Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Gear: Esbit Spirit Stove & Cook Set

We've noted quite a bit of interest in Esbit's new Spirit alcohol stove and cook set in our blog analytics. While we don't own one and no one we know has one, we did some online investigating and offer the following review for folks considering buying an Esbit Spirit stove cook set for use on their section hike of the Appalachian Trail.

The first thing we noted is there's a lot of metal, which equals weight. The Esbit Spirit cook set has a larger 985 ml cup than the 585 ml Esbit cup we use. Instead of the thin, light flat lid that comes with the 585 ml cup, the Esbit Spirit cook set comes with a second 470 ml pot, again more weight.

Directing our attention to the base beneath the 985 ml cup, we find the same heavy Esbit base, a brass Spirit alcohol stove, and an insert-able aluminum Esbit solid fuel burner - more weight. Yes, the entire cook set is made of hard anodized aluminum which is lighter than the steel cook sets offered in many outdoor shops, but there's still considerable excess weight.

The second thing we examined is the Spirit alcohol stove itself. It looks like the Spirit stove has small jets drilled into the top of the stove. If one can set the pot/cup directly atop the Spirit stove and still have a flame then Esbit's Spirit cook set is modifiable for use along the Appalachian Trail.

If you absolutely insist on paying the greater cost for Esbit's Spirit cook set, then consider:

1) Keep the 985 ml cup/pot.

2) Try and buy a replacement flat lid from Esbit for their 585 ml cup and ditch the 470 ml pot/lid.

3) Ditch the base.

4) Keep the Spirit alcohol stove, but ditch the screw on lid and the other lid-like thing (flame snuffer?). Alcohol stoves have no moving parts to be protected and you don't (shouldn't) pack alcohol stoves with alcohol still in them.

5) Ditch the second aluminum Esbit solid fuel burner.

Personally, we wouldn't buy either the cook set nor the stove. Why would you want a 92 gram brass stove, when a Supercat alcohol stove is just 6 grams? Our Esbit 585 ml cup weighs just 113 grams compared to the Spirit cook set's 417 grams. Nothing against Esbit nor the brawny, he-man-y fellows who like to tote cool metallic toys over hill and dale, but a lighter pack makes for a more enjoyable hike


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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Appalachian Trail Books: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Just finished 's well known Appalachian Trail book, A Walk in the Woods. Someone had placed a new paperback copy in my mail box at the office. Likely because they know I've been backpacking long sections of the Appalachian Trail for a few years now. Even though Google shows 5,176 reviews for Bryson's book, here's my take on A Walk in the Woods.

First, Bryson's style is most enjoyable and he cleverly weaves facts into his narrative of his year long series of hikes along the Appalachian Trail. We learned a few things, such as the history of the Delaware Water Gap, that we would have liked to have known before our hike of the same section. (Fortunately, we have not yet sectioned Mount Greymore in MA, so we'll have a better appreciation of the war memorial and buildings when we arrive some years hence.)

Second, Bryson was faithful in recreating just how difficult, tiring, and mentally tough any long hike of the Appalachian Trail really is. We too have stood at the abyss and had to weigh our desire to continue hiking or just pack it in and go home. Anyone planning a through hike or even an extended hike of a section of the Appalachian Trail is well served by reading Bryson's book and taking seriously his recollection of just how tough the Appalachian Trail really is. There's a reason why so many hikers abandon their hike of the trail year after year. Bryson should be commended on his honest descriptions and having the integrity to reveal that he too found a through hike beyond what he wished to endure. While we have only hiked about 200 miles of the 2, 178 mile trail, like Katz and Bryson, we too have "hiked the Appalachian Trail" and will be forever changed by it.

Its an inexpensive paperback book and its found in most libraries. If you've got some time for reading, its worth it. If you want to save some cash, you can read a large excerpt of A Walk in the Woods on Google Books.

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

I'm going to hike the Appalachian Trail

I have played with the Xtranormal cartoon tool in the past, and I am ashamed I didn't think of this before now. Lori did a great job summarizing the usual discussion that takes place when others hear you are planning to hike all or part of the Appalachian Trail. It's a bit long, but worth the time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Backpacking Food Reviews: Yelp List of Appalachian Trail Businesses

We started a new resource for sections hikers: an  Appalachian Trail list of Yelp reviews for delis, grocers, and other similar attractions along the AT. We've added a resource or two for WV, PA, NJ and NY so far. We have a couple more reviews to add and we'll be caught up with all of our past hikes. We'd like to encourage you, our fellow hikers, to add your reviews for these businesses and for any others you have used.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Appalachian Trail Video: Appalachian Impressions

Official trailer from what most Appalachian Trail hikers consider the best movie ever made about hiking the AT.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Appalachian Trail 2011 - New Jersey (long version)

Long version of our favorite photos from our 2011 section hike of the Appalachian Trail across New Jersey and the first miles of New York.

The video starts in Delaware Water Gap, PA, then heads north towards High Point SP and then across Pochuck Mountain and boardwalk. The video finishes just past the NJ-NY state line where we had lunch.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Hiking Food For Long Distance Backpacking - 5,000 Calories Per Day

We discovered this good overview video on hiking food on YouTube. Most of what the narrator describes is what we also take on our section hikes along the Appalachian Trail. We differ in packaging. We like to pack complete breakfast and dinners along with snacks into distinct ziplock bags for five days of hiking. ( we mark our bags "Day 1", "Day 2", etc. We also toss in hand wipes and quarter sections of paper towels along with condiments.



Feel free to add your hiking food tips and recommendations in the comments.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Death on the Appalachian Trail

While reviewing and updating our Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail Twitter account, we discovered there has been a second death on the Appalachian Trail this year. This time its seems a hiker slipped and fell between Rangeley and Caratunk, Maine. Details are forthcoming.

While deaths on the Appalachian Trail are rare, death does come to hikers from time to time. Often while pre-planning a hike, friends and relatives become alarmed and imagine all sorts of danger that will befall their loved one. (We've been offered guns.) With today's death, this seems an opportune moment in time to start a list of deaths on the Appalachian Trail to provide a balanced perspective on how life threatening the Appalachian Trail is and is not.







We will continue to update this post as we discover past deaths on the Appalachian Trail.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Bear Container: BearSaver Bear Box

One of the pleasant surprises hiking the Appalachian Trail through New jersey was the discovery that a bear container wasn't absolutely necessary. When we discovered that official backpacker site after backpacker site hosted a BearSaver bear box, we felt a bit foolish toting our expensive and somewhat bulky Ursack.

We saw our first BearSaver bear box at the backpacker camp just south of Sunfish Pond. That's the one in the photo. We took some time to examine it and become familiar with how it works. The right side door features a release mechanism that is cleverly hidden to foil both bears and clever raccoons. One inserts one's hand upside down in the bottom of the mechanism and squeezes a release lever.

The standard BearSaver bear box is quite large. We were able to stuff our entire large backpack inside with plenty of room to spare at both the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center and Pochuck shelter. The bear box at Mashipacong shelter held two large 5 gallon water containers and still had lots of room for food bags.

While the sign on the left panel instructs hikers that these are not trash cans, we often found trash inside. We suspect a contributing cause is that trash cans have mostly been removed from all parks in New Jersey. Pack it in, pack it out is the general rule. The most egregious mis-use of the bear box was at the Rutherford shlter in High Point State Park were we found not only large amounts of nasty, fetid garbage inside, but also a stack of oatmeal encrusted plates and metal silverware. Eww! We packed out much of the refuse since we knew we would be stopping by the park HQ shortly after departing, but we didn't take on the extra weight of the hard goods.

In addition to the water we found at Mashipacong shelter, we found other trail magic inside several bear boxes. At Pochuck shelter we found several packets of M & M chocolate candies. So, don't forget to stop by all the shelter and backpacking sites and open the BearSaver bear box doors. You may be pleasantly surprised. (This also works in reverse: you can be the one to leave trail magic inside a bear box for other hikers. Just saying.)

The longest distance between bear boxes in New Jersey was the 14 mile stretch between the AMC Mohican Center and the Brinks Road shelter. If you decide to stealth camp between those points, you will be in bear country and will need to bear bag your food. We recommend an UrSack or using the PCT bear bagging method.

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Appalachian Trail 2011 - New Jersey

Here's a short 30-second video we made on Animoto with a few of our favorite photos from this years section hike of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Appalachian Trail NJ: AMC Mohican Outdoor Center

Our second night out on our 2011 section hike the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey found us at the Appalachian Mountain Club's (AMC) Mohican Outdoor Center about ten miles north of the Delaware Water Gap.

Our one night visit left us surprised in many ways, both good and bad.

Unlike our first long distance section hike of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, our first day ended not in thirst and leg cramps, but tired yet with a reserve of energy. So we were ready when we descended downhill towards the sound of running water. After a brief episode of rock hopping and crossing a wooden bridge, we found ourselves at a gray gravel road with a large green sign marking the entrance gate of the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center. A turn to the west and a short walk brought us to the large lodge building pictured above. We noticed a water spigot next to the garage across the gravel road and helped ourselves to pure water while cooling off. We doffed our pack onto one of several large benches along the road and walked up to the lodge entrance. Lights were out and no one answered our call. A local chasing his dog mentioned the caretaker was at a cabin and would likely return shortly.

Our host returned and we asked "What were the options for spending the night?" We could pay $9 to camp or considerably more for a cabin. We opted to pay the $9 to camp, paid an extra $1 for a cold Mountain Dew soda, and wandered towards the tent camping area. (In hindsight, being freshly showered and shaved from the church hostel and asking that particular question may have been a poor decision as long distance AT hikers generally camp for free.)

The tent camping area is located just past and behind the main lodge. A narrow trail winds through thick underbrush and trees. From time to time a clearing appears on either side of the trail with old wooden picnic tables. As we hang in a hammock at night we opted for site #3 which had well spaced trees with a BearSaver bear box and the privy not too far away. As this was a weekday evening in the first week of May we had the entire tenting area to ourselves. Close to dark we spotted several small deer feasting on the underbrush along the trail.

The next morning we broke camp, dropped by the lodge to "check out" and sign the log book.

Getting there

North bound hikers (NOBOs) will be coming downhill through the Delaware Water Gap NRA. After crossing the wooden bridge, make a left turn west and head up the gravel road to the lodge.

South bound hikers (SOBOs) will have left Catfish fire tower and will be traversing a ridgeline with wonderful views of New Jersey to the east. Coming sharply downhill, the trail will angle west and you'll also pass by at least one stealth camp site until you hear running water and emerge onto the gravel road. Make a right turn west and head up the drive to the AMC lodge.


$9 - Tent camping or hammocking
$3 - Indoor toilet and shower
$1 - Canned soda (Coke, Mt Dew)


Resupplying at the Mohican Outdoor Center is only viable for SOBOs who have run out of food, as NOBOs should have picked up supplies in Delaware Water Gap or nearby East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania one or two days before. The Mohican Outdoor Center can provide water, canned sodas, candy bars, and sandwiches. Between those, you should have sufficient calories to get another 10 miles south to Delaware Water Gap, the best resupply point for over 50 miles in either direction.

The lodge also sells t-shirts and several other visitor center styled items such as wildlife guides and maps.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Camping on the Appalachian Trail: NJ Backpacker Camp #2

Located midway between Delaware Water Gap, PA and the AMC Mohican Outdoor Center, backpacker camp #2 in Worthington State Park, NJ is much nicer than guidebooks let on. We had expected a typical shelter with a bare dirt perimeter from overuse.

What to expect

We were pleasantly surprised first by how quickly we arrived at the camp site and secondly by the large size of the camp. We first sighted a large wooden bulletin board which stands at the trail intersection adjacent to the camp. The bulletin board provided information on the camp rules, bear safety, maps of the surrounding area, and more than one reminder of no camp fires in New Jersey. Walking around the sign, it was obvious that the last rule is frequently disobeyed as much of the area was charred from a previous out-of-control fire.

While not level and with frequent rocks and trees, we did note many green grassy areas suitable for tent camping. Hammock campers will also find many suitable pairs of trees from which to hang. We were also amused to find our first BearSaver bear box and eagerly opened and examined it. The bear box was centrally located and there was more than one.

Not too far from the bear box and seeming uphill and downwind from most camp sites was a moldering privy. Common along the Appalachian Trail, the moldering privy provides for composting human waste to the benefit of the surrounding forest.

Near the western edge with a great view of the Delaware river Valley below was a wooden platform with a sign noting this was the ridge runner's reserved campsite. Since no ridge runner was present, we plunked down our pack on the platform, dug out our food bag and had a lovely lunch while enjoying the view. We recommend you do the same if passing by outside of the busy season.

Water for the camp is available at nearby Sunfish Pond, just a short 15-minute walk further north along the Appalachian Trail.

Stays are limited to one night only, so don't plan to hike up for the three-day weekend and hang out. You'll be asked to move along.

Getting there

The easiest route to backpacker camp #2 is northbound along the white blazed Appalachian Trail from Delaware Water Gap. The trail is moderately steep, but easy to hike in comparison to the Appalachian Trail just north of the camping site. The route follows a creek for the first part and then slowly peels away and continues up to the summit where the camp awaits. We were able to walk from trailhead to camp in just over one hour.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Appalachian Trail Hostels: Delaware Water Gap PA

The Presbyterian Church of the Mountain in Delaware Water Gap, PA provides a hostel for thru-hikers and long distance section hikers of the Appalachian Trail. We spent the night at their hostel during our recent section hike of the New Jersey portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Hours and Cost

The normal season for the hostel is May 15 to June 30, but the hostel is available to bona-fide long distance hikers before and after those dates. Instructions for entrance are on the hostel door. If arriving before 5 p.m., then continue up the driveway to the church office and chat with the secretary who can unlock the hostel. After 5 and before 8:30 p.m., then you need to call one of the church members listed in the instructions. After 8:30, well you're out of luck unless someone else is already staying there, as the instructions say to head to the motel and get a room. We arrived about 6 p.m. on a Sunday on the 1st of May and found thru-hiker already staying there.

The recommended donation for staying the night is just $3. Donations are placed thru a slot in the wall in the living room just to the left of the clock. Find the pink Post-It in the second photo below and you'll see the slot just above. To tell the truth there's so much stuff on walls and surfaces we had to ask another hiker where the donations box was ourselves.

Getting there

Finding the hostel is actually easy if arriving by bus and even easier if arriving on foot from the trail. The Apalachian Trail passes just one building away from the hostel.

Northbounders (NOBOs) will be coming downhill from Mount Minsi on Mountain Road. As you arrive at Main Street, the hostel is to your immediate left just on the other side of the Deer Head Inn. You likely saw the church through the trees as you were coming down Mountain Road.

Southbounders (SOBOs) will be coming uphill from the Delaware River bridge. As you arrive at the intersection marked with a large brown and white Appalachian Trail sign, you'll see the Deer Head Inn to your left and the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain just up the hill to the left.

Bus riders arriving at the Martz Trailways/Greyhound station should take a right leaving the bus station and then follow the first road on the right down into town, cross Cherry Creek, and then follow Main Street uphill. The church and hostel will be on your right.

In all cases, just follow the drive way and you'll find a picnic table and the hostel entrance on your immediate right, just after the steps to the front door.

About the Hostel

The hostel was recently renovated with fresh paint and new carpet. (Note the AT symbol cleverly set into a carpet square inside the door.) The hostel consists of a main living room, a bunk room and shower, a half bathroom with commode and sink, and the outside picnic table area.

The bunk room consists of eight wooden sleeping platforms covered with carpet. There is lots of space and post tops to hang or open backpacks. You'll need your pad and sleeping bag for the bunk room.

The shower entrance is located in the middle of the bunk room. The shower consists of a single stall with curtain. Church members have donated shampoo and soap which are in containers next to the stall. You'll find generous stacks of towels inside the two closets just outside the bunk room to the left.

All in all, we enjoyed our stay at the Church of the Mountain hostel and had a much nicer experience than our first hostel stay in London, England way back in 1979. A hot shower and a shave were much appreciated after a long 2-day bus ride and we were glad not to start our hike late in the day up one of the hills to a legal camping spot. Our sincere thanks to the hostel volunteers!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Greyhound Bus: Delaware Water Gap PA

For our 2011 section hike of the Appalachian Trail, we once again rode the Greyhound bus east to New York City. Greyhound buses arrive on the bottom level of the Port Authority building on 45th Street in Manhattan. After getting off the bus and claiming your backpack you'll enter into a dimly lit square waiting area with a food service and escalators in the middle. Skip the food service, as there's better and less expensive food upstairs, and head for the up escalator or stairs.

Coming up a level you should find the Greyhound ticket counter towards your left and just beyond and next door Martz Trailways. Delaware Water Gap, PA is served by Martz Trailways and a one-way ticket is about $35.00. (Recommend you have correct change as one of the male clerks of Indo-Asian ancestry seems something of a "change artist" and returns one dollar bills instead of five dollar bills.)

Martz Trailways also arrives and departs from the "basement", but from the "other building". If time permits, you might grab a bite from the bread shop under the main escalators in the center of the Port Authority. You can also find cheap snacks at the pharmacy which is also below the escalators. Veterans will find a USO two floors above the Trailways ticket counter, just take the escalators up to the 3rd floor. (Note: the USO does not offer the usual baggage closet due to post-9/11 security paranoia. Your backpack must remain with you at all times.)

The trip from New York City to Delaware Water Gap is about 3 hours or less, depending on traffic going through the tunnel under the Hudson River. The ride is fairly boring once outside of the urban area. Once the Delaware River comes into view, you might pay attention to the area before the bridge and the town of Delaware Water Gap to your left.

Martz Trailways maintains a bus station on the west backside of town. Once at the bus station you'll need to claim your backpack. As we use our food bag as a carry-on bag, we went inside the station to repack our backpack for the short walk to the Appalachian Trail. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and there was plenty of seating on which to rest our pack. There are public restrooms with adjacent water fountain just past the ticket counter. On the opposite wall are some vending machines.

Departing the bus station, make a right turn at the highway that runs past the bus station. Take the first right and follow the road through town to go directly to the Appalachian Trail or to the hostel. If you need alcohol fuel or some grocery items, follow the highway back towards the bridge and take the first exit ramp down to the two gas stations and convenience stores. Once done shopping follow the road back into town and take a left at the intersection to get to the trail or the hostel.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Foldable Spork: Primus Folding Spoon Fork

After downsizing our trail kitchen to the new Esbit cup, we need a smaller spork that would fit inside the 3.5 inch space. We found a nice titanium folding spork at REI at a reasonable price, but our daughter wasn't able to pick up and deliver one of the prized sporks before our 2011 section hike. Being days from departure we sought out a substitute folding spork and discovered the Primus folding spoon and fork at a local Academy Sports for just a few dollars.

The folded Primus spoon / fork fit easily inside our Esbit cup along with the stove, lighter, and other pieces. The little plastic latch in the hinge didn't seem robust and we had read some negative reviews of folding sporks and spoons regarding folding mid-meal. We took ours to work and tried it out in a bag of instant mashed potatoes. Sure enough, while moving the folding spoon back and forth during mixing, the folding spoon unlatched on us. Serious flaw? Not at all. We merely learned to adjust our cooking behavior to the folding spoon. Only stir in one direction - forward only. Confident, we cleaned and packed our new red Primus folding spoon and fork into our Esbit cup.

Our experiences during our 2011 section hike were positive. Yes, the spoon folded once or twice while stirring due to "operator error". The spoon did fold while we were spreading bean dip on a tortilla. Again, once we held the lower spoon section firmly, we were able to spread at will. We really appreciated the fork part of the Primus folding spoon when eating our nightly Ramen soup. The fork enable us to gather a decent bite of noodles from our soup.

We recommend the Primus folding spoon and fork to other hikers wanting a small, lightweight folding spork or spoon, provided you are open-minded enough to modify your behavior. As these little guys are relatively inexpensive, we'll likely buy a few more for the family.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Ultralight Beer Can Stove Kit

Working Saturday at a Rural Tourism Marketing workshop and we just discovered a unique ultralight beer can stove kit. Turns out our speakers manufacture and sell a line of ultralight backpacking gear at UltralightOutfitters.com.

The ultralight beer can stove kit is designed for use with a 1 liter Foster's beer can. You supply the can. Instructions for making a Foster's beer can pot are on the website.

The ultralight beer can stove kit consists of a wire pot stand, a solid fuel stove, a windscreen, a lip guard, and a lexan spoon.

The stand does NOT fit a Heiniken beer can pot.

You can order the kit for $15.95 from Ultralight Outfitters.

Monday, April 11, 2011

NH Appalachian Trail Store: Notch Express

During a recent business trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we got off the I-93 at Exit 33, just a mile or so south of where the Appalachian Trail crosses through Franconia Notch. We discovered Notch Express.

Notch Express of Lincoln, NH is a a typical rural convenience store. While hikers are seldom seeking gas, they are seeking a ready supply of food, drink and stove fuel. Entering the front door of Notch Express one finds a mini-store stretching to the right. While we didn't see any stove fuels displayed, we did find canned and packet tuna, two-packs of Pop-Tarts, beef and chicken flavored ramen noodles ($.40), and small jars of peanut butter. We also noted that along with Snapple teas, milk, and major soft drinks, that beer was available in single serving bottles. A quick question confirmed that, yes, Notch Express does stock up for the summer hiking season, so expect larger inventories than one can of tuna to be awaiting.

Immediately in line with the front door is the entrance to the restrooms marked "For customers only." The two rooms are unisex, so lock the door behind you. Even if you don't need to use the facilities, they're worth a peek. The proprietress has decorated each with articles and photos of UFO sightings.

To the left rear of the store, one will find a deli serving freshly made sandwiches. The menu reads much like a well known national chain.

While there are motels adjacent and across the street, many hikers opt for hiking yet another mile south to Chet's hostel. We opted out of driving by due to increasing snow and the late hour. Why tempt fate?

Do take note that the Notch Express is a favorite of the local constabulary.

Express Notch in Licoln, NH is about a four day hike from Gorham, NH for southbound (SOBO) Appalachian Trail hikers. BTW, exit 32 about five miles south of the AT has a McDonalds (sweet tea available) and a grocery.

Yelp reviews for Notch Express

Friday, April 1, 2011

Obama Adds 60 Miles to Appalachian Trail

Washington DC (April 1, 2011) - President Obama announced today that he is adding 60 miles to the Appalachian Trail. Executive Order 23495 directs the National Park Service to add the 60 miles of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal between Harpers Ferry and Washington DC to the 2,178 mile Appalachian Trail. The new addition follows the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to the Arlington Memorial Bridge. The Appalachian Trail will then wind through the National Mall to Union Station providing hikers the opportunity to view America's great monuments. Side trails, known as "blue blazes", to the White House, the Capitol, and the Smithsonian museums are planned. Hikers will return to Harpers Ferry using a high speed rail voucher.

"As you know, Michelle and I enjoy hiking in the woods of Camp David and America's national parks. The sight of America's youth passing through Washington DC each Spring will be a powerful witness to inner city youth to explore America's wilderness." Said Obama. "Let me make this perfectly clear. While there will be no boots on the ground in Libya, America needs more boots on the ground from its cities."

The First Lady's office also announced the National Park Service will be removing soft drink machines and fast food concessions from both Shenandoah and Great Smokies National Parks. "Too many hikers are consuming empty calories and arriving in Maine malnourished, having lost unhealthy amounts of body fat;" said Michele Obama. "We need to provide America's hikers with nourishing fruits and vegetables instead of sugary drinks and high fat junk food." White House insiders speculate the First Couple may provide trail magic using the White House garden.

The addition of 60 miles to the Appalachian Trail brings the total mileage of the famous trail to 2,238 miles and adds an additional five days to a typical five to six month through hike. Free high speed rail vouchers will be available for the 2012 hiking season from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Happy April Fools Day 2011.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Appalachian Trail: Food Planning for 10-Day Hike

We have already begun buying and building our meal packets for our upcoming 10-day section hike of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey and New York. Our menu last year was largely successful, but we learned a few lessons which we are applying this year.

Food Resupply Along Trail

We are starting from Delaware Water Gap, PA. Our planned resupply is on day five in Unionville, NY. So, we'll be carrying five days of food with an estimated weight of 8-10 pounds. We have a digital scale this year and will actually know the weight of each days food before departure. Last year our five days food lasted seven and we had uneaten food to boot. Excess food equals excess weight.

We have also decided to test re-supplying with a drop box on this section hike for the experience. Future sections will eventually require a drop box. If High Point State Park HQ is still accepting drop boxes, we'll pick up our drop box there on day four.


2 packets instant oatmeal
1/2 packet freeze dried apples
1 packet hot chocolate
1 packet Fig Newtons

Trail mix
Chocolate chip granola bars
Beef sticks
Freeze dried bananas & strawberries

Flour tortilla with Genoa salami
Lunches from delis and farms along trail

1 packet Pork ramen soup with crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup tea
1 entree

Tuna in sunflower oil with mayonnaise, salt and pepper
Vegetarian chili tacos
Chipotle bean dip burritos
Instant mashed potatoes (garlic, fully loaded)

The above selection provides enough choices for sudden changes of appetite. We have eaten mashed potatoes for breakfast along with salami or enjoyed a packet of extra oily tuna at mid-day.


Each days meal is packed in a gallon ziplock bag. Each bag is labeled with "Day 1", etc.

A days meal bag contains one quart freezer bag with all breakfast components, one quart freezer bag with all dinner components, 2-3 packets of Propel, two granola bars, 2-3 beef sticks, salami packet, and trail mix.

The breakfast and dinner freezer bags also contain a wet wipe (toilet or bath), 1/4th paper towel (napkin). Hot water amounts are marked on outside of freezer bags.

Trail Food Lessons Learned

We discovered that most distance hikers lose their appetites for the first 2-3 days. You will probably not eat as much as you think.

Food tastes change on the trail. We couldn't stand Snickers bars last year and gave most away to thru-hikers. Eventually, we couldn't tolerate Fig Newtons.

Drink Propel during active hiking. One tube per liter is diluted just right.

Eat something when you drink, it helps you tolerate the water.

Take three drinks every 20 minutes.

Leftovers are consolidated into an empty day's gallon ziplock bag. We consume most of the leftovers on the long bus ride home.

Update 2011

We had good appetite the first 2-3 days, but had trouble eating days 4-5. We scored some hot oily meatloaf and orange juice in Unionville, NY and our appetite returned to normal. Extra protein or fats?

Double check your hiking schedule and meal plan. We miscounted our hiking days (11 vs. 10) and were short food. We compensated by buying pizza slices for that evenings dinner and the next day's breakfast.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Appalachian Trail Journals 2011

And they're off... The class of 2011 is slogging up and down the Appalachian Trail in droves. We've scanned their updated TrailJournals (TJs) and selected some of the more interesting hikers to follow. Already we've had one senior hiker drop off the trail for inflamed knees.

Here's who we've found the most interesting to date:

We'll be updating their location in the right sidebar as they enter each of the 14 states along the way. Pick a few favorites and follow them this season.

(Between you and me, I think Bluevist is going to have a close up and personal bear encounter in her tent, if she does what she wrote.)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chaoqing Laotou: Ultralight Oldies

It was with some amusement that we were introduced to the Chinese phrase chaoqing laotou, or "ultralight oldies.

We were reviewing our @Section_Hiking Twitter account and discovered a very good article about some folks from China hiking the Appalachian Trail and finding it manicured and wimpy compared to Chinese mountain trails. Near the end of the article, a scene at one of the shelters in the Great Smokies Mountains National Park describes some older American men comparing ultralight gear. As younger American charge up the Appalachian Trail with 50-60 pound packs as badges of honor, older males, like ourself, tend towards reducing pack weight. The Chinese hikers refered to the pack of senior citizen gram weenies as chaoqing laotou.

While we haven't converted all our nylon accessories to ultralight cuban fiber or started removing tags from tea bags, we have started weighing our gear in hopes of reducing some additional weight towards the goal of increasing our enjoyment. So, rather than considering ourselves a gram weenie, we're content to be considered an "ultralight oldie."

Read the full Outside Online article here:

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Homemade Alcohol Stoves: The Coke Can Stove

Are you looking for a lightweight stove for your next backpacking trip? Have you ever considered a homemade alcohol stove from a Coke can?

Right after the canister stove, alcohol stoves are the most popular type of stove on the Appalachian Trail. The Coke can stove is the most popular of the its genre for good reason. Backpackers carry pocket knives and soda cans are plentiful and free!

So, it was with much delight when we discovered that Brian of Brian's Backpacking Blog included one of his homemade alcohol stoves made from a Coke zero can with the Bud Light stove we had won. Brian is a true craftsman. His cut lines are clean and the holes clean and well spaced. You just can't help but turn his homemade stove around and say "Wow!"

Adding the wow factor is the small size and weight of this type of homemade alcohol stove. We set the stove on our digital scale and read 11 grams or just a third of an ounce. Amazingly light! While the base of a Coke can stove is a smaller diameter than for Brian's Bud Light backpacking alcohol stove, the Coke zero can has a wider diameter above the base. Ours measured a smidge over 2-1/2 inches in width and just 1-3/4 inches tall. That means this homemade stove will fit inside most backpackers cups, including Esbit's new 585 ml cup, with room for a BIC mini-lighter and a folding spoon. Nice...

So, how's it burn? We found out last Saturday morning when we took it for a test boil on the back patio. We poured in 20ml of denatured alcohol, set our wind screen around it, and applied a light match. Like with Brian's Bud Light stove, alcohol is colorless when it burns. At 30 seconds we started to see bubbles and by 40 seconds we had yellow jets of flame from the side ports. We set an aluminum pot with one pint (16 oz) of water on top and let it heat. We had boiling water at 4-1/2 minutes. In fairness, we did lift the pot twice to check the stove as we weren't sure the wind hadn't blown it out. We did mention alcohol is colorless when it burns, didn't we?

We found this particular stove a wee bit more unstable than its brother, the Bud Light stove. This is likely due to its smaller base and the wide pot we used. The stove is likely more stable with small diameter metal cups.

After pouring off the boiling water and removing the wind screen, the stove cooled rapidly and we were able to pack up quickly. By the time you finish stirring your coffee or soup, the stove is cool enough to handle.

All in all this is a very good stove design and Brian puts lots of care into the construction of his alcohol stoves. We asked Brian about a Dr Pepper alcohol stove for a daughter who is a slave to the brand. Brian replied that he didn't drink sodas, but knew people who did. So, visit Brian on Brian's Backpacking Blog and don't forget to follow @BFGreen on Twitter. Thanks, Brian!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alcohol Backpacking Stoves: The Bud Light Stove

Recently, we were the winner of an alcohol backpacking stove giveaway. The prize was a well made Bud Light alcohol stove. We grabbed some alcohol, water, pot, and the stove and fired it up this past weekend. Here's what we discovered...

The Bud Light alcohol stove is made from a heavy aluminum bottle. The top portion is removed, small holes drilled around the bottom half of the remaining aluminum tube, and then the tube is some how folded and compressed inside itself. The result is a sturdy, double walled, alcohol stove measuring just 1-3/4ths inches high and across which easily fits into most titanium and aluminum mugs and cups. We threw the little backpacking stove on our digital scale and found it weighed less than an ounce: just .85 ounces or 25 grams. That's just a bit heavier than a Supercat alcohol stove, but well in the acceptable range for folks wanting a lightweight backpacking stove.

We took the stove outside to our BBQ grill and poured 20 ml of dyed denatured alcohol inside. We then struck a match and stuck it inside to light. As alcohol fuel is colorless when lit, we weren't sure that we had actually succeeded in lighting the stove. At about 20 seconds, we noted tiny bubbles appearing in the alcohol, which became a full boil by 30 seconds. About five seconds later yellow flames erupted from the top and from the tiny side jets. Houston, we have ignition!

We set our old Mirro aluminum pot with a pint of water on top. Stable with no noticeable wobble. Likely due to this alcohol stove design having a slightly larger base diameter. We wrapped our tin foil windscreen around the pot and stove. No visible flame was observed, but we could feel heat rising around the pot.

At about 3-1/2 minutes we noted the bottom of our pot covered with small bubbles. By 4 minutes we had a roiling boil in progress. There was still fuel to burn and our last bit of fuel lasted until almost the 5 minute mark.

We dumped our boiling water in the kids nearby wading pool and let the stove cool down. Being double walled, the Bud Light stove takes a bit more time to cool than the single wall Supercat stove.

This particular Bud Light alcohol stove was made by Brian Green of Brian's Backpacking Blog. Brian also included one of his Coke can homemade alcohol stoves for us to test as well. While we really, really liked Brian's well made Coke stove, we'd choose the heavier Bud Light alcohol stove for its sturdiness and stability.

Here's a video from another hiker showing his Bud Light stove and its interior construction.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mobile Web Content for Section Hikers

The Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail blog is now on the mobile web!

Recently, Google released a draft tool for making Blogger and Blogspot blogs mobile phone accessible. We have have added that tool to our account and now you may view Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail web content in simplified form on your favorite mobile device.

The mobile version removes the weather images at the top of the page and the right-side content pane. Posts appear with a small thumbnail and the first few lines of the post. A large arrow icon on the right-side of the mobile web content allows you to easily click through to the entire post.

There is also a mobile version of our Twitter web content. We update our associated Twitter account 1-2 times daily with many short informative posts that never appear here in the main blog. To make it easy to add the Twitter web page to your mobile device, we have added a QR code to the right side content pane just below the Twitter widget. Its the big ugly black and white image.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gear: Supercat Homemade Alcohol Stove

We have acquired many backpacking stoves over our long life, but one of our favorites is our homemade Supercat alcohol stove. We like the Supercat alcohol stove because its among the lightest at 1 ounce, one of the simplest as its one piece with no parts, and it is effective in boiling water in about four minutes. Anyone can make a Supercat stove in about 15 minutes or less! Its the easiest homemade alcohol stove one can make and a popular project among backpackers.

Making a Supercat Alcohol Stove

Here's a YouTube video we like that describes how to make a homemade Supercat aka "Fancy Feast" alcohol stove:

Using a Supercat Alcohol Stove

Using a homemade Supercat alcohol stove is even easier than making one, but is not without a few warnings. We are setting fire to a liquid fuel in an open container punched full of holes.

1. Set your alcohol stove on a flat level surface, such as a picnic table, rock, or hard dirt surface. When using on a wood surface like a picnic table, its good trail etiquette to first place a piece of aluminum foil beneath the stove to reflect heat away from the wood. We carry a small round piece inside all our pots and cups that we use with our Supercat stoves.

2. Pour a small amount of alcohol inside the stove. For your first few times, don't agonize over how much fuel to use. Right now you just want to master the basics of how alcohol stoves operate. Don't fret if you spill a bit of alcohol over the side of the stove as you have just "primed" your stove for lighting.

3. Light your stove with a match or lighter. Hold a lit match or lighter near the holes of the stove or near the spilt fuel. The Supercat will likely ignite. Note there is little color in an alcohol flame and more than one cook has been singed by a lit alcohol stove. You can mix a small amount of salt into your alcohol fuel which will generate a visible flame.

4. Watch for the alcohol to begin boiling. After about 15-20 seconds, you should hear a change in the burning fuel and note small bubbles in the bottom of the stove. Congratulations! Its time to boil or cook something.

5. Slide your pot or cup down onto the stove. Slowly place your cook pot onto the Supercat stove. Covering the opening of the stove should cause the flame to jet out the small holes you punched into your can.

That's it in a nutshell! Your homemade alcohol stove will burn until it runs out of fuel. Don't be in a hurry to grab your alcohol stove after it goes out. The entire can will be very hot. Wait a minute or two and everything will be cold enough to pack up.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Backpacking Gear: LG Incite Windows Smartphone

One of the minor problems that most backpackers need to resolve is how many extra luxury items to pack and how not to forget and lose said luxury items while on the trail. Trail logs and forums seem to have more than one incident of someone finding lost phones and digital cameras along the Appalachian Trail. We had our own variation on our first section hike. We took along a Verizon pre-paid cell phone, two disposable 35mm cameras, a handful of maps and several sheets of notes. We also noted a distinct lack of current weather information along the A.T.

With that in mind, we have purchased an unlocked ATT LG Incite smartphone with Windows Mobile. We selected the Incite due to its combining the usual cell phone with still and video cameras along with an FM radio, WiFi, and standalone GPS system. "One device to rule them all;" pops into mind.

So far we have been very pleased. We have downloaded and installed several GPS programs and have settled on TurboGPS. We also have been pleased with the FM radio, which needs headphones or earbuds for an antennae and will not function without them. We've also found SpruceChess a free java chess program that should prove entertaining on the bus rides to and back. We installed Xpdf to view PDF files and will shortly upload our collection of PDFs from the 2009 Online Companion.

We have also taken numerous still photos under several light conditions and have found the size and resolution of both the photos and videos more than satisfactory.

Our final phase will be activating our pre-paid T-Mobile phone service. Our local ATT store was less than customer friendly when we inquired about a pre-paid ATT sim card, but T-Mobile was more than happy to sell us one of theirs. T-Mobile has adequate coverage at road crossing in NJ and in most of the metro New York City area. We can also spend just $10 every 90 days to maintain phone service. We like the idea of $40 per year for phone service that we prefer only to use while on the trail or during emergencies.

If you decide you like to purchase an LG Incite, we found ours on Amazon.com for about $100 - unlocked, no plan required. That's a tremendous discount from the 2008 suggested retail price of $500. A T-Mobile sim card is another $7 shipped.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Esbit Stove Cooking Set

While visiting a nearby military base, I discovered Esbit has a new stove and backpacking cook set. The new Esbit stove is round and one piece compared to earlier folding Esbit stoves. Also, the stove is no longer heavy steel, but lighter weight hard anodized aluminum.

We opened one of the boxes which was a 4 inches cube. Inside we discovered a small drawstring bag. Opening the drawstring bag we pulled out a cup with folding handles. Inside the cup was the stove. We set the stove base on the shelf and set the cup into the stove. Clever.

The Esbit stove has a permanent rectangle inside the bottom that holds one Esbit solid fuel tablet. There is a large opening to allow access for fuel tablets, matches, or lighters. Near the top of the stove are small holes to improve stove burning. It looks like there is room for a small alcohol stove or tea light stove inside the Esbit stove for those who prefer a different fuel. We noted Esbit's catalog does show this same stove available with an alcohol stove, so the extra space is a deliberate feature.

As there was no scale nearby, we don't have a weight for the set. If you purchase one of these you'll need to add a folding spork, lighter and some foil to make a better wind screen. Also, the stove seems almost the correct diameter for holding a Heineken pot, but alas, no Heineken beer can was available for testing.

There are a few other reviews of the Esbit stove set online already:
Esbit Solid Fuel Stove Set Review
Test Esbit stove: Small 585 ml cooking set for a cup of coffee


We went ahead and purchased the Esbit Stove Cooking Set. We killed about an hour measuring, weighing, and playing with its components. Here's some of what we discovered.

Size: The cup is 3.5 inches deep and 3.5 inches across (diameter)

Volume: The cup is marked with 8, 12 and 16 ounce levels, but will hold nearly 20 ounces.

Weight: The entire cook set as sold by Esbit weighed 1/2 pound (232 grams / 8.15 oz). The aluminum cup alone weighs 4.35 oz (129 grams). Dropping the Esbit stove and adding a Supercat alcohol stove and windscreen and the cook set weighs 6 oz (170 grams).

We took the stove outside in about 40 degree F weather, lit our Supercat stove and set the cup with 16 oz of tap water on the stove. Much more stable than our wider cook pot. Due to the close fit of the wind screen, when we first set the cup on the stove, we had a 2-3 inch jet of flame shooting above the wind screen on one side. This died back in about 20-30 seconds. We had boiling water at about 4 minutes.

We also wondered if the new round Esbit stove would fit a Heineken beer keg pot. We dug our Heineken pot out and set it into the Esbit stove. Perfect fit! Extremely stable, like the two were made for each other. Placing the stove over the top of the Heineken keg, we found the stove engulfed more of the keg and almost fit inside our screw top container. We're fairly sure that we can unscrew the four plastic legs and the stove and Heineken pot will fit perfectly inside the container.

We also set a super cat inside the Esbit stove as there is a European version with a brass alcohol stove. The Supercat pushes the Heineken pot up slightly and there's a bit of a wobble with an empty pot. The solid fuel holder is held in place by a single rivet. It looks like, if the rivet were removed, the Heineken pot would fit snugly over the Supercat stove making a complete lightweight alcohol stove system.

We plan to purchase a second Esbit stove cooking set and separate its components so we end up with two 6 oz Esbit cup/stove sets and two Heineken pot/Supercat/Esbit stove sets. That should cover our family of four and allow each child to eventually inherit two lightweight cooking systems.

Watch for two upcoming articles and YouTube videos featuring each cooking system and its components.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ultralight Backpacking Gear: Digital Scale

Our newest piece of backpacking gear is a digital scale. Harbor Freight has their digital scales on sale, so we bought a battery powered digital scale that weighs items up to 11 pounds in grams, ounces, and pounds for $19.99. This is less than most digital kitchen scales we have priced and can also be used in the kitched due to its tare (zeroing out) function.

Our scale was easy to use. After turning it on, we used its tare function to zero out the scale. Then, we methodically went through our backpack weighing most items. We had a few surprises, some good and some bad. Here's some of what we learned:

Bad - things heavier than we realized

Compass. Our basic orienteering compass is twice as heavy as our little $1.99 thermometer/compass zipper pull. As we don't need an orienteering compass' capabilities on the Appalachian Trail, we'll drop it for the lighter zipper pull.

Cook set. We thought our old-fashioned 1987 aluminum pot with folding handles cook kit would weigh about two pounds. It weighs about one. We plan to buy an Esbit cook set for its smaller cup and lid. We should be able to drop some weight and also free some pack space. UPDATE: The new Esbit cook set cup along with a Supercat alcohol stove and aluminum windscreen weigh just 6 ounces and take up far less space.

Good - things lighter than we realized

Poly Tarp. We knew our 8 X 10 foot hardware store poly tarp was heavy. We figured around 2-3 pounds heavy. Turns out its only about 1.6 pounds. We still plan to drop about half of that weight by switching to a 10 ounce Hennessy nylon rainfly.

Nylon fishing pants and shirts. We switched to nylon fishing pants and long-sleeved shirts to save weight over thicker fabrics.

Supercat alcohol stove. One ounce!

Yes, we are slowly turning into a gram weenie. Our pack was at 23 pounds when we last weighed it at Boiling Springs, PA. We'd like to be at 20 pounds or less with food and one liter of water when we start at Delaware Water Gap later this year.