Thursday, April 30, 2009

HELP FIND A LOST HIKER IN VIRGINIA!




As noted in my earlier blog, I was on an Appalachian Trail hike in Virginia this past week and ended up leaving early due to injury. This was a hike of approximately 18 people, and of the original 18, only 7 ended up being able to finish. The rest of us needed to find our own way out and possibly home which was something we all realized was a possibility as this was an "individual" hiking opportunity that just happened to be with a group of like-minded folks who attempted to be on the trail at the same time. Although we had an itinerary and hoped to be able to stay together as a group merely to enjoy one another's company, the reality was that everyone went at their own pace and continued at their own discretion.




Unfortunately, it appears as though one of the hikers in our group never made it out. Preliminary efforts to track him down have been unsuccessful and this blog was only posted after it became a serious reality that he may be missing.




The hiker is Ken Knight, a visually impaired hiker from Michigan. Ken is also the voice on numerous podcasts from Backpackinglight.com and the author of http://awanderingknight.blogspot.com/ and http://wanderingknight.libsyn.com/.









Ken is approximately 5'4" and is 41 years old. He has brown hair, brown eyes, and a brown beard. The picture in this blog is an accurate depiction as it was taken on this hike. Ken had a blaze orange backpack which also worked as a dry bag. He had a tent, sleeping bag, and what I would describe as "minimal food". He was dressed appropriately for the conditions and water sources were widely available.







Ken was last seen at the Punchbowl Shelter just off of Blue Ridge Parkway on Punchbowl Mountain in Buena Vista, Virginia on Saturday April 25th or Sunday April 26th. His last known transmission of any kind was from the shelter on Sunday April 26th when he posted a short video to his website from his iPhone at roughly 6:30am.









Ken is a highly experienced backpacker and his skills in the wilderness are not in question. However, due to his visual impairment, it was noted that he was having difficulty finding the trail and staying on it. This hike was also particularly difficult and he very well may have attempted to hitch a ride out. Unfortunately, he never connected with his ride to the airport. It is also believed that he did not take a train or airplane home. Neither his employer nor his parents have heard from him. The Park Service and local authorities are initiating a search.









If you know the whereabouts of Ken or if you'll be in this area, please keep an out eye for him and let me know immediately if anything comes up.








If you're of the persuasion, please pray for him - it matters.








THANKS!


Please follow the discussion thread at Backpackinglight.com initiated by BPL President Ryan Jordan. http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=20748

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How to Avoid the Swine Flu




With regards to the national Swine Flu epidemic unfolding across the world, I have exhausted all resources to determine the origin and cause of the virus.

Efforts have yielded the attached source and methodology of transmission and thereby it should be avoided at all costs.

AT Trip Report



video
videoA week ago, my intent for this blog was to hopefully layout a detailed description of an enjoyable hike in Virginia on the Appalachian Trail. Organized several months ago, “Toothless” with ATHiking the Podcast (http://athiking.libsyn.com/) was kind enough to invite me on a 7-day AT trek with a handful of other willing participants. To me, this trip was something to look forward to as being able to escape the confines of work and parenthood for more than a weekend has recently been near impossible. I also planned on testing out some new gear and hopefully learning from many of the experienced hikers who have joined Toothless on these trips twice per year for the last several years.

Unfortunately, destiny had a different plan and I ended up reaggravating an old basketball knee injury on some loose rocks which had me leaving the trail long before I planned on departing. This definitely killed my spirits and weighed heavily on my mind as I waited 11 hours for my wife to track me down and pick me up. Apparently, the trip also weighed heavily on others too as only 7 of the 18 finished the entire trek. Ultimately, everyone who finished the trip mentioned it being a pretty monumental feat as the section hiked is known as being one of the more difficult areas in Virginia with tough footing and fairly extreme elevation changes. As a result, I can’t really give a good trip report because my time on the trail was entirely too short and it wouldn’t be fair to those who persevered while I sat at home with the Honey-do list I thought I had avoided. What I can say is that I remain impressed with the plans and dedication that go into these trips and I want to ensure Toothless was well acknowledged for his efforts. I also remain very encouraged when I meet other hikers as it is always nice to see the same passion I hold to be alive and well in others of different size, shape, fitness, and background. I can think of few activities where a collective “team” mentality thrives despite the fact that hiking is a dominantly "individual" activity. I also tend to enjoy the inherent honesty of those putting forth the effort as hard work and passion seems to have a way of bringing out the goodness in people which is all too often lost in our daily lives. I also enjoyed the company of Rylan with SoutheasternBackpackers.com who is as genuine and welcoming as he is on the podcasts.

I’ve attached a couple of short videos and one picture to this podcast only because the weather was definitely something worth noting on this trip. From the second the van stopped to let everyone out, it was either pouring snow, sleet, rain, hail, or gusting wind. Oddly enough, it would be in the 90’s in the same week which would break Virginia heat records on at least two days. As a resident of Virginia and it being late April, this was as shocking to me as it was for others who weren't familiar with what to expect. In many ways I enjoyed the experience of the harsh climate only because I’ve often heard thru-hikers complain of the frequently changing weather. Often these comments are discounted as trail lore intended to enrich an otherwise challenging journey. The reality is these stories are true and I can say that from experience. At one point we passed a thru-hiker who had started his journey in February. He was wearing shorts and passed us saying somewhat cheerfully but begrudgingly, “I sent my winter stuff home last week”. Simply, you never know what you’re going to get on the AT – even in late April in Virginia. Despite the weather, I was quite happy with my lightweight gear and quite surprised how functional it was overall. My Patagonia Houdini wind shirt was worn 100% of the time and provided just enough warmth and wetness protection to allow me to be quite comfortable in only a short-sleeve Ibex merino wool shirt as my base layer. I was also quite surprised that my 20 ounce quilt converted Western Mountaineering Caribou MF sleeping bag stood up to the elements without flinching in the slightest. I think those are the two pieces of gear which kept my attention the most as I needed to rely on them for their functionality without fail. To be fair, another piece of gear which was literally the difference between whether I hit the trail or stayed home was my pair of Gossamer Gear Lighttrek 4 poles. They are just incredible and amazingly lightweight. The fact that I screwed up my knee has nothing to do with them, but moreso poor footing and degrading personal fitness.

Looking forward to my next trek – plotting, planning, and healing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Gone Backpacking....& Other Odds and Ends

























Probably of little surprise to many of you who read my blog, and thanks for that, I am currently backpacking on the Appalachian Trail and making every attempt to practice what I preach. I should be back and blogging again the first week of May or perhaps shortly before. Thanks very much for your willingness to sort through my rants and for your frequent e-mails and participation in our hobby. I hope you too can find the time and ability to take a trip very soon to experience the fantastic wonder and beauty available to each of us. In case you've never had the chance to visit the Appalachian Trail, I attached some pictures of common scenes in central Virginia. Hopefully I'll have better pictures on my return.
I also wanted to mention a couple odds and ends merely to keep content alive. First, I wanted to mention BACKPACKER magazine as I've thrown some discontent their way in the past for their total avoidance of the lightweight backpacking cottage industry. On page 59 of their most recent magazine, BACKPACKER mentioned Gossamer Gear, ULA-Equipment, Z-Packs, Granite Gear, Six Moon Designs, Mountain Laurel Designs, and even the description of SylNylon and Cuben Fiber. In a section regarding how to stay in shape, lightweight long-distance hiking legend Andrew Skurka was mentioned. Although these were only brief mentions, it shows a growing resspect for the lightweight backpacking movement. I can only hope BACKPACKER will continue to grow in their acknowledgement of the lightweight backpacking industry which will serve to benefit those of us who have lugged packs for more than a few hours and appreciate the benefits and utility of lightweight gear. So, giving praise where it is due, good work BACKPACKER.
Also, I wanted to mention that Six Moon Designs is coming out with an ultralight shelter for taller folks. It will be different from their Lunar Solo design, but will be made of similar materials. I believe the plan is to release it near the end of summer. Personally, Six Moon Designs holds a special place in my backpacking hobby as I use their Lunar Duo from time to time and really like it. As a matter of being a gear geek, I had intended on purchasing a lighter tent and decided on either their Refuge or Refuge X (Cuben version) as discussed in a previous blog when offerings from Gossamer Gear and Tarp Tent simply weren't big enough. Depending on the new tent, I may reconsider.
Lastly, and only some of you may find this interesting, but I decided to use a water purification method I haven't tried before on my section hike after noting Virginia has received quite a bit of rain lately and there will be more to come during the hike. The rain will stir up ground sources and water will be murky or otherwise in the nasty category. Because I only use chemical purification (in the form of tablet this time and not liquid), I really have no means to sort out the gunk. In the past I used a nylon bag which I purchased from Walmat which worked really well. I found it in their wedding supply section and it is a very small bag with tightly woven nylon which I figured I could use to sort out any unwanted water gunk. Thinking that this bag wouldn't be enough, I decided to put a heavy piece of felt between the bag layers. The intent is to put the side of the bag on top of my water container and use a rubberband to cinch it all down. Thereby the water would need to go through two layers of nylon and a thick layer of felt before getting into my bottle and then of course the water in the container would be treated with chemicals. I have no means of verifying the scientic results, but I'd really like to see how effective this method is without the chemical treatment as this arrangement is very similar to what is inside many pump-style filters. The best part, it weighs nearly nothing.
With that, I'm off to go hiking. I hope all is well with everyone. Thanks for stopping by.






























Best wishes.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lightweight Gear Tips
























There are many blogs, websites, and other resources which offer advice on lightweight backpacking. Some have worthwhile content while others merely cover common sense. As I write topics for my blog, I typically ask myself which category I fall under with the hope that my ramblings aren’t met with rolling eyes. For this reason, and because it is fresh in my mind as I plan for my Appalachian Trail section hike, I wanted to cover some tips and information on going lightweight that I haven’t seen covered anywhere else (at least not with any great attention).


First, I think most experienced backpackers know where they can cut weight. They know that SilNylon packs weighs less than a nylon pack and that Cuben Fiber packs weigh less than SylNylon. They know that a tarp weighs less than a tent and that “nothing” weighs less than a tarp. They know a ground cloth can be a simple tarp, but lighter options exist in Tyvek, Spinnaker fabric, and Polycryo with “nothing” again being the lightest. Experienced backpackers know that a quilt is lighter than a sleeping bag and is also more versatile. Experienced backpackers know that synthetics pack larger, but do better when wet, and that nothing packs smaller and offers better warmth to weight ratio than goose down. Course, with each of these concessions the user must pay attention to cost and durability. For me, these two items are relevant as I am neither wealthy nor can I afford to be less than responsible for my gear considering that I can’t easily replace it.

So there you go, fairly well known advice covered in many sources which should help any backpacker refine their gear, go lighter, and hopefully have more fun. But what about the “other” stuff. What about things other than a shelter, pack, and sleep system?

Well, as I’m going through my gear I wanted to offer some thoughts on gear that I find to be useful and lightweight which I haven’t seen elsewhere. For many of these items I took pictures of them to show that they really do exist. I should mention none are groundbreaking, but each has made a slight difference to my overall pack load, comfort, and functionality.

CUBEN FIBER STUFF SACKS – Simply put, a trash bag pack liner may be a smarter, cheaper, and lighter option if you’re looking to keep your stuff dry. If you want to use stuff sacks for organizational reasons, try Cuben Fiber. Cuben Fiber is stronger and is actually more waterproof than SilNylon. It is also lighter, but you'll find the downside is in the price.

WHISTLE/COMPASS – To me, a whistle is a necessity as it has the function of helping save my butt if lost or injured and it also can scare away unwanted wildlife or help locate friends. Some would argue that any item which isn’t used nearly daily isn’t worth it. This is one piece of gear which falls outside of those lines to me as I can’t yell enough or make any noise as loud as a whistle. For me, an ACR whistle is the loudest, one of the lightest, and one of the most affordable. It is pretty much weatherproof and being pea-less means it won’t freeze up. I glued a button compass to mine and wear it around my neck. Having both the whistle and compass at my immediate disposal has been invaluable and I’ve used both more times than I can count. I should mention that I hike in areas which are fairly well marked. If you hiked in more difficult to navigate areas, get a higher grade compass or a GPS. I also carry a Sunnto Core watch with a digital compass as I like knowing what time and day it is, it helps me determine weather conditions, I like seeing how far I’ve climbed up or down, and I like timing myself. Even though I have a compass on my watch, I’d never use it only as my single orienteering device as machines fail. In fact, this watch was already replaced by Sunnto after a glitch in its mechanics caused the compass to point in the wrong direction. I figured this out before the manufacturer issued a recall after a trip where it conflicted with my free floating compass. It’s times like these when I’m glad a simple button compass weighs nearly nothing and I was smart enough to bring one. (Note: If you have a Suunto Core purchased within the last two years, you may have one of the damaged models. Suunto will replace it for free if you do.)

BANDANA WITH EMERGENCY COMMENTS – Many people carry a bandana, but few use it to its fullest extent. I took some waterproof acrylic paint and wrote words that can be flashed to a passing motorist. In a pinch, it could be the difference of getting medical help or a ride…and at no additional weight. Although mine is green because I like most of my stuff green (i.e. Jolly GREEN Giant), the blaze orange color would help notify folks from quite a distance if it was frantically waved around.

WATER / CAMP SHOES – Ultralight hikers know they can leave two things at home – water shoes and camp shoes. Why? Because they are already wearing running shoes and they figure the extra shoes aren’t worth the weight when breathable running shoes can take the brunt of nearly any condition. Although this is true for the most part, I hate wet shoes even if they do dry quickly. Typically, I alsoo can’t stand waiting for them to dry. Wet shoes are often uncomfortable, they stink, and often they encourage blisters. Instead of packing a pair of clown shoes (Crocs) to deal with water crossing and camp activities, I decided to make a pair out of Tyvek. I put heavy-grade felt on the bottom for traction and a piece of my foam sleeping pad for comfort. They can go over my shoes or just on my feet. They won’t win any fashion awards and they won’t last forever, but they will get me across a stream and give me something else to wear at camp if I choose to wear them. The best part is that they weigh and cost nearly nothing and I leave them at home if I don’t have any streams on my map.


LATEX GLOVES – Yes, the kind doctors use. They can do triple duty as an insulating glove (especially during the rain), as protection from pathogens during a medical emergency, and can help keep your hands clean when using the bathroom. They can also be inverted after grabbing a handful of bathroom waste to serve as a baggie (just tie the end off). And let’s face it, they weigh nearly nothing.


PETROLEUM JELLY – Petroleum jelly is great for sun damaged skin, chaffing, burns, etc. It also is great when attempting to start a fire. Keeping some petroleum jelly on cotton balls goes a long way for medical and fire needs.

BUTT PAD / COZY – For some reason people seem to work very hard to be miserable. I find misery comes easy enough. When I stop or when I’m at camp, I really have no urge to sit on the cold, damp, or dirty ground just to soil the clothing that I’ll need to keep clean and functional for the rest of the trip. With that, I’ve made a butt pad out of my sleeping pad and I put some Velcro on it so I can fold it up around a freezer bag. It then acts as a cozy to help keep my meals warm or keeps my butt happy. When I really want to keep my food warm, I use another homemade cozy which I made of insulation commonly used in the heating/air-conditioning business which I found at my local hardware store. Add a little Velcro and literally it keeps things extremely warm. I had made one for my Titanium cup, but after it required me to nurse a cup of hot chocolate for about 45 minutes because it remained too hot, I decided it wasn’t necessary for most of my trips. The insulation cozy can also fit inside my butt pad cozy if I want to help protect the more fragile insulation or if the insulation gets a little too warm or flimsy. In a pinch, both offer great protection to cameras or other fragile things too and can also help keep fresh fruit from getting damaged while you aren’t using them for cooking.

LIGHTWEIGHT COOKING – Newsflash – You can cook with a fire created by natural resources and not carry even the lightest stove. If this isn’t allowed in your neck of the woods, the next lightest is Esbit. Sure, we all enjoy the quiet flickering burn of alcohol or the efficiency and controllability of gas, but Esbit is genuinely the lightest – by far. Give it a shot if you want to cut weight. It isn’t terribly nostalgic, but it works, it’s cheap, and it’s light. Another consideration other than the type of fuel is the efficiency of your system. Simply put, I have found no other lightweight system as efficient and fully functional as the Ti-Tri Caldera Cone system offered by Trail Designs and sold by Titanium Goat. The cone serves as a pot stand and windscreen which makes it as efficient as it can be. And one other major thing that few other stove systems can claim, because it is made of titanium, it works with Esbit, alcohol, or natural resources. So when you’re trying to figure out what kind of stove you want and how much fuel you’ll need, consider that the Ti-Tri system will still work when you run out of the fuel you packed as you can simply pick up some twigs and eat a warm meal. How many systems can say that?

WATER TREATMENT – I covered this topic fairly recently so I won’t invest a lot of time here, but the bottom line is that the lightest water treatment option which is also highly effective is Micropur Katadyn tablets. Simply, it does what the others do, just for a lot less weight. Worried about gunk that can be trapped with a filter? Get a porous nylon bag from Walmart like those used for wedding table settings to hold candy. It will stop the gunk, hold your stuff, and the collective system weighs nearly nothing.

CAT HOLES TOOLS – Unfortunately MANY people are irresponsible about human waste in the wilderness. This past January I came across a pile of used toilet paper and human excrement while backpacking. I honestly felt quite dejected and terribly sad that people who share the same joy for the outdoors as I do would be so willing to ruin it for others. Other folks are more responsible, but in my opinion, not responsible enough. Yes you can dig a hole with a stick or put a rock over your waste, but this really isn’t responsible either. Truthfully, you should pack it out. Now don’t get me wrong, it is very unlikely that you’ll find me toting my colon contents in one of my fancy Cuben sacks, but when I’m required, I pack it out. When I don’t have to, I dig a 6-8” deep hole, do my thing, stir it, and add Earth back to the hole. Unless I want to take all day trying to dig a responsible hole, I need a responsible tool to dig it. Many people claim a responsible hole can be dug with a stick or the heel of their boot. To me, that's laughable. Others claim a hole can be dug with a heavy duty tent stake such as the MSR Groundhog (pictured in red). Yes, it does the job....barely....and it is messy and not terribly efficient. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy the pucker-factor of waiting to dig a time consuming hole while waiting to handle my business. The Sea-to-Summit IPOOD is essentially a shovel and does the job extremely well, but it is a bit cumbersome and too heavy. A typical ultralight tent stake is simply too small and a stick is usually just a pain and may not be immediately available. So what’s left? Let me suggest the Montbell’s Handy Scoop which seems to be right in the middle of a decent lightweight piece of gear that does the job effectively. Consider it and consider the extent you’re willing to be responsible for yourself to ensure the great wilderness we all love will remain in a condition we want to share with our children.

MONTBELL U.L. DOWN INNER JACKET – This is a very specific warming garment for me and I think most people would easily dismiss a “jacket” for three season backpacking as many generally use a merino wool layer or capilene as their insulation on a cold evening. I absolutely love merino wool and capilene, but when I really looked hard at weights and function, I was absolutely surprised to learn that this “down jacket” actually weighed LESS than my merino wool top. It was only 33 grams less, but hey, “less is less”. The bigger kicker isn’t the weight in this case; it’s the fact that the jacket is scientifically more than twice as warm. So ask yourself this, for essentially the same weight, would you rather have something that will keep you warmer? To me, this was a no brainer and one of the few garments I found which is lighter and warmer than what most people use. It also does better in the wind too. What is the downside, well, you may need to bring an undershirt being that the jacket isn't really a next-to-skin item. If you need another shirt, you will actually have a heavier system than a simple merino/capilene top...but you'll be warmer :)

There are a lot of other random things here and there worth discussion and many other homemade choices I think make a lot of sense. With that, there is always time and content for another blog so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. Thanks for stopping by and happy backpacking.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stress, Planning, and a Little Venom for "Medium"


I'm going to go ahead and apologize right from the start because this blog won't contain anything overly cool or overly interesting. In fact, I doubt it will be any more entertaining than the clown with the shovel who walks behind the circus elephant. Basically, I'm knee deep in an over abundance of highly interruptive stuff at work. “Interruptive” in the sense that it takes away from things I'd rather be doing (i.e. NOT working) and “abundant” in the sense that I need to devote more time to it than what I’d normally find tolerable even when being paid. Essentially, I have too much work and not enough time to spend doing anything else.

In addition to my over abundance of highly interruptive work, I am stressed because I haven't found an adequate amount of time to devote to an upcoming trip I have scheduled on the Appalachian Trail (AT) with a group of several folks organized by "Toothless" of AT Hiking - The Podcast (http://athiking.libsyn.com/). Toothless was kind enough to invite me to section hike part of the AT which he schedules twice per year, once in April and once in September. I should mention he truly does an excellent job organizing the trip, communicating, having a comprehensive plan, offering helpful tips, and just generally being a welcomed, responsible, and pleasurable host. For someone who hikes alone 99.9% of the time, this is a welcomed opportunity for me. The mileage of each trip varies, but ultimately amounts to enough effort for a group of non-professional non-thru hikers who just find their "trail legs" only towards the end of the 7-day trip. I don't think any of us prefer to hold the status of a "section hiker", but with no one being independently wealthy, we all have accepted the undesirable sinful burden of man and our over abundance of highly interruptive work. The truth is, if I (we) stuck with it, I’d feel just as honored to say I section hiked the whole AT as if I thru-hiked it. Being able to claim accomplishment to such a task is something I wouldn’t mind owning at all. Whether it takes 5 months or 15 years is devotion I think is worth acknowledging.

Planning for a trip more than a few days requires a heck of a lot of thought. In this case, carrying enough food for 7 days is likely slightly more than your average thru-hiker. One thing I’ll say about food is that it is irritatingly heavy. Yes, you can dehydrate, pack light foods, use powders for taste instead of the actual item, eat less, or do any number of things to make it lighter, but in the end, the more days on the trail the heavier it is unless you are creative (and flexible) to food drops. The heavier it is, usually the more it takes up your pack too. These two factors alone have weighed on me heavily, pun intended. It actually makes me mental as I hate the reality that I “must” take it. Food, much like water, simply can’t be left behind. Food/water is unlike a tent in which I could choose to swap out for a tarp or not use at all. Food/water is unlike clothing or even a sleep system which I can choose to take less of or find things which are lighter. Essentially, food and water are stagnantly heavy items – and this fact alone is what drives me crazy. It’s like I can cut weight everywhere else and then I merely need to accept the lump of weight from the very thing that will power me through the trip, keep me healthy, help me sleep at night, and generally ensure I don’t try to cannibalize my hiking partners. In this case, I’m looking at anywhere from 14-18 pounds or so. Just thinking about that “extra” weight makes me cringe. Course, thinking about my last days on the hike when my food weight will be dwindling does make me somewhat happy.

When preparing for this kind of trip I find that I spend a disproportionate amount of time weighing everything. I mean I’ve weighed stuff before, but when knowing that I have to carry it for much longer than just a weekend it becomes an obligation to really make concessions. Something that I doubt many truly consider is the difference of weight in items of different sizes. For example, most manufacturers post the weight of their product in size “medium”. Medium, after all, likely consists of the majority of the world’s population. Clothing is medium, hotel beds are medium, even shower heads are set at a height appropriate for medium-sized people. At 6’6” and 270 voluptuous pounds, I hade medium. Medium cars and medium roller coasters hurt my knees and the back supports usually come up around mid-back instead of to my neck. Medium airline seats cause me to contemplate suicide or at least strangling the person in front of me. Medium movie stars like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise look like little penguins to me. Ceiling fan stores safe for medium people make me feel unbelievably edgy. Medium food portions give me medium stomach hungers. Medium medications don’t do much for my non-medium headaches. Toilets placed at heights appropriate for medium people are like a parlor trick for sharpshooters. Medium. BLEH!!! I hate medium. And here we have backpacking items where my XXL jacket, the exact same jacket worshipped by medium lightweight backpacking enthusiasts for its packability and lightweightness (in medium-size), is, get this, almost 300% heavier than their medium size and generally just as heavy as the bulletproof gear in, you guessed it, medium-size. Sure, no one is surprised that something bigger than the exact same thing in a smaller size is heavier (and takes up more physical space), but I think few appreciate the fact that anything us bigger folks wear or carry is almost always 40% or more heavier than pretty much what everyone else is carrying. Medium be damned. I bet you medium folks taste like chicken.

Why am I complaining? Well, call it a reaction to an over abundance of highly interruptive work, stress associated with planning a trip without proper dedication, and the general aggravation that no matter what I do I will never be able to get my overall pack weight down to a weight comparable to my hiking partners. Unless I run into a band of lost Vikings, a gaggle of Amazon ogres, a team of NBAers, the real Jolly Green Giant clan (yes, I impersonate), Chewbacca and friends, Big Foot and his underlings, or a club of overzealous pituitary gland zealots, I’ll almost certainly be just a tall hiker carrying an average pack-load with seemingly no consideration given to the fact that I spend a significant amount of time, money, and effort trying to go as light (and responsible) as possible. No I can’t compare myself to Da Vinci and say it’s like someone passing by the Mona Lisa and asking if it was paint-by-number, but just because I have no appreciable amount of talent in anything other than breathing oxygen and making red meat disappear doesn’t mean that I’m not trying and not pushing my passions.

(*sigh*)

(Hey, I warned you from the beginning.)


(By the way, have you ever noticed some people say that they need to "preplan" the trip? Isn't that the same as "plan"? I'm just sayin'....)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

“The One” vs. “Refuge X” in a Bout for the Lightest Tent





No this isn’t an April Fools Day joke, so read on about the world's lightest tents!

At one point, Terra Nova (http://www.terra-nova.co.uk/) and Hilleberg (http://www.hilleberg.com/) boasted that they had the lightest tent. Other manufacturers attempted to either copy their designs or decided to make tents substantially smaller and less stable to bring their weights down. In recent years, bivy and one-man tents have become some of the lightest on the market and consequently became the most claustrophobic and unfriendly to anyone who wanted to move around a bit.

Fortunately, the ultralight movement has pushed a handful of great manufacturers into really challenging the norm. These manufactures tested new designs and new materials and were able to offer fully functional tents at weights never before seen – a sub 16 ounce tent. At this weight, these tents are lighter than anything on the market to include many tarps.

The two leading lightweight full coverage tents on the market include “The One” offered by Gossamer Gear (http://www.gossamergear.com/) and “Refuge X” offered by Six Moon Designs (http://www.sixmoondesigns.com/). Although Henry Shires “Tarp Tent” (http://www.tarptent.com/) is very competitive, he simply cannot compete with Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs in this lightweight challenge.

Before I get too deep I must admit an inherent bias towards both of these companies since I own gear from each and have found both to offer superb customer service to an extent that I simply had never seen in this industry before.

I also need to confess that I’m a bit of a gear junkie. To some, this means I collect lightweight backpacking gear. For me, I’d argue this definition isn’t right for me. Simply put, I’m constantly looking for the right gear. As I come across better gear, I buy it and purge my older stock to make room. In this case, I simply couldn’t pass up considering the two offerings from each of these companies as getting the opportunity to own and use a sub-1 pound tent is something that I feel would be really remarkable and contribute greatly to my personal backpacking enjoyment.

So we’re clear, we’re talking about a sub-1 pound tent. In my basement I have a winter tent from The North Face which is damn near bulletproof and rings in at about 9 pounds. NINE POUNDS! The lightest fully functional tent I own, which I should mention I love, is a Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo. Although there are lighter tents on the market in the same vein, I went with the Lunar Duo because at 6’6” and a fluffy 270 pounds - I needed the room. For me, very few manufactures had anything long enough for me and often my choices in gear were strictly driven by fit instead of other factors. This fact alone has often prohibited me from getting the lightest options of my choice as in the end the gear needed to be functional. With this in mind, I could only hope that I wasn’t going to be let down (again) by some really great gear.

Knowing “The One” and the “Refuge X” were competing for the title of Lightest Test, I really wanted to evaluate both to determine if one would fit me. A side-by-side comparison was quite telling:

Weight Length Width Height Sq/Ft Price
The One* 16 oz 84 34 47 17.5 $295
Refuge X >16 oz 108 48 45 30 $400
*The One has unique measurements, so those listed were to simplify my observations.

The chart above revealed two things which I found to be quite substantial and both (to me) identified the Refuge X to be the more inviting shelter. The Refuge X offers 24” more in length and 12.5 sq/ft of additional space. Probably of equal note is the fact that there is also a difference in cost of $105 which favors The One. The One is made of Spinnaker cloth while the Refuge X is made of Cuben. Other than design variances, the fabric is the principal difference between the two. The positives and negatives of either fabric choice are mitigated, in my opinion, by the function of the design as either you'll like the design and function or you won't. Regarding the difference in fabrics, Spinnaker stretches better which eases pitching. It also breathes better which helps with condensation. Cuben is stronger and lighter, but it takes unique engineering both to pitch properly and to ensure proper airflow. Both are more costly than SilNylon, which works just fine too, but these are the lastest and greatest fabrics utilized in the lightweight backpacking industry.

I know from personal experience that my wonderful Lunar Duo has very similar engineering as the Refuge X and I personally appreciated the additional space. I also liked the fact that there is a real cabin, room enough or 4 people to play cards when guylined out properly, and space enough simply to sit up. So many manufacturers trying to cut weight on their tents give you a bit of room near your head and than taper the rest at your feet. This never felt right to me. The One doesn't taper as drastically, but it does taper to the point that it ximply cannot offer the same kind of space as the Refuge X for the same weight.

Knowing my initial feeling was to go with the Refuge X based simply on roomyness, I started searching the internet for evaluations of both shelters hoping to find some solid differences in wear and function. The evaluations revealed what I expected, that both were excellent products and are equally great for users with preferences inclined towards one or the other. Both tents had minor issues which caused them each to be redesigned from their original models. The second generation of The One has already come out and actually sold out (again) in 2009 in a matter of weeks. The second generation of the Refuge X is still under development. According to Ron Moak, the owner and designer, changes include adding a true bathtub floor and other more minor changes. This will bring the weight up ever so slightly and also the price. Probably the only other notable difference is that the Refuge X isn't expected to perform well in windy conditions, partially due to the profile of the design and partially due to the material. The big downside of the Refuge X is that it isn't available now and it might be awhile before it comes out. My discussion with Ron indicated he is extremely busy and wants his design to be right before it is released again.

So is this where the comparison ends? Well, not really. I have heard through the grapevine that Gossamer Gear is considering a limited run of The One made of Cuben Fiber. This would clearly put it over the top as the world’s lightest tent which would weigh in at somewhere near 9 ounces. Again folks, NINE OUNCES!!! It is unclear if/when this will happen, but knowing the innovative guys at Gossamer Gear, I have a strong suspicion that it will be out at some point in 2009.
As a guy always interested in cutting weight, this may seem like a major reason for me to go with The One, in Cuben anyway. The reality is that weight isn't everything and I'd rather have the space and utility of the Refuge X and plan to purchase it when the new design is available. For the budget conscious, I should mention Six Moon Designs makes a SilNylon version of the Refuge X call "Refuge" which is nearly the exact same design as the Refuge X other than the fabric and healthy price tag. The Refuge weighs in at 1 lb 11 oz, still extremely light, and runs $260.
The greater truth behind this debate which stands above all preferences is the fact that the lightweight backpacking cottage industry continues to forge into new territory to offer some absolutely amazing products to make the simple pleasures for you and I all the more exciting. To me, my future purchase of the Refuge X will go nicely with another purchase I’m waiting on which is a custom-made roll-top all Dyneema X pack from Mountain Laurel Designs (http://www.mountainlaureldesigns.com/). Sure SilNylon and Cuben Fiber packs are lighter, but I don’t have the money always to buy new gear or to choose the lightest of options which may not wear as well as others. The pack will be a sub 16 ounce dream made just for me, and by the way, don’t be surprised if my interest in an all Dyneema X with roll-top shows up in future packs from Mountain Laurel Designs as I already know the roll-top will become available in the next month or so for everyone else :) Personally, I can't wait for either.
Happy backpacking.