Sunday, May 23, 2010

Backpacking Gear Test 2010

In last year's Backpacking Gear Test I achieved a base weight (without food, water, or fuel) of 23 lbs and a total pack weight of 30 lbs. This year I have replaced various items, and gotten down to a base weight of 16 lbs and a total pack weight of 22 lbs : a reduction of 8 lbs, or over 25%.

Gear Weights (spreadsheet)

I took all the 2010 listed gear to Castle Rock State Park. I hiked 2.6 miles (each way) with full pack to Castle Rock Trail Camp, and stayed overnight.

Granite Gear Escape A.C. 60 Pack

The Escape is Granite Gear's newest ultralight pack. Compared to last year's North Face El Lobo 65, it is over 2 lbs lighter. It has 5 liters less rated capacity (60 versus 65L), but with the rest of this year's compact new gear I actually have more free space than before. It is rated for a maximum load of 35 lbs (versus 70 for the El Lobo), but I've discovered I have zero interest in carrying heavy loads. The Escape only has a plastic frame sheet (versus the internal aluminum X-frame of the El Lobo) and has a smaller hip belt, so the El Lobo would be preferable for heavy loads. Overall I found the Escape with lighter load more comfortable than last year's El Lobo with heavier load.

The Escape omits various features the El Lobo has, including separate sleeping bag compartment, attached padded belt for the detachable lid as a fanny pack (the Escape lid does have belt loops), extra zippered entries, etc. It does also have a hydration compartment (internal pocket for a "camelback" bladder, plus drinking tube ports), but I used the external bottle holsters instead. They are angled so bottles can be accessed while the pack is on. This frees up more internal space, and eliminates opportunities for liquid disasters.

Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 Tent

This year I've switched to a one-person tent. The Fly Creek UL1 saves over 2 lbs compared to last year's Sierra Designs Vapor Light 2 XL. This tent is smaller : I can only sit upright in the exact enter of the tent, and my head does touch both sides when I do so. My regular length North Face sleeping bag exactly fits in the tent length. There isn't room to place my pack beside me, but since I only carry a short sleeping pad I use my empty pack as leg rest. One nifty feature: a pocket in the mesh roof holds a headlamp perfectly positioned for night reading (see flyless second image).

The tent is free-standing, though it needs 2 stakes at the rear to pull the foot area open. It also came with the same aluminum stakes as last year's Vapor Light 2 (see stake picture with last year's blog entry). This year I decided to give them a try. They worked fine: no bent stakes. And a tip: the titanium wire handle of a folding spork can be placed through the small hole to use as a stake-puller. Don't try to pull them by hand.

Therm-a-Rest ProLite Air Mattress, Small

See image inside tent, above. This doesn't save weight compared to my earlier closed cell foam pad, but it is much more compact when rolled. They do make an even lighter pad, but user comments have had concerns about durability. As stated above I am using my empty pack as leg rest, so a small works fine.

REI Ti Ware Titanium Pot - 0.9 Liter

I picked this up on close-out sale last year; this non-nonstick version has been discontinued. I only use it to boil water for dehydrated meals, so I don't need the nonstick. My stove melted the silicone coating off the fold-out wire handles almost immediately, so I threw the handles away and use the old pot-lifter from my MSR steel pot set instead. This expensive pot does feel cheap (the lid wants to drop into the pot), but at 0.9L it does balance over my stove better the the 2L MSR pot, and most importantly it saves half a pound and a bunch of pack space. Yes, I bought a folding Ti spork, as my old plastic utensils won't fit inside the 0.9L pot. As stated above, the spork wire handle can double as a tent stake puller...

Other Changes

Include headlamp instead of mini-mag-lite, and a lighter first aid kit.


kbob said...

It would be interesting to put a price column in your spreadsheet and calculate how many $/gram you paid to reduce mass. What were the most and least cost-effective changes?

Eric Rollins said...

Price-to-weight sheet added. Ranked most-to-least cost effective:

UL first aid kit
Ti pot
Granite Gear Pack
Big Agnes Tent
air mattress (negative)

$/gram oversimplifies the weight reduction problem. Most sources advise replacing a pack last: first you need to reduce the weight and volume of the items you are carrying. The new pack would not have been practical with the old load. This year's pack ($200) is actually cheaper than last year's ($250). I'll keep the old one for group trips where I have to carry my share of steel pots and big tents.

The biggest weight and volume savings on the tent comes from the decision to move to a tiny one-person tent. Yes this is one of the lightest two-wall tents available, and expensive ($300). Other cheaper downsized options are available. Again I'll retain the old tent for non-solo trips. Note also I'm not using a footprint with the new tent. The previous one could drop half a pound "for free" by leaving the footprint home. This is a pure $/weight trade-off, in that without a footprint the tent won't last as long. I hope to take enough trips over the next few years that it actually becomes an issue :-)

The half-pound on the 1st aid kit could have been dropped "for free", by simply removing the kit items the new one omits, and replacing the heavy nylon bag with a zip-lock. I chose a new one because at least some of the medications in the old one were expired.

Other items, such as the headlamp and balaclava, provide new functionality over what they replaced.

And some were volume and not weight reduction, such as the air mattress.

And the silly folding spork was because I was tired of the utensils poking holes in everything else.

Gemfinder said...

Cyndee and I just tried JetBoil with good results.

Their basic design insight is to integrate the cooking vessel and stove for better heat transfer. This doubles fuel efficiency, saving weight and space in fuel. For comparison with your current system:

JetBoil stove and pot: 400g
Fuel: 190g
Total: 590g

This compares to 599g for your MSR stove, fuel and pot -- essentially the same.

Advantages: Very fast (starts with a button press, boils 16 oz water in 2 minutes), stable (pot can't fall off), compact (fuel and stove exactly fit inside pot).

Disadvantages: expensive ($100), inflexible (base system is only suited to cook liquids, pots must be designed to lock into the stove).

In general we found this to be a good tradeoff.

Notice that, the longer your trip, the bigger the weight advantage from lower fuel consumption.