Himalayan High: gear for the trek

In my last post on my recent trek to Everest Base Camp I wrote about ways to prepare for the trek, physically getting yourself ready to handle the demands of the hike. It is my opinion that anyone who makes this trip will have a far better experience, and can save themselves quite a bit of grief, if they are well prepared for the trail. That same philosophy carries over to the gear that you choose to bring along on the trek as well. The proper equipment can make the hike a much more enjoyable prospect, but conversely the wrong gear can make it a difficult and uncomfortable affair.

After spending a couple of thousand dollars on the trek and airfare to Kathmandu, it is a natural instinct to want to save some money on your gear. While I’m all for bargain shopping, it is important that you be smart about it and still purchase high quality equipment. Certain pieces of gear will play an important role in your journey, and it is imperative that you don’t go cut-rate on those items, lest you end up regretting it later.

For instance, on my trek it was recommended that we bring a 4-season sleeping bag to ensure that we stayed warm throughout the long nights in the Nepalese teahouses. That type of bag is generally rated down to about 0ºF (-18ºC), and at the higher altitudes, the unheated lodges could potentially approach those temperatures or even lower. Some of my travel companions failed to heed these recommendations however, and arrived on the trek with just a 3-season bag, and within a few days, they were all begging for extra blankets in their rooms in an attempt to stay warm each night. Their bags did end up saving them money, but at the expense of comfort. Anyone who has ever been too cold to sleep can certainly tell you that it doesn’t make for a very fun night. By contrast, I took a GoLite 4-season Adrenaline bag, and was plenty warm, and comfortable, the entire time I was on the trail. In fact, I was able to sleep quite snugly in just my skivvies, while the rest of the group piled on layers.Another important piece of gear is your backpack, which needs to be large enough to carry all your essential equipment while remaining comfortable enough to wear all day long. It is essential that which ever pack you choose also fits properly, so that it carries your load without bogging you down or impeding your movement. Backpacks come in a variety of sizes and with many options, which is why I would recommend going to a gear shop and having one properly fitted for your particular frame. On my trek I carried a North Face Terra 65 pack, which is a very comfortable, no-frills bag that offers a lot of bang for the buck. If porters will be carrying the bulk of your gear, you may only need a small daypack. If that’s the case, I recommend the Kestrel 38 from Osprey.

The clothing you take along on the trek plays a vital role in keeping you comfortable as well, but since everything you bring with you needs to fit in one backpack, you’ll be limited in your options. Your clothing needs to be versatile, lightweight, and highly packable, all at the same time. At the lower altitudes you’ll want something that is cool and comfortable, but as you go up, you’ll need to stay warm and dry. Your best bet is to use a layering system, allowing you to pack a few items of clothing that can work in unison to keep you comfortable no matter what the conditions.

Generally a layering system starts with good base layers that stay close to the skin, wicking away moisture, and keeping you cool or warm as needed. From there, you add a fleece layer, which traps warm air between it and your base layer, providing extra warmth. I actually took two fleece layers with me, a lighter, performance fleece for lower altitudes and a thicker, expedition level fleece for when we neared base camp. Finally, you can add a shell jacket over your other layers for when it gets really cold. The three layers work well with one another to keep the warm air in, but the nasty elements out. A system such as this one doesn’t take up much room in your travel bags, and is very flexible for the varying conditions you’ll find in the Khumbu Valley.

Perhaps the single most important gear item you’ll take with you on your trek are your hiking boots. You can have every other piece of gear exactly right, but if your boots are bad, you’ll end up having a miserable time. Keep your feet happy however, and the trek will seem like a walk in the park – quite literally! Picking the right boots for a multi-day Himalayan trek is not an easy task, and it is a highly personal choice. You’ll want to try on a number of pairs of boots before you purchase the ones that will see you through the mountains, but be very careful in your selection, as this isn’t your local trail, and you’ll need something more than the light hikers that you’re use to wearing along those lesser paths. I recommend shelling out the cash on a good pair of hiking boots, but when you do so, keep in mind that these shoes will last you for years. My boots are made by Asolo, and they have been trekking with me on five continents. They are comfortable, flexible and very durable. Just be sure to break them in at home, long before you leave for Nepal. Trust me, you don’t want to try out new shoes on the road to Everest. Bonus tip: wear the boots with you on the plane. If your baggage gets lost in transit, you can replace just about anything else, but again, you won’t want to be breaking in new boots on the hike.

That about covers the essential gear for your trek, but there are plenty of extra things you can bring along to help make things easier, just don’t bring so much stuff that you’re overloading yourself or your Sherpa porter. For instance, I highly recommend taking trekking poles, as they provide extra stability and traction both going up and down the mountain. A good headlamp is essential of course and should be in every traveler’s pack no matter where they are headed, and you’ll want a wide brimmed hat to help keep the wind and sun off of you as you hike. An iPod has become almost essential gear these days as well, although you my have issues with recharging it on the go, in which case it just becomes dead weight. Don’t forget a good camera, as you’ll want to document the trip as best you can, and the usual assortment of gloves, beanies, and scarves can be useful in keeping you warm as well.

But if I were to recommend one non-essential piece of gear to throw in your pack, it would be a Buff. This versatile piece of kit is the most useful multifunction headwear you’ll find anywhere. They can be worn on your head of course, covering your scalp and keeping the sweat out of your eyes. But they can also be worn around the neck, keeping the wind and rain from running down your jacket, and when the gusts really pick-up, it can be pulled up over the mouth and nose to keep the dust out, something that proved extremely helpful in the Khumbu. Trust me, the Buff is a great piece of gear that doesn’t take up too much space in your pack and won’t break your budget either, but will provide you with plenty of uses.

When making a long distance trek of this kind, it is important that you choose your gear wisely. Don’t skimp on these items, as it may come back to bite you when you need it most, and always keep in mind that your gear is an important element in your enjoyment of your Himalayan adventure.

Next: Dangers of the Trek

Gadling’s ultimate camping gear guide

With Memorial Day just around the corner, we are rapidly approaching the unofficial start of summer and, with it, the start of camping season. Of course, many people go camping all year long and either live in perpetually warm climates or simply don’t mind bundling up and enduring the cold. The vast majority of campers, however, eagerly await the arrival of Summer so that we can pack up our cars, hit up our favorite campsites and enjoy as many weekends as possible in the great outdoors.

Several of us Gadlingers are psyched about the arrival of camping season (while others who shall remain nameless prefer to stay only in luxury hotels and bathe regularly), so I polled the team on what gear is most essential when heading out on a camping trip. Our list is primarily geared towards car camping, which allows for more (and heavier) gear. But even backpackers will want to grab some of the equipment listed below before heading out on their treks.

We touched on some camping basics in an episode of Travel Talk, but now we’re going to help you pack everything you need before you leave the city (or suburbs) behind.A roof above your head

When you think about camping, what’s the first image that pops into your mind? If you said, “Getting killed by Michael Myers,” then you’ve watched too many horror movies. Most likely, visions of tents pop into your head. While some people choose RVs or campers, most people hunker down for the night in a tent. There are countless tent manufacturers and styles from which to choose.

If you only plan to camp in pristine conditions and perhaps only once or twice a year, you can probably get away with a cheaper, less durable tent. However, investing in a good tent ensures that you will have it for years to come. Meaning that it will have a chance to eventually pay for itself in the enjoyment that it provides over time.

For your large tent needs, the Big Agnes Big House 6 is phenomenal. With 90 square feet of space, you won’t be piled on top of your friends and it’s good for gathering the whole group together for a game of UNO if it rains. Add the optional vestibule and you’ll have a total of 154 square feet of space, meaning you can keep all of your gear close by and covered. For more information, read the full Gadling review of the Big Agnes Big House 6.

For two person trips, the Mountain Hardwear Raven 2 has plenty of room and is fantastically lightweight (only five pounds). Meaning that it’s also a terrific option for trekking. With two doors, two dry-entry vestibules and a color-coded pole system, the Raven 2 is easy-to-use and sacrifices nothing with its light weight.

Both of the tents recommended above come with a rain fly included. Rain flies are essential for keeping you and your gear dry in inclement weather. We also recommend purchasing a footprint for your tent to provide an additional layer of material between you and the ground.

Sleep like a mummy

Once it’s time for bed, you’ll want to curl up in something warm. A comfortable sleeping bag along with a quality pad will help you forget that you’re far away from your expensive Swedish sleep system. Sleeping bags are rated by the minimum temperature at which you would still be safe from the elements. If you are a casual camper planning on camping only in the spring and summer, there is no need to shell out the money for a 0° bag. You want comfort for the conditions in which you will be camping. Anything beyond that will leave your wallet emptier and you sweatier.

The EMS Solstice Switchback 25/45 is my personal sleeping bag of choice. It has thicker insulation on one side, meaning it can keep you warm should you elect to use it during the shoulder seasons or in the midst of an unexpected cold snap. The less insulated side is more than warm enough for your typical summer evenings in the woods.

If you plan to take your significant other into nature with you, you’ll enjoy The North Face’s Twin Peaks two-person sleeping bag. More than warm enough (it’s 20° rated), it allows for a little romance and coziness in the wild. If you’re joining a group on an excursion, an invitation to share your Twin Peaks may be the perfect way to escalate things with a new friend. The extra size does mean that it’s significantly heavier than other packs, but you won’t mind the weight once you get to the cuddling.

Under any sleeping bag, you will want to place a pad. The Big Agnes Air Core pad is durable, lightweight and doesn’t leave you winded after inflating it. If you prefer a pad that is self-inflating, the Big Agnes Hinman pad is incredibly comfortable. It even comes in a double-wide (50″) size which is perfect for pairing with The North Face Twin Peaks bag.

Let there be light

Your bladder doesn’t care what time it is. Come nightfall, that walk to the bathroom facility (or into the deeper woods) is going to be pitch black. Campfires provide some light, but they sit in one spot and burn out once you call it a day. Portable light sources keep you safe and also allow you to enjoy time in your tent before falling asleep.

Headlamps keep your hands free to cook dinner, do emergency repairs on your gear or simply unzip your pants. The Black Diamond Cosmo headlamp is perfect for the casual camper or the hardcore outdoorsman. It offers three brightness settings so that you don’t accidentally blind your tentmates.

If you prefer a good old-fashioned flashlight, the Gerber Option 60 may be the last flashlight you ever purchase. It’s water-resistant, bright, lightweight and can take AA, AAA or CR123 batteries. It can handle being dropped and is sturdy enough to use as a weapon should someone try to steal the last hot dog.

When it comes time to retire to your tent to study maps of hiking trails or simply talk with your companions, a lantern is the best lighting option. The Black Diamond Apollo lantern is small yet powerful enough to illuminate even the largest tents. It’s easy to pack and its collapsible loop makes hanging it from your tent a cinch.

Chow time

Plenty of campers cook all of their meals on an open fire. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, though it does add an element of danger and diminishes the control you have on the cooking conditions. If you want to make some eggs for breakfast or brew some coffee without singeing your fingers, you’ll want to pack a camping stove.

A camping grill with one stove top will provide you with all of the flexibility that you’ll need when cooking outdoors. The Brunton Profile Duo can whip up a full breakfast, lunch and dinner even if you can’t get that campfire started. At only ten pounds, it’s easy to pack and can burn for an hour-and-a-half on a single gas tank. It provides a spacious grill and a sturdy burner to meet all of your cooking needs. Obviously, you’ll need to pack a propane or butane tank (or two) to power the grill.

As far as what cookware you’ll use on that grill, it all comes down to how persnickety you are with your pots and pans. I have never used a dedicated camping cookware set. I’ve always packed one pot and one pan from home. However, if you are going to be cooking on the fire, using a cookset with a removable handle will save you from having to worry about ruining your home cookware and scalding your hands.

When it’s time to eat, there may be no better camping utensil than then Light My Fire XM Spork. It’s heat resistant, doesn’t melt, won’t scratch your cookware, comes in an array of colors and it’s a spork that has a serrated knife edge on one its fork prongs! It works perfectly with Sea to Summit’s X Bowl and X Plate. Both are collapsible, which makes them easy to store and perfect for car camping or backpacking. They’re the right size for hearty meals by the fire, easily rinse clean and can take a pretty good beating.

Safety first

Never go camping without a first aid kit. It’s that simple. The Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight/Watertight .9 has all the basics and then some should something go wrong on your trip. We cannot stress enough that a first aid kit is a must-have when camping.

Bug spray is another necessity. Ben’s Insect Repellents keep mosquitoes, ticks and other potentially disease-carrying bugs at bay. They do, however, contain DEET. If you’re not a fan, there are plenty of DEET-free alternatives out there. Like first aid kits, bug spray is a must-have. Whatever your brand or chemical preferences, be sure to pack some kind of repellent to be safe.

In that same vein, you’ll want to pack enough sunscreen to last you the weekend. Something waterproof if you plan to enjoy a nearby lake or will be sweating while you hike. Shoot for something SPF 30 or higher for proper protection.

If you’re in bear country, be sure to bring gear to suspend your food above your site. Regardless of wildlife, pack containers to seal up any food and be sure to keep perishables on ice in a cooler.

Whether you’re simply driving in multiple cars on the way to the campsite or splitting up on a hike, maintaining the ability to communicate outside of civilization is critical. A couple of sets of Motorola Talkabout MR350R two-way radios will ensure that your whole party can stay in touch even when cellphones lose signal. With a 35-mile range in optimal conditions, 22 channels, 11 emergency weather channels and 121 privacy codes, these two-way radios will allow you to find an unused channel for communication and track any storms that may be heading your way. 10-4, good buddy.

Pack a pack

The benefit of car camping is that your entire car becomes your pack. However, for the day hikes and short treks that you’ll be taking on your camping trips, you’ll want a solid pack to carry your water bottles, lunch and that first aid kit we talked about. The Black Diamond Nitro pack is comfortable, sturdy and big enough for a day spent away from camp. Available in 22 liter and 24 liter sizes, it’s spacious while not being unwieldy.

Since hydration is key and you won’t have a faucet handy, you always want to have water with you while you’re at camp and when you set out for the day’s activities. The Camelbak Octane 18X hydration pack can carry up to two liters of water while also providing 18 liters of storage space for snacks, trails maps and the Cabbage Patch Kid that you’ve taken everywhere since you were six.

Odds & ends

Any list of camping gear could go on forever. You can truly pack just about anything and make the case for why you need it in the wild. But these items will be handier than others:

A good multi-tool is great for minor gear repairs and saves you from having to pack an entire toolkit. The Leatherman Juice S2 is a pocket-sized dynamo that even the most casual of campers will enjoy. It may not have all of the bells and whistles of its big brothers, but it has scissors, screwdrivers, pliers and a can opener. All of which may come in handy when you’re roughing it for the weekend.

Do not leave home without several books of matches, a couple of lighters and, if you really want to cover all of your bases, a DOAN Magnesium Firestarters Tool. Unless you want to spend half of your trip rubbing sticks together, you need to pack your own fire.

Creature comforts

Beyond the essentials listed above, you can certainly customize your trip to make it more comfortable. To take your trip to the next level, you may also want to pack these treats:

A camping/travel pillow goes a long way towards making your sleep more restful. The Therm-a-Rest Compressible Pillow significantly enhances the comfort level of your sleeping bag and pad setup.

Camping chairs provide more places to sit around the fire and, more importantly, dry spots to sit after a rain.

A camping hammock turns your campsite into a resort. Not in the mood to go for a swim or exhausted after a hike? Steal a nap on the Eagles Nest Outfitters Double Nest Hammock. At only 22 ounces, it’s easy to pack but holds up to 400 pounds.

Camping is about keeping things simple, so don’t go too overboard with the gear. Pack the essentials, be safe and then get out there. If you enjoy camping, then you know that adaptability is key. Follow our suggestions and you’ll be able to handle nearly any situation that comes your way and enjoy your time away from modern life.

Oh, we do have three more items that are 100% necessary for any camping trip: graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. But those should go without saying.

What are your favorite pieces of camping gear? Did we leave out any essential items? Share your thoughts on camping equipment, suggestions about gear and tips in the comments below!

Gadling gear review- Western Mountaineering Caribou MF sleeping bag

In case you haven’t heard, it’s National Sleep Awareness Week. Yeah, I hadn’t heard of it, either. But since we’re being made aware of slumber, you should know about Western Mountaineering’s Caribou MF microfiber sleeping bag.

Because I backpack when traveling for work, it was time to upgrade to something lighter and more compressible than my old-school down bag. I had several key criterion in my search for a new one: price (as in, as low as possible without sacrificing quality), size (I’m practically a midget, and why pay more for a bag that’s designed for someone tall?), weight (I have a bad back, so shaving off even a few ounces is helpful), and three-season capability.

%Gallery-87787%A lot of my travel assignments require for me to go from one climatic extreme to another, and that calls for a pretty specific sleeping bag. I’m always cold, so temperature rating is important to me, but so is water-resistance/water-repellency (Anyone who’s ever backpacked in the tropics can appreciate the special kind of stench that can only come from filthy gear and clothing moldering away in the depths of your back). Down isn’t waterproof, but it’s very lightweight, so I had a dilemma on my hands.

A trusted sales rep acquaintance told me about the Caribou MF, a full-zip mummy bag made from microfiber-a synthetic fabric known for its softness, water repellent / wicking abilities, and durability. He thought it would be the ideal bag for my upcoming, month-long assignment in Ecuador, which would include mountaineering at up to 19,000-plus feet, as well as camping in the Amazon Basin. I decided to give it a try, and purchased an Outdoor Research stuff sack as added protection against moisture (All of Western’s bags do come with their own stuff sacks).

If you’re not familiar with Western Mountaineering, they’re a small, independently-owned company out of San Jose, known for exceedingly high-quality, made-in-the-U.S. of A. products such as sleeping bags and down jackets.

The basics

Caribou’s Microfiber bags are constructed from their patented, 20-denier Microlite XP™ microfiber, which possesses over 400 threads per square inch. Their ExtremeLite bags weigh a little less, are made from a different outer fabric, and are thus slightly less water-resistant and -breathable than the Microlite series. I decided to go with the Microfiber. The other deciding factor for me was the Caribou’s “sewn-thru box” stitching, which is designed to keep the down from shifting (some 3-season bags are designed to shift, so you can regulate the temperature). Look at the spacing of the baffles before you purchase a bag.

Specs

The Caribou comes in three lengths: 5’6,” 6’0,” and 6’6.” Obviously, I chose the shortest bag, which had the following specs: 35-degree F. rating, 3.5″ goose down loft, and a fill weight of just nine ounces. The inside girth (shoulder/hip/foot) is 63″/56″/39.” Western is known for making bags that run broad in the shoulders, for maximum comfort.

The total bag weight is one pound, three ounces, which compresses to 6″ x 10.” Pretty impressive, especially for $275.00.

Road testing: The Pros

Because I knew I had a midnight arrival at Lima airport for a hellish, 12-hour layover, I clipped my Caribou’s stuff sack to my day pack carry-on. After deplaning, I unfurled my bag onto a bank of seats, and had a really great sleep (FYI, the Lima airport totally rocks- the seats don’t have armrests so you can lie down on them, it’s spotlessly clean and safe, the duty-free is open 24-hours, and the suspiro at Manacaru Restaurant is delicious.).

The Caribou kept me toasty at a snowy mountain refuge situated at 15,750-feet on the flanks of Cotopaxi, but what blew me away was my night camping on the Hollin River in the Amazon Basin. Our take-out was a gorgeous little beach the size of a postage stamp. There was no natural shelter, so we rigged a couple of tarps off of a huge boulder for rain shelter, and lay down a ground tarp for our bags. I was awakened at 3am by the sound of rain pounding the tarp. The water was also falling between the gap in the tarps, and the top right side of my bag was soaked. I was sure it was ruined.

The next morning, I shook out my bag, and beads of water flew off. After about ten minutes in the sun, it was completely dry. I couldn’t believe it. The Caribou went on to survive being crammed back into its sack (which I then sealed in the stuff sack) in tropical humidity, where it stayed the remaining three days of my trip. Upon arriving home, I unpacked it, steeling myself for an onslaught of jungle funk and new and exciting strains of mildew. Nada. The bag was as good as new. Didn’t even have to wash it.

I also used it in a badly leaking tent during a horrendous summer thunder storm in Aspen, and what little dampness it had acquired dried quickly once i spread it out the next morning.

The Cons

After a year of ownership, I can’t find anything to complain about with regard to the bag itself. My only nitpicking- and because Western doesn’t do mail order, this isn’t a huge consumer issue- is that every single employee I’ve dealt with at Western appears to be terminally cranky (perhaps they’re sleep-deprived?). They also forgot my stuff sack when they sent my bag, but since it was a special order for a gear review, I’ll forgive them. The main thing is that I ended up buying it, and I’m a Western convert for life. I just hope they’re allowed to catch up on their zzz’s this week.

The Caribou MF is $275; for additional product prices and to find a dealer in your area, click here.

Design your own sleeping bag

It’s getting close to camping time here in the Midwest. I love camping. I love loading up the car with my tent, sleeping bags, coolers filled with various meats and beers, and heading into the wilderness. Had I not been recently gifted a pair of new, cold-weather sleeping bags, I’d consider building my own from the UK’s PHD Mountain Software.

The company’s website has a slick Flash interface for constructing your own sleeping bag, and offers two “trails” to getting it done: the “free route” — if you know what you’re doing — or the “guided route” for the novice. Since I don’t know the first thing about building a sleeping bag, I chose the guided route.

From there you’re given various features to choose for your future sleeping bag: minimum temperature, outer fabric, inner fabric, stuff patterns, width, length, colors, and many, many others. Make your selections, submit your order, and you’re done.

The prices, unsurprisingly, are not cheap. The bag I built was 270.00 GBP (about $530 USD), and I’m sure it could have been much higher had I selected more add-ons. But this might be the perfect thing for the hardcore camping or mountaineering enthusiast with some extra cash to burn. For now, I’ll stick to my Keltys.

Big Agnes Sleeping Bags & Sleeping Pads

Big AgnesThose of you getting ready for some
big-time spring or summer camping fun in the woods might wish to trade that beaten up sleeping sack in for a Big Agnes sleeping bag and pad. The concept behind Big Agnes bags is relatively simple. The gear company has joined the
two together for increased comfort and convenience while dozing under the midnight stars. No more rolling off your pad
or finding the zipper across your face when you wake. Benefits of their bags include weight savings, reduced packed
size, increased girth and comfort and Big Agnes doesn’t fall short when it comes to variety. Bags come with matching
pads in an assortment of fabrics and fills. Prices differ according to bag style so you’ll want to look at them all to ensure you’re getting the right fit and cost for
your budget.