Summer 2020 Gear Notes
Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Some thoughts on what's worked for me (and what hasn't) this year for backpacking, hiking, and bike touring
What we bring with us on our adventures can be quite personal and everyone has different priorities. I like to be minimalist and love gear that is small, versatile, and lightweight. I've found that sometimes a piece of clothing or tool can have an outsize impact on how enjoyable a trip is. For me, experimenting with different items and methods is part of the fun of planning and reflecting on a trip. I see this post as a record for my own use as well as perhaps a reference for others. I've gotten great ideas from all sorts of adventurers out there in digital land. I'm hoping to update this a few times as the season rolls on.
Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat Pad
Ounce for ounce, I'm not sure anything I bring backpacking provides quite so much comfort as this little pad. I attach it to the outside of my pack so it's easy to pull out for even short stops. I'm not sure why I didn't bring this backpacking in the past (trying to be super-minimalist I guess?). I probably won't leave home without it in the future.
This is a weird one and maybe not for everybody. I enjoy listening to audio books and podcasts on the trail but still like to be aware of my surroundings. At home, I often use a single Bluetooth earbud but this would be easy to lose on the trail and it would just be one more battery that would need charging. So I bought this single earbud stereo-to-mono headphone to use when hiking. No battery to charge and the wire keeps me from losing it (I thread it through the back of my cap so it just kind of dangles behind my ear if I'm not listening). There's a simple button for pause/play. It even works pretty well for music although it certainly wouldn't impress an audiophile.
I always hike in running shorts that have a built-in liner. I find these to be much simpler and more comfortable than wearing separate underwear. I've had a few good pairs over the years but the pair I got for this year were surprisingly cheap and worked out great. I love the deep, zippered pockets (I would usually carry my Galaxy 7 phone in one and thread my headphone wire under my shirt to my neckline). I just bought a few more pairs.
Steripen Ultra Water Purifier
This one is likely to be a bit controversial and I'm still a bit skeptical of relying on such "high tech" for a basic survival need. However, this water purifier worked wonderfully for me on my recent six day trip on the Northville Placid Trail. I've always used a Sawyer Squeeze in the past (also a great option) but I like to drink large amounts of water all at once when I'm at a good water source and "squeezing" for each drop grates on me after a couple of days. With the Steripen, I will purify a full liter (90 seconds), drink the entire thing, and then purify a second liter to carry. The device is rechargeable via micro USB (same as my phone and headlamp) but after five days of use, it still had at least 25% of its battery remaining. I didn't bring the soft case that it comes with and found it durable enough to keep in the outer mesh pocket of my pack. I still bring iodine tablets as a back-up, but I'm beginning to like this little gizmo.
This is a medical tape that is similar to the adhesive part of a fabric Band-Aid. It sticks to skin pretty doggedly, even when it gets wet. Wrap it around any cylindrical object to have a good supply that doesn't take up much space. Paired with a couple of small squares of gauze and scissors (like you might have on your multi-tool), you can make custom-sized bandages for blisters, etc.
Zpacks Shoulder Pouch
I've had this little pouch for awhile and have stored all sorts of items in it. On my most recent trip, I decided to bring my good point-and-shoot camera (Canon G9X) and this was the perfect place to stow it. I stuck a piece of packing foam in the front of the pouch to protect the camera from minor impacts when I set the pack down or got whacked by a branch. I think this will be my go-to use for this pouch from now on.
Deuce of Spades
I've always made do with sticks when digging cat holes but this can be quite a chore in the Adirondacks because the soil is so full of roots. This tool allows me to cut a perfect circular "plug" out of the soil that can be replaced later. It weighs about half an ounce. I felt much better about digging holes to the proper "Leave No Trace" depth of at least 6 inches every time. When the plug is replaced, it's indistinguishable from the surrounding area (although it never hurts to toss a log or a few branches over the spot). I got the #2 size.
Gear I'm Less Happy With
UCO Air 150 Headlamp
I always bring a serious headlamp and a backup when day hiking (especially in the winter and during shoulder season). For longer distance backpacking, however, I usually bring a more minimalist light as I don't usually hike at night and really just need it around camp. The original Petzl e+ LITE has always been my go-to backpacking headlamp but this UCO headlamp was appealing as it was rechargeable via micro USB. I removed the headband and attached a simple elastic band that was more minimalist. The light worked as advertised for the most part but the hinge that keeps the light in position is too loose and the light tends to "droop," making it hard to use when worn. I'll probably go back to my old Petzl for now but am on the lookout for something just as tiny but that is USB rechargeable. Maybe this one from Petzl?
Coffee Delivery System
This one isn't really an item of gear but something I'll be continuing to tweak. In my normal life, I enjoy a cup of coffee in the late morning as this seems to be the time when I most need a shot of caffeine. It occurred to me that I could try a cold instant coffee to drink during a mid-morning break. Instant coffee never tastes like real coffee to me but is OK, especially when paired with a chocolate snack (like the double chocolate Complete Cookie, a favorite of mine). I brought a repurposed 8 oz. spice container as a cup with a screw top lid so I could "make" the coffee at camp in the morning when I had all my food accessible. I'd then stick it in the front of my bag with my hiking snacks, giving it plenty of time to get good and mixed before I drank it. This worked great until the threads on the spice container gave out late in my trip and the container was no longer watertight. I like this system overall but will need to find a small, screw-top "cup" that will be a bit more durable.