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Make Your Own Gear: I've Got the Bug

So... I have picked up a new hobby.  Generally speaking, I don't really have the time/money for another hobby.  Regardless, I have added another to the list: making gear.

My set up for making gear in the basement.  Everything I need to design, plan, construct, and analyze my creations.


Gear Lists: A Primer and Philosophy

This Nerd's Approach to Gear and Going Light


So, if you have known me for any length of time, you are well aware that I am a nerd. I keep a running tally in mind of mostly inconsequential things, like how many bowls we have in the kitchen.  I have read hundreds of thousands of pages worth of sci-fi and fantasy books.  I literally named my dog after a Jedi. You' re welcome

Knowing this, it shouldn't be a surprise that my nerdiness has spilled over into my passion for the outdoors.  Thus it is that I have an Excel spreadsheet dedicated to creating packing lists, or Gear Lists, for backpacking and hiking trips.


Tarptent Cloudburst 3: Initial Impressions

TarpTent Cloudburst 3 - Pitched in the wilds of my backyard

Background and General Stuff

As a preface: I really like shelters.  I have two tarps, a pyramid, and two tents now!  I find the designs fascinating.  How to achieve functionality within your design parameters, how to transfer loads through a tensile structure into the ground, how to balance protection, space, weight, and features.  I could spend all day talking about this stuff. Yes, I am an engineer.  Anyways, on to the stuff and things!

I was given this most recent shelter, a TarpTent Cloudburst 3, as a gift this past Christmas.  TarpTent has a lot of fantastic shelters at good weights, at great prices, and they are high quality. Check out their website here.  This is going to be the shelter that we (my wife Lauren, my dog Obi, and I) use for backpacking. We have an older REI Halfdome T2+ that we really like for car camping.  It is easy to use, comfortable, and we got it as a wedding gift from my uncle.  However, our Halfdome is heavy (the newer models are apparently significantly lighter) .  At least, it is relatively heavy.  It is also pretty snug for two normal sized people and an 85lb dog to sleep in. So, I asked for a new tent for Christmas.  Not to mention, I like shelters.  And I am dork.


How Ultralight Pillows Stack Up

From top to Bottom: REI Flash Pillow, Exped UL, Sea to Summit Aeros

Back Country Sleep

After a couple years of backpacking, I decided it was time to get a pillow.  I have tried shoving extra clothes in a stuff sack, wadding up my down hoody, and using water bottles.  All of these approaches worked OK at best.  A lot of the time, I do overnight trips to bag 14ers, or just get a lot of miles in a couple days.  This means that I often won't bring anything extra in the way of clothes except a pair of socks.  Two socks do not a pillow make.  Now, part of this might be that I just don't have the "experience" or "fortitude" to sleep without a pillow.

Admittedly, I haven't spent nearly as much time sleeping on the ground as a lot of backpackers.  On the other hand, there aren't that many backpackers that have broken five vertebrae.  So hey, if I want to use a pillow and a full length sleeping pad, I will.

Another thing I took into consideration before jumping into the whole pillow search was the importance of sleep.  For me, time in the back country is about getting out, getting away, enjoying the sublime alpine, yadda yadda yadda.  Not only that, but it is about moving.  I work a desk job.  The most challenging part of my job is having to sit still for eight hours at work and another hour and a half in the car.  To be on the trail, letting my feet carry me up and out, is...well, it is the main reason I backpack, and hike in general.  

So what does that have to do with sleeping?  Well, if my goal is to hike, to move, then one of the best things I can do to achieve that goal is to sleep well.  If I wake up and have sore shoulders and hips (because I am side sleeper) and my back hurts so much that I can barely sit up, then I am less likely to enjoy the hiking.  If I only slept for 4 hours because I couldn't get comfortable, I won't be too keen on putting in back to back 18 mile days.  

So this is the balance that I was looking for in a pillow: something that makes sleeping in the back country comfortable enough to sleep well consistently, so I can hike longer, while still being light enough and packable enough to feel like nothing extra is in my pack (also helping me to hike longer).  This led me to pick up some pillows for a little review.


Three Steps to Fourteener (14er) Fun


If you live in Colorado, it is likely that you have at least heard of The Fourteeners (14ers).  The 14ers are the 52-54 (depending on how you classify them) mountain peaks that are over 14,000ft in elevation.  Having heard of these high peaks, you have probably considered hiking them. Whether you immediately dismissed it as something for wackos who lack a basic sense of self preservation, or if you thought that you may want to one day get to the top of at least one, you have probably thought about it.

At first, hiking a 14er may seem like a daunting and frightening challenge, and to be blunt, there are good reasons to feel this way.  Hiking a 14er is not like going for a quick hike in the foothills; you cannot simply go out on a whim and have a safe, successful, enjoyable experience.  First off, the routes to the tops of these 14,000ft behemoths are usually longer than a typical day hike; few routes are shorter than 5 miles.  Not only are they longer, but the terrain you will typically encounter is more rugged.  Then you have to take into consideration the fact that most of the hike will be at a high elevation.

It is not my intent to scare anyone off of hiking a 14er.  In fact, it is just the opposite: I want to convince you that with a little work on the front end, you can do something you will remember for the rest of your life.  It is true that there are unique and real challenges to summiting one of these famed peaks, and it is much better to recognize what these are and plan accordingly rather than show up in a newspaper as another grateful recipient of a search and rescue operation. You can hike a 14er, and you can have an absolute blast doing it.