Saturday, January 30, 2016

Thru-Hiking the Hayduke Trail Article

I wrote an article about the Hayduke Trail for the awesome online magazine, TrailGroove Magazine. TrailGroove had yet to feature the Hayduke Trail, so I was happy to introduce it to a whole new audience. The article is a reflection and summary on my Hayduke experience, along with some of the high and low points of the trail. Seeing all the photos on the full screen layout is always great! In the next two months, I'll have an article on each the Tahoe Rim Trail and Great Divide Trail in TrailGroove Magazine as well. A note about this particular article, after the content and map portion, keep turning the pages. There are two more spreads of some of my favorite photos from the trail to flip through. Remember that TrailGroove Magazine is best viewed in full screen or presentation mode on your computer. Enjoy!
Click photo to read the full article on
FREE Navigation Instruction Videos!
While on the topic of the Hayduke, I've had many people ask me about that transition to routes that require a stronger navigation skill set. It can be intimidating and even with the courses I've taken, I often worry that I'm doing something wrong or that I need a refresher from time to time. My friend John, who I learned navigation from at the Mazamas in Portland, Oregon has created some excellent instructional videos that cover everything clearly and concisely. They were published by the Columbia River Orienteering Club and are an amazing resource! These instructional videos are just as good (or better!) than any class you can take on navigation and I highly recommend them. Mad props to John and the CROCs for providing these for FREE to the public!!!

Click Here for the link to all the instructional videos below....
**NOTE: Video audio only works on a smartphone WITH headphones for some reason. Audio works fine on desktops. 
Wilderness Navigation #1: Parts of a Compass
Wilderness Navigation #2: Red In The Shed
Wilderness Navigation #3: Taking a Compass Bearing
Wilderness Navigation #4: Following a Compass Bearing
Wilderness Navigation #5: Measuring a Compass Bearing From a Map
Wilderness Navigation #6: Plotting a Compass Bearing on a Map
Wilderness Navigation #7: Orienting Your Map
Wilderness Navigation #8: Using a Finger Scale
Wilderness Navigation #9: Adjusting Declination
Wilderness Navigation #10: Deciphering Declination
Wilderness Navigation #11: UTM Coordinates
Wilderness Navigation #12: Contours and Elevation
Wilderness Navigation #13: Contours and Terrain
Wilderness Navigation #14: Map Scale
Wilderness Navigation #15: Smartphone Tools for Wilderness Navigation

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On The Horizon For 2016...

Let The Drumroll Begin!
Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, WY
Here's what's to come for 2016...and even 2017! This past year was quite a year. After five months of hiking 2000mi (on the Hayduke Trail, Tahoe Rim Trail, Lost Coast Trail, a section of the CDT, and the Great Divide Trail) I returned home to Portland, OR in September ready for a break from hiking and blogging for awhile. I have been doing presentations about this year's hikes, but I've mainly been working. For those that don't already know, I'm able to afford 5 months or more of hiking each year through simple living and working 60+hrs a week substitute teaching and nannying/babysitting during out of school hours. It is tiring, and quite the imbalance that leaves little time/energy for much else, but it's worth it to be able to travel so much each year. I'm very fortunate that all has fallen into place to seamlessly make this lifestyle possible and I want to take advantage of it while I can physically and financially. For me, sharing the journey is all part of keeping things in balance. Being out on the trail gives me so much, that I want to pay it forward in some way, and the blogging is my way of contributing. This is going to be quite the year (and a half!) ahead, so here's the general timeline. I'll explain each venture briefly now, with more detail to come on why I've chosen each of these and more details of terrain and strategy in future posts.

**The 2016 hikes I've chosen are high routes that are largely weather and snowpack dependent. The dates I give below are ideal time frames that may need to be shifted (or even postponed to another year) if snowpack is too high this year. I'm very flexible and am completely entertained by local Northwest hikes if conditions are not safe to head out to high elevation earlier in the summer.

1) Late June/Early July: Sierra High Route, CA (195mi)
2) Mid/Late July: Wind River High Route, WY (~100mi)
3) August: Kings Canyon High Basin Route, CA (124mi)
4) Late October(2016)-March(2017): Te Araroa (and other travels), New Zealand (1,864mi)
5) April (2017): Bibbulmun Track, Austrailia (623mi)
6) April/May(2017): Larapinta Trail, (139mi)

Why These Hikes?
Here's the basic reasoning in all of this. I will go into more detail in future posts. I seriously had no idea what I wanted to hike in the future when I returned home after this past season. I took some time to think about it and wanted to just go with my gut. I've had New Zealand on my radar for years and I've been waiting for when it felt right to go. Since New Zealand has opposite seasons from the US, I'll be hiking there during the US fall/winter. I've chosen to work through the whole school year this year to make as much money as possible for the overseas hiking (plus the fact that I'll miss most of the school year next year while I'm gone). I'm completely content with the extended time at home this year. I have been craving some "nesting time" and a break from the planning, blogging, and endurance of long distance hiking. That opened up a window for me to do hiking during the summer months that most years, I would't be able to do. Some of the more challenging (mentally and physically) high routes that are shorter miles, but still require a good chunk of time given that mileage will be much lower on those mainly off trail routes. These summer hikes will be another step up for me in challenge and I'm interested to see if I enjoy them and the more tedious terrain of these hikes that are mostly off trail.

Are You Hiking With Anyone?
Me and Rockin' on the Tahoe Rim Trail last summer. 
I'm soooo STOKED to announce that I've convinced my good friend Rockin' to join me for her summer!!! Rockin's a teacher and has til early August to squeeze in what we can. If the snowpack isn't crazy high, we should be able to do both the Sierra High Route and the Wind River High Route together. For those of you that don't know, Rockin' is my friend and mentor that I've done many hikes with since we met in 2011, as I was preparing for my first thru-hike of the PCT. She is also a committed and well knowing backpacking blogger with the site, The Sierra is Rockin's backyard playground and she's a big fan of climbing on all the jagged rocks out there (hence the name Rockin'). Rockin's enthusiasm for the Sierra is sure to be a boost in such difficult terrain. We are going to have a lot of fun doing these together. For those that missed it, we just did the Tahoe Rim Trail together (with our friend Why Not) this past summer. As for other friends that may join in this summer, there are some possibilities, but it is many months away and various variables, so no one is 100% just yet. I plan to do NZ and AUS solo. There are many other hikers out there and I'm looking forward to doing my own thing as I usually do on the really long hikes.

Sierra High Route
Along the JMT
Most people are familiar with the John Muir Trail in the Sierra. The Sierra High Route is 195mi and should take about three weeks to complete. It basically parallels the JMT (overlapping for short stretches), is mostly off trail, over talus, and above tree line. This route is not new and was published by Steve Roper in 1997. Although it's been around for decades, few seek out such remote areas, so there will be a great deal of solitude along the route. Rockin' has hiked pretty much all of the SHR in pieces on trips mostly a decade or more ago, and has been itching to do a complete thru hike of the whole thing. This route has maybe 1/3 of the miles as trail, but the rest will be very taxing and cautious hiking on talus. That jagged, loose, and unforgiving rock is my biggest concern on this route with my trick ankle. Many times, I said I'd never hike this route and that I had no interest. After gaining more confidence on the rocks along the Appalachian Trail and then the scrambling on the Hayduke Trail, I have found that this is one challenge I have evolved to find interesting. I don't know that I'll love it...or even like it...but I want to give it a try. Rockin' already knows she loves it and that will be just the right kind of energy I'll need for something I find intimidating. I have friends that have hiked the SHR and it is quite different from most thru hikes. The conditions and terrain will vary from moment to moment with an average of ~10-15mi/day most days. The plan is to enjoy this one as much as possible by not trying to push mileage. We both have time and are in no rush, so we have the flexibility to adjust where needed. Just to give and idea of the talus we have in store for us, here is a picture Rockin' on one of her trips along the SHR.
Rockin' on the Sierra High Route talus.
The Sierra is a magical place for many and I think this is an experience worth putting time into. Few others will be out there and I look forward to the solitude and having much of the trip to ourselves. Yes, there may be a lot of snow this year, and that will dictate our decision on when we'll go, but the hope is by late June. Both of us are familiar with Sierra snow and actually enjoy some snow on those mountains...especially if it makes for smoother travel over talus, ha!
Along the JMT
For many, grasping the concept of these high routes and where they go, can be difficult. For all these routes, I thought making a GoogleEarth virtual tour would be a fun way for me to get more comfortable with the navigation. I think everyone will really enjoy these. A great big THANK YOU to my friend GoalTech for teaching me how to make these virtual tours. Love it! I used the maps and points from Andrew Skurka's SHR mapset, which is based off of Roper's original route and guidebook to plot the route and create this virtual tour. If you're on a smart device, you may not be able to view the embedded video below, so click here to view the Sierra High Route Virtual Tour. This tour takes the route from south to north (it can be done either way). Yes, there is a track there to guide the viewer's eye, but remember that this is a route and there is no exact trail to follow. Note that the GoogleEarth image is from May 30, 2014 as a reference.

Wind River High Route
I've been making plans to return to the Wind River Range ever since I hiked through the Winds along the Continental Divide Trail in 2013. The flowers and green grass of the alpine lakes and meadows are unique and different from the gray kind of monotone the high Sierra can have. It is one of my all time favorite places I've hiked through. There are many high routes through the Winds. A very popular one is the route created by Alan Dixon and Don Wilson. It is about 80mi, and just like the SHR, goes off trail over passes along talus for a decent portion of the hike. Dixon and Wilson believe that the WRHR is "mile for mile the finest non technical Alpine route in North America." Of all I have planned for this summer, I'm most excited about this route!
In the Wind River Range on the CDT.
The WRHR will pose much of the same challenges as the SHR and it will also be low mileage days. The Winds can have heavy storms and should still have some snow on the passes when we hope to get there in late July, so again, we will be flexible. There will soon be another more extensive route from Andrew Skurka that should be released later this winter. It will probably overlap with much of Dixon and Wilson's route, but be longer (~100mi) and have some differences that may be preferable for myself and Rockin'. Once we get the maps, we will compare the two and make decisions as to the route we will be taking, which could be a combo of the two. There are also other resources with some great routes, including Nancy Pallister's off trail guide of the Winds, which is said to be what many of these routes are based off of. Again, there are many options on high routes and none of this is uncharted territory. Just less traveled and more remote. 

For now, here is a virtual tour I created using Dixon & Wilson's WRHR route. This tour goes southbound as they describe, but it can be done either way. This will not be our exact route, but is a good idea of what to expect. I think we will be out there a week and a half or more. If you can't view the embedded video below, here is the direct link to the WRHR virtual tour. Note that the GoogleEarth image for this tour is from July 22, 2014 the first half and June 28, 2014 the second half. Again, this is a route, and that track is there as a visual reference to guide the viewer's eye along the tour.

Kings Canyon High Basin Route
The Kings Canyon High Basin Route is a newly released route from Andrew Skurka that is also in the Sierra and is comparable to the SHR. It is about 124mi long and should take up to two weeks to complete. Like the SHR, and WRHR, these areas have been explored for decades. Skurka has connected them to create a thru hike. A resource that contains many of the areas that locals may know is Phil Arnot's High Sierra. There is very little beta on this hike as a thru considering no one has thru hiked it (or published anything about thru hiking it)other than Skurka. I have a feeling many are interested in doing it this summer with the fires last summer preventing many from going out when it was first released. The catch is that this one should be done in late summer with a difficult high water crossing along the route. Personally, this one is a 50/50 maybe on my list for this summer. There are many variables and I will just have to see how I'm doing mentally, physically, and time wise after the SHR and WRHR. My understanding is that I may be craving more paved trail and mindless hiking after the first two hikes. I completely understand that, but am also intrigued by the KCHBR. Only time will tell how my mind and body deals with so much cross country along talus for multiple weeks. If I choose not to do this hike, I'll probably head up to the NW and do some summer ones I haven't had a chance to do in Oregon and Washington. I'm keeping the options open.

Here is a virtual tour of the KCHBR I made using Skurka's mapset and route description. Again, this is a route and has many different options. Already, Skurka has made updates to the original route I have in the tour that he recommends over this original route. It's fun to watch the tour and I do hope I have the energy and mental stamina to give it a shot at the end of the summer! If you can't view the embedded video below, (blocked due to copyright of songs in NZ/AUS) here's the direct link to the KCHBR virtual tour. Note that the GoogleEarth image is from May 30, 2014. Again, this is a route and the given track is there as a guide for the viewer's eye.

Te Araroa
Image courtesy of
I'M FINALLY GOING TO NEW ZEALAND!!! Those that have been following the blog for awhile know I've had New Zealand on my radar for many years. There are many shorter tracks in NZ known as the 9 Great Walks, but the main hike one that people are thru hiking these days is the 1,864mi Te Araroa that runs the full length of NZ. Most hike southbound during New Zealand's spring and summer. I will probably not leave until late October for this hike as that is the beginning of New Zealand's spring. I will not go into great detail on this hike right now, but I will say that the term "trail" is used loosely and that this is a polarizing trail with much bushwhacking and road walking involved along with beach walking, muddy rainforests, and expansive mountains. My friend Why Not is currently hiking it, blogging daily, and having quite the social experience! The TA does not hit some of the highlights of New Zealand and misses some of the Great Walks I might want to hike, so I'm going to take time either as I hike, or for a month or so after, to do some more traveling and sightseeing. I'll be going into much more detail on this after this summer, but it's never too late to start planning. If anyone knows a New Zealander interested in helping me out over there, feel free to send them my way. One major goal is that I am looking to rent/borrow a car possibly around the month of March (2017) for general sightseeing and travel on each island for a month or so. I haven't looked into details at all and probably won't for quite awhile. Just excited to get over there and experience it all. 

Bibbulmun Track & Larapinta Trail
I"M GOING TO AUSTRALIA TOO!!! I figure that while I'm already out there, I may as well take a month or two to visit Australia (~April/May 2017) and hike two of the most recommended trails over there. I could definitely spend much more time there, but I will be hitting the shoulder season and will do what I can while the weather allows. So far the general plan is to mainly aim to do the Bibbulmun Track (623mi)and Larapinta Trail(139mi). I know very little about both and will look into them more at a later date, but they come highly recommended and I'm excited to explore Australia a bit. I realize I could spend LOTS more time in Australia than 2 months, but I am trying not to be gone for a full notice I say trying...

Whew! I know that was a lot to take in! I'll post more as dates get closer, but for now, I'll be taking a break from posting much until summer gets closer. Excited to continue nesting at home until then! Happy New Year everyone and I hope you have some awesome journeys planned as well! Bye for now...

Friday, December 4, 2015

Backpacking Basics Article

Just a quick post to share that I was interviewed on the topic of Backpacking Basics by a new UK online magazine called Totally Active. Here's a link to the four page spread and screen shots of the article. I just have fun seeing all the photos:)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Wild Woman" Feature

I was recently featured on Trail to Summit's blog as one of the Wild Women in hiking. It was a fun interview to do and Allison has done a great job of featuring real women in the hiking community. Here is the link to the article and I also suggest that you check out Trail to Summit's "Female Hikers" tab. Allison has filled the void of quality women focused backpacking content. Thank you Allison for stepping up on this one! 
Click the photo to read the full article. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hikin' & Helpin' With An Auction

Tonight I had a fun experience I wanted to share with everyone. I was invited to a fancy fundraising dinner and auction for a local non-profit environmental law center in Portland, the Crag Law Center. Not only was I invited to the dinner, but I was an actual item in the auction! There's a unique experience. I'll get to the details on the auction in a minute, but first I want to mention the event.

Every other year, Crag Law Center has a major fundraising dinner for their organization. Crag's mission is to protect and sustain the Pacific Northwest's Natural Legacy. As a non-profit law center, donations are an integral part of their organization and the work they are able to accomplish. It was admirable to be in a room with so many giving so much to help the environment. The event was held at The Benson, one of the most historic buildings in Portland and one of the finest hotels in the city.

I've never been to an event of this caliber and I have to say the Portlanders rock! Everyone was really approachable and easy to talk to. There were randomly three different acquaintances there that I know through hiking near Portland. Two people knew me just before I left to do the PCT on my first thru hike. It was crazy to reflect with them and think how much has changed in such a short time period! I've also never been to an auction, so that was really cool too. The best part was that all the auction items were something outdoorsy! Some pieces of art, trips, clothing, gear, etc. The big ticket item of the night was an Alaskan cruise that went for $10,000! People at my table were actually in on that bid up until the last moment. So crazy! Items were lined up all along the room for silent auction, and some, like mine, were bid on live on the stage. So cool! 

My item was one of the first ones up for the night as everyone was getting settled in. It went by so fast! I kick myslef for not letting the auctioneer know I was there and not getting on stage. I was too busy recording it, ha! Here's the video clip. You can hear it was a lively crowd and lots happening at once.

So a day hike and dinner with me went for $300, yay! It was a fun evening and I'm glad I can give back in a unique way. Here I am with auction winners, Susan and Kevin, who also went home with an armful of other goodies from the auction. It was entertaining to watch them bid for sure. Thanks for a great night you two!

My inner introvert is wiped out with all that commotion and ready to crash harder than if I had hiked all day today, whew! If you'd like to DONATE TO CRAG CLICK HERE!

Also, a reminder that I have two events coming up over the next two weeks. My first Hayduke presentation is this week at the Mazamas Mountaineering Center.

And the weekend of Nov 7th is Oregon Trails Club's Annual Backpacking Seminar. I will be doing BOTH my Hayduke and Great Divide Trail presentations there along with many other presenters for a two day packed weekend at Nesika Lodge in the Columbia Gorge. Registration information can be found at

...and, of course, don't forget to VOTE FOR THE CONTINENTAL DIVIDE TRAIL! It's waaay too close to comfort and we can't let it slip away in the final days of voting. Vote until Oct 31st and email me to be put on the daily reminder list if you like.

Saturday, October 24, 2015


The Continental Divide Trail is up for a $25,000 grant and it's slipping away! The top two vote getters get the grant and it is too close for comfort. At the time of this posting, the CDT is in second with the third place Florida Trail inching up quickly (now just 760 votes away). There is just one week left and we need to hold on to this. It takes less than a minute to vote!

*If everyone who reads this VOTES DAILY for the next week, the CDT will get the grant easily! 


Email me to ask to be added to the daily reminder list!

*First time voters, be sure to confirm you are a real person in the confirmation email you will be sent as no fake account votes will count.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Advice To Future GDTers

UPDATED Dec 2015

Thinking about doing the Great Divide Trail? Not sure if it's the hike for you? Wondering what a GDT hike involves? Well, you've come to the right place. I'll do what I can to keep this as concise and informative as I can. I know this can seem exhaustive, but it saves me time in the long run as I get many emails and questions, so I try to cover all the bases here of what people might ask.

My Great Divide Trail Experience
I feel like my hiking partner (Elizabeth) and I had one of the most fortunate and optimal experiences anyone could have on the Great Divide Trail. Many things came together to make it a really great experience. Mainly, the weather!  Probably the key ingredient to a good GDT experience is less rain. I say less, because the rain(and possibly snow) is inevitable. We were lucky to have less rain AND a low snow year coming into the hike, so our stream crossings were less intimidating too. Overall, there was a decent amount of rainfall this summer along the GDT, but we were lucky to thread the needle on many occasions. Hikers within a week or two of us in either direction were not always as fortunate with weather and it definitely impacts the enjoyment of the hike. The clearer conditions also gave us the ability to do the highly recommended high route alternates. These alternates were some of my favorite experiences along the trail and gave the added bonus of avoiding the low route that was often in a lot of wet brush and mud. We were just extremely lucky with timing...and also fortunate to have each other to keep things positive when those inevitably cold and wet days or moments would come. The other ingredient that greatly impacted our hike was that the Great Divide Trail Association did major trail work on some of the most overgrown sections right before we got to them. It was like the green carpet was being rolled out and it was wonderful to benefit from all the hard work of those trail volunteers! The GDT surpassed all my expectations and I had built it up pretty big in my mind. It has set the bar for what I want in a thru hike. It had just the right balance of community, challenge, clearly defined trail, alternate routes, cross country, and solo hiking. More improvements are being made each year, and I highly recommend getting out there before the rest of the world finds out about it!

There are a few resources in development that could come to fruition in the next couple of years (and I will update this as those come along), but for now, this is what I recommend using. Again, I am the type of person who wants as much beta as possible, so this is a more exhaustive list than most would want or need. I know of a hiking couple that didn't even hardly use the guidebook this year, and just figured it out on their own with rough maps. It's a matter of personal preference, but here are the options.

GDT Thru-Hiker Facebook Group
New in 2016! The GDT now has a class fb group so hikers and supporters can communicate in one group! Here's the link to join and be in the loop with everything GDT.

*GDT App
Exciting news for 2016ers! There is currently a free app in production that will hopefully be ready by this summer. Check back right here for more details if/when it becomes available. If all goes as hoped, it will be a combo of a GPS with a track and guidebook with trail descriptions.

Dustin Lynx published the GDT guidebook, Hiking Canada's Great Divide Trail in 2000, and it was revised in 2007. We had the great opportunity of meeting Dustin Lynx during our hike and I really appreciate what he did with this guidebook. The book is outdated in some areas where the trail conditions could have changed for the better(trail maintenance) or worse (fire/flood damage), but overall, I found it to still be very applicable as the route has barely changed. Dustin does a great job of concisely describing each section and how you would experience it as you hike through it. Some of the shortcomings are that when he gathered this information in the late 1990s, the distances and waypoints were not collected using the precise mapping tools that we have today. The distances are sometimes longer or shorter than noted (nothing greatly significant) and the waypoints were done on a different grid (or whatever it's called), so the waypoints available for download (I will mention later), are not exact. That is a minor problem as most are easy landmarks that are easily located without the need of a GPS for assistance. The general maps in the book are drawn maps, so you will want a separate set of actual maps.

-Ben Mayberry's Maps & GDT Resource Package
Ben Mayberry is another one of those hikers in the hiking community that I greatly respect and admire for his time and efforts given voluntarily with no ulterior motive of profiting. In 2011, a record high snow year, Ben hiked over 4,000mi from Mexico to the end of the GDT connecting the Arizona Trail, Hayduke Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and the GDT. Afterward, he made a general mapset and GDT Resource Package that he will email to anyone that asks. It has not been updated since 2012 and the awesome GDT class of 2015 is in the process of updating it now for future classes. I will edit this once the full revision is done this winter. We are working on how Ben wants to distribute it now that the GDT has become more popular. Right now, there is not a link for downloading it and you can just email Ben directly to ask for the file. He is a busy dude that may not be checking email often, so do this well in advance of your hike and it may take a few emails before you get a reply.

There are various options for maps(that I elaborate on below), but I found Ben's to be sufficient along with a GPS track (that I will talk about below). As for the Resource Package, it is GOLD in my opinion! The package is the perfect supplement to the guidebook and fills in all the holes. Contained in the Resource Package is all you'd need for planning: resupply points, permit process, fees, transportation to and from the trail, etc. What I found most helpful while hiking is that Ben has included supplementary notes for each section from previous hikers. These notes were like tips for getting through confusing sections or just warnings for sections that may be slow going or treacherous. Very valuable information indeed. Well done Ben and I'm glad the 2015 crew is stepping up to help keep it updated.

-Great Divide Trail Association
First off, if you hike this trail and don't DONATE to the GDTA, a grizzly bear WILL attack you...go ahead and test that theory if you like, but it's true! Seriously, the GDT is a young trail in need of a lot of support. Canada does not have the government funding that the US does for trails, so that makes donations that much more essential. DONATE what you can and/or become a GDTA member. If you live near the trail, offer to volunteer!
My personal opinion on resources is that I can't wait for the day that all of the resources are combined into one comprehensive guide on the Great Divide Trail Association website. I do feel like it may be headed in that direction and the GDTA has done amazing things with just a few volunteers. I am in awe of the time and effort given by them and the incredible progress that has been made in a recent resurgence of the GDTA. Their website is a great resource and basically has everything there you need to hike. I am just expounding on what they already have and putting it in one post. I have trouble reading and found the layout to be confusing and a bit of a seek and find, but I think that may just be me personally. All you need is linked on the GDTA page! There is also a list of journals from past hikers and they would love to add more if you're planning to hike and journal online. I especially enjoy the interactive map they have of the trail and track available for download, that I will elaborate on later.

-GDTA KML Google Earth File
First off, it is not a necessity to have a track to hike the GDT. The GDT is mostly on either road or already existing trail. The track definitely does come in handy for those sections that are not as clear, but it isn't essential. I love the embedded map on the GDTA website! They give a detailed description below the map on how to view all aspects of the map along with how to download the track. It's really fun to view each section and get an idea of where things are and the terrain it goes over. WARNING: The track is a compilation of many hiker's contributions, and it seems that some of it is a drawn in track in certain places. Do not rely on this track as an exact path to follow and only use it as a general guide for many of the cross country situations. Sometimes the track isn't even on the correct side of major streams, so be aware of that and don't blindly follow the track. I was fortunate to have a personal track from a previous hiker that was very helpful, but he wants that track to remain private. I do know that the President of the GDTA will be hiking the trail for the second time this coming summer and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of these discrepancies are fixed by the summer of 2017.

-Zdenek Sychrava's Website
Zdenek Sychrava hiked the GDT in 2014, and most of it again in 2015. The trail is basically his backyard and the GDT has become his current passion. He will probably be out again in 2016, and I wouldn't be surprised if some kind of stellar resources come out of all his research in the next couple of years. I highly recommend that you follow his blog to be apprised of any updates or announcements. I will update here if I hear of anything. Zdenek was a huge personal resource to me, and having seen some of the things he's produced for himself, I truly hope he takes the leap to share them with the public...yep, I'm calling you out Zed! YOU ROCK and I think you've found your niche! You'll notice in my daily blog entries that I used Zdenek's elevation charts for my hike. There are no elevation charts in any of the other resources, so THANK YOU for that Zdenek. I found his GDT Map List to be more understandable than the one on the GDTA's site (more on that below). Basically, I recommend that you go through everything under his GDT Resources tab. If you go through Zdenek's blog, I found it very helpful Thank you for doing all this voluntarily Zed and for paying it forward to future GDTers!

-Other Maps
So there are a lot of different maps people can use for the GDT. A complete listing can be found on both the GDTA's site and Zdenek's site. Zdenek's is laid out in a more understandable way and helps you to see which maps cover which sections of the GDT trail. I found it very helpful! I really liked the GemTrek maps, but they are not essential. They are not solely intended for the GDT, so they encompass larger parks areas that just coincidentally have the GDT marked on them. I liked seeing the whole park and sometimes we used them for extra exploration. The ones we found that we used the most were the Waterton Lakes, Banff & Mt Assiniboine, and Jasper. Good luck if you want to print off the free Natural Resources Canada GeoGratis maps...I didn't have the patience to figure it out, and when E did, they were NOT worth it!

Should I Hike With A Partner?
It is completely doable to hike the GDT solo. In fact, it may be a very pleasant experience for some. I'll tell you why I personally found having a partner to be an advantage on the GDT. First off, grizzly bears. E and I saw no bears. We don't know if that's because the noise of two hikers and conversation scared them away, or if it was just a coincidence. Also, we slept much better at night with another tent nearby than we probably would have in grizzly country alone. Hanging a bear bag is a pain...even more so in cold wet brush. We shared this responsibility with E hanging most nights and me retrieving. It seems like a small thing, but it was a nice luxury to team up on the bear hanging. There were some very uncomfortable moments being very cold and very wet...having another person there to go through that with really helped both of our morale. Having two sets of eyes to find trail and navigate during the cross country or brushy sections really helped. Finally, the GDT will be epic at times. Sharing that with a great partner will only make it even greater! So, you see where I'm coming from with this. I would prefer a partner on the GDT. However, it definitely wouldn't stop me from hiking the GDT if I didn't have someone to hike with. To each their own and you all know your own wants/needs. If you want that solo experience, by all means, go for it!

Grizzly Bear Strategy
We didn't want to take any risks with the bears. We didn't carry a bear canister, but we did hang most nights and used OPSAKs to keep our food as odor proof as possible. I talk about them more in my 2015 gear review. We both carried the 8oz Counter Assault bear spray. We did make dinner near camp, but not in camp. We walked a good distance away from camp and made sure we were downwind of camp to cook. Really, there are so many little things that could attract a bear that it's hard to know where to draw the line...I was paranoid about inflating my sleeping pad after dinner because I worried that my breath smelled of whatever I ate or minty toothpaste. I always blew up my sleeping pad before dinner. Then there was my clothing I cooked I hang that too? What about my jackets and beanie!? If my food was in my pack and side pockets all day, shouldn't I just hang it all? All of this runs through your head and you just have to decide what helps you to sleep best at night. Btw, bear spray can legally be driven into Canada from the US, but cannot be brought back into the US...and as a side note, DO NOT try to fly Air Canada with your hiking poles...learned that one the hard way on the way out.

What About Rain & Brush?
I'm not gonna lie, there is rain (and possibly snow!) possible every day on the GDT. There is no way to avoid it. For us, the rain would usually be a light rain sometime overnight. We were thankful for that and that it wasn't raining as much when we hiked, but it did make all the thick brush wet and the car wash effect took place. We would be drenched with soaking wet shoes sometimes just minutes into the early morning hiking. Having dry shoes the second half of the hike was an anomaly. There is no avoiding it and trail runners or a lighter boot are your best bet if you ever want them to dry out. We both used Sierra Designs Hurricane Rain Pants and I really like them. E has found that they can wear easily in the crotch and wetness can seep through, but hers were used when she got them. I used a heavier rain jacket than usual and was very happy with the Montbell Torrent Flier! I also used Nitrile medical gloves over my gloves to try to keep them dry and create a vapor barrier for added warmth. E used her older Marmot Precip rain jacket and it was really wearing thin. She was able to add a poncho she found and loved using that for added protection and warmth. She used nice warm fleece mittens that I envied on those really cold wet days. We both used umbrellas and swear by them for sanity. Here is a link to how to attach umbrellas to a pack and walk hands free. We even found that we could prop them over us in trees during lunch, if needed, for a dry break. All of my gear is reviewed in detail on my 2015 Gear Review. Zed found this video from 2014 hikers Leif and Elina that is perfect in showing the variety of experiences on the trail. That is the type of brush and stream crossings you can expect. Thanks for letting me share this Leif and Elina!

There aren't many options to choose from along the GDT, so everyone tends to resupply at the same places. The complete list and details are in Mayberry's Package and on the GDTA's website. Many are directly along the route and you hike right though, so that's super convenient! You're going to want to send to most places either because of insanely high prices or because there is no place to buy food. The only places I'd consider not shipping would be where you could get to a grocery store at Blairmore/Coleman(neighboring), Banff, and Jasper. They might be a bit pricey though. Our mailing strategy was that we were able to drive over the border with all our food boxes and then mail them within Canada. There is a post office in Waterton Lakes, but the one in the neighboring town of Pincher Creek is a larger post office with less routing, so we chose to go there to mail. Also, Pincher Creek is a larger town with a WalMart to do all your resupplies from if you need to do that. We were able to ship all 6 boxes for less than $100US. As for fuel, we both used alcohol stoves and were able to buy in towns with gas stations, which were most. We either found denatured alcohol or a HEET equivalent which is gas line antifreeze that come in small black bottles. Warning, don't buy the ones that have benzene. It will turn your pot black and has a strong odor.

Phone/Data Packages
Being Wired, I just wanted the phone plan that would give me the works and that I wouldn't have to worry about minutes or limitations. I found out that the Telus network is the one to get, so I got lucky and was able to get at local to add me to their Telus plan(THANK YOU Dave!) while I was in Pincher Creek. I did have to get the plan and a new SimCard in Pincher Creek at a place called the Phone Lady. If you do use a local's phone plan, they have to come to the store to make this happen in person. For most of you, you will probably just choose a basic plan you could get at WalMart. I can't remember which one E chose, but be sure to read the fine print! They can be tricky saying there is unlimited on things, when what they mean is that you can purchase an unlimited amount. It doesn't come unlimited unless you keep paying more. I found wifi available in most places we stopped, but often too slow to load a blog post. That's where my Telus plan came in handy. If wifi was too slow, I just did it directly using my own data.

There are a lot of public, paid, and reserved campsites along the GDT. They are not the only option unless you are in a National Park (not sure about Provencial Parks as they vary) so know that there are more places to camp than the campsites listed on the GDTA site and Zdenek's website. The pro to sleeping at the campsites is that there were often nice eating areas, in protected areas for foul weather, and had pulley systems to easily bear hang. The con is that other people may be there, they tend to be quite wooded without views, and more animals may frequent an area if they are accustomed to people camping there.

Ok, I will admit that this is one of the things I find to be the most overwhelming. I was extremely fortunate that E handled this part of the planning. THANK YOU E!!! Here is what E has to say on the matter. "One of my goals while creating our itinerary was to have as few reserved campsites as possible, so I strategically chose sites where we could freedom camp or walk-in for $5.  I reserved 9 sites the entire trail: 2 Banff, 2 Kootenay, 4 Jasper, 1 Mt. Robson.  The GDTA campsite list is fabulous!  I would have been lost without it.  So much good information in one place. I made two phone calls to backcountry offices (Banff and Jasper) and one online campsite reservation (Mt Robson-Berg Lk area).  When required to leave a message for Banff and Jasper, I was skeptical that anyone would get back to me in a timely manner, but I was pleasantly surprised when they did." She totally rocked it!

In most cases, we do not like to plan out everyday, but for this hike we sorta had to have a general plan to ensure that we hit our permitted campsites on the exact date. Our strategy was to plan on the low end for mileage to buffer for weather or anything else that might come up. If we got to town early, we got bonus time in town. It worked out well and I think E planned for about a 30km (19mi) average, but that will be different for everyone. I recommend starting by going to the GDTA's listing of Campgrounds along the GDT. Download that pdf and note the campgrounds that require a permit. That will give you a start and from there you'll follow the process through each park's website. E was able to book through Banff & Jasper backcountry offices for even the smaller parks that border them, so that will save time. You need to do this months in advance as the fill up early! Honestly, once we were out there, we found that many people do not seem to make reservations and many stealth or use the campgrounds without a permit. Rarely were our campgrounds completely full...but maybe that was just a coincidence for us. I'm not saying to completely disregard the system, but I am saying that there does seem to be some possible wiggle room if you find yourself off your expected schedule.

Alternate Routes
Dustin Lynx's guidebook and Ben Mayberry's GDT Package contain many alternate route options. E and I did just about all of them we wanted to do. Most require clear weather as they tend to be high route alternates, so sometimes the weather will dictate your choice. Overall, I felt like the high routes were what I was out there to do. Yes, the low route brushy stuff might have been quicker, but that wasn't our goal. Those alternates were some of the highlights of the trip! I will be adding my detailed thoughts to Ben's Package, so here I will just link the alternates we did do. I can say that I didn't regret a single one, but that they may not be for everyone.
-Barnaby Ridge
-Coral Pass
-Wonder Pass
-Mt Robson
-Jackpine Mtn High Route (partial)
-Surprise Pass High Route
-Providence Pass High Route

What About that Field Section?
As you research or hear about the Great Divide Trail, you might hear about a section that is no longer maintained that is basically a wall of brush and water crossings. It is the section from Field to Saskatchewan Crossing. For us, this 71mi section took 4 days and was not as horrid as we imagined in our minds. You can read here what that section is like, but I found it to be worth doing to connect our footsteps. Yes, brush is annoying, and we did experience some of it in very cold wet brush. I would not want to do that section in back to back days of rain! I will say that going through that made us appreciate even more what we got the rest of the trail. We both felt like it gave us a new perspective and made the later challenges seem less taxing. Some hikers have tried creating various routes to go around this section or skip it altogether, but there has yet to be an alternate that anyone can say is worth doing over the original route. While we were in that section, we tried to imagine how it would feel without the brush and it would actually be a pretty nice section scenically. I will add that the GDTA has slated a section of this, the David Thompson Heritage Trail and stream crossings, for major trail work next summer. They plan to clear out that section of the trail and put bridges over two of the more intimidating crossings along the whole trail.

What Ending Do I Choose?
Once you look at the trail in detail, you will find out that there are multiple ways to end the GDT.
Option #1-Mt Robson: The most common ending is at Mt Robson. It is a very popular destination for tourists and is an 18mi side hike off the GDT. It is a nice place to end a trail and an easy place to get a hitch out.
Option #2-Kakwa Lake: The guidebook has the GDT ending at the remote Kakwa Lake. Looking at the GDTA map, you can see this section if you click on the sections of the map. For us, it was an additional 8 days and 136mi northbound of fairly relaxed hiking (there could be a ton of brush if you don't take high routes) to hike from Mt Robson to the point that a car could pick us up after Kakwa Lake. Had we not had a car to pick us up, we would have had to add another day or two and 45mi of dirt road walking to get out. Now you see why so few do that final leg. For us, it was one of the best and most remote legs of the entire hike! We only saw 1 pair of horsepackers between Robson and Kakwa Lake! We loved ending the hike in this way, but it could be a VERY different ending if this section was done in foul weather and a lot of rain. We had pretty much perfect conditions for this stretch. It is remote, in that, less people are out there, but we were surprised to find clear trail for much of the way. It is a choice all will have to make and some may not even decided until they get to Mt Robson with all the factors involved.
Option #3-Grande Cache Alternate: This alternate was hiked by a couple in 2013 and Zdenek tested it out this past year, but has yet to post about it. I'm sure he would give beta to anyone really interested in it. Again, you can get a good visual by clicking on the sections on the GDTA's interactive Google Map. This route basically forks east just before reaching Kakwa Lake to eventually end a the town of Grande Cache. This is one way to do a hike further north and end at a more populated area, but it will take at least 10 days for most people I believe.
Option #4-North Boundary Trail: Another option, done less frequently for those wanting to hike back to Jasper, is that the North Boundary Trail connects at the Robson junction and that would create a loop back to Jasper.

Whew, hope all that info is helpful!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wired's 2015 Comprehensive Gear Review

Here is my gear review from this summer on the Hayduke, Tahoe Rim, and Great Divide Trail. I updated quite a few items for this summer, so it took awhile to update this review. I was a bit heavier than past years and seem to have come in at a 13lb 10.2oz base pack weight. Many of my major gear items, I've now used for 2-3yrs over hundreds of days, so it is interesting to see which pieces have lasted the test of time. For a complete list of my evolution of gear, gear reviews, and current gear with prices and weights, you can go to my gear tab.

**An important note about my current gear listing though...I am updating it this weekend...some smaller items (ie stakes, headlamp, pocket knife) WILL NOT match this gear review. After my hikes ended this summer, I sent a box of gear home from Canada that I didn't want to travel to Chicago with before returning home to Portland. Long story short, I was lax in my shipping routine after doing this for years with no problems at all. The box got stolen when it was accidentally delivered to my home porch with no one home. It had almost 40 small items I keep in my pack and bounce box over my hikes which totaled at least $700 worth of gear and personal items. Argh! I fortunately had my sentimental items, sleeping bag, backpack, and tent with me, so it could have been a lot worse. The two biggest ticket items I will need to replace are my GPS and my sleeping pad. I was fortunate that my awesome sponsors were able to replace a good chunk of the items for me. Some of them are even upgrades on old items I've had since my first hike and just never felt the need to update until the item wore out (or got stolen). I want to give a big THANK YOU to Gossamer Gear, Sawyer Products, Trail Designs, and Dirty Girl Gaiters for supporting me when I really needed it. As my followers know, I am not a walking commercial for gear and I use the gear that works best for me, not just what I can get for free. These are some reputable lightweight companies with really great gear, and I'm grateful to represent them and their gear on the trail. THANK YOU!!!!

I've attached links to some of the primary gear so you can easily click and find it online. I do want to say that gear preferences are a very personal thing and that everyone needs to find what fits them the best. Just because I use it doesn't mean it's guaranteed to work for others. There's a great variety out there and this is what has worked for me.
**This 60L pack was just updated (Fall 2014) with new, stronger material, and adjustments have been made with the shoulder straps to alleviate the discomfort some had with the earlier version.
Pros: I needed to be able to hold a lot on the Hayduke for long food and water carries and the Mariposa hung in there for me. It says it is made for 35lbs and less, but I was able to do more when needed for short periods and it worked just fine. The Mariposa is the only pack I've ever had that didn't give me pain when it was fully loaded and there were times I didn't even feel like I was wearing a pack! I like the variety in pockets and pouches of different sizes. There were multiple ways I could organize my gear/food/water as my weight and quantities changed over a leg. An added bonus is that the back pad can easily be removed and used as a sit pad or extension to my sleeping pad. 
Cons: Somehow the way I wear this pack, the side hip belt pockets got rubbed by the bottom of the shoulder strap. This is not a common occurrence for most other hikers and must be a combination of my size and the way I walk. Over time, and with the extreme use of a thru hiker, the strap can wear through the bottom of the shoulder straps near my hips or the side pocket zippers and I used duct tape to prevent it from rubbing through. I also feel like the pack looks big for me (I'm pretty small), and that I could downsize to the Gossamer Gear Gorilla (40L), but I love the option of all that storage when needed. On the Hayduke, all packs get torn up by the rocky surface that they are regularly scraped and pulled across. I should have gorilla taped the pocket bottoms ahead of time on that hike because they don't have the thicker material that the bottom of the pack has. 

ZPacks Soloplex (1lb, 1.4oz, including 8 stakes) Pros: Light and spacious! It has become my favorite tent for a few reasons. A full bathtub floor and storm doors to make it fully enclosed. No need for a groundsheet so that saved weight too. Loved the space and the full side door with the option to leave the storm doors open (even in a light rain). I've used this tent for two seasons and well over 200 nights and it has held up! I'm hoping to make it through next season too.
Cons: It's expensive ($535)! Even though it was stellar in a light or steady rain, it had some problems in the downpours and horizontally gusting rain. I get splashing and/or misting that gusted up under the elevated doors. This only happened a couple times in over 100 nights. Also, there is a small crack where the front storm doors don't fully meet, so I would open my umbrella in the vestibule for added protection. I was fine and it only occurred a few times, but definitely worth mentioning. I had one night of a downpour for the whole night at the end of the summer and that is the only time the Soloplex showed its age. It seemed to get fully saturated in one corner and a small puddle developed, but it was an extreme situation and this tent is well used by now.
Bottom Line: If you have the $$ and want to save weight, this is the tent to get. A very close second is the Tarptent Protrail

ZPacks 10 Degree Down Sleeping Bag (1lb, 3.8oz)
Pros: It is sooo warm and puffy. Very  light and small. It doesn't have a hood, but I was fine without it and use beanie, buff, and down hoodie if needed. It is very warm and I often would just use it as a blanket and not need to fully zip it. However, it was quite cold at night on the trails I did this summer, so it was great! I've had this bag for three seasons, and over 300 nights. It may have lost some loft over the years, but it was still great and I plan to use as is next year too. Just heavenly!
Cons: Expensive($400)...but worth it! The zipper does not extend all the way to the foot to save weight, but I like to stick my feet out the bottom as I sleep, so that was an adjustment. If this is a bit pricey for you, I recommend the Marmot Helium. 

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Women's Sleeping Pad
Pros: Quite possibly my favorite piece of gear! Allowed me sink into the comfort of a bed every night. Light and compact. I upgraded to the XLite Women's because it is lighter, shorter, and tapered so I had more room in my tent. Also, there is a reflective layer withing the pad that reflects body warmth back to the person laying on it. Really amazingly warm!
Cons: Also expensive, but totally worth it! People say they don't like the crinkle of it at times, but I don't move much and it doesn't bother me. I know it could get a hole in it easier than other sleep pads, but I've only gotten two holes that were easy to repair over the lifetime of use of NeoAirs in over 500 nights of use. 

GoLite Chrome Dome Umbrella (8oz)
**GoLite is out of business, but other US retailers now sell it online. here is the Gossamer Gear link to buying this umbrella...
Pros: I started using an umbrella a year ago and it's now a must have piece of gear for me. I don't know that I'll ever hike a long trail again without it. This summer I used it as a sun shield often on the Hayduke and for that cold drizzle that often came on the Great Divide Trail. Then in snow on the Hayduke and the Tahoe Rim. With it, my core stayed dry, I didn't have to put away my electronics, and I could take pictures as I pleased. I found a way to strap it to pack so it can be used hands free and loved it! As a bonus use, I've found it useful as extra protection from wind and rain when I open it up and prop it up in the vesibule of my tent. I do not use it in place of rain gear and I also use at least a light rain jacket when in cold rain.
Cons: It is technically a luxury item, but well worth it. I could see it being less useful in exposed high wind rain, but I've yet to have that problem. 

**NewTrent no longer makes batteries and this item is probably not easy to find at all online.
Pros: I often have the freedom to use my electronics all I want with this bad boy! I was able to use it to blog up to 10 days on the long legs I had this summer. It can charge anything that uses a USB and has two ports to be able to charge multiple devices at once. I also love that it has a meter that indicates in thirds how much the battery has left in it.  It is durable and reliable. I've now fully converted to this from using a solar charger as it's only a few ounces heavier and well worth the ease of use. 
Cons: It can take overnight to charge it fully, but I just would plug it in while eating in town to top it off or overnight in the hotel and it would be fine. It is heavy (I called it "the brick") and the big size isn't necessary for most people.  This one would charge my iPhone ~7 times. My recommendation for chargers since NewTrent doesn't make them anymore is Anker

Trail Designs Caldera Cone Stove Set
Pros: Light, efficient, simple, and sturdy. I'm a big fan of this setup and have used it since I started thru hiking.
Cons: Took some practice to use properly. It doesn’t have a simmer setting, so care is needed for doing more than boiling water. Hard plastic container can take up space, but I use the top as a cup. The base of the container gets way too dirty/sooty to use as a bowl as advertised. I bought a larger bottle to hold fuel for longer legs, but it still fits in the container. Sometimes the fuel would leak a bit through the threads of the tiny bottle, but it just evaporates when I open it.
Pros: Wonderful! Small, light, gets the job done.
Cons: Careful not to burn things to the thin bottom.

Sawyer and Platypus Water Bladders
Pros: Light and collapsible. I preferred the Platypus bags because the are slightly more durable and clear so I can see the contents.
Cons:  All bags used for squeezing eventually break at the seal where the bag connects to the mouth, but they did last half the hike this time. The Platypus bladders are sturdier, but the threads can be less adaptable to the Sawyer Squeeze and strip over time. Both bags will wear over time, and the Sawyer ones had a shorter lifespan. I knew ahead of time this wear and tear would happen, so I had new ones in my bounce every two months. I have found the Platypus bladders are also easier to tape up when they get a hole. 

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter(3oz)
Pros: This was my third year using the Sawyer Squeeze. I chose to take the Squeeze over the Mini for the Hayduke because I knew I'd be filtering a large quantity. The extra ounce is worth having for more efficient filtering. I'm still in shock that something so light and small can accomplish such an amazing feat of filtering water! I also want to note a great trick to use when backflushing the Squeeze or Mini. I have a picture here as a visual aide. Many hikers try to find alternates to backflushing that would avoid carrying the syringe that comes with the Squeeze. I found out about a great one recently! If you carry a SmartWater water bottle, which many hikers do, there are some that have flip cap tops (.7L bottles). They coincidentally have a spout that fits perfectly with the Sawyer Squeeze spout. Instead of carrying the plunger, I now will just carry this extra cap I can put on my SmartWater bottle and I can squeeze the water from my clean water bottle through the Squeeze to backflush it....wonderful! Sawyer just came out with their Cleaning Coupling that does the same thing with just a Squeeze and not the mini...I still prefer my method, but nice to see they have made this adapter that will now come with the full Squeeze kit (not compatible with the mini).

Cons: For an impatient thru hiker not wanting to sit still, it takes time to filter through any filter and I preferred bleach drops to save time. I tended to use my filter when there were lots of debris, floaties, or contamination. With the really gritty stuff, my filter was slower, but that's understandable. Take extra care to sleep with it at night when it's below freezing so it doesn't freeze. With the excessive filtering needed on a thru hike, you will need to replace the bags probably mid hike.
Bottom Line: It's the best option out there for a light and efficient filter!

Gossamer Gear Ultralight Mini Dropper
I carry one little dropper of bleach for treating water...I don't know what it will eventually do to my system, but I tend to be too lazy to sit down and filter if the water is clear and not in a cow pasture or other contaminated area. I put in two drops per liter and let it mix for 20mins before I drink. I've never gotten sick from water that I know of. On the Hayduke, I did have stomach issues, but I think it was from unavoidable alkaline water and minerals that can't be filtered out or treated in those situations.

Panasonic Lumix DMC ZS35 & ZS25
Pros: LOVE this camera (ZS25 version) when it works! A great wide angle that captured more than any other camera I've ever had. Great quality video. Sturdy shutter over the lens that is less likely to get dented or stuck opening/shutting with the bumps of a thru hike. I loved the powerful zoom that also worked in video mode. Also, loved the ease with which I could take panoramic shots! I am frequently asked what camera I used by blog followers as the quality of the photos are excellent.
Cons: DO NOT get the ZS35!  I was really excited about the additional features of the newer version, but I had two of these in the ZS35 version this summer (lost one and the other one broke) and it does not take as quality photos as the ZS25. Plus, it broke more easily. I have a knack for breaking cameras, but the ZS35 really was finicky. I also think the Wifi in the ZS35 made it run much slower and I didn't like the process of the transfers to my phone, so I used my Eye-Fi SD card anyway. One of my favorite features is the panoramic setting, but if the sun is shining at you, it can cause lighting issues and horizontal light strips on panoramas and that was annoying. Also, I've found these don't want to function in below freezing temperatures.

Eye-Fi SD Wi-Fi Card
Note: I've been using the same card for 3yrs, but if I have to get their newer card (called Mobi), I think they now require a paid yearly subscription...check this before buying one! If this is true, look into other wi-fi sd cards you don't have to pay a fee to use. That's ridiculous!
Pros: Nifty little sd card that gives me the ability to transfer my pictures from my camera to my iPhone for blogging or sending out pictures.
Cons: This particular card would load ALL my pictures from the day, but I found out that you can set it to load individual photos, but it's time consuming and not worth the pain. I heard other sd cards (EZ Share) let you choose individual photos and some cameras now have this function built into it. I've been fine with this and have just stuck with it for now. Just great that my camera quality photos can jump to my phone so easily!

Sandisk iXpand Flash Drive(64GB)
Pros: Oh the best toy I've gotten in awhile! It's a flash drive that works with an iPhone. This drive was like my external hard drive backup all summer. It could hold maps, guidebooks, data sheets, songs, movies, photos, etc. It is 64GB worth of storage and it plugs into the charging port of the iPhone to be able to view or download whatever you like from one device to the next. There is an iXpand app that's free that it runs through. It has a USB port so you load it and can transfer data also just like a regular flash drive. Sooo worth the 1.1oz addition to my pack weight! I know many of you will cringe at this, but I loved using it for movies and shows that I've downloaded to watch in my tent at night or during some downtime.
Cons: It does require charging through a USB port. When using it to watch movies on the iPhone, it plugs into the charging port, so you cannot charge while using the I needed to plan ahead and have enough battery life to watch a show since I couldn't charge it while watching. There were a few times a map file was too large to open on the iPhone. I don't know if that was an app limitation or and iPhone limitation. I had to take my Lifeproof Case off to use it because the rubber strip below the inserted portion was too wide.

Sandisk Sansa Clip MP3 Player
Pros: She Sansa Clip has always been one of my favorite pieces of gear. It would greatly impact my hike if I didn't have this little guy. Held all my songs and audiobooks easily. Also, small and clips to clothes or pack for easy use. Even takes mini sd cards so people were able to send me more songs and audiobooks. Saves me the battery usage on my phone. Usually less than $50, so easy to replace for people like me that tends to lose or break things often.
Cons: Doesn't hold as many songs as more expensive players unless you buy a mini sd to put in it. I keep a file on my computer of all my songs to pull into it if I lose or break it and have to get a new one since it isn't stored online like iTunes. This year I got the Sansa Sport and do not like it as much as the regular player. There isn't a way to lock the Sansa Sport version, so it can get turned on in your pack if the power button is depressed and run the battery out without you knowing it. Big annoyance...

I had a lot of people ask how I shoot my selfies and videos while I walk. I use the awesome StickPic. It allows you to attach your camera to the end of your hiking pole for both pictures and video. Love it! You can order it online. Careful, they are easy to lose, so I recommend putting it on a carabiner. Also, if you lose the nut that tightens it to your camera, you can use medical tape on the screw and it tightens just fine.

Gossamer Gear Shoulder Strap Pocket
Pros: Just the right sized external pocket for my camera or phone while hiking.
Cons: I somehow didn't attach it correctly and the velcro rubbed on my shirt. In the damp and rainy conditions on the GDT, I felt like it sagged as the velcro was wearing out. I am getting a new one and will have to test it out again next summer to see if it was user error.

Pros: Loved this bag! Having a wide mouthed food bag is a nice convenience. I makes it easy to organize my food in it and it was waterproof. I used gallon and quart sized ziplocs to further organize my food in the bag. I hung almost every night on the GDT using the carabiner that came with it and it worked great!
Cons: Expensive...Over a thru hike, the cuben fiber it is made of will probably wear. I have found that I can make it two summers of 4-6 months of backpacking before I need to replace it. 
Loksak OPSAK
I got these odor proof sacks for my food in the Canadian Rockies. I used them in addition to the ZPacks Roll Top Food Bag. I got both the 12X20 and 4X7 size.
Pros: I don't know if they truly are odor proof, but I didn't have any bear problems and just felt better using them.
Cons: The ziploc feature can break over time, so take care of it and possibly send a new one mid hike in anticipation of one breaking. Putting shipping tape along the top helps to strengthen it a bit and extends the life. Also, make sure you buy the ones with double ziploc seals. I somehow got one set with the double seal that was great and then another set in the same packaging that just had on ziploc zipper across it and it did not seal as strong or as easily.

Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Dry Sacks
Pros: My sacks have lasted me four years and three complete thru hikes. They come in various sizes and colors for organizing small things. Light, resilient, and water resistant. Those who used Cuban fiber sacks had difficulty with them shredding apart.
Cons: Not waterproof…even if they say they are. The black one I had drove me nuts at night and in the early morning because I always had trouble finding it in my tent or pack.

Dyneema Ironwire (50')
Note: This was an item I had stolen and I have recently replaced it with Dynaglide Bear Hanging Line.
Pros: Super light and durable string for hanging and other random uses. 
Cons: Thin and tight so it can hurt or cut your hand if you need to wrap it around your hand to pull it up and have a heavy bag. I probably would want something thicker and less painful if I knew I was hanging each night.

 Sawyer Stay Put Sunscreen 30 & 50 SPF
I am very pale and require a lot of sunscreen. I'm used to sweating the sunscreen off and reapplying it every couple of hours, but then I finally used the Sawyer Stay Put Sunscreen! It is awesome! I used the 50SPF on the the Hayduke in strong sun exposure and was completely safe. I carried the 8oz bottles for the long legs, but most could get away with just the small tubes. It is pricier than most sunscreens, but that is because just a little bit goes a long way and you don't need to reapply. I always reapply halfway though the day, but I'm pretty sure it isn't necessary. Sawyer's site has great detailed videos on their products and how to use them. This is a highly reputable company and product. You can find it at REI, so I really recommend you give it a try and read/watch more about it.
Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent
I have always been paranoid about using Deet and the effects it can have. Sawyer uses Picaridin and I felt much better using it! I only used it a couple times this summer with a low bug year, but it was like magic when I did used it. I like that it comes in these small spray bottles basically the size of a marker. Again, Sawyer is a company that puts out quality products. They have detailed information on their technology and reasoning for the ingredients that they use and I recommend giving it a look to learn more about the quality of their products. They have a variety of insect repellents including lotions, so check it out.

iPhone5 (with LifeProof Case)
Pros: Amazing! Service is best with Verizon. It was my own personal computer, phone, camera, alarm clock, and GPS all in one. Quick and easy panoramic shots if I need and a good replacement of a camera if my actual camera was lost or broken. I love being able to Skype or FaceTime family or friends. Of course watching TV in my tent is a great plus! Just amazing, love it!
Cons: It can drain quickly using the GPS or having it on LTE (if you have Verizon). Just keep it in airplane mode whenever possible.

LifeProof Phone Case
Pros: A good reliable case I've used for years now.
Cons: Overall, I find it annoying to have to use a case, but it is worth it to keep the phone dry. I use my headphones to talk with the case on because it muffles my voice. Also, it will muffle sound if you are recording video with it on. In general, I find it easier to type without the case on, so I take it off when I blog. Be careful if you put the case in your pack without the phone in it and also when removing the phone from the case. I have broken two cases by trying to pop the camera out by pressing the plastic and pressing too hard and the plastic comes unsealed from the edge...will make sense when you have one. Just be nice to it. 

Petzel Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp
Note: This was an item that got stolen and I've recently replaced it with the Petzel e+Lite (Ultralight) Headlamp.
Did great! Honestly, I rarely used it and only changed the batteries once all trip. This was a new headlamp as I needed one with a red light at night so I wouldn't disturb others around me with a bright light while I was in my tent at night. They don't seem to make this version anymore so here's what seems most compatible...

DeLorme inReach SE Satellite Messenger
Pros: My favorite new piece of gear! Leaving home without it would be like not wearing a seat belt in my mind. The inReach allows you to text message or send coordinate tracks from just about anywhere that it isn't covered from reaching the Iridium satellite system. I can't say enough about this device that gave me and my family relief on these more remote trails I did this summer. More detailed product reviews are out there and comparisons to the next level up, the inReach Explorer, so my review is that IT WORKS! I liked knowing my messages or waypoints were received as it gave me notice when it was. Also, being able to communicate with someone in civilization for emergencies is gold. I found I was using it for arranging times for hitches. It was also great when the person I was communicating with had one too. Then we both could communicate where phones wouldn't have service. Another great thing is that there is a weather service you can send a message to and they will automatically send you a forecast for the exact area your inReach has you in. Great battery life! Has a built in battery and I could just charge that in town, but it really does take a long time for the battery to go down if you are just using it to check in at night. You can pair it to your smartphone via the internal bluetooth on each device and then you can text like you normally would rather than using the clunky keys on the inReach.
Cons: At 6.7oz, it is slighty heavier and bulkier than my SPOT. It isn't cheap ($300), but well worth it! You can look at the subscription options on their page (yearly and monthly options), but I chose the cheapest one ($12/mo) that will allow me to check-in an unlimited number of times with preset messages and coordinates to my family, four texts a month are free and then 50 cents after that. I will note that one catch is that if you want it to work with a public Trackleaders map like I have embedded on my site, you will need to send out a track point, and my subscription has that at 10 cents/track, which is reasonable. The screen is small, so I never used it as a GPS, but I've heard it isn't ideal. The keys are archaic, clunky, and time consuming if you are trying to type a message, so I paired it by Bluetooth to my iPhone and texted that way.
**I had one night when the inReach wouldn't turn on at all. Completely dead. It turns out that is a common glitch and it isn't permanently broken. It happens sometimes and there is a soft reset to fix it. Just hold down the X button and the down button simultaneously for 1min and then power it up and it works! Hopefully, Delorme is fixing that glitch.

Sea to Summit Insect Shield Head Net
Pros: It saves you from bugs!
Cons: This is probably the one piece of gear I carry that I hardly ever use (I've been fortunate the last few years), but it's a life saver when needed. Don’t accidentally rub your eyes with the head net…trust me! Using a fully brimmed hat is the most effective. My neck and ears get bit unless I use my buff to cover them.

Leatherman Style CS Multitool
Note: This is one of the items I had stolen, so I've recently replaced it with the Gossamer Gear Backpacking Pocket Knife.
Pros: Small, light, has multiple tools (including scissors!), and has a carabiner to clip it to my bag for easy access.
Cons: Could be considered by some to be a luxury item that just adds extra weight...but those were the same hikers who borrowed mine many times!

 iFlash 4 USB Quad Port Charger
Pros: Allowed me to charge four different things at the same time from one outlet.
Cons: Added weight and took up space in my pack. Didn't charge as fast as directly plugging one USB into a socket because it splits the charge.
Bottom Line: It's a luxury item, but one I use frequently!
Qiwiz Big Dig Ultralight Trowel
Note: this is an item that was stolen and I've recently replaced it with the Deuce Backpacking Trowel.
Pros: Light...normally I would just use my hiking pole to dig a hole, but now I have a tent requiring both polls for setup.
Cons: If it's a hard packed area or desert terrain, this may not be as effective as a hiking pole or a more sturdy trowel.

MSR Groundhog Mini
Note: This is an item I had stolen and I have recently replaced it with Gossamer Gear Titanium V Stakes
Pros: I have been using these stakes for three years and enjoy them. I like how they are light, three pronged for better grip in the ground, and red to easily find them if dropped.
Cons: The tops can easily break off if you use a rock to hit the stake into a very hard ground. Also, the strings can break off if you yank too hard on them.

OR Helium II Rain Jacket
Pros: VERY light (5.5oz) and compact.
Cons: If you sweat a lot, it may not be the jacket for you because it has no vents. Also, to save weight, there are no side pockets. I used it many mornings as a quick warm up layer and it's definitely my stinkiest piece of gear, ha! It is as good as any other rain jacket and I've used a version of it on each of my thru hikes(except the GDT where I got a heavier rain jacket). I combined it with an umbrella on the AT and it was perfect! Not sure I'd have it as my only rain protection without an umbrella on a thru hike again. I did it on the PCT and got lucky. It's a bit thinner and less insulated than other heavier jackets.
Bottom Line: Great jacket! It is not meant for cold heavy rain. If you use on a thru hike and find yourself finishing closer to October, I recommend sending yourself a warmer jacket up north or waterproof it again before you hit the northern rain.

Montbell Torrent Flier Rain Jacket (8oz)
I used the Montbell Torrent Flier on the GDT because of the cold wet weather in the Canadian Rockies. This is a heavier duty rain jacket and I'm so glad I used it! It worked great and, on the GDT, I had to wear my rain gear for full days some days. The only times it seemed to soak through was when I was pushing through soaking wet brush. It would soak through on the arms at times with all the friction and rubbing, which I think is normal. It dried fairly quickly too. I liked having the pit zips and the chest pocket is a must have for me in a rain jacket. It did a good job of keeping my camera and maps dry. I completely recommend this as a heavier duty rain jacket.

Sierra Design Hurricane Rain Pants
Pros: I love these rain pants! I have always used these pants and they work great. I have never worn rain gear as much as I did on the GDT and these pants were solid! I've had them for three years and they started to soak through towards the end of the summer, but that is to be expected after so many years of use. 
Cons: The ankle zippers can get stuck if you get too much mud and grit in them. Try to rinse them out when you can. 
Mountain Hardware Ghost :Whisperer Jacket
Pros: I've had this jacket for three years and it still works! Small, light, compact, warm, resilient, awesome! I think it is still the lightest down jacket on the market. Made for a great pillow at  night too! 
Cons: Expensive.
Bottom Line: Loved it! I used the one with the hood because I get cold easily, but many hikers saved the weight without the hood.

Balega Socks
I loved these socks. They are just basic running socks. My feet have bad reactions to wool and these were great. They don't last as long as thicker socks, but I stretch them as long as I can and have them in my resupplies.

Seirus Hyperlite All-Weather Gloves
I really liked these gloves! No gloves are truly waterproof, so I suggest getting a pack of Nitrile gloves to wear over the gloves in the rain or in the mornings when taking down a wet tent. The Nitrile ones lasted a long time, but I threw a new set in each resupply just in case I tore them. A simple thing that made my days so much more enjoyable!

ExOfficio Underwear
Loved em! I only needed two pairs that I rotated on the trip.
Diva Cup-Feminine Hygiene
Okay ladies, just like you, I worried about how I’d handle my monthly period on the trail. If you have to deal with it, then I suggest the Diva Cup. Look it up. I would definitely practice using it before going on the trail if you’ve never used it before. I like it because it’s minimal, I don’t have to worry about accumulating trash, and depending on the day, I could go the whole day without having to worry about it. I love that it is environmentally better AND saves me money. I have converted to using it in everyday life and I really recommend it.

Nike Pro Core Sports Bra
I had just one I wore all trip and it was great. Also, it doubles as a great swim top.

Lotion Infused Lounge Socks (Sleep Socks)
Heaven:) OMG, such wonderfulness!

Teva Mush II Thong Sandals
Pros: Some consider camp shoes a luxury. I can’t imagine enjoying backpacking if I didn’t have dry clean sandals to put on at the end of the day and middle of the night for bathroom runs. I saved a lot of weight switching to these from Crocs and they were super comfy!
Cons: Wearing them with socks is a pain. I usually just slipped all my toes to the side of the thong when I needed to walk at camp.
Montrail Mountain Masochist Hiking Shoe
My most difficult piece of gear to find this year was a new shoe after my old Montrail shoe was discontinued and no longer available. I have wide feet, so I tried the Masochists in the men's version and they never worked for me. They hurt and also didn't seem to give me the support, comfort, or space I was used to. I stuck it out for about 1000mi figuring it was my best option, until a new pair completely deflated on me out of nowhere after a couple hundred miles on them. I went to the store and thankfully found the Salomon XR Crossmax.

Salomon XR Crossmax 1.0 Hiking Shoe
It was a gamble to get these Salomon's midhike having never hiked in them, but they were really comfortable in the store and I had to get something with my Masochists unusable. Again, I bought the wider men's version. They were AWESOME! I felt really comfortable in them and I might even like them more than my Montrail AT Plus shoes I'd worn the first four years of my thru hiking. There are two minor problems. The laces are are a drawstring and not able to be tied. It took me awhile to find the right adjustment and comfort on that and I would prefer regular laces. The other problem is that they seem to wear thin and tear on the toebox at the bottom of the toes and I wonder if that is due to the conditions I was hiking in or if they do that regularly...either way, I'm still wearing them!

Lynco L405 Sports Orthotic Insoles
I need some type of added support to hike the trail and another hiker told me about the Lynco Insoles. I am a neutral walker and tend to need something for the ball of my foot. These are very unique and I recommend using them for a good month before the trail if your feet are new to them. They have a lump under the upper part of the arch of your foot. There are other styles for different needs. The unique form takes some getting used to, but I found them to feel great and also relieve a lot of the pressure on the ball of my foot. Expensive, but totally worth the price for me. I would get a new pair every 750-1000mi. It's a matter of personal preference. I know these have helped some hikers with plantar fasciitis.

Fizan Compact Trekking Poles
Pros: For the first time in all my hiking, I tried twist lock poles and these were great!!! I had my doubts going into a desert hike that would require a lot of rough hiking and these poles made it through without a problem! I also used them nightly for my tent poles. I did replace the tips with Black Diamond tips because I like to use the StickPic take photos and it doesn't fit these poles I cannot speak to the durability of the pole tips. I can say the Black Diamond tips still look good as new and I'm impressed with all the hard rock surfaces I was on this year. These were 7oz lighter than my Black Diamond poles.
Cons: I wish they had cork handles. The black material would rub off on my hands when my hands were damp or sweaty. Also, my old Black Diamond poles were ergonomically angled and I would prefer that.

 White Sierra Teton Trail Convertible Pants
Awesome pants! These are the only hiking pants I've ever used. The only pants I could find that weren’t form fitting and tight in the thighs. Yes, they are baggy on me, but I like that. I've had pairs last multiple hikes with minor sewing repairs. It was nice to have the option of shorts or pants with the zip offs. They have lots of pockets for my gadgets and snacks. I wish they came in XS because they are slightly big for me.

Smartwool Microweight Pajama Top/Bottom
It took me forever to buy these pricey pajamas, but they were perfect and saved me many ounces off what I was using before. The pants are slightly sheer and I'd only wear them in my tent.  Both could be used in emergency for extra warmth. I have had these for three years and they finally wore holes in them enough that I will be buying new ones for next summer. 
Andiamo skins (unpadded) biker shorts(black)
Great for added warmth and those who experience chafing. They were also great to wear for swimming. A suggestion from the maker is that if they are being used for hiking, cut off the tight elastic band on the thighs. Just don't cut them too high as they will ride up on the thighs if you do. I've always used these and they save me from a lot of chafing issues.
Pros: Love em! I recommend buying two pairs and switching halfway on long hikes.  I once tried to go a week without them and I couldn’t stand all the debris that got in my shoes. Also, without them, my socks were quick to get holes in them. Just a fun company and unique patterns to fit everyone's personality.
Cons: I had a lot of sandy hiking and wet hiking this year, and for the first time in all my years using them, had issued with the adhesive coming off for the velro on the shoe. I carried extra velcro that comes with the gaiters, but have never had to use it so much. Using shoe goo or gorilla glue helps keep them on there.

Garmin eTrex 20 GPS 
I last used the eTrex 20 on my CDT hike and I have a lot of information on how to setup the eTrex there. Here I will just comment on how it functioned as a GPS. I have to say it drives me nuts to use it after using a smartphone GPS app. It is a lot slower than apps, less visually pleasing, and less user friendly. On both the Hayduke and the GDT, I had the eTrek completely blank on me and not show the data I had loaded into it. This also happened to two of the hiking partners I had this summer. In one case, it required going back into town to fix it. I just want to stress that these electronic devices can go out and that they should not be used as the primary source of navigation. I don't know what glitch causes it to happen, but I found sometimes it helped to remove the mini sd card and reinsert it if your data isn't showing up that you know was loaded on there and was showing up the day before. What I can say is positive about the eTrex is the battery life. It lasts for days (25hrs) if you use the Energizer Ultimate Lithium Batteries....not the Advanced...the Ultimate.

The trails I did this summer required a lot more navigation than the general Triple Crown trails. In addition to the GPS, I used the GAIA GPS App.
Pros: This is a really great one to use once you learn how to use it. I found it to be quick and easy to both load and use. New this year on iPhones, you don't have to turn off the airplane mode to use GPS anymore. Great feature! Just make sure you close the app out after using so it doesn't drain the phone while you hike. I soo prefer this to the GPS! It is colorful, user friendly, and time efficient in loading. If battery wasn't an issue I'd be using this as my main GPS.
Cons: It can use phone battery quickly if used over an extended amount of time. It also uses a lot of storage depending on how many maps and tracks you load. Only an issue if you have a phone with little extra storage space. I feel like the maps could have been better in detail...especially in Canada, but it worked just fine for what I needed, which was to see that I was close to a general track.

BlogTouch Pro App
Pros: You would think I'd have this figured out, but I don't and am sooo frustrated by blogging apps! The best of the poor options for blogging from my iPhone for a Blogspot hosted blog. It will also work for WordPress and other hosts, but I don't know how it compares to the WordPress apps. The app that is a runner up is BlogPress. The advantage this app has over BlogPress is that I can post photos in better resolution on BlogTouch Pro. I don't think they are in full resolution(they improved it greatly mid summer), but it is close. Unlike some apps, it DOES save text and photos offline. I can do the whole post offline and just press upload when I get service. Editing posts is easy and it also allows me to edit my tabs/pages easily. 
Cons: TIME CONSUMING. This app is not as intuitive as it could be and it takes way too many touches to do simple things. It requires that you put in each picture one at a time and if you want to size it larger, each one is done individually and very time consuming. I much preferred BlogPress in ease of use, but the photos were in a very low resolution and I had to login to my blog online to adjust resolutions before I posted them.The problem with BlogTouch Pro is that it is a better resolution, but I can't tell if it is full resolution because the script does not indicate it on the html. I am in contact with the developer and hope for improvements in the off season because it's a good start. It just needs to be made more efficient.