Sunday, June 7, 2009

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

I used a Z1 from, 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.

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