Favorite Summer Gear, 2013

Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants, Headsweats Long Bill Hat, and ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.
Author and hiker, John Abela, wearing a Montbell Tachyon Wind Jacket, Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants, Headsweats Long Bill Hat, and ZPacks Arc Blast backpack.

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.

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, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.

15 thoughts on “Favorite Summer Gear, 2013

  1. Hi John,

    Great update…the steripen was a big surprise…in what container do you treat your water as the Freedom needs a min 30mm diam bottle opening? Interestingly Justin Lichter uses the Steripen Ultra and Classic and just places them in the mouth of a normal plastic water bottle and turns the bottle upside down…These models only need a 20mm diam bottle opening…..cheers

    1. Hey Garth,

      Usually, I just filter the water right in whatever pot I happen to have along with me… be it the Evernew EBY265 or the Toak 550ml. They are both just deep enough to get the little Freedom to activate and swirl around.

      Was not aware that Trauma used the SteriPen. I used the Adventurer Opti until the Sawyer Squeeze caught my attention and I started using it. The Freedom just happens to be a lighter weight unit that works better for my XUL summer style of hiking.

      1. John,

        I can understand how your system works if water is abundant. I am very tempted to try out Trauma’s method as it enables treating 1litre at a time in the cheap plastic bottles that can sit on the sides of the pack. He discusses this in his new book which has just been released.

        BTW if you haven’t seen, the Locus gear poles are available…i remember you were looking for a pair when they were out of stock.


        1. Garth,

          I do carry with me a widemouth bag for those times when I need more than a 1700 ml of water (which is what I tend to carry at any given time – a 1L smart water & a smaller 700ml smartwater, used as my primary)… so do not want to present such a thing that I am out there on the trail with nothing more than my cook-pot (which, sometimes I do if I am on a sub24hour hike).

          I am not at all aware of what Trauma does, I have not read his book.

          Yep yep on the LG CT3 poles!! Near the top of my buy list for this month!


  2. +1 on the surprise at the SteriPen. I get the neutralizing thing, but what about particles? Perhaps in the Redwoods water is ample enough that you need only worry about bacteria and viruses. In the Colorado Rockies I’m often taking water from a small trickle or shallow pond. See my FB page for a shot of my Evernew bag with a little critter swimming in it!

    1. Hey Rick,

      Floaters just means extra protein right :-D

      On my last hike I was talking with a hiker that lives in Colorado and had been out here in the Redwoods for a week hiking and one of the biggest things he kept repeated was “I cannot believe how clear the rivers here are”. After the fourth or fifth time I asked him to explain what he meant and he told me the water over there can be pretty bad when compared to the rivers we got here. I do not know, as I have not done any hiking in Colorado in about three decades.

      I just keep a lightload towel with me and he seems to do a good enough job keeping the floaters and debris out… but most of the time I just bend down and scoop up some water, treat it, drink it, shove the pot/steripen back into my pouch, and move on.

  3. I purchased a sawyer adapter from Tinny at MBD and it made life a lot easier with the platty bags, filter and backflushing etc. I still don’t trust the steripen personally though I’m sure it’s good. This past weekend I was able to use an original 2L squeeze bag with my 2L platty and 1L platty with ease. Filtered a boat load of water quickly and without worrying. I could have left the 2L platty at home to decrease weight and just use the dirty water bag. If freezing temps is an issue throw it in your sleeping bag. :)

    1. @Stephen, yeah so did I. I love that thing. It really helps solve at least two problems I had with the Squeeze. But in the end, it was just one more piece to complicate the whole system — and I have long advocated hitting the trail with a simple setup and as less amount of gear as you can. The Squeeze just finally hit a point (earlier this year) when it got too annoying for me.

  4. John,

    Excellent season wrap up. I am no where near XUL, but do have many pieces that are SUL or XUL. The photo of you above shows you with the Arc Blast. Do you have any updates on that pack? I’ve considered this pack and could drop some weight switching to it. I do need it to hold a bear canister though. Not always, but I can’t justify changing to it if it can’t do that for me. I’d really like to go out lighter next season and that’d help this three season backpacker do it.

    Great blog BTW. And I love the Steripen Opti. If it doesn’t finish the full 90 seconds, it just flashes red and I do it a second time. I just pay attention to how long it goes and I know about how long 90 seconds is. So sometimes it may not complete the cycle, but I just watch how long it is lit for and then know how much more it needs. Mostly always works fine the first time. Also, this water treatment system never gets heavier like a filter. Nice bonus.

  5. John, I assume the Philly cream cheese lid fits the mug perfectly? Have you had any issues with the lid melting when boiling water? Does it snap on or just sit on it?

    1. Hey Marc,

      I have had the lid melt a little bit, but not enough to make it so I had to replace it. Still using the same one.

      It actually fits on there very good. Good enough to not worry about it pop’ing off and having everything fall out.

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