Thoughts on Gear

Now that I’ve had a chance to try out some of the newer kit I’ve acquired over the winter, and had a few days to allow the “glow” from this past weekends S24O to wear off, I can objectively think about how things worked out:

Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 Tent: I was a little apprehensive about this tent because I think I had my heart set on a bivy for lightweight camping.  Interestingly, all of the specs pointed to the Seedhouse – its lighter, it packs smaller, and I ended up paying far less for this barely used one.  I was concerned that a tent would not add any thermal protection that bivy’s are known for, and I was worried about the Seedhouse not being free-standing.

Now that I’ve used it, I’m pretty happy with the choice.  For packability, I wish it were just a tad smaller, but I think that’s a matter of finding the right compression sack.  I like the ALPS cylinders, but the mediums that I have are just a little too large.  A smaller sack would probably get the tent down to the perfect size, and I can work on that.  The non-free standing issue will only be a concern if trying to set up on a rock face; and that’s not going to happen.  The stakes are solid and far better than the “bent wires” that come with most small tents.  The warmth advantage of a bivy would have actually been a disadvantage in this case.  I was plenty warm, and a Goretex bivy at this temperature would probably have been saturated with condensation by morning.  Finally, while the size was small, especially compared to my 2 person Kelty, it was just large enough.  A bivy would not have allowed me to sit up and change my clothes in the morning, and I still had room for some gear inside both the tent and the vestibule.  An added like is having the doorway right by my head.  I was able to keep the rainfly open all night, and admire the stars before drifting off to sleep.  Other than wanting to see how it handles the rain, I give the Seedhouse high marks.

Montbell Ultralight Super Spiral Downhugger #3 Bag:   I was a little nervous about this because I really liked the Big Agnes Lost Ranger that I had used for over a year.  The BA is spacious, almost over-built, and kept me warm on some cold nights.  Further, the Montbell with its 800 power fill seems almost delicate compared to the BA.

Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded.  The Super Spiral elastic system is impressive.  Even though I was in a mummy bag, I never felt constricted.  Even with my habit of tucking my right arm under my head, I was able to unzip a little and roll on my side.  Most bags are rated optimistically, but at what I estimate to be mid to high forties overnight in just a pair of cotton shorts and t-shirt, I was comfortable if not a little too warm.  Now that I ‘ve had a chance to use it, I don’t have any concerns about it holding up.  There is also the matter of packed size.  Using just the stuff sack, with no compression, its the size of a football.  I’m not used to that luxury.

There is a downside to this bag, and that’s the cost.  Montbell brands themselves as mountaineering v. camping supply, and their prices reflect that.  In all honesty, I made out like a bandit where I guess I just happened along on the day that an on-line retailer that I’ve never done business with before was clearing inventory.  I’ve never seen the bag on sale for that little since, and even the used ones seem to go at a premium.

Big Agnes Sand Mountain Insulated Pad: The Sand Mountain is a special order made for REI, but its the same model as the regular BA Insulated Pad.  Even when I used this pad in the Lost Ranger, I had an issue with sliding down into the bag if not set up on perfectly even ground.  I had the same issue with the Montbell.

I’ve posted about my silicone stripe fix, and will report once I’ve had a chance to try it.  Otherwise, the pad was comfortable and has held air all night every time I’ve used it.  Further, for temps over 40F, I have no reservations about it being warm enough.  It also packs small, although not the lightest pad out there.

Downside.  At 2 1/2 inches thick, by 78X20, it takes a lot of lung power at the end of a long day to inflate it.  Scott suggested inventing some adapter for a bike pump, and if he does, I’ll buy one; but in the meantime, I’m still sitting on the fence about a Camptek battery pump.

Patagonia Down Sweater:  This was almost an impulse buy, but I do have to admit that I had been looking for something to wear around camp at night and in the morning that would pack small.  To that end, Polartech just doesn’t cut it.  Geartrade had some good prices at less than half off, so after checking comments on sizing I jumped at a large in Mango.  Now Mango is basically blaze orange even though the picture looked more yellow, so I can guess why this jacket was discontinued.  But it does pack up pretty small, fits perfectly, and was plenty warm.  I actually wore it for the ride down the mountain in the morning and had to unzip it part of the way.

I think the “down sweater” is a good piece of kit provided it is used as intended.  With the 800 power fill and nylon fabric, its made to be worn under a more robust shell for any rough use.  Around camp it works great, and I’m excited about how it can extend the range of my sleeping bag if necessary.  (Haven’t figured out the pants part yet.)  So, high marks for this one, too.

Surly Long Haul Trucker: I haven’t mentioned it, but I’ve been having fantasies about a new bike.  While I love the Albatross cockpit, I have to admit that there is a part of me that wants something less pedestrian.  Scott’s rSogn has a lot to do with it, and it has me looking at that frame, as well as a smaller sized LHT, and even considered a Troll at one point.  All kind of silly thoughts that have little relevance for the amount of camping that I do.

Its out of my system…for the most part.  The bike handled great, carried the load without a hitch, gave me zero problems.  I wish it had a more powerful engine, because there were a few times where Scott pulled ahead and it was obviously the bikes.  It’s interesting that I get a lot of hits from LHT owners considering Albatross bars.  I guess I’m on to something.

Anyway, if you have any questions or are considering any of the above, you now have my assessment.  Feel free to drop me a note for further insight.

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