It's often said that post-trip gear analyses offer a more holistic insight into the practical use of gear than dedicated reviews about single products, and it's always interesting to see how gear choices work or don't work together and in practice. It's been a while since I've written such an analysis, so let's address that imbalance right now by taking a look at how the gear taken on my recent Muotkatunturi trip performed in the field.
I chose the Gossamer Gear Mariposa for this trip for it's size, internal aluminium stay, and comfort when carrying a load. I anticipated carrying more than the 9.5kg I ended up with, and I could have probably used a smaller pack. Needless to say, the Mariposa was comfortable and very roomy. If I have any criticisms, they are the same as in my initial review: the hip pockets could be a touch larger, and the webbing used for the straps on my version slips. I'm told, however, that this has been fixed in recent production models. I'd also still change the positionong of the zip on the lid pocket to horizontal.
I added a few side-compression cords to the pack this time, mainly to keep my Tenkara rod and loose items safely in the outside pockets. I used 2mm dyneema cord, which was not entirely practical or useful. I'll probably change this to small-diameter shock cord for the next trip: the side compression is not that essential anyway, as the bag is quite thin, so the main purpose it serves it retention of contents. Using dyneema has one advantage though: it doubles as spare cord; if you lose a guy line, or need an additional one, just whip it off the pack and hey presto.
I used a 4-section Z-Lite in the back pocket (where Gossamer Gear's SitLight pad normally goes). Sometimes this slipped and scrunched up a bit, creating a lump against my back. It may be that the SitLight performs better here. I'm not sure if the Z-Lite also caused some sagging around the hip belt, but on occasions I noticed the belt compacting and twisting in place a bit. The image below gives an indication of what I mean: the base of the pack is quite a bit lower than the hip belt (although note that Antoine would probably use a slightly smaller sized pack).
This is something I'll have to look at a bit closer. It could be a packing issue, or perhaps the velcro attachment for the hip belt could be more firmly attached to the internal frame (although this would probably mean losing the SitLight pocket, or at least repositioning it higher.
Waterproofing was via a Laufbursche cuben liner bag, essentially using the same "twist and roll" technique as with the famed trash compactor bag, and this worked fine: on the wettest day no water got inside, and the contents remained dry as a bone.
I kept my quilt in a stuff sack this time, although there was so much room in the pack I could have just stuffed it in the bottom of the liner to fill out some of the space.
Incidentally, photographers might be interested to note that the Mariposa's grey pack material makes an excellent white balance reference: it's very close to a WhiBal card's pure grey.
Grant from Gossamer Gear kindly sent me a replacement pole section to rescue my beloved LT4s. This was great as they continue to be my favourite sticks: the handles are supremely comfortable, they feel almost weightless in the hand, they are plenty strong enough for normal use and pitching shelters. I find them indispensable, and one of my top pieces of gear.
For this trip, I also took along a pair of the Komperdell Carbon Utralight Vario 4 poles to try as a comparison. These are the latest ultralight carbon poles on the market, and have been espoused by, for example, Mountain Laurel Designs, as being the ultimate pole for pitching tarps and mid shelters due to their increased strength.
Well, they are stronger, undoubtedly. They feel more rigid and "beefier" than the LT4s, although of course this comes at a weight penalty: they are approximately twice the weight. They come with straps attached, which I cut off immediately as they are frankly unnecessary. There are also other elements that I would say are somewhat over-engineered. Do poles really need articulated, flexible baskets? I would say not; it's overkill. The elasticated tent-pole style connection mechanism of the pole sections is quite good – you simply connect and twist – although at one point the bottom section somehow managed to disengage itself and started flopping around. I can't help feeling, though, that the tightening mechanism is a bit too complex for what it does. If it breaks in the field, it would be very hard to repair.
The handles were definitely less comfortable than the LT4 handles, to the point that they irritated the skin at the base of my index finger. The black colouring used on the foam material also coloured my hands each day – not a big problem, but a bit surprising.
Most annoying, though, considering the praise given to their strength, was that the very first time I tightened the flick lock mechanism on one pole – right after receiving them from the store – it cracked the carbon.
A you can maybe just about see in the image above, it's only a hairline fracture that didn't affect the pole's tensile strength for walking, but it was disconcerting nonethless. Clearly the pole was sent out with an over-tightened flick lock, but it looks to me like there is a slight narrowing in the diameter of the pole that locks; that is, the area gripped varies slightly in diameter, so the amount of grip the pole needs also varies, leading to potential over-tightening as you compensate by adjusting the tightening screw. Needless to say, though, it should leave the manufacturer in working order.
On the plus side, Komperdell have a no-quibble guarantee, which I'll also be testing.
The Eureka/Nigor WickiUp 3 SUL was fine. We split the fly/inner between us so it was nice and light.
As Joe noted in my review, the design does allow ingress of rain into the inner, which can be problematic. As a solution, on wet days, we removed the front four pegs form the inner and folded it back so we could have a dry vestibule area under the fly without bringing rain, mud and other crap into the inner. It worked fine.
As I suspected, like the GoLite SL3, it's a great two-person shared shelter, and in these circumstances the inner is good to have for the uninitiated in single-wall shelters/tarps. On solo trips, I still favour the DuoMid for it's weight savings and simplicity. For me, at least, it ticks all the right boxes for size, stability, and sunny cheerfullness. I am thinking, however, that 2014 might be the year of trying a cuben fiber shelter...
I was impressed with the Therm-a-Rest X-Lite pad. It felt noticeably warmer than the POE Ether Elite I'm used to. It's also lighter and compacts down nice and small.
It was a good thing that it was warmer, becasue the Navis quilt, while rated to 25-30ºF/ -4º to 7ºC, was not warm enough for the time of year. Temps were around 2ºC on the coldest night, and 10ºC on the warmest, but on all nights I opted to wear insulating trousers as I found a chilly spot around my hips. On the coldest nights I wore my ExLight down jacket too. The quilt is designed to be used like this, so it's all well and good, but I would adjust the ratings to reflect that it's really only a +12ºC bag, and maybe a +5ºC limit / 1ºC extreme. But bag ratings are highly personal. (Edited, 21.9.12, 20:56).
My trusty Exped pillow, now a generation old but still going strong, actually worked better on the X-Lite than on the Ether Elite. The Ether Elite surface is very slippery, but the X-Lite is siliconised, and things slide around much less (the pad also doesn't slip on the tent floor). This was a relief and I slept all the better for it.
I was using the Trail Designs Ti-Tri Sidewinder with Esbit tabs for the first time on this trip, and was pleased with the results. The stove itself is a cinch to assemble, and, especially when not fussing with alcohol or the inferno insert, very minimal in its set up – the entire kit including the pot weighs just 102g.
The Gram Cracker holder for the Esbit fuel worked well, if a bit finickerty and messy. Esbit also leaves a sticky residue on the bottom of the pot, which is a bit annoying, but easily cleaned if you do it promptly (rubbing the pot bottom on sand/gravel seems to work well). The boil time is a bit slow (around 8 minutes), but that's to be expected.
My self-made aluminium foil lid, constructed poorly using the foil supplied with the stove, was adequate for boiling water, but pretty useless for keeping everything in the pot. I might invest in one of the nice carbon lids if I can remember which cottage manufacture makes them (reminders welcomed in the comments :) ).
Antoine took my Jetboil SolTi which boils water astonishingly fast – often less than 2 minutes – and with very little fuel. As a comparison, at the start of the trip, my Sidewinder kit plus fuel weighed 252g, the Jetboil plus fuel weighed 437g. Swings and roundabouts, as they say.
Incidentally, the Primus gas we were using with the Jetboil was noticeably quieter than the Jetboil gas I've used previously. I assume this is due to the differing contents (propane/butane/iso-butane) and ratios between them. The colder temps made it less efficient too (again, as one would expect).
I've finally got my food requirements nailed. I carried 2.4kg food for four days, comprising oats and raisins for breakfast, 100g of trail mix per day, a protein bar for lunch, a Real Turmat for dinner, and a few bonus snacks to alleviate monotony (chocolate, mango strips, jerky, whisky, muffin mix etc). This time I returned with very little unnecessarily carried food.
For some reason, my usual coffee fix of Starbucks Via wasn't doing it for me this trip. I might have to revert to a GSI Filter and just carry my own ground beans. (I've tried Pronto Coffee, but wasn't satisfied.)
The now-traditional steam-baked muffin mix was a hit, and went very well with Antoine's dried vanilla sauce.
The "most annoying item of gear" award for the trip goes to the Sea-to-Summit TPA Guide Map Case. I made an impulse purchase of this based on the possibility that it would rain constantly, and I'd need to check the map regularly, thinking that my usual solution of a ZipLoc bac wouldn't suffice. Well, the Guide Case is certainly waterproof, no problems there. The issue is sealing the bloody thing. The thick TPA ziploc (basically an industrial strength mini-grip closure) has no actual zip, so getting the two pieces to interlock was an exercise in extreme frustration. It typically took me 5 to 10 minutes, and inthe end I just stopped bothering it was such a pain. It wasn't much easier getting it to open up. Back to ziplocs then.
My Tenkara Ayu rod was a fun purchase, and it caught us a fish. At 100g it's not much to worry about, and as I don't consider myself much of a fisherman, I can keep my fishing kit to a bare minimum (I just took one fly, and traditional line). It seems the Ayu is sold out now, so I'm chuffed I picked up a bargain for a change.
I got Antoine an Exped pack liner for the Vapor Trail. It's Silnylon, and did the job, but the roll-top closure system was too flimsy and floppy to be effectively rolled. A pointless purchase. Blacks, in the UK, sent me a Petzl e+lite headlamp for testing. 26 lumens for 25 grams – that's less than one gram per lumen!!! Now you know how much light weighs. Unfortunately(?) it was still very light quite late up in the north, so I only got to use it one evening. It worked well enough, and seemed pretty bright. I've been wanting to test one for a while though, so hopefully I can try it again soon. it should be pretty good in winter with all the reflective light around from the snow – although the lithium batteries might not fare so well in frigid temps. More to follow on that one.
My Haglöfs Rugged Fjell pants we okay, but suffered from zipper slippage (something that seams common with current Haglöfs gear). There were a tad overkill (too heavy) for the conditions, and the water repellancy is not as good as lighter trousers (my Columbia Silver Ridge convertibles, for example, which are excellent, and Montane Terras). I almost wore the Montanes, but I prefer to have secure thigh pockets for odds and ends when hiking, and the Terra's are sadly lacking in the pocket department.
As usual I carried my Montane Fury quite unneccessarily, as the Rab Baseline and my I/O Merino Glory merino hoody baselayer (both very highly recommended – the Glory is now the Colby) were plenty most of the time.
I made use of the Montane LiteSpeed regularly – there are crazy light wind shirts available now, but the LiteSpeed is light enough for me, and works fine.
My Rab Demand pull-on rain jacket and Drillium rain pants were excellent, with all raindrops just beading up and rolling off. No complaints on either of those. Again, lots of improvements have been made in waterproof/breathable materials recently, but I'm happy with what I have as long as it works.
The Rab Boreas I wore once, and I'm still in two minds about it. There always seems to be something else I could wear that performs one of it's limited duties better – wind shirt, Baseline, or rain jacket. I think there's a time and a place for it, but I rarely encounter it, whatever it may be. It is good for bug protection, but then there were no bugs on this trip.
My Black Rock Original down cap saw use most nights. I was a bit disappointed in it at first, as it was a bit large, and my shaven head felt cold air passing through the stitched seams. However, when put over another hat (i.e.. my go-to Haglöfs microfleece beanie) it fits my head a lot better, and gave a good amount of warmth.
The MontBell ExLight continues to be one of my favourite pieces of kit: light (and tiny when compacted), warm, and breathable. It's perfect at the end of the day in camp, on a blustery hill top for lunch, or worn at night to boost the quilt's warmth.
I took two pairs of gloves, mainly to assess their use value. The Extremities Windy Lite gloves were okay, but a bit short on my wrists, and a bit too lightweight – not offering enough warmth on a cold hilltop to warrant using them. They're probably better suited to warmer climes. I picked up a pair of Haglofs Stem from the outlet store nearby to replace my First Ascent gloves which are on their last legs (fingers?). They were much more climate appropriate and valuable during the colder nights, although the box but finger was less comfortable than the marketing claims.
My Inov-8 Roclite 295s were approaching their end of life before we left, and this trip finally killed them off. I wore holes near the toes, and the seams all around the rand broke during the trip. On the rainy third day, I was getting a bit fed up with continually wet feet, although my feet were not cold. It wasn't uncomfortable or unpleasant, it just got a bit old after the seventh or eight hour.
I don't know if it was because the shoes had worn down, but I developed a single blister on the sole of each foot, and on one foot this became uncomfortable. Also, my right big toe nail seemed to get bruised under the nail – it was a bit painful during the walk, but now it's black. I seem to recall it coming off once before after a trip, and maybe it'll happen again. The shoes shouldn't be too small as I sized up, but perhaps that toe box is a little tight. I'll see what happens with the next pair, and if it recurs, move on to some Raptors or other alternatives.
Antoine's Haglöfs Observe Mid GTX-lined mid boots, as I mentioned in the trip report, were surprisingly good. They utilise a similar non-mesh-but-light material to Inov-8 on the uppers that at least dries relatively quickly, and seems to help the GoreTex lining dry a little faster than in typical heavier boots. He walked through a river, immersing them totally, and by the end of the day they were dry. As we get towards winter, and the godawful wet mess of November approaches, I might invest in a pair and give them a try.