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Meet Joel: Backpacker, Researcher, Reviewer of the Month

by Alicia MacLeay
March 31, 2017

Congratulations to Joel (JRinGeorgia) of Georgia (surprise), our newest Reviewer of the Month! 

Joel is a backpacker, father, and market researcher. Some of his outdoor gear Joel has reviewed includes his Wild Ideas Bearikade Weekender bear canister and Dutchware Folding Sit Pad. A member since 2013, Joel also was one of our Top 25 Reviewers of 2016.

Members like Joel are essential to the Trailspace community. In thanks for his contributions, he wins a 10 Essentials prize pack worth more than $350.

Joel, and every 2017 Reviewer of the Month, will receive examples of each of the 10 Essentials of outdoor gear, thanks to Adventure Medical Kits, Arc'teryx, Brunton, Good To-Go, Mountaineers Books, Potable Aqua, Sawyer, SOL, The TentLab, UCO, and Victorinox.

Check out the 2017 prizes below or see "Essential Gear for our 2017 Reviewers of the Month."



Meet JRinGeorgia

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Joel. On the site I go by JR because those are my initials and a nickname that stuck from back when “Who shot JR?” was the catchphrase sweeping the country (many of you reading are probably too young to know what I’m talking about). I live in the Atlanta area, where I was born and raised. But even though I’m a Southerner by any definition, I don’t have a Southern accent.

I'm a single dad of a 16-year-old girl. I work in the marketing research industry, so I conduct surveys and focus groups for a variety of different business clients.



Any favorite stories?

I’ve been to Yosemite for the past five summers (and plan to again) and have met up with some hardcore Yosemite backpackers—these folks spend 100-plus nights a year in the park. And they know every nook and cranny, every secret camping spot, every cross-country route, etc.

In July 2014 one of these guys took me up on the domes of Mount Starr King. Amazing experience, but also happened to be a day that a big storm blew through. The day started off nice and sunny, but by late morning we could see threatening dark clouds racing up from the south. We were still above 8,000 feet, and even though we had expansive views and could see the storm coming for miles, it was on us before we could descend—sheets of rain, hail, and most fun of all was lots of lightning cracking all around us. Just dangerously close.

We were up high above treeline and completely exposed on bare granite. We had a long way to go to get into forest cover, and I was pretty concerned. We tried to find the right speed of descent—as fast as possible to get to cover from the lightning, but not so quickly that we would slip on the steep wet granite. As we got lower we crashed through a few hundred yards of head-high manzanita that was covering a maze of felled trees (blow-down), which shredded my lower legs (I did not want to take time to stop to zip on my convertible pant legs).

Eventually we made it into the forest and began hiking straight up a creek, except it wasn’t a creek it was the trail streaming full of runoff. A granite dome near us was streaming with dozens of spontaneous waterfalls.


Describe your happiest moment outdoors (or proudest or hardest).

How about hardest—August 2015 I was solo doing a loop on the Appalachian Trail around the Standing Indian area in North Carolina when I had a kidney stone attack, though at the time I didn’t know what was happening.

The loop was about 25 miles for a quick one-nighter. I did 15 miles the first day, camped at a gap with no one else around; everything was fine. Next morning I had a pain in my gut that I had been experiencing on and off for a few weeks before, but I never thought it was anything wrong, perhaps some indigestion. I had 10 miles to do that day and wanted to get back to the car around lunchtime.

The pain got worse as I climbed Standing Indian Mountain, but I figured I would be fine as the rest of the hike was all downhill. But the pain kept getting worse and I became very nauseous, so I couldn’t drink water.

The area I was hiking in is almost like a rain forest, a large drainage bowl with multiple creeks and dense foliage, and it had rained the night before, so the whole area was saturated with moisture, and even before noon the temperature was in the 90s. Steam was visibly rising from the forest floor and was trapped by the foliage, so it was like hiking in a hot, humid sauna.

I was sweating profusely but soon was unable to sweat more as my skin was coated in a thick glaze that wouldn’t evaporate away, sealing off my pores. So…heavy sweating, high heat, not drinking water—I became dehydrated, which only made the pain in my gut and nausea worse. I began vomiting, even though my stomach was empty, over and over again. The pain in my gut became debilitating, spreading throughout my torso. I became weak, my limbs felt like limp spaghetti.

I desperately wanted to sit down and rest, but something in the back of my mind told me I needed to keep going, needed to get back to other people because if I sat down I might not be able to get back up again.

Finally I made it back to Standing Indian Campground and collapsed, unconscious. Some people in the campground called an ambulance, and I began feeling better shortly after they gave me an IV. The EKG they performed showed my heart working perfectly. I ended up in the emergency room, where a CAT scan showed a large kidney stone about a half-inch by half-inch. Over the next several weeks I had the procedure (twice) to blast it, and now it’s gone and I’m as good as new.


What’s your most essential piece of outdoor gear? Why?

Hmm, I don’t think there is any such thing as “most” essential. If it’s essential then it’s essential, period. And most of my gear fits into that category. But overall I see each piece of gear in my kit as either essential or in a category I think of as luxury/comfort/convenience. And there definitely is some overlap.

For example a sleeping pad is essential, but having an inflatable rather than CCF is for comfort. What I’ve tried to do with my kit is eliminate everything that isn’t essential and that I don’t specifically justify to myself as a luxury/comfort/convenience.

What’s your favorite piece of outdoor gear? Why?

Right now it’s my Swing Trek LiteFlex umbrella (review hopefully coming soon). Many people scoff at the idea of a backpacking umbrella—I used to be one of them—but it really is an amazingly versatile piece of gear that provides many benefits. The three main ones are that it is a sunshade, rain gear, and shelter supplement.

Most of the time the umbrella is a sunshade. I sweat the most from my head, and any hat, no matter how light and ventilated, makes my head very hot. With the umbrella I am covered without needing to wear a hat, allowing breezes to pass over my scalp, keeping me much cooler and more comfortable. It provides much more shade than any hat could, covering my face, ears, back of my neck, etc. And I’ve rigged it to strap to my pack’s shoulder straps so I’m in the shade hands-free as I hike.

When it rains the umbrella is much better than a rain jacket and hood. It keeps my head dry and for the most part also protects my upper body. I don’t get rain in my face, keeping my eyeglasses clean and dry. I can easily pull out and use my camera under the umbrella canopy. And I don’t get that clammy moisture build-up from my own sweat that happens when wearing a waterproof layer. I rarely need more than a windshirt in the rain underneath the umbrella.

The umbrella also can be a shelter supplement, protecting the opening of my shelter in a storm, providing a small, temporary shelter for a nap, and even can serve as a windbreak for cooking. I keep finding uses for it!

Got any good, bad, funny, or epic gear stories?

Not really good, bad, funny or epic, more just a gripe or wishful thinking. Even after paring my gear down in almost every category, I’m still carrying a lot in the electronics category—1.75-pound mobile phone, dedicated camera, PLB or InReach (depending on trip), battery recharger, and cables.

It’s pared down to as little as possible to still give me the functionality I want/need, but still it’s a lot. I’ve cut back on weight in other categories to allow me the luxury of carrying all these items. Still, I dream of a single device that can be my mobile phone, backcountry emergency satellite communicator, and an excellent camera, that has extended battery life for well under a pound.

What’s in your backpack right now?

Like a lot of ultralighters, my pack is a quirky combination of some pretty expensive high-end gear from brand names and cottage shops along with a liberal mixture of cheap or free repurposed and DIY gear. For a summer weekender my base weight is right at eight pounds. But that includes a very comfortable sleep system with an air mattress and large pillow; if I don’t get a good’s night sleep then I won’t enjoy or perform well on the trail.

My kit includes a Zpacks Arc Blast pack, EnLIGHTened Equipment 30°F quilt, Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite air pad, HikeBikeDale Monkey Pillow Case, Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape for shelter and rain gear if needed, 1443R Tyvek groundsheet, Sea to Summit bug net, Patagonia Houdini windshirt, Trail Designs Keg-F cook kit (water boil only), Deuce of Spades trowel, Sawyer Mini water filter, and either an ACR ResQlink or DeLorme InReach for SOS and backcountry communications.

Wide Photo Captions:
  • Domes of Mount Starr King from Joel's campsite in Yosemite in 2014.

  • Joel hiking up Middle Dome in Yosemite in 2014.
  • Joel hiking in Yosemite in 2015.
  • The steep hike up Mount Starr King.



Essential Gear for 2017 Reviewers of the Month

To thank them for their essential contributions, we're giving Joel and every 2017 Reviewer of the Month the following prize pack, thanks to these generous brands. Worth more than $350, it's filled with examples of what to carry into the backcountry. For more on the 10 Essential prizes read "Essential Gear for our 2017 Reviewers of the Month."

#1 Navigation

#2 Sun Protection

#3 Insulation 

#4  Illumination

#5 First-Aid Supplies

#6 Fire

#7 Repair Kit and Tools

#8 Nutrition

#9 Hydration

#10 Emergency Shelter

#11 Know-How

A quick note: Yes, it's March and we're only naming our first 2017 Reviewer of the Month now, but there will still be 12 honorees, so stay tuned!