Gear Up!

A couple weeks ago, I was at REI looking for a new piezo for my JetBoil. A hiker was asking the sales lady whether he should get a JetBoil or an MSR butterfly stove. I didn’t know if he wanted my opinion, but since I own both and had just used them both at Infinitus, I offered to answer any questions he had. We chatted for a little while and he decided to think a bit more about his likely use of the stove– JetBoil is great for windy days or when you need dinner fast, but the model he was looking at wasn’t really big enough to cook for two, which he needed. On the other hand, boiling a big pot of water in the open on an MSR takes quite a while, since it’s less efficient.

Gear choice is very personal, but here are some experiences I’ve had. Hopefully it will help someone else out along the way.


Developed by Scott Jurek, multi-time Western States Endurance Race winner, the Brooks Cascadia shoe is certainly a popular one. I didn’t set out to buy them, but I stopped in to Greater Boston Running Company in Newburyport, MA, one evening about a year ago and found these on sale. I can only assume they were on sale because of the boring (read: perfect) colors. I’m not a huge fan of the neon colors that you see everywhere, so I was pretty happy to find subdued, non-pink women’s shoes that fit like a dream and were on sale.

These days, the mesh on my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes is on not holding up so well. I’m pretty surprised, given how lauded this model has been in the ultra running community. In the photo below, you can see part of a large rip on the inside of the left shoe.


I loved how comfortable they were, but (as I’ve learned over my last two trips to Vermont) they hold water like crazy, which makes them heavy, cold, and increases the chances of blisters. I haven’t been really impressed by their traction, either. On my Applachian Trail overnight, I was slipping and sliding on rocks where I should have had plenty of grip.

I miss my old Merrells, but they didn’t hold up very well. After a marathon and a few mud/obstacle races, they have holes everywhere and no tread left.


I’m thinking of trying some Sauconys or Salomons since they have a good reputation for excellent traction. I’ll report back when I’ve found my next duds!


You know what makes me crazy? Seeing price tags over $100 for a pair of capri running tights! I only go to specialty stores when I have to pick up important new gear like shoes or a hydration pack because I’m appalled by the price of the clothing! Honestly, I got to Target and buy Champion brand clothes, or to Modell’s and buy whatever off brand fits well and feels light. I have one UnderArmor shirt that I got after finishing a Tough Mudder, but it doesn’t keep me cool as well as the lighter shirts I’ve bought or gotten after other races. I’d be interested to compare a pair of those diamond-dust-infused tights with my $19.99 pairs, but I’m not prepared to shell out that kind of cash!

One thing that I have not found a cheaper alternative for is underwear. Exofficio has impressed me so much. I might throw out all my other pairs and just stick with those. It’s ridiculous, but true. They are super light, very comfy, and always dry.



I have two. One is an old MSR butterfly stove from 2003 or so. I bought it at EMS, I think and, other than a few college-organized camping trips, I didn’t use it much until more recently.

Pros: You can use different pans, any pans with it.
It’s small and portable.
It’s easy to use.
The piezo has stood the test of time and still works.
Cons: It’s difficult to light and keep lit in the wind.
It does not grip your pan, so if you’re on uneven ground, dinner becomes a delicate balancing act.
It is not terribly efficient (a pan of water for pasta for three took 20-25 minutes to bring to a boil on my last camping trip).


My other stove is a JetBoil. I have one large cup attachment for it.
Pros: If the piezo works, it is easy to light and keep lit in the wind.
It is very efficient at boiling water or warming up food.
It is compact– everything packs into the cup when you’re done.
The cup has it’s own coozie with a handle so you can touch it when it’s hot.
Cons: It gets difficult to manipulate all the interlocking parts when it’s hot and expands.
You can only use the brand-name cups and pans, unless you want to just *hold* your pot over the flame (which I’ve done when frying eggs).
The cup that comes with it is only big enough to make water/food for one person at a time.
I also have to point out, for those who haven’t actually used a JetBoil yet, that there is a “Max Fill Line” on the inside which is barely halfway up the cup. I haven’t had any issues with it being too small for one person, but just be aware that you can’t fill that whole thing.



About ten years ago, I got a Camelbak hydration pack as a gift. I thought it was great at first, before I decided that, the more I used it, the more these little engineering quirks bothered me. It was a unisex pack, so the chest strap just did not sit comfortably for me. There were no pockets that I could reach without removing the pack completely. And I’ve always disliked Camelbak’s screw-top hydration bladder. Because the opening is not at the end, and because it has a liparound it, you can never completely empty it. You have to find some way to keep it open while it air dries. I am not a fan. I know other people who love their Camelbaks, but there are too many little things that drive me crazy. The one thing I liked about it was that it has a little top pocket for your keys or some cash.


Three years ago, I won a Salomon hydration pack in a raffle. It has a much better bladder that opens at the top like a bag, then folds over and “zips” closed with this black plastic clip. Perfect. Exactly what I needed. However, again, it was a uni-sex pack that had no way of adjusting the straps… so it’s really a men’s pack. It also does not have any pockets that you can reach while wearing it. The stretchy mesh pockets on the sides are too loose to hold anything securely, even a water bottle.

At my first trail marathon, I met a racer who had a bright pink, road cone orange, and venom purple Nathan *women’s* hydration pack. I was so excited to learn about this. It looked so comfy, it was completely adjustable, it had side pockets that she could reach, and front pockets, too! It has a hydration bladder like Salomon’s, that opens at the top and then zips closed. It even comes in different sizes. But seriously, pink, orange, and purple?

I was working at a grocery store then, so I didn’t have a whole lot of money for a new hydration pack, when I already owned two, so I put it on the back burner for a while. When I got my current job, I went to New England Running Company in Beverley, MA and tried one on. They only had a small (light blue) in the store, so I went online and learned that small and medium come in a pretty, girlish, periwinkle color and large comes in… pink, orange, and purple. So, I gave up again.

Finally, more recently, I went to REI and tried again. They, of course, only had size minuscule in the store, so I went online and to my surprise and delight, the large now comes in black with salmon piping. Thank goodness. I bought it and I love it. Everything about it.


I can reach those two side pockets with zippers while wearing it. They are the perfect size for a phone. I usually have to designate one for the litter I pick up while on the trail, unfortunately. There are two front pockets that can hold small water bottles, energy bars, your phone (if you prefer), or a folded map. On the right front strap, there is also a “pill pocket” with a velcro closure and there is a whistle on the left. Also on the left, there is an adjustable magnet that holds your hose and mouthpiece out of the way. Ingenious!

The bungee cording on the outside is extremely useful since, when the bladder is full, the large zippered pocket can only hold a few flat things. I use the bungees to attach a rain coat or another clothing layer, usually securing it with lightweight carabiners, too. Inside, there is one pocket for the 2L bladder, and another for your stuff. I keep my first aid kit there. There are also small bungees with hooks to attach your trekking poles to the pack, which I’ve done several times. They are definitely a little tricky to use while you’re wearing the pack, but it can be done! In short, I haven’t found any problems with this bag, and I’ve put quite a few miles on it.


My boyfriend gave me the Black Diamond Ion for Christmas. This is what got me through VT on my overnight hike several weeks ago. We started at 8:00 p.m. and finished around 9:00 a.m. and I changed the batteries once when I noticed they were getting a little dim, around 2:00 a.m.

I like the way it sits on my head, but for that particular hike, I threaded it off the headband and attached it to the chest strap of my hydration pack. I wear glasses, and since it was raining, I had to wear a hat to keep the water off my lenses. The lamp doesn’t point down at enough of an angle, and the brim would have been in the way, for me to wear it on top of my hat. That is the only complaint I had. I love that it has a red light option and that you can dim or brighten it. The battery pack can attach either to the back of the headband or get zipped into the shoulder/chest strap. I prefer the latter–I can’t tell it’s even there and it saves me from a sore neck. It was definitely bright enough out in the dark woods all night. I recommend it whole-heartedly for long runs or hikes in the dark, as long as the battery pack is not going to bother you.



This, my friends, is the pStyle (packaging). Ladies, just get one. It is hard plastic, open on the top, so easy to keep clean, simple to use, and such a lifesaver. Get it.

That’s all for now, even though there is some other gear I’m trying out (trekking poles and my beautiful, gorgeous, delicious new Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultra Light 2-person tent), but more on that once I have a chance to put those things through their paces.

I hope this is helpful! Happy hiking.


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