Balega is a Zulu word that means "move with speed." I'm happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.
gear blog

Balega socks review

Balega is a Zulu word that means "move with speed." I'm happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.
Balega is a Zulu word that means “move with speed.” I’m happy to move with comfort, blister-free and in a spectacular array of colors.

Recently, a pal from the PCT named “Toast” asked me how my socks held up I did not lie, I still use a few of my Balagas from the hike, they’re practically indestructible! So, I’m republishing this review and offering a chance for you to win Balega socks as a kind of post Christmas bonus present. Just LIKE and SHARE The Pee Rag on Facebook and you’ll be automatically entered to win!


Sometimes it’s safer to read maps with your feet.

Kelly Link
Blissful gives Balega Socks the highest rating, five Anitas.

September, 2018 – If you want to hike with the ease, agility and the fleet-footedness of a seasoned ultra trail runner, and keep your feet cool and blister-free, Balega socks are for you. Balega means to move with speed and while that is not my ultimate goal as a backpacker, I appreciate that whatever is protecting my foot is indeed the ultimate arbiter of success in any walk.

Balega scores high for me because of a moisture wicking fabric they call “Drynamix” that is soft and breathable and just as advertised keeps my foot dry. I chose the slightly heavier Blister Resist sock that combines mohair with Drynamix. These socks are soft and cozy – and may prove to be a bit much for the beaches and rain forests of New Zealand’s Northland, which is why I am taking pairs of Enduro V-Tecs in my bounce box. They are synthetic and contain a compression band for the mid-foot, supporting just so without feeling too tight.

Both socks are made without seams, which help prevent blistering, but fit like a dream with a snug heel cup and elastic grippers that prevent slippage. And each have strategically placed ventilation panels that aid the wicking process which will be key as I walk in and out of rivers and find my feet caked in mud throughout my five-month sojourn. Sounds fun, eh?

But maybe more than just feeling thrilled that I have found the best sock for my long distance thru-hiking, I also have some real warm fuzzies when I think that the additional pairs of Balega socks I buy will help support Balega’s outreach programs in their home country of South Africa. There was even a little sticker on each pair with a picture of the person who inspected – and washed – my socks before they were sent out. Just like that beautiful Zulu word Ubuntu, meaning “shared humanity,” I feel there is a bit of this wonderful company’s energy walking each step with me on the Te Araroa.

Blissful gives Balega Socks the highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • seamless
  • “drynamix” mohair and synthetic available
  • V-tech arch support
  • anti-microbial silver-infused

Disclosure

Balega supplied alison young with socks.

Gear

Care Remote boot sock review

Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.

Anne Lamott 
Blissful gives Care Remote boot socks three Anitas (will use as a backup)
Comfortable, therapeutic and colorful, Care Remote boot socks worked well on the Kekekabic, but sprung a leak on day four.

Everything starts at the feet.

If you want to have a pleasant hiking experience, it’s imperative that you wear the right hiking shoes – whether boots or trail runners – ones that fit well, have good support, and are built to handle uneven surfaces. But even the best footwear will let you down if you’re not wearing the right sock.

I have been wearing Balega socks for the past two years, but became curious about compression socks after suffering a minor bout with shin splints on the Pacific Crest Trail.

So it was one of those “the trail will provide” sort of moments when Victor Phillips, founder of Care Remote, contacted me to ask if I might give their socks a try.

What are Care Remote socks?

The branding comes from Phillips’ origins working in the healthcare and technology fields. Traveling the world, he worked with people in textiles and design as well as the medical professionals to come up with a solution to the problems of socks – namely, that they fit badly, get soggy and smell.

Through a proprietary weave of an anti-microbial mix of nylon, polyester and lycra, the intention is to check all the boxes for a sock’s use whether in the outdoors, as therapy or to just to look snazzy in a casual setting.

In addition, these socks are meant to stay consistent even after multiple washes, reduce blisters with fibers placed in strategic “hot spots,” and slip in and out of boots easily.

So, how did it go?

Victor sent me a variety of socks to try – no show, ankle-length and full-length. I started using them by simply walking around my neighborhood, but it was when I got on trail, walking the Kekekabic in Northern Minnesota, that I put them through their paces, choosing the 12-inch, mid knit compression sock for this remote 41 miles in the Boundary Waters Wilderness

pros:

  1. I had very damp conditions last October and the socks wicked moisture, staying surprisingly dry and keeping their shape.
  2. I wore the same pair for four days and the odor was well managed.
  3. My calf felt comfortably swaddled in the soft, form-fitting and massaging fabric which still managed to breathe.

cons:

  1. The sock did not fit well. I recommend choosing a smaller size than your shoe size since the heel will stretch and ride up.
  2. The toe-box did not offer enough protection for an all-day hiker and I suffered wear on the skin as well as the loss of toenails. To be fair, the sock is much thinner than my Balegas and my foot may have slipped more.
  3. The sock sprung a leak on Day 4.
  4. Other notes: they’re expensive. These socks were given to me for review, but they seem a bit on the high side.
  5. and there are just too many choices on the website and I found it all a bit confusing.

Conclusion…

For the most part, I liked the socks I wore and will find uses for them on day hikes, when climbing, skiing (especially since they feel like a second skin and will be very easy to slip in and out of boots) and when biking.

Since I got a hole after only three days of backpacking, I think these socks might not have the durability required of a thru-hike, though they may act as a nice second when I need the compression or will be walking in a lot of wet terrain.

Blissful gives Care Remote boot socks three Anitas (will use as a backup)

Specs at a glance

  • available in hidden, mid or full-length (3, 6, 9 and 12-inches)
  • regular sock – 5% Lycra, 45% Nylon, 50% Polyester mix
  • compression sock – PTFE 8%, 2% Lycra, 40% Wool, 17% Nylon, 33% Polyester mix in two gradients
  • seamless with padded heel
  • antimicrobial and free of metals
  • colors: pink, blue and green camo, black/gray and off-white
  • mid and heavy knit available
  • machine washable

Disclosure

alison young was given socks for testing from Care Remote

Gear

Kula Cloth review

Big dreams happen in small spaces.

unknown
Blissful gives Kula Cloth the highest rating, five Anitas.
Intentionally designed for all the places you ‘go,’ the Kula Cloth is one of the most important pieces of gear a women should have attached to her pack.

Can we talk peeing in the woods?

I know, I know, choosing the name The Pee Rag for my podcast got a few of you in a twist, but it was never intended to be vulgar, rather a play on words – “rag” being another name for a news source.

I also meant the choice to equate the unglamorous bits of thru-hiking with the grit and bad-assery required – especially from of a middle aged solo female backpacker carrying all she needs on her back to so many stunningly beautiful and transformative places.

To tell the truth, I had never even heard of a “pee rag” until a few days before my departure for New Zealand with an objective of walking the length of both islands on the Te Araroa. It was actually a Facebook post devoted to women hikers of the TA that piqued my curiosity, one where a fellow hiker queried, are you taking a pee rag?

Not to look uninformed, I researched this mystery and came upon Stacia Bennett’s informative and matter-of-fact article all about the subject. Like me, after reading you too will come to realize you just can’t leave home without a pee rag. Let’s face it gals, “drip drying” is no way to manage on a multi-day hike – or ever for that matter, and using wads of toilet paper does not align with Leave No Trace principles in any form or fashion.

So both the Te Araroa and the Pacific Crest Trail saw me sporting bandanas on the side of Olive Oyl, one for the pot and one for me. But this presented a few issues – namely mixing them up, but also uric acid causing the bandanas to wear out fast, and I could never really find a way to keep them clean or dry. I also feared contracting an infection.

Kula Cloth is intentionally designed for all the places you 'go.'
Part of the Kula Cloth artist series, the “adventure sloth” Kula captures Blissful’s naturally sauntering and “andante” hiking speed.

What is a Kula Cloth?

And that’s where our story brings us to the remarkable Kula Cloth! Anastasia Allison is a former park ranger, blissful hiker, violinist, and entrepreneur based in the Pacific Northwest.

Like me, she toed a pee rag on her pack in the mountains, one made of microfiber. It became a kind of joke when rather than snap selfies, she would pose her pee rag in astoundingly beautiful locations. It wasn’t long before the thought occurred to her that maybe she was onto something.

Taking its name from Kula Khangri, the tallest mountain in Bhutan, the word Kula also translates as community, one she considers “a radically inclusive community that happens to sell a pee cloth for anybody that squats when they pee.”

What surprised me at first was how small the cloth is – just about a hand’s width in size, kind of like a potholder. My Kula is part of the artist series designed by Lyn Sweet and features an orange sloth backpacking with walking stick into the sunset. You could say, I’m carrying my Kula spirit of the “saunterer.

The pictured side is the “clean side” and waterproof, preventing moisture from reaching my hands. The working side is made of antimicrobial silver-infused absorbent material, which quickly and efficiently did its job on the many stops during my latest hikes on Isle Royale and the Kekekabic.

Other features include a cloth loop with a tough little hypoallergenic plastic snap that locks the cloth in place, as well as an extra privacy snap to fold the cloth over on itself into a triangle. Reflective thread is woven into each side so the cloth can be found when a night urge hits and a headlamp guides the way.

Leave no Trace Principles

1. Plan Ahead & Prepare
2. Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces
3. Dispose of Waste Properly
4. Leave What you Find
5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
6. Respect Wildlife
7. Be Considerate of Others

Just to be clear, Kula Cloth and all pee rags are meant for use only when going Number 1!

So, how did it go?

Kula Cloth did its job perfectly – it fit beautifully in my hands, absorbed the urine and kept me dry and clean. The conditions on Isle Royale were very wet this season – rain, sea-fog and general humidity – so my Kula only dried out thoroughly when the sun was shining. When wet, it acted more like a “wet wipe” but remained surprisingly absorbent and kept my hands clean.

I don’t ever take soap with me on hikes and I simply rinsed my Kula in water. I should point out that it was only when it dried out that it became completely odor-free, but no soap was ever necessary to clean it on my nine-day hike.

The Kula feels weightier than a simple piece of cloth or bandana and the only wear and tear I noticed was some of the side threads shredding ever so slightly. Since I’m a pretty rough on my gear, this might become more of a problem when having to crawl under fallen trees and potentially snagging my Kula.

Are either of those issues a deal breaker? No! A pee rag is an absolute necessity and Kula Cloth is made with materials specifically designed to be absorbent as well as non-toxic, non-sensitizing, and non-irritating when in contact with the body. Although I have not yet suffered a urinary tract infection on a thru-hike, that is not something to fool with and I put my full trust in the superb bit of gear to keep me healthy.

With the pandemic still raging and a run on toilet paper reminiscent of Black Friday on repeat, many people have been considering pee rags a possible permanent solution. Why cut down trees when using a renewable resource is far more ecologically sound? Perhaps Kula and pee rags in general will become far more normalized as part of everyone’s good habits.

And besides, how cool is to have a work of art on the back of “Blueberry” (my new Granite Gear pack) something that gives a little character to my walking – as if I need any more!

Kula Cloth is coming with me on every hike and I give her my highest rating, five Anitas.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: .53 oz
  • Length: 6.25″ x 6.25″
  • Antimicrobial, silver infused materials
  • Hypo-allergenic snaps
  • Reflective thread

Disclosure

alison young was given this pee rag for testing by Kula Cloth.

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Taking my bike across town to Orchestra Hall, then a ten-mile ride back after the concert.
hike blog

training is life; life, training

Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.

Mark Twain
I "trained" to Orchestra Hall last night, but after the broadcast, rode 12 miles home. Bliss!
I “trained” to Orchestra Hall last night, but after the broadcast, rode 12 miles home. Bliss!

At my last Zoom presentation, a participant asked how do you get in shape for a long walk? I published this blog less than a week before I left for the Te Araroa and I thought it would be a good idea to revisit it!

The short answer is by being in shape, which sounds much harder than it is! What I mean is take on the attitude of having physical fitness – in all forms – a part of your being.

How does one do that? Well, by choosing each day to move.

The list below covers most things I like to do to make myself strong enough to manage the rigors of a thru-hike, though Richard and I have lately been doing a daily morning routine with Russian Kettlebells.

Bells are lifted, swung, and pivoted around the body in orbits and figure eights. A series of kettle bell activities, along with planks and pushups, may very well be the number one routine worth adding to prepare for a thru-hike because they strengthen the core and improve balance – and let’s face it, you look like a bad ass swinging them!

Though a warning that you should find an instructor to ensure your technique is proper so you don’t injure your back. Contact me if you’d like to know more about using kettle bells and read on!

Kettle bells ready to be lifted and swung.
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.
Gear

GUEST POST: The Pee Rag by Stacia Bennett

What is a pee rag? Let’s just say, it’s a tool that enables a female hiker to get the job done without fuss or muss, and focus on being her badass self on the trail.

Blissful Hiker, “The Pee Rag” Episode 1
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.
Look closely and you can see the pee rag (tie-dye peace sign bandana) hanging from the back of my pack.

It is not an overstatement to say reading Stacia Bennett‘s article on for The Trek “Gear Essentials for Women” changed my hiking life. My discovery began with a question posed in the private all-women Te Araroa Facebook , “Are any of you ladies taking a ‘pee rag’ on the TA?” I had no clue what this gal was referring to and obviously needed to get myself enlightened – or look the fool. Dr. Google led me straight to Stacia, a.k.a Tink, and once educated, I never looked back! I hope you enjoy this Asheville-based, former teacher turned nomad, Appalachian Trail thru-hike-attempt-turned-long-ass-section hiker’s explanation on a requisite piece of kit for every women’s backpack.


It’s super simple to start using a pee rag. The biggest decision you have to make is what material to use. For my long hikes, I chose to stick with a plain old cotton bandanna.

A bandanna is lightweight and since the cotton is thin, it’s pretty quick drying. Cotton is gentle on the skin and absorbent. So, pick your favorite pattern for $1 at the Wally World. Tie it to the back of your pack, and BAM! You’ve got yourself a pee rag.

Ok, I know what you are wondering. What the heck is a pee rag??

Actually, if you’ve spent any time at all on a long trail you’ve probably heard of them, and you’ve likely seen them hanging off the pack of the badass lady hiker in front of you.

A “peedanna”, or pee rag, is a bandanna or similar cloth that is designated for wiping after urinating in the woods. A lot of women opt to use a pee rag instead of toilet paper. There are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to make the switch to a pee rag. For me, the ease and convenience were the biggest factor.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wants us to be wanderers, “though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist.”
audio narrative

TA audio narrative: no outcomes backpacking

If you arrive at a final destination, it’s a sign that you’ve set your sights too low.

Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s difficult now trying to picture the person I’ll be on, two or five months from now. But on a long hike, who we are if about recovering from who we think we are.
The Blissful Hiker sets her Garmin inReach GPS to "starting my trip."
The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wants us to be wanderers, “though not as a traveler to a final destination: for this destination does not exist.”
The Hammock Gear quilt looks like a prop from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers."
gear blog

Hammock Gear Burrow quilt review

I am afraid of heights.

ali in the alicoop swaddled in a down ‘quilt.’
ali in the alicoop swaddled in a down ‘quilt.’

At least according to Ohio-based Hammock Gear, who – despite the name and mission – happily provides its superior quilts to us ground-dwellers.

I am delighted with the traditional mummy set-up I have been using for years. But lately I’ve read excellent reviews about sleeping quilts, and after a lot of nights of feeling a need for my legs to sprawl, I began to think hard about having more of a blanket over me than being swaddled in a cocoon.

At $180 for a 20-degree, extra wide, zippered-footbox, premium 800-down quilt, I thought what-the-heck and took a chance on Hammock Gear’s Burrow Econ. D-day is exactly two weeks from last night, so it was only fitting I have Olive Oyl schlepp the new purchase to the backyard, set up the alicoop and take her for a spin on a damp October night with temps dipping into the mid-30s.

Hardly backpacking, but a good one-night-stand to test out the Moroccan Blue before heading to New Zealand in two weeks.
Hardly backpacking, but a good one-night-stand to test out the Moroccan Blue before heading to New Zealand in two weeks.

First let me explain what a quilt is in the backpacking world. It looks like a traditional bag, but one that’s been sliced open like a seed pod à la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That riven section actually goes beneath you. The idea is that you don’t need down under your body.

In fact, what you compress with your weight loses its warming power and, the argument goes, is wasted. Quilt-makers put all the coziness where you need it, making it a more efficient piece of gear.

I admit, climbing into my new Moroccan Blue quilt at first took a bit of trust as it was just my tender backside against my Therm-a-Rest, but in time, things came right up to temperature and I felt toasty warm.

I opted for a zippered footbox – rather than sewn – to stay flexible should temperatures rise and I want to transform my quasi-bag into a blanket. What is noticeably missing is a full zipper and a hood. This saves a lot of weight. A comparable 20-degree bag weighs nearly a third more than this 24.5 ounces of thru-hiker bliss. Less weight, less volume, less faffing about to maintain loft means a much more blissful hiker.

Hammock Gear understands that a hoodless, backless down ‘blanket’ with a box up to the knees is going to invite pockets of drafty air to any side sleeper. They recommend a wide width for tucking in, and cords to affix the quilt to your mattress. I ditched the cords, as anyone who has slept near me knows I’m a pretty fidgety sleeper, but opted to spend an extra $20 for more coverage. I am 5’7” and 135 pounds, and the quilt closed me in like a tube.

HG puts a snap at the neck and a cinch cord to seal the deal. Though no hood meant I slept wearing my beanie, a buff and down coat. I do recommend choosing bigger and wider, and depending on your temperature needs, choosing colder. 20 degrees was just right for temps hovering in the mid-30’s.

That being said, an added benefit of keeping your head out of the bag is less moisture build up to compromise the down. But the sleep system does take some getting used to. I come from the generation that was told sleeping nude in a down bag is warmer than clothed. An alternative fact created by the back-to-the-land hippy culture, no doubt, but one I seem to have a hard time shaking. With a quilt, you’ll need to sleep clothed, mostly your head and neck, but likely also your upper body. Quilts are roomy so this shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s a rethink on how you feel coziest at night.

The open section of the quilt goes under your body.
The open section of the quilt goes under your body.

Down is my go-to even in summer bags. It’s hands ‘down’ – pardon the pun – superior warmth to weight ratio than synthetics. Most manufacturers are using water-resistant shells these days, so keeping your down quilt dry is easier.

If you’re thinking about cutting weight, you are already on track to own an ultra-light mattress. I use the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir X-lite. It’s ideal for quilt-sleepers: warm, comfy and sits high so the quilt drapes over the sides and forms a seal. With hundreds of nights on this pad, I have never sprung a leak, even in the desert.

I realize it’s a one-night stand for me and the Moroccan Blue, but we’re off to a good start and she is my ‘bag’ of choice for the Te Araroa.

Specs at a glance

  • Weight: 24.59 oz
  • Length: 5’7″ to 6’2″
  • Width: wide
  • Temperature rating: 20 degrees
  • Footbox: zippered
  • Down fill: 800

Disclosure

alison young purchased this quilt from Hammock Gear.

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.