I’m not much of a gear head when it comes to backpacking, but I certainly try to keep upgrading my equipment when needed. I wouldn’t classify myself as an ultra-lite packer, nor am I a heavy weight – I think the best description is a conscious packer who weighs the pros and cons. Below are some products that I love, use frequently or think are really cool. If you have any questions about gear, what to bring into the Los Padres Backcountry or anything else I may be able to help with – feel free to email me – I love chatting about backpacking.
DELORME GPS – PN Series
In 2003, during production of the first San Rafael Map, I used a homemade trundle wheel (mop stick, kids bike tire and forks, some radiator clamps and a bike computer) to research the trail mileages. While the trundle wheel was inexpensive and accurate, it was literally a pain in the back. By the time I started work on the Dick Smith map it was time to upgrade to a GPS. I went through a few brands and models of GPS units and was never quite satisfied until I found the Delorme PN20. In my opinion the Delorme PN series is the best GPS for my needs of backpacking that I’ve ever seen. You can easily upload USGS Topo Quads to the unit, which allows you to follow your exact position on the familiar Topo Quad. I can’t tell you how many times this feature alone has saved me from certain bushwhack disaster. In 2007 the Zaca Fire ravaged the Santa Barbara backcountry. I was fortunate enough to be on one of the first scouting trips back into the burn zone. The trails were literally destroyed and non existent. Yet I was able to follow where the the trail used to be based solely on the Delorme PN20 and the uploaded Topo Quads. The Delorme interface technology and this particular unit performed so well that day, I became a fan for life. In addition, the unit is relatively small and light, has good battery life, its waterproof, easy to use, durable and extremely accurate. I collected all the mileages and trail coordintes for the Dick Smith, Matilija, Sespeand a large majority of the San Rafael using the PN20 and PN40 units. Of course you shoud shop around when looking for a GPS, but be sure to check out the PN60 – I think you’ll find it the best option for the backpacker who wants to track and explore digitally their wilderness areas.
SPOT – Satellite Message Service
I spend a lot of time in the backcountry. From 2003 through 2008 I was averaging about 50 nights per year spent in the Southern Los Padres. Obviously this was fantastic for me, sleeping under the stars, exploring new areas and really getting to know an area of forest through all its moods and conditions. While I was loving it, my family at home were often worried about my well being. In 2007 my mother-in-law bought me a SPOT satellite messenger so I could check in and let them know I was okay during my time on the trail. At first I was skeptical, but I quickly learned that the SPOT is a fantastic tool for anyone who travels off the beaten path. The SPOT allows you to inform your peeps that you are alright, or if you could use some help and in worst case scenarios – that you need real SAR/911 type of help. It also allows you to track your trip using GoogleMaps when you get home and has also helped me in times of emergency re-routes. In spring 2010 I did a 100 mile section of the Condor Trail that crosses the Los Padres National Forest. I had arranged the trip so a few friends would pick me up at the end of the trip. I also told them what my route was and that should I fall behind in my itinerary, to meet me at a different trailhead. Sure enough it rained most of the first 5 days of the trip and the creek crossings got dangerously high. As a result I was not able to make it to the planned exit trailhead. Yet I SPOTTED out each evening the location of where I was camping. My friends followed my progress and correctly determined that I needed to be picked up at the secondary trailhead. All worked out perfectly. The SPOT is a little extra weight, but in my opinion the extra weight is worth it for your piece of mind, as well as that of your family and friends. Check it out…….
Ruffwear Dog Packs
One subject I may be an expert in is dog backpacks. I’ve been backpacking with my three dogs for the past 13 years and during that time have probably tried every dog pack on the market. I’ve had expensive packs that break within the first 10 miles and end up in the fire on night one. I’ve had packs that have been reenforced by duct tape, clamps, safety pins, sewn in the field and even fixed with yucca. And I’ve had packs that are still out there, broken and lost somewhere in the brush. I’ve also had packs that last multiple years. When shopping for dogs packs the most important factors are fit and durability. While in the store you might complain at the $70+ pricetag, but trust me when I say that after spending an hour searching the bushes for the pack that your pooch has just thrown off his/her back – its well worth it to pay for the best fitting and strongest pack. Be sure the pack fits your dog and doesn’t ride too far up towards the neck. The most common injuries I’ve seen along the trail are packs that ride too close to the neck and cause chaffing along the back of the front legs. This tends to happen especially during days with long downhill sections where the packs tends to slide forward on the dog. Really nothing worse than an owner having to carry your dogs pack because the dog was injured by the poor fit of that pack, I’ve done this countless times. You also want to be sure the material is STRONG on the dog pack. Unlike you and I, your four legged friend is constantly bushwhacking, running in and out of creeks, getting snagged on branches, and as a result their pack will take a severe beating. Last February I took a brand new dog pack out with my dog Bailey and it did not make it home. The burnt ash remnants are probably still within the firepit at Happy Hunting Ground Camp. You also want to ignore the waterproof claims that most dog pack manufacturers make. I have yet to see a truly waterproof dog pack. Most of the time the “waterproofing” actually backfires when water seeps through the upper zippers and then your dog is walking around with pouches full or water. If it were up to me I would abandon the waterproof and make it easy for water to flow in and out of the pack. Focus on waterproofing your food bags, not the pack itself. Anyway, the best products I’ve seen are made by Ruffwear, by far! I’ve had probably 3 packs from Ruffwear and the lifespan of their products probably triples those of the other manufacturers. They aren’t perfect by any means (Ruffwear – contact me and I can help) but they are the best I’ve seen. Probably 80% of my packing trips are just me and my dogs.
Some other products I’ve been using: REI everything (grown on me), Sawyer inline water filters, while campfire and kettle is still preferred the Jetboil is pretty efficient, gaitors are crucial for any bushwhacking and hardhats aren’t that bad to hike in when bushwhacking either. More to come……..
© 2015 Bryan Conant