Gear Shakedown and Last Minute Changes

Katie and I went on another gear shakedown hike, just to make sure our perfectly manicured gear lists were performing the way we wanted them to. As it turned out... no, they weren't. As such, I've made some serious changes to what I thought was my optimal backpacking gear. C'est la vie.

For this shakedown hike, we went back to Eagle Creek to do a short eight mile hike to a campsite with some friends of ours. One of them hiked the PCT last year, so he gave us some good words of wisdom and tips about our own upcoming hike. One of my primary gear concerns was regarding my sleep system - I was thinking of bringing a 32 degree sleeping bag and a warm, thick, insulated air pad. Apparently this was against the norm, as it gets quite cold in the desert at night (read: 20 degrees) and an inflatable sleeping pad runs the risk of getting a hole in it from the prickly ground in SoCal.

Thus, upon returning to civilization, I swapped my 32 degree bag for my favorite 20 degree bag (I really don't want to destroy it on the trail, but I also don't want to be cold!) and swapped my inflatable pad for a thin, foam, lightweight Thermarest pad. I'm not looking forward to that part. I've been camping on three inches of sleeping pad heaven for so long that it's going to suck sleeping directly on the ground again. Especially since the foam pads aren't nearly as warm as the inflatable ones.

The hike itself was quite nice - the weather was 50 degrees and mildly overcast - and my trail runners were holding up much better than when we trekked the Deschutes trail. I put some Superfeet insoles in them, and that seemed to help with foot soreness. (I still rolled my ankle a couple times, of course, but that's just because I'm clumsy.)

We had nine people on this hike, and it was fun because it gave me a sense of what life must be like on the trail with many other hikers to keep you company. We quietly walked at our own paces, stopped to joke around and bask in the filtered sunlight at lunchtime, and met up again at our campsite for the evening. We arrived in early afternoon, so some of us went on a day hike further down the trail while the rest of us stayed in camp talking. I stayed in camp because I realized - stupidly - that I left all my rain gear at home, and it was (of course) pouring. Under the trees we had better shelter, so the slow creep of dampness in camp somehow seemed better than instantly drenched on the trail.

We laughed that we looked like a Big Agnes catalog - once we all had our evening gear set up, there were seven Big Agnes tents littered around the campsite. Three Seedhouses, one Copper Spur, two Fly Creeks, and our Scout tarp. Katie and I were keen on trying out the Scout again, especially since the conditions were much wetter this time and we wanted to see how a single-walled tarp would do in the rain. It held up fairly well on the outside, so long as we had it staked out correctly. The rain beaded up as it was supposed to and everything inside stayed dry.

When everyone was back in camp and evening swept in (7:00! Time for bed!) we made dinners around a soggy campfire. I tested out my stove-and-pot combination with one of the rice meals that I had made quite a few of for my drop boxes. Thank goodness it tasted good, otherwise I'd have two months of painfully unappetizing dinners in the near future...

Katie and I discussed fuel efficiencies and how to resupply along the trail. It's much more difficult to come by the isobutane canister fuel, which is what we were both using for our stoves, in trail towns. The easiest way to make sure you have enough is to mail yourself some at each stop. However, this can be a pain trying to deduce how much fuel to mail yourself. In the long run, we decided to share the more efficient Jetboil stove in the interest of making our fuel last longer, and to split the weight of it between us.

As soon as it grew dark it got much colder, so we turned in for the night. I put on a long-sleeved base layer, followed by a wool mid-layer, followed by my Patagonia NanoPuff jacket. I was hoping by adding layers I could keep myself warm and eliminate the need to take a warmer sleeping bag. But I had a difficult time sleeping. I alternated between too hot and too cold quite frequently, and my toes stayed frozen the whole night, despite my warm socks. I fell asleep in short ten-minute intervals and woke up thinking I hadn't fallen asleep at all. The only indication of unconsciousness was the memory of some very bizarre dreams. (I always have the strangest dreams while camping). By the time morning came, I had ultimately decided that a warmer sleeping bag was needed. It had gotten down to 34 degrees at the lowest point, and I definitely felt it.

We discovered another quirk about our gear that morning: the Scout 2 tent does not like damp weather. The combination of rain outside, cold temperatures, and warm breath inside made the whole thing leak like a sieve. There was condensation all over my sleeping bag when I woke up, and streaks of condensation lining the roof of the tent. I did my best to avoid touching the walls, but while trying to change clothes in the small space I kept bumping into the tarp and it would rain down water. Literally rain. Everything was wet very quickly. Actually, I think it was drier outside the tent. We concluded that the single-wall tarp would be great for the desert, where dry air would keep condensation minimal, but we would have to reconsider our gear choice if Oregon and Washington had a particularly wet summer this year.

We hiked out that morning, and when I got home I did laundry and repacked my pack with my new gear choices. I updated my gear list if you're interested in seeing all the swaps I made. It will have to do, because any more changes I make will be on trail and slightly more difficult to accomodate. I'm sure it'll be an ever-evolving process, though.

Speaking of on the trail... this is officially my last post before trail time! I leave in a couple weeks and I need to get everything at home squared away before heading out. This includes shutting down my Etsy shop for a few months - today is the last day to order cards, so if you've been thinking about snagging a card from me this year, it's your last chance for a while!

I expect to be posting again in May - check back for updates or make sure you add me to your RSS feed or subscribe to emails to get the latest. If you're on Twitter you can follow my adventures @darkroomdearly. I look forward to sharing more stories with you soon!