Wednesday, October 24, 2012

LiteTrail - and Lightening Your Load

Although I’m already a lightweight backpacker with a year-round baseweight of 9-12 pounds on average, I continue to neurotically look at my gear to see if I can find a lighter alternative, find multi-purpose items, or otherwise just leave something behind if it isn’t entirely necessary.  My goal is to have gear that is highly functional and efficient which allows me to go further more comfortably without compromising safety or security.


Lightweight backpacking is still a niche.  Several cottage manufacturers continue to pop up and major manufacturers have made an effort to use lighter and high performing materials, but it’s still a small offering and finding accessories is challenging. is a fairly new online company started by Jhaura Wachsman.  He’s active on lightweight backpacking websites like BackpackingLight.  What impresses me about LiteTrail are principally two things.  First, LiteTrail stocks only high quality and high performance lightweight gear.  There is no confusion what market they are after – lightweight and ultralight backpackers.  Secondly, I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone better at customer care than Jhaura.  If you’re looking for someone who is thoughtful, knowledgeable, responsive, polite, professional and fair – Jhaura is a good guy to know.  I can honestly say it was only after visiting his site that I found myself focusing on gear which I thought didn’t need to be reconsidered.  Jhaura also helped me understand techniques he used to lighten my load which I hadn’t considered before and now my pack is lighter as a consequence.  Below are some examples:


LiteTrail’s 2.7oz  550 ml complete esbit cook system ($79) revolutionized my cook kit.  For the last several years, I have sworn by the Trail Designs Ti-Tri system and continue to believe it is an excellent and lightweight option.   When I first heard about it, my knee-jerk reaction was that I have no use for a 550 ml system.  My cook pots are generally 900 ml and I can get by with 700 ml as long as I don’t have a lot of water needs.  In my mind, 550 ml was just too small considering my intent was to boil approximately 3-4 cups to pour off 1.5-2 cups in a boil-in-a-bag food option and to drink the rest as a warm beverage.  550 ml simply wasn’t enough to accomplish this goal…or so I thought.


It was only after talking with Jhaura that he helped me understand a new technique.  He boils a full pot (16-18oz), which only requires some of the esbit tab, and pours it off into his boil-in-a-bag.  He then immediately puts the pot back on the stove, fills it with however much more water he needs, and allows the remainder of the esbit the heat the water as much as it can.  With this technique, he has the boiling water he needs for his main entrée and then has an extra cup or more of boiled or nearly boiled water which he can drink or drink some and pour some off in something else (i.e. instant potatoes).  The second cup of water doesn’t need to be boiling as I’m either drinking it or pouring it off into something where warm water will suffice which means I’m not overly concerned about boiling a full 3-4 cups and the related consumption of fuel.  All this on one esbit, in a much smaller cooking kit, and affords a cup to drink from that is actually “cup-size” instead of “pot-size”.  GENIUS!


LiteTrail offers a product called GLine (50 feet, $12.95) which is a super thin and super strong dyneema and might even be the lightest and strongest line on the market available in the marketplace.  Cordage is heavy and can add unexpected weight.  GLine is not and it’s very stiff which means it doesn’t knot up on itself easily but holds intended knots very well.  I’ve been using it on my tarps and other guylines for several months now.  It comes in bright orange or gray.  Oddly enough, I now carry extra GLine in my kit even though extra cordage was something I previously removed to save weight as I figured in a pinch I’d just use the cordage I have on my bear bag.  With GLine, it is so light and tiny, it is literally inconsequential in my pack and now allows me to have a clothing line amongst other possible uses.


LiteTrail offers a product called NyloBarrier ($4.80 for three) which is a much lighter odor proof alternative to heavier products like OPSAK.  OPSAKs are little more than a heavy duty zip lock bag, and if I’m being honest, they have failed on me more times than I can count after minimal use as the area around the zip lock tears away easily.  Truth be told, carrying an OPSAK has always been an irritant to me but I felt it was a necessary evil.  The NyloBarrier changed this as it offers the same protection from smells attracting animals, but it is much lighter.  It seals with two twist ties at the top, so arguably it isn’t waterproof, but my bear bag includes a cuben sack and between the sack and the snug NyloBarrier, I have absolutely no problems.


Legendary illustrator and NOLS instructor Mike Clelland was the first person I’m aware of to introduce the concept of premixing Aqua Mira in a smaller container for use during the day to save time mixing and waiting while over a water source.  Finding a tiny mixing bottle has been challenging though.  LiteTrail offer a .10 oz 3ml option just for this purpose.


Travel-sized items are often hard to find and clumsy repackaging can be problematic.  For something as valuable as seam sealer, it is nice the LiteTrail offers a travel size.  Other items like matches, tiny bags, ear plugs, etc. are also all sold.


LiteTrail also has a nice Gear Guide section with responsible suggestions which I found helpful.


If you’re tinkering with your kit or need lightweight gear, check out LiteTrail.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Real Men Wear........Tights?

With colder weather approaching across the globe, I wanted to share a little secret for lightweight leg warmth which I quite honestly haven’t seen discussed before.


When the weather turns cold, many people like myself warm their legs with a variety of clothing options such as SmartWool or Capilene long underwear and for very cold temperatures down or synthetic insulating pants.  The beauty of each option is that you can get different grades of both SmartWool and Capilene and even warmer synthetic or down insulation options.  For the sake of mentioning it, some also wear nylon stockings (which can be found for men), but they are quite breezy, very fragile, and their insulative properties aren’t too impressive…but they are very lightweight.


One very effective option rarely discussed are tights.  I’m referring to the same tights runners use in colder temperatures.  Compared to standard long-johns style underwear like SmartWool and Capilene options, tights are often lighter or comparable in weight, plenty warmer, more durable, and can be worn as an external or internal garment without scaring fashion conscious hikers.  They are an excellent in-between option when SmartWool and Capilene isn’t warm enough, but avoiding full blown insulated pants is desirable.  Tights are also a great wicker of moisture and retain some warmth when damp.


My favorable tights are the Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Tights.  They are made of PolarTec material which means they are fleece-like on the inside and slick on the outside.  They feel puffy in the sense that they feel substantial yet very lightweight.  Seams are also flat which makes them extremely comfortable.  The manufacturer claims these tights can be worn as a base or mid layer if worn one way or inside out.  I haven’t seen anyone wearing them inside out with the tag and steams on display to the world however.  These range from $30 to $70 and there are quite a number of good sales right now as well as warmer or lighter pairs and some that are shorts or ¾ length.


For comparison purposes, below are examples from my own gear closet noting that each are in a size XL which may vary considerably in weight if you are a smaller size:


What you should take away from this is that SmartWool is just plain heavy and ounce for ounce isn’t necessarily a good choice for a lightweight insulator.  Granted, if I’m near a fire or out for several days where stink is an issue, it might be the only choice.  Consequently the MH Power Stretch Tights are lighter too, only an ounce heavier than the Capilene 3 and yet considerably warmer.  The tights lack the bulk of the BPL Cocoon Insulated Pants and are almost half the weight.  Again, tights excel in wicking and warmth when damp.


Bottom line, for a decent price and a lot of insulation for the weight, give tights a shot.