Bears!

One common fear among hikers is encountering a bear. I can’t tell you how many bear sprays I’ve pulled out of people’s packs during a pack shakedown. On the Appalachian Trail, bears are not threatening. This post will tell you a little bit about the bears that reside in these mountains and how you can protect yourself, and the bears while on the trail.

Black-Bear

Black Bears
The Black Bear is the only bear found in the Appalachian Mountains. The American black bear is the smallest of the three bears species found in North America, and are found only in North America. Black bears have short, non-retractable claws that give them an excellent tree-climbing ability. They are omnivorous: plants, fruits, nuts, insects, honey, salmon, small mammals and carrion. They are extremely adaptable and show a great variation in habitat types, though they are primarily found in forested areas with thick ground vegetation and an abundance of fruits, nuts, and vegetation. Black bears tend to be solitary animals, with the exception of mothers and cubs. The bears usually forage alone, but will tolerate each other and forage in groups if there is an abundance of food in one area. Black bears are not aggressive. If you see them approaching, it is merely out of curiosity or to see if you have food. Another common fear is getting between a mother and her cubs. There is no record of anyone being killed by a mother black bear defending her cubs, and attacks are very rare. Startled black bears run away, often to a tree. By contrast, a startled Grizzly may charge and occasionally attack, making grizzlies over 20 times more dangerous than black bears.

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Human interaction on the trail
I have personally seen around twenty bears while on the trail. For the  majority of these sightings I was by myself and saw them from a distance. Most would run off when they heard me. There were a few that were engrossed in their eating, or they were by their cubs, and would not run off right away. To let them know you are nearby, clap your hands and call out, “Hey bear!” or just talk loudly to them. When they hear you, they will then run off. If they start to approach you, stand your ground and make yourself look large. You can even throw rocks or sticks towards them. Do not run away from the bear or turn your back
on it, but maybe change your direction. Some bears have become more accustomed to people because they know they have food. This is where the issues lie. There are some areas on the trail where bears are becoming more frequent, and sometimes even aggressive. This is the direct result of improper food storage, and carelessness by hikers. Eating in shelters and other camping areas causes bears to approach those areas searching for crumbs and bigger scraps. While sleeping, food storage is super important. If you have even a granola bar wrapper, or scented lotion in your tent or pack, the bear can smell it. A bear’s sense of smell is 7 times better than a blood hound’s or 2,100 times better than a human. So yeah, they can smell whatever you have. There have been incidents with bears throughout the trail. The most common examples are the bears in the Smoky Mountains. The Smokies have a high concentration of bears, but also a large amount of humans in the park each year. Shelters have been closed down at times because a bear was frequenting the area and dragging hikers packs from the walls in search for food. Even when the humans tried to shoo it away, it just came back later. One bear bit a man through his tent because it could smell scented lotion he was keeping in his tent. The man had a big wound but was ok. The bear responsible for this was euthanized.

This is threatening to the bears. Rules are put in place in certain areas to avoid these incidents from occurring. In the Smokies, hikers must have a permit and stay in the shelter or at least really close. The man who was bit, was not close to the shelter despite the rules. He could have had help from fellow hikers to get the bear away if he was by the shelter. Bears are not trying to harm humans they just want to eat! Respecting the rules in certain areas will help regulate the bear encounters. There is a five-mile section South of Mountain Crossings from Jarrard Gap, to Neel Gap where a bear canister is required for camping. This is not meant to be an inconvenience to hikers, but to protect them, and the bears from more encounters.

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Proper food storage
I talked a little bit about food storage in the last blog post, but it is super important not only to protect you and your food, but the animals that could get a hold of it. Once an animal tastes human food, they want more. It is the official recommendation of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to carry a bear canister from Springer Mountain to Damascus, Virginia. I have personally used a bear canister while I was Ridge Running and I will say it is pretty convenient. I didn’t have to worry about hanging my food I just had to stick the canister away from my camping area. A bear got to my canister once and rolled it down the hill a bit, but the canister was not penetrated and both my food, and the bear were safe. I understand that bear canisters are heavier and bulky, so hanging your food is another great option. Hang food from tree limbs 12 feet off the ground, 6 feet from the tree’s trunk, and 6 feet below the supporting limb. It does take practice to hang the line, but it is an important skill and you know your food, and the animals will be safe. Some people have a small bag at the end of their line that they put a rock or handful of heavier material in so they can throw the line with ease. I tie a rock to the end to throw it over the limb. Don’t be embarrassed if it takes you a few tries because it is tricky! Not only food goes in the food bag. Hang your toiletries and any smelly items such as hand sanitizer and lotion.

Let’s do our best to protect the Black Bear so we can continue to enjoy them in the wild!

What’s in my food bag?

The item you will find the most in any hiker box is food! People tend to pack their fears and a fear most people have is not having enough food. This process of figuring out food gets easier as you keep hiking because you can see what you have been eating and what you like. There are so many different delicious options out there you just need to figure out which ones you like! This post has food recommendations that can help you decide what food to put in your food bag.

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Food bag!

Breakfast

  • Pop tarts
  • Oatmeal
  • Cold cereal with powdered milk
  • Clif Bars or other power bars
  • Add dehydrated fruit to cereal
  • Tortilla with almond butter, honey, raisins and date (one I discovered while on the trail and loved it)

Snacks

  • Trail Mix!
  • Mixed nuts
  • Fritos
  • Snyders pretzel bits – honey mustard and onion or hot buffalo wing were my favorite flavors
  • Any chips or crackers, just don;t expect them to hold together very well.
  • Clif bars or other power bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Candy bars
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Trail mix is a common backpacker snack

Lunch

  • Packaged tuna
  • Tortillas
  • Peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Cheese and summer sausage
  • Crackers
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Tuna Tuna Tuna

Dinner

  • Ramen
  • Knorr rice or pasta sides
  • Packaged tuna
  • Dehydrated meals (Mountain House, Alpine, etc.)
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Knorr Sides

Dehydrated vs making your own
The prepackaged dehydrated meals are popular, and easy on the trail. All you do is add boiling water to the pouch, wait around 10 minutes, then eat straight out of the bag! There are many interesting meals such as lasagna, chicken teriyaki, and beef stroganoff and they are all pretty yummy. The downsides is the weight, and cost of the meals. They can be between 6-12 dollars per meal and they are bulky and weight a little more than say Ramen. They are fairly caloric but you can get your calories in other ways than these meals.

Making your own meals can be simple as well. You can add packaged tuna to Knorr sides or Ramen as well as some extra spices to make them delicious. To add more calories you can always carry some olive or coconut oil to add to your meals. A small spice kit can be beneficial to flavoring meals and making them interesting. Repackaging spices in smaller bags or bottles can help save weight in your pack.

Another way people make their own meals, is dehydrating all the food and assembling the meals ahead of time. This process is tedious and time consuming but if you have special diets, or like making your own food, then it is awesome. Everything you dehydrate needs to be cooked beforehand, and chopped up fairly small. If certain fruits, veggies, or meats aren’t dehydrated fully, they can come out chewy. There are many online resources for tips on dehydrating your own food, and assembling tasty recipes for backpacking. Make a few and test them out to discover your favorites. Once you get the hang of it, it’s not so bad and it can be much healthier than other store bought items!

Nutrition
Eating healthy while on the trail is difficult, but not impossible. One great way to get some fruits and veggies on the trail is to bring some! If you’ve just left town, bring a banana and an apple to eat as snacks that day. You can always bring some veggies to throw in whatever meal you want to make that night. Of course, all the scraps will need to be packed out, but at least you got something wholesome in your diet. If this seems too cumbersome, get dried fruits and veggies. Make sure to get the ones not coated in sugar.

Try not to worry about eating healthy. You will need those carbs and fats and you won’t be eating like you’re on the trail forever so embrace it while you can.

Having a special diet can also be tough. This is not my area of expertise as I will eat anything! Do some research to figure out how you can accommodate your diet while on the trail.

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Bring dried veggies on the trail

Food bag vs. can
Storing food is very important because you don’t want critters getting in your food! Hanging your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft up and 6 ft from the tree trunk is the most popular method. A waterproof sack such as the ones here are great for staying out in the rain all night. They are cheaper and lighter than the other option which is a bear canister. Canisters are usually 2 – 3 pounds but they are foolproof. They just need to sit on the ground 200 yards from your tent. They are indestructible so you know your food will be safe. Most people don’t like to carry the extra weight if it’s not necessary. There are areas of the country that require bear canisters. One area here is from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap and that area requires a bear canister from March 1 – June 1. This is a five mile section right before our store over Blood Mountain and it is easy to hike in a day so you don’t need the canister. Incidents in the past with bears is what caused this regulation to be put in place. Be careful along the trail so more of these rules won’t have to be enforced.

Check out our YouTube video that shows what one of our employees, Carlie, would have in her food bag!

 

Baxter State Park

If you are thru hiking this year, you probably heard about the new regulations at Baxter State Park in Maine. There is a limited amount of permits for thru hikers this year. I have gotten several questions about why there are permits and what can be done if you don’t get a permit in time. This post is hopefully going to help answer some of your questions about what is going on up in Maine.

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Baxter State Park

History of Baxter State Park
Percival Baxter is the man responsible for the creation of the park. He first gazed upon Katahdin on a fishing trip with his father in 1903. In 1909 he began a political career and started advocating for the creation of Mountain Katahdin State Park and also summited the mountain for the first time with a group of politicians. When his father passed in 1921 it really spurred Percival’s intentions of creating the park. In a speech he gave he said,

“Mountain Katahdin Park will be the state’s crowning glory, a worthy
memorial to commemorate the end of the first and the beginning of the
second century of Maine’s statehood.”

The state did not decide to purchase the area surrounding Katahdin so Percival took it in to his own hands and decided to purchase the area himself. The Great Northern Paper Company owned the land, and after the economic crash in 1929 they were willing to sell the land for cheap. Percival bought 6,000 acres for $25,000 and immediately gifted the park to the people of Maine. In 1931, the park was created and named Baxter State Park. Baxter did not trust the federal government so he put many provisions on the park to prevent it from becoming a national park. The Baxter State Park Authority is a separate governing body that oversees the administration and maintenance of the park. When Baxter died in 1969 his ashes were scattered in the park and he donated 28 deeds and $7 million dollars to the park.

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Percival Baxter

Baxter State Park Today
Baxter State Park is over 200,000 acres of wilderness and public forest. The park remains in a rustic state to preserve the forest. There are a few campgrounds but the roads are unpaved, there are a few outhouses, and no running water. Many people come here to enjoy the wilderness and get away from society. Vacationers mainly visit this park but there is a fair amount of thru hikers. What we know the park for is Mount Katahdin. Mount Katahdin serves as the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Just two years after the park was made, Myron Avery established the summit of Katahdin to be the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. Each day, there is a limited amount of day hiking permits for Mount Katahdin. While this can be regulated, the thru hikers have not been regulated. The increasing amount of thru hikers has caused more people to climb Katahdin every day. Baxter State Park decided to regulated this by making a thru hiker permit for the park.

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Mount Katahdin

Thru hiker permits in Baxter
Use of the Park by AT long-distance hikers has increased an average of 9% annually over the past 25 years. In 1991, the total number of recorded AT long-distance hikers in Baxter State Park was 359. In 2016, 2,733 AT long-distance hikers registered in the Park, an increase of more than 700% from 1991. Even in the last year (2016), 23% more AT hikers registered in the Park than in 2015. Since there have been no limitations placed on thru hikers in the past, the Baxter State Authority decided it was time to include the thru hikers in the same model respected by all Katahdin hikers. The permits will need to be acquired at Katahdin Steam Campground in person when they arrive to climb Katahdin. The permits are free and they have arranged numbers of permits for each thru hikers category as follows:

1. NOBO – 1,350
2. SOBO – 610
3. Section – 840
4. Flip Flop – 350

This is a total of 3,150 permits total, this is 417 more permits than were issued last year for expected increase of hikers.

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Thru hikers on Katahdin

What do I do if I don’t get a permit?
Do not fret! It is still possible to hike the mountain without a thru hiker permit. The numbers were inflated by over 20% to hopefully ensure that all thru hikers can obtain a permit. If there are more hikers than expected this year and you do not get there in time to get a permit of your own, you can still hike the mountain. The Long Distance Hiking Campsite will be closed, but you can go to town and follow the same protocols as a day hiker would.

Katahdin is a strenuous hike and Baxter State Park has done an excellent job providing Rangers to monitor who is on the trail. I would not suggest trying to hike the mountain without a permit as there will be fines and you will likely get caught by one of these rangers.

These rules were not made to punish thru hikers, but to help protect the park and the visitor experience. Please respect these rules and do not worry, there should be plenty of permits and if not, you can still hike Katahdin!

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Summit of Katahdin

Leave No Trace Ethics

In the previous blog,  you heard me mention Leave No Trace quit a bit. Leave No Trace refers to a set of outdoor ethics promoting conservation in the outdoors. This description comes straight from www.lnt.org.

Leave No Trace is built on seven core principles that are used to communicate the best available minimum impact guidance for enjoying the outdoors responsibly. The Seven Principles of Leave No Trace were developed to help educate and guide recreationists in sustainable minimum impact practices that mitigate or avoid recreation-related impacts. These Principles are the most robust and widely utilized minimum impact outdoor practices. Although Leave No Trace has its roots in backcountry and wilderness, the practices have been adapted so that they can be applied anywhere – from the backcountry, to local parks, to your backyard – and for any recreational activity. Each Principle covers a specific topic and provides detailed information for minimizing impacts.

It is important for hikers to learn about these ethics before they set foot on the trail. While some of the principles are more obvious (don’t throw trash on the trail), other principles people might not realize they should be doing. Below we give details and examples of each of the principles.

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1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
This ethic is vital to being in the outdoors. Planning can deter you from dangerous encounters on the trail. Here are examples of planning ahead.

  • Plan out your route as well as alternate routes in case of emergencies. Also take the map with you to refer you if you need it.
  • Check the weather. This will help you decide what clothing and gear to bring. Even if there is a slight chance of rain, packing rain gear will be important. Also remember that for every 1000 ft elevation gain, you will lose between 3-5 degrees in temperature.
  • Look at the regulations for the area you are planning on hiking and camping.
  • Plan according to your group. If others aren’t in very good shape, consider an easier hike.
  • Bring appropriate gear and a first aid kit
  • Bring enough food and water, but don’t go overboard!
  • Lastly, check Leave No Trace ethics so you can be sure you are minimizing your impact in the outdoors.

2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Trails and campsites exist for a reason, to concentrate people in certain areas and to preserve most of the land and vegetation. Here are some examples of traveling and camping on durable surfaces.

  • Hike on the trail! The trail is built a certain way to make the hike easier for you and scenic! Switchbacks exist to prevent erosion, when you cut a switchback it causes rocks and soil to tumble down the hill, and it destroys vegetation. Be sure to follow blazes or cairns to make sure you are following the right trail
  • Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when wet or muddy.
  • Camp in existing campsites. Planning ahead can help you figure out where you will want to camp. Check where established campsites are and camp on designated sites or tent pads. If the vegetation is cleared and the area is flattened, it can be safe to say that it is a campsite.
  • Protect riparian areas by camping at least 200 feet from lakes and streams.
  • If the area you are camping allows you to camp wherever you want, it’s ok to camp off trail as long as you are at least 200 yds off the trail, and you scatter your your camping area when you are finished. When camping, disperse tents and cooking activities. Avoid places where impacts are just beginning to show.
  • Always choose the most durable surfaces available: rock, gravel, sand, compacted soil, dry grasses, or snow.

3. Dispose of waste properly
This is probably the most well known ethic because people usually hear “pack it in, pack it out” which refers to trash and other items you carry. There are other forms of waste this principle encompasses. Here are some examples.

  • Pack it in, pack it out! Do not leave your trash anywhere in the outdoors. Carry wrappers, unwanted food, wipes, and anything else you plan to throw in the trash with you till you get to civilization that has garbage cans. Check campsites and break areas for accidental garbage.
  • Deposit solid human waste in catholes dug 6 to 8 inches deep, at least 200 feet from water, camp and trails. Cover and disguise the cathole when finished. The AT has privies along the trail that act as outhouses. only human waste and toilet paper should be in these privies. Read signage at privies to know if you should throw in a handful of mulch to help the decomposition process.
  • Pack out wipes and feminine hygiene products.
  • To wash yourself or your dishes, carry water 200 feet away from streams or lakes and use small amounts of biodegradable soap. Scatter strained dishwater. Another great method to clean dishes is to pour clean water into the dish and wipe around with your finger. When finished, drink the leftover water. This prevents you from having to use soap and from packing out small food scraps.

4. Leave What You Find
We want to keep the outdoors in the state we experienced so others can enjoy it and it helps preserve it in its natural state.

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts.
  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them.
  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species.
  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches.
  • Don’t graffiti the shelters or any other rocks or trees.

5. Minimize Campfire Impact
Campfires cause a lasting impact in the backcountry. Wherever a fire is build, the vegetation will never be the same in that spot. Fires serve three purposes; heat, cooking food, and bringing people together. If you planned ahead and prepared, you should not get cold and you should be carrying a stove for cooking. The social aspects of a fire are the main reasons fires are built. Some people don’t want to go camping unless they can have a fire. Follow these tips for minimizing your campfire impact.

  • Only use existing fire rings. If there is no fire ring, do not build one but maybe find a site that has one nearby you can share with other campers.
  • Follow the four D’s – dead, dinky, down, and distant. You don’t want to gather all the wood right around your site but try to spread out. Make sure the wood is dead and down, don’t go picking stuff off the trees. It should also be small. I say if you can break it easily over your knee, then that is a good size.
  • The reason the wood should be small is you want to keep the fire small. There is no reason to have a roaring fire burning all night long.  Letting a fire burn up all the way to ash is the best. The fire should be cold to the touch before you go to sleep. If there are a lot of ashes in the ring, consider spreading those into the forest to keep from building up.
  • If you’ve gathered extra wood, scatter it in the woods before you leave to discourage others from building a fire.
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Small fire in designated fire ring

 

6. Respect Wildlife
Nature doesn’t exist just for humans. When we are in the backcountry,  we are entering other creatures homes. We need to respect the habitats of these animals  so we don’t alter their lives. Animals can get distressed from humans or  become dependent on them. We want to keep what’s wild, wild. Here are some tips for respecting wildlife.

  • Do not feed any animals! Don’t make the animals dependent on human food. Even one or two occasions can habituate animals. Some attention animals receive during the summer will dwindle in the winter and animals could die from starvation.
  • Use the rule of thumb. If you stick out your thumb straight in front of you, it should completely cover up the animal. If you can still see the animal, you are too close.
  • Be sure to hang your food on a tree limb at least 10 ft off the ground and 6 ft from the trunk. Storing your food in bear canisters is also convenient. The canister can be placed on the ground away from camp. Store all food, trash, and any other smelly items such as lotions or sprays.
  • Keep dogs on leashes. Even if the dog is well behaved, if they see an animal they could run off. Other hikers may also be afraid of dogs so it helps mitigate encounters.
  • Avoid wildlife during sensitive times: mating, nesting, raising young, or winter.

7. Be Considerate of Others
This encompasses everything on the trail. Treat others with respect and everyone can enjoy the trail! Use your best judgment. Here are some examples of treating others with respect.

  • Uphill has the right of way. If you’re coming downhill, step aside for those who have their momentum going uphill. If they say to come on by because they need a break then go for it, but give them the option to go first.
  • Try to keep your group size down. Larger groups can take over a camping area or be loud on the trail.
  • Use earbuds. If you want to listen to music, don’t play it on your speaker phone. Not everyone wants to listen to your music.
  • Keep your pets on leashes. This was addressed in respect wildlife but it is respecting other hikers as well.
  • Keep quiet hours from when the sun goes down till it comes up. Most hikers sleep during this time so if you like to stay up late with your friends, keep the noise level down.

If everyone is friendly and courteous of others, we can all have a great time on the trail! For more information, visit http://www.lnt.org. You can also come by the store this Saturday February 25th an hear a talk about Leave No Trace from one of our certified employees.

Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors

We are gearing up for thru hiker season, and so is everyone else! Georgia definitely sees some of the most impact on the Appalachian Trail. There are many who attempt a thru hike, but do not make it out of Georgia. There are also many section hikers who start here in Georgia in the Spring but they may not make it farther North in the coming years. All in all, it is the mission of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club to try to help improve the AT hiking experience and lessen the impact on the trail. On trail resources are the main method to help others on the trail. This is in the form of five full time Ridge Runners, and volunteer Trail Ambassadors to fill in for the Ridge Runners on their days off. Last year was the first year there were this many Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and it definitely made a difference. This post will cover what the goals of these positions are as well as the importance of partnership between other organizations here in Georgia, including Mountain Crossings.

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Ridge Running has its perks

Ridge Runners
Ridge Runners are hired by the ATC and serve as an on trail resource for hikers. They aim to educate hikers on Leave No Trace ethics and help them in any way they can. They provide information about the A.T. and its intended primitive experience, its location, regulations, and traditions. They work to encourage the best behavior on the part of hikers, to facilitate a positive Trail experience (particularly for those who are poorly prepared). They discourage and mitigate misuse of the Appalachian Trail and its environment.

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Ridge Runner Bill talking with hikers

In Georgia, there are five Ridge Runners total. Four are stationed at particular sites but also hike during the day, and one changes locations every night. This proved to be a good method as the sites and shelters the Ridge Runners stayed at were the most heavily used. One Ridge Runner stayed at Amicalola Falls and would check in thru hikers and offer pack shakedowns for those with heavier packs. This helped lessen the amount of items left on the Approach Trail and other shelters.

I was a Ridge Runner last year and was stationed at Springer Mountain for the majority of my patrols. Slightly more people seemed to start solely at Springer Mountain rather than the Approach Trail. Although you take a Forest Service Road to get to Springer Mountain, many more people are becoming aware of it and skipping the Approach Trail.  One of my tasks was to count how many thru hikers, section hikers, and day hikers I came in contact with each day. This was beneficial to me because it forced me to have conversations with most people and it was beneficial for the ATC to learn the amount of people on the trail. There were some Saturdays where I saw between 200-300 people total! I was mostly interested in talking with the thru and section hikers because I wanted to make sure they were prepared and they also knew how to respect the trail. All in all, most hikers were fairly aware of Leave No Trace methods and I had faith they would carry them out throughout the trail. It was usually just a few people each day who had no idea what they were doing that would cause a mess.

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Trash found at a shelter

Each day I would hike between 4-8 miles depending on where I felt I should go. I would clean up Stover Creek and Black Gap Shelters regularly while also interacting with hikers along the way. Having a clean shelter to begin with helps discourage others to leave their gear and trash there. I would also bury any toilet paper I saw, dismantle extra fire rings, and just let people know who I was and why I was out there! It was fun getting to hike and meet interesting people every day. At night, I would make sure to meet and talk with all the campers at the shelter and I would hang out with them. Being a former thru hiker, I could help answer their questions, while also slipping in Leave No Trace facts. People respond better to someone who they see as their friend rather than authority. I didn’t lecture people, I just had conversations with them. There were many other things I did whether I was working with GATC volunteers, the Forest Service, or local EMT. It was truly a great experience being able to help others and the trail.

I attended the Workshop for AT Partners where I was able to meet all the new Georgia Ridge Runners. They are a great group of people and I have no doubt they are going to be awesome!

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Hanging out hikers at Springer Mountain shelter

Trail Ambassadors
Trail Ambassadors serve as volunteers for Ridge Runners on their days off. Their responsibilities are the same. The difference is, they are volunteers and are not getting paid! Trail volunteers are what make the Appalachian Trail possible. The GATC in my opinion has some of the best volunteers on the Appalachian Trail. They do so much work on the trail to help improve the trail for others and lessen the impact. While I was stationed at Springer last year, the trail maintainer for the Springer Mountain Shelter came out every single week. He was always in great spirits, even if he had to clean out the privies! I saw numerous other maintainers throughout Georgia and they were always happy to help the trail. Trail Ambassadors volunteer two or three of their days a week to be out on the trail and they receive the same training as Ridge Runners.

Partnership
While the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors stay on the trail, there are other organizations and people who help in many ways. The Forest Service has a Wilderness Technician who keeps track of the Ridge Runners and helps enforce some of the regulations in place on the trail, such as the bear canister requirement from Jarrard Gap to Neels Gap. Law enforcement is also very aware of the trail and available to help with any legal matters on the trail.

Local businesses such as hostels, outfitters, and shuttle drivers are also apart of this coalition. We want to help improve the trail and help hikers have a great experience. All the business that came to the Workshop this past week are willing to help the Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and also help the ATC by also educating hikers on the trail and Leave No Trace Ethics. I know here at Mountain Crossings we try to inform hikers of the regulations on Blood Mountain (no fires and bear canister requirement from March – June) and we also slip in Leave No Trace ethics while giving pack shakedowns.

If you plan to go for a hike this Spring, keep an eye out for these Ridge Runners and Trail Ambassadors and be sure to say hey! Check the blog next week to learn about these Leave No Trace ethics I talked so much about!

Stoves!

Sometimes there is nothing better than getting to camp and eating a hot meal. While some people prefer to go stoveless and eat cold meals, the majority will carry some type of stove to make hot food and drinks. There are several kinds of stoves out there so which one should you get? This post is all about stoves so hopefully you can get some idea of what sounds good for you to use.

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Hot meal after a long day!

What kind of stove do you want?
Here are some questions you should ask yourself when looking for a stove.
-How easy do you want your stove to be?
-How many people do you plan to cook for?
-Do you want something that boils quickly or one that can simmer?
-How lightweight do you want it to be?
These are just a few but you should also consider what environments you will be using your stove and how easily you can get fuel.

The four main types of stoves to look for are; canister, denatured alcohol, liquid fuel, and alternative stoves. The canister method is the most popular. The canisters screw onto the stove and it is really easy to light. Denatured alcohol is designed so you can light the alcohol and place your pot on the top. Liquid fuel stoves connect to refillable fuel bottles. While most liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, you do have other options available, which can be a particular benefit if you’re traveling internationally. The alternative stoves can be used solely as wood burning stoves or fuel pellets.

Canister stoves
Stoves designed for canisters are the most popular on the trail. They are the easiest to use and are still lightweight. The canister screws onto the stove, you turn on the gas and then light it with either you own lighter or some come with a lighting mechanism. They are designed to boil water quickly but can be harder to simmer. Most will also require a windscreen to protect the flame from going out when the weather is rough. The problem with canister stoves is the fuel will wind up costing more than regular white gas or denatured alcohol, and it is wasteful to throw away the canisters after use. It can also be difficult to determine how much fuel you have left and most people will end up carrying an extra canister just in case. But, for new backpackers, canister stoves will definitely be the easiest to use. Here are a few types of the canister stoves and our recommendations.

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Various canister stoves

JetBoil Flash Cooking Systems – This is an integrated stove system that is easy to use and has a built in windscreen. It is designed to fit the stove and canister inside the pot. This stove boils water super fast and is great if you just need to add boiling water to a dehydrated meal. You can cook in them as well but it is difficult to turn down the flame to simmer. The JetBoil pots have an insulated sleeve with a fabric handle so they are easy to hold and eat out of. Without the canister, the stove and pot system weighs 14 oz for a 1 liter pot. Boil time for 16 oz of water is 2 minutes, 30 seconds. This stove is pricey, but I used mine for my entire thru hike and my time as a Ridge Runner and I still use it today.

MSR PocketRocket 2 – This is a newer version of the original PocketRocket. It is ultralight weighing only 2.6 oz, can boil water in 3 minutes, 30 seconds, can fold up into whatever cup or mug you carry, and has a wind protection and focused burner which pushes a persistent, solid flame. This does not come with a pot so you will need to find that separately and you may also look into a small windscreen. This stove is definitely one of the more popular stoves because it is versatile and can boil water fast, but also simmer. We just got a bunch here in the store so come by for a stove demo!

Denatured alcohol stoves
This type of stove appeals the most to ultralight backpackers. It usually weighs just one or two ounces and you can carry the appropriate amount of alcohol for your trip. You carry the alcohol in your own container and have it refilled along the way. The stoves can be tricky because you need to figure out how much fuel you will need to use and pour it in the stove each time you cook. It can also spill so it’s best to do it away from others. Once you pour the correct amount of fuel into the stove, you simply use a lighter to light the fuel and either let it burn out, or cover it to put out the flame when you are done.

Toaks Alcohol Stove – This titanium alcohol stove made by Toaks weighs in at only .7oz, can hold up to 2.7oz of fuel. One ounce of fuel boils two cups of water in about five and half minutes. This stove comes with a wire pot stand.

Etowah Alcohol Stove – The Etowah Stove is the first stove to use dual burner technology. By designing a stove with a burner inside a larger burner we created the ability to achieve the maximum boil time with extended burn time using the least amount of fuel possible. It doesn’t just boil water, you can actually cookup to 35 minutes using two ounces of denatured alcohol.

Liquid fuels stoves
All liquid-fuel stoves run on white gas, which is highly refined to have few or no impurities. It burns hot and clean, performs well in below-freezing temperatures and, compared to the per-ounce cost of canister fuel, is much less expensive. These stoves are becoming less popular because they are bulkier and heavier. They are better for larger groups of 4 or more people because the fuel can last longer and boil larger amounts of water in bigger pots. The problem with liquid fuel stoves is they require priming, which involves igniting a few drips of fuel in a cup below the burner, creating a small flame that preheats the fuel line. You will need to pump your fuel bottle, too, to increase pressure.They also require periodic maintenance, such as cleaning the fuel hose or replacing O-rings (in the stove and on fuel bottles). There may be many little parts and pieces to keep track of.

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MSR Whisperlite stove

Alternative stoves
There are a few other types of stoves you can use. Wood burning stoves are for those who like doing their cooking in an old fashioned way. It’s like making a small fire in a smaller container. You just need to gather enough small sticks and make sure The fire keeps going. A popular one now is the BioLite CampStove. This wood burning stove also charges your electronics when it gets to a certain temperature. The stove is fairly heavy and you need to keep feeding the fire in order for it to charge your devices. It can be fun to use for shorter trips but is not practical for a thru hike.

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BioLite CampStove

Fuel pellets are another alternative stove method.  All you do is light the pellet, then have a stand you either make yourself, or buy to set your pot over the pellet. The pellet will take longer for water to boil, but they are lightweight and cheaper because you can make the stand yourself.

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Esbit fuel tabs

Tips and tricks for stove cooking
The easiest cooking method is to boil water, and add it to a dehydrated meal such as a Mountain House, or even a homemade meal. That way, you don’t need to worry about cleanup and you can eat straight out of the bag. These meals can be expensive and I know you can get sick of them and want something different. Cooking in your pot is a good option too. Ramen or Knorr Sides are very popular and cook fairly quickly. I made my food in my pot and when I was done scraping the sides, I would add some clean water to the pot, clean around it with my finger, and then drink the leftover water. It didn’t always taste great, but I didn’t waste the water, and I was practicing the best Leave No Trace method for food cleanup.

Bring a small spice kit! Even just a little bit of salt or black pepper can make a difference for a bland meal. Garlic powder, onion powder, and curry powder are other spices I enjoyed on the trail. I even carried a small bottle of hot sauce at some times! Anything to make the food taste a little better is definitely worth the extra weight.

Do not cook in or near your sleeping area. Even if you are careful and don’t spill, food smells can linger and attract animals. If you have leftover food, pack it out. Burying it does not practice Leave No Trace and will attract animals.

In the winter, denatured alcohol will hold up the best but if you use a canister stove, be sure to throw the canister in your sleeping bag to keep it warm. This way, it will not take as long for the water to boil.

Hope this post helped answer any stove questions you had! Give us a call or stop by the store if you have any other questions!

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Hikers enjoying dinner at the Springer Mountain shelter

Water Treatment Options

One of the biggest necessities on the trail is water. Along the Appalachian Trail, water is fairly plentiful so you usually do not need to worry about carrying vast amounts on your back. Be sure to carry a guidebook or map that shows water sources so you can plan accordingly. I personally never carried more than two liters while on the trail and most people won’t carry much more or less. Another great resource for water sources is the AT Guthook App. This app shows the reliability of water sources and comments people have made about the source.

To filter water or not to filter water?
Honestly, this should not even be a debate. Filtering water is a must! There are many mountain springs where the water could be clean coming straight from the ground, but humans and animals over time have made these unclean. Animal and human waste could be nearby, and humans also stomp, bathe, and dump dirty things into water sources. It is important to read about the Leave No Trace practices to know how far you should be from water sources and how to dispose of waste properly. Sicknesses, such as Ghiarrdea, have occurred from drinking unfiltered water and the sickness can ruin a trip and have lasting effects on the body.

So which purification method are you going to use? There are really two types to choose from, water filters and water purifiers.The difference between a water filter and a water purifier is the size of the microorganism each combats. Water filters work by physically straining out protozoan cysts and bacteria. These biological pathogens are the main water concerns if you’re traveling in the U.S. and Canada. Water purifiers work by using chemicals to kill the viruses that may be too small for filters to extract. If traveling abroad, you may need to look into water concerns for that particular country, but in the US, you would be fine with either type of method. Below are some different types of filters a purifiers and what we recommend.

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Water source on the Appalachian Trail

Pump filters
These filters are going out of style. They filter out larger particles and can really help if you are in a dire situation and need to draw water from a puddle, but they are large and bulky and can take forever to filter! If you’re looking for a good arm workout, this filter can be perfect for you but the lighter weight filters and purifiers will definitely work on the Appalachian Trail.

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Using a pump filter at a lake

Gravity filters
These do the work for you. All you do is fill up the reservoir, and the water falls through the filter and through the hose to your own water bottle or bladder. You just need to find a tree to hang it on and then you can walk away. If a water source is shallow, you can always use your pot to gather the water and fill up the reservoir. This can be time consuming but once it is in the reservoir, you don’t need to do anymore!

Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter – 2 Liter kit – This filter is lightweight and filters two liters of water at a time. Perfect for when you are setting up camp.

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Squeeze filters
These are by far the most popular on the trail. They screw onto a bottle and you can then drink straight from the bottle by squeezing it. You will have to let the air out occasionally but it is easy and lightweight. Many people also squeeze it into another bottle and then also drink out of the bottle with the filter.

Sawyer squeeze and mini – This is a favorite on the trail. These can screw on to the Sawyer bags that come with the filter, Smart water bottles, or you can put them inline with a hose and bladder. They are versatile and easy to use. Not expensive either! As long as you backwash then fairly regularly, they should last you a long time. There is a slight weight difference between the squeeze and the mini, they both do the same work but the squeeze filters water faster and is easier to drink from.

 

Chemicals
This is another popular water treatment. The chemicals can kill some of those viruses that a regular filter might not be able to. They will not filter out larger particles so if you as at a shallow water source, or it has been disturbed recently, you could have larger particles in the water. You can easily filter these out through a small mesh bag, or even with your hands. Most of the chemical treatments nowadays are made so they do not contain a lingering taste in your water. Some of the more traditional methods such as straight Iodine will contain a taste and might not be good for your digestive system if you use it for too long. Here is what we recommend.

Aquamira – This treatment is lightweight and easy. You mix the two solutions together and let them sit for five minutes. Depending on how much water you’re treating, the amount of drops will vary. You then pour them into your water and let that sit for twenty minutes. I usually go ahead and start hiking after adding it to my water and keep an eye out on my watch so I know when I can drink. I never had a funny taste in my mouth and didn’t need to clean the chemicals or work to filter my water.

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Aquamira Drops

Boiling water
Most people know that boiling water is a method of water purification. Getting the water to heat to 212 degrees and letting it stay there for a few minutes will kill germs and bacteria in the water. If your water treatment has failed, this is a great alternative because most hikers carry a stove. Some people only boil water to purify it but this can be time consuming and requires a good amount of fuel. When I cook, I use untreated water and boil it for a minute before I add it to my meal and that is a safe way to cook, and it saves my filter or purifier from an extra use.

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Boiling water

Key tips for water treatment

  • Separate and clearly designate dirty and clean water containers.
  • Pay close attention to directions because every product has detailed steps to avoid cross contamination.
  • Seek out clean water because sediment impairs treatment effectiveness. If only murky sources are available, use a prefilter or allow sediment to settle from gathered water.
  • Keep your hands clean by packing hand sanitizer and using it often.
  • Keep camp, toilet and dishwashing areas at least 200 feet from any water source.
 Everyone prefers different water treatment methods. I would suggest testing some of them out ahead of time to see which works for you. We can show you how some of them work in the store and are happy to help answer any of your water treatment questions!

Sleep System

On the trail, you are definitely going to need some good sleep. At first, you might be anxious, excited, or scared so sleeping won’t come as easily. You will learn after hiking even just a week that you will be tired and you can sleep! You still want to be warm and comfortable so you can get a good night of sleep. This post will take you through sleeping pads, bags, other accessories and then etiquette at camp. Everyone sleeps differently and may need their own camping spot, and some can sleep in a shelter full of snoring people. You should definitely try both experiences at least once!

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All kinds of sleeping bags and pads here!

Sleeping pads
Sleeping pads are important because they insulate you from the cold ground. Even in the summer, it is important to have something between you and the ground to keep you dry, and comfortable. The question is, what kind of sleeping pad do you want? There are really two types of sleeping pads, inflatable ones, and foam ones. The more comfortable option is going to be the inflatable pads. These you either blow up yourself, or they self inflate. Inflatable pads are more expensive, but more compact. These are great for those that may need a little more support when they sleep. Self inflating pads are slightly heavier but require less work. Be sure to look at the R-Value, or temperature rating. You can get a super lightweight inflatable pad for the summer so it feels like you are sleeping on a cloud. There are also lightweight pads rated at 0 degrees that are great for the winter. When you purchase an inflatable pad, get a small repair kit just in case you spring a leak. Sleeping pads are usually made from durable material but you never know when you might accidentally poke your pad with a sharp stick, or even a knife.

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So many different sleeping pads!

The foam pads are the most simple, cheap, and lightweight. They will not have as much support as the inflatable ones,  but if you’re a hard sleeper, these would work for you. They are bulkier and might need to sit on the outside of your pack because of their size.

All pads are going to come in different sizes. Usually the sizes you will see are long, regular, and short. Long is going to be ideal for tall people, regular for all others, and short for the hardcore hikers who don’t mind if their legs hang off the pad. As long as your back and hips are supported and insulated, your legs will be fine. One recommendation I have if you decide to use a short sleeping pad, is put your pack at your feet so they can rest elevated on the pack. If you need more support and comfort then go ahead and get one that fits your body size.

Thermarest NeoAir Xlite – This delivers more warmth and comfort per ounce than any other three-season inflatable pad available. It weighs between 8-16 oz depending on the size you get and it is rated around 20 degrees. You can definitely take this on a longer backpacking trip and be comfortable, yet lightweight.

Thermarest Prolite – This self inflating three-season pad is also lightweight and rated around 20 degrees. All you have to do is lay it out, open the valve, and let it inflate. It weighs between 8 – 22 oz depending on size but the regular size is only 16 oz. It does not pack up as small as the Xlite but it is less work to inflate.

Thermarest Z-lite – This foam pad is lightweight, and durable. No need to worry about leaks in this pad. It weighs 10 – 14 oz but can sit on the outside of your pack, and all you have to do for set up is unfold it. This pad is ideal for thru hiking because it is durable and easy. It’s also cheap! If you’re they type of person that can sleep anywhere, this pad will be perfect for you.

The recommendations here are all made by the brand Therm-a-rest. These are the most popular pads and the ones I’ve had the most experience with. We also sell Big Agnes pads in the store. These pads are probably the most comfortable because they are thicker and better insulated so they can hold up in winter conditions. We have the Insulated Double Z and the Insulated Q-Core SL. Definitely check these out if you want to sleep on a cloud while still carrying a lightweight pad.

Sleeping bags
This decision can be vital to planning your hike. You need to check ahead of time to see what temperatures you will be dealing with on the trail and plan accordingly. One of the worst things that can happen is not being able to sleep because you are cold. I have experienced this and it is no fun! There are many different degree bags you can choose from. A general guide for determining sleeping bag temperature is:

-Summer – 32 degrees and higher
-Fall and Spring – 10 degrees to 32 degrees
-Winter – 10 degrees and lower

Of course, these will change depending on where you are going but try to keep these in mind as the basis. There are three types of bags you can get; down, synthetic, or a combination of both. Down bags are going to be lighter and keep you warmer. Synthetic bags are quick drying and can still insulate when wet.

Down insulation is easy to compress, lightweight, long-lasting and breathable. When you unpack a down bag, the feathers fluff up, so to speak, which is what keeps you warm. When looking at bags you will see the term “fill-power.” This is the term used to measure the down’s ability to loft, and thus trap heat. It is calculated by how many cubic inches 1 ounce of down can fill in a testing device. For example, an 800 fill down bag rated at 20 degrees is going to be lighter, and slightly warmer than a 600 fill down bag rated at 20 degrees. There isn’t much difference just the 800 fill down is the better quality. Down is going to be more expensive and you need to be sure to keep it dry.

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Down fill-power

Synthetic insulation is going to be sturdier than down. It is a good choice if you’re looking for a cheaper option or if you are planning to be in damper, wetter climates. It dries quickly and can last a long time. It will be bulkier and won’t be as warm as a down bag, but if you don’t need a super warm bag then this could be good for you.

Some bags now combine down and synthetic fill. These hybrids can provide the benefits of both materials and offset the imperfections.

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Down vs. synthetic material

There are other features of bags that you will need to consider. The size of the bag is going to be important. All bags are going to be different lengths, and sometimes different widths to accompany all sizes of people. Be sure to get the appropriate size for your body and comfort zone. Check out the zippers as well. They are usually on the left or right side of the bag so that if you want to zip up with a partner, you can do so if your zippers are compatible. Look at various drawstrings the bag may have. Some come around the neck, or hood, so that you can tighten them up when it is cold outside and no cold air can get in.

Sleeping bags can be a difficult decision. Going to the store and checking them out for yourself is going to important. We have some of our recommendations below.

Western Mountaineering Ultralite – This 20 degree sleeping bag weighs only 1 lb 13 oz and has 16 oz. of high lofting down that pumps this bag to 5″. The full down collar helps to seal in heat around your neck without adding excess bulk. This bag is perfect for a long hike because it is versatile in colder and warmer climates, packs up small, and is super comfortable. I have had mine for almost ten years and it lasted a thru hike and I plan to keep using it. Western Mountaineering can be a little pricey but it is definitely worth it.

Western Mountaineering Megalite – This 30 degree bag is cut to suit large folks so they too can enjoy the benefits of super lightweight bags. No claustrophobia here with 64″ of shoulder girth tapering to 39″ at the foot. It weighs only 1 lb 8 oz and you can pair it with a sleeping bag liner for the Spring or Fall when it gets chilly.

Big Agnes Boot Jack – This 25 degree bag is made with Downtek. Downtek is a treated down that makes it water resistant. If the down gets a little wet, it’s no big deal! It will dry quicker than untreated down bags and it won’t damage the down. It weighs a little more at 2 lbs 6 oz but the price is definitely better for your wallet.

Sleeping quilts
A down backpacking quilt is much like the down quilt you would use on a bed. Just like a bed quilt, you don’t sleep on top of it since the down under you is compressed and doesn’t keep you warm. For a bed, your mattress keeps your bottom-side warm, and for a backpacking quilt your sleeping pad keeps you warm. Not having down on the underside of a quilt saves cost and weight. Quilts are rated similarly as bags so keep an eye out for the fill-power and temperature rating. Most people worry about drafts coming from the sides of the quilt, but most models now can come with straps to strap the quilt around your sleeping pad, or you can just tuck the quilt up under you. They can also include a zipper, or drawstring at the bottom to form a toe box to slip around the end of your pad. The quilt can be a great choice for three seasons because you can use a liner and make sure the quilt is tucked under you if you’re cold, or just drape it over you when you’re hot! They do not have a hood so be sure to pack a warm hat if you know it’s going to be colder. They are definitely becoming more popular in the hiking community because they are lighter and cheaper.

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Down quilt

Sleep accessories
A sleeping bag liner is something you should use. They can add warmth and also protect your bag from your stinky self. Here are the types of liners you can look into.

  • Silk: Very lightweight (about 5 oz.) and compact. Silk helps insulate in cold weather but is absorbent and breathable in warm weather.
  • Cotton: Strong, durable and absorbent, but not the lightest or most compact.
  • Fleece and microfleece: Warmer (adds up to 12°F) and heavier. Fleece is soft, moisture-wicking and quick-drying, but the mid- and heavyweight varieties are bulky.
  • Synthetics: Moisture-wicking and breathable, which makes these ideal for humid conditions. They offer some stretch, too, which is nice for restless sleepers.
  • Insulated: This adds up to a claimed 25°F of warmth, so you can greatly extend the range of a lightweight bag. It uses hollow-core fiber insulation which helps it dry 50% faster than cotton.

A pillow is a luxury item that isn’t necessary, but if you need that extra comfort, there are some lightweight pillow options out there. Earplugs and headphones could also be used. If you are a light sleeper but plan to camp around others, these things can help block out the snoring campers.

Hope this post helps guide your backpacking sleep system! Again, if you want any advice, information, or any demos, you can come by the store here or give us a call!

Tents, Tarps, and Hammocks, Oh My!

A big decision for the trail is what type of shelter do you want to carry? There are many different types nowadays. This is something you will have to discover for yourself which you may like the best. Shelters are important to protect you and your possessions from the elements, but they are also great for privacy. This post will help you figure out which system you may want and will include some of Mountain Crossings recommendations.

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Tent city in Damascus Virginia for Trail Days

To carry a shelter or not?
The Appalachian Trail has shelters along the trail that could be between 3-20 miles apart. The shelters are three sided, and have one big platform where 6-10 hikers can lay their pads out to sleep. Of course shelters vary in size and structure. You could come across a shelter that has three stories (Plumorchard in Georgia) or one that can only fit 4 people! I have met few people who rely solely on these shelters and do not carry their own. Is this a good idea? It depends on a few things. First, when are you planning to hike the trail? If you are starting NOBO in the spring, it’s probably not a good idea to rely on trail shelters since they can fill up quickly. If you start a flip flop in spring, then you might be able to get away with snagging a spot in the shelters. You also need to be willing to plan your days around shelter hopping. If the next shelter is 20 miles away, then you will need to be able to go the distance to make it there. If a shelter is full, you need to be willing to push on or risk sleeping in the open. Shelters can be really convenient because most of them have a privy and a water source, but you could be missing out on other great camping areas. Personally, I think it is smart to bring your own shelter even if you don’t use it every night. There are some very lightweight shelters out there that are dynamite.

Tents
This is the most common shelter hikers are carrying on the trail. Tents come in two forms, double or single-walled. Double-walled tents are what most people think of when they hear the word “tent.” This means there are two different fabrics protecting you from the elements. It consists of a tent body and a rain fly. The body is usually made mostly from mesh material to allow ventilation and prevent moisture from condensing inside the tent. Your body puts out a surprising amount of moisture through your breath and perspiration so ventilation is very important. The rain fly will go over the body and protects you from outside weather. A single-walled tent only has the tent body which acts  mostly as a rain fly but has some mesh areas that are strategically placed to allow ventilation. Tents can also be free-standing or not. Free-standing means it contains poles that make it stand on its own and can be picked up and moved easily. Non free-standing requires the use of a guy line, stakes, or trekking poles to stand up. Once it is put up, it would need to be taken down if you need to move it.

Both styles of tents are great! Double-walled, free-standing tents will weigh a little bit more but they will be the easiest to put up and manage. The single-walled tents don’t provide as much ventilation but are usually lighter in weight. Non free-standing tents are also lighter because they don’t need the big tent poles to stand. It all depends on you. If you want something easier, and fool proof, go with the double-walled, free-standing tents. If you’re willing to experiment with trekking poles and guy lines, get a lighter weight single-walled tent. I’ve included some recommendations of tents below.

Big Agnes Copper Spur – The one-person style is pictured below. I carried this tent on the entire Appalachian Trail and never had any problems. It was so easy to set up and I could keep all my belongings in it. The two and three-person styles are great because they contain two doors and vestibules so they are ideal for couples. The one-person tent weighs 2lbs 8oz packed.

Big Agnes Fly Creek – This tent was the most common among AT thru hikers in 2016. The two-person model is lightweight weighing in at 2lbs 5oz packed and it can fit all your gear inside. This is also a double-walled, free-standing tent so it is easy to set up. This one differs from the Copper Spur the most in the opening which opens at the front and not the side.

Tarptent ProTrail – This single-walled, free-standing tent is only 1lb 10oz and uses trekking poles to stand. It is a single person tent and ventilates well. It has a bathtub floor and holds up in a storm. I know people that use this tent and love it.

Tarps
These are becoming more and more popular on trail as hikers are deciding to go ultralight. Tarps can sometimes weigh only 4 ounces! They are exactly as they sound, just a tarp. There is no body, ground sheet, or poles that go to tarps You use your own trekking poles to set them up and guy lines to tie them down. Tarps are definitely the most tricky shelter. You need to practice your knot tying skills and practice setting up your tarp before you get it exactly right. In order for a tarp to work the best, it needs to be taught. Even the slightest bit of slack can make it noisy in the wind. Knowing certain knots, such as the truckers hitch, can help you adjust your guy lines easier to make it taught. You may also want to acquire a piece of Tyvek or related material to use as a ground sheet under your sleeping pad as well.

Tarps are not for the faint of heart, and not always the best depending on where you are hiking. In the middle of summer on the Appalachian Trail, you would definitely need to get a bug net to go under your tarp. If you are going to be in fierce climate conditions, consider getting a bivy sack to protect you and  your sleeping bag through the night. All in all, tarps should be more carefully thought out and practiced. Once you get a demo on tarps and practice putting yours up, they aren’t so bad. In fact, you will grow to love them because they are lightweight! I encourage everyone to at least look at some tarps and consider them. Do not be afraid!

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Simple tarp

Hammocks
Who doesn’t love slowly rocking yourself to sleep? Hammocks are the rage nowadays because they are comfortable and you are suspended above the ground! Most people I’ve met that use hammocks say they just sleep better and are more comfortable in hammocks. They can be set up on rocky, or hilly terrain but the catch is, you need trees. The desert would not be a good place for a hammock. Hammocks need the straps for the trees, and a tarp you set up over them to protect from weather. You can usually fit your pack underneath the hammock to also protect it from rain or snow. In the colder months, an underquilt is needed to insulate you from wind passing underneath you.

It isn’t difficult to pick a hammock because all designs are so similar. Eno and Yukon Outfitters are the brands we carry in the store. Eno is the most popular brand but you need to buy all the parts separate. Yukon is made in the United States and some of the hammocks have the straps and carabiners included. Both brands can be as light as 1.5lbs and they also have some larger hammocks made for two people.

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Two hikers enjoying lounging in their hammocks

How to decide
It all comes down to personal preference. You should really get a demo, or test these shelters out to decide which one you might like best. We are happy to help you decide so stop on by the store for a demo, or any other shelter advice you may need!

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MTX employee Carlie does a tent demo for a hiker

Packs and packing your pack!

One of the main items you need for backpacking is a pack! Who would’ve thought that you need a pack for backPACKing. The pack is vital because it becomes a part of your body and contains all of your belongings. It can be difficult to figure out which pack you may want for yourself. There are many different brands that are all great, but vary between styles, features, and fits. This blog post will tell you what features to look for in a pack and we will recommend some of our favorite brands. We will also tell you our method for packing your pack. It can really make a difference if you pack it correctly.

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Granite  Gear pack with a view

Starting off
First off, you need to figure out what kind of trip you are planning. Do you want to be ultralight? Do you want to carry more luxury items? The gear you plan to carry, and the length of your trip can determine the pack capacity you will want. Anywhere between 30 – 80 liters is the range you will be in. For a one nighter in the summer, you could get away with a 30 liter pack if you are ultralight. In the middle of winter for a few day trip, with some luxury items, maybe an 80 liter pack would be more your fit. A good medium would be between 50-70 liters. This way, you can use the pack year round and fill it to the brim, or maybe have more wiggle room. Just listen to yourself and know if you want to have a lighter pack, or if there is no way you are going to give up some of your luxury items.

When you go for a pack fitting, bring some of your gear with you, or bring some fillers so you can try on the pack with the amount of gear you are planning to take. It is important to get a feel for what it’s like when packed. Wherever you plan to get your pack, have one of the employees help you. You need someone to measure your torso and help you learn the best way to put the pack on and tighten all the straps.

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Having a professional with your fit is important

Pack fitting
Your torso length is going to be the most important measurement for your pack fitting. Once this size is determined, depending on which brand you like, get your size. Sizes can vary between brands so be sure to check. When you put on the pack, naturally you will lean forward to compensate for the weight on your back. From here, you will want to go ahead and buckle your hip belt and tighten it. You want most of the weight to rest on  your hips rather than your shoulders. Then you can start tightening your other straps so that it fits properly. Here is a description of some other the other straps you will want to tighten.

Load Lifter Straps: These straps connect the top of the shoulder straps to the top of the pack, and when tightened correctly, they prevent the pack from leaning away from your back. Ideally they should be positioned at a 45 degree angle.

Sternum Strap: The sternum strap clips over the chest, connecting both shoulder straps in the front. This enhances stability. Some packs allow for this strap’s height to be adjusted to that it sits comfortably on your chest.

Compression Straps: These tighten along the sides of a pack. They should be extended when a pack is very full and cinched down when a pack is almost empty. These allow for the wearer to achieve a balanced pack even if it is not completely loaded down. These are one of the main features that make a pack versatile enough for a day hike or a multi-day trip.

Hipbelt Stabilizer: This strap can be tightened around the hipbelt, improving balance and comfort.

Again, having a professional help you is important. Here is a video to help illustrate.

Pack features
What do you want in a pack? There are many different styles and features to decide between. You can have the bare minimum, or all the bells and whistles. Pockets are probably the most noticeable and useful features. Here are examples of pockets you might see on a pack.

  • Side pockets – ideal for water bottles and snack.
  • Front pockets – usually one or two and good for extra items you might need during the day such as rain poncho, headlamp, etc.
  • Brain – removable, but can fit a water bladder, or light jacket in the top
  • Hip belt pockets – some packs come with built in hip belt pockets, or you can purchase a detachable one. These are ideal for chapstick, camera, maps, etc.
  • Water bladder pocket – this feature is in some packs and is located on the inside of the pack right on your back. It is designed for a water bladder and there is usually an area where the bladder hose can come through the top.
  • Wallet pocket – this is usually a very small pocket on the inside of the pack to keep valuables such as wallet or keys.

Here are some other pack features you may want to consider.

  • Frame vs. frameless – frameless is only for experienced, ultralight backpackers. Most packs nowadays are internal frames. These can usually be removed and are made of plastic or related materials. You can also look into external frame packs if you are old school.
  • Trampoline back – this feature allows the pack itself to sit off your back to allow ventilation.
  • Sleeping bag compartment – some packs contain a separate space on the very bottom of the pack designed for your sleeping bag. There is usually a zipper on the outside to access this compartment.
  • Extra straps – most packs already have the compression straps along the sides, but some contain extra straps for sleeping pads, tools, or water bottles.

Of course, when you are deciding which features you want, keep into consideration that they can add weight. They may seem nice when you are looking at them, but really think about if you will use them and how much they can benefit you.

Packing your pack
This part is vital for how the pack sits on your back and feels as you are hiking. The diagram below shows the proper weight distribution you should have for your pack. Ideally, you want your lighter stuff on the bottom, heavy stuff resting in the middle on your back, and medium weight objects on top. Here is a quick overview of items you might include in these areas.

  • Bottom – sleeping bag, sleeping pad, clothes
  • Middle – food, tent,
  • Top – first aid kit, stove and pot, jacket
  • Outside of pack – water, snacks, map,

It can take a while to really get a feel for the best way to pack your pack. It is not always going to be the same. You will want to carry some items on the outside of your pack for easy access, but try not to get carried away. If you don’t use it during the day while hiking, pack it away.

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Another great trick for packing, use a trash bag liner to line your pack. This keeps your stuff dry and it acts as a stuff sack. You can take your sleeping bag, clothes, sleeping pad, etc out of their stuff sacks and just cram them all into your trash bag in your pack. This trash bag will not be opened until you get to camp so if it rains, the important stuff stays dry. It also helps fill gaps that may be in your pack. When items are in stuff sacks, they each become a certain shape. These shapes may not fit together too well and will leave some gaps. When you take them out of these sacks and virtually put them in one sack (your pack) they can all mold together and fill that space.

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Packs, packs, packs

Pack Recommendations
The packs we carry in the store include Granite Gear, Osprey, and ULA. These brands are the most popular in the hiking community right now. They also cover the variety of packs I have talked about in this blog. If you want a more ultralight pack, the ULA OHM or the Granite Gear Virga 2 are lightweight, frameless, and have just three pockets. We also have some of those packs that contain more features such as the Osprey Exos and the Granite Gear Lutsen. Here are some of the staffs personal favorite packs.

Granite Gear Crown VC 60 – I carried this pack the entire trail. It weighs two pounds and is 60 liters in volume. It has three pockets total and I was able to get the women’s style that included a slightly wider and more padded hip belt. The roll top acts as a compression so the pack itself felt like a big stuff sack. The pack is made from Cordura fabric which is very durable and there have been no rips or tears in the whole time I’ve had it.

ULA Circuit – This 68 liter pack will not disappoint. Owned by several of the employees it has three pockets total, two side pockets and one large back mesh pocket. The side pockets are solid and made so they won’t tear even when you’re cramming water bottles and snacks into them. The back pocket is mesh and can stretch and ventilate wet items. It also has the hip belt pockets to carry easy access items such as a map. It is a roll top as well and the pack is made from Robic fabric so it is super durable.It weighs just 2.5 pounds.

ULA Catalyst – This pack is slightly larger and heavier than the Circuit. It weighs 3 pounds and has a 75 liter capacity. This pack is definitely a popular one for starting out. It is large enough, but still light, so you can carry a few more items. You may not have all the lightest weight gear so this pack is perfect because it can carry up to 40 lbs. It has similar features as the circuit such as the pockets and roll top, it is also made from Robic fabric.

Osprey Exos – This pack has a 58 liter capacity and weighs 2.4 pounds. It was the most popular pack on the Appalachian Trail in 2016. It has the trampoline back to keep the pack off your back and allow ventilation. It has three mesh pockets, two on the sides and one on the back. It also has the hip belt pockets and several additional straps to tie on extra items if need be. It includes a removable floating top lid with an internal key clip and underlid zippered mesh pocket. The pack is made out of High Tenacity Nylon.

These are some of our favorites but there are so many more! You can check out this post by “The Trek” that shows what backpacks were the most popular on the Appalachian Trail from 2016 thru hikers.

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We hope this has helped you with your pack decisions. Please stop by the store or give us a call for more information or if you want to do a pack fitting! Remember we also do pack shakedowns in the store and we have the virtual shakedowns if you don’t live nearby. Check back next week for more information on gear you will need on the trail!