There are magical places with ancient creatures that make you remember how much has come before you and how much will come after. We drove high into the mountains where there was still snow despite it being nearly June. Everything felt lonely and still. The forest is a preserve and you can tell the folks who work there are so happy to share this rare beauty with you, to tell you all about the trees and how slowly they grow. The slowest ones live the longest they say, the ones found in the harshest of environments. The oldest living things on earth battling extreme frozen winters and intense wind. Their pine needles alone can live 30-40 years. We searched for the legendary tree considered to be the oldest, its location now a secret. It could have been any of them really, their twisting limbs and stunted trunks. Soon it will snow again and the road will be closed for winter; the trees safe in their desolate slopes.
Seemingly endless dirt roads and hardly any people. Quiet campsites with perfect sunset views. Pronghorns, tule elk, burrowing owls. Flowers even after spring is over. Salt flats and grasslands. Hawks, bats and kangaroo rats if your lucky.
Things have been quiet here, I know. The heat of summer seems to have melted away my blogging motivation. That and being caught up in various projects. I’m not making promises but I’ll at least catch up with things. Maybe everything will change. I intended to just post these photos and then I got excited about writing something so we’ll see how this all goes.
Backpack – Osprey Talon 44 & 33
When I first decided I wanted to go backpacking I spent a long time researching backpacks and then even longer trying them on in the store. I initially went with the Gregory Deva 60, because in the store it was the most comfortable when loaded with lots of weight. I wasn’t excited that it had super thick padding or that the backpack itself weighed in at over 5 pounds but after much debate I got it anyway. I took it out on our first trips and it was okay but I certainly didn’t love it. There were too many pockets that made the whole thing lumpy and weird. Even though the pack was huge, it didn’t fit my 3L water reservoir. Overall I had lots of complaints.
I later picked up the Osprey Talon 33 as a large day pack. I opted for a larger size to try for low key overnight trips. I ended up using it for backpacking in the Hoh Rainforest as well as at Point Reyes. I loved how light it was and it had all the features I wanted. It is simple, light and comfortable, though a touch small for some occasions. When I came across a coupon, I bought the 44L version and returned the massive Gregory pack.
Things I love about this pack: It’s light. There aren’t a lot of frilly features but it still has some bonuses that I like such as a large reservoir and decent sized hip belt pockets. The mesh pocket on the back is great.
I could see myself being happy with an actual ultralight backpack someday, but without the opportunity to ever try one on I’m hesitant to buy one. Right now I’m very happy with the Ospreys, even if they have a little bit of extra weight.
Sleeping Bag – North Face Cat’s Meow Women’s 20
I love this sleeping bag. Mine is over 4 years old (though there are newer versions) and it’s still warm and cozy. It’s synthetic so it doesn’t pack down super small and it’s not exceptionally light either, but it’s one of the lightest synthetics I’ve seen for the temperature rating. I sleep cold so I’d rather deal with the bulk in exchange for the extra warmth. I’ve used this bag in freezing temperatures (along with extra layers) and have been warm. It’s a bonus that Shawn has the Men’s version so we can zip our sleeping bags together to make one big bag for both of us.
Sleeping Pad – Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm
This sleeping pad is so comfortable it’s hard to believe. I’ve gotten better nights sleep on this pad than at home in my bed. It’s really small and light and the insulating layer reflects your body heat back for cold nights. It’s not as crinkly as the other neoairs so it doesn’t feel like you’re sleeping on a bag of chips. I previously had a self inflating thermarest, which certainly did its job for the past few years, but was not always super comfortable for a side sleeper like myself. I would often wake up with my hip bones numb or an arm asleep. I’ll be the first to admit that this pad is pretty pricy (get it on sale!) but pretty worth it if you ask me.
Backpacking Tent – Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3
I can’t take credit for picking this tent, Shawn chose it after a lot of research and testing out some other tents. We went with the UL3 for a few reasons. It’s definitely lightweight (though not the lightest) but still has some bonus features. For one, it is fully freestanding, so you don’t have to worry about staking it down just to hold it up. There’s also enough room for us and our gear. We tried a smaller, similar tent but there wasn’t enough headroom for a tall guy (I didn’t really notice). We’ve weathered a few storms in it and haven’t had any problems yet. It doesn’t have the best ventilation when it’s warm, but it’s nice and cozy when it’s cold.
Car Camping Tent – North Face Double Headed Toad (discontinued)
I mention this other tent, just in case you see it in some photos. It’s a luxurious four person tent. After spending so many nights in our compact backpacking tent, this tent feels enormous. It’s great for longer stays and more extreme weather. It’s held up really well over the past four years and still feels new.
Stove – Snow Peak Litemax
A great little stove. Lighter and more compact than the gigapower. Holds up to wind fairly well. I like hot meals and this makes it easy for me to cook something fast for myself or in tandem with Shawn.
Cookware – Snow Peak Trek 900mL titanium with Four Dog Stove lid
Love this pot! Great for one person. You could probably go a little smaller, but a full size fuel canister fits perfectly in this one. Also the frypan lid is the perfect size for grilling veggie burgers. I added on the Four Dog Stove lid for when I’m not planning on frying anything. It’s slightly more compact and easier to manage and great for straining noodles.
Utensils – Snow Peak Titanium long tined spork & Sea to Summit Long Spoon
I don’t love sporks but Shawn found me this special long tined spork that is great for ramen. Most everything else I use my long spoon which is great for stirring your pot and eating out of those instant meal bags. I love that it has flat sides which are useful for scraping every last morsel of food out of your pot.
Water Filter – Saywer Squeeze
This filter is very easy to use and super lightweight/compact. The squeeze bag that comes with it isn’t super big and doesn’t fill very easily unless you have fairly swiftly running water. I’ll probably add another platypus as a dirty bag for longer trips.
Water Reservoir – Platypus 3L
Having a reservoir is great. It makes a major difference in how often I drink water and therefore how hydrated I stay. The 3L is also great when you know you need to carry a lot of water. This reservoir doesn’t have a strong flavor with is great and I haven’t had any problems with leaking. I have had a lot of issues with the bite valve. Nothing catastrophic but sometimes I find I’m getting a lot of bubbles with my water (annoying!). It also tends to drip a little from the valve. I’ve only used it for water but did find some questionable build up in the hose which I was able to remove after some disinfecting. I should probably just replace the hose and valve altogether. I also have a bonus 2L Platupus water bag that’s really great as an add on.
Trekking Poles – Black Diamond Ergo Cork Poles
I just got these recently so I’ll probably have to update this when I’ve used them more. I’m still getting used to them really. I like that they are fairly light weight and can pack up small. They were definitely a big help when climing some steep hills with a heavy backpack. I think they do increase my pace a little. I do like having something to do with my arms. Good for balance during river crossings. I don’t see myself using these too much on regular hikes but they’re great when you’ve got a heavy backpack. I got these with a dividend so they were basically free, otherwise I don’t know if I would have spent the money.
Shoes – Brooks Cascadias
I feel like these are the hipster shoes of the hiker world but I love these damn shoes. While some will opt for more heavy duty hiking boots, I’m much more sensitive to my feet overheating than anything else. These shoes breath really well, have great traction and dry quickly. I pair them with some Dirty Girl Gaiters to keep sticks and stones out since they are lower than traditional boots. I’ve noticed there some sections of wear around the top that are probably more from design flaws than actual use, so I’m guessing these aren’t meant to last forever. For now they’re super comfortable and have served me well.
Jacket – Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoodie
I had been searching for a packable insulated jacket for months when I was pressured into buying this one. I thought it was too expensive, but a big sale came up and I had to jump on it. I’ve never regretted it. It’s the most comfortable and warm jacket. I want to live in it. It feels like you’re wearing a cozy sleeping bag. Though I was skeptical about the stretchy side panels, they do make the whole thing more versatile for activities. Definitely requires another base layer for extra cold weather. I’ve slept with it on in my sleeping bag on exceptionally cold nights. I think the stretchy wrist sections are maybe a little too tight, but they definitely keep the cold air out and don’t really bother me.
We went on a wildflower scouting excursion to Joshua Tree a few weeks ago. The backcountry camping is great because you just have to hike over a mile away from any road, find a spot you like and set up.* We arrived just before sunset, hiked into the darkness and made camp. We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and, after breakfast, spent the day searching for wildflowers throughout the park. There were lots to be seen in the lower elevations and some were just sprouting in the higher areas. Getting a campsite can sometimes be tricky at this park since it’s so close to Los Angeles. Knowing you can just head out into the wilderness makes me want to visit every weekend.
*There are a few other rules, so check out the National Park site for details.
Dear readers I have a favor to ask. A short film I whipped up is in a contest and could really use your vote to get to the finals. This ghostly short is based on the true story of S.A. Andreé’s tragic balloon flight to the Arctic.
**UPDATE** I won the contest! So excited to go check out the Stanley Hotel, the place where Stephen King came up with the idea for The Shining.
You can watch the short below.