Looking back on the 2013 hiking season
Well the month of October marks the end of my summer hiking season here in the Redwoods of Northern California. The 2013 hiking season has been a wonderful year for me. It started off not so good with an injury from the previous hiking season, but once the powers-that-be allowed me to get back out onto the trail it has been non-stop. I have had the privilege of hiking sections of the southern half of the PCT, hiking in Death Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, Eastern side of Mt Whitney, Mendocino National Forest, Yolla Bolly Wilderness, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Trinity Alps Wilderness, Klamath National Forest, Russian Wilderness, Six Rivers National Forest, Henry W. Coe State Park, Smith River National Recreation Area, Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Redwood National Park, Humboldt Redwood National State Park, a lot of time spent at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – probably my favorite place in Northern California – and lots of little areas that I am sure to have forgotten. Suffice to say, it has been a wonderful year!
On the non-hiking aspect of my life, yet still hiking related, I have had the wonderful honor of working with four different companies this year to help them bring new or updated hiking gear to the market. There are three more hiking gear products I am working on that look like they will migrate into the 2014 season before they are released. I had hoped I would get two of them to market this year but just been too busy out on the trail to give them the attention that they need – but, that is why I take the winter season off.
Speaking of the winter hiking season, I had really hoped to get a ‘hot tent’ shelter setup ready for this winter but the funds and time at home to make it all happen just did not work out. I think it would be wonderful to be able to get a hot tent setup that would allow for a sub 8 pound BPW 4-season setup. Looking at two different shelters and two different titanium wood stoves to help make this happen. Have been emailing a few guys I know that have hot tent shelters to get some insights into all of this. I have found it hard to continue the educational process of hiking when I am out doing the same thing so much and not really pushing myself into new types of hiking situations. I have learned a fair amount about fabrics, metals, plastics, and manufacturing this year, but there have not be very many hiking specific tips I have learned this year, so I thought I would start doing some cold weather hiking to try to learn some new things.
A know a lot of people seem to love “photo blogs” and videos and such, but more and more I am just not into shooting video and I really hate taking photographs so the idea of just posting a bunch of photographs of hikes is probably never going to be something I do. I expect that in 2014 my writing of articles will decrease and I am not sure if I will be doing many videos, if any at all. They just consume way too much time – especially videos. To properly do a video review of a single piece of gear can often times consume over 10 hours of my time at home (importing, editing, exporting, uploading) and a few hours out on the trail or where ever the shoot is taking place. It is, to me, an insane amount of man hours for a short video that very few people are going to spend the time watching. I know I am not the only person feeling this way – a lot of guys that use to be very active gear reviewers on youtube/vimeo have stopped investing the time as well.
On the gear side of things, my purchasing of new gear this year has greatly decreased from the last few years. When I made the decision to go from UL to SUL I had to buy a bunch of new gear. When I went from SUL to XUL I did not have to buy a bunch of new gear, but I did so in an effort to try to find specific pieces of gear that would meet my personal style of hiking. Now that I have a few years in the SUL/XUL world, I have reached the point of being rather happy with my setup and thus the need to buy new gear is greatly decreased. I still buy something here or there, typically while I am out on the trail and think of something that would compliment or hopefully solve an issue. I would say the biggest change in my gear this year has been in the footwear world. I decided to make the change from ultralight trailrunners to sandals. It has not been easy on the feet but I am finding it rather enjoyable. I have tried four different brands of sandals so far and will probably try one more that would not be as durable but it would be lighter weight and uses a different strapping system. Out hiking for long miles with Teva or Chaco sandals is one thing, making the switch to using huarache sandals turned out to be a much greater change and challenge then what I expected, time will tell if it proves viable for me.
The 2013 year has been a fun year for me in regards to new sponsors. A huge thank you to Montbell America and Ultimate Directions for bringing me on board. Last week I was out on the trail and made the decision to drop out of the Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador program – they are a great group of guys and a great gear company of the HH/LW/UL hikers of the world and they deserve huge credit for keeping their doors open and continuing to meet the needs of those hikers looking for great ultralight weight gear. My decision to drop out of their program was due to the simple fact that I just no longer used any of their gear and it felt wrong of me to be in a position of other hikers thinking I was out there with their gear when I am not. This year I had hoped to score a sponsorship with PROBAR and Garmin but neither of them ever worked out, bummer. I think one of the biggest factors of sponsorship this year has been my ability to push forward within the hiking community that sponsorship between hikers and companies should have nothing at all to do with free gear (I outright discourage it when a company wants to sponsor me) and instead focus on what should be a symbiotic relationship between the hiker and the company. The experience, knowledge, and miles hiked by hikers should be capitalized by the companies making the gear, to make better gear from those on the trail and not just from somebody sitting around inside of a shop or cubical somewhere. Sponsorship, I believe, should be all about the hiker helping the company make better gear to make the hikers of the world be able to have better gear. It should have nothing at all to do with getting gear for personal use, to help promote gear for the company, or anything else that does not equate to hikers of the world having better gear in the next revision of the product. Those companies who understand and are willing to be involved in sponsorship’s at this level are those companies I have been seeking out and will continue to seek out to work with.
As some of my readers know I have spent the last few years working on being a trail builder. It is a rather intense thing to do – building a new trail. The logistical aspects of building a new trail are so far beyond what I thought they would be. The amount of time it takes, the amount of miles you have to hike the same regions to try to find the best route, dealing with obstacles such as fires that destroy existing trails, all the different people, private companies, private landowners, and agencies that have to be brought into the decision making processes. Last month I decided to take a break from most of it during the 2014 hiking season. Going to remain involved in one specific trail that I am working on to connect together two different State Parks, but that will probably be my extent of trail building next year. If by some chance I get back down to Death Valley I will probably spend some time doing more research on the Highest to Lowest trail, but am not specifically planning a trip there.
There is one trip that I really wanted to be able to do this year that I was not able to. Logistically it will likely not happen over the next two months. Maybe in March of 2014 I can pull together the insane amount of people-power and resources it will take to make it happen. For the last two years I have been researching a trail that has not be successfully transversed in over 200 years. I would love to be able to make it happen again after all this time, but it will truly push my skills to the limit. I would love to be able to make it happen as a self-supported hike but the trail has aspects that would likely make that unrealistic, and place it into an ultra-high-risk factor, for the first time hiking it. So hopefully sometime next year I can make all of this happen. Taking time away from building the trails I have been working on the last few years will allow me to focus more on this.
Over the next few months, in addition to working on those products, I will also be spending some time writing up articles on gear that I have used this year. Most of you know that I typically refuse to review gear that I have not used for hundreds of miles, and this often times means I am reviewing gear months and months after they hit the market, but such as it is. If a piece of hiking gear is worthy enough to remain on the market long enough for long-term reviews to take place, having reviews delayed by a few months will not hurt nor affect the companies profitability nor dissuade hikers from buying the gear. I simply do not understand how some of these “gear reviewers” can review a piece of gear they have used for a single weekend out on the trail, if even that. Impulse purchases do not belong out on multi-day or long distance hikes. Untested gear is what sub-24-hour and weekend hikes are for. Those of us in the SUL/XUL world understand that the very few pieces of gear that we carry have to be the best piece of gear that we can have for our style of hiking. My quest with HikeLighter.Com is to present those pieces of gear that I have been able to trail-prove for not just a couple of days, but hundreds to thousands of miles on the trail. It is what I do and it is what I am going to continue to do. If it means I am not posting a gear review once a month, or once a week, or even once a day (like some of these “hikers/gear reviewers” seem to be doing lately) than so be it. Even with all the time I spend out on the trail, I utterly fail to comprehend how I could test enough gear to post a gear review once a day or every other day… seriously, what is up with that. How do hikers trust these people posting gear reviews so much. But anyway, yep, I have an inbox full of people asking about specific pieces of gear and my thoughts on them and over the winter season I will hopefully get all of the gear that I have used in the 2013 hiking season, and feel is worthy of writing a review, typed up and pushed out for everybody to read. As always, I love hearing from folks and if there is a specific piece of gear that I own/use/hike with that you want to know about, let me know so I can know what order kind of priority I should have to write up my thoughts on the gear I use.
Anyway, I just thought I would share how things have gone for me over the 2013 hiking season. As mentioned it has been pretty amazing for me. I am really looking forward to getting these two products I have been developing brought to market, they are nothing new or wow-level type of products, but they cater to the style of hiking that I enjoy doing and that some of you who read my articles enjoy doing. I want to say a huge thank you to all those folks who have helped support me over the 2013 hiking season – other individual hikers, big name companies, cottage company owners, my sponsors, other hikers out there putting in the miles to help companies make better gear, and those two or three guys out there that have spent an insane amount of hours conversing with me via email and facebook to help me keep going when the going has gotten hard.
In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46 and Ultimate Direction.
(ps: I hope you enjoy the short video I made of my favorite cook setup that I have pieced together this hiking season… I was outside enjoying some time in the backyard and felt like making some coffee and grabbed the cook setup and my iphone… it has been a long time since I shot a video… far from anything special, but it was enjoyable to do it)