Friday, January 18, 2013

Gear Review: Part 1

* * Upcoming Talks:  March 7, Oregon City Library, 7 PM  //  March 26, Straub Environmental Learning Center, 7 PM  //  April 16, Tryon Creek State Natural Area, 6:30 PM * *

Well, I am keeping up on the PCT-L (the Pacific Crest Trail email forum), and it looks like the Class of 2013 is thigh-deep in planning.  And I am infinitely jealous.

In case any of the 2013'ers are reading old blogs for tips on gear, I thought I'd review my gear from 2012.  Here are a few of the big ticket items:  (I'll review more in a couple of days!)

PACK:  Granite Gear Vapor Ki

This pack is no longer made by Granite Gear (it was on sale last year just before Kickoff); I believe it was replaced by a heavier, but much "cooler" colored pack.  Many people went with the ULA or Osprey packs, but as a 5'3/4" female, I have to say, I think that this was the best possible pack for me.

Fully resupplied!

PROS:  The Vapor Ki is as light and as comfortable of a pack as I could find.  The hip belt and shoulder straps are thick and stayed thick for the entire five months.  The stitching and fabric also held up remarkably well.  The lower side pockets are big and deep.  This "no-frills" pack did not fail in any way.

CONS:  The upper side pockets are almost useless because the zipper lays so tight to the pack that once your pack is full, you can barely get your hands in.  There are no hip belt pockets on this no-frills pack.  I ended up adopting a front fanny pack for my camera, sunscreen, phone, lip balm, bug juice, compass, and snacks.  This fanny pack saved time and sanity.  I wouldn't use this pack without one.

BOTTOM LINE:  Great for petite women.  Just sport that fanny pack for practicality.

SLEEPING BAG:  Feathered Friends Egret, Small

This 20-degree down bag, "Ruby", was one of my best (and biggest) last-minute purchases.  I researched bags forever and kept going back to the Marmot bags, but could never find the right fit.  Finally, I went to Feathered Friends and found bags for small women!  And under 2 lbs!  I knew as soon as I got off the phone with the sales representative that I had made the right choice.
The right bag means good sleep.  This is an investment!

PROS:  1 lb, 20 oz of fluffy warmth.  I did not wash this bag the entire trip, and even today, it fluffs up like it did on day 1.  I was sure that I was going to have to trash whichever bag I took on this trip, but Ruby is as good as new.  AND we camped out under the stars almost every night.

CONS:  When Ruby is damp, she kind of smells like wet duck butt.  Of course, I smelled no better.  So together we smelled like wet duck butt and old sausage.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you're looking at a Feathered Friends, go for it!

SLEEPING BAG LINER:  Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner

I bought a liner for extra warmth and cleanliness.  I *LOVED* my liner.

PROS:  This added both warmth and comfort.  Additionally, I used it as a laundry bag and wore it as both a skirt and a scarf.  When I was blogging at night under the stars in the mosquito hell that was the Sierras, I'd pull the bag over my head and use it as a bug net of sorts to keep bugs from flying at my screen.  I machine washed and dried my liner regularly.  It stayed remarkably clean consider that it only came in WHITE.

CONS:  Who makes a white *anything* for backpacking?!  Oh, and I got tangled in it exactly three times and each time burst out of my bag in a fit of claustrophobia.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you want to keep your bag clean, get one.  You'll also sleep warmer.  Or cooler if you use it as a sheet!  This was one of my favorite pieces of gear.

STOVE:  Homemade Chimney Jet Alcohol Stove

My mate made me a stove for Valentines.  The "CJ" that made the five-month journey with me was one of the first models.  We learned to get along by the end of the Sierras.  Yes, it took that long.  And, yes, it was a relationship.

Oh, CJ.  This was one of my most trying trail relationships.
But I never gave up on him!
PROS:  CJ is light, and his fuel (HEET or denatured alcohol) is plentiful on the PCT.  This particular design performs much faster than most alcohol stoves because it is pressurized.  The stand also rotates in and out for packability.  Even if tipped over (which happened a few times) the stove stays going and doesn't seem to spill alcohol.

CONS:  The first half of the PCT is WINDY.  And alcohol stoves do not like wind.  I brought my MSR stove's windscreen, and this helped, but did not solve, the problem.  I would also use my pack and stuff sacks as a windscreen.  Which is great.  Until your pressurized stove builds up too much pressure (too much pre-heat is the cause!) and decides to turn into an alcohol fireball TORCH.  And threaten to melt your pack and your stuff sacks.  It'a a good show for fellow hikers, but not so fun when you really just want to cook your dinner and go to bed.

BOTTOM LINE:  If you are willing to sacrifice ease for weight, go with the alcohol stove and consider CJ.  He's the best homemade stove I saw on the trail this year.  If you are going to lose it when it takes 3 tries to get the pre-heat right to get your stove going and everyone is cleaning their pots by the time you take your first bite, go with the MSR Pocket Rocket.

SHELTER:  Henry Shires Tarptent Contrail

Both my cousin and I went with the Tarptent for the sake of weight.  We set it up as little as possible and often cursed it when we did.

Shelters became more necessary in the cold, damp Sierras.
PROS:  This is the lightest bug-proof shelter system I found for myself.  We all have different requirements for shelters.  Having hiked plenty in the Oregon Cascades, I wanted something that would do well in rain and  thick mosquitos.  This kept out the bugs.  And was light.  And kept out the bugs.  And was light.  That's it for me!

CONS:  I found this a little frustrating to set up in higher winds and on hard ground.  I always found a way when needed, but was definitely jealous of those with the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 -- the *other* tent I was considering.  When the Tarptent is wet, it sags, and then gets your bag wet (not much foot room), making it smell more like wet duck butt.  It's single-wall and got wet often.  They say you can wipe the walls down, but that just makes drip lines and the problem worse.  On wet mornings, we'd pack 'em up and dry 'em at lunch.

BOTTOM LINE:  You don't need to camp under a shelter all that often on the PCT, making my issues with this bearable.  Additionally, Gumby and I were able to send one home in Washington and share one tent for those rainy / damp days.  These shelters have room for two if you're good friends!  The Fly Creek is more comfortable and easier to set up.  The Tarptent is slightly lighter -- definitely worth it if you are going to share.  But, if not, I wanted the Fly Creek UL1!


  1. Thank you for your gear review! Looking forward to the next part.

    I have that same sleeping bag liner and love it, too.

  2. Dorothy, I am so glad to see you continuing to post. I think it would be very helpful for others to see equipment reviews. Even those of us that don't plan the entire trip! Pam