Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: gear talk

OAC Kar 147 – Initial Impressions & Comparison

All new Finnish made outdoor products are rare. Especially interesting and well working ones. This post is about one of the gems: OAC Kar 147 backcountry skis, or fastshoes, i.e. something between a snowshoe and a ski. In the post there is some background information, some numbers, my initial impressions and comparison to the Altai Skis Hok 145 the “original gliding snowshoes”.

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OAC Kar 147 – the gliding snowshoe goes backcountry ski?

Not a ski, not a snowshoe but something in between. Natives of the Northern areas have always used also shorter skis with climbing skins for certain needs and inspired by the short skis of the natives of the Altai mountain the US-based company (with production somewhere overseas) introduced the Altai Skis Hoks: 125cm and 145cm long short and wide skis with permanent skin inserts. I had a pair of the 125cm model for test and published my initial impression on the blog about a year ago. In short: I liked them a lot. Loads of fun and good tools for forested areas in winter.

The Finnish importer of the Altai Skis is OAC and they wanted to change some aspects of the skis which soon lead to the birth of two updated skis based on the idea of the Hoks. The OAC still imports and sells Altai Skis Hoks but now they also produce and sell their own skis: Hok 145 like OAC Kar 147 and  more XCD-ski styled OAC TAO XCD 160 – both designed and made in Finland! The TAO XCDs I wish to test later this winter when OAC gets the production running but this post is about the Kar 147.

The OAC skis are marketed as “backcountry skis” and the Altai Hoks as “original gliding snowshoes” and this seems to be somewhat true when comparing the Kar 147s to Hok 145s: the latter are a bit closer to snowshoes while the first are a bit more ski-like. Both are still in a category of their own being very short (for a XC-ski), quite wide and having permanent skin inserts.

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Tools for travel: Madshus VOSS 205cm, OAC Kar 147, Altai Hok 145 and Atlas 730.

OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – side by side

Dimension-wise the OAC Kar 147s are quite close to the Hok 145s. The Kars are nominally the 147cm long and the Hoks 145cm long.  The width is about the same (measured without any precision instruments): 128mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Kar and 124mm – 110mm – 122mm for the Hok. Both have also permanent skin inserts, full steel edges, a bit of camber, nicely raised tip and also some raise in the tail.

There are also differences: The most notable difference is different placement of the binding. On the Kar 147s the binding is placed so that the pivot of the X-Trace binding (or the pinline in 75mm NN binding) is on the balance point. On the Hok 145s the binding is considerable more forward, approximately about 10cm in front of the balance point. (In the Hok 125s bindings are placed on the balance point.)

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Other differences include:

– Different tip and tail design: The tip of the Kar 147 is wider and doesn’t raise as much as the tip of the Hoks.
– The Kar 147s are also little bit wider on the tip, only about 4mm but wider anyway.
– And (something I consider important) the Kar 147s have about double the camber the Hok 145s have, when you strap the Kars together they fit a standard match box between them easily, the camber of the Hoks is about half of that.

Both feel about equally stiff though the Kars have more initial flex before stiffening towards the end when being pressed flat against hard surface. I assume this is because of more camber providing a longer flex range.

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The Hok 145s weight 1892g per ski with the X-Trace Pivot bindings . The Kar 147s weight 1790g each with the same binding meaning the Kars are 100g lighter per ski. They are listed to weight 1150g without any bindings but as mine are clued on so can’t check.

OAC Kar 147 vs. Altai Skis Hok 145 – in real life

I haven’t had time to do very thorough testing (in my opinion that would take at least one whole winter season with varying use and conditions) with the Kar 147s and Hok 145s but I’ve used them enough to get on idea how they perform in deep soft snow and on packed trail in rolling, forested terrain. Both of the skis are equipped with X-Trace Pivot universal bindings and I’ve used them with Meindl hiking boots and Sorel winter boots. More on the binding to be written later…

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N zig-zagging up about 25-30 degree slope. She hates steep stuff on normal skis but is quite comfortable with the Hoks and Kars.

I’ve skied around in gently rolling forests and flat swamps with deep soft snow, pulled sled on the track and off the track, climbed 25-30 degree slopes with soft snow and skied them down doing turns with my bad technique – and had fun all the time! And that is what the Hoks and Kars are about in my opinion: fun tools for winter travel.

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Me going up…

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… and trying some telemark on the way down.

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And coming down again. Damn it’s fun!

The Hok 145s feel and act like the Hok 125s but being longer there is more surface area and thus they provide better floatation, a nice feature for someone in my weight class or if using them with a heavier backpack. Being only 145cm long they are still very agile in my opinion, basically just as agile as the 125cm version. (Take into account that I’m 186cm, for considerably shorter people the shorter version might feel more agile.) And as the binding is moved in front of the balance point the Hok 145s distribute the weight quite equally and thus sink in the snow in horizontal position instead of going “tail first”. The binding placement also gives them a bit more snowshoe-like feeling when compared to normal skis, or the Kar 147s.

The Kar 147s feel a bit more ski-like than the Hok 125 and even more than the Hok 145s. They track better on hard surface and are easier to control when going downhill but as a downside the tail of the ski sinks deeper than the tip in certain conditions (especially on soft snow on top of almost supporting layer of crust). I think this is because they have more camber and mostly because the binding is placed into the balance point as on normal skis. The advantages are clear and the downside is familiar for most people who use skis in similar conditions meaning that most can live with that but for some it might be an inconvenience.

The wider and flatter tip and tail work just as well as the more tapered and higher raised ones of the Hoks: the tip jumps on top the soft snow when gliding the ski forward and you can do 180 degree turn on hard surface just as easily as with the Hoks (but in both cases the skins stop you instantly and damn near knock you over). The Kar 147s also have slightly smaller skin insert which (according to the people of OAC) is made of higher quality material and thus it should give the same grip with less friction but as the test pairs I had were of different age, I can’t verify this. Both provide easily enough friction to haul a 60kg sled on hard surface, easily enough grip to navigate in soft snow on gently rolling terrain but not enough grip to push directly up 25 degree slopes with soft snow, those have to be zig-zagged up. The grip is naturally better on hard surface.

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Initial verdict

As a simplified and very much precursive verdict I’d say that the Kar 147s are still mostly like the Hok 125s I tested a year ago but with some differences:

“They work and they are fun.

They are very maneuverable and provide decent good floatation.

The Kars Hoks seem to be sort of go-anywhere-do-anything tool but such things come with compromises.”

This time the compromise is taken closer to a ski and a step away from the snowshoe. This gives better tracking, better control for downhill and more ski-like feeling but at the same time looses some of the snowshoe-like feeling in deep soft snow. And of course the bigger surface area gives better floatation. In my opinion the Kar 147s are more ski-like and thus well suited for people looking for agile backcountry skis or something to have fun on local hills. On the other hand the Hok 145s are probably better tools for traveling on soft snow with gentle terrain and also maybe better suited for people who plan to use them a lot without poles (photography, hunting, etc.)

Which ones you prefer, is up to you.

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Availability & price

In Finland the OAC Kar 147 are available from the usual suspects like Partiokauppa (399eur with bindings, not in stock) and SOS (419eur with bindings, in stock. The best price I’ve seen this far, and the only retailer listing the Kar 147s also without bindings, is from Hiking Travel HIT at Ylöjärvi (near Tampere) who has them for 285eur without bindings and 390eur with the X-Traces.

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Disclaimer: The nice people at OAC Finland lended the skis for me for test on request but with no obligation of reviewing them. And unfortunately I have to return them.

Hats for winter

This post is all about headwear and about (nearly) all the headwear I own. And especially on headwear for winter as the winter has finally arrived also to the Southern parts of Finland! The post is a follow-up for the old Gloves for winter post and inspired by Dave Chenault’s post who seems to have quite a different approach on winter headwear but apparently also different needs. Here I present my winter headwear divided into three categories and int the end introduce the selection I usually carry on winter tours.

Thin headwear

A Buff is a great piece of headwear all year round. Never leave home without it!

Buff Original – maybe the single most used piece of outdoor clothing I have! I rarely go out without a Buff or two. Usually I use them as a pirate style scarf, a beanie or as a neck warmer. I’ve even used the Buffs as mittens when I got my gloves accidentally wet on a ski trip on lake ice. I’ve tried also other versions of Buff but still find the Original the best. It could be two centimeters longer but otherwise it’s perfect for me.

In addition to or instead of the Buff Original I sometimes take a thin fleece beanie. It’s an old Jack Wolfskin micro-fleece beanie. Very thin and simple beanie with two layers of fabric on the headband. It’s perfect when the Buff is not enough and often gets used also as a sleeping and camp hat. It’s very breathable but the down side is that it’s not windproof at all.

Thin headwear layered. The micro-fleece beanie worn under a Finnsvala Windproof Ski Cap. Picture from Hvannadahlsnjúkur at Vatnajökull.

For windy conditions I add a thin windproof hat. I have and old Goretex Windstopper one from Haglöfs but more often use Windproof Ski Cap from Finnsvala. It’s good as a standalone piece for windy but not especially cold conditions and when you layer it on top of a Buff and fleece beanie the combination can handle also quite cold weather. And if the weather is totally terrible, I move the Buff on my neck, layer the headwear and pull up the hood from my shell jacket. System is the name of the game.

Thick headwear

But if it’s really cold, it makes sense to have some thicker and warmer headwear in the system. My lighter warm option is Extremities Polartec 200 Took hat. It’s quite a simple hat made of 200 weight fleece with nicely fitting headband and good protection on ears. The good and bad thing is again that it’s not windproof.

The Extremities 200 hat after a morning and night in balmy -39C. Also visible the hoods I like having.

The Extremities 200 hat after a morning and night in balmy -39C. Also visible the two hoods I like to have in winter.

If it’s both cold and windy I pull out the TNF High Point Windstopper hat. It’s made of 300 weight Polartec fleece with Goretex Windstopper membrane and thin fleece lining. It sports quite good headband and ear protection but not as well-fitting as the Extremities version. The positive side of looser fit is that it can fit a Buff or a thin beanie under it for the coldest of days.

Just like with gloves, I’ve been thinking about getting also an even warmer hat. Something super warm like a fur hat with seal skin outer (naturally waterproof) and sheep skin lining (warm!). This would be good for those unusually cold days below -40c, especially if driving with dog sled or snowscooter in the extreme cold. But hat like that costs around 250-350 euros, so it’s a no-go with my salary…

N modeling a fox hat. Would be super warm!

N modeling a fox hat. That or similar would be super warm!

Hoods and balaclavas

I’m not especially big fan of hoods in clothes as I find them restricting my senses and movement. I mean, some people like to have a hood in every single garment they own from socks to hats but I’m fine having a hood only in my shell jacket and another one in my warm puffy jacket and using them when I have to. But when I have a hood, I want it to be really good as it’s the extra protective barrier against the harshest conditions, different forms of rain and stormy winds. I like especially the hood in my Sasta Everest jacket accompanied with a fur ruff. My winter down jacket (Marmot Greenland jacket) has also a good hood though it doesn’t really work well layered on top of the Sasta’s hood.

Feeling invisible sheltered in the hood of Sasta Everst jacket. Visible also goggles with hard face mask. Good addition for skiing in winter storms.

Feeling invisible sheltered in the hood of the Sasta Everest jacket. Included also goggles with hard face mask, a good addition for skiing in winter storms.

In addition to hats and hoods balaclavas come handy in bad conditions. I’m not a big fan of balaclavas  either but sometimes they just make sense.  They offer very well sealed protection to you neck and head but I find them too somewhat restricting and use them only when I really need to. I have few different models from Finnsvala: the merino-based Extreme for the less extreme conditions,  the windproof Power with detachable fleece nose-protecor for really bad conditions and the Commando with Jonaset warmer , though I haven’t found much use for it.

The Finnsvala Extreme balaclava with home made nose protector layered with micro-fleece hat after a skiing trip in below -30C.

The Finnsvala Extreme balaclava with home made nose protector layered with micro-fleece hat after a skiing trip in below -30C.

The system for longer winter trips

My headwear system for summer trips (which in the North can be anything from +30C sunshine to below zero snowstorms) is quite simple: Haglöfs Box Cap, Buff Original, maybe a thin fleece beanie and the hood in my shell jacket, plus a mosquito headnet in bug season. If the trip is short and weather stable one or two pieces can be left at home. But in winter I like to have a bit more in my inventory.

For a typical winter trip of one-week or more in Scandinavia I usually take:
– a Buff Original (or two)
– a fleece hat (the thin microfleece, the 200 weight fleece or the thick TNF High Point)
– a thin windproof hat (Finnsvala Ski Cap Windproof)
– a balaclava (Finnsvala Extreme or Power)
– and of course the superior hood of my Sasta Everest jacket for the worst of conditions

If trip is short and conditions stable I leave a piece or two at home to make things more simple and light. But on a long trip I like to have a nice selection of headwear to match the conditions even though I’m not sure if it’s necessary. For example on the Vatnajökull 2012 expedition we had very varying weather but in addition to the hood, I only used an Original Buff and the windproof Finnsvala cap as standalones or as combination. So maybe I should leave a hat or two at home the next time?

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So, what’s your choise of winter headwear?

More on the new Altai Hok skis

Only a week ago I wrote a short “Heads up” post about the new Altai Hok short skis, or fast shoes. (My initial impression about the original Hok 125s can be found from here.) The last weekend I was at the annual meeting of the Arctic Club of Finland speaking about the Vatnajökull 2012 expedition but while there I also had a chance to get my hands on the new “Hoks” the Kar 147 and Tao CXD.

No, not the new skis but something similar used by Siberian natives. (A show piece at the Nanoq Arctic Museum)

The new skis are designed and made in Finland. To my understanding the people importing the original Hoks to Finland were not happy with the original Hok 145 and also wanted something more downhill oriented and thus decided to design new models. Apparently the people behind the project knew what they were doing and the end products are very convincing.

Kar 147

According to my sources the major problem with the original Hok 145 was the binding placement (there are fixed metal inserts the mount a 75mm tele binding or X-Trace Universal binding) with the binding located too close to the tip of the ski. In addition the tip was too stiff and there wasn’t much camber. This caused problems especially for down hill skiing but the lack of camber had also an effect on the cross-country skiing performance (a lot of drag from the skin and a wide ski tracking poorly on hard surfaces).

From the top: Tao XCD, KAr 147 and Hok 125.

The new Kar 147 is not a redesigned Hok 145 but a completely new ski. But the aforementioned problems have been taken into account and fixed. As there wasn’t any snow I wasn’t able to test the skis but balancing them on my finger tip the binding was dead center. The tip was also clearly more flexible and a bit wider, there was a subtle but clear camber and the skin material was changed into high quality mohair-synthetic mixture which enables smaller skin to provide the same grip but also better sliding properties. I would still like to see a version with an aggressive fish-scale base instead of the permanent skin insert but I’m very excited about these and eager to get a pair to put it into test. Unfortunately there is a delay with the cores of the skis so it’ll still take a little time to get them into shops. And judging by he popularity and demand of the Hoks the last winter I’m afraid the Kar will also sell out quite fast…

Base and ski inserts. Gain from the top: Tao XCD, Kar 147 and Hok 125.

Tao XCD

The Tao XCD ski is a more down-hill oriented ski with dimensions borrowed from an old Karhu model but at least the tip is completely redesigned and there is a  Hok style permanent skin insert included. The skin insert in the Tao XCDs is a lot smaller than the one in Hoks (partially due the ski being thinner) but should still provide enough grip for most occasions and make skiing faster.

Close-up of the skin inserts. Tao XCD, Kar 147 and Hok 125.

See the video below for the Tao XCD in use.

X-Trace PIVOT

The X-Trace universal bindings have also been upgraded for this season and are now called the X-Trace PIVOT. The new swiveled base plate, which I was testing last winter, makes skiing a lot better and is now a standard feature. In addition the front and heel pieces are now a bit wider offering more control to the ski for down hill (or kiting) use. The front strap is also a bit longer in the new model thus making even bigger boots (think about Sorel Glacier boots for really cold winter trips) a better fit. I see the new X-Trace PIVOT binding to be quite a good option for many occasions. A good all-around compromise tool, just like the Hoks.

See the video below for some tele turns with the X-Trace Pivots and variety of footwear. Also suitable for the barefoot folk. 😉

P.S.

The Arctic Club of Finland meeting was held at Pietarsaari in the Nanoq Arctic Museum which is an incredible place. Unfortunately my camera battery died so I don’t have photos of the museum but I can assure you that it’s worth visiting if you have any interest in Arctic and Antarctic regions, native cultures, expeditions and the like! The museum is built on a relatively large property and it consists of several buildings respecting the original architecture of the Arctic areas and there is a huge amount of items from early days of the native cultures to present expeditions, good collection of literature and films and so on. Definitely worth a visit!

The main building of the Nanoq museum. (Picture stolen from the Nanoq website.)

Heads up: New Altai Hok fast shoes!

I had a pair of 125 cm long Altai Hok “gliding snow shoes” or “fast shoes” for test the last winter and I really liked them (see my Initial Impressions). Though there were few things I would’ve liked to change. I would have preferred:

– the longer model (wasn’t available for test at the time) for more floatation,
– maybe removable skins or some other way to make them a bit faster
– and a bit more camber for better skiing.

I was told some secret information about new models being developed in Finland but I never got any specific details…

Lurkin’ down a forested hill with the Hoks. It’s fun!

But now it’s all public information!

According to my sources the new models are designed and made in Finland by OAC! The new models are:

– “Kar” 147 cm, 125-110-122, 2700g (i.e. 2cm longer and 50g lighter than the original Hok 145)
– “XCD Tao” 160cm, 85-72-80, 1850g (i.e. very different design, maybe better suited for relaxed telemarking on forested hills?)

On paper the Kar looks almost identical to the original Hok 145 model so what’s the point? This: both models have more camber than the original Hoks and have more narrow skins which should make them better suited for cross-country skiing travel. And the Tao seems quite different from the original Hoks, more like a short Karhu Guide XCD. To me it looks more like a cross-country downhill type of ski just like the name implies.

Click to see the official info (in Finnish).

I have to say that I’m quite excited! The 147 cm long Kar sounds like a perfect tool for traveling the forested and bushy areas of Finland. It should provide more flotation, be faster and about just as agile as the 125 cm model I was testing. I was planning to get a set of “alpine touring” type gear (Dynafit stuff) for the winter but as that gear is expensive as hell and people only have two kidneys, I might seriously consider buying the new Kars, 75mm bindings and some low-cut plastic tele boots…

Hok 125s at camp after a day of skiing through bush.
Notice also the new X-Trace baseplates that I was testing. They are now in production!

Ultralight and whatever

I don’t usually feature quest posts in my blog as the focus is on “my personal views on all walks of outdoor life”. But occasionally you come up with something so great that you want to share it. This is one of those cases. This a “ghost post” by a man who I greatly respect. A man with insight, passion and close connection to nature but who does not blog. There are many non-bloging outdoor enthusiasts out there (and more often than not they are literally out there) and it’s great to give them a venue to share their views with the world. This time the views are especially about UL backpacking and going light in a different way. Enjoy!

– Jaakko Heikka

(The photos in the post are added by Jaakko Heikka. All text by Huck.)

Ultralight and whatever

A few weeks ago I visited the ‘‘Neandertal museum’’ near Düsseldorf in Germany. The museum tried to explain the life of our ancestors and also a bit how things developed from there. Most amazing was that:

1. After 16 years of learning (i.e. when reaching fertility age) people knew what they needed to know to ‘‘run’’ a family.
2. People worked about 4-5 hours per day. (This includes preserving food for the winter!)
3. People also got old, though life expectancy was relatively low due to bad work-safety.

In the late Stone Age lived the famous ‘‘Ötzi’’, who’s lifestyle made him spend a lot of time in the Alps. His gear list was relatively short (check it out: http://www.iceman.it/en/clothing-equipment) and covered all his needs, including getting food and killing enemies. The gear was certainly suitable for his needs.

Most UL hikers start off with the realization of carrying too much. They reduce, re-equip and rethink ‘‘their’’ system.

But how does the evolution go?

Living in Finland, I get to see a lot of (Swedish!) Trangias. When people go hiking with their Savotta framed packs, they always have to take the good old trusted Trangia. Eventually somebody starts to rethink and builds a lighter version of it and in the end it’s a Jetboil or catstove or whatever.

So is evolution. But what was before the Trangia?

Ask Ötzi & co; Fire! As simple as that.

So my approach to ultralight hiking starts the other way round.

Well; do not go naked, but do go ‘‘stupid light’’.

In the Finnish survival guild’s ‘‘outdoor safety’’ course I was allowed to take:

– Clothing: long trousers, T-shirt, woolen jumper, forest jacket, rain jacket, shoes, 2x socks, long underwear, sun hat, head net, woolen hat, work gloves
– Gear & food: a plastic bag (sturdy, 40L), 3m paracord, 1m webbing strap, 1x rescue blanket, 1x film canister of salt, 7x glucose pastille, flint& striker, Trangia (!) mess tin, 5m fishing line, 2 hooks, 3 weights, 1m wire, 1 compass & 1 map for three people, 1 mora knife for three people, pen& paper, toothbrush (no toothpaste!), 0,5L ziplock bag, 1st aid bandage, 1,5L water bottle, whistle
– No: phone, watch, flashlight, spare cloth, sleeping bag, tarp, tent, mattress, backpack, stove, tenkara fishing rod, spoon, fuel, food…

In seven days we hiked over 85km and only ate some fish (not every day), some berries (which are energy-input-output-stupid) and 2 mushrooms.

In one night the temperatures went below freezing. The rescue blanket we always used as a roof. We build a shelter for three people (spooning) out of two blankets.

I never wore my long underwear, because I wouldn’t take it anyway when hiking in early September in Finland.

After 2 days in the hike I had a frame for my bag, made of natural string and branches. For tea I had a piece of chaga mushroom and for a bog crossing we build some kind of snowshoes.

Ok. This was a survival trip focused on moving. The comfort level was very low but it got me thinking. I do not know how heavy our gear was. But for seven days it was surely light. We were lacking food and comfort when sleeping. But we got to sleep. We slept mostly during the night but also during the day.

After this trip, I looked at upgrading the main things that made this trip ‘‘hard’’.

Evolution:

– a slightly more comfy backpack,  >40L, which had to be light, sturdy and simple
(I chose the Fährmann ‘‘balance’’ and often use the Golite Breeze).
– toothpaste, soap
– better 1st aid kit
– AA-based headlamp
– some cheap cordage
– summer sleeping bag or quilt when hiking alone in summer. Otherwise spooning.
– tarp (rayway cut or 3x3m ‘‘Erätoveri’)’
– short isolation mattress
– when hiking alone: own knife, compass, map
– some food when longer than a few days (chaga tea is great)
– maybe a cup
– maybe poncho instead of rain jacket or rain trousers/chaps in addition to the rain jacket
– maybe a spoon
– Phone?
– Binoculars?
– A book?

The above list would allow almost anyone to go very simple and light while being pretty comfy, specially when hiking in a small group.

Thinking backwards, this is still far away from the hiking skills of our ancestors. With my over 30 years of age, I am still lacking over 14 years of education to ‘‘run’’ a family in the environment that I was born in (near Düsseldorf, Germany).  Replacing gear with knowledge is a big key and taking your time can be another. If you know where to find good natural shelters, you do not need to carry one. If you know about natural foods and medicines, you can carry less food. If you know how to make all the gear that you need from natural materials (this might require the skills of a group), you can once again carry a lot less.

The approach from starting ‘‘stupid light’’ and then slowly going heavier until you reach an acceptable level of comfort is very appealing to me, since I know that I went with less once before and I was okay.

Before finishing this little text, I would just like to explain my motivation of going light. It is not any more the possible distances.

I am motivated by the possibility to go silent. Tiptoeing through thick bush with a light backpack is already exhausting enough. I also like my gear to be in natural colors (camo), a bit more robust and cheap. In practice that means that I do a lot of my own gear and use some surplus-army stuff (which is often surprisingly light).

Best regards,
Huck

PS. Human brain: about 1,5kg (80% water)