Thursday, July 30, 2009

ONE OUNCE...2200 cu/in Backpack - Believe It!

Have you ever had an urge for a ONE OUNCE backpack? Well, a backpacker named Mark Henley was kind enough to post information on how to construct one out of Cuben fiber fabric on Gossamer Gear's website
If you are a "make your own gear (MYOG)" type of person, this might be an excellent opportunity for you to try your hand at really pushing the limits of lightweight backpacking. Course, if you aren't, you could always purchase a high quality Cuben fiber pack with all the frills from Z-Packs (
If you're wondering where to get the materials, there are many options to include Quest Outfitters ( and Thru-Hiker Fabrics (

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Insulation Warmer than Down?

Last week, Robin of ( was kind enough to stop by and commented on my NeoAir thread about Argon filled sleeping pads which will hit the market very soon. She even has a nice article and video about it on her website. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I figured it would be appropriate merely to redirect you to her site.

Argon is a widely available and safe inert gas which creates warmth by extracting the heavy molecules out of the air and is alleged to create warmth greater than even the finest-quality down. Argon is impervious to wet conditions and even has some buoyancy. In years past, it was used in wetsuits and window insulation with great success, so it is no surprise that it had made the leap to backpacking. Personally, I think this represents a pretty interesting product for lightweight backpacking, but it does have some limitations which includes the potential to leak and the need to inflate the item after each use with a pressurized Argon-filled container similar in size and concept to a CO2.

Klymit ( of Utah is spearheading this effort and they are presently taking preorders for pads and vests at a 25% discount. Please note, this discount is only available through July 31st. And if you were wondering, no…they don’t make XXLs so I’ll sit on the sidelines for this one.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Infamous NeoAir

If you haven’t heard of the NeoAir (, you very well may be living on the moon. How about this – it took 5 years to design. The Thermarest NeoAir by Cascade Designs is claimed to be the lightest most advanced air mattress on the market. If you belong to any backpacking forums, it has probably been mentioned at nauseam following their debut just a few months ago which ultimately caused stock to disappear worldwide. I read about it, studied it, and contemplated it much in the same manner as other gearheads. When I finally decided to get one, I and everyone else was saddened to learn that Thermarest wasn’t going to release more until September 2009. I put in my preorder and hoped for the best. In late June, I learned REI was scheduled to receive an early shipment and decided to cancel my September order and buy one from REI instead.

When buying a NeoAir, the first choice is to decide on the size. The NeoAir comes in 4 sizes: Small (9oz/47”x20”), Medium (13oz/66”x20”), Regular (14oz/72”x20”), and Large (19oz/77”x25”). As a lightweight backpacker, my first thought was to go for the smallest – torso sized. Having the small in the store, I tried it, and found there was a tremendous pain in my lower back from where my legs had no support. Even though I typically use my backpack to put under my legs in my current method, my pack simply wouldn’t provide enough elevation to make the pain go away. I also found that the width of 20” was a little comical. At 6’6” and 280 pounds, I wear a 52XXL jacket. 20” simply wasn’t going to cut it even if the shortened length was desirable. After trial and error, I came to the realization that I needed the large. It was 77” long which was enough and 5” wider than all the others. I wasn’t thrilled about carrying 19 ounces being that my current closed cell pad is 9 ounces, but I figured a good night of sleep would make it all worthwhile.

The next step in buying a NeoAir is to swallow your pride like a jelly doughnut and pony up a ridiculous amount of money for it. The large was $170 plus $13 in tax and another $14 for shipping. That brings this fun little purchase to nearly $192. Let me say that again, $192. For this money, you get a large NeoAir mattress, instructions, a little box about the size of a water bottle – and guess what – no stuff sack.

I tried the NeoAir using several methods and even asked my non-backpacking wife to give it a shot. I ultimately compared it to a couple closed cell pads and a longer air mattress from Big Agnes.

The NeoAir is made of Nylon, although it feels like a very thin grade. Much of the chatter about this product is in regards to its ability to provide a decent R-value which it claims to be 2.5. “R-value” is a measure of thermal resistance and becomes an important consideration when sleeping outdoors in colder weather. In a nutshell, the higher the R-value, the better off you’ll be when it comes to your body heat being transferred to the cold ground. As you can imagine, increases to higher R-values pads often increases costs, weight, and bulk. How does a 2.5 R-value rating compare to other sleeping pads on the market? Well, check out an earlier blog of mine for a simple chart I put together ( In a nutshell, 2.5 is a very good rating overall especially if you can get by with a smaller size and thereby less weight. As you increase in weight, I think something like the Stevenson Warmlite DAM (“down air mattress”) would be a better purchase. But here’s the thing and the principal point that should not be overlooked – the NeoAIR is NOT an insulated mattress. Nearly everything else with a comparable R-value has down fill in it. The NeoAir provides warmth without fill and boasts to be three times warmer than any other non-insulated air mattress available.

So where does the NeoAir gain its R-value? Well, it has two patent-pending internal technologies which essentially allows the material to retain body heat much in the same way as an emergency blanket due to a reflective and aluminized urethane film. Because of this technology, it can cut out other stuff used by other manufacturers which would be nothing but dead weight. To the touch, the NeoAir feels paper thin – almost fragile. It is baffled and claims to have an interior triangular core matrix which creates an internal truss system providing for greater stability and the welded nylon grid to create chambers of air 10 times more than other traditional air mattresses. This minimizes the movement of air within the pad and thereby provides convective cooling. It can be easily blown up in just a couple of breaths which also means you don’t need a pump. Keep in mind however, the water vapor created by blowing it up could be a problem in winter environments which is why genuine winter air mattresses use an external sack.

So what were my impressions? Well, mixed. I felt it was quite fragile, but the reality of lightweight backpacking is coming to grips with very lightweight things that can do the job plenty effectively. Just because it was lightweight didn’t mean that it was a bad product. After spending quite a bit of time trying different positions and different inflation levels, I decided I didn’t like being elevated which is a common problem (to me) of air mattresses. I also didn’t feel it was wide enough when lying on my back despite it being wider than most. I did not have the same problem when laying on my side. I didn’t like the fact that I felt like there was a high spot in the center of my back which formed because the weight of my shoulders and lower limbs forced air up to a lighter part of my body. I also didn’t like the fact that I was touching the ground at times when attempting to find an inflation level that worked for me. I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t just roll it up and instead needed to push the air out and spend time rerolling it. I felt indifferent about its tacky surface as it was nice not to slide around on a common silnylon tent floor, but it wasn’t always great to have my body stick to it. As a general principal, I don’t like the fact that it could pop. If it did, I already know I wouldn’t have a repair kit and then I’d need to improvise or cut my trip short – neither of which would put me in a good mood. Overall, inflation is critical as too much or too little greatly impacts comfort and if adjusted too much to the point to where it hits the ground – then the warmth is lost. I was able to find fairly decent comfort with about 50% inflation. With my weight on the pad, it was enough to keep me off the ground but looks pretty pathetic when not on it. Shifts in weight also create changes to inflation in certain areas and it takes a short while for the temperature to adjust to the change. One thing that still surprises me, although probably shouldn't after understanding the design, is the fact that it literally feels "warm" when laying on it. I can't explain it, but it feels like it is radiating heat. Unlike something else which more or less takes on your body temperature when you lay on it, this actually felt warmer. When I used it outside in the summer months in Virginia, I can't say it was comfortable to have something radiating heat back to me, but I could clearly imagine liking it in the cooler months. I also found the more I used it, the more I liked it depite my complaints.

Basically, most of my “negatives” were as a direct result of my bias towards air mattresses as I am a big fan of closed cell pads. After all, closed cell pads are cheap, lightweight, durable, low to the ground, and have a very respectable R-value. To me, they are comfortable too. Their only negative – they don’t pack small and options when carrying them is to use them inside a pack to give it shape or to strap it outside. Thus far in my backpacking career, this has been my preference and plenty tolerable to me.

My wife is a side sleeper and she felt the NeoAir was reasonably comfortable. She reported the fabric was a little noisy and said that she didn’t much care for the baffling, although admitted it probably gave a more stable surface. Despite my wife being an average build and 5’5”, she felt it wasn’t wide enough. When asked which she preferred (between the NeoAir, a closed cell, and Big Agnes), she rated the NeoAir the best for the simple reason that it was the widest even though she didn't think it was wide enough. She rated the Big Agnes last because she felt it was too narrow and comfort was worsened by the elevation of the inflation.

So where does this leave you? Well, the NeoAir is a niche product in the sense that it is very lightweight and effective at what it is supposed to do. Whether you find it comfortable is a personal decision based on your physical size, sleeping habits, and general preference. If you don’t mind air mattresses as a whole, than you probably won’t have a problem with it. I don’t think it would do well around sharp objects, so if you sleep with your dog (for example), consider leaving the dog outside as I really wouldn’t feel comfortable exposing the NeoAir to dog nails. I have also heard of people who left their NeoAir inflated while they went on a hike in the middle of summer. When they returned, they found that several chambers had popped or otherwise enlarged due to expanding heat as caused by the sun.

For me, the question is am I keeping it? My answer is yes and quite honestly I made the decision only after driving all the way to REI with it repackaged and intent on returning it. I literally inflated it in the REI parking lot and tried it out again in a field next to the store before deciding to keep it. I think it is fair to say that I was comfortable enough to feel I could use it down the line, but just not thrilled with the comfort or the weight. My preference remains with closed cell pads and my rationale to keep it was for use in the winter, to supplement my existing system, and/or for my wife. If it isn’t already abundantly clear, I should admit that I am a simpleton when it comes to this kind of stuff as I’ve never really found an air mattress to be anything more than an inflatable raft. Throughout my life, because of my size I became all too familiar with sleeping on the floor as beds weren’t long enough. In fact, I spent most of my first two years in college sleeping on a piece of carpet and did the same each time I stayed at my in-laws for the first 2 years of my marriage. Sleeping on floors isn’t comfortable, but to me it was better than not being able to stretch out or being bent in funny positions on beds that were too small. So, I’m biased and find comfort in simple accessories such as low to the ground and squishy closed cell pads. If you find air mattress comfortable and you are an averaged sized person, especially if you are a side sleeper, this may be a good product for you if you don’t mind spending the money.
(UPDATE 9/24/09 - After a lot of comparisions and more nights with the NeoAir, I decided to return it. Keeping it simply makes no sense as I can double and even triple layer CCF pads for 2-3 times the warmth and still less weight. Course, this is more bulk, but there are options considerably warmer for about the same weight which means the NeoAir in this size is irrelevant. In a smaller size, I still find it a bit useless as the drop off from the edges makes it uncomfortable to me. For the same weight, roughly 19 ounces, and far more warmth, I can have a custom down-filled air mattress from Stephenson's Warmlite which seems to make a lot more sense.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

2-Ounce Emergency Vest

I had heard about this little piece of lightweight survival gear several months ago and didn’t pay much attention to it until I recently had the chance to play with it at my local gear shop.

AeroVest by SolaTec Technologies ( is a one-size-fits-all $14 2-ounce inflatable plastic vest which is intended to be used to provide heat to your chest in the event of an emergency. It packs as small as a cell phone and is similar in appearance to mylar. Made of polyethylene, it claims to reflect 90% of your core body heat much in the same manner as an emergency blanket. The jacket is baffled with 18 pockets to trap air within the baffles. Because the outside is plastic, it could theoretically repel rain. Because it inflates, it could theoretically give you some buoyancy in water, although I'm quite certain this isn't a marketed use. It is also bright yellow in color, presumably to attract attention being that you’d probably be wearing it in an emergency situation anyway. It is sleeveless to allow arm mobility and to aid with fit and trapping warm air around your chest.

To wear it, simply unfold it, put it on, secure it with the attached tape, insert the included straw, and blow it up with 4-5 breaths per side.

So does it work? Well, yes. It comes only in one size and will fit up to a 46” chest. It is more or less a one-time use item, although air can be extracted from it with some difficulty to use it again.

Would I buy it…probably not....but maybe, perhaps to be used only in extreme circumstances for my kids and wife as it isn’t big enough to fit my 52” chest. It is really tough to see its practicality when people in conditions to use it, such as backpackers, would already have a bunch of other gear which would likely be just as effective. If more warmth is needed when backpacking, I think I would turn to stuffing my clothing with something like pine needles or other duff to increase my body temperature. For a purely emergency item for those completely unprepared, then yes, this offers "some" protection and "some" benefit which is likely the greater purpose.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Raincoat, tent, and sleeping bag combo...

You've never seen anything like this... And to see it in action, go to

A raincoat, tent, and sleeping bag combo. Interesting thought.
(From the manufacturer following the posting of this blog...)
Jolly Green Giant:

Great site and thanks for putting us up for others to see.
My Name is Brian Rose and work for Active Engineering, which is the company that invented and is manufacturing the JakPak that is being discussed in this blog.

I would like to thank each of you for taking the time to look at and comment about our product. We are very excited about the attributes of the JakPak and how they can prove useful in the outdoor environments.
Over the last couple of months we have been busy sending samples out to gear testers and writers around the United States. Those that have seen it and used it have been very impressed by it. We have also heard some great opportunities on how we might be able to improve our product. This is the best information that we can collect so that we can insure future versions meet the ever changing demands of the Outdoor community.

We also appreciate your constructive feedback and comments on this blog as well. While it may not be the right fit in every situation, we are confident that with the proper input from each of you we can make future versions that will meet the ever changing needs of those in the outdoors.
I know that this is a blog for your guests so I will ever so gently bow out. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me at I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lightweight Gaiters

There are a ton of gaiters on the market, most of which all share the common theme of keeping debris out and offer mild to good resistance at keeping your foot dry. They come in different sizes, different materials, fasten and hook differently, and yes, they weigh quite a bit differently too.

I wear some form of gaiter on any trail as I know one of the quickest ways for me to stop enjoying myself is to throw the smallest of pebbles or dirt debris inside of my shoe and let it dance around a bit. For me, the question is what kind of gaiter, meaning something quick and flexible but merely water resistant or something which would help if I encountered rain.

One misuse of gaiters which I’ve seen quite a bit is people who wear them over their pants. People who hike aren’t riding bikes or marching in the military, so tucking them in isn’t mandatory or functional. The fact is, gaiters are meant to be worn over your sock and shoe, but under your pant leg. The theory is that your pant leg would be the first line of defense against any debris or moisture. After all, what difference does it matter in a rainstorm if 3” of the bottom of your pant leg are dry anyway? Also, when pants are tucked into a gaiter it generally stretches the gaiter out past the point of its intended use and even filters debris down into the gaiter itself. Course, this method does helps seal off your pant cuff and aids in protecting bugs from running up your leg. It's fair to say there is a rationale for either choice.

Without rehashing every gaiter from REI, Outdoor Research, or the other mass retailers, I figured I’d hit on a couple lesser known resources which fall into the “lightweight” category. I should mention that the items below are good for all-round trekking and not necessarily high Alpine conditions where snow will be up to your chin. Choosing the right gaiter depends a lot on the conditions you’ll experience as many, to include those below, won’t do well if you’ll be in bushwhacking situations where they will be exposed to abrasive rocks, thorns, etc. Also worth mentioning is that those below are intended for use with low-cut trail shoes and not boots.

One of the lightest non-waterproof gaiters on the market is the $27 and 1.8oz LevaGaiter by Simblissity ( The LevaGaiter is considered an ultralight and ultra-breathable scree gaiter which is made of stretchy Durastrech fabric. The beauty of the LevaGaiter is that it does not use any kind of undershoe cord, glue, or Velcro. Simply, it pulls on like a sock and stays in place through its tightness around your foot.

Another lesser known gaiter is the 1.12oz Debris Gaiter series from Inov-8 ( The Debris Gaiter 32, for example, is a sock-like gaiter made of fast wicking and quick drying material which is treated to resist water. These are pretty hard to find on the market as it appears Inov-8 lightweight industry leading shoe business takes a greater priority.

Montbell StretchGaiters ( is a 1.5oz and $30 option made of durable and breathable Schoeller Dynamic Extreme stretch material. Schoeller Dymanic bills itself and an excellent choice for high output activities in changing weather conditions where a hardshell would be overkill. It is made of Lycra and has permanent stretch that will keep its shape and elasticity while maintaining excellent moisture management, breathability, and dirt/abrasion resistance. I personally have never owned a pair, but those I know who have mentioned that they weren’t thrilled with the durability of the product.

No list of gaiters would be complete without mentioning a company with a bizarre website and a bizarre name – Dirty Girl Gaiters ( If you ever wanted an inexpensive ($15) and lightweight pair of stretchable gaiters made with a leopard print or other unusual pattern, then Dirty Girl Gaiters are for you. They are made of stretchy spandex-like fabric similar to that used in Speedo swimsuits. They are not waterproof, but are lightweight enough to dry out quickly. Although these gaiters are quite popular, I personally don’t like the fact that a piece of Velcro must be attached to your shoe for it to secure itself correctly. When not using the gaiter, I would think the Velcro would get caught on quite of few things, wear, and also pick up dirt.

One of my personal favorites for rain protection is the $45 and 1.5-1.7oz Superlight Gaiter by Mountain Laurel Designs ( Much like with MLD’s eVENT mitts, another excellent product, the Superlight Gaiter is constructed of 3-Ply eVENT. For those of you who haven’t experienced the joys of eVENT, it is a remarkably breathable and waterproof fabric which runs circles around Gore-Tex which otherwise often makes your shoe fill up with sweat. Negatives about this product include the fact that it isn't as large (long) as other gaiters and has no reinforced areas such as when your feet rub together.

Another pair of gaiters which do quite well in wet conditions is the Integral Designs eVENT Shorties ( At $30 and 2.5oz, these represent a more commercialized product which is on the higher end of lightweight (especially when compared to those above offered by MLD). These gaiters are also made of 3-Ply eVENT fabric and are reinforced with supplex nylon. My only gripe with these, and others of similar design, is that ID uses a piece of shock cord at the top of the gaiter to help hold it in place. Over time, the tension of the shock cord will cause some discomfort no matter how loose it is…and too loose would degrade its function as debris may sneak in at stress points. The cord which goes under the foot also wears quickly, but it is easily replacable. One nice thing about this product is that it has a piece of fabric to strengthen the wear when feet are scuffed together. They are also cheaper than those offered from MLD above.

Happy gaitering.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Something Every Backpacker Should Know...

I'm strapped for time this week to write another overly wordy dissertation about backpacking, so I'll let this well traveled video do the talking.

For another tip that you won't find anywhere else, how about this. Have you ever had trouble making a tinder bundle? Well, here's a solution that will ensure you don't need to hunt high and low for dry items to burn. The answer - carry a mouse in your pocket. Based on the nest I just found in my outdoor grill, I can say with certainty that those little bastards can gather tinder as if it were an Olympic event. I'd let you borrow my mouse, but he's indisposed at the moment.