Sunday, June 28, 2015

All of Cesar's Ultralight Sleep Systems: From 20C to -16C and Everything in Between

Ye Olde Gear Closet

Seeing as I recently finished up my complete breakdown of all of my Ultralight shelters, and I'm also on summer vacation, I figured I should strike while the iron is hot and also write up another breakdown I've wanted to do for a while.  Regular readers will notice a pattern by now of me putting the finishing touches on all of my Ultralight backpacking gear wants/needs for year round use and under nearly all circumstances relevant to me.  My sleep systems have been no different.  So now that I've explored my backpacks and shelters, here is the last of the "Big 3" of backpacking.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

All of Cesar's Ultralight Shelter Systems: Full Reviews, Comparisons, and Analyses

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What follows is a long reflection on my choice of fully enclosed backpacking shelters, with a breakdown of specifications, pros/cons, comparisons, applications, etc.  There will be a total of four shelter systems reviewed: two modular systems and two tents.  Please keep in mind that the weights listed reflect my own personal configurations, such as choice of guy lines, stuff sacks, stakes, etc.  There are many different factors that can contribute to a shelter system's total weight.  

If you are interested in seeing what all four of these shelters look like packed up, as well as my usual ramblings, check out the first video in my series of shelter videos:


I had previously written about a few of my shelter combinations, but have since updated some things and wanted a lengthier review of all four of the shelters I own and use.

Also, if you're not familiar with me or my blog, here is some helpful context to keep in mind in regards to the shelters in question:


  • I am a section hiker that goes on trips about once a month all year round, and generally hike 20-30km a day on these trips.
     
  • In addition to my section hikes I also go on the occasional (once a season or so) off-trail trips, mostly to some favorite spots in the woods I am familiar with.
     
  • All my trips are in Scandinavia, mostly Sweden and some in Norway.
     
  • I am 183cm / 6ft tall, and am about 83kg / 183lbs.
     
  • My base weight for each season is usually around 2-3kg / 4.4-6.6lbs in the summer, 3-4kg / 6.6-8.8lbs in the spring/fall, and 4-5kg / 8.8-11lbs in the winter.
      
  • I've been wilderness backpacking, camping, hiking, etc. regularly for about the past 20 years.
      
  • And finally, and as always, I am not sponsored by any gear company, nor do I receive any gear for free for the purpose of review or otherwise.  These are simply the shelters I decided to buy and use for my wilderness backpacking adventures.

On to my big shelter breakdown!

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Introduction



Back in February of this year I made the above admittedly crude flow chart that helps to explain my own personal thought process when it comes to picking a shelter for a given backpacking trip.  Ever since then I have wanted to write up a full breakdown of the shelters I own and use (and hence reference in the flow chart), but in addition to being busy as usual, I was also waiting on a final piece of my shelter puzzle.  That final piece of gear was a net tent, which I finally received last week and have been playing around with in my backyard.  I will hopefully do a quick overnight trip to break it in sometime soon, and plan on taking it along on several section hikes I have planned for this summer and early fall.

Now that I have this piece of gear, I have no intentions to buy any other shelters unless I need to replace something that is damaged or worn out.  Of course this might change, but I doubt I will be buying a new shelter for a while.  This is exactly how I feel about my small collection of backpacks, which I wrote about last summer.  So this review will be somewhat similar to that one, only shelters have more nuances that I think require more elaboration and discussion.  So get yourself a snack and/or a cup of coffee, this is going to be a long one.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cesar's Guide to the E1 Trails in Sweden: Leksand to Mora on Siljansleden

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As the trend has been for the past few trip reports, please bare with me for this lengthy introduction for this part of the E1 trail if you intend on actually hiking here.  Otherwise, feel free to skip down to the pretty pictures below.  Due to a few factors this section of trail presents some complications and alternatives that would-be hikers will have to deal with, and a summary I found apt in my last trip report I think is relevant here as well: think of this area as a "choose your own adventure" type experience.  There are several side-trails, short cuts, and alternate routes between the small cities of Leksand and Mora.  But what generally connects these two cites and makes up this portion of the E1 trail is Siljansleden.

Siljansleden is a looping trail that goes around the huge lake Siljan, which is Sweden's 6th biggest lake.  In total this trail is reported to be 340km long, and here is its official website, which is entirely in Swedish.

You can check out a very general map of the entire trail here, but by no means would I recommend using this to navigate a trip here--this is just for context and general understanding of what the trail looks like.  You can order a map from the official website linked above, or buy a copy of Lantmäteriet Terrängkartan number 647 for the Sollerön area (which is what I did).  The 647 map covers most of the trail/route from Leksand to Mora, only leaving out roughly 10km from each end of this journey.

Depending on how and where you choose to hike in this section, the distance between Leksand and Mora can be quite different.  The official E1 guide for Sweden lists the distance as around 70km, which is accurate if you are only sticking to the E1 and don't start from Leksand.  Here are what I see as the three main hiking options one has in hiking Siljansleden from Leksand to Mora:


  • 1.  Stick to the main trail only, taking the side trail to Mora that connects to the next trail of the E1, Vasaloppsleden.  ~85km.
     
  • 2.  Stick to the main trail until the cottage hamlet of Åmberg, then get off the trail and hike north-east to Mora rather than north-west on the main trail.  This is what I chose to do.  ~75km.
     
  • 3.  Stick to the main trail until the side trail that goes to the village of Gesunda, then continue north east on to the large lake island of Sollerön, and then finally turning north west where the island is connected back to the mainland close to Mora.  ~65km.

Traveling southbound from Leksand, the E1 continues on to the small town of Mockfjärd, and you can read my report on that stage here.  Traveling northbound, the trail continues on Vasaloppsleden, and my report on this stage will hopefully come sometime this summer. 

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 to the guide!

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Overall hiking this part of Siljansleden was quite a pleasant and rewarding experience, and I would definitely not recommend skipping all or most of it--though there were some challenges and issues that this trail presents.  For one, between the two small cities in question, and aside for a few small exceptions, there is really not much civilization in this area.  So make sure you have enough food and whatever other consumable supplies you might need to cover you.  

Also, while in general the trail is well marked--and I especially liked that there were many signs with distances to the next landmarks--a few spots are not as well marked and/or tricky to navigate.  There is also some tough terrain to hike through, like a few swampy areas and up and down some small mountains.  While there is some road walking, luckily most of it is on nice, grassy, old lumber roads rather than asphalt (though there is a bit of that).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spring/Summer Updates 2015

Warmer weather is here, flowers are in bloom, and every day I daydream of getting back out into the woods again.  Thought I would give a quick update on what is in the works and what's going on this summer.

I recently updated the post on my 2nd prototype of a summer bag/winter overbag after testing it out on a section hike recently.  The short of it is that it worked well, but there were a few small improvements I'd like to make, and recently ordered a professionally made version.  I'll be sure to write up a post and probably do a video once I receive this refined and improved version of this project of mine.

I have section hikes planned for both June and July on the E1 Trails, and looks like I am down to the final three big sections of the entire trail!  I am very excited about this, and also excited to try out a few new pieces of gear on these section hikes.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Cesar's Guide to the E1 Trails in Sweden: Mockfjärd to Leksand

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Sorry, but some complications and nuances of this section of the E1 require a bit of a longer introduction.  So bare with me if you plan on actually hiking here, or just skip down for the pretty pictures.

The official Swedish E1 information website neglects a lot of details and information on this section, only listing the Gagnefs Pasture Paths as connecting to Siljanleden Trail.  However shortly after traveling past the small town of Mockfjärd going northbound, one will soon find themselves in an area with a whole network of different trails that are in and around the small city of Leksand.

Leksand's commune has a website with information on outdoor life and a lot of these trails, however it is mostly in Swedish.  

Here is a PDF of a map of the Leksand area from the city's site, which is quite helpful.  The map works, but is a bit simplified, so it's not something intended to use for going off-trail/bushwhacking.  The map also does not cover Mockfjärd, but it's only about 10km from there to where the map of Leksand's trails begins.  The map is rather large, so when printing I suggest printing it out as a 9 page poster, though you probably won't need to bring the entire map.

As you can see on the map, there are many different trails in and around the Leksand area--a total of 41 trails are listed!  However many of these trails are small and/or don't connect with the E1 trail.  It's odd that the official E1 site does not include anything about this system of trails.  At any rate, if you only follow the official E1 trail, it passes by Leksand to the north-west and connects with Siljanleden.  It's hard to give an exact estimate of how far it is from Mockfjärd to either Leksand to the north or where it meets up Siljanleden to the north-west.  For one, I'm not exactly sure where Siljanleden begins*, and due to the variety this area has to offer, hikers can pick and choose many different paths to either this next trail or to center city Leksand.

*Update 14/05/2015:  I have since bought a better map of the area for my next section hike, and turns out that Siljanleden leads right into Leksand, so you can pick it up at various points in this area.  The path I took north before turning east to Leksand actually intersects with Siljanleden at the Granberg campground, where I made camp at a good trail shelter (see:below).

But roughly from Mockfjärd to where the above map shows Siljanleden marked in the north-west is about 50-55km, and that's if you walk a more "direct" route.  The path I chose to take was a more direct route north towards Leksand--because I am a section hiker and could catch a train there--and was roughly 45km.  So this report will be on this route rather than the official E1 trail, though there were times that I did follow the E1.  But really the path to Leksand, however one chooses to hike, will be a mix-up/mishmash of various different trails, roads, and even small highways.

Traveling southbound, the E1 continues on to the Ludvika/Smedjebacken area, and you can read my report on that stage here.  Traveling northbound, the trail goes on to Siljanleden (which eventually goes to the city of Mora), and you can check out my report on this section here. 

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 to the guide!

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Leaving Mockfjärd going northbound, there is already a foreshadowing of things to come with all the different trails converging just outside of town at the Grådbodarna campsite.  Even getting to this campsite you have a variety of options.  As I did on the section before, I did my best to stick to what appeared to be the official E1 trail for most of the short (5-6km) hike to this campsite, but this would soon change the next day.  

It's a great place to spend the night, with a nice view, a trail shelter, a small well for good/clean water (look about 50m east of the shelter past the first/closest cottage), benches, and a big firepit.  The shelter is meant more for sitting than sleeping, as a table is built into the middle of it, so I pitched my tent just outside where there is plenty of space to set up your own shelter.  Though because this is an exposed clearing, expect more wind, of course.