Review: REC Center Gear at Cowee Meadow

For the UAS Whalesong

The Whalesong has a staff meeting every week, and at one of our recent ones, our editor mentioned the Rec Center in passing.

“They’ve got new backpacks and outdoor gear in that are available for rental,” he said. “One of you could write about that.”

At first, I didn’t speak up, mulling over the idea’s article potential. I had already seen the Rec Center posting about their new gear on various social media outlets, and I wasn’t sure I could write a whole page of single-spaced 10-point about their new backpacks. But then it occurred to me that I had an upcoming camping trip for a class, and it would be the perfect opportunity to test the Rec Center’s new gear.

So, after I’d accomplished the rest of my academic tasks on Friday, I went by the Rec Center and picked up my gear. Fun fact: if you’re going on a trip for class where you’ll need to rent anything from the Rec Center, ask your professor if class funds can cover the cost! That was how mine worked; my professor contacted the Rec Center ahead of time to let them know what I needed to pick up, and they put it on hold for me until I got there.

I didn’t need a lot from them; thanks to my Eagle Scout brother and my Boy Scout leader father, I’ve gathered a lot of good outdoor gear over the years, even if I don’t put it to use all that much. I returned to the Rec Center early on Saturday morning with the 80-liter Osprey backpack I’d rented strapped securely to my body, and the accordion-folded sleeping pad I had also obtained strapped to the pack. To give you an idea of the load I was carrying, the backpack wasn’t that heavy, but it was pretty full – I could probably stand to take a remedial class in efficient packing.

My class’s weekend trip was to hike out to Cowee Meadow Cabin and spend the night. The hike out, according to the Alaska Department of Natural Resources website, is 2.5 miles either way – 2.1, if you believe the signs, which may have been modified to boost morale. It’s a pretty flat hike through wet terrain (a “rainforest muskeg”), which is sometimes rough but for the most part is laid out with boardwalks. In these conditions, I didn’t find it at all difficult to carry my rented pack – a little tiresome, as walking for an hour with a backpack almost my size probably should have been, but it wasn’t a moment-by-moment struggle with me praying for it to end. The strap on the left side did dig into my shoulder a little, but I think that was probably more a product of me packing weirdly or needing to adjust it rather than being a fault of the pack itself.

The pack was also more than capable of holding everything I needed for an overnight camping trip:
• My sleeping bag (which I can only pack into the size of an average toddler, rather than a football – sorry, Dad)
• Some of my cook team’s food and some extra food for myself
• My cook team’s stove (on the way in) and a pot and lid (on the way out)
• Two water bottles
• Extra clothes (we expected heavy rain)
• Notebook and textbook for class
• Other small, miscellaneous camping items

And to top it all off, the pack came with its very own rain jacket. While it didn’t rain on our way out to the cabin, it did on the way back, and I was able to pull the waterproof covering out of its little pouch and drape it over my pack and sleeping pad to keep them both dry.

Speaking of the sleeping pad, I was very impressed with its quality! Not that I have any kind of technical knowledge about sleeping pad types or brands, but they’ve always been something I considered as a luxury item that only served as extra weight. I got one a little begrudgingly for this trip, and when I laid it out on my living room floor upon returning home I was unawed. But when I messaged my dad about this, he wouldn’t hear my criticism: “It serves as insulation,” he said. “It retards the transfer of heat from your body to the ground,” he said. Unconvinced, I sneered at these statements in the back of my mind – until the night of the camping trip, when I woke up cold and uncomfortable and realized that it was because I had rolled off my sleeping pad in the night. Long story short, they do exactly what my dad said they do. In addition, while they’re not a Tempur-Pedic mattress pad, they are at least a little more comfortable than the hard ground or the floor of a cabin. You could probably go without if you’re a young and sprightly freshman, but look, I’m starting to get old. I’ll take what I can get.

In summary, if you’re going camping and you need some gear, check some out from the Rec Center! From what I’ve gathered, they’ve replaced a lot of their stock with brand new items, especially the backpacks. I even had real Outdoor Studies (ODS) students cluster around my backpack and compliment its quality, impressed with what the Rec Center was able to offer. And if it’s for the outdoors and the ODS students like it, then it’s good enough for me.

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