Friday, April 26, 2013

Gossamer Gear Kumo Backpack Review

I used my new Gossamer Gear Kumo backpack on an overnight outing in Florida, and I was very pleased with how well it performed.
My actual pack load was a little heavier than the 17.88 pounds I had planned during the packing list creation due to the temperature dipping into the upper 40's at night.  The long underwear and knit hat I added put me at a pack total weight of 19.5 pounds.
Gossamer Gear Kumo.
The full pack fit me well.  The large model (weighing 14.65 ounces) was long enough to place the hip belt right at my hip (the regular size was too short for my long body).  I put the pack on without the usual grunts and gymnastic antics I used to use to hoist the (then) heavy weight onto my back.  Once strapped on, the wide shoulder pads absorbed the load and distributed the weight evenly across my shoulders.  Clicking the sternum strap together held the shoulder straps in place all day without it being too tight, once I had it adjusted.  I used the waist belt mostly out of habit, but I could feel the weight of the pack riding on my hips and that felt comfortable.  It was like I was not really wearing anything on my back.  I never felt pulled from side to side or from front to back like I have with other backpacks.  And I never experienced any balance issues or had any difficulty walking.  I also didn't have to sling my pack to the ground at the water break, I just stood there with it on like it wasn't on me at all.  Someone asked if I needed to take off my pack (for the break) and I said no thanks.  And all of this while also carrying 4.27 pounds of tent instead of carrying only 2 pounds of tent.
Getting my soft water bottles out of the side pockets was a challenge for me.  I asked for help getting them out and then back into their side pockets.  I'm not quite a fan of the soft water bottle yet.  Because my pack weighs so light I may consider carrying my old hard-sided water bottles or use lightweight recyclable water bottles just for on-trail water drinking.
When it came time to setup the tent, I liked that everything I needed was outside of the pack.  I laid down the footprint in a couple locations, then laid on top of it to chose my tent site.  The tent, poles and stakes were in the same front pack pocket and on the side of the pack, and I was able to setup the tent without unpacking anything from inside the pack.  I removed my sleeping pad from the back of the pack and laid down for an hour nap, zipped inside my tent with the tent doors open to enjoy the breeze, using the still-closed pack as a pillow.
When I awoke, I unpacked my cook kit, and brewed a cup of tea at the picnic bench.  I took my headlamp out of the top zipper pocket for when it got dark and looked at the map I had placed there for the trip.  There was still room for a few other small items in the top pocket.  Robert and his friend Gerry from the Sierra Club were napping in their separate hammocks.  I watched the clouds go by for some time, then explored the land around the ponds.
At bedtime, I opened the Kumo pack inside my tent, and dumped everything out in one bundle onto my sleeping pad and got ready for the night from there.
The next morning after breakfast I repacked the Kumo pack as I had before my trip, with the sleeping bag in the stuff sack at the bottom, then clothing, then the repair kit and finished with the food kit on top and the raincoat outside of the water proofing trash compactor bag.  I put the headlamp back in the top zipper pocket of the pack and packed my snacks in my pants pocket for the hike back to the trailhead.  Packing the tent parts back into the outside pocket was easy, even after the pack interior was loaded.  The tent poles easily slipped under the elastic cords above the side pocket, and I stood around with the pack on for a while before we left the campsite.
It still felt like I really had nothing on my back.  There was no shoulder, back or neck pain at all and I didn't need to take any pain medication during the overnight.  Perhaps the Kumo weighed a little bit, like a small daypack, but certainly not what all my gear used to weigh for an overnight camping trip.
On the walk out the backpack was a little lighter, and the pack again carried fine, even though it was slightly unbalanced left to right due to how it was packed.  There were no surprises or even small problems.  The pack just fit me and fit me well.  When we got back to the trailhead, I took off the pack and placed it in the car with one hand.  Man, was I pleased!  My congratulations to Gossamer Gear for creating such a fine, well fitting backpack!
I did apparently over-pack the bag on the back panel with my sleeping pad causing a slight tear in the mesh fabric on the seam.  Going back to the GG supplied pack pad has reduced the stress on this point.  For future trips I'll be packing my sleeping pad inside my pack, and using the supplied pad in the pad pocket, so this will not be an issue for me.
The good news:  This backpack comfortably rocks for my one or two night backpacking trips, and may serve me well for 3-4 nights in warm and clear weather.  The overall fit is good and the shoulder straps really carry the weight well without being too tight while using the sternum strap.  The hip belt is very useful in pulling the light pack weight to my hip bones, and may be even more useful with a pocket or two added for trail snacks, navigation gear or my camera.  I like this pack and had a great backpack in and out with no issues.  With adding waist belt pockets, purchasing a lighter tent and using hard-sided water bottles, I may be happily set with using my Kumo pack for a long time.
The just OK news:  For carrying bulkier items like winter jackets, and plenty of warm clothing, this 36 litre pack is just too small, while it is fine for clear weather camping in reasonably mild temperatures.  The side pockets were a little too tight for me to grasp my soft-sided water bottles and remove or replace them.  I don't typically use water bladders on overnight trips and did not use the packs bladder holder either.  The torn mesh on the back pad pocket will be left alone unless it tears more, then I'll return it to Gossamer Gear to have it repaired.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Free Rails to Trails guide with donation

I have been involved with the Rails To Trails organization since the early 1990's before we moved from Central Florida to the mountains of Colorado.  In Central Florida I participated in the setup work and a few of the early meetings on what eventually became the West Orange Trail.  I am very pleased with how the rail trails here have expanded here over the years and how well walkers and bicyclists have taken to the linear parks concept in Florida.  I both walk and bicycle some of these trails near my home.
The Rails to Trails folks are currently giving away a trail guide for making a $35 dollar donation to them.  Pick your favorite trail guide from the list on the site at this link.  Instead of a paperback book, you could instead select an E-Book guide for your Kindle or tablet.
These guides cover Rail Trails in the Southeast;  New England; Mid-Atlantic; Midwest; West; and PA,NY & NJ areas.  Pick your favorite area and support this fine organization.

While most rail trails are located in urban areas, some regional rail trails like the General Van Fleet and Withlacoochee State Trails in Florida are located far from towns and follow through woods, forests and farmland along the way.  I like travelling them just to enjoy the outdoors and have created multiple day trips along a few of the longer trails.  Rails to Trails TrailLink mapping system works very well for locating these rail trails in your area and for planning your day.  There are about 25,000 rail trail supporters in the state of Florida, and many have supported the state in creating more rail trails and with expanding connections between existing rail trails.  A lot of energy has been expended to make your rail trail trip more enjoyable.  Please check these trails out as welcome alternatives to just backpacking only in the wilds.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve Camping Trip

Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve West Tract
I traveled with my friend Robert on an overnight backpacking trip with several members of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club to the Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve West Tract east of Dade City, FL.  The drive over was enjoyable; Robert and I had worked together for several years and caught each other up on life's latest events.  We arrived right behind Ben, the trip organizer.  The rest of the group arrived soon and one member would arrive later in the day.  We geared-up and backpacked about half a mile along the shell road to reach the Florida Trail crossing, where we headed North over two miles, directly into a group of trail runners.  The trail runners were with the Dances With Dirt event starting from Colt Creek State Park, through the Green Swamp on various distance trail runs of up to 50 miles.  We stepped aside every few feet for a while, until the heavy breathing runners had all passed.
Concession Stand Campsite.  Nothing like what it sounds.
This section of the Florida Trail is hilly (yes, we have hills in Florida) and we came to our reserved campsite side trail at the top of one of these hills.  Small lakes had surrounded the campsite below but the water level was very low now, so we had 3 or 4 separated ponds around us.  The site had 2 picnic tables and a fire pit with a rusty horse shoe hung on the tree by the fire.  A previous group had left a stainless stock pot by the fire ring.  Everyone setup their tents and hammocks, and the faster hikers ate a quick lunch to hurry back to the trailhead to meet the late arriving backpacker.  Robert and Gerry setup their hammocks and were asleep in minutes.  I laid in my tent and snoozed about an hour in the mid-70's degree weather.  Afterwards I drank tea, checked out the lakes and watched the thin, high clouds through the afternoon.  Later on, firewood was gathered for the night.
Gerry's peaceful and laid back campsite with a view!
After a few hours the rest of the group arrived with their late-arriving member in tow.  These Sierra Club people have backpacked and camped together for several years and were constantly joking and teasing each other.  A few had "earned" funny trail names over time and the others were afraid they might earn a trail name based on their foibles.  The group took off again on a short hike a little later before dinner.
Just one of the various stoves for the trip.  Robert's wood-burning stove with blower.
We all fired up our various and functionally different stoves or cook fires and each person made and enjoyed a unique meal.  My meal was a regular box of mac and cheese, cooked with chicken in a cozy, (details in a later post).  On the menus that night were also pizza, cold pasta salad, Mountain House foods and some scrumptious homemade meals.
The Starry Sky App and the "Campfire Channel".
The rest of the night was spent listening to funny stories being told about each of the backpackers.  We built a nice fire, looked at stars in the sky using cell phone apps, talked about comets and past backpacking trips, then watched the "Campfire Channel" until we were sleepy.  Sleep was good and we awoke to a peaceful, clear morning.  Coyotes and owls had howled and hooted through the night, with sand hill cranes warbling in the morning.  Having lived in Colorado, I still find it odd to hear coyotes in Florida, though they have been here for over 20 years.  Robert said it was 52 degrees at breakfast.
Howard, Bryce, Howard, Robert, Julie, Gerry & Ben, preparing to strike camp.
Breakfast also involved everyone using multiple and different stoves and various means to boil water for coffee, and cook granola and eggs or eat cold pasta from the night before.  It didn't take very long to strike camp, and backpack back to the parking lot.  Near our campsite, we found an old kitchen stove and pieces of a building that had been there at one time, maybe the actual concession stand the camp is named for?  On the trail, we met a FT through-hiker who said he was hiking all the way to Maine on the AT when he finished through-hiking the Florida Trail.
I've never seen a "Come Back Soon" sign at a camp site before!
As for the weight of the Kumo on my back, it was like there was nothing there.  There will be some updates, but overall, my equipment performed flawlessly and I am very pleased with my first ultralight backpacking trip!
We enjoyed a group brunch at a locally-owned restaurant in Dade City, then drove home.  It was a good backpacking group of neat people and we all had a wonderful time.
Thanks to Ben for organizing such a great trip!  Robert said he hadn't thought about work for the whole weekend.  I'm looking forward to more trips with this Sierra Club group next fall.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The end of Ultralight Backpacking?

There is much online about the death of, or the end of Ultralight Backpacking.  I'm a bit surprised.  I just started and it's over with?  I find that silly actually, but after reading pages of posts, I see what the issue is.
Ultralight Backpacking has become a "bone of contention" or a sore spot to those who don't believe in it, or those who feel threatened or are abused by some who they feel preach too much.  I say if it doesn't work for you, then great.  If it does work for you, then great.  It's all just backpacking anyway.
Lite Hikers assisting the Santa Barbara National Forest to recon trails for repair after a devastating  fire in 2008.
Ultralight Backpacking has come to mean a base weight (gear excluding food, fuel and water) of 10 pounds.  By purchasing a one pound tent/tarp, a one pound sleeping quilt with a one pound sleeping pad, a one pound backpack and about a pound of stove and cooking gear, it is easy to reach that base weight.  Note I said "purchase" in that sentence.  All the gear I already had and used for years weighed from three to eight times more than what I needed to buy in order to get to the base weight of 10 pounds or less.  Most of my gear was worn out and needed replacement to be effective anyway.  So I had to spend money to buy into "ultralight" gear, some of it from cottage producers like Gossamer Gear.  I already knew I couldn't buy into the typical heavier equipment because I just couldn't carry it.  I'm proud of my purchases.  And I'm not going to talk to you about them unless you ask me first.
I have been pleased to read of many areas where ultralight backpacking helps the outdoors, like in the Santa Barbara National Forest in the link above.  All backpackers I know are helpful people.  In some cases an ultralight backpacker may be able to get in quicker and is lighter on their feet, or can cover more ground in a day on the trail.
I started backpacking in the late 1960's, during the industry change from cotton canvas to manufactured fibers for tents, packs, jackets and sleeping bag fill.  I was so happy to carry my lightweight tube tent instead of a ten pound canvas one, that I never considered both ends were open and I would be eaten alive by bugs at night.  I was just glad to be free of the weight.  While I didn't read about or follow Ray Jardine until forty years later, I felt I had done well keeping up with the Boy Scouts with the gear I had.  Reading Jardine, I see his plan of "camping systems" was right on, the packing, sleeping and the cooking systems are the best ways to consider your gear for weight and usefulness.  I see him as a thought leader who helped bring Ultralight Backpacking into existence.  Ray Jardine was a person who talked a lot about what works for him, but not necessarily for me.
Gramma Gatewood, Hiking the AT in 1958, 1960 and 1963.
If you look back into the 1950's, Grandma Gatewood hiked the Appalachian Trail with about the same weight of gear as modern-day ultralight backpackers, but unlike Grandma Gatewood I didn't have these things laying around my house, so I purchased them.  If I could sew, I may have made some of my gear, but I don't know how to sew and didn't want to take the time to learn how.  With a 40 hour weekly job plus family, school events and more it is hard enough to balance my little free time with being in the outdoors.
The outdoor skills I have used for years still work for me; I know how to safely select a sleeping space, pitch a tent or a tarp, how to build a fire, cut down a tree, clean and take care of my body, watch for snakes and wildlife, navigate off trail with a map and compass, deal with rain and severe weather, use basic first aid, feel comfortable outdoors and even lead a crew.  Called "Black Arts" by some, these skills are necessary to anyone interested in more than an overnight trip into a local park.  And they have nothing specific to do with "Ultralight Backpacking".
Adding to those skills Ultralight Backpackers rise, strike camp and backpack an hour before breakfast.  They eat lunch while taking a long mid day break, and later have an early dinner while still on the trail.  Then they hike until just before dark to make camp.  That increases your daily mileage and leaves less of a mess "in camp" to deal with.  That works for me, but maybe not for you.  And that's OK.
The real truth is we all must "hike our own hike" and use the tools that work best for us.  In my very personal way, that is to reduce my pack weight to make it possible for me to hike all day long without pain.  I have shoulder, back and leg injuries that make carrying a heavy pack nearly impossible.  And I'm over 55 years old, so I don't have the strength to sling fifty to sixty pounds over my shoulder and walk all day any more.  And that's OK.
Twenty five years ago we didn't have ultralight anything, so I had to quit doing something I loved.  Now I can take it back up again, and even dream of making a through-hike a possibility.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

I Love April Fools Day

April Fools day is one of my favorite non-holidays each Spring.  When younger, I took part in many April Fools day events, most playing a joke on coworkers.  There are several of those "really funny moments" I could bring up, but instead, I found a really cute and funny April Fools joke online from REI this morning, and just have to share it with you.

REI Adventure Kitten
I love kittens, and this one is adorable.  I'm pleased REI has a good sense of humor.  They may have some aged and humorous footage of some of our climbing wall foibles to share too!
Here's a link to check for more fun about this picture.  
Enjoy, smile and have a happy day!