Just a quick note as I just completely revamped my original Trail Designs Sidewinder Ti-Tri stove with wood-burning Inferno insert. This stove is still my favorite piece of gear after three full years of use. I can’t recommend it more highly unless you just want to boil water and add it to a bag of food (if that’s your style then there are cheaper options). If you want versatile fuel options, the ability to simmer food, and one of the best wood burning stoves out there all weighing in under 5 ounces, then check it out.
I am starting to catch up on some of my incomplete gear reviews, and recently posted new reviews on Trailspace (with links on my Gear Review page) for the new 2017 model of the Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel stove and two utensils: the Humangear Gobites Duo spoon-fork combo and the Vargo Titanium Folding Spork. All are solid pieces of gear and good ideas, but may not work for every type of backpacker – see the details of each review to determine if its something of interest. I have added two of these to my regular backpacking kit, but you’ll have to read the reviews to find out which one got left out!
Stay tuned for a few more in the next month as I clean out my gear review backlog to make room for some new gear tests.
I have been backpacking since the mid 1980’s and although a bit older, it is still just as enjoyable to strap a pack on my shoulders and head into the forest or down the trail. Not only enjoyable, but not that much more difficult since I can still do similar miles and climbs. I think this can be attributed to two things:
- My better attention to between trip fitness and training.
- Acquisition of better and lighter gear.
It’s the second one I have been thinking about the last couple of days. My pack weight is now in the mid teens most (3 season) trips, which makes the miles go easier but also allows for some addition of items to make the trip more comfortable (and fitting into my “comfortably light” approach). Several items help buffer my aging body from aches and pains including:
NEMO Astro Air Insulated Lite (19.5 oz) – a full size 3+ inch thick air mattress that provides the most comfortable sleep I have had in over 30 years of backpacking.
REI Trail Chair (20 oz) – a camp chair for my back that lets me relax on the ground or even inside the tent since it doesn’t have legs. My lower back issues make multiple night trips without this a real pain!
Coccoon Ultralight Pillow (3.6 oz) or NEMO Fillo (9.2 oz) – an air or foam/air pillow for the night and chair lumbar support during camp hours. I trade these out depending on the length of trip, preferring the Fillo for short trips but the lighter Coccoon for longer ones. Trailspace reviews are coming soon on both.
Garmin Inreach (6.9 oz) – I compromised with my wonderful wife to allow her to keep track of my wanderings and not worry that I might have twisted an ankle or worse. At first reserved about electronics in the backcountry (I am a traditional map and compass guy), now I enjoy the mapping capabilities of it through my phone. Review is in the works.
Trail Designs Ultralight Glasses (0.1 oz) – doesn’t aid my comfort but these small reading glasses for the trail that help my old eyes see maps and GPS units better without digging out my reading glasses from the pack.
These are the primary items I would never have carried in the past (or carried lighter versions like a mattress), but add so much comfort and enjoyment to my trips that I never leave them behind now.
The additional weight of these items is around 34 ounces (if you assume the air mattress replaces a simple foam pad). This may seem like a lot of excess weight, but I still come in around 17-19 pounds of base weight for 3 season backpacking. Getting a good nights sleep and comfortably lounging around camp are worth way more than the additional weight to me.
One other piece of gear I’ll add often is a bear canister (BV 450 – 31 oz). I bought a couple of different sizes over the years as they are required in a couple of spots I spend a good bit of time. Although close to 2 lbs, I carry it in more places than I would expect as it eliminates the need to hassle with hanging a bear bag, which I used to enjoy but now try to avoid. Lots of people hang bear bags, but I rarely see one hung correctly at wild camp sites without bear bag lines etc already installed. The difficulty of getting it just right (distance from a tree and height on a strong enough limb) is just not worth it to me. Plus, when I get up to make coffee at zero dark thirty, I don’t have to fuss with getting it down. The BV series make handy camp stools as well. I used to not bring the trail chair when I had a canister, but I really need the lumbar support so now use both as a stool and backrest.
Top it off with my conversion to trekking pole use that has made the most difference to my bad knees and increased my mileage by a factor of 1.5 since I started using them. Never mind the number of times they have saved me from a fall!
You can’t stop aging but sure can make it easier in the back country with a little additional weight!
After my much documented 2-month layoff (see my whining in the previous couple of posts!) I managed to get 2 good nights out with the new Tarptent Stratospire I.
Quick summary: I have never like a tent this much on first use!
The Stratospire pitch on the first night was relatively easy (I had practiced at home 3 or 4 times while stuck around the house). While I didn’t have monster winds or any storms or rain to truly test, there was a steady breeze the first night and it barely ruffled the open flaps.
I used a combination of tent stakes for this trip with relatively rocky open ground:
- Aluminum 6 inch Easton stakes (2) – 1 at each pitch-lock end
- Titanium UL nails (4) – at the door/vestibule corners
- Titanium ascent stakes (2) – at the main guy line locations
I carried 4 Y stakes (MSR Groundhog knockoffs) as well but didn’t need them – they usually replace the nails in softer ground. The taughtness of the pitch first time with little adjustment is what impresses me the most. I did have to make sure I set the pitch-lock ends up vertically.
I found it even a little easier the second night in a steady breeze to stake out the rectangle firsts then insert the trekking pole supports through the roof vents. This allowed me less hassle with getting it right and required only one adjustment to a stake once the tarptent was up.
I had ample room for my gear in each vestibule and my essentials inside the inner netting portion alongside my full size sleeping pad. The only thing lacking for me personally in my organizational camp habits was a small door pocket to keep my headlamp and glasses (a long habit of mine). I am planning to add that myself. Having my entry/exit on one side and my cooking area on the other (I was not in bear country) was ideal.
The vestibule space and two doors are one of the key features I like the most, and the flexibility of this was apparent at a hot and sunny campsite on the second night out. I rotated the closure of one half of the vestibule doors around to keep the tent shaded while still allowing critical air flow through the shelter.
Overnight, there was no visible sag, but obviously that is dependent on weather, be it rain, temperature change, or humidity. The Stratospire was so sturdy that I had no concerns running a laundry line from one of the corners.
Breaking down the tent was easy as well – I prefer just for wet weather practice to unhook the inner netting first and pack that away then take down the tarp portion. This goes quickly – the clips on the inner are a little finicky at first but it gets easy with practice.
Condensation was not an issue on this trip as I slept with both doors wide open both nights and left the netting open on the second night as well since the bugs weren’t bad.
I’ll keep testing this summer and into the fall/winter season and provide a post or two once the Stratospire has ridden out some severe weather. And of course I’ll eventually post a complete gear review on Trailspace as usual.
So after much more research and a chat online with Henry from Tarptent, I decided my new tent would be the Stratospire I for several reasons:
- Suitable for folks of my height (6 ft) – although its a little tight compared to my Solong 6 the carbon fiber rods create head room and if I brush against the netting, it’s a double-wall tent so no condensation issues like the Solong single wall section.
- Double walled with removable inner. This is a big advantage over my Solong 6 for trips with multiple days of rain and no time to dry out the tent. I can set up the Stratospire in the rain and then get underneath and set up the inner, as well as pack everything up in the rain and keep it dry before getting out into the weather to take down the wet tent.
- Two doors – I really have got used to having an entrance/exit on my solo tent, and having a second door/vestibule for gear and tent cooking. It’s a luxury that is worth some extra weight to me.
- Large vestibules allow lots of room to dump wet gear outside the inner tent and have at least some drying out in long rainy days.
- MLD Trailstar and Duomid look like great tents as well, but I personally went to the Stratospire so I could have two doors and less bending of my lower back getting in and out compared to the Trailstar (I have constant back issues so this was a major item).
- I liked the weight savings over the Scarp, and Henry said the Stratospire has been used a good bit in Scotland. Therefore, it should suffice for high wind situations assuming I guy it out properly.
The initial back yard setup was a breeze. I got it almost perfectly pitched the first time with minor adjustment in two stakes. The ends with the carbon fiber poles make the setup and adjustment very easy and give a little more head room inside when laying down.
The last week I have played around with different stake types at the different corners to see what works best, and also worked with the trekking pole adapters to see if I prefer the pole handle up or down. The pole adapters work fine, but are a little more finicky during setup so I decided to ditch them and deal with dirty handle tops if that occurs. You have to be careful to make sure the pole tips get in the grommets but the one time I allowed that to slip out the reinforced tent suffered no damage – well constructed!
As far as tent stakes go, I decided to carry two of the long Easton stakes that come with the tent for the ends with the carbon fiber poles, 4 Y stakes and 4 titanium nail stakes for the other corners depending on the rockiness of the ground, and a couple of larger ascent stakes and really light shepherd hook stakes for guying out the lines in different terrain.
On top of that I have seam sealed it twice -once all over, and again on the upper pole grommet stress points. This worked for the most part but not 100% as I still got a drip or two and could see moisture built up in the reinforced area (photo above). I queried Tarptent and Henry suggested that I use the two week old thicker sealant solution without wiping it off after application. I did this and it seemed to work. You can see below that the sealant is inside the seam (dark areas), and this did the trick under another soaking from the hose.
Overall I am very happy with the Stratospire I, in theory, as a balance of weatherproof, room, accessibility, and weight, but have not been able to real-world test it yet…a combination of work deadlines and lower back issues have made me cancel my monthly wilderness trips for now…stay tuned for a full review and update once I get back on the trail!
Just a quick note that three new gear reviews are available on that page…I have time on my hands while stuck in the house with a bad back/sciatica along with a busy work load. New gear reviewed is:
I rarely strap a backpack on for an overnight or longer trip without a flask of my favorite single malt scotch tucked in a side pocket. For this week’s trip, I have decided on The Glenlivet 12 Year.
This is a habit I got into in the 90s and don’t mind the extra weight. Having a daily dram after dinner while watching the stars is a perfect ending to a day in the wilderness.
Some say it’s dangerous to drink in the back country, and I don’t disagree if you over indulge. Excessive alcohol can impair judgement during critical situations and can lower your body temperature and contribute to dehydration. However, a small amount like I enjoy doesn’t seem to make a significant difference even after a long day and in sub freezing temps has not made me noticeably colder (in fact seems to warm me up a bit!). Note that at high altitudes alcohol has a larger effect, so reduce or eliminate it for high mountain trips.
If you are going to carry something to sip on, check out my review of the GSI flask on my Gear Review page and drink responsibly.
And so it begins again…every few years I end up looking around for a new tent. Two basic reasons….one, I enjoy tent shopping from scouring detailed reviews and videos on line to putting together a list of my key features and rating each potential tent’s pros and cons (yes I geek out and use Excel spreadsheets for that). Secondly, there is no such thing as a perfect tent!
I still really like my Lightheart Gear Solong 6. It’s relatively light at 36 ounces (seam sealed but not including stakes), uses trekking poles for support, and is gigantic inside – large enough that my 6 foot frame has ample room and all my gear can go inside as well. The two doors are a must for me – one entry/exit and one for rainy day operations and cooking. This is still my go-to tent for most trips in the southeastern US and many other areas. It’s not the lightest option but really fits my “comfortably light” style of backpacking.
However, this is not the tent I will need for a future trip to Scotland. Whether I get lucky and am accepted into the TGO Challenge to walk across Scotland in 2018 or if I instead go on a solo trip to the highlands of my birth, I am planning to do a lot of training in the high country treeless areas during wind and rain – the only real way to prep for a Scottish walk! The Solong 6 is not the tent for this environment although it has held up well to some significant storms. The awning is great, but it is not enough room for me personally to operate during multiple days of rain.
So here are my thoughts on the new tent for 2017:
- Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Trailstar – this seems like the bomb proof option for Scotland based on many reviews, but it’s only in the top 3 for me right now but hanging in strong due to its unique nature and great reviews. I will probably go visit Ron at MLD sometime to see a Trailstar in person. The livable space is unbeatable, but I have concerns that the low pitch and crawling in and out won’t be great for my lower back issues.
- Pyramid Tent – either the MLD Duomid or another similar tent from other manufacturers. I have looked through several of these but none seem quite to fit my tastes. Lots of really interesting options, but several top contenders were dropped due to issues like no really good shelter area for rainy day cooking or (like the Duomid) a requirement for a pole extension to reach the right height for me.
- Tarptent Scarp 1 – after an initial infatuation with Trailstars, I moved over to the Scarp as my number one choice (it is now second or maybe tied for second with the beautiful Trailstar). This is another bomb-proof option that can be seen in many blogs, videos, and photos of Scottish hiking. I really liked this one and it seemed to fill the gap of Hilleberg without the price tag of those fantastic tents. It weighs 52 ounces though, and that is tough to swallow for a longer trip. On top of that it is a lot smaller than the Trailstar or the Scarp’s cousin the…
- Tarptent Stratospire 1 – this is my current favorite option, but the real details have yet to be analyzed. It seems to bridge the gap of relatively light weight (36 ounces) compared to the Scarp and close to that tents windproof ability. The key to my interest is the vast amount of room – 48 inches height inside, ample inner netted living space, and two large sheltered vestibules with two doors.
So right now as we round the third turn, the Stratospire 1 is in the lead. I can see myself living out of it through multiple wet and dreary days, and on the sunny day(s) I can have both doors wide open for the views that I really enjoy. I’ll update once a final decision has been made but there is still work to be done on all the details, and a couple of tent manufacturers to talk to….always fun and educational as these guys know what they are talking about (and have my dream job)!
I just posted a review on Trailspace (and updated my Gear Review page) of the ULA Ohm 2.0 after a year of solid testing. I really appreciate this pack for its light weight, versatility, and ease of access that it provides. Only downside is the typical sweaty back syndrome common to many packs. Highly recommend the Ohm and it has taken its place as my number one pack on trips up to 5+ days.
Here ends January 2017, and looking forward to some winter hiking in February after a mild start to the year!
Another Trailspace Review Corps test has been uploaded to that site for the UCO Sweetfire Strikeable Fire Starter. This was an interesting one and I struggled with the rating a bit. It attempts to be a match and a fire starter/tinder and does pretty well with both, but as usual when you do too much you can’t do everything as well.