Last day in Virginia

It is funny. Getting ready to do the AT I was really concerned about resupply. In case you are unfamiliar, usually resupply is available every forty miles or less.

As far as a trail goes, resupply, including water, is extremely easy on the Appalachian Trail.

My pack loaded up.

By the time Win and I started the PCT we were pretty relaxed even though the distances are longer and there are a few places that require shipping a box or more.

The last two years were great. We will probably start the PCT again next year at Campo through the Sierra section to finish the 250 miles or so we’ve missed and to just enjoy the PCT.

This year, with the CDT my nerves are back again. The distance is really longer between resupply. One hundred miles or more between resupply is much too common. In New Mexico alone there are three places that need mailed resupply.

Water is much harder on the CDT. Not only did we get really lucky on the PCT with water, water is much easier.

I guess part of my being nervous is that we really trained for the PCT, especially the first time. We were able to start with more than twenty miles a day.

Win’s pack.

For the CDT we’ve worked in the training we could do, but we will probably start with fifteen mile days, not 20+. We got to that place “just in time.”

Luckily the trail starts fairly flat so that conditioning on the trail should go well, and there will be water caches (which we’ve paid for). I’m hoping we will hit the twenty mile a day mark pretty soon.

Everything looks good, including the snow levels.

Snotel data—slightly below average or less (unlike the record high snow on the PCT last year).

Today is our last day in Charlottesville and we are hitting the road and heading out for a grandchild’s birthday, a couple training hikes at altitude, getting resupply boxes together and then heading to the CDT.

I’m looking forward to it all. Car is packed. Hotel room emptied out, mail forwarding notices made and FarOut (the map app) updated. Mail forwarded from our box.

Beautiful day too. So I’m watching some CDT videos and getting ready to pick Win up from her last day and start on down the road.

As an aside, the people in Charlottesville and at UVA have been delightful. I’m holding, mostly, to my policy of not commenting on anyone my wife works with, but it has been a great group.

My silence is personal policy, but I’m bending it just a little because they deserve two thumbs up. 👍👍

Easiest way to read this blog

If you are not my mom reading this for updates as they come, the easiest way to browse entries and get a feel for the material here is to go to the Table of Contents and browse categories.

The only weakness to that approach is that I will probably not update the Table of Contents from now (April 15, 2024) until Win and I return home to Dallas from hiking the trail.

The other way to browse the blog is to use the Archive link in the far right column:

ARCHIVES

You will miss out on the 2019 and before entries, which are scattered across several platforms (but have links in the Table of Contents).

Things like:

If you have questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

I used to respond to comments, but right now I have a flood of spambots that post multiple times a day and flood the comments. The spam filter catches them, and then they get relegated to services that help identify and block spammers, so they don’t accomplish much except harm the spammers and flood my site with trash that keeps the comment section from being useful.

I’m sorry about that since it makes contacting me by using a comment virtually impossible.

My hiking page on Facebook.

CDT: New Mexico Resupply

From the Contiental Divide Trail Coalition

Most people will do the following:

  • They start by bringing five days of food with them and catch the Shuttle to Crazy Cook.
  • Hike from Crazy Cook to Lordsburg which is 84 miles, doing about 15 miles a day, with breakfast at the hotel before they take the shuttle and getting into town for dinner on the way back to Lordsburg.
  • Lordsburg to Silver City. Five days for Lordsburg to Silver City which is now Mile 161.8
  • Silver City to Doc Campbell’s Post (resupply box). ~Mile 162 to ~Mile 194.
  • From Doc Campell’s Post there is a hitch to Winston at 266 if your mileage is down and you did not send enough food.
  • Otherwise Doc Campbell to Reserve which is just under a hundred miles. You head out at Highway 12, about 22 miles after the Gila rejoins the redline (which leads to the mileage looking strange).
  • You take the Gila High Route out of Doc Campbells and the Pie Town Roadwalk to reduce mileage and food carry to something reasonable.
  • You will want a box mailed to Pie Town. The roadwalk to Pie Town starts at 367 and Pie Town is at Mile 415. The standard was Toaster House, but it is now closed.
  • Mile 421 and Top of the World Store is the alternative stop or a place to supplement food. You want to take the Bear Creek Alternative going north to Grants.
  • Grants has everything you might want and is 110 miles from Cuba.
  • Cuba has everything.
  • Ghost Ranch comes after Cuba and is a place that generally needs a mail drop.
  • Chama is about 44 miles by road or longer by trail from Ghost Ranch. Again, Chama has everything (everything = grocery, laundry, etc.).

The bold/highlighted stops are the three that you will want to send a box to and are half of all places you might want to mail food to on the trail. Italicized towns are the other standard supply stops.

Roughly 90% or more of surveyed CDT hikers followed this resupply pattern except for Ghost Ranch which was still above 50%.

Hiking Memories

It is fun to see memories from prior hikes come up.

2019 Appalachian Trail https://www.facebook.com/share/r/5qzi1qzvuTtedM3G/?mibextid=0VwfS7 (short video)

Hiking into Julian on the PCT last year https://www.facebook.com/share/r/ZTJ2889xP758pSgG/?mibextid=0VwfS7

Pennsylvania three years ago (the beaver dam isn’t obvious) https://www.facebook.com/share/r/PJvXeixCYaMFECkc/?mibextid=0VwfS7

Tiny gear adjustments. Side strap kit for my pack. Dave Mez strap kit

I like side straps over the roll up and close at the top.

Replaced my flip flops with lightweight croc equivalents. They provide more protection and are less likely to come off when crossing creeks. Gave them a trial run on our last training loop in the Shenandoahs.

Even saw a snake on the trail this week.

Preloaded our car with most of our stuff for the trip. Said goodbye to the congregation I’ve been attending.

So many little steps.

Getting ready for the Continental Divide Trail

Our departure date just gets closer. I always second guess starting dates on a trail, but reading the survey for last year’s group those who started a week or two or more before our start date were likely to have wished they had started later.

Desert picture I took last year

Those who started a week or so or more after our start date were likely to wish they had started sooner.

I’m glad to be in the middle of that.

Weather and time and chance happen, but we are doing our best. Getting excited and antcy.

April 17, I pick Win up from work and we head to Heather’s for a granddaughter birthday party and to store our car. Then we fly to El Paso and connect to Lordsburg for the shuttle the next morning at 6:15 in the morning and we are off.

Sight from my morning walk

One thing I’ve done is pick up some shoes in advance to be mailed to me as needed on trail.

Everyone says not to do that. Everyone says your feet will get bigger. I’ve backpacked over five thousand miles. No change in shoe size.

Yes. I understand it is common. For someone’s first trail I’d advise them to not get shoes in advance because their feet will probably get bigger.

Warning about online gear ratings and recommendations

But this is my third long trail. Yes. I understand that the advice is well meaning. But it is too often mindlessly parroted.

I’m in an eight wide (for Topos) and it is darn hard to find my size in stock.

Right now if you checked Topo’s website, their Amazon account and REI all three wouldn’t have any available in my size for the shoe o prefer (I’m certain here because I bought the last ones).

So for my CDT hike I’ve bought some in advance.

I’ll try to order replacements as I go, but it is very nice to know I’ll have some shoes (and I would have bought more if only they were in inventory).

Just venting.

There is just so much “traditional” knowledge that is just parroted over and over again. It often really isn’t true. Just recently advice about how to react to lightning storms was updated as the standard advice turned out to be wrong.

Sometimes the rote advice is worth considering. If you disregard it you should know why. But if someone doesn’t agree with you perhaps one might consider the possibility that there is a good reason.

And I’m excited to be on the trail again.

Gear: backpacking on a budget

PMags wrote this excellent article on how to gear up for $300. https://pmags.com/300-gear-challenge

Of course you can spend more. But this is a great set up to use until you decide that experience justifies spending more.

If you want to start, this and renting gear from REI is a great way to begin.

Of course you can spend more, and should for a thru-hike.

But an inexpensive start is a good one.

Gear: Rain Jackets/Coats/Etc.

Introduction

Rain gear runs a spectrum from very light to heavy, from minimal coverage to full coverage, from breathable to not. Regardless of the characteristics, almost all reasonable raingear will wear out.

Traditional Rain Gear

The oldest type of rain gear consists of waxed or oiled heavy cloth in a long coat or “duster” type design. With maintenance it will last forever. It is not atypical for such gear to weigh up to twelve pounds (pounds, not ounces). It is rarely, if ever, seen on a long trail.

Similar is the more modern raincoat with a rubberized surface that most of us are familiar with from being children.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yellow_Raincoat.jpg

They even show up in tourist shops on the trail sometimes.

“Lighter,” breathable, and waterproof

“Breathable” comes with limits, and “pit zips” (long zippers on the underside of the arms and sides of a rain coat) are a better source of breathability than the fabric. The original successful breathable material is Goretex, especially in the heavier configurations.

It is lighter than traditional, old-fashioned, rain gear, but still relatively heavy.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Goretex_schema-en.png

Arc’tryx makes the classic examples of this style of rain jacket, which weighs about 12-13 ounces and I’ve worn them in heavy rain in conditions that would have caused hyperthermia. The problem is that they are expensive and relatively heavy.

There are lighter versions, many of which are not quite as waterproof or that do not last as long.

Siliconized

There is rain gear made of sil-nylon and sil-poly. Pack covers, ponchos, jackets, and hybrid gear (thePacka.com is a great example of hybrid gear).

Sil-nylon will eventually wet out. Sil-poly only starts to wet through after it starts to wear out. Many of these rain jackets, with pit zips, will weight around six ounces.

The ponchos and hybrids will weight more, but usually cover your backpack, keeping the shoulder straps and hip belts dry and providing a great deal of air flow.

http://www.thepacka.com/

Win and I on the Appalachian Trail with our Packas.
17 degrees out that day, so we were bundled up.

Dyneema

Dyneema gear is just like the siliconized gear only it is lighter and costs more. It also eventually wears out.

DWR

DWR=Durable Water Repellant. This consists of fabric coated with a rain resistant surface. Generally it will eventually wet out, wears out faster, and is best used as rain gear to get you from the parking lot to a store in light rain.

Often other types of rain gear will also have a DWR coating as well.

Equivalent Gear

EVent and similar fabrics are often used, or combined with a ligthter Goretex approach (Goretex now has varients that aren’t quite as robust but are lighter) and DWR for lighter raingear.

Examples (with third party reviews)

Final Comments

A core thing to remember is that all rain gear will either need maintenance or will wear out or will not breath as much as you might like. The lighter the gear is, the more likely it is to have a compromise that you have to make, either with breathability, how soft the interior surface is, extra features (such as pockets or quality of rain visor), etc.

I currently hike with rain pants, but I’ve used rain skirts and rain kilts and rain gaiters.

About Wool

Introduction

There are three types of wool clothing used by backpackers.

They are wool, wool blends and “wool themed” clothing.

In addition there are wool alternatives.

Why wool?

There are good reasons and bad reasons and “other” reasons for wool.

The bad reasons is that “wool is warm when wet”– it really isn’t that much warmer than anything else.

The good reason is that it is odor-resistant, absorbs less moisture (in lighter weights) and wears well. Merino wool is also comfortable, without the “wool itch” that older and other types of wool are likely to have.

Quoting experts

I generally prefer merino wool because it’s far more odor-resistant and it’s warmer when wet (though not “warm”). But I can make an argument for polyester, too: it’s much less expensive and more durable, absorbs less moisture and dries faster, and can be milled in lighter weights, which makes it cooler and a better moisture manager than the lightest wool fabrics. Also, in dry environments I find that polyester is much less offensive smelling, especially with a backcountry wash every two or three days

https://andrewskurka.com/backpacking-clothing-go-suit-short-long-sleeve-shirt/

and

 Short or long sleeved baselayer shirts are a good example.  In this application merino wool has, in the last decade, become the fabric of reference due to its superior moisture managing properties.  Merino is not inherently warmer than various synthetics when wet, despite frequent claims to the contrary, but it does manage evaporative cooling by absorbing sweat into the wool fibers and releasing them in a moderated fashion.  Merino also does an excellent job of resisting odor, though given enough use between washings it is not immune to bacterial growth.  The only reason, aside from cost, merino has not taken over completely is the difficulty of balancing performance and longevity.  Thicker merinos (>150 grams/meter) have too much fiber and hold too much moisture too long.  I’ve written them off for anything aside from casual, town use, and know exactly no one including cold-blooded light sweaters who having used sub 150 gram wool have any desire to go back.  The problem with thinner merino is poor abrasion resistance, something to which Skurka aludes both in writing and in pictures.  The latest and best solution is to blend polyester with the wool, two examples being Rab Meco 120 and Patagonia Merino 1, both of which are 65% merino and 35% polyester, and 120 grams per square meter (3.5 ounces per square yard).  These shirts are identical in function and appearance, and blend the characteristics of modern merino and polyester fairly well.  They dry fast, but not as quick as the lightest pure poly fabrics, while still having a modicum of moisture buffering.  They resist stink well, but not as well as pure wool.  They’re tougher than the pure wools of comparable weights, but not as durable as pure polyester. 

https://bedrockandparadox.com/2015/03/21/skurkas-core-13/

So, the three types of wool

For backpackers, straight merino wool was very common 5-10 years ago. The problem with it is that it doesn’t wear as well.

That fact has been well known since the tests with adding nylon to wool socks. At 10-15% added nylon to wool, socks last longer. Since acrylic socks became prevalent, and 100% nylon socks took over dress socks, that fact was forgotten.

Then came the merino wool revolution and backpackers. It wasn’t long before wool + spandex/nylon became popular because it lasts so much better. It also has other performance advantages. As long as the wool is at 85% or more of a garment, I refer to it as a wool garment.

Then there are wool blends. Most are somewhere between 65% to 35% wool. Some of the best socks available (e.g. Darn Tough socks) are “62% Merino Wool 36% Nylon 2% Lycra Spandex”.

The Kirkland socks I’ve taken to wearing every day and hiking in are “57% Merino Wool, 40% Nylon, 3% Spandex”. (I like them enough that I use them even though I have Darn Tough socks with the life time guarantee). I like the amount of cushion they have.

Finally, there are “wool themed” items. I have some long sleeved t-shirts I wear for casual wear, that are “11% Merino Wool, 84% Polyester, 5% Spandex.” Comfortable, wash well, perform well. Not for hiking, but not bad around the house.

The bottom line is that when buying be aware that a fair amount of clothing sold as “Merino Wool” is actually just “wool themed” — which is fine when you are paying bargain prices as Costco, not so fine when it costs more than something from Woolx, Smartwool or Icebreaker.

When shopping for Merino, I advise people to get blends with 10-15% nylon and/or spandex in them so that they will wear better. Wearing holes in a t-shirt early in a hike isn’t my goal. I’ve already done that.

Wool Alternatives

Most sun hoodies are made from wool alternatives. E.g. the Crater Lake Sun Hoodie by Mountain Hardware that I now hike in is ” 88% Polyester, 12% Elastane.” The Black Diamond Alpenglo that my wife likes is “87% Polyester 13% Elastine.”

Polyethylene and polypropylene had moments. They are both very hydrophobic (so they do not absorb water but wick it well) and can be warm, but they tend to accumulate stench unless manufactured with a good deal of care.

They were very popular for warm layers and then rapidly lost favor. They are making combacks in the market as a search on Amazon will reflect.

Polyester is more breathable than nylon and costs less to manufacture. Nylon is also more hydrophiliac (water absorbing) than polyester. Polyester also resists UV light much better.

There are proprietary blends of polyester, such as Capiline (disclaimer, my baselayer pants that I’m currently hiking with are capilene) and Polartec Silkweight which is used by the military for base layers (disclaimer, I own a set of Polartec silkweight as well, if I wasn’t carrying a baselayer as a hedge against cold weather, I’d be hiking with it instead).

Keep in mind that in World War I everyone wore wool pants. You won’t see a backpacker in them. Wool is obviously not the best for everything. Instead most hikers are in “convertible pants.” Also note that those pants are most likely going to be Nylon/Spandex. Watch out for blends that include cotton as you don’t want that as a wool alternative.

Bottom Line

Not too long ago, I replaced all my casual wear with heavy weight premium cotton.

Of course I started backpacking right after I made that change. Now I wear a blend of Merino wool and synthetics when hiking and when backpacking.

Much of the downside to synthetics, especially polyester, have been mitigated by improved technology. Still, for many uses, blended merino wool remains the best choice.

Which brand of merino wool do I recommend? Whatever is currently on sale. The best price/performance seems to vary week to week. Sometimes it is on Amazon, sometimes at the manufacturer’s website. Eventually 32 Degrees will be selling Merino and then they will be the best and least expensive.

32 Degrees just isn’t selling merino wool yet. Be aware that sometimes the high end products don’t fit as well or have other defects (currently looking at you Patagonia Capiline Sun Hoody without thumb loops and with a hood that flops about and wind blows right off my hat). Off brands are usually off brands for a reason, but sometimes you can find quality.

I remain unapologetically a bargain hunter. Brand name shopping isn’t always a panacea. Nothing beats looking at gear yourself and comparing when you can, especially as industry products change and evolve.

Finally, be wary of “best” and “recommended” lists. Often what they really are is attempts to get you to click on and buy from an affiliated marketing link. In merino wool products, “Best” changes too often and your body shape is probably not the same as the reviewer’s body shape.