Thursday, July 31, 2014

Backpacking Gear Inventory

Back in 2004, after a very sad and painful, but ultimately good, parting with my first husband, and after I had been diagnosed with dermatomyositis, an "incurable" autoimmune disease that causes a severe skin rash and debilitating muscle weakness, I decided that I was going to rebuild my life on the outskirts of DC's chaos.  I bought a sweet log home on the side of High Knob in Warren County, Virginia.  If you're an Appalachian Trail geek, you know that the trail crosses High Knob, and when I discovered AT access within a short walk from my front door, I decided it was time to get some new backpacking gear.

Old house in Warren County
House steps from the AT
Yes, I was sick, weak, and covered in a rash.  Yes, I was on high doses of prednisone and low doses of a chemo drug methotrexate, and suffering from all of the wonderful side effects, but there was something about the diagnoses that made me crazy mad to LIVE!  Everything that the doctors said I couldn't or shouldn't do was exactly what I decided to do.  So, I drove down the mountain into the town of Front Royal (the northern terminus of Shenandoah National Park's Skyline Drive), and found Weasel Creek Outfitters.

I met with Brandon, who owned the Great Weasel with his wife Wendy.  They would both become good friends of mine, but alas, would eventually sell Weasel Creek and move away from "Fr-oyal," as the locals called it.

I told Brandon of my desire to eventually thru-hike, and of my easy trail access.  I told him I needed to get all of the stuff.  Now.  I spent the rest of the afternoon trekking around the shopping center with various packs full of weight, assessing a multitude of sleeping bag and tent options, even heading out to the grassy area behind the shop to set up some tents.

I left with a Granite Gear Nimbus Access FZ3800 pack, a Moonstone Minimus 22 degree bag, and a Sierra Designs Gamma 2 person tent (not because there were two people, but because there were two black labs and me).  These items have served me very well over the last 10 years, and I'm one of those people who takes meticulous care of my stuff, so when our friend, CW, came by last night to help us inventory gear for our upcoming test hike, most of it looked almost new.



Morning in Shenandoah National Park

2010 Backpacking Trip

2010 Backpacking Trip
Muskrat made a spreadsheet (because he rocks at spreadsheets!), and CW and I buried the room in all manner of backpacking and car camping gear.  I had planned to take photos, but there was just no space, and frankly, the mess we made was embarrassing!  I read off makes and models, CW looked up weight data, and Jeff tallied and sorted everything on the computer.

I thought we were pretty well equipped, especially since all of my old stuff is in such great condition.  As it turns out, it's all pretty heavy compared to what they make now.  My pack is 4 pounds, 9 ounces!  Our tent is 5 pounds, 10 ounces!  I know we will be sharing the weight of some gear, but we are both thinking that we may need to upgrade some stuff.

Car camping in the Backpacking tent after a bike ride on Skyline Drive 2012

That said, we do have some newer gear. . .

Muskrat picked up a nice new Osprey Atmos 50 pack a month or so ago when we went on an REI shopping spree with all of the gift cards that people had given us for our wedding in April.  (We have the best friends EVER!)

We both need new sleeping pads, because Muskrat ripped his on a rock, and it just seems like a bad idea to start the trail with a duct taped piece of gear, and I have a super minimalist one, because what's a few nights of discomfort, right?  Not something I want to endure for six-months!  Besides, they make AMAZING stuff now!  CW brought over his Big Agnes Air Core SL for us to try, and MAN that thing is probably more comfortable than our actual bed!  He also let us demo his Cocoon Hyperlite AirCore pillow, which is a mere 2.4 ounces and smaller than a yogurt container!

Muskrat has a really nice two year old Sierra Designs Wild Bill 35 degree bag, but we are thinking that he will want something with a little more warmth for the colder parts of the trail.  The other sleeping bag factor is that we both bought our sleeping bags when we were single people, and now we are getting ready to spend six-months living outside as newlyweds.  In fact, our first wedding anniversary will be about a month after we start the trail.  I think we might want to find some bags that zip together.  It just wouldn't seem right to spend six months sleeping in separate cocoons!  We are looking at getting the Big Agnes Coupler straps for our sleeping pads, and are researching some double wide sleeping bags!  I am particularly intrigued by the Big Agnes Cabin Creek 15.  At 6 pounds 5 ounces, it's a little weighty, but it may work, since we are sharing the load between our two packs.

For a sweet resting space, we are bringing our Eno Doublenest hammock too.  I don't know if we will use it to sleep in at any point, but it sets up quickly and makes a nice spot to take breaks!

One other consideration we are still grappling with is food storage.  I have always backpacked with a bear canister, since I had a bad food bag experience at Girl Scout camp.  I like the was of closing up the lid and stashing that bad boy in the woods until morning.  It's also a nice seat for eating.  We will see if we decide to go back to bagging or if we bring my trusty Bear Vault BV500.


After all the gear was stashed in the storage space again, I began to feel a little under prepared (I know, we have 7.5 months before we start!) and overwhelmed.  Muskrat, who is so very good at keeping me grounded, maintained his composure and said exactly what I needed to hear. . . "REI date this weekend?"

Stay tuned!

©2014 Jennifer Magnuson, All Rights Reserved, Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.

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