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We were roughly 200 miles into our Journey on the Colorado Trail when we made the impulse decision to stay the night at the Mount Princeton Hot Springs.  It was here that a stranger would give us $50 dollars to enjoy a fancy meal at the resort after she heard of our story and what we were doing. People can be so great.  Jenny (my hiking partner) and I cleaned up, and went went for a nice sit down meal. We were feeling as rich as ever when in walked a Jesus look-alike donning tiny running shorts and a micro-puff jacket. This man clearly hadn’t showered in days, and the filth was all too familiar. With just one look, he knew exactly what we were doing, and we knew he was a fellow wanderer on the trail.  I waved him over, and we invited him to eat with us. The conversations that ensued were some of the most engaging and wild conversations I’ve ever been a part of. I was extremely fortunate to meet Todd. Much like many other long distance hikers, he had a passion for life, new adventures, and a longing to break away from the norm.  In one of our discussions Todd told me of Ray Jardine, and his book “Trail Life”.  Besides being amazed by Todd’s stories and way of life, I didn’t think much of our random chance meeting at the time. But the random chance of meeting Todd, and his recommendations and way of living had such a large impact on my future.

Todd far right

Jenny, Myself, and Todd in Creede, CO

That coming fall while reading through our journals of the trail, I stumbled on the scribbled note “Ray Jardine – Beyond Backpacking” from the conversation with Todd. I did some research and decided to give the book a read.  I was intrigued by Jardine’s radical backpacking ideas.  For instance, he recommends not treating any water, but rather to ‘train’ your body to fight off the bacteria naturally.  Many people highly contest his ideas, but I wanted to give many of them a shot.  One of his biggest recommendations is to make your own gear.  Ray Jardine sells his patterns to make all sorts of backpacking gear, from Tarps, Backpacks, Tents, Hats, Quilts, and so on.  In 2010, my mom taught me how to sew, and I proceeded to make two backpacks, a tarp, a net tent, some hats, and two quilts.  It was a lot of fun, and I’ve been using that gear ever since.  You can find more info at http://www.rayjardine.com. I highly recommend taking a look through his website.  I could spend days looking through it at all of his adventures.

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I have used the Ray Way Backpack (shown above) for all of my backpacking trips since making it, and absolutely love it.  However, there were many custom additions that I wanted to make to get a backpack that is exactly what I want for the PCT & AT.  While home for the Holidays a few months ago, I went ahead and ordered another kit, and started my notes for the adjustments I wanted.  For instance, the kit comes with a main body, one large back panel pocket, and a large pocket on each side.  I wanted to have two pockets on one side.  I also wanted loops for my ice axe (which I will need in the Sierra’s). You can choose what size backpack you want based on volume in cubic inches.  I chose the 2,800 cubic inch pack, with no hip belts. I much prefer a backpack without hip belts, as my base weight is low enough that I do not need them to distribute the weight of the pack to not just my shoulders. I have found that the backpack is much less restrictive on my body’s movement while hiking, much as Ray Jardine describes in “trail life” Here is a look at my experience making the backpack that I plan to carry for 5,000 miles this year:

The Ray-Way backpack kit comes with detailed instructions and bulk material. From here you cut the material to the specific pieces that are needed.

All of the individual pieces cut out and ready to be put together

All of the individual pieces cut out and ready to be put together

I needed some help remembering how to use my mothers sewing machine.  Without my mothers help, I would never have been able to make all of my backpacking gear.  She had a hand in a lot of my projects, and was the one who originally taught me how to sew.

Mom showing me the tricks

I penciled in where I wanted to change the design of the backpack slightly, noting my ideas and the dimensions that would be needed for the change. IMG_3663Hard at work

Without giving too much away, the backpack is made with the shoulder straps first, which are attached to the back panel.  I made a mistake in my measurements and one of the shoulder straps ended up about 1/2″ lower than the other.  It was too late to go back and fix it, and after using the pack several times, the difference is unnoticed.

completed back panel

After the back panel is finished, you begin working on the ‘front’ panel, which includes both sides.  After cutting out, you measure out where all of your straps and pockets will be sewn on.

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You then begin sewing the pockets on.  This is where my custom designs came in, and I wanted two pockets on one of the sides for easier gear organization.

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From here, you sew the reinforcements and attache the back panel to the front/side panels.  After this, the ‘lid’ of the backpack is added, which can be compressed, or used for an extra amount of room when you get a resupply.

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As you can see here, there are loops that I added to hold my ice axe in the Sierra’s.  I also added webbing to the back pocket.  This was a feature on one of my previous backpacks (a ULA) that I really liked to be able to hang my socks, tarp, or any other wet gear to dry while you’re hiking.  I seemed to use it a lot, and wanted this addition to my pack.  I’ve used the pack several times on hikes, loading up and I have to say, it feels great!  Here are some closer photo’s to see the design.  Last picture is the old pack that I have been using the past two years for comparison.

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Overall, I love the Ray Way Backpack.  Not only does it give me a customizable product that functions extremely well, but it also teaches you an invaluable skill of sewing and making your own gear.  I have found that I trust the gear I have made (Tarp especially)  much more than I do gear that I buy from a manufacturer.  Additionally, if you have the time, it is very cost effective, as the backpack is roughly 1/3 to 1/4 of the cost of an ultralight backpack of similar features.  As an added bonus, sewing all of these gear items allowed me to spend hours with my mom learning from her on something she grew up loving to do.  To have her pass this skill down to me has been something I will cherish for the rest of my life.  Additionally, here are a few pictures of my trap and net tent set up that I will be using on the trail. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below and I will be happy to answer as best I can.  Only two months until I’m heading out on my journey, and I cannot wait!

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