Hiking Gear Review

…..or Backpacker Barbie says:

Backpacker Barbie

“If you have any doubts about any of your gear, don’t take it.” You’ll wish you’d heeded her later when your bootlaces are snapped and your flapping hikers, tied up with strands of sweet grass, are flopping on and off your feet trying to peel the skin off your goose egg blisters. You’ll wish you’d listened when you snap at your hike-mate right after the top of your pack bangs into the back of your head for the ten thousandth time so you hurl your pack in the river only to have it land on the shoreline on the slippery rocks which you can no longer navigate because your ankles are sore from walking sideways so that your blackened toenails don’t ram into the front of your shoes. You’ll wish you’d appreciated Barbie’s wisdom when you are trying to light a gas stove with wet matches in a wind storm. Thanks to the internet, I didn’t have to learn this stuff the hard way. By the way Backpacker Barbie (B.B.) also advises that you not balk at high prices for good gear but try and save on stuff that doesn’t really matter. For example I was just as happy with my Mr. Noodles and Bulk Barn cheese sauce as I would have been with a ten dollar entree from the outfitting store but I am glad I shelled out for a good pack. Here’s a review of my gear. I should qualify this by saying I have only done three hikes over 11 km and two solo over-nighters so I still have lots to learn and I wouldn’t use these reviews to plan a month on the Appalachian Trail. Just so’s you knows.

Me boots and socks.

My boots are Keen Logans. (I like this because a ‘logan’ in Newfoundland is a durable rubber boot meant to take a good beating) I got them on  eBay for half the price of new ones. This is always a risk, foot fungus and no returns and all, but at this point I thought I might only use them once. I used them all summer and will get many more seasons out of them. They appeared to be waterproof as long as you don’t go over the tops of course. There was tons of room in the toe box and, because I bought them a half size larger, my toes didn’t jam into the fronts when I did long downhill stretches. This also accommodated some swelling after a full day on my feet. Indeed, I hiked two long treks with untrained soft, and occasionally soggy feet and got no sign of a blister. My only issue would have been with any mid-height boot: I am a little bowlegged (thanks Granny for that gene) and my ankles rubbed on the outer side of the boot upper. On the inner side there was a large gap which filled up with all manner of stuff; rain water, lichen, sticks, burrs, cookie crumbs, and I swear to God, there might have been a chipmunk in there for a few minutes. I either need higher boots or spats.

It is important to have good socks. I wore Merino wool Darn Tough hiker cushion quarter height socks. You might think wool silly in the heat of August but they wicked the sweat away from my feet and offered great padding for the constant impact of the brutal march. Later I added a thin cotton sock to snug up the boot a little. They were costly socks but sometimes you can find merino socks discounted at Winners-type places. B.B. also says to address your laces long before you think you really need to. It doesn’t take very long to work up a blister. She also recommends you bring light weight camp shoes. Mine were slip on Adidas plastic outfits which were a little squishy not great on rough terrain. I will replace them with something more snug before next season.

Me pack and me travelin’ canes.

This was my most expensive purchase and I didn’t regret it. It is very difficult to get a pack to sit right on the gnome shaped figure. This Deuter Futura Vario 45 + 10 is especially designed for women and can be adjusted for torso length. Once it is set up for your own size and shape the straps are easily adjusted for donning and doffing. Another great feature is the little netted rigid frame that holds the backpack clear of your body to reduce sweat. Bring on the hot flashes! The pack has a built in rain cover which I got to try and approve, and convenient little pockets on the hip strap where I kept my camera, fly dope, and a few candy. My only complaint was that I could not reach my water bottle without removing the pack but that would likely be case with any backpack. On the first trip out I packed it too high and with every second step it bumped, ever so gently, the back of my head. This can grow on you after the eight hundredth time. I repacked and it was not an issue, leaving me lots undistracted time to admire the flora and fauna. B.B. says to research and follow the guidelines on how to load your pack. If the weight is poorly distributed it can cause some real misery and there are some things you are going to want to get at easily. My hiking poles were from Costco, don’t recall the brand and don’t wish to trek to the car to find out, but will if you ask. They were a real Godsend on the slopes and for narrow tricky passages. They can be adjusted quickly and easily and hold their position under pressure. I won’t go again without them.

Me stove.

I probably shouldn’t be giving advice on stoves because I know next to nothing about them.  I got my  ultralite stove online from some random Chinese online store which also sold lingerie and kooky t-shirts. It looked a lot like the one in the above link (the stove not the store). I deleted the receipt and the store from my life because they started sending really annoying ads. The stove was only  seven dollars and it packs up really small. I didn’t have to set it up in the wind because my camp-sites all had fireplaces so I can’t pass juudgemant on its behavoiur in all conditions. I did have an issue with the unfolded rack. As soon as my small copper bottom pot started to get hot it would shimmy off the rack. I learned several new swear words and lost two pots of water this way. Should be okay if you don’t turn your back on the pot – no biggy as it boiled pretty quickly. The flame is adjustable. I know nothing about the cans of gas other than that they add weight and are not real cheap. That’s an experiment for next season.

Me tent.

I have a love-hate relationship with my Hennessy Hammock tent. What I love about it: being off the ground. The small amount of weight it adds to my pack and the limited space it occupies. Not having to fuss with poles. The built-in mosquito netting. Being able to see out to a limited extent. What I don’t like: the velcro. Can I say that louder? THE VELCRO! If you are in the deep dark woods alone I suppose it doesn’t matter much but if at a campground or out with friends it really really inhibits you getting out of the tent. At the Keji camping site I almost lost a kidney from holding my pee so I wouldn’t wake all my neighbours with that horrible scritchy sound of velcro being unpeeled. I swear something about the tent amplified it like a 1980’s boombox would. As well, I had a devil of a time getting in and out of the sleeping bag. My last trip I got twisted so badly in my bag that I couldn’t pull it up past my waist and the temperature dropped to 8 that night. Bring on the hot flashes. Please. Thankfully I had thought to bring a stocking cap. Getting out of the velcroed slit of the tent I felt like a calf being delivered. Or, maybe more like a fish egg being spawned.  Did I mention I despise the sound of velcro? I see that you can buy them with zippers but I will stick to what I have for now. I will solve the sleeping bag problem by investing in a sleeping quilt which packs up just as well and is much easier to adjust. I should add that I have never used the Hennessy Hammock in heavy rain, and nor do I wish to do so. B.B. recommends some kind of insulation to go between you and the hammock for warmth. I have used both a foam sleeping pad and one of those reflector things you put in your car’s windshield as a sun shield. They both work.

Me water system.

I like my Source water bag. It is a convenient size, fills easily (the whole bottom opens) and best of all, it stands on its own. I only used it at the site; I carried my hiking water in bottles. For purification I used liquid drops. B.B. says don’t buy your purification system at the Thrift Store. Like I did. I was following the instructions for use and read “Do NOT use if expired.” The expiry date below was 2014. Crap. I used it anyway, the colours changed as they were supposed to and I don’t appear to have any weird parasites. That I know of. I will buy tablets for next season. I am not keen on carrying liquids in my bag anyway. B.B. reminds you to dry your water bag thoroughly before you stow it away for the winter.

Me oilskins.

Speaking of gnomes!! This was a “Bluefield backpack covering raincoat” I purchased online. Possibly from Amazon.com. The piece which covers the pack zips down when not needed. It worked well the two times I had to use it. I like that it is very loose so I could breath under it. That might be an issue in high winds. I’m not sure how durable it is either or if the zipper will hold up but it is a risk I am willing to take and I will just replace it if need be. I saw the price of Goretex. The first time I used it it rained torrentially all day and I wasn’t bothered. Lynn helped me don it. The second time I was solo and I used every darned Yoga pose I know trying to get the thing on and over my pack. Human arms just don’t work that way, folks. In the end I found that it was easier to dress the pack first, put it on my back, and then pull the raincoat down over. Worth the $22 it cost. B.B. reminds you to bring a ball cap with a solid peak to keep the hood in position. Not a red one. You know who has sucked the fun out wearing a red ball cap.

Other random gear I was glad I had: a blue tarp (you can’t bring your pack into your hammock tent.) My rigging knife. Extra line like paracord. Individually wrapped wet wipes. A few extra baggies. In a later entry I will talk about food. Just for now; everything tastes better in the woods but some stuff still tastes better than others.

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© Judy Parsons 2017

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