The Great Range Trail

Imagine before you, a hazy blue 360º vista. Your feet standing upon rock, one billion years in age; the remnants of glaciers long passed. Above you – depending on the weather – great big blue or white skies. Below you, miles of boreal and mixed forest with the occasional section of bare rock – the result of an avalanche or slump.

This the view from the top of a Adirondack peak.
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Solo Backcountry Kayak Adventure 2018

The below is an abridged version of the whole story; cut down to basic parts for facebook consumption. The truth is, this trip was far more personally epic than the following paragraphs.
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Jetboil – Overrated or not?

Emerging on the camping scene almost over 15 years ago, Jetboil revolutionized what a small backpacking stove could and should do. Since inception, this modern, iconic brand has made tweaks to their system along the way and gained many fans.
Sure, it possesses some gimmicks and lacks other features, but ultimately, it does what it is meant to do well. Some would say very well.

Since acquiring my Flash (1.0) two years ago, I’ve used it on several adventures, several times each time. My regrets have been few and far between. Namely those regrets have been not paying enough attention to it, while it is operating. Nonetheless, not on my shortlist of regrets are the two add-on features I’ve purchased since I originally got this stove.

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I got the coffee press add-on last summer and it has yielded me some very excellent cups in the backcountry. The only issue being is that those cups could’ve been much better still. Since my last use, I’ve realized how easy it will be to make those cups better going forward – and the cause of their quality was in fact pilot error.

Fast forward to the present. I now have the pot support add-on. I have yet to test it, but right off the batt, it presented me with an issue. How do I pack this thing for my upcoming adventure?

After a bit of finagling, I have come to and revisited the inevitable conclusion that I made so many months ago. The Jetboil system is nothing short of amazing*.

Here’s why. IT’S REALLY COMPACT! But just how compact? How does a fuel can, coffee press and pot support inside the pot sound? Yep! You can do that.

Here’s the step-by-step how to
1) Gather your equipment.
2) Place pot support on top of fuel can
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3) Put fuel can and pot support in jetboil pot
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4) Put coffee plunger rods in next
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5) then put plunger in, upside down so fins are facing up
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6) Now slide burner in, upside down.
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7) Cap it off and you are done!

And you’re done!

When backpacking, weight and space are very real and very defined restrictions that one needs to be aware of. At it’s svelte 390gm, it does not add much weight to your pack. And because of how it compacts down, it takes up minimal space in your pack. True, there are smaller/lighter stoves out there, but they aren’t fast water-boiling machines. In reality, you cannot get a better arrangement for a soloist adventurer.

And it gets better. Since appearing on the scene so many years ago, the team at Jetboil have updated their products along the way. The Flash got an upgrade a short while ago and has had an increase in its output; from 4500btu, up to 9000btu.  (Note: this only shaves off ~1min from the boil time for a full litre. However, it only holds 500ml to begin with, so your actual boil time is 90secs for the Flash 2.0)

So, the big question – is the Jetboil overrated? 

Some would say it is, but that’s because they are very nitpicky. The fact of the matter is, it does what you need it to, and what you need it to do is boil the %^&* out of a 1/2L of water really fast. Whether you want coffee from that 1/2L is another debate, but if you do, you will have coffee in a stupidly fast amount of time. Mmmmscaldy!

Once again – the fine points
1) You can fit a 110gm fuel can, coffee plunger and pot support inside the cup body
2) Boil time is around 90secs (~1m15-1m30 on the older system)
3) with the fuel can and add-ons, it weighs ~750gms
4) this setup will last you easily 3 days, if soloing.

It’s rare that I actually get to recommend the Jetboil system, but when I do, it’s like I’m a kid on Christmas morning. That’s the kind of enthusiasm I have for this stove. I love it. It’s clean, it’s fast, it’s light and most importantly, it’s simple. Backcountry life can be difficult at any time. Why add to that difficulty when you don’t have to.
* As mentioned above, I own a Jetboil. I automatically have a bias towards it. However, I know where it wins and fails because of how other similar stoves are designed. It wins on ease of operation, speed and compact-ability. Where it fails is how the cup attaches to the burner.

Having looked at other systems since I bought my jetboil, there is only one other system that I would consider, and that system is MSR’s Reactor 1.7. And that’s only because it can boil more water in nearly similar time as the Jetboil Flash. Nonetheless, the Reactor’s design has the reactor pot just sitting on top of its burner, rather than locking in. Reactor’s handle is also safer to use, folding up and into a standard pot handle when in use. Jetboil just has the fancy thermo-sleeve to prevent you from scalding yourself.

High above and downpour below

MEC Tonquin Goretex jacket

Backstory – I had a pretty kick-ass goretex jacket made by Outdoor Research. Because of a manufacturing flaw, I had to warranty the jacket. Sadly, they don’t make it anymore and I resigned myself to finding a replacement by any means necessary.

That’s when I happened across the Tonquin jacket by MEC.

A rather inexpensive but well-made 2.5L goretex, this jacket is pretty damn sweet. Comparing to other goretex shells, I found it to be on-par with OR’s Foray, albeit with a few differences that aren’t normally important enough to discuss in a review post. However, they are: the front chest pocket, the collar height, and the cuffs.

PROs
1) Crazy cheap Goretex jacket
2) Well-made for the price point
3) Fits very well, works with mid and base-layer system

CONS
1) Limited colours
2) Pit zips have limited opening
3) Made from Goretex Paclite, but doesn’t stuff into own pocket
4) Cuff hook&loop strips too narrow.

The last con being stupidly minor. I don’t really need that feature, but it’s nice to have. Keeps the clutter to a minimum and protects the jacket when stowed in your pack.

As mentioned, the key differences from the Foray are noticeable, but minor. Foray has a external chest pocket. I find these to be great for stuffing things you need inconsistently, but often. Tonquin’s chest pocket is internal and opens the user up to getting their base/mid layer wet from trying to get at items in that pocket.

The collar, I find to be superior, as it rises higher. This can be annoying for some, but it’s great to have as a stormshield in s****ier weather. Couple it with a neck gaiter and you’re golden. (In colder weather, I would insist on this.)

The cuffs, are pretty good, but the hook and loop closures are far too narrow for my liking. Nevertheless, they work and that’s all you can ask for.

All-in-all, I’m quite pleased with this jacket and would recommend it to anyone. Considering it’s price point and where it falls in MEC’s lineup, it’s a better option than the Synergy jacket, which I find too stiff.

I got mine in the Ocean Cruise colour, so there was an additional saving for me. But, were I to buy this jacket again, I’d go for the Deep Red version.

Now here’s the thing with Goretex. It’s a waterproof breathable fabric. Cool, right? Except… yeah. Cool. Goretex only works if there’s a marked temperature variance between the trapped air and the external ambient. It’s through mechanisms of heat and pressure, that goretex does it’s magic. To work, it needs to be trapping air that’s warmer than the external environment and to work really well, that variance needs to be on the cooler end of the thermometer. 

Here’s where goretex starts to suck – when that variance is severe. After a certain point, the cold freezes any water vapour that would normally pass through the membrane freely. End result? The inside of a jacket slick with ice. 

*wolf whistle* Hubba Hubba! (NX2)

©Earl Harper Starting from its silvery-white fly, down to its red tub-style flooring, this tent has all the right curves.

Weighing in at a scant three pounds and 13 ounces, this tent is close to being the perfect backcountry accommodation one (or two) will need. Inside, you can easily fit two standard (regular) backcountry air mattresses.

Or, if you’re solo – one mattress, your pack and all the contents of your pack because of kit explosion. Hey, I’m being honest!

One thing you’re going to want to have with this tent is the footprint. ESPECIALLY IF IT RAINS. Unfortunately, this tent can suffer in heavy downpours. Not so much as the rain goes through it freely, but rather, the moisture will work its way through the fabric. This is more of a concern from below than above. If the water does get through, then you can always wipe it down. Better yet, give the bottom a good coating of TX-direct spray-on.

The GOOD
1) Lightweight
2) Spacious
3) Easy and quick to setup.

The BAD
1) Waterproof to a certain extent
2) Could be made lighter if poles were carbon instead of DAC aluminum
3) Vents aren’t large enough

The UGLY
1) MSR tent poles are prone to connector slippage
2) Footprint sold separately
3) Provided stakes are two too few to fully stake out the tent

When I say it’s easy to set up, it really is. However, you need to forget about how previous tents worked. This one can be tricky for the unfamiliar. But once you do it once or twice, you’ll get the hang of it.

All in all, it’s a solid little tent for backpacking excursions. It’s small enough that you can shove it into almost anything. In my case, both backpacks and a kayak. Just be careful with how you handle it. It is a lightweight tent and therefore prone to easy damage.

I need a hero… a Guardian!

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BEHOLD, IN ALL OF ITS GLORY!

THE MOUNTAIN SAFETY RESEARCH

GUARDIAN!

 

Fear no particle, protozoa or virii.

For the guardian is your shield in the water; your molecular sword; your knight in shining red and gray plastic armour.

 

There are a lot of water purifier and filtration systems on the market. But few can do what the Guardian does, which is BOTH. It filters and purifies, thanks to a crazy two-hose system that I cannot begin to explain. This device has been reviewed time and time again, and many are long winded. So, I will cut to the chase with a few points. Or save yourself the trouble and skip to the bottom of this post for the real advice.

The Good
1) Flow-rate = 2.5L/min
This makes it faster than MSR’s Miniworks EX.
2) Longer handle than Miniworks
Less effort and awkwardness
3) Easy to maintain
Requires only the occasional flushing with a mild bleach solution

The Bad
1) It’s expensive ($400+!)
2) Cannot be maintained without precautions (filter can hold onto live virii/bacteria)
3) The hose isn’t long enough

The Ugly
1) As fast as it is, it still requires effort
2) The float sucks and prevents the filter trap from sitting on the surface of the water properly.

Nice thing is, the issue with the hose length and the float are easily fixed.

********** THE USEFUL INFO IN THIS POST **********
Hose – position yourself better at source of water.
Float – remove the filter trap then slide the float up the hose by about 10cm/4”. Reconnect filter trap. Doing this will allow the filter and hose to sit close to the surface properly.
********** THE USEFUL INFO IN THIS POST **********

Final Judgment?
This pump is everything you could ever want/need. At it’s price point, it’s a bit spendy for a lot of people, but this your health we’re talking about here. The last thing you want, while miles from civilization and ample amounts of toilet paper, is diarrhea caused by unclean water.

Source Widepac 2L hydration bladder

This will be a quick one.

You need water. It’s the most basic needs for life. When you go out on adventures, whether they be by bike or on foot, you need to stay hydrated. Rather than go into the science of how much water you need to take with you, I’ll just say that you need to take water with you. Minus 10 and in the mountains? Take water. Over 30 and humid as balls? Take water.

Source makes a great hydration pack for all kinds of adventure. Three features make this one particularly better in my mind than competing brands. But I will also cover one feature it lacks.

The PROS
1) Taste-free PE and Glass-like TPU
Really, this is two features of the bladder, but the combination of the two results in a great water carrier. The Taste-free material is exactly that. Brand new out of the box and hundreds of liters later, I’ve yet to detect a taste imparted on my water. I’ve even thrown Nuun tablets in my Source bag and they did not affect the taste later. The glass-like technology likely helps with this, as vapor and residue have no real chance to stick. Do a flash fill from a sink, dump, then refill with fresh water and you’re good to go!

2) The Widepac closure system
It’s perfect. Seriously. Slide off, unfold once and do what you need to. Refill, fold and slide. Done. This system is far easier to use than those on Platypus or Hydrapak bags.

3) Mouth piece
Armed with a shut-off and hard cap, the helix valve wins in preventing unnecessary water loss and by staying clean. Sure, it’s hard, bulky and likely to hurt you if you crash while mountain biking, but at least it’ll be clean.

THE CONS
1) Filling port
Widepac is great and all, but because this bag lacks a 63mm screwcap, it’s not ideal for backcountry use. Strangely, Source’s WXP LP does have this feature, but it’s top opening isn’t as large.

Regardless of what you do – the Source Widepac hydration bladder and it’s sibling WXP bladder are a great choice for your water carrying needs. Just be mindful that, if you’re going camping and you want to use a filtration device, you’ll need to transfer the water from a Nalgene to the Widepac. If you have the WXP, then you’re all set.