Now, I said I was going to do a post on lessons learned, and I started it, but the gear you need took up so much of it that it actually seemed to merit a whole post of its own.
Now, you can do a rogaine in whatever you feel comfortable in, really, but, as I have learned with most things, when you want to get more competitive, or get more out of your sport, gear makes all the difference in the world. And the rogaine last weekend brought that point to a big head for us.
You see, Mat and I came out crushed, broken, sore, blistered, scratched…
Yeah, nah, she came out on top of the world. The start of a blister on one foot – after 15 hours of walking. A sore knee – the one that always gets her by the end of a big bush walk. She was essentially fine – and it had a LOT to do with her gear (never mind her experience on top of it – that’s another post).
Let’s compare, shall we?
Ella’s gear on the left, Mat’s on the right…
And my gear…
Let’s start at the bottom – the essential difference:
E was wearing hiking shoes. Shoes that are made to be supportive over long distances, avoid blisters, laces that are designed to not get caught on every twig or bramble, and that keep the feet quite dry.
Mat was wearing his steel toe work boots. How he didn’t get blisters is well beyond me, but he did get tired and sore feet and legs. Those shoes weigh a ton! Though they are relatively supportive for standing on concrete for long periods, they aren’t designed as a walking shoe. Having to lug around that extra weight was in no small part responsible for his sore legs.
I was wearing a pair of running shoes that I had debated wearing in the first place. These are my preferred outdoor running shoes. Of course, I don’t run 40+km in a month, let alone in a weekend, so it turns out they weren’t supportive enough. More importantly though, once my feet started to swell (as they will when you tromp along on them for hours on end) they didn’t offer enough room for my feet to move in. Most of my blisters were actually a result of toe-to-toe rubbing, not toe to shoe rubbing. Because of that running shoe ‘pointed toe’ business, the toes were just compressed together. Otherwise, the fit was good, they just needed to be a little more open at the toe.
Another big problem with them is that they let in every bit of dust and debris, thanks to their ‘light breathable upper’. This breathable upper is great when you have hot sweaty feet running along bitumen, but sadly, all it did was let a load of dirt into my shoes, which further irritated my blisters. And that light and breathable upper certainly wouldn’t keep my feet dry should we have hit wet weather. Wet, squished, sore, blistered feet… not my idea of a party!
Mat and I both agreed that if we want to get more competitive at this game, that good quality, nice fitting, purpose made hiking shoes will be our top priority purchase.
I was surprised to learn that E’s pants were 10 years old, and have been on every trip, every hike, every rogaine she’s ever done. And there’s not a blemish on them! These pants are long enough to cover the tops of her shoes, keeping ‘gunk’ out, are fast drying, and she had almost no scratches on her legs at the end of the hike, where I looked like I had been attacked by 20 feral cats. My legs from the knees down were scratched so bad it stung to wash them, and I couldn’t shave my legs for two days!
Mat’s work pants weren’t too bad, being a fairly robust cotton-twill fabric, and a good length. But they would be awful to wear in wet weather, and they don’t have many pockets. E’s pants have a zillion wicked little pockets and places to hang things off of. So handy.
I was wearing track pants. I ended up getting a nice hole in the back of one leg from catching on something, the scraped legs, and I had absolutely NO pockets. This was most inconvenient. It would have been nice to be able to tuck my camera in to a pocket.
E sent me a link to a big outdoor supplier sale online. I bought pants like hers. I’d be happy to get 5 years out of them, let alone 10!
You really need a day pack that is appropriately sized and has a hydration pack built in.
Mat and I actually both have nice little day packs with a camel back in them, but one of them leaked and the bag got soaked, so he swapped up to his regular larger backpack. The larger backpack was better in some ways – more carrying capacity – so he took my rain jacket for me, but it wasn’t as comfortable, he couldn’t reach a drink without stopping to take the pack off, or asking me to pull out a water bottle. The zippers were also aging and broken. Not the best gear. Another problem with his pack is that it made his back incredibly sweaty. There was no breathing under it.
Ideally, you want a bag that’s a size that comfortably carries everything you need, without being too heavy. My pack, though pretty awesome in most respects, is a tiny bit too small for a rogaine, because I can’t put my rain coat in it. (Maybe I need a smaller rain coat?)
Lots of pockets are good, rather than one cavernous hole in which to lose everything you put in there!
And there are plenty of backpacks out there with a way of lifting the pack off your body to allow you to cool off and not end up drenched in sweat down your back. A cold wet back when you take your pack off is a great way to catch a chill and cramp up.
I think the most important thing though, is that it not chafe. A good fitting pack is really important. You don’t want anything to rub, sit too low, or be too wide. If I had worn the backpack that Mat was wearing I would have been chaffed all around my shoulders/armpits because the straps sit too wide and there’s no chest strap to adjust the fit to draw the straps off that part of the body. Trust me, chafing sucks!!
If you’re buying a backpack, try it on like you would any other piece of clothing. Put stuff in it, move around in it, adjust it, and make sure it feels good right away.
Most of the rest of our gear was alright.
Although you can get hiking shirts, I didn’t really feel it was necessary (thought that might change as we get more competitive).
I have a nice merino wool-based short sleeve shirt with a big ‘bunny hug’ pocket (‘bunny hug’ is a Saskatchewan term, sorry, I have no idea what else you’d call that big pocket on the front of a shirt/jacket/sweater) which was great for storing little bags of treats so I didn’t have to put them away or carry them in my hands. Nice. Not ideal for camera storage, I was a little concerned it might fall out…
The jacket I was wearing is a nice compromise. It is a running/cycling jacket, so it’s quite light, but reasonably warm, with a nice breathable mesh under the armpits and along the sides of the body. It moves well and I found myself more than comfortable in it at night with a light turtleneck, my merino shirt and that jacket. My pet peeve with this jacket (and you will find this a recurring theme for me) is that the only pocket sits at the back above the hips. Right where my backpack sits.
Now what’s with me going on and on about pockets? Well, it’s surprising how many things you want easy access to without having to stop, take off your pack, unzip, search, replace, rezip, put pack back on. When you’re trying to make time, you just don’t want to have to stop to find stuff. Snacks, camera, compass, gloves, beanie, and so on…
My rain jacket, though not used on this occasion, is a bit of a point of question for me. The jacket I have is a good jacket. I have been out in terrible rains and my upper body stays perfectly dry in it. It’s got a nice built-in hood that does up in a few ways and even has a peak that helps divert water away from your face. It’s got cavernous pockets (bonus!!) and though it’s only got a light mesh lining, it’s really warm. But, as I mentioned, it’s too bulky to fit into my little day pack, and I have found it a bit too warm on occasion, because if no water is getting in, no sweat is getting out either! I think I’ll have to use it a few times before I can make a serious call if I need to try something lighter or different.
One of my biggest mistakes with gear was my First Aid Kit. I bought a lovely little generic first aid kit, with the basic supplies – band aids, tweezers, those tiny little scissors (have you ever used those?)… the mistake I made was just taking along the generic kit and not customizing it to my needs. I should have remembered that I always get blisters, and that there are some incredible blister busting band aids out there! Little plastic cheapie band aids do not stay stuck to sweaty feet, and do not provide ample cushioning (a huge thanks to E for giving me the last of her good thick fabric band aids, I would have probably died without them! Can you imagine the headlines: “Hiker killed by blisters“?! But I digress…)
I also didn’t bring enough Nurofen or similar pain-killer to help with the pain and swelling. Mat, who will only take pain killers on point of death even took one on the weekend. Even just popping a few before bed to make walking in the morning that much easier will make a big difference I think, and is worth trying. 🙂
Finally, your most essential item, your companion and guide throughout the course, your compass: I bought me a ‘slick’ new compass a few Rogaines back and had so much trouble navigating with it. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me! And I mean, this is a pretty thing, with glow in the dark indicators for night navigating and so on. But the needle was off-kilter slightly, and didn’t rotate unless sitting at an exact angle, so if off slightly, you totally mis-nav! I suggest you get a robust basic compass, treat it with care and know how to use it. Mat tried using my compass for a while, got completely frustrated and finally put it in his backpack and just followed E and I around. 😛
Get a good basic clean compass. Bells and whistles do not a good compass make.
A few other items you’ll need for a Rogaine: flashlight/torch, headlamp, cold weather accessories: toque/beanie, gloves/mitts, scarf, long underwear if desired or cold enough (I didn’t use gloves until we got into camp and stopped, otherwise, I was more than warm enough, and I only put on my light turtleneck as a thermal, and didn’t bother with leggings, and was comfortable, but then, I’m Canadian, and I know it’s not cold enough to wear those things in Australia… just on principle alone! 😉 ) You’ll also need food, water, a change of socks, and comfy underwear. Oh and a whistle, which is a requirement in case of an emergency – it’s how you call for aid.
Plus all your camping gear, and your pencil-case full of highlighters, string, paper and a calculator.
I’ll tell you more about that later, though! This is getting long enough!