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.

Gear Picks and A New Upload Schedule! (Progress Update #5)

Whew. I’ve bought a lot of gear since I last updated. To be more specific I bought:

  1. A tent. (Big Agnes UL2)
  2. A pack. (Osprey Aura 50 in XS)
  3. A sleeping bag. (REI Women’s Joule)
  4. A headlamp (Black Diamond Spot)
  5. A new pack, this one in size S, because the old one was too short for me.

My initial impressions of all these things are pretty much limited to how well they preform in my living room. HOWEVER…

I’m doing an overnight backpacking trip by myself this Friday and Saturday. So after I get home from that (taking lots of lovely pictures for you, of course) I’m planning a detailed overview of all my gear. I’m hesitant to call it a review exactly, since I’m a complete newbie and have virtually no frame of reference, but I’m sure I can at least summon up some observations likes, dislikes etc.

Now for my new schedule. I’m going to start uploading a post every Monday. I’d like to have a set time eventually but a few things in my life are up in the air at the moment so that’ll have to wait. But Mondays.

That means my next post will be on Monday and it will be a review of how my overnight backpacking trip went. Possibly with pictures. So stay tuned for that post. Until then, have a cool picture of a fish skeleton I found.

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Cool, huh?

Until next time,

Liza.

 

 

 

Buff Review+Self Defense and Buying Pepper Spray (Progress Update #4)

Hello again, friends.

I’m back with another update. I’ll divide this into three parts:

1) I purchased buffs and pepper spray this week (well, actually a lot more but that’s all that’s come so far).

So I knew I needed those two items for my upcoming brief backpacking trip. I’m still having a mini heart attack every time I order something with a pricetag that has more than three digits on the left side of the decimal so I decided to start small with headgear and pepper spray (more on that last one in a moment). And I love my buffs. The one on the right is possibly my favorite.

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Mai pretty blue buff. Also works as a hat, balaclava, scruntchie, scarf, headband, ninja mask, tourniquet, and earmuffs.

I’ve only had them two days but I’ve worn them every waking moment since I got them. I understand they’re extemely versatile on the trail but I just love them for working out in, which I did yesterday and they stayed on great, wicked my sweat, and made me feel like a hardcore pirate who can thru hike the A.T. no problem with one hand tied behind her back.

I also purchased pepper spray. Honestly, that was more of a get-it-out-of-the-way-and-never-think-about-it-again kind of purchase. I would really prefer to never put it to use on the trail- or ever, if I’m honest. But I know it’s much smarter to have a back-up plan if an interaction goes south on the trail, so it’s in my posession and I know how to use it now.

2) I attended a Krav (essentially self defense) class.

That was fun! I busted up my knuckles pretty bad but it was a lot more down to earth than the Taekwondo I’m used to and I had a lot of fun. Though one class wasn’t nearly enough to absorb much more than the very basics I’m considering taking more classes next year in December and January, as I get ready for the trail.

Like pepper spray I don’t want to ever have to use this, or even be concerned about it, but I do like knowing the knowledge is there should I need it. That way I can set it aside and enjoy my hike.

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Mr. Pepper

3) I went on a short, cute little outing with my younger sister, her friend, and my father. We made horrible mileage but we found lots of cool rocks so that makes up for it. Obviously.

Annnnd I’ve officially commited to going on a backpacking trip with the Nashville Backpacking Meetup group on April 22nd- April 23rd. So I have to have my tent, pack, and a proper sleeping bag by that date. It’s in over a month so I should be fine, but I still want to spend one night backpacking on my own before I go out with the big group.
Ah, decisions, decisions.

That’s all the updates I have for now. I’ll let you know about my tent when it arrives.

Until next time,

Liza

Report on the Backpacking Meetup (Progress Update #3)

Hello, again!

I mentioned before I was going to attend a Nashville Backpacking presentation and I’m happy to say I did just that. About a week ago my mother and I drove into Nashville for the meeting and parked outside of REI, where the gathering was held. A lovely woman, whom I regret to say I do not recall the name of, gave a presentation all about her thru hike of the Appalachian Trail last year in Spring 2016. It was wonderfully informative in a more personalized way, different from the blogs and books I’ve been reading about the subject, and she showed us her equipment and pictures from her thru hike. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Another plus to the experience was that my mother was familiarized not only with thru hikes but also with the concept of a solo, female thru hiker. I’m determined to go on my own now- I know it’s safe- but I wasn’t expecting my parents to see it in quite the same light I do. But my mother seems to be on board so I’ve escaped a battle there.

Fitness update:

I’ve started sprinting pretty miniscule distances each day. It’s not much but since I loathed running in all its forms before and now I enjoy myself thoroughly, I’m taking it as good news and leaving it at that.

Next goal:

I want to go out on a familiar trail, perhaps at Hunter Creek State Park, and have a short, cute, backpacking trip on my own with my rudimentary equipment and my car not far away at any point in time. But accomplish that I’ll need a tent and pack: I’m considering buying those soon. If I do I’ll give a run down of the items I bought and then let you know what I think of them.

Until next time,

Eliza

We have a start date! (Progress Update #2)

Kind readers,

Eleven months, a birthday, and one terminated job later… I have returned to update you on my progress.

Firstly, an announcement: I am officially shooting for the 15th of February 2018 to begin my NOBO thru hike of the Appalachian Trail (that means that as of today, February 14th, 2017, it’s a year and a day until my adventure begins. Being a fairy tale-obsessed romantic I find this fact extremely satisfying). I’ve postponed beginning college until the following Autumn.

Secondly, I’m signed up to attend a meetup for a backpacking group this Saturday! It’s a dinner, not a hike, but they have a speaker who thru hiked last Spring and I’ll have a chance to meet everyone and get my toes wet. Other than a few odd purchases here and there this is my first substantial step into the world of backpacking. I’m excited and I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Thirdly and finally, I’ve begun Taekwondo and I’m attending classes three to four times a week. That’s not particularly significant in terms of physical training but it’s a step in the right direction.

Until next time,

Liza

So What is the Appalachian Trail and Why Would Anyone Want to Thru Hike it?

First off, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’ve never even been backpacking myself. But for my confused friends and relatives I want to explain exactly what the Appalachian Trail is.

Picture this: Winding atop the peaks and ridges of one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, stretching over 2,000 miles of American soil there is an ever changing, ever fluid trail.

This trail exists and is known as Appalachian Trail, sometimes shortened to “the A.T.”. It begins in Georgia and follows the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains north to Maine. Every year, from around the world, hikers gather at Mt. Springer in Georgia in preparation to walk every last step of those 2,000 plus miles to the trail’s completion in Maine. Those who complete the entire trail in one go (waking up every morning and walking, going to sleep every night foot sore from walking, and waking up the next morning to do it all over again) are called thru hikers. The act of walking the entire trail in one go is called a thru hike. I intend to compete my own thru hike in the summer of 2018.

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A section of the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

But why hike it? What motivates thru hikers to trade the comforts and luxuries of home for six months of sore feet and mosquitoes? I can’t speak for everyone but for me it’s a way to test myself, to do something hard that takes commitment. But more than that it’s a way to get away from our busy world and be at peace without the bustle of everyday life. And it’s a way to be with the mountains which, from my childhood, have captured my imagination and called to me.

And you don’t have to be Superman to complete a thru hike. Anyone can do it.  5 year old Christian Thomas has hiked the entire A.T. as have Bill Irwin, who is blind, and Lee Barry, who was 81 at the time. My point is that if you have the will the physical ability can follow. Thru hikes aren’t something reserved only for titans of ability and experience.

As I said I intend to complete my thru hike in the summer of 2018. I’m only in the planning and research stages right now but I’ve got plenty of time to prepare. If you’re interested in following my progress then stick around. I intend to update this blog regularly with gear purchases, more detailed plans, reviews of the short preliminary hikes I’ll be going on, and everything else thru hike related. Perhaps even the A.T. itself when I get to it.

If you have any more questions about the trail itself definitely check out: The Appalachian Trail Conservancy Website and the Wikipedia Page. And below is a map of the Appalachian Trail. I included it in my first post but I thought It would be helpful here too, given the topic I’m discussing.

Until next time,

Eliza

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Map of the Appalachian

Progress Update One! (Progess Update #1)

Dear all,

Well, I’ve started research. A little before my last post I purchased a book about backpacking: Walking Softly in the Wilderness. It’s a little outdated (1998) but I got it used and it was the only edition they had. Actually it was a book that promised information about backpacking and I picked it up on that merit alone.  Regardless it’s proving to be a wonderful introduction to the world of backpacking. I’m especially interested in the equipment chapters because I honestly haven’t found anything about that on the internet and I’m eager to learn. 

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Walking Softly in the Wilderness by John Hart


Right now I’m planning on a preliminary hike this summer in fair weather over a weekend, preferably. But it looks like I’ll need to have, at the very least, boots, pack, and possibly tent purchased already. And that’s just the big things. Maybe I’ll rent a few of them to try out and see what I like.

As far as physical training goes I’m still going pretty light. Yesterday I went about three miles all in all. Some walking indoors, some out, and some on machines, all for different effects. I did a bout of hard, uphill running on a treadmill which lasted about three minutes and threw in some weight machines for my legs and abdomen. I was pretty satisfied with that. Not that it’s any simulation of what the trail will be like but it was progress in the right direction. If I could do that three times a week, working my way up to doing a lot of it outdoors with my pack on, I would be thrilled. But my schedule just isn’t set up that way yet. Until it is I might only be able to get in one session like that a week. Then again I have some year and a half to train. I needn’t panic.

That’s all for this update. I just wanted to let you all know where I am as far as my prep goes. I think I might alternate between posts about what I’ve learned and what I’m doing and buying, and posts to fill in any questions about what exactly my intentions are with this crazy thru hike thing. Hopefully as this blog continues the explanatory posts will go down in number. But I am intending this blog partly as a place for my friends and family to go if they have more questions than I can answer about the A.T. or just want to follow my progress.  For them and even someone just interested in the process of preparing and completing a thru hike, even if they don’t know much about the A.T. itself, I want to include some background and explanation posts. Plus I’ll learn more about this complex subject too! But as time goes on hopefully this blog can become predominately updates on my progress.

Until next time,

Eliza

First Blog Post!

And so it begins. My first post about my journey to the Appalachian Trail

I might as well start at the beginning, as this is the beginning of my blog. When I was about ten I found a book on my kindle titled Halfway to the Sky. It’s about a twelve year old girl who dropped everything and ran away from home to hike the Appalachian Trail. She was escaping issues similar to those I was dealing with at the time and the book struck a chord with me. That was the beginning.

After that the A.T. became a sort of promised escape for me. If I could just get through high school then I could run off into the mountains and do difficult, wonderful, and ridiculous things. Like carrying everything I own on my own back, and getting everywhere I go on my own feet. You know, like Aragorn.

But there is a second pull the A.T. has for me: the mountains themselves. Dista20150404_135500_19366055708_ont blue peaks blanketed in trees; not magnificent and snow capped like the Alps or Himalayas but ancient and rolling and peaceful. The mountains I grew up around are about 480 million years old, among the oldest in the world (though not the oldest as they were once thought to be), and I can feel that ancient majesty whenever I see them them. I took the photograph on the left on my phone in early April 2015. It’d been months since I’d seen the mountains and I couldn’t contain my excitement anymore and sent it to my friend. It’s not a particularly special photo in terms of composition or color or focus- I just snapped a hasty shot out the window- but I hope it conveys the majesty of these peaks. Or at least my love for them.

Because of the pull the Appalachians have on me and my deep longing to escape and do something hard and adventurous I’ve decided to thru hike the A.T. It’s been a vague idea and goal for six or seven years now but this Spring I started making official plans. I’m thinking Fall 2017 to Spring 2018 since I need a few months before August to prepare for college. But the point is: this is happening.

More on the trail itself in the next post. For now there’s a map below so you can get a feel for its length and location.

Until next time,

Eliza

 

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Map of the Appalachian Trail