Gear Review – Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System

Gear Review – Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System

This past weekend I was able to review the Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System

This was a relatively inexpensive piece of gear that I think deserves a good review.   At only $23 CDN, and available on Amazon Prime, this is an easy way to add a hydration tube to your gear without dealing with a bladder.  I really like the fact that it comes with different attachments, a bite valve and a on off switch.   It is manufactured in Israel, and seems to be well made and didn’t have a funny taste.

The three different sized lids fit Nalgene bottles, and regular water bottles of different diameters.  A very simple setup where each lid ultimately stacks.   One thing I wish the kit included was a few inches of velcro material to secure it to your pack.  It works with my current ULA Circuit but it would be just a nice little bonus.

Here is what is included:

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Suction wasn’t too difficult and I found I stayed much more hydrated.   One thing I would like to try in the future is cutting the tube and hooking it up to my sawyer straw, and having it as an in-line filter.

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Happy Hiking!

Review – ZPacks 20F Sleeping Bag

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My bag and I basking in the sun in Peru!

I got the ZPack 20F bag after a trip to New Zealand with my Kelty 30 degree synthetic bag.  I was cold.   I typically travel solo so don’t share a tent, also women tend to sleep colder then guys…  especially in a two person tent!  I was so done with my sleeping bag and had recently been reading about through hiking and knew there were a lot of good ultra light gear out there.

I ordered my ZPacks 20F bag when living in Seattle, I knew I needed this bag before my hiking trip circuiting the Cordillera Huayhaush mountain range in Peru.  I would be at altitude and it would be cooler at night.  I emailed them asking if they would be able to send me one before my departure (about 3-4 weeks out).  ZPacks replied within the day and said they would definitely be able to, fantastic customer service!

The bag shipped fairly quickly and I was amazed with how tiny it was.  The bag is approximately 16 oz.  The material is thin but it is easy to get in and out of the ultra light stuff sack it comes with.  I am amazed at how tiny it becomes.   For multi day hikes, I do not use the stuff sack and just throw my sleep system in the bottom of my pack in a trash liner and let everything just squish it down.

Going from a standard REI/MEC sleeping bag, to an ultra light option was my first ‘taste’ of how awesome some of this gear could be!  (Cue sound of cash registers ding ding ding good bye money).

This bag is not your traditional mummy bag.  There is no hood portion to the bag and when you tighten the drawstring, it brings it in (for me), around my eyes… but I am shorter at 5’6″.   I found at first it was a bit tricky to get used to.  In mummy bags I always toss and turn and then wake up with the back of the hear part covering my face and just in general feeling uncomfortable and tangled.  I did not feel that way with the ZPacks bag.  I would try to sleep with the zipper under me but if it twisted or whatever I was no worse for wear.   In the summer I stick my feet in the foot box area of the bag and use it like a quilt.  I find I am perfectly toasty.

I do use a liner – ultimately I regret not going with the 10F bag.  I think the rating must be for mostly men or folks who don’t sleep as cold as I do.  I am considering emailing them to see if I could get more fill added but not sure if it can be done.  The added benefit of the liner is for stink management, I hate when sleeping bag’s smell terrible, liners can be washed easily with my regular hiking clothes.

One thing I did procure recently for my upcoming 10-12 day solo circuit hike, was GooseFeet Gear Down balaclava and booties.  I am hoping this will solve my heat issues as well make me really happy.  I will review both of those in the future as it is mid summer right now.

Gear List 1.0 – The Big Three

The big three.  Pack, Shelter, Sleeping Bag.   The evolution of how these items change is, in my experience, due to uncomfortable trips.

I used to have this Kelty synthetic sleeping bag, however I froze my ass off in New Zealand during December 2014 when it snowed on us in the mountains.  First thing I did was sell it on Gear Trade (great site if you are in the U.S, unfortunately after moving back to Canada I don’t get the luxury of this site).

I researched and researched and went with a 20 degree ZPack bag I am fairly happy with this bag, though I wish I did the 10 degree version.  I also found a 0 degree REI bag on craigslist that had been used once for 100 dollars.  I haven’t actually used it yet as my 20F was fine for Rainier and Peru, however I did give it to my husband once when we went camping and he died of over heating 🙂 but I digress.   The ZPack’s bag is super light and fits so small.  I will do a full review on it soon.

My first tent that wasn’t a piece of crap Canadian Tire monster car camping tent was a four season Terra Nova I got on Craigslist for 100 dollars.  It has an issue where the inside of the fly sticks to itself and you have to gently peel it open for it to be spread out, but other then that, the price was a steal.  I am in love with free standing tents at this point in my backpacking adventures.   I know one day I will get a solo ultra light tent but currently free standing is my luxury, as I don’t have the extra cash for a super duper tent.

I sometimes backpack with friends that visit, as I live in the mountains, so I went with the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.  I was really on the fence between it and the Big Agnes Copper Creek UL2 but in the store I made a snap judgement by the feel of the MSR material, it just felt stronger and more durable.   I liked the two doors/vestibules and room to store my gear inside.

Packs – At one point I had 5 packs.  I have recently downsized that list.  A Deuter 35L, Deuter ACT 65+10 and a ULA Circuit pack.    The ULA is by far my favourite of the three, and I will do a review of it at a later time.   Shaving off the weight, and looking super rad!

 

 

 

Well that is out – where to go next?

PCT Section, OCT, Timberline Trail, JMT, WHW, TCT, WCT – alphabet soup!  I have read so much information on each of these treks some of it starts to mix together.  They are all on my bucket list to complete.  I wanted to pick something that would be personally challenging, not too difficult to get a permit, and fairly safe/easy access.

Time of year.  I got two weeks to play with in September, this limits some of the hikes

Pacific Crest Trail section – I was looking at doing some of the sections in Washington.  One was to hike towards the Canadian border then start heading SOBO.  Two reasons this seemed like a good idea – 1) my husband could drop me off and pick me up  2) If I ever wanted to section the whole thing, that one is kind of a pain to start.  I chose against this route though as it would be later in the season, and I wanted a loop if possible.  I was also looking at Section J in WA but some logistics with rides was daunting and I knew my husband did not want to drive 8 hours just to drop me off.

Oregon Coast Trail  and West Coast Trail – I decided I felt I was more longing for a mountain trek and wanted to stay away from the coast.  September can bring more rain, and being on the coast was not what I had in mind.

West Highland Way – Is definitely on my short list of treks to do, but the urge to keep air fare low, and there is so much to do on this continent.  Adding it to the bucket list though!

Teton Crest Trail – This one is also on my short list!  I believe I passed on this one just purely due to accessibility and I will be honest I wouldn’t be able to tell you where Wyoming was without looking at a map.  I hope as I learn and grow as a backpacker that this is one I will be able to one day see!

John Muir Trail – After going through permit anxiety, I did not want to deal with that all over again.  Such a high snow year in the Sierra I knew that there would be more pressure on late season permits.  Yes there are always walkups however I don’t like the idea of buying a plane ticket and not knowing if I will be able to do the hike (see my post about permits :P).  While looking at options in this area around the JMT I stumbled on this beauty of hike:

Big Seki Loop – this trek is around 155 miles and is a full loop,  no need for pesky drop off/pick up shenanigans!  Permit system is easy, and a chunk of the route is on the JMT! I was sold!

 

The big trip v1.0

The big trip v1.0

I initially attempted to get a 93 mile Wonderland Trail Permit this year for September however was unsuccessful.  Having lived in Washington for a couple years, and attempting to summit Rainier in 2016 (stupid altitude sickness around Ingram Flats got the better of me), I felt I could maybe conquer the mountain by circumnavigating it.  It was a very emotional time during the permit season for the Wonderland Trail, which only becomes available March 15th of every year.    You submit your application here, from there you wait two weeks of radio silence while everyone under the sun submits their permits, they have until April 1st.  After that, it is first come first serve if there are available spots.

Now, you would think despite it saying something to the effect of ‘all permits submitted during the March 15th two week window will be looked at in random order’, many of the ladies in the most amazing Facebook Group ever ‘Women of the Wonderland Trail’ submitted their permit the immediate morning that it went live.  I remember staying up until 1-2AM in the morning the night before, with my map spread across my desk trying to figure out how many miles a day and what camps I wanted to stay at.   This was the hardest thing I had done in some time, sitting around in my pajamas with a beer in hand after a winter of doing not much of anything, guestimating how many miles I would walk a day in September ;P

Huge shout out to this amazing trip planner and elevation guide here .  Spending weeks planning my trip it all came down to the night before.  Armed with my map, a beer, and literally 50 tabs open in Chrome with every blog, itinerary, Facebook group, site open, I set out to finalize my itinerary.  My better half knew most of the camp names by the time I was done and he isn’t even going!  After ho-ing and hum-ing til the bitter end, I literally closed my eyes and hit the button.  Submit, deep breath out, and a buzz from my phone stating the automatic email of “your permit has been received”.

Now you would think this would be the easiest part, waiting for the permit but it was far from it for me.  I don’t like to have my life planned to a T per se, but I don’t like unknowns.  If there is an unknown, my goal is to make it known, if that is left out of my hands I am a bit anxious and lost in thought.  By the end of the four weeks Brian probably consoled me and bantered back and forth “what ifs” and “hypotheticals” way more then is healthy!  Four weeks of watching the women’s Facebook group ups and downs of congratulations – I was just so through the moon not only for the women getting their permits but that glimmer of hope that I may be any minute, to impatient fretting.  Welp – I got the big fat “denied”.  I was grateful for closure from the emotional excitement but still bummed out.  Fortunately during that time, I started looking at alternatives…