Small Business Saturday Gift Guide

  
I’m a little late to the game this year, but I wanted to remind you all that today is Small Business Saturday and encourage you to support small businesses. To help you along, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites.

Hiking and Camping Gear

  • Gossamer Gear makes great ultralight backpacks, shelters, and trekking poles. My personal favorites are the Kumo and Type 2 backpacks.
  • ZPacks specializes in all things cuben fiber: Shelters, packs, rain gear, and accessories. I love their stuff sacks anad dry bags. 
  • Warbonnet Outdoors makes high quality backpacking hammocks and accessories. Their Traveler hammock and Yeti Underquilt have worked great for me!
  • Dutchware Gear creates innovative hardware and accessories for your hammock and tarp. You won’t realize how badly you needed their stuff until you try it!

Apparel

  • Purple Rain Adventure Skirts makes high quality hiking skirts. If you’re gonna go hiking, you better be comfortable. I never hit the trail without mine! 
  • Hiker Trash makes T-shirts, hats, and other accessories for the hiker trash inside all of us. Fun designs you should check out. 

Dog Gear

  • TurboPUP produces high quality meal replacement bars for you dog. Never fumble with ziploc bags of kibble again. Just  grab some bars, and you’re set for your hike or road trip. 
  • Groundbird Gear makes lightweight backpacks that are custom fit to YOUR dog. They’re built by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who focuses on making functional packs without the excess stuff you won’t need.

Disclaimer: I am currently a TurboPUP Brand Ambassador, and was previously a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. I have also done gear testing for Groundbird Gear and Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. None of these companies have asked to be listed here, and they had no preview nor editorial control of this post. All opinions contained here are my own.

Gossamer Gear Jamboree

From January 16-20, I attended a gathering of Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors in Moab, Utah. Trail Ambassadors from all over the country gathered to hike and hang out for a few days, and it was a blast! Read my full write-up over on the Gossamer Gear Blog! Also, check out hashtag #GGUtahAdventures on Instagram!

The New Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack

I recently had a chance to try out my new, upgraded version of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack. Typically a pack like this is a little too big (volume-wise) for my short weekend jaunts, but when colder weather rolls around I end up needing a bigger pack (cold-weather hammocking required a LOT of insulation). With expected overnight temps in the mid-twenties, I thought my 3-night hike on the Loyalsock Trail would be a great test for this pack.

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

With a Total Pack Weight (Gear + Consumables) of roughly 25lbs at the beginning of the hike, I initially thought that the Gorilla was very uncomfortable. I tried adjusting the hip belt and shoulder harness, but it never really got better. While taking a break near the end of the second day, I saw the problem: I had installed the aluminum stay backwards. This stay is meant to contour your back and transfer weight to your hips, and installing it backwards created a VERY uncomfortable situation. Once I fixed my mistake, The Gorilla became extremely comfy. The stay and padded hip belt kept the load resting nicely on my hips and off of my shoulders.

The new shoulder harness was much softer and more breathable than in the previous version of the Gorilla (the old shoulder straps used to rub my neck a little). The shoulder straps are also a more ergonomic shape. They were designed specifically with women in mind, as an attempt to create a truly unisex pack. I can’t speak to their success in that endeavor, but they did make the harness more comfortable for me (a burly, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, fat man). My only complaint as a “wide” individual is that there wasn’t enough slack in the harness to give me a great range of adjustment options. I was plenty comfortable, but I had to keep the straps at nearly their maximum length. This made it impossible for me to utilize the rib strap, which was a disappointment because I love using the rib straps on my other GG packs. I did get a chance to briefly discuss this with Gossamer Gear, and it seemed like they were aware of the issue and planning to fix it in future production runs. Even though I was a little disappointed, this was not a deal breaker. I’m an odd shape for a backpacker, and I’ve become used to the fact that 99% of gear isn’t designed for a person of my body type.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basic dimensions and shape of the pack remain similar to the previous versions, a few other things have changed for the better. The old shock cord compression system was replaced with adjustable compression straps, which (in my opinion) are much more functional. The cord and LineLoc buckles, which used to secure the Over-The-Top lid, were also replaced with webbing straps. The straps make the pack closure just a tiny bit simpler to adjust.

The new Robic Nylon fabric is a nice improvement over the old Dyneema Gridstop. Not only is the Robic nylon much prettier to look at, but it is also very tough and seemed to be fairly water resistant.

The new Gorilla also features trekking pole holders, which make it easy to secure your poles to the pack when you’re not using them. I used this feature a lot because I don’t use my poles that much. The system keeps the poles very secure while hiking, but you have to be careful when you set the pack down on the ground because the tips of the poles can get pushed out of the holders.

All-in-all, the upgraded Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a fine pack, and I plan on using it through the winter. If you liked the previous version of the Gorilla, you will love this one. It is a much more polished product, which I find to be more comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. If you get a chance, check it out!

Disclaimer: As a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, I received this pack free of charge. I was not obligated in any way to write this review, and all thoughts and opinions contained herein are my own. Gossamer Gear had no editorial input into the writing of this review.

First Look: Gossamer Gear Type 2 Utility Backpack

Those of you who read UL Weekend Warrior may have noticed a “Mystery Pack” popping up on my gear lists, and now I can proudly be the very first to unveil its identity. The Type 2 Utility Backpack is the newest pack from Gossamer Gear. With 1400 cubic inches(23L) of volume, this pack is nearly identical in size to their Quiksak model but is built to be much tougher and have more features.

 

Straight from the Horse’s Mouth

Get out your pocket protectors and Casio calculator watches, gear nerds! It’s time to run through the tech specs and features of this new pack. This info is straight from Gossamer Gear, but I’ll give you a little color commentary along the way.

  • Weight: 15.65oz, but 11.5oz can be achieved by removing the hip belt(3.4oz) and foam pad(0.8oz). My cheap-o WalMart scale puts it at 16.5oz. If you factor in manufacturing variances and scale uncertainty, that’s close enough for me. The version I tested was also a prototype, which may be slightly different than the final production model.
  • Volume: 1400 cubic inches (22.94L) in the main compartment and a total of 162 C.I. (2.66L) in the other pockets.
  • Fabric: The majority of the pack is made of 100D Robic Ripstop Nylon. Hyosung, who makes the fabric, claims that their Robic nylon is abrasion resistant, high tenacity, and has a high tear strength. Personally, I think the stuff looks great, too.
  • 6 External Pockets: 2 hip belt pockets, 2 water bottle pockets, a zippered lid pocket, and a vertical zippered “Napoleon”-style stash pocket.
  • Inner hydration sleeve and two hose ports: This sleeve very large, so that it can accommodate a laptop for traveling and commuting (although it isn’t padded). My 11″ Macbook Air does fit with room to spare.
  • Other Features: Ice axe loop, Removable 3/16″ foam back pad, a single daisy chain, multiple attachment points (for lashing gear or threading compression cord), Air Mesh breathable shoulder harness, sternum strap, and rib strap (Like a sternum strap but about 6 inches lower. Created by using the slack in your shoulder straps).

Field Testing

I figured that this pack would be wasted on my style of summer day hiking. With only water, snacks, a first aid kit, and (maybe) a shell inside, the pack would be mostly empty. Luckily, I had a few opportunities, which did allow me to more thoroughly put the Type 2 through its paces.

The first time I carried this pack was in the Presidential Range in New Hampshire. I would be staying one night in the AMC Huts (Lakes of the Clouds Hut, to be specific), and I needed very little gear or food. My usual day pack would have been too small, and my usual backpacking pack (a Gossamer Gear Murmur) would have been a bit too big. I had carried the Murmur on a similar hike the year before, but it was only about two thirds full. The good folks over at Gossamer Gear offered to let me test a prototype of the Type 2, and it turned out to be the right size for this trip.

Volume-wise, the Type 2 was a nearly perfect fit. The pack was full enough to prevent the contents from shifting around, but not so full that I had to really stuff things inside. I carried a pretty light load (4.5lbs of gear, 1lb of food, and 2L of water) on this trip. With just over 10lbs inside, this pack carried quite well. I barely even knew it was there.

Me carrying the Type 2 as we hiked out of Crawford Notch

Me carrying the Type 2 as we hiked out of Crawford Notch in New Hampshire.

The shoulder straps were comfortable and breathed well. After a few miles, I had already decided on my favorite strap configuration (hip belt closed, rib strap closed, sternum strap open). As a larger guy, I feel that sternum straps can sometimes be too small for me. If I really start huffing and puffing, having a tight strap across my chest can hinder my ability to take deep breaths. Using the rib strap instead of the sternum strap solved this problem. The rib strap kept my shoulder straps in position without squeezing my chest.

We hit some pretty bad weather on this hike. Low visibility, sideways rain, and hurricane-force winds plagued us the entire second day. I fell flat on my back a few times, and the Robic nylon fabric never showed a single scuff or scratch. It seemed to be as tough as they claimed.

Me and the Type 2 on one of the summits (I think it's Mt. Jackson)

Me and the Type 2 on one of the summits (I think it’s Mt. Jackson)

In August, I was planning a 2-night backpacking trip on the Black Forest Trail in Pennsylvania. I wanted to go as light as possible, targeting a Base Pack Weight of 6-6.5 pounds. I remembered that I still had the Type 2 prototype and thought that this would be another good test. This pack isn’t really designed for backpacking, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious reason to rule it out completely. If it could survive a weekend with me, it would be worthy of my two-thumbs-up. I loaded up my gear and headed out for my hike.

The Type 2 fully loaded for a two-night trip.

The Type 2 fully loaded for a two-night trip.

The Type 2 is a little heavier than my usual backpacking pack, a Gossamer Gear Murmur, but it still helped me work my total pack weight down. Being over 10 liters smaller than I’m used to, packing in the Type 2 forced me to re-evaluate the importance of each item in order to make everything fit and hopefully not go “stupid light” in the process. Since it was summer, I didn’t really need too much, and the packing went easier than I thought.

This small-wonder of a pack worked out great for this 42-mile, 2-night trip. With food and water factored in, I carried about 14lbs. The Type 2 rode comfortably and did an all-around good job. Much like in the Presidentials, I hiked with the sternum strap open and the rib strap closed. I had no regrets using the Type 2 on a hot-weather trip, and would definitely consider it for similar hikes in the future. For one-night hikes, which require less food, I’d even consider pressing this pack into 3-season use, if I can cram my 10-degree top quilt and hammock under quilt inside while still have room for everything else.

Overall Impressions

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Durable Robic Nylon Fabric
  • Comfortable, breathable shoulder harness
  • Two external pockets for organization and quick access
  • Comfortable hip belt with integrated pockets

Cons:

  • Water bottle pockets are a bit too tall, making it difficult for me to get bottles in or out while walking
  • Sternum strap is not removable
  • Fabric is not terribly water resistant. I’m a very sweaty guy, and my moisture did eventually soak through the back/bottom of the pack. On the other hand, the rain in New Hampshire didn’t seem to penetrate the fabric much.

The Type 2 is very well-designed pack. Apart from a few nit-picky complaints listed above, it performed admirably for me on the trail. The pack was a great choice for my hut trip and can hold its own for short backpacking trips with total pack weights of 15 pounds or less. With versatility being the name of the game, there’s no reason why the Type 2 wouldn’t work well for peakbagging, dayhiking, climbing, commuting, or traveling, too.

Gossamer Gear President Grant Sible is fond of the phrase “type 2 fun”, and I think it has lent itself well to this pack’s name. The Type 2 will take all the dirty, miserable fun you can throw at it and come back looking for more.

1. An activity that is fun only after you have stopped doing it.
“Ouch! I hurt everywhere! That was some type 2 fun.”
-Urban Dictionary

Disclaimer: I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received this pack for free to test during the prototype phase. Gossamer Gear asked me to write this review, but they did not have any editorial control over its content. Other than the pack itself, I received no compensation in exchange for this review. All opinions stated here are my own.

20140818-094844-35324243.jpg

The Type 2 hanging out on the Black Forest Trail.

My First Look at the Gossamer Gear Quiksak

The Gossamer Gear Quiksak is a lightweight, packable backpack with a multitude of uses. You could use it for hiking excursions from a base camp or for long day hikes. It packs into its own lid pocket, so you could pack it nicely in your luggage when you head out on vacation. Let me tell you, it actually works pretty well as a lowly gym bag, too. I’m going to go over a few of the features and give you a look into my first few days with the Quiksak.

Image

Quicksak folded inside its own pocket. Scale reads 8.1oz.

The Quiksak weighs in at a wispy 8.1oz on my scale, which is exactly as stated on Gossamer Gear’s Spec Sheet. I love when that happens! The 50D Ripstop fabric is very thin and almost slippery to the touch. The pack features vented, padded shoulder straps, side water bottle pockets, a hydration sleeve, and a zippered pocket in the lid. A section of nylon webbing runs down the pack, which both secures the lid and can be used as a daisy chain for external gear attachments.  There are small loops sewn into the sides of the pack, through which you can thread cord for compression. In lieu of a hip belt, the excess webbing from the shoulder straps can be clipped around your ribs to keep the pack from swinging around too much.

I carried this pack for two hikes on Memorial Day weekend, one of which was 30 miles long. This really isn’t enough time for a 100% thorough review, but I think I can give you a pretty good preliminary report. On both hikes, I started out with about 7 pounds in the pack (food, water, rain jacket, first aid kit, etc). The Quicksak carried the weight well, and was barely noticeable for the 15 miles or so. After that  I did have some very slight discomfort between my shoulders, but this is pretty common for me, no matter what pack I’m carrying. I started out with my trekking poles strapped to my chest under the sternum and rib straps (a configuration I liked using with my Gossamer Gear Minimalist), but had to eventually move them to one of the water bottle pockets (for reasons to be named later). This position allows me to deploy/stow my poles on the fly, and reduces the need for stops. I promise it isn’t as uncomfortable as it looks!

Image

My Black Diamond Z-Poles in my favorite carrying position under the sternum and rib straps.

The shoulder straps on this pack are quite dreamy. They are sewn a bit too close together for me (I have a thick neck), but the straps were soft and flexible enough to just sort of push out of the way. A more rigid strap in the same position would rub into my neck causing chafing in a rather short period of time. This was not an issue at all with the Quiksak. The strap padding is vented, which is a nice feature. I could definitely feel the air coming through as I hiked.

As I hiked and sweated (profusely, as I often do), the moisture did work its way into the pack and made a few things damp. Since this material is very thin and Gossamer Gear makes no assertion that this pack is in anyway water resistant, this was probably my own fault for not using a pack liner of some kind. The fabric was, however, more durable than I would have thought. While I’m sure it wouldn’t hold up to much bushwhacking, I gave it as much of an on-trail beating as I could, and the pack still looks like new.

If I had to say that I had a problem with the pack, it probably started with my first sip of water. I started the hike with the Quiksak riding pretty high on my back, and locked down tight with the sternum and rib straps. This was an EXTREMELY comfortable configuration for me. When I reached back to grab my water bottle for the first time, I had trouble getting the bottle out of the water bottle pocket, and it was impossible for me to get back in. I had to unclip the pack and swing it to the side to get the bottle back in. Unclipping the straps meant that my poles were no longer secured to my body. This persistent problem forced me to move my poles to one of the water bottle pockets, which was less convenient for me and stretched the pocket out permanently (I think). Eventually I adjusted the pack so it would ride lower on my back. This solved my water bottle/trekking pole issues, but was slightly less comfortable than my original configuration. A shorter or angled cut on the water bottle pockets would solve this. I’m not entirely sure if these problems will be typical of the average hiker because I have an average length torso but very broad shoulders. I tend to have at least minor problems with most water bottle pockets, and my preferred trek pole carrying method is also atypical. A person with a narrower frame who stows their poles in a more civilized manner may not have the same problems.

When my poles were in the water bottle pocket, I did find that the pack was very simple to access while hiking. I would swing it around and wear it on my chest for short periods of time when I was eating or digging out the map. This allowed me to continue hiking and allowed me to cut out countless 1-2 minute stops. Even though the poles weren’t in my favorite position, I found it to be an acceptable trade-off because I my poles were stowed for at least 20 of the 30 miles on Saturday anyway.

After two days of use, I really like this pack. Priced at $68.99, I think it is a very good value. It is lighter than just about any full-featured day pack on the market, but still carries well and seems to be durable enough to get the job done. Bottom line, this pack is poised to become my favorite day pack, but I need a little more time before I’m willing to commit. I’m going to keep this pack in my normal rotation for a while, and I’ll check back in later with a more thorough look at the pack!

 Disclaimer: I am a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and received this pack for free for the purposes of this review. Gossamer Gear has had no editorial control over this review, and all opinions are my own.

DC UL Gear Swap 2014 is this weekend!

I’ll be heading down to the George Washington National Forest tomorrow to attend the DC UL Meetup‘s annual Gear Swap. I’ve been an “Applicant” member of this group for some time, but scheduling just never allows me to hike with them. My online interactions with them have always been great, so I’m looking forward to meeting them face-to-face, especially their Organizer, Michael Martin. I’m also excited to meet some of my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors: Jen Adach and Brian Horst, who are both extremely active in DC UL.

The group will be camping out this weekend, but I am only able to attend for the day on Saturday. I hope to join one of the morning hikes, and then roam the campsite like a giant nerd and examine everyone’s gear. Members will have a chance to showcase their kits, which I imagine will stir much debate about the finer points of Ultralight Backpacking. There will also be demo gear on hand from a few manufacturers (including Gossamer Gear), some skills lessons, a chili cook-off, and a swap meet. I hope to sell a bit of my own gear while I’m there. I’ve also gathered some intelligence stating that there will be a fire so hot that it will melt steel at 1000 paces. I’m also going to put on a 1-man hiking-themed comedy show entitled “Angry Man Hangs Hammock for the First Time”.

If you are an active ultra lighter or a curious newbie in the Mid-Atlantic, I definitely suggest checking out DC UL. They won’t steer you wrong.