Friday, September 16, 2011

Undesired Sabbatical

This is going to be my last blog entry for a couple months. I recently tore the meniscus in my knee and had surgery. With stitches still in, I’m waiting to see if I can walk normal again. If that weren’t unlucky enough, I followed up my surgery by seriously breaking a bone in my hand just 5 days later which X-rays showed was weakened because of a tumor in the bone. I need to have invasive surgery to remove the tumor which will include the cutting of a tendon to get to it, a bone graft, and 6-8 weeks in a full hand cast. As a result, I simply cannot type without the hunt-and-peck method which I’ve decided is entirely too cumbersome. This little entry alone is extremely time-consuming and mentally draining. With that, I wanted to quickly offer the next three things I was going to discuss in short format with little context. These are each nearly unknown gems in the lightweight backpacking industry.

What? - Cuben Fiber Vest

Where? Not advertised. Custom made by Ben at Goose Feet (

Weight? Mine is 6 oz, but yours could be under 4 oz. It varies because you can customize your material, size, amount of insulation, and frills (collar, pockets, full or half zip, etc.). Cuben saves you about an ounce.

Cost? $120-$220, varies because you can pick different material, size, and amount of insulation, and frills (collar, pockets, full or half zip, etc.). Mine is cuben, 4 oz of 900 down insulation, collar, full zip, adjustable waist, and adjustable arm holes.

Pros? Warm, warm, warm. Material is waterproof – think back sweat protection, rain protection, and double-duty as a vapor barrier. Packs small and is extremely lightweight. Vests are extremely versatile and work well with layering.

Cons? A bit noisy, a bit dorky looking, expensive. Imperfect manufacturing impacting aesthetics, not function.

Comment?  Best piece of apparel for backpacking I own, hands down.

What? Width and Height Tapering and Insulated Sleeping Pad

Where? The Taperlite is advertised, the insulation is not nor is the fact that size can be customized. Custom made by Bender at Kookabay (

Weight? 5.5 oz, Varies because you can customize your size in all directions and the type of insulation

Cost? $70, Varies because you can customize your size in all directions and the type of insulation

Pros? Light for an inflatable, insulated for warmth, custom size makes all the difference.  Mine is wider than anything on the market.

Cons? Heavier than foam and prone to puncture.  Costly.

Comment? Best choice I made for a better night of sleep. Custom size makes it perfect. Keep in mind, it even tapers in height, so legs have no drop-off from the transition from the pad to the ground or other insulation. Get the size and insulation you want and sleep soundly!

UPDATE (23 Feb 2012):
Regrettably, I can no longer recommend or support Kookabay.  In late 2011 and well into 2012, numerous customers came forward to say Kookabay (Ben Neubrander) had defrauded them.  Concerns included taking money for products never provided and providing products with bad valves which were returned for repair and were never repaired (or returned) or refunded.  I was one of those customers.  I attempted to contact Ben numerous times of the last 5 months and he simply did not respond.  Others experienced the same.  He eventually shut down his website and his PayPal account.  It was reported that he had gotten burned out, and just simply walked away without fulfilling his obligations.  Ben had a great product and was plenty fine to deal with when he chose to manage his company responsibly.  It's a shame he experienced some kind of personal hardship, but he did not handle it well.  Simple correspondence with his customers and extended timelines would have likely made everyone happy.  Instead, he just chose to cut and run.  I personally wish him the best and hope to see his products return somewhere, someday, somehow.

What? Lightest Canister Stove – Monatauk Gnat

Where? Web search (

Weight? 1.6 oz

Cost? $42-70 depending on where you buy it

Pros? Lightest canister stove on the market, small, durable, adjustable flame, well made, efficient enough.

Cons? May not perform great at high altitude and may not be as efficient as others with regulators.  It also does poorly in windy conditions and you may be forced to use some kind of windscreen which is highly discouraged for most canister stoves.

Comment? Best choice I made for a canister stove as it saved me a tremendous amount of weight from other canisters I own…although I’m still more likely to use Esbit or an alcohol stove.

Best of luck to everyone during what is no doubt my favorite hiking season which I will miss. Thanks for sticking with me thus far and hope to see you in the near future. Please use the resources on the right which will continue to contain updates on other excellent blogs.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Cuben Shelter

I hinted at it in an earlier blog about Trail Days 2011 and now I'm happy to report that after 5 months I'm the proud owner of a cuben fiber tent.

Over the last 10 years with a greater focus in the last few, cuben fiber has taken the lightweight backpacking industry by storm. It is essentially a sandwich of mylar (plastic film often used by drafters and others) with Dyneema threads running through it. Dyneema is similar to Kevlar (fibers used in bullet-proof vests) in that both are ultra high molecular-weight polyethylene which have extremely long chains at the molecular level. The longer the chain, the better the load transfer within the fabric. The result is an extremely tough and lightweight material. It is waterproof, low-stretch, and comes in a variety of colors. The one downside - it is extremely costly.

I had been on the lookout for a full cuben fiber shelter to supplement my two other favorite shelters: Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn Tarp (for non-buggy seasons) and the Z-Packs Hexamid Twin Shelter (for buggy seasons). Both are under 10 ounces and are amazingly spacious. I wanted something a little more robust, something that would be more versatile in bad weather, and something I could likely use year round (including minimal snow situations).

Comparing the few cuben shelters on the market was fairly easy as there weren't many. Options included tarp-like shelters with clip in net inserts and some kind of vestibule which I thought was too finicky and I didn't like crawling on my belly to get in and out. Terra Nova had an interesting option in the Laser Ultra 1, but it was a little too small for my big body and it just wasn't worth being uncomfortable for the money. Six Moon Designs came out with a cuben shelter called the Skyscape X which I mentioned in my Trail Days 2011 blog entry. I personally was not thrilled with the robustness of the roof support, lack of defined bathtub floor, or the fact that the ceiling seemed to dip on my shoes and face despite it being fairly long. As I understand it, there have also been delays with delivery and additional tweaks to the design, specifically reinforcing the seams.

So what did I end up with? Well for me the choice was fairly straightforward as the it was the only option that met all or most of my criteria - the Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 ( As far as I know, I'm the first owner of the cuben version of this tent.

I wasn't in a huge rush for my tent, so Judy (owner of Lightheart Gear) and I had numerous discussions over the last several months to hammer out details I wanted to change. In fact, customizing the tent exactly as I wanted it was likely one of the most critical factors in who built me a cuben tent. Judy was willing to do just about anything within her skill-set and resources which was tremendously helpful. As a result, custom ridge vents were added. Micro-adjusters were added to the carbon pole corner struts (similar to Tarp Tent). The struts themselves were installed in a more robust manner and different weights of cuben were used. Toggle hardware which holds doors and windows open was improved and made smaller and lighter. The non-entrance side of the tent was given a second zipper to open the whole other side for views and ventilation if needed. Loops were attached to the top of the peak and the interior pole support was velcroed in place to enable me to hang the tent from a tree and retain structure shape if I break a trekking pole or decide not to bring them. I wanted the floor to be white so I could more easily spot things without an abundance of light. I wanted the canopy to be green or some kind of stealth color so I could blend in despite the fact that I like bright colors to help lighten the mood (more and more studies are claiming that bears are attracted to bright colors...consider this fact in your apparel choices). It was also important to me that the seams be taped and I liked the flexibility of using different weights for the canopy and floor.  I've learned to roll the tent in such a way that it is a little bigger than the bag for my SpinnTwinn tarp and smaller than my Six Moon Designs Lunar Duo.

On my scales without a stuff sack or stakes, the tent weighed 21 oz. This is slightly heavier than some of the other cuben shelters I mentioned herein, but this is far bigger, with many more functional frills, and it is sturdy and stable enough for me to feel plenty confident that it will weather a good storm. Most of the weight comes from the cuben floor which wraps up around the corners to form an 8" (!!!) bathtub floor. I have never seen any similar tent offering such great protection from ground water. The exterior canopy hangs over the floor with a significant gap, so ventilation is vastly improved from other designs as air has no choice but to circulate. Consequently, it also came in green...which is exactly what I wanted and especially important if your trail name happens to be Jolly GREEN Giant. A full coverage tent enables me to leave certain things at home, whether it is a bivy or netting, etc. In short, it allows me to leave some gear behind and come out very close to the same weights I'd get if I used a tarp (within 3-5 ounces depending).  This tent is extremely roomy which can't be understated.  I'm 6'5" and I can sit up or lay down and not come close to touching the canopy or sides.  I can easily change my clothes and do just about anything I want which in the past I've reserved for bigger shelters.  It is, by far, the most roomy single-person fully enclosed shelter I've ever been in and pictures don't do the interior space justice.  The space of this tent is a luxury, not something that needs to be squeezed in to conform to some lightweight mantra.

In the end, I got exactly what I wanted - a lightweight shelter with plenty of space and very stable. The more I play with it, the more I like it and the more I appreciate the quality and function. It has quickly become my favorite tent. Now don't get me wrong, it was extremely expensive, more expensive than any shelter I've ever purchased. Fortunately selling off several unused pieces of gear made this purchase possible.

If you're in the market, and especially if you're a bigger than the average person or just want a 1+ shelter option, definitely give the Lightheart Gear SoLong 6 a look. In silnylon, this shelter is an affordable 26 ounces at $275.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


In recent weeks, acknowledged readership of my blog has surpassed 200. Since inception, pages have been viewed over 116,000 times to include 9,400 views just last month alone.

This blog simply would not exist without you, plain and simple, and I'd like to thank each of my readers for both stopping by and for sharing their own insights. I have learned as much as I have put in and hope you have walked away with something too.

Once again I'd like to draw your attention to the right side of my blog ------> where you'll find numerous cottage manufacturers and blogs, all of which are on my radar. Give them each a look and I'm guessing you'll find some enLIGHTenment.

Once again, THANKS to everyone!

Teaser for Next Week: First look at my new cuben tent - one which I don't believe anyone else owns - yet.