Last weekend I met up with a few friends and continued my hike a few miles farther north along the Appalachian Trail. On day 1 we began our hike from the parking lot below Max Patch, and hiked ~7 miles to Walnut Mtn Shelter, in which we spent the coldest night I have ever spent on the trail, 6 F (inside the shelter, and minus wind chill). On the morning of day 2, we continued to follow the snow-covered trail for 9.9 miles, where we set up our tents near the blue-blazed trail leading to Deer Park Mtn Shelter. The highs for the day were maybe mid 30’s, however, that night, the temps only dropped to 22 F. On the last day, we continued dropping elevation for the last 3.2 miles of the hike, before being dumped right into the middle of Hot Springs, NC.
As per my norm, there were a few new items I carried with me on this hike, which I discuss in the video above, as well as a few older items which I continue to use, and seem to get better and better with use. Being that this hike was one of the coldest hikes I have been on in quite a while (despite getting out every January for the past 4 years now), most of the gear I discuss in this video is gear that helped keep me warm…
My overall TPW was about 20.5 lbs, which included all my food, water, fuel, and of course, my base pack gear. My BPW was around 13.84 lbs, which is pretty high for me, but with the cold weather forecast, and the fact that some of my gear was new, I would rather carry a little extra to make sure I stayed warm. And, as it turns out, everything I carried worked rather well, save my repackaging process for my Aqua Mira drops. My gear kept me warm enough to remain comfortable, even in temps as low as 6 F, and despite my heavy BPW, still light enough so that I hardly even knew it was strapped to my back!
For those interested, HERE is a link to my gear list. As well, following is a brief summary of the gear I discuss in the video:
- ZPacks Arc Blast (60L): This has been THE best pack I have ever used. It carries great and I find myself rarely ever needing to make adjustments while hiking. I put it on, and forget about it…
- Using Trekking Poles: Over the last few hikes, I have been weaning myself off of using trekking poles, however, I think that it wasn’t a great idea, for me. I have experienced lots of neck pain after recent hikes in which I did not use poles, and after a brief experiment on this hike, I think it is due to me not using poles. My shoulder/neck area simply takes a beating and the stress from hiking all day, but doesn’t get to stretch out. Using trekking poles keeps this area of my body active, which erases the pain…
- Aqua Mira Drops & Repackaging/Premix Bottles: I decided to leave my trusty Sawyer Mini at home due to the constant cold temps predicted for this hike. As it turns out, I had a bad experience trying to use the little premix bottle on this hike and have decided that for cold weather hikes, I will still repackage the drops, but I will just carry the little cap to premix the drops in rather than the tiny premixing bottle.
- AcuRite Thermometer: With the super low temps forecasted for this hike, I wanted to know what they were. My watch will work, but it requires me to wake up and check. This suction cup thermometer was $6 at Wal-Mart, and after removing the suction cup and installing a mini-biner, it comes in at 1.4 oz. Plus, it stores and displays the min/max temperature for a 24 hour period! Definitely a great buy, and worth its weight to me!
- Jetboil MiniMo: Overall, it is a great little set-up, however, compared to what I already have (Sol Ti), other than the 0.2L volume difference, it only offers me an additional 4 oz of weight. After replacing the threads and valve in my Sol Ti, it simmer’s as well as the MiniMo, not that I really ever really require simmering for much of my cooking on the trail anyways…
- Good To Go Thai Curry Meal: One of the better curry meals I have tried on the trail, however, next time, I would go with a single serving as opposed to a double. Not that it was too much, it was just that I wasn’t that hungry…
- Cesar’s Pad Thai: Hands down, my favorite trail meal. Easy to make, very tasty, and easy to clean up after, even when cooking in the pot! Only cost’s about a dollar per serving too…
- ZPacks Solo Plus Hexamid Tarp & Hexanet: To date, has been my favorite shelter I have used. Light, stupid easy to set-up, adequately sized for me and all my gear, and so far has kept me dry.
- Exped SynMat UL7: This was my first hike with it, so I didn’t know what to expect (hence the 2 other ccf foam pads I packed). I didn’t even try using this pad on its own, but instead it was sandwiched between the 2 ccf pads. I slept warm, and good though. I don’t see it replacing my XLite by any means, but it will remain in my gear closet.
- Marmot Helium 15 F Sleeping Bag: I don’t get to use this bag enough, but when I do, it shines! Of course, supplemented with other down clothing, it has now kept me comfortably warm down to temps of 6 F, a full 10 degrees less than it’s EN Rating! This is a serious bag, and I love it.
- Feet: For this hike I opted to use my SmartWool medium weight crew length socks and my Inov-8 RocLite 315 trail runners. The combo, along with the dry snow, managed to keep my feet warm for most of the hike. There were a few times my toes got cold, but that was to be expected in these temps… I pushed these pieces to the limit, and was happy with them.
- Hands: I used a combination of my OR PL150 gloves, ZPacks fleece mittens and MLD eVENT over-mitts, and they worked fine. I will admit, I had cold fingers a bit more than cold toes, but I came back with all 10 of them, fully intact. I haven’t perfected this set-up yet, and plan to continue to work with this area. But I was sure happy to have them all on the trail!
- Legs, hiking: Due to the cold weather forecasted, I opted to simply wear my Patagonia Capilene 2 long bottoms in place of my undies. Over this I wore my Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible pants. The long bottoms weren’t as comfy as my undies, and I am not sure that I would leave them out again, but overall, it worked well enough.
- Legs/feet, sleeping: For sleeping, I simply slipped off the Columbia pants and slid my GooseFeet Gear down pants and socks on. I also had an extra pair of the SmartWool socks that I could change into, however, the first night I didn’t need to since my feet stayed dry and warm, and clean, while hiking.
- Top, base layer: My go to base layer in cold weather has always been my Patagonia Capilene 2 long sleeve crew shirt. It works great, and after 5+ years, is still holding up, although, it is showing some wear… It will be replaced with the same when the time comes.
- Top, mid layer: This is the third winter that I have been using my Patagonia Capilene 4 Extreme Weight 1/4 Zip Hoody, and I love it. I almost went with my R1 and a grid fleece knock off balaclava in place of the Cap 4 hoody on this hike due to the expected temps, but last minute I decided to stick with the Cap 4 hoody. No knock against the R1, but I have been very happy with the versatility of the Cap 4 hoody every time I have used it. Definitely remains a go-to piece!
- The North Face Verto: I choose the Verto over my Patagonia Houdini (despite my love for Patagonia pieces) because it is not as breathable as the Houdini (so it would keep me warmer) and it is lighter by 1.5 oz. I am happy to have it, and as some of my other pieces, I enjoy it more and more with each use.
- Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak: I have only used this piece of a few hikes now, but it is awesome! The weight of the Ex Light, yet with a hood and no front zip, and a kangaroo pocket! I actually hiked in this jacket for a while on this hike, which is the first time I have ever felt the need to hike in my down pieces. I wore the Verto beneath it to help keep moisture from getting into it should I start sweating, but I never did in these temps (and the hike was a pretty easy section). Plus, it doesn’t leak down near as bad as the UL Down Inner pieces I had… The only down fall is the lack of adjustments around the hood, however, with my Black Rock Gear down boggin, the hood from my cap 4 hoody and the Verto wind jacket, the hood on the Ex Light Anorak was a little more fitted, and not an issue.
So, this is a brief run-down on several pieces of my kit that I used for this hike. Overall, I am really pleased with how it all worked out. The only problem I had was with the premix bottle for the Aqua Mira, however, I simply used the MP1 tabs I always carry as back up. As for my sleeping set-up, I feel fully confident that I can take the same items I used on this hike (although, I would likely swap the SynMat pad for my XLite and only carry the extra 1/8″ pad) that I could go to 0 F and still be comfortable. Past this point though, and I may start to get some cool spots…
And of course, there is other gear that probably deserves a mention too… I still absolutely love my ZebraLight. I actually had to change the battery in the dark and it went off without a hitch (and it was the same battery that has been for several months). My long handle REI Ti-Ware spoon is still rockin’. My Suunto Core battery finally hit low again (and I really need to do a follow-up on it anyway…) My Lawson Kline Shepherd Hook Ti stakes continued to shine, whereas I ended up loosing an MSR Mini Groundhog to the frozen ground. My GooseFeet Gear down pillowcase and Exped UL Pillow still kept my head comfy while sleeping, although, it squirts off of the Exped SynMat UL7 something fierce! And so on…
Anyway, the hike was exciting… I got to tick off another section of trail, and got some great experience with some of both, my old, and new gear. Not to mention, great time in God’s great outdoors, with some good company… and of course, a great breakfast at the Smoky Mountain Diner on the way out!
Thanks for stopping by!
Disclaimer: I am not receiving any sort of compensation from any of the companies listed above to write these things. These are my personal thoughts after using the above gear on yet another hike.