Help Me Plan a Week Working in the Woods

The more I think about the "work from the woods" idea I mentioned before, the more I like it. I'm going to start putting together an equipment list, buy the stuff I need, and request test units for the items that will be useful for a review. I expect I'll be able to take the trip sometime in May, which should give me plenty of time to assemble my gear, carve out a good week to do, and have a fair chance of avoiding a week of stormy weather. (Although who knows? Working in the rain would be horrible for connectivity and solar power, but it might be sort of hilarious.)

I hope to get your input on good locations to spend a week, the equipment that is practical to bring, and what is the least expensive search & rescue choplifter operating in the Hudson Valley.

The basics seem fairly easy: a good backpack, a warm sleeping bag, and a small, light tent. (I have also considered one of those nifty Hennessy hammocks in lieu of a tent.) I already have a set of indispensable silk thermal underwear, which is both warm and easy to pack.

I have a good multitool and a small camp hatchet with a fiberglass handle that should take care of any tool needs. I don't intend to build a shelter or anything, which would probably be illegal in most of the area wilderness anyway. I'll probably need to grab a length of strong cord for hanging up food and securing my tent or hammock.

Food and water is a concern. The last overnight trip I did in October was through a notoriously dry section of New York; the only water was standing and stale. There's no way I can pack in enough water to last a solid week, so I'll have to filter water from local sources. Surely in May the creeks will still be running in most areas. I've never been on a trip of sufficient duration to require locating and purifying water, so any advice you guys can offer there is welcome.

As for food, I'll probably stick to the standard fare: light, dry beans; high-calorie, low-volume snacks like chocolate and whisky; and other generally bland but edible foods. I absolutely adore food, so I'll probably end up packing in some unnecessarily varied treats just to keep myself entertained. Except for hiking in and out to the campsite, however, I don't plan on expending a ton of energy throughout the week. My caloric deficit will be that of the average blogger.

It's my intention to work while I'm out there, which for means I'll need a computer with a decent keyboard, a web browser with connectivity, an RSS reader and a way to format and upload images. It's that last requirement that tends to be a tricky one. I could do almost everything I needed with a decent smartphone and an external keyboard, but image editing is usually right out. And I'd prefer a proper laptop, frankly.

I could take my Macbook Pro, but it is heavy and relatively power hungry. It has the advantage of being my home computer, so I'd have everything I normally use close at hand. Still, I don't think it's a very good option.

I have considered one of the Fujitsu Windows laptops with the ridiculous battery life—many models get up into the eight-to-nine-hour range using Wi-Fi. I would expect that using an EVDO or UMTS modem will cut into that fairly heavily, as well. I could also use something like the Eee, I suspect, although the battery life on the Eee isn't all that spectacular, frankly.

Finally, I could try to use a smartphone with an external keyboard. It would be light and relatively power-sipping (although perhaps not so power-sipping when used for hours at a time over 3G).

Of those options, the standard laptop with a long battery life seems the best option, although I'm totally open to debate on that point. Perhaps the most important requirement will be the ability to charge a second battery outside of the computer itself.

See, my plan is to charge everything with a solar roll. Something like the SolarRoll from Brunton, in fact. But since even the largest roll they sell can only trickle charge a battery, I'll need to keep one battery charging while I use the laptop. That may take a little fancy jiggering to make it work, especially if there is no proper charger available and I have to figure out how to charge the batteries directly from the panels. That's beyond my current ability as a tinkerer, but I'm sure there are loads of people who could tell me how to rig the whole thing up. Perhaps even safely!

Connectivity will have to be 3G. I don't see any other way around it. (Even if I could afford a satellite data box, I doubt I could afford the data rates.) The last time I was up in the Valley on a trail I was pulling down five bars on my phone, as was my hiking buddy. As long as those towers have a 3G cell—very probable on the CDMA carriers—I should be fine. This will be a deciding factor in my choice of location, of course, and I'll be sure to check with the carriers before I go traipsing off for a week. I'd like to avoid renting a car, too, so I'll likely be sticking to one of the mountains that can be reached by the trains of the Metro North line. There are tons of good trails around New York City, although I'm open to other location suggestions.

The final question will be what odds and ends products to take out to be reviewed. I'll have to be pretty limited in my selection, since the laptop, solar roll, extra batteries, shelter, clothing, food and water will already make for a heavy pack. (Not to mention the space I'll have to make for a whole carton of cigarettes and a few sheets of Pork Roll Ups.) But I'll have a lot of free time on my hands, too, especially since I'll need to save the laptop's battery power for working, not entertainment. I'll be packing the Kindle and doing a bit of reading, I'm sure, so there's that. Maybe I could try to set up snares are capture some food.

Also, before it gets said in the comments: Yes, I know the point of camping is usually to get away from all the tech. I agree! But this isn't a normal camping trip, so the normal rules don't apply. Spare me the sermon this once knowing that I am normally of the same persuasion.

Image Source: Kruggg6

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32 Comments

  1. Just because you need a laptop for Image editing, doesn’t mean it needs to be what you blog on. You could use the low power smartphoe most of the time and then just fire up an Eee for doing the images.

  2. I would like to suggest this as an excellent time to give up the cigarettes. Pack a couple boxes of nicorette gum or patches, which will take up considerably less space and take advantage of the fact that you will be out of your routine.

  3. For food, I’ve really liked the recipes from this book-> Lipsmackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin’ (Paperback)
    by Christine Conners (Author), Tim Conners (Author)” (my girlfriend got it for me) Easy, tasty, light, cheap. I took a number of the recipes snow camping. “Ez ed’s burritos” “Bribe Chocolate Drink” and energy balls. They were the hit of camp. First time on a backpacking trip the food has been good, like at home good and not starving-to-death-and-barely-able-to-choke-down good that most backpacking food is. It is a bit difficult to find all of the ingredients for recipes in one (or two) stores, but well worth it.

    http://preview.tinyurl.com/26yue2
    http://tinyurl.com/26yue2

  4. Don’t drink your urine more than once.

    Seriously, though, a significant portion of your kit weight SHOULD be drinking water.

  5. s far as the tent idea, consider a Hubba tent
    http://www.rei.com/product/762724?vcat=REI_SEARCH
    Plenty of room for one person, go with the two person if you want real luxury. The key is you can sit up fully inside, in case of a rainy day.

    Hennessey hammocks are great, I have two myself. It can work as a chair during the day, and keeps you up off the ground. Not your stuff though, thats an important thing to consider.
    Make sure you take it for a test overnight if you haven’t already. Hammock camping is not for everyone. Most users I’ve met replace the stock canopy with a larger one to create a safer dry zone for gear.

  6. ditto to number 3, but…
    screw the gum etc, just be a man and go through your withdrawl away from friends and loved ones.
    you could also allow yourself a pack or two of a brand that you don’t like just to help taper off the enjoyment factor as well as the nic.
    stay strong (or remain weak!, your choice)
    ; )

  7. Take a small, lightweight tarp. Should your tent spring a leak you’ll have something to cover the gear – and you. I’m with Mujadaddy – take more drinking water than you’ll think you’ll need and carry along some purification pills or a device to purify the water you DO drink from streams.

    Oh, and you should always know where your towel is! 😉

  8. I would like to weigh in completely disagreeing with those who suggest quitting cigarettes while you’re out there, Joel. The impression you gave in the post suggested an inquiry into feasibility conducted in the scientific spirit, no? Your mood will be a control against which you can make observations about the experiment. That control will be utterly lost if you are also going through withdrawal from nicotine, which can be worse than Trainspotting for many. This experiment should take into account the possibility for enjoying wilderblogging.

    See, kids? Science can be fun!

  9. Don’t forget about pooping. Be sure to know what the human waste rules are for the area where you will be. Hopefully, you can get by with just TP and a plastic trowel.

    Agree with #8 about the tarp. Also, if it does rain, tarp+cord can make a covered area around your tent so you don’t have to stay inside the tent all day, and if you are clever about it, you can use it to collect rainwater. Happy camping!

  10. For water, pick up little hand pumped microfilter like this one
    http://www.mec.ca/Products/product_detail.jsp?PRODUCT%3C%3Eprd_id=845524442621145&FOLDER%3C%3Efolder_id=2534374302696689&bmUID=1204655275651
    Your local camping store should carry them and you can get a good one suitable for one or two people for less than $100. Means you only need a day or so water on you as long as water sources are available.

    I’ve used a couple of these things and they have all done a great job.

  11. I just went through a really intense review process to find a good portable computing device for a bunch of upcoming rural/wilderness projects, and I ended up choosing the Nokia N810 internet tablet. Small, decent battery life and easily rechargeable, running the Linux programs that I need with a built-in keyboard, a usable GPS – that’s exactly what I needed.

    For your purposes, I’d recommend Nokia’s slightly older internet tablet model – the N800. The battery life is pretty good, and more importantly, the batteries are cheap ($10-20 cheap) and easy to charge in readily-available external chargers. You can get a bluetooth keyboard or (as I’ve done) get a roll-up USB keyboard and plug it in when you need it. There are ports of most Linux programs you would need – AbiWord, the Quiver image program and at least a couple blogging clients – and the built-in browser is excellent. Also, if you feel like it, you can always upgrade the memory cards in the N800 – you could stick in 2 16 GB SDHC cards if you want to (though I’m not sure you’d need all that storage in the woods).

    The machine is light and easy to carry. I’ve stuck mine in a Pelican case and have never worried about damaging it again. If you want to spend the extra money, the N810’s GPS unit is pretty good – which is just one more thing that I don’t have to carry for minor trips (although I’d still take a GPS unit for a serious remote trip that involved me staking my life on it).

  12. You are going to be miserable. I have done exactly this, and I spent virtually all of my time fucking around with electronic things that seemingly develop fatal diseases the moment I was surrounded by trees. I had absolutely no time for work, and the solar tarp I brought was nearly useless with the average spring sun my site had.

    If you love your sanity and stress level, rent a furnished, gridded cabin.

  13. Joel, I think this is a great idea and it amazes me that there are no obvious solutions developed yet for this kind of thing. I used to be a kayak guide and always dreamed about remote connectivity. When working in Siberia, the reindeer herders I met used a really simple hand-powered generator to run their radios. I think that this is the way to go, though the generator recommended above looks absurdly impractical for hiking or even cycling. A quick search turned up the rip-cord generator designed for the XO OLPC laptop: potenco

    I wonder if you could get your hands on one of these and if it would be effective given your equipage.

    As noted above, I would also be reluctant to rely on solar energy alone. Even if you’re dying of dissentry you’d have the energy to pull a rip-cord and send out one last post to boing-boing. While a cloudy day could put a kybosh on that if you only had a solar panel. (obviously that assumes the generator doesn’t breakdown).

    good luck and keep us posted.

  14. Not sure how deep you’re planning on going but i’d suggest a nice folding shovel and for all-purpose readiness and state laws considered, a gun, you can go simple with something like a Ruger Mark III (.22 cal) pistol. Ammo is cheap and if you need to, you can hunt small game for survival while you wait for S&R to arrive.

  15. Shovel — absolutely necessary.

    Tarp — absolutely necessary. Not only can you COVER if your tent leaks, you should pitch the tent OVER the tarp, to avoid ground moisture.

  16. The eeepc has fairly low battery life, but it also pulls a lot less power than a standard laptop (about 24 watts while charging, 18 watts charged, as opposed to 100+ watts for a normal laptop) which makes it a lot more suitable for use with a solar panel.

    I really like the Kelty Gunnison tent (though not at retail prices) because the rain fly is enormous, which allows you to get your gear out of the rain without having to live with it in the tent. A spare tarp or two is an absolute must – you’ll find things to do with them. I usually take enough rope to hang a small tarp and have a line running underneath to hang things up to dry (even if it isn’t raining, you’ll get things wet).

    Crazy creek chairs are ok for sitting, but a roll-a-chair (or anything with legs) keeps you up off the ground, which can be good if it gets wet out.

    As for food, minute rice and couscous are both nice because you only have to get the water boiling, then you just let them steam (off the heat) for 5 minutes. I create a broth by boiling dried tomatoes, dried onions, dried mushrooms, etc. for a few minutes first, then add the rice or couscous and take it off the heat.

    A flask of whiskey is a must.

  17. I’m a fully self-contained touring cyclist and have found the following to be important when I’m out in the woods:

    1) A good LED “headlamp”. Of all my gear, it’s the one thing that gets used the most and I consider it essential. Having it head-mounted frees your hands, especially great in the middle of the night when you need to find something in your pack. Princeton Tec makes several good models (link below). Get one that takes AAA bats and be sure to pack enough extras. Worth every dime… I’d almost consider packing two of them, or at least another small handheld backup.

    2) A really good backpacking stove. Crappy, heavy and/or inefficient stoves are an aggravation you won’t want to deal with, trust me. I use an MSR Dragonfly, a bit noisy but it works well and is incredibly light and really easy to pack. Try your stove out a few times at home so you’ll know how much fuel to pack… it’s easy to bring either too much or not enough fuel.

    3) Decent rain gear. Lots to choose from here, so look around for what works for you. Being cold and wet will seriously cut into your productivity, so don’t be tempted to skimp.

    4) I’m another fan of the MSR tents. I have the Hubba Hubba two-man tent and love it. Lots of room, light, packs well and has a cheery orange glow when you’re inside!

    At the risk of stating the obvious, try to use pen and paper as much as possible for your work and only go online for as long as you absolutely need to so you save your batteries. The voice of experience: whatever solution you go with to charge batteries won’t be enough for the long haul, so the less juice used, the better.

    For drinking water, one thing I haven’t tried yet is the Steripen. It looks almost too good to be true, but it would sure beat the hell out of using a pump.

    LED headlight link:

    http://www.princetontec.com/headlamps.htm

    Steripen link:

    http://www.steripen.com/

    Good luck! Your plan sounds like a lot of fun!

  18. Shovel, definitely. You’ll find all sorts of weird uses for it. I’ve even used mine as a fishing pole (with a small kit with hooks, line etc. that I keep in my emergency kit).

    Like someone said above, a water purifier/pump is the way to go for your water supply. Screw carrying in water as long as you don’t plan to camp in death valley. Taking a walk sans pack to a stream and carrying water back is much better than trying to bring it all in with you.

    And the real important thing I have to say is that most state’s fishing licenses have a small charge attached to them that pays for general search and rescue expenses. In Colorado they charge a grand total of $0.25 to be airlifted out by a heli in an emergency. Check to see if your state fishing license has this, and pay the ~$20 to get one. That way you can fish with your shovel at will as well.

  19. I have to second AMS’ vote for the N800 – it’s an amazingly capable device. I’ve got it connecting to the web through my phone’s bluetooth, and it works like a charm. It will survive for days with light use, and even heavy usage will provide hours of life. Add in a few spare batteries and you could possibly manage without even a charger. Depending on how much photo editing you need to do, you could use the browser to do some web-based stuff, but I would consider using remote desktop to edit the pictures on your home computer. It might be a bit slower, but you will have all the capability of a home computer in a device that fits in your hand.

    I have to say, even though you aren’t planning on carrying your pack around the whole time, it might be pretty miserable to lug around with your constantly growing list. The kindle seems like an excess, if you could find something else to do the job.(N800 maybe…)

    You’ll want a good water filter – I would look for something designated as a “microfilter”, because these will remove both bacteria and protozoa. A purifier or iodine tablets would also take care of virii, but in many areas they aren’t an issue. I recently purchased a Katadyn Vario – they just came out – good filtration, fast, not too big. Very neat.

    I didn’t see a stove on your list. You could get by with just dry, cold food, but I imagine you might want something warm eventually. You can make a homemade pop-can stove that will run on alcohol, weigh next to nothing, and cost nothing at all. Or, if you want something more substantial, MSR makes a lot of good stoves. I use a Jetboil, it’s an elegant, efficient set-up that spares you the need for an elaborate mess kit.

  20. Not sure if you were planning to do this or not, or if it would be too much of a hassle, but doing some video blogs out there would be badass.

  21. If you’re hiking any distance, get decent boots, and wear two sets of socks. The inner socks can be relatively thin, and should wick sweat away from your skin to prevent blisters, while the outer socks should be thicker and provide more cushion. You should have at least one set of spares for each type of sock, and you should change them every day, or as soon as your feet get damp.

    I would also recommend two one-quart bottles with a wide mouth (think nalgene), and a hand pump water purifier. That way, the only water that ever touches those bottles has already been filtered. Incidentally, they also make a french press that works inside a nalgene (You posted it on BBG if I remember correctly).

    Stuff a couple extra garbage bags in your pack as well. They can be used for any number of different things, and they don’t weigh much.

    On the testing of new gear and generating power front, perhaps you can convince them to let you take this on your trip:
    http://www.technovelgy.com/ct/Science-Fiction-News.asp?NewsNum=452

  22. Here’s the Kansas City perspective. I tried this same gig last fall, and failed miserably.

    The problem is weight. My plan was to conduct a back-coutry hike through Mark Twain National Forest, and blog it. FAIL.

    Multitude of difficulty:

    -Each technology added adds weight. Drop the solar cell gear for hand cranked, OLPC-type stuff. less parts = less weight. My VAIO UMPC was burdensome when coupled with recharging gear.

    -Forget 3G. CDMA is sketchy at best. I’ve had 4 bars in the Rockikes at 14k ft., and I’ve had nothin’ a 1/4 mi. off I-70 an hour out of KC.

    -Check with the park rangers before you go. They will tell where the watering holes are during any given season.

    -Excess weight will ruin your trip.

    -No water will ruin your trip.

    All that said, it’d be fun to try and rig a packet-radio connection in the middle of nowhere using only a bobbin, duck tape,and a bar-be-qued spare-rib.

  23. I think this is a great idea (viz. crazy but likely to be amusing). I rarely have any electronics beyond a headlamp in the wild, but here’s my 2 cents.

    I own a Hennessey Hammock and it’s the driest tent I’ve ever slept in, assuming you tie down the rainfly very tightly. Cons: you MUST practice setting it up before you leave; no insulation on your back (wear more fleece!); mine tends to pinch my feet together.

    Ditch the hatchet unless you expect to have logs to split or you’re going to build a shelter. Don’t chop down trees or branches: in heavily-used areas wood-chopping can quickly strip out the undergrowth. If you get a non-canister MSR stove, practice disassembling, cleaning, and reassembling it. They last forever but only if you maintain them.

    Water purification isn’t worth spending a mint on.
    If you’re going light and/or don’t mind the taste, use chemicals – iodine tablets or the much milder chlorine-based AquaMira.
    I’ve used a Kataydin PUR Hiker filter for years. As I understand it, your main concern in most US backcountry areas is giardia. Unless you expect to encounter sewage contamination viruses aren’t a problem. Cryptosporidium is rare and mostly a problem for immunocompromised people. So don’t go overboard on charcoal filters, combined chemical/filter solutions, etc.

    If it’s going to be a dry season (check the USGS streamgages), carry more spare water bladders (say 4-6L per person for a dry camp), be ready to backtrack to the last water source, and follow streambeds downhill. You don’t need much more than a puddle for a filter with a hose, or a dipper. You can filter swampwater too.

    Final thoughts – get a real map, not just a guide and a Google Maps printout.
    Pick a target pack weight (50 lbs should be achievable) and try walking a few miles with dummy weights in your pack. Adjust if necessary.
    Get a STEEL trowel. Good for rocky ground. I broke a plastic one once. NOT COOL.
    Double-bag everything. “Trash compactor bags” are much sturdier than the regular kind.
    No damn cotton… but you knew that, right?

  24. you can definitely pull this off. especially if it’s only for a week! a good place to start your planning is trailjournals.com. it’s a site set up for hikers to share their adventures. each hiker lists every item they carry. here are two links that i think would help you:

    http://www.trailjournals.com/birdlegs
    “birdlegs” is a mild mannered 30-something librarian from brooklyn who quit her job last year to thru-hike the AT. she also edited the NY section of “the thru hiker’s companion, 2007”–a must have item which identifies every shelter campground and watersource along the trail. her blog from last summer’s hike is very entertaining and the counter indicates that it has been visited 146,178 times.

    http://www.trailjournals.com/tjamrog
    “uncle tom” updated his blog almost every night last summer FROM THE TRAIL. he carried some kind of hand held device that could sync up to his phone. he would type away and then hold this thing next to his phone and off went the update. uncle tom also had quite a following, his blog has 138,863 visits as of now.

  25. I’d like to offer a couple of thoughts…

    Don’t quit smoking during this endeavor. Definitely quit when you come back. If you go out there nicotine deprived everything that goes wrong no matter how insignificant will seem as if it threatens the very existence of our universe.

    Check out this stove…
    http://www.sportsmansguide.com/net/cb/cb.aspx?a=288270
    I’ve used it for some ultralight weekend camping and it’s great. No fuel to carry and it burns hot.

    I like the Hennessey hammocks, but I like sleeping on my stomach more which is awkward in the hammock, so I don’t own one.

    Definitely take a tarp, an emergency blanket (the shiny space type), as much twine or cord as you feel comfortable, duct tape, and a good, sharp knife.

    This has been a cool thread. Lot’s of good comments. I’m anxious to go camping again!

  26. This is exciting! One thing I hate about camping is not having a chair. If you feel the same way, maybe you could bring one of those straps that go around your knees and back, making it comfortable to sit.

  27. Baby wipes. Perhaps flushable ones (assuming they biodegrade easier).

    crank LED flashlight.

    A good, sharp knife. Nothing Rambo sized.

    A good first aid kit, and unless you’re camping in the woods behind mom’s house, an emergency beacon such as back country skiiers use.

    A most of all..GOOD HIKING BOOTS and GOOD SOCKS.

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