Archive for the Gear & Methodology Category

Anything and Everything: Trail Foods

Posted in Appalachian Trail Thru-hike Planning, Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by J.K.o

Here’s a list of foods that I really enjoyed (at one point or another) while hiking the trail. I tried to break them down between breakfast, snacks, lunch, and dinner. Remember, when in doubt, think high calories and high fat!


My favorite breakfast items:

  • instant coffee
  • peanut M&M’s
  • cake frosting (my favorite breakfast/snack on the trail!)
  • Reese’s Cups
  • Pop Tarts


Some lunchtime deliciousness:

  • pepperoni (pre-sliced in the pizza prep section)
  • peanut butter, Nutella, and butter sandwiches… yum!
  • summer sausage
  • Parmesan cheese wedge
  • Triscuits with cream cheese
  • Tahini sandwiches (straight-up sesame tahini on a flat bread…yes!)



  • homemade trail mix including Gold Fish crackers, dried sour cherries, honey roasted peanuts, and butterscotch chips
  • Combos snack crackers saved the day!
  • Sour Patch Kids
  • Sunbelt granola bars (available at Dollar General stores near the Little Debbies) like coconut fudge and chocolate chip!
  • peanut butter
  • Nutella
  • Little Debbie snack cakes (taste great, lots of fat, be careful how you pack them)
  • sandwich flat bread (available on the bread isle; they keep nicely inside the pack)


Favorite dinners:

  • Pasta Sides from Knorr (all of them were delicious and they cooked really easily)
  • Ramen Noodles
  • Kraft Mac’n’Cheese
  • Bear Creek Soup–these are dried soups; potato is the best!
  • Old El Paso Tortilla Stuffers– SO AMAZING, HEARTY, and DELICIOUS! Who doesn’t want to eat steak on the trail?
  • Idahoan Instant Mashed Potatoes
  • Stove Top Stuffing (mix it together with mashed potatoes, so good!)



  • Gatorade G2 Single Serve powder mix
  • hot chocolate packets
  • Mio drink mix, really any powdered drink mix is a blessing!
  • McFlurry spoon from McDonald’s…yes a McFlurry spoon. Don’t waste money on stupid trail spoons–they all break and are expensive!
  • butter- yes, sticks of it! (This is dependent upon the weather–use caution in summer months)
  • cream cheese-                               ”                    ”                   “


Just Plain Desperate (Foods I started to carry towards the end of my hike…just because I could!):

  • McDonald’s McDoubles keep nicely for up to 3 days.. a nice hamburger on the top of a mountain summit is amazing.
  • frozen pizzas cooked in town or leftover pizza from dinner; these keep very nicely for a few days.

What other hikers were eating:

  • Lilly, my hiking buddy, carried a wheel of Vermont white cheddar. Lilly is a vegetarian and this was a major source of protein for her.
  • Tuna; the stuff in the aluminum packets (I just hate tune!).
  • Quinoa was very common on the trail to be mixed into lots of different meals.
  • Hummus mix, just add water!
  • oatmeal; I never really craved this though
  • Jelly for PB&J sandwiches

Let’s Hang a Bear Bag!

Posted in Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2014 by J.K.o

In most developed and maintained camping areas there are bear cables, bear poles, and bear boxes available for the storage of food overnight. However, we can’t always rely on these conveniences and it really sucks when any creature (mouse or bear) gets into your food sack! It’s pretty easy to hang a bag. A good bit of cordage, 2 trees 12-15 feet apart, and a medium-sized rock is you need!

Hang that food bag!

  1. Scout out your perfect trees. Ideally, the tree holding the food should be at least 20 feet tall. Make sure there is another tree close by, roughly 12-15 feet apart.
  2. Locate a nice sturdy tree branch that can bare the weight of the food sack; the branch should extend at least 5 feet from the tree.
  3. Tie a medium sized rock around the end of your cordage.
  4. Make sure the area is clear of people…throw your rock over the desired tree. Don’t let go of the end of the rope!
  5. Once the rock has made it over the tree, untie it and clip your food bag in its place.
  6. Hoist the bag up by pulling on the non-bag end of cordage.
  7. Once the bag is at the appropriate height, tie the rope end off to the secondary tree. I like to use a friction wrap and finish it off with a nice Bowline.
  8. Voila!



By the way….food is not the only thing that should go in a bear bag! Anything that has a scent can attract a bear from miles away, not to mention pesky mice! Chap stick, deodorant (who carries that in the woods anyway?), tooth paste/brush, sunscreen, used feminine items (yes, unfortunately these will attract bears like no other!), empty food wrappers, and your cook set/camp stove are just some examples of smelly things that will attract the creatures.

Editing Down: Ultralight Water Treatments

Posted in Gear & Methodology on August 7, 2012 by J.K.o

After 2,181 miles of rugged hiking I learned a few things about treating water in the wilderness. In a perfect world, I would carry a different method of treatment dependent on the region I am hiking through. However, in the world of ultralight hiking, we can’t afford to be picky. What I mean to say is… on the Appalachian  Trail, there were certain stretches of trail where the water was less than desirable. I am talking about New York and portions of Southern Connecticut. However, the total mileage between those 2 states is small beans and not worth switching out your water purification system.

I commenced my journey with an MSR Sweetwater Filter. It rocked! However, filters require a ton of maintenance and contain many working parts that often break down. As I moved further north on the trail, I discovered that New York and Connecticut’s iron-laden water sources killed my Sweetwater. Filters are not meant to remove heavy metals and they often jam up when forced to do so. The one great thing about my Sweetwater was its ability to remove awful tastes from the water. Although it was a huge annoyance to filter water in the north, it eliminated the gross taste of heavy metals.

Much later in my journey I dropped my Sweetwater off and picked-up a new method. I bought an old-fashioned bottle of iodine. I am not talking about those fancy iodine tablets either… just a small vile of iodine you can purchase at Walgreens or CVS. It contained about 2 ounces and lasted forever. I followed SOLO Wilderness Medicine’s standard protocol: 3 drops iodine per liter of water for 30 minutes prior to consumption. It was so simple it was ridiculous. All those days of pumping the filter, cleaning it out, transferring water back-and-forth were over.

I was faced with another interesting challenge. Since I eliminated my water filter I eliminated the ability to strain the nasty floaters, algae, and creatures that live at the top of most water sources. I saw a lot of folks hold bandanas over their water bottles, but that just didn’t work very well. As you continue into Maine, the water sources also get more-and-more questionable (like creepy stagnant ponds). I came up with a really simple, really cheap solution. I bought a panty-hose sock from Wal-Mart out of the women’s hosiery department. It cost about a $1. I then placed the open-end over the mouth of my water bottle. Over the opening of the sock and the mouth of the bottle I placd a rubber band to firmly fix the two together. I then submerge my bottle underwater. I was amazed at how clear the water in my bottle was and how none of the debris in the water could make it through the sock. The panty-hose sock is so fine that none of the debris was able to pass through. Pretty ingenious huh?

The whole “system–” iodine, panty-hose sock, and rubber band– weigh in at an incredible 2 ounces. Pretty awesome considering that my MSR Sweetwater weighed 11 ounces.

This ultralight water treatment system is incredibly easy and a great one to experiment with at home. I dare you to try it out one day and see how simple it really is.

An Ultralite Alcohol Stove: Beer Can Style

Posted in Gear & Methodology with tags , on January 27, 2012 by J.K.o

A few weeks ago I wrote about editing down my current camp stove (MSR Whisperlite) to a new, homemade alcohol stove. So, with many empty beer cans and a little ingenuity, I have created my own alcohol stove.

This stove is totally legit… do you see how the blue and gold paint has been burned off around the individual puncture holes? This means that the flame was successfully distributed out of the jets and allowed for an even dispersal of heat. It was a lot of fun to make and very easy to replicate (refer to Editing Down: Camp Stoves for step-by-step instructions). Easy replication is very important to me because if the stove is damaged or lost, I will have no issues making another one. And with so many thru-hikers around there will ALWAYS be a wealth of empty beer cans to choose from. Oh, did I forget to mention that this stove was FREE. It cost nothing to make,  which is a large difference from the $70 I spent on my Whisperlite.

Nonetheless, the stove itself was a success; however,  I realized that I was lacking a very important element to make this totally legit. A pot stand is needed to allow oxygen to flow into the stove, as well as, to support that full pot of boiling water.

I was rooting around the kitchen and found a can of pineapple. After eating the delicious pineapple I used a can opener to remove the bottom . I liked this particular can because of its weight-to-strength ratio. This can is ultra light weight, but rigid enough to support a full pot of water. The height of the can is just right, allowing for oxygen to feed the flame.

Those triangular shaped holes, you may notice, were made very easily with the assistance of a special tool called a “church key.”

I want you all to understand just how easy it is to make and use these stoves. I have very week hands, having broken each of them. My dexterity is not-so-great, but I had no problems making this alcohol stove. Anybody can do it!

Viola! Below is the camp stove setup and with a hot pot of boiling water atop it.

Keep reading….

My first meal was a delicious bowl of shrimp Top Ramen. I know you are wondering how much alcohol it used to cook this… only 1/8 of a cup or roughly 3/4 of a shot glass.

The final weigh in for both stove and pot holder… 0.3 of an ounce. How is that for ultra light hiking and efficiency? I will take 0.3 ounces over my 11 ounce Whisperlite any day.

The best part of this stove is that is required no maintenance or tweaking. Just pour the alcohol and light!
Bon Apetit!

-Fuzzy Navel






“How To Take A Bath In the Woods”

Posted in Gear & Methodology on January 24, 2012 by J.K.o

Okay, I am officially responding to the 4 people who asked me this question in the last week. Get ready to take notes!

This may seem a little silly or childish, but it’s actually quite a legitimate question to ask. I will do my best to tackle this subject with tact, but I am not making any promises that it won’t sound silly.


Before I embarked on my thru-hike, I often pondered what bathing would be like or if I would even have the opportunity in the woods. I knew there would be streams and I knew there would be springs and I knew that I would eventually come to a town where I could shower. One day, when I was studying in Library West at UF, I was spacing-out and having trouble concentrating. So I haphazardly clicked on the YouTube link and starting searching.  The first question I asked was “how to poop in the woods.” Don’t laugh! I know that sounds weird, but when you are going to live in the woods for five months, everyday tasks like a back-country poo poo become very important! Well…you’d be surprised at how many videos appeared, all dealing with potty-ing in the woods.

So I kept searching, this time about thru-hikers and hygiene. I will admit that hygiene is the antithesis of thru-hiker. We are known for carrying the stench of a rotting corpse. Nonetheless, I was curious about these issues… I continued to stumble upon similar information. Most hikers carried some sort of shammy or “sham-wow.” It made sense. Not only could a shammy dry off a wet hiker, it could sop the water off of your rain-soaked gear before packing it up. The benefit of the shammy is that the water can be wrung out of it and still absorb water as effectively as a large beach towel. So I made a special trip down to Wal-Mart, trotted over to the automotive section, and purchased a shammy that you would use on your car.

How to take a bath in the woods

I will just be honest and tell you that taking a bath out in the woods is just something you have to figure out when you get there. However, there are a few important things to remember…. we should all respect the great and wonderful principles of our friends over at Leave No Trace (LNT).

  1. Even though you are in the woods there are usually people around (other thru-hikers, tourists, etc.) so you’ll need to get over your inhibitions or wear your skivvies in the water.
  2. If you are hiking in the Appalachian Mountains, I have news for you; the water is going to be FREEZING cold. There’s no hot tubs out there.
  3. Pick a location: water sources are usually common and shared amongst other thru-hikers; therefore, be respectful and go DOWNSTREAM of the others. Other hikers will most likely be sourcing their drinking water from the same place and I know they don’t want to drink your body soil.
  4. Sometimes you won’t be able to immerse yourself in the water. Don’t let a shallow stream or spring prevent you from taking a sort of sponge bath. Sometimes a nice rinse at the end of hot day is all you need to boost your morale.
  5. This one’s REALLY important! Don’t suds yourself up in the water source. First of all, you should only use biodegradable camp soap (Dr. Bronner’s, Sea to Summit camp soap, Camp Suds). Secondly, if you really need to soap yourself, get wet and then walk 200 feet away from the water source to soap up and to rinse off. I know that sounds like a lot of work, but dumping even miniscule amounts of the most environmentally friendly soap in a water source can have devastating impacts on the environment. Generally, if I needed to bathe in the woods, I didn’t use any soap and just took to scrubbing myself thoroughly with water. It’s your choice.
  6. This one’s for all you ladies out there– going on a thru-hike is no excuse to let yourself go. I still managed to shave my armpits and my legs. I mean, you could skip on that, but it’s really rather easy and way more comfortable. Just because your living in the woods like Sasquatch, doesn’t mean you have to look like him : )
  7. Grab your shammy and start drying off.

I said all that to ultimately say… you will always eventually come to a town with modern plumbing and bathing facilities. The longest I went without a bath was 9 days, but it wasn’t too bad. The times that I found myself taking a birdbath were days that it was incredibly hot and I was caked with salt. Generally, I just put up with my funk and waited until town. Even if you do manage to bathe in the woods…. you will still smell like a land fill, so embrace it!

I will leave you with some bathing anecdotes from the trail…enjoy!

Backwoods Bath Time Anecdotes

Quarry Gap Shelter, 17 miles south of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Pennsylvania…

Here in Pennsylvania, the AT dissects many state parks. Tiger Lilly and I came upon a beautiful stream on a particularly hot afternoon. We decided that it was high time to strip down to our skivvies and take a bath. We smelled so bad! So we waded out to the center of the stream and took a most-needed, most-wonderful bath. However, we failed to realize that we were in the middle of a very crowded Caledonia State Park, Michaud State Forest on Memorial Day Weekend. People started walking by and staring at us. Little children asked their parents why there were girls taking a bath in a stream. We incited much ruckus and it was so funny! I honestly didn’t care what any of those people thought of us because we really needed to take baths!

Tri-Corner Knob Shelter, Great Smoky Mountains National Park

I got to take a bath finally! The sun shined right down onto the creek so I was able to bare the ice, cold water. I even got to shave my legs! I’m no hippy! I haven’t bathed since Fontana Dam Shelter and every day since it has been rain, sleet, and snow. Usually when we make it to the shelter it is freezing cold, but everything is soaked with water…our sweat. To see the sun this afternoon was such a blessing; I’m so glad I finally got to take a bath. It was a little odd because the stream was right in front of the shelter, but at least I got to take a bath and wash my dishes at the same time! I know… it’s the simple things in life that bring me joy now.

Stewart Hollow Shelter, Housatonic River, Connecticut

What a day! The mosquitoes were out in droves today and I am pretty sure that the state Connecticut is home to a mutant breed! My goodness! Since I crossed the Mason Dixon, I’ve been carrying around my little orange bottle of magic…I mean Ben’s Insect Repellent. This stuff is lethal, coming it at 99.9% Deet. For the most part, it does a great job of keeping the mosquitoes off, but it burns the hell out of my skin and if it gets on my gear it dies it different colors. I am not so sure this isn’t going to cause me to have cancer in 10 years..oh well. It beats Encephalitis and West Nile Virus for the meantime.

The last two miles of my hike were on a perfectly flat path alongside the Housatonic. Along with being drenched in the repellent, I was waving a bandanna back-and-forth across my face and neck. Those little suckers kept landing in my eyes! I was so sweaty and so ticked-off about the stupid mosquitoes, that I decided I was going for a dip. I had been warned about the Housatonic, but I just didn’t care! I took my bottle of peppermint Dr. Bronner’s and went for a swim. The water looked pretty murky, but darn it felt so clean and refreshing. I found a nice rock to sit deep into the water and proceeded to scrub, scrub, scrub. A train passed and I could here the horn bellowing in the distance. Once I got out of the river I felt like a million bucks! Oh the power of nice bath in the woods!

Editing Down: camp stoves

Posted in Gear & Methodology with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2012 by J.K.o

It’s time to start editing down my gear again! Spring is coming and I will be moving back to the Appalachians soon…which means ample hiking opportunities. If you lived in a town that the Appalachian Trail went through you’d probably hike a lot too!  Even though I will not be embarking on any thru-hikes in 2012, I plan to do my fair share of over-nighters. That being said, I learned a thing or two from my recent thru-hike and have decided to make some changes. I will remind all you outdoor adventure lovers:

It is always a good idea for hikers to review, evaluate, and edit (if necessary) their gear from time to time!

Way back when, during the infancy of my thru-hike planning, I decided on a white fuel powered camp stove. I had strong convictions about this item, which is why I initially chose to carry its weight and forgo other lighter alternatives.

I started my hike with the MSR WhisperLight, a white fuel-powered stove. It came in at 11 oz., minus the weight of the fuel. I chose this stove because I had worked with it in the past and was comfortable using  it in a wilderness setting. Another huge factor in choosing this particular stove was the fact that white fuel is common and readily available everywhere. I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not people carried that type of fuel since it has been around for so long. Meanwhile, alcohol-powered stoves were becoming more and more popular; however, I wasn’t sure that denatured alcohol would be available everywhere on the trail. When you choose your gear for a thru-hike you want to know that it will be reliable and solid. I was fearful about the availability of denatured alcohol and chose what I knew would always be there.

I will admit that my suspicions were wrong. I was actually amazed at the number of hikers who utilized alcohol stoves and had zero issues acquiring denatured alcohol. I often came across Trail Magic in the form of free denatured alcohol. Moreover, many hikers utilized hand-crafted alcohol stoves–you know, the ones fashioned out of beer cans. I asked many of them how they made these creations and they all had the same response–the best part of making these stoves was drinking the beer to get the empty cans : )

Nonetheless, I have decided to go a new route, using a hand-crafted beer can stove. They weigh about 2 oz., are small and compact. Another benefit to these stoves, is that they have no mechanical or moving parts. I found that my WhisperLight required regular maintenance, cleaning, and tweaking to function properly. After a long day of hiking, who wants to mess around with their stove? So I did a little research and very quickly found numerous online videos demonstrating how to build one of these stoves.


In terms of cooking, I find these stoves very easy to use. It takes a bit of practice, but it is easy to learn the tricks of the trade. The above video does a great job demonstrating the construction of the stove; however, I would like to address some things about lighting and using the stove.

Tips & Tricks on this particular model of alcohol stove:

  • BEFORE you pour the denatured alcohol into the stove, you need to heat the bottom of the stove with your lighter. Just run your lighter back-and-forth across the bottom surface of the stove for a few seconds. This creates a vacuum between the inner stabilizing wall and the outside wall of the stove. This makes lighting the stove MUCH EASIER!
  • It only takes about 3/4 of an ounce denatured alcohol to boil water. These stoves don’t have the luxury of control–there’s no simmer option here, but in the wilderness we usually only need to boil water.
  • Pour the fuel into the center of the stove and light. Give it a few seconds for the excess flame to burn off and then… voila! Blue flames should shoot from the sides.

One last tip:

This video demonstrates the stove without a pot holder. I will suggest the use of a pot holder as placing a pot directly onto the stove can cut-off the oxygen flow and snuff out the flame. Here is an easy way to make a light-weight, compact pot holder.

Go to the hardware or home improvement store and ask for a scrap of square wire mesh. You only need a small piece, wide enough to be just higher than the stove itself and about 6 to 7 inches in length. Simply curve the mesh into a circle shape and place around the stove. That single piece of mesh will only weigh about an ounce, but will have the stability to support a pot full of boiling water. When you are finished cooking, just flatten the mesh out and store flat in your pack.
Happy Cooking!