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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear Kumo Superlight Backpack

By Will Rietveld

I recently had the opportunity to test the new Gossamer Gear Kumo Superlight backpack. The Kumo is a smaller volume frameless backpack suitable for ultralight backpacking. Although it has a different name, the Kumo is exactly the same basic design, dimensions, and volume as their Murmur Hyperlight backpack. The difference is the Kumo is more ruggedly built and has more features, and consequently can comfortably carry heavier loads and is more durable.

 The Kumo at work on a recent backpacking trip. Its available in two sizes (Medium and Large), weighs 14.3 ounces (size Medium), has 2200 cubic inches of volume, and costs $165.

Since the Kumo is the same size (dimensions and volume) as the Murmur, the choice boils down to extra durability and features (Kumo) versus minimum weight and features (Murmur). The specific differences are as follows (Kumo versus Murmur):
  • Shoulder straps have more padding (almost twice as thick)
  • Fabric is all 140 denier Dyneema (except the backpanel and bottom)
  • Pack bottom, lower front pocket, and upper shoulder strap fabric is 210 denier ripstop
  • The hipbelt is wider (1.5” versus 0.75”)
  • Internal hydration sleeve
  • The top cover has a zippered pocket
  • Stronger and longer ice axe loop and haul loop
  • Wider sternum strap (0.75” versus 0.5”)
  • Recommended maximum carry weight is 25 pounds (versus 15 pounds)
  • Cost is $165 versus $140
  • The Kumo weighs 5.2 ounces more than the Murmur, based on Gossamer Gear data for size Medium
This should help clarify the differences between the two packs, but it will be a difficult purchase decision because both packs have a lot of appeal. The following photo gallery highlights the features of the Kumo.

 Frontpanel. The Kumo has a large mesh front pocket with an angled top for easier entry. The mesh is lightweight but quite durable, and the lower part of the pocket is made of durable 210 denier double ripstop mylon. The pack comes with a lightweight elastic cord compression/attachment system (not shown)

Backpanel. The backpanel has Gossamer Gear’s traditional sleeping pad sleeve that allows a closed cell foam sleeping pad to be inserted for backpanel padding, and used as a sit pad during rest stops. A SitLight pad (shown) is included.

 Side. The sides of the Kumo are all Dyneema Gridstop versus silnylon on the Murmur. Both packs have Dyneema side pockets. A water bottle in a side pocket is reachable and replacable with the pack on.

Top. The new “Over the Top” closure system has a zippered pocket, which is a handy place for a map or guidebook. It’s held down by two cordlock buckles.

 Shoulder Straps. By my measurement, the shoulder straps are 3.25 inches wide and 0.25 inches thick, with the padding sewn in – no more socks in the shoulder straps for padding.

 Front Pocket. The front pocket is made of a lightweight yet durable mesh. The lower part of the pocket is 210 denier ripstop nylon.

 Hipbelt. The hipbelt on the Kumo is a substantial 1.5 inches wide and is removable. Two hipbelt lengths are included.

Field Testing
I carried the Kumo on seven trips with loads ranging from 13.5 to 25.5 pounds, which represents typical ultralight backpacking loads for trips ranging from 2 to 8 days. As expected, the Kumo is most comfortable with lighter loads, but it handled heavier loads surprisingly well. For carrying a 25.5 pound load I tightened the hipbelt snugly over the top of my hips and found the Kumo transferred weight to my hips quite well. With the sternum strap disconnected, the pack stuck to my back. Nevertheless, 25 pounds should be considered a maximum weight for this pack, and it should be the occasional heavier load rather than a common occurrence. Normally a framed pack or one with removable stays (like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla) should be used for loads over 20 pounds.

Whether you choose the Kumo or the Murmur depends on how much weight you carry and what you value most. The Kumo’s stronger construction, extra durability, and extra features are functional for the most part.

  • Most importantly, the Kumo’s wider hipbelt and thicker shoulder straps allows it to carry heavier loads more comfortably than the Murmur.
  • The mesh in the front pocket and pad sleeve is durable and stretchy, just the right balance of lightweight and durability.
  • The zippered pocket on the top flap is very handy for storing a map or small clothing items.
  • The internal hydration sleeve is useful as a sleeping pad sleeve (I prefer to put a hydration flask in a side pocket for easier access and easier monitoring of the fluid level.
  • I really like Gossamer Gear’s new Over the Top cover. It easily adjusts to pack volume and helps a lot to shed rain.
 Pack Compression. Instead of using the included bungee system for pack compression I opted for a zig-zag drawcord and cordlock system.

All of Gossamer Gear’s backpacks have an external bungie system for pack compression, i.e. to reduce pack volume for smaller loads, and also to attach items to the outside of the pack (like a jacket). It’s handy for the latter, and it does effectively reduce pack volume if you compress the pack before loading it. However, my personal preference is for three lightweight webbing compression straps on each side of the pack for simple and effective pack volume adjustment. A bungie system should be an accessory for attaching things to the outside of the pack, rather than relying on it for pack compression. I don’t consider the Kumo’s bungie compression system to be a major flaw because it can easily be replaced with a drawcord compression as shown in the photos above.

An option I would like to see in the Kumo is Gossamer Gear’s removable stay. It only adds 3.4 ounces, and users of this pack are more likely to use it when carrying loads in the 20-25 pound range. Actually, from pack testing I have done, I found that its beneficial to use the stay for loads over 15 pounds. It helps to maintain the pack torso length, contours the backpanel to the user’s back, and helps to transfer weight to the hips.

Overall, for hikers who want a frameless backpack with more durability and features, the Kumo is right on target; it’s a perfect balance and still keeps weight down to 14 ounces.
If you want a smaller volume pack for ultralight backpacking, and carry heavier loads (more than 20 pounds) fairly often, the Kumo is a good choice. It’s built to last.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear 2012 Gorilla Backpack

By Will Rietveld

Gossamer Gorilla pack on a 6-day mostly off-trail backpacking trip in the Weminuche Wilderness in southwest Colorado.

I was very impressed with the original Gorilla pack when I reviewed it for Backpacking Light Magazine in 2009, and it earned a Highly Recommended rating. Very few pieces of gear merit the coveted Highly Recommended rating. So how does the updated 2012 Gorilla compare with the original, and does it still deserve an outstanding rating?

At 3000 cubic inches (49 L), the Gorilla is sized for the lightweight backpacker who carries loads in the 20-30 pound range, or an ultralight backpacker for a longer trip without resupply. The Gorilla is the answer to the question: “If I were to buy just one backpack, which one should I get?” Its volume and features allow this one pack to be used for both ultralight and lightweight backpacking.

However, if you are consistently an ultralight backpacker, with a base weight under 10 pounds and total pack weight under 20 pounds, you should be looking at Gossamer Gear’s Murmur or Kumo packs for the appropriate volume needed and lower pack weight.

Gossamer Gear now uses its proprietary 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric throughout its backpack line. This fabric is ideal for a lightweight backpack because it’s the perfect balance of light weight, durability, and longevity. Some other pack fabrics are lighter – like silnylon and Cuben Fiber – but they don’t have a lot of durability and longevity, and Cuben Fiber is expensive. Actually the proprietary 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop is expensive too, almost as much as Cuben Fiber, but Gossamer Gear uses it because it’s the ideal pack fabric.

The following photo gallery shows the design and features of the 2012 Gorilla pack.
Frontpanel View. The updated 2012 Gossamer Gear Gorilla pack has 3000 cubic inches of volume, weighs 25 ounces (size Medium), and costs $225. The pack comes complete with removable hipbelt (4 sizes available) with two attached pockets, a bungie compression system, removable contoured stay, backpanel pad, and removable sternum strap. The large stretch nylon front pocket expands to hold a lot of gear.

Backpanel View. The backpanel has Gossamer Gear’s traditional sleeping pad sleeve which will hold a closed cell foam pad or slightly aired inflatable pad. A SitLight pad is included (not shown), which can be easily removed to use as a sit pad on breaks. The hipbelt is about 1 inch wider than the previous Gorilla and now has attached pockets which are very roomy and open across the top and part way down the buckle side for easy access. The shoulder straps are a fully-padded and 3.75 inches wide. Another nice feature is the new EZClip™ sternum strap attachment, which makes the height adjustment very easy.

Top Cover. The Gorilla is a top loader. The old drawcord and top strap design is replaced by a new OTT™ (Over-The-Top) closure system that is held down with two lightweight drawcord buckles. The top flap sheds rain and also has an integrated zippered top pocket.

Removable stay. A U-shaped contoured tubular aluminum stay slides into sleeves on the inside of the pack’s backpanel. The final production pack has a 1.5-inch wide Velcro hold-down patch at the center of the stay. The stay can be bent to match the curvature of the user’s back.

Testing Results
I tested the Gorilla on two backpacking trips and four day hikes with loads ranging from 16 to 31 pounds. From a previous load testing project, I found that a removable stay is beneficial for loads greater than 15 pounds, so I left the stay in during all of my testing of the Gorilla.

As expected, I found the Gorilla very comfortable to carry with loads in the 16 to 22 pound range. Above that, the pack has increasing torso collapse, so it does not completely transfer weight to the hips. At 31 pounds (the heaviest load I tested), I estimate that 25% of the weight was on my shoulders. This is not unusual since a removable stay is merely a pack stiffener and not a structural frame.  For carrying heavier loads, the Gorilla’s wide hipbelt and especially wide shoulder straps really help for distributing the weight.

One modification I made to the Gorilla is the addition of lightweight drawcord compression straps in place of the pack’s bungee compression system. While some hikers like an external bungee system for attaching things (like a jacket) to the outside of a pack, I prefer conventional compression straps, ideally three on each side. A bungee system does not compress the pack as well for smaller loads, and can block access to the front pocket. My preference is for three compression straps per side for effective pack volume reduction, and offering a bungee system as an accessory.

Overall Impressions
On the plus side I really like the 140 denier Dyneema Gridstop fabric, wider shoulder straps, Over the Top cover with zippered pocket, wider hipbelt with pockets, contoured stay, easy sternum strap adjustment (or removal), and easier hipbelt removal. These are some substantial improvements, while adding only about 1 ounce of additional weight (by my measurement).

On the minus side I have one main issue: as discussed under the last photo, I personally prefer three webbing compression straps on each side of the pack for more effective pack volume adjustment. A bungie attachment system can be a nice accessory for attaching things to the outside of the pack, but I don’t particularly like a bungee system for pack compression. This is a issue of personal preference, and Gossamer Gear apparently likes bungee systems. Pack owners who want compression straps can easily remove the bungee system and replace it with three compression drawcords on each side (as shown above), or by zig-zagging a single cord on each side and securing it with a single cordlock at the top.

Finally, it is time to go a step further and design a removable stay system that transfers that better transfers weight to the hipbelt. In the present design the stay simply floats in sleeves attached to the backpanel and acts as a pack stiffener, not a frame. Since many lightweight backpackers nowadays use a lightweight inflatable pad instead of a closed cell foam pad, they don’t have the CCF pad to assist with weight transfer in the current pack design. The stay developed by Gossamer Gear is an excellent design, but it would transfer weight much better if it were more solidly anchored to the shoulder straps at the top and to the hipbelt at the bottom. Such a design can be kept lightweight, transfer weight more effectively, and retain the benefits of a removable stay.

Overall, the 2012 Gorilla is a superb pack for carrying lightweight moderate volume loads in the 15 to 25 pound range, and occasionally higher. It is truly a single lightweight backpack that can do it all, eliminating the need to own multiple packs. The 2012 upgrade incorporates some substantial improvements over the original, with only a minimal increase in weight, which is remarkable. The issues discussed above also apply to the original Gorilla, but overall the new Gorilla is better than ever and still merits an outstanding rating.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GEAR REVIEW: Elemental Horizons Kalais Backpack

By Will Rietveld

The new Kalais pack is a smaller version of Elemental Horizons’ Aquilo pack, which received the coveted Highly Recommended rating from Backpacking Light Magazine (subscription required). The Kalais at 2920 cubic inches (size Medium) is about 600 cubic inches smaller than the 3587 cubic inch Aquilo. The frame and suspension system are the same but the feature sets differ in order to downsize and lighten the Kalais, and tailor it to its intended user.

The new Elemental Horizons Kalais (manufacturer photo and specifications) has 2920 cubic inches of total volume (size Medium) and weighs 26 ounces. Cost is $190.

As the following photo gallery shows, the Kalais is a traditional design. It’s constructed of 210 denier Dyneema ripstop in high wear areas, 70 denier coated ripstop nylon in the body, and spacer mesh for padding.

Frontpanel view: The front has a gusseted Dyneema and mesh pocket that provides the perfect place to carry a wet shelter or rainwear. The pack’s top compression strap connects to the top of the pocket. There is a very lightweight bungie attachment system on the front of the pocket.

 Backpanel view: The backpanel, shoulder straps, and removable wide hipbelt are all padded with spacer mesh. The shoulder straps are 2.25 inches wide and have load lifters at the top. The hipbelt is removable; three sizes are available.

Sidepanel view: Each side of the pack has a durable mesh pocket and three compression straps.

 Top view: The Kalais has a large extension collar with a rolltop closure and top compression strap.

Inside the pack, there is a large sleeping pad sleeve to use a partially inflated sleeping pad (or closed cell foam pad) to provide additional pack rigidity to facilitate weight transfer. It can also accommodate a hydration bladder (two hose ports are provided).

Elemental Horizons offers the Kalais in three unisex sizes with a choice of three hipbelt sizes. Options include a removable curved aluminum stay, sit pad, hipbelt pockets, and sidepanel mounted hydration sleeve with zippered storage pocket (0.8 ounce).

The short answer is the Kalais is one of the best backpacks I have ever tested, and I have tested a lot of packs. As with the Aquilo, Elemental Horizons got (almost) everything right the first time, and the Kalais is another winner.

The volume of the Kalais at 2920 cubic inches is in the “sweet zone” of 2500-3000 cubic inches preferred by many lightweight backpackers. It has a bit too much volume for ultralight backpacking, but if you consistently carry over 20 pounds, and rarely carry over 30-35 pounds, this is the pack for you. For that type of use, the 26 ounce pack weight beats most every comparable pack in its category, except the Gossamer Gear Gorilla and Six Moon Designs Swift. The weight of the size Large pack I tested is 31 ounces with the optional stay.

The Kalais will function well for ultralight backpacking because the combination of its internal pad sleeve and three compression straps on each side will provide all the volume reduction and compression capability you will ever need. However, its 26 ounce weight is overkill for carrying sub-20 pound loads that a 12 ounce frameless pack will carry almost as well.

I tested the Kalais on several hikes carrying loads of 16, 25, 25, 32, and 35 pounds, all with the tubular frame inserted, and the heavier loads (25 to 35 pounds) with a partially inflated Klymit X-Lite pad in the internal pad sleeve. Basically I tested the Kalais with heavier and heavier loads to determine its limits.

With a 16 pound load I hardly noticed the pack was there. In a previous project I found that a removable stay significantly improves weight transfer and carry comfort for loads over 15 pounds.

The Kalais carried a 25 pound load surprisingly well. I noticed the weight, but the pack transferred all of the weight to my hips. It was at this point that I discovered that the Kalais’ four-pull hipbelt tightening system makes a big difference for carrying heavier loads. By separately tightening the upper and lower pulls, the top and bottom of the hipbelt can be tightened separately, which conforms the hipbelt to the hips and prevents it form slipping under heavy loads.

I further tested the Kalais with a 35 pound load, the maximum recommended comfortable weight, and found the same result – the hipbelt did not slip, and the pack still transferred all of the weight to my hips.

The four-pull hipbelt tightening system on the Kalais is remarkable, it allows you to tighten the top and bottom of the wide hipbelt separately, conforming the hipbelt around the hipbone, allowing the pack to comfortably carry heavier loads, with total weight transfer, and not slipping off the hips.

Elemental Horizons uses a removable contoured aluminum stay that is similar to the one used by Gossamer Gear and Six Moon Designs, but its integration into the pack is much better. Rather than a simple straight sleeve on the inside of the backpanel, the stay is more solidly anchored at the top and bottom of the pack, so it transfers weight to the hipbelt better, as my testing results indicate.

The Kalais is not as robust a pack as many sub-3 pound packs targeted to lightweight backpackers from other manufacturers, but it does fill an important niche. For backpackers who consistently carry loads between 20 and 30 pounds, the Kalais is an excellent choice; it’s 0.5 to 1 pound lighter than many other lightweight internal frame packs and does the job just as well, if not better.

What’s not to like? Three things:
  1. The shoulder straps are a bit narrow at 2.25 inches, especially if you use the Kalais as a frameless backpack. For me, the narrow shoulder straps were not a problem when carrying the pack with the frame in because the pack effectively transferred all of the weight to the hips, so the shoulder straps mainly provided stabilization.
  2. Water bottles fall out of the side pockets when you bend over. This could be fixed by making the pockets wider at the bottom so they don’t pop out.
The four pull straps on the size Medium hipbelt I tested are a bit short. On my 35 inch waist, the straps are 3-4 inches long, just long enough to grab and pull. If I were wearing the hipbelt over a jacket they would be too short.

A full water bottle inserted in a side pocket readily falls out when you bend over, unless you press the neck of the bottle into the back corner of the pocket as shown.

Quite likely Elemental Horizons will address these issues, and if so I will add an update to this article.

Overall, Elemental Horizons simply gets (most) everything right to create a remarkable smaller volume removable frame backpack for lightweight backpackers. It’s well designed and constructed, durable, fits well, comfortably carries a sizeable load, and its volume adjustment capability is outstanding. In response to the question of: “if I were to purchase only one pack, which one would serve most of my needs?”, the Kalais would be one of only a few packs I would recommend.

Addendum May 29, 2012
In response to my review comments, Elemental Horizons has corrected the problem with water bottles falling out of the side pockets by widening the bottom of the pockets so the bottles now sit deeper in the pockets, as shown in the following photo.

 With the bottom of the side pocket widened, a water bottle fits much deeper and is more secure, also the pocket volume increases a bit. Compare this to the previous photos above. Note that the standard pack color is red, not purple as shown

Elemental Horizons will try to accommodate custom color and feature requests; email Matthew Lagas-Rivera at matthew@elementalhorizons.com with your requests. I am very impressed with the quality of his designs and construction, and attention to detail.

Overall, the Kalais, while quite lightweight, is not the very lightest 3000 cubic inch backpack available, but (in my opinion) it has the best balance of lightweight, fit, features, comfort, and weight carrying ability of all the packs I have tested to date.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Therapy for Plantar fasciitis Worth Considering

By Will Rietveld and Janet Reichl

A common hiking affliction is Plantar fasciitis, heel pain that can be difficult to remedy. For some people, it takes months of therapy to get rid of Plantar fasciitis, and one can miss out on a lot of hiking in the meantime.  My wife Janet, who is an Occupational Therapist, recently helped me overcome Plantar fasciitis in my left foot in an amazingly short period of time.

According to Janet, the trigger points for Plantar fasciitis can be in your foot or your calf (she learned the latter from a triathlete friend). I found the latter hard to understand since it’s away from my foot, but that turned out to be exactly the case for me. I searched for a “knot” (sore spot), in my calf, and lo and behold I had a good one in both calves which I didn’t know I had.

Use a rolling muscle massager, like the Tiger Tail shown, on trigger points in the foot or calf to relieve Plantar fasciitis.

The therapy is to roll the spot every day with any type of roller – a foot roller, a muscle massager as shown above, or a rolling pin. You should roll the sore area in your foot too. Yes it hurts, but the goal is to roll the spot to work the knot out. Let the pain be your guide to how hard to roll it; you want to be at the threshold of too much pain. For me, the knot (and the Plantar fasciitis) disappeared in only a week. Massaging out the “knot” relieved the pain.

This treatment may not work for everyone, but it worked for me, and there’s no harm in trying it.

Make a Hooded Tyvek Rain Jacket and Chaps for Under $10

By Will Rietveld, Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador

A high-end air permeable Gore-Tex or eVent waterproof-breathable jacket costs $350 or more, and it’s not ultralight; the lightest one is the Montane Spektr at 8 ounces. A polyurethane laminate rain jacket costs $150-$200 and is lightweight (down to about 6 ounces) and durable but not very breathable. Propore jackets are cheap but not very durable. In this article I will describe how to make a hooded Tyvek jacket plus chaps for under ten dollars, in a few minutes using a pair of scissors.

The finished Tyvek hooded rain jacket is extra long and weighs just 5.25 ounces. The chaps weigh 2.6 ounces. You may get some comments about the white color (like “where did you park your space ship?”), but it is actually quite functional because it stays cooler compared to a dark color.

Tyvek is a spunbonded olefin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olefin_fiber) nonwoven fabric that is made up of millions of polyethylene fibers. “Disposable” Tyvek clothing”, made of type 1443R soft Tyvek is cheap, waterproof, somewhat breathable, lightweight, and highly resistant to tears and punctures. The fabric weight is about the same as silnylon (1.3 ounces per square yard).

You can use an available Tyvek lab coat as a rain jacket or windshirt, but it has snaps on the front closure and no hood, which make it less than ideal. So, the only way to get a hooded jacket with a front zipper is to purchase Tyvek coveralls and cut them off below the zipper.

The ideal Tyvek coveralls are DuPont “white disposable coveralls with hood”, style number TY127SWH. These are made of soft 1443R Tyvek without extra coatings, so it’s lighter weight and more breathable. Disposable ProShield Tyvek (and similar Tyvek from other companies) coveralls have a smooth coating on the outside, which makes it look like DriDucks fabric, and it weighs a little more. The challenge is purchasing a single coverall or two; most cleaning supply stores sell them by the case of 25. The easiest way to purchase a single coverall is from Home Depot, but they are the slightly heavier ones with a smooth outside coating.

Sizing is important; to get a jacket and chaps with long enough sleeves and legs, and enough room to layer over other clothing, you need to use coveralls that are two sizes larger than your normal size. I normally wear a size Large, so I get a 2XL Tyvek coverall. The larger size also provides extra length so the jacket and chaps overlap. If you only want to make a jacket you can go with your normal size or one size larger; note that the sleeves run a little short for a taller person.

The tailoring is so simple that anyone (including me!) can do it. Here’s the stepwise process:
  1. Lay the coveralls out flat on a table, front side up.
  2. Make a mark about 2 inches below the bottom of the zipper.
  3. Use a pin or other sharp object to puncture the coveralls all the way through to the backside.
  4. Carefully turn the coverall over and mark the exit point on the backside seam.
  5. Put the coveralls on and make a mark on one side about 4-5 inches below your waist.
  6. Take the coveralls off, fold them over, and mark the other side so the two sides are even.
  7. Draw a smooth concave curve from the center point to side marks on both sides of the coveralls (see photo below, four places total). This will give you a dropped front and tail for the jacket, and raised sides for the chaps.
  8. Use a sharp scissors to cut on the line all the way around. No hemming is needed since Tyvek does not unravel.
  9. To make the chaps, cut two pieces of lightweight flat braided cord 30 inches long, then sew the middle of each cord under the folded top edge of each leg of the chaps.

After making marks on the coverall for the bottom and sides as described above, draw a smooth line and cut on the line with scissors. This yields a tall jacket and a pair of chaps. My wife added tie cords at the top of the chaps to tie them to belt loops, and a couple of pleats on the backside to make them fit better. 

Note that since the front zipper does not separate at the bottom, the rain jacket needs to be put on as a pullover. To make the garments completely waterproof, coat the seams with Roo Glue or diluted silicone. If you wish, you can add a storm flap over the front zipper.

My Tyvek rain jacket made from the Home Depot Tyvek coveralls weighs 4.25 ounces, and the chaps weigh 2.6 ounces. A rain jacket made from the lightest soft Tyvek (style number TY127SWH) in size XL weighs 3.15 ounces. Although you get a pair of chaps from this project, my personal preference is to purchase a pair of Tyvek pants, which I will discuss in a future blog article. You can also wear very lightweight nylon rain pants, like the new Montbell Versalite Pant which weighs only 4 ounces.

You are probably wondering how waterproof and how breathable a Tyvek rainsuit is. I wore the jacket in the shower at home with 30 pounds of water pressure and it only leaked a little through the front zipper. As far as breathability, check out the following graph; I just happen to have that data from a previous project on waterproof-breathable jackets.

Comparative jacket breathability in terms of accumulated humidity inside the jacket during a sustained 2.25 mile steady uphill hike and reverse downhill hike. Jackets were completely zipped up throughout the hike. Note that the Tyvek jacket and DriDucks jacket perform about the same; they both reach 100% humidity inside after about 35 minutes and stay steamed up. The lightweight Marmot Essence Jacket (polyurethane laminate) performed slightly better, about the same as a traditional Gore-Tex jacket (Montbell Thunderhead Jacket). The more breathable eVent Montane Spektr Smock (lowest curve) was clearly more breathable than all of the other jackets.

Overall, a Tyvek rain jacket is very easy to make, very inexpensive, and very durable. Its breathability is about the same as DriDucks, and not that different from Gore-Tex, which is actually not very breathable. The white color actually makes a lot of sense since it will be cooler to wear in the summertime. Happy hiking!

Make a Lightweight, Durable, Inexpensive Groundsheet or Bivy

By Will Rietveld

What you use for a groundsheet under your shelter or under your sleeping bag depends on the ground surface.

If the ground is fairly smooth and you use a groundsheet mainly to keep your gear clean, the Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth is ideal because it’s very tough and very lightweight. No need to look any further.

For a bomber groundsheet, many hikers use conventional Tyvek housewrap, and there are places on the Web where you can purchase it piecemeal. It’s very durable, and will soften with a few trips through the wash machine, but it’s a bit on the heavy side.

A better option is Type 1443R Tyvek, which is a lighter, softer version used in Tyvek clothing. It’s inexpensive, weighs about the same as silnylon, and its waterproof like other Tyvek. It costs about $3.50 a yard (60 inches wide) at stores that sell kite-making supplies, like Into The Wind. Since it’s breathable, some people argue that it’s not waterproof, but I have yet to have a problem with water passing through it, even when camping on wet ground.

 Soft Tyvek (Type 1443R) used as a groundsheet under a Gossamer Gear SpinnTwinn tarp.

The breathability of this Tyvek makes it usable beyond groundsheets. An inexpensive Tyvek bivy works wonderfully for sleeping on the ground under the stars or inside a floorless shelter, and it adds a few degrees of warmth to your sleeping system. It’s very simple to construct a simple bivy by folding a sheet over lengthwise, sewing one end and one side, then turning it inside out. This yields a bivy with a 60-inch girth, which is a bit on the slender side. For a roomier bivy, especially if you put your sleeping pad inside the bivy, you will need to add a strip of Tyvek to the open side.  Adding a 7 inch strip yields a 63-inch girth (the formula is to add 2 inches for each inch of girth you want to add, plus a 1 inch for seam allowances). Type 1443R Tyvek is very easy to sew, or you can tape it with filament or ripstop tape. If you want to seal the seams, use Roo Glue.

GEAR REVIEW and My Favorite Gear #4 Gorilla Grip Gloves for Ultralight Bushwhacking

By Will Rietveld

I do a lot of off-trail hiking, and I like to wear lightweight liner gloves for summer handwear. However, these two things are not very compatible – I frequently wear holes in the fingers of my liners from grabbing branches and rocks, which gets me in trouble with my wife (who repairs them for me, bless her heart). The solution I found is Gorilla Grip gloves, which are super-durable and weigh just 1 ounce per pair in size XL. They are similar to the nitrile-coated gardening gloves you can get at hardware stores, but much better. Besides being lighter, they have a nicer coating that is more compatible with backpacking and camping, they’re fairly warm, and they breathe very well. I got mine at Home Depot for US$5, which is cheap for backpacking gear.

On backpacking trips, I’m amazed with their grip on rocks, their durability, and comfort over a fairly broad temperature range. They’re great for scrambling. No more glove liners worn through on the finger tips. This is a good example of finding off-the-shelf inexpensive gear that works great for ultralight backpacking.

Gorilla Grip Gloves weigh just 1 ounce/pair for size XL and cost $5 at Home Depot. They are very durable, grip really well, fairly warm, and breathable.

Backpack Front Pocket Liner

By Will Rietveld

This tip may be a ho-hummer for some hikers and a head slapper for others.

Many ultralight backpacks have a large, stretchy mesh pocket on the front of the pack, which I use to hold numerous items I want quick access to while on the trail. The problem is: how do I keep those items dry if it decides to rain?

My solution is to use a liner bag in the front pocket to keep the contents dry. This has several advantages:

  • It pulls out and slides back in easily.
  • It keeps things dry during a light shower, so you don’t have to put on a pack cover.
  • Combined with a liner bag inside the pack, a pack cover is not really needed.
  • In camp, it keeps your small items in one place so they don’t get spread out and lost.
  • It’s also handy in your shelter to keep things together and handy.

The lightest liner bags are a Cuben Fiber stuff sack or drybag, a turkey roasting bag, a simple plastic bag, or a large Aloksac. A large gusseted Aloksac works well because it has a leakproof airtight zip-lock seal. A turkey roasting bag is very durable, but it doesn’t have a way to seal the top other than tying a knot in it, so it’s less convenient.

 A large Aloksac containing all my small gear items slips easily into the front pocket of the new Gossamer Gear 2012 Murmur pack.

In camp or inside your shelter, the liner bag holds all your smaller gear items so they don’t get spread out and lost.
My personal favorite is a Cuben Fiber drybag, such as the 10 liter Granite Gear Uberlight Drysack.

You can apply the same trick to a side pocket by using a tall slender waterproof bag. With a gear bag you can get more items in the pocket, keep them from falling out, and keep them dry.

Avoiding Hiking Shoe/Boot Seam Failure

By Will Rietveld

The biggest wear problem I have with hiking shoes and boots is seam failure.

I like to bushwhack and explore, and things like sliderock and scree are hard on boots, especially any exposed seams in the lateral (outside) footbox region. That region is subjected to heavy abrasion, which wears through the stitching, causing the seam to open. The first photo shows what I mean.

Any exposed seams on the outside of the toebox are especially susceptible to wear and seam failure. The shoe shown is the Montrail AT Plus, which is an excellent trail shoe, but its nemesis is its lengthy exposed outside seam. Note that the stitching is worn through at the metatarsal head region, where the foot and toebox bend.

Unfortunately, shoes and boots with seams in that region are fairly common. My first piece of advice is to avoid purchasing footwear that has exposed seams on the sides of the shoe or boot, or if you do, choose shoes with a minimum of exposed seams. An example is shown in the next photo.

The easiest way to avoid seam failure is to purchase shoes that don’t have exposed side seams. The New Balance 1000, an excellent lightly insulated lightweight hiking boot, is a good example. It has a protective rand around the entire boot.

However, we purchase footwear based on fit, support, and traction (mainly fit), so it’s not always possible to find the ideal shoe or boot without exposed outside seams. In that case you can greatly extend the life of hiking footwear by coating the stitching in the exposed area with McNett SeamGrip, which is available in most outdoor stores.

Coating the stitching on exposed seams with McNett SeamGrip greatly extends the life of hiking footwear. I prefer SeamGrip because it’s thinner and soaks into the stitching more, but FreeSole works well too. SeamGrip is liquid urethane, which is really tough. You only need to coat the stitching itself, and only partway up as shown, but you can do more if you like. It’s best to coat the seams when the boots are new, but it can be done later as long as the area is clean and dry. I like to apply SeamGrip with the wider end of a flat toothpick to do a neater job and work it in more. The boot in the photo is the GoLite TimberLite.

One thing you will discover is SeamGrip and FreeSole develops a dried plug in the opening after you have used it once, which is very difficult to remove. Rather than futz with that annoyance, I simply puncture the tube with a toothpick, squeeze out the amount I need, then seal the hole with a small piece of Scotch tape. Rather than squeeze out a larger quantity onto a piece of cardboard, I prefer to dispense it in small amounts directly onto the larger end of a flat toothpick.

This is probably the best piece of advice I can give to other hikers. Spending $7 on a tube of SeamGrip and coating the side seams on all of your hiking footwear is well worth the time and money. Your shoes will last a lot longer. Just be sure to do it before the seams come apart!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Make Your Own Energy Bars

By Will Rietveld

While snowshoeing with my friend Rich Butler this winter, Rich offered me a sample of his homemade energy bar. I was impressed with how good it tastes, and how much it resembles a Pro Bar, which I consider the king of the energy bars. Pro Bars are vegan and premium quality, but cost around $3.50.

I asked Rich for his recipe, and present it here with his permission. So, for those inclined to make your own energy bars, here is a recipe for some good ones. Janet and I tested the recipe and the bars turned out yummy.

Butler’s Mountain Bars (Gluten/Nut/Soy Free)
Preheat oven to 325 and lightly oil a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Dry Ingredients
2 cups rice cereal (I use Perky’s Crunchy Rice found in natural foods stores)
½ to 2/3 cup flax meal
2/3 cup sesame seeds
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ to 2/3 cup shredded coconut
¼ cup whey powder (optional)
2 tsp dried ground ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp salt (sea salt)
2 cups dried fruit, finely chopped (cherries, blueberries, figs, dates, cranberries or whatever combination of dried fruit you prefer)
1 cup chocolate chips (add more if you like more chocolate)

Wet Ingredients
½ cup honey
¼ cup canola oil
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup jam (marmalade, black cherry jam, or other jam)
2 tsp vanilla

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl.  Mix wet ingredients in a separate large bowl until well blended and the brown sugar is dissolved. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well.  The mixture should be moist and sticky. Spoon and press into a large lightly greased (or foil lined) baking pan (9x13 at least) so that the mixture is about ¾ of an inch thick. 

The recipe is very flexible to accommodate individual tastes for things like chocolate, nuts, kinds of fruit, kinds of jam, and extra ingredients like protein powder. The important things to remember are to maintain the proportions in the recipe and adjust the moisture after combining the wet and dry ingredients. If it seems too dry add a bit more oil or jam; if too wet add a bit more cereal.

 Bake in a 300 to 325 degree oven for 18 to 20 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes then cut into squares, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate or freeze until use.

Nuts: If you can eat nuts add ¾ cup of chopped almonds or other nuts
Chicory extract: 2 tbsp can be added for flavor

Bon app├ętit’!

GEAR REVIEW: Gossamer Gear 2012 Murmur SUL Backpack

By Will Rietveld

The updated 2012 Murmur super-ultralight backpack (8.4 ounces/238 g, US$140), coming out in December, 2011, introduces Gossamer Gear's new 140 denier Dyneema Ripstop fabric, which raises the bar for lightweight and durable backpack fabric. The new fabric and other significant feature changes will migrate to their other packs.

Testing the updated Gossamer Gear Murmur on a recent backcountry ski trip. Overall, I took it on three day hikes, one snowshoeing trip, and one backcountry skiing trip.

The original 2200 cubic inch (36 L) Murmur was constructed of silnylon and light mesh to achieve its light weight of just 8.1 ounces (230 g). The new 2012 Murmur, which retains the same dimensions and volume, introduces Gossamer Gear’s new 140 denier Dyneema Ripstop fabric, which (in my humble opinion) is the biggest new development in lightweight pack fabrics since silnylon. In the new Murmur, the 140 denier Dyneema is used for the top flap, bottom, side pockets, and shoulder strap attachments – which are high abrasion and stress areas where a more durable fabric is needed. The remainder of the pack body is high grade silnylon and durable lightweight mesh. The new pack weighs just 8.4 ounces (231 g), an increase of only 0.3 ounce (8.5 g).

As I pointed out in my recent article on Frameless Backpacks State of the Market Report 2011 at BackpackingLight.com, ultralight backpacks have gained weight in recent years as the market places more emphasis on durability and longevity. The 210 denier Dyneema Ripstop fabrics used by several manufacturers are very durable, but they are overkill for an ultralight backpack. Cuben Fiber of course is lighter, but heavier weights of CF are needed for backpacks, so there is little weight savings and CF has limited longevity. Gossamer Gear’s new 140 denier Dyneema fabric seems to be the perfect balance of light weight and durability.

The photo gallery below provides a tour of the updated Gossamer Gear 2012 Murmur SUL pack.

Close up view of Gossamer Gear’s new 140 denier Dyneema fabric on the Murmur’s new “Over The Top” closure, which replaces the conventional drawcord and roll-down closure. The new closure design and fabric make the pack’s topside more durable and water-resistant. Under the top flap is a short drawcord closure that pulls in the front and sides of the pack opening to keep the contents from falling out.

Frontpanel view – the top flap is secured with two side-release buckles with Line-Lok type adjustors and braided cord, which eliminates some webbing to save weight. The front pocket is a very lightweight, stretchy, durable mesh.

Backpanel view – the backpanel retains Gossamer Gear’s traditional pad pocket, which is intended for a thin foam pad or small inflatable sleeping pad. A major change is new shoulder straps that are still wide to distribute weight, but more thinly padded than the original Murmur. Gone too is the “socks in the shoulder straps” feature (sorry Glen) which allowed the user to stuff clothing in shoulder strap pockets to save weight. The removable hipbelt is simple 0.75 inch (19 mm) webbing; two lengths are provided.

Side view – the side pockets are made of the new 140 denier Dyneema fabric for extra durability, and are angled forward to allow easier access to water bottles with the pack on. Note that the new Murmur no longer has side compression straps, but it does have loops to install a front bungie system.

Overall, the updated Murmur is one sweet pack, and just the right volume for ultralight backpacking. Don’t dismiss this pack because of its smaller volume; if your base weight is less than 8 pounds (3.63 kg) – which is not hard to achieve nowadays – then this is the pack size you should be looking for.

Disclosure: The author is a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received a sample of the new Murmur backpack from Gossamer Gear for testing and review purposes.

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