Menstrual care on the trail and off.

cabin-453-1.jpgThis is what I have been using for the the last 10 years. It’s called ‘The Keeper menstrual cup” It comes in two sizes: The Keeper A (After birth) and The Keeper B (Before birth). It weighs .75 ounce( 22 grams) including the little bag. I insert it, pull it out when it is full and empty it, pee on it ( pee is supposed to be sterile) to wash it or wash it with water, or just empty it and stick it back in. It’s easy and light, and I never have to carry or buy any menstrual supplies. It’s made from natural rubber. I’ve been using the same one for 10 years; I don’t think they wear out.

Sewing kit for the nomad

sewing kitThis is my sewing kit. It’s a box of dental floss with a couple of needles, with eyes big enough to accommodate the floss, in it. It works so well, it is all I ever use to sew things.  Total weight: .50 ounce (15 grams).  The needles are also handy for popping blisters and digging out splinters. The dental floss of course is also good for flossing your teeth.

Lyme disease on the trail.

Hiking through Connecticut on the Appalachian Trail, I got a lot of warnings about Lyme disease. They said when I got done with my hike that I should take 4 weeks of doxycycline because the chances of getting it were so high. They told me stories of how they were not treated or under-treated with antibiotics and had serious complications from Lyme disease. They said to get 4- 6 weeks of antibiotics.

I wasn’t feeling well for awhile, tired and achy but that is sort of normal for being on a long distance trail. One morning I got up and started hiking… I hadn’t been hiking long when I laid down on a big rock in the sun and went to sleep. I just wanted to sleep, but after awhile I forced myself up and started hiking, after a couple of miles I laid down again for a nap, and then hiked a couple of miles with my knees aching and laid down for another nap ; I was so tired. I looked at my guide book and saw that from the next road crossing I could hitch-hike to town. I sat down on the road, too tired to stand and hitched a ride to a big old three storied B& B.

I told the women at the B& B, that I was more tired than I had ever been in my whole life. She said “I’ll show you to your room?. She walked me up all these flights of stairs each landing I would hopefully think we were there. Finally we got to the room and I went to lie down, but she said, “No, you need to check in first? so back down all those stairs with my aching knees and so tired it was really everything I could do to concentrate on getting down them. I checked in and walked back up all those stairs. I wasn’t there 5 minutes when she called me on the telephone and said that she hadn’t charged me enough and that I would need to come back down and pay her 5 more dollars. I said, “I can’t. You can come up and get it, or I will pay you in the morning but I’m not doing those stairs another time.? Even in my weakened state, I thought it was sort of comical making a sick person climb all those stairs.

I took a shower and looked in the mirror and found a tick on me. I scratched it off. There is no telling how many ticks I had had on me. I found that one because I was at atick.jpg hotel, I wouldn’t have found it had I been on the trail. Now it wasn’t just my knees that ached but every joint in my body. I called my son and through looking on the Internet he determined that I had Lyme disease. My neck ached terribly and I would get chilled and be looking at my sleeping bag on the floor, yet I would be too tired to get it. Then I would get really hot and look at a glass of water but I was too tired to reach for it.

The next day I climbed down the stairs and called a taxi to take me to Great Barrington Hospital. I slept in the chair in the waiting room. The nurse practitioner said that she would not prescribe antibiotics unless she was positive I had Lyme disease and that the test was not valid unless you had it for a long while and sometimes even still if wouldn’t necessarily be right. She took my temperature, and said, “See you have a temperature, that’s why you are tired.? I said, “what about my joint pain?. She shrugged her shoulders and charged me 125.00 dollars.

That night I moaned all night long from the pain in every joint. I had chills and then fevers. The next morning I had a bull’s-eye rash. I called that nurse practitioner and she said that she would have to see it before she would prescribe any antibiotics. I had taken a bus to another town and told her I was very tired and couldn’t make thebullseye.jpg trip back. She still refused me antibiotics. I made an appointment with a doctor that was closer to the motel and he looked at the rash and said it was a textbook picture of a Lyme disease rash. When he said that he would prescribe 2 weeks of doxycycline. I said, “No, everyone says 4-6 weeks.? But that is all he would give me and I was too tired to put up much of a fight. Then he charged me 85 dollars and sent me on my way. I took the antibiotics and in a few days, I was ready to head back out on the trail.

After I finished the trail I started getting hot achy knees, I read in the Merck manual that that is a sign of the kind of arthritis that you get from Lyme disease that hasn’t been treated fully. Also from reading stuff on the internet I learned that you should have 4 weeks of doxycycline. I found a Lyme disease specialist and went to him. He said that I was under-treated and that it may be too late. He prescribed 6 weeks of double doses of doxycycline and amoxicillin and charged me 175 dollars. I took them all and since then have not had the hot achy knees.

It’s really hard to find decent medical care when you are sick on the trail. It’s hard to get to the doctor and it’s hard to fight with them when you are sick. Many of the hiker’s doctors would prescribe the doxy for them. If you have a doctor see if you can get a prescription before you leave in case you need it. It’s criminal that the medicines that we need are locked up. I’m willing to take the consequences of my incompetence but it is so frustrating, unfair, and deadly to be at the mercy of incompetent doctors.

sawyers.jpgThis year, when I went hiking, I soaked my clothes and my tent in Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent Military Style Clothing Treatment, Soak System It’s supposed to last for 6 washings. I don’t like deet and would rather the insect repellent be on my clothes then on me.

Hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail)

The Appalachian Trail is a a 2200 mile(3500km) trail running from Georgia to Maine in the Eastern United States. The only book I used for the entire trail was Wingfoot’s Thru-hikers handbookhandbook.gif. It has all the data you need: water sources, shelters, towns and the services the towns offer, and the mileages between them. I brought the entire book, minus the cover, and ripped out and threw away the pages as I used them. The whole book, I think, weighed 7-9 oz(226grams). I ripped out the days page and kept it in a small plastic ziplock in my pocket and the rest of the book was kept in a gallon size ziplock in my pack. The trail is very well marked with white blazes painted on the trees. I didn’t need any maps or any other guide book.

I came to the trail with enough water to get me to the next water source and enough food to get me to the next food source. That’s how I hiked the whole trail and it worked great. I found that buying my food along the way gave me more freedom. I didn’t have to wait for my packages in towns or stop at towns that I didn’t want to stop at. I would usually buy food every 3 days or so. For one stretch in New York there was some source of calories every day. Sometimes I would hike out of town with a whole pizza wrapped up in foil in my food bag. Town food has a lot more power to it then a box of old dry food that you send yourself.bb.jpg

To prepare for the AT I would suggest reading Beyond Backpacking: Ray Jardines Guide to Lightweight Hiking and getting your pack weight down. My base weight ( all my stuff minus food, water, and fuel) was 11-12lbs(5kg) and probably never weighed more then 25lbs(11kg) fully loaded with food, water and fuel. My load included a tent with full bug and rain protection, a warm sleeping bag and a good stove. I had everything I needed; that’s important, don’t go so light that you don’t have the gear you need to take care of yourself. So many times I have put the rain poncho shelter, the 1lb sleeping bag, and the 13oz backpack on my gear list only to be hit with the reality that the pack hurts my shoulders, I get wet in the tarp and the 1lb sleeping bag is too cold.chaco.jpg

For foot wear I wore Chaco Z/1 Sandals for the entire trail. I wore socks with them and when it got snowy or cold I wore them with neoprene socks. In the snow my feet were cold and uncomfortable, but they survived. Buy the right size for your foot and don’t worry about stubbing your toe. I have hiked over 4000 miles (6400km) in sandals and though my toes go right up to the end, I have never stubbed them.

I also read books by people that had hiked the trail and read online journals about people who had hiked it. It helps to kind of know what to expect.

Snowy and cold

cabin-372.jpg A lot of snow fell yesterday. Today, I put on my snow shoes to go for my walk. It was 8 degrees F (-13 C) when I went on my walk, now it’s 4 degrees (-15C) and I presume it will get colder tonight. I didn’t know it could snow when it got this cold but it’s still coming down.

When I go walking in the snow I wear running shoes because they let my feet move and so they stay warm. I was reading The Prairie Traveler: The 1859 Handbook for Westbound Pioneers and they recommended wearing moccasins in the snow for cabin-393-1.jpgthe same reasons. In an old Boy Scouts manual they also recommended wearing shoes that let your feet move as the key to keeping them warm in the snow. Boots hold your feet stiffly so your feet get a lot colder. My snow shoes are called Northern Lite Elite Snowshoes. They are very light (36 oz per pair 1kg ) and you can run in them.

Shelter

My current tent is a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo. It weighs 23 oz (652 grams) with thecabin-281.jpg light weight floor option. You can use a trekking pole with it or buy the optional 1.8 oz ( 51grams) pole. It sets up fast, and offers a lot of room- enough for 2 in an emergency. Things I look for in a tent: covered porch so I can lay in my bag and cook dinner out of the rain, fast set up, full bug protection, and light weight. This tent offers all of these things. Mesh comes up the sides so that even though it is a single wall tent , places where youcabin-282-1.jpg might touch the walls are double wall. It comes in gray and green. Grey is the best color, I think, for not being seen.

It comes unseamed sealed. To seam seal your tent, go to the hardware store and buy some mineral spirits , some clear silicone caulking, and a cheap brush. Mix the silicon caulking and the mineral sprits in a small can and paint on the seams.cabin-311-1.jpg

It takes 6 stakes, I bought orange titanium stakes from backpackinglight.com. All six stakes, together, weigh 1.30 ounces (37 grams) Don’t buy stakes that aren’t a bright color they are just too easy to lose. I carefully count them as I pull them out and put them in a pocket in my pack.

All totaled tent+ seam sealing+ stakes+ pole+ stuff sack= 27ounces (765 grams)

I open my umbrella in it to poof out the back wall a little more.

For wiping the walls of a tent which on some days can become wet I carry a small viscose camp towel which is sort of like a very thin sponge; it works a lot better than a bandanna and of course doubles as a towel.

Six Moon Designs has other other lightweight shelter options, also you might want to check out Henry Shires Tarp Tents.

For world travel I also bring a Long Road Travel Tent. I have found lots of wonderful places (and some not so wonderful) to stay at that were really cheap but they mighttraveltent.JPG have huge cockroaches or rats in them and I can’t sleep when surrounded by huge cockroaches and rats. Cockroaches and rats don’t hurt you but ticks, lice, mosquitoes, and spiders can kill you. This travel tent is free standing and fits on a single sized bed. It has a breathable nylon floor that extends up the sides so nothing can bite you where you might touch the sides. I can stay anywhere with this tent, just zip myself up and rest easy. It weighs 1.9 lbs (.86 kg)

Trail food- Pasta with Thai peanut sauce.

  • Put water and pasta in pot, cover with lid or foil
  • heat to boiling or near boiling.
  • When water reaches boiling or near boiling turn off stove let pasta cook on it’s own.
  • When pasta is done, pour excess water into your nalgene bottle.cabin-258-2.jpg
  • Add peanut butter, garlic powder, dried crushed red peppers and some of the hot water from your Nalgene bottle to pasta. ( You can get the crushed red peppers in little packets at the pizza parlor.)
  • keep stirring and add more hot water if necessary.
  • Add a packet of chicken or tuna, if you like.
  • Use remaining hot water, if there is any, to make your after dinner hot beverage. Always drink your pasta water.

Nomandic bed

cabin-217.jpgMy sleeping bag is a Marmot Helium; it’s a 15 degree, down bag. It’s a warm, fluffy, and beautifully made bag with no cold spots. It is supposed to weigh 1lb 13 oz but mine weighs 2lbs. If you are 5′ 6″ or less there is a short version and if you are tall there is a tall version . This is a really nice bag made with 850 fill down. If I could only have one bag this would be the bag I would chose. I rarely zip it up; I just stick my feet in and throw the bag over me like a luxurious down comforter.

When not in use and not in my pack (which is rarely for me), I keep it stored in the large cotton bag it comes with. Compression is not good for a sleeping bag, so, I buy a bigger stuff sack then the one it comes with to use when backpacking.

I also have a Western Mountaineering Highlite bag that weighs 1lb. It also comes in a long. Good for travel in warm climates, but for me, it’s not warm enough to take on a long distance hike. If I put the two bags together I have a winter weight bag for under 3lbs.

I use my clothes bag as a pillow when not at my cabin.colors-1.jpg

When traveling, I also bring a Jag bag silk liner. The extra wide weighs 4.75 ounces, is beautiful, and is the same size as a sarong so it can be used as every way a sarong can: skirt, dress, bag, etc. Many hot nights in Thailand it was the perfect weight to sleep in. It keeps your bag from getting all smelly an dirty. You can easily just rinse it out and it will dry very quickly. They also sell a mummy version that weighs 3oz and a standard rectangle one that weighs a little more then the mummy but less then the extra wide one; It could be used as a skirt but probably not as a dress.

For a pad when hiking I use a full length Z-Lite Sleeping Mat I carry a full length because it gives me a little island to lie on when the night is really wet. Most hikers just have az-rest.jpg 3/4 length and put their pack under their feet. A pad is necessary for insulation from the cold ground. It doesn’t matter how warm your sleeping bag is if you don’t have a pad, the cold ground will suck all the warmth out of you. I keep it strapped to the outside of my pack and grab it and lay it down on breaks. It’s particularly nice on rainy days because it gives me someplace dry to sit. It also can be ripped up for splinting material if needed. The cheap option is to buy a blue closed cell foam pad at a store like Wal-Mart, for 6 dollars. You can even score the blue pad and make it like the z-rest. Learn how at http://www.trailquest.net/TQaltgear.html#pad

Even though it packs flat, a full length pad doesn’t make your luggage look like a nice tidy package and always pegs you as someone who is planning on sleeping without a bed; which is fine on the trail but for international travel it’s better to have everything inside your pack. I have carried either the inflatable ultra light therm-a-rest ( the short one weighs 13 oz or 368 grams) or I had a smallchair.jpg cheap closed cell foam pad that fit inside of my backpack when traveling internationally. When traveling to warm counties it’s not that important to have a pad for warmth but some people need one for comfort. The Ultra light inflatable Them-a-rest also can be converted in to a comfortable Trekker Chair for an extra 10 oz (283 grams).- For a long hike the chair kit would be pretty silly but depending on what you are doing it might be kind of nice. You lean back in it and it’s like a rocking chair that sits on the ground.

The hot sack Western Mountaineering Hot Sack is a vapor barrier/ bivy/ pack liner/ emergency sleeping bag that I sometimeswesternvbl.jpg carry. I bought this and have used it on really cold nights as a vapor barrier. It also doubles as a pack liner, though I still kept my sleeping bag in a plastic bag. The coating started to wear off after awhile but Western Mountaineering sent me another one. It weighs 4.5 ounces.

Backpacking stove

collage2-1.jpgA stove is nice to have. Life is just better when you have a hot beverage to drink. A hot meal is not necessary but psychologically a hot meal can be both soothing and uplifting. And life is all about where your mind is.

The backpacking stove I now use is the Brunton CRUX Compact Foldable Canister Stove, it weighs 3.1 ounces. The reason I bought this one is it’s higher than average BTU output.

It’s a canister stove.  I like canister stoves because I can use them anywhere, from on the trail to a vehicle to a hotel room and they heat water fast. They also pose less of a fire hazard than other backpacking stoves. I have found the canisters in Thailand and in most places in the US. Worldwide they probably are available but you might have to spend a day finding them once you arrive.

You can’t bring the canisters on the plane but you can mail them to yourself, domestically, by writing on the box: “Surface Mail Only, Consumer commodity, ORM-D.”

One medium 8 oz (12oz total weight) canister will usually last me 10 days for all my meals and hot beverage needs. When traveling and using it just for a cup or two of coffee in the morning and the occasionally pot of ramen, 2- 8 oz canisters lasted me more than 3 months. The small 4 ounce canisters barely last 3 days.

The canisters are recyclable, though you may have to puncture them first. The biggest draw back on the canister stove is the price of the canisters, ranging anywhere from 3.00 to 6.50 apiece; acceptable when I’m traveling but pricy for cabin use. Sometimes discount stores like Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer have an off brand of fuel for much less then the outdoor stores and works just as well.

All I ever do is boil water on it: I add food and water, heat to boiling or almost boiling, turn off the stove and let the food sit in the pot with the foil lid on it and finish cooking without the stove going.

There are lots of lightweight stove options ranging from wood to gas, some you make yourself, at http://zenstoves.net/

If you get a canister stove that comes with a peizo igniter, remove it, it weighs more than a small Bic lighter and is less useful and less dependable. Also, carry a spare Bic lighter. I also threw out the case that the stove came with. It’s just unnecessary weight. The canisters fit in my pot for storage all though with some of them I have to turn them upside down to make them fit. I store the stove, can opener and lighter in a light plastic sandwich bag before storing them in the bottom of the pot, so they don’t get wet, and then put the fuel canister in the pot and keep everything in a 8? x 9? nylon ditty bag.

Ice shoes.

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For taking long walks on ice and packed snow, nothing works better for me then screwing sheet metal screws in to my shoes. I get the kind with the hex nut head, 3/8 inch long for the toe and 1/2 inch long for the back of the shoe. For complete instructions visit http://www.skyrunner.com/screwshoe.htm. I don’t have a hex nut attachment for my cordless drill so I used my screwdriver’s hex nut driver and did it by hand. The screw driver is called a 6 way all in one screwdriver.

Last year I went through 2 pairs of Yak-Traks: they broke after about 2 weeks of use. Then I tried a pair of light weight instep crampons but they were always slipping up and I had to stop and adjust them all the time. Then I learned about the screw shoe. When spring came I just took out the screws and my running shoes where fine.

NOTE: Change into screw less shoes before walking on nice floors.

Hiking in the Rain.

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I don’t wear rain gear that much while hiking; I usually get too hot and sweaty in it. However when it gets cold, windy and wet, it is essential. Mostly I wear my rain gear when I get cold or when in town doing laundry. When my hiking clothes are wet, I wear my rain gear to bed. If it is warm out, rain gear will just make you as wet as the rain will. When it’s warm, I hike with just the umbrella and get wet. If it stops raining, I’ll be dry in a bit, if it doesn’t then I take off my wet stuff when I make camp and wear my dry rain gear to bed. In the morning I put on my wet hiking clothes and hike on.

The one ounce hiking rain skirt:Cut the bottom out of at cinch strap garbage bag, put it on and tie around your waist. This hiking rain skirt will keep you dry and offers great ventilation. Just scrunch up your pant legs to the knee so they don’t wick water and put on your hiking skirt. It’s also nice to have on when you want to sit down and take a break but everything is wet. When in camp, if you hang your food, you can use the hiking skirt as a rain cover for your food bag. Just get the regular garbage bags, not the heavy duty contractor’s bags: some of them weigh 5 ounces a piece!

EuroSchirm liteflex swing trekking umbrella, . I like this one because it’s light, durable and doesn’t have any logos on it. You can order it with a silver metallic coating to reflect the sun, providing you with portable shade. It also is made with minimal metal because of lighting. An umbrella offers protection from, wind, rain, snow, sleet, and sun. It is nice to have when standing in a monsoon-like rain storm and you need to look at your map or get something out of your pack. I find life is more pleasant with out rain, snow and hail falling on my head. If it is windy and you are trying to cook dinner it can offer a wind break … I deploy mine in my tent to poof out the back wall more. It weighs 7.80 ounces. They also make a compact one that weighs a little more that would probably be better for International travel. Update: After putting carrying this umbrella for 3200 miles It has a few small holes in it and the silver is wearing off. I thought about just patching it and repainting in with silver paint but I decided to purchase another one. 3200 miles is 2700 more miles than I have ever gotten out of an umbrella. This is a really good umbrella.

Drop stopper rain gear The Jacket weighs 6.35 ounces . It has pockets and a hood and a zip front. It’s cheap; cost twenty dollars for the jacket and pants. A pair of rains pants is nice to have for when you are in town, washing your clothes. Drop Stoppers rain pants weigh 4.30 ounces. The pants could be improved if they had elastic cuffs and a drawstring waist. The way they are they just drag in the mud. But, like I said, they are seldom worn for hiking. Frogg Toggs are slightly heavier, a lot better looking and cost more. The pants have a drawstring waist, elastic cuffs and side zips on them. Update: My Drop Stopers started to disintegrate after about 1500 miles. They also are not very warm.

Pack liner I always line my pack with a plastic bag. A clear one or a white one are the best choices since a black garbage bag will make it hard to hard to find your gear. Even if it isn’t raining at least have your sleeping bag always in the plastic bag in case you fall in a creek or something. The pack liner can be used as a vapor barrier, inside your sleeping bag, if it gets really cold. Again, don’t buy the really heavy trash bags, they can weigh over 5 ounces a piece.

A Vagabond’s guide to kitchenware and dishwashing.

cabin-092.jpg

Whether you are on the road, trail or home this is a simple system for cooking and cleaning that will save you time and water:

Cook dinner in pot
Eat heartily, out of the pot, with big spoon.
Lick spoon clean
Scrape out pot with spatula. Licking off the spatula as you go.
Fill pot with water
Heat
Pour hot water into Nalgene bottle and add instant coffee, hot chocolate, or tea.
Drink up.

Now your pot is clean and you didn’t have to waste any water or time to clean it.
I have gone 6 months without ever washing my pot. . Total mess kit weighs 6.80 ounces (193 grams)

Pot I have the MSR Titan Kettle. It weighs 3 oz (85 grams) without the lid. This pot cost a lot. You can find a small aluminum pot in discount stores that will be just as light for 3-4 dollars. Don’t look for the pot in the pot section, look for it in the section that has cheese graters and lemon juicers. I found a pot there that holds a liter of water, weighs 3.5 ounces and has a handle. It was called a chocolate melting pot, I think. For more pot options see this helpful page on pots: Zen Stoves- pot page.

Foil lid– Weighs .10 (2 grams) Makes a lighter weight lid then the one the pot came with. It can also be used as a pot holder to grab the hot handles with. Also handy to have if you need to funnel a seep into your water bottle. A piece of foil probably has hundreds of uses.

Spoon. My favorite spoon was a metal Chinese spoon that I got in Thailand, but it disappeared and I can’t find another in the US. Right now I’m using a polycarbonate spoon, it weighs .35 ounce(9 grams).

Bottle. The 16 oz nalgene wide mouth loop-top -polyethylene water bottle weighs 2.5 ounces (70 grams). The Nalgene bottle of course is also useful for carrying water, dipping cup for shallow water sources, a teapot, and a hot water bottle. I have kept warm on many cold nights with a nalgene bottle filled with hot water in my sleeping bag. It has never leaked. Eventually the Nalgene bottle gets pretty stained and sort of gross looking. Just fill with water and a little bleach and let it soak for a bit, add the spoon while you are at it. It will be clean in no time. The hard clear Nalgene lexan bottle doesn’t seem to stain, as badly, but it weighs an ounce more.

Spatula head. I find the smallest most flexible spatula I can, and take just the head off of it.  Here is one that also has a scraper on one side of  it.

P-38 can opener. Weighs .30 ounces (9 grams) Tie a piece of flagging tape through the hole so that it is not so easily lost.

Knife– weighs .75 ounce (21 grams) I pack the Swiss Army Classic Pocket Knife. Again, tie a piece of flagging tape through the eye so you don’t lose it. Besides a knife it also sports a pair of scissors- that are strong enough to cut my toe nails, a tweezers, tooth pick, file and screwdriver.

Mess kit:

Pot 3 oz (85 grams)

spoon .35 oz (9 grams)

piece of foil for lid .10 (2 grams)

Spatula head .25 (6 grams)

Nalgene 16 oz bottle 2.5 oz (71 grams)

Knife .75 (21 grams)

Total weight: 6.80 oz (192 grams)