Sad to say I don't know when/if I'll squeeze in any more backpacking yet this season, but there are a few new bits of equipment that I rolled out this year.
Primus Express Spider stove--remote canister stove with the Express burner, a generator tube and the valve at the canister end. It's relatively simple and a decent weight, if not top-of-the-canister light. Has rotating joints at the burner and canister ends so 1. the hose won't flip the burner and 2. the canister can be inverted for liquid flow. Even though there's no canister stand this is a good option for cold weather.
A problem showed up on day 1 of a seven-day trip--the bloody thing wouldn't light, giving a weak flame that wouldn't sustain if you took the lighter away. After much disassembly and colorful language, I asked "anybody have a sewing needle?" Nobody did but eventually, a fishing hook was offered and voila: it worked! First time I've ever had a canister stove clog and the problem did not reappear after.
The Express burner puts out a narrow flame so isn't the easiest to "cook" on but the stove's low profile makes it stable and easy to screen from the wind. It's also frugal with fuel.
I give it a conditional thumbs up, provided it never clogs again.
Adidas TerreX Gore-Tex hikers. Comfortable, rugged, waterproof and above all, maybe the best traction on rock of any shoe or boot I've worn. The soles are made by Continental, the tire maker, so they're on to something. One-pull laces with toggle locks.
My sole (hah) concern is the tongues, which work open on the go, letting in debris.
Unreserved thumbs up.
Delorme InReach satellite communications gizmo. Hard to describe but basically, a more-advanced SPOT that uses a different satellite network and--this is very important--offers two-way communications. It works in a rudimentary fashion by itself but when paired with a smart phone, has an array of tricks that includes tracking with detailed map and satellite image, overlays and the aforementioned two-way messaging.
It's large, heavy and requires a subscription, so not for everyone. One pair of batteries lasts for days and days and days, but of course smartphone batteries don't, so the combination is not (yet) a GPS substitute. But should be.
Two thumbs up.
Granite Gear-Klymit Vapor Current Air Beam suspension for the Crown 60 pack. Basically a tiny air mattress that replaces the thermoplastic frame sheet, this thing makes a comfy pack MUCH more comfy and yes, even adds some weight capacity. I was skeptical, but no more. You pump it up with a little bulb and a valve lets air out.
I wish the Klymit was an option for my Blaze 60, but I don't think it'll work. Good pack, anyway- just have to wear it out. After much deliberation I started to use a Sea to Summit Reactor bag liner as a warm weather bag and blanket. Was good to the low 60's, so I will use it to pump up the temps a little in my 15 degree and my wife's 30. Not a bad thing for 1 lb. AT thru-hikers have been buying them like candy in the Manchester , Vt. EMS instead of upping their bags for the colder trail finish. Leaving for the Sierra this week, will use it to hopefully make my wife comfortable a little below freezing. I don't think the 25 degree gain the mfg. claims is accurate, or even close. 10 degrees is a reasonable claim, according to my usage. Went through about 40 oz. 0f Iso-Pro in a MSR Micro-Rocket so far. No malfunctions, small and light, so I'd give a thumbs up. It's performed well enough to warrant a test in the cold Sierra mornings. I do plan to keep the canister warm and use it in a pan of water if needed. A season's use for our neo-air x-lites- no leaks, little squeaks, no errors. Keepers.
As a general comment on the wide availability of really good gear at not-too-unreasonable prices nowadays, I'd say everything I've used worked well for me this year.
As far as some specifics:
Gravity water filters: As a committed pump user, I was a little skeptical about these, until a friend convinced me to try the Sawyer Squeeze; I later toyed with the Platypus Gravityworks. Both worked extremely well, and neither gave me any problems. I think I prefer the Squeeze, because you don't have all the hoses to fiddle with. On the other hand, it's easier to fill the dirty bladder on the Gravityworks. The Squeeze has a smaller pore size, which is theoretically better - though I'm not sure there's any significant difference in the field, at least with US water sources. (Overseas might be a different story.)
Big Agnes Helinox Passport 115cm hiking poles - that's a mouthful! These look a bit flimsy, since they don't have those beefy twist or flick-lock mechanisms along the pole; instead, you just have a nice, smooth pole. In use, they're remarkably sturdy - I've gotten them jammed between rocks, and put a lot of weight on them, and they never threatened to bend or break. At twelve ounces per pair, they're lighter than any other poles I've used (including a set of MSR carbon fiber poles), and they break down into a very compact, stowable bundle. They're not adjustable - but then, I really never changed the length on my adjustable poles during a hike, so, for my purposes, adjustability is a "gee-whiz" factor that simply adds weight but no function. These poles were a very, very pleasant discovery.
Osprey Atmos 50 pack - I tried the original version of this pack, when it first came out, and didn't really like it; it just never fit right, and the somewhat-exposed frame always dug into my shoulder blades. This year, they changed the suspension, making it adjustable, and the difference was astounding. Now that the pack actually fits me, it's turned out to be the most comfortable pack I've ever used. At three and a half pounds, it's arguably a bit overkill for the 15 pounds of gear, food, and water I usually carry - but, for those longer trips I take every year or two, carrying an extra 10 pounds of food and water, plus some warm clothing, it's just right. I really like the external pockets, which remind me of the "sausage" pockets on my old Dana Designs Terraplane and are just as useful. This pack seems to be a hybrid capturing the best features of external and internal frame designs - and maybe just renders meaningless the argument about which style is better.
There is one item that the jury is still out on, because I haven't had it long enough to form an opinion yet: the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Platinum tent. This two-person tent, at two pounds, weighs almost three quarters of a pound less than the Copper Spur one-person tent it may replace. The extra room is really nice, almost palatial, and it appears (after a couple of small rainstorms) to be just as weatherproof as any other tent I've used. However, the material is definitely a lighter silnylon than most tents. It's no lighter than some silnylon tarps I've used, so durability of the canopy is not a concern. However, the use of the same light material for the floor is still a big question mark regarding durability. It's light enough that I've usually been carrying a footprint, in case I can't find a completely smooth place to pitch it. (Not a problem so far - I've deliberately chosen trips with designated, groomed backcountry campgrounds for my initial trips with the tent, because of my concerns about the floor.) But, the combination of tent and footprint (which I can use for other things, like a groundcloth for sitting on wet ground) is still nearly half a pound lighter than the one-person Copper Spur without a footprint. I'm also finding that it's taking a bit of adjustment to go from a side-entry tent to an end-entry tent, but it's an easier adjustment than I anticipated. So, I'm still not sure whether this tent will make the final cut, but it's a definite contender.
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I don't think I'll be getting any new gear this season but it's fun reading about what you're all using.
I am getting excited about the new season coming up though. I have a new neighbor, Brad, who's an old friend of my longtime neighbor and great hiking partner, Randy, who are both eager to do some backpacking this year.
These guys are a pleasure to hang out with. They both know what they're doing and they're a lot fun so we're all looking forward to the end of October when our season starts here.
It's pretty nice to backpack with people who you don't have to worry about. Brad and Randy and I are about the same age and we're all on the same page out there. We're all self contained and carry a few things to share so it works out even better than going solo. Brad's a newbie, but he's got all the necessary skills so he's already better than most I've backpacked with.
It should be a good season here too. We've had some nice rain and the creeks are still running pretty good so if we get even average rainfall from here on out it will be beautiful out. The trees are all looking good so the Autumn color could be great.
So this season looks like it could work out to be one of the best I've had in quite a few years. The gear I've got is the best I've ever had and I've gotten to know it well enough to be comfortable with it. I've got some great friends who are eager to go and they'll take any trip I plan out.
Randy and I have gone to some really cool spots that I've read about and led him too, and Brad's been hearing about them for years, so now I get to pick them out and lead the trip and they even share their food with me.
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