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Written by John B. Abela

February 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

Posted in News & Updates

Tagged with

ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff

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ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff & wearing the ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket

ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff & wearing the ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket

Greetings all,

Today I would like to share my thoughts on the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff.

I, like I suspect a fair number of people, have been through a number of hiking poles over the years. I think my first pair of hiking poles was the GGLT4’s. They caused me too much frustration, so I switched to the Komperdell Vario 4 poles. They were too flimsy so I switched to the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork poles. They are really heavy but they are the best trekking poles I have ever encountered. Along the way I tried switching away from using poles, and back to using them, and back to not using them.

I know some hikers that have to use them. I know other hikers that cannot use them. I know hikers that swear they refuse to hit the trail without them, and hikers that have hiked tens of thousands of miles and never used them. In the world of hiking they really are a HYOH piece of gear.

Sometime during the early 2013 season I just gave up on poles all together.

But I still found myself in need of a pole for those times when I would be crossing technical terrain, typically crossing rivers while out scouting new trail routes. I tried using the BDACC but it was just not long enough. I needed something longer than even the Komperdell and able to really be weight bearing while out in the middle of a river. So I asked around, and I look around, and nothing.

When Joe Valesko (owner of ZPacks) and I were at the 2014 PCT Kickoff (adzpctko) we got talking about the carbon fiber staff he built for himself and he mentioned that if I ever wanted one to just drop him an email. A few month later, April I think it was, I got around to sending Joe an email to see if he was still interested in making me one – along the lines of the carbon fiber poles we see in the hiking photos at the zpacks website (no, not this one silly, like this one!) but a bit taller for my needs.

After a few emails talking about how to handle a few manufacturing issues, he went ahead and bought a batch of the carbon fiber rods (a rather expensive investment on his part I am sure) and I sent him some funds to cover mine. A few days after the rods arrived I got a message saying my hiking staff was on its way for me to try out.

Using the ZPacks Carbon Fiber staff while taking a break from fastpacking on a really hot day.

Using the ZPacks Carbon Fiber staff while taking a break in a river – it had been a really hot and hard morning fastpacking.

I do not have a lot of miles on mine at this point, but so far I have been extremely pleased with it.


In regards to features, there is not much here to explain that the ZPacks website does not go into detail about. You basically have a carbon fiber shaft that breaks down into three (or four, to be technical) sections, which has some cordage inside of it (dyneema) to hold all of the pieces together. During conversations with Joe one of the things I stressed was making sure it would pack down in a short-size, for storage inside of backpacks or on the outside side pockets. The 21.5″ (54.5 cm) of packed length is a pretty good size. It could have been shorter but this would have added weight (significant) as a result of the amount of ferrules it would take to get the max-length and the very short pack length. The numbers just do not make sense.

On the bottom end you have a brass lug and on the top end you have some cordage and a cap.

There is a bit of the dyneema cordage that comes down the top of the shaft. This is necessary in order to give the cordage extra room for when you take it apart as well as to keep the different sections together. I have never had my cordage slip down inside of the shaft, as the rubber cap is a pretty tight fit.

It would just be comical to sit here and put things like the GG LT4’s and/or the LG CP3’s or even the Komperdell  poles up against the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff when it comes to the strength of carbon fiber being used, so no need to even go there. The only other product I know of that uses about the same grade/thickness of carbon fiber rods that ZPacks is using is the LuxuryLite BigStik, but it is $45 more expensive and 127.57 grams (4.5 ounces) heavier, so no need to go with that option either. Obviously it would be unfair to compare the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff to the Pacer Poles, as those are such a unique product that nothing can really compare to them.

Staff vs Trekking Poles:

So I am sure a bunch of folks are going to want to know “why use a staff over a traditional trekking pole?

My question would be, “Why use a trekking pole over a staff?

I suppose it all comes down to your style of hiking. HYOH. YMMV. All that good stuff. Do you use a hiking poles to thrust you along? Why? Do you use a hiking pole to provide stability? Do you use a hiking pole just because everybody else around you does? Are you a type of hiker that likes having one or two extra ‘legs’?

The simple answer here to these questions is very simple: hike how you want to hike the way you want to hike with what you want to hike. Its not my place to tell you what trekking pole or staff to use, or what works best for you.

I watch people using traditional trekking poles and most the time laugh under my breath because of their apparent total ignorance of how to properly use them. Let me ask you this: should your poles move together in parallel, or should one move forward while the other moves backwards. Watch any group of hikers with poles and you will understand why I ask this. Understand the reason for this anomaly among hikers and you’ll understand why I am pointing this out.

So really, the answer to should you use a ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff or should you use a single or pair of traditional trekking poles comes down to nothing more than you using whatever works for you.

In other words, asking the question “why use a staff over a traditional trekking pole?” shouldn’t even be asked, because there is no right or wrong answer to that question. Again, use whatever works for you.

For me, it is just a matter that I had given up using trekking poles, they just could not meet the needs I had for them. Simple as that. Nothing more than that. For the purposes that I want one with me, I want something that is as light as can be, can be packed down as small as can be (because I won’t be using it 90% of the time) and yet when it comes out to be used, I need to – I HAVE TO – know its going to be as strong and durable as possible to ensure that I remain standing when I need it the most. I also need it to be significantly taller than a traditional trekking pole – when crossing a river, it often gets stuck out four or five feet ahead of me, and then shifts to the downstream side, and back in front, and back to the side, and so forth – the extra length, in order to prod the rocks and ground as I cross a river, is vital. Its thickness and ability to support my weight if I slip on a moss-covered-slippery-as-hell-rock, is also vital. If I am boulder-crossing having something super tough to wedge down as I cross is vital. And, when in really deep snow, having something super tough and this long is soooo nice. But again, YMMV.

For those accustomed to a traditional hiking pole with a fancy cork or rubber grip, there is some getting use to holding onto a straight shaft while hiking. If you are one of those who use your hiking pole as a means of thrusting yourself down, or up, the trail — something I think is bad form, unless you are using pacer poles — a straight hiking staff is not going to be for you. But as I do not use my hiking poles as a means of forward movement, but rather to provide stability, the lack of a fancy-dance grip is utterly inconsequential.

Use As A Shelter Support:

The ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff comes apart at most of the common lengths for most shelters that use a trekking pole. It may not be the exact/perfect height, but it tends to fit, or at least work, for most of the common shelters used by the SUL hiking community. Those being: the full 60-inches, or 52-inches or 48-inches. This makes it worth with the ZPacks Hexamid, ZPacks SolPlex, ZPacks Duplex perfectly. The ZPacks Altaplex is either 2 inches too tall or 2 inches too short, depending on which length of the Staff you have taken apart, but either should be good enough, depending on weather conditions.

It can also work really well with the MLD TrailStar. It will also work with the MLD DuoMID but like the ZPacks AltaPlex, is going to be a couple inches too short or too high for a perfect pitch or weather dependent.

It can also be used with the crazy popular SMD Gatewood Cape.

In other words, pretty much any shelter that can be setup anywhere in the 48-60 inch range is going to be able to use the  ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff as a shelter support. It may not be “perfect” but I think most of us experienced hikers know that shelter height is usually dependent upon how the weather is. The different heights of the  ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff allows for this type of flexibility.

These days I have fallen in love with the ZPacks Duplex shelter. When I ordered it I also ordered two dedicated carbon fiber tent poles from ZPacks. I just find it easier to go with dedicated poles. This allows me the flexibility to set up my shelter as a base-camp and then continue to use my Staff the next few days as I am out scouting different routes for whatever trail I happen to be building. For when I am on a thru-hike it allows me to have the staff for other type of things – usually nothing, but sometimes I use it as a way to hold-up the head-end of the shelter, for if I cannot find a good stick for that purpose. It can also be used to help gather water from a river, just tie my cooking pot or water containers onto the end of it, and I can stay nice and dry, or reach water that is down out of reach.

And, at 60-inches, it gives you an extra 5-8 inches of additional length over most trekking poles out there… which makes it nice to get that snake out of the trail that seems to be enjoying a nice day in the sun, and won’t move. A rather risky venture, but I’ll always take a few extra inches for such a time as that. (this is where I would normally insert the standard don’t-be-an-idiot disclaimer)

Camera Mount:

A lot of folks have expressed interest in having a camera mount for the staff as there is none.

I had originally hoped that the Suluk46 “A-Pod(a collaborative product between Suluk46 and myself – and the worlds lightest manufactured camera pod for traditional trekking poles) would work but the diameter of the carbon fiber rod was just a tiny bit too large.

So I went into my gear box and pulled out my Pedco UltraPod Mini and my Mini Ball Head Camera Mount and gave them a try, and sure enough, they have proven to work well enough to support my iPhone 6+ for shooting photos and video.

ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff, Camera Mount

ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff, Camera Mount

This combo provides a good enough mono-pod for me.


I have not had any issues with the carbon fiber rod, or the ferrules. That said, such things are bound to happen to somebody at some point in time.

Those of us who use cuben fiber shelters probably already carry cuben fiber repair tape.

ZPacks has put together some instructions of how to repair any ferrules that might come loose by using the cuben fiber repair tape.

It is so good of an idea that all Staffs from now on are going to be manufactured this way.

In Closing:

So to bring this to a closure.

As explained, I have been through, used and gave up on, most of the major trekking poles that we hikers tend to use. The BDACC are the only ones I have ever owned that have remained in my backpack. But even they have tended to be left at home, even before I got the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff because they just were not long enough for what I needed a trekking pole or staff for.

The highlights of the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff are, for me, as follows:

  • Durable enough to hold my weight should I stumble or fall
  • Long enough to do probing through deep river crossings
  • Packs down small enough to fit inside my backpacks, even my pocketless backpacks.
  • Extra tough carbon fiber shaft that does not snap if it gets stuck between rocks (something that haunts lesser durable trekking poles)
  • An amazing price considering the cost of this thickness of carbon fiber and the man-hours to build one of these.

Is the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff going to be for everybody? No, by no means and of course not. But for those of you that are already a “one-pole hiker” like I am, and are looking for something longer and stronger than the current options, the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff is going to be something to buy. Give it a few hikes and I think you will fall in love with it, like I have. It has already saved me countless falls in rivers and crossing really rocking areas, and even while climbing up some rather technical climbs. It is the only pole/staff I take with me anymore. It has my full trust – and that is saying something I rarely say.

Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that at the time this article is published that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear, Montbell US, Suluk46, Sun Precautions, Suntactics.

Written by John B. Abela

February 20, 2015 at 11:34 pm

Wind Jackets: Montbell Tachyon, Patagonia Houdini, ZPacks Wind Shell

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Hike and author, John Abela, wearing the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants and Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket.

Hiker and author, John Abela, wearing the Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants, and ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

Greetings All,

So there has been a LOT of discussion the last few months on the differences between the the “Montbell Tachyon“, the “Patagonia Houdini“, and the “ZPacks Wind Shell“.

I have gotten dozens of people asking me about which one they should buy, if there are any real-world differences between the fabrics – both for breathability and water resistance – and all those type of questions.

From a usage perspective the only one of these wind jackets that I have personally used is the Montbell Tachyon – something I have extensively used, put to the test, and reviewed.

For help with this article I have contacted a fellow by the name of Richard Nisley who is widely known and very well respected within the BPL community. He has the tools and resources to test fabrics at a level few of us have. I have often cited his research in my whitepapers and publications.

I asked him the following questions:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by John B. Abela

February 18, 2015 at 10:49 am

Lightest Fully Enclosed Shelters

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Natural shelters – the best kind!
Sitting under a fallen Redwood tree, in Northern California, making some lunch and taking a break. This Redwood grove, the Cheatham Grove, is where parts of Endor, from the Return of the Jedi, was filmed. It is a beautiful gove that I use for fastpack training.

Greetings hikers, bikers, fastpackers, and adventurers of all types!

Back in December of 2011, after an insane amount of work, I published my “SUL/XUL Fully Enclosed Shelters” article, and associated spreadsheet, and it sort of became the de facto list of the worlds lightest fully enclosed shelters on the internet.

Each winter season, usually between December and February, I sit down and invest about 10-15 hours updating the spreadsheet, and I have now finished up getting it updated for the 2015 hiking season.

This year I wanted to take a moment to push out an article on the update, mostly to note some of the major changes I have made to the spreadsheet.

The time had come to really clean things up, to have it be a bit more fair across the greater scope of things, and to get some shelters from additional manufacturers listed.

If you need clarifications on the history of this list, and why things are laid out they way they are, and all that stuff, it can all be found on my original article, along with a bunch of other good content worth reading.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by John B. Abela

February 12, 2015 at 3:12 am

Posted in Comparisons

Gear of 2014

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Fastpacking along the 400 mile 'Bigfoot trail' I have spent four years helping to develop. Photo by Brian Doyle

Fastpacking along the 400 mile ‘Bigfoot trail’ I have spent four years helping to develop. Photo by Brian Doyle

Gear of 2014

Ah, the end of another year and another awesome hiking season. I figured this also meant that it was time to take an honest look at the gear I have used this year. Some of it I really loved and some of it I did not like at all and some of it I liked but sold or gave away because it just did not work out for my style of hiking.

In this article I am going to go into detail on my favorite backpacks, shelters, sleeping quilts, sleeping pads, jackets, shoes, cook systems, clothing, and other misc gear.

This will likely be a long article, and I hope you enjoy it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by John B. Abela

December 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

Posted in News & Updates

Interview: Black Rock Gear – The BlackRock Day Pack

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BRG makes the finest hand-made gear I have encountered. As a sponsored hiker of BRG it has been a true honor of mine to use their gear for thousands and thousands of miles of backcountry hiking.

BRG makes the finest hand-made gear I have encountered. As a sponsored hiker of BRG it has been a true honor of mine to use their gear for thousands and thousands of miles of backcountry hiking.

Greetings Adventurers:

The following is a Q&A session between myself and Evan Cabodi, the founder and owner of Black Rock Gear, based out of Washington USA.

I have been a fan of BRG for many years now, know an insane amount of fellow hikers that also love them, and I have been super proud to a sponsored hiker of BlackRockGear.

Black Rock Gear is introducing their very first pack, a rather impressive leap forward for a company that has only made garments and accessories, and they have brought forth an amazingly beautiful and functional pack right from the get-go.

Below is a short interview that took place with Evan and myself, it will give you a bit of insight into how BRG operates, approach being a cottage industry company, and of course details about their brand new packed called the “BlackRock Day Pack“. It might not be something for everybody, no pack out there is, but all indications are this is going to be one really amazing pack.


Let the interview being:

Hey Evan. So with the introduction of your new ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ you have taken a slight turn in your product line-up, away from just building accessory gear and now into the rather already-flooded market of day packs. The pictures I have already seen from it look amazing. As you know I am a huge fan of front panel loaders, having spent three years building a full size front panel loader for long distance hikers that is now on the market.

There has been a trend over the last decade away from front panel loading packs. What was the driving force, for you as the pack designer, to introduce the very first BRG pack as a front panel rather than a traditional top entry pack?


We wanted to build an all around great day pack that allowed you to really make use of all the space top to bottom.

A bag small enough you always want it with you yet big enough to take all your needed gear.

Our fully hinged front panel loader gives you access to every inch of space inside the bag.

Our big mouth zipper gives you the quick on the go top entry access.

So in one bag we’ve given you two styles to make use of as it fits for your application.


In looking at the specs of this pack it appears you are really trying to introduce a super tough, well engineered – yet not over engineered – pack that will cater to folks looking to stuff a whole lot of gear into a day pack. The use of molly straps sort of puts it outside the typical scope of most hikers, trail runners, bikers and the other set of outdoor sports that I thought made up most of the BRG buyer market.

What has been the idea of going with internal molly straps?

What about them is going to speak to your core and loyal customers to break outside the norm and go with a pack with molly straps?

We wanted a light rugged bag that does It is job well. With the BlackRock Sport pack I think we’ve created a streamlined pack that speaks to our core group.

It is lightweight at 500 grams but is strong and durable using 420d ripstop material throughout.

The bag incorporates three strips of what we call non-conventional molly strapping.

They add very little weight to the bag, but give you some really great options for storing gear throughout the vertical relief of the pack. With each pack you also get two yards of cut to fit double sided velcro and ten zip ties.

That connection pack gives everyone the ability to start organizing the inside of their pack as they see fit. Whether you are strapping in that zoom lens or fitting an oversized fishing pole, the velcro “Rip-Tie” allows you to semi-permanently adhere odd shaped gear to the exact spot where you want it to ride. Zip Ties give you a more permanent solution to strapping in cases that may hold first aid kits or fixing a sheath for that knife or flashlight where It is easy to access through the top zipper.

If you look at our shoulder strap design, you will also see that we’ve extended the volume of the pack above the shoulder straps. This added volume is made useable because of the internal molly straps. You can literally “float” items anywhere within the back panel of the pack and place your most important items so that they ride up high in the pack.


You mention storing camera and electronic equipment within the product description. Does the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ have padded walls? For instance, a lot of discussions I have read recently about backpackers wanting to take their very high end camera and video equipment out into the backcountry have been looking for packs and bags that have 3D mesh lining inside to help product their gear. Does the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ have any internal padding/inner to help protect this type of sensitive equipment?

The pack was originally designed to safely organize and carry high end equipment into the backcountry or just around town.

The back panel is the only padded portion within the pack and is the only area needed to safely hold your gear.

While hiking you need two things to safely pack your gear. You need protection from the elements and a place for the gear to essentially live or pack without being crushed by other items in the pack.

Using our internal molly strap you can float those critical pieces safely in place allowing you to tote around your electronics without damaging them while hiking on the trail.

Combined with water repellent shell material and water resistant zippers the pack keeps things dry, dust free and firmly in place while on the go.


So tell me about the fabric you are using for this new pack. I know that BRG typically does not going into great detail about the fabric of gear you make, but what are you willing to share about the fabric you have selected for the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘?


The fabric for this pack needed to look great and hold up to a lot of abuse. We initially prototyped a couple of bags from much lighter 70 denier material but quickly decided we needed something two or three times as thick and durable. In the end we went with a 420 denier ripstop that had a solid PU coating and a beautiful diamond ripstop weave. What we really liked was the deep sheen and beautiful black color the fabric came in. This heavy material also provides just that much more protection and should really hold up for years.

We really wanted a pack that everyone would add to their collection and have 20 years down the road. I have still got a couple very old packs that I still use for a number of things. The value of a pack that gets used for years and years is just priceless when compared to the overall value of the bag and I think this pack and the materials used hit the mark.


As you know I am a hiker that has enjoyed pushing the envelope of things the last few years, it is what has drawn the two of us together. The ongoing quest to push and push and push until you finally realize you have pushed too far and than do the sensible thing of taking a step back and calling it good. For many hikers that tend to follow my articles, the movement of hiking with sub-5-pound backpacks has just become the norm these days. A lot of us have sort of moved away from traditional backpack and moved more into the world of fastpacking. This, of course, has spawned an entirely new market for the outdoor industry. Companies like Ultimate Direction, Salomon, Ultraspire and dozens of other companies now have entire product lines designed for the trail runners that are using a pack in the 8-28 liter range. The ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ is right at that ‘sweet spot’ in volume size, at 25 liters. Is this part of the target market you are going for with the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ or is the focus more on the day-to-day around town kind of pack?

Check out all the pockets on the inside of the lid of this pack!!

We wanted to design that perfect day pack as our first backpack on the market.

The super ultra-light crowd could definitely make use of our pack, but I don’t think It is the direction we pushed with this initial design. I feel that until we make that great all around pack we won’t know what to design for those really niche markets and right now the 5lb backcountry ultralight multi-day hikers will most likely stick with their single wall cuben fiber top entry packs, or go with something like your multi-day front loader pack.


Is going from being accessory gear company to now making backpacks something that is showing where you are trying to take the BRG company over the next few years or is the addition of the new backpack more of a personal adventure?

The inside of the pack has a mesh closure that is about 1/3rd of the total volume.

The pack has been on my list for years. I think it really puts the “Gear” into Black Rock Gear and is definitely a direction I’d like to push.

We’ve been making hats and mitts for years now and we are always working to come up with new pieces of gear with a design and functionality that is unique to us. I feel that our BlackRock Sport Pack is just that, It is your everyday pack with a unique and functional design.

I would love to expand off our day pack and head a number of directions with it. I could see doing everything from something ultralight to something in the multi-day range. No matter what direction we go it will always start with building a quality piece of kit that lasts for years.


When I see gear that uses waterproof zippers it typically tends to lead me to feel that they backpack itself is highly water resistance. In order for this to happen though, as I am sure you know well enough, it is more than just about zippers and fabric, such as was discussed above, but it also requires other details in the making of the packs, such as bonded seams, using smaller threading and so forth. What steps have you taken with the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ to make it as water resistant as possible – after all, if you are including using it for camera, laptops, and other electrical goods, making sure that folks that live in the PNW and rain forests such as were I live in the Redwoods of Northern California – help assurance us that it is not ‘just about’ using a waterproof zipper.

Our pack is meant to be that rugged outer layer, that shell that sheds most everything it can from what you store inside. From dirt and dust to rain and snow. Waterproof zippers were a logical choice when combining it with such a heavy duty coated fabric and trying to make it great for any condition. We stayed away from taped seams for long term durability but stuck to traditional build techniques that seal out all but numerous days worth of constant rain.

We also had to weigh the durability of the zipper and the overall amount of zipper on the pack with what style we chose. A top entry bag has the advantage of a very minimal amount of access to the inside of the pack. With a fully hinged front flap and a huge wide mouth top zipper we needed as durable and water resistant zippers as we could get. The bag allows you to get into it from either side or the top but doesn’t sacrifice the weather resistance you need keep what’s inside dry.


Two last questions for you Evan.

First, BRG over the years has usually had a small inventory and supply of their products. Are you looking at making just a small run of these and them moving into them the “Past Editions” section of your website and product catalog, or are you looking to keep the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘ as a main product and keeping it in stock for the long run?

I would like to think of Black Rock Gear as that craft manufacturer. Locally made gear designed by outdoor enthusiasts for outdoor enthusiasts.

We not only design and use our own gear, but we listen to our customers and build items that people want. From our single layer super ultralight shell mitts to our hammock pillow, we’ve played around with numerous pieces that sometimes stay in our line up and sometimes work their way out. Some pieces will come back while others were a one time deal.

With the Black Rock Gear Sport backpack I would like to permanently bring a pack to our line up from year to year. We’ve got a couple hundred day packs built up with more lined up in the queue. Over time I’m sure elements of the bag will change, but I would simply love to have, make and sell a very well loved and sought after backpack. Something that has the same following as the Black Rock Hat.


Lastly, as you know better than anybody, the folks that consider themselves BRG collectors and lovers know all too well just how well crafted all of your gear is, and always has been, made. BRG is known for making some of the finest and best made gear. Along with this has always come the understanding that buying hand made gear from a cottage company means having the gear priced a bit beyond what the average person tends to want to pay – it is a niche market after all and that always justifies the price. So my question is has to do with the price-point of the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘, which as of the initial launch of the pack is $250 USD. For a lot of folks that is more expensive than what they pay for their long distance, huge size, thru-hiker backpacks that are three to five times the volume capacity. It is also double the price for what most fastpack hikers pay for a pack in the 20’ish liter volume range. Speak to those of us who are long time, or even somewhat newer, BRG fans on the pricing of the ‘BlackRock Day Pack‘.

Black Rock Gear

Quality gear made locally has always been our goal. Our pack is well designed, well thought out and will simply lasts for years.

It is more than just designed in the USA, It is cut, sewn and assembled here and when you purchase one of our bags you know It is going to support the local economy.

You also know that if anything goes wrong with it, you’ve got support just down the street. We pride ourselves in making sure our customers get the best quality service and can easily get gear fixed or replaced.


Well Evan, thank you for being willing to answer these questions and take the time away from being out in the shop. It means a lot to me and I am sure those folks that are fellow BRG lovers are going to enjoy hearing a bit from you and the thinking behind this new pack!

If you are interested in the Black Rock Gear pack you can find out more about it at: http://www.blackrockgear.com/daypack.html

Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I am a sponsored hiker of Black Rock Gear.

Written by John B. Abela

November 2, 2014 at 1:04 am

Posted in Interviews

Tagged with ,

ZPacks Rain Jacket, Challenger Version

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ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket

ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket

ZPacks Rain Jacket, Challenger Version:

In mid 2014 ZPacks updated their rain jacket to use a new combination of fabrics: a layer of eVent on the inside, a layer of spectra (CF) in the middle, and a layer of nylon on the outside.

I have written more about this jacket than anybody else so I have gotten a lot of people asking me thoughts about this new version,  called the “Challenger“. If you want a lot of backstory on this rain jacket you can read my original post, my thoughts after using it for a few months, my thoughts after using it for over a year, my full review of the last version, and my post going into detail of the fabric being used.


A Change In Fabrics:

Previous versions of his jacket used cuben fiber and eVent, so why  go away from using two layers of eVent and one layer Dyneema? I do not know the answer to that, however there are two very good possibilities.

The first being that CTC (the company that makes the fabric) could just be involved in further R&D and this is their next generation of R&D making it to the market.

The second could be that by going to a layer of Nylon they are able to apply better colour to the outer layer of the fabric. The ZPacks rain jacket has long been nicknamed the ‘bunny jacket’ by a lot of people due to it looking like a medical bunny suit, especially if you are wearing both the jacket and pants of these rain garments.

I will admit that the change to using nylon as the third layer of fabric has made some drastic changes to the appearances of this rain jacket. The black no longer look like a bunny suit – the fabric looks a lot nicer. So much so that the Challenger could be called a fashionable rain jacket that could fit right in with your normal day-to-day in-the-city clothing. In the past if I happened to be in my home town and was wearing the rain jacket, it was hard to really use it as a rain jacket that could be used around town without a lot of strange looks. With this new layer of nylon, this rain jacket, now, can be worn around town and look like almost every other rain jacket on the market that folks buy to wear around town. But, whether this was the reason for removing a layer of eVent and switching to nylon, I can only guess.

In regards to feel and noise, I find the outer layer of nylon to feel like any other big-store rain jacket you might buy. That silky feel of the previous versions of the ZPacks Rain Jacket is definitely gone – personally I enjoyed the silky feel of the previous generations as it made for sleeping with it on rather nice. As for whether or not the nylon makes it more or less noisy than previous versions of the jacket, well I sure have not noticed any difference.

The one thing I have noticed is that the nylon layer of fabric seems to make it significantly stiffer jacket. All the previous versions of this jacket were very soft, whereas the nylon has added a fair amount of rigidity to this jacket. Not a negative I suppose, or something that makes it all that much better, just a personal observation. Even after a bit of use I am not seeing it soften up much.



The Challenger is a true three layer rain jacket, not a 2 layer jacket, and very much not a 2.5 layer jacket. If you do not ‘get’ what this means you can read this info. Likewise, if you are not aware of the term MVTR I recommend you read this article I wrote, as it deals with a lot of the technical side of things.

The ZPacks Rain Jacket has always been a three layer jacket and that has what has made it stand out so much – a three layer jacket at these weights is just amazing.

So let us look at MVTR data for a brief moment.

The original two versions of the ZPacks rain jackets had a g/m2/24hrs of around 20,000.

The most recent version, before the Challenger, had a g/m2/24hrs of around 41,000.

These were numbers provided by CTC using a JIS L 1099 testing method.

From what I have been told the most recent rain jacket, the Challenger, has a g/m2/24hrs in the 22,000 – 25,000 range.

So this most recent version of the jain jacket is taking a fair step backwards in regards to MVTR.

Is this good or bad, let us talk about that for a moment.

There had been, and still is, a lot of speculation on a number of backpacking related websites about whether or not this change away from two layers of eVENT to using one layer of eVENT and one layer of Nylon was going to help or hurt the MVTR of this most recent version of the WPB fabric. Almost everybody that I have come to trust was saying that it would likely increase the MVTR. However that just does not seem to be the case. It seems that this layer of Nylon is really hurting the numbers. Either that, or the middle layer of eVENT has changed from a ultrahigh version to a lower grade version of fabric – perhaps something CTC found the need to do. I just have no idea, just throwing out possibilities. No insider knowledge of what is going on.

In the end though, let us remember, that a three layer rain jacket in the 20k+ range is still a dang good rain jacket.

Let us also make the point that ANY rain jacket is going to wet out, eventually. People who buy rain jackets, hike in them for hours, and come back home hating the rain jacket and complaining on the internet that their rain jacket seeped water through, should probably just stay home, or perhaps actually learn about the gear they are buying and how to properly deal with garment layering.

Facts are facts, let us just face it… a higher MVTR usually means little more than you being able to go a weebit longer without wetting out your rain jacket.

So it is important to remember that while the Challenger does have a lower g/m2/24hrs then the previous versions of the ZPacks rain jacket, this change should not be something that causes you to not buy this exceptional rain jacket.

In regards to air permeability, independent data is showing the Challenger to be at “0.29 CFM … this is almost double the prior WPB Cuben air permeability (.17 CFM)“.



Well the Challenger website page lists all of the features of the jacket – no need for me to list them all here – but I do want to highlight three new features that ZPacks has added.

Hood Adjustment. There is now a ‘hood clip‘ on the back of the hood that allows you some slight adjustability. Could be useful for those wearing helmets or those wearing caps/visors.

Front Pocket. This is a change that I went “oye” about, but that is just because I do not like front pockets. A whole lot of folks do love front pockets so I am sure this will go over well with most folks. I have yet to put anything into mine. This just helps it stay flat and thus not cause issues with my shoulder straps. I am sure you could ask ZPacks to not include one, if you do not want one, but at this time there is no option on their website to have it not be included. I ordered mine with the pocket just to see how it looked, worked, and perhaps some day I might use it.

Extra length + 2-way Zipper. This is a rather huge features. It increases the length of the jacket from 32 inches to a whopping 40 inches. If that does not sound like much, you are mistaken. It really does make this one seriously long jacket. This add-on feature also includes the use of a two-way zipper. This is a HUGE benefit, especially for those who understand thermoregulation while using a rain jacket. An extra bonus in going with this option, if you are tall enough to justify this add-on, is that it means you can likely do away with rain pants/skirts/wraps. For me, at five-eleven&three-quarter in height, I have found I no longer need to carry a rain-wrap with me. So that is saving me some weight, even though this add-on option adds 1.5 ounces of weight to the jacket. My only complaint with this feature is that it makes the jacket too long for ‘around the town’ use – something I talked about above. While it does not have the bunny-suit effect, it has a doorky-why-is-your-rain-jacket-down-past-your-knees-look… so it is not really appealing for around town use. But for out on the trail, these additional 8 inches of fabric make a huge difference. For trail-town-while-doing-laundry, it could be highly beneficial ;)


Final Thoughts:

Having owned (personally bought) every version of the ZPacks Rain Jackets, the new Challenger was a rather drastic change as I saw it – a change in fabrics, a new colour, and the option to have a two-way zipper. And I was right – the new fabric while going backwards in MVTR performance, brings with it a great new color and feel and the ability to use it around town in day-to-day life.

If you spend most of your time wearing a rain jacket while out on the trail, the new Challenger in the extra-long-length and 2-way zipper, as well as adding pit zips, is absolutely the best way to go!

If you spend most of your time wearing a rain jacket in town, an urban yuppie, for sure order up this new version of the jacket, just go with the default options. Ditch the extra length, hood strap, pit zips, etc and just have yourself one very great looking, high performing, three layer rain jacket. I already own the extra-long and plan to buy a regular length for town and day-to-day use here in the Redwood rain forest of Northern California.

I think if you happen to have one of the previous versions (especially the version right before the Challenger, generation three) and you do not care about the bunny suit affect, stick with the one you have. There has not been a better 3-layer rain jacket on the market than the version you have in regards to MVTR.

If you have a first generation, or even a second generation, and are thinking about upgrading, I would say go for it. Without doubt or hesitation. Order up one of these new ones for sure. Better MVTR, better durability, better look and feel.

Oh, lastly, after having used this latest version of the ZPacks Rain Jacket, I have sold all of my previous versions. This really is a rain jacket worth buying.

Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that I purchased my ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket with my own money.

Written by John B. Abela

October 3, 2014 at 9:15 am

Posted in Gear Reviews

Tagged with , ,

Surviving a volcano eruption – what would you do?

with 4 comments

photo credit: https://twitter.com/mori____mori/status/515706795797381121/photo/1

photo credit: @mori____mori

So hopefully most of you know that I place a lot of value in learning survival techniques related to hiking, as well as teaching hiking related survival techniques.

From complex topics such as thermoregulation (which most hikers seem to struggle with), too simple topics such as ‘never hit the trail without a compass’ (which almost every hiker I encounter on the trail and ask, does not have, and which I require for every person on my guided trips) to some of the more complex survival techniques such as compass navigation, when to allow yourself to get wet in the rain and when not too (which might sound simple but is a complex issue that is a key aspect of thermoregulation and highly variant upon other weather conditions) — all of these are topics I have written about and taught on over the last five years (and learned a great deal of myself by being out there and forcing myself to learn more and more about these issues).

Every so often, however, a hiking related survival issue comes up that makes me, if not downright forces me, to grab my extra small moleskin notebook (http://amzn.to/1ompW2P) and scribble some notes on things I have never thought about or encountered before while out hiking.

Earlier this morning I was reading an article that made me go “umm” and reach over and pull out my moleskin and jot down some notes. The article was this one: http://space.io9.com/violent-eruption-traps-hikers-at-mount-ontake-japan-1639813357 and it is all about a volcano eruption in Japan.

There was one specific video that make me cringe, knowing that if such a situation happened to me, I would have to proceed based on nothing more than some adaptation of SERE, rather than being able to evade and survive such a situation because I had already trained and prepared myself mentally and educationally on such a situation.

Watch the following video and from the very start think “what are the first five actions I should be taking at this very moment“.

Perhaps the scariest moment of this video is at the 45 second mark when the camera looks back up the trail and you see a line of people behind you and the ash cloud coming down and covering every single person. That moment is what caused me to just pause the video and go “OMG, what in the world would I be doing?

Do you stop and hope for the best?

Do you link up arms with somebody else?

Do you take 60-90 seconds and use some cordage (perhaps shoe laces, bungee cord from your backpack, or some 550 cord if you’re one of those type of hikers) and tie-up with another hiker?

Do you immediately grab your bandana, buff, or shemagh and cover your mouth and nose? There is no way you can prevent breathing in gases but at least you can keep the ash from filling up your mouth, throat and lungs.

Do you make sure you have very easy access to your water bottles for if you need to quickly wash out your eyes or stave off dry-throat issues?

What evacuation risk assessment are you going to quickly run through your mind (and share with fellow hikers if you are hiking with a pack) to determine if the best course of action is to get the hell out of dodge and risk injury by running, or hunkering down where you are and hoping you can wait it out, or what about quickly setting up your shelter and hoping it can withstand the gale force abuse when the ash cloud hits.

These are just five of the questions that came to me when I was watching that short 90 second video. Since I first saw it and grabbed my moleskin I have since come up with 17 questions that I felt I should invest some time into answering. There is a very slim chance I would ever need to put these type of questions into actual use, but a HUGE part of survival, even hiking related survival, is knowing how you would handle a situation if it ever did become something you were faced with.

I would love to hear some well thought-out questions, and even possible answers to your questions, to this issue. Watch the video, jot down some questions on what you find yourself thinking about when watching it. Then watch the video again three or four more times and start thinking up answers to your questions. Find a bit of healthy fear in watching the video – force yourself to go “oh ****” (that healthy fear of the situation) and freeze-frame yourself in that moment and think to yourself “ok, what am I going to do in the next 60 seconds, the next three minutes, and the next 6 minutes” – anything beyond that is probably going to be too late to do anything anyway.

I look forward to (a) what initial questions you find yourself asking regarding ‘(the: what do I do…‘) as well as (b) what steps of actions you feel would be best to address each of the questions you come up with.

Hopefully you can come up with at least five steps that you feel you should take – I would love to hear them.

+John Abela

Written by John B. Abela

September 27, 2014 at 6:26 am