Simplicity: Gear

It’s too bad Ryan Jordan’s blogging is so stochastic. When he does write, it’s always worth reading and is usually one of the more thought-provoking things I’ll encounter online in that particular week.

The most recent post is no exception.

In it he discussed favorites bits of gear (and when I say gear I mean outdoor gear, of course), and in doing so illuminates two ways of understanding simplicity: practical simplicity (which might be summed up as efficiency), and natural simplicity (which has to do with kit that helps illuminate and reveal the experience at hand, and is thus properly difficult to summarize).  He goes on to discuss how rare the blending of the two is, how infrequent it is that a truly clean and efficient (not the same!) piece of gear also serves to cleanly illuminate the experience of being in the wild.

I can’t disagree.  And after I thought about this for a minute, it struck me as quite sad.

My 80″ by 90″ Spinnaker tarp this past weekend.

This sadness might be the central contradiction at the heart of modern wilderness recreation, which historically is itself an absurd idea.  Our not so distant ancestors would have presumably been appalled that our lives had become so full of ease that we now seek out hardship in the outdoors purely for entertainment (in the complex sense).  It’d be an interesting historical study to examine the accounts of explorers since Christ and try to determine when, and under what circumstances, human enlightenment started to be a conscious end sought.  It’s hard to read the journals of Lewis and Clark without supposing that for the captains at least, “fun” featured prominently in their months in the wild.  So to with Powell, in every subsequent voyage after the 1869 trip science is less and less of a screen for the joy he obviously found in the Colorado Plateau.  And the Kolb brothers too; even reading through Ellsworth’s breezy account of their epics one cannot but see fun and personal challenge as the primary mover.

The paradox here is that while we make seek to recapture some primeval simplicity by going outdoors, our ancestors even going back further than instinctual, tactile memory allows were tool makers.  Gear allowed them to expand across the globe, and while we need far less than we think, humans are still too naked to do without substantial technology in all but the mildest places on earth.

It traces back to the paradox of us humans going outside for fun in the first place: we’ll cut gear (insulation, shelter, food) down to the minimum allowed by our idea of what safety will mean, and no further.  This gets us closer to our ancestral experience (or so we think), and facilitates natural simplicity, but the process of doing so when for comparatively little weight gain and considerably less contemplation we could walk out the door comfort all but assured points towards some kinds of simplicity only being simple when looked at from a very limited perspective.

I’m taking skill out of the equation here, and perhaps oversimplifying generally, but the point stands.  Simplicity is then a mere product of human engineering.  Right?

I’m not so sure.  Our gear has become so good, it does so much work for us, that our practice of outdoor adventure becomes more and more vulgar in its ease and leisure.  This isn’t to say we ought to wantonly cut gear and carelessly suffer, but we should remember that more refined, aesthetic, and noble ways of enjoying life have to do with “creating something beautiful” which can be shared with others, not with an experience which is in the moment always beautifully comfortable.

(And yes, I know I’m avoiding Ryan’s exit questions.  My answer would be something to the effect that gear makers, even the cottage shops, make a profit selling aspirational gear rather than experiential.)

TrailLite Designs Bandoleer pack review

Back in the spring Thom Darrah at TrailLite Designs offered free review prototypes of a new superultralight pack to members.  I was fortunate enough to be selected.  Unfortunately, our late winter and training for the Classic didn’t let me use it too much.  The Bandoleer pack is an exacting, specialized tool.  It is designed for, and works exceedingly well with, a light and spare backpacking kit.  It did not allow me to haul the packrafting and snow travel gear I needed on all my bigger trips, even through the end of June.  Since I got back from Alaska summer backpacking season has been in full swing, and I’ve gotten to know the Bandoleer pack very well.

The one shoulder strap is a unique concept, and even though I’ve hauled a messenger bag around for year to school and work, the execution hear is totally different.  I’ll review the design of the pack itself first, before discussing the one-strap design in detail.

As my introductory video shows, this is a small pack.  1500 cubic inches seems like a good estimate.  The flat, rectangular bottom measures 5″ by 10″, the pack is 27″ base to tip of extension collar, and the collar is 25.5″ in diameter at the drawcord.  The body is artfully cut so that it’s a bit wider and flatter at the bottom, and tapers to be fatter and narrower at the top.  The pack has two side pockets and a back pocket.  The side pockets just fit a standard bike bottle when the pack is full.  They’re tall enough to secure taller bottles.  I found it hard to get a bottle out without swinging the pack forward, but that is a forgivable flaw on a pack whose load will always be light.  The back pocket is also well designed, and even with the main pack stuffed full the back pocket holds a lot.  A poncho tarp or rain jacket and rain pants (assuming they’re on the lighter, smaller end of the spectrum) fit into it securely.  All three pockets have corner drain holes.

The pack came stock (see photos in the first link, above) with a bunch of elastic cord woven though small loops sewn into the seams.  The stock system allows for good compression, and user customization.  After the first few trips with the pack, I did away with virtually all of the cord, leaving only a bit of the stock cord threaded through the tops of the side pockets, and some thicker cord through the top of the back pocket.  I never used the pack when it wasn’t full or nearly so, and thus compression didn’t seem necessary.  Eventually I cut off the loop located near the strap which allowed for top compression, to save grams and make things a bit cleaner overall.  I also added a 1/4″ drain grommet to the bottom of the main compartment, as well as replacing the stock drawcord with aircore and a microcordlock.  The bottom and back of the pack are VX-21, while the remainder is heavy gauge cuben fiber.  They’re cutting edge, durable, highly waterproof materials.  The seams and top hole will leak under sustained rain, but the fabrics themselves will not, even if blasted with a hose (I checked).  The upside of this is that the pack gains almost no water weight when soaked.  I submersed the stock pack in a bathtube for an hour, shook it free of standing water, and it gained about a half ounce before it had any time to air dry.  Impressive.

The materials are well chosen.  VX-21 isn’t the most durable material around, but is more than adequate for this application.  The thick cuben impressed me, shrugging off thick brush and sharp limestone easily.  I think the sick face helps here.  I’ve been a skeptic of cuben in things like packs, but the Bandoleer made me a believer.

As good as the design of the pack is, the construction is at least it’s equal.  Chris Zimmer sews for TrailLite, and his growing reputation for custom packs on BPL is if anything understated compared to what it should be, if this pack is any indication.  Packs have always been one of the areas of gear with which I’ve been most interested, and my recent forays into pack construction and professional gear reviewing have (I like to think) given me an especially exacting eye for pack construction.  I found two flaws in Zimmer’s work: the draw cord sleeve on the back pocket was only bonded with tape, not sewn, and started to peel back at the upper edge after a bit of use, and the bartacks holding the strap on were a bit hastily done and thus of uneven thickness (more on this below).  These are both exceedingly mild critiques, and overall the Bandoleer was as well-built as any pack I’ve ever used, and better than the overwhelming majority, including some from the biggest names in the business.

In summary, the only limitations of the Bandoleer pack are inherent to its design.  The pack is meant for short trips with a compact kit.  If terms like base weight and skin out weight are foreign to you, you need not apply here.  If you want an exceedingly well-designed and constructed pack for ultralight backpacking in milder conditions, this pack is the pinnacle of the market.  I refuse to believe any other is better constructed or designed, and none is made from better materials.  For quick overnights, it is ideal.  As a backpacking pack, it won’t get used around here too far outside summer.  It’s been great for trips like this one, but the bulky synthetic insulation I use during the fall just won’t fit, to say nothing of winter gear.  It will likely make a great winter daypack.  It’s a specialized pack, with no compromises nor apologies made.  I respect that.

Keen observes may have noted that in both of the above photos I have two shoulder straps on my pack.  The bandoleer single strap and I just never got along, and to do the design full justice I had to make sure it was only the one strap which bugged me, rather than the pack itself.

Zimmer used appropriately burly thread building this, and getting the strap off required a fair bit of careful work with a seam ripper.  The bartacks holding the strap on were a bit thin in spots, indicated a rushed feed, but there were more than enough of them for this purpose (certainly more than you’d find on any daypack from a major retail brand).  I removed the strap and the reinforcing bit of webbing, then opened the seam between the cuben and VX-21 at the top of the backpanel, and sewed in a pair of old Talon 22 straps which I beefed up with yoga mat long ago.  They’ve proven their suitability for decent loads and my shoulder shape by being on several packs over the years.  I like the pack better with these traditional shoulder straps.

The bando strap is itself well designed.  As can be seen above, it made full wrap and contact with my shoulder very well indeed.  The dual lower straps provided an impressively stable load carry.  At first I wanted to cinch both straps tight, but found that a loose arrangement was more comfortable and no less secure.

I’ve owned conventional two-strap packs which never seemed to carry as well as they should, for reasons that were never quite quantifiable, and the bando strap fit right in.  It never felt less effective than the conventional straps I later installed, it just didn’t feel as good.

Oh, and the pack was 9.6 oz at the end of all my modifications.

In summary:

-The design, materials, and construction of the pack make it an impeccable choice for shorter, ultralight backpacking trips.

-The bando strap is well designed but just didn’t suit me.


-Make it available in one or two strap models.

-Put some stitching on the top of the back pocket drawcord.

-Keep the waist strap attachment.  I never found it necessary or even desirable, but it’s a good option to have.

-Possibly lower the side pocket edge closest to the user back by an inch, to make bottles easier to grab.

-Use a suitably weight-weeniesque cord and cordlock for the main closure.

-Make sure it’s available by spring.  It should prove quite popular.

1/3 of a Jam (this one’s for you, Eric)

With huge photos for maximized investigative ease.

Eric was disappointed to learn, back in July, that I was using a commercial pack for the Classic.  He surely knows that the mind, once enlightened, can never rest.  And he is thus not surprised by the developments detailed herein.

I really like a lot about the Jam.  The harness system fits me perfectly (belt and strap dimensions and placement), and the material is quite tough.  Other things (too short torso length even in a L, fat butt, poor water resistance of the fabric) were not so good, and were over a few evenings this week fixed.

I also like the thick, thick 3D mesh on the backpanel.  It actually dries your back a bit, and more importantly keeps the tailbone and lower vertebrae from being chaffed.  I shortened the straps a bit, but made a point to copy the angle and spacing exactly.

Volume was moved up, and overall volume increased a wee bit.  I replaced the 1.5″ waist belt with a 3/4″, which is an experiment.  A 1.5″ buckle digs into my gut when biking.

I saved the back pocket, and used the stock Dyneema Gridstop to create my trademark wraparoud pocket.  You can put stuff behind the back pocket, too, and the rear compression strap can go over the pocket complex, rather than under, if needed.

The rest of the daisy chains, etc are what has become my standard feature set.  Not shown here is the bitchin pink silnylon sleeve for the top drawcord.  Slick, waterproof sil is great for that application.

Plenty of space for everything to drain.

Perfect fit.  The new weight is, remarkably, 31 oz.  A hair lighter than the old one.

I hope to see Golite using some VX-21 in the future.  While it lacks in abrasion resistance, the actual waterproofness is just fantastic for rugged outdoor pursuits.  Especially packrafting.

If I’ve left anything out, ask away.

BTW: I’m selling my Lenz.  For real this time.  I’ll give a discount to any reader that wants it.

Classic Packs

Most of the packs from the race start, minimal editorialization.

Ken from Kenai’s MYOG pack.

Golite Gust.

Rob of Team Heavy’s Exos.

Chris’ Granite Gear Blaze AC 60.

Don’s Mariposa Plus.

Mike Martin’s NRS.

John Sykes’s MEC rucksack.

Luc’s CAMP pack.

Tyler’s Black Diamond.

Todd’s Vapor Trail (worth noting that these were the four that did the glacier route).

Paige’s pack, a Wild Things custom-designed for the classic. Clean and tight, but the hard binding on the inside edge of the shoulder straps and VX-21 on the inside of the hipbelt rubbed badly; ergo (IMO) a design flaw.

I carried a Golite Jam (2011) and it performed great. No chaffing on discomfort of any kind.

Fixing Golite Jam side pockets (and other technical notes)

Problem: while the fabric is good, the elastic on the Golite Jam’s side pockets is lame!  Super lame.

Looks like something from your underwear.  I can’t abide side pockets that won’t hold things with a vicelike, bushwacking proof grip, so this needed to change.  Stat.  Golite made it easy by not using a stretch stitch, so that the first time I yarded on it, the thread blew out.

While it’d be possible to sew stiffer elastic or shockcord into the pocket rim, doing so with the pocket on the pack would be a pain.  Instead, I undid all the stitching, cut out the elastic, and installed small grommets at each inside edge.  I cut four small square of VX07 to use as backing for the grommets, but that probably isn’t necessary.  After grommet installation, sew the edges back up, install some cord, and tie thick knots that give you the desired tension.

Easy.  Just be sure to use a stretch stitch.  Most sewing machines have them.

Straight lines not mandatory.

Aside from the side pocket issue, and the lack of drain grommets in the bottom on front pocket (also fixed), the 2011 Jam has really impressed me.  It’s a great size and shape, a very functional design, and has an absolutely dialed and kickass harness system that is better (more supportive, yet still adequately dynamic and flexible) than any other frameless pack I’ve used.  A major part of that is the hipbelt, which is fantastic.

The belt is only attached close to the center, and split, yet contains a thin layer of quite stiff foam.  If the foam weren’t as good as it is, the minimal amount of surface area tying the belt to the load would cause problematic belt sag and thus torso length collapse (which equals crappy carry).

The upper wing of the belt isn’t attached further, and the lower one is held in place using this odd looking strap and buckle arrangement.  At first I thought it was some halfass engineering, but after the pack carried a very full load this pack weekend over much deadfall and bushwacking with no sag or load shifting, I think otherwise.  This aspect of the pack design is absolute genius.  It balances rigidity with dynamism in a way that facilitates the goal of frameless packs very well indeed.

In summary, Golite has gotten a lot of grief from the fringe for the weight the Jam has gained over the past few years.  This hipbelt design is a major part of that, and is absolutely worth the grams.

Framed (North Fork pack update)

Over the six months since I posted it my North Fork pack video has been quietly creeping along, steadily accumulating views, and quickly becoming my most viewed video that hasn’t been posted on Jill’s blog.

It’s been on day and overnight trips aplenty this winter: skiing, snowshoeing, packrafting and combinations.  It carries very well.  But all of those trips have been with fairly light loads.  Winter insulation and even packrafting gear is not especially dense, and even in winter you rarely have to carry much water around here.  That changed this past weekend; I had a moderate amount of insulation, almost all our food, snowshoes, and 5+ liters of water.  The heavy, dense, and smaller load challenged my normal carry system, where I fold my ridgerest against the back panel and place everything else in after, dense and heavy stuff in the middle.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t bother to reattach the bottom compression strap, which let the pack get too fat, but the main issue was inadequate structure allowing the torso length to collapse too much.  Shorter torso length equals more weight forced on the shoulders, which typically is not so comfortable.  I found it lacking.

Research has shown that only a minimal level of torso length collapse is acceptable, and that the amount of structure in a pack to fight against collapse needs to be proportional to the weight carried.  I’d add, based on experience, that ideally structure and weight would be closely matched.  Excessive structure for the weight results in a pack which is just as uncomfortable as the inverse, merely for different reasons.

With that in mind, before our Craters trip was over I set about designing modular improvements to the North Fork pack which would potentially allow me to carry some fairly heavy loads.  After all, its straps and belt are quite substantial.

I bought a 3mm by 30mm aluminum stay at the hardware store, cut it to length, rounded the edges, and sewed quadruple layer ballistics nylon pockets for each end.  I laminated those pockets to the blue foam, inserted the stay, then laminated the whole thing together with contact cement (nasty stuff).

I then sewed this double-Y strap into the interior of the pack.  While this is made to the dimensions of the framed pad (11″ by 23″), I can also use it to immobilize lesser foam pads when I need less pack structure, or potentially not use it at all (the black webbing is removable).  Basement tests with a good load suggest this will work well, but field testing is required to know for sure.

As can be obliquely seen in the video, I started with cinch straps connecting the dark gray side patch with the hip belt.  Unfortunately, poor design visualization resulted in the strap sitting in the hip belt cut out, which mitigated effectiveness and rubbed my hip bone.  It also wasn’t the secure yet dynamic design I’ve come to prefer.  So I fixed it.

Work arounds of this type, when the pack is already made, are quiet difficult.  If for no other reason than that fitting the desired area into the sewing machine is rarely easy, or especially doable with only two hands.  I’m glad I found a non-compromise way to do this that was at all feasible.

In short, we’ll see how these new designs work out.

In terms of the original design, I’m very pleased with how it has worked out.  The suspension components are excellent, the fabric continues to fulfill its promise (though it isn’t massively abrasion resistant, I have a few interior cuts from forcing packraft paddle shafts into an already tightly loaded pack), and the back and side pocket system has proved superlatively useful.

In short, I’m quite pleased with myself.  Using gear you designed and made is rewarding.

Pertex Equilibrium vest (and fabric review)

I possess a (what at times seems) ridiculous variety of technical clothing.  Three different hooded shells get used on a regular basis, two different big puffy jackets, three different insulated vests, and a 4′ by 2′ by 8″ rubbermaid bin which is mostly full of various base layers shirt and bottoms.  Yet with the exception of some of the older base layers, it all gets used.  Different activities and conditions require or at least lend themselves to very different ensembles.  Technical clothing is an area so prone to gear sluttery precisely because of the many practical reasons for owning a pile of stuff.

The truly persnickety build and modify their own clothing, as stock stuff so rarely fulfills the predilections of the obsessed.  Sewing stuff from scratch is really hard, at least for someone so undisposed to mind fine details as me, but sometimes it is worthwhile.  For instance, the vest I made today.

It is entirely made from Pertex Equilibrium, as I have plenty left over from my anorak (which has been rendered mostly useless by my Essenshell).  It is very remarkable fabric, which ought to lend itself well to a layer designed to provide some extra wind and precip protection with minimal impingement on breathability.

BPL has discussed the technical reasons in depth, so I’ll let it go by saying Equilibium combined impressive breathability with impressive wind resistance, seemingly bending the direct inverse relationship the two normally have.  It doesn’t seem to have impressive water shedding abilities (though that may largely be due to the lack of any DWR treatment on my fabric, then again, DWR works against breathability), and thus seems to be especially suited as a winter shell for human powered endeavors.  I imagine this jacket would be great for BC skiing.

I’m skeptical about my ability to leave a Goretex shell home for trips this spring and summer, and am hoping that capilene, this vest, and the Gore will get the job done.  Time will tell.

The 5 reasons to buy gear

Allow me to begin here at the end: gear should be a means to an end. And not just any end, but a good end. Ryan Jordan has recently written a superlative post on just this point, building on his interpretation of what a good end should be.  I agree with him, I’ve written here on several occasions that insofar as humans are basically social critters, outdoor adventures ought to be used to enhance our relations with others (perhaps most directly through enhancing the vessel, our selves).

Gear is good because it lets you go on trips and see Pitcher Plants in bogs.  Isle Royale 2010.

In practice the distinctions are much finer, and in the gear store principles are much harder to put into practice.  So then, let us discuss a few reason why you might buy some gear, and in particular examine the problematic distinctions between these motives.

1: Replacing the broken

Simple and straightforward; an existing piece of gear breaks and/or wears out, so you replace it.  Problem is that modern gear tends to be well put together, and when well selected does not break easily or wear out fast.  The exception is semi-disposable items like bike chains and ski wax, which unless you’re a serious speed-weenie are purchases requiring neither excitement nor nuance.  Thus, many purchases made under the guise of this category are probably more accurate handled by the second:

2: Upgraditis

Newer = better, yes?!  Well.  Defining better isn’t an exact art, or even an especially possible one, so it’s safe to say that novelty (not necessarily in a pejorative sense) is at the core here at least as often as functionality.  The waters here are muddied in turn when upgrading co-mingels with our next category..

3: New stuff for new pursuits

Want to take up packrafting?  Gotta get a packraft, no way around it.  (Joy!)  Better get a (good?) paddle, PFD, helmet, throw bag, drysuit, wetsuits, etc, etc while we’re at it.  Oh the bankers do love people taking up new pursuits, seldom is more money spent on gear in so short a time and with less compunction.  Of course, outside observers find it hard to see that another pair of skis, or a bike with a cumulative 3″ more travel and 1.5 degree difference in geometry, constitute anything new.  See #2.

4: Aesthetic appreciation

Some things are just cool.   I think this is a fairly noble end, provided that said items make it out on a regular basis, to have their appearance further enhanced with scratches, tears, solar fading, and soot.  Something which is highly aesthetic, tough, and (theoretically) useful goes a long way towards excusing, at least in my mind, purchases and acquisitions which may not be strictly utilitarian.

5: Experience by proxy

Gear you wish you had the impetus/courage/time/inclination to take out, but instead sits unused.  In my opinion, far and away that most sinister item on this list, though it/they can provide a catalyst for problem solving.  All that winter gear gathering dust with the tags still on?  Better go snow camping, or just let that idea go and become content with sitting around a fire in the lodge with a beer.  You’ll buy a lot of them with all those ebay proceeds.


There have been few days in the past decade when I haven’t had a certain gear question to turn over in my mind.  Like it or not, the curse of the thinking practitioner seems to be a near constant meditation on some combination of #2 and #3, with some #1 and occasional run ins with #4 as well.  #5 I’ve been lucky enough to avoid for the most part, though my un-sold off climbing gear might be more of #5 and less of financial prudence than I prefer to pretend.

For most of this winter it has been skis, more specifically, what ski and binding combo will I purchase for next winter?  This has been a good and healthy question.  The time frame and scope of the purchase are closely defined, and the contemplation is reinforced by weekly feedback sessions which ideally will maximize the utility and longevity of the hypothetical items in question.  (The crash yesterday gave a serious bump to releasable bindings, weight be damned.)

Growing up as a post-grad school adult has been a very good influence on this process of gear purchase contemplation.  I have student loans to pay down, a process which does not promise to go away soon, as well as a modest income which does not promise to increase substantially in the near future.  My budget for gear purchases is thus both small and well-defined.  It is as much as I need, but not enough for me to get greedy.  Because one important piece of my life with gear, something which has become increasingly clear as I’ve become older and a bit more self-aware, is the paradoxically coexisting appreciation and loathing I have for my gear.  I have a refined appreciation for what gear can do for me, bred in no small part from my penchant for doing more with less (you cannot appreciate a suspension fork until you’ve spent a year riding actual rough terrain without one).  In the same instance and via the same process, I know exactly how much easier technology can make things, and I’m not always ok with that.

Experience is paramount, as Jill has pointed out with her usual eloquence, and given the current state of our lives quality experience (read: difficult) must be manufactured.  One way to create a sufficient state of challenge is to go out in bad conditions, easy to do if you live here in Montana.  Another way is to add 5 miles (if backpacking) or 30 miles (if mtn biking) beyond your comfort/experience zone.  And yet another way is to monkey with the gear.  Take just enough clothing.  Bring only a large scale map.  Don’t do exhaustive internet research.  Just don’t let gear get in the way, because fun, insofar as it makes the lives of those around us better, is very serious business.

Exit questions:

-What categories did I overlook?

-What is the proper place of gear in your life?

Essenshell, examined

Amber dropping a knee last weekend.  I should also note that today, below 5300′ or so, was the very first breakable crust day of the year.  Fairly mellow icey rain crust, which I’m happy to report the Marquettes made absolutely inconsequential.  Rocker is the shit.

My quest for the best shell for ______ continues.  Early this past week a large Patagonia Essenshell pullover came up for sale on BPL, and without hesitation I grabbed it.  The Essenshell is an early-mid 00’s vintage, made of a nice polyester micro ripstop fabric with Encapsil treatment, Patagonia’s branding of the Epic fabric treatment.  Waterproofish (at a very low PSI), quite breathable, and because the DWR is structural, needs no reapplication.  Best of all, the ripstop has a surprisingly soft hand, and based on testing (ski touring) today, the Epic coating is quite breathable (not all Epics are created equal).

Good stuff: the fabric, belly button length zip, nice big pockets, enormous hood which swallows a helmet with ease, cuffs with both elastic and velcro.

Bad stuff: waterproof zips, front pocket backing material.

The pocket size is awesome.  Big, but just above hipbelt level.  Waterproof zips are, I hope, dying out.  Their durability and (lack) of ease of use beats out the hype.  What’s unconscionable, is the use of thick, fuzzy mesh as the pocket material.  It seems destined to suck up tons of moisture.  I may have to replace it.

One handed hood pull: very good.  Tough but not stupid heavy fabric: excellent.  (Pullover is about 11 oz.)

The large size was enormous on me.  Fortunately, a simple side seam ran up the middle edge of each side and out each sleeve.  I turned the pullover inside out, ripped some of the stitching out of the hem, took 2 inches off each side, 1.5 inches out of each sleeve (dimensions based on my Arc’teryx Paclite pullover), cut the excess off, then resewed the hem.  A simple 20 minutes work.  As a bonus, the sleeves and body are extra long, good for sealing out snow during particularly athletic faceplants and tomahawks.

Inside fabric detail.  Feels nice against the skin.

I anticipate this becoming the go-to skiing shell.  What will be more interesting is to see how waterproof and quick drying it is, and how successful the just-get-wet strategy will be come spring.  I’ve got a new tarp on order that might help in that goal.

2010: in review

Running through all these Christmases is the sense of an emotional cadenza at the end of the year, a braiding of feelings like hope, renewal, nostalgia, love, joy and exhaustion. Yet in the stories about this holiday, it’s surprising how often we’re reminded of a darker life, full of isolation, penury, greed, despair and the fear that traps emotion within us.

-The NY Times editorial page, today

2010 will stand out in my mind for many things; I finished my masters, got a good job, raised my gear making and photography to a new level, met many great people, and achieved a paradigm shift in how I view outdoor adventuring.  But above all, 2010 was the year in which I finally became an adult.

About time, eh?

In my post-MSW world, there is no longer some hypothetical future achievement which can (abstractly) be expected to categorically alter my life.  What I have and am now can reasonably be expected to be, with subtle variations, what I have and am in the future.  Reflecting on this has gone well with the expected, end of year, seasonal introspection of which the Times speaks.  It has been the cause of both satisfaction and angst.  And while there are many thing with which I am not satisfyied and which I hope to change in an enduring fashion, there are also many things of which I am proud.  Examining the first 29.8 years of my life is, from this comfy chair on this quiet morning, majorily a fulfilling experience.

This year I learned, primarily through school, that there are still important things that I’m quite bad at, that there are things in life that I thought I might be that I will not be doing, and that choices I’ve made in the past have already limited choices I can make in the future.  Most importantly, I’ve learned to embrace this more accurate, full, realistic poirtrate of my existence.

This year I learned that cultivating friends and partners, for today and for days in the future, is essential.  Finishing up the second video this morning was an emphatic reminder of this.

This year a long dormant in interest in artistic expression and the sharing it allows was reawakened.  I’m very pleased with the photography, videography, and writing I’ve done in the past 12 months, and the responses it has engendered.  Thanks to all of you for being a part of that.

This year I learned that day trips are, to be blunt, bullshit.  18 months ago I was still quite uneasy with overnight trips.  This year I sought out that uncertainty and looked at it right up close.  And while I’m still afraid of solitude, I’m longer afraid of that fear.  If I were to seriously ruminate upon and draw up a futile list of the 10 most significant outdoor adventures of my life, I think that half of them would have taken place this year.  And while some of the packraft trips may have been more sublime, there is no question that the Thorofare trip in May was the greatest outdoor adventure of my life to date.  It is just not possible to drink as deeply of the wilderness if you don’t spend the night.  When I plan trips now, the ones which capture my interest the most are days long.  When I write this essay a decade from now, I’m certain that adventures will be categorized as pre or post Thorofare.

This year I learned that making gear and sewing can be deeply satisfying, and that while I may come up short on detail work, I both enjoy and excell at big picture design work.  I think about gear design and fabric science in categorically different ways today.

And this year I learned that packrafting rules.  I’m not doing a list of best gear items, because there is the packraft, and then everything else.  Get a raft, but at your peril: you will never look at outdoor adventures the same.

I expect great things from myself in the year to come.  My job suits me perfectly, and I have no reason to suspect anything but better things as I continue to learn.  But it is the vast wilderness complex to the east that really inflames my imagination.  Winter is still something I’m working on and learning about, but come spring and summer, my confidence is large and my plans grandiose.  After almost 30 years of walking in the woods my summer skillset is nearing completion, and I am very much looking forward to exercising it to the fullest extent.  I suppose that, having found maturity at last, I am enjoying its benefits.  2011 should be a good year.