Summer 2016: done

A few outtakes and un-used clips from the past four months of backpacking, day hiking, and packrafting in the backyard.  What started as perhaps another low-snow, fire-prone year was delightfully not hot, and quite rainy.  Flowers, vegetation generally, and most especially the berries have been exceptional.  We didn’t have the big, lingering snowpack and fat rivers of 2014 or 2011, but the steady infusion of life (water) has made the summer of 2016 as beautiful as any since we moved up here to the Flathead.

Enjoy.

Schnaus

This is what you see out the back door of the Schnaus cabin.
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This is Lake McDonald.
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This is what we, mostly, did this past weekend.

Schnaus was for us the last of the four cabins along the North Fork of the Flathead, and it could certainly be argued we saved the best for last.  Schnaus is as clean and kid-friendly and modern-ly convenient as Ben Rover, more spacious and graceful than Wurtz, and in a much nicer setting than Ford.  The only knocks which might be set against it are that it is far too nice and big to count as a cabin at all, and that there is no especially convenient (walking) river access.  Though as I discovered while hunting the willow and beaver bogs which lie between the bench and the beach are extensive and mature.

We were both tired after the recent trip, and happy to sit around, read, and let Little Bear run.  In two months he’s gone from nerve-wracking, tentative walking which was a menace and outside padded rooms a safety hazard to confident problem-solving.  Between the stairs, deck, grass, rocks, gravel, and tile he only had one faceplant in two days.

Many years ago our timing belt snapped on the highway while driving through Butte, MT on Sunday morning, and we spent a pleasant 24 hours waiting for the shop to open and the belt to be replaced.  That revised excursion drove home to me that for all our purpose driven adventuring M and I have always been best at not hanging out together, and being content not doing anything in particular.  As our baby transitions into an amusing, intensely interested toddler this has become an invaluable feature of our marriage.  It’s endearing, and academically fascinating, that LB can sit on the floor and kill 10 minutes playing a coathanger and talking to himself (right now), but is not that interesting.  If we didn’t have each other for waiting out the next few phases, I fear they’d get rather tedious.

How to backpack with an infant

Taking your infant backpacking is both not as hard and exactly as hard as you probably imagine it to be. The following is an aerial view of the major concerns we’ve encountered in the past year, hoping that others (especially new and expectant parents) may find it useful.  Though plenty of sweat and suffering were involved, backpacking trips have been some of the brightest of the many start which have illuminated our first year as parents.

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Preparation for backpacking with an infant needs to start not only before said infant is born, but well before said infant is even conceived (mentally or literally).  To take an infant backpacking you must be skilled at backpacking, a strong carrier of packs, and most importantly comfortable in the field.  Infants eat up your mental and physical resources under familiar circumstances, so it’s ideal if the mechanics of setting up camp, doing chores, cooking, and packing are as routinized as possible.

We did well in all but one aspect of this.  With plenty of trips in a variety of environments our systems were very familiar.  I’m currently between 700 and 800 nights in the woods lifetime, and often sleep better on a Thermarest than I do at home.  M isn’t quite to that level of comfort, especially in bear country (two issues discussed below), but was familiar enough.  Our preparatory shortcoming was M’s almost total lack of background carrying packs heavier than 20 pounds.  With good gear, and with being both a faster hiker and quite a bit heavier than her, it made sense for me to carry more stuff to equalize our speed.  This put us on the back foot when we had to add 30-40 pounds of infant and infant stuff.

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For the first three months backpacking with an infant is not recommended.  Their immune systems are fragile and straying too far from definitive medical care could be dicey.  Day hikes with a front carrier (below) and infant insert are the order of the day, with time to get used to feeding and diaper changes out in the woods.

Depending on the pace of their development, between 3 and 4 months infants will be able to hold their heads up, and themselves erect to a certain extent, for a decent stretch.  Backpack carriers are out, but soft front carriers like the Ergobaby Performance (non-cotton) are a good option.  We used a wrap which was effective but fussy and slow to deploy.  We should have bought the Ergo sooner.  Little Bear loved hiking at this age, but fatigued after a solid half day.  We did minimal backpacking, but a lot of dayhiking, which I do think was enormously important in conditioning him to love being in the backpack later.  Had we lived in a warmer climate without so many bears leisurely backpacks on trails or easy terrain, with plenty of time in camp, would have been really nice.  At this age infants can’t crawl, or even turn over, and are easily amused.

Around six months, give or take quite a lot either way, infants will be large enough to securely fit in, and strong enough to sit upright in, a good backpack carrier.  This is when backpacking with infant starts to really be game on.  Properly acclimate your kid to the carrier, and to the rhythm of backpacking, and don’t push their core and torso strength too much too soon, and you can do some very ambitious trips during this period.  They’re as light as they’ll ever be, love the changing scenery of hiking as well as being up at adult eye level, and before they start crawling are much, much easier to watch in camp.  LB was in this phase when we did our Honaker-Slickhorn trip, and in retrospect I kick myself that we didn’t prioritize another keystone backpacking trip during that phase of his development.

At some point your infant will start to crawl and then walk, and more significantly will emphatically want to be out under their own power exploring the world.  Preemptive, extended breaks while backpacking are vital at this phase, as is taking those breaks and making camp in areas which facilitate safe infant wandering.  Steep sidehill trails, cliffs, talus, and tall brush are all no good.  Meadows and beaches, especially those that gradually slope into a still body of water, are ideal.  This past week we got into a decent cycle, hiking 4-6 miles (2 to 2.5 hours), then taking a 30-60 minute break.  Obviously daily mileage takes a hit.  At some point in the near, but yet to be found future LB will want even more time on his feet, and presumably we’ll drop daily miles drastically as he slowly transitions towards hiking more and more on his own.

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Kids are heavy, and fairly soon after they can ride all day in the pack, they’re strong enough to hurl their weight sideways to get a better look at that one boulder or patch of flowers (colors….).  In an ideal world one parent would carry the kid, the other everything else.  In a really ideal world the gear load will dip close to or below the kid load as food is eaten, though diaper weight makes this happen much more slowly.  Then the parents could swap, as a 28 pound kid load (22 pound 10 month old, plus 6 pound carrier) often feel close to a 35 or 38 pound pack, when said kid is active.  As I alluded to above, M was not able to carry LB in the Osprey, due to both her lack of weight training and hipbelt incompatibility.  Thus the evolution of the rig seen above.  On our recent trip I had all our camp gear plus dinners, stove and fuel, as well as 6 days of diapers in the cargo pocket of the Osprey.  Probably 45 pounds, including kid, but due to the less than ideal leverage it feels like 60 (at least).  I’m in good hiking shape, and good pack carrying shape, and our first day (17 miles with a 3000′ climb at the end) wrecked me like I’ve rarely been wrecked before.  In short, our system works, and will continue to work, but it has pretty high demands on the adults.  Not having to frankenstein a cargo rig would be much better.

This is also a good place to note that any non-backpacking you can do while backpacking is very welcome.  Base camping, which we’ve resisted out of principle thus far, seems pragmatic.  Packrafting adds significantly to the load, but the value of time off the feet can hardly be overstated.  We had heavier packs and did almost the same overall miles in the same amount of time on Honaker-Slickhorn as our recent Glacier trip, but with the later being all hiking and having much more elevation gain and loss made it quite a bit tougher.

This is also the time to point out that traveling to seek out the ideal route, with ideal weather, camps, and terrain, is worth the effort.  Backpacking with an infant is a lot, lot more fun when the sun is out, it isn’t too hot or cold, and there are great places for wiggle breaks.

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Feeding backpackable infants when they’re still totally or mostly nursing is dead easy, provided the weather and bugs aren’t bad.  LB has been slower than many transitioning to solid food, and his reduced nursing and reticence/distractibility made our recent trip a bit more complicated.  A snack cup attached to the pack proved effective, though the snacks needed to be varied from day to day.  Our food bag was bulkier than usual due to the high volume and low cal/oz baby foods.  On days LB’s food intake was a bit low, he made up for it with midnight nursing.  Fine for his health, less fine for M’s sleep.  Being proactive in this area makes a big difference.

Sleep in the backcountry has been quite variable with the kid.  LB set what is still his personal best for continuous sleep on his very first backpacking trip, but most of the time he sleeps less deeply and with more interruptions than at home.  Unfamiliar circumstances?  We can only assume.  He’s always slept in our bed, first in a bassinet and from six months on just between us.  Friends whose infants are used to cribs have had a harder time with occasional outings in a tent.

A fully enclosed tent is a good idea with an infant.  LB absolutely recognizes and values the safe, home-like area a tent creates, away from the pokey and hard things and uneven surfaces, and enjoys playing on our sleeping mats and with our sleeping bags.  Earlier this summer we replaces M’s second leaky (for no reason) Big Agnes IACore with a Klymit Static V Luxe.  This massive, 30 inch wide pad fits both M and LB, allowing for easy midnight nursing, and leaves a bit of room for me tucked into the corner of the tent.

Sleeping bags for kiddo has been a moving target, and not something we currently have dialed.  Early on he did well with the Patagonia fleece buntings, with feet zipped together, but since nine months or so LB finds those too confining.  He had a brief period when the louder premium nylon of the Climashield sleeping bag I made him was so loud it kept him from going to sleep, which was awesome (not).  Currently he refuses to sleep with his arms anything other than spread eagled, so sleeping in an insulating jacket, with socks for mittens and his sleeping bag pulled up to his armpits, is the best we can do.  Adding suspenders to the bag so he can’t wiggle out is top of the current project list.

Fortunately, I’ve been consistently surprised at how easily LB stays warm.  These days he needs less insulation than I do for given conditions.  He is also a 13 month old, which is to say a dirty and drooly creature.  Fleece layers, and plenty of them, are the order of the day.  I’ll address infant outdoor clothing in a separate post in the weeks to come, and just say that we’ve found technical baby clothing, while expensive, to be worth it.  Quick drying, warm when wet stuff makes backcountry baby life much simpler.  The mosquito-proof Patagonia Baggies pants and jacket especially.

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We know about a dozen other couples who’ve had kids in the last 2 years, and exactly one of them has ever taken their infant backpacking.  Most wait months, if not over a year, to even go car camping.  This is a mistake.  Because modern life insulates us from backpacking it is too easy for getting out in the backcountry to seem too hard, too inconvenient.  This even without an infant in the picture. Making backpacking, camping, and hiking with your infant a habit helps keep it as simple and necessary, in your mind, as it should be.  Make no mistake, the longer backpacking trips we’ve done with Little Bear have been physically crushing, and the aftermath would be intimidating if the trips themselves were not almost always so awesomely fulfilling.  Backpacking has been a passion for us, and sharing that with our child is for both him and us the height of necessity.  In doing this well, there is no greater satisfaction.

The farewell tour

My left leg was numb.  On the outside, from the hip to kneecap.  Walking around camp it just felt odd, one more malady that amongst others went unnoticed. Laying on my side it felt like my muscle had been substituted for a damp towel, through which I could vaguely still notice the leg attached to the rest of me. Halfway through our big end of summer trip, this was worrisome.

The next morning I felt a little less dead, shortened the torso on my Revolution over an inch, and we rerouted to cut our fourth day from 16 miles to 6, and remove the optional sixth, 13 mile, day. We rolled into camp that night after a full day walking, one huge hot climb, and continuous hours of spectacular scenery even more tired. But my leg had full feeling back, and on a landscape scale we were all but within sight of the road. Our biggest backpack-with-kid, a bit over 50 miles through the most scenic heart of Glacier, was almost done, and a success. We three would end it in one piece and with plenty of stress, but with even greater joy.

All of which is to say that the GoPro clips I gathered along the way do not tell the full story. On a non-kid trip it’s hard enough to get out a camera when you’re tired, the weather sucks, or you and your partner are absorbed in doubt about going forward. With Little Bear along that just wasn’t possible, especially when we were weighing serious misgivings about being able to finish our original route on schedule and with adequate physical reserves. So the video lies, by omission. The story it tells is utterly true, but it is not complete.

Glacier has been the central part of my evolution as a backpacker and of my backcountry skills over the past seven years. I had been down every bit of trail we crossed at least twice, often on watershed trips like this one or this one.  Little Bear should have many, many more trips to Glacier in the future, but due to his weight and physical desires the days of easily carrying him and making miles will not keep too much longer.  I’m glad we did this specific trip when we did.

Lifestyle bullshit: Yeti Rambler 18oz

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

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

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

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

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

Single-parent packrafting

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

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

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

Sierra Designs Tensegrity 2 Elite review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Osprey Poco AG review

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

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

All photos by M.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wam’d

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Wam was spectacular, what a cabin on a ridge top should be. White and forest paint cracking off in strips, eastern shades shattered atop the flat rough pebbles, warped and spotted panes showing a subtly tainted view of long valleys in all directions.  Charming, for moderns like us who spend workdays indoors, even when a third of the shade supports where snapped, partially detached, or outright missing.  Unfortunately for us, the parents of a new and ever less tentative walker, the ground outside was spattered in glass from shattered windows past, and the floor inside worn boards rife with splinters and with gaps just large enough for swallowable rocks and loose nails.  The grounding coil which used to be attached to the firefinder table had been cut off two feet from the floor and hammered flat, but not flat enough to prevent it being an object of infant intrigue, and, when our toddler-on-the-cusp had tired legs and took a late afternoon tumble, worrying abrupt head impact.

All of which is to say that our stay at the Mount Wam lookout cabin was less restful and shorter than planned when we booked it in February.  Home is not without its booby traps, but they are known, and most of the furnishings known to us as padded or rounded, and known to him in location and dimension.  The 15 by 15 foot Wam, even after a cleaning and relocating of all sharp, small, or liftable objects, had few surfaces which were not worrisome.  So we spent our time watching the baby and dragging him back, often, though the still-breastfeeding M made it cover to cover through O Pioneers!  When Little Bear had the second, or third, cringe and potentially bruise inducing crash that afternoon, and showed no signs of concussion but every sign of enhanced crankiness, we the family bailed on the planned second night, and packed up and made the hike down and drive home in a quite impressive time.

All of which is in turn to say that being flexible is, in parenting, important.  As is going anyway.

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You can likely guess, but you will never know for sure.

11 months

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The skiing this Satuday was almost certain to be terrible.  Temperatures barely below freezing make for wet, sticky, slow snow; and poor visibility removes the other element which might compensate with appeal.  I had promised myself that if Little Bear woke early Saturday we’d go skiing, regardless of all but the most horrid conditions.  I had worked out the logistics of skiing at Logan Pass, namely how to get the two of us and all our gear up to end of the paved path, and wanted to put that to use.  So when it was sprinkling at 0630 when the bear woke up I dressed us both and went downstairs with the intention of driving to the shop to get pastries for breakfast.  Instead I loaded ski gear in the car, went back upstairs, redressed us both, bade M good day, and left.

The skiing was terrible, and even with LB tucked into a synthetic blanket in the largely windproof trailer I didn’t care to be out much more than an hour.  Rime was building up on the windward side of my chest, and in the whiteout we ran out of non-sidehill terrain with reliable landmarks should things really close down and the ping pong ball descend.  In spit of all that, it was absolutely worthwhile, and we had enough time to get coffee in Apgar, go for a crawl on the beach, and smoke a 5 pound pork roast for dinner.

The crucial word is of course we.  Saturdays, when I am not at work but M is, Little Bear and I are we and we are a team whose constraints are impressively modest.  My creativity and willingness are usually the limiting factor, things like singletrack mountain biking and shooting rifles (LB pulls off his earmuffs) aside.  It is now just assumed that whatever I do, he’ll be along for the ride.

For the rest of our long weekends, and on vacations and in daily life, M is also with us and as a family we can do still more.  Again, our energy and perceived limits are generally the limiting factor, though a still stochastic sleep schedule adds to the difficulty.

We’re still mourning our past life a bit, when sleep was abundant and on demand, with leisure hours and as much quiet as we cared to have almost instantly available.  In the past 11 months it is shocking how stupid I’ve become, the mind does not get favors from irregular sleep and an absence of unstructured time.  I’ve forgotten things I knew, failed to learn things I ought to’ve, and on numerous occasions not heard obvious things told directly to me.  But it’s been worth it; the added value I’ve been forced to see in all the little stuff, the greater value I place in each hour, and the greater satisfaction in managing basic things well are unequalable.

All the worst cliches about parenting are true, as are all the best, and neither one cancels out the other.

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