One of the new pieces of gear I got for this trip was the Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm sleeping pad. At 2.5 inches thick and an R value of 5.7, this is an extremely warm and comfortable sleeping pad. I got the regular size, and mine weighs 15.125ozs on my scales. It came with a heavy stuff sack that can also be used to blow the pad up with dry air (as opposed to lung power that adds moisture to the inside of the pad). I didn’t take the stuff sack, preferring instead to blow it up myself and store it inside a cuben fiber stuff sack that I bought separately for it.
The one thing that still amazes me about this pad is how warm it is. Once inflated all you have to do is place your hands (or any part of your body) on it and warmth is reflected back to you immediately. It is easily the warmest sleeping pad I have ever owned. Combined with my Marmot Helium 15F sleeping bag, the pad kept me toasty and warm every night on the trail. I don’t have a weather station to take with me, but most nights I would say it got down to the low to mid 30F range. One night it got really cold, somewhere in the high teens and the pad remained very warm and comfortable.
Some people report that the NeoAir sleeping pads are loud and crinkly and keep people awake. I toss and turn a lot in my sleep and I never noticed any of that at all. It never bothered me one bit, and Cesar didn’t hear it in his tent that was close by. So for me that was a non-issue.
My only issue with the pad was that it was so lightweight that I was always scared of it getting punctured and losing its inflation during the night. I constantly checked it for leaks, and I was never confident that it would last the whole week without developing a hole somewhere. I treated it very gently, and made sure I wasn’t lying on any sharp objects, but I always doubted its durability. Because it got cold during the night, I did have to re-inflate it at least once every night, but never once did it let me down. My worries were misplaced, and it is much more robust than I gave it credit for. I love this sleeping pad, and I will use it many more times in the future. I am even tempted to use it in the warmer months because it is so light and comfortable, but I will probably get a NeoAir Xlite to save a few more ounces.
After a good night’s rest and a leisurely breakfast, the plan for today was to hike 7 miles to Fane’s Creek where we would spend the night. As is normal on the second day of a multi-day hike, both of us were sore and lethargic. It doesn’t matter what training is undertaken beforehand, nothing can prepare you for backpacking other than actually getting out there and hitting the trails. As neither of us live in areas where this is possible, being sore on the trail is an inevitability we knew we were going to have to experience.
Almost immediately after leaving camp, we came upon a small waterfall cascading over the rocks. It wasn’t flowing very much, probably because we were early in the rainy season, but it was a beautiful site, all the more so because we weren’t expecting to see it and it took us by surprise.
Spirit’s Creek was shallow and easy to cross. As always, the water was freezing cold, but it didn’t get much above ankle height and we soon warmed up again. I had changed out my socks from last year to the WrightSock Coolmesh II running socks. These are two layered, anti-blister socks that are thin and fast drying. I took them off during the actual crossing, but they were soaking from my trail shoes. I was very impressed as to how comfortable they were, and they did dry very quickly. I took two pairs and alternated each day with a clean pair. I washed the ones I had worn all day after we set up camp and then used a safety pin to attach them to the mesh pocket on my pack. They were completely dry long before we made camp again the next day.
I did get one hot spot on the base of each foot, but I treated them every morning and they never developed into blisters. I felt them for the first half mile or so and then after that I never felt them again all day. I had replaced my inserts with the green Superfeet just before we left, and I think I hadn’t broken them in enough beforehand. Next time I will wear them for a few weeks before I leave.
The first half of today’s hike was uphill all the way and was very strenuous. This section was much harder than anything we did last year, so I was so glad that I had gotten myself in much better shape this time around or I would have been done by this point.
We reached the top and then we had a mile or so of flat terrain that we enjoyed very much. We stopped somewhere in this area near a small stream for lunch and to top up our water bottles. Last year I had brought a 2Ltr water bladder for hydration, but this year I carried a 32oz Gatorade bottle and refilled it as needed during the day. I much prefer this method, and I carried it in a shoulder pouch on my pack straps that I was able to reach whenever I wanted to take a drink. I am not ambidextrous enough to reach back and grab a bottle from the side pocket of my pack, and I didn’t want to carry a large, full bladder as water was readily available on the trail. I also took a 2ltr Evernew bladder that I used in conjunction with my Sawyer Squeeze water filter, and it also stored the water I needed in camp. This certainly worked for me on this trip, and it is the method I will use in the future.
The weather had been just about perfect for hiking – cool and dry with a slight breeze. I wish all my hiking could be in these conditions.
The descent back down towards Fane Creek was probably harder than the climb up from Spirit’s Creek. Hiking downhill is very hard on the knees, and mine were complaining the entire way down. We planned on crossing the creek rather than doing what we normally end up doing and start the day with cold, wet feet. However, when we reached the creek we immediately noticed a forest road that was located on the opposite side. A few vehicles used it, and there was no place we could see that would be a good area to camp. There was a perfect spot right where we were, so once again we camped on the wrong side of the river. One day we will learn!!