Tuesday, January 12, 2016

100 Miles to New Year's: The Gear

So after writing the trip report for our latest hike, I thought I'd add a section about the gear I used.  This was a hard trip, and we really put our gear to the test.  Everything worked well, and few items were spurious, so I feel like I have a pretty good setup right now and it might be worth sharing.  I'll share my whole gear list, and then go through a few of the items that I really like.

Weights are in grams on the left, then ounces, then pounds (in bold).  Yeah, I'm stuck in a horrible place in between metric and imperial.  Deal with it.

So that's the list of everything I carried, and here are some of the items that really stood out.  I picked 8 items total, 4 bought and 4 homemade:

Purchased Items:

Locus Gear CP3 Trekking Poles

Best trekking poles ever.  Hands down.  No contest.  I love these poles.  I don't always use trekking poles, but when I'm hiking steep trails, or if I'm off trail in the desert, I find them incredibly useful.  And when I switched from a normal aluminum pair of poles to these carbon fiber ones, it was a revelation.  No other gear change has had a more noticeable effect than switching to lighter poles.  It makes sense, too - 8 oz weight savings is a lot on an item that you're swinging around and lifting all day with your hands.  Using these poles is such a delight compared to my old aluminum ones.

These poles have now been on multiple off-trail Grand Canyon adventures with me, and they've held up great.  I use them for countless purposes and they've really become an extension of my body.  I don't think I could even enumerate all of the things I use them for, because they are so ingrained in me that I think there are lots of little ways I use them that I'm not even aware of.  Suffice it to say, I put these poles to the test, and I put a lot of weight on them over the course of this hike.  But here's a short list of uses:
  • For stability on loose terrain
  • Saving my knees on steep descents
  • "Pole-vaulting" gaps between rocks (saves energy versus dropping in and out)
  • Taking pressure off of my downhill foot when contouring off-trail (for the first 4 days of this hike I had my left pole set to 4" longer than my right pole, and I'm sure I prevented a blister in my left foot by using my poles).
  • Reducing strain on my knees when climbing up or down small boulders
  • Planting the poles on the ground to change my angle of force to a rock that I'm on, allowing me to walk down steeper rock faces than otherwise possible.  Yay, physics!
  • For extra propulsion when climbing up a hill.  Might as well use my upper body as well as my legs
  • Tied together to make a pole for the pyramid tent (see below)
  • Used with a 3rd pole and a Trailpix to make a backcountry tripod for night photography
That's all I can think of for now, but basically the gist is this: these poles are delightfully light and amazingly tough for their weight.  On last year's trip I used them about half the time, and they were definitely worth carrying.  On this trip I used them 90% of the time, only taking them off for some flat wash walking.  These were easily my most valuable item on the trail.  If you are clumsy then you could break them hiking off trail, but if you're reasonably nimble they'll treat you well.

Zpacks Fleece Hat

Not too much to say about this one.  It's a hat!  But it's a particularly well designed one, with double-layering around the years for extra warmth.  It's packable enough to fit in a pants pocket, so this was my go-to layer for temperature regulation during the hike.  I could put it on and off without removing my pack, and I did so dozens of times a day on this trip.

Exped Downmat Lite 5 and Exped Pillow

So I've resisted getting an inflatable sleeping pad for a long time.  Two years ago I got an inflatable pillow, and it was a revelation.  I still wanted to keep my closed cell foam pads but I finally got an inflatable when I realized that they make them with insulation inside.  On last year's hike there were several nights where I felt the cold of the ground rising up through my sleeping pad.  Not much, but enough to make me realize I was wasting energy that way.  If an insulated inflatable pad would keep those cold spots away, it would pay for its weight on long trips by reducing my food intake.

Some of the lighter downmats have had delamination issues.  If you google for it you'll find a number of users who have had issues.  But the Lite 5 is made of a bit heavier fabric and I haven't seen a single report of failure, so I decided to go with this version.

It's definitely heavier than my old closed cell foam pads, but it's a lot warmer.  And, of course, it's outrageously comfortable.  And coincidence or not, I've been hiking out with more food since I got it.  Might be time to drop my food total from 2 lbs/day to 1.8 lbs/day.

1/2" Tubular Webbing

Instead of a rope, we carry a 35-foot piece of climbing webbing to haul packs with.  If you're not familiar with the terminology, "webbing" basically just means that it's a flat rope rather than round.  Flat rope is a bit more abrasion resistant and also makes a more comfortable handline than p-cord.  The 1/2" webbing that we used is lighter than typical climbing webbing and has a breaking strength of "only" 1000 pounds or so.  Plenty good enough for handlines and pack hauls.  We got it at the Zion Adventure Company in Springdale, Utah, but I'm sure there are other sources.

Homemade Items:

"Awkward Mittens, version 2.0"

These are a homemade set of mittens.  I should take a photo of them, but they are pretty simple.  They're made by just tracing my hand for a pattern, adding some seam allowance, and sewing two of that pattern together.  Then they were made smaller until I got a good fit.  They're called awkward mittens because one time at a backcountry campsite I said "I'm not drunk, I just have awkward mittens!", and the name has stuck.

Anyway, version 2.0 of the mitts was made with a 200-weight Polartec windblock fleece, and they are sooo much better than the first pair.  The windblock fleece really does work, and even on our extremely cold and windy day after Christmas my hands were fine.  And since I made them myself with no frills, they are very light (about 1 oz for the pair).  I get cold hands easily, so this is an extremely valuable ounce.

CCF Cozy

CCF stands for "closed cell foam".  Anyone can make one of these with an old sleeping pad and some contact cement.  My cozy fits around a 750 ml Toaks Titanium mug, and I use it to eat my dinners and also have hot drinks.  Maybe I'm a slow eater, but in the winter I find it hard to eat a meal before it gets cold.  With the cozy, that is no longer an issue.  And I can savor a hot drink for half an hour without it getting too cold.  For summer hiking this might be a spurious item, but for winter it's amazing.  Why slam your hot cocoa when you can take your time and enjoy it?

Rogue Panda Backpack
The pack I took on this hike.  It's no longer so shiny and white.

Full disclosure: Rogue Panda is my company.  So this might sound like an ad, but I'm really just talking about the features of the pack that I like.  This was my 3rd prototype backpacking pack and it convinced me to start making them for sale.  I use the Zpacks Arc Blast suspension system with a couple of modifications, including a beefier hipbelt and a different attachment system.  This makes the pack better able to handle big water carries, for those days where your light pack gets burdened down with an extra 15 pounds of water for a few hours.

The material is a laminate material with a dyneema face fabric and an interior waterproofing layer.  It's incredibly durable and fully waterproof, yet lightweight.  I seal the seams for an actual waterproof pack.  It's trustworthy enough that I just stuff my sleeping bag into the bottom, no dry sack required.

I don't have a name for the pack yet, but I've named all of my packs after Arizona trail sections, so I'll probably pick one of those.  I'm leaning towards the "Catalina".  It's got a nice ring to it, I think.

Pyramid Tent

My old 'mid tent in extremely high winds last year
So I've made a couple pyramid tents before out of silnylon, but my most recent one was made out of silpoly from RipstopByTheRoll.  Silpoly has the advantage of having very little stretch, so you don't need to adjust guylines if the tent gets wet during the night.

I really like this pyramid tent for the canyon, for a number of reasons:
  1. It weighs 1.5 lbs for a solid 2-3 person shelter.
  2. Pyramid tents do extremely well in wind.
  3. It makes use of my trekking poles for the pole, which saves weight.
  4. Mine doesn't have a floor, which is superfluous weight when you cowboy camp a lot and carry an ultralight heat-shrink-film groundsheet instead*.
  5. It's roomy.  Really roomy.  Three people can sleep in it in a pinch.
  6. You can rig it with the doors open as a windblock and still see the stars, but be able to quickly close the door if it starts to rain.
I recently I decided to start making tents for sale and bought a roll of fabric.  Again, no name or price just yet.  I'm working out just a couple of kinks and then they'll be for sale.

So anyway, there's the gear talk!  Hope you enjoyed it.

*Don't talk to me about Tyvek.  It's heavy.  What's that, you say?  It was free from a construction site?  So what?  A window insulation kit is like 10 bucks, and it'll save you 5 ounces versus Tyvek.  Find a better price/weight deal anywhere else and I'll eat my shoe.**

** Not really.  But seriously, you can't do much better than that.

No comments: