Questions & Answers, #003

Questions & Answers

I hope some of you enjoy this third Q&A post. Instead of digging into my older emails I am just going to post some questions I have received over the last month, since my last Q&A.


slackpackhiker: Hey John, As a brand new backpacker hiking the AT April ’16, I’ve appreciated learning lots from your various posts. I’m very much leaning toward the ZPacks Zip Haul pack, there’s so much to like and I certainly like the clean look, but I’m concerned about carrying damp stuff w/o an external net. What’s the best way to hike with damp items?

When I designed the Front Panel Loader (later renamed “Zip” by ZPacks) it was intentionally designed without a mesh front pocket.

Why? Because it has a dedicated front pocket on the outside of the front panel. The idea of going with a mesh outer pocket went against the design that I was after with the FPL/Zip.

My original desire with the FPL was to be a pocketless backpack. Check out this previous article for more on why.

Obviously there had to be some design compromises in order to keep to the standard “Arc” design that ZPacks uses, so the second to last design aspect that was worked on was adding side pockets, to ensure there would be no zipper stress due to possible overloading of the side pockets and thus stress on the zipper. When that testing was done, the final step was resolving the roll top, which Joe V did on his end. After that, it went into production.

So how do you deal with wet tents and garments? Put them into the zippered pocket on the outside of the FP. It is an insane 10 liters (600 ci) of volume, so you can easily get a large rain jacket, ground sheet, and other wet cloths in there. If you have a solo shelter, you can probably even get it into the zippered center pocket (probably best to not use a stuff sack when doing so).

Yes, with the FP zippered center pocket not being mesh, it will mean no airflow getting in and drying things off. In my years of hiking in wet conditions, I have found it to be rather futile putting wet gear into a mesh pocket to dry out.

Check out the ZPacks Arc Haul ZIP for more information on this backpack.


Cheri O: I am just getting back into hiking from many years ago. I love that the gear has gotten lighter, it helps me as I have gotten older. My question is about UL or SUL shelters. I just can’t bring myself to sleep out just under a tarp. Probably because I don’t understand them. Which is what I hope you can educate me on. I don’t like creepy crawlies and I don’t like getting cold. I know that I will want some type of net. BUT, when I look at the UL/SUL shelters it seems the trade off is that I need to ‘put up’ with splash from rain, etc. Is this true of all UL/SUL shelters Also, unless I have BIG dollars, it seems that I will be carrying around ‘heavy’ rain gear. However, I am now reading some about just using silnylon that may be lighter, not breatable but most ‘breathable’ rain gear is going to fail so it may be better to go with something more economical and lighter weight. My rain gear is 20oz. That includes a Pre Cip jacket and Torentshell jacket. Any suggestions on reducing this weight What are your thoughts about silnylon instead of breathable rain gear?

Lots of topics in your email so if I miss anything just let me know.

You are right that in order to get the SUL shelters you are going to have to spend some money, and like most things, the lighter it is the more expensive it will be. Realistically you can expect to spend about $1200 – $1800 on a full setup, if you are shooting for the sub-5-pound mark. It can be done less expensive, but not by much and not without a lot of shopping around and learning a lot of stuff the hard way.

If you do not want to spend the big bucks on the lightest of the lightest, and doing so is rather stupid unless you are planning on spending a LOT of days out on the trail – I tend to think if you are not going to spend 90+ nights out on the trail, buying cuben fiber shelters is just down-right stupid and a waste of money. A shelter such as the Six Moon Designs ‘Lunar Duo Explorer’ (lots of room in this shelter) can be bought for around 300 bucks versus a comparable cuben fiber shelter such as the ZPacks ‘Duplex’ (comparable in size to the SMD Lunar Duo) at around 600 bucks. Is twice the money really necessary for a person that just goes out for a dozen or so nights a year… no… heck no. If you are a long distance hiker, or a very active weekend/week hiker, sure, the cost per mile value can make sense.

As for rain splash inside of your shelter… it is going to take a very well engineered single wall shelter, or any heavy double wall shelter, to prevent that 100% of the time. That said, most of these shelters these days do a good job at it. You will likely cause more water to get into the shelter by going out for a 2am pee break when it is raining and then crawling back into your shelter, than what would get into these shelters from rain spray.

As for rain gear… everybody is different when it comes to this matter. The rain gear you mentioned is all the typical hiker needs. Again, it goes back to that 90+ days issue. If you plan on being out a lot, sure, buy the lightest you can get, otherwise, call it good. All the complex fancy numbers in the world mean little when it rains for 5+ days straight without letting up… the simple fact is, you’re going to get wet, your gear is going to get wet, and life will probably start sucking.

As for silnylon vs waterproof breathable fabric… well, some coated silnylon is waterproof… but again, it just all goes back to the amount you are going to use the gear. Weekend hikers need not invest big bucks into the latest and greatest, tends to be my motto. Most of what I write about over at hikelighter is for the extreme hikers that are pushing themselves and their gear… so really, a plastic trash bag can be as useful of a rain protection as a 600$ uber rain jacket.


John P: Hey John, I am in the market for some rain mitts for my upcoming PCT thru-hike (2016 – an El Nino year, so expecting more than average rain!), and came across your website. I first heard about MLD’s rain mitts at BPL, and I’m wondering if you have anything to say about the original MLD 3 layer mitts and the new 2-layer. I saw your post noting that MLD is offering a 2-layer, but you didn’t really say much about the product. How have you found them to differ from the 3 layer version I’m guessing less durable and less breathable, but that’s only a guess. Also, can you comment on seam-sealing A lot of people who don’t like the MLD complain about how hard they found them to seam seal. Do you seam seal yours Thanks a lot! I use trekking poles, so I am willing to sacrifice weight for durability. And obviously I’d like a more breathable option. But if the MLD only work with proper seam sealing, and if I can’t seam seal effectively (I’ve never seam sealed anything), then perhaps I should look for something else.

Hello John P,

I have not used the most recent version of the MLD mitts. My original ones are still going good so did not see any need to spend money for the newest version. In regards to how they might perform differently, I tend to think that the differences are going to be so insignificant that it should not really matter one way or the other, the original may be a tiny bit more durable.

I have never seam sealed any of my MLD gloves. Too much of a PITA and if a small amount of water works their way through the gloves, big woopidoo. If it is raining so hard that rain starts seeping through the threadlines, chances are that you, and probably most of your gear, is going to be all wet anyway. They end up being a thermal layer when it rains that hard for that long (think: pct washington.)

Breathability in mitts is likewise a joke IMVHO. Again, if it is so wet and cold you need rain mitts, breathability inside of gloves is a totally mute issue. If it is cold, you will probably have something like the Black Rock Gear ‘Foldback Mitts’ on underneath them, or similar thermal gloves, and there goes breathability factor.

I use rain mits the same way that I use rain/wet socks, as a thermal barrier, nothing more.

Keep in mind, I  live in the middle of the Redwood rainforest. YMMV.


Brett P: What is the best way to pack the Klymit Motion 35? I bought it on your recommendation.

Hey Brett,

The key is going to not cause pressure along the primary zipper, typically caused by overstuffing it, putting in something that is too wide.

You will want to play around with where your food goes. Because you can access your foodbag easily, anytime, as with most Front Panel Loaders, it allows you to position it in locations we normally do not put food sacks inside of our packs.

I found that, for my body, having the heaviest weight items about 60% of the way up the Klymit Motion 35 pack, ‘worked’ best for me.

It seemed to be a pack that one needed to play around with, where to put the heaviest gear, and thus help with CoG (center of gravity), though I have not tried their newest generation of the pack.

There was a bit of finickiness to where the CoG of the pack was. If you just cannot get a good ride with it, try putting on one of those lumbar pads that zpacks sells – I seem to recall doing that and it helping.

Anyway, yeah, try playing around with where your food bag is (guessing that is your heaviest thing) and seeing where at along the bag the weight distribution is going to work best at. Beyond that, make sure to not cause the sidewalls to get pushed out, and thus blow the zippers.

Check out the Klymit Motion 35 for more information on this pack and my review of the first generation of the pack.


Dawn W: Just curious, what do you think you’d go for and why, if you were looking at 35-40L or so volume backpack? PS love your site

That is a narrow size to pick from :-D

Let us see… the ones off the top of my head:

Klymit Motion 35
The MLD Burn
The SMD Flight
ZPacks Zero
Vargo Ti-Arc

The Klymit Motion is a FPL, and thus has a special place in my heart.  I have not used the newest generation of this pack yet.

The MLD Burn is the only one on the list that I have not used. Know a lot of thru-hikers that absolutely love it though.

The SMD Flight would probably be the best if your TPL is above the 8 or 10 pound range. While it is the heaviest pack on the list, it offers the most flexibility and configurability, as well as probably the highest max load weight.

The ZPacks Zero offers the most customizable pack on the list. Unfortunately, on the comfort list, it probably comes in last place, when loaded up with the max weight of the other packs on this list. In order to get it to have as good of a ride as the other packs on the list (especially compared to the SMD Flight and Vargo Ti-Arc) you basically have to go up to the ZPacks Haul pack, and even then it cannot match the load weight capacities. I think the ZPacks Zero really comes into its own if you are in the sub 5 pound range. If that is the case, the Zero will totally dominate every other pack on this list. As in, just totally blows them away.

The Vargo Ti-Arc is a pretty specialized backpack that has just not taken a hold within the UL/SUL market. That is unfortunate. When it comes to load weight distribution, the Ti-Arc is going to blow every other pack on this list away, including the SMD Flight, due to the solid external frame. It is a beast, and an insane UL weight. I wish more people “got” what this backpack is all about. At this time I only have the CF (err: Dyneema Composite Fabric) but I wish I had the non-CF version, I think I would prefer it over the FF version, it has side pockets and a bit more durability I suspect.


Daniel S: John, for a solo stove system what would you recommend?

(the below is a condensed conversation I had with Daniel this past week via facebook, I think we were facebook messaging for a good two hours about stoves lol)

The Evernew EBY265 + Trail Designs Sidewinder is a super sweet setup if you can keep your needs under the 2 cup / 475 ml mark. Throw away the stupid beer band and stakes and wrap the pot with two wraps of fiber wick, as I show here.

A step up from that would be the Toaks 900ml + Trail Designs Sidewinder. I really love this setup. I could care less about the whole “tri-ti” thing, and just bought the pot and stand alone Sidewinder. What a fabulous setup.

If you wanted, quite possibly, the finest and most efficient alchi setup out there… the Evernew 600 + Trail Designs Sidewinder + MinibullDesigns Mini Atomic. I think it would be hard to contest that being beaten. But at, what, 140 bucks after it is all said and done… lol… for that kind of money I will just take the MSR Windburner.

There is also the Flat Cat Gear Bobcat Mini system. Also an extremely efficient all-in-one-purchase-package. FCG also is the leader in making stoves for baking while on the trail, not to mention the insanity of what they have been able to accomplish with their esbit accessories. 30+ minutes of burn time with a single esbit cube just continues to blow me away.

But, if I were to suggest a weekender or other hiker that spends under 50 days a year on the trail… I would just keep going back to saying:

Buy the MSR Windburner.

I know people keep yelling at me about taking/using such a heavy stove, but I just keep going back to the fact that when it comes down to it, it is the finest stove system I have ever used. My only complaint I have ever had with it, and have well documented, is that I wish I could get more boils per canister.

Do I wish the WindBurner was lighter? Heck yes.

Would I take it on a thru-hike with me? Hmmm. Probably not as I would likely go no-cook with a simple Snowpeak 400 cup and a few 4g esbit tablets to heat up water, for any rare moments that I wanted a hot meal.

In Closing:

Well this brings to an end another Q&A from my end of things.

If you have any questions you are welcome to contact me or drop me a message on facebook.

4 thoughts on “Questions & Answers, #003

        1. I threw a couple of side top pockets onto one of my front panel loaders, and used one for wet socks that I did not want stinking up the inside of the front pocket, and used the other for a muddy ground cloth.

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