Gear Changes After Spring 2016 Section Hike

Most of the problems I had during our spring Appalachian Trail section hike in 2016 stemmed from poor foot care, excess weight, and crappy sleep.  Here are a few gear and routine changes that I made with the intention of addressing these issues.

Foot Care/Body Care

My feet got shredded pretty bad on that spring trip.  I had been using Chacos as my exclusive footwear for several years so I though I would be immune to blisters.  Boy was I wrong!  I got some pretty serious blisters on my heels, some moderate ones on top of my feet just below my pinky toes, and one under my big toe.  With my severe bunions, I am pretty limited when it comes to footwear.  I have no pain when I wear my Chacos so I did not see swapping those out as an option.  I spoke to a thru-hiker friend of mine and he suggested using athletic tape on my problem areas, wearing Darn Tough Merino Wool socks, airing them out often to help keep them dry, and cleaning my feet daily to remove the abrasive dirt from my skin.  I bought some Leukotape, Darn Tough Socks, and incorporated a daily foot cleaning regiment using water and hand sanitizer.  I have been blister free ever since!  I now extend this cleaning regiment to the rest of my body.  I feel so much better after a long day on the trail when I can wipe the dirt and salts that accumulate when I am exerting myself.  I have also added body glide to my morning routine to address chafing and some of the abrasion issues I get from my hip belt.

Weight

The picture below shows a number of mistakes I made with my pack weight.  Note the sunglasses case and Nalgene bottle on my pack.  I think I wore the sunglasses once during the three-day trip.  I could have saved three ounces by not carrying them.  The 1 Liter Nalgene was handy for mixing up Gatorade and cold alpine apple cider but these things could have also been done in a Smartwater bottle which weighs about 1/4 as much.  You can see a piece of Tyvek that I used a groundsheet in the outside pocket and a chair in the other side pocket that weigh a pound and a half combined.  I used the chair twice during that trip and the Tyvek once.  If I had carried a foam sit pad (Z-Seat) and a piece or polycro I could have saved 1.25 pounds.  Note the drink tube.  My pressurized Geigerrig hydration system weighs 9 ounces, is a pain to refill, and it is impossible to tell how much water you have left without taking off your pack.   Because of this I started off carrying 2 liters of water which is a lot more than I needed given that the water sources were no more than 3 miles apart.  I now Carry a much lighter 2 liter Evernew water bag and two .7 liter Smartwater bottles which together weigh 3.75 ounces and both easily be used in conjunction with my Sawyer Squeeze filter.  The Smartwater bottle sport tops can also be used to back flush the Sawyer squeeze making them multipurpose items.  You can see how full the top of my pack is which made it very difficult to get anything out in a hurry.  I reevaluated my clothes as well and removed/swapped out several items that ended up saving me over 2 pounds.  I also had a bunch of unnecessary crap in there that I won’t detail.  My pack gets pretty uncomfortable when it is loaded past 30 pounds and I was somewhere around 33 pounds to start.  This resulted in bruising and abrasions on my hips (muffin top) and shoulders that plagued me the rest of the trip.  My feet also swelled quite a bit caused partially by the extra weight I carried during that long and brutal first day.  Since then I have cut 9 pounds off of my pack weight by either removing unnecessary gear (chair, Nalgene, hydration pack, stuff sacks) or replacing things with lighter items (trowel, groundsheet, sleeping pad).  I don’t miss these things because they did not add anything significant to my experience and as the saying goes, “Ounces lead to pounds and pounds lead to pain.”

Sleep

My sleep system was well thought out but it reflected my inexperience with trying to get a good night’s sleep after a long day on the trail.  I used a Marmot Always Summer sleeping bag which was warm and light but its traditional mummy shape was too constricting to get a good night’s sleep in.  We also made the mistake of trying to share my Fly Creek UL2 and this combined with a warm and tight sleeping bag made for a hot and uncomfortable night.  The LLBean Hikelight insulated sleeping pad was over-inflated, too heavy, and ultimately too thin to be a comfortable sleeping option for me.  I had also been staying up late planning and anticipating the trip thinking that I would be so tired after a long day hiking that I would just pass out early despite what my body had become accustomed to.  While I was physically exhausted and craving sleep each night my mind was not ready to sleep and so I would lay there in my uncomfortable bag on my uncomfortable pad feeling sore and tired while desperately trying to wish myself to sleep.  Not good.  After we got back and my body healed a bit I went over to REI and returned my Marmot bag (which is a great bag just not for me) in favor of a Nemo Salsa 30 which is similar in weight, roomier, warmer, and is much easier to unzip and use like a backpacking quilt on a warmer night.  I also purchased a lightweight fleece bag for a sailing trip that weighs half what my Nemo bag does and is great when overnight temperatures are above 60 degrees and can double as a bag warmer for the Salsa 30 on very cold nights.  I carried my Chinook uninsulated pad on our next trip but ultimately bought a Big Agnes Q-Core SLX pad.  It weighs the same as the Chinook but is insulated and thick enough that I won’t bottom out when it is partially deflated to support my broad shoulders and wide hips.  I will take the month leading up to our next trip to slowly adjust my sleep cycle to going to sleep around 9:00 pm.  I also plan to sleep on my pad using my backpacking pillow and my sleeping bag starting at least 3 days before our trip.  I adjusted my sleep schedule leading up to our fall trip but the combination of bottoming out on my pad and not adjusting my schedule enough led to better but still inadequate sleep.

I believe that our spring Appalachian trail section hike will be a much more positive experience than last year’s because of these changes.  Taking better care of my feet, cutting weight off of my pack, and getting better sleep on the trail should make a huge difference as we tackle the last of the AT in Connecticut and move into New York.

West Hartford Reservoir Figure 8

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This past Friday I took the boys on an afternoon walk around the MDC’s reservoir off of rt 4 in West Hartford.  The weather was fantastic as I pushed Edgar in the stroller around the right side of the first reservoir.  Oscar did a good job keeping up and we maintained a good pace.  We crossed the first large bridge and worked our way around the left side.  We passed that same bridge on our way back and stopped for a quick applesauce snack at the picnic table just around the bend in the picture above.  It was pretty late in the day and the shadows were long but we still managed to cover roughly 2.5 miles with lots of smiles and few complaints though Oscar was concerned that a wind gust might blow off his favorite hat.

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Quick Rock Chucking Hike

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This past Wednesday (4/13) we hiked at Giuffrida with friends.  We went out to the end of the reservoir and back and checked out the two bridges for a roughly 1 mile hike.  There are a few great spots for throwing rocks into the stream between the bridges.  There is a low makeshift rock wall that runs along the edges of the stream which helps minimize the risk when we take a break for some well-earned rock chucking.

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The walk back went a bit slower than the walk out but going slower meant we could enjoy the view of the lake and do a little pine cone hunting!  The boys played around on the hill next to the parking lot for a little while after our friends left.  Sometimes Edgar needs to run around a bit after sitting in the carrier and this day he had lots of extra energy.  The weather was great overall and it turned out to be a perfect day to get out and hike.

 

Hail Hike

Today I misjudged the weather.  I generally pride myself on my ability to predict and avoid bad weather but I definitely got it wrong. We went out for a short hike at the MDC’s reservoir off of Farmington Ave in West Hartford today.  There is a paved road that goes around the perimeter of the resevoir complex with some nice views and shade along the way.  It was in the high 40’s with some intermittent light wind and cloud cover.  There were some not so pleasant looking clouds to the west but only some spotty showers a half hour or so out on radar.  I use the “Raindar” app and it gives up to the minute radar information including identifying and giving projected course and speed of any severe storm cells.  I figured we would hike out for 15 minutes and head right back to the lot before the rain hit.  15 minutes into our hike I felt a rain drop and I immediately knew that I had misinterpreted the weather information in front of me.  We immediately turned around and headed back to the lot.  I thought, “Looks like we’re going to get wet, lets put up the stroller’s sunshade and speed up to keep from soaked.” The clouds darkened and the temperature dropped a good 5 degrees as we made our way through a pine stand to the first bridge.  Then the sky opened up and started chucking little chunks of ice at us. 

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Oscar thought it was hilarious and started trying to catch them in his mouth. 

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Edgar was less amused and asked for the blanket.  They were both all smiles after a few more minutes of this ridiculous tiny ice ball barrage but I have to admit to being a bit freaked out at first. 

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I checked the barometer on my watch and realized that I should have seen this coming and called off the hike.  We’ve been cooped up all week and I didn’t have the heart to tell them we weren’t going once we got to the lot.  Thankfully it wasn’t a more severe storm and we were all safe but I will have to make sure to look at all sources of weather data the next time the conditions are at all questionable.

Just Go Do It

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I tend to over think things and hiking trips both big and small are no exception.  Some days I spend an hour or more trying to plan out all the things I should bring along in case of hunger thirst or emergency and I drive myself and everyone around me nuts.  This spring has helped me realize something that I hope will begin to permeate the rest of my life.  STOP THINKING ABOUT IT AND JUST  GO DO IT!

I used to fret so much over bringing things I never ended up using and it took some of the enjoyment out of getting outside and walking in the woods.  I am a bit of a gear geek so I do get a kick out of inventing novel solutions to the various problems that hiking with children presents. At a certain point though the excitement and sense of accomplishment give way to anxiety over forgetting that one supposedly crucial item and it ruins our hike.

These days I keep everything I need in my car other than items that come with us every day like weather appropriate outer wear, our water bottles, and some easy snacks like granola bars and apple sauce pouches.  My trekking poles, frame pack carrier, first aid kit, and space blanket are all in the car and ready to go whenever I feel the itch to go disappear with the boys down a trail somewhere.  Not needing to plan makes a big difference in lowering my stress level and allows me to more easily enjoy hiking with my kids.

I don’t generally decide where we are going anymore until the morning of our hike.  I find that this prevents me from over thinking and allows me to better enjoy hiking with my family.  I’ve noticed that the boys have more fun and are able to stay out longer when I am relaxed and not stressing over packing up or picking a route.  We figure out our destination an hour or so before leaving and we pick our final route once we get there.  There are a variety of ways to do this but if you are hiking somewhere new I recommend looking at a topographical map of the trail and downloading a hiking app like Alpine GPS before taking your kids on it.

Despite all this the most important thing you can do to make hiking with your kids easier is to have everything ready to go so that you can hit the trail at a moment’s notice.  One of the great joys in hiking is the unexpected.  You can hike the same trail a thousand times and you will have a thousand different experiences and a sense of freedom and joy that nothing else can really provide.  You’ll never have the same variety of experiences if you sit at home or choose to go to a playground or library.  So stop thinking about getting out and hiking. JUST GO DO IT!