Monday, November 8, 2010

Race Report: Surf the Murph 2010

I finished Surf the Murph - a 50 mile footrace through the Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve in Savage MN. And the day after I was far less sore than I was last night.

The race started oddly enough. My wife and I, with friend in tow in a separate vehicle, left our apartment at 5:05 am. The race started at 6 am. Her directions took us (correctly) a different way than the directions I had pulled up the night before (mine were also correct). End result: We pulled into the parking lot at 5:55 am or so. Quick! Get my bag! Pin my number! Head to the start! Return to car for dropped headlamp! Start!

That morning I had a few goals, in order of importance: 1) Finish; 2) Finish in the daylight; 3) run even/negative splits; 4) run sub-9 hours; 5) bomb the downhills; 6) finish in the top 5.

The race was three 16.8 mile laps around the park. The course was generally wide horsetrails with some singletrack that went through fields and woods where there should be no trail. This latter part would cut up my shins and make my wife cringe when she put antibiotic ointment on them post-race.

Each lap was split into three sections because of the terrain. The first five or so miles were walk uphill, bomb down hill. There was an aid station at mile 3 of each lap, and it essentially marked the halfway point to this first section. The first section ended at the second aid station, a parking lot for the horse camp at the park. This aid station was complete with restroom facilities (necessary on the first lap to cure intestinal issues). The second section is more or less flat and carries the runners through fields of tall grasses. There is one gnarly spot, where the trail goes through what looks like knocked down thick vegetation. There is soft ground underneath, so the runners are forced to be light on their feet and run on the knocked down plants like they are planks over a peat bog. This section is about 7 miles long and there is a third aid station at about mile 9. This section ends with a return to the horse camp, al beit coming from another direction, at mile 12.4. The final 4.4 miles are a return to the rolling hills that must be walked up, and then the lap ends and the whole process starts over again. Sounds, easy, right?

Lap One

The first lap started easy enough. There was a crowd, and we were all eager to get going. I was mindful one lesson: start slow. I had intended to run even splits and wanted to come into the first aid station at about 30 minutes - 10 min/mi. Instead, I came in at somewhere between 27 and 28. That's when I took put one of my racing strategies into play: skip aid stations. If I didn't need to stop, I didn't. End result? I would spend less time not moving, carrying more fluids than necessary, or ingesting things I didn't need. The strategy worked, and I ended up skipping four of the 14 aid stations on the course and only spent 15 or so seconds each at the remainder.

I figured that I had put myself in about 7th or 8th place once the race really began a few miles in and the crowds thinned out. I was bombing down the hills and passing people in the process. Lots of folks did not run the downhills and I used the hills to get a few seconds on them. I then slowed down to my normal cruising speed (essentially the same speed as anyone behind me) and maintained my edge. As more and more hills came, I added more and more distance between me and the person behind me.

I came into the horse camp at about 56 minutes. I had slowed down enough to get into a comfortable pace and manage the nausea and intestinal distress that had been affecting me for since 5:30 that morning. When I pulled into the horse camp, I was behind three runners: a woman in a purple tank (a lot more on her later), a gut with forearm sleeves, and a man with a bike jersey on. I ended up using the facilities at the horse camp and lost a few minutes on those folks, but it was worth it. I loaded up my bottle with a 50/50 mixture of HEED and water.

I then started the flat section, and I turned my headlamp off at about 7:15 am. I intentionally skipped the third aid station (at mile 8.2 or so) and plunged into the singletrack-where-there-was-no-trail-before.

I caught my first runner, the man with the bike jersey, at about mile 15, just after the horse camp, round 2. I had seen the runner leave the camp and I was eager to catch him. He had passed me a while ago in the darkness. I worked hard to catch him, pushing the flats and working the downhills and finally passed him on a downhill about half a mile from the end of the first lap. I would never see him again. As a bonus for working to pass him and having fast transitions in aid stations, I also passed the man with the forearm sleeves. He was standing in the aid station while I motored out.

At the finish was my wife. She loaded me up with Pringles and a homemade chocolate chip cookies and I filled up with 75/25% HEED/water. I again pounded down a class of Coke and was off. I had finished the first lap in 2:50 and based on information I obtained later in the race, I was running in 5th place.

Lap two

The second lap started out the same as the first, only this time I could see the daunting hills I had run down with more clarity. Some of them were downright scary, reminiscent of the hills at Afton State Park and the race that is run there in July. I once again skipped the first aid station and plugged along the best I could with the hills. I was still running the downhills well and felt comfortable even though I was 20 miles in.

At some point, I had caught on the woman in the purple tank. I don't remember where it was, maybe at an aid station or when she was using the facilities, but either way, she caught me and passed me somewhere around mile 25 or so, right around the third aid station. And I panicked. All systems went haywire, adrenaline pumped through me, and my right hamstring, which had begun to give me problems, had relaxed. I came through the half-way point at 4:27.

I was so perplexed by her presence that I needed to pass her again. So I motored along and tried to drop her on the downhills. I was successful in that I passed her, but she did not go away.

When I pulled into the horse camp for the second time on lap 2, I was worried at how long I could keep up my strenuous pace. I had just killed the flat section and had 20 miles to go. I knew she wasn't going to go away and my confidence faltered.

She and I would go back and forth like this at every aid station until the final trip to the horse camp. The situation would go as follows: I would come into the aid station having been passed anywhere to one-half to a mile back. I would get Pringles, a cookie, HEED and drink some Coke like it was in a shot glass and blast out. I would pass the woman in the purple tank on a downhill, and try to drop her. The sugar and caffeine from the Coke would power me for about 3 miles and then I would slow down and I would get caught.

Final lap

On the final lap, I came into the aid station still panicking. My wife told me that I needed to put on new socks, and I refused. I didn't want to take the time and besides, neither my shoes nor socks were broken, so I refused to move them. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. She withheld Pringles unless I changed, so I loaded up on HEED, slammed some Coke and left without them. I had finished the second lap in 5:50 - I had slowed down only 10 minutes from first lap to second.

I came into the first aid station knowing that I needed to get something. A cookie, anything. I grabbed a store-bought chocolate chip cookie and met the woman in the purple tank once again. This time, I relayed some information to her: there was a man in a white shirt in front of us, about a hundred yards up. The aid station workers said he was 18.

I set my sights on him and took off down the hill out of the aid station. I passed him a mile or so later when I bombed passed him on a downhill. Unfortunately, he didn't go away.

I entered the horse camp in 4th. My wife was there again and the issue with the socks was over. My routine stayed the same and I entered the flat section. Here I suffered. I slowed down and got caught by the 18-year-old on a long flat section before we entered a field, and then by the woman in purple 1.5 miles from the horse camp. At this point, I was gassed - there wasn't a whole lot left in me.

I came into the horse camp and crouched to ease the muscles in the thigh. I got water from a bottle and gave my wife my gloves (which had lived in the waistband of my shorts since 8 am) and my bottle (in an effort to increase speed by decreasing weight). I took two cups of Coke and went out. When asked how I was feeling, I told my wife that "I'm dying." A better word choice would have been to say that I was fading, and fast. She told me that the next four miles were the easiest of my life.

She wasn't entirely wrong, though. I started to sputter on the hills and my mind lapsed a time or two in that last section, but I kept going. Another woman caught me shortly after I left the aid station and I fell back to 7th. Strange things happen during those long minutes. I turned onto autopilot, just trying to put one foot in front of the other. I couldn't zip down the hills anymore - my hamstrings were too shot handle the force.

Finally, I came down the final hill and saw my wife. She jogged in the last 100 yards with me and I had finished. Unofficially, I had come in at 9:04:00. I went over to the woman in purple, shook her hand, and told her that she ran a fantastic race. I then went and sat on a bench and tried to recover. The longer I sat, the more pain I experienced, until I said enough and told my wife that we had to go.

In the car, I drank water and coke, and ate what I could. That night the muscle soreness started to show and I tossed and turned throughout the evening. As the days passed, my soreness subsided and I was back at 100 percent five days after the run.

Training, etc.

Going into the race, I had put in about 10 weeks of training, counting 1.5 weeks or so of solid tapering. I ran about 50 miles per week, with one to three hard workouts a week. I did long runs on Saturdays, semi-long runs on Sundays, and I tried to fit in a speed workout on Tuesdays or Wednesdays.

I built my training program around the work in Dr. Jack Daniels's Running Formula. It is the same text that my high school CC coach trained me on back in my 5K days, and it worked beautifully then. Why not now?

I credit my success to a few key workouts. To quote ultrarunner and coach Matt Hart, "You can have excuses or results. Not both." I wanted results, so I knew I had to put the work in. First, I put in my time on my long runs. I did 22+ mile runs for three consecutive weeks before the race, starting six weeks out (week 4 in my log). Second, I did lactate threshold workouts. I did three of these, starting on about week 3 and another one every two weeks or so. Finally, I did treadmill walking as training for walking the hills. In short, I set the treadmill to a 15% incline and walked it for 25 minutes at speeds between 2.5 and 3.5 mph. I also did other miscellaneous workouts. Very early I did 16x200m repeats, a favorite workout of fine for early-season strength building. I also did gobs and gobs of lunges, plank-style ab work and participated in the One Hundred Pushups program. Biking 15 miles a day, five days a week to and from work helped, too.

What's next?

I don't have anything planned at this time. My next race will likely be the Superior Trail Races 50K in May and I intend to crack 5 hours. The big hairy goal for next year is to finish the Supeior Trail Races Fall 100 Miler.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Results: Survery of tarp users at BPL

Survey of Tarp Users (with graphs!). I participated in this survey, and the results speak for themselves.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

If you had to start again, knowing what you know now, what would you do different?

Facially simple question: If you had to start backpacking (and purchasing or making gear) all over again, where would you start?

First, a story: I discovered REI during my first year of college and I spent hours perusing its racks. My first purchase was a 4400 cubic inch backpack that weighed 4.25 lbs (a full 4 lbs more than my lightest backpack right now). I also bought an REI Halfdome 2, which also weighed somewhere north of 5 lbs (including footprint and stakes).

My lightweight epiphany came sometime after these purchases when a friend of mine showed me his homemade silynylon backpack that was designed on the frameless packs of Ray Jardine. I was floored. Here was a backpack that weighed in at 16 oz that had the same functional capacity as my heavy, overbuilt backpack.

So where would I start? I would read Beyond Backpacking first, and do it at a time before 1999 when I went to Isle Royale with my scout troop. And I would have thrust myself into the make-your-own realm. My mother is a fantastic seamstress, and I would have asked her for her assistance. Back then, my funds were limited and the thrifty nature of making your own appealed to that nature. Making my gear early may also serve to limit the consumerism pressure to constantly exchange and replace gear for lighter alternatives. This would have put me in a good position to develop my so-called "Big Three" (shelter system, sleeping system, backpack system) to somewhere near four pounds (1 lb tarp system; 1 lb backpack; 2 lb quilt + pad system). And the rest of the system would have developed from there according to the principles of lightweight backpacking.

Instead, I carried too much weight for too long and spent too much money and time on heavy alternatives that I thought were essential or necessary. I do not regret it, but I wish my epiphany had come earlier.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunshine and snow melt on the SHT

I spent Feb. 26-28 on my favorite section of the Superior Hiking Trail: Beaver Bay to Highway 1. The weekend was fabulous - the weather was warm, and with the exception for Sunday morning, there was no cloud in the sky. The weather was so warm throughout the weekend, I hiked in my base layer top for most of Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning into the afternoon. Rarely did I have anything else on my torso besides my top and sunglasses.

I was the first obvious human visitor to the area between somewhere south of Penn Creek and Mt. Trudee in a while. The trail was obvious because of prior indentations (and subsequent snowfall), but there were no fresh tracks. The trail register at the east fork of the Twin Lakes Trail confirmed that what I thought: I was the first person to make an entry in the log since jan 2, 2010, a span of eight weeks.

I also saw only one person physically on the trail, and he was out walking his dog. I saw no other hikers. From my vantage point atop the adjacent ridges, I saw some persons icefishing on Bear and Bean lakes, and two cross country skiers on Bear Lake.

There were at least more recent visitors in the section between Penn Boulevard and Penn Creek. Unfortunately, some snowmobiles south decided to carve their path on the SHT. It made walking easy, but it does not lessen the intrusion. The SHT crisscrosses numerous snowmobile trails, and the trail clearly marked with "Foot Traffic Only" or "No Motorized Vehicles." Signs mean what they say: snowmobilers, stay off.

The trail section between Mt. Trudee and through Tettegouche State Park to Highway 1 was much more compacted, likely because of visitors to the park. The compacted trail pretty much started at the summit of Mt. Trudee and wound its way back through the park.

Somewhere in Tettegouche State Park in amid its cedar forests is a climb dubbed The Drainpipe. It is the toughest single climb on the SHT, and and it reminds me of the Hillary Step, a 40-foot climb on Mt. Everest only 269 vertical feet from the summit (although no where near as difficult). To climb up this section, I had to click up the heel bars on my snowshoes and take it one slow step at a time. This photo does not do it justice.

Because I did an out-and-back, I had the pleasure of going down and then up the Drainpipe. I can compare the two only as such: going down was likely more dangerous because my feet could have more easily slipped out from underneath me (landing me on my butt), but going up was harder because of the single-step/rest-step method I used to get up.

It was the second weekend out with my Betalight. I had initially wanted to modify the anchors by adding ladder lock buckles to the corners, but I did not get the chance to do that before I left. This would allow me to get a tight pitch, and to tighten the pitch throughout the evening should the silnylon sag or the snow shift. Instead, I pitched the shelter as tight as a could, then set up the shelter. My poles (115 cm Gossamer Gear LightTrek 3s) were too short to get a tight pitch, so I had to add rocks under the poles to boost them slightly. This tightened the pitch, and created vents along the base of the shelter because the pitch was not tight to the ground.

I spent Saturday evening on a hill just outside the park boundaries. The moon rose over the lake, leaving a glow over the lake and throwing shadows from everything. It was one of the best campsites I've been at in a while.

Being on top of a hill, it was breezy. I closed up the door to keep drafts off my chin and expected heavy condensation on the interior walls throughout the night. But when I woke up, there was minimal condensation on the interior walls, just some mild condensation directly above my face. The ground-level vents created by the pitching method created sufficient ventilation to prevent an icing, too.

Here is my Final 2.26-2.28.10 Gear List (Google Spreadsheet). You'll notice that I have not calculated my base weight. This was not intentional, but in hindsight it is less important in winter because your clothing system changes throughout the day - you're simply adjusting layers more often.

I made two last-minute gear-list changes: In my initial gear list, I cut out my SMC Snowstakes to save approximately 8 oz off my pack weight. But I added them back in out of sheer convenience. I also listed my sole base layer bottom as a pair of GoLite Stride shorts. But I brought along (and wore) my new Patagonia R1 Bottoms instead because I wanted to have a base layer over my knees.

Taking the snowstakes was the correct decision. I got into camp Friday night at around 12:30 am, and the stakes were convenient. I did not have to go searching for sticks, and the stakes sliced into the packed snow of the designated campsite. However, I should not have worn my R1 bottoms. The temperature was too high for their use, and I was sweating on my legs throughout the day. That all said, as soon as I stopped the bottoms dumped heat, just as the fabric is designed to do.

Because of anticipated weather conditions, I switched from my MSR Dragonfly, a white gas stove, to an MSR PocketRocket, a top-mount canister stove. Canister stoves are not traditionally used in the winter because the temperatures tend to be below the boiling point of the fuel in the canister. I use MSR canisters (almost exclusively), which contain a mixture of isobutane and propane. Isobutane boils at +10F, and propane boils at -43.8F (chart from BPL). Like white-gas stoves, the fuel for a canister stove must be in a gas form to burn efficiently. Thus, when the temps drop below +10F, the canister will start to burn propane almost exclusively, and when that fuel runs out, the stove stops dead. Now, take into effect Boyle's law (as pressure decreases (through using the stove), the temperature decreases) and the canister can cool below +10F and cause the stove to stop working despite the canister being two-thirds full.

The weather cooperated with the stove. The daytime temps were in the mid 20s to mid 30s. I also warmed the canister inside my jacket, and on Sunday (photo posted above) I kept the sun shining on the canister throughout the snowmelt.

It takes about the same amount of fuel to melt snow as to bring 40F water to approximately 180 degrees. According to BPL testing, the PR used an average of 8.3 g of fuel to bring 16 oz of water to a boil under optimal conditions. My testing is yields similar results.

I was surprised by the stove's performance: I used 93 g (of a full 227 g canister) to melt approximately seven cookpots of 25 oz water. I also boiled a small amount of water for oatmeal on Saturday; this amount is not included in the calculations below. I was using the MSR Titan Kettle, which holds 850ml/28.75 oz of fluid brim-full, and my melts were mostly full, but never brim full. Thus, I believe my fuel consumption and water melting data are conservative estimates. All total, I melted 175 oz, or approximately 11 pints, over the course of 48 hours. Running the numbers, I used approximately 8.45 g/pt.

Finally, I did have one major problem with my boots because my feet were wet from Saturday afternoon until I got to my car on Sunday. The snow was melting and despite the GoreTex liner in my boot, my feet were wet.

Problem diagnosis: I do not think snow got in over my boots because I was wearing over-the-calf gaiters. My pants were wet on the outside of the lower part of the gaiters, but this is from condensation on the inside of the packcloth of the gaiters. I do not think it was from excessive perspiration. I was wearing heavy winter socks (SmartWool Mountaineering), but my right sock was wetter than my left (on both days) and on Sunday afternoon (in the sunshine, temps well north of 32F) I wrung water out of my right socks. I think there is a failure of the Gore-Tex lining (similar to the hole I wore in my Saloman on the SHT in 2008), and I'm going to contact Innov-8 to see if it is a warranty issue. I love the boots, but this is unacceptable.

Friday, March 5, 2010

BACKPACKER's gear guide as a guilty pleasure

"Yeah, but those [packs] are made for people who carry f***ing frying pans" - my fiancee's comment as to the packs highlighted by BACKPACKER's annual gear guide

That said, BACKPACKER's annual Gear Guide is a guilty pleasure for me.

I love it because of it nails its perceived purpose so well: it is a compilation of gear of all types, with data on each and spotlight reviews on selected products (more on these in a moment). It is information based on empirical testing. And I have no doubt they beat the crud out of the stuff they test. (Sometimes, they go way, way too far and impose unrealistic expectations on hikers.)

Two sections are most important to me: packs and tents (shelters). I generally ignore shoes because I believe they are so fit-dependent. I also focus less on bags because I have two bags I never intend to replace, and down fill and shell materials can only get so good. Also, last time I checked Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends (along with Valandre and Integral Designs, and to a lesser extent, Marmot), build the best bags out there, or at least have the best reputations. There are others, too.

BACKPACKER did many things particularly well this year. In no particular order, they first included a listing of all of the Editor's Choice winners from 1993 to 2010 (all 193 of them) and ranked them for their longitivity. Their rankings were, from worst to first, "Seemed Smart at the time," "Casualty of bad sales or better design," "Gone, but not forgotten," "Thank god for eBay and Craigslist," "Still around but competitors have caught up," and "Still high on staff gift registry." I'm a big fan of the first and fourth.

Second, they put together a list of stuff that just lasts. A brief perusal of the list reveals some time-honored favorites from some of the most reputable companies out there: MSR XGK (now XGK-EX); Thermarest Z-rest pads; Patagonia Capilene and Regulator fabrics (which includes the R1 Hoody); a Western Mountaineering bag; and a Feathered Friends jacket. I'm a huge fan of this pull-out section because it demonstrates that buying gear that lasts is more important that constant upgrading and replacing when the latest and greatest comes out. And this cuts directly against the consumerism that is promoted on the surface of the Guide.

Finally, BACKPACKER included mini reviews in their database listing. This is an excellent way to add more information to their guide for items that do not necessarily warrant a spotlight review while keeping space to a premium.

However, each year, I have strong disagreements with the highlighted choices, particularly in the lightweight categories. Items are too heavy, too overbuilt, etc.

So lets start with the packs. From an initial standpoint, I disagree with dividing packs into daypacks, weekend packs, and weeklong packs. I disagree because when your distance goes up, the only thing that should change in your pack is food and fuel i.e. consumables. You shouldn't need to carry more clothes, or extra stuff that would fill up a 5,248 cubic inch pack (Here's looking at you Arc'teryx Altra). And necessarily, the packweight goes sky-high. Take the Altra again, which weighs in a a hefty 5 lbs. Other heavyweight winners: REI XT 85/75 and the Osprey Aether 70 (4 lb. 15 oz in medium).

Also, look a the testers carried loads in equal to or in excess of 40 lbs (Black Diamond Infinity 60 p. 64), 50 lbs (Altra, p. 64) or heavier (50-70 lbs, p. 66). The biggest load carried by a tester was 72 lbs. I would like to know what that person was carrying that it added up to that much weight. I also wondered how far they got with it. What is in these monstrous loads that pushes them that high? Are they carrying full-on winter gear or going three weeks without resupply? If not, then they are just reinforcing an idea that if you carry a bigger pack, you can and should carry big loads. It's a vicious cycle, too: carry a heavy tent and you need a heavy pack that can carry it, and then you need heavy boots to help support you ankles. And because you have all that space in the pack, you should just fill it up, too. Also, a tent shelf? Seriously Arc'yeryx. It's about the worst place to put something that dense because it will move the center of gravity of your pack (and you, too) down and behind you. (Lightweight Backpacking and Camping, Beartooth Mountain Press, 2006, Jordan, ed., p. 56-58) This forces you to lean forward more to compensate, otherwise you would fall over. (See Anatomy of a Gear Review, p. 9.)

And the ironic thing is that on the bottom of the Altra entry (outside the Editor's Choice awards section) is an interesting little tip: "Make your own ultralight pack. Trim too-long straps and cut off doodads you don't use; ditch the top kid and framestays." Ha! You can only cut out so much weight from cutting straps. I've cut two ounces off my Vapor Trail, which has notoriously long straps. But the pack itself still weighs in at 34 oz and change. The real weight is in the padding, frame and the fabric.

Another ironic statement, this time coming from the tent section (but applicable to the packs section, too): "Don't be seduced by 'Everest-ready' gear or features you don't use. Buy less expensive - and lighter - products made for what you really do." My argument goes as such: unless you're seriously hard on your gear (enter mountaineers, off-trail bushwackers, and others - you know who you are), you don't need the bombproof fabrics presented on these packs, or at least not all over the place. For example, I'm glad my Vapor Trail has a heavyweight Cordura fabric on the bottom, but it's even better that silnylon is used for the majority of the pack.

But enough about packs. Let's talk about shelters. I'd like to reiterate the "Everest-ready" statement, above. Here's what it means for tents: unless you're facing heavy snowloads, gale-force winds or other worst-case scenario situations, you don't need a tent designed for such. If you do, you know who you are.

Onto the critique: the winner for a "Roomy Ultralight" is a 47 oz, $350 shelter, the NEMO Meta 2P. This is not ultralight by any means. The TarpTent DoubleRainbow weigh in at less than this, plus it has vertical walls and is cheaper. The Meta 2P looks like a Black Diamond Betalight with a bug netting insert. The Meta 2P earned an Editor's choice, so the BACKPACKER eds. must like it, but I criticize their categorization.

Other two person shelters are variations on a two-pole dome tent design: Sierra Designs LT Strike 2 and Zolo 3, Kelty Gunnison Pro, Mountain Hardwear Skyledge 2 and Drifter 3, REI Cirque ASL 2. I could include the Hilleberg Jannu in this category also, but it has an additional pole above the door and Hilleberg is outside the category of the others (bonus points for being successfully used on a Seven Summits attempt).

Another issue: neither tarps nor floorless shelters were given spotlight reviews. The past year or so has been highlighted by the expansion of cuben fiber as a tarp fabric, and it was not presented in the gear guide. As for floorless selters, the Marmot Haven 2P looks like a floorless shelter, but its floor is removable. But there are no other shelters that lack a floor. What gives?

But I digress. If BACKPACKER knows their audience, and this is what their audience wants to read, then let them sell it. I'll continue to carry a 3 oz silnylon rucksack and like it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rab (corporate parent) acquires Integral Designs

From (which is a re-print of this press release): Rab's corporate parent, Equip Outdoor Technology, Ltd. has acquired Integral Designs. Check out the release for details.

Also, check out the BPL discussion (membership not required).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Imagine that: more down means a warmer sleeping bag

No surprise: having 20 percent more down than other comparable sleeping bags means a warmer sleeping bag. Review of Sierra Designs Nitro 30 sleeping bag from BPL (membership required).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Update: other new products from BPL

Just a link on this one: upcoming 2010 BPL products. I'm most excited about the Cocoon parka.

Would you pay $1,250 for this backpack?

Enter the CiloGear NWD 75L. It's billed as a Seven Summits pack, and the cost is likely representative of the fabric, among other things. Dan McHale does packs in full Dyneema at an enormous cost, so I can't say that the price is out of line.

Cilo Gear is a small company and on my list of Cottage Gear Manufacturers. From everything I've heard, they build absolutely bombproof packs, too. That said, $1,250 is a bunch of change for a backpack. But if you need it, you need it.

New two-person cuben fiber tarp from BPL

Introducing the Stealth NANO (see also, threaded discussion). The specs and features look fantastic, and may top out any other competitor out there:
  • Trapezoidal dimensions that (may) fit two people: 8.5 x 5.66 x 9 (head/foot/ridge)
  • Low weight and sold as a complete package : 4.95 oz, which includes tarp, spectra guylines, and titanium stakes
  • Stronger fabric: 0.8 oz/yd^2 cuben fiber
  • Catenary ridgeline
  • Bonded seams: no stitches at all
The Stealth NANO is a direct competitor to the likes of MLD Grace Solo/Duo tarps (cuben fiber), Gossamer Gear SpinnTwin (spinnaker), the Oware CatTarps in cuben, and cuben tarps from

Now what should take some pause: the cost factor. Its MRSP is $329.99/317.99 (public/member), but is out on an initial pre-purchase sale and down to $269.99/259.99. Thus, even with the pre-purchase sale, the Stealth NANO is at the higher end of the spectrum. Only the Oware CatTarp 1.5 in cuben $319 costs in the same realm. Next are the MLD tarps, and then the SpinnTwin and Zpacks tarp.

I imagine BPL is not worried so much about this. Ryan Jordan has publicly stated that he builds gear for the BPL members (discussion about upcoming BPL Absaroka pack) and not the general public. BPL's audience is the folks this kind of tarp is specifically made for. Also, the production run sounds small, so get it quick (which could boost the production cost that BPL then must pass on to its customers).

BPL's does not review their own gear, so we're just going to have to wait until someone ponies up the change for one of these, and then puts it through the test of a thru-hike for some real-world results. Knowing how Ryan Jordan likes to test gear (the initial concepts of the BPL Beartooth Hoody were in the 2006 Arctic1000, and it was released some two years later), this one has likely already been put through the paces.

Quick hitters from my last winter weekend with scoutsin 2010

1. The BD Betalight is a massive shelter, easily capable of sleeping two people (maybe three with poles angled). I could sit up, move around, and use the area between the doorway and first upright pole as an effective vestibule. As expected, there is no ventilation other than the door and any gaps you leave at the edges and condensation condenses into ice on the interior walls.
2. Sleeping with your boots (mukluks in my case) inside your sleeping bag, stashed in my sleeping bag's compression sack, is an excellent way to keep them from freezing overnight. Unfortunately, it also melts any snow and ice on the boots, which the boots them absorb. Pick your poison: have frozen boots or warm supple boots in the morning (which may eventually freeze-up). I chose the latter in my continual winter education.
3. Patagonia's R1 fabric makes great base-layer bottoms (link to updated R1 bottoms). Just like the venerable R1 Hoody, it is tight to the body, warm when sitting and breathable during high-exertion. Only PowerStretch fleece could possibly be better for the function.
4. Tyvek is great for protecting a tent or bivy bottom from abrasion. But it is not waterproof, and should not be used as a ground cloth when one's sleeping pads may not be wide or long enough to completely protect one's sleeping bag.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Simple statement on the goal of clothing

Every once in a while, I read through the Arctic 1000 expedition website for inspiration. Today, I realized once again the pure simplicity of the goal of gear.

"Clothing must be light and keep you warm. Beyond that, any features, such as 'keeps you dry', or 'pockets', or 'makes you look good whether in the backcountry or a bistro' are a luxury." - Arctic1000

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Skurka's gear for four seasons of Alaska

To make it short, Andrew Skurka is embarking on the Alaska-Yukon Expedition, a seven month, 4,500+ mile expedition around Alaska and the Yukon. And he's leaving in four weeks.

Please join the conversation about his gear: BPL Gear Discussion. As of this post, the forum is seriously considering Skurka's initial shelter choice, a MLD 2010 Alpine bivy. My comments are posted.

Also, given Roman Dial's response to use a 'mid throughout the whole thing, I'd like to posit this question for later discussion here and eventually on BPL: is a pyramid-style shelter, in some form or another, the be-all and end-all of shelters?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Problems with Montbell website, explained

Montbell locked down their US website on Jan. 29, 2010 because of, as they call it, fraudulent access to their Japanese site. (There has also been criticism of Montbell's response: the company posted an explanation in Japanese on their US site (discussion at BPL).) However, Montbell recently updated their US website with an explanation in English. Montbell is sending the same posted explanation to inquiring customers.

I'll let the explanation speak for itself.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

New toy: Black Diamond BetaLight pyramid shelter

My BD Beta Light came in the mail today. It is, as my seller described it, a circus tent. The blue and gray alternating panels don't help that effect. The 30d silnylon is a lighter hand then the 70d SilLite GoLite uses in its pre-2010 Shangri-La shelters Poncho/Tarp, too). The total weight is 20.11 oz, with a stuff sack that is 0.46 oz (I removed some elastic straps and swapped out the cord for some Kelty Triptease). [edit: GoLite is now using 15d silnylon in their 2010 Shangri-La shelters and Poncho/Tarp]

I'm going to MYOG the corner anchors a little bit. At current, there is a short webbing loop on the corners and a longer cord wrapped around that. Although this creates a long anchor, it cannot be tightened once the deadman anchors are in the ground (or snow).

I plan to remove the longer cord and cut one half of the webbing loop. I'll then attach a ladder-lock buckle, and re-sew the webbing loop back on. Finally, I'll create a webbing loop that goes through the ladder lock. The purpose is to be able tighten the strap to tension the anchor, giving the tent better stability. This set-up is what GoLite uses on their Shangri-La shelters, and it is effective for a tight pitch.

The BetaLight has an elongated hexagonal floor plan that is interrupted only by its central pole supports. I have used a similar floor plan in winter camp in some mid-90's Marmot Haven mountaineering tents. The tents had a similar floor plan (wider, al beit), but because it's elongated hexagonal floor plan, it was a real three-person tent - and a palace for two. Contrast that with, say, a pure hexagonal shape, and you have a three-person shelter that only sleeps two. In practice, it is really a long rectangle with short and wide triangles on the sides.

The first run with the shelter is going to be in two weeks at scout camp. After that, it's going with me north to where ever my backpack takes me.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I. Will. Go. Snowshoeing. this. Winter.

I haven't been able to get out on a non-scouting trip since October (gasp!). So I've carefully planned a trip to northern Minnesota the last weekend in February.

On my sidebar at right is my current winter gear list. Critique away. Most of the stuff has been used in some capacity or another for the past two or three seasons.

The major new addition is the BD Beta Light, which will be coming in the mail from a BPL guest. I have been drooling over pyramid shelters ever since Ron Bell came out with his Duomid, which when made of silnylon and combined with the mated net tent just might be the lightest, most versatile shelter out there.

I also was pretty convinced after Sam and I stayed in a GoLite Shangri-La 2 in Montana. It had plenty of room for two, cook space if necessary, and set up reasonable quickly. The only issue (this is not confined to mids, by the way) is set-up time for the stakes in the snow. Because the shelter is not free-standing, the stakes are necessary for the shelter to be supported. In Montana, we set the stakes in and the poles out and went and cooked dinner. By the time we got back, the stakes/deadmans were set up and the shelter was solid.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stats from running everday

Today is February 1, and I ran every day last month. Here's the statistical breakdown:

Distance: 129.91 (miles)
Time: 17:55:54 (hr:min:sec)
Average pace ~ 8:17 (min:sec)
Average daily distance: 4.19 (miles)

The distance, average pace and average daily distances are up for debate. One of my routes Mapquest calculates at 3.45 miles whereas Google has the same route at about 2.9 miles. I need to check it on my car to get another figure (assuming that's accurate, too). Since the Mapquest stat was the distance I entered in to, I'm going to keep it that way.

These stats do include a fair bit of days where I minimally ran just to say that I ran that day. These runs were rarely longer than 20 minutes, but they were refreshing nonetheless.

Looking forward, I have begun my last semester in academia and am just now adjusting to the schedule. This initially complicates running until I get into a routine. Tonight, I have a long run planned, for example. Normally, I hit those up on weekends were I can do back-to-back longer runs. But alas.

I do not (and will not) put in place a formal training goal for mileage, distance or other statistical number. I have thought about kicking around big round numbers like 1,000, 1,200, 1,500, 2,010, etc., or a percentage increase from my last year's running (Running 954.1 miles in 5:14:19:33 at an average pace of 8:30 min/mile). Whatever that percentage is, I haven't come across that number yet. All I will do is run every day. And that includes my wedding day.

That said, extrapolated out I will run 1,558 miles this year if I stay at my January mileage. However, as the winter months come to a close I will run more and longer and race more (ultramarathons are really good at boosting yearly mileage). Hence, I don't think 2,000 miles is entirely out of the question. Or more.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Book review: Chris McDougall's Born to Run

Chris McDougall's Born to Run has a simple premise: homo sapiens are on the top of the food chain because before we developed tools such as spears, atlatls, bow and arrows, we ran our food to death. As the title indicates, homo sapiens whooped the Neanderthals because what we gave up in top speed and strength, we gained in endurance. We did this by gaining specific advantages of running animals: Achilles tendons, a nuchal ligament to control our head movement, our ability to dump massive amounts of heat through sweating (unlike our furry prey), and our ability to disconnect our breathing from our stride. And butt muscles.

All of this takes place with the background of the Tarahumara people of Mexico competing in the Leadville 100 in 1994 and a 50 mile race on their home turf against the world's best ultramarathoners. These people are the best runners in the world, and have shown that running is the fountain of youth. Their culture lacks illnesses that attack modern societies: diabetes, heart disease, clinical depression, cancer, etc. And they don't get injured running all those miles. Which leads us to theme number three. And their diet lacks all the processed foods of modern society.

Born to Run also attacks Nike and every other shoe company out there. Modern running injuries didn't exist because people ran in thin shoes. Feet are meant to take a beating. The nerves in the feet are similar to those in your hands, face and genitals read: sensitive. They are constantly trying to find a hard place to land on because the foot is an arch. It gets stronger the more force push down on it. However, support an arch from underneath (like with a modern running shoe), and the arch collapses.

To summarize the argument, Nike created a market for a product and then created the product. And when the market needed shoes to correct the problems and injuries the market created, (read: over/under pronation, shin splints, etc.) Nike and co. created shoes to fit the market. And so on.

The upshot of this is that I am running in my racing flats and have been for about two weeks. My feet feel stronger, particularly in my toes. I am striking midfoot instead of on my heel. The only problems is that the shoes are not designed for Minnesota winters.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Down jacket construction confusion

Lots of companies use narrowly-spaced parallel lines (as opposed to a grid pattern) to contain the down in their lightweight jackets e.g. Patagonia Down Sweater, Hoody and Vest; Rab Microlight jacket and vest.

Will Rietveld at BPL recently reviewed the MH Nitrous, which uses narrow lines of down. His conclusion? The jacket dumps heat and breathes well because the lines create cold spots on the stitching and within 1/2" of the stitching because down. What gives? I want a jacket to be warm. If I want it to dump heat or be breathable during "active pursuits," I'll get a fleece.

Running attire when mercury drops

To answer a question, here's what I wear when it's -17F out and I'm running.

Patagonia Capilene 1 T-shirt and Crew
Patagonia R1 Hoody
GoLite Wisp or Ether windshirts
Black Diamond midweight gloves (Powerstretch)
Patagonia Capilene 1 boxer briefs
Patagonia Capilene 1 bottoms
Nike marathon shorts
SmartWool Expedition socks (heavy cushion)
Asics GT 2150 shoes
Ironman watch

And when its warmer out, I tend to drop things in this order: Cap 1 Crew; R1 Hoody (swap for Crew; add fleece skullcap as necessary); Cap 1 Bottoms and briefs; windshirt; swap for lighter socks; Cap 1 Crew (leaving me in shorts, shirt and shoes/socks).

In sum, I own very few running-specific items. Lets see: running shoes, three handheld bottles, running hydration vest. The rest is just my hiking clothes put to a similar use.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lessons from a first winter weekend

Just back from my first of three weekends at winter scout camp. Here's some quick-hitting lessons learned:

1. Over-glasses (yeah, those ones) are a great substitute for glacial glasses. And no one cares what you look like as long as you're warm.
2. Puffy vests are excellent. This was the first winter weekend that I used my Patagonia Micropuff vest during winter. And it performed beautifully. I wore it walking around camp over my baselayers and windshirt, and it kept my core warm. In turn, my arms and legs were warm. Excellent all around. Puffy vests are also great for taking up space underneath overparkas without making your arms bulky.
3. BD powerstretch gloves eventually die. Not a new lesson for me (this is my second pair I've killed, and my brother has gone through at least one pair), but I came to realize it more this weekend. I went into the weekend with a small hole on the inside of my left thumb, and the hole only got bigger as I used my hands. I also developed a small hole on the inside of my right thumb. These gloves are a little over a year old, and I used them in all seasons. Despite this durability shortcoming (again, expected), I will continue to use these gloves because I love the material and the leather palms.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New cottage gear manufacturer added: enLIGHTened equipment

Tim Marshall's enLIGHTened equipment has been added to my Cottage Gear Makers list (at side bar).

Tim makes quilts high-quality insulation and shell materials, including 800+ down and Momentum 90. He also does custom work. He has also pioneered the use of 0.33 oz/yd^2 Cuben fiber in quilts, and has developed the so-called "World's Lightest Quilt" (WLQ), which he has named the Epiphany. Steve Evans of BPL got the original version, the WLQ-1, which uses 8 oz of 800+ down and weighs in at a paltry 11.01 oz. The link is to the now-lengthy forum thread about the quilt, its subsequent models and other ramblings. Tim's custom work has included making synthetic quilts for a child and toddler, which he did for BPL staff member Doug Johnson.

Tim's site also includes a downloadable Excel spreadsheet whereby you can get a good guess as to how much your custom beauty will weigh.

You can contact Tim via e-mail.

MLD's ~10oz Dyneema Pack

Ron Bell at Mountain Laurel Designs will soon be releasing a sub 2100 cubic inch capacity UL backpack, code-named Newt.

This of course, gives Zpacks a direct competitor in the UL dyneema pack category. I wrote about Joe's new Dyneema pack in my recent post, New Zpacks in Dyneema.

What does this all mean? Joe has been criticized by BPL as using simple (but effective) construction techniques. However, Ron's gear has long been lauded for its quality manufacturing. I think only time will tell. Both packs are based on proven designs, and I expect both to withstand the beating of years of abuse or a thru hike. Bring on the testers.