New this trip:
Until this trip I had always used an inflatable air mattress - the kind you use in swimming pools, but more durable. For my first five trips this was perfect, or almost so. The comfort offered by air mattresses is supreme, and this one only weighed a pound and a half, but the price you pay is the time spent inflating and deflating them. (Deflating them enough so that they fold flat for packing is a real challenge and consumes a lot of time.) They are also rather fragile. It's easy to puncture them or rupture a seam. This never happened to me for the first several years, but from the sixth trip on I had nothing but trouble. Punctures were fairly easily repaired with duct tape, which I carry with me in the back country. Ruptured seams are more serious because they lie in creases which separate when inflated and lift the duct tape. An airless air matress quickly turns a cosy night into an ordeal. My fallback plan when that happened was to unpack my tote bag and spread all of my clothes out between the tent floor and my sleeping bag. This provided enough cushion and insulation between me and the ground that I didn't actually freeze to death or wake up with an injured back, but only just.
On the sixth and subsequent trips the air mattress failed every time. I had had such good luck with my first one for the first five years that I kept trying, but either I was putting more air in them now than before, or thay were no longer being manufactured to the same quality standards, because thereafter I never returned with one intact.
I finally gave up and bought a Thermarest. These are also air mattresses, but they are (a) more durable, (b) self inflating and (c) designed to deflate completely and quickly in a minimum of time. The downside is that they are generally heavier than ordinary air mattresses (my model, a GuideLight, weighs 2 lbs, or 8 oz. more than my air mattress.) They are also thinner and thus provide less cushion and comfort. They come in three different thicknesses: 1", 1 1/2" and 2". The thicker ones are softer but also heavier. I opted for the 1 1/2" because 1" wouldn't provide enough cushion for my problem back, and the 2" I decided was too heavy.
Rating: Good warmth. Adequate comfort (not as good as a full air mattress, but far better than an empty one). Acceptable weight. As for convenience, it's quick to deflate (about two minutes to deflate, roll up and stow in its stuff sack) but slower to pack, since when rolled up it won't fit inside a backpack pocket like an air mattress will and must be attached to the outside with cinch straps. Because there are several other items in this category (tent, sleeping bag, stool (see below)), they all compete for space and interfere with each other, resulting in more time spent arranging them. I'm not sure if there was a net saving of time or not.
Bottom line: One thumb up. I'll take it again next time. I'm considering getting a 2" model for comfort, but dread the extra weight.
At Costco in 1999 I found a light (1 lb) stool that folds up into a shape and size that's practical to attach to a backpack with cinch straps (though see the Thermarest above re competing for space). Finding a good place to sit in the wilderness can sometimes be a problem. In campsites, there are usually rocks and/or logs that have been arranged for this purpose by earlier visitors, but they are not always ideally situated with respect to distance from the fire ring, particularly so since the wind is always shifting and blowing smoke in your eyes. A light stool can be set down anywhere that's convenient and can be moved as the wind shifts. It's doubly valuable when stopping to make tea or just rest on the trail, where comfortable logs and rocks are not always there when you need them.
Rating: Convenient and comfortable. It is an extra pound, though. But for me the benefit to my back from being able to sit comfortably outweighs the extra pound I had to carry.
Bottom line: One thumb up. I'll take it again.
Frying Pan & Stuff Bag
I finally tired of using dirt to scour cooked egg off the aluminum pan in my old camp cooking set. The set had two pans with steep sides that shared one removable handle. They were too small to hold a legal trout yet too large and non-squooshable to pack easily. This year I threw in the towel and bought a single non-stick frying pan with a folding handle to replace the two small aluminum ones. The old ones fit together, clamshell-like, to hold the rest of the cooking kit (two plate/bowls, utensils, spices and cleaning supplies). I replaced this functionality with a net stuff bag which neatly holds the new pan and the old paraphernalia in a squooshable, easily packed arrangement. It's now easier and faster to open it up, use the contents and repack it. The downside is that it's not as non-stick as I would like: I still need something to scrape off the egg, though nothing so drastic as dirt. I think a Dobie sponge would be ideal, and that's on my list for next time.
Bottom line: One thumb up. I'll take it again.
Great for manipulating frying bacon, particularly in a non-stick pan. Also good for scrambling eggs in the same non-stick pan.
Bottom line: Two thumbs up. I'll take 'em again
Didn't know where to buy the heavy duty stuff, so I bought khaki Dockers. Cost more, don't last as long.
Rating: MUCH more comfortable than jeans.
Bottom line: Two thumbs up. I'll wear them again next time.
I traded in my trusty beret for a dorky hat - the floppy kind with a short brim that you can lower on whatever side the sun is coming from. Since it's soft, there's no problem with the brim in the back of the head knocking into the backpack when you're on the trail.
There's an amusing story about how I got it. I walked into the store and told the salesman that I was looking for a really dorky hat. He straightened visibly with enthusiasm and said "I have just the thing, sir. Step this way, please." He then raised one finger into the air and strode briskly to the hat department, picked one out and showed it to me. I took one look and clasped my hands together under my chin. "Oh, that... is... PERFECTLY dorky!" I exclaimed. "I'll take it!!"
But that's just an amusing story. The real story is that I found it on a clearance table at Sears. Set me back six bucks.
Rating: So effective at keeping the sun off of my face that I quit wearing sunscreen after the second day.
Bottom line: Two thumbs up. I'll take it again.
Book by Stephen King
It was a thick book and I never cracked it open. There was too much else to do.