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Brian Cray - Budget Travel

Hitchhiking, Train Hopping, & Tramping

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Hitchhiking 101

Hitchhiking 101

Alright, so since I did a Train Hopping 101 page, I figured I would post a page with useful hitchhiking information. I know this can be found elsewhere, but again I am combining multiple sources of links which I have found helpful for my travels on the road and compiling it into one page for your viewing pleasure. Seriously though, the main points I will cover in this thread deal more with gear for the road and brief reviews on WHAT GEAR TO BUY and WHAT GEAR TO AVOID…of course if you are dumpster diving at an REI or ground score some free gear and you need it, then take it. However, if you found some side jobs, day labor, temporary work and you have some extra bills lying around that you can spend then I will point you in the right direction of what I use for my hitchhiking lifestyle when I am traveling on the road most of the year. After four years of on/off travel hitchhiking, tramping, and recently train hopping, I will guide you through what gear to avoid so you do not waste your hard earned cash.

I will gradually be updating this over the next few months/weeks as I have the spare time to do so.  For all intensive purposes I will direct you to Hitchhikin’ the USA for the Beginner as much of the information in regards to hitchhiking has already been covered here and I am not going to rewrite it, when there already exists a great guide on the web.  However, to briefly sum up where to hitchhike I normally hitch from Truck Stops like the Travel Pilot or Flying J’s, on-ramps by the highways I want, off on the shoulder as long as there are not jersey barriers, or I just strap a sign to my pack and start walking down the road and hope for the best.  It really depends on my mood, if it’s a country setting, etc.  For cities, I walk to the outskirts of the city to hitchhike…there is no point in wasting your effort trying to hitch outta a big city when that’s where all the bums have flocked, to every on-ramp and corner…people just lump you all together and won’t give you a ride.

Gear to Avoid for Hitchhiking

Avoid anything from REI…yes, I said it, avoid anything from REI. Though their gear may look fancy and is expensive, it’s only designed for the yuppie day hiker or someone who plans to go out for the weekend in ideal camping conditions and dip into a 3-day hike, etc. How do I know this? Well, I used to swear by them. I used to only buy gear from REI. Hell, I was a fan of ASOLO for the longest time until this past season my $270 pair of ASOLO boots only lasted me 9 months. Now, you would think 9 months is a lot, however, considering 3.5 months I never wore shoes and another two months I worked in Hawaii on the beach, that really is not a great time length for boots. Let’s dig deeper into why REI sucks? They try to sell you camping gear you do not need. Their rain covers, are water resistant, not even waterproof lol…I mean seriously. If I get stuck in the rain you’re telling me after 5 minutes I have to scamper off to a bridge so my gear stays dry. Nope, I think I’ll stick with a 50 cent trashbag inside my 5.11 tactical pack.

I also used a REI Minimalist bivy sack for a year…yep it only lasted a year until it no longer became waterproof and the mosquito net could not be completely covered so in a storm I got soaked regardless of the waterproofing. Needless to say, that was my fault. I relied on reviews on Amazon and did not fully do my research, but now I know. What else sucks from REI…oh yeah, camping pads. The ones that you blow up with air, pop after a few uses of rugged camping. The ones that are foam pads offer better support than the self-inflated or blow-up pads, however, once waterlogged they smell and add a ridiculous amount of weight to your load. So it’s like a double-edged sword, instead stick to cardboard.

But, if I don’t buy camping gear from REI because you claim all their gear sucks, then where the hell do I score camping gear? Who competes with REI, you’re telling me one of the only companies out there sucks? Any store that sells tactical gear or an Army Navy Surplus store, they are money. They will sell you gear that is not only way cheaper than REI, it’s more durable, versatile, and more color-specific to the type of travel you are doing anyway.  Now in doing so you will sacrifice weight, but that is why the gear is more durable and will last longer.  Equinox tarps made from Cuben Fiber are super-light, but any amount of constant UV light deteriorates this product rather quickly, the same goes for other light-weight products.  I have yet to find any light weight backpack or gear that is just as durable as gear that’s half the price at the Army Navy Surplus store.  If weight concerns you then stick to the high-end shit they sell you at REI and waste your money.  Not only will you spend more money, but it will be more frequently had you shopped somewhere else.

Now, camping stoves, paracord, and smaller items you can buy at REI if you want…that does not really change much across the board, but steer clear of backpacks, jackets, pants, sleeping bags, bivy sacks, etc.  It’s just not worth your money.

Other gear you can steer clear of and not waste your money on is many of the solar panels sold on the market.  Do not buy anything from BROWN DOG GADGETS…the quality of their solar panels and battery packs is shit…you get what you pay for and despite this company being a huge hit on Kickstarter, they suck.  I purchased both a 5W solar panel for my dumb phone and a 10,000 mAH battery bank and both of them broke within a few months of use.  They cannot handle any kind of rugged camping and they are poorly made.

Recommended Hitchhiking Gear

5.11 TACTICAL BACKPACK (55 LITERS/ BLACK)

5.11 Tactical Backpack 43 Liters

I bought this in early February and used it train hopping in the winter, and some of the spring. It has about 40 train rides or so and 8 to 10,000 miles of riding time. Just washed it the other day…it looks brand new still because the material is top-notch and extremely durable.

5.11 Tactical Backpack 43 Liters

The side pouches on the 5.11 tactical bag are big enough to store (1) 1.5 Liter water bottle. So I always travel with 3 liters when hitchhiking and riding trains. I’ve found this is just enough for what I need as I typically ride for 24 – 30 hours before getting off.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters

Testing out the back pocket where I put my Anker 21W solar panel and a book or two for my reading pleasure while waiting for my train or hitch.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

The top pocket on the bag is just enough room for (1) 13,000 mAH Anker Battery Bank, (1) 3,500 mAH Anker Battery Stick, and a small LED flashlight 9 LUMEN.

5.11 Tactical Backpack 43 Liters

The main pocket on my 5.11 (55 Liter) Tactical Bag fits my Sleeping Bag, Digital Camo ACU Military Bivy Sack, and a nap sack of clothes, (2) long sleeve shirts, (1) FlyLow Ski Pants, (2) smartwool socks, (1) long johns, (1) neck gator, (1) dickies beanie hat, (1) pair hestra leather gloves, (1) pair wool gloves, (2) pair of underwear.

5.11 Tactical Backpack 43 Liters

All the clothes that fit in my little nap sack for traveling through the seasons by train or hitchhiking. Obviously some of these I wear so not everything is in my pack, but you get the idea what I travel with, the only piece not pictured here is my jacket.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

Another view of the main pocket with my sleeping bag and bivy sack in the bottom, inside a large compression sack. Also pictured, all the clothes in the above picture in a small nap sack which I use for my hitchhiking travels.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

This is inside the front pocket of the 5.11 tactical bag. Picture is a pocket I dedicate for a day’s worth of food, (3) tuna packets and (2) cans of sardines. Above you can see where I keep my hand and foot warmers for emergency purposes.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

This is inside the front pocket of the 5.11 tactical bag. The first pocket on the inside I dedicate for my first aid kit which came from yours truly, BNSF Railroad Medkit. I also have antibiotic ointment, nail clippers and a needle and dental floss.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

Inside the main pocket of the 5.11 tactical bag (where my sleeping bag/bivy sack and nap sack of clothes reside) you can see the multiple pockets available for little items. I normally stash a book or two in here.

5.11 Tactical Bag 43 Liters Hitchhiking

Another view of the front pocket open and the variety of pouches, zippers, etc. available to stash small camping gear and items. I try not to stuff too much in here because when I throw my pack around this is the first stuff that smacks the ground. A sardine can has already exploded once in here…smelled like shit for two months.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OVERVIEW:

  • Full-featured 72 hour backpack

 

  • Ideal for recreational use or as an operational bug out bag

 

  • Dual-zippered front and main compartments with molded grip pulls

 

  • Multiple integrated organization pockets

 

  • Admin organization pocket to store maps, pens, and documents

 

  • Fleece-lined sun glass pocket

 

  • Internal hydration compartment with hangers and toggles

 

  • Cinching waist strap and dual compression straps

 

  • Adjustable dual density closed-cell foam shoulder straps

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Built from high strength, water-repellent 1050D nylon (MultiCam®: 1000D nylon)

 

  • 23” H x 13.5” L x 8.5” D main compartment

 

  • 15.5” x 11.5” x 2” front pocket

 

  • 16.5” x 6” x 1.75” left and right side pockets

 

  • 21” x 13.5” hydration pocket

 

  • 3342 cubic inch / 55 liter total capacity

 

  • Contour yoke system with grab and go handle

 

  • Rugged, self-healing YKK® zipper hardware

 

  • Integrated drainage grommet

 

  • Imported

What to know about this backpack?  It is NOT WATERPROOF, but it does not matter.  Put any important gear inside zip-loc bags or trash bags and the material will dry relatively quickly in the sun.

0 DEGREE KELTY COSMIC SLEEPING BAG

5.11 Tactical Bag 55 Liters Hitchhiking

This is the ACU Digital Military Bivy Sack I purchased off of Amazon specifically for hitchhiking. I am quite pleased with it’s overall size as it appears to have enough room for my sleeping bag and gear. It feels extremely durable and waterproof. From here on out I will only purchase military grade products for camping due to the rugged nature of hitchhiking and riding trains…it’s not worth dying or being cold with incompetent products that are falsely advertised….IE…REI…Pictured is my Sleeping bag which I purchased as a defect off of eBay for Sub $100….definitely worth it. This baby compresses like a beast, super light weight and warm and I’ve had it for 2 years now. It has some holes in it that I sewed with dental floss, but nothing too extreme.

ACU DIGITAL BIVY COVER

5.11 Tactical Bag 55 Liters Hitchhiking

ACU Digital Bivy Cover, waterproof, camouflage, the whole nine yards. Look forward to testing this out very soon when I get to hitchhiking again.

OVERVIEW:

  • 100 percent water/wind proof outer layer. Designed to enclose patrol and intermediate cold weather sleeping bag for the complete modular sleep system.

 

  • Nonflammable, machine washable.

 

  • 2 way nylon zipper that allows for top or bottom ventilation (the zippers are non locking

 

  • sliders which self repairs if jammed or snagged). Can be used alone for warmer temperatures.

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • 1.5 lbs.

 

  • Waterproof

 

  • 80″ x 30″

SOLAR PANELS & BATTERY BANKS

Anker 21W Solar Panel

This is the Anker 21W Solar Panel…looking forward to testing this out on the road.

I highly recommend anything that ANKER makes.  I bought a battery bank from them when I did my bicycle tour from DE to CO back in 2013 and I have had this 13,000 mAH charger for 4 years.  It works perfectly still.  It has been through rain storms, snow storms, banged on trains, fallen off shit and still works perfectly.  I just bought a 21W Solar Panel from Anker, which I just received in the mail.

I’ve bought a few other solar panels in the past and I will tell you to steer clear of them and do not waste your money.  Also, if you plan on buying a solar panel to charge your smartphone, do not buy anything with less than 10W, or it will never charge past the first few percent without trying to turn on the device and reset itself because of insufficient power (iPhones).

Today I tested out the Anker 21W Solar Panel.  In 1.5 hours in direct and indirect sunlight it charged my phone a total of 61% while my phone was running.  I will run more tests tomorrow, but so far I think this is the best candidate out there for best solar panel.  I saw that after owning many others in the past without having any luck.

DAY TWO:  I tested it in direct sunlight while my phone was off and after 1 hour and 50 minutes the battery was completely charged.  This thing is a beast.

The only CON so far is why in the fuck did they choose to use velcro?  Velcro sucks and will not hold up after constant use, and the pouch is too small and not worth putting anything in it.

SPECIFICATIONS:

  • Fast Charging Technology: PowerIQ delivers the fastest possible charging speed up to 2.4 amps per port or 3 amps overall under direct sunlight. 21 watt SunPower solar array is 21.5-23.5% efficient, providing enough power to charge two devices simultaneously.

 

  • Incredibly Durable: Industrial-strength PET polymer faced solar panels sewn into a rugged polyester canvas offer weather-resistant outdoor durability.

 

  • Highly Portable: Compact size (11.1 × 6.3in folded or 26.4 × 11.1in opened) and stainless-steel eye-holes on each corner allow easy attachment to backpacks, trees, or tents. Lightweight (14.7 oz) and ultra-thin design (1.1in folded or 0.2in opened) make it ideal for long treks.

 

  • What You Get: Anker PowerPort Solar (21W 2-Port USB Solar Charger), 3ft Micro USB cable, welcome guide, our fan-favorite 18-month warranty and friendly customer service.

ELECTRONICS:

Electronics for Hitchhiking

Electronics and battery banks for Hitchhiking, (1) 13,000 mAH Anker Battery Bank, (1) 3,500 mAH Anker Battery Stick, 9 Lumen LED Flashlight, GoPro Hero 4

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