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Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

On my journey to preparing for the Pacific Crest Trail, I have acquired new gear that will help me make the cross-country trek. What use would this new equipment be if I could not properly use it or found it uncomfortable once I began my hike? So with a month between now and my start date, I am putting it all to the test.


Between moving, planning, training, work, and regular everyday life, I must dedicate every opportunity that I have left to nailing down my gear. A lot of what I am packing is brand new. I have never needed a handful of items before when I have gone hiking/camping, like crampons and ice axe. And often, I have borrowed other peoples' equipment as needed, like a tent and cooking gadgets. For the PCT, I have to have it all, even multiples of the same item.


Having most of my equipment purchased or gifted over the last year, I am 90% comfortable with my system. To fulfill the last 10%, I needed to try out my tent, cooking system, trail shoes, water filter, bear canister, crampons, ice axe, toe socks, sun-blocking hat, portable battery, and a few minor accessories. The best way to see how the equipment will perform is by using it as intended. I had a free weekend January 29 - 30, and the weather didn't look terrible, so I packed up and headed out to Mineral Wells State Park. There are a few primitive campsites 2.25 miles out. Since I would be camping alone for the first time, I knew if anything were to go wrong, it was a short walk back to my car, and cell service would be available for emergencies.



I forgot warm gloves for when the temperature dipped after sunset right off the bat. Besides that minor detail, everything was looking good as I strapped my approximately 25lb pack to my waist. Within 30 seconds, I added a new sun-blocking hat to my shopping list. The cheap wide-rimmed hat with a ponytail slot that I ordered off amazon was driving me insane as it constantly smooshed between me and the top of my pack. I could barely stand it for 2.25 miles; there is no way it makes it 2,650 miles.


Hiking the entire PCT, I will go through several pairs of shoes. Since a pair of shoes are only good for about 500 miles, I could go through 5 pairs. Maybe more. Maybe less. It will ultimately depend on how well each pair holds up. The Altra Lone Peak 5 trail shoes that I picked to carry me hundreds of miles took a little while to get used to. I have very narrow toes, so the wide toe box on the Altras made my walking unnatural, and I tripped a handful of times. By the end of the 2.25-mile hike to camp, my feet felt a little pressure from my added weight, but compared to my Brook Cascadias, they were very comfortable, and my toes were getting used to the extra breathing room. Paired with the Injinji toe socks to help prevent blisters from my toes rubbing together, I am happy to say I have found my trail shoe. Who wants to take bets on how many pairs I'll use?


It was just after 5 pm when I reached my campsite. Knowing I only had about 1 hour of decent light left, I quickly assembled my tent. I had practiced a few times before in my small living room. There was so much space to move around I worked calmly and had my tent along with my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, pillow, and camp chair set up in about 30 minutes. It wasn't as quick as I'd hoped, but I will have 180+ days to perfect it. My sleep system includes a Western Mountaineering Ultralight Sleeping Bag, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Sleeping Pad, and Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow. I might add in a silk sleeping bag liner for a little extra warmth and to keep my sleeping bag cleaner.



I could feel the temperature drop as the sun slowly sank in the West. 5:30 pm was a little too early to eat, so I unpacked my backpack and organized my sleeping gear as I waited for 6 pm to approach. At 6 pm on the dot, I began preparing dinner. A little nervous about using my Jetboil Stash for the first time, I gingerly twisted the fuel canister onto the ignition and realized that it is best done quickly, so you don't waste fuel. After popping off the safety guard prohibiting my cold fingers from rolling the wheel on my lighter, I lit the ignition, and the water was boiling within a minute. My Southwest Skillet-flavored Mountain House Adventure Meal wasn't the most appetizing entree I've had before, and I concluded that dehydrated backpacking meals were going to consume a lot of my water on the trail. Additionally, they are bulky. I will consider this takeaway as I plan my resupply packages, especially during the long seven-day sections of hiking between towns. As for the Jetboil Stash, I am a happy camper. It packs down into the small pot for easy transportation when not in use.



Dinner warmed me up for several minutes, but around 7:45 pm, I needed to get into my sleeping bag to keep warm. I began to dose off around 8:30 pm, waking up every 15 minutes or so to resituate and check my charging phone. It was the first time using my new portable battery, and I wanted to see how it would hold up. It ran out of juice around 9:30 pm after charging my phone about 75%. (I still haven't been able to charge the portable battery to 100% at home after leaving it plugged in for several hours.) The portable battery is another item going back on my shopping list. I won't have several hours to wait for it to charge on the PCT, and it needs to be able to charge my phone to 100% in the cold.


Finally, at 10 pm, I succumbed to my sleepiness. My Western Mountaineering Ultralight Sleeping bag has been on a few adventures with me before this one, so I know what its limits are. Little did I know that I would be pushing those limits this night. Tossing and turning because my feet were cold and the collecting condensation on my buff kept waking me up, I did not get the best sleep of my life. It might honestly have been the second-worst night of rest. Thankfully, the warm sun began defrosting my tent around 7:30 am when I started to wake and evaluate how things held up overnight. The outside of my sleeping bag was very damp from condensation building all night long, as well my tent had little frostcicles across the ceiling where my breath was rising.



It wasn't until I started to make breakfast that I realized just how cold it had gotten during the night. When I checked the weather app on my phone the day before, it showed that the low would be 35 degrees Fahrenheit. My water bottle and bladder hose told me it got below freezing. No wonder I was cold!


I hung out around camp, sitting in the warm sunlight until I and my water thawed out. Around 9 am, I began packing up camp. Tear down was easy, although it took a little longer than setup. As I heaved my backpack on, I found a few sore spots from wearing my pack the day before. Knowing that this would become a familiar feeling for many, many miles in the future, I let the mild pain sink in as I started the mere 2.25-mile journey back to my car.


All in all, my mini backpacking trip was a success. I found a handful of items that I am satisfied with, as well as a few items I need to replace or tweak before setting out on March 20th. The biggest takeaway for me was the success of my Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 tent. It was very roomy for one person with enough length, width, and height space. Having a little extra clearance to sit up entirely is a must for me, and I am happy that I could find an ultralightweight tent without compromising. There were a few items that I was unable to experiment with on this short trip, like my Sawyer Squeeze water filter, bear canister, crampons, and ice axe. In February, I plan to practice with these items when I can find conditions to support these devices. Where I am sitting right now, I am confident that I will have what I need to make the trek along the Pacific Crest Trail work by the time my permit is applicable.



 

Here is a comprehensive list of gear I was explicitly testing on this trip.


HITS -

Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2 Tent


Altra Lone Peak 5 Trail Shoes


Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks



Jetboil Stash


Magreel UV Protection Fishing Gloves



GUM Folding Travel Toothbrush


Surviveware Compressed Wipes



MISSES -

Mukeyo Womens Ponytail Sun Hat


INIU Portable Charger, USB C Slimmest & Lightest Triple 3A High-Speed 10000mAh Power Bank



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