Saturday, December 26, 2009

Re-waterproofing a backpack

Do you have a trusty backpack? Because I do. It goes everywhere with me. Work, travel, play, outdoors. It holds my computer, or it holds my passport, or it holds a light jacket when I'm out on a day hike. It's a North Face Hot Shot, and it's about 8 years old.

Soon after some heavy traveling, I noticed white flakes appearing on all of my gear I stuffed inside the bag. Upon further inspection, I noticed that the waterproof coating on the inside of the packcloth was actually peeling off, making the bag pretty much useless in any sort of drizzle or downpour. But I couldn't give up this pack, it meant too much to me.

After some research, a local REI sales rep recommended McNett's Tent Floor Sealant, a water-based urethane coating that you paint on with a foam brush. I have no idea why it's called "Tent Floor Sealant" when it has so many applications, but it did the trick. Here's a short description on how to apply it, just in case you run into the same problem.

1) Peel off excess waterproofing (this part take forever). Tip: it helps if you wet the surface of the pack. Let the pack dry completely.

2) Lay down a work surface, since the sealant is quite liquidy, and it tends to drip when applying. I cut up a paper grocery bag and laid it down on the floor.

3) Liberally squeeze the sealant onto the included foam brush and paint onto INSIDE of the pack fabric. Make sure to coat underneath the zipper flaps.

4) Hang and let the coating dry for a day or two. Reapply if you want an extra level of protection.

Available on McNett's website and at REI for $10.

Update 1/24/10: I've noticed some very slight darkening on the top section (it looks like faint rubbed-in dirt) of my backpack after re-waterproofing. This is probably due to the amount of sealant I coated the inside with; I put enough on to the point of saturation. If you have a light colored pack and don't want this to happen, don't quadruple coat when you're waterproofing. :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Jetboil...not a bad idea...

As someone who has tipped over a few too many pots, precariously balanced on the top of a ultralight stove (I'm so careful! I don't know how it happens...), I took a second look at the jetboil cooking system.

Jetboil Flash Cooking System

The jetboil system has been around for about 9 years, and I'd always overlooked it as a too expensive and heavy stove ($100 from REI, 15 oz), but considering the amount of gear you're getting in this package, it's actually not too expensive, nor incredibly heavy.

No doubt you could get stove, pot, and mug for cheaper and lighter, but you're paying for a beautifully designed all-in-one product. The entire unit screws onto a standard mixed-fuel canister. The stove is part of the 1L stainless steel pot, which becomes your bowl/mug with a sip through lid and insulated outside (perfect for those people who burn themselves on the often too short or non-existent handles on light cook pots). There's also a bunch of optional accessories available, such as a hanging kit, coffee press (for those lavish backpackers out there), and a canister stabilizer (three pronged tripod-type piece).

My current snow peak stove and stainless cup/pot configuration works pretty well and weighs in at a nice 8.7 ounces. I won't be picking up a jetboil anytime soon, but it's definitely a cook system to ponder if you like to keep your cookkits simple, compact and all-in-one.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cool, cheap finds at the surplus store

A recent visit to the local army surplus store yielded two great, cheap finds:

Ecco Socks

Listed at $12 online, available for $4 at the surplus store. Always nice to have an extra pair of wool socks for sleeping.

Stansport Aluminum Canteen Cup

Cost: probably around $5 (didn't have a price tag, but that's the going rate). I really like these because of their shape, they pack down more conservatively than round mugs/pots, they're superlight, and the tops are easier to cover up from the wind. Probably not the greatest for flame usage though.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gear Review : Lightload towels

Forget to pack your first aid kit, and you might not notice unless you hurt yourself. Forget your packtowel, and you'll realize it on the trail at some point.

It's not an "essential" piece of gear, like a sleeping bag, that you can't leave home without, but it's just one of those things that you'll make a mental note not to forget it next time.

So when George from Lightload towels sent me a sample of his towels, I was eager to test them out so I could replace my beat-up brown washcloth with one.

The Lightload 12 in by 24 in towels come in a three-pack and sell for $5 - $6 (available on their website, REI, and many other retailers). Each one weighs 0.5 oz according to the manufacturer.

Once out of the plastic wrapping, you're holding a cicular disc that looks like a vacuum packed handful of kleenex. It's condensed incredibly tight. I assumed a disposable towel so light would rip easily, so I slowly negotiated it apart. But once it started to come apart, I realized it was actually much stronger than it appeared, and was actually quite soft and usuable. It is possible to rip these things by hand, but it's not easy.

The actual size is 11 in x 19 in about the size of a small kitchen towel, or about two giant washcloths stuck together. It's not quite long enough to tie around my neck on a hot day or around my head (is my head really that big?!).

It has a papery feel to it right out of the package, but it's tough and dries quickly. I got to test it out on a recent backpacking trip in Ojai, California where I put it through the not-so-tough paces of drying off my wet pot after cooking a meal and mopping up some spilled water on my groundcloth.

After arriving home, I threw the lightload towel in the washing machine and dryer with my other gear. I found the result was a much softer version of the towel...and we're talking feathery soft. There is minimal fraying, but nothing that would affect performance. It also results in a slightly larger size -- 12.5 in by 22 in.

After a washing

The only other product on the market that could compare to the Lightload towel is the MSR Nano Packtowel which weighs .4 oz., and costs $8 for one. The big difference is the semi-disposable nature of the Lightload towel. At under $2 a towel, if you often find yourself mopping up messy dinner spills, misplacing or needing multiple towels, the Lightload series is your answer. However, if you're looking for a more permanent solution, you might want to look at the MSR series.

The Lightload towel now has a spot in my backpack -- I'm definitely not going back to the grimy brown washcloth I used to use as a packtowel. At a half ounce, there's no reason not to carry one. If you want to get even lighter, you can always cut the towel in half, resulting in a .25 ounce towel (Lightload carries this size as well). Because I carry chlorine dioxide tablets for purification, the Lightload towel will act as a good silt filter when dipping into a lake. I can also see carrying an extra "just in case" towel for long-term hikes.

I also have a Lightload "beachtowel," which I plan to include in my travel kit and test out as a better substitute for hotel towels and beach towels while travel backpacking. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My G4 is finished!

Notes/Alterations on my pack:

  • The pack weighs 15.0 oz. That is, 3 oz heavier than the instructions would suggest. I would guess this is a result of so much reinforcement on the seams and the extra pocket (see below).
  • I don't have any velcro on the pack whatsoever, even though the instruction call for it multiple times. I don't like velcro because it gets stuck to things (clothing), things get stuck to it (dirt), and it slowly wears out.
  • In lieu of velcroed access pockets in my shoulder straps and my waist belt, I stuck craft foam inside and sewed it permanently shut. I like the idea of using spare socks as padding, but couldn't get behind the idea of stashing different pieces of clothing inside my straps. What if I need my spare socks (while my socks are drying out in the mesh pocket), or my gloves? There goes my padding.
  • In every backpack I've owned, there's always been a small (or smallish) zippered pocket where I can stash smaller items that I don't want to be stuffed in a stuff sack risking it slipping to the bottom of my pack. So I created one on the G4. A cordura zippered pocket, approximately 6" x 4" for my headlamp, chapstick, purification tablets, first aid, lighter, and a few other things.
  • Approximate cost of my backpack was $50. $40 for the kit from quest outfitters, plus tax, a black zipper, and a giant 1000 yard extra spool of thread (I ended up reinforcing stress points a lot more than instructed, and I didn't want to switch to the alternate color thread quest provided). Other supplies I bought, but wouldn't consider in the cost of materials: a chalk pencil, seam ripper, tape measure, and sewing machine oil.
  • I did not sew any lashing loops into the bag, except for one on the bottom. I find daisy chains much more useful, and sewed quite a few on the top. I also put two opposite daisy chains on the bottom of the bag for strapping a larger sleeping bag or extra bed roll to the bottom. I never plan to strap the sleeping bag to the bottom, but have freqently ended up doing so.
  • You could definitely get away with the weight-saving mesh rather than the standard mesh. I was surprised to feel how rough and unflexible the standard mesh is. Would make for easier bunching on the outside pockets too.
Wanna make one yourself? Stop on over at quest outfitters and pick up a kit for yourself. I got the #9107 kit with the cordura. My only complaint was that my "silver gray" is definitely more blueish than their digital fabric swatch might suggest.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Making a G4 pack!

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a G4 backpack kit from Quest Outfitters, which includes everything you need to make a G4 pack (minus the sewing machine). It took me a weekend to pin and cut out the pattern, and since then I was waiting to borrow my sister's sewing machine. Now I'm on to the actual sewing portion! You can see the nearly completed shoulder straps in the above picture.

There's been a bit of a learning curve (I don't have much experience sewing), but so far so good. I'm following the instruction almost to the T, except for a few alterations (I'm thinking of permanently stuffing the shoulder straps and waist belt with light foam, instead of leaving them with velcro openings for stuffing socks in).

After this project, I'm planning on making a sleeping bag of my own design. I'll keep you updated on how the backpack goes!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Trail Recipes: Granola

Original recipe found here, slightly altered below.

2 cups rolled oats (aka Old Fashioned Oats)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
7 teaspoons vegetable oil (I use Smart Balance Oil)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup whole almonds (buy them sliced or diced if you'd like)
1/3 cup whole hazelnuts (buy them sliced or diced if you'd like)
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup coconut shavings (found in the baking aisle)

For the newbie chefs, note that you'll also need: An oven, cookie sheet (or substitute), two large-ish bowls, a measuring cup, and a teaspoon.


1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2) As my baking surface, I spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, or you can line any type of baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

3) In one bowl, stir the cinnamon and salt into the oats.

4) In another bowl, stir together the oil, honey, brown sugar, and vanilla (Note: Put the oil in first to avoid major stickiness on the bottom of the bowl). Stir until combined.

5) Pour the contents of one bowl into the other. Stir with a spoon to get all the oats coated with the wet mixture. When everything is coated, grab a handful, squeeze it in your hand to make a ball of honey coated oats (this will lend to the granola's clumpiness). Do it 5-6 times with the mixture so that everything is clumpy, not just a bowl of gooey oats :).

6) Pour the mixture onto the prepared cookie sheet. Spread it out so it covers the pan, but don't smash the clumps too much. Also, leave some holes for even cooking.

7) Bake for 10 minutes. While it's cooking, chop up the almonds and hazelnuts. They don't have to be chopped perfectly. Also, feel free to use whole almonds and hazelnuts.

8) Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and use a spatula to lift and flip the granola. Sprinkle the almonds over the granola evenly and return the cookie sheet to the oven.

9) Bake for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and flip the granola again. Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the granola and put the cookie sheet back in the oven.

10) Bake for 10 minutes, then remove from the oven. Flip the granola again.

11) Sprinkle the raisins and the coconut over the granola. This part can be tricky, so be careful: Turn your oven to a low broil. Now return the cookie sheet to the oven (preferably on a rack not close to the broiler) and broil for 25-50 SECONDS (check at 25 seconds). Any longer than that, and you will probably burn the raisins and coconut. If done right, this will make everything nice and crispy on top.

12) Pull the cookie sheet out of the oven and let the granola cool.

I usually separate the granola into small tupperware containers and stick them in the refrigerator for breakfasts and snacks. The granola makes GREAT backpacking food, you can put it in a ziploc bag and take it on the trail with you. It travels well, is little to no mess, and is extremely cheap to make (you'll wonder why granola is so expensive at the grocery store). In the frig, I've seen it last for 7-10 days, but if you're taking it out with you, I'd make a fresh batch before you go, and it's probably good for 5 days or so.

Also of note, I double the recipe when I make my own batch. I would suggest sticking to the above recipe the first time, so you can see if you'd like to make adjustments (i use slightly less salt and brown sugar). You can also substitute the almonds and hazelnuts for other nuts you might enjoy, as well as substituting the raisins for other dried fruit.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

GSI Soloist Cookware

I saw this little cookkit at the local sporting goods store this weekend while picking up some new shoes. For $40, you get a 1.1 liter pot (1100 ml) teflon coated aluminum pot which is quite bigger than a range of the 600 - 800 ml ultralight backpacking pots (often titanium) out there.

The kit also comes with a BPA-free mug/bowl with a lid for sipping, a telescoping spoon (they sell the spoon separately too), and a stuff sack for it all. This completes the 10.8 oz package.

The pot has a rubberized, and incredibly sturdy, locking handle that keeps your hand away from the flame. The handle swings and locks the pot lid in place, securing the contents (the bowl, spoon, and, as advertised, your gas canister and stove.)

I really like GSI's focus on the ultralight sector. The packaging was EXTREMELY detailed with ounces and fractions of ounces that each piece of the kit weighs.

All in all, I think the GSI Soloist kit would be great for a pair of ultralighters needing a tall, sturdy pot (the hard aluminum being preferable to the sometimes flimsy titanium) for trail soups and other recipes, with the added conveniences of the mug/bowl and a collapsible spoon. It'd make a great buy for those trying to save some space by nesting their stove and fuel canister in the pot.

For comparison, take a look at Snow Peak's 900 ml Ti Pot, selling for $44, and weight a mere 5.7 ounces. The snow peak is probably the option I would go for if you're in the market for the lightest possible thing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Flextrek 37,000,000,000,000

Haha, wow, the exact opposite of ultralight backpacking:


Hey all, glad you found the new blog. I will be posting updates on new gear, trips I've been taking, reviews on ultralight gear, and other inspiring posts to keep you entertained and ready for your next trip into the outdoors.