While there are endless blogs and gear reviews online, it is important to test all of your gear before embarking on a major endeavor like this. Since backpacking gear is often very unique and in a niche of its own, it also can be accompanied by a pretty steep learning curve. There are also cheap imitations of expensive items, which may or may not work the way they are intended. You also want to be comfortable on trail, so knowing what works best for YOU is important!
I had to figure out what combination of clothing layers kept me both warm AND dry in cold weather, since I will likely be facing wintery conditions in the mountains. Fortunately, Cleveland had no shortage of cold weather in November, January, and early February. The day after a major blizzard in January, I hiked with a full pack down the middle of the snow-filled street getting all kind of crazy looks from the neighborhood. I only wore what I plan to take on the trail: a beanie, a buff, gloves, a lightweight RailRiders shirt, a Sherpa pullover, a Brooks wind/rain jacket, my REI Sahara convertible pants and base layer leggings. I hiked many miles in this 17 degree weather to make sure that this combination was warm enough without making me sweat!
During that same blizzard, I set up my Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo tent in the back yard. There is definitely a learning curve to setting up that tent: It collapsed within an hour! I fixed it and waited, and it did not fall again. I took my full sleep kit out into the tent and set it up, then tried to sleep in my tent in the blizzard all night. I learned quite a few things: 1) Wind + my tent = loud flapping, which WILL wake you up. 2) My sleep kit is wonderfully toasty, and sleeping on snow is extra comfy. 3) The wind WILL blow snow into the vestibule of my tent (I assume also sand and other debris), so I should probably bring everything inside the tent. 4) Condensation from my breath accumulates on the interior surface of this tent quickly, and in this case, completely froze. 5) Despite being a 3-season tent, it held up under heavy snow. It sagged significantly but never collapsed after I fixed my poor initial setup. We ended up getting over a foot of snow that night, with drifts around 4’ in many places. I am eager to set up this tent in less treacherous conditions to see how I can further improve my setup technique.
I just got my new Xero Shoes, a minimalist shoes that is similar to walking barefoot. I can’t wait to try these out and see how my body reacts to them. I am also still waiting for my Waymark Gear pack, which has a 6-8 week lead time since it is custom-sewn. The last thing I need to test is my electronics setup. My phone, camera, external battery back and charging cord need to work together not only to hold the maximum charge possible, but to charge quickly if I choose not to stay in a town overnight. I also need to know how many charges I can get from the battery and how cold weather affects them all.
Good thing I still have almost 3 months to test things out!