Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Gear I Used On My Long Walk In The Colorado Rockies


Last year I spent 29 days walking around 400 miles (644km) through the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on the Continental Divide and Colorado Trails. Most of the time I was above 10,000 feet (3048 metres). I camped on 25 nights, of which 18 were above 11,000 feet (3353 metres), the highest 12,460 feet (37987 metres). I was usually at or above timberline so many camps were exposed. For the first two weeks the weather was dry and mostly warm and sunny though there was sometimes a cool wind. Nights were chilly though, with overnight lows mostly between 0 and 5°C.  The second half of the walk was stormier and cooler with thunderstorms, heavy rain and hail. Nights were a little colder too, with sub-zero temperatures on three.

As on any long walk my gear needed to be durable and light while being able to cope with hot days, stormy weather, and chilly nights. My selection was a mix of tried and trusted items and new ones I felt would prove reliable. Here’s how they performed.

BIG THREE

Pack

Sierra Designs Flex Capacitor 40-60L /£165/1200g/ www.sierradesigns.com  /****1/2

 
I’d used this pack on several one- and two-night trips and reckoned it would be fine for the Rockies. At 1.2kg it’s lightweight rather than ultralight and designed to handle 20kg loads. It has a rigid curved internal frame that creates an air gap between your back and the pack. In hot weather this really did reduce perspiration. There are six small external pockets and a flat lid that zips open, with no drawcords or internal sleeves. Organising gear so I had access to often needed items was easy. Straps can reduce the volume from the maximum 60 litres to 40 litres. I never needed to do this; I just didn’t compress items so much when it wasn’t full. With 6 days food inside the pack carried well. Nine days food , which meant a total weight of around 25kg, was pushing it a bit as the hipbelt tended to slip. With that much food I had to strap my shelter on the outside – one disadvantage of the zipped lid is that it can’t be raised. Overall though the pack performed well and proved durable with little sign of wear at the end of the walk.

Shelter

Mountain Laurel Designs Trailstar/US$230/482g/ www.mountainlaureldesigns.com /*****
Oookworks Trailstar Nest/380g/no longer available/**** 16 pegs 143g


The Trailstar has been a favourite shelter for many years and the veteran of three previous long-distance walks plus several TGO Challenges. Easy to pitch with trekking poles and with a vast amount of room it always feels like home. After hundreds of nights use it’s as wind and waterproof as ever, withstanding some torrential rain and gusty thunderstorms. 

I took the Nest rather than just a groundsheet because there were likely to be mosquitoes for the first week or so. It too was a veteran of several long works and is still in good condition. After ten days there were no more mosquitoes and I sometimes used it just as a groundsheet, mostly I still pitched it though but left the doors open. 

Sleeping Bags & Mats

PHD M.Degree° 100 K Sleeping Bag/£371/245g/ www.phdesigns.co.uk /*****
PHD Filler Bag/£317/240g/ www.phdesigns.co.uk /*****
 

Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Uberlite Regular/£185/245g/ www.thermarest.com /***


 Therm-A-Rest Ultralite ¾ /482g/ no longer available *****

 
OMM DuoMat/£22/135g/ www.theomm.com /****

Expecting a wide variation in overnight temperatures I decided to use PHD’s Sleep System, as I had on my two previous long-distance walks, except that this time I took an even lighter outer bag, the M.Degree° 100, rated to 10°C.  Combined with the Filler K inner bag, rated to 15°C, I though this would keep me warm to -5°C and on colder nights I’d wear the PHD down smock, trousers and socks I was carrying as well. In fact, overnight temperatures only varied from -1.2°C to 9°C. I alternated between the Filler bag and the clothing, mostly based on what I was wearing in the evening. If I had the down clothing on I kept it on. The M.Degree bag is a simple mummy bag. I found it comfortable and the very low weight and packed size were welcome. 

My sleep mat when I set out was the ultralight NeoAir Uberlite. I found this airbed very comfortable as long as I didn’t inflate it hard, as then I tended to roll off. However, after thirteen days it deflated in the middle of the night due to a split in the top surface of one of the tubes. Given that only my sleeping bag was on the mat I can’t work out how this happened. Maybe there was already a weakness or the start of a tear (it has gone back to Cascade Designs for examination). Trying to sleep on the flat mat (just two thin bits of nylon), the thin foam DuoMat and clothes wasn’t successful.

Luckily that was the one-night Andrew Terrill joined me, bringing up my supplies for the next week, and I was able to borrow his old Therm-A-Rest UltraLite self-inflating mat. This was a model I’d used on long walks back in the 1980s and dated from a time before cored foam and curved mats. It was nearly twice the weight and bulk of the Uberlite but just as comfortable. It was only three-quarters  length, but I’d also brought an OMM DuoMat for use as a sit mat and its thin closed cell foam was fine under my feet and lower legs. 

TREKKING POLES

Pacerpoles Dual Lock/£107/570g/ www.pacerpole.com   *****

 
Constant companions on long walks for many years I regard Pacerpoles as indispensable. I used them every day when walking and every night for holding up the Trailstar. Tough, reliable, comfortable.

KITCHEN

Stove

MSR Pocket Rocket 2/£35/75g/ www.msrgear.com   *****

  
For many years I’ve used the Trail Designs Ti-Tri alcohol/wood stove on long walks. I didn’t take it this time because if there were forest fires stoves without on/off switches could be banned, as they were the previous year. Instead I took the tiny Pocket Rocket 2 canister stove. It worked really well and proved really fuel efficient, a 250g canister lasting eight or nine days. As it happened there were no forest fires.

Utensils

My pots did remain the same, the Evernew 0.9 litre and MSR 0.7 litre titanium ones I’ve used on every long walk for well over twenty years. Together they weigh 220 grams.

CLOTHING AND FOOTWEAR

Shoes

 
Altra Olympus 3.5 shoes/£130/680g/ www.altrafootwear.co.uk    *****

Altra’s wide forefoot design fits me well and I’ve used its Lone Peak shoes on quite a few walks. For Colorado I thought I’d try a different model, the Olympus 3.5. These have extra thick cushioning plus a Vibram sole. I found them extremely comfortable. The cushioning feels bouncy on hard smooth surfaces like pavements. I didn’t notice this on trails. The grip was good, and the sole had a little tread left at the end of the walk. The uppers are in fine condition. The latter are mesh and the shoes were cool in the heat.

Socks

Point 6 Hiking Essential Light Mini Crew/£15.95/70g/ www.point6merinosocks.co.uk   *****

These light ankle socks were a revelation and some of the best socks I’ve ever worn on a long walk. I wore them every day and only washed them twice and they were comfortable throughout. There are a few thin areas on the outsides, but they’ll still do for more walks. They’re made from 58% merino wool, 37% nylon and 5% spandex. 

Shirt

Paramo Katmai/£65/210g/ www.paramo-clothing.com    *****


I wore my  first Katmai shirt on so many long walks it fell apart. I love this design! The fabric is soft and comfortable, shifts sweat, and dries fast. The pockets are roomy. The cuffs are wide so the sleeves can easily be rolled up. An ideal hiking shirt. I wore it every day. 

Trousers/Shorts

Mammut Runbold Pants/£90/310g/ www.mammut.com   ****
Slazenger Woven Shorts/£7/165g/ www.slazenger.com     ****

I wore shorts most days when walking. These Slazenger ones I picked up in Fort William on the TGO Challenge the previous May when I found the weather too hot for long trousers. I didn’t expect them to last but as they were okay afterwards I took them to Colorado. They’re still fine. They’re made from soft polyester and have a mesh inner, elasticated waist with drawstring, and two hand pockets. They were very comfortable.

The Runbold Pants were mostly worn in camp for warmth. On stormy days I wore them under my waterproof trousers. They performed well.

Hat

Tilley Hiker’s Hat/£85/105g/ www.tilley.com   *****

I’ve worn a cotton Tilley Hat on every long walk for thirty years. I wouldn’t be without one. They are comfortable and tough. This latest one is made from organic cotton and has an evaporative insert in the crown. Soak it in water in hot weather and it takes even longer to dry, helping to keep you cool.

Windshirt

Patagonia Houdini/£90/105g/ www.eu.patagonia.com       ****

 
Windier weather than I expected meant that I wore this windshell quite often. Most days I found it all I needed over the Katmai shirt. The fabric is comfortable and quite breathable, and it is very light. A larger pocket would have been good, along with cuffs that aren’t elasticised so the sleeves could easily be rolled up, but overall it served its function.

Waterproofs

Alpkit  Gravitas jacket/£160/165g   www.alpkit.com    *****
 

Montane Minimus Pants/£100/153g www.montane.co.uk    ****

I took ultralight waterproofs as I knew I probably wouldn’t need them often, if at all. The big storms of the second half of the walk meant I used them more often than I’d hoped. When called on they did perform well, even though some of the storms were severe, and I never got more than slightly damp in them (from condensation). The wired hood of the Gravitas was especially good in driving hail. Both garments were comfortable. I could just get the Minimus Pants on over my shoes – slightly longer zips would be useful.

Insulation

Berghaus Vapourlight Hypertherm Hoody / 224g/ no longer available  *****

 
I’ve taken this synthetic insulated wind-resistant ultralight jacket on my last three long-distance walks and it’s become a firm favourite. It provided just the right warmth and weather resistance on cool days and at rest stops. It’s a real shame Berghaus don’t make it any more.

PHD Wafer Ultima K Down Pullover/£337/ 200g/ www.phdesigns.co.uk /*****



PHD Wafer Down Trousers K Series/£285/151g/ www.phdesigns.co.uk /*****

This down clothing did double duty as warmwear in camp and sleepwear on cold nights. Both garments are astoundingly warm for the weight and very comfortable. I ended up sleeping in them more often than intended as I was often reluctant to take them off before going to sleep.

Navigation and Electronics

For paper navigation I had National Geographic Trails Illustrated topographic maps to the Colorado Trail and the Weminuche Wilderness (324g – though I didn’t carry all of them at once), and The Colorado Trail Databook (210g).  I took my Silva Ranger compass (34g) of course. I don’t remember ever using it.

Just as important for navigation was my Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone. On this I had mapsets and guides from the Continental Divide Trail Coalition and Guthook Guides. 


To charge my phone I had a GoalZero Nomad7Plus solar panel (380g) and GoalZero Venture30 powerpack (255g). The solar panel was clipped to the pack during the day and put out in the sun in camp. On hot clear days it charged the powerpack around 80%, enough to almost twice charge the phone. On cloudy days or ones when I was in the forest for hours it only charged the powerpack a few percent. Overall, it was just adequate. 

For sending OK messages home and in case of emergency I had an original SPOT GPS Messenger (132g). I sent a simple OK and my location home every evening so my partner knew I was fine and could see where I was.

Accessories 

As always, the list of accessories is long, but everything was needed. It included 2 2-litre Platypus water containers (79g), a GoLite 700ml water bottle (87g), Sawyer Mini Water Filter (47g), Smartwool Beanie (56g), Lifeventure Drybags (100g), Petzl Actik and e+Lite headlamps (119g), Leatherman Micro multi-tool (50g), notebook and Space pens in Alosak bag (175g), reading glasses and cases x 2 (195g), Lifesystems Light & Dry Pro First Aid Kit (172g), repair kit (50g), Kestrel 4500 Weather Station (102g), wash kit/medication/toilet paper (174g), Samsung Fury dark glasses and case (125g), Kindle Paperwhite e-reader (263g).

 All the photos were taken on the walk. You can read more about it and see more pictures here

This article first appeared in The Great Outdoors.

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