Thursday, February 25, 2021

This blog is not necessarily directed at older backpackers like myself. It can apply to anyone, at any age. At 71 I am less bulletproof than I was fifty years ago, but I still find I can get up at dark-thirty and walk until sunset without too much discomfort. This comes from a constant effort to stay healthy, stay in hiking shape, pinpoint problem areas and work on them, and embrace common sense, lightweight backpacking methods, and gear. My biggest problem over the years has been a nagging pain on my left side, upper trapezoid muscle. Occasionally, it feels like a hot poker branded into my shoulder blade. I can relieve it in a matter of seconds by stopping, dropping my pack, and massaging the trigger-point. This lasts about an hour until I have to go through the whole process again. I’m not real big on doctors. I know I could spend a lot of money getting several medical opinions and sorting out the quacks from the real deal, but I decided to work on it myself using Dr. Google. I fix my car by watching YouTube, why not my body? I am not trying to impugn all doctors, but as I said, I’m 72, so I have had some experience with them. The old joke is “What do you call a doctor that finished last in his class in medical school? Answer: DOCTOR! Before I tell you what I discovered to solve my condition, let me give you an example of how going to a doctor may not be your solution. I took a bad fall when I was 43 doing something really stupid. I was hiking at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore. At a steep dune leading down to Lake Michigan, there was a sign that said, “480-foot drop, do not run down.” I ran down. Late that day I ended up in the emergency room, meeting doctor No. 1. Besides extreme pain, I explained to him that my collar bone was sticking out about an inch on my right side. Now, I admit I have never been to med school, but that seemed to me to be a good clue that something was off-kilter. Dr. No. 1 had them X-ray me, prescribed pain pills, and sent me home to suffer. The pain subsided in a week or two, but I had the weirdest symptoms. I had no strength in my right arm, I couldn’t lift anything over my head. Also, my shoulder blade would not stay in place, it would wing out instead of lying flat. It didn’t hurt so I let it go for a year or so. Enter Dr. No. 2. I eventually sought a second opinion because of the lack of strength in my right arm. I went to a specialist. He explained that I had a “winged scapula.” He also diagnosed me with “Long Thoracic Nerve Palsy.” He said, “It’s like a drunk that falls asleep with his arm over a chair all night. It kills the nerve. It may regenerate itself, or it may not.” He then took an X-ray and sent me on my way. Seven years after my fall, I was preparing to hike the Continental Divide Trail. I met a Chiropractor at a dinner party and he offered to sponsor my hike by giving my whole family 3 months of Chiropractic care. I showed up at his office the next day. I didn’t even get out of his lobby before he completely cured me. He asked if I had any particular issues. I said, “Ya, I have no strength in my right arm.” He cocked my arm up across my stomach, had me make a fist, stepped behind me, reached around, grabbed my fist, and adjusted me right there. I heard a pop and immediately had all the strength back in my right arm. He said my shoulder was out of joint. Which means my shoulder had been out of joint for seven years. So did Dr. No. 1&2 sleep through Shoulder Anatomy 101, or does M.D. stand for MisDiagnostics? The moral of the story is “save some money and go to Dr. Google. So how did I fix my burning upper trapezoid sensation? It took a few hours of sorting through YouTube quacks to pick out people who seemed to make sense in pinpointing my problem. As it turns out it wasn’t “Old Man Neck Arthritis.” It wasn’t misspent youth running down dunes. It turned out to be a very common problem that even young people suffer from, “Bad Posture.” I spent 25 years as a writer hunched over a keyboard. It was a silent invasion of discomfort that slowly changed the muscle memory in my neck and back. The good news is, it didn’t take 25 years to retrain those same muscles. I found dozens of simple exercises to stretch and strengthen those muscles. Once conscious of the problem the solution was easy. At an average base weight of 15 pounds, my pack with good food and water management seldom weighs over 25 pounds. Once I cured the upper trap burning sensation I could truly hike all day without stopping if I cared to. I am not suggesting you hike all day without a break, I am simply implying that getting to that point physically will make your backpacking so much more enjoyable. If you have gnawing little muscle or joint grievances, don’t ignore them, tackle them immediately. There is always an underlying reason for every pain. Often there will be a simple solution. —Keep Smilin’

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Pulling the Trigger on a New Tent


 Lightening a backpack should include methodology as much as material. At 71, I am as old as some of the rock layers you find at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. In the realm of backpacking, I come from the age of “canvas and canned goods.” They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but that is not true in my case. To extend my long-distance hiking years I have eased into the ideas of “Ultralight” to some degree. I’m a gear-head, gram-weenie, long-trail addict, that reads every new gear review and follows well-produced YouTube Channels. 


But, I’m a hard sell. I’ve spent too many nights in extreme conditions to fall for some false prophet on the internet who is tent reviewing in the backyard, or stove testing in the kitchen. 

As much as I appreciate many of the cottage industry products and designs that have enabled decent shelters to tip the scale under a pound, I haven’t been able to bring myself to pull the trigger and buy one.

I have been a long time Hilleberg fan. I have been using their products for the past twenty years. Most of that time using the Akto which tipped the scale at just under 4 lbs. Five years ago I switched to the Enan. Mine is one of the originals using 600 Kerlon. It comes in at 37 ounces the way I use it. That includes the outer tent, inner tent, 6 pegs, and center pole. There have been a couple of nights I wished I had the two-pole guy outs and pegs, but the tent survived the blow and kept me warm and dry without them.

Never say never. Being a hopeless gear-head, I can’t help myself from watching YouTube reviews of Dyneema tents. I like the Zpacks Altaplex. Tipping the scale at under 20 oz. it seems well designed. Experience is my problem. I have witnessed many trekking pole tents blown down along the PCT, while I slept through the whole wind event. To save a pound of tent carry I would give up double-wall warmth, zippered vestibule, low profile, and narrow footprint. I often stealth camp and would also give up my dark, forest green silnylon. A lot of new hikers do not realize how often and difficult it is to find a large enough tent site to park your gear for the night. 

In my case, I often hike until dark and deal with a limited choice of tent sites. A small tent footprint gives more options to late hikers. The zipper-less vestibule allows wind to penetrate the tent and cause it to fail. You can watch all the YouTubes you want, but you will not realize the power of wind until you spend all night a ripstop away from chaos. Any tent I carry will have zippered openings. 

Some would argue that there is little difference between a single and double-walled tent. I beg to differ. As crazy as it sounds, I can feel a huge temperature drop when I reach out into my vestibule in the middle of the night. I also notice a huge difference in being able to keep condensation at bay using a double-walled tent.  

At this point, water management will be a better way to save weight than buying a new $600 tent. That’s right, we are talking about a half-liter of water. That is the difference between my proven bomb shelter tent and one of the new Dyneema models floating around the backpacking world.

Recently, Tarptent has introduced a tent that seems to check all the boxes for me. There may just be a new tent in my future. It is called the Notch LI. It is almost a knockoff of my Enan using Dyneema and trekking poles instead of Kerlon and 9mm center pole.

It comes in at about 22 ounces, is double-walled, low profile, dual vestibule with waterproof zipper openings, small footprint, double-end ventilation, and easy setup. 

If you are looking for a more spacious tent there are better options. Personally, I eat, sleep, hike. I do not need a Taj Mahal when I stop for the day. 

So, the bottom line for me is the reliability of Dyneema. It seems like a very interesting material that I should experiment with before I pass any judgment through inexperience. I would guess that a Dyneema tent will not take the beating that my Hilleberg Kerlon has. 

The only problem I have had with tents in the past 60 years of backpacking have involved critters. Mostly guy lines chewed by rodents during the night. But, there have been other situations. I have had rodents chew the actual tent and pack material, I have had a bear stick his head through my closed zippered vestibule, and I have had raccoons claw and puncture my fly material. These are situations you cannot predict, but you can prepare for. 

No matter what shelter option you choose, be as careful as possible with site selection and carry a few repair items. My first night on the PCT I slept near an underpass about 24 miles up the trail. It was close to the road, but a little forested area with a soft duff ground cover. I thought it was the perfect tent site. In the middle of the night, I woke up and my NeoAir XLite pad was completely deflated. Beneath the soft forest duff was an ancient barbed wire fence hidden by time and debris. During the night it worked its way through my tent bathtub floor and into my pad, leaving an L-shaped gash in both. Carrying a bit of repair tape and patch material will solve these unforeseen circumstances and keep you making forward motion.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020



Food is a constantly evolving issue when deciding what to take on a long hike. Most hikers have to decide if they are going to send themselves resupply boxes, buy food along the trail, or a combination. 

From my experience, buying food on the fly takes much less forethought, but turns out to be much more expensive and less nutritious. 

I have hiked with many people who lived on total junk food for months and still successfully finished a trail. Food is only one cog in the wheel of thru-hiking success, but putting some thought into eating nutritiously will amplify your chances of staying healthy, and finishing strong.

My personal journey continues to push me into trying new varieties of food. I want nothing more complicated than adding hot water to a meal. I continue to experiment with “No-Cook” options. It has to be so appetizing that I look forward to eating. This may sound strange, but I have carried many meals in the past that were nothing more than fuel, entrees to be forced down, with little or no enjoyment. Those days are over. Everything that goes in my food bag today has earned its right to be there. 

When I say buying food on the fly is expensive, you might argue the point. Sending resupply is not cheap, but wait until you see the price of food along the trail in small convenience stores with few choices. 

Making a town stop is already busy enough. You want restaurant food, a room, a shower, laundry, gear repair and replacement, and probably beer. If you have to add shopping, it is just another chore you could to without. Plus, you will never find the same things you are used to eating. Every store and local will have different brands, selections, and pricing.

Filling a resupply box with exactly what you want and picking it up at the local post office is one-stop shopping at its best. Whatever you have paid for shipping has been more than paid for in content priced savings. Finding items at home in big box stores, especially on sale, beforehand is a huge saving. 

At this point, I only have one hot meal per day at the most. The majority of those meals are freeze-dried entrees. I constantly shop online and brick and mortar shops for bulk freeze-dried meals in #10 cans. These cans typically have a dozen single serving size meals in them. I also buy #10 cans of freeze-dried meat, vegetables, cheese, and fruit. Example of a typical dinner for me: A single serving portion from a freeze-dried entree can. To that, I would build a second portion using meat, veggies, and cheese from the additional cans. To that, I would add Nido powdered milk, spices, extra pasta or rice. I also freeze 1-ounce packets of olive oil to add to each meal. Just fill your ice cube tray with olive oil, each cube will be approximately an ounce. It freezes to the consistency of wet soap. This will allow you to vacuum seal the oil. Another method that has evolved for me is to make up the vacuum seal packets, add the olive oil and prop them up in the freezer. This method eliminates the messy step of placing each oil cube into a packet before sealing. It only takes a few minutes at room temperature for each packet to become liquid again. 

I am not big on “cold soaking” food. Most hikers tire of this method quickly. So before you plan a whole season around this food prep option, make sure you experiment plenty. 

A better option is to mix and match food and methods. Finding “No-Cook” favorites will save you time and fuel weight. 

You could never have convinced me I would love cold coffee before I hiked the PCT, but it turned into a routine I still look forward to today. Not a straight shot coffee, but a mixture. Before turning in at night I add a package of Carnation Instant Breakfast (Strawberry) and one packet of Starbucks VIA instant coffee to a one-litre bottle of water. In the morning it is cold and delicious. My hiking habits consist of getting up a half-hour before the sun and hiking into the dawn. When the sun pops over the horizon, I sit down and have a Poptart and drink my breakfast coffee. I then hike for another couple hours and eat breakfast, which consists of a Ziploc bag full of Bear Naked granola, freeze-dried blueberries, and Nido powdered milk. Add water and eat. Doesn't get much simpler than that. 

Snack during the day consist of tortillas with PB2 and bacon jerky or cheese and pepperoni or refried beans, Trader Joe dried mango, almond/M&M trail mix, Clif Bar, Propel, and string cheese. 

All these items come close to meeting the dense caloric mark of 100 calories per ounce. I only carry about a pound and a half of food per day. I more than makeup for the shortfall when I reach a town stop. Although I carry less food per day than many hikers, I am usually carrying more food than they are. How so? I do much fewer town stops than the average hiker. I town has to be very convenient to reach from the trail for me to give it any consideration. On the PCT, for example, many hikers would get resupplied at Kennedy Meadows, then Lone Pine, and some even Bishop. I resupplied at Lake Isabella, CA. and carried enough food to reach Mammoth Lakes. Everyone thought that was insane. But I thought hiking out over a pass and then a long hitch to town was insane. While they were expending all that energy to reach a resupply and BEER, I was making forward progress. Every day my food weight was dropping, I ate like a pig at VVR and ended up at Mammoth Lakes with food to spare. 

One mistake most new hikers make is carrying too much food. Your eyes will often be bigger than your stomach. You won’t starve to death if you run out of food occasionally. If you carry food that turns out to be unappealing, you won’t eat it. You will be carrying dead weight. You may be slower than anticipated and run short of food, or you may run into a lot of trail magic and have too much. Just concentrate on planning the best you can and everything else will fall into place. 

Put a lot of time and study into food prep, budgeting, and experimenting. It will pay off handsomely in the long run (hike).  

Sunday, December 27, 2020



These opinions are based on boiling 2 cups of water. I have never been a backcountry chef. My hiking style has always been high mileage days. I am always looking for the lightest, fastest, cheapest method of getting 2 cups of water to a boil in the late afternoon so that I can quickly refuel and continue hiking until dark. 

Over the past 50+ years, I have tried dozens of stoves. They come in all shapes, sizes and fuel types. Liquid fuels were always a pain, alcohol especially slow and inefficient. I loved my wood burning zip stove, but it had its drawbacks and now with fire season lasting most of the year, many jurisdictions have banned wood, alcohol, even solid fuel, open flame methods of cooking.

For me, it came down to a stripped-down jetboil stove/pot combo which weighs in at about 9 ounces or an Esbit Fuel Tab setup that weighs in at about 4 ounces. 

Again, I am only trying to boil 2 cups of water. I have been able to drop my fuel weight by changing my menu. I am not interested in “cold soaking” all the time and not carrying a stove at all. But, I have experimented with many tortilla combinations that are appetizing, easy, and require no water boiling. This stretches out the fuel I carry.

So let’s go over the pro and con features of these to methods. Many people will tell you that a 14g Esbit Fuel Tab will give you 15 minutes of flame and boil water at around the 8-minute mark. This is possible in ideal conditions, with the ideal stove/windscreen setup. If you watch enough YouTube videos you would be convinced this is a great method of boiling water with very little in the way of equipment. The problem is most of these boil test take place in someone's kitchen, garage or basement, not outside in a windy canyon, exposed ridgeline or beach. I found several reasons that were deal breakers with fuel tabs. First, they stink. Second, they are expensive. Even on sale, it would cost fifty to seventy cents every time you boil two cups of water. If you actually get the water to a true boil it is going to take an average of 10 minutes, and when you are done you will most likely have residue on the bottom of your pot to deal with.  

I really wanted fuel tabs to work for me, but there are just too many inconveniences. 

Butane is clean-burning, fast boiling, wind-resistant, quick and easy starting, cheap if you refill your used canisters, compact, stable and efficient. Buying a tiny refill adapter on eBay or Amazon you can add as much or as little fuel as you need for a particular trip. The stove/pot combination cools quickly. I can put it all away before I even cool my food enough to eat. The small 100g fuel canister nest into my pot with my stove. I can buy a butane refill canisters for two or three dollars which will refill two 100g canisters. A 100g canister will bring 42 cups of water to a full, rolling boil. For me, that is 21 hot meals. I often extend this measure because I don’t often need a full, roiling boil to add to my freeze-dried meals. With enough practice, you will become familiar enough with gas weight to fill only what you will need for a particular trip or trail section.

The refill canisters are readily available in most hardware and big-box stores. On long trails, I usually refill my 100g canister and then look for another empty canister to fill and leave in the hiker box for someone else. Even after giving one away, my fuel cost is half what it would be if I bought a new 100g canister in a trail town. 

If you compare needs to wants in the backpacking stove category it is hard to argue that any other water boiling method is superior to a gas canister stove. 


100g gas canister 7 ounces, empty approx. 2 ounces, fuel 5 ounces.

Capability: Twenty-one, 2-cup rolling boils in most conditions.

14g Esbit Tabs 1/2 ounce each. Equivalent to gas weight would be 14 fuel tabs. This equals fourteen, 2-cup boils in ideal conditions, with ideal tab stove setup. 

For me, NO CONTEST! 

Besides heating 7 cups more for the same weight, gas is ten times cheaper. If you refill your own canisters your cost would be seven cents per 2-cup boil at the most. I look for sales on refill canisters and my cost is less than five cents. Even if you find a fuel tab sale, you will be spending fifty cents for less efficiency and more hassle. 


Friday, November 1, 2019

 FREE on Amazon 
 Starting MARCH 8th thru MARCH 12th

    This book is written with the thru-hiker in mind. It might help those interested in a leisurely weekend backpacking trip, but it is meant to be a mental checklist of hundreds of considerations when contemplating a thru-hike. 

    This thru-hiking handbook is not designed to give you all the answers, but to prompt you to ask all the right questions, help you imagine the effort a journey on foot demands, and consider gear choices.

    There is not one size fits all in thru-hiking. I have tried to craft a checklist of things you should consider when contemplating a thru-hike. The conclusions you come to will ultimately be your own. This tome is meant to introduce you to all the questions you need to ask. 

    I have included 100s of ideas, considerations, tips, and personal experiences that will give you some insight into tackling a long trail. 

Spending a few months traipsing through the wilderness will probably be life-altering, but you will have more blisters than epiphanies. The only way you are going to discover what it is really like along the worlds great trails, on a day-to-day basis, is to put boots on the ground—or trail runners.
    The information in this book will not prevent you from prematurely quitting a month’s long thru-hike, but it will help you understand the challenge so that you can approach this adventure realistically. 
Some long trails will still allow you to get away from it all, but the popular trails today will have you hiking in bubbles of backpackers. You will find yourself in a slow-moving current of people. No matter how hard you try to keep to yourself, a thru-hike will become a social adventure. It’s a great way to escape the mundane, switch gears in your life, or simply challenge yourself. 
    I have tried to condense my thru-hiking thoughts into short bits of information that will tease readers into imagining themselves in each situation and entice them to think their way through.
    You will find no clear picture here, but perhaps it will help you focus on what is important, for you personally, to complete a successful thru-hike.
Fully immersing yourself into the wilderness is not a Thoreau prose experience for the majority of thru-hikers. If you are considering a thru-hike and picture yourself cross-legged in transcendental meditation on a ledge overlooking a spiritual sunset—great. I hope this happens for you. But unless you learn to deal with simple trail day realities, you won’t make it to sunset.
    I hope the following information helps you dissect the intricacies of pulling off your dream. See you on the trail. 
                                 —Keep Smilin’, Packtoter

Friday, November 2, 2018

Hilleberg Enan Review

This month Backpacker Magazine kind of published a review I wrote on my Hilleberg Enan backpacking tent. I say kinda because once a publisher edits a piece down to a paragraph or two, what survives are a couple of original thoughts and a few things you never said. So here is a more indepth look at my tent for those who may be interested. 

The Enan is not the only tent that interests me, or that I would consider owning and carrying. I like innovation and I love the shelters and designs coming out of Zpacks. But when I think of overall performance to meet the extreme weather I often have to deal with, I could not find a better choice than the Hilleberg Enan. 
When you make a buying decision you really have to decide how you are going to use your tent. If I knew I would never have to deal with severe wind conditions I would probably haul a Zpacks Duplex. But after talking to dozens of thru-hikers on the PCT this summer, I know that in severe wind they just are not reliable no matter how well they are pegged out. 

PCT March 2018
The Enan has gotten me through a few nights when the wind was clocking in at 60+ m.p.h. I don't think Backpacker believed me because they reduced my wind speed down to 40, although I know they were not there with me. I am not talking about gusts, I mean wind that was flattening my center pole down on my legs most of the night. This was partly my fault, I removed the two center pole guy lines to save weight. With them the tent would have held its shape much better. Without them it still stood the test and kept me safe and dry all night. That wind was proof that this tent is Bombproof. Let me tell you some other pluses this tent holds for me and things you might want to consider in your buying decision.

Thru-hiking, I often walk until dark then find a small hidey hole to spend the night. As odd as it may seem in the big, wild, open spaces of our long trails, it is often hard to find a flat, debris free place to set up a tent. The nice thing about the Enan is the small amount of real estate it takes up. This opens up many tent site options that larger footprints will have to pass on.  
Think about setting up your tent in adverse conditions. This will happen often. Even in a wind storm I can pitch the Enan quickly and efficiently. The inner tent is hooked into the fly. I never separate them, although it is easy if you have a need. I snap the center pole together, unroll the tent, insert the pole, stake out one end, stretch the tent out and stake the opposite end. Basically, I'm done. Four more stakes stretch the ends wider, and two more sturdy the center pole if you use them. This insures the inner tent is tight, and guarantees all the room the tent was designed to offer.
Two large screened vents on each end give it great circulation and cut down on condensation. Condensation is a given in many weather conditions. Anything that helps alleviate moisture through better ventilation is a plus.  
Hilleberg would consider this a 3-season tent, but I would argue after my testing it would fit into the 4-season category.
Enan is a one person solo tent with just enough headroom in the middle to sit up. It has an equal amount of real estate in the vestibule for gear, but not something to spend a lot of time in.
If you spend a lot of time in your shelter you would be better off with a larger tent made of material which would allow much more outside light in. For stealth camping I prefer a color that blends into my surroundings.
Quality workmanship: I used a Hilleberg Akto for 17 years and sold it in like-new condition. I expect the same from the Enan. I have had to send the Enan back to Hilleberg one time for a rip repair at a seam point when it was new. I think this was a construction flaw that has given me no issues since. I also put a couple barbed wire points through the floor the first night I used it--Murphy's Law. But a piece of Gorilla tape patched it perfectly. 
Where both tents shine is in build quality. I don't think you can find a better made tent. You're paying for sewing detail, fabric choice and metal fasteners. That adds up to years of use compared to a few seasons or one thru-hike. 
This tent dries very quickly with a bit of wind or a short period of sun. I would often pack it up at dark-thirty with rain, frost or ice still clinging to the tent. If I found a short burst of dry weather during the day, I could pitch the tent quickly and let it completely dry out during a snack break.

Drying gear during a sunny lunch break
Enan has a lot more wind action because of its lightness, but still performs flawlessly, keeping the weather madness, just a ripstop nylon away, at bay.
The Enan packs up very small. I carry it in my water bottle pouch on the outside of my pack. I use a piece of Tyvek 1443R for a ground cloth. I wrap the tent in the Tyvek, slip it into the carry bag, then strap it into the bottle pouch. The Tyvek protects the tent from catching any passing vegetation and ripping. Carrying the tent on the outside of my pack enables me to completely pack everything else up while still protected inside. When I step out of the tent, in inclement weather, I only have to deal with quickly tearing down the tent and stuffing it into my side water bottle pouch. 

Does your tent have a tag with the name of the person who sewed it together? You might laugh, but that pride in workmanship is one reason a Hilleberg becomes a life-long piece of gear.
Both Akto and Enan tents use the same sturdy 9mm center pole. Enan also uses two less stakes to strike the same tent footprint.
The fabric is amazingly tough for its super light weight. 
I consider the weather worthiness of this tent to be cheap insurance when I compare it to other lighter weight options. It is not until you have to deal with constant wet cold conditions that you truly come to appreciate the protection a product like this offers.

The outer tent strikes tight to the ground. Even during windy snow conditions I have no snow in the vestibule.
The vestibule zips closed tightly compared to competitors that snap or button closed. The zipper is two way which allows opening top down, allowing more ventilation in good weather. If opened during rain, water would only drop into the vestibule area.
On the PCT I had a blonde, black bear, stick his head inside my tent. The fly was completely zipped. The zipper is very taut at the pole location. The bear pushed against the zipper and ripped it open. I woke up nose to nose with this bruin, just a bug screen away. Black bears are like black labs, all they think about is food, and if you yell at them you hurt their feelings. This bear ran off as soon as I screamed in wakeful shock. At first I was really upset thinking that furball ruined my tent, but as it turned out I just zipped it up and down, the zipper came back together, and it was all good. I turned over and went back to sleep. 
The inner tent has two-way zippers on the bug netting opening. 
The outer tent opening is designed to be rolled up and fastened open with elastic strap and toggle. It's comfortable to sit under the vestibule opening to cook and eat, and the area will accommodate a full size pack and boots.

The tent guy lines stay amazingly untangled. Adjustable tensioners make it a simple task to tighten all the angles. I really appreciate the metal stake rings and zippers. I believe whatever extra weight this may create makes this tent a bit more bullet-proof than competitive products with plastic fasteners.
The inner tent can be easily removed, although I never do this. For those that want to use only the fly, it takes just a minute to unfasten the inner tent from the fly. Mesh pockets make for easy access to small gear you want at hand.
The tent is not free standing, but I have yet to find this a problem in almost two decades of use and many long trails.

The design of these two tents is a tight outer tent fly with the inner tent suspended inside. In a wind-driven rain, the two shells can eventually stick together as condensation accumulates and the wind slaps the material against each other. Moisture is still directed down to the outside of the tent leaving the sleeping space as dry as can be expected in severe conditions. 
The tough, double coated, urethane bathtub floor, is durable without a footprint, but I prefer to protect my investment and keep my tent clean with a light-weight footprint.

I used the Enan during the winter on the Arizona Trail and on the first 650 miles of the PCT during the month of March. Severe drought in California during the winter season of 2018 turned quickly into what they call a "March Miracle." The Pineapple Express brought subtropical atmospheric rivers through California during the whole month. Below normal temperatures turned much of it into snow and sleet. Those who thought this would be a great year to start the PCT early, like myself, were sorely disappointed and would label this event not as Miracle, but Madness. Many people who carried less than adequate shelters dropped out very early. In my case, I was able to test the weather worthiness of my Hilleberg Enan striking it in snow, cold, driving rain, and heavy wind. In these conditions you are never going to be completely dry and comfortable, but this tent is as close as I have found to adequately keeping the elements at bay.

The time and method of setting a tent up and tearing it down doesn't get a lot of thought at point of purchase, but wait until the sky is falling, or your hands are frozen at dark thirty in the morning, and you want to get moving and stoke your internal combustion circulatory system. My system becomes muscle memory. Pull the stakes and center pole, start at one end and roll the tent and guy lines up as tight as possible, not worrying about dirt, snow or moisture. Roll the tent into the ground cloth, again as tight as possible. Slip it into the stuff sack along with the poles and stakes in their own sacks. When setting up, the tent unrolls the same way with all the hardware at hand. With practice this can be done in three to five minutes.

Recap and Repeat:
As the Akto and Enan tents are so similar, let me start with what I like about both models, and what I look for when making a buying decision on any backpacking tent. Some of these traits will be subtle points many first-time buyers never consider. 

Small Footprint: If you do a lot of stealth camping (stopping for the night wherever you end up), you realize quickly that you often lack the real estate you need to guarantee a level night's sleeping. The small footprint of each of these tents gives ample options to squeeze into tight vegetation.

Easy setup:  I have deployed and packed these two in severe wind, snow and rain. Both are quick and simple. I never separate the tent from the fly. In a storm I simply pull out the tent, insert the center pole, peg out each end and the tent is secure enough to then take my time stretching the sides out with the remaining pegs. This insures the inner tent is tight and guarantees all the room the tent is designed to offer.

Investment: If you think of a tent purchase as a long-term investment you will depreciate these models over many more years than a less quality brand. Both tents have the name of the person that assembled and sewed them as proof of pride in workmanship. Where both tents shine is in build quality. I don't think you can find a better made tent. You're paying for sewing detail, fabric choice and lasting hardware. That adds up to years of use, compared to a few seasons, or one thru-hike. 

Protection: I consider the weather worthiness of a tent to be cheap insurance when I compare it to other lighter weight or cheaper options. It is not until you have to deal with extreme weather conditions that you truly come to appreciate the protection a product like this offers.
When both tents are set up the outer tent is tight to the ground. Even during windy snow conditions the vestibule stays well-sealed from the chaos just a ripstop away.
Vestibule zips closed tightly compared to competitors that snap or button down. Zippers are two way which also allows opening top down, allowing more ventilation in good weather. If opened during rain, water only drops into the vestibule area.

So, is there a downside to either the Akto or Enan? In my opinion there is not. The lighter Enan offers the same amount of weather protection, but does yield a bit more to wind. The slight difference in wind performance can be almost eliminated by taking care to pitch the tent straight and taut. Will the lighter material hold up as well as the Akto? Only time will tell. I have put a 1000 miles on this tent in harsh Arizona desert conditions where Edward Abby reminds us that everything either “bites, stabs, sticks, stings or stinks.” I have also used it for the first 1500 miles of the PCT, half of that during the wet, 2018 "March Miracle." 
What first draws attention is the fact that the Enan has all the qualities of its heavier predecessor with incredible weight savings. Hilleberg was able to accomplish this by using a much lighter Kerlon material. They also re-configured the footprint, eliminating two pegs, and using less material without sacrificing the design's utility. This new configuration also added more ventilation.
The Enan is lighter, packs smaller, has improved ventilation, two less stakes to deal with, and a slightly smaller footprint. When dealing with wind-driven rain, snow, sleet and cold temps, I found the Enan to be just as reliable and weather-resistant as the Akto. 
Bottomline-- in my experience the only thing you lose from switching from a Hilleberg Akto to a Hilleberg Enan is weight.  --Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

Tuesday, August 14, 2018


I have tried to become what some would consider a light-weight backpacker.  Coming from the age of canvas and can goods, everything today is lighter, more weatherproof, and convenient. My wife has even learned the term, "gram weenie." 
In my opinion this light-weight consciousness began with Ray Jardine, known as the guru of ultra-lightweight backpacking. I read his book and thought, "this guys a nutcase." But, in the end, his ideas prevailed. Not completely. I am never going to eat cold corn pasta for every meal for months on end, but his thoughts on minimal gear and lighter gear have finally seeped into my backpacking style, methods, and equipment. New technologies and fabrics have played an important part and the marketplace has embraced them. 
I tend to buy and carry gear that has other elements important to me besides weight. I find weather resistance, quality and craftsmanship just as important. I want materials that will last for miles and years of trail abuse. I cannot bring myself to spend more money to save 9 ounces on gear that won't last one thru-hike. To me gear is an investment and has some insurance value. I don't want to compromise security by trading my bomb shelter tent for a lighter model that won't last the night in a severe wind storm, or develop damaged areas after little use.

The actual point of this article is not to bash flimsy new light-weight gear, it is actually to dispel the fact that light-weight alone will make you do bigger miles. What I discovered on the PCT this year is that light-weight does not always equate to speed and distance differences. It will certainly allow you to move more fluidly, but that is not the point. Hiking habits and methods are an equal part of doing big mile days on a thru-hike. If that is your goal you should first concentrate on conditioning, mentally and physically, then gear weight, and most importantly hiking habits. 
What many inexperienced backpackers do not realize is that ultra light-weight goals have a discomfort factor. When you get to the sub-12 lb. range you start giving up creature comforts and the misery factor increases. As an example, you often have to trim ounces in the sleeping pad department or shelter. This can lead to poor sleep, which will eventually lead to poor hiking performance.

What I observed while hiking the PCT made clear performance is not just about gear. After looking around, and talking to a lot of other hikers, I realized I was in the middle of the pack as far as weight. With micro spikes and a bear canister I was at around 16 pounds base weight, but I was also carrying 250 miles of high calorie food from resupply to resupply. No one else was doing that, but I skipped many of the resupply stops where others would take a zero day.

I moved much slower, especially after a resupply, carrying another 16 pounds of food. I just listen to my body and move at whatever pace it demands. What I don't do is stop a lot, and when I do it is less than five minutes. I am still light enough so that the weight on my back is not screaming for me to stop and rest all the time. Meal stops are short and efficient and last no longer than 15 minutes. Mentally I can hike from dawn to dusk, day after day, without becoming bored or dwelling on introspection. It's amazing how many hikers talk themselves off the trail because they haven't discovered a satisfactory reason to continue a daily routine of eat, sleep, walk. 

I soon noticed that everyone passing me and quickly moving out of sight did so several times a day. I would get to know them "in passing" you might say. I discovered the reason was hiking style. They took long rest periods, I didn't. 
They slept later in the morning, I was up at dark-thirty. I find early morning the most pleasurable time of the day to hike, especially on days that reach triple digit temps.
They filter water, I never have. I'm not suggesting you don't. It is a personal choice. I am just pointing out a time consuming chore I find unnecessary. 
They take their shoes off at water crossings, I slog right thru, preferring to leave my boots on.
They stop earlier in the evening, I usually hike until the sun begins to disappear and then find a small, flat, hidey-hole to spend the night. 
Carrying what most considered a crazy amount of food allowed me to stay on trail when most had to make a pit stop for supplies. 

I realized that I was the turtle and they were the hares. After a week or so I would find myself moved into a new pack of people I was leap frogging with. The last group of faster and lighter hikers were behind me several miles and I would often never see them again. This transition happened several times.

In base weight I am only a few pounds heavier than what would be considered ultra-light. But personally I find my pack weight very comfortable, and as I slowly move into lighter gear, I find myself adding another layer of comfort. As an example, I added a small Sea to Summit inflatable pillow during my PCT hike. I have never slept better while hiking and I have to think it was because of this 2 oz. addition that packs up the size of a golf ball. 

So from my perspective and base weight, light weight does not equate to discomfort and misery. My pack is the 4200 cu in/68 L volume ULA Circuit. It weighs 41 ounces. The company recommends a maximum load of 35 lbs. and a base weight of 15 pounds or less. I have often exceeded both these recommendations on long trips. I often carry two weeks worth of food and this pack features a roll top extension that allows me to add and subtract load capacity.  
I have a Thermarest NeoAir Xlite (12 oz.) sleeping pad that is full length (72 in.) and is more comfortable than my mattress at home. 
My tent is a Hilleberg Enan (2 lbs. 5 oz.) It is a one man, double-wall tent that can withstand a 60 m.p.h. wind.
I carry a Jetboil stove, although I am experimenting with cold meals. On the PCT this year I ate cold breakfasts everyday and actually looked forward to it. I boiled water for dinner, but during hot spells a cold wrap would have had more appeal. When I study forums for no-cook ideas most do not sound appetizing. I am thinking outside the box and designing meals that not only appeal to me cold, but will be easy to pack, hydrate and assemble.
I have switched to a warmer sleeping bag, but was actually able to drop weight buying a Zpacks 5 degree bag that hits the scale at only 24 oz. It is much easier to let heat out in warm weather than to create and keep it during cold weather.

I find it very interesting how people come to their gear decisions. I asked many hikers that were cowboy camping this year how it was working out for them. The weather was extremely dry so moisture was not a problem. Most admitted they were miserable in the Sierra as the mosquitoes were relentless. I was always happy to zip myself into my tent and not give the little suckers another thought.

Closed cell foam pads seemed popular, but I have no idea why. They are only a few ounces lighter than a NeoAir. I don't think it is price. They are a third the cost, but these are hikers carrying $400 packs and $600 tents. They are going to have to take "my" NeoAir from my cold, dead hand.

So I can still out-distance hikers 40 years younger, that are carrying less weight, it just takes the determination to stick to a routine of hiking habits that turn into consistent mileage.
—Keep Smilin’, Dick E. Bird