Category Archives: Random Stuff

Free Gear: Ultralight Bear Rope

My last freebie give away was almost two years ago. Time to spread the love again

This time it's some very cool ultralight hanging cord. This stuff is awesome, it's made of Spectra and so is very strong. It has a breaking strength of 329 kg; which means while I wouldn't tie it to my climbing harness and attempt a Factor 2 fall, it isn't going to break when hauling your bags full of food into the trees, no matter how many days worth. It will also stand up pretty well to several games of camp tug-a-war with your new found trail mates.

Unlike most other spectra cords, this one has a flat vs. round profile. This is nice, as if you've every hauled a very heavy sack into trees, the thin round-profile of most light spectra will cut into the branch – damaging the tree or worse, sometimes getting stuck.

This particular cord, comes from one of my favorite ultralight focused companies: Gossamer Gear.

At Gossamer gear, $25 gets you in the cool club of bear-baggers with your 1.2 oz, 50 ft line. The cord is brand-new as I ordered too many.

You my friends, have a shot at the cool club for free today. The only catch is that if you win, you agree to pay postage.

How do you win? Simply submit a comment on this post and include your email address (so I can contact you if you win ) when you do. I'll pick a lucky winner at random at 5pm (PST) Monday Sept 19th.

Good luck.

Update: 9/19/2001: Contest closed and winner announced here.

Baby Jack

Introducing the latest addition to our household – Jack Coyle Marl. Born Saturday August 14th at 1:30am, weighing in at 6 lbs 8oz.

Theresa blew me away with another all natural birth. This one was a lot quicker, but more intense – we were only at the hospital for just over an hour before he graced us with his presence.

There won't be any overnight backpacks in my future this season, but it's a trade off I'm more than ecstatic to make 🙂


What *is* GoLite Thinking?

A recent comment on my gear list page brought to my attention that the latest Jam (v3) Pack from GoLite is now a whopping 1 lbs 15oz.

Erm aren't we going the wrong way? Let's review the progression:

Jam v1: 1lb 5oz (21oz) (Circa 2003)

Jam v2: 1 lb 10oz (26oz) (Circa 2007)

Jam v3: 1 lb 15oz (31oz) (Circa 2010)


Surely a leading-edge ultralight backpacking company would be making huge technological leaps each year? Shaving ounces OFF their fabrics, straps, padding etc. and striving for a better product

Apparently not.

GoLite appears to be suffering from what (for lack of an existing label) I'll call The Ray Effect . The Ray Effect is an observation made by Ray Jardine in his book Beyond Backpacking.

Ray observes that gear gets heavier the more successful an outdoor company becomes. The more successful a company, the more likely they are to get exposure at big stores – like REI and Walmart (Yes GoLite sells to the mega store). These big stores carry no questions asked  return policies and their customers often take advantage of the perk. A little tear in your pack a year or two later? No problem – REI takes it back. So what do you get if you cross a fragile, needing to be cared for ultralight fabric with a mainstream consumer with high durability expectations? High volumes of returns – where the product gets sent back to the original manufacturer. Their reaction? Make the product more durable. More durable equals heavier, but more profits.

So sadly, one of my favorite ultralight backpacking pioneers of the last decade has lost their way. Fortunately, however, there are other outstanding startups pioneering in their place.

My next backpack will be the ULA Conduit weighing in a scant 17oz (1 lb 1oz), it's almost a pound lighter than the Jam3 and just as functional.

Go ULA! I hope I never see you at REI.

Blog Action Day – Climate Change

Climate Change is undisputedly upon us, and while the exact future ramifications are uncertain – some of the predictions are scary. If they hold true – some amazing coastal hikes like the West Coast Trail simple won't be there for future generations to enjoy?

The wilderness forests that we walk in when backpacking not only give us immense visual and environmental pleasure, but are working hard to pull Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere and pump Oxygen back in, but we're cranking out way more CO2 than is fair for them to cope with. So what small things can we do to help combat the emission of CO2 into our environment?

One thing I looked at recently was my desktop computer. We have two of them in our home – and they are energy hogs. With the advent of broadband, it's convenient to be able to walk up-to a computer and search for answers – so they stay on. 24×7, 365 days a year. Even when we sleep. Laptops are less of an issue as they go into low-power mode, but desktops are hogs.

I admire the disciplined people in the world that turn on and off their PCs each morning and evening – but I'm just not that structured 🙂 So I dug in a little to figure out how I could automate things, and I thought I would share my findings with others on Blog Action Day.

The idea is simple – automatically turn off my computer when I go to sleep, and turn it on again in the morning before I am out of bed. This way, I never experience my computer being ˜off' – and it's always on when I want it. So what are the steps? Read on and find out:

Continue reading

Happy Birthday Chester

Our little guy turns one year old today. We celebrated on Sunday while Theresa's family were in town.

Over the last year, he's done a handful of hikes with us, (mostly asleep on Theresa's chest) and we hope to get in many more in the coming year including a short (Wet diapers aren't exactly ultralight!) overnight.


1977 Air Mattress

Q: How far have we come in backpacking technology in the last 30 yrs?

A: Not as far as you might think

This ad comes from an old 1977 copy of Backpacker Magazine:


Individually inflated components! Awesome if you get a puncture – it will just affect one segment vs. the entire pad. Surprisingly, at 20oz, this air mattress isn't all that far off a modern Themarest Prolite  air mattress today.

When you think of how far the computing industry has evolved in a similar time period, isn't it time the backpacking industry took some bigger leaps?

Where's my 2oz sleeping pad made of puncture-free space-age materials?

Where's my just add water and it inflates from the size of a pea to a super-comfy feather bed  air mattress?

What about the gravity-defying or rocket-booster backpack?

Nigel’s TGO Update

It's been fun to watch Nigels Live TGO Status page over the last few days.

You can see his intended route in RED and his actual route in BLUE.

The actual route is being reported hourly by his SPOT tracker device.

Given the harsh conditions for the first few days – it appears they skipped some hill climbing on day 2 and stayed low. I suspect this was their bad weather alternative route.

It's about 6pm UK time as I write and they appear to be well on their way to Fort Agustus. The weather forecast for today was clear and sunny (near freezing temps though!) so hopefully that raised their spirits a little from the brutal start.

Pasayten Photos Get Better

Tim had a busy weekend he worked on the Pasayten Photos he took on our trip and make allsorts of tweaks and adjustments to the RAW format in Adobe Lightroom.

The results are spectacular – and make the ones I posted in the trip reports seem washed-out by comparison.

There are some epic photos in here that make jaw-dropping backdrops for your PC desktop.

Given that he posted the originals on Smugmug, I'm sure he wouldn't mind of people snagged one or two 🙂

>> Link to Tims Pasayten Photos

Weight: 6lbs 14 oz

Sounds heavy – but this newest addition to my backpack is worth every ounce in carrying with me.

Chester Morgan Marl was born last night weighing in at 6 lbs 14 oz. Theresa did an amazing job of delivering him with a natural birth at Swedish hospital.

I've seen Theresa do some pretty amazing things – like 50 miles of mud, roots and ladders on the West Coast Trail or rock climbing Devils Tower – but her stamina for 22 hrs of drug-free labor blew me away. I'm in awe.

His name is in honour of my birthplace (Chester, UK) and because we think it's cool.

More Pics at

Satellite Communications

Theresa is due in early August. As we leave on July 12th for our trip, there is a very small chance that she might go into labor early. It's unlikely enough that we both feel comfortable about me going on the trip still. That said, I want a way for her to get in touch with me on the trail if the need arises, so I could evacuate the hike and get to the hospital as soon as possible.


So what are my options? I've been looking into a few:

1. The  Spot Satellite Messenger.

This is an interesting little device. That allows for backpackers to send a distress call. When activated, the unit broadcasts it's own GPS location every ten seconds together with a distress signal. The distress signal can be "OK, Send Help, or Emergency" based on the buttons on front. Friends can track your spot beacon online and see where you are and that you are OK. Available from It weighs in at 7.4 oz and can run for 14 days on standby and 7 days when broadcasting.

Not very useful for my situation as Theresa has no way of communicating to me. It's outbound broadcast only, no receive capability.

2. Satellite Phone.

Satellite phones don't require typical cellular tower coverage as they use orbiting satellites to communicate. For best coverage you need a network that uses low orbit Satellites. There are two gigs in town for the US. Globalstar and Iridium.

The Iridium 9505 handset can be rented for about $40 / week but is heavy at 13 oz. It only has 3 hrs of talk time and 30 hrs on standby.

The Gobalstar GSP-1700 is better at 7 oz but rental rates are in the $100 / week range.

The standby time makes this less than ideal for me. I would have to arrange a few key times of the day to either call Theresa, or have the phone on waiting for an inbound call.

3. Satellite Pager

Also running on the Iridium network is the Motorolla 9501 Satellite Pager. It receives inbound text messages up to 160 characters. The messages can be sent easily via Theresa from a website.

It's the lightest option at 4.16 oz and has a standby time of an incredible 30 days! It also runs on a single AA battery so it's field-replaceable for any PCT'ers looking to getting encouragement from home.

Rentals are available from Their rental rates are quite reasonable at $25 / week. However they do stiff you on shipping at $50 to and from your home.

Pasayten Boundary Trail

We're searching for a replacement hike for our Wonderland Trail trip. So far we have narrowed the search down to 3 candidates:

  1. A section of the PCT in Northern California (JMT maybe)
  2. Olympic Coast
  3. Boundary Trail

1 is challenged for us logistically at such short notice. 2 sounds fun – but too similar to our WCT experience last year and probably not "epic" enough. 🙂

3 is an interesting candidate. Its way out in the wilderness, with Grizzlies and Gray Wolves, and best of all – mostly snow free (so we believe). Sounds entertaining…

Length: 98.0 miles
Difficulty: Very Difficult
Overall rating: 10
Season: This trail is accessible July-September.

Boundary Trail is located in Okanogan National Forest.


nwsource Review

Time to study the maps and see if we can make a loop out of it. With 6-7 hrs drive from Seattle, travel time will whittle our trail time down a little.

El Camino Del Rey

This 'trail' built between Chorro and Gaitanejo Falls was built in 1905. The walkway has now gone many years without maintenance, and is in a highly deteriorated and dangerous state. It is 3 feet wide, and is 700 feet above the river. Nearly all of the path has no handrail. Some parts of the concrete walkway have completely collapsed and all that is remaining is the steel beam originally in place to hold it up and the wire that follows most the path (Wikipedia Info)

Wow. Makes me want to get my rock climbing shoes on. 🙂

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.