Sunday, December 22, 2013

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure

For many years I have used the same gear and have grown comfortable with how it works, its features, and its limitations. Not unlike other parts of my life, things grow comfortable, normal, and routine. My friend Al uses the phrase "culture settles fast" to describe group dynamics, but I find the phrase to be true in many areas of my life. I like routine and normal, I cultivate habits and practice routines, doing things the same way over and over until I no longer have to spend much mental energy doing things, I can focus on thinking about other things while living in routine.

One of the big downsides of living in routine is that you miss the NEW. You become blind to things outside of your own comfort zone. I think that was one of the things that frustrated Jesus in his interactions with the Pharisees. The had got so used to their religious routines that when something outside of their paradigm, like the Messiah they had been waiting for, showing up into their lives, they couldn't see or hear him.

I find it to be a healthy practice to periodically go back and question my assumptions and re-visit those decisions that I have previously made. With these thoughts in mind I began to research my shelter. For a number of years I have used a bivy sack and a tarp when I am soloing. The combined weight of my bivy sack and tarp is 15.3 ounces. This was significantly lighter than the 22.7 ounce two-person Henry Shires Tarp Tent (Squall) that I used if I was sharing a shelter.

There were four downsides to my shelter;
  1. It was more difficult to get into and out of, 
  2. The bug netting on my bivy sack is up-close and personal, like right in your face. The bug-free zone is quite small and confining. 
  3. The tarp works great but takes some practice to get it setup properly, especially in windy conditions. 
  4. This combination also requires a warmer sleeping bag in that there is quite a bit of air movement underneath the tarp and the bivy sack sits in contact with my sleeping bag, leaving no insulation value. When I used the two-person tarp tent I was amazed at how much warmer it is "inside" even though the only wall is gossamer-thin mosquito netting. It slowed the air movement considerably so I experienced a warmer temperature within the tarp tent than with a tarp alone.

Based on those downsides I wanted to find something that was 1) lighter than I have with my bivy / tarp combo, 2) would give me more bug-free zone, and 3) would be warmer. In October 2013 settled on the Zpacks Hexamid Solo Tent without the beak. The tent has a wrap-around bug net that goes underneath you and your gear and you put your groundsheet inside and on top.

This caused me to re-evaluate and weigh my current groundsheet which is an old piece of house wrap. It weighs a mere 5.2 ounces. Zpacks sells a Cuben fiber groundsheet the comes in at 2.7 ounces. Wow, If I bought the groundsheet I could save another 2.5 ounces.

I got my tent in November and set it up on my lawn. I found that it easily met all of the criteria I had set out to accomplish and at 12.8 ounces for both groundsheet and tent would save me about 7.7 ounces.

All was good until early December when I began the same re-evaluation of my sleeping bag. I have been using the same bag now for over ten years. I know it well, I have been pleased with it's performance and it's still clean and in excellent condition. I have a Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag which weighs a mere 23 ounces. Way less than most bags you'll find at REI. In my research I came across's Ultralight sleeping bag review. I saw that ZPacks's 20 degree bag was rated as the warmest bag for it's weight.

Not only was it the warmest for it's weight, it weighs less than the bag I have now. I began thinking, this is a twenty degree bag, I have a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled that when I had originally bought my bag I went from a zero degree bag to a thirty-two degree bag. I recalled the fear I had of freezing to death in the mountains because my bag wouldn't be warm enough. In the many, many cold nights in the mountains since then there have only been a few times where my bag wasn't warm enough. One time I was cold enough that I pulled out my emergency "space" blanket, tucked it under the side of my bag, and draped it over the top of me. I found that I was instantly warm.

Since then I have added a 3.8 ounce Cocoon mummy liner to my sleep setup. My purpose was to provide a barrier between my typically filthy body and my difficult to wash sleeping bag. I found that not only did my sleeping bag stay cleaner, but I gained a few degrees of warmth to my sleep system.

With the mummy liner, the warmth of a tent, and the insurance of my "space" blanket, I feel I no longer need a thirty-two degree bag. So the idea of a twenty-two degree bag, even though lighter, didn't make sense to me. I found that ZPacks makes a 40 degree bag that would be much more along the lines of what I need. Not only is it lighter than the 20 degree bag, It is almost 11 ounces lighter than my bag.

Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I found myself falling into more and more weight savings with every turn. I started with questioning my shelter and now I am questioning my bag. Where will the madness end?

Well, not yet because as I looked at this new bag I found that it had continuous baffles, meaning I could shift all of the down to one side of the bag. The point is that down is not that great of an insulator if your are crushing it underneath your body weight. I have known this for years and because of this switched from a Therm-A-Rest inflatable mattress to a Z-Rest closed-cell foam mattress. The r-value (insulation value of the Z-Rest is 2.6 which was much better than the inflatable one I had. Well, wouldn't you know it, those clever folk at Therm-A-Rest have come up with a new NeoAir XLite mattress that is lighter than my ZRest and has a higher r-value to boot. I could increase the warmth and comfort of my sleeping pad and save 2.4 ounces at the same time.

So, I decided to get the 40 degree bag. While visiting ZPacks website I found that they had just introduced a new tent. This tent has a sown-in floor of Cuben fiber and a killer design with a door that closes down to provide bomber rain protection. After lying in the Hexamid I had purchased without the beak I could easily see that the suggestions on the website of shifting positions under the tape during the rain would be given and that even though the tent is well ventilated it would provide minimal warmth because the front was so open. So even though the Solplex is a little heavier, the better rain protection and warmth it will provide is more than worth it. I emailed Zpacks about the tent I already had and the one that I would rather have and they were happy to exchange it. What a great company.

So now I will have a tent with a sown in floor. I began thinking how dirty tent floors get when you set them directly on the ground. So I went back to researching groundsheets and discovered that something called cross linked polyolefin has become the bellwether lightweight material for groundsheets. Some have even used this material to make a tarp! That is still outside my comfort level but I was intrigued about using it for a groundsheet. I went to my local Home Depot and didn't find the window insulation kit that the guys on the forum were talking about. I then went to Lowes and success! I was able to pickup a Frost King V75 window kit with a 62" X 210" piece of cross linked polyolefin in it. I cut it in half both ways and now I have four 31" X 105" groundsheets. So now I have a groundsheet that weighs 1.4 ounces.

Here's a table showing the weights of each of gear item:

Before After
Sleeping bag 23.1 12.3
Shelter 15.3 14.6
Groundsheet 5.2 1.4
Sleeping Pad 10.4 8

54 36.3

17.7 ounces of weight cut from my base weight

It is funny to me that I have cut 17.7 ounces from my base weight by going through this process. I remember doing this the last time and was sure I had gotten my weight to the lightest I could get it. Now I have improved my warmth and, increased my bug-free zone, and reduced my base weight all at the same time. Normally the first two will always increase the last one.

This is just the most recent example of how challenging my assumptions has led me to a better place. In this case it means not having to carry around over a pound of extra weight that would be keeping me less warm and comfortable than I will now be.

No comments:

Post a Comment