Thursday, December 13, 2007

First round of gear tests finished

REI Alpine Lakes pants

These are hard-shell waterproof/breathable pants. They have full zips on the size and velcro on the top and bottom. The shell fabric is REI E1 elements fabric. The top half is lined with mesh. The lower half is a breathable black nylon.

I wore these pants over a poly-pro base layer and 100 weight fleece pants. The temp was consistently hovering around zero (F). When I was moving, I was very warm and found that I could vent the pants effectively. However, I was wearing snowshoes and with the side zippers pulled down to my knees (top of gaiters), snow got into the pants and landed on my fleece pants.

There was no condensation on the inside of the pants. The pants breathed well. The snow was a fine powder and did not stick to the pants. However, if I were to sit in the snow, the snow could melt against the pants and form ice.

I am happy with the pants. They are heavy (~23 oz) but they should never be carried in the pack so the weight is not so much of an issue.

SmartWool Mountaineer socks

These socks are, from what I can find, SmartWool's warmest socks. The inside of them looks much like off-white shag carpet. The sock is constructed in typical SmartWool fashion. The cushion is excellent. The sock (size L) fits well over my 8 1/2 shoe size foot with a liner underneath. It holds firm to my skin but does not constrict the blood flow to my foot. The sock goes over my calf, up to about where a boot gaiter would stop.

I was pleased with the sock throughout the weekend. It kept moisture off of my foot and pushed it out of my boot. I am slightly worried about durability, but that issue always comes up with merino wool socks. They fossilize eventually.

REI Ridgecrest mitts

These a insulated shell mittens. The insulation compresses down nicely, and the mitts pack well. The shell fabric everywhere but the palm is REI E1 elements. As stated before, this material breathes quite well. The palm is toughtec, a rubbery fabric that is tough and grippy. It is useful for opening water bottles that have been heated and subsequently cooled (creating a vacuum).

I wore the mitts with the powerstretch gloves below. The mitts did not absorb water and were warm. The draw cords on the gauntlets are nice to keep snow out. They are two-way pulls which allow a person to tighten and loosen the gauntlet with one hand (even a mittened one)

OR Celestial Gaiters

I wore hiking boots this weekend. I wore the these gaiters over the boot and over the bottom of the pants listed above. At the end of the day, there was no condensation on the inside of the pac-lite portion of the gaiters but there was frozen condensation on the inside of the pac cloth at the bottom of the gaiter. This was brushed off easily by my mittens.

The gaiters are lightweight and stuff well. I plan to use them in the summer also.

MH power stretch gloves

These a just what they say - liner gloves made of power stretch fleece. The palms have pilled slightly, but they are warm. They do not keep the wind out. However, they breath very, very well, and when I soaked my hand with water, the gloves dried out after I put them in the above mitts. I am keeping these as winter liner gloves and as summer warmth gloves.

Marmot Ion Windshirt

This is a 2007 dual color windshirt. It weighs approximately 5 oz. it stuffs down to the size of an apple. It stuffs into its chest pocket. I wore this primarily over a vest and/or a wool shirt. It cuts wind well and has a very well designed hood. I have also worn it running and it works very well at cutting wind.
I'm heading to the BWCAW from Dec. 27-31. Most of the above gear will be in my sled or pack.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

First winter gear test completed

I have returned from my first weekend of winter camping and an important test-run of my gear for the upcoming BWCA trip, tentatively planned for Dec. 27-31. Sometime tomorrow, I'll post reviews of the following items:

REI Alpine Lakes pants
SmartWool Mountaineer socks
REI Ridgecrest mitts
OR Celestial Gaiters
MH power stretch gloves
Marmot Ion Windshirt

Come back tomorrow.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

First snow

We got about 4-6" of snow. It came down in mist, it came down in huge flakes, but most importantly, it came down. And I had to test some gear. New to my gear arsenal are OR Celestial Gaiters, SmartWool Trekking socks (heavy cushion), MH Power Stretch Gloves, Marmot Precip Pants (ankle zip), REI Alpine Lakes pants (full zip) and REI Ridgeline Mitts. And before anyone jumps, I did not pay full price for any of them. Not even close.

Anywho, I put on the gaiters over my old hiking boots. I was wearing the wool socks. The old boots will accommodate the wools, where my summer shoes will not. I put the Alpine lakes pants on over that. I hiked up the pants to tuck in my fleece, an old Denali TNF jacket. I put my Precip jacket on over that. I wore both pairs of mitts and a 300 weight polartech fleece windstopper hat. My hood was up the whole time. My girlfriend wore the Precip bottoms. The temp was about 15 def F. There was a moderate wind, no more than 5-8 mph.

I was pleased with the gear, except either I was overheating or my precip jacket is dying. I'd like to believe the latter.

I bought the gaiters to accompany my rain pants because last May, I wore my rain pants and the water drained into my boot. Major suck. The gaiters kept snow out of my boot and they were easy to put on and off. They had no moisture inside of them when I removed them an hour os so later.

The Alpine lakes pants were also a success. I slid down a small hill multiple times to test waterproofness with pressure and I was pleased. Although they have a lining in them (1/3 mesh, 2/3 breathable nylon), I felt no moisture in them at the end of the night. My jeans stayed dry.

The mitts plus the gloves were probably overkill. I could have gone without the power stretch gloves. However, the mitts kept my hands warm and dry. When I first purchased them, I went home, I put them under running water to test their water proofness. I also submerged them and looked for bubbles. The mitts passed both these tests. This is unlike my previous shell gloves, REI Minimalists (bought in '07, made in '06 or '07). I learned that they were not waterproof the hard way, when I stuck them in a moving river and watched for a brief second water bubbles come out of the palm.

My precip jacket had moisture inside. Bummer, I hope it is just from overheating. The precip pants, however, had no moisture inside them. This is similar to a previous test, where I used the pants during a multi-inch downpour and then wore them while the sun came out, scared away the clouds and shot the temp up 20 degrees. And I was sitting in a canoe and could not take them off. Ninety minutes later, I took them off and they had no moisture in them.

I will be winter camping this weekend, and I'll be testing most of the above gear over a 24-hour period. I will also be wearing a thin Balaclava and Sorel Boots.

The odd thing about this weekend is that I really dislike trying to find how much clothes to bring, in particular, warmth layers for my top. I have three good fleece tops, a good fleece vest, a wool vest and a down jacket. I never like to bring too much, but I can't risk bringing too little. In the past, I have used at most (-20 F), a lower-quality fleece vest, the wool sweater and a columbia jacket with the insulated (non-fleece) liner. I'm inclined to bring the vest, a thin fleece (~100 wgt generic fleece from Eddie Bauer, I got it for $5 at savers), my windshirt, the down coat and my precip shell. I should be able to deal with anything this weekend can throw at me with that on. If it gets crazy, I'll bring the wool sweater. I don't think I will bring any of the thicker fleeces because they will not fit under my windshirt, which is a tight-cut size small.

I'm also going to be taking fleece pants with me winter camping for the first time. Previously, I used wool army surplus pants that worked OK. They didn't block wind all that well, and they collected snow and ice. My shell pants will block wind (to 60 mph, I believe the tag said) they will not collect snow. And I'll be warmer.

More when I return.