In the beginning.

In the beginning, I was in darkness, and a voice moved over the face of the waters, and a voice said, “cash or charge?”

And so my hiking hobby began. Actually, there was no voice, because it was all online. My first few purchases were through Amazon or REI or some other site. No human interaction required (see, hiking has SOME benefits).

The thing is, over time and through the learning process, you acquire what can only be described as a “crap load” of extra stuff. Stuff you used once and thought, “well this sucks”, or stuff you used for a little while until you found something better, or even something you used and were quite happy with, until you got a gift card or just wanted to try something else because MAYBE, just maybe, there was a better way to do stuff.

I went though that with cooking. I have an entire spare cook kit, because I originally thought using a couple of different pans or mugs would be a good way to do things. But you know what? Metal is HEAVY. So I went back to my one metal cup and a couple of silicone bowls. I use a cat food can stove I made myself, so I have a spare canister stove.

In addition to that stuff, I have an extra sleeping bag (I use a down quilt set now, which is lighter and better for the hammock) and probably somewhere around 150 feet of paracord (I can never find the perfect stuff, I finally found some neon pink WITH the reflective strips, but I’m really wanting the same stuff only thinner). I have a hammock chair that I made, which doesn’t really work that well, because it sucks for rest breaks. By the time I string it up for a break, everyone is ready to go. It also doesn’t move around well in camp, so you’re stuck where you hang it.

I have two rain flies, the small one that came with my hammock, which doesn’t really protect me well from a pouring rain, and I have the large one I bought separately, for bad rain. I have a second hammock, because my first one has a built-in mosquito net, and the second one doesn’t – it’s also half the weight which makes for better winter hiking when I carry more clothes and don’t need to worry about bugs at night. I had an REI gift card and my member refund check, so the hammock basically cost me nothing (since I had no idea what else to buy at the time).

So, like all good hikers this time of year, I start looking at excuses to improve things, and also since it’s the season of greed (only five weeks until X-Mass kids, get your shopping done early!), I’m seeking new things to buy anyway.

First: A bear bag. Up until this point I’ve been putting my food in a nylon bag, throwing a rope over a limb, and hauling the food up for the night, in order to protect it (and in a way, me) from bears. Sounds simple, right?

Wrong. First, finding a good limb in a forest is NOT that easy. Yeah, yeah, trees everywhere you say. True, but a lot of the BIG trees drop all their lower limbs, so if you’re camping in and old-growth forest, the lowest limb may be 65 feet off the ground. The smaller trees have, of course, much smaller limbs. There are certain rules to bear bagging. The limb should be 20 feet or so off the ground, your food should be 6 feet or so away from the tree, yet the limb should be flexible enough not to be able to support a bear. The rules go on and on. Then there’s the hanging process: Untangle bear bag rope from last trip. Find rock. Put rock in bag. Find limb. Toss bag over limb. Untangle rope from briars. Toss bag again. Wander through the forest looking for bag and rock. Retie knot in bag. Toss again. Clip food sack on rope. Pull food sack up. Untangle rope and food sack from rotten branch in bed of poison ivy. Search for new limb. Repeat. All this, while your camping partners laugh at you.

Once you finally find a decent limb, get the rock sack thrown and the rope rigged correctly, and begin to haul your food up, suddenly everyone having a laugh at your expense comes running with their bags. “Can you hang mine, too?” Have you tried hauling 50 pounds of dead weight up a tree with a 1/4″ rope? Try it sometime…

So my first wish list improvement would be the Ursack:

http://www.ursack.com

What is an ursack? Basically a bullet-proof vest for your food. Stick food in Kevlar sack, tie sack to tree. Done. Bear can’t rip through the cloth. No tossing stones around camp, no carrying tangled lines, extra carabiners, or wasted time looking for that perfect tree limb. Although I’m sure sooner or later someone will ask, “Hey, do you have room in that sack for my food?”

Second item:

New Pack

Yes, I like my pack. But it was the first thing I bought, and it’s a little big (although starting out I carried too much and NEEDED it) and heavy (over 6 pounds empty!). It has served me very well and likely could continue working well for years. But when I’m struggling up a hill panting and gasping and wanting to cry (which I feel like doing, sometimes) and swearing I might just drop the pack and leave it… having a lighter pack could make the whole thing more enjoyable. If I had my choice, I’d probably go with this one:

http://gregorypacks.com/en/GM326_cfg.html?dwvar_GM326__cfg_gmp_color=reflex_blue#start=1

Gregory has a good name, and this one looks so comfortable (of course I would want to try it out and load it up, but it looks perfect).

Yes, I know, its a HUGE pack. 70liters is large, a lot of AT hikers have little packs, at 45 liters or so. But, here’s the thing – I hammock camp. I use a big rain fly, I have the under and top quilt. My stuff is Bulky. Its about as light as I can get without getting into exotic and expense fibers, but it’s not getting any smaller. Plus, the 60 liter pack is only 1 OUNCE lighter than the 70 liter pack – so what’s the real savings? I’ll take another 10 liters for an ounce, I would still save over 2 POUNDS on my back. I’ll just eat the heavy food, first. There, ounce saved.

Third – now we’re just getting into fantasy world here.

I hammock a lot, but it really limits me to places with trees. There are some really insane campsite on tops of bald mountains and open flat lands with no trees. The tops of Tennet Mountain and Black Balsam come to mind. Beautiful places at over 6,000 feet, without a tree in sight. Can you imagine camping on top of one of them, looking around at the stars before crawling into bed?

Not in a hammock you can’t.

If I was going to “go to ground” as the other Bear Tacos say, I would chose this:

http://www.tarptent.com/contrail.html

I’ve seen them in use. They are great little tents, and I do mean little… but they are all integrated. There’s no separate rain fly or roof to carry. The whole thing fits into a package the size of just my hammock, or smaller. Truly small and light, and sets up really quickly from what I’ve seen.

Four:

Of course, that means I would need a pad to lay on, and there’s about a hundred different ones. The Z-rest is my best bet there, but for what the Tarptent saves in space, the Z-rest takes up.

http://sectionhiker.com/thermarest-zlite-sleeping-pad/

Basically the Z-rest is an accordion shaped foam mattress. Yes, you need a mattress or pad or something. The ground is cold and sucks up your heat, especially in the winter. It’s not for comfort (unless you count being alive in the morning as ‘comfort’).

So, I guess that’s it. In the season of greed, its always good to think about what’s important. Sure, there’s a lot of little things. Theres this little titanium poop-hole digging trowel for $30 that weighs nothing and is no bigger than a spork (really how effective can it be? When you’ve got to go, you can’t mess around with something tiny like that). A few more buffs for my head would be nice (I can’t always wear the same one, plus one of my hiking friends has the EXACT same one – and that just looks odd). Trekking poles – another set would be great. On day three of one of my hikes I slipped in mud and put a permanent bow in one of my poles.

But anything that helps me get out is a good thing. Some people like five star hotels. Personally, I’d rather stay in a five million star hotel.

o-CAMPING-570

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