Silicone seam sealing

Silicone-impregnated (read: coated on both sides) nylon is one the of most significant outdoor gear innovations of the last 15 years. Previously polyurethene (PU) coated fabrics were the only game in town. PU tends to be heavier, and degrades significantly when exposed to UV light and abrasion. Floor delamination was a common cause of tent retirement, often happening when everything else was still in good shape. Silnylon has a much longer service life, is lighter, and is relatively inexpensive.

One major downside is that no one has yet invented a tape which can be used to waterproof the seams of a silnylon shelter, so you’ll have to do it yourself. The following technique is in my opinion by far the best, and as discussed has other uses beyond seam sealing.

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Pictured above is everything you’ll need aside from the shelter in question: mineral spirits, clear silicone sealer, a small glass jar with a lid, and a small foam paint brush.  You must use traditional mineral spirits.  The idea here is that the spirits dissolve the silicone, it is painted into the seam in suspension, and becomes part of the shelter as the spirits evaporate.  I bought non-toxic pseudo-spirits once, and they did not dissolve the silicone.  Same story with various forms of alcohol.

The first step is to squeeze out a good dollop of silicone into the jar, then add mineral spirits  (I use a 1:5 ratio, approximately), close the lid, and shake vigorously for a few minutes until the silicone is completely dissolved.

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The result should look like this, an opaque liquid which is a fair bit thicker than water, but still far from being a paste or gel.  Once this is achieved, simply paint the mixture into the seams with a foam brush.  A little goes a long way, but use a bit of pressure and back and forth to work it into the stitches and folds in the seam.

Obviously, you want to do this on the outside of the shelter.

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Once you’ve gone over the seam and it’s had ~10 minutes to dry, it should look like this.  The sealer will cure to the touch in a few hours, and completely within 24.  By that time the sealing will be all but invisible.  This technique adds far less weight, and is far faster and cleaner than using the Silnet sealer sold in outdoor stores.  If your shelter came with Silnet you can thin it down using this procedure, just use a bit less mineral spirits.

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Seam sealing in winter comes with a few challenges.  First, silicone cures best in warmer temperatures, so even if you have a clear day to work outside it’s best to do it indoors unless it’s quite warm.  You want dry air and temps above 60F.  Second, the fumes here are not too noxious, but it’s ideal to have a heated yet well-ventilated space like a garage or basement with a large door.  Third, you need to figure out a way to keep the seams hanging free of folds for their full length while they cure.  Setting up the shelter properly with full tension can make things easier, but is not necessary.

Lastly, this technique can be used to enhance to rebuild the waterproofing of a silnylon shelter.  The silicone coating will degrade over time, faster with heavy use, and it’s conceivable that well-traveled shelters, especially those seeing lots of the UV exposure and even more especially those made from lesser quality sil will mist under heavy, windblown precipitation.  Misting is of course a polite term for diffuse leaking, which is not desirable.  Not all silnylons are the same, and without diving into the miasma which is hydrostatic head figures, it is fair to say that some companies charge more for their product because they use better materials.  Feel the material; the waxier, thicker, more substantial coatings of good silnylon is easy to recognize.  The more crinkly the fabric, the worse it probably is in this respect.  Thankfully, if you bought a shelter with less-than-ideal materials you can easily bring it up to snuff by using the above method to make a lot of formula, and painting the whole shelter.

Have fun.

The importance of Mehl

I first met Luc Mehl way back in August of 2010, when I was living in Missoula, Luc came down to visit his brother, and thanks to the wonders of the ‘net and friends of friends we met up with Forrest McCarthy and packrafted the Selway.

I was nervous because I’d owned a packraft for all of 2.5 months at that point, but other than that it was a pretty routine excursion.  Luc, as vaguely seen in this photo was running a very overstuffed OR compression sack backpack which truly was a glorified grocery bag.  I didn’t pause to think of how, crap strapped to the outside not withstanding, it was an absurdly small bag for a packrafting trip.  When we stopped for the evening after walking all day, having found Moose Creek far too low for boating, I finally began to understand the Luc was/is not normal.

Forrest had a Golite Shangrila 3, and both Forrest and I had conventional sleeping pads and bags.  Luc had a torso sized foam mat, light puffy jacket and pants, and raingear.  He said he’d sleep by the fire, which seemed like a ridiculous choice even before it started to rain and got dark.  I did little more than shake my head, say “whatever dude” and go to bed.

IMG_0729Luc Mehl lecturing at The Trailhead in Missoula, MT.

It’s apparently been Luc’s m.o. for a while to assume that anything south of Alaska is, outside winter, so warm by comparison that he doesn’t need a sleeping bag.  Mid-summer in the Bob this makes sense, and Luc’s done some big hiking and packrafting traverses there before the golden age of Alpacka came upon us, the details of which are apparently so insignificant Luc can’t recall things like which rivers he actually floated.  Late summer on the Selway it got pretty cold, but Luc seemed to have slept well, and out paddled me easily the next day.  Going without a sleeping bag during the summer Classic is of course routine, though reportedly the approach worked less well in Mexico, especially sleeping at 15,000 feet.

The point is not that Luc is a masochist, which may partly be true, but that he’s managed to cultivate a particularly refined sense of what is a physical necessity insofar as his performance out in the wilderness is concerned, and what is merely for psychological support.  For most of us most of the time this isn’t a distinction we can see well, if at all, and no matter how sanguine you might be it’s likely always a factor.  But as Luc said repeatedly at his talk Wednesday night, the value of wilderness travel in demanding circumstances is that it strips away the secondary fears which are usually all that is available to look at.

The primary fears which lie at that core of your decision-making are almost always more complex and subjective than the secondary fears which are most often discussed.  Will I get lost/run out of food/be eaten by a bear/not make it through the snow? becomes with greater insight Will I get more cold/tired/stressed than I’ve been before and am confident of managing based on past precedent?  This is not to deny that objective hazards like avalanches, rapids, and cliffs don’t pose real dangers, but it is to assert that safety has relatively little to do with on-the-ground reality and almost everything to do with having the mental resources to put forth your best abilities in the moment.

This is why I bailed on the Wilderness Classic back in 2012, because I was scared enough that I knew I’d fuck up (more than I already had).  I had the skills and gear, but not the head.  Maybe I do today, but I’ll have to go back to find out.

When I arrived at Luc’s house for the 2011 Classic he was in the midst of recovering from his Denali Traverse, had just created his website, and was editing the Denali video, learning Final Cut in the process.  Buying that fat Canon DSLR was a massively influential purchase, because it made what Luc knows accessible.  The success of his films in the last three years has not been a surprise, and has been a pleasure to observe.

What Luc knows is that adventure begins and ends in the mind.  He also knows that we’re capable of drastically more adventurous things than we usually assume, even after quite a lot of time spent out there.  His example, and especially the sensitive and non-self-aggrandizing way he tells his stories, have been hugely influential for me.  It’s not going to be easy to be like Luc, but he makes it plain that with the requisite dedication and bravery you could.

I’d not seen Luc speaking with a capitol P until a few days ago, and was not surprised that he did exceedingly well.  He has fantastic photos and video, and as mentioned above a great way of telling us about them, to say nothing of a story very much worth telling.  He framed the journey of Wilderness Classics to Denali to Logan to now in terms of Csikszentmihalyi’s work on flow; that an ideal wilderness trip takes a space somewhere along the line between control and flow, with occasional sojourns into arousal.  This is a moving target as skill (and one’s ability to consistently operate closer to the actual ceiling thereof) is constantly changing.  Optimizing reward on and of a trip is tied up in two parallel processes, maximizing flow by matching terrain (challenge) to skill, and best understanding as exactly as possible where your control/flow boundary lies.  Do these things and you’ll have a lot of fun, in the deeper sense.

The alternate, simultaneous function of introspection here is to better understand your flow/arousal and arousal/anxiety boundaries.  Luc touched on this, which is the issue of safety and risk assessment.  Taking for granted, as I think it’s easy and proper to do, that dying out in the woods “doing what you loved” is not desirable, balancing risk and reward becomes a major part of the conversation.  Csikszentmihalyi tells us we can’t have true satisfaction without risk, and while I think that skill is a more complex phenomenon in application than is usually admitted, that we flirt with death when we go after reward is inarguable.

Luc concluded that one answer is to ratchet back the risk-reward edge once you’ve gotten close to it.  He had an intense summer in 2012, with getting caught in an avalanche on Logan and an extraordinary performance in the Classic crammed into a six week stretch.  His trips since have been at least as visionary, his videos at least as poignant, but the level of intensity and exposure to consequence quite a bit lower.  After you’ve been out in the wilderness for long enough, and accumulated a sufficient body of experience, you’ll naturally be drawn to new terrain, and to old terrain in new seasons and conditions.  The temptation to be able to go anywhere in almost any circumstance is tempting, the possibility of an ever fully dialogue with the earth compelling, but there may be some places and some situations which are just too much.  Where and what are these?  No answer will ever be definitive.  Keep thinking, and keep watching Luc, and you’ll keep learning.

Always one more thing

I’m sure there are folks out there who build something and nail it the first time, but I am not among them. I design from past experience and towards future use, but there’s always something which doesn’t work out as I anticipated, or something new I learn and can use to make things work better. I try to embrace the mutability and human flaws of every product, even one which took a lot of time and money to get to the first functional state.

So too with my latest pack. This weekends trip was typical of what it will be used for most; one night, badish weather so plenty of clothes, heavy luxury food, and some sort of odd contraption to strap on (in this case skis to give a 4 mile ride up to the snow line). Not a proper heavy load, but not a light one, and rather awkward.

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The carry was more than satisfactory, evidence of the excellent Seek Outside frame and belt, as well as the fact that I’ve finally gotten smart enough to get the torso length exactly right. The main issue was with weatherproofing; the top collar was just too short, and the offset cut didn’t really do anything. The second issue was lack of any kind of inside pocket to keep a few little things more easily at hand.

I solved these problems in tandem by cutting off the existing top a few inches below the seam line, and adding back on taller one.  Four inches taller than before, for a height along the back panel of 35 inches unrolled. I solved the second problem by integrating a small zippered pocket into the collar seam, along the front.

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The top of the pocket is sewn in the seam, while the sides are anchored with one small bartack towards the bottom of either seam (you can see the left one above).  These match with the topmost bartack on the daisy chains, resulting in no ugly exterior stitching floating in bare fabric.  The pocket has a dividing seam going halfway up, to help separate contents.

We’ll see how these two tweaks for out over the winter and spring.  Based on the first non-day outing, the pack did very well.  The wider, narrower (no deeper than seven inches, even crammed full) bag keeps weight in close, and even with a pair of relatively heavy AT skis lashed on diagonally across the back, the total weight was innocuous.  Diagonal ski carry, with straps through the top and bottom pockets of the daisy chains and the pocket cinched over the skis, was very stable.  Stable, motionless skis carry better, and reduce the wear on fabrics, thus making wear patches not necessary for those who only occasionally carry skis.

I will keep everyone updated.

P.S.  I/we recently passed 400 followers, and the past two weeks had the highest readership of any such period in the 8 years and 4 days this blog has been around.  So thanks for reading and participating.

Simple

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The rules of backpacking in winter are simple, and with a few exceptions no more complex in the following than summer. Things like don’t fall in the creek, try to not sweat, pitch your shelter well, plan ahead on water.

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Applying them does end up being tough, especially on the first proper snow trip of the year. All three of us forgot skin wax, for example, as well as did a certain amount of Dyna-fumbling, and were reminded that plastic boots are different than 10 oz trail shoes (particularly when you have to walk 4 miles to find skinnable snow).

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Everyone also got wet, though when you’re trudging uphill in a 30 degree, high-humidity snowstorm that’s hard to avoid.

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Eventually, after a long night of hanging around the fire and sleeping for 11 hours, we went skiing. And it was good. Almost very good by any standard, and certainly very good for early in a winter which has thus far declined to be patterned. Next time I’ll remember to charge my battery and have more to show for it.

Getting out in December can be a battle, mostly of your own wills. It’s dark for long, it’s often cold, the snow is usually shallow and often unstable or just weird. Getting used to hauling a good deal of extra stuff on your back and feet makes the diffident choice moreso. But the rewards are sweet. Our destination this weekend is in August a fished-out mod seen with dozens of pack stock stirring dust each hour, morning and evening. Once up we had ourselves, the squirrels, and hares, and martins (present only via track), and flickers, and jays. As well as a foggy, immutable tableau of life-giving and landscape-creating snow which we could only ever see in part. Between the distractions of skiing and attending to the hourly needs which circumscribe existence, we could only stand around in the silence and stare.

It’s a good place to be back with.

The big pack

Not long after I started building packs from scratch I started packrafting, and realized in a hurry a truly large pack was a good idea if you prefer to not have a bunch of stuff yardsaled via straps on the outside. The result was this one. It’s funny to think back to designing and building that one, because a lot of things have stayed the same; while the pack discussed below is in many ways (chiefly having a frame) different, it’s also very much the same. My first ideas about size and features were dead on. Some things are different, such as a much more sophisticated understanding of suspension, and a wider availability of materials. In the fall of 2010 you couldn’t buy even VX21 anywhere at the retail level; Eric Parsons at Revelate (then Epic) Designs sold me five yards out of his shop. It’s been a long, enjoyable, rewarding, and in many ways circular road that took me from that pack to this one.

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(This and several of the following photos by M.)

A variety of things this summer put it in my head that I’d need a bigger pack than the 3900 Unaweep. I can do a week-long, unsupported summer packrafting trip out of the Unaweep, with nothing but my PFD strapped externally, but the narrower bag does limit how easy it is to chuck in a bunch of gear. At the same time I knew I didn’t want anything much taller, due to stability and brush clearance issues.

Therefore the pack above was made with a 38 inch lower circumference, 42 inch upper circumference, and a 42 inch height, which maxes at 39 inches with the drawcord actually cinched closed. These dimensions, combined with an exhaustive compression system, allow for flexibility. If you’re bushwacking, load the pack fully and compress it down to shoulder height. If you’re on trail, let the load grow taller and suck it in. If the load is both small and heavy, as in a full disassembled deer on a day hunt, cinch in the lower straps to keep the weight up towards the shoulders.

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This is the pack I used in the Grand Canyon this fall, where it was fantastic to have a lot of extra space. On the second morning it was obvious that both M and my mother were tired, so I took the majority of the group gear and food. With the Paradox frame and belt, and a new perspective on what qualifies as a heavy pack, I was able to take on all that and six liters of water and serve the best needs of the group through the long boulder hop of day two.  The muddy slides, downclimbs, and wades of that trip imparted some permanent stains to the fabric and webbing, a welcome bit of character.

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This pack has most of the essential features of the smaller bag I outlined earlier this week. This larger pack came first, and the simple, seam-minimizing layout was driven by the knowledge I’d be using it to carry potentially very large and heavy loads.

Big packs get more abuse the midsized packs (because a heavy load added to a tired hiker equals less care), but less than small packs (which get used most often, and for the most abusive things). Therefore the bottom of this bag is 1000D cordura. The sides are double layered cordura over X33, while the bottom is just a single layer of cordura. A double bottom is largely unnecessary with the bottom flap, and starts adding enough layers that my machine has a hard time stitching it all. Plus over the year I’ve most consistently gotten holes in packs right above the bottom along the sides.

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I’ve gone back and forth, but have decided that for big packs an internal compression strap is handy. This one attaches low on the front panel and buckles to a point right between the tops of the frame. Pulled tight it compresses and stabilizes the load, and (like the old Dana version) pulls the bag back and creates headroom. With a tall pack headroom will be a problem, unless like some companies you don’t contour the frame in above the shoulders (and then exacerbate it with a poor shoulder strap attachment point), which in my opinion is simply wrong.

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For reasons mentioned earlier this week I like drawcord cinches.  When you attach the cordlock to the bag and provide a grab loop on the opposite side of the collar, this system is very fast.  I used some orange 40D sil/PU I had hanging around for the top 8 inches of the collar, to save weight, seal better, and provide a bit of safety during hunting season.

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After some experimentation I arrived at two crossing top straps to cinch the top into order.  Finding a way to do this which isn’t heavy and slow (lid) and doesn’t have a ton of extra strap flying around is challenge with drawcord packs.

As can be seen in the top photo, my first draft was a Y strap, which created rabbit ears from the stiff X33 fabric.  This would not do.  But how to tame the strappage and have enough length for all possible loads?

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The answer was the attach a loop of 3/8 inch webbing to each 3/4 inch top compression strap, and tune the length so that when the straps are girth hitching through the top daisy chain loop there is just enough strap to attach something to the top of a very full pack.  In any other situation, the loop is hitched lower on the daisy, resulting in less slack when the straps are cinched down.

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I use the Paradox talon system with this pack, both the dual-pocketed blaze camo talon, and the slightly larger HPG Tarahumara shown here, modded to work as both a compression panel and a daypack with hide-away shoulder straps.  A just a bit narrower than the width of the front panel is crucial to directing the force of the compression in towards the back and making of the load a narrower, better carrying rectangle.  Full wrap compression straps work fine with light loads, but when really put to the test they sausage a heavy load badly, making it tight without really making it behave.

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Where the full-wrap mode, with talon removed, really come into it’s own is when the pack is compressed into day mode.  As hinted at above, this isn’t really relevant for anyone who isn’t a hunter. However, I like that I can have total load control at any volume between 500 and 7000 cubic inches.

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In spite of my or anyone’s obsessions on the subject, a pack is a piece of gear, whose ultimate judgement will only come in what jobs it does and how well. The main pleasure I’ve gotten out of this pack, and indeed the superlative Paradox Packs suspension in general, is how easily they’ve let me carry more than my share of the load. Ultralight packs which max a bit north of 30 pounds are fine, but upon occasion it’s nice to know that both your legs and your bag can handle, easily, a lot more.

Shit that works week: non-black accessories

Black socks and black liner gloves irritate me. Yes, it’s the most universally pleasing color, important if you’re going to make only one available for a low-margin item, and yes it hides dirt. But a pair of black socks, when put into a drawer with six other pairs of black socks, are hard to differentiate, and a single black glove in the depths of a pack or stuff sack is hard to find.

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Which is why I like these lightweight merino socks I bought from Patagonia last year. They’re a nice, dashing red, and the two pairs have been my most-worn socks this year. Not because they’re comfortable and durable (which they are), but because I can always find two of them before I can find two of anything else. I think they’re a little lighter than the current lightweight merino sock, which Patagonia makes in a pleasing variety of bright colors. Alas that Black Diamond did not do so with my current favorite (and out of stock because they’re awesome) light gloves, the Mont Blanc.

Good socks and good gloves are generic lack of other ideas gifts, and while they might be uninspired, they could hardly be more practical.  Socks and liner gloves are disposable items for hard users, and are as vital an appreciated day-to-day as they are unexciting to buy.  The art is getting the right ones for the right person.  I like BD gloves because the mediums fit my skinny fingers well.  I like light, breathable, quick drying socks, so I like those Patagonia socks, and hate Darn Toughs.  If you’re giving these most prosaic of gifts, best do some research first.

Shit that works week: Aquaseal

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Giving the gift of Aquaseal is to the regular outdoorsperson what the gift of socks or quality shaving razors is to anyone else; not exciting, but the pinnacle of practicality.  It is not possible for me to have too much Aquaseal laying around.  The uses are virtually innumerable, and too often when I want some the old tube is 1/3 full and mostly solidified.  That’s the genius of Aquaseal, it’s an air-cure urethene glue, as well as the most frequent determinant of shelf life.  So if you need a plainly unexpected gift this season, look no further.

The obvious uses of Aquaseal are as well known as they are important: seam sealing anything with a PU coating (not Sil!), adding traction stripes to the bottom of an inflatable sleeping pad (or the top), protecting stitch lines on shoes from abrasion, even gluing stuff on your packraft (though official urethene glues are more permanent), and of course patching holes in anything inflatable.  My new favorite use, told to me by the folks at Seek Outside, is to thin it with a bit of mineral spirits, put said slurry in a syringe, and inject-seal the seams on your backpack.

I’m not even going to say it again.

Shit that works week: Gossamer Gear grips

Tonight’s entry makes the cut for a simple reason, it is the best in class. Different trekking poles are good for different things, but all of them are better with Gossamer Gear grips on top. And most of them shed significant weight in the process, as well. The geometry is ideal for a number of different grip methods, and the material is durable, not slippery when sweaty, and warm in the cold.

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I’m not crazy about the Gossamer Gear poles which these grips most currently come attached to. The nonadjustable Litetrek 3s are sick light, and the new carbon used is pretty durable, but the nonadjustable-ness makes them a specialized tool. The adjuster on the Litetrek 4s drives me nuts; any grit or water, as well as temperatures below around 15 F, make them very finicky. At some point Gossamer Gear will release a flicklocked 2 or 3 section pole with heavier gauge carbon and the trekking pole market will collapse into monopoly.

Until then, adding the GGear grips to other poles in the way to go. I’ve been exceedingly pleased with the ones I made last year. A proper glue plug as mentioned in that post is crucial to long term viability. If you’re new to monkeying with gear this is a good introductory project, and will give you a pair of poles which are almost indestructible.

Light, burly, and not too expensive: that is shit that works.

Shit that works week: Werner Shuna

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A lot of gear upgrading is malarkey, born of boredom or fashion or envy or lust or some other vaguely protestant shortcoming. Buying new stuff is fun, usually harmless in that postmodern capitalist headinthesand way, and sometimes even justified, but most often little substantive reward is gained. That jacket was probably not quite as warm or waterproof as the new one, but would have lasted another couple years. The old bike tires worked almost as well as the new. That old pack carried just fine if you were actually in shape.

Thankfully, there are areas where this is simply not the case, and one can invest in richly made tools and toys which both function so much better and give immense aesthetic pleasure. It is good to live in a world, suffused in money that it is, in which such things are still possible. Where buying a given item will legitimately spur you to get better at a given activity.

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A Werner paddle will make you a better paddler. Even the four piece jobs, which are essential when buying an all purpose packrafting paddle, have an astonishingly imperceptible degree of flex, and transfer human power straight to the water with astonishing directness. They give you no excuses, either, both a blessing and a curse. Paddle one in hard-for-you water and you’ll realize plainly that the missed lines and blown boofs are your fault, and your fault alone. Better paddle more and get better, which will give you a great excuse to use your rad new paddle.

When I acquired my 210cm Shuna, Werner was not yet regularly making their whitewater paddles, which feature burlier blades and blade/shaft connections, in four piece models. Thanks to packrafters, they do now, but were I buying again I’d still get the lighter Shuna. The blade is very dinged up, but only cosmetically, which is impressive given the last three years of abuse. I appreciate the lighter swing and packed weight of the “touring” Shuna. If you bought your Alpacka with a bunch of extras bent on getting gnar, the similarly sized Sherpa would be a good choice.

A Werner packraft paddle is shit that works, shit that will get you worked, and shit that will get you to work harder and better.

The future of ultralight packs

The future of ultralight backpacks is a ~45 liter bag made of materials which will last multiple years under all but the most abusive use, carry 50 pounds easily, and weigh a fair bit under 2 pounds.

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The future is just about here.  I do need to bend the frame a bit to get those  shoulder straps in better contact.

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This is my latest build on the Paradox frame and hipbelt. This is the standard 24″ tall frame, which I’ve cut to be 3/4″ narrower than the stock 14. The belt is the same one I’ve used for almost everything over the past 15 months. The camo fabric is X33 (simply the best all-around pack fabric available today), the black VX42, the green check 210 denier gripstop from Thruhiker.

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The baffled back pocket floats, only attached via the four compression straps. The Paradox talon system has made me a full convert to this feature; as you can use it to carry everything from a wet jacket to 5 foot pieces of firewood.

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The solution to properly places compression straps and side pockets which are useful is to put a slot in the pocket. Compare the two preceding photos.

The parallel 3/8″ webbing daisy chains are an obligatory feature, they make secondary lashing of just about anything under the compression pocket possible, and facilitate ideal attachment to the bow of a packraft.  The bartacks are sunk into a doubled patch of fabric inside the main bag, making for one layer of webbing and three layers of fabric, total.  The fabric will fail around the tack before the stitching will rip.

My favored way to make pack bags is to use three pieces of fabric; one for the bottom, one for the back panel (against the user), and another for the sides and front. The seam between the later two, which seems to take the most stress, is triple stitched, bartacked in the right places, then felled and stitched and tacked again. The bottom pieces is sewn on last, and seam sealed fairly heavily by hand-rubbing Aquaseal in. The side seams are sealed lightly. I’ve gone to using full 1 inch seam margins for all of this, a big part of the motivation for which is that I’m finally, after 5 years and 30+ packs, making things I know I’ll want to have around for a long time.

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The frame is held in place by the bottom flap.  The flap is tiny, and more to put a layer between the webbing and the ground than anything else.  The generous travel between flap and buckle allows the bottom to be sucked down aggressively, which is key to carrying heavy, dense, smallish loads (like game meat) properly.  A single drain grommet is hidden behind the flap.

A three piece bag design like this one allows for limited options to manipulate the shape of the bag.  From a design and construction standpoint it’s easy to just make a rectangular bottom, which also has the virtue of being easy to load as well as maximizing space in the bag.  A squared-off bottom also hangs up on ledges and logs as you’re climbing around, as is high on my list of most-hated backpack features.  It should surprise no one that this list is not short.

It’s difficult to see, but the bottom of this pack is tapered both in and up.  The bottom edge in the above photo is 13″ wide, finished.  The top edge is 10″.  More hidden is the three inches of vertical rise between the same two points, which over the six inch depth of the pack at the bottom is quite a lot.  The cumulative effect can be seen in the first two photos: the pack lack hard edges in any direction.  Such a design is harder to pack well with rigid objects, but is also much less likely to get caught on stuff out there in the wild.

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It seems I always come back to a drawstrong top with a single top strap (two for packs in excess of 40″ upper circumference) as the most utilitarian closure.  It’s simple and maximizes space, and allows odd things like paddle shafts and deer hooves to stick up and out as needed.

A top strap with a hook buckle is darn handy.  This one can be attached to either the loop on the bag or the loop on the pocket, without any extra buckles flapping around.

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To help this one be a bit more waterproof, I slanted it a bit.  The user-side edge is 3 inches taller, and can be folded over a bit when the pack is full.  I don’t fuss about an absolutely waterproof pack, just one which keeps most precip out and gains minimal weight in the process.

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The key to all of this is of course the Paradox frame.  The VX42 sleeves seen above, and the double layered (inner VX42, outer gridstop) pockets at the top are the only things added to the basic bag. Minimizing the extent and weight of frame-related elements is the key to making a truly light pack which can carry a lot of weight.

Start with the Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet, a bag similar in size and features to the one shown here and generally regarded as the pinnacle of frameless rucksacks. The Prophet is made of a lighter main material, similar shoulder straps, and with no frame whatsoever. The Prophet is claimed at 16 ounces. The next step up in the comparison are packs like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla, ULA Ohm, and HMG 2400 series. As I detailed earlier today all are around the same size, have similar features, and possess suspensions which cost a similar increase in weight over the Prophet (~14 ounces). I have reason to suspect that the 27 ounce total weight I originally quoted for the pack pictured here is inaccurate (our postal scale has finally gone round the bend), but I do know that stepping up to a comparably sized pack which matches or exceeds the load capacity requires an exponential increase in weight. To wit, the now discontinued Timberline 3 from Kifaru, which weighs 4.5 pounds.

I’ve used this pack to pack out two deer (albeit modest distances), and thus know that it takes loads a good deal above 50 pound to render the lack of load lifters a problem, given that the torso is properly sized.  That there is nothing more than a single layer of fabric between your back and the cargo demands a similar packing style to a frameless pack, you just have considerably enhanced load bearing ability and a massively supportive belt to go along with it.  I’ll probably use it for the Bob Open next year, day hunting next fall, any backpacking which doesn’t involve a massive load, and a few gear intensive daytrips.  This pack feels like the culmination of years of work, and a truly large step above that first pack back in the day.

It is, as they say, shit that works.

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