AT Backpacking Gear: Backpack

I’m preparing for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike. In addition to physical and mental preparation, I’m working through what gear to carry. My goal is to have less than 25 total pounds for a week’s hike, including food, water and fuel. To do this, I’ll need to have my base weight (non-consumable items) well below this total. This is key to Ultralight backpacking.

My new backpack, a Jam 70 from GoLite
My new backpack, a Jam 70 from GoLite

Most of the weight comes down to these four things, and I need their total to be under 10 pounds:

  • Backpack
  • Shelter system
  • Sleeping system
  • Cooking system (minus the food)

Backpack

Today I focus on my choice of backpack, which is very key. It determines how much volume and weight you can carry. After a lot of consideration I bought a GoLite, Jam 70L, $120. It only holds 30 pounds, expands to 70 liters, but it’s made of “stronger-than-steel Dyneema® and Ripstop Nylon.” It also sheds water (which is not the same as waterproof, BTW). It weighs more than I wanted, though. The Jam 70L is listed at 31 ounces, but I weighed it at 33. I could have bought the 50L, but that would have only saved an ounce (and $10). With the unique “load lifters controls” at the bottom of the pack, I’ll have more room for bulky, winter gear during the colder months and can easily cinch up the bottom and sides during warmer months when the room isn’t needed. It’s important that I’m able to take up the slack in the pack from the bottom since I want the weight carried high on my body. A consideration that came up later is my desire to pack my down sleeping bag loosely. It’s not the bag that keeps you warm, it’s the trapped air. Keeping the bag loose means you don’t squash down the loft of the insulation every day by forcing it into a tiny stuff sack. But the most important consideration with any sleeping bag is keeping it DRY. It’s doubly important with a down bag.

No doubt, one of the reasons I bought this pack is that I had great experience with an earlier GoLite product, an early Sil-Nylon version. It was a bit fragile, but I’ve managed to patch it successfully (if not attractively)with duct tape. I always hated the orange color, though, so it’s a good thing that backpacking is not a fashion statement. The Jam was named Backpacker Magazine’s 2012 Best All-Around Ultralight Pack. That helped too.

Second Guessing

Thirty three ounces is 21% of my total goal weight for the key four items (10 pounds = 160 ounces). Is that too much?

Here are two thoughts I’ve mulled around:

1). I may have bought the wrong pack. My friend Skittles carries something the size of a day pack. Maybe I need to go back to my ugly orange pack? Or maybe he’s just a more rugged individual than I am? The weight of your pack is a measure of your fear. What am I afraid of? Well, being wet and cold and freezing to death. Yeah, that’s it.

2). Here’s a radical idea: Mike Clelland says in his book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips to cut away anything you don’t need. “Get the scissors and go to town on your pack. This is one place you can really clear away some significant ounces.” Yikes!

Well, I have to admit that the straps on this thing are exceptionally long, so maybe I can trim them off. And I never use the inner hydration bladder pocket. (Maybe it works for you, but one leak is all you need to soak your sleeping bag and clothes.) Mike recommends deeper cuts—like modifying the opening  or removing the side compression straps—but I’m not sure I can make myself do that. Yet.

The straps on this pack are very long, so I snipped off what I didn't think I'd need, then sealed the edges. This is an ounce of excess.
The straps on this pack are very long, so I snipped off what I didn’t think I’d need, then sealed the edges. This is an ounce of excess in the bowl of my scale.

Modifications

So I got out my scissors and began trimming extra-long straps and tags. I removed one set of the side compression straps that I thought were redundant and pretty useless. I found a few labels to remove. But it only added up to an ounce. Still, it’s an ounce. If you do this, remember to take an open flame to the end of the nylon straps after you trim. Just lightly melt the edge to seal them. Fast and easy with no sewing.

I’ve kept the hydration pocket for now, but it may go later. I’d like to keep it for storage.

Pack Cover

And, though I bought the pack cover that goes with the Jam, my good hiker friend Skittles assures me that no pack cover will keep a pack dry in a serious downpour. He recommends Glad compactor trash bags as a liner for the pack. They are durable, weigh about an ounce and are cheap (a box of 4 cost $3). The white color makes it easy to find things inside of them. Not taking the cover will save 4 ounces (But I spent $15 I didn’t need to).

DSC_0393And there are other advantages of the Glad trash compactor bags. They are large enough to carry my sleeping bag loosely while still leaving room for clothing and other items that must stay dry. It can also double as a small ground cover beneath me in the event of damp ground/flooring. And, though I’ve never tried it, I’ve read that they can go over the bottom of a sleeping bag to help keep it dry and keep you a bit warmer in very cold conditions. That’s a lot to get for one ounce of weight!

TOTAL WEIGHT OF PACK AFTER MODIFICATION: 33 ounces

Dad’s Garage….going, going…gone from Inman Park at end of the week

Moving_Title dadsMC

Friday night a friend and I went to Dad’s Garage to say goodbye and see one of their final shows at their Elizabeth Street building.  The show, Dementia Juice, was exactly what we’ve come to expect from Dad’s: funny, irreverent, unique. Plus at least one guy running around in torn tightly whities. Classic!

Getting seats for the penultimate showing of Dementia Juice at Dad's Main Stage.
Getting seats for the penultimate showing of Dementia Juice at Dad’s Main Stage.

But a big, fancy building project is kicking them out of their home of 18 years. Sure the place is a dump. It always has been. But it had a charm and charisma that no shiny new building can replace. Nothing will ever be the same. But it never is; that’s the way life works. Other, much-loved businesses forced to move include Victory Sandwich Bar (now open in downtown Decatur and later this year taking over the Park’s Edge space) and At The Collective (Re-opening soon at Krog Market). I am disappointed in the situation. I volunteered at this place and have enjoyed lots of comedy. But it is what it is. I’ll continue to support these businesses that I love, including Dad’s. Making it work is the ultimate revenge.

Dad's Garage, 1

Didn’t make it to the last weekend? You can still come to the Bringing Down the House Party on August 3 or kick off the first Theatre Sports at 7 Stages August 10. You can also join an Improv class. The next session starts August 11.  Register for Level 1 today and get $30 off!

Here’s what Dad’s has to say:

“It’s official. At the ripe ol’ age of 18, mom and dad are kicking us out of the house. Dad’s Garage has received notice that our building, as well as the entire property at 280 Elizabeth Street, has been purchased and will be redeveloped in the coming months. (Read: Hulk-smashed and turned into a Live, Work, Play space… minus the plays.)

We’ll finish out the rest of our season here (through July 31st). We’ll be packing up and moving out soon after and will continue performing in our new, temporary home at 7 Stages in Little Five Points beginning August 10th. While we’re there we hope to start raising funds for a permanent home. We have narrowed the search down to a few we’re really serious about and plan on making a decision very soon. Hey! It’s just like the finale of The Bachelor! (Is that show still on? Yes? Good! Relevant-ish. Nailed it. Boosh.)

We were hoping to stay in Inman Park, but that didn’t work out — I guess we drove our own property value up too high! We’re committed to staying as close to our current stomping ground as possible and have been vetting a few other spaces. We’re still working out some final details, but we’re close to nailing down a new home. That said, just like any 18 year-old, we like to keep our options open. So, if you have 15,000 sq. feet of space in the city with ample parking on the cheap – please let us know.”

Yes, it's a dump. But we still loved it.
Yes, it’s a dump. But we still loved it.
From Dad's bathroom
From Dad’s bathroom
From Dad's bathroom
From Dad’s bathroom

 

P’cheen, a “backpocket” restaurant

I love to explore new places to dine. But sometimes you want a sure thing. I’ve mentioned before that I have a few restaurants that I keep in my head where I KNOW I can take someone and impress them with a meal. I consider them “backpocket” restaurants–places I can always count on. P’cheen International Bistro, in the Old Fourth Ward, is one of these. The food is great, the service excellent, it’s a moonshine bar, and they’ve got DJs spinning music later in the evenings.

Friday night a friend and I were going to Dad’s Garage for their final weekend in Inman Park. I left the car on the Inman/O4W Bridge (just over the Beltline) so we could park just once. Dinner was spectacular, as always. Thanks Alex.

We started with the Pork Belly Nigiri, a creation of Alex Freidman. Tasty, tender. You could make a meal just on these babies. The new menu featuring small plates makes it easy to chose several things, though.
We started with the Pork Belly Nigiri, a creation of Alex Freidman. Tasty, tender. You could make a meal just on these babies. The new menu featuring small plates makes it easy to chose several things, though.
I have the Korean Dip sandwich with au jus. A great deal at just $8, piled with meat. The kitchen hides a few jalapeños in there, so look out!
I have the Korean Dip sandwich with au jus. A great deal at just $8, piled with meat. The kitchen hides a few jalapeños in there, so look out!
My dining partner had the steak of the day: dry aged (in house!) Rib Eye, topped with locally grown chanterelles and a wine sauce along with house fries. I couldn't talk her into a moonshine cocktail, but I had one.
My dining partner had the steak of the day: dry aged (in house!) Rib Eye, topped with locally grown chanterelles and a wine sauce along with house fries. I couldn’t talk her into a moonshine cocktail, but I had one.
Dessert: bacon ice cream sandwich, between French toast slices and toped with maple syrup!
Dessert: bacon ice cream sandwich, between French toast slices and toped with maple syrup!

 

Art in downtown Atlanta

Thursday evening I took MARTA to downtown Atlanta. I got off at the Peachtree Center station and walked to Centennial Olympic Park to ride SkyView. I don’t spend much time in downtown ATL, but the stroll reminded me what a vibrant, artistic city this is. Here are just a few views:

Short walk thru downtown ATL, 4
Unveiled in November 2011, this playground structure was designed to be a central part of the rejuvenated Woodruff Park. The original design was conceived by Jeff Santos of Coquitlam, British Columbia. Santos was the winner of the Playable 10 Contest, held in partnership by Landscape Structures, Georgia Institute of Technology, Central Atlanta Progress (CAP), Atlanta’s Taskforce on Play (ATOP) and Bank of America. The playground’s design pays tribute to Atlanta with a shape that mimics the letters “ATL.” Built into the piece are various playable elements, including climbing walls, monkey bars and two different sizes of slides.
Short walk thru downtown ATL, 2
Located in front of the Atlanta Fulton Country Library. Brushed steel sculpture Wisdom Bridge (1990) by Richard Hunt.
Short walk thru downtown ATL, 1
These two were filling the air with music. Hope they made a lot.
Short walk thru downtown ATL, 3
Called “No Goal is Too High if We Climb with Care and Confidence” All rightly, then!