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My ebooks The Second Layer of Hell and Blood Beyond the Abyss (apocalyptic fiction) are now available for download. They are the first two installments in the Path of Survival series. To see additional information, click here .

This page will be used for gear reviews. If you would like to submit a gear review, please send it to me as e-mail at .

Please state what you did and did not like about the item, and include as much of the following as possible: Name of item, name of manufacturer, advertised weight, "real" weight, date of purchase, company purchased from and price. The gear item should be rated according to the scale shown below. Please send the article to me in its completed form so that I can "copy & paste" it here. Your name (cyber name or real name) should be included; your e-mail address is optional.

Gear Ratings

0 - Wouldn't wish this turkey on my worst enemy; won't use it.
1 - I'll use it, but it didn't live up to all my expectations.
2 - Satisfactory; but its no big deal. Lived up to most of my expectations.
3 - Good; I like it. Lived up all to my expectations.
4 - Very Good; Exceeded my expectations.
5 - Excellent; I love it, won't leave home without it.

Alternative Gear Page At TrailQuest

Clothing / Rain Gear

  • Brooks-Range Cirro Jacket
  • Bellwether Lycra Shorts
  • Feathered Friends Fleece Pants
  • Cabela's Gore-Tex Parka
  • Cabela's Fleece Pants
  • Cabela's Insulated Gore-Tex Gloves
  • Windstopper Fleece Mittens
  • Gore-Tex Shell Mittens
  • Supplex Nylon Pants
  • Campmor Fleece Jacket
  • Campmor Fleece Pants
  • Thermax Long Underwear
  • Campmor Gore-Tex Parka
  • Campmor Pack Light Jacket
  • Seattle Sombrero Rain Hat


  • New Balance "800" Series Shoes
  • NB 803 All Terrain Shoes
  • Nike Air ACG Sandals
  • Spenco Footbeds
  • Thor-Lo Hiking Socks
  • Adidas Trail Runner Shoes
  • Faded Glory Trail Shoes
  • Smart Wool Socks
  • Nike Pegasus Trail Runner Shoes

    Tents / Tarps / Bivys / Hammocks

  • Coleman eXponent Inyo 2
  • Nomad Tent
  • REI Half-Dome Tent
  • Mountain Hardwear Solitude Tent
  • Eureka Gossamer Solo Tent
  • Coleman Cobra Tent
  • Peak 1 Aries Tent
  • Clark Jungle Hammock


  • G4 Pack From GVP Gear
  • The Breeze Backpack
  • Nike Day & A Half Pack - Used as ultralight pack

    Flashlights / Headlamps

  • Black Diamond Ion Headlamp
  • MagLight
  • Photon Light
  • Princeton Tec Headlamp
  • Dorcy Flashlights

    Sleeping Bags / Pads

  • Eureka Casper 15 Degree Bag
  • Marmot Hydrogen Down Bag
  • TNF Camp Series Sleeping Bag
  • Campmor Mummy Down Bag
  • Z - Rest Sleeping Pad
  • Therma-Rest Mattress

    Cooking Gear

  • Whisperlite Stove
  • Svea 123R Stove
  • Wal-Mart Grease Pot - Used as cooking pot
  • Esbit Stove

    Watches / Barometers

  • Avocet Altimeter - Barometer Watch

    Climbing Gear

  • Grivel Monte Blanc Ice Ax
  • Climb-High Pamir Ice Ax

    Cameras / Radios

  • Sony Walkman SRF 49 Radio
  • Canon Sure-Shot 80 Camera

    Compasses / GPS

  • Suunto M3 Compass

    Water Filters / Water Containers

  • Coghlan's Water Filter
  • PUR Hiker Water Filter
  • Nalgene Water Bottles

    Hiking Poles

  • Leki Tour Light Hiking Poles
  • Komperdell Hiking Poles

    Eye Wear

  • Bolle Black Venom Sunglasses

    Brooks-Range Cirro Jacket

    Submitted by Rainmaker on April 7, 2011

    This is a very lightweight and well-constructed jacket made of Pertex Quantum and nylon. I have the Large-size with hood, and it weighs 14.25 ounces on my digital scales. I am 6 ft., 2 inches tall, weigh about 170 pounds and my regular dress-shirt size is 14.5 x 34. The jacket (which has a slender-cut waist) fits me well. The waist has draw-cord closures (a cord-lock on each side).

    The jacket has 4 zippered pockets. There are 2 hand-warmer pockets, plus an outside pocket and another pocket inside the jacket. There is also a full-length zipper with draft tube in the front. The front zipper was a bit balky at first, but I added some lube (lip balm), and with increased use, it appears to be loosening-up a bit. It just takes a bit more pressure when zipping-up the jacket than I am accustomed to, but it is not a problem.

    I will primarily use it as a windproof insulating layer on cold days and on cold and windy days. So far, I have used it in temperatures as low as 35 - 40 degrees (Farenheit) with 25 - 30 mph winds, and it has kept me warm.

    The ample hood has a draw-cord closure (one cord lock on each side), and it also has a Velcro tab in the back. It took me a while to figure out the purpose of the tab. However, when the tab was not engaged, the hood came over my forehead too far and interfered with my vision. After engaging the tab, I was able to adjust the front of the hood, and keep it above my sight-line. It is a nice touch.

    This is a very comfortable garment. It does not bind at all and offers a high degree of freedom of movement. It is so light, it is easy to forget that it is being worn. The stitching is expertly done, and the soft nylon has the feel of luxurious silk. I will give it a rating of 4.5 .

    To see the product page, click on the link below:

    Eureka Casper 15 Degree Bag

    Submitted by Rainmaker on March 23, 2011

    This is a high-quality, well made bag. It is advertised as mummy style, but it is actually a modified mummy style. It is a bit too roomy to qualify as a true mummy bag, in my estimation.

    The zipper-action has been smooth and trouble-free. There is a draft tube that runs the entire length of the 3/4 length zipper. So far, I have not snagged the draft tube (or anything else) in the zipper.

    I took a very close look at all the stitching, and the folks who made the bag did an excellent job. None of the seams are sewn-through. In addition, the tension of the thread is as it should be, and the stitching is tight and uniform.

    The insulation is a synthetic called Rteq. I am not familiar with it (I expect it is fairly new stuff), but it seems to provide very good warmth-to-weight ratio. The loft of the bag measured from top to bottom is about 5 inches in the shoulder and foot areas, and about 4 inches in the middle portion of the bag.

    I have the Regular-length model, and it is advertised to fit those up to 6 ft. tall. I am just under 6 ft. 2 inches tall, but the bag fits me, though it is a bit snug. However, I knew from previous experience that a bag advertised as 82 inches in length would fit me. Personally, I did not want the extra weight of the Long model.

    The weight of the bag minus the stuff sack on my digital scales is 3 pounds and 3/4 ounces. The weight of the 12 x 16 inch compression stuff sack is just under 4 ounces, making the total carry weight (bag and stuff sack) about 3 pounds, 4 3/4 ounces. For me, the compression stuff sack is overkill, and I will replace it with a silnylon stuff sack that weighs under an ounce. To see the complete specifics of the bag at the product page, click on the link below.

    Under ideal circumstances (person is dry, well-fed, lying on a full-length insulating pad and protected from the wind in a double-wall tent), I feel that the comfort range of the bag would extend to its advertised minimum of 15 degrees Farenheit. However, I am a very slender person who has a history of sleeping cold. Therefore, for me I think the comfort range of the bag will be a bit higher, and in the neighborhood of 22 - 25 degrees Farenheit. However, I have not yet had an opportunity for testing the bag in weather that cold.

    It also has a draw-cord hood, 2 hanging loops at the foot-end, and a small pocket that is sewn into the lining of the bag. The pocket has a Velcro closure and is nice for keeping things like a small flashlight, medications and toilet paper within easy reach.

    Overall, I really like the bag and I expect it will give me years of comfortable and trouble-free service. I will give it a rating of 4.5.

    Too see the product page at Eureka, click on the link below:

    Nike Pegasus Trail Runner Shoes

    Submitted by Rainmaker on Sept. 3, 2003

    I bought these shoes for my 2003 hike of the Colorado Trail. Actually, I wanted some New Balance 805's. However, when I saw how "thin" and stiff (like boards) the 805's are, I decided to try the Nikes.

    These are among the most comfortable shoes I've ever had on my feet. Therefore, I was very surprised when they rubbed raw spots on the top of both of my feet the first day out on the trail. This may have been partially my fault. The shoes seemed to fit well when I tried them on in the store, however, I put a pair of Spenco footbeds on top of the footbeds that came with the shoes. I also wore thin, liner socks instead of cushioned socks. It is possible that there just wasn't enough room in the shoe for the 2 sets of footbeds, but I needed the extra cushioning.

    Counting training hikes before I left home, I put about 550 miles on these shoes under some pretty rough conditions (rocky terrain, daily rain; they stayed wet almost all the time). On the last day of my hike, I noticed that both shoes had deep cracks running parallel to the sole along the sides of the toe box area. Basically, they are done. I can use them on short hikes and around the house, but I wouldn't trust them not to fall apart on another long hike.

    They had bright orange accents, which I wasn't crazy about. However, I colored them with a permanent black marker.

    I'll rate them a 2.5. I'll probably try Addidas next time.

    Black Diamond Ion Headlamp

    Submitted By: David Mauldin
    Rating: 5

    I used this headlamp on my 468 mile hike of the Colorado Trail in 2003. It performed extremely well, and it has found a permanent home in my pack.

    This headlamp weighs (with battery) an unbelievable 1 1/8 ounces. It features two white LED bulbs. Unlike some other models, the light output is not adjustable. It's either on or off; nothing in between. The light output is so bright that I can't look directly into it. It uses a 6 volt camera battery that can be difficult to find. I found them at Wal-Mart for about $7 each. The manufacturer states that one battery will provide about 12 hours of light. From what I've seen thus far, I'd have to say that is accurate.

    The headband is adjustable and the lamp housing is tiltable about 180 degrees (up and down). It provides enough light for night hiking, cooking after dark, answering nature calls and just about anything else you'll need a light for when backpacking. There is a small "key" on the headband that is used to open the flashlight to change batteries. No special tools are needed, and changing batteries is a snap. Unlike other lights (like the Photon), battery changes can easily take place in the back country.

    I ordered the Ion online, and the first one I received didn't work properly. The light would go off unexpectedly, and needed to be tapped or jostled a bit before it would come back on. I returned it, and received a replacement. I've had no problems with the new one.

    I paid about $18 for it, and $6 for shipping. This was a sale price; I think they retail for about $25. They are available in several colors; mine is brown.

    Coleman eXponent Inyo 2 Tent

    Submitted By: Scamp
    Rating: 4
    Advertised weight: 4 lbs.
    Weight as Carried: 4 lbs. 1 oz.
    Size: Coffin shaped, 52" max width and about 96" long.
    Sleeps: 2 snuggly or 1 roomy (w/ external frame pack)
    Vestibules: 2 (integral to rainfly)
    Outfitter: Popular Outdoor Outfitters, AZ and NM
    Purchased: Fall of 2001 for 2002 AT trek
    Cost: $89

    I like this tent. It was well worth its weight during my 600 mile trek on the AT last year. It performed well in several strong rainstorms and despite my skepticism about a tent with an entire mesh top, the rainfly does an excellent job of repelling wind and rain.

    It's easy to set up, with one pole, so it's not free-standing. There are a lot of tent stakes, maybe 10. I found myself tenting more and more as the weather improved over the summer. Condensation was a problem from time to time in the damp, misty mountains in NC. But this is likely true of any tent under those conditions. In the hot summer weather, the rainfly sides roll up and allow for lots of ventilation, and amusement watching the critters try to get in to bite. There are two large doors, one on each side, so your mate isn't disturbed. The vestibules are large enough for your boots, cooking gear and water bottle. There's a pocket gear loft that I used to store my glasses, radio and flashlight, and also to hang damp shorts and shirts while sleeping. There are two drawbacks to this tent, besides alot of stakes:

    1) it's yellow, which isn't my favorite color

    2) with extended use, one's toes might wear through the bug net at the foot of the tent, since it tapers right down to the ground. Isn't that what duct tape is for, anyway?!

    Coghlan's Water Filter

    Submitted By: David Crane

    Rating: 4

    Here is my review of the Coghlan's Water Filter - just the filter. No mechanism to break, no housing to crack, no pumping, no holding a pickup tube under freezing water. It's cheap, lightweight and does a decent job.

    Here's the complete system: One Coghlan's water filter (The brand is not important so long as it has a tubing nipple on one end. However you may have to adjust the tubing diameters if the nipple is a different size.), one lightweight water bag with support loop, 7 feet of 1/4" silicone tubing, 3 inches of 3/8" silicone tubing, one rubber coated metal clothes pin/clip. The filter is available at Walmart for about $10 and is rated against Giardia. The tubing sells for about $0.10 per foot at Home Depot or other hardware store. Silicone does not make the water taste funny as latex or vinyl can.

    Here's how to use it: Fill your water bag from any unpolluted supply and hang it 5-6 feet off the ground. Slip the 3/8" silicone tube over the filter outlet nipple. Plug the 1/4" tube into the 3/8" tube. Place the filter into the water bag and sink it. Suck on the free end of the tubing till water starts to siphon on its own. Once the water is flowing, turn the end of the tubing upward and use the clean water to rinse about a foot of the tube you just had in your mouth. This also flushes the filter and tubing. Keeping a drip loop in the tubing, place the now clean tube end into your water bottle, cook pot, or whatever you want your pure water in (which should be resting on the ground and lower than the water bag). The clothes clip comes in handy to keep the tube in place while you relax and let gravity do the work for you.

    On a recent hike, I filtered water for myself and my hiking companion as well as an entire scout troop who had just discovered that their pump wouldn't work.

    The only problem I've ever had with this system involves use when temperatures are below freezing. Preheating the water, or dropping a hot rock into the water bag kept the water from freezing, however care must be taken to keep the filter element from freezing and possibly ruining its ability to filter out the micro-organisms. Any water filter needs to be protected from freezing. Carry it in a ziplock bag in an inside pocket.

    It is entirely possible to use the same tubing size for the entire system, and this may actually process more water more quickly, but I like the smaller size due to its low weight and flexibility. Do not let the tubing get "crimped" when in your pack since this will cause a restriction of water flow.

    PUR Water Filter

    Submitted By: Trailbird

    Rating: 2

    We carried a PUR Hiker on our 2001 PCT thru-hike. We used it to regularly filter water for two and were careful to not subject it to murky water...we boiled that stuff. The filter cartridge was advertised to filter 800 liters (depending on water conditions), but we never achieved that, and we filtered only clear looking water through it.

    After 200 liters the filter would get hard to pump and then...pop...the plastic outside casing would crack shooting water 10 feet off to the side. Duct tape was used regularly on the hike for a variety of functions, but it was used the most repairing the water filter.

    We carried the 1-800 number for all pertinent equipment manufacturers and the only one we needed to call was PUR. I wasn't impressed with their product, but their service help department was great. They shipped us a total of three new casings during the course of the hike. And yes, we did occasionally replace the filter cartridge, but not one made it to the 250 liter mark. We also meet other thru-hikers with similar experiences...they were happy to get the 1-800 number.

    If I had to do it over again I'd consider a MSR.

    Marmot Hydrogen Down Bag

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 4

    I purchased this bag to use for my AT hike when I was in Virginia, and I've now used it for about 400 miles of hiking (I'll update this info after I complete my hike). Weight is 1 pound, 8 ounces and it has about 4" of loft. The insulation is 775 - 800 fill power goose down, and it has extra fill in the foot section. I paid $249 + sales tax at an outfitter's store. I'm not sure of the width of my bag, but it should be sufficient for those of average size.

    The only color is black, and they are available in two sizes, Regular and Long. Regular fits those up to 6' 0", and Long will accommodate those up to 6' 5".

    Since I am only 5' 2", my Regular bag is too long for me. Even the width is a bit much, and I intend to make some alterations. I was disappointed that it was not available in a shorter length.

    The stuff sack that came with the bag was "heavy" nylon and weighed 1.4 ounces. I felt that this was overkill, and the outfitter gave me a lightweight silnylon stuff sack (in addition to the heavier one that came with the bag). A larger bag for storage was also included by the manufacturer.

    I have used this bag in temperatures down to its advertised minimum of 30 degrees. Even though I normally sleep cold, I was more or less warm, though I was wearing some extra clothes and was sleeping on a pad inside my tent.

    I've been satisfied with the quality and workmanship, and the hood is very functional. It has a half zipper, and the zipper is available only on the left side.

    This is kind of a basic bag, those wanting extra loops, pockets, pouches and racing stripes may be disappointed. However, for dedicated ultralighters, it is more than sufficient (it does have one loop for hanging the bag, located at the foot-end). As a testimony to the "basic" qualities of the the bag, I could find nothing to cut off or remove (other than the "To Be Removed Only By The Consumer" product tags). However, I'm still looking...

    Additional Information From Rainmaker:
    I also purchased one of these bags. Mine is about 29 inches wide at it widest point, and tapers to about 19 inches at the foot. It weighs 1 pound, 8 ounces. The bag is the "Regular" length and is advertised as fitting those up to 6'. However, I'm 6' 2", and the bag fits me. It is approximately 84 inches long, as measured from the top of the hood to the end of the foot section. Loft is about 4 inches.

    I used mine on my hike of Vermont's Long Trail in 2002 and also on my hike of the Colorado Trail in 2003. It performed extremely well. This is a high quality bag, and it kept me warm down to its advertised minimum of 30 degrees (F). The coldest temperature we had in Colorado was 28 degrees. I was just a bit cool in the early morning hours when the temps were in the upper 20's. In weather that cold, I wear Thermax long underwear, balaclava and gloves, Smart-Wool socks, along with a Polar-Fleece hat. The Marmot Hydrogen is now my bag of choice for 3-season hiking.

    Bellwether Lycra Shorts

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I wore two different pair of these biking shorts during my 3 year hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. They are very durable, comfortable, lightweight and cool and they dry very quickly.

    The first pair was used in 1999 to hike just over 1,000 miles. They had already been used for a while before I began my hike, and they were pretty much worn out by the time I reached Sonora Pass three months later. I found them to be very comfortable when I was hiking the desert portion of the PCT. The second pair was used in 2000 and 2001. They were new in 2000 when I began my hike and they made the entire 1,600 miles over the next two summers. In fact, I'm still using them.

    The second pair I bought came with a foam padding strip in the seat portion. It may have been great for biking, but it had no use in the hiking world, so I removed it by carefully cutting away the stitching with a small scissors. This reduced the weight of the shorts to about 3.5 ounces. I believe they cost about $20 and are available from Campmor and perhaps REI as well.

    Bolle Black Venom Sunglasses

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I doubt that I would have bought these expensive but very nice glasses. However, since they were gifts from the trail gods, I didn't have to. I found them on a rock on the AT in Georgia several years ago.

    These glasses are about as small as sunglasses can be and still get the job done. Each lense is only about 2 1/2 inches long and 1 1/2 inches high. They feature a "wrap around" design and even with the chumbs (holders that keep the glasses secured around my neck when they are not being worn), they weigh only about an ounce.

    I used these glasses in 2000 and 2001 on the Pacific Crest Trail for about 4 months and 1,600 miles of hiking. I also used them on Vermont's Long Trail in 2002. They are still in good shape, so enough said about durability. They also seem to do a good job shading my eyes. My eyes are comfortable in bright sunlight, and things don't go completely dark when I step into shade. I like them a lot, and they are now my sunglasses of choice when backpacking. They fit my face fairly snugly, and do a good job of keeping flying insects out of my eyes, too.

    Feathered Friends Fleece Pants

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    Several years ago, I found these pants at a local second hand clothing store. They were in new condition and had a $2 price tag on them. Obviously, the store didn't know what they had and felt that they were no better than inexpensive cotton sweat pants. At any rate, I managed to keep my enthusiasm and elation under control until I'd scooped them up, paid my $2 and made my escape out the front door.

    Since then, I have worn them on many cold weather backpacking trips. I have been very pleased with them. They are slender cut and weigh about 10.5 ounces, which is several ounces lighter than my other fleece pants. For their weight, they are very warm and I've had no problems with them at all. They have an elasticized waist band with cordlock closure, and there is elastic on the cuffs. There is a small zippered pocket in the back.

    They have held up well even after many machine washings. There have been no seam or fabric failures and they are still in good condition.

    Komperdell Hiking Poles

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 5

    The Komperdell hiking poles I used for the entire PCT are a great brand. Mine are still functioning, the telescoping still catching. For over 800 miles in 2000, and 1,100 miles in 2001, they were also used as the frame for my tent.

    Although they are scarred and the tips worn down from much use in the High Sierra, they function so well I plan to use them on the AT in 2002.

    The handles have a good feel to them, with straps that never failed. I depended on them extensively when fording streams and glaciers.

    A trick I learned was to shorten the uphill hiking pole when hiking on snow. With the snow baskets, and a shortened upside pole, navigation was simpler. At this point an ice ax wasn't needed. Ski poles are not adjustable so I was pleased to have hiking poles instead.

    I believe I paid about $60 for them and bought them from Sierra Trading Post. The pair weigh about 18 ounces, and they have curved handles and cork grips. Snow baskets were included.

    Whisperlite Stove

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 1

    These stoves look great. I believe mine weighed (yes, past tense) about 11 ounces, not counting the pump assembly (which is mostly plastic) and fuel bottle. I still have it somewhere, but I had so many problems with it that I put it in storage and haven't used it in years. I will probably never use it again.

    Basically, it worked for about 7 - 10 hours of initial use. Then it needed to be taken apart and cleaned. After that, it never worked well again. It had this uncanny knack of working flawlessly in the back yard, and then refusing to work at all in the backcountry. Not long after I started having problems with the stove itself, a gasket started leaking in the pump assembly. Shortly thereafter, it stopped working completely (wouldn't light at all). I put it away and have tried to forget about it.

    I believe I had one of the first models produced, and undoubtedly improvements have been made in the design. However, for my money, the Whisperlite is one of the worst stoves that has even been perpatrated upon the hiking public. I'm rating it a "1", and that is being generous.

    Wal-Mart Grease Pot

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I used one of these aluminum pots during my and Brawny's hike from Crater Lake, OR to Manning Park, Canada in 2001 for about 2 months of hiking covering about 830 miles. I also used the same one during my hike of Vermont's Long Trail in 2002. After over 1,000 miles of hiking, it is still in good condition.

    It is very lightweight (about 4.1 ounces), and it performed very well. It is about 5 1/2 inches in diameter and 3 inches high and will hold about a quart of liquids. It is adequate for one person (Brawny and I cook separately), but is probably too small for two people to use. The pot was not bothered at all by either alcohol or solid fuel tablets, but because it is so thin, I'm not sure how well it would hold up to a "flame jet" stove like a Peak 1 or Whisperlite (providing you can get a Whisperlite to actually work). Mine is still very much usable and looks like it is good for another 1,000 or so miles of hiking.

    I especially like it because my soda can stove, cooking pot support, windscreen, pot lifter and hexamine fuel tablets all fit inside. Wal-Mart Grease Pots are available in the Wal-Mart Kitchen Wares Department for about $7.

    Campmor Fleece Pants

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I have used these pants for about 5 years. They weigh 13 ounces in Men's large size, and I have been well pleased with the quality and workmanship of the material. Even after extensive wear and many machine washings, they are still in good condition.

    They feature two zippered pockets in front and a zippered pocket in the back. There is an elasticized waist hem with a drawcord and cord lock and there is also elastic on the cuffs. There have been no zipper, seam or fabric failures.

    However, I was disappointed because of the short inseam length (28 inches). The pants are too short for me, but I kept them anyway. They are very warm and comfortable. I probably should have returned them to Campmor because of the short inseam length, since I had to buy another pair from Cabela's in Tall Men size (see gear review).

    Cabela's Fleece Pants

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I have used a pair of these pants for about 5 years. Mine are the "Tall Men" (Large) size and weigh 13.5 ounces. They feature an elasticized drawcord (with cord lock) at the waist, two front pockets and a zippered rear pocket. There is also elastic on the cuffs.

    I have been well pleased with them. They are extremely warm and I've never hiked in weather so cold that I've actually had to wear them on the trail. However, they are very nice for wearing in camp, and I've worn them in my sleeping bag on extremely cold nights. Also, I'm 6' 2" and have a 33" inseam, and I was very glad to see that they were long enough to fit me.

    There have been no fabric or seam failures, and the pants are still in very good condition after extensive use and many machine washings.

    MagLight Flashlight

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 1

    I have bought several of these expensive flashlights over the years and none of them are still working. While the flashlight itself may be �bombproof�, the plastic bulb housing assembly that holds the bulb in place and carries the electrical charge from the batteries to the bulb isn�t. It is my opinion that this plastic part does not hold up well to the normal wear and tear of long hikes. When there is a problem with the bulb housing assembly, the flashlight is done, at least until the part can be replaced.

    Also, for ultralight backpackers, the flashlights are heavy. On my long hikes, I now carry 2 Photon lights and an inexpensive (and lightweight) one-cell AAA plastic flashlight. I carry one of the Photon lights around my neck on a lanyard, and install the other in the hanging loop of my tent.

    The plastic one-cell AAA flashlights can be found at hardware and discount department stores for $3 - $4. I use them mainly for projecting a beam of light into the woods if �disturbing� noises are heard at night (it makes a big difference concerning getting a good night�s sleep if you know the critter out there making noise is a deer instead of a bear). I also use it for answering nature calls at night when snakes or porcupines may be around.

    Basically, I�m all done buying MagLights.

    Cabela's Gore Tex Parka

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased one of these in 1991 to use on my thru-hike of the AT. It is Cabela’s basic parka, the one that sells for about $125. It has a full coverage drawcord hood, velcro closure cuffs, two external pockets, one internal pocket and another drawcord on the hem.

    I have found this parka to be extremely durable. Not only did it hold up to my thru-hike of the AT, but I have also used it extensively in Alaska, Europe and Canada, and also on numerous trail maintenance and backpacking trips close to home. Of course, when I say it has �held up�, I mean that there have been no zipper, seam or fabric failures. It leaks a bit (it is my opinion that most Gore Tex fabrics will leak after extensive and / or hard use), and I now use a silicone based sealant to keep it more or less weatherproof.

    At a weight of about a pound and a half, this parka is too heavy for 3-season use, but it comes in very handy when the weather gets very cold in mid winter. It is the parka I now use for trail work and �off trail� exploring in cold weather. I have accepted two things about this parka; it will never be totally weatherproof again, and I�ll probably never wear it out.

    Grivel Mt. Blanc Ice Ax (With Leash & Point Guard)

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 5

    The entire package weighs 18 ounces.

    Although heavier than some ice axes I saw on the trail this year, the Grivel Monte Blanc ax has a quality that speaks for itslf. After all, the purpose of an ax is to chop steps in ice, aid in traversing or descending treacherous, icy tread in snow on high mountain passes, and most importantly, saving one from a fall into oblivion by use of self-arrest.

    No one I saw (except the weekenders coming up the Whitney Portal Trail) carried crampons. The sole ice and snow safety equipment were axes and / or hiking poles.

    As a safety measure, my ax (when not in use and securely strapped to my pack), has a rubber point guard. This fits snugly over the head and weights approx 48 grams, less than 2 ounces.

    At 60 grams, or just over 2 ounces, the leash is more valuable than gold. It is firmly attached to the ax by a web strap knotted through a hole in the head of the ax. The strap is 4 feet long, serves as a wrist leash and allows one to have the ax secured should it be forced or slip out of your hands. This can happen easily in a fall, self arrest or bout of hypothermic clumsiness. The leash will hold you to your ax, in a self arrest, or keep your ax from falling over the wall if it falls out of your hands. Note: the leash is only as good as the knot that holds it to your ax. Check the knot frequently. The knot came out of mine once unexpectedly.

    Another hole in the shaft point end allows one to cinch the ax securly to the pack. A three point secure system is recommended against loss and shifting.

    The ax itself is 400 grams, or 14 ounces. It has a remarkably serious look to it. I carried it confidently and also considered it a defense against wild creatures, whether they were walking on two or four legs. No fear of gear failure here.

    It has some scratches on it now, proof that I considered it necessary in the High Sierra, even in a light snow year.

    Smart Wool Socks

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 4

    My intoduction to Smart Wool socks came in a hiker box at Agua Dulce. I found a pair and sent them on to Kennedy Meadows.

    At Kennedy Meadows, where we all got High Sierra gear (cold weather clothing, bags and ice axes) my smart wools (90 grams, just over 3 ounces) were selected and the liner socks (15 grams) were thrown away .

    Wool stays warm, or relatively so, even when wet. I was amazed at the comfort and warmth they provided while climbing Mt. Whitney (14,500 ft.) and crossing the various high snowy passes. Many times these socks were wet morning til evening, but still were comfortable and warm.

    Rainmaker wore Smart Wool socks with Nike sandals from Bend, Oregon until Skycomish, Washington; about 500 miles. His pair seemed to have dificutly staying up. I gave him a spare pair and they performed well. Apparently, there are various styles. A pair I use for sleeping, which are extremely cozy, weigh in at 110 grams, nearly 4 ounces. They are expensive, costing $15 at Campmoor.

    Bottom line, they make great Christmas presents, work wonderfully in cold, wet weather, and are heaven as foot sleepwear.

    Faded Glory Trail Shoes

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 5

    My first pair of Faded Glory trail shoes were regular cut. I hiked 555 miles from the Mexican border to Mojave in them. The bottom tread pattern, however, was not sufficent below the balls of my feet, allowing after 385 miles a burning set of blisters to form below my callouses. This taught me a valuable lesson in tread patterns for long distance hiking. The padding wore out also from the inside. In retrospect, inserts added at that time would have saved much pain.

    Rainmaker sent my second pair, this time high top Faded Glory trail shoes to Mojave. A thicker sole and tighter tread pattern solved the previous problems. I added new inserts 600 miles later, and shoe glue on the stitching after 1,000 miles of hiking. They did seem to hold alot of water, making them heavy in the four day rain. Removing the inserts helped them to dry faster.

    All told, the high tops served better than the regular cut, giving me 1400 trail miles of service. They each were purchaced at Wal-Mart, costing around $15 a pair. I had very few blisters. The high tops being my favorite, other than the weight they gained when wet.

    Bottom line, I would definitly buy another pair.

    Nike Day & A Half Pack

    Submitted By: Brawny

    Rating: 5

    Nike Day and a Half Pack

    Weight of this sharp looking pack is 21 ounces. It has two side pockets with zippers. Also, with one large front zipper pocket, and a mesh pocket with elastic draw cord across the entire front, there is great potential for organization not common in many internal packs.

    The pack has an approximate capacity of 2,000 cubic inches. I sewed two cinch straps to the lid which allowed the easy addition of a stuff sack where I now carry my sleeping bag. It doesn't come with a hip belt, but the addition of one made it very trail worthy. The sholder straps have sufficent padding for the loads of 30 pounds or so I commonly carried with the water and 7 days of food needed on the PCT. No seams, straps or zippers showed any signs of strain after using it on the northern most 600 miles of trail to Canada.

    This pack was bought in Bend, Oregon at an outlet store. Costing just $24, a true value in gear. I plan to use it on the 2002 AT thru-hike.

    Svea 123R Stove

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    Before I switched to alcohol stoves, this was my stove of choice. I�ve used them for about 15 years. I carried one on my 1992 thru-hike of AT and was very happy with it. In fact, even though the stove was used at least twice per day each day I was on the trail, I was one of the few hikers who hiked from Georgia to Maine that year without having a stove failure.

    This stove has been around a while. There are lighter, hotter and faster stoves on the market, but few can match it for dependability. It is built of brass and stainless steel; no plastic. It never needs cleaning or disassembly. It requires priming (dropping a few drops of fuel into the fuel well and lighting it), but not pumping. When it is primed, the lit fuel pressurizes the fuel in the tank; pumping isn�t needed.

    The stove weighs about 18 ounces when empty and will hold about 6 ounces of fuel. It will burn about 1 hour without refueling. It will burn white gas, Coleman fuel and unleaded auto gas. If you can find a gas station, you can get fuel. These stoves have been around over 30 years, but they are getting a bit hard to find now. However, used ones occasionally show up at yard sales and second-hand sporting goods stores.

    REI Half-Dome Tent

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased one of these tents about 5 years ago when they were on sale for $90. I think the regular price in 2001 is about $130 - $140. They weigh about 6 pounds, but sleeps two comfortably. It is not quite a 4 season tent because of a couple of mesh panels, but it should hold up to most anything that most backpackers will encounter during early spring and late fall.

    Brawny and I just used mine on a 2 night / 3 day trip in the Ellicott Rock Wilderness in South Carolina. We encountered at least 4 inches of rain on this trip, but we slept dry. We had just a small bit of water in the foot section after one particularly hard deluge that lasted for several hours. We used a backpacker�s towel to mop up the water and all our gear stayed dry.

    The design is a simple �X� dome, and it is free standing. The rain fly attaches to the tent with snap clips, and the vestible (which is fairly large) goes all the way to the ground. There is a rear window and a window in the front door, along with a small, covered ventilation panel in the front. It sheds rain very well, and though I�ve never used it in snow, I think it would shed snow pretty well, also.

    Sony Walkman SRF-49 Radio

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased this radio at Circuit City several years ago for about $22 and it has served me very well. The sound quality when using the FM stereo setting is excellent. It has no external antenna; the headphone cord serves as the antenna instead. It can be used only with the headphone (without the headphone, there is no sound).

    In addition to the tuning knob, the AM/FM selector and the power on/off switch, it also has a selector for local or distant channels and a removable belt clip.

    It is about 2.25 inches wide, 3.5 inches long and .75 inches deep. With its single AA battery and headphones, it weighs about 3 ounces. It's a great little radio.

    Nike ACG Sandals

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    At just over 2 pounds in size 12, these sandals are too heavy to be used as camp, town or water crossing shoes. However, for someone who has problems with a foot injury, corns, callouses or other disorders, they could possibly be used in the place of regular hiking boots. Also, it seems that sandals might be a good alternative to regular footwear in desert areas. The "open air" design should definitely produce less heat build-up around the feet than regular boots or shoes. Less heat build-up should produce less blisters.

    I had an injury in 2001 that prevented me from hiking with any footwear that came into contact with the top of my right foot. A friend suggested sandals, and I bought these at an outlet store in Oregon. My ankle was also hurting, and the sandals, combined with some thick and well cushioned Smart Wool socks and an adjustable ankle brace from Wal-Mart, helped keep me on the trail.

    I wore them from Bend, OR to Snoqualmie, WA. I'm not sure of the distance, but it was probably 300 - 400 miles. They were very comfortable, and I especially liked the built-in arch support. I had no problems with them at all (except I hit a couple of toes on some rocks on one occasion). However, occasionally small rocks or pieces of forest debris would get between my foot and the sandal. Traction was not quite as good as footwear with Vibram-type soles, but it was adequate. I even used the sandals to kick in some steps on a snowpack near the border of Mt. Jefferson Park and Mt. Hood National Forest. They are still in very good condition, and I wear them around the house at home. There is no doubt in my mind that they couldn't be used for another 500 miles of hiking, if necessary.

    I'm not sure of the model name; they are definitely made by Nike, and have the description "Nike Air", "ACG" and "Deschutz" imprinted on them. These sandals are bomb proof.

    Cabela's Insulated Gore-Tex Gloves

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I bought my first pair of these gloves around 1990. I wore them out (finally) and bought another pair around 1999. They are my gloves of choice on moderately cold winter days. However, because of their weight (about 6.5 ounces), I now use them more for day hikes, trail work and off trail exploring than actual backpacking.

    I have found them to be fairly durable, but they ARE Gore-Tex, which means they could start leaking after being forced down into a pack a few times. However, I've been careful with them and have had no problems thus far with the newer pair.

    I believe the insulation in Thinsulate, which makes for a fairly warm glove. Also, because of their nylon outer shell and Gore-Tex lining, they are windproof and weatherproof. All in all, a tough combination to beat. The last time I saw a Cabela's catalog, they were offered for sale at $29.99.

    Dorcy Flashlights

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    These reasonably priced, hard plastic flashlights make a good alternative to heavy and expensive aluminum backpacking flashlights. I became dillusioned with the aluminum models on my AT thru-hike. I found out, the hard way, that even though the flashlight itself may be "bombproof", the bulb housing is a rather flimsy piece of plastic. When the bulb housing breaks, you're in the dark.

    The Dorcy model weighs about an ounce without batteries, and uses 2 AA batteries. It is a rather basic model, has just a sliding on - off switch and a fold out hanging ring. However, I bought several of them a few years ago, and I've had no problems with them.

    They can usually be found in Wal-Mart, and perhaps other discount department stores, in the sporting goods department. They are modestly priced at about $2.50.

    OR Windstopper Fleece Mittens

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I used these in 2000 and 2001 for a total of 1,600 miles of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. I also used them in 2002 on Vermont's Long Trail. These are the mittens I depend on in wet, cold conditions. They work as advertised; they stop the wind from reaching my hands. I�m not sure how this is accomplished. However, most likely the fleece used is made with a very tight weave, or it has a layer of nylon sewn between the inner and outer layers.

    I usually wear a pair of Thermax glove liners under the mittens. Together, they provid adequate weather protection in wet and near freezing conditions. However, they are not weatherproof. In other words, my hands stay relatively warm, but they don�t stay dry. In my estimation, though, it is not a matter of staying dry on a long hike, but of staying warm even when you are wet.

    These mittens are very durable and lightweight. They weigh just over 2 ounces and although they were subjected to some rough use and several machine washings, they are still in good condition. I don't use them that often, but it is very nice knowing that they are there when bad weather moves in. For early spring and late fall hiking trips, they have found a permanent spot in my clothes bag.

    OR Gore-Tex Shell Mittens

    Submitted By Rainmaker

    Rating: 4 (would be 5 if they were a bit lighter)

    These are the mittens I use for extremely cold weather. I normally use a pair of 300 weight fleece mittens under them, and I�ve had very good results. Where I live, the southern Appalachians, this system keeps my hands warm on the coldest days of winter.

    I�ve used them for several winters, and I�ve had no problems with them. Unlike similar mittens, these do not have draw strings and cord locks. Instead they have adjustable velcro straps, which I feel work a lot better. Velcro straps makes it much easier to get the mittens on and off. They have a very long gauntlet which provides more weather protection and makes it easy to fit your parka cuffs under the mittens. This keeps rain from pouring into the parka when you lift your arms.

    My mittens weigh about 5 ounces. Campmor sells them (Item #13684) for $42 in their Late Spring 2001 catalog.

    Supplex Nylon Pants

    Submitted By Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I bought these in 1994 for my 3-month backpacking trip to Europe. I wanted pants that were reasonably stylish for wearing in town and on trains and planes, but that dried quickly (I�d heard not to depend on laundromats) and also provided some warmth and weather protection. The pants exceeded my expectations. I wore them all over Europe and also took them on the PCT in 1999 and 2000 for over 1,600 miles of additional hiking. They are still in good condition.

    They are made of nylon, but a kind of nylon that has a soft feel, almost like cotton. The material dries so quickly that it is hard to believe, and the material is very durable. They have lots of pockets and they are very comfortable.

    Since they are nylon, they provide wind protection (and some warmth), however, since they are not weatherproof, they will not keep out rain. But, when I wear Thermax long underwear bottoms under them, I stay warm even if I�m wet. My pants weigh about 8 ounces.

    Campmor sells them for $37 in their Late Spring 2001 catalog. The order number is 58770.

    Campmor Fleece Jacket

    Submitted By Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I have used one of these jackets for years. It is my old standby for cold weather hiking, used mainly for lounging in camp. I usually use it with some wicking long underwear underneath, a nylon parka over it. However, I don�t think I�ve ever used it for actual hiking (except for my little excursion up Katahdin in a near blizzard in late Oct. 1992, but that�s a different story), because the jacket makes me too warm.

    It has seen a lot of use over the years and has been subjected to many machine washings. It has held up extremely well; there have been no fabric, seam or zipper failures. My jacket in Large size, weighs about a pound.

    Incidentally, I didn�t take it on my PCT hike. Instead, I opted for an expedition weight Thermax top in each of the 3 years I spent on the PCT. The Thermax provided about 75% of the warmth of the jacket, and provided a weight savings of about a half pound. Also, the Thermax top took up a lot less space in my pack.

    Campmor Packlight Jacket

    Submitted By Rainmaker

    Rating = 5

    This is actually a coated, uninsulated, windbreaker parka (Campmor�s item #86598, $20 in Late Spring 2001 catalog).

    I used the same one for three summers of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. It made the entire 2,658 mile hike, and is still in wearable condition. However, the fabric is getting a bit thin in places. My jacket, in Large size, weighs about 8 ounces.

    I�ve had no problems with it; no zipper or seam failures. To ensure maximum water repellency, I spray-coated it with silicone spray before each year�s PCT hike. This very light jacket added a lot of warmth and rain / wind protection for very little money. I feel it was an excellent alternative to heavy, delicate and expensive Gore-Tex parkas.

    Seattle Sombrero Rain Hat

    Submitted By Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I purchased one of these from Campmor (item #00493, $40 in Late Spring 2001 catalog) years ago, and I�ve used it extensively. I admit that at the time it was purchased, I was more interested in style than function. Though my hat has never leaked, I�ve since become somewhat disillusioned with Gore-Tex products and probably wouldn�t buy one now.

    In mild weather conditions with extensive rain, the hat is very useful. It has a very good water shedding design. However, in the heat of summer, it is too hot to be comfortable. In colder weather with rain, I wear a balaclava under a baseball cap with a �watch� cap over the baseball cap, and my parka hood pulled over the whole ensemble.

    It weighs about 4 ounces and has an adjustable internal cinch band to ensure a good fit. Also, the flaps can be velcroed in the up position Aussie style, and it has a removable chin strap which has a cordlock. For easy storage on a hike, it folds flat without damage and can be stored alongside my tent inside the tent bag.

    Coleman Cobra Tent

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    Brawny and I used one of these tents for the portion of the Pacific Crest Trail that we hiked together in 2001. This amounted to about 2 months of hiking 820 miles of trail from Crater Lake, OR to Manning Park, Canada.

    The tent served us very well, and we had no problems with it at all. It features a single (aluminum) pole design, double wall construction (mesh tent under nylon rain fly), two doors and two vestibles and weighs about 3 pounds, 10 ounces. Knowing that we were headed for rainy Oregon and Washington, I triple coated the rain fly with seam sealant, and it didn�t leak at all. We each carried a portion of the tent in our packs, so our tent weight was less than 2 pounds each.

    It held up very well to strong winds and hard rain. Also, with the storm doors zipped down, it was about 10�15 degrees warmer inside the tent than the outside air temperature. I am 6� 2� and I had more than enough head and leg room. In fact, I was able to store some gear below my feet and some more behind my head. Thankfully, we didn�t have to test it in the snow, but because of its shape and design, I don�t think it would shed snow very well.

    It is moderately priced at $65 - $75, and I think it compares very favorably with other similar, compact 2 person double wall tents that cost twice as much, such as the Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight.

    Campmor Vagabond II Gore-Tex Parka

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I�m not a real big fan of Gore-Tex. It is expensive, and in my opinion it doesn�t work as well as advertised. For instance, if rain is hitting the parka and exerting more inward pressure than the outward pressure of the body moisture that is trying to get out, the body moisture will condense on the underside of the parka. Also, the stuff doesn�t seem to be very durable. Scrunch down your parka or other item of Gore-Tex clothing tightly inside your pack a few times, and most likely it will begin to leak. It is my opinion that paying $300 for a parka with racing stripes, extra pockets and a designer label isn�t going to improve matters much.

    However, I bought one of these parkas a few years ago (item #87698 in Campmor�s catalog) when they were $99.99. In June 2001, they are $109.99. Frankly, that�s about as much as I�d spend for a Gore-Tex parka. Anyway, my parka has served me pretty well. It is fairly basic; it has a drawcord hood and waist hem, two cargo hand warmer pockets and velcro closure cuffs. Mine is a Large size, and it weighs almost exactly a pound. Since I have opted for a lightweight coated parka the last two years on the PCT, my Gore-Tex parka has seen limited use. I�ve been careful with it, and so far, it is not leaking. There have been no zipper or seam failures, and it is fairly stylish. Incidentally, the lightweight coated parka (also available from Campmor) has served me very well on the PCT, and provides a weight savings of a half pound, and a monetary savings of about $70. It is getting a fresh coating of silicone from a Wal-Mart spray can and going back to the PCT in 2001.

    Most Gore-Tex parkas are double layer, however, the Campmor Vagabond is triple layer, even though it is not mentioned in the catalog. However, I had heard about this, and verified it with Campmor before I purchased it. I believe the triple layering makes for a more durable garment.

    Adidas Response Trail Runner Shoes

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3.5

    I bought a pair of these shoes in 2000 to use on the 800 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail between Sonora Pass and Crater Lake that Brawny and I hiked. Actually, I went shopping for New Balance 803�s, but couldn�t find them in my size. These were on sale for $65.99. On my scales, my pair of size 13�s weigh exactly 2 pounds, 3 ounces.

    We hiked the 800 miles as planned, and the shoes held up very well. In fact, they will be my �back up� shoes in 2001. If anything happens to the New Balance 803�s I bought for our 2001 hike, there�s no doubt in my mind that the pair of Adidas Response Trail Runners will finish the 800 mile section between Crater Lake and Canada.

    I opted for New Balance over Adidas in 2001 for two reasons. Even though the Adidas shoes held up better than my previous pair of New Balance 801�s, they weren�t quite as comfortable. They seemed a bit �stiffer� (for lack of a better word). Also, the top of the back of the Adidas shoes is shaped kind of like an elongated � W �, with the middle point of the � W � not quite as high as the side points. In 2000, I received a raw spot on the back of both heels, which I partly attributed to this design. These raw spots were with me the entire two months that Brawny and I spent on the trail; they didn�t heal completely until we came home. The same part of the New Balance 803�s is shaped like an elongated and inverted � U � (more rounded), which I feel is a much better design.

    However, the Adidas shoes are very rugged and served me well. When I purchased them, I was concerned that they were a half size too small to accommodate the normal foot swelling that occurs on a long distance hike. Therefore, I won't blame the shoes completely for the 2 raw spots on my heels.

    Canon Sure Shot 80 Tele Camera

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased this camera at Wal-Mart several years ago for about $90 to use for my hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Basically, it is a point-and-shoot with a small telephoto ( 38 / 80 mm ) lens. It has survived 2 summers and about 1,800 miles of hiking so far, and it is going back to the PCT in 2001. I�ve also used it on numerous week-end trips close to home, using it to shoot a total of about 30 rolls of film.

    I�ve had no problems with it at all. The motor used to advance the film and operate the zoom lens seems as strong as ever. On my scales, the camera (with battery, but without film) weighs about 7.5 ounces.

    The camera features a self timer, auto-flash (that can be turned off), low light indicator, low battery indicator, auto film load / advance / rewind, a nylon wrist lanyard and a 38/80 mm 1:3.7/7.3 lens. It also has a digital counter to let you know how many shots you�ve taken. The telephoto lens really isn�t much, but it is better than nothing and I�ve had good results with it. It uses a DL123A battery available at Wal-Mart for about $6.50. I can usually shoot 10 � 12 rolls of 24 exposure film between battery changes.

    One feature it lacks is a time / date stamp, which I�ve really missed. Since I keep a journal, a time / date stamp would make it a snap to identify when and where my photos were taken.

    I carry the camera on the belt of my small waist pack. I use a nylon pouch and also put the camera inside a quart size zip-loc bag. However, when I know it is going to be raining all day, I remove the camera and pouch from my waist pack and put it inside my pack in my clothes bag. This has worked very well to prevent water damage to the camera.

    Suunto M3 Compass

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I bought this compass several years ago in preparation for my hike of the PCT. It weighs about an ounce and it is about 2 1/4 inches wide and 4 3/4 inches long. I selected it mainly for the ease of making magnetic declination settings. In the eastern US where I live, magnetic north and true north are only 3 degrees apart, but in the western US, its more like 16 � 18 degrees, which is enough to be concerned about.

    It is a fairly basic compass, but it should be sufficient for hikers who mainly will be traveling on an established trail. However, for going cross-country over great distances, I�d probably want a model with a few more extras. The true north and magnetic north indicators on the M3 are luminous, it has a line of travel indicator and the compass can be set to any heading. It also has a magnifying glass built into the plastic housing, small 1:62500 and 1:24000 scales imprinted on the housing and also a 6 cm. ruler on one side, and a 2 inch ruler on the other. It comes with a nylon neck lanyard which also holds the small key used to make the declination settings.

    With the M3, making declination adjustments are fairly simple. Once you know what the declination is, turn the compass over, insert the key into the small hole and turn it until you get to the correct setting. For instance, if the declination setting is East 16 degrees, turn the key until the indicator shows 16 degrees on the E side (there are two scales, E & W). Then, turn the compass over, and adjust the dial so that the N indicator is showing 0 degrees. At that point, the needle should be lined up inside its guide on the face of the compass at 16 degrees E. True north will be showing on the dial, and the needle will be pointing to magnetic north. It is that simple. With other compasses, I�ve stood in outfitter stores reading the declination instructions for long minutes and wondered just what language they had been translated out of, and by whom.

    My M3 held up to three years of rough hiking on the PCT and still appears to be in new condition. I had it with me all the way from Mexico to Canada, and also used it on Vermont's Long Trail in 2002. They can be a bit hard to find; some outfitter shops have them, and I believe they are also sold by REI for about $25.

    Princeton Tec Solo Headlamp

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased this headlamp several years ago from Campmor. They are presently selling for $27.50 (Item #55837). The advertised weight is 4.5 ounces. On my scales, the weight is 5 ounces (both weights are with batteries).

    The ad claims it will run up to 7 hours on its two AA batteries. I think that is an exaggeration; 2 � 3 hours is more like it (and that may be stretching things a bit). However, even with extensive and rough use in all kind of weather conditions, I have had no problems with mine and I like it very much.

    It turns on and off by rotating the lens housing. I always seem to forget which way it needs to go, and personally I�d prefer a slidable / clickable switch. With fresh batteries, you can really light up the woods with this thing.

    Because of its relatively high weight (for a flashlight, anyway) I normally don�t use it except on �fun� overnight or week-end trips when the emphasis is on camping and not hiking. For long distance hiking, I use 2 Photon lights and a single AAA cell flashlight.

    Campmor ships these with a wide and a narrow beam lens, and also a Halogen and a long burning Krypton bulb. Also included is a nifty polar fleece carrying bag. I�ve always wondered about the little fleece bag; does the light get cold at night? If so, how does it generate any body heat for the fleece to preserve?

    I�ve seen several AT thru-hikers using these for night hiking, and I�ve used mine a lot for cooking after dark and for answering nature calls. The tiltable lamp housing rotates up and down (but not side to side) 180 degrees, and this can be a real advantage for putting the beam of light exactly where it is needed. For use inside a tent, I prefer my little single cell AAA flashlight, which I hold in my mouth. The Princeton Tec is a bit bulky to be used as a headlamp inside small backpacking tents, unless you are lying down and reading.

    Climb-High Pamir Ice Ax

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I�m not pretending to be an expert concerning ice axes, I had not used one until 1999. That�s when I found myself chopping steps in ice while I was lost on the Pacific Crest Trail at an elevation of 12,000 ft. on the south side of Forester Pass. I used it many more times in the High Sierra before sending it home from Tuolumne Meadows.

    Conditions in the High Sierra were exciting to say the least and I really �bonded� with my ax. It was a great comfort just knowing it was there each day. I learned the basics of ice ax use, including self-arrest, from fellow hikers.

    Because of my chronic lower back problems, I was not so concerned about weight when I bought my ax as I was about length. I knew that with a full pack, that I wouldn�t be able to bend over to use a short ax; I needed a long one that I could use without bending at the waist. I bought my ax from Campmor (it is moderately priced at $60) because they sold one that was 31.5 inches long. It weighs, with wrist strap, 1 pound 8 ounces. As it turns out, I made a good choice.

    The Campmor model has a forged carbon steel head. Some of the other lighter (and shorter) axes available have a �stamped� head. This makes for light weight, but the head is cut from a piece of steel, not forged. This process produces a head that is not nearly as durable as a one that is forged. I�ve heard that the stamped heads will not stand up well to hitting rocks, which is pretty much unavoidable when hacking steps in ice. The head of my ax has been bounced off many Sierran rocks, and it is no worse for wear.

    Campmor sells this ax in three lengths; 70 cm, 75 cm and 80 cm. According to my handy �Convert� software program, 70 cm is about 27.5 inches, 75 cm is 29.5 inches and 80 cm is 31.5 inches.

    Whatever ax you decide on, you'll also need a wrist strap. Having the ax securely strapped to your wrist is necessary for several ice ax functions, including self-arrest. Also, it was a great comfort to me knowing that if things got hairy on a long traverse, I could plunge the ax into the snow and take a break and neither I or the ax was going anywhere. I�d also strongly recommend purchasing the head and point guards that are available as accessories. An experienced European mountaineer I hiked with through the Sierra said he has seen what happens when someone falls on an ax that has no head guard, and that it is not a pretty sight. That also brings up another point; an ice ax is about the most lethal weapon you can legally carry without a permit. They aren�t toys, and by all means be extremely careful with them.

    Therma-Rest 3/4 Length Mattress

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    Because of my chronic lower back problems, I�ve tried several Therma-rest products through the years. I have found them to be very durable. I bought my first one about 15 years ago, and it is still usable.

    The Ultra-Light � length model has become my favorite. In these days of ultra light gear, most likely you will not consider an inflatable sleeping mattress unless you are over 35 and / or have back problems. Also, the hefty $50 price tag for this model certainly won�t induce many sales except from the folks who can�t do without it.

    The knock on inflatable mattresses is that they are easily punctured. Basically, this is true, but there are things that can be done. I�ve carried my � length model two years on the PCT through all kinds of conditions and terrain covering over 1,800 miles of hiking without puncturing it. Basically, I never let it touch the ground. If you need one of these badly enough to carry the extra weight and spend $50 for it, I�d strongly recommend also paying $5.50 for the couple kit and strapping a cut-to-length ensolite pad to the mattress. Also, I�m careful where I put it down and I clear away everything on the ground that could possibly puncture it. I also carry the Hot Bond repair kit. I�d also suggest carrying the mattress in its own nylon bag, especially if you are going to carry it outside your pack,

    My Therma-rest weighs 14 ounces, but I noticed in the Campmor catalog that the newer models are advertised at 16 ounces. The material on mine seems a bit thin, and I expect the new ones use nylon that is thicker and more durable.

    These mattresses provide a lot of comfort. Put another pad under it and even someone who has severe back problems as I do can sleep comfortably and continue backpacking. An ultralighter once asked me sarcastically,�How much do those two sleeping pads weigh, anyhow?�. My answer was,�They don�t weigh anything because I can�t hike without them; how much does your right arm weigh?� He continued down the trail without another word.

    Leki "Tour Light" Telescoping Hiking Poles

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I recently purchased my second pair of these poles. The first pair served me very well over a 2 year period, which included 1,825 miles of hiking on the Pacific Crest Trail. In 2000, they also doubled as the front frame on my and Brawny�s 2 person Lakota tent that we designed (and she made).

    Toward the end of our 800 mile hike last year, it became obvious that the poles were about done. The tips were long gone, and the grips had started to come apart. The grips made the last few hundred miles with a lot of electrical tape on them.

    Both pair I�ve had were purchased from Sierra Trading Post for about $60 per pair; I believe there�s a link to their site on the TrailQuest �Links� page. This company sells discontinued and factory second equipment at reduced prices. Whatever earned these poles the designation of �factory seconds� isn�t obvious to the untrained eye. There is nothing wrong with them at all, as far as I can see.

    There�s nothing fancy about them; no curved handles, shock absorbers or cork grips. They have hard plastic grips and adjustable wrist straps, and they come with removable snow baskets. I�ve never understood why Leki and other manufacturers don�t use metal joints between the pole sections. The increased cost to them would probably be only a few cents, however, just about every one of these poles I�ve seen comes with plastic joints. Perhaps the plastic joints are more durable than they appear, I haven�t had one crack or break.

    The weight of my pair of Leki poles is 18 ounces. They have been a lifesaver concerning my knees, have greatly reduced the number of falls and sprained ankles, and do double duty as a tent frame. They also make excellent dog whackers for wayward and aggressive pets on and near the trail. I wouldn�t hike without them.

    Nalgene Water Bottles

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I began using Nalgene one-liter water bottles about 15 years ago. I carried two of them on my 1992 thru-hike of the AT, and I've also carried one two years on the PCT for a total of 1,825 miles. I'll also be carrying one when I return to the PCT in 2001.

    These bottles don't leak and as far as I'm concerned, they are "bomb-proof". The downside is that they are heavy, and in my opinion, expensive. The "hardside" bottles weigh about 6 ounces, and the "softside" models weigh about 3 ounces. (For the purposes of this page, the hardside bottles are the ones that are very hard and don't "give" when you press on them. The softside bottles are not so rigid, and you can push in the sides a bit without too much effort.) I've noticed that the hardside bottles are now available in designer colors and cost $8.50. That's a lot to pay to haul a quart of water around, especially since it weighs just under a half-pound. I believe the softside bottles are going for about $5.50 and weigh 3 ounces.

    The advantage to the hardside bottle is that you can pour boiling water into it. This water can be used as a hot beverage, or you can put the bottle in your sleeping bag and use it as a kind of hot water bottle on very cold nights. I have never actually done this, but I've talked with folks who have; they say it adds some warmth for several hours.

    The main reason I carry a softside bottle now is because of its wide mouth. This can be a real advantage when dipping water out of shallow creeks and springs. This dipping in shallow water almost can't be done with regular shaped bottles.

    The plastic lanyard on the Nalgene bottles that keeps the lid attached to the bottle is not very durable. Carry the bottle by the loop a few times when the bottle is full and the loop will most likely break.

    My present hydration system consists of one softside Nalgene bottle and 3 other bottles. My other bottles are Gatorade, purified water containers or soda bottles. They weigh about an ounce for one liter sizes, and about an ounce and a half for 1.5 liter sizes. With the softside Nalgene weighing in at 3 ozs., the other one liter bottle weighing one ounce, and the two 1.5 liter bottles weighing 1.5 ozs. each, the total "system" weighs 7 ounces and I have a carrying capacity of 5 liters for a total cost of $5.50.

    Thor-Lo Hiking Socks

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I began using Thor-Lo hiking socks when I hiked the AT in 1992. At the time, I was having some pretty bad foot problems. The Thor-Lo�s, along with Spenco footbeds and comfortable fabric boots, seemed to greatly ease my discomfort and I was able to finish my hike at Mt. Katahdin.

    I really like the extra cushioning in the heel and toe areas. I have found Thor-Lo�s to be fairly durable; I usually get 800 � 1200 miles from a pair. If there is one thing that I don�t like about them, it is the length of time it takes them to dry. They take a long time to dry, almost like cotton.

    I have bought about 15 pair of these socks, but I�m not sure that I will purchase more of them. I have found that Wal-Mart makes a "knock-off" brand that is almost exactly identical. They are seasonal items, usually found in either the Men�s Department or Sporting Goods. The blend of fabrics is almost exactly the same, and the Wal-Mart version seems to be just as durable and comfortable. Price seems to be the main difference; the Wal-Mart knock-offs cost about $5 per pair, about half the cost of Thor-Lo's.

    Thermax Long Underwear

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    In cold weather, I don't leave home without Thermax. It has seen me through many cold nights, sub-zero chill factors, whiteouts and mini-blizzards. I use it as a wicking layer next to my skin. The fabric (Polyester) will not admit moisture and "wicks" rain and perspiration away from the skin so that it can evaporate. Used with a fleece insulating layer and a nylon windproof / weatherproof layer, it can be a very useful item to have.

    When I hiked the AT in 1992, there were times in NH and Maine when I had no choice except to wear my Thermax long underwear in my sleeping bag. Even though it was damp from rain and perspiration (from wearing it all day), usually it was dry the next morning, being dried by nothing other than my body heat. This stuff dries so quickly, and is so warm, at times it is a bit hard to believe.

    It comes in three weights. 100 weight is the lightest, 200 is the mid-weight, and 300 is the heavy weight. I prefer the 200 weight for general use, but I have sets of all three. The last two years on the PCT, I have used a 300 weight Thermax top instead of a polar fleece jacket and I've been satisfied with the results. This has saved a lot of bulk in my pack and about 6 ounces of weight.

    There are less expensive fabrics on the market, but there are two items of backpacking gear I don't scrimp on; a sleeping bag is one, and clothes are the other. Both can save your life, and as far as I'm concerned, you can't go wrong with Thermax.

    Campmor Mummy Down Bag

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 3

    I purchased a Campmor goose down bag in 1993 and I've used it extensively. It is the 20 degree Mummy Long presently available for $119.97 (order #40066). It is 86 inches long, comes with a draw string hood and is made for people up to 6' 6" tall.

    Its weight is 2 pounds, 11 ounces, which is 5 ounces over the advertised weight of 2 pounds, 6 ounces. I called Campmor about this, and they said that I could return it if I didn't like it. They declined to go through their inventory and try to find a bag that was closer to the advertised weight. I got the impression that they get quite a few calls complaining about the real weights versus the advertised weights of their sleeping bags, and that what they told me was their standard response.

    It will fit in the 7 x 14 inch stuff sack that is included (also included is a larger storage sack), but you may have to fight with it. In order to ease the pain of packing up, and to conserve the bag's loft, I switched a larger stuff sack. Since I carry my sleeping bag outside my external frame pack, this was not a big deal.

    My bag has lost a small part of its loft (which was originally 5 inches) over the years, but I still trust it down to its rated temperature of 20 degrees. However, in weather that cold, I will be in a tent, with a full length pad under me and wearing a balaclava, medium weight wicking long underwear, and fleece gloves and socks.

    The quality of the workmanship has been adequate; there have been no zipper or seam failures. The elastic material used for the draw cord seems a bit thin and flimsy, but apparently it is stronger than it feels and looks, since it has held up since 1993.

    This model is available only in purple, which I'm not crazy about. Other than the color, and the higher than advertised weight, I have been very satisfied with it.

    Spenco Footbeds

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    I began using Spenco footbeds in 1992 during my thru-hike of the AT. About half-way through PA, I seriously considered getting off the trail because of pain in my feet. A few days later, I bought a pair of Spenco Hiker footbeds and put them in my boots.

    The results were almost immediate. Combined with some cushiony Thor-Lo hiking socks, I was able to continue my hike, and finished at Mt. Katahdin several months later. There is little doubt in my mind that the Spenco footbeds helped save my feet, as well as my AT hike.

    I believe Spenco's are now selling for about $18 per pair; expensive, but worth it for a long distance hiker. My pair (size 12), which has lost a little "tread", weigh 3 ounces.

    They are very durable; I usually get between 1,000 and 1,500 miles from a pair.

    I'd suggest buying footbeds before you buy your boots or shoes; that way you can take them with you when you try on new boots / shoes. Spenco's are thick, and you may need to purchase a slightly larger size boot if you are going to use them.

    Z-Rest Sleeping Pad

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 5

    My chronic lower back problems have forced me to try many different sleeping pads. The Z-Rest has so far been the most comfortable and user-friendly.

    This pad utilizes an "egg carton" type design, and folds up without resistance into a square shape. Unlike pads that have to be rolled, the Z-Rest doesn't fight back.

    Also, the egg carton design allows dead air to be trapped underneath you. On a cold night, the air trapped in the little squares under you is warmed by your body heat. In addition, the egg carton design seems to offer more comfort and support than a standard "flat" design.

    My full length pad is 72 inches long, 20 inches wide and 3/4 inch deep. It is advertised at 16 oz., however, it weighs only 14 oz. When is the last time a piece of backpacking gear weighed LESS than advertised? I believe the 3/4 length models weigh about 9 oz.

    The full length model is available for $25 - $30, and the 3/4 length models sell for a little less.

    Z-Rests are very durable, but I have found that after several months of continual use, they seem to lose a bit of their loft (like a sleeping bag does).

    They are made with closed cell foam, which means that the pads will not admit moisture. For instance, even if the pad is submerged in water, it can be dried with an article of clothing or a towel and used immediately (water remains on the outside of the pad, it does not penetrate it). The Z-Rest will also remain flexible at sub-zero temperatures.

    Eureka Gossamer Solo Tent

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I purchased my Eureka Gossamer tent several years ago, in 1991 to be exact, to use on my 1992 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. However, I found another tent I liked better, a North Face Tadpole, and took it instead. I chose the heavier Tadpole over the Gossamer because I can sit up in it, and there is room inside for my external frame pack.

    As a result, my Gossamer was still "new" when I dusted it off in 1999 and decided to use it on my 1,000 mile section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Although my Tadpole is still usable, I chose the Gossamer for its lighter weight (2 pounds, 14 oz.).

    When I began my hike of the PCT, I didn't care too much for the Gossamer, mainly because it is not free standing, my full-size external frame pack doesn't fit inside (though a smaller internal frame pack could probably be rolled up and stored inside), and I can't sit up inside it. However, by the time I reached Sonora Pass 3 months later, I liked it a lot.

    The tent is 2' 2" high, 2' 8" wide, and 8 feet long. It has a 2-hoop design, and as I mentioned, it is not free standing. Although I am 6' 2", I had plenty of head and foot room. There is also ample space inside to store gear.

    The Gossamer is very wind resistant. If the tent is pitched correctly (with the back end facing into the wind), it should stand up to winds in excess of 40 mph.(mine did, anyway) .

    The tent has a mesh top, a rear mesh vent and a storm door over a mesh door. The storm door and mesh door have separate zippers. The rain fly is permanently attached to the tent, and can be rolled up when it is not needed.

    In order to get a few inches of space between the tent and the rain fly, it is necessary to push forward on the rear hoop while pulling back on the rear guy line. There is nothing in the instructions about this; I learned it only after spending a few damp nights. If the tent is pitched according to the instructions, the rain fly will be lying slack and loose on top of the tent.

    The easiest way to pitch the tent is to insert the 2 hoops into their sleeves, stake out the back of the tent, and then pull the tent taut to stake out the front. It should then "pop up" into position.

    Like most Eureka tents I've owned, the Gossamer leaked a bit around the corners, although I feel that its weather resistance was adequate. However, when seam sealing, I'd recommend using extra sealant in the corners.

    I had no problems with the tent, except for a zipper failure shortly before I got off the trail. This was partly my fault. The zippers make a 90 degree turn, and pitching the tent too tightly puts stress on them. Anyway, I forced the mesh door zipper around the elbow of the 90 degree turn once too often and it separated. I feel that if I hadn't pitched the tent so tightly (and put stress on the zippers), this would not have happened.

    The Gossamer is presently available from Campmor for $90. The Solitare is basically the same tent, but comes with a fiberglass frame. I'd strongly recommend spending the extra money, and getting the aluminum frame. I believe the Gossamer is the least expensive of the high quality, full feature, double wall, solo tents presently on the market.

    Additional specs and info can be found at the Eureka website:

    G4 Pack From GVP Gear

    Submitted By: David Spellman

    Rating: 4

    I originally ordered one of the production G4 packs, but missed out on the original production run, so I got a "semi-custom" pack done.

    Essentially, this is the same pack, but built by one of the friendly seamstresses at GVP Gear, rather than by the people who are doing production. There are some additional options available, but nothing out of the ordinary. My pack was made out of 2.2 urethane-coated nylon as a base material, rather than that 1.3 silnylon of the original plans. I didn't request this, but it looks like this will be the material that goes into the second production run of packs. There's also been a slight change in the material that goes into the "black" portion of the packs as well. The new production run will feature some other changes, including a different shoulder strap mount point, which will make the pack work a bit better for shorter torso people, and will likely make it ride a bit higher.

    My pack arrived in one of those Postal Express Mail "document boxes", which are 9x12" and sized about right for 1.5" of document pages. That was amazing by itself. My last Gregory Shasta backpack came in a monster box that the UPS guy had to wrestle with to bring in the door. Out of the box, the pack weighed in at 13 ounces, including the bits of closed cell foam that Glen encloses for those who don't want to put their socks or gloves into the velcroed hip belt and shoulder strap pockets for padding.

    I immediately set about tossing some of my gear into the bag to see how it was going to work. First in was my homemade sleeping "quilt" in one of those GoLite silnylon stow sacks with the waterproof twist collar necks. The pack is wider at the bottom to accommodate a sleeping bag in this space. The pack is pretty much shapeless until packed, so I rolled my 3/4 Ridgerest pad and stuffed it into the pack above the sleeping bag to give it a little form, thinking that I'd pull it out of there once the thing was packed. Eventually, I decided to leave it in there, since it protects the fabric from being punctured by any sharp objects I toss into the bag's interior (though that should never happen anyway, right?).

    Once I'd dumped enough clothing and other stuff into the bag so that it looked like a pretty representative load, I put the six-panel Z-Rest into the pockets on the back of the pack (these form the "frame" of the pack) and put it on. It took a couple of minutes to get used to it -- I really expected the fat hip belt and shoulder pads of the Gregory, and there was none of that here. But what was really missing was the weight. The pockets will also accept an 8-panel Z-rest, and you can use this as your sole sleeping pad as well. The nice thing about packing up this way in the morning is that you can sit on your Z-Rest while you're packing everything else and then just stuff it onto the pack at the end. For starters, it's a cool place to carry your Z-Rest.

    The first serious hike that I took it on was a 5-day with three other people into the Klamath Wilderness. I ended up carrying some rather heavy community gear, and started off with a packweight of about 35 pounds; within the capacity of the pack, but not what it was designed for. Nonetheless, I was about 15 pounds lighter than the rest of the crew and it made a serious difference. On the way back, my pack was well under 30 pounds and I flew off the hill. Since then, I've gotten the total pack weight for a trip like that to well under 30 pounds, including food and water (about two quarts). Now we're talking.

    The net pockets are made of a fairly lightweight, somewhat stretchy net, and I didn't have high hopes for them, since where we were going had quite a few blowdowns and the trails were a little out of shape. Those net pockets are so darned useful, I found myself taking full advantage of them. One of the side pockets got the Platypus with the hydration tube. The other got the bag with the "essentials" and the bug juice, etc. And the big pocket on the front of the pack got ground clothes, tent bits, etc. And, of course, lunch. I'd taken along a big garbage bag for a pack cover (if needed...and it wasn't), but most of the stuff on the outside was pretty waterproof anyway.

    Inside the pack, the quilt was on the bottom in a waterproof bag, and my clothes bag was another of those GoLite twist-top silnyon bags that fit perfectly in the tunnel produced by the RidgeRest. On top of that went the sack with the purifier, the first-aid kit, my rain gear, a sack with gloves, mittens, hat and neck warmer, a sack with stove and cookware and a foodsack.

    The pack has a pretty high "collar" section (there's no top pocket such as most bags have these days), and the top can be closed two ways. The drawstring can simply be yanked down through a loop at the bottom of the pack, or the top can be rolled and velcroed down to the sides of the pack, much like a kayaking dry bag. If you seal the seams on the pack, this can result in a very water resistant, if not completely waterproof pack.

    With an under 30-pound load, the pack is well within its design parameters, and it's very comfortable. The Z-Rest forming the back panel is no worse a sweat-producer than some of the "breathable" net panels on some well-known pack designs.

    In camp, a lightweight hiker ends up using virtually everything in his bag (my clothing bag becomes my pillow at night), so the pack itself ends up being a small shapeless wad of fabric and webbing. In this case, the rolled up pack had no problem coming into the tent at night. The rest of the packs, with their hard plastic frames and bulky hip and shoulder pads, lived outside, either in a vestibule or on the ground outside the tent.

    With a lightweight pack like this, durability is, of course, an issue. It's not designed for hauling up the side of a mountain on the end of a rope, scraping along the rocks on the way. Nor is it a great choice for doing a lot of bushwhacking. It's really designed for trail hiking with a lightweight load, and within those parameters, it works very well. Surprisingly, after quite a few miles, the net pockets have yet to show any holes, though I haven't babied them. After the first trip, I sent the pack back to have some additional web loops added, and the seamstress, who was delighted to see a pack after a trip, took it upon herself to reinforce a couple of areas with some additional stitchery (though nothing had come loose or torn away). These were places that she now understood were stress points, and I think she's made some recommendations to Glen about these areas that will help future production packs. Since then, and several miles down the road, I washed the pack (tossed it into a *front* loading washer and dryer on "gentle" and low temp with some tech wash) and inspected it carefully. I found just one area on the hip belt attachment where there are a couple of stitches coming loose, and I'm sure this is because I was bouncing down some rocks with just one shoulder strap (and the hipbelt) on and a heavier-than-normal load inside. I don't stand or sit on this pack, and it receives careful treatment, but that care level goes for a lot of the lighter-weight gear. Under those conditions, it flourishes.

    Would I buy another? You betcha. Matter of fact, another is on its way for me, and a third one is on the way for one of my hiking partners. I'm not replacing the old one -- just putting this second one on file in my gear closet, partly because I might want to teach a friend how to hike lightweight, and partly because I don't want to be without one if something should happen to this one on the trail.

    In the end, the tradeoff of lightweight for extra care is just fine with me. I realize that I can get a high-abrasion version of this (for about $550) if I go to one of the Kelty Spectra white packs, but that's a lot of money for pack qualities I just don't need at this point. For what it is, and what it's designed for, the GVP G4 is a helluva pack.

    Additional information and specifics concerning this pack can be found at

    Glen at GVP Gear charges $70 (plus $5 shipping) for the production pack. There's always a waiting list. You can also get a semi-custom pack done more quickly for about $140 plus $5 shipping. Patterns and instructions available for $10 so that you can build your own.

    Glen is making improvements on the next bunch of production packs, and I have one of those on order, so I'll be able to do an addendum later on about what's changed. If you order the semi-custom pack, you can get the pack with a heavier-duty mesh (adds a little weight) or solid fabric side or front pockets. You also have more choices of colors, etc. and can choose between a couple of versions of top closure.

    Avocet Altimeter - Barometer Watch

    Submitted By: Rainmaker

    Rating: 4

    I have owned one of the above watches for about 3 years. It served me well on the PCT in 1999 and 2000.

    The easiest function to use is the altimeter, and it is very accurate. In fact, I am convinced it is far more accurate than the instruments used to measure altitude when areas were first mapped many years ago. This function, which will measure altitude to 40,000 ft., is very useful while using a map and compass to find your way. It is also very convenient when you have to make a sizable ascent or descent. You can keep up with your progress and determine at any given time how close you are to reaching your objective. However, the altimeter must be reset several times per day at known elevations to be accurate, since changes in barometric pressure will cause inaccurate readings.

    The barometer is a bit trickier to use, but unless you take a weather alert radio, it is the only weather forecasting instrument you are likely to have on the trail. Used correctly, the Avocet will accurately monitor changes in barometric pressure and alert you of approaching storms. The barometer monitors pressure at a known altitude. The watch will determine altitude if you know the correct barometric pressure, or it will measure barometric pressure if you know the correct altitude.

    When you cannot give the watch either figure, there is no way it can measure altitude or barometric pressurely accurately. Therefore, it is essential that you have maps or other data (like the Data Book) which provides altitude at known locations. In other words, if you are on the PCT and reach Forester Pass, you can check the elevation in the data book and then set the altimeter to 13,200 ft. The watch will then show the correct barometric pressure.

    The watch will also track barometric trend, if you set it at a known elevation and remain there (since the altitude won't be changing), such as in camp. For example, if you are camping at 6,500 ft., set the altimeter and barometer to 6,500 ft. when you arrive, the next morning it will tell you how much the barometric pressure changed overnight.

    However, it will not accurately measure barometric trend (and neither will similar watches) if you are on the move and don't know the elevation, since it would not have a "benchmark" of either known elevation or barometric pressure to work with.

    This probably all sounds more complicated than it actually is. Once you've worked with the watch for a week or so, it will make more sense.

    The Avocet also has a thermometer, stop-watch and a date display, although it has neither a day of the week display or a light. To get an accurate reading for the temperature, the watch must be removed from the wrist. I believe the light was purposely left off to preserve battery life, which is about 2 years. When the battery dies, the folks at Avocet strongly recommend sending the watch to them for a new battery and a "tune-up". They charge about $20 for this service.

    It also has the following functions, which are probably of interest only to "techies": Daily vertical feet / current ascent rate, total vertical feet / maximum ascent rate, ascent timer/ average ascent rate, split / lap timer and split / lap group selection and recall. It also has a ski display, which will show descent or ascent rates in feet per minute, and will count the number of runs skied.

    My watch is now 3 years old, and I've subjected it to some rough use. I've had no problems with it, except that the band broke. The band is so wide that I will probably have to return it to the factory to have another installed. I've had no luck at Wal-Mart.

    The model I have, the Vertech, was recently replaced by the Alpin. The Alpin appears to be mostly the same watch, and retails for $160.

    The Avocet website is located at . In addition to providing information and photos, this site also has a printable instruction manual for the watch.

    Clark Jungle Hammock

    Rating: 4

    Submitted By Viking

    A Night To Remember - Or Not?

    Finding a couple of honorable trees with proper separation along the Toccoa River in North Georgia was easy enough. Every few feet along the banks a multitude of possibilities presented themselves.

    Some folks camping nearby on the level mud of an over-used tent site looked inquisitively my way as I walked several feet up a steep embankment to pitch camp. They watched for the entire four (3-4) minutes that it took to set up the Clark Jungle Hammock Ultra-Light Version. (Glad I practiced at home first) Following my usual fare of noodles and sauce and a short journal entry, I found the light waning behind the tree line. Although not particularly tired, I was yawned to bed, or should I say, to hammock for the night.

    Having walked into this area via the Benton McKaye Trail and the 260-foot suspension bridge that carries the trail across the Toccoa River, I now found myself surrounded by my favorite environment, the sounds of forest and stream. Birds chirping and jumping up and down on the guy lines provided the alarm clock, thus I awoke in the morning at 10 AM! Thirteen hours of sound sleep! WOW, I don't recall EVER sleeping that long or that well on any hike. If that doesn't impress a weary trekker then what would? My back wasn't sore or tender from lumps in the earth. My neck wasn't "cricked" for lack of a pillow. I didn't even need one for a change.

    After all two (2) minutes of breaking camp, it took about an hour to share the info that those other hikers eagerly requested about the hammock and lightweight backpacking.

    Wood's Hole�

    The hike had started with rain, thunder, lightning and the sight of dozens of day hikers running for their lives, jumping into minivans, and pressing their noses against the windshields to see if nature would follow them into their sanctuary. I guess they forgot the umbrella?

    And so, from the Byron Reece Park , I ambled along Byron Reece Trail to cross the AT and join the Freeman Trail. This route would circumnavigate Blood Mountain, below the summit and most of the dangers found there which befall the careless hiker(or windshield tourist) in really foul weather. Especially, Thor's thunderbolts. Rejoining the AT south of Blood you find the access trail to the new Wood's Hole Shelter. It's a � mile walk off the AT, so it should offer some solitude and respite from nature's bigtop.

    Undoubtedly, the mice over in the shelter watched with interest when they discovered me setting up in a heavy downpour. Not much rain can bother you if you are already soaked to the bone. Setting up the hammock in a record 2 minutes, I was acutely aware of a distinct advantage over my tents. At no time are the innards of the hammock exposed to the elements if it was rolled up correctly. Therefore, the bedroom is bone dry when slumber time comes. This condition of course was altered later. During the night, a small amount of wet stuff seeped through along the tarp's ridge seam. The no-see-um netting averted the occasional drip from entering the bedroom. The ridgeline on the tarp is pretty tight and I didn't feel the need to seal it when first out of the box. In a normal rain, this probably would be acceptable, but tonight was hardly normal. The rain gods were using ball peen hammers to drive home their point for over six hours.

    Solution: About 1/8 ounce of SilNet cured the seepage, which was proven on the next aquatic hike.

    Rain, Rain Go Away�.Aahh, who cares?

    On Springer Mountain, there was only a whispering wind caressing the hammock as I retired near the Appalachian Trail's Springer Mtn. Shelter. Three good days of trail maintenance and three good nights of sleep in the Clark Hammock had proceeded this particular evening. But a full night of rest did not ensue. The caressing breeze had now become a cold torrent of air as the temperature had plummeted to 45 degrees during the night's horrendous rainstorm. Not a drop of aqua entered my domain, but a different problem had reared its ugly head.

    That cold wind was exacting its toll on my backbone. After two hours of tossing and turning, I realized that my back had compressed my sleeping bag against the bottom of the hammock leaving no insulation from the outside world of frigidity.

    Solution: The Z-Rest pad went under the bag. Voila! I'm warm again. Any closed foam pad would have the same results. My pad is modified to 17" x 41" which weighs 7.6 ounces and is all I use under my bag when on the ground, so it was twice what I needed for this application. Aahh�sweet slumbering!


    Out of the box, the weight of the hammock as shipped was as advertised at 2 pounds 7.6 ounces.

    I took the liberty to make some modifications based on personal preference:

    1. The drip-ring devices weighed in at 1 ounce. I replaced them with four 5-inch cotton strings at 4-inch intervals on each end of the main line starting at 1 inch from the hammock material and under the tarp protection. Each string was passed through/between the braids of the main line; tied over the line with a square knot; then tied under the line with a square knot. These served well to wick water off the line and no water reached the hammock material under the tarp. The total weight of all eight strings is 1/16th oz. The original nylon drip-rings were beginning to chafe the line after 4 days of use and were becoming contorted. I received the new aluminum replacements later, but haven't tried them yet. Plan to do so on the next trip.

    2. In lieu of the guy lines supplied with the hammock that weighed 2 ounces, I used a product called TripTease LightLine that weighed only 1/2 oz. This product is interwoven with 3M and is highly visible from a flashlight in the dark and therefore you won't trip over it. Different knots can be tied and untied easier, wet or dry. Added a couple of extra lengths to tie off the tarp's bungee cord.

    3. Four Easton tent pegs at 1.8 ounces total weight are carried along to secure guys where brush or trees are not available.


    Weight - a major consideration for a minimalist hiker, this version of the Clark is very much in contention. My philosophy is that of K.I.S.S. combined with lightweight gear, however one must consider where to draw a line in the sand. The Clark satisfies the simplicity of camping yet still provides a very light weight shelter. With the modifications, the additions, and a little trail detritus, the total weight is now a very respectable 2 pounds 9 ounces.

    Size - packs down to a small stuff sack that will fit in the rear pocket of my Breeze backpack. That's where a hammock or tent or tarp should be kept. When it is wet, it will drip and bake dry in the sun.

    Comfort - the first night spent was indeed a satisfying surprise. An addendum to previous comments will suffice: The Royal Suite would be a good name for this supremely comfortable forest-bound bedroom.

    Stability - The main reason for not having used a hammock in the past was quickly dispatched the very first time I crawled into the Clark. A stable platform for sitting upon while reading, cooking, or removing hiking shoes, I never felt like it would dump me on my head in the dirt. It became such a natural thing to go over and sit on the edge instead of looking for a wet log or rock.

    Protection - With the proper adjustment on the tarp, anything short or a typhoon will stay outdoors. It can be pitched flat like a wing above to keep debris down and views superb. Or angle the corners down by degrees necessary to shed the rain and still have ample view and ventilation. If the horizontal rainsquall comes knocking, wrap the tarp down and around the hammock for a roomy bivy style cocoon. Of course when the forecast is good, the tarp can be flipped to one side or removed completely for celestial delights.

    The no-see-um netting is the see-thru wall that allows you to study bugs from the safety of your bed. Zippered netting on both sides of the hammock allows quick and easy exit and entrance, even in the dark. As it is my practice of checking the lilies in the night air, I had reasonable practice with this feature.

    Quality - A sore point with me on so many pieces of gear on the market today, the Clark has obviously been well thought out. Each individual part of the hammock is constructed of the best material for its purpose and joined to the whole with high quality stitching and craftsmanship.

    Comparison - I once tried a hammock in a famous equipment store. That one had a door/slit in the bottom. Unique? Maybe. Awkward? Definitely. Advantage? None. I found it difficult to enter and exit, especially while trying to remove or don the shoes, day or night. You can't sit on the edge and do anything. To get out, the salesman said just push your heal against the slit and the door opens. What happens during a restless night when my foot wanders to the forbidden portal? Am I summarily dumped into…? The entire product is one piece, disallowing any flexibility in pitching. 'Nuf said.

    Finale - The Clark Jungle Hammock UltraLight Version is a pleasure to carry because this you know:

    The end of the march beckons the weary sojourner to a quick, easy to pitch, bug-free, dry, and comfortable abode.

    To see this article at the Clark website, click here .


    New Balance 803 All Terrain Shoes

    --Submitted By AT Viking98

    Rating: 5

    This well made synthetic shoe weighs in at 28 ounces a pair. I have hiked in the 802 model and found both to be of comparable material and workmanship.

    To Compare:

    The 803s are the same weight as the 802s, however the 803s have improved toe kick bumper pads which are more ample for rock hopping. Also, the 803s have the added feature of pull/assist loops located at the heel and on the tongue. I even like the laces better on the 803s since they have more purchase in tying.

    The tread of these two models is very similar and probably meant more to differentiate the shoes rather than improve traction.

    Cost: $79


    These shoes are ideal for an ultra light piece of gear. They provide excellent support and I believe they will last about a thousand miles or so, but the essence is the lightness.

    They are SOOOooooooo comfortable..........

    Mountain Hardwear Solitude Tent

    --Submitted by Opie

    RATING: 4+

    3 Season, Non-freestanding

    Floor Dimensions: 38" x 105"

    Peak Height: 35.5"

    Average Pack Weight: 3 lb. 10 oz. (although I feel this value may be inaccurate).

    I purchased this tent from the Nanathala Outdoor Center in October 99 after seeing it there in March during a hiking trip. I had tried to buy it during the summer, but they could never keep it in stock. After my 10% discount, I think it fianlly cost me $178.00.

    I bought this tent after I was flooded out of my North Face tent the previous weekend. I was doing a 10 day trail maintenace trip in the Smokies and was concerned that the my old tent just wouldn't work. I received the tent one day before leaving which gave me the oppurtunity to check out the instructions and cut out a ground cloth (I ordered the footprint, which cost $25.00, and it was waiting when I got off trail).

    It has a nylon bathtub floor, i.e. the floor seams are off ground, and a D-shaped door as well as a polyester ripstop rainfly. I really like this as it's waterproof and does not stretch over time. The rainfly also has a clear window and 5 external guy points.

    The tent itself sets up pretty quickly (no more than 5 minutes) with 2 poles and 5 stakes. I would recommend switching out the factory stakes (they are weird shaped and are a pain to stick in the ground) and replacing them with Easton aluminum ones. I did not have time to seam seal the seams before the trip. The fly has taped seams (which I will not bother to seal).

    During the maintenace trip I had all types of weather to test the tent. We had a torrential downpoor one night that lasted nearly 10 hours with no leakage whatsoever (I checked at various times throughout the night). There were also winds up to 35 knots and temps were down in the single digits for 2 nights. I really wished it had snowed so I could have tested that also. There was never a ventilation problem and I was warm as a bug in a rug.

    For those not used to sleeping in a one-person tent, you may find yourself cramped. I liked the smallness of the tent which forced me to bring in only what I needed. I had no problem reading or writing in my journal, either. Changing clothes in it is a little difficult, but is very doable.

    I would highly recommend this tent. I ranked this as a 4+ and not a 5 mainly because I thought they could have made the vestibule a little larger. Also, I didn't like the tent stakes. Other than that it's fantastic.


    Peak 1 Aries Tent

    --Submitted by Brawny03

    RATING: 2* (See Last Paragraph)


    Two Person, Free Standing

    Floor Space = 88 x 56 inches

    Center Height = 42 inches

    Pack Weight = 5 pounds, 2 ounces

    I saw this tent as a floor model in a sporting goods store at a mall. It was on sale, and the salesperson also gave me a discount, so I walked away with this two person tent for $89.00. Campmor sells it for $99.99.

    The set up on this free standing dome tent is remarkably easy. The aluminum poles are tightly corded so they almost link themselves together with a simple shake of the wrist. The body clips on, so no sleeves need to be threaded. This is particularly nice during a rain storm. It has a substantial fly, which was one of the features which first caught my eye. The fly extends over the door and back window (on the opposite side) about a foot. It goes nearly to the ground on the remaining two ends, where it clips. There are mesh vents at the top. I could feel the quality in the components when I bought it.

    I used it as a one person tent and was in the lap of luxury. However, when it is used as a two person tent, a faulty design feature becomes apparent; someone sleeps on the door side, and the "inside " person is reduced to climbing over them. They have the advantage of a large window on their side. A compensation?

    In addition, during a heavy, wind-driven rain (if you have the misfortune of the door facing the wind) the vestibule becomes sadly inadequate. Also, the D - shaped door, when unzipped, hangs over the inside of the tent and steadily drips onto gear.

    There are many similar designs on the market, and I feel they all should be considered closely before buying one. They are roomy enough, and fairly light. The price is good, and the tent stays dry in reasonable rain conditions. However, as a two person tent, I regret having to rate it a 2, mostly because of the scanty vestibule and the position of the door. As a one person tent,weight aside, I would give it a 4.


    --Submitted By Bookworm

    RATING: 4

    My first exposure to the Photon light occurred after dark seated around a campfire. Mesmerized by the campfire, I was suddenly aware that blue and red strobe lights were approaching from the wilderness. Having assured myself that aliens hadn’t landed, I discovered Viking and his latest camping discovery.

    Smokestack and I were so impressed by the Photon we ordered several as Christmas gifts and selected the red and yellow varieties for ourselves. Anyone interested in the latest developments related to the Photon can go to their web page at .

    Essentially the Photon light �hides under a quarter and is the same weight, a mere 5 1/2 grams�. It will attach to a lanyard or key ring. The light bulb is built in and reported to be unbreakable and comes with a manufacturer's lifetime guarantee. It is powered by a watch battery and depending on the color can last for 120 or more hours of continuous on. There are 8 colors each with their own advantages and disadvantages. It would seem redundant to go over each color when the web page does such a fine job. The Photon II has a constant on switch built in which is easily turned on and off with a flick of the fingernail. It can be squeezed for a burst of light as well.

    We chose the red because it doesn�t interfere with your night vision and we can look at astronomy pages when using our telescope. It also would be useful as an emergency beacon in the wilderness. I personally don�t use the red very often but know that in an emergency I will be grateful to have it.

    Smoke and I are very pleased with the yellow bulb Photon. It easily illuminates the interior of the tent brightly enough to find items in the pack, read a map or book, locate the zipper for the nightly trip, etc. I haven’t tried cooking after dark using it but have no doubt that it would work fine. Since it weighs nothing, I leave it on a lanyard around my neck while I am sleeping. No more fishing around the tent trying to find where the Maglite rolled. It would be difficult to use to hike after dark. Although they can be seen for miles in the woods, it doesn�t illuminate the trail well. The color yellow is similar to when your normal flashlight is losing energy and running on low. The advantage is that it would run on low for 120 hours. In a pinch, you could scan the terrain and find your way home safely with it. On long distance hikes where weight is a concern, I would have no problem relying on my two Photon�s for light.

    They are pricey at about $20 with "tax, tag and title" but well worth the money. I don�t hesitate to recommend them to anyone concerned with weight and in need of a light source for long distance hikes.


    "Tigger" Model - Dimensions: 71" x 26" x 18"

    - - Submitted By Brawny03

    RATING: 4

    This bag is sold as a "kids" bag, and the description states that it fits people up to 5 ft., 1 inch. They mean what they say. I am an adult and just three-fourths inch taller than that, and it is a bit snug. The bag weighs only two pounds, which is exactly what they promised. I felt the weight reduction for less roominess was a good trade off. It came with a very nice stuff bag.

    The Tigger is rated for 20 degrees. I suppose that is accurate. I sleep cold, and needed additional clothes to feel warm on a cold, windy night of about 30 degrees. I was surprised to find that this mummy bag does not have a drawstring in the hood. It is instead shaped to form the hood, with a velcro closure at the top of the zipper.

    I was happy with the workmanship. I paid only $79.00 through Campmor. Its a nice deep blue, and has no indications that it was cut for "kids". I would give this bag a rating of 4 on the Rainmaker Scale.


    --Submitted By Rainmaker

    RATING: 4

    I used a pair of New Balance 801's in the summer of 1999 to hike just over a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, from the Mexican border to Sonora Pass. I found these shoes to be very comfortable, durable and lightweight. The Vibram-type lug sole provided very good traction. In addition, they provided good ventiliation and dried very quickly. I had no problems with them at all.

    My pair of size 13's weighs 1 pound, 15 ounces. They are "low-cut"; basically they are jogging shoes with lug soles. Being without the ankle support of a standard pair of hiking boots felt a little strange at first (my ankles felt kind of naked and vulnerable), however, the feeling of reduced weight on my feet quickly made up for it. I had no problems with my ankles. When I hiked the AT in 1992, I had to switch to jogging shoes for about 700 miles because of tendonitis. Since that time, I have often wondered why I ever went back to regular hiking boots for 3 - season hiking.

    My 801's now have over 1,200 miles of rough backpacking on them, and I'm still wearing them. However, they are about done. The fabric near the top of the shoe is beginning to separate, and the soles are also starting to separate from the fabric portion of the shoe.

    These shoes run a bit small, especially in the toe box area. Like any other type of footwear, they are best purchased at a store, where they can be worn before purchasing. If they are purchased on-line or from a catalog, I'd suggest ordering them a half size or full size larger than your normal size.

    The 801's have come and gone, and apparently so have the 802's. I recently saw a pair of 803's. It appeared to be the same shoe, but had the appearance of being beefed up a bit. The price was about the same as the 801's, but I expect the new ones may be an ounce or two heavier than their predecessors.

    My 801's were purchased from LL Bean for $85 in 1999. At the time, Campmor had them for $79.99, but I haven't seen them in their recent catalogs. However, the New Balance 800 series Trail Runners are very popular, and should be relatively easy to find on-line, and also at mall type athletic shoe stores such as Athlete's Foot.

    Nomad Tent (Original Design)

    --Submitted By Mrs Gorp

    RATING: 5

    The following is a review of the first Nomad tent I purchased in November of 1998. I am now the proud owner of a 2000 Nomad Lite model. I haven't used the new model yet this season but will in May when I hike the ALT. From what I can see, the tent has gotten a wee bit heavier due to improvements in design. Further information about the full line of Nomad tents can be found at

    I would give the original Nomad tent a "5" rating on the "Rainmaker" scale.

    The original single wall Nomad by Wanderlust Gear is a perfect soloist tent. The simplicity of the single unit design makes set up quick and easy. I use three titanium stakes and my Leki poles. The tent is shaped like an odd diamond. I no longer use a Typar(R) ground cloth.

    To set it up, simply insert one stake in each of the head and foot loops, then insert the Leki poles inside the tent for center support and height (handles down and tips in the plastic roofline elbow), insert the foot spreader bar, with the third stake rough out the vestibule awing and insert the awing poles (2), tweak the tent for tautness and I'm done. In less than 5 minutes the tent can be set up and ready for an evening of peaceful slumber.

    The tent is spacious enough for me and all of my gear. In addition, I can sit up in the tent. It's well ventilated. The mesh door keeps out night insects. Ingeniously the door opening is sealed by the use of Velcro, no zipper teeth to pull apart. I really like the vestibule for an area to store my muddy boots. It's generous enough of an area to cook in, but I don't like cooking and sleeping in the same place so I've never used the vestibule area to cook under. You can clip the vestibule up and out of the way for those perfect star filled nights. It weighs 1 lb 10oz. This tent has seen downpours along the Long Trail in Vermont, the Presidentials of NH, and along the AT in Virginia. I was very pleased with the tent's performance in high wind driven rain. Most importantly I remained dry. The silnylon is very slippery material and using a Z-Rest cuts down on the amount of slipping and sliding inside the tent.

    Here are some specs:

    Length: 10 feet

    Width: 5 feet

    Height: 3 feet 4 inches

    Weight: 1 lb 10 oz. (This is the Original Nomad, the new ones are pushing 2 lbs.)

    Floor space: 28 sq. feet inside, 8 sq. feet under vestibule

    Materials used: waterproof 30 denier siliconized ripstop nylon.

    All edges were hot-knife cut.

    Pack size in stuff sack included is 18 x 5 inches.

    3 Season tent, I've never used this in snowy conditions.

    Cost in 1998: $225

    Other tents owned: Stephenson Warmlite, Bibler I-Tent, Kelty Vortex, and a Kelty 6 person Dome(party tent). I also own an OR Advanced Bivy Sack.


    --Submitted By Rainmaker

    RATING: 4

    I'm the guy who said, "Backpacking stoves are actually patient, calculating psychopaths, silently plotting the painful demise of their owners". To me, a stove is a "necessary evil"; kind of like a lawnmower or toilet plunger. You'll never love 'em, but you can't get by without 'em. I've owned many stoves. Several have crashed and burned; a few have tried to take me with them, kind of like little tin and plastic kamikazis.

    Anyway, in 1998 I bought a little Esbit stove from Campmor for $10. The thing weighs only 4 ounces, has no pumps, valves, or generators and no mechanical parts (other than the sides that fold up, when not in use). When folded up for carrying, the stove is the shape of a pack of cigarets, and about half again as large as a pack of cigarets. It folds out into a "U" shape (with a flat bottom). The fuel tablet sits inside the "U", and the pot sits on top of it.

    I used the Esbit everyday on the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months while hiking just over a thousand miles in 1999. It worked like a charm. Just light the fuel tablet, place it in the stove under your dinner pot and wait 10 minutes. Stir your dinner once or twice during the burn time, and presto, you have a meal.

    I "cooked" mainly ramen, cous-cous and instant rice, and augmented the mix with Knorr-type soup mixes and various spices. Actually, I soaked all this stuff for 15 minutes before cooking to rehydrate it. Then, I used the Esbit to heat up the concoction to make it taste better. I didn't think that I was "cooking" as much as "heating".

    I opted for the less expensive hexamine tablets. They come in boxes of 24, and burn about 9 minutes each. They work well, but they are hard to find. The regular Esbit tablets cost about $6 for 12, and the burn time for each is about 13 minutes. Frankly, when the fuel starts costing more than the food, I start looking around for a good Plan B. Hence, the hexamine tablets.

    To give myself the option of burning alcohol in the Esbit, I carried a metal mayonaisse jar lid in the stove. A lid full of alcohol will burn about 15 minutes.

    I used a foil windscreen around the stove, and this seemed to greatly improve its performance. When conditions became so windy that I had difficulty lighting the stove, I took it inside my tent long enough to light the fuel tablet, then brought it back outside.

    The stove, a small pot, a foil lid, the windscreen, 2 Bic-type lighters, an aluminum pot lifter and a week's worth of fuel weigh just over a pound. Everything fits nicely inside a quart size zip-loc bag (except for the pot). I'll rate it a 4.

    (Please note: We now have hexamine tablets for sale. For further information, click here , then look for "Hexamine Tablets" in the list of products.)

    The Breeze Backpack

    --Submitted By AT Viking_98

    RATING: 5

    Designed by Ray Jardine, and made by GoLite this backpack is a long overdue improvement for the trekking scene. The website for contains almost all information you need, but herein I will provide a touch of highlight and addendum for your consideration.


    The Breeze comes in two sizes, "Large" (for folks 5'9" and over like me), and "Medium" for folks who are under 5'9". The large size weighs in at a whopping 12.5 ounces and medium is 11 ounces.

    The pack is constructed under high quality standards. The main material utilized is spectra-ripstop nylon and is touted in the industry as being 3-4 times tougher than Kevlar. I am convinced of that after treating it rather roughly for the past 7 months.

    The capacity of the main compartment and pockets is 3300 cubic inches, but the extension collar brings it up to 4500 CI, should the need arise for an extended desert trip with extra water, etc.

    I personally find it very enjoyable that this pack, when filled with all of my essentials (excluding food and water), weighs 7 pounds and 12 ounces. Some backpacks on the market which are advertised as "the" pack for a distance hiker can weigh as much as 8 pounds empty! Can you imagine? With these weights, I found the use of a hip belt totally superficial. Fully loaded for a 4-5 day trip, my total pack weight including food and water is usually about 15 pounds. This is only possible by first getting rid of major sources of weight that are unnecessary. The pack is the first culprit, and the Breeze amply corrects the dilemma.

    Cost: A respectable $120


    (1)I also own a pack by Lynn Wheldon called the Equinox which weighs in at 14 ounces. It is made of a mesh which looks like a fish netting and is apparently very durable. I met two thru-hikers near the end of their 1999 PCT/AT doubleheader and one had the Equinox. It looked a little battered, and some duct tape held it together, but it was still doing a fine job after about 4,700 miles. However, the advantages I found in the Breeze, are the external mesh pockets that are lacking in the Equinox and of course the heavier weight of the Equinox. Look under for more info.

    (2)The new G4 pack also seems a viable alternative, but I prefer not to need to stuff my dirty socks into the shoulder strap pockets and waist belt for comfort. The material is 1.5 ounce silnylon and I am not convinced of it's durability for use as a backpack material for extended trekking. Otherwise, it seems to be a very marketable item worth your research. Look under for more info.

    Wingstove-Esbit Comparison

    --Submitted By Magic

    RATING: 4 (Both)

    I recently purchased some of the "Wingsoves" from Adventure Tools at . I did a comparison between the Esbit stove and the Wingstove to satisfy my curiosity and thought I'd share the results. The first thing I noticed is the difference in distance between the pot and the fuel. The bottom of the tab on the Esbit is 5mm from the bottom of the pot while the Wingstove is half as much. Since the wingstove legs are cut-out for a smaller pot (or cup) this would make that distance less if you were to use one of those.

    Time for the burn test! I like that part! Heh! Heh! I put two cups of water in a pot with a cover.The temperature of the water was 54 degrees for each test. The Trioxane tabs (blue color) burned 7 minutes in each stove. The water was not boiling in either test but it was 9 degrees hotter in the wingstove. I then started over with the (regular) esbit tabs. These tabs burned 15 minutes! I blew them out because the water was boiling. The wingstove managed to boil the water in 12 minutes while the esbit was a minute longer. You absolutely need a windsceen with both stoves.

    These are my conclusions: Either stove will burn the Trioxane tabs, but for my money I'd go with the 15 minute tabs. Might be a little more wind, or if you're trying to get the cooking over with because of weather, or just would like to let the thing burn while you do other stuff not messing with it would be better in my humble opinion. The Esbit is heavier and needs a level surface, the wingstove is a little easier to make level because of the small footprint. I bought two esbits with tabs today for $5.97, so they aren't pricey. The wingstove is 2.75 but they get $6 for shipping. They both work fine to "heat water" as RM says.

    I'm putting some links to pics I took of the stoves if you haven't seen them:

    I rated both stoves at 4 and any tablet that burns less than 12 minutes a 1!