Friday, January 28, 2011

Heavier is Sometimes Lighter

How can heavier be lighter? The title sounds like an oxymoron perhaps, but I think when focusing on reducing pack weight, most people tend to focus solely on base weight, i.e. pack weight minus consumables (food, water, and fuel). Reducing your base pack weight is a good start, but if you don't consider everything that goes into your total pack weight, you may be increasing your load without even knowing it.  Sometimes a heavier base pack weight can result in a lighter total pack weight. Let me explain...

Monday, January 24, 2011

First Look - Frogg Toggs DriDucks Hooded Rain Suit

I just received this in the mail the other UltraLight, ultra-affordable rain suit. Purchased at the Mountain UltraLight Store, it cost me a whopping $20.46 USD including shipping. You're probably wondering how good this can be for so little money...

UltraLight    In size Large, the jacket weighs 6.05oz, and the pants weigh 4.50oz. Do you know of any other rain suit that comes close to that weight?

Breathable    Made from microporous polypropylene, this suit is by far the most breathable I have ever used. This is a huge plus when using the rain jacket as a wind shirt, which I would compare it to for breathability.

Simple    The pocket free design keeps things simple and lightweight. The pants and bottom of the jacket also lack a draw cord, which I typically remove any way.

Durable    This is where this product is really lacking. If you are going to be bushwhacking, this is not the rain suit for you. It's also why this is not a product review, but a first look. Time will tell how long it will last.

Fit    I usually wear a size XL, but I got this in a Large and it fits me perfectly. They have supposedly made this to fit over insulation layers, but they have gone over board in my opinion. Buy it a size smaller than normal and it should fit you fine.

I know, I know...I'm always talking about making my gear more durable without adding any weight, so why would I consider using something that looks like it won't last a few weeks let alone a thru-hike? First and foremost, the breathability is outstanding. Second, the weight is also a big advantage. So what if I'm on a 2 week trek and get a hole? Duct tape sticks very well and would repair a small hole just fine.

For 20 bucks, I think it's a great deal. Get yours here at the Mountain UltraLight Store.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sleeping on the Ground

To sleep or not to sleep...
That's the question right? How do you sleep comfortably on the ground...and better yet, how do you do it without lugging a heavy inflatable mattress around? Let's remove some common misconceptions and replace that 20oz "ultralight" full length inflatable mattress with a 4oz foam pad that does a better job of insulating and is much less expensive.

The ground is cold, so I need a big, full length pad   The best insulation from the cold ground is also the lightest...a closed cell foam pad. And by cutting the pad to just the length of your torso, it is even lighter. Lay down on the ground to find out which parts of you are actually touching the ground...from the bottom of your torso down, probably not much depending on how you sleep. I'm a back sleeper, so it's mostly just the heals of my feet. I insulate them by putting my Tilley hat inside the foot box of my quilt, under my feet. You could also use your backpack as insulation under your legs and feet, which makes it a dual use item. Oh yes, a multi-use item...the UltraLight backpackers quest! The key is to keep your torso and feet insulated from the cold ground. I'm 6'2" tall, and am very comfortable down to around freezing on a  3/8" x19 1/2" x 41" closed cell foam pad that weighs only 3.8oz. For warmer conditions, I use a 3.0oz 1/4" thick pad.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Product Review - ZPacks™ Hexamid Twin Tent

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 - Highly Recommended

In case you haven't heard of them, ZPacks is a small cottage manufacturer of innovative ultralight backpacking gear including backpacks, and most recently tents. Joe Valesko and his wife Sheryl run the operation and make every piece of gear themselves. They are one of the few outfits making gear out of cuben fiber, which is a fabric that was originally designed for making sails for racing sailboats. It is very lightweight, completely waterproof, and doesn't stretch like silnylon does. The fabric is much more expensive than typical tent materials such as silnylon and requires some different manufacturing techniques, which may be why the larger manufacturers haven't started using it yet. By the way "Samurai Joe" is an accomplished triple crown backpacker, having thru-hiked the AT, PCT, and the CDT. After completing the CDT in 2009 using the solo version of this tent, he started offering them in addition to his backpack lineup in early 2010. Not long after, he introduced the 2 person model, the ZPacks™ Hexamid Twin Tent, a 10.5oz  fully enclosed tent (mine actually weighs 10.6 oz...I may have used too much seam sealer. This includes tent, stuff sack, guy lines, and seam sealing).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Confessions of an UltraLight Backpacker - Addicted to Caldera

Hi, my name's John, and I'm a Caldera-addict.

A new year, and a new series of blog posts. The "Confessions" series is meant to be a little tongue in making fun of my UltraLight quirks if you will.

While reviewing my different Trail Designs Caldera Cone systems recently, something occurred to me. "You may have a problem" might come to mind for most, but no, that wasn't it. I was convinced that I had finally figured out which Caldera system was the "perfect" one, and no, it wasn't one of the three I had purchased this year. Then that little voice inside my head made me step back from my delusions for a minute (thanks Juggy), and I decided to go upstairs and get all of my different systems out of storage. I knew I had several Caldera Cones, but I guess I never realized I had 7 different ones plus another that I had made myself. This was the first sign that I might possibly have a problem.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Snowy Desert Scene

A winter storm brought a rare treat to the Las Vegas valley yesterday. This inspired a short drive west to the Red Rock National Conservation Area.  Enjoy our beautiful desert covered in a light dusting of snow!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Product Review - MSR PackTowl Nano

Rating: 4 out of 5 - Recommended

I have been looking for something to replace my 1oz cotton bandanna for some time now. My goal has been to find a synthetic towel that is about the same weight, is more absorbent, and dries quicker. I've tried Lightload towels, but have found them to be way too fragile (somewhat like a paper shop towel). Other synthetic towels I have tried were much heavier, so I've stuck with my trusty old cotton bandanna. This one made by MSR is just what I was looking for...