After a solid 2016 filled with many sweet adventures I've begun to reflect on my gear choices for the year. What worked? What didn't? What new techniques were learned?
Let's start with what worked. Warm coffee on the river and trail definitely worked! I'm not sold on the best method to prepare coffee yet, but am getting there. This year I tried using and perfecting the percolator method and feel as though I gave that an honest try. My issue here is that you are boiling the coffee and this isn't typically desirable. You can definitely mitigate the amount of torching you do by letting the liquid juuuust hit the glass, with hardly any additional momentum. Here's a pic of what I was working with:
I might actually be a bigger fan of the instant coffee, mostly because it is a lot less work and means no percolator and less fuel. Win-win.
The above image leads to an important lesson that was learned this season. Top heavy cooking systems suck, for a bunch of reasons. If you backpack with other people or with dogs, like many of us do, this type of setup is much more likely to be knocked over. It also is more exposed to the wind and will need a wind break of some sort to make things more efficient. Another factor in this system is the non-refillable fuel canisters, which cannot be recycled unless they have a hole in them. (I have backpacking friends who like guns and will do the recycling part, so this isn't really a recycling problem for me as much as an issue of not needing a new metal container each time.) All things added up I am looking at a system that can use a variety of fuels, is lower to the ground, and is still compact. Something like this MSR XGK EX Stove and fuel set up is what I have in mind. I'm not sold on any given setup yet and would love to learn about similar or even better options. Compact, light-weight, stable, and multi-fuel are the important factors in a stove for the river or trail.
Another awesome lesson to learn or re-learn is that cheap isn't always bad. I enjoyed using my new Big Agnes inflatable pad only a few times before it lost the ability to hold air for more than an hour. Forced to use my ThermaRest Z-lite Sol I soon began to appreciate just how light and durable it was. When backpacking the thing fits real nicely on the bottom outside of your pack, and depending on your kayak or canoe type, isn't all that hard to bring along in the boat. There was no deflating with closed cell foam either, and on the coldest nights it worked like a champ! I may end up using the Z-lite for most of 2017 as it has a lot of upside to it.
I've been very happy with my version of a lightweight backpacking chair and wonder if many others use such a setup. Here's the type of chair I use. I've had mine for 3 years or maybe even longer and the thing is holding up great. It folds down pretty small and can be stashed anywhere in your pack. When I'm camping out of my kayak this sits flat on the bottom of my largest hatch.
I've tried a variety of water filters and like them all, each having their pros and cons. First up was the Sawyer Mini which is the lightest, smallest, and cheapest backpacking water filter. Those are all huge positives, especially if you are just starting out and want an affordable kit. The bag that comes with the filter is a bit tricky to get the hang of at first, but not really too bad. This filter is ceramic, so you cannot let it freeze or it could crack and lose its effectiveness. One of my friends had this Sawyer water bottle with the filter mounted in place, it is nice to have when you are kayaking all day. I have a different waterbottle/filter, this one made by Lifestraw, which is a similar concept with a different filter style. I purchased a pump style filter that is a bit more powerful this year and am still getting the hang of it. I'd love to hear recommendations for other pump-style filters that work for backpacking. I especially like those that can be maintained while in the field. Perhaps next spring I will have a write-up on those.
Dry bags are surprisingly cheap, and I was able to make some much needed additions to the collection this year. Some of my large and old dry bags are really bulky and thick, and don't play nice with other things in the kayak hatch or backpack. I was hoping to find some thin and lighter dry bags that would bend and twist a bit better. I settled on these Sea to Summit bags and got a few sizes. Another dry-type item that has been working for 2+ years for me is this amazon blue light el cheapo special dry box, couldn't even afford to pay for colors. I usually add some soft foam or clothing to pad my camera in there and it is water-tight. I even had the box with camera inside go floating away at the bottom of one rapid this year with no damage to the camera or water inside the box!
Hammocks don't have to be a big investment, especially for your first, keep it simple and just get one of these and go from there. I'm not sure that these $30 nylon lightweight hammocks are all that different between brands so go find a good price and one with some solid reviews. It is relaxing to hang out after a long day of hiking.
Those are the highlights from this year for now, more adventures and lessons learned to be shared!