015: Alpaca: A Fiber to be Reckoned With

Photo: William Warby

Show Notes: Episode 015

Heather shares a reason to listen to some brotherly advice. Then, we have a new feature that will get you Ready for Adventure! On the Backpack Hack of the Week™ you’ll learn how to have the nicest looking waterproof matches on the trail.  A fictitious listener sends in a question to the First 40 Miles.  And we’ll wrap up the show with a little Trail Wisdom from an absolute saint.


  • Alpaca, a fiber to be reckoned with…
  • Alpacas are from the Camelid family
  • They produce a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber.
  • While similar to sheep’s wool, it is warmer and has no lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic.
  • Alpaca has hollow cell in the fiber
  • Two main breeds of Alpacas use for fiber: the Huacaya (crimped, dense) and Suri (silky, slick)
  • Its softness comes from having a different smoother scale surface than sheep wool
  • Alpaca fibers are usually blended with other fibers like Merino wool, acrylic, nylon, spandex or Lycra, for performance, comfort, or increased wear.
  • Alpaca is warmer, lighter and stronger
  • Woop!Wear.com is a great place to start for the most basic of all backpacking clothing: Base layers. Woop!Wear uses a blend of baby Alpaca fiber and sheep wool
  • Baby Alpaca–not from baby Alpacas! It refers to the grade of alpaca fiber…18-20 microns

Top 5 Reasons to Bring Your Smart Phone

It’s a Superlight Camera

  • Consider leaving your “Wedding Beast” at home
  • Lightweight (my phone is 4.5 ounces and our Nikon weighs twice that!)
  • Capture memories, facial expressions, funny moments—not to make it on the cover of Nat Geographic.
  • Open source (FREE) photo editing programs like GIMP
  • Ollo Clip camera clip on lenses for iPhone 4,5,6 and Samsung 4 + 5 (fish eye, wide angle, macro) (telephoto just for iPhone 6)

Use your Smart Phone to Take Notes

  • Great way to document the trip, journal or take notes for your next trip.
  • Use it to take audio notes

Smart Phone can Store all Your Music/Podcasts

  • Source of comfort
  • Makes long stretches of the trail more enjoyable

Use Tool Apps

  • My Tracks (FREE) May not always by synced with a map, but it will track your data even if you’re out of cell range.
  • Clinometer: This will help you check the incline of any trail just by holding out your phone.
  • Altimeter: We’re recording The First 40 Miles at 172 feet above sea level
  • Compass or Navigation

Search and Rescue

  • Pinging
  • New Search and Rescue idea

Just remember to keep your phone on airplane mode to conserve battery, keep it close to your body at night so the battery stays warm, and keep it dry and protected by stowing it a quart freezer zip top bag.  And use it judiciously.

Ready for Adventure

You’ve been invited on a 3 day 2 night trip by a couple of close friends you knew in college—not the partying type of friends. More the “staying up till midnight talking” type of friends.

  • Share gear
  • Bring one water filter, one stove
  • However, I think I’ll bring my own tent
  • Camera or phone

The plan is to hike 6 miles the first day, stay in camp the second day, and hike 6 miles back out the 3rd day.

  • Won’t want to wear hiking shoes the second day
  • Bring insulated lightweight, closed toe camp shoes, like Pakems, since it’s February

Your friends picked a low elevation and gentle trail, since you’ll probably want to do a lot of talking and catching up.

  • Low elevation means that snow probably won’t be an issue

Day time temps will be in the mid 50s with nighttime temps in the mid to upper thirties.

  • Pack a medium weight thermal base layer instead of a light weight,
  • Long sleeve quick-dry shirt
  • Insulating fleece
  • Synthetic insulated puffy
  • A little heavier weight wool hiking sock
  • Also, pack an air activated 18 hour hand + body warmer (like Hot Hands or Yaktrax)

The weather report gives a 40% chance of rain for all three days.

  • 40% isn’t enough to deter us from going
  • Rain gear for sure
  • Super absorbent camp towel
  • Waterproof Keen Shoes
  • Not going to rely on fire to keep me warm since most of the wood could be waterlogged from previous rain storms

But wait! There’s more: On Day 2 you wake up with what looks like a rash or thousand small bites all over your arms. You look around but don’t see anything that could have caused it….

  • Use ointment from first aid kit
  • Either it’ll get better, or it’ll get worse…

Backpack Hack of the Week™: Waterproof Matches

  • The typical solution to WP matches is to dip them in paraffin. Over time the paraffin-dipped matches get bumped around, and the paraffin gets knocked off.
  • Waterproof Matches (not waterproof striker, though) : all you need are a box of wooden matches and a bottle of finger nail polish
  • Dip each match in the bottle of nail polish (clear or fancy color)
  • Let dry on a piece of parchment paper

Backpackers Q +A: Good Fuel

Question sent in from fictitious listener, Amy in Delaware, “The typical backpacking fare seems to be Slim Jims, pop tarts and top ramen. How do I get enough calories to keep up with amount I’m burning, but not nutritionally trash my body each day?”

Nature makes some of the best calorie dense foods out there, and they don’t require much processing or refinement.

  • Nuts, seeds, dried fruits and beef jerky, good source of basic fuel
  • Steve’s Paleo Goods: Paleokrunch Apple Pie Grainless Granola. It’s 160 calories an ounce, and it truly does taste just like a buttery apple pie—all whole food ingredients!!
  • MaryJanes Farm Outpost has a huge selection of intensely flavored, world-food inspired, organic freeze dried meals. The food is in an EcoPouch, which can be burned on the trail, so you have zero packaging to carry out.
  • Honey Stinger makes some fabulous organic treats—Honey Stinger Waffles—unique, delicious, 160 cal/oz
  • If you want your question answered on The First 40 Miles, message us on Facebook or Twitter, and we’ll do our best to answer it on the show.

And just as a side note, we don’t endorse products or get sponsored, so any products or brands that we share on the show is just to let you know what’s out there. No pressure to buy, or feel like you’ll have any less of an experience if you don’t buy the things we talk about. It’s really just informational and fun to learn about stuff for backpackers!

Trail Wisdom

“People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine