The Fat Hiker

The Fat Hiker

Gear. Trails. Food.

Category: Gear

Dollars & Sense, Part One: Sleeping Bags

When outfitting someone for the first time, I have this steady piece of wisdom that I always impart on my newest clients: don’t buy all this stuff today. I don’t…

When outfitting someone for the first time, I have this steady piece of wisdom that I always impart on my newest clients: don’t buy all this stuff today. I don’t care if you can afford it. Before I get you to the register, my goal is to make you confident in your purchases, and I can only do that if you trust me when I say that outfitting is a life-long pursuit. I own enough gear for three hikers (okay, five hikers, but who’s counting) and I’m still always on the lookout for the newest advances in outdoor equipment.

That being said, I always approach outfitting from a personal place. There are three areas I focus on, before all others:

  • My pack
  • My footwear
  • My sleep system (sleeping bag & sleeping pad)

My process is simple. If I can’t carry my gear, step comfortably, and sleep well, then I will be a grumpy hiker. I can deal with bad food. I can handle adverse weather conditions. But if I can’t carry my weight load, walk without pain, or get a full night’s rest, well, let’s just say you wouldn’t want to run into me on the trail.

I will also be talking to my fellow Heavy Hikers, who might have trouble slipping into a thermal efficient mummy-style sleeping bag. I’m a big guy and I sleep on my side or on my stomach, which means I’m a tornado in the tent. I am also a warm-natured sleeper, so I tend to need to vent my bag throughout the night. With these factors in mind, I give you the NEMO Salsa sleeping bag:

NEMO Salsa 30

This is a 30-degree bag (which means you’ll be comfortable at that ambient temperature) with a “spoon” design that allows for more hip and elbow room. It’s also packable and lightweight for backpacking. It’s got a killer yoke (the little bit of fabric around the neck area to tuck you in) and is easily vent-able for those late night bouts of heat. The biggest feature about this bag is that it doesn’t feel too tight. I tend to get claustrophobic in mummy-style bags and I’ve never had that problem in my NEMO. Plus, this bag has a 650 down fill, which makes it a steal at this price point. I own a similar bag from NEMO that’s a bit older than this one and it’s my go-to bag for most of my outings.

Next up is the Marmot NanoWave 45:

Marmot NanoWave 45

I also own this bag for my summer backpacking trips, or if I’m going fast and light. It’s absurdly packable, shrinking down to about the size of a Nerf football (see the featured image of this article) in its included stuff sack. But beware, it lacks the comfort of the NEMO and the fill is synthetic, which also explains the low price. It’s also a bit tighter fit, but still roomy enough to not be considered a mummy bag.

Finally, I’ve included the North Face Dolomite for my big and tall hikers who still love the old school square bags.

The North Face Dolomite 30

It’s heavy (4.4 lbs) and it isn’t as packable, but if you’re just looking for a solid bag with a bunch of room for some fun weekend car camping, this bag gets the job done.

I want to end with a word of caution. Choosing a sleeping bag is a fiercely personal process. There has yet to be a bag invented that fits every body type, or that addresses every personal sleeping style, or that serves everyone’s individual uses. This will be a process of trial and error.

Also, try not to skim dollars in this area. I promise, that first restless, sleepless night on the trail, you won’t be thinking about that $60 you saved. Worse yet, you might not want to get back out there. Take time to try these bags on at your local outfitter and if you’re buying online, be immediately prepared to ship it right on back BEFORE you take it out on the trail. I want you to have the same wonderful experiences that I’ve had outdoors, so make sure you take absolute care in this particular area of your pack. And, food for thought, never store your bags in their stuff sacks long term. Stuff sacks are for temporary storage while hiking. Either hang your sleeping bag up or store them in a larger bag so you don’t compress the fill permanently. Happy heavy hiking.

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The Ten Essentials

There’s this moment I get to share with every first-timer I pack fit. We’ve discussed the kind of hiking they want to do. I’ve measured them. I’ve gone through a…

There’s this moment I get to share with every first-timer I pack fit. We’ve discussed the kind of hiking they want to do. I’ve measured them. I’ve gone through a few pack options and shared some of my experiences on the trail. I’ve put them in front of a mirror and shown them all the ways a pack should fit and feel. And then it comes, this moment where they’re holding their new pack, confident in the choice we’ve made together. Our eyes meet, and without saying a word, I know the next question that’s burning in their heart: “What the hell do I put in this thing?”

It never fails.

No trip is safe without the Ten Essentials. I know it sounds dramatic, but it’s the simple truth. I’ve heard too many stories about how having, or sadly, not having the Ten Essentials, has decided life or death on the trail.

Before we get too deep into what they are, I want to explain the motivation behind this list. The concept is simple: if anything goes wrong out on your trip, and you’re forced to delay your return, these ten things will keep you alive for at least 24 hours in the wild. That’s it. Humbly, you don’t have any business being outdoors without these items. Let’s get into it.

Navigation

A current map of the area you’re hiking in and a compass. Your compass doesn’t have to be fancy, just accurate and you should know how to use it with your map.

This Suunto compass can also double as an emergency signaling mirror.

Sun Protection

This should be in the form of sunglasses and sunscreen. I also carry lip balm and I always have a hat. There are also clothes out there with UV ratings that can help, too.

Insulation

Always bring clothes that can layer with your current outfit. I like to at least bring a fleece jacket and a rain shell. When in doubt, just make sure you’re bringing enough clothes to survive the coldest weather you will encounter that season and in your area, over night.

Illumination

I never leave without at least two options for light, specifically in the form of a headlamp and a handheld flashlight. Also make sure you bring enough back up batteries for both.

First Aid

A simple, small kit will do. Just make sure if you have any special needs (prescriptions, EpiPen, etc.) that you take them into account. Make sure you can stop bleeding and dress a wound. Also include insect repellent in your kit.

Fire

Stormproof matches in a waterproof case. Include a windproof lighter, as well. I’ll also pack some tinder (paper, wood chips, etc.)

I’ve only used UCO matches.

Repair Kit/Tools

You should be able to temporarily fix anything that you bring with you. I carry a multitool with a folding blade, and a fixed blade knife with a full tang (the metal of the blade travels all the way through the handle). I use the folding knife for delicate cuts to repair gear or to dress a wound. I use my fixed blade knife to break up firewood or anything else that requires more force. My repair kits always include zip ties and duct tape, and a small sewing kit. And if there’s something you can’t fix in your pack, bring a backup.

The SIGNAL includes a fire starter and a whistle.

Nutrition

In addition to the food you’ll need on your hike, you should have another entire day’s rations with you. Meal bars are best here because they don’t require cooking or refrigeration. They also only weigh about 3 oz and and pack a whopping 300 calories, enough to replace an entire meal, if necessary. Check out my article, Meal Bars: The Lazy Hiker’s Best Friend, for more info.

Hydration

If you’re traveling near water, make sure you have a water filter that can remove particulates, bacteria, and protozoa. If you’re not near water, it is recommended that you have at least two liters of water per day on you.

Emergency Shelter

This can be as elaborate as a full tent or as simple as a reflective emergency blanket.

I also keep one of these in my car.

I apologize for the serious tone of this post, but I want to make sure that while you’re out there seeing nature, that you respect what nature can do. It’s your responsibility to be prepared when you step out on a hike because the environment never takes you into account. I will also be releasing a series of short posts that go into further details about the gear I like to round out my Ten Essentials with more specificity soon. Happy heavy hiking.

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The Best Gear You’re Not Using, Part One: Trekking Poles

I am a heavy hiker, which means I’m always on the lookout for gear that makes my trek through the wilderness easier. For my money, trekking poles aren’t just a…

I am a heavy hiker, which means I’m always on the lookout for gear that makes my trek through the wilderness easier. For my money, trekking poles aren’t just a luxury; they’re a necessity.

There are a few immediate uses for trekking poles:

• Better balance
• Crossing streams or rough terrain
• Leverage when traveling uphill

But for the novice, out-of-shape hiker, trekking poles have particular benefits that will not only improve your ability to trek further and higher, they’ll help reduce your early frustrations with the outdoors. This is key. I see too many of my fellow full-figured hikers give up in muted madness because they weren’t outfitted with the right gear. So let’s talk about why you need trekking poles.

Better for Your Body

Let’s be clear, I don’t like to exercise. However, I still have a passion for getting out and seeing nature’s beauty, so I’ve learned how to experience the outdoors while still putting the least amount of strain on my body. Using trekking poles are the best way to reduce the strain of hiking on your lower joints (knees, ankles) and they also lower fatigue on your leg muscles, which is the muscle group we rely most on when we’re outdoors.

They also help keep your body in a natural rhythm by moving your hands and keeping them elevated to more efficiently help blood circulation and respiration. This elevated position of the hands also reduces your overall fatigue and lessens the swelling in your upper extremities. Less blood pooling in the hands, even during a short day hike, is a good thing.

Weight distribution is another physical benefit. Trekking poles can reduce the weight your legs are taking on, especially in an uphill situation. If you’ve cursed as many staircases as I have, you’ll like this feature. By including your arms in the haul you’re likely to take up to 25% of the load off your lower body. I like to think of them as a railing that’s following me every step I take.

Trekking Poles are not Just for Trekking

Some lightweight backpackers (a term used to describe all sizes of hikers that choose to carry as little as possible) shed poles to lower the amount of gear they carry, but I can usually change their mind when they realize how versatile trekking poles can be. There are a number of tents out there that utilize trekking poles in the place of tent poles, like the Scout 2 UL from Big Agnes.

Big Agnes Scout 2

This tent only weighs 1lb 15oz, and is a far cry lighter than some other structures out there on the market. I own an older version of this tent and it’s the first thing I grab when I’m traveling fast and light.

Brandy & Bronko in my Scout

A better look inside, with Brandy & Wrigley

Another tent like this is the Breeze Mesh Tent.

Breeze Mesh Tent

It’s considerably cheaper and weighs an absurd 24oz. But beware: it’s lighter because it doesn’t include a rain cover. So if you’re backpacking through an area that isn’t rainy and you’re like me and you get pretty warm at night, this breezy structure is perfect for you. Both of these tents also take up way less space in your pack than a traditional structure.

Personally, I’ve used my poles to prop my pack upright during a break, making it easier to access items and keep it out of the dirt. I’ve used them to dry recently cleaned clothes when trees for clotheslines aren’t convenient. I’ve even used them to shoo away a curious fox from a campsite (a story for another time). And if you do find yourself doing a bit of potty business in the wilderness, a trekking pole is a great way of indicating to another hiker that you might be around the corner in a “compromising pose.”

Gear Talk

I am a big fan of the Black Diamond Trail Pro Shocks.

My Black Diamond Trekking Pole

These aluminum poles feature shock absorbing cushions that reduce vibrations traveling through your wrists and elbows. They are adjustable for nearly every size hiker and they have a really solid locking mechanism, which is important for strength, longevity of use, and they are easy to operate. I’ve had mine for about three years now and I never leave the gear garage without them.

If you’re not prepared to drop over $100 for your first pair of poles, Cascade Mountain Tech makes a 100% carbon fiber trekking pole with a quick lock.

Cascade Mountain Tech CF Trekking Poles

They’re considerably lighter, but the locking mechanisms aren’t as reliable and you’re giving up some material strength (carbon fiber is weaker than aluminum). But they cost less than $50, so if you’re curious about a lightweight trekking pole this is a cheap way to check them out.

On a humble side note, try not to spend too little on trekking poles. Cheap poles are more likely to fail and they can ruin your trip. Remember, you’re relying on these guys to support your weight from the trailhead and back again. If you’re a hiker on a budget, I can help you find the dollars somewhere else in your pack.

The Summit

I’ve saved the most important benefits of trekking poles for last: rest and confidence. Whenever I’m in the middle of a nasty slag up a series of switchbacks and I need a rest, I stop, step just off trail, lean hard onto my poles, and I catch my breath. When I’m ready, I gather myself up and start back to conquering that hill, because I know that whether I make it to the top, or I turn back and decide to conquer it another day, I gave myself the best chance to see beautiful things. Happy heavy hiking.

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