While on vacation I had the good fortune to visit the small island Staffa off the Isle of Mull, which is entirely of volcanic origin. What makes it unique?….the incredible examples of columnar basalt of varying size, from huge vertical columns sporting a layer of non columnar basalt above to smaller examples epitomized in the small islet of Am Buchaille. This cave and area was an inspiration for Mendelssohn's concert overture "The Hebrides" and popularly known as "Fingal's Cave." William Picher provides the music for this short video, playing both organ and trumpet from his album Te Deum (Suite in D Major, IV March).
I recently sold my old but still viable Feathered Friends 20 degree mummy bag and other gear as I try to consolidate. I needed a solid 3+ season bag, but have found that when the temps drop I am not a good candidate for quilts. This was driven home in 2016 on a chilly but not below freezing open bivouac at 7,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. My sleep system for that evening was an Enlightened Equipment 30 degree Enigma quilt, a custom Borah Gear bivy bag (Cuben breathable top/Cuben bottom….before the change to Dyneema Composite Fabrics) and a Thermarest Neo-Air XLite pad. I’m a side sleeper, and the traditional quilt design does not seem to be a good fit for me. Every time I shifted position I would pump cold air into my little world, despite using the straps, buckles and cinching up the top. And yes, I was wearing warm head gear (a balaclava and the EE Hoodlum). In the wee hours I had to don my rain shells in an effort to trap more heat. To be clear I was not cold, I just wasn’t warm. There were no indications of freezing temps in the morning.
Upon looking at various options for a new bag, I turned to Nunatak for the solution. My past dealings with Jan at Nunatak have been outstanding. I have been packing and wearing my Skaha Apex Pullover since last year and it remains one of my favorite pieces. It’s always in my day pack and ski pack. I was also the “prototype” and launch customer for the Akula Half Bag. As Nunatak continues to improve and develop their designs, I sent my Akula back to have the bivy extension added….such a good idea, why didn’t I think of that? He only charged me $40 for this retrofit. And lastly, I have to point out that these products are meticulously constructed.
So I didn’t want a full mummy, and I didn’t want another quilt. I decided on Nunatak’s 3D Quilt, which fills a niche between these two. Like my EE Enigma the 3D has a closed foot box, and the zipper extends low enough for this piece to function as a quilt. However, when the temperature drops I can zip it all the way up, essentially becoming a mummy bag without the hood. It may seem trivial, but one of the best design aspects is the placement of the cinch cords. My Enigma had one on the interior, so when I cinched that puppy up to try to seal in the heat, I had cord dangling around my face the entire time. The 3D puts two cinch cords on the outside, completely eliminating this annoyance from the draft collar. Plus, I don’t have to “uncinch” to get out, I can simply unzip as is.
In typical Nunatak fashion, the pull down menus allow for numerous customization options. Here’s a rundown on my particulars:
2.75" loft (15 degree option)
Inside Length: 74" - Long
Shoulder Width: 62" minimum in quilt mode.
30" minimum with zipper closed.
Footbox Size: 40" diameter foot end
Shell Fabric: Breathable 15d Ripstop, Black.
WP/B Draft Collar and Foot Section (Robic 7D)
Liner Material: Breathable 10D Taffeta, Black.
Integrated Neck Draft Collar with Cord Channel
Zipper: #3 YKK Coil. One way. Inside/outside slider pull.
Dual Draft Tubes Along Zipper
900 Fill Power White Goose Down, Hyper-Dry
I prefer my bags in black to assist in drying, and opted for the WPB foot and collar options. I also chose the 15D for the fabric for just a tad more durability, as this bag will probably be with me for the duration. And performance? My example here is another open bivy at 7,000 feet on Mt. Rainier. Same bivy bag, same XLite. This time I felt a bit cramped in the bivy as this bag is so much puffier. I was letting my daughter use my other Borah bivy, a roomier and more robust eVent custom job. I again wore my EE Hoodlum for head warmth. In the wee hours my daughter had to wear my Nunatak Skaha to stave off the chill in her Feathered Friends 35 degree Rock Wren, along with most of her clothes. My 3D was zipped up all the way and the draft collar was semi tight, I was wearing minimal layers and my head was outside the bivy. I may have had a little trouble sleeping due to the spotlight in my face the whole night (A.K.A The Moon) but certainly not because I was chilly. So toasty with no cold spots! I believe that Nunatak is conservative in their ratings. And despite frost on my bivy, I had no problems with moisture in this challenging environment (open ridge). I have a history of going minimal and light, including sleep systems (and still do), but sometimes I want the comfort of a full, warm system, in this case hanging out with my daughter.
My package from Nunatak included the specs of this particular bag, right at 30.1 ozs including stuff sack. My total cost was $555 ($530 plus $25 shipping). This kind of quality doesn’t come cheap, but it’s worth every penny. I have yet to use the 3D in winter temps, but I have a synthetic 40 degree EE quilt which I will use as an over bag if needed. I’ve written this in a prior review of the Skaha concerning Nunatak, but I’ll repeat it here: If you want inexpensive look elsewhere. If you want to order extremely high quality, fully customizable pieces with an astounding number of options and choices, and don't mind excellent customer service from the owner and team that make up Nunatak, then spend the dough and take the plunge. Now here's the disclaimer, I paid full price for this product.
Like the East Eastern Loop, the Northern Loop Trail, and the Eastern Loop, this journey is another example of shorter trips in Mt. Rainier National Park that can be a day hike or a multiday, with plenty of places to camp along the way. In my case I made this a one day trip starting at Sunrise.
Proceeding CW, I hiked the short section westward on the Sourdough Ridge trail until the intersection with the Huckleberry Creek trail. From this high point at 6800 feet the trail drops steadily, eventually exiting the park boundary and terminating at FS Road 73. The Huckleberry Creek trail is another classic in this area, starting above treeline passing Huckleberry Basin, then dropping into old growth forest with bubbling creeks and the picturesque Forest Lake, all the while serenaded by the more substantial Huckleberry Creek. The trail is well maintained, soft and mostly rock and root free. Transiting this forest is surely a reminder that untouched forest is a national treasure, giving the hiker an opportunity to soak in the forest smells and refill water bottles from pristine sources.
However, to connect this trail to the Lake Eleanor trail, one must walk a few miles on FS 73. When I did this hike on August 23, the weather turned misty but not rainy, making the steady climb up the road pleasant in its own right. After a few miles you come to the parking area for the Lake Eleanor trail, which reenters the National Park almost immediately. Once past Lake Eleanor the climb continues until eventually entering the anomalous flat land, Grand Park. This mesa is the only flattish expanse in the park, where more erodible material around this lava till isolated this unique formation. Although I transited Grand Park between "color" seasons (missing the bloom of spring flowers or the reds and yellows of fall), Grand Park lives up to its name at any time in any weather. It's truly an experience to walk the length of Grand Park on the well established trail, watching Mt. Rainier grow larger in the field of view. You may think that the show is over as you enter the forest again but more wonders await upon entering lower Berkeley Park. Lodi Creek that flows through here is the icing on the cake. Waterfalls, grasses and flowers abound well into late season, nourished by this continuing flow. Water Ouzels can be seen on occasion dipping for food in the pools along the way. In all my travels in this park over 35 years, the creek through Berkeley ranks as one of the most pristine, epitomizing the alpine meadow environment.
On this late August day I quickly climbed out of the meadows into another ecozone, surrounded by towering walls with gradually disappearing meadows. The occasional marmot whistle echoed as I climbed to the intersection with the Wonderland Trail, now only a bit over 2 miles to go to return to Sunrise and completing the loop. The late afternoon sun at my back cast a long shadow on the trail ahead, while the winds picked up to the point of donning another layer.
This 26 mile loop entails 5500 feet of climb and descent, transiting some of the coolest areas of the park through varying ecozones, from below 3000 feet to 6800 feet in elevation. Even the walk on FS 73 was pleasant in its own right, regaining a fair amount of elevation yet easy on the legs. In short, just another North West classic hike in one of our treasures so close to civilization.
There is what is known as the Eastern Loop Trail in MRNP, utilizing the Wonderland Trail over Panhandle Gap, the Owyhigh Lakes Trail and the Eastside Trail. This loop takes one through high alpine and lowland old growth, a gem for sure. A complete description can be found here.
With this in mind, one can complete a loop further east, forging out to the PCT and heading north. The PCT pops in and out of the park boundary along the way, but the majority of this hike is within the confines of Mt. Rainier National Park. This East Eastern Loop has stats similar to the Eastern Loop, with 31 miles and 6,600 feet of elevation gain/loss. I completed this loop on July 28th, experiencing heat, bugs, hail and rain, then sun again. IOW, all the makings of a great trip (I parked at the Stevens Canyon entrance). However, in retrospect I would say this loop is probably best done in the fall, before the early snows hit the upper reaches of the PCT. It suits itself perfectly with its wonderful old growth forest trails, with open views along the PCT above 5500 feet. A fall hike with crisp air, no bugs and late season colors seems especially inviting. This is not to say my summer jaunt was without its rewards. Anytime one is out in the mountains one can expect hindrances to outdoors bliss. In my case it was rather warm (for Washington) temperatures and an abundance of skeeters. However, the wild flowers were a bloomin' and the oppressive heat was mitigated by cool breezes. In my case, approaching 20 miles on my feet, the low point was feeling ill as I climbed out of Dewey Lake towards the high point near 5900 feet above Chinook Pass. The heat was taking its toll. Relief came in the form of sudden hail and rain. While the tourists in T-shirts were scattering (this point is close to the parking area at Chinook Pass), I reveled in the cooler temperatures and made a quick recovery. As soon as I turned on the Eastside trail and headed south, I spent the last 11 miles of the loop in solitude.
Although this loop offers plenty of camping choices, most on the PCT portion and Deer Creek camp on the Eastside trail, the terrain is mild enough to make a most excellent day trip if one has the legs. The Laughingwater Creek trail offers a prime example of old growth forest hiking, gaining altitude on a gentle grade, slowly transitioning to the more alpine environment above 5000 feet. The PCT portion offers views towards the mountain and rolling trail interspersed with lakes, bogs or tarns. And although I found the northern portions of the Eastside trail in sometimes poor shape (blowdowns, rutted sections), the southern portion finds one back in old growth forest with splashing creeks, eventually crossing the Ohanapecosh River and listening to its gentle roaring all the way to your waiting vehicle.
DESCRIPTION: From Stevens Canyon entrance (park at the Grove of the Patriarchs area) proceed across the road to the Silver Falls trail towards Ohanapecosh. Take the Laughingwater Creek trail, crossing Highway 123, to intersect the PCT northbound. Once above Dewey Lake, go left on the Naches Loop trail (still signed as the PCT) until reaching Chinook Pass, then go left on the Eastside trail, which will take you back to your waiting vehicle.
I like my solitude; going all day with no other person in sight allows for introspection and contemplation. Moments of peace and calm wash over and through me as I take in my surrounding's sights and smells. But you gotta be flexible, and all that solitude yak goes out the window in Zion. A relatively small national park, the canyon is hemmed in by sheer towering walls, cramming the visitors onto the canyon floor where the Virgin River continues its ongoing trenching. In 2017 Zion had 4.5 million visitors (compared to my stomping ground Mt. Rainier National Park, which saw 2 million). When my daughter and I were there for a weekend (July 6-8) sometimes it seemed like there were that many currently on the trails....but probably only hundreds. Now that I've set the lack of solitude tone, I'll say that the compensation comes in spades by the ever present vast visual palette.
Tromping on any trail, the scenery changed constantly in a most spectacular fashion. The varying colors of the sandstone pop in direct and reflected light. The layers and etchings form lines of symmetry and chaos simultaneously. Whether looking down or craning your neck up to take in the lofty barriers, a craving for solitude is mitigated by this awesomeness of ocular overload, present even when raining. No wonder 4.5 million visitors came here in 2017.
The park seems to handle this well, with regular shuttle service to all the stops on the narrow canyon road, which surely would be unmanageable were cars allowed in. My daughter and I took advantage of these and the free town shuttles to the entrance to make forays into the park both early and late (the last park shuttle is 9:15 PM, town shuttle 10). Originally we were there with permit in hand for the 16 mile top to bottom Narrows hike. But it's monsoon season; afternoon thunderstorms and a "possible" flash flood advisory along with overcast skies at 5:00 AM had us change our plans to the much safer Angel's Landing hike, where only 6 people have plunged to their demise since 2004. Yeah. However, I was surprised to find out later that more deaths (7) have occurred on the seemingly innocuous Emerald Pools trail, which we did on Friday night.
NOTE: 3 days after our visit Zion saw 3 inches of rain in 3 hours, creating flash floods, rock and mud slides and closures of various trails and trail heads, including Highway 9
I'm not a fan of exposed heights, but the start of Angel's Landing skirts a wide fin and doesn't look so bad, especially with chain rails in place. Once around the corner, though, I looked up at the route on a narrow and steep looking fin and thought, "Are you effing kidding me?" However, my daughter gave no hint of retreating and the hundreds of kids, older ones and tourists on route somewhat bolstered my confidence (shame is a powerful motivator); I set off with my daughter in tow to brave the thousand foot drops on either side. With concentration on foot and handwork my queasiness subsided and soon enough (despite the traffic jams) we found ourselves up top on the "plateau". Rain and wind started shortly thereafter, so we departed for the descent, the airiness magnified on the return. By now I was accustomed to the environment and we finished up just when the clouds parted and the sun boosted the temperature towards that day's high of 102 degrees.
We left all the people behind as we continued up the West Rim trail this Saturday, afterwards returning to the park in the evening to cooler temps, refreshing rain and lower elevation hiking. Combined with our Friday evening sojourns and my daughter's earlier Narrows hike, our interest was piqued enough to plan a return visit, adding to the 4 million plus that will clog the trails next year. We're good with that.
The CPC outlook for May-June-July (MJJ) is indicating a warmer and drier than normal 3-month average for the entire state. The temperature outlook is calling for warmer than normal temperatures for the state, with slightly higher chances of above normal temperatures in southwestern WA. For precipitation, there are higher than normal chances of below normal precipitation statewide for May-July. (Office of the Washington State Climatologist)
Snow levels above 5000 feet were robust this year, often accumulating when lower elevations were experiencing rain and warmer temperatures. With this in mind I have made forays into Mt. Rainier National Park to scope out conditions these past two weeks and will offer an opinion on Wonderland Trail snow conditions for 2018. First hand observations; once passing the 5000' level, there's lots of snow still in them thar hills.
On May 24th I biked the West Side Road and scoped out Klapatche Park, a backcountry camp that resides at 5500'. I encountered some snow at Round Pass (4000'), which required a short bike push, but this is assuredly melted by now. What I did find, hiking the St. Andrews Creek trail, was the predicted snow line right at 5100'. Clear 'til then, then pretty much continuous snow all the way to the camp. Neither the logs nor the sign was visible next to Aurora Lake, and snow levels in the camp varied from less than a foot to more than 6'. Clad in trail shoes, I encountered no serious post holing, although I did sink consistently above ankle height (no gaiters).
On June 6th I biked the Ipsut Creek trail and proceeded on the Wonderland to Moraine Park at 5700'. Maintenance is just starting, with the 3 person crew hard at work for this part of the mountain. Luckily, they had established a log to cross the Carbon River so I was able to continue up the trail past the Carbon Glacier terminus. No surprise, I encountered continuous snow just above 5100'. Levels varied but in some cases the depth far exceeded 6'. Once I hit the open meadow below Mystic Pass, the snow thinned considerably and I even had lunch on an exposed knoll and rock. On this trek the snow was consolidated enough to stride mostly on top, with only about 4 post holes on the descent later in the afternoon; again, trail runners with no gaiters. I did have to go feet wet on the return leg at Dick Creek due to the creek wandering around the end of the bridge, but the maintenance crews will probably deal with this before thru hikers start doin' their thing.
2015 was a low snow year and I hiked the west 57 miles on June 9th and 10th, providing the comparison photos above for contrast.
On June 10th I visited Summerland on a "Junuary" weekend, meaning rain, snow, occasional sun breaks and temps in the 40's. Snow started above 4800' and was continuous above the bridge at Fryingpan creek. Although we attempted to follow the summer trail up the switchbacks, steep runouts with lots of snow coverage dictated a descent via what I call the winter route, essentially end running the switchbacks by heading towards the creek right out of Summerland, then paralleling the creek until regaining the bridge. The weather was such that continuing on to Panhandle Gap, all on snow and climbing into cloud, seemed fruitless....needless to say there's still considerable snow coverage to the Gap and beyond.
EDIT (June 24) On this beautiful Sunday I biked the length of the West Side Road and hiked to Golden Lakes via the North Puyallup River Trail and the Wonderland. Silver Forest (about 1.5 miles to Golden Lakes) was snow free, but as soon as we entered the woods again there were significant stretches of snow remaining, varying in depth but sometimes over 4 feet. However, at least in this part of the trail, there was no detriment to navigation. The Wonderland thru-hiker couple I ran into had bypassed Klapatche Park, descending to the West Side Road from the South Puyallup River camp and hiking the same route I took to the North Puyallup River Camp, where I ran into them and accompanied them to Golden Lakes. Looks like it will be well into July before snow becomes a minor factor in hiking the trail.
So early season hikers, meaning June and well into July, can expect varying levels of snow in the higher elevations of the trail. Consolidation is well under way, so forget the snow shoes (some may opt to pack some manner of microspikes and even an ice axe); your regular footwear should suffice. However, continued warm weather, as the CPC outlook indicates, will help the melt off considerably, especially if we don't encounter "Junuary." IOW, pretty much a normal year. I'm planning a fastpack of the Wonderland in late August or early September, so please say hi! Happy Hiking!
DISCLAIMER: Always check with the NPS and/or visit the website for current conditions. What works for me may not work for you, so always pack for your comfort level and experience. Lastly, don't hesitate to contact me if you have specific questions about the Wonderland Trail if you think my input may help you.
I just took delivery of the up and coming Zpacks single person/single pole tent. I believe Joe is going to make this available within a matter of weeks so I've started this post, which I will update regularly, for those in the market. This is tent #2, so there may be changes on the retail version. Tent #1 came in at 14.5 ozs/411 grams. This weight includes the tent, lines and stuff sack, but stakes and pole are not included. Although I don't own a gram scale, Joe says mine should be in the same ballpark. EDIT: My latest correspondence with Joe (6/14/18) has led me to make a few corrections in this post, one being the name: Plexamid it is. Also, the latest weight specs are 14.8 ozs in the stuff sack.
I own one of the original Duplexs also, and was in the market for a single person tent and have been researching options for about 6 months. I couldn't quite bring myself to buy the SolPlex as I wasn't crazy about the shorter pole in the rear. When I heard the Plexamid was in the works, I contacted Joe about getting a prototype. I paid $449 for this tent, which I believe will be a $100 discount for the upcoming retail version, as $549 seems in line with Zpacks' other offerings. This price, however, is only a guess....it may well be cheaper. EDIT: The Plexamid is now listed on Zpacks site for sale, indeed at $549.
Initial impressions are good. This tent is light to the point of me considering ditching my usual tarp and bivy combo, which, depending on the selection, weighs about the same or more than the Plexamid. Sit up room seems on par with the Duplex. At 6' I don't come close to touching the sides of the tent. The advantage over a tarp/bivy combo at the same weight: a fully enclosed shelter with a roomy vestibule, bathtub floor and full netting door. My initial pitch (no instructions of course) used a pole from my Duplex at 48 inches; at first I thought perhaps the pole height should be higher because the rear bathtub floor was rather flat and I had the rear of the tent pitched close to the ground, but Joe says 48 inches is what it is designed for and I should tilt the front of the tent to raise the rear end, creating more space between the tent and ground. I will dial in the setup before taking it out on an overnight.
To create more room, the Plexamid uses a sturdy rectangular patch reinforced with fiberglass rods, creating about a 12 inch spreader at the peak.
The pole goes in the center, allowing the tent to overhang the netting door, probably allowing the tent to be fully open in non wind driven rain with no incursion. I like this design element, creating just enough head space where I can sit up without encroaching on the roof before it slopes down in the rear. It looks like one should position oneself close to the door, using the adjacent space towards the rear as storage for other items. The overlapping vestibule doors will keep wind driven rain at bay so one doesn't have to scooch towards the rear of the tent. Of course, I am basing this off design elements, not actual usage in poor weather.
Me being 6 feet tall, I find the tent provides good head and foot room, plus it's wide enough to put clothing and other items inside the tent. The vestibule looks to be the size of a Duplex, so plenty of room for shoes and pack. My only con so far is the number of stakes it requires....6 for the corners and front/back, plus 4 more tie outs on the sides and ends. The Plexamid comes with line locks on every line with plenty of play to position stakes with some leeway, plus the line is reflective. Years ago I called the Duplex "the best 2 person tent for backpacking." This new offering from Zpacks looks like a solo contender for many of the same reasons. Clearly the crew at Zpacks has taken the best design elements of the Plex and Hexamid tents to create this single pole solo tent; the materials, the vestibule closures, the bathtub floor and netting door....with years of experience manufacturing with Dyneema Composite Fabrics of various weights, Zpacks has built on its expertise to create this natural evolution in its solo tent design. I look forward to using it in my various outings this season and beyond.
I thought I'd kick off this season with a bike trip, so convinced a buddy of mine to join me on this orbit. The west side of the Peninsula dictated a couple of century days, made longer by the closure of Highway 101, adding 14 miles to day 2, and a reroute for safety on day 3, adding 16 miles. The last day was thankfully short at 47 miles, as I was suffering from a static crash on day 3 when starting out clipped in; I slid on some gravel in the turn and took the brunt of the fall on my left side and knee. I was also dealing with saddle sores, a first for me. Luckily Lars was a strong rider with a positive attitude, making this trip a pleasure for both of us.
Our bikes were packed for lodging overnights, carrying not only the clothes and accoutrements for hotels but more extensive repair and medical kits; the west side is far from any kind of easy assistance. These more weighty steeds of course had an impact on our climbing and overall speed, but we still managed over 350 miles to make the 1:30 ferry on day 4. We totally lucked out on the weather with a high pressure system sitting over the PNW, providing clear skies and unseasonably warm weather. Although there were areas of lovely scenery and tranquil riding, so much of the transit dealt with varying road shoulders and speeding trucks, RVs and other vehicles that we cannot really recommend this ride due to the road hazards, at least not in our iteration. Please enjoy the video chronicle of this interesting outing below, and be safe out there!
STATS: Day 1 - 75 miles/4000'//Day 2: 112 miles/5600'//Day 3: 118 miles/3500'//Day 4: 47 miles/2300'
TOTAL: 353 miles/15,400'
I've been using bivy bags for 30 years, starting in the early 90s with a Feathered Friends Gore-Tex bivy. In fact, I might venture a guess that I have at least as many nights in a bivy bag as I do in a tent. Short bivys, long bivys, bivys when it's hot....tall bivys, breathable bivys, bivys when it's not. You get the gist, lots of nights in bivys. Just about all the climbs I did were in bivy bags, including one cold night on Mt. Rainier's Ingraham Glacier with no sleeping bag or pad; I tried to sleep in my down parka, on top of my backpack and boots, wearing mittens on my feet. I don't think I did (sleep, that is). But my trusty bivy kept the breezes at bay and enough heat inside to only be uncomfortable, not dangerous.
Now, everyone knows that condensation is a problem with bivy bags, or can be depending on the conditions. I've had good results with a custom Borah Gear bivy with an eVent top and cuben bottom. I have a smaller and lighter one made with lighter cuben and the latest iteration of cuben (now Dyneema Composite Fabrics) with eVent. These fall under the category of "weatherproof" and are a different animal than a bivy like the Recon. I've packed these for both backpacking trips with fair weather and emergency bags on longer hikes. As for "non-weatherproof" bivy bags I've used the first iteration of the ZPacks Splash and a Borah Gear cuben bivy, with the breathable top and mesh section over the head. That first design of the Splash was, well, terrible, with a fiddly netting section. I would venture even the updated version wasn't too popular, as of this writing I can't find it anywhere on the ZPacks website. The Borah is nice, especially for the price and weight. But I couldn't help but pick up a Recon when they first came out as the design looked well thought out and promising
Go to Enlightened Equipment for specs on the Recon and some nice photos. I had great results with it last year (2017) on a number of trips, most notably a circumnavigation of Glacier Peak and RIMROBOD. The central zipper makes it a cinch to enter and exit, and there is just enough solid material to help keep breezes at bay and add a little protection from spray. I can't attest to the efficacy of water prevention in foul weather (under a tarp) because I'm no fool, I packed the Recon when I had reasonably good weather forecasts for my trips. However, I can vouch for conditions where this bivy shines: good weather, open or under a tarp, where breathability is important and one wants protection from bugs and critters. Lots of room to put my (granted, smallish) pack inside (RIMROBOD), plus clothing, full pad and bag (Glacier Peak). I don't mind mesh touching my face so I never felt the need to use the cord to keep the area over the head suspended, but this is a nice touch were I to spend any amount of time in it under a tarp. On Glacier Peak I used a minimalist tarp on two nights to keep nighttime low flying clouds at bay, but the other two nights I just plopped down the bivy open air, once above 5,000' under a large fir, and once in deep woods just off the trail. The large mesh area makes condensation worry moot, unless it's dripping off something above you. I certainly had no moisture worries in my use, and I find that fully enclosed bivys like this alleviate any concerns I may have during the evening from blood sucking bugs or venomous snakes. You know, lots of both up here in the PNW. On another use I caught some zzzzs taking a break during a quad busting bike trip, laying out the bivy on some soft ground for a few hours of sleep. No critter incursions then, with the exception of my food. No place to hang so I put it on top of a stone wall by the road. Bad idea, and I didn't have a critter proof bag.
After using so many bivys over the years, including a custom half bag made by ZPacks back when Joe would do custom work, I quite like this Recon. I like the design, the balance of well placed mesh and solid material, the extremely easy entry/exit through the center zip....this is perhaps one of the most important considerations when using a bivy, if anyone has struggled to get in and out of one that is a simple envelope with a zipper only across the top. Don't do it! Some online observations wished for a more robust floor, the Recon being 15D vice 20. This was not a consideration for me as I had a ZPacks cuben Poncho/Groundsheet for the Glacier Peak orbit and I had planned exactly where to rest on RIMROBOD. As with any tent or bivy, if one is planning on camping on difficult terrain then some sort of ground sheet may be in order anyway. My ZPacks Poncho/Groundsheet is 1.45 cuben (latest version now 1.0) so really bombproof. And you'll notice from my pix that I'm still using the ZPacks Pocket Tarp under favorable circumstances, like the GP orbit. This makes for a very versatile and light weight setup: 6 ozs Recon/4 Ozs Pocket Tarp/6 ozs poncho/ground sheet. If open air cowboy camping is your thing, as it is mine, then not being confined to a tent is especially appealing, yet still with protection from anything but rain. Plus, the price is right. I'll definitely be using the Recon in some of my upcoming trips in 2018 due to its versatility. Lastly, I gotta mention that I paid full price for this item and have no affiliation with Enlightened Equipment. It also means I'm completely unhindered in my views, with no obligation or subtle pressure that may come with sponsorship or freebies. And as always, consider your own usage and requirements before purchasing a piece of equipment based only on someone else's view. But in that light I hope my positive experiences with the Recon so far are helpful in one's search for information.
EDIT: for further information go to QUESTIONS where I address, as best I can, an inquiry by a potential purchaser doing due diligence before buying.
A year or two back I saw a sale on the Outdoor Research Wallcreeper Gore-Tex poncho/bivy for $200, reduced from over $700 on the OR military site. I decided to take a chance and tried to order it, but alas, on checkout the message read "out of stock." Then, behold, OR released their "Wilderness Cover" this past year, essentially the same as the Wallcreeper but made out of OR's Ventia (2.5L, 100% nylon, 70D ripstop PU coating) material, offered at $199. I picked one up in black and have used it and packed it this past season on enough occasions to render an opinion.
This is an odd piece of kit for sure, and one must determine if it fits into their own style of packing. I deem it relatively heavy at 24 0zs/680G so it doesn't particularly fall into a UL category; but then, as is true with many things, it depends on the usage. It also packs fairly large, another downside. However, these same qualities can also make it an appropriate choice. For instance, I have a fairly pricey Cuben WPB custom bivy made by Borah Gear that I ensure has a good ground sheet under it to protect the fairly fragile floor. With the Wilderness Cover (WC) I have no qualms just spreading it out over any surface with no concerns of protecting the fabric, because the Ventia is fairly cheap and rugged. Plus I can wear the WC as rain gear, which I tested extensively on an all day jaunt in steady soaking rains. I began that day with much skepticism, as the WC is quite long (fully opened, 72" X 64.5") to act as a bivy so the bottom must be cinched up at the waist for ambulation. I was pleasantly surprised that using it in this poncho configuration offered no resistance to high stepping or any leg reaching moves during an on trail climb to a back country lake. Plus one can see from the video screen grabs that it reaches down to calf level (I am 6' tall) so also offers substantial protection to the upper legs. However, it doesn't allow the ventilation options like a regular poncho unless unzipped in the front, which is counter productive in a steady rain.
I don't put much stock in WPB fabrics any more, as anyone who has spent considerable time in drenching rain with any miracle jacket soon finds out that you eventually get wet anyway from buildup of internal moisture....I have found ventilation is the key, which is why I like ponchos in certain conditions. With the WC I wore a fleece underneath on that late November jaunt, and aside from my exposed arms did not notice clamminess nor was cognizant of any wetness related discomfort. However, when I got home and spread out the WC to dry, there was moisture evident on the interior of the fabric. This may become a factor if using the WC as rain gear all day and then transitioning to bivy mode. However, all gear offers a compromise in some aspects and overall I was quite satisfied with the WC in poncho mode, which also has a wide coverage hood. I found that wearing a cap underneath helped keep the hood from getting too low over my eyes, as the hood design is large enough to cover one's head and face in bivy mode. I also found that in poncho mode the WC could easily accommodate my day pack, although I went through some contortions to get it on over the pack.
In bivy mode the WC offers a few advantages, in that in fine weather one can just open it completely up like a blanket and just use it as a ground sheet. If the temperature drops, the wind intensifies or any moisture comes into play, then simply zip it up, including the arm slots, and close the bottom. The hood can completely cover the head with a convenient snap that will keep it in place. Because my head was outside the confines of this bivy mode when I slept in it, my breath did not condense inside and I noticed no buildup of moisture; however, the material does not have the best "hand" and feels rather clammy against the skin.
I see the Wilderness Cover serving me well in particular circumstances, such as alpine bivys on scree and uneven terrain. I have a few trips planned this year where I will be sleeping above treeline on the flanks of Mt. Rainier (see the "35 Years in MRNP" pulldown) with sunset/sunrise and night photography in mind. With the WC I can stay in my bag and bivy, even sitting up, utilizing the arm slots to tend the camera but staying snug inside (I plan on using a ZRest pad versus a blow up). I have also packed the WC on day hikes as emergency shelter or rain gear.
Over the decades I have purchased gear with high hopes but soon find out limitations when I hit the trail, sometimes completely discarding a hopeful piece of kit when these limitations far outweigh usefulness. I bought the Wilderness Cover with skepticism, anticipating that I would find this to be so. However, despite being fairly heavy and bulky, in some circumstances this has proven to be very handy, and perhaps in 2018 I will get even more use out of it with higher altitude bivys. As for emergency gear, the fact that the WC not only can be used in different configurations...poncho, bivy and tarp (it has tie outs for this purpose)....I find its actual real world usefulness as a poncho and bivy worth the space and weight penalty....sometimes. Consider that I can bring along a WPB bivy (9 ozs) and tarp with stakes (4 ozs) for half the weight and space (but I would still need rain gear), and one can see that careful consideration is required based on personal usage before laying out the cash for a piece of kit like the Wilderness Cover. However, I can attest to its efficacy as both rain gear and bivy.