Friday, 21 November 2014

Gear Review

Well after nearly 600 km of some pretty diverse and at times challenging terrain I think I can now give a gear review with a bit of confidence.

ZPacks Arcblast 60 l. This is a cubin fibre pack that weighs 572 g inclusive of all extras added. I have added 2 x Hip pockets,  stabiliser straps,  walking pole holders and have it in small back and medium hip belt.

I love this pack.  When i first put it on a strap broke because of a mistake in stitching. Zpacks appologised and gave me $25 instantly to compensate for having to stitch it up and offered to replace the strap once my walk was over. I stitched it up by hand with waxed thread and it has held up fine.

After that initial mishap I was unsure about how it woud go but I love everything about the pack and wouldn't change a thing with the design.  Right from the start I found it really comfortable.  The most I have had in it was 14 kg and even at that weight it was great.  I tend to have a 1/3 shoulder 2/3 hip waist distribution by preference. One day my back gave a twinge so I tightened the hip belt and all the weight came off my shoulders.  The frame keeps the pack shape stay solid and takes the weight into the hip belt. The shoulder straps are comfortable as are the hip belt and back mesh.  You are meant to curve the carbon fibre stays which spreads the mesh back pad from the pack creating airflow but I often forget.  I find it comfortable either way.

The size of the pack is perfect and I have spare room for when I need to add more food for longer legs but I can cinch it in with the side compression cords and just roll the top down more to make it smaller.  I thought I would find the roll top closure system annoying but I haven't

The front mesh is where I store my wet weather jacked and hat.

The side pockets are easy to reach when wearing the pack. I like the small drainage hole to let the rain drain out.

The hip pockets are brilliant.  In one I keep my PLB, phone,  notepad and camera.  The other has my wallet,  toilet paper,  camera mount and snacks.  They have a waterproof zip and have stayed perfectly dry in all the rain.  It isn't until I took them fully underwater that they leaked.

The inside of the pack stayed dry through rain and deep river crossing.

Overall I am really happy with the pack.

ZPacks Solo Hexamid.  Cubin Fibre (I asked for the heavier weight fabric). Weight including stuff sack and pegs is 529 g. This tent uses walking poles as the tent poles.

I am really happy with this tent.  It is easy to put up,  even in the wind (as long as the pegs can go in the ground). It has not leaked at all.  Condensation is often a problem with single walled tents but I have only had this issue two nights,  both times when I set up with no airflow. The great thing is because cubin fibre doesn't absorb water I just wipe the tent with a cloth and it is dry.  This benefit means after rain I just shake the tent and all the water flies off.  The remaining moisture dries really quickly.  Because it does not absorb water it is not heavier to carry after rain like other tents.  Also I don't need to worry about touching the tent walls when it is raining a the water does not sink through. The final benefit is cubin fibre dies not stretch so there is no sag sitting the night or with heavy rain.

The size is very comfortable for me.  My general routine is to empty my pack every night into one end of the tent and tuck my pack under one of the door flaps with my shoes.  I set up my mattress and that takes up 3/4 of the tent leaving about 50 cm above my head for my gear.  On each side of my mattress is about 15 cm.

The door is an arc with a double zip.  This means I can open it right up and sit in the door. I generally sit in the door and lean out to set up my cooker.  In the rain I reached under the door flap to use the cooker but there is room to do it over the flap if you wasted to risk it.
In good weather I can roll up both sides and there is enough overlap that this would be okay for light rain.  However as it has been cold most nights I have both doors down.

There is more than enough headroom fit me to sit upright.  In fact there is about 20 cm extra headroom.  I have my trekking poles at the recommended height.  If the weather got really crappy I could lower the poles to reduce the gap beween tent and ground.

I am liking my peg combination.  The tent needs a minimum of 6 pegs but 8 is better.  I carry 6 titanium normal (i think 3 mm) diameter pegs and 4 titanium v pegs which are better for soft ground.

Sleeping Bag
ZPacks 5.9" normal width -7degree 900 fill water repellent down weighs 523 g including stuff dry bag.  I liked that I could choose the size of the bag so I wasn't carrying around extra weight.  The Pertex liner is silky and water beads off it when I accidentally spilt some water on it.

The clip at the top of the zip is good to stop the zip slipping open.

My only complaint with the bag is the is no way I would be comfortable below 0 degrees in this when it is rated -7.  I am normally a warm sleeper but I have been cold when the temperatures are below 10 degrees (the coldest night was 7 degrees and I had to put themal top on).  I was wondering if maybe I was given the wrong rated bag as I expected it to be warmer.

Thermarest Neo Xlite Womens (348 g)

I have had no issues with this once I learnt not to inflate it too much.  I use a rubbish sack to inflate it which keeps condensation out and is easier than blowng it up myself.  It is easy to get the air out and takes no effort to roll up small again. I remember the first time I unpacked it thinking there is no way I will roll it up that small again but it is easy.  In reviews there were issues with crinkling nose and slipping around on tent floor but I have had no issues with either problem. Overall it provides a good thick buffer from any bumps, socks or stones underneath.

MSR Pocket Rocket.  Easy to use and fast.  Love it. Still have at least a quarter of a canister left after 2 boils a day for 19 days (remainder of meals purchased).

Evernew Titanium 900ml (109 g).
Great.  Handles stable and don't heat up.

Walking Poles 
Black Diamond Pro Trek Women.  Fantastic.  Love these poles.  They have not slipped once and are easy to extend/retract which I do every night to get them ready for use as tent poles.  The handles are comfortable and the straps comfortable.  These are an extension of me when walking.  Going up hills they help to haul me up the hills.  Going down they take a large portion of my weight to save my knees.  On the flat they help propel me along. Without my poles I would have fallen numerous times.

Inov8 Rocklite 295.  On the tracks I love these shoes.  They are light and have excellent grip.  I found them comfortable right from the start and survived 90 Mile Beach with only a tiny pre blister which I got on the last day when I didn't empty the sand from my socks after a river crossing.

My issue with then is on roads.  They are minimalist shows and do not have much cushioning underneath and after a while I could feel the lugs when on roads. I find my feet henge Street a lot of road walking. Also they have small holes in the fabric after less than 600 km.  I think I will go back to this type of shoe when I get to the south  island with less roads.  For now these have been retired and replaced with Solomon XA Pro 3D.

Icebreaker Merino GT long sleeve with stand up collar (loss cycling Jersey). I love this top. I initially wanted a short sleeve top but am happy I now got the long sleeve as it gives me more flexibility for temperature control.  The zip at the front helps with this too.  I like the standpoint collar for the sun protection it gives my neck.  The top dries really quickly and wicks away moisture nicely. out is also doing a good job with smell management.

Icebreaker Merino.  Comfortable,  dries quickly and doesn't smell.

Icebreaker Merino Racer.  Comfortable,  dries quickly and wicks away sweat so didn't feel wet when I am sweating.

Icebreaker Merino Tramping lowcut. Love these socks.  Fit perfectly and dry quickly.  After going through water my feet don't feel wet after about a minute.  They did start wearing over my little toe but Icebreaker has a lifetime guarantee and Bivouac exchanged them instantly.

Camera Mount
I adapted a mountain bike camera mount by Chipping of the strap and some of the mount.  This has left me with a very light swivel mount that I attach with Velcro.  I attach on top of my pole to use as a tripod and I can attach to the bottom of my trekking pole to take selfies.

Rain Skirt
I am using a drawstring rubbish sack and this is a great lightweight way to keep my shorts dry in the rain.

Window Insulation Film (brought from Mitre 10).  While my tent for is waterproof and fairly robust I like to use a ground sheet to keep my floor clean and it did add an extra layer of protection and peace of mind.  I am more willing to pitch my tent on rough ground with my sheet.  

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