The Damascus, VA Trail Days was last weekend. It is timed to hit the majority of AT thru-hikers, although many of them hitch (yellow blaze) north or south to participate in the festivities. It was a great time to meet lots of friendly people and see some of the leading UL equipment. There was too much for me to take in and remember, so I hope there are other BPL members or gear suppliers that can fill in the bits I missed. I encourage anyone on the east coast to experience it next year if you haven't done it before.
It was great to meet Mike Martin & Joel Walthall. They did a great job with the UL presentation & hands-on hike that was done! I'm looking forward to using my collapsible Ti BPL spoon, which they gave away to hike participants. Next year they should bring out more of the cutting edge BPL and BMW items so the thru-hikers and others can get a shot at them. However, following the presentation most of the audience followed Mike & Joel outside to sample the Cocoon jacket, DriDucks, Torsolite, and other items that they brought for show-and-tell.
This year the UL hike was much more hands-on with participants helping set up a various shelters and cooking up some hot chocolate. There were lots of questions from people at various stages of evolution in their pack weight. Everyone really enjoyed it and there was a very good discussion.
Trail Days really has become a gathering of cottage suppliers for UL backpacking equipment. GoLite was the one common name in UL that was missing this year. They had gotten lots of attention in previous years, and sponsored or co-sponsored the UL hike so it was a shame not to see them this year. And if Henry Shires from TarpTent had been there, it really would have been the Who's Who of UL backpacking (as Mike had mentioned to me).
I don't know if Ron Bell convinced Tom Hennessy to start sleeping on the ground again, but it was great to see all of the UL suppliers talking with one another. Are we going to see a cuben Hennessy Hammock soon???? Can you imagine what these guys could come up with together?
Ron had tons of fantastic equipment there. I didn't think I could sneak much more than a new book, video, and GG hip belt pouch into my house without my wife catching me or else I would have spent some money at MLD. Ron had his new Ark Pack and several cuben versions of his packs, along his his various shelters.
The other (or original) Ron also was showing off his new cuben Refuge, along his other shelters. The amount of really nice shelters that were <3 years old at this show was really impressive. Ron Moak has been traveling all of the way from Oregon to Trail Days for years. The first time I saw one of his silnylon packs, I thought you'd have to be crazy to take a chance on such a flimsy thing. Then I started reading more about these companies and their UL approach, and very quickly became convinced it was the way to go.
Grant and others from Gossamer Gear looked like they were doing lots of business. As I have downsized, my Mariposa is now too cavernous, and I have been thinking about GG's Miniposa. However, it was probably good that they didn't have a small size of their Miniposa. Even though it packs down very small, it would defintely stand out to my wife on the monthly credit card statement. Of course, they had "The One" shelter there for people to inspect. Looks like another great offering. These are great people to work with, and they were very willing to answer all of my questions.
Lee from Trail Designs was displaying their Caldera Cone, including the Ti version ($85 for the set and ~$65 for the Ti Cone alone). The Caldera Cone is my main cook system now. I see that there is a new BPL forum thread about how to store the cone. Glad that Lee could tear himself away from his ideal home in Yosemite and come to VA.
Tin Man from Antigravity Gear seems to be working with lots of other small manufacturers (Enertia, Caldera Cone, and others). Tin Man has done nice job offering affordable cooking systems and accesories. My favorite dehydrated meals are from Enertia Trail Foods (their Moosilauke Goulash is really tasty) http://www.trailfoods.com/
Paul Fitzner from Etowah Gear led a nice discusion about how far to take UL before running into problems. The audience was a bit more conservative than the BPL group. I would have chimed in some, but I enjoyed the previous late night's drum circle a little too much to spark me to engage the crowd. I had a nice chat with Paul at his repair booth by Tent City. He was literally burning the midnight oil sewing for someone. I had seen his company's name around, but hadn't realized how long he has been a lightweight proponent.
I liked Paul's labeling that he used on his gear. Notice the label in the bottom right of the photo.
There were four hammock manufacturers at the event this year. The photos at the end of this report show just how many hammock hangers there are here in the east where sloped hillside, lots of undergrowth, and rocks make hammock camping an attractive alternative. Tom Hennessy has become a Trail Days standard, with more converts every year. I have enjoyed mine for several years.
Ed Speers is another leading hammock enthusiast. He has a very well written book about hammock camping, sells hammocks, accessories, kits, and leads a hammock forum. Another person that really gives back to his fellow enthusiasts.
The two Jacks were also back again. I don't have to talk much about their well reviewed quilts. They also had their relatively new Bear Bridge Hammock and fully enclosed fly. Maybe they will be kind enough to add some comments about that since I know they monitor BPL.
ENO Has been going to Trail Days I think as long as I have. However, they seem more like recreational hammocks than other backpacking versions.
Bob Molen from Big Sky had several tents out for display. I know Carol had a good discussion with him on one of BPL's podcasts, and it sounds like he has worked out his delivery issues. I believe that he has stopped selling some of his models, but among others he was showing his new Summit Evolution 1 person model, which looked good.
Although Vargo had a booth, I didn't see Brian. His products are some of the few that I routinely see in chain retail stores. They had a new Ti pot, a bit of a larger version of the Sierra Cup for cooking. I just cheked out his website, and I didn't realize that he marketed so many other products.
Cedar Tree is another local fellow, and probably had the shortest distance to travel. He has a unique poncho (the Packa), along with other items...check out his site. I got some rain mitts from him.
Although Backpacker gets some bad press on this site, they really support the Thru-hikers every year at Trail Days. The nice couple (Sheri & Randy) that tours around the country for Backpacker gave away an amazing amount of gear to festival goers.
As always, the traditional gear manufacturers were there to help out hikers by repairing gear at no charge. It included MSR, Leki, Snow Peak, Etowah, Mountain Hardwear, Osprey, Granite Gear, Big Agnes, and others. Kudos to them.
Besides the gear, there were also videos and books for those of us that live vicariously through others. I was not disappopinted by Mark Flagler's new video about the CDT, titled "Walking the Great Divide." The scenery in his video was fantastic. He hiked much of the trail himself, while also including hiker interviews, and information about the trail. I saw the viewing, but am looking forward to watching it again on my next plane trip.
I wasn't aware of Appalachian Pages before, but they have lots of great book & video titles. I plan to get "AWOL on the Appalachian Trail" from David Miller's website since I didn't have much cash with me at the time. Jan Liteshoe and Mike (Lion King) Daniel were also there with their DVD's (Walking With...) and book (The Ordinary Adventurer), respectively. http://appalachianpages.com/?s=ea09db5dc8df619aa44eb375d8fddd61&
There were also several hiking societies represented ATC, ALDHA, Mountain to Seas, etc.
The shelter mice were big at the ATC booth.
Trail Journals is the ultimate website for vicarious living with journals, photos, gear lists, etc. Who would have guessed that there were so many long trails to hike (within and outside the US).
And of course, the real reason for Trail Days...the hikers (thru, section, or reluctanct types). I'm not sure how many of the particiapnts at Trail Days are actual thru or section hikers versus hikers from previous years or just hanger-oners like me. The rain stayed away (mostly) this year so there was no mud or flooded tents in "Tent City."
Billville was located in the large tent shown below. They had their annual Useless Gear Competition, which is always entertaining.
There are more and more hammocks hanging back in the trees and along the river. When it's hot and rainy, you can really see the advantages of hammocks.