Gear of 2014

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.

Continue reading “Gear of 2014”

Favorite Winter Gear, 2013/2014

Greetings All,

Seven months ago I published my Favorite Summer Gear, 2013 article and in it I indicated that I was going to two two articles on gear used in 2013, the summer gear I was talking about within that article, and I promised that I would publish a winter gear after the winter hiking season came to an end.

This winter ended up being the driest winter within the Redwoods of Northern California in the 19 years that I have lived here, so I got very little use out of my rain gear.

We did get a lot of colder nights than in the last few years, so that allowed me to break out the winter gear and use it for 25-30 nights on the trail.

The lowest I recorded was 16°(f) / -8.88°(c) so by no means really cold, and had a few nights it was probably a bit colder and I just did not record them.

I just do not think this is really going to be a “favorite winter gear” list… all of the winter gear I used worked and performed as expected, none of it failed and I was not out enough to play around with different sleeping bags or such. So, just going to list the few things that I ended up using and/or taking to help me keep warm on this winters hiking trips.

Let The List Being:

Continue reading “Favorite Winter Gear, 2013/2014”

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+John Abela

Suluk46 “A-Pod” – an ultralight camera-pod!

The Suluk46 A-Pod, a 6 gram camera pod!
The Suluk46 A-Pod, a 6 gram camera pod!

Hello All,

I am very happy to announce that an awesome new product for the hiking community, that I have been co-designing since the middle of 2013, has just been made available for purchase!

It is called the “A-Pod” – and it is a 6 grams (0.21 ounce) ultralight camera-pod for those looking for the lightest of the lightest for their point-and-shoot camera or phone!

The A-Pod is used by placing it over the tip of an inverted hiking pole (or a stick off the ground) and using 3 (or more) pieces of cord that are tied onto the top stabilizing disc and using stakes (or sticks pick up off the ground or even tied to other surrounding objects) that provides stability for the upright hiking pole/stick/whatever!

It is a brilliantly simple camera accessory and designed to be the absolute lightest weight possible to get the job done!

Continue reading “Suluk46 “A-Pod” – an ultralight camera-pod!”

Trail-life Update & Updated ZPacks Belt Pouch

Greetings Hikers,

I am home for a little over a week and then off for more hiking! Love this time of the year.

I just got home from a great 5 day 120 mile hike and a package from ZPacks.Com was waiting for me, along with a shipment of freeze dried food food from Honeyville Grain which I badly needed to get myself resupplied with fruit, meat and refried beans. Showing up later this week will be a shipment from MontBell America with a replacement Montbell U.L. SuperSpiral #1 (my prefered sleeping bag) and the Montbell Mirage Parka, a new pair of Dynamo Wind Pants, the updated sub-2 ounce 2013 Tachyon Wind Jacket and a couple other small things. I am also getting a resupply of Probar Meals, and some FITS socks to give a try alongside my Wigwam socks. Oh, and I ordered up a new LiteTrail 550ml Ti pot that should be here before I head back out onto the trail, which I am going to give a go with, and let my Evernew 600ml pot a rest.

IMG_3301As for my most recent trail. It was an interesting adventure. Saw some beautiful country, pushed myself pretty hard, broke some gear, learned a bit more about dealing with people who are sitting at home and suppose to be helping out hikers yet utterly fail to do so when the hiker actually needs something, got to test out my new ZPacks Arc Blast (my second one, all black with all the extras, nicknamed “Darth Vader”), experienced some weather that was waaaay colder than what it was suppose to be, and all in all had a great time.

The first day out I was moving along at a good rate and snapped part of one of my Gossamer Gear trekking poles. After hiking for a couple of hours I found a spot with a very weak internet connection and I contact the guy that was suppose to be the ‘new guy’ in charge of handling requests from Sponsored hikers/Trail Ambassadors for Gossamer Gear and long story short, that went over very very badly. It is as if people do not understand that some of us actually spend the vast majority of the year out on the trail and when we contact them to help out, it is because we actually honest to God need help. I got a run around from this guy and eventually just decided to say screw it and not even bother trying to get a new pole piece sent out overnight to the next trail town that I was going to be at in two days. So I just had somebody else overnight me my Blackdiamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles from home. I love Grant and Glen from GossamerGear, but whoever in the world it was that made the decision to outsource their Trail Ambassador program to somebody outside the company, needs to rethink that whole idea. We hikers out on the trail have limited internet and phone connectivity, we should not have to play a go-around-game just to get the gear we need. This whole event was a nice reminder that when your gear breaks out on the trail, it is always a good and wise thing to have somebody back home, be it family or a friend, that can handle resolving an issue for you. I am very grateful to my family, my friends, and those at my company, for all that they do to allow me to keep being out on the trail so much. Beyond that ordeal, the first day was good. Did some nice elevation changes, and thankfully had a good amount of water with me when I started as it was a day with only one water source, and it was around 14 miles in. Eat a crazy amount of food for some reason. Stupid me for not pounding a bunch of high energy food before I left my truck. Set up camp in a really beautiful spot, and was sure to mark it on the map for future trips. It was one of those odd days when you do not see, or even hear, any animals. I enjoy the sound of animals and seeing birds flying around, but there was not a peep or feather anywhere to be heard or seen.

IMG_3235The second day was hard, as they usually are. Body was aching, still pissed off by the aforementioned events of yesterday, and my feet were bugging me as this was the first hike of any distance that I have done with sandals. So many hikers I really respect, hikers out on the trail right now hiking the CDT or who hiked it last year, have made the switch over to sandals and I figured it was about time I gave it a try, so I ditched my much beloved Inov-8 shoes and went with a pair of sandals. Taking some getting use to. A lot stiffer than the crazy light trail runners I am use to, and the straps on the top of the foot are kind of bugging me, but the freedom of stretching my toes, and the complete breathability factor, and the knowledge I do not have to worry about foot-swell, are all things I am beginning to see as really amazing reasons for making the switch. I was able to have access to a lot of water on day two, so that was nice. Put my Sawyer Squeeze to a lot of use. Having added the small section of tube (see my previous article) was totally worth the extra few grams of weight. It just makes filling up water bottles so much easier. One of those situations where weight  for functionality is smart hiking.

The third day I was able to get into a trail town and get some supplies, but most importantly was getting the hiking poles. It was a very small town (one of those towns that is a store/postoffice) so not a lot to do there so I just grabbed my stuff and went on my way. I think one of the things I said about the Blackdiamond Alpine Carbon cork hiking poles when I reviewed them was something along the lines of them being heavy, but oh so worth it. The more I use these poles the more I love them. Yeah, they are heavy trekking poles (when compared to the Gossamer Gear trekking poles) but these are the most rock solid pair of hiking poles I have ever used. They also make setting up my shelter at night a bit faster and easier, because the locking systems on them is a lot easier than sitting there doing ‘the twist’. Yeah, I love the LT4 poles, but Gossamer Gear really needs to find a way to move away from twist locking mechanisms – please guys!! The end of day three turned cold and thankfully I had with me my Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka. It is my no means the lightest jacket out there, but it has saved my butt a few times. I am really looking forward to getting the Montbell Mirage Parka later this week! It has one ounce more down than the Alpine and weighs 1.9 ounces less! I was also seriously glad I had with me my Black Rock Gear Hadron hat and the Black Rock Gear Mitts. It thankfully did not rain but I had with me the ZPacks Waterproof Breathable Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket, at 4.7 ounces, it just makes sense to always carry it.

IMG_3261The fourth day was all about pounding the miles, and that is exactly what I did. Started off really cold, sub freezing and stayed cold pretty much all day. I hiked for about four hours in the dark until I was really tired and knew I would just go right to bed. Went to bed cold.

The fifth day I again started off cold but thankfully it warmed up a bit. Ended the 120 mile section of trail when it was almost dark and headed home. Made up some spaghetti and feasted.

My next trip out will be hiking the same exact section of trail, only this time in the other direction. One of the aspects of building a new trail is the joy of getting to hike the same trail multiple times in multiple directions, at different times of the year. It helps you make sure that you have enough GPS data to be able to properly build a map system that others will be able to use, and it helps you really learn where the water is at and when there will be a water source and when it will be a dry creek. I will likely be taking a camera with me on my next hike so I should have some photos and video to share. There is some really beautiful country up here in North Western California.

Gear Report:

IMG_3414Besides the already mentioned issue with the LT4 poles, this was a great trip to test out some new gear. My new ZPacks Arc Blast road like a champ. Really loving that backpack. It was way more then what I needed for this trip but I wanted to get some more miles on it. I also used the Lawson Ti-Hook Stakes for the first time. I gotta say I really enjoyed them over a traditional hook stake, the slightly more bent head really did make them noticeably better. I also took with me a Petzl TacTikka Plus for the first time. I gotta say that while it is heavier than any other light I have taken, it was kind of nice having a full power torch to use, it was the main reason I hiked for four hours in the dark. I also took with me the Klymit Double Diamond vest. I have been using one for a few months around the house and on short day hikes, so this was the first hike of any miles I have taken it. It is crazy heavy compared to my down vests/jackets, and it seems to suffer a problem of not drying out very fast, but I gotta say, it is really impressing me. Going to give it a lot more trail time before I make a verdict on it. I took with me the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm, size large of course. It is one beastly sleeping pad, but I gotta say, it is the most comfortable air sleeping pad I have ever used. Almost tempted to keeping lugging it around the rest of the year, regardless of the fact it is 570 grams – which makes it heavier than my entire shelter system, the Six Moon Designs Skyscape X, the Adventure Medical Kits Sol Emergency Blanket (groundcloth), and the 5 stakes that the SMD SX takes. For heating up water I took the TrailDesigns Caldera Sidewinder and the Evernew 600ml pot. For food I took mostly food I had made myself over the winter season, using the Excalibur dehydrator I got for Christmas, which all of my family pitched in together and got for me.

Anyway, I grabbed my camera a bit ago and decided to shoot a quick video on the updated ZPacks Belt Pouch, which I ordered while out on the trail.

I hope everybody out there is having an awesome, fun, and safe hiking season!

+John Abela

In accordance of USA Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR, Part 255: I hereby declare that the products mentioned within the content of this article were not supplied to me in exchange for services.

As of April 2013 I am a sponsored hiker of: Montbell America, Gossamer Gear, Black Rock Gear, Suluk46.

Montbell – A New Sponsor

Montbell - Light & Fast
Montbell – Light & Fast

Greetings Hikers,

I received word yesterday from the North American Operations of Montbell that I have been accepted as a sponsor of Montbell. This is a very exciting new sponsorship for me. Montbell is one of the leading companies in ultralight hiking gear and to be accepted by them is truly an honor and I want to extend a huge thank you to those involved in this decision at Montbell.

I have never made it any secrete that I have a special place in my hiking heart for Montbell. I have done extensive testing and publication on their gear over the last few years and their gear has continued to stand up to all that I have demanded of it.

One of the most popular articles I have written has been on the Montbell Dynamo Wind Pants – a truly amazing piece of gear that I have worn for over two thousands miles of hiking. Dozens and dozens of hikers have read my article on these pants and bought them and sent me an email saying thanks, and I have even come across a few hikers on youtube that have mentioned my article when talking about them buying these wind pants. I can honestly say that I have never encountered any other pair of pants I would prefer to be out hiking with… be it sunny and hot, raining like crazy, or even in the snow. These pants have been with me everywhere.

I have also written a Long Term Review: MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Hugger – a sleeping that I have over 250-nights of use with. I recently bought my second U.L. Super Spiral #1 sleeping bag and have been using it over the winter season with a huge smile on my face.

Just before the start of the 2012/2013 winter season I purchased the Montbell Alpine Light Down Parka. It has been one of the best parkas I have ever purchased. I acquired mine just before their Mirage Parka came out, so I look forward to giving it a go over the 2013 hiking season. Those I trust the most have been telling me the Mirage is a dream come true jacket for them.

And of course my long time readers know all to well my long standing love with the Tachyon Wind Jacket. It was the wind jacket that introduced me and a lot of other hikers I know to the fact that wind jackets have a serious place in a UL/SUL/XUL hikers backpack. Their new 2013 version has hit the scales at an insane sub 50 gram mark.

When talking with other hikers I have often said that Montbell is one of those rare companies that exist that have given me the means to reach the weight levels that I have over the last few years. As a primarily SUL hiker I have used a lot of gear over the last few years and there are very few pieces of gear that have made it from one season to the next season — and not because I am hard on my gear, far from it, but rather because so much of the gear made today by companies claiming to make SUL gear, have simply not been able to design, develop, test, and bring to market gear that actually meets the needs of my style of hiking. I can truly count the companies that I consider to be top end companies for SUL hiking gear on one hand. Montbell is among them.

To be granted the opportunity to be a sponsor of Montbell is a huge honor for me. I am going to keep using their gear that I have already proven to be solid, test their new gear to see how it holds up, and I will continue to invest the time to write articles where I share my honest thoughts about the gear I use from Montbell. I have never bought a piece of gear from Montbell where after using it I went “Hmm, I wish I had not bought that“. That alone pretty much says it all.

Again, to those of you at Montbell, thank you very much and I look forward to developing a further relationship with Montbell over the years ahead. Continue to strive to make the gear that you make!

Thank you,

+John Abela

Suluk46 Backcountry Team – Sponsorship

suluk46Greetings Hikers,

Today I am very excited to announce that I have become a sponsored hiker of Suluk46, joining their Backcountry Team sponsorship program.

The owner of Suluk46, Steve Evans, and I have been in contact with each other for a number of years now. He has traveled the world, lives in Canada, and is the maker of some of the finest gear that I have ever purchased.

Steve has a great YouTube Channel that I have followed since he started posting videos.

He is one of the very few hikers in the world that has a decent amount of miles using a 0.34 cuben fiber tarp, and I am not positive but I think he has the second most miles of anybody, after myself. He strives for everything that I strive for: intimate knowledge of your gear, having the finest gear that does what it is designed to do, and the experience to be able to go out there and push yourself without putting yourself at risk.

I have been a long time user of his gear and have never purchased a single piece of gear from him that I felt was sub-par in any way.

The Suluk46 Titanium Windscreen is an absolute vital part of my sub two ounce cook kit (see video).

The Suluk46 Collapsible Titanium Stove is without a doubt the best wood burning stove for sub 400ml cups that exists. (see my review)

The Suluk46 Titanium Trowel is unquestionably the toughest and lightest full size trowel that I have ever owned. (see my review)

I am presently testing his newest product, the Suluk46 Titanium Double-wall Wood burning Stove, and it has been truly amazing me. (full review coming after I get more testing in different weather conditions) It is a sub-three ounce dream for wood burning fans!

And one of these days I am going to end up buying the Suluk46 Titanium/Carbon Fiber Ice Tool. I almost bought it the end of last year but I was not sure of just how long of a handle I would want and have been testing different length handles on some cheap’o ice axes this winter. Still not sure to be honest… what a tricky thing it is, trying to pick the best length for an ice tool.

As a hiker, and as many of my readers know, I tend to really push the boundaries of gear. It has been this reason that I have sought out companies such as Suluk46 in order to find gear that allows me to push the boundaries without excessive risks. I demand the lightest weight gear possible, and at the same time I also demand that gear to handle situations that weekender gear would never be able to survive in. Not that I am abuse towards my gear, but rather because I carry so very little gear as a SUL/XUL hiker, what gear I do have has to perform without failure every time it is called upon. Suluk46 has become one of my go-to companies for gear that I know I can buy – and trust that it will perform without failures and be as lightweight as a piece of gear can be made with modern material.

I know that a lot of my readers have bought gear from Suluk46 and that is awesome – if you have not already bought some gear from them, I would really encourage you to check out what they offer.

I am truly grateful to Steve Evans, to Suluk46, for adding me as a member of the Suluk46 Backcountry Team!!

+John Abela