Friday, May 31, 2013

My First Year Blogging

May 26 was the day in 2012 that I first published a post called "Starting Out" on  In this first year, I have learned much about blogging and some about hiking, have hiked a lot of local trails and have successfully backpacked as an ultralight backpacker for the first time.
What a year!  My monthly readers are now averaging about 2400, and with the total people looking at my blog over the year equaling 15,602.  I have worldwide readers logging in from Poland, Austria, Germany and the UK too.  Thank you so much!
Now maybe all those page views actually were not people.  I have to assume MOST of those numbers are people, and I'm very thankful for the audience.  It has been very rewarding to see these numbers increase, but I do understand that I will need to increase my current weekly page views by thirty times or more to have what is considered a "successful blog".
I also write a couple other bi-monthly blogs, one about Bicycling over 50 and another about Family Micro-Gardening.  And I read several blogs about backpacking, bicycling and the outdoors, plus just about anything I can get my hands on - I love to read!.
I'm also thankful to bloggers like Phillip Werner at Hiking-Blogs Directory.  Phillip created this site to show ultralight backpacking blog pages and it sets us up on a level playing field.  Please drop by and vote for my site, it will increase my site rankings and move me closer to the top of the list.  Also thanks to Rebecca Garlock and Joe Wolf at the Outdoor Blogger Network for accepting my posts.  Being part of a larger community is great and my readership increased significantly with both sites.
I did recently setup my site for an RSS feed and am working on making it actually function.
Thanks also to the Florida Trail Association Central Florida Chapter and especially to Rachel and Lou for their tireless work and trail maintenance, and for allowing me to post and write about the group on my blog.
Thanks to local outdoors author Sandra Friend with FL Hikes for offering me an opportunity to assist her by transposing her hike recordings.   Sandra then took them and finished the text for publishing.  It was neat being in her "ear" while she walked the trails, learning technically how she documents her work and gets it to print for you to read.  She also published a blog of mine on her web site, which brought me some readers.  I am forever in her debt!
Many thanks to Ben at the Sierra Club Tampa Bay Group for allowing me to join their backpacking trip, and for leading such a successful backpacking trip.  I'm looking forward to joining the Central Florida Sierra Club group over the summer and traveling with Ben and crew on West Florida backpacking trips next fall.
An even bigger thanks to my wife for allowing me more than my fair share of time on the family computer this past year to write these blogs, and for proofreading and offering suggestions to improve my writing.  We've also hiked several of the trails together that you have read about and even more that you haven't.
Just like last year, I will slow down writing my posts during the hot Florida summer heat, picking up again when the weather cools a bit this coming fall.  It is like the seasons are reversed down here, the summer being so very hot that you cannot get out and enjoy the outdoors.  When the temperatures here reach the upper 90's you get burned just getting into your car.  Where up north, it is the winter season when you can't get out because it is too cold.  Winter is typically very mild down here, and that's when I'll be backpacking, bicycling, kayaking, getting out and writing about it.
And the most thanks go to you for reading my blog.  I really appreciate it.  And thank you for a great first year blogging!

Friday, May 24, 2013

REI Flash 18 Water Bladder Holder MYOG

For my REI Flash 18 daypack, the water bladder pocket does not have a holder for a bladder at the top of the pack.  Usually my Platypus 2 litre bladder works just fine, but last week the top somehow folded over, cutting off my water supply before it was empty.  When I opened the pack to see what the problem was I was surprised to find the water bladder had folded over, until I noticed how empty the bag was.  For ultralight day hiking and bicycling I will usually carry a nearly-empty pack, the water being the most important item in the pack.
REI Flash 18 daypack and parts
While shopping recently, there was a clothing hook (for socks?) laying on the floor as trash.  I picked it up and pocketed it, thinking of what I could use it for.  Well, here it is!
Poking the hole
I poked a hole into the center of a seam along the inside pack top using a hammer and a small screwdriver with a sharp point. This seam made it possible to poke a hole through while staying totally inside of the pack.  Then I threaded a small zip tie with the clothing hook through the hole and cut off the excess of the zip tie with wire cutters.  The blue foam is a piece cut from my old sleeping pad, to give the pack support and shape, and to pad my back from whatever I may be carrying.
Attaching the hook with a zip tie
When installing the Platypus, it was easy to loop the hook through the white clamp top of the bladder.  It held the top of the bladder without an issue and was small enough to not be in the way when loading the pack with anything else.  Once the pack is placed on my back, it straightens out the bladder and holds it upright, preventing it from folding over.  And it doesn't weigh anything on my scale.

A simple MYOG, a simple fix, my water problems are solved!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Simple Mac-n-cheese Dinner Review

Kraft Mac-n-Cheese
For my simple and easy camping dinner on the Green Swamp camping trip, I placed a full box of Kraft Macaroni And Cheese and the full flavor packet into a quart-sized regular zip lock bag (was out of freezer bags).  The idea was to make cooking my dinner very simple by just boiling 2 cups of water on my Esbit stove.  To this bag I added 1.5 cups of boiling water and placed the ziplock bag inside my cooking cozy, clipping the top of the cozy closed with a small spring-clip.  After 20 minutes of cozy cooking, the mac-n-cheese noodles were cooked through.  I drained off the excess water and added a drained 3 ounce can of chicken breast.  Once stirred, I enjoyed the whole bag.  My drink was hot tea, made from the other half cup of water I boiled earlier.  Cleanup was washing my spoon and cup and closing my zip lock bag, placing it inside a trash zip lock inside the Ops Sac bag I used to transport my food.  Desert was a chocolate-mint Cliff Bar, yum!
Apparently the simplicity of my meal drew lots of questions from the group.  A few of the Sierra Club members we were camping with seemed impressed that I had just opened a full box of mac-n-cheese and dumped in a can of chicken for a scrumptious, and quite filling dinner.
However, I could have eaten a lot less food that night.  To make a better portioned meal, I would cut the mac-n-cheese noodles in half when packing it and still use one and a half cups of water to heat it in the cozy.  Then I would drain the noodles,  and add the flavoring mix afterwards.  Cutting the flavor packet in half shouldn't be too difficult.  I would also use a quart-sized freezer bag to cook in, because they seem to hold up better to the heat of boiling water.  Adding a quarter cup of dried vegetables to the mac-n-cheese mix would make it a much more nutritious meal, and this could be done before the water is added.  I'll try this out at home.  Once I get the details worked out, I'll publish the recipe.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Granite Gear Air Zip Sack Review

Granite Gear Air Zipsack, xx small to medium L to R.
To carry my food, cooking gear and other "smellable" items on backpacking trips, I use a medium-sized Granite Gear Air Zipsack with a LokSac Opsac zipper bag inside it.  The Air Zipsack is generally water proof and can be easily hung as a bear bag overnight.  The top zipper opening of the bag zipper makes access easy and prevents smaller items from spilling everywhere.  I use the medium size in blue (16 litres).  My food for a weekend backpacking trip plus my cook kit and health items (pretty much anything with an odor) easily fit inside both of these bags with a lot of room to spare.  These are very useful items to the ultralight backpacker, reducing extra bags and weight, increasing organization and providing odor safety so critters won't be chewing through your backpack in search of your goodies.  As a bonus, Granite Gear sells each Air Zipsack inside of a small zippered flat bag.  That flat zippered bag was perfect for my personal health kit and it contains a full-size toothbrush, micro toothpaste tube plus all my other overnight trip health items.

Locsac Opsac
The Loksac zipper bag I use inside the Air Zipsack prevents odors from leaking out of the food and other supplies inside, and they are also water proof.  I plan to add a few smaller sizes of these bags for water proofing individual items inside my backpack top pocket like my cell phone and wallet.
I originally purchased the medium-size Air Zipsack based on easily carrying a 5-6 day supply of food and snacks on longer backpacking trips.  It is a bit too large for the one or two overnight backpacking trips I'm currently taking, so for future trips on I plan on purchasing an extra-extra small sized Air Zipsack (5 litres) to use for carrying food and "smellables" plus my utensils.  My cooking pot is used to only boil water and won't need to be added to the food bag nightly for bear hanging.  My food will still be bear bag friendly and it will reduce my weight a little bit and make packing and unpacking my pack a little easier.  Inside the Air Zipsack I will still use a smaller odor-proof Opsac.  
I have read online about a few horror stories where Opsac bags failed during an outing and food got eaten by critters, so I plan to carry a spare Opsac for redundancy during future backpacking trips.  Critters in Florida include bears, raccoons, squirrels, mice and ants.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Thermarest Alpine Sleeping Blanket Review

Thermarest Alpine Blanket
I slept wonderfully under my new Thermarest Alpine blanket during my Green Swamp backpacking trip!  The overnight air was 48 degrees around 5:00 AM that morning, and I never got cold during the night.  I wasn't too hot either.  I cannot say that of camping before, I was always too hot or cold, off and on all night when sleeping out.  In my case this was because the old sleeping bag I used had lost its loft.
I have always liked down comforters, having slept under one during the winters up north when I was young.  I spent several years sleeping deep in a feather bed with tons of blankets piled on top.  The down comforter was my favorite cover because there was no weight to it, unlike the heavy wool blankets of which we had too many.
What makes this Thermarest down blanket (I prefer to call it a quilt) so comfortable are the draft tubes sewn along the sides and the foot box design and its light weight.  The foot box is created by snapping the quilt together to make a pocket at the bottom that wraps underneath you while sticking your feet inside.  Your feet just stay there warm all night, they don't wander out from under the covers at all.  There are 2 snaps to really close in around your feet and lower legs.  The draft tubes along the sides of the quilt stop drafts of cold air from coming in where the quilt may get pulled back along a side as you roll around or turn over at night, something I do a lot of.  This is a large model, the regular sized measurements seemed too narrow for me, so with an extra 4 inches width and one additional ounce of fill, it seem to be just right for me, at the same price.  The 700-fill goose down was more than enough quality feathers to keep me very warm while staying lightweight.  I slept that night wearing my REI lightweight long underwear, smart wool socks and a knit cap.
Sleeping on top of my older 48 inch long RidgeRest Sleeping Pad and with my backpack tucked under my legs, I never felt the first breeze of cold air all night long.  That is with one tent door open for fresh air, as there was no wind or rain that night, just lots of thin, high clouds passing above.
I like the look of the quilt with the deep blue color and the dark gray underside.  I didn't need to use any of the straps Thermarest offers to attach around the sleeping pad.  I can see where a small sheet on the sleeping pad could be nice in warmer weather and I may investigate that at some time.  This quilt is so very light, it doesn't interfere with sleeping at all, and it packs light too, at just 24.1 ounces or 1 pound 8 ounces on my scale, a few ounces lighter than advertised.
However, for sleep comfort, my older RidgeRest pad was just too thin.  After the first 5 hours of sleep that night, whenever I rolled onto my side I woke up from a pain in my hip, a pain I didn't have anymore once I got up.  I had purchased a Z Lite SOL mattress that I did not get to use, thinking the older sleeping pad would work just fine and because it would be more convenient to carry.  Oh well, I should have taken the Z Lite SOL pad with me and will do so from now on, packed inside my backpack.  It is thicker than the older RidgeRest pad and I have slept very comfortably on one recently.   When it gets cold out, the shiny side of the Z Lite SOL should reflect a few degrees of my own heat right back to me.
I had used many different sleeping pads and air mattresses in the past, any many worked very well.  I wanted to get away from the air-filled mattresses though because they eventually fail and I don't want to mess with repair kits anymore.  That is unless the Z Lite just doesn't pad my body enough for a full nights sleep.
For the Thermarest quilt, it is the best of anything I have ever used for cover when sleeping outdoors.  It was comfortable and felt regular, just like I was sleeping in a bed at home.  For backpacking, I keep it waterproofed inside my pack in a trash compactor bag, and for sleeping, my tent will keep me dry in foul weather.  I am very pleased with my purchase and highly recommend it to backpackers looking to replace their older sleeping bags with something more comfortable and lighter.