Thunderhead Training Hike – Gear Retrospective

As a warmup to our upcoming Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim hike, we hiked from Cades Cove, TN to the summit of Thunderhead totaling 13.9 mi round-trip and 3665 feet of ascent. This post is a retrospective on the new gear I was testing on that training hike.

A secondary goal of the Thunderhead hike was to check out new gear. My clothing was all new to me, my hiking boots, my pack, and my poles. Dang. Now that I think about it, it was quite ambitious to set out with that much untried gear. Here’s a few short thoughts on each. (I may post full reviews of some of this later.)

Addidas GTX Mid Hiking Boots

I’ve actually completed several, short hikes around town with these boots in addition to wearing them on bike rides and at work all day long. It didn’t take me long at all to know that the stock insoles were horrible. I mean, really, really, bad. They must have been designed by some sadistic, Nazi monster who’s been hiding out since the end of WWII. However, the boots fit snugly so I was very worried about putting too much cushioning in and making boot too tight. I substituted a Dr. Scholl’s gel heel, which improved the comfort greatly for my heel, but did nothing for the rest of my foot. In fact, my heel really didn’t take a beating on this hike; the rest of my foot did. The night before the hike, I experimented with different combinations of socks because I was hoping to wear two pair, but they just made the boots too tight. Near the end of the hike, these boots felt very loose and I could feel my foot sliding down into the toe as I was going downhill. I will be putting full, gel insoles in soon so I expect that to tigthen it up a bit.

These boots are GoreTex and they perform as one would expect from that fabric. While my feet didn’t exactly remain cool, they didn’t sweat so the boots must breathe well as that fabric advertises. And I’ve not yet experienced a single drop of water getting in.

Megellan Convertible Pants

Ok. You’ve probably never heard of this brand; it seems to be the house brand of Academy Sports & Outdoors. I picked these up because they were cheap at $25, they were lightweight, they looked very functional, and they look good. This hike was my first outing with them and they performed great. At one point, I got a bit warm and thought about zipping off the legs, but I had not tried to do that over my boots so I decided to suffer through. I have since tested that and they come off over the boots with no problem and, as a bonus, they look even better as shorts. I’ll probably post a full review after the GC hike.

Adidas Clima Ultimate Tee & Hiking 1 Side Fleece Jacket

I really like Adidas clothing not the least because I know the medium shirts and jackets fit me well. (This is not true with other vendors as I’ve had to purchase both medium and large in Nike.) Given that that it was 50-55F during this hike, raining, with a lot of wind, some type of jacket was a requirement. This fleece jacket performed well. It kept me warm and, since it is a full zipper, was quite easy to remove and stuff in the pack.

I was a little worried about the T-shirt. I got it cheap off of ebay and was surprised to find that it wasn’t 100% polyester like most of my technical clothing from Adidas. I think it is about 10% cotton and I really don’t like to be in cotton when I sweat. The cotton gives the shirt a softer feel that other technical shirts I have and it didn’t seem to have any downside on this hike. Time will tell.

Boreas Buttermilks 55

I’m really pleased with this pack so far. What attracted me to it was the weight (3 lbs as claimed by Boreas) and the fact that it doesn’t have a dozen straps hanging off of it (i.e. it looks clean). I was carrying about 20 lbs of gear, food, and water and it felt mostly comfortable throughout the day. This pack does a great job of putting the load on my hips as long as I kept the waist belt tight. One little niggle is that the straps tend to loosen. Being a beginner, I don’t know if that is common or not, but every couple of hours, I would need to tighten the waist and shoulder straps to keep the load cinched in tight.

The back panel did a great job keeping my back cool as well. I know every backpack these days claims to have some type of back channel that will allow air to flow, but I’ve got an Ogio computer backpack I travel with that makes that claim and it’s claims are not realized. I don’t recall noticing my back sweating at all during that hike. It may well have, but I didn’t notice and I count that the same thing.

One other little niggle about this pack; It is a roll top and does not have a lid. The lid is very convenient to put those small things you want to get to often. Of course, the lid (and the straps and buckles that would be required to hold it in place) would drive up the weight and I prefer the lightweight. This is only a small complaint as you just need to change your thinking a bit. The zipper pounches on the waist belt are very generous so you can get the small things in there. I guess the strategy for everything else needs to be in a stuff sack somewhere near the top of the pack.

Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles

I can’t remember where I bought these, but they were quite cheap at about $35. They are the kind that adjust by twisting and the left one came loose a couple of times. I believe that I twist my left hand a bit when climbing hard on them and that this was the cause. It was a little bit anoying, but not really a big deal; at no time did they just collapse indicating a safety situation. They come loose and compress a little giving you warning that it’s time to tighten them up again.

The handles feel find, but my left palm was starting to chafe from one of the straps by the end of the day. I had gloves, but they were quite hot when I was working hard. I’ll have to watch that chafing.

Fujiflim Finepix XP60 Camera, TrekMount, and StickPic

I will absolutely post full reviews of these products later so let me say just a few words in brief about each.

I’m very dissapointed with the Fuji camera so far. I love the fact that I could carry it through the rain all day long and not worry about the water getting into it, but the fact is that it takes bad photos. Or, at least, it seems difficult to take good photos. I need to do some more experimentation before I pronounce final judgement, but before that, I’ll leave with a positive note. The Motion Panarama mode works like a charm! I love that feature.

I’ve got mixed emotions on the TrekMount. Even though it does it’s job, it could be improved. More on that later.

I love the StickPic and had a lot of fun with video selfies; see here, here, and here. The only negative I can think of has nothing to do with the product itself: because I carry the camera on the TrekMount, it takes a bit of work to switch to the StickPic. Otherwise, you could keep the StickPic attached to the camera at all times and simply slide it onto your trekking pole in seconds. I really like this little product.

That’s it for now. I’ll have full reviews of some of this stuff after the GC Hike. 17 days to go!

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