Sunday, September 10, 2017

Cesar's 2017 Go-To, UL Big Three


Intro

It's been a hot minute since I did a detailed breakdown of some of my favorite pieces of gear, so this time I figured I'd do all my big three configurations for each season of the year.  Regular readers will recognize quite a bit of gear, which itself is a testament to its quality and durability.  But there are some new additions to my collection of big three gear that I am very excited about, and can't wait to get more good use out of them.  

Before I get to the gear, however, some of you may be new here and some context is helpful to better understand why I chose the essential components of my kit.  So let's get that out of the way first, but you can also read my more detailed post on outdoor life in Sweden here.

General use
Solo (or with friends but sleeping solo), wilderness, UL backpacking on section hikes and weekend trips during all four season of the year.

Location
Scandinavia, mostly in the forests and fjälls (alpine mountains/hills) of the lower half of Sweden, and sometimes across the boarder in southeast Norway.


Climate
Generally mild and humid (plenty of rain, mist, and fog), with somewhat warm summers and cold winters--rarely going over 25C/77F or under -10C/14F, and hardly ever going over 30C/86F or under -18C/0F.  Short cold snaps are not uncommon, especially in certain terrains such as rift valleys.

Pests
There are quite a lot of bugs to deal with for about half the year, May to September--and some bugs come in staggering numbers during peak season, roughly June-August.  Bugs include mosquitoes, midges/noseeums, ticks, ants, wasps, moose/deer-flies (sv: älgfluga), horseflies, etc.  There are also some animals that are more of a nuisance like mice, slugs/snails, magpies/crows/seagulls, etc. that do things like try and eat your food, poop on you or your gear, and on rare occasions scurry/crawl/fly all over your shelter and/or campsite.  And then there is the occasional snake, both venomous and non-venomous.  But hey, no deadly spiders!

Now on to all my go-to big three pieces of gear.

The Packs




On the Left: 
Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Burn (2017 version) in Dyneema X

Accessories of choice: 
Side straps x2, sternum strap, shoulder pouch.

Weight
420g/14.8oz

Volume
38 liters

Ideal Base Weight:
2.5-4kg / 5.5-8.8lbs

Max Total Weight:
Around 11kg / 25lbs

Usage:
SUL and lower UL base weight trips, generally half of the year, from mid-late spring to early-mid fall.

My Overall Thoughts:
This is the best frameless backpack I've ever used.  Super functional and well thought out, and very comfortable to carry.  I only have a few very minor issues with the pack.  Looking forward to grinding this pack into the ground, which should take awhile.  Lint, the three time triple crown UL thru-hiker, has taken older versions of the burn on various thru-hikes.  He said that his Burns lasted about two long thru-hikes.  You can take a closer look at this pack and hear me ramble on about it a lot more in this video review.


On the Right:
Zpacks Arc Haul in Dyneema X (2016 custom version--note that Zpacks no longer does customizations)

Accessories of choice: 
Shoulder pouch.  The rest of the options come standard with the Haul, but I got some of them modified, for example a Dyneema X front pocket rather than a mesh pocket.  Please don't bother asking Zpacks for mods, I was lucky and ordered this pack back when they did custom mods!  And no, I don't want to sell this pack to you!

Weight
725g / 25.6oz

Volume
62 liters

Ideal Base Weight:
4-6kg / 8.8-13lbs

Max Total Weight:
Around 18kg / 40lbs

Usage:
UL and slightly higher base weight trips, generally the other half of the year when I prefer to used a framed pack in the late fall, winter, and early spring.  Also for packrafting trips in warmer parts of the year.  You can check out my packrafting kit here.

My Overall Thoughts:
This is the best framed pack I have ever used.  The glowing review I gave it about a year and a half ago still stands, which you can read here.  There is also a video included in that review if you want to see a closer look of the pack and all that.  This is truly an amazing pack.  This will most likely be the pack I take when I finally have the chance to do a long thru-hike.


Sleep Systems

Part One: The Quilts
 


On the Left:
2.5oz Climashield Apex insulation and 10D nylon quilt, temperature rating is around 10C/50F.  I paid a friend who is good at sewing to make this quilt for me, as I didn't have the time or skills to do a MYOG project on my own.  No zipper, no clips, just a drawstring around the neck and a sewn up footbox.

Weight:
350g / 12.3oz

Size:
Custom sizing.  I asked my friend to make it big enough to be used as an over-quilt in the winter on top of a down bag.  Roughly a regular length, x-wide width.  Below you can see both bags used together, and with both collars cinched up.




Usage:
Low temps of 7-15C/44-59F,  or combined with my warmest down bag in the winter at low temps of -9C to -15C / 16-5F.

My Overall Thoughts:
Very happy with this quilt, and love that I can use it both in the summer and the winter.  The downsides of synthetic insulation are probably obvious to those of you reading this, but yeah, it's significantly heavier and bulkier for the same temperature rating.  However the 2.5oz Apex is thin enough to come close to down weights for a 10C/50F rated bag.  For example, an Enlightened Equipment 10C/50F down Enigma, size regular/wide, is about 300g / 10.5oz--which is only a difference of about 50g / 1.8oz from my synth quilt.  

Then there are advantages to synthetics, such as generally dealing with moisture/dampness better than down.  Then again there is the option of Down Tek down feathers, which are hydrophobic, which arguably makes this a moot point.  But on the other hand, synthetic is also cheaper than down, which is nice, and synthetic also works better as an overbag in the winter to wick moisture away from your body while you sleep.


In the Middle:
Enlightened Equipment Enigma, -1C/30F temp rating, 850 Down Tek (2017 version)

Weight:
450g / 15.9oz

Size:
Regular/Wide

Usage:
Low temps of 5C to -3C / 41-26F 

My Overall Thoughts:
Very happy with this bag so far.  This is a newer piece of gear, so looking forward to getting more time with it out in the field, but very positive first impressions.  This is the quilt my wife used when we took a trip together this past summer up in the fjälls, and it served her well in a colder than usual summer.  It will be my new go-to quilt for much of the spring and the fall.  

The three main things that made this quilt so appealing and eventually got me to pull the trigger were the hydrophobic down, amazingly low weight (only 35g / 1.2oz more than my older 5C/40F Zpacks quilt), and cool option to pick custom colors.


On the Right:
Zpacks, -7C/20F temp rating, 900 fill down (2014 version)

Weight:
610g / 21.5oz

Size:
X-Long/Wide

Usage:
Low temps of -4C to -8C / 25-17F, and as mentioned earlier, combined with my synthetic summer quilt I can push it down to -9C to -15C / 16-5F.

My Overall Thoughts:
I love this quilt.  It has kept me nice and warm when I needed it the most during the colder half of the year.  It has a zipper on the bottom of it, so you could call it a hoodless sleeping bag, but when you unzip it all the way it behaves just like a quilt.  I usually keep it closed to keep drafts out, however.

The 900 fill down is impressively puffy, even after years of use, but it does need some maintenance.  I don't find the bit of maintenance to be a deal breaker, but I do see the appeal of synth and hydrophobic down.  For optimum performance of 900 fill down, I make sure to air it out after I wake up, so long as it's not raining.  Ideally it's quick and easy to lay it out in the sun, but that is a luxury you can't count on in cloudy, rainy Sweden.  

So if it's raining, I may have to wait to air it out at, for example, a trail shelter or in a cafe of a village/town the trail passes.  However if it stays below freezing and it's more crisp/dry winter weather, I've found this airing out to be quicker and easier.  In the future, after running this quilt into the ground, I will likely replace it with a quilt with hydrophobic down.  This may take a while however, as the craftsmanship of this quilt is pretty great. 

Sleep System


Part Two: The Pads and Extras


1st from the Left:
Generic foam, trimmed to 2/3 length

Weight:
90g / 3.2oz

R Value:
~1

Usage:
Low temps of 12C/53F and up.

My Overall Thoughts:
I can actually get a pretty good night's sleep on this pad, but location is key.  A nice bed of moss works great!  Though I generally avoid trail shelters when using this pad.  A classic summertime pad that is pretty much foolproof, though one thing that is annoying is having to replace them every few years.  Maybe because they are cheap and tough, I am harder on my foam pads than my air pads; but then again, air pads have gotten better and better fabric that is also pretty tough and doesn't act like a magnet for twigs, pine needles, and other debris.


2nd from the Left:
Nemo Zor Short (2014 version), model has since been discontinued as far as I understand.

Weight:
270g / 9.5oz

R Value:
~2

Usage:
Low temps of 5-11C/41-52F

My Overall Thoughts:
Love this pad, and I've got good use out of it--slightly more than the rest of the pads, actually.  Not just for me, but I've also let my kids use it when we go camping as well.  I find it much simpler and easy to use than my Neoair pads, especially when used inside a bivy.  But what it makes up for with minimalism, it does lack in comfort when compared with the Neoair pads.  Yet in fairness, it's still pretty comfy, even when used in trail shelters. 



3rd from the Left:
Neoair Xlite Regular (had the 2013 version, was replaced by slightly newer version under its warranty in 2015)

Weight:
350g / 12.3oz

R Value:
3.2

Usage:
Low temps of 4C to -4C /  39-25F

My Overall Thoughts:
What an incredible pad.  The gold standard of UL sleeping pads, really.  This is probably the pad I'd take on a long thru hike.  Light, comfy, warm.  Makes the chore of blowing it up totally worth it.  The supposed noise this pad makes has never been an issue for me.  Some people think it sounds like a bag of chips crinkling when you lay on it and move around, but I think these claims are exaggerated.



4th from the Left:
Neoair Xtherm Regular (2014 version)

Weight:
465g / 16.4oz

R Value:
5.7

Usage:
Low temps of -5C to -12C / 23-10F, and anything lower I can add my generic foam pad under it.

My Overall Thoughts:
Another incredible Neoair pad, though this pad has not been used all that often due to it being pretty much a winter only pad for me.  And on top of that, the past few winters have been especially mild, so I was fine with my Xlite (and foam sit pad under it) most of the time.


Extras

Above the pads:
Exped inflatable pillow, size large,  70g / 2.5oz.  

I bring this on all my trips now, as it adds so much comfort for so little weight.  Never going back to stuff sack with clothing, not to mention that over the years I've dialed my clothing enough that I usually don't have much extra clothing around to use as a pillow anyhow.

Below the pads:
SOL Escape Bivy Lite, 150g / 5.2oz.  

I've written about this bivy a few years ago as one of my favorite pieces of gear (along with a few pieces of shelter that are included below), and that remains true.  I love the flexibility this piece of gear adds to my kit, and I've had nothing but good experiences with it.  It actually does what it claims to do by reflecting a significant amount of warmth back to you, while also being very breathable.  Never had any issues with condensation, plenty of space inside, and weighs less and is warmer than any sleeping bag liner that I am aware of on the market.  A silk liner will perhaps weigh around the same or less, but is not at all as warm.  And weighs less than most top or bottom layers of clothing, yet provides full body warmth.

I take this bivy along when the low temps of my quilts for a given trip are on the edge.  For instance if low temps are hovering around say 6-8C/42-46F on a beautiful May weekend, I can just throw this bivy down to the bottom of my pack and have some good peace of mind.  Even if there is a cold snap and temps dip down to say 4-5C/39-41F, I'll still be able to get an okay night's sleep with the bivy plus my summer quilt and wear all my clothing layers (base layers, hiking layers, down vest, wind jacket, buff, gloves, socks x2, etc.).  And if the temps turn out to be on the warmer end, no worries, then I can just lay the bivy under my pad as an extra bit of padding and insulation without being sweaty.


The Shelters


From left to right (all weights include stuff sack)
  1. Borah Cuben Bivy (2013 version, modified with net vent)
    150g / 5.2oz (including one guy line)
    No stakes needed

  2. MLD Serenity Solo Net Tent (2015 version in silnylon)
    345g / 12.3oz (including two guy lines)
    Can be pitched with no stakes, but four stakes makes for a better pitch

  3. MLD Poncho/Tarp (2016 version in silnylon)
    310g / 10.9oz (no guy lines)
    Ridge and guy lines, two mini-biners, and mini-sack add 50g / 1.8oz
    Depending on the pitch, needs two-eight stakes, most of the time I use six (A-frame)

  4. Zpacks 6x9ft/1.8x2.7m Cuben Fiber Flat Tarp (2014 version)
    250g / 8.8oz (including six guy lines)
    Ridge and extra guy lines, two mini-biners, and mini-sack add 40g / 1.4oz
    Depending on pitch, needs two-six stakes, most of the time I use six (A-frame)

  5. Borah Dimma Bivy (2016 version, silpoly bottom)
    240g / 8.5oz (including two guy lines)
    No stakes needed

  6. SMD Skyscape X (2012 version, .75 Cuben, no longer in production)
    510g / 18oz (including six guy lines and poles)
    Five-six stakes needed

  7. Nemo Hornet 2 (2016 version)
    900g / 31.7oz (including fly, inner, seven guy lines, and poles)
    Four-seven stakes needed
I've done several videos on most of the above shelter, so check out my Youtube channel and you can see how they look like fully set up and hear me talk in detail about them.  I've also written about several of these pieces of shelter gear here on my blog, for example my double bivy breakdown/review here, and my first impressions review of my flat tarp here.  I go into a lot of detail in those videos and posts, so be sure to check those out if you want more info.

So because I have already written/spoken extensively about nearly all of these shelters, I won't repeat myself here.  These are all of my favorite, go-to shelters, after all.  At this point in my UL game, I could have opted for pretty much any other UL shelter combos, but this is what works best for me.  Yet there is one shelter that I have only spoken about a bit and not written about in detail, which is the Nemo Hornet 2.  So for that shelter I will give my overall thoughts.

There are enough pests and enough precipitation where I hike that I take a fully enclosed shelter year round.  Now let's take a closer look at each shelter combination and when I choose to use a given shelter system.


Borah Cuben Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit
 

Total Weight
510g / 18oz

Usage:
Light and fast SUL trips, usually summer weekend trips.  Poncho/tarp also doubles as rain gear and pack cover.


MLD Serenity + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit


Total Weight
705g / 24.9oz

Usage:
More typical UL section hike or weekend trip in the summer.  I prefer a net tent during peak bug season most of the time.  Though if I am doing nothing but hiking and then sleeping right after setting up camp, or the trail I am hiking happens to have a lot of trail shelters, then I will opt for a bivy.


Borah Dimma Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit

Total Weight:
600g / 21.2oz

Usage:
Typical set up for spring, fall, and early summer (before peak bug season) section hikes or weekend trips on marked trails.


Borah Dimma Bivy + MLD Poncho/Tarp + Zpacks Flat Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit



Total Weight:
840g / 29.6oz

Usage:
Section hikes that involve a significant amount of off-trail hiking, and/or trips that are to more isolated areas with few or no trail shelters.  Also for any trips that have weather reports that predict lots of rain/snow.  Poncho is rain gear, pack cover, and also can be pitched as a large vestibule at one end of the flat tarp when it's pitched in an A-frame (see: the picture above).


MLD Serenity + Zpacks Flat Tarp + Ridge/Guy Line Kit


Total Weight:
635g / 22.4oz

Usage:
Winter and early spring section hikes or weekend trips.  A net tent's steep walls prevent snow from blowing in and building up on top of you while you sleep better than a bivy.  Plus a tiny bit of a wind blocker is nice for those cold blasts of wind at night.  No need for a poncho, as getting soaked from rain is not an issue below freezing.  So I wear a beefier wind jacket instead to keep the snow and wind off me as I hike.  Cuben also doesn't sag and is really strong (especially my tarp, which is made of the thicker 1.0oz Cuben), so no need to worry or re-adjust the pitch or guy lines if there is a lot of snow.


SMD Skyscape X


Total Weight:
510g / 18oz

Usage:
Section hikes to areas where it's more difficult to pitch tarps, like above tree lines or less forested terrain like fjäll.  Weekend trips to specific, secret little spots I know about off trail that have sweet/scenic spots to pitch a tent (e.g. on top of a cliff, a hidden glade, shore of a lake, etc.).  Also good for section hikes where I begin and/or end near towns or cities and don't want to pay for a hotel or B&B, and can have a wider range of options for stealth camping near civilization.  Like say behind an abandoned house on the outskirts of town.


Nemo Hornet 2

 
Total Weight:
900g / 31.7oz 

Usage:
For solo, 3 season use, when I want to spoil myself with an UL palace type shelter, this is the one.  Then when my wife and I go out together, this is our tent.

My Overall Thoughts:
Got lucky and picked this up used online for a good price, looking for a lighter 2 person tent for my wife and I.  I took it out a few times on my own to test it out, and liked it so much I ended up using it on a few solo trips.  Lots of head room and space in general for one person, and for two people my wife and I find it pleasantly tight on space.  There's just enough for both of our sleeping pads inside, and that's pretty much it.  But there is some space in the vestibules (though they are a bit tight), and having two side doors is great.  It's livable and even fairly comfortable (as far as backpacking goes) for two people that know each other well.

I've had it out in the rain and it kept me and my gear dry.  The design is good and it's easy enough to set up.  Not much to complain about.  I had read a lot of good reviews of this tent before I kept my eye out for one, and I'm glad I did.  It's certainly not the lightest UL tent out there, but it's still pretty light, especially when you split the weight with another person.


Very Short Outro, Cuz Man This is Long

Well, that about covers my big three.  As always, please feel free to ask questions or give feedback, and I hope this breakdown is helpful.  Peace!


*Disclaimer: Same as it ever was.  Still not sponsored, blog is still advert free, still not a Youtube partner, and I buy all my own gear. 

*Update 1: Did some minor grammar/typo/formatting edits about 20 hours after publishing this post.

2 comments:

  1. Hey Cesar, thanks for this great post! I'm curious if you were tempted at all to opt the for beefier Prophet-style hip belt on your new Burn. Do you think this bag could carry close to 10kg comfortably with, say, a folded up Z-lite sleeping pad as a frame and a padded hip belt? My base weight is in a range similar to yours (3ish kg), but wondering if this bag would still be decent for extended trips with heavier loads. Thanks again!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Patrick! Thanks for the kind words. Nope, I was not tempted by a beefier hip belt. My Haul has a pretty beefy one, so another one would be redundant. Yes, I do think that 10kg would be comfy, because I've carried slightly more than that and it did great for me. But everyone has their own personal limits with comfort and weight along with individual bags general limits. That being said, hope this helps. If you are doing section hikes and/or weekend trips, or if you are doing a thru hike, that's another important factor to consider. Happy trails!

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