About Water Filters (Progress Update #8)

Hello again,

So quick explanatory note: the backpacking trip I was going to go on this weekend was canceled due to extreme weather. Don’t worry though, they rescheduled the trip to this coming weekend so I will be able to share that experience with you! Just not quite yet. Instead, this week I’m going to walk you through my choice of a water purification system. I need one, I hadn’t got around to buying one until now, and I thought it would be nice to show you, step by step, how I chose from the different options on the market.

So my priorities when shopping for a backpacking water purification system are:

  1. Reliability.

Above all you want your system to always work. Duh. But getting sick from contaminated water sources is no joke, so reliability is top on my list.

  1.   Low weight/compactness. 

This one is pretty straight forward. If you’re carrying all your things on your back you can’t afford to have your water filter/tablets be 5 lbs. or something like that.

  1.   Convenience. 

This means we’re looking for a system that doesn’t take a lot of manual labor to make it work or a lot of unnecessary time.

  1.   Reasonably priced.

I’m not keen on spending upwards of $100 on a water system.

So those are our criteria. Now let’s look at the choices.. I’ve already narrowed my list down to three main options: The Sawyer Mini Filtration System, Platypus Water Filtration System, and purification tablets. There are plenty of other options on the market but these are the three I’ve decided to examine and choose between, just because I’ve heard good things about each of them.

First up: Water purification tablets.

Iodine Tablets

Sometimes these are iodine, sometimes it’s iodine plus other chemicals, sometimes you have to add Vitamin C after the initial pills have done their work. But essentially it always works the same way: you drop one of the tablets in the water you want to purify and you wait about half an hour for the tablet to dissolve.

A con of this process is that it does take a while to work (so not great convenience) and it doesn’t necessarily get out all the dirt, leaves, sediment, or little rocks- only the bacteria. From what I’ve seen these are made by lots of different companies and they go for between $12.00 and $30.00. They also seem to last a while, so they could be viable for a thru-hike. Plus it’s just a little bottle of tablets so if you were very concerned about weight I’m sure you could put them in a zip-lock baggie and it would only come to a few ounces at most. (For more in-depth information about all the different options in this category I recommend this article.)

Second: The Sawyer Squeeze Mini

Sawyer Squeeze

How does this little guy measure up? Well it claims to remove 99.9999% of all bacteria and has a good reputation for doing it’s job. It’s weighs 2 oz., requires no work to operate but you do have to be present for it to work (i.e. you have to be holding it) and it’s $19.97 before tax or shipping on Amazon. Looking good. Let’s keep moving.

Third:  The Platypus Gravityworks 2.0 Liter Water Filtration System

Platypus Gravityworks

As you can see the first bag hangs (perhaps on a convenient tree branch) the water flows through the tubes and filters on its own, and when you return you have pristine, fresh water to drink.

This one takes about two minutes to filter two liters. There’s no labor involved, it weighs about 6.3 oz, meets all reliability requirements, and it can even filter water for up to four people. You also don’t have to engage with it at all: you just hang it from a tree and gravity does all the work for you, whereas with the Sawyer you have to be present to filter the water yourself. The problem is that this filter goes for $79.96 on Amazon. While that’s not terrible (it is under my $100 goal) it’s still significantly more than the Sawyer Squeeze.

 

After going over all of these specs I decided to purchase the Sawyer Squeeze Mini. It’s the cheapest and the lightest and those are two pretty important categories to me. While I do have to hold it the entire time I feel that’s worth it for the other benefits. So I’ll be purchasing the Sawyer Squeeze Mini for this upcoming backpacking trip. Maybe I’ll even let you know what I think. 

Until next time,

Liza

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How to Prevent Back Pain While Backpacking

Hello again, friends.

Last Monday I went to a meet up with backpackers in my area and we discussed how to prevent back stiffness whilst backpacking! Just a little bit about correct posture and all the muscles that go into standing and walking correctly. A physical therapist ran the show and she did an excellent job and actually answered a lot of my questions. If you’ll recall from last week I was already interested in preventing back pain and standing/walking correctly so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

I’m not an expert, I didn’t come home with a complete command of the physiology that goes into posture, but I find the topic fascinating and I’ve been implementing some of the little things she mentioned all this week, and I want to share that with you.

Transverse Abdominis

Upper-left information bubble points out the transverse abdominis. As you can see it runs deep in the core, with the six-pack muscles layered over it.

So the first thing she told us to about was the transverse abdominis. This is the deepest muscle of your core, and it wraps all around your abdomen and connects at your spine. The “six-pack” muscles are the layer over it. But the take away is this: you can have the biggest six-pack in the world, do all the sit-ups you like, but if your deep down core isn’t strong then none of that will do you much good. And that deep down core is mostly the transverse abdominis.

What does this muscle do/how do you strengthen it? Well I’ll show you. Sit up straight right now, without using the back of a chair, a wall, or anything else for support. You’ll want your shoulders to be slightly back and in line with your hips: no slumping forwards. Now see how long you can comfortably hold this position. I bet not very long.

The muscle that is holding you upright, providing you the support you need to sit erect, is the transverse abdominis. You should start to be able to feel it within a few seconds: a sort of ache all through your sides. Just sitting upright unsupported a few times a day can strengthen this muscle.

Proper sitting posture

This person is sitting upright without support and using her core muscles. Bravo her. It’s harder than it looks.

Walking and standing employ the same concept. But the thing to remember here is to tilt your pelvis slightly forward, almost as if you’re tucking it under your body or pointing your tailbone towards the floor. This will both ensure that your transverse abdominis is working and also engage your glutes ever so slightly; they will begin to power the way you walk. I think that’s fascinating because it means that maybe, if you only subtly change the way you carry yourself, you can get all the same benefits as you would from doing fifty squats a day.

If you stand and walk in the ways I’ve just described it supposedly helps with back pain while backpacking, but I hope to eventually implement this constantly, throughout my day. The beauty of it is that, while it is hard, there’s no constant reps or exhaustion or a ruthless sap of energy like with many workouts. It’s literally just a tiny way to adjust the way I carry myself that still makes me much stronger and is the way I was meant to use my muscles. I don’t want to always be dependant on chairs to keep me upright, you know?

Food for thought. Anyway that’s all I have this week. Next week I will have completed an overnight hike with the backpacking group I keep mentioning and will at least be able to summarize my experience, so exciting things coming up!

Until then,

Liza

(P.S. Happy Easter!)

All About My Tent, Sleeping Bag, and Pack (Progress Update #7)

Hello again, friends.

Today is all about my big three gear items: tent, sleeping bag, and pack. Keep in mind this is just my initial impressions and not really a review since I’ve only used each of them once. But I think it’ll be nice to have this post to look back on once I know what stood the test of time and what didn’t. Plus I want to start communicating about my gear choices.

So without further ado:

1. Tent

 

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Item: For my shelter I chose the Big Agnes UL2 Fly Creek Tent.

Reasoning behind choice: This tent gets good reviews, is touted as an excellent light-weight choice for beginners, and I’ve heard good things about Big Agnes in general. My other reason was that the set-up was very familiar; I’ve pitched tents before, complete with tent poles, stakes, and guy lines. And because I’m entering a world where everything is new and strange I need that extra little bit of familiarity. I got the two person, rather than the one person, because I know I’ll be spending many wet mornings inside, all cooped up, and I’d rather have a little extra space then none at all. Plus the difference in weight was only a few ounces and the price difference was similarly small.

Price: I paid $389.95 for my tent. Which, yeah, is on the more expensive side. But I felt the guarantee of quality that came with this tent was worth it. On the other hand you can get the one person version of this tent for much cheaper on MooseJaw.

Weight: According to REI my tent is 1 lbs, 15 oz.

Pros: I like my tent! I don’t have any real reference point at the moment but it’s roomy, durable, lightweight, packable, and it isn’t so ugly as to be offensive to the eye.

Cons: There’s a lot of staking. In this post I explain how that’s already gotten me into trouble. The only other real con I can think of is the price, but I’ve already mentioned that.

Conclusion: I think this was a good choice for a beginner like me and I’m hopeful it will live up to its reputation during my thru hike.

2. Sleeping Bag

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Item: The Women’s Joule Sleeping Bag from REI. 

Reasoning Behind Choice: I actually bought a sleeping bag last year from a knock-off brand on Amazon but I realized later that it was way too heavy and bulky to be sustainable. Part of the reason it was so big, I realized, was that it was a men’s sleeping bag and there was about a foot too much material for me. This time I avoided this and got a sleeping bag just long enough for me in the Women’s section. It gets good reviews, the temperature rating is about right, and it was on sale: works for me. As for the quilt v.s. sleeping bag debate, I might try a quilt during the summer but, again, I need something familiar for this first time around and I’ve been using sleeping bags my whole life.

Price: I snagged this sucker for $130, which is a pretty big mark-down from what it usually is. I think I avoided the “more expensive just because it’s marketed to women” trap here. To top things off I got this sleeping bag for only $30 more than the first one I bought.

Weight: REI’s website says it’s 2 lbs, 2 oz. That’s heavier than my tent!

Item Specific Specs: The temperature rating for this bag is 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pros: I like the color. This sleeping bag is a nice subdued shade of gray on the outside and a vivid pink on the inside. It’s also made of treated down, so it won’t lose as much of its insulating power when wet as, say, a regular down sleeping bag would.

Cons: It is more snug than my last sleeping bag, as I’ve mentioned. I’ve noticed that my toes often come right up against the foot of the sleeping bag, which might get uncomfortable over many nights all in a row. But that also means less weight and less air that my body needs to heat up so I’ve decided it’s a risk worth taking.

Conclusion: I got a great deal, it’s snug, warm enough, light enough, compact enough… overall I’m very pleased. Because it is a 23 degree bag I’ll likely send it home around May and use something lighter and more compact (perhaps a quilt?) for the summer months. Or maybe I’ll just unzip it during the summer. That all remains to be seen.

3. Pack

 

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Item: Women’s Osprey Aura 50 AG Pack

Reasoning Behind Choice: Basically I went to REI and they fitted me for this pack and I liked it. It’s from a reputable brand, gets great reviews, and isn’t so large that I’ll be tempted to pack fifty pounds into it. Plus it has a year-long warranty.

Price: I got this pack on sale for $180 but it’s normally $230.

Weight: According to REI this pack is 3 lbs, 12 oz, so it’s my heaviest piece of gear by a long shot.

Item specific Specs: The size I got is a 47 liter, which should help me keep total pack weight down. And it’s an internal frame pack.

Pros: At the risk of being redundant I’ll repeat that I have no real frame of reference here: this is the first pack I’ve ever carried around fully loaded. However, I had absolutely no back pain with this pack and I even felt like it was helping my posture and strengthening my spine, rather than hurting it. All the weight sat on my hips, precisely where it should, and I felt like the pack was molding itself around me and working with my body, rather than against it. Then again I only had 20 lbs. in it, so maybe my tune will be different after a week-long trip. But for the moment I’m completely satisfied.

Cons: It would be nice if it was a little lighter. And it was more pricey than it necessarily needed to be. But I get the feeling that if I tried to cut corners and buy something cheaper (as I did with my first sleeping bag) I would end up with a poor product and no way to return it. So I would have wasted more money than I’m spending now, on a quality product.

Conclusion: I’ll be honest, I wasn’t intending to keep this pack after I brought it home. I originally got it a size too small and it seemed really expensive and without enough capacity to accommodate my stuff. But I kept it long enough to try it out and I’m sold. As far as I can tell this is an excellent pack and I hope to keep it for many, many years to come.

All in all, I’m pleased with my choices. I have reasonable confidence that all three will stand up to the rigors of a thru hike but, then again, what do I know? We’ll see how it goes.

On a side note I’m going to another backpacking meeting tonight. Not to hike, just an indoor, hour-long discussion. I hope to get to know some of my future backpacking companions tonight, so things won’t be super awkward later when I’m camping with them. I’ll make sure to report on how all that goes next week.

Until next time,

Liza

My First Backpacking Trip! (Progress Update #6)

Hello again, friends.

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Trail I hiked with the campsite in the top right.

It’s Monday and as promised I have a post for you, all about my first ever backpacking trip.

So Friday afternoon I headed out to the state park, all packed up (total pack weight came to about twenty pounds, for those of you who are interested in that) and ready for an adventure. Instead of jumping directly into my hike I swung by the office for a permit and a map first, the doubled back to the trailhead. This trail was about six miles long and it wasn’t a loop, so that meant six miles to camp and six miles out. I parked, got out of my car, struggled into my backpack and without wasting anymore time I headed into the backcountry.

The initial hiking  wasn’t a huge shock, for which I’m grateful. I had been a little worried that all the sudden weight would throw me off but I held up surprisingly well. I had some brief pain on my right hip towards the beginning (I think all the pressure was sitting wrong or something) but I readjusted and after that I didn’t have any problems with the weight. I certainly didn’t enjoy carrying around all my stuff but it wasn’t difficult. I could still hop up and down with no problems and I didn’t experience any back pain. So that was all fantastic.

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Yours truly with her pack.

After about three hours of walking I found my campsite. And I thought: Great! Now
I can take off my shoes, pitch my tent, and make supper!
So I did. I took off my boots, stuck my socks inside them, and left them by a tree.

Then I tried to pitch my tent, which is where the difficulties began. You see, my tent requires a lot of staking and I happened to pick the only spot in the entire campsite where the bedrock was about two inches from the surface. (Apparently our entire area is sitting one one massive rock and sometimes it doesn’t take much digging to find it. Who knew?) That was a bit frustrating. So I had to un-stake my entire tent, pick it up, move it elsewhere, and try again. It worked this time. On to making supper.

This went fine. I made tuna, black beans, and mixed in some guacamole. The singular problem I encountered with this arrangement was that I forgot my spoon. So I had to mix everything up with the blade of my pocket knife, and then I had to eat it off the knife too. I mean, it was a cool experience and made me feel like a hardcore pirate queen but I probably should have just brought a spoon.

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Anyway by this time the sun was setting so I put on my shiny new headlamp, gathered all my stuff, and crawled inside my tent. At this point I encountered the problem with going barefoot at camp: you get mud on your feet and, subsequently, mud all over the floor of your tent. You’d think I could have foreseen this issue but it occurred to me at the exact moment that my mucky feet hit my pristine tent floor. Whoops. I problem solved by putting my extra pair of socks on over my dirty feet and sleeping like that. On the flip side of this I get the feeling my gear is all going to end up filthy no matter how 33824284805_cb2b121069_oI try to keep it clean. But that can’t stop me from trying.

It was dark by now and, surprisingly, I was pretty much ready to go to sleep. It must have been just like seven o’clock but there really wasn’t much to do in my tent. So I went to sleep just about right away… only to wake in the night badly needing to pee. But if I ventured outside into the night the boogie man would instantly eat me alive, obviously. I wasn’t getting up to pee. (In all seriousness I kept hearing weird noises outside of my tent. I think that’s normal…?) So I went back into a semi-doze and just sort of held it until morning.

Alright so one of my misconceptions was that when you’re outdoors in nature you rise with the sun and instantly spring from your bed with a song on your lips, ready to meet the new day. That didn’t exactly happen. I did wake up as soon as it was light but it was cold outside, I 33814366015_b24403bafa_owas sleepy, and to be honest after I got up to pee I just went back to bed. Aftan hour or two of reconciling myself to the fact that I was alive and had to face the new day I crawled out of tent, had breakfast (boiled egg and hot cocoa) and broke camp. That took a while, so I ended up leaving camp at about nine o’clock in the morning, far later than I expected. Oh well.

But I gathered my things, bravely squared my shoulders, and set my feet towards home. The time seemed to go a lot faster this time, as return journeys often do. I met more people too, since it was a Saturday morning. Apparently a lot of joggers had gotten out of their beds way before I had because they were already out and running. Good for them. I also still didn’t experience any back pain or muscle soreness. After three more hours I made it back to the parking lot alive and in one piece. It was kind of weird getting in a car and driving home in a motorized vehicle.

And that was my trip. Pretty uneventful but in this case I think that’s a good sign. I did experience some boredom but I suspect that’s to do with the terrain and the company- mostly flat and none. I’m from the mountains, it’s in my blood, and while the lake and the fishermen were all very well and good I suspect I’ll enjoy myself more when I’m climbing peaks surrounded by other thru hikers. What I really gained from this experience was a tool: the freedom to walk away from my car, as deep into the wilderness as pleases me, and yet to not be afraid. That’s what I’ve always wanted and that’s what I have now. So the trip was a success. Plus the views of the lake were pretty sweet.

Next week I’ll get into the nitty gritty details, give my initial impressions of my big three gear items (tent, sleeping bag, and pack), and tell you what I would have done differently.

Until then,

Liza

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Dawn on the lake.