Consulting @ Touring

I am a cyclotourist and a long-distance hiker. I’ve ridden my bicycle 1000 kilometers (over a week) and lived out of my panniers. I’ve hiked 1000 kilometers (over six weeks) and lived out of my backpack. I’m not bad on snowshoes or in a kayak neither. I enjoy it. It motivates me. It fills me with confidence. And the exercise doesn’t hurt – except when it does.

I’m not a professional. I’m not even an accomplished amateur. I aspire to bike across the US, to thru-hike the AT, to kayak up the coast of Maine, to go on a multi-day snowshoe and camp out in the snow. I dream of biking up and down New Zealand or Japan, or circumnavigating Iceland or Australia, of hiking Te Araroa or the PCT or the Great Divide. Some of these dreams might become reality – some this year, some when I retire (if I make it that far) (if I ever get to) (MILLENNIAL HUMOR).

But I’ve gone touring just enough to have a few ideas about my gear. In the spirit of consulting, I thought I’d look at my Hiking Stuff and see what I think could be improved.

First things first: let’s frame the issue.

 

SHOES

In general, shoes are what I will refer to as a ‘mature technology.’ I don’t mean that they can’t be improved; I just mean that most of their improvements will come as the result of new innovations in materials science, rather than the grouchy gripings of a consultant.

There is also such a preposterous variety of shoes out there, far be it for me to assume that any lack on my particular boots could not be addressed by me simply buying some other boot.

I will say that I personally love the BOA laceless closure system, and very much hope to see it on more shoes – or, even better, as an option on more shoes. If I found the shoe I wanted, and there was a box entitled “$15: change to BOA!” I would tick that box. On a hiking shoe? Absolutely.

One thought does occur to me. I recently purchased a pair of Korker snow boots. They have detachable soles. This way you can hot-swap between snow-specific soles, and studded ice soles, et cetera. Even more than that, this way, wearing out the soles doesn’t require and expensive trip to the cobbler; it requires a quick order on Amazon and nothing more. It’s a hell of a technology.

This might be nice on the trail – both to let one carry a little slip-on traction sole for winter hiking, and to replace worn soles (cough Pennsylvania cough).

CAMP SHOES

I just ordered a pair of barefoot sandals, which weigh a bare 4oz each – less than half the weight of my last camp shoes – less than just about anything. I haven’t tried them yet, but I expect that they are going to be right up close to the ‘mature technology’ label. My biggest thoughts will be “make ’em a little lighter” or “make ’em a little more comfy for the same weight” – that is to say, materials science, not consulting.

In the spirit of the Korkers mentioned above, I have to wonder whether a hiking boot with detachable soles might be able to turn those soles into light sandals, suitable for wearing as camp shoes. That would, in one stroke, save 8oz of pack weight from even an ultralight hiker. Not bad.

SOCKS

I do not really see how a pair of Darn Toughs could be improved upon. “Mature Technology” doesn’t quite cut it; “apotheosis” sounds more like.

PANTS

On the AT, I wore pants. First heavy pants with zip-off lowers. Then, a pair of light shorts.

For my next hiking, I will be wearing a hiking kilt – a Utilikilt made of ripstop nylon. This mostly because of ease of swapping base layers.

First thing in the morning, you are cold. You start hiking cold. So you’re wearing all your warm and fluffies. Three minutes later, you’re warm. So you have to stop and strip. Which, when you’re wearing leggings under pants or shorts, means stopping; getting off trail; taking off shoes; taking off pants; taking off leggings, so you’re probably ass naked; putting back on pants; putting back on shoes; and oh by this time you’re cold again.

With a kilt, you can take off leggings just standing there, without having to pause and sit and strip – and without much worrying about flashing people, either. It’s much more efficient.

I haven’t much hiked with the kilt yet. I can guess at some improvements I could make to it. I doubt I’ll ever use the seat pockets. The side pockets – which are external, more like pouches really – are a little lower than they should be. They could be longer and deeper – no real reason not to make them so. I also wonder if they could be plug-and-play, so that you could put on different shapes/sized of pockets to suit your needs of the moment – or of the hike.

It might be very cool to have snaps on the bottom of the kilt, situated such that it could be converted into something resembling pants. Not sure how feasible this is, but it could be useful – especially in places where you don’t necessarily want to strike a blow for skirt-kind.

MATTRESS

My only gripe is that I’m shocked they don’t come in multiple colors. I’m lucky in that the winter mattress is gray, which matches my aggressively monochromatic hiking kit. But my summer mattress is, without option, marigold yellow. It stinks. It’s terrible. Give me gray!

MITTENS

Seem pretty close to awesome. Doubly so when you add in the little cuben-fiber rain mitts that go over them.

SLEEPING HOOD

Haven’t tried my new Hoodlum on the trail yet. It seems fabulous – even if it does, half-unsnapped, look like Dark Helmet cosplay.

SLEEPING BAG

The Enlightened Equipment quilt is essentially perfection. I cannot think of a damned way to improve upon it, outside of the invention of (say) 1100FP down.

SLEEPING SOCKS

Heat Holders. Hail to the king, baby.

BASE LAYER

Materials science.

MID-LAYER

Ditto, squared and cubed

MULTITOOL

I carry the Leatherman Style CS – their smallest tool, it lives on my keychain day-to-day. It contains a 1″ blade, a scissors, a diamond file, a tweezers, a bottle opener, a flathead screwdriver (the tip of the file), and the clip functions as an emergency backup carabiner for PCT-hanging bear bags.

It would be great to also have a tiny saw; a small ferrocerium fire striker; to mark the tool, or the knife-blade, with ruler measures; and to move the scissors to the fold-out and make the central tool a pliars instead.

Would also be nice to incorporate a nail clipper. People always say “just use the scissors!” Or even: “Use the knife!” I don’t know how they do it. They must be better men than I, because, jesus christ.

WATCH

I wrote a lengthy monograph on a tool watch for bike touring. The salient conclusion was “good watch good.” For myself, a sturdy and none-too-expensive automatic with a dive bezel is A-OK. If it also had an annual calendar module – preferably day-date – it would be amazing. But it’s worth noting that this would also be my ideal wristwatch. HE SAID, PLEASE-TAKE-MY-MONEYINGLY.

COMPASS

Suunto Clipper, goes on my watch-band. Poifect.

TREKKING POLES

Mature af.

GAITERS

I wore ultralight waterproof gaiters from MLD. I just purchased snow gaiters from the same.

No complaints. Hard to think of a way they could be much improved.

PACK

MLD “Exodus CF” – 57L, waterproof, weighing under a pound.

It’s a phenomenal bag. Period.

I recently added two water bottle mounts on the chest straps. Haven’t hiked with them yet. They sure do look ridiculous, but other than that, I think they will be excellent.

Might be nice to have the outside pockets be optional – or have them plug-and-play-able, say by having a nylon cinch cord going around the pack, to which could be attached or removed things, using the same system as my bottle pouches. But I’m not sure if this would change them all that much.

FLASHLIGHT

I have a tiiiiiny little Olight on my keychain. Barely used it.

Could replace it with the brighter, and rechargable, Nightcore Tini. But I don’t think it would be much of an improvement, if any.

TENT

It is aggressively minimalist, which, to me, is perfect. If I think of any ways to improve upon it, I’ll let you know. But jesus do none come to mind.

COOKSET

The Halulite Minimalist, and Ubens titanium stove. 700ml pot, with thermal sleeve; smallest stove in the universe; tiny little silicon pot gripper (with magnet inside, to stick it to your fuel canister when you’re not using it!); cap with pour spout. It’s pretty much perfection.

Idea: put a bright orange warning – just an X would do – on the bottom of the thermal sleeve, to remind you to take it off before putting it over the flame. As I’ve done. Y’know. Several times.

SMARTWATER BOTTLES

Why doesn’t someone sell these bottles without the Smartwater branding – or with custom decals? I ask you!

EAR BUDS

Mine are amazingly high audio quality, very sturdy buds, and have 1″ spring-protected metal connectors. I do wish that the cords were knit for extra protection. But these area available – this was just my purchasing error.

CHARGER

I’d like one that has two USB outs, so that I can charge two devices at one. But, like, these are $10 on Amazon. I will just buy one, if I care that much.

I love the idea of a charger that has built-in USB cables. But since some of my devices are still on older USB standards, this wouldn’t make much sense.

I love the idea of one that has a built-in international plug adaptor. But for touring in the US, I wouldn’t use it – extra weight. So :P

RAIN KILT

Abject perfection.

RAIN JACKET

Can’t wait till I get thinner so I can justify buying one that weighs 6oz less. Beyond that, it’s fine.

SMARTWATCH/FITBIT

I did not use such a device.

This big reason I did not was “not necessary.” I already had a cell phone. I also already had a watch. It provided nothing not provided by the former; even the watch is really redundant, but – well – I like watches. Redundancy of (some of) the cell phone attributes was seriously diminishing returns.

The other big reason was: battery life. Having yet another thing to charge is bothersome. Having anything which can’t hold a charge for at least seven days is at best not to be relied upon, and at worst (or as such) dead weight.

For a smartwatch to be useful to me, it would need:

  1. the ability to display time – including perpetual calendar – at a glance, or, at most, at a button-press
  2. nighttime lume – and the ability to minimize said lume at bed-time
  3. the ability to pop up and scroll through the guidebook, quickly and easily
  4. a reliable minimum of 7 days of use between charges. preferably 10. and that includes constant or instant display of time, and instant – and frequent – display of guidebook

This may be currently available, or at least, not that far away. In that circumstance it would become a matter of money – the ability to instantly check the guidebook on the wrist is actually worth a little investment. How much? Not all that much – not what a smartwatch costs, as of yet.

THE MANHOLE

One of the problems with hiking is that the goal is not “to get from Point A to Point B.” The goal is “to get from Point A to Point B using only one’s feet.” There’s also an element of “and going over mountains – either as many as possible, or at least, a fair allotment.” In short: it is supposed to be hard.

Bicycle touring can be a little bit more about A-to-B-ing – but not always. And the goal is still to get there as easily as possible under one’s own power. Otherwise you’re not touring, you’re just traveling. Otherwise it’s a cover to a manhole, but not ‘a manhole cover.’

As a result, “making it easier” is somewhat of a troublesome problematization. The people who hiked the AT in the 1950s did so with gigantic heavy packs, they were wet and cold all the time, they built fires and ate berries to stay alive, they couldn’t call 911 at any moment of day or night. Really, they hiked a very different hike than most modern hikers do. There were also many fewer of them. They also averaged 10 miles or less per day, whereas a hiker (who’s got their legs underneath them) will usually average 20, and quite a few will do 30s day after day.

IMPROVEMENTS TO THE TRAIL

This follows our Manhole discussion above. Improvements to oneself – one’s kit, at least – would seem to improve one’s abilities to ‘conquer the trail.’ But – how about the trail getting easier? That seems troublesome.

While on the trail this summer, my great complaints were the infrequency and inaccessibility of resupply. In short: I wanted more trail towns. And more convenience stores. And closer-to-the-trail convenience stores. Hell, I wanted a Country Kitchen Buffet every fives miles – and on every mountain summit – and twice on the weekends.

On the other hand, if such things existed – if food trucks parked at every road crossing – if there were vending machines selling freeze-dried meals at every shelter – I think some of the spirit of the trail would be lost. There is an element of Roughing It that is already somewhat tenuous, at least in the mid-Atlantic where I was hiking.

I might wonder if the AT (say) could be designated the “supported” trail, where there were more such amenities… and the PCT would have less, and the GDT almost none. Or some such division of anti-labor. But that seems, to me, rather unworkable.

Still… what I would not have given for a better selection of Mountain House freeze-dried chicken teryaki camp meals. I love me some MouHous. Axel smash.

CONCLUSION

In 10 years – in 30 – perhaps the equipment we use on the trail will have all of it much improved. No doubt 30 years ago they thought things were about as good as they could get. But a 7lb base weight in a waterproof pack is, I’d think, pretty damn close to the arena of ‘diminishing returns.’ Christ, my base weight was lighter than the carry weight of some people who were slack packing!

I am sure that material science will improve in the next 30 years, shaving off grams here and there. Perhaps we’ll get synthetic down (or ~) that is lighter, or even waterproof. Perhaps the same things will just get that much cheaper. But short of drone-assisted slackpacking (which is undoubtedly coming, but… see manhole supra), hiking tech is pretty damned advances. A person with a 50% reduction in base weight would not have a substantively easier time hiking the AT – hell, I’m not sure they’d even notice.

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~ by davekov on 7 January 2018.

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