximately 1hr and 3omin and gets progressively more beautiful after you get past Canton. By the time you make it to blue ridge, you may want to stretch your legs. Blue Ridge has an excellent little down town area for shopping and eating.

Here is each stop along the route and a break down of things to do there.

Here is each stop along the route and a break down of things to do there.

Step Two: Start Seeing Cool Things

As said before, Blue Ridge is a great little mountain town for shopping and eating. There are tons of mom ‘n’ pop shops and restaurants to choose from, all within an easy walking distance from one another. If you want to see something a little bit more unique in the area, head over to Mercier’s Orchards. Just a few minutes ride up GA-5, out of Blue Ridge, this place is hopping during the Fall when people flock to the mountains to buy apples but this time of year you can leisurely take your time to stroll this large country store and pick up all manner of wonderful fruits, pastries, baking mixes, ciders, wines and much, much more.

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Backtrack south on GA-5 from Mercier’s down to Blue Ridge again and take a left on GA-76 E towards Blairsville. This will take you to another mountain town of great shops and dining options. Take the ramp off of GA-76 towards downtown and grab a Cup o’ Joe at the Cabin Coffee Company in the town square or try out a few hard to find brews at Bearding Bottle Shop.

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From the center of town, take the roundabout and follow signs for Cleveland, GA and GA-129 S/US-19 S. In just a few miles, as you begin to wind up into the mountains, you will see Sunrise Grocery on your right. This little family owned country store has been a staple of this region since the 1920’s. You can find all manner of local goods and camp needs.

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Continue on up into the mountains and down GA-129 S/US-19 S and be on the look out for a road sign on your left called Helton Creek Rd. For the more adventurous, this will lead you to a great surprise. The road will take you through a little cabin community and turn into a dirt path. Keep following this road until you find yourself at a parking lot. A sign will direct you to Helton Creek Falls, one of the best in the area. You can see the falls well enough from the car, but even if it is a chilly day, the walk to the bottom of the falls for an up and close look is very short.

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After checking out Helton Creek Falls or opting out of adventure, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S until you hit the peak of the roadway. Here you will find the historic old building that houses Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi. It sits at Neel Gap along the Appalachian Trail and is an outfitter and gift shop. Stop and stretch your legs again and check out the view from the over look of the building’s patio. If you’re ready to brave the weather, take a hike up to Blood Mountain, the highest peak on the AT in the state of Georgia.

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After getting your dose of fresh Mountain air, hop back into the car and keep heading south. In approximately 2 miles you will come to another waterfall viewing possibility, though this one requires more of a hike to reach than Helton Creek Falls. Take a right into DeSoto Falls Recreation Area off of GA-129 S/US-19 S and you can choose wether to go to the upper or lower DeSoto Falls or both!

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If you’re over waterfalls, continue on GA-129 S/US-19 S and take a right onto GA-60. You will soon come to the aptly named  Stone Pile Gap. Be sure to veer right to continue on GA-60. In about 5 miles you will cross back over the Appalachian Trail at Woody Gap. If you park on the left side of the road you will have great views down from the mountains out into Dahlonega. If you park on the right side of the road, you can take the one mile, relatively easy hike up to Preacher’s Rock, which offers a beautiful vista out over the mountain scape.

11335558_1115461315134753_1411027285_nBy the time you get back to the car, you may be a bit beat. If you took advantage of all the area has to offer, you’ve done a lot in one day!! Keep on heading north of GA-60 and enjoy one of the prettiest stretches of highway in the great state on Georgia! This will roll you right back into Blue Ridge, a perfect spot for dinner if you didn’t eat earlier. From there, take US-76 W/GA-515 S and follow signs for Atlanta.

All it takes is a day off and a little bit of gas money to get you out of the city and into the mountains for an enjoyable day of experiencing a quieter side of life and getting out into the vast openness of the wilderness. Be mindful of weather conditions and come prepared. Check the weather in Blairsville or Blue Ridge and then add 5 degrees for your mountain temps. Snow may also be a possibility if the right mix of low temperatures and precipitation happen at the right time. Bring an extra layer and if you come across snow, either drive carefully or pull over and enjoy something that doesn’t happen as much further south at lower elevations!

Find this Route on Google Maps

Stay tuned for another route coming out of Atlanta from the East side of the city!

6 Things Thru Hikers Can’t Have

Thru hiker season is just around the corner and most folks in the market for new gear are counting their ounces with hopes of carrying the product to Maine. But what about the rest of us?! There are all sorts of cool pieces of gear out there that are not exactly lightweight or may not be the best thing for a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, and those of us who are weekend warriors, section hikers, car campers and the sort can still indulge ourselves in these plush, luxury items. Check out these neat products on our list of 6 Things Thru Hikers Can’t Have.

1. Appalachian Trail Stoneware Mug

1960-TIt’s not exactly your typical thru hiker drinking vessel. Carrying any sort of coffee mug on the AT is often times reserved for the most hardcore coffee fanatics. When you do see one, it is made a lightweight material and is small in size. Sorry thru hikers! The coffee lovers among you will learn to really appreciate a full size mug once you get to use one on a regular basis again!

2. Appalachian Trail Wool Blanket

AT-Wool-2TAlthough wool is a great material for on trail, a wool blanket isn’t quite what you are looking for. It would keep you toasty if you got your burrito rolling skills to an expert level, but sadly thru hikers have to leave behind the security of their blankets when they hike. Thankfully the rest of us can snuggle up with this Wool Rich AT blanket and a cup of hot chocolate as we read their blogs and keep up with their adventures!

3. Helinox Ground Chair

HnoxGC-2TEvery thru hiker wants this but no one is crazy enough to carry one, at least, not for long! When thru hiking, if you’re lucky enough to get a log or a rock for a seat after a long day of hiking, chances are you’re not so lucky as to get a comfortable seat. That is the glory of a short trip! You can afford to bring a camp chair, a few potatoes to bake and a deck of cards! There is a lot to be said for a little trip where you can live it up!

4. MontBell Trahyon Anorak Wind Jacket

MB-WJ-01-2TIf there is anything on this list-of-things-that-don’t-serve-thru-hikers-as-well-as-they-serve-the-rest-of-us that would actually turn out to work pretty well for a thru hiker, it is this wind jacket. Throw this guy on over a long sleeve or a light fleece and you’ve got a great set up for a chilly late spring/early summer day of hiking. Problem is, for a thru hiker, you might as well be as multi purpose as possible and use your rain jacket as a wind layer. Sure, you’re going to be sweating to two minutes. Then you’ll take it off and freeze because you’re soaked, while you look at the toasty and dry day hiker who is wearing this jacket, but, hey, that’s a thru hike for you sometimes. You get to eat as many Snickers as you want and still be one of the fittest people alive, so you can’t complain too much.

5. Patagonia Women’s Icelandic Coat

PAT-008-2TSo this definitely isn’t the kind of coat you can wear on the Appalachian Trail, but it is a heavy weight, warm, fleece coat that allows you to get away with just a light layer underneath. Down jackets can be bulky and cumbersome and must be handled with great care in order to keep them functional and looking nice. This jacket by Patagonia brings the style back into being warm! Not to say that Hiker Trash style isn’t on point (trash bag rain coats can be en vogue!) but thru hikers definitely forego some fashion for some function!

6. Western Mountaineering Kodiak 0° Sleeping Bag

WM-KOD-MF-2TThis is the mack daddy of all sleeping bags. A winter outdoorsmen’s dream! Winter and early Spring backpacking in some seriously beautiful stuff. You see the mountains is such an intimate and quiet time of the year and if you’ve got the right gear and a little bit of coffee, hot tea or whiskey, sitting and enjoying the beauty of Winter is a joy!! But if you’re a thru hiker, sadly you don’t have nearly as much time to sit and stare at nature as much as you thought you would. You will be immersed in it for months and come to know it like the back of your hand, no need to stare deeply into Mother Nature’s eyes hoping she will love you back. Also, like the chair, if you’re carrying the weight of the hefty cozy log cabin of a sleeping bag, good luck with the day in and day out grind. You’ll want a much more reasonable weighted and degree sleeping bag  in no time. A 15° bag is substantial enough and will take you further into Spring than this 0°.