I didn't have any big projects planned for this year so spent more time on photography than in the past. However, I did always have a helmet cam or two along so I did video when the mood struck. Notably, the light was perfect when skiing Whistler's Blackcomb glacier this year and there were moments when I was glad I took the shot. Ski, bike, hike; enjoy the Willis Wall Snippets for 2013, and get out there!
The following is from an email from reader Leif:
I've been following your posts on several Forums and here at your blog. I've been especially intrigued by the B4 combination and the underlying concept of using multi-use gear as a part of an UL solution. I have not seen any updates for this last 2013 season, so I thought I'd drop you a line. If you don't mind taking a few minutes, would you respond to these questions?
1. Now that you have some testing done, do you still like the B4 solution? If not, what is taking it's place?
2. Here's my understanding of your B4 system... B4 + 3/4 Cuben bivey + Zpacks Cuben Poncho. At one point I think I saw you using a Feathered Friends Wren Nano with some kind of partial down bag for lower body insulation. Do I remember that correctly? I'm not sure if that matters... more what I'd like to know here is what are you using now for an insulating layer while sleeping? A bag?
Long story short, I'd like to know what you're using now and (if possible) how I can buy / make the same solution for myself.
Thanks in advance for your attention to this! Leif
Leif, thanks for writing. Let me address the topic of the B4. This has been hugely successful for my daughter and myself over the past 3 seasons and was used on just about every rest stop this past summer as the bugs were voracious. I have in fact used it a few times in the configuration you mention above with the 3/4 bivy. I have talked to Joe at ZPacks about producing this, as I have no means or interest in manufacturing, but nothing has come of it yet. He would be the most likely place to be able to produce the B4 for a reasonable price....maybe if he gets some emails asking for it?
I thought the best way to respond further would be to use your questions in this blog article. Let me jump into this topic by talking about the idea of a "quiver"….just like tools of all trades, it's best to choose the appropriate tools for the job at hand. In my case I look at the type of trip I am planning for and go to the gear closet. Here are some generalities that I use in trip planning and what I would take for gear.
FASTPACKING SOLO: The 10 oz. system you are inquiring about fits into this category. If I am considering a trip where maximum mileage in the shortest period of time is on the docket, I want the flexibility of being able to stop and rest just about anywhere, and this may not include a site that would be amenable to setting up a tarp or a tent. For background understand that I still like to delve into the realm that is an outgrowth of ultramarathoning, and that means relentless forward movement. This is most appropriate for established trails as off trail bushwhacking can significantly slow one down, depending on the terrain. I still have a thought of beating my 36 hour Wonderland Trail hike of over 13 years ago, and this falls into this category. I would not plan on a campsite, I would simply stop when the mood struck to get an hour or a few of sleep. This may be leaning against a tree or a rock, not necessarily completely prone, but whatever is comfortable at the moment. I may not need a sleeping bag for this type of trip, but I have some options. The custom 3/4 bivy and the B4 allow me to rest just about anywhere and keep bugs and critters at bay. The addition of the Poncho allows for inclement weather. What I have is complete flexibility, allowing me to blast a trail with the minimum amount of weight yet still be safe and self sufficient if things go awry. I pack this combo on most solo trips.
FLEXIBLE HIKING: Another combo that has worked for light and fast in a more traditional site configuration is the ZPacks Pocket Tarp and the ZPacks Pertex Quantum Bivy; I used this a few times this past year. The Quantum bivy is not waterproof but breathes extremely well, and I have slept a few nights with just this and each of my Feathered Friends lighter bags, the 1 lb Vireo and the 1.6 lb Rock Wren. If I need protection from wind or rain, I can add the Pocket Tarp. This configuration weighs a total of 10.6 ozs, 6.6 ozs for the bivy including the bug netting and 4 ozs for the tarp including 8 titanium stakes. This past year I have used the Poncho/Groundsheet mostly as a ground sheet and usually carry it on all my trips as multi purpose gear, so one could also add this weight of just over 5 ozs. Because I'm using gear from this single manufacturer, the Poncho/Groundsheet has tie outs that match clips on the Pocket Tarp to create a bathtub floor. I'll round up the weights here for a total of 16 ozs for the entire setup. What sleeping system I use depends on the season and weather, but this configuration will accommodate anything from just clothing, my momentum envelope, a 12 oz Blizzard Long Jacket, or any of my 3 bags that are rated from 45 degrees to 10 degrees. I have used the bivy(s) so far for sleeping with all the above options except the warmer 10 degree bag. Be aware that the Pocket Tarp is not advertised as a continuous use product, but more as an emergency tarp or for occasional use. Joe does this out of necessity because of the light weight of this particular cuben fabric. All I can tell you is that for benign use this past season (no torrential rain or high winds) I find it completely satisfactory, I just have to be careful not to puncture the fabric from inattention. I am confident that all the tie outs are robust enough to not be the weak point of this product. However, user beware, this light material is not meant for the inexperienced.
PARTNER HIKING: I am waiting for the arrival of the new ZPacks Hexamid Duplex. This two person tent boasts two entries and four doors that can be configured for wind direction, light to heavy rain, or open viewing. I hesitate to write about this tent before I use it, but I can at least tell you my thoughts as to why I bought it and can followup after some trips later on. I purchased this product for two reasons: room and weight. My daughter and I used a Squall Classic from Gossamer Gear (discontinued) this past summer, and it was adequate for the conditions and easy on the load at 1.5 lbs. However, only one person at a time can sit up in this tent and it's a little cramped for two with the constant worry of rubbing against the walls with your bag. This new Hexamid Duplex allows for two people to sit up at the same time with adequate room to put some distance between you and the shelter. I also like the idea of two entries for those nighttime nature calls and not having to climb over your tent mate. All this for 19.3 ozs. Add in my 8 titanium stakes and stuff sack and the total weight comes to 20.3 ozs. This is light enough for me to consider using this tent solo.
CONCLUSION: I haven't gotten into the extreme gram counting that some do, trying to go SUL and XUL. This year I even indulged in a 12 oz full length Neoair Xlite pad. As a general wag my total weight, being everything on my person plus pack weight, is 12 lbs at most. This allows me to go on extended trips, including all food, for an under 20 pound load. I am just guestimating because I don't have a gram scale, but when I can shoulder a pack full of all my gear, food, clothing and water, and still not notice it's there after some hours on the trail, I know I've got it tuned right for my uses (such was the case for all my trips this past year). Much of my gear is now made of cuben fiber, including my jacket (see prior post). Although not necessary, I find having a number of options in my quiver allows me to fine tune gear for each trip. However, ultimately it's all about getting out and enjoying the outdoors, and this may be with cheap, used, or improvised gear, it matters not. What matters is the doing and the satisfaction gained. Leif, I hope this helps in your gear queries. Although I am flattered you are interested in what I use, I would encourage you to explore other's gear lists for different input, then see what works for you. Remember, I am only touting what works for me.
The Willis Wall Spin on outdoor gear is a series of short videos about gear I use, or gear I don't use because it didn't measure up in the field. This short is on the Sawyer MINI Squeeze Filter. This year I have been using a drink mix so have abandoned my usual filter water bottle. In practical use I like the MINI for a variety of reasons, including its small size, light weight and versatility. DISCLAIMER: Sawyer provided me with a free MINI on the condition that I blog about it, but made no demands on the content. I would have purchased one anyway.
After more than two years of training with barefoot style techniques, I finally hit upon a combo that works even for the trail. In the past I have used Merrell Trail Gloves but found that they did not provide enough cushion for long days on the trail. There was the protection there for the occasional rock and root toe stubbing or pointy sticks that find there way between your feet, but the lack of cush made my feet sore after a number of hours on the trail. I also did a fair amount of training in Luna sandals, including soft trail and gym runs for more than a year. However, the 10mm sole and open foot made me extremely cautious on any hikes, always afraid of that toe stub that would send me reeling in pain. I also found that sticks and branches would find their way under my open foot or between my toes, so these too proved inadequate for long hikes over varied terrain....I just needed more protection.
This year proved fortuitous in that I discovered the Inov 8 Trail Roc 245s. Just the right amount of drop (3mm), just the right amount of cushion (including a rock plate), just the right amount of toe protection for me to confidently tackle any trail, including off trail sections. I used them on trail for all the hiking I did this past summer with my daughter, and they've seen talus, scree and some snow, along with varying trail conditions from mild to very steep, both ascending and descending, and some longish days of 15 hours on my feet. In short, this is about the best trail shoe I've used, and they are very light....the 245 is their weight in grams. Now, this is not a shoe I would want to take constantly off trail, their very lightness makes them susceptible to damage from rocks and such. But for trail use they shine redly and brilliantly and my feet have been happy campers this summer with nary a hot spot or blister. I lace these up in the morning and don't have to touch them all day long. I did take them off a few times to soak my feet in an icy creek or wring out my socks to help in drying, but never because my feet needed a break from the shoes themselves.
Once I cracked the problem of barefoot shoes for trail use, my remaining shoes fill in all the gaps. I use the Merrell Trail Run Ascends for all my training in the gym on treadmills or the occasional road run, and my well worn Luna sandals fit the bill for shorts wearing on Hawaii layovers, running when other shoes aren't available or if I want complete ventilation, and spare shoes for creek crossings and around camp during hikes. For the first time since embracing a midfoot strike, I can use minimalist shoes for all my training and outdoor (summer) endeavors.
I have become a cuben fiber convert when it comes to outdoor gear. The light weight and durability sold me, and I started purchasing certain cuben products over 3 years ago. Although there are many fine cottage gear companies that make cuben products, I have become a ZPacks regular customer for a couple of reasons. One, Joe Valesko offers incredible customer service, which fortunately is not atypical of the cottage gear industry. And two, he offers the customer the most variety in products at perhaps the most reasonable prices. I'll raise my couple of reasons a few more by adding that I've had custom items made beyond tweaking an existing product, like a 3/4 breathable cuben bivy and a custom front pack that I use for packing cameras. And up front I'll tell you that I've paid for everything listed in this blog article. Lastly, I have ordered a new completely custom front pack and a slightly customized hybrid Arc Slim pack, yet to arrive. I've purchased lots of gear over the decades, with some working out and some that didn't, but everything I have bought from ZPacks I've used to great advantage. Let's begin the ZPacks tour.
Suluk 46 is a cottage gear company based out of Canada that displays the innovation, customer experience and quality that typifies so many of these innovative shops. I was looking for an update to the simple alcohol stove I've been using for some years and discovered the Suluk 46 website.
With August vacation and a graduating daughter, we had two weeks to experience some of the best the Pacific Northwest has to offer. Our original plans involved an Olympic National Park loop, the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier National Park, and a Glacier Peak circumnavigation. This was an ambitious schedule based on everything falling into place, including the weather. Such was not to be, but we did manage to get to all three areas. In the process I have been testing some new UL gear which I will write about later.
A buddy of mine and I did the Seattle To Portland (STP) bike ride recently, an organized event that takes place every year covering the 200 plus miles between the two cities. We did not have a chase car for support, so I needed a way to store my jacket, supplements, pump, food, tools, spare tubes, sunscreen etc. I've been using the Gossamer Gear Minimalistfor both training hikes and bikes so it was a natural to bring along. The simple design has no waist strap to contend with and the sternum strap keeps the pack hugging the back with no movement. I literally didn't notice it for 204 miles of riding. The simplicity of this pack means I grab it for any number of activities outside of hiking, and I've had no problems with durability in its second year of use. Weather was pristine for this ride but rain might have been a problem with the draw cord top, whose little hole will be an entrance point for moisture. Of course, the pack itself is not waterproof so were I to anticipate using this in the rain I would have to use a pack liner bag. The rear mesh pocket was perfect for attaching my number so I didn't have to pin it to my clothing. I saw lots of bike front packs and saddle bags during this event but I prefer to wear a backpack as long as the weight is light. This is a link to a blog from last year on the hiking/running aspect of use for this pack.
(caveat: I am a trail ambassador for Gossamer Gear and received this pack at a discount)
Greetings Wonderland hikers. I usually do an update of snow conditions on Mt. Rainier's Wonderland Trail on or about the third week in July, but the melt off seemed to be quite ahead this year so I went up earlier. In a nutshell I put the snow melt at 3 weeks ahead of the same time last year. For those who want to compare, here is a link to Past Updates I have done on the trail.
Instead of just going up to Panhandle Gap this year, I decided to do the whole trail section between Cowlitz divide and the Fryingpan Creek trail head. The following video is a combination of video and stills taken at representative spots along the way so hikers can truly assess what it looks like. I found no serious navigation issues on the snow proceeding over point 5930 to Indian Bar, and reacquiring the trail out of Indian Bar to proceed up to Ohanapecosh Park is clearly evident, with snow mostly absent until attaining the ridge where navigation points are established. Panhandle Gap proper is currently no problem (once again I was able to glissade down) and I would assume that established boot track will appear as people start consistently hiking this section. There are no snow issues all the way from Summerland down to the Fryingpan Creek trailhead, with just a few scattered patches on the switchbacks before Summerland. In order to complete this report logistically, I made a loop hike by continuing CW on the Owyhigh Lakes trail and the Eastside trail for a 35 mile trip.
Today I'm not referencing fun times with Timothy Leary, but the training concept of Long Slow Distance. I've kept up base fitness with runs and bikes, but this was to be my first "quad-burner" where I'm out for some vert. I decided to keep it interesting by throwing in a bike (doing the STP this year so need some seat time), so I parked at Longmire. As I was contemplating what shoes to wear, as they had to do for both the biking and the hiking, a ranger came by and, after some chit chat, said I should just go for the light trail runners (I also had some low cut crampon compatibles and some Merrill trail gloves).