Wednesday, April 30, 2008

How low can I go?

I'm looking at a solo trip this summer. Call it fastpacking, call it fast and light, I'll call it light and efficient.

Here's what I'm thinking - how low can I get my base packweight taking into consideration Minnesota weather? I've set a goal of a five pound (2.27 kg) base weight for a solo trip, with a max weight at any given time would be 20 pounds (2.4 liters of water and 10 lbs of food). This is figuring an average of 135 cal/oz, 3000 calories per day. It gives 7.2 days of food, enough to do a significant amount hiking. (The food total is also dependent on its volume)

Again, this is base weight. Here is what counts:
  1. Everything carried in the pack
  2. All clothes except minimum (minimum being: socks, spandex shorts, zip-off nylon shorts, short-sleeve shirt, shoes, gaiters). This creates a sort of fiction, as I will often be wearing more than this. The idea is to have the largest base weight with all gear I would be carrying)
Here's what doesn't count:
  1. Food, water and fuel i.e. consumables
  2. Clothing worn - everything but the minimum
  3. Gear carried i.e. trekking poles, emergency gear carried (navigation, cash, cards, etc)
Here's some guidelines, however.
  1. I need full rain gear. This includes parka, pants and gaiters. I will, however, use non-waterproof shoes.
  2. I like to eat hot food - This means I will carry a stove, pot and a utinsel.
  3. I will carry a fully functional first aid kit
How am I going to do this? Well, I have some areas I can significantly improve, really, three: sleeping system, pack and rain gear.

Sleeping system - I currently have one bag and three pads at my disposal. The Marmot Hydrogen weighs in at 21 oz. I am thinking about replacing this with a two-thirds bag a la MLD. This would cut something like 12 oz off. I can make it for about $80 with materials from Thru-Hiker. It would take about two hours or so. I would include the straps and probably buckles to accomplish closures. I would then sleep

Pack - I currently have three packs: REI Morningstar, GG Vapor Trail and Homemade Sil-Nylon. Their weights are, respectively: 68, 32 and 17 oz. I'm looking at adding another, a ZPack, probably one of the Cuben Fiber packs, either the Blast 18 or 26. I'm leaning more toward the 26 because I carry a pretty thick (but light!) pad in a 3/4 Ridgerest, and it is also taller to accomodate more vertical space. I'm not going to pull the trigger on this one until after I try out my Sil-Nylon. I have a problem with the sil-nylon, however. Due to an error in production, the pack's torso is too long, and the bottom of the pack does not rest on my sacrum like it should (this puts more weight on my shoulders).

Again, this needs to tryouts - I used the SilNylon with too much weight last year and I know I need to crank down on the weight. Hence the push to cut base weight.

Rain Gear - This is a little more difficult and it more costly to replace. I have a precip tops and bottoms. This weighs in (conservatively) at 15 oz for the jacket and 9 for the pants. This will be tough to cut down while retaining waterproofness. I'm thinking mostly I can get a jacket around 10 oz, maybe 11, so I'm not thinking this is worth it. The other idea is to go with a poncho, this would eliminate the need for pants. It would also cut weight down to about 10 oz. I don't really want to do this because of wind and the use of trekking poles. So full gear it is. I'm getting a scale to accurately measure the Precip's weight.

I have also made a minor improvement with shelter - I ordered a polycro ground sheet from Gossamer Gear. It is 40" x 96" and weighs 1.5 oz. It is much lighter and more waterproof than tyvek.

Other improvements have been made with respect to cooking. I now have a better 5 cup pot and a small 1.5 oz 12 oz mug to use with my alcohol or canister stoves.

Right now, Its looking like I can get under 6 lbs with the above gear replacements. Not too shabby. We'll see after some testing.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gear report from Split Rock State Park and SHT

Just got back from Split Rock State Park and the accompanying SHT sections. Temps were in the 30's and low 40's most of the day, with temps dropping into the high 20's Saturday night. We packed out Saturday night. As for gear, everything did fine, with a few items working exceptionally well.

Mont-Bell U.L. Thermawrap Parka: Best 3+ season insulating layer ever. End of discussion. I think I'd take it over a down parka because the Mont-Bell would resist wind better than a similar down jacket in its weight class. The Parka was warm enough to keep me roasty toasty (yes, its a technical term) when I was sitting down in my tent on my Ridgerest with only a thin poly pro base layer on the bottom and no socks on. I still want to rant about the hood draws cords not being able to be operated with one hand, but hey, I can't have it all.

Integral Designs eVENT Shortie Gaiters: Nothing bad to say here. I really did not get to thoroughly test them this weekend because we lacked significant rain fall. Here is what I can say, however. First, the gaiters bridges the gap between my rain pants and shoes well. Second, there was no condensation in them. Third, the gaiters cinched down onto my shoes well. Fourth, they kept crap out of my shoes. 'Nuff said.

3/4 Ridgerest: I got this from Midwest for approximately $13. It is stamped "Irregular," which means to me that there is a slight cosmetic defect that will not affect performance. Anywho, it worked well on the cold ground, and I can't complain about it's 8 oz of weight. Excellent pad.

Saloman Comp 3: I hiked all day in these and didn't get a blister. One problem, however. Because the mesh lets water in, it also lets in the dirt that is dissolved in the water. When this gets on my socks, the water is wicked away, leaving only a brown spot on my sock. On a longer trip, I could see this creating durability problems for socks.

Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Rain Mitts: Same caveat as the gaiters. Also, in cold weather, one needs to wear an insulating layer underneath the shell mitts. The eVENT fabric was very cold to the tough. Also, the seam sealant I used is starting to peel up at the edges of the sealant. I don't think this has affected performance, but this is something to watch out for in later. I'm curious is eventually the whole seal-job will peal away.

Sleeping bag: I made a two-person sleeping bag using Momentum ripstop, Momentum Taffeta and one layer of 5 oz/yd^2 of Climashield XP. The CLO value multiple by its weight per square yard gives it a rating of 20 deg. I would say that that rating is accurate for a person of my body type, or if the quilt was slightly better designs. MLD has a good (conservative) rating system for their quilts that use XP. Anywho, I think a better rating for the gf and I was about 35 degrees. This is based on our Friday night experience and on Saturday experience. The bag compresses nicely, also. I used a large Air Compressor stuff sack by Granite Gear, and could pull the compression straps all the way down.

Other notes -

Spandex shorts and long base layer worked well, as did wearing short sleeve and long sleeve wicking shirts at the same time. The Vapor Trail carried the weight well, even though the pack was not packed well (and its contents did not allow for quality packing).

Monday, April 21, 2008

End2EndTrailSupply hanging it up and a note about GoLite

As reported seen on the forums today, End2EndTrailSupply, an online light-weight gear store with excellent customer service, is closing shop. Although I had never visited the sight prior to perusing it as a result of the thread, it is nonetheless sad that a reputable gear shop is going out of business.

I placed an order help clear out some inventory: a grease pot, two mugs, Aquamira, spork, and a 4 oz fuel bottle.

Also, the guy at Midwest today said that GoLite was in trouble. He said that Timerberland, who manufactured GoLite's footwear, dropped GoLite from their production line. He also said that it maybe a downward spiral, and that GoLite itself may close up shop unless they get people to make their products.

I find the complete closing up of shop to be a hard pill to swallow, but I'll watch things and see what's going down.

The GF bought a backpack

She bought her first hiking backpack. Woot!

We went to Midwest Mountaineering today and looked at packs. After looking at a large number of packs, she went with the Granite Gear Vapor Ki. It's the women's version of my pack, the Vapor Trail.
In coming to her conclusion, she tried on, and rejected, the following packs:
  • GoLite Jam^2
  • GoLite Pinnacle
  • GoLite Quest
  • Osprey Talon 44 (my bro's pack)
  • Granite Gear Vapor Trail /w women's hipbelt
But the real kicker was color. All of the GoLite Packs were purple. The GG pack she went with was purple, and Granite Gear does not make the Vapor Ki in a different color. Everything, really, was purple.

And she hates purple. But she got it because it fit and was comfortable. So be it. We're heading up to Split Rock State Park this weekend for an easy weekend trip. It will be her first backpacking trip.

Montbell Thermawrap first thoughts

Yeah, it does look like a techno marshmallow. But hey, it's warm and the hood is amazing.

That said, I love everything about it save one. The draw cords on the hood suck. I was hoping for anchored cordlocks and a thin elastic. What I got was approximately 1/8 inch cords that run through a non-flexible piece of foam. There are two too-small holes through each little piece of foam. Looking at the foam brick from the side (staring at its height), the cord goes up through one hole and down through the other.

To adjust it, you need to use one hand to hold the brick and one hand to pull a loop of cord through. And since the cord is anchored at the lower end (into the fabric), you need to then adjust that loop you just made to tighten the hood. Dumb.

Here's what we need on a hood. An anchored cord lock with a piece of elastic going through. The cord's free end is not attached to anything. Just pull, and you have a tighter hood. You can do it with one hand. When you need to release it, squeeze the cord lock, again with just one hand. If you then tilt your head back, the hood will expand and you will then release the cord. Simple. You made need to made the fabric around the cordlock a little stronger, but hey, it'll work better. The cordlock can be anchored by a small piece of gross grain ribbon. Something.

Mont-Bell's motto is "Function is Beauty. " And the U.L. Thermawrap Parka is functional with the lone exception of its hood draw cords.

That said, I might just fix it myself. Then I'll take a photo and send it to the folks at Mont-bell.


Enough ranting - the jacket is great. The hood is huge. The jacket itself, a men's European medium, Japanese large, allows for layering. I put on my TNF Denali fleece and was still able to layer the Thermawrap over it. Great, absolutely great.

I just might have replaced most fleece garments I own. I also may have replaced my bigger down jacket. Woot.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Received Montbell U.L. Thermawrap

I'll post a full initial impression, but the gf's initial impression was short and to the point:

"It looks like a techno marshmallow."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Arc'Teryx Beta SL experience

I went to REI today to check out the Arc'teryx Beta SL. I went to try it on to evaluate a potential pickup of the Alpha SL. Essentially, the two jackets should be the same with a few exceptions -

But I left with a funny taste in my mouth. Essentially, it was a case of not what I needed, but what I didn't need. I took contention with a few things:

First, the zippers are your standard waterproof zippers. They look the teeth have a layer of rubber on the exterior. But it is difficult to zip up the zippers, and it appeared that the waterproof protection contributed to the significant difficulty.

Second, the hood. I had two issues - the draw cords could not be used with one hand. Also, the hood was meant for a helmet. I had to pull the cords significantly and crank down the rear adjustment to fit the hood as tight as I like it (a la my Precip). The hood however, was otherwise great. There was plenty of side (cheek) protection, and the brim was extremely stiff.

As for its features, it had two good-size pockets, no pit zips (which may or may not be necessary) and a huge hood.

As for these problems, I anticipate the Alpha SL having similar problems with the zippers, and the hood would be huge (it is designed as a ultralight alpine jacket). However, I could operate the hood one-handed. I tried this on a Theta AR, and it was tough to pull, but doable.

I'm slightly disappointed with what otherwise is an amazing shell.

Gaiters don't need McNetts

I shot the folks at Integral Designs an e-mail about seam sealing the gaiters. Here's the response, from Evan:

"The seams are not taped on the gaiters. There is rarely a pressure of water on them, and from our experience with extensive use they rarely leak through the seam."

I gotta believe it, but it seems (no pun intended) counter-intuitive. Water + un-sealed seams = rain leaking in. But, hey, I'll test. My guess? They won't leak, especially because of ID's rock-star reputation.

On another note, moved the Arc'Teryx Alpha SL jacket over to their outlet. It's the '07 model on sale for ~$170, down from $250. The '08 version sells for ~$300. I just finished reviving the DWR on my Precip, but I have yet to test it. If it didn't work, I'm pulling the trigger and buying the Arc'Teryx. Why this one? Well, it weighs almost nothing, has a rock-star fabric, welded seams, excellent warranty and high-quality construction.

Monday, April 14, 2008

No new shell necessary

Well, it turns out I haven't killed my PreCip. Yet. The wetting out causes two things: impaired breathability and longer drying times. I'm going to hit it with the wash-in Nikwax eventually.

So really, I don't need to replace the jacket until the wetting out becomes so significant that the jacket turns into a vinyl shell and I cannot revive it. Or I put an unrepairable hole in it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

ID gaiters are what they say they are; also, new shell?

The ID gaiters came in the mail on Saturday. Delivery time was about four days. That shouldn't be too bad from Oregon.

Anywho, I have yet to use them, but here are my initial thoughts:

First, the gaiters are what they say they are - short, no frills and ultralight. If put them on and adjusted the drawcord for my boots and running shoes. I can't slide the gaiter up too far - My calf muscles are too large. But they don't need to be pulled up very far. When I put them on and extend my foot out, I

Second, I believe I need to seal the seams - I'm not too happy about this, and I wish someone, anyone, would make seam tape commercially available. This means I'm sealing the front vertical and rear vertical seams. Also, I'm sealing the hem at the bottom and top.

Third, the chafe patch is an excellent idea - This makes it so you shouldn't be able to kill your gaiters just by walking in them. The patch does not appear to be waterproof, but it looks like a thicker cordura with something like a canvas front.

Fourth, the tags are huge and will be cut off - there is one in the inside top of each gaiter and three on the outside of the right gaiter.

Fifth, the gaiters save weight by covering only what they need to - the entry/top of your shoe. This was appreciated.

I haven't had a chance to test breathability, but they are eVent. They should work fine with my low-cut socks.
On another note, my Marmot PreCip rain jacket is dying, slowly. It's wetting out in two large patches with some other minor spots (most notably, on the cuffs and edges of the hood). The large parts are in the back of the hood and on the top of the right shoulder.

I'm trying to breath some life into it (no pun intended). I've hit it with Nikwax tech wash and then Direct-TX spray. It worked OK. I'm going to try and wash it with Direct-TX wash-in. If that doesn't work, I'm going to get a new shell. Yuck. This will be the first piece of gear I've that I'll have to retire because of wear and tear.

I got the jacket as a birthday gift a few years ago, probably my sophomore year of college. My mother didn't know what I wanted, so we went to the local REI (Roseville) and I perused the clearance rack. I saw the jacket, a men's large and a great bright snot-yellow color. It's been through a lot and I have loved every minute of it.

I can generally make sweat condense in it if I'm working hard - running or hiking in warmer weather. But I've been happy with it. If I can't get some more DWR on it and make it stick, it's not worth pumping the cash into more Nikwax products. I'll get another shell.

If I do get a new shell, I'm looking to upgrade. I want lighter and more breathable. This puts me in the realms of eVent and Gore-Tex Paclite. I have been impressed with both fabrics. My OR gaiters are PacLite and the ID gaiters and MLD mitts are eVent. My boots are eVent, too.

I'm looking at Arc'Teryx shells, specifically the Beta SL. It comes in at ~11 oz and as stated on the dead bird's site, it does not have features non-climbers don't need (i.e. don't need helmets or harnesses). If only I can get it at a cheaper cost. I'd like to pick it up for about $150. Backcountry has them on sale for about $200.

RAB eVent shells are also up there in the running, but they tend to be heavier at 16 oz or more. ID makes two eVent jackets with hoods, but I'd like more than one pocket.

GoLite's line of shells uses one of two fabrics - PacLite or Alchemy. As always, their gear is stripped-down to its bare essentials. Especially their Virga, which is probably out of the running for reasons listed below.

eVent worries me for one reason - it is an air-permeable fabric. While it may vent better than anything else (or claim to), it is not entirely wind-proof. Gore-Tex fabrics are. This may be a sticking point, if not for cost alone. (REI is coming out with a line of eVent shells soon, also).

Some requirements, in order of importance:
  1. Must, must, must have a quality hood. What does this mean?
    1. This hood must be functional. I need to be able to cinch it down to keep wind-driven rain and snow out. Sorry GoLite, your Virga is probably not for me.
    2. Also, I don't need the hood to be sized for wearing a helmet underneath.
  2. Must be able to layer over baselayer, thin long-sleeve fleece and puffy jacket (either TNF Nupste or Montbell Thermawrap). This is mostly for hiking on fringe seasons or use in winter in the wind.
  3. Two front pockets, please.
  4. Pit zips are preferred.
    1. I've never met a shell I couldn't make condensation form inside of. But this is a function of breathabililty. Backpacker gave EC '08 awards to two pit zip-less shells.
  5. Lightweight.
    1. It must be under a pound, and the closer to 10 oz, the better.
    2. Obviously, this is a battle of functions vs. weight. My Precip is listed at ~15 oz, but it does all of the above. I'm trying to cut about 0.25 lbs from this area.
So what's in the running? Currently, the Arc'Teryx Beta SL, MH Quark. GoLite Phantasm are up there. Why?

The Dead Bird is designed without features hikers don't need. It also uses PacLite. The Quark is very, very light and has the features I need. However, I have no experience with its fabrics (Conduit or Incite). The Phantasm is also light and has features I need. It is also the cheapest of these three.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Shoes decision

I ordered the ID gaiters today - they should arrive in a few days. This means I'm going with the Keens. Screw wet feet.

Monday, April 7, 2008

My father owes me a beer

Warning - this is not gear-related.

Kansas beats Memphis 72-65 for the NCAA men's national championship. They did it with a crazy three-point shot, points in the paint with their big men and free throws. Memphis lost it at the free throw line.

Maybe a shoe conclusion

As noted previously, my Keen boots are a little small. This just means that I cannot wear a thick sock i.e. SmartWool Trekking (heavy cushion) socks are out of the question.

However, I'm wearing the mini crews I picked up yesterday. So far, so good. I'm going to walk around a lot in the next week with his combination. If it works, I'm going with the Keens. Wet feet suck. (which is why, if I go with the Keens, I'm going with Integral Designs eVent Shortie Gaiters.
On that note, I'm curious at what point I would take the running shoes over the boots. Here's some quick ideas:

  • WP/B shoes if
    • No stream crossings
    • Wet conditions
    • Muddy conditions
  • Trekking shoes if
    • Stream crossings required
    • Drier conditions
It's just a quick list. In the ends, it's a balance.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Wet feet suck! and other notes

A few notes from the weekend -

I finally succumbed and bought a decent dry bag for my Hydrogen - A Sea to Summit Ultra Sil Dry Sack (medium). It is 8L (6.5" x 15" with a round bottom) and weighs 1.1 oz. It should fit my bag just fine.

Running is going just fine. I ran 8.5 miles today, most of it in a mild rain or a mist. On that note, I recently gave my wind parka (Marmot Ion) some tender loving care - I washed it with Nikwax TechWash and hit it with their TX Direct, a spray-on DWR. I ran with the jacket on today, and I was pleasantly surprised.

First, I know it is not a real rain jacket. For anything more than a quick passing mist, I should put on my rain coat. But the coat held its own for about 3.5 miles of mild misting. Water beaded up on the fabric very, very well. There are a few spots I need to hit again, but that's much better than when I got the coat. The fabric did eventually wet-out once the rain came harder. Even soaked, it kept wind out.

When I bought my new shoes, I tried them on at REI while wearing a pair of SmartWool mini-crew adrenaline hikers. These socks are low cut (not for above-ankle boots), and they have padding where it is needed and a thin layer of wool, almost like a mesh, where padding is not needed (top of the foot, for example).

I bought two pairs and tested one of them out today on the run. I got one small blister (the size of a pinhead) at the end of one of my toenails. This should be corrected by trimming the nail slightly. The socks are definitely quality, and I will take two pair with me on the SHT.

This hiking trip presents a first for me - this is my first well-thought-out backpacking trip. Last year's SHT could count for that except we carried too much food.

This year, I'm prepped for a finish. I'm trying to dial-in everything. I will be in shape. I will carry the appropriate amount of clothing (two shirts or one? I'm leaning toward one long-sleeve). There are many, many more. Maybe someday, I'll post questions this trip has developed in my brain. Certainly I'll do so before I leave.

All of these determinations involve eternal struggles for me - struggles that can only meted out on the trail, out in the woods.

A while ago, I conceeded to a good hiking buddy of mine that running shoes (a la Jardine) were better for hiking in than waterproof boots. I made this determination after running on a day when meltwater was flowing off the cornfields behind my apartment. I purposely got me feet soaked and kept going. The water was cold - it probably was barely above freezing, and definitely no more that 40 degrees F. But after a while, my feet warmed back up. They were fine.

The new running shoes are designed to hold a minimal amount of water. However, they will get wet, and until the rain stops, they will stay wet. This is my worry. I hate having wet feet, even if my feet are warm. But what happens when you stop for the day and it is still raining? Your feet are still wet. If you change into your second (last) pair of socks, you will soak them too.

It is for this reason that I may just bring my Keen Targhee II boots. These shoes do not rise very far (they are billed as trail runners, but they are too heavy and too clunky for that), but they do have an eVent lining.

Another slight problem - I bought the shoes when I thought I would wear X-Static socks with them, and that alone. After last year's run-ins with foot-stabbing talus trails, I need more cushion. This is were the socks come in, but the shoes are tight for that. They are 8.5, and with Keens, I may need a 9. I bought the boots at REI, but morally, I cannot take them back.

And here comes the eternal struggle - The Keens will probably be too warm for the daytime without rain, but the Salomans will be too wet if it does rain. I won't carry two pairs of shoes. (interestingly, Saloman makes a version of my running shoe with an XCR liner in there. It's $120, but I don't want to but another shoe.)

And this brings up the issue gaiters. I'm looking at three options for gaiters. First, a shortie gaiter similar to the REI Mistrals or Simblissity LevaGaiters. Second, waterproof gaiters a la Integral Designs eVent shortie Gaiters. Third, none at all.

The idea is simple - I need something to keep crap out of my shoe. I'm mostly concerned with mud. If I go with the keens, the gaiters are mandatory because without gaiters, the rainwater off my pants will run into my shoes.

If I go with the Salomans, gaiters are not essential and I probably will not bring them. I haven't needed them in the past, and until something shows me I need them, I'm skipping them.

And so, what to do? I'm probably going with the Salomans, even though rain sucks. The trick is that it eventually quits.