Hi! Welcome to my BLOG! Please also visit my other webpage http://www.lightweightbackpacking.webs.com/ although it merely directs you here.
My trail name is Jolly Green Giant and I decided to start this blog to cover personal interests concerning lightweight backpacking. I am an American in my mid-30’s, married with two wonderful boys, and I currently reside in Virginia just a few minutes away from the foothills of the Appalachian Trail. Virginia is predominantly my home, although I have spent time out west and resided in Colorado for a few years too.
I've been a backpacker since early childhood when adventures with a pre-Scouting group called "Indian Guides" caught my interest. I then moved to Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and eventually into solo backpacking when I couldn't convince anyone else to hike with me. From an early age, I was hooked to the beauty and inspiration that only the wilderness could offer. In many ways, backpacking to me is a fundamental acknowledgement of the human spirit and a direct connection to God – something that has been seemingly lost in the industrialization of the world and the abundance of narcissism so rampant in our society. Funny how so many conveniences and gains in technology which were intended to make life more simple to allow us to focus on things that were truly important merely succeeded at trapping most of us in our concrete prisons or the confines of our own busy lives. Despite being more connected than ever through social networking sites, e-mails, cell phones, etc., a recent study identified that people now have far fewer close friends than ever and that people have a far more intrinsic and self-serving view of the world. In part, I believe it is because we've become a "virtual" society and actual person-to-person interaction has been replaced by emotional and self-focused correspondence or attention focused on out-spending our neighbors, or at the very least, matching them possession-for-possession (as if we'll have a trailer of all our stuff attached to our coffin when it is our time to check out). Backpacking, much like team sports or service in the military, has a tendency to nearly immediately generate long-lasting and deep personal bonds without all these possessions while memories of even short outings seem to last a lifetime. Anyone who has ever backpacked can likely tell you every wonderful and every rotten thing that ever happened to them while backpacking, not to mention all the friends they met along the way. Think about the rest of your life. Why is it backpacking enables such vivid and fond memories while fostering lifelong friendships without all the daily fluff we require in the rest of our lives? Similarly speaking, few can find more personal introspective moments then the time spent gazing out into the vastness of life unmanipulated and "un"-created by man. How often when you truly need time to think and make sound decisions do you merely take a simple walk, a walk to return your head and spirit to where you find the most inner peace? This is the same reason people backpack. It's a time to recenter, reprioritize, and remember.
In my young adulthood, my passion for backpacking slowly grew into frustration. I was in the best shape of my life and my perception of enjoyment in the wilderness meant carrying everything I could get my hands on from the local camping store. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hike with a 60 pound pack even for a simple overnight stay in a National Park. The burden on my back both broke me physically and mentally. I was miserable and yet I couldn’t perceive there being a better way to both be outdoors and find safety and comfort in my gear. For me to be happy, I needed to find a better way which also meant "a lighter way".
Fortunately, my spirit wasn’t completely broken and I committed myself to researching ways to enjoy backpacking without carrying everything I owned. Through my research, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my plight and discovered an entirely new philosophy outside of that which can be found at REI and in outdoor adventure magazines. It turned out that I, like many others, had been brainwashed by mainstream manufacturers and marketers into believing that I needed a vast amount of nearly indestructible gear to survive the treachery of the wilderness which otherwise simply wouldn't be possible without an abundance of gear which could survive a nuclear bomb. This concept was reinforced to me by nearly every advertisement in my favorite backpacking and outdoor magazines where the product displayed was always to fight off a raging firestorm of wind and rain or the unavoidable charge of a wild animal. Literally, everything was marketed to instill fear of either the weather, hostile terrain, or the unpredictability and ferociousness of animals. This concept spilled into camping stores worldwide and is the theme most prevalent today used to compel consumers to purchase gear whether they actually need it or not.
I began to think about this kind of marketing and came to the conclusion that I had never been swallowed up by the earth, swept away by a hurricane on a mountain top, or attacked by any animal. Could these things happen? Sure, but I figured if I exercised common sense that I was about as likely to win the lottery as otherwise these things would be in the news on a daily basis and no one would ever leave their homes out of fear of the environment.
From this point on, my intent was to put myself back at square one – to learn things based on science and legitimate “need” and not through the eyes of a gear manufacturer or some vest-wearing high school drop out at REI who was capable only of regurgitating claims from gear manufacturers interested principally in making money. Oddly enough, my first stop was my father and grandfather who both informed me that camping “in their day” meant simply carrying a bedroll and a fishing pole. They didn’t need an abundance of insulating garments because they would just start a fire when they got cold. They didn’t need food as their fishing rod (or rifle) would find them dinner. Crockery were branches and a shelter was the open sky, or at best, an old army poncho rigged as a tarp which also served as their rain gear when hiking. Water came from God and everyone was plenty fine with the quality. Oddly enough, they never mentioned any hardship whatsoever and claimed to be plenty comfortable. They could also remember every detail and the happiness was clearly observable on their faces as their eyes glazed over and their mouths couldn't stop from smiling. Despite hoping for a great story about being attacked by a grizzly, a rattlesnake, falling off a cliff, or being stuck in the middle of a hurricane - it never happened. They found happiness and comfort very simply and were arguably better men for it.
So was I ready to pull the bedspread off my bed, grab my fishing rod, and head into the wilderness? Well, not exactly. Although the concept was romanticized, I’m from a different generation with different comforts and quite honestly the world simply isn’t the same place that welcomed my grandfather or father. I also find that outdoor activities should be viewed differently by each individual making the effort. After all, it is the independent evaluation of each person to determine if they are comfortable and if they are having fun and what they need to meet these goals. Without which, then what's the point? This is one reason why when asked any question about gear, I generally try to stress the concept of "what works for me may not work for you" as each person needs to find their comfort zone. Similarly speaking, what might work for a young and perfectly healthy single person is a lot different than what would work for a person with some medical concerns, someone with less accomplished physical fitness, and someone with obligations to a spouse and family. If it takes a special pillow or special tent to find this degree of happiness, then so be it. But whatever the gear choice, I think a backpacker interested in having the best time possible would find that the lightest solution is often the best solution.
In addition to gear however, it was clear that "experience” and “knowledge” needed to be my guide more than anything because in the end it was this and this alone that I’d need to rely on in the backcountry. The knowledge of how to use my head was far more important than anything I carried, and for the items I did carry, I had better know how to use them. This theory has been proven many times by Search and Rescue personnel who find dead or hurt hikers carrying a department store full of gear in their packs who suffered more from their own ignorance than gear they didn't carry. I didn't plan on being another statistic and I needed to find my comfort zone.
I set out on my own journey to learn about fabric and technology that offered me the best chance of both safety and comfort. Initial education and inspiration came from many sources, to include Dr. Ryan Jordan’s book “Lightweight Backpacking and Camping”, Ray Jardine’s books “Beyond Backpacking” and “Trail Life”, and “Lighten Up” by and Don Ladigin and Mike Clelland. Toss into that the invaluable experiences from seasoned adventurers such as Andrew Skurka, Francis Skurka, and Justin Lichter, as well as the insight of weekend warriors and section hikers from websites such as backpackinglight.com and whiteblaze.com, in addition to the many backpacking-related blogs in cyberspace, and I learned a wealth of information.
I learned about the proven durability and weight savings of Dyneema-X and Cuben fiber fabric. I learned that a simple pack of silnylon can often be a smarter and more responsible choice than the 8 pound heavy cordura packs offered by mainstream vendors. I learned that a simple esbit or alcohol stove was a great alternative to white or compressed gas which was bulky, cumbersome, expensive, and potentially dangerous. I learned the simple comfort of a closed cell foam (CCF) sleeping pad which was a very inexpensive alternative to many other inflatable options. I learned that a simple DriDucks rain jacket was plenty sufficient for my rain gear needs and was much lighter and less expensive than other things on the market. I learned that using my head, being smart about site selection, eating specific foods, and layering was more important than nearly any single piece of gear. I learned that a pair of running shoes could yield an abundance of comfort and allowed me to hike for longer distances than any pair of heavy duty hiking boots which otherwise did nothing more than restrict movement, make me clumsy, and made my feet hurt in the past. I learned that I could leave my water filter at home and could safely use harmless chemical treatments without concern. I learned that a tarp is often a better choice than a tent and that small cottage industry companies such as ULA-Equipment, Mountain Laurel Designs, Six Moon Designs, Backpacking Light, Gossamer Gear, Titanium Goat, Trail Designs, Anti-Gravity Gear, Outdoor Equipment Supplier, Adventure Medical Kits, and many, many others could not only equip me with what I needed, but whose products were top notch, durable, affordable, and offered a significant weight savings. In essence, I learned from a grassroots level of what I needed, why I needed it, and how to use it. My research yielded new philosophies, new technologies, dual use equipment, and opened my eyes to the world of LIGHTWEIGHT BACKPACKING.
With that, my blog is dedicated to lightweight backpacking and the innovations and technology which serve to make the wilderness more accessible and more enjoyable to all of us - in LIGHTWEIGHT style. It is also my goal to share what I’ve learned to help guide others through a landscape scattered with marketing hype and lesser known merchandise which may otherwise never be known. I am no expert, but I like to think I'm an educated consumer and I've found that people who want to make good decisions are willing to take the time to research these issues just like I did. If my blog helps anyone in even the most minor way, it will be worth whatever time and effort I put into it.
I will also focus more attention on issues which relate to me personally as I have a handful of unique attributes that I've struggled with and hope to make information about these topics more readily available to others who may be in the same position. One of these issues include gear and techniques as related to the Appalachian Trail, my stomping ground. Another includes gear and techniques associated with big and tall people (I am 6'5" and 280 pounds). Anyone my size knows how hard it is to live in our "medium" world when clothing is tough to find, cars are often too small, airline seats are laughable, doorways are intimidating, and we can't help but stand out everywhere we go. In the backpacking world, especially lightweight backpacking, finding suitable gear that is long enough (jackets, pants, gloves, tents/tarps/sleeping bags/backpacks) or that can hold our weight (hammocks, chairs) is truly a struggle as few manufacturers are willing to put effort into a very small niche product suitable for us. My blog will also include information for people who aren't super-athletes and those who find themselves escaping to the wilderness only for brief periods often scheduled between the stresses of work and family obligations. My blog will also focus on the integrity and innovation of cottage industry manufacturers from the lightweight backpacking community and the bloggers who report on them which I will also publish and link on my own blog. Lastly, my blog will also include information relevant to Type 1 and Type 2 diabetics, my affliction. I have both which is an extreme rarity. Type 1 people represent 10% of diabetics and Type 2 represent 90% of diabetics. Having both means I represent less than 1% of the population. I was born with Type 1 which means my pancreas didn't produce adequate or any insulin since birth and therefore I couldn't properly use the sugar (energy) in my body. Science does not know why this occurs and something like a transplant has a low percentage of working because often it is something in the body of the diabetic that views the pancreas as an illness or enemy and fights it until it kills it much like it would a disease. The result was that I gained weight, my thyroid was damaged, and my blood-pressure and cholestrol went up (all requiring medication), although working out for three hours a day into my mid-20's enabled me to be a Division 1 athlete despite these hardships. As I progressed into my mid-20's, my body slowly started to fail more and more until one week I lost 2o pounds, my eyesight became terribly foggy, I became unable to function and I could very well have died without immediate treatment. At this stage, I then started taking heavy dosages of insulin which I injected myself with 4 or more times per day. Over the next couple years, I then also became a Type 2 diabetic because the insulin I had been injecting myself with for the last 10 years, something I needed to survive, forced excess sugars into my cells which then stored much of it as fat as the insulin only put it into the cells which needed it but otherwise did a poor job regulating the amount (this is the problem with modern diabetes treatment). The fatter I got, the more insulin I needed, and the more insulin I needed, the fatter I got. It is not as simple as just eating less as many diabetics can eat very little and still appear fat and gain weight (although eating less as a whole can help most people). The problem is the body of a diabetic simply cannot correctly use the sugar it receives, regardless of how little is eaten, and it then terrorizes the rest of the body which is desperately trying to work overtime to function properly. Because nearly all food is converted into sugar to be used as energy, this disease is deadly because it cannot be controlled. The food is either used as energy, like with a normal person, or it effectively becomes toxic, which is what happens with a diabetic. When most people hear "diabetes", they often envision people who can't stop eating and who become diabetic because they are essentially fat. In the case of Type 2 diabetics, this is often true, but what isn't realized is often people with Type 2 already have some kind of glycogen disorder and their brains are telling them that they must eat to gain energy. They eat, get fat(ter), and worsen their condition. Their cells develop fat around them and have an even harder time using the sugars they eat...which makes them eat even more. This disease, which is slowly degrading other organs that are struggling and working harder to correct for a failures in my body that I cannot fix,will most likely end my life in the long run and there is little I can do about it. Many people have similar hardships or worse. I often think that I'm somewhat fortunate in some twisted way. Few are perfect and it is my goal it make the most of the time I have, be it 40 years or 70. I've given readers of my blog this insight not to gain any kind of sympathy or to disclose information I otherwise keep very private in my personal life, but to have them self-reflect whether they are of perfectly healthy or not. In life, there is no do-over. If you have a dream, chase it. Be thankful for what you can do and exercise what you can do to its fullest.
As always, if there is anything I can offer to help those that choose to participate in this blog, or if there are those looking for a partner on an outing in the Virginia area, please let me know. I have no delusions nor desires that my blog be the be-all-end-all of all-things-lightweight, but I'd like to think it will be another educational tool for both me and others to share their experiences and learn from one another.
Best wishes, be smart, be safe, and happy hiking!
JOLLY GREEN GIANT