Monday, June 18, 2012

Keeping afloat

                         Floating your pack can be essential when canyoneering. The technics I use work well for me in non technical canyoneering. This kind of trip where you make a loop by hiking the ridge and completing the loop through the canyon and finding those sections of the river where the only way in is a hike and a swim with wall to wall water.
 I can remember the fist time my dad and I did a trip in clear creek back when I was in high school, knowing that we were going to have mandatory swims on the trip. We ended up packing and inflating pool toy inner tubes. We were slow getting through the canyon inflating and deflating so as not to pop the pool toy in the brush. We were slowed even more when we came to a very short waterfall struggling how to
West Clear Creek
 get our packs lowered to the water risking all our gear to get soaked with one bad move. This was also back when our packs weighed over 60 pounds for a three day trip. I like to go much lighter now and would like to continue shedding pack weight with each piece of gear that I can upgrade to or make. But floating my pack is one thing that I will take multiple layers of protection to guard my self.

              The first step to my pack floating is a lightweight dry bag I use as a pack liner. This pack liner weighs in at 2.3 oz. It is the sea to summit ultra-sil dry sack 35 liter. They have larger and smaller ones to suit your needs. This year I upgraded my sleeping bag compression bag to one that is a dry sack also, last thing you want is a wet sleeping bag at night. The more sensitive to water items will even go in zip lock bags or smaller dry sacks i have laying around like my first aid kit which is almost always in a zip lock bag any ways. Now that all of my gear is protected I move to using a rain cover on my backpack to keep my main backpack from soaking up all the water and weighing me down. My dad on the other hand likes double bagging all his gear and forgo the rain cover. For me I like the idea of keeping my backpack mostly dry and deal with the hassle of trying to keep my pack facing the right way in the water to make the rain cover effective. My dad likes the speed and efficiency of just unbuckling his pack and taking the plunge. Either way the pack will float on its own.
Floating your Backpack.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Sleeping On Air

                             Sleeping on air

                My first sleeping pad was a blue foam pad that was bulky yet thin and never thought of any other option.  You sleep on the ground and felt the rocks or your hip compressing the foam until you found the hard unforgiving ground.  Since then things have changed.  The original Thermarest was mind blowing,  you mean it is a sleeping pad that self inflates while I do camp chores and is comfortable to sleep on?  I'm sold.  I was able to stuff it in my large backpack vertically so as to protect it from Arizona bushes like cat claw.  My tattered blue foam pad proves that the Arizona shrubbery is not forgiving of things left outside the confines of my pack.  I then, one year,  purchased the next step,  it was a present for my wife.  A sleeping mattress that was still full length and had half the bulk.  The price to pay was a pad that was not as thick.  The next step for them was to further decrease the weight and bulk.  The options were to move to a thinner shorter pad like a 3/4 length or half length.  Now with more competition with companies like Big Agnes and others, the advances in sleeping pads continue.  Sleeping pads now have dropped the self inflating to save on weight and now have insulation ratings.  The Neo Air full length pad now is under a pound, has an R value of 2.5, and is now small enough to fit in my old small pillow stuff sack.  But fully inflated at 2" is thicker than the original thermarest.

                  After a long day of hiking and swimming through clear creek Scott one of the guys on the trip asked me what my criteria for a camp site was.  We were all exhausted and ready to stop and setup camp to rest.  We spent a night on a rocky yet some what flat screed of rocks that was a better option than the boulders,  The next year I took a Hammock and had a hard time finding enough trees in a group for everyone  to use for a night of sleep, but sandy beaches were every where.  With hammocks being as light and comfortable as they are and sleeping pads as light, small, and thick as they are, my criteria for a campsite is broadening.  I can sleep on uneven terrain in the hammock or find a nice flat spot for my sleeping pad. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Merino Wool

Merino wool

If you know me you knew this blog post was coming, Merino Wool. Spring and summer are not the seasons to pack your wool away in a box or leave it hanging up in the closet on your next camping trip. Merino wool is an amazing material. Like everything it has its pros and cons. On a summer backpacking trip in a slot canyon brought together some chilly situations. I was wearing a cotton shirt, we nicknamed a tomb of death, my dad wore a synthetic shirt you could smell a 100 yards out, (sorry dad) and my friend Jim had a Merino wool shirt. I was freezing cold as we were in and out of cold pools of water with no sun reaching the bottom of the canyon. I was freezing cold in my cotton shirt, it was like wearing a swamp cooler in the shade while trying to fight the cold off. This was the first time I had heard of Merino wool. I was shocked at how lightweight it was, it looked like a normal shirt you would wear on a summer day. Here are some of the advantages you get with Merino wool.
The merino’s fleece is built for extremes, it is breathable in summer, insulating in winter, yet soft and light. In New Zealand the merino sheep live in warm to hot summers and very cold winters.

In summer, the merino’s thin, light, super-breathable coat keeps him cool in temperatures that hit 95 °F
In winter, he grows an extra layer of wool over his base coat as protection against temperatures that plummet to -4 °F

The merino's wool is well designed for the wide range of temperatures they live through.

It is also not the typical wool you are thinking of as itchy. It measures between 17 and 19 microns and is flexible, that to say it is soft and not itchy. Merino wool is very breathable and and dries quickly, not quite as quick as a synthetic but quick non the less. It will keep some of its thermal properties even when wet, unlike the cotton shirt I was wearing. The other benefit I like and those hiking with me is it does not retain much smell. I took a three day backpacking trip in the summer and wore only one shirt. I tossed it to my wife (nick name, super nose), after taking it off the first time and she claimed it did not smell bad at all. I have heard claims of people not washing them until they have worn them over 90 days, I don't think I will go that far, but not hording that smell like a synthetic does is a plus. The biggest drawback it has is cost. For a T shirt, the price can range from $50 dollars to $150. Over all I have to say I am very pleased with my Icebreaker Merino wool clothing. I try to take the best care of it as I can and save them for my backpacking trips. My advise is take time to build up the layer system, they work well when you use them together in a layer system as temps drop into the night.

Monday, March 26, 2012


                 One of the ways I enjoy camp while backpacking is using a hammock at camp. It has multiple uses for comfort and sleeping at night. Weather is a big concern when we backpack in slot canyons. If there was a threat of rain we would not have been able to go, so with a good weather report I would leave my tent at home and just sleep on the ground with a ground cloth sleeping bag and a sleeping pad. 

I read some articles on people backpacking with hammocks and thought I would give it a try. I liked the idea of getting off the ground and not wake up in the middle of the night with large Beatles crawling on my face. I looked at the system I had and wanted it to be lighter as well. In our slot canyons camping spots are hard to come by. We have spent multiple nights on either a sloped slab of rock or on a screed of medium sized rocks. My thought was with a hammock I could get above the rocks and have a good night sleep. The first night I tried it and just slept in the sleeping bag and my butt got cold. The second night I zipped my sleeping around the hammock and my feet were very uncomfortable. 

My Grand Trunk weighs 9.6 oz
 The next step I took was to cut a hole in my sleeping bag at home. It worked great, It was warm and comfortable, I was able to sleep on my back or side and relatively flat, and my favorite part was my butt was not freezing, a good night sleep overall. My system is still evolving as far as rain fly/ tarp and bug nets which can be as light and easy as a bug head net which may not be as comfortable as other options but has more than just one use at night. It can be used during the day when the ceder gnats are not detoured by any other bug repellent we throw at them. The rain fly I was using did not fair well as far as repealing water the last time I tested it, and am working on making a new one out of sillnylon. I wish I could say that I was making it out of Cuban Fiber but can't find enough funds to go that direction. Hopefully I will be able to give you more info on the tarp after I fabricate it. The hope there is that I will have the ability to stay dry in the hammock and have an ultra light system if there are no trees to go to the ground and have an effective tarp to use as a shelter with a few guy lines and a hiking stick. I like the hammock the best for its comfort around camp. I am able to have a nice seat to relax in and eat my dinner and a warm comfortable place to sleep at night. It also opens up the possibility of places to camp that I would not have considered before. I have setup camp where no one has ever camped before suspended over large boulders or on slopes that would send you rolling like a mummified burrito if you tried to sleep on the ground. For me, I will keep working on the system and reading the hammock forums.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012



No I am not talking about taking a keg of beer on the trail, we are looking at a lightweight and inexpensive way to cook on the trail. This stove can be made with a pair of aluminum soda cans, which is great so you can play around with different designs and ideas for cans that would have been tossed in the recycle bin. The one I made here came in weighing just .3 oz.
Not bad for free and lightweight. There are a number of fuels you can use in this stove. First off just because it is called an alcohol stove doesn’t mean you can use bear or any other kind of alcohol drink in it. The fuels you can use are,

1. Heet this fuel is great for the stove, it burns hot, clean, leaves little or no soot. You have to make sure you buy the Heet in the Yellow Bottle the Heet that they sell in the red Bottle is isoHEET , make sure you only get the Yellow Bottle.
2. Denatured Alcohol, this fuel would be second on my list. It can be found a bit cheaper than Heet and burns hot but may not be as consistent from batch to batch
3. Isopropanol, is the cheapest fuel but not the best. The pros are it can be used as a first aid antiseptic, it is cheep and readily available. The cons are it does not burn as hot and leaves soot on your pots.
     If you plan to use an alcohol stove you should plan on using a wind screen, you don’t want the wind to take all your heat away or blow out your stove. The stove that I built here is one that you would need some sort of stand to elevate your cooking pot above the flame. If you put the burners on the side of the stove you can put your pot right on the stove with no stand. The issue with that is your pot would have to be a bit on the wider side for the flame to be effective in heating. All this said I like looking at the options and playing around with these stoves but I am going to stick with my Crux and Minimalist Cooking system. Slightly smaller and lighter than a Jetboil system

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Think Outside the Bottle

As we move from winter to summer my mind wanders throughout the day of spring trips I would like to do. Time to dust off the equipment and see what fun I can have. Half of the fun can be a game of what can I do with the equipment I have. I am always playing the game of what equipment can drop a few ounces. I picked up a small, cheap scale from harbor freight that does the trick for me. There is always a use for it from testing new equipment or new ideas of equipment. Today's test revealed how I could shave off a half pound.

 For our canyon hikes typically we need about three liters of water for our ridge hike. I have used three nalgenes . I weighed them this week and discovered one nalgene weighs 6.2 oz and the three altogether is 18.6 oz. In the past camelbaks had a bad taste to the water that I did not like. I tested one recently and could taste and see many new features. The taste is good even if you let it sit over night and the arms already installed on them for drying is very convenient. The quick link click off tube is nice for loading and filling the reservoir. The Camelbak Antidote holds the 3 liters that I typically do.

That said it weighs in at 6.9 oz. The one last hurdle I had was that I like to have a separate sports drink at dinner once we have set up camp. My solution to that is the platypus water bottles. They collapse nice and compact for storing dry while hiking and then can be used for around camp. The one liter platypus only weighs 1oz. I also like the idea of having more than one way to hold water just for insurance if I break or puncture one. This year for camping it looks like I can shave off 10.7 oz just by changing how I carry my water, and have the capability to have more water once I am at camp. Not a bad change up.                                                  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This is a trip we did a couple of years ago that I am hoping to repeat this year. I have since replaced or changed my eqipment. We no longer dunk our baggs in the water and have the material soak up a lot of weight in the water. Our new system is simple and efective. I will let you know how we float our packs with little effort