Review – ULA Circuit

At one point I had five packs.  I have finally paired it down to three, but there is one pack I keep going back to over and over again for day hikes, weekends and longer trips.  The 55L ULA Circuit.    This pack looks a bit different, especially if you typically buy the standard Osprey, Deuter or Gregory packs at MEC or REI.  I love my Deuter 70L and my Deuter 35L but this is the one I keep reaching for…

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What makes this pack unique?

  1. 41oz (1100g) – most packs you normally find in this size are 50-70oz.
  2. Roll top closure – most packs cinch and have a bran that sits on top.
  3. Lots of straps and huge side pockets.
  4. A front pouch that seems at times to be a  bottomless pit.
  5. Option at purchase to pick size and hip belt shape.

This bag is not for everyone, it does not have a frame.  Instead it has a carbon fiber hoop and an aluminum stay that is curved.  Also, it has a weight limit suggestion of 35lbs which means you should be a pretty light packer.

For my big twelve day trip recently, I went over the recommended weight limit of 35lbs as I had 12 days of food at 16lbs.  Day one, 12 miles, 4500ft and 41lbs of gear, was it comfortable? No.  Did I make it? Yes.  By day two, I had figured out that packing my inflatable sleeping mat folded between my back and my bear can prevented the discomfort of the bear can poking into my back.  By day three, I was probably around 38lbs and was feeling no discomfort.  Every day after that, I had zero issues and I became the master of packing that pack.

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How I Packed my bag changed as I learned what worked, here is my final system with a full Bearikade Expedition:

  • Put all my down gear, sleep clothing, and down bag loosely in a garbage bag and stuff to the bottom.
  • Slide in the canister but ensure to position it in the middle (there will be a lot of space on either side.
  • Take the sleeping mat and fold it into a large rectangle and slide it down the back of the bear canister to keep it off your back
  • Slide different gear down the sides of the canister (like rain gear etc;) taking care to make sure the canister stays center.
  • Tent in one side pouch
  • Tent stakes in other side pouch with 1L smart water bottle and optionally filled 1L platypus also fits there.
  • Every other odd and end in the front pouch (fuel, map, first aid).  Foam mat and flip flops were under the para-cord
  • Solar panel tied using back up laces to the roll top enclosure to hang off.

Note: Future me has switched from a two person tent to a one person Six Moon Lunar that is a) smaller and b) uses a stake.  I might try to put it in the bag.

Note 2: Future me has procured some ultra light smart water bottle holder that can hang off the front straps of the pack.  Again freeing up one of the side pouches – so many possibilities!

As I go lighter and lighter in my gear this pack is everything I ever wanted ❤

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Review – GooseFeet Gear Balaclava and Booties

Love love love!  If I had to write three words to describe this purchase.  If I had to choose only one, down booties easily!  The feeling of slipping into a pair of down booties after wiping my feet with a wet wipe and feeling the very soft shell on them after a long day’s hike was just exceptional.  Eleven days in the high sierra and they are now a valuable part of my regular cold weather gear packing list!

The booties: I purchased here

Goosefeet Down Booties

I went with 100% overfill and a bright purple colour to find them easily in my pack.  They have an elastic around the ankle and feel thin but silky soft and comfortable.

They weigh a measily 2.68oz (76g) and compress to almost nothing.

The balaclava weighs 1.97 (56g) – I really like it as well, especially if you sleep with a quilt or a bag that is not a full mummy bag.  Those cold mornings you can cinch it real tight when you are getting ready.  Definitely not a fashion piece but is super warm!

Here is a silly picture from when they first arrived to my house… I cinched the drawstring up real tight and was channeling my inner Kenny from South Park 🙂

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Update: Gear Review – Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System – Inline System!

I did a gear review recently for the Blue Desert SmarTube Hydration System, that was very favourable.  I decided to go ahead  and order a second one to modify for use as my inline system for my upcoming Big SEKI Loop (which I have now dubbed the Big Sexy Loop 🙂 )

I measured the tubing so the portion in the bottle would fit in both my 1L Platypus and my 1L SmartWater bottle (used and recommended because it is super light and the shape fits very nicely in packs, as well as durability), all the way to the bottom.  I then left a small amount to go through the bottle cap thread connector, and made my cut there.

The tubing fit easily over my Sawyer Mini, on the “dirty” side, and then I shortened the tube so that the distance from the Sawyer Mini to my mouth was reasonable (it’s a bit too long to start).  The mouth piece side of the tube slid easily but firmly over the Sawyer Mini clean side.

The beauty of this set up, is the ease of just grabbing “dirty” water and continuing on. The suction through the Sawyer mini is perfectly fine and sipping water has no issues. Removing the hoses from the Sawyer Mini can be a tad challenging (I use the non sharp side of the knife to pry it down).  Fortunately, if you keep your water sources choosy, you shouldn’t need to back flush too often.

I have tried it now on a couple weekend hikes and day hikes with no issues. I will be taking this setup with me on a 10-14 day trip to really test it out.

Happy Hiking!

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!

 

 

 

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