Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Gear on the Horizon

Grant Sible with Gossamer Gear was nice enough to provide me with some details about a new tent they are working on. It is currently under the personal development of Glen VanPeski and it sounds like the tent is still undergoing quite a few tweaks and "may" be available in 2010. It is diamond-shaped and sets up with two trekking poles and two stakes (think about that...). Because of the shape, it should be plenty long enough for taller backpackers. Again though, this is in the "maybe" stage. I'm anxious to see how it compares to the new "Vamp" tent from Six Moon Designs which is also supposed to be for taller backpackers and is slotted for release in 2010.
Backpackinglight is putting the final touches on a new backpack. The pack is nearly ready for production with only minor cosmetic changes forthcoming. It is roughly 28 ounces and 40L-45L in capacity. It will come with shoulder straps and hip belts which are modular to fit different body types. It comes with a removable frame, roll top closure, two big outside pockets, and hipbelt pockets. The attached grainy picture is all that I have for now. As mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, BPL is also tinkering with a lightweight tent initially referenced as the "Tartan".
A little known favorite company of mine is PHD Mountain Software (http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/). They make all kinds of extremely high end sleeping bags and clothing options. Their gear is literally second to none and many say it is actually better than other options within the US which are generally considered top notch too. Well, PHD is going to be releasing lightweight quilts in the near future. Because they frequently use 900-down fill, they can offer extremely warm products which are still very lightweight. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this great company and I would imagine they will give Nunatak and Western Mountaineering a bit of competition.
Hopefully 2010 will prove to be a fruitful year for lightweight gear.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Grub Pack

Looking for an alternative to keep animals and critters out of your food supply that isn’t as expensive as a bear canister but is more durable than a simple mesh or plastic bag hung from a tree? Well, try GrubPack (http://www.grubpack.com/).

Grubpack is an animal resistant bag made of stainless steel mesh. It is flexible and durable, although an animal could still crush your food if they wanted to. It comes with a polyester Velcro closure which seals better when wet. It is also UV resistant and comes with a brass grommet for hanging. Use it with something like an OPSAK bag to make it waterproof.

So, how much? 18” x 15” (1,178 cu/in) is $29.99, 18” x 20” (1,864 cu/in) is $32.99, and 18” x 26” (2,275 cu/in) is $35.99.
If you're wondering, Rat Sack also makes a similar product (www.armoredoutdoorgear.com).

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Integral Designs Hot Socks

For whatever the reason, I’ve focused a disproportionate amount of time on what socks to carry while backpacking. Whether it was to cut ounces, find something more durable or warmer, or to identify a sock that dealt better with moisture and stink, the reality is that socks and foot care are a terribly important topic while on the trail.

First I made the switch from SmartWool to DarnTough for my daily hiking sock. Then I switched from merely another dry pair for sleeping to PossumDown such as those sold by http://www.chocolatefishmerino.co.uk/ or http://www.shopnewzealand.co.nz/ . I find the PossumDown to be a quite impressive sock overall and the material works well for lightweight beanies and gloves too. It wicks well, retains excellent warmth, doesn’t hold stink like cotton, and it is extremely lightweight considering my intent is merely to use it for sleeping.

Last winter when trying out a hammock and not having the ideal gear for the job, I felt like I wanted something a little more substantial for my feet because my quilt wasn’t sewn with a footbox and I was losing a lot of heat through the bottom of the hammock. I also acknowledged some moisture was coming through the hammock which I wanted to avoid.

My solution was the Integral Designs Hot Sock (http://www.integraldesigns.com/product_detail.cfm?id=681) which at between 4.2-4.9oz (small to x-large) was on par with most standard socks like those sold by REI, SmartWool, DarnTough, etc. The difference was that these hotsocks were insulated with Primaloft offering ½” of loft. The outside of the sock was made of Pertex microfiber which allowed it to repel moisture while ensuring it was highly breathable. The bottom of the sock was reinforced with abrasion resistant 500 denier Cordura which is helpful for late night bathroom runs when putting on a shoes is a hassle.

Basically, they are a very warm, functional, and sensible option for cooler temperatures and run around $45.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Some Time on the Appalachian Trail

Over the Labor Day weekend I was finally able to get out for a brief backpacking trip after rehabbing two bad knees since April and following foot surgery just two weeks ago. It is amazing how quickly the body FORGETS simple things like walking with a pack. This is my polite way of saying that making decent mileage wasn't my friend and I found it to be actually quite difficult to find my trail legs. I'm hoping they'll return soon as it is quite discouraging to be unable to do something I enjoy to the extent I feel I should be able to.

I'm fortunate because I live less than 30 minutes from the Appalachian Trail trailhead in Shenandoah National Park and the AT really never gets old to me as there is always something to see. I often get lots of questions from people who have never seen the AT. Although the attached videos are nothing to write home about, I wanted to show a couple things. First, wildlife is in abundance whether it is the deer (pictured) or an endless number of hawks, owls, butterflies, and all kinds of insects. Basically, the forest is definitely alive and there is never a quiet moment. The first video is of two bucks which were literally standing on the trail about 20 yards in front of me as I rounded a corner. They slowly migrated off to the underbrush as I fumbled to find my camera which meant they were mostly out of sight for a decent photo or video. About 30 yards from them I saw a black bear flipping over rocks looking for grubs, but the video isn't worthwhile to post due to the vegetation. The second video is merely a flat part of the trail that I decided to post principally because I constantly hear debates between tent/tarp supporters and hammock supporters about which system is better, especially for the part of the AT that goes through heavily wooded states like Virginia. The trail I walked today, with exception to the two huts I passed, was completely unsuitable for anything other than a hammock. Although the wildflowers throughout the park made the scenery nice, I started to think long and hard if I was ever going to find a place to stop that didn't require that I hang between two trees.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lightweight Meal Replacement Option

One aspect of my backpacking experience that I’d like to change is the food I carry both in quantity, weight, quality, and effectiveness. Much like many backpackers, I have a tendency to dehydrate what I can and carry lightweight food options. Unfortunately, these meals are often too bulky, a pain to cook, or otherwise lose their appeal.

Other than not eating, dehydrating, taking less food, or bringing less cooking components, there are two simple ways a lightweight backpacker can lower their pack weight when it comes to meals. The first is to skip bringing meals that require cooking. After all, ounces and even pounds can be saved by leaving a stove and fuel behind. Personally, I like a hot meal at least once a day, so I'm not ready to leave my stove at home all too often. When I do, it is often in favor of a fire to cook food anyway. The second method to lighten packweight is to skip a formal lunch and instead eat calorie dense (high energy) snacks throughout the day which is more common as snacks such as nuts can provide more punch than a more formal meal.

One vendor that specializes in replacing meals at minimum weight is Meal Pack (http://www.mealpack.com/). Meal Pack offers a variety of bar-like food items which weigh in at +/- 3 oz. Unlike other snack bars, these bars serve as a nutrition replacement for an entire meal and in the neighborhood of 450+ calories per bar. That’s roughly 150 calories per ounce…which isn’t too bad considering it is more or less an entire meal packed with vitamins and amino acids for about $1.29 per bar. Just think - a packable “meal” around 3 oz for 450 calories at a mere $1.29. Not too shabby. It also cuts down on bulk and the nuisance of trying to grab little things like M&Ms or peanuts. I eat mine over a period of time and not all at once as I really don't want all that energy all at once. I think the only down side is variety in taste as often it is nice to eat many different things for the same snacking period to keep your tastebuds happy.

I first heard of Meal Pack while reading the gear list for Triple-Crown lightweight backpacking adventurer and author Francis Tapon (http://www.francistapon.com/). Well, if it is good enough for him, I figure it is probably good enough for others out there who have a need for dense calories in a tasty lightweight package.