Cheesequake State Park Hike and Gear First Impressions

Beginning of the Trail at Cheesequake State Park in New Jersey

Beginning of the Trail at Cheesequake State Park in New Jersey

Hiking 2 days after Christmas in New Jersey?! Break out the snowshoes and down parkas, right? Actually not quite, as it was remarkably 58 and sunny!  I had to do errands, but I got back from the store and I just knew I had to get outside and do some hiking – it was far too nice out to not take advantage of it.  Plus, I had a whole bunch of new gear to get some first looks at!  After I get some more time in with each item I’ll be doing full reviews of some of the gear, but for now I’ll give you my first thoughts of some things during this trip report.

 

So, it was gorgeous out and I quickly threw some gear into my Gossamer Gear Rukus daypack, which is very misleading by the way.  This “daypack” holds just about 40L when taking into account the mesh pockets, about 30L in the main body alone!!!! I planned on using it as a daypack when I initially ordered it, but I’ve got it and realize I could go on a 3 day trip with this thing which means this will relegate my Gossamer Gear Gorilla to longer trips with heavier weights .  My day hike gear could fill half of this bag or less on a normal day and that’s not accounting for the giant mesh pocket on the front either.  It absolutely swallows gear.  So I’m thinking I’ll be using this on short 1/2 day trips (maybe 3 days) with a light weight.  There are plenty of lash loops along the sides which I’ll wind up lacing a compression system to be able to compress down the pack for smaller gear loads.  I filled it with extra gear on this hike weighing about 6lbs total including water just to see how it would handle it and I barely felt it on my back.  The thin mesh straps are incredibly comfortable, the thin foam back pad might not even be necessary but gives the pack a more stable shape and it doesn’t weigh a lot so I’ll probably keep it.  The inner zippered stash pocket was very useful and worth the weight of an ounce or so in my opinion as it had a good enough size to hold my wallet, keys, and multitool with plenty of more room for other stuff as well.  The only drawback to this pack that I see so far is that the side mesh pockets are very thin.  They seem to be the perfect shape for standard water bottles, and might also hold a Gatorade bottle as they are pretty stretchy, but I didn’t have any to test the fit.  The problem with storing water bottles in them though is that they are not angled much which means I could not take the water bottles in and out of the pockets while hiking. Gossamer Gear claims they are slanted giving the pack this ability but I wasn’t able to just reach back and grab a water bottle very easily at all, but had to take the pack off one shoulder to access them.  Maybe it was just me – not a huge deal to me anyway as I like to have a bladder and wear my water bottles in front of me on the shoulder straps. The pack is so light, about 11oz with the back pad and all of the straps, that it’s very easy to maneuver.  The other odd thing about it is the webbing hip belt. I personally don’t find it necessary on a pack like this unless maybe if you’re trail running (which I do not do so I can’t answer that) but even still when using the hip belt it rode above my belly button.  I believe it states on Gossamer Gear’s website that it is removable so I’m going to just take it off as I have no use for it, but seemed odd to me.

 

Cheesequake State Park Nature Center

Cheesequake State Park Nature Center

Anyways, I got to Cheesequake State Park which I went to because I was short on time with the sun setting so soon now and it is only 20 minutes from my house with short and easy trails.  I decided to do the green trail which is their longest trail there at a disappointingly low 3 miles.

Green Trail

Green Trail

The park was filled with people taking advantage of the weather and it is typically a pretty popular hiking spot for people.  All of the trails are short ranging from 1-3 miles and very well maintained and marked allowing for just about anyone to walk them.  It is not the type of hiking I would typically love to do, but it’s close and quick and couldn’t pass up a chance to get on the trail in December.  Being such a short and easy trail this won’t be much of a trip report as their really just isn’t a whole lot to report.  As far as the trail goes, it is pretty flat as you’re walking through wetlands most of the time so the soil is pretty soft and silty with some sand thrown in.  The state has done a wonderful job of making all of the trails at Cheesequake easy to follow and even include mile markers and information along the way on little posts talking about the local wildlife, plants, etc.  Since you are walking through a lot of swamps their are many times where the park laid down wood walkways to get through the watery sections and even built stairs for people to use on

Wooden Staircase

Wooden Staircase

short, steep areas.  You’re definitely not out in the wilderness here at Cheesequake, but that has some advantages though.  For one, I didn’t have to worry about packing a lot of water or my Sawyer Mini water filter (good thing because there’s no running water there in the winter), and I didn’t worry about taking my first aid kit, repair kit, or survival essentials.  The other good thing is that it allows for a lot of people who don’t do a lot of backpacking or hiking to get outside and get on the trail.  I saw plenty of families, younger people, and older people all taking advantage of the weather and getting outdoors which they typically wouldn’t be able to do hiking up a mountain, but it’s great to see a lot of people outdoors.

 

Open Field Off the Trail

Open Field Off the Trail

Cheesequake State Park Wetlands

Cheesequake State Park Wetlands

As far as other gear is concerned, I wore my new Inov-8 Roclite trail runners and I have to say: I LOVE them.  I had previously always wore Moab waterproof hiking boots, but recently made the switch over to trail runners and I’m not looking back.  First off, they are SO much lighter than my hiking boots it just makes it so much easier to walk in without a pound on each foot.  Second, they have a lot of mesh which makes the shoes breathe which is awesome.  My feet get really sweaty, especially when hiking, and these actually allowed the sweat to be released instead of trapping it in.  Not to mention the mesh allows the shoes to dry very quickly although I haven’t had a chance to test that first hand. But I did go through a good amount of mud on the trail yesterday and the Roclites tackled it like a champ.  I was previously worried about the lack of ankle support and toe protection which boots offer you.  That was just silly of me.  I’ve realized you really don’t need “ankle support” and that it is all in your head.  Not to mention that trail runners are flat out more comfortable than boots.  It was like I was walking on a spring propelling me forward. And toe support? The trail runners delivered in that department. When I did bang my toe against a tree root my foot just bounced off and kept going as if it didn’t happen.  No pain. I barely even felt it.  Plain and simple: if you’re wearing hiking boots switch to trail runners right now. You won’t regret it.

 

Cheesequake State Park Wetlands

Cheesequake State Park Wetlands

The clothes I was wearing were my new Marmot Scree pants which were great.  I wouldn’t want to wear them in any weather warmer than what I was in, but it handled 58 degrees fine and there was no sweating or overheating.  About half way through the hike I undid the ankle zips, which I wish had a mesh lining to breathe more, but it’s the same fabric as the rest of the pants.  Undoing the ankle zips did open up the legs a bit which helped move air and cool me down.  I suppose since the pants are designed for colder weather it makes sense and the fabric did seem to breathe so not a problem.  It is nice and stretchy and seemed plenty tough, but still light enough to breathe and is water repellent.  The zippered pockets are nice and I like having belt loops on my pants.  All in all great pants and I’ll definitely be wearing them in anything less than 60 degree weather.

On top, since I had my Icebreaker Everyday longsleeve quarter zip merino wool shirt in the wash (which is a terrific shirt by the way) I had to find something else to wear and luckily I just picked up a new synthetic long sleeve quarter zip baselayer shirt from the Bear Grylls line.  I typically wouldn’t wear anything Bear Grylls branded, but luckily the logo is small (and not everywhere like a lot of his stuff) and I got it for about $12 if I remember correctly.  My first impressions wearing it are actually pretty positive.  It doesn’t have thumb loops or anything fancy and no polygiene treatment to help with smells, but it seemed to move sweat well and had a tall neck with fairly deep zip that let me went heat very well and control my body temperature.  The chin zipper guard was extremely comfortable, one of the best I’ve seen, as there is a lot of extra fabric so no nasty zipper rash from it rubbing against your neck or chin.  It is definitely heavier than my Patagonia Capilene 2 shirt, although I don’t have a Cap 3 to compare it to.  It did well at 58 degrees though and could go colder or warmer depending on how fast you’re moving.  It definitely doesn’t have the same feel as my as my Patagonia Capilene shirts in terms of the “silkyness” of it and the shirt feels more “synthetic”, but it certainly wasn’t uncomfortable or anything.  Heck, for $12 it was certainly a good deal and I’d recommend it at more than half the price of other big named brand’s baselayers.

 

End of the Trail

End of the Trail

That’s about it for the Cheesequake hike.  If you have any questions about the trail or the gear I mentioned or want to talk about something more in depth feel free to comment or email me and I’ll definitely get right back to you.  Let’s hope for more warm weather to enjoy the outdoors! Happy hiking!

Farewell to London – Hello New Jersey!

20141128_094009-1Hello to everyone and welcome to the NJ Ultralight Backpacker blog. Please visit my “About Me” page to learn a little about me and mainly my inspiration behind starting this blog.

As this is my first post though, I’d like to go into some more recent background on myself to let you know where I stand.  I attend Monmouth University in New Jersey full time and I’m in my third year as a business major.  Boring I know, so in my spare time I strive to be outdoors, especially backpacking which I love.  Obviously, as a backpacker my other passion is traveling and through my studies at Monmouth I have been blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in London, UK since September and I now leave on Saturday December 13th.

Since I have been away I have not been able to go hiking this fall, which is one of my favorite times to go.  So I have spent the last couple of months reading. A LOT. Every blog and forums I could come across to learn as much as possible and crave the backpacking urges.  It is has been immensely helpful in regards to new gear and clothing I’ve ordered as well as reading a lot of the trip reports since I can’t be out there. So when I return home in a couple days I will have plenty of packages to go through and open up and new gear to try out which I am very excited about.  I plan to do write ups on a lot of first impressions of the new gear I got and start putting together some gear lists to be displayed on the blog to show everyone where I am at in terms of weight (as I do like to keep my weight down) and what I am carrying.

Since, I am from New Jersey and it is has awfully cold this year I am anticipating a frigid winter with snow, and I have no experience backpacking in the snow and dealing with the risk involved at those temperatures and conditions.  Hopefully, come March I will be able to start getting out there full time and can put up full reviews and trip reports.

Until then, see ya London. It’s been an awesome experience but I’m looking forward to getting back home and getting on the trail 🙂