Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Backpack Cover: Cabelas Blaze Orange

One of the items that comes up on most through hiker gear lists are backpack covers. As most of our backpacking trips have been under fair skies with only a handful of thunderstorms, we have largely backpacked sans cover for several decades. We have never needed a cover as we have been diligent regarding encasing everything dry in heavy duty trash bags sealed with doubled goose necks. Those few time that rain was heaped upon us, we simply pulled out an extra plastic bag and pulled it over the pack. Often, we have been the only person in a large group with a dry sleeping bag and clothes in the morning.

As we have never hiked in pouring rain and due to the abnormally cool wet weather this spring, there is a good possibility of our needing a backpack cover. Looking through the catalogs, there is no shortage of backpack covers. Prices usually ranged from twelve to twenty-five dollars depending on material and brand. Most are black or green. A few are bright blue. Only one backpack cover stood alone in blaze orange - Cabela's Blaze Orange Pack Rain Cover.

As we have long performed search and rescue on the ground and in the air, we are big believers in "see and be seen" in emergencies and to prevent emergencies. So, it was with some concern that we discovered that this year's section hike would take us through Pennsylvania state game lands during turkey hunting season. We have a lightweight mesh blaze orange vest that we wear on ground teams, but with a backpack covering much of our reverse, a blaze orange backpack cover seemed just the thing.

Our online order from Cabelas was swiftly delivered well before the estimated delivery date. The cover is well made from one large piece of blaze orange nylon. A cord with lock runs around the perimeter of the cover. The online reviews said this cover was large and large is an understatement. Its huge! While its an easy match for our large Camp Trails 5,000 inch pack, we were able to cinch it down to fit our smaller 3,100 inch Outdoor Products Arrowhead backpack. We were able to fold the cover into fourths and roll the cover into a small roll that easily fit into the undersized top pocket of our Arrowhead backpack.

We did note that when we put the cover over our backpack straps and waist belt ("the "wrong way") that we were able to cinch the cover down small enough that only the handle on our backpack was protruding. This should help protect our backpack straps while our backpack rides below on the Greyhound bus. The nylon seems too light for our pair of protruding poles, so we plan to hand carry our trekking poles onto the bus and store above or below our seat.

The Cabelas Blaze Orange backpack cover isn't for everyone, but if you want a large cover or a very visible cover, then this may be the backpack cover for you. For $15 plus another five for shipping, we consider a blaze orange backpack cover cheap insurance against not only rain, but flying wads of lead.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Trail Food: Freeze Dried Strawberries & Bananas

After lunch today we rummaged in our office food cache for something sweet for desert. Among the various little foil pouches from our recent grocery expedition was an individual sized pouch of Disney Freeze Dried Strawberries and Bananas. Remembering with fondness the freeze dried strawberries that we sometimes found among our MREs years ago, we decided sure, why not?

Ummm... Freeze dried strawberries. All the deliciousness without the sticky, staining juice. After crunching a few of the flat crisp strawberry sections, we opted for some banana. While the strawberries were our favorite, we do prefer freeze dried bananas to the hard dried banana chips that we have previously packed along the trail.

Unlike the freeze dried apples we reviewed earlier, we're a bit pressed to come up with ways to integrate the freeze dried strawberries and bananas into our meal plan. One thought is to open the bag up and separate the two fruits. Then, repackage the freeze dried bananas with some instant banana pudding mix and some Nido powdered milk for a more robust banana pudding. As for the strawberries, our only thought is to pack them along separately and later rehydrate them with water and sugar to form a chunky strawberry syrup to drizzle over a Twinkie for an improvised strawberry shortcake.

To summarize, we liked Disney Freeze Dried Strawberries and Bananas. We liked them so much we ate the entire bag in record time. We'll probably take a bag along on our section hike, but probably as ingredients in other entrees.

Disclosure: We select and purchase the product(s) reviewed. We have no material connection to either the manufacturer nor the retailer(s).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Freezer Bag Cozies

If you read our earlier post on Disney Freeze Dried Real Sliced Apples, you know that we tested "cooking" our trail food breakfast in a freezer bag cozy. For those not familiar with freezer bag cooking, we're talking about putting a dehydrated meal into a quart freezer bag, adding hot water, waiting several minutes, and then nooshing right out of the plastic bag. No plates. No bowls. Just one small plastic bag with a messy inside that you deflate, zip close, and pack out to your home trash can. The one flaw in this system is that your hot water may cool down before your dried noodles or rice have had the opportunity to fully hydrate or soften. Thus, the cozy.

Making a homemade cozy

For our freezer bag cozy we selected a standard manila bubble padded envelope that a papperback book had arrived in. Ignoring the labels and the shipping tape, we trimmed the torn parts of the bag off and then trimmed one side of the bag to be about 2-3 inches shorter than the other. (Just remove a rectangle from one side at the opening end.) This provides a flap that can be folded over to trap the warmed air inside. We weren't sure how well an ordinary padded envelop would work. Would the plastic bubble wrap inside melt from the heat? Would the envelope distort causing our meal to suddenly pour out across our desk? Inquiring minds wanted to know.

Using a freezer bag cozy

Again, if you've read the freeze dried apples review, you already know we put a quart ziplock freezer bag into our modified envelope, dumped in two packets of oatmeal and a packet of apples, dumped in a cup of boiling hot water, zipped up the freezer bag and closed the flap on our "cozy". After a few minutes we opened everything up and give our oatmeal a short stir with a spoon. (Caution, do not use forks or knives inside your freezer bag. The heated plastic is extremely pliable and very easily punctured.) A few minutes later, we opened up the cozy and the freezer bag and dug in. HOT! Too hot!

Eating out of the bag while inside our cozy was a bit ackward. Taking the freezer bag out and putting the bag inside a small bowl proved more satisfactory. (Warning: do NOT take the hot freezer bag out of your cozy without having somewhere to put it. Its way too hot to hold in your hand.)

So, our hastily improvised bubble mailer cozy worked. The plastic bubbles did not melt, pop, or otherwise distort. The air withing the plastic bubble wrap provided extremely good insulation and kept our meal hot. We didn't need to line the bag with aluminum foil or anything.

As our cozy weighes next to nothing and packs very flat, we'll probably take it or an upgrade along on our section hike. While picking up some small plastic flip top bottles at The Container Store, we noted that they also carry Bubblope mailers, a bright foil version of our manilla mailer but with a velcro resealable flap. Bubblopes come in various colors of silver, gold, red, blue, and purple foil for just under $3. At that low price, we may shell out a few dollars for some trail bling.


We bought a $3 red Bubblope and used it on a two week Appalachian Trail section hike. The bubblope held up well and did not leak. There was some separation of the outside plastic from the envelope at the end of our hike. The bubblope was plenty deep and the velcro closure was extremely useful. Enjoyed some very hot oatmeal with apples and some wonderfully hot instant mashed potatoes.

Backpacking Fuel: Everclear Grain Alcohol

Now that we have made a couple of Super Cat alcohol stoves, our attention has turned to sources of fuel for said stoves. One form of alcohol mentioned as fuel is Everclear grain alcohol. Come to find out that Everclear grain alcohol comes in two versions: 190 proof and 150 proof. We did not know that as we seldom partake of hard liquor, just beer and wine mostly.

While stopping at a local liquor store to get a large Heinekin beer can for a homemade ultralight cooking system, we had inquired as to the availability of Everclear. We stopped by a second time to ascertain which version is sold in Arkansas. We get the full monty - 190 proof! A pint retails from four to six dollars depending on location. So, for local hikes, we have a source of stove fuel that we can also consume in a late night beverage, if desired. (By the way, Everclear grain alcohol has about 190 calories per ounce, so a nightcap does provide significant calories with zero fat or carbohydrates.)

While researching Everclear grain alcohol., we discovered that it is actually illigal to purchase in several states, including Virginia. This is cause for some concern as we had previously located a state liquor store Harpers Ferry, WV just west of the ATC Headquarters and a liquor store near Union Train station in DC. Both were possible sources for stove fuel. Now, we'll have to make some calls to check if Everclear grain alcohol is available, and if so, the proof, amount, and price. We'll post an update below once we know the details.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Trail Food: Disney Freeze Dried Real Sliced Apples

Today's trail food experiment was a "two fer." We combined two experiments into one. The trail food candidate was Disney Freeze Dried Real Sliced Apples that we found in the fruit section of our grocer. The freeze dried apples come in individual serving sized bags for about $1 ea. Each serving contains about one and a half apples for about 40-50 calories.

As we do for all taste tests, we opened the sealed bag and tasted the apples directly. Our first thought was "Oh, look! Little pieces of apple flavored foam." The bag was about a third full of little thin crisp wedges and looked as if a foam plate had been shattered. Fine. Not the most appealing look, so how do they taste? Munch, munch, munch... They taste vaguely familiar for those of us having dined on freeze dried peaches in meals rejected by Ethiopians (MREs). There was a bit of apple taste, but not overpowering.

We then proceeded with our "two fer" experiment. When we bought the freeze dried apples for trail food, we thought they would likely be good for supplementing the small bits of apple that come in our flavored oatmeal packets. So we added our remaining apple crisps to a quart freezer bag containing two packets of instant apple flavored oatmeal, one of our favorite trail foods of all time. We noted there seems to be more apple in the oatmeal packets than we remember. Nonetheless, we placed the quart bag in a bubble wrap padded envelope and added about a cup of hot water. (The padded envelope is the two in our two fer. More on that experiment later.) Minutes later we stirred everything; waited another minute or so; then chowed down. Yum! The now rehydrated apples were a welcome addition to the oatmeal. The meal seemed heartier and more satisfying both in taste and amount.

Disney Freeze Dried Apples makes our menu for the upcoming section hike, at least until the first resupply point. We plan to combine the freeze dried apples with two packets of Quaker apples and cinnamon oatmeal in a quart freeezer bag. That will be a major portion breakfast for the first five mornings, along with protein fortified hot chocolate and snack size fig newtons. So, our next trip to the same grocer in two weeks will include five bags of freeze dried real sliced apples.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Trail Food: Knorr Taco Rice

Another grocer, another load of trail food candidates. This trip netted us a good selection of "add hot water" products from Knorr, which we will be reviewing over the coming weeks.

Looking through our office larder we decided to go spicy and try Knorr Taco Rice. The package states that one bag contains two servings, so we poured out about half into a bowl and added the requisite amount of hot water. As we were using an uninsulated bowl, the liquid cooled down and was not completely absorbed by the rice. We took a few bites of the now al dente rice. It had a pleasing taste and after a full days hiking would probably have wolfed the rice down.

We then nuked the rice for 1-2 minutes in the office microwave. (Yes, I know there are no microwave ovens on the trail.) The additional heat caused the remaining water to be fully absorbed and the rice was soft and clumping. This time things tasted much better.

One blogger mentioned the Knorr rice products being too much to eat at one sitting, so he split the bags in half. He also added 1/4 cup of minute rice to each half and said that provided just the right amount to satisfy his hunger. So that will be out next experiment. Put the remaining serving in a freezer bag with 1/4 minute rice, add hot water, wait a bit, and eat. Watch for an update below.

By the way, we like Knorr Taco Rice and it made our menu for the upcoming section hike of the Appalachian Trail. Combined with the chipotle black bean dip and the vegetarian chili mix we reviewed earlier, we're thinking Mexican night along the trail somewhere. Hopefully, somewhere is near a can of cold beer.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Backpack Alcohol Stoves: Super Cat Homemade Stove

Making an ultralight backpack alcohol stove was one of the most fun things we've done this year. After researching alcohol stoves, we knew that this was the path if we wanted to backpack farther. We first thought we'd like to switch to Vargo's Triad XE, which offers the ability to use both alcohol and solid fuels. But, after considerable research and watching several YouTube videos, we decided on the Super Cat alcohol stove for our upcoming backpack trip. The Super Cat alcohol stove is the cheapest and simplest to build. While an alcohol stove, one can also use solid fuel tablets by first lining the stove with aluminum foil and then using a V-shaped wire grate to rest a pot, mug, or beer can.

The Super Cat alcohol stove starts with a 3oz cat food can, like Fancy Feast. For the catless, the same sized can is used for Armour potted meat.

After removing the lid and contents, the next step is to flatten the inside of the top lip of the can. We used a socket wrench extension and slowly rotated the can while flattening with a back and forth motion. You can use anything from plier handles to , as long as the object can take the exerted force. You're probably looking for something steel and round that you can easily grip.

Next, we marked off 16 points along the rim with a permanent marker. We started with 12 o-clock, then added 6. Then 3 and 9. Keep dividing segments in half until there are 16.

Third, we took an ordinary hand punch from the office supplies section of your local discount store and punched a hole about 1/4 inch below the marks on the rim. The holes punched easily. However, you will likely have to wiggle and jiggle to get the hole punch back out of the newly made hole. It won't spring free as with paper.

Once you've got a 3oz can with one row of 16 holes, you are now the proud owner of a Super Cat alcohol stove (simmering version).

To step up the simmering version of a Super Cat alcohol stove to a fast boiling version, simply add a second row of holes, offsetting them just below the first ring of holes. You should end up with a zig-zag pattern of holes.

Congratulations! You're done. Let's fire this baby up!

(Standard disclaimers: flammable fluid, metal container, ignition source, own risk)

We grabbed a steel sierra cup of water, a small piece of aluminum foil, and headed to the back yard. We put the foil down, set the Super Cat stove on top and squirted in some denatured alcohol. (We also could have used Everclear from the local liquor store at $4/pint. Denatured alcohol sells for $4-6 per quart.) We also squirted a wee bit of alcohol on the foil around the can and lit it with a mini Bic lighter. (One can also use a match and skip the alcohol around the can.

Be careful at this point as there is little, if any flame, with this stove. Always assume your alcohol stove is lit.

Give the stove about 20-30 seconds for the alcohol to start boiling before sliding your pot on. The flames should switch to the holes in the side of the can.

In a few minutes we had a cup of boiling hot water, ready for tea, cocoa, or soup.

The Super Cat alcohol stove was so simple and easy to make, that we made several and will probably make a half dozen more to build up a stockpile for friends and family. Know someone lugging propane bottle into backcountry? Make them a Super Cat stove and show them how to use it.

(If you liked this short article on the Super Cat alcohol stove, watch for the upcoming article on making a Heinekin cooking pot system. We're mid-build and awaiting a side-opening safety can opener.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trail Food: Honey Peanut Butter

At lunch today we tried Justin's Organic Honey Peanut Butter, which we found at a nearby Whole Foods. Justin's Organic Honey Peanut Butter is available in individual sized foil packets for about sixty cents per packet. We're not a big fan of peanut butter, unless its mated with some Concord grape jam between two pieces of white bread and accompanied with a glass of cold milk. But, we are a fan of honey and have even kept bees a few years, so Honey Peanut Butter struck a sympathetic chord and we tossed a packet in our basket.

So, after lunching on some Armour potted meat, (we're after the 3oz. can to make a Super Cat alcohol stove, but that's a future post), we decided to sample Justin's Organic Honey Peanut Butter. The instructions say to knead the packet before opening. Hmmm... Just like the ubiquitous MRE's we once lunched on. They too had little foil packets of peanut butter, or cheese, to knead before consuming as there is sometimes some separation of the ingredients. Also, our experience has been the friction from kneading also warms the peanut butter and makes it easier to spread. Having a plastic knife available, we ignored the suggestion to oen just a corner and squeeze. We took a big swipe of creaminess and smeared the awaiting soda craker. Nice color and easy to spread.

We were a bit disappointed at our first bite as we didn't detect any sweetness nor a distinctive honey taste. The lack of sweetness was likely due to being organic, as most organic food products avoid the excessive sugar ladened into non-organic foods. To be fair we ate three crackers and finally said; "Enough!"

While we're not a fan, Justin's Organic Honey Peanut Butter might be a love connection for your taste buds. Its inexpensive, so buy a packet and give it a try.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mobile Guide to the Appalachian Trail

We've been developing a new mobile web curriculum at the office. As part of our research, we discovered a cool mobile web design tool at While playing with the tool to learn its capabilities, the idea struck us that we could create a small mobile web site to support our upcoming section hike. That idea led to the better idea to develop a lean digital guide book that could be easily viewed on mobile devices.

We are pleased to announce the Mobile Guide to the Appalachian Trail is under development. You can follow the build here:

As mobile devices are not currently standardized and most cannot handle large graphics, long pages, and javascript, we've decided on a simple menu for the new mobile guide:

As we're planning for a section hike of the AT in WV/MD/PA, we'll probably fill in the data for those sections of the mobile guide first. Then, we'll focus on the completing the emergency contact list for all states. Springer to Fontana section will follow third as new hikers will likely need the information most.

The purpose is not to supplant the existing ATC guide and data books, but to provide information in another format for fellow hikers. (Personally, I'd like to build the site and then hand everything over to the ATC for them to brand and possibly derive mobile ad income.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Backpackers Hostel: Ironmaster's Mansion to Close

Kind of sad to know that, when I pass through lower Pennsylvania, a well known Appalachian Trail landmark will be closed. It was recently announced that Ironmaster's Mansion in Pine Grove Furnace State Park will close at the end of April 2010.

Ironmaster's Mansion hosted about 1,500 hikers each year and will be dearly missed. I had hoped to stop, not for the night, but for a picture from their balcony which features a trail sign giving the mileage between Springer Mountain and Mount Katahdin.

Central Pennsylvania Conservancy is in talks to take over the building and may reopen the hostel after renovations. Should that come to pass, the new hostel will be considerably smaller and reservations will likely be needed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Boiling Springs No Camp Zone

One of the more disturbing things we encountered in our planning for a section hike of lower Pennsylvania is the existence of an 18 mile long (depending from where one measures) no camping zone extending from Alec Kennedy Shelter just south of Boiling Springs to Darlington Shelter, about 5 miles north of I-80. Now, we understand why the zone exists. This is the area of the Appalachian Trail most encroached by civilization. Some of the trail is on private land. The thin strip the trail occupies just can't handle hikers, hobos and all who wish to camp in the limited space. But, twenty miles?

For the seasoned thru-hiker, this encumbrance is no barrier. Thru-hikers have been pounding out 20 mile days for a month or more by now. For section hikers, who don't or haven't yet built to that level of endurance. this section could be an obstacle.

The first strategy in completing this section is to position oneself as close to Boiling Springs as possible. One option is the camp site along the noisy and active railroad tracks south of town. Few hikers opt for the camp site. The more common option is to rent space in the backyard of John & Molly Garman, bathroom privileges not included. (You are planning to stop at the pool on the way in and take care of your hygiene needs, aren't you?). Here's how to contact the Garmans:

John & Molly Garman
PO Box 307
Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania 17007-0307
Phone: 717-258-3980

There is another B&B in town, but you really don't want to leave your pack out back and enter using the fire escape, do you? The proprietors seemingly like the income, but not the dirt that hikers bring.

Now that you're in Boiling Springs, you can top off fuel and water at the ATC center and sprint north towards Darlington Shelter. For those not wishing to put in a full day of hiking, one can opt to overnight along Highway 11, between the PA turnpike and I-80. Within a mile to the west are several motels and a Flying J truck stop with 22 showers, laundry, and a 24/7 Denny's. Be careful about the motel you select as at least one has been reviewed as having bed bugs. A local transit bus travels along Highway 11 and one can ride to a Walmart in Carlisle, to a K-Mart in Mechanicsburg, or to downtown Harrisburg and the Amtrack/Greyhound depot.

Our plan is to remain overnight in Boiling Springs, hike to Highway 11 and take the bus to downtown Harrisburg. Downtown, we'll catch the one evening commuter bus to the Duncannon area and hike south to Highway 11. Back at Highway 11, we'll shower at the Flying J for $12 and take the bus back downtown to the Greyhound depot and head home.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Trail Food: Chipotle Black Bean Dip

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner! Simply Organic's Chipotle Black Bean Dip mix made the cut for being trail food on this year's section hike. To quote a well known Canadian comedian with a green face: "Yummy!"

Taste testing began with opening the foil packet and pouring in hot water. The instructions call for adding 1/2 cup of hot water and 1/2 cup of sour cream. As we're unlikely to have sour cream on the trail, we just eyeballed it on the hot water. At first we thought we had over did the water and made a chipotle black bean soup, but after stirring several minutes the solution thickened. So much so, we needed to add a touch more hot water.

We had two standard burrito size flour tortillas which we smeared with a layer of the reconstituted bean paste. The dip is a dark brown without the sour cream and looks more like a molé. We rolled our tortillas up burrito style and took a bite. Ummm, savory! The chipotle flavor came through with just a touch of heat. We had some Taco Bell sauce packets standing by, but like the vegetarian chili mix we reviewed this week, its not needed.

The only complaint was spooning the mixture out of a packet which is almost twice as large as the finished dip. Next time, we'll open the packet a bit lower, leaving about 1/2 to 2/3 of the packet. Enough to hold the water, but low enough to easily and neatly spoon out. Don't be surprised to find yourself licking out the packet if no ones around. Simply Organic's Chipotle Black Bean Dip is that tasty.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Hammock Camping: ENO SlapStrapMICRO's

As part of our new hammock camping system, we purchased ENO SlapStrapMICRO's for our hammock suspension. We like the idea of wrapping a thin, lightweight strap around a tree, quickly threading the tail through a loop, and clipping our hammock to the straps. Its very appealing.

We bought our SlapStrapMICRO's at our local outfitter. The straps are well made and seem to comply with the best practices for sewing climbing harnesses and accessories. The two straps come in a small stuff sack. We dispensed with the stuff sack as we plan to store our SlapStrapMICRO's in our Grand Trunk Lightweight Hammock.

We tested our SlapStrapMICRO's in the backyard using an apple tree and a 4X4 wood post. The straps were easy to wrap around the tree and we wrapped twice around to eat up some of the length. The straps easily fed through the loop as advertised. We were able to hook our hammock onto the straps quickly.

Settling in to our hammock we heard considerable creaking and stretching. Our hammock bottomed out. As we had set the straps at about eye level (just under 6 feet), we raised the straps to about arms length (about 7 feet). Sitting down a second time, the hammock slowly lowered to within a foot of the ground. The addition of 2mm ridge line seemed to reduce some of the stretching from the hammock itself.

We left the hammock suspended under a tarp as a rainstorm was pending in the forecast. Fortune was with us and the rain eventually came down in buckets. The dangling remainder of the straps served to direct rain down and away from the connected hammock. Typically, hammock campers use a shoe string wrapped around their suspension to accomplish the same.

In summary, the ENO SlapStrapMICRO's worked as advertised albeit with considerable stretch. As we haven't a good alternative solution at this point, we'll pan to go with the SlapStrapMICRO's. But, first chance we get to implement a no-stretch suspension, we're probably going to make the change.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Trail Food: Split Pea Soup

Today we sampled Nile Spice Split Pea Soup for lunch. After being somewhat disappointed with Nile Spice Red Beans & Rice Soup earlier this week, we had lowered expectations for their split pea soup. We were pleasantly surprised.

Following the instructions, we added hot water, stirred and waited 5-minutes. Unlike the Red Beans & Rice soup which was thin, the Split Pea Soup was thicker and this was noticeable during stirring. The soup retained heat and had a pleasing green color and consistency.

The ingredients listed include split peas, potatos, onions, carrots, and celery. We're not a fan of celery, but the celery taste was not noticeable, nor was the garlic. We did chance across the odd diced carrot from bite to bite. What was noticeble was the potato. The soup seems to use dehydrated potato flakes, a trail food staple, as a thickener. Unfortunately, after each sip and/or spoonful, we were left with that annoying gunk between our gums and cheeks. You know the stuff. We needed to sip some water and swish and swallow between gulps.

The amount that comes in Nile Spices single serving cups is rather sparse. With their Red beans & Rice soup we were confident of adding more minute rice to make a heartier dish. Their Split Pea Soup is a bit more challenging. Perhaps more potato flakes could be added to make a heartier, split pea flavored, mashed potato side. We may try that experiment sometime in the future, but probably not before our upcoming trip. We like our mashed potatoes with butter, salt, and pepper; not with split peas.

If you're looking for something light and gourmet for a hot trail lunch, Nile Spice Split Pea Soup fills the bill. But for dinner, we'll stick to heartier ramen soup with added veggies, meat, etc.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trail Food: Vegetarian Chili & Tacos

Today for lunch, we sampled Whole Foods Vegetarian Chili Mix. In their bulk bins, Whole Foods offers a dehydrated vegetarian chili mix that needs only water to complete - about 2-1/3 cups water to one cup chili mix. The chili mix uses texturized vegetable protein in place of beef. Their bulk products brochure recommends adding chopped onions, drained kidney beans, and/or stewed tomatoes to make a heartier chili. Whole foods does carry sun dried tomatoes that could be chopped and added to the mix pre-trail.

As Whole Foods recommends reducing the added water to make a thick taco filling, we decided to start there. We added enough water for the mix to rehydrate to a thick paste consistency, smeared it onto a tortilla, and rolled ala burrito. The mix is tasty and has a bit of fire. We added a packet of Taco Bell's Fire sauce when rolling, but the sauce isn't needed, unless you want a Taco Bell flavor. Personally, the taco needed cheese, but was satisfying.

We next added more hot water until the chili had some "juice". We located a spoon and dug in. The texture was similar to a chili without beans, perhaps a bit chewier. As we make a turkey based chili at home, we found the texture almost identical. Again, the Whole Foods chili mix contains sufficient spices that no additional heat is really necessary, unless you just want to distract your aching feet by torturing your taste buds.

Overall, we thought the chili mix was a winner and we'll be including at least one ration on our trip. Perhaps two, as we are unlikely to find a similar product at our planed resupply point, Henicle's Market Caledonia.

Trail Food: Red Beans & Rice Soup

A recent trip to our local Whole Foods market netted us some possible candidates for tasty, satisfying trail food. One product was Nile Spice brand Red Beans & Rice Soup. This "just add water" dry soup mix comes in a cup and weighs 1.8 oz. A single serving is about 170 calories, its low fat - just what long distance hikers don't need!

So, at the office, we added the recommended amount of hot water and let it stand the full 5 minutes. After the alloted time, we dug in. The rice was a bit crunchy and not softened. The beans were softer than anticipated. There was good flavor, but a bit mild. We added some red chili flakes from our office larder. The amount of rice and beans was a bit disappointing, but the cup does say "soup" after all. Seems a few of the reviewers on Amazon agree.

We think this product is worth a second shot. We plan to add the soup mix to a cup of minute rice along with some chili flakes. We'll add one cup of water per the minute rice instructions and see if the soup mix doesn't make for a heartier and higher calorie Red Beans and Rice entree. We may also slice a small pepperoni stick into the thicker rice. Small dried shrimp from the local asian market might also be a nice addition.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Camping Hammocks: Grand Trunk Lightweight Hammock

So, a pair of Grand Trunk Lightweight Hammocks arrived from, about a week earlier than expected. Eager to try out the new camping hammocks, we carefully cut open the box lest we shred the enclosed treasure. The GT Lightweight Hammock is a good choice for an ultralight camping hammock. The hammock comes packed in a zip lock bag and folded into the hammocks own side pocket. Two hammock suspension ropes were also enclosed.

We immediately grabbed the ENO Slap Straps Micro and set out into the yard to test drive our new camping system. We attached the straps to an apple tree and a post and connected the hammock using the two hooks provided. Carefully we lowered ourselves onto the hammock, holding on to the edge as directed in the instructions. Lots of creaking and stretching, but everything held.

The GT Lightweight Hammock consists of a single layer of strong, yet thin nylon. We found ourselves enveloped in smooth nylon. The hammock is plenty wide, so there is little opportunity to flop out.

We made a trip to the local outfitter to purchase some low stretch 2mm rope and some elastic cord. After tying a figure 8 knot in one end of the 2mm rope, we measured out 93 inches and marked the rope. The GT Lightweight Hammock is 113 inches long (9.5 feet) so 93 inches was about the magic length of 85% for a ridge line. Tying the second figure 8, we forced the hammock end of the attached S hooks open enough to slip the ridge line on to both ends. Rehanging the hammock, we found that while there was slack, a shorter ridge line would allow us to lie even flatter. A quick, retying of the second knot and we found ourselves lying relatively flat.

We then located a bug net that we had purchased for use with a cotton garden hammock and discovered the shorter ridge line allowed us to connect the bug net to the S-hooks with no extra stretching - a perfect fit. All we needed now was a tarp.

After a quick trip to Harbor Freight to pick up an 8 X 10 camo tarp, we busied ourselves with tying a nylon line between the two points, attaching two prusiks made from the stretch cord, and clipping the tarp beneath the tarp suspension line to the prusiks. We jammed our hiking poles into the corner grommets and ran a length of cord to the ground at about a 45-degree angle to ensure we would have enough tie down on the trail for various tarp configurations.

As it was a weekend evening, we tossed our short air mattress and sleeping bag into the hammock and went hammock camping in the backyard. The GT Lightweight Hammock performed well as a camping hammock. No tears, good support, plenty of room for a big guy. We did have a few cold spots due to the short and narrow air pad. We'll repeat the experiment this coming weekend with a longer and wider military solid foam pad.

Overall, we'd recommend the GT Lightweight Hammock as a camping hammock to others. The price is right at less than $20 per hammock. Amazon tossed in free shipping, making the deal even sweeter.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Appalachian Trail Access: Harpers Ferry, WV

For our upcoming section hike of the Appalachian Trail, we plan to access the trail at Harpers Ferry, WV. Harpers Ferry is a true trail town in that the Appalachian Trail actually runs throught the town. Get to the town and you've gotten to the trail.

Section hikers will likely arrive by train. Harpers Ferry is served by both Amtrack and Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC). The train station is located just off the Appalachian Trail near the foot bridge to Maryland.

We plan to take a Greyhound bus to Washington DC and then switch to the Maryland Rail Commuter (MARC) service's Brunswick line to Harpers Ferry. The Greyhound depot is four blocks north of Union Station. Some Greyhound schedules actually stop at Union Station enroute to the bus depot.

The disadvantage of taking a commuter train to Harpers Ferry is they only run in the afternoon. Thus, most hikers will arrive in Harpers Ferry long after both the ATC Headquarters and The Outfitter at Harpers Ferry have closed for the day.

As one can't fly or take the bus legally with fuel canisters or alcohol, where to obtain fuel suddenly becomes a concern. One can spend the evening at a local hotel or the KOA campground and purchase fuel in the morning. Another option is to hit the trail and fuel up somewhere north or south of Harpers Ferry. The Bears Den Hostel is south of Harpers Ferry and sells fuel. North bound (NOBO) hikers have it a bit tougher. We plan to head south and overnight along the trail on Louden Heights and obtain fuel about 9:00 a.m. when places open.

By the way, The Outfitter at Harpers Ferry has been known to allow some hikers to overnight on their backporch. Call ahead and don't abuse the priviledge, if granted.

Related Posts:
Greyhound Bus: Harpers Ferry WV

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Appalachian Trail Food: Henicle's Market Caledonia

While planning for the upcoming section, we were looking for large grocers for food resupply. The guide books mention a long term food resupply about .7 miles west on Route 30 just south-east of Caledonia State Park near Fayetteville, PA. Some investigation turns up Henicles Market Caledonia.

Appalachian Trail thru-hikers seem to have left scant documentation about Henicles Market Caledonia. Henicles Market does have a web site with some information:


Henicles Caledonia
7798 Lincoln Way East
Fayetteville, PA 17222

We accept Visa, Mastercard, EBT/SNAP, Discover and American Express Cards

Store Hours:
Monday through Thursday 8 am - 8 pm
Friday & Saturday 8 am - 9 pm
Sundays 9 am - 8 pm

Henicles Caledonia is located near the Caledonia State Park on Route 30 in Fayetteville. Stop by either store for a freshly made sandwich or sub! They are wonderful! Call ahead for faster service.


We have contacted Henicles Caledonia and offered some suggestions on becoming more trail friendly and for marketing to Appalachian Trail hikers in general.

As we plan to resupply our own trail food at Henicles Caledonia, we'll try to get some photos and more details on their food inventory, sandwiches, and other amenities.


Heard back from Henicle's Market Caledonia. They are strongly considering our recommendations to reach out to Appalachian Trail hikers. We've been invited to visit with them when we come through on my section hike.