Thursday, September 27, 2012

Lost and Found

Last July I went hiking with my friend James near the Mogollon Rim in Arizona. He took me to a really secluded spot; to this pretty little creek that flowed at the bottom of a dark, rocky gully. We found a perfect little swimming hole, and since the temperature was hovering around 100 degrees we decided to take a dip. I stripped off all my clothes except the shorts portion of my convertible pants, and jumped in. When I got out, after a very refreshing swim, I noticed I couldn't find my knife. I knew I had it, because I always carry it, not just into the wilderness, but everyday around town as well. After an extensive search I concluded that I must have jumped into the water with the knife in my pocket, and it came loose from my pocket and sank to the bottom. I vowed to return with snorkeling equipment.
Benchmade 530
Benchmade 530 serrated Knife

Normally I probably wouldn't have fretted too much, but this was no ordinary knife. This was a Benchmade 530. The nicest knife that I ever owned. I bought it at REI a couple years back with my dividends for around $90.00, and I love it, at least about as much as a person can love an inanimate object. It's just so perfect for backpacking and as an everyday knife. At only 1.8 oz it's so light you don't even notice it's there - hence, why I jumped in the pool with it in my pocket. It's super sharp too, and the locking mechanism is so easy and fluid...

Anyway, for the last couple months I've been really brooding about that knife. I fantasized regularly about buying snorkeling gear or some type of high-powered underwater magnet so I could go find it. I've reached for it, absentmindedly, only to find my pocket empty. I prepared myself never to see it again.

Fast forward to yesterday. I pick-up a couple stray articles of clothing from the closet floor to do laundry, and what do I find sitting on the floor of my closet under a pair of shorts? My dang knife! I couldn't believe it. I had to do a double take to make sure I wasn't hallucinating. Don't ask me how it got there because I have no idea. But I sure am glad I got my knife back. Woohoo!

The swimming hole where I thought I lost it.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Solitary Man

I love nature photos, but I love photos of people in nature even more. A person in a picture can tell a story that might not be there otherwise. I can really imagine what they are thinking and feeling...

Glacier National Park
Luke looking out over Saint Mary Lake - Glacier National Park, MT

Stevie and the low tide - Olympic National Park, WA

 Lake Pend Orielle
Roby at Buttenhook Bay on Lake Pend Orielle - Farragut State Park, ID
Great Burn Wilderness Montana
Steve at Heart Lake - Great Burn Wilderness, MT
 ( I know I've shared this shot before, but It's one of my favorites and I had to post it again).

Friday, September 21, 2012

Budget Gear Review: Suisse Sport Adventurer 30 Sleeping Bag

The Suisse Sport Adventurer is a 30 degree synthetic sleeping bag that the manufacturer describes as "ultra-compactable". I purchased this bag really as an impulse buy due to my obsession with gear, because frankly, I didn't need it. I had been eye-balling it on for a couple years, drawn to it's relatively light weight, supposed compactability, and low price. Somehow it wound up in my "Shopping Cart", and before I knew it, it was at my front door. I actually purchased this bag for $40.0 about a year ago, and I know that it's been as low as $30.0, though currently  (on Amazon) you can only buy it from a third party seller at $79.99. After reading this review, if you're still interested in purchasing this bag, hold out until it's sold by Amazon, as I'm sure the price will drop. Or shop around the web, I'll bet you can find it for a lower price than what it is currently listed on Amazon.

Suisse Sport Adventurer
Suisse Sport Adventurer 30

The Suisse Sport Adventurer is a plain looking bag. Nothing fancy. No bells and whistles. The first thing I noticed about this bag when I pulled it out of the stuff sack, was how flat it looked. It doesn't have much loft. After feeling the bag, it seems that there is just one long thin layer of MicroTekk insulation (which Suisse Sport describes as "down like"), sewn into the bag.  

It makes for a very light sleeping bag for the price. On my scale the bag weighed 46.2oz (2lb 8.8oz), and the compression sack weighed 3.4oz, for a grand total of 49.6oz (3lb 1.6oz). Now, that wont be considered "ultra-light" but it's not bad for 30 or 40 bucks. The best part about this sleeping bag is how compactable it is. In the provided compression sack you can get the bag down pretty small, and won't have any problem stuffing this thing into your backpack.

This is the part where I go against the grain. If you look on Amazon this bag has an overall 4 star rating out of 458 reviews. That's a a whole lot of good reviews by people that bought this bag, and I imagine most of that has to do with the price.

The first night I used this bag I ran into 2 problems, and they have been plaguing me ever since to the point that I have decided I am not going to use this sleeping bag any longer.

1) Cheap zipper - It's stiff, and it snags worse than any zipper I've ever used. In fact every time I've used this bag the zipper has snagged. "Pay attention when you zip up the bag" you might be saying. Well, I do, and it doesn't do any good. It is a source of constant frustration.

Compression stuff sack
Compressed in the stuff sack.
2) Narrow cut - I am a broad shouldered man. Not big by any means, just wide shouldered. I've never had a problem fitting in a sleeping bag, until now. The first night I could barely zip the bag up passed my shoulders. I struggled and squirmed and fought with the zipper until I finally got it zipped all the way up. Boy was it uncomfortable. My hands and arms had virtually no freedom of movement, and I had to sleep with them pinned to my body. I actually felt like a mummy. Well, this same night after I somehow managed to fall asleep despite how uncomfortable I was, I awoke in the middle of the night cold. After feeling around in the dark as best I could, I discovered why. The zipper had actually split, and from my shoulders down to my waist were actually protruding from the bag, exposed to the chilly night air. Oh, the actual slider body was still clasped in place, but the teeth had somehow came apart. I had actually burst out of the bag! Then of course I had to squirm my way out, find my headlamp, and fix it, which was a total pain in the ass. 

Since then I quit trying to zip it up all the way, afraid that I would burst out again in the middle of the night. Luckily it was summer in low country, so with a baselayer on I slept okay. Until my last backpacking trip to the White Mountains in north/east Arizona, where the temps can drop into the 30's and 40's at night in summer. The second night of that trip I awoke cold, and decided to zip the bag up all the way. After all, for a sleeping bag to perform to it's temperature rating (in this case 30 degrees) it has to be used properly. While trying to zip it passed my shoulders the zipper snagged, and it snagged so bad that I couldn't get it unstuck. Finally I lost my patience, and slept exposed from my shoulders up. Luckily my girlfriend was next to me (sound asleep in my good sleeping bag) to share some body heat, or I would have been even colder than I was.

Which brings me to the 30 degree temperature rating. I couldn't accurately test it because I couldn't get the zipper passed my shoulders. But I will say other than the Whites, where the temperature dropped into the 40's, I slept warm, even with my arms and shoulders exposed.

Lastly I want to comment on the quality of this bag, and that is to say that there's not much of it... Quality I mean. Other than the piece of junk zipper, I can see stitching coming out in various places already (especially around the zipper), and I've only used it 5 or 6 times. The compression sack it comes with is already splitting at the seams, despite my gentle treatment.

Bottom Line: If you are broad shouldered do not buy this sleeping bag. For everyone else - As long as you can get it for under $50, it may be worth buying as a back-up, or a loaner, but personally I would not trust it for your main 3 season sleeping bag, and I doubt it will stand up to prolonged use.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trail Days

 Mt Baldy Wilderness
Sarah & Jimbo - Mt Baldy Wilderness,  Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest - AZ

Glacier National Park
Jesse, Luke, & Steve - Glacier National Park, MT

Nez Perce National Forest
Deb - Nez Perce National Forest, ID

 Hell's Canyon Wilderness
Seven Devils - Hell's Canyon Wilderness, Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, ID

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Among the Wildflowers

Snapshots of wildflowers found in the Seven Devils range in west central Idaho. Mid August 2011.

Don't know for sure what this flower is. Any Botanists out there want to help?

Rosy Spiraea
Rosy Spiraea

Scarlet Gilia
Scarlet Gilia

Western Blue Flax
Western Blue Flax

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Northern Exposures

I don't always get around to editing all the photos I've taken over the years. Here's a few of my most recent edits. Enjoy.

Lolo National Forest
Descent from Cube Iron Mountain - Lolo National Forest, Montana

Olympic National Park
Capa Alava sunset - Olympic National Park, Washington

Glacier National Park
Two Medicine region - Glacier National Park, Montana

Idaho Panhandle National Forest
Mountain reflection in Upper Stevens Lake - Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Idaho

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Gear Review: Therma-a-Rest Z-Lite Sleeping Pad

Therm-a-Rest Z Lite
This foam mattress is one of the most popular sleeping pads for ultra-lite backpackers, and for good reason, it only weighs a scant 14 ounces. I bought this last year while planning my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, which I had to cancel do to a back injury (see I Wake Up ). I wanted something to sleep on that I didn't have to blow up every night, and wouldn't ever go flat. Other than the weight, that's the best thing about this pad. You reach your campsite for the night, unstrap it from your pack, toss it in the tent, and you are done. You don't even need a tent either. Set the pad on the ground, it won't damage it in any way. Need a chair to sit by the fire? Fold it up, it works great. It's durable with multiple uses, and compared to the inflatable pads, it's very inexpensive, just 39.95 on Amazon.

The problem is that the ultra-lite weight comes with a catch. The first, and most obvious, is that it's bulky. Unless you have a really big pack, you'll have to strap this to the outside, which in itself presents a new problem, how to protect it from the rain. Therm-a-Rest does not sell a stuff sack sized for the Z-Lite, so you'll have to either find one that fits, or make one yourself if you want to go that route. The other option is to buy an over-sized pack cover, or a poncho that will cover both you and the pack. Even if it get's wet, in my experience it did not soak or retain any moisture, so wiping it down with a camp towel or a piece of clothing could work too.

My biggest issue with this pad is comfort. Through my youth and even as recently as last summer, I slept on the bare ground while out in the wilderness. Hard ground never bothered me. As I've gotten older however my sleeping style has shifted to more of a side posture, which is just fine in a bed. On the ground or the Z-Lite however, I've found myself waking up in the middle of the night in pain or with a dead arm, which sucks. On my back or stomach I sleep fine. Ground selection is something to really consider when using this pad. Unlike the Big Agnes Air Core, you don't want to lay the Z-Lite on hard or rocky ground, because you'll feel it in the middle of the night.

I can't really comment on the insulating qualities. I've mostly used this pad in Arizona in Spring and Summer where the nights rarely get below 50. I used it for a 5 day 50 mile trek around the Seven Devils in Idaho last August, and with my North Face Orion 20, I never slept cold into the 40's.


If you don't mind trading comfort for light-weight simplicity then I would recommend the Therm-a-Rest Z Lite. It's easy, durable, and you don't have to worry about it going flat in the middle of the night. I've read plenty of cases where this pad lasted an entire 2,000 mile-plus thru-hike. But if you're a side sleeper, or need the comfort of a soft bed, then you may want to reconsider.
Sleeping Pad
Hells Canyon Wilderness with my cousin Jesse. Z-Lite strapped to my backpack.