A few days after a solo trip to the Trinity Alps five years ago, when I first began to go backpacking solo a lot, I came home to a package from REI on my stoop. I was confused—had I drunkenly gear-shopped? I couldn’t remember placing an order. I opened the package to find an ACR ResQLink personal locator beacon, along with a note from my parents that read “We hope you never have to use this, but just in case. For when you are the most alone.” Aww, so sweet. They had done their research and decided to go with the ACR since it was the most reliable, connected to government satellites, and didn’t require a subscription to be maintained. I’ve dutifully renewed its registration every two years, tested it every season, changed its batteries, and carried it on countless trips since then.
The technology has come a long way since then, though, and I’ve been eyeing the Garmin Inreach Mini. The ability to two-way text with both first responders and loved ones plus its tiny size have me intrigued. With REI member coupon and dividend season around the corner, I decided to run some numbers to see if it might be reasonable to upgrade. I earn my dollars teaching mathematics at a local college, so I decided to merge my talents (?) and go about this in a bit more of a structured way. The plan pricing for the Garmin products has eight different options just for the personal plans, all with different features, so a little analysis is in order. After doing this, I thought, why not share? So here we are. If you’re too lazy to Read Words Wow Gross, just skip to the end where I’ve included a handy flowchart to help you decide between the four most likely options.
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I hate smelling like pee. I mean, maybe that’s obvious, but I feel like as a woman in the backcountry there is this constant battle: Should I pack in lots of extra toilet paper and wipe after every pee, or should I just do a little booty shake for the marmots? How long do I need to squat here and air out to make sure that I won’t smell like pee on the second day of this trip? Or maybe I should just not drink so much water so I don’t have to pee as often. That last option is no good; hydration is super duper important when backpacking! So herein lies the dilemma: To pee or not to pee.
In search of a solution, I started a Facebook discussion a while back about those girl pee aids—you know, those pseudo-penises with a cute little pink (it’s for girls!) cup attached. The discussion was filled with comments lamenting the hazards of being a woman in the backcountry. At one point my friend Laurel, a former Outward Bound instructor, said she’d seen people use half a bandana as a pee rag and that it works great in dry climates so long as everyone knows what half a bandana means.
A pee rag. A PEE RAG! A rag with which to wipe your pee. SO good.
That was the most brilliant thing I had ever heard. Why hadn’t I thought of this before? A dedicated pee bandana. I immediately went out and picked up a bandana (yellow, of course) and cut it in half diagonally. Cutting it this way gives some good narrow strips to ease tying to the backpack and a big wide middle for wiping. Taking this simple little extra half bandana on trips has been the best gear upgrade I’ve done this year. I can actually hydrate myself without worrying that I’m going to be “wasting” so much toilet paper that I have to carry around. I can pee as much as I want and not smell like a port-a-potty by the second afternoon of my trip. Because the climate in the Sierra Nevada in summer is very dry, the pee bandana dries really quickly and doesn’t start to smell at all. If you don’t believe me, just ask Patrick. I made him smell mine at the end of a trip and he couldn’t detect any odor at all.
It’s the best, I’m telling you. THE BEST.
After years of using Potable Aqua iodine tablets (see how my Platypus is stained yellow?) and the citric acid neutralizers, I’ve recently made the switch to filtration using a Sawyer 3-way filter inline on my Platypus hydration system. I’ve never been a fan of water filters, what with the annoying pumping and the heavy weight for pump style or the long wait times for gravity filters and just the fussiness and all. But last year I became intrigued by the filters that Sawyer was putting out. They were exceptionally lightweight and filtered quickly. They got rid of more nasties than my iodine and didn’t alter the taste of the water to boot. I impulse-bought a Sawyer Squeeze and promptly left it in my gear storage area, unopened. It languished there because I read reviews of bags bursting and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to share many annoyances of previous generations of filters: fussiness, tedium, clean/dirty things to keep separate, etc.
When I upgraded my old CamelBak to a new Platypus Big Zip LP reservoir this year, I stopped for a moment to contemplate my hydration system. The hot new thing this year is the Sawyer MINI, essentially a smaller, lighter, and weaker version of the old Sawyer Squeeze. I looked into it, read blog posts about using it inline, and generally hemmed and hawed. I liked the price, the weight, and the ease of using it inline with a hydration pack, but I didn’t like the weakness of the filter (lasts 1/10th as long as the Squeeze) and I worried about the fit of the push connections.
I decided to give filtration a go, however, and settled on using the Sawyer 3-way inline with my Platypus reservoir. I chose the more expensive 3-way mostly because of the quick-connect links and lifespan. It is rated to 1 million gallons (as opposed to the 100,000 gallons of the MINI) and comes with the quicklink hose attachments factory installed on the filter. I liked the idea of being able to disassemble my entire system to really clean and back flush well at the end of any trip, as well as the adaptability of being able to easily convert my system into a gravity filter without fussing with the mouthpiece on my hose. Another advantage of this system is the ability to leave the filter behind when carrying water on a dayhike: simply remove the filter and click together the quicklink connections left behind!
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Item: Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58 Ki Pack
Intended Use: Backpacking Pack
Volume: 58 liters
Claimed Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz
Load capacity: 35 lbs
Totally Subjective Overall Grade: A-
The combination of lightweight yet exceptionally durable fabrics, a balance of minimalist design with choice features that allow for excellent adaptability, and an amazing suspension make this pack a favorite for my typical style of backpacking.
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