Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Zpacks Sleeping Bags Double Review: 40 Degree Long Term and 20 Degree First Impressions


Recently in Back to Back Episode 2, I briefly talked about my two Zpacks sleeping bags, and how I think that for my purposes (Ultralight and long distance backpacking) they are one of the best bags money can buy.  So I figured I would elaborate a bit on these excellent additions to my gear closet by writing up another double review.  I should note that before buying each bag, I did a lot--boarding on an obsessive amount--of research.  These are bags that have consistently gotten good reviews, like this one for example.  I gave it a lot of thought, which is reasonable considering that these sleeping bags are indeed a big investment for most people.  You can check out all the details on these bags here at Zpacks, but I will include my own measurements and specifications on my two bags shortly.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Back to Back Episode 2: The Cost of Backpacking

Just a quick update to let everyone know that another episode of Back to Back is up on Youtube, in case you have not seen it already.

Here is Part 1, where Ross sets things up and gives his thoughts on the matter.

And here is Part 2, where I reply to some of his points and give my own perspectives on the subject.

Ross is right to point out on his blog that we talk for a total of about a half hour, yet don't get into specifics on how to put together a gear list that won't cost you an arm and a leg.  But this is something he has written about in great detail before, so you can check out Ross' two gear lists here:

One is for three season backpacking, and weighs 12lb 7.2oz and costs $531.

The other is for winter, and weighs 10lb 11.2oz and costs $741.

I decided after I made my video that I it would be nice if I made a good and not too "expensive" Ultralight backpacking gear list.  It comes out to 6.7lbs and costs $650.  

It is intended for 1+ season use, and I wanted to include certain fancy/deluxe/durable gear--not to mention being pretty damn light.  With buying used, or making a few other minor changes, one could make my list even cheaper.  For example, you could buy a big (8 x 10 ft) silnylon tarp, no bivy, and cheapo (DriDucks) rain gear rather than go with poncho/tarp and bivy (you might have to wear your head net to sleep and maybe bring ear plugs, however); or switch out the titanium pot and tent stakes for stainless steel or aluminum ones, buy a generic, lightweight nylon backpack, etc.  One could also turn my list into a 3 season list without much more cost or weight, e.g. add a few more layers of clothing and make a thicker and thus warmer DIY sleeping bag.

Well, that's about it, just a quick update.  Hope you enjoy Episode 2 and our gear suggestions for a cheap but good kit, and as always feedback and questions are welcome and encouraged.

Thanks again Ross for your continued collaboration, it's been a pleasure having these virtual conversations, and looking forward to doing more episodes.

Our next topic will probably be on stoves, fuel, and all things related to cooking out in the field--so keep your eyes peeled.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Cost of Ultralight Backpacking: A Good yet Affordable Starter Kit

This is a follow up post to compliment the last Back to Back video I recently put up on Youtube about the cost of backpacking.  After finishing the video, I got to thinking, and thought why not put up a solid yet fairly economical gear list for someone new to Ultralight backpacking?  

I will assume that this will be for someone that has little or no backpacking gear.  Or maybe if you are reading this and have more "traditional" type gear, you can always sell it online or give it away to friends or family.  I won't cover absolutely everything, just the essentials, and this is for typical "high season" use, i.e. summertime or temperatures no lower than around 7C / 45F.  I am also putting a focus on gear that is built to last, and don't want to be too stingy with fancy/deluxe gear.  

This gear list is intended to be used for section hikes and/or weekend adventures, but in a pinch could be used for longer periods of time under the right conditions--though I wouldn't use this exact list for most thru-hikes on my thru-hike bucket list.  One could probably fit up to a week of food in the given pack plus all the gear, and anything less than a week should be no problem.

I've also rounded up both the weights and the costs to get conservative estimates, and always keep in mind you can buy a lot of these pieces of gear used, which is something I do often.  The only thing that I didn't include is either a cell phone or a wristwatch, which could be good to bring with you.  I bring my cheapo cell phone with me and it doubles as my clock (and calculator or timer/alarm if needed).  Some people have one or the other, others have both; but not everyone likes to take one or both out into nature, not to mention that prices of both are all over the place.

And keep in mind that this could be a base set of gear to start with and add stuff on to--for example if you are into bushcraft/woodlore/survival stuff (like if you came over here from Ross' blog), there would still be plenty of room for a folding saw, fishing kit, etc.  With a lighter, more minimalistic gear list like the one below, you will be able to hike further and with greater ease, have more energy to do other stuff out in nature, and take better care of your back and joints.

First I'll cover stuff that most people probably have laying around their house, or can be found for super cheap or free.  

Monday, October 6, 2014

Cesar's Guide to the E1 Trails in Sweden: Bergslagsleden Part 2

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Bergslagsleden is the longest stand alone trail that is a part of the Swedish E1 trail system, and spans 280km.  As such, it will require a slightly longer introduction before the actual trail guide due to some complications it presents.  Its endpoint in the south is the campground Stenkällegården, and the endpoint in the north is the village of Kloten.  For more general information about the trail in English, Swedish, and German, here is a link to the official trail guide.

The trail is divided into 17 stages.  This report covers stages 14-12, or from Laxå to Leken/E18 highway.

The small town of Laxå has a train station where you can connect to Göteborg in the west and Stockholm in the east, and many stops in between.  There is the usual helpful things like a pizza shop, supermarket, hostel, etc. in Laxå, but not much else.  The Leken area is right next to the E18 highway and has daily bus connections to Karlskoga in the west and Örebro in the east.  Örebro is about 28km from Leken (about 25-30min bus ride), is a bigger city (sixth largest in Sweden), and has train connections to many parts of Sweden, and will of course have more to offer for resupplying and luxuries.

Below are links to PDF maps of these four stages that make up this section of the E1:

Stage 14

Stage 13

Stage 12

The Bergslagsleden maps are very functional, having especially good symbols and information for useful or interesting things on the trail (shelters, fresh water, views, etc.).  The informational maps are a bit sparse, and roads often lack much information and are mostly just black lines that intersect with the trail.  These are not the best maps to use on their own for backpackers that are section hikers and/or like to bushwhack, and it comes off like the creators of the maps just want you to stick to the trail and that's it.  

Recently however (a few weeks before I began this trail), more detailed topographical maps were added to the trail's official website.  They are listed in the Swedish section that you can find here--you can find the links that say "Karta" next to the Swedish informational maps on the table to the right.  If you have both the informational maps and the topographical maps printed out, you ought to be good to go.

Hiking southbound on the E1 you continue on Bergslagsleden and the beginning of Västra Vätterleden, and you can read my report on this section of trail here. Hiking northbound the E1 continues on the Bergslagsleden, and you can check out my guide from Stage 12 (Leken) to Stage 8 (Mogetorp), which is coming soon (November).

If you have not read the introduction to this trail guide yet, you can do so here, and there is also a list of links to other completed reports of the Swedish E1 trails.  Please keep in mind this is still a work in progress.

Now on with the show!

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On my last trip report I was sick with strep throat, yet still managed to have a good hike.  This time my health was fine, but other circumstances worked against me, giving me some added challenges--yet once again, I still managed to have a good hike.  Again I think this says a lot about this trail, but there were some minor issues that will address.  While not quite as visually stunning as my last section hike, these three stages still offer quite a lot of beauty, and the trail continues to be one of the most well maintained trails I have ever hiked on.  Trail shelters and access to fresh tap water are fairly common, for instance, and so are trash cans, places to have a fire, and outhouses.

Due to work and family obligations, I unfortunately didn't have much time to devote to exploring everything that these three stages has to offer, which is quite a lot.  There are several other trails that intersect with Bergslagsleden in this area, as well as several interesting sights and landmarks.  The more I hike Bergslagsleden, the more it becomes one of my favorite trails, and the more I tell myself that I'd like to go back and hike it again one day--I'd love to do a thru-hike of it as a stand-alone trail.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Back to Back Episode 1 is Up on Youtube

Just a quick announcement that Ross from the Wood Trekker blog and I have put up the first episode of what will hopefully be a series on wilderness backpacking called Back to Back.  I have to say the title is growing on me, being a good shorthand for "from one backpacker to another."  The first video is more if an introduction and setting up the format and first topic, and Part 2 and 3 are our in depth discussions related to the first topic.

Here is Part 1 of the episode, my video setting things up.

And here is Part 2, Ross' video.

And here is Part 3, my response.

Keep an eye out on my Youtube channel in the future for more episodes of Back to Back if you are interested.  I am glad we got the ball rolling, and I think it will be great to be able to bounce ideas and learn from Ross and hopefully other backpackers as well.  I have to say, I am excited about the prospect of this project continuing on and maybe expanding, and have really enjoyed collaborating with Ross.

That's about it.  Just wanted try and get the word out some.  As always, feedback and questions are welcome and encouraged.