More Winter Hiking in New Jersey & More Gear Talk

Snow has fallen all day and is in the forecast for tomorrow as well (yesterday and today by the time I publish this), but the bipolar weather worked out in my favor as it was in the low to mid 50s this past Sunday here in New Jersey.  There was a 50% chance of rain that day, but I took my chances and packed up my daypack (the Rukus – more on that later) complete with my rain gear as well and headed out to the Watchung Reservation.  Similar to the other week where I hiked at Cheesequake, there is nothing special about hiking at Watchung Reservation, but it is very close to my house and I knew that with not a lot of daylight these days and the possibility for storms I should play it safe.

The one good thing about Watchung Reservation is that there are a lot of hiking trails there. No real elevation gains, good views, or anything else that would make for great hiking, but in central New Jersey we’ll take what we can get.  There is the white Sierra Trail at Watchung which loops around for ten miles, and roughly 4 other shorter trails that intertwine with each other throughout the reservation.


Deserted Village

Since it was a very impromptu hike due to the weather I did not have a trail map and decided I would just get on some trails and go. So I got to the Reservation and drove around for 15 minutes not knowing where the trailhead is. Finally I found something, pulled on my Rukus pack, opened up my Clif bar for lunch, and headed towards the trail.

Deserted Village

Deserted Village

Immediately, I was walking through the Deserted Village on the Sierra Trail.  I walked through there and hiked about a mile before coming to a clearing leading out to the road. Crap – I went the wrong way on the trail.  That’s why you always need a trail map.  No worries, I hiked back to my starting point and went back on the trail in the opposite direction.

Sierra Trail

Sierra Trail

Conditions were very wet and muddy from the rain in the morning and the constant downpour Saturday night.  Therefore, I elected to wear my Merrell hiking boots over my Inov-8 trailrunners.  Not that the trailrunners couldn’t handle the mud, I am sure they could, but the boot’s Goretex lining was definitely appreciated.  On more than one occasion I walked through leaves which turned out to be a giant puddle of water that my entire foot sunk into.  Luckily the boots kept my feet completely dry and since it was only 50 degrees I didn’t have to worry about my feet sweating a lot in them.  Plus I made sure to wear my lightweight synthetic Bridgedale Coolmax socks which wick sweat extremely well.wpid-20150104_154623.jpg

The other things I wore were my Marmot Scree softshell pants again, which tackled the muddy and wet conditions like a champ.  I see myself wearing them anytime the temperatures hit 55F or lower. On top I wore the Bear Grylls shirt again to test it some more, plus I figured I’d be more comfortable for the day hiking in a synthetic shirt rather than my merino wool one if I happened to get wet from the rain.  I have to say it handled the conditions well keeping me cool when I pushed harder and keeping me warm when the temperatures dropped later in the day.  I carried my Patagonia R1 quarter zip hoodie (which is awesome and deserves its own review) as well as my Patagonia Houdini windshirt with me which I contemplated throwing it on a couple times as the wind cuts right through the synthetic fabric of the Bear Grylls shirt, but the wind never sustained itself long enough to warrant throwing it on.  The windshirt along with my Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket and OR rain hat remained in the stretchy mesh front pocket of the Rukus the entire trip.

That leads me to talk about the Gossamer Gear Rukus Daypack some more.  Again, I took this on another day hike and again I only filled the main compartment maybe a quarter of the way full.  That’s even with my R1 fleece thrown loosely in.  Granted my windshirt, rain jacket and hat were in the outside mesh pocket, but even that pocket was only about a quarter of the way filled.  That is when I realized I NEED a smaller daypack.  36L is just WAY too much.  So I did order a new pack and it should be coming shortly which I am very excited about and will do a short write up on when it arrives along with a shout out to the manufacturer since they are a little more lesser known.  Nothing against the Rukus and I plan on using it for short backpacking trips so I do very much like it, but just needed something smaller.

Another important thing I wanted to say about the Rukus was during my last post I commented about the one downside was the side pockets.  I stand by saying that they are quite small but let me refine that more: they are narrow, but tall.  Therefore, due to the width not much more than a standard water bottle will fit as it seems to be made specifically for a standard water bottle (still waiting to test if a Gatorade bottle will).  The problem I had the other week was that since the pockets go up to near the top of the water bottle and are only angled slightly it was difficult for me to get the bottle out by reaching back with one arm while hiking.  I had an issue because I was trying to remove the bottle from the top near the cap, but I’ve since learned it is possible and fairly easy actually if you reach further into the pocket and grip the bottle lower.  It also helps to have weight in your pack so that the pack doesn’t move when you pull.  All in all, I take back my previous statement about the side pockets and will edit my other post.  It took some practice but I have since learned how to remove and put back water bottles into the side pockets without a problem.

Now back to the hike…

Section of Trail Close by the Highway

Section of Trail Close by the Highway

The trails there are pretty basic and not much to give a detailed trip report on.  The one downside to Watchung Reservation is that it is in the middle of a fairly residential area which means you do hear car noise as you hike.  In fact there was one stretch of trail that took me alongside a road with a highway on the far side of it.  If you understand that going into the hike you will be better off because it is a good place to hike in central NJ where options are limited.  There’s a lot of different trails there and you could easily spend a day hiking there.  I’d definitely recommend getting a map though as it is very easy to lose track of which trail your on as they overlap and intersect fairly often.  If anyone has any specific questions about Watchung Reservation or wants to know more detail about it just email me and I’d be happy to share more.  For now I think it would be better to let the pictures do the talking.  Happy hiking!


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