Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Gear picks

At the end of every year, BPL editors put together a list of three of each of their favorite pieces of gear from the past year. It isn't a formal endorsement or an Editor's Choice award (a la BACKPACKER). Here's my entries, with one additional from my special lady.

Arctic mukluks by Steger Mukluks: My feet were warm and dry in a myriad of conditions with these muks on. For the UL hiker, they're 20 oz per foot of warmth. Try to get that out of any other full-on winter boot. You won't. Now I just need to figure out how to keep the laces from absorbing moisture and freezing at night...

Dixon Double Bivy by Oware (Dave Olson): I bought this for use with an Oware CatTarp 2 for the special lady and I, and we love it. The the Pertex has excellent water-resisting (almost water proof?!) capabilities and it kept us dry during a deluge in a poor camping site.

Z1
by Zpacks.com (Joe Valesko): Simple design with a full features made this frameless pack my go-to when I didn't need to carry a tent. Solo, I could probably go a week with the pack size and more if I didn't cook. The design only gets better with the use of Dyneema in Joe's latest iterations.

Honorable mentions: GossamerGear LightTrek3s; Integral Designs MK1 XL; Integral Designs VB socks; MYOG torso pad (hacked Ridgerest).

And the pick for women, written by my fiancee: the GoGirl. The GoGirl is an FUD (Female Urination Device) offered at the wonderful price of $6.00 a piece! Simply put: women use the GoGirl to pee standing up. No longer do I have to go 1/2 mile off trail to find a suitable tree to drop trou behind. I can stand aside the path just like my fiance. Of course, it takes some practice...and I recommend using it with a skirt. The GoGirl is made out of medical-grade silicone so it reusable and germ resistant. And the best feature for ultra-lite backpacking is it's ability to keep its shape after being shoved, squished, and compressed into the tightest places in my pack.

[edited 1/4/10 for for clarity]

Saturday, December 26, 2009

New ZPacks in Dyneema

Long time gone from the blog, but here goes a resurgence.

Joe Valesko of Zpacks.com is introducing a new line of packs out of Dyneema X fabric come January 2010. Dyneema X is the current gold standard for those looking for UL gear made out of bombproof materials. If you pay him enough, Dan McHale will make you a pack made out of nothing but Dyneema strands.

Dyneema X weighs about 4 oz/yd^2. This is about three times the weight of silnylon (post-impregnation). However, when the amount of fabric in the gear is so minimal (like that on a pack), the weight increase is proportional but not overly substantial. I'd be willing to guess that a stripped-down Dyneema X 26 will weigh in at about 9 oz. This is three times the amount of my stripped-down Z1.

Other pack makers use, or have started to use, Dyneema regularly in their packs. GoLite, Six Moon Designs and MLD all use Dyneema is some fashion or another. However, none of them weigh in as low as the anticipated Zpacks models. The MLD 2010 Prophet is about the closest you're going to get for a full-featured pack (defined as a rucksack with straps, size pockets and rear pocket). GoLite's Ion is about 9 oz pre-strip down, but that pack lacks external pockets.

I'm slightly biased in preferences, of course, because I love the simplicity of my Z1. But if you want a UL pack for that needs to be tough, Joe's new line should be fantastic.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Shameless eBay self-promotion

I'm selling two of my original backpacking items on eBay: REI Morningstar 65L internal frame backpack; and REI Halfdome 2 (two person tent) with footprint. Thanks for viewing.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Blasphemy! Moving away from Smartwools

I received two pairs of Darn Tough socks for my birthday. Finally, I have moved away from Smartwools socks and tried something else.

Darn Tough makes some high claims. They are, as the name suggests, tough. Ryan Jordan was tempted to take a single pair on the Arctic 1000, but took two full-cushion models (the spare was for mittens) instead.

My primary socks (five pairs) are Smartwool Adrenaline microcrews. The cushioning is still there, but the Achilles' area has been rubbed down to the lycra. That said, they are still excellent socks and have not died yet.

But when they do die, maybe I'll go to Darn Tough for good.

Montbell U.L. Inner down parka update

Montbell just released specs for their updated U.L. Inner down parka, my current go-to 3-season insulation layer.

In short, the parka looks much improved. The down content is ramped up, the fit is tapered and and drawcord has been added to the hood - all good things. The cost is an additional 1.6 oz, but for more warmth, a tighter fit and desirable features (the lack of a hood drawcord on my model is a major objection), the weight is worth it.

However, Will Rietveld's objection to the parka still stands. Compared to the WM Flash jacket (3 oz down fill) and the Nunatak Skaha Plus (5 oz down fill), MB's 2.5 oz of fill (men's medium) looks puny.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wilderness Trekking III is live!

WT3 is live. E-mail correspondence hit inboxes last night, and planning and logistics will commence soon. Route start and end points will be distributed today. I already have a sample gear list developed from prior years (and no, I'm not linking to it right now).

The trip is not about ego or glory - it is about wilderness immersion and experience. And it is not for everyone. If you have to ask, WT3 is not for you. It's a sobering thought.

More later as details are released.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

SHT 50 mile race plan

I'm 20 days out from the SHT fall 50 mile. Not entirely prepared, physically or mentally. A minor knee injury earlier this summer really threw a loop in my training (by cutting out five weeks of it) and I haven't got up to near the mileage that I did for the 50K. I have only put in one week where I ran in excess of 40 miles since the 50K. Oh well.

I did some trail running this morning at Afton State Park. Just a single loop, about 11.3 miles worth. It took me about 110 minutes, or just under 10 min/mile - this includes walking up some hills, so my actual running pace was faster. This is with a fudge factor built in to compensate for my missing 0.3 miles of timing (about 3 minutes). Not too shabby, but it is not the SHT. Afton has too many small rolling hills and a long 1.7 miles of flat dirt near the river. On the SHT, I will have none of that.

Perhaps if I average 10 min/mile, and then add a fudge factor of 10 percent, that's 11 min/mile and a 550 minute race - 9 hours, 10 minutes. This puts as a top-four finisher for the years online results are posted. And thus it makes the pace look flawed.

But perhaps not. I ran poorly at the 50K, yet averaged 10:51 mile/min average. And that's with a lot of walking and slow, slow running. So perhaps somewhere between 10-11 minutes per mile is not that far off.

Of course I have no clue how this will play out. I can only sit back and enjoy the run. Stay out of the front of the pack and get settled early. Last time, I went out too hard and paid for it with pain and sluggish struggling. This time, I am better prepared mentally, and have been biking more and more to compensate for my lack of running.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Vests, part II

So I got a vest, a Patagonia Micropuff. No, I did not pay anywhere near the list price, or even that sale price. It may not be the lightest, ,maybe not the warmest - but hey, I'll take it.

It layers well under my Thermawrap parka, and is warm as all get-out. I intend to take this layer with me to Bozeman for WT3, just in case.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Now enrolled in BPL Wilderness Trekking III

I'm heading out to Bozeman, MT to participate in BackpackingLight's Wilderness Trekking III in October.

As an upshot, this trip will be one of my most extreme excursions to date, likely second only to the Hudson Bay Expedition of 2005. Prior years' WT3 trips support this statement. Last year, the hikers were met with harsh winter conditions and had to hike out because of the deteriorating weather. In 2007, gear was pushed to the extreme. Two pairs of trekking poles suffered catastrophic failure. Their trip report is here. In short, the group faces snow, near-freezing temps and difficult navigation for the entire trek.

Although gear requirements have not been released, in prior years, insulation has been all synthetic. This means insulated parkas and pants, along with sleeping bags or quilts. Other gear is specifically limited. The 2007 report gear report has a prior example list. Chris Wallace has also posted his 2008 WT3 gear list.

More information will be posted as I receive it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Trip Report: Jardine was right

The more I hike, the more I realize Ray Jardine had it right all along. From quilts to tarps to shorts, his methods just work.

Jacci and I hiked on the Superior Hiking Trail this weekend between Beaver Bay and Silver Bay, and skirted the edges of Bean and Bear Lakes. We got as far north as the two Palisade Creek campsites, and camped Friday night along the Beaver River and Saturday night at the rest stop above Bear Lake. The trip was spectacular.

When we hiked in Friday night from the Lake County 4 trail head, we hit a campsite on the Beaver River. Thinking we had passed the first of the two sites just a short jaunt from the trail head, we turned around and parked our shelter just off trail at a makeshift site. Come the following morning, I should have trusted my gut - the marked campsite we came to was the first of two, not the second. But it was occupied anyway, and solitude is something best shared with a good friend.

The shelter system we use is a CatTarp 2 and Dixon DoubleBivy, both from OwareUSA. The bivy is tricky to manage because of its tie-outs. To make it work, you need to use all three ties, and you need to pull the middle up high enough to get the Pertex at the head end vertical. This puts the silnylon bottom on the ground, and helps keep the mesh off the users face. Lightweight stakes work great to keep the bivy in place; titanium shepherd hooks work great.

Like all tarps, the best part about using one is the openness of the shelter experience. When morning comes, one can cock their neck all around and get a 360 view of their world.

Based on our packs, it was going to be a different weekend altogether:

At left is my Z1. At right is Jacci's school backpack, a Jansport model marketed for day hiking she got at REI. When she got it, she said she would take it out on a weekend trip. This was the first weekend of this long-set plan.

The trick was to take a single sleeping bag with a full-zip and use it like a quilt. The bag of choice was her WM Ultralight (short), which fit us well when we laid down underneath it at home. I carried the bag - in exchange, Jacci carried our kitchen (sans fuel) and our tarp. I got the bivy, Tyvek groundsheet, stakes and fuel canister. So shared gear was more or less even, with a tilt toward less.

At least five people in two parties confused us for day hikers. On Saturday evening, we shared a site with a woman named Sandy and her husband Mike. We had passed them twice on the trail. When we introduced ourselves, Sandy said she was initially confused by our pack sizes when she had seen us on the trail. She said she thought we had too much stuff for day hikers, but it looked like too little for an overnight. To her credit, this was her first time backpacking - she and Mike are kayakers and canoeists who are accustomed to taking whatever they want.

The weekend was also my first weekend our with my new torso pad. The pad worked great, but success with it is dependent on location. Closed-cell foam pads, in general, as less forgiving to roots and rocks underneath your bottom than inflatable mats. On Saturday night, I had two such earthly denizens that stubbornly rested beneath me.

As far as hiking goes, traveling between the Beaver River and the tailing pond/pumphouse Saturday morning was slow and irregular. A 10K trail race was going on and the runners were coming at us. Out of courtesy, we stopped, stepped off-trail and let them pass unbothered.

We could not have asked for better weather. Large cumulus clouds dotted the sky, and there was a stiff breeze that was best felt on the top of ridgelines. It kept the flies and mosquitoes away and kept us cool.

A sun shower came later Saturday morning in the form of misting. When we thought the mist would turn to legitimate rain, we donned our shells. I had a poncho while Jacci had a traditional waterproof-breathable jacket.

Hiking in the rain is always enjoyable. The air cools, and droplets hit your forehead and cleanse your face. But the sun was out, so temps stayed high. When the mist continued and stayed that way, we removed our raingear and hiked on in the mild mist.

Initially, the forecast said thunderstorms all weekend. Perfect. As it turned out, we got two downpours on Saturday night in addition to the mist. The first deluge came just after supper from a single pregnant cloud. The timing could not have been more perfect - we just finished making supper, a Lipton/Knorr noodle packet cooked over a canister stove.

But when the rain finally came, mud poured through the campsite.

Here's what was left of our bivy/tarp shelter after the rain passed. It looks much worse than it actually was. The rain came hard and heavy, and the sloped dirt we were on created a mini-mudslide that ran under the lower portion of the tarp. Add some splatter off the short end (which is the close end in the photo), wind-blown rain directly at said short end and a pool of water forming on the uphill side of your tarp on its edge hem, and you've got a recipe for mud.

Like I said, it looks much worse that it was. I was standing outside during the storm in my poncho/tarp and just observed what was going on. I rolled the tyvek up on the right side of the photo, and water ran underneath it. No water got into the bivy, although it did get between the Tyvek and bivy. The silnylon was waterproof and the Pertex's DWR held fast. All I had to do when it was all done was wipe it down with Jacci's skirt, which was still soaked from a washing earlier that evening. Sunday morning after the tarp was taken down, here's what the place looked like:
Had we been stealth camping or otherwise on a grassy area, this whole mess would have been averted. Again, Jardine was right - tarp camping is all about location, location, location.

It also rained Saturday evening, around 10 p.m. as we were going to bed and the last remnants of sun were disappearing. This time, the rain was much less severe, and the tarp protected us adequately. Sleeping with rain pattering the tarp is always comforting, like a calm soothing white noise.

Temps stayed mild both nights. The quilt had kept us warm and comfortable despite the low temps being at least 30 degrees warmer than the bag's rating of 20 degrees. We could adequately vent by raising an edge, kicking a foot out, or pushing the bag's head lower on our torso. I used all three of these techniques to manage my body temperature.

On Sunday morning, the early sun baked the rain-soaked forest and pushed the humidity to 110 percent with sunshine and clear skies to boot. I removed my pants and hiked in my spandex shorts for the remaining four miles. Jardine advocates hiking in spandex shorts and having a shell pant to deal with bugs and other nasties. I plan to take this clothing arrangement on future hikes.

On a final (gear) note, I cut off the waist belt and removed the (removable) sternum strap on my Z1 when I got home. I dropped almost two ounces off the pack, pushing its weight to 3.35 oz(!).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Yet another Ridgerest hacked in the name lightweight backpacking

I'm slowly converting to Ray Jardine's philosophies - again.

The evening, I chopped up yet another Ridgerest closed-cell foam pad into a torso-shaped pad. This version weighed in at 103 grams - 3.63 ounces. The dimensions are similar to BackpackingLight.com's Torsolite, which a) will be back in stock soon; and b) has been selling like hotcakes recently on BPL's gear trade forum.

This is my second attempt at hacking down a CCF pad into a torso-shaped bundle. My first attempt still exists - it is rectangular at 29.5x19.5 and about ~5.4 oz. When I saw that BPL was going to get more TorsoLites in stock, I through about the unused pad on my sides, especially flanking by buttocks. So I hacked this one down and lost almost 2 oz.

It's going out for its first test this weekend, somewhere in Minnesota that lacks mosquitoes. When I return, I imagine I'll cut a concave curve into the sides near my true waist to chop out even more unused pad. Until then, the pad will stay nicely above 100 grams.

As a final note, the only company that sells torso-length pads is GossamerGear. Unmodified, these pads weigh in at 3.5-3.8 oz, and are also rectangular. Not too shabby.

New TarpTent from Henry Shires

Continuing in his arched tradition, Henry Shires has introduced his latest in a continuation of single-arch shelters: the Moment, a one-person single-wall shelter requiring only two stakes.

The shelter is a continuation of Henry's Scarp 1 and 2, and the Hogback. A single arch poles goes over the width of the shelters, providing overhead and vestibule space. The design is also a direct competition to the Hilleberg Akto and the Terra Nova Laser Competition (along with TN's related designs).

BPL's initial commentary by Will Rietveld here. I trust Will's gear reviews as very thorough, and he's very excited to get at this one.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Ice Age Trail: baffled by shrubberies

I pondered my predicament: do I hike in a given distance in the dark, or make camp adjacent to my car? I was at the trailhead of the Ice Age Trail on Highway 64 just outside of Medford, Wisc. Tired from the drive, but itchy to get walking. I chose the latter, after venturing into the woods by the light of a single LED bulb. Ferns and overgrowth hid the path; getting lost was not an option.

This would be the first night I would sleep in my new solo shelter system: a poncho/tarp and a bivy. Except parking lots rarely accept stakes easily. I jammed one stake under a tire, and hammered to others into the gravelly ground. During the whole process, a few rain drops started to fall. Just a few. "She's going to laugh at this," I thought. The hood was tied, and I slipped into the bivy. Rain came harder. Lightning. Thunder to the west at 10-Mississippi. The wind rushed, the air cooled. Then 15 was the count. Then it drifted away, to 20, 30 and 45.

I also set out to experiment with a new sleep system, one that leaves traditional bags and quilts at home, and to instead opt for insulated pants and parka. I started out resting my shorts and shirt. As I cooled, I slipped my long pants back on, and made damn sure my hips and shoulders were resting on my hacked down, torso-length pad. Then my fleece beanie went on, and I draped my jacket over my torso, quilt like. Then the jacket went on. Dawn came, and I stood up, warm and comfortable.

In my initial trip planning, I had been hard-pressed to find a decent map of the trail on such short notice. So I printed off a handful USGS topo maps (from 1980), grabbed the map at the trailhead and wandered in. The trail was woodsy and overgrown. No overlooks or vistas. Just woods. Ferns spilled over the footpath even at the trailhead, and dew-soaked grasses invaded any sense of path when I crossed over ancient beaver dams.

It was buggy, too. And I do not use DEET. I wore a windshirt in the morning and while moving, and kept the hood up almost at all times; my legs thanked me for wearing longs pants.

Around 90 minutes into the hike, I navigated down and around an old clear-cut via an access road. The trail then made a jaunt back into the woods and into a thicket of shrubberies and raspberry bushes. The trail then disappeared everywhere but at my feet. The bushes folding in front of me. Take a step in any direction, and they bent back to cover your path. The vegetation was taller than I, so I felt like I was walking blind through a cornfield without crop lines.

So I turned around. I already did not have a good picture of where I was going, and I was not interested in getting lost or wandering off-trail. To another trailhead? Maybe. That was a decision to make when I returned to my car.

With a mile or two to go, I could tell my knee was not 100 percent. The trail had been rolling, but not steep, and there had been now technical sections. Just cushy earth. But better safe then sorry, I headed home.

Because of the short nature of the hike, reviewing gear is sketchy at best. But I will say this. My pack was too large for a short jaunt such as this. This is caused by two factors. First, I did not take a full-size sleeping bag or quilt. Second, my food volume was low. Despite packing a cookpot, I could have easily fit many more days worth of food or packed bulkier gear. The pack carried well despite being underfilled. Also, as noted by Ryan Jordan in his review of the Blast 18, the side pockets were too short for my large, 1.5L Nalgene canteen (really ~63 oz). No matter, the bottle went in the rear pocket. My poncho/tarp took the place of the bottle in the side pocket.

Next on tap is a hiking trip for the weekend beginning July 24. Location is TBD.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Seeking happiness, one step at a time

In a thread about recommended reading for simplifying one's life based on UL principles, Ben Tang dropped these words.

"Folks who get their 'highs' from new toys can expect to have a harder time avoiding clutter -- and self-inflicted complications."

The link has the full text of his post. Take that, materialism.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hiking on a bum knee, and other thoughts.

I'm heading to the Ice Age Trail in Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (not a navigable gov't website this weekend (tomorrow) on the recommendation from some staffers at my local gear shop. Where on the trail I'm going, though, is not determined yet. I have yet to find a decent map or the trail or the forest. So I'll plan the thing when I get there.

I've also developed an inflamed plica in my right knee. After not running and not getting better for nearly two weeks, I saw my orthopedic surgeon today, who diagnosed the condition, gave me a cortisone injection and prescribed me with an anti-inflammatory patch. He also cleared me for hiking with a 10 lb pack. Gear list here.

I'm going to taking it easy this weekend, nothing too strenuous. It'll be a relaxing hike, and I'm going to monitor my knee and let it tell me how to go. I'm taking a completely new shelter system out this weekend: a poncho/tarp and bivy. While I have tarped in a two-person bivy before, I have never used the poncho tarp, or used a solo bivy. I also have not spent a night out in the rain with a tarp, or had to set up or take down in the rain. Such is life. Weather is supposed to be clear this weekend. I am also leaving a sleeping bag/quilt at home, instead opting for insulating clothing, including insulated pants. In a bivy, I should be fine. Here's to gear testing.

Trip report, with pictures, when I return.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Moving via bike

My friend, Sam Haraldson, moved apartments recently. He transported his belongings via bicycle. His blog post about the move is here, with photos. He tweets at sharalds.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

50 mile training program planned - shooting for 100 mile week

I'm consistently running again, and with 14 weeks to go until a) the end of summer; and more importantly b) the Superior Trail Races 50 miler, I slogged through data to plug in a new training program.

The bulk of the program is based off of Daniels' Running Formula, by Dr. Jack Daniels (no, not to the whiskey), and all the descriptions below are paraphrases of his work. I ran on this program in high school cross country, and used it to develop training programs for my '08 TC marathon and the recently-finished SHT Spring 50K. My high school cross country coach liked to say that he could coach an entire team off of a handful of pages of Dr. Daniels' book (six, actually).

Based on the 50K finish, I decided I need more long runs, at least one quality workout per week that is not a long run, and generally more miles. The program I developed, as detailed below, starts tomorrow. Here's the quick and dirty numbers:

Week Miles LSD 1 LSD 2 Q type
6.8.09 40 10 8
6.15.09 40 10 8
6.22.09 60 15 12 I
6.29.09 60 15 12 T
7.6.09 80 20 16 T
7.13.09 70 17.5 14 I
7.20.09 70 17.5 14 T/L
7.27.09 90 22.5 18 T
8.3.09 80 20 16 M
8.10.09 80 25 20 I
8.17.09 100 30 20 T
8.24.09 80 20 16 M
8.31.09 60 15 8 T
9.7.09 40
9.12.09 50

Here's what that all means: My weeks start on Monday. Each week has a listed goal mileage, two long, slow distance (LSD) goals and a quality workout (Q type). Lets break each category down.

Outside of weeks 7.27.09 and 8.17.09 (weeks 8 and 11 of 14, respectively), my max mileage per week is 80 miles. Compared to the 50K, I had one week of 60 miles, a few weeks of 50 and more of 40. With this program, I hope for more consistent weekly mileages and to better place by high mileage weeks within the program. The peak of 100 and general peak of 80 miles is otherwise mostly arbitrary outside of the general desire to increase mileage above and beyond my prior peak of 60.

The long runs will be done on Saturday and Sunday, with Saturday being LSD1, the longer of the two runs. The idea behind this is to build endurance with back-to-back long runs, and to ensure I place my long runs on the days I have the most time. In theory, I should be able to finish the race, regardless of my weekly mileage, so long as I get my long runs in. In general, LSD1 is 25 percent of my weekly mileage, and LSD2 is 20 percent. This leaves 11 percent of the mileage for each weekday, assuming I run each day. Remember, this is only an average weekday distance. I regularly did a 10+ mile run in the middle of the week during my 50K training despite never running above 60 miles in a week. In addition, some of my non-LSD quality workouts will take the place of the LSD for that week, or will be longer than that 11 percent weekday average. I will not do a non-LSD quality workout for the first two weeks, which are designed as base-building (maintaining) weeks.

The quality workouts are generally speed-type workouts. They are based off of an athletes velocity (v) at maximum oxygen consumption (VO2Max). VO2Max is a function of one's ability to process oxygen; the better at it an athlete is, the higher their VO2Max will be. This number is used to compare performances and generate goal-specific training times for a given distance. Elite athletes, such as Lance Armstrong, have high VO2Max values; Lance's VO2Max value is 83.8. Based on Daniels' tables, I have a VDOT hovering between 55 and 58.

The abbreviations in the Q type column refer to goal-specific training types. "I" stands for interval runs. The purpose of this running is to improve one's aerobic capacity (VO2Max), or ability to process oxygen. In layman's terms, this is hard running. In this category, I will run 200 meter repeats (likely 16 of them) in a single workout, with short recovery periods in between. I will also be doing 1000 meter repeats of various quantities.

"T" stands for lactate threshold running. This is comfortably hard running (there is a difference). "T/L" stands for long threshold running, which is threshold running for a period generally over 20 minutes at a time. At this point, Daniels' recommends increasing the runners per mile (or km) pace to reflect the distance. The purpose of all threshold running is to increase the period of time a runner can operate at velocities at or near VO2Max without suffering from the effects of lactic acid, which can cause sore muscles, cramps and other undesirable maladies. Threshold running in effect improves the body's ability to process lactic acid. In this group, I will do sets of 2.5 mile repeats and 4-6 minute repeats.

"M" stands for marathon pace running. It is exactly that - the pace at which a runner could complete a marathon. Daniels' describes this pace as "faster than easy." After finishing the TC marathon, I agree with his assessment. I plan to use is on 10-15 mile runs.

I will regularly post updates as to my progress on the program, and detail my non-LSD quality workouts as I go. Happy running.

Mini gear reviews from Porcupines

All of these pieces of gear were used on my recent three-day, two-night trek in the Porcupine Wilderness in Michigan. Here's my trip report. Here's my gear list.

OwareUSA Dixon Double Bivy and CatTarp2

We used this bivy to deal with wind and splatter from precipitation. The top is made of Pertex, the bottom is a gray silnylon. We used a sheet of Tyvek underneath the bivy to protect against punctures and abrasion. There is a large mesh window, and three tie outs on the hood.

We used three lengths of Triptease and some minibiners to hold up the bivy. The center tie went to the upright, and the outside ties went to guylines on the front of the tarp.

It did not rain on the trip, and the wind was minimal. However, the bivy was very, very warm because of the heat it trapped. The second night, I slept for at least two hours with my feet in my bag, two shirts on and my torso otherwise without any insulation.

The tarp was pitched with trekking poles that had a single round of duct tape around so the guylines would hold. The lines had triangular line tensioners, which proved to be much more effective and easier to use than tautline hitches.

In future use, I need to get some inclement weather in to test the tarp and bivy combo

Z1 from Zpacks.com




















I used a Z1 from Zpacks.com, a frameless rucksack with stripped-down features. This was the first multi-day trip for the pack, and it carried well.

The pack has two options: a sternum strap and a waist belt. I used neither on this trip and I never thought them necessary. We were not traveling terribly fast or over challenging terrain to require the stabilization these straps provide. The sternum strap went unbuckled (the strap is removable), and I clipped the belt to itself and tightened it until the buckle hung a few inches below the pack bottom. The entirety of the buckle then lived behind my butt and stayed there, out of the way.

Frameless packs are susceptible to turning to a sausage-roll, or a log, on your pack - the pack becomes entirely round and rolls back and forth on your back. I did not experience this with on this trip, but in a subsequent non-backpacking trip I did experience it. I did have it packed with bulkier items, and packed tighter to boot, though.

The pack generally carried well and my the tops of my shoulders stayed non-tender until late in our second day. This pain subsided the next morning after proper hydration and supper that night. This tenderness, of my trapezius muscles, is a function of the strength of those muscles, the pack weight and how the pack is carried. On a longer hike, tenderness would subside as muscles get stronger, packweight decreases and the hiker finds the proper method to carry the pack.

The pockets were effective at holding items and being accessible. In my right pocket, I carried a 0.5L Platypus bladder (I carried two total) and my bottle of denatured alcohol. In the left pocket went my filter. I could easily reach behind to grab and replace a water bottle; my poles greatly helped this (see separate review).

The rear pocket swallowed my hardshell, food, extra water bottle and other miscellaneous pieces. I like big rear pockets for holding items, and I don't think non-UL packs utilize this rear space enough (Osprey is an exception).

I used a thin torso-length pad as frame, and stuffed my mummy bag directly into the bottom. The pad stayed in place once the mummy bag went in, and like other top-loading packs, the back just turns into a huge hole to stuff gear into. For a minimalist, this is all that is necessary.

In the long-term, I am interested in the durability of the pack. It is made entirely of sil-nylon of one weight or another. Original UL packs, a la Ray Jardine had a strip of Cordura or other heavier nylon on high-abrasion areas. Continuing this trend, GoLite uses Dyneema in its packs (although they are generally no longer influenced by Jardine).

BPL just reviewed the Blast 18, a similar pack by Zpacks, al beit smaller and made of cuben fiber. Their review, by publisher Ryan Jordan, is here (membership required).

GossamerGear Lightrek 3 trekking poles

Please see my separate review, here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gossamer Gear Lightrek 3 Hiking Poles - initial review

I recently received a pair of Lightrek 3 trekking poles from Gossamer Gear. I put them to their first test last weekend in Michigan's Porcupines Wilderness State Park in the Upper Peninsula. Here's my initial impression after putting approximately 30+ miles of up-and-down terrain on them.

They are a color-test and are not identical; both are a dark blue. The coloring patterns are different, but only upon close inspection. Both have reinforced spiraling from the top of the plastic tip upward on the pole 10.25 inches. The handles are made of EVA Kork-o-Lon foam, which is a sturdy foam with just enough give to cushion tight squeezes.

But their weight is what makes them spectacular - without baskets, they are 2.7 oz per pole. And this is even 0.3 oz above the specs for the current models. They feel like nothing in your hands and do not generate shoulder or forearm fatigue, unlike other heavier models - ahem, my BD Spires, at 10.22 oz/pole (290 g). The LT3s are a full 2 oz lighter than their nearest competitor, Stix from BPL (mine are 4.75 oz per pole at 115 cm).

Previously, I had used straps with poles. With these poles, I extended the poles ahead of me when walking downhill, and put my weight on the straps. I did the same on uphills, and generally only held the poles with my first two fingers and my thumb.

With the LT3s, this was not possible. I experimented with numerous grip combinations over the three trekking days and multiple ups and downs. Like many poles, the grips have three nubs: one at the bottom, one at the top, and one about 2.5" below the top of the pole (not all of that length is usable) . The middle nub is 3" of usable length from the bottom nub. My grips included: placing one or two fingers above the middle grip, everything else below and thumb around; same as the first, but with thumbs on top of the handle; and placing all my fingers around between the middle and bottom grip, thumb around. The photo shows the last grip.

This last grip worked the best. I could squeeze the grip and my hands would not move up or down the pole. I could plant the pole in front of me on downhills, and the effective shortening of the pole allowed me to plant the pole high on uphills. I occasionally changed from this grip, but this was my main grip.

I underestimated the value of free hands when using poles with straps; now strapless, I realize the benefits of strapless poles. The LT3s are easy to deploy to my hands, easy to set down and pick up. I can place both poles under an arm, grab a camera, bottle, bag of food, etc. Also, I can easily drop the pole if it gets stuck in a rock, root or mud.

I also used the poles for the ridges poles for my tarp, a CatTarp 2 from OwareUSA. To facilitate setting up, I added a single round of duct tape to each pole. The guyline, a length of EZC from GossamerGear, was wrapped the tape once and then went to a stake. A triangular line tensioner from GossamerGear was also used on each guyline (ridges included). The top of the round is approximately 4.5" from the bottom of the foam grip.

The poles held up well when used as such. I put plenty of stress on the ridgelines, enough for a drum-tight sound to emanate from the guylines when they were plucked. I noticed no compression the poles underneath the duct tape. I did not experience high winds, however.

In future testing, I plan on using the LT3s as poles for my CatTarp and my poncho/tarp, hopefully in inclement conditions such that more stress will be put on the poles (guylines and tensioners, too).

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Beautiful weather and one bad ankle reign at Porcupines Wilderness State Park

Jacci and I spent our weekend in the Porcupine Wilderness. The trip was fantastic, and with the exception of a bum ankle, it was all smiles.

We started at the ranger station in the park's northeast corner. We hiked south on the South Boundary Road and entered the trail system at the Union Spring Trail. From there, we hiked through the swampy terrain generated by the spring (it was full of algae) and ventured north to the Escarpment Trail.

The Escarpment Trail runs east to west on the hills above Lake of the Clouds. It rises approximately 450 feet from the swampy terrain of the Union Spring Trail. Up high, the trail dried out significantly with some drainages cutting through the hills. However, there was little water up high. As expected the views were fantastic and the weather helped. Weather was fantastic; temps bottomed out in the low 40s and likely never got about 75 degrees. And it was sunny, all day, everyday. A lot like the photo at left. We camped not far from from this vista, approximately a miles east of the eastern edge of Lake of Clouds.

The state park forms the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone in Michigan's upper peninsula. As such, the sun set at 9:45 p.m. and rose just before 6 a.m., for an incredible amount of daylight, especially that late into the evening Had we been just a few miles west, those times would be kicked back an hour. It made of interesting in-camp time. We would arrive at camp at approximately 6 p.m., cook dinner and set up, and be done by 7 p.m. After bear-bagging (on a big pole with a slightly smaller pole) and finishing miscellaneous camp chores, we were ready for bed at 7:30 with 2.5 hours to go before dark set in. So we took a nap. And then woke up again. And then went to bed, once and for all. It is a similar sleeping time setup that I had on the SHT last spring.

Jacci put together the menu from recipes from TrailCooking. We carried a UL Freezerbag Cozy for cooking in freezer bags. My cozy weighs 20 grams, approximately 0.705 ounces. This style of cooking makes life easier - no dishes, just boil, add water and mix. Wait 5-15 minutes and you're done. Because of limited material, Sarah at TrailCooking has a limited supply of UL Cozies. When they're gone, they're gone. We ate well, with a homemade cereal mix in the morning, beef jerky and a bar at lunch and a pasta or rice-based meal for supper. Add in the mandatory chocolate bar for desert and I was fat and happy. (I will be posting separate review of our menu in a future post within the next few days.) My brother thinks the cozy is unnecessary, and it likely is because you can use your fleece hat for the same thing and is a multi-use item. But the cozy weighs so little and is so efficient that it is hard to keep it out of non-SUL gear lists.

The cozy was stored in my cookpot, and we cooked on an alcohol stove, a Gram Weenie Pro from End2EndTrailSupply. Although the stove is designed to boil 16 oz of water, we boiled 24 oz of water on 1 oz of fuel, with at least a minute of burn time to spare (non-scientific testing).

On day two, we hiked past Lake of the Clouds and down to its outlet for water. There, we ran into our first problem of the trip. My pre-filter on my MSR Sweetwater clogged. I removed it and pumped a few liters of semi-silty water through it. It clogged up the filter and it started to kick out carbon pellets. I backflushed the prefilter and replaced it. After cleaning it twice, the prefilter worked and the water was clear again, but it continued to kick out carbon pellets for the next five or so liters. Now home, I ran about a gallon of tap water through it after an additional cleaning, and it turned out fine. So what gives? I'm not sure; I believe the filter is OK, but I contacted MSR/Cascade Designs to be sure. I received word back from MSR today, and they said it is likely a warranty issue and I am in the process of getting an Return Authorizations Number and will be sending the filter in for repair/replacement.

After leaving the Lake of the Clouds area, we walked on the Lake Superior Trail, all 10.5 miles of it to the mouth of the Big Carp River. The first section of trail was rocky down to the lake, and then muddy as we walked on the lower elevations by the lake shore. But eventually as we neared Big Carp River, we trekked back into the forest. The trees were large coniferous trees with little undergrowth. It is places like these that make me feel small, a person of minimal importance in such a large world. Drainages were filled with ferns. Other areas were packed with little pine trees, the greenest plants we saw. You could not see the ground in these areas, it was a lush mat of green.

That night, we camped just upstream from Shining Cloud Falls. The white noise of the water was relaxing and tuned out the forest noise. Although the ground was soft from the forest duff, I was uncomfortable on my torso-length generic closed-cell foam pad. My hips were hurting where they were in contact with my pad. I rolled the pad on itself, but it was in vain; my hips hurt from the pressure, and rolling to my side was of no help. On the next trip, it's getting replaced with a cushier torso pad.

On the morning of day three, it was more of the glorious same. We walked amid giant pines and followed the Big Carp River upstream toward Lake of the Clouds. Jacci even did a stream crossing when the log bridge had washed out. On her feet were low-cut Merrel shoes with a Gore-Tex liner, and my eVent shortie gaiters from Integral Designs. Despite the water rushing up and over her shoes, her feet stayed dry and she was enjoyed the trek.


We made it 90 minutes out of camp Monday morning before a trip-ending set back kicked in. Jacci's right ankle was throbbing, and it hurt to walk on it. She did not roll it, or otherwise cause trauma to it, but it was hurting. Bad. She had previously taken 500 mg of acetaminophen at 7 a.m., and took another 500 mg at 9 a.m. She couldn't take more meds then, so we had to trek on. We planned on hiking the Correction Line Trail to Government Trail via Mirror Lake. From there, we would meet up with the Union Spring Trail and hike out the same way we came in. This was approximately a 16 mile day, the same as the day before. But now we were three miles in with pain while walking. Our pace necessarily slowed down, but we kept walking.

We modified out trip plan: we were going to walk the Correction Line Trail the 2.8 miles to Mirror Lake. From there, we would trek north the approximately 4 miles to Lake of the Clouds parking lot. We could then walk the road the 8 miles to the ranger station, call a ranger for a ride or hitch a ride out.

So we walked on, stopping when necessary. Hiking down 400 feet along the North Mirror Lake Trail presently difficulties because of Jacci's ankle and trail conditions. There was no clear trail, and the roots of trees clawed up the path. The hill up from Lake of the Clouds was especially difficult, a 200 ft. rise from the bottom of the hill. We stopped at least three times. Now at the top, we needed to mosey down the paved walkway, through the parking lot (also paved) and down the winding asphalt road to the permit station.

Not wanting to walk the eight miles to our car, we asked the woman running the permit station if she could get in contact with a park ranger, who could then give us a ride to our vehicle. She got on the walkie, but could not get reception. So we waited. Shortly thereafter, a pair of hikers whom we had seen earlier passed us, heading up to Lake of the Clouds. I explained the situation, and they said their car was parked at the lot near Lake of the Clouds overlook, and that they would give us a ride.

Back at the car, we headed into the ranger station and got a refund, $14, for the night we did not use. We also purchased two permits for the showers; at $2 a piece, we couldn't go wrong considering the six hour drive ahead and our anticipated stop at Grandma's in Canal Park in Duluth, MN (my traditional post-hike eatery).

In general, the trail was in moderate condition. There trees strewn across the trails, and there often noticeable spur trails around these fallen trees. There was no sign of recent trail maintenance, and we often verbally cursed the Michigan DNR to the ears of the trees whenever we passed a blowdown.

Now home, Jacci's right ankle has healed over the course of two easy days and plenty of 200 mg doses of ibuprofen. Her lower left leg gave her some trouble Tuesday due to overcompensation. This has since resolved.

As for gear, I'll get to that in a separate post; the report is too long in itself for anything more than little snippets here and there. I'll also have an extended initial review of the trekking poles I used, a pair of Lightrek 3's from GossamerGear.