Rae Lakes Loop, and Some Gear Testing!

A few weeks from now I plan to set off on the Appalachian Trail with my pup.  I'm not sure for how long, or how far we'll go, but the plan is at least a month and probably more depending on how both of us are doing.  

Any trip longer than a week takes a bit more planning than I usually put in.  When you do a lot of backpacking it becomes pretty easy to just toss your stuff in your pack and set off, but in this case I'm going to have to get a bit more into the nitty gritty.  

A perfect excuse to fly out to LA and join my old partners in crime for a "test hike!" (Aka: let's pack a bunch of whisky and two pounds of m&ms and go play cards on top of a mountain!)

I give you: the Rae Lakes Loop in the Sierras of Kings Canyon National Park.  What a beautiful place to test some gear! 


The trip went spectacularly well, with perfect weather throughout.  We spent six days in the woods, hiked a total of 50 miles counting a dayhike midway, crossed Glen Pass at 12,000 ft, and drank a whole lot of whisky hot cocoa.  What more can you ask for?  


As for the gear testing, this was my first trip with the new Osprey Exos 58.  My primary pack for years now has been the smaller Exos 46 (these numbers refer to the pack size in liters by the way) and I don't think I'll ever find a pack I love as much.  Unfortunately I suspect the 46 won't be able to hold the mountain of gear I plan to bring on the AT (dogs are spoiled brats... or maybe that's just mine), so it was time to give the 58 a go. 

All in all I'm sold on the Exos 58.  I still don't like it as much as my 46, but it really doesn't matter because unless I ditch the pup the 46 ain't cuttin' it.  The 58 sat comfortably even with a fairly heavy load of 27 lbs (these are light packs not designed to carry a lot of weight).  It didn't shift around on me or cause sore spots, and when I unloaded it and carried it mostly empty for a 10 mile dayhike I could barely even tell it was there.

The Exos 58 sitting easy as we cross Glen Pass.  And yes, that's snow in July.

The Exos 58 sitting easy as we cross Glen Pass.  And yes, that's snow in July.

I tested a handful of other items, some of which made the cut to join my AT gear and some not, but the most interesting thing I wanted to experiment with is hardly "gear" at all.  Believe it or not, I lugged around a hulking, outdated, two and a half pound "modern typewriter."  Yes.  You read that right.  While simultaneously testing ultralight gear and literally counting ounces I voluntarily carried a keyboard that weighs more than my tent.

Let me explain!  I decided earlier this summer that I wanted to find a way to write while on the Appalachian Trail, even if it meant a hit to my weight total.  Writing is a hobby I use to unwind and relax, so I figured it would pair perfectly with backpacking.  Unfortunately, the thought of writing for weeks with pen and paper and then having to type all of those ramblings up upon return really didn't appeal to me, and any sort of typing setup I could think of carrying on the trail was going to play hungry hungry hippo with my battery power.  Given that battery power is oddly something you don't find much of in the woods another solution was needed.

So I turned to the ultralight community over on Reddit and asked for some advice.  I was surprised to get a number of great suggestions, having expected something more along the lines of "why would you ask ultralighters how to carry a keyboard?"  Most leaned towards also carrying a solar charging setup, but while that could solve my battery problems, it would add yet more weight and complications.  The AT is not known for being a great solar trail, with lots of tree coverage and rain.  

Another suggestion intrigued me, however: The Alphasmart Neo2.  Basically a modern typewriter.  I use the term "modern" loosely, and by loosely I mean they don't actually make these anymore and it's only advantage over an old school typewriter is that it has a small screen and memory as opposed to typing directly on paper.  And I suppose it probably weighs less too... I should keep that in mind when I'm whining about carrying it.  

The Neo... in all her outdated glory!

The Neo... in all her outdated glory!

Despite no longer being manufactured you can still grab a Neo off of Amazon and Ebay for only 30 bucks.  Much cheaper than a solar/tablet/keyboard combo and far more simple.  Literally just a keyboard and a small screen to view about 5 lines at a time, no backlight, almost no editing capabilities, definitely no apps, but hey!...  It will run for-freaking-ever on three AA batteries!  Bingo!  We're in business.  

No matter what the Neo does well though, it still weighs a stomach churning 2.5 lbs.  Okay okay, I'm being dramatic.  I'm also lying.  Although specs put it at 2.5 lbs I weighed mine when I received it and it came in at just about 1.7 lbs, a massive difference when we're counting ounces and a very pleasant surprise.  In ultralight backpacking terms 1.7 lbs for a nonessential is still unheard of though, especially given I'll also be carrying several extra pounds of dog gear.  So while the Neo seemed like the best solution, I really needed to throw this beast into a pack and do a serious hike with it.  Not a simple overnighter where I could possibly overlook the downside of the weight, but a long haul with lots of elevation so I could truly assess whether the enjoyment I got from writing was worth lugging this absurd thing over mountains, literally.  

Again, I give you the Rae Lakes Loop!  Six days, 50 miles, and one whopping 12,000 ft pass to climb.   If I wasn't cussing the Neo by the end of it then I knew I would be fine to carry it on the AT.  

Bowed back... short steps... I might have been contemplating whether the Neo was worth it at this point.  Or maybe just trying not to slip in the snow.

Bowed back... short steps... I might have been contemplating whether the Neo was worth it at this point.  Or maybe just trying not to slip in the snow.

Despite a few grumbles, mostly while weighing my pack before even starting and seeing a 27 come up, the Neo passed with flying colors and I really didn't mind the weight in the end.  I found I truly enjoyed using it on the trail, even carrying it on my dayhike to 60 Lakes Basin and stopping for a good hour or more to write.  I've decided it's absolutely worth carrying on the AT, and I'm excited to hit the trail again in a few weeks!

And for those questionably sane people like me who enjoy pouring over gear lists and counting the ounces here's my pack for this particular trip.  Nowhere near ultralight, but then that wasn't the point on this venture.  Also, please enjoy this photo of my food for six days.  


And one more image of the trail, just because it's so beautiful.  Way more beautiful than trail food.  Stop looking at it.