The rainy season

After a summer (the whole year thus far, really) of very nice weather it’s finally raining regularly. The heat has been killed off, and the mountains are shrouded in clouds like they’re supposed to be. Life is good.

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A quest to packraft around upper Grinnell Lake was mostly foiled by rain, as we got drenched and fled downward trying to shake the cold. In the last three years my body has undergone some serious re-programing. I’ve bulked up, both as a byproduct of carrying packs a lot and as a cold-fighting strategy. It works: after 10 minutes hauling down the trail and stuffing my face with chocolate I warmed right back up, while M was fighting the screaming barfies off and on for 30+ minutes.  My element is no longer fighting the heat, and it felt right to be back in 45 and raining.

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The latest toy which doesn’t go bang is the Paradox Packs Evolution packframe and system, in for a flogging a review for BPL.  The schedule only allowed for a shakeout dayhike, being a huge dork hauling a big pack of marginally necessary stuff.  I’ll just say that two days of use only slightly removed from carpet testing has me very happy I’m taking this thing out in search of elk next week.  The design shows immense promise.  More in the thread linked to above.

Perfection is a shotgun

Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher.

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I would submit that few of us have a coherent idea of what de Saint Exupery meant when he wrote that.  The rear foot of a squirrel, for example, performs a difficult job consistently and one assumes has no extraneous parts, but imputing human understanding onto something so far beyond us, and which came into being without any goal beyond the moment-to-moment, has always seemed silly.  But I am not an engineer.

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It must be the tirelessly accursed engineer within all humans which makes us think of stuff whenever perfection is mentioned.  It’s a concept worth interrogating, and reveals to us our status as tool makers and how irrevocably that process is built into how we understand anything.  Ironic and fitting then that the perfectest tools are those which allow us to come closest to the squirrel leaping from limb to limb without conscious thought or extra-bodily encumbrance.  For me, two tools come immediately to mind: the Citori pictured above, and my Werner paddle.  Why are they so good?  The answer brings up another St. Ex quotation:

“I know but one freedom, and that is the freedom of the mind.”

Before I owned the Citori I though I didn’t really need a shotgun.  Now, just like my paddle, I look for excuses to use it just because doing so is so pleasurable.  With the Werner I just paddle the water, and either have the muscle and skill to move the boat, or not.  With the Citori I stalk squirrels, grouse, and turkey in the woods, and either have the luck and skill to find them and put myself in position for a makeable shot, or I don’t.  Growth in either case is for the purposes of one human life unlimited.

I’ve mostly gotten over banging the Shuna on rocks, and realize that at some point quite a ways down the road even proper care will not be enough to prevent it from needing replacement.  The expense of the paddle pales before the Citori, which I have every intention of using for the next 67 years.  I hesitate to take it on backpacking trips and in a packraft.  Also, as a citizen of Montana M needed a shotgun.  So when I saw a fine old singleshot 16 gauge at a gun show recently I didn’t hesitate.

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This Topper M48 has a serial number starting with an F, which means it was built in 1945.  The action is tight, the ejector rings crisp, the trigger pulls solid, the bluing on the receiver has been worn to tiger stripes, and the walnut stock is gorgeous, if well used.

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One side of the forearm was obviously left too close to the wood stove at some point, but some linseed oil made that just another bit of character.  The forearm has worn against the barrel a bit, and needs a bit of shimming to take away the play.

Call it situational perfection.  Something some things are more predisposed to than others.

Wreakage

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Out in the Bob this weekend, looking for elk, I found something I did not expect.

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The remains of what must have been an old fire lookout.  Wood stove, outhouse nearby, illegible trail sign, anchor cables cemented into the rock, nails and shards of immolated glass everywhere.  What else could it be?

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All at the end of a trail which, really, doesn’t get much use anymore.  It’s good stuff like this isn’t on maps.  Stumbling upon it is the proper way to know.

And yes, I found the must well traveled elk trail I’ve ever seen.

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The perfect pole, part 2

A follow up to this post: I always intended to make a pair, and to use the Gossamer Gear grips, which are the best. At first I thought I’d source tubing for the uppers myself, but couldn’t find an affordable small quantity of good aluminum in a thin enough wall, and the relatively small ID of 16.5mm (approximately). I’ve also been impressed with the new style flicklocks on M’s Carbon Corks, I retract my previous comment on them being fashion-only. So I bought a pair of this years Boundary ski poles and got to work.

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Weights, as follows, are per individual piece.

BD powder baskets: .6 oz

BD trekking baskets: .1 oz

Gossamer Gear grips: .8 oz

BD Boundary grips (with straps): 3 oz

BD Boundary upper section (sans grip): 3.6 oz

BD Boundary lower section (sans basket): 3.8 oz

BD carbon probe pole lower section (sans basket): 4.4 oz

BD carbon probe lower section is 105cm.  Boundary lower is 86 cm.  Boundary upper is 61 cm (aka 24 inches).

Boundary upper OD is 18 mm.  GG grip ID is 14 mm.

First I removed the Boundary grips by boiling them in water.  Be aggressive about this, as it takes quite a lot of heat to soften the glue enough to get them off.

Next, prep the GG grips for insertion.  I sanded the first 2/3s out a decent bit, put some Gorilla glue in the bottom of the grip, and then with a bit of mineral spirits on the shaft got everything together with minimal fuss.  Be gentle, and make sure the pole seats symmetrically in the grip, and makes it all the way to the end (about 5.5″ of insertion).  The glue is crucial, you need it to keep the pole in place so it doesn’t punch out the end of the grip, and you need it to form a hard plug so the male end of the probe pole doesn’t punch out the end of the grip.  Dribble a bit of water down the inside of the shaft to activate the glue, and let the whole thing dry upside down.  Do not use too much glue, a little is more than adequate.

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Now I have a 9 oz/per pole which extends from 108cm to 156cm, and is very stiff throughout.  Short enough for hiking, long enough for skating (and pitching the Megalight).  The foam grips are light, don’t conduct cold, and are very comfortable.  I didn’t add any provision for straps, as I never use them.  The relative heft and lack of short collapsible length are the only downsides, and leave a space in the quiver for a good-trails-only summer pole.  These are as unbreakable as usable poles can currently get, and their rigidity is something I hate to not have anymore.

One more box checked.

Ready to go

I got out this past weekend to do something not especially fun, but necessary: making sure (on and with paper) that my Remington is still zeroed perfectly. Thankfully it was, so I got to spend most of my time blowing up rocks at 100 meters.

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The rifle is now rigged out in full fighting trim.  Along with the paint job on the stock, I added side swivel studs, which I prefer.  My sling of choice is simple 1″ webbing, attached to the studs with spectra cord.  It doesn’t quick adjust, but is light, simple, and dead silent.  Other refinements include the custom ammo cuff, and lens caps to keep pine needles and snow out of the scope.

As shown, including the four rounds, the rifle weighs 8.5 pounds.  The only thing missing is some tape around the muzzle.

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The ammo cuff bears elaboration.  I copied the idea from Evan Hill, and it works very well.  The backing is 500D cordura with 1/8″ foam inside.  The foam compresses when the rounds are inserted, and provides a more secure hold than elastic.  A new feature for this cuff is a larger (4mm versus 1mm) bartack in the lower 1/5 of the seam.  You can insert the round all the way to the primer, but past that point the wider shoulder of the brass can’t get past the wider bartack, providing for even greater security.  The dual elastic bands which hold the cuff on are tight enough so I can just barely get it on over the recoil pad.

The only improvement I might make long-term is a proper fiberglass stock.  In theory a stiffer, bedded stock would shoot better, though as is I have no issues.  I also like the way Weatherbys shoulder, and their aesthetics.  I don’t want to loose weight off the rifle; as is felt recoil is right where I want it.

Now all I have to do is go find some elk next month.

Hill People Gear Tarahumara review

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Everyone needs a daypack.  Something simple, tough, and in the ~1000 cubic inch range with the ability to both carry almost nothing comfortably, and load up on random technical stuff as needed.  My go-to this summer has been the Hill People Gear Tarahumara.

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HPG claims the Tara holds 750 cubic inches, which is very conservative.  The Tara is one of those great designs which swallows a lot more than seems possible, and generally carries smaller than it measures.  It’s made entirely of 500 denier cordura, with an against the back footprint of 17 by 9 inches.  The side panels are four inches deep toward the bottom, and taper smaller towards the top.  As can be seen in the above photo, the front (zipper) panel is tapered, which combined with the rounded corners of the side panels makes the whole rig very slick in use.  It slides through brush and over rocks exceptionally well.  There are two side/wand pockets, a single #10 zip centered in the front panel, and two one inch buckles which wrap around the sides and front of the pack.

The back panel contains 1/4″, rather stiff foam, which helps the pack keep shape when partly filled, and forms a slot pocket against your back.

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These compression straps, as well as the shoulder harness, are removable.  Along with tabs along the sides, top and bottom of the pack, this allows the Tara to be a component in the HPG pack system.  I don’t use that system, but the stout webbing and strong stitching does allow these tabs to be rigged into just about any sort of carry or compression rig you could imagine.

My Tara, in the fetching ranger green color, weighs 21 ounces stock.   It currently retails for 125 dollars.

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The HPG shoulder harness is the heart of the Tara, and the component which defines its performance.  The ingenious single piece of flat, contoured, lightly padded fabric is an extraordinarily comfortable way to carry a backpack.  It is up to just about any weight you could stuff in a ~1000 cubic inch pack short of filling it with buckshot.  At nearly four inches wide, it is the widest shoulder strap system I’ve ever used.  The harness attaches via two one inch webbing tabs on the pack and corresponding triglides on the harness.  Torso fit is important with small packs, as it allows the load to sit right in the small of the back: the most stable location (see top photos).  The HPG system allows for a huge amount of adjustment in this regard, particularly for longer-torsoed (22″ or more) folks typically left out by major manufacturers.  Indeed, the only people who might not fit the Tara are the particularly short torso’d.  Depending on where they like their pack, those 15″ and under might find the Tara doing the butt bump.

The stock harness comes with a 1 inch, non-elasticized sternum strap.  I like a bit of give here, and found the stock size too clumsy, so as pictured above I replaced this.  Aside from cutting the center 1.5″ triglide off the harness (I won’t use this, as it’s intended for larger packs), this is the only mod I’ve made.

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At first I thought it was almost inevitable that such wide shoulder straps would pinch my neck and generally be in the way.  Remarkably, they almost never are.  When reaching high for a hold, and stretching back behind my bike saddle on a steep descent, the harness makes itself known, but not in an annoying fashion.  I’m not an especially large person, and do have some decent shoulder musculature from climbing and carrying lots of packs.  I wonder that the slim and bony might find the width intrusive.  On the other hand, I can’t think of a better shoulder system for people who are susceptible to pack pressure on their clavicles.

The Tara is very easy to live out of for a day.  I’m sold on the big, straight center zip as the best option for a daypack.  It provides reasonable access to all corners of the interior without excessive zipperage, and between the heavy gauge and straight run I have no concerns about longevity, save extreme abrasion against the teeth (i.e. canyoneering).  Because the pack is small its easy to flip around and carry on the front temporarily, and because the bottom panel tilts up towards the zip, you can unzip and rummage around with total security without breaking stride.

The side pockets are not elasticized, holding with HPGs philosophy of making gear which takes decades to wear out.  They have minimal slack built in, no more than one inch wider than the side panel.  This means that they’ll hold water bottles, but only if the pack is a fair bit less than full towards the bottom.  The virtue of the design is that if you want the pack full and pockets out of the way, you need to do nothing.  You can get a thinner (bike, small nalgene) bottle out of them with the pack on, but just barely.

The full wrap compression straps will hold all sorts of things.  Most of the time I leave the upper at home, as the bottom one provides all the load stabilization a partial load might need.

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Most significantly, the Tara is made of top-quality materials in a manner several standard deviations above that associated with the best mainstream pack makers.  500D cordura is not a sexy material.  The stuff HPG uses has a PU coating and DWR which are both much better than what you normally associate with the stuff.  The Tara is not cheap amongst daypacks, and the best reasons to spend the extra coin are not things easily depicted in a webpage.

There are downsides to a simple design executed from burly materials.  It’s heavy by modern standards.  It is not specialized, meaning that a particular application might require a bit of planning for ideal execution.  There are exactly three pockets, so interior organization will have to originate from the user, rather than the pack.  Most seriously, once the cordura gets wet from sweat it stays that way for a while, and thus the pack can feel a bit boggy on a long, humid day.  The slack in the harness attachment (I have about an inch between the pack bag and buckles) can be a problem mountain biking, as a lighter pack will slide forward against the harness, pushing it towards your neck on steep descents.  A rigged hipbelt would solve this last issue.

These downsides included, the Tara is still the best overall solution I’ve found to the one-daypack question.  Stoutly built and elegantly simple, it can do just about anything 1000 cubic inches can do.

The Two Essentials

This weekend I’m headed out on the biggest trip of the summer, a seven day traverse through the eastern and southern sections of Yellowstone National Park. Conditions look good; highs in the low 70s, lows in the high 30s, and the one problem ford down to an acceptable level (i.e. my shorter and lighter companions won’t float away).  Margins of error grow shorter the longer a trip is, and thus I’ve been going through all my usual stuff this week, doing repairs and making sure everything is stocked and in good shape.

One of the items I examined is my emergency/first aid/repair kit, a.k.a. the ditty bag or possibles pouch.  Everyone has one; a place to keep those essential items which are always needed but rarely used, be it on day hikes or overnights.  Putting them in a little bag makes moving the so-called Ten Essentials from one pack to another simple and largely foolproof.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not a huge fan of the traditional formulation of the ten essentials.  Widely credited as beginning with The Mountaineers, what no doubt started as a helpful maxim has passed through cliche into mindless pastiche.  REI makes a lot of money selling the items on the original list.  What is lost in the noise today, including in The Mountaineers revised “systems” iteration, is skill.

I prefer to think of any outdoor endeavor as requiring two essentials: the knowledge to know what you won’t know once out there, and the gear to deal with those variables.  You can’t even begin to talk about the later without a detailed examination of the former.

The numerous variables which shape the former are so variegated as to make discussion largely pointless.  What I would emphasize, and what The Mountaineers need to (get back to?) emphasize, is the progression of learning through which your gear will evolve.  Unfortunately, it is easier for REI to sell pre-made first aid kits than enrollment in a 5 day WFR class.

That said, pictured below is what I take most of the time.  Emulate at your own peril.

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It is important to first note that this kit hardly ever changes.  I’ll add or subtract my packraft repair kit for packraft trips.  For longer trips I’ll add a bit more first aid stuff.  In really crap weather I might beef up the fire starters.  The advantage of consistency here is that I always know what is in the bag, and that there is very little chance I’ll forget to add something back after I take it out for that one trip.

First, the ditty bag.  It’s red, silnylon, and made by me.  Red is easy to find in my pack or on the ground.  The size is shallow and wide, which makes everything easy to find.

Fire starting stuff I take seriously.  Out of all emergency gear it is the stuff I’ve used most often in the last half-decade.  I carry two esbit cubes (taped together, the packaging is fragile), a small lighter, a firesteel, and a small nalgene stuffed with lint and denatured alcohol.  Enough redundancy, but not too much.

First aid is minimal.  My training has taught me that most wilderness first aid issues either could have been avoided by good prep, or require nothing more than stabilization and a run for evac.  You can fill pounds with hypotheticals here.  I bring tape, gauze pads, tweezers, and chamois cream.  Butt chafing is the one issues I need to treat on a fairly consistent basis, a result of my slight bowleggedness I suppose.  Given that it’s been hot and sunny, I’ll probably bring another tube for the Yellowstone trip.

My favorite light this year has been a Fenix E11 with a homemade head strap.  It provides more power than any other light its size, and is durable and waterproof.  The shape also packs better than traditional headlamps, and is almost as easy to use.

I’ve taken to bringing a fixed blade almost all the time, my Buck Skinner.  In summer this is mainly because its nice to not bother cleaning fish guts and cheese out of the depths of a folder.  In winter it is handy for wood prep.  Only disadvantage is the size, which is slightly uneasy to pocket.

Repair stuff is minimal, as it is far better to rely on proper prep and maintenance.  I bring a bit of floss for thread, a heavy needle, and for packraft repairs a container wrapped in duct tape with UV-cure aquaseal and about 6 feet of Patch-n-go.  My Swistec tool has a small set of pliers, a flathead driver, and a phillips bits I ground down to be a posidrive for ski bindings.

I almost always have a compass along, even if I don’t have a map.  In our thicker low elevation forests, it’s quite possible to have a good macro idea of where you need to go, and be unable to see enough terrain to discern direction.  This is especially true on foggy winter days.  The Suunto MCA is durable, and has a sighting mirror for those rare occasions when I use it.  The thick yellow bungy provides a stretchy neck cord for use, and helps it stand out if dropped.

I can’t remember the last time I wanted more.

LaSportiva: Anakonda v. X Country

Light, quick drying, and tough enough to last off-trail. I’m still looking for a shoe which will do all three.  Yes, I know I beat the hell out of my shoes.  Yes, I know trail runners are not made for what I do.  I’m still going to keep asking for more, even if it is unreasonable.

Brand new Anakonda versus X Country with ~4 hard months in them.  Former is 12 oz a foot, later was 9 when new.  Both are size 45.

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Above is my second pair of X Countrys.  I said I wouldn’t buy another after the uppers on the first set gave out quickly, but Seam Grip allowed them to limp along until the tread was mostly dead, and then I found a pair of sale last fall when they were discontinued.  And I really like how they hike.  As can be seen above, I get two failure points: rips on the outside behind the toebox, and on the inside near the front of my instep right between the upper and the sole.  The former only goes through the outer layer of fabric and is easy to fix.  The second is more of a death sentence, as it’s a precursor of delamination.

The Anakonda has obviously been built to address these concerns, as the fit and sole are essentially unchanged.  Hopefully those extra 3 oz will prove to be well spent.

Wild Things Tactical wind gear

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I’m not convinced that actual camo is necessary for hunting ungulates. I shot my first deer ~10 years ago wearing a red and black plaid shirt, after all. I was convinced that for an autumn wear I intended to take hunting seriously, I needed performance shells in colors other than the nuclear red and orange of my current windshirts. The selection of good, light, non-cotton hunting clothes is remarkably small, and most of what is available is wildly expensive by any standard. The Wild Things Tactical wind shirt and pants quickly made the selection as being light, versatile, relatively affordable (especially at bargin NOS ebay prices), and made from an interesting fabric (70D Epic nylon).

Both pants and anorak are currently available in coyote brown, which I find boring, and multicam. Multicam was designed to work in as wide a variety of environments as possible. I find it interesting on aesthetic and functional levels. That multicam variants of both pieces were available NOS for 50%+ off on ebay sealed the deal.

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When outside in wind and precip you’re always trying to use the lowest level of protection which is safe and comfortable. In spite of many R&D and marketing dollars, there is still a fairly direct inverse correlation between the level of weather protection and the breathability of a fabric. Goretex is invaluable (and that brand is still my preference when available in appropriate garments, due to superior longevity), but I try to wear it only when absolutely necessary. Wind resistant garments with a good DWR are preferred.

In the realm of windshirts, Epic is an interesting option. Most windshirts get their water-repellency from one of several treatments, which chemically increase surface tension and cause water to bead up and not soak in. This works to a point; either until the force of the moisture overwhelms the coating, or until the coating is too dirty to be fully functional. Though they can be brought back to full force by laundering, eventually factory DWR treatments will fail, and in spite of advances in the last five years wash-in and spray-on retreatments never seem to be as good as the original. Epic is a silicon treatment applied to raw fabric, which effectively imbues a structural DWR. The ability to shed precip is built into the fabric itself; its effectiveness can be blunted by dirt and oil, but it can always be restored by simple laundering.

The fabric, and its balance of weatherproofing and breathability, is the highlight of the Wild Things tactical wind gear.  Quite simply, it is fantastic.  It beads water with an immediacy I’ve not seen on anything other than Epic, and keeps doing it impressively well for impressively long.  As mentioned, dirt will cause it to fail.  For instance, get mud on the bottom ~8 inches of the pants and even after the dirt is rinsed off in a creek the dividing line of DWR effectiveness is quite drastic.  As with any DWR, sustained water pressure will cause it to fail, at which point you’ll start getting wet with a non-waterproof fabric like this.  3-4 hours of sustained light rain is all you can expect, far less with heavy rain.  Interestingly, vigorous splashes roll right off so long as they’re intermittent.  I’ve worn the anorak packrafting on a number of occasions, and even with frequent face shots it keeps me dry except where my elbows brush against the tubes.  Presumably because of the Epic treatment, these garments absorb impressively little water, and dry freakishly fast, even by the exacting standards of modern technical fabrics.  Most interestingly, it seems just as breathable as other windshirts (like a Patagonia Houdini or Rab Cirrus), while having better weather shedding properties.  In sustained rain, especially sustained cold rain, Epic isn’t going to get the job done, but so long as you’re ok with getting a bit damp in the shoulders during longer rains the Wild Things wind gear might get the job done everywhere else.  Thanks to the warm weather we’ve been having, and the safety margin that provides, I haven’t brought anything but the Wild Things stuff on any trip since the Bob Open.

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Construction quality is good, but not spectacular.  Stitching is strong, and no time or weight is wasted on things like interior binding which have only aesthetic value.  Fit tends toward the baggy side, with a few oddities which knock the grade down a bit.  The hood on the anorak rolls into the collar, lacks any sort of adjustment, and as can be seen above is on the small side.  It’s functional, but far from ideal.  Wild Things did manage to design a roll-away hood without adding layers of excess fabric, resulting in the first such hood I’ve used which once stowed is not noticeable.  I hardly use it.

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The anorak zipper is 15 inches deep, which is fantastic.  It has inner and outer flaps, a nice touch.  The single chest pocket is large, but not ponderously so, and made of one layer of sturdy, non-absorbent mesh.  The placement is a bit peculiar, and when closed the zipper is just shy of being under the wide shoulder strap on my Gorilla or HPG Tarahumara.  It works and it’s light, so no complaints.  The zippers are quality metal YKK and run smoothly.  The arms of the jacket are adequately long and well contoured, with elastic cuffs.  There is enough stretch to slide the cuffs up above your elbows, where it stays put.  The torso is exceptionally long, with a modest drop tail and a full hem drawcord.  Full marks there.

The pants are again on the roomy side, but not ponderously so.  They’re a simple four panel design, but have a crotch gusset built into the panels such that freedom of movement is exceptional.  They have two jeans style pockets on the seams, and an open back pocket.  These pockets are rather small and honestly pretty useless.  I’ll likely get rid of all three when I get around to it.  The plain elastic waist is simple and functional.  The ankle zips extend 17 inches up to knee level, making them dead easy to put on and take off over shoes.  In spite of the pocket fail, I’m at least as big a fan of the pants as I am the anorak.

The anorak weighs 8.5 oz, pants 6 oz; both in medium.

Finally, besides the aforementioned great blend of weather resistance and breathability, the fabric feels great.  It’s silky smooth against the skin, quiet, and yet the face is slick and slides through brush and rock easily and well.  Everything about the fabric screams high-quality, and it’s rather nice to have garments which dispense with gimmicks almost entirely and let the fabric and simple, largely sound design do the talking.  Add a better hood and functional (or no) pants pockets and I’d have nothing to complain about.

These garments might well work for you.  Whether you want to wear camo out backpacking is another matter entirely.  Even in Montana it puts off a different vibe which is a bit hostile to the REI crowd.  The contrarian in me likes this, but then again I don’t see many people on my routes anyway.  As of this writing, the pants are still available on ebay at a price which beats anything remotely equivalent, so it might be a good time to add some controversy to your wardrobe.

An incomplete treatise on ‘mid selection

IMG_0480BD Megalight with aftermarket guy points resisting the wind.

A pyramid shelter is the most versatile shelter for outdoor adventure.  There are many reasons to not have a quiver of tarps and tents, and the best one is that having one shelter suitable for all conditions allows you to grab and go.  A ‘mid fits this role well.  Terminology should be here noted: shelter is used instead of tent for reasons beyond the mere lack of a floor.  That a tent is fully enclosed inherently brings with it the expectation that you’ll be consistently insulated from the outside world.  This expectation is only realistic in mild conditions, and the separation it promotes from the environment at hand defeats the purpose of multi-day backcountry adventure.  As will be discussed below, there are select circumstances where some manner of protection from the ground and/or environment is desirable, however those circumstances are quite limited for most users.  98% of user objections to non-fully enclosed shelters are mental problems only, and those folks owe it themselves to get over them.

IMG_8080The Megalight pitched in the snow.

The first consideration in mid selection is size.  Capacity is a good starting point here, but just as important is a pragmatic assessment of space per person desired and the 3D floorplan of the mid in question.  The Black Diamond Megalight shown above is a good example.  The company claims a width of 86 inches and a height of 57.  When pitched to the ground, the actual width is 104 inches and the actual height is 68 inches.  Due to the slope of the walls, much of that 104 inches is not useable for human habitation, but it is useable for gear.  In practice, there is sleeping room only for four in the Megalight.  Three is a sustainable capacity for extended trips in varied weather, while two is very comfortable and allows for plentiful gear organization, cooking, and even a small wood stove.  It’s overkill for one, but light enough to constitute reasonable luxury.  Mid capacity requires critical thinking, as floor dimensions do not tell the whole story.

Mids can be usefully separated into three categories: unipolar rectangular mids (which include square mids), bipolar rectangular mids, and tipis.  Each has virtues and downsides, and these are the second criterion after capacity which should drive mid selection.

Unipolar rectangular mids are the classic version, and remain the most common and popular for good reason.  There’s quite a bit of variation in size and height, which not only determines capacity but also performance.  For example, imagine the Megalight with a lower center height.  Lower angled walls would provide for better wind shedding, but reduce functional space as well as the ability of the mid to shed snow.  A higher peak height would steepen the walls, causing the opposite, as well as a slight increase in weight (and most likely, cost as well).  Smaller mids, the MLD Duomid being the most well known example, attempt to win more functional space with minimal material and center height by being very rectangular.  This does the job, but at the expense of creating unequal surface area on the sides.  All things being equal, such mids do less well in wind when broad side.

IMG_3907Golite Shangrila 2.

Bipolar mids attempt to take this expansion of functional floor space further by using two poles rather than one.  What this achieves, in shelters like the Golite Shangrila 2 above, is a useable mid-height approaching that of a unipolar mid while having a much smaller footprint.  The extended, steep ridgeline of such shelters also tends to shed snow well, at the expense of considerably weakened wind resistance when broad side.  Most of these mids are not simple rectangles.  The Shangrila 2 is an extended hexagon, with the middle of the long side being wider than the ends, which provides more interior space and improves the slickness against the wind.

Wind resistance is achieved by having small facets for wind to grab, and this being the case, the slickest shelter is the one which is most curved (a fact which helps explain the popularity of tunnel tents for arctic and montane expeditions).  Tipis are mids which try to take this to an extreme by being conical.

1307028329_44207Photo by Seek Outside, via BPL.  This is their six person tipi.

This is an effective solution, but comes with the expense of weight and complexity.  A round or oval floor plan is a bit less efficient than a square or rectangular one, but a more serious objection is the large number of stake points this design requires, and the consequent increase in time when pitching it.

There is a class of hybrid mid-pis, who use five or six sides to gain increased wind resistance over standard square mids. The chief cost, as with tipis, is in the ease of pitching.

IMG_9212MLD Trailstar.

I’ve assembled a representative range of mids, and the accompanying specs, here.

The one thing not represented in that chart, and the last and in many ways most important factor in selecting a mid, is construction quality.  Not all silnylons are created equal, and simple dimensions do not capture things like the amount of caternary cut, things which have enormous influence on wind stability, snow shedding, and general longevity.  This is why this treatise is incomplete.  I’ve only owned a few of the mids in the chart, and therefore there are just too many important things I cannot speak on.  Do your research.

That said, here are a few things to consider.

Rectangular and square mids are the easiest and quickest shelters to pitch, period.  They’re probably best for folks who move camp every day, do big miles, and want things quick and easy as darkness falls.

The single v. duo pole debate will largely come down to personal preference.  yes the former does better in the wind and the later better in the snow, but all the shelters listed will do fine in each under 95% of circumstances encountered by those who don’t camp in dumb places at foolish times.

Mid stability is dependent on stakes holding.  Bring the proper stakes for the terrain, and lots of them.  Having the wind rip your shelter off you in the middle of the night is quite exciting.

It can be difficult to find enough space for the big mids, even though they can be pitched over some rocks and bushes.  Two pole shelters can be useful in these situations.

Numbers do not tell the whole story.  The Megalight, as discussed above, has very conservative factory dimensions.  The MLD Supermid, on the other hand, is known for having pretty aggressive cat cut edges, and pitching it to the ground significantly reduces the factory dimensions.  Seeking out user testimonials is a very good idea.

In my mind the cost/benefit for cuben doesn’t make much sense, perhaps why we’ve yet to see a large cuben mid stay on the market for any length of time.

A wood stove doesn’t make sense for most backpackers most of the time, even in winter.  In really crap weather, and for hunters who move through the landscape differently and have different needs, a wood stove can facilitate huge gains in moral and mental efficiency.

There are times when a mid isn’t ideal, or when a bugproof inner and/or groundsheet is a good idea.  During moderate mosquito pressure bugs tend to fly up to the peak, hang out, and not be too much of a nuisance.  During bad skeeter conditions you’ll want an inner.  Camping in nasty tick or chigger country would be another situation.  It’s conceivable that in some places you might have a hard time finding flat ground that isn’t saturated, and thus need a groundsheet.  I never use one, and have never needed one.  Lastly, cold wind can make mids quite drafty if there isn’t snow around to seal the edges.  Sod/snow flaps are a partial solution, as is site selection, but an inner could be handy here.

Condensation can also be an issue in mids, as in any single wall shelter.  There are some circumstances when mids, because they envelope a large area of wet ground and have limited air circulation, can be quite bad in this regard.  Site selection is key.  If it’s a damp night close to freezing, you might actually choose a more exposed sight to promote wind exposure and thus reduce condensation.  If the wind is too bad, it will shake condensation loose down on you, and thus a calm site should be sought.  On this trip I tucked the mid back in the trees to avoid the wind, but should have brought it out a bit more because snow clods bombed us all night, knocked loose every drop of condensation, and we got quite wet.  In the end, no shelter will be condensation free in all circumstances, and to a certain extent dealing with it is back of backcountry life.

Get yourself a mid.  Go use it.  Have fun.