Thursday, December 26, 2013

PCT Planner Spreadsheet

I was playing around with the wonderful PCT Planner web site, and I looked at the exported data it gave me. The file was in a simple CSV format, which contained all the text and numbers of my plan, but without all the dependencies between them, so I imported it into Google Sheets, and started adding formulas in relevant places.

At first I went for the easy ones - The start point of every section, is the end point of the previous section. Easy enough. The Section Distance is the Base + Extra Distance. OK... And so it went. When I tried calculating the Base Hiking Days as the Base Distance / Daily Pace, I found out I got a different result than the one in the original CSV. Looking into the numbers and columns, I realized the days were factoring in that strange Elevation Gain Compensation value over there. It wasn't easy to wrap my head around it, but I finally figured out how to add it into my calculation -
Base Hiking Days = (Base Distance / (Pace * Hiking Hours)) + (Base EG/1000)*(EG Comp/(60 * 8))
Phew. That's quite a mouthful. Good thing we have the Sheets engine to do it for us.

I added another 2 columns to the table, instead of the Exit Distance column, separating the distance between walking distance (Exit Walk) and hitching a ride distance (Exit Ride). I added the Exit Walk distance to the section's total.

To use it, first change the Start Date at the top row, and set the Pace/Hiking Hours and EG Comp values to your own. Changing each value will also change all the following rows, so it's also easy to change it during the hike, and see how your plan updates according to your new speed.

The best "trick" I added, was the first column - changing the value from TRUE would skip that section's end point, and combine its distance and elevation gain with the next row. This way it is easy to switch between different plans, and see how different town stops would effect the end result.

There are several small bugs, and I hope to improve it a bit more. But feel free to create a copy in your own Google Drive accounts, or just download it as an xlsx (Microsoft Excel) file, to play with, and plan your own hike.

PCT Planner Spreadsheet
Share and enjoy.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sim card update

Just a quick update - I have just received the two free SIM cards I ordered from T-Mobile. I have no idea if I will be able to activate then in April, but I'll give it a shot.
Oh. I just noticed the back had "Activate by" 12/18/2015. So I might have a good chance of it working.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Solar Power

I have started looking into solar panels back around 2007, while following Craig Stanton's blog of hiking the PCT. I really liked the fact he was using a GPS to log the trail while he was hiking it, mostly because I am really into mapping. He was using an OHararp LLC GPSlogger (An older version of this) that came along with a solar panel to keep it running during the long hike.
My Geo Logger in its OtterBox case.
Before I set out to hike the Israel trail I ordered the same kind of GPS logger for myself, along with the generic solar panel. This was all in the days before smartphones, don't forget. I carried it with me while walking all the way from kibbutz Dan in the north, to Tel Lachish (Where I quit my INT hike), and photographed every trail crossing along the way, for future geo tagging of points of interest. I never did anything with the data I collected. Although I checked it out once, and the trail had sampling errors all over the place..

I later got my dad (who is an electrical technician) to fix a simple female USB connector to the solar panel, and took it with me to my hike on the GR20 in Corsica. This time I had a smartphone for the geo logging, but it stopped working on the fourth day or so. Only when I got back home I found out I managed to fry its motherboard. Oopsie. Maybe it was the improvised solar panel. Maybe it was the under clocking I'd tried applying on the phone. I don't know. After I got back home I sent the panel back to my father, for another round of checks and fixes. I noticed I couldn't get it to charge my Nexus 4 at all, and I almost gave up on the idea. But then I found a website with schematics on how to make your own smartphone solar charger. I have no idea what those schematics mean, but my father does. Another round at dad's, and I now own a solar charger that might actually work. I only received it about two weeks ago, and I haven't had any serious sunny days to try it on yet, but it does send the phone into charging mode when under sun light, so I'm optimistic. Since I do not plan on geo logging my bike this time. The charger will just have to keep the phone running occasionally to contact home, and maybe check the maps and GPS applications, if I get lost. I hope it can pull this off in between town stops. If it fails, I will probably buy the SunTactics sCharger 5 instead, since I heard a lot about it on trail forums and the Facebook group.
Getting to work by bus today, so I'll try to see if it charges my phone on the way.
Update: My test failed miserably. Even though I turned off all mobile data access during my ride to work, and did not use my phone for music or internet access, I managed to lose ~2% of battery. The panel was in the sun for most of the bus ride. I guess it is not working well...

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hiking Food

Well, I haven't set foot on the PCT, so I can't really tell you what I will eat over there, and what "Works for me" or not, but I thought I'd share my plans, based on the experience I do have from the AT, and some other self-supported hikes I've had. In total, I guess my food choices were pretty boring on the AT. I didn't mind eating the same kinds of stuff day after day, and I just stuck to whatever kept me full at night.

For breakfast I usually had two packets of Quaker Oatmeal. The kind with powdered milk or the apple-cinnamon flavor. Being the lazy git that I am, I would never bother with boiling water for breakfast, and just pour a bit straight of cold water into the paper packet, mix it with my spork, and eat it out. You gotta be careful to get all the powder from the bottom corners, otherwise it'll stick in there until the end, and you will be left with a salty spoon of powder to finish it off. On some town stops I bought Pop Tarts instead, the frosted kinds preferably, which I had for breakfast. They don't keep to well on the trail, but I didn't mind eating the crumbles. It tastes the same.

For lunch I usually had a tortilla with chunks of cheese and pepperoni. Being a vegetarian now I will have to skip the latter. I guess I will try getting some more trail mix and nuts for some proteins. The good thing about tortillas is that they work the same when they are dried up and a bit old - just a wrap. I guess they do break more, but it is better than having a completely stiff bun or pita.

At evenings I used to cook some kind of Lipton meal (Pasta or rice, usually). Over here they have the Knorr brand name on them, and I think in the US they changed as well, but it all works. I used to just pour the packet inside my pot, add water, and cook until the fire went out (I used a simple alcohol stove, so I just had to put about the same amount of alcohol every time, and wait it out). I also added powdered mashed potatoes and tuna chunks (I used to go crazy for the aluminum wrap packages from Starkist) - like the pepperoni, no more tuna for me. Put the whole messy concoction in another tortilla, and it's quite filling.

This time I think I'll do the dinners a bit different. I'm using a Caldera Cone F-Keg system, built around a big 24.5oz Fosters can, which is a bit narrow and tall. I tried cooking in it several times, and I keep getting some burnt leftovers at the bottom. It's also not comfortable eating straight from the pot, due to it's height. So lately I've been trying to just boil water in the can (Last attempt took just under 7 minutes for 25ml of alcohol. and it burnt for 5 more), and then pour the hot water into the Knorr packet, close it carefully, and let it sit for 10 minutes. I failed miserably once, but last two attempts had a rather edible rice dinner at the end. Again, I had way too much water left inside to make it passable for a real serving of rice, but I added the powdered potato mash and ate it like a champ. It worked like a wonder in my recent desert hike. I think it'll work just fine on the trail.

During the day I usually snack on Snickers and M&Ms, even though I remember I had some Clif Bars, and sometimes Chewy bars as well. I used to have a snack every 1-2 hours, for a total of about 3-4 a day. Not good for the teeth, but it kept me going. I'll see how it works out this time. I will try carrying GORP and nuts to replace some of those candies. I will also put more effort into having fruits and vegetables while in towns, instead of just stuffing those burgers, and maybe even carry some for the first day out of town, occasionally. I'll see how that works.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

US sim card

I've been trying to figure out what cell company/mobile plan to use while in the US. I don't need a lot of minutes or messages, and only a moderate amount of data. I was thinking about trying to get a data-only plan, because I expect to be using mostly Skype to call back to Israel, but I will be dependant on having 3G reception to use it even just for making local calls, and I guess many backcountry locations will only have 2G reception available for voice calls. Not to mention I'll have to fool the cell company into thinking I have a tablet, and not a phone, which may or may not be according to the contract I'll be signing.

So - I want a simple plan with a minimal amount of minutes, and some 3G data. I asked on the PCT Class of 2014 fb page about cell coverage, and I understand that Verizon is by far the best cell company (reception-wise) along the trail. Sadly, my Nexus 4 phone is not compatible with their transmission bands, so no use for me there. It's T-Mobile or AT&T now.

Several weeks ago I managed to miss out on a sale on T-Mobile of a free sim-card (shipping included), and was already bummed that I'll have to pay $10 for one. Their web site is not easy to navigate, with all the different plans and options available. While trying to find anything useful there, about a week ago, I was approached by one of their site's support specialists in a chat window. Now, I don't know if I was talking to an actual person, or just some human-passable bot, but she did help me find what I was looking for - And I was very happy to discover that again - a phone sim card is now $0 including shipment. It wasn't easy for me to order a couple of sims (2 is the max on this sale) - At first I tried using my own international credit card, and shipping to a relative in the US. The transaction failed. I then tried using a US credit card, and shipping to that same address. Failure again. As a last resort, I tried using the credit card number of the relative in the US, so now I had the card's billing address identical to the shipping address for the sim cards. No luck again. I was giving up, before I tried one last time - This time I made two changes. I connected through a proxy, so that T-Mobile site thought I am surfing from inside the US, and I also put my regular email address, instead of using +tmobile in it (Using instead of - read about it here). Well, I guess it worked, because the transaction finally completed, and now I wait for the sim cards to arrive to their destination, and be sent over here finally.

I still don't know if I will be able to activate them 6 months from now. The "specialist"/bot told me I won't, but since I got the cards for free, I decided I'll chance it. If it doesn't work, I will just buy a card upon landing in San Diego.

Regarding the plan itself, at the moment I am eying the $30 a month plan that has 2GB of data, and some calls/sms (I don't remember how much, but it doesn't matter). Another option is a daily plan of $3/day, which only charges per days I'm actually using it. So if the phone will be disconnected from service for most of the month, and only connected for less than 10 days (or parts of days), it might be a bit cheaper. But it sounds like the monthly plan is more cost effective after all.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Desert Trip Conclusion

Ok, I survived the not-so-short hike.

Our hike started after a long train ride to Be'er-Sheva, and a bus ride to Tzihur Junction (on the bus to Eilat) - a total of about 4 hours on the road. We started our actual walking at 10:15. A bit on the late side. We tried convincing the bus driver to drop us off near the trailhead, but he didn't like the idea, and dropped at at the junction, so add about 2Km of road walk to our first day.
An impressive tree, near the start of our hike
After finally reaching the trailhead we started hiking northbound on the Israel National Trail. About 3 hours of 4x4 road walking later, we finally reached the Vardit Canyon, and had a blast - At the first water hole we met a small group of 4 who got there by jeep, and they enjoyed watching us trying to get across the water in one piece.

It was possible to cross over the left canyon wall, and avoid getting wet. But we heard from a southbound hiker we've met several minutes before, that there is one water hole that required proper swimming, so we figured there's no point in trying to remain dry. I just waded in carefully, trying to walk along the outskirts of the hole, and keeping my backpack above water. Yair inflated his Neo-Air mattress, and waded across with his backpack floating on top of it. A very good idea indeed.
After crossing the first water hole, Yair is inflating his mattress for his own attempt

A short climb up some metal rings later, we met THE water hole. There was no walking around that one, with cliffs along all sides, and a metal ladder at the far end. This hole was also much deeper, and indeed required proper swimming. This time we made arrangements to use the Neo-Air for all of our gear. It took some time, but at the end we both made it to the top. We were completely wet, but the backpacks weren't, so I guess it worked. The only downside was that my hiking pants got torn pretty badly when I slipped inside the water one time.
The big water hole, getting the water bottles across using the inflatable mattress
After that hole there was some more climbing up metal rings, another ladder, and more rings to finish it up. I enjoyed this section.
Yair using his mattress to keep his backpack (mostly) dry
We were aiming at Mounta Kipah camping area, but I guess it was too far away, especially after starting as late as we did, so after thinking we were further along than we actually were, and finding out we still have about 8 more Km until we get there, and 30 minutes of sunlight, we just gave up and decided to find a place to stealth camp. Luckily, we did find a very nice spot for our tents, and went to sleep early. I think we were both out by 19:00.
My gear at camp - TarpTent Rainbow, Neo-Air, ZPacks quilt and Arc-Blast
The second day started with a short hike to Barak Canyon, this time climbing down. The trail first turned north, headed down the eastern slopes of the canyon, and reached its bottom. From there it followed it down along 3 more ladders, several sections of metal rings, and a short section of sliding along a smooth rock surface (with foot grooves) while holding a rope. It was very adventurous.
Sadly, the bit after the canyon was not as exciting. It was a long ~30Km 4x4 road walk, mostly north towards Tzofar. No major climbs up nor down. The view was pretty nice most of the time, but after several Km of walking in the sun it wasn't as exciting anymore. We bumped into several groups going south - some also doing the INT in sections, and one really large group (over 50 hikers, for sure), that passed us by when we were struggling to fit under a small rock outcrop for shade, and have lunch.
Climbing down the tallest ladder in Barak Canyon
Having a peanut butter-cheese-goat cheese-cucumber bun for lunch. I later added some pesto sauce as well
For the first time ever, we actually made a navigation error and were surprised in a positive way - we kept looking for a junction with a green trail heading east, and we didn't see it, so we thought we have at least 4 more Km util Horvat Mo'aa, and 2.5Km from there to the road. It was getting late again, and our soles hurt from all that non-stop walking, when suddenly we saw Horvat Mo'aa just a short ways off. It was a very pleasent surprise. I set there in the shade, while Yair went over to check the old Nabataeans fort.
Horvat Mo'aa near the end of our hike
From there, it was a race against time to get to the road, and from there another 1.5Km to the bus station, by 17:15, to catch our bus back home. We made it by 17:13, and the bus was several minutes late, but it was good.

In total, we did about 52.9Km in two days. I think that's a bit impressive.

View צומת ציחור לחרבת מואה in a larger map
My Gear
So, this was the first time I used my new Arc-Blast backpack, and ZPacks quilt. I carried many extra pieces of gear in the backpack, and a lot of extra food, just to try and simulate a heavier backpack I will be carrying on the PCT. With 7.5 Liters of water, and was no fun to put it on my back. But it carry it well. The outside pockets worked well for 3 extra bottles of water and the closing system worked well (I was afraid the velcro at the top will be annoying to open and close during the hike).

Some things I didn't like about the backpack, which I hope I get used to on the longer hike - I am not overly thin (an understatement), and yet I had the belt buckle tight almost all the way. I will lose some weight on the PCT, so I hope the belt will still be effective. Another small thing - my right shoulder and lower back did hurt a bit at the end. Again, I hope I'll get in better shape on the trail, and they will hold better once I get used to the daily mileage.

The quilt was very nice and comfy. At first I opened the clips and used it as a standard quilt, but it did get chilly so I closed it at night. Using the cinch cord at the top also made all the difference - without it I would definitely be a bit colder inside, but when I pulled it shut, it was very toasty indeed.

Other than that, I have to remember to get my Neo-Air not completely full - taking out a bit of air before I go to sleep will make it much more comfortable on my back. I also cooked by only boiling water in my Caldera Cone Keg, and then pouring it into the bag of my lunch. Waiting for 10 minutes - it worked like a charm. The rice was ready. I also added in mashed potato mix, and had a lot of "stuff" to eat for dinner. I didn't even finish it all. But it was tasty.

We never did try filtering water with the Sawyer Mini Filter. I carried an extra liter of dirty water with me for the entire trip (After filling it up in Vardit Canyon), but our water were enough, and we never tested the filter this time. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hiking in the desert

I'm going out on a two day hike in the south of Israel (a short section of the Israel National Trail), to test out my gear. I will carry some extra stuff I'm sure I won't need, like the insulating jacket and the rain jacket, but I want to test out how it feels like to carry all my PCT gear on my back. I've hiked with most of this stuff before, but the backpack is brand new, and so is the quilt I'll be using. So I hope they hold up well.

Here is a photo on what I intend to carry with me. Add to that ~6 Liters of water (for two days), and I guess some more food I still had in the fridge while taking the photo. And shoes - I forgot to put the shoes in there as well.
Well. I hope to be able to write a short trip report on Sunday, or at least post the photos. Wish me luck.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Personal Locator Beacon

I have never travelled with a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), but I decided I'd carry one for the PCT. PLBs have two main function on such a trail. They have an SOS button which immediately informs the local Search and Rescue teams of your location and need of assistance, and most also have some other, non-emergency, contact options.

Before doing my little research on the matter, I only knew about the Spot devices, and also heard that DeLorme have their own offering on the matter. Most devices are not very cheap, and they also require some monthly subscription for their services, priced at different tiers for different available options.

Besides the differences in prices and options, another problem with those devices is reliability. The ones that offer the daily "OK" message can't assure the message passes through, which might cause unneeded stress at the home team, just because a message or two just failed to get through. If you plan on using such a device, make sure to let everyone know that missed messages are no cause for alarm generally. I still think it might be hard for someone at home, who is used to getting a daily "OK" message, suddenly to stop getting them for several days.

So, after reading a good feature and price comparison on different devices on OutdoorGearLab, I discovered the ResQlink 406 - This device is not the cheapest of the bunch, but it has no monthly subscription fees and no option for sending any kinds of messages other than an SOS - A simple device, with one task, which it does well. The article also states that its transmission power is much higher than the power of the Spot and DeLorme options, so that means that in a case of an emergency, pressing that SOS button will have a much higher chance of actually working well.

I looked around where I can buy such a device. Amazon does not send over to Israel, and I would expect REI and BackCountry might also have an overly expensive shipment to Israel, if any, so I was thinking about getting it sent to the Trail Angels in San Diego. I did enquire at an Israeli company that rents such devices to travellers, and found out they offer a similar device called the Fast Find 210 - it also just offers the SOS option, no messages/satellite data or anything like that, but it does it well (Including the high power transmission signal like the ResQlink). I will probably rent this device at a really great price, and carry it in my backpack the whole trip, without needing it once.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hiking Poles

On my AT thru hike I got persuaded by the REI sales-person to buy the most expensive Leki poles in the store. I remember vaguely she did offer several alternative models, all from Leki, but I decided I'd pay a bit extra, and go for the best. (I think that is my general mind set, and it probably cost me a lot of money during my recent gear frenzy as well.)

After deciding I want the Super Makalu model, apparently the didn't have a pair in stock, but the other store near Union Square had one, so I had to go over there on the following morning, and finally bought the pair. I remember I walked back up manhattan with the poles in my hand, wondering if I'd even know how to use them properly.

Well, they worked really good on my thru-hike. No complaints at all. I even enjoyed the excellent Leki service at trail days '02, when they replaced most of the poles' sections, and used them on all my hikes ever since (I even enjoy taking them to short day hikes, despite the fact I might look like a dork, because it reminds me of the good days I had on the AT).

After buying the Tarptent Rainbow I started using the poles for setting it up as a freestanding tent, this way using

Several years ago I managed to get the lower section of the left pole a bit bent. The pole still worked well enough, and the only problem was that I couldn't get it fully collapsed. I didn't want to try and bend him back by myself, fearing it might weaken it, and was content using it the way it is. I still happily used it on my hikes in Corsica (GR20) and around the Mont-Blanc in Europe (TMB), so I guess it held up nicely. After finishing my recent TMB hike, I found a big outfitter in Chamonix that was handling Leki, so I took my bent pole over there, trying to score some warranty service, or a replacement. They just took my pole and bent it back to shape, so I guess I could have done it myself year ago. Oh well.

All this time, however, I always knew the poles were very reliable, but a bit heavy. I just needed the right excuse to purchase a newer, lighter pair. I always had my eyes on the Gossamer Gear LT4S Trekking Poles, though at $190, they are expensive. When I finally made my mind to try the PCT on 2014, I checked out their site, and saw they were out of stock. An email to their support crew reassured me that they are getting back in stock shortly, and indeed they appeared again early in October (Or maybe a bit before). Just at that moment I heard about the Locus Gear CP3 Carbon Fiber Trekking Pole, which offer a flick lock mechanism, and are only slightly heavier. They are much cheaper, and offer a much more reasonable option for shipping to Israel (I think that it turned out about 550 NIS including shipment to Israel with the CP3, compared to 750 NIS for the LT4S shipped to an address in the US).

So yeah, I didn't know which poles I should order. I guess the reasonable thing to do was to go with the cheaper, just-as-good option, and be done with it. But I was rather set on my LT4S (I also did read some comparisons on BackpackingLight between the two models, and people said that for long distance hiking they would rather have the LT4S). I emailed a couple of trail angels from San Diego (Scout and Frodo), way before the beginning of the 2014 preparation season, and asked them if I can ship the poles to their place, until I finally get there before my hike, and they agreed. So at least that settled the crazy shipping costs Gossamer Gear were quoting for sending the poles to Israel (another $70+, I think).

Just yesterday I got notified by the fedex site that the shipment has arrived to Scout and Frodo in SD. So I guess I have to fly over to the USA now, if only to collect my hiking poles...

Buying an insulating jacket

Back in 2002 I started my AT thru-hike really early in the season (I had to catch a David Bowie concert in February 22nd in NYC, so my thru hike arranged itself around that), and I had some really cold days and nights early on. I did not carry a special down, or even synthetic, jacket. All I had was this simple EMS fleece outer layer. During the colder times I just put everything on, from polartec baselayer, to hiking clothes, fleece and rain gear on top. I was cold, but it worked.

This time around I decided I'd like to have a simple, light-weight, insulating jacket. The highs are higher on the PCT, and I expect to be camping in snow at least several times, so I should be prepared for it. Besides, it will replace the heavier fleece layer.

I checked out Outdoor Gear Lab's down jacket comparison, and marked some brands to check. At first, I was really looking into the water repellent down that was recently introduced into the market. The only company that offered such jackets was Sierra Designs, except for the Ghost Whisperer by Mountain Hardwear, which seems to be an awesome jacket. But I wanted to have the hooded option, which did not contain the treated Down. I decided I'd wait until the winter 2014 season options be available, hoping that the treated down will appear in more options and more brands.

About a month ago I noticed that Mountain Hardwear have finally renewed their offerings, and are not selling a Hooded Ghost Whisperer with Q Shield Down (Their brand name for water repellent down). I was really looking into buying it, trying to figure out the best way to have it shipped to Israel without paying too much. The web site did not ship outside of the US, but REI and Backcountry Gear did, for about $50 more. I was also looking into a delivery company that gives you an address in the US, and then ships the stuff to Israel itself. I used it once to buy a pair of New Balance shoes. Their rates were $30 for the lightest package, and up. And they were also going through customs and VAT when bringing the package over, so there's no point in hoping it will slip under the radar.

After many evenings trying to decide which jacket I should purchase, and how should I get it over here, I finally decided on a synthetic one. I know down is lighter and compresses better, but I figured that since I got the down quilt, I can spare some poor geese their feathers, and manage with a heavier option after all. I did buy a rather light Thermostatic Hooded Jacket from Mountain Hardwear, so I'm not complaining much. The weight difference is 306g (on my home scales) to 212g (the Hooded Ghost Whisperer, according to their site's specs), so it's about 100g difference. And it's also about $70 cheaper, which is another little perk.

About the shipping, I made the mistake of using the delivery company, hoping the light weight jacket will be only $30, but at the end the bulk of the package caused it to be $50, and then I had to pay another $50 for the VAT in Israel. So next time I'll just order directly from Backcountry Gear. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The big three

It wasn't easy deciding which backpack/sleeping bag/shelter I'd like to carry on my hike. I made many comparisons between different manufacturers and tried to pick out the best gear I can afford.

I have a Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus backpack, from around 2008. Mine looks a bit different than the current model, both in shape (The closure system) and in materials (Mine is made out of SilNylon, and not this tougher dyneema fabric). I initially bought it before heading out to hike the Israel National Trail, and I highly recommend it.

It can really handle above average loads, for an aspiring (but-not-quite-there-yet) ultra-light hiker such as me. On my INT hike I think I had a rather light total pack weight, cutting down to carry only essentials, and carrying a Rainbow Tarptent. But since then, I went out to several shorter hikes in the desert, where I had to carry up to 8 Liters of water on my back. Picking up the backpack when it was fully loaded was no fun, but it held.
ZPacks "Arc Blast" Ultralight Backpack

I figured that after 5 years, it's time for me to find a new backpack, and I was contemplating just ordering the newer Mariposa model, or maybe a Gorilla, but during my recent hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc, with my old backpack, I noticed that I sweat a lot along my back, even when the weather itself was not exceptionally hot. I recalled reading about the ZPacks Arc Blast, with its outer frame that enables ventilation along the back, and figured I should look into it.

Back in Israel I found a hiker who owned an Arc Blast, and I drove over to have a look at it. I was very impressed. It seemed strong and roomy. I was almost hooked on the idea of ordering it. I just needed to finally do it, to mark the beginning of my PCT gear purchasing season.

Sleeping Bag:
Now, the sleeping bag is another story - Back on the AT I used some unheard-of sleeping bag brand I bought in Israel, and it worked, I guess. There was nothing ultra-light about it, but it was a decent 20 degrees synthetic bag (-7c), and I managed to carry it (almost) all the way to Katahdin (At some point I used a fleece blanket instead, and just shipped the bag ahead towards the White Mountains, but that's a different story).

Ever since, I kept on using it for short weekend trips in Israel, also carrying it on my two week walk along the Camino de Santiago, for no real reason (You can easily get by there with a thin sleeping bag liner instead). But I knew I'd have to find something more serious for my next big hike.

The opportunity came in 2011, when I was planning my hike on the GR20, in Corsica. I knew the time has came for me to buy a new sleeping bag, that would be especially light for the upcoming hard trail. Just then GoLite had one of their sales, and I managed to buy their Ultra-Light 3 Seasons Quilt at almost half price, for $160 dollars. Back then it was rated as a 20 degrees bag, though now they sell a similar quilt and rate it for 30. Anyway, it was a great price for a good and light bag that many people have used on hikes along the PCT and CDT. It was a pain getting it here, though - I had to use relatives in Florida to actually make the order, have them send it over to other relatives in NYC, whose parents visited them, and carried the bag to back to Israel for me. A royal pain in the ass. The pain in the ass being me, mostly.

The quilt served me well in Corsica. But sadly, one year later I lent it to someone who came in for advice on the GR20. I lent him a lot of gear - my backpack, tarptent, trekking poles and mattress as well. But he managed to get just my quilt stolen. He was in quite a fix there, in a rain storm on the mountains of Corsica, finding out he has no quilt in his backpack. But he managed to finish his hike. I got stuck without a decent sleeping bag again.

So now I was on the lookout for a new sleeping bag/quilt. Golite didn't have their sales when I was looking around lately, and I was trying to decide mainly between them, Katabatic Gear, enLIGHTened Equipment and ZPacks. Trying to compare price, weight and degrees rating is hard. Especially when the most expensive bags are the best, naturally. I was mostly looking out for hydrophobic down, which is a rather new thing from the past two years or so, which protect the down from losing all its loft when wet, and effectively reduces the main reason to prefer synthetic bags over it.

So that eliminated GoLite (They just now released a hooded jacket with a water repellent down, so I bet next season more of their product will use it).
ZPacks 20 Degree 850 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bags
I've heard many good things on Katabatic Gear, and also enLIGHTened Equipment are well known for their high quality quilts, and much more reasonably prices quilts, but at the end I decided I will go and add the ZPacks 20 Degree 850 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bag to the already-decided-upon Arc Blast, and just went ahead and ordered them together straight from the site. Shipping to Israel was also a factor, and I think ZPacks had the cheapest shipping cost for me.

I was thinking about replacing my old Rainbow (which weighs around 1Kg) with a shelter that weighs almost half of it. I used the excellent SUL/XUL Solo Fully Enclosed Shelter Comparisons table maintened by, and tried to figure out for myself how much less comfortable I'm willing to be (I've never slept under a tarp) in order to shave off some grams. My mind was almost set on some kind of Hexamid Solo combination with a beak, or maybe even the Skyscape X, but at the end I couldn't justify such a crazy expense, and I decided to stick with my current tent for now.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Here we go...

I first heard about the PCT while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2002. I recall being in the 501 shelter, meeting up with Bag of Tricks and (I think) Woody Woodpecker while cooking myself some dinner on my cat stove. Woody was telling me about his PCT hike in the previous year - how you have to watch out for Grizzly bears, cook away from your sleeping location, cross snow covered mountain passes. I liked the stories, but I haven't thought much about the PCT back then. I was still a long way off from Katahdin, the northern end of the AT.

I don't think I really "decided" to hike the PCT for a long long time after that. I just kept telling myself that it might be an interesting adventure to have one day. Over the years, I kept recalling my time on the AT, having dreams about finally getting back out there, and generally hoping to hike another long trail again.
At first, I vaguely hoped to try it after I graduate from university, but then it didn't work out. I somehow hoped every year that "next April" I'll be out on the trail, but every April came and gone, and I was never actually doing it, for various different reasons. Only about half a year ago I finally decided (and got a blessing from my partner) to actually start working towards realizing this dream. So right now I am in the planning phase of this great adventure. Some scary stuff indeed.

So here is a quick run down of stuff I have done so far in preparation to my coming hike:
  • Ordered a ZPacks Arc Blast backpack and Sleeping bag - still waiting for them to ship it over here. I expect I'll have to pay a ton to release it from customs.
  • Bought and already gotten a Sawyer Mini Filter.
  • Bought and gotten Mountain Hardwear Men Thrmostatic Hooded Jacket
  • Got in touch with 4 other Israelis who plan on starting the PCT in April 2014. One couple and two other guys. I hope to get over to Campo, CA with at least one other hiking partner, at least for the first few days.
  • Borrowed Yogi's PCT Handbook from one of those Israeli hikers, and have finished reading the pre-hike section of the book. Got some interesting insights about preparations I still need to do
I still need to finish up those next several chores:

  • Decide which cellular provider I'm going to use, and get a SIM card with a suitable plan for the hike.
  • Buy a Personal Locator Beacon (Probably ACR ResQlink 406)
  • Print out the maps for the trail, divide into sections.
  • Buy a new pair of hiking poles (My old pair is a bit bent, and really heavy)
  • Use the PCT Planner web site to plan my hike at least until Kennedy Meadows
  • Get some sort of travel insurance
I will try and write short posts about my latest decisions and dilemmas, before I actually take off to start my hike.