Best & Worst Gear of 2018

One of the beautiful hiking trails, in the Redwoods of Northern California, that I had the pleasure of hiking in 2018. It is hard to say it gets much better than this!

Howdy adventurers!

2018 has been a very quiet year for me, which I have to admit has been kind of nice.

In regards to purchasing new gear this year, well, there has actually been very few new things that I have bought, especially compared to the last eight years or so. Some of it I have thought really sucked and some I have fallen in love with.

Check out things below for more on each!

In no particular order, here is the gear that I have gotten, and used, throughout 2018 and what I have thought about all of it.

Nunatak, ‘Nebula Hybrid Quilt’ — LOVE!

The ‘Nebula Hybrid Quilt‘ is a new, 2018, quilt from Nunatak, and I just love this thing.

From the moment it was pre-announced I knew I was going to want to buy it.

nunatak nebula hybrid quilt diagram

The “Nebula Hybrid Quilt” combines together a synthetic sheet of APEX and animal down to try to merge together the best of both worlds, for those of us that live in really wet areas.

What Nunatak has done, basically, is build a standard animal down quilt, but than they went and wrapped the outside of the quilt with a layer of synthetic insulation, and another layer of fabric.

The reason: it keep condensation away from the ever precious animal down.

Does this work? Is it a sound approach? It is just a gimmick?

So far, I would have to say that this approach absolutely works. I have been using it in some foggy conditions, which I am sure most of you know is notorious for causing really bad issues with traditional animal down quilts. By utilizing a combination of both animal down, and synthetic insulation, Nunatak put together a potential solution to that problem!

One very interesting thing that I discovered is that this quilt, in a strange round about way, actually has two different thermal ratings. Follow me here… hopefully I can explain this in a way that makes sense… So, the Nebula is rated as a F25° rated bag (well, at least mine is) and it does so by having less animal down than one might normally use with a twenty-degree bag, because of the additional layer of synthetic. Ok, all of that is just normal ‘yeah, duh‘ stuff. But one night the quilt wetted me out, from the outside temp not being as cold as expected. I woke up with wet legs, feet, etc. Thankfully none of the animal down seemed to have wetted out nor got all clumpy on me (nothing sucks worse than clumpy animal down in your quilt/garments!) So, I was laying there and did what I would normally do with my 100% synthetic quilts when they wet out from the inside… I flipped the quilt inside out… inverted it… so, I ended up with the animal down on the outside, and the synthetic insulation on the inside. Now, here is where it gets interesting… because heat does not really transfer through the synthetic insulation all that well, and because the animal down was not up against my body, all of the normal properties usually required to heat up, and keep warm, animal down, were no longer applicable. Follow me here? Basically, the normal process of your body heating up the air pockets inside the little fluffy pieces of animal down is just not possible. So, what that meant is that the only thing doing any thermal warming was the sheet of synthetic insulation. And THAT, my good friends, meant that the normal F25° rated was more like, well, a F40° rated quilt. And that has completely changed the entire dynamics of the quilt. Instead of it being a rather expensive quilt that could only be used in the winter season, now it is an equally expensive quilt, but one that is more justifiable, because that price-to-use-duration can now be expanded beyond just cold weather conditions! Hell yes! Awesome!!

Here are the full specs on mine:

The quilt is rated at F25° and it is a 74″ length, 48″ width, and 44″ foot box. As for the fabric: all three layers are 10D. The shell is Argon 67, the liner is also Argon 67, and the mid layer (separates the synthetic from down) is an unknown 10d membrane. The synthetic insulation is 2.2 oz/yrd APEX, of which there is 207g worth in my quilt. The animal down insulation is 900 Dry-RDS (Allied) Goose (white), of which there is 260g worth of it inside the quilt. According to Nunatak the total weight of the quilt is 697 grams.

So, 697-260-207 = 230. That means the total weight of the material (non-insulation) is 230 grams, and the total weight of the insulation is 467 grams. That is a pretty sweet insulation-to-material difference/equation.

What this quilt solves is the current method of folks carrying both an animal down quilt, and a synthetic over-quilt, to deal with top condensation. And, for those who like to use a bivouac but are constantly battling with internal condensation, well, now you can have a layer of synthetic insulation to protect the almighty precious animal down when your bivouac decides to wet you out.

This Nebula Hybrid Quilt is getting a huge like/love from me!

Oh, check out this personal note, from Nunatak, that came with the quilt:

Massdrop, Veil Wind Shell — Like!

I have used and written so much on wind jackets over the years, and I swore off buying/testing any more, but such as it is, I gave in and hit the buy button on the Massdrop ‘Veil Wind Shell’ in February of 2018.

It did not get delivered until July, but I have to say that the five month wait was well worth it.

I am not going to sit here and say that it is the best of the best. I have well documented that there is no ‘best’ when it comes to wind jackets, because different conditions call for different types of wind jackets – no different than many other types of outdoor gear.

Sometimes you might want a wind jacket with a higher breathability but lower wind protection and sometimes you might want a higher amount of wind protection and are willing to sacrifice some breathability. There is no magic fabric when it comes to wind shells.

What I have found with my time using the Massdrop Viel Wind Shell is that it seems to have a higher amount of breathability and a mid-range of wind protection. In cold weather, if there is stinging cold wind, it can really be felt. Much along the lines of the Montbell wind jacket, and the non-20d Enlightened Equipment wind jacket. But, when it comes to breathability, I have found this wind jacket to be on the exceptional side of things. So, consider this a fair to mid-cold wind jacket.

I do want to add that this fabric is the softest fabric of any wind jacket that I have ever used and put to the test. If you are one of those hikers that likes to wear a t-shirt than a wind jacket as a L1, you should find this Massdrop Veil Wind Shell to be a really nice one to wear.

SOTO, Amicus Stove — Like!

You know, every so often you buy something that just surprises you and this little SOTO Amicus stove falls into that category of things.

I have been using the MSR PocketRocket 2 since before it came out. But my favorite little cup, the MSR Titan 300ml cup would not, rather comically, actually fit on the PR2.

Given that probably 90% of the time I fire up a canister stove it is quickly boil up 250-300ml of water, I eventually reached a point of frustration of not being able to use my little favorite cup, with the PR2, that I just decided to try another stove.

I asked around and got a lot of trusted feedback on giving the Amicus a try, and after just a week or two of using it, it completely replaced my PR2 and even my Snow Peak LiteMax.

In windy conditions, this is by far the best canister stove (besides the MSR WindBurner, of course) that I have ever used.

Six Moon Designs, ‘Minimalist’ Backpack — Nope!

I did an ‘initial look‘ writeup of this backpack back in May of this year, and since then have gotten out with it a few more times.

While I absolutely love the pectoral/vest harness system that Six Moon Designs has, there were just too many small things that added up to me not liking this backpack.

That is not that it is a bad backpack, is most certainly is not a bad backpack, neither in design nor quality.

My “meh” rating for this backpack just comes down to all of the little things that I initially talked that continues to annoy me each time I go out with the Minimalist, such as:

The fold over lid/brain. I realize a lot of people like those things, I do not.

The back mesh pocket not going all the way down to the bottom, with their silly/stupid rounded design.

The side ‘shelter pocket’ being just a bit to small for common mainstream tents. Sure, it might fit all of the SMD shelters, but not everybody that buys a SMD backpack is also going to own/use a SMD shelter. It is a feat of accomplishment to get a MSR Carbon Reflex 2 (and my previous MSR Freelite 2) into, and worse, out of, the side shelter pocket.

And last, at ~50 liters, it is just too much volume for me for the vast majority of the adventures that I go on. I pretty much only need that much volume during the winter season, and when winter comes around, I have backpacks that I like better for when I need this big of a backpack.

All that said, if you like the features of this backpack, which is what most mainstream backpacks offer these days, I do feel the Minimalist is probably one of the best bag-for-your-bucks backpack out there. And it is unquestionably the best choice for those looking for an awesome pectoral suspension system – that is, if the Flight 30 is not big enough for you, which is still my second all-time favorite backpack, after the MLD Core 22.

Kora, ‘Xenolith Sweater’ — OMG Like!

kora-xenolith-sweaterThe Kora ‘Xenolith Sweater’ is the most technologically advanced garment that I have ever used.

Yak Wool + Merino Wool + Polartec Alpha = awesome!

The combination makes for something that you may wonder (a) if it works or not, and more importantly, (b) if the associated price tag to go along with it.

So, I actually got this back in mid-2017, but I have really been wanting to put it to a long-term test, and now, after my initial 500 days of wearing this garment, the answer to those two really important questions is: an unequivocal “YES”.

Somehow Kora pulled off a combination of super high-end fabrics to make for one hell of an amazing garment.

If you are on the fence about buying this garment, hit the buy button. I have published some further thoughts on the garment.

Altra, Men’s Lone Peak 3 Mid — Like!

Two years ago I suffered a pretty bad foot injury. That lead to additional injuries with my foot, and eventually my ankle. I eventually ended up having to have gel pads inside my shoes and a huge ankle brace.

That injury also forced me away from hiking in sandals, and even hiking in trail runners.

But, I was not prepared yet to go out hiking in full on boots. So after asking around, a few folks all told me the same thing “try the Altra Lone Peak MID‘s“. These things are not really boots, but not exactly trail runners. They are, well, they seem to just be a pair of normal LP’s, with some higher side walls on them.

They have become my primary shoe since I got them back in April and I pretty much do not want to put on anything else these days. The extra support for my ankles, and the normal feel of a pair of LP’s, has just made me really happy I that I spent the money on these.

After I bought mine, sigh, that seems to usually be how it goes, they released a version that is made with mesh and is a lot more breathable I am guessing. They have also updated them to the Gen4, but mine are still going strong, so no need to drop the money on the latest-and-greatest, but I would certainly pick up the 4 MID Mesh, if I needed another pair.

Icebreaker, Tech T Lite Short Sleeve Tee — Epic Sucks!

So, I had worn my original Icebreaker Tech T t-shirt for over 2000 days. I finally decided it was time to buy a new one. It sucked. Icebreaker changed the fabric blend away from a 100% merino wool and it is just horrible. It will be the last Icebreaker t-shirt that I ever buy.

Enlightened Equipment, Hooligan — Like!

Long time readers know that I have been a major fan of Black Rock Gear Beanies for a very long time. Over the years I have asked BRG if they would add ear cover/flaps onto their beanies, and the response was always “no”.

Enlightened Equipment Hooligan, Tangerine 20DSo, when Enlightened Equipment announced that they were introducing a synthetic beanie that had ear flaps, called the “Hooligan“, I ordered one, I think on the day they were announced, or maybe the next day, do not remember. I got mine on January 25th of this year and have worn it, pretty close to every day since I got it. I guess that means that I like it, a lot :)

Since I bought mine they have added a whole bunch of different colors and different fabrics to pick from… and for some strange reason, now I want one in 20D Tangerine!

North x North, ‘Merino Wool Kerchief’ — Like

Chad North, the owner of NxN sent one of these ‘Kerchief‘ to me back in January, and I have been using it on-and-off over the last 10 months.

I do like the Kerchief, but I already carry a large sheet of fabric, actually sun protective fabric, from Solumbra, called the ‘Shade Scarf‘, that I have been using for a few years. So the only real benefit that I have gotten from this Kerchief is the thermal properties it has provided in colder weather, versus using the Solumbra.

Anyway, the Kerchief is basically a huge (42″ x 42″) piece of Merino wool that you can use for a half-bazillion different things.

There are times when some pieces of gear are really cool, but perhaps not the most idea, and for me, the Kerchief has kind of fallen into that category. Given that I only use this in colder weather, I think it would have been better if I would have gone for the North x North ‘Hooded Neck Gaiter‘, as it is designed with a built in hood, and that is usually all I end up doing with the Kerchief, so it would have just made things easier. But all that said, the Kerchief is still a dang nice piece of gear!

Six Moon Designs, ‘Pack Pods’ — Like!

Last up in my list for this year are the Six Moon Designs ‘Pack Pods‘, which are top-loading packs for shoving all kinds of different gear into.

I love these things because they are just so dang diverse.

I use them for all sorts of stuff… as a BOB in my truck… for keeping electronics that I might want to take with me to events… for food storage…. and all that kind of stuff.

It would be sweet if they offered a white color version with the red medical symbol… so I can have one that is specific to a medical kit!

Thanks for reading!
+John Abela

4 thoughts on “Best & Worst Gear of 2018

  1. Hey John, glad to read one of your posts again. Just wanted to second your thoughts on the Icebreaker Tech T Lite. I bought two of the old 100% merino wool shirts years ago cause of your review and they are still going strong, which is pretty crazy as I do use them constantly. (Though they really suffer no abrasion, so maybe not that crazy). But wow, the new mixed material is awful. I bought one on-sale a couple of years ago and the fit is sloppy. The feel is terrible. It stretches and balloons out. Really disappointing. It’s become a work undershirt for me.

    1. Hey Joseph,

      Yep, Icebreak can go screw themselves when it comes to their new blended tshirts. Utterly suck. I eventually found another 100% tshirt that was (was, as in, they had, but stopped selling) sold by NW Alpine. Here recently SMD started selling a 100% merino tshirt, and I have been testing it out. Nice and soft. Got a small hole in it during its first wash, but after that, it is holding up strong.

  2. I’m confused by your description of how the hybrid quilt works with flipped around.

    By your reasoning, layering a down parka on top of a synthetic jacket like the Patagonia Nano-puff would be completely useless, and I just don’t find that to be true.

    1. Howdie Jeff, thanks for the comment. I would have responded sooner but life got in the way, as well as I wanted to think about things.

      I realize what I wrote may not have made complete sense. Trying to explain things, I sometimes complicate things.

      My only real thoughts at this point is time is the factor of mass/weight, being a contributing factor.

      The whole idea of putting on a down garment (synthetic or animal down) over the top of a synthetic (sheet) garment just makes zero sense to me (and most others) because of the reason I tried to explain in my article. It would be like putting a down quilt over the top of a synthetic quilt… that is just stupid… why… or, it would be like putting a wind jacket over the top of a rain jacket… again, stupid, why do it. I just see zero benefit of putting a synthetic garment (or quilt, or whatever) underneath a synthetic or animal down garment. Down works best when as close to the body as possible. By putting an entire other barrier between you and it, your just nullifying all that is awesome about down.

      Failing to do so, as I started saying above, all just goes back to the factor of mass/weight. The weight of the garment is pretty much, would be my guess, that is contributing to any thermal additive. Again, just my guess in all of this.

      Again, thanks for the comment Jeff. Caused me to do some additional thinking… and thinking always leads to learning, and learning/teaching is what this website is all about.

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