Backtracking: Gear finds to make you say ‘ugh’

“Packable” rain paints. My initial thought: “Well, duh, of course I can pack them in my bag.” Boy, was I naive.

Backtracking; everyone’s least favorite trail activity is going back in trail miles, almost repeating time. It’s an unfortunate necessity on the trail, one that always elicits an audible “ugh…” when you realize you have no other choice.

With map confirmation, other “choice” words usually follow.

So it’s a fitting title for a new column here, looking back into past trips to reminisce, laugh and learn. Hopefully, we offer some helpful advice to augment your trail preparedness for the future.

Inside Out

Eight years ago, I hastily purchased a pair of Columbia waterproof shell pants. Best decision I ever made. They’re great.

They were almost too much in 2012 on the Black Forest Trail. I was carrying too much weight. That made the combination of the gaitors, waterproof shell, regular pants and long underwear into a sauna for my calf muscles. I began to cramp early, which made the gorge drops and immediate ascents murder.

It didn’t take me long to learn. If I needed the gaitors, but it wasn’t raining or sleeting, then I could ditch the shells and the bottom half of my pant legs. Zip-offs have winter advantages. That prevented overheating and cramps.

Conversely, If I needed the waterproof shells to keep my pants dry in constant rain, then I didn’t need the pant legs or the gaitors. It’s a system that’s proven effective over multiple winter trips in the last 8 years. A few cramps, and a little gear compromise, and I extended my endurance without eliminating protection. I should’ve already known this, but sometimes gear efficiency takes trial and error.

Fast forward. 2020.

I’m waiting out a wind and sleet storm at home, on a hill, overlooking the Susquehanna River and the Kittatiny Ridges beyond it. The sleet clouds wash over the ridges like waves on a rocky coast, frothing, scouring.

Rain pants packed into their self contained pocket.

I’m in my kitchen, pulling out gear to prep for clearing my driveway. I noticed something on the inside of my waterproof pants. Looks like a pocket. The flap securely closed via hook and loop. A tag grabs my attention: “Packable.”

It finally dawns on me how these pants are to be packed: inside-out and tucked into the large pocket. “Ugh,” I muttered under my breath.

How could so simple of a thing evade me for eight years? Missing something like that makes you feel stupid. But the pocket works, and the final self-packed pants are capable of being squished even smaller to reduce its space if you must stuff it inside your backpack.

Gear loop on my packed rain paints.

However, it’s conceivable that you may need waterproof pants quickly during a hike. So it’s nice to see a small loop sewn into the inside of the pocket. Once your pants are packed, you can hang the pouch from your backpack or a belt with a carabiner.

That’s great functionality. But yeah, “Ugh…” is what came out of my mouth as I backtracked into a minor gear discovery that should’ve been made eight years ago. Ugh. I’m an idiot.

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