Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bumpass Hell

(Sulphur Works)

Bumpass Hell is a part of Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. It is named for the unfortunate guide Mr. Bumpass, who lost his leg after he broke through the crust on a boiling mud pot. Today this area is being used as a natural laboratory to investigate conditions for the original origin of life on Earth. David Deamer, author of First Life: Discovering the Connections between Stars, Cells, and How Life Began is one such researcher.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Backpacking Gear Test 2012

Earlier this year I purchased a day pack and lightweight hiking boots for a trip to Europe, so for this year's gear test I decided to see if they would be suitable for an overnight backpack. For last year's Backpacking Gear Test I had a base weight (without fuel, water, fuel) of 14 lbs and a total pack weight of 19 lbs. This year I had a base weight of 12 lbs and a total pack weight of 17 lbs: a reduction of 9%.
Gear Weights
I took the 2012 gear on an overnight hike from Bottchers Gap to Jackson Camp in the Ventana Wilderness, 5 miles each way.
Mountain Hardware Hueco 34

The Hueco is a climbing pack. At 34 liters is is much smaller than my previous packs, and because of this it is almost a pound lighter than my previous lightest pack even though it is not an "ultralight" pack. With a new down sleeping bag (below) I was just barely able to squeeze in all my overnight gear. While the pack is hydration reservoir compatible it would not fit with my other stuff, so I am back to carrying two cycling water bottles externally. Unlike the Granite Gear Escape the external bottle pockets are not reachable while the pack is worn.
The Hueco does not have a proper hip belt; instead it simply has a 1.5 inch web belt (probably to keep the pack in place while climbing). I was curious to try a pack without a hip belt, as I have found that with each lighter pack in my progression I have gotten less "lift" from the hip belt, and have noticed that many leading-edge ultralight pack vendors (such as Gossamer Gear) also often omit hip belts. A hip belt would not work with a pack as short as the Hueco, and I found that with a load of 17 lbs I was ok without one. Of course on a longer or multi-day hike I might feel differently.
REI Igneo Sleeping Bag
This is an 800-fill down bag, rated to 19 degrees, long length. It has a waterproof+ breathable coating on the shell, which got me past my previous concerns about a wet down bag. Note the seams are not taped, so a waterproof bivy is still required. And they recommend stuffing the bag inside out (probably to avoid damaging the waterproof coating while stuffing), so a hydration reservoir leak in the pack could still be a serious problem. At 2.2 lbs it is only 9% lighter than my synthetic North Face Orion (20 degrees, regular length) bag, but as a down bag it compresses much smaller.
With one night's use in a bivy I found the Igneo much more comfortable than the Orion. The long length was more amiable to side sleeping, and the down felt more "fluffy" than the Orion which always seemed sparse. I felt warm all night, though it may not have been as cold as my previous trips. In the morning the only water I found in the bivy was underneath the sleeping pad, and the bag was dry, so I guess the waterproof+breathable coating worked.
Durham Cloud Hiking Boot
Durham is also made by New Balance, and comes in narrow widths. They have apparently stopped making my previous Rainier Hiking Boots; if so I should have stocked up. The Cloud is comfortable, and a pair is almost a pound lighter than the Rainier. They worked fine for carrying my light 17 lb load, but I would want my Rainiers for carrying 40+ lbs for a week in the Sierras.