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.
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.
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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