Taking a group of college students backpacking for seven days in mid-October seemed liked a good idea at the time.
I thought it would be a great opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage, soak up warm sunny days and get cozy during the brisk nights. It would be the ideal season to walk in the woods for week. Boy, was I wrong!
It rained, hailed and snowed for the entire seven days. Daytime temperatures averaged eight degrees Celsius and it plummeted below zero at night. The students were miserable, and some even gave up on the trip two days in.
I was the leader and the key morale booster on trip. That’s not an easy position to be in when the group is wet, cold and despondent. Two things helped me survive the ordeal. The first was a sense of place. I had endured far worse than this, and dealing with harsh conditions was second-nature to me. The other defence mechanism was dependable camp gear.
Here are my top pieces of camp gear that I’m so thankful I had throughout the seven-day backpacking misadventure:
This was a last-minute purchase before the trip. I never did like the discomfort I got from wearing my old pack (MEC Brio 60). The Osprey Aether seriously saved my trip. It’s the most comfortable pack I’ve ever tried (and the price wasn’t bad, either).
The pack is full of extras. First off, the Aether has a solid amount of compression straps to help keep loads secure, tight and central. They are also placed in perfect order on the pack, on both sides and on the top of the main storage. (This helps you not to overpack simply because there’s room to add more items.)
The hip-belt pockets are great to hold items like your camera, compass, GPS, phone, bug repellent, sunscreen and lip balm. The top compartment can be taken off and used as a hip pack. The front storage swallows up extra apparel, like rain gear.
The shoulder and belt straps cinch-and-release and then hold tight. My older pack didn’t. I was always readjusting as I went along and it drove me nuts.
The extra bonus is the breathability of the Aether — the design and material used greatly reduces your back from getting drenched in sweat. I can see that being a huge bonus on hot days — which, unfortunately, I didn’t experience on the past trip.
I highly recommend this pack. It has all the bells and whistles — but mostly it is rugged, lightweight, can hold a solid load and it’s darn comfortable.
These boots fit perfect right out of the box. No blisters and no need for moleskin over the entire 90-km hike. They’re also super lightweight (570 grams) but provide solid ankle protection. Keen’s TPU shanks also help with the solidity of the boot.
The Durand is touted “waterproof and breathable.” I can testify that they’re extremely breathable. You don’t sweat at all in these boots. They also seem waterproof, and there’s no doubt they are. However, I can’t say for certain they are. The trail I was hiking was so wet and muddy, and the puddles I walked through were well past my ankles, and my feet were soaked every day. I can definitely say, however, they’re fast drying. While all my students spent most of the night huddled around the campfire trying to dry their footwear out — usually torching rubber heels and leather uppers — I simply placed the liners inside my sleeping bag at night and I was somewhat comfortable lacing up each morning.
Overall, the Durands are cozy, lightweight, fast drying and deliver a solid grip on the trail.
Eureka’s Spitfire has long been my solo tent of choice. I switched to Eureka’s Midori for this trip, however. It is roomier, especially with the expanded vestibule. There are also side pockets and a side gear loft. The weight, however, is still around 1.5 kg, and it costs a mere $120.
The Midori’s main feature is its ventilation — yet it still has full fly coverage. What that really means is I never once got wet or clammy inside my tent during seven full days of rain. That means a lot.
It’s always a bit of a dilemma on what sleeping bag to pack for a late-season backpacking trip. You don’t really have room to pack a winter bag but you’re always paranoid that the three-season bag might not be enough if nighttime temperatures drop dramatically. And they did, plummeting to -3 Celsius most nights. Packing the Adventure Medical Kit’s SOL Bivy became the perfect lightweight, and inexpensive, backup system. On the colder nights, I’d slip the bivy inside my bag, giving me a few more degrees of warmth. The bag reflects your body heat but lets moisture escape from the inside. It also super lightweight and packs down to the size of a coffee mug.
True story: While being mugged in downtown Oshawa, I was more concerned with the thieves taking my OR Transcendent Sweater than my laptop. I love this jacket. It’s lightweight (370 grams) and compresses down to the size of a tennis ball. The jacket’s 650-fill down keeps you toasty warm when the temperature drops. It’s also extremely durable, far more then any other down jacket, which is why I didn’t want the muggers to take it. I’ve packed it along on late-season trips for a good half-dozen years and it’s still a solid jacket — not to mention chock-full of memories. (By the way, the thieves were caught. The guy walking with me that night happened to be an off-duty police officer. My OR Transcendent Sweater was saved!)
Merino wool is amazing. It keeps its shape; it’s moisture absorbing; it’s lightweight; it’s itch-free; it’s bacteria-resistant (meaning it doesn’t gather your funky body odour); and more importantly, it keeps you incredibly warm in extremely harsh conditions. For the weeklong backpacking trip, I packed Wool Power’s medium-thick socks, the new Lite Boxer Briefs and Zip Turtleneck. Merino wool definitely added to my comfort zone on this trip.
At first, it seemed silly to list a nutrient bar as one of the top items during my backpacking ordeal. Thinking back, however, one of the highlights of the day was to stop and munch on a Clif Bar. It kept my energy up during the cold — these high-density snacks replenish the fuel your body needs during such circumstances. They also taste good — and I got a few smiling faces from the students when I handed out samples of the “seasonal” flavours: Gingerbread, Spiced Pumpkin and Pecan Pie. Pumpkin pie was my favourite.