Several years back, I did an initial review of the Salewa Quick Screw ice screw and the Climbing Technology Alpine Up belay device.
The initial review for the Alpine Up can be found HERE
The initial review for the Salewa Quick Screw can be found HERE
This is a long term review update, detailing my experiences with these climbing implements.
The Alpine Up has become my go-to belay device for every type of climbing. I use it for top roping on rock, lead climbing on ice, alpine climbing, trad rock, and everything else. It does everything so well that I find that I’m not interested in using any other device.
I generally belay a leader in the assisted brake “click up” mode. The brake assist gives me extra confidence that I will be able to arrest a lead fall, even if my technique is less than perfect, I’m taken by surprise, or I get conked on the head by a falling rock and knocked unconscious. Paying out slack is at least as easy as any other device I’ve used, and better than many.
When belaying someone on a top rope from below, I typically use the dynamic mode. It allows for smooth belaying and easy transitions to lowering down from the route.
Belaying a second up a pitch in “guide mode” is very easy. Of all the autoblocking guide mode devices I’ve used, only the Kong Gi Gi or Plaquette has less friction in guide mode (and these devices aren’t great at anything other than guide mode.)
Rappelling can be done in autoblock or dynamic mode. If I’m going down first, I typically rappel in autoblock mode. This allows me to go hands free and untangle ropes etc. It also provides self-locking safety, and if I’m injured or otherwise take my hands off of the device, I stop.
If I’m rapping down second, I will generally rap down in dynamic mode, as it’s a bit faster and smoother, and if I’m going down second, I’m not worried about being able to stop and go hands free.
The down sides of the Alpine Up are that it’s a bit bulky, and it only works well with specific shaped carabiners. I’ve become used to the bulk, and I have purchased a couple of Climbing Technology locking biners of the same shape to use with the Alpine Up in case I lose the original biner. I just carry these on my rack for rigging anchors and other standard locking carabiner uses.
This device is so versatile, and does everything so well, I just don’t see any reason to use anything else at this point.
Salewa Quick Screw
The Salewa Quick Screw has become my go-to ice screw for waterfall ice climbing. (I use aluminum screws for alpine ice climbing because of the significant weight savings.) I have a full rack of nine Quick Screws now and the more I use them, the more I like them.
Being able to rack screws on my harness is great. The color coded biners make it easy to grab the right length of screw without faffing around with ice clippers. The teeth bite the ice as well as any other screw I’ve used, and I like the compact head design, which fits nicely in my palm and makes it very ergonomic when getting the screw started. The attached quick draw makes clipping very fast once you get the screw in.
When I’m climbing ice, I want the process of placing a screw to be a quick and simple as possible, and the Quick Screw lives up to its name. I can get the screw in and clipped into the rope faster than with any other style of screw.
Here is a short video of placing and removing a Quick Screw one handed:
For several years now, my go-to trekking poles have been the Leki Carbon Titanium poles. They’ve been with me on hundreds of miles of hiking trails, and I’ve put ski baskets on them and used them as my for winter backcountry skiing too. (Leki’s Big Mountain Binding Basket is a great basket for both skiing and for making on-the fly adjustments to your touring bindings.) They’ve served as a makeshift bipod to support my rifle on hunting trips. I’ve used them as tent poles for my ultralight tents. They’ve got me up and down talus fields, and have saved me from many a fall on slippery or uneven ground.
I love the Carbon Titanium poles. They’re strong, durable, easy to adjust in length, the flick lock adjustment mechanism doesn’t slip. The handles and wrist straps are comfortable, and there is a foam grip that extends below the handle which allows you to grab it lower on the pole when necessary.
Leki poles with this grip style also have a mono-pod accessory available that allows you to mount a (lightweight) camera onto the top of the handle for taking photos with the support of the trekking pole. This handy accessory is called the Aergon Photo Adapter, and it’s useful for steadying your camera for low-light shots.
So, with all this good experience with my current Leki poles, why should I get something else? The main issue is the size of the poles when collapsed. There are situations where I want to collapse the poles and put them in my backpack. Typically, this is an issue when I’m climbing. I like poles for the approach and descent, but I don’t like them sticking out of my pack (or strapped to the side) when I’m climbing.
After a bit of research on trekking poles that collapse into a compact size, I purchased the Leki Micro Vario Carbon Black Series trekking poles. There are other ultralight poles out there that weigh less, and collapse down smaller, however I wanted poles with some adjustability, a foam lower grip, and good durability. The Leki Micro Vario line has these features. There is a new variation, the Micro Vario Black Series, which is different from the Micro Vario in that the locking mechanism that keeps the pole sections connected is internal, and doesn’t rely on an external button. (It has the same lever lock mechanism as the Carbon Titanium poles to adjust the length.)
The weight of the MV Carbon Black poles is 7.4 ounces per pole. This is virtually identical to the weight of my Carbon Titanium poles at 7.6 ounces per pole.
The MV Carbon Black also share the Aergon grip with the Carbon Titanium poles, which means that I can utilize the Aergon Photo Adapter with these new poles.
The most noticeable difference between the new MV Carbon Black poles and my old Carbon Titanium poles is the length when fully collapsed. The MV Carbon Blacks collapse down to 15.5 inches, while the Carbon Titanium poles only collapse to 26.25 inches.
This difference in collapsed size means that the MV Carbon Black poles will fit nicely into my climbing pack.
One area where the MV Carbon Black is at a big disadvantage is the range of adjustability. Only the top section of the MV Carbon Black adjusts, while each of the 3 sections of the Leki Carbon Titanium is fully adjustable. This won’t make much of a difference for hiking, but it does make the MV Carbon Black less versatile when using it as a tent pole for ultralight tents that use trekking poles for support. For me, that won’t be a major issue, however, because I seldom use trekking pole tents on climbing trips.
So far, I’ve used the new MV Carbon Black poles on a few day hikes. Swing weight and comfort are good, and they perform pretty much like my tried and true Carbon Titanium poles.
It’s too early to have an opinion on the durability of these new MV Carbon Black poles, but given my experience with my other Leki poles, I’m optimistic that they will hold up well.
They are going to be my new pole for any time where I might want to carry my trekking poles in my pack. They seem like the perfect poles for climbers.
I own a pretty extensive array of Micro 4/3 lenses and an Olympus OMD E-M1 Micro 4/3 camera body. This interchangeable lens system provides a lot of flexibility in my photography. However, even though the Micro 4/3 format allows for much smaller cameras and lenses than other interchangeable lens systems, I find that I seldom take my Micro 4/3 gear with me into the backcountry.
Most trips, I take a compact, fixed lens camera (or sometimes two of them.) The weight and bulk advantages of a fixed lens compact camera are just too great when I’m climbing or travelling long distances in the backcountry.
What makes a good backcountry camera?
#1Image quality. I am a stickler for good image quality. If I didn’t care a lot about image quality, I would just use the camera on my phone. However, I want my photos to capture the grandeur and beauty and intensity of the places I visit, and even the best phone camera comes up short when it comes to detail, colors, and sharpness. An excellent lens, a good sensor, and the ability to shoot RAW files are all must haves.
#2 Compact size. I need a camera that doesn’t weigh a lot and doesn’t take up a lot of space.
#3 Fits well in a good, padded case. I need to be able to carry the camera in a very accessible spot; close at hand while climbing, hiking, or skiing. If I have to keep my camera in my backpack, it won’t get used much and is just dead weight and wasted space. I need a case I can attach to either my climbing harness, on my pack shoulder strap or pack hip belt. The case needs to protect the camera from the inevitable bumps and shocks of outdoor activities, and also protect it from snow and light rain. (For heavy rain, I can just put the camera deep in my pack, as I won’t be taking photos if it’s raining hard.)
#4 Controls that I can work with gloves. I spend a lot of time wearing gloves. The main buttons and dials for exposure control need to be simple enough that I can work them with gloves on. A camera that can only be adjusted through complicated menus or with a touch screen doesn’t work well when wearing gloves.
Things that are nice to have, but not mandatory:
Waterproofing. I don’t need a camera to be waterproof. It would be great if one were, but, at least today, nobody makes a waterproof camera with the image quality I demand. Maybe that will change in the future. Certainly, Olympus or Panasonic have the capability to put a large sensor and high-end lens into one of their weatherproof bodies. Until then, I will just take care to keep my cameras dry.
Zoom lenses. While zoom lenses are convenient, they require compromises in image quality, especially in smaller sizes. Also, a zoom lens is inherently heavier and more bulky than a fixed, prime lens. A good, fixed focal length prime lens will almost always be better than a zoom of the same size and weight.
Video quality. I don’t shoot much video in the backcountry, and when I do, it tends to be simple stuff. I don’t have aspirations to produce breathtaking documentary video footage.
GPS, Bluetooth, In-camera editing, etc. For me, these features are not even “nice to haves” because I don’t need my camera to communicate with satellites, or bluetooth devices. I don’t need to do in-camera editing because I do all of my processing at home on my computer.
The Compact Backcountry Cameras with the Highest Image Quality: Sigma DP1 Merrill and DP2 Merrill.
The DP1 and DP2 Merrill:
These cameras came out in 2012. Sigma ceased production of the DP Merrill line just a couple of years later. These two cameras are almost identical, with the only significant difference being the focal length of their fixed lenses. The DP1 has a 19mm lens (28mm full frame equivalent) the DP2 has a 30mm lens (46 mm full frame equivalent.)
The DP Merrill series never really had a chance with the general public, and most reviewers panned the cameras for poor performance at high ISO settings, very long write times, extremely short battery life, terrible video quality, autofocus that has a difficult time tracking fast moving objects, no image stabilization, mediocre out of camera JPEGS, and no RAW support from Adobe Photoshop or other popular photography programs. (You have to use Sigma’s clunky Photo Pro software to process the RAW files.)
All of these criticisms are pretty much true, but none of these limitations have ever gotten in the way of my taking a lot of very pleasing pictures in the backcountry. The reason I put up with and work around these limitations is the amazing Foveon sensors and very high quality lenses.
The DP Merrill cameras have stacked, 3 layer Foveon sensors that are unique in the digital camera world. There’s been a lot of arguments over whether this sensor is a 46 megapixel sensor as claimed by Sigma (adding up the pixels of all three layers,) or a 15.4 megapixel sensor (the pixels in one layer of the array.) I don’t really know or care enough about the engineering to argue about number of mega pixels. What I do know is that this camera is capable of truly exceptional image quality. The very high quality lenses, coupled with the Foveon sensor make the DP Merrill cameras able to compete (on pure image quality) with much more modern, more expensive, much bigger, and much heavier cameras.
To provide some examples of the sort of detail, color rendition, and image quality the DP Merrill cameras are capable of, I have set out below some photos taken, with links to the full high-resolution files. (Some of these are stitched panoramas.) These are really big files and might take a long time to download, even on high speed internet. From looking at the original high-res files, it is apparent that these little cameras are capable of taking very high quality images.
Size and Weight: The DP1 and DP2 are virtually identical in size and weight, with the DP1 weighing 14.1 ounces and the DP2 at 13.9 ounces. These cameras are on the large size of “pocketable,” but are definitely more compact than most other cameras with similar image quality output.
Camera Cases for the DP Merrill Cameras: There are some very good camera cases available for the DP1 and DP2 Merrill Cameras. The Lowe Pro Dashpoint 20 fits either the DP1 or DP2 camera quite well (albeit snugly.) This case has loops that allow you to clip the case to a harness with carabiners, and also both horizontal and vertical velcro straps that allow for attachment to either shoulder straps or the hip belt of a pack.
The DP1 and DP2 both have relatively large knobs and buttons that can be easily manipulated, even with gloves on. With practice, I can even do most adjustments one handed. The biggest ergonomic issue is that they both have removeable lens caps which you have to manually take on and off. This is not nearly as convenient as automatically retractable lens covers.
DP Merrill Conclusions: As one reviewer put it, the DP Merrill is like a medium format camera you can put in your pocket. It’s amazing to have such a capable photographic tool in such a small, compact package. When choosing between the DP1 (28mm equivalent) and DP2 (46mm equivalent,) I will usually take the DP2. I find the extra magnification useful, and if I really need a wider angle, I tend to take multiple shots and stitch them into a panorama with my editing software. If I am going somewhere with truly spectacular scenery, the DP Merrills are my cameras of choice.
The Tiny Pocket Sized Overachiever: Ricoh GR III
I have been using Ricoh GR cameras for a long time. My first GR was the original 35mm film version, the legendary GR1. Later, when digital photography began to eclipse film cameras, I bought the GR Digital II, which was a bit of a disappointment. The next generation digital Ricoh GR was a much better camera, with decent image quality. I didn’t bother to buy the Ricoh GR II, as it wasn’t significantly different than the GR, but now, I’ve upgraded to the new Ricoh GR III.
What’s great about the Ricoh GR cameras? Mostly the size. These cameras are really really small. The 8.9 ounce GR III is the smallest GR yet, even smaller than the GR and GRII predecessors.
In spite of the small size, they have very good image quality, aided by their uniformly excellent lenses. All of the GR series cameras have 28mm full frame equivalent lenses, which, for the GR III is a 18.3mm lens. The 28 mm format is ideal for wide angle scenic shots and close up shots of people. The lens on the GR III also has a decent macro mode, so taking pictures of small subjects is easy.
The GR III’s 24 megapixel APS-C sensor allows for good image quality. I haven’t used this camera as extensively as the others in this review, but the images have certainly been good enough for displaying on web pages. So far, I have not taken any shots that merited turning into a large print, but hopefully I will get that chance.
The GR III is the first camera in the GR line to incorporate image stabilization. It’s also a bit smaller than previous GR cameras. The trade-off is that there is no built in flash. I think that this was a good trade, as I almost never used the built in flash, but I often want to shoot at lower shutter speeds.
The Compact Point and Shoot: Panasonic LX100
Panasonic LX100 14.2 ounces
The Panasonic LX100 is a camera that ticks a lot of boxes. It has a good 12 MP sensor, a sharp 24-75mm (full frame equivalent) zoom lens with a relatively large maximum f-stop of 1.7-2.8 for excellent light gathering capabilities. It incorporates image stabilization to combat shaky hands. Controls and ergonomics are excellent, with dials that control aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation. These dial controls are very intuitive and easy to operate even when wearing gloves. (In general, I find dials easier to manipulate with gloves compared with buttons.)
One feature that the LX100 has, which is relatively unusual for pocket cameras, is a built-in viewfinder. While the back screen is adequate in most cases, I’ve found that having a viewfinder can sometimes be very useful in composition, and is particularly useful in high-glare situations such as snowfields etc.
Autofocus is very accurate, and I’ve had very few out of focus shots. In full automatic mode, the camera really is a point and shoot, and you can take pictures with a minimum of messing with the controls. This is good when you’re trying to snap pictures quickly while climbing or belaying.
The LX100 comes standard with a regular, removable lens cap. However, there is also an optional automatic petal cap that is very convenient, as it obviates the need to remove and replace the lens cap. Just turn the camera on, and the lens pops out. A couple of caveats about this nifty lens cap: It can fall off. It attaches with a twist but will unattach itself without much effort. The first time I used this cap while climbing, the cap came off and fell down the route. Luckily, I was able to retrieve it. To prevent further losses, I used a small drop of super glue to secure the cap to the camera a bit more permanently. It’s worked well since then.
The other caveat when using this automatic cap is that not all lens filters are compatible with this cap. Most lens caps are too thick and will interfere with the cap’s operation. However, the ultra thin Cokin 49mm Pure Harmonie Ultra Slim UV-MC Round Screw-On Filter works perfectly, so there is a good filter option available.
The LX100 shoots 4k video, which is higher resolution than any of the other cameras in this review. I don’t shoot much video in the backcountry, but if I’m doing something that I want to take video of, the LX100 is the obvious answer.
Conclusion: Which Camera is the Best?
The obvious answer is that none of these is “the best” at everything. Each of these cameras is best suited for particular jobs. The camera I take with me the most often is the Ricoh GR III. It’s light and compact and easy to carry. It’s simple to use. Its image quality is very good. It’s my default camera for day trips, when I want to be prepared for whatever photographic opportunity might present itself.
The LX100 is often my camera of choice if I’m with a group of people and I have the option to dedicate time and energy to photography. In situations like this, I can often get some separation from the group to look for interesting angles, and the optical zoom makes getting the right framing and perspective easier. The LX100 is also my choice for video, as it is the only one of the bunch that shoots video in 4k.
However, the cameras that I love the most are the Sigma DP1 and DP2 Merrill. In spite of their quirks and failings, my favorite photographs have been taken with these cameras, and that is, ultimately, what cameras are for. For big trips in beautiful alpine settings, they give me the best shot at capturing the beauty of my surroundings.
I was an early adopter of avalanche airbag packs. I’ve been using them for over a decade, and have owned and used models by Snowpulse/Mammut ABS, and Dakine. My packs have all used compressed gas (either oxygen or nitrogen) to inflate the airbags. My first airbag pack was an ABS model, which uses nitrogen charged canisters. Nitrogen canisters are relatively compact and lightweight, but not approved for air travel, however. In anticipation of a heli-skiing trip to Alaska, I purchased a couple of Snowpulse/Mammut packs, which use compressed air canisters that can be refilled at dive shops or ski shops with compressed air tanks.
Airbag pack technology has improved in the past few years, with perhaps the biggest change being the introduction of electric fans as a replacement for compressed gas canisters. Electric fans have the advantages of not requiring canister refills if you deploy the airbag, either for testing or in response to an avalanche. Unlike compressed gas (air especially) they are not as affected by cold temperatures. (Compressed gases become less pressurized the colder they get.)
I held off buying a fan airbag pack for several years. They were too heavy, and the lithium/ion rechargeable batteries are considered hazardous, which makes taking them on airplanes problematic.
Recently, a new generation of electric fan powered airbag packs have become available. These use a supercapacitor instead of a battery to charge the fan. I don’t know much about supercapacitors other than that they are good at very quick energy discharge, they are lighter than comparable batteries; they are not as affected by temperature fluctuations as batteries, and they are not considered hazardous for airplane travel. Currently, the leader in supercapacitor airbag systems is a company called Alpride, a Swiss company that has licensed their “E1” supercapacitor airbag technology to a number of different outdoor companies.
The Alpride E1 system charges with a USB cable. In addition to the on-board supercapacitor charge, it has 2 auxiliary AA size batteries (either alkaline or lithium) that keep the supercapacitor at full charge and also allow for an additional charge while in the field (takes up to 1.5 hours) if the airbag is deployed.
When you turn on the system, it runs a self-diagnostic, and an LED blinks (visible from outside the pack) to show you that it is turned on and working. I typically turn the system on when I am packing for my trip, and turn it off when I unpack. (It’s hard to turn it on and off when you’re at the trailhead because the on/off switch is deep in the main compartment of the pack.) With two fresh AA batteries installed, the system is good for 2-3 months. Generally, I just plug the pack in to a USB port for a couple of hours every time I return from a tour to keep the batteries from being used to charge the capacitor.
In choosing between these options, one of my main considerations was load capacity. I tend to carry quite a bit of gear, even or short day trips, and I wanted a pack that could accommodate this gear, and also have room for longer, multi-day hut trips. Of the Alpride E1 packs I looked at, the Scott Patrol has a 40 liter capacity, with the Ferrino at 35 liters and the Soelden Pro at 32 liters. At 26 liters, the Black Diamond Jetforce Tour was just too small for my needs.
The Ferrino Full Safe has a unique feature in that it also incorporates an “avalung” type device that allows a buried person to breathe under the snow, provided you have the mouthpiece in your mouth when you are buried. Years ago, I had a custom pack made that incorporated an avalung and airbag (description HERE,) however, I found that I didn’t really use the avalung feature that much. It interfered with my skiing and added weight and complexity to the pack. The Ferrino Full Safe is the heaviest of the packs I considered, (over 7 pounds) and I figured I would seldom use the avalung feature.
Ultimately, my choice came down to the Osprey Soelden Pro 32 and the Scott Patrol 40. They are very similar in weight and capacity, and what reviews I could find online all seemed pretty positive. Ultimately, I found the Scott on sale with a 15% discount, so that proved to be the deciding factor. I purchased the Scott.
After having used the Scott for about 10 touring days, I am very happy with it.
Scott’s website claims the pack weighs approximately 2830 grams or 6.24 pounds. On my scales, my pack weighs 6.3 pounds, which is pretty close to the claimed weight. The pack is constructed with thinner straps, lighter zippers and doesn’t have a lot of useless features, which is a good design direction for a piece of gear that most folks will use going uphill more than down.
I think that the claimed 40 liter volume includes the space taken up by the capacitor, so the actual usable volume is probably closer to 38 liters.
Even with the capacitor taking up some space, there is plenty of room for my typical day trip or hut tour kit, and I don’t have to spend a lot of energy cramming stuff into a space that’s too small.
As with most avy packs, the Scott Patrol has two compartments; a smaller top compartment and the main compartment. Both of these are accessed with clamshell zippers. The top compartment has dividers to organize your snow safety equipment, with places to put your probe, shovel blade, and shovel handle. I can also easily fit my snow saw and ECT cord into this compartment. This top compartment also has a zippered pouch which is handy for keeping quick access items like snacks, a spare Buff, and sunglasses.
The main compartment houses the supercapacitor and has room for spare clothing, an emergency shelter, first aid kit, thermos, and all the rest of the gear I take with me. It has a zippered pocket that is handy for storing easy to lose items like my multi-tool.
There is also a small hip belt pocket. It’s not very big, but it fits smaller items like sun screen, lip balm, a lens wipe for my goggles, and my reading glasses. I wish that this hip pocket were a little bit bigger. It’s not quite big enough to hold my inclinometer or a soft flask. I would also welcome a matching pocket on the other side. I find easily accessible pockets to be very useful when I’m on the move, as I can access things without having to stop.
A common feature that this pack does not have is a dedicated goggle pocket. I like the soft goggle pocket on my Dakine ABS pack, and I miss it on this pack.
The helmet holder works well, and has stowed my helmet securely without issues. I was originally worried that the clips that hold it on would come off (the upper clips fit to the daisy chain and are held there by tension) but so far, that has not been an issue, either when holding the helmet or when empty.
Skis can be carried either diagonally or in A-Frame mode. The diagonal carry set up has a very fast dedicated system of a top buckled strap and a bottom cut-resistant plastic wrapped wire. For A-Frame, you just use the dual compression straps on either side of the pack. I’ve mounted skis up for carry testing, but have not carried my skis more than a few yards in either configuration. Both configurations seemed to work well enough.
Fit and comfort of the pack is excellent. I have a pretty long back, and I was worried that the pack would not fit me well. In use, it fits very well, and I am able to transfer the load to my hips without having to crank the hipbelt down too much. The airbag activation trigger is adjustable in height, so I was able to move it down lower on the shoulder strap to accommodate my longer torso. Apparently, it’s possible to transfer the trigger to the opposite (right) side as well, but I am right handed, so I haven’t done that. I’ve heard it’s possible to run a hydration tube through the shoulder strap sleeve, but I haven’t done that either(water tubes always seem to freeze.)
The pack has a lightly padded frame that is comfortable and keeps objects in the pack from poking your back.
In use, I have found that I don’t think about the pack very much, either on the uphill or when skiing downhill. This is the best indicator of a comfortable pack. It doesn’t throw me off balance, and stays snugged down without having to over-tighten the straps.
I’ve only used this pack for less than one season, but I really really like it. A lot of thought has gone into the design of this pack and it serves its intended function very well. I’m certain that supercapacitor airbag systems will continue to improve, getting smaller and lighter as the technology advances. However, until that happens, I think that this is one of the best airbag pack options there is, and likely the best choice for my needs.
An insulated water bottle can be a great piece of equipment for winter outdoor activities. Depending on temperatures and what sort of bottle you’ve got, you can keep your water from freezing or enjoy a hot drink.
I will usually take an insulated bottle with me when I’m backcountry skiing or ice climbing. Sipping hot cider or hot cocoa at lunch time provides a great feeling of well being and helps warm me up when it’s cold.
This is a review of the insulated bottles I own.
Forty Below Bottle Boot $24.95 The Forty Below Bottle Boot is made from neoprene. It’s sized to fit a 1 liter bottle. It works with a standard Nalgene bottle or, a Hunersdorf bottle. The Hunersdorf bottle is lighter than a Nalgene and has a cap design that doesn’t freeze up in cold temperatures.
The Bottle Boot isn’t terribly effective, but it is low profile and doesn’t add much bulk to your water bottle. It’s not great for keeping hot drinks hot, but does provide enough insulation to help keep your water bottle from freezing solid. If light weight and low bulk are your priority, then this could be a good choice.
Outdoor Research SG Water Bottle Parka $70 This is a foam insulated bottle wrap. OR claims it “makes any bottle a thermos.” That’s not really true as the tests below clearly show. It is a hair lighter than the Forty Below Bottle Boot, and provides more insulation, but is also a bit more bulky. If I was just worried about keeping my water from freezing and wasn’t concerned with keeping a hot drink hot, this would be my choice.
Takeya Actives Insulated Bottle with Spout Lid $23.00 This is a basic, stainless steel vacuum insulated bottle. It comes in various sizes. The spout lid is convenient for drinking out of or pouring, but it is not insulated. I believe that the uninsulated lid is responsible in large part for this bottle’s poor performance in the testing described below. It’s not very expensive, and its performance is fine for shorter days in mild cold.
Hydro Flask 40 ounce Wide Mouth Bottle $49.95 This bottle comes in a variety of sizes. The only one I have used is the larger, 40 ounce capacity version. This bottle is well made, easy to drink or pour from, and performed very well in the insulation test. One of the best I have used, and my go-to for a larger capacity vacuum bottle.
Primus Vacuum Bottle $39.95 Note that the version I own is an older model than the one in the link. I have not used the new “Trailbreak” model. This is a nice, traditional vacuum bottle. It has a vacuum insulated double wall design, and has two caps, an inner, insulated cap, and a cover that can be used as a cup for sipping your hot drinks. It performs well at keeping drinks hot and doesn’t take up much space in your pack. I have owned two of these, and with both of them, the cup lid broke. The glue that holds the outer steel portion of the cup to the inner plastic cup failed and the two pieces came apart. It was easily fixed with a bit of JB weld, however.
Thermos Titanium Vacuum Bottle I can’t remember what I paid for this. I remember it being pretty expensive, I believe about $150. These bottles are pretty hard to find. They show up occasionally on ebay, but prices can be nuts (saw one sell for over $200.) This is a beautifully constructed bottle. Titanium makes it light, and it was the best performer in the insulation test. For those who simply must have a high quality titanium vacuum bottle, if you can’t find a Thermos Titanium, Snowpeak makes a smaller and lighter version, the Titanium 350ml Kanpai Bottle ($159.95) I have never used this Snowpeak bottle, but my experience with other Snowpeak gear makes me believe it is likely very high quality.
I tested the insulating qualities of each of these bottles.
All of the bottles were filled with boiling water. Then, they were left outside in the cold for 6 hours. Outside temperatures were just below freezing. After 6 hours, the water temperature in the bottles was measured.
Note that the larger containers have an advantage when it comes to heat loss, as larger regularly shaped objects generally have less surface area in relation to their volume. Having less surface area in relation to volume means that an object will radiate relatively less heat. It is likely that smaller models of these bottles would perform slightly less well. Also, all of the bottles were filled to capacity. Experience has shown that when you drink some of the liquid in a bottle, leaving empty air space, the remaining liquid tends to cool more rapidly.
Here are the results:
The two bottle wraps (Forty Below and Outdoor Research) clearly do not perform as well as the better (and heavier) vacuum bottles. They are good for keeping your water from freezing, but not really great for keeping your hot chocolate hot. The Outdoor research Bottle Parka is the winner in this category, with better insulating performance, lower weight, and just a bit more bulk.
The Takeya vacuum bottle was a bit of a disappointment. It has poor insulating performance (likely due to the non-insulating lid.) I would not choose this bottle, and would instead opt for a Hydroflask.
The Primus, while a good performer for a small bottle, was eclipsed by the outstanding performance (and lighter weight) of the Thermos Titanium bottle. The Thermos Titanium is my favorite. It is just the right size for a day trip in cold weather, it’s pretty light, and it keeps liquids hot for a long time. Unfortunately, the Thermos Titanium is very difficult (maybe impossible) to acquire.
So, the real-world winner of this insulated bottle showdown for those who can’t locate the Thermos Titanium Unicorn is the Hydro Flask. It’s easy to find, has very good insulating performance, is relatively inexpensive, and its weight is competitive with the other (non-titanium) vacuum bottles. If anyone wants a good solid vacuum bottle for keeping their drinks hot in the cold of winter, I could highly recommend the Hydro Flask.
Total weight in ounces: 42.1 Total weight in pounds: 2.6 pounds
MSR Reactor stove 1 liter pot, gas canister, fire steel and small pack cloth. 22.5 ounces
The MSR Reactor is the most powerful stove I know of. It easily outperforms the popular Jetboil stoves, particularly in colder conditions or wind. It doesn’t simmer, it’s really only good for boiling water or melting snow at full blast. Since that’s pretty much all I’m doing when I hunt, it’s my stove of choice.
MSR Dromlite 3 liter water bag with hydration tube 6.1 ounces This is a decent, lightweight water bag. I prefer water bags to bottles, because a water bag doesn’t make much noise. Half empty water bottles tend to slosh and make noise when you’re walking around.
MSR Trailshot water filter. 5 ounces This is my back-up option if I can’t find water that is clean enough to just use my chlorine dioxide tablets with and need to filter water with lots of sediment or other dirty stuff in it. It’s small and compact, and doesn’t weigh much. Performance so far has been fine.
Wilderness Dining pouch cozy 1.8 ounces This is used to put your freeze dried meals in, after you’ve added the hot water. It keeps them hot while the meal is re-hydrating. Especially useful at higher altitudes and colder temperatures, it ensures that your meal re-hydrates before your water cools down.
Ursack Minor critter proof food bag 2.7 ounces Better known for their bear proof food sacks, this company makes this lighter weight bag that keeps out small critters. Useful for storing food in while you are away from your camp. It is insurance against coming back to camp and finding that squirrels or marmots have eaten all your food.
Chlorine Dioxide water purification tablets. 1 ounce Very lightweight water purification option. Minimal chemical taste to the water, provided you let it sit for about an hour. I hate pumping filters, so this is my go-to method of purifying my drinking water.
Christensen Arms Summit Ti/Th 6.5 Creedmoor rifle with thumbhole stock for deer
For elk, I use a slightly heavier, RBros Rifles LW Hunter 300 Win Mag rifle
Both of these rifles are top quality. At 100 yards, they will consistently shoot groups of 1/2 inch or less.
R Bros Rifle is 105.5 ounces; Scope 33.6 ounces; Bipod 4.2 ounces; Sling 6.2 ounces; Rings 8.1 ounces
Rubber gun sling (Specialty Outdoors) or Slogan Outdoors These rubber slings are terrific. They keep the rifle secure when over your shoulder. They provide excellent support when the sling is used to steady the rifle for shooting, and they can be looped, backpack style over both shoulders for secure carrying over rough terrain.
Here is a VIDEO that shows the basics of a rubber sling.
Neopod ultralight bipod This rifle bipod weighs next to nothing. Bipod and all the hardware for attaching it to the rifle weighs a total of 4.2 ounces.
Kahles AMR Reticle I typically dial the scope for elevation, but hold for wind. This Christmas Tree design makes wind holds easy.
Soundgear Earplugs with extra batteries These are electronic hearing protection that fits in your ear as opposed to ear muffs that go over your ear. They weigh next to nothing, and provide decent sound protection coupled with adequate hearing.
R Bros 300 Win Mag (I don’t use the cheek pad any more. Found it wasn’t needed.)
Christensen Arms Summit TI/TH rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor Maxpedition pouch on the sling.
Leki Carbon Ti Trikking poles, (15 ounces) which I use for walking and supporting my tent, also make decent shooting sticks, for supporting the rifle when I’m not prone or shooting using my backpack as a support.
I have been using the Sig Sauer Kilo 2400 ABS Laser Rangefinder for the past 5 months. I have bee very impressed with this piece of gear. Range finding is fast, accurate, and consistent out to at least 1400 yards, even on minimally reflective targets. The built in ballistics software is easy to use, interfaces with my smartphone for easy input of custom ballistics data, and provides very accurate firing solutions. It’s small and lightweight (8.1 ounces). It’s the perfect rangefinder for hunting. It was expensive, but worth the money. I carry it in a FHF rangefinder pouch attached to my bino harness.
With my shelter and sleeping gear, I try to walk the line between light weight and function. It’s really important to get a good night’s sleep, and your shelter needs to be able to protect you from nasty mountain weather.
I use a floorless shelter that utilizes a trekking pole for support. I’ve been using floorless pyramid tents since the 1980’s. The weight savings over a traditional tent is significant. People who haven’t tried tipi style floorless tents tend to worry about not having a floor. There are only a few limited situations where I’ve found this style of tent to be lacking. The first is bug season. If mosquitoes are plentiful, then I want a tent with full bug netting, like the Hyperlite Echo, reviewed HERE. However, most of my hunting is in the mountains in September or later, when bugs are not an issue. The other situation where floorless tents are less than ideal is for day after day of heavy rain. In such situations, it can be a challenge to try to find a dry spot to pitch the tent on. However, I solve that potential problem by bringing a lightweight polycro groundsheet (which I can also use as a groundsheet for butchering meat. I don’t use it unless it’s raining. It generally just stays in the bottom of my pack.
Shelter and sleeping gear for a late September deer hunt in Northern Idaho.
My current tent of choice is the Locus Gear Hapi DCF. It’s constructed of cuben fiber and weighs under 12 ounces. It sleeps 2 people, or one person with lots of room for gear. (2 people plus gear is tight, but workable.) This is my tent for solo and 2 person hunts.
Locus Gear Hapi tent
For hunts with 3 people, I have a larger pyramid tent, the Bear Paw Luna 6, also made with cuben fiber. The biggest problem with this tent is that it’s hard to find anywhere to pitch it, as its 10 feet by 10 feet size is larger than most of the flat spots you find in the mountains. However, at 25.3 ounces, it’s a very light weight multi-person shelter.
I use down bags exclusively for hunting. The weight penalty for a synthetic bag is just too high. If I were hunting in rainy Washington or Oregon, I might consider a synthetic bag, but for the Rocky Mountain areas that I hunt, down works.
In addition to down fill, another feature that I consider critical in a sleeping bag is a wide fit. I’m a big guy, so a wide fit is more comfortable. Even more important, a generous cut of your sleeping bag allows you to wear your insulated puffy jacket to bed in cold weather, effectively lowering the temperature rating of your sleeping bag.
The sleeping bag I choose depends on the temperatures I expect to encounter. Here are my top choices:
Marmot Hydrogen 30 degree down bag 21.6 oz (1 lb., 5.6 oz)
Marmot Helium 15 degreee down bag 32.5 (2 lbs, 0.5 oz)
Marmot Lithium 0 degree down bag 41.9 (2 lbs, 9.9oz)
Valandre Shocking Blue 0 degree down bag 48.2 (3 lbs, 0.2 oz)
The Marmot bags are all of somewhat standard design, with the Valandre Shocking Blue having a very large girth, allowing for minimal compression of a puffy jacket layer.
I reviewed these (and other ) sleeping bags in depth previously, and that review can be found here:
The bag I use most often is the 15 degree Helium, which seems to cover me for most of the conditions I encounter while hunting.
The NeoAir XTherm inflatable mattress is the best all-season pad I’ve used. It’s warm, reasonably durable, and relatively light and compact. (Weight is 15.6 ounces, and it rolls up into a small package.) I am getting old, and have old aching bones and joints, and the XTherm provides enough comfort and cushioning to ensure I get a good night’s sleep. I generally use it right on the ground, and so far, haven’t managed to pop in on a sharp stick or rock. I have a full review of this pad (along with several others) in the blog post here:
I am a side sleeper, so I need a substantial pillow. I use the Klymit Cush, which weighs only 3.9 ounces, and serves double duty as a rear shooting rest/bag for my rifle, and a cushion for my butt or back when glassing.
Instead of a regular sleeping bag stuffsack, I use a Zpacks pillow dry bag. It’s a cuben fiber dry bag with an inside face of soft fleece fabric. Weight is less than 2 ounces, and it allows me to fill it with spare clothing and use it as a pillow, with the fleece providing more comfort than a slick cuben fiber fabric would.
This is part 1 of my post on hunting gear and clothing. A few notes about this list to provide some context:
I hunt deer and elk. My hunts are all self guided. I tend to backpack hunt, generally 3-8 miles from my vehicle. I don’t have pack animals. Everywhere I go, I walk.
I hunt public lands in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, and Colorado. (Thinking of hunting Montana in the future.) Because I only started hunting a few years ago, I have not accumulated significant preference points in any state. My hunts are generally over the counter, general season tags, or easy to draw limited entry units. I try to hike in to places that other hunters don’t go. Terrain is usually high country; either heavily timbered, or more sparsely covered high mountain terrain. Temps can range from hot (Utah early season) or cold and snowy (Colorado 3rd rifle season.)
I’m a meat hunter. I don’t have any place in my house to hang a taxidermy head. I will keep antlers, but have no real use for a big mounted trophy. Because of this, I don’t really care about an animal’s “score.” Given two healthy, legal targets, I will opt for the smaller, younger one, on the assumption that the meat will be better. (I prefer females to males for the same reason.) You will see this preference reflected in some of my equipment decisions. For example, I don’t need a giant spotting scope to count antler tines, so I generally bring a smaller lightweight spotting scope.
Most of my hunting is solo. (Another reason I prefer to harvest a smaller animal.) I generally plan on spending 5 or 6 nights on a given hunt. I’m getting older (in my 50’s) so I try to keep my pack weigh down as much as possible.
A final note about my hunting gear. I’ve tried not to make any compromises with my gear. With very few exceptions, if I’ve chosen to take a particular item of clothing or equipment on a hunt, it’s because I believe that it is the absolute best piece of clothing or equipment for the purpose. After a few years of hunting, I have refined and honed my hunting clothing and equipment over and over again. I have finally got the list to a pretty stable state. Stuff that doesn’t work or is not needed has been trimmed from the list, and many items have been changed out for things that work better.
My “trophy” Elk tenderloin medallions.
Idaho and Arizona do not require hunter orange. Colorado and Utah do. Because of this, when I’m hunting in Utah or Colorado, I don’t bother with camo on my upper body. I just wear orange clothing. Most folks wear camo and an orange vest. I opt for just wearing orange clothing and not bothering with a vest. I’m not convinced that camo clothing makes a huge difference in how easily elk or deer can spot me, particularly at rifle hunting distances. Furthermore, the orange vests that I have tested with a UV light have glowed like crazy, indicating they have heavy optical brighteners in their dyes. My orange clothing doesn’t glow under a UV light. (Deer and elk are sensitive to the UV spectrum, so generally, UV optical brighteners are bad because they make you more visible to your prey.)
Camo clothing for an Idaho Deer Hunt
Above: Camo clothing. Below, orange clothing.
Hunter Orange Clothing for Colorado and Utah
DeFeet Duraglove ET Wool These are great lightweight gloves made from a blend of synthetic and merino wool. Good dexterity for fine tasks (including shooting.) Compatible with phone touch screen. Good grip. Durable.
Dachstein boiled wool fingerless, mittens, with fold-over cap. These are my go-to cold weather hand gear. They are warm, windproof, water resistant, and easy to convert from fingerless to mitten configuration (just fold over the finger cap.) These mittens provide warmth for my hands, while the fingerless feature makes them easy to shoot with without removing them.
REI Minimalist Rain Mittens. Waterproof, seam taped rain gear for your hands. Ultralight fabric is not very durable, but I only wear them if it’s raining, and it doesn’t rain much where I hunt, so it’s not a big problem.
Buff headband/neck gaiter (orange for Hunter Orange states, camo pattern for Idaho) This is an indispensable piece of clothing. It’s a sweat band in hot weather, a neck gaiter, and an ear band in cold weather (Sometimes a warm hat is too much, and all I really want is something to keep my ears warm.)
Outdoor Research Sunrunner cap (I tie-died this cap to give it a more camouflaged look.) Replace with LL Bean mesh and cool-max hunting cap for Hunter Orange states. (The Bean cap is discontinued, but Headsweats makes a similar cap.) Keeps the sun out of my eyes, and absorbs sweat.
Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra Light lenses. These sunglasses are made for trail runners, and they vent well and resist fogging. The photochromatic “Zebra Light” lenses adjust to allow for good vision in shadows and bright sun and glare. Comfortable, and durable.
Smartwool boxer briefs Merino wool underwear is low stink and comfortable. I generally will bring a spare pair on a multi day trip. (This and my socks are my only spares)
Kuiu Peloton 200 Zip-Off long john bottoms These long johns are genius because they have full length zippers that allow you to take them off and put them on without removing your boots. This is a common feature for raingear, but Kuiu is the only company I know of that does this with base layers.
Ibex merino t-shirt (orange for Hunter Orange states.) Low stink. Comfortable. Doesn’t dry as quickly as synthetic, but more comfortable. Not durable. Knit wool fabric won’t stand up to bushwhacking very well.
Primary Layer; Pants
FirstLite Obsidian Pants These pants made from woven, ripstop merino wool are my choice for early season hunts and any time when I’m not expecting snow or wet conditions. I don’t like belts, and these work well with suspenders. They have a high waist that fits well and is comfortable under a backpack hip belt. They are a replacement for the Kenab pants, and have better pockets, and a more durable fabric. Not at all water resistant. Not great for snow or wet conditions. They will get wet and don’t dry as fast as some other pants.
Sitka Timberline Pants. These are my pants of choice for wet and/or snowy conditions. They have some water resistance and dry quickly. The seat and knees are waterproof, so you can sit or kneel on snow and not get your butt or knees wet. Good suspenders. Comfortable under a pack hip belt. Knees have removable knee pads which are flexible and comfortable. High waist and suspenders.
Primary Layer; Torso
Voormi Blur Jacket This is my camo layer for Idaho or Arizona, when I’m not worrying about hunter orange requirements. It’s a nice, hooded softshell jacket, made of a merino wool blend. It is weather resistant, and will shrug off light rain or snow. It has a wide temperature comfort range. Two chest pockets and two handwarmer pockets provide ample storage. The Blur Jacket is one of several similar hunting oriented tops in Voormi’s clothing line up. There is a similar top with many of the same features in a pullover version, the Voormi Two Pocket Hoodie. All of Voormi’s clothing is made in the USA from American sourced materials.
Voormi Blur Jacket, Firstlite Obsidian Pants and Firstlite Brambler Gaiters
For hunter orange states, the Voormi Blur jacket gets replaced with an orange Patagonia Nano Air Light hoodie. This is a lightly insulated softshell with excellent breathability and good stretch. Not as warm or wind resistant as the Voormi Blur, but lighter and better for high exertion activities.
I don’t hunt in any states where it typically rains a lot. My primary concern with rain gear is that it is light weight. I don’t really care if it’s durable, as I don’t really plan on wearing it all that often.
Puffy Jacket I always carry a puffy jacket. I want insulation that I can layer on top of my other clothing for times when I am stationary and not generating heat. Hooded jackets are warmer than non-hooded versions.
Gaiters keep rocks and sticks and moisture out of your boots. I wear the FirstLite Brambler Hunting Gaiter, except in early season, when I prefer a shorter, more breathable gaiter. For early season, where snow isn’t an issue, and I’m pretty much just keeping rocks and sticks out of my boots, I opt for the Kennetrek Hiking Gaiter. They are light, stretchy, and breathable.
When I’m backpacking and hiking (not hunting) I seldom wear boots. I pretty much just wear lightweight trail running shoes. However, after trying to wear trail running shoes while hunting, I’ve found that I prefer more substantial footwear. When I’m hunting, I tend to travel off trail most of the time. Boots provide more protection and comfort off trail. The loads I’m carrying (especially if I’m packing out meat) also tend to be heavier than typical backpacking loads, and I find that I want a bit more support than trail running shoes provide.
My primary boot of choice is the Zamberlan Lynx. These are high quality, Italian boots that are waterproof, comfortable, and great for cool to cold weather. One thing I really appreciate about these boots is that they come in both regular and wide widths. I have a somewhat wide foot, and the wide width fits me perfectly. They are very nimble, with a grippy sole for scrambling over rocks. Their mid-height construction doesn’t bind or constrict. These are great boots, and I use them for everything except hot, early season conditions.
The Keene Liberty Ridge hiking boots are my choice for early season warmer conditions. They are a bit lighter than the Zamberlans, but still provide good support. They are water proof. They don’t come in different widths, but they have a relatively wide fore foot, so they fit my feet well. As a bonus, they are made in the United States.
As with my merino boxer briefs, I generally bring a spare pair of socks. I wear merino blend socks pretty much exclusively. Nothing surpasses wool for sock material.
With the Zamberlan boots, I wear Patagonia Expedition weight merino hiking socks. I don’t think that these socks are still made by Patagonia, which is too bad, as they are great socks, with good cushioning and excellent warmth. A good warm, thick sock like these allows my feet to stay warm and comfortable in cold temperatures. I find that even in more mild conditions, the thick terry-looped merino interior absorbs any sweat from my feet and my feet stay comfortable and don’t feel too hot.
Julbo Venturi sunglasses with Zebra light lenses and cloth bag
Smartwool Merino boxer briefs (2 pair) 2.6 ounces each
Sitka Timberline Pants
First Lite Obsidian Pants
Kuiu Peloton 200 zip-off bottoms
Voormi Blur Jacket
Orange Patagonia Nano Air light hoodie
Expedition weight Cashmere Hat (Golightly Cashmere)