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Monday, August 20, 2018

New Gear - Solar Charger

Because I am planning to do this upcoming hike solo, and in case I want to take long hikes alone in the future I want to be able to at least keep a minimal charge on my phone. After all, there's this big sun in the sky sending power down all the time, if I can just grab some.

You may remember that I won a solar charger two years ago (see link below). I said right up front it would probably not be a backpacking item because it was too bulky. Well, it was a complete bust. It wouldn't even charge the phone a little bit. I gave it away.

But then I saw an ad for this little thing, and it only cost $20. I'm willing to try something at that price, and it was getting great reviews. It's just called Solar Charger. It's about 3" x 5" and less than 1/2" thick - nice size.

solar charger

But it came with NO directions. It was supposed to have a flashlight. I put it in the sun and it seemed to charge. The little blue lights lit up when I pushed the button. It did come with a cord, and a carabiner, although the one supplied was too small to go through the hole. I replaced it with the one you see here.

solar charger

But I couldn't get the flashlight to turn on, and it wouldn't charge my phone at all. Bummer.

Ester managed to find some directions on line, which I can't find again, but no matter. You push the button twice in succession to turn on the flashlight.

solar charger flashlight

I don't think I'd want to use this much because it would probably deplete the charge pretty fast. But the big issue was still to charge the phone.

Brainwave! I tried a different cord. It works. So the cord that came with it is no good either. But I've been trying a number of scenarios with my own cord. This picture is not an accurate representation. There's no way you'd ever get a phone to 100% with this. The phone was fully charged when I wanted to take a picture. But if you look closely you can see that it does say "charging" with the phone plugged into the charger.

solar charger plugged into phone

If the phone is down around 15%, I can get it up about 10 percent more. If it's at 70% the charger will only bump it up about 4 points.

Today, I tried to keep it plugged in while walking to see if it would just transfer the energy it was taking in to the phone, but that did not seem to work.

I think the bottom line is that it will allow me to keep the phone at a level where I can post a couple of pix on Facebook a day and send my position to someone for safety, and still have enough charge to send a message if I need help (and can get a signal, which is probably going to be an issue).

So, for the price, I think it will work. Weight with carabiner and cord: 6.5 ounces. Acceptable.

The other electronic problem is the camera, which takes special batteries and can't be charged without an outlet. I'm going to take three and hope they will last for the 7 or 8 days between civilization visits.

In other news: I've been trying to get this hike planned, but it's a challenge. There's not a lot of information, and there could be some problem areas. I'm pestering some good friends a lot for info. Stay tuned.

See Heli Take Charge Charger
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Sunday, August 19, 2018

New Gear - Socks, Not Quite

I'm going to begin this post by sharing one of my newspaper columns from a few years ago. The sock woes continue.

The Evolution of the Sock

hiking sock collage

In the beginning there was a foot, verily, a pair of feet.

These feet were not pre-equipped with coverings. For nine summers the feet merrily skipped along the pathways of life, crossing gravel driveways, scampering along weathered wooden barn floors, and roaming stubbled fields barely noticing their lack of protection. Alas, a trip to the foot doctor proclaimed the feet to be in need of coverings of sturdy and specific types!

Soon the feet grew used to their new rigid outer coverings, and even preferred this situation to the former freedom of youth. As the feet aged, more and more was expected of them. They were asked to walk for miles at a time, day after day, often carrying the load of an extra forty pounds. Sometimes the feet were wet, all too often the feet were hot... very hot. Eventually, the layer of cushioning between the feet and the boxes of leather became an obsession of the Keeper of the Feet.

The Keeper read the guidebook to happy feet. She bought Thorlos. They lasted one summer, being extremely hot and too thick. The next summer she bought Thorlo Hikers, and sock liners by Wigwam. The Hikers were still very thick, but a little cooler. The liners were nicely thin with a cottony feel to them. That summer the feet nearly suffocated, blistering at every protuberance and swelling two sizes. Skip the Thorlos. But the Keeper was a believer, and bore witness that the concept of liners was a “step” in the right direction.

The idea grew and was perfected (so the company claimed) by Wright Socks. (See missing link above). Each of these socks was woven seamlessly in two layers- liner and sock in one! The Keeper bought two pairs! The concept was brilliant, the materials disappointing. The socks shredded with only one long walk beneath their soles.

Next the Keeper discovered polypropylene, for the feet anyway. While other parts of the body some distance from the feet rebelled at the high-tech fabric by breaking out in hives, the feet embraced the silky liners. And this time the top layer came from Eastern Mountain Sports. No matter that each and every one of these socks cost more than the minimum wage; the quest for truth was not to be hindered! The Keeper closed her eyes, swallowed hard and slapped $24 on the counter for each set of socks and liners. But the feet were still unhappy. “Too hot,” they wailed, gnashing their toes, once again blistering in an agony of confined spaces.

“OK, fine...” the Keeper retorted, throwing away the guidebook, and she went to Wal-Mart where she purchased thin cotton socks for 94 cents a pair. Relief, oh blessed relief! “Thank you!” the feet sighed. The Keeper bought five more pairs of Wal-Mart Socks.

But again, alas... evolution is defined as change. Wal-Mart, and apparently every other sock company, has now decided that cotton socks don’t wear well enough. The sock labels all proclaim “Longer Wearing!” or “Increased Durability!” The exposition of this doctrine teaches us that the socks now contain about 20% nylon. Gone is the soft purity of the cotton, exchanged for the scratchy taint of nylon.

The Keeper is about to take the feet to the hills once again. Polypropylene liners, new 20% nylon socks. She plans to be listening for what the feet have to say.


What the feet had to say that year was that the socks with nylon in them were crap. They slid down inside my shoes within an hour of walking. I did find some cotton socks for the outer layer the next year. That was then.

This is now. The liner socks are wearing out. I did manage to find pretty much the same thing in a size that will fit me. These are by Fox River. I bought 3 pairs. Don't even ask what they cost. They are a little bigger than my old liners on the far right, but not so loose that they bunch up.

The pair on the bottom are my old cotton socks- just to show you. The heels are way too thin... no protection there at all. Not even going to try them again.

hiking sock collage

The two pairs of polypropylene (Capilene) on the right are dirty because I wore them on my hikes with Connie and Jerry this week. I needed to see how they would do in layers because I may have to do that for my upcoming trek. They worked fine, but I'd rather have an absorbent layer on the outside. Why don't I just go get some socks, or order some?

Because finding socks that fit me is one of the never-ending shopping traumas of my life. My feet are, in size, right between kids and women's sizes. And they are super narrow, so I can't tolerate a lot of (any) slop. I really have to look at a pair to know if it will fit. I either need adult socks that run small or kid sizes that run big. Add to that the idea that I want thin cotton socks and it's really difficult. I've found some on Amazon of the right weight, but I think they are going to be too big. I've also been looking at bamboo socks, but can't find any I like in the right size.

Of course if you order some and they are wrong, they have to be shipped back, blah, blah. Hopefully, there will be a part two to this sock saga within the next couple of weeks.

See Sleep System
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Saturday, August 18, 2018

New Gear - Sleeping System

After 28 years of a lot of use, my North Face Cat's Meow sleeping bag really is too worn out to be a three-season bag any more. It used to keep me warm at temps below freezing. Not so much any more.

I did a LOT of looking around for its replacement. Not an easy choice. If I must buy new gear I want to get rid of some weight. I have no interest in going truly ultra-light. It costs too much, and I think the whole philosophy leaves out some things. But that's not the point of this post.

Long story short... the new thinking on sleeping bags is that you should use a quilt, not a bag. The only things I could find in the weight/price range I wanted were quilts. Here's what I got. I'll let you know if I like it.

First of all, ignore the old comforter on the deck floor. That's just to prevent abrasion against my sleeping mat. That's the one I've had for a long time. No changes there. (It's a 3/4 length, 1" Thermarest.) You can just see the corner with the valve sticking out below my new Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20 degree quilt.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt

It comes with elastic straps that go around your pad. You can use one or two. I think this feature will be nice. I often wake up to discover I've slid off my mat. (No directions came with this. Not even a URL to watch a youtube video. If I hadn't previously watched a couple, I would have had no clue how you were supposed to use it.)

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt

But the zipper does not go the full length of the side. It's only about 18" inches long to enclose the foot box. See it on the top side?

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt

The bottom has two options. You can leave it open for ventilation, as seen above, or you can pull in the drawstrings to close it.

Not sure how I feel about this. I like my feet out most of the time, but when it's really cold I don't think you can close the bottom up tight enough to keep out a draft.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation Quilt

Truth is, I don't like drafts when I want to be warm, and I think the whole quilt idea is stupid. Also, you are supposed to just sleep on the mat and tuck the quilt around you. I don't like the way the mat feels. So I ordered one more thing, which I also agonized over. I finally decided to get a sleeping bag liner. The best ones are silk, but I don't like the way that feels all that much either, and I can't can imagine what a white liner would look like at the end of a hike.

So I found this one, which is a cotton-silk blend.

Fivejoy Travel Liner

It's very roomy; in fact I may cut it down just a little bit. It also has a pillow pocket. I don't carry a pillow backpacking, but I do use a sweatshirt for a pillow and I think the pocket will help keep that from sliding all over.

Sorry there isn't much contrast between the liner and that background, but you can see that it's plenty long. It's all wrinkly because it was jammed in the stuff sack. I'll just keep it loose inside the quilt for hiking. I think if I cut and taper the foot end a little, and leave a side slit so I can get my feet out, it will be perfect. The gray color is much better.

Fivejoy Travel Liner

I should also mention that I ordered the regular length quilt instead of the short one, even though I am small. With the quilt you give up the sleeping hood, and although my feet like to be out, my shoulders and neck want to be covered, so I gave myself the extra length so I can put it over my head. I could also slip that pillow pocket over my head.

The liner came in time for me to try it on my hike this week. I liked how it felt against my skin, and in fact, the night was so warm I slept in it without my sleeping bag at all for most of the night.

Since I've already spread all this gear out on the deck, I think I'll sleep out there tonight. I'll let you know if I am won over, but I won't really know until I've slept out in some colder weather.

The really good part is that the old sleeping bag weighed 3 pounds 7 ounces. This quilt with the liner weighs 1 pound 8 ounces. Weight loss one ounce shy of 2 pounds. That is good.

In other news: I went to Saugatuck Art Fair to sell books today. Made a little profit (after cost of registration and cost of gas), but I'm not sure I made enough to make me happy about four hours in the car on a nice day. Ask me tomorrow how I feel about it.

See Water Purification
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Friday, August 17, 2018

New Gear - Water Purification

I have recently ordered several new pieces of hiking gear. Let's take a tour, one piece at a time.

Today is a new water purification system. I ordered the Sawyer Mini. It's a pretty nifty system. The filter is fibers, and it can be backwashed. It's supposed to be good for up to 100,000 gallons if you keep it clean.

Here's the stuff that comes with it, plus some coffee filters I keep with the water kit for extra nasty filtering, and a mayo jar that makes a good container, and has another use as well. Stay tuned.

The clear syringe is for the backwashing.

Sawyer Mini Filter

I wanted to give it a field test, so I went down to the Cemetery Creek. It's low. We haven't had rain in quite a while.


Nevertheless, I found a hole that was a little deeper. Even if I hadn't it still would have been fine.


First, I used that mayo jar to scoop up a quart of untreated water.

jar of creek water

One weakness of the system is that the water bag that comes with it is too small. It only holds about 12 ounces. There are ways to get around this, but for now, I'll live with it. You have to fill the bag with unfiltered water. Then you screw that bag on the actual filter. Place the outflow nozzle in your clean water bottle and squeeze gently. It's not fast, but it's tolerable. You can see that I've almost filled the clean water bottle. I'm sure I'd hold the bottle when really doing this task, but I needed a hand to take the picture.

Sawyer Mini Filter

With everything packed up in the jar, it makes a package that fits in one of the side pockets of my pack, and it's all contained. If you really were concerned about having enough water, you could fill the mayo jar with dirty water and carry it to filter later (have done this). You can also fill the bag with water to carry. If you were more concerned about space, it would fit in a smaller stuff sack, but this works perfectly for me.

Total weight of this water kit 6.6 ounces.

Sawyer Mini Filter

Just for comparison, the previous system we used was the Steripen. Its complete kit weighed 8.6 ounces, and the funnel was a perpetual annoyance. (Link below for how that worked)

Steripen water kit

Before that, we used the Sweetwater Guardian carbon filter. We actually liked that one a lot. Here's its complete kit. But it weighed 14.5 ounces, and didn't pack nicely.

Sweetwater Guardian water kit

Total weight reduction from this purchase 2 ounces. Increased confidence- a lot. I didn't like that the Steripen needed batteries, and they were an odd size.

In other news: I'm working on maps... yes, hiking maps... Will tell all soon.

See Steripen
See Sweetwater Guardian
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

More NCT Hike Fun

I had the time to spend one more day hiking with Connie and Jerry. We decided to do Udell (M-55) to Highbridge. The Manistee River never disappoints for those seeking views.

Manistee River

Buster is always bright-eyed and eager for the day's adventure.

stuffed animal in a backpack

This section of trail is pretty easy going. That was fine with us.


After a mile of roadwalk the trail slips down off a bank beside Chicago Avenue. In all the times I've hiked this I'd never noticed this avenue of trees framing the trail in that area. I really liked this, and it's very welcoming after that roadwalk which is hot and boring.

hiker in tunnel of trees

Bright lights of flowers along the way are always welcome.

woodland sunflower

The weather was a little bit cooler than yesterday. We were soaked with sweat, of course, but not so miserably dripping. Between that and the flatter terrain we walked faster.

Even so, I had to leave as soon as we finished because I had to be at Shagway to work at 4 pm. That's where I am now, doing this blog post and thinking about bed!

Hike 100 Challenge mileage for 2018 is up to 57 miles.

North Country Trail, Udell to Highbridge, Manistee National Forest, 6 miles

See NCT Hike- Just Fun
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