Gentian Pond Backpacking - Successes and Failures

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Submitted by damien on

Well, we did it! We completed our first summer family backpacking trip, and it was a tremendous success. Learning how to be comfortable for multiple days in the outdoors is a skill that takes patience and practice. This trip was good because it included both warm sunny weather and cold wet weather giving us the opportunity to test our gear in a variety of conditions without pushing us beyond our limits. We are always learning something new, and this trip was no exception. The following is a summary of some of the successes and failures we experienced on the trail:

  • Success - Kids baselayer underwear: We recently purchased Nike Pro sleeveless shirts and compression boxer-briefs for our oldest two children (they kicked-in some money of their own as well). Nike Pro base layers are made out of a light-weight Lycra fabric designed to be worn as either underwear or stand-alone athletic wear. The theory behind this purchase was multi-purpose: to keep them warmer and more comfortable in inclement weather, and to be worn alone in hot weather or as a bathing suit for splashing in rivers and lakes. The theory actually worked. The kids loved them and never took them off all weekend. In the cold rain they added more layers over top, in the heat they stripped the outer layers off, and after swimming they dried very quickly. The kids love them so much that they almost never take them off at home either.
  • Failure - Ray-Way backpack: Celine and I sewed her a backpack using a pattern and kit supplied by Ray Jardine. While she loved the backpack from a size, weight, and functionality standpoint, she hated the fit. It didn't take very long on the trail before she found the shoulder straps very uncomfortable. We tried taking the sternum strap off of my pack and putting it on hers, but that didn't help matters much either. I ended-up having to carry her pack for her for most of the trip. On the way back home we stopped-in to a local outfitters and had her try on a couple of different packs. She really liked the fit of the Golite Jam pack, so we will probably buy her one of those in a size small in the near future.
  • Success - Minimal footwear: Our whole family wore minimal footwear for the entire trip. I wore the Feelmax Niesas and brought my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs as backup (but didn't use them). Renee wore her FiveFinger KSOs, and the kids wore their Teva Protons. All of us wore wool socks. They all performed great on the trail.
  • Failure - Cilogear 45L Worksack: We purchased this pack for Renee early on this past winter for our winter camping trip to Camden Hills State Park. We had high hopes for this pack because it is very well designed and incredibly versatile. Unfortunately for Renee, the fit ended-up being problematic after an extended period of time. She had uncomfortable pressure points along the back of her hips which made it quite painful by the end of our trip. Looks like we will be on the hunt for a new pack for her as well. (Anyone interested in purchasing a barely used Cilogear 45L Worksack?)
  • Success - Injinji Outdoor socks: Both Renee and I use these socks for hiking. They fit well in both the FiveFingers and Feelmax shoes. Having separate toes, they prevent abrasion and blistering. Being constructed with wool, they dry quick, provide great temperature regulation, and thanks to the anti-bacterial properties keep the stink at a reasonable level.
  • Failure - Injinji Outdoor socks: Although these socks are great for hiking, they are not good for around camp. While having separate toes is of benefit while on the move, your toes are insulated from each other which makes it difficult to keep your feet warm when standing still. Plain-old wool socks worked much better for hanging out at camp in the cold and wet conditions we experienced.
  • Success - Rocky Gore-Tex socks: Wearing regular wool socks under a pair of Gore-Tex socks in my Feelmax shoes was a great combination for keeping my feet comfortable in camp shoes. My feet stayed dry and warm despite the 45 degree rainy weather.
  • Failure - Flip-flops: My daughter chose to bring flip-flops as her camp shoes. These did not work well because she couldn't wear warm socks with them on the cold/wet days.
  • Success - The route: The route we picked for our first backpacking trip was perfect. The distance, elevation gain, and destination all made for a very pleasurable first experience despite having a very rainy Saturday. Having a shelter nearby and meeting AT thru-hikers made-up for the fact that we had to hang around camp during the storm.
  • Failure - Tent platforms: Although not a complete failure, pitching the tent on the designated wooden platforms proved to be difficult. Our tent is not self supporting and relies on tent stakes to keep it erect. The wooden tent platforms do not allow for the use of tent stakes. I was completely unprepared for this and therefore had to get a little creative. I ended up having to use guy-lines attached to the stake-out loops so that I could use tent stakes in the ground surrounding the platform. The wooden platform did have steel hooks/eyelets screwed in at various points around the perimeter, but they were at all the wrong places making it difficult for me to be to attach to them. Needless to say, it took me a very long time to set-up the tent. I am going to have to figure out a better solution to this in the future, because I don't want to have to go through all of that hassle again. (Does anyone have any experience/advice/words of wisdom to offer?)





I love that you posted about successes and failures! It made the blog easy to read and gave me a good sense of the trip! Also, I've got some suggestions now for gear that I might purchase in the future! Yay!

Wow, what a great piece.

Wow, what a great piece. Really well presented and clear information for anyone planning a trip with their children. Even though you list success and failures the whole trip looks like a great big success.

Great post, clear, well written and enjoyable to read.

Frank (may link into your post if that is ok)

Camp shoes and tent platforms

For camp shoes, I have a $6 pair of croc knockoffs purchased at walmart. Light as a feather, toe coverage, heel strap for staying on, can wear socks for warmth, and the price is right. I like camp shoes that can also function well for river fordings. I had a pair of ultralight ultracheap teva knockoffs that strapped on tight and did a good job so I could keep my boots dry, but they have longs since fallen apart. I haven't tried the croc knockoffs for river crossings yet, but I think with a little modification they might work fine.

Tent platforms - I ran into the same issue on my 1996 AT thruhike. I ended up going to a hardware store and buying some small eyelet screws. I would place them in the platform where I needed them, and take them up when breaking camp. I kept them in a small plastic bag along with my tent stakes. I didn't like the idea of drilling additional holes into the platform, but didn't really see a better choice. I kept the screws small to minimize damage. When I could I would put them over the side on the vertical edge to save the platform surface. Often I could screw them in between the boards if the boards were close enough together, and then I did not have to make a hole. I'm not necessarily recommending this, but...

If the platform designers would give it more thought, they would incorporate some kind of cleats or inset tie-down features into the platforms to alleviate this issue.

CiloGear Pack

Glad to see great info for everyone to learn from. I was interested in the pack if you are still looking to sell it.

Email me, please.


Five Fingers and LEECHES

My husband loves his FiveFingers for running so he decided to wear them hiking here in Australia. We were in a wet sclerophyll forest and the land leeches LOVED the nice open mesh of the FiveFingers. He got attacked more than the rest of us put together.

We haven't tried backpacking with the kids yet... but they love car camping. I think my brother was 6 and I was 12 when my family did our first backpacking trip -- with old-fashioned frame packs, etc. I remember crossing a stream, tripping, and having the frame hit me in the back of the head and knock me into the water.

Your Daughters Pack

I do not know if you have purchased a pack for your daughter yet, but might I suggest an Osprey. I hiked a third of the PCT with my father when I was 12 and was outfitted with an Osprey. They make shoulder straps designed for women like no other company I have ever experienced. Dana did amazing packs, but still can't come close to the contour of an Osprey in my opinion. Secondly, they are sizable so she can purchase one and wear it most likely till she is almost 15-17. I am tiny. 5'2" if I try really hard and about 115 pounds, wet. They make packs for small people exceptionally.

My son's father was a buyer and pack outfitter for Neel's Gap on the AT and feels the same way about not only the company, but the contouring straps for women. It is an idea if you haven't purchased her one yet. They do day packs as well as larger thru-hike style packs.

Tent platforms

Firstly thanks for the great blog.

In Australia (yes another Aussie reader :) ) the tent platforms in Tasmania have nails horizontally in the sides every 4 inches or so. The boards are spaced about a inch apart. To set up your tent you just loop the tent tab (or small bit of cord) around the closest nail. It works very well and is used in areas that experience significant poor weather.

Hi Damien and Renee, Can I

Hi Damien and Renee,

Can I just say this is a great blog. Really loving it Google pulled me here when I was searching for a Shangri La 6. I think I may have seen Damien's posts about it on BPL too. It's great to see another family with kids doing some backpacking (bushwalking in Australian), although as Macsen just said, it looks more like snow walking.

Damien, one option for the tent platforms is, as you said, to run a cord all the way around. You can then use a prussik or klemheist hitch attached to your stake out loops to slide up and down the perimeter cord to adjust the tension easily. A triangular lineloc would probably also work.

Good to see the Jam's are working for your kids. I just bought a couple for our two, for their birthdays, and was hoping they'd be okay.

Regards, Rod


[...] trip in Brief: We went backpacking last weekend to Gentian Pond, here's a trip report from last year for more site specs. On Friday we hiked 3.5 miles up to the shelter and set up camp there. [...]

Instead of "Failure -

Instead of "Failure - Cilogear 45L Worksack" I think "Failure- getting a pack that is well fitted for me" would be a much more fair and accurate statement. Keep it real.