On the Porcupine Mountains trip I got the chance to test out some new gear and lighter-weight approaches to hiking. Rather than write a bunch of different reviews of equipment, I'm going to give some brief thoughts in one post, and write a couple of separate reviews of the Marmot Super Mica and Sawyer water filter.
The conditions on the trip were mixed - sudden showers on day one, humid on day two, and torrential storms and strong winds on day three. I'm going to take a ground up, body out approach - starting with...
Shoes & Socks
I used a pair of Teva trail running shoes I picked up dirt cheap in an REI closeout sale, and they were pretty comfortable. It was nice to not have to lift a kilo on each foot with every step. The mesh provided excellent ventilation - but I noticed after only a day on the trail a couple of holes had appeared near the seams.
When the rain came, however, I was a little disappointed. I knew the mesh wouldn't keep the water out, but I didn't expect the insoles to absorb water so much. It was unpleasantly like walking on a sponge. They are taking a surprisingly long time to dry too, although placement by a fire might remedy this (providing you are somewhere you can make a fire, of course). Thankfully, I was wearing REI merino socks that keep my wet feet warm.
Next time I'm going to follow the advice of Hendrik and Joe, and try a trail running show / merino sock / waterproof camp sock combo, and just allow my feet to get soaked from fording streams and rain. I lie the idea of not having to worry about keeping my feet dry on the trail, and not having to take my shoes off for fording. Why fight the rain and wet when you can embrace it? I'm looking at a pair of Inov-8s - either the Roclite 295 or Terroc 330 probably, but they are a little hard to find in Minneapolis.
My Marmot Precip rain pants did a pretty good job. Not super-lightweight, but they kept me mostly dry. I wore them over a pair of convertible hiking shorts/trousers, and I noticed the butt area had become wet after stopping. I suspect this was more a problem of the rain jacket slipping up and channeling water into the rim.
Again, merino is king. I wore an Icebreaker Merino Tee for the whole trip, and after three days it was as fresh-smelling as day one. Fantastic. I'm a total convert to merino base layers.
The only problem was that the short sleeves gave the mosquitoes plenty of juicy flesh to attack. But my All Terrain Herbal Armor eco-friendly bug repellant dealt with that problem, although repeated application was neccessary.
Super. Super light at only 6oz (170g), and super warm on a chilly morning. It also doubles as a rather comfy pillow. I also carried a Marmot wind shirt, but probably didn't need them both. In general, I used the wind shirt around camp, but at such a light weight I'm happy to carry both, just in case.
Granite Gear Vapor Trail
The Vapor Trail might not be the lightest lightweight pack in the world at 1kg (2lb 5oz), but it served its purpose very well on this trip. Rain beaded off the material keeping everything dry inside. The comfy hip belt eased the load, and the super-stretchy side pockets have room for bottles and rain gear.
The roll-top enclosure is a little odd and a touch excessive - it's very long; almost the length of the bag again. it does tend to collect water, although happily it doesn't soak into the pack.
I found that to achieve a really comfortable fit over distance you need to load it thin and tall so you can make use of the load lifters. Without them, the pack tends to dump on your shoulders a little too much. This is probably largely dependent on the weight of your load. I would say it is really ideal for slightly heavier loads, and a little overkill for true UL use.
While I like the bag - and it is definitely an improvement over my old Halti - I would like to have an additional mesh pocket on the rear of the pack for stashing a tarp and other bits and pieces. The straps it has are suitable for, say, a rolled up sleeping mat, but at the moment I'd really like to get my hands on the Laufbursche HuckePACK which seems to have everything in the right place, and far less weight. I hope the guy making them is able to go into production soon, otherwise I might have to settle for the similar MLD Burn. I like the simple lid on the HuckePACK though.
I didn't have scales before this trip, but I can see that as I was able to cheat and leave the tent behind, my 'big three' weight was reduced to a 'big two' of 2.421kg. Quite respectable, although it is cheating a little! I would estimate with everything else the base weight was in the region of 5kg, plus about the same in consumables (I carried the food for humans and dogs). Better than previously, but I have a way to go yet.
In Other News
My DuoMid arrived yesterday! Very excited!