Category Archives: gear

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…

No Sew

Time to prepare for the hiking season and all of the new adventures it entails. I thought it would be prudent to warm up with an easy project – one I could accomplish in a day. Actually, this one took closer to 2 hours… even better.

Harpo and I had constructed rip-stop stuff sacks for our AT thru hike and they served us for several thousand miles, but were starting to look a little ragged. I chose to replace them with the No Sew Cuben Fiber stuff sacks, a pattern for which is available from Quest Outfitters. The pattern worked great and was easy to follow, and you can order all the fabric, cord and cord locks directly from them from the included cut sheet.

The result was good, and as you can see the finished large stuff sack comes in at well under 10 grams. Awesome. This version (there are two included in the pattern, large & small) should work for either all of my clothing or all of my food on trail for a 10 day trip or beyond. Can’t wait to stuff these full of stuff…

Gear Shakedown: New Balance ‘Leadville’ 1210


New Balance Leadville 1210 with custom Daiso laces

There’s a lot of strong words in the debate between hiking in boots, light hiking shoes and trail runners. There’s no real debate for me – running shoes are lighter, and dry more quickly than traditional hiking boots. And, having shattered my calcaneous in 2007, and ending up with 27 pins and 2 titanium plates permanently anchored in my heel, I’m interested in a shoe that is lightweight yet offers substantial support. The New Balance ‘Leadville’ 1210 hasn’t let me down yet…

New Balance makes shoes in America (and in the UK for the European market) – an anathema considering most shoe makers manufacture anywhere overseas everywhere form China, Israel, Jordan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, to Turkey and Vietnam. NB’s are as also as close to vegan as I can find  (through a series of emails, they will not fully divulge the glues used in specific show models, while admitting that specific factories use plant based glue, while others use animal glue).

Named after the famed Colorado ultra-marathon the Leadville 100 (which, coincidentally, NB has hosted since 2008), the NB shoe is designed with ultra-runners in mind featuring N2 cushioning, REVlite midsole, Vibram® outsole and an effective debris-free construction. The Leadville weighs in a 10.3 oz per pair, making them light AND structured.


The Minimus 10v2 before their swift disintegration on the rocks of Maine

I starting the hike with a pair of NB Minimus 10v2 shoes – I liked the mesh construction and the feel on trail was great – but after about 100 miles in Washington and only 280 miles in Maine they were done, with the mesh completely destroyed, and the soles separating from the shoes. I re-upped with the 1210s in New Hampshire and  haven’t looked back. I ended up wearing out 2 pairs of these on my AT – I wore my first pair for 800 miles and the second pair for almost 1000 miles. Admittedly, I now replace shoes after 600-700 miles or when the foam becomes visibly compressed – but the point being the shoes will wear you out, not the other way around. I’m now happily on my fourth pair…

Gear Shakedown: GoLite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella


Groucho using the Chrome Dome as a sun shield just over Constance Pass in the Olympic Mountians

Harpo and I followed Ray Jardine’s model and started hiking with umbrellas before we walked the AT last year – it made sense, living in the Northwest it rains every time you step outside. Or at least it could…
We started with free collapsible umbrellas, but the cheap metal hardware would rust and/or fall apart… Jardine modified his umbrellas to remove extra parts, and fitted them with mylar panels functioning as solar shields attached with dental rubber bands. In the era of cottage industry ultralight backpacking gear, we saved the effort by purchasing GoLite’s Chrome Dome trekking umbrellas. Weighing in at 8oz, with a 45″ canopy and offering 50SPF sun protection, the Chrome Dome offers substantial coverage as a rain and sun shield. I don’t think there’s any going back.. .
On the AT we forfeited conventional rain gear, favoring lightweight wind-breakers and wind-pants – 8oz total + the 8oz brolly, rather than a 11oz or heavier rain jacket and 11oz pants – offering a lighter overall solution for the long haul. Not to mention the umbrella is faster to deploy in sudden showers, and keeps it breezy, meaning better ventilation. Recently on the PCT and in alpine areas of the Olympic mountains, we’ve been happy using the Chrome Dome as a sun shield, allowing us to skip the sunscreen.
Of course, the umbrella fails in some conditions – dense, low forest like some in southern Maine snags the canopy, and it was impossible to use in the high winds atop Mt. Washington and in Goat Rocks. Outside of these extreme circumstances, the umbrella works great – the polyester canopy has never collapsed and resists tears, and the fiberglass spokes seem indestructible… we have hiked over 3500 miles with our original Chrome Domes, and are only now considering buying new ones.
Overall, this is one of my favorite pieces of gear to own. Every time I open it, it’s something in between Marry Poppins and a clown show – and it’s definitely the most commented on accessory I own, bar none. Harpo & I enjoy the umbrella hiking experience so much we formed our own umbrella gang – the Brolly Bunch.


Harpo keepin it breezy in light rain hiking next to the Housatonic River in Conneticut