Category Archives: gear

GROUCHO’s Gear List PCT 2015

Note some of these items were carries only part of the time – for example, DriDucks and Bedrocks, even the Platypus I didn’t pick up until we were out of the Sierra. Harpo and I also traded carrying some items, such as the tarp, so pack weight varied during the hike. My pack was heaviest in the northern Cascades, and again when it got cold in Cali thru the Sierra – otherwise packweight was usually just 10lbs. Listed below is an approximate value for the heavy end of my gear, including winter items. Here’s a link to the google doc – the graphic below doesn’t play nice on mobile devices for some reason.

Gear Hacks: Ultralight Dental Floss

As mentioned in my previous post, I really like flossing on trail. My moms and I have had endless discussions about my dental health, and maybe this reminds me of her when I’m in the backcountry. Or maybe the act of keeping my mouth clean allows me to forget that the rest of me is so stinkin’ dirty. Regardless, I try and floss every day, and also use dental floss for gear repairs and sewing on punk rock patches… it’s great to have an adequate amount around. The problem is, like most conventional products, it’s value is defined by excessive packaging making it seem ‘fancy’. Here’s a simple hack that will allow a hiker to carry an almost full roll of floss at 1/2 the weight.

Above left is a conventional, full roll of OralB Glide dental floss, weighing in at 16.5g, on the right is a sample floss (easily obtained from any dentist’s office) weighing in at 5g. Why not just carry the sample? It only contains about 3 meters of floss, or enough for 3 days of regular use or 1/3 of sewing on a Minor Threat patch. The Glide, which contains 20 meters of floss, weights so much mostly because of its packaging. The key is to repackage the Glide in the sample container to reduce the carried weight.


It’s clear that the sample pack just isn’t enough floss to sew on that AT patch, much less the 2000 miler bottom rocker. The problem with the full sized roll is all the extra packaging

Remove the roll from the sample container. There are typically 4 plastic tines securing the small roll of floss in the center. Break off two opposing tines – this is necessary because ultralight, duh! Actually, as you can see from the photo above, the center spindle of the full roll of Glide is much smaller to accommodate the extra floss. Next remove the full roll of Glide (or floss of your choosing, this trick works with any brand – I only use the OralB because this is the one moms gave me. Thanks Lynn!) and remove about 2 meters of floss from the roll. The full size roll is, in fact, slightly too large to fit the sample container, so we need to reduce its diameter slightly.

Once you have replaced the sample with the full sized roll, thread the floss around and over the right post, then under and around the left post, leading it thru the dispenser opening. Then close the package and you’re done! This is a super simple, if not slightly neurotic way to save a few grams on trail. Based on the photo below, you’ll notice the new floss system weighs in at 8.4 g, which is 8.1g less than the original full size package. Happy flossing!


Sample package with full size roll of Glide, minus 2 meters. One of these guys is usually good for me for about 2 months of daily use. I keep the sample container after I’ve used up the full roll during a thru hike, and repeat the hack with a new roll purchased in town…

Bogachiel River Romp – also Waterproof Sox

Harpo and I first hiked the Bogachiel River trail when we were starting to train for the Appalachian Trail hike in 2013. It was as wet as we remembered. And although it’s hard to romp hip deep in icy water, we did our best. The trail was muddy, wet and due to recent storms there were numerous blowdowns – but it provided a welcome (if not wet) few hours of hiking.

We got to test some new gear – NRS Hydroskin .5 neoprene socks. These actually worked great when paired with wool liners – tho to say they are ‘waterproof’ is a misnomer. Neoprene works by allowing the body to heat a small area of water close to the body – so like using a wetsuit, you’re wet but warm.

I tried the neoprene socks alone, wool socks alone, and the wool/neoprene combo. The wool/neoprene combo was definitely the warmest, allowing for a quick reheat every time our feet were drenched again. Both Harpo and I remarked we’de like try the neoprene socks if we hiked the AT again, especially towards the end of the season. I used lightweight DarnTough no show socks as liners the first day, and DarnTough hiker crew socks the second day – my only complaint is the wool socks retain too much water, causing the feet to feel super heavy. I’m excited to try the combo with thin REI wool liners, as well as experimenting with poly liners. These beat a bread bag for sure! Tho considering carrying the weight just for those times when your feet are wet all day is tough….

Gold Teeth & Adult Time on Trail

 Overall thruhiking is like engaging in an eternal youth machine – it seems like a bad idea, and frees you from many anchors (like rent and a career) that tie one to ‘adult’ life. The freedom from responsibility and the liberation of deciding your own fate on a daily basis certainly makes you feel like you’re on an and less summer vacation.

But let’s be real – we’re basically on the candy bar diet out here, vegan or not, and at some point you gotta grow up and take responsibility for what’s happening in your dirty mouth.
Personally, I really like brushing and flossing on trail – it’s my adult time. Also, trail hygiene is not only attractive but necessary if you don’t want to alienate yourself not just from society but other hikers. Please – shower, do laundry, swim in lakes whenever possible, wash your butt AND BRUSH YOUR TEETH.

Pictured above is my basic dental hygiene kit, which contains:

  • a mesh bag for drying the tooth brush
  • Child sized fluorescent toothbrush from Big Lake Youth Camp (why not keep it fun?)
  • Dental floss
  • 2oz bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Mini toothpaste

Most of these items are self explanatory. You might have some questions about what olive oil is doing in my dob kit tho…

I recently got my first root canal (boooooo) resulting in my first gold tooth (finally!) As much as I like the gold tooth I got, I’m trying not to go back to the dentist on trail. I realized that I was experiencing some temperature sensitivity in another tooth – enough to bother me even drinking tepid water. Bummer, right? I had heard about oil pulling at yoga camp, but always thought it was to woo-woo for me. However I was willing to try anything to stay on trail, so I tried it.

Every morning I swished about a tablespoon of EVOO (tho unfiltered sesame and coconut oil also work) for 10-20 minutes, followed by a water rinse and brushing. And you know what? IT TOTALLY WORKS DUDE. I experienced far less tooth sensitivity when I kept up the practice, tho it takes about 10 days to start being effective. So I guess 6000 years of Ayurvedic medicine can’t be wrong…

Gear Shakedown: New sleep system

I love sleep. On the Appalachian Trail, I can’t say I slept well. Perhaps it was using a zlite for 5 consecutive months (they compress beyond usefulness after only a month or so of daily use) Perhaps it was the 20 degree nights in a 39 degree bag. Perhaps it was my knees painfully knocking together throwing my hip outta whack.

Well enough senseless suffering! For the PCT I’ve upgraded and never felt better. Meet the new system:

Mountain Laurel Designs Bivy

A new addition to the system to make cowboy camping more pleasant. Water proof sil nylon bottom acts as a groundsheet, extra layer of sleeping bag material on top adds 5-10 degrees warmth and protects from winds. Zipper system keeps out bugs and spiders. I LOVE THIS PIECE OF GEAR.

One note: In 30-degree weather, condensation from my breath occasionally builds up on the inside of the bivy, leaving me with a damp face/head if I’m not careful. I often sleep with my head covered, and in that situation, I made sure to sleep so there was at least a little tunnel for air from my mouth to more directly escape through the mesh of the bivy.

Mountain Laurel Designs 28 degree quilt

Lighter than a sleeping bag and just as toasty. Read my review here

Thermarest NeoAir xLite Torso Length pad

Child sized for extra lightness. Blows up quickly. Infinitely more comfortable than zlite. Never had any issues with punctures or loss of air because of my….

Gossamer Gear foam pad

Laid out under Neo lite to protect blow up mattress from pine needle punctures. Also works well as a sit mat!


Placed under my feet to elevate swollen feet and compensate for torso-Lenth pad.

Stuff sack with extra clothes

As a pillow Or between my legs Or to insulate my feet more


Gear Shakedown: Darn Tough Socks

Ok so I actually LOVE Darn Tough wool socks, so the above might not be the best representative photo. Darn Tough are made in America, and are overall the best constructed wool socks currently on the market. I finished my AT thru hike in these, and they seem to be the socks of choice for thru hikers on the PCT as well. The photos detail how the Darn Toughs wear when, after an unexpected sock failure, I ended up with a single pair of socks for over 300 miles. They got a little thin on the balls of the feet, but otherwise great!

Wool sock on general are my everyday jam – I started rockin Smartwool in the late 90s (probably about when REI started carrying the brand) and haven’t really gone back to cotton ever. Sadly, I think Smartwool’s quality has slipped a bit over the years – I started my AT thru hike with a couple pairs and burned through both pairs within a hundred miles. I still use their thiny thin running sock, tho I don’t expect more than 50 miles without some repairs.

 I also tried out Icebreaker socks, which are better manufactured than Smartwool, but still don’t hold up to the rigors of the trail. That said, I do love the Icebreaker merino tank I’m hiking in this season… I used a customized Patagonia silk weight base layer for the AT. I’m interested in how they compare at 2200 miles.

And don’t get me started on REI store brand… I’ve been through more than a few pairs of them – the thinner socks’ elastic falls out almost immediately and the thicker socks are too thick to breath. Harpo and I do love the REI generic merino sock liners tho – she’s been sporting those on the PCT. the pair pictured below is one of three after 500 miles. Not bad for lightweight liners. They’re not intended for serious hiking, but are great inexpensive (and well made) all around socks. 
So yeah. Darn Tough. Love. And at the end of the day your feet don’t small like death when you take off your shoes, which is about the best you can ask for. Tho I’ma go straight Ray Jardine in Oregon and wear nylon thiny thin socks for better ventilation and quicker drying. I’m a little afraid you’ll be able to small my feet coming. We’ll see how it goes… 👍

Gear Review: Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella


Harpo sporting her own shade , cruising south through the Cascades


I’ve reviewed the Chrome Dome at length before… Harpo and I are on our second thru hike, and our second set of brollies. I thought it appropriate to restate that the Chrome Dome is still one of my favorite pieces of gear. In the above tree line sections of the north Cascades, and through the burn areas and clear cuts further south, it’s hard to even count it as base weight, since it’s out so often as a sun shield. Although Go-Lite no longer makes the Chrom Dome, a similar version is available here.

Introducing Steri Pen

Meet our new water purification system… Steri-pen. Is rechargeable with a USB plug. Lasts about 6 days. 90 seconds of UV light zaps all the critters in our water. So far so good.  
“It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” (First dork who can name this reference in the comments gets a postcard from the trail!)

UPDATE 1/6/16: We used Steri-pen our entire PCT thru hike and never got sick. We found that the charge would last 3.5 days of full-on thru hiker summer water consumption, with two people using it. Eventually we each got our own, so we could have more autonomy, and also so we could extend use between charges. Once I had my own steri-pen I used it for up to 6 days consecutively w/out needing to charge it. My only critique is that it takes a long time to fully charge the steri pen, perhaps 4 hours. Plugging it (and my phone) in was the first thing I did in town, and sometimes I left town w/out a full charge. And I carried a light external battery, for emergency power (but thankfully never needed to use it for steri-pen.)

Gear Shakedown: Mountain Laurel Design SPIRIT 28 Quilt

IMG_0216Last week, Groucho and I tested our new quilts for the PCT. I recently upgraded to a 28 degree, “regular” size spirit quilt from Mountain Laurel Designs.

I love quilts. Or at least I love the idea of quilts.

A backpacking quilt is basically a sleeping bag with no back. The insulation in the back of a traditional bag is compressed as you sleep, compromising it’s insulating properties. This is more pronounced over time, as all insulation eventually loses it’s insulating loft after repeated compression, and on a thru hike happens for 150 days straight or so… So you end up with extra weight an no extra warmth.

The MLD SPIRIT quilt is a shell of lightweight black ripstop nylon filled with Climashield Apexa insulation. The bottom of the quilt has a cinchable elastic base, velcro closure and snaps which form a temporary toe box, keeping the feet toasty with a small breeze blocking pillow – the quilt can also be used fully open during warmer weather, as a flat blanket. The SPIRIT comes with a nylon ‘waist’ belt (one elastic, one nylon – choose based on your preference) which keeps the edges of the quilt tucked – a handy feature. The neck opening is cinchable with a snap closure, allowing adjustable thermal regulation, and also allowing you to wear the SPIRIT as a camp cape (see photo.).

For my SOBO AT I ordered a 28 degree bag. I was totally convinced I ordered a 28 degree bag. I realized I actually a 38 degree bag while looking at my old order receipt. Ha ha ha. No wonder I was sleeping cold…

I found the 38 degree quilt worked great when it was warm. Once the temperature got to the 30’s I paired it with a liner which kept it fairly comfortable, especially as I modified combinations of base layer, puffer and wind pants and jacket. In November on the AT we had a month of 20 degree nights with at least one sub zero. These nights not ‘comfortable.’ Folks say you can wear more clothes to make a 3-season bag work in the winter… in this case each night I wore my hiking dress, two base layer tops and bottoms, a fleece hoody, puffer, silk balaclava, wool hat, XL fleece hat, wool socks fleece booties gloves liners and fleece mittens. EVERYTHING I had.

I didn’t die AND as a bonus, I kept all my toes. But the gram-counter in me thought there must be a better way, weight wise and comfort wise to stay alive…

For my Southbound PCT hike, I’m starting with cold weather in the north, then encountering 14,000 foot peaks, and early fall desert nights. Sleeping at below 20 degrees is unlikely tho, so I aim for a system comfortable to 25 degrees. I thought a 10 degree upgrade might do the trick, so in February I ordered a 28 degree SPIRIT quilt from Mountain Laurel designs.

MLD can take up to 8 weeks to deliver in peak season. They’re a small shop, so I ordered early.

We hiked up to Goat Lake (elevation 3200) in early April, the pm forecast predicting 30 degree weather. Perfect. I slept in my hiking dress, lightweight base layer, fleece booties and hat, puffy jacket, and the new 5oz fleece smock I jerry-rigged from a goodwill fleece sweatshirt (more on that later). So at least half of the clothes I needed to sleep in with the 38 degree bag.

And I was super comfortable. In fact, I was the warmest I’ve slept outside. I felt heat radiating from my core. I took off my gloves. And I’m psyched to say I stayed that way all night, even when we woke up 10 hours later to 6 inches of snow. I actually slept and entire night without doing sit ups.


Mountain Laurel Designs 
Spirit Quilt – 28 degree – size “regular”
21 oz


Geek Love

IMG_1429What makes me a gear geek is not the fact that I chose the child size bamboo chopsticks (3 grams lighter!) but that I made a home-made tyvek sleeve for them out of the mailing envelope that my new Mountain Laurel Designs quilt came in…