In my pack: Six items for rain & ticks in West Virginia

Next month I am guiding two 3-day overnight backpacking trips in West Virginia, which has all the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains but a fraction of the backcountry traffic versus the range’s more eastern destinations like Shenandoah National Park. I’m being joined by Alan Dixon, Joe McConaughy (“Stringbean”), Ron Bell, and Matt Bright.

This week I will start packing up. Here are six critical and interesting items that are going with me:

Brute Super Tuff Compactor Bags

A NOAA weather station near the trailhead reports an average of 6.1 inches of rain in May. Over the course of six days, I’m almost certain that it’ll rain, and it could rain the entire time. To keep my gear dry, I will line my pack with two 20-gallon Brute Super Tuff Compactor Bags, which are made of 2-mil plastic and last about a month before developing holes (which can be covered with duct tape for a time).

In one bag I will keep gear and supplies that I don’t need during the day, like my sleeping bag, pad, stove, insulated clothing, sleeping clothes, and food for later in the trip. I will keep oft-needed items in the other bag. If any of my gear is wet (e.g. shelter, rain gear), I will keep it in an outside pocket, or inside the main compartment but on the outside of the Brute liners. For a partial demonstration, watch the video below.

Versus a pack cover, these 2.4-oz compactor bags are more effective in keeping my gear dry. Versus waterproof dry bags, they’re much less expensive to buy and to replace. The only downside is their “fresh scent” smell, which I’ve found will go away if the bag is aired out for a few days beforehand.

REI Quarter Dome Air Hammock

Most backpackers still sleep in tents, but for the eastern woodlands (and for some high-use areas in the West) I’m completely sold on the virtues of hammock, which:

  • Are phenomenally comfortable;
  • Liberate me from shelters and established campsites that are often crowded, hard-packed, wet, sloping, rocky and rooty, and rodent-infested; and,
  • Provide a spacious and well ventilated area to hang out when it’s raining.

Backpacking hammock systems are a niche category that is dominated by cottage brands like Warbonnet Outdoors, Hammock Gear, and Dutchware Gear. Since I’ve loaned my Warbonnet demo kits to my clients, I will be using a more budget-friendly model, the REI Quarter Dome Air Hammock.

I’m not disappointed. I used it last summer for two weeks in Rocky Mountain National Park, and found it to be user-friendly and very comfortable. It’s a great option for casual users and those with limited funds — for $200, you get the hammock with suspension, and a tarp with guylines. To complete the kit and avoid CBS (aka “cold butt syndrome”), I’ll add a new Therm-a-Rest UberLight; more ideally, I’d have the $100 underquilt accessory.

My only criticism of the Quarter Dome Air is its weight, 3 lbs 8 oz. Bridge style hammocks are generally heavy, and to keep it at $200 the Quarter Dome Air was not made of lighter (and more expensive) fabrics.

The Quarter Dome Air retails for just $200, and includes a tarp and well designed bridge-style hammock.

Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion

With temperatures in the 40’s through 60’s, I’m expecting some mosquitoes. But I’m more concerned about ticks — May is prime time for them, and the mid-Atlantic is the epicenter for Lyme disease according to the CDC.

The most effective method to repel ticks is full-coverage clothing (i.e. long-sleeve shirt and pants, with pants tucked into socks) treated with permethrin, which may be branded as Insect Shield, BugsAway, Insect Blocker, or similar. That will be my outfit in late-June for more trips in the Brooks Range, but I’m struggling to imagine that outfit in the steamy East.

So I plan to risk it some, wearing a more customary hiking outfit consisting of shorts and a t-shirt. But I plan to regularly apply Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion to my arms and legs, and around (but not directly on) sensitive areas where ticks are most likely to burrow like my armpits and crotch.

Gore H5 Gore-Tex Shakedry Hooded Jacket

Did I mention it will probably rain? When it does, I’m excited to test the new Gore H5 Gore-Tex Shakedry Hooded Jacket.

Unlike a conventional waterproof/breathable fabric, where the membrane is in a 2.5- or 3-layer “sandwich,” protected on both sides with face fabrics and/or coatings, with Shakedry it’s on the outside. This should prevent “wetting out,” when the face fabric becomes saturated with water and hinders breathability. Conceptually, it’s similar to Outdry Extreme from Columbia; I don’t yet know how the fabrics compare in their performance.

Shakedry Technology has been out for several years, originally released with The North Face HyperAir Jacket. But the original fabric was not sufficiently durable for use with a backpack, at least according to Gore’s guidelines. The H5 is made with a heavier fabric that should better withstand abrasion. It’s still very light, however — my size Large (which fits more like a Medium in most other brands) weighs just 8.2 oz (233 g). It’s a minimalist and well executed design, featuring a hood adjustment, two front pockets, elasticized wrist cuffs, and surprisingly a waist drawcord with waist gaiter.

Sleeping clothes

In extended rain and high humidity, even a $400 shell will probably fail to keep me dry. In this case, my backup is a dedicated sleeping layer that stays buried deep in my pack until I reach camp.

If forecasted low temperatures are in the 40’s as they normally are at this time of year, I will bring a long-sleeve polyester top and some lightweight running tights. The 8-oz weight penalty will be entirely justified by the enhanced night of sleeping comfort. These items have no performance threshold — I’ll take a top and bottom that I already own, even if it fits poorly, has holes in it, or is last decade’s hot color.

Osprey Aether Pro 70

As the guide, my pack is always the heaviest and largest in the group. I carry the first aid kit and satellite messenger, and usually a disproportionate share of the group food. Plus, I like having some extra capacity if a client needs to be relieved of some weight. (Most clients will start these intro-level 3-day trips with only about 20 pounds of gear, food, and water. But if someone is struggling with altitude, fitness, or a travel bug, every less pound helps.)

Since last year, I’ve been using the Osprey Aether Pro 70 as my “guide pack.” I started using it after I loaned out all of my Flex Capacitors, but liked it so much that I also used it on a two-night trip with Amanda and an elk hunting trip in the Colorado Rockies in November. I wouldn’t recommend the Aether Pro for normal backpacking trips, but it’s ideal for larger and heavier loads.

At about 4 pounds, the Aether Pro is about 1.5 pounds heavier than “sweet spot” backpacks like the Hanchor Marl, Osprey Exos, and Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor. But it offers more volume, more durability, and much more load capacity than lighter packs. This spring in the Aether Pro I’ve been carrying 50 pounds up Boulder’s foothills peaks, and I’m not at its maximum comfort weight.

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Posted in , on April 28, 2019
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  1. Claire on April 28, 2019 at 6:32 am

    I so love your adventures and wish I were a bit younger so as to take advantage of your offerings! You will almost be in my back yard in my beautiful West Virginia.
    Welcome! Safe travels and bright starry nights to you and your group.

  2. Stephen on April 28, 2019 at 7:24 am

    The only reason I couldn’t go with hammocks, laying flat. I’m a stomach sleeper and side sleeper and as much as I loved hammocks I just couldn’t sleep.

    How well can you lie flat and sleep on your side and stomach with that product?

    Otherwise great article, I treat all my clothes with Pemerethin which seems at least for me to do the trick for ticks etc. I don’t treat my underwear or undershirt but everything else including socks gets treated.

    • Mary Groeneveld on April 28, 2019 at 8:43 am

      I too am a stomach/side sleeper and would like to know how well the air hammock works.

    • Andrew Skurka on April 28, 2019 at 9:51 am

      I think it’d be a challenge to sleep on your stomach in the Quarter Dome Air, or any other hammock.

      Side sleeping is more practical. I’m speculating here, but it might be easier to do in a gathered end hammock than a bridge. A bridge hammock creates a trough to sleep in, with high and taut side walls that make it difficult to bring up a knee. With a gathered end hammock you’re not boxed in as much. Counterpoint, however: the bridge hammock is flatter.

      • Stephen on April 29, 2019 at 8:01 am

        Seems like I will run into the same issues then, I’ll need to beg/borrow/steal one from a friend at some point to try it out.

        Thanks for the info and the reply, always like your reviews.

    • Steve C. on April 28, 2019 at 7:50 pm

      Otherwise? Man who should know says hammocks are more comfortable, maybe ask why instead of making poor assumptions? Like not being flat – “are you able to lie flat in a hammock?” Yes.

      Personally, count me as someone who thinks gathered end hammocks are better for side sleeping. It’s subjective.

      • Stephen on April 29, 2019 at 8:03 am

        I thought the question was pretty straight forward and allowed him to expound on his review of the product. I didn’t want to make any assumptions, I wanted to hear his experience in relation to my prior challenges with hammocks.

        Get out an hike and have a great day!

    • Gordon on April 30, 2019 at 6:47 am


      Try to find a “hammock hang” somewhere near you – you can find them on – where you can try out a few bridge hammocks. Many hammockers are evangelical, and would be happy to let you discover if it works for you. 😉

  3. Malcolm on April 28, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Love that you are guiding here in West Virginia! Thanks for bringing attention to the beauty of and how good the hiking/ backpacking is here in West Virginia! What area are you going to?

    • Steve C. on April 29, 2019 at 8:39 am

      @Stephen – sorry if I jumped on you a bit. You made a statement before the question that made the question sound rhetorical, then followed that by an ‘otherwise’ which I may have taken in that same context.

      To expand on what Andrew said about the quarter dome, the fact for those of us who camp in hammocks – meaning we’re laying in them for 8+ hours – is that we most definitely need a flat comfortable lay. In a gathered end hammock, that’s on a diagonal, not end to end in what would be a banana shape. In a bridge like the QD, its truly more like a taco. Its more flat, but the sides are typically a little more rigid. Only way to know which works for you is to try them out. I do think bridge hammocks are better for pad use because the flat lay is end to end, whereas sometimes a rectangular pad doesn’t do so well trying to position your lay on a diagonal in a gathered end hammock like a Singlenest.

  4. Paul on April 28, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    Bridge hammocks are typically better for side sleeping than gathered end hammocks. The Rei one though is on the low end in many regards.

  5. Jesse on April 28, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    Will you be providing a review of the Gore jacket after the trip? Also, really enjoy the site, keep up the great work

  6. Randy on April 28, 2019 at 1:14 pm

    Any experience how well the Sawyer lotion holds up with sweat or how often you have to reapply? I didn’t know picaridin came in a lotion. Good to know. I’ve been use picaridin spray for years after developing a skin reaction to DEET. The lotion would be much easier to use in the field. Off Botanicals lotion works great for mosquitoes but is getting hard to find and doesn’t last while sweating. Good for chill environments. Appreciate the tip.

  7. Neil on April 28, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Wow, what an incredible group of trip leaders! Skurka, Adventure Alan, Stringbean, and MLD Ron have all helped me along the ultralight way! Have a fantastic trip!

  8. PStuart on April 28, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Wow, the price on that Gore jacket. Personally, I’m interested in that new North Face proprietary fabric.

  9. Jim Austin on April 29, 2019 at 10:26 am

    I’ve tried a hammock, but since I toss/turn 20x a night even at home (sides, stomach sleeping), and cannot sleep on my back at all, I have not become a hanger. I would not be opposed to trying again if there was a hammock system that was especially good for toss/turners like me. Is there such a thing?

    • Steve C. on April 29, 2019 at 11:18 am

      How much did you try and in what type of hammock? And what bottle insulation?

      First thing is that hammocks sleep completely different than a mattress at home. Second thing is that your body doesn’t unlearn what its used to doing 99% of the time while you’re out on your hiking/camp trip. Naturally, there is learned behavior that manifests in a ‘craving’ of sorts to get onto your side (you can give up being on your stomach in a hammock), and what I found was that being able to easily get onto my side, even a 1/4 turn to the side, would allay that craving and I’d be back asleep, eventually ending up on my back again so that I’d spend 90% of my sleep time on my back. My sleep program tells me I get longer uninterrupted sleep in my hammock. My body confirms that.

      In terms of getting it to work for you, its really hard to toss much when sleeping on a pad in a hammock. A double layer hammock helps, but its better with an underquilt. Bridge hammocks have more rigid sides AND many of them narrow in the middle, about where you might bring your knees up when on your side. That’s why I like a gathered end hammock, preferably one with some extra width, but not so much that I can’t see out.

  10. Jim Austin on April 29, 2019 at 1:05 pm

    If I fall asleep on my back, anywhere, within a couple minutes I’m upright gasping for air. The solution is to sleep on my sides and/or stomach.

    I’ve tried acclimating to a hammock at a setup during Trail Days by a vendor. Also at a setup by another hiker who was trying his best to “sell” me on hammocks near an AT shelter. Both were big fails.

    Perhaps some company will create a hammock system that is specifically for people like me and I’ll try again. Or maybe, this is just impossible. I really can understand and accept the theory that hanging has benefits that tenting does not (and vice versa) regarding site selection plus setting up in the rain, so I’m not opposed to the idea on principle or anything — just want to know I can actually sleep in one given my situation.

  11. Bryan Rowell on April 29, 2019 at 6:06 pm

    Another option if you are looking to try and sleep on your stomach with a hammock is the Amok Draumr. It isn’t cheap, but I find it to be super comfortable. I have a WBRR and it is decent, but I get a fair amount of shoulder squeeze in it.

  12. PS on May 2, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Look forward, as always, to hearing about how the new jacket holds up. You can keep that picardin though. I’ll stick with the 100% deet thank ya very much. And all the clothes, light or heavy weight treated with permithrin! Ticks = BAD.

  13. Bob S. on May 3, 2019 at 12:15 am

    I have a 10+ year old North Face Summit Series Gor-Tex shell that does not seem to be as water resistant as it once was. Is there anything you can recommend to retreat the fabric without damaging it?

    It’s going into black fly season here in northern New England. Does the Sawyer Picaridin repel black flies?

    • Andrew Skurka on May 3, 2019 at 3:59 pm

      You can try restoring the DWR with an aftermarket wash like from McNett. But it’ll never bead as well as when it was new.

      My experience with black flies is limited, but I have found the dive-bombing is almost as bad as the bites, and only the latter can be deterred with topical treatments. The latter needs full-coverage clothing and a headnet.

  14. James Lantz on May 4, 2019 at 3:59 pm

    Andrew, great Article. The hammocks look mosquito proof but are the screens far enough from your head that you won’t hear the mosquitoes buzzing around? That’s one thing that will surely keep me up. I’m guessing there won’t be a lot of them in May but what’s your experience when it’s mosquito season?


    • Andrew Skurka on May 4, 2019 at 8:53 pm

      The netting is probably about as far from your ears in the Quarter Dome Air as it is in a normal solo tent. For me, that’s sufficient.

  15. Bart on May 5, 2019 at 9:16 am

    a video from Clint Bunting

  16. Brad on May 7, 2019 at 10:55 am

    I started The Colorado Trail using a trekking pole tent and quickly got off trail and bought a hammock. When I returned to the trail and hiked a few days with it, I quickly fell in love with it specifically because I could hike late into the day then with the sun setting quickly find a place to hang which typically only took 5 -10 mins – no worries finding level ground, just two trees a few paces apart without any dangerous branches above.

    My system was cobbled together tent/hammock gear which was fine until I hit the campsite just before Georgia Pass. The shift of weather from Denver to Jefferson is mind boggling to a flatlander from Iowa. Mid July it was 90s in Denver yet below freezing near Georgia Pass (11,598’). I was still using a foldable sleeping pad and Sierra Designs Zissou 36 degree comfort bag and no underquilt(I didn’t even know what one was). I wore everything I had with me to sleep in and was miserable. Absolutely to the bone cold. The hiker sharing the area with me woke up to frozen water and a cracked filter it got so cold. If you’re going to hike using a hammock, do it correctly. Buy a proper underquilt, tarp, and cottage industry hammock.

    Done correctly, a hammock system can be fairly lightweight especially if you have the means to buy a Dyneema tarp. A Dream 11’ Darien hammock 1.6 HyperD fabric with whoopie slings, Kevlar tree huggers will weigh under 20 oz (even lighter if you buy 1.0 monolite fabric or make your own like I did using monolite-15 oz suspension included) With a 11’x9’ silpoly .9 Xenon, you’ll be between 27-32 oz (21 oz with Dyneema tarp). HammockGear sells very affordable quilts (800 fill down)and underquilts so check their site out if you’re interested in converting from a ground dweller. Altogether, a full system will cost less than a high end Dyneema tent: Darien 1.6 HyperD with whoopies, 6’ webbing $130, silpoly tarp from SimplylightDesigns $60, HammockGear underquilt 30 degrees $140, Hammock Gear top quilt 30 degrees $150.

  17. Ryan Larsen on May 22, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    I like the Nylofume Pack Liner bags. Used them on a 2 and 1/2 month section of the AT. Didn’t get any holes in them, so they seem durable. They’re transparent so you can more easily find where things are. They’re a touch lighter than most other liners. They claim to have an odor resistant barrier. Cons — Slightly more expensive per bag. Very crinkly and noisy when new, but noise tampers down a bit after some use.

  18. Nicholas Ryan on July 5, 2019 at 8:36 pm

    Hi Andrew,
    Have you had a chance to test the Gore H5 Shakedry jacket? I’m very interested in the product, but would like to hear about both the waterproofness and durability of this lightweight jacket before deciding whether to buy.

    • Andrew Skurka on July 5, 2019 at 8:42 pm

      Yes, I’ve worn it quite a bit, in WV and AK.

      Durability seems good, in terms of both water- and abrasion-resistance. I did quite a bit of bushwhacking with it.

      Breathability is what you’d expect — it’s a jacket. It does not have pit zips, but at least it has a two-way front zipper.

      It dries really quickly because the moisture does not penetrate the face fabric (there is none). So no wet out.

      I don’t like the wrist cuffs, no adjustment and too tight. Otherwise all the other features are good. It’s a slim and small fit; I need a full size larger than normal.

      • Nicholas Ryan on July 5, 2019 at 8:50 pm

        Wow, I appreciate the – almost – instantaneous response! The no wet out element is definitely an attractive feature for me – we get a lot of persistent rain in the South Island of New Zealand, and wetting out can be an issue. I’ve happily used a lot of Gore Wear products before, but it’s not readily available in New Zealand, so sometimes it’s a gamble on fit when buying from overseas, so thanks for the sizing advice.

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