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Just a reminder that you can find me on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/HikeLighter   I tend to be fairly active on my facebook page, often posting two or three times a week. Sometimes I talk about gear that I am working on developing, if I see a cottage company make updates to their gear I try to post about that, sometimes it is simply sharing an awesome articles or videos I have come across, sometimes it is updates on my hiking adventures, and sometimes just about what is going on in my life. I encourage everybody to follow my facebook page if you want to keep up with what is going on. Once you have clicked the “Like” button, please be sure to move your mouse over the updated “Liked” button and a menu will drop-down, and be sure to click on the “Get Notifications” option! Thanks everybody!

Written by John B. Abela

February 24, 2014 at 9:47 am

Posted in News & Updates

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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

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Surviving a volcano eruption – what would you do?

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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

Six Moon Designs, Flight 30 Pack

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Six Moon Designs ‘Flight 30′ in-use along the Bigfoot Trail in Northern California. Photo Credit: Brian Doyle

Six Moon Designs ‘Flight 30′ in-use along the Bigfoot Trail in Northern California.
Photo Credit: Brian Doyle


The Six Moon Designs ‘Flight 30 pack is one of the newest and most exciting backpack on the market for SUL hikers, runners, fastpackers, FKT’ers, peak baggers, and those looking for a small volume backpack that can handle 10 pounds or so of gear and have very little, if zero, bouncing while moving fast down the trail.

It is clear that the market is getting ready for an explosion of new products for those individuals that move fast, move light, and need gear that, for the most part, did not exist even a half-decade ago. As more and more hikers have moved into the world of SUL, and even XUL, a necessity for good quality backpacks, that are themselves SUL in nature, are desperately needed. At the same time, as adventure racers, ultra runners, and ultra marathoners, are discovering the joy, and sometimes pain, of pushing themselves even further, so too are they finding the need to be using backpacks rather than vests, in order to accommodate additional garments, required safety gear, and additional food for those going without resupply. For the last few years there has been a void in the market – a near lack of any products in the 15 liters up to 35 liters of volume space. A few have come along but very few, and those that did were obviously designed by folks that just did not ‘get it’ and instead where just trying to tap into a market prematurely without doing the necessary research for what was needed. Companies that have gotten it have, unfortunately, continued to produce products for either day-runners (in the form of vests from companies such as Ultimate Direction, Salomon and others) that do not offer enough volume, or are companies (Montane, ZPacks, and others) that use traditional backpack shoulder strap systems that just do not work for faster moving adventurers.

The Flight 30 was designed from the ground up to resolve these issues. The lead developer of the Flight 30 is well respected and experienced long distance hiker, Brian Frankle, who is also be an active trail runner. Ron Moak, the owner of Six Moon Designs shared this on BPL: “The Flight 30 was designed for ultra runners who need to carry enough gear to be able to spend a night out without suffering. To accomplish this, it needed to be larger than your typical running pack. However, it also couldn’t interfere with your normal running.1

It is important to note that the Flight 30 may not be the best option for SUL weekend hikers, or even SUL thru-hikers, that move on a normal pace. There are lighter options out there if all you want is a bag with shoulder straps.

Fastpacking along the 400 mile 'Bigfoot trail' I have spent four years helping to develop. The SMD Flight 30 has allowed me to move at a runners pace with three to four days of food plus gear.

Fastpacking along the 400 mile ‘Bigfoot trail’ I have spent four years helping to develop. The SMD Flight 30 has allowed me to move at a runners pace with three to four days of food plus gear.

Where the Flight 30 starts to shine, however, is when your pace involves moving faster than the typical day hiker or thru-hiker. When you make that transition from walking to running, the need for a different harness system becomes a key aspect of your ability to continue moving forward without having balance issues, without having your gear bouncing all over the place, and without having to constantly readjust your straps because they are designed for slow movers.

I am not going to get into all of the specs and such of this backpack, they are clearly documented on the SMD website. What I do want to highlight is that SMD is presently offering two different sizes, a ‘small/medium’ and a ‘medium/large’. I have acquired both of them and have found that the small/medium fits me best. I am 5 feet 11 3/4 inches (182 cm) in height and 165 pounds. I found the large to not properly fit me, even though in every other backpack or vest I have ever put on I tend to use a large or extra large. The torso height on the medium/large is up there. A friend of mine who is 6’3 (190.5 cm) also found the torso on the medium/small to be too high. So just throwing this out there: unless you are taller than 196 cm  you are going to want to order the small/medium. Perhaps in the future SMD will implement their very awesome ‘flexible frame system’ like is found on their Fusion line of backpacks which would allow the Flight 30 to be dialed in to really fit a person perfectly.

The Flight 30 comes with a removable hip belt. It uses the standard velcro attachment system that is common these days. It is a fairly tall hip belt, which is great for those times when you need the extra support. One of the nicer aspect of using the hip belt is that it allows you to use lumbar straps (at least, that is what I have taken to calling them – they go from the very bottom of the backpack to just behind the hip belt pockets) and when you need to start having more than 7 or 8 pounds (3.6 kg) of gear (at least, for me) the ability to pull in those lumbar straps makes it so you can remove a huge amount of bounce from the pack – it can really tighten up the pack against your back/hips. If your TPW is sub 5 pounds I have found there is very little reason for using the hip belts and can save yourself 4.8 – 5 ounces (~140 grams) of pack weight. I would like to see Six Moon Designs offer a hip belt without the pockets attached, as well as just a standard 1-inch nylon webbing belt with a velcro attachment point for a truly minimalist approach. Overall impression of the hip belt is very high – it offers a great amount of support for when you need to have a few extra pounds within the pack.

The front harness system is obviously what this pack is all about. With large pec panels that hug your chest, and a harness strap system that allows you to really dial in the pack to your body, these make the Six Moon Designs Flight 30 the most stable pack I have used, for anything above the fifteen liter volume vests. I am still holding out hope that they will introduce a Flight 20 at some point in the future, but as it stands right now, if the 14-16 liter volume of Ultimate Direction or Salomon vests are just not big enough for you, and with a mostly void 15-30 liter volume option within the market, the Six Moon Designs Flight 30 (small) seems to be at the top of the list of go-to packs.

In late 2013 I found the joys of moving faster down the trail. This lead me into the world of fastpacking and that sort of changed my life when it comes to being out on the trail. As I shared with Six Moon Designs when they published a customer profile on me, “The Flight 30 is one of the first packs on the market to cater to this void. It has proven to allow me to move fast, even running, with enough gear and food and water for three or four days on the trail.” This really is the niche market that the Flight 30 exists within. There are very few packs on the market that hug the body when moving with three or four days of food, have little to no bounce, and that is amazingly comfortable. In fact, I am not even sure if the term “very few packs” is accurate… more like, there is only one.

Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell AmericaBlack Rock Gear, Suluk46 and that I have purchased the Six Moon Designs Flight 30.

Written by John B. Abela

August 11, 2014 at 12:22 pm

ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

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ZPacks "Arc Zip" Backpack

ZPacks “Arc Zip” Backpack

Greetings Hikers,

Very happy to share the news that ZPacks has released the “Arc Zip” backpack, which has been a collaborated design involving myself and Joe Valesko, the owner of ZPacks, since I initially approached him with the idea of working with me to build a front panel cuben fiber backpack, back in September of 2012.

The “Arc Zip” is a fully featured backpack that utilizes an old fashion front panel loading design. Simply put, it was time to bring an old school design into the world of new school fabric and modern day lightweight backpack weights.

The “Arc Zip” is being offered in three different volume sizes:

A 47L (2,850 cubic inches) weighing only 19.0 ounces (539 grams).

A 54L (3,300 cubic inches) weighing only 19.5 ounces (553 grams).

A 62L (3,800 cubic inches) weighing only 20 ounces (567 grams).

The Arc Zip features a traditional full-U shaped zipper making up the front panel loading pocket. Sitting on top of the front panel is a high volume ‘front pocket’ that is solid fabric giving it a very clean look. Designed without a roll top closure, it uses a top compression system that allows you to compress down the top of your pack as you eat through your food or if you just do not need the extra volume. It features two internal compression straps to help keep your gear in place and give the pack extra durability for those times when you have to carry a lot of gear.

The Arc Zip, like all of the Arc backpacks designed by ZPacks, includes the Patent Pending Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame, solid fabric side pockets (5 Liters / 300 cubic inches), side compression straps, top and bottom straps, hydration ports.


Front Panel:

The heart of the “Arc Zip” is of course the front panel. A traditional fold over design that has stood the test of time, though sadly has faded into history over the last decade, but being brought back into the spotlight by yours truly. A front panel loading backpack allows a hiker to very quickly and easily access any piece of gear in their pack. Simply unzip the main zipper and you have access to all of your gear – that is what a front panel loading backpack is all about. Through the use of hybrid (cuben fiber and nylon) [2.92 oz/sqyd] it allows for the “Arc Zip” to have a large #5 YKK waterproof zipper, for a higher level of durability over smaller and weaker zippers. The same #5 zipper is also used on the front pocket.


Front Pocket:

The front pocket was one of the last features that we focused on building. It is rather massive at 10 liters (600 cubic inches) – think almost three of the ZPacks Multipacks! By going with solid fabric for the front pocket we allowed the “Arc Zip” to stay in traditional fashion, while also allowing this pocket to be used for gear that you might traditional keep inside the pack in order to protect them from the elements. The solid fabric front pocket also makes the “Arc Zip” look amazing. The most important reason for going with solid fabric for the front pocket, is, of course, because it is a front loading backpack – which means every time you open up the main front panel, if the front pocket was mesh all of your gear would fall out when you open the front panel, as mesh front pockets have no solid closure system.


Internal Compression Straps:

Internal compression straps are key to the long term durability of front panel loading backpacks. The high stress that can be placed on the main zipper of the front panel often leads to the zippers pulling apart or snagging and eventually failing. While most of this is just a matter of not over stuffing the backpack, there are times when it is just unavoidable, such as on very long sections of trails without resupply. Through the use of two internal zippers, called internal compression straps because they help compress the two sides of the front panel together, it helps relieve pressures placed on the zipper. This has long been one of the high failure points of front panel backpacks, yet it is so easy to solve by just adding internal compression straps, which we have done with the “Arc Zip”.


Top Compression:

Hopefully you are able to find yourself in a situation where your backpack is not stuffed to the brim. That is the goal of lightweight backpack after all. During the final development of the “Arc Zip” I realized that as I consumed food the top of the backpack would start flapping around because there was nothing to hold it in place. To solve this we attached top compression straps the backpack. The advantages of this over a roll-top closure are rather significant – plus, a front panel loader with a roll-top is just wrong in so many ways ;)


Standard Features:

All of the standard features of the other ZPacks Arc series backpacks are included with the “Arc Zip”. This includes side pockets, top straps, base straps, side compression straps, sternum straps, and a hydration port.

I personally recommend adding load lifter straps and a lumbar pad (or two) and of course belt pouches.


Frameless Backpack:

Originally I set out to build a front panel loading backpack that was frameless. However after using the “Arc Blast” for a few seasons (read my review of the Arc Blast) I came to realize there was something about the Flexed Arc carbon fiber frame that really made the decision to turn the “Arc Zip” into a full framed backpack. By making the backpack part of the “Arc” series we were able to gain not only the frame system, but the heavier duty nylon/cuben fiber fabric, which allowed us to use a #5 zipper rather than a #3 zipper for much better durability. One of the really nice aspects of the Flexed Arc frame is the ability to remove it. Many times over the last year I have taken the prototype packs off the frame and used the pack in a frameless mode.  By removing the flat carbon fiber supports you are able to save 63 grams (2.22 ounces) and allow the pack to fit snug against your body like most traditional frameless packs.


Pricing / Availability:

The pricing of the three different sizes of the “Arc Zip” are, as of the time of this article being published:

47 liter – $300

54 liter – $310

62 liter – $320

The slightly higher cost of these over a standard “Arc Blast” are a result of the extra fabric, the use of #5 waterproof zippers, internal compression straps and the extra time it takes to build the “Arc Zip” over a traditional non front panel loading backpack. For those who love and desire front panel loading backpacks, I am sure that the extra few dollars will mean very little to have one of these amazing backpacks!

For those wondering if I will receive any compensation for being the primary designer of this backpack, the answer to that is no. I have almost a dozen products on the market right now that I have either completely designed, or in the case of the “Arc Zip” have co-designed, and I do not take a penny from any of these products being sold. Should I? Perhaps. But I have chosen not too.

The pack is available right now, right here!


Insights as a co-designer:

First off let me just say a huge “thank you” to Joe Valesko of ZPacks for allowing me the opportunity to work with him to bring another piece of gear to market. My first email to him about building a front panel loader was on September 10, 2012 and over the course of the last two years we have had over 50 emails back and forth on the development of this backpack. We have built two prototypes along the way and the have been mailed back and forth over the last two years a number of times.

The very first design I approached him with started off with the pack being made in some light weight fabric so we could nail down the design without spending a lot of money. I used the first prototype for a few months and mailed it back to Joe with a list of suggested changes. Over the next year the prototype pack went through a number of modifications. Issues such as how many internal compression straps was a huge issue – and probably the most important aspect of the entire design – for without them, the ability to have long term durability and not have zipper failures was going to make it so it could never be brought to market. We went from one internal strap to three and eventually settled on two of them strategically placed.

My original design of the pack included an ‘internal pocket’ rather than an external pocket (aka: front pocket). This caused a fair amount of discussion back and forth and two or three design changes. Initially the internal pocket was zipperless and just had some elastic at the top. That proved to not be a good idea as anytime the front panel was opened small heavy items (such as headlamps) in the internal pocket would go flying out. So we had to go back to the drawing board. Switching out the elastic to a zipper was an option, but it would present manufacturing difficulties, and my job as the pack designer was to make a pack that was usable for hikers *and* a pack that ZPacks could make without complications and still make money – a business has to make money after all, to pay for all those awesome people making our gear – that is just part of being a responsible gear designer. A lot of this issue with the internal/external front pocket was solved when we made the switch to using the Arc design. The more durable fabric allowed us to move the pocket to the outside, make the pocket bigger and thus more overall volume (an internal pocket, after all, consumes volume from the inside of the pack) and make it a lot easier to access the gear that is stored inside of it, by not having to open the front panel to access.

We also spent time talking about outside pockets. Should they even be on the pack? Do they go against all that is sacred about a front panel loader? How will overloading them add stress to the front panel zippers? Should they be faced upwards when wearing the pack or when the pack is on the ground? (that was a headscratcher, but eventually we went with the standard design as that is what hikers are use too).

This is the very first backpack that I have been involved in building and I have to say it has been fun. When Joe hand delivered to me the final prototype at the 2014 PCT Kickoff, I think all of us were pretty amazed at just how awesome it looks. We went with the “All Green with black accents” and with the design of the zipper arch, and the front pocket, its just one amazing looking backpack. Over the last six months since I received the final prototype I put some miles on it just to make sure all was good-to-go. I recently sent it back to Joe and the photo at the top of this article is the final pack design. What a hot looking backpack!!

For all of you out there, whether an old timer who understands what front panel loaders are all about, or a younger hiker such as myself who even at 40 years of age I’m still a bit too young to really remember the hay-days of front panel packs, or whether you are a fast moving 20-something looking for something unique and something that gives you access to all of your gear with utter simplicity, I really do hope that you will find this new “Arc Zip” something of value and something that gets to see some amazing places and a whole lot of trail-time!

Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell AmericaBlack Rock Gear, Suluk46.

Written by John B. Abela

July 22, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Klymit Motion 35

with 13 comments

The Klymit Motion 35 Backpack.

The Klymit Motion 35 Backpack.
(stock photo)


In late 2013 I started hearing rumors that Klymit, a company I have bought a fair amount of gear from and wrote some great reviews about (ref 1, ref 2, ref 3), were in the process of bringing a backpack to the market. I did not put a lot of trust in these rumors because it did not seem like Klymit would be the kind of company to bring a backpack to the market. They have partnered with a number of companies that make backpacks to supply their airframe support technology for makers of backpacks. This rumor changed when I was handed a Klymit Motion 35 in January of 2014 at the PCT Kickoff in Southern California.

I was briefly told about its features and to give it a go “if it looked like something that would work for me“, no strings attached. Having been involved in building a backpack for the last two years I did not really expect to get much, and to be honest, probably not any, use out of it. All of that changed when I found myself without a backpack for a three day hike I was invited to. My primary backpack was off getting some repair work, my prototype was off getting another few modifications done to it, another backpack I own was being used by a friend hiking the pct, and the last backpack I had sitting around was just too small. This left me wondering “hmm” but I recalled that Klymit backpack sitting in my gear room and went and grabbed it to see if I could get my gear into it, and more importantly, if it was even going to be a viable backpack for me.

So I pulled off the tag and opened it up and thought “hmm, not sure its big enough”, even though it is stated to be a 38-liter backpack. Looks were mighty deceiving with this backpack. I should start off by saying that the Klymit Motion 35 is a front panel loading backpack. I looove front panel loaders and it was the only reason I agreed to take it, because my love from front panel loaders just makes it so I cannot turn them down. After laying out all my gear I started loading it up in the traditional front panel loader method (which is similar, but still different enough, from a top loading backpack) and after dumping it all out a couple of times I finally figured out how to make it happy – my fellow front panel loading hikers will know each front panel loading backpack has its own unique characteristics of how to make them happy.

After surprising myself that I not only got it all into the pack, but had a crazy amount of room left over, I only needed about 22 liters of volume for the hike, I jumped up off the floor and put it on.

First thought were: wow.

I had both a good wow and a not so good wow coursing through my brain at the same time.

The not so good wow was it was pretty dang stiff vertically.

The good wow was just  how comfortable it felt, with the exception of being too stiff.

I took the backpack off, deflated the Airbeam pack frame that was inside of it, and put it back on, and it was a “ahhh, that’s better!

Then it was like “OMG that feels awesome!

As my long time readers know, I have tried and used a whole lot of different backpacks that are on the market. The list of backpacks in the sub-40 liter range is not all that big and most of them have been on my back at some point. Almost every American cottage made backpack I have put on. A number of non-cottage backpacks in the 20-40 range I have not only put on but given a serious workout.

So when something makes me go “OMG” in a good way, it really just makes me go, well, “wow“.

Now let us just be clear here… as a hiker that typically hits the trail with a sub-5 pound bpw backpack, there is one really big reason why I am not usually going “wow” when I put on a UL/SUL/XUL backpack… and that is: super light weight, and extreme light weight, backpacks usually have little to zero cushioning, in order to reduce weight.

The S/J style straps are very nice! Not the normal "s" style nor the "j" style, somewhere in between and something I *really* like!

The S/J style straps are very nice! They are not the normal “s” style nor the “j” style, somewhere in between and something I *really* like!

The one thing that I cannot do here is call the Klymit Motion 35 a “lightweight” backpack. It specs out at 1.29 lbs / 583 grams. That is almost 500 grams heavier than my normal summer backpack – of which I have a few thousand miles on. My largest backpack that I own, the ZPacks Arc Blast is 52 liters / 3,200 ci  and is 16.5 ounces (468 grams) which is almost double the volume and still lighter than the Klymit Motion 35. That makes the Motion 35 a pretty heavy backpack in my book.

But, does that weight payoff, is there justification in those extra ounces? The answer to that is yes.

Allow me to talk backpack theory for a moment. For many years the goal of backpacks has been to get lighter and lighter and eventually reach a point where they are nothing but a ‘bag with straps1 and as somebody with one of the worlds lightest backpacks, I can say that I have done my part to help push that movement forward, for better or worse. A lot of this changed a few years ago when the master backpack designer Brian Frankle was approached by Ron Moak, the owner of Six Moons Design, and together2 they set out to blow away all the trends and present-theories on designing backpacks – and instead to work on building backpacks that were first and foremost, properly designed. The issue of weight… become inconsequential. The issue of having all the latest trends and features of a backpack… thrown out the door. Instead, lets build a backpack that focuses on proper load distribution, proper harnesses, proper center of gravity (CoG), and so forth. Now, the importance of all of this really has started to drive home the point for a lot of hikers, myself included, that a properly designed backpack that makes a 10 pound load feel like 5 or 6 pounds, or a 20 pound load feel like an 8 or 10 pound load, is, perhaps, just perhaps, something worth giving serious consideration too.

Now this is not an article/review on SMD or their backpacks, but I am hoping that all of you reading this are seeing the point I am trying to make. That being, if a backpack is twice as heavy as what I am using now, yet is designed in such a manner that the load feels lighter by wearing it, it is something I recommend you stop and consider, and try for yourself. I have spent all year putting this theory to a test. I have to say, I am becoming a convert.

(sidenote: for those not use to reading my articles and reviews, I don’t just talk specs… I talk theory, I talk philosophy of use… I try to educate… I try to get folks to think about new things and new ideas. If all you are after is just some review that is throwing numbers and facts at you, you should just stop reading at this point – but a lot of my other articles will likely interest you)

Alrighty, back to the weight of the Klymit Motion 35. I will be the first to stand up and say “yeah, its a heavy backpack, especially for only being 35 liters“.

Allow me to share this statement that was shared with me, regarding this issue, by somebody that was involved in the design of the Motion 35:

This pack {the klymit motion 35} is a return to the roots of a backpacking pack… there is nothing pretentious here… it is a pack to be a forgettable part of your outdoor experience because it is so comfy and intuitive to use.

You know, I really do like that.

I have shared my thoughts with Klymit regarding the weight, and I do not want it to  sound like the weight is a negative… I just spent the last five or six paragraphs trying to make that point… the thing is, though, that a lot of the weight is rather unnecessary. To term myself in the whitepaper I wrote about this pack, “the hardware is overkill, all of the straps could be narrower and thus lighter, the haul loop and axe loop are comically huge, and the hip belt adjustment system is taking things too far for a 35 liter backpack”.

The Klymit Motion 35. A really nice looking backpack and crazy comfortable. Here it is without side pockets, compression straps and bungee cords.

The Klymit Motion 35. A really nice looking backpack and crazy comfortable. Here it is without side pockets, compression straps and bungee cords.

This past weekend I was at a friends house, showing him the pack, and as somebody who makes a lot of his own gear, he was kind enough to break out some of his ‘modification tools’ and for a good hour we slowly started whacking off parts of the backpack that I felt were just overkill. A lot of strapping went bye-bye. All of the compression straps went bye-bye (I have yet to understand why backpack makers put compression straps on backpacks this size… if you got so much crap in there that you need compression straps, you should probably just stop carrying so much crap, or use a bigger backpack, but preferably, dump some of your gear out and learn that you actually can hike without so much crap). Opps, mini-rant there, sorry ;)  We also cut off the silly bungie cords and the loops they go through.

All said we cut off, I am guessing, around 5-6 ounces of straps and hardware. It did not stop there though. As a front panel loader lover, and a purist one at that, the idea of side pockets just annoyed me, so off they went too. I never used them, so, why not. I carry my water in specially designed hip pockets and when needed a bladder, which btw fits really well inside of the pocket where the Airframe normally fits, which I took out after my first hike and it has never gone back in – I found it to be totally unnecessary at loads under 10 pounds.

What we ended up with was one very sweet and clean looking front panel loading backpack!

Let me just say it and get it out of the way…

The Klymit Motion 35 is the most comfortable sub-40 liter backpack I have ever used!

You have no idea how much I just needed to say that. It just brings a smile to my face every time I put on this backpack.

Granted, I do not think I have ever hiked with more than 10 pounds of weight inside of it – and it is rated at 35 pounds by Klymit, though I have no idea how you could shove 35 pounds of gear inside of it. If I had much over 15 pounds of gear inside of it, I am guessing that I would want to put the Airbeam frame back inside of it. Like any backpack, once you get much over that 12 or 15 pound limit you just want a bit of a structural support. I did load it up once with 11 pounds of gear, just to see, and it felt like it needed the frame. Thankfully all of my gear plus food for a half-week does not tip the scale over 10 pounds, so, good enough for me.

I will also share this: a lot of you who follow me know I am a stickler when it comes to CoG (center of gravity) and if a backpack, properly loaded, causes me to have CoG problems, it either goes up for sale or goes in the trash. CoG on SUL backpacks is key because most SUL backpacks are not able to handle load strain on the neck, shoulders, lower back muscles, and eventually on your hips. Probably 8 out of 10 times that I hear SUL hikers saying they are hurting it is because of CoG issues. The other ~2% are typically because the backpack does not have enough padding/support/comfort built into them and its just straight-up painful to be wearing – yes, it is possible to have a SUL backpack that hurts. When it comes to a front panel loader, as previously stated, it takes a bit of a different approach to loading. What I have found is that the Klymit Motion 35 has a rather good CoG, without the airbeam support, up until about 8 pounds of gear/food/water. Much beyond that and no matter what I try I start getting collapse/compression issues which results in the load pulling backwards, and thus there are CoG issues. I am positive this would be resolved by using the airframe, even if it is only 20 or 30% inflated. My pack loading setup does not involve any heavy items in the outer pocket, only a 3 ounces wind jacket, a 5 ounce rain jacket, a 0.53 ounce trowel + TP, and a couple of PROBARs. So, all of that to say that if you are thinking of having 10+ pounds of gear you should probably leave the airframe in there and inflate it just enough to give it some rigidity, but not so much that it causes the pack to be stiff as a 2×4, because that will make it so that the backpack does not conform/shape to your body, which it does really well without the airframe, and a SUL backpack that hugs your body is a backpack that just feels better.

My hat goes off to Matthew Lagas-Rivera2 who Klymit worked with to build these backpacks. He did an amazing job of making a front panel loader that can potentially appeal to the masses, be it for a weekend hike, use around town, something to throw into the truck or car loaded up with gear, or for the SUL/XUL hiker looking for an absolutely amazingly comfortable backpack!


Where To Buy:

Klymit, Direct



Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell America, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46. The Klymit Motion 35 I have used and herein reviewed was given to me by a private individual.


1) ‘bag with straps’ is a term Henry Shires, the owner of TarpTent, has made infamous when asked why he does not make backpacks.
2) Brian Frankle joins SMD
3) Matthew Lagas-Rivera is the owner of Elemental Horizons.

Written by John B. Abela

July 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Posted in Gear Reviews

Tagged with , ,

Long Term Review: Icebreaker base layers – The Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee and the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top

with 7 comments

Greetings All,

Stock Photo.

Stock Photo of the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top.

I have another long term review – and one that I know a lot of you have been waiting a long time for me to do – and this time it is on the Icebreaker baselayer clothing.

I just recently passed 800 days of wearing the Icebreaker Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee and over 500 days of wearing the Icebreaker 260 Tech Top (I technically had the bodyfit 260, but that name brand was discontinued and is now just called the ‘tech top’) and for about a month I had a Icebreaker Long Sleeve Chase Zip Top that I somehow lost at some trail town and quickly replaced with the Tech Top, which I am glad happened as I just did not like the design of the Chase Zip Top.

For those of you that have to trust and enjoy my long term reviews – and by “long term’ I mean ‘long term’ – longer than any other active outdoor gear writer – I wanted to get this article published for those of you preparing for your next winter hiking season. Both of these garments have proven themselves to me to be the absolute best base layer top garments I have ever owned. It took me a number of years of wearing other top base layers and just not being happy with them to finally spend the above-average costs for these two garments, but now, three years later, I am still wearing them (and I am at this very moment) and plan to keep wearing them until they give out.

I hope you enjoy this review – it has been a long time coming. Sorry for the delay for those that have been waiting, but at the same time, I do enjoy my long term useage of gear before writing a review on gear!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by John B. Abela

May 31, 2014 at 9:55 am

Jiva Coffee Cubes – Hiker Worthy Coffee?

with 8 comments

Jiva Coffee!

Jiva Coffee

Jiva Coffee Cubes:

There has been a fair amount of chatter within the hiking community over the last week or two regarding a coffee called “Jiva Cubes” which makes little coffee cubes that you put into hot water and in a few seconds you have yourself a hot cup of coffee.

Jiva Cubes Inc. is a small business that is based out of Miami, Florida USA that got started a few years on kickstarter. Their first attempt did not work out ($3,671 pledged of $15,000 goal) but their second time around did work out for them ($21,173 pledged of $1,000 goal). Their third kickstarter product was a huge success for them ($82,012 pledged of $15,000 goal) and really got their name out there.

Their most recent kickstarter project is setup to develop a new coffee flavor simply called “Black Coffee Cubs” and has already reached it goal of $15,000 USD and I am personally really looking forward to the black cubes, as they offer two or three times the amount of caffeine over their existing cubes. I gladly supported this project.


How Does It Work?

Jiva cubes are compressed soluble coffee and panela that come in neat little packages.

You simply heat up some water, throw the cubes into your cup, give it 30 seconds, stir, and you are good to go (add sugar if you find the panela not sweet enough).

Below are photos of how this process works. I have used a glass bowl so that you can see distribution of the cube as it softens up. I have used 8oz of 210°(f) water.

Ready For Some Water

Ready For Some Water

10 seconds

10 seconds

15 seconds

15 seconds

20 seconds

20 seconds

30 seconds

30 seconds


After 30 seconds I grabbed a spoon and stirred and it is ready to consume.

After 30 seconds you grab a spoon and stir it and it is ready to consume.



Jiva Cubes keeps it simple:

Ingredients: Panela, Granulated 100% Columbian Coffee

Ingredients: Panela, Granulated 100% Colombian Coffee

Panela is the juice extracted from sugar cane, dehydrated and then crystallized through an evaporation process, which makes it so that it is neither refined, nor a chemically processed, sugar product. It tastes somewhat like molasses only not as strong. I found this neat little video that shows panela being made.

Granulated coffee is another term for ‘instant coffee’ which is another term for ‘soluble coffee’. This is the same thing that other ‘instant coffee’ used by hikers is made from, be it Starbucks Via or Nescafe or such. There are two main ways of producing soluble coffee, freeze drying and spray drying. I do not know which of these processes is being used, but my guess is that they are using the spray drying process. (update June 28, 2014) According to Jiva the soluble coffee is produced via the freeze drying method (ref).

Both the panela and the soluble coffee are being manufactured by a company in Bucaramanga Colombia. They are, for all intents and purposes, these with rebranding.



6 Jiva Cubes next to some Probar bars to give an idea of their packaged size.

6 Jiva Cubes next to some Probar bars to give an idea of their packaged size.


Each cube of the ‘classic flavor’ provides 32 mg of caffeine.

Each cube of the ‘strong classic flavor’ provides 52 mg of caffeine.

Each cube of the ‘black flavor’ (not yet available, at time of writing) provides 100 mg of caffeine.

As for flavor, I have found the ‘classic flavor’ to be a rather weak flavored coffee (8oz of water) and akin to coffee that you might find in the Caribbean nation – flavorful but not strong.

The cost of a box of 24 cubes shipped to my door results in each cube costing ~$0.80 (eighty cents, USD).

I find I have to use two cubes in my standard cup of trail coffee. This places the cost per cup at $1.60 per cup, which is two to three times more expensive than a cup of coffee made with Via or Nescafe, and at least $1.50 more expensive than using ground coffee and a GSI coffee maker – which is my preferred method of making coffee on the trail at this point – per cup.

When the ‘strong classic flavor’ is available that will help reduce costs and the amount of cubes I have to carry – and I am very much looking forward to the black flavor, in hopes that a single cube will be enough.

I happen to enjoy both mild flavor coffee (the best I’ve had was on the Island of Trinidad) and really strong flavor coffee. When I am at home I typically consume Dark Piñon from New Mexico Coffee Company for dark/strong coffee, and Jamaica Blue Mountain ‘Peaberry‘ for mild/high-flavor coffee). I do like Starbucks Via, but only the Christmas Blend, which I usually order a case of each year.

Overall the ‘classic flavor’ falls somewhere in between the Peaberry and the Dark Piñon that I use at home. Compared to the semi-strong and spicy Christmas Blend Via, the Jiva ‘classic flavor’ loses big time – and is almost twice as expensive per cube/package.


Nutritional Facts

Nutritional Facts:

Ok, if you care about any of this… you should be ashamed to call yourself a coffee drinker :-p

Each cube will give you an extra 30 calories for your overall daily intake of the ever precious calorie count we hikers face.

The 6 grams of sugars comes from the panela, which is used to bond together the soluble coffee.

The 25 mg of sodium is somewhat surprising. Suppose that is also a result of the panela.


What Other Hikers Have Said:

Roger Caffin, BPL Review.


In Closing:

Most hikers I know like their coffee and like it strong.

When compared to taking ground coffee and the GSI coffee filter, the Jiva Cubes (classic flavor, again, that is all that has been available) there is just no comparison – the ground coffee wins by a mile.

When compared to other soluble coffee on the market, I find Starbucks Via (I have tried every flavor released) to be stronger, but also more acidic – so a win for both (via for better flavor/strength, jiva for having a milder acidity). I do not like the soluble coffee from Nescafe at all, so not even worth comparing in my book.

From a cost perspective Jiva needs to work on bringing their pricing down by about a third in order to be competitive. For a weekend hiking trip the extra cost might not be noticeable, but for a 30 to 100 day hike, the extra costs for the Jiva would add up very quickly.

From a convenience perspective I think the Jiva falls in between Via and ground coffee. Via is crazy fast, just open pour, stir and drink – waiting 30 seconds for it to dissolve is just not necessary. Compared to my favorite method of using ground coffee and the gsi filter, well, that takes a fair amount longer than 30 seconds.

Should you buy some? If you are somebody that does not mine drinking soluble coffee and are willing to try something new, sure, go for it and order up their sample pack when it is available. Personally, I will not be placing any more orders until their much stronger ‘black flavor’ is available, for as I said above, the cost of using two cubes to make it semi-strong is just not economical in my mind – the exception would be if you like fairly weak coffee.

What I do plan on ordering is their Hot Chocolate cubes. I really do loving having hot chocolate while out hiking (at night, so it warms me up, but doesn’t keep me up like coffee would) and normally the package of hot chocolate is perfectly fine to take with me, but I am thinking that the size of these little cubes, along with the less amount of trash to carry out, and the less mess (if you have ever dropped your open package of hot chocolate inside your tent while trying to make it, you know what a mess a package of hot chocolate can make) means the Jiva Hot Chocolate cubes could win out big-time. It would still be significantly more expensive than normal packaged hot chocolate (~$0.25 cents for marshmallow hot cocoa) when the Jiva hot cocoa cubes end up costing $0.79 cents per cube shipped to my door – ouch!

So, all said and done, do I like these Jiva Cubes?

Yes, I do. They have a nice flavor and are very convenient. If their pricing can be brought down to a more market-competitive price and they get a stronger flavor cube available, I would very likely switch over to these Jiva cubes.


Thank you,
+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that as of the day of publication of this article I am a sponsored hiker of Montbell AmericaBlack Rock Gear, Suluk46.

Written by John B. Abela

May 27, 2014 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Hiking Food

Tagged with , , ,