Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The big three

It wasn't easy deciding which backpack/sleeping bag/shelter I'd like to carry on my hike. I made many comparisons between different manufacturers and tried to pick out the best gear I can afford.

I have a Gossamer Gear Mariposa Plus backpack, from around 2008. Mine looks a bit different than the current model, both in shape (The closure system) and in materials (Mine is made out of SilNylon, and not this tougher dyneema fabric). I initially bought it before heading out to hike the Israel National Trail, and I highly recommend it.

It can really handle above average loads, for an aspiring (but-not-quite-there-yet) ultra-light hiker such as me. On my INT hike I think I had a rather light total pack weight, cutting down to carry only essentials, and carrying a Rainbow Tarptent. But since then, I went out to several shorter hikes in the desert, where I had to carry up to 8 Liters of water on my back. Picking up the backpack when it was fully loaded was no fun, but it held.
ZPacks "Arc Blast" Ultralight Backpack

I figured that after 5 years, it's time for me to find a new backpack, and I was contemplating just ordering the newer Mariposa model, or maybe a Gorilla, but during my recent hike on the Tour du Mont Blanc, with my old backpack, I noticed that I sweat a lot along my back, even when the weather itself was not exceptionally hot. I recalled reading about the ZPacks Arc Blast, with its outer frame that enables ventilation along the back, and figured I should look into it.

Back in Israel I found a hiker who owned an Arc Blast, and I drove over to have a look at it. I was very impressed. It seemed strong and roomy. I was almost hooked on the idea of ordering it. I just needed to finally do it, to mark the beginning of my PCT gear purchasing season.

Sleeping Bag:
Now, the sleeping bag is another story - Back on the AT I used some unheard-of sleeping bag brand I bought in Israel, and it worked, I guess. There was nothing ultra-light about it, but it was a decent 20 degrees synthetic bag (-7c), and I managed to carry it (almost) all the way to Katahdin (At some point I used a fleece blanket instead, and just shipped the bag ahead towards the White Mountains, but that's a different story).

Ever since, I kept on using it for short weekend trips in Israel, also carrying it on my two week walk along the Camino de Santiago, for no real reason (You can easily get by there with a thin sleeping bag liner instead). But I knew I'd have to find something more serious for my next big hike.

The opportunity came in 2011, when I was planning my hike on the GR20, in Corsica. I knew the time has came for me to buy a new sleeping bag, that would be especially light for the upcoming hard trail. Just then GoLite had one of their sales, and I managed to buy their Ultra-Light 3 Seasons Quilt at almost half price, for $160 dollars. Back then it was rated as a 20 degrees bag, though now they sell a similar quilt and rate it for 30. Anyway, it was a great price for a good and light bag that many people have used on hikes along the PCT and CDT. It was a pain getting it here, though - I had to use relatives in Florida to actually make the order, have them send it over to other relatives in NYC, whose parents visited them, and carried the bag to back to Israel for me. A royal pain in the ass. The pain in the ass being me, mostly.

The quilt served me well in Corsica. But sadly, one year later I lent it to someone who came in for advice on the GR20. I lent him a lot of gear - my backpack, tarptent, trekking poles and mattress as well. But he managed to get just my quilt stolen. He was in quite a fix there, in a rain storm on the mountains of Corsica, finding out he has no quilt in his backpack. But he managed to finish his hike. I got stuck without a decent sleeping bag again.

So now I was on the lookout for a new sleeping bag/quilt. Golite didn't have their sales when I was looking around lately, and I was trying to decide mainly between them, Katabatic Gear, enLIGHTened Equipment and ZPacks. Trying to compare price, weight and degrees rating is hard. Especially when the most expensive bags are the best, naturally. I was mostly looking out for hydrophobic down, which is a rather new thing from the past two years or so, which protect the down from losing all its loft when wet, and effectively reduces the main reason to prefer synthetic bags over it.

So that eliminated GoLite (They just now released a hooded jacket with a water repellent down, so I bet next season more of their product will use it).
ZPacks 20 Degree 850 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bags
I've heard many good things on Katabatic Gear, and also enLIGHTened Equipment are well known for their high quality quilts, and much more reasonably prices quilts, but at the end I decided I will go and add the ZPacks 20 Degree 850 Fill Power Down Sleeping Bag to the already-decided-upon Arc Blast, and just went ahead and ordered them together straight from the site. Shipping to Israel was also a factor, and I think ZPacks had the cheapest shipping cost for me.

I was thinking about replacing my old Rainbow (which weighs around 1Kg) with a shelter that weighs almost half of it. I used the excellent SUL/XUL Solo Fully Enclosed Shelter Comparisons table maintened by, and tried to figure out for myself how much less comfortable I'm willing to be (I've never slept under a tarp) in order to shave off some grams. My mind was almost set on some kind of Hexamid Solo combination with a beak, or maybe even the Skyscape X, but at the end I couldn't justify such a crazy expense, and I decided to stick with my current tent for now.