Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lightweight Gloves

At the risk of drawing attention to my gear geekness, I decided to address the topic of “gloves” closer to summer to avoid the mass number of people who will recommend therapy groups for my gear addiction. Besides, if you read something you like, you could probably find a better deal on it now instead of waiting for winter.

To a lightweight backpacker, gloves are often considered a luxury item. After all, a pair of spare socks worn on the hands, or pockets on a jacket, both tend to do the job sufficiently without the extra ounces. If you’ve decided a pair of gloves is worth the weight and utility, than you have a couple of decent options.

When selecting a pair of gloves for backpacking, there are a couple features worth considering other than fit, pack size, and weight. First, what kind of temperatures will you be experiencing and what will be sufficient to keep your hands warm? Second, will your hands be getting wet (i.e. will your hands be exposed while hiking in the rain, for example, if you use trekking poles)? Third, do you need to worry about wind (some very warm gloves can be made fairly useless in substantial and constant windy conditions)? Fourth, will you be wearing the gloves when you hike or only at camp (hand sweat and need for durability on trekking poles may be an issue and the wrong gloves used with trekking poles can give you blisters)? Lastly, do you need to use them to handle anything fresh off the stove or fire which would easily burn (wool can handle hot items whereas fleece and synthetics will burn/melt)?

Yes, there is a lot to consider.

First off, it is worth mentioning that a “mitt” style glove is more efficient at maintaining warmth between fingers. Unfortunately, mitt gloves are more difficult to maneuver for finite handling. Also, constantly taking on and off a pair of gloves to gain use of your fingers is quite miserable, especially if your hands are wet or gloves are too tight. To get the same benefit of a mitt and gain finger dexterity, some people use half-fingered mitts which have fabric to pull over the fingers to form a mitt if desired or otherwise leave the fingers exposed if necessary. Unfortunately, these are often heavier than other options. Others choose the standard 5-fingered glove to both keep warm and to maintain some finger movement.

Different fabrics also perform differently when warmth is desired. Fleece is inexpensive, doesn’t perform well when wet, and is heavier than lightweight wools...but is generally a decent lightweight, inexpensive, and reasonably functional option. Wool is generally more expensive, dries poorly, retains decent warmth when wet, and is lighter than fleece. Possumdown is on par with the price of wool, dries fairly well, retains excellent warmth for minimal weight, and is lighter than wool. Ounce for ounce, Possumdown shows the greatest weight to warmth ratio, second only to goose down.

Different fabrics also offer different benefits when staying dry is a concern. GoreTex is heavier than microporous polypropylene (DriDucks/FroggToggs), is expensive and fairly durable, but does not breathe very well. Polyproplylene is lighter than GoreTex, is inexpensive and breathes well, but it isn’t very durable. eVENT is lighter than polypropylene, breathes fairly well and has decent durability, but it is fairly expensive.

Despite knowing these things, my “glove journey” has run the gamut and ultimately I ended up with a variety of options. Below are some of my findings for your consideration. Please reference the labeled picture (weights are based on size XL gloves, so if you have smaller hands, you have lighter gloves):

- PossumDown (1.62 oz) – Best general lightweight glove for warmth and function
- DeFeet Wool (2.50 oz) – Best heavy duty wool glove and has a gripping surface
- SmartWool (1.58 oz) – Solid lightweight wool glove, although more warmth can be gained from PossumDown for the same weight
- Mountain Laurel Designs eVENT Mitt (1.23 oz) – Best rain mitt
- ULA Rain Mitt (1.26 oz) – Close “second” rain mitt when durability is not a concern
- Mountain Hardwear Fleece/Windstopper (2.11 oz) – Excellent cold weather gloves used while hiking
- Outdoor Research Nylon Mitt (2.92 oz) – Excellent cold weather mitt used while hiking
- Fingerless Fleece Mitts – Generic (3.42 oz) – Good all-round option, extremely warm, durable, best for finite finger movements, but a little heavy
- Outdoor Research GoreTex Cold Weather Mitts (9.41oz) – Best for very cold weather, but irrelevant in most circumstances as they are too warm to be worn while hiking and too cumbersome for camp (for most reasonable conditions)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

REPORT – Trail Days 2009, Damascus Virginia

On May 15th and 16th I had the opportunity to attend Trail Days in Damascus Virginia. This location and this date are not random. Damascus is the approximate halfway point on the Appalachian Trail. For those thru-hikers who started their journey on time in March from Springer Georgia, many would be rolling through Damascus over this weekend.

Damascus is a very small town and dubs themselves as “the friendliest town on the trail”. The folks I ran into were indeed friendly in every way, so forgoing a visit to every other town along the AT, I’ll simply assume their self-nominated title is correct. By my observations, Damascus seems to exist solely for AT hikers. There are at least two outfitters, churches which offer showers, coin laundry, a post office, and everything has some quant name referring to backpacking, the AT, outdoors, etc.

The weather mid-May in Virginia is always a little tricky. This year, both days were supposed to be in the 80’s and there was a 60% chance of rain. My wife, I, and our small son dodged few rain drops while sweating bullets, but for the most part the weather cooperated.

Trail Days offers visitors to meet a variety of small cottage manufacturers as well as those who are well know. The town essentially opens itself up to everyone and under every tent is someone signing, selling crafts, or otherwise showing outdoor equipment.

Trail Days is one of the few places lightweight cottage manufacturers gather and I’m very happy it occurs in Virginia as I believe the only other events where you can find them together are both out west. The vendors who made the trip this year included Mountain Laurel Designs, Jacks R Better, Warbonnet Hammocks, Anti-Gravity Gear, Six Moon Designs, Hennessey Hammocks, Eagles Nest Outfitters, Speer Hammocks, and a new comer to the lightweight tent business, Light Heart Gear. Many other vendors were there, like LaFuma, Nemo, Enertia Trail Foods, and various outfitters. Several hiking/backpacking organizations, such as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and The Hiking Society, also made an appearance. To my surprise, despite being on the list earlier in the year, and Gossamer Gear, didn’t make it. One of the sponsors was Backpacker Magazine and I didn’t see them either other than their name on a big sign. Several guest speakers, to include the second thru-hiker of the AT and others who gave photographic portrayals of the trails, provided entertainment and quality reports.

I talked to many vendors simply because I am intrigued with learning about new products and engineering efforts even if I personally can’t use what they are selling. For example, I spoke with Brandon of Warbonnet Hammocks ( about his “Blackbird” offering. It is arguably one of the hottest hammocks on the market as it has extra fabric for a genuine footbox and even a small shelf inside the hammock for gear. It goes up quick, is well made, and it is a nice twist for the tree hangers out there. Brandon is also a quality guy with the best interests of his customers in mind. I also talked with the two Jacks of Jacks R Better ( for about 30 minutes. We covered everything from their very interesting “Bridge Hammock” to their wearable quilts. Both are entertaining fellows who clearly want to deliver a good product and I was very encouraged with what I saw. Unfortunately, I have a bit of bias towards hammocking after failing to find one that worked for me in years past with caused me to return offerings from Speer, Jungle Hammocks, Mosquito Hammocks, The Travel Hammock, Claytor Hammocks, and Hennessey Hammocks. Based singularly on appearance, I felt the Warbonnet Blackbird wasn’t long/big enough for my 6’5” and 275 pounds despite it receiving rave reviews across the board from other hammockers. I should mention that Brandon, the owner of Warbonnet, offered to let me try the Blackbird. Simply, I choose to opt out as I wanted to be respectful of his product and the stand being that he would no doubt need to show it to several hundred people over the weekend and the risk of possibly damaging it was too great to me. Although, I did get a chance to lay down in the Jacks R Better Bridge Hammock, which was very comfortable, I thought it pinched my shoulders too much and wasn’t quite long enough. If I had my choice if it fit, I think the Bridge Hammock provided the most comfortable lay of any hammock I’ve ever tried, but it was over 2 pounds and one to fit me would be heavier to the point that it probably wouldn’t be worth it for me to carry. Either way, I was very impressed by both and I will be leaving my hammock options open.

I also talked with Ron Moak with Six Moon Designs. He mentioned both the Refuge and Refuge X were being redesigned and that they will probably make another appearance in spring/summer 2010 with a bathtub floor and other options. He had pretty much all his shelters and packs on display and it was nice to see them up close and personal. He makes good stuff and it was fun to tinker with everything.

One of the more enjoyable conversations I had was with Ron Bell of Mountain Laurel Designs. After seeing his products, it is pretty clear that his website doesn’t quite do justice to his products (this is a common theme, in my opinion, for the cottage industry and Ron’s site is actually one of the best). First, MLD craftsman ship simply seems to me to be better than others. Second, MLD offerings are well thought out are far more realistic to backpackers who need functional options as compared to other manufactures who cut corners (literally) to try to save a few ounces. Take MLD’s Grace Duo, for example, which is a simple rectangle tarp. The full coverage, which others taper, is much more functional to me and the weight is very responsible. The colors he uses are also very bright which is something I feel is a significant plus as I believe strongly in the emotional impact bright colors of shelters have on the inhabitant. He also uses Cuben Fiber quite extensively which I like a lot. Another structure I liked quite a bit was the floorless DuoMid. It is very similar to offerings by other manufacturers, but seemed to be better made and more roomy in every aspect. He had his eVENT mitts and gaiters on display as well as a couple of pack. All were top notch quality.

Although I don’t have a ton of money in my pocket, if I did I think I’d spend it on a MLD Grace Duo, possibly in Cuben or the bright yellow silnylon, the DuoMid in either silnylon or Cuben, or I’d wait for the Cuben Fiber Refuge X by SMD to be released next year.

Trail Days always proves to be a fun experience as it is always nice to see something new, meet the manufacturers and perhaps give some feedback, and get hands-on experience with the great products of the cottage industry.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Conditioning for the Hike

I meant to include this in an earlier post, but I simply didn't have any room to squeeze it in. One of my favorite forums is and a member recently provided a link to an excellent article from Washington Trails Association on how to condition for a hike of any reasonable distance or amount of time.

For me, conditioning for nearly anything has been an uphill battle. Twelve years ago, and no kidding on this one, I was a college athlete who worked out 3 hours a day. Running up to 8 miles and hitting the weights for another 1-2 hours and even playing basketball for another two hours was a completely normal activity for me - each DAY. Many days I didn't sweat and I pretty much ran everywhere, not to get there quickly, but because my body had this "get up and go" attitude. I ate right, lived clean, and there really was no physical obstacle I ever thought would get in my way. Twelve years later, now sporting a Type 1 diabetic body that apparently laid dorment since childhood, and now knee deep in the confines of work and family, I still work out 3-5 times a week for about 90 minutes each day. Unfortunately, I'm convinced my efforts would be equally rewarded if I just ate a jelly doughnut. NONE THE LESS, I keep trying and pushing as I enjoy working out and the gains I do get allow me one less hurdle to overcome down the road. It is also a good stress reliever.

Funny enough, "conditioning" of any kind is completely irrelevant to some people. We'll just call these people "genetically gifted people on my hate list". You know the kind, average to mildly tall, skinny, long-limbed, able to become a cross-country runner with the simple purchase of a pair of new running shoes, and able to chow down on a pizza with ice cream on top just before hitting the trail. Essentially, these are the same people who could save the world of its energy problems if we could only find a way to bottle their non-stop motor.

With that said, the conditioning guidance attached is for the rest of us, the "you and me's" of the world who need to watch their diet, who need to exercise, and who need to be proactive about maintaining a certain level of fitness for any fairly challenging activity.

The article can be found at (If for some reason the link doesn't work, let me know and I'll e-mail you the file.) Fortunately, it is very short and to the point because, let's face it, none of us needs to read a 90-page documentary by short-short aficionado Richard Simmons or see the "after" picture of a successful diet and exercise program when we know all too often we are the "before" picture.

Have fun breaking a sweat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Future Lightweight Gear

If you read my blog, you know that I have a bit of an obsession for gear, specifically knowing what is coming and how it might fit into my backpacking needs to increase my backpacking happiness. With this said, I wanted to mention a couple new pieces of gear coming to market which I haven’t seen mentioned elsewhere. Each of these items haven’t been officially mentioned to the public, so let’s keep this between you and me :)

If you’re like me, carrying a lightweight and functional shelter is a top priority. Fortunately, the release of the “Refuge-X” by Six Moon Designs and “The One” by Gossamer Gear, both full enclosure tents, now means mosquitoes can be kept at bay and tarps can be left at home for less than 16 ounces.

As I mentioned in another blog, Six Moon Designs is also coming out with a one-man tent for taller guys. It will be made with the same materials as their Lunar Solo, but in a different design. Assume it will be lighter too. Roan Moak mentioned it will hopefully be available around late summer/fall 2009, but design and production issues may slow it down. These same issues are slowing down the re-release of the updated Cuben fiber Refuge-X too.

A better kept secret is a shelter under design by unofficially known as “The Tartan”. Supposedly, it is roughly 21 sq.ft, weighs 16 ounces, and will be about 8’ long with a width of 2-3 feet. The entire footprint will roughly be 10’x5’. It will be made of a Cuben fiber canopy and noseeum inner lining with a floor made of a new, yet unknown fabric with silicone coating. Essentially, it will be a double-wall tent for less than a pound. The release of this new shelter, which likely won’t be until Spring 2010, will no doubt have a huge impact on the lightweight industry. An unintentionally released photo is above.

Gossamer Gear, one of the few lightweight cottage industry companies I can think of who refuses to budge from delivering only highly lightweight and functional products, is also tweaking their infamous Lighttrek 4 trekking poles a bit. They are planning on adding straps to the handle and also some kind of mechanism to hold a camera. I have a pair of the Lighttrek 4’s with an early (beta) attempt at a hand strap and I look forward to the continued innovation to make these 3.4 oz (each) carbon adjustable poles even more functional. They are truly phenomenal.

As mentioned in one of my earlier posts, Mountain Laurel Designs is going to start adding a “roll-top” feature to their backpacks. To me, this makes a ton of sense as having merely a cinch-top does little to keep out falling forest duff or rain/snow. With the roll-top, and being that MLD packs are already made of the highly water-resistant and extremely durable Dyneema-X fabric, it is fair to say that a trash bag liner will be more than sufficient to keep everything out. I predict plummeting stock values for pack covers as educated lightweight backpackers will know it isn’t necessary.

Finally, and although it isn’t new, I just wanted to mention that the lightweight titanium long-handled spoon is finally back in stock at It is, as far as I know, the lightest titanium long-handled spoon on the market and is wonderful when avoiding dragging your knuckles through a bag of food is desired.

So there you go. If you know of anything else worthwhile which is on the lightweight backpacking horizon, please let me know.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


In a remarkable turn of events, missing hiker Ken Knight was just found and appears to be fine. More details to follow as they are known. From what we know now, he headed south from his last known point, ended up getting lost about 9 miles later after heading down the wrong trail, and ultimately lit a fire which drew in fire fighters who found him. He was lucid, but walked out on his own. In the end, he was only 200-300 yards from the road. He had ripped his pants, was dehydrated and hungry, but was otherwise in good health. As of this evening, he has already been dismissed from the hospital and is likely knee deep in his third stack of pancakes at the local IHOP.