NH Gear Review

Gear review!

I took lots of new(ish) gear with me on my NH section hike. Here’s a rundown of some of it:

Pack: SWD 35

This pack is a little big in the torso for me. I think if that were fixed it would be my dream pack. The pockets are all easy to reach while it’s on. I can reach and replace my water bottle from the lower small pocket, snacks from the upper small pocket, and tripod or poles from the tall pocket. The bottom mesh pocket held up really well, especially considering how many times I scooted across rocks on my butt. My legs are completely scratched up and bloody, but the pack looks great.

Shelter: Borah Bivy and MLD Grace Solo

I really like to sleep in shelters, for reasons that aren’t especially clear to me. So on this trip, I really only tented once. As usual, the Grace Solo was fairly easy to set up, and the bivy was great for the mosquitos. However, having the bivy really made a difference on some colder-than-expected nights. Even in the shelters, slipping the bivy around me helped block the wind and extend my quilt a few degrees. I didn’t zip it all the way up, but it did make quite a difference. I’m pretty sold on the bivy/tarp life.

Sleep: Thermarest Prolite Short, Down Booties, and EE Quilt

I’ve been a pretty dedicated CCF pad sleeper for a while now, although I’ve dabbled in other pads, like a winter inflatable and a Klymit X frame. I’ve always hated how long it takes to blow up inflatables, and how high off the ground they are. The Prolite takes about 3 breaths and is barely thicker than a CCF pad, but is a lot more comfortable. The weight is fairly comparable, and with my feet propped up on my empty pack, everything just…worked great! Some of the better sleep I’ve gotten on trail. The quilt was about as expected — I’ve had this quilt for over 2 years and it’s kind of a workhorse for me. Good for a lot of temperatures.

And the down booties. Ohhhhhh the down booties. These will be an “every trip except dead summer in the south” item. They add so much warmth for so little weight. Such a treasure. #blessed

Clothes: Patagonia Barely Baggies, Patagonia Tropic Comfort Shirt, random Sleeveless shirt

I switched from my usual Lululemon shorts to Barely Baggies for this trip. I wanted something a little thicker, and the pockets were intriguing. They definitely held up well and dried quickly. Good shorts. The tropic comfort tee was essential for the long stretches above treeline in full sun. My legs and hands are sunburnt, but my arms aren’t. Pretty impressed with how breathable and comfortable the shirt was even when I was hot and sweaty. The sleeveless shirts started with is an old Onzie hot yoga shirt. I used to love it, but felt like it was really holding on to sweat this trip. So I grabbed a neon pink tank from The Notch hostel and wore that, so that I could blind people with my shirt, if not my beauty. It was great.

Shoes: La Sportiva Ultra Raptors

This was a big shoe change for me. I’ve messed around with Salamons, Altras, and Hokas, but La Sportiva may be the end of the line for me. The Ultra Raptors were super grippy on rock and wet rock, even though I was mostly too scared to trust them. I only got one blister the entire time, and that’s a near miracle for me. My feet were definitely fatigued at the end of each day, but they recovered quickly and really, that’s nothing new. Overall, I’m very impressed. I did change up the lacing to take some pressure off my high-volume feet, and added in a heel lock. As usual, wore with a variety of Darn Toughs.

Insulation: Melanzana MicroGrid Hoodie and Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Patagonia Capilene Lightweights leggings

I get cold easily. The Melly was fantastic on cold mountains and to sleep in. The hood draws up easily to cover as much as you want it to. I did miss the venting from the quarter zip on my old fleece, but between the Melly and the Patagonia Tropic Comfort long sleeve, I had most active situations covered. The GW was warm enough for chilly nights (we were around freezing some nights), and I never resented having packed it. If things got much colder than the 30F we saw, I’d have wanted something much more substantial, but for this trip, it was a killer combo.

The leggings were…pretty good. I like how light they are, and they’re definitely comfy for a sleep layer, but they stretch out a little too much for me to really want to hike in them. Also, one sharp rock on Mt Washington ripped them pretty easily. That’s a bummer, but probably not entirely the fault of the leggings since those rocks also ripped my own legs to bits. Everything else stood up well, though.

Rain: Outdoor Research Helium II and EE Rain Skirt

The OR was good. I have no complaints. The hood worked well with my hat. I thought I would miss having pit zips, but somehow I survived. I do think the supper is a little tight — it’s hard to really move with one hand. It’s kind of weird to explain, but my Patagonia rain jacket is much easier to zip and unzip with only one hand. Maybe I’m weak?

The rain skirt was surprising to me. I didn’t expect it to make a huge difference, but it’s really nice to have dry underwear after a soggy hike. Usually I get rain dripping down my shorts, but this skirt thing was breathable, easy to hike in, and will likely catch me a man. Sold.

Misc: Xero Shoes ZTrek Camp shoes

(Lol sorry, I forgot to take a picture of these on this trip, so the only actual picture of these sandals is from a Reddit meetup hike a few weeks ago.)

Look, I have foot problems. Tell me to strengthen them all you want, but some people just have a harder time with feet. I liked having these lightweight sandals for hostel stays and around camp. They’re zero drop, which helps gently stretch my calves and Achilles out after a long day of hiking they easily fit in the mesh pocket of my pack with a small CCF pad for my butt, and it was nice to let my feet air out and stretch and flex. I like camp shoes, and these are pretty good ones. I will say, however, that I do not recommend speed walking across an airport in them. My calves burned for days.


As usual, I still have more things to try out on my next trip, but for now? There was nothing I brought that was an absolute failure for me! And that, my friends, is pretty good.

Gear Review: Good and Bad

A year and a half since I started section hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’ve now hiked over 1700 miles in all kinds of weather- from feet of snow to summer droughts and everything in between. 

I figured it’s past time to revisit some of my gear and take a look at what works and what I’ll likely change. 
1. Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400: I’ve been hiking with this pack since March 2016. I love it. It transfers the load well to my hips, it’s simple, and it’s about 90% waterproof, so I don’t have to bother with a pack cover. It’s not ideal for heavier winter loads, so if I keep up trips in deep winter, I may eventually look for something that can handle 30lb loads better. But for 3 seasons and short winter trips, it’s absolutely amazing. (NB: this is not a casual backpackers pack. For one, it’s expensive. For two, you need a lightweight base weight to even think about using it. Not ultralight, but around 12-15 lbs for sure.)

2. Darn Tough Socks: I have about 3 different styles of Darn Tough socks (mountaineering, boot, hike, etc) and I like them all. I treated a pair of the tall mountaineering socks with permethrin for summer hiking (great protection against ticks and other nasties when hiking in shorts) and it’s a choice I’m likely to make again and again. Darn Tough also has an incredible warranty, so a few pairs that have been mouse-chewed or fire-burned will be sent back soon to be replaced. 

3. Lulu Lemon Tracker Short: I think this is the right one. These shorts have a wide, comfortable waist band that’s good with a hip belt and comfortable while sleeping, something that was a problem with my Nike shorts I used to hike in. A small side zip pocket is great for Vaseline in the winter or fall. 

4. Ray Bans sunglasses: I used to only hike with cheap sunglasses. I get migraines, and have a problem with sun in my eyes, so hiking with a hat and sunglasses is important to me. Cheap ones are good if you’re worried about losing them, but I’ve only lost one pair on the trail and I know exactly where they are, so I could have gone back for them if I wasn’t lazy. Changing to quality frames and real polarized lenses made a huge difference in comfort for me. 

5. Klymit Pillow X: I sleep on my side and stomach, so a good pillow is a must. This one is incredibly comfortable, inflates in like 4 breaths, and doesn’t appear to have the weak points that caused 2 of my neo air pillows to fail. 

6. Klymit inertia x frame pad: y’all know I was super committed to my Ridge Rest foam pad for a long time, but this funky looking sleeping pad is amazing. It’s tiny and light and surprisingly comfortable. And inflates in like 4 breaths 🙂 I supplement this with my foam sit pad at the hips, since I’m like half and inch too short for it, but it’s great. 

(No pic sorry 😐)

7. Z-Rest Foam Sit Pad: it’s just a small piece of foam. I use it to sit on and to put under my sleeping pad. It’s solid. Worth the weight to carry it. 

8. Nike Pro insulated leggings: winter hiking pants. Water resistant, warm, comfortable enough to sleep in. Love them. 

9. Patagonia Nano Air Hoody: a great water-resistant layer for most seasons. It’s new, but replaced my puffy this summer and will likely be a go-to later for hiking and camp in the fall and spring. And winter too! 

10. Apple Watch Series 2: I love this thing. Tough enough to hike in, looks cute, and helps take awesome pictures. Not completely accurate for distances when hiking, but fairly close (off by about .5 miles over 4 miles). 

11. Jet Boil Stove: I honestly don’t know if I have the Zip or Minimo or something else but this is a killer canister stove for colder weather. Stoves aren’t worth it for me in warmer weather, but in winter, this is a no-brainer. 

12. Patagonia H2No Rain Jacket: its heavy, but it’s good at keeping me dry. Well, better than most 🙂

13. Sea2Summit SilNylon Dry Bags: I keep al of my clothes and sleeping bag stuff in one big bag. I kneel on it to compress it, and that thing packs down so small and stays nice and dry. I’d love to upgrade to cuben fiber, but it’s just not worth the cost. 

14. Crocs: I became a believer in camp shoes this winter. Hiking on rocks all day in Pennsylvania convinced me even more. Having crocs to slip on after the days hike is fantastic. And, in a pinch, I know I can hike in them. 

15. iPhone 7+: well I think you’ve all seen how awesome my pictures got after my last iPhone died in VA and I had to upgrade. 
1. Sleeping bags: I have like…4. A Western Mountaineering that may actually be too cold for me for the winter, a GoLite 32F bag that’s ok, an Enlighted Equipment 32F quilt that’s ok, and my military poncho liner. The only one I’m sold on is the poncho liner. That’ll be my blanket in the summer, and it’s great as an extra layer in shoulder seasons when you aren’t sure what the weather will do. The rest…eh. 

2. Headlamp: I have a Black Diamond Headlamp that always turns itself on, even when I have it locked. It’s bright and good for night hiking and all, but I hate that. 

3. Shoes: I’ve gone through a few different pairs of Salomons (too narrow), a pair of Altras (rough on my heels), and a few boots (too heavy). I’m just not sold on any of them 100%. Maybe trying La Sportivas next? I have problem feet, so any of these would probably work great for most people. 

4. Water Treatment: sawyer mini, sawyer full sized, chlorine tabs… usually I just don’t treat it. 

5. Tent: I’m currently using a TarpTent of some sort. It’s pretty good, but ideally I’d love a 2-person cuben fiber tent for some more room. I’ve been tenting more 🙂

So that’s most of it! Part of the fun is trying out new stuff and reading reviews. If there’s anything you’re wondering about or are looking for recommendations on, let me know. Leave a comment on the blog or wherever you see it posted, and I’ll do my best to let you know what I think! 

Happy trails, my friends! 

NYE Gear Test


The Backyard Sleepingbag Selfie

In preparation for the Big Hike, I took my new Big Sky Soul solo tent on the back porch with my NeoAir xTherm pad and my new sleep system: a GoLite women’s down sleeping bag rated to 30*F and an Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt from their Garage Sale. As I sat on the couch at Rock Island checking the weather for the hike, I got to thinking about how cold it would be, and how cold of a sleeper I am, and I decided I just might as well carry two bags. And then, in shoulder season when it’s not 20*F, I can use my GoLite bag and someone else in the family can use the new Enlightened Equipment quilt and voila! We have doubled the number of quality sleeping systems available for backpacking, and I can now do deep winter backpacking comfortably.

And as last night’s test proves, I can do it VERY comfortably. I slept in my Nike Pro leggings and a light wicking hoody, nothing very warm, and one pair of Darn Tough socks. Usually I need at least two pair of leggings and three shirts plus my Patagonia puffy jacket and two or three pairs of wool socks. And then probably a nalgene of hot water, and I’ll still wake up cold at 3:30am (like clockwork, I tell you).

But the gear test went well. I woke up once to take off my jacket and use it as additional pillowing (my little Sea to Summit air pillow is great, but I’m never really sure if it goes on the pad or on the ground, so it tends to move around a lot).


The tent setup went well, as expected. The Big Sky Soul is a great 1P tent, weighing in at around a pound and a half. It’s freestanding, which makes set-up a snap, although I did have to stake it to a patio chair until I actually got in it last night. NYE was windy! My new headlamp, the well-praised Black Diamond Spot, worked well. I feel confident that any night hiking or set-up I have to do will be fine with this headlamp. It’s pretty ridiculously bright.

All in all, I’m ready! Now I just need to finish buying a few supplies and food and then pack. Itinerary and gear list to come.