Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Sysytem Check: Gear Review

System Check: Gear Review

I stuck pretty well to the Gear List that I started out with, with a few minor adjustments. I feel very fortunate to have had such wonderful sponsors who provided me with outstanding gear. Here's my thoughts (and I might as well throw in some photos from my recent trailrunning excursion with Raven Rests Hostel owner Lucky and his dog Chitto!):

Clothing Worn and Clothing in Backpack:

+Shoes: Although I never wore the Pendulum on trail, I stuck with Vasque, in particular the Mindbenders. I frequently attained 600-650 miles on a pair. On the last half of the VL I began to pronate severely. The Mindbenders withstood the rigors of my gait, and especially withstood the rigors of desert and mountain terrain. I will be using them for my hiking next year.

+Heel Cups: My buddy Larry custom-crafted my heel cups. The gave my heels wiggle room as well as provided me with arch support. I would think in disbelief at how I had no heel pain. On the PCT and CDT my heels were my biggest discomfort. On the VL I had no foot pain and I attribute it to the heel cups, along with the Mindbenders that suited my feet well.

+GoLite Kensing Short Sleeve: Bomb-proof! From the metal snaps, which helped me hike in a cooler state, to the durability and dry-ability of the fabric, I rocked the Kenting with confidence that it would up-hold its integrity in a gritty hike.

+MontBell Dynamo Wind Parka: I wore this item consistently. It provided me with warmth, comfort, and some precipation protection. A great piece of gear that replaces a long sleeve shirt for desert hiking.

+MontBell UL Down Jacket: This is my luxury item. One of my favorites that I had to carry. It warmed up the degrees in my sleeping bag and kept me warm in a pinch when things got chilly.

+Arcteryx Incendo Running Tights: Multiple usage, comfortable and versatile. I used the tights especially in the beginning of the VL while sleeping to increase blood flow to my legs that were getting used to hiking daily. I also used them to keep warm on chilly mornings and during heavy rain pours. The material kept me warm in cold and wet weather.

Sleeping System:

+YAMA Mountain Gear Cirriform Tarp: It is tough to decide between the Kumo Superlight or the Cirrform as my favorite piece of gear. The first half of the VL I hardly set up the tarp at all and slept under the big, giant sky. During the monsoon season, the Cirriform was my place of refuge where I felt safe from the elements. Many nights the heavy sky would open up in torrential downpours and soak everything around me but me. The Cirriform is easy to pitch, dries within minutes, can be pitched low to avoid wind, and at 6'5" has ample space for me to sit straight up. I even dug the cuben fiber's color as it enhanced the morning's sun rays as it climbed up the eastern horizon. At 7.5oz it is probably the most important gear I had in regards to weight-to-usage-to-durability-to-comfortablility ratio.

+Marmot Plasma Sleeping Bag: Once I got this on trail, my nights of uncomfortable sleep were over. With the vertical baffles it kept the down where it is supposed to be which in turn kept me snuggled and warm. The mummy hood kept my mind at ease, providing some protection from bugs. The bag also seemed to keep dry during heavy condensation nights. I recall hardly ever taking it out to dry while on trail. I should also note the weight of the Plasma. Being an ultra-lighter and having a base weight of roughly 7lbs, the Plasma is light enough while providing comfort and warmth without sacrificing mental stability, so much so, I didn't feel the need to 'downsize.' I thought the weight of a zippered sleeping bag would affect me mentally but the weight is negligible. They've hit the nail on the head with this product.

+Gossamer Gear ThinLite Insultion Pad: The pad is thin for some hikers but with my minimal comfort hiking style it suited me perfectly. At 3/16 in. I modified the pad to a 3/4 body length. The pad doubled as the backing for my Kumo which fit snugly into an outer mesh sleeve. I could whip it out and use the pad as a cushioned seat. Even though it is really thin it kept the cold from the ground out and kept me comfortable even in the most knobby ground.

+GG Polycryo Ground Cloth: I went through 2 of these in 3500m of hiking. Now, I believe one should diligently take great care in their gear, I was surprised at how durable the Polycryo was in the environments I hiked in. Minor tears would occur over time but the integrity of the plastic sheet was never compromised.

Food, Hydration, and Backpack System:

+GG Kumo Superlight: This pack is as solid as a turtle shell, though despite at first glance one would suspect something less of its flimsy stature. I put this backpack through the wringer. It endured tangles of bushwhacks with sharp and spiky needles grabbing and tugging at it. The Kumo endured the coarse rigidity of salt which could loosen sticthing. Other than a few minor tears in the outer mesh pocket the Kumo is in just as good a shape now as when I started hiking the VL. I have the utmost confidence in this backpack. It is the one I choose to use.

+YAMA Stuff Sacks: Gen at YAMA is producing products that are reliable, durable, and functional. His stitching is upper class. And the stuff sacks proved it. I've seen other cuber fiber stuff sacks from other companies thread out within a short period of time of heavy usage. I still have the same 3 stuff sacks I started out with in the beginning of the VL. 3500m of rugged hiking and Gen's stitching is holding up! Very impressive.

+Aquamira: This chemical water treatment works just fine and is a lightweight option. However, I switched to bleach which proved to be a water purifier just as much as anything else. I used a 1 oz. water dropper for approximately 3000m while drinking probably the most putrid, shitty, tainted water you can think of.

Other Gear:

+LRI Photon Freedom Micro Light: I ditched my handheld Fenix and stuck with only the Photon. It hung around my neck and never left its perch. I only had to change the battery out once in all of the VL and I used it on a regular basis. Although I didn't do much night-hiking, it managed to illuminate the trail and surroundings when I did. For the size of it you would be surprised at how bright the mini-light is. In fact, I would put it up against other larger, bulkier lights that others use on trail. Great little piece of gear!


  1. Lots of good gear ideas tempered by real world use (not just ultralight armchair fantasy).

    I see no raingear except for your Montbell wind shirt. My windshirts usually get soaked and clingy in a rain, almost useless. How did this work for you?

    Also, I found on a recent hike that the minor increase in weight of a Thermarest Neo Air XLite 3/4 (about 9oz total) brought a huge increase in comfort. Sleeping pads have come a long way. It might be something to try.

  2. Thanks for the question and reading...

    My MontBell windshirt got soaked on trail if it rained hard enough over a period of time, say 30min. I should add that I picked up a lightweight plastic poncho for the GET and CT that proved to be useful and functional. I wore the windshirt underneath. I chose the windshirt because of the aridity of the southwest. I just so happened to hike the GET in e monsoon season. This year started off dry then the monsoons got heavy.

    I have a high tolerance for e uncomfortablity one might express. I loved my sleeping pad no matter how thin it is. It didn't bother me one bit. I would raise caution to a neo air in the southwest. I think it would surely pop with all the spikes, sharps, and pricks of the desert.

    I spent many years hardening my body to sleeping on the floor. I slept fine on to of rocks, hard dirt, and clumps of tussock. A long as e sleeping pad blocks the cold from the ground is really all that matters to me.

  3. Dirtmonger,
    Great report. Can't seem to post a comment, but I keep trying. I also ditched airpad in the southwest. Just hiked from Monticello to Magdalena, through San Mateos and the Maggies. Thought of your comments as I wandered semi-lost on those nearly abandoned trails.

    My GG sleeping pad is just fine, as long as I hike hard enough to be truly tired at the end of the day. Finding a good site is helpful, too, though any place will do when it's getting dark.

    I know you go stoveless, so what do you like to eat on the trail? Do you rehydrate with something like Vitalyte?

  4. Thanks for your thoughts. I totally agree on finding a good camp spot for a comfortable night sleep. With many miles on trail and hiking for days on end you can become pretty efficient and observant in finding good ground to throw out a thin pad.

    Im envious of yer hike in the san mateos and the maggies. I loved that section. Hopefully you had great weather.

    As far as my diet, my main meal course is my Vlop mixture (veggie slop, a dehydrated mix of refried beans, amongst a slew of veggies and tvp). Ive not used vitalyte but i may just look into it a little more. I just use water. Im in the process of re-inventing my menu for next year. In my Vlop this summer i realized i needed more carbs, as my constant cravings in town for carbs and sweets told me so...

  5. The San Mateos and Magdalenas were not dry. The Mateos were drenched while I was there, raining on me first two nights. That descent from Blue Mountain into the valley inside the mountains, coming from the south, where I finally found that unmarked junction with Apache Kid trail off the FS road was like a swamp, wet up to my knees crossing multiple runoffs! The Maggies had some rain, not as much, but the plants and animals were happy with recent moisture. So you chew on refried beans and TSP? Do you rehydrate them prior to eating?

  6. It has been a wet summer out in Four Corners area. I hope NM was still green for you too! What a beautiful sight...

    I soak my Vlop in water about an hour before eating and let the mixture sit in its container in the outer mesh pocket of my Kumo Superlight. It doesn't take long to rehydrate them and letting them soak in the sun actually makes the mixture warm or of ambient temperature. But an hour usually makes the mixture more palatable. It is just like cooking it, just over a little bit longer period of time, and it soaks while I hike. So it turns out to be very efficient, healthy, convenient, and clean. I go into a little more details on my 'I am: Stoveless' entry.