Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Did My New Gear Do?

On my four day pack trip to Mount Rogers last month, I took along or wore several new items.  I wanted to write an account of how they performed for me.  In a word - okay, two words - very well.

I'd been having a problem with my toes feeling a little crammed during long hikes, and reasoned that part of the problem was that I was wearing a heavy pair of socks with an inner sock as well.  Just before my trip, I went to REI and talked to them about what I could use.  They suggested Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew socks.  These are made in the USA from imported Merino.  They are much lighter than my other hiking socks and I worried that my feet might blister, but I bought two pairs along and wore them - without any inner sock - on my two longest days of hiking, through the Lewis Fork Wilderness and the next day's very long hike through the Little Wilson Creek Wilderness.  I was very pleased with them.  They were comfortable and my feet didn't feel crowded into the boot.  Plus - not a single blister!  I've worn them on both my hikes since: to Rocky Mount and to the Doyles River Falls, both in Shenandoah National Park, and they have felt fine.  The Rocky Mount hike in particular had very long steep downhills, and my toes didn't "cram forward" into the boot as much as with fuller socks.  I recommend these socks.

One problem I had with my prior two backpacking trips (to the Priest and to Austin, Furnace, and Trayfoot Mountains) was my air mattress.  It was very thin, and the mercury on these trips got down to 15F and 18F respectively.  I shivered a bit, even in my thick sleeping bag.  So last summer, I resolved to buy a new air mattress, and I did: the REI Stratus insulated air pad.  It is only 20 ounces, and it packs easily into a small bundle, shown here in my hand:

It inflates in about a minute, using lung power, to 72 inches long by 20 inches wide by 2.5 inches thick.  The air mattress was very comfortable and kept me warm, even on our first night at 5,400 feet despite the fact that I brought along a lighter sleeping bag this time.  I didn't slide around on the pad, and it didn't lose any air.  When it came time to pack up, it easily fit back into the original sack - always a plus!

Ticks are a big problem in most of the east coast (and a lot of the rest of the country).  This summer for my birthday, I got a pair of trousers treated to repel (and kill if they hang around too long) ticks.  These are Columbia Sportswear Company Insect Blocker cargo pants, treated with permethrin.  They are good for 70 washings.  I wore them on a number of hikes this summer, and of course, took them along for my big backpacking trip.  I wore them all four days, believe it or not!  They got dirty and maybe permanently stained at the cuffs.  But they are comfortable, and held up well, and I didn't see a single tick on me.  My only wish is that they had a second zippered pocket - there is just one and it is small.  Zippered pockets are a good way to avoid losing small things in the great outdoors.  I'll probably wear these pants on every hike in tick season (which lasts a long time in Virginia) from now on.

I'd bought a long-sleeved Merino wool "Icebreaker" shirt a couple of years ago, and liked it so much that I looked for a short-sleeved version.  REI didn't carry the Icebreaker for some reason (I remembered later that I bought that shirt at Blue Ridge Mountain Sports), but they had a Smartwool Merino wool tee-shirt, and I bought that.  I think the shirt in the link is the one that I got.  It was extremely comfortable.  I wore it on the trip any time it was warm enough to have a tee-shirt on, and I wore it under my Icebreaker shirt as a base layer when it was colder.  I am very pleased with the shirt.  It is more comfortable than my polyester shirts and doesn't itch despite being wool. A bonus is that Merino wool does not smell even after wearing it for a number of days.  There is a scientific reason for this, which I will have to look up, because I can't remember the exact science behind it.

All my new (and pre-existing) gear performed very well on my four day backpacking trip.


  1. Those socks sound pretty good. I suppose they have them for women too.

  2. They sure do - check them out, I really liked them.