Gear Review: Sun Hoodies

Background

Since I have been 15 years old I have had a condition (vitiligo) that, while it gives me unique white skin, hair and eyebrows, it makes me very suseptible to sun burns. This results in skin damage and can lead to skin cancer. As a result I try to be very careful with sun protection, opting for physical protection (hats, shirts) as much as possible.

Current Gear

I’ve been wearing a button up sun shirt for years – sun shirts have been a staple in my hiking wardrobe.

This strategy has worked fairly well for me. My current sun shirt is a simple MEC one, with no frills, mesh or accessories.

Wearing my sun shirt, trying on some new sun hat options at MEC Calgary while waiting for the Greyhound to go to Pincher Creek

Underneath it I wear a running shirt. Previously I have worn a running shirt I bought on clearance somewhere (the branding has worn off) that has a normal athletic shirt weave on the front and a coarse jersey mesh on the back.

For the GDT I replaced this with a lighter sleeveless Patagonia running shirt mostly due to concerns with gear weight.

In addition to the sun shirt I wear an outdoor research sun hat with brim all the way around.

Finally on the GDT I wore sun gloves to protect my hands from the sun.

How it Performs

The coarse mesh in the back of my old running shirt is great for ventilation and made a significant improvement on keeping my back cool and dry. I still sweat on my back, despite my pack being suspended off my back, so the mesh helps a lot but it isn’t perfect.

The Patagonia shirt I replaced it with was outstanding and even outperformed my old running shirt while being much lighter and more compact. This shirt dries very fast; it really surprised me at how well it performs.

The MEC sun shirt dries quickly and does a great job of keeping the sun off me. I sometimes pop the collar to get better coverage on my neck. However the back still can get wet from sweat and I sometimes need to take it off at lunch to dry off.

Being able to unbutton the shirt on the front and cuffs is nice, as that can let me dial in the ventilation. Simply unbuttoning the cuffs gets a lot of airflow up my arms without compromising sun coverage.

The sun shirt is fairly slim fitting, not baggy, but it still is loose enough that it does not feel restricting. I also find I do not notice when the shirt is dirty or sweaty as it doesn’t cling to me. This has been very nice on long hikes as I tend to only wash my socks and underwear on the trail.

Sun Hoodie

During the GDT it was painfully obvious to me that I just had a lot of items for sun protection, and generally a lot of shirts. In an effort to reduce the number of shirts and items I carry I looked for sun hoodies. I had looked before we went on the GDT but did not find anything and after a half hearted effort I gave up. During the hike we saw a number of people who wore sun hoodies and decided to make a more serious effort when we got home. After the GDT Natasha and I found a number of local options within a day and had each tried them on and selected one each. So I guess it was easier to find them than I originally thought.

My Hoodie

After trying a few on, I selected the Phasic Sun Hoodie from Arc’teryx. Arc’teryx is a local company, so it’s nice to support them (and we get fully stocked storefronts available to us, so it’s convenient).

I liked how the hoodie design had no seams and no pockets, and the front of the hood covered my neck and seemed to have a nicely constructed brim on the hood.

I bought a lightweight baseball cap from Ciele to replace my full brim sun hat. It is a soft trucker hat and didn’t itch or scratch my head, and the mesh is breathable.

How I like it

I like it a lot.

In fact I haven’t worn my other sun shirt since I bought the hoodie. I have worn the hoodie showshoeing all winter as well.

The material is light enough not to make me hot in the trips I’ve worn it so far, but I haven’t worn it much on hot days since we bought it in the fall. The fabric breathes a little more than my sun shirt so I am hoping I will not need as much as much ventilation as I used to. Not to mention the sun hoodie is just one layer vs my old setup of two layers.

So from what I can tell, the fabric seems to breathe well and is very comfortable. I can later on top of it without any discomfort.

The seams are well thought out. The seams on the shoulder are not noticeable and are placed such that they do not become pressure points or irritating below pack shoulder straps.

There are no pockets, no frills or unnecessary features. It’s a shirt with a hood. No zips or buttons. Again nothing to interfere with pack shoulder straps or hip belts.

The hood has good coverage but I am still a little concerned that the side of my face is a bit exposed. Through the winter I have turned my hat to follow the sun but I will need to keep an eye on this and make sure I do get enough protection from the sun.

Final notes

I really like the hoodie so far, and it certainly is better than my sun shirt on shorter trips in cool weather.

I am concerned that I may lose some sun protection on my side of my face so I need to keep an eye on that to make sure I have a solution.

I’m curious to find out if this sun hoodie will continue to feel clean after a week or if it will feel more dirty than my current setup. I do know that I haven’t cleaned it after every day hike and it’s felt fine, do the real test will be multiple days this summer in the heat and sun.

Gear Source: Dirty Girl Gaiters in Vancouver

We have been asked several times while on day hikes about where we got our dirty girl gaiters. We had bought them online directly from Dirty Girl Gaiters, and keep advising anyone who asks. Everyone seems a little underwhelmed when we tell them that though so I’ve been keen to find a more local source.

After we returned from the GDT and were looking for replacement socks we found a local running store that not only carries Dirty Girl Gaiters in store but on their online store as well.

Distance Runwear stocks a number of items useful to trail running and/ or through hiking. This includes Dirty Girl Gaiters, Carbon Z trekking poles, Iniji toe socks, water bladders and trail runners.

It is a small storefront but they have a little bit of inventory on a variety of products. It really seems like a good alternative to just heading to MEC for our gear, especially since MEC does not carry some of the more specialized items. The online store would be convenient for buying replacement gear on trail.

I hope this helps anyone who might be looking for these items in Canada!

GDT Reflection: End/ Prince George

We have finished the trail so be it’s probably a good time to write down some of my thoughts before they change!

My midpoint reflection is here.

I’ll probably put another summary together when I have more time to reflect.

Itinerary

We started deviating more from our itinerary and permits in Section E. Up until this point we were doing a good job of meeting our itinerary, although finishing early a few times.

The first two days of Section E were slower than expected, and this caused us to get behind. I’m still not fully sure why we got behind but I do know that:

  • The first day of this section is a bit strenuous
  • We started late coming from the Crossing. More on the reason below.
  • Wildfire smoke really knocked us down a notch
  • Immediately after breakfast at the Crossing Resort I became ill, and I continued to have stomach issues for the first two days. I lost weight over these two days – first time on the hike that I lost noticeable weight.

We also struggled a couple days in Section F/G to meet our plans. We planned shorter days and did not deviate too much but it was still tough to fit planned distance in per day. In particular when crossing Moose River, despite the good trail, we were crossing water so often that it just slowed us down a bit.

Food

The food plan was overall quite good. The number of calories was right and I did not lose weight until the first two days of Section E as commented above. Also, we went into Section F/G a little lean on food due to the weight and knew that we may need to walk out for 12 days (9 days GDT trail, three days out and hopefully hitch a ride for the highway) instead of the planned 10 (9 days GDT trail, one day out and hopefully hitch a ride for the rest). We ended up walking 11 days before getting a ride so I did end up losing more weight in the last section.

We also got tired of some food during the hike. Surprisingly Natasha (who usually never gets sick of eating something) was the one who became the most picky.

I also think I have developed an allergy to walnuts – they make my mouth tingle. Unfortunately I brought some bars with walnuts so I stopped eating those just to be safe.

In Coleman we started putting our Gatorade powder in empty pop bottles instead of Ziploc bags. This made it much less messy to make Gatorade and was a very light, spill and tear resistant container for powder.

During the hike we carried olive oil in a 500mL soft platapus bottle. This worked great.

In future hikes we will probably:

  • Ship 10% less food, and get the balance in town to account for sections we finish with excess food (finish early, don’t eat bars as we hike into town because we are eating lunch in town, etc) as well as to allow us to change things up a bit
  • I won’t bring bars with walnuts. Unfortunately this means I won’t eat the apple Larabar 😦
  • Continue to carry Gatorade powder in plastic bottles. We may do the same with milk powder. I may look into whether it’s light enough to use a soft platapus bottle instead since the rigid pop bottles don’t get smaller as you use up the contents. Rigid bottles are also tougher to fit in the bear bag.
  • Continue to carry olive oil in a platapus bottle

Gear

No change on packs, tent or sleep system since my midpoint reflection.

My shoes (Asics My Fuji Attack 4) are now almost destroyed. They have more repair than original material!

Natasha’s shoes are almost two pieces…

I finished the hike with one of my original pairs of toe socks (with many repairs) and one replacement pair that did not last nearly as long. I am impressed with my original socks but far less impressed with the pair I bought to replace them.

I got more holes on my gaiters from bushwacking and sharp rocks snagging them. My repairs still have held up but the gaiters will need replacement or some love.

Still had only one tent peg break in the entire hike.

I have unfortunately gotten more holes and snags in my pants – mostly from downed trees. I think I can repair them at home. I did temporary repairs on trail and they held up until the last few days.

I wore a hole in my sun gloves. Just wore right through them.

My running gloves split at the seams.

I wore through the cable holding my trekking pole strap to my pole. Repaired it with rope from my rope kit.

Best Day

In addition to the days I reflected on already, I really liked Jackpine High Route. I also think the Jackpine River was pretty but the walking along the river got old fast!

Most days in Section G were very pretty but obscured by the smoke.

It was nice going up Big Shale – we had not gotten that kind of exposure and climb in a while.

Worst Day

I really have to think about this more!

Comments on Resupply Locations

Coleman: great!

Peter Lougheed: meh. Tough to walk, food is scarce but the visitor center is pretty nice. The visitor center has a kitchen area which is really convenient for food resupply.

Banff: good for equipment but expensive and overwhelming

Field: great, but hard to find a place to stay. Not much for Resupply food in town but the gas station apparently has some items.

Saskatchewan Crossing: good motel, good selection at the store but I did not have a good experience with their food and it is quite expensive.

Jasper: great! Good for equipment, good accommodations, good food.

Wildlife Summary: GDT Section F/G

This section was a bit more scattered, but with some more unusual sightings.

  • One moose – a young bull
  • What looked to be a wolverine walking away from me at Timothy Slide campground as I was walking to the toilet in the dark. It seemed reluctant to move from it’s resting spot!
  • Ducks!
  • Lots of large ground birds
  • Several deer by Jasper on the highway
  • One large Elk by Jasper on the highway
  • Lots of fresh bear scat (it’s berry season!) but no bears 🙂
  • Only a few ground squirrels for once
  • A few marmots
  • Several small rodents (mice?) scurrying across the trail
  • Two unfortunate dead mice – one on a gravel bar on Jackpine River and one in the Kakwa Cabin 😦

I was very surprised by the wolverine. I wasn’t expecting to ever see one but it was pretty hard to mistake. It just looked up and slowly, reluctantly walked away from me as I was walking down the path with my headlamp on shouting. Unfortunately it was too early and cold for me to have my phone out to take photos.

The young bull was pretty close. We were making noise, yelling, and popped out to a brushy (tall) meadow before Timothy Slide campground and he just looked our way and trotted down the hill. I’m very glad we make noise and did not surprise him! He was very chill about the whole thing but I’m sure that’s because he knew we were coming and knew he was in control! Happened too fast to document as well.

Bonus:

After we finished the GDT and were walking on the trail out of Kakwa we saw another young bull moose on the road.

Wildlife Summary: GDT Section E

We had a break from a few days with no animal sightings and got a wave of sightings instead!

  • Several Ptarmigans – three when we just finished going down “Owen Pass” AKA “Zinger Pass”. Then about five of them running around when we woke up at Michele Lake
  • A herd of big horned sheep when going down Owen/ Zinger Pass. Lots of young ones!
  • Many, many marmots
  • Several (cute!) pet dogs when approaching civilization in Jasper.

This was a pretty good section and each sighting was a quality one. We held our distance with the sheep, but the Ptarmigans were as fearless as usual and came quite close to us! The marmots kept their distance for once and some of them looked quite young.

GDT Reflection: Mid Point

We are halfway through the trail now, so now is probably a good time to reflect on how it’s been so far.

Itinerary

We planned our itinerary in a bit of detail and it has been pretty accurate so far. We have been trying to keep to our permits so we have made sure to work within those constraints. On a few occasions we found the days too short, but due to available camp sites or terrain we had to cover it would have been hard to extend those days much further without them being too long either. So we just sucked it up.

In some days we have had to turn back (Avion Ridge) or replan. This has been fine as well.

We shortened the time spent on Section C south of Banff by one day. This left us an extra day in Banff, which was quite expensive. We needed to be in Banff on July 28 for an appointment so we couldn’t pull everything ahead. We spent the time repairing gear, cleaning and eating.

We shortened the time spent on the Rockwall (remainder of Section C) by one day. Due to the surrounding smoke, I found the first two days to be quite long and tiring. It was manageable but tiring. The original schedule would have been a little more boring but still have good hiking days in it. I don’t regret shortening this section, and we can’t plan for wildfire smoke, but it would have been less of a struggle to do with shorter days.

Food

We planned 3600 calories per day. We have been pretty much on that the entire time. Some days we eat less when it’s been easy but for a good day hiking it’s the right amount. We have not lost any noticeable weight, and don’t get severe hiker hunger in town. Unfortunately since we have finished early on a couple sections that leaves us with extra food. In future trips we will ship a little less food and fill the gaps in town.

We have ditched the peanut butter – it’s not our favourite in the heat. It works great for us in the PNW but it’s unbearable to eat in hot weather.

We really like the beans and rice recipe and prioritize it. I like my salmon mac and cheese for big days too – the cheese sauce is great and it’s very high in calories. The pesto noodles is less tasty but works so we eat it when we need to. We have done pesto noodles with actual pesto and that is much better in my opinion and is worth the weight if you displace some olive oil with the pesto.

We found that chocolate bars melt some days in the afternoon so I eat chocolate for breakfast and granola bars during the afternoon instead of the other way around.

Gear

My Arc Haul has been holding up quite nicely. Some wear, mostly on corners, but nothing excessive. I’m happy with the pack.

The tent (Z packs Duplex) is also holding up well. No issues so far.

The sleep system is great, if not a little warm sometimes. The sleeping pad and quilt are very cozy and have kept us warm on a few very frosty nights. We have also held out in the tent under the covers during hail and rain storms (one right now as I type this) and we stay nice and warm. The quilt also keeps warm when damp as we have learned on a heavy night of rain.

My shoes (Asics My Fuji Attack 4) are wearing alright and should last the trip. The sole started delaminating on the sides of the toes before Banff so we repaired them and the repair has held up since. Also the insoles are getting quite packed down. I might wear a hole in them.

Natasha’s shoes have holes in the usual spot.

Our toe socks have failed again and gotten holes after 350 kms or so. We have repaired them and hope they last to Saskatchewan Crossing where we will swap them out for a new pair.

I have a number of snags on my gaiters. Mostly from La Coullette Ridge. I’ve repaired those and they have held up.

We had one tent peg break and one bend a bit. This is our second tent peg to break ever. Not a bad record. We got a replacement in Banff.

Pretty much everything else is in good order. I’m quite impressed.

Our footprint tore in the high winds on Day 2. Our water filter hose also tore a hole in the same winds. I can’t blame the gear – these were very intense winds and the gear was not secured or put away. Lesson learned!

Our rain clothes have held up super well when bushwacking – no holes. Im very impressed with this since they are so lightweight and seem so fragile.

I tore my first hole in my normal hiking pants when bushwacking but that should be easy to repair.

Best Day

So far I think our best day was Day 12. Unfortunately we did not find a good camp site that night, but the day started off very well for us and was overall very rewarding.

We have had plenty of other great days, including the day we actually did Avion Ridge, but Day 12 stands out to us.

Worst Day

At this point it’s Day 30. We had been dealing for several days with rain, poor trail with lots of bushwacking and hail storms at night. Despite this we stayed quite motivated. But on Day 30 when we thought the bad trail was over, after hiking through the horrible David Thompson Trail, we took the inland trail. We were given the opportunity to choose to hike on the river as an alternate route but we chose inland. This was the wrong choice. The trail was the worst trail I’ve seen and had so much blowdown. My best comparison is to throw a pile of toothpicks on a table and see how interlocked and spread out they are. It was just a big pile of trees. It was slow and poor footing. Natasha got stung by a bee (and the following day when we were hiking inland a bit I almost put my foot through a bee hive), we both got scraped up. Just bad.

Comments on Resupply Locations

So far we really enjoyed Coleman, but a lot of that opinion had to do with the Safe Haven Bed and Breakfast. Still though, the town was nice, had some history and we could walk around a bit to get snacks and get out.

Worst has been Banff, but we should have known better. It’s just busy and expensive. Good for repairing and replacing gear but not the right atmosphere otherwise.

We really liked Field but did not realize how hard it would be to get a place to sleep. We still enjoyed our afternoon there but had to camp on trail.

Saskatchewan Crossing has nice rooms but the pub is depressing and seems to have a really odd and poorly executed menu. The buffet may be better but I just expect larger quantities of bad food. The store is stocked well enough but is expensive. I would not call it a resort, but I would describe it as a nice motel with a pretty good store and gas station.