At the start of this trip, we are 100% novice hikers, campers, and world travelers. We’ve never owned an internal frame backpack, and before we started our preparations, the last multi-day camping trip Connal went on was when he was 10 – so here’s our experience with our gear so far (*unless otherwise noted, we are in no way affiliated with any of these companies).
Osprey Argon 85 (last updated 5/28/09)
Our first inclination was to buy the biggest pack we could. Then we read a bunch of opinions that said people tend to get bigger packs than they need and that smaller packs mean you have to be more selective about what you bring, and your pack is therefore lighter. Then we got to REI for our afternoon of trying on pack after pack, filling them with their 5 and 10 pound bean bags and realized that packs can fill up quick. While you could probably get away with a smaller pack than ours, even for a week long camping trip, this was going to be our only bag for a year, and we were going to need the space, or at least the flexibility to have more space. So I ended up with the Osprey Argon 85.
We bought our packs at the Berkeley REI location and the guy who helped us was amazing. We literally spent over 5 hours in the store, trying on different packs, loading them up with weight, and walking around. He was super patient and super knowledgable. Like shoes, different packs work well for different body types. For both Anjel and I the Ospreys fit very well. It’s even possible to mix and match frames and straps – the Large frame fit my upper body best, but we swapped out the standard waist strap for a Medium.
The pack has been amazingly comfortable. To be clear, it’s not magical. Carrying 35 pounds, no matter how well it’s strapped to your back, is going to start to wear on you, especially when it’s not something your body is used to (in my case), but the Osprey has a number of on-the-fly adjustment straps to reposition the load (depending on whether you’re hiking up hill, level ground or descending) and in all I have no complaints.
It can load from the top, but it also has a side access pocket, something especially useful for city travel which means not having to empty the entire pack just to get at something at the bottom. It has a number of external straps and loops and pockets for stowing various bits of gear along with a removable water bladder pouch that can clip out and then strap to your back for day hikes without the pack. All in all this has been a great purchase. It’s definitely one of the more expensive bits of gear we had to buy, but we expect the comfort and utility of our packs to define large portions of our trip, so finding something that fit and worked was well worth it.
Vibram Five Fingers (last updated 5/28/09)
We first discovered these about a year ago. They are easily some of the goofiest looking shoes out there, but they’re super comfortable! It’s usually recommended to bring a pair of flip-flops when your travel plans may include communal Hostel showers. The problem is that flip flops aren’t great for much besides keeping your feet out of shower funk and maybe strolling the boardwalk and we’re trying not to bring things that can’t do double-duty. These are great for switching into at the end of the day for a walk around town, but we’ve also taken them running on the beach, river walking or hiking on trails. As long as you’re not carrying a pack (they’re not designed to provide support and cushion like hiking boots) they’re great for exploring.
The feel is amazing – it really does feel like you’re walking around in bare feet, you can feel the texture of grass or rocks, or cement beneath your feet, but there’s just enough protection there to cushion your soles and protect your feet. They’re lightweight and very packable, which is a big plus. Anjel’s “Sprint” model is pictured, Connal has the “KSO” (Keep Stuff Out) which covers the top of your foot completely and does do a much better job of keeping stuff out of the shoe when you’re hiking around.
Vasque Men’s Breeze XCR (last updated 11/2/09)
update: It´s been 6 months since my last review and in that time I´ve put an additional 170 miles of trekking on these shoes, and at least that much in general day to day and walking-around-city wear. They are one of two shoes I have on this trip, so I have been wearing them everyday, all day, and they have been fantastic. As I mentioned in my original post, they fit my foot very well to begin with, but as I write this we just finished our 6th day of trekking through Spain (averaging 14 miles a day) and I haven´t had to tape or wrap my feet once, or had any issue with blisters. The boots are holding up very well – only the tread is starting to wear down, but with the number of miles I guess that´s not surprising. A fantastic buy. They are the bootbomb – the best hiking boots for men compared to my past purchases…
5/28/09 Review: So far, with about 36 hiking miles on them (plus a week or two of general wearing to break them in) these have been fantastic. They day after we bought them we went on our hike through Big Sur. I taped my toes and heel to prevent blistering (after feeling a couple of hot spots) – but that is completely to be expected for new boots. After that I’ve had almost no problems with them.
I have a narrow foot, so of the boots I tried, the cut of the Vasques just fit well. Also, the bottoms of my feet tend to get very sore and tender easily and the stiff soles have been amazing at providing support. They’re Waterproof Gore-Tex and pretty lightweight considering their size and support (my size 9.5s tip the scale at 2 lbs 13 oz). The Vibram sole has been great with traction and feels like a very stable and secure platform while hiking through rough stuff.
So far these boots have been fantastic.
Columbia Titanium Shirt (last updated 5/28/09)
Simple but critical. Since we’re packing so simply, everything has to do double duty. The clothes we wear for trekking are going to have to work when we sit down for a reasonably nice meal in the city too. In this case, this shirt has been fantastic. It’s a basic white long sleeve shirt. Super light, quick dry, all important trekking stuff, but roll the sleeves down and throw on a nice pair of pants, and all of a sudden you’re looking respectable. Magic!
Canon CoolPix P6000 (last updated 5/28/09)
With any luck this camera will work out well as we’re very excited about the potential. We don’t tend to get too fired up about having the newest gear or the most megapixels – we’ve got a Nikon D70 (as our “big” camera) that we’ve been using for business and personal use for years and a little Canon PowerShot as our carry-around point and shoot and those have done us just fine. However, when we came across the P6000 as the first point and shoot to include built-in GPS it seemed like the perfect companion for the trip.
The camera is relatively new, so I did as much research as I could about the performance. There wasn’t too much beyond the standard press release text but my experience with Nikons as been good and the stats were pretty good: 13.5 megapixels, 4x zoom, ability to shoot movies, and something I was really fired up about, the ability to shoot in RAW format. Because we’re going to be uploading images regularly from small internet cafes, it isn’t going to be feasible to shoot in the RAW format because of how large the file sizes are but without getting into too many technicalities, the RAW format gives you amazing non-destructive control over image exposure, color balance, sharpness, etc., when working in Photoshop. In anycase, the basics were good, but the GPS was the clincher.
Reviews did warn that the camera was not as good at acquiring a signal as a dedicated GPS device, which is not surprising since it’s really not any larger or heavier (9 oz) than a standard pocket camera. Reviews also said that the camera really likes best-case scenarios for finding a signal, which I have also found to be true. In wide open areas, not surrounded by tall buildings or trees is your best bet. If you’re in the middle of the woods, or even under a tree, you’re probably out of luck. Even in a good setting, it often takes 45 to 60 seconds to lock on to a signal for the first time. Once it has a signal however, you can turn off the camera and it will continue check for GPS position every 90 minutes (6 times) even with the camera off. I have found that once I get a signal, assuming I’m still in a good reception area, the camera will re-establish a signal within about 10 seconds after turning it back on to get a shot.
It does mean that if you turn on the camera to take a quick shot, it’s probably not going to be geo-tagged, but I wasn’t expecting to have every single one of our photos tagged, and for our purposes, as long as at least one or two shots from every location is tagged I’ll be thrilled. A number of online photo sites, will recognize geo-tagged photos and will automatically display them on a world map. This is a link to our Flickr map of tagged photos. For us, the idea of having a line of photos tracing our travels around the world was the big draw. The fact that not every photo will be tagged was not a big deal. It may be for you.
Image quality so far has been great, but I haven’t done extensive tests, and I’m not much of snob about those things. I recognize that this is a point and shoot, not a $5000 SLR and as long as it’s small enough for me to carry easily and takes good photos I’m happy.
One last note, for some reason I have been completely unable to get it to connect directly to my Mac. It comes with both an Ethernet and a USB cable, and usually Macs are great about recognizing cameras and such, but it doesn’t show up and I haven’t been able to find any missing drivers or updates. There’s always the card reader workaround – it’s just a bit of a pain.
Joby Gorillapod (last updated 5/28/09)
This has already proven to be a great purchase. It’s a little, flexible-legged tripod for the camera. They advertise it as a use-anywhere tripod, and it really is. You can stand it up on a flat surface, wrap it around a pole… pretty much rig it up anywhere. I’ll be curios to see how well it hands up to rough use, but as far as functionality – it’s fantastic!