JMT Trip Planning: Random New Gear…

My summer 2018 JMT hike is still quite a ways away, but, it’s also steadily growing closer too! In just a few more months I will start working on actually getting our permits, and from then it will begin to feel even more real… Until then though, I am stuck with daydreaming and planning! That’s not a bad thing though… I have only hiked out west once, and even that hike won’t be exactly quite like this one, so there is still much I need to learn. Sure, some of it I won’t learn until I am actually standing on the trail, but until then I enjoy learning as much as I can beforehand!

There is a lot of unknown that I need to prepare for… much higher altitudes, true alpine environments, possible snow traverses and potentially high stream crossings, not to mention this will be the longest period of time I have been out for, as well as the longest distance travelled at once! So of course some of my gear decisions will be a bit different from the typical stuff I use on my shorter hikes here on the east coast. Maybe not that much different, but I need to think about accomplishing some things a bit differently than I do now. And besides all of this, I have to plan for my son too!

I have already shared what sleep system and cook kit we plan to carry on the JMT, but haven’t posted much else since. There are a couple of other items I know we will be carrying (such as our backpacks), and I need to get those posts up sometime too, but until then I wanted to cover some miscellaneous gear. These items will also be covered later in their respective groups too, but I still wanted to go ahead and share some of these things now… So on with it!

For years now I have been trying out different shirts to hike in. Considering that I will be in alpine conditions much of the time on the JMT, I knew that I wanted to go with a long sleeve shirt to cover as much of my pasty white skin as possible! A UPF treated long sleeve shirt will allow me to use very little sunblock (which I can’t stand using anyway)! However, I am also thinking about using my umbrella while hiking too, so between that and a long sleeve shirt, I should be able to avoid much of the harmful sun rays with minimal sun block use.

I also knew that I wanted a woven shirt rather than a knit shirt to better prevent bug bites, which I hear can be brutal in the Sierras at time, or in certain area’s. From my reading, woven nylon does a better job at deterring bug bites than woven polyester, however, a bug treatment will help prevent bug bites on both shirts even more. I also wanted a button down front to allow good ventilation, but even more so, that I preferred not having back vents. In my experience with another shirt with back vents, I found it to be quite uncomfortable where the mesh was sewn into the shirt, not to mention that when my backpack is on and pressed against my back, the back vents are useless anyway. I also wanted at least one chest pocket, and preferred a zippered pocket as opposed to a Velcro pocket.

When spending more hours than I care to admit Googling “best shirts to wear backpacking” and “best shirt for the JMT” along with many other searches, I finally settled on the long sleeve Patagonia Sun Stretch shirt.

To be honest, this shirt doesn’t seem to shine in any one particular area, but when considering this shirt will be used with the rest of my gear as part of a system, it seems to me that it is a very well-rounded shirt. This shirt is a 52% nylon, 48% polyester blend, so I get a shirt that may not be quite as tough or bug resistant as 100% nylon, but I do get a more comfortable next-to-skin feel thanks to the polyester. And the 30 UPF sun rating will help dull some of the sun rays beating down on my pasty skin too!

There are also 2 large front zipped pockets, although the pockets zip up and down (rather than side to side). This seems to allow easier access , but if anything is in the pockets and they are left open, it seems like it would be easy for those items to fall out when bending over. This is a possibility since both pockets need to be left open to take advantage of the extra ventilation,  so I hope this isn’t an actual issue.

All in all, I am very excited about using this shirt. I would say this is probably the most excited I have been about a shirt… The medium fits me great in the torso, however, like most other long sleeve shirts that actually fit me right, the sleeves could be about an inch longer for my liking. But, it is a very comfortable shirt to wear, only weighs 6.5 oz in a size medium, and I got it on sale for 30% off at Patagonia! Besides this, I actually like the pattern on it much better than any other hiking shirt I have bought to date! (Worth noting, I bought 2 of these exact shirts… 1 for myself, & 1 for my son.)

I have been using a few pieces of Patagonia clothing since I started backpacking in 2009. Sure, that hasn’t been all that long ago, but the fact that it is now almost 9 years later and I am still using those same pieces, well that says something. One item that I have had since the beginning is a Capilene 2 long sleeve crew shirt. Truth be told, it still has plenty of life in it, however, it is a bit worn. I could still use this piece, but since there were sales going on and I was already ordering other items, I figured why not get a replacement for it… So I picked up 3 of the Capilene Lightweight Crews for only $19 each! (1 for my son, 1 for me to wear now, and a replacement for when this one wears out!)

My plan is to wear the Sun Stretch shirt while hiking, and then change into the Capilene Lightweight shirt and my (old) Capilene 2 long bottoms to sleep in at night. This will provide me with clean(er) clothes to sleep in, which will keep my Zpacks sleeping bag clean(er) too! Then of course, during the day (early morning likely) if it is super cold, I could always leave these pieces on under my hiking clothes for extra warmth. As an added bonus, this shirt has a thumb loop that does a great job at keeping the sleeve pulled down, and even a simple hang loop in the back of the neck.

As I mentioned, I picked up a top for both my son and I, but I also picked up the matching Capilene Lightweight long bottoms for him too since he didn’t have any. I am curious to see how these hold up over time because they are quite lightweight! My son’s size medium top weights in at 3.5 oz, and my size large weighs in at 3.8 oz (his size medium bottoms weigh in at 3.4 oz).

Something I have wanted for quite a long time… a pair of Possum Down gloves! I will bring a pair of gloves for those cold evenings and morning. I needed to order a pair of gloves for my son, but I got a brain fart! I decided to order a pair of these possum down gloves for myself, and just let him use my old Outdoor Research PL150 gloves! Win/win!

I picked up the size XL, and while they fit, they are a bit tight getting on. I don’t think I have large hands (in surgery I wear a size 8 glove), but I have found that when ordering gloves, a lot of them seem to be too small for me, even when measuring using their sizing charts. Anyway, my size XL only comes in at 1.4 oz… the down side, everyone says that these things are fragile! I don’t really plan on using them while hiking, but if my fingers are cold, I will! An issue I may have with them is that I plan to climb Half Dome and I’m afraid that the cables going up will eat these gloves up… I’ll just have to see though. The good thing is they were only $22 for a pair… sure that is money, but gloves can be much more expensive than this, and in light of that, these aren’t priced all that bad! Regardless, I can’t wait to use them for a while and see what I think about them!

I have been wearing Inov-8 RocLites (and specifically the old 315’s) for a few years now and overall they have been great shoes! Sticky rubber, good underfoot protection while still being flexible and allowing decent underfoot feel, very breathable, and dried out fast, even when soaked through and through. Only once did I get a small blister while wearing them, and I don’t even remember all the details about it now (that’s how small it was). But over time it seems that my feet have gotten larger (especially while hiking) and my toes started hitting the end of the toe box, which resulted in bruised toenails that eventually fall off… Now my RocLites are at the end of their lives and its high time that they be replaced…

Since folks started hiking in the Altra Lone Peak 1’s I have been interested in them. I hiked with several hikers that wore them, however, I also got lots of mixed feedback about them. What seemed to be a constant though is that on wet rocks and roots they were slicker than snot! Because of this I stayed clear of them. When the LP 1.5’s came out I had hopes that this had been fixed, but when I messaged Altra they informed me that the 1.5’s used the same exact outsole as the 1’s… So I wrote them off and haven’t really paid much attention to them since. Bummer…

Fast-forward to July 2017 and the Lone Peak 3.5’s have now been released. Of course this means deals were popping up all over the place on the recent/old 3.0 version. The sale prices were pretty affordable, so I started looking into what others were saying about them… Surprisingly, it seems that while Altra still hasn’t started using Vibram rubber on the Lone Peaks, they have improved the stickiness of their outsole for the 3.0’s (and supposedly a bit more on the 3.5’s)! So, I bit… I picked up a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.0’s from Running Warehouse using a 15% off code for a measly $59.40! At that price, I figured they are worth a try…

Right off the bat I was so impressed with how comfortable that they are that I decided to pick up a second pair to keep at work. Altra’s seem to be known for 2 things. One is that they are wider than many other shoes, and the second is that they are zero drop, which is also a bit different from most other shoes. So onto the first part…

I normally wear a size USM12 in my everyday shoes. General advice is that when buying shoes to hike/backpack in, to buy larger than what you normally wear. I did that with my Inov-8’s by going up 1/2 a size (USM12.5). Initially this was great, but as I mentioned, over time my feet seemed to have gotten bigger. Hence, my interest in Altra’s again. So, being that Altra’s are normally wider than most other shoes, I decided to again order a 1/2 size up, and as it turned out, I think that was a wise decision! Here were my initial thoughts:

My heel and mid foot seem to sit secure and pretty well locked into place, while my forefoot and toes are able to splay out as wide as they can (keeping in mind that after a day or 2 on the trail, they will likely splay even more). My heel stays secured in the shoe when walking, and there is about 1/2 inch of space (or a tiny bit more) between the end of my toes and the end of the shoes (not enough to feel like the front is floppy though). So, while I have yet to walk these down the trail, initially, I don’t think I could be any happier with the fit!

(And for point of reference, the second pair I picked up were size USM12’s – my normal size. After wearing both for a couple of days, I am glad that I went 1/2 size up for the pair I intend on hiking in. There is more of a difference between the sizes than I thought there would be… The heel and mid foot areas seem a bit tighter than I would like for hiking in and initially my heel actually did rise up a bit when walking. Regardless, I think these will be fine for wearing at work, but I think I made the right decision by going up a half a size for my hiking pair!)

As for the second part… zero drop. This wasn’t the reason I bought them, and honestly, it wouldn’t really sway me one way or another. Some seem to say that zero drop is a “healthy alternative” to wearing “regular” shoes in which the heel is higher than the forefoot. It may be… I am not trying to argue that one way or the other. But, it is something that will take some time for me to work into. I have read reviews where folks say that they put these on right out of the box and wore them hiking with no problems without ever wearing a zero drop shoe before, while others report that they caused too much pain in their Achilles and their lower calf’s to keep wearing them at all! Because of this, Altra recommends a transition time of about 6 weeks. I am now about 4 weeks into this process…

I have been wearing them for most everything I do while at home. That has included some 1.5 – 2 mile (pavement) runs, treadmill walks, elliptical circuits, working out in the gym and then just wearing to my sons football games, to the grocery store, around the house and into work. Then of course I also wear the pair while I am at work too, so I basically wear these all day long. Since wearing my Altra’s I haven’t noticed any lower calf pain, but I have noticed some lower Achilles soreness, particularly after runs, or longer (4 – 5 miles) hikes with a backpack. I have no reason to push into these too fast though, so I am trying to work into them correctly…

My plan is to see how these do over time. I don’t have any long hikes planned for the immediate future, but I will definitely wear them on the trail before my JMT hike to see how I like them. If it turns out that I do like them, then I plan to order a new pair right before my JMT hike next summer. However, by then, I imagine the 4’s will be coming out, or at least about to come out, so hopefully I can score a pair of the 3.5’s for a great price too! We’ll see…

And while I am on the subject of feet…

A few years back my buddy Gizmo Joe gave me a pair of Smartwool toe socks. I have worn them on occasion, and have had somewhat mixed feelings about them. First off, I have never gotten a blister on, or in between my toes (with or without toe socks). These toe socks seem to be an answer to toe blisters for those that get them though, so it’s kind of like I am fixing something that doesn’t need to be fixed…

On the other hand, given the wider forefoot and toe box in the above mentioned Altra’s, a little extra bulk (which these provide given the extra material between the toes) may be a good choice for me now. I have been wearing these injinji Trail Midweight Mini Crew toe socks  with the Altra’s on my runs and hikes, and they have been fine so far… I look forward to wearing this combo to see how I like it in the long run versus just wearing normal socks…

Almost 5 years ago now I picked up a Suunto Core watch. Technically that watch is still running, but it has some issues. One of the buttons stopped working, the keeper band finally broke off, and it’s beat up pretty badly. So, I decided it was time to buy a new watch… Since reading this post on Andrew Skurka’s site, I have been interested in the Suunto Ambit3 Peak watch. Now was the time to finally see if it was for me though…

I found the best price at the time to be on Amazon Prime. They had the Ambit3 Peak (HR) for $302 shipped, so a couple of days later, it was in my hands! I had never used a GPS watch before. In fact, the only GPS use I had was with the Garmin in my car! This watch had a ton of features, and I was excited to start going through them all and figuring them out!

I am not going to get into all the features here in this post, but in the 3 weeks that I have owned it I have figured out the basics. There is still some for me to learn, but from what I have figured out, I like this watch! If I wear the hear rate belt this thing will record a ton of information, however, to be fair, I have no intention of carrying the heart rate belt with me on the hike. However, I love that I can set it to record my location and then look over the information from my hike as far as distance, time and elevation changes. What’s even cool is that Suunto can create a short movie that shows my route based on the GPS pings it recorded during the hike!

When looking at GPS watches one thing that many of them have in common is battery life… or lack thereof. This is one area where the Suunto Ambit3 Peak shined bright(er)… If used simply as a regular watch, the battery is listed to last 30 days! When the GPS is used, that time does shorten considerably though… when recording my GPS location every 60 seconds, the battery is listed at 200 hours (not every 10 seconds like I mention in the video…), then 30 hours at every 5 seconds, and 20 hours at every 1 second. I intend to use the lowest setting for long hikes (such as the JMT), but will also try the shorter settings on shorter hikes. These battery times are what impressed me though over the other GPS watches in the same price range.

But, while the watch may be awesome, and is technically counted as worn weight, this simply isn’t the whole story… If I plan to charge my watch while on the trail, I will be required to carry the charging cable, which weighs in at 1.4 oz! But hey, with an already lightweight backpack, that little bit of extra weight isn’t enough to matter and I am still happy to have it!

Speaking of charging things, at the beginning of my JMT hike I will not have access to a power strip for 10 days! This means I need to have a pretty large amount of juice stored up when beginning my hike, or a means of getting some juice along the way…

Being an east coast hiker, I have always turned my nose up at solar panels, however, the Sierra’s are a different story all together! The Appalachian Trial is sometimes called the green tunnel (and for good reason) where as the Sierra’s offer true alpine conditions… and a lot of it! That means I will be walking directly below the sun for much of the JMT hike… so why not take advantage of that?! Hello solar panels…

Of all the places to go backpacking, the JMT offers the right conditions for using a solar panel, and after some debating about what I needed to do, this seemed to be the way to go for me. By carrying a solar panel I will be able to carry a smaller (read: lighter) battery pack, which I can keep charged up with the solar panel during the day, and then use the battery pack to charge my devices at night while I am sleeping.

This all sounded great, but it still wasn’t quite that easy… there are a lot of solar panels out there, and to be honest, I knew nothing about them. After gleaning over others gear lists, watching videos, asking questions here and there, and reading up on “which solar panel for the JMT” I settled on the Suntactics sCharger5. True, at $100+ these were the more expensive solar panels available, but what I got for that money was a panel that has a reputation among both PCT hikers and JMT hikers as being reliable, durable, so water-resistant that it should be called waterproof, and (next to DIY) the lightest one to boot! As a bonus, it can even be attached to a backpack very easily due to the grommet’s they have added at the corners.

Besides all of this, there is a unique feature that this solar panel has that others don’t, and that is an auto-retry feature. This is what Suntactics says about this feature:

“Suntactics US Patented Pending Auto-Retry ™. Some devices will not continue to charge if they see a fluctuation in power like a slow-moving cloud. Complete shadowing of the sun can cause this fluctuation. Suntactics sChargers will re-start charging within minutes after a power fluctuation.”

As I understand it, if the power supply falls below a certain amount, a phone (particularly iPhones) will stop charging and the only way for it to start again is for the phone to be unplugged from the solar panel and then plugged back up… who’s got time for that? Not me! The Suntactics chargers automatically does that for me though! However, my plan is not to charge the phone from the solar panel, but to charge my battery pack instead. Battery packs are ok with the fluctuations and will go with the flow, so it will continue to trickle charge no matter what the power supply is.

After figuring out which solar panel I wanted to carry, deciding on the battery pack was the next step. I have a few of the Anker battery packs, which I have been quite happy with. They have been reliable, lightweight (considering the capacity) and seem to provide the power that they claim. I have been using the Anker 6,400 mAh battery pack for about 2 years now, however, I also just picked up an Anker PowerCore 10,000 to try out (pictured above). Now all I have to do is figure out which one I want to actually carry with me on the JMT…

So, those are the most recent items I have picked up for my JMT hike next summer. There are still a few more that I need to pick up, however my list is getting smaller (thankfully)! Now I just have to hold off for another few months and then I can actually get my permits… I can’t wait for that! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

~Stick~

Disclaimer: I paid for all the items listed above with my own money. I either paid full price, or got them during a sale, or with a code found online. I am not affiliated with any of these companies, nor am I paid by them for these reviews. The thoughts above are my own opinion which I formed myself after handling/using the item’s.

About Stick

My blog is essentially a record of my hiking career. Through it, I, and others, can see how I have evolved from a heavy weight backpacker, to a smarter, more efficient, lightweight backpacker. Through the use of video, still photos, and of course writing, one can see my progression, as well as check out some of the places I hike, and not to mention some cool, lightweight gear options. For me, my blog is a journal, but for others, I hope that it is an interactive learning tool to aid them in their own progression towards lightweight backpacking.
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3 Responses to JMT Trip Planning: Random New Gear…

  1. John C says:

    Hi Stick
    Patagonia has nice stuff, but another shirt I like is the Columbia Silver Ridge 100% nylon shirt available from Amazon. That shirt is bullet proof as far as wear goes. I am a skinny guy at 6′ 185 lb. and the large fits me perfectly, the long sleeves just right. My heritage is Irish and we glow in the dark so I finally gave up on shorts and short sleeve shirts even in hot weather because I got tired of buying 55 gallon drums of sun block. Due to the high elevation the sun really beats down on a person in the Sierra. There is also a Silver Ridge light that is part polyester but I am not familiar with that one.

    Like

  2. Ian says:

    The auto-retry feature is exactly why that Suntactics panel has been on my list for years. Simple and to the point. Since battery tech has gotten so much better recently, it’s probably not as big of a deal now, but if you want to plug the phone in directly, that’s the way to go.

    Like

    • Stick says:

      Ian,

      I agree, if you plan to charge your phone straight from the solar panel, I would say that the Auto-Retry feature is a huge game changer, and automatically puts the Suntactics chargers ahead of the rest. Although, I do not plan to use it this way, for the most part anyway. I figure when I stop if my battery pack is full again I can then plug my phone up while sitting around, unless I am using it for photo’s or videos…

      ~Stick~

      Like

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