Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Big Boy Replacement for the R1 Hoody.

The R1 Hoody.  Ever heard of it?  It is a product made by Patagonia which is often the go-to baselayer for late 3 season and 4 season activities.  It became particularly identifiable when Richard Nisley mentioned it during a nice instruction he offered on the BackpackingLight forums where he addressed ideal clothing layering systems for backpackers.

My experience with Nisley’s research and findings has been very agreeable.  His insight into how wind and head gear affect thermal comfort, especially when coupled with a windshirt, really offers great insight on lightweight and effective clothing systems.  Fear of being cold is an emotion many people who enjoy the outdoors have experienced at one time or another and understanding that the answer does not always require you to be dressed up like an Eskimo is enlightening.

The problem with the R1 Hoody is two fold.  First, it is $149.  YIKES!  And second, especially when you spent a little too much time in the microwave like I did before I was born, the R1 Hoody is no longer made in sizes beyond XL.  Talking with Patagonia, they indicated even their fall 2012 line will not have an XXL despite offering it in their initial runs.

As a result, I needed to find an alternative to the R1.  So who did I ask for guidance after my own research fell flat?  Well, Richard Nisley of course.

Nisley offered two suggestions.  The first was the E.C.W.C.S Hoodie from Cabelas and the second was the MEC T3 Stretch Hoody.  

Needing something to cover my 6’5” frame (a “tall” version), I elected to go with the Cabelas offering.  The E.C.W.C.S Hoodie, or “Extended Cold Weather Clothing System”, was originally developed for the U.S. Military and U.S. Special Operation Forces.  I have no idea which product came first (Patagonia or Cabelas), but the Polartec Power Dry fabric and design look the same to me.  To anyone lacking affluence, a great perk was that this item was $79 in an XXL tall (it is $69 on sale now) which is a whopping $70 less expensive than the Patagonia (or if you need to explain it to your spouse, “half price”).  It is also made in regular sizes and non-tall versions.  No matter how you shake it, it is simply a far better deal.  If you need to see "Patagonia" on your chest to feel good about yourself, I suggest getting a marker and being as neat as possible.

So what’s the big deal?  Well, this is a very unique garment.  It is constructed to be a next-to-skin baselayer offering superior wicking action.  When you look at it closely, it looks like a little checkerboard with high spots and low spots.  When holding it up to a light, certain areas allow more light through than others.  The beauty of this design is that it will keep you warm and allow for great moisture management because there is still circulation which is really the only chance you'll have to dry your garment.  Because it comes with a hood, it can be used to greatly increase your comfort level when you stop or when you get cold.  Being able to regulate your thermal comfort without digging through your pack for a hat or something to supplement the system is wonderful.  Add a windshirt and there is no reason why this combination shouldn’t keep a moving hiker plenty comfortable in nearly any cold/colder conditions.  It is my go-to cold/colder weather garment of choice.  All this, and it feels more like a fleece or sweatshirt than the standard scratchy synthetic feel so common with capilene.

If you’ve ever struggled with staying warm or keeping your clothing dry in colder temperatures, this is truly a great innovation.  It may also enable you to forgo “sleeping clothing” as you may arrive at camp entirely dry and comfortable.  For bigger guys, it is nice to finally have an option that everyone else already had.

While you're shopping at Cabelas, pick up a nice Polar Weight Fleece hat.  It's a great weight for winter and Cabelas currently has a sale on a hat/glove combination for $10, or $15 off from the normal $25 price.  Well worth it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Cuben Vest + Sleeves

The cuben fiber vest I described in an earlier blog entry ( drew a lot of private conversations.  Oddly enough, most people were fairly accepting of a non-breathable, noisy and costly fabric that looked fairly dorky by most standards.

For the most part, people wondered how I used the vest in cooler temperatures with the primary question being whether I used another jacket to supplement the fact that a vest has no sleeves. 
Well, when I originally envisioned this vest, I planned on making it myself and part of the plan included detachable sleeves and a hood.  After injury and an assessment of my sewing skills (which were lacking), Ben from GooseFeet ( was kind enough to take on the project.  I’ve enjoyed working with Ben on a couple projects and each time he impresses me with his customer service, willingness to push the envelope, and quality of his products.  Of no surprise, in addition to making the vest, he also made a pair of detachable sleeves.  They were constructed in a manner similar to those sold by Jacks ‘R Better, which a previous evaluation proved they were too small in length and width and also weren't offered in cuben. 

The sleeves are stuck together with a piece of elastic strapping.  One strap crosses my back and the other crosses my chest with the tension of my arms in the sleeves pulling everything together and air-gaping the vest.  The cuffs have a small piece of shockcord to help ventilate the sleeves as desired.  It works wonderfully and the vest and sleeves look seamless together.  So in a nutshell, when I get cold, I simply put on the sleeves.  The sleeves are also a nice option as leg warmers or to wear with convertible quilts that have a head hole.  Think multi-use gear folks.
Cost of the sleeves, $100.  Weight, 3 oz.  Construction is 2 oz of 900 fill-down with cuben fiber fabric.  In short, sleeves plus vest are a 10 oz super-heater that easily beats anything on the market for a 3+ season jacket and could go easily into winter season with attention to a decent baselayer and layering with a windshirt and rain jacket.  I've used it in the teens and 20's and can say easily that it is the warmest jacket I own, even more than the New Balance Fugu.  This is likely due to the fact that it acts as a vapor barrier. My armpits need ventilation when I'm wearing the sleeves and the vest even when I'm not moving, so I simply pull out the sleeves a bit.  Other jackets are more comfortable to wear because of the breatheability issue, but this is a multi-use gear that does exactly what I wanted it to do.

And for those wondering about the hood, well, I saved some money by using a down balaclava hood from Nunatak USA which I had previously made to fit my New Balance Fugu jacket.  It adds 3 oz to the mix….or a total 12-13 oz winter jacket option in size XXL and tall.  Imagine that!  The balaclava is extremely warm though and often I opt for a lesser fleece balaclava, beanie, or hat.  For you average sized folks, I’m guessing you could do this set-up for 9 oz or less.  Yes, it isn’t cheap, but it sure it nice, warm – and light!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

(Tap Tap) Hello. Is This Thing On.....?

Well, I’m back.  After knee and hand surgery, crutches and a cast, I finally have my appendages back.  They aren’t 100%, but functional, and I’m working on trying to regain the mobility and dexterity I had previously.  Hopefully these problems will be a distant memory in the near future although I know surgeries of this scope have a way of being remembered.

Although I wasn’t blogging during my sabbatical, I was testing gear, reading a lot of backpacking articles and blogs, enjoyed several YouTube videos, limped my way through a few day hikes, enjoyed several overnights with my family, and otherwise had time to better engross myself in the backpacking industry. 

With that said, I’ve got several items of tested gear and other comments which will be posting weekly for the next several weeks starting next week.  THANKS (!!!) to everyone for sticking around.

Below are some videos I came across during my sabbatical that I thought were worth watching for your entertainment.

Most lightweight backpackers have heard of Mike Clelland(!) through his books, amazing illustrations, or knowledge as a NOLS instructor.  Well, he’s started putting practical tips on YouTube which really help bring home his techniques in a unique way.  He has several available, but you can start with learning about layering your clothing system which I think is one of his better videos..  His “dinky stuff” and “water treatment” videos are also well done.

I’m not quite sure how I came across the Intense Angler, although he appears to be quite popular on YouTube.  Nonetheless, I’ve enjoyed his grassroots and humble comments about lightweight backpacking and do-it-yourself gear even with his long-winded nature.  Like many of us, I like the fact that he’s a guy just trying to learn what works and do his best without a ton of advertised degrees to his name to gain him some kind of notoriety.

Hendrik with Hiking In Finland ( posted a great video entitled “Almost There – The John Muir Project” which I enjoyed watching during my downtime.  It was very well done and truth be told I wish it were longer.  I was actually hoping it was part of a longer DVD series.

Erik the Black’s Backpacking Blog ( has a great article on the Top 10 foods he brings backpacking which pack a caloric punch and are lightweight.

Until next week, happy backpacking,