Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Stuff on our Backs

Gear for the Trail

With under a month left until we begin our journey North, Sara and Zeno and I have finalized our gear list for the trek. Our pile of gear and food is beginning to take over our apartment, which means we need to leave soon before we run out of room to get from the living room to the kitchen.  Fortunately our house for the next six months arrived in the mail a couple weeks ago, so we have some shelter in which to move.

It is a weird feeling receiving your next domicile in the mail.  We settled on the TarpTent Stratospire 2 as our shelter for the trip, which weighs about 40 ounces, packs into a 16"x5" bag and, when received in the mail, does not seem like it should house two people and a dog for 5-6 months.  We set it up in the front yard, though, and it seems great!  Despite needing practice with our hiking poles (which serve as the vertical poles for the tent), our pitching skills were decent.  Once we get the hang of it, the set up and break down time should be less than our current tent.

Caldera Cone and K-Mart Grease pot
To cook our food we decided to get the Caldera Cone with the K-Mart Grease Pot.  The cone makes our camping kitchen look out of place as it adds a great deal of shiny aluminum to the landscape typically mottled in browns and greens.  By wrapping the pot and burner in the cone our fuel efficiency is supposed to improve to the point where we will only need 15-30mL of fuel per meal.  The cone serves to keep out the wind and also helps to insulate the pot so the entire thing heats up, rather than an isolated spot where the flame burns underneath.  The burner itself is nifty combination of a coke can and a red bull can with some vent holes popped in the side.  We tested the stove on a couple occasions at the Flagstaff Nordic Center over the winter and it worked great.

For sleeping bags we both settled on the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15's.  I have been using this bag the last year and have loved it so Sara decided to get one as well.  The bags are right around the 2lb range but are still very warm.  Underneath the bags we will be using the ThermaRest X-Lite NeoAir 2's, which provide a couple inches of air mattress and insulation for very little weight.  We are just hoping that Zeno does not continue his practice of lunging at squirrels while in the tent so our sleeping pads remain leak free.

Water filter and filter bag we will be carrying.
To purify water we will be using a combination of AquaMira and a Sawyer water pump.  In the past I have been wary of pumps because they can get clogged and pieces can break, but this one seems to be much more durable and user friendly.  The pump system weighs in at a measly 3 ounces, is easy to clean with a syringe that can also be used in a first aid kit, and has very few movable parts that are prone to breakage.  This will be our primary system with the AquaMira drops and water boiling acting as backups.  In some instances we may use all three depending on how many chunks of unknown substances need to be removed from the water.  Better to not think about it.

 The gear we will be most familiar with is the pack on our backs.  Sara opted to carry the GoLite Jam, while I will carry the Ultra Light Adventures (ULA) Catalyst.  Both packs are two of the more common packs for thru hikers, lightweight, durable, simple, and roomy.  We tested them on our overnight in Wupatki National Monument and during our four day Thanksgiving trip in the Grand Canyon.  The one thing we wish they did was float like a birthday party balloon so we could just tug on a string to get up the trail, but since that is not a standard feature on the basic models we decided we could manage.

Zeno on a training hike up on Mt. Elden
Zeno will also be carrying a pack that will either contain his dog food or our peanut butter, jelly, and honey.  That depends on how he is affected by the smell of his food on the trail.  His pack is actually the same one my parents' dog, Orion, used when they hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1985.  It is a lightweight Adventure 16 pack that was originally navy blue, but is now a silver/gray/blue because of all the miles it has traveled in the glaring sun.  The last two weekends Zeno has carried it on hikes of 14 and 15 miles. Aside from pretending to have no energy climbing Mt. Elden, only to chase every whiff of animal once we hit the top, he did a great job and did not seem to notice the extra weight.

We also just purchased dog booties for Zeno to protect his feet on the hot sand in southern New Mexico, the lava fields around Grants, NM and all the snow.  The trial run we put him through last night was hilarious.  He never tried to remove them, but did look like he was trying to walk or run through big drifts of snow by trying to high-step out of the things on his feet.  It only took him five or ten minutes to get used to them though and then he did not mind.

Chicken about to go in the dehydrator

With less than 20 days before we start hiking, our preparation process has gone into overdrive.  We now have the food dehydrator running all day and night to prepare meat sauce.  We are dividing and mixing oatmeal into different packages.  We are mixing trail mix and going on training hikes. But it still seems like there is a lot to do.  Sara is guiding two river trips before we leave and I am working and coaching up until the day before we leave.  Now any free time we have must be devoted to establishing our resupply boxes.  Strangely it has not gotten too stressful yet, but instead every task reminds us that we are about to go on the adventure of our lives. It is just plain exciting. 


  1. HI, I just read about your upcoming journey in the BSC alumni mag. I am a BSC grad who lives in Lake City, CO...one of the coolest towns on the CDT. My good friends (who met and married on the trail) run an awesome hostel in our little town. Look it up: raven's rest hostel in Lake City. We love hikers and would love to have you come visit our sweet little town. For more about Lake City...my blog is www.christianandamanda.blogspot.com
    If we can be of any help to you at all, let us know. christianandamanda@gmail.com

  2. Hi there!
    Thanks for your comment. We will definitely look into Lake City, and keep you in mind for a visit. We are looking forward to meeting new people and exploring several towns along the way. Lake City isn't currently on our resupply list but we'll look into it and let you know if we decide to stop!
    Thanks again,