Category Archives: Hiking

Cold Hike

Long, long ago, I mentioned that I wanted to hike all 798 miles required to earn the State Forest Trails Award.

Last weekend, I went out into the frosty mountains with Klinutus and my evil sister. It was about 16 degrees up in the snowy mountains.

I got to try out my Subaru’s AWD in the snow for the first time. It worked very nicely.

My Outback in the snow

There was a lot of rocks. I hate rocks. Especially when they’re under the snow and you can’t see them.

The trail

Because I am a very clever boy, I had a thermos full of coffee in my backpack. So, I was fully caffeinated for the hike.

Coffee Break

There are a lot of nice views on this section of the trail. Here is Klinutus contemplating endless infinities or whatever.

Klinutus contemplating endless inifities

At any rate, it was very nice, except that I twisted my ankle or something out there, and have been out of commission for the past week.

Klinutus brought along his camera tripod, so we could pose for our end-of-the-hike group photo.

Group pic

Another four miles down, only 768 left to go!

How to Go Camping: Part Two — Staying Dry

In our camping utopia, it never rains. In the real world, it might. You can mitigate the risk of getting wet by using natural features (hiding under trees, rock ledges, etc.) or you can bring some sort of shelter. Everybody knows what a tent is. The other options are tarps and bivy sacks.

The first (and last) thing to do before heading out for a camping trip is to check the weather forecast. Weather forecasts are worthless more than 24 hours beforehand, so check it right before you get packed. If there is a slight chance of drizzle, you can probably get by with just a bivy. If there is a chance of some rain, you need a tarp. If it might pour cats and dogs, or there’s a chance of thunderstorms, you want either a big tarp, or a tent.

Picking your spot:

First things first, though. As long as you’re not staying in a campground, you have some flexibility in where to lay down. If it rains, you might get wet, so pick a good spot. Look around for a spot that’s flat and level (or nearly so). If you lay down on a slope, you might slide off your sleeping pad, and that sucks.

You also want a spot that’s a few inches higher than the surrounding area. If it rains hard, you don’t want to sleep in a spot where water is likely to pool up.

Where to sleep

Pine Trees:

If heavy rain is not in the forecast, and if you only brought a bivy, you can sleep under the lowest branches of a big pine tree. All the pine needles above you will catch the big drops if it starts to drizzle. You might not stay 100% dry, but a good pine tree will keep a lot of rain away. Pine trees also smell nice. Additionally, they usually drop tons of soft fluffy pine needles on the ground, which are nice to sleep on. Make sure to look up in the tree to make sure there are no big, dead branches that might fall on you in the middle of the night.

Here is a diagram depicting the correct place to sleep when using a big pine tree to lessen the rain.

Artistic impression of hiding under a pine tree

Bivy Sacks:
A bivy is basically a waterproof bag that you sleep in. Put your sleeping bag or quilt inside it, and crawl in. Over the years, I have carried a Cabela’s one, a Hilleberg one, and one that I made myself. A bivy will keep the rain off you, but the ventilation is bad, and you might get sweaty.

Here is a picture of a bunch of my jackass friends sleeping in bivy sacks.
A bunch of jackasses in bivy bags

Tarps:
A tarp is just a rectangle of waterproof fabric. You set it up with two (or more) sticks, some string, and at least 6 stakes. They can be a little tricky to setup, until you’ve done it a time or two. They keep you dry in everything but wind-driven sideways rain. You can set them up under a tree to filter out some of the heavier rain – like this.

Tarp + tree

When I don’t expect it to rain, I carry a 58″x 104″ tarp which doubles as a rain poncho. This particular model weighs 8oz, and is made in Williamsport, PA. It rocks, and you should get one. You’re going to want a rain jacket of some sort anyways. You might was well bring one that doubles as a shelter.

This is the poncho setup as a shelter.
Equinox Poncho

Here it is in super-hero cape mode:
Equinox Poncho / Super Hero cape

If there’s a reasonably good chance of rain, I carry an 8′x10′ tarp. Weighs 14 oz, still made in Williamsport.

One of the best things about a tarp is that you can see out all around the perimeter. In the middle of the night, you might hear woodland creatures scurrying about. In a tent, you will be convinced that there is a family of grizzly bears coming to eat you. In a tarp, you can quickly look around and see that it’s just a chipmunk, and go back to sleep.

Tents:
When all hell is expected to break loose, a tent may be in order (although an 8×10 tarp is pretty weatherproof). Tents are expensive, heavy, and usually more trouble than they’re worth. They do keep the bugs out, though. Tents give you the feeling of “going inside” at the end of the day. I feel that this somewhat defeats the purpose of going camping in the first place, but some people get a sense of security sleeping “in” something. Tents are also nice in a crowded campground, because you can change your clothes without offending the sensibilities of the church ladies in the neighboring camp site.

Me setting up my tent in a State Park campground

Here’s a matrix of my thinking on the pros and cons of various shelter strategies:

Shelter Type Advantages Disadvantages
Pine Tree
  • free!
  • no weight to carry
  • Can be hard to find
  • only good for light rain
  • Sap / Pine cones might fall on you
Bivy
  • lightweight
  • Easy to setup
  • Takes up no room in backpack
  • No room to storge extra gear
  • no ventilation
Tarp
  • lightweight
  • good ventilation
  • nice views
  • bugs, snakes etc, might join you
  • doesn’t keep out wind driven rain
  • can be a pain to setup
Tent
  • Keeps out everything
    • rain
    • bugs
    • wind
  • Privacy in campgrounds
  • Good ones are expensive
  • can be a pain to setup
  • Very heavy
  • take up tons of room in your pack
  • ventiation is sometimes bad

So, there you have it. You now know how to sleep in the woods without getting wet. Up next, how to stay warm.

Further Thoughts on My New Tent

Since the last time I wrote about my new tent, I’ve spent two nights in it; both car-camping excursions.

On one of the two trips, it rained. It poured. Like Apocalyptic, build-an-ark rain. Everything inside was dry as a bone. The ventilation is awesome. I had no condensation problems sleeping inside during the monsoon.


Tent at Gifford Pinchot State Park

I think I need to retract, or least, modify my earlier statement about its roominess, though. I don’t think it’s really big enough to share with another dude without it feeling gay. Maybe if you laid head to feet, it might be ok. If there was a blizzard outside, or you were something appropriately manly, like climbing Everest or hunting Grizzly Bears, then it might not be gay.

It’s probably the ideal size to share with a lady, however. Though I’ve not as yet had any volunteers to test this theory.

Now that I’ve set it up a few times, I can get it pitched in about 5 minutes. The poles are a little bit confusing at first, because there are funny hubs holding them together, and it’s easy to try to put them in backwards.

I think I’m going to order the footprint for it next payday. You are supposedly able to set the thing up with just the footprint and the fly. Then you can crawl inside and set the actual tent part up without getting it wet. This sounds like one of those things that works in theory, but won’t work in practice. We’ll see.

At any rate, this tent rocks. Throw a Therm-a-Rest NeoAir in it, and it’s as comfortable as my bed at home. The NeoAir, btw, ranks right up there with indoor plumbing as one of the greatest inventions in the history of the world, but that’s a story for another day.

Tent Pictures

I set up my new tent in the back yard today, and crawled around in it. It wasn’t too hard to set up. I didn’t really get the rain fly attached very well, so there’s wrinkles and stuff.

Here she is with no rain fly. Other than the floor, the whole thing is mesh, so on a nice night, you can see the stars without getting eaten by bugs. The door is cool, too. It’s only attached at the very top of the teardrop shape, so it doesn’t flop onto the floor when you’re getting in and out. There’s a pocket in the roof to stick the door into if you want to keep it open.

There’s a door on each side so you can get up to go pee in the middle of the night without having to crawl over your tent mate.


naked tent

Here’s an overhead view from my deck, showing my sloppy pitch of the rain fly.

Tent

The moment of truth. I was able to get into it and lie down without my head or feet touching the ends. With a big fluffy winter sleeping bag, I might touch. It was too warm to try it today. Unlike most other tents sold as “2 person” tents, I think I could actually share this with somebody and not end up wanting to kill them in the middle of the night.


Feet fit!

There are vents in the top of the rain fly to let out condensation, farts, etc. You can open and close them from the inside, so you don’t have to go out in the rain. That’s pretty nice.

Vents

There are little orange tie-out points all along the perimeter. I suppose you could tie it out really well if you were expecting a blizzard or something. I doubt I’d ever use them. The vestibules are fairly small. You could probably fit your shoes and a few odds and ends in them with no problem.


tent

This is first tent I’ve ever owned that wasn’t some piece of shit from Wal-Mart, so I’m probably a little bit more excited about this than a sane person would be. I’m looking over my maps for bike-camping opportunities. I’ll hopefully get a chance to field-test it soon!

New Tent: REI QuarterDome T2 Plus

I normally carry a sil-nylon tarp on my overnight adventures. Tarps have many advantages over tents. You get way more room, way better ventilation, and they weigh nothing. Well, mine weighs 13 ounces – not counting stakes, poles and guylines. The tarp works great on backpacking and kayaking trips into the wilderness. You can set up the tarp with either your trekking poles, or your canoe paddles, or sticks you find lying around.

Tarp

It’s less ideal on bicycling trips, unless you bring along some sort of poles to set it up. On my last S24O, we stayed at a crowded State Park campground. I didn’t have very much luck finding good sticks to set it up with, and I ended up having the whole thing crash on me in the wee hours of the morning, dumping water all over me. I also had mosquitoes buzzing around my head all night.

Less than ideal.

The tarp is also less than ideal you want to change out of your bike shorts without provoking lust in every woman in the campground. You don’t get much privacy under a tarp. Not an issue on a backpacking trip to the middle of nowhere, but not so good in a campground.

Tarp setup for an s240

So, I decided I needed a lightweight tent for biking trips in civilized areas during bug season. The problem is that I’m 6’5″ and most tents are too short, and either my feet stick out, or I have to sleep in a fetal position. Not fun.

After some Internet research, I discovered that the REI half-dome and quarter-dome series tents are available in a “plus” size, that’s 10 inches longer than a standard tent.

So, the question came down to half-dome or quarter-dome. The half dome is $100 cheaper than the quarter-dome, but weighs a pound more, and comes in unsightly “apricot” color.

REI Half-Dome T2
The REI half-dome T2 plus

The Quarter-dome weighs a pound less, costs a hundred bucks more, and comes in a nice green / gray color.

REI Quarter-Dome T2 Plus

REI Quarter-Dome T2 Plus

This was a tough call to make based on only Internet pictures, so I drove all 104 miles to the REI in Conshohoken to see them both.

I was able to hold one in each hand, and the half-dome felt noticeably heavier. A pound doesn’t make that much of a difference on a bike, but there’s always the off-chance I might carry this thing on a hike where weight really does matter. So, I sprang for the quarter-dome. (Plus, I really disliked the half-dome’s colors.)

I got it home, disassembled it, and weighed all the parts on the gf’s baking scale.

tent body 25.5 ounces
rain fly 25.625 ounces
Poles (in their sack) 18.125 ounces
stakes (in their sack) 2.125 ounces
stuff sack 2.75 ounces
Total: ~ 4.63 pounds

I think I can live with a sub – 5 pound tent that I can actually fit into. It was after dark by the time I got home, so no pictures of the real deal yet. Hopefully I’ll be able to set it up ad snap some sometime tomorrow morning.

Now I need to find time for an s240 to see how it works in the real world.