Thursday, October 5, 2017

General Hiking Gear Vendor Review

In the last 18 months I have been wrapping my head around all things hiking, camping and survival. At some point I became obsessed with The 5 C's of Survival and then the Rule of 3s. At some point the 5 C's because the 10 C's but in the end every hiker should at least know these rules and concepts because a disaster is always just around the corner or one wrong step.

Cut
Cordage
Combustian
Cover
Container
3 minutes without air
3 hours without shelter
3 days without water
3 weeks without food

Keep in mind that the rule of 3 has more to do with "at rest" because if you were on the move or hiking then you are burning calories and water. The AMA makes certain recommendation about the amount of water per day at rest and while active. Most hikers talk about 1L of water per 4 miles. Ultralight stoveless hikers do not generally carry metal containers but maybe they should just in case they need to boil water etc.

And I ask myself "Why Ultralight?". Well it's a pretty simple answer. The lighter the gear you carry the more gear you can actually carry. Which really means the more food and water. And without taxing your physical reserves.

Now to the point of the post. I have been reading posts and watching gear reviews since the obsession started. My first purchase was a hammock and tarp from Yukon Outfitters. This was followed by 45L dry backpack weighing 2.5 lbs with crappy sternum strap, side pockets. While I was waiting for my pack to be repaired Customer service was good but shortly thereafter they became distracted and the interval between emails got longer and longer. I do not consider this a good purchase or a good company.

So now that you know where I'm coming from let's look at the list of gear vendors I have in my browser's bookmarks and my impressions... this is as much as a review as an exercise to help me reduce the size of my list.

The North Face - I think this company is meant for 4 season events. One of the tents sells for $5500. It seems that there is some brand confusion as to what is meant for fashion and what is meant for "pro" adventure... and don't tell me you need to look good climbing K1. This is not a hiker brand.

Sierra Designs - has some A-1 ambassadors like Andrew Skurka. Their products are on the pricier side and inline with the other vendors in the this space. $199 for a 2 person 3 season tent. Any price variation seems to be in materials. The most interesting item in their collection is a backcountry bivy. Depending on your mission objectives you hike, eat, and sleep so there is mot much else needed in the way of a tent and at 16oz for the long/wide it seems like a nice solution.

Six Moon Designs - I have one of their tents and I like it. It's light and uses a trekking pole for support. The seam-sealing is kinda amateur and it seems the tents are made overseas with low quality. These tents are in the $199 range for 1 P tent. Also an expensive tent... and one I regret.

Bear Paw Wilderness Designs - I have a bunch of John's gear and for the most part my experience has been good. Other have complained about his customer service and the quality of the product and I cannot disagree. From time to time he has been less than informative and I can see where the seams are sloppy. The designs vary and he does offer different materials and customization are reasonable.

REI - has a reputation for awesome customer service. But it comes at a price.

Marmot - cannot decide whether they are a clothing company or an equipment company. Their tents are $200+ range for a 2P 3 season tent. and they are super heavy clocking in at over 5lbs.

Sea To Summit - has a good story to tell, however, they are nearly 2x the price of the $199. Their bug tent and tarp costs $400. Their sleeping pads are also 2x what is reasonable and light weight,

Outdoor Vitals - the new kid on the block with a reasonable price for their hammock and tarp. Their 2.5P 3 season tent is $200+ but is better thought out than the others. Their sleeping bags are ok if you are average sized. I have synthetic long model, it packs big and weighs a lot. A very bad purchase.

Tarptent - made in america and it costs $300+ for a 2P 4 season tent. I do not see where the extra season is worthy of an extra $100.

ZPacks - people love this company. I'm sure they are great but since everything it made out of cuben fiber it's a premium company. Some months ago they were advertising that they were re-engineering their bivy and it has yet to materialize. I have their Hexamid Pocket Tarp which is very similar to a BPWD and SMD design but weighs 4.5oz. It's also not very rugged. Cuben fiber is not as robust as the other materials so you have to decide whether you are willing to pay for it twice.

Gossamer Gear - In the price for performance and weight category this one comes out on top.

Platypus - they have some good ideas and have improved on the design but CNOC has done a better job.

Camelbak - just junk. I suppose if I had a clean water source and was riding a bike or a short course... does not feel hiker friendly after using the others.

Klymit - awesome sleeping mattress. It's my go to. I also have several packs. If I thought I needed a sleeping bag I would go with them. Although I wish the nech was bigger.

Outdoorsman Lab - among the lowest priced. Their inflatable mattresses are excellent. The sleeping bag is meant for average or smaller persons.

Palante Packs - expensive boutique pack. I'm just not that kind of hiker.

Dutchware - plenty of spare parts and tools for DIY. But unless you have some skills this is a waste of money. Better to make better decisions.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear - expensive and bad customer service.

Mountain Laurel Designs - so expensive there are no meaningful reviews.

Big Agnes - slightly more than average expensive. There is a 1P model that seems to get plenty of attention.

Mountain Safety Research (MSR) - Cascade Designs - These guys are a conglomerate and that means rules and no room for creative thinking.

Xero Shoes - My feet love zero drop shoes. These guys make a hiking shoe that looks more like a casual shoe. It's on my list.

Altra Shoes - awesome shoes. I have several pairs. Fantastic Customer service.

Exped - 2-3x expensive. Just stay away,

Appalachian Ultralight - too custom.

Ultimate Direction - they make packs and other running gear, however, they just released a tarp and bivy. The price is in the same $400 range for both; but the weight is awesome!

Rab - among the lowest priced.

Paria - among the lowest priced. I returned my purchase because it was cheaply made.

Kelty - heavy and expensive. The tarps are reasonable for what they are but reserved for car camping.

Osprey - kinda heavy for what it is. They have one waist belt configuration I want to try.

2Go Systems - Great systems. I have several of their products with more on order. Their bivy makes great sense when combined with a tarp, bugnet and mattress.

CNOC Outdoors - Their dirty water bag makes the most sense. Specially since they did not isolate Sawyer. I have 2 on order.

Lodge Cast Iron - Better for car camping or cooking in the backyard.

Eco Zoom Stove - these stoves are nice but better for longer period car camping and certainly not hiking. I like the potential for helping developing countries and disaster relief. It would have been nice if they stepped up after Harvey, Irma, or Maria.

Coleman - when you do not care how much it weighs.

UPDATE: Enlightened Equipment -  the recon bivy looks like a top notch bivy. It seems better than my Bear Paw Wilderness Designs,

I did not realize how long this was going to take me. It's certainly not a complete list of all of the gar vendors; rather the place I have been. In the end a tarp, mosquito net or tent; mattress and a simple bivy is all I need. This is Florida after all.

another bad day for open source

One of the hallmarks of a good open source project is just how complicated it is to install, configure and maintain. Happily gitlab and the ...