Thursday, March 26, 2015

Gear Review: Sea to Summit Escapist Tarp

Escapist in a windshield pitch.
The Dirt:

What is it? Ultralight backpacking tarp.

Comes with: Tarp, stuff sack, guylines, line locks

Materials: 15-denier silicone/polyurethane-coated Ultra-Sil® Nano 

Size: Medium - 6 ft. 6 in. x 8 ft. 6 in. Large - 10 x 10 ft.

Weight: Medium - 9.5 ounces. Large - 12.3 ounces

Price: Medium - $169.00. Large - $199.00.

The Sea to Summit Escapist is my first true tarp. I've owned a couple tarp tents before: The Golite Shangri La and the Six Moon Designs Gatewood Cape, and I like the Escapist better than both of them. 

The medium Escapist is the perfect shelter for the solo backpacker who likes to go extremely light. I love it for the desert because in the desert you typically don't need shelter, and there aren't many mosquitoes. In that case I carry the Escapist more as a backup, or more commonly, a windbreak. In fact, every time I've ever pitched the Escapist, I've done so primarily as a windbreak. That's why this thing is so cool. It is very versatile. There are probably dozens of ways to pitch a rectangular tarp, and the Escapists packaging comes with a few ideas.
Pitch ideas.
The Escapist has eight reinforced tie-out points that can all take a trekking pole.  Each of these points come with cord adjusters and reflective guyline, so it's ready to go brand new. All these tie-out points really give the Escapist its versatility. 

Since I primarily backpack in the desert, I've never had the chance to pitch this tarp using trees. I've always had to use my trekking poles. However, with practice, a proper trekking pole pitch is very sturdy. The Escapist has withstood 30 mph winds on multiple occasions. The drawback in pitching with trekking poles is that you'll need to carry some extra cordage. I've found that an extra 10 feet of spectra cord is the perfect length, and doesn't weigh anything,

What's impressed me the most about the Escapist is its durability. On a few separate occasion camped in the desert I've experienced extremely high winds. Winds that were blowing so hard I had to stack boulders over my stakes to keep them in the ground. This tarp is strong and well made and despite its lightweight, has stood up great over the last 6 months. It's got no holes, tares or any other problems. 
Favorite windshield pitch.

One of the big drawbacks of pitching with trekking poles is the loss of head room due to the fact that your tied off into the ground. I found this a problem with the classic windshield pitch and the A-frame pitch. On those occasions high winds forced me to tighten the guylines, which resulted in a lowering of one section of the tarp. Usually the section in between the trekking poles. One way to offset this is by placing your poles in adjoining points. No matter how much you tighten the pitch, you'll never lose headroom. Bottom: In the classic windshield pitch you can see that I lost headroom after tightening the center guyline. If the center guyline were anchored to a tree it wouldn't have been a problem.
Classic windshield pitch.
There is a learning curve with the Escapist. Don't expect to purchase this shelter and set it up perfectly the first time (unless you are experienced with this shelter type). It's nothing like a freestanding tent. It takes practice. To me, the versatility and absurd weight savings are well worth spending a little extra time in camp with set-up. Using the Escapist I found that I was more particular than ever about set-up location and site preparation. 

Bottom Line 

The Sea to Summit Escapist is great for anyone stepping into the world of ultralight backpacking. Its versatile, strong, light and packs extremely small. Set-up takes practice, but learning the different pitches is half the fun. 

Note: It rarely rains in the desert, and I never got a chance to use this tarp in rain. 

Modified A-frame

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Backpacking Fiasco

 How may of my trip reports begin with "The original plan was...?" This was one of those trips where nothing went right, even before I stepped out the front door. Since I had three days off in a row, I decided it would be the perfect opportunity for some backpacking. I thought I would head into the Superstitions for a few days. Enjoy some peace and quiet. Enjoy some solitude. My plan was to just "wing it". I would figure it out as I went.

Flowers are blooming
 It was Monday morning and I couldn't find my map. I had last used it back in December. The last time I was in the Superstitions. But now it was gone. Not to be dissuaded, I decided to visit the Cave Creek area of Tonto National Forest again. My "go to" spot, if you will. Plus, I had the map. At the trailhead I knew right away that I shouldn't be there. My hip was killing me right out of the gate. Sciatic pain screamed down my leg into my calf with every step. I didn't think it would be that bad. A mile in I was already limping. I considered turning around, but I just didn't want to quit. I could simply just ignore the pain. Like I do every day. Three miles in and I needed a break. I found a nice shady spot and lied down. I stretched my leg and did some other exercises. I considered turning around again. I was in too much pain for a solo jaunt through the desert. I clearly was not in the proper physical condition for backpacking. But I had made it three miles, so I decided to camp right there.

Me camp. Argh!
I pitched my tarp as a windbreak and collected firewood. Even that was painful. I lazed the afternoon away and cooked dinner with my alcohol stove. Chicken and mashed potatoes ala freeze dried. Good stuff. I turned in about 8 pm. Around 10 pm I awoke to the sound of breaking brush near my camp. Something big was near. I ignored the sound. There are no bears in the low desert. But the sound didn't abate. Something was hanging around my camp. I got out of bed, turned on my headlamp, and scanned the darkness. Nothing but shoulder-high brush and tress. I crawled back into bed. Not 10 minutes later I heard breaking branches followed by huffing and puffing. This time I jumped out of bed. I scanned the dark with my headlamp again. Again I didn't see anything. I decided to reignite my smoldering fire. I found a large branch and snapped it in half. The sound of the snapping branch pierced the night, and startled whatever was in the brush. It ran toward the creek and jumped in the water. I could hear its footfalls as it splashed across the creek and crawled up the embankment on the other side. 

I sat by the fire for the next hour, just making as much noise as I could. By then I was thoroughly spooked. There are no bears in the low desert. I have never seen bear-sign in that area before. The only large predators in that area are mountain lion, but I reasoned that it couldn't have been a mountain lion because lions are silent. If a lion wanted to eat me, it could have crept up to my bed and locked its jaws around my throat without me even knowing. It could have been a coyote, but I didn't think so. The coyotes I have seen in the desert have been very small. I reasoned that it had to have been either a deer or a javelina, or maybe even a herd of javelina. I have run into javelina in the desert and they have not been aggressive, so I knew that I had nothing to fear from them. Eventually my reasoning quelled my fear, and I went back to bed.

At 3am I awoke again. This time from a heavy wind pounding my tarp. I had pitched the tarp in a windshield configuration expecting high winds, but the wind had changed direction by 3am. I crawled out of my bag and tightened all the guylines. The wind grew stronger and stronger and I couldn't fall back asleep. Finally around 3:30am, a huge gust literally pulled my stakes right out of the ground, and my tarp collapsed on top of me. I had anticipated this might happen, so I had stacked large stones on top of my tent stakes, but they had been flung aside by the wind battering my tarp. I got up and drove the stakes back in. This time I piled up boulder sized stones on the tent stakes. All the while, the bending and lifting was shooting pain down my leg. By 4am the wind had grown even stronger and it pulled another stake from the ground causing a corner of my tarp to flap. I got up and drove the stake in again, and piled 3 boulders on top of the stake. Then I lowered my trekking poles about 6 inches, drastically reducing the angle of the windshield, and thus surface area for the wind to hit. It worked perfectly. I wanted to kick myself for not thinking of it sooner. Such an obvious solution.

Cave Creek
I awoke with the sun around 7:30am. After such a brutal night I felt worse than I did when I went to bed. After a cold breakfast of granola and powdered milk, I packed up and headed back. The hike out was worse than the hike in. Of course, it was beautiful, and I did get to see many wonderful desert birds including a red tailed hawk, ravens, geese, and some cactus wren. The beauty of being there made up for the pain, but clearly I need to see a doctor before I do any more backpacking. I just don't have it in me at the moment. I guess for now I'll have to take it easy. Thanks for reading.