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Shakedown hikes and backpacking trips are the best way you can train yourself to become a confident backpacker or day hiker. They provide a low pressure setting for you to practice new skills, learn how to use your gear, plan a hike, and develop the physical fitness required to hike all day with a backpack. -Section Hiker

I tested my luck again with the super secret Afton State Park remote backpacking site on Friday morning.   If you have been reading for a while, you may remember that I scored a remote site at Afton last October for my first solo trip when campsite reservations were scarce.

Just about every campsite in Minnesota is full on Memorial Day weekend, but I ended up getting a same day reservation at  the Meadow site on the first try.   I had just sold my Big Agnes Solo tent to buy a new Tarptent the day before and thought this would be a great way to test it out.   I also got to use my FREE (yes I said FREE) night camping certificate I got when I finished my 100th mile of the Minnesota Hiking Club.   Yay.   Thanks Hiking Club!

I called my sister, quickly bug-bombed my clothes in the driveway and let them dry (there will probably be a separate post on how I do that) and packed up.   I threw a few extra luxury items in my Ray Way DIY Backpack to test its max of 25 lbs and headed out!


I called my sister, who is thru hiking the Superior Hiking Trail with me and we met at camp by 4:00.  It has been an unusually hot weekend and it was still 92 degrees when we got to the park!   A little over a month ago, we had a blizzard that dumped almost 2 feet of snow on us.   Oh Minnesota…

We made sure we had all of our gear and plenty of water before we hiked into camp.  Note:  The Homestead Meadow remote campsite is about 1-2 miles away from well water and about a mile away from a stream, so plan ahead.


We decided to set up the tent right away.  I bought it from a bikepacker that had never used it.  There were no instructions, the stakes were still rubber banded and the guy lines needed to be installed, so I think we were the first ones to set this baby up.   We had a cell reception at camp, so we watched the Youtube video of how to set it up once and decided to give it a shot.

We were surprised at how easily it went up!    The tent uses trekking poles as the main structure, with a series of guy lines and clips that work together to keep it taut.  You may purchase additional poles if you don’t want to use trekking poles, but it’s nice to give the trekking poles a second purpose.   It is made in America (like my Enlightened Equipment quilt) and is only sold on the Tarptent site.   The Tarptent was designed by the founder, Henry Shires, who is a ‘lifelong backpacker trained in Physics’, which explains the efficiency of it’s structure.  This article highlights his story and is especially cool if you are interested in supporting cottage gear companies and enjoy the stories about how they came to be.

We worked together and tried to mimic the video the best we could and it popped right up.  We kind of expected this to be a bigger deal resulting in laughing, swearing or both (that’s why we recorded it!)  But we didn’t really have any difficulties except when we realized that we needed to let go of our trekking poles that were supporting it temporarily, in order to tie on the guy lines for the first time.   They’re installed now, so next time it will be even easier.   I also brought two extra stakes since 6 are included, but you really want 8 if you are going to stake out the doors.   I’ll be camping with the Scouts again in a couple of weeks so we’ll see if any other stakes or lines are needed then.

Only a few minutes after we set up the tent, we heard thunder and got a steady downpour that left mud and puddles in our campsite, but a completely dry tent.    The previous owner said that it was sealed, but I was still relived to see that it was dry since you have to either pay extra for Tarptent to seam seal or do it yourself after purchase.  Dry as a bone!

Here are a couple of other things I like about switching from a hammock to Tarptent:

  • 34 oz total weight, easy to split into two 1 lb loads
  • Easy set up
  • Multiple ways to set up to reduce weight or tweak the height.
  • Two doors and large vestibules.
  • Head and foot windows, allows you to see out while still staying dry.
  • Comfort of being in a tent vs. hammock in case of inclement weather.


We made a dinner of this neat-o Korean instant rice dish called EasyBab that my friend gave me to try.  I just added water to the package and zipped it shut and it hydrated very nicely.   Unfortunately I put ALL of the sauce that came with it inside and it was a little too spicy for my taste, so my sister and I traded and mixed our dinners together-with her mashed potatoes and chili…and it tasted pretty good!  We burned off our feast with a good 6 mile hike and came back to camp just before dark.   We didn’t bother making a fire, the heat and our full packs had made us tired, so we went right to the tent.  We messed around with hanging christmas lights in the tent,  read our books and laughed a lot about all of the things we were mastering and failing at along the way.

06071_tr_neoair_xlite_marigold_small_top.jpgTHERMAREST NEO AIR PAD

Another brand new piece of gear I tried out on this shakedown was my Thermarest Neo Air Pad.   Many people rave about this pad, so I bought one at an REI garage sale a couple of months ago, and didn’t realize until I got home that it was a short/torso length.   “No biggie” I thought, “this is what ultralight people do”


Imagine being on a 20″ wide waterbed that drops off at your knees.  This 2.5-3″ tall inflatable pad also happens to be made of slippery material that’s laying on more slippery  material (silnylon) that’s on a slight hill.  So, I could never get quite comfortable or even really stay on the pad.   I tried putting stuff under my legs and played with the air pressure…but it made my back arch when I was on my back and my knees and hips align weird when I was on my side.  So when I woke up with all of my joints hurting,  after a crummy night’s sleep, I decided that this pad was just not for me.  I’m sure it’s great..I just don’t ever want to sleep on it again.  Into the sale pile it goes!  Someone else will love it.


We got up,  checked out our awesome views from inside the tarptent and took it down with great ease.  We made a quick breakfast and went on to hike another 6 or 8 miles with all of our gear.   I tweaked my knee the night before and it was really starting to hurt.   I should have probably stopped at mile 3, but I kept going, hoping it would work itself out.   It didn’t.   Still hurts.


We ended our shakedown around noon, and it was already 95 degrees.   Our hiking umbrellas saved our butts on the prairie loop during the hottest part of the day and I am so pleased with my new Liteflex Trekking Umbrella.  Its only about 7oz, really reflects the sun and stows away nicely in my backpack side pocket.   It also works in the rain.


Finally, I realized on this trip that I still have some work to do on my pack weight.   Making my own RAY WAY pack has helped me take backpacking in a new direction and look at what I bring with me more critically.  Packing light makes everything so much simpler.  Pressure testing my pack this weekend, loaded to 25 lbs in 92 degrees showed me that I still have some areas where I can reduce the load.   Testing it also highlighted some modifications I’d like to make.  I was hoping I could use it as it was designed, but I’ll probably go ahead and add a removable hip belt and some strap pockets or secures to hold my water bottle on my strap…I’m sure my sister will appreciate me not asking her to get my water bottle out of my side pocket for me every mile.

One more step closer to our Superior Hiking Trail thru hike!  Little by little learning along the way, but most importantly, having a blast!   How do you get ready for a big trek?   Got any great tips for lighting up your load?   I’m going to scrutinize the weight on my first aid kit and “gadget” bag next.

Happy Trails!



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2 thoughts on “Shakedown #1 and Tarptent Saddle 2

  1. I think your practice hikes, especially with any new gear, are a great way to prepare for your big adventure on the SHT. And extreme weather (i.e. rain and hot/cold weather, high winds, etc.) in the practice stage also works to your long-term advantage. Food stashes along the route might also be considered (maybe in bear canisters) as a weight reduction strategy? The main thing… have fun -it helps maintain a positive attitude!

    1. Thanks Mike! My sister and I have spent 40+ years having fun together, so we’re pro’s at that! We do hope to re-supply every 4 days to keep the weight down though. Still figuring out the logistics there, but I have a great list of drops sites and have had a couple of family/friends offer to come up and re-supply us as well. My 25 lb pack was a real bear without a hip belt, it was good for me to experience that. I’ve carried almost twice that with a proper suspension…so much heavier when its all on your shoulders! Thanks for reading and Happy Trails! 🙂

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