People in the Northwest say that summer starts — and rainy season ends — on July 4. And while we’ve had a lot of sunny days already this year I will say that my manic summer wanderlust feelings have only just kicked into full gear. This year is strange! How is it summer already? Is it already half over? Why am I freaking out? How strong the pull of vitamin D deficient existential dread!
This fall and winter I barely hiked at all, so this backpacking and nightsky photography season should be interesting unless I start running again, which I plan to! My futurewife and I did Couch25K and I had some travel right before the last week and didn’t finish so we’re going to reset in the middle somewhere. Instead of hiking, this winter I took up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with a Portland community college program. Starting in January, I completed about four months of training, with time off to travel in Asia for 3 weeks and to go to A-Camp X (which was great!). I plan to keep BJJ up as soon as 1. I heal a small hand injury and 2. I actually get outdoors some. As a martial art it’s extremely interesting, technical and I felt like I was getting strong toward the end of my training… I really recommend it and am happy I got started!
Between those things, work and moving into a house with Evie, I haven’t had much time to plan adventures yet, but I have been doing a little survey of my outdoor gear: what works, what didn’t and what’s getting upgraded this season. A lot has changed since 2016!
Note: I’m noting the release year of some of my older gear because these models change over time and to assuage my guilt at upgrading my well-loved stuff. Most of what I wear outside hasn’t really changed since late 2016, but clothing will be a post for a different time. I’ll focus here on the “big three” (sleeping bag, tent, pack) and the other items that cost the most, weigh the most and have the biggest impact on your level of misery and/or joy outside.
Backpack: Boreas Buttermilks 55 (2014) —> Deuter Air Contact SL 45 + 10
I’m hesitant to let this strange Boreas pack go, but it’s time. I bought this thing to take it on a trip to Mexico and somehow two years later it became my mountaineering pack and my backpacking pack. I stand by the fact that it’s hella comfy but it’s very wide and unstructured and I need something I can scramble while wearing (scrambling is just hiking with hands!) without worrying about getting caught.
The Deuter looks nice (good colors!), hits my volume sweet spot for a crossover mountaineering/backpacking pack and the little hat (ahem the brain) even comes off to make it a rolltop instead. I love a rolltop. Women seem to like Deuter’s SL women’s line quite a bit though I find their naming schemes and models impossibly confusing so even that was hard to figure out. This thing is wholly untested and I’m nervous about it but i’m sure it’ll be FINE and likely also better. I’ll report back.
Tent: Marmot Limelight 2P (2012) —> Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 MtnGlo
At more than 5 lbs., this older Marmot Limelight is by no means a purpose-built backpacking tent, but I’ve been torturing myself by using it like that for years! Since suffering it up an actual mountainside on a climb of South Sister, Oregon’s third-tallest mountain, I was officially over it. It’s great for car camping, has the cutest color scheme ever IMO (tangerine fly with electric blue poles!) and there will always be a special place in my heart for its teardrop-shaped window.
After retiring the Marmot Limelight 2P to car camping only status, I started experimenting. I tried the Outdoor Research Bug Bivy, $89 out on a solo backpack for two nights in Goat Rocks, Washington but quickly realized 1. that I love a traditional freestanding tent 2. bivies are terrifying. (Is that even the plural? It looks wrong.) I’ve spent hundreds of nights sleeping outdoors but I still don’t cowboy camp without a tent either. For me, nesting in a tent on the edge of the world is half the fun of camping.
After failing my bivy trial I upgraded (i.e. exchanged) my tiny death trap for the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL, a popular one-person freestanding ultralight tent. I camped with it for most of the late 2016 season and on into 2017, but ultimately it just didn’t provide enough space for me. I found myself relieved to return to the Marmot Limelight 2P any time I was car camping.
Finally, last September I traded in again (no I don’t usually abuse REI’s return policy I AM AN HONEST PERSON) and treated myself to the two-person Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 MtnGlo tent. This is a higher capacity tent with a body redesign from the previous year and the special edition MtnGlo version ditches that burnt orange which is one of my not favorite colors. Did I mention that it has built-in LED lighting? It has built-in LED lighting. Sounds ridiculous but it only adds an ounce or so and you can leave the light attachment at home when you need to shed ounces.
I took this thing out a few times last year, once in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and another time on a climb of Broken Top, out in central Oregon. Since then I’ve car camped with it and so far it’s easy to set up, weatherproof and great for morale!
Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware Lamina 20 (2012) —> Enlightened Equipment Revelation, 850 fill down, 10 degree quilt
This is the scary one. I’ve camped for hundreds of nights in my Mountain Hardware Lamina 20 and only been uncomfortably cold probably twice, even frequent subalpine environments. I don’t mind keeping a piece of reliable gear for a decade if it works, but in the last few years more and more gear designers are realizing that mummy-style bags (tight body with a hood) are totally awful if you’re not a back sleeper. I probably couldn’t even sleep on my back if you knocked me unconscious, so the promise of a better way was just too much to resist.
Yesterday I gave in and custom-ordered the Enlightened Equipment Revelation 10 degree quilt. Last year, I got to check out a PCT hiker friend’s Enlightened Equipment Convert sleeping bag and I immediately fell in love with how soft and light it was. Still, this feels like a leap of faith. After realizing that high quality down doesn’t seem to make me allergic and plenty of places source their feathers ethically, I’ve only just started buying down outdoor gear occasionally.Synthetic materials are great for wet environments but can’t compete with down’s lightweight floofiness and that’s what I’m betting on here. Wish me luck, because I picked a clashy camoflauge and aegean blue shell that means if I have to resell this thing it’s gonna get weird. Still, it can’t be as ugly as this one!!
Sleeping Pad: Exped Synmat Basic 7.5 (2012) —> Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite
At almost 1.5 pounds, my Exped Synmat is kind of heavy, but other than that it’s been a total dream. After six years of sleeping on it, I’ve never been cold and it’s never lost even a tiny but of air as far as I can tell. I can’t recommend this sleeping pad enough. It’s so rare to have something just work this well over six years of regular use and at least two years of heavy use. This one will be reluctantly retired, with distinguished honors, to my car camping setup.
Last year I finally picked up one of the bright yellow Neo Air sleeping pads everyone is always on about. I’ve only used it once so far, so I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. I will say that I slept in sub-freezing temperatures while snow camping and I wasn’t cold with the NeoAir, so that’s something, though since I’m used to my plush, warm Exped, I didn’t expect to be cold. So far this thing is noisy as heck, like wildly crinkly, but I’m told that goes away over time. The other mountaineers I camped with on that trip told me I could pick up a specially designed sheet for it that helps a lot, but carrying an extra thing seems pretty silly. Someone else told me that if you just unfold and refold it a lot, the crinkling gets better. This thing is well loved by anyone who can’t back-sleep on a thin, foam mat, but after years of being spoiled as a stomach and side sleeper on my Exped I’m not sure how I’ll adjust.
With the exception of the ultralight quilt which takes 3-5 weeks to arrive, I should have some experience with all of this stuff in a month’s time. Look for reviews then!