Questions & Answers, #2

Questions & AnswersThis is the second of my “Questions & Answers” post, where I post answers to questions that I have received via my website, facebook, twitter, etc. See my first one here.

This month I am going to have less Q&A’s but they will be more involved/expansive.


John, I am looking at both the ZPacks Hexamid Solo and the ZPacks SolPlex. I know you have used both, could you take a moment to share what you feel are the highlights of each?


First is the setup factor. If a person is the kind of hiker that wants a super fast and super easy shelter set up, the Hexamid Solo makes more sense – it is crazy simple and insanely fast to setup – the Hexamid Solo is by far the fastest fully enclosed shelter I have ever setup. The SolPlex involves maybe a minute or two more to get setup, mostly because of the back pole. Probably not an issue for 90% of hikers that are use to other type of shelters, but if you have used the Hexamid Solo you understand what I mean by all of this and just how simple the Hexamid is to setup.

Second is that if you rarely encounter rain or snow, the SolPlex is just really not needed. Yes the bathtub with 8″ high walls are AWESOME for wet/snowy conditions, but utterly unnecessary for nice weather hiking. The SolPlex results in having extra weight, extra bulk/volume, and more money out of your pocketbook – so you are adding lots of things for just a smidgen more room inside of the shelter.

Third, and to take the other side of the issue above, is that the design of the SolPlex is significantly nicer for wet weather conditions. The inset inner, the 8″ high bathtub, the storm doors – all of these are contributing factors that make the SolPlex the best lightweight wet weather shelter on the market. Not having to worry about, or deal with, the groundsheet aspect of the Hexamid Solo and not worrying about water getting in is a really nice ‘back of your mind’ aspect that the SolPlex offers when it is raining and you just want to sleep.

Fourth would be the entry/exist issue. The Hexamid Solo is just not as easy to get into and out of as the SolPlex is. If it is raining and/or muddy this becomes an issue. The SolPlex design allows you to get into it without getting on all four and crawling into it (the same issue I have with the MLD TrailStar). Those of you who live in very wet regions understand what it is I mean. The Hexamid Solo, even without the extra beak, is just not as easy to get into as the SolPlex is.

There is no “clear choice” in which you should go with.

If you are a SUL/XUL hiker you have gear that you use for very specific hikes. You take the shelter that best fits your needs for the given hike – throughout the hiking season I might use a ZPacks Plex, a ZPacks Pocket Tent, and my good old 0.34 rectangle tarp.

If you are a UL hiker that just goes out for a dozen or so days a year on the trail, I always recommend the least expensive shelter.

If I were to be hiking one of the big three this year, I would very likely go with either the SolPlex or a Pocket Tent – most likely the SolPlex because it would give me such a wider weather-conditions-use for a minimal amount of bulk/volume pack space over the Pocket + groundsheet.


Any update on the TiGoat bug bivy? Specifically on the side zipper and if TiGoat is going to start offering that?


I am still using the TiGoat Bug Net Bivy and it is still the only bivouac that I own. It does not get a lot of use throughout the year, especially since I have been enjoying the luxury of the ZPacks Duplex, but during the summer time I do get it out onto the trail with me.

I have had zero issues with the side zipper. If you know that I have a side zipper you obviously know that it was a custom request on my part to TiGoat.

I have given feedback to TiGoat, but have not heard back from them.

As such I have no idea if they plan to offer a side zipper on the bivouac. What I do know is that I would not buy the bug bivy without a side zipper. The extra ounce or so of weight for an extended zipper is inconsequential to me. Trying to get out of the bivouac (without a side zipper) when I have a sleeping pad and quilt inside of the bivouac is just way to hard for me. So yeah, if you are thinking of buying the TiGoat Bug Bivy, email them and ask to have a side zipper. (and throw my name at them, so hopefully they will put some further thought into responding back to me… makes me wonder why I put the effort into helping them test gear if they will not respond, shrugs/sigh)

Another option I recently came across is the Bearpaw Bug Bivy, which has zippers on both sides, and uses an aluminium shaft to help keep the netting off your face. I have contacted them about (a) using lighter weight poles and (b) a cuben fiber floor option, and (c) higher bathtub/floor walls. They got back to me and said that they cannot offer lighter weight poles as they have to do such an aggressive bend on the poles. Cuben fiber floor is available and would be an extra $75 for 0.51 cf. Adding 4″ silnylon sidewalls would add $30 to the price.

In a number of ways I think I like this BPD version over the TiGoat. Yeah, it would be heavy(ier) but a double zipper is nice, and for those time when I go hiking without a pole/staff and/or do not want to set up a tarp, I have no way to keep the netting off my face, so the aluminium pole could solve that.  Is about double the weight worth that those amenities? Hmmm, think that falls into the “personal preference/decision” sort of thing. Would be a pretty specialized bivouac, that is for sure.



I miss you talking about esbit setups. I know that you are dealing with laws in your location that prevent esbit use but if you were able to go back to using esbit what setup would you use?


Oh man do I miss using esbit. Sometimes I fire up some at home just to feed the addiction.

Without a doubt my favorite esbit setup is the Evernew EBY-265 + Trail Designs Sidewinder, available to purchase as a package!

The only thing though is you need to throw away those stupid beer bands and add some fiberglass wick to the pot, as I show in this photo. Note that wrapping it around 4 times was a bit overkill. Twice would be enough. The fiberglass wick will never burn and snap like those stupid beer bands.

With this setup you can use the sweet little 4g esbits and not those huge ones. With just two of the little 4g cubes I can consistently get my water up to a shrimp eyes temp, which is more than enough for heating up food, coffee, tea, etc. With a third 4g tablet I can get one full pot of hot-enough water and a second pot of water that is just hot enough for a top-off.

I hope that in 2016 I am going to be able to get back to using esbit, and maybe even alcohol, stove setups again! I really really do not understand the ban against esbit. I would challenge anybody that says that esbit is more dangerous than canister stoves and gel fuel. Try blowing out a pocket rocket, jetboil, or such – sure, it is possible, but if any of those tip over they will almost instantly light up any nearby dry tender on the ground. Whereas blowing out an esbit tablet is super easy, probably the easiest fuel type used to blow out, and what is there to tip over with most sul/xul esbit setups… most of us put the esbit on a ground protector (be it a sheet of titanium, or what I do, onto a one-inch square sheet of carbon felt) so there is no “fuel spill/fires” from esbit – the simple fact is… esbit really is the safest fuel used by hikers, so why oh why is it not allowed… soooo annoys me.

Anyway, mini-rant over, that is my favorite esbit setup.



Why do you prefer those girly s-straps over j-straps on your backpacks?


I, as a guy, personally prefer s-straps over j-straps because:

  1. s-straps hug my body a bit better – resulting in more pectoral support from the straps.
  2. s-straps can provide reduced bouncing when moving light and moving fast.
  3. s-straps can result in a better weight load distribution – if you are at a certain weight range and load your pack in a slightly different manner.
  4. s-straps can also reduce neck pain if you have a wider neck – however a key to this is that the attachment points at the top of the pack are attached at a slight angle and not directly vertical (something I wish more pack makers would research and implement).
  5. s-straps can sometimes help you not needing to use a sternum strap.

When are s-straps a potential negative, for both guys and women:

If you have a large volume pack and a massive load. It can cause the fabric/padding to loose its shape and cause degradation, due to the weight pulling them down and out of shape.

If you like having shoulder strap pockets – as it can force the pack designer to have to put the shoulder pockets up really high on the straps, often times up really close to your face.

If you see shoulder straps as being ‘manly or girly’… well, I think you need to redirect some of those spare brain cycles you have because clearly they are being too focused on something far too inconsequential as being girly or not.


In Closing:

That is all for my last Q&A of 2015.

I hope to become more active in posting Q&A posts in 2016, and I always invite folks to send me questions.

+John Abela

3 thoughts on “Questions & Answers, #2

  1. Lovin these Q&A’s John.
    Like you, I’ve used ‘Pocket’, Solo and Solplex extensively and you’re bang on the nail re wet weather use…..important for UK/Euro use. So the Solo went (boohoo): ‘Pocket’ for fast use and Solplex for wet and/or winter us. Trouble is you’ve sown the seeds of a Duplex now…..!
    Esbit: something I don’t know anyone over here uses. Keep getting the Gram Cracker with each stove set and they’re piling up. About time I bit the bullet I guess…….

    1. >>> Lovin these Q&A’s John.

      Thanks for letting me know Andrew. Always hard to know what folks like, what helps. Q&A’s can tend to be short and little on crazy in depth details (which is what most folks seem to expect from me/shrugs), so still not sure if folks are going to care about them, so yep, thanks for letting me know!

      >>> weather

      Yeah, the four tents you mentioned (pocket/hex/sol/du) really are all about the weather. Beyond that, it just comes down to how much luxury room you want (as a solo hiker).

      >>> esbit

      lol, ah the ever famous Gram Cracker. Yeah, I had a whole pile of them too, gave them all away. Check out this video on how I approach protecting the ground when using esbit. specifically around the 1:25 mark. Just a small sheet of flame resistant fabric and a small sheet of ti to take up the heat. Really is the safest fuel out there, and crazy small pack volume. Even when I go no-cook, it is hard to not take such a little setup, just for a hot cup of eat or a rare warm oatmeal breakfast on a cold morning.

  2. I requested a custom side zipper in my TiGoat Ptarmigan six years ago. The response was pretty funny, essentially he didn’t understand why anyone would want that, but he’d put one in for $XX extra.

    So I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a standard side zip from TiGoat, but they seem happy to do it custom.

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