JMT 2011 - Gear Review

Sep 05, 2011

Gear Reviews

Tent - Nemo Meta - 900g

The Nemo Meta 1P provides excellent volume for its weight, and that includes a largish porch that can be used in bad weather. I slept in it during a rainstorm and it was absolutely watertight. The large vent at the back keeps you in touch with what going on outside - and with the large hood it will never let the outside in.

The tent can be tricky to pitch and does require a long trekking pole - for example you really need poles that extyend to 135cm in normal use - which means you can get a few extra cm out of them in this application. Some trekking poles are only 130cm or even less - these will not hold this tent up.

I did have an issue with the tent design - when you are up and about cooking, reading or whatever its great - but when you come to lie down for sleeping you find the height at your head is quite restricted. The tent compartment is long - so its best to sleep with your feet all the way to one end and to peg out the extra side guyline at your head end using your secong trekking pole - as shown in the photos. This method maximises headroom.

Like all single skin tents condensation can be heavy - despite the large vent the Meta 1P is no exception, however you if you're used to single skin shelters you'll realise that this isn't a major problem. The only issues I had were getting my head and the foot of my sleeping bag damp as both brushed the tent wall as I got up in the morning.

Overall, and when I got used to its foibles, I really enjoyed the space it provided for minimal weight. Its pretty lightweight without using extreme fabrics.

Rucksack - Granite Gear Blaze AC 60 - 1310g

I was really looking forward to testing the Blaze AC 60 as this is the replacement for the extremely popular Vapor Trail. It has Granite Gear's new harness system which has a more venting back but retains the supremely comfortable hip belt and shoulder strap designs.

The comfort of Granite Gear packs is legendary and in this respect the Blaze AC 60 doesn't disappoint, its designed to carry up to 35lbs and I carried up to 30lbs on a recent tour of the John Muir Trail in California, with water and at the heaviest I'm sure the load topped the 30lb mark - and yet I found the pack supremely comfortable and stable.

I have carried loads of 20-25lbs with inferior rucksacks and found the comfort to be lacking - Granite Gear have achieved an excellent level of comfort without a huge weight penalty - I'd go so far as to say that its the most comfortable carry I've yet experienced.

Feature-wise the pack is designed for backpackers - it has three large stretch mesh pockets on the outside of the main compartment. The larger of the three took my solo tent easily which kept it away from my other gear when wet and made it easily accessible duting the day for drying and at the end of the day for pitching.

They can't be descibed as 'easily accessible' but the side mesh pockets can be accessed when wearing the pack so were useful for snacks etc.. I used a bladder for hydration which was kept inside the pack with a tube snaking up my right shoulder strap.

There are no hip belt pockets but there are loops for fitting them (available as an optional extras), the loops are pretty universal and I was able to securely attach a camera pouch to one. There isn't a lid with this pack, (again this can be purchased as an optional extra), so its vulnerable to water - you definitely need drybags for gear inside and possibly a pack cover outside.

If lids and hip belt pockets are your thing you can obviously customise the pack but all the extra bits add weight.

You can certainly by a less comfortable 60 Litre pack that weighs twice as much as the Blaze - and a much heavier pack will probably be more durable - but with care the Blaze should last a long time - After two weeks mine is showing only minor marks and no damage. I know from past experience the stretch mesh is vulnerable if dragged over rocks etc.. so don't.

Buy the Blaze if you want a very comfortable lightweight pack designed to make a Backpackers life easier and that you are prepared to treat with a bit more care than heavy duty packs that you wouldn't think twice about chucking off a cliff.

Sleeping Bag - Western Mountaineering Summerlite - 568g

The Summerlite is our best selling Wetsern Mountaineering sleeping bag - rated down to 0C its extremely light for that rating and compresses to very little using a compression sack.

I used it for camping at 10,000ft plus in September so I was pushing the boundaries somewhat and therefore I was wearing clothing as well - the temperature dropped below freezing on a couple of nights but I remained warm with a baselayer and down smock on top and baselayer on bottom (oh, and socks as well).

I reckon without the clothing I would have been too cold at around zero - but that could be a reflection of my metabolism and I know from experience I would have been cold with other bags in this class, and I was only using a short sleeping mat with nopthing under my legs.

Usability of the bag was great - I'm 6ft tall and 15 stone and I found the bag to be adequately roomy - so no problems there. Accessing the zipper etc was fine and even though the foot of the bag got wet a couple of times through condensation this didn't seem to affect its performance so I'm guessing the dwr coating on the shell fabric was doing its job.

Sleeping Mat - Thermarest Neo Air Short - 260g

As always the NeoAir performed supremely well - I always take a repair kit when I use it for multiday trips (only a few grams) but I've been using my current one for two years now and its never failed. I considered taking a warmer rated mat for this trip but can't resist the tiny weight and small pack size.

The Neoair is also very comfortable, some people don't like them because they can be a bit noisy in the night, they do move around a bit and may not be the warmest mats - but they are fine for 3 season use in my opinion.

Another potential issue is that if you get a puncture you have nothing to lie on, whereas if you get a puncture on a self inflating mat you still have a piece of foam to provide insulation and a bit of comfort.

The other thing to bear in mind is that because of its thickness you either need a big pillow or place your pillow on top of the mat - thus reducing its effective length.

All issues that other people have - I love mine!


POD Airstream Lite Compression Sack (Small) - 78g

Used this to compress my sleeping bag - very easy to use, I like that two of the compression cords are fitted to quick release buckles - this makes it easy to unpack and easy to avoid the cords getting tangled.

If there was ever any doubt about the breathable eVent end of the sack it was dispelled immediately - often on the morning the foot of my sleeping bag was damp, having come into contact with the tent, needing to get on the trail I packed it damp - however because it was hot the bag was invariably bone dry when I took it out of the compression sack next - the eVent panel had allowed the bag to dry out - while it was compressed in my pack - awesome.

Exped Air Pillow (with Stuff Sack) - 90g

I've used this Air Pillow a lot over the last year and I love it. Its the best shape I've found - you can place it so that your shoulder/neck nestles into the 'v' cut-out and the rib structure of the surface keeps your head in place and cushioned really well.

I move about a lot when in bed and it can get out of my grasp on occasion, but its also small enough to share the hood of your sleeping bag, in which case it can't go anywhere.

Sea to Summit 2L Drybags (x4 for food staples) - 22g each

As the STS drysacs are not designed for use with food I'd better not recommend you store food in them - probably find you'll get cancer or something equally nasty - so I'm not recommending it but this is what I do....

Its de-rigeur to weigh every morcel of food you take with you - parcelling it up into meal sized portions and packages. On a long trip though I prefer to bulk store some of the basics and I use the STS 2L Drybags for this purpose. Fruit and nut mix is a good example - you can get at least eight days worth in a 2L drybag and you can transfer the next days needs into your ziplock bag the night before. The drybag keeps them dry and in perfect condition.

Muesli and dried milk mixed together is another ideal staple to carry in this way, others are mashed potato mix, pasta, cous cous, how about taking a large bag of dried veg and just grabbing a fistful for each meal - it works - the list is endless.

Optimus Crux Stove - 83g

Faultless performance. Not really tested in extreme conditions but did its job very effectively whether simmering or at full power. I didn't use the 'gas cartridge' pouch that comes with the stove - but even without this the stove is easy to store when its folded. A good reliable piece of kit.

Sea to Summit Alphalite LH Spoon - 12g

As near as makes no difference the Alphalight range of Aircraft Aluminium cutlery is as light as its Titanium equivalent - it may not be as bend resistant but its easily capable of doing its job.

The Long Handled design is a bit of a classic now and is now my cutlery of choice! I took a knife and spoon from the range but the Long Handled Spoon is so versatile that I used it all the time. If you're eating from a freeze dried pouch its essential, if you're stiring food in a pan its a lot easier than with a standard spoon, if you're eating your food its practical.

It seems to be so much easier for just about everything - the only food type I think it would struggle with is soup or a thin stew - this is because the spoon part is quite small.

Light My Fire Mini Fire Steel - 15g

If you're still carrying matches to light your stove - get one of these - you don't have to keep it dry and it lasts for trip after trip. I use one to light just about any stove - the only issue I've had is lighting a meths burner in cold weather - the spark has to get down into the meths to light it and this an be tricky.

MSR Quick SOLO Pot - 174g

I really enjoyed using the Quick SOLO pot, of course it cooks food fine, but its also very easy to clean - I had a 2inch by 1inch piece of sponge backed scourer which took everything off with ease, even using cold water.

The size of the pan is ideal for me as I like my food in quantity - there was nothing I needed a bigger pan for. The size of the base is suited to wide stove burners.

The lid fits well and with drain holes is ideal for pasta etc. The handle clicks into place over the top of the pot and keeps the lid in place, as well as any gear that you're storing in it.

The pan has plastic parts on the handle so its not suitable for use on an open fire.

Edelrid Multibowl - 56g

Good sized mug/bowl, it half a litre so there's enough capacity for a decent cup of coffee. It a nice shape to fit in the hands and the style of the handle means you can attach it to things using a Karabiner or whatever, so if your pack is full to the brim with gear this could be hanging on the outside.

It has marked graduations inside which I used constantly when preparing meals - although they can be tricky to see and could have been made a bit more prominent.

The only other niggle I had was that there's not much that fits inside it - or that it fits inside of - so I ended up stuffing my spare socks into it to make best use of the space3 in my pack.

MSR Backpackers Ultralight PackTowl (Small & Large) - 15g & 52g

I have used the Ultralite Packtowl for a couple of years now and I can't imagine using anything else, I always take two, the 'small' size is about the size of a handkerchief and I use it for wiping stuff, ideal for taking the water off a tent in the morning, drying cooking pots and mopping your brow.

The 'large' size is still not huge by regular towel standards but I'm a biggish bloke and it does the job after a shower, you need to wring it out a couple of times but it gets you dry.

I particularly like the presstud loop which allows you to attach it to your pack for drying out.

Platypus Hoser 2.0L - 102g

If you are going into a hot walking environment you will definitely benefit from a hydration system - it encourages you to take on fluids because you don't have to continually stop to take a bottle out of your pack, and generally speaking these systems weigh less than most bottles.

Platypus has two hydration system types, the Hoser series and the Big Zip SL 11 series. I prefer the Hoser when I'm backpacking as it can be used as a general purpose water bottle around camp in the evening, the Big Zip models can't really fulfill this function because the large opening makes them difficult to pour from. I carry a spare cap for the Hoser so that it can be used as a standard bottle around camp.

The disadvantage with the Hoser over the Big Zip is re-filling - if you have a relatively fast flowing water source then filling's a snip, however if is slow then filling the Hoser is trickier because you have to drag it through the water so that the air inside the bottle is expelled. The big zip doesn't have this disadvantage.

As a Hydration system the Hoser works well, with a good bite valve and a lapel clip that will fit virtually any rucksack strap.

Platypus 2L Water Bottle - 34g

I gave a lot of thought to gear redundancy on this trip because its such a remote trek, an extra bottle can be used with the Hoser if required or just to provide extra capacity for camping. I like to have enough water carrying capacity that I could fill up at one spot and camp where there's no water. 4 litres is about the minimum requirement for this.

These bottles are light and easy to use.

Thorlos Experia Socks - 64g

Excellent sock for these conditions, the main feature is the ventilation provided in association with the padded parts of the sock. The felt both comfortable and supportive throughout.

Xsocks Extreme Light Socks - 42g

My favourite sock for a few years now - they don't offer much in the way of warmth but they do everything else - comfort, ventilation, anti-smell and durability.

UnderArmer Boxerjock Spare Pants - 88g

Can't praise these too highly, they fit snuggly without compression, the venting crotch must work because I had no issues in that region and never felt sweaty. The waistband kept the pants in place without feeling too tight, and didn't suffer from having a rucksack hipbelt rubbing against them.

An excellent product.

UnderArmour relaxed fit baselayer - 192g

I basically took two shirts - the Canyon 'Trekking style' shirt, and this baselayer. While walking I mostly wore the Canyon shirt because when walking in a hot environment I want plenty of air around be, the baselayer was what I changed into on reaching camp, and what I slept in.

Having said, on the last day, due to an early chilly start, I decided to set off with the baselayer under the Canyon shirt, expecting to have to take it off as the day warmed up. Although it got very hot I didn't feel the need to remove it - I walked with it on all day and never felt uncomfortable - its wicking ability is excellent and it feels so comfortable next to the skin.

There are a lot of baselayers out there and its difficult to say 'X' is better than 'Y' etc.. however this offering from Underarmour is certainly among the most comfortable I've worn.

Sunday Afternoons Solar Bucket Hat - 68g

Sunday Afternoon's Hats are designed first for protection and second for style, so the Solar Bucket looks slightly oversized - but that allows it to cover the arequired areas. I hate wearing sun screen and prefer to have a hat that works - with the Solar Bucket I didn't apply sun screen and didn't get sunburned. That for me is the acid test of this piece of kit.

Inova Microlight - 20g

My thinking on lighting for my trip was that I would only need minimum lighting as it would be light well into the evening. So I packed the Inova Microlight as my only directional light, the Nite-Ize Domelit as a tent light and the tasklit headlamp as a backup.

The Microlight was a revelation - so powerful for its size that I used it as the tent light as well. I wanted to start walking before sunrise one morning, as the path was well defined I decided to try it with just the microlight to illuminate the path (knowing that if it didn't I'd simply stop and wait for dawn).

It was brilliant - just enough to walk the path - but for such a tiny light thats a real achievement. Over the two weeks I had to change the batteries - but as I was packing spares this was no problem. The brightness fails rather than losing light entirely.

Nite Ize Domelit - 20g

This does exactly what it claims - its an ambient light which is just bright enough to light up the tent.

Nite Ize Tasklit Headlamp - 25g

The Tasklit uses the same light unit as the Domelit - its an ambient light so isn't focussed - I found it a bit frustrating being used to a directional light on my forehead. But as a backup its ideal.

Sea to Summit Untreated Headnet - 26g

Big enough to go over a wide brimmed hat and come down to the shoulders. Drawcord around the neck ensures a good seal. you don't actually notice the fine black mesh as evidenced by the fact that more than once I tried to eat food through it! Makes a mess.

Wenger Soft Touch Nail Clip - 38g

I chose this because of the nail clippers - which clip nails - essential for a long trip. I also found the other bits and bobs to be very useful - tweezers etc.

Sea to Summit TPU Guide Mapcase - 136g

These large soft cases are now my first choice - you put the maps in there and only need to open the seal when you walk off the current map - you can do this in your tent of an evening. During the day the maps are perfectly accessible and perfectly prtotected - a cut above the stitched / velcro versions of yesteryear.

Granite Gear Hiker Wallet - 10g

Although tiny in size I can usually get all I need for any length trip - in this case it held two credit cards, my drivers licence, 2-4 bank notes and a few coins.

Sea to Summit Ultra-sil Daypack (doubles as tent bag) - 68g

When flying to the start of a walk I like to maximise my hand luggage. Items like penknife and trekking poles must go in the hold, so I have to split the load. My principle is to split it such that if the hold luggage was lost I could still continue my walk. Therefore I need to have the following items in my hand luggage:

Tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, maps etc - in truth if I lost any of these three main items then buying replacements would either be very expensive (to get ultralight versions) or add considerable weight to my pack (if I had to take whatever was available).

So I need a very light hand luggage bag thats spacious and tough enough to be stuffed with gear - the Ultra-sil Daypack delivers on every count - its a superbly useful bit of kit that I doubled as a tent bag on my trip.

The only niggle is that the straps tend to shift in use - but thats a minor criticism when you consider its considerable merits.

Sea to Summit Small Toiletry Bag - 42g

I'm a big fan of the Sea to Summit travel products and the small washbag is one of my favourites - that main things I like about it are that its well made, very lightweight material and easy to use - there are no snags with it at all.

In particular though I used it on this trip for my bits and bobs, such as my hiker wallet, Inka pen, repair kits, iPod, spare batteries, lighting, fire steel etc..etc.. lots of items that are easy to find in such a well designed pouch - much better than using a stuffsack or similar. It now has a permanent place in my backpacking rucksack as well as my travel gear.

Ortleib Snap Camera Case - 84g

There wasn't much rain to protect my camera from - but it protected it from what there was! I like the way the belt loop works - its fitted very tightly so that when hung on a webbing hipbelt it doesn't bunch the webbing and end up spinning around.

In order to get this feature the belt loop is flat to the back of the case, you can thread webbing through it but not a buckle, if the buckle won't come off your belt you need a screw driver to undo the belt loop and re-fix it on the webbing hipbelt.

If you don't quite follow what I'm saying its this: the camera case has an excellent belt loop which keeps it in plac e on a webbing hipbelt - however it can be fiddly to fit and not easy to move from one hipbelt to another.

Freeloader Pico & Gel Case - 62g

The Freeloader Pico performs well in full sun, anything less than this and it has very limited capability. Knowing that I was heading for wall to wall sunshine meant that it was an ideally light solution that did its job.

One key feature is that you fully charge the Freeloader before you go - this guarantees you a first charge to your device even if there's no sun at all.

There's very little mobile service on the JMT so I used it to keep my iPod powered up - which it did.

Sealline eCase for iPhone - 45g

Small, light, keeps the water out and allows you to operate your device without taking it out - the e-case does whats required of it. Getting the iPhone in and out takes a bit of effort but I'd rather have this with a case thats just the right size - than a bigger case.

INKA Pen - 6g

Beautifully designed and made - used daily with no problems at all.

Mountain King Expedition Carbon Trekking Poles - 200g

I really like these - I took them in preference to my usual Fizan Compacts because I wanted a stronger pole as a contingency since I was out of contact with civilisation for so long. They really aren't that much heavier and the extra length was useful when pitching the Nemo Meta 1P.

I found them to be tough and easy to use and would recommend them to anyone.

Buff - 35g

I've never really got on with Buff, I took one with me to protect my neck from the sun. It did this of course and I used it to mop my fevered brow, I didn't find any other use for it though - like you're supposed to!

Mountain Hardwear Canyon LS Trekking Shirt - 234g

For hot countries I like to trek in a traditional style shirt which lets a lot of air circulate around my top half. Whilst the Canyon is traditional looking, its far from a traditional shirt - with zoned fabrics that wick an ventilate - very quick drying (essential when having to do laundry on the trail) - and tested features such as pocket locations etc.

I used the pockets to help with organisation on the trail - keeping a few guidebook pages in the chest pocket for easy reference etc.. When it was cool - such as when setting off in the morning I wore the Canyon shirt over an underarmour baselayer.

Trangoworld Extreme Light Pant - 374g

I love these trekking pants - its the highly stretchy fabric which makes them easy to move around in yet quite close fitting. Pocekts where you need them and reinforcement where its needed as well.

Inov-8 Roclite 400 Boots - 400g

I chose these boots for the JMT because I expected very rough terrain and thought they were the safe choice for a long walk without access to replacement gear. Now I know what to expect I would have chosen shoes - probably Terroc 345 GTX.

Having said this the boots performed really well - comfortable, giving good protection from rocks etc.. The boots gave a bit extra height when crossing rivers, which was useful, and they retained their waterproofness throughout the trip - though this was only really tested in rivers, there wasn't a time when the boots were soaked for long periods.

One good thing I like about these boots is that they're easy to get on and off - the laces thread easily through the lace holes making them a dodle to undo and fasten.

By the end of the trip I'd worn a hole through the outer layer of leather at the toe on one of the boots, so durability wise they won't last as long as traditional footwear.

Further Information