Gear Repair: Arc Haul

When we hiked the GDT the mesh panel on the back of my Arc Haul wore through, causing a strap to rub against my back for several hundred kilometers. This eventually caused me quite a bit of pain – my back had knots from everything being off kilter and rubbing.

Worn Through Panel

I have only hiked short trips since, or done trail maintenance, so this has been on the back burner. But with all the time at home recently due to the Public Health Emergency, I finally got around to repairing it! I used an old lanyard as a donor for a strap and reinforced and repaired the top seam of the mesh.

Donor Lanyard

At the end of the day this was a quick and free repair using scraps. The repair took less than half an hour. I think it will be a while before I can test it out on a trip, but we will see!

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.

For Future GDT Hikers

The GDT is an amazing trail and I think it has ruined us in terms of our expectations for other trails in the future. Here are a few resources and our perspective on the GDT. I’ll try to avoid repeating things other hikers have already addressed well – definitely refer to the other hiker journals I have linked below.

For another perspective (and some of the same as well), check out my partner’s reflection on the GDT.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask!

Resources

Planning Resources

Great Divide Trail Association

The GDT website has an abundance of information and is a great starting point for any questions you have.

Hiker journals I found helpful:

On-Trail Resources

Ryan Silk’s Maps

These were the only physical maps we brought – there were a few sections where it would have been nice to also have larger scale overview maps, but overall these are excellent and if you don’t plan to do the high routes/alternates, these are likely all you need.

GDT App

For finding the trail again on the edge of meadows, having the app was amazing. It also has some helpful notes/comments for planning out your days – we did find all the notes about water crossings to make them sound more intense than they ended up being and I believe we went in a fairly average year for water.

A caveat with the app – be sure you know how to navigate with paper maps/compass and be aware of your device’s limitations.

GDT Hiker Notes

Save a copy of this on your phone – maybe skim through it beforehand, but it is most useful to have on-trail to plan out your days and know what’s up ahead.

GDT Facebook Group

Trail closures and reroutes are posted in the group and it can be useful to connect with other hikers.

Gear

Gear List

Most other hikers we saw leaned towards the ultralight/light side of the spectrum, but there were some hikers with more traditional gear out there as well. Generally, I’d suggest trying to get your gear weight down as much as possible – the food carries are long so you want to minimize your weight as much as possible.

Some general things I’d recommend:

  • Rain gear – Bring full rain gear (pants and jacket) – you’ll likely encounter at least one day off going through wet brush and the car wash is slightly more tolerable with rain pants
  • Headlamps – We didn’t use our headlamps until the last couple of days. Unless you plan to night-hike you can probably bring something super basic.
  • Water filter – there’s a fair number of glacial streams, make sure you can backwash/clean your filter
  • Canister stove – it’s possible to buy canister fuel in most of the resupply locations, we were somewhat concerned about this, but it didn’t end up being an issue
  • Satellite messenger/emergency beacon – We found our inReach to be very useful for getting weather forecasts and checking in on the status of the forest fires. 
  • Sleep system for couples – For couples specifically, I can’t recommend a double quilt and sleeping mat highly enough!

There are a significant number of sections that are either entirely off-trail or on a very poor trail, so navigation skills are definitely needed. The vast majority of those sections follow nice geographical features though (ridges, rivers), so the navigation is pretty straightforward as long as you can orient yourself correctly.

We brought paper maps, but for navigation during the day, we mostly used the GDT app on our phones. In particular, the app was helpful for navigating when the trail followed ATV trails as they are a bit of a maze and for refinding the trail at the edge of meadows.

Resupply Strategy

You don’t really have many options in terms of resupply due to the spacing. Generally, I’d recommend mailing your resupplies; it would be possible to buy as you go, but it would be very pricey (ie >$10 for a bag of chips pricey in some locations).

If we were to do the trail again, I’d probably mail 10-20% less food than we did. Not because we didn’t eat it all, but because we ended up being bored with some items or not liking them as much as we anticipated. We ended up ditching some items and replacing it with food we bought at every resupply.

Some notes on each resupply location:

Waterton – Surprisingly well-stocked store. Make sure to book a spot in the campground.

Coleman – Stay with Alannah and Dan at A Safe Haven! They are really the only trail angels on the GDT. We got three delicious meals a day (and Alannah is amazing about accommodating allergies and dietary restrictions), laundry, driven to Blairmore to pick up supplies, and last but not least, a dry comfy bed for the night. A Safe Haven is also the only place with a hiker box we encountered on the trail.

Peter Lougheed – Minimize your time here if possible. We found hitching to be a lot more difficult than anticipated for a park and also had a negative encounter with an Alberta Parks Conservation Officer who told us hitchhiking was dangerous and quasi-threatened to send the RCMP by to ticket us. It is possible to take a shower at the Boulton Creek Campground if you want even if you don’t camp there; you can buy tokens at the trading post. Visitor Centre wifi is slooow when people are around, but the speed is pretty decent otherwise.

Assiniboine Lodge – Not a resupply location, but definitely try to time your day so you arrive here when they are open (4 – 5pm). They’ve got tea, cake and beer (and cider and wine). Bring cash!

Banff – Stop by Sunshine Village for lunch, but I wouldn’t recommend going into Banff unless you absolutely have to. If you do have to, make reservations beforehand otherwise you are likely to find yourself spending far more than you are comfortable spending on accommodations. Banff is expensive and busy. We ended up having to stay in Banff to do a phone interview and it was honestly the worst part of the hike.

Field – There are laundry and wifi at the Truffle Pig. Don’t expect to find accommodations here unless you’ve made reservations. I know several other hikers recommended hitching to Golden and taking a zero there – the hostel in Golden is apparently quite hiker-friendly.

Crossing Resort – If you plan to buy as you go, the Crossing is the one location you should send a package to. They have a store, but prices are absurd. There are wifi and laundry here, but it is supposed to be only for guests – we did end up staying overnight here, so not sure how well enforced this is.

Maligne Lake Lodge – Another not resupply location, but they’ve got a cafeteria and small store (no wifi) if you want to take a beer and charge your devices break.

Jasper – Favourite non-trail spot of the GDT. Still a bit touristy, but waaaay less so than Banff. If you are solo, you’ll probably be able to find accommodations, but if you are a couple or group, you’ll likely want to book these in advance. The downtown hostel is the nicest hostel I’ve been at with great cooking facilities, laundry and wifi. 

Prince George – You’ll likely need to stay overnight here before catching your transportation home. There are lots of hotels and the bus system is decent for getting around town if you need to.

Permits and Schedule

So booking permits is definitely a hassle – Dan has already written up a great summary about this including a couple sample itineraries, check that out for sure.

Make sure to confirm all the dates and which parks require permits in advance – these tend to change every year. Once you have the dates, book them in your calendar – including the time they open – and make your bookings the second they open.

We did take the approach of booking everything in advance, which worked well for the first part of the trail, but by the end, we were ahead of schedule by a couple of days. I’d highly encourage others to make reservations – many areas aren’t really accommodating to dispersed camping. In particular in Banff National Park, the Rockwall Trail in Kootenay National Park, and the Skyline Trail in Jasper National Park, the trails are very busy and it is unlikely you will find a spot available if you show up without a reservation.

Regardless of whether you make reservations or not, please pay into the system as much as possible. Buy a Discovery Pass. Donate to the GDTA.

Getting to/from the trail

Getting to Waterton

There used to be a Greyhound bus that went from Calgary to Pincher Creek and then you could hitch from Pincher Creek to Waterton. Greyhound doesn’t operate in Western Canada anymore, so this isn’t an option. Check out the GDT website for most recent updates, but you’re probably in for a long hitch.

Getting from Kakwa

Kakwa Lake is 100km from the highway and 30km from the drivable part of the FSR connecting it to the highway. Unless you have arranged a ride in advance, expect to walk all the way to the highway. We were definitely more optimistic than we should have been about getting a ride early on and we didn’t encounter anyone on the road until we were only ~25km from the highway. It is easy walking and more than doable to do 50km/day and get it done in two days, just be mentally prepared for it.

Final Thoughts

The Great Divide Trail is an amazingly beautiful trail.

Be prepared for the lows to be as low as the highs are high. The highs are so so high, but you’ll also encounter extreme lows when you are stuck walking on a shitty ATV road or bushwhacking through a soggy non-existant trail or crossing the same river for the fifth time that day. The highs do make it all worth it though.

Finish at Kakwa. This is the final exam you’ve been preparing for on the rest of the trail and you are going to nail it.

And finally, to quote one of the first thru-hikers I encountered online, thru-hiking will break your heart.

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: 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.

Gear Mini Review: ZPacks ArcHaul

I feel like I’ve been through lots of packs, but on reflection I think I’ve gotten a lot of use out of them.

Previous Packs

I started with a MEC pack; I believe it was a 60 L Cragalot back in 2008. I was a student. The pack was on sale (cheap), available at MEC, fit well enough and was quite water resistant (a benefit on the west coast). I didn’t really know what I wanted at the time and I was just scraping together gear. I bought a lot of gear at the dollar store in those days (nothing to be ashamed of).

The Cragalot, at least the version available at that time, was very heavy and did not have a lot of external pouches or pockets. At the time a lot of external pockets and features were the rage with packs, but I just wanted something I could strap stuff to or strap my own pockets to. So I didn’t like how heavy it was, but I liked how it didn’t have any frills.

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Hiking Cape Scott with the Cragalot

I kept the Cragalot a lot longer than I should have. By the time I wanted a new pack, I got Natasha into hiking and we had to spend our money getting her new gear. She got a Gregory pack that she really liked at the time and I couldn’t admit to her that it cost 2-3x what I wanted to spend. So I didn’t upgrade my pack for a couple years. Admittedly the Gregory was a good investment because it fit her well enough and she got bitten by the bug.. and now that’s what we do together for fun!

After hiking the Bridge of the Gods to Timberline Lodge section of the PCT together, I knew the Cragalot was dead. I had a new pack picked out on the Amtrack Train home.

I ended up getting a Boreas Lost Coast pack. It was also no frills, stretchy, and just good to stuff my gear in. The hip pockets were great (I didn’t have them in my Cragalot) and the Boreas bag was quite a bit lighter.

I’m a small guy, so I do have a bit of a hard time finding gear that fits me (see post about the MEC Scout Pants!). I found after using the Boreas bag on a handful of trips, including the JMT, SCT and JdF that as my waist goes down in size the pack gets uncomfortable. Also, the pack is stretchy and doesn’t compress. I’ve been reducing my gear weight and size quite a bit.. and the pack just couldn’t get small enough.

After the Juan de Fuca trail I basically had it with my pack (at least for longer trips). I went looking for something that fits better, can compress (preferably a roll top) and had the ability to strap things/ addons to it instead of having restrictive pre-set compartments.

The Selection

I’m not going to bore you with the selection process. As I mentioned in previous posts, I built a spreadsheet and poured over options carefully. I looked at everything on the market at the time and considered:

  • Waist size
  • Volume
  • Max weight
  • Style of pack – roll top vs lid; frame vs frameless, etc
  • Material options
  • Mass
  • Options/ compartments
  • Price

Ultimately I had a few options that stuck on the top. I ended up shortlisting:

  • ULA
  • Granite Gear
  • MLD
  • Katabatic Gear
  • Hyperlite
  • ZPacks

I looked at many others, including the VARGO external frame pack (looks cool!) but the above made the short list for various reasons.

We already had a ZPacks Duplex tent, so I had a good idea of how well it was constructed as well as how cuben fibre is.

However I didn’t let that drive me in that decision.

Natasha has a Granite Gear pack and I have seen the others on the trail at times. They are all good packs for different people.

Ultimately I still went with the ZPacks ArcHaul because:

  • The waist size is appropriate for me
  • The pack is quite light (roughly 680 g was listed mass)
  • I prefer a framed pack vs frameless. The suspension system seemed like a good compromise.
  • It’s a roll top
  • ZPacks has a lot of addons you could have them add directly on the pack or you could strap on yourself.
  • The pack came in dyneema (not just cuben fibre) so had some compression/ stretch and is wear resistant
  • The pack could come with straps added on to add compression and keep the pack tight to me. The straps could also let me hang things off my pack.
  • It came in green!

Fit

The pack fits me quite nicely. I take a 27-28 inch waist pant, and this pack has plenty of room for my waist size to grow up and down. I feel like I have a lot of room up and down on the shoulder straps and the waist belt fits me properly on the waist and not too low.

Most of the straps hold up nicely and don’t shift around, but the suspension system loses its tension over time. I find it’s best to readjust it every day. This is both a little annoying as well as kind of a good thing. This means my pack is sitting right EVERY DAY. No matter what I have in it on a given day, or what I am wearing, or how I’m feeling. I am considering using paint pen or coloured stitches on the straps to mark their “normal” spot for quick adjustment but I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Features & Setup

I’ve got several addons:

  • I have gotten two belt pouches
  • Two top side pockets
  • Roll top closure straps (these keep the pack tight and easy to manage)
  • Shock cord lashing

I got the bag in green dyneema.

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Being “Cool” with my ArcHaul

You can read about the standard features of the bag on the ZPacks website. I’ll talk about what I like about the standard features first, then describe how I use the addons.

Side Pockets

In general side pockets aren’t ..revolutionary.. but the side pockets on the ArcHaul are pretty deep and decently sized. On one size of my pack I fit a water bottle (Gatorade or 1 L smart water).

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ArcHaul in Denali. Smart water bottle in the deep side pocket.

On the other side I actually stuff my ZPacks Duplex in. I can’t fit the Duplex in the side pocket if I have the tent stored in the stuff sack that ZPacks provides with the tent, but if I re-roll the tent skinnier and taller it fits in the pocket perfectly (and isn’t too tall for the pack). For the Denali trip I made a custom tent stuff sac out of plastic and tuck tape for added abrasion resistance. For the GDT we made one out of spare ripstop nylon from the MYOG quilt kit we bought.

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ArcHaul at Denali. You can see the Duplex in the side pocket.

Overall quite good. Not very stretchy but they are sturdy and deep enough.

Frame & Straps

The straps are narrow, but sturdy enough for their purpose. I never feel like anything on this pack is undersized for the stresses of the application.

Other reviews will give you a better description and in detailed analysis of how the straps are all set up, but I will just say that there is a lot of adjustment and once you figure that out the straps work quite well.

If you are reading this you probably know that the frame is constructed of round rod for the vertical system, and flat bar for the horizontal system. You then use straps to tension the pack and “arc” the vertical bars to give some tension and to keep the pack off your back. There is a mesh system that sits against your back. You tighten the straps until you get the pack far enough off the mesh panel to be comfortable.

As mentioned in the “fit” section, I find that I need to readjust the pack fairly often. This isn’t a bad thing. however one thing I find annoying is that I have to hold the pack firmly (sometimes pressing down a bit on the top) to tension and “arc” the frame. Sometimes when I do this one of the vertical bars will arc in the wrong direction. Or sometimes I will have the arc in the correct direction, but then when I start adjusting the strap is “flips” around. Because each vertical bar is tensioned separately the pack can also “twist” a bit so it takes some care to have both sides adjusted the same.

The waist belt is a good system. I like how the straps cross over. The buckle is very easy to do up/ undo. The buckle is small, which is nice because I can easily grip it with my my fingers. My Cragalot had a large buckle which was awkward to handle. The waist pads are wide. And the strap/ belt system allows for attachments. As I mentioned in the fit section, there is enough room for me to gain or lose waist size (both through my body weight and clothing) when using this pack. For me it’s a great fit.

Water Bladder System

The water bladder system is simple. There is a strap inside the pack to hang a bladder of your choice. And there are two exit flaps to pass your hoses through.

It works well for me and doesn’t let water into the bag. It took a bit for me to figure out how best to hang my water bladder, but using some cord/ rope and a clip from our “MYOG/ Gear Repair” box in the closet I was able to make it work.

Back Pocket

It’s large, and simple, like my Boreas Lost Coast pocket is. No complaints. Versatile. It’s stretchy so anything that is stuffed into the pocket will not be compressed. With the (optional) shock cable I can add some points of compression as well as hold the gear in position within the pocket. So the shock cable running across the pocket can kind of act like a mechanism to separate the back pocket into different compartments.

Belt Pouches

The belt pouches are optional. These are square, decently sized and they fit over the belt quite nicely.

I have two belt pouches:

  1. One for food and snacks to eat while hiking (and trash, lip balm, etc). At camp I take this pocket off my pack and stuff it in the bear can so I keep all food scents away from the tent.
  2. One for toques, sun hat, gloves, and other gear that I swap during hiking. This stays on my pack all the time and I keep it on my waist for quick access.

Clearly, if I can fit a hat, toque, gloves, sunglasses, etc into a pocket they are a pretty decent size.

The pockets attach with a plastic toggle and cable to keep the ends in place. And an elastic fits around the waist belt.

For the pocket I keep on my pack permanently the toggle attachment system is OK. However for the one I remove every day at camp I need a better system because the toggle is difficult to manipulate every day with your fingers. I am looking at getting a mini s-clip or similar to use instead. So far I’ve been using a plastic clip like the below and it’s been working OK, but could use improvement as it comes undone sometimes.

plasticclip

Natasha also has the same side pockets and uses them on her Granite Gear pack.

Top Pockets

These are mesh, with solid backing. The attachment system is the same as the side pockets: toggles and cable. I replaced one toggle on each with a clip so I could release the bottom of the pocket and reattach it quickly.

On the tent side of my pack I use the top pocket to help retain the top of the tent. This is where the clip comes in handy. I can unclip the pocket and use the bottom strap to strap in the top of the tent. I use this pocket it to contain the tent pegs and footprint. The outside of the pocket is mesh, so it allows the footprint to dry and it also keeps the wet footprint away from the rest of my gear.

The other top pocket is used for my trowel and sanitary supplies (used and new toilet paper). Similarly this keeps these items away from my food and water and helps keep the rest of my gear clean.

Shock Cord

The shock cord is strapped over the outside of the pack. I use this to tighten my pack up, but mostly I use it to keep the gear in the outside pocket a little compressed. I also dry my gear after wearing or washing it by looping it around the shock cord. I can fit a pair of underwear and two pairs of socks quite nicely on the shock cable to air/ sun dry while I hike. I used to use safety pins to attach my clothes to my pack while drying, but those had often come undone so I much prefer the shock cord. I’d rather not lose a pair of underwear on the trail!

Conclusion

I’ve really only been to Denali (9 days), Stein Valley, a section of the SCT and some short overnights with this pack, but I am quite pleased with it. It seems durable enough but time will tell. The style and design of the pack is very compatible with how I pack and hike, and I am very impressed with the list of optional upgrades that Z Packs offers and just how well they integrate with the pack itself.

I will be taking this pack on the GDT and I am sure I will document how well I like it on that trip!

GDT Food and Meal Planning

We have finally finalized our meal plans (as much as we can anyways), so I can stop teasing with posts about us buying food and give more details on what we actually plan on eating.

Calories and Nutrition

Natasha and I don’t need a lot of calories hiking usually. We have planned for 3600 calories per day each, on average.

We are planning on shipping most of our food to trail as part of our resupply. We choose to buy cheese and fresh sausage (or whatever we can find) in each town as needed. We also plan on supplementing our planned food as needed. Major revisions to our food plan or resupply boxes will be handled by our friend who is shipping our resupply boxes (you know who you are!). On zero days and/ or resupply days we will eat what we can in town. I’m hoping for ice cream!

Nutrition is simple. We try to be balanced, and to get plenty of protein. We do eat lots of chocolate but we also have baby food pouches that we will share every day – we will be relying on those for some key vitamins. We will eat veggies and fruit in town when available. Our breakfast choices are bars and instant breakfast, but varied enough to balance what we can out. We are keeping track of our tuna intake – and I supplement with smoked salmon instead at times to keep mercury consumption in check.

Recipes

We have a few recipes we have used with success in the past but we are always refining them and mixing them up!

In my experience the most important thing to focus on with food when hiking is making sure you actually want to eat it and will get some enjoyment from it! I find that some food (cough, trail mix, cough) is fine on day one and I want to eat it but quickly lose my appetite for it. When that happens I struggle to get calories down and end up carrying food weight that I’m not consuming. If I enjoy the meal then it is easier to stomach (or straight up tasty) when I’m exhausted, hot, and frustrated. This is a nice feedback loop!

On the GDT we will be typically eating the following:

  • Tuna salad for lunch
  • Peanut butter
  • Snickers
  • Hershey’s milk chocolate and almond Bars
  • Reeses peanut butter cups
  • Sausage
  • Cheese
  • Pesto noodles
  • Skurka’s beans and rice
  • Sjurka’s peanut noodles (simplified)
  • Tuna or salmon mac n cheese casserole

Our specific meal lists are shown below. We both rotate between some set “days” but that’s really just used for planning. We eat what we feel like and don’t worry about what we specifically planned for that day.

Pesto Noodles

This is a pretty simple recipe, and is super easy to make.

Pesto Noodle Recipe

It’s a pretty “easy to eat” meal that sticks with you. Most of all the leftover broth isn’t a chore to drink – it’s just a nice, hot meal.

You can add to it if you want but we usually keep it as is. If we have leftover sausage we sometimes will add it, or bacon bits.

Tuna Salad

This one is new for us. We are no stranger to taking tuna hiking but we used to use it as an ingredient in dinner. Recently we started eating it straight from the bag for lunch and add some mayonnaise. This gets some protein mid day and also makes it so we don’t have to clean fish residue from our pots and cookware. I drink my greywater when washing my cookware with water; drinking soup of cold fish residue from our cookware isn’t my favourite so avoiding that but still eating tuna on trail is a huge plus for me.

We bought a lot of individual packaged mayonnaise – this is working great. I think three packs of mayonnaise are about perfect for a good mix. The foil packages of tuna we get in Canada do not have olive oil in them – just a small amount of vegetable broth – so the tuna itself is fairly dry. The mayonnaise really helps and doesn’t make it too liquidy.

Beans and Rice

This is my new favorite!

Beans and rice recipe

Basically, I like everything about this. A big part of what I like of it is just how consistent the texture and cooking time is across all ingredients. They cook together perfectly – no over or under cooked parts.

We bring sausage and cheese already usually so this is a good excuse to eat more cheese. It just works with food we already bring on trail as snacks (cheese, corn chips) so I don’t have to be precise about how many chips I use… I’ll eat them eventually anyways.

It can be a bit spicy, so that is a nice kick in a world otherwise dominated by chocolate bars.

In general I love tacos and nachos (the taco shop across the street from our apartment is my jam!) so this appeals to me even off trail!

Peanut Noodles

I’m not a fan of peanut sauce. I’ll eat a spoonful of peanut butter on trail… but a peanut sauce isn’t my favourite. So I haven’t planned on bringing this meal, but Natasha is planning on eating this meal on the GDT. She has tried the recipe while hiking on the SCT this year and has given it her seal of approval!

Peanut noodles recipe

Salmon mac n cheese casserole

This is only for me. But it’s tried and true. I supplement this with what I can, including fresh cheese to mix it up. The trick is to ensure not to use too much water or it becomes cheese soup! On the SCT I also added corn chips (leftover from the bean and rice) and the added texture of the corn chips was nice – almost like bread crumbs in mac and cheese.

salmon mac and cheese recipe

Note that using fish in a cooked meal leaves an aftertaste in my cookware but in limited amounts it is manageable and worth it.

Final Words

While many of these recipes are tried and true we have tried to add enough variation to not only keep things interesting but keep our diet balanced.

Overall, I think this is a good baseline, but I am sure we will have to supplement, remove or add food as the hike progresses. We will be sure to let you know what we think of it while on trail!