Knife Upgrade

Main blade, nail file with screwdriver tip, scissors, tweezers, and toothpick: the Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife is a marvel of design in a lightweight form factor respected by long distance hikers. I do not really need the toothpick, though, so can something else go in that slot? The plastic toothpick is roughly 1.75 inches long x 0.12 inches wide x 0.047 inches thick.

Swiss Army Knife SD Classic with toothpick

Swiss Army Knife SD Classic with toothpick

FireSteel.com sells blank rods of ferrocerrium in various sizes, including the FireSteel Tiny, 1/8 x 2 inches, at less than US$1.00 per rod. 1/8 inch is close to the width of the toothpick, so we just need to grind down one side flat, grind down most of the opposite side to a thickness of 0.047 inches. We must leave a thick tip at one end as with the plastic toothpick, to allow fingers to remove the gadget from the handle of the knife.

Order several blank rods in case you break one or cut down too far. At first I thought about using a benchtop milling machine to precisely make the modifications, but decided that is overthinking the task, after watching DiResta do free-form knife creation metalworking.  I simply used a grinding wheel, holding the firesteel at one end with vice-grips, and ground freehand, checking periodically with calipers and checking fit in the toothpick slot of the knife itself, often dipping the rod in water to keep temperatures down so the metal does not temper.

Grinding wheel shaping the toothpick firesteel

Grinding wheel shaping the toothpick firesteel

At 0.047 inches thick, the firesteel feels pretty fragile and likely to break. Scraping the firesteel with the blade of the knife makes respectable sparks when you learn the proper method, certainly enough to start an alcohol stove if your primary fire starter stops working. Since the toothpick firesteel is so thin and feels fragile, I rest it on a flat surface before scraping with the knife, to help prevent breakage.

Original firesteel rod and toothpick firesteel

Original firesteel rod and toothpick firesteel

The weight of the toothpick firesteel is too small for my electronic scale to register. Would I recommend this mod to other hikers? I am somewhat concerned about breakage in the field, so use at your own risk. The idea is presented here in the hope that someone else can suggest improvements.

CDT 2014 CO Gear List

… You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need

— Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Rolling Stones

 

. Category Item Notes Weight in grams Weight in oz
. worn/carried
. camp shirt Icebreaker merino long sleeve crew 171 6.0
. pants RailRiders Eco-Mesh Pant 310 10.9
. trailrunner shoes Merrell Moab Ventilator 992 35.0
. hiking gaiters Dirty Girl 34 1.2
. insole inserts green SuperFeet 106 3.7
. hiking socks REI mid-calf merino 91 3.2
. knee brace Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap
. bandana AT logo cotton/poly bandana 30 1.1
. trekking poles Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-pole with carbide tips minus straps 263 9.3
. sun glasses 20 0.7
. hat Sunday Afternoons Adventure flap hat 70 2.5
.
. Total worn/carried 2087 73.6
.
. pounds: 4.6
.
.
. pack pack ZPacks Arc Blast backpack 440 15.5
. pack liner trash compactor bag 60 2.1
. cell phone holder Zpacks cuben fiber shoulder pouch 8 0.3
. phone Android phone: MotoX (camera, GPS, etc) 136 4.8
.
. Cook/water water bottles 2 x 1.25 liter soda bottles 84 3.0
. even more water 1 liter Platypus 30 1.1
. cook stove Trail Designs Caldera Sidewinder TiTri with Gram Cracker for Esbit fuel 21 0.7
. butane lighter Scripto Tiny Lite 12 0.4
. cook pot 0.3Liter Evernew Titanium mug-pot with lid 74 2.6
. pot cozy homemade with Reflectix 25 0.9
. spoon lexan 9 0.3
. water purifier Sawyer Mini 81 2.9
. water purification backup 10 MSR Aquatabs 1 0.0
. food bag ZPacks Roll Top Blast 40 1.4
. rope ZPacks 1.5 mm Z-Line Cord 21 0.7
.
. Shelter tarp/tent ZPacks Hexamid solo tent w/screen 269 9.5
. tent stakes 6 Tite Lite titanium stakes 37 1.3
. tent stakes 1 titanium V Stake 9 0.3
.
. Sleeping sleeping bag ZPacks 20F 650 22.9
. sleeping pad Gossamer Gear NightLight_Torso 101 3.6
. ground cloth Polycryo medium size 42 1.5
.
. Clothes camp shirt Icebreaker merino short sleeve 139 4.9
. camp shorts GoLite men’s nylon shorts 132 4.7
. warm top Western Mountaineering down vest 125 4.4
. warm hat LLBean Trail Model fleece hat 36 1.3
. rain jacket GoLite Malpais Trinity 217 7.7
. wind shirt Montbell Tachyon anorak 63 2.2
. fleece gloves LLBean Polartec Liner Gloves (with AnyGlove on forefingers and thumbs) 38 1.3
. rain mitts ZPacks cuben fiber mitts 28
. compression socks Truform below knee stockings 20-30 mmHg 64 2.3
. spare socks SmartWool mid-calf merino 91 3.2
.
. Misc head net “Sea to Summit” mosquito net, doubles as clothes bag 23 0.8
. first aid kit band-aids, molefoam, aspirin, loperamide, sudafed, super glue, … 61 2.2
. sewing kit home assembled 20 0.7
. tooth care dehydrated dots of toothpaste, toothbrush with trimmed handle, gum brush, floss 17 0.6
. soap Dr Bonner liquid in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. wipes 8 dried wipes in zip bag 24 0.8
. toiletry bag no-see-um mesh bag 5″x6″ 4 0.1
. magnifying glass credit card size fresnel lens 2 0.1
. wallet with id all-Ett sport sailcloth wallet (5g) plus cards 36 1.3
. repair kit duct tape, foil tape, etc 25 0.9
. backup fire starter Bic mini lighter 14 0.5
. pen ballpoint refill cartridge + spare 1 0.0
. flashlight Petzl e+Lite 27 1.0
. backup compass Suunto Clipper compass 4 0.1
. maps Ley maps, double-sided 8.5×11, current trail section 55 1.9
. solar charger Harbor Freight 5W folding solar panel, trimmed 240 8.5
. usb charger for phone and battery pack, Apple travel charger 5W wall wart 23 0.8
. usb cable 9inch microUSB cable 13 0.5
. recharger pack Jackery Mini 3200mAh 82 2.9
. headphone Apple Earpod 11 0.4
. itinerary+guide only carry pages needed for that week 10 0.4
. insect repellent 100% DEET repackaged in 0.5oz dropper bottle 23 0.8
. sun screen liquid, repacked in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. toilet paper partial roll, remove cardboard tube, in zip bag 20 0.7
. knife Victoronix Swiss Army Classic 20 0.7
. accessory bag no-see-um mesh bag 7″x9″ 8 0.3
.
. Total base weight 3894 137.4
.
. pounds: 8.6
.
.
. Sometimes carried
.
. rain pants 233 8.2
. shoe traction Yak Trax Pro 144 5.1
. neck gaiter microfleece 46 1.6

Stove: No-cook sounds promising, but for frigid Colorado I was glad to bring a stove for hot dinners. Esbit fuel is easier to mail than alcohol, allowed in flat-rate Priority Mail boxes, though Heet is available in several Colorado trail town. Compared to alcohol, Esbit has an odor and leaves a residue on pots. I burned Esbit tabs exclusively on this trip as an experiment, and might continue solid fuel for future hikes. Continue reading

CDT 2013 NM Gear List

Agatha Clay: People keep giving me rings, but I think a small death ray might be more practical.
— “Agatha Heterodyne and the Clockwork Princess”, by Phil and Kaja Foglio

 

. Category Item Notes Weight in grams Weight in oz
. worn/carried
. camp shirt SmartWool Microweight long sleeve crew 171 6.0
. pants RailRiders Eco-Mesh Pant 310 10.9
. trailrunner shoes Merrell Moab Ventilator 992 35.0
. hiking gaiters Dirty Girl 34 1.2
. insole inserts green SuperFeet 106 3.7
. hiking socks REI mid-calf merino 91 3.2
. knee brace Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap
. bandana AT logo cotton/poly bandana 30 1.1
. trekking poles Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-pole with carbide tips minus straps 263 9.3
. sun glasses 20 0.7
. hat Outdoor Research Helios sun hat 79 2.8
.
. Total worn/carried 2096 73.9
.
. pounds: 4.6
.
.
. pack pack Zpacks Arc Blast backpack 440 15.5
. pack liner trash compactor bag 60 2.1
. cell phone holder Zpacks cuben fiber shoulder pouch 8 0.3
. phone Android phone: Defy XT 557 (camera, GPS, etc) 109 3.8
.
. Cook/water water bottles 2x 2 liter soda bottles 106 3.7
. even more water 2x 1 liter Platypus 57 2.0
. cook stove Caldera system with alcohol stove in plastic cannister 133 4.7
. fuel bottle labeled 12oz soda bottle for methanol 22 0.8
. butane lighter Scripto Tiny Lite 12 0.4
. cook pot 0.5Liter Evernew Titanium mug-pot with lid 74 2.6
. pot cozy homemade with Reflectix 25 0.9
. spoon lexan 9 0.3
. water purifier Sawyer Squeeze 81 2.9
. water purification backup repackaged Potable Aqua tablets 10 0.4
. food bag ZPacks Roll Top Blast 40 1.4
. rope ZPacks 1.5 mm Z-Line Cord 21 0.7
.
. Shelter tarp/tent ZPacks Hexamid solo tent w/screen 269 9.5
. tent stakes 6 Tite Lite titanium stakes 37 1.3
. tent stakes 1 titanium V Stake 9 0.3
.
. Sleeping sleeping bag Western Mountaineering SummerLite 32F 571 20.1
. sleeping bag liner Cocoon silk Mummy Liner 115 4.1
. sleeping pad Gossamer Gear NightLight_Torso 101 3.6
. ground cloth Polycryo medium size 42 1.5
.
. Clothes camp shirt Icebreaker merino short sleeve 142 5.0
. camp shorts GoLite men’s nylon shorts 132 4.7
. warm top Western Mountaineering down vest 125 4.4
. warm hat LLBean Trail Model fleece hat 36 1.3
. rain jacket GoLite Malpais Trinity 217 7.7
. wind shirt Montbell Tachyon anorak 63 2.2
. fleece gloves LLBean Polartec Liner Gloves 38 1.3
. compression socks Truform calf length medium compression 42 1.5
. spare socks SmartWool mid-calf merino 91 3.2
.
. Misc head net “Sea to Summit” mosquito net, doubles as clothes bag 23 0.8
. first aid kit band-aids, molefoam, aspirin, loperamide, sudafed, super glue, … 61 2.2
. sewing kit home assembled 20 0.7
. tooth care dehydrated dots of toothpaste, toothbrush with trimmed handle, gum brush, floss 17 0.6
. soap Dr Bonner liquid in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. moist-wipes 8 wipes in zip bag 75 2.6
. toiletry bag no-see-um mesh bag 5″x6″ 4 0.1
. magnifying glass credit card size fresnel lens 2 0.1
. wallet with id all-Ett sport sailcloth wallet (5g) plus cards 30 1.1
. repair kit duct tape, foil tape, sealer, etc 25 0.9
. backup fire starter Spark-Lite + 3 tinder wads 6 0.2
. pen ballpoint refill cartridge + spare 1 0.0
. flashlight Petzl e+Lite 27 1.0
. backup compass Suunto Clipper compass 4 0.1
. maps Ley maps, double-sided 8.5×11, current trail section 55 1.9
. solar charger Instapark M4S 4W folding solar panel with built-in 2,000 mAh battery pack 220 7.8
. usb charger for phone and battery pack, Apple travel charger 23 0.8
. usb cable 9inch microUSB cable 13 0.5
. recharger pack mophie juice pack powerstation 4000mAh 128 4.5
. headphone earbud, not inside-ear 5 0.2
. itinerary+guide only carry pages needed for that week 10 0.4
. insect repellent 100% DEET repackaged in 0.5oz dropper bottle 23 0.8
. sun screen liquid, repacked in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. toilet paper partial roll, remove cardboard tube, in zip bag 20 0.7
. knife Victoronix Swiss Army Classic 18 0.6
. accessory bag no-see-um mesh bag 7″x9″ 8 0.3
.
. Total base weight 4103 144.7
.
. pounds: 9.0

Differences with the Appalachian Trail list:

  • Water is scarce, with 20 miles to next reliable water source not uncommon in southern New Mexico, so a different pack capable of comfortably carrying 5 or 6 liters of water (over 10 pounds) a long distance is needed.
  • The extra water is heavy, so my frameless Mariposa pack will not do.
  • Available water is often turbid, which limits performance of UV water treatment. One of the new lightweight squeeze filters is used this trip.
  • The CDT is often cold, with big drops in nighttime temperatures, so a warmer sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and clothing are desirable.
  • With higher elevation and no “green tunnel”, sun exposure is greater. I decided to hike in long sleeve clothes, sun hat, and sunglasses. And a wide-brimmed hat is not sufficient to protect my face when hiking all day, so more sun screen is used.
  • Fewer trail towns mean I need a better charging solution for cell phone(gps/camera/mp3 player/ebook reader/journal/audio recorder) and I tried a folding solar panel mounted on top of my pack.
  • An electronic trail journal is now used in place of paper. I needed a better onscreen keyboard to get my typing rate up to an acceptable level. MessagEase is a free substitute keyboard that works for me, but has a really steep learning curve, so I needed to drill on the MessagEase Game every day from January to April before my trip. I might write about other phone apps useful for hiking in another post.

Equipment Experience

The light-weight merino long sleeve shirt worked fine as a camp shirt on the AT, but started wearing out when used as daytime clothing, especially under the pack straps. No amount of sewing kit repair could keep the shirt together by the final days of the trip.
Shirt not holding together

One week I was running low on sun screen, having left my bottle at the last hotel. To keep my hands from burning I added thumb loops to my long-sleeved shirt. The seams at the wrist just happened to be placed in such a way as to keep my modification from ripping the material.
Thumb loop on shirt, to shield hands from sun

The solar panel with built-in battery pack was not enough to keep up with my cell phone charging requirements, so I also needed the external USB charger pack. I will try a different solar panel next year in hopes of not needing to supplement with my mophie. The solar panel was attached with mini side buckles sewn onto the panel fabric and backpack attachment straps, providing quick release to get access to the top opening of the pack.

IMG_0062

Running gaiters kept small rocks and sand out of my shoes, so I almost never had to stop for a shoe break. The gaiters got pretty torn up by barbed wire fences, so were ready to be replaced by trip’s end at Cumbres Pass.

My Helios wide-brimmed hat was not enough to keep my face and neck from burning when hiking all day, especially when the sun was low in the sky. I needed to pin my bandana with safety pins on the brim for more shade.
Adding more shade to hat

The Caldera cooking system used on the AT performed well, but requires a separate plastic canister for storage. I tried transitioning to a home-made stove/windscreen/pot-support that fits inside my 0.5 liter pot for compact storage and to save weight. Plenty of wind can be expected on the CDT, so a good functioning wind screen is essential for alcohol stoves. I experimented with making several alcohol stove designs, but was not able to improve on the Caldera for cooking time and fuel use when I measured performance, so I stayed with the older equipment.

The Sawyer filter worked great, and was similar in weight to a Steripen, so I will keep using. I did include the syringe for backwashing the filter, and certainly needed it for New Mexico. During the day I kept the Sawyer screwed onto one of two 2-liter plastic soda bottles, stored in the lower outer side pockets of the pack. The soda bottles squeezed just as easily as a platypus bottle, and were quite durable and inexpensive. Do not screw on the filter too hard on the bottle threads, or you will chew up the washer and cause leakage during filtering.
wpid-IMG_20130604_142120.jpg

I am used to hiking in shorts, but switched to long pants this trip for sun protection. The RailRiders performed well, did not bind at the knees, and allowed ventilation with the side zippered mesh.

Related Posts:

 

 

AT2012 Equipment Redux

 

. Category Item Notes Weight in grams Weight in oz
. worn/carried
. shirt Icebreaker merino short sleeve 142 5.0
. shorts Cabelas Guidewear GXII shorts 144 5.1
. trailrunner shoes Merrell Moab Ventilator 992 35.0
. insole inserts green SuperFeet 106 3.7
. hiking socks REI mid-calf merino 91 3.2
. knee brace Cho-Pat Dual Action Knee Strap
. trekking poles Black Diamond Ultra Distance Z-pole with carbide tips minus straps 263 9.3
. cap REI runner cap 56 2.0
.
. Total worn/carried 1794 63.3
.
. pounds: 4.0
.
.
. pack pack Gossamer Gear Murmur backpack 246 8.7
. pack liner trash compactor bag 60 2.1
. cell phone holder improvised from cheap camera case tied to strap 49 1.7
. phone Android phone: Intercept (camera, GPS, etc) 140 4.9
.
. Cook/water water bottle 1 liter cranberry juice bottle 54 1.9
. camp water container 2x 1 liter Platypus 57 2.0
. cook stove Caldera system with alcohol stove in plastic cannister 133 4.7
. fuel bottle Trail Designs 5.5oz plastic bottle for methanol 22 0.8
. butane lighter Scripto Tiny Lite 12 0.4
. cook pot 0.5Liter Evernew Titanium mug-pot with lid 74 2.6
. pot cozy homemade with Reflectix 25 0.9
. spoon lexan 9 0.3
. water purifier SteriPEN Freedom (rechargeable) 76 2.7
. water purification backup repackaged Potable Aqua tablets 10 0.4
. food bag Sea to Summit 17Liter dry bag 97 3.4
. rope ZPacks 1.5 mm Z-Line Cord 21 0.7
.
. Shelter tarp/tent ZPacks Hexamid solo tent w/screen 269 9.5
. tent stakes 6 Tite Lite titanium stakes 37 1.3
.
. Sleeping sleeping bag Western Mountaineering SummerLite 571 20.1
. sleeping pad Gossamer Gear NightLight_Torso 101 3.6
. ground cloth Polycryo medium size 42 1.5
.
. Clothes camp shirt SmartWool Microweight long sleeve crew 171 6.0
. spare shorts GoLite men’s nylon shorts 132 4.7
. tights SmartWool lightweight bottom baselayer 148 5.2
. warm top Western Mountaineering down vest
. warm hat plush Polartec fleece beanie 36 1.3
. rain jacket GoLite Malpais Trinity 217 7.7
. wind shirt Montbell Tachyon anorak 63 2.2
. rain gloves Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT rain mitts 38 1.3
. bandana AT logo cotton/poly bandana 30 1.1
. compression socks Truform calf length medium compression 42 1.5
. spare socks SmartWool mid-calf merino 91 3.2
.
. Misc head net “Sea to Summit” mosquito net with pyrethrin 23 0.8
. first aid kit band-aids, molefoam, profen, sudafed, … 61 2.2
. sewing kit home assembled 20 0.7
. tooth care dehydrated dots of toothpaste, toothbrush with trimmed handle, gum brush, floss 17 0.6
. soap Dr Bonner liquid in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. moist-wipes 8 wipes in zip bag 75 2.6
. toiletry bag no-see-um mesh bag 5″x6″ 4 0.1
. mirror imagerefliector.com credit card size 7 0.2
. magnifying glass plastic salvaged 2 0.1
. bandana AT blue, cotton blend 35 1.2
. wallet with id all-Ett sport sailcloth wallet (5g) plus cards 30 1.1
. repair kit duct tape, foil tape, sealer, etc 25 0.9
. backup fire starter Spark-Lite + 3 tinder wads 6 0.2
. pen ballpoint refill cartridge + spare 1 0.0
. flashlight Petzl e+Lite 27 1.0
. usb charger for phone, Steripen, and battery pack, from Blackberry 23 0.8
. spare cell phone battery extend phone life 30 1.1
. usb cable 9inch microUSB cable 13 0.5
. recharger pack mophie juice pack powerstation 128 4.5
. headphone Apple 5 0.2
. itenerary+journal+guide only carry pages needed for that week 20 0.7
. insect repellent 100% DEET repackaged in 0.5oz dropper bottle 23 0.8
. sun screen liquid, repacked in 0.5oz dropper bottle 24 0.8
. scat shovel Tite-Lite V-Stake titanium tent stake, also used for tent 10 0.4
. toilet paper partial roll, remove cardboard tube, in zip bag 20 0.7
. knife Victoronix Swiss Army Classic 18 0.6
. accessory bag no-see-um mesh bag 7″x9″ 8 0.3
.
. Total base weight 3752 132.3
pounds: 8.3

 

at2012gear

Pack with food and water weighed 17 pounds at 501 Shelter

Pack with food and water weighed 17 pounds at 501 Shelter

General Thoughts: Naively I assumed before getting on The Trail that a significant fraction of hikers would be using ultralight equipment. In practice, few hikers were going ultralight– less than one in twenty, and those tended to be older with more money to invest in leading edge lightweight gear. (One hiker theorized that I might be encountering sampling bias, that most 20-something ultralight hikers would be further up the trail since they could hike faster.) Most thru-hikers I encountered started in Georgia in mid-March, and the prevailing consensus was that with being on the Trail for six months straight, one did not want to sacrifice comfort at the expense of lower pack weight. (I disagree, but am definitely in a minority here.)

Some hikers were quite interested in discussing ultralight techniques with me, but the subject bored and annoyed other hikers within earshot. I was and am glad to discuss equipment up to a point, but I concede that some people obsess with gear too much, and that the lightest pack will still not pull you up the mountain.

Shirt: Most thru-hikers seemed to prefer polypropylene, but I like merino wool because it does not readily absorb body odor. The short-sleeve shirt I started with needed to be replaced by Vermont, especially since I cut the sleeves off to survive a heat wave in Pennsylvania. The replacement was an Icebreaker merino shirt which I can recommend.

Shorts: Shorts I started with were cut long, as is the current fashion, and rubbed my thighs and felt uncomfortable when hiking all day. Running shorts do not have front pockets, which I really want to hold the small snacks I munch on all day long on the Trail. Finally I found shorts at Cabelas made of nice thin nylon that only came to mid-thigh.

Shoes: The Moab was definitely the most common shoe on the Trail this year. It is one of the few trail-runners available in wide sizes, which is an essential requirement for me. The toe-boxes on mine started to separate from the shoe around Vermont, caused by numerous exposed roots making me trip and stress the toe area. I tried to have a replacement pair shipped, but they got lost in the mail. Liberal amounts of Shoe Goo kept my shoes together long enough to finish the journey.

Insole inserts: After the first three weeks on the Trail  my feet were sore, knees and ankles swollen, and shins splinted. I was in danger of needing to stop the hike early. It was my fault– instead of gradually ramping up my daily miles I was trying to keep up with thru-hikers I had met and matching their twenty mile days in Maryland and southern Pennsylvania. That was a big mistake. Finally a thru-hiker sat me down and lectured me not to ignore my injuries and to slow down, get a good knee brace, and try Superfeet insoles, which I did notice were very common on the Trail. I had tried these insoles before, but found them hard and uncomfortable. A hiker explained that it might take three or four weeks for my feet, calves, and even knees to adjust to the insoles, but that I should be patient. I took two zero days, tried the insoles and knee brace and and cut back to no more than fifteen mile days for a while and my legs got better and I finished the journey to Maine. I do not know what thing I changed helped the most, but the important point is to change something (or several things) when you run into problems.

Socks: I started with low-cut running socks to save weight, but discovered that leaves and dirt got inside too easily. I changed to mid-length merino socks, which worked much better. Some hikers used spandex gaiters to keep out debris, which I might consider on a future trip.

Knee brace: When I ran into knee problems (see above) a thru-hiker strongly recommended the Cho-Pat. I ordered one and it worked quite well. While waiting for this brace to arrive I used a generic drug-store knee brace with adjustable velcro straps, and the velcro lost adhesion when wet. The Cho-Pat used much higher quality velcro that never lost its grip. Different knee problems might require different braces, so your results may vary. Later I banged up my other knee real bad on a boulder, and had to switch the knee brace to that knee for the rest of the trip.

Trekking poles: My poles were supremely light weight and a joy to use. The fixed length was not a problem, since the grips provided a lower place for the hand when going up steep climbs. They also folded up quickly, and I was able to stow them in the outer webbing of my pack without removing the pack or even breaking stride. The light weight came at the price of lower durability. After the first pole broke in Vermont, I ordered a second pair for backup. By Katahdin three poles had broken, each with different failure modes. I was reduced to hiking with a single pole at the end. I do hope the manufacturer is able to figure out how to make these poles more durable and keep the low weight.

Trekking pole breakage

One of several trekking pole failure modes

Cap: My light runners cap served me well. I also started with sunglasses, but they tended to break when stored in the pack, and were rarely needed in the ‘green tunnel” of the AT. The cap was also useful with a hood during rainstorms to keep water off my face. Used with a bandana as a “sun hat”, or to protect ears from buzzing gnats.

Watch: One thing missing from my original equipment list is the Axio Mini altimeter-temperature wristwatch. This piece of kit gave nothing but problems, and eventually needed to be mailed away. First the battery needed replacement, then the battery contact became intermittent and required a field repair, then the altimeter stopped working, then the display got fogged from moisture leaking inside, and finally the watch stopped working altogether. The temperature function was never practical, since you had to remove the watch and wait several minutes for an accurate reading.

Pack: The Murmur is wonderfully light, with good placement of a large outer web pocket and durable side pockets to hold frequently used items. The stitching began to fail by Maine, and required field repair with dental floss. The web pocket endured a few holes caused by chipmunk bites: Setting your pack down for even a minute to go to the privy gives these critters an opportunity to chew through the webbing to get at granola bars.

itty bitty pack

Murmur pack

The suspension system on the pack is minimal. Fifteen pounds feels great, but more than twenty is uncomfortable.

One tiny drawback: The pack is so small that you do not look like a “real hiker” when hitchhiking, so motorists are less likely to stop and give you a ride. :-)

Pack liner: I used the plastic bag only when rain was imminent, as it was inconvenient to open to get quick access to gear. The thicker plastic of the trash compactor bag was plenty durable for the trip.

Cell phone holder: Carrying the cell phone in a front pocket was too awkward– the extra weight would swing back and forth. Since I used the phone many times a day to take photos and refer to the trail guide, I needed a way to keep the phone close at hand. I found a cheap padded camera case at a drugstore and tied onto a pack strap, which worked great.

Improvised cell phone holder on pack strap

Improvised cell phone holder on pack strap

Phone: Used for camera, e-mail, podcasts, and pdf reader for trail guide, which I consulted frequently during the day. Battery life was a problem. The only cell carrier with good coverage on the AT is Verizon, which I did not have. A snack-size zip bag served as a waterproof case during rainy weather. The phone was tough enough to survive several drops during the trip.

“Companion” (Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion), available in pdf form from the ALDHA, was awkward to view on the cell phone pdf viewer. Landmark mileage tables and landmark details are separated by several pages, so I had to do a lot of scrolling. Still better than carrying the extra weight of the dead-tree version.

Water bottle: My one-quart used cranberry juice bottle fit perfectly in the pack side pocket and was durable enough to last the entire trip.

Water containers: Two Platypus liter containers worked great to store water at camp, or on extra-dry sections of the Trail. Durable, folds down small, and light of weight, and handy to get into tight places to gather tiny trickles of water at slow moving streams.

Platypi as improvised cold pack

Platypi as improvised cold pack

Cook stove: A Caldera stove with wind screen and pot support worked well, but required a plastic container to hold the wind screen. On the AT I experienced very little wind, so a side-burner stove that supports a pot might work just fine and would take up less pack space if it was sized to nest with the fuel bottle in my pot.

alcohol stove with combined support and windscreen

Caldera stove

Fuel bottle: The trip started with a 12-ounce soda bottle, but this was too large for the amount of fuel actually used. Unlike my first AT hike I was only heating water for dinner, not for breakfast (and a warm bath in the evening), so a smaller bottle that nested inside the cook pot was used, one that originally shipped with the Caldera stove. This smaller 5.5 oz bottle tended to leak, so I had to improvise a seal using a zip bag.

Cook pot: Almost only used to boil water or as a mug for tea, so rarely need to clean.

Pot cozy: My cozy was durable enough to last the entire trip, and did a fine job keeping dinner warm.

cozy

Pot cozy made from Reflectix

Water purifier: The rechargeable Steri-pen was a joy to use. I did not have to wait more than five minutes for purified water, so less needed to be carried. Battery life was good enough to last the five to seven days between recharging at the next hostel.

The pen is too wide to fit through the opening of most water bottles. I found a bottle that would allow part of the pen to fit inside, but the bottle had to be completely full of water for the electronic water sensors to be submerged and turn on the UV light. On the plus side, it was impossible for the pen to drop down into the water and cause a leak that might result in failure of the device.

Water purification backup: Iodine tablets were only needed once or twice. When repackaging to save the weight of the glass bottle, you will  discovered the iodine tends to sublimate and stain any plastic bag used as a container, so wrap tightly in aluminum foil first.

Food bag: I started with a stuff sack but switched to a dry compression bag after seeing them used by most thru-hikers. The compression bag is compact, easy to hang, and rides better in the pack compared to a regular stuff sack.

Bear rope: It worked, and the bright color helped me remember which tree I used to hang the food.

Tarp/tent: I tended to use shelters when possible, but you always need a backup plan when the shelter is full or too far away or too buggy. The tent-tart is amazingly light weight and worked well enough in down-pours. Condensation from your breath is an issue, so stay away from the sides. Blowing rain can be a challenge. I loved the integrated bug net. Consider getting the extended beak in rainy conditions. The cuben material folds to a very small volume, taking up a small volume of space in the pack. When bundled inside the included stuff sack, it made a comfortable pillow at shelters.

tent-tarp

Tent-tarp

Tent stakes: Even after spray-painting the tops of the stakes with fluorescent paint they were easy to lose, so replacements needed to be included in mail drops. No titanium tent stake ever bent– quite a change from the aluminum stakes I used in previous outings. For wooden tent platforms, common in New Hampshire, I used tiny cupboard hooks which screw into the wood.

Sleeping pad: The torso-sized foam pad, which doubled as pack back pad, was comfortable enough for my back but might be too Spartan for others. When sleeping my feet needed extra padding, so spare clothes were bundled in the bug net and used as a foot pillow.

pad

Sleeping pad

Ground cloth: This plastic material is thin but tough, and was used on top of the bug net flooring of my tent-tarp. Since it folds up so small, it remained inside the tent when folded and put away.

Camp shirt: Thin enough for warm nights, but still good as a base layer for cold wet evenings, this merino shirt was stretchy and comfortable for sleeping.

Spare shorts and long johns: Zip-off paints did not work well as camp pants because they felt too confining after a long hiking day. Thin merino tights were used in cold weather, and running shorts on warm nights.

Sleeping headgear: My polartec beanie is comfortable on chilly nights. Do not use as a pot-holder, because the material melts at a lower temperature than you might think.

Rain jacket: When not used for rain or cold weather this jacket could be tucked into one of its own pockets, to make a compact pillow at night.

Wind shirt: Light of weight, but comfortable in windy conditions on the exposed peaks of New Hampshire and Maine.

Wind shirt was used on most high peaks

Wind shirt was used on most high peaks

Rain gloves: A good idea, but the seam seal on mine failed and never kept hands dry.

Bandana: Tied on a pack elastic band to be easy to reach, used as pot-holder, sweatband, hankie, wash-cloth, and with cap as sun hat and fly flap.

Compression socks: By Pennsylvania my feet and calves would swell up at the end of the day, especially if I do not wear socks at night. The gentle compression of any socks seemed to reduce the swelling. Thin elastic compression socks that come up high on the thigh worked the best. Swelling continued for several weeks after the hike, but finally disappeared.

Spare socks: Slogging in the rain all day is made bearable by knowing that dry socks await the feet when you finally get to camp.

Head net: Useful at night for keeping gnats and mosquitoes at bay. Also used as a clothes bag, and since the material is semi-transparent it was easy to find and retrieve items.

Soap and wet wipes: I often got into camp late in the day, and one or two wet wipes allowed me to clean off trail dirt and keep odors down to a socially acceptable level when a fully trail shower was not practical. Ultralight hikers may omit this item– I compromised by making a single wet wipe go a long way.

Pen: OK, I used a pen refill to save weight, and with practice it began to feel as comfortable as a real pen. Do not keep in your pocket, as it will leak when exposed to water. Expect strange looks from other hikers if they see you write with one of these.

Flashlight: My headlight is easy to aim, efficient with batteries, and comfortable to wear around the neck at night while sleeping to stay handy. The light output was not powerful enough for night hikes.

USB charger and cable: This Blackberry wal-wart is compact and lightweight. The only way to make it better is to allow two devices to be charged at the same time.

Spare cell phone battery: A good idea, but not enough spare juice. I needed the gadget below.

Recharger pack: I ran into problems in Pennsylvania with low charge on cell phone batteries, especially after one town stay that did not have electricity nearby for charging. The two cell batteries did not seem to like long periods of time at low charge, and one battery stopped charging altogether. One thru-hiker recommended a “mophie”, which I ordered, and it solved all my charging problems. It is heavy at 145 grams, slightly heavier that my cell phone, but I reluctantly accepted the extra weight and was glad to get through the Hundred Mile Wilderness with no worries about low charge. I really appreciated the built-in charge level indicator, and the feature that turns the charger off when a device under charge is unplugged.

Headphone: A dollar-store headphone broke quickly. A genuine Apple headphone survived the rigors of the Trail and allowed me to listen to podcasts in the afternoon, which gave me a psychological boost when gazing at the beauty of the outdoors was no longer quite as effective for motivation.

Itinerary+journal+guide: One sheet of paper per day served as a written journal. At the next mail drop I mailed off the pages, using envelopes and stamps included in the food box waiting for me. That way my family got frequent long letters describing my journey, which would later be assembled and transcribed in journal form. Each sheet was photographed before mailing, to guard against lost mail.

I could have saved weight by typing on my cell phone, but that proved too slow. I recently have seen just how fast (young) people are able to type on a cell phone screen. On future trips I would practice beforehand to get my thumb-typing speed up and use my cell phone as a journal. Or if I was on a trip that involved a great amount of solitude (CDT) then an audio journal might be practical.

Pages of the current section of the trail were included in mail-drops and carried as backup in case my cell phone ran out of batteries.

Knife: The scissors are soooo useful!

Accessory bag: Mesh bag is durable, semi-transparent, and does not make crinkling noises like plastic zip bag. Contains most small items not already in toiletry bag.

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AT 2012 Equipment List

“Some say opportunity knocks only once, That is not true. Opportunity knocks all the time, but you have to be ready for it. If the chance comes, you must have the equipment to take advantage of it.” — Louis L’Amour

 

Do not use this version of my equipment list as a guide. At the end of the hike, I will have more real-world experience, and hope to publish an updated version informed by my adventures. Two days before I fly out, I am still considering changing some items, especially clothing.

I would have liked to have built more of my own gear, as inspired by Ray Jardine’s Beyond backpacking, but ultra-light is so new to me, and a generous and supportive spouse wanted me to spare no expense, that I splurged a bit on several of the small equipment manufacturers with a passion for lightweight gear: ZPacks, Mountain Laurel Designs, AntiGravityGear, GoLite, and more. When I am ready to try making more of my own equipment, then kudos to ZPacks for selling high-tech ultra-light fabrics and materials on their site.

REI, is it really so hard to show weights for all your products on your web site and in your stores? Do I really have to continue going into your store with an electronic scale?

Comments on particular items:

The brim of my cap weighs more than the rest of the materials. I wonder if anyone has experimented with removing the center section of the brim, or substituting some kind of plastic mesh.

Instead of using low cut running socks, perhaps I should switch to longer socks because of the threat of ticks carrying Lyme disease. I treated all clothing with permethrin.

When the pack arrived in the mail I was struck by how small and ethereal it seems. With my frame pack background, if I had come across this item at REI I would have dismissed it without a thought, but I am confident of the choice due to on-line recommendations from several bloggers whose opinion I trust.

I really liked the butane stove on my previous trip because it is so easy to light and control temperature, yet I decided to go alcohol this time. Zenstoves has some really great info on making your own stove, and I did try a few designs. Eventually I purchased the Caldera system because I really liked the combination wind-screen and pot support, but anyone that wants to make more of their own gear should try making a soda-can stove.

The 500mL pot comes with a lid that helps keep it from being crushed in the pack. The volume is too small for cooking a pack of ramen in the pot, but works well for heating 2 cups of water for my PCG-in-a-zip-bag cooking.

I am not entirely comfortable with the design of the SteriPEN Freedom. The water sensors are spaced too far apart, so you have to use a wider mouth bottle. A recycled Powerade bottle with medium diameter mouth is still too small, and a G2 bottle only barely works if the bottle is completely full. I would be happier if the Freedom was a couple of ounces lighter as well. I might revert to only using tablets like most thru-hikers.

An alternative to the ZPacks tarp-tent would be combining a traditional tarp (good do-it-yourself opportunity) with a Mountain Laurel Designs SuperLight Bivy.

I lightly spray-painted tops of tent stakes with fluorescent green paint, increasing weight of six stakes by 2 grams or 6%.

Removing the nail-file blade of my Swiss Army Knife only saved 2 grams, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone bother with that modification.

A razor not carried this time, but sent with mail packages.

I pine for lower weight trail-runners. Inov8, how about offering wide sizes?

Warmer clothing will be shipped to me as necessary, possibly around New Hampshire.

I use 2″x3″ zip bags to store some small items. Handier and lighter than snack-size zip bags in many cases.

Several hikers have published gear lists on the web that taught me a great deal. Thanks, people.

 

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