Sunday, December 11, 2011

Allegheny Front Trail -- Southern Section

The day after Thanksgiving Chris and I set out to explore the Allegheny Front Trail.  This trail is relatively close to where I live in State College and my understanding is that it is a fairly new trail.

State College itself is in the ridge-and-valley part of the appalachian mountains (some of the ridges are really sharp as I've noted in a previous post.  But just to the north and west of us is the Allegheny Plateau.  The boundary between these two regions is an escarpment known as the Allgheny Front.  It's easily visible in google maps if you look at Terrain view.  The trail is partially in the Black Moshannon State park which you can see in the map below.

View Larger Map
One thing I wasn't prepared for was that much of the plateau is upland bogs.  In places there are boardwalks as you see below.  But they weren't everywhere so I ended up with wet feet.

One of the reasons we decided to do the southern part of the trail is that that the trail passes near the escarpement and there are views into neighboring Bald Eagle Valley.  These "views" are actually places where they have cleared the trees to allow for views.  They've been given names too.  Here's Chris posing by one of them.

The first day we did about 12.5 miles.  Then we set up camp and had dinner.  Chris was nice enough to make a hot water bottle to warm up my wet feet (he had read up about about the trail and knew enough to wear waterproof footwear).  We had decided to try camping on the ground rather than doing hammocks.  Below you can see me having breakfast in the morning from the sleeping bag.

On of the interesting things about this trail was how many spring we came upon.  In fact our camp was just 30 feet away from a quite substantial one.  You may not be able to tell from the picture but a pretty substantial flow starts from this small spring.

Despite the views and springs though I'm afraid my opinion of the southern part of the AFT is not very positive.  A few years back insects destroyed a huge swath of the forest and for several miles the trail goes though this wasteland of dead trees and open areas where the dead trees have been removed and are being replaced by less desirable foliage.  It's pretty bleak for several miles and just depressing.   But I suppose that is the way with almost any trail of significant length.  It can't all be good.

We're going to go back and do the northern part of the loop at some point.  We hear it's very different from the southern section.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Comfort on Long-distance Hikes

Backpacking provides many uplifting sights, sounds, and experiences.  However it also brings its share of irritations and adversity which can detract from the experience if we let them.  So it's important, especially on a long-distance hike, to provide enough comfort for yourself to keep your spirits high.


We don't use the term "comfort food" for nothing.  Eating, and the satisfaction you get from eating, is one of the most important things one can do to maintain a happy feeling on the trail.

Sometimes hikers get obsessed with things like calorie density and getting the thousands of calories you would need to replace the calories you are burning.  I, at least, can't eat that much.  Thru-hikers apparently get a big appetite after a few weeks on the trail but for most people, even on a hike lasting up to a week, that's not going to happen (see a related post by SectionHiker here).  I find that I eat about as much on the trail as I eat at home, perhaps just a touch more.

I think we need to worry more about WHAT we eat.  Basically you are happiest if you eat very similar things to what you eat at home.  On my West Rim Trail hike I brought pop-tarts for breakfast.  Many hikers favor them because they pack a lot of calories.  After the second day I could hardly face them.  My hiking buddy Chris was eating cold cereal for breakfast with powdered milk that he mixed-up.  That was really what I wanted because cereal is what I normally eat.  So on my Susquehannock trail system hike I brought powdered milk and cereal and was much happier.  I took some Archer Farms granola single servings like Brian recommends on his blog (tastes great and provides lots of calories) but also some stuff I just had around the house.

I also think the evening meal should be a warm meal.  Won't energy bars provide as many calories without the fuss of a stove?  Perhaps, but there is something nice about eating a warm meal before bed, even in the warmer seasons of the year.  It's what we do at home so we should do it on the trail to keep our minds and stomachs happy.


Perhaps our ancestors, who went months without bathing, would not be distracted by dirt and sweat.  But for us modern folks it's pretty distressing to be really dirty.  Now we have to be practical here.  We can't bath every day on the trail or pack clean clothes for every day.  But we can do a few things to help us feel human.

Chris and I had wonderful weather on our hike.  But even at 69 degrees F you are going to work up a sweat on a steep climb.  It's not so much the sweat that is the problem, it's the layer of salt that builds up on your skin.  That tacky feeling is unpleasant and can cause chaffing. So one thing Chris and I did frequently was to stop at a water source and take an upper-body sponge bath when we felt dirty.  I used soap on my face but just plain water on the rest of my body.  It's amazing what clean skin can do for your outlook on life.

I also brought along two pair of quick-drying nylon mesh underwear.  So after a particularly sweaty day I could wash the one I was wearing and change into the other, letting the first pair dry.    Not a big weight penalty but a big difference in happiness and comfort.


If most of us are honest we would have to admit that it's harder to sleep in the woods than in bed. Perhaps this wasn't true when I was a kid but a good night's sleep is harder to come by as an adult. Lack of sleep makes even the nicest day in the woods a burden so we have to learn to sleep.

For one thing the woods are noisy and that can be quite a distraction when trying to sleep. I've found that a pair of foam earplugs work wonders. They don't block all sounds but they are very good at the high pitched sounds made by many insects and critters scurrying about in the leaves.

If you worry because you don't sleep well on overnight hikes then take hope. Chris taught me, and I found that it is true, that your body adapts fairly quickly. The first night won't be great but the second is better and by the third night you will find that you sleep amazingly soundly.  I had brought along a book to read during sleepless hours but by that third night I was asleep within seconds of lying in the hammock.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Susquehannock Trail System Hike

As you know I usually am the Weekend Hiker, in that I tend to go on overnight hiking trips.  But back in January I made a New Year's resolution to do a long-distance backpacking trip this year.  Well I recently accomplished that goal.  My hiking buddy, Chris, and I set out to hike the entire 85 mile Susquehannock Trail System loop in six days.  It turns out we had to stop early and so weren't able to complete the entire loop but it was still the longest backpacking trip I've taken since I was a teenager.

Chris and I met Monday morning, the 13th of June, at the trailhead at Ole Bull state park. The weather was perfect. The trail climbs immediately from the trailhead up to a ridge. I have written before about how many more ferns there are in Pennsylvania than in Missouri. But I had not realized the extent. Here's a shot of Chris with a carpet of ferns behind him stretching as far as the eye can see. That was pretty typical of the forest floor during much of the hike.
We picked the best week of the year to go hiking I think.  The mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere we went -- beautiful white and pink blossoms surrounded us on all sides when we were at high enough elevation.  This picture doesn't do it justice but it was the best I could do.
Chris was a great hiking partner for this trail.  He lives quite close to it and painted many of the trail blazes himself.  He also maintains a section of the trail by himself.  As we hiked along he told me the history of the area.  Apparently there was very heavy logging back in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  The first to go were the pines.  Then there was a building boom in the country which caused the loggers to go back after different species.  Previously the eastern hemlock (state tree of Pennsylvania) had only been valued for the tannin that could be extracted from it's bark.  The hemlock in this area were hundreds of years old (as old as 800 years in many cases) and were enormous.  Only a few old trees survived this mass harvest but the stumps can still be seen.  In almost every valley if you look you can find the old railroad grade that had been built to carry the logs to the mill.  The rails are gone but you can still see where the railroad ties were.  We found several old whiskey bottles from the period.  Chris also pointed out a stand of apply trees that sprung up around an old logger camp, apparently from discarded apple cores.

After the area had been clear cut it became known as "Pennsylvania's Desert".  The state was able to purchase the land for little money and the forest has grown back to where it is very pleasant.

There is one "trail town" on this loop.  It's the little town of Cross Fork.  We stopped at the tiny general store for an ice cream.   

The heavy rains this spring have had an impact on the trail.  The currents in the stream had been so strong that they had carried tons of rocks downstream and pile them up in various places.  You can see an example of this below.

Chris noticed some places where the stream had changed course compared to just a few weeks before as the stream had choked it's old channel with rocks.

The wet spring had a rather unpleasant side effect.  The stinging nettle, which normally just grows in boggy areas of the trail, was thick everywhere.  For some sections we were up to our knees in stinging nettle for a mile or more.  Thank goodness for long pants.

This area is home to a great number of rattlesnakes.  We only saw one on our hike but it made for a little excitement.  I was in front and came upon a snake who was apparently coiled next to the trail waiting for a chipmunk to run by.  I heard the rattle right next to me but couldn't see the snake because of the brush.  Chris told me it was just to my left so I stepped away from it and circled back to where Chris was standing.  From there I was finally able to see it.  A good-sized "black phase" timber rattler, about 5 or 6 feet long.  He was a well-behaved snake I must say.  He gave me a good warning and then when we gave him some room he slithered across the trail (stopping to look at us and make sure we wouldn't attack him).  Here's the best shot I got of him.

Notice the rather large rattle.

On the third day Chris' bad knee began acting up and we realized that we might have to adjust our plans.  By the end of the day it was clear that the best strategy would be to bail out the next day.  I think our total distance traveled was 50 miles or so.  I had a great time.  One of the things that had kept me from doing multi-day hikes before was that I was reluctant to go that long without anyone to talk to.  A hiking partner make a lot of difference.  Chris is a great hiking partner.  He's a very experienced backpacker and a good conversationalist.  I'm hoping that a doctor will be able to fix his knee so we can hike again in the future.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Backpacking in the Rain

In my previous post I mentioned that we encountered a lot of rain, both during the day and at night.  I've only encountered heavy rains during a hiking trip a few times.  I thought I'd summarize what I've learned so far about what works and what doesn't.  Keep in mind that this only relates to heavy rain.  If you are expecting a lot of drizzle then what I say below won't apply.

Silnylon Tarps and Shelters

When you first venture into ultralight backpacking you soon encounter a fabric called silnylon.  It's a ripstop nylon that has been impregnated with silicone.  Lightweight tarps are made of the stuff as are many single-walled shelters.  It's great stuff because it's lightweight and mostly waterproof.  By this I mean that with enough force water will be able to penetrate the fabric.  In a driving rainstorm you experience this as "misting": fine droplets of water that splatter on you.  If the intensity of the rain lasts for a while then you and your stuff will get damp.  I've experienced this on a few occasions and this was one of them.

Gatewood Cape

The Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape is a really neat piece of gear. It's made of silnylon and so misting can be (and was for me) a problem. But it's only 11 ounces for rain gear AND shelter and so it is something of an ultralighter's dream. The more you look at it the more you are impressed with the design. A lot of good thought has gone into it. It sets up with a trekking pole and six stakes. Setting it up takes some practice. Chris had to help me each time.
Gatewood Cape (downloaded from

My Poncho and Bivy

I've used a poncho and bivy (a rather common combination) which means that your poncho is raingear and half your shelter.  You need the bivy because of possible splatter getting on you.  But bivy sacks are not weightless.  The idea of the Gatewood cape is to eliminate the need for the bivy.  In my experience this is only partially true.  The cape does provide 360 degree protection but is quite small if you pitch it close to the ground (even for me at only 5'5" tall).  The usual thing is to pitch it with a gap of several inches at the bottom.  This left me exposed to windblown rain on the first night.  The second night I was able to guess the direction of the weather and pitch one side down.  This would be a great piece of gear for when you thought  rain was possible but that a storm would be unlikely. 


The Gatewood cape or a poncho is rainwear and shelter.  However cool this seems it does raise some problems.  Chris had brought separate rainwear and so the second evening I had just barely finished eating when a storm rolled in so I had to huddle inside.  Chris strolled by and offered to hang my bear bag for me.  If he hadn't done that I don't know what I would have done.  You can't leave your shelter during the rain if you go this route.  I recommend bringing a pee bottle with you if you try this -- worked well for me (I doubt it would work so well for the ladies).

Even with a poncho or cape I would bring a hat.  The hoods on ponchos make your head and neck sweaty. 

The other way to go is to get a rain jacket and perhaps rain pants.  The problem is that your body produces moisture while you hike and if you are inside waterproof clothing you get pretty sticky.  Breathable raingear is a must.  The most breathable and least expensive is DriDucks.  They are not super durable though.  But for $20 you can afford to replace them often.   I don't think I would recommend wearing rain pants, whatever the brand.  My legs got really wet from the mountain laurel bushes that crowded the hiking paths even when it wasn't raining.  Rainpants might snag in such situations.  But my nylon hiking pants dried quickly so I didn't care if they got wet.

Synthetic Insulation

Backpackers are fond of down as an insulation. It's amazingly warm for it's weight and packs down small. However it can't stand a wetting. My modified winter quilt uses high quality down as insulation and since I use it in the cold weather (below freezing) I've never really had a problem with it getting wet. For warmer weather I use a quilt my wife made me using Climashield XP synthetic insulation. It's not as warm per ounce as down and doesn't compress as well but it works great in wet conditions. During the night on this recent hike the outside of my quilt took the brunt of the misting and got pretty wet. However I stayed warm inside.  In the morning the quilt dried quickly.  Down quilts don't insulate when wet and don't dry quickly if they get wet.  For spring hikes I think synthetic insulation is a must.

At this point I should insert another trick that I had heard about but never had to try.  In the evening my clothing was wet (especially my pants).  I didn't bring extra dry clothing because I wanted to try this trick.  Just go to bed wet.  The heat from your body dries your clothes at night, provided the moisture can escape (wouldn't work if you were in a bivy that wasn't very breathable).  This worked well for me.  So I went to bed with wet clothes under a somewhat wet quilt and woke up mostly dry.  Cool huh?


There were lots of creek crossings as you can imagine on this trip. But when hiking in heavy rain the trail itself turns into a creek so your feet are constantly wet. My hiking companions wore waterproof Gore-Tex boots but found they still had wet feet by the end of the day. The first day I felt smug with my sandals and Sealskinz socks. I could cross creek and hike through water all day and no water would get in. When the rain stopped I took them off and just wore liner socks with my sandals. So my feet were cool while my companions had hot, sweaty feet. I've used this strategy before successfully. But this time I ran into a problem. The second day the sealskinz socks were still wet from the day before, both inside and out. I think the issue is that the membrane inside is somewhat breathable and the heat from your feet allows sweat to pass from inside to outside. When the sock is off there is no temperature differential and so moisture seems to pass from outside to inside. At any rate it didn't look fun to put them back on so I just hiked in regular socks and changed them when I could. Not super fun. I think the better solution would be to continue to wear the sealskinz until they are dry outside and then take them off.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

West Rim Trail Hike

The day after Easter I went with a buddy from Hammockforums named Chris and a friend of his on a hike on the West Rim Trail of Pennsylvania's Grand Canyon, more correctly known as Pine Creek Gorge.  The trail is 30 miles long and we decided to take it in 2 1/2 days.

Chris' friend turned out to be  Curt Weinhold, a photographer from the area. If you have used guidebooks for hiking trails in Pennsylvania then you may have seen his work. If you click on PA Wilds or Nature on his page then you will see examples of his work. Some of the photo's I've posted below are actually his also.

Here's the man in the flesh, just as we began our hike, at a bridge over Pine Creek. We started at the southern end of the trail and hiked north to Ansonia, PA.

Another shot of him looking every inch the outdoorsman that he is. He has spent a lot of time in these woods.  He probably knows this trail better than any many alive actually.

It was wet when we began our hike as it has been all spring. We had a lot of rain during the hike as well. That made things uncomfortable but did make for some gorgeous views of waterfalls and creeks.

There were so many gushing creeks and waterfalls that after a while we realized that if I stopped hiking to take pictures of each one we'd never make any progress.

On top of the rim I was stunned at the quantity of Mountain Laurel. Mountain Laurel is a flowering bush which is evergreen and is the state flower of Pennsylvania. Here's Carl standing on the trail with Mountain Laurel behind him.

A first for me was to see porcupines in the wild. They are actually easy to spot because they make a lot of noise as they scamper up trees to get away from you. It was fun to see but my hiking buddies tell me they are a major nuisance. While you are hiking they will often eat through the tires, brake lines, and other important parts of your vehicle. Experienced hikers put mothballs near their cars when they leave them at the trailhead.  Apparently porcupines don't like the smell.

The problem with hiking a rim trail is the temptation to camp on the ridge to get nice early morning views. That left us exposed to windblown rain from the thunderstorm that raged all night. I was on the ground under a tarp rather than in a hammock so I got quite a bit of spray on my quilt during the night. In the morning we woke up to mist filling the gorge.

As the sun came up I hung my stuff out to dry and watched the mist clearing out.

The second day was sunny for most of the day but then thunderstorms came in the afternoon.  Below you see me hiking in a piece of gear called a gatewood cape that Chris loaned me to try.  It's like a poncho tarp but sets up into a shelter with 360 degree protection. On the right you can see it set up for our second night.

Near my cape setup you can see an ad-hoc creek forming. The ground was so waterlogged and there was so much rain falling that little creeks were forming everywhere. This one got within a few inches of flooding me out.

Here's Chris looking much drier than I was because he was in a hammock. While I enjoyed trying out the cape this hike reinforced my opinion that hammocks really are the way to go in rainy weather.

The next day provided some more great views of the gorge.

Here's me at the end of the hike. Not looking beautiful but feeling good.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being a Radical

When people make fun of ultralight backpackers they always give a particular example of radical, ridiculous, over-the-top weight-saving behavior.  I know you know what it is.   Cutting the handles off toothbrushes, right?

Well I always laughed at that also.  Until recently when I started putting my gear together for a three-day hike on the west rim trail of the pine creek gorge.   I noticed that the child's toothbrush that I take backpacking was getting pretty worn out.  So I went to look for a new one.  Ack!  Have you seen the toothbrushes these days?  They are ridiculously heavy!  The plastic is needlessly thick and the handle is covered with a heavy layer of rubber.  Good heavens!  Why the heavy duty construction?  This is for brushing teeth, not chipping away at glaciers.  Even if I weren't a backpacker I would be offended at wasting that much of the earth's resources on a toothbrush.

So I've officially joined the ranks of the backpacking radicals.  A few minutes with my dremel tool and the toothbrush is about the size and weight that any human really needs.   On the left is the old toothbrush I'm replacing and on the right is the new radicalized toothbrush.

I'm really excited about this upcoming hike.  I'm going with two other backpackers who've hiked this trail before.  We are leaving early Monday morning and I'll return on Wednesday evening.  I'll be sure to post some pics.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dealing with Wet Wood

A friend of mine and I are planning a long backpacking trip this summer, 70 or 80 miles in 6 days.  In thinking about the logistics of taking an extended backpacking trip I began to wonder how the backcounty boiler that I reviewed in my last post might work as a stove system for the trip.  It's appealing to think that I might not have to carry any fuel for my stove.  Fuel planning is a bit of a stress because there's always some uncertainty about how fast you will go through your fuel.  I've certainly had my fair share of accidentally spilled pots of hot water which have required me to boil again -- using twice as much fuel as I had planned for that meal.  Liquid fuels can also leak or spill (although I haven't had this happen yet) leaving you with less than you might need to finish your hike.

However if you take a wood stove and plan on collecting your fuel then you must face the possibility (especially in this part of the country) of rain, perhaps for extended periods, such that the only wood you will find will be wet.  I thought about carrying esbit solid fuel as a backup.  Initial tests using esbit in the boiler were a bit unsatisfactory.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps the best use of an esbit cube would be to dry out the wet wood.  So I performed the following test to see if that strategy might work.

After having done the test I'm now wondering if I could get away with less than I cube.  Also I'm wondering if there are other alternatives to use in the boiler when the wood is wet.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backcountry Boiler

I'm pretty excited about a new piece of gear I just received. It's called the Backcountry Boiler and it was designed by a backpacker in Pittsburgh named Devin Montgomery. His website is here. The lightweight backpacking community has been eagerly anticipating the release of the boiler. In the first run only 100 were produced and I was able to get one of those first 100. I'm looking forward to using this on upcoming hikes.

In a later post I'd like to talk about what to do when dry wood is not available.

Monday, March 7, 2011

West German Wool Army Pants

In continuing my winter gear theme I've decided to talk about pants for winter camping. Actually this is a review of a new piece of gear that I haven't really put to the test yet. I'll have to follow up some time in the future for a review of how these pants performed for me.

Back in January our local boy scout council held it's annual Klondike derby. For those who don't know what this is it's like a sled dog race where the boys are the dogs. They build sleds and pull them around a course, stopping at various stations where they must complete scouting skill-related activities. I volunteered to help at the Map&Compass station that our church congregation was in charge of. The day of the derby turned out to be one of the coldest days of the year. It was about 0F when we arrived in the morning. I was wearing two pair of long underwear under my nylon hiking pants (that I wear in all seasons). My upper body was fine because I had on many layers and a down parka. But my legs were a little cold. I mentioned it to one of my buddies who was there (who is a real outdoor expert)and he pointed out his wool pants.

Wool is great stuff as I've mentioned before. It's water and odor resistant, and has great wicking and insulating properties. Furthermore in a dense weave, such as you would have in a wool pant it is windproof. I love my merino wool tops and I've consider merino for a base layer on bottom but I had never thought about wool pants. So I set about looking for some.

The classic outdoor wool pants used to be the Malone pant made by Woolrich which is located not too far from me. However they seem not to make them any more. Or at least I couldn't find them on their website. I've found various places online where you can buy them and the going price seems to be about $90. A bit steep for a pair of pants I wasn't sure I would like.

Then I found a review of some West German wool army pants by a backpacker named pig-monkey. I hopped on eBay and soon found a pair just like he had talked about, and miraculously they were in my size. I got them for $16.

These pants are very cool. Military pants seem to be very well made. The waistband is adjustable with buttons inside and out. There are bar tacks on all the pocket seams and inside there are cloth panels over every seam as well as the crotch, waistband, and ankles.

The fly is button-up and there are lots of pockets. The knee area (from mid-thigh to mid-calf) has a double layer of wool (you can see the upper seam of the second layer in the photo to the right).

I tend to use the "cargo" aspect of my hiking pants a lot so I really like all the pockets. Each one has a button closure.

The flap on the cargo pocket is tacked down on the front so that the flap stays down even if it is unbuttoned.

Outside the cargo pocket,but still under the flap, is an extra little pocket that is just right for a small knife, or keys, or coins.

In the main compartment of the cargo pocket there are long ties to which you can tie small pieces of gear. The ties are long enough so that you can use the gear (say a knife, small flashlight, or compass) but it makes it impossible to lose by dropping. Very cool idea.

There are snaps around the ankles also so you can snap them tight to your ankles before you put your boots on. When snapped the pants can't ride up on your leg and get over the top of your boots to let snow it.

This works great with my NEOS.  I had a chance to try it this morning because strangely the biggest snow of the year just arrived last night.  I went out shoveling wearing these pants and was impressed with how well this feature works.  In the past that has always been my problem when in deep snow.

The one thing that concerned me about these pants was that the reinforced knees seemed very stiff and made a crinkly sound when I walked.  The knee area has a double layer of wool but there seemed to be some kind of papery material between the layers of wool.  I opened up the bottom seam and found the culprit.  

I imagine these pants were made back in the 60s or 70s.  This reinforcing material seems to be coated with something that has stiffened up and cracked over the years.  There was a fair amount of yellow dust on and around it.

Removing it turned out to be easier than I thought it would be.  The old reinforcing material rips easily and soon came out.  I had to open one more seam to get to the part behind the cargo pocket.  Here you can see the offending material after removal.

The entire procedure took only five minutes and the resulting product is quieter and more comfortable.  

Pig-monkey recommends lanolizing your wool outer clothing. That will increase the water-resistance of the pants.

Although I think these are very cool pants I'm still not sure how I will like them for backpacking. They are rugged, water-resistant, and warm but they are heavy. I may decide that I would prefer a rain pant over a fleece layer on bottom. Rain pants have their own downsides. They tend not to be as utilitarian in terms of pockets and such and the danger of condensation is high compared to wool.

I'll have to do some more experimenting.

Postscript: Shortly after this post I went outside wearing the pants to make snowmen with my kids. I purposely spent a lot of time on my knees in the snow to see how well the wool repels water. I was really impressed. At the end of the process I stood up and dusted off the snow and the pants were dry and my legs were warm. Pretty cool.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Winter Gloves for Backpacking

There is no gear choice more agonizing to backpackers than choosing gloves. Most backpackers end up with many pair, none of which is totally satisfactory to them.  I've recently changed my glove strategy and so far I'm cautiously optimistic.

My previous pair of gloves were glove/mittens that I picked up for cheap somewhere.  Mittens are warmer than gloves but don't allow you to do anything that requires much dexterity.  The idea of this system is that you get the best of both worlds.  You can fold back the part of the mitten that covers your fingers. Velcro on the back of the glove holds this top part in place.  When in glove mode they are fingerless.
My Old Glove/Mittens

This seems like a great idea. The problem here was that the execution wasn't that great. Notice that in either mode your thumb is still encased. It turns out to be surprisingly hard to do things like use a lighter or tie a knot while your thumb is covered.

The other weakness of this is that it isn't waterproof. The material doesn't absorb water but snow or water can easily get under the flap.

SealSkinz Waterproof Gloves

I have a pair waterproof gloves also. They are SealSkinz gloves. These gloves are completely waterproof but the inner membrane is one-way breathable. I think they are probably designed for fisherman or paddlers rather than hikers. However they are nice for spring hikes when there might be cold rain or you might have to mop the frost off your tarp in the morning. They are windproof as well of course so they keep the chill off a bit. But there is no insulating layer so if it gets down near freezing your hands will be cold.

Backpackers tend to prefer a layering system with a waterproof outer mitten and an insulating liner glove inside. If you get too warm you can use either the liner by itself or the mitt by itself. I've looked at many such models and finally found one which I think will do well: Outdoor Research Meteor Mitts. Initially I had trouble finding these because REI's site has these under women's gloves. However if you start searching for Outdoor Research mittens and then select Unisex then you find these.

Meteor Mitt liners
What's cool about these is that the liner is a glove/mitten, like my old ones.  In fact these are much better because the thumb can be uncovered also.  The fingers are not separated underneath like my old gloves but that was kind of a useless feature.  This provides so much dexterity that I really can tie knots without getting down to bare hands.
Liners with digits exposed

The covers for fingers and thumb have little magnets in them that stick to tiny magnets on the back of the gloves to keep them out of the way.  Nice touch I think.  Since the liner is fleece velcro would be a pain.

The outer mitts are well designed also.  The gauntlets come up quite far on your arm and can be cinched down to keep out snow.  I've held them under running water and they seem to be highly water-resistant.

Meteor Mitt Shells

At the bottom of the picture the the left you can see part of a long loop of cord with a simple cord-lock.  This puzzled me at first and then I realized that if I put this around my wrist I could take the mitt off and let it dangle without worrying about losing it.  This means you can take off the outer layer without stopping to undo your pack.  Very nice.
My one gripe -- velcro which makes the shell difficult to remove

After using these gloves on two outings this winter I have concluded there is one minor design error.  The mitt and the liner stay attached to eachother due to matching strips of velcro.  This makes is surprisingly hard to get the mitt off.  I found myself just removing the whole thing when I needed to use my fingers.  I think I'll remove this velcro.  I imagine the idea was to keep you from losing the liner.  But the difficulty it imposes partly negates the advantage of having a liner which allows for finger dexterity.  This is an easy modification so I don't mind having to do it.

I've used these gloves in very cold temps and I would say these gloves are good down to 10 F (-12 Celcius).  Below this temperature I found my fingers getting cold if I were standing still.  While walking I could keep my fingers warm down to somewhere around 0 F.  If you are going to spend significant time below 10 F then I would recommend something like the Black Diamond Mercury Mitten. I considered these initially but decided they were overkill for my purposes and would provide only minor dexterity.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Winter Hang

This past weekend I went the to a "hang", a gathering of hammock enthusiasts, in NW Pennsylvania. It was held at Moshannon State Forest near the Marion Brooks natural area at a place called "Beaver Run". Nearby we found plenty of evidence that beavers are indeed active in the area.

One of the reasons for a hang is to test your gear and to take a look at other people's gear and get ideas. When we first planned the hang it looked like it might be very cold and that worried me. Then on the day of the hang it got amazingly warm, but was forecast to be cold and gusty that night. Setting up in warm weather with melting snow all around reminded me of one of the best things about hammocking -- staying above the mud!

Here you can see my bridge hammock (with green underquilt) suspended above a slush pond that formed from my footprints while I was setting up. Because I knew it would get down to about 20F that night I added a second underquilt that my wife had recently made for me. I figured that would keep me warm. But my big concern was the wind. Gusts of 40 mph were called for and the ground was muddy so I was afraid that stakes would not hold.

Enter my new favorite piece of gear. I just got these guys for my birthday. They are REI Snow and Sand Tent Anchors; just simple squares of material with cords connecting to a common point where you tie to. They are lighter than stakes but work great in snow. The picture shows a rock but what you really do is put a bunch of snow in the center and then bury that in more snow and stamp it down. I put these on the windward side of my tarp and hoped for the best. They worked great! Didn't budge an inch and the tarp stood firm all night. In fact in the morning I had significant difficulty getting them out. I had to pound on the ice with the back of a hatchet I borrowed.

The other reason for a hang is to meet people. The people on are some of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet. The hang was organized by medicjimr who documented the trip with this youtube video.  Below are some of the other hangers.

Because Pennsylvania is colder than Missouri I'm finding I need to beef up my winter gear.  In the next few posts I'll describe some of the gear I've been testing out his winter.