Monday, May 10, 2010

Backpacking Light: The Backyard Shakedown

While one of the secrets to backpacking light is to select lightweight gear, the greater secret is to know how to use your light backpacking gear and to ensure that you have the right mix of light backpacking gear. We're still trying to settle on a sleeping system for a late Spring section hike along the middle of the Appalachian Trail. We bought a 1-1/2 lb poncho liner to try as a replacement for a larger 3 lb sleeping bag. So, we decided to hold a dress rehearsal in the backyard.

We "hiked" our loaded lightweight Arrowhead backpack to the backyard about 10 p.m.. Using the mini LED headlight, we setup the GT lightweight travel hammock and Slap Strap micros. Rigged the camo tarp above the hammock and staked the corners down. Put the foam pad into the hammock; inflated our travel pillow and tucked it between tarp and tarp line; and covered the hammock with the poncho liner.

We also bear bagged our food bag using the PCT technique and a low hanging branch on the apple tree. Not high enough for bears, but safe from rodents, possums, and the family dog. (The trail is not the place to discover that one has forgotten, or not mastered, how to bear bag ones precious food.) We then clipped the largely empty backpack to the head end of the hammock to get it off the ground.

We sat on the hammock and donned our lightweight 50/50 long underwear over our shorts and t-shirt. Placed our shoes under the hammock and laid down. Tucked a corner of the poncho liner under the foot end of the pad and pulled it snug. Material was overhanging and touching the ground - not good. Decided to tuck the extra material on the sides under the foam pad as well. We were comfortably warm and went to sleep.

We were awaken at about four or five in the morning. 8 mph winds were lifting the tarp and blowing across the top of the poncho liner. We could actually feel the heat leaving the enclosed space around us. Also, we noted our foam pad had slipped and was now hanging over the hammock and beyond the tarp. Got out; replaced the foam pad; and re-staked the tarp closer to the hammock and ground. Also swung the backpack under the hammock and fastened the waist belt over the hammock to help keep the pack out of any rain. Went back to sleep after re-tucking the poncho liner.

We awoke after sunrise to rain hitting the tarp. Snivel meter read 54F. We were comfortable, unlike an earlier field test of a small,lightweight, fleece sleeping bag. Checked for rain penetration. Inside of tarp was dry, as were the hammock, pad, and poncho liner. We then decided to practice breaking camp in the rain. Retrieved the backpack. Stuffed the poncho liner into a compression bag and packed it away. Rolled up the foam pad and placed next to pack. Grabbed the hammock system stuff sack and stuffed the hammock and the two Slap Strap micros. Decided to leave the tarp and food bag hung until they had a chance to air dry. Had this been an actual long distance hike, we could have packed up while keeping everything critical dry.

Other than buying a new foam pad to cut down to fit the hammock, we are done acquiring and testing gear. We've settled on our cooking system: vintage aluminum pot w/lid and handle; super cat alcohol stove, spork, plastic bowl with lid, cup, and a freezer bag cozy. We plan to just boil water and use freezer bag cooking for breakfast and supper. While monitoring the weather, we'll plan our meals and start shopping for food.

Next weekends forecast is for three days of rain. We may decide to practice setting up camp in the rain as we need to make mistakes now and not later on the trail, away from the safety of home and hearth.

Our current gear list is located just below the photo and biography in the lower right blue area.

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