Category Archives: Gear

There’s going to be bugs there?

When I’ve read books about hiking the Appalachian Trail, more often than you would think, the author contracts Lyme disease. A case of this tick borne illness can put a real damper on a person’s hike. In addition, without proper treatment, there can be long term neurological damage. And guess where a real hotspot for this disease is located? That’s right, Vermont, where I’m going to be hiking the Long Trail.

In addition, the sometimes swampy backwoods of the state are a great place for breeding mosquitoes, and this past July was one of the wettest in Vermont’s history.

pants

Sounds like I need to pull out all the stops in preparing for bugs. Clothing is one way to do that. I’ll be trying out some Rail Rider “Eco-Mesh Pants with Insect Shield.” I typically wear zip off pants on the trail. Ones that start out as long pants, but convert to shorts when it gets warm. Bare legs are a tick magnet though. The rail riders have zippers, but they run vertical the length of the pant leg. Unzipped, there is a mesh panel that provides ventilation without giving a tick a direct path in. Remember the pants MC Hammer wore? They’re not that bad. Also, they’re treated with permethrin, a natural insecticide that stays in the fabric to repel and/or kill the little bastards. The factory treatment is supposed to last for dozens of washings.

I also bought a Buff, a tube of material that’s also treated with the same chemical. A buff can be worn over the neck for shade, like a dew rag, Russian Peasant woman, you name it. They even have a video that shows all the ways to wear it. I just want it to keep the ticks off my head.

Beyond the fashion statement I’ll be making, treated clothing sounded like a good idea, so I bought some of the chemical and treated my shirts and socks. Home treatment only lasts for 6 washings or so, but that should be long enough unless I’m walking slow and/or doing laundry pretty often.

bug juice

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m not a fan of either ticks or mosquitoes. So they’ll be more weapons in the arsenal. My sunscreen is a product called Skin so Soft. This is not a poison, but supposedly has a scent that repels insects. Based on my initial testing, I hope it’s a better sunblock than it is a repellant. Otherwise, it’s time for skin cancer. I’ll be carrying a small tube of Picaridin, advertised to be as good as Deet, but won’t destroy your nylon clothes or equipment. And, if that fails, I have some Deet. I’m trying it in solid form, which will help target which part of my body I douse with poison. That’s gotta cover it, right? I’ll let you know who wins this little competition, me or the disease carrying insects.

Take a Load Off

Recently I’d mentioned that, with the difficult climbs I’ll be encountering on the Long Trail, it’d be a good idea to try and lighten the load I’ll be carrying compared to what I brought on the Colorado Trail. Then, fully loaded with 2 liters of water and 4 days of food, the pack came in right about 31 pounds.

Let’s see, my new IPhone means I’m not bringing an IPad. That saves 14 ounces. With more resupply stops, the 4 ounce Solar charger can stay home too. And since the trail is (hopefully) marked pretty well, the 5 ounce GPS won’t need to be there to bail me out if I get lost. Wow, that was pretty easy. Nearly a pound and a half saved just in electronics.

electronics

Banking on warmer weather saves a couple ounces with no gloves or cold weather hat. A bigger risk with the sleeping bag saves some more. With the silk liner, an REI Travel Sack should keep me toasty all the way down to 46 degrees. Plus there’s no down (or much of any) insulation to get wet in the damp environment. The savings of 7 ounces only cost 30 degrees of comfort. (Actually 20 degrees of comfort and 10 degrees of survival.)

The “camp “sandals” that were abandoned in Colorado were replaced with a pair weighing 5 ounces less. (Whenever this new pair gets abandoned, there’s another pound of savings.)

The Long Trail has more opportunities for resupply, so three days of food will be the most carried, saving over a pound.

At this point, I’m down to close to 27 pounds. Unfortunately there are add-ons to fight. Food on the Colorado Trail was insufficient, to say the least. Adding in more trail mix, peanut butter and soft tortillas puts about a pound back. As an aside, I waited until the last minute to buy tortillas for my resupply boxes in an attempt to have them last on the trail. I needn’t have worried. I don’t know exactly what’s in the Old El Paso brand, but they don’t expire until next February.

I also had to fight weight with the guides. Instead of one (4 ounce) data book like for the CT, the information needed on the trail is spread between a map, an End to Ender’s Guide and a big honking Trail Guide. Fortunately, a razor knife can be used to edit the books. Between the two, close to 100 pages were carved out of the final product. What was left was split in two with the 2nd half being mailed in a resupply box. I think everything worked out to about a wash.

Guide

Considering it’s been a wet summer, and it’s Vermont, there’ll be more insect repellent to carry too.

All in all I’m still saving about 3 pounds, or 10 percent of the load. Time will tell if it’s enough.

Bearly Legal

When planning for thru-hiking the John Muir Trail (JMT), one item new for me, besides the significant bureaucracy, is the emphasis placed on protecting your food from the bears. When hiking on the Colorado Trail, Appalachian Trail or canoe camping in Canada, I’ve made it a habit to reasonably attempt to bear-bag my food at night. Basically using a rope to suspend the food bag from a branch on a tree; ideally ten feet in the air and six feet from the trunk. The branch should be strong enough to support the food, but not a bear cub’s attempt to get at the bag. As I don’t carry a scale to measure either the strength of the branch or the weight of the cub in question, that last part is just a guesstimate.

A very handy spot in Canada

A very handy spot in Canada

This system has worked for me for years, though I’ve never actually seen a bear foiled by my expertise. Regardless, if nothing else it’s a good way to keep the mice out of the food. Apparently, the bears on the JMT are in another class. For much of the trail, anywhere in Yosemite and large sections of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, bear resistant canisters are required to be used. Even where canisters are not required, regular bear bagging apparently doesn’t get it. Park literature states that any method besides counterbalancing probably won’t work. Of course it also states that bears have learned to defeat counterbalancing as well. What’s counterbalancing you ask? Here’s some info from the park service,  but in a nutshell, here’s the process.

Find that same branch as before (strong enough to hold the food, but not a bear) only it has to be 20 feet high and ten feet from the trunk. Split the food in half and counterbalance the bags at least 12 feet off the ground. Leave only a small loop of rope hanging out of one bag that you can hook with a stick to retrieve the bags. If the loop becomes untied, wait until a bear comes along that has learned to defeat the process. Maybe he’ll leave a little food for you. Clean up the bear’s mess. Hike out hungry.

So, the question becomes; do I use a canister big enough to hold all the food/other stuff I might ever need or use a smaller (lighter) canister to be legal and just roll the dice with my bear bagging skills in other areas?

Based on a tentative schedule of walking 13 – 19 miles per day, I can get to the “halfway” resupply point at Muir Trail Ranch carrying no more than four days’ worth of food at any one time. The second half gets complicated. The first night out of the Ranch I’ll be packing seven days’ worth of food. Canisters are not required in that area though. By the time I camp in an area where canisters are again required, I’ll only have 4 days of food (and three days of garbage) to fit in the container.

FullSizeRender (3)

So, what size canister do I need to hold 4 days’ worth of food? Well, according to the folks that make the Bear Vault, their Model BV-450 (The Solo) which holds 440 cubic inches is just the ticket for holding that much food. It weighs in at an ounce under 2 pounds, and costs around $65.

Well, based on based on the rations I took on the Colorado Trail, I went ahead and tested the claim. Four dinners and breakfasts fit fine, along with small tubes of toothpaste and sunblock. The lunches could also be made to fit as long as the crackers were crushed into bags of crumbs. A couple days of trail mix were pretty much left on the outside looking in. And on a side note; this amount of food resulted in me losing around a pound per day of hiking until I started carrying additional calories.

My daily ration, which isn't enough.

My daily ration, which isn’t enough.

It’s starting to look like I may have to step up to bigger container. The Bear Vault 500 holds 700 cubic inches, but it also weighs 41 ounces. An extra 2 ½ pounds on your back doesn’t seem like much until you’re carrying it 200+ miles through mountains. There are other options including the Bearikade which comes in various sizes including 650 cubic inches. The great thing about the Bearikade is that this larger size actually weighs a couple ounces less than the smallest Bear Vault. The not so great thing is that it costs over $260, which seems a bit high for a can. Stay tuned for a decision.

Some may ask, “Hey Jim, with all the aggravation between bear canisters, permits and other regulations, is hiking the JMT worth the trouble?” I’ll know for sure once I’m done, but these photos from Backpacker.com give me a pretty good idea of what the answer will be.