In Silent-Film-style, the Blissful Hiker prepares to hike the Te Araroa by setting up her Tarptent, the “alicoop” with her Leki trekking poles, blows up the Therm-a-Rest and finally crawls in for a little shut eye.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
alison young is too cheap to buy the up dated Spot but did buy this older model.
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.
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.
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.
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
alison young purchased her Micro Vario trekking poles from Leki.
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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
Materials: dynamee and silnylon
Support: trekking poles
alison young purchased her Notch Li from Tarptent.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Granite Gear supplied alison young with this pack for use on the Te Araroa.