Sunday, March 30, 2014

Product Review: Swiss Tech Mini Stretch LED Flashlight

So, I picked up this little flashlight/lantern the other day for $6.00 @REI. For about the size and weight of Chapstick, it puts out a surprisingly bright light. The Mini Stretch can be used as a regular flashlight or it can be "stretched" out to become a lantern (See below). The light plus lanyard weigh in at just over half an ounce, so pairing this with a headlamp will round out a pretty sweet ultralight illumination system. Haven't used it in the field yet, but I believe it will function as expected. The only negative i could find was that it takes four (4) little hearingaid batteries, so replacements are a little harder to find. Cool little piece of gear though.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Current Ultralight/Lightweight Backpacking System

Warm Weather UL Backpacking System

Warm weather UL system
So after making some recent purchases (see below) I have gotten my base pack weight (i.e. everything I'll be carrying minus consumables) down to 11 lbs. Technically this is considered a lightweight system as apposed to an ultralight system (under 10 lbs), but I have included a few "luxury items" which add about a pound or so. Below is a list of the items included in the system. I will be doing individual reviews on some of the items at a later date.

I'll start with the "big 3." That being the backpack, sleep system and shelter (Total weight 5.7 lb.)

Backpack: (2 lb.)
REI Flash 45 (2 lb.)  45 liters / 2,746 cubic inches - recent purchase $65.00 +REI

Sleep System and shelter: (3.7 lb.)
Hammock: Grand Trunk Ultralight Hammock (12 oz) - recent purchase $20.00 +Sportsmans Warehouse
Tarp: used the tarp from an old Hennesey Scout hammock set (9.1 oz)
Sleeping pad: Thermorest NeoAir X-lite - (12 oz) - Recent purchase $100 +REI
Sleeping Bag: Marmot Nanowave 55 (24 oz) - Recent purchase from $69.00
Pillow: Thermorest NeoAir pillow (1.2 oz) - recent purchase $23.00 +REI
Tent stakes: MSR mini groundhog stakes X4 (1.3 oz) - recent purchase $12.00 +REI

Next up are the necessities, i.e. cooking system and water system.

Cooking System: (1 lb.)
Stove: MSR Pocket Rocket
Pot/mug: +Snow Peak Mini Solo titanium Cook set; pot 28 Fluid oz (weighs 3.7 oz), mug 10 fluid oz (weighs 1.6 oz) - recent purchase $65.00 from
Spoon: +Sea to Summit Aluminum alloy long spoon (0.4 oz) - recent purchase $8.95 +REI
Ignition: Bic Lighter (0.8 oz)
Fuel: Giga power 3.5 oz canister (6.5 oz)
Total: 1lb.

Hydration System: (0.51 lb.)
Filter: Sawyer Mini Filter (2.3 oz) - recent purchase $20.00 
Bladder: +CamelBak 1.5 liter bladder (6 oz)
*i set this up as an "inline" filter system
Total: 0.51 lb. 

Clothing (packed items): (1.7 lb.)
Hat: CRT synthetic hat (1.1 oz)
Gloves: +Under Armour running gloves (1.8 oz)
Tights: +Salomon Running trail light tights (5.6 oz)
Wind jacket: +Salomon Running S-Lab light jacket (1.9 oz)
Socks: +Wigwam Socks (1.3 oz)
Pack towel: Pac Towel Medium (4.9 oz)
Long T: +Salomon Running Trail Runner Warm LS ZP T - Medium (10.4 oz)
Total: 1.7 lbs

Miscellaneous stuff: (1 lb.)
Toothbrush (wisps), desitin, lip balm, sunscreen, baby powder, toilet paper, neosporin, imodium, compass, light load towel, 2 bandaids, 2 blister bandaids, sliver-out pack, duct tape, headlamp, flashlight/lantern combo, medical cotton, medical tape. Total 1lb. 

Total Pack Weight = 9.91 lb. 

So, all of the above items included makes my base weight = 9.91 lb. Just squeaking into Ultralight territory. That being said, there are a couple items missing - camp seat (Thermorest NeoAir camp seat 2.5 oz) Some rigging for the Hammock (5 oz), food stuff bag (1 oz), wet wipes (5 oz) and a couple of other things i can't remember right now. I guess it doesn't really matter because anyway you look at it, this is a pretty lightweight, yet very comfortable warm weather system.

New v. Old
So, by spending about $400 (I got just about everything at some sort of discount) and by switching out my old system (on right) with the new one (left), I was able to go from a base weight of somewhere near 23 lb. to a base weight of about 10 lb. That equals a savings of about an oz per dollar spent. Not bad. You can see what a difference it made just in size. The old pack barely has room for water and food, while the new one has about a third of its capacity left. I have field tested the new system so look for some gear reviews in the near future!


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Backpackers Pantry: Pad Thai

Field Test

Today we field tested Backpackers Pantry: Pad Thai. Preparation was as easy as expected from a "just add water" type of prepared meal. After removing the package of peanuts, and the silicone packet, we added boiling water and the included small package of peanut butter. Preparing it at 8,500 feet required a "let sit" time of around 23 minutes.  The package reports two (2) 13oz servings. We split it about 50/50 and were surprised at how big the servings were. I'm not sure I could have finished the whole bag if I were by myself. The first few bites for both of us were kind of bland, but it ended up being rather good. Some pluses were that it is a vegan meal, gluten free, tastes a lot like pad thai, and has large portions. Some criticisms are that there is a lot of packaging, so a lot of garbage to pack out. Also the packaging adds some weight to the meal. Overall, I would definitely buy this product again.


         So I haven't posted in a while... turns out, what I thought was just a slipped disc, was really some sort of degenerative spinal disorder called ankylosing spnodylitis. Which has meant months of debilitating pain and frustration. I haven't run since the beginning of October 2013. I still can't run. I am currently seeing specialists (3 so far). I have had MRIs and blood tests and physical therapy. I have tried an inversion table, yoga, changing my diet, medications, heat, ice, rest, moderate exercise. Nothing has worked. I recently started a new anti-inflammatory medication which has been promising. Because I can't run for the time being, I have decided to get back into something I have loved for a long time.
         I have been backpacking since I was in the eighth grade. This new injury/disorder has basically forced me to strive for an ultralight backpacking system because I can't carry the loads that I once could. The affected areas of my back happen to be the vertical load carrying areas (spine and SI joint).   This has meant some very fundamental changes to my backpacking gear.
         Until I can start running regularly again, I will be focussing on backpacking, especially on achieving an ultralight system. I will be doing reviews on gear, food, techniques and different backpacking philosophies.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Race Report: Squash Blossom (Kent Hodges Memorial) Half Marathon 2013


The morning started off badly, my dog decided to eat our breakfast bagels and I woke to find my back had gotten worse. I was in a lot of pain and worried I wouldn't be able to run. We left the house at about 6:15 and it was 30 degrees out. It was still dark when we pulled into the staging area at the High Desert Trail. My back was killing me and we were both really tired, so we took a 20 minute pre-race power nap in the truck. After registering and getting our race bibs, we did a small warm-up jog. It was still only like 33 Degrees out. I ended up wearing a beanie hat and gloves to start the race, which started at 8:00 am. The course began with a 1.3 mile leg on a dirt road before it jogged south onto a short trail leading to the north side of the second mesa. This stretch was mostly flat ending with a steep climb to the turn around point (about 4 miles in). Bri and I were running together until this point where I started to fall back. My back was in a lot of pain. Bri started to pace with a couple of older guys and stayed with them until the end of the race, when she passed them with a quarter mile left. They were some locals who knew a lot about the course. They regularly run the High Desert Trail. The trail continued to climb for another mile or so. At mile 5, my back seized up on me and I was forced to slow to a crawl. I continued in excruciating pain until about mile 7 where I fell back into a grove, albeit a slow one.  At around mile eight the trail heads south, out of the second mesa and towards the first mesa loop. Both Bri and I had run this loop before, but in the other direction. In the west to east direction, the trail starts by a gradual climb that slowly becomes steeper. This lasts for about a mile before the trail flattens out and starts to head back down to the intersection at "6 Flags." the trail then heads east for a pretty easy two miles to the finish line. I was able to keep a pretty good pace to the finish, even with my back pain and a cramp in my right calf muscle. I was able to eat 2 GUs and keep pretty hydrated throughout the race. Bri was almost ten minutes quicker than me and finished in 2:05:57 which was a pace of   9:37 min/mile pace. I finished in 2:15:25, a 10:20 min/mile pace. The fasted time on the course was a ridiculous 1:15:05, which is a 5:44 min/mile pace! Even though I felt like shit almost the whole race, I was pleased with my time. Bri finished 10 minutes faster than her expected time and felt like she had a lot left at the finish. Next up, the Pass Mountain 50K in November.  -Matt

Training Report: Race Week

Pyramid Rock - Gallup, NM

This week was a taper week leading up to the Squash Blossom 1/2 Marathon trail run. We ran a 6 mile mountain run that took us to 8077 feet on the Hilso Trail system in McGaffey, NM. I felt really good and we had an average pace of 9:50. Bri was feeling some weakness in her legs, but finished strong. We also did a few shorter runs and a hill run on Wednesday. Running to the top of Pyramid Rock was tough. The uphill was killer. To make things even tougher, we got a little lost on the way back down and had to plow through scrub brush where there was no trail. Not the most enjoyable thing, but Matt thought it was an adventure. The short runs were just to keep us moving and to help us be ready for the Squash Blossom. We didn't want to over do it before the race.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Review: Born to Run by Christpher McDougall

Born to Run is my favorite  running book to date. Christopher McDougall does a magnificent job explaining the "new science" of running through an almost unbelievable story. McDougall explains how he came to hear of the Tarahumara runners in Mexico, a tribe of runners who can endure extremely long runs, and a fantastic journey that culminates in a race between some the most elite ultra-runners in the US and members of the "running tribe." Sprinkled throughout the book are educational asides that explain the evolution of man as a running animal and some of the evidence backing the barefoot running movement.  If Born to Run doesn't motivate yout o go out and log some long runs, nothing will.  -Matt