Years of Sierra backpacking with experienced friends has helped me dial into a core set of gear that works really well for me. That said, things change, innovations come to market, and materials improve. There is always a ‘better faster lighter cheaper whatever’ option that is incrementally better than what we have. As happy as I am with the gear I haul along for a week in the Sierra, I’m always open to improvements and new options. I’ve made three changes to my core gear set this year and I thought I’d write about the reasons for these changes.
1. Cooking System
Before – for a nine day solo trip:
- Snowpeak 700ml ti Pot (4.8 oz)
- Vargo Jet-Ti Stove (2.7 oz iso-butane stove plus .7 oz pouch)
- 2 fuel canisters (1 GigaPower 110 (6.4 oz full) and 1 GigaPower 250 (12.4 oz full)
- Total weight of set: 27 oz
New – nine day solo trip:
- JetBoil Sol Ti – this includes the stove and cook pot as a set (8.5 oz)
- 1 Jetboil 230g fuel canister (12.9 oz)
- Total weight of set: 21.4 oz
Reasons for the change:
I own one of the original JetBoil stoves and have always loved it, but it was never something I wanted to carry along on a long backpack. It was just too big and heavy compared to my little Vargo Ti stove and Snowpeak pot. But this year JetBoil came out with a smaller titanium version that is perfect. Although the pot+stove system weighs a small amount more than the old combination, the efficiency allows me to carry less fuel. It’s a better stove on a cold morning or on a windy evening, both of which are quite common in my backpacking destinations. I’m a simple backcountry chef – just give me something that will boil water quickly and efficiently and I’m all set. I’ve used it a few times already and am a big fan – this sucker boils water FAST.
2. Camp shoes
Reasons for the change:
I have carried Crocs as a camp shoe for years. The soft squishiness of the sole feels great after a long day of hopping talus. However, once I’m in camp I still enjoy exploring, or need to walk down a steep embankment to the water, or stroll along the lakeshore fishing, or hop around the polished granite looking for a perfect nap spot. The Crocs are loose and insecure and my foot slides around in them, they don’t grip well, or my feet slide out of them. I’ve always wanted a camp shoe with a good grippy sole that was still lightweight and comfortable but have never seen anything that fits the bill. I have considered using my Vibram Five Fingers (I run in them), but fitting my end-of-day swollen feet into the toes might be problematic.
Last week as I was hiking out of Emigrant Wilderness, I saw someone with a pair of these Merrells strapped to the outside of their pack. I was familiar with them as a barefoot running shoe but hadn’t considered them as a camp shoe. As soon as I was home I looked up the weight and decided that the 1.5 oz difference was worth it to have something that would be more secure on my feet (especially with this year’s water). The biggest negative: the $100 price tag. If you’re interested in them as a camp shoe wait until the end of season sales come up – I’m sure old colors of these will be clearanced out in favor of the newest color-of-the-year. The Pace is the womens version of what is called the Trail Glove, I believe.
3. Two Man Tent
Reasons for the change:
This is the biggest change of the gear set and somewhat counter-intuitive. Heavier? Expensive? Why? Lets take a step back.
Several years ago Henry Shires introduced the Rainbow, a one person single-walled shelter and I bought one. I love it. It is the best shelter for me when I’m on my own. Spacious, easy to set up, comfortable, fully enclosed, and all of it for two pounds. Since I was so happy with my Rainbow I decided to purchase the Double version for when David is with me. It adds some extra floor space and a second door. And it only weighs half a pound more than my Rainbow.
But the Double has some issues that I don’t have in the single version. The floor space is tight for the two of us, and we’re not even very big people. We both like to keep our gear protected and put away inside the tent, and once our gear is inside it’s even tighter. Like all single-walled shelters, the Double Rainbow has some pretty big condensation issues. In my single Rainbow it’s never a problem since I can easily avoid touching the walls and sending a rain squall down on my gear. But even our tossing and turning overnight inside the Double will often lead to drips. Getting out of it without getting wet is a huge challenge. It’s just awkward and uncomfortable.
After last week’s overnighter I decided I couldn’t put up with it for our upcoming nine day trip. I was sick of listening to David complain about the condensation every morning, and if I want it to be an enjoyable nine days I needed to find a new solution. I decided to look for something with the following criteria:
- free standing (for that granite terrain where staking-out is possible but can be challenging)
- double walled (for the condensation issues)
- two opposite-side doors (I *hate* crawling over each other to get in and out of tents)
- plenty of floor space for us to avoid bumping heads
- Adequate head space for us to sit up and play cards, change clothes, etc if we get caught in a storm.
- Stable enough in the wind (not a 4 season tent, but something that can handle the Sierra monsoon season)
I quickly realized that the only thing that would satisfy 3, 4, and 5 was a three-man tent. The two-man tents on the market are simply too tight, even for average/small people like us. For an overnighter that’s okay, but for a longer trip I go crazy in that confined space. Heaven forbid getting trapped in it during a storm. Once I realized that I added another criteria:
7. Under 5 lbs and possible to split up between the two of us. I didn’t want either of us carrying more than we would have with the Double Rainbow (which we didn’t split up, just took turns carrying it).
There was something about that 5 lb limit that I refused to cross. I’m a lightweight backpacker, dammit! And here I was, looking at double walled, free standing, three-man tents. I’m almost embarrassed. Plus, that limit allowed me to filter down the ‘possible candidates’ list to only a few options.
Enter the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL3. I had seen the single person version back at the Winter Outdoor Retailer show and really liked it. The three person version hit all of my criteria on the nose. I poured through reviews and could find nothing but positive statements about it. Packed for the trail (extraneous pouches, etc removed) it comes in well under 5 lbs. Split between the two of us that’s just fine. And the $500 price tag? Well, if you woke up to my husband complaining every single day you’ve spent in the Double Rainbow you’d be willing to shell out the $$ too.
It came in the mail last Friday and I immediately set it up in the yard. It’s a beautiful tent. The space is incredible! I think we’ll install a minibar in the corner. It will be a great tent for the trips when David is with me. And I’ll stick to my rainbow for my solo outings. I’m really happy with this decision and can’t wait to get it out in the field.
So that’s a rundown of my major changes. Any new gear out there that you’ll be trying? What did I miss?