What’s this blog about?
Backpacking. In a word.
Who am I?
My name is Chad, but I go by “Stick” on the trail. I am married to my lovely wife Brandy (“Biggun”) who will occasionally hit the trail with me. I also have 2 children, a son and a daughter. They have each been backpacking with me, however, they are still trying to figure out if they enjoy it as much as I do… 🙂
So, how did I get involved in all of this?
Back in March of 2009, while on a tram in Gatlinburg, I heard about the Mt LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. I found out that there are a number of ways (trails) to get to the lodge, however, each way consisted of hiking up the mountain, at least a short distance (the shortest distance was 5 miles, one-way). Once hiking up to the lodge, one could then stay in one of the cabins (pending reservations) which had no electricity or running water. (How cool is that?!) Inside the lodges were bunks with a blanket and pillow, as well as a lantern to provide light. Also, a family style dinner & breakfast is served to the guest. After the stay comes to an end, one would then simply hike back down. For some reason this sounded wonderful to me.
Later that same day, I found myself standing in the Sugarland Visitor Center looking at the large 3D map of the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was here that I noticed a trail that went from one end of the park to the other. Later I found out that this trail was called the Appalachian Trail (AKA: the “AT”) and actually extended a great deal farther than just the park, and in both directions… As I stood there that day, over the 3D map, and traced my finger along the trails, I believe that I was bitten…
Once we came home from our vacation, both the thoughts of hiking to the lodge as well as that longer trail that went all the way through the park still lingered in my mind. So, I started looked into the whole hiking thing. I figured it would be inexpensive, challenging yet easy, and just plain fun. As well, it was an opportunity to see and live in a new world that I had never seen or been a part of before…
So, I got busy. Being that backpacking and hiking is not much of a practiced sport here where I live, I turned to the internet to do my research. I visited a number of backpacking and hiking blogs as well as joined up on a couple of backpacking forums. I found that the blogs were a great way to get information, however, the forums was a great interactive tool.
In just a few months, with the help of the random blogs and the backpacking forum members, I had put together a (heavy) setup which allowed both, my wife and I, to get out on the trail. On our first hike, we started at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitor Center and hiked 40 miles north, finishing up at Neels Gap on the Appalachian Trail! And it was a blast!…
This is where my blog came in. I found that I greatly appreciated the information that I came across on other’s blogs, as well as the forums that I participated on. So, I decided that I wanted to start my own blog, and for 2 reasons:
- To document my own progression.
- To share with others so that they can learn just as I did.
So, this blog will be where I come to talk about anything that has to do with the trail, whether it be gear or food or clothes or to share a trip report. As well, I hope that others can come to my blog and get the same sort of help that I got when I first started. I also strive to make my blog user-friendly, as in I enjoy others comments and will always make an effort to answer or respond to each comment.
So, what are my plans?
When I first started this blog, I had a nice long section here. It was basically a planned year-to-year itinerary of different trails that I want to hike. However, sometimes life doesn’t always go as planned (which is not necessarily a bad thing) and I have come to realize that my planed itinerary was not going to work out. So, rather than listing specific when’s and where’s and trying to detail it all, here are a few trails that I would like to hike and of course as soon as I possibly can…
- The Wonderland Trail (93 miles)
- The John Muir Trail (211 miles)
- The Colorado Trail (483 miles)
Of course, as most hikers probably dream about, I would love to be a Triple-Crowner, meaning I would love to thru-hike (not section hike) the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail. And while my first love is the Appalachian Trail, should I ever have the opportunity to do a thru hike, I believe that the Pacific Crest Trail has really been drawing my attention, and at this moment, I would love to start there.
So, this is it… and only time will tell…
So, what are my goals for this blog?
This blog is simply to document my progress in this hobby called backpacking. I will use this blog to document trips I take as well as gear I use. I will do this through the use of writing, taking pictures as well as shooting videos. But, please bear with me, I am no writer, photographer or even a videographer, and well, you can make your own judgment about my on camera performance… 🙂
I make no claim to know all there is to know about any piece of gear or any trail I walk on, so here again, I will post my experience in these things. And while I have now become more of an lightweight, or ultra lightweight backpacker, I make no claim to definitely be any particular style of backpacker, and more importantly, I most certainly will not look down my nose at any other backpackers style of backpacking.
Over the course of the last few years, I have been able to get my hands on a number of different pieces of gear. This has allowed me to determine what works best for me, as well as share my thoughts on them, hopefully for others to draw from too. In the end though, I may carry some gear that is lighter weight and I may carry some that is not so light… and I am quite sure that I will carry some stuff that others really recommend I leave behind (think pillow…) but this is my experience.
I am more than happy to take comments and even advice. On the flip side, I hope that this blog will also offer a little something for anyone that happens upon my site to think about.
So, how have I progressed and where do I stand now?
This is a new section to my “About” page, however, it is one that I feel I should add. It has been a couple of years now since I started my blog, and IMO, my progression has moved right along in terms of gear I carry and my outlook on hiking/backpacking in general. For this reason, I wanted to add this section.
When I first started hiking, I was like many others and ended up carrying way more than I needed, which resulted in a very heavy pack, 56+ pounds to be a bit more exact. This made my first hike a bit of a struggle, however, as I noted above, I absolutely loved the experience. Once I got home though, I knew that I needed to reduce my pack weight by quite a bit. Luckily though, my wife’s gear turned out to be a bit better (read: lighter) than mine so I have not really had to replace so much of it as much as just leave some of it behind.
Today, 100% of the gear I originally started with has been changed out, or left behind. As well, I would say that I have dropped as much as up to 85% of the total weight from my first hike on some of my more recent hikes! I have been able to cut this weight using 3 different methods:
- The first way is the easiest, I only took what I needed! On my first trip I had back-up items for my back-up items… and it was all unneeded. Since then, I have learned to only take what I need. Each item should have at least 1 specific use (or preferably more). If there are 2 items that do the same thing, one of them need to go.
- Choose multiuse items. The more uses an item has, the fewer items I need to bring. But, this also means that those particular items are now more important than before, so learning the items limitations and caring for each item appropriately is very important.
- Use lighter items. This one may require you to buy other items to replace your current items, but once you have pared down your list to only items that you need as well as have a few items that are multi-use, replacing those remaining heavy items is another way to cut even more unnecessary weight from your pack.
By doing these 3 things, I have cut an enormous amount of weight out of my pack, yet still carry all the things that I need to stay safe as well as comfortable. However, this did come about over an extended amount of time, and use, not overnight! On each outing, I would try something new, whether it was just a different method of doing something, or a completely new item. This allowed me to evolve my pack in a safe and effective manner.
When it comes to weight, I don’t feel like there is any magic number, and do not recommend one. Fact is, there are too many variables to give a magic number. Instead I merely suggest for one to carry what they need and are indeed safe and comfortable with, for both, the conditions that they will be hiking in, as well as the length of time and the time of year that you are out.
Once you reach a certain point (and you will know when you do), it is up to you whether or not you want to stay where you are or continue to push a little farther. It will also help you decide if you want to continue keeping up with the new gear which is (constantly) coming out. There is nothing wrong with sticking with what works, or trying something new…
So, am I sponsored or endorsed by anyone?
Since I started my blog it has grown. Both in content as well as in viewers and subscribers. As well, I have also attracted attention from a few different gear companies. As a result, I have received products from a few companies to review, however, I have also turned down a number of items from a couple of different companies simply because I did not feel like it was something I would want to use while hiking.
The few companies that I have received gear from have mainly been the smaller “cottage” shops and to be quite honest, were items that I either wanted to or would have eventually bought anyway once I saved the money. However, even though some items were free to me, when I write my reviews on those items, the statements and opinions are still based first and foremost on the actual object that I receive. Saying that, I also take into consideration my experience with either the company or the actual owner (or both) since I feel like customer service is a very important part of buying any item.
In the past I was a Trail Ambassador for Gossamer Gear, however, that was short lived. I never received any free gear from them, and the only items I do have from them was purchased by me, with my own money, for full price before I was accepted into the program. However, I am no longer associated with Gossamer Gear, and can happily say that I am not associated/sponsored by any other gear company. (Honestly, it is nice knowing that I don’t owe a company anything other than the money that they ask for the product, nor do I have to use gear I don’t want to use!) Unless obviously noted in my write ups, I pay full price (unless I can find it on sale like everyone else) for all the gear I review on my channels.
As well, as many have noticed, I do a lot of videos to go along with my reviews. Those videos are of course uploaded to my YouTube channel. Starting in July of this year (2012) I have “monetized” my videos, which means that if people click on the ads that were already showing up on my videos anyway, I will get a fraction of a cent for it, however, now there are also ads that show up at the beginning of some of my videos too. (However, after 5 seconds, one can click to skip the ad, although then I will not get the fraction of a cent from it…) WordPress also advertises here on my blog, and I get an even smaller fraction of a cent for that… But in the end, I will use the money I do make to fund more gear, as well as help get me to the trail to do more hiking, which results in more videos… and so on…
Why are many of my reviews “First-Looks” rather than “Long-term” reviews?
In the last couple of years, both, the gear that I carry as well as with my basic hiking technique has changed quite a bit. And to be quite fair, I am still finding what it is that I like when backpacking. Simply put, I am still a new hiker, at least by my definition. However, this does not mean that I do not have any experience…instead, I conclude that I have enough experience so that I can comfortably (and safely) form my own opinions on both, the gear that I carry, as well as my preferred hiking preference.
Simply because of how new I am to this sport I cannot give long-term reports on much of the gear that I use. There are but a few items that I have used exclusively, so many of my reviews, as well as opinions, are based on first-look experiences, or with minimal amounts of use. However, I personally find that a lot of good information can come from a good “First-Look” review, so many of the reviews found here on my blog are made with this thought in mind.
Truth-be-told, I actually enjoy doing “First-Look” or “Unboxing” videos. When I am searching for a product, I look for these types of reviews to get a better feel for the item. In both my opinion and experience, the information on a product spec page is not the best source to get real (or accurate) information. As well, many of the reviews that I read on product pages are vague and often unrealistic (such as dogging an item because it did not do something it was never designed to do in the first place). For this reason, I appreciate coming across a good “First-Look” review, which is normally found on people’s blogs, or sometimes on forums. Also, “First-Look” reviews are typically of items that are being sold now, as opposed to long-term reviews of items that are no longer being sold, or has been updated so it is not the same item anymore. With this in mind, I strive to produce an informative yet accurate “First-Look” review on the products I review.
So, this is where I have come from, what I have been through, and maybe a little bit of what I m looking forward to…but only time will tell.
I do want to say a big huge thanks to everyone that has supported my blog though. I really appreciate your support!
Thanks for taking a look at my blog. I hope you enjoy it!