Thursday, July 26, 2007

Henry Shires Tarptent

I got my new Henry Shires Tarptent in the mail yesterday. I will write a field report once I test it out, but for now here's a preview.

Based on conversations with Tarptent owners on the TLB Forums I decided to go with the Double Rainbow. I wanted a 2-person, lightweight shelter that could be set up with minimal amount of staking. The Double Rainbow fits the bill perfectly, as it is free-standing (with the use of two trekking poles) or can be staked out for more versatility.

The included instructions were a little bit confusing to start with, but in the end the setup was fast and straight forward. One long shock-corded pole is threaded through a sleeve, and inserted into a grommet at each end. The poles then sit on top of the extended trekking poles that lie horizontally on the ground, and are secured in place by velcro tabs. Four cords are then attached to the ends of the poles to secure the floor, completing the setup. In ideal conditions this should only take 2 or 3 minutes, but I can see needing two people and a bit of fiddling in windy/rainy conditions.

I was expecting to feel more exposed inside, considering this is a "tarp tent" rather than a tent, but the name is deceiving. The entire exterior can be pulled down and secured, resulting in a seemingly bombproof enclosure, but with a quick reconfigure can be ventilated, opened up to create "beaks" or vestibules, and an array of other configurations to suit the terrain and conditions.

Of course, the best part about the Double Rainbow is the weight. 2.5 pounds for a two-man shelter is fantastic! My current tent, the MEC Merganser, with groundsheet, comes closer to 8 pounds, so this is a significant reduction. This means my hiking partner and I can each lower our pack weights by nearly 3 pounds.

My next trip is the West Coast Trail in August, and I'm a bit apprehensive of taking the Tarptent into such wet, rugged conditions on its first outing. I had hoped to get it last weekend when I did a one-nighter on the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail with my brother, but unfortunately Canada Customs decided they needed 9 days (and $11.27) to determine that the tent wasn't made from cocaine. Perhaps some backyard camping with the sprinkler on will serve as a test. Stay tuned for updates!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lightweight Tip of the Week: Condiment Packets

An article at Ultra Fine Backpacking describes a unique use for drinking straws to create single-serving size packages for items such as salt, tooth powder, spices, etc. I'm going to try this on my next trip, I will post photos and a review when I get back.

Monday, July 9, 2007

JDF Marine Trail Part II

This Sunday Ian and I hiked the section of the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail that we didn't complete on our annual May hike. We started at Sombrio beach at 10:00am and hiked roughly 20km to Botanical Beach, arriving around 4:00.

Although an anjoyable hike, this section definately pales in comparison to the rest of the trail. Once you're past Sombrio, the hiking is predominantly away from the beach, and follows a muddy path through clearcuts and spindly second- and third-growth forests. Campy signage spin a tale about the benefits of modern logging practices, while a barren, ugly landscape reveals the truth. Even the crew responsible for trail maintenance has forsaken this area, and the trail is choked with Salal and other dense growth. Mud bogs, although dryer than in May, get deeper and wider every year, with no attempts at drainage, diverters, or boardwalks. As evidenced in the picture above, damaged areas are left for hikers to navigate around, further destroying the area. In one area, so many people mistook an unsigned turn that a side trail was almost as well travelled as the main trail. On the plus side, this wrong turn took us down to a previously unknown beach for lunch. A bit of scouting revealed the correct trail hiding behind a tree and some trail debris.

About 8 miles from Botanical Beach the scenery improves somewhat, with a slightly older second-growth forest and a trail replete with boardwalks for the benefit of day-hikers venturing forth from their SUVs. Those wishing to escape the forest doldrum can hike much of the distance on an incredible sea shelf, with frequent wildlife sightings (we saw several bears having a mussel buffet), tidal pools, huge crashing waves, and plenty of stunning vistas.

Closer-still to Botanical there are several secluded pebble beaches ideal for a final rest before the climb up to the parking lot. The hike was followed by a tasty dinner at Mulligans in Sooke, which offers a surprisingly diverse menu and affordable microbrews on tap.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Twig Stove

In my continuing quest to lighten my load, I recently came across an article describing how to make a twig stove out of a coffee can. This weekend I followed the plans (using a tomato can instead of a coffee can, as I'm a whole-bean snob) and took it on a day hike to test out by cooking some soup for lunch.

The construction was relatively simple, taking approximately 10 to 15 minutes. I added a couple of extra steps such as filing the ends of the pot supports round so they wouldn't tear any gear, and doing the same to any other sharp or pointy bits.

On the trail, it took only a moment to find the necessary firewood (one small bundle of twigs, broken down to fit the width of the can. A section of newspaper provided the firestarter, although I would probably take some firestarter material on a longer hike, in case no dry kindling was available.

Within a few seconds the wood took, and I added my pot with 2 cups of water to the top. It was neccessary to keep adding kindling for about 6 or 7 minutes, never allowing more than a minute to pass before adding more wood. There was a slight breeze that helped the fire along, but it's possible if the wood wasn't bone dry that I might have to blow on it occasionally.

My soup cooked up easily, although not as fast as Ian's (he brought his cannister stove). Shadow was content to eat her cold lunch, as she was ravenous after the 2 hour hike in over Mount Maguire in East Sooke Park.

Full of tasty food, we hiked another couple of hours back to the car at Anderson Cove and went home exhausted. As for the twig stove, I think it is definitely something I will use again in the future. I wouldn't want to rely on it as my only cooking source, but maybe on a two-person hike, one person could bring a canister stove as a backup, using the twig stove whenever possible to limit the amount of fuel needed. A potential savings of half a pound in fuel.