Roads Rivers and Trails

Dream. Plan. Live.

Monthly Archives: July 2014

Backpacking Death

Backpacking Death
Written by: Craig Buckley

“When all the world recognizes beauty as beauty, this in itself is ugliness.” – Lao Tzu

                Show me a map to the Tomb of Backpacking. I would like to go there. I imagine it to be in the deep woods, over rocks and roots, through rivers wide and over mountains tall. I see in my mind’s eye a monolith to scrape the clouds from the rim of the sky, declaring to the young, “Here lies Backpacking: Perfect Master Teacher, Friend of the Lonely, Destroyer of Illusion.” I bend to find a date on the massive stone and find naught but a door, inset below the carvings of the faces of the memorial: Thoreau and Whitman, Snyder and Kerouac, Muir and Abbey peeking out from their death masks. I do not pause to look into their stone eyes but open the door and find that it swings easily into the dank depths of the tomb. And what do I see inside but the cracking cocoon of Backpacking Rising.

The point of this meditation is not to reinterpret statistics to fit any preconceived thesis I might have. Nor is it to argue with Christopher Ketchum, author of the article “The Death of Backpacking?” ( I see well enough the question mark at the end of that title and realize that it should not be read as a eulogy but as a conversation piece.  The point of this meditation is not to lament the death of the old or to hold up a corpse of an idea and make it dance for the audience as if it were still animate. I simply wish to point out that death is not the end.

The leaves fall, rot, and feed the earth underfoot. The tree itself cracks, splits from its roots, crushes other trees and these in turn renew the forest. Water boils away, forms vapor, forms clouds, and rains down once again on our heads. I belabor the point: Energy cannot be destroyed. When I hear someone tell me that something I love is dying, I am at first taken aback at their presumptuousness in telling me the future of an age they have not lived and, secondly, I smile.

The rushing river is the death of the stagnant lake.

I see no death in the world but rather metamorphosis of life. And I see Backpacking change before my eyes. I see faster, lighter, with less impact on the trail. I see new ways of solving old problems. I see minds coming together.

And, yes, I see distraction from the trail beneath our feet. I see boys and girls that would rather watch Planet Earth than live under the stars in the forests with the fellow creatures of planet Earth. I see those to whom a hike needs a destination with a pay-off and wonder when they’ll start charging for the views. But I also know that we as humans are an unruly species. There will come a day, and quickly, when the children will throw down their toys in search of Something Bigger and they will be lead quickly by their wits to old Mother Nature. Their boots will knock off the dust on her coffin and she shall sing again.

The secret, of course, is that she never stopped her song in the first place. If less people choose to listen, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time she was ignored. It takes time to interpret the long notes and it takes long miles of walking to catch a scent of her perfume. Ketchum mentions the Herd as a metaphor for consumer culture that lauds impatience and one-and-done thrill-seeking as marketable in today’s society because of a lack of focus in the youth of today. I want only to warn those that would classify my brothers and sisters as sheep that you have not caught all of us in the net of your reality grid. We are the goats in the ridges, too busy hiking and rambling in the trees to hear when the shepherd calls. If you would like to write an Ode to Backpacking Forgotten, please do so. And make it beautiful. But don’t for a second think that words can kill the human drive for meaningful experience.

See you in the woods.

Down and Dirty: How to Clean Your Down Gear

Greetings RRT Adventurers! The Bear here with another gear update.

We know that the thought of your down gear is probably the last thing on your mind in the dead of summer, but that is precisely why we thought it would make for a good blog topic. We neglect our gear for months, cramming it into a closet, bag or stuff sack until we need it in the colder months and climes. What better time than now to give your down some TLC than when you know for sure you won’t need it immediately.

The following directions are geared mainly toward sleeping bags, as they are normally the garment we need to clean most often. However, down cleaning rules apply to any down garment (puffies, etc.) and will keep your gear feeling like it did the first day you bought it for years to come.

Before we dive into the bathtub of down-wash, let’s cover a few basics. First, make sure you have a down drying bag handy for any piece. Most jackets don’t come with a laundry bag, so keep a cotton pillow case around to use in its place. Remember to tie it shut before throwing it in the dryer. Second, if you notice your plumules (down feathers) sticking out of the garment, make sure not to pull them out. You are increasing the diameter of the hole each time you pull one out, and it is the nature of a down garment to have at least a few quills poking through. Instead, grab the protruding culprit from the other side of the garment, like the inside sleeve or bag liner, and pull them bag into the baffles. Finally, regarding storage, many sleeping bags and garments don’t come with store sacks. Kelty sleeping bags, for instance, come with a stuff sack but no storage sack while Sea to Summit and Big Agnes come with both. This isn’t an issue; it just means you need to store in hanging up. This will prolong the life of the bag and/or garment by allowing the down to maintain its loft.

Now, onto the nitty gritty…


1. Fill tub with water.

2. Soak down garment in tub.

3. Pour an amount of down wash into the water; different washes will have different measured amounts, be sure to consult the specific wash you are using.

4. If bag or garment is heavily soiled, let it soak for up to an hour so the down wash can work its way through the soiled fabrics and plumules.

5. GENTLY knead the bag or garment from top to bottom while it is still submerged in the water. The goal here is to press loose dirt particles through the cloth into the water. Depending on the amount of grime, you may need to repeat this process a couple times. DO NOT pick the bag or garment up while it is wet.

Down companies have many variations on filling their products, but they are typically all done via a wand blowing down into the baffles, one by one, until the garment is full. Down, when it’s dry and fully lofted (fluffy) cannot push back through the openings the manufacture used to fill them. However, when wet (as you have seen in our dry down vs. standard down video on YouTube), down clumps together, and gravity and/or centrifugal force will pull it through the baffle openings. This results in uneven distribution as your down dries, sometimes in whole baffles being empty. So how do you avoid this?

6. Drain the tub, press the garment flat against the floor of the tub and roll it tight toward the drain.

What you will be accomplishing here is flattening the down inside the garment while simultaneously wringing the water out. This flattened down will not move, so long as you keep tension on the rolled garment. Think of it like wringing out a rag; the tighter you squeeze it, the more water it sheds. Be sure not to let up on it when you move to the next step.

7. Take the still coiled-up garment out of the tub and place it immediately in the laundry bag supplied with your down bag.

DO NOT dry your bag without one of these laundry bags. Gravity + Loose, Wet Down (even the compacted stuff mentioned above) + rapidly spinning cylinder = bad news. Set the drier to medium, and make sure to periodically stop the cycle and break up clumps from the washing process. Keep it in the bag, dry it until it is completely dry, like hot, fluffy dry. No moisture. Period.

8. You’re done! You know that awesome feeling you get from clean sheets? Exactly. If you’re going to store it, put it back in its storage sack (the bag you bought it in.) Otherwise, cram that thing back in your sleeping bag compartment and get yourself outside!


Machine Washing


Trust us on this one, front-loading only.

1. Follow the same rules for soaking as in hand-washing, spot treat directly with down wash to heavily soiled or stained areas and soak for up to an hour.


2. Turn the garment inside out prior to washing. Water will push through the lining material on the inside of the bag or garment more easily than it will through the shell as the shell is designed to be water repellent. Hence, if it won’t let water in, it won’t let water out either.


3. Use the normal, cold water cycle, with a cold water rinse


4. Run through a complete second cycle without soap. This will make sure the soap has completely washed out.


5. Wring as much water out of the bag as possible before attempting to pull it out of the washer.

Push and squeeze it into the bottom of the drum a few times; just make sure the bag isn’t sopping wet when you take it out of the washer. The baffles are sewn on with either a single or up to a triple stitch per baffle, but neither the thread nor sewing techniques are designed to support suspended weight. If you’ve picked up wet clothing, you know how drastically different the weights are. Water is heavy.

6. Follow same steps for drying as hand-washing. Wring out, put in drying bag, hot and fluffy, etc.

There you have it! Now, stop reading and go outside!


More Gear Reviews?     Next