Whether you are just getting into backpacking, or looking to improve your experience, choosing from the ever increasing universe of gear options can be daunting. It’s all compromises, as any experienced packer knows. I was reminded recently of the well known thru-hiker wisdom – “Hike your own hike.” The same applies to gear selection – “Pick your own stuff.” In fact someone’s gear list is probably a good clue to their backpacking personality. No gear will hit the sweet spot for all aspects, but some might come close. Continue reading
After a new ship is launched, it gets to meet the ocean for the first time with “sea trials”. As our parks reopen and snow leaves the high country, it was time to get out for gear trials with recent projects. I headed for a Park camp adjoining a couple of sub-alpine lakes at about 4700′. The forecast was for a nice day, followed by a weak front overnight with a chance of rain in the morning. As the first backpack of the season, I wanted to reality test my current set-up. I had finished a new tent – the Hex-Lite. My ultra-light bivy would serve as a quilt and air pad cover. I was planning to Esbit cook with a single pot. It was time to test a new Therm-a-Rest NeoAire Xlite air pad. My Big Agnes pad no longer held air overnight and was 6 years old. New gear keeps betting better. The Therm-a-Rest, with pump sack weighs only 15 oz., a 5 oz. improvement.
My claim for Comfort light backpacking is a 15 lb. base weight. For this trip, my actual was 16 lbs. – close enough. With overnight food and water, I left the car at 21 lbs. (I don’t really count fuel separately anymore, since for this trip it was 3 Esbit tabs – 1.5 oz.) Everything packed easily into my 2800 cu. in (46 L) RayWay pack, with the extension collar almost completely rolled down on top. Now over 7 years old, it is still a very comfortable pack to carry. Continue reading
YouTube videos for tarp tents often show a 3 meter x 3 meter tarp being pitched a number of different ways. One makes a single pole, hexagonal tent with a large interior and overhanging entry, It is described as a great emergency shelter, roomy and quickly pitched. I wondered if it could be made as a stand-alone lightweight backpacking tent.
I experimented with a cheap 10′ x 10′ blue plastic tarp to visualize the design and interior space. Using some of the new, reasonably priced, lightweight coated polyester fabrics now on the market, how light could it be? Well, it’s finished and what’s not to like about a final overall weight of just 1 lb. 14 oz., including a 42 sq.ft. floor, 49″ center pole, stakes, bug netting door, and stuff sack.
In the past, on some multi-day climbs, I slept under a tarp, with my quilt and air mattress inside a bivy sack. I also had other nights in a tent, in alpine country, with condensation wetting out my exposed quilt. Sometimes in shoulder seasons, my quilt isn’t quite warm enough. Then this year I discovered a great source of ultralight fabric. These were all motivations to try another project – an ultralight bivy, with options for bug protection and a cold weather liner. I finished it and have now tried it out successfully on a cold night.
I continue to be a big fan of titanium for ultralight applications. A cylindrical titanium windscreen might make a ultralight, minimalist cooking kit. This one was easy to build, weighs just 52 g. with two titanium stakes that serve as pot support and pin the windscreen closed. It is sized to work with a Toaks 750 ml. titanium pot and either an Esbit tablet or alcohol burner. On the trail, it seems a rugged and solid performer
I started with some titanium sheet from Ruta Locura. The windscreen has 5/8″ holes around the base on the handle cutout side. When the windscreen is rolled and pinned, 3 of the 8 holes overlap to give adequate combustion air inlet. Stake height is set at 3″ to place the pot high enough above the tablet for good combustion. Overall, the windscreen is 6″ tall by 24″ long, with a 5″ diameter as assembled. In use, place the handle cutout and combustion holes away from any wind.
A bottom sheet of folded kitchen aluminum foil completes the combustion space. The Esbit tablet sits in a Trail Designs Gram Cracker holder. Under the holder is a little Ti pan, folded out of Ti scrap from the windscreen stock to contain any Esbit flare ups. Continue reading
Guess what, 5 years later I am on another generation of backcountry tech devices. Back then, I was carrying a Spot Connect satellite communicator, a Samsung Galaxy III smart phone and a Garmin Oregon 400 handheld GPS. I still carry the same 3 functions, but now it’s a new Garmin InReach Mini, a Galaxy 7, and an Oregon 600. And, no surprise, they are better. The GPS and smartphone were replaced as they died or aged. The new Garmin satellite communicator just out performed the competition.
Garmin InReach Mini
The InReach Mini gives me two way SMS communication, which is the new standard for backcountry satellite devices. Emergency notification with location (“calling in the cavalry”) was the first popular backcountry satellite application and still remains an important, if hopefully infrequently used, function. Now having been on the receiving end of one of these contacts, I can say that it is useful, but still leaves lots of room for confusion. Being able to confirm and detail the nature of the emergency and have two way communication with responders makes life better and safer for all concerned. Expanding that two way capability to ordinary messaging offers a new level of utility. Both current SPOT and Garmin InReach devices do this. For higher annual subscription costs, you can also add connection to social media and location tracking. But I am quite happy with a basic level plan. Compared to the SPOT X communicator, the InReach Mini is a hands down winner and when my annual SPOT contract was up, I switched. Continue reading
I have a friend whose backpacking kitchen is only a single small Titanium mug and a folding Esbit stove. He pretty much always cooks the same one pot meal. By the end of a trip he is pretty tired of it, but his set weighs little and he doesn’t spend a lot of time cooking. Sometimes this is a good answer, and sometimes you want more. As I have accumulated kitchen stuff, the goal of having it all (or most of it) in a light weight, compact package has been an itch. This post presents the current state of that quest.
So here is my 16 piece compact, complete kitchen, all packed up sitting beside two gas canisters for scale. It is versatile, light, compact, complete, and rugged. With it I can boil, simmer, bake, mix, hydrate, cozy, measure, prepare multi course meals, serve and clean up. All together, without fuel, it weighs 22 oz., and is about the volume of two 8 oz. fuel canisters. But of course you only need to bring the parts you are planning to use with that trip’s menu. Further, by swapping out the stove and windscreen combination, it has multi-fuel capability. So what’s in it? Continue reading
In January I posted my first impressions and tests of the Kovea Spider stove. I tested it in my backyard with my collection of pots and windscreens to bake bread and make reasonable pancakes. This summer, the stove has accompanied me on a number of climbs and backpack trips and I have used it with some of Jon Fong’s Flat Cat Gear accessories. It’s good stuff.
If you spend time in the field, you know that many things must come together for a good kitchen kit. Weight, of course, is important. Packing volume also counts. And you must be able to do the cooking you want in real backcountry and mountain conditions. My kitchen is built around three pots, the 1 L and .78 L Ti pots of a Snow Peak Multicompact set and a 0.6 L Snow Peak Ti mug. I need windscreens to match the pots and the stoves I plan to use for any particular trip. For solo and individual cooking on group trips, I usually stick with the .78 L Snow Peak pot. For couples backpacking, the 1 L pot does most of the work, and I often take a second pot to have something clean for heating water after cooking. So any new stove must be properly introduced to these pots and find a way to work and travel efficiently with them.
My first trials with the Kovea Spider were focused on baking and I used the big 1 L Snow Peak pot and its matching Trail Designs Caldera Cone Ti windscreen. It worked well, but the windscreen doesn’t pack into a pot. On some higher alpine climbs this summer, I took the Spider and my smaller .78 L pot, together with a split cone windscreen I had been using with an alcohol burner. It worked, sort of. Then I had a chance to try out some Flat Cat Gear windscreens designed just for the Kovea stove for a much better solution.
Tarp shelters are a common solution to ultralight camping. They are simple, light and easy to build. But they only provide a roof. Walls (bug protection) and floor are extra or missing. “Almost tarp” tents address this. My Six Moons design Night Wing tent is a good example.
The Night Wing is basically a tarp with netting closing the ends and edge. It couples with a custom Tyvek 1443R floor. But on a recent alpine climb approach, I was bothered by a lot of condensation that was wetting out my sleeping quilt. Adding a bivy bag over the quilt or bag would give me both warmth and separation from condensation. But that’s another pound!.
The next outing involved two nights at a high camp at 7500′. I decided to go lighter taking only an old sil-nylon tarp I made a few years ago and my very old Early Winters Gore-Tex bivy bag, to which I had recently added a waterproof zipper. It worked, but the tarp had been designed only as a cooking shelter and was really not long enough to fully cover the bivy bag. In practice this should not be an issue to have a waterproof bag sticking out into the rain, but…. In thinking about it, I wondered if I could easily improve things. A few hours of sewing and an ounce of fabric later, problem solved.
Innovative, cottage manufacturers continue to offer great new ultralight products to make your life better in the backcountry. Here are a few I have added to my pack recently.
For Better Cat Holes
I do enough off trail travel to camp at spots without established toilet facilities. That means digging cat holes. For a long time I carried a standard orange plastic digging trowel that weighed about 4 oz.. Mike Cleland’s Ultralight book converted me to carrying an extra aluminum “Y” tent stake – 0.6 oz. It’s much lighter and can scratch out holes after a fashion. But where there is dense vegetation root structure, the resulting holes leave something to be desired. I found a new supplier of ultralight gear who makes some nice products. Now a Lawson Equipment aluminum Potty Trowel – 1.3 oz. – comes on all trips. It has a nice grip. The blade cuts roots well and it really moves dirt to make a hole that is big enough to work properly. That’s a lot of improved function for an extra 0.7 oz. and a best buy at $10.
Multipurpose titanium tent stakes
There was a time when I felt the cost of titanium tent stakes was not worth the weight saved. Continue reading