Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Why Pack Light Part 3

While all the advantages I listed in the two previous posts are big, they are not the reason most of us pack light.  Sure, not being worn out from a heavy pack at the end of a big mileage day is a plus.  Knowing how to rely on skills to keep yourself safe if definitely important.  However the number one reason to pack light is that it is just MORE FUN!

There, it is just that simple.  Most of the hikers I know are out there just to have a little fun.  They want to get away from the civilized world and all that it entails to enjoy all the scenery that nature has to offer.  The first thing you discover with a lightweight pack is that you are not staring at the ground. Because you no longer have that load on your back, your center of gravity is closer to your body’s center.  Your head is up and you can look around to see where you are.  I keep a camera in my hip pocket and click off pictures all day without having to drop a pack.  Heck many times I forget the thing is back there.

Want to do a little off trail hiking?  Not a problem.  Without the burden of an extra 35+ pounds, pick your own route to catch a special view or explore a new area.  The best views are not always on a trail and especially out west there are an abundance of opportunities to hike where few other dare to go.  One reason may be that with less gear your range of travel increases.  Higher mileage days with less effort allow you to reach remote areas.  Fording a stream or even a river is not a major obstacle.  

With more room for food, you can even hike more days.  In 2012, I hiked ten days with a 26 pound pack covering 213 miles.  I did make an unplanned stop in Franklin, NC when the Bartram Trail turned into a road walk and passed right by a Zaxby’s.  It was just too tempting to pass up.  I ended up running into a friend in town and got to enjoy a hot shower and a comfortable bed.  Because my pack was down below 18 pounds I had no trouble meeting a ride at Fontana to collect my scheduled resupply.

Since I started packing light, getting ready to go on a backpacking trip is less of a chore.  With less gear, there is less to pack.  I’ve found that a weekend trip or a month long trip requires about the same gear.  I take into account changes in weather on longer trips with maybe an additional layer but that’sabout it.  Packing food is where I spend most of my time.  I’m notorious for packing too much on short trips and not enough on longer ones.  Not by much but it’s a developing skill.

So that’s it.  Start leaving that extra “just in case gear” at home.  Start looking around on your next adventure and see what you’ve been walking by.  Extend your hike a few more miles next trip with a lighter pack.  Just get out and enjoy.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why Pack Light Part 2

In my last post I gave a number of reasons why Scouts and everybody else should pack light from a physical stand point.  Sure packing a lightweight backpack is a lot easier to carry and easier on joints and all the other stuff I mentioned.  It also has other benefits that I also think are as important or may be more important especially to the Scouting program.

One of the things we all try to engrain in our boys is “think” about what they are doing and more importantly why they are doing it.  When a hiker crosses over to the “light side” of backpacking, thinking becomes more important than ever.  They are no longer depending on “gear” to insure safety and comfort.  It now becomes important to possess “skills” to live and travel safely and comfortably in the back country.  Instead of investing in a bomb proof tent, a lightweight backpacker needs to be skilled in campsite selection.  Does this site drain well or am I going to wake up in a puddle of water?  Am I in an exposed area where strong winds are blowing or am I too low where cold air will pool?  If the weather suddenly changes, how can I use combinations of clothing or layering to stay warm?  I’ve gotten wet, how can I build a fire to dry my clothes and warm me up? This type of backpacking is not simply about hitting the nearest outfitter and buying the latest lightweight gear.  You need to know how to use it; its limitations and how it works with the other gear you carry.

Every piece of gear needs to be evaluated as it is packed.  Is this the best choice of gear for this trip?  Under what weather conditions will it have to perform?  Would a wood burning stove be the best choice above the tree line?  Probably not but it would be a good choice on a trip where there are an abundance of trees.  Would you need a zero degree bag on a late spring or summer trip?  Not likely but there are alternatives that would work and be much lighter.  The idea is to get the boys to think about their gear choices and understand the difference between “what you need and what you want”.  Here is an exercise I do and encourage my Scouts to do after each trip.  Dump all your gear in the floor.  Divide it into three piles.  Pile number one is the stuff you used on the trip.  It will include things like the pack, sleeping gear, and cooking kit.  Pile two consist the things you may not have used but should take anyway.  Items in this pile will be a first aid kit, rain gear, compass and the other items that are part of the “10 Essentials".  The third pile will consist of stuff you did not use.  This pile is usually big the first couple of trips and as time goes on hopefully works down to nothing.  Things that might go into this pile are extra batteries, changes of clothes and too many snacks.  

In addition to having less weight to carry on your back there are a couple of other pay offs from carrying less gear.  If you carry less stuff, there is less to keep up with and less chance of losing gear.  Since there are so few items in your pack, it is easy to do a quick check each morning before leaving camp.  I always run an inventory list through my head as I hike out of camp.  With such a short list it is easy to remember seeing item as I packed.  I also make a habit of packing every item in the same place each day.  That makes it easy to find when I need it.  

Another advantage is a neater campsite. There will be very little gear to leave sitting around.  The only clothing outside your shelter most likely will be pieces that need drying.  Having a neat campsite not only implies an experienced camper but increases your efficiency the next morning when you start packing.  

So not only is a lightweight pack easier to carry, it also requires us to become more skilled as hikers and campers.  It makes us evaluate what we carry instead of just tossing it in “just in case”.  It reduces the chances of losing gear and after all, how many of us can afford to keep replacing stuff.  It also makes us more efficient getting out of camp in the morning.  As someone wrote in a journal at Walnut Mountain Shelter, “morning miles are the best, get up and hike”.

Next post we will look at the fun factor!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Why Pack Light?

A few months ago I read a post by a traditional backpacker that pretty much bashed the idea of lightweight backpacking.  His point was that when things get a little rough that lightweight backpackers get in trouble.  They miss out hiking during the colder months because they don’t carry enough gear.  Well I must admit that on more occasions than I care to count I have cut trips short because of sudden weather changes.  However when I’ve planned on less than desirable conditions I have enjoyed hiking in falling snow and sleeping on the ground on a sub-freezing night.

So what are the advantages of hiking light?  What is it that challenges some of us to drop pounds and ounces when others are convinced we are taking chances with safety and comfort?  

In another post I told a story about an adult leader that was convinced a 50 pound backpack was required to hike at Philmont.  If you have ever gone to the Scout ranch in New Mexico and checked out the crews leaving base camp you could easily conclude that many have the same opinion.  At the end of that trip my friend was happy he had cut 15 pounds out of his pack.  He also wished he had cut more.  He was not alone.  Another Scouter in a different crew went the traditional route and has since contacted me several times about cutting weight.  Why?

There are numerous reasons to cut the load you carry on your back.  It’s not just a number game or a contest to see can have the lightest pack.  There are legitimate reasons to cut down on what you and your Scouts carry into the back county.  Let’s start with some of the physical reasons.

A lighter pack results in fewer aches and pains.  It is less stressful on the knees and ankles.  I don’t think I know of a single person that carries around a 50 pound pack on their back almost every day.  Yet many of us would shoulder that weight for a weekend in the woods thinking that we are getting outdoors and doing something healthy for ourselves.  One of the leading problems with our joints including our backs could be contributed to by “Weekend Warrior” activities.  All week we are somewhat sedentary or worse and come the weekend wehead out for an exciting activity.  Our bodies and those of our Scouts who have spent the week sitting in a classroom don’t always adjust to the change.  As a result we twist ankles, strain knees and hurt backs.  No wonder my chiropractor keeps a couple of open appointments on Monday mornings.  

Most of the time these injuries heal and we are all the better and stronger on the next trip.  However repeated damage especially to joints can lead to long term mobility problems.  My Philmont friend also pointed out on the last night of our trip, his lighter pack had not strained him to the point of needing Ibuprofen to sleep much less get up and hike.  I myself experience less soreness after a hike with 20+ mile days than I did at a younger age with much shorted days.  The only difference is the weight in my pack.

If you ask any hiker what is the number one injury their answer would most likely be blisters.  Oh, have I experienced my share of those painful water filled bubbles on my feet.  Blisters are a reaction to the rubbing of your skin inside your shoes or boots.  The first defense against blisters is proper fitting footwear including socks.  However when you strap on that pack the increase in weight puts extra stress on your feet.  Swelling of your feet is the body’s reaction to this stress.  Since your feet are now larger, there is more rubbing.  More rubbing results in blisters.  If the load on your back is lighter, it just stands to reason that the stress on your feet and the resulting swelling will be less.  All I can say here is that the lighter my load the fewer blisters I develop.  Even on days when I’m constantly walking in water I usually don’t have problems.  In 2010 I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.  On the entire trip I only had two blisters. Both were on the rocks in Pennsylvania.  My pack weight was never over 24 pounds.  

One of the sadder moments on my AT thru-hike was seeing the dreams of other hikers interrupted as they left the trail because of injuries.  One that I remember well was in NC near Cheoah Bald.  It’s a rocky section of trail that is seven miles of straight up from the Nantahala Gorge on one side and down over five miles on the other.  The day before I had met a hiker namedBucksnort.  He was an older hiker but appeared in good shape.  To celebrate his seventieth birthday he was hiking to Maine.  On the way down the trail he asked me to go ahead since I walked a little faster than him.  When I got to Stecoah Gap I saw a couple of members of the local rescue squad.  They were hiking up to carry Bucksnort out.  As he came down the mountain with his traditional size pack, he stumbled and broke his ankle.  There is no way to say that a smaller pack would have prevented this injury.  However I find that carrying a smaller pack allows me to be more agile and easily move over uneven ground.  There were many spots on the AT such as Mahoosuc Notch where Trail Trash and I breezed through while others carefully had to pick their way around and over and even under the rocks.  A lighter smaller lighter pack keeps the weight closer to your natural center of gravity.  This makes moving over uneven ground easier and helps avoid falls and injuries.  


While all of the above reasons could apply to any backpacker this next one is mainly directed at us older hikers.  We didn’t get here without some wear and tear on us.  Some old injuries are work related and others are from sport endeavors.  Either way trying to do too much can cause them to rare their ugly heads when we had plans that did not include nursing a pain from the past.  A bone crushing dive over the handle bars of a bicycle a few years ago left me with a permanent reminder that I’m not indestructible.  Despite the back injury I’m still able to backpack for days at the time.  One of my fellow Scouters in the Greensboro area has a lower back issue and has found a lighter pack helps keep him on the trail too.

So less weight is not just about that light weight load.  There arephysical reasons not to load yourself down with unnecessary gear.  I plan to continue my reasons for lightweight backpacking in additional posts looking at both skills and enjoyment of a lighter pack.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A 21 Ounce Quilt for Under $100.00!

One of the three heaviest items in a Scout's pack is his sleeping bag. Not only is it most likely to be the heaviest, it's usually the largest single item sometimes requiring a bigger pack. This one item can cause another piece of gear to be larger and heavier. On a recent trip a newer Scout told me he couldn't carry a tent. After putting his sleeping bag in his pack, there was no more room. I helped him find room but it was a tight fit. By the way the pack he was using was one of mine I don't use any more because it's so big. 

Some years back I noticed I had stopped using the zipper on my sleeping bag. Instead I was draping it over me like a blanket. It made it easy to regulate the temperature on warmer nights and was plenty warm on cold nights. On very cold nights I could wear my jacket for extra warmth without interfering with the loft of the bag. 

My first real quilt was a homemade one with .8" of Climbashield XP insulation.  The rating of such a quilt should be above 50 degrees. On a couple occasions I've used it down into the 30s by just puting on a jacket and an extra shirt. 
The quilt in the picture contains 5oz. Climbashield Apex. One of the advantages to this material is it only needs stitching around the edges. This makes the sewing as simple as making a pillowcase. You can order the materials from ThruHiker.com on their kit page and they will supply you with 2 1/2 yards of insulation, shell and liner. All you need is some 100% polyester thread, a sewing machine and a pair of sciccors. 

When your package arrives, lay the materials out flat. I went ahead and laid the three pieces the way they would be sewn. Bottom layer is the Climbashield. The middle layer is the liner with the dull side up followed by the shell, dull side down. Give it a day or two for the wrinkles to relax. 

Make a pattern out of newspaper. You will lose 2" in both directions when you sew it together. I made mine 85" long and 54" wide at the top.  This makes the finished quilt 83"x52". 
Pin the pattern to the assembly and cut it out. Rotary cutters work great but a good pair of sciccors will do the job too. 
Once the quilt is cut out, tack the assembly together with a few stitches every 10"-12". This isn't absolutely necessary but will help to keep the Climbashield from bunching up in the machine. Then sew the two long sides and the top. Now turn the quilt right side out so that the dull sides of the shell and liner are out.  Trim the Climbashield so the liner can be folded over it and sewn. Fold the end of the shell to the inside and stitch the final end of the quilt together. 

To make a foot box, fold the quilt in half the long way. Starting at the folded corner of the 40" end sew the two sides together and continue sewing up the back of the quilt about 20". The foot box keeps the quilt from pulling up and exposing your feet in the middle of the night. 
The over all rating of this quilt is 38 degrees. Keep in mind that with a fleece and long underwear you can go much lower and remain comfortable. Best of all it compresses in your pack to almost the size of a football!

Enjoy your new quilt. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wilson Creek Backpacking Trip

I'm sure at one time or another every Scoutmaster has been questioned as to why their Troop goes backpacking. Over the years I've used a number of reasons but the best one I can possibly give us the connection that children need with nature. For that matter the connection we all need with nature and how it enhances our playfulness. On a recent trip onto Wilson Creek Wilderness Area I was reminded of the shear joy kids get playing outside. Richard Louv in his 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods", addressed the need for children to have time to explore the outdoors.  So when I saw a post on Facebook about kids having phones and tablets and social networking but we had the outside I started thinking about how a Scout outing could help nurture the bond between boys and nature. 

Fall of 2012 I proposed a backpacking trip to the Troop. While I have a reputation for cramming a lot into a trip this one would be different. Total mileage for the weekend was only about 6 miles. The boys questioned me asking what would they do with the rest of the day?  My response was "I'm sure we'll find something to do".

The big weekend rolled around and temperatures were a little cool but I felt they would be warm enough for what I had planned. We drove up on the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed south toward Linville, NC. At Roseboro Road we descended down off the mountain ridge to a campsite next to a stream. In the dark we set up tents and crawled in for the night. 
The next morning the boys took their time with breakfast. For some reason making pancakes takes them forever but then we were only hiking 3 miles today. Finally we got on the trail fording a couple of streams and of course getting wet. Just before lunch we walked out on a rock surface with a cascading stream forming three good size swimming holes. 
The other leaders and I set safety boundaries for the boys but for the most part they were allowed to just have fun and play in the water. 
It didn't take long for their creativity to kick in. They found the wet rocks slick enough to slide down. It was one big natural water slide. The other adults and I watched as they experienced fun that came from just being in nature. For the better part of the day iPods, cell phones and Gameboys disappeared from their memories as they splashed in a clear mountain stream and laughed as they hit the cold water. 
After a late lunch we set out to find a campsite. A couple fords later we came across a suitable spot. But instead of stopping I asked the boys to hike a little farther up the trail. A couple just wanted to set up their tents but came along anyway. About a quarter mile later we turned the corner to discover a waterfall with two large swimming holes. There were smiles all around as they jumped in for another swim. 

It reminded me of the days when I was a kid and spent time in the summer in a farmer's irrigation pond or an old sand pit. The only thing missing was a fresh picked watermelon out of Bradley Forest's field. 

When this seasons schedule was being put together it was decided early on that the Wilson Creek trip was to be repeated. The number of boys participating this year was almost double. 

The outdoors never goes out of style.