Friday, August 07, 2009

Thoughts on Gear

I thought I'd post some thoughts on my gear for my two ~500-mile trips this summer. I won't do a gear list because it's pretty much the same as it was for the CDT, which is posted on my CDT page: REI Sub-Kilo 20-degree sleeping bag, Tarptent Contrail, whichever ULA pack best fits the circumstances, Patagonia Houdini jacket, plus as little else as possible.

Sleeping bag: I've done the PCT, Peru, Pakistan, Kilimanjaro, CDT yo-yo, and now this 1,000 miles (340+ nights) in my Sub-Kilo. It's about had it, but mostly that's because I hung it on the radiator in Salida, CO and made a portion of it a little crispy/crinkly. Down is coming out near the drawstring grommet. The comparable Marmot of Western Mountaineering is probably better, but for the money, the REI bag is unbeatable.

Tarptent: I don't usually wear gaiters, but I tried some DirtyGirls on this trip, and I guess that although they keep twigs out without over-heating your feet, I regret it since they ripped a big hole in my tarp. (I set up in a really cramped space with horrible mosquitoes. After staking down the tarp in four places I was walking around to the back to prop up the rear struts, my gaiter lace hook caught on a guy-line loop and yanked.) The tarp is so light, but it still lasted the entire CDT yo-yo, and a little duct tape fixed this hole right up. I'm a big fan.

Bear Can: I hate bear cans. But I've got a BearVault 300 (I was told all BV models are still good, you don't have to worry about having one with the newer red-stickered lids), and when a vampire bear went after it the same night I jacked my tarp, the can held. Call me stupid, but do I think the bear would have bothered me had I been using my food as a pillow like normal? No.

Packs: I used a ULA Conduit for miles 0-454 of the PCT and really liked it. (Disclosure:I'm friends with the owner/manufacturer and was given the packs.) This was my first time with a completely frameless pack, but I felt I didn't miss the support/structure all that much--I just slid my gossamer gear Night Light pad down the back and that seemed to work well. When I first tried it on I was worried that the padded portion of the hipbelt was so short it would dig into my stomach or hips, but that wasn't a problem at all. I thought the detachability of the packs EDIT: hip-belt pockets was no great bonus, and I thought you could save an ounce by not doubling the ripstop that makes up the storm-collar, but other than that I was happy.
I used a ULA Circuit for the Sierra 500 portion of the hike. It doesn't accept a bear can horizontally (a Catalyst does), so I put it in vertically with my rolled up tent also put in vertically. At first, with a bear can and generally way too much weight, my new shoulder straps were slipping and required constant adjustment, but once they got broken in and I lowered my weight, even with the off-center bear can, the pack worked very well. My pack is an '07 model, and on newer models everything that I wasn't 100% satisfied (mostly stretchiness of exterior pockets) with has been fixed. I also used this pack for the sobo portion of the CDT yo-yo, and it's got a few holes now, but that happens when your bleach bottle leaks all over stuff or you slide down vertical granite.

Ice Axe: I use an aluminum Camp XLA-210 ice axe. I was glad to have it on the SHR. I used it instead of ULA's Potty Trowel since I didn't know what to expect on the SHR and wanted something substantive, but the Camp was overkill.

Shoes: Brooks hooked me up with a small discount, so I bought 6 pairs. I feel it was a big mistake to do the desert in road running shoes (I was expecting 110+ degree heat), but I can't be 100% sure about this, perhaps my feet would have hated life in any shoes since they weren't used to the pack weight. For the rest I used Adrenaline and Cascadia. The SHR absolutely demolishes running shoes. I was a little disappointed with the Adrenalines, so I replaced them at Tuolumne Meadows (after using them less than 200 miles from KM to TM) but then the La Sportivas I bought at TM were making the bottom of my feet intimate with every rock on trail before I'd gone another 200 miles, so I blame the razor sharp granite, not the shoes. If I were to do it again, I'd go back in time and buy the low-cut Vasque Breeze or the vibram-soled low-cut Asolo from the STP outlet in Reno (which I didn't because I'd just gotten a phone call saying my truck would cost me $650+).

Umbrella: I used Go-Lite's Chrome Dome. I love the built-in mylar, but I hate the complete flimsiness of the struts. I've got an old non-mylar one from '04 and I think it holds up to wind way better than the newer ones do.

Sun hat: I wore a vented TNF wide-brim hat for the first 454, then a vented Columbia baseball cap plus bandana for the Sierra 500. I think all sun hats make you look stupid, but the cap+bandana combo is the best way to go. Wide-brims are very annoying in wind, while your ears can turn to a crisp with just a cap. I think cap+bandana is warmer than I'd like, and you can still get annoying sun glare from the sides, but on the plus side, your shadow on the ground can sort of make you look like Lawrence of Arabia.

Trekking Poles: Not a big fan. Especially when you blow $50 on a pair then leave them in the back of a random dude's truck while hitch-hiking, although I managed to score a replacement hiking stick plus a too-tall ski pole from nice people at Kennedy Meadows. I use them on snow, so they were helpful to have on the SHR, but I ditched them immediately after. From Andrew Skurka I got the idea of using lighter non-adjustable ski-poles and taking off the straps, and I like that, but I don't agree with his suggestion to take off the baskets--they punch way too far down into snow. On trail I feel it's more effort to drag them forward through snagging brush, on talus sometimes they help you avoid crouching down on all fours. On the 454 of the PCT (where I didn't use them at all) I felt I was a little crouched over and thought poles would help with that. They don't.

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