Sunday, June 26, 2011

It's hot, I'm injured; 2 reasons to stay home and organize

     Summer in Arkansas is nasty. No kidding. Fayetteville resides in a curious climate zone. In the winter, it is said that we have a "Continental Temperate" climate. Which makes for lots of outdoor fun if you can handle a bit of a chill. Summer, though is more likely to leave a guy like me on the side of the trail. Our climate is called "Subtropical Humid" by many online sources. Which means 90 degrees plus, with humidity sometimes 90% plus. Nasty. The water sources begin drying as early as mid-June. The rivers run, but the trails go through the hills. Snakes and Poison Ivy abound. In short, I'm too wuss to do anything overly strenuous after mid-June.
     In addition to that, I took a bit of a fall while descending a pond bank over Memorial Day weekend. Extreme Dislocation to my left shoulder with a list of damages. Mainly, I partially tore the Labrum. Although it shouldn't require surgery to heal, I'm in a sling for 6-7 weeks. Which will keep me from any backpacking or serious dayhikes. All I can say is that I'm glad it didn't happen in my prime outdoor season.
     This did give me some much needed time to get organized. Also to begin playing with some MYOG ideas. As far as organization goes, I am going to spend some time adding all of my gear to a spreadsheet so I can stay on top of which weights I want to carry and which need to be donated to the Scouts or sold. Furthermore, the conversion of a work bench to a packing bench had been postponed for a long time.
     The packing bench isn't complete yet, but all of the camping, hiking, and backpacking gear has made it's home there. Sleeping bags and clothing still in the closet though. Here's a picture of the bench, with pegs, my shelving area, and my "seldom used gear box". Meaning, gear that is seldomly used, not the box being seldomly used.


     The pegs on the bench accommodate all but my largest packs, along with trekking poles, stuff sacks, etc. The shelf sitting atop the bench has room for other items like stoves, fuel canisters, tp, bag liners, and such. All of my boots, knick-knacks, and even MYOG supplies reside on the shelves. Car camping gear is in the big feed box below.
     By sorting my gear like this, I can pack in my garage now. All of the gear is in one place, easy to find. What I really like about it is that after packing, I can look over the area remembering any forgotten items. Which makes for a more relaxed packing environment. Being able to pack this efficiently allows for more spur-of-the-moment trips. Which allows for me to be a "very happy camper".
     I hope you all can find a way to stay organized, at least to the point of having a stressless planning/packing for all of your trips. It leads to arriving at your trailhead in a calm mood. Not wasting the first several miles of the hike unwinding. Now, go get to work in your garage!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Initial Foray into MYOG(Make Your Own Gear)

     I've been reading for years about the joys of making your own gear. While not creative by nature, I have always thought about ways to improve gear. I may never create something entirely new, but  will now be able to customize my own gear at least. The first step to entering the world of MYOG is to decide on a project/projects. This calls for something simple. My first items will be hammocks, followed by stuff sacks, tarps, custom sleeping bags/quilts, and of course, clothing repair.
     With this in mind, I needed to research tools for the job. I scoured the web looking for the sewing machine of choice. From all of the MYOG forums I came to several conclusions. The first is that I won't be calling it a sewing machine. It'll be my "Electro-mechanical Thread Injector". Sounds manly enough for a backpacker to operate, eh? The second thing is that the machine would be simple enough to learn on, while still having all metal moving parts(pre-1970). As Singer was the brand of choice for my own mother, it would be mine as well. After watching Craigslist for weeks, all I found were collectibles. The Singer Featherlights were the coolest looking machine of this nature, but all cost way too much. So, I stumbled upon a Singer Slant-O-Matic 500A "Rocketeer". How much more manly can you get than a Thread Injector known as "The Rocketeer"? Shoot, it was even originally marketed as "the best (sewing) machine ever made".  I purchased it for $75, and it arrived within days.
Singer 500A "Rocketeer"

     The next thing I did was looked for materials for my projects. My source was Rockywoods.com. They had everything on my list. I ordered 8 yards of 1.9 oz. Silnylon(for 2 hammocks), 8 yards of hook & loop(Velcro), 8 yards of bug mesh, some thread, some stretchy lycra/nylon for gaiters, and a zipper for customizing a sleeping bag. Shockingly, it was $135 worth of materials. They shipped them out the next day, and they arrived even before the "Rocketeer".
     After making these purchases, it was time to learn to operate the new tool. So, like any newbie who is nervous of asking about these kinds of things, I went straight to Youtube. There, I found hours and hours of instructional videos. Some even using my machine! I felt like I was going to be able to do this now. Besides, there is no turning back once the toys are bought! Last stop at Hobby Lobby for scissors, pins, and some cotton material to practice with. The old lady who helped me didn't even laugh at me at all. Maybe more men make their own gear than I originally suspected.
     There's a great website that shows how to make hammocks, with step by step instructions(and even pictures). Jeff's Hiking Page is my favorite one-stop source for all things hammock. I would be following his instructions for my project. The only difference is that I would eventually plan on adding bug screen. Here's some pics of my progression. Note that the rolled hem on the outsides is to prevent the hammock from tearing. It's not supposed to be PERFECT!

Sewing a Rolled Hem without proper Presser Foot.


Hem failed to Roll on first attempt.

It's easier to sew an 9.5' X 5' piece of Silnylon when rolled like this.

A tightly whipped end.

Finished! Lacks suspension for now.


  And there it is folks, minus the bug screens. I need to decide how I want them to work. Which means actually sleeping in the hammocks first. My suspicion is that I will want modularity, so may use the hook & loop fastener to make them removable. I ordered the "tree hugger" straps from JacksRbetter.com. Once they arrive, we will test both of my new hammocks.
     The second project I tackled was to repair a split butt seam on my REI Sahara Convertible Pants. They are great pants (used only in the woods), but still, I kinda want my butt INSIDE the pants. So, I looked at them a bit, decided what to do, and did it. It turned out kind of ugly. I got some extra material pinched into my seam. It took an hour to carefully remove the seam. On the second try, I got it nearly right. The only problem is I was still using black thread. It sticks out like a sore thumb. And guess what? It doesn't bother me at all. I'll wear those pants like a badge of honor. I had a dream of repairing them, and I fulfilled that dream! Here's the pics:

Busted seam, outside view.

Busted seam, inside view.

Viewed from outside of pants.

Viewed from inside of pants.

 P.S. If anyone has any small(ish) stickers they want to donate to "The Rocketeer", you can email me. JakeWillits@trailsavvy.net

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Its 9 pm, its dark, and its time to go hiking.

I am on a business trip this week right next to the Sandia Mountains. To night is the only time I have to go hiking, so I will be making a night attempt on point 9579 of the Sandia mountain range. This is a short trip but its at night and and I have never been in these mountains. I will be starting from the western side of the mountains and returning the same night. Ill send a trip report after I get done.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Gear Review(Initial): Ultralight Adventure Equipment(ULA) CDT Backpack

Property of ULA, used by permission.

     Although I am pleased with my current backpack(Osprey Exos 46L), I am constantly looking to shed weight without sacrificing comfort, durability, or usefulness. To this end, I purchased a ULA CDT pack from ULA-Equipment.com. The site was easy to navigate and had several different options for the CDT. I selected a "Large" sized pack, with a "Large" sized hipbelt, and "J-curve" shoulder straps. The only thing that worried me was their sizing breakdown. For the medium version the torso length was 18"-21", while the large was 21"-24". The only problem is that my torso length is exactly 21". So I guessed on the side of safety. The same story exactly with the hip belt. The medium is <35", while the large is >35". Again, my waist tends to fluctuate between a 34 and 36. So, again I guessed liberally. The shoulder straps are available in both "J-curve" and "S-curve". I couldn't tell you the benefits of the "S-curve"(women's?), so I ordered straps just like on my other packs.
***UPDATE*** video showing "S-curve" straps designed for women. Link

The ULA website shows the weight of the CDT as 17oz, excluding removable features. The size I ordered would be 18oz due to the additional material. The removable features include a foam backpanel, hand loops, water bottle holsters, a mesh zipper pouch inside the pack, and a hydration sleeve. The foam panel fits tidily inside the main compartment, secured under 2 elastic straps on the top corners. The hand loops, which are attached to the shoulder straps are adjustable and would give hikers with busy hands a place to rest them. The bottle holsters are 2 pairs of adjustable yellow shock cords that attach on the shoulder straps. One loop for the top and one for the bottom. The mesh pocket is attached inside the main compartment, furthest from your head. The hydration sleeve fits inside along your back, with openings on both sides for the hose. ULA recommends a base weight of under 12lbs, and a total pack weight of under 25lbs.
ULA CDT removables

Upon it's arrival, which I deemed fast, the first thing I did is give it a detailed inspection. It is mostly made of Dyneema Gridstop, but also has a bit of reinforced silnylon, as well as no-see-um bug mesh on the outer panel. All the stitching was tight, with no loose ends. I did notice that there were what seemed like miles of extra straps. I don't mean excessive straps, I mean all of them account for me to put on 50lbs of girth. The mesh pouches had some stretch to them. The next thing I did was remove all of the strip-able items excepting the water bottle holsters. Then I weighed it. Using an empty wastebucket, I arrived at 19.5oz on my kitchen scale. Not bad. Over 18oz of weight saving from my Osprey.
I folded my Therm-a-rest Z-rest in half(so to speak) and installed it underneath the twin elastic pad holders within the pack. Then I packed it with my sleeping bag and shelter in the bottom. My thinking is that with a frameless pack the weight needs to ride a bit higher. So I placed my cookset, stove, and food sacks at the top. Since I removed the mesh zippered pouch, I had all my loose items in a small drysack. The external mesh sidepockets held my raingear, while the hipbelt pouches held my inhaler and camera. The outer mesh pocket contained my map pouch, compass, trowel, and Aqua-Mira. The top of this sleeve-like pocket features the mesh doubling back on itself, forming a catch for the overturned pack. I chose to utilize the bottle holsters with 1 liter Bolthouse bottles. Total pack weight for 2(60F deg)nights was 15lbs even. Base weight was around 9lbs. This was my lightest ever, since I decided to leave the rain pants.


The test hike:
I opted for section 5 of the Ozark Highlands Trail, which is 19.8 miles and I would be hiking West to East. It is rugged country with well beaten trail, but has very heavy vegetation. The first day of the trip entailed about 12.8 miles of river valley hiking, with lots of crossings. The second day was similar terrain, but only about 7 miles. On the trail, the pack rode very comfortably for the first 10+ miles. I did notice that I missed the load lifters from my other packs. They weren't neccessary, but in my case a hard habit to break. The other things I noticed were that it took a lot more adjustment every time I removed the hipbelt for stops or crossings. When I removed an item from the main compartment, there was more adjustment from the side compression straps than I am used to. Keep in mind, this is my first experience with a frameless pack. It was never bothersome, just new. The bottle holsters worked well, and were very adjustable. I did jump off of a log once and immediately shot both bottles out of the holsters. The solution is to tighten them down more, making sure the top cord is firmly underneath the lip on the bottle.
The compression on the bag is sufficient, if just so. I think the webbing ends that run through the top clip could be spaced a little further apart. The shock cord that runs through the side mesh compartments also seemed to act like an additional compression strap. They attach to the main compartment on one end, running diagonally to the back of the hip belt on the other. The main compression strap is simple and effective, running horizontally at the middle of the main compartment. It is all entirely functional, and the dual purposes of the shock corded mesh pockets is borderline genius. I'd say that superior compression may be lost on going with lightweight frameless packs. The pack also features 2 trekking pole/ice axe storage setups, which I did not use. Too bad the velcro attachments are not removable as well.

The verdict:
The pack is certainly lightweight. I really appreciated its modularity. Having removable features is thinking down the road. What it does for a pack of this nature is create a broader customer base. The users can choose their own level of comfort. Keep the hydration sleeve or not, Keep the interior zipper patch or ditch it. Hand loops or trekking poles. The pack rode very well, with more generous hip and shoulder padding than (I thought) was necessary. The materials used are all very sturdy with the exception of the mesh pouches. I have read elsewhere that ULA's customer support is very good. I used the contact form provided on their website and recieved a reply within hours. All in all, a tidy little pack. Very suitable to my needs, for a great price. I especially like that it is a cottage industry, and that you can view their workshop on their web page. I will continue to use this pack for my ultralight trips for the future, with no changes except to trim the straps a bit. I think that anyone willing to modify their packing style would be very happy with this purchase. To quote my friend Marco once again,"half the weight, treble the experience!"
Zack Karas, image property of ULA, used with permission

***Update*** After another half dozen trips, I have a few more observations. When using a torso length Z-rest pad as a frame sheet, I notice a lot more sweat on my back. In cold weather this translates to much cooler rest stops. In warm weather it didn't bother me.
     The hip belt pouches open in the wrong direction for easiest use, in my opinion. Zipped forward to open, and backward to close. Because there is no rigidity to the pouch, this proves more difficult with one hand.
     The water bottle holders allow for slippage. In theory, they still work great. But I think a small diameter non-stretchy cord may work better on the top of the bottle. Here's a link to show best what I mean; Stick's Blog. Also the top loop of the water bottle shares an attachment point with a D-ring where I want to clip my GPS unit. Not a serious issue, but noticeable to me.