Wednesday, April 30, 2014

eBay find: CADPAT Kifaru express

Despite Kifaru's fairly reasonable rates on custom work there relatively few one-offs floating around, which made finding this pack all the more exciting:

With matching side pouches no less.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Bizarre backpack of the week: North Face Black Magic

Not sure what is accomplished with the strange narrow "waist" in the frame, but it makes for an interesting trampoline configuration.

It also appears as if part of the waist belt is attached there with some kind of plastic spacer (Yikes!)

If wishes were fishes

If I could go back in time and unwrite one book, it would be "Mystery Ranch" by Gertrude Chandler Warner.

Darn thing pops up EVERY TIME I go backpack shopping on eBay. That and it outnumbers the backpacks by about 3:1.

That is all.

Friday, April 25, 2014

eBay find: Diemme X Burton

Wingtip snowboarding boots:

Odd aesthetic aside I had been musing on what a cap toe or a brogue wingtip added to a serious boot like a Lowa or Meindl would look like. Food for thought.

State of the market: wearable sleep systems

The idea of one's sleep system doing double duty as a garment is not a new idea, match coats and great kilts are two old examples that come to mind.
I won't waste your time explaining the advantages or disadvantages of the concept, any reasonably intelligent person can get there on their own and there is already much information (and marketing) floating around. What I will go over as thoroughly as I can are all the commercial options available right now, generally the conversation arises in either an ultralight backpacking context or a tactical/preparedness context and something usually gets left out.

I have only included the fill wight of the synthetic options because I find it more useful then temp ratings but I don't have as firm a frame of reference on down fill weights. I have tried to include only options that can be used as a full length sleep system, hence my omission of the Kifaru Woobie Express and the horrible Sierra Designs Elephant Foot.

Keep in mind that temp ratings on top quilts and open blanket style sleep systems are even more variable then sleeping bags (which while wrong are reasonably consistent).

I can't tell you which came first but the Jacks 'R' Better sierra sniveler is the earliest I know of:

firmly in the lightweight camp, a down top quilt with liberal use of velcro. Optional hood and sleeves add a lot of versatility. A slightly tapered flat quilt with a velcro closing head hole, worn poncho style. Certainly the most well known in ultralighter and backpacker circles.



optional hood: 2oz, $60
optional sleeves: 5oz, $80

Another of the early contenders, the Exped Dreamwalker (previously the Wallcreeper):

A mid-weight, feature heavy sleeping bag/parka. Has armholes, front pockets, a jacket style hood and a full zip front with a bottom cinch cord. The bottom is un-cinched and re-cinched around the users waist for walking mode. Can be opened flat for a spacious quilt as well. I've heard mixed reviews of how well the foot cinch works to seal out the cold. Does have baffles blocking the armholes.
Available in two weights of down and a synthetic version.


5oz fill

It deserves special mention that this bag has a matching bivvy sack/rain jacket, but the idea of a "rain vest" holds little interest to me.

Exped more recently offered a second wearable sleeping option, the Dreamwalker DUO:

Basically a fullsized poncho with a zippered head hole. Designed as a comforter for two people, snaps to a fitted sheet that can be attached to a set of sleeping pads.


6oz fill

New kid on the block, the Hill People Gear Mountain Serape:

square poncho sized blanket with a clever zipper system that wrangles the excess fabric better then a typical toggle or belt. Attached hood with a 1/4 zipper opening gives it a pretty big wearability advantage over it's competition. Uses Primaloft insulation unlike the bulk of the poncho liners out there, what I've read/heard seems to imply that climashield has better warmth to weight but Primaloft deals with water better. I think in general this product has introduced the idea to a lot of users that otherwise wouldn't have thought twice about a "silly ultralighter" product like the JRB quilt. Better marketing and customer interaction has made this a more popular option then some of the similar products.

also usable as a half-zip sleeping bag:

2.4oz fill
40*? (general consensus from Mt. Serape users, seems very optimistic)

Probably the most sleeping-baggy of the group, the previously mentioned Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy:

Perhaps the least intuitive as well, but no less clever. You unzip the bottom a ways and stick your legs out while you button the bottom out of the way behind you (seen below center):

Very similar to the Exped but without the hole at the bottom and with a more nuanced shape and design. No zippers blocking the armholes, relies on wide overlapping baffles instead.

2 season:

3 season:

The Ecotat was an earlier option but I knew it had been more or less discontinued. I recently found out it is still being made by Wiggy's as the Freedom shelter:

very little information on their website about it, but I think it safe to assume lamilite is involved and it is on the heavier end of things. Built like an Exped Dreamwalker but with no armholes and no pockets. instead it has a head hole to wear it as a poncho.

unknown fill
temp unknown
weight unknown

A lesser known option, Wiggy's Insulated Poncho:

By far the most affordable option, just a quilted poncho liner with attached hood. Despite the comparatively hefty fill weight word is that the stitch-through quilting inhibits its warmth. Only other thing I've ever heard about it is that it does not pack down very well. Uses lamilite and climashield insulation in an unknown combination. Available in MARPAT which is hard to find these days.

6oz fill
temp unknown
weight unknown

A higher end version of the same, the 782 Gear Smoke Kloke:
Uses climashield insulation, square poncho with hood. Multicam option will appeal to some.

2oz fill
temp unkown

Perhaps the least known option I've found, the Integral Designs Poncho Liner:

I've never heard anyone mention, recommend, or otherwise acknowledge this product, I found it just poking around on their site. Uses Primaloft Sport insulation, has a silly half-circle zipper head hole and a perimeter zipper for sleeping bag use.

3oz fill
temp unkown
$220 (listed elsewhere on their sight for $150)

And finally, last and in my mind least; the Poler Napsack:

A shameless rip off of the Exped Dreamwalker, (I really hope there is some licensing agreement no one has bothered to mention) if you handle one in person you can feel the cheapness radiating out of it.
I include it only out of a determination for completeness.

unknown fill

*ADDED 5/29/2014*
I'm simply shocked I forgot to include this option, I've know about it for some time but it just slipped my mind:

Feathered Friends Rock Wren:
(photo from Outdoor Gear Lab)
a very light, high quality option from a reputable dealer. It functions like a cross between the Mobile Mummy and the Dreamwalker, but could be older then both. Unfortunately this bag has gotten critisized for poor hood seal and no baffles over the arm zippers. A warmer version is available as the "Winter Wren."

35* F

25* F

So what are my thoughts about all these? The Sierra designs is the only one I'd really consider for my only sleep insulation. The JRB might work but the verdict is still out for me on top quilts.
I am mostly interested in one of these as an emergency layering/sleeping piece (coupled with a poncho in a car bag or day pack) and as an overbag for a normal sleeping bag.
For this purpose the HPG Mountain Serape definitely seems to offer the most versatility and value, but I would change a few things about it. Since it is made by and for larger guys I could get away with a considerably narrower width and would trade that weight to bump it up to 3oz or 4oz of insulation.

What I will probably do is buy the Wiggy's poncho just because of the price and cut and sew on it till I get a better idea of what works for me. If I love the system I will probably upgrade to the HPG.

If you know of an option I forgot or have never heard of please point it out and I will add it to the line-up.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

eBay Find: Lowe Alpine CFP-90

Found this baby just last week:

I was certainly hopeful of adding this to my (slowly) growing surplus pack collection but last minute bidders more than doubled the price as they are apt to do. I've been seeking the Lowe version partly because of the mystique of rarity, partly because I assume it's higher quality and partly because I don't trust myself to tell an imported knock-off woodland CFP-90 from a true issue one.

Not only do I want a CFP-90 to round out my surplus collection but it also has several features I have been experimenting with or contemplating; namely minimal back padding, a full-wrap waist belt and a one-piece shoulder harness.

And lets be honest, green and brown is a smashing color scheme.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Frame inovation: Exped lightning

On the same REI trip that let me scope out the Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy a brief swing through the backpack section brought a new pack to my attention; the Exped Lightning.

Looking back I remember seeing the pack on the REI website, but since there was no suspension side image I just saw a pack with a goofy compression system and moved on. In person the single vertical stay was immediately distinctive and I had to pick it up and look at it.
 the one-piece shoulder harness slides up and down on the ribbed stay in a surprisingly intuitive way. Usually you have to look at an adjustment system for a second or two and do some poking around, with the exped it was "I bet if I pull this...oh hey!" The labels for the adjustment system are much simpler then usual as well, embroidered "S M L" on the sliding webbing that lines up with a black stripe on the pack body.

The roll top can be closed either of the traditional roll top ways, either clipping to itself (the first picture) or to the pack sides (the picture below). An over-the-top-strap closes with a proprietary "g-hook" which I am also a fan of.

The real innovation is the cross stay at the top of the pack. Most single-stay packs I have seen couple it with a frame sheet to support the rest of the pack, this pack has a single aluminum stay perpendicular to the main stay that goes to each edge of the back panel. The pack kind of "hangs" off that top stay which prevents the top of the pack from barreling to the extreme. From the videos I've seen the middle of the pack body can still barrel a good bit but the whole pack actually does less so then a dual-stay pack with no frame sheet (such as my vintage Mountainsmith Frostfire). It also offers a solid platform to mount both the carry handle and the load-lifter buckles and offers quite a bit of articulation for the top of the pack as it pivots on the center stay.
Since the shoulder harness is mounted solidly to the center stay it is easier to grab the pack by the shoulder strap and throw it on then my packs with Hill People Gear shoulder harnesses which usually have a length of webbing securing it to the pack body which lets the shoulder straps move a little too much when you aren't wearing it with everything cinched down tight.

The center stay does seem to lock solidly into the hip belt, which is mounted to HDPE wings that go behind the lumbar pad.
This makes for a surprisingly stiff belt for such a light pack and hints at above average weight transfer, perhaps better then my gold standard for lightweight packs, the Granite Gear vapor trail/crown VC.

At first glance this pack nearly ticks all the boxes for my perfect light weight multiday pack: giant roll-top opening, clean exterior with the only external pockets being the dual water bottle pockets, absence of back padding and a good hipbelt. Upon closer inspection it does have some marks against it; the water bottle pockets are a little high for easy access without removing the pack, and worst of all is the compression system. The straps on each side are a single strap which adjusts at both top and bottom with ladderlock buckles, this means no quick release and lashing larger stuff like sleeping pads will be a tedious affair. Also rather then separating the pack into three sections (side, front, side like the Granite Gear packs) each compression strap goes clear to center front, meaning lashed items can wander around the pack body rather then staying put on either the side or front. This also excludes my favorite z-rest lashing spot, center front.

I will be playing around with the top cross-stay on some home made packs to see if I like it better then the frame sheet, only time will tell.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ebay find: 'Merica

Been on a hunt lately for vintage external frames. Found this little beauty:

Which raises the question, why is it so hard to find patriotic cordura? This could be a new thing.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dutch Sleeves

Tumblr find:

I found the sleeves of his smock/shirt intriguing. Looking closely I couldn't deduce what closure system is used at the wrist but it's possible there isn't one, there is no separate cuff. The tapered elbow patches are fairly unique, either a different material or a different print than the DPM smock/shirt and the fact that it is placed over the seam shows more nuance then the usual military practice of burying at least one side of a reinforced elbow into an existing seam.

Filbe pockets

The Marine Corp's FILBE pack is still new enough that information is still fairly sparse on da interwebs. This picture came up in an image search and added a small bit of data: MSR snow shoes will fit in the water bottle pockets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ebay Find: Mossy Oak RACK pouch

Found this little gem on eBay yesterday. Not sure of the story, this could be marketed for civilians or a special run for a special team that specifically requested this pattern.

RACK pouches in general are getting harder to find (at least compared to the flood of standard issue stuff in DCU and ACU) and this is the first time I've seen this government pattern pouch in anything other then Woodland and DCU.

UPDATE: I knew I had seen special order mossy oak gear before but couldn't remember were. I found it today over at Legit Kit's blog; possible connection?

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Hat Quest

We all have quests periodically, I usually have 3 or 4 going at any given time. This is an account of my quest for the perfect hiking/everyday/end of the world hat.
Between a dislike for showers and a dislike for haircuts I wear hats a LOT. I'm also getting to were I like insulated hoods more then insulated hats so I more or less wear a ballcap in all weather which I find handy to keep the hoods pointed the way my head is and keeps them out of my eyes (a down puffy hood inside a gortex hood has a habit of only pointing forward).
I try to avoid the over-velcroed "tactical douche" look but unfortunately tactical hats fit my needs more then most outdoorsy hats. My current solution is to pull off the front velcro and sew on a subtly humerous patch to offset the camouflage (BPRD, OCP, and Weyland-Yutani are my current top picks).

I decided I wanted:

-more then 50% nylon
-high breathability (mesh preferred but not required)
-appear to be a mostly normal baseball cap
-good adjustment system (NO plastic snap adjuster, non-velcro preferred)
-earth tones preferred, subtle camo allowed
-no velcro (or has to be easily removed)
-no top button (I'm tall and it hurts a LOT to hit my head on stuff with it there)
-low denier cordura is my first choice, followed by "supplex" style nylon, followed by softshell

My first real attempt at this was the Outdoor Research Swift cap.

Doesn't fit the "normal baseball hat" requirement, but nearly everything else was there. available in several earth tones, nice thin nylon fabric, big mesh panels, subtle logo and no velcro. Adjusts with thin webbing and the same cam-lock buckle you'd find on the OR gaiter. Great price to boot.
Unfortunately this hat just barely falls into the dreaded "diaper hat" fit category. If my hair is very short and I put it on just right it will stay, but otherwise it doesn't come down far enough to lock onto my head. Comes off very easily when adding or removing layers or even messing with a hood. Sad.

My second attempt was the Kuiu Icon Cap.

Perfectly ticks the "normal baseball cap" box, no mesh but the thin fabric breaths exceptionally regardless. Reasonably subtle logo I don't mind wearing. Velcro adjustment, but I only have to mess with it about twice a year as my hair grows. The top button counts against it but otherwise my hopes were set quite high.
I will say the fabric and color is nearly perfect, and I still do wear this hat periodically, but it is also a borderline diaper hat that doesn't quite hug my head like it should. It has more or less replaced the OR cap though.

So what choices do I have now? Here is what I have found so far:

215 Gear Ultimate Blended Operator Hat:

Softshell with mesh, slightly off the norm with the side mesh but that doesn't bother me. Velcro would have to be removed and Multicam isn't my first choice but allowable. Velcro adjustment.

Black Palm Syndicate Softshell Cap:

This is probably my first choice at this point, made with Multicam Alpha fabric (91% nylon 9% spandex). No mesh but I like high nylon content softshells and I'm sure breathability is fine (and a pretty good DWR on top of it). There is a sterile version floating around but I'm not sure were, there is no top velcro so I would only have to remove the front. I've never owned a flex-fit hat before but I know the L/XL fits down around my head and really locks on, no diaper risk here.
My ONLY complaint (beyond lack of mesh) is that they oriented the multicam up/down rather then front/back. Nit-picky I know, but an odd choice on their part. Made in USA is always a plus.

Kuhl Renegade Hat

Like the Swift cap this has a "dorky hiking hat" vibe to it. I'm not a huge fan of the seam lines (aesthetically, functionally it looks like a good design) but it does have the same fiber content as the BPS softshell cap in a solid color. I've tried on the similar "uberkuhl" cap (disqualified for low nylon content) and I think it is just on the acceptable side of diaper hat status, but I have been tricked before. I like Kuhls pants enough it wouldn't bug me to wear their tiny logo.

Mil-spec Monkey CG-hat Mesh RAW

hard to find mesh flex-fit. Huge swatches of velcro count against it, and my assumption is that the fiber content doesn't pass muster (polycotton is my guess) but I need to email MSM to verify.

GORUCK Mesh Tac Hat

I don't really like GoRuck as a company but they are one of the few making a cordura ball cap. I'm pretty sure there was a limited run of different colors, the regularly stocked black is a deal-breaker. I'd prefer 500 denier but uncoated 1000 denier probably breaths just fine.

I will update if I find more options but I feel I've scoured the web pretty thoroughly.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bizarre backpack of the week

Found this on a european flikr account I think. Narrow external, massive lumbar pad, rear zipper access, strange load lifter set up (cables? really?) and odd use of slick clips.

If anyone knows what this is let me know, I'm dumbfounded. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sierra Designs Mobile Mummy

This last weekend I made it up to Seattle to visit some family and managed to fit in a stop at the REI flagship store where, after making the poor employee dig through the sleeping bag stock for 15 minutes, I finally got to try out the Sierra designs mobile mummy.
Now for those of you that don't follow these things, Sierra Designs has been a fairly mediocre brand for quite a while. Fairly typical sleeping bags with typical stats, cheap proprietary rain coats, tents (I don't know a thing about tents, they could have been fabulous) and generic apparel. Recently they've been making a push, mostly with some treated down products (still in the "gimmick" category in my book, but I will be as happy as a clam to be wrong in this case). I picked up a thinner down puffy for my wife at an REI sidewalk sale but I haven't noticed anything spectacular about it, my wife is new to puffys and doesn't have anything to compare it too.

Well, recently SD unveiled their new sleeping bag line and I'll admit I was pretty skeptical. While I'm always in favor of innovation, I wasn't sure they'd hit the mark. the backcountry bed for instance has huge areas of dead air on both sides of the head that give me pause, but they did manage to score an editor's choice award in the latest Backpacker magazine. After some online discussion I began looking closer at the mobile mummy, I've been wanting to try out a center zip bag for a while and the old Golite Adrenaline is darned hard to find on ebay, the new USMC 3-season sleeping bag is paper thin, and the newest Kifaru slick bag is beyond my reach to test-drive.

The "mobile" part of the mummy I could take or leave, but it turns out being able to stick your arms out to fiddle with the zipper is pretty darn convenient; ever notice how much of a pain it is to cinch in the hood on a normal bag? for one you have to fight your arms up to face level and then fiddle with some draw cords you can't really see, and then fight your arms up again when you want to get out. With this design you pretty much have to stick an arm out to zip up the last few inches, but since there is no closure on the armhole it didn't feel to tedious.
The main thing that drew me to this design is the hood. I've been having a lot of trouble with my current sleeping bag and the bulk of it is the gaping hood opening and the lack of a draft baffle. This bag has a snug, jacket-style hood with no cords, bungees or toggles and a generous draft baffle around your neck. This might curtail my current habit of wearing a hooded down jacket to bed, but I'd give it up in a heartbeat. I've seen very few bags (by that I mean one or two) that have such a narrow hood, the Exped Wallcreeper (now called the "dreamwalker"I think) is one, and is functionally very similar to the mobile mummy in that it has armholes, a center zipper, and the ability to walk around with it on. BUT the Exped hood is much more open, and there is a gaping hole at the foot so I never got super excited about it.

I was dubious of the armholes leaking heat but there is something like 5 inches of overlap and initial reviews seem to say it's not a problem. Another issue I've had with my current bag is not being long enough, even with the long size I sometimes compress the down in the foot box and freeze my poor toes. Initial "lying down in REI" tests suggests adequate length for this bag.

The cost is of course a problem, even with an REI 20% off coupon it comes in at $320 (for the long size) and I suspect it will be awhile before they make it onto ebay. My only hope is the odd design will be off-putting to a few early adopters and one will magically fall into my hands at another sidewalk sale.
Hey, thats how I got pretty much everything else I own.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Backpack grab handles

Most backpacks have a grab handle, something to grab the pack and manhandle it around like a suitcase. The bulk of these handles seem to fit into one of two camps:

1) The "sewn-to-the-top" handle
classic Blackhawk 3-day pack

Seen on panel loaders, this is just sewn onto the top are of the pack. Works fine for smaller packs.

2) the "sewn-into-a-seam" handle
Goruck pack

Seen on most everything not a panel loader (and some of those too). Must be suitably reinforced on larger packs.

Some variants on the theme:
ILBE assault pack, sewn-to-the-top but anchored into some seams

MOLLE II ruck, handle is actually anchored in the direction that force is applied to the seam. Also anchored into two separate pieces of webbing that spread the force over a wide area.

My favorite so far, and the inspiration for this inane post:
Look closely, the entire handle is set into the dished out "head-room" area (is there a real name for that spot?) and is anchored to the pack at an angle (like the direction that force is applied to the pack through the handle). The handle is also a nice tubular webbing stuffed with something squishy (plain old webbing kind of sucks for picking up a 60lb pack).
I first noticed this handle on my wife's REI Venus 75 pack, and then later on my own REI XT-85. While the grab handle isn't all that important this is the sort of small detail that not only makes using the product slightly more pleasant but shows an intentionality of design that I appreciate. If the rest of the backpack sucked I probably never would have noticed this feature, but added together with many other features REI has risen considerably in my mind from being the "house brand" to a serious contender in the pack market.