Lifestyle bullshit: Yeti Rambler 18oz

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Yeti, the reigning king of lifestyle, is a good place to begin.  Like Starbucks and Red Bull, Yeti created a broad market where none existed before, for something almost no one knew they might want.  Like Red Bull, but unlike Starbucks, Yeti has grown and sustained themselves with social media content that is both entertaining and makes a substantive contribution to the world.  Like Starbucks, but unlike Red Bull, the folks in Yeti’s virtual world (and real world) actually use the product itself.

The smallest Rambler bottle holds 18 ounces of liquid.  It is an exceedingly well-built and handy container.  It retails for 39 dollars.  In short, it has all the hallmarks of a lifestyle item; aesthetic appeal, everyday utility, and just enough expense to be attainable for many yet still exclusive.

I bought my Rambler a few weeks ago, when I had some unexpected and ill-gotten funds (selling shed antlers) and a coupon for a local store.  As a spillproof coffee container for driving to work, and for lounging around the house with a one-year old, it has performed as well as I expected.  It has exceeded my expectations in just how long and well it keeps things cold and hot.  Returning to a hot car after a full summer day to find one’s coffee still full of ice cubes is a very nice thing.  The Rambler handle even makes it a convenient kid toy, and there are plenty of youtube videos which will explain exactly how tough it is, and can more than withstand being hit against rocks for the amusing ting.

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While the Rambler is light for the performance it provides, it is too heavy for the backcountry.  It would make a nice thermos for day trips, when it isn’t left in the car.  The screw lid is easy to drink from, but isn’t spillproof over rough roads like a good travel mug.  The threads and dual o-rings also gather a lot of condensation, which can drip coffee on ones nice shirt.

Overall, an expensive but worthy upgrade over the 16oz widemouth nalgene and beer coozy which has for the past decade been my standard.

Single-parent packrafting

There hasn’t been much I just outright can’t do with Little Bear: singletrack mountain biking (trailer width), rifle shooting (he pulls his earmuffs off), and powder skiing (trailer bogs down) being the noteworthy ones. Packrafting has also been on the list, at list on the days I’m a solo parent, until yesterday.

The one parent, one kid, one boat experiment was an utter success. I had my suspicions it would work after last weekend, when he was quite a bit less squirmy and generally more comfortable in the boat than ever.  He’s finally long enough that his PFD doesn’t ride up and annoy him constantly.  So now a whole new world, which has been sorely missed all summer, is now open.

The observant will have noticed the tether, a strap through the front of my PFD, and the back of his.  Not a conventional safety measure, but one that on a mellow stretch of river I know well seemed by far the lesser of all evils.  Perhaps next summer LB’s survival instincts will have developed far enough that the river equivalent of those backpack/harness/leash thingies will not be needed.

Outdoors and Lifestyle

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Apgar permit office, 10 minutes after opening, July.

Visiting Outdoor Retailer a few weeks ago brought it home to me just how huge a percentage of the outdoor industry is given over to what I’d call lifestyle gear and pursuits.  As a dedicated elitist asshole since my teenage years I find it hard to say “lifestyle” without a permasnear, but having Little Bear around as well as trying to be more broad and ecumenical in my outlook has tempered that, a little.

I define lifestyle outdoor gear as something optimized for everyday city or front country activities, rather than backcountry or a specific sport.  Some sports, like downhill/area skiing, are almost inherently lifestyle sports, which explains the cross pollination between the two.  Another example is SUP.  I still find it’s existence outside tidal environments the height of absurdity, but when LB and I are at the local beach of an evening the appeal of being able to cruise around after work is obvious.  They’re the water version of an Electra cruiser, and on a societal level are surely a better use of hundreds of dollars than a PS4.  Therefore lifestyle outdoor stuff gets a pass, even if it isn’t just a gateway to proper, backcountry outdoor pursuits, and even if the hipster car campers and dayhikers have this summer made Glacier more crowded than ever.

IMG_0382LB, car camping, Many Glacier.

All of this is to say that we all, hopefully, spend a lot of lifestyle time blending the outdoors into daily life.  Hikes before work, bike rides and floats after, dinners picnics, even walking or biking the long way to the pub rather than driving counts.  Life is more fun this way, sneaks in more exercise, and is a way for those of us who take a functional paycut to live in certain places to maximize any given season.

So, as a way to kickstart the celebration of this blogs 10th anniversary (coming in early December), sell out, and kill more innocent pixels I’ll take the next few days to highlight a few awesome lifestyle items which have over the next few years made my life a little better.  Exciting.

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 Elite review

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The Tensegrity 2 Elite is an exceptional tent, in many ways.  Unfortunately the most significant of those ways is not easy to convey in either words or pictures, and because of this, the unusual design, and the high price I worry that an excellent tent may not be long on the market.

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We purchased (at an industry discount) the Tensegrity specifically as a family backpacking tent; we wanted the lightest and most compact package which would provide sleeping room for two adults plus an infant/toddler, as well as enough elbow room for diaper changes and the other acrobatics that are part of camping with a little kid.  Full bug protection, full floor, and good ventilation were mandatory, while serious storm resistance was not.  I was intrigued by the unconventional design, and beyond wanting to see one first hand, was convinced it would meet our needs.

It has. The most exceptional thing about the Tensegrity is, by far, how much livable space it packs into a small footprint.  88 by 50 inches does not tell the story.  First, the head end gets wider towards the top, and the rainfly/tarp overhangs still further outside. Second, the foot pole is positioned far back, making the rear wall vertical.  At 5’11” I have excess room for gear at my head and no chance of my sleeping bag hitting the rear wall or ceiling.  Tall folks will do well in the Tensegrity, even sleeping on thick air matts.  Changing diapers is comfortably accomplished, with all our gear inside, and there is plenty of room for M to breastfeed while I organize gear or do other small camp tasks.  We’ve had three adults inside, the shortest of whom was 5’8″, along with the kiddo and there was plenty of room for hanging around away from the bugs.  I’ve tried, and failed, to take a photo which accurately conveys how comfy it is to be inside the Tensegrity.  It so far outstrips the competition in this regard that the point simply cannot be overemphasized.

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The Tensegrity is unapologetically built for three season conditions, and prioritizes space and ventilation over weatherproofing.  No other singlewall, integrated tarp-tent has as much venting.  The front and rear walls are mesh with no fabric backing, and while both are well shaded from any conceivable level of rain splash, there is by design no way to keep the wind out.  The sides, which zip fully down and open, can be closed totally by a waterproof panel, or be fully open for venting.  That one can get so much airflow, and full bug protection, while being totally protected from ordinary sorts of rain is a very pragmatic design feature.  These are the sorts of conditions most folks in most places see most often.

That said, the Tensegrity is a single wall tent, and therefore the roof will build condensation faster on clear nights, as it lacks the insulated barrier of a double wall.  It’s tempting to compare the ~3 pound weight to the similar weight of a double wall tent like the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 and assume the later would do better when it comes to condensation management.  In my experience this is not the case, whatever advantage the Copper Spur might gain by having a double wall is given back by having less air flow and less interior air volume for occupants to expire into.  It’s worth revisiting the first point; while on paper the Copper Spur is taller, wider at the head and a bit longer than the Tensegrity, in practice the Tensegrity feels much, much bigger.  The most comparable Tarptent product, the Rainshadow 2, has sloped walls and must thus be over six feet wide to provide similar (less, really) interior space.

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Pitching the Tensegrity is not inherently difficult, unlike some of the asymmetrical tarptents which have become popular, but the setup process does not generalize well from any other tent I’ve used, and one does need to follow the instructions for optimal results.  Pole length for the grommet used is crucial, for example.  Compare the top photo, which is an ideal pitch with vertical tension along the door, with the second photo, where somewhat paradoxically too long poles prevent proper vertical tension, and thus slacken the pitch overall.  A lot of folks online get this wrong, and end up using the optional side guylines in addition to the front awning to tension the shelter.  These lines exist so that the awning can be rolled up in fair weather, and are sewn such that when you try to use them in concert with the awning they don’t add anything of substance.  The whole point the Tensegrity is that one line of continuous tension goes from the rear stake along the edges and down to the outer edges of the front awning, which in turn tensions the trekking poles and holds the shelter up.  Four additional stakes are recommended at the corners of the interior, but these don’t add much in terms of structural support.  And for fuck sake, don’t prop the pole ends on the ground, tension, and call it good.  Sierra Designs added the grommets for a reason, and the result is far superior with them in use.

This is the most substantive weakness of the Tensegrity, that these three stakes, and especially the back stake, get put under quite a bit of force.  You start the pitch from the back, and it is worth taking time to make sure that one stake is very secure.  In loose soils, equalizing two stakes to the one lineloc is probably a good idea.  Other than this, the Tensegrity performs very well within it’s inherent limitations.  It isn’t a tent for significant snow loads, and while the large, unsupported stretches of fabric do move a fair bit in moderate winds, the tent isn’t loud or unstable, and this movement seems to be part and parcel of the design.  Sierra Designs has wind tunnel testing videos on the product page which show wind resistance I consider quite adequate for three season performance.  There are lighter shelters with vastly greater wind shedding ability, but none of them provide anything close to the same amount of liveable space and ventilation.

It is worth noting that while the end to end length, and width of the front awning, are considerable the flexibility of the awnings angle makes it easy to slip the Tensegrity into some very small spaces.  In Utah this spring an ideal spot at the end of a long day had a patch of flat sand only a few feet longer than the interior.  I anchored the awning up and away a bit by wedging pebbles into cracks in the sandstone ledges and tying the guylines to them.  A bit of creativity goes a long way here, though that does add time to the pitch.

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Another significant consideration with the Elite (all silnylon) model is seam sealing, which due to the complexity of the design is a substantial undertaking.  Seams on the fly, floor, and sides all need to be sealed, and if you’re doing this in a garage during the dead of winter as I was in January at least two separate sessions (to allow the sealant to dry, before you repitch the shelter at a different angle) will be necessary.  Not what I would call difficult, but if a couple hour investment post-purchase is off putting the addition weight and poorer longevity of the PU coated (and thus taped) FL model might be indicated.

Besides vast amounts of livable space, the Tensegrity distinguishes itself from the competition (Big Agnes and Tarptent being the most obvious) by being built to noticeably higher standard.  Stitching and finish are exceptionally neat, and the details both little (linelocs with correct amount of nice cord installed, thick coated webbing on the corner tieouts) and big (#5 zippers, straight, no curved paths on the main doors) are done to perfection.  My only niggles are two; replace the two part guy lines on the awning corners with one single long piece for faster use, and make the triangle of fabric where the door zips come together stiffer so it doesn’t snag.  Otherwise Sierra Designs has hit all buttons, functional and fanciful, in a way the competition (whom I’ve slept in but never felt inclined to purchase precisely because they don’t do these things) never has.  Personally, I hope the Tensegrity does well, as this would be evidence of function winning out over hype.

Osprey Poco AG review

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The Osprey Poco AG is a well executed kid carrier for day hiking and perhaps backpacking. It carries the kid exceptionally securely and comfortably, but has serious limitations for women or the long torso’d.

For detail shots of the pack, and my initial thoughts when we bought it, see here.

All photos by M.

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We’ve used the hell out of the Poco AG in the past six months.  As hikers and backpackers before anything, a good kid carrying backpack is essential, and since Little Bear hit six months and could hold himself upright well enough to ride in a pack the Poco has been our most used backpack.

The strength of the Poco is without question the child harness, and the pack structure which accommodates and protects it.  The seat is wide, padded just enough, and the harness is secure.  The height adjustment is quick and intuitive.  The padded drool pad, removable for washing, serves as a great pillow for the inevitable and frequent trail naps.  The framing which holds the kid compartment open is robust, enough that it provides a not inconsiderable amount of armoring if the adult slips on a sidehill.  (Deuter carriers are notably deficient in this regard, which is a largely academic issue for folks who don’t hike off trail.) The kickstand, deployed in the top photo, is convenient and can be extended or retracted by the wearer, with the pack worn.

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The integral, retractable sun shade is another excellent and often used feature.  We’ve yet to convince LB to wear a hat for more than one minute, and hoods are an imperfect solution, so this has been used frequently.  It also, as shown, works well for head support while napping.  The lack of a full length sleeves for the shade to go into when not is use has been a consistent annoyance.  Without this nothing separates it from stuff in the lower cargo pocket, and when that pocket is close to full snagging is almost inevitable.

The aftermarket rain cover, which cinches around the sun shade, isn’t something we’ve used often.  It is effective, and fairly easy to put on, but could be just a hair longer to better cover LB’s feet.

Overall there’s not much Osprey could do better to keep a kid secure and happy in the Poco.

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The adult side of the Poco, by contrast, has a few systemic issues, which may or may not be likely addressed in the near future.  The first is frame height.  The Poco comes in one size, and while it adjusts easily to fit shorter torso lengths, as can be seen above at 21″ I am right at the top end of sizing, and only just get shoulder lift.  By the time most infants are big enough to ride in a pack the kid-pack combined weight will be close to 20 pounds, and our current LB+pack weight of 29 is I would guess about average in terms of the useable window.  Osprey rates the Poco to nearly 50 pounds, and therefore ought to build it to carry that load, which in its squirms and lurches to grab the passing scenery feels a lot heavier than the same amount of gear tightly compressed.

With 30 pounds I could see rating the Poco for a 21″ torso.  At 50, I can’t see it being rated for anything more than 18″.  It’d be ideal if Osprey made two sizes, though presumably on a low margin, low numbers item that is financially unattractive.  It’s worth repeating (from the February post) that given the complexity of the design, 250 dollars for the Poco is a bargain.

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I’ve been impressed by the Poco’s hipbelt.  The stripped down version of the AG suspension functions like a full-wrap belt, with only a tiny amount of stretch which after a few hours requires periodic recinching.  The problem is in the stiff foam wings which provide tension and structure for the mesh which contacts the user.  As a normal, skinny-ish male with little hip curve the foam wings don’t touch me at all, as intended.  M on the other hand is a woman with around average hip curve, and the wings provide a nasty and unfixable pressure point on the bottom edge.  Every woman who I’ve spoken with about the Poco AG reports a similar issue, while almost all men like the belt just fine.

Overall, a kid carrier needs to be built with a virtually expedition grade suspension, and while the frame of the Poco is super stiff, the harness comes up short.  Greater frame height, and more adaptable belt, and cusher shoulder straps are all needed.

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Lastly, I’d love to see Osprey seriously tackle the problem of how to build a kid carrier with serious, backpackable cargo capacity.  2500 cubic inches would do nicely.  My sandwich rig with the Seek Outside Revolution gets the job done, but if the suspension were beefed up the Poco could easily carry the load itself, with some wing pockets, and slightly expanded back pocketing as well.  A niche product for sure, but one can dream.  If anything over the past six months we’ve learned that getting prepped for a backpacking trip with infant is harder than the trip itself; Osprey would do the world a favor by making the packing part a bit simpler.

Packrafting’s zeroth law

We didn’t make it to the Packrafting Roundup this year, something I’ve regretted ever since, but babies get sick a lot.  Thankfully Moe Witschard took a video of Luc Mehl’s presentation of packrafting safety, so all of us who were not there can hear it.

I could not agree with Luc more.

Canyoneering is comparable to packrafting in that it’s a sport which doesn’t demand skill to get into serious situations.  Canyoneering has grown faster, I’d assume, due to the relevant terrain being so close to big population centers, and because the cost of entry is considerably less.  There have been quite a few canyoneering fatalities in the last decade or more, most of which have been preventable and/or in retrospect stupid.  If folks don’t do what Luc suggests, namely slow down and learn at a sustainable pace, more packrafters will almost certainly die.  This is especially relevant with packrafts becoming less expensive and more widely available.

In a wilderness context swimming is often an unacceptable risk.  Just like with backcountry skiing, I’d like to see the dominant narrative transform from how do we do ___ with as little chance of dying as possible, to how do we maintain an almost nonexistent possibility of dying, and still do ___ ?  I’ve only had two semi-close calls* packrafting, which I attribute to being very afraid of moving water, and very unafraid to admit it and act accordingly.  The later is easy, or easier, solo or in a very small group, which is almost the only way I’ve ever packrafted.  It can be tough to, for example, univite someone with bad judgment from a wilderness trip, but sometimes that needs to happen.  This example is a digression from Luc’s central point, but is a complimentary example of the tough topics packrafting needs to talke about with itself.

Thanks Luc.

*First was a hasty log portage on Rattlesnake Creek in the first month I had a boat, second was Spencer’s (excellent) swim on the South Fork in 2014.