Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I'm not ready to bore anyone with the little progress that I have made in my gear research. It's truly amazing how you can get lost in this stuff! I have spent the last hour researching disposable/collapsable flasks that I can use to store my denatured alcohol for my stove system. The 375 ml Lil' Nipper by Platypus has been discontinued so I have opted to try an alternative from disposableflasks.com . They are very inexpensive and appear to be lightweight.

I'm finding that while gear research is extremely necessary, testing it in the field is invaluable. I read every blog and review on a product before I purchase it (if its over $25) and think I found the best product available, take it into the field and realize what doesn't work for me. I'm fortunate to live in a place that promotes my gear addiction and an environment to test it (Vail, CO). I have found for smaller items (under $25), I give my research OCD a break and just buy it, test it and then find a better one if needed.... I'll be able to give the best Christmas gifts this year at the rate I'm at!!


It took nearly 6-8 weeks (as promised) by mountainlaureldesigns.com but its finally in the mail. I ordered a cuben fiber Patrol shelter, cuben fiber ground sheet/bug bivy and 8 Ti stakes. Should all come seam sealed, guy lines, stakes, bivy and ground sheet at just or under 16oz!! I'm embarrassed to share the price, but if you are reading this, you probably already know how expensive cuben fiber is. The total price (with shipping) was $525.00. However, since I quit drinking, the $$ and time I've saved makes me confident that it's money well spent.

Reasons for choosing MLD Patrol Shelter with MLD bug bivy

  This is the tarp from the other end..
Bug bivy

There are many options out there when choosing shelter, but a few key things were important to me when finally making my decision

  • versatility and lightweight
  • ability to set up camp anywhere
  • cook under shelter while also having bug protection
  • When bug protection isn't needed, I can sleep on the netting and the cuben fiber provides my groundsheet (so I don't need to bring both)
  • If raining, I can preen the area at a leisurely pace for sharp objects that may rip my gear or cause discomfort. Likewise (if raining) while breaking camp in the morning, I can make breakfast and pack everything while staying completely dry. When its time to leave camp, I can take down the shelter and keep it in the mesh pockets outside my pack to eventually dry
  • Cuben fiber is extremely lightweight, waterproof and doesn't stretch so it won't baffle in the wind or loose tenacity in extreme weather
  • The Patrol shelter is essentially closed off on one end with a beak on the other which makes it nearly rain/snow/sleet/hail/etc proof if pitched correctly. I would recommend reading Ray Jardine's Tarp Book for proper tarp pitching techniques. I also bought one of his "Ray Way Tarps" to sew myself for fun!
  • It comes with adjustable guy lines so the tarp's height is fully customizable while under the shelter
  • With a close line sewn in, I can dry gear that I washed or wet from rain without worry of condensation build up
  • if no trees are available, 2 sticks or 2 hiking poles are all that's needed to assemble
  • If wanting more closure, one could open a umbrella at the beak end and have almost an enclosed shelter
I still haven't decided if I'm bringing an umbrella. But I like the versatility of sun, rain and sleeping protection

Before I decided on this system, I looked at the Tarp Tent Contrail. At $199 and 24.5 ounces it is a great choice for someone looking to shave tent weight and on more of a budget. However, I ultimately moved away from this system (also known as a "double walled" tarp tent shelter) due to reports of condensation issues and that I didn't feel there was enough ventilation to cook under. Or if my hot water spilled, it could melt the netting or floor. 

If you are willing to spend a little more money, Z packs Hexamid Solo is a great option. This shelter comes in at 16oz including everything and will cost you $430. I was very close to choosing this system. However, it came down to what I wanted to get out of the shelter. This has good ventilation, but the netting is sewn in. So once again, I was worried that if I spilled boiling water within, I could melt the mesh. There is an extended beak option, but I worried of inadequate ventilation when cooking.

Silnylon (Silicon Nylon) is a fine alternative to Cuben Fiber and CONSIDERABLY less expensive. The Patrol Shelter in Silnylon costs $160 and is only 11.5oz. To make it in Cuben Fiber nearly doubles the cost coming in at $315 weighing 6.8oz. But the weight savings aren't the only thing to consider. Duct tape adheres to cuben fiber almost seamlessly while has trouble sticking to the slippery silnylon. Silnylon also stretches more and requires a little more patience. Since I'm not paying rent or utilities and this is going to be my home for then next 5-6 months, upgrading to cuben was a no brainer for me. Last thing I want is to be in terrible weather and wishing I had better protection. 


Based on research, a 20 degree bag is whats recommended for the PCT. So I knew the degree, just had to decide on the style. After learning the sleeping bag material underneath the body provides no insulation, it seemed like dead weight. In addition to this, UL sleeping bags can get really pricey (so can quilts for that matter. But the weight savings in quilts make it worth it!) Western Mountaineering's Ultralight mummy 20 weighs 29oz and costs $420. A quilt isn't what you might think. It resembles a sleeping bag, but is more like a blanket. It has a closed foot box to keep your feet enclosed, but fans out like a blanket.

Its encouraged to layer under a quilt which gives it ultimate versatility. If its warm, you can lift up an edge. If chilly, tuck it underneath. There is no mummy hood so wearing a hat or down hood is a nice option

I don't think that will be necessary for my PCT hike, but its nice to have the versatility. The hood adds 1.3oz and is $65. I plan on using a balaclava and a merino wool hat.

I narrowed my quilt brand down to:

I spoke with all 3 companies via email and all had great customer service. Katabatic is based out of Colorado and would have loved to support local (even though they are all small cottage companies) Despite temperature ratings from larger mainstream companies, cottage companies tend to be more accurate. Katabatic assured me that the Palisade would perform well on the PCT despite being rated at 30 with proper layering. I didn't understand where katabatic's weight was coming from if zpacks could get a 20 degree bag to weigh 16.7 oz vs their 22oz and 18.2 oz. Katabatic has the best reviews, by far and are known for their innovative sleeping pad attachment system. I thought that these 2 bags were my only choice, until I found hammockgear.com. Though I'm not using a hammock, these quilts look awesome. You can customize to fit whatever you need and the customer service was great! Z packs quilts looked great but in addition to the hefty price tag it also takes 4-5 weeks to receive your product.  Their quilts also don't come with a system to attach to a sleeping pad, which I liked from Katabatic and Hammock Gear. Though HG's attachment system isn't as advanced at Katabatics', its nearly half the price and less weight. HG isn't as well known as the 2 other brands and I'm pretty sure that once they gain popularity, their prices will go up. Katabatic used to be $100-$150 cheaper for the same product a year ago. 

My sleeping system 
  • 1 x Burrow 20° 
    (Outer Shell Color: ARGON Black, Inner shell Color: ARGON Black, Length: Standard Length 74", Width: Wide 55" (+$20), Footbox Style: Snap closed , Taper: Half Taper, Overfill (oz): Standard Amount) 


I ordered both packs and I'll send back the one that I don't like. I have already played with the GG Gorilla and really like it. It has a removable stay, removable back rest that can double as a padded seat, optional/removable waist belt with pockets and a small pocket on top for easy access items. I haven't received the Ohm yet, but ULA is known for great packs and I'm excited to test it out. I like that the Ohm offers a bit more volume than the Gorilla. However The Gorilla carries weight better so not sure if I want to add more weight.

A lot of people opt for a frameless pack. I didn't know if I would like that, so I ordered a golite jam 50 at the beginning of the summer to try it out. It was inexpensive considering the alternatives and I love backpacks. I determined that I like having a frame and for a little extra weight, its worth it for me. I also read a great article on backpackinglight.com  that disputed claims that rolling a sleeping pad within the bag added support https://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/frameless_backpacks_sotm_part2b_2011.html#.UgrvuxYso20 . Not sure if you have to be a member to read this article. That leads me into my last suggestion in this post. 

  • Become a member at backpackinglight.com 
  • If you are planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, buy Yogi's PCT Handbook
  • Read what Ray Jardine has to say. I have his Trail life and Tarp book. He is a bit preachy, but I'm new to this stuff. Don't only read him, read everything you can. But most importantly, get outside and PLAY!!
This is a great place to start your UL hiking adventures. I just started and can't wait to see where it takes me!!

Headed out on a 200 mile bike ride to Aspen this weekend to see Xavier Rudd and camp, followed by a 4 day backpacking trip to Spider and the Fly. Next week is going to be awesome!! I'll link some pictures and let you all know how the new gear worked out!

1 comment:

  1. Good Luck Eric, Let me know when you make it to Northern California