Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hiking Christmas Gifts

I got a few Christmas gifts this year, and most of them has a hiking orientation.  How'd that happen?  :^)

I got my very first pair of trekking poles.  I have used trekking poles on a few backpacking trips in recent years and love them!  My gift pair should be great.  I choose them for a reason - they fold up in three sections and will easily fit in luggage.  This is important because I have plans to hike in a foreign country in the coming year, and nothing I had would fit in a suitcase.  These will, as each section is only about 40-45 cm long.  They are Black Diamond Z-Pole Trekking Poles.  They don't have the adjustable lengths or shock absorbency of a more traditional trekking poles, but being able to put them in a suitcase was a key requirement.  They are aluminum, but still seem strong and light, with a total weight for both of about a pound.

Next, I got a new headlamp, also from Black Diamond.  This one is the Black Diamond Storm, which was highly rated as a great deal by Backpacker Magazine.  It is very bright, but can be adjusted downward, and has red light also for times when you don't want to lose your night vision.  The power goes from four to 100 lumens.  It is also waterproof, which is really handy if you are out in the back country and forced to move after dark in a driving rain.  It will replace my current headlamp, which, while serviceable, is not nearly as bright, nor is it water proof.

I got a book: "50 Hikes in West Virginia," by Leonard Adkins.  I live a long way from the Mountaineer State, and have never hiked there.  But I think that the latter needs to change, and 2014 would be a great year to make that happen.  I would love to backpack in the Cranberry Glades Wilderness in the upcoming year, and perhaps do some day hikes as well.  Almost heaven, West Virginia!

And finally, I got a $50 REI gift card.  That may well go towards new rain gear that I am likely to buy as my next major gear purchase.

I am happy with these gifts and cannot wait to try them out!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

How I Did on My 2013 Hiking Goals

A year ago, I wrote out a set of goals I wanted to try to reach for 2013.  I did reasonably well attaining them, and here is my report.

1. Take 10 new hikes:  I got up to nine, and then things conspired to prevent me reaching 10.  If I counted hikes of less than four miles, I would have reached 10.  For example, I took three hikes in Cape May, NJ, that totaled more than four miles, but any one hike was less than four.  Here is my list -
Great Dismal Swamp - a wonderful and unique place to see, plus I saw four otters
River Bank Trail (Staunton River SP) - This park is off the beaten path and worth walking in.
Prince William Forest Park - the highlight was seeing the 17 year cicadas
Shackeford Banks - the ocean, wild horses, and great sea shells?  Who could ask for more, other than some shade and drinking water?
Mount Judah - This hike had spectacular views, plus I got to hike a few miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.
Old Indian Trail - This hike was in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and had great Lake Michigan views.
Savage River Lodge - I did three nice hikes here, and the orange loop was just over four miles.
Buck Hollow Loop - this was my only hike of the year in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and was all uphill or downhill.
High Bridge Trail State Park - Great walk along a "rails to trails" route

2. Hike in two states that I didn't hike in during 2013.  I hiked in five states in 2013, and three of them were not ones I hiked in during 2013: California, North Carolina, and Maryland.

3. Hike in one state I have never hiked in: I hiked in two, California and Maryland

4. Take two backpacking trips.  Fate conspired to make me miss this goal.  I did the Shackleford Banks trip for two nights (and 26 pounds of water carried), but I missed my planned hike to Virginia's "Triple Crown" when work interfered, and I had to cancel a solo trip to Matthews Arm in Shenandoah National Park when I hurt my back stepping off an unseen step.

5.  Keep this blog going: Obviously, I succeeded with that.

6.  Explore other writing outlets: Nope, didn't happen.

Stay tuned for 2014 (yes, 2014 - can you believe it?) goals.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Next Big Purchase?

I haven't had a chance to hike lately, although I am taking walks as the time allows.  So instead of writing about a hike, I will write about gear.

I've been thinking about 2014 coming up, and realizing that one goal for the new year will be to replace something major I have now with a new piece of equipment.  And I have narrowed it down to three possibilities, since in the last few years I have replaced my boots, water filter, and sleeping pad, and bought a tent and camping stove.  I also bought a warm sleeping bag, good to 15 degrees, and was very glad that I did on two trips in particular when the mercury dipped to or below that point.

My three possibilities for gear replacement in 2014 are: a new backpack, new rain gear, and yes, a new sleeping bag.

I list the backpack first because that is the most likely.  I've had my current backpack about six years.  I bought it without a lot of thought for a backpacking trip in New Hampshire, and it has served me well.  It has a lot of nice features.  But it just never seems to have enough room for bulky stuff, especially the sleeping bag.  When I packed up a month or so ago for the overnighter that I cancelled because I hurt my back, my bulky sleeping bag took up most of the room in the main pack.  I had to cram my other gear around it.  I am somewhere between the ultra light hiker and the guy who carries everything but the kitchen sink, so I do have a challenge getting everything into the pack.

A couple of trips ago, I think the Mount Rogers trip with my friend Hawkeye, he let me try his fully loaded pack the morning we left.  I hoisted it on, and without any adjustments, it was so much more comfortable and balanced than my pack.  We were both carrying about the same weight.  That has made a lasting impression, and I've had "pack envy" ever since.

But if I don't get a pack, maybe I should replace my rain gear (not my reindeer, my rain gear!).  It is at least a dozen years old, fairly heavy, and seems to have lost its water proofing.  The last time I hiked in the rain, up at Savage River State Forest, I got soaked right through my rain gear.  So, replacing it would be useful on both day hikes and backpacking trips.  But there also may be a way to restore the water proof characteristics.  Still, it might be better to replace it.

Which brings me to my sleeping bags.  I have two, neither of which is a down bag.  The first is comfortable to about 40 degrees, and although it is heavier and bulkier than a down bag, it is not bad.  The other is just a few years old and is a comfortable bag even in 15 degree temperatures - field tested by me twice at those levels up in the mountains.  But a down bag that has the same temperature rating would shave maybe a pound off the weight and significantly free up bulk.  When I camped at Mount Rogers, I used my lighter weight bag so I would have more room in my pack, and suffered a bit that first night when the mercury dipped into the upper 20's.  On the other hand, a roomier pack would mean that a somewhat bulkier sleeping bag is less of a problem.

Pack? Rain gear? Sleeping bag?  One of those three is likely to be replaced in 2014.  But which one?