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.