Trace Creek Gear Grades

In late March, my daughter joined me and a few other hardy members of the Ozark Adventure Group on what was to be a two-night, 30-mile backpacking trip on most of the Trace Creek section of the Ozark Trail. We covered 12 miles the first day. A few miles into the second day, my daughter and I realized we could just complete a short road walk and make it back to the car. So a two-night trip became a one-night trip. I’m really proud of her; 26 miles over two days. Here are a few of the gear items I hauled around over those two days, with their assigned grades for the trip

Big Agnes Slater UL2

I was glad to get this tent out again and right on the heels of my trip in February to Arkansas.  Unlike the previous trip, I actually shared this tent with a second person this time around.  The interior space of this tent continues to stand out – even with two people.  The extra space at both the head and foot of the tent is really nice, especially if you are over six feet tall.  We were able to fit two 25” wide pads in the Big Agnes Slater UL2.  It was a tight fit for the pads, but not so bad for the sleepers. Similar to the Arkansas trip, I was expecting plenty of condensation on this trip, mostly because of the extra set of lungs in the tent. It ended up not being nearly as bad as I anticipated. There was some moisture, but not much. It’s really blown me away since there is very little mesh on the test body (only on the door). The biggest negative for this tent is the pole structure that allows for significant sag at the foot of the tent. It absolutely must be guyed out perfectly to avoid this, and perfection is unattainable. I will continue to work with this tent to fix this problem. But for now this design issue overweighs the spacious of this shelter. GRADE = C

Trace Creek

Although roomy enough for me and my teenage kid, I have been disappointed with the design of the Slater.

Thermarest NeoAir All-Season

I brought the All-Season along with me on this trip because I haven’t had it out in awhile. I probably could’ve gotten along okay without as much insulation as this pad provides, but it was still nice to have in late March. The Thermarest NeoAir All Season is a little heavy, and I’d be hesitant to take it on a trip longer than a couple of days knowing that there are much lighter pads available. This one weighs 26.1 ounces on my scale.  It is plenty long enough for me and offers a good night’s rest.  I appreciate the 25” width as well; I tend to roll off pads any narrower than that.  I may need to invest in an ultralight, torso-length pad soon; just to see how I sleep on one of them.  GRADE = B

Katabatic Gear Palisades 30

My go-to backpacking bag didn’t let me down at all on this trip. With lows in the mid-40s, my Palisades was up to the job once again. I keep trying to find something on this bag to nit-pick about, but it’s extremely difficult to find faults in it. This quilt-style bag is generously cut to fit my 6’4” frame, and I appreciate the openness of it. When I get too hot, I simply vent the bag slightly with an arm or leg. I have a ton of sleeping bag options, but I continue to pull the Katabatic Palisades 30 off the gear closet shelf more than any other. This will likely be my go-to bag for a number of 2016 trips. GRADE = A

Katabatic Gear Artemis 55

Since I’ve been so impressed with the Palisades sleeping quilt over the past few years, I decided to look into the other gear being manufactured by Katabatic Gear. I stumbled upon the “sale shelf” page where I found an Artemis 55 pack. They claimed it had defects, but I couldn’t immediately find any when the pack arrived. This pack had plenty of space for a shoulder season, two-night backpack. What’s even more impressive is that I carried a good amount of my kid’s gear on this Trace Creek hike as well as my own. It fit great, and was hardly noticeable, which should be the goal for manufacturers. I really appreciated the way the back panel seemed to mold nicely to my back. It was comfortable to be sure, but the lack of ventilation left my back pretty wet. A summer backpacking trip in the Missouri humidity would be a real mess. And this is despite the ribbed nature of the back panel. The functionality of the Katabatic Gear Artemis 55 was very nice, with a nice big front pocket and deep mesh side pockets. I’m not a big bells-and-whistles guy, so that’s about all the outside storage I need. Oh, and it’s durable; the 420 denier makes it so. It comes in at a fairly respectable 39.3 ounces; not ultralight, but not an expedition weight either. I will continue to use it and give it some extra testing. GRADE = B-

Trace Creek

This pack performed well enough that I’ll be taking it out on a couple more trips this year for further testing.

Outdoor Research Ferrosi Pants

These are my normal hiking pants (although I am running out of pairs). These pants a flexible and comfortable no matter what type of outdoor activity I find myself participating in. For this backpacking trip, which had warm days and pleasant nights, I didn’t need anything more than these for my legs on the Trace Creek section. The cuffs cover my shoelaces, and although they don’t completely relieve the need for gaiters, they do a pretty good job of keeping trail junk away from my feet. And they are pretty light (11.4 ounces) as far as most hiking pants are concerned. The Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants have been a staple on trips of the years.  The only pair I have left is black, which isn’t going to work during the summer. Time to get a lighter color. GRADE = A

DeFeet Wooleators

I’ve been hiking in these socks for the past three years. I have no idea how they’ve managed to not fall apart during that time. It’s a testament to their durability. They seems to be pretty indestructible. They are really thin, and that allows my feet to breath easier when I’m hiking. Not being cushioned also adds to ventilation, and I don’t find I miss the extra padding a cushion provides. My DeFeet Wooleators definitely seen better days; even after a washing they kind look and feel dirty. Oh well. They are tough. They worked very well on this trip in tandem with my trail runners. Didn’t have any foot problems…although my new careful approach to stream crossing might’ve helped there. GRADE = B+

Nike Air Zoom Kiger 3

I don’t hear much about these shoes anywhere, but they’ve been good performers for me on my last two Ozark Trail backpacking trips. They have a nice, wide toe box, that helps me with ventilation down there. I can even stretch my toes a bit. It’s almost like a flip flop with toe protection. They are light; only weighing 21.8 ounces for the pair of them. That makes these Nike Air Zoom Kigers the lightest shoe I own. They give average protection for a trail runner, which is a consequence of the light weight. Most importantly, I don’t have to think about my feet too much while I’m using them. The best part so far: zero blisters over 50 miles. GRADE = B+

Trace Creek

These trail runners trade durability and rigidness for comfort and breathability. That’s a pretty good trade.

Icebreaker Tech T Lite

The weather was good enough over the weekend that I was about to hike most of the day in this base layer. It had been awhile since I had worn a lightweight merino, but this short sleeve seemed to be about the perfect choice for the weather I anticipated. Unlike a lot of merino options, the Icebreaker Tech T Lite is pretty loose fitting, and that is what I prefer from my base layers. When the weather warms up, I want to maximize my ventilation. This shirt assists in that regard. I still prefer merino to synthetics, and this shirt fits the bill. Plus, this thing only weighs 6.4 ounces, and you can’t really beat that. GRADE = B

Loki Gear Midi Micro Fleece

Loki is one of my favorite finds for 2016. I ran into them at the winter OR show and was really amazed at some of their stuff. This fleece weighs 15.4 ounces, which makes it kind of heavy. But, for a quick one- or two-night trip, it’s worth carrying. Because the Midi has integrated mitts and a facemask, I was able to leave gloves and an insulated hat at home. So I made up a little bit of that extra weight. The weather forecast favored it as well. If it had been colder, I would have needed to bring a pair of heavier gloves anyway. I trekked in the Loki Midi Micro Fleece in the mornings when there was still a little bite in the air. It’s as breathable as any other fleece, so it got pretty wet under my pack. Still, I like it a lot and I’ll continue to bring it with me when the conditions favor it. Plus, it comes in big guy sizes. GRADE = B+

Trace Creek

A multi-use fleece unlike any other; integrated mitts and a facemask are a decent weight tradeoff.

Montbell Ex Light Anorak

It wasn’t cold enough at night to bring anything more than this 7.8 ounce pullover. I think it works pretty well at retaining warmth. It’s a no-frills jacket; not a lot of pockets or gimmicks on it. That helps keep the weight down. It has a nice relaxed fit. That helps when I have to wear it around camp and perform the various tasks associated with setting things up for the night. Being as light as the Montbell Ex Light Anorak is, it doesn’t seem very durable. I wouldn’t wear it out on an Ozark bushwhack. This down anorak fits perfectly on trips such as this one, or summer adventures in the mountains. I wore it, but I didn’t really need it on top of the fleece I brought. Can’t really count that against it. GRADE = B

Kurtz Pad

One of the folks I was with gave me this pad to use on this Trace Creek trip. I looked on Amazon and the actual name of it is ,”Topoint Outdoor Camping protable EVA Outdoor 4 Folding Seat / Moisture Cushion Expand.” I just call it a Kurtz Pad, since that is the dude’s name who gave it to me. The little foam pad only costs $5 or so, and it weighs nothing. It’s totally multipurpose. We used it to sit on around the campfire, and to fan the flames and get the fire going. It came in real handy for me as a place to kneel as I crawled into my tent. It folds us real small. There isn’t a lot of downside to it. I plan to keep taking it with me. GRADE = A-

Trace Creek

It’s simple, lightweight, and multi-use. A very cool find on Amazon by my friend Kurtz.

Dexshell Waterproof Socks

I bought these socks in advance of my previous trip, and even though we had a river crossing I didn’t use them for various reasons. On this Ozark Trail hike, I took the time to stop at every stream crossing and put these socks on before I crossed. These were very much like wearing fishing wader socks, without the rest of the waders attached. Since it was March, the water was still very cold, and I was able to feel that sensation through these Dexshell socks. The crossings were short, and although wearing waterproof socks felt kinda funny, they kept my feet pretty dry. I can’t say they kept them 100% dry, but it was way better than not wearing them. Once the water got above the socks, they didn’t work as well. I used them in conjunction with a pair of old school Tevas. I’ll probably use them again when I think they might be needed. GRADE = B-


I decided prior to this Trace Creek trip that I was going to give my feet a little more attention than I usually do. I often get home with some kind of weirdo foot ailment. So my plan was to stop at every stream crossing and completely dry my feet. Normally, I just plow through the water and keep going; marching on until my feet dry themselves. My new plan definitely helped my feet, and the PackTowl was an integral part of it. My little towel weighs less than an ounce, so it’s super convenient to bring along. I plan to bring it along with me in Utah this year, since my feet were constantly wet there two years ago. By the way, my PackTowls worked splendidly on our trip to Costa Rica and Panama last year, where due to the humidity, everything was constantly wet. They were indispensable in the jungle and on the beach. GRADE = A-

Unlike many of my trips, everything graded on this page was purchased by me with my own money; no freebies were reviewed this time. I don’t make any money for providing the links on this page. I just put them there in case you are interested in more information on a product. That’s all for now. As always, thanks for stopping by and checking things out.

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