About the Gear: Part 1

As promised, here are some of my thoughts about the gear used on my recent Lost Creek trip.

Pack: Granite Gear Vapor Trail.  I’ve used this pack on the vast majority of my trips since 2003.  Why?  I find it really, really comfortable.  Often, I don’t even notice that I’m wearing it.  This pack superseded my Mountainsmith Ghost, which I liked, but wasn’t  as comfortable.  I think the difference is in the suspensions.  The Ghost uses a delrin hoop which transfers much of the weight into the hip belt.  The Vapor Trail  uses a flexible HDPE  framesheet covered by foam. The Ghost feels stiff against my back,  the Vapor Trail flexible.  I’ve also tried frameless rucksacks such as the Golite Jam. On my back, these did not supply enough support for the load, even when using foam pads for weight transfer.   The Vapor Trail represents the “Golden Mean” for me providing the best balance between flexibility and support for the load. Weight: 35.7 oz.

Shelter: Tarptent Virga 2.  Despite having used this shelter for summer trips over the past five years, I still have mixed feeling about it.  On the one hand, it provides complete bug protection and enough mesh to provide great ventilation to let in cool breezes on warm summer evenings.  On the other hand, as the night grows colder, those breezes are experienced as chilling winds coming in through the mesh. This criticism applies tarp/tent hybrids in general which is why I’m lukewarm to this entire category of shelters.  On this trip, the carbon strut snapped with just a little tension applied to it.  To be fair, Henry Shires became aware of the problem with off-axis stress on the carbon fiber strut soon after this tent came out and replaced it with aluminum.

Cooking:  Evernew Titanium .9 liter pot. I don’t remember how long I’ve owned this pot–certainly over fifteen years, probably closer to twenty.  This pot is an example of what I wish all my gear could be in an ideal world: simple, functional, light, reliable, durable.  After a flirtation with beer can pots, tiny .5 liter ti cups, and freezer bag cooking, I’ve returned to this classic.  Essentially, I found eating out of a freezer bag to be aesthetically unappealing.   Last night, my wife and I had dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant and marveled at what a beautiful presentation can to for a meal.  While I’m not claiming that the Evernew pot is the equivalent, it’s certainly light years beyond a plastic bag.  The .9 liter size is just right for cooking and eating for one person and the wide bottom makes for very efficient heat transfer from a stove.   Weight is 4.8  oz.  The weight obsessed can drop 1.4 oz. by leaving the lid home and and additional .8 oz. by removing the handles.  A  0.3 oz short-handled aluminum spoon from Sea and Summit fits nicely into the pot.

Caldera Cone.  Great stability and wind resistance for the weight.   The burner weighs 0.6 oz, the windscreen/pot support 1.4 oz. and the included fuel bottle 0.7 oz.  To pack, I just  roll the windscreen around the fuel bottle and stuff them both into a cut-off toe from an old sock.  The package fits easily into the side pocket of my Vapor Trail. The burner travels in the pot.  For fuel, I’ve cleaned up my act and now use 190 proof Everclear which happens to be legal in Colorado.

MSR 4 liter Dromlite.  After many years of using Platys, Nalgene Canteens and the like, I’ve finally given them up for the sake of durability.  I’ve only had the Dromlite since November and so far, so good.  The fabric seems to be more durable that what I had been using.  Why use a bladder at all?  Why not just camp near water?  My style lately has been evolving toward camping in the most beautiful places I can find.  Sometimes it’s near water but often not.  The 4 liter Dromlite allows me to camp wherever I’d like, regardless of the proximity of water.  On this trip, it was a star performer, since I camped away from water all three nights.   The weight is 4.2 oz.

Sleeping: Montbell UL Alpine Burrow Bag #3.  Though not yet a strict vegan, I do try to refrain from buying goods derived from factory farming and other abuse of animals.  So that leaves out down for the most part.  While I’ve hung on to an older down bag that I use for cold weather, I won’t be buying any new ones.  Why not a quilt?  Try as I might, I’ve not been able to make quilts work for me.  As someone who moves around a lot at night, I’ve found quilts just too drafty.  So that leaves the heaviest category open to me– synthetic bags.   The rating for the Montbell bag is 30F and I’ve found it to be pretty accurate.  Now that it’s a few years old and much used, it’s lost some loft but it still works in temperatures down to 30F as long as I combine it with a puffy synthetic jacket.  Weight is 32 oz.

POE Eco-Thermo 6.   On the first day of my trip, I pushed a little harder than I normally do.  Waking up Thursday morning, something felt different but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  Then it hit me.  Nothing hurts.  I feel well-rested.  The Thermo 6 is largely responsible for this.  Having acquired this pad on closeout at REI late last year, I’m having my most comfortable nights in the backcountry ever.  I only regret that it took me so long to get over my self-imposed 16 oz. weight limit for a pad.  My Eco-Thermo came in way below spec. at 20.3  oz.  A new offering from POE,  the Ether-Elite 6, looks very similar to my pad, but with a 14 oz. weight.  If it gets good marks on insulating ability and long-term durability, I may well add it to my kit when it goes on sale.

That’s it for now. Later, I’ll discuss the clothing used on this trip and other assorted pieces of gear.  If you are interested in any  particular piece of gear,  just leave a reply and I’ll be happy to cover it in the next post.


8 thoughts on “About the Gear: Part 1

  1. Very nice post, Dondo. And wow, using some gear already for five to twenty years, goes to show that also UL gear, with a bit of care and attention, can be durable.

    Interesting to read your reasoning on getting a synthetic bag. Should it not already be possible to get a down bag with downs “harvested” in a sustainable and animal friendly way? I think there are a few companies out there who advertise that in their products such down is used – although the question remains if that is the truth! Anyhow, good reasoning and again thumbs up on the great post!

  2. Good thinking, Hendrik. I don’t know if you caught it, but there was a great thread at BPL started back in January about the ethics of using goose down. Despite the usual dismissiveness toward animals and the “nature red in tooth and claw” arguments, there was a lot to think about there. What struck me was that the discussion went on for eleven pages and three months. This leads me to believe that public attitudes may be shifting a bit. The name of Tundra, a company in the UK that sells sleeping bags using ethically sourced down, did come up in the discussion.

    As for myself, I’m probably continue to use synthetics in the warmer months and save the wear and tear on the old down bag that I use when the weather gets colder. If and when it ever wears out, I’ll probably go with a Tundra bag.

  3. Nice report Dondo, I too have the Evernew pot, and every so often it gets put in the cupboard, but before long it is back out and used. With a Caldera, which is compact as well, it is an ideal pot. Packs, as you will notice, I have returned to a pack which works for em and is very comfortable, they are not the lightest, but they work which is what is important.

    Looking forward to more gear reflections.

    • Thanks, Roger. Yes, I’ve noticed that you’ve been carrying Aarn packs lately. It seems that Aarn pack users have a lot of loyalty to them, much like those of us who use Pacerpoles. 😉 . Anyway, I’m eagerly awaiting your trip report, photos, and gear comments.

  4. POE are releasing a new version of the Ether Elite with reflective thermal insulation meaning a R-rating of 4.4 in the main bio-zone. No increase in weight from the Ether Elite and available from January 2011. I’d wait for that.

  5. Roger pointed me your way, from a Twitter discussion on the Shangri-La 2, but I’m glad I did as your trip reports are fantastic reading and the gear analysis succinct and practical. Thanks!

    • Hi Helen, thanks for your comments. Roger’s great–he’s the one who inspired me to start this blog. Love your photos from the Peak District and your gear comments. I’ll be adding your blog to my Google Reader list.

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