Fastpacking Quiver for the Wonderland Trail

I say Wonderland Trail but this equipment list could apply to any multiday hike in late summer. As I prepare to do my annual Wonderland hike, I have prepacked some equipment and have alternatives, depending on when I go out and possible weather conditions. When I say "fastpacking" I mean probably a 3 day hike of this 93 mile trail, or 4 at most. With the permit chaos this year, I will probably repeat last year's itinerary; start at Longmire, with day 1 ending at Mowich Lake (35 miles, 9500'), utilizing the free walk in camping available there. Day 2 would take me 25 miles with 6000' elevation to stop at White River campground. Lots of places to spread out for an evening, even paying for a site if need be. Day 3 would finish up (33 miles, 6100' elev) the trip back to Longmire. The advantage of this itinerary is no need for permits. Plus, because these days will be long, I have the ability to stop anywhere appropriate to "rest." Resting is not camping, meaning no tent etc, it means simply lying down for a few hours of shuteye. With this in mind, my equipment list is apropos.

EQUIPMENT for RESTING: I won't nail this down until I know the dates, which will be spur of the moment. If the weather is iffy enough to warrant more than this, I of course will go for a walk up permit. Bur for now I will either use my Borah Gear Cuben bivy, or my Borah Gear custom eVent bivy. The Cuben bivy is 4.5 ozs, but this year I had John make me a custom bivy out of breathable cuben, with a side zip and bug net weighing 9.1 ozs. Either can be paired with my ZPacks Pocket Tarp (4 ozs), but the erection of a tarp outside of Mowich Lake crosses into "camping", which will require a permit. Because I will use either my Enlightened Equipment 50 degree or 30 degree Enigma quilt, my pad will be the NeoAir XLite. Minimum weight for these items, 26 ozs. Maximum, 41 ozs.

Zimmerbuilt custom pack: 4" deep

Zimmerbuilt custom pack: 4" deep

PACK: Real simple, this year I have used a custom pack made by Chris Zimmer (Zimmerbuilt). I designed it so that it took advantage of my entire back's real estate, but is only 4 inches deep. A center full length zip allows easy access to contents; one can only imagine trying to get at an item at the bottom of a 4 inch deep pack. I also had side pockets installed on the minimal hip belt, which is only there to prevent swaying, not for any weight transfer. This makes for an incredibly clean design and exhibits no bounce or sway. Because of the reduced overall volume of this design, I had Chris put in 10 female buckles; 2 top, 2 bottom, 3 on each side. This is why I call this my "Ultimate Pack System", because I can add my custom food bag for longer trips. This add on, also made out of XPac material, is also rectangular shaped with a buckled roll top. It stays secure by buckling into the four top and bottom buckles, and I have the option of further securing with 3 horizontal straps across the back. I have found this add on also handy for keeping water bottles, pringle cans and other items I need ready access to. Most of the time I never need to open the main pack during the day.

PACK ADD ONS: I also designed a custom front pack for this system, which has yet to be built because of Chris's busy schedule. However, I have options in the meantime. I can attach an older custom front pack, also Zimmerbuilt made (2015), or a custom camera pocket, sized for my Panasonic LX100 and a water bottle pocket, which I have used for my InReach and other small items. For my Wonderland trip, I will probably be stripped down with no front pack and no add on food bag.

Zimmerbuilt Ultimate Pack system loaded to the maximum (21 lbs) for 6 day trip

Zimmerbuilt Ultimate Pack system loaded to the maximum (21 lbs) for 6 day trip

I had this entire pack system loaded down for a 6 day trip with my daughter a few weeks ago, with the front pack and a full food bag. Everything weighed in (minus water) at 21 lbs, with only 9 of that being the gear. I found this to be the weight limit for an acceptable carry, as everything is on my shoulders with this system.

CLOTHING: I'll use one of my long pants and a NTS upper short sleeve. Because I have to be careful with sun exposure, I have been utilizing bike sun sleeves for a few years on blazing days. My noggin will either be covered with my ZPacks Pointy Hat, or an OR cap. For slightly cooler running I use a Beyond Clothing Brokk shirt. On this trip I will not pack a down sweater or vest, as I will either be moving or resting. Therefore I will use my Beyond Clothing ALPHA jacket for the insulation piece (these Beyond Clothing pieces have been drastically discounted as of late). I have used the Alpha jacket during periods of activity over the past 3 years and I can attest to the efficacy of this insulation. As a movement piece it fits perfectly into the ensemble, capped off by my ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket, which I had made in size XL with pit zips and the extended 40 inch length. With my slim pack design it fits perfectly over my pack(s), essentially acting as a poncho. What's missing? Rain pants/rain kilt/long underwear/change of clothes. Everything I wear dries out by body heat, even if soaked. I will, however, pack 2 more sets of socks, and possibly an extra NTS shirt. Footwear will be by Inov8.

OTHER: med kit, which I will pare down to the minimum. My daughter tends to have more foot issues than I do, so we make sure I have plenty of foot care items. I haven't had a blister for years. Spare headlamp and batteries (lots of night hiking on this trip), spare camera battery, sunscreen, toothbrush, iPhone, InReach, minimal tripod, sunglasses, ZPacks mitts and Challenger Rain Mitts, BeFree .6 liter filter collapsible bottle, and about 5 pounds of food. 

I anticipate my total weight, including food and water, to come in at approximately 10 pounds. This weight is unnoticeable when carrying and allows me to cover the distances required for this itinerary, even at age 61. Of course it helps that I have hiked this trail over 30 times. This familiarity, coupled with years of experience, makes me completely comfortable with this setup. Consider that 20 years ago I did this trail in 36 hours with probably 5 pounds of total gear. 

I realize that the sparse nature of my kit is not for everybody. I actually prefer sleeping in a bivy (but not in the rain). I am very familiar with my body, nutritional requirements, and mental fitness and I have been able to dial in my equipment, much of it custom made, to my exact needs. I've seen decades of trial and error, and know what works for me. I enjoy both accompanied and solo trips, and my annual Wonderland hike allows me to traipse through this familiar terrain and recharge in the process. I also enjoy the ongoing process of dialing in gear and stressing my body and mind in the doing. Hopefully my next blog entry will be a trip report, where I can refer back to this post and recount my experience, hopefully giving the reader some useful information that he/she can perhaps embrace, or at least try. Cheers!

minimal pack setup in the Enchantments

minimal pack setup in the Enchantments

 

 

Confessions of a (Prior) Sponsored Hiker

There was a time when I sought out discounts from cottage manufacturers and outright sponsorships. I had some experience in the outdoors so why not capitalize on this? I essentially thought it was cool to get gear at a discount or outright free. Perhaps I felt validated in some way that a gear manufacturer would offer me items for use. But at what cost? I had no obligation to provide positive reviews in any way, but let's be real. If I am getting free gear then there is an inherent pressure to provide positive feedback; otherwise, the free gear pipeline would probably get cut off. What company would continually sponsor a representative if that representative pointed out flaws in this same gear? Reality check: if one is getting free gear, a review of that gear is inherently biased, despite the good intentions of the user.

A recent brouhaha on a certain forum concerning a review of a certain item highlighted this conundrum. The reviewer in question had no problem advertising their affiliations with companies, to the extent that their forum avatar was a conglomeration of company logos listed as sponsors. 10 years ago I thought this was cool, but now I'm looking at this from a different angle. I no longer want, nor would accept, sponsorship from any outdoor gear manufacturer (besides, why would anyone seek to sponsor an aged average dude who hikes a little?). I carefully research gear that might fit my needs, then purchase an item based on this research, then use it. If it lives up to my expectations, falls short, or exceeds them, then I may choose to write about it so that another person doing internet research can gather more information before they decide on a purchase. In my research I am seeking user experience, not "unboxing videos",  from people who paid for this item with their hard earned cash and have actually used the item for a period of time, enough to validate their opinions. Even then, people have a propensity to justify their purchase. Who wants to admit that they spent $X on something that failed real world use? Human nature pressures a reviewer to justify their purchase. It takes a well adjusted, down to earth individual to admit that they spent money on something that failed them.

There is an exception: people who do extraordinary things, who are at the top of their class, who through their very actions stand out in a crowd. These people may accept sponsorships from companies because it allows them to continue pushing boundaries and generally standing out in their fields of endeavors. They draw attention because of their actions, and for this companies will sponsor them because just wearing their clothing or using their gear will benefit the company from the exposure.  Generally speaking, this outstanding athlete will not usually write a review of this gear; it's enough that they are using it. I would consider this a mutually beneficial arrangement: the athlete can continue their endeavors with less worry of expenditure, and the company gets exposure from the public endeavors of the athlete.

The "Pack Pose"....back to camera, cool overlook or background

The "Pack Pose"....back to camera, cool overlook or background

Maybe not so in the less lofty blogging world. I recently visited a website of a representative of a certain company and checked their gear reviews, many of which were of their sponsor(s). The photos incorporated in these reviews were transparent: Here I am at this cool overlook, take a picture of me so this pack will be prominent in the photo, preferably with my back turned to the camera as I contemplate the wonder before me. And again. And again. Plus this blogger did not make the association with the sponsor evident in each post, unless the reader clicked for expanded information. The FCC has laid out guidelines that are available to anyone searching online, but here is one example:

A college student who has earned a reputation as a video game expert maintains a personal weblog or “blog” where he posts entries about his gaming experiences. Readers of his blog frequently seek his opinions about video game hardware and software. As it has done in the past, the manufacturer of a newly released video game system sends the student a free copy of the system and asks him to write about it on his blog. He tests the new gaming system and writes a favorable review. Because his review is disseminated via a form of consumer-generated media in which his relationship to the advertiser is not inherently obvious, readers are unlikely to know that he has received the video game system free of charge in exchange for his review of the product, and given the value of the video game system, this fact likely would materially affect the credibility they attach to his endorsement. Accordingly, the blogger should clearly and conspicuously disclose that he received the gaming system free of charge.

So, if a blogger is given an item free or charge, or even discounted, the blogger is required by the FCC to make this relationship known in each instance, clearly and conspicuously. Therein lies the aforementioned brouhaha about a gear review....this relationship was not made evident in the review, despite the company being listed as one of their sponsors in a side bar. Perhaps the blogger paid full price? Perhaps a discount? How can the reader know, if the blogger does not offer up the information?

When I received free or discounted gear from a company, I felt an inherent pressure to somehow showcase this gear.  Luckily for me, in retrospect I can say that I didn't skew my review(s) toward the positive. The gear worked, and worked well. In fact, to this day I still use some of this gear that is towards 10 years old. In one post I actually said "I don't use gear that sucks", after my disclaimer of course. But I have to say, the relief of just buying gear at market prices, or at advertised discounts available to everyone, is palpable. I no longer think about pix or video when I'm on a hike, bike or ski, that might showcase the free gear I got. Now, if I like it I write about it, but only because I want to help on line researchers in their purchasing decision making. And I really like to promote US based manufacturers of quality outdoor gear. I'll spend more to buy Beyond Clothing, because it's stitched in the US and it's damn good gear. I'm a fan of Zimmerbuilt, ZPacks, Enlightened Equipment and Borah Gear. Mountain Laurel Designs has an excellent reputation. There's some great stuff out there and people should know about it that take the time to research. If I post about gear now, I have no sponsorship bias. I gladly pay full price (or advertised discounts) for quality gear, especially if it's made in the US. And if it works for my usage, then I'll write about it with the intent of helping people in their gear decisions. When I research, I consider if the reviewer is sponsored by a company and decide for myself if the review is biased because of this association. And when I come across the "Pack Pose" I can't help but chuckle.