Welcome!

Welcome! Ultralight backpacking is my passion, and keeping up on new technologies, gear, and techniques relevant to UL backpacking is what floats my boat. I'm always looking for the lightest, most functional gear to improve a lightweight or ultralight backpacking kit, and report my impressions and field testing results here. For hikers wanting to keep up on the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking gear, this is a good place to hang out. Also, there is a lot of information here (and on our informational website Southwest Ultralight Backpacking) on useful techniques and backcountry etiquette -- food for thought for hikers wanting to lighten their load and their impacts.

My goal for Ultralight Insights is to understand, test, and report on new technologies and gear of interest to lightweight and ultralight backpackers. It's a passion after all, so we just plain enjoy talking about it. I hope readers will add their own wisdom and comments, respond to my questions, ask their own questions, and correct me if I get something wrong. Happy hiking! Will

Monday, January 28, 2019

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear Lonestar 30 Day Pack

By Will Rietveld

The new Lonestar 30 by Gossamer Gear is a multi-purpose day pack for trail, rock, or snow. Its 30-liter volume and internal frame make it especially useful for cool and cold weather activities, snow sports, or climbing, where extra volume and support are needed to carry essentials. It’s also a good choice if you are the family Sherpa. At 29.5 ounces, it’s not ultralight, but that doesn’t matter so much for day trips; what’s more important are fit, carry comfort, and utility. So, how does the Lonestar 30 stack up in that perspective? (Hint:  it’s my new favorite day pack, and I explain why in this review.)

The Gossamer Gear Lonestar 30 Day Pack is an internal frame top loader with loads of features. 

 Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Gossamer Gear (www.gossamergear.com)
Model
Lonestar 30 Day Pack
Volume
30 liters
Weight
Measured weight 29.3 oz; manufacturer specification 29.5 oz
Materials
Pack body is 100-denier Robic ripstop nylon, bottom and reinforcements are 200-denier Robic nylon; side pockets, hipbelt pockets, and shoulder strap sleeves are nylon mesh
Features
Removable internal contoured aluminum tubular frame, removable hipbelt with 2 zippered pockets, attached fitted top lid with full-width zipper and key clip inside, 3-inch wide shoulder straps with mesh sleeves, hydration sleeve behind backpanel + 2 hose loops, 2 mesh side pockets, internal zippered security pocket, drawcord closure, 2 tool loops and 2 daisy chains on pack front, 2 extended straps with buckles on daisy chains, zig-zag side compression, additional tiedown loops on top lid and bottom of pack
MSRP
$175

Description

The following photo gallery shows the pack’s design and features.

Front View – The Lonestar has a fitted top cap secured with one buckle. There are two daisy chains on the front, each with a tool loop at the top and an attachment strap at the bottom.

Side View – Each side has a zig-zag compression strap that can be released and connected to the opposite side to attach gear to the front of the pack.

Backpanel – The shoulder straps are 3 inches wide and nicely padded, and the backpanel has good padding for the shoulders and lumbar region.

Top View – The top pocket has a full-width zipper on the shoulder strap side and four attachment points on top.

Frame – The tubular aluminum frame is contoured to fit the user's back, and weighs just 3.5 ounces.

Side Pockets – are made of stretch nylon mesh and large enough to fit a 1-liter water bottle.

Hipbelt Pockets – are large enough to carry a cell phone, camera, or numerous smaller items. 


Security Pocket – The internal security pocket is the full width of the pack and zippered for easy access.

 
Hydration Sleeve – A full-height compartment behind the backpanel is the hydration sleeve. It will easily hold a 3-litter reservoir. The closure is a toggle and loop.

Testing

I tested the Lonestar 30 for a three-month period (November-January) doing cold weather and snow-related activities – day hiking, snow hiking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and backcountry skiing, for a total of 15 trips. I normally carried 6 to 10 pounds but on a few occasions I loaded the pack to 15 pounds to test its comfort (photo by John Martin).

Features – Full-featured may be an understatement, considering the list in the table. Features mean weight, that list of features adds up to a pack weight of 29.3 ounces (measured weight), so the Lonestar 30 is not ultralight. However, pack weight doesn’t matter so much on a day pack, and features are more appreciated. Actually, carrying a bit of weight on day trips is good training for backpacking.

My favorite features on the Lonestar, besides the internal frame, are the shoulder strap mesh sleeves, hydration sleeve behind the backpanel (which provides more room in the main compartment), and the internal security pocket.

Fit – The Lonestar comes in one size which is claimed to fit torsos from 16 to 24 inches (generally, persons from 5’-4” to 6’-4”) and waists 28 to 48 inches. The measured pack torso length is 18.5 inches (underside of shoulder strap to center of the hipbelt attachment), which translates to a size Medium. That said, the pack fits me (6-feet, 20-inch torso) quite well, with the top of the shoulder straps about 1-inch below my shoulders. Taller hikers will have more wrap-around the shoulders, and shorter hikers will have a gap above the shoulders.

I personally like a framed day pack because it simply fits better and carries better. The pack is more rigid and keeps its shape when worn. What is especially nice about the Lonestar is Gossamer Gear’s contoured tubular frame is very lightweight (3.5 ounces) fits the shape of your back, and is easily adjusted for a custom fit. A frameless day pack may have a curve in the backpanel when you use the hipbelt (if the pack has one), and will hang straight if you do not use the hipbelt.

That said, the Lonestar fit me very well and carried very well with different loads. For cool and cold weather trips, the 30-liter volume is about right. However (for me) it has too much volume for most warm weather trips; about 20 liters is better, and my pack of choice is the Gossamer Gear Type 2.

Weight Carrying Capacity – The Lonestar’s internal frame ups the load limits and carrying comfort quite a bit. The frame is a version of the contoured aluminum frame Gossamer Gear uses in their backpacks. They suggest a maximum load of 25 pounds and comfortable load of 20 pounds for the Lonestar 30. Loads that heavy might happen if you use the pack for climbing, or a full load of gear for backcountry skiing, or attach snowshoes to the front of the pack. Note that the pack does not have ski loops for carrying skis.

Versatility – The Lonestar 30 is designed to be versatile, and I found that to be the case. I carried the Lonestar for a variety of activities, all in cold weather where more clothing and extra equipment (like a shovel, avalanche probe, insulated bottle, ski skins, ski waxes, etc) are carried. The Lonestar carried it easily and I hardly noticed the weight or volume.

Backcountry skiing along a (mostly) frozen stream. The day started with single digit F temperatures and warmed to above freezing. That requires a lot of clothing adjustments, and a larger pack to carry clothing and gear (photo by Travis Ward).

Assessment

Gossamer Gear hits the mark on several fronts. The Lonestar 30 is full-featured, versatile, and durable. For a larger volume day pack, the Lonestar 30 combines on-target design and dimensions, a long list of useful features, and a form-fitting frame. It all comes together perfectly. This is now my go-to pack for cold weather activities, especially snow sports.

Although the pack carries wonderfully, I would not use it for backpacking because of its weight. All those features are nice to have for a day pack, but add too much weight for a backpack.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

GEAR REVIEW: Patagonia Capilene Air Baselayers


By Will Rietveld

The new Patagonia Capilene Air baselayers (top and bottom) are their warmest. They remind me of the old fishnet underwear that was warm and breathable by trapping a lot of air between it and an overlayer. But the comparison ends there. The Capilene Air baselayers are more high-tech than was ever imagined at the time of the fishnet underwear. They are made of an air blasted 51% Merino wool and 49% recycled polyester yarn, and utilize a new knitting technology that creates a 3-dimensional garment that is nearly seamless. They are noticeably lightweight compared to other garments providing the same warmth. And I found them to be very versatile. Read on for the details.

The Patagonia Capilene Air baselayers Top and Bottom are knitted from a yarn consisting of 51% Merino wool and 49% recycled polyester and have very few seams.

 Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Patagonia (www.patagonia.com)
Model
Capilene Air Crew Top and Bottom (a hooded Top is available)
Weight
Measured weight size men’s Large: Top 7.3 oz, Bottom 6.9 oz; manufacturer specification (size Medium): Top 5.2 oz, Bottom 5.9 oz
Fabric
5.6-oz (190-g) 51% merino wool/49% recycled polyester seamless box-stitch knit comprised of 18.5-micron-gauge lofted wool
Features
3D fabric is soft against the skin, very stretchy, and brushed + nearly seamless to eliminate chafing
MSRP
$129 each

Description

The thing that impresses me most about the Capilene Air baselayers is how S-T-R-E-A-T-C-H-Y they are. Their 3D knit allows them to stretch way out to be worn over something else, and then contract right back to a trim-fitting baselayer. They don’t stretch out and remain baggy.

 
Close-up of the Capilene Air knitted fabric.

I followed Patagonia’s size charts and found that I would take a size Large in both garments, so that’s what I tested. I’m 6 feet tall and 165 pounds. When the baselayers arrived, both fit loose and seemed to be one size too large. It turned out that this was fortuitous, which I will explain shortly.

The size you choose depends somewhat on how you intend to use them. If you want to use them only as a baselayer – with a body-hugging fit – go one size smaller than the Patagonia size chart. If you want them to be versatile – so they can be worn as a baselayer, midlayer, or outerlayer – go with the Patagonia size chart. It will fit a little loose, but acceptable, as a baselayer.

Testing

 
I tested the Patagonia Capilene Air baselayers on a total of 46 outings including car camping, backpacking, day hiking, snow walking, cross-country skiing, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, snow shoveling, igloo building, and volunteering on a Christmas Tree lot. This photo shows the Capilene Air Top worn as a midlayer, and the Bottom worn as an outerlayer in camp.

I tested both the Top and Bottom as a baselayer, midlayer, and outer layer. That’s the versatility I mentioned earlier – opting for a looser-fitting size allowed me to wear the baselayers any way I desired.

For example, I frequently donned the Top over my hiking shirt, like a fleece pullover, when I need a little more warmth. In camp, for more warmth, I wore the Top as a midlayer over my hiking shirt and then donned an ultralight down jacket and a windshirt or UL rain jacket over the underlayers to seal in the heat.

The Capilene Air Top worn as an outerlayer on the trail in early morning cold temps.


The bottom is a little less versatile because I rarely hiked in it. I mainly wore it as a baselayer or midlayer in camp. Again, it was very convenient to simply put it on over my hiking pants or shorts. It would be very warm for more sedentary situations, like ice fishing, car camping, or cabin wear.

I found it best to simply think of the Capilene Air garments as layering garments, and use them accordingly to regulate temperature. I did not wear them as baselayers on the trail, unless the Top was the only layer I wore, or I wore it under a windshirt in cool temperatures. When the Top is covered by one or more midlayers it is too cumbersome to take it off when I get overheated. Temperatures needed to be in the single digits F, or lower, to comfortably wear them as baselayers while hiking, snowshoeing, or skiing.

For hiking or cross-country skiing on cool winter days in the 20s F, the Top as a single layer under a windshirt is sufficient. When temperatures are in the teens F, the Top as a baselayer or midlayer under a windshirt is sufficient. For snowshoeing and skiing, especially if its windy, I add a hardshell to stay dry if I crash (snow sticks to the fabric like it does to fleece).

 
The Capilene Air Top worn as a baselayer under a heavier weight merino wool shirt while snowshoeing. The combination was comfortable in early morning colder temperatures and on the descent, but I overheated on a 1000-foot steady climb.

I also found the Capilene Air to be very breathable, but again it’s important to wear it as part of a layering system and use it accordingly. For example, wearing the top alone hiking when the temperature is in the 30s F can be very comfortable, even with a light breeze, but it gets chilly if the wind picks up, so time to don a windshirt and it’s comfortable again using the front zipper to regulate temperature.

Since the Capilene Air layers are knitted, one would suspect that they would snag easily. But I did not find that to be the case. I often wore the top as a single layer for hiking when temperatures are above freezing, and bushwhacked through brush on many occasions without damage. However, I did find two drawbacks: 1) the fabric pills somewhat on the underarms from wearing it as an outerlayer, and 2) debris and lint of all kinds readily stick to the fabric, and also Velcro.

After many wearings, the underside of the sleeves are pilled somewhat.

 Assessment

The Capilene Air baselayers are lighter than a typical wool baselayer and (in my opinion) provide a lot more warmth and versatility. But the Capilene Air (especially the Top) goes beyond a baselayer. It’s best to think of it as part of a layering system where it can function as a baselayer, midlayer, or outerlayer depending on the conditions, activity, and convenience. If it’s worn simply as a baselayer for active pursuits, you are very likely to overheat. For more sedentary situations it provides loads of warmth.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

GEAR REVIEW: Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag and Goose Down Hood

The Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag delivers on all fronts; they have a size to fit most everyone, its lighter weight for its temperature rating compared to other manufacturers’ bags, its highly versatile to use, and it’s a great value.

By Will Rietveld

Over about 18 years as an outdoor writer and gear tester, I have reviewed a lot of sleeping bags, and find that an ultralight sleeping bag is one of the more difficult gear selections. The challenge is to get enough warmth and inside room, while minimizing weight.

I have certainly found out what doesn’t work: many ultralight bags are way overrated, so they are not warm enough; many bags are too darn tight, so there’s no room to wear insulated clothing inside, and warmer versions are too heavy.

I finally found the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag, which has been around for awhile, but it took me awhile to appreciate it. This review is basically a testimonial of my evolutionary experience with ultralight sleeping bags, and how I arrived at, and love, the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag.

The hoodless Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag has the zipper on the bottom side. Its available in 24 different combinations of temperature rating, length, and girth. (Zpacks photo)


Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Zpacks www.zpacks.com
Model
Classic Sleeping Bag
Materials
Shell and lining are 0.59 oz/sq yd Ventum ripstop nylon with DWR, insulation is 900 fill-power white European Goose down, ¾ length YKK #3 double-pull one-way zipper
Temperature/Girth/Length Options
3 temperature options (35F, 20F, 5F) x 3 girth options (slim, standard, broad) x 4 length options (short, medium, long, X-long). The broad girth is available only in long and extra long lengths.
Weight
5F, Standard width, Long length tested. Mfr. specified weight 24.8 oz, measured weight 24.3 oz.
Features
Smaller vertical baffles on upper part of bag prevents  down from shifting to sides, 30% overfill in chambers to allow for down compression over time, horizontal baffles in footbox area, black lining for quicker drying, zipper on the bottomside of the bag, flat clip at top of zipper keeps zipper from opening, elastic cord closure around the neck. No zipper baffle or neck baffle, hoodless.
MSRP
$399
Goose Down Hood
850 fill-power down, same shell fabric, 1.3 ounces (1.55 measured), $65

Description

The Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag is unconventional compared to a traditional mummy bag. It’s a minimalist bag that substitutes versatility and functionality for weighty features.

The bag does not have a hood. A ¾-length zipper is located on the bottom of the bag, so it doesn’t need a zipper baffle. There is no neck baffle inside the bag; rather a thin drawcord draws the top of the bag snug around your neck.

The bag is designed to be used as a quilt on warmer nights (above) or as a sleeping bag (previous photo) on colder nights. (Zpacks photo)


A light hat is needed on warmer nights, and warmer headwear like the Zpacks Goose Down Hood is needed on colder nights.

By the numbers, the Classic Sleeping Bag has a lot of warmth for its weight. It’s 0.59 ounce per square yard Ventum ripstop  nylon shell and lining is the lightest woven fabric I have encountered to date. For the size tested, the shell, zipper, and drawcord account for only 26% of bag weight, the remaining 18.2 ounces (74%) is 900 fill-power down.

While other sleeping bag manufacturers limit the number of temperature and size options, Zpacks does the exact opposite. The Classic Sleeping Bag is available in a total of 24 temperature, girth, and length options. That’s amazing!

To get in/out of the bag, one can turn the zipper to one side to open/close it, then shift the zipper to the bottom; or simply enter the bag from the top. 

The head end of the bag has a thin elastic drawcord to snug it around your neck. A flat clip at the top of the zipper keeps it from opening on its own. (Zpacks photo)


Ventilation options (from warm to cool air temperatures) are: open the bag and use it as a blanket; sleep with the partially open zipper on top, drawcord open; sleep with the zipper closed on top, drawcord open; and sleep with the zipper on the bottom and drawcord drawn up around the neck. Headwear would range from none to the Zpacks Goose Down Hood.

The Zpacks Down Hood (made by Goosefeet) is insulated with 850 fill-power down and uses the same shell fabric as the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag. It's anatomically designed to cover the head and has a dropped tail on the front and rear to tuck into a jacket. A thin drawcord on the front draws it up around the face; it will cover your eyes while sleeping if you want. Weight is 1.3 ounces and MSRP is $65.


Sleeping Bag Conundrums

There are lots of ways to go wrong when choosing an ultralight sleeping bag, and most manufacturers don’t help much in providing more choices or selection assistance.

Typical ultralight sleeping bags from mainstream manufacturers tend to be overrated for warmth (despite the EN standard), they’re available in only a few sizes (typically Regular and Long), are too tight in shoulder girth (often 58-59 inches), and expensive.

Ultralight backpackers tend to choose a lighter bag and wear camp clothing inside to extend its warmth. Then the issue becomes finding a bag with enough shoulder girth to accommodate that. There are few bags available in Regular length that have enough shoulder girth, I prefer 61 inches or more, but many bags are only 58 or 59 inches. I’m fairly thin and I find it very difficult to zip into a bag with 59 inches of shoulder girth. So I often resort to getting a size Long to get the girth I need, but I get unneeded length along with it.

It’s not a bad idea to opt for a warmer bag to avoid getting cold, and to compensate for manufacturers’ optimistic temperature ratings. A bag rated at 20F with at least 61 inches of shoulder girth is a good choice for many backpackers, however body size and individual thermal needs vary a lot.

Additionally, there are individual preferences for a full-length zipper (or not), attached hood (or not), or the simplicity and freedom of a quilt.

Through trial and error, my personal preference is for a quilt when temperatures are warmer (above 35F), and a mummy bag when it’s colder. A mummy bag is simply more thermally efficient – it holds heat inside better. However, it’s hard to find a mummy bag that’s warm enough, roomy enough, and light weight (all 3). That’s the conundrum.

Then I discovered, through friends that have them, the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag. The beauty is you get to choose your desired temperature rating, shoulder girth, and length – and Zpacks provides simple guidance on how to choose. Additionally the bags are very light weight and reasonably priced.

A 20F rated bag would normally be sufficient for me, if I wear camp clothing inside the bag on colder nights. However, I chose the 5F bag for three reasons: (1) I’m getting older and don’t have much body fat, so I get cold easier; (2) the 5F Standard girth/Long length bag weighs just 24.8 ounces, which is about the same as a 20F bag from other manufacturers; and (3) I wanted a warm bag to extend my backpacking into the shoulder seasons. Zpacks specifies that this bag has 18.2 ounces of down fill, which is good assurance that the bag will be warm.

This all sounds good; so how did it work out? Read on for my testing report and evaluation.

Field Testing

I tested the Zpacks Classic Sleeping bag on 5 backpacking trips and one road trip in late summer and fall in Central and Southwestern Colorado. I usually camp on the alpine tundra above 12,000 feet, where it often drops down to freezing at night. This photo was taken in late September, when the tundra is colorful and nighttime temperatures are dropping into the low 20s. The shelter is the Zpacks Duplex Tarp.


I followed Zpack’s online advice to choose my bag size. I’m 6 feet tall, so I went with size Long. To determine bag girth needed, Zpacks recommends measuring the girth around my chest and arms (46 inches), adding 8 inches for wiggle room, and adding a little more if I want extra wiggle room. So, 46 inches plus 8 inches plus an extra 5 inches adds up to 61 inches, which is their Standard girth bag and my desired girth.

The Zpacks sizing guide worked well for me; the bag I tested is a good match in length and girth. I’m 6 feet tall and the size Long bag is a good fit for length. The 61-inch shoulder girth allows sufficient room to wear a lightweight down jacket inside the bag if needed. So far I have only needed to wear a baselayer plus an ultralight down jacket. From my previous years of mummy bag testing, I have found that I need at least 61 inches of shoulder girth, so the Zpacks sizing guide is spot on.


During my testing I typically camp in the alpine zone at elevations of 12,000 or more, so summertime nighttime lows can drop to freezing. By late summer and early fall I had encountered low temperatures down to freezing (3 nights) and below freezing (27F, 24F, and 14F) three nights.

I comfortably used the bag as a quilt in nighttime temperatures down to about 35F, and really like the quilt option when temperatures permit. At about that temperature (which I call the 4 o’clock freeze) I start feeling cold spots where the quilt is not adequately tucked in. Then I zip up the bag and switch to sleeping bag mode. On the coldest nights I donned the Zpacks Down Hood and tightened the drawcord to snug the bag around my neck, and slept warm as toast the rest of the night.

On my coldest night, in late September camped on the alpine tundra at 12, 500 feet, I wore several layers of camp clothing inside the bag and stayed comfortably warm. The bag has sufficient girth to accommodate the extra bulk. My water flask and rehydrating breakfast were frozen solid.


I personally like a hoodless sleeping bag. With the accessory down hood the system is equivalent to a mummy bag. The advantage is I turn over inside the Zpacks bag, rather than turning a conventional mummy bag with me so the hood is in the right direction.

I also have no issues with entering a sleeping bag from the top; it’s simply not that difficult to slide in. If that is not an option for you, it is easy to shift the zipper to one side or the other and enter/exit using the zipper. It doesn’t have a zipper baffle, so snagging is not an issue.

As with any down sleeping bag, it’s a good idea to hold the bag up against the sky to check the down distribution. The down will shift to some degree in most bags, so it’s important to check for areas where the down is sparse, and shake the bag accordingly to more evenly distribute the down. So far, the Zpacks bag has performed well in this regard.

Warmth-wise, the 5F-rated Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag has been reliably warm so far, which is really nice; no more chilly nights in a 30F bag. I expect it to be warm into the single digits if I wear down booties, lightweight down pants, and a down jacket inside, along with the Zpacks Down Hood. Those are items I normally take for campwear for shoulder season camping at high elevations.

 This photo shows how much the bag lofts up. For comparison, the sleeping pad is 2.5 inches thick. I measured the double layer loft at 8 inches, which is a lot. According to the Backpacking Light table of sleeping bag loft versus temperature rating, this comes out to a -20F rating (!)


Assessment

Some hikers may see the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag as unconventional, and it is, but it is one that should receive serious consideration by anyone looking for an ultralight sleeping bag. With 24 temperature, length, and girth options, there should be a good fit for most any body. Ultralight bags from many other manufacturers are simply too tight, with shoulder girths of only 58-59 inches. Also, a good way for a short person to save weight is to get a size Short bag, and Zpacks has one that will fit your dimensions.

The bag is also the most versatile I have tested. It can be used as a quilt in warmer temperatures, with the zipper partially open or on the topside in chilly temperatures, and as a mummy bag equivalent (using a down hood) when it’s cold.

The Zpacks bag also provides the most warmth-for-the-weight I have encountered. The shell, zipper, and drawcord weigh only 6.6 ounces for the bag I tested, the remaining 18.2 ounces is 900 fill-power down. I was able to get a 5F rated bag for the same weight as most manufacturers’ 20F rated bag, and some 30F rated bags.

Finally, the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag is an excellent value. Most manufacturers’ 20F and 30F ultralight bags are priced in the $400 to $500 range; the 5F bag tested is $399, and a 20F version is $379.

Overall, the Zpacks Classic Sleeping Bag delivers on all fronts; they have a size to fit most everyone, its lighter weight for its temperature rating compared to other manufacturer’s bags, its highly versatile to use, and it’s a great value.

Likewise the Zpacks Down Hood is the lightest to be found at 1.3 ounces, and it is well fitted and very warm. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Tachyon Pant


By Will Rietveld

The Tachyon Pant is a wind pant made of Montbell’s 7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon coated with their Polkatex DWR and weighing 1.9 ounces. I have long wondered if these pants would suffice as rain pants in brief rain events and walking in wet vegetation, so I decided to give them a try. The weight savings compared to mainstream rain pants is significant.

The Montbell Tachyon Pant is a wind pant made of 7-denier nylon with DWR and weighs just 1.9 ounces. Will they suffice as rainwear in brief showers?

Prior to this test my rain pant of choice was the Montbell Versalite Pant, which weighed 4 ounces in the previous version (more on that later). The weight savings from the original Versalite Pant is not huge (2.1 ounces), but the thinner wind pant may also be more versatile. So, the question to be addressed here is: is the weight savings worth the potential drawbacks (getting soaked!) and are the lighter pants more versatile?

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Montbell  (www.montbellus.com)
Product
Tachyon Pant
Fabric
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon
Features
Elasticized waist with drawstring, key pocket
Weight
Manufacturer specification 1.9 ounces, measured weight 1.9 ounces
MSRP
$99

Description

The Tachyon Pant was created to pair with Montbell’s ultralight Tachyon Jacket (a wind shirt); both are made of 7-denier fabric and are the lightest to be found on the market. The Tachyon Pant is Spartan – no pockets or zippered leg openings. They do have an elastic band at the waist and a thin drawcord to adjust tightness. My wife removed the drawcord to reduce their weight to 1.75 ounces for size men’s Large.

The legs are slim, which is nice, and they do not have zippered openings at the bottom. However the opening is sufficient to get my size 12 trail runners through, which is also nice.

Field Testing

I tested the Tachyon Pant over two hiking seasons, using them as rainwear, windwear, campwear, and early morning trailwear on numerous desert and mountain trips. I live and hike in the Four Corners region of the Southwestern US, where precipitation is generally light and comes in the form of brief showers (with some wetter exceptions). For hiking and backpacking in the Southwest, we carry our rainwear a lot more than we wear it, so we generally go for the lightest rainwear that will do the job.

So, how water-resistant are they? That’s the key factor in this review; i.e., is the Tachyon Pant adequate rainwear in mountain showers or not?

The short answer is – not good enough. They were sufficient in very light showers and wet vegetation, but not for a longer (more than a half hour or so) rain event. While wearing some sand-colored hiking pants under the Tachyon Pant, and walking in the rain for about an hour, the outside of the pants wetted out (left), and my hiking pants were quite dampened inside (right). The dampened area consisted of my thigh area and down the inside of both legs, where the seams are.

So, bottomline, the Tachyon Pant is just not water-resistant enough to suffice as rainwear. They could work if a shower is very light and brief, if you can sit out a shower under a tree, or crouch under an umbrella. But those are big “ifs”. It’s probably better to opt for a really lightweight true rain pant.

The Tachyon Pant is versatile though; I can wear them as rainwear in brief light showers and wet vegetation, windwear, a shell layer over a light insulation layer in camp and sometimes in my sleeping bag, hiking pants on cool mornings, and warm up pants for sudden chills.

The Tachyon Pant is a great ultralight outer shell layer over insulation in camp.

I usually hike in shorts in the summertime, and find the Tachyon Pants get wet from the knees down when hiking in wet vegetation. Interestingly the Tachyon Pants stick to my skin when they get wet. I have not found that to be a problem because that makes the pants trimmer so I can more easily see my feet.

As mentioned in another review, I often use the Montbell Travel Umbrella (3 ounces) when I walk in the rain, hence limiting wet legs to the knees down. The Travel Umbrella could perhaps be “insurance” to avoid getting soaked in serious rain.

A downside of wearing shorts for summertime backpacking in the mountains is the evenings and mornings can be pretty chilly, for example 30F when I start out in the morning. I find the Tachyon Pants add a lot of warmth when worn over thin long johns in camp or over my skin for the first hour or so on the trail.

I hike off-trail a lot, and find herbaceous and woody vegetation have not damaged the Tachyon Pant, however they are no match for granite. With reasonable care, this pant will hold up for a long time. I have not hiked through stickery brush in the pants.

And finally they are great windwear, as they are designed for. When a cold wind comes up, they provide needed warmth, and they are very easy to put on/take off.

Assessment

Although the Tachyon Pant is not sufficiently water-resistant for use as rainwear,  I’m pleased with their versatility. It’s basically the lightest leg shell on the market, and keeps my legs warm on the trail and in camp. The pant will suffice as rainwear in a brief light shower, and walking through wet vegetation. But that’s not enough; more rain protection is needed, and I need to renew my search for some really lightweight rain pants.

As I write this review, I notice that Montbell has redesigned the Versalite Pant using Gore Windstopper fabric with water resistance, and the weight has shrunk to 3.2 ounces. That’s only 1.3 ounces more than the Tachyon Pant, and its real rainwear. Looks like I need to give the new version a try.

Friday, August 17, 2018

GEAR REVIEW: Montbell Travel Umbrella


By Will Rietveld

The idea of using an umbrella for rain protection while hiking or backpacking seems a little absurd at first, but it’s actually quite functional.

I believe the idea first emerged with the GoLite Chrome Dome umbrella, which was sun-reflective and weighed about 8 ounces. That’s quite a bit of optional weight to add to one’s pack, but many hikers felt it was worth it to get relief from the hot sun.

I first tried an umbrella for day hiking, where weight is less of an issue, and found hiking in the rain less unpleasant, even fun, when the rain was not pounding on my head and running down over my face. I still wore a rain suit, but the umbrella made the experience more pleasant.

Then I discovered the Montbell Travel Umbrella, which weighs only 3 ounce,s and it got my attention. Carrying an umbrella this light is feasible as part of a lightweight or ultralight gear kit, if it is functional enough to justify the weight. That’s the topic of this gear review.

The Montbell Travel Umbrella weighs just 3 ounces. It is not UV deflecting, but it is available in white, which absorbs less heat. The opened diameter is slightly smaller than a standard umbrella.

Specifications and Features

Manufacturer
Montbell (www.montbellus.com
Product
Travel Umbrella
Dimensions
Opened diameter 34.6 inches; extended shaft length 20.5 inches; compacted length 9.1 inches
Fabric
7-denier Ballistic Airlight ripstop nylon with Polkatex DWR
Weight
Manufacturer specification 3 ounces, measured weight 3 ounces
MSRP
$52

Description

Montbell has a total of seven different umbrellas, ranging in weight from 3 to 7.1 ounces. The protected area, materials, and purpose vary, depending on your needs. Their Sun Block Umbrella is similar to the Chrome Dome. I focused on the 3-ounce Travel Umbrella because of its light weight and availability in white, which should keep it cooler underneath in the summer sun.

The Travel Umbrella has a telescoping shaft that opens in two stages. The canopy also opens in two stages; each spine is hinged and needs to be extended to full length. The collapsed umbrella fits into a carry sleeve that weighs just 0.05 ounce.

Field Testing

In the Southwestern US we carry our rain gear a lot more than we wear it. Precipitation is often just a brief shower, but heavy showers and hail are possible. It’s foolish to go on a mountain hike or backpacking trip without rain gear. The rain gear recommendation for our situation is to carry the lightest that will do the job.

The rainwear I use is an ultralight rain jacket (Berghaus Vapourlight Hypersmock, 3 ounces) plus Montbell Tachyon Pant, 1.9 ounces). The latter is actually a wind pant, but it does the job in light rain and wet vegetation, which I will write about in a separate review. The rain jacket and pant are sufficient from a minimalist’s point of view. The umbrella shown is not the Montbell Travel, and is standard sized.


I tested the Montbell Travel Umbrella over most of two hiking seasons, taking it along when there was a chance for rain. Over that period of time I got to test it in different amounts of rain and weather conditions.

My wife Janet uses an improvised  shoulder strap mount designed by friend Joan West to use her umbrella hands free. She's using the Montbell Sun Block umbrella, which is silver on top and black on the inside, with a sturdier shaft. Janet prefers an oversized inexpensive DriDucks rain jacket (about 5 ounces). The rain stopped and sun came out just before this photo was taken.


Assessment

So why carry an umbrella in addition to my normal rainwear? Basically it’s a comfort item. It’s darn nice not to have rain pounding on my head or hitting me in the face. 

I  found the Travel Umbrella nice for bivouacking when I choose to sit it out; I can crouch under it and keep most of myself and my pack dry.


Carrying an umbrella requires at least having one hand free, so collapsible trekking poles are handy so they can be stashed on a pack.

I used the Travel Umbrella in wind-driven rain above tree line, and found it to be sufficiently strong to withstand a moderate wind. It’s nice to angle the umbrella, and hold on tight, to keep the rain from smacking me on the head and face.

Of course, using an umbrella requires hiking in open space so it doesn’t catch on brush or tree limbs. It’s not compatible with bushwhacking!

I did not test the umbrella for sun protection since that is not normally an issue with the type of hiking I do.

Overall, I find the Travel Umbrella worth its 3-ounce weight. I specifically take it when showers are in the forecast, so I am more likely to use it, and I will be hiking on trails or open areas so it will be unobstructed.

This review is focused on using the Travel Umbrella for hiking and backpacking, but of course it is also handy to take for sporting events and even travel, which I believe is its original purpose.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

OUTDOOR RETAILER SUMMER MARKET 2018: Gear of Interest for Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking— PART 3


By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

We have covered Outdoor Retailer for about 13 years now, and it never fails to impress. Yes, it was earlier this year (July), and will be even earlier next year (June).

Most of the interesting gear we find at OR fits in the Lightweight category, but there are some notable Ultralight gems, and some gear can go either way, depending on your gear preferences.

As always, there are a few standout items, and lots of evolutionary improvements, all making for lighter better gear. What excites us varies a lot, depending on where your interests lie, so we present gear in no particular order; just scroll and read what interests you. Also, so we can get our coverage posted faster, and to avoid an excessively long single article, we will post our coverage as a series of shorter articles containing around a dozen items each.

A few notes: (1) gear introduced at this OR will be available in spring 2019, unless noted otherwise, and (2) weights for clothing are for men’s size Medium and shoes are for men’s size 9 and women’s size 7, unless stated otherwise.

The Mountain Hardwear Kor PreShell is a very breathable wind shirt made of Pertex Quantum Air fabric. More breathability allows a hiker to wear the wind shirt comfortably over a wider range of conditions within the cool/overcast/windy weather category. This windshirt is featured (hood, full-height front zipper, zippered hand pockets), so it weighs a bit more at 4.9 ounces. MSRP is $130. Another version with a ¾-height front zipper will also be available.

Mountain Hardwear has also redesigned their Ghost Whisperer sleeping bags into a new version under their classic Phantom name. The new MH Phantom 0F, 15F, and 30F Sleeping Bags feature 850 fill-power water-resistant down, an UL 10x10 denier nylon shell with DWR, contoured footbox, and an anti-snag zipper (right). The bags have a “performance fit” meaning they are snug for  weight reduction and higher thermal efficiency. Be sure to try out the fit before you buy.

Here’s a bit of winter gear too good to pass up. The new Merrell Thermo Rogue Insulated Boot features Aerogel insulation, Vibram Arctic Grip outsole, lightweight synthetic fabrics, and a Gore-Tex waterproof-breathable membrane. We don’t have the weight. MSRP is about $220; available October 2018.

Another featured breathable wind shirt is the Patagonia Houdini Air. Breathability is rated at 20 cfm. The special fabric has a grid pattern on the back to keep it off the skin and enhance airflow. Features are one chest pocket and attached hood. Weight is 4.3 ounces and MSRP is $149. Is this the best Houdini ever?

The new Luci Outdoor 2.0 Pro Series Inflatable Lantern and Charger is packable when you consider all it does. Its battery can be charged with a micro USB cable or 14 hours in the sun. A full charge will provide one cell phone charge plus about 2 hours of light. 150 lumens on high. Weight is 5.5 ounces and MSRP is $35.

Luci’s competition, LuminAid, also has a new product called the LuminAid PackLite 2-in-1 Phone Charger and Inflatable Lantern. Theirs will come in two battery sizes: 2000 mah (8.5 ounces, $50) and 4000 mah (9.7 ounces, $70), both rechargeable via a micro USB cable or the sun. The first one will provide one phone charge, and the bigger one will provide two charges. 150 lumens on high. Available now.

Soto makes well-designed backpacking stoves and cookwear. Their new Soto ThermoStack Cook Set Combo consists of a nesting 750 ml cookpot, 400 ml pot, double wall drink cup (the 2 parts can be used separately), pot clamp/tong, insulating cozy, and mesh carry sack. The set weighs 11 ounces and nests into a small size. The mesh carry sack has enough extra room to add a 110 gram fuel canister (photo). The Combo will cost $70.

Steripen is now part of Katadyn. The former Steripen Freedom is now the Steripen Ultralight UV Water Purifier. This new version ditches the pesky LED light on the original that comes on when it’s not wanted, reducing the weight to 2.5 ounces. It recharges with a micro USB cord and is good for 40+ 45 second cycles to purify ½-liter of water per cycle. MSRP has decreased from $99 to $80. The nice thing about purifying with UV is you can treat and drink, no wait time.

The Crazy Creek Crazy Pod is a complete hammock system that weighs 2 pounds 14 ounces, including straps and canopy. It’s waterproof, bugproof, and well ventilated with a mesh panel at each end that can be opened/closed from the inside with a pull cord. MSRP is $289; available January 2019.

Aqua-Mira now has an inline or bottle mounted water filter called the Aqua-Mira Frontier Max Multifunction Filter. Three different types of filter cartridges are available for different situations: a green one for bacteria intended for backcountry use, a red one for travel to protect from all sorts of organisms, and a blue one for removing dissolved chemicals. The system allows the filter element to be switched for different uses. Weight for the inline version is 3.5 ounces and cost is $30; a replacement filter is $20. Flow rate is 800 ml/min and a cartridge purifies about 100 gallons. The inline version comes with connectors so it can be taken out of the system, which is a nice touch.

Another great water filtration prospect is the new 2-ounce Sawyer Micro Squeeze Filter, which will screw onto a beverage bottle or one of Sawyer’s new One Liter Squeeze Pouches that weigh just 0.4 ounce each. The Micro will appear around September 2018 for around $29, and a 3-pack of the Pouches will sell for $15. A nice trick is to roll the pouch to force the water into another container so you can drink freely.

The rechargeable Fenix HM50R Headlamp or LD15 Clip Light puts out 500 lumens of light in high mode. That’s a lot of light for a torch weighing just 2.8 ounces (headlamp, left) or 1.95 ounces (clip light, right), including the battery. As you can see, it’s the same torch with two different mountings. The former sells for $80 and the latter is $72; available now.

How about a 4-inch thick packable inflatable sleeping pad? The new Sea To Summit Etherlite XT Sleeping Pads are pretty darn light considering their dimensions. There well be quite a range of sizes, as well as insulated and uninsulated versions. The lightest is the Regular Uninsulated (R 0.8, left)  at 12 ounces and $160, and the Regular Insulated (R 3.8, right) at 15 ounces and $190. They may be overkill for backpacking but great for base camping and car camping, but some people will disagree with the first part about overkill.

At the Vargo Outdoor booth we found the Vargo No-Fly 2P Tent, a really roomy 2-person hybrid single wall freestanding tent that weighs just 2.6 pounds. It has 34 sq ft of floor space, two side entries with large vestibules, one top vent closable from the inside, flush mounted pole sleeves, and Easton carbon fiber poles. The floor dimensions are 57x86 inches, which is significantly more than most 2P tents, and it has headroom to match. MSRP is $500; available October 2018.

At the Black Diamond booth we found more goodies. Their hoodless unisex Deploy Wind Shell is the one with the YKK Superlight zipper, and the fabric is a new Toray 5-denier with DWR. The zipper is extra deep for easier on/off and good ventilation. Weight is 1.69 ounces and MSRP is $159. The weight is very close to the Montbell Tachyon Jacket @ 1.6 ounces, but the Tachyon has a full-height front zipper. Thus, the Deploy is very close to claiming its the lightest wind shirt on the market.

Also from BD is the Rhythm T, a 96-gram merino wool summer top with lots of stretch due to a new yarn technology. BD claims its the lightest technical T on the market. Its weave and thinness allows it to dry very fast. It will sell for $75.

Finally from BD is the Distance Tent, made of waterproof-breathable fabric and supported with two trekking poles. It has an included bridge at the top that connects the trekking poles. A combo package of the tent plus compatible BD trekking poles is $400 and weighs 2 pounds 4 ounces. A version without the trekking poles, including an adapter for other trekking poles, is 1 pound 7 ounces and $250. The tent has one top vent and a foot vent. A disadvantage of this tent design (no vestibule) is rain falls directly into the tent when the door is opened.


Vibram’s new Litebase Shoe Construction will be introduced in 2019 in a number of shoes from different manufacturers. It’s basically a new midsole compound that significantly lowers the weight of trail shoes, combined with Vibram’s popular Megagrip outsole. It’s claimed to be 50% slimmer, 30% lighter, and the same performance. Note the weight difference between the standard midsole (left) and the Litebase midsole (right).