The key to being comfortable in the wilderness, I think, is an effective layering system. "Layering" refers
to dressing in muliple, relatively thin layers of clothing rather than one or two thick, heavy layers.
Layering, in this way, provides more versatility over a wider range of temperature and activity conditions. Multiple, thinner layers also provide more warmth because there is air space between each layer which
functions similar to "loft" in a sleeping bag. Air is trapped between layers, is warmed by your body heat,
and, thus, provides added insulation. Also, and very important to a lightweight backpacker, is that multiple,
thinner layers usually require less pack space and may even weigh less.
I use a four-layer system, year-around. The system that I carry the most and weights are:
The purpose of the mid-layers is to provide insulation adequate to keep me warm in whatever conditions I
find myself. Your mid-layer may consist of one, two, or even three garments, depending on thickness of garments, the range of activities you're engaged in, and the local environment you're travelling in.
In addition to waterproof (or water resistant), and windproof requirements, these garments must also be breathable. That is, moisture which builds up under the garment has to be able to escape or else you will get soaked from within by your own sweat. Features like pit zips, two-way front zips and venting pack pockets help a lot, but the material itself must provide breathability, as well. Garment made of materials like activent breathe many times better than Gore-Tex and, thus, are better suited for highly aeorobic activities. Materials like Gore-Tex are more waterproof and are better suited for inclement weather. The important point here is that regardless of the material you select it must be breathable, waterproof/water resistant, and windproof !
Cotton is great for warm-weather conditions, it keeps the skin cool and doesn't insulate. However, for mountain travel, cotton is not recommended as a layering component. Cotton absorbs moisture, keeps it next to the skin & drys very slowly. Thus, heat loss and chills can result. In conditions where wind and cold are a factor, do not use cotton as part of your layering system--especially the inner layer !
Although wool retains its insulating value when soggy wet, it is, nonetheless, soggy wet (and heavy),
and takes considerable time to dry out. Thus, I'm a strong advocate of polyester fleece.
Although fleece garments may look alike, there are subtle differences which can significantly affect your comfort while in the woods. Fleece garments for use in the backcountry should not have, IMHO, linings made of nylon. Avoid it, if you can. Many makers line the cuffs, bottom hem, pockets, and/or the inner lining with nylon. Fleece, for all practical purposes, does not absorb moisture. Nylon does, which can make your body cold. It doesn't have to be freezing in the mountains for a person to get hypothermia. Ideally, look for fleece garments that have linings of lycra. It doesn't absorb moisture and is somewhat elastic, allowing a snug fit, which helps seal-out cold air and seal-in warm air. Also, when shopping for a jacket, look for a wind flap behind the zipper and also pit zips and pack pockets, so you can let heat escape w/o undressing.
In the process of developing a layering system that works best for you, you'll probably go thru numerous iterations before you achieve that ideal balance between comfort, flexibility, bulk, and weight. Although there are many lightweight materials used in outdoor gear these days, here are a few buzzwords to look for which relate to small, light, warm, waterproof, comfortable layering:if synthetic sleeping bags interest you, LITE LOFT is more compact, lighter, and water resistant than other synthetic materials--but may be less durable).
INFORMATION ELSEWHERE ON THE WEB:
What's Best for You ?
Attributes to Look For
WHAT'S BEST FOR YOU ?:
To determine what's best for you, consider the following. In what conditions will you be using it ? How much
are you willing to invest ? What comfort level are you willing to accept ? How long do you want it to last ? Are weight and compactness important ?
For consistently wet or damp weather conditions, consider either a synthetic bag--which insulates well when wet, or a goose down bag encased in gore-tex or gore-dryloft--and be careful to keep it dry--down doesn't insulate when wet.
Synthetics like lite-loft, primaloft, polarguard, hollofil, microloft, etc. are superior for wet conditions, and are cheaper. That's about the extent of their advantages over down ! However, if you are primarily outdoors in wet, damp conditions, a synthetic bag may be the best choice. My personal synthetic fill favorite is the newer Polarguard 3D which is less bulky and compresses nicely.
Goose Down is lighter, more compressable, warmer by weight, and much more durable and long-lived (like 300%). With the invent of gore-tex and it successor, dryloft as coverings for down bags, down is a consideration even in damp environs. You can also further encase a down bag in a gore-tex bivy sack for greater waterproofing.
In the winter, some folks prefer synthetic bags for long-duration outings. The reason is that in extreme cold, your
body releases moisture as you sleep, so the down bag gets wet from the inside even though well protected from the outside. One way to prevent that is to use a vapor-barrier lining which keeps the moisture away from the down.
In my opinion, even though down is more expensive (much more so in high-end bags), it is a better long-term
investment since it will last 3 times longer, if properly cared for. At the same time, the comfort level, lighter weight, and ease of packing can't be beat. How's that for an objective view ?
However, having got that bias off my chest, I, as one who lives in the damp Pacific Northwest USA, desire to have a nice, lightweight synthetic bag. The newer Polarguard 3D looks pretty good.
Incidently, in my opinion, the two premier bag makers are Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends. My second tier includes Marmot, The North Face, and Moonstone.
ATTRIBUTES TO LOOK FOR:
- For colder weather, get a draft collar which cinches around the neck--keeps warm air in and cold out.
- Generous draft tube along entire length of zipper.
- For warm weather, look for ease of ventilation.
- Full side zip so you can air out your feet during warmer weather.
- 700-800 fill-power down lasts much longer than cheaper 550 fill power. In the long-run
its probably cheaper.
- Double side zipper so you can still use the bag if one zipper blows out.
- There should be a velcro or snap-shut closure over the zipper, at the top of the bag to prevent the
zipper from sliding in the middle of the night.
Closed-Cell Foam Pads, on the plus side, are ultra-light, inexpensive, waterproof, and durable. On the downside, they are bulky, inconvenient to pack, and unconforming to your body and the terrain.
Open-Cell Foam Pads, on the plus side, are ultralight, inexpensive, compresses better
than Closed-Cell Foam and cushions well. However, the thing is really just a sponge. When it touches
moisture it becomes a soggy sponge. Most often, the open-cell variety is encased in a nylon inflatable shell
to protect it from the elements. These are the Self-Inflating Mattresses.
Self-Inflating Mattresses, are very comfortable, have adjustable air pressure, good body heat retention, compress better than closed-cell and, and are easy to pack. They are relatively expensive, are heavier than Closed-Cell pads, and are prone to puncture (optional repair kit adds even more weight to the pack).
In summary, Closed-Cell is lighter, cheaper, and bombproof. Self-Inflating Mattresses are more comfortable,
compact, and warmer. To determine which pad is best for you, consider what your needs are. In what weather conditions are you using it (or a combination of them)? Consider importance of warmth, weight, price, bulk, durability, and general comfort. What's your priority ? You might consider a 3/4 length closed-cell for a quick minimalist over-nighter; or a full-length 1 1/2 inch self-inflating for a long-distance trail trek; or a combination of self-inflating and closed-cell during the winter--on the snow--for maximum warmth.
What's the Best Stove ?
Attributes to Look For In a Stove
WHAT'S THE BEST STOVE ?:
To determine the best stove for you, answer the following questions.
How much will you spend ?
You could spend as little as $10 a cartridge for sterno type cookers or as much as $250 for an ultralight Primus titanium butane/propane stove, with a plethora of choices in-between.
How little do you want it to weigh ?
The Whisperlite weighs about one pound without fuel. The Primus titanium weighs 3.4 ounces without fuel. Many other options in-between and over one pound.
What temperatures will you be cooking in ?
In warmer weather, especially, the butane/propane stoves are convenient, efficient, effective, and lighter in weight. There is no priming or wasted fuel. Turn it on and off, that's all there is to it. Compared to white gas stoves (like the MSR whisperlite), the butane/propane stoves offer simmering, no flare-ups, no soot, clean burning, and instant lighting. There are very few parts, so maintenance is almost nonexistant. In the cold, however, these stoves typically don't perform as well because the liquid fuel doesn't vaporize well in the cold. The liquid needs to vaporize in order to burn as a gas. If a person can keep the fuel canister reasonably warm, however--by sleeping with it, covering it with insulation of some sort, or whatever--then these stoves perform a little better in the cold. Also, the butane/propane mixture performs better in cold than does butane alone.
In colder temperatures, gas stoves typically perform better than butane and butane/propane stoves. One of the problems with gas stoves in the snow is getting snow mixed in with the priming fuel, which makes it more difficult to get the stove started. Once going, though, they perform well. It helps to keep the stove out of the snow, as much as possible. A section of wire mesh or lightweight wire frame placed under the stove will help it "float" and make it more stable.
What kind of food will you be cooking ?
Has an impact on the type of fuel is best for you, thus, has impact on type of stove. White gas stoves like the Whisperlite burn hot (after priming) and are great for boiling water, but do not simmer worth a hoot. If you need to simmer soup or such, think about getting butane/propane mixture burning stove.
Will you be travelling outside the U.S. ?
For travel outside the U.S., where white gas may not be readily available, a good multi-fuel
stove like the MSR Whisperlite Internationale 600 is a good alternative. It is basically the
same as the Whisperlite, but is a little heavier because it has a more robust fuel intake system to accomodate kerosene and unleaded gasoline.
ATTRIBUTES TO LOOK FOR IN A STOVE:
- ease of assembly each time it needs to be used.
- must be sturdy (1) bottom must have legs or stand that provide stability even on rough ground, and (2) must have adequate base for cook pot stability, even when stirring food in pot.
- disconnects from its fuel source--even though fuel canister is not empty--for ease of transporting and for safety reasons.
- folds-up into small, compact, easily packable size.
- fits into your cookpot, for space saving advantage:
Tip: After my stove cools thoroughly, I put it into a one-pint heavy-duty freezer bag before putting into my cook pot, just in case any fuel residual is in or on the stove (but make sure it's thoroughly cooled).
- ease of starting--does it need to be primed, first ? (hassle alert).
- ease of controlling heat--for simmering (hassle alert).
- Does the stove require maintenance ? Is it easily maintainable in the field ?
Tents & Bivies
Tent Poles & Stakes
Features to Look For
TYPES OF TENTS:
The following information isn't intended to be an exhaustive survey of all types of tents in existence. It is, however, a review of the types of tents that have been proven to be the most successful and popular within the backcountry community.
Basic dome shape with walls that gently curve in and up to meet at the apex. This design provides ample headroom, maximizes "living space" and the ability to sit upright. However, its basic symetrical design with just two poles leaves a significant amount of unsupported tent material, such that, this design is best used in moderate weather conditions, only.
Variations on the basic dome shape provide more structural integrity for withstanding nasty weather. Most notable is the addition of more poles--including cross sections--and tapered tent ends for better wind resistence.
Hoop / Tunnel:
In the shape of a tunnel, typically with a higher section in front--just high enough to provide the only place in the tent where you can "barely" sit up--and tapering downward to the rear. This is a one or two pole design with the longer pole in front. This tent requires stakeing in order to create and maintain structural integrity. Also, and most attractive, is that this design is very lightweight--but does not provide a lot of room to move around in.
Pyramid / Teepee:
Essentially, this is just a waterproofed sheet or tarp draped over a center pole and staked out. This design is gaining popularity for snow camping. It provides a roof under which you can dig and design your living quarters. In the summer, however, beware the bugs !
This is, undoubtedly, the most convenient tent design to work with. It is easier to set up, since it is self supporting--once the poles are inserted, it stands on its own without tent pegs. After set up, it can easily be moved around to the ideal piece of ground. It can be turned upside down and lifted overhead to shake out dirt, turned upside down or hung from a tree (or ceiling) for ease of drying. However, it is always prudent to stake out these tents since they could easily be relocated by a strong breeze. In addition, on double walled "free-standing" tents, the fly may need to be staked out, as well.
These tents are made with one layer of waterproofed / breathable material. They forego the use of a tent fly. They also, typically, require less zippers, stakes, webbings, and tie-out cord, and as a result, are significantly lighter than double-walled tents, and are easier to set up. Ventilation is a critical factor here, because these tents are more prone to condensation. Whereas the double walled tents have an inner canopy made of thin, uncoated nylon which breathes very well, and air space/air movement between the fly and canopy to provide excellent breathability and ventilation, the thicker, waterproof-coated material of the single-wall tent does not breathe as well, thus condensation results. Extra care must be taken to ensure that these tents have good ventilating features like lower vents in back to draw in cold air and high vents in front to release warm air. Also, it is important to pitch the end of the tent into the wind to enable increased ventilation. It is helpful to leave wet, steamy gear outside or under the vestibule so it won't create water vapor inside the canopy. Also, heavy breathers are more inclined to see condensation.
The inner wall is uncoated, breathable nylon (solid or mesh) and the outside wall is coated, waterproofed, non-breathable nylon. The inner wall allows for excellent water vapor transfer out of the tent chamber and the outer wall provides excellent rain and wind protection. The air space between inner and outer layer also provides a bit of insulation, to keep the tent warmer in Winter and cooler in Summer.
Ventilation, Sunshade, and Bug Protection are the functional keywords here. This class of tent is designed primarily for stable, moderate warm-weather conditions. These lightweight tents, typically, feature a plentiful amount of nylon-"no-see-um"-mesh screen for ventilation and bug protection, with nylon flooring and a "waterproofed" nylon rainfly for protection from the occasional summer rain shower. They are lightweight and pack small. They are usually light-colored in order to reflect sunlight and, consequently, help keep the tent's internal temperatures relatively bearable.
These tents provide an adequate storm shelter from heavy rain and moderate winds. However, they fall short of 4-season Mountaineering tents in that their design and/or materials will not stand up to high winds and/or snow.
Typically, this tent is one of two things. It is either (1) a 3-season tent, beefed up with stronger poles and more or them and with design changes to enable better snow and wind resistence or (2) an overgrown Mountaineering tent. In any case, this tent, structurally speaking, falls somewhere between the Three-season and the Mountaineering tent.
This is a bombproof, low lying, aerodynamic, weather shedding, lightweight, spartan, small footprint for sitting on Mountain perches, tent. If you spend four-seasons in the high country, invest in one of these.
TENT POLES & STAKES:
-- Carry an extra tent stake or two. They bend, break, and disappear.
-- Carry three or four of the stout Eastman Monster Stakes to anchor your tent corners. They are made of Tempered Aluminum and have a larger diameter for added strength. The remaining stakes can be the wimpy regular aluminum ones that came with your tent.
-- Aluminum tent poles are better that Fiberglass. Most good tents, nowadays, are using Tempered Aluminum poles which have a better strength to weight ratio than regular aluminum. Carbon fiber also provides an adequate strength to weight ratio. All variations of Fiberglass, in my opinion, are not adequate for backcountry tent poles. They are heavier than aluminum and provide less strength. In addition, they are prone to splinter and break under high stress.
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR IN A TENT:
-- Tub Floors: adds significant waterproofing protection in that it lifts floor seams off the ground.
-- Factory Seam-Seal: hundreds/thousands of needle holes along the seams let in water. They must be sealed with SeamGrip or some other sealer. In some cases, sealing done at the factory is sufficient, but to be safe, an additional, light application of your own won't hurt. On single-wall tents, seal all seams. On double-wall tents seal all seams on tent fly and seams on tent floor extending six inches up the sides (this will protect from any water splashing up under the fly).
-- Vestibule: (1) provides space for gear--clean and/or muddy (2) provides shelter over tent door opening for entry/exit during inclement weather (3) provides shelter for cooking in inclement weather. (4) provides shelter for dog companions.
-- Appropriate Color: light colors in Summer to reflect light/heat, dark colors in Winter to absorb light/heat.
-- Living Space (not floor space): manufacturers publish floor-space specs but your job is to get inside the thing to see how much space is actually usable for your purposes. In a modified dome, for example, the manufacturer's "Floor Space" probably will equate to your "Living Space", whereas, that may not be the case with an A Frame because of its shape. Try them out for yourself.
-- Headroom (not height of tent): Do you want to be able to sit up in more that one spot in the tent ? Test it out. The manufacturer tells you only the highest spot. Its your job to test out the rest !
-- Ease of Set Up / Take Down: It's nice to have a tent you can set up and be inside of, in just a few minutes. I have one tent that's very simple to erect--one pole inserted from the inside. I have another which is equally simple setup--two poles installed from the outside. Test them out for yourself. What works best for you. Will you get caught in a Summer storm in the mountains ?
-- Ease of Entry / Exit: tents with two doors are very helpful. Consider the shape of the door, how easy it is to enter/exit, does the vestibule get in the way, does the door zip provide a large enough opening ? Are the zippers large enough to grip with gloves on--with cold hands ?
-- Ventilation: critical requirement ! Do homework on this one. On single-wall tents, look for low vents in back and high vents in front, look for double door zips so "air holes" can be created even when the door is securely shut. On double-walled tents, look for mesh windows, rear mesh windows, mesh doors (in addition to solid material doors), make sure design allows for good circulation of air between the tent and the tent fly.
-- Amenities that aid in making it more "Homey": e.g., ceiling loops (to use for rigging up clothes line), mesh wall pockets (for organizing and storing small gear items that are readily needed) dual entry way (so you won't step on your partner's face in the middle of the night).
-- Don't Store It Wet: clean & thoroughly dry whenever you can, on the trail, and especially, when you get home, in order to avoid mildew destruction.
-- Use a Ground Cloth: protect the bottom from object intrusions.
-- Fastidious Selection of Tent Sites: protects tent bottom & aids in a good night sleep.
-- Seal all Seams ! keep water outside !
-- Don't Cook Inside: duh ! Don't melt the nylon walls ! Don't burn down your shelter ! Don't asphyxiate yourself !
-- Don't Leave It In the Sun for prolonged periods--set up in shade, if possible: UV rays break down the fabric (and waterproofing).
-- Keep It Swept Out: dirt under you and your sleeping bag slowly grinds away at the tent floor.
-- Isolate Wet/Muddy Gear: better to clean up one small messy spot than the whole tent.
-- Assemble/Disassemble Poles with Caution: poles chip, dent, break, and cords stretch.
-- Poles & Stakes in Separate Sack: poles & stakes can tear and/or poke holes in the tent material.
-- Stuff It for Transport constantly folding the same way causes creases which compromise the weatherproofing on the tent, as well as, eventually, cracking the material, itself.
-- Look for a well-drained plateau or flat spot--avoid low lying areas subject to water drainage or collection, if a sudden rain storm should occur.
-- Always pitch lower-rear-end of the tent into the prevailing winds. This will increase ventilation inside the tent and protect the tent entryway (and you) from wind and inclement weather.
-- Look for natural, protective windbreaks like boulders, clumps of thick brush, trees, etc. behind which to pitch your tent, in order to enjoy a more calm cooking and camping area.
-- Before driving tent stakes too far into the ground, lay on your sleeping bag inside the tent to ensure that (1) you will be lying level or with head slightly higher that the rest of your body and (2) there are no stones or sticks directly under the floor. Make adjustments, then finalize your stake-out.
-- Carry miniature card games, cribbage, etc., to pass time during inclement weather.
-- Use plumber's candles or commercial candle-lanterns for prolonged periods of artificial light.
-- Establish consensus on rules of the tent related to eating, drinking, wet clothes, etc. in the tent, before the trek begins.
-- Use available mesh wall pockets to organize and store items which are needed in the middle of the night--flashlight, toilet paper, time piece, altimeter, whistle, medicine, etc.
Bivies are a great alternative shelter when you want to travel fast and light. There are definite trade-offs, though. Typical applications or situations where bivies are frequently used are (1) emergency shelter for very long day hikes (2) emergency and/or primary shelter for alpine climbing (3) long-distance, high-daily-mileage travel, and (4) multi-day cross country travel.
-- Lightweight (my Bibler weighs 18 oz)
-- Packs Small (like a medium-sized cantaloupe)
-- Requires Little Ground-Space--fast and easy to deploy
-- Condensation is a serious problem.
-- Gear has to stay outside.
-- Tight quarters. Hard, but not impossible, to change clothes inside.
-- Clostrophobic quarters when inclement weather necessitates total closure.
-- Place boots and/or clothes in headspace. This (1) keeps them dry and (2) lifts the bivy material off your face.
-- Sew loop on hood. Tie parachute cord on loop. Toss parachute cord over tree limb. When snug in bivy, pull on other end of parachute cord to pull bivy material up off your face. Provides ample room for reading via headlamp.
-- Use Gore-Tex or Dry-Loft sleeping bags, otherwise condensation could get fill material wet--especially a problem with down.
-- Apply thin bead of SeamGrip on all seams, even if bivy was "seam-sealed at the factory".
-- A bivy with 2/3 coverage of Gore-Tex, Todd-Tex, or other waterproof, breathable material, generally has less condensation problems. Most bags have top 1/2 in waterproof, breathable material and the bottom 1/2 in waterproofed, non-breathable tent bottom material--(ergo the condensation). Some manufacturers--like Feathered Friends--make bivies with 2/3 wrap around gore-tex and 1/3 tent bottom--(ergo more breathability and less condensation).
Attributes to Look For:
-- Large enough for a Winter sleeping bag and mattresses.
-- Room in headspace for (at least some) gear.
-- Factory-sealed seams.
-- Mosquito netting.
-- Top 1/2 to 2/3--preferably 2/3-- covered with breatheable, waterproof material.
-- Design which best prevents you from getting clostrophobia.
SUMMARY FOR TENTS & BIVIES:
Understand Your Requirements:
Research/Test Every Feature for Yourself (Don't Believe or Trust Manufacturer's Specs !):
If Unsure, Rent First:
Water-borne microorganisms cannot survive a rolling-boil. A few minutes (3 or 4) should
suffice. The problem here is twofold, (1) dirty water stays dirty--albeit safe--, and (2) it takes a lot of heavy
fuel to boil all your drinking water--particularly a problem on longer trips.
This is truly the cheap, ultra-lightweight water treatment for hard-core minimalists. The problem here is threefold, (1) dirty water stays dirty--albeit safe--, (2) it requires a lengthy wait while the iodine works its magic, before the water is safe--like 1/2 hour or more for cold water--, and (3) it tastes terrible (unless you like iodine).
These use a combination of filtration and chemical (iodine), enabling them to deactivate viruses and other microorganisms that are too small to be trapped by filtration alone. These are good choices for foreign travel.
On the downside, purifiers are relatively costly (US $50 to $200) and heavy (1/2 to 2 lbs).
This method uses a hand pump to force water through a complex matrix of micropores that let water pass but trap harmful bacteria and protozoans. Filters eliminate bacteria, protozoa, as well as clarify the water.
On the downside, they are relatively costly (US $50 to $250), and heavy (1/2 to 2 lbs).