Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Superficial critique

Just in case you didn’t know:


OK, so my Brasher boots didn’t work out so well.

One or two other items were not so hot, but most of my kit was fine. Some of it was terrific. Here’s a little rundown, based on notes I (ominously) don’t remember making after returning to Queenstown after the Routeburn.

I just don’t like REI Adventure Pants. I’ve tried. They’re more oriented to traveling than to trekking. A little baggy, a fraction heavy. Now I’m going back to my rufty-tufty RailRider Weatherpants, which are near-ludicrous for general travel, but perform admirably in the hills.

The Kindle was superb, just as I thought it would be. I read on the plane down and back, of course, and a fair amount on the ground. Perhaps five or six books. In close to a month, I used about 80 percent of the original charge (and, of course, could have recharged it any any hostel wall outlet). I was concerned about how best to carry it. The natural first instinct for anyone, I think, would be to simply slide it vertically down along the side or the back of the pack as you might a stiff envelope. It would be well-padded and safe from rattling around. But I was afraid of putting edge pressure on it from above (especially when cramming the food bag down) and buckling it. Instead I laid it flat and horizontal, on top of one soft stuffsack (sleeping bag) and below another (hut clothes). It rode well there and was out of the way during the day. (It was also in its little protective envelope, of course.) I would advise even my Luddite friends (and they are legion) that this is a must-have for travelers who read. As in read.

As always, my ancient Patagonia Zephur (similar to a Marmot DriClime) saw a lot of use. It’s light, packs small, sheds wind and light rain, and takes the chill off before the sun comes up and after it goes down. The Napoleon pocket is actually big enough to be of use (glasses, mostly, but sometimes an iPod or even a camera). Stuffed in a small sack at night, it also makes a decent pillow.

I brought a redundant fleece—a Rab 100 pullover. I made it unredundant by wearing it on the plane, in huts, and around town. What can I say? Simple, light, warm, decent breast pocket. And tuck-wrapped into that small sack with the Zephur? L’oreiller de luxe.

I’m getting fond of Ex Officio Boxer Briefs for travel, but for walking I stick with Patagonia Baggies which supply their own liner. They are quick drying, they have useful pockets (seldom used on the trail, but I appreciate them nonetheless), and are excellent bathing trunks. And I’m old enough (as you can tell by my use of the term bathing trunks) to prefer my shorts...short. These aren’t those nasty flapping knee-dusters. They come with a natty 5-inch inseam.

The Western Mountaineering HighLite sleeping bag weighs a pound, compresses to a tiny package, and will keep me cozy in temps 10° or 15°F colder than I’m likely to experience from late spring through early fall. Spectacular.

Finally, the Petzl Tikka XP2 headlamp was brilliant. Even set at half-power (yielding 10 hours of regulated light—four hours more than I needed in two weeks), it was—by far—the brightest lamp on the walk. I used it primarily on power-saving Lo for cooking and in red mode in the bunkrooms (on the theory it would be less likely to disturb sleepers), but when I needed light, I got light. (And, as with the Kindle, I could have recharged it in town.)

I was interested in the rather elegant Snow Peak 450 double-wall titanium mugs some of my group were using. On the other hand, the determinedly inelegant insulated plastic mug, pictured above with the HighLite, continues to the the job just fine.

Oh, and a bit on packs. I carried my usual excellent McHale 0-SARC, volume about 50L. Six of our number carried Ospreys, mostly the Aether/Ariel model at about 60L. Two carried Gregorys, one a Deuter, one an REI, and one something large and tagless that I didn’t recognize. We were not a cutting-edge or ultra-light group, to say the least. Everyone seemed to be reasonably comfy toting their loads, though. I certainly was.

This leaves the iPhone. A post of its own.

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