Friday, February 21, 2014

Gear Review: GoLite Imogene UL2

GoLite Imogene UL2 pitched with rainfly
 After lugging around a 5 pound 2-man tent for the better part of half a decade, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Really, I probably could have held out for another half decade with my REI Quarter Dome T2. I loved that dang tent. But when I saw the new GoLite Imogene UL2 my jaw dropped... 2.6 pounds... $250.0... Freestanding... Was I dreaming?

Let's backtrack for a minute. When I purchased the Quarter Dome T2 back in 2009 it was one of the lightest 2-man tents on the market. In fact, it seemed as if back then the big gear makers were just jumping on board the ultralight bandwagon, and most of the 2-man freestanding offerings hovered around 5 pounds. The Quarter Dome T2 was one of the few below 5 pounds, and that's why I bought it. But I paid big time for that listed 4 lb 8 oz weight (actual weight was higher). With the footprint, I think I paid around $360.0, which was actually a pretty good deal at the time compared with other sub-5-pound 2-man tents. Thinking I got the best freestanding tent (and certainly lightest) for my budget, I was content to ride the Quarter Dome T2 into the sunset.

Ultralight gear has come a long way since '09. I always keep my eye on the newest gear and what's always kept me away from "the latest and greatest" was the price. I don't have the budget to upgrade my gear every time something better comes along, and even though a lot of really lightweight freestanding tents have hit the market since then, I've kept my distance... Until the GoLite Imogene UL2 came around.

When I first pulled this tent out of the box I was surprised how light and how small the package was. The 20 denier ripstop nylon floor felt a little too light, and too thin, as did the fly. I had my doubts about it's durability, but pitch after pitch, night after night, it's held up fine. The first thing I did after I received this tent was weigh it. I know from experience that a manufacturers listed weight can be very generous. In the case of the Imogene UL2, the 2 lb 6 oz listed weight is right on the money.

The pitch on this tent is entirely different than what I'm used too. The pole system consists of one long main pole that runs along the spine, a shorter pole in the front that forms the shape of the door, and a small one for the back that creates a foot box. The smaller poles are attached to the main pole via two hubs, which makes things very simple for both pitching and stuffing into the sack. While this is a freestanding tent, to create the full box shape in the back of the tent (where your feet go) the tent needs to be staked in the back. Certainly this hybrid design is one reason why this tent is so light. Instead of another bowed pole in the back to form a tube like shape, it relies on a small horizontal pole that's probably around a foot-and-a-half in length that instead stretches the tent into the desired shape with the help of two adjustable guy lines on the corners. There just isn't a lot of pole in this tent, and in fact poles only touch the ground in 3 places: twice at the door, and one in the center of the back. It's actually much more simple then I'm describing, and the entire pitching process took me less than 5 minutes on my first try.

Pitch without fly
 Attaching the fly is elementary, as long as you have experience pitching double-walled freestanding tents. The only caveat is that in order to get a completely taut pitch, and create space between the fly and the tent in the back at the foot box, you have to guy the center line high, say at least a foot off the ground. In the desert this isn't always practical, but in the conditions I've encountered it hasn't made much of a difference. Speaking of conditions, living in the Sonoran Desert they are mostly dry. Usually the only adverse weather I encounter is wind, which for the Imogene UL2 hasn't been a problem. On one trip further north I managed to get rained on for a few hours, and the tent performed brilliantly. No leaks. No condensation. No problems.

One of the ways GoLite managed to cut weight on this thing was through a very narrow design. At 78 inches long on either side, and 30 inches wide at the door, there is just room enough for two. Sarah and I find the space perfect, but we don't mind getting cozy. I haven't shared it yet with someone else my size, but when I do, it'll be tight no doubt. The beauty of this tent is that for two people it's ultralight, and for one it's just as light. I've camped and backpacked with this tent solo plenty of times, and I have to say for one person this could be exactly the space you're looking for. You'll have plenty of room to maneuver and store your gear without feeling claustrophobic, and at 4 x 19 inches packed, you won't feel guilty taking it. For two people, gear storage is tight. Normally we don't keep our gear in the tent so it's not a problem for us, but between the tight quarters and the 5.7 sq. ft vestibule space, it's not made for storage. Yes, the vestibule is small, but it should work for you as long as you and your hiking partner don't normally store your backpacks their.

Lots of space as a solo shelter
 Perhaps the best thing about this tent is the price. I paid $250.00 about 7 months ago. That price can be half of what you would pay for a similar size/weight tent from other manufactures, and it's as functional as it is light. Everything works exactly the way it should, and so far it's held up great for me. If you want top-of-the-line quality and ultralight weight, and don't want to pay out the wazoo, I would highly recommend GoLite Imogene UL2 either as a 2-man, a 1-man, or both. My only real beef is the hunter's orange color of the rainfly. Not a big fan of bright colors in the backcountry, but that's just nitpicking.

Imogene UL2 in the rain

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pinetop Getaway

Finally a trip up north. A getaway from the heat, the cacti, and the punishing sun. It's nice to hike in trees... Really nice. We rented a log cabin for 3 days in Pinetop. A cozy little place with a wood stove and horseshoe pits in the backyard. The best part was that the property borders national forest land, so we could literally walk outside the backdoor into miles and miles of woods. Pretty cool.

A short walk out the backdoor. 
This trip was a family affair. Nights spent sitting around the dining room table playing Scrabble and Sorry. Mornings lounging on the back patio reading, sipping hot coffee, and listening to the birds in the forest wake-up for the day. There is something about waking up in a cabin in the woods that's pretty magical. I could do it everyday...  After coffee and a breakfast of biscuits & gravy James and I went for a hike out back. Cross-country through charred ponderosa to no particular destination. Jordy mimicking the birds as he rode high on James's back. After a couple miles we came to a trail. In an area with a dense mountain lion population we were excited to find some nice tracks still frozen in the mud. I couldn't tell if the tracks were cat or canine, knowing the two could be so similar. Absent any claw marks we decided on cat, but after some research at home, I had to change my mind. New conclusion: Large, well manicured domestic dog. In case you're wondering how I reached this conclusion, check out this website. If you think I'm wrong, let me know.

Cat or dog?
 After some more cross-country hiking, and hopping a couple barbed-wire fences, we caught another trail climbing Pat Mullen mountain where we ran into some pretty gnarly Alligator Junipers. After an easy ascent we caught some limited views of the White Mountains. The trees stretched in all directions and covered the distant peaks. It reminded me of home. 

Alligator Juniper
 We also managed to get in a little fishing at a place called Silver Creek, one of the premier fishing destinations for Apache Trout. The narrow creek proved a tough spot to fish for the kids, as casts often sailed long into the tall grass on the other side. But even though we were skunked, fun was had by all. It was a fun, but short 3 days, and for me at least, tough to leave the cabin. One thing I know for sure, nothing beats family bonding time in the woods. 

Fishing on Silver Creek

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Return to Cave Creek

This is my 3rd time backpacking into the Cave Creek area of Tonto National Forest. What I like about this spot is that the trailhead is a short 20 minute drive from my house, so it provides easy access to a pretty decent desert locale. Within a couple miles I left the day-hikers behind and seemingly had the entire backcountry to myself. In fact, I've never seen another backpacker (other than the ones in my group) in this area before. On this trip I left my Nikon at home and just took an older point-and-shoot Kodak. Honestly it felt quite liberating leaving the Nikon behind even though my photos didn't turn out as well. It's actually quite nice not feeling obligated to constantly capture good photographs (not that I'm much of a photographer anyways). Instead I just took a shot when the mood struck me.

Cave Creek
Cave Creek
 In the interest of variety, I took a slightly different route than previous trips, and consequently missed the Hohokam petroglyphs, which is certainly one of the highlights of this trip. There was however still plenty to see. The landscape was gorgeous and the desert was a flurry of animal activity. I saw lots of birds including two cardinals and a red-tailed hawk. I also ran across the corpse of a grey fox who lie dead in the middle of the trail. It was a strange sight to see, as the recently dead fox looked very alive, like a taxidermied trophy one might see at Cabela's. I've seen a few large dead animals in the woods over the years. A drowned horse snagged on a dead-fall in the Rapid River in Idaho. A mutilated sea-lion on the Olympic Coast. Fresh deer remains from a mountain lion kill near Hawk Creek Falls in Washington. I've never seen an animal so freshly dead, without any apparent cause to its death. If you look at the photo it looks like its body is configured as if running. The head and ears are up, and the eyes were wide open. I saw no wounds or signs of trauma anywhere. It's as if the poor fox just dropped dead while running down the trail. Maybe its ticker just gave out. 

Gray fox
Gray fox
 I camped at a picturesque little spot on Cave Creek. I collected enough wood that I decided to just cowboy camp on the ground near the fire. It was a peaceful night's sleep under the stars, but with a cool breeze and zero cloud cover, it got a little chilly. I awoke cold a few times during the night. I've had the same 20 degree sleeping bag for nearly 5 years, and I've been noticing a marked decrease in performance in the last year or so. It seems I always sleep cold in the backcountry anymore with this bag. I think it's time to finally invest in a new one. At 3am I piled on some big logs, which bought me about 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Cave Creek camp.
At one point during the night I heard the calls of coyote's carried through the dark by the midnight breeze. I thought for sure they had found the fox, but on the way out the next day, the fox was still untouched.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience. Hopefully the first of many backpacking trips this year. I've got permits for 3 nights in Paria Canyon in southern Utah, which should be amazing, but I would like to get out as much as possible this year. It's just so hard for me to do with real life always keeping me home.