Superior, Stupendous, Sensible…Socks? Seriously.

Here I sit in the throes of December, dreaming about a hike but unable to take one. So I’m going to knock out a couple hundred words about an experience I had on my ten-mile AT excursion a few weeks back. And yes, it’s about socks. Socks. I can hardly believe it myself.

I have a peculiar problem with socks, specifically those worn on my right foot. See, no matter what type or length of socks I wear when I run, the seam of the hosiery in question will ALWAYS beat up my right little toe. I mean, to the point of bruising and leaving me with a semi-black toenail. I’ve tried a few varieties of seamless socks, and they were just okay, as I found myself having to give up other features just to have the one.

Then I started reading about socks when I became interested in hiking/backpacking, and heard lots of talk and read five-star reviews about a company called Darn Tough and their foot coverings. Well, Darn Tough is HQ’d in Vermont, and given that I’m a born-and-raised Mainer, I thought I’d give a pair from this company a shot. You know, for geography’s sake. That New England thing. If you live there, you understand.

So I went to my local outfitter and picked up a pair:

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I grabbed the AT version for two reasons: One, I like the logo and the cool little “map” of my favorite long trail on the socks. And two, straight from the company’s website: “We donate 5% of sales to help support the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s outdoor education programs and maintenance of America’s first national scenic trail.” There’s another reason that had some impact on my decision, this eye-opening bonus: An unconditional lifetime guarantee. For real.

Talk about a trial by fire. I took a brand new pair of untested socks on my longest ever day hike. Usually, after a 4-6 mile trek, I’m dealing with a sore, bruised little toe for a week. I hammered those hardy Darn Tough socks up and down hills for ten miles. And came through so unscathed that I was able to go out for a normal run the next morning, something I won’t usually do.

Sold!

So, I’m ready to become one of the thousands of voices in the loyal Darn Tough crowd: I love these socks! Best money I’ve spent so far on hiking gear!

And I’m going to buy more. And some for running, too.

Guaranteed.

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My Impressions: Deuter Airlite 22

Anyone who has read this blog with any regularity has heard me wax poetic about my appreciation for my first pack, the Osprey Kestrel 28. It has been a terrific daypack and weighted practice hike bag for loads around twenty pounds, and has served me faithfully since I stole it on sale for less than sixty bucks.

Then came a day hike up Sharp Top, and my lament that it was waaaay too much bag for pedestrian trips like that one. To be fair, I had sometimes felt it was overkill on my half-day AT hikes, too. So I started searching for a lighter, more “realistic” day pack. A guy at my local outfitter to whom I refer as The Deuter Guy for his love of all things Deuter turned me on to the Airlite 22. It ticked off all the boxes I had for a replacement pack: Light, good suspension, full hip belt with pockets, 18-22 liters, spot for hydration bladder if I opted for one. A raincover and/or trekking pole stowing attachments would be nice, but not mandatory (it has both). And priced around $100. It was a bit higher, but close enough to fit the budget. So I handed over my credit card and I was out the door.

The next day I drove down to Daleville for a quick shakeout on the AT:

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TL;DR version? I loved it. A very light but seemingly well-built pack. Invisible carry with nine pounds on board. The Aircomfort suspension keeps the body of the pack away from your back and, in my experience, does two things: It helps with sweat buildup, as advertised, and it also seems to aid in keeping the weight on my hips, where it belongs. As the comfort of every pack is unique to a user’s experience, YMMV. But it definitely worked for me. Here’s a lousy photo of an excellent setup:

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Note the gap between the bag and the back system. That is, if you’ll pardon the overused expression, the secret sauce.

Bonus points for my Google Pixel fitting in one of the hip belt pockets AND being easy to retrieve whenever I wanted to snap one of the pics that appeared in last week’s (and this week’s) post. And double bonus points for the mesh side pockets passing the bottle-fall-out test with my favorite CamelBak Podium 24oz. bottles (see above photo). I filled them with water, slid them in and bent all the way over, dancing like an idiot at the same time. They stayed put. Whether or not the mesh will stretch over time and they’ll slip out remains to be seen. But for now, I’m very happy with the pockets. I also found it relatively easy to grab a bottle and replace it while on the move, but I did hundreds, nay thousands of remove/replace with bottles while a marathon runner wearing a hydration belt, so I know by heart the contortions to make it happen easily. Some struggle with that, however, so again, YMMV.

Plenty of room inside the pack and in the front pocket to carry the ten essentials, extra layers, lunch, snacks, etc. Everything you could possibly want/need for a day hike. And there’s a dedicated hydration bladder pocket too, if I decide to add one later on.

I’m so impressed with this pack that I’m considering selling off my beloved Kestrel 28. In addition, I’m giving serious consideration to the Deuter Futura Vario Pro 50+10 (it features the same Aircomfort suspension system) when I FINALLY buy my “expedition” pack.

Five stars, Deuter. And five stars for the recommendation, Deuter Guy…

Self-Inflating, Indeed!

A couple of times since March I’ve chatted about a sleeping pad I’ve been eyeballing from a cottage manufacturer. I finally ordered one, and it arrived on Saturday. Introducing my first foray into self-inflation, the Hiker Hunger Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad:

Pad

I paid the reasonable sum of $46.99 for this slice of on-the-ground comfort, and though I’ve yet to give it a proper testing, my initial impressions are very positive, which dovetail with the reviews I’ve read on it. For the detail-minded, here are the key specs as printed by the manufacturer on the stuff sack itself:

Sack

The only listed spec I took issue with was the 13.4″ height. The sack itself may be that tall, but after inflating, deflating and returning the pad to its sack, I found it came in at exactly 10″ top-to-bottom. When loading a pack, those three inches will make a difference…

Being a somewhat bony side/stomach sleeper, I couldn’t see myself getting much comfort from a thin, closed-cell foam pad, so I set a minimum thickness of 1.5″ during my search for the perfect pad. I also wanted an R value of at least 3.0, and it had to weigh less than two pounds. Check, check and check. It packs up a bit bigger girth-wise than I expected, but for the price/comfort, not a deal breaker by any means. The materials and construction inspire confidence; but in case I do something dumb, the company graciously includes a patch kit tucked away in a small pocket inside the stuff sack.

I pulled the pad from its matching bag, spread it out on the floor, opened the valve and walked away for ten minutes. When I returned, it was ready for the three or four breaths it took to get it to my desired firmness, a far and pleasant cry from the dizziness-inducing air mattress inflation experiences of my youth. I crashed on it in my usual sleeping positions for twenty minutes to test it out, and found it comfy in its intended context. I did not test it with my sleeping bag; I’ll wait to do that when I can actually take it outside. A carpet laid over a concrete floor isn’t exactly duff-covered terra firma, but it was close enough for me to do a decent trial. And I came away very pleased and impressed with my latest gear purchase. Kudos to New England-based Hiker Hunger!

Can’t wait to try it out in the Virginia woods. And as soon as I do, I’ll post a real-world review in this space…