observations on gear, adventure, and the world

Backpacking

RSS mess

I’ve not been able to keep up with the really amazing stuff that’s been coming through my RSS feeds lately. So I’m gonna dump it here and now.

First, David Lama is going to blow up alpine climbing. Big time. Here’s a taste of things to come. freeing the compressor route was just the beginning.

So they used ice tools on their ascent and Will Gadd knows a thing or two about holding and swinging them tools. Here’s a post with a very clear title: How to hold an ice tool.

Kelly Cordes, rumored to climb ice, approves of David Lama (he said so on Facebook so it must be true) and Maurice Sendak.

The best thing I’ve ever read on climbing injuries, because it quotes all the other best things I’ve read on climbing injuries. Get well soon Dave MacLeod!

Boots don’t fit? Lace’em gooder!

Five things. A Cold Thistle guest post.

Soloing is cool if you’re good at it.

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Belay Jackets and Warming Up

Even though those topics sound related they aren’t really.

Dane from Cold Thistle has put together a rather exhaustive post on the belay jacket for alpine climbing.

He argues that synthetics are the way to go, and I’ll agree for the use case he’s talking about. But for a winter trip to the desert I’m going to say that down is better. Your pack is already pretty full right? And maybe you’re a bit warm on the walk to the wall, but then you want all the warmth you can get while you’re chilling between burns.

Since we’re already talking about climbing and staying warm, it makes sense to talk about climbing and getting warm.

The power company climbing blog, one of the better training resources out there has a great piece on warming up to send your project (route). This makes me curious about warm ups for bouldering. Sometimes, specifically when I’ve worked a problem to the point that I just need to come back fresh and send it, I’ve been surprised that after about three problems of increasing difficulty I’m ready to send. This may only work for me because I ride my bike about 20 minutes to get to the gym and do lots of hand and arm warm-up exercises between burns.


What to do and what to bring.

Between getting in some great climbing, and working on getting into grad school I’ve had a lot of gear show up at ampersand HQ that I haven’t been able to write about.

But I’ve come across some great stuff in my RSS miasma that I thought I’d share.

An entertaining and very useful post from Blake Herrington: General Dirtbaggery: Saving time, wasting time and explaining climbing on the Internet. Great common sense answers to common questions, for example:

Q: Is climbing safe?

A: No. But you can make it safer by worrying about the things that actually cause the most accidents, such as falling while unroped on exposed, “easy” terrain, rappel-rigging mistakes and communication errors.
Great! Simple and focused on what matters.
Since it’s nuking in the Wasatch right now here are some Backcountry Ski Pack lists:
From Ski Theory, What’s in My Pack and Why. Alex packs a lot of stuff, but he knows why he’s carrying it. Give it a read,
From Get Stronger Go Longer, Grand Teton Speed Project: Weight Matters. Brian brings less, but has reasons for that too. Also some ideas to consider.
Then, maybe somewhere in between (I know these aren’t apples to apples) from Camp’s Go Light Go Fast Blog: ELK MOUNTAIN GRAND TRAVERSE – TEAM CRESTED BUTTE GEAR RECOMMENDATIONS.
I like Brian’s thinking to help me not bring anything superfluous, I’ll be glad I didn’t skimp too much because of reading Alex’s post when things go sideways, and I really like to TCB post because it’s for a longer adventure but with Brian’s mentality.

Stoves.

Stoves, like bikes and skis and shoes tents demand a quiver.

Tea from water that was JetBoiled!

The Girl with Tea steeped with water that was JetBoiled in Maple Canyon!

Here’s the quiver for stoves:

(1) A canister “Son-of-Rocket” style stove – a canister stove that boils water with little fuel and time and weight.

(2) A light, sturdy white gas stove – for gold weather and trips to places where canisters don’t grow on trees.

(3) A car camping stove.

There’s an unending discussion on stoves, but clearly the perfect stove is dictated by what you use it for. Here are some of the more important considerations:

Cold: The isobutane mixes in fuel canisters don’t do well under 35-40 degrees, though Jetboil has some very innovative solutions you’ve got to pay for them. Melting snow takes a lot of fuel, and white gas is a lot cheaper than canisters.

Simmering:  I’m not much of a through hiker, my longest trips have been in the five day range, and I probably walk with all my kit for 5 24hr stretches per year. I read about through hikers who seem to care about simmering. That makes some sense to me for two reasons, first they probably want some variety in what they eat. Second one million mountain house meals can’t be tasty. I only care about this for car camping… mostly because the Girl cares about this.

Simple: For backpacking I carry the jetboil cup, stove, and fuel can (one small can = 2 people for 5 days @ 3 meals and one morning brew = boils 7 times per day) a long handled ti spoon and freeze dried food packages.  And a lighter, and a back up lighter. No dishes to wash.

Fuel Availability: White gas and propane are available everywhere. Canisters are not. WG and Propane are cheap, canisters are less cheap.

Something like a review: Quiver gear is a bit tricky to review, because so much of the stove’s performance depends on the use case. Stoves don’t compromise well so I recommend that you find folks who are doing what you want to be doing and find out what they are using.

I’ve got two cannister stoves that I’m quite happy with, but for different uses.

The Jet Boil Personal Cooking System: It’s light, simple, efficient. I love it for anything where I have to carry the stove. I don’t do anything but boil water in the pot so I don’t have to wash it on the trail. I simply add water to the backpacking meal in its original packaging and eat from the package, then all I need to wash is my spoon. On multi day trips I fold each empty package so that they all fit inside one another for very tidy waste management. I’ve got the most simple version of the Flash stove – no auto lighting mechanism – I’m hard on my gear so this stuff tends to break. I’ve got two aluminum cups, one with the flash insulator and one with the lighter Sol insulator.  Since I got my stove JB has made some improvements, but I’ve got no complaints about mine. The redesign involved some weight savings, a easier to use valve adjuster and a more functional lid. Again I didn’t notice these as problems on the Flash cup (the Sol lid and base were a bit too light and don’t fit (lid) and broke (base/cup)).

The Flash/Sol line isn’t great for “cooking” other than boiling, though Jet Boil makes a really amazing stove for that (Check out the Jet Boil Helios on Backcountry.com), and by not great I mean that the system is not designed for that sort of use. The stove doesn’t simmer at all. That said the Jet Boil system is perfect. It’s light, boils fast, packs well (about the size of a Nalgene for the whole system), wears well, and is easy to use. We take one stove packed in the Sol Cup with a can of fuel between the two of us on all of our backpacking adventures. I’ll often bring a back-up can, just in case valves get fouled or someone runs out. Also, if you expect temps to get much below freezing I’d suggest something that uses white gas.

For the girl and I this setup is perfect, for larger groups – 3/4 you could use the Sumo cup and only carry one stove – though I do like having a second stove for backup.

Disclaimer here is that I’m a huge Jet Boil fanboy – doesn’t hurt that one of my climbing partners worked for them (I’ll call him GeoBoil, because his parents are geologists and he worked for Jetboil – getting outside with him is like taking a geology course AND an engineering course… sorry ladies he’s married and his wife’s something of a badass) and has EVERYTHING they’ve ever made as well as an unending supply of great stories about the design process behind each product. Additionally, my experiance with the Helios is GeoBoil busting out an amazing chorizo bean and egg burito breakfast up in the Uintas.

MSR Wind Pro II Stove: My stove is a few years old so it may not be this exact model, but it looks and functions identical. I don’t have the little stand for the fuel so I just flip it over and prop it on rocks if it’s cold out. I don’t use this stove as my primary backpacking stove since it doesn’t stand up to the Jet Boil for weight, efficiency, and packability (depends somewhat on the pots you use I’ve got the MSR Blacklite set). You also need to be careful with the surface you put this on. In snow I use one of the blacklite pots as a stand, otherwise a piece of wood or cardboard keeps it in line. If you want to improve the eficiency of this stove, get a heat exchanger  for your pot – though this this puts this system farther behind the JetBoil in weight and packability.

So, this stove is better than the JetBoil in the cold – but still not as good as white gas, why do I keep it around?

Two reasons:

(1) Durability – this is the cockroach of stoves. There’s not a lot to it, but what there is is steel. You hold it in your hand and you know it’s built to last.

(2) Simmer. Yep – this won’t boil your water first but you can cook eggs with it!  To be fair with a good wind screen and heat exchanger system it does boil quite well, but I’m always amazed at how well it does at real cooking. For car camping I’ll use my JetBoil for hot water, since that’s what it does well, and hot chocolate, tea, coffee, oatmeal, grits etc are all breakfast staples, and then I’ll do bacon and eggs in the MSR blacklite pot. It’s a pretty slick arrangement, but for car camping I’m definately in the market for a Primus Firehole 100 or something in that genre.

What’s missing from my quiver:

(1) A big fat car camping stove like the Primus Firehole 100 I figure if your setting up a base camp this is the way to go – you’ll save a lot of money on fuel, though propane doesn’t like the cold too much.

(2) A fast boiling white gas stove – if I’m melting snow then canisters aren’t the best choice, also if I’m doing anything exciting internationally I want a multifuel stove so here’s what I’m after (and not just because Andrew McLean thinks its… well I can’t hear him over the roar): The MSR XGK EX Multi-Fuel Stove . If I need to be melting snow then it’s all about fuel efficiency, fuel cost, and speed but not about simmering, I think my Wind Pro will do fine for that in liquid feed mode, also the Wind Pro has a whitegas doppleganger called the Simmerlite that may be discontinued but you could find. 

A little note about use cases:

I do car camping for climbing trips and canyoneering trips, these range from really too hot in Zion national park to almost too cold in Saint George, Moab, Maple, the Uintas.. but not so cold that propane wouldn’t get me through. I do at least one but up to 7 nights of backpacking per year, most often in the desert or longer canyons, and some winter camping/hut trips. So my stove priorities reflect that, folks who spend months on a trail with lots of water may have very different preferences and needs (I’ll link to some stuff from them below)

 A little tidbit for the DOJ – Hey, I paid for this stuff with my own coin. Though I try to find sales when I can I also do my best to support local shops, REI, Backcountry, and great companies by not being too much of a jerk about getting the lowest price possible. I just find a price I can afford for a product I want and I pay it… or I don’t if I can’t find a price I can afford. But I NEVER EVER go into a shop and try to haggle about the price! SO I guess I strayed from the DOJ bit there… anyway here are some resources:

Section Hiker (for the long, long walk types):

Back Packing Gear Review List

Liquid Fuel Buyers Guide

Jetboil:

Helios: a fair but not ecstatic review I figured I’d put this here since my opinion on all things Jet Boil is rather ecstatic.

JetBoil – Oh, Conrad Anker took one of these systems up The Meru Shark’s Fin.

Backcountry.com:

Stoves page – not all comment sections are created equal. Backcountry.com’s comments and reviews are perfect in my mind. The mix marketing copy, sponsored athlete reviews (important because they have broad experience with the product line) and consumer questions and reviews. It’s all here, good bad and ugly. Some places, like the REI.com comment sections, tend to get over run by people who may be dissatisfied with a product because they don’t know how to use the product or were useing it for something it wasn’t designed for (touring skis always get bad reviews from folks who try them in resorts). On backcountry.com there’s a good conversation about products that allows you to really understand it’s strengths and weaknesses beyond the marketing copy.


Review: Prana Stretch Zion Pant

The Prana Stretch Zion Pant I’ve been beating these guys up for a few weeks now, I’ll have to check back in with a durability update but here’s my review:

I’m a one pair of pants kind of guy. If I can’t wear pants for a week straight, I’m no fan.

So when I pulled these out of the box a week ago I put them on and wore them for a week straight.

Here they are out of the box:

Run-down of the features. Light breathable material that feels good on the legs. Super stretchy. Integrated belt. Roll-up conversion snaps. One low-profile cargo pocket. Two hand-warmer pockets in front. Two patch pockets in the back, one has a little lid to it.

PrAna’s version:

“The Skinny: Made with four-way stretch fabric that resists abrasion, dries quickly and (of course) travels well. Our most popular climbing pant also features roll and snap legs and zippered cargo pockets.

Update to our Stretch Zion Pant
Quick-dry stretch nylon performance fabric
All weather finish
Abrasion resistant
Angled dual entry cargo pocket
Streamlined adjustable waistband
Ventilated inseam gusset
Roll-up leg snaps
97% Nylon / 3% Spandex”

-Note: I don’t know what “all weather finish” refers to – they don’t seem to have a DWR. When I spilled water on them they got wet and dried quickly, there was some water beading but once the spill stood still it soaked in. Also – there is only one cargo pocket though “The Skinny” above refers to “pockets.”

Here’s what I look for in pants:

(1)Moisture management

(2) Temperature Management

(3) Protection

(4) Durability

(5) Mobility

(6) Versatility

(7) Comfort

(8) Utility

(9) They have to be better than my 14$ wrangler kakis.

That’s not in any important order but I’ll break it down for you now.

(1)Moisture management: This is where my cotton kakis fall very short. I want to be able to get wet then dry out quick. Also I don’t want to get sweaty under my harness leg loops. This week I had plenty of chances to test the harness sitting comfort of these guys. Wait I’ve got a picture, of these guys hang-dogging an 11b in Rock Canyon (I got sandbagged into believing I could on-sight the route, and maybe I could have but the clipping jug at the 4th bolt was full of bugs so I took a hang… and this picture).

I it was a hot day and I stayed totally dry under my harness (which is OLD and wasn’t helping matters). Same story on a hanging belay when Data Mike and I broke Gordon’s Hangover into two pitches.

(2) Temperature Management

To be warm enough to wear most of the year, while not sacrificing durability and protection good pants will be too warm to wear for some of the year. I’d say that the weight of the Stretch Zion Pant is going to be only too warm on days when it’s too hot to be climbing. When it’s too hot for these pants, I think that only a pair of back packing pants designed to be light and cool while protecting against bugs, sun and plants would work. That’s a pretty specific niche. The great thing with these pants is that they roll-up and become a man-pris really nicely, which I love. Still protects my knees and keeps bugs from crawling up my legs… not a problem most of the time but something I worry about. The plastic snaps will probably be the least durable part of the pant, but they roll fine with out them.

Score: 9/10 (I don’t think that a 10 exists… and it’s certainly not a zip-off!)

(3) Protection

A granite talus field approach and three pitches on granite, including a pin-scarred slab, an off width grovel, an over hang, a knee bar, and a hanging belay – all went down fine without any damage to my legs. Now hands and elbows… that’s another story.

(4) Durability

Not only did the granite grovel not damage me – my pants survived too! No sign of the adventures so far – I’ve got high hopes for their durability.

8/10 (10=Carharts)

(5) Mobility

10. I’m a relatively bendy guy, with mountaineer/cyclist quads – so I need a pant that can really move if it’s not going to get in the way of my climbing. These pants are AMAZING. I think that Prana’s Yoga roots come through in their clothes. I can do yoga in them very comfortably.

10/10

(6) Versatility

Do they hide dirt and chalk well? Do they hold they shape after wearing for several days? Does the Girl think that they look good?

Color is key here. So is shape. My wrangler kakis are too light to hide dirt and stains – and they are really loose so that I can climb in them. The Stretch Zion is, according to The Girl, a good color for me and a flattering fit.

Since they manage moisture and temperature well and are very comfortable, I can climb, hike, and cook in them. Then chill around camp, or the house in them, and as long as they aren’t too dirty I can wear them to dinner.

9/10

(7) Comfort

I wore them every day for seven days. Then washed them and put them back on. Now… a few weeks later they were the only pants I packed/wore (which is to say I wore them and didn’t pack any other pants) for a weekend in Maple, and I’m wearing them again today.

10/10

(8) Utility

I’m not a fan of pockets. These pockets are good. They make sure I have my wallet, keys, and phone when it’s time to change venues. There’s no real scenario where I wouldn’t be willing to wear these. Maybe if they had a DWR coating and were nearly rain proof I’d like them more… but it’s Utah… I’ll never really have to test that.

9/10

(9) Compared to the low-cost option:

The Stretch Zion retails for $75 direct from PrAna, that’s roughly three pairs of my trusty wrangler kakis… but I haven’t used my wranglers since these pants showed up. If I run into real durability issues I’ll change my tune, but as longs as these last a couple/three seasons I’ll consider the upgrade more than worth it.

Review note: The DOJ wants some disclosure mumbo-jumbo. Well, no one gives me anything for the purpose of review. I find deals, pro-deals, pay retail, talk to friends, get things from my mom for my birthday. I’ll make sure I let you know once I join the ranks of the real gear reviewers, but for the time being all of my biases are not purchased. Also – since I’m buying most of what I review with my own coin… or the Girl’s coin, I’m not often disappointed. I don’t usually buy stuff that I’d give a bad review to… some stuff does surprise though. 


OR 2012… the gear I’m psyched about.

This year’s OR was, unfortunately, far less devoted to geeking about gear and more to some business for my other endeavor, so other than realizing that Dean Potter is HUGE in real life I didn’t get to do a ton of general geeking out. However my RSS feeds are finely tuned to protect against just this sort of situation.

First some new gear that’s just landed at ampersand HQ that we’re pretty stoked about:

Image(1) A nice new pair of Altra Lone Peaks – I’ve been in the merrill trail glove for some time now and haven’t been sad, but after a long convo with Seth from Altra at last year’s show I was pretty convinced that I needed to get into a pair of these. Data Mike keeps reminding me that I won’t really know how good they are for at least two seasons, when I see how well they hold up.

That time line aside I’ve been in them for four trail runs and one day of hiking. The photo is from raking them up Big Cottonwood Canyon for a moderate but rocky approach. My Merrills were a bit too sensitive – I could feel more than I wanted to after thrashing my toes in rock shoes. The Lone Peak’s sole is just padded enough to not loose that incredibly connected ground feel that I really enjoyed  in the Trail Gloves while making it much more pleasant to put them on after lowering.

The major improvement I’ve seen on the runs I’ve been on is that I can relax my feet more than I could while barefoot or in the trail gloves. This means that I’m not getting the same level of feedback on my running form, but it also allows me to start getting in some miles with a little less load on my calves.

The unexpected feature I’m loving is the sockless construction. Wearing these without socks turns out to be all I ever wanted to do! It’s great! Socks tend not to let my toes move like I want them to and the Altra last it really built to facilitate that motion so socks are really less awesome.

Image (2) These beautiful little stoppy bits from TRP (who by the way just moved to Ogden). These are for the Girl’s cross bike. I haven’t talked too much about cyclocross breaking systems on this blog yet, but it’s a pretty big topic. The classic system is to use cantilever breaks – notoriously low stopping power plagued by front and even rear break chatter. Set up properly these are a solid option, one that most pros run without any problem. It turns out that the breaking demands of cyclocross are less than in other disciplines. Speeds and grades tend to be lower than Mountain and road applications, also the traction is much lower (road tires on dirt – you get the picture) so it’s a valid point that you wouldn’t need all the power of a disc, or a road caliper in cross. So I’m not knocking the classics… but I would like to note that if you’re in the market for a little more breaking power, but don’t have a disc compatable frame you could do worse than to check out the offerings from TRP and Tektro (note that the tektro brake youre after is a BMX brake, and the TRP brakes come in a shimano and SRAM version… ok I gotta stop before this turns into a CX mech post).

All told I’m psyched for these brakes on the Girl’s race machine this year 0\ and they’re quite nice looking.

Image (3) Ok this one might look slightly silly, but I’m really stoked about it. Its an “anti-bottle” from vapur. They were giving these out at OR and they are incredible in a really simple and unoriginal way. It’s a small bladder with a gear loop clip and a pop top. The top doesn’t leak, the bladder is fairly study, when it’s empty it disappears. It’s a great option to the tried and true nalgene, it’s lighter and packs better both full and empty. The nalgene is still awesome but I’m surprised that these are as cool as they are. We’ll have to see how well they hold up.


Quick Post-Zion Post

Just wrapping up the unpacking from this weekend’s Zion National Park run.

Thanks to RR’s impecable planning, and a great group of friends, I’m going to struggle to cover everything that we did. Here’s what we did and some quick lessons:

Day 1, Orderville:

Its all about the shoes – all river hiking/canyoneering is this deservers it’s own post. Bring a short rope and harnesses for the whole party. There is one obstacle that is a heinous down climb or so you can a cake walk rappel. Just tie a stone, and have people rap right on top of each other (with some care of course) and you can get a big group through the obstacle really quickly. Plan on several hours… like nine and expect to be doing a bit of bouldery down-climbing into water. One of the best adventures you can have on a day hike! I liked having one collapsable trekking pole for the long rough beginning and end.

DAy 2-3, The Narrows:
Light is right. This isn’t a really long walk it’s just a rough walk. So leave as much behind as you can. Consistently one of my favorite things is getting to camp in the narrows and just drinking in the canyon.

Day 4, Pine Creek: Don’t panic, and shoes. Again shoes are important… very important. The last mile of hiking is VERY bouldery, and I’d recommend an approach shoe that climbs well because there isn’t much walking on this “trail.”Also, that last rappel, yes you should be careful, but don’t panic. It’s not that exposed and it’s only free for ten feet, and you’ve just done two 65′ raps to get there so carry a 10.5 mm rope, have a fireman’s belay at the bottom use an ATC guide (because it’s awesome) and enjoy the view. And look down because it’s less tall than the pictures make it look. This isn’t the place to figure out how to do canyon stuff so make sure that you’re with someone who knows what they are doing.