Category Archives: Gear Reviews

The PlatyPod Ultralight Tripod

For better or worse, my DNA is full of engineer genes. This means, I'm constantly coming up with more crazy or fun ideas for new stuff than I could ever execute on. I love the MYOG (Make Your Own Gear) movement, but just don't have time to spend on it.

Here's my latest brain-fart:

playtpodI've been keeping my eye open for a while now for a true Ultralight Tripod. Would it really be possible to have a sub-pound tripod that could accompany a digital SLR in the field without feeling like I've regressed to the old way?

So far… nothing. Carbon fibre is the most promising, but they are still 2lb+ tripods. Generally the photo community says that anything lighter weight is too flimsy or unstable.

So what if one added some weight in the field to pull the center of gravity down and anchor the tri-pod in place?

Here's the idea: a tripod with a threaded pipe connector at the base. You whip out your flimsy tripod, whip out a platypus – fill it with 4lbs of water (or sand) and screw it to the bottom. Voila. Now all I need to do is find a light flimsy tripod.

Target weight: 10 oz, available sometime in the future.

YakTrax Traction Control


Our Wonderland Trail hike will probably involve a reasonable amount of snow travel given how early in the season it is and the current record snow levels.

I'm noodling on options for extra traction control. YakTrax makes a product that at approx 5 oz straps onto the base of a trail shoe for extra traction.

I'm thinking it might not be compatible with the big lug soles of my Golite Sundragons.

I'm also thinking it might be overkill to justify an extra 5 oz and poles and caution will be enough to get by with.

Interesting product though.

Mini Tissue

I discovered “Mini Tissue” the other day on a fellow backpackers blog and ordered a pack.

These things are kind of cool. We normally take a few wet-ones with us on a trip to augment our TP supply. The moisture in the wet-ones add a weight penalty that means we don’t take too many. One reader suggested drying them out prior to the trip and re-hydrating on the trail. Neat idea – but I’m too lazy.

Enter the “Mini Tissue”, these tiny compressed tissues expand when you add water into a very strong ‘shop-towel’ kind of material.

They weight about 10 tissues for 1.0 oz.

Here’s a video of me re-hydrating one in our kitchen sink.

Sea to Summit Dry Bag


The West Coast Trail is notorious for it's wetness. One investment we made prior to the trip last year was a couple of dry bags. These don't show up on my gear-list as I wouldn't normally feel that they are necessary, but they sure gave great peace of mind. They delivered bone-dry down night after night – even after a few mud-pit submersions 🙂

At 0.9 oz for the Small (4L) – I ended up taking two. One to cram in my down sleeping bag and one to protect my spare clothes. Theresa needed to take the Medium (8L) at 2.3 oz to fit her bulkier bag.

Available from starting at $11.95 for the small.

Caldera Cone Stove System

stove I've been considering the plunge into alcohol stoves for a few years now. My brother made me a pepsi can stove a few years back. I haven't quite struck up the courage to rely on it yet.

Several people have recently mentioned to me how impressed they are with the Caldera Cone ™ System.

OK.. I'll bite, so what would it take to make me switch?

First lets review my current gear list. My current cooking system comprises of 3 components:

The windshield is the biggest offender, and I often tell myself to leave it home, but I rarely do.

As I already have a BPL 550 pot, they make a cone custom to for this pot – which seems like the way to go.

The cone & stove weigh just 1.7 oz. Given that the cone is a natural windshield this saves me a whopping 4 oz! I suspect I could get more mileage on a 7 oz bottle of alcohol than I could in the 7 oz fuel canister.

For just $30, this might be an experiment I'm willing to tinker with.

Photon Freedom Micro LED Light


Oh yes… the gratuitous upgrade I made prior to the West Coast Trail trip last year.

I traded in our Black Diamond LED Headlamps for these little suckers.

Total weight savings? The old headlamps weight an outrageous 1.1 oz, and these are only 0.2 oz. A whopping 0.9oz gain!

OK… I agree I'm getting into diminishing returns on my gear list and would be better served eliminating the Tarptent for a sheet of Tyvek. 🙂

So why the upgrade? Aside from just being a gear-head, there were are few other justifications:

1. Not just a simple on|off flash light – this thing is tricked out! It has a brightness control and you can dim it very low to conserve power. It has various 'blinking' modes – like an emergency SOS signal. All of this configuration with just a single button.

2. It runs for 120 hrs on a single battery.

3. The spare batteries are lighter.

4. With a little tab of Velcro on the back, it attaches easily to the rim on a hat to make a decent hands-free head-lamp mode.

5. It's bomb-proof and waterproof.

Finally… if you think about getting this – a word of caution. The light ships in a 'safety' mode to prevent accidental battery drain. If you turn it on, it auto-shuts off after 5 seconds. To get it out of this mode you have to hold the button down for a whopping 20 seconds. I learned this the hard way on the WCT. Three engineers around a campfire failed to figure this out in four nights on the trail. You wouldn't think that a single button can have so many permutations! Moral of the story: RTFM.

Available from for $19.95.

Ultralight Playing Cards


If you backpack in groups of 4 or more, it's sometimes fun to play a game of cards at night in camp. Hearts? Spades? The options are endless…

These cards are tiny and weigh in at 0.53oz.

So go on and splurge on your next trip and treat yourself to that extra half ounce!

You can get a 3-pack from the Backpacking Light Store for $2.99.

Theresa keeps a pack in her purse also. We've occasionally pulled them out on the Washington State Ferries to alleviate the boredom on rainy days. �

Better water treatment

klearwater-clo2 I've been looking for a better treatment solution than MicroPUR tabs.

They work great, but we usually only let them sit for a half hour. In icy cold or dirty water, the recommended time is 4 hrs. I've always wondered if we are just being lucky when we are using very cold water from most of the streams around here.

So what are my other options?

Chlorine Dioxide also comes in liquid form – which has a faster reaction time.

Aqua Mira has had a two-part product on the market for quite some time. However, it requires pre-mixing before adding to the water – which sounds like too much effort.

KlearWater is a newer product that is pre-mixed and has a decent shelf life. It comes in small 9ml containers, that weigh 1.22 oz and treats 9 liters+. Ryan Jordan talks about a way to re-pack them down to 0.5 oz and a strategy that can stretch this to get 25 liters of treated water. 

Another interesting frontier-pro-filter-largeproduct is the Aquamira Frontier Pro Filter, shown on the right. This is inline filter is a mere 2oz in weight and fits onto the opening of a platypus bag and the other end to a hose.

I love the idea of not needing chemical treatment and having instant water, but I need to read some more reviews before I'm sold.

Firelite 550 Titanium Pot

A pot to be reckoned with.

This little fellow weighs in at a mere 2.5 oz and holds about 2 cups of water – which is the perfect amount for most freeze dried food bags.

I replaced my old pan set for this earlier this summer and have been thrilled with its performance.

You have to take a little care as its walls are very thin and so it can get bent out of shape easily.

Available from BackpackingLight for $27.

Senz Windproof Umbrella

vanbezooyen_core77_senzumbrellas[1] I'm not sure this little fellow truly belongs in the Ultralight club at 8.8 oz (For the Mini). But for 3.2 oz more than the Montbell – it comes with some bonus features:

– Windproof up to 40 mph. Or 70 mph for the normal sized one.

– The asymmetric design has a very elongated tail which would cover the the top of a backpack nicely.

I bought one of these on a recent trip to England. I've used it taking the bus to work in Seattle (it rains a lot), but haven't taken it on the trail.

They just recently started distributing these in the US, so you can now buy them online.

Coconut Cream Powder Granola

Coconut Cream PowderLooking to spice up your no-cook trail breakfast?

Instead of boring old dried milk – which is usually non-fat (unless you use Nido), give this is try on your Granola. It vastly improves the flavor of the granola and packs a whopping thirteen extra grams of fat.

I suspect this will be a new staple for me at breakfast time.

Credit for this brilliant idea goes to Freezer Bag Cooking, where I read the tip.

I bought my Coconut Cream Powder from Import Food online.

Umbrellas in the Snow?

brolly Theresa and I took a quick morning hike yesterday to Snow Lake. I haven't done this hike for a while – and when we do, we like to be on the trail for 5am to have some solitude. It's one of the busiest trails in the Seattle area and is always packed. It's a short 5-6 mile jaunt to the lake and back.

It was raining in Seattle, and we assumed the same in the pass. When we got there, it was snowing hard – with about 2-3" of fresh on the ground.

We had the trail to ourselves and cut fresh tracks most the way to the lake – when we passed a party of backpackers hiking out.

We don't really do much winter backpacking – our gear gets tucked away in favour of Snowboarding season. We've done some day hikes and a few big-climbs in the snow – like St. Helens and Mt. Adams, but not enough to consider myself seasoned in any way.

I was really surprised how well the brolly performed yet again in the snow fall. It got heavy once in a while and needed shaking off, but all-in-all I didn't bother to pull out a waterproof – or the down jacket I had in my pack just-in-case. We did the whole hike pretty much in thermal undies and hat and an Umbrella – neither too hot, nor too cold.

Can umbrellas really be a credible winter-tool also?

Freezer Bag Cooking

In the world of software development The Mythical Man Month proposes the notion of a project triangle. Where the three points of the triangle are Quality, Time to Market and Features. You can pick (at most) any two you want and do them really well, but the other one suffers. Want lots of features, with high-quality – it's going to take a long time. Want something quick with lots of features? It's going to be buggy.

I think a similar triangle exists for backpacking food. The three points are – Lightweight, Tasty and Fast to Prepare.

Freezer Bag Cooking in an excellent site that appears to deliver on at least two of the key points: Fast to prepare and Tasty. However they don't appear to be lighter than store bought de-hydrated cardboard tasting goop.

Still, I really dig the site – the idea of home-made backpacking meals that very easy to prepare in the field and taste really good probably has it's place on shorter trips. I have not tried any of their recipes yet – but I intend to.

If only they would invent a Thai Curry freezer-bag recipe, then I would be in heaven.

Response from GoLite on Sun Dragons

GoLite responded to my customer service inquiry about their Sun Dragon shoes.

The general manager responded to my post and pointed out that the first production run used a fabric treatment that left the uppers somewhat brittle. This is very consistent with my first impression of the shoe – the fabric seemed somewhat stiff and thin – and (with hindsight) probably prone to tearing.

I'm going to take them up on the offer and exchange them for a different pair with the new uppers and will report back. I hope they work out – as I really want to keep these shoes!

You can read the full response in the comments section of my previous post.

Old Ultralight Gear

This is my list of gear that I no longer use. Usually means it's been replaced by something lighter or better IMHO.

Sleep & Carry Gear

This table shows all of the gear we use for carrying or sleeping.
Review Item Description Weight (Oz) Pack
19 T
19 B
30 T
16.9 B
13.1 T
4.7 B
38 B
Total Pack (Brett)4.91 lbs
Total Pack (Theresa)3.88 lbs

Miscellaneous Gear

Random other stuff that is essential on the trail.
Review Item Description Weight (Oz) Pack
0.7 T
5.6 T
5.6 B
1.3 B
0.6 B
4.2 B
0.2 B
0.2 T
0.3 B
1.1 B
2 W
0.3 B
3.2 B
1.4 B
1.4 B
0.6 B
3.2 B
3.3 T
0.3 B
1 B
1 B
0.1 B
0.3 B
0.5 B
0.2 B
1 B
Total Worn0.13 lbs
Total Pack (Brett)1.74 lbs
Total Pack (Theresa)0.61 lbs

Base Pack Weight

Base weight of our packs before adding food or water. This is the constant weight that will never vary.
Review Item Description Weight (Oz) Pack
Brett Base Pack Weight
Base Pack without food or water
152 B
Theresa Base Pack Weight
Base Pack without food or water
122 T
Total Pack (Brett)9.5 lbs
Total Pack (Theresa)7.63 lbs

Final Weight

This table shows our final weights once loaded with Food & Water at the start of the trip.
Review Item Description Weight (Oz) Pack
Brett Base Pack Weight
Base Pack without food or water
152 B
Theresa Base Pack Weight
Base Pack without food or water
122 T
Brett Full Water Weight
Full 60oz Platypus
60 B
Theresa Full Water Weight
Full 60oz Platypus
60 T
Brett Food Budget
Assume 4 lbs for 3 days
64 B
Theresa Food Budget
Assume 4 lbs for 3 days
64 T
Total Pack (Brett)17.25 lbs
Total Pack (Theresa)15.38 lbs

GoLite Sun Dragon Falling Apart

I bought these GoLite shoes a few months ago, and wrote a very excited and optimistic post about them.

Today I have a different story to report. 🙁

I hiked a grand total of 3 hikes in them: a quick overnight to Kendall Katwalk, a day hike to Annapurna in the Enchantments, and the West Coast Trail.

Comfort and trail-use wise they performed really well. As I said in my first post – they are amazingly comfy and had excellent traction on a lot of terrain. However, durability wise, they were appalling. I'm amazed how badly they appear to be falling apart after a total of 7 days on trails.

Read on for more pictures of the damage.

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How to Pack Ultralight for the West Coast Trail in under 10lbs

On our recent WCT trip, Theresa and I had base pack weights of 9.10 lbs and 9.96 lbs respectively. Fully loaded with 6 days of food and water, we came to a max-weight of 17.5lb and 22.2 lbs respectively.

Our ultralight gear list changes from time-time and we try and keep it mostly up-to-date, so here for prosperity is a record of the exact gear we took on the WCT.

This was the first 6+ day trip I have done Ultralight and it involved a bunch of gear tweaks and adjustments to hit our target weight.

Read our full trip report here.

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