The day after finishing the Bartram Trail, Lily, Uwharrie and I went backpacking in Panthertown Valley. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that my passion resides in longer distance journeys that involve spending the night outdoors as a camper, not as a zombie. What follows is a rather geeky field test report on some fastpack gear designs.
Throughout my recent taper, sewing has overtaken running. Lily bought me a $1 pattern for my birthday, which was used to make a wool hoody (pictured here). This same pattern was reused to construct two 3 oz. cuben fiber rain jackets. A few other fastpack gear items have also emerged from the workshop.
I had a good excuse to get out and test some of this gear this weekend. Brew Davis (who puts several of us husbands to shame for his stellar support of his wife, hiker phenom Jennifer Pharr Davis), was having a b-day party Saturday night in Asheville. I decided that Uwharrie and I would hike there.
At 5:30PM after work on Friday, Lily dropped us off at Curtis Creek and we hiked in about 10 miles to camp on Heartbreak Ridge, stopping en route to cook and eat a quick dinner at Jarrett Creek. The next morning, we had about 35-40 miles of hiking separating us from our destination in Asheville.
Both laurel and rhododendron were blooming, so Heartbreak Ridge was a boulevard of fragrant bouquets. After Blackstock Knob, we left the MST and followed the Big Butt Trail a short distance before bushwhacking about a mile downhill to the unexplored Walker Creek trails.
During our descent, we found ourselves wading through a salad: ramps, nettle, toothwort, violets and cucumber root grew in abundance. We eventually munched our way down to the Laurel Gap Trail and followed that to the lower Douglas Falls trail head as a rain shower doused us in passing. After lunch, we climbed back up to the MST and followed it the rest of the way down to the Folk Art Center.
Adam was kind enough to pick us up and drive us the rest of the way to Brew’s party where we got to hang out with some cool folks and eat pizza, thanks Adam and Brew! Adam graciously welcomed Brandon, Uwharrie and me to crash out at La Casa Hill Saturday night and Brandon dropped us off at Youngs Ridge Sunday morning so we had a short trek back into McDowell County where Lily awaited.
This weekend’s journey allowed me to assess some recent fastpack gear ideas, here’s the summary:
- The most recent poncho tarp-tent seems to be the most durable and versatile yet.
- The new bug bivy has proven to be roomy and comfortable enough.
- The mesh pack is still holding up and performing well.
- The film canister "bandoleer" continues to be a cheap and convenient way to keep small items both accessible and secure.
- 24 oz. aluminum cans are too flimsy to be used as bottle/pots. After only a day’s use, one bottle developed a small leak on the sidewall. Pint-sized “stadium bottles” are probably a more durable option.
- The stove design will also have to be tweaked to accommodate a new bottle/pot size.
- The homemade carbon fiber hiking poles (2.2 oz. each) work well, but the rubber tip broke off of one pole and will have to be redesigned.
- The homemade Glenn Hecko quilt/poncho (built circa 2001), although ahead of its time for the reuse of synthetic insulation from an old sleeping bag and utilization of an ultralight, silent and breathable reflective shell material purchased locally (but never seen again) is a bit too bulky for the pack.