Spring and summer backpacking trips are right on the horizon and it’s time to have a look at what of your gear needs an upgrade. I headed out on a few trips including a five-night backpacking trip in the sandstone canyons of Utah with a bunch of fresh gear to see how it held up. I also put some ultralight gear and some tech gear to use and those will appear in separate roundups.
Gregory Baltoro 65L Backpack
To haul everything into our little base camp, the Gregory Baltoro 65L Backpack did great. I may be a little bias since my fist internal frame pack was a Gregory back in 1991. Nevertheless, packs these days are lighter and have better organization and the redesigned for 2018 Baltoro 65L was no exception. Since we were going canyoneering on the Utah trip our gear list included the classically heavy climbing related gear: harness, rope, helmet, pro, etc. and the Baltoro held it all well with room to spare and was comfortable to cary. While I never needed my raingear on this trip, it’s always nice to have it easy to get to and that was how I used the stretch-mesh pocket lining the center of the pack. I also stashed my first aid kit in there for quick access. There are two vertical zipper pockets which were perfect for my toilet kit (trowel, TP, etc.) and extra stakes for my tent. One feature I didn’t use, but really appreciate being there was the removable day pack from within the larger pack. If our trip wasn’t focused on canyoneering and just day hikes from camp this would have been perfect. When it’s stashed in the larger pack it serves as the pocket for a hydration reservoir. It also has a stashable water bottle pocket for a 1-liter Nalgene style bottle, but I wasn’t flexible enough to get and stow the water bottle myself while wearing the pack.
I know we tea drinkers are in the minority here, and there are plenty of improved instant coffee options out there led by Starbucks Via and now Stoked Stix. Bu t tea drinkers usually have to deal with either carrying out used tea bags or dealing with the mess of loose leaf brewed tea. These aren’t horrible things, but new on the market is Cusa Tea—an instant tea mix. It’s not a tea flavored mix. The packaging says “Ingredients: Organic Black Tea” and it’s delicious. I spoke with the founder Jim Lamancusa who told me about the unique cold brewing and dehydration process to create what amounts to tea crystals which is what is then rehydrated on the trail. There are currently five flavors and all of them are organic: English Breakfast, Lemon Black Green, Mango Green and Oolong.
SealLine Organizational Bags
There are at least two camps of “how to pack your backpack” out there: just stuff it all in to use avoid any gaps—arguably the more efficient for use of space in the backpack—and there’s the more organized approach of putting like items together in little stuff sacks at the risk of creating a few pockets of unuseable empty space with in the pack—arguably better for finding what you need on the trail or at camp without looking like a yardsale. Depending on the trip, I’ve been in both camps a number of times and when I’m opting for the latter my set of Seal Line bags are awesome. Available in a number of different sizes and colors (which obviously helps make it easier to distinguish them) as well as in dry and non-dry styles. They’re also available as compression sacks which nudges the needle of the organized packer towards the “efficient use of space” side of things. The dry bag version with roll-down tops served to keep two things out on my Utah canyoneering trip. First, the sand got everywhere, and since I was bringing a number of electronics with me, it was great to be able to keep them out of the blowing sand. We also had some water pools in our canyoneering and in one instance, when tossing my daypack it ended up in the water. No big deal, the pack got wet but the gear in the drybag didn’t. I also had smaller zip bags with me, one of which held charging cables and one held my Cusa Tea.
MSR Trail Base Water Filter Kit
This is a new take on an existing (although, also relatively new) product from MSR, their Trail Shot water filter and it really does make for an incredibly versatile system. They’ve modified the Trail Shot to be placed in-line between two water bags to act as a gravity water filtration system for in camp. They’ve really thought through the process by clearly labeling the “dirty” and “clean” water bags and by making the dirty bag easy to fill and seal with a roll top closure. The “out” spout of the dirty bag is placed an inch or so above the very bottom of the bag so any sediment can settle before going down the hose to the filter.
The filter clicks into the clean bag which has MSR’s 3-in-1 spout system to pour the filtered water wherever it needs to go. To be really efficient, you can just add a drinking hose to the clean bag and drop it in your pack to always have water handy. If you want to save the water weight, just have the Trail Shot portion of the kit handy and have a sip from whatever stream you come across. It took about six minutes for the 2-liters of dirty water to flow to the clean sack. Since we were in sandstone canyons, there was a good chance of getting small sand particles in the system, but between the sediment trap in the dirty bag and the functionality of the hollow fiber technology, that flow rate was unimpeded over the course of many liters of water filter during the week in the canyon. A point to the Trail Shot unit on it’s own: I asked MSR about getting a longer hose to make it easier to reach lower water sources and it comes down to a physics issue. The little hand pump squeeze bulb isn’t strong enough to have a longer water column below it. MSR knows folks would like a longer hose for a better reach and they’re working on it.
Rhone Glacier Delta Tee
I’ve been wearing this shirt on a number of warm weather adventures and it has been great. I would like to see it come in a long sleeve hooded version like the Voormi River Run Hoodie (which I also had on this trip and wore most of the time) to be more protective from the sun. But it is durable, dries quickly and feels good next to skin. It’s made with Polartec’s Delta fabric which is designed to amplify the cooling effect of perspiration, not to just wick it away completely. I should say, the reason I wore the River Run Hoodie more on the Utah Canyoneering trip over spring break is because it wasn’t super stinking hot and actually got quite cool in the evenings. The Glacier Delta Tee came out on the warmer, higher intensity days.
Mountain Equipment Ibex Pant
Squeezing through and down sandstone slot canyons is tough on clothing but the Ibex Pant was unphased. In comparison, I wish I had a top/jacket layer made of the same Exolite 210 stretch double weave soft shell fabric (my Patagonia Nano-Air did pretty well, but did show some wear—though, the temperature regulation was awesome). The Ibex Pant were just the right weight and warmth to be the only pair of pants I needed for the week we were in the canyon and worked well on late winter hikes above treeline on other trips. In the canyon, once back at camp when the sun set and the temps started to fall some (and the wind would pick up), I donned a pair of Patagonia’s new Capilene Air Base Layers to keep the chill at bay.
Spyderco Para 3 Knife
Knives are invaluable on the trail, so much so they are often at the top of many variations of the Ten Essentials list. The Para 3 from Sypderco is the third version and smallest of this knife style featuring a 3-inch blade made of high-quality CPM S30V particle metallurgy stainless steel with a full flat grind. The clip can be moved to accommodate all four possible positions (point up/down, left/right hand carry) and the textured G-10 scales of the handle keep it firmly in grip even when cold and wet. The iconic Spyderco thumbhole makes one-hand opening a breeze and the Compression Lock system is very secure and easy to use. There’s also a good sized lanyard hole. The knife has worked great on the trips I’ve taken it on, though to be fair, I haven’t found myself in any particularly challenging situations—a mark of good trip planning and safety savvy (knock on wood).
Saxx Kinetic Underwear
Like many men, I was skeptical of what Saxx was offering in terms of improved comfort for men in their underwear. But like most of those men before me, I was a convert as soon as I tried on my first pair of Saxx. In the simplest of terms, they have the support of a brief but the comfort of a boxer. And, for being out where cotton is oft avoided Saxx has their Kinetic line with moisture wicking textiles. Not only did a more form fitting underwear help with avoiding chafing while hiking into our camp, it also eliminated any extra bulk under my pants when wearing a harness. This was important because we’d be in our harnesses for hours from when we first dropped into a slot canyon via a rapel, then walked a ways to our next rapel. If I worked up a sweat squeezing through the slanted canyons which were often narrower than my shoulder width, or if I had to take a plunge and get wet above my waist, the Saxx Kinetic kept everything under my harness relatively comfortable and secure.
Salewa Wander Hiker Leather Shoes
For the trip to the sandy slot canyons of Utah, I debated with myself over taking a ultra breathable mesh shoe or a more sealed leather shoe and I’m glad I went with the latter. Most of our stream crossings were pretty shallow but there were spots where the water sloshed over the top of my shoe. A mesh shoe would have welcomed that water into the shoe itself soaking my sock at the least. While the leather Salewa Wander Hiker is lined with Gore-Tex version, the leather was enough to keep the brief exposure to the wet out. It also did a great job of keeping the smallest of sand particles, even when walking through deep sand, out of the shoe. The weather was cool enough most of the time that my feet never got sweltery. The ground-adaptive GumFlate midsole contoured to the irregular shaped surfaces we were climbing and scrambling on helped increase the surface area of the sticky Michelin outsole to really hold me to the rock even on steep angles.
Thule Subterra 45 Liter Duffel Bag
After a week of scrambling around in the canyons we got back to the vehicles where I had packed myself a set of clean clothes, a set of swim trunks and some soap. One of the best ways to conclude a trip like this is to hit the pools of Glenwood Springs on the drive back to the Front Range for a good long soak. To keep from needing to dig through all my grubby gear in my backpack, I packed a separate duffel that I could take into the hot springs changing room with me. The Subterra series from Thule comes in a wide range of styles and the 45-liter version was plenty roomy—a nice change from living out of small cinch sacks for a week. The wide mouth opening style of the bag made it easy to see and find what I wanted without having to shove stuff out of the way and the burly 800 denier nylon exterior meant I didn’t have to worry about the bag getting tossed around at the trailhead before and after the hike where prickly plants like to snag things.