On my recent three day backpacking trip, I used three pieces of brand new gear. Well, in a way, it was four. Or maybe five, depending on your point of view. Anyhow, did the gear perform well and hold up? Here is my report.
What is the most important piece of gear for hiking and back packing? Pack? Tent? Sleeping bag? Well, I maintain it is your boots, although with temperatures in the teens, I'd accept a very warm sleeping bag for an answer, too. But if your feet are miserable on a long walk, no other piece of gear is going to make up for that. I have the hardest time finding hiking boots that work for me. They never seem comfortable. Sometimes they are too tight and sometimes they are too loose. I've given up on or returned many a pair of boots. I once got a pair that Backpacker Magazine raved about as instantly comfortable with no break-in needed, and they felt great in the store. But once I started hiking in them, they rubbed and I got blisters every time I wore them, despite trying to break them in. After several months, I returned them (and got a full refund from LL Bean). So it was with trepidation that I recently got yet one more pair of boots, realizing that my current pair that I have had for years never really was very comfortable. I spent hours going through issues of Backpacker looking for highly rated boots, and finally selected several pairs to try. As luck would have it, neither REI or Blue Ridge Mountain Sports had any of the boots I had targeted. So I tried about five or six other pairs. One of them, Keen Targhee mid-height, seemed pretty comfortable, and after much walking around and hemming and hawing, I bought them from REI. I also bought a pair of Sole inserts that Backpacker strongly recommended, since the insoles that come with most hiking boots are minimal. I wore them a lot around town and even on a few hikes, and they still felt pretty good with a little rubbing. So I was really pleased how comfortable they were on this 22 mile hike with two pairs of socks. They felt great - good support, no blisters, and comfortable. We will see what the future holds, but I optimistic that these boots and I will hike happy trails together.
Second on my major gear list was my new tent, the Eastern Mountain Sport Velocity 1. I was very pleased with it, even though it took me a little while to remember how to set up as the darkness rolled in that first night. It was comfortable with good ventilation, although I did try to get the fly closer to the tent on that first very cold night. I had plenty of room - side, head, and foot. My only complaint was that the footprint was too small for the tent, and as I remember when I set it up at the house, it fit perfectly. I could remember wrong, of course. I could sit up to change clothing, and it was easy to get in and out of. Here is my tent, sans fly, the first morning we camped out near Madison Run. My sleeping bag and the tent fly are hanging on a line and airing out behind the tent.
Third on my list of major new gear was my Jetboil SOL stove. I didn't actually cook with it, and have heard mixed reviews about cooking in its little pot with such a concentrated flame. But I did boil water for tea, hot chocolate, and cleaning up, and the stove did this very quickly. Within about 2 minutes of firing it up, I had two or more cups of boiling water.
Now, although not new gear, I used a pair of borrowed Leki trekking poles for the first time on a hike. So they were new to me. I loved them! They especially made steep downhills and stream crossings less difficult, as well as really steep uphills like climbing out of our two campsites up very steep banks. I'll be getting a pair for sure, and may have to (mostly) retire my gnome hiking staff that a friend made for me from a piece of beaver wood.
Finally, although technically my feet are not gear, and are definitely not new even if they were considered to be gear, in a way, I had a new left foot. Because of a bunch of things, especially six months of plantar fasciitis, I have not done a lot of hiking this year. At the end of January, I had surgery to remove a neuroma that had plagued me for years with hiking, running, and long walks. This was my first really long, tough hike since having that surgery - and wearing a 40 pound pack to boot. I am pleased to report that the neuroma surgery seems to have accomplished the goal - no pain in that left forefoot! I still have some numbness, but the pain is finally gone. I was excited by that. Now, if I can only get the heel to get rid of the last plantar fasciitis pain, I'd be really excited! Here I am January 25, the day after my surgery, looking forward to walking normally again someday.
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