Last year I decided against the advice of Post Card, a member of the REI Marlton, NJ staff, author and two time AT thru-hiker, to jump into the ultra-lightweight backpack crowd. I just had to have the ZPacks Arc Haul 62. First the Good… I have to admit there are a lot of great features to be found on the Arc Haul and the A’ la carte way of customizing the pack to meet your needs. Things like near water proof fabric, lightweight compression and accessory straps, off-the-back suspension system, and the fact it weighed in at a measly 29 ounces even after I added a few customizations. What did I add? Two belt pouches a “V” top strap and a chest mounted bottle holder. Now the Bad and the Ugly… The lightweight materials made getting into the belt pouches with one hand near impossible. On-line you can find numerous work arounds and modifications for this but you shouldn’t have to immediately modify your pack to make it “work”. Also, the lightweight straps i.e. the belt and shoulders got uncomfortable quickly on the trail for me. I noticed ZPacks does sell extra padding and others bloggers have added these to make it “work” but again I ask why. Simply put the Arc Haul may be the perfect pack for many, just not for me.
During the off-season I tried out the Gregory Zulu and Paragon, and I have tried to like the Osprey Exo and Levity but never could get the feel I wanted. You know what felt Goooooood though was the Gregory Baltoro and the Osprey Aether. Actually, they felt really good while carrying 30 pounds around the store for 30 minutes or so. But, and there’s always a but, I couldn’t reconcile the six (6) pounds of just pack weight. I thought, I’ll just have to settle with 80-90% of what I want. And what did I want? I want it all basically (lol). Light but not too light, features but not a Swiss Army knife pack, comfortable but not like strapping on an E-Z-Boy. But since I had time I kept looking, when I ran across something called the Aether Pro 70. Looking around the only one I found to try was 500 miles away and I just wasn’t making that drive. So… REI.com it was. I ordered one into the Paramus, NJ store and made an appointment with Kathy, one of their “Pros” to help me with the fitting.
At the store Kathy spent time adjusting the torso, changed the belt, and loaded me up with 15 pounds to start. On the pack went and after a few more adjustments I couldn’t even tell the pack had any weight in it at all. Okay let’s try 30 pounds. Now 30 pounds is more than my total pack weight on the AT last year and would almost have max’d out my ZPack but I figured what the heck… load ‘er up. 30 pounds could be felt, hell I haven’t carried a pack in six months (has it been that long already?) but it carried the weight effortlessly and so did I. A couple more adjustments, another 30 minutes wandering the store where I was forced to spend more money (lol) and I decided this is the pack. Back home we have been taking almost daily walks at Bass River State Forest and I have loaded about 15 pounds of gear into the pack for those walks and each day the pack settles in a little more and with a few extra adjustments it feels like a part of me. And at just over 3 pounds for the pack weight to get the same comfort as the 6-pound packs I’m all in… this is my pack for the AT this year. To check out the pack here are a couple links:
Here are some comparison picks of my 2018 and 2019 AT pack choices.
Large to Small Airstream – Why?
We traded the 30’ Airstream for a 16’ Airstream. Way smaller, but much more maneuverable and travelable (is there such a word as travelable?). The 30’ was fabulous while we were full time. She met all our needs, but getting her around was a bit tough. She required an F250 to take her around and to run everything in the trailer we needed a 50 Amp service at the campgrounds we stayed. We could manager her, but we felt encumbered by it. An F250 is expensive to maintain and run, gas was outrageous. I just felt there was a better option out there for us…..
We started to talk to Patrick at Colonial Airstream about some options. We felt the Airstream Basecamp would fit our current needs. So, we traded the big one for the little one……with no regrets, yet. I know most will say why the dramatic drop? Since hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2018, we found we needed a lot less stuff. I thought we had down sized enough when we went full time in the Airstream, but we could still do better. Honestly, how much stuff do you really need? I want our lives to be about adventures, destinations, meeting different people and cultures. Plus, having a 30 Amp service is way cheaper at the campground. We can easily tow the 16’ anywhere and go to the regular gas pump with our Honda Ridgeline = YES moment!!!
I think Don is still on the fence about the size, but I am okay with it. We have no intentions of using the wet bath for showers, unless we really have to. Our intentions are to use the showers at the campgrounds we go to, just like the laundromats. I was very thankful for a shower on the trail after five plus days. We can use our stuff sacks to minimize some of our clothing storage and, honestly, we all wear clothes for two days in a row, less underwear of course ;-).
We have some modification ideas in mind that we know will make the trailer storage better. We just have to implement them, but that will not happen until later this year. We will be heading back out to finish The Appalachian Trail this year (broke my foot last year on the AT) and then back to full time on the road with the Airstream Basecamp……..yipeeeee!!!!
One of the items you MUST have when hiking any distance is a water collection/filtration device. On our AT hike last year we looked at various systems like MSR, Katadyn, Sawyer, and Platypus. On the internet there are hundreds of opinions, and we all know that opinions are like A$$H0les, and here is just one more. Hopefully our choice will help you make informed decision and make your hike more enjoyable. What did we decide on? To answer this requires a short story. After finishing my research, I thought, I opened up my trusty laptop to purchase a three liter, 3L, Platypus bladder to go with the custom cutoff plastic bottle bottom (high tech… I don’t think so) when I ran across something called a CNOC Vecto bladder. I was immediately wowed by the large opening on the top and the vision of filling ease and being able to chuck the cup. I jumped on Amazon, found the CNOC and a Platypus coupler that was a perfect fit that was almost free, hit the purchase button and waited for the UPS truck like the little kid in the movie Music Man … Oh the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’ down the street, Oh please let it be for me… Check out the video to see how the CNOC worked on the “kitchen sink test” and you’ll see why I decided it would not be my “In-Pack” water bladder.
That being said it did come with me on the AT and will again this year. Why? Well, simply put, I found the perfect way to use it, for me/us. I use the WIDE opening for a quick fill at a good water source and found it fills pretty quickly even at those supposed streams that look more like a trickle you find on the trail in New Jersey and New York. After filling I use the Platypus coupler and connect to my clean water bladder the using a velcro strap I have for keeping my filtration system together (I can also use it for emergencies… love dual purpose items that weight almost nothing). Then I hang on a tree or nail at the shelter and let the water flow through my Sawyer Squeeze Filter. The great thing is the coupler can be used with a Smart Water (or similar) bottle for a quick refill. I’ll add links for the system we put together in our “Gear” section to help you if you want to try it out (goes to Amazon and if you buy I make a penny – yeah). Good Hiking and thanks for joining our adventure.
TIBS and I (Capt Obvious) wanted to share our reviews of the lightweight down jackets we carried in 2018 and will most likely be carrying on our 2019 continuation of the Appalachian (AT) Trail (Make sure you check out the video at the bottom). Now the reviews… ladies first.
Adidas Terrex Climaheat Agravic by TIBS
There are not many options for women that are hippy (and, yes, I am talking about myself). Now add in hiking the Appalachian Trail and that goes to almost zero. I have to admit that I was frustrated in trying to find a down jacket. They either stop at my waist or they would not make it to my waist. Either way it was frustrating as all hell. Actually, no, it pissed me off. I really, really hate when manufactures have an assumed clientele view that is very narrow. I have sent emails and even called to voice my fluffy view. I have to say that Patagonia is trying. They have expanded their sizes for men, but not women (yet). I spoke to several REI locations and rock climbing is huge right now. Again, there are few sizes for larger people. Large does not always equal fat. I hate short sited views sometimes, frustrating. However, I am here to review my jacket…….
1. Fits my ass
2. Covers my ass
3. Polar fleece vents at pits
4. Packs into its own pocket
5. Seals at cuffs
6. Water repellent
7. Side seam zip pockets, love pockets
How did I find this jacket? I did not find the jacket, but my husband Don did. Don noticed the jacket on Massdrop and purchased it for me. I figured that if I did not like the jacket or if the jacket did not fit I would sell it on one of those backpacking gear sites. Lucky for me, the jacket worked out. I had the opportunity to use it on our first night out of Harper’s Ferry. I wore that jacket in my sleeping bag with my wool cap under the hood. I was as snug as a bug in a rug at 25 degrees, yeah me!! We had several cold nights that week that varied in temperatures and the jacket rocked it!! Funny how things work out for us fluffy girls!!
Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer by Capt Obvious
I picked up my Mountain Hardware (MH) Ghost Whisperer Hooded Down jacket based on multiple reviews and after ensuring it fir well added it to my 2018 AT attempt gear list. MH says this jacket has something called Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™ which stops down from absorbing moisture so it maintains insulation properties but honestly my plan was to use the jacket in camp after I got out of the rain, after all I was carrying the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex synthetic jacket (click here for that review) for time there would be moisture and a rain jacket. Honestly, I never wore the jacket during our 450 miles on the trail. It stayed stuffed into its own pocket, great feature, and became my pillow. MH says this jacket has an “Alpine fit” which basically means it’s tight so you can layer under a shell. Elastic cuffs and elastic to adjust the hem should help keep warmth in. And with 800 fill you expect it to be warm. What I found is there is a reason for the “Alpine fit”, you need a shell to stay warm. I decided to take the jacket for a test drive on a 30 degree (+ or -) 4-mile hike just to find out how it would work in a kind of real world hiking scenario (click here if you want to kip the rest and see the video). I loved the fit and feel of the jacket and it looks good. Features are great and the hood fit nicely as well. The But is that during the hike I simply never felt “warm” but I didn’t freeze either. I wore a lightweight base-layer and my arms always felt cool, not chilled but cool. You know that cool you feel from a raincoat that sticks to your arms kind of cool. Maybe the lower comfort limit for the jacket would best be described at 40 degrees. By comparison my Kuhl Spyfire jacket that is 3-4 years old now will still be my daily go to, but I’ll take the Ghost Whisperers 8.2oz weight over the almost 1 lbs weight of the cool on the hike. After all I can always layer and many, and Mountain Hardware, recommend and I can leave my pillow at home.
Pros: Extremely Lightweight, Looks Great, Packs Into Itself, Comfortable Fit, Did I Say Extremely Lightweight?
Cons: Never Felt Warm Enough
An Old Dog on the Trail – Where your brain says you are 25 and your body says “Are you kidding, your 80!”
In 2017, my daughter told me she and her husband were going to Katahdin, Maine. I had nothing “doing,” yeah, why not? We had climbed 2 mountains the previous year in the Adirondacks. Later I found out we were walking – “WHAT, I thought we were going by car!”. What the hell I thought, it beats sitting on the front porch watching cars go by. Let’s do this.
The first thing was to get all the appropriate gear we would need; most of which came from REI with a lot of help from “Post Card” Mark Hughes at REI. Geared up, I headed for the gym late December 2017 to get ready for this walk.
We had decided on a flip/flop to get us away from the 3,600 hikers starting from Springer Mountain in Georgia. We were to start at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, and head NOBO to Katahdin, Maine, mid-April. Up jumped the devil in March – prostate cancer. I told doctors at Fox Chase that I would be “on the trail, April 19” with or without them! One week after radiation treatments were finished, we started the trail on April 19 as I planned.
To me, the Trail is “more mental than physical.” You have to convince your body to go along with what your brain tells it to do. You must make the transition from the “civilized” world to the “wilderness” world. The first thing for you to conquer is the difference between “what you want versus what you need.” Every ounce you carry must be used; or, it goes into the “Hikers’ Boxes” along the way. You have to look at the trail from a positive view or negativity will take you off the trail. You set realistic goals that can be met. Contrary to the movie/book, “A Walk in the Woods” – the trail isn’t a walk; it’s more like a march! The routine that you develop to get through each day will be hard to keep with the changes in weather, terrain and you. You will adopt or fail! Until you get 500 miles under your belt, your body will still be in denial unless you’re 20 years old. Once your body makes the adjustment, things get easier –dah—what did he say? Take the trail on, one day at a time. Don’t wake up saying you have 1,800 more miles to go. Take one day at a time–what lean-to to get to or stream or overlook. Enjoy the adventure, taking in all that’s around you. It’s not a race. Old African proverb: “Eat an elephant one bite at a time.”
You get frustrated at least a dozen times a day – the trail is testing you! There were days I wanted to quit. That’s when your mental strength kicks in or you’re done. My daughter would encourage me, “I know you can do it Dad; but, it’s gonna take a lot of cursing.” It did! When you’re soaked through (even with rain gear on) with slippery rocks, mud ever where (except on the rocks); you still have to eat, sleep and set up your tent in the rain. It will make your day when you have to get up in the morning and put the wet clothes on (when it’s below freezing). Your routine will be tested every day of the 200+ days you’re on the trail. Using he “KISS” system is the best – “Keep it Simple Stupid!”
Don’t let your age keep you off the trail. Age is just a number on your birth certificate. I met a lot of 60+ year olds on the trail. All had that positive attitude necessary to beat the trail. You can do a “Through Hike” the whole trail or “Section Hikes.” All that matters is “Get out there and do it.” It will add years to your life for enjoying your grandchildren!
We went as a threesome – “the 3 musketeers” – “all for one and one for all.” My hat is off to those hiking alone. It helps to help each other. My daughter and son-in-law were my crutches. When the days get tough, the tough get tougher. It is tough to push on through the rain, wind, cold, rocks, more rocks, mud. You have to do it for yourself; not for badges or bragging rights. Your character and stamina will be tested to your core. The trail will smooth out your wrinkled character. Even if you don’t finish, you will know who you really are. I met a lot of youngsters out there trying to find themselves. Some people can’t adjust to the civilized world when they go back to it.
A bit about falling—don’t worry you will fall! It’s a matter of how many times and how hard! My left leg has nerve damage and doesn’t come up like my right. It found every rock on the trail. I fell 5 times in 450+ miles. There are blind people, amputees, old and young on the trail. The “People’s Trail” is there for “all.” Man and nature have always had connection. Get out there and see what it’s all about. It will change you forever.
I’ll see on the trail! Moses
While walking the various trails at Smithville State Park we noticed some flooding that just did not make sense just off a bend of the Rancocas River. Our thought was “Wonder if a beaver is hanging about?”. Sure enough as we round a bend what should our little eye spy? Something made of sticks? Yep, a brand new beaver house. Charlene talks about our furry little friend on this short video and I wonder if he has bigger plans.
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Don and Char
Bass River State Forest/Lake Absegami Yellow “Poppy Allen” Trail
Carpeted in leaves
Quiet in fall/winter
Free parking off season
Cons: can be very wet in places
Mosquitos and Ticks in spring/summer
Weekends are packed with people in summer
People not policing after their dogs
This almost four (4) mile “easy” walk is just off Stagecoach Rd outside of Tuckerton, New Jersey and has plenty of parking off season, prepare for a whole different circumstance in the summer when campers, daily visitors, and beach goers (nice size lake with facilities at the park). The trail, one of many in the park, is extremely well marked and maintained by the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife with bathrooms available mid hike as well as the start. Park is open dawn to dust however I have been here for moon-light hikes without any issues. There are also overnight camping, lean too’s, and cabins available with reservations. The trail can be found in the All-Trails app and gets a 4.3 rating from users.
Bottom line: Absolutely a beautiful trail in the New Jersey Pinelands and for many locals a go to location. This short hike gets two thumbs up from TIBS and has become her go to as well to strengthen her foot after five months of healing.
Cons: Hard to put on in wet
Doesn’t store in own pocket
Concerns about durability
Elastic at waist
In 2018 I was just days away from leaving for the AT and I did not have a synthetic jacket in my repertoire. Last minute I saw the Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex Jacket and made a call. They had a size large, only one, left in stock and it was Virginia Tech colors… purple with and orange interior. Not my first choice but doable and they offered me a “military discount” since I did retire from the US Air Force so I pulled the trigger. They overnighted to me and with no time to test the jacket, in my pack it went. On the trail I noticed some good and not so good features about this jacket. It kept me warm, seemed durable enough, but I do baby it, however if I was damp it was a bear to get my arm in the sleeve. Also the elastic waist would be much more versatile if it had draw strings. For the extra half ounce or so of weight this would make the jacket an A in my book. And, while the jacket packs really small I wish it would stuff into its own pocket like my Ghost Whisperer does. While I’m wishing I wish it was a reservable jacket to take advantage of the customizable colors available.
Overall I give this jacket a B+ and it will be in my pack for our 2019 AT continuation hike.
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As many of you know at the end of June my darling wife Charlene, heretofore known as TIBS, ended her Appalachian Trail through hike attempt by walking over 5 miles with a severe limp. At the time she thought it was a simple bruised foot, however the Orthopedic Doctor and the Radiologist disagreed. Seems the daily trudging had taken its toll and TIBS was diagnosed with a fractured Cuboid bone in her right foot and traded in her Altra Lone Peak for an air-cast. Fast forward four months and TIBS was given some great news, she could put her Altra back on (she changed from the Lone Peak 3.5 to the Timp 1.5 – TIBS will do a review shortly) and head to Physical Therapy. Weekly visits and copays have almost finished and TIBS and I took at short hike to check out the foot. We headed over to Bass River State Forest and hit the yellow “Poppy Allen” trail. The trail is flat, well cushioned, as long as you miss the tree roots and pine cones, and well traveled. This day the weather was cool with little or no wind and partly sunny, simply put a nice day for a walk. About four miles and just over an hour later we finished the loop and jumped back in the truck for the ride home. TIBS’s foot is a little sore but this is more from lack of use than anything else. A couple more weeks of PT, a few more test hikes, and TIBS will be ready to start prepping for the AT “part deux”. Be on the look out for TIBS on the trail and keep an eye out for her next rant, um er I mean vlog.
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As 2018 draws to a close Charlene and I wanted to recap 2018 a little. Let’s see…. we started the year enjoying some snow on the Mississippi coast, visited museums in Tallahassee, Mardi Gras parades where Charlene racked in the beads, visited my Aunt Jeannie and family in North Carolina (twice… what can we say, she’s a great cook), hiked 450 miles of the Appalachian Trail, traded in our big Airstream for the small Basecamp, went to Maine, changed our BBQ for a Firedisc and visited West Point as well as Annapolis. Whew, just typing that made me tired. It’s been a whirlwind for sure. What does 2019 hold for us? Back on the Appalachian Trail, taking sailing lessons (we want to say the Caribbean Islands and more in the coming years) experimenting with new recipes, camping, exploring, and more changes to the Airstream and a review of the gear we will be hiking with are good possibilities. Maybe we’ll have to buy an older sailboat and have you all help us fix it up and record the prevoyage fun. But most of all we want to wish everyone a fun, family filled holiday season and hope all your dreams become realities.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, and have a great Festivus. See you next year,
Charlene “TIBS” and Don “Capt Obvious”
I hate public laundromats. I really do, they suck. Even some of the campgrounds have lousy laundromats. Sadly, it is what it is when you go camping/RVing, but………..
I found a product called Soak. At first, I thought this is another gimmick product out there. I purchased a small sample size container to see how if it would work for me. Wow, just wow. You just put your items in a sink, add a squeeze, toss everything a bit and let it all soak. I would let mine soak overnight most times. I would rinse mine, but you do not have to and hang to dry. I have to admit that I only used Soak on my intimates (no public laundromat for those important and expensive items) and some tops once in a while.
I cannot describe the joy in finding something that works and works well for you. The bottle is small, but very little is needed and it lasts a long time. My intimates are happy, I am happy and my wallet is happy. Honestly, who would have thought a small bottle could bring such joy, and actually does not suck or is that soak, at what it does?!?
Now, go buy some soak (use our link on the “crap we just like” page https://escapingnewjersey.com/crap-we-just-like/ and get that laundry done (okay its a shameless plug that helps us make a couple pennies off Amazon, but I did tell you about the stuff -lol)
– Charlene (aka TIBS)
Hooking up your Airstream (or trailer) is simply following a routine process and herein lies the danger. Routine is dangerous because we “ASSUME” we haven’t missed a step and note I emphasized the word assume. We do it the same was every time, but do we really? The simple answer and is no… and I make mistakes. My video shows you how we hook up our Basecamp and doesn’t show Charlene (TIBS) reminding me I forgot to check the lights. When we started our Adventure we used a checklist and when I forget to grab it, heck this is just a routine operation, mistakes happen. Feel free to critique and make your comments, especially if you have a better way, I am always looking to learn. Thanks for joining our Awesome Adventure, and thanks to TIBS for keeping me straight. Oh, and please subscribe to our YouTube channel 🙂