Having just returned from our latest backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail, much of my backpacking gear and clothing is still in a heap on the floor or spinning away in the washing machine. It’s an ideal time to reflect on what worked (and what didn’t). Actually I was very pleased with my preparedness—everything that I packed was used, except for a few of the ointments and pills that are part of my first aid supplies—and there was nothing needed that I didn’t have.
Here are some of the newer items in my backpack that served me well:
1. REI “Joule” sleeping bag. I sleep cold so I appreciated the fact that it’s 800-fill down/rated to 22 degrees F. It weighs only 2.2 pounds. We had some rainy nights and frost inside and outside the tent a few times so I was pleased that the Joule has a waterproof, breathable shell made of an coated ripstop nylon. There seems to be extra down at the bottom of the bag—which meant that my feet were warm for a change and I was able to put slightly damp (but clean) socks in the bag with me and they were dry by morning. As with every bag I have owned, I initially had difficulties zipping and unzipping this bag, but once I figured out how the fabric flap worked, things went better.
My favorite discovery was the “bunny ears” (part of the draft collar) that kept cold air out when I moved around. Expensive, but REI often has great sales.
2. Energizer headlamp with 7 LED. Headlamps have become all the rage it appears—knocking handheld flashlights out of the game. There’s good reason for this—namely you can attend to camp chores and walk through the woods with your hands free. The Energizer model that I tried on this trip had several settings—a red for night, three white settings (spot, area, and flood), and a blinking white. It was easy operate, to pivot in order to direct the beam, comfortable to wear, and easy to insert batteries (3 AAA included). Manufacturer’s specs say 100 lumens, runs 5.5 hours on batteries provided, beam 25 meters. $25.99.
I don’t take night hikes, but it is important to have a good light in case of emergency. For reading in my tent at night a headlamp is overkill, but usable. I was pleased to test this headlamp for review.
3. Wright Socks. Arguably the most important pieces of clothing for hikers are shoes and socks. I’ve tried many different brands and many different combinations, but generally I am happiest when I am wearing my two-layer Coolmesh Wright Socks. I find the shorter “quarter” socks, which come just above the ankle, are a bit cooler than standard length socks for summer use.
4. Women's Ultralight 850 Down Jacket by L.L. Bean. When this jacket was awarded Backpacker Magazine's Editors' Choice I sat up and paid attention because it was described as lightweight (less than a pound), warm and water-resistant. When down is compared to synthetics by weight, down is lighter, but down can be a problem in wet conditions if it loses its insulative value. The LL Bean jacket is treated with 850-fill down water-repellent DownTEK™ and it has a “highly water-resistant finish.” I not only enjoyed the technical reasons for wearing this jacket, I also found it extremely comfortable.
5. Hoo Rag. I don’t really understand why most down jackets don’t have an attached hood—but they don’t. That means that there is an area – your neck – that is left uncovered by the usual jacket and separate cap combination. Enter the Hoo Rag—like a similar product “The Buff” but less expensive, the Hoo Rag is an extremely lightweight tubular-shaped synthetic item that can be used not only as a neck band, but also a bandanna, a headband, or a face mask. I have to admit that I didn’t need to wear this item a lot because my fleece cap has couple of configurations that allow it to partially cover the back of my neck, but the Hoo Rag came in handy on a couple of particularly chilly nights. $15.95 in designs from paisley to skulls.