I had 25 ounces at a rolling boil in about four minutes.
gear blog

Soto Amicus review

A whole lotta power and stability in a tiny stove.
A whole lotta power and stability in a tiny stove.

Amicus means friend in Latin, and I have a feeling this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Soto Amicus is a canister stove with built-in lighter (optional) It has superior features are far more expensive stoves including four rock solid folding pot stand supports and a recessed burner head that performs decently even in reasonably windy conditions, makes this sub-three ounce stove my first choice for the Te Araroa.

The unique recessed burner head provides superior performance when the wind kicks up and you’re hungry.
The unique recessed burner head provides superior performance when the wind kicks up and you’re hungry.

I have been vacillating between using my home made alcohol ‘cat stove’ and the very easy to manage, all-in-one Jetboil. But with a keen eye on ounces, I wanted to cut weight and the Jetboil rebuild seemed a bit risky.

I came upon the Sotos on Massdrop. For under $30 I felt it was worth a try and I am impressed with the quality of the craftsmanship. It feels solid with each arm locking into place with a satisfying and tight click. The cook surface is wider than most and will support wider pots.

The Soto Amicus camp stove has a reasonably fast boil time.
The Soto Amicus camp stove has a reasonably fast boil time.

While the piezo lighter adds a few ounces, it is built to last running through the stove’s center, protecting it from impact and adding to its reliability, though I will take a mini lighter just in case.

I did a quick test with 25 ounces of water at a rolling boil in four minutes at 45 degrees outside and at sea level.

The stove fits inside my Snow Peak titanium pot along with enough fuel for six days.
The stove fits inside my Snow Peak titanium pot along with enough fuel for six days.

I then placed a fan directly facing my wee stove and the cook time was noticeably slower – about fifteen minutes! – but the flame never went out fighting against the artificial breeze.

Warning!

It is never recommended that a backpacker use a windscreen due to the efficient and focused flame. You don’t want to create a ticking bomb. Rather look for a natural wind break and don’t bring your fan on the trip!

Specs at a Glance

  • Size: 1 1/2 inches x 3
  • Weight: 2.8 ounces
  • Fuel: canister
  • Energy rating: 2600 kcal/h
  • Ignitor: Piezo
  • Included: a sturdy stuff sack

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Soto Amicus

I had 25 ounces at a rolling boil in about four minutes.
I had 25 ounces at a rolling boil in about four minutes.
Olive Oyl, my Granite Gear pack that carried my home, my life, everything I needed on the Te Araroa.
Gear

gear list for the Te Araroa

Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.

Unknown

The Blissful Hiker does it: packed weight under 15 pounds!

Her packed weight (weight minus water, food and fuel which is called variable weight) for five months on the Te Araroa is under 15 pounds and she’s still taking professional audio gear. Praise the ultralight gods, and all my engineering pals at Minnesota Public Radio.

I want to give a big thank you to Granite Gear, La Sportiva, Tarptent, Leki, Balega, SawyerWestern Mountaineering and Midwest Mountaineering for supporting me. I’m grateful to advocate for these fabulous companies while I give their gear a major league workout on the trail.

And also a huge thank you to John Reamer and Associates for supporting the making of my audio narratives.


I love my work as a classical music radio host, but I wanted to see what a long distance thru-hike would do to my body, mind and spirit so asked for a leave.
audio narrative

TA audio narrative: who is this “blissful hiker” you speak of?

You have to work from your instinct and feeling and take those risks and be fearless.

Anna Wintour 

I’m a classical music DJ and long-distance backpacker trying to have it all – or at least a taste of it “all” – in this life.

Come along on my journey!

With a month to go, the mind, body and soul are already partly on the trail.
With a month to go, the mind, body and soul are already partly on the trail.
Minnesota Public Radio host swept into the inevitability of a five-month hike in New Zealand.
Thank you to John Reamer and Associates for their generous support of my audio narrative project.
CDT PREP

ten reasons to add hot yoga to your thru-hike prep

The very heart of yoga practice is ‘abyhasa’ – steady effort in the direction you want to go.

Sally Kempton
In barely-there wear preparing for ninety minutes of intense sweaty work in 108 degrees.
In barely-there wear preparing for ninety minutes of intense sweaty work in 108 degrees.

As I prepare for the Continental Divide Trail with brand new titanium hips, I am revisiting this post on the benefits of yoga and hot yoga in particular. I don’t do the full poses – or even get close! – but I have been assured my teachers that even doing the part of the pose is incredibly beneficial. You can also listen to this week’s Blissful Hiker podcast for more about what I do to get in shape for a 4 1/2 month thru-hike. ~Blissful

A little over a year ago, I started practicing traditional Bikram Hot Yoga. Yes, he doesn’t have quite the reputation you’d want to follow these days with bankruptcies, lawsuits and sexual misconduct, but his strenuous and intense series of twenty-six hatha yoga poses has been one of the most effective workouts for me, proving both energizing and therapeutic.

Does yoga cure all ailments? Probably not, but I feel so good that I believe yoga is a crucial addition to my life as a long distance backpacker.

Here are ten reasons why you should add Hot Yoga to your thru-hike prep.

1. You will learn to manage heat.

Granted, hypothermia is a real danger in any outdoor activity, particularly when you backpack and are fully responsible for your shelter. But hyper-thermia can also be a significant risk, especially if hiking in the desert, beach or other shade-less region. Hot Yoga is typically practiced in conditions far more intense than any you’d encounter on a hike with the room set around 105-108 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity. Just entering that heat can make you feel overwhelmed, like something is pressing on your lungs.

To survive a 90-minute class – and a thru-hike – you’ll want to consider loose-fitting clothing to let the sweat flow. You should also drink a lot of water, not in gulps, but in many mini-sips, and, perhaps most importantly, come to class already well hydrated. The yoga poses are difficult and teach you to push hard while still keeping the heart rate – and breath – under control.

2. You will discover how to stay focused when feeling unfocused.

Hot Yoga is a tough program that claims to work every muscle, bone, joint, ligament, tendon, gland and organ in the body. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the halfmoon pose, for example, is particularly difficult, but trying to bring the mind to holding it correctly with the arms straight at the ears, knees locked and the body in one line while the torso gently folds over your hips requires attention to detail.

With the encouragement of a superb teacher, you are continually asked to bring the mind to each aspect of the pose from wherever you are that day. A long hike over many days can also catch us in a variety of moods and levels of commitment. If we learn to stay focused on one step at a time, we can string together all the steps to walk a trail.

Which brings me to my next point…

3. You will learn how to see something through.

Hot Yoga is designed to keep you from pushing beyond what you are capable of doing, because it’s so hot. At the very least, you’ll need to leave the room to cool off or simply sit down to catch your breath. At the worst, you might pass out from being overheated, though more likely you’ll simply back off. What you begin to find in your practice is the tools to see it through.

A friend of mine just hiked 100 miles of the Colorado Trail. She says on the first days, she hadn’t quite figured out her rhythm. It was very hot and exposed and she arrived at her campsite completely wrecked and uncertain she’d finish the hike. So she adjusted her speed, and her expectations. It wasn’t so much that she completely rerouted or changed her itinerary, but rather that she tuned into her body in a different way, much like is required in every yoga practice to see it through the full 90 minutes.

4. You will improve your balance.

Classic hot yoga runs through a series of twenty-six poses that include demanding balance ones like eagle, standing head-to-knee, standing bow, and balancing stick. Each one is built on a premise of locked knees with the hips in line. To do them well, and to hold them for a full minute, you must bring each side of your body into balance while not overcorrecting or over-muscling. Yes, concentration plays a role, but so does discovering the body working optimally.

This translates directly into thru-hiking when walking a ridge, crossing a river, or traveling down a steep slope. Injuries usually happen when we roll our ankles or lose control and fall. A yogi who can hold what is aptly named awkward pose – sitting back in an invisible chair with the thighs at right angles and the feet on tiptoes while the arms are locked out straight in front of them – will have an edge on any stumbly parts of the trail.

5. You will also improve your core strength.

All of that balancing works the legs, but also tightens the core. For sure, you will be a buff hiker, but what really prepares you for the stress of thru-hiking is the floor series. These are all inversions from a prone position on your stomach. They are evil, sadistically working muscles you never knew you had, especially in your back. You will hold for what seems an eternity four poses, and then, repeat them. Each increases in difficulty too; cobra, locust, full locust, and bow pose.

And if that’s not enough of a work out, between each subsequent floor pose is a full sit-up from the corpse pose. Why is core strength so important to hiking? You are using the strongest part of your body to stay upright and move. Even if you’re an ultra-light backpacker, you carry some weight on your back and you don’t want to stress the legs compensating for a weak core.

Read next – training is life, life training

Tree Pose – Tadasana - improves posture and balance, increases flexibility in the ankles and knees as well as the hip joints. It also looks cool.
Tree Pose – Tadasana – improves posture and balance, increases flexibility in the ankles and knees as well as the hip joints. It also looks cool.

6. You will stretch and loosen tight muscles.

About how far into a hike are you unable to squat anymore? For me, it’s usually day two when I go off to pee and find I need to hold onto something – or someone – for balance or I’ll topple over. Why? Because my quads have tightened up to the point they won’t bend properly. Fixed firm and half tortoise poses begin with the yogi sitting on her heels stretching the quads in half. As you focus on the upper body requirements of these poses, the quads eventually let go of their tension and allow the body to move more deeply.

Hiking is repetitive in its motion and is bound to tighten up parts of your body. The looser you go into the activity, the more likely your body will remember what it feels like to work at its most supple and you will also have tools to loosen things up on the go.

7. You will get the juice flowing to your joints.

After the standing series, hot yogis lay down on the floor in the aptly named corpse pose for two minutes before a very relaxing pose called wind removing. It is very simple to do as you pull your bent knee towards your armpit. It’s done on each side and then all at once, as you attempt to lay the spine out on the floor. I am nowhere near getting mine down, but it’s fun trying.

Wind removing can be done in your tent to massage the muscles and your insides as well. It’s said that it’s good for the gut and digestion. Tree and triangle open the hips and spinal twists have the sensation of squeezing out the bad juju. Hikers can begin to look hunched and gnarled into themselves if they don’t twist the spine and open the hips. I am convinced that yoga has slowed down my arthritis by bringing heat and blood into the joints.

8. You will learn how to be still and notice.

Lately I’ve been annoyed that people are bringing their music to the trails. If you want to be in the outdoors with headphones jammed into your ears, by all means, do it, but please don’t bring speakers that force everyone to listen to music while we’re enjoying the simple pleasure of the wind in the trees and the birds singing or maybe just the silence of nature.

I’m also, by nature, not a record-seeker and prefer to enjoy the beauty of where I am to the speed at which I can get through it. If either of these describes you, you might want to consider the slow pace of hot yoga. You won’t have a phone to look at in class and talking is discouraged.

There’s something of a cloister in yoga that begins to relax the mind to the point that you notice things in a far gentler way. Thru-hiking takes time and is not always blissful, but when you slow down and focus on your breath or the movement of your feet or hips or the swing of your arms, it can take on a more mindful atmosphere.

9. You will begin to breathe with the world.

Classic hot yoga begins with parayma breathing, a super long deep breathing exercise done while standing. Your hands begin under your chin and fan out like wings as you breathe in and then move forward, elbows touching as you breathe out. It tires you all over even as it energizes, your feet and legs locked into place and touching, your shoulders holding your arms as they move in slow motion, your lungs trying to control the timing of your breath, far harder to do on the inhale than exhale.

After ten repetitions, then another ten, you suddenly discover your motions are in unison with everyone else around you, like you’re one giant organism. As a thru-hiker, you want to be connected to your own breathing up steep climbs and after long arduous days, but you also want to find a kind of sympathetic rhythm with those you meet. We all need to learn to “hike our own hike,” but that being said, we also share the trail and want to bring our best selves to it.

10. You will find that yoga is a practice the way a thru-hike is a kind of practice.

Hot Yoga is a practice. I love that word. It’s not a workout, not an event, not something to just tick off your “to-do” list. It’s far more integrated into wherever you are in the moment. When you start a thru-hike, the end is very far off indeed. To think of finishing – even of planning every day – can be overwhelming. You don’t know how your days will go, whether you’ll move faster or slower, how the weather will affect you, if you’ll need a rest or want to move on.

In yoga, you learn to not so much seize the day as let the day unfold. This non-judgmental attitude creates room for surprise and allows you to say yes to what is, rather than pre-determine what success means.

Namaste.

Listen next – Blissful Hiker podcast #53: CDT prep: getting in shape

The twenty six asanas of traditional hot yoga.
The twenty six asanas of traditional hot yoga.
At only three ounces, the Black Diamond Spot is a great little light with lots of functionality, if you can just remember how to turn it on and off.
gear blog

The little light that could

At only three ounces, the Black Diamond Spot is a great little light with lots of functionality, if you can just remember how to turn it on and off.
At only three ounces, the Black Diamond Spot is a great little light with lots of functionality, if you can just remember how to turn it on and off.

Many years ago, my mom, who was a Forensics coach, took me with her to the All-State Finals to cheer on her very best students. There was so much talent that day, but our favorite by far was a kid from a Chicago suburb. He was competing in original comedy and his story revolved around what might happen at an amusement park if you had poorly trained staff. It went something like this:

Here’s how you run this ride, kid. Simply open the door, close the door, spin the room, and drop the floor. Got that? 

OK, boss…let’s see…
Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. I think I’ve got it.
Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor. Hey, this is easy! Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor.
Open the door, close the door, spin the room, drop the floor.
Open the door, close the door, drop the floor….uh-oh.

These lines became a family joke for years, and I share them today because they capture what has turned out to be my complete ineptitude in following fairly simple instructions for my otherwise cool headlamp.

The Spot has two sets of directional lights plus a red light so you don't blind your friends.
The Spot has two sets of directional lights plus a red light so you don’t blind your friends.

I love my light-weight, multi-functional Diamondback Spot headlamp. She is a bit like me, a former model, and at 3 oz and around $40, a steal.

That being said, this past weekend Richard and I were lazying in bed and my mind was on packing and preparing for the Te Araroa and I blurted out my dilemma. No matter how hard I try I to memorize the functionality steps, by the time I’m out in the field, I immediately forget them, fumbling about in the half-light and inevitably ending up with a flashing red light or a dim white beam on the periphery.

Rich was aghast that I was headlamp illiterate, so in hopes of proving to him that it’s not as easy as it sounds, I hopped out of the coziness of our marital nest to grab the headlamp – as well as my laptop so I could share the helpful little Diamond Back video I watched on repeat trying to cram for my next outdoor adventure.

“Does this mean we’re getting up now?” Rich asked in a slightly exasperated voice.

“Not at all! You can just sit right there, and we’ll watch together.”

Even with cute teachers and a porn-film soundtrack, I can’t remember all the different functionality steps of my headlamp.

Thankfully, Black Diamond uses a straight forward searchable title, “How To Use The Black Diamond Spot Headlamp” and in no time, the video was up and running. Why exactly they chose to use a porn-film soundtrack, we’ll never know for sure, but the instructions are admittedly fairly straight forward beginning with power on…

The steamy beat and the perfect youth of our headlamp-models begin their familiar show and I explain to Richard all the reasons I like my headlamp – inexpensive, lightweight, multi-functioning – it can also be shut off to save the battery draining. Though this has not always worked out perfectly for me. If just one piece of gear presses against the on button for a little too long, it can undo the function. I have often opened my pack to find it glowing, the light on high beam and the batteries down to nothing.

Sure, I could simply pop out the batteries as I pack, but it’s just another bit of awkwardness to open the headlamp unless you don’t mind bending your thumbnail backwards. Richard showed me how you have to pull up and not back. And, ta-da, that did the trick! It just popped open – with batteries flying everywhere, lost in our sea of sheets. The batteries don’t lock in place with a satisfying click. No doubt to save weight, they just sort of perch there. So consider yourself warned not to open your light over a canyon or a rushing stream.

Meanwhile, back to the tutorial, the music twanging away as our happy headlamp wearers with perfect teeth and perfect skin smiled effortlessly. They surely were never ones to lose batteries when they opened the headlamp. These are the faces of people who memorized each and every function on their first go.

I hate them.

I found opening the back to replace batteries nearly impossible without a tool, the batteries usually fall out and you have to be careful closing it or it snaps with one side gaping open - sheesh!
I found opening the back to replace batteries nearly impossible without a tool, the batteries usually fall out and you have to be careful closing it or it snaps with one side gaping open – sheesh!

Regardless of my negative attitude, they remain patient as if speaking to a very slow child.

Click once to turn on.

I turn on my light and immediately shine it into Rich’s face. “Turn it off!”

Click again to turn off.

But then things begin to get really tricky. They tell me to turn it off then on so the white light will change from the center (proximity) to the outside (distance) OK, got it. On and off and on. On, off, on. On-off-on…drop the floor…

I feel chuffed at this point. I made something happen! And the next section, too, is a breeze. I’m on cloud nine. Battery consumption is measured by three lights. Green means you’re at full power, yellow is only adequate, and red means you’re running down. And you can even save power by dimming the light, simply hold the button down and the light will slowly dim, hit bottom and blink at you, then begin brightening again.

This is fun!

But soon dark clouds move in as I enter territory meant to confuse this Blissful Hiker. It seems if you want to switch the light to red so you don’t blind your hiking pals, you better pay close attention.

With the power off, hold the switch down for three seconds.

OK, easy enough. And then my lovely headlamp friends tell me just repeat it and the white light pops back on. So hold down the switch three seconds – from off! – and the red light magically comes on.

It works!

But wait, there’s more. It seems the universal sign for an emergency on the trail and to get the attention of passing airplanes or paragliders is a flashing light and this little light of mine has that function too. Instead of holding the button down, you click it three times and you get the strobe light.

But didn’t I just click three times when I was switching from proximity to distance?? I am so confused!

“Just think of Dorothy wanting to get back to Kansas,” Richard says helpfully.

It works, but I’m sure that in the field I’ll likely simply give up, put the light away and go to sleep no matter the time. But I soon find that even that is a challenge.

With power off in the white mode, hold the switch down for 6 seconds.
The light will cycle through red, then the blue indicator light in the battery window will activate.

Makes sense, but maybe it’s because the light has to pass through white to red before the little blue light flashes to tell me all is well that I want to release the button too soon. Stay the course, Alison, don’t let up, don’t go into the light!!

The light goes out.

And all is well.

At this point you’re probably asking, why not just upgrade, Alison? I am sure things are on the upswing in the headlamp arena and I can afford a new light. Call it laziness, call me cheap, call me determined to become the William Tell of headlamp functionality, but I am not giving up on this little light of mine.

Not yet anyway.

I don't really use my headlamp all that much except for tent selfies.
I don’t really use my headlamp all that much except for tent selfies.

Specs at a Glance

  • Lumens :  300
  • Weight With Batteries :  3.1 oz
  • Max Distances :  [High] 80 m; [Low] 16 m
  • Max Burn Time :  [High] 30 H (est.); [Low] 175 H (est.)

Disclosure

alison young is too cheap to buy the up dated Spot but did buy this older model.

My Leki poles keep me upright in 80 mph gusts.
gear blog

Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-tec review

My Lekis go everywhere with me and keep me upright.
My Lekis go everywhere with me and keep me upright.

The Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec is a foldable bomb-proof aluminum trekking pole with an awesome cork handled grip and outstanding adjustability. That is why these trekking poles are my top choice for thru-hiking and multi-day backpacking.

While on the Coast-to-Coast, I met a woman who turned up her nose at the Alicoop – my Tarptent that requires trekking pole support – because she simply never hiked with poles. I stifled a rude response on the lines of, “Well, you must never have really hiked, then,” and simply shrugged my shoulders, knowing she had no idea what she was missing.

I bought my first pair of Lekis – Makalu – after walking the Superior Hiking Trail. Steep, rocky, and slippery, I vowed to never walk a trail again without the option of becoming a four-legged creature. That was twelve years ago, the beginning of a beautiful friendship with Leki.

The Micro Vario trekking poles fold down to 15.5 inches.
The Micro Vario trekking poles fold down to 15.5 inches.

I purchased the Micro-Vario Ti Core-tec because I wanted something that would fold down small and fit in my pack easily. I am simply amazed by the care Leki used in designing these poles, which break down to just over 15 inches, held together by a snazzy plastic coated wire.

It takes a few moments to get the hang of it, but the single locking mechanism is combined with a “push-pin” adjustment that locks all three pieces in place. There’s a wide range of adjustment and the locking mechanism doesn’t require any hardware to tighten, just an easy-to-use dial.

I have always shied away from carbon when it comes to trekking poles after I watched a hiker snap an ultralight pole in a steep rocky section of a recent hike. While the Micro Varios weigh 20 oz – a bit on the heavy side for an ultra-light backpacker – they have proven incredibly durable when I needed to toss them off small cliffs to await my eventual downclimb, put all my weight on them leaping over streams, or when I’ve needed to boulder-hop, crack up scree or plunge overland down a steep gully.

Leki does not skimp on comfort and that is crucial when you're walking 8-10 hours per day.
Leki does not skimp on comfort and that is crucial when you’re walking 8-10 hours per day.

Meanwhile Leki focuses on making their poles some of the most comfortable I have ever tried. The cork-handled grips fit beautifully in the hand and remain inviting even after seemingly endless days. Leki has also updated the straps since my Makalu days with a softer but tough fabric.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: 20 oz.
  • Minimum length: 15.5 in.
  • Shaft material: aluminum

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Micro Vario trekking poles from Leki.

gear blog

Tarptent Notch Li partial solid w/silnylon floor review

The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in her field.
The alicoop (Tarptent Notch Li ) is outstanding in its field.

The Tarptent Notch Li is a fantastic ultra light shelter for the solo thru-hiker looking for simplicity and durability, while not sacrificing comfort. Made of dynamee, the Notch Li is essentially waterproof. It sets up super fast with the use of trekking poles that remain outside the living space. The twin-peaked catenary ridgelines add rigidity in the wind and rain as well as create an enormous living space with two entryways and two vestibules.

Notch Li is my choice for a home away from home.

I bought my first Tarptent when I walked the John Muir Trail in 2012. The single-walled Moment was the envy of all my hiking friends because it set up literally in seconds and was roomy with an enormous vestibule. I have since added an inside layer provided by Tarptent to alleviate condensation, but when I planned to walk on the soggy Coast-to-Coast, I decided to upgrade to something more reliably dry.

Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It's lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.
Dynamee is the strongest fiber in the world. It’s lightweight, waterproof and feels like a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but you need to roll it rather than stuff it into your pack.

The success of the Notch Li begins with its fabric. Formerly known as cuben fiber, dynamee is considered the most revolutionary material used today to make outdoor gear. It’s technically classified as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene. The fiber has low density that allows for high load dispersion. Fifteen times stronger than steel and extremely light, it is the strongest fiber in the world.

But wait, there’s more! It’s also waterproof, resistant to UV light and chemicals, and is extremely durable.

But that doesn’t mean you can just stuff the Notch Li in your pack. You need to handle it with care by rolling it into its dynamee bag. The feel is a cross between taffeta and rice paper, but I endured absolute downpours and there was not one drop in my tent.

The outside doors of the Notch LI are held back with magnets.
The outside doors are held back with magnets.

I opted for the partial solid interior made of silnylon which saves a bit of money on your purchase but I had a few other reasons for this choice. While dynamee is strong and waterproof, it’s translucent and I like a wee bit of privacy.

I also hike in places with blowing sand and heavy rainfall. The solid wall rises fairly high inside. It does cut down on views when supine, but it also keeps splash and detritus from finding its way through the no-see-um screen.

The partial solid silnylon interior adds a few more ounces, but I felt it was worth it. I did not purchase nor have I used a footprint due to the floor’s ruggedness, but I do choose my sites carefully.

The Notch Li sets up like a dream. It is a non-freestanding tent with each corner supported by carbon struts that create a triangle. You simply roll out the tent, stake down each end with the provided Easton aluminum stakes, insert your trekking poles – which remain outside the living space, entry and exit – and stake down the sides.

You should be able to do all of that without getting the inside wet because the two parts remain attached. The outer does not use zippers, which takes a little getting used to. I found I needed to slightly loosen the tension before attaching the poles into their loops and then ensuring the points of my poles stayed in place once I tightened up again. There is a little tab below the hook that helps when opening and closing the door but you do have to get the hang of it.

The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.
The Notch Li sets up with trekking poles and the partial solid keeps out blowing sand and prying eyes.

The tent held up well in wind, though there is an option to attach another set of guylines. That being said, you will need two more stakes to make the tent more stable in inclement weather. The six-panel design has advantages as does the ridgeline which makes the Notch Li more stable when loaded, though I have yet to take it out in snow.

Did I mention there are two doors? The Moment only had one, and that seemed sufficient, but once you are spoiled with two, you will wonder how you survived. This gives you two vestibules for storage, organizing gear and hanging out. But if the midges are as bad as they were this summer in the UK, you will be staying tightly zipped inside the tent.

But don’t despair because the inside is huge. Richard is 6’4” and crept in for a test and found he had enough room to lie down and sit up. I am smaller so had loads of room for my bod, my gear at both head and foot as well as room for a few items along the side.

I use a Therm-a-Rest Xlite, which fit inside beautifully. There are also a couple of strategically placed pockets as well as a ceiling hook.

The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp "Spooky" in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.
The alicoop was pounded with rain at Camp “Spooky” in the Lake District, but not one drop came inside.

This tent is in one piece, the inner tent attached to the outer, but you can take them apart if you prefer to use one without the other. This requires more stakes and for my uses, it never made much sense to use the pieces separately.

However, I needed to have them apart when I returned home because I had so many squashed midge carcasses inside it was the only way I could clean the tent. It was a breeze to detach and reattach parts.

I love this tent and I should mention that my Notch Li was named by a contest. She’s the alicoop and will happily be my safe little chrysalis on the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Sleeps: 1
  • Seasons: 3+
  • Weight: 21.76 oz.
  • Interior Height: 43 in
  • Floor Width: 20 – 34 in
  • Floor Length: 84 in
  • Minimum number of stakes: 4
  • Packed size: 16 in x 4 in
  • Doors: 2
  • Vestibules: 2
  • Materials: dynamee and silnylon
  • Support: trekking poles

Disclosure

alison young purchased her Notch Li from Tarptent.

La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.
hike blog

La Sportiva Akyra Trail Runners review

La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.
La Sportiva Akyra blend the best of a trail runner with that of a hiking boot.

What do you get when you cross the speed, flexibility, the ability to stop on a dime and the wicking properties of the your favorite mountain running shoe with the ruggedness, stability and protection of those leather hiking boots you haven’t wanted to give up just yet? You’d get shoes that rock the long trails and my first choice for thru-hiking, La Sportiva’s Akyra Trail Runners.

I have only just begun wearing trail runners exclusively while backpacking. I made the switch from boots because my feet began to feel too hot and confined and once they got wet, they stayed wet. I had great success with trail runners on the Coast-to-Coast and ali-loop-of-the-Lakes and have never looked back.

The Akyra uses a complex “origami” design to keep the foot stable, while also allowing the foot to feel flexible and supple. The shoe is like a solid box with a bomber heel cup keeping me from over-pronating. Torsional strength is especially key when I contour overland on steep terrain.

The top layer is in three parts including a skeleton, mesh and a wrap that provides lateral stability when negotiating roots, rocks and sand.

The cushioned tongue holds easily adjusted laces and place no pressure on the top of the foot, which is crucial as my toes are slightly deformed from arthritis. And this may seem like a small point, but these laces have never needed to be retied mid-hike.

La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole to make the Akyra responsive in uneven and wet terrain.
La Sportiva uses a patented rubber sole to make the Akyra responsive in uneven and wet terrain.

The Akyra is ideal for backpacking especially in mountain environments because the soles are made of a sticky rubber – much like approach shoes – that adhere to rock, even if wet. Using a tight pattern, the lugs provides superb traction at the same time they shed mud and clagg. My friend Stephanie took these photos and said the soles looked like mini-shovels displacing the sand as I cracked up and downhill.

La Sportiva uses a patented brake system that not only gives me confidence on slopes, but decreases impact and that’s a relief for those day-after-days walking on uneven terrain.

Sizing was a bit of a concern and the shoe feels a bit long and narrow, though I was able to find a good fit playing with the laces. I always wear men’s trail runners these days to allow room for my feet to swell. I did not keep the included foam insole but rather replaced them with Superfeet.

Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.
Akyras handle uneven downhill slopes awesomely.

Specs at a Glance

  • Drop: 9mm
  • Stack: Heel – 25mm / Toe – 16mm
  • Weight: 11.35 oz.
  • Upper: AirMesh / TPU MicroLite Skeleton / Flex-Guard
  • Lining: Airmesh (heel only)
  • Midsole: Injection shock absorbing MEMlex EVA / 2.4 mm LaSpEVA
  • Sole: FriXion Trail Rocker2 with Impact Brake System
  • Cushioning: Midsole – 32A

Disclosure

La Sportiva supplied alison young with this shoe for use on the Te Araroa.

My Granite Gear Crown 60 is named Olive Oyl.
gear blog

Granite Gear Crown2 60 backpack review

Granite Gear's Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it's on your back.
Granite Gear’s Crown2 60 fits so well, you forget it’s on your back.

The Granite Gear Crown2 60 is a superbly designed ultra light backpack ideal for multi-day backpacking and long distance thru-hiking. Weighing at its max at only 37.76 oz. this pack can easily be configured for different types of trips bringing the weight down to a minimum of 22.56 oz. while still offering a huge capacity. Small touches like three large mesh outside pockets and two zippered hip pockets make this pack my top choice.

I have been using Granite Gear backpacks exclusively for the past seven years and I’m always blown away by their simple, sleek design, their ruggedness in the face of extreme conditions and their superior functionality. This pack is lighter than both my Vapor and Meridian packs, but the material feels far more durable.

You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.
You can make the Crown2 60 lighter by removing the frame and lid.

The Crown2 60 is basically a large bag that rolls up and closes with four adjustable clips. Inside is a zippered hydration pocket with a hang clip. There’s a removable top lid, two modest-sized zippered hip belt pockets, two very large stretch woven pockets on the sides and one extra large stretch-woven pocket on the back. There are two large ice ax loops at the bottom and four smaller gear loops on the top of the lid.

I love the top hatch, which is more solid on its own than past Granite Gear models and can be removed should I only need a “purse” on occasion or have no need for the full 60-liter capacity. That being said, when the capacity needs to be fully utilized, the six compression straps are well placed and easily deployed. The back mesh pocket is a great addition since the Vapor and Meridian days and will likely see lots of wet gear in rainy New Zealand. Though the hip pockets are small and a bit awkward to get into, they are the perfect size to hold this DJ’s iPhone and microphone – as well as compass and lipstick.

I am not much of a pack liner gal, instead I opt for Granite Gear’s fabulous eVent dry bags with compression capabilities.

Crown2 uses the “Vapor Current mark 2” compression molded polypropylene frame sheet. You can always remove it and replace it with a dual-purpose foam pad. The frame works in combination with the molded foam back panel that’s designed with ventilation channels, mesh and a slight lumbar bump. It molded well with my body and wicked sweat effectively as I struggled up some good climbs.

The shoulder straps are padded with an S-curve, great for us gals, and the hip belt is easily customizable. Note that there is a women’s belt option, but I found it far too tippy for my use with the unisex fitting beautifully on my curvy hips. The Crown2 has two tiers of side and front compression straps.

The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.
The pack compresses well without the lid, and weighs less.

I am a hiker who loves top-notch zippers and this pack’s got them in spades. The buckles feel they’ll last five months with a satisfying click that says this baby is not coming undone, though I did find I needed to ensure I matched the outie buckle into its innie slot precisely or it would jam, but I noticed this only on the chest strap.

I did not opt for the rain cover as I use Granite Gear’s superb eVent drysacks – that easily compress to nothing even without straps – for all things that must stay dry. I find it helps me stay organized and allows me to set things on wet ground if needed while packing and unpacking. But there was one hike when I pulled a bag of clothing out of the pack, a green bag that blended in with the grassy bank. I left it there and never found it again.

While there’s a good argument for manufacturing gear in colors that fit in with the places we hike – and it’s certainly unlikely I’d leave behind my entire backpack – I would have preferred a brighter color like stoplight red or slow-children-at-play orange. Having said that, I must say that “ole drabby” is really starting to grow on me even if Richard says she looks like she was cut from an army surplus tent. I am falling in love and can’t wait to have her on my back on the Te Araroa.

I can't wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.
I can’t wait to put the Granite Gear Crown2 60 on my back and walk 3000 km in New Zealand.

Specs at a Glance

  • Dimensions: 23.5″ X 13″ X 8″ (3660 cubic in.)
  • Max weight (medium unisex): fully configured, 33.9 oz./minimum, 22.56 oz.
  • Max recommended load: 35 pounds
  • Capacity: 60 liter
  • Removable components
    • Top Lid: 2.56 oz.
    • Frame sheet: 6.08 oz.
    • Hip belt: 6.56 oz.
  • Gender: Unisex, with optional women’s hipbelt
  • Torso lengths available: short/regular/long
  • Hip belt: adjustable
  • Materials: 100D High-tenacity nylon and DWR treated zippers

Disclosure

Granite Gear supplied alison young with this pack for use on the Te Araroa.