Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gear and stuff

Last weekend was interesting. The Polar Vortex was on it's way down to us, and I needed to get a three hour ride in. I put a post up on Facebook earlier in the week and got a few takers for a three hour 8 AM gravel ride, scheduled to beat the arctic blast. We started with nine people, including one fat bike, but quickly whittled down to seven before we left town. Normally, I don't want to leave people behind at the start of a ride. I told the front riders to go ahead as I turned around to give the last two riders a windbreak and bridge them back up to the group. It was obvious there was something else going on than just cold legs, so we parted ways, and I caught back up to the main group. The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful. I wanted to keep the route as flat and steady as I could, so we headed west towards Van Meter and, eventually DeSoto. tLots of small rollers, and a cold WNW wind kept us company for the trip out. We took a brief stop at a local convenience store to grab some food and warm up a bit, then headed back. The wind had shifted slightly north, so we didn't have as much of a tailwind as we expected. The few northbound sections were particularly brutal as they were almost all uphill and into the cold wind. We ended up back at the starting coffee shop right at 11 AM. We were cold, but not terribly worked over. A few of us sat around, talked while we had a warm up cup of joe, and then headed for home. When I got home, I was pleased to hear that my wife had bundled up and headed on for an errand ride that morning as well. Her assessment of the wind was identical to mine.

Sunday arrived, as did "The Vortex". Since I had a complete rest day on my schedule, I turned on the fireplace and started digging into more route and gear research. I had slowly whittled potential sleep system candidates down to about 4 in each of the categories for shelter, pad, and insulation. After more reading that afternoon, I finally made the decision to just start with something, and resell anything that didn't workout after some testing. So my starting setup is -

Milesgear Pico Bivy - I had looked at their UberBivy a few years ago. Going back to his site I saw this new, smaller bivy, made with the same materials. It's relatively light at 568g (not including the ground cloth) and was fairly inexpensive at $160 shipped. Most important to me was that, unlike my Nemo bivy, it doesn't require any stakes to use. No stakes or cord to fumble with when setting up, and no stakes to forget somewhere on the route. I'll be able to set it up on a picnic table or a slab of rock if necessary. Packed down, it rolls into a cylinder that's 12" long and 5" in diameter. I'm going to use it with the stock one piece pole that it was supplied with, and see how well the pole packs up. I may end up with a corded metal pole as a replacement. My interactions with Dave Miles were easy and pleasant. The bivy was delivered this week. Initial reaction is that it's a bit noisy, but it's also made of tyvek and hasn't been used yet. A bit of scrunching or maybe a water only trip through the washer should take care of that. The space inside is more than adequate. Will report back on how well it breathes and waterproofness after it warms up a bit.

Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt - With good down quilts and sleeping bags being fairly expensive, I opted to try and find something that was lightly used as a starting point. A post on the Gear Swap forum netted a couple of leads and I ended up with a long, 850-fill goose down model. I tend to sleep a bit on the cold side, so I wanted something in the 20-25F range. The long length might be overkill, but I can always shorten the quilt up myself, or resell and find a shorter model. The quilt should show up this week and I'll report more on it then.

I'm still working out a sleep pad option, but I'm a stomach sleeper so some of the superlight X-frame pads are out. I have a loaner Therm-A-Rest NeoAir XLite on loan from a friend. It's a short pad, so it will only go to my knees. I'm not sure if it will be enough to keep me warm, but I hope to test that out soon. If not, that same pad in a regular length is an option, assuming I can handle the noise. I have other pads from Nemo and Klymit on my short list too.

I also invested in some rain gear to test. While posting for my bag on the BPL forums, I came across a guy selling some lightly used pac-lite based rain gear for a price I couldn't pass up. The gear itself is from Luke's Ultralight. I ended up with a pair of pants and a seam sealed raincoat for $110 shipped. The coat has a bit more cloth in the sleeves than I expected, but the body has plenty of coverage for when I'm in a riding position on the bike. This particular coat also had the pit zips installed for some extra ventilation. Again, I hope to test this gear out sometime soon.

I also made a dyno hub choice during the last couple of weeks. I opted to save a bit of money and go with the Shuttle Precision PD-8X dyno hub instead of the equivalent SON. I've seen a number of the SP hubs in action and they have all seemed to work as well as the SON. I don't know if it will have the extreme lifetime that the SON claims, but I think it will be adequate to the task at hand. It also shipped with a QR adapter, which is a nice touch.

I've been taking it easy on the riding the last couple of days due to straining a muscle in my left leg. This is the same tightness that I had a couple of weeks ago, but I think that walking lunges appear to be the root cause of the issue. My long Saturday ride turned into a light spin/rest day with a lot of work on the foam roller to get things to loosen up. More ice, foam roller, and Trameel today to get it back in working order.


Kate Geisen said...

I'm going to be following your gear testing with interest as I've just started looking into gear for some small bikepacking trips. Yeah, costs add up quickly.

Steve Fuller said...

Kate - For my first trips, I used a small/light two person tent, a 40F bag I got on sale at a local sports shop, and a basic thermarest. The tent was the most expensive part by far.

Scouring local and internet sales during the end of season time can lead to finding some good deals. My yearly membership at gives me access to their gear swap forum, which can yield deals as well.

The most important thing is to get some basic gear and head out for an overnight trip close to home and see what happens. You'll figure out what works and what does as you get more experience.