Saturday, March 31, 2018

iPhone Prep

I’m testing out the latest version of Blog Touch Pro with this post, so I’m not sure if it will look any different.

I plan to use several apps while on the trail this year. My Hikers Assistant app will be my primary app. It has my routes (primary and alternate), Bear Creek waypoints, water report waypoints, and resupply waypoints. I have USGS topo and imagery basemaps as well as Open Cycle, Open Street (for towns), and Thunderforest Outdoors. 

To test out posting photos, here is an image from the start of the trail in Hikers Assistant. 

I separated the Bear Creek maps into sections between Resupply points, and loaded those pdf’s into GoodReader.  I really liked the new’s new maps better than the Bear Creek maps. But the Bear Creek maps have the corresponding, helpful waypoints. 

I separated Yogi’s town guides into pages, and loaded any critcal sections into Scanner Pro folders. 

For the Jonathan Ley maps, I downloaded those in the Avenza app. Those are the older 2016 versions, but they should provide some good info on alternates. 

I also have the Guthook app loaded with the CDT which should help with water planning on the sections not covered by the water report. 

I created a resupply spreadsheet in Excel and loaded that on the iPhone via Microsoft’s OneDrive. Actually, all my data files, except Excel, are saved in iCloud in addition to locally on my iPhone. 

I will also have Gaia (for detailed area maps) and Earthmate to communicate via my Delorme inReach Explorer. 

Finally, I’m considering taking my older iPhone as a backup to my larger, newer iPhone. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

CDT Maps

For anyone searching for maps for the Continental Divide Trail, this is the wrong place.  What I want to talk about are my plans for navigating the CDT this year.

First, I want to say that I actually like paper maps.  But they have their shortcomings.  First of all, you have to carry them.  And if you are going a long distance, you need lots of map pages.  They need to be survivable in rain, and you need to be able to retrieve them from your pack as you transition from one map to another.  On a thru-hike, they are just a real pain.

Then there is the difficulty in actually using them.  If you only use a compass, even a good topographic map is going to be problematic.  If you continually update your position on the map, as you climb, descend, and go around topographic features, you are likely going to have your position correctly plotted.  But then again, maybe not.  Ridges and peaks all look fairly similar.  If you don't have a couple of features you are sure of, you can easily think you are somewhere where you are not.

So I carry paper maps as backup, usually at a scale that minimizes the amount of paper I have to carry.

For the past several years, I've used GPS receivers.  And lately, I've been relying on my iPhone.  There are a lot of good GPS mapping apps:  Gaia, Guthook, etc.  But they didn't do everything I wanted, so I wrote my own app, Hikers Assistant (you can find it on the Apple app store).  The other apps have improved since my first version, and they now do a lot of what I originally wanted, but they still don't do everything I want a mapping app to do.

Hikers Assistant lets me create my routes and waypoints during trip planning.  Then on the trail I can find the closest point on my route (trail) and its direction.  I can also find the distance and direction to an ordered list of waypoints, with the closest being listed first.  And the app only turns on the GPS when its needed, so it uses very little power (battery).  I can load the 3,000 mile CDT trail in my iPhone, which I would carry anyway, and its always in my pocket, ready to be used.

Since this isn't an ad for my app, I won't mention all of the other features.  What I wanted to do in this post was describe my trail navigation preparations.

I started by buying the Bear Creek maps and downloading their lists of waypoints.  The waypoints highlight key turns and route features, but they are not really close enough to represent the detail on a trail.  Still, I converted the waypoints to a route.  Then in my app, I opened Thunderforest Outdoors and Open Cycle maps and traced a lot of the CDT between the waypoints.

Neither Bear Creek nor the CDT Coalition sell or make available the actual GPX routes they use on their paper and PDF maps.  Though somehow Guthook seems to have acquired the data for his app.  And the few hikers that posted their routes from years ago either stopped supporting their web pages or simply have not updated the routes to match the current official trail.  So my pseudo-routes will be a bit of a navigation challenge.

To my routes I added the Bear Creek waypoints (they are still useful by themselves) and I also converted the CDT Coalition's water report into waypoints.  Beyond that, I've added resupply waypoints from Yogi's CDT Handbook.

I've also downloaded offline map tiles for USGS Topo, USGS Imagery, Open Cycle and a couple of other map sources.  I plan to enhance that with downloaded maps for towns (in case I don't have connectivity), and I will overlay park maps for Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.

I've considered taking a second iPhone as a backup, but probably will not do so.  I will have a Garmin inReach Explorer with me, though it cannot hold the complete route or anywhere near it.

I also have purchased the Guthook app with the CDT maps.  I will have Gaia.  And I've downloaded some of the older Ley maps for Avenza.  The one thing I expect to use fairly frequently in addition to my own Hikers Assistant is the Guthook app.  It has a great list of water sources that isn't really covered by the CDT Coalition's water report--which focuses on the drier sections of the trail.

I've kept busy and enjoyed the process.  I've also spent a lot of time I probably didn't have enhancing and upgrading Hikers Assistant.  I would like to mention that I've made my routes (as Hikers Assistant *.trdat files) available on my website (  These do not include the Bear Creek waypoints, as I've tried my best to address copyright restrictions.  Hikers Assistant can now send out progress waypoints (breaks, camp sites, etc.) to friends and family.  They in turn can use the CDT routes from my website as trails in Hikers Assistant upon which to plot those waypoints.

And pressure is really building to complete my preparations...

Thursday, March 8, 2018

CDT Shelter

The arguments on what shelter to take on the CDT are very similar to those I consider for every trek.  I have a great ultralight tent, the Zpacks Altaplex.  It's only 18 ounces and provides bug, wind, and rain protection.  The only thing I don't like about it is that it takes up a lot of volume (relatively speaking), and uses most of the space in the pack's front pocket when it's wet.  It also requires a short, 3 oz extension to my trekking pole for setup (it requires a 58" tall pole).

As my alternative I have two cuben flat tarps:  a Zpacks 8.5' x 10' at 7.75 oz and an HMG 8.5' x 8.5' at 11 oz.  The Zpacks drawback is that it doesn't have as many edge tie downs as the HMG.  On the other hand, it has 'enough,' and it provides better rain coverage for the head and foot of my sleeping bag.  To handle wet ground and condensation, plus bugs, I have to also take a bivy.  My favorite is an MLD Superlight with an all-net hood at 5.3 oz.  So I could do a tarp/bivy combo and have to carry only 11 oz instead of the Altaplex 18.

I really love the openness of the tarp.  But to offset it, the bivy is a bit confining.  You cannot spread your legs out when you feel like it.  And you have to be careful rolling over.  Though, the quilt alone has those constraints when it's cold out.  And obviously, your bug protection does not support sitting up.

The other drawback of the bivy is that you cannot spread out your other pack belongings inside the dry tent.  I carry an extra cuben cloth as a ground cloth for those items.  That's another 1.5 to 3 oz, depending on which size I take.

I have to say, my clear emotional preference is to take the tarp/bivy.  When I used the smaller tarp, I spent a couple of nights holding up the bathtub edges of the bivy to stop rain splatter from getting on my quilt (the bivy top is only water resistant).  I haven't had that problem with the larger tarp.

My rational aspect says to take the tent to better handle bad weather and bugs.

So about two out of every three days I plan to take the tarp/bivy, and the third day I plan to take the tent.

My guess is I will end up taking the tarp/bivy combo.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

CDT Pack: Zpacks vs HMG

I wanted to write about this some time back, but was busy with other things.  My favorite pack for the last few years has been the Zpacks Arc Blast.  It's a cuben fiber (Dyneema Hybrid now) pack that weighs just 19 ounces after adding some shoulder and waist pockets.  It has a 60 liter capacity, and doesn't come any larger.  The pockets on the waist belt are large and easy to open and close.  The main side pockets on the pack are placed down at the bottom of the pack and support easy removal and insertion of water bottles.  There's a big, wide pocket on the front (back) of the pack that you can use to carry wet items or anything you want available without opening the pack.

There are a couple of drawbacks to the pack.  When I've carried food for a 7-night/8-day hike, it's been pretty difficult to get the pack closed.  It has velcro across both edges of the top of the bag that you press together, then roll down to prevent precipitation getting inside the pack.  Even though I pack light (<12 lbs base weight), the volume just wasn't enough for a large food carry.  And on that 7-night trip, I went light on the food.  If I wanted to carry extra food and water, there just isn't sufficient room in the main bag.

A second 'complaint' about the Arc Blast is that the side and front pockets are mesh.  They worked great on good trails.  But a couple of trips ago, I encountered a lot of blowdown.  I sat my pack down on one break and leaned it against a downed tree.  It looked good.  But there was a very small wood pick that got caught in the mesh.  It tore, and since then I've had unsightly tape keeping my belongings in the pocket.

The last, and usually unimportant drawback, is the waist belt fit.  If you position it just right, its perfect.  But even off a little on your hips, and it's a nagging irritant.  I suspect related to the waist belt issue, is the fact that Zpacks doesn't recommend carrying over 25 pounds in the pack.  That's been about my maximum, with food and water, so up till now it has not been a constraint on my trips.

A couple of years back, I decided to get a Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Southwest pack.  It is also cuben, has about a 60 liter capacity, and has the same set of pockets--sort of.  The Southwest version of the pack uses solid cloth for the pockets instead of mesh.

Up until this year, I had not used the HMG pack more than once. The main reason was that the side pockets are raised up above the bottom of the pack.  The difference is enough that it is nearly impossible to get a water bottle out of those side pockets without taking the pack off (younger folks may have a different experience).  If you use a water reservoir with a tube, both packs will work fine for you.

The side pockets on the HMG seem to have a little more capacity than on the Zpacks.  On the other hand, the waist belt pockets seem to be smaller and more difficult to access.

On the good side, the waist belt on the HMG seems to naturally fit into the right position on the hips almost the first time and every time.  It just feels better than the continuous shifting required for the Zpacks pack.

Unfortunately, the HMG is also 13 ounces or so heavier than the Zpacks.  To counter this, you get a load capacity of 40 pounds, 15 pounds greater than the Zpacks.  You can probably fit more (larger) water bottles into the side pockets, but you will still have the same main bag volume limit.

HMG though, is ready for that.  They also offer a 4400 Southwest pack with a taller main bag that provides about a 70 liter capacity.  And they advertise a load capacity of 70 pounds!

Now the reason I'm posting this on my CDT page, is that I needed to make a decision on which pack to take.  The issue I have with the Zpacks is that I expect to have to carry up to 6 liters of water, instead of my usual 2 liters or less, at least for portions of the trail in New Mexico.  I will need both more volume and weight capacity than the Arc Blast will provide.  There may also be food carries of 7 or 8 days, and if I last longer than on the AT, I may be eating more each day.  So I will need more volume.

It may be a bit of overkill, but the 4400 Southwest seems to be the only choice I have (without going to other manufacturers).

Getting to my water is my main concern with the HMG.  I've tried out a couple of solutions.  One was an Evernew drinking tube that fit on their bottles, and other bottles with similar caps.  I could use the tube from a bottle in the side pocket.  But I really don't like tubes, and filling up a 1 or 1 1/2 liter bottle frequently with the weird tube caps would be a bit of a pain.

The alternative is to use a 16 ounce water bottle in a holster/pocket on the shoulder strap.  I will probably have to take the pack off to refill it, but maybe not any more than I would for short breaks.  I will have to change from using one of those shoulder pockets for my Steripen, but that's not a big drawback.

So while I could probably make my Zpacks work for the CDT, I'm going to go with the HMG to give me the margin I desire to carry more water and food.

Monday, March 5, 2018

CDT Resupply and Food Planning

On my long AT section hikes, I did all resupply via USPS Priority Mail.  I use ziplock bag cooking rather than using my pot to cook foods.  That allows pre-portioned, individually ziplocked meals.  But its a big hassle in preparation, and it put a big load on my wife to get the boxes ready and mailed.

The issue I have with resupplying on the trail, from grocery stores, is that you have to live with what's available.  You either repackage foods or live with carrying extra packaging waste; you use valuable town time shopping and repackaging; foods can cost more; and you may end up carrying significant extra weight.  And if you do ziplock food cooking, you'll have to carry extra ziplocks or throw away some of the ones you pay for.

If you mail, UPS, or Fed-Ex boxes, you can plan to meet your nutrition needs when you have the time and energy to spend on planning and food acquisition.  By the way, a few of the resupply locations on the CDT do not accept USPS packages.

Well, I still want to plan ahead, address nutritional needs, and send boxes to resupply points.  But I also want to make the box preparation as simple as possible.  This time, in place of individual meals, vegetables, fruits, and snacks, I plan to bag each type of food for the full resupply period, and include empty ziplock bags as needed.  I'll portion it out on the trail.  Finding a desired food in the food bag is always an unexpected hassle--sometimes I have to pull out almost everything to find a food at the bottom of the bag.  Presumably, this approach will make it easier to find the foods on the trail.

And more importantly, it should make boxing easier, and hopefully reduce volume.  I know some people blog that they complete 28 boxes or so before they leave.  I'm not sure how they tailor that to unexpected trail conditions and less or more miles and days than expected.  If they change their alternate/official trail choices while on the trail, that can also very easily change the number of days a box (or boxes) would be expected to support.

I'm working my food plans now.  I've never had hiker hunger on the trail, though when I get to towns I don't seem to have any problem eating way more than usual.  So there seems to be a limit on the number of calories I can carry and expect to eat.  And it will result in a significant calorie deficit.  Protein is another issue.  I plan to carry whey isolate to create a flavored protein shake/drink.  I'll use vitamins of course to try and avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

Variety is something I work pretty hard at, but there are limits imposed mainly from cost and prep time.  I hope to mix Mountain House dehydrated meals with minute rice, ramen, and mashed potatoes.  Probably half freeze dried and half of the quick carbohydrates each for the resupply.  I've also got freeze dried vegetables and fruits that I will be taking.  I can mix the vegetables in with the main meal.  The dried fruits (bananas to start), can be eaten dried or rehydrated.

My breakfast planning has never succeeded.  Or rather, I never follow my plan.  When I get up, I want to pack up and hit the trail.  I hate breaking out the stove again and spending a half hour cooking and eating.  I do drink water, so I'm hoping a breakfast protein shake will survive trail execution.  I'll either use granola/mil or breakfast bars to provide some extra calories, and I can eat those at my camp sight or my first on-trail quick stop.

Snack planning is also something that never really succeeds.  Most of the food I still have when I get to the next town are snacks.  Except for the Clif bars, I actually like most of the snacks.  But I don't like long stops, and you can only snack so fast.  My brief stops are usually about 5 minutes with a lunch stop of up to 20 minutes.  My planned dinners make me full, so I don't have the appetite to eat unused snacks.

Bottom line here is that I do the best planning I can.  But the plan will not likely survive the trail.