This month kicked off my 3-season guided backpacking trips as well as conditioning for this year's Allegheny 100 Challenge. With multiple skills and adventure group trips planned in the next few months in places like the White Mountains, Long Trail and Appalachian Trail, I'm looking forward to getting out with hikers in some beautiful locations and also putting some new gear to the test. Here are 5 items you'll find with me on the trips:
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 3400
As a professional guide, my pack can end up heavy at times and requires more space than others in my group. It is my responsibility and a top priority of mine that my clients have a safe and enjoyable experience. Compared to my solo adventures, I'll be carrying things like a more substantial first aid kit, extra food, a group tarp for a reprieve from the rain, satellite messenger and more. In an effort to still follow my philosophy of simplicity and having extra pack capacity if needed, I narrowed my search down to the Southwest 3400 by Hyperlite Mountain Gear.
This pack is tough as nails and is also listed as being 100% waterproof due to its DCF make up. I have not had anything inside of this pack get wet yet while hiking in full days of rain and some snow. The Southwest 3400 weighs in on my scale at around 2 lbs (32 oz) and has a recommended max load capacity of 40 lbs. There are two removable internal aluminum stays to give the pack structure and a heavy duty mesh pocket for a hydration bladder which I use to store additional trip maps and my Therm-A-Rest Z Seat Pad.
The main body and bottom of my pack are made of DCH150 and three beefy external pockets are made of Hardline with Dyneema. I love the pockets and the ability to store whatever I desire into them without worrying about it fitting. On a recent Appalachian Trail trip, I was able to take my grid fleece off and shove it into the already stuffed middle external pocket with ease. There are also two hipbelt pockets which are completely waterproof and are what I use to store small essential items, snacks and my phone for quick access.
Though this pack is a bit heavier than my 12 oz 40 liter AtomPacks DCF pack, the extra durability and versatility of the Southwest 3400 (I can compress the pack down to a 40 liter if desired) are things I can appreciate on the trail regardless of the trip.
Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Uberlite
In a quest to go light and remain comfortable on 3-season trips in the past, I had chosen to go with a short length Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite (48" x 20") and fill in the gap under my calves and feet with my Therm-A-Rest Z Seat Pad that I used in my frameless packs. This worked well, but I prefer to have my entire body cushioned and level when sleeping. Especially after 25+ mile days. Enter Therm-A-Rest's newest sleeping pad for 2019, the NeoAir Uberlite.
The Uberlite weighs a mere 8.6 oz for the regular length (72" or 6') and achieves this by lacking the Thermacapture mylar insulation material found in the other NeoAir series sleeping pads. This brings the R-value rating of the pad down to a 2.0 which is more suitable for summer trips, but I sleep warm and have used this pad comfortably with my sleep clothing and a liner down to around freezing.
The sleeping pad packs down to the size of my 20 oz Yeti coffee tumbler, so I barely notice it in my pack. Though I take care of my gear, this pad does make me a little cautious when I'm using it due to its thin material. How this pad holds up to multiple nights out is only something that time will tell.
Altra Lone Peak 4.0
I have always wanted to truly test Altra shoes out after hearing so many great things about them, but I never had any luck with the fit in the past. That was until I decided to give another go with the Lone Peak 4.0. I'm glad I did.
The Lone Peak 4.0 has become one of the most popular shoes with thru-hikers and on the Appalachian Trail, beating out the past reign of the trail Salomon. It's easy to see why. The shoe provides me with confidence in my stride and low fatigue even after a long grueling day of hiking. The focus to a natural foot shape helps me mitigate blisters and provides extra comfort for swollen feet due to high mileage. The Zero Drop gives me a more natural feel on varying terrain.
After trying these shoes on and picking a pair up, the weather decided to switch back to snow. I had only been able to get about 25 miles of hiking in the non waterproof low cut version and wanted to continue transitioning and conditioning my body to the new feel of the Zero Drop and foot shape design. So I picked up a pair of the Lone Peak 4.0 RSM (rain, snow, mud) mid cut shoes for my snow covered winter pursuits. Now that spring has arrived, I'm back to using the non waterproof shoes. I'll add a pair of Altra gaiters to help keep my feet cleaner and allow me to spend more time hiking, less time stopping to clean out debris. Both versions of the Lone Peak that I own feel incredible and I will likely be picking up an additional pair or two before they get changed up on me with any future redesign that may occur.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear Dirigo 2
Finding a tent that can over all of the bases and perform well in each of those categories can be difficult. I've slept in all types of shelter systems over the years (hammocks, bivies, modular setups, the occasional lean-to), but I am a tent guy. I appreciate a well thought out design when it comes to tents. One that provides room to change in (45" tall x 90" long x 52" wide for the Dirigo 2), wait out storms in, offer great protection from the elements and biting insects. I like a shelter that utilizes the trekking poles I am using to hike with during the day rather than needing to carry an extra set of tent poles in my pack. This more often results in a single wall tent and the underlying issue that many can have, poor condensation management. There is no way around it, especially with the locations many of my trips take place in, in the northeast.
The Dirigo 2 appealed to me for many reasons. The first being HMG's extensive history of working with Dyneema Composite Fabrics and their attention to detail, simplicity and durability. The tent is made up of 5 different types of Dyneema including one which contains eVent to help with condensation management around possible contact points near the foot and head of the shelter. I have only had minimal condensation build up inside when temps dropped from 50s to around freezing overnight, and the build up never dripped onto my quilt or anywhere else overnight. In the morning, it was a quick swipe with my Buff headwear and I was able to pack up the tent. A unique carbon strut gives the top of the tent structure, and more importantly stability, when paired with my two trekking poles (required along with 8 stakes for setup). This design has allowed me to remain safe and comfortable in 30 mph wind gusts so far and in heavy downpours. The floor is thicker and more durable than many other tents I have used in the past which allows me to not need to carry a footprint around (though I am still careful with my campsite selection). I appreciate not having to worry about packing an additional item and also that I can remain dry in wet conditions.
This pyramid style 2 person tent weighs 25.6 oz on my scale and with my tent stakes it's brought up to around 28.5 oz. My only criticism with the tent at this time is with the loops that provide additional security for the trekking poles on the tent body above its pole tip grommets. The loops are made of a solid, non-adjustable fabric which can make it difficult for some trekking poles to fit through like my preferred Black Diamond Carbon Z Poles. Perhaps a velcro loop to allow for varying poles to easily fit could correct this. This is only a small gripe though and I have not had any issues with the tents overall performance.
Sawyer Micro Squeeze
I will always treat my water on backpacking trips whether I choose to filter or purify it. The minimal weight penalty beats getting a water borne illness and having to deal with that on a long distance hike in my opinion. The Micro Squeeze from Sawyer is their newest in their line of water filtration systems for outdoor enthusiasts and backpackers.
The filter weighs 2 oz and has a similar flow rate to the bigger Sawyer Squeeze (1 liter per minute). These are both factors I can appreciate. In the past I had used the Sawyer Mini in an effort to save on weight and bulk, as a result I was left with a painfully slow 0.5 liter per minute flow rate and more frequent clogging. The Micro also offers versatility as it can be paired with a soft sided pouch that the filter comes with or various bottles I can pick up at a grocery store or gas station like the Lifewter or Smartwater bottles.
What new gear are you excited for this year?
Disclosure: All of the gear mentioned in this article was purchased by me and is not influenced by the vendors or brands in any way. I am not compensated for the products that are mentioned in this list if they are purchased by others. My goal is to always provide honest and accurate feedback to the reader. All opinions are my own. Thank you.