Essential Gear: The Pee Bandana

The pee bandana flying triumphantly on my pack in Dusy Basin

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.

The pee bandana flying triumphantly on my tent guy lines in the Trinity Alps

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.

Using a Sawyer 3-Way Inline Water Filter with a Platypus Big Zip LP Reservoir

Complete hydration system, including 3 liters of carrying capacity, at under 10 oz

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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Review: Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58 Ki Pack

Granite Gear Leopard Ki Pack in the Trinity Alps

Item: Granite Gear Leopard A.C. 58 Ki Pack
Intended Use: Backpacking Pack
Size: Regular
Volume: 58 liters
Claimed Weight: 3 lbs 1 oz
Load capacity: 35 lbs
MSRP: $249.95

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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Bishop Pass to Dusy Basin and Knapsack Pass in Kings Canyon National Park

Upper Dusy Basin

Who: Just me!
What: Backpacking
When: 6/17/14-6/19/14
Where: Kings Canyon National Park
Mileage: 13 miles on trail, 7 miles cross-country
Elevation gain/loss: +4300ft/-4300ft
More photos: here

This was the second trip of my road trip encircling the Sierra and my third solo trip ever. I was really excited to explore Dusy Basin, hoping to find some solitude and fantastic scenery. I was not disappointed! I had considered heading over Knapsack Pass and down into Palisade Basin for the second night, but after a brutal talus slog with a full pack (due to a poor route choice), I decided to stay in Lower Dusy Basin for the second night. Two nights is not nearly enough time to explore this gorgeous basin. The cross-country travel is easy, with landmarks everywhere and little to no underbrush to worry about. It’s a great place to explore if you’re interested in getting accustomed to off-trail travel!

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Echo Lakes to Eagle Falls via Lake Aloha and Dick’s Pass in Desolation Wilderness

Sunset at our camp at Lake Aloha

Who: Liz, Alex, Patrick, and me
What: Backpacking
When: 6/20/14-6/22/14
Where: Desolation Wilderness
Mileage: 20 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +3600ft/-4200ft
More photos: here

This is the third and final trip of my whirlwind 9 day seminar talk inspired road trip all the way around the Sierra. After finishing my hike in Dusy Basin on Thursday afternoon, I drove up the 395 to South Lake Tahoe. On Friday morning, Patrick drove Liz and Alex out from Oakland and we met up to do a car shuttle, dropping a car at Eagle Falls trailhead before heading back to Echo Chalet. This would be Alex’s first backpacking trip and he hadn’t really trained, so we planned to keep the trip very easy. (This seems to be a bit of a theme this summer!) We had a glorious evening at Lake Aloha and perfect hiking weather the whole weekend.

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Moose Lake via Alta Meadow in Sequoia National Park

Checking out the alpenglow from our camp at Moose Lake

Who: Patrick and me
What: Backpacking
When: 6/14/14-6/15/14
Where: Sequoia National Park
Mileage: 18 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +4500ft/-4500ft
More photos: here

I was scheduled to give a colloquium talk at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA on Monday, June 16, so I decided to bookend the drive down from the bay area with trips to the Sierra. In less than 9 days, I drove 1,250 miles, hiked 55 miles, gave a seminar talk, spent 3 nights in motels and five nights in the backcountry. The first trip of this crazy week was planned to be a loop connecting Alta Meadow with the Lakes Trail via an off trail route around Moose Lake, but when Patrick suffered altitude sickness after our route up to Moose Lake, we decided to make it an out-and-back via Alta Meadow, opting to return on the off-trail route we knew instead of finding our way through the Tablelands. We had time pressure as well since we were hoping to have Patrick on a train in Fresno by 5:45pm. It was a beautiful trip and the sunset alpenglow on the Great Western Divide was some of the most dramatic I’ve seen!

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Four Lakes Loop via Long Canyon in the Trinity Alps

Upper Siligo Meadow

Who: Just me!
What: Backpacking
When: 5/27/14-5/28/14
Where: Trinity Alps Wilderness
Mileage: 18 miles
Elevation gain/loss: +6000ft/-6000ft
More photos: here

My second solo trip ever! After last weekend’s mellow backcountry excursion, I was hankering for a beating to help me get in shape for the High Sierra Trail in August. I headed up to the Trinity Alps Wilderness with plans to hike up Long Canyon and do the Four Lakes Loop (again), camping at Summit Lake before looping around past Diamond, Luella, and Deer Lakes and then returning back via Long Canyon. I’ve hiked the Four Lakes Loop via Stoney Ridge before and I set out thinking that this would be simply a training trip, but I was pleasantly surprised to find peace, relaxation, and solitude as I hiked this rugged landscape. The mid-week post-Memorial Day start offered me plenty of alone time. At the trailhead, I met couple who were planning on doing the same loop over three instead of two days, and on my way up Long Canyon I encountered four people (two solo hikers and one couple) who were headed out. After I hiked over Bee Tree Gap, I didn’t see a soul until my car rejoined Highway 3 the next evening.

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