Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Backpack Minutia

Gossamer Gear Murmur

Let's talk about the lightweight gear I'm looking into, starting with backpacks.  Experts may agree the backpack is the last piece you should purchase, but to me it must be at least considered up front.  As in how many ounces/pounds you are considering carrying, how small your gear packs down (volume), and the weight of your total gear on a 5-day hike (greatest amount of food and gear).  I do plan some long hikes eventually, maybe even the Appalachian Trail.  So I will need some serious carrying capacity and good weight transfer to my hips in order to manage the loads.
My last backpack and tent were from Alps Mountaineering and it was the kit I used for weekend BSA camping trips.  I first used it in Virginia at summer camp when we took the boys on an overnight trip.  It rained all night and the tent was snug and warm.  Everyone else slept under a tarp.  The backpack needed load adjuster straps, but it held the tent, stove and overnight gear OK.
I have read that 5 days is the average time for resupply of food on a long trip like the AT, and prepared food for a weeks backpacking will weigh about 13-15 pounds.  Add 2.2 pounds for each liter of water (4.4 for my two liters), iso-propane fuel at about 1 pound and that's at least 21 pounds of variable weight - variable because you eat the food each day and use the fuel and your pack gets lighter because of that.  Water doesn't really count because you will fill that back up again and may need to carry more daily.
So here is my scale-less estimate of "other" weight...
Now we have a sleeping quilt at about 1 and one quarter pound plus one pound and one quarter of sleeping pad for 2.5 lbs.
Then add the tent at, say 3 pounds - the single person Alps Mountaineering tent I use now will have to fit until the time is right to replace it.
Cooking gear weighs little at 4.2 oz for the cooking pot, under an ounce for the spoon, 1.2 oz for my cup and guessing at the iso-propane stove for 1 pound and a half for all cooking (fuel is calculated already with the consumables).
Clothes (3 days), rain wear, first aid, headlamp and all personal items are about 4 pounds.
That gets me to 11 pounds (my base weight) into the lightweight range before adding the 21 pounds of food, fuel and water, or about 32+ pounds for capacity.  No wonder you need a scale...
Gorilla pack from Gossamer Gear
ULA Circuit pack
My first wish was for a Gossamer Gear Murmur pack but the carrying capacity is at 15 pounds, total.  That won't even hold my food for the week.
So we move up to a Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack with a capacity of 30-35 pounds.  Link  A much more featured pack and with a curved stay and hip belt with pockets, even better for the long haul.  I am hoping that will carry empty (with no food) just fine.
Also as an option, the ULA Circuit or CDT are very good bags with similar features and carrying capacity, the CDT a little less than the Circuit.  Check them here at  They are very close if you compare the specs but the ULA Circuit has more features like water bottle holders on the straps, thumb loops and an internal zipper pocket.
There have been some good reviews about the 2012 Gorilla pack at and  ULA's website has reviews on the Circuit also.  From what these fine folks are saying, I cannot go wrong with either pack.  Decisions, decisions.  Minutia.
We will continue looking at gear items over the next few weeks with a hike or two thrown in for balance.
Please share what gear you use in the comments section.  I can use all the help I can get : )

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Seminole State Forest, North Entrance

Zoomed shot of small alligator
The starting gate at the north end of Seminole State forest is not as developed as the south gate, but it works very well.  You park and pay the iron ranger, then go south through the gate and to the left from the road.
Immediately you drop into woods with big oak trees and lots of thick underbrush.  The trail is Florida Trail Nice, very soft and mostly wide.  After turning left you pass directly beside a large and deep sinkhole.  When the trail turns right you pass a dry lake bed on your left and an open area on your right.  There are several places for a tent if you needed to camp.  After the clearing is a bench overlooking a lake.  There is a children's camp across the lake with boats and dock.
Continuing along, the path is straight until you come to the dirt road.  Following the road to the left takes you to an intersection where you turn right.  A sign there shows another Florida Trail campground nearby, and all the trails and campsites in the forest.  Drop down the hill and into the shade for a cool(er) walk.  There is water down here and alligators.  A little one was watching me pass by.  After the water you climb up a ridge and follow the trail to the left alongside the hill for a ways.
The trail passes above Shark Tooth Spring, then joins the path to the camp site.  If you turn left here and follow the trail a little bit you will come to a small bridge over water.  The spring is just up from here and under the hill.  In the sand under water are hundreds (maybe thousands) of tiny prehistoric shark's teeth.  With the Boy Scouts a few years ago, we found several, some a 1/4" long.  Most were half that size.  They have been coming out of the hole in the hill for years.  This stream runs into Blackwater Creek.
Campsite sign
There is a picnic table at the campsite and lots of open area.  It is right next to the road but a good place to camp if you are here late in the day.  The sign was cool (but filter your water)!
From here you cross the road to the trail and follow along the road.  When it drops you back onto the road, cross over and pickup the trail along the other side.  A few years ago this was under water but with this year's ultimate dryness, there was no water.  I was enjoying the solitude when I spooked a deer.  Then I spooked a bear.  The deer ran towards me which was a little scary.  He veered off, stopped and looked back at me.  The bear was just gone.  In 10 seconds he had moved yards away from me and into the woods at a 45 degree angle.  I could still hear him crashing through the woods on the same trajectory.  Away was good.  He had thick black hair and was as big as me.
After the bear sounds quit, I followed along the trail a little bit slower.  I did come to a blind by a clearing which was quite nice.  You could sit here and watch wildlife if you had a chair.  The trail finally dumps you out on the road again, right by a sign and right where you turn left to follow the road to get to Blackwater Creek.  That was where I stopped for a snack the last time with my fiend Walt.
When I got to the picnic tables at the creek I had been walking about 90 minutes, same as the amount of time it took to hike from the south the last time.  One of these days I'll drop a car at one end and walk with a friend across the whole thing at once.  In the winter I'll walk across it all and back when it is cooler.  That will take all day, and maybe I will camp out.  That's nice to dream about when it is 90+ degrees and just the first week of May.  That's hiking in Florida!
A quick snack and a turn around back to the car.  No bears or deer this time, but there was a much larger alligator snoozing along the road in the dark trees by the water.  He was far away and not a problem.  Maybe he ate the little one.
A deer is looking at me in here somewhere...
To get here, go east on I-4 from Orlando to state road 44.  Exit and go west through Deland (check out the cool old homes) and cross the river.  The road to Seminole State Forest is marked with a sign and is a left turn from SR 44 in Cassia.  If hungry there are many places to eat along the river and in downtown Deland.

Seminole State Forest, South Entrance

Being a Florida-based outdoors-person/backpacker can make it difficult to create interesting mountain-hiking stories.  The need to exit the state just to hike in mountains is the worst part.  Complaining aside, there are many wonderful areas around the state where the outdoors is just so awfully beautiful.  When I do get out, it is usually for a morning walk along an urban rail trail, or a half-day hike/bike ride in the great flat outdoors.
This is my half-day trip in mid-April and it is local.  I just headed East on I-4 from Orlando, then west at Sanford on Highway 46 and turned right on the first road past the Wekiva River bridge to get to the Seminole State Forest.  Nice and close.
I had been here as a Boy Scout leader with our troop twice, backpacking in from the West and leaving at the North entrance on Highway 44.  We had camped at a large group campsite with 20+ boys each time and enjoyed the trails in area, worked on merit badges and rank advancement.  If you are interested in group camping here, call the Ranger's office.
Today, I am day-hiking with Walt, a hiker-bicycler friend.  We met at the highway 46 entrance near Sanford.  After paying the "Iron Ranger" our $2 to park, we looked at the lake a few minutes, then started on the Florida Trail at the entrance just behind us.  The walk started quite pleasant on a soft trail under the pines and oaks and we made good progress.  At the first left-hand turn of the trail we saw two Woodpeckers in the trees.  We watched them a few minutes, enjoying how the birds seemed to "play" around the trees.  You could see their nest hollowed out of one tree if you walked far enough around.
Just after this the trail crossed a small stream on a bridge and turned uphill.  The ground cover was lighter here than the first half mile.  We soon came to the shelter.  This is just a plain and open shelter with a fire ring and table out front.  The shelter has an open front and there is no water or facilities nearby.  The land is open and grassy here with lots of room for tents.  This shelter is for the Florida Trail hikers use.
Continuing on we realized the tree cover was dropping and now at about 5 feet high and thinning.  It looked like a fire had been here some time ago.  Well, a few minutes later, we were in the open.  And I mean the "Open".  You could see a long way. This is just a few miles away from Interstate 4, Sanford, Deltona and Orlando Florida and yet it seemed way, way away from anything.  You couldn't hear a car!  This was nice.  Occasionally an airplane buzzed aloft, but that was it!  This was also the scenic Florida Trail and is one of the great secrets of hikers in the state.
Of course it was hot and clear.  I kept my long sleeve shirt on and started sweating in the sun.  We kept to the trail and crossed a few sand roads.  We are in the land of Scrub Jays and watched them flit in and out of the bushes.  Some shrub was close, but the trail crews had done a fine job in keeping the rest of the trail clear.  After a while we crossed the park road and went into a little shade (thanks woods).  But then we came out of that, turned left and went back onto the dirt road, and followed the road North.  The road was dusty and hot with some shade.  We followed the road down to the cement bridge with no guardrails and crossed Blackwater Creek.
We sat at the picnic table there and ate a snack in the shade.  Blackwater Creek drains to the Wekiva River and would make a nice kayak/canoe trip.  The weather in the shade was bearable, alligators napped in the shade along the banks.  The creek made a bend here and a man was fishing.  You could see fish in the water, but he hadn't caught anything and was getting back on his bicycle to ride home.
My hiking partner Walt was about two weeks out of knee surgery and said he couldn't go any farther, except to go back to the parking lot.  I brewed a cup of tea-bag coffee on my Esbit stove and enjoyed it while watching the water.  We discussed a real lunch and headed back along the road to save time (and knees).  We saw many small birds.  Walt could tell you the names of them.
We didn't see anyone, except the ranger driving by.  I had expected to see hikers but did not on this trip.  We got back to the cars without any issues and drove to eat near the mall nearby.  We had hiked about 8 miles (not bad for Walt's surgically-altered knees) and were more than halfway across the forest at the creek.  In another post I'll talk about hiking from the other side to Blackwater creek.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Starting Out

So I hike, ride bicycles, canoe, kayak and spend time outdoors.  Sometimes I fish, but I really prefer just being outdoors or on the water.  I am an Eagle Scout, and an ex-BSA trained leader.
1994 was my last backpacking trip in Colorado during the 13 years we lived there.  I had backpacked in the east since I was a Boy Scout, usually on a 2-3 day trip up some mountain.  My pack weight was 50+ lbs, my leather boots shredded my feet and with injuries, I just couldn't carry the weight anymore.  At the time, I changed to using a small hydration pack, hiking poles and lighter boots for day trips but my feet were still shredded.  That's when I discovered how well trail running shoes handled hiking.
I came across lightweight backpacking again a few years ago at a new job when I met an employee who was really into it.  Robert brought his lightweight pack and stove in to work to show me what he used.  He talked about hiking with 8 lbs of gear on his back all over Florida.  After our talks I began adding some lighter-weight equipment to my pile of gear.  After a few semi-lightweight backpack trips with Boy Scouts recently  (mixed with my old gear while in my son's troop) I started really reading up on it.
Gossamer Gear was my first stop.  They list several bloggers on their site who I still read today.  Erik the Black was another lightweight poster I read online.  His site includes packing lists and lots of food and equipment ideas.  I have been reading websites online for over a year now and have begun purchasing equipment to carry me outdoors, only lighter.
Snow Peak Titanium Stove - 4.8 oz
The first thing I did was I sold all of my old and heavy camping gear at garage sales.  I bought a small day pack and at Christmas my wife gave me a titanium cooking pot (nice!).  Since then I picked up an Esbit stove and am slowly purchasing lightweight gear.  Currently I only day hike and bicycle (sold my canoe, sleeping bags and backpacks) so I have quite a lot of gear to go before I can camp out again, perhaps this fall.  I have made up my mind on purchasing the following lightweight gear:
Sleeping -35 degree quilt and Therm-a-Rest Z-Pad (saves 2.5 lbs)
Backpack -Gossamer Gear Murmur (saves 2.5 lbs)
Stove -Trail Designs Ti-Tri ULC - Alcohol, Esbit and Wood (saves about a pound)
Tent - Gossamer Gear The One or Tarptent Contrail (saves 2 to 1.5 lbs)
I also will buy an ounce/gram scale in the next few weeks to check what I buy and plan to keep.  My goal in purchasing items is to (at least) cut the weight in half.  There are still a few hiking accessories I have not made up my mind about.
I do own an iso-propane stove, snowshoe/hiking poles, a 3lb 1-person tent, a 4lb 2-person tent and a very small headlamp (for nightly bathroom trips) and will trade up when the time and deal is right.
My goal is to travel with 10-15 lbs of gear on my back.  Please join me in my discovery.
Here's some links to check out if you are interested: