Friday, June 26, 2009

Mainstream Vendors Making Progress on Ultralight Backpacking Tents

Sometimes it’s a bit annoying to see backpacking technology change so quickly, especially when I just bought a new tent six months ago.  Never the less, it is great to see large outdoor manufactures continuing to make progress in making gear lighter.  Big Agnes is a leader in this.  They have recently come out with a new one person three season freestanding tent that is under 2 pounds.  It is the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 weighing in at 1 lb. 14 oz. (trail weightflycreekUL1tent-zm – not counting stakes, guy lines, instructions and stuff sack, 2 lbs 3 oz. total “packed” weight).  I few features of this tent that I really like.  First the Fly Creek UL1 is freestanding, this is sometimes a big advantage and can make the tent much easer and faster to setup on a platform or a rocky area. Second, I like the netting, when the weather is clear, you can pitch it without the fly and get a nice view of the stars while still having some privacy around the bottom half of the walls.  On the down side the floor is ultralight rip-stop nylon so it may be necessary to carry the footprint – an additional 4 ounces.


Overall this is a great light weight backpacking tent.  Still a bit heaver then the non-freestanding alternatives and not as roomy as the Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo or the Tarptent, but definitely worth considering.






Iodine Water Treatment Banned in Europe; Alternative Water Purification Methods

Some of you may already know, as of October 26, 2009 the EU has banned the sale of iodine water purification drops or tablets.  The European Union has in it’s infinite wisdom issued a “Biocides Directive” (detailed bureaucratic document at this link) that prohibits the sale of iodine for water treatment or disinfectant in any of the countries in the EU.  Iodine will still continue to be legal in the United States.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control (link) has for a long time had a warning out about using iodine for wilderness water treatment.  Iodine can be extremely dangerous if used in incorrect quantities, if used over an extended period of time (more than a few weeks) or if pregnant or have a thyroid disease. The CDC recommends against using iodine as your main water purification/treatment method on a multi-week long distance backpacking trip.

There are several alternative methods of treating water when hiking in the wilderness.

  1. Boil the water.  Boiling water is the best method for making water safe to drink. Boiling water will kill bacterial, parasitic, and viral causes of diarrhea. Adding a pinch of salt to each quart will improve the taste. Although this is the safest method, most backpackers don’t use this as their normal water purification method due to the added weight of the fuel required and the time needed to boil and cool the water.
  2. Water filters. According to the CDC “Certain types of portable water filters can also remove some types of infectious agents from drinking water. However, most of the portable filters on the market do not effectively remove viruses, thus chemical disinfection of water is needed after filtering with such filters to make the water safer for drinking. Some portable water filters designed to remove parasites (Giardia/Cryptosporidium) have an "absolute” pore sizes of 0.1 to 1-micrometer and, therefore, may also remove most diarrhea-causing bacteria.  Viruses are smaller than 0.1 micron and will NOT be removed by filters with a pore size of 0.1 or larger. To kill viruses that may pass through these filters, ..use a chemical disinfection method.”  Many light weight backpacking water filters are available, check REI.com .
  3. Chemical treatment. There are three primary types of chemical disinfection used for water purification.  Effectiveness rates stated here are based on CDC study (CDC Water Treatment Study).
    1. Iodine; Iodine is not effective against Cryptosporidium.  It does have a low to medium effectiveness on Giardia and a high effectiveness on bacteria and viruses (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. Coli).  If water is extremely cold, less than 5° C (41° F), an attempt should be made to warm the water, and contact time (standing time between adding a chemical disinfectant to the water and drinking the water) should be increased.
    2. Chlorine Dioxide; Chlorine dioxide has a a low to medium effectiveness on Cryptosporidium and a high effectiveness on bacteria and viruses (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. Coli).  The Aquamira Water Treatment is liquid chlorine dioxide treatment that purifies water in 30 minutes.  Alternatively, tablets can be used made by both Aquamira and Katadyn.  Tablets take about 4 hours to be effective.
    3. Chlorine; Chlorine, similar to iodine is not effective against Cryptosporidium.  It does have a low to medium effectiveness on Giardia and a high effectiveness on bacteria and viruses (Campylobacter, Salmonella, Shigella, E. Coli).
  4. Ultraviolet Light.  Ultraviolet light can be used as a method against some microorganisms.  The technology requires pre-filtering due to to its dependence on the water not being cloudy.  The SteriPEN Adventurer Water Purifier is one of these ultralight ultraviolet water purifiers. Independent testing on specific systems is limited.
  5. MIOX systems. These use a salt solution and electrical current.  The MSR MIOX Purifier is an example of this.  Generally kills viruses and bacteria in 15 minutes.

More information on water purification will soon be available on BackpackBasecamp.com

Monday, June 8, 2009

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Now Available

Late last year and in early 2009 some backpackers were a bit frustrated that they couldn’t get their hands on the latest and greatest piece of gear – The Cascade Designs Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad.  The manufacturer didn’t have enough to fill the early demand.  The delay may have allowed some to reconsider it they really wanted to spend $120 or more on a sleeping pad (versus $40 for a Z-lite).  For those of you that have decided it is worth it; REI now has them available at: REI.com

Compared to the Therm-a-Rest Z-lite the NeoAir is better in many ways. The weight of both is about the same, the Z-lite is 14 oz for the Regular size as is the NeoAir; Z-lite is 10 oz for the small size the NeoAir is 9 oz for the small size.  The Z-lite has an R-Value of 2.2, the NeoAir an R-Value of 2.5 (better).  The NeoAir has a much smaller pack size 4” x 9” (water bottle size), the Z-lite pack size is 20” x 5.5” x 5”.  The NeoAir is also thicker and gives you a more comfortable nights sleep.  On the down side, the NeoAir is an air mattress so you have to blow it up, then deflate it to pack it (this can be a pain) and there is the risk of a leak.


Overall I really like the idea of reducing my pack size so I think I will give this thing a try.  Below is video review of the NeoAir.


Friday, June 5, 2009

Backpacking and Camping in a Hammock

As the warm weather comes, it is time for Hammock Camping! In Hammack CampingThere is nothing like sleeping out under the stars in a hammock. Whether you are backpacking into the wilderness or “car camping” with the family, if the situation is right, consider using a hammock.

If you are with the kids I would advise bringing both a tent and the hammock.The children love to play and lay around in the hammock, but it does take some time to feel comfortable sleeping in a hammock. Better to have a tent as a fallback for the kids.

When you are backpacking solo or with a partner, if the conditions are right, swapping the tent for a hammock may be the best option. There are several reasons to use a hammock or not depending on the situation. Issues like weight, bugs, comfort and temperature.

a setup hammockFirst let’s consider weight. This is always a top concern with experienced backpackers. Compared to an average single person tent, hammocks are lightweight, mine being just under 2 pounds (a Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker Asym). But, compared to an ultralight tent – they are a bit on the heavy site (my Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo is 1 Lb. 10 oz.). On the other hand, if the weather is warm, with a hammock you don’t need a sleeping pad or ground cloth so there is a pound or so weight savings there and bit more simplicity to life. On the third hand (if you have one) – when you are hiking with a partner and sharing a tent, an ultralight 2 person tent is lighter that two hammocks even considering the sleeping pads.

Comfort – After a hard day of hiking you want sleep well. If you have never slept in a hammock before definitely practice spending the night in the backyard in it first. It takes a bit of getting used to. Some people like it almost immediately. I think it is more usual to struggle with it at first, maybe even have a bit of claustrophobia in it (this goes away). It takes a bit of practice learning how to get in and out of the hammock without a struggle. A little more practice to be able to easily be in the hammock and be able to crawl into a sleeping bag or put on a jacket if you are cold. The best way to sleep in a hammock is at a bit of an angle. Have your body 20 degrees or so off center to the center line (ridge line) of the hammock. This causes the hammock to be more flat reducing the curve under your body. When angled in this way you can sleep on your side or turn over more easily.

Generally I find hammocks more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. There are no rocks or sticks poking you in the back. You don’t have to worry about the ground being level and if the rain starts, you don’t need to worry about the ground getting wet and water seeping into the tent. As a bonus you do sometimes get a slight rocking which can help you sleep. The hammocks I’ve listed in the comparison chart in this article all have bug netting. This is a big advantage over tarps which are obviously lighter than hammocks. Most of the hammocks in my chart include a optional tarp to keep the rain off. This comes in handy if there are no trees around to hang the hammock, the tarp can be used alone or you can use the hammock as a bivy.

The main problem with hammocks is that they can be cold. You are surrounded by air, so as the temperature drops and the wind starts it can suck the heat out of you. There are various ways to deal with this, the simplest being – just use the hammock when it is warm out. If the temperature is going to drop into the forties you’ll need to take additional steps. Being careful to hang the hammock out of the wind makes a huge difference. You can add a sleeping pad under you or various other attachments can be added – I will list a few a bit lower in this article. The problem with adding things to the hammock is that it also adds weight; at some point is it more logical to switch to a tent.

The below chart is a Comparison of the camping hammocks available; It my not display correctly in this blog post depending on your computer;
to see a clearer view of the comparison table and with more details; go to the article on the web site: http://www.backpackbasecamp.com/Articles/Hammockcamping.html

Maker Model Weight Dimensions

Clark Jungle

North American

2 lb 15 oz

98" x 44"

Clark Jungle
Vertex 2-person
4 lb 14 oz
104" x 44"ea
Clark Jungle NX -250
3 lb 10 oz
110" x 50"
Clark Jungle Tropical 2 lb. 8.5 oz 98" x 44 "
Clark Jungle Ultra Light 2 lb. 6 oz 98" x 44 "
Hennessy Hammocks Expedition Asym 2 lb. 12 oz 100" x 65"
Hennessy Ultralight Backpacker Asym 1 lb. 15 oz 100" x 65"
Hennessy Explorer Ultralight 2 lb. 9 oz 110" x 66"
Hennessy Explorer Deluxe 3 lb. 6 oz 110" x 66"
Hennessy Safari Deluxe 4 lb. 2 oz 112" x 70"
Hennessy Hyperlight Asym 1 lb. 10 oz 100" x 65"
Hennessy Scout 2 lb. 11.5 oz 100" x 48"
Hennessy Survivor 2 lb. 15 oz 108" x 63"
Hennessy Desert Rat 2 lb. 10 oz 100" x 64"
Mosquito Hammock Jungle Hammock 3 lb. 117" x 48"
Mosquito Hammock Expedition Hammock 2 lb. 96" x 48"
Crazy Creek Crazy Crib w/Tarp 3 lb. 3 oz 94" x 44"
Crazy Creek Crazy Crib LEX w/Tarp 3 lb. 6 oz 94" x 44"
Lawson Blue Ridge Camping 4 lb. 4 oz 90" x 36"
Hammock Bliss No see um no more 2 lb. 6 oz 118" x 59"
Warbonnet Outdoor Blackbird 21.5 - 28.5 oz 120" x 72"
Jacks R Better Bear Mountain 1 lb. 10 oz 88" x 29"

There are more than a few camping hammocks on the market to choose from, some are more suitable for backpacking than others.  The above is a comparison chart of the best ones I have found.  If you know of others or see an error on this page, please email me and let me know. These all include bug netting and most include a rain fly.

There are several others I didn’t put in the comparison chart, either because they don’t come with a rain fly (you could always add a tarp) or their weight makes them too heavy for backpacking.  You may still want to consider these, especially for car camping. Particularly the Grand Truck Ultralight Skeeter Beeter and the Byer Moskito Traveller look interesting, both of these you can get at Altrec.com or Campsaver.comTreklightgear also has some interesting options.

There are several “accessories” that can be added to the hammock – various way to speed up hooking it to the trees, snakeskins to speed up the setup, take down and storage (Hennessy option), smaller hammocks to store you gear, and down blankets to keep you warmer.  A big innovator in this area is JacksRbetter.com. They sell quilts and ‘nests’ to keep you warmer in a hammock, self tensioning lines, clips and various other cool items.


Monday, June 1, 2009

Ultimate Slackpacking and Hiking in the White Mountains

I happen to live in the Northeast, the home of the Appalachian Mountain Club.  If you don’t life in this part of the county you may not have heard of it.  The AMC is an old hiking club started in 1876 and has about 90,000 members.  The organization does just phenomenal work including maintaining and running a series of ‘huts’ in the New Hampshire White Mountains.  The huts are spaced about a days hike away from each other and offer a nice place to sleep, meals and other activities.  This allows you to slackpack – even with children through some of the most beautiful mountains and wilderness.  This short video will give you an idea of how nice it can be.


The AMC has also added a few new blogs, one of which I feel looks very promising.  Kristen Laine is writing “Tips on getting kids outside” http://amcoutdoorskids.blogspot.com/ Take a look at it.