Greetings Hikers, Runners, Alpinists, and Adventure Racers!
Here in the Redwoods of Northern California the summer hiking season is getting pretty close to being gone, and I am really looking forward to the shoulder/winter season so I can start putting to test all of the winter gear I have bought over the course of the year.
Over the last few years I have published ‘favorite gear of the year’ articles, typically in October or November, but as I am trying to get in some winter hiking this year I felt I would break this years favorite gear lists into two different lists, so here are the items that I have used over the course of the 2013 summer hiking season that have, in some way or another, really brought me pleasure and stood out to me.
Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket – I gave this jacket a review two months ago and my love for it has continued to grow. Be it out on the trail or at home, when I go reaching for a jacket this tends to be the one I grab – not the down kind of jacket, but the kind of long sleeve jacket that I like to wear to take the chill off or to deal with the cold wind we get here in the Redwoods in the early mornings. I have used it for hiking, for running, as a quasi-thermal layer, and often times just something to slip on over my undershirt if I am at home and need to go to the store. At 51.63 grams (2.037 ounces) it has been one of the few stand-out items as I think back over my gear this hiking season.
Sun Precautions Ultra Athlete Shirt – I reviewed this shirt a little over a month ago and I have to say it has been one of the rare pieces of gear that I have purchased that have changed my approach to hiking. For many years I have worn very light shirts and carried the GoLite Chrome umbrella. Yet with this shirt I have ditched using a light shirt and sun umbrella, and switched over to an ultra-efficient base layer and wearing this Sun Precautions sun shirt. This leaves my hands free, or saves me jerry-rigging the umbrella to my backpack, and while it is 39 grams more than the Golite Chrome Dome umbrella, the trade-off of 1.3 ounces is well worth having the freedom of not walking around with an umbrella, and not having the umbrella take up bulk space and dead weight when not being used. Awesome trade-off piece of gear!
Headsweats Long Bill Hat & Headsweats Velocity Visor – These two surprised me. I have been using the Outdoor Research Sun Runner for a long time, I have gone through at least two or three of them. This past year I purchased the Headsweats long bill to try to help with issues my eye doctor has been trying to get me to deal with. The extra long bill has been rather impressive. It takes a few hours to get use to seeing the bill of your hat sticking out a bit longer than what you are use to, but from a performance perspective, it really does have a huge increase in protecting sun from abusing your eyes all day long, especially if you hike without sun glasses like I have for years (which is why my eye doctor has been complaining, I suppose). The fact that the hat is made from CoolMax was just icing on the cake – I love CoolMax fabric. Once I picked up some gun glasses I ordered the Headsweats Velocity Visor and have been using it instead – it is 100% Coolmax fabric and only 52 grams (1.83 oz) and while not a long bill (that would be sweet) it has been nice having an open top considering how hot it has been this summer.
Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves – These are not really “summer specific” but this summer I started using these leg compressions and wowzer! Been wearing them pretty much 24/7 and they have totally solved the whole leg cramp issues. I use to wake up in the morning with leg cramps, regardless of whether I had my feet raised or not, and since wearing these things I have not had a single leg cramp. Freaking magical. Best 30 bucks I have spent for preventative pain. Been trying to figure out why so many runners have made the switch to wearing them, and now I know and am now a convert.
Cook Setup – I have gone through at least three different cook setups over the duration of the last year trying to find “the one that makes me happy”. This is sad, I know. I often think about the hikers I know that have 10,000+ miles of hiking that have been using the same cook setups the entire time, and I go through three or four a year… pathetic! But, I do think that might have changed. The primary credit for this setup goes to to an Australian by the name of Jason Quick, who was able to get TrailDesigns to make it really all come together. The way that I approached the setup includes: the Evernew EBY265, the TrailDesigns Sidewinder designed for the EBY265, the BGET, a small Ti disk for ground protection, a philadelphia cream cheese lid, a mini-bic, and a heavy duty sandwich size ziplock bag. All packaged up and sitting inside of my backpack it hits the scale at 118 grams (4.16 oz). Everybody has my permission to smack me if I buy another cook system over the course of the next year! (ps: still crazy in love with my modified jetboil sol ti)
SteriPen Freedom – I know this is going to be the big shocker, but this summer I had finally had enough of the Sawyer Squeeze. I know, I know, I have been one of the biggest promoters of the Squeeze since it came out. I have just been completely unable to justify its weight. By the time you factor in the filter, dirty water bags, adapters, a storage bag to put it into (while pocketless hiking), and the issues of both sub-freezing conditions and backflushing, it has become a product that I have become increasingly finding myself leaving behind. Instead I have been grabbing the SteriPen Freedom. At 75 grams it is less weight than the Squeeze, I do not have to carry an extra water bag/bottle just to handle dirty water, no more worrying about the filter freezing, and the chaos of trying to backflush the Squeeze while out on the trail for weeks at a time. While I have read stories of hikers having problems with their SteriPen’s I have never had a single issue with them, and I have been using them for years. I carry with me some MSR Aquatabs as backups, but have never needed them, and at 1.4 grams having the backup protection is justifiable for them to sit in my ditty bag for that “just in case” situation. The SteriPen is just as fast, for me, as the Squeeze is at filtering water when you factor in all the time spent dealing with the extras involved with the Squeeze. I am able to go over a week without recharging the Freedom and it is very rare for me to go 10+ days without hitting a trail town where I could recharge it. I am not going to sit here and continue to justify the “why’s” of me ditching the Squeeze beyond what I have said… suffice to say that the SteriPen Freedom has been a solid product since the day I bought it, switching back to it and leaving the Squeeze at home has just felt like the right thing to do each trip, so it has continued to be what I take with me. Even with the lighter weight Sawyer Mini coming out in the next few months, I think even it will not get me to switch away from the SteriPen… after all, the Mini will be released during prime winter hiking season, and we all know the issues of the Sawyer filters and sub freezing temps. The SteriPen just solves so many problems, at least for me.
ZPacks Pocket – This has been, without a doubt, the most exciting piece of gear released during the 2013 summer hiking season – especially for SUL/XUL hikers. At 113 grams (3.98 oz) this tarp has really been the pinnacle of summer hiking gear for the SUL hiker. When I ordered mine I asked if they would be willing to add a bug net and ZPacks indicated they would, so I went ahead and turned the tarp into a fully enclosed shelter, trying to plan ahead. My TSW is 343 grams (12.09 oz / 0.756 pounds), which makes it the worlds lightest non-bivy manufactured fully enclosed shelter. Whether you need a fully enclosed shelter or not, if you are an experienced SUL/XUL hiker and have the experience to go out with a 0.34 cuben fiber tarp/shelter, you just have to get yourself one of these. My long time readers will know that for a few years I have been using a 0.34 cuben fiber rectangle tarp, and probably have more miles using a 0.34 cf tarp than anybody else on the planet, and while the ZPacks Pocket is about 13 grams heavier than the rectangle that I have been using, the extra weather protection, stability, and bug protection, it provides above and beyond my rectangle tarp is absolutely worth the extra 13 or so grams of weight. As the winter season approaches and the rain starts coming, I will swap out the 46 gram (1.62 oz) Gossamer Gear Polycryo Ground Cloth with the 77 gram (2.71 oz) ZPacks Solo Cuben Groundsheet and should be good to go.
Well I think that about does it for my favorite pieces of gear that I have used during the 2013 hiking season. Some of these items got used a whole lot and some very little. In the end, as I have thought about what I should include in the list, these are those items that have just really stood out to me.
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, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.