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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.

Backpacks:

I have had to hang my head in shame at the amount of backpacks I have acquired this year – way too many. Three packs from zpacks, three packs from six moon designs, one pack from black rock gear, two packs from ultimate direction, the very fun Matt Kirk Sub 60 Fast Pack – and of course this year the ‘Arc Zip‘ which I designed and worked with ZPacks to manufacture was released for sale!

So which are still in my house at years end? The ZPacks Arc Zip (52L), the SMD Fusion 50 (wish I would have gotten a 60), the UD PB Vest (first gen), the Sub60, and the BRG Day Pack.

So ten packs bought this year (shameful, I know) and I still have five. Two of the packs, the Arc Zip and the Fusion 50, are for winter hiking, guiding trips, or when I am just wanting to carry an excess of gear. Two of the packs, the UD PB and the Sub60 are for when I am going out on day hikes, weekend summer hikes, or fastpacking, and the BRG pack is being used as a bug-out bag and for around town use.

Big Packs:

First let us look at the big packs. During the 2015 hiking season it will probably be a battle between the ZPacks Arc Zip and the SMD Fusion as to which becomes my go-to backpack for most of my hiking. Here are my pros/cons/thoughts of both of these top end backpacks.

ZPacks Arc Zip:

Arc Zip Pros:

Caters to my love of front panel loaders – makes it super easy to load and get stuff out of. No more having to load a specific way just to get easy access to specific stuff (ie: heavy food normally we put at the top of our packs can now be down at the bottom of the pack, on your hips where the weight belongs, and you can get to it anytime without unpacking everything). Awesome fabric that has been able to handle all the abuse I can throw at it. Excellent side pockets, perhaps the best in the industry. Taped seams so it can handle hiking in the rain better than any pack I have.

Arc Zip Cons:

It hurts my shoulders at much over 16 pounds TPW. Hope to see ZPacks make comfortable shoulder straps one of these years. They are much too stiff, not wide enough, and are attached too narrow together for guys with big necks like myself and a lot of others. ZPacks also needs to redesign the way the (patent pending)  Arc Frame works, because right now it does not properly attach itself to the hip belts in such a manner as to have proper weight distribution, an issue if you plan to carry a fairly heavy load with the Arc Frame system. If they fixed/changed these two issues this pack/frame system could easily handle much greater loads and not cause so many hikers pain in the shoulders – it is not just me, I hear and read about this issue a lot. [ZPacks has, since this article was published, introduced the Arc Haul which now allows for heavier loads, which nullifies these issues]

Arc Zip Final Thoughts:

What can I say… I spent three years designing the lightest front panel loader backpack on the market, I am super proud of it. If you are a hiker that loves front panel loaders and can keep your TPW at under 15 pounds, the Arc Zip the THE backpack you should be buying. What Joe V and I were able to work together on and produce for other hikers really is amazing. Front Panel Loaders are going to make a comeback in the next five years and it will mostly likely be a result of the Arc Zip. Once hikers are able to start really getting it out onto the long distance trails and writing about it, hopefully things are just going to explode and a renewal of love for front panel loaders will be happening. ZPacks has already made a huge name for themselves with the Arc Frame design. By merging together my efforts of the front panel loader and Joe’s work on the Arc Frame, it really is a leap forward for front panel hikers. Simply put, if you like front panel loaders, go buy an Arc Zip.

Six Moon Designs Fusion:

Fusion Pros:

The best harness/adjustability system of any pack I have ever put on. When I need to carry over 15 pounds (6.8kg) this is the pack I choose, without hesitation. And because it is so comfortable, it tends to be going with me on hikes when I am in the 10-15 pound range as well. I have not yet used it on a hike in the sub 10 pound (4.5kg) range, I will in 2015 though. Fabric is super durable. I have never been able to dial-in a pack to be as comfortable as this pack is. Well designed and engineered pack. My max-load at this point has been 38 pounds (17.2 kg) TPW and while I could feel the weight back there, it felt like it was in the mid-20’s once I got the pack all snugged and well fitted for my body and hiking style.

Fusion Cons:

Pockets. I had an entire paragraph written about my dislike for the pockets and choose to delete it. Suffice to say, SMD needs to rework the pockets – one of the most talked about issue I see about this pack throughout the internet, so hopefully SMD addresses this in the future. Secondly, it seems as if the pack volume is off by 6-10 liters. Have not see anybody else talk about this, so it could just be me, but my Fusion 50 feels more like a 42-45 liter pack, even with the collar fully extended. Lastly, the over-the-top compression strap needs to be about 6 inches longer, especially if you have to have the collar is fully extended, which I almost always have to do due to the lower volume issue.

Fusion 50 Final Thoughts:

This newly introduced backpack has a lot of things going for it. A crazy comfortable frame/harness system. Think the comfort of an 8 pound Granite Gear pack on the market, yet only 2.2 pounds. While I, and others from what I have read, really do want to see the front and side pockets reworked, everything else about this pack just screams “buy me, use me!” I have never used a pack that so properly handles weight distribution as the SMD Fusion. If SMD can do something about the exterior pockets in the next generation of this backpack, it would likely become my go-to pack for any hiking trip, — and would probably become a contender for one of the best long distance backpacks on the market – I’ll just predict that right now: if SMD fixes the pockets and volume size, watch out ULA/ZPacks/HMG, as the backpack market might have a new king of the trail in just two or three hiking seasons.

Fastpacks:

Now I want to take a look at the unique category most are calling “Fastpacks” in one-way-or-another. The entire category of ‘fastpacks’ is still really up in the air when it comes to defining them, and I think that for the time being that is still a really good thing. Over the last three years I have acquired over a dozen ‘fastpacks’ and only two of them have remained. This is not to say some of them were not really awesome, because they were, but rather just to say that only two of them have worked for what I needed them for. Probably the two hottest (in 2014) name packs that I acquired and sold where the UD Fastpack and the SMD Flight. The UD Fastpack, for me, was just horrible – it felt and wore about the same as a day pack from my middle school years. The SMD Flight did an amazing job at reducing bounce while running – it was just too much volume for my needs and hope they one day make a version that is in the 18-22 liter range.

Ultimate Direction PB Vest:

UD PB Pros:

Amazing bounce control. Super comfort. Wears great while running, going on day walks, and even xul weekend hikes in the summer time. Love the top front pockets on the PB – one holds my GPS the other holds my PLB. The above-the-waist belt system is by-far the most securable and comfortable belt system I have encountered. On the comfort scale, the UD PB ranks at the very top.

UD PB Cons:

The 11-liter volume limits how long and far I can go when using it. If they could increase the volume of this to 18 liters or so, this could easily become my go-to pack for anything except winter/guide/expedition hiking. Fabric takes a while to dry. Front sternum straps are too short.

UD PB Final Thoughts:

Since I have acquired this vest it has probably gotten more trail time than anything else I presently own. During the summer months here in the Redwoods I often will take it for two day hikes through the Redwoods. If I really stuff it I can get enough food for two nights/three days, plus a 50°f quilt, a bivy, a mid-weight shirt, and my rain jacket inside of it. Perfection. While the pack does not have a lot of fabric on it, instead using a lot of plastic-type material, what bit of fabric it does have does fairly well at drying out, but it still takes a bit longer than I would like for it to dry out. Here in the Redwoods it has been known to rain for days without stopping, even in the summer, and while the temps do not drop, the rain does not stop dropping either. If I am out hiking in the rain for 10+ hours I often wake up the next morning and the material on the pack is still wet, even while drying out overnight underneath a tarp. These two issues are the only negatives I have for the PB vest, it is just an amazing fastpacker. At 11 liters of volume its great for this type of adventure. One approach I have seen to extend the volume of the UD vest is this photo. Hopefully in the near future they will increase the volume to the 18 liter size, which would allow me, and a whole lot of other adventures, the ability to use it for much longer trips and further into the shoulder/winter season. I have used a whole of vestes and fastpacks this year and the UD PB continues to be my favorite one.

Sub 60 Fast Pack:

Sub60 Pros:

Really light weight. Totally new approach to a fastpack. The all mesh fabric makes for an awesome backpack in wet conditions and your gear is already in dry bags. Very unique approach to hip belt pockets, which the more I use it the more I have fallen in love with them.

Sub60 Cons:

You have to sew it together yourself – though this is probably not a ‘con’ for those that love to tinker and customize with DIY gear. I am also not a fan of the ‘Bandoleer’ feature, though I can see why this is a really unique approach, it just is not something I have been able to get use too.

Sub60 Final Thoughts:

This is about as minimalist of a backpack as you can get – and that is an awesome thing! While this backpack is going to be far, really really far, from what the average hiker needs, if you really have your stuff together – and by stuff, I mean having one super simple xul gear setup – the Sub 60 is going to be a super awesome option. Matt Kirk has proven you can do a long distance trail with a backpack that is only 25 liters in volume and right now I think this is one of the leading packs out there for fastpackers looking for a backpack in that ‘almost-non-existent volume size of 18-25 liter backpacks’. You might be thinking you could do it lighter with a ZPacks Zero, but the weights are almost identical after you add the additional features to the Zero that the Sub 60 has. What the Sub 60 offers you is the ability to truly dial-in the exact fit of the backpack to your body and hiking style. Have a thick neck and need to spread the shoulder straps wider, totally doable. Want your hipbelt pockets to be at a very specific spot, totally doable with the Sub60. It is, unlike any other pack out there that I know of, if you are willing to do a bit of sewing (or have a better half that can do so) the Sub 60 really is the ultimate fastpacker pack I have come across.

Six Moon Designs, Flight 30:

Flight Pros:

Exceptional pectoral support that makes it feel unlike anything else I have ever used – and I loved it. Great set of support straps that allow you to really pull the pack up against your body, which reduces bounce when running. At 30 liters it can be a viable weekender or long distance fastpack for those needing extra volume.

Flight Cons:

As with the SMD Fusion backpacks, the front pocket and side pockets need some reworking.

Flight Final Thoughts:

Putting aside the cons listed above, this is one very interesting and unique approach to designing and engineering a fastpack, and that is a very good thing, as the fastpack industry right now needs some thinking outside the box. From a comfort perspective it is the second most comfortable fastpack I used this year, only behind the much smaller in volume UD PB. What I am looking forward to would be a Fusion pack that is 20-22 liters and that uses the same harness system of the SMD Fusion backpacks yet keeps the pectoral front strap design – such a setup could mean a very serious contender to a fastpack that has a sweet-spot volume, the ability to handle a few days of food weight, and the ability to really dial-in how it fits. Could be asking for too much though (??). Whatever their next generation of this pack will be, if SMD does another generation, SMD is headed in the right direction. This pack has already proven itself to a lot of hikers and runners. Gen2 should be taking it to the next level.

Shelters:

I have to admit that over the course of the 2014 hiking season my approach to hiking has drastically changed. Mostly gone are the days of hitting the trail with nothing but my 0.34 cuben fiber tarp (80 grams) and a sleeping bag. The drive and desire to be out on the trail with the lightest shelter possible is just not a driving force for me anymore. Even floorless shelters such as the SMD Gatewood Cape or the MLD SoloMID XL, both of which are awesome, are no longer appealing to me. These days, it seems I want a huge shelter with lots of room inside and that has the ability to keep me dry no matter what.

ZPacks, Hexamid Pocket:

Pocket Pros:

Crazy light weight tarp – the second lightest tarp I have ever owned. Reasonable price to weight ratio. Very little pack volume. Goes with me on many trips as just a backpack or quick setup shelter.

Pocket Cons:

People buy it thinking it is for them and a week later they are up on BPL for sale – so clearly people are trying to push the boundaries beyond their skill level. Even though ZPacks clearly states this is an ‘an emergency shelter, or for day hikes, or nighttime shelter on short ultralight trips’ people it seems are tempted by the weight and later find out its not enough for them – two of mine I have bought from others, and they flat out admitted this when I pressed them about why they were selling it. So, not a negative about the shelter, but about peoples inability to stay away from gear that is beyond their hiking level. If, however, you happen to have your time on the trail to a point where a shelter like this can be used, there really are no con’s to list.

Pocket Final Thoughts:

I have owned four Hexamid Pockets from ZPacks. One of them is only a tarp and the other three I paid to have netting installed on, making them a 0.34 Hexamid Solo. One suffered from an unknown failure of the fabric – the most experienced CF people I know in the industry have seen/looked at the tent and been unable to determine what caused it. The other two I keep in different packs for when I just want to just grab a backpack and go hit the trail, be it for a day hike or a few day hike during the summer season. If all you want is a tarp and have the skills to handle a tarp made from 0.34 cuben fiber, the Pocket redefines SUL/XUL tarps. The small size of this, when packed up, makes it an awesome shelter for those times when you are going out with a very small pack/vest (think, 16 liter UD PB vest) and space is at a premium. At under 4 ounces it helps redefine lightweight tarps.

ZPacks Solplex:

Solplex Pros:

Exceptional weight to price ratio for a solo cuben fiber shelter. By far the most rain worthy solo single wall shelter I have ever used. A super tall bathtub floor makes it ideal for the worst of the worst weather conditions. While a bit expensive compared to other solo shelters on the market, it is competitively priced in the ‘solo cuben fiber shelter’ market. Able to handle very high wind gusts (mine survived 50+ mph/80 km wind gusts). Rain doors and inset inner makes it truly excel at keeping rain out, while having the doors open for max ventilation.

Solplex Cons:

The rear pole makes it a small bit harder to setup than other ZPacks shelters, as well as not being able to adjust it from the inside. While the shelter has a nice bit of ‘usable space’ on the inside, it still feels cramped, which is just all too common these days with solo shelters.

Solplex Final Thoughts:

The Solplex brings a lot of nice additional features beyond what the more popular Hexamid shelter has offered. See this detailed write-up I did about the Solplex vrs the Hexamid. You can also watch this video to see how good this design is at keeping the rain outside the shelter. I ended up selling mine because I have gotten to a place where I want more room inside of a shelter – I went with a ZPacks Duplex (reviewed below) for the extra room it offers, at only an additional 5.4 ounce / 153, worth it to me. None the less, the best cuben fiber solo shelter for wet weather conditions I have ever used.

ZPacks Duplex:

Duplex Pros:

The Duplex is a larger version of the Solplex, offering a good amount of livable space for a single hiker, two doors, and just enough room for two hikers, or a nice bit of room for a solo hiker. Reasonable amount of pack volume for a shelter this size. Storm doors work exceptionally well – in most rain you can leave all four storm doors open without any water getting inside, and in crazy rain showers with blowing rain you can shut just one or two of the four doors and be perfectly fine, allowing max air flow. The 8 inch tall bathtub floor is amazing. Super easy setup for a two person shelter. Handles high winds fairly well for the size.

Duplex Cons:

The price tag can be an ‘ouch’ to the wallet. I ordered mine in camo material and with dedicated carbon fiber poles and it was $730.00 USD. Beyond that, I have no other ‘cons’ about this shelter at this time. (note: while that might seem a lot, when it comes down to it; the amount of cuben fiber fabric, man-hours to build it, etc. this shelter should probably be priced at over $900, I suspect ZPacks does not make a lot of money from this shelter)

Duplex Final Thoughts:

At this point in time the Duplex is my go-to shelter and probably, hopefully, be my last shelter for a long time. It really does seem to be the happy shelter for me right now. It offers the extra bit of room over the other shelters I have used in the last couple of years (zpacks solplex, zpacks hexamid, zpacks hexamid plus, six moon designs skyscape x, etc) as it is a two person shelter. It also offers the same amazing rain protection of the Solpex, which would be my #2 choice for an all weather condition cuben fiber shelter. I have found that using a pole/stick-off-the-ground for the head-mid tie-out is almost a necessity  – it gives you a fair amount of additional room inside as well as helping wind-flapping. If you can find an extra stick laying around on the ground, I recommend using one on both end-mid-tie-outs. While the Duplex cannot handle really strong wind gusts as good as a solo shelter (ie: smd skyscape x, zpacks solplex, hmg echo 1, mld trailstar) it is not a solo shelter so the extra width, and thus extra fabric, one should just expect to be a bit loose and flapping around in wind storms. One interesting thing: because of the amazing storm doors the duplex has, even in heavy rain I tend to keep all four doors open, but this causes the wind to come zipping through, which can cause the shelter to almost lift off the ground, or at least it seems like it will, makes it kind of fun on really windy days. (fun fun, not bad fun). I went with the camo version in order to have the shelter be darker inside, it was a good decision.

Sleeping Quilts:

Late this year I made the change away from using a sleeping bag (the Montbell Super Spiral) to using quilts. It had been about six years since I used a quilt. I purchased two different quilts and gave each of them a go over the last two months while on trips.

Mountain Laurel Designs ‘Spirit Quilt 28’:

Spirit Pros:

No cold-spots!!!  Exceptional warmth. Climashield Apex. Love the new ‘MLD Mountain 10d X 10d 3xDWR Ripstop’ fabric it is made from. Velcro on the foot end makes it really nice to easily vent. An amazing price for a f28° rated quilt.

Spirit Cons:

There needs to be one or two more snaps along the velcro, to help dial-in exactly how much to vent, yet not have the velcro open up too much. This is my one and only ‘con’ about this amazing quilt.

Spirit Final Thoughts:

If you are familiar with how synthetic fabric heats up, which is oddly a fair bit different then down, you know that once the apex clamshell warms up, its a dream to sleep in. Because the Climashield Apex is basically one large sheet of fabric, it does not need a bunch of baffles and thus does not have cold spots because of no need for sewn through baffles – this is one huge reason for going with a synthetic quilt/bag over a goose down quilt/bag and is soooo worth the extra pack volume in colder conditions. I wish the ‘Poncho Head Slot’ would have been available for my f28° quilt when I bought it – I will buy another with this feature if MLD will offer it for the 28 quilt, it would make using it around camp super easy. This is now my go-to sleeping bag/quilt – love it.

Enlightened Equipment ‘Revelation’:

Revelation Pros:

Excellent price for an 800fp quilt. Really nice fabric. Good sizing. Excellent baffle system that reduces down shift.

Revelation Cons:

My quilt, a f20° 800fp, did not fully fill the baffles, which was a huge disappointment. This resulted in cold spots. The number one reason I went with the MLD Spirit over the Revelation as my go-to quilt. I figuring going with 800fp rather than 900fp would make the baffles have more down and thus fewer, or it was my hope, no, cold spots.

Revelation Final Thoughts:

I bought the Revelation and the MLD Spirit at the same time to see which would I would like the most. I have used both and think both of them are exceptional. My choice of going with synthetic over goose down is the only reason I have not continued to use the Revelation. I had a lot of people tell me I should buy the ZPacks quilt, but the Revelation is only 0.8 ounces heavier and $170 USD bucks cheaper for the f20° quilt – that is a no brainer – of course it is more fair to compare the ZPacks quilt to the EE Revelation Elite (also a 900fp quilt) but I did not want to spend $400+ dollars on a quilt, so I went with the standard Revelation f20°. That said, if I really did want to drop the big bucks on a 900fp f20° quilt, that Revelation Elite would be at the top of my list. Why? Because the baffle system really does work.

Jackets:

I do not think enough hikers place enough value in a top-notch jacket. The difference between a top-notch quality jacket and a good jacket are surprisingly drastic when it comes time for your jacket to really perform and excel at its job. Another issue that hikers do not take into consideration, especially with down jackets, is the importance for a very good fit. As newbie hikers discover after just a short period of time (hopefully) when you use a down sleeping bag that is too big and does not hug your body, the down does not have a chance to get all nice and warm, and thus you get cold and shiver at night. It seems, oddly, that even a lot of experienced hikers forget that basic concept when it comes to buying a down jacket, and tend to size up a bit too much and end up with a baggy loose fitting jacket. Then when it gets cold and they need the jacket to really perform, it doesn’t because the same factors of the sleeping bag happen with their jacket. So, all that said to simply say: stop buying jackets that are sized-up, you are just wasting money – and probably end up colder than you should be.

Montbell Thermawrap Guide:

Thermawrap Guide Pros:

A guide level synthetic jacket. All the features  you would expect in a guide jacket. Two way zipper. Bottom draw cord. Velcro wrists. Awesome hood.  Fleece around the neck and inside pockets. Awesome at wind protection.

Thermawrap Guide Cons:

Heavy. Bulky. Oh wait, its a guide level jacket, I take those back. Nothing at all wrong with this guide jacket!

Thermawrap Guide Final Thoughts:

Ok, maybe one minor thing in the ‘con’ category… I am just not sure. The fabric takes a rather long time to shed water. Not sure if it has to do with the DRW or just the fabric, but water does not bead off it really fast. It does not soak up water, it is just not all that fast at having the water run off it. Never seen this happen before with any of my other jackets. Could just be the Polkatex DWR, but I am just not sure. Regardless, for a guide level synthetic jacket, this thing is amazing. If it was not for the volume/bulk of this jacket, it would probably go with me on every hike in the future – I could just sleep in this thing without needing a quilt. I have used this jacket on the trail and off-trail in temps from f60° down to f28° and have been super happy with it.

ZPacks “Challenger” Rain Jacket:

Challenger Pros:

New nylon layer makes this three-layer jacket more durable than previous generations. New colours, thanks to the nylon layer, makes it a much more appealing jacket to wear around town. New “long” option is great.

Challenger Cons:

Decreased MVTR from last generation. More expensive than last generation. Substantially bulkier than last generation. The two-way zipper on the 40-inch version is way too hard to use, and almost impossible to use with gloves on. Constantly fighting with it to get it started and even more to get it apart when trying to take the jacket off – hopefully its just an issue with mine.

Challenger Thoughts:

Well it is safe to say at this point that I have done more research and written more about the ZPacks rain jacket than anybody on the planet. This new version of the jacket has been a win-and-lose issue for me. The new nylon layer has made the jacket a lot more durable than any previous generation of the zpacks rain jacket, though that never seemed to be an issue for me. The new colour has made it so you no longer look like you are wearing a bunny suit – which has also been something that has kept people from buying this otherwise amazing three-layer rain jacket. The new option to have it be 40-inches in length is really awesome – no more having to carry a rain jacket and rain pants – and even an umbrella. Sadly, as I documented here, the MVTR of this nylon version of the rain jacket has decreased by about 50% so there is a trade-off: better durability and a non bunny suit look but sacrifice +20k g/m2/24hrs. My vote goes for losing the MVTR, adding pit zips to the jacket, and going with the 40-inch length version.

Cooking Systems:

Cooking systems… something hikers either geek out over or buy one and use it for decades. Through the course of 2014 I purchased the fewest stove systems since I started hiking. Sadly, I still bought waaay too many of them, a bit of shame about how many I have bought in years past. This year I devoted most of my cooking system purchases towards Jetboils, of which I bought five of them, destroying all but one of them – one of the three I destroyed by mistake, the other three were very much intentional. The one that survived has been the Jetboil MiniMo.

Jetboil MiniMo:

MiniMo Pros:

Truly exceptional simmering capability. Short-wide pot makes for a slightly faster boil time than the Sol series. Sort-wide pot makes it much easier to eat out of. Better handles than any previous Jetboil.

MiniMo Cons:

Horrible in windy conditions. Heavier than any other solo Jetboil. Only has two insert slots on the bottom of the cup. Lid is harder to clean.

MiniMo Thoughts:

I have cooked soup from scratch with the Jetboil MiniMo, something that has been almost impossible with previous generation Jetboils. Because Jetboil decided to move the storage of the orange stand into the underneath of the lid, it can cause a bit more effort to get the Jetboil MiniMo clean, probably not a problem for the weekender, but it could become an issue for long distance thru-hikers that might not have a lot of spare water to really keep their cook system clean – or are just lazy. But without a doubt the biggest issue with the Jetboil MiniMo is that they only put two insert slots on the bottom of the pot, making it a frustration factor when trying to get the pot into the stove unit. Jetboil put four of them on the Zip IIRC and they had six slots on the Sol series, which was really nice and how they all should be. Also, as I and others have documented on the internet, the Jetboil MiniMo pot has a tendency to get stuck on the stove unit after a prolonged cooking duration – many times I have been completely unable to remove the pot from the stove until both parts fully cooled down – clearly an issue that Jetboil needs to resolve. Lastly, the issue of the Jetboil MiniMo having trouble staying light in windy conditions really needs to be addressed by Jetboil as well. On a recent hike I had to put the MiniMo inside of my backpack in order to keep it going – and that is obviously not a very smart or wise thing to do, but I really wanted a hot meal as it had been raining all day. This issue alone has caused me to consider ditching the Jetboil MiniMo and go with the MSR WindBoiler. I posted a “Jetboil MiniMo First Look” over at bpl that is worth reading if you are considering this cook system.

TrailDesigns Sidewinder + Evernew EBY265:

System Pros:

The best solo setup I have encountered for those that only need to heat up a small amount of water. The TrailDesigns Sidewinder fits inside the Evernew eby265. The Evernew eby265 is perfect for a cup of tea, coffee, cocoa, or a typical (for me) trail meal. By for the most efficient setup I have used for esbit.

System Cons:

A bit expensive for what it is. The beer band ring melts, replace it with some fiberglass wick. Not a good choice for the typical hiker that wants more than 400ml of warm/hot water.

System Thoughts:

I have cooked hundreds of meals with this system. If you are a hiker that only needs to boil 200 ml through 300 ml of water, this is unquestionably the best of the best; for volume space, for esbit efficiency, for durability, and while I am typically against wood burning, it is also a very sweet and fast way to boil water with wood. The biggest issue is the need to wrap it with fiberglass wick – see this facebook post I made explaining what I did.

Clothing:

I cannot possibly talk about clothing without mentioning the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants and the Icebreaker 100 tshirt and the Icebreaker 260 baselayer, all of which I have written about in the past and that I still continue to use. I have over 1,000 days of wearing the IB 100 t-shirt, it does have a fair amount of holes along the bottom and one armpit has a hole. The IB 260 has gotten a couple of small holes at the bottom of the sleeve, just below the thumb-loop. Regardless of these holes, they are still my go-to clothing items both out on the trail and at home. As for the MB Dynamo Wind Pants, I now have over 1,400 days of wearing them as well. A few holes that have been stitched up, but they are still going strong. Montbell even republished my article about the pants that I wrote back in May of this year.

Sun Precautions / Solumbra ‘Ultra Athlete Full Zip Shirt’ and ‘Ultra Athlete Pants’ — For some, sun clothing is just a necessity. For others, sun clothing are just a nicety. For others, sun clothing are totally unnecessary and viewed by them as comical when they see others wearing it. Whatever the case may be, I LOVE my Sun Precautions clothing. I have two pair of the Ultra Athlete shirts/pants, a couple pairs of their gloves, a few of their hats, and even their umbrella. For me, sun protection is a necessity. I started off with the non-full zip shirt and after about 8 months acquired a full zip and have really fallen in love with it. I have well over 200+ days of wearing them. They proved highly beneficial while in Death Valley and it was f116 in the shade! The Ultra Athlete version has air vents that are unlike anything else I have used. Once you get moving the additional airflow is just awesome. I spent a lot of time in the desert this year and I would not have done it without wearing Sun Precaution clothing!

Black Rock Gear Fingerless Gloves — I have been a huge fan of BRG for a number of years, and am a sponsored hiker of BRG which shows just how much I love them. These foldback gloves I just got for the 2014 winter season and while I do not have a lot of hours spent wearing them, when I have had the need to put on down gloves, oh my, they are just soooo nice. Added bonus, the MLD eVENT Rain Mitts (talked about below) fit over them!

Mountain Laurel Designs ‘APEX Balaclava’ — So I just got these late in the 2014 hiking season, when I purchased my MLD Spirit 28 quilt. While they are not as warm as the Nunatak Down Balaclava, they offer a hiker the ability to have a ClimaShield Apex balaclava rather than goose down balaclava – a rather important thing considering your head (mouth/nose) releases a huge amount of condensation while sleeping and wearing a balaclava. It is quickly becoming the balaclava I grab, rather than the Nunatak, but will have to wait to see how the rest of the 2014 winter season goes, I suspect it will win.

Mountain Laurel Designs ‘eVENT Rain Mitts’ — Really folks, do not waste your money on anything else. These rain mitts probably have more hiker miles on them, from the countless hikers that have used them, than any other rain mitts on the planet. Just go buy them.

Altra Men’s Olympus Trail Running Shoes – I spent a lot of time the last four years going from trail runners down to sandals, which was something I just wanted to challenge myself to do. After using the Luna Oso sandals for about a year, including hiking a third of the California Coastal Trail in them, and seeing more and more hikers and fastpackers I really respect making the switch over to crazy shoes like the Altra Olympus and the Hoka One One ‘Huaka’, I decided on spending the money on the Olympus, because it was a zero drop shoe, which is what I had been use to with all of my sandals. For the first week or so I almost fell on my face wearing the Olympus shoes because of the crazy high toe angle, but once my brain got use to it, it was all good-to-go. Most importantly, because of the huge cushion they provide, I have been able to go out fastpacking and running and come home and not have sore feet for days after my adventure. Since I got the Olympus shoes I have put on my sandals only once.

Wigwam Cool-Lite Mid Hiker Pro Quarter Length Socks — Yeah love these things. I have wrote about them in the past and no matter what these are still my go-to socks year around. Sure they may not be as durable as Darn Tough, which I use to wear, but the Wigwam is just sooo much more comfortable, soft, and better at keeping my feet dry and warm/cool.

Hikertrash black adjustable visor — Love visors, switched to them last year. These are my favorite Headsweat adjustable visors that have had the WeAreHikerTrash logo put on them. Support the cause!

ZPacks ‘Logo’ T-shirt — Ok, not really a hiker t-shirt, but I just wanted to say, this is THE most comfortable t-shirt I have ever owned.

Nunatak Down Balaclava — My long-time favorite balaclava. There is not a better goose down balaclava that I have been able to find. Forget all the other goose down balaclavas being made by the cottage industry and just buy this one, if you are after a goose down balaclava. The buttons on the front make it soooo nice to be able to talk with others, to vent the balaclava if it gets too hot, and to take it off or put it on when you have heavy winter/snow mitts on. This really is the best goose down balaclava out there.

The North Face Windstopper ‘High Point Hat’ — This thing practically exists as part of my body. I cannot remember a day this year that I did not slip on this thing. I have it on right now, while typing this article. I did cut off the chin strap cordage as it was always in the way. Its ability to keep my ears warm is marvelous, and the ear flaps stay up when not needed. This was the first garment I bought that is the ‘Windstopper’ and now I am finding myself buying more and more Windstopper gear – gloves with this stuff are my go-to daily gloves.

 

Misc Gear:

Suluk46 ‘A-Pod’ — The A-Pod is one of the products I co-designed and brought to the market in 2014. This little accessory is a niche item, no doubt about it. It exists to be the lightest weight phone/pocket camera on the planet, and at this time it is. For the solo hiker that wants to take a few selfies, the A-Pod should be your top consideration. Super easy to use, just unwind three cordages, stake them into the ground (I usually just use sticks off the ground), thread your camera/phone onto the A-Pod, set a timer and presto, on the trail selfie.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil eVENT Compression Dry Sacks — S2S updated their awesome eVENT compression dry sacks in late 2014 to use a lighter weight (30d vs 70d) fabric and they reduced the weight of these awesome bags by almost 50% which was nice. I have been a user of these S2S compression eVENT dry sacks for a few years, specifically for keeping my down gear (sleeping bag, down balaclava, down mitts) dry during the wet raining season we have here in the Redwoods of Northern California. While heavier than just throwing them into a trash compactor bag, I have always hiked by the rule that the most important thing in hiking, after making sure you carry a compass, is making sure your down gear stays dry, no matter what the cost or weight. To me the ~2 extra ounces of weight for a real compression dry bag over a trash compactor bag, is just a wise decision.

Mini Digital Thermometer — Perhaps not the lightest thermometer out there, but it does a really good job of keeping track of the low/high temperatures throughout the day/night. Toss in an Energizer Ultimate Lithium battery for those really cold nights and much longer battery life.

Zensah Compression Leg Sleeves — The more I have gotten into fastpacking the more I have found the need for compression leg sleeves. A bunch of them on the market, I like a few of them, but the Zensah ones seem to be the ones I keep putting on.

GSI Outdoors Ultralight Java Drip Coffee Maker — LOVE!!! I cut the legs off this thing and stick it onto the rim of my cup so I can do seeping/soaking of my coffee or tea. Take along some fresh ground coffee and have some real coffee on the trail. This is, by far, the best trail coffee maker I have found. Made probably 500+ cups of coffee with mine and it is still going strong.

Micro LED String Lights — This is one of those things I carry because they are fun and give me a smile at night.

Berkey Sports Water Filter — This year I decided to stop using a traditional filter, such as the Sawyer Mini/Squeeze and the whole process of filling bags. Instead I ordered up a bunch of different sport water bottles that had filters in them. Obviously the big names out there are the Sawyer Sports Bottle and the CamelBak ‘All Clear’ bottle. If the AllClear was just a smidgen bit lighter weight I might have bought one of them to try, but dang did they make that thing heavy. So I acquired a Sawyer Sports bottle, the Berkey Sports bottle, and two other sport bottles with filters in them. After my first hike, in which I had all them with me to test, the two non-names went into a trash can. The Sawyer, a company I have loved for years, just did everything wrong with their Sports bottle. The first problem is that the bottle flairs out about 1/3rd of the way down, making it so that it does not fit into any of my fastpack vest pockets, nor does it fit into shoulder strap pockets (not that I like using them, but still), and it also does not fit into my hip belt water pocket (which is how I tend to carry water these days – watch this video to see). So right away the Sawyer Sports Bottle had me going “uggh/sigh”. So I did the next logical thing, I threw it into my backpack side pockets. After hiking for a short bit I was like “what the heck is that noise?”. Turns out that the Sawyer Sports bottle is one noisy bottle. The filter inside, because it (a sawyer mini) is too big, it just sits inside the bottle and bags the sidewalls. So I tried pouring out some water to see if that made a difference, and nope. So, for me, this was the next strike against the Sawyer. The last nail in the head was the amount of strife I caught from the others hiking with me on that trip – they all complained about the noise it was making… eventually I just emptied the Sawyer Sports bottle, took out the Mini filter, and threw it all into my pack, and it has never seen another drop of water. So, that long story explains why I did not go with the Sawyer Sports bottle. Let me take a step back now and say that I have owned a Berkey Water Filter, the Berkey Light, for over 10 years and is what I use for 100% of my water at my house. So I have come to trust in their filter. When I ordered up the different sport bottle filters, one of them was from Berkey. It turned out to be my favorite. Not because I already trusted the Berkey filter but because it did not suffer the issues all the other sport bottle filters had. Nice slim profile, soft, squeezable, good top, great filter, and reasonably priced. Suffice to say, with it, and my SteriPen Freedom, it has been nice to no longer deal with filtering all of my water through bags.

SunTactics sCharger-5 — A few years ago almost nobody had heard of SunTactics. After a few years of being proven on the CDT and hikers talking about it, it gained a very fast reputation as a top-contender for on the trail solar chargers. I got my first one a couple years ago. Early this year SunTactics sponsored me and I got a new one that has the rivets on them, which is super nice. It has been the lightest weight solar charger that actually works here in the Redwoods, a location that typically takes huge solar chargers due to the overcast weather and massive overgrowth of the tree canopy. I take the sCharger-5 and an Anker Astro Slim2 4500mAh with me they keep all of my electronics charge.

Iridium Extreme Satellite Phone — For most hikers a SatPhone is not a necessity. As a trail designer spending 200+ days a year out on the trail, it is a necessity. It is often times my only connection due to the remoteness of most of the trails I design. They are not cheap, but what is your life worth. The Iridium Extreme is the pimp-daddy of SatPhones. The much more popular Iridium 9555 is what most hikers take with them these days however, and understandably, as it is significantly less expensive to buy into, and is probably the better choice for most hikers. The Extreme is 19 grams lighter, has a longer talk time and is more durable – but it comes at a price.

Hedgehog EDC Compass — While no replacement for a Suunto MC-2G (unquestionably the best non-military grade compass on the planet, I have designed five trails and have hiked close to ten thousand miles with my mc-2g) this little compass has become a true companion of mine since I got it. Everything Hedgehog makes is top quality, and worthy of the price tag. I attached some 550 FireCord to mine, as an emergency fire backup source.

Optimus Titanium Spoon — A spoon is a spoon is a spoon, right? Pretty much. For the last few years I have been using, and listing as my favorite spoon, the ‘Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spoon‘, however some time earlier this year I gave the Optimus Ti Spoon a try, because I had bent yet-another of the S2S Alpha’s (which, sadly, tend to bend and break too easily) and while the Optimus Ti Spoon is a (inconsequentially) bit heavier, there is a ‘shiny’ head on the Optimus that makes this spoon nicer to eat off of – it does not have that metallic, aluminium or titanium taste to it, it really does feel like a spoon I would use at home. So, while in the end a spoon is a spoon, I gotta say, this is the nicest trail spoon I have ever used.

Pak-Lite 9v Red/White LED — Attach an Energizer Advanced Lithium 9v battery to one of these and you’ll have yourself one of the lightest long last and convenient lights that you can get. Would be hard to night hike with one, but doable if its really dark – I’ve done it once – but more of an in-your-shelter kind of light, if you think the micro LED lights mentioned above are a bit too eccentric :)

Vargo Titanium Water Bottle with Titanium Lid — On the list of ‘really expensive things for what it is, that I was not sure about buying, that I am glad I bought‘ list, this is at or near the top of the list. While not something I take with me on every hike, during the shoulder/winter season this is a must-take item. At night, heat up some water, put the Ti bottle into a nice sock, such as the WigWam ‘El Pine Ragg wool socks‘, pour in the hot water, put the lid on, and throw it into the foot end of your bag/quilt. It will help keep your feet warm, and give you enough water the next morning for coffee and oatmeal. (alternative: or, put both your hiking socks over it so they don’t freeze at night and thus you should not have to put on frozen socks the next morning… hopefully your socks are not too dirty, giggle)

Favorite Videos I Watched This Year:

ProLiteGear, the entire channel has been amazing this year

https://www.youtube.com/user/ProLiteGear/videos

Suor Cristina, you inspired me this year!

Redbeard reviews the ZPacks Duplex

Nutnfancy ‘at what cost’

Craig Rowland ‘How To Use a Compass to Find Your Position On A Trail’

‘A forest hike’ — sometimes it is the simple things that end up meaning the most

Nimblewill Nomad completes his ‘Great American Loop’ hike after 13 years

‘My cat saved my son’

One of the very few videos I released this year… not enough time to do more…

 

In Closing:

I have sooo many people to thank this year – beyond what I could list here!

Evan at Black Rock Gear. Steve at Suluk46. Scott at Montbell. Raena and Shaun at Sun Precautions. Adam at SunTactics. Ron from SMD. Ron from MLD. Joe, Matt, and the entire crazy gang at ZPacks – what you guys do for me is beyond expression, thanks!. To my good buddy Brian Doyle for being there for me when I needed to do some photoshoots, I hope you enjoy seeing your work in outdoor gear catalogs! Those who have hired me to guide trips for them so I can keep some money in the bank to keep hiking – I hope all of you had a great time! To the few folks that are willing to hang out with me on the trail, much appreciated. 2014 has been awesome!!

 

Written by John B. Abela - HikeLighter.Com

December 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

Posted in News & Updates

9 Responses

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  1. In the process of reading it all… Really appreciate the time you put into this though… some good thoughts here for us all to digest, and apply top our own situations… thanks for your time!

    Onto some thoughts while reading through…

    I have got to say that I like the idea of the panel loader, but can’t say that it is enough to make me want to drop the $$$ on it. I am exceptionally happy with my Arc Blast though, and that likely has something to do with that decision… Great to see it as an option though.. just because it hasn’t bitten me yet doesn’t mean it won’t…

    I absolutely love that you point out the fact that a number of folks are buying gear beyond their skill levels… I think that is the most important fact when talking about most gear you review… I have spoke with others that have pushed to buy into these types of things and have tried hard to talk them out of doing so… sometimes though folks just gotta learn on their own… Anyway, I myself have yet to own a 0.34 cuben shelter, and other than the one you sent me to let me put hands on is the only time I have even handled it. Saying that, I believe that I am capable of using this, but still have yet to dive into it. Honestly too though, like you, the larger shelters have been in my mind quite a bit… and particularly the Duplex. Heck, the weight of that is still less than many other solo shelters! Either way, great points.

    On the Spirit quilt, how thick is the velcro? I ask because I had a quilt from another company with some pretty low profile velcro to close the footbox, and it was just too much. I ended up ripping it off and replacing it with some low profile snaps, and like it much, much better. But, for a subfreezing quilt, I would rather have it completely closed up… Also, I have been quite tempted by the Spirit quilt a few times, however, I already own 3 after selling of a few more. Two are Climashield Apex and the other down. I, like you, do enjoy the Climashield Apex. I have a custom Prodigy quilt from EE that I love with CA…

    That’s a bummer to hear about the MiniMo… as I am pretty sure that I am looking at one under the tree… anyway, as I told ya before… I am waiting on my REI dividend and will very likely pick up a Windboiler then…

    When you say BRG fingerless gloves… are you talking about the mitts with the fold back top? Anyway, for some reason, I have recently got it in my mind that I want some thick mitts. I lingered on the ones from BRG, but they sold out, so that made it easy. I ended up going with a pair of mitts from EE using 4 oz/sqyd Climashield Apex. They should be quite similar in weight to the BRG mitts, although, they won’t fold over to free up my fingers… Anyway, I just ordered them and hopefully will be in in time for a hike early next month.

    I agree that the MLD mitts are pure awesome! I recently sold a pair of larges that I have had for years, along with a 2nd gen pair of ZPack mitts to get a size medium pair of MLD mitts… then they came in, and wouldn’t you know.. a hair too small. I sent them back and ended up with the large size again… Anyway, I haven’t used them extensively, but as you said, there are tons of miles on these things, so they are proven. My pair large, after seam seal weigh in at 1.6 oz, and I am happy with that.

    I also agree about the ZPacks logo shirt… my only problem now is I need to reorder a smaller one! :)

    Also, for the last few years, my favorite spoon has been a long handle REI Ti Ware spoon, which has a polished finish, so it is like one at home… I have a few other spoons like the S2S spoons, a LiteTrail branded spoon, and a Vargo spoon, amongst others, but the bead blasted type of finish is somewhat off-putting… My long handle spoon is a whopping 0.5 oz, but I will take it regardless.

    Anyway, those are just some of my much less experienced thoughts… Again though, I appreciate the time you took to put this up, and enjoy our conversations! Keep up the good hike buddy, and looking forward to seeing what 2015 brings us all!

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

    ~Stick~

    Stick

    December 24, 2014 at 11:59 am

    • Hey Chad. The velcro on the Spirit quilts are pretty intense. My desire for another snap or two is just additional adjustability, at a very nominal weight. Thanks.

      John B. Abela

      December 25, 2014 at 5:58 pm

      • “Intense…” So, it is noticeable when laying inside it. The problem I found, even with the pretty thin velcro strip on my quilt (that worked great at closing it up and staying closed) was that it was just too bulky. If it got under my leg it was just uncomfortable… I think for a subfreezing quilt I would rather just go with a sewn closed footbox… less weight, and for me, likely more comfortable! :)

        ~Stick~

        Stick

        December 25, 2014 at 6:03 pm

  2. Thanks for all the great info and gear tips. My best gear this year is Zpacks duplex, Zpacks rain jacket, montbell wind jacket and pants. Caldera cone for cooking is great. I am off to japan again for the 8 temple walk. I will buy a montbell 900 down bag 5 and an x light jacket when I get to Tokushima. Most used is my down Blackrock hat.. awesome! New foot gear.. moved to Salomon gtx 3d trail runners plus saucony ultralight which are 204 gas vs 400. My old a sics gtx dumped due to narrow toe box and blisters.
    safe hiking to all and thanks to John, Joe very. And others who work day and night for us all.

    dara ohuiginn

    February 4, 2015 at 7:09 pm

  3. Another +1 on the SMD Fusion 50. I was one of (maybe) many that jumped on the $100 January deal and I am glad I did. I’ve got about 300 trail miles on it so far, carrying in the 18-21 lbs. range TPW — which is 6 days of food and 5 liters of H2O for me(cool weather desert trip with 1.5 day water carries). Like you said John, once I had the harness dialed in (bending the stay to my back was key) to my body it carried like nothing else. I’m in love. But not with the back pocket, which is too small and has the annoyance of the over-the-top strap getting in the way. So my work around thus far hard been MYOG bungee water bottle holders on the shoulders straps (20 oz Gatorade size) which frees up the side pockets for my hiking layers. I have to say it once more: the load carry is ridiculously good. I forget the pack is there.

    Jeremy Werlin

    March 5, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    • Hey Jeremy,

      Yeah, I hear ya! Once you get this pack dialed in, it is unlike any other.

      I have been using mine the last few hikes and yeah, that stupid strap right in the middle of the back pocket… soooo frustrating. It, plus the entire backpocket and the side pockets…. I really do hope that they make changes to these three aspects of the backpack, when/if they ever update it. If they do, I’m buying the 65 liter, without any doubt or hesitation!

      John B. Abela

      March 5, 2015 at 4:11 pm

  4. great point on the zpacks vs. EE quilt.

    Sean Holland

    September 8, 2015 at 10:47 pm

  5. Do you know if ZPacks addressed the comfortability issue with the shoulder straps. I have a thick neck and wide shoulders too find must backpack straps hurt my shoulders.

    Chris

    April 25, 2016 at 10:11 am

    • Hey Chris, I had the new Arc Haul Zip for a short period of time, made with Dx instead of DCF and it is a bit less stiff, but still a fairly stiff shoulder strap. The Arc Haul/Zip does have more padding in them, which is nice. At this point, I fully recommend buying the Arc Haul over the standard Arc. And, if you are planning on TPW of over 25 pounds, I recommend the SMD Flight 40 or the SMD Fusion 65, depending on volume requirements.

      John B. Abela

      April 25, 2016 at 10:37 am


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