JMT Gear Recap: Clothing

Overall Gear Thoughts:

Overall, we were really happy with our gear and any future purchases although they will be nice are ultimately unnecessary. We had no gear failures or issues and everything worked as intended.

Hiking Clothing

Hiking Shirt

MEC Magnolia Long Sleeved Shirt

This worked well, dried quickly and kept the sun off my skin.

Only complaints about this shirt is the only pocket it has is not accessible when my hipbelt was done up and the white gets super skanky looking.

I have no reservations recommending this shirt – it’s a simple no frills hiking shirt that works well.

For future trips I will continue to use this shirt unless I find an alternative with useable pockets & fun colours.

Hiking Pants

REI Sahara Convertible Pants – Women’s Petite

These worked well, dried quickly and kept my legs relatively clean.

I’m quite pale and tend to burn rather easily – so I decided to bring pants on this trip to try and cut down on the amount of sunscreen I would need to use. I brought convertible pants since I thought I might like being able to convert them to shorts and thought it might be useful for river crossings as well.

I ended up never using the convertible feature of the pants. They dry quickly enough that I didn’t bother taking the legs off for fords and I found that I never got hot enough with them on to bother taking them off.

Some minor nitpicks about these pants: the waistband is lined in fleece fabric, which is nice to prevent it from chaffing/rubbing, but it also retains moisture and the waistband was always the last part of the my pants to dry.

The front and back pockets aren’t large enough to be useful – I never put anything in these pockets. The side pockets are decently sized though – I kept my compass, whistle and knife in these pockets so they were always on me.

Overall these are some of the best women’s hiking pants I’ve come across, but they still aren’t quite perfect.

Socks

DeFeet Aireator HT Socks

This was my first trip for these socks and I’m extremely happy with how they worked out. On previous trips I’ve brought traditional wool hiking socks, but I found those can make my feet extremely hot and they also tend to not dry quickly enough to wash a pair everyday.

These socks kept my feet non-sweaty and cool and dried quickly – they even managed to dry while under my packs raincover when we encountered rain one day.

On future trips I am considering trying toe socks out – the one thing I didn’t like was how dirty my feet got with these and the fact that I could feel dirt between my toes. I’d hope that toe socks might be able to eliminate some of that feeling.

Shoes

Brooks Cascadia 9

This was also the second major outing for my trail runners – on previous backpacking trips I have used boots.

One of my major issues with the boots that I previously used was that they always seemed to eventually wet out in rainy/wet conditions and then they took an extremely long time to dry out after this.

I found a pair of Brooks Cascadias in the clearance bin at the local MEC and decided to give them a go – they tend to be very popular with PCT thru-hikers. They are definitely my favourite hiking footwear to date. I had no blisters, footpain or any other foot issues at all on this trip.

The only thing I dislike about these shoes is how dirty they get my feet [insert picture here]

Sports Bra

Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Bra

The icebreaker sports bra worked perfectly for me – enough support and didn’t cause any rubbing/chaff issues with my pack.

Sleep Clothing

Shirt

MEC Merino T1 Short Sleeve Shirt

This shirt was primarily to be my top layer for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold during the day. I found it to be adequate for sleeping in and keeping me warm along with my poofy jacket in the mornings/evenings before heading out.

I would recommend this shirt and will continue to bring it or its long-sleeved counterpart on future trips.

Bottom Base Layer

Icebreaker Sprite Leggings

Again this layer was primarily for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold. Same as shirt.

I would recommend these leggings.

Rain Gear and Warmth

Rain Jacket

MEC Outathere Jacket

This is an extremely lightweight rain jacket. Ultimately when hiking in rain gear there is always the trade-off of getting wet from the rain or wet from sweating under your rain gear. I tend to prefer wearing rain gear since at the very least I’ll be warmer than without it.

We had four days in a row of rain on the JMT and I was impressed with how well this jacket worked. It kept me dry and was relatively breathable.

The reason I chose the MEC jacket over similar offerings from Outdoor Research and other retailers came down to fit – I think the MEC jacket has a far superior (and adjustable!) hood and it has elastic cuffs which I prefer over velcro cuffs that need to be adjusted if you actually want them to be tight.

Rain Pants

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

These are the lightest pair of rain pants I could find – they have a simple elastic waistband and a short zipper at the ankles to let you put them on over your shoes/boots. They also have one small zippered back pocket. Unfortunately these only come in men’s sizes, but they do fit small. I got a men’s size small and overall they fit well, but they are a bit snug in the hips/bum.

Overall though I’m quite happy with these, they kept me dry and were easy to put on/off without taking my shoes off.

Puffy Jacket

MEC Uplink Hoody

A simple synthetic puffy with a hood. This was my go to layer when in camp or occasionally when starting out in the mornings. On previous trips I’ve used a fleece as my warm layer, but I think I’m converted to puffy jackets

 

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Day Trip Report: Mount Fromme

With April now underway, it’s officially hiking season! To mark the occasion, we decided to hike Mount Fromme. The hike takes 4-5 hours round trip – we took about 2.5 hours to reach the top and then just over 2 hours to get back down again.

Rope to get up ditch

Depending on when you do the trail, there may just be snow at the very top or there might be a significant amount of snow on the trail. Last year – an effectively zero-snow year – we did this hike in February and there was only patches of snow at the very top. This year there was a significant amount of snow starting around 900m elevation and for an hour of hiking. The snow was for the most part packed in, but myself and Kyle probably post-holed half a dozen times. I’d say snowshoes aren’t required, but microspikes might be nice to minimize slipping when coming back down right now. Earlier on in the season snowshoes would be a must.

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Other than the snow, the trail is a pretty standard Vancouver area trail with pretty steady climbing for the majority of the trail. At the beginning of the trail, it would be possible to accidentally get onto one of the mountain biking trails or Baden-Powell, but once you are past the Old Grouse Mountain Highway, the trail is straightforward to follow. We did notice that the trail has more trail markers on the way down than going up, so if you ever find yourself lost, try turning around the see if there’s a trail marker behind you.

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On a clear day the view from the top is of the surrounding mountains – views of the city are blocked by the trees. When we were at the top there were around 5 eagles/hawks circling around and there were a couple hanging out in a nearby tree. On a cloudy day, you won’t probably won’t be able to see much.

imageIt’s a fairly quiet trail – definitely less popular than the nearby Grouse Grind/BCMC and the easier Baden-Powell, both times we’ve done the trail we’ve only encountered 1 other group going to the top. On Saturday there were a pair of trail runners heading up in shorts.

I’d highly recommend this trail – it’s a bit steeper than the usual trails around, but not unreasonably so and it’s not as busy as most other trails in the area.Panorama of Top of Mount Fromme

Trip Report: Juan de Fuca Trail

We were looking for something to do over the Easter long weekend and with about two days notice we decided to do the Juan de Fuca Trail on Vancouver Island. The JdF is a 47km trail that follows the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, generally less popular than its nearby sibling, the West Coast Trail. It follows the coast line, so you nearly always have the ocean in sight and the trail crosses a number of beaches. Generally it’s recommended to do over four to five days, but we completed it in two and a half.

Logistics

Getting to/from the trail

If you go during the main hiking season (May – September), there is a hiker bus that will bring you to and pick you up from either trailhead. If you are going in the off-season or you’d rather get there another way there are a few options:

  1. Two cars – Drop one car off at each trailhead. There are parking lots at both trailhead that allow for parking – be aware that they are commonly targeted by thieves and avoid leaving anything in your cars if possible.
  2. One car – Drop your car off at one trailhead and then call a taxi or hitch a ride to get back to it.
  3. Take a taxi or hitchhike – Taking a taxi will run you over $100 each direction and that’s what we did. I’ve never personally hitched in this area, but imagine it would be fairly easy as there’s a decent amount of traffic on the road.

The walks from the highway to the trailhead are very easy from both ends – at China Beach it’s a few minutes and at Botanical Beach it’s about 45 minutes. It’s also a super short drive on paved roads, so you may get someone willing to drive you right to the trailhead.

Permits

You’ll need a backcountry camping permit which will be $10/person/night – you can purchase permits online in advance or bring cash to pay at the trailhead. Regardless of how you pay, you have to carry your permit with you.

Food Storage

There are food caches at all the designated campsites. Depending on how busy the campsites are/how early you get there, they may fill up. I’d recommend at very least bringing rope and being prepared to hang your food if needed.

Maps

BC Parks has an overview map of the trail available and the trail is very easy to follow so extra maps aren’t necessary per se, but I’d still recommend bringing some along with a compass.

The BC Parks map has difficulty of the trail marked – I’d consider this to be fairly accurate and the sections marked most difficult were indeed very difficult.

Itinerary

If you are doing the whole trail, I’d recommend traveling northbound – you’ll get the most difficult part of the trail done at beginning and your last day will be a relaxing hike on mostly boardwalks.

Generally it’s done as a 4 or 5 day hike, we did it in 2.5. The schedule really depends on how much you want to hang at the beaches/hike at a leisurely pace/how much you just want to hike. 2.5 days leaves very little time for lolling about at camp, especially early in the season when light is more limited. There are also a number of sections where your speed will be severely limited by the difficulty of the terrain (mud, rocks to balance on, slippery boardwalks, etc) for a significant portion on of the trail we were doing 2km/hour.

Trip Report

Day 1 – China Beach Trailhead to Chin Beach (21km)

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We started off at the Jordan River Campground (4km away from the trailhead) at around 7am and reached the trailhead by 8am. After a quick washroom break at the outhouse and checking over the information board, we were off. For the first couple hours, we were on our own on the trail, but after that a couple groups caught up with us and we began leapfrogging them on the trail for the rest of the day.

The first few kilometers of the trail were nice and well maintained and graded, but after that the trail switched to constant ups/downs, relatively muddy conditions and downed trees blocking the trail.

imageWe reached Chin Beach around 5:30pm to find the majority of the campsites already claimed by the groups we had been leapfrogging throughout the day, so we ended up with a spot quite close by the creek which we hoped wouldn’t be too cold during the night.

Immediately after dinner, we tucked ourselves into bed before it had even fully gotten dark. Most of the other groups were still up, but the sound of the ocean waves drowned them out quite well.

Day 2 – Chin Beach to Payzant Creek (19km)

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We had a lazy start on our second day as we’d found the first day extremely tiring, not really getting up until 8am. Despite our late start, we seemed to be the first ones in the area up. After a quick breakfast (pop tarts for Natasha and larabars for Kyle), coffee and topping up our water bladders, we were off.

The morning trail was mostly the same as the day before – muddy, constant ups/downs and trees down on the trail. It was much quieter on the trail than our first day though – it seemed like most of the groups we’d encountered on the first day were just overnighting and not doing the whole trail – we encountered a few groups going the opposite direction as us, but no constant leapfrogging like day one.

We reached Sombrio Beach just in time for lunch. It was quite windy and busy at the beach, so we ducked behind the first unoccupied log we saw to find a bit of shelter to eat lunch.

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The trail from West Sombrio to West West Sombrio was closed due to slides so we followed to beach around the bluff – there was lots of rock hopping which is exhausting with a pack on. We didn’t quite time this section right, so we had to wade for a 50ft or so section around the bluff. The water was <6 inches, but still deep enough to definitely get your shoes wet. Kyle took his boots off and did it barefoot and Natasha just waded through with her shoes on.

After West West Sombrio it was back into the forest and the trail got progressively more and more muddy as the day went on. We were averaging 2km/hour for the majority of the afternoon. We finally reached camp – Payzant Creek – just before it got dark and started to rain around 6:30pm. We quickly set up our tent in the site that looked least likely to turn into a mini-lake overnight and put on our rain gear and headlamps to eat dinner.

Despite it’s name, Payzant Creek is a dry campsite – there is a bridge that crosses the creek and as far as we could tell there’s no way to access the creek to get water. There is plenty of water along the trail, but you do have to either get water before you reach camp or plan to get some from one of the next creeks in the trail the next day.

We tried to eat as quickly as possible before packing up and tucking ourselves in for the night as it was starting to rain quite hard.

Day 3 – Payzant Creek to Botanical Beach (7km)

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We woke up early on the third day before the sun was even up and started heading down the trail around 7am. Large portions of the trail were turned into creeks the rain the night before, but the mud wasn’t actually too bad. The last few kilometers of the trail alternated between logs and boardwalks, which although slippery were a nice change of pace.

We reached the trailhead before 11am and then headed towards Port Renfrew which took around 45 minutes. The road drops you off right at the Port Renfrew Pub/Hotel which is a great spot to quench some of your hiker hunger before making your way home.

Final Thoughts

imageThis is a nice trail and has some beautiful sections and we’ll likely do it again at some point. I generally wouldn’t recommend doing it this early in the season though – it was extremely muddy and there were a lot of trees/branches on the trail – even blocking the entire trail at times. It was also quite busy, so I don’t think the mud/trees are worth coming early to try to avoid crowds. It was also a hassle to get to/from the trail without a car as the bus wasn’t running yet.

I’d recommend coming out midweek later on in the summer to try to avoid crowds and get much more ideal trail conditions. It definitely is a nice little section of trail though and I would recommend doing it.

Finding my Bike: Norco Cityglide 8 Review

I test rode the “women’s” version (mixte) of the Cityglide. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders and rim brakes. This bike does not come with a rack.

I did not like how this bike handled and it was not comfortable for me – I felt quite stretched out like the handlebars were too far away. It also didn’t seem like it would be a good bike for commuting on – probably a good bike for occasional weekend rides, but definitely not a ride-everyday-kind-of-bike.

I would not recommend this bike to anyone – if they were looking for a casual weekend bike, they could get something similar for cheaper and if they were looking for a commuter, I don’t think it would be suitable for that.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the Brodie Section.

Finding my Bike: KHS Green 3 Review

I test rode the step-through version of the KHS Green. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders, colour-matched rack and rim brakes.

This was the cheapest of the bikes that I was considering and it definitely felt like it. Just everything about this bike felt slightly… cheap and like ti might fall apart at any minute. The saddle that was on the bike was the most bizarre uncomfortable thing ever – and I’m not super picky about saddles!

If someone had a hard limit of $500 I think it would be much more worthwhile to get a used bike and fix it up than to get the KHS Green. I would not recommend this bike.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the Norco Cityglide.

Finding my Bike: Linus Dutchi 3 Review

This was the first bike I test rode. I was looking to get a feel for how an upright riding style felt and if I could survive with only three gears. This bike has a partial chaincase, fenders, rack and rim brakes.

I wasn’t expecting to like it very much, but much to my surprise, I really loved it. It was lighter than my current bike and in my price range. Felt nice and quick to ride and the gear range was adequate – I’d probably be mashing the pedals a bit on some steep hills, but most should be doable. It also got bonus points for looking nice and coming in a wide range of pretty colours.

If I was going to get the Dutchi, I think I would end up going with the 8 speed to avoid needless pedal mashing (although that would add ~$200 to the price and push it up to the top of my price range), but in a less hilly area or for casual riding, the 3 speed would be fine. I would have also liked to try the Linus Mixte – I think it has slightly more aggressive geometry than the Dutchi, but they don’t have any details on their website unfortunately.

So overall, good bike; would definitely recommend to someone else and would have likely bought it if the Brodie Section 8 wasn’t available.

Stay tuned for my next post with my impressions of the KHS Green.

Gear Selection: Bear Canisters

The two of us have degrees in engineering so when it comes to selecting and optimizing our gear we often draw on that background to help with the selection process.    When gear is purely performance based with less dependence on comfort or fit then it lends itself to that kind of selection process quite well.

Why Use These Methods to Select Bear Canisters?

While there is certainly some “soft” or immeasurable requirements in bear canister selection, they are generally dominated by stats and numbers.  The main requirements for a bear canisters are:

  • low mass (minimize)
  • acceptable cost (threshold)
  • high or acceptable volume (threshold)
  • meets regulation (binary – yes or no)

These are pure numbers and can be optimized and used in the selection process.  In addition to those requirements you should also take into account the following:

  • ease of use/ difficulty to open
  • security against other animals (not bears)
  • ease to pack

These are generally what I would consider to be immeasurable.  You can’t really grade these parameters in an honest, non-subjective way. As engineers we try, but we almost always acknowledge how much of a “fudge factor” these provide.  I like to take these case by case and not fool myself with grading these values.

Collecting Data

So to use the data to rank the canisters, first you actually need the data.  This is pretty simple to do. Most websites have this information available.   When they are not available you can pull data from product reviews or even buy something, weigh or measure it, then return it.

We collected the below data on some bear canister options.  We limited our selection to canisters that we could purchase reasonably easily as well as canisters that were likely to be approved to be used on the trails we plan on hiking.

Table of Bear Canister Data

Table of Bear Canister Data

Criteria

Already partially covered above, we have some requirements and some criteria for selection:

  • Low mass (minimize)
  • Cost should not be above $150 per unit
  • Be capable of carrying a week (5-7 days) of food for two people at a time
  • Be allowed to be used on the JMT

Selection

To select the bear canisters we generated a few plots of some parameters based on the criteria.

Mass per Cost vs Capacity

Mass per Cost vs Capacity – Minimize Mass/ Cost for Capacity Above 10 days

Starting with the capacity, we put together some combinations that could make sense based on the size of our packs.  Then mass per cost is plotted against capacity.  By minimizing the mass/ cost ratio for canisters with capacities above 10 days, this let us count how many options we have.  The above plot is a little simplified, but we could continue to put together combinations of canisters to get enough combinations that meet the cost, mass and capacity requirements. In the above plot, the orange X satisfies these requirements the best. The blue dot meets the capacity requirements but isn’t the best for the mass/ cost ratio.

 

Cost vs Mass per Volume

Cost vs Mass Per Volume – Both Parameters Should be Minimized

Next we plotted cost vs mass/ volume.  For this you want to minimize cost as well as minimize the mass/ volume ratio.  As you can see, as mass decreases the cost increases. This is to be expected. When evaluating this curve we want to ride the curve as far left as possible without going above our total cost requirement (approximately $150).  Then that option needs to be evaluated against the capacity requirement above.

On this plot, the orange X certainly has the lowest mass/ volume ratio but it also has the greatest cost.  Unless we can sort out the extra cash this is no longer an option.

CONCLUSION

When evaluating both plots together the blue dot is the option presented that has the lowest mass/ volume ratio while having a capacity above 10 days and a cost below $150.

The blue dot in the above charts represents combining both BearVault canisters (BV500 & BVSolo).

Of course the above charts hide a few decisions made based on the “soft” requirements, but they still guided us in making an informed decision.  We had to take into account availability and lead times (we purchased our bear canisters immediately before our PCT hike in 2014).  We also took into account the size of our packs, and general expectation of how fragile a canister could be if dropped.  Also, ease of use was considered. The BearVaults can be opened / unlocked by pressing firmly. Other canisters need a coin or screwdriver to open them up.  The BearVault also is transparent, allowing for you to easily see the contents. This is very helpful after a long day on the trail.

Overall we are pleased with our decision.  The Wild-Ideas Expedition (orange X above) was definitely the lightest per volume, but getting it cost $200 more than getting both BearVaults. That would have only given us a reduction in mass of 200 grams. Saving this money let us focus on reducing our pack weight even further by getting new sleep systems and upgrading other gear.