Here I am writing a gear post. Wow, I must be feeling sick?! Remember in my last entry how this was going to be a write up of gear and my final thoughts of the Great South West Walk hike last winter? Well, I lied, but I didn’t mean to. There’s a realisation though I’m going to crap on too much and make this post way too big even for me to handle, so I’m splitting it in two. Gear today and final thoughts next up.
Oh yeah, I’ve updated this a couple of times over the years. Mainly for the one problem. I originally had hyperlinks to all the pieces of gear, but as you know, equipment comes and goes. I found most links were dead within a year, so for now, I’ll mention the stuff, but I’ll get rid of the links. If you’re intrigued, then by all means try some Googling, but as this is three years old now, some of the things I took are probably superceded. You might find better stuff! Smiley face.
How to tackle this? Well, I’m going for the big items mainly. Surely you don’t want to hear about every small detail in my pack? Surely not? Then again, gear freaks are pretty hardcore, so maybe I can expand on this post if anyone is interested in the minutiae of hiking contents.
I guess I should start off with five items of gear which defines whether a trip turns out okay or total crap. These are the shelter, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, backpack and footwear. Selecting the ‘furious five’ items beforehand is always a bit of a task. It’s a winter walk, so I knew it’d be cold, but it’s not alpine, so some things were a compromise that I hoped to get away with in order to save weight. Start the drum-roll please, as first up is the shelter. This will be the longest spiel as well, due to a few problems…
LightHeart SoLong 6
Over a year ago I wrote a post about my first impressions and the bonus is I’m still using it. The two things I wanted were light weight and space. I’m 189 cm (6′ 2″) and I’ve always felt squeezed for room in normal tents. Yeah okay, if I was 30 kg lighter a normal tent might be okay, but being both tall and wide can create problems. This is the only one man tent I’ve had where I can comfortably put everything inside. I used my pack as a pillow and there was never a shortage of space. What could possibly go wrong?
At Tarragal camp, the heaviest rain overnight gave it a good workout. Sil-nylon stretches, so during the early morning monsoon I re-tightened all four corner line-locks. These are the most important in keeping this tent in a nice, taut shape, so it was disappointing to see one of those line-locks, complete with cord, come off in my hand. This loss caused a distinct collapsing of one corner, so an improvise was done with some old rope found on the beach and Smuffin’s walking stick. That’s what’s going on in the picture above.
Upon closer inspection one of the other line-locks was also starting to separate from the tent itself. This shows where the thread is partially undone, with complete failure not so long away…
Frankly, I reckon this problem doesn’t have to happen. The line-locks are attached to the tent externally on a separate tag which I’m holding above, but I think for the most strength they should be sewn into the seam they’re attached to. Then they could be strengthened again by a cross-box stitch. They’re also quite narrow and I wonder if a shorter, plus wider tag would again be a stronger set up.
I’ve no doubt LightHeart would fix it, but could I be bothered sending it back to the States? No, I went for a local repair and tracked down a sewing/outdoor/cycling blogger Oanh ‘Ed Gein’ Tranh who lives at Unique Schmuck. Oanh is lovely, but don’t double-cross her, otherwise with a blur of knives and scissors she’ll whip you into a skinsuit in no time. I caught up with Oanh, which was interesting as it’s the first blogger I’ve ever met in person. Are other bloggers real people or am I communicating to secret government agents all the time? Where’s my alfoil helmet when I need it?
Anyway, armed with a lemon, lime and bitters, plus a tent, we worked out (actually she did. I just sat there and nodded) a fix. A ‘box with a cross inside stitch’ as she calls it, was utilised to repair all of the line-locks. Thanks to her, the tent is up and running again and I’ve used it since with no troubles. Now though, I’m careful not to over-tighten the corners and I’m keeping an eye on them.
I want this tent to be used to its death, as I’m not in the mood to buy something new every year. I guess I’ve spent about 40 nights in it? Other than that fiasco it’s going well. Being a hybrid, condensation could be a problem, but it’s not too bad, especially when the sides can be pegged high off ground for ventilation. What’s next?
Western Mountaineering Alpinlite Sleeping Bag
I love this sleeping bag and with our soaring dollar being competitive against the greenback the price was pretty good when sourced from overseas. I buy a lot of my larger items from Moontrail and they’re efficient to work with. Western Mountaineering don’t ship to Australia, so I use an American mail forwarding address Shipito. I was apprehensive at first, but they’re like clockwork and I’ve never had any problems. Combined with a PayPal account and the shopping experience is a breeze!
Oh yeah, the bag. I picked this one as it’s rated to -7 °C and best of all it’s wide for the big bloke. As a warning, WM bags are narrow for the larger gent, so definitely consider the wider bags that they make. A mummy bag should be fitting, but I think breathing is a bonus. Some bags I’ve found are so tight, I feel like I’ve been restrained during a mob-hit and am about to be thrown in the boot of a car for disposal.
Anyway, I think 935 g is a reasonable weight for a bag that’s toasty and perfect for a winter coastal walk. There’s nothing worse than being cold at night when hiking, but I had no problems with this one. I always use an inner sheet as well, as I don’t want the interior of my bag being stained with my greasy, sweating body (that’s during hiking. I’m not like that right now.). A Mont silk inner sheet is what I’ve used for years and does what it’s supposed to do.
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Trekker sleeping mat – short.
Sleeping mat? I’ve used a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Trekker in the torso length for a while now. It’s always a risk taking an inflatable mat hiking. Luckily though, I’ve had no deflating problems with Therm-A-Rest compared to Exped. I’m thoroughly scarred by Exped and won’t even contemplate any of their sleeping mats having had two which failed. I even wrote a post about them. Briefly, one turned into a dirigible and the other forgot to do what’s in its job description, and that’s inflate. On the Great Ocean Walk a few years back I was using a torso length Exped mat which didn’t inflate from day one, so I spent the next week lying on the ground like a hobo.
That was no fun, so I’ve gone for Therm-A-Rest ever since. I’m happy with the torso length only, as a weight saver. I’m the world’s warmest man whose feet are like toasters, so I’ve never been too fussed to have my feet off a mat. Don’t forget though, this is a coastal winter walk, not an alpine one. If I was up in the hills I’d go for a full length to be on the safe side and something with a higher ‘R’ rating. The mat above is rated at 2 only, so if I was going somewhere icy I’d pack my Therm-A-Rest NeoAir All Season instead which has an ‘R’ value of 4.9.
As it is, the short was fine for this walk and with a weight of only 450 g, how could I go wrong? It seems quite robust, but I’m careful with it. I always make sure the surface I flop onto is clear of sticks and stones that might cause some mat damage. Next!!
Lowe Alpine TFX Horizon 65 litre backpack
Now, the backpack. I’d give you a link to this particular one, but it’s been superceded. I guess there’s something there that’ll be similar, but I’m way too busy to go through them all to work it out. I bought this one on sale a few years ago and it’s always been one of my favourites.
Okay, it has a frame and ultralight hikers are probably lying on the ground in agony looking at it. The thing is though, I seem to have trouble finding the ideal pack for my shape. Now, I know you’re suddenly thinking I’m deformed in some way, but that’s not the case. What I do have is ‘bizarro shoulder syndrome’.
As yet, this doesn’t have a Wikipedia page, but I’m working on it. I’ve no idea, but since about 10 years of age, one shoulder slopes until it touches my hip and the other is raised to slightly above my ear. As you can imagine, finding an ideal pack is tricky. I compensate by having straps loosened on one side and tight on the other. Any other way and I’m in a slight level of agony.
Okay, this is a nice size for a week long hike. Remember we did food drops, so there was only a maximum of four days food in it at any one time and 65 litres is a good size without going overboard. Packs are subjective, so all you need to know is it suited me, but could be absolute crap for anyone else. It’s a minimalist design which I’m happy with, as there’s no outside pockets other than small ones at the base. A pack cover is supplied and these small pockets could be used for water bottles. The advantage of the minimal outer pockets is it lowers its weight.
Yeah, not an ultralight pack, but lighter than many I suppose. Inside, there’s a hydration sleeve and not a lot else. Here it is in action and the perceptive viewer will notice my pants are set-up in the standard ‘late night western suburbs walking position’. That’s with the rear pocket pulled out, which indicates to muggers I’m not carrying any money and they can leave me alone.
Finally, it carried a load okay, as the following picture shows, The top lid easily devoured a motorcycle helmet, the lower straps had no problem with a flipper and the buoy was easily attached. What more do you want in a pack?
Boots – La Sportiva Tibet GTX
If I affected ultralight hikers with the pack, then surely the picture above has caused them to face-plant the floor in shock. I bought these full leather GoreTex lined boots about four years ago and they cost a mint. How about $399? Do your reckon they hurt my budget slightly? I guess you get what you pay for and these boots have done more walks and miles than anything else I’ve ever worn. They’re so supple it feels like I’m wearing a pair of slippers.
Yeah okay, they weigh a ton. How about a 918 grams for a size 48 boot? Obviously shoes are lighter if you’ve got pixie feet, but my big slabs need a large shoe, so weight climbs compared to what’s normally advertised. In fact, all of my hiking stuff is like that, from shirts to jackets. Manufacturers often quote a weight based on something that would be boob-tube on me. If it’s not XXL I don’t even bother looking!
Back to the boots. The other problem I have is besides large feet, they’re wide as well. Australia is ripped off regarding unusual sizes. As an example, Merrell have various wide fittings to their boots, but none are available here, but I’ve sneakily got around that by ordering from overseas. Anyway, the La Sportiva’s are wide enough for me. They were absolutely brutal to wear in, but when they did, they’ve been great.
Remember though, on my initial attempt at the GSWW, I went light by wearing a pair of Keen Siskiyou shoes. They had external straps around the shoe which attached to the laces. Tighten the laces and the straps tightened. Unfortunately one of those straps broke, my feet got wet leading to blisters and the low-cut meant I was constantly under leech attack. Frankly, they sucked and I’m sticking to a full size boot for the time being. Check out Tilt No.1 link for their failing in all of its gory glory.
A full leather boot may get frowned upon these days, but after trying a myriad of different shoes with no luck, I seem to keep returning to the first pair I ever bought. Long live the leather!
Now, that’s the ‘furious five’ out of the way, I guess I’ll just zip through all the other items I can remember. How about the stove? I bought an MSR Reactor stove for this trip. Here it is during the hike bubbling away.
I’ve heard of quick boiling stoves, but this is ridiculous. There’s nothing I’ve used that’s boiled water quicker than this thing. It’s as if it’s powered, by… a reactor? It goes from cold to napalm in seconds and I must say it saved gas on this trip, I love the one litre pot size, which saves on dishes by not having to take any, as I eat out of the pot itself. Yeah okay, I do take a cup for brews, but you know what I mean. What doesn’t this stove do? That’s easy. It can’t simmer or if it can, I haven’t worked out how. It’s designed for ballistic purposes only, so don’t think you’ll be spending time simmering a stew.
Okay, next up is gaiters. I’ve always loved them and have only owned a pair of Outdoor Research Crocodiles. On my first attempt at this walk, I didn’t bother with them, but after being molested by leeches I was always going to wear them on the second. Gaiters are great if it’s cold. Some extra insulation if the wind is blowing, perfect on the beach to keep sand and the odd rogue wave out, no problems with long grass and best of all, a great leech defence. I’ll cover this more in the next ‘final thoughts’ entry, but they worked flawlessly in keeping critters out.
How about clothes? I look like the man from Columbia, so this bit is easy. Pants are usually always a summer lightweight pair of Silver Ridge convertibles. I prefer the lighter fabric as they dry in seconds and I’ve never known my legs to get cold anyway. If they do, I’ve got a defence for that. More on that in a minute. Those pants lasted quite some time and I love them, so it’s a pity they were destroyed in one tumble at Mt Langi Ghiran. That’s the one price of the light clothing, as they can get demolished quickly.
Up top, I wore either a plain old water-wicking t-shirt from Berghaus or a Columbia Silver Ridge long sleeve shirt. The shirt I’ve worn for over four years now and it’s been washed at least once. It’s that good. I detest the sun on my skin and a collar is mandatory. The sun can be evil, so I like to keep covered up.
Jackets? If the weather was cold I’d usually put on the Mont Austral 3/4 length coat.
I’ve used this coat extensively and it’s amazing how wind-proof it is. If the wind is freezing, I tend to keep this on all day. There’s two large pockets at the waist and an internal and external pair on the chest. This has always done the job and I love the 3/4 length design. It’s a bit heavy, but it’s worth it as a winter coat when stuff like that shouldn’t be compromised.
If it’s really raining, I also put on a pair of Berghaus overpants. They have zipped legs which are then buttoned over for extra protection. As I mentioned earlier, if the wind is blowing and I’m getting a bit chilly in my summer weight trousers I’ll put the overpants on. They’ve been great and have lasted nearly four years now.
Mm… What else? Ah yes, I do like the much maligned softshell jacket. I’ve used a Macpac 6S Sabre jacket for a few years now. Here it is getting the job done in the garden.
Softshell jackets have been accused of not really excelling at anything. Soak up the water, so not really a raincoat and too hot for cold weather walking. I don’t know, but I’ve used mine a lot. Maybe it’s the particular cut that suits me? It’s hard to find a big bloke outdoor jacket that’s free and easy to wear. If the weather is dry, but the wind cold, I’ve never had any problems wearing the Macpac.
On the GSWW I used it mainly as a camp jacket to sit around in, but a few years back I wore a similar jacket on the Great Ocean Walk. On that hike it was my primary coat and although I was soaked by rain one day, they’re insulated enough not to feel a chill when wet. They could dry a little quicker, but I’m happy to continue on using them. Oh yeah, that chest pocket is perfect for an iPod when on the train. Now that’s handy!
I think it’s time to switch tack and look at some electronics. Two standard items on the GSWW were a GME MT 410 Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and a Garmin Etrex Vista HCx GPS.
I bought the PLB a few years back, as I suddenly realised that on nearly every walk I do, I never see anyone. This includes day-walks. I began to wonder what would happen if I broke my leg one day? The only advantage I could think of being stuck injured somewhere is that I’d lose some weight.
Anyway, I bought the GME PLB as it was the only one at the time with a seven year battery life. It’s also Australian made and it seemed a no-brainer for only $500. Like everything else, they’re cheaper now though.
This GPS was the first one I bought a few years back. In posts before, I’ve how water ended up getting into the battery compartment, as the seals slowly conked out. It lasted me just over three years which doesn’t seem long, does it? Anyway, this was its last trip.
Now, cameras. I took two on this walk. A Nikon D7000 with both a 35mm and a 18-105mm lens. I also carried a Panasonic Lumix TZ-10 compact.
Firstly the Nikon. Yes, it’s a little heavy, but I’m used to carrying a DSLR whilst hiking. I do love a proper viewfinder and feel a bit odd using a compact. I tried to keep it simple with the 35 mm prime if I wanted to crank up the bokeh in places, but most of the time the 18-105 was screwed on. You’ll find nearly all of the pictures I’ve posted in the blog for this walk were with that lens. It’s a fantastic lens for its absurdly cheap price. Yes, it has lots of plastic, but its light and the photos it produces are pin sharp.
I only ever shoot in RAW these days, which has its only problems, as it takes decades for me to process the photos for this blog!
Oh yeah, the Panasonic was a lovely camera as well, but if you look closely it’s knackered. That lens shouldn’t be open like that, but it drowned in spectacular style on my Mt Difficult hike in the Grampians, which was straight after the GSWW. It only took JPEG’s, but I loved its 25 mm wide-angle lens. The odd shot with the lens wide open are scattered throughout the blog.
You know what? I’m running out of stuff to talk about. Food wise it was a mixture of fresh and dehydrated. I tried a few of the foods from Strive Food and found them okay, other than a bit too salty. Lucky it was winter walking, as I would have dehydrated to death from the salt intake. If I’m going to have that sort of food, then I think Back Country Cuisine is the best of the bunch.
When it comes to water, then winter hiking is so much more comfortable. On the GSWW I used a Source 3 litre Widepac. Here it is here on another hike…
I love the hydration pack, but also carried an MSR Dromlite 4 litre water bag if I felt I needed extra water anywhere. I like the bag, as it’s light and easy to fold up when not in use. I find it beats carrying bottles in the pack.
I think I’m running out of stuff. Yes, I wore a hat and underpants as well, but this is getting ridiculous. I might have to call it quits for the time being? Not unless you can think of something?
The other day I was perusing my DVD collection and came across this. It’s a movie called ‘Come and See (Idi i smotri)’ which was directed by Elem Klimov.
Do you think you’ve seen a war film? Well, I don’t think you have until you’ve watched this one. I first saw this in 1987 and found it mesmerizing, but profoundly disturbing. It’s a beast of a movie and if there was any justice in the world, both Elem Klimov and the 14 year old actor Aleksei Kravchenko, should have been awarded Oscars. Not only that, but they should have been taken out the back and awarded both the truck the Oscars came in and their contents. That’s right. A shitload of Oscars.
If you can handle sub-titles and fearsome European movie making then this should be on your list.
Gear review done. I think…