Category Archives: Gear Reviews

I’m an Idiot

Yes. Self-professed moron.

I've recently been experimenting with taking my iphone into the wild. It's a pretty handy multi-tool; it replaces my camera and gives me a ton more functions (notepad, peak-finder, compass, gps, maps etc) I'll detail about in another post.

However, a couple of weeks ago I did a trip in the Pasayten wilderness and it chucked down with rain. I stupidly put my phone in a cheap and cheerful ziplock sarnie bag and the seal failed miserably.

Five days of drying out in a bowl of rice later, and my iphone is officially toast; and of course, stupidity is not covered by AppleCare.

The sad part is that I have a ton of aLOKSAK bags at home and I didn't bring one

These bags are awesome, bomb-proof and leak-proof. Next time my iphone will be snuggled up inside one.

An Ultralight 4-Person Tent?

Sounds like an oxymoron right?

The Marl family are going on a car camping trip soon. What's a guy to do with a two year old and a nine-month (notice my lack of blog posts lately?) old, the wife and a two-man tarptent?

Clearly a bigger shelter is in order

There are a bunch of option out there for mega-tents. REI has somewhat cheap (couple of nights in a hotel), beastly large tents line the Hobitat 4 or Hobitat 6.

The Hobitat is a monster-tent alright, with plenty of head-room for standing, which at first blush given out situation this seems useful. The little guy is still an infant – and too young to roll about on a matt on the floor, so he'll need to sleep in a pack-and-play or something, having a little space to walk around to rock him to sleep sounds tempting.

Then I look at the specs – a jaw-dropping 17 pounds for this tent. At this point I just can't bring myself to do it. Something in my core is so against buying a tent dedicated to car camping I'm not sure I do it enough to justify the extra clutter in our house – even packed up – it's huge: 10 x 10 x 27!

Some point in my future, I'm having fantasies that the boys will be old enough we can start backpacking again as a family and sure as chips I'm not going to lug a 17 pounder up any trail.

After some discussion Theresa and I decide a family backpacking tent is the right option – sure we'll be a little cramped when car-camping, and little baby Jack will be sleeping in a cardboard box, but hey – that just makes it more fun right?


After poking around a little, I stumbled on the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL4. On sale at for $400.

It arrived yesterday and I set it up in the garden. I'm really impressed I haven't been that tuned in to Big Agnes as a brand, but they have a very solid product.

  • It's unbelievably light at just over 4 lbs.
  • It's a double-wall traditional tent!!! With little kids, I'm willing to take the (marginal) weight hit for this benefit not having to worry about them whacking the sides and getting wet or causing condensation to fall on everyone. I love my tarp tent, but it takes a gentle touch  
  • The tent-pole system is awesome, they all snap-together.
  • Comes with very light high-quality titanium pegs.
  • Build-quality and fabric seems very high.
  • Size-wise it's pretty darn tight for four. You have to sleep tops-and-tails and there's no room for gear other than in the vestibule, but at this weight it's at solid trade-off. Bring a black trash bag and store your stuff outside.

I'll report back after a little trail (or car camp) testing

MontBell Extremely Light Down Jacket


Occasionally something comes along in the outdoor industry that re-invents your previous perception on the world.

For me, this is one of them. At first sight it's a nice looking puffy jacket. But that's a winter thing right? They're heavy. Then someone picks up said puffy jacket and throws it at you. You put you hand out ready to catch a pound or so of duck-filled garment and them – boom. Not what you expected. It's like a helium balloon just brushed against your hand. Where did the weight go? This doesn't make sense. It's thick and puffy, and warm – but it doesn't weigh anything. Huh?

And so began my $160 love affair with the Montbell Ex Light Jacket. Not to be confused with its heavier cousin the Montbell UL Jacket, this sucker weighs in at a scant 5.7 oz for a Medium. But don't expect any frills – like pockets or hemmed waists.

I wore this whenever I had a chance on the Wonderland Trail. Rest stops – camp, heck I even slept in it on most nights. It's a perfect compliment to my lightweight summer bag when things get a little chilly at night to ensure I'm snug as a bug in a rug.

Granted, I've spent more time in this Jacket off the mountain at this point. It's so snug, so cozy that I've been living in it for most of the winter.

This jacket replaces my Bozeman Cocoon Vest, as for 0.4 oz more it packs a whole lot more warmth. The trade-off is that I'm more vulnerable to rain as the Cocoon was synthetic and this is down, but one I'm willing to risk.

Thermarest NeoAir First Impressions

I received my new NeoAir in the mail today. My first impressions are outstanding. Read on for the gory details

I was surprised at how small the package was the came in the mail. Upon opening, the NeoAir comes nicely packed in minimal packaging and is about the size of a water bottle.

Here's a shot next to my iphone showing the scale.

After unpacking the mattress comes tightly rolled from the factory. I took a photo, as I thought I would never see my NeoAir look like this again 🙂

However, it is surprisingly easy to re-roll into this tight package even after being inflated. I unrolled the bundle and blew up the pad.

When inflated it takes on a slightly wavy shape to it.

I ordered the short model – which is quite generous in length. I've been accustomed to my Gossamer Gear Torso pad for some time now, and this new length feels down right luxurious. I can't imagine why anyone would want the regular length unless they are snow-camping.

The thickness of this mattress is what blew me away – it is a whopping 2.5  thick. Here's a few side shots:

The weight test? The specs say 9 oz for the small and 14 oz for the regular. My scale showed it at 8.9 oz after being deflated.

The comfort test? On my hardwood floors at home – down right staggering. I think it's more comfortable than my bed. The thickness feels like a crazy luxury and I can't wait to field-test it.

My current sleep solution is the Gossamer Gear Torso Pad, which while functional and very light at 4.7 oz (including the extra insulation pad) isn't exactly a comfortable nights sleep – but I've gotten used to it. The ultra plush comfort is certainly going to give me a good reason to re-think my sleep solution and consider a 5 oz gain for a better nights sleep. Although the weight penalty might be higher, as my Torso Pad currently doubles as a my packs back-pad eliminating weight from my GoLite Jam. 

Ultra-heavy Backpacking Knives

In a search for an ever lighter backpacking knife, I ran across this beast:


Weighing in at a whopping 2 lbs, and retailing for a princely $1400, this knife has every attachment ever conceived – a total of 87 blades and 141 functions!

Some of my favorites include: Magnetized recessed bit holder, Chain rivet setter, Universal wrench, Springless scissors with serrated self-sharpening design, Golf Club face cleaner, Shoe spike wrench, Divot repair tool, a Ruler, Cupped cigar cutter with double honed edges, Watch caseback opening tool, Compass, Fish Scaler, Hook disgorger, Shortix laboratory key, Laser pointer with 300 ft. range, Flashlight, Special self-centering screwdriver for gunsights, Mineral crystal magnifier, Tire tread gauge and Fiber optic tool holder.

How I ever went into the wild without my Shortix lab key, laser pointer and gunsight tool I will never know.

Anyway… if you're tired of losing all your money on the whims of wall street and want something to show for your hard earned cash, then perhaps this is the blade for you! Might be handy when the economy melts down and we all run for the caves…

You can find one here.

Easy Showily – Ultralight GPS

Earlier this year I looked into Ultralight GPS Units. I ended up trying out the Garmin Forerunner 405, but wasn't thrilled with it. I liked the watch form-factor, but it was clunky to use and was missing an Altimeter. It also came with a weird USB-cable which made field-charging it somewhat difficult.

In the end, I decided a basic GPS logger is all I needed. A GPS logger will record waypoints – show basic lat|long information on a screen and they usually run on easily field-replaceable batteries. It doesn't come with a fancy color screen and map data like the traditional GPS units.

The Easy Showily , as awkward as the name might be – came up trumps. This is a deceptively excellent device.


First and foremost – the device is incredibly small and light – weighing in at 1.3 oz without batteries.

Secondly – it has amazing battery life. I used AAA Energizer Lithium Batteries and got over 20 hours of logging-time per pair. A pair weighs in at 0.3 oz.

Digging a little deeper – the cap comes off and reveals a USB plug. The device is elegantly simple – in that it does not require drivers or special software to operate. The USB connection exposes a typical thumb-drive (albeit with a meagre 5Mb of storage), and as the GPS unit logs data, it simply writes the way points to a file on the drive.


When you insert the device into a PC, windows detects it as a Thumb Drive and auto-runs the Win_Tool.exe application installed on the thumb drive. This application proceeds to unpack the data file into many different formats – a GPX file – the most common GPS exchange file format, and a collection of HTML and Javascript files that it then proceed to open a browser on – which uses Google Maps to display your way-points. I get all the benefits of Google Maps terrain data without needing to install special mapping software on my machine.


A side-bar allows you to show each GPS ˜track' (a collection of way points), and overlay other information – such as ˜push-pin' data, direction, speed etc.

Ideal for multi-day trips, the Easily Showily can store almost 100,000 way points. When logging aggressively – as a way-point every 10 seconds – that's over 23days of continuous data assuming 12 hrs of hiking a day!

It's chocked full of other features like power-saving shake-activated mode, photo-location-tagging software, multiple recording modes (bike, walk, run, car etc) and more.

Costs about $99 from ˜Buy GPS Now'.

And the point of carrying a GPS? So I can easily crank out maps like this one of our Pasayten Trip.

Thermarest Neo Air


I may well be late to the party blogging about this upcoming new toy, but it is one that I'm excited about checking out when it ships in Spring. 

Can a 9 oz air mattress offering 2.5  of thick padding really exist?

Thermarest believes it can.

Will it be enough to lure me away from my current 4.7 oz solution and actually inspire me to take MORE weight? We shall see

For more details, Gear Junkie has a great write up here.

Caldera Keg Stove

Just when I thought I had the lightest stove possible something comes along keg.stove to shave ounces!

Roman from Lighthiker's blog has an excellent review of this new stove.

It's basically a recycled beer-can as the pot – with a Lance Armstrong style silicone wrist-band on top as a ˜pot' holder.

The weight of the pot, cone and the stove come in at a staggering 2.7 oz.

However, the full package weighs in at 6.9 oz, which isn't that great. If you look at the details – the wrist-band adds an ounce, a half-ounce for the lid and cozy and over 3oz for the ˜carry-case'.

I was sold until the 3 oz carry-case came into the picture. While this does double as a 2nd bowl – it's way to heavy compared to my 0.6 oz disposable tupperware container. 2.4 oz for cone-crush insurance isn't worth it in my book.


Caldera Cone Stove Observations

I got to use my new Caldera Cone Stove on a few trips this summer. It has been my first time relying on an alcohol stove in the wild.

Here are my thoughts so far:


  • It's somewhat fragile and needs to be well looked after. The cone section is very thin and dents easily. The best option I came up with is to wedge it in my sleeping pad for protection.
  • The flame is very hard to see in daylight.
  • The stove lights best if you put a few ml of fuel in the outside primer ring and light that first. Feel like it wastes fuel, but maybe I need to get better at using less.


  • Ultralight – duh.
  • Can take only as much fuel as I need, further reducing weight. This helps in my mind compensate for liquid weights vs. compressed gas weights.
  • Bomber windproof!
  • Easy to conserve fuel by using less to make hot drinks etc – no need to bring the water to boiling point.
  • The biggest unexpected pro for me is that, it's a set it and forget it  stove. With my canister stove – I used to have to wait for the water to boil and then shut it off. With this, I can measure the exact amount of fuel I need to get a boil. I light it and walk-away, when the water is boiled the fuel burns out and it turns off. I can come back later and simply pour the water into my dehydrated meal and I'm off. Nice way to multi-task at dinner time.

So far – the pros far exceed the cons, and I'm really happy with it.

Terra Nova Titanium 2G Skewers

I was in Pro Mountain Sports this evening with Tim picking up a few things. skewerOne thing that caught my eye was some crazy small and light tent pegs.

The Terra Nova Titanium 2G Skewers. 2G as they weigh only 2 grams each. I weighed the pegs that came with my cloudburst. There are four of them, and together they weigh 1.6oz. Four of these guys are only 0.3 oz.

Seems like a possibly interesting trade in the future. Worthy of a field test one weekend perhaps. I suspect the holding power is a lot less, but reinforced with a nearby rock they might be just fine.

Pack of 6 is $20. I've only seen them on UK based web sites so far.

Tim also picked up a LiteMax stove, which he's planning on bringing on our trip. Should be a good field test.

Defending against Mosquitoes

I called the ranger station to check on conditions for the Pasayten Wilderness area we are hiking in this weekend. Among other things I asked if the bugs were a nuisance this time of year. She chuckled and said "Reports are coming in that Mosquitos are being assigned to individual hikers by the cloud full."

That doesn't sound pleasant. So what defenses am I taking?


  1. First line of defense will be clothing repellant. It's going to be hot and my thin t-shirts are no defense for mozzies. I'm going to treat my shorts and T-shirts with Sawyer Spray on Repellant.
  2. My second line of defense is for my exposed skin. I'd rather stay away from DEET unless I really need it. I'm going to need to wear sunscreen on my exposed skin anyway – so why not combine it with a light repellant. Avon Bug Guard is SPF 30 and claims to keep the bugs away. It has rave reviews on epinions, so we shall see how true they are… I'll take a repackaged 2 oz container.
  3. My third line of defense is for when the clouds swarm and the other defenses fail. Out comes the Ultrathon 34% DEET. Again, 2 oz should be plenty.
  4. And finally… when when I'm in camp and wanting to cook without being bugged… an ultralight mosquito net at 0.3 oz.

Old wives tales have it that some people are more attractive to Mosquitoes than others. Bill claims to be one of those people, which makes the rest of us happy 🙂

Go Bill – taking one for the team.

My Bear Bagging Kit

No, it's not for bagging bears. It's for bagging up your food to keep out of reach of bears. Or raccoons, chipmunks, other hungry hikers etc.

I've refined this over the years taking feedback from other hikers and what I glean off forums etc. 


The kit comprises of a few key items:

Total weight for everything 1.3 oz.

The gossamer gear spectra line is flat vs round. This makes it safer when hanging heavy food bags in trees as it glides over limbs without ’sawing’ into them

The kit makes it easy to perform the "PCT Method" of hanging food bags. Follow the link for detailed instructions on how to use this method.

Tip: The article shows how you use a twig or stick in the field to tie a clove hitch around. I find with heavy bags it's hard to undo the hitch in the morning. One option is to break the stick – another is to bring a small section of chopstick. It's strong enough to hold the load and tapered so that it slides off easily in the morning.

Ultralight Pillow?

OK.. so we established that my dentist Bob likes a Pillow

So what are the options for other hikers with a pillow fetish?

Bob mentions the Montbell UL Comfort System Pillow, which at 2.3 oz might be a pretty good nights sleep.

But can Bob (remember this is the same guy that saws off the extra length on the Titanium bolts on his race-car) do better? Sure he can…

The FlexAir Ultralight pillow. Totally waterproof and at 0.56 oz gives Bob a whopping 1.74 oz refund. Not to mention the $20 of so in savings, as these puppies run $6.29 for a 3-pack.

I actually did try the FlexAir on our Rampart Lake hike – it faired pretty well, although needed to be slightly deflated for the most comfort.

These days I'm back to the old stuff-sack of spare clothes approach and pretty happy with it. Give me a few Tylenol PMs and a flimsy torso pad and I'm a happy camper.

Wait! Doesn't Tylenol cause tooth decay? Oh no – that's Methadone, never mind…

Field-Charging a USB device

I finally caved and bought a Garmin Forerunner 405 (more on that later). Its form factor is nice and small, but it only carries a day worth of GPS power. On a long trip, I would need a way to recharge it in the field.

juicyEnter the Minty Boost. The Internet is fortunately fully of smart EEE majors who have a fetish for building stuff in Altoids tins. The Minty Boost is one of such creations. It allows a USB device to be charged from a couple of AA batteries.

The DIY kit is available from Adafruit for $19.50.

I might just get one, and whip out the old soldering iron and see what I can assemble in a half hour.

I'll post my results of how well it charges the Forerunner once I know more 🙂

Ultralight GPS Units

I don't normally bother with a GPS. It doesn't quite fit my ultralight principles. The extra few ounces that I could live without – as I would not leave map and compass at home.

However, Backpacker Magazine is looking for volunteers to help gather some mapping data and write-up trail guides/accounts. I agreed to do this for the our Wonderland Trail hike in July. To do so, I need to bring a GPS to track coordinates and record way points.


So what do I buy? Here's my criteria:

– As light as possible.

– Can log up-to 10 days or 100 miles of data.

– Has enough battery life for 10 days.

– Altimeter

I don't care about maps and fancy color screens. Lithium Ion rechargeable models are obviously out due to lack of recharge ability.

After a bit of digging around, it looks like the Garmin Geko 301 is coming up trumps.

It weighs just 3.1 oz with batteries – and has a run-time of 12 hrs on two AAA's. We will be planning a few resupply points – so shipping in some extra batteries should be no worries. Retails for $246.

If anyone has a better idea, I'd love to hear it…

Bottle Cap Tripod

Have a bottle of water, or a full Platypus? Add this little gizmo – and presto – instant tripod.

For a whopping ten bucks from here, it's a bit like day light robbery – but I'm sure the boys over at BPL have own MYOG version for less.

Weight? I have no idea… I can't justify the $10 plus shipping to find out, but it looks pretty light and seemed worth a mention.

GoLite Storm Dragon

We're starting to think about our Wonderland Trip in July. Nigel (Our ultralight newbie) has been looking into footwear. He settled on the Golite Storm Dragons.

The seem to be a beefed up version of the Sun Dragon – with the nice feature of having a built-in gaiter system. Nigel picked these, as we will likely have a lot of snow ridges to cross and the gaiters will make it a little more pleasant.

I paired my Sun Dragons with an add-on set of gaiters which worked very well in sand.

I'll be curious to see how these work out for Nigel.

Ultralight Stream Crossing Shoes

If you subscribe to Ray Jardines ultralight philosophy – you don't really need these. You should just plough ahead and do stream crossings in your hiking/tennis shoes – get them soaked – and let them dry out over the next few hours.


However, If I know the trail will be mostly dry, except for a few stream crossings – I would rather take a little bit of a hit – and get across the water with dry feet. I've tried sandals, neoprene socks etc – and while not the most stylish option (be prepared to be laughed at), these nylon mesh shoes are a great balance between some sole-protection and minimal weight penalty.

Ignore the sizes. I wear a men's 10 and I can JUST fit into the large size – no way I could get into the medium.

Theresa has the small at 1.5 oz.

I have the large at 2.1 oz.

Available here at Sprint Aquatics, for a whopping $4.95.