Sunday, April 29, 2012

Woolpower 400 Vest

Hendrik, the righteous dude over at Hiking in Finland was kind enough to share with me some information on a vest he was wearing in one of his Ultralight A-Z videos

The Woolpower 400 vest is a really wonderful option for backpackers who are looking for a flexible insulating layer in cooler weather, but don't want a jacket.  It is made of 69% merino wool, 29% polymide and 2% elastane offering the best properties of wool, yet in a durable, soft and tightly woven option.

The product is made in Sweeden which means zippers are on the opposite side for men and that these garments aren’t the easiest to get their hands on.  After some research, I learned that one of the few reliable U.S. dealers was Grand Forest Inc.  I’d recommend Grand Forest over others because I learned they are a direct distributor of Woolpower products which means while others have an extremely tough time with stock, Grand Forest generally has it or can get it far more easily.  I learned this quickly after waiting for 7 weeks from another dealer who also refused to accept a return if I didn't like it.  Consequently, Grand Forest also communicated well and shipped quickly.

Sizing runs small.  I normally wear an XXL in everything and needed to size up to an XXXL which isn't normal for me at all.  But, it fits, and quite honestly it looks nice enough in appearance that it is plenty suitable to wear as part of my business casual attire at my office or around town in addition to backpacking.  It has no pockets, only a front zipper and good collar.  I purchased the green, although the black is nice too.

If you want something extra that will allow you to breathe, won’t catch fire, will insulate even when wet, is eco-friendly, is less than a bulky puffy, and is comfortable to wear full time, consider this option.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Little Backpack

My wife and I have an outing planned this summer to an amusement park where we’ll be joined by our kids.  Because of their young ages, we will still need to carry some kind of bag to support their needs.  Rather than bring the conventional over-the-shoulder bag or encourage my wife to inflate the size of her already big-enough purse, I wanted to go with a lightweight, small volume backpack.

The pack I was looking for needed to be durable and space-age fabrics weren’t a requirement.  It also needed to be affordable.  Several came to mind.

I ended up going with the REI Stuff Travel Pack because it was the largest volume, least expensive and the second lightest.  It couldn’t compete with the 2.9 oz Gossamer Gear Big Bag, but at 10 oz weight wasn’t going to be even a slight issue.

Made of ripstop nylon with a top zippered pocket, a drawcord for access to the main body and two side pouches for water bottles, it proved to be the right choice.  It also packs down into itself in the form of a small pocket.

The size of the pack really hammered home the point that size matters when it comes to conventional backpacks.  All too often I see people pushing their "lightweight" limit by trying to use an 1800-2000 cu/in pack.  Personally, I can’t imagine it.  Maybe it’s because my stuff takes up more room being that it is oversized to fit me, but very small volume packs work only in the most specific and definable circumstances.  Consequently, I think this may serve as a good first backpack for my son, but it could likely only handle his sleeping bag and that’s about it which is why I have a hard time imagining an adult using something even close in volume.

BUT…it will sure enough work for our needs at the amusement park and the price was right.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Sometimes “heavy” isn’t so bad.

When I was a kid, every now and then my parents would take me camping.  Our gear was likely the very best Montgomery Ward offered within the last decade or so.  We had two matching tents, both equally adequate at holding water as well as an aquarium.  My parents slept in one and my brother and I slept in the other.  Each night while my brother and I tried to think of new and innovative ways to annoy one another causing our mother to be quite creative with her empty threats, we’d overhear exchanges between my mom and dad.  Usually it started with sounds of tossing and turning followed by general discomfort.  My mom would attempt to remedy the situation and my father could be heard telling her he was fine.

In as much as I’d like to avoid all thoughts that they were working on giving my brother and I a sibling, I know the truth was that my father was uncomfortable sleeping on the ground.  While my mom, brother and I had old foam GI mats, my father had an early edition inflatable.  But, as someone over 300 pounds, the mat proved to be more of a test of his patience than a welcomed hope for a night of restful sleep. 

I always remembered those moments because the one thing I took away from camping with the family was that it was uncomfortable.  Whether it was the obvious difficulty in the middle of the night or the “I slept in a tent last night” facemask we all wear from time-to-time, it wasn’t an ideal situation.  Now with my own family, this retrospective is helpful as family camping is meant to be an enjoyable activity.
The first few times I went camping with my family, I brought my lightweight gear and we all huddled under an old cramped tent.  My kids and I were sleeping on foam at a public campsite that was overly loved, and my wife was sleeping on a women’s Thermarest Prolite Plus (something I had purchased for her along with a GoLite Jam with the hopes of motivating her to go backpacking with me).  I learned the same thing my dad did at those moments – this is uncomfortable.

Flash forward to our modern world where the number of choices for nearly anything is only outweighed by the number of places it could be purchased.  My goal was simple, to find the biggest most bed-like sleeping pad on the market.  I knew I couldn’t get an inflatable mattress because those never worked well for me, or more importantly anyone else sharing it with me.  While I squashed it to the floor, my partners were raised to circus heights only to eventually slide into me.  Realistically, there also wouldn’t be enough room for kids and I really didn’t want to lug around a giant inflatable mattress anyway as it would no doubt turn into the tent trampoline for anyone under the age of 6.

I ended up with the Thermarest Dreamtime - an inflatable pad with memory foam on top within a sleeve.  Now I’m not a fan of inflatables to begin with, or memory foam, but put them together on a hard surface which would be challenging in most any situation….and….oh my. 

With an R-value of 9, a 30” width and 78” in length, it was wonderfully big.  Pushing nearly 8 pounds, it was every bit of heavy I was willing to lug from the car to the tent.  It took all of one trip for my wife to remind me that I was buying another.  I used it over the Easter weekend despite my back reminding me that moving 11 cu/yds of mulch and dirt is an activity best left for more graceful youth who accept cash to help me avoid the suffering.  It was a great success.  I’ll be backpacking for an overnighter this weekend and will hook up with my family for a second night.  You can bet your sweet cheeks that my UL foam will be left in the car when I arrive and the Dreamtime will be making another tent appearance.

Find one on sale, use a coupon, and consider your REI dividend, and your wallet won’t suffer as much.

Dad would have been proud.