Sierra Design Gives You Great Tents and Great Customer Service

A few months ago, I called Sierra Design for advice on re-waterproofing my Sierra Design Light Year ultralight backpacking tent. While on the phone, I mentioned that I also had a Sierra Design Tent Meteor Light with a fly that was sticking together after being folded up for any period of time.

Customer Service Rep Brandon McMullen asked me to send a video demonstrating the problem. I followed up with a short iPhone video and he quickly determined the problem was a covered by warranty.

I was honest with Brandon that the tent was 15 years old. He said, the “sticky” fly was a defect and said he would send me a replacement tent. The only catch was I had to cut up the other tent with the sticky fly and email the picture.

Sierra Design Meteor LightIt was painful to cut up my Meteor Light, a good friend for many years in the backcountry. However, ss promised, within a few days I had a replacement, a Lightning 2 FL that was lighter and light years ahead technologically.

I love my new tent, but I also love Sierra Design, a company which not only makes great tents and other backpacking equipment, but also stands behind it’s products. Customer service is just first rate.

Here’s a look at the Lightning 2 FL:

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

PCT Thru Hiker Red Beard Talks about Sawyer Mini and SteriPen Ultra

In my previous post, I discussed the Sawyer Mini Water Filter, at 2 ounces, a real challenge to big clunky water filters.

I use a SteriPen Adventurer, an ultralight version that weighs around 4 ounces. Two long-lasting batteries are required.

Today, however, I saw a review by someone who does some serious trail testing: PCT Thru Hiker Red Beard. He took the Sawyer Mini on his 2014 thru-hike and felt that it clogged too much to make it useful on long hikes.

This year, he was planning to take the SteriPen Ultra, 4.9 ounces. The SteriPen Ultra has no batteries and is rechargeable. Let’s hear from him about his pre-hike thoughts on the Ultra.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

The Perfect Backpacking Holiday Present: The Jetboil Stove System

My desire to have presents under the tree, no doubt, is a leftover from when I was a kid. As a kid, the sky was the limit. Now, I will be content to see just one: the Jetboil Sol Advanced Cooking System.

I’ve had my eye on the Jetboil for several years, but felt the original version was was just too big and heavy; not quit perfected.  The newer models are improved versions of the all-in-one concept of fuel, stand, stove, cup and cover nicely integrated into one lightweight unit.

The Sol is 10.5 oz. (300g) according to the specs, will hold 27 ounces (0.8 liters), and will bring the whole thing to a boil in 4 minutes, 30 seconds. You can even see through the side so you know when the water is boiling–a nice feature. Check it out.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Ray Jardin: Father of Modern Lightweight Backpacking

It was 1998 and I had just finished my first year of backpacking with a pack that weighed in at 45+ pounds. Then I read the book, the Ray Way, a guide to ultralight backpacking, and instantly became a devotee. His wisdom lead to my quest for ultralight backpacking and ultimately this blog.  He and his wife were able to get their packs to 9 pounds on a PCT trip while the rest of us where still hauling 5 times that much.

Without doing a lot of history research, I figured Jardin was the father of modern lightweight backpacking, since legends like John Muir, who carried a rucksack with a few hard biscuits, must have been the original “father” back at the turn of the 20th century.

In any case, Jardin published a book in 2009 I just discovered: “Trail Life, Ray Jardine’s Lightweight Backpacking” with the subtitle: 25,000 miles of trail-tested know-how.

Seems like a no-brainer as a must-read for anyone who wants to lighten their load.

A interesting note: Jardine was age 50 when his original book came out. He is now pushing 70. No doubt he is still on the move.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

The Ultra, Ultralight iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation

Your favorite music to help you sleep or to give you inspiration during an uphill slog can be a welcome backpacking companion.  As long as it doesn’t add a lot of weight.The new iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation weighs all of .38 ounces — that’s right, just a tad over one-third of 1 ounce. Holds 1,000 songs with a 10-hour battery. Only 1.8 inches tall and .7 inches thick. And, only 79 bucks. I can’t think of a better trail companion.Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Backpacker ’09 Gear Guide Touts Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent

Most ultralight tents are pretty durable, so I look at weight, roominess and price in deciding whether I think a tent is in my ultralight backpacking ballpark. The Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 gets Backpacker Magazine’s top rating in its annual gear guide as best all-around. My take: Big Agnes is $300 (pricey), 2 pounds, 3 ounces with everything (stakes, poles, fly, tent, sack, instructions – under my 3-pound limit), has a 38-inch high pitch (you can sit up) and a fly that allows space for boots, pack, etc. I’m not crazy about the front entrance, mainly because  side entrances allow you to easily “roll” into the tent. Add 4 ounces for a footprint ground cover.  If you have the money, I give this thumbs up. A word about price. In my experience, the lighter the equipment the more it costs. For example, my Sierra Design Light Year is about 3.5 pounds and cost (five years ago) about $149. To get titanium poles, instead of anodized aluminum, that knock off another eight ounces, the tent cost would have been $349: $25 an ounce or $100 per pole. But if light is what you want and you can afford it, why not get the best and lightest. Chances are, you’ll have it a long time.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

It’s a Croc – Ultralight Water Shoes An “Optional” Essential

Pulling off your hiking shoes or boots to cross water is literally a pain. A pain in foot and toes. One solution: Crocs Beach Clog Sandals.

I jettisoned my heavy boots years ago, in favor of waterproof tennis shoes. But any water crossing more than a few inches deep requires you to unlace and walk barefoot. I’ve done this many times and I’m almost always sorry I don’t have sandals or water shoes of some kind to protect my feet. Slipping and sliding on rocks in a stream in bare feet can also result in pulled muscles, falls, and injury.

Although I had tried a couple of options, including surf booties, all were too heavy. Storm socks are an option at about 2-3 ounces, but don’t provide much protection. On the other hand, Crocs, those odd slip-ons with lots of holes drills in them, are only six ounces each, provide relief from trail shoes after a long day and can function as a second pair of hiking shoes if necessary.

I think the comfort and safety benefits make them worth the extra 12 ounces.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

miniTISSUE: Ultra Ultralight Backpacking Towels

minitissue.jpgMy regular readers know I’m a gearhound. And I’m always looking for the latest and greatest ultralight backpacking “thing” to include in my pack.

My latest find is the MiniTissue. Comes eight in a pack for $1 (1 ounce total weight). Individually wrapped like peppermint candies, you splash them with water making them instantly rehydrate, creating a very sturdy 8 by 9 inch face/hand towel. The company website sells them 96 to a box of 12 packages for $13.95, but I purchased mine at a kitchen store.

They contain no preservatives, alcohol or anti-bacteria solution and are environmentally friendly, 100% biodegradable and self decomposing. Individual compressed tissues don’t even register on my postal scale.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

The SteriPEN: The Ultimate Ultralight Backpacking Water Purifier

As someone who loves gear and is always looking for the next greatest ultralight backpacking gizmo, I strongly recommend you consider the SteriPEN Adventurer.

SteriPEN by riverThis is Hydro-Photon, Inc’s newest iteration of its proven water purification system, which was first introduced in 2000. I own the first and second generation models, and if you look at an earlier review on this site, you will see that I really love them.

As an ultralight backpacker, the only reservation I’ve ever had has been the size and weight of the earlier versions (about 7.5 inches long and 7.2 ounces with four batteries).

Compared with other water purifiers this is not exactly “heavy,” but in my quest for everything ultra, ultralight, I always wished for a smaller, lighter version. And the Adventurer is it: 6.1 inches long and just 3.5 ounces (on my postal scale) with two lithium batteries; 4.5 ounces with carrying case. The carrying case is only necessary if you want to attach the Adventurer on your belt or the outside of your pack.

The SteriPEN uses ultraviolet light (UV) to purify water. You push the button once, immerse the UV lamp, stir continuously, and you’ve got one liter of pure, safe water in 90 seconds. For a half liter you push the button twice and wait only 48 seconds. You don’t need to remember whether to push once or twice because the instructions are printed above the activation button.

Adventurer and Second Generation SteriPEN What it Kills

The UV light destroys viruses, bacteria and protozoa (such as giardia and crypto), and according to company literature, exceeds U.S. EPA standards for microbiological water purifiers. The company also notes that numerous independent labs have proven its effectiveness (and it has been on the market for eight years).

Something Lighter?

The only water purification system I’ve ever seen that is lighter or smaller is iodine drops or tablets. Problem is, depending on the water temperature, you need to wait 20-30 minutes to drink after treatment and there is no guarantee that chlorine or iodine will kill cryptosporidium. Besides, who wants to wait? When you’re thirsty, you’re thirsty. Of course, you can always boil and wait. With the SteriPEN, you scoop up the water, give it a 48 or 90 second blast of UV and you’re on your way.

I’ve owned pumps, used iodine, tried in-line filters connected to water bags and none of them stack up to SteriPEN, especially the new ultralight backpacking and hiking model.

Field Testing

Since I haven’t taken it into the field yet, I can’t attest to the durability of the case and UV light cover, but it appears to be made of water-proof, high-impact plastic. I’ve dropped both of my other SteriPENs and have never had them break, so I assume they’ve made the Adventurer just as sturdy. The company notes that the U.S. military is using the Adventurer in various locations.

A Downside?

Disadvantages? Well, the company reports that like all pumps or chemical treatments, UV has a problem with treating murky or turbid water and recommend pre-filtering (with a bandana perhaps). However, the Hydro-Photon states that even with turbid water, two doses of UV light (perhaps three minutes worth) will make the water safe to drink.

Another option: Hydro-Photon has come up with a new product: a Nalgene bottle pre-filter. The Pre-Filter filters out particulates and debris. Fits on Nalgene® & wide-mouth water bottles. Water bottle pre-filter: $12.95. Weighs just 1.5 ounces.

As for battery life, my query to the company, drew this response: “In terms of the batteries, the CR123 disposable batteries will provide roughly 100 of the 0.5 L doses and the rechargeable CR123 batteries provide 60 0.5 L doses.”

adventurerinsolarcase.jpgThis is right in line with my second generation model, which I personally tested in my kitchen over two days. (I’ve also used it on dozens of backpacks over six or seven years). It produced 60 1-liter treatments before discharging, which should be adequate for a week-long backpack or more. For longer trips — say the AT, JMT or PCT — you’ve got an optional solar charging case at $49.95. The weight is more than 7 ounces. For an ultralight backpacker concerned about every ounce, this could eliminate the need for taking extra batteries which means extra weight. You would need to balance battery weight versus solar charger wait.

One last thing: the customer service is outstanding. My first generation had a “child lock” which I didn’t want and they immediately fixed it. And responses to my questions have been really fast.

Price: $99 suggested retail with carrying case and non-rechargeable batteries

Options to consider: solar charging case – $49.95

Video Demonstration: follow this link.

In the meantime …

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.

Backpacker Magazine 2008 Gear Guide Lists A Whopping 480 Bags

That number — 480 — is a bit overwhelming at first glance. But if you apply my 1-15 rule (your bag should not be over 1 pound, 15 ounces), you trim the choices to 129 sleeping bags.

To help pair this list down further, you need to consider temperature rating.

I own a Western Mountaineering Highlite, a 16 ounce, 38-degree bag. Inside the protection of a tent with a jacket, thermal bottoms and socks, I can get that bag down to a 20-25 degree rating. And my bag gets me through three seasons pretty nicely.

Honestly, there have been a few nights when I wished I had something a bit warmer, but I was only “chilly” at worst. You need to ask yourself if you really need a 20 or 30 degree rated bag, 0r if a higher rated, lighter model will do.

You’ve got to balance lightness versus comfort (and safety). There’s nothing worse than a cold, restless night on the trail. If you’re a warm sleeper you can probably get by on a higher temperated rate bag. If you get cold easily, then go for a lower rated bag.

Backpacker Magazine listed 45 bags with a temperature ratings of 30 degrees or less that meet the 1-15 rule. Only 13 bags on this list are rated at 20 degrees or below and still 1 pound, 15 ounces or less. Four of those are made by one company: Nunatak Gear LLC. The quest for lightness often comes with a hefty price tag as well with the 20-degree rated “Alpinist Nunatak” selling for $384.

Because bags are so well made and so light these days by comparison with just five years ago when I purchased my Highlite, I think I might consider a 20-degree bag for seven or eight extra ounces.

Be light. Be safe. Be one with the pack.