2013 TR contest results

The numbers are in.

Kristin Gates led almost wire to wire, and ended up with 32% of the vote.
Steve Fassbinder came in second, at 22%.
Dan Durston and Luc Mehl tied, 19.5% each.
And Brendan Swihart followed with 7%.

I’ll be contacting each of the above in the next few days to dole out schwag.

Thanks to everyone for voting. My hope with the original concept was not just to celebrate the year gone by, but to collect plenty of inspiration for the year to come. To a certain extent I didn’t make it a fair fight, as Ms. Gates’ journey was rather larger in scale than the rest, a trip of a lifetime in terms of grandeur, opportunity, and personal growth. What I like most about the rest, be they routes which required over a week or only a few days, is the unconventional way in which they took to the landscape. The world today may seem small, with roads and internet beta everywhere. Nonetheless, most places still have infrequently explored corners. How you go somewhere almost totally defines how you see it. So this year, go somewhere new by going there in a new way.

I look forward to reading about it.

2013 Trip Report Contest Voting

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.”
-Emma Goldman

What you are voting on:

Kristen Gates’ ~1000 mile solo east to west traverse of the Brooks Range in Alaska. A thru-hiker graduating to something bigger in spectacular fashion. An exceptionally well written account.

Dan Durston’s packraft and hiking trip on the north shore of Lake Superior. Even in the internet age, there are still lots of blank spots on the map.

Steve Fassbinder’s bike and packraft loop around what would be the most remote place in the lower 48, if it weren’t for that accursed reservoir. Be sure to read all of the many installments.

Brendan Swihart, hiking and floating right nearby, during the wrong time of year. Exploring the bowels of the last named river in the lower 48.

Luc Mehl’s urban/wild, self-supported, dirtbag route from Mexico City to the sea, over a big volcano. Bold and creative.

A reminder, voting closes in a little over 48 hours.

2013 Trip Report Contest

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2013 is over, but I thought it was a pretty good year.  I’ve yet to muster much enthusiasm for my personal retread of the year, but I do want to highlight the remarkable year had by the community who reads this.

The rules are simple.  Nominate a trip report by posting the link in the comments, below.  It must be a multiday, wilderness adventure undertaken and written up in 2013.  Nominations will be open through this coming Monday evening.  I’ll pick five finalists, a poll will go up for 48 hours, public voting will rank these five, and they’ll get public recognition and general mad respect.  The voted order will also be the order in which they’ll have their choice of the schwag I’ll put up and ship out as prizes.  Any comments which deviate excessively from simple author name and link listing will be trimmed or deleted.

The twist?  You can’t nominate your own report, or a trip you were on.

Have at it folks.  You have five days to find something awesome the rest of us did not yet see.

The Baladeo 34 gram’r

Pocket knives are kinda like underwear: eventually almost everyone will be see the need, and while fit and function drive individual preference, ideology often plays a surprisingly large role.

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I’ve been a big fan of the 34 gram Baladeo since I got one from the much lamented BPL store a number of years ago. It’s light, elegant, sturdy, and long enough in the handle and blade to be practical for someone with hands my size. The pocket clip is convenient and secure, and the overall quality excellent.

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What objections do folks have to the Baladeo? Most revolve around the modest factory sharpness, and the perceived lack of safety in the design. The factory edge can easily be improved upon, but I really put mine into another level of sharpness and convenience this summer when I repatterned the edge to be quasi-convex. Sandpaper may not be the most durable of tools, but it is light and compact for carry in the field, and when I’m backpacking I always have a bit of foam at hand to go with it. That, and for someone like me whose relationship with precision is irregular, convex sharpening with the sandpaper method yields a sharper edge with greater ease and consistency. The edge on my knife is now very sharp indeed.

The safety issue with the lock is vastly overblown. Is it the most inherently safe design, one suitable for Cub Scouts whittling soap? Perhaps not. But for an adult not accidentally depressing the lock is easy: just don’t do it! With a knife like this, meant for finer tasks, this is a reasonable expectation.

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I’ve had dalliances with other knives in recent years, both around town and in the woods, but I always come back to this one. There are rare occasions when more or different knife is needed, but they’re exceedingly rare. The open design even largely fixes one of my chief objections with folders, as it is relatively easy to plumb fish guts, cheese, and other detritus out of the cracks. It’s enough knife almost all the time, it’s aesthetically satisfying, and most significantly it is very easy to keep close at hand in almost every circumstance. What more could one want?

Rab Zephyr review

TRPB_536Casey Greene photo.

I’ve owned a lot of windshirts in the last few years.  Out of all that, the bottom line is this: if I could only have one windproof to go along with a WPB shell and a variety of insulating layers, I’d pick the Rab Zephyr and be totally content 95% of the time.  More significantly, I have only a few, minor things I’d improve about the jacket, taking fabric limitations into account.

IMG_0343The Zephyr is 10.4 oz in medium.

The Zephyr is not complicated.  It’s a full-zip version of the Boreas with a few needed refinements and welcome extra features.  The almost-white fabric in mine is the same as the Boreas, a stretchy light poly/spandex blend.  It provides a decent bit of wind protection, and a smidge of warmth (think capilene 3 class), as well as sun and precip protection.  This fabric does not have a factory DWR, which means it wets out faster but breathes better.  New to the Zephyr is the darker fabric on top of the shoulders, which is a thicker nylon/spandex blend and does have a DWR treatment.  It beads water nicely and is impressively tough, adding weather and abrasion resistance to the jacket where it needs it the most.  The genius of this fabric is that it breathes quite a bit better than something the Patagonia Houdini, and provides almost as much weather protection.  The only place the Zephyr comes up short by comparison is that once it does get soaked, it gains a lot more water as a percentage of dry weight, and is consequently slower to dry.  In all-day drizzle a Houdini or Rab Cirrus is often all you need, as body heat will keep the jacket from wetting through.  The Zephyr is less likely to do the same, but more likely to keep you dry when you’re working hard.  Like I said above, the Zephyr gets the job done better more often.  For me.

In an ideal world the fabric would dry faster and not stink, but to my knowledge that technology does not yet exist.  One must have priorities, and make choices based on them.

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Refinements over the Boreas include more precisely tailored arms, binding at the cuffs, and thumb holes.  I rarely use the thumbholes, but they’re unobtrusive and nice to have if you’re caught out without gloves when you wish you had them.  The Zephyr hood has binding as well, making the already decent Boreas hood truly excellent.  I find the face hole almost too snug when fully zipped, but the fabric is stretchy enough to accommodate a fluffy hat.  I appreciate that the hood fits this well without any drawcord or buckles.  Indeed, for me the medium Zephyr has an immaculate fit.  Trim, with just enough room for a Cap 4 hoody and fleece vest.

The changes I would make concern the pockets and the main zipper.  The later is a number 3 YKK, and I’d prefer a 5, both for durability and because the heavier, stiffer zipper would help with smoothness.  The main fabric is stretchy enough that this would be helpful.  The pockets suffer from a similar issue, and are not as smooth as they could be when used one handed.  A 1/3 oz of stiffer binding around the opening of each would be weight well spent.  The pockets also need to be set just a hair higher to keep their contents out from under a hipbelt.

The Zephyr went on almost all my trips since I bought it (with my own money) back in the spring.  On those occasions it didn’t come along, I was either expecting continuous light precip, experimenting with something else, or regretted not having the Zephyr.  It fits well, functions easily in a wide variety of conditions, is built well, and made of tough fabrics (aside from stains it looks new).  One of the better pieces of outdoor clothing available at the moment.

That’s not a review

The internet makes experts of all, that much is certain.   What is less so is how to know which items are worth the time they take to read.  Just going for a walk has become “gear testing.”  This should be condemned for two reasons.  First, it’s bullshit.  Second, it supports the talking before doing acquisitionalism which is a cultural poison; a subject I’ve thoroughly covered this year.   Below I present some suggestions for judgement.

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The first principle is personal credibility.  Yes, you can know a lot without being deep in a given activity, and yes, narratives aren’t some peoples forte, but if life and/or preference prevents you from getting out and beating on stuff regularly you shouldn’t be writing gear reviews.  Absent at least mildy compelling and regular direct evidence of your involvement, no one should take you seriously.  The bent of the net requires such skepticism.

A review is predicated on either comparative analysis of a products place within the market, or a historical perspective on how it was developed and why it is worth attention.  Ideally both, though neither have to be especially prominent, or even given many words.  The writer should know a lot more than they’re putting on screen.  Picking over a dozen websites and manufacturer specs on a spreadsheet is a public service, but not a review.

The obvious antecedent to this is that a review is not possible without extensive use.  30 days in the field minimum.  “Unboxings” and the like are important, to get accurate specs for new products if nothing else, but should not be construed as reviews.

A long term review should occur only after a product has been broken, worn out, or used regularly for over a year.  Your attention span can take it.

There are certain products which cannot be reviewed.  50 dollar flip flops would be a salient example; they’re just stupid, and the Form of stupidity is not subject to further comment.  Engaging in such nonsense undoes a lot of good accrued under my first point.

That is all.  Now go forth, break things, and tell us about it.

How to make a light pack (610 pack, version 2)

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I needed a new pack. I always needed a new pack. The original 610 was a great size, but the torso was a bit too short, and I wanted more flexibility with regards to load size, features, and suspension.

I weighed the Tamarisk the other week, and was surprised that even with all that burly fabric, aluminum stay, foam pad, and a lid I’ve since built (which includes 3 ITW g-hooks), the whole mess weighs 33 ounces. This reinforced my conviction that light fabrics are not the best way to make light packs. By all means, use the most appropriate fabric for the job, but realize that the difference between a 1.3 oz/yard silnylon pack and an 8oz/yard 500D cordura pack is, all other things equal, likely less than 6 ounces.

The place to save weight is in minimizing features, webbing, buckles, and layers of fabric. The design brief for a light pack should thus start with how to get the most function out of the least materials.

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The suspension I used on the Tamarisk goes a long way here. It was copied almost exactly.  The bulk of the pack was made from VX-07.  It’s a bit cheaper and lighter than VX-21, costs a hair less, and I’d never used it before.  210D dyneema gripstop formed the pockets and back panel.  Before hybrid cuben became the flavor of the month, this fabric got more credit than it deserved, but the fact remains that the stuff Thru-Hiker sells has a great tight weave and provides good abrasion resistance for the weight and cost, without the unpliable bulk of cordura.  Bottom is WX-40, about the lightest fabric I’ll use for a single layer pack bottom.

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The main compartment is 9″ wide and 6″ deep below the side panel contours.  Functional height once the rolltop is cinched is a bit more than 27″, which happens to be the length of the long shaft section of my Werner Shuna.

The back pocket is meant to function like a whole ‘nother pack: it’s 6″ by 8.5″ by 21″.  In theory, when food and other dense goods fill the main compartment at the start of a trip, all my clothes and most of my summer sleep system can fit in this pocket, and be transferred back inside as food gets eaten.   The 3/4″ quick release straps are big enough for something like snowshoes to be strapped on top of a full pocket.

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Very top of the roll sleeve is TX-07, to save weight and bulk.  Roll tops are the most weight in-efficient closures.  To be done well they need a fairly substantial stiffener on at least one side, and they eat a lot of material (6″ of the throat in this case).  They are the simplest of the truly waterproof options if you want to avoid zippers.

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On these last few packs my sewing is finally to the point where I can make things as I want them to be made.

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Hipbelt shown is not a permanent solution.

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Interior detail.  The white scrim of the VX-series is a great feature.  Given the roll top, I’ll probably seal all the interior seams.  As an experiment if nothing else.

All this weighs 28 ounces, including that too-heavy experimental belt.  A very satisfactory figure, given the quality of suspension and profusion of features.

Nothing is for certain, but this should be the pack I use for almost everything in 2014.

A Prolegomena to the 2013 Bedrock & Paradox Ideological guide to Holiday Gifts

Don’t buy your loved ones any physical objects in the next six weeks.  If you have regular access to the technology and leisure which reading this requires, you almost certainly have enough stuff to do a great many fun things in the year to come.  So give those you care about the means and inspiration to do them, and do them better.

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Gear helps you do your activities of choice, but most of the crap we purchase is not of the new sort, it is of the better-than sort.  Better than the quite similar thing we already have, and even the best gear upgrades don’t make us all that much better.  I’m not talking about buying shoes which finally fit; I’m talking about a lighter down jacket or pack, fancier skis or bike, more precise rifle.  In almost every case the amount of betterness is well down in the single percentiles.  The primary purposes of most gear purchases is rather to nurse along our engagement until we’re once again in the field.

This is all well and good, and I’m not proposing any oath about not buying stuff in 2014.  Theoretical engagement, planning, and learning processes which go with them are valuable.   And you should take moderation in moderation, too.  What I am saying is that the American national disease has become chasing happiness without ever being happy.  It is remarkably effective to realize that happiness is a dynamic state not at all free of intrapersonal conflict, and that one of the best ways of being happy is to decide that you are.  Now.  I enjoy my frequent, mid-afternoon walks from office to coffeeshop and back as much for the walking as for the coffee.  I can pause before going back down the hill and, on a clear day like today, see three different mountain ranges coming together in the valley where the Flathead River is birthed.  The drive thru of said coffeeshop will, for the first time ever, be open 24 hours next Friday.  I assume that part of the allure of this ritual has do with breaking the routine, in the company of friends and family and in a slightly uncomfortable manner.  What freedom to be able to do this without the crutch of impulse purchases, trampling others, and the secondary and tertiary global impacts of these activities.  Which ought to trouble us all.

So over the next week I’ll put forth several ideas, big and small, as my interest and spite dictate, for gifts which are too good to be put in a box.  Because you and yours deserve only as much.  No new coats.  No new wheels.  No fucking cuben fiber.  Not even new socks, the most pragmatic of presents.  Just inspiration.  Regardless of where you live the possibilities will exceed your lifespan.  Yes, even in  California.  All you need more of are eyes to see them.

Introducing the Gossamer Gear Tamarisk

I’m pleased to make the world premier of the new Gossamer Gear Tamarisk pack here on Bedrock & Paradox.

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I’d like to thank Gossamer Gear for allowing me to do so, and for integrating my feedback into the design, which is a very new direction for them. Named after the tenacious, ubiquitous invasive plant found throughout the American Southwest, the Tamarisk pack is meant for multi-day adventures in rugged terrain.

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Simple, functional, and above all durable, while also being lightweight. The primary fabric, tan to blend with the environment, is a revolutionary new heavyweight, silicon-impregnated cordura. As waterproof as traditional silnylons, as abrasion resistant as 1000 denier Ballistics nylon, and with outstanding stitch retention, this new fabric promises to set a new standard for practical lightweight backpacks.

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The suspension is modeled after that found in the Gorilla, adapted for highly abusive environments, and the need to eliminate as many straps and buckles as possible. A folded foam pad slots behind a fabric sleeve, and is held in place by the customary wide and durable Gossamer Gear shoulder straps. A single aluminum stay inserts through the gap in the bottom, and is held in place by a pocket on the bottom of the hipbelt.

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The pack can be used with or without the stay, though the single stay achieves such a remarkable combination of load transfer and flexibility few will choose to leave the stay behind. Torso collapse is minimal even at 40 pounds, while maintaining the ability to climb and bust brush.

I should also mention that all of the above is a fib. I built this pack for myself and to my own specs, and Gossamer Gear has nothing to do with it beyond providing inspiration, and they have my apologies for my mischief.

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After returning from Utah with holes in most of our packs it was obvious that I’d need a tough pack for multiday stuff. This one is made primarily from 1000D cordura, which is tough enough and (when purchased on closeout, as this was) fairly inexpensive. The three daisy design shown on the main panel, above, is the cleanest solution I’ve yet found to having enough attachment and compression to carry just about anything. Side panels and bottom are tapered, the former to provide a better fit, the later to lift the bottom and provide clearance when downclimbing.

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The inside liner is 70 denier polyurethene coated, with a stripe of 1000D at the bottom. The bottom sides are the part of the pack which get the most abuse in canyons. A double layer of fabric provides a bit of additional abrasion resistance and waterproofing, and more importantly a surface for Aquaseal bonding when patching holes.

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The shoulder straps needed a bit of alteration. 1 inch buckles for the straps, for better abrasion resistance. The slider buckle for the sternum strap is a point of abrasion, which I’ve seen wear through the adjustment webbing.

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A big grab handle is always a good idea, with lots of reinforcing bartacks. The small red loops are for the lid I’ll eventually build.

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The velcro patch enables use of the belt without the stay.

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A hydration hose port centrally located above the straps is a good idea in a desert pack.

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The pack is 10 inches wide at the back, six inches deep at the bottom, and 39 inches to the top of the extension collar. The belt began life as a Kifaru wraptec. I wasn’t fond of the width or the 2 inch buckle (or the crap sewing), but the cut and especially foam are excellent. Belt pockets get shredded in canyons.  The side seams are triple stitched, then felled and triple stitched again.  This final exposed stitching was coated in Aquaseal.  The bottom panel was triple stitched in, and the finished seam Aquasealed on the outside.  I built it with a single stay because I’d never built one like that before.  Initial carpet testing gives me cause for much optimism that the inflated claims above will be substantiated.

As always, questions below.