Monday, August 25, 2008

New Backpacking Gear Put to Test in Goat Rocks Wilderness

Photo by David Bitton

I just got back from a three-day, two-night backpacking trip in my neighborhood high country, the Cascade Range of Washington State. My brother David Bitton and I tagged along with a group of Scouts on their annual adventure trek. The trail head was Lily Basin, and the destination was Heart Lake, well within the borders of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. I decided to test some new gear on the trip. Along for the ride was:

A 3 Day Assault Pack from Mystery Ranch in Bozeman, Mont. The bag was recently put into service by the U.S. Navy SEALs.

A Stealth down backpacking quilt from Jacks R Better in Yorktown, Virginia. RJB gear is popular among ultralight folk, especially those who enjoy hammock camping.

A Satellite Messenger from SPOT in Milpitas, Calif. This little GPS device provides peace of mind not for the adventurer carrying it, but for those at home who want to know said adventurer is OK.

A pair of SOLE Platinum Sandals from SOLE Custom Footbeds in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The company's heat-moldable orthotic shoe insoles cradle feet and improve posture. Now that same technology is in the open air, and catching on fast among the outdoor crowd.

The pack is not lightweight, but it is small, perfect for preventing me from taking too much stuff with me. The bag is overbuilt and guaranteed for life.

The quilt was magnificent. It can compress to about the size of a Nalgene bottle, but I chose not to abuse the 800-fill down feathers. In the pack, I kept the Stealth quilt about the size of a box of cereal.

The SPOT Satellite Messenger was used in two different modes. One is the "OK" mode, which sends a message via e-mail or text message to those you input on the company's website when you press the OK button. That worked perfectly. But the tracking feature, designed to "ping" a satellite every 10 minutes while in tracking mode, worked best in wide-open areas.

Since the Pacific Northwest is pretty much forested, there were a lot of attempted pings from my SPOT unit that never found a satellite. The unit hung from my shoulder strap most of the time. Next trip, I'll put the SPOT unit on top of my pack. Hopefully that will improve performance in tracking mode.

And finally, the SOLE Platinum sandals.  I picked these up at the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show earlier this month, and haven't been without them since.  Who would have thought that flip-flops could become their favorite "shoes?"  My feet are flat, and without support, begin to ache within hours.  The SOLE Platinum sandals feel better and better the more I wear them.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Jacks R Better Down Quilt at Outdoor Retailer

This morning on my way to a meeting with Rickshaw Bagworks, I was stopped in my tracks by a booth touting down-filled backpacking quilts. My short, roundish body doesn't fit well in a mummy bag, a problem I'd temporarily solved when I got a fully rectangular MontBell Thermal Sheet four or five years ago. But the problem came right back when, during Primal Quest San Juan Islands, I gave my Thermal Sheet to an athlete in need, and never saw it again.

So today when I saw this thing -- a fully rectangular down backpacking quilt -- there was little meditation required. I bought one from the two Jacks who run Jacks R Better. It'll be shipped to my house some time next week. Hopefully that Primal Quest athlete who made off with my fully rectangular Thermal Sheet isn't reading this. Wouldn't want him to intercept my package!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I'll Take the Stairs

What do you do when you're in Salt Lake City a day-and-a-half early for the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show? Go visit friends! Years ago, I went to journalism school with Mark Reece, now a senior editor at the Deseret News. The paper has a relatively new building, and I hadn't been in before. For me, the highlight was the staircase of the nine-story building. It has what I can only describe as floor-to-ceiling windows, for the entire height of the building. After a brief visit with Mark in the fourth floor lobby, I was on my way to the elevator to leave when I decided to see the view from the top of the staircase. The photo above is it. I didn't set foot in the elevator again. Like a lot of Deseret News staffers I saw today, I told myself, I'll take the stairs.