Kay and I had been planning a couples hike for 3 months with some friends, but each time we planned something in June and August, the weather was so awful on the weekend of the hike that we canceled the hike or the whole get together. Finally in September, we decided to just do it, even if the weather forecast was looking pretty negative.
With myself having just been in the US the weekend before and Kay having spent the last three weeks in the army, we were both pretty tired and not necessarily excited about the prospect of spending the weekend exercising outdoors in inclement weather. Still, as always, I’m glad we went and tried.We ended up hiking in the Monte Tamaro region of Tessin, where we visited the St. Maria degli Angeli Church designed by Mario Botta at Alpe Foppa during our little bit of sunshine on Saturday afternoon.Overall, the weather was a little chilly and pretty foggy. The hike was misty and soggy all day, but made for cool walking, which is not the worst compared to a scorching mountain side.The hike was not too strenuous, but I could still feel my legs struggling after a new training routine at my gym the previous Thursday. The weather was also getting more and more misty and wet the later in the evening it got.When we finally arrived to the “hut” that our friends had booked, which was more of a chalet I believe, we ran into these friendly, fuzzy cows. How cute!I loved their furry faces.Kay tried to pet them, but we didn’t have any food, so they were not that interested actually.
In the lodge, we all took showers. Wow. This is glamping to me. I didn’t even bring any soap or change of clothes with me, so I used the hand soap and put my sweaty clothes back on. No one noticed, I swear.
At dinner I enjoyed a minestrone soup and some polenta and cheese for dinner, because apparently the meat only came floured and I could not convince them to prepare the meat another way. Also, the wine came in funny small 1dl cups.The next morning we woke up to the scene below. We’d already decided to get up early because the next bus home after the 7:45 one was at 12:45, and we didn’t want to hang around or hike through the rain, especially because my friend’s husband had rolled his ankle and it was hurting him pretty badly.Not lying when I say I was also looking forward to go home and relax after traveling the previous weekend. I was sooo tired.We didn’t actually make it to the top of the hike, ironically. We were saving it for the second day, but we all still enjoyed the hike we did, especially because we chose a more back country path that was more rugged and interesting.
It’s pretty clear that autumn is moving in quickly and I don’t feel ready yet. Are you ready for colder temperatures?
With Street Parade coming up and summer coming to a close, Kay and I wanted to get out of Zürich for the weekend and spend a night in the Alps, so last Saturday morning we hopped on the train with our coffee and my bagged refrigerator oats at 6:30am and rode 2 hours towards Dallenwil to start an Alpine trail.
Mmm Mmm, baggie food. It was actually blueberry and goji berry refrigerator oats and it was tasty, despite looking like a bag of barf.
The train was also packed at 6:30am because we weren’t the only ones escaping Street Parade. Streets filled with smoke, thousands of people dancing in sweaty, embarrassing getups, trash, puke, foot and train traffic? No thanks. I’ll take the Alps over that any day.
I was gutted to find out that I forgot my walking sticks though. My magical walking sticks. It made hiking seem very, very slow… for me. Not for Kay, who was always about 500m or more ahead.
We had lots of cows on our trails, which meant watching out for fresh cow pies. But the cows were so cute and friendly!
Swiss cows are used to wanderers walking through their grounds and some of them even come over for pets. Apparently they like being scratched behind the ears… and they like licking salt off you too!
Mmmm, salty hikers!
It became a bit cloudy the more we were hiking, which is great for walking, but when we got to the top of our hills it was quite chilly after all the rain during the week.
And those blasted clouds started following us up on the hill and surrounding us in cloud every time we got to a peak damnit!
Still, it’s hard not to admire the beauty around you as you are walking.
When we got to the end of the pre-alpine trail, the alpine trail started up and it was actually fairly steep and scary. Sometimes on one side there would just be a big, rolling hill, but I kept my eyes on the path and kept going.
We also saw for the first time a sheep dog, which barked at us for 20 minutes while we took a bathroom break and tried to decide if the dog would bite us or not. We weren’t anywhere near the sheep, but we had to walk into the sheep dog’s area to pass.
Kay walked along the fence until it became too steep on the one side and the dog barked at him the whole time. I shushed the dog and told him to be quiet and then I crossed over the fence while the dog was by Kay. I was a little scared that he would come attack me since he was a very big dog, but almost as soon as I crossed the dog came halfway towards me and then lay down in the middle of the path and was quiet while I walked past him.
In order to travel light, Kay wanted me to try sleeping in a bivi bag for the first time so he could avoid carrying the tent and give us the opportunity to sleep in many places tents could not be set up. This is how we were able to settle on the location below for the night.
Bivi (or bivy) bags are basically water and windproof bags that you put your sleeping bag in for the night. It’s kind of like sleeping out in the open without a tent, except that you still have a sleeping mat and protection from the rain and wind. Sort of.
I say “sort of” because my bivi bag was cheaper material than Kay’s, so as soon as I was in it for the evening it was already forming condensation on the inside. Kay told me to sleep with the bivi bag unzipped, which helped a little… but I woke up in the middle of the night with a snail two inches from my face on the inside of my bivi bag. AHHH.
Whew. Aside from the snail and the sporadic claustrophobia feelings inside the bags, I slept OK. It was a pretty windy spot on the mountain and I got pretty cold at times at night, so at some points I did need to close the hood of my sleeping bag to cover all but my nose… and at other times I thought I would suffocate if I didn’t free my arms a little. But it was worth it to wake up in this setting:
In typical mountain settings, the ground warms up in the morning and the dew starts to evaporate into clouds that rise up and over the mountains. The only bad thing about all the condensation and dew is that all our packs had gotten fairly wet overnight. It was the biggest difference than sleeping in the tent where your pack is safely inside the tent, protected from dew.
But sometimes when I woke up at night with my face poking out of my sleeping bag, I got to see a sky full of stars that I’m not used to seeing in the city. It was magical!
We also had not found a water source before camping for the night and unfortunately, we ran out of water during breakfast the next morning. I had a mild panic attack as we started our 4 hour hike on Sunday with little to no water left in Kay’s pack.
I may have been desperate enough to be picking grass and licking the dew off of it. And leaves…. leaves that tasted strongly of chives. I was thirsty!
The hike the next day was not nearly as fun without my sticks and with such rocky, muddy paths going down the hill.
Below is basically what one of our paths looked like… and I was not impressed in my dehydration! A fellow wanderer told us this was the difference between a “walk” in the mountains and a “hike”. And he was right!
We made it to water eventually and then back home, but we didn’t get quite all the hiking done so Kay wants to head back to this region again for a day hike to get to the last peak with a lookout point over lake Luzern.
How do you feel about camping in the wilderness? Would you ever sleep in a bivi bag?
Kay and I have been hiking more in the past few years and the more we hike, the more I learn about myself and what I can handle. We learned pretty quickly that I cannot handle carrying a lot, especially when we climb steep uphill. As soon as the incline hits, my speed drops to a snail’s pace.
On our first few major hikes together, I was always carrying too much and would inevitably give my camera or even my whole pack to Kay when it got tough, which made the hike more difficult for him. With this in mind, we stripped down what I’m allowed to carry (if anything) to the essentials.
For day trips, we often head out with with 1-2 packs. Kay takes his small Camelbak (on the left above) that carries water, our jackets, snacks, sunglasses cases and wallets. If it’s a long hike, I take the even smaller Camelbak hydration pack (on the right above) that carries a bladder, but not much else. I can fit my debit card and a pack of tissues in and that’s about it, but it’s great because I don’t have to chase after Kay to give me a sip of water when I’m dying. I only have to chase him if I want some dextrose.
On more intense day trips, Kay upgrades to his Mystery Ranch backpack to carry cooking gear and I borrow his Camelbak to carry my jacket and things.
The problem is that when we go on city trips we often both would like a small pack to carry our cameras and jackets. So I’m looking for a pack that I can use for hiking as well as city trips and as a carryon when flying.
This Meru pack was pretty light weight and comfortable, which would definitely be a plus for carryon weight restrictions. It fit my camera, even in it’s Kata Access-18 PL bag, and it had a handy mesh pocket on the outside that would be good for storing a jacket quickly. The main compartment had zipper entry divided in two for organization and space for a hydration system. The pack was a bright blue and there were no other options for colors at the store.
It did not have compression straps that I could use to attach my hiking poles to the bag, nor did it have a rain cover (what about my camera!?) and it did not have a spacer mesh to separate the pack from your back and keep your back from heating up your water… (Bleagh!) But for 79CHF, the pack is relatively affordable.
The version I saw at the store was such a lovely colour. Light grey with teal blue accents for the logo. Very girly in my opinion. There was also another raspberry option that I thought was a bit ugly.
The Crea Element has a very sturdy hip belt and I really liked the mesh suspension system. Normally when we walk, the Camelback is in the backpack against your back and it heats up. Usually your first sip of water is cold because it’s the water left in the hose, but then you get a mouthful of warm water thereafter. It’s kinda gross in the summer.
This pack also had a wonderful built-in detachable rain cover. I love the rain cover built into my Lowepro camera bag because it is really handy, but on this pack I also loved that it is detachable so that if you needed to take it out to store some extra things when you are flying for example, you can detach the rain cover and store it separately, or remove it to dry if needed. Genius!
In addition to the rain cover, the Crea Element comes with a waste bag and a “women’s necessity bag”. With the top lid pockets, this gives you a fair amount of options for organizing things.
Unfortunately though, this pack is only about 20L and it did not fit my Kata bag with the camera. I could try to use Kay’s small crumpler bag which really only houses the camera and one lens, but I worried that maybe 20L is really too small to fit much, especially when flying.
The Creon Element is a bigger 25L version of the Crea Element (oddly for the same price…), but unfortunately it does not come in the pretty grey/blue that the smaller pack does. It’s pretty obvious that the smaller pack is for women and the larger pack is for men. This pack comes in a putrid green, blue that wasn’t at the store or black with a horrid red Mammut logo. In my opinion, the red is really screaming, “Hey, I’m an expensive brand, look at me!” It looks worse in real life than it does in the photo.
When it comes down to it, I will choose my pack based mainly on functionality, but obviously I don’t want to walk around with a really ugly pack. This pack also had the suspension system, removable rain cover and it also had just enough room for my Kata bag. Both Mammut bags also have dedicated trekking pole straps that look pretty sturdy. (They are also for ice picks apparently…)
It is questionable if I could fit the Kata camera pack and the Camelbak hydration system in at the same time. Another flaw about the Mammut bags is that they are both drawstring, which is not quite as easy to get in and out of as zippered packs. The Creon Element does not come with the women’s necessity bag and it had less pockets in the top compartment, so overall it seemed a bit more primitive than the Crea Element.
While I was trying to find the Mammut backpacks for sale in the States, I came across Osprey packs for women. I went back to Transa and it turns out they only have the Stratos series for men in supply, but the men’s packs have many of the same features as the women’s. I spent about 45 minutes trying them out, so I think it gave me a pretty good idea about what the Sirrus series would be like.
The Sirrus series all have mesh suspension systems, although it looks like the pack is held a little closer to the back than the Mammut bags, especially at the top and bottom of the pack where they attach. I’m not sure how that would affect airflow, considering that Mammut boasts some “chimney effect” with theirs. This is a 24L zippered pack with easy access, but only one small pocket on the front that houses the detachable rain cover. Small point – the rain covers on the Sirrus/Stratos packs attach with velcro and the Mammut ones have a clip. I feel like the clips are sturdier and the velcro seems a bit cheaper, even though the Osprey packs cost more money in Swiss francs.
The Osprey bags also have compression straps on the side, but Osprey also has a system for storing your trekking poles on the go that looks really cool. I almost always hike with poles (Grandma!) so I’m really interested in this part, but I’ve read some reviews that in the summer the poles rub against your arm when you store them this way, so I’m not sure how effective the system actually is.
Sirrus packs come in turquoise and purple, but again, I’m not a big fan of this shade of purple.
Kay had me convinced that the 20L Mammut pack was way too small, especially for air travel, so I started looking at some of Osprey’s larger 36L packs.
Osprey also designed the Sirrus packs with hip belts made for women so they fit better around a woman’s curves. They also have special shoulder straps so that the backpack doesn’t dig into your breasts when you are walking. I noticed when I tried on the Mammut Creon Element, I had to put the chest strap all the way at the top and the bag still felt a bit like it wasn’t designed for me.
Both the 24L and the 36L Osprey packs have hipbelt pockets that are absent on the Mammut packs. I’ve been jealous that Kay has hipbelt pockets his Mystery Ranch backpack that are not on my Mystery Ranch pack. They would be so helpful for storing tissues, lip balm and lens cleaning clothes on hikes. I blow my nose ALL the time! There is even a little pocket on one of the shoulder straps. I’m sure if Kay had one, he would love to store his GPS in it.
In addition, this pack has a drawstring opening with a pack lid that has two zippered compartments. It also has a second front pocket in addition to a much roomier rain cover pocket than the 24L.
It seems like it’s always a big question of how the camera fits in the pack and whether I have the camera in a camera bag (for protection) and whether that fits as well. If I go for a smaller 24L size, I may run into issues with getting things to fit when I fly, but at the same time, most 34-36L packs exceed carryon requirements so I’m sort of stuck.
I’m also still not the biggest fan of drawstring bags because you really have to take them completely off to dig around in them, but can I really survive flying with only 24L? Maybe I should just follow Kay’s example and buy two day packs. Hah!
Do you have a laundry list of requirements for your backpack?