– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Category Archives: gear talk

The Death of UL and Feeble Assumptions

The big debate in the outdoors blogosphere at the moment seems to be the dying ultralight backpacking. Is it dead? Is it dying? Or not? Here is my rant on the topic…

The latest debate started probably from Andrew Skurka’s “Stupid Light” post . Some interpreted the post as the obituary of ultralight backpacking as the guru himself said that light(est possible) ain’t always right.  In my opinion the post only stated the pretty much common sense point that “lighter is better” mantra isn’t a highway to happiness and better outdoors experiences. Martin Rye fueled the debate on his “Bye bye Backpacking Light” post that was actually more about the BPL than UL backpacking in general but the comments and discussion soon led to people questioning and defending the ultralight backpacking. The next take on the topic came from Dave Chenault (“Ultralight is dead”) who wrote that “Perhaps this is the first and largest hurdle for ultralight backpacking to generalize, demystify, and become merely smart or deliberate backpacking”. And next I’m waiting for UL evangelist Hendrik Morkel to comment this on his blog.

Been there, done that.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first debate over the point of UL backpacking. In early 2011 one of the big names of UL scene, Ryan Jordan, wrote about the “Futility of going ultralight for ultalights sake” pointing out the obvious: “Ultralight, simplicity, minimalism – these are not the goals.” And I tend to stick with Ryan here: There is no point in going UL for the sake of going UL. I guess most agree with this. It’s just as pointless as mastering the skill of hiking walking backwards.

Most of the people hiking on the lighter side claim that with lighter kit you will get more out of your outdoor time. This is the core of the major argument in a way or another. With lighter kit you will have more freedom, deeper and closer connection to the nature, aesthetics of simplicity to enjoy and so on. When discussing about gear choices (online) someone usually pops up and tells you that there would be a lighter option for something. And it would naturally be better as it’s lighter. (I’m probably as guilty to this as all the others…)

But guess what? It ain’t so. And it’s simple to prove: If lighter is always better, leave ALL your kit home. Go for a hike naked or with only your clothes on. No burden to carry, totally undisturbed connection to nature and ultimate simplicity. But I bet you won’t make this a habit and start preaching for it as the superior way to experience the outdoors. Or will you? I dare you to give it a try.

The counter argument is of course along the lines of “That’s silly. The point is to have just enough kit to make the experience comfortable and safe and thus better.” If it’s so then it’s a subjective matter and it’s pretty ridiculous to say that someones outdoor experience would be better if he would carry less than 4989,5 g load. How can you tell?

On the other extreme there are the traditional backpackers who say that the weight doesn’t matter and a bit of extra won’t hurt.  The arguments range from extra comfort and security (take doubles) to wider variety of options (take a bomb-proof mountain tent and a tarp, you can have both!) and to claims that a bit of extra weight is only good training for the big future hikes (that rarely tend to happen). Form this point of view heavier kit doesn’t affect your outdoor experience. At least not in a negative way.

And again: It ain’t so. My challenge here would be to replace all you tent stakes (assuming you are carrying some) with 20kg kettlebells. They do really good job anchoring your shelter’s guylines. (I’ve tried that. Don’t ask.) The function is same but I bet your outdoors experience will be different and probably a bit worse than without the 200+ kg of cast iron on your back…

And from here we get back to kit being needed to function in a certain way but not getting on the way of our experience. And that is hell of a subjective matter!

Not UL but does it really matter?

As a disclaimer I have to say that I have never done a true UL trip so maybe I just haven’t understood the point of carrying UL kit. I have used and do use some UL gear and techniques but I try to have a relaxed and somehow rational approach on kit. Gear matters hell of a lot, but only when we are on the very edge of our capabilities. That edge is where the modern UL was born and has been mostly developing: thru hiking serious distances in short time, adventure racing through hell of a terrain, climbing seriously difficult routes and so on. But to be honest, how many of us push our limits to point were kit is decisive factor? Some do it but many don’t. Maybe we should. I’m quite comfortable claiming that in most cases it doesn’t really matter if your kit is a kilo heavier than it now is or could be. Most likely you will still enjoy your outdoor experience about just as much.

From my point of view ultralight backpacking and other styles are tools and means to do things – not goals, religions or numbers. You want to do something and to get it done you need proper skills and tools. The important thing is to have something that you want and like to do – and pursue it.


There Have Been Guest Posts

Some time ago I was asked to write my very first guest posts.

One request came from Andrew Mazibrada who is a freelance outdoor copywriter and photographer and also has a great blog: The Journeyman Traveller. He is also a joint editor in the awesome Sidetracked online journal and much more. I liked his work and style and was happy to work with him.

Andrew was planning to publish a series of posts about outdoor-capable carrying systems for cameras and asked me to write a guest post on Ortlieb Aquazoom waterproof camera bag that I’ve been using for few years. And as I felt that I had something to say I wrote a review on it and a few days ago it got published on The Journeyman Traveller blog. The opening part of the series on Andrew’s own carrying system (Lowepro Toploader Zoom) is available from here. And it won’t end there, so stay tuned for the next posts!

I’d prefer having the discussion on the topic on The Journeyman Traveller blog but if you prefer writing your comments here, feel free to do so. I’ll be answering to the comments on both blogs.

– – –

I also wrote a post about my beloved La Sportiva Wild Cat trail runners to Relaa.com, “Finland’s #1 outdoor forum” which is on its way to become Finland’s #1 outdoor portal (And probably already is).

The article is only in Finnish but if you are initiated to the dark secrets of our strange language (or are using Google Translate) it’s here Kamarakas: La Sportiva Wild Cat -maastojuoksutossut. And if you are interested in the topic I also wrote a long-term report about my first pair on my blog and that’s in English.

Discussion and questions about the Wild Cats are welcome here, on the original long-term report or on Relaa.com. Anyway you fancy!

New packrafting toys!

No, unfortunately I don’t have any new packrafting toys for myself but there have been few very cool new products hitting the market this summer. And even though I’ve tweeted about every one of the new toys they are also worth a blog post as I have readers who don’t follow me on Twitter. (For those readers: It’s an option worth considering just go here and click “Follow”.) A lot of this information is originally from packrafting.de, a great blog worth following!

To get you started here a few pics from the recent trips near Kilpisjärvi, both including a bit of packrafting. Both trips were possible thanks to the packraft rental service by Backpacking North.

My mate Tuomas packrafting the Kummaeno river. A lot of walking followed by easy river with low water level: a trip where a light but sturdy packraft would have excelled.

N floating down the gorgeous Reisadalen after a lot of walking. Again a lighter packraft, or a raft for two, would’ve done the trick here.

Dry suits, designed solely for packrafting!

Dry suit just makes packrafting a lot more comfortable if it’s cold, the water is cold or you’re doing hard stuff in white water. For most use you don’t really need one but might occasionally still want one. We didn’t have dry suits on the aforementioned trips but I did miss mine on the Kummaeno. I have been using an Ursuit AWS 4-tex suit made by a Finnish company Ursuk. They make great dry suits, especially for demanding professional use, and the AWS 4-tex is also a very good dry suit for the use it was designed for. But it has socks and they tend to wear out and start to leak in packrafting use (which includes walking with the suit, often sand, sticks and squirrels in your shoes). And  for the trips where you have to carry your rafting kit over long distances, a lighter option would be nicer…

Tuomas on Lätäseno back in 2011. One of those moments when you really appreciate a quality dry suit.

And da-daa! Now there are two dry suits designed solely for packrafting.

They are both very simple and light weight and instead of socks (or fixed boots) they have gussets in the ankles. The long-awaited dry suit from Alpacka, the Stowaway, hit the shelves this summer and a bit later the European Packrafting-Store launched their own Anfibio line including a dry suit called the Packsuit. I have to say that on the screen the Alpacka Stowaway is more appealing thanks to the zipper on waist (for the need that naturally occur during a long day of packrafting) and a neoprene neck closure (suits better for my skin). But the Packsuit’s zipper seems better for ventilating while on waters (Yes, it’s dangerous so practise at your own risk!) and the price point is really good.

As the Ursuk dry suits are though bastards I don’t see myself investing on a new dry suit any time soon… But if you are looking for a dry suit mostly for packrafting, I’d choose between the two dry suits really designed for packrafting.

As the waters in Finland are already getting colder it’s timely to remind also of the cheaper option for a dry suit: neoprene wetsuit. These are not as comfortable (especially when wet the next day and crispy in the freezing morning air) nor are they as light but they are cheap alternative for stretching the packrafting season towards the winter. For packrafting I’ve used one of the cheapest a sub 40 euro model available from Motonet-stores in Finland. It’s designed for surfing and probably doesn’t excel even for that but it’s cheap and gets the job done. A real bargain.

New packrafts!

I’ve been mostly using an Alpacka Denali Llama which is a great packraft for my needs but occasionally either too small (as me and N found out last summer when trying to packraft with two people and two rucksacks on board) or too big and heavy. The big and heavy part usually leads to leaving it at home if it’s not really needed for the trip but a light raft would be nice for occasional river or lake crossing and generally as a tool to provide more freedom of choise in the backcountry. And now there are options to tackle both of the problems!

The Alpacka Explorer 42. Picture stolen from Packrafting Store website.

For the need of a two-person packraft there is now the Explorer 42:Nearly canoe-like two-person packraft by Alpacka Raft available on Packrafting Store. It’s 32 cm longer from the inside than my Llama and the inner doesn’t taper towards the front which means there should be really enough room for two people and two big packs. Just add few tie-downs to the stern as the big butt easily supports a rucksack or two. It weights only 2650 g (without seats) i.e. 1325 g per person. That’s not bad as the classic solo packrafts from Alpacka weight about 1 kg more! Add a pair of Trekking Pole Blades (140 g) to your trekking poles for canoe style paddling, use your sleeping pads as seats and you have a sub 3 kg packrafting package for two! (Just don’t take it on white water… Though some nice class I might go…)

The Alpacka CuriYak. Picture stolen from Alpacka website.

For the need of a sturdy but light tool for backcountry travel there has always been the Alpacka Scout. But with an inner length of 104 cm and limited buoyancy it’s not really meant for people of my size (186 cm tall). Roman Dial has been using a longer spray-decked special version “the Super Scout” but the design is not available for the public. Instead there is now the all new Alpacka CuriYak! It’s very interesting design with pointy bow and big stern with the standard 12 inch tubes but the tubes in the middle are only 10 inch in diameter. It’s sized like the standard Yak (i.e. has 10 cm more inner length than the Scout) but weights only 1,87 kg (versus 2,25 kg for the Yak). Unfortunately there is no spray-deck available for this one but a MYOS spray-deck is always a possibility… Anyhow, very interesting boat and if I could afford, I would definitely buy this one to accompany my Llama. (Then I could upgrade the Llama with the new spray-deck and skirt, add thigh-straps and so on. To pimp your packraft  take a look at Luck Mehl’s great tutotial.)

And there is also a lot lighter option for this category from Klymit (the company making the weird sleeping pads) the “Light Water Dingy”. As the name suggest it’s really meant for easy water and seems a bit dubious in my opinion but would probably do great job on easy crossings and would double as a very comfortable sleeping pad. Only problem is the 200 pound weight limit as I’m way over that, even without any gear! But for some this is probably an interesting option to the FlytePacker packraft (or for inflatable beach mattresses typically used on Finnish multisport competitions). Oh, it weights only about 650 grams and should cost around 250 euros. Not too bad.

Feel free to comment the post and the topic, especially if you have any first hand experience about the products mentioned here or links to user reports!

Heading North

The Wilderness Guide School I’ve been doing for the last 10 months ended the last Friday. The last week was very hectic with last tests to be passed and farewells to be said to many new friends but it is now over and it’s time to reward myself with a hike and thus I’m sitting in a car and heading to North while writing this! (N is driving so this is completely safe. 😉 )

The plan is to drive to the village of Inari (well North of the Arctic circle), get a ride from a friend to West to the Southern edge of Muotkatunturit wilderness area and start hiking from there on Monday morning. We will be heading North-East walking through the wilderness area to the Inari-Karigasniemi road that we will cross at Sulaoja and walk for a while along the Kevo trail in the Kevo strict nature reserve and from there we will head North to Paistunturit wilderness area and continue West to finish the walk to the Kevo Research Station near Inari-Utsjoki road. All together this makes some 200-250 km of walking (depending a lot on final route choices) and we have about 12 days to spend for it.

A sketch of the planned route (the red line).

It should be a splendid walk as the wilderness area are very wild in sense that there are no roads or marked trails nor too many huts. The terrain will be mostly nice gently rolling hills with valleys growing dwarf birch and occasional pine trees. Rivers are mostly small and easy to fjord but the water level is high as it’s very early summer in the North. Our biggest problem might be swamp areas that will definitely be wet and hard to negotiate but we plan to avoid them and take high routes when ever possible.

We did most of the trip preparations two weeks ago packing food, planning the route and updating old gear lists to fit the trip. We decided not to have a resupply on the Inari-Karigasniemi road so we will be carrying all the food and equipment for the 12 days right from the beginning. This is more in line with the kind of trips I like and I’d prefer spending the whole time in wild, untouched nature but I’ll tolerate one quick road crossing…

12 days food for two people is quite a big pile as the photo above shows. The photo is taken during preparations some things are still unpacked (there is a lot of superfluous packaging material as you can see from the photo below) and for example the bananas are not dried yet. I ended up taking a bit under 900 grams of food per day meaning about 3500 kcal while N is having a lot less, maybe around 700 grams a day. The food is not the lightest possible variety as we wanted to have some treats and didn’t have too much time to dry food but the figure is still acceptable for me. I’ll write more about the food  preparations and planning later.

I have also some new gear with me on this trip. Some of the most interesting ones include the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Expedition backpack (in the photo below), Hilleberg Anjan 3 tent (see the post of my first impression) and Montane Speedlite jacket. (Yeah, I finally bought a windshirt and I’m starting to like it already!) These are new pieces of kit that I haven’t yet tested thoroughly but I trust them already after some initial testing. More about them also coming later when they have seen decent amount of use. The rest of the kit is mostly tried and true stuff like Rab Momentum jacket, La Sportiva Wildcat trail runners, Ortlieb Aquazoom camera bag, Canon EOS 550D with EF 24-105 4 L IS lens and so on.

I haven’t weighted all the gear but the rucksack seems to be weighting about 19 kg in the beginning of the trip. It’s not especially light and far from ultralight but there is about 2 kg of camera gear, heavyish synthetic sleeping bag and I decided to take a little tarp (Tyvek version of the Terra Rose Gear Wandering Tarp) in addition to the tent as there is a possibility to make fires on the wilderness areas and it would be nice to have some shelter from rain while sitting by a fire…

Hopefully this little flu bugging me now will ease by tomorrow, the weather will be favourable and mosquitoes will stay at bay so I’ll have a good trip to report at the end of the Month. Until then the blog will probably be quiet but I might write a tweet or two along the way so if you want to follow the trip, follow @Korpijaakko on Twitter!

Hilleberg Anjan 3 – First Impression

I don’t usually do first impression posts on gear I acquire but as this happens to be relatively new product in the market (has become available this month) I thought I’d make an exception and share some ideas about my new shelter: Hilleberg Anjan 3, a “three-season” tunnel tent from the very well-known manufacturer of traditional high quality tents.

Anjan is another of Hilleberg’s new lightweight three-season tents launched in May 2012. It is available as a two-person and three-person versions. The other interesting lightweight alternative is Rogen, a two-person dome tent with two vestibules. What Hilleberg means with “three season tent” is that there are large mesh panels in the inner tent and the outer tent doesn’t reach all the way tot he ground to provide protection from drifting snow. Despite being “three seasons” tents the tents use the high quality 9mm DAC poles and Hilleberg’s great Kerlon fabric (though a slightly thinner version named Kerlon 1000 meaning a minimum tear strength of 10kg). All this means that these tents are quite bomb-proof, especially in their class (lightweight two-skin shelters). And I also think that the tents could easily handle easy winter conditions on forested areas. The only real problem in winter would be keeping the drifting snow out on open mountaineous or tundra areas like.

I haven’t been completely satisfied with my previous three season shelter, a Golite ShangriLa 3 with MYOG mesh inner tent and when Hilleberg came out with these new lightweight wonders I was quite tempted… and decided to pull the trigger. The Rogen was way too expensive for me, so Anjan it was. And as I do about all my trips with a partner sharing a shelter, the three-person version seemed like a better alternative: 200 grams weight penalty but a lot more room, especially headroom to sit in the inner tent protected from bugs. It would be a palace for two and could also fit three if needed.

I’ve yet only pitched the tent in the garden but it is very impressive and will probably see a lot of use. Here are some ideas and observations with photos:

Great workmanship and nice details. Typical Hilleberg.

From a distance the tent looks like a typical Hilleberg tunnel tent, though there are no vents but the ventilation is arranged by raising the outer tent generously from the ground (resulting also into a higher bathtub floor in the inner tent). It is yet to be seen how well this works. I have to say that I have my doubts but usually Hilleberg knows what they do. The zipper is simple two-way “inverted J” with a little flap protecting the top part from rain. The door can be opened to front, to the side or two thirds or the whole vestibule can be rolled away.

Familiar profile to all Nallo owners.

Simple zipper and no vents on the outer tent.

The tent is the same size than its big brother” Nallo 3 (weight 2,4kg) but a lot lighter weighting only about 1,9kg out of the box. Hilleberg’s dimensions are usually quite correct so I didn’t measure them. But here’s Hilleberg’s idea of them:

Hilleberg Anjan 2 and 3 dimensions. Pic from http://www.hilleberg.com.

As you can see from the pics below there is enough room for three and very good room for two. The only little problem is the foot-end fabric that eats away 10-20cm of the usable length of the inner tent. This shouldn’t cause any condensation on the sleeping bag as there is generous space between the inner and outer tent. But it’s still a little issue and I’m not too happy with it. I’ve been thinking about a way to  fix if in the new Nallo (GT) tents with the  zipper vent in the foot end but I have to see if I come up with a solution suitable to Anjan… The vestibule is also roomy enough to be functional: it can easily fit two traditional 60 liter rucksacks full of gear, two pairs of boots and there is still easily enough room for cooking between them.

Three typical 50cm wide and about 180cm long CCF pads. The inner tent tapers a bit towards the end but not too much. Notice also the rolled away vestibule.

168cm long model sleeping in a long summer sleeping bag. The rucksack is a traditional 60 liter model.

Close-up of the backpack and shoes in the vestibule. Plenty of room.

As I mentioned the outer tent is raised of from the ground and should provide enough ventilation. The foot end is supposed to be pitched towards the wind and thus can reach all the way down. There is a largish panel of bug netting (really fine no-see-um mesh type fabric) in the foot end of the inner tent to provide ventilation and even larger section of mesh in the inner door. These will likely provide enough ventilation inside the inner tent assuming that the outer tent vents well enough. To enhance venting the foot end of the outer can be rolled up, as can be the vestibule.

The mesh panel in the foot end and the outer tent rolled up.

The foot end staked down to provide protection from elements.

What is also new compared to older Hillebergs is that the pole sleeves are open from both ends and the pole ends are attached to rivets instead of plastic cups. The attaching and adjustment system is identical on both sides of the tent enabling changing the fly position to provide more protection on the wind/rain side. The attachments connect the inner and out tent enabling using either part of the tent individually. It feels like a simple and solid system.

The new pole attachement system. Red clip connects to the inner tent, black to the outer tent. The longer pole and sleeve are color coded with red.

And some weights for those interested in such things:

– total weight out of the box: 1938g
– outer tent: 715g
– inner tent: 679g
– poles: 342g (shorter 161g, longer 181g)
– pegs (12 in a bag): 115g (á 8g, bag 11g)
– bag for poles: 15g
– bag for the whole set: 40g
– spare parts (pole section & sleeve): 32g

As the tent is not really a modular shelter system, there is not much to take away to save weight during the bug seasons. You could leave spare parts, few pegs and bags at home but that’s about it. But when the inner is not needed it could be replaced by simple polycro sheet and would result into very lightweight and roomy shelter for two or three people.

New lighter pegs and the bag (a bit overkill). Depending on trip, I might replace few of them with sturdier Hilleberg Y-stakes for main anchor points.

More to come after a season or two of use. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment!