pitching my flat tarp

This weekend was my first time pitching my 8 x 10 silnylon flat tarp from BearPaw Wilderness Designs. My main reason for choosing a BearPaw tarp was the configuration of perimeter and side-panel tie outs.

My tarp weighs 15.3 oz. The provided tarp sack weighs 0.3 oz.

To pitch the tarp, I brought along 36 feet of 1mm tarp cord (four 6-foot lengths, four 3-foot lengths) and 6-8 stakes.

Here are five pitches.


Closed A-Frame (front door flaps)



Flying Half-Mid

desert sunset

 photo 0712142010d_zpsom9jp1hg.jpg  photo 0712142010b_zps9xrncktn.jpg  photo 0712142012_zpsda9inuz3.jpg


my favorite place to camp in the joshua tree backcountry

It's a perfect little place between two relatively small piles of rocks. One pile offers evening shade; the other, morning shade. And if that weren't enough, there's a sweet "loft" for cowboy camping . . .


my ass-backward, favorite-gear gear list

Most of the time, when planning a hike, it just doesn't make sense to bring some of our favorite gear. This is because we tailor our gear lists to the weather, terrain, resupply options, water availability, and goals of a particular trip.

But I've decided to do things ass backward. On a whim, I've decided to build a kit with my favorite gear and then see what type of hike it's suited to. Instead of selecting the gear for the trip, I'm selecting the trip for the gear.

Big 3: pack / shelter / sleep system
  • ula circuit backpack w/ stay, internal mesh pocket, and hand loops
  • litetrail nylobarrier pack liner
  • smd wild oasis tarp
  • rei snow stake (also used as trowel)
  • 5 j-stakes
  • stake sack
  • 2 mil plastic painters tarp ground sheet cut to tarp footprint
  • ridgerest 48" sleeping pad
  • golite 3-season quilt w/o sack or straps
  • stuff sack to make pillow

Clothing packed
  • mountain hardware windstopper hat
  • mountain hardware polartec glove liners
  • 2 pair darn tough 1/4 cushion socks (spare and sleep)
  • baselayer top and bottom
  • rei revelcloud vest
  • frogg toggs ultralite2 rain jacket

Gear for food / water / fuel
  • 13L sea-to-summit ultra sil sack for food
  • litetrail nylobarrier odorproof bag
  • 40' litetrail h-line and minibiner
  • gsi 0.6 liter minimalist pot w/o lid or any accessories
  • aluminum foil pot lid
  • snow peak titanium short spork
  • packtowel nano small
  • qiwiz firefly woodstove w/ pouch, pot supports, and aluminum foil base plate
  • sawyer mini filter
  • 1L smartwater bottle
  • 2L platypus bottle

First aid / hygiene / miscellaneous
  • petzl tikka 2 headlamp
  • 3 spare batteries for headlamp
  • sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm
  • first aid kit: first aid tape, ace bandage, 4 bandaids, 2 gauze pads, 2 antiseptic wipes, 2 imodium, 10 ibuprofen, non-latex gloves, mirror, nail clippers, needle and thread
  • hand sanitizer
  • toilet paper
  • toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, razor, mesh stuff sack for toiletries
  • sponge
  • victorinox trekker knife
  • dmt mini knife sharpener
  • fire kit in altoids tin (ferro rod, striker, mini bic, tinder)
  • phone in case
  • anker battery pack and cord

The above adds up to a base weight of 181.7 oz. / 11.35 lb.

This is what I wear / carry.
  • or sun hat
  • nike dri-fit uv miler top
  • rei hiking pants
  • ex-officio boxers
  • darn tough 1/4 cushion socks
  • dirty girl gaiters
  • merrell moab ventilator shoes
  • suunto a-10 compass
  • map
  • pencil
  • bandana
  • victorinox classic knife
  • eskabar knife
  • mini ferro rod
  • mini bic lighter
  • watch
  • wallet
  • 2 black diamond trail trekking poles w/ duct tape

My wear / carry total is 92.2 oz. / 5.76 lb.

Looking at the results, I'd say that I put together a 3-season, 3-5 day kit for moderate rain and low fire danger in an area where dead wood is available and water sources are within 15 miles of each other. Not the best setup for a California drought, though, and maybe a little knife heavy.


Enjoying some non-thru-hiker gear

The Eskabar (BK14): The Becker Necker blade combined with the ESEE Izula handle.

The knife w/o cordage or sheath is 2.4 oz. 

My knife w/ cordage is 2.8 oz., and my sheath w/ cordage is 1.7 oz. So, the total weight for my setup in the photo is 4.5 oz.

You should be able to find one on Amazon for about $35.

 photo 0515141841_zpsqr5acgef.jpg  photo 0515141840_zpsfqp9wwhb.jpg


AZT thru-hike gear reviews (2014)

In this post I review of some of the gear I used on my 2014 AZT thru-hike.

Field Use: I used this pack for the entire 800-mile thru-hike. No sign of wear on it yet.

Likes: The many features and customizable options, lightweight frame, excellent design, durability and comfort. ULA has great customer service, and their packs are sewn in the USA.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Absolutely. In addition to selling really well designed and comfortable packs that are sewn in the USA, ULA has great customer service. I experienced their customer service after I first received a pack that was missing an ice axe loop. They told me that they would send a replacement pack right away but that I should feel free to use the first pack they sent as much as I liked in the meantime. I received the new pack in a couple of days.

Field Use: I used this tarp on the PCT and the AZT, and it's still in good shape. I noticed it starting to wet out during the one night of rain I had on the AZT, so I recently re-waterproofed it.

Likes: Lightweight (13 oz.), 360 degree rain protection, bug netting skirt around perimeter, pitches with one trekking pole.

Dislikes: On the PCT I replaced the door toggle with a mitten hook, making it easier to strap the door open. I'm still glad I made this mod.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I like one-pole pitch mid tarps, and the Wild Oasis is great. If I had to replace it today, I'd also consider the SMD Deschutes tarp and the mids produced by Mountain Laurel Designs and BearPaw Wilderness Designs.

2 mil Plastic Painter's Tarp for Ground Cloth

Field Use: A single ground cloth survived all of my 48 nights on the AZT, and I only had to patch one small hole with duct tape.
Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive, durable, easy to find in hardware stores. Multiple ground cloths of your desired size and shape can be cut from the tarp.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, it's lighter than Tyvek, more resistant to side tears than polycryo, and cheaper than both.

REI Snow Stake for Cat-Hole Trowel and Tarp Stake

Field Use: Used daily on the AZT.  

Likes: lightweight (1 oz.), inexpensive ($2), sturdy, 9.6" long, multiuse for tarp stake and cat-hole trowel. Works well in hard, rocky, and root-bound soil.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. After using the $2 REI snow stake, it would feel crazy to spend 10 times that amount on some of the cat-hole trowels on the market.

 photo 0430140928-1_zpsozal6ora.jpg

Field Use: This jacket stayed packed away for most of the hike, but I did use it for a few hours of rain and maybe a half dozen times as a wind jacket.

Likes: Lightweight, inexpensive.

Dislikes: Not durable.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I don't regularly hike in rainy places. If I did, I wouldn't use Frogg Toggs; they're not durable enough for frequent use. In the southwest, a lightweight Frogg Toggs jacket is good to have for unexpected wind and rain.

Field Use: I wore one pair for all 800 miles. No significant wear. 

Likes: Durable, lightweight, quick drying, 50 UPF, large cargo pockets. They offer convertible or solid pant leg versions.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. Still my favorite hiking pants.

UPDATE: Been wearing Prana Zion Stretch hiking pants now that REI Sahara pants have been redesigned and pretty much suck.

Field Use: I wore one shirt for all 800 miles. It got a few snags, but I was in cactus country after all.

Likes: Lightweight, comfortable, quick dry, 50 UPF. I especially like the loose cuffs.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. This is my new favorite hiking shirt.

Field Use: I wore these as sleep clothes and the top as my town shirt.

Likes: Lightweight, breathable, silky feel.

Dislikes: Poor fit. Top and bottom seemed to have a strange cut. Clothes generally fit me fine, but the top was tight under my arms and the bottoms were tight around my claves--and I have pretty skinny calves!

Would I buy this product/brand again? No, the fit was just too strange for me to try PolarMax again.

Field Use: The AZT was rougher than the PCT on these gaiters. My PCT pair looked better after 2,660 than my AZT pair looked after 800 miles. They're not made for bushwhacking through thorny terrain, which I had to do on occasion.

Likes:  Comfortable, lightweight, simple design, fun patterns, surprisingly durable. These are excellent sand and scree gaiters. They're not made for rain, snow, river fording, or rough bushwhacking.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, they're my favorite sand and scree gaiters.

Field Use: Two pairs lasted all 800 miles, but holes did start to form.

Likes: Comfortable, durable, lifetime warranty, made in Vermont.

Dislikes: None.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are still my favorite hiking socks.

Field Use: My original pair of Moabs made it through all 800 rocky miles of the AZT, though they were worn by another thru-hiker for the 230 miles north of Flagstaff. (I had a new pair waiting for me in Flagstaff.)
Likes: Durable, breathable, lightweight, offers wide sizes, less expensive than many of the shoes I've seen on the trail.

Dislikes: I've worn Moabs since before my PCT thru-hike, and the only criticism I can muster is that the tread design does not offer the best traction.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, these are still my favorite hiking shoes.

Field Use: I started my hike with a Fancy Feast cat can alcohol stove and my 600 ml. GSI Minimalist pot, both of which I used on the PCT, but I replaced my old aluminum foil windscreen with the LiteTrail Titanium Foil Windscreen. This new windscreen was the perfect size for my stove and pot. Note: I don't cook when I backpack, but I do heat water for rehydrating meals and hot drinks.

Likes: Lightweight, more durable and sturdy than aluminum foil, cools quickly, easy to roll up into cat stove for storage.

Dislikes: if you fold or crumple titanium foil, it won't regain its shape. So far, I've managed to avoid this.

Would I buy this product/brand again? I like LiteTrail products, including their NyloBarrier food bags and pack liners as well as their H-Line cord. When I need to replace my current LiteTrail windscreen, which is still in great shape, I'll probably just buy a sheet of 0.5 titanium foil from titaniumgoat.com and make one for myself. It would be a cheap, fun, and easy project.

 photo 0115141645_zpsilyy1hcs.jpg  photo 0422141925_zpspsr4t7gc.jpg

Field Use: I included a QiWiz FireFly UL Titanium Woodstove (no side "flexport") in one of my resupply boxes and started using it midway into the hike. I did use the small pot support cross bars for added stability. Note: I don't cook when I backpack, but I do heat water for rehydrating meals and hot drinks.

Likes: Really fun to use, very lightweight, easy to assemble, packs small and flat, eliminates the need to carry fuel. The raised mesh floor provides ventilation and the solid sides act as a windscreen to help control the flame. I enjoyed the small twig fires and the smell of wood smoke.

Dislikes: None. However, be aware that wood fires do make things sooty.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. This stove is 2.4 oz. (2.0 oz. for the four sides of the stove + 0.3 oz. for the mesh floor + 0.1 oz. for the two pot supports). The plastic storage pouch is an additional 0.3 oz., but you could ditch that and just wrap up the stove pieces in a bandana. It was liberating not having to carry fuel or worry about running out of fuel. This stove was the piece of gear I most enjoyed using on this hike. I really looked forward to using it at the end of the day.

Field Use: I used the Sawyer Mini when water sources were too murky for bleach. Between the Gila River and all the muddy cattle tanks, this was fairly often. I only used drops on the PCT, but I'm glad I brought a filter for the AZT.

Likes: It has a 0.1 micron filter, is much lighter than pump filters, and can be screwed onto a Smartwater bottle.

Dislikes: The back-flush syringe is as large as the filter itself and almost as heavy (The filter is 1.3 oz. before use. The syringe is 1.1 oz.). I don't use bounce boxes, so I carried the syringe. For the AZT, bring the syringe or bounce it; you'll probably want to back-flush.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes, it's the lightest, smallest 0.1 micron filter I know of.

Field Use: I used two IL bottles, one 2L bottle, and one 3L bladder. I rarely needed to use the 3L bladder.

Likes: Lightweight, collapsible.

Dislikes: Since they don't have a rigid structure, these bottles won't fill up when submerged under water. I carried a Smartwater bottle for that. I also carried the Smartwater bottle to use with my Sawyer mini filter, which doesn't screw onto the Platypus bottles as well.

Would I buy this product/brand again? These bottles were surprisingly durable in cactus country. Maybe I just got lucky. I'm sure they wouldn't have survived a direct hit from some of the thorns I saw out there.

Field Use: I used this app daily. I wandered off trail a few times, and Gaia made it easy to find it again every time.

Likes: Easy to load maps and GPX files, easy to use, gives location and orientation even while phone is in airplane mode, offers multiple layers and map options, is able to track a new route.

Dislikes: None, though some may prefer an app that tracks more stats.

Would I buy this product/brand again? Yes. I should also thank the Arizona Trail Association for providing the maps and GPX files to load into Gaia GPS.


Gear providers currently aiming their business at cat holes

As someone who thought the cat-hole trowel market was already crowded, I was surprised to see Mike Cecot-Scherer's Deuce of Spades Kickstarter campaign. Mike introduces himself in his pitch video and declares ". . . I think the world needs another potty trowel."

Fair enough, but that prompted me to take a quick look at the many other trowels that are available to the backcountry pooper. I found that most were either heavy and cheap or light and pricey, but there were some other options.

Heavy & Cheap

The cat-hole trowels you'll find at REI  (e.g., GSI, Sea to Summit, U-Dig-It) weigh at least 3 oz. and cost from $5 to $20.

Light & Pricey

At the other end of the spectrum, you can find titanium trowels that weigh 0.5 oz. and cost from $30 to $40. See QiWiz and Suluk46.

Other Options

At 1.4 oz. and $12, Montbell's stainless steel trowel is mid-weight and moderately priced. 

The Deuce of Spades is aluminum and weighs 0.6 oz. It cost $15 during the Kickstarter campaign (now closed) and is expected to cost from $22 to $25 when it hits the market. 

Still the Best Deal Going

I used to dig with rocks and sticks but found that the quality of my cat holes suffered if the ground was hard and the rocks scarce.

I eventually learned from other hikers to use the REI snow stake as a trowel as well as a stake. It weighs 1 oz. and costs $2. Yes. Only 1 oz. Only $2. It's 9.6" long, an inch wide, and its curve fits comfortably in the hand when digging.

 photo 0430140928-1_zpsozal6ora.jpg
REI snow stake

My favorite cat-hole trowel is not a cat-hole trowel at all.