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.
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.
Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.
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.
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
I had very damp conditions last October and the socks wicked moisture, staying surprisingly dry and keeping their shape.
I wore the same pair for four days and the odor was well managed.
My calf felt comfortably swaddled in the soft, form-fitting and massaging fabric which still managed to breathe.
The sock did not fit well. I recommend choosing a smaller size than your shoe size since the heel will stretch and ride up.
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.
The sock sprung a leak on Day 4.
Other notes: they’re expensive. These socks were given to me for review, but they seem a bit on the high side.
and there are just too many choices on the website and I found it all a bit confusing.
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.
Specs at a glance
available in hidden, mid or full-length (3, 6, 9 and 12-inches)
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.
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.
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
alison young was given this pee rag for testing by Kula Cloth.
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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.
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.
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.
Accepting your own mortality is like eating your vegetables: You may not want to do it, but it’s good for you.
The easiest way to get veggies and fruit on your backpacking trip is to dehydrate them. Fresh fruits – like apple and watermelon – and many vegetables – like cherry tomatoes and bell peppers – can be dried directly on the racks, but some – like carrots – need to be blanched first, which takes time and is just one more step I don’t feel like doing. So I was delighted to discover you can get fantastic results dehydrating frozen vegetables as is, no cooking required! including carrots, peas, string beans, corn, and those packages of frozen medleys – as well as a wide range of fruits like mango and pineapple.
Dehydrated vegetables can be added to any meal, and work very well with potato bark. I tend to eat dehydrated fruits all on their own. There is nothing like mango, watermelon or pineapple at the top of a hard-to-reach peak. They taste like candy; a real treat.
For best results, don’t let the fruits or veggies stack on top of each other as the dehydrate.
Place them directly on the tray, though you may have to gently peel them when you flip them.
Some fruits can get a little sticky or turn slightly brown. You can always add a little lime juice which also gives them a mild margarita taste.
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.