2014-07-20

MYOG: Canvas Tarp Experiment

While we were in Vermont I got the idea to make a canvas tarp. The idea was to  2 pieces of canvas that we could use to roll our gear up in and tie it to our pack frames, then attach the two pieces to make a nice tarp to sleep under.

I spent a while looking up various types of canvas. What I wanted was 8 ounce cotton duck canvas. Duck canvas has a weave that makes it quite water resustant. I wanted 8 ounce because that's the lightest duck has ever been made.

Well, 8 ounce duck is basically unavailable, 10 ounce is the lightest you can get. I'd like linen duck even better, but good luck finding that. If you touch canvas the water will tend to wick onto you, so I wanted a larger tarp then normal, I figured 10x9'. At 10 ounces a yard this comes to 6.25 lbs. At half that for each of us (plus a little for ties and overlap), we'd each be carrying ~3.25 lbs of shelter. That's not terrible, but it's not light either. At 8 ounces that would be ~2.6 lbs, which is sounding a lot nicer.

Not being satisfied with what I could find I decided to try  getting raw 7-ounce non-duck canvas, and seeing what would happen. I got raw because I don't like the carcinogens in the flame retardants. If it didn't work out I'd have canvas for other projects, so it wouldn't be a total loss. This comes out more like 2.3 lbs each. And I made this:


DSC00038

This is made entirely of cotton and linen. It's stitched with a cotton jeens thread, and the tie-outs are made from linen twine I plied into cord for this purpose. The joints along the ridgeline work like below, a large loop goes through a small loop and a stick is stuck through the large-loop to join them.

DSC00050

Both halves also have 8 tieouts themselves, so each can be used as a smaller standalone tarp.

When we pitched it we immediatly found one flaw in my design. I hadn't provided a way to pull *both* tarps taught with the guyline, only one. so we ended up having to join them with a rock like so:



DSC00049

You can see where the normal ridge joint is, it's down the side a bit, the problem is that this didn't attach it at the actual ridgeline itself, only several inches down at the edge of the overlap. The rock worked fine though.

We slept under it like this in a decent thunderstorm in Vermont. The ridge-joint worked very well, but the fabric did not. We did not get soaked, but we certainly did get wet. We were using a blanket, rather than down sleepingbags, so we stayed out all night and were fine, but it simple didn't cut it. The rain would hit and mist through the fabric due to the weave simply being too loose.

Recently I ran it 3 loads through the washer and dryer on hot, to see what we could do. The tarp was originally 11 feet long and about 10 feet wide. It is now about 10 feet long and 9 feet wide (my target dimensions, I knew it would shrink). The hope is that this has closed the pores enough... sadly we've yet to get a good rainstorm.

I also fixed the end joints very simply. I just added 2 more ties, one small and one large, that join the ridge right where the tieout goes. Rather than a stick we just use that loop as the tieout, like so:

DSC00116


This design is simple and gets good ridge tension.

I have been stalling on writing this article for some time, waiting to sleep in the tarp post shrink, in a real storm, but it's going to be a while longer yet before that happens as we're in the middle of moving (again, but for a while this time!).

Overall conclusion:
  • The idea of canvas seems to be good (no issues besides the misting), but 7 ounce canvas just isn't dense enough preshrink, and unlikely to be dense enough shrunken, but I'll try and update
  • This method of joining works very well. It's a little slow to rig, but not bad, and as a result we have a tarp that's 100% biodegradable made of nothing but cotton and linen, and I think that's pretty cool.
  • The plied linen cord works very well, and is plenty strong. We did ride out a storm, there was significant wind, and that wasn't an issue.
  • If you use raw canvas keep in mind that it changes shape quite a bit, this canvas is not really a rectangle anymore
  • Untreated canvas does mildew, this tarp has a little on it from not getting it totally dry for a couple of days. Be careful about this if you invest a lot of time and money.
I like the experiment, and I want to finish testing this and at some point try again to build a shelter out of more traditional materials like this. It's fun and definitely a bit of a different experience to try and use less plastic and home-made gear.

2014-07-04

Gear Teardown

A friend of mine, planning to hike the JMT sometime soon, asked me for some gear advice, and was kind enough to let me post the gear teardown to help other folks as well.

Now, before we dive in: My friend is very fit, a fairly experienced outdoors-men, and a moderately experienced backpacker looking to cut weight off his pack. He's looking to do a summer hike of the JMT in around 20'ish days. He's already spent quite a bit of time and energy trying to cut his pack weight down and is coming to me for additional advice

The Gear list
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WKs24v3VA01skngICO8gyIYfQMrbU9D_PZLfc4KRzIY/edit?usp=sharing
His gearlist is fairly typical from what I've seen. He's making very reasonable and safe choices while trying to get the weight down, and his pack comes out to just over 20 lbs. I met at least 4 people on the AT who asked for help cutting weight and varying versions of this formula.

You may also want to take a glance at what I carried on the JMT:
http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2012/08/gear-for-jmt.html

And what I carried on the AT 
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Apo-hhseGKc2dFluS0syZkg3RkpiTkdNYUZjVHVJMGc&usp=sharing

Most of the weights here are based on the two spreadsheets.

Target:
So, how light should we be aiming? It's all personal preference. My friend wants to gut his pack weight, and has decided he's willing to sacrifice to get there. I can hem and haw all day about different tradeoffs, but instead let me lay down a few approximate numbers that I, personally, think are reasonable, and that I've seen a lot of thru-hikers achieve with reasonably safe and kits and reasonable cost.

IMHO, summertime in the continental US, doing something most folks would call backpacking, ~14lbs is a pretty doable target. As an example, here's my end of AT weights:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Apo-hhseGKc2dFluS0syZkg3RkpiTkdNYUZjVHVJMGc&usp=sharing

8 lbs is doable if you do go crazy, and have a lot of background knowledge and skills. Personally my through-hike pack is heavier 14 lbs, because I have a habit of getting myself in sticky situations (if you read this blog, you know what I'm talking about), I hate having to ask for help, I like robust gear, and I often carry a few non-essentials.

So, there should be 6 to 9 lbs we can shave off that initial pack list without things getting too dangerous.


Clothes
This is often one of the easiest places to cut.

Spare socksDarn Tough592.081160.13007
Synthetic Longsleevetypically worn on hike270.49.538080.59613
Spare underwearExOfficio1003.52740.22046
Longsleeve Base Layer TopSmartwool 100% merino265.39.358180.58489
Base Layer BottomsSmartwool 100% merino204.57.213530.45085
Puffy JacketMountain Hardwear, 100% Polyester fill480.616.95271.05954
Fleece PantsREI, 100% polyester339.911.98960.74935
Fleece GlovesMountain Hardwear, 100% Polyester58.62.067050.12919
Fleece Capgeneric (Army Surplus store)83.32.938320.18365
Rain PantsColumbia (Omni-Tech) Unknown model311.710.99490.68718
Rain JacketMarmot (Unknown Model)348.712.30.76875
Mesh Sack for Rain GearSeaToSummit Mesh Stuff Sack (6.5L)10.90.384490.02403

  • Spare underwear: People always leave this off their list, so I'm super happy to see it included. I wear compression shorts (which I don't change, I'll wash them occasionally though to get out my unusually caustic sweat), or go commando personally, so I don't carry spare underwear. It's not much, but it's something to consider. -3.5
  • Puffy jacket: His puffy jacket here is ~1 lb. I carry a very puffy and warm down vest that weighs about 1/2 lb. It's varied what I use, but for a long time it was a Columbia I got for ~$60.0. My current one is warmer for about the same weight, but something like that Columbia would be plenty.  I actually dropped my vest entirely, and wasn't sad about it, but I'm a very warm person and carried a warmer base-layer than he has (icebreaker 260). I would never discourage someone from carrying an upper-body puffy layer if they think they might need it. -8 ounces
  • Fleece pants: Fleece is very heavy for the warmth. Given a nice wool or synthetic base-layer, and a shell layer, a "puffy" layer (synthetic probably for pants), is far warmer, and far lighter. That said, I hike, ski, and dig snowcaves in the winter with just a base layer and rain-pants. I only use the "puffy" layer on my legs when sitting around, or when it's well below freezing -12 ounches
  • Fleece gloves: I have found that I rarely use gloves unless it's very cold. Good pockets in a puffy jacket work well for me. Agan, it's not that cold on the JMT, and fleece is very heavy for the warmth. Swapping these for a pair of glove liners would cut both weight and bulk. If he goes to smartwool gloves at 1.5 ounches, that's -0.5 ounces... meh not worth it
  • Rain pants: Normally I would say you don't need these. For the JMT I carried only a pair of warm running tights, and Jess carried just a pair of merino tights for bottoms. That said, my friend gets cold easily. Rain pants in addition to a base layer is very warm. If he's a little uncomfortable dropping the fleece pants, keeping the rain-pants might be a good plan for now. Maybe if he doesn't use them he can drop them later.
  • Rain Jacket: I actually dropped mine for the hike (note that doing so goes with dropping the vest too, since I can't keep the vest dry now). His coat is a half-pound, which is pretty good. I carried a poncho which dropped a bit more weight. On the JMT you do get rained on, but it's fairly warm and dry so you dry quickly. I got wet, but I was never uncomfortable on my hike.
One more note. He's wearing a short-sleeve wool shirt, AND carrying a long-sleeve synthetic shirt. A good long-sleeve shirt for the JMT would be one that's quite thin and light (this is what I wore actually), with sleeves that roll up easily. Given this a short-sleeve shirt is completely uneccessary, given that he's got a seperate upper-body base-layer. This change would cut nearly 6 ounces off the skin-out weight, and 8 ounces off the pack-weight.

Total cut: 23.5 ounces = 1.47 lbs

Shelter


Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 1 Tent 0 0
Tent Body 290.5 10.2471 0.64044

Rain Fly 270.9 9.55572 0.59723

Footprint 104.7 3.69318 0.23082
SeaToSummit Mesh Stuff Sack (4L) 9.1 0.32099 0.02006
Poles w/ sack (store outside pack?) 207.6 7.32287 0.45768
Stakes w/ pouch 127.8 4.50801 0.28175
E-tarp 5x7 tarp, orange one side, reflective other 337.6 11.9085 0.74428



0 0
SUB-TOTAL : 1348.2 47.5564 2.97227

For a tent, this is very light. 2.16 lbs is entirely reasonable. The extra tarp and footprint are definitely not needed we drop those and we're down to 2 lbs even

Footprints are for car-camping. Modern tents are surprisingly tough. Even silnylon, which is less tough that what most tents use, holds up fine on rocks without a foot print if you pull the really sharp stuff. There are many reviews and testimants to this. 1/4 lb is a lot.

After discussing this some my friend is seriously considering going towards a tarp. Why? Because with a silnylon tarp (~$60.0) and gossamer gear groundcloth, this could be 1.4 lb. With an expensive tarp (like Jess' from zpacks) this could be under a pound. The cheap tarp option is thus -1.6 lbs.

total cut: 28 ounces = 1.6 lbs

Sleep system
sleeping bag (or quilt) REI Lumen (25* synthetic) 1230.6 43.4081 2.71301 looking at upgrade options
sleeping pad ThermARest NeoAir Xtherm 484.6 17.0938 1.06836


bag liner
256.9 9.06188 0.56637 options: 354 or 256.9
water-proof sack SeaToSummit UltraSil Compression (20L) 97.6 3.44274 0.21517


SUB-TOTAL : 2069.7 73.0065 4.56291




It's heavy, but well thought out. You can definitely do better on the sleeping bag, especially if you go to down, but there are all sorts of trade-offs to be made there. I dry out down, but not everyone does. Also, cutting weight in your sleepingbag is expensive.
The Xtherm is great, and I've considered getting one myself for winter. It's way overkill for summer (I used a 1/8" pad for my trip), but if your bony it could be well worth it. I asked why the liner, and he said to extend the life of the bag. It's heavy, but I can understand that seeing how fast I wear out sleeping bags.

Two notes on the UltraSil compression sack:
  • First, silnylon bags are great for the JMT where there is little rain and things dry, but keep in mind that they are not trustworthy. I dried out my brother's sleepingbag after it got wet through 2 layers of UltraSil bags, a packliner and a drysack.
  • Second, compression sacks are extremely useful for people who aren't good at packing a stuff-sack, but those straps and stuff are heavy. Without a compression sack, I can pack tightly enough to burst ultrasil bags, and to over-compress the down to the point it doesn't spring back well. Every ounce counts.
Total cut: 0

Cooking 
JetBoil Sol (but not Ti) pot, stove, lid 317.6 11.2030 0.70019
spoon SeaToSummit Long Handle 11.9 0.41976 0.02624
sponge part of reg ScotchBrite kitchen sponge 10.9 0.38449 0.02403
food storage sack +trash bag 0 0
hanging kit 137.2 4.83959 0.30247
water filter Katadyn Hiker Pro 414.8 14.6316 0.91448
Water Bottle (1L) GSI DukJug 185.9 6.55743 0.40984
Water Storage 2-48oz Nalgenes 308 10.8644 0.67902
SUB-TOTAL : 1386.3 48.9003 3.05627

  • Jetboil: Swapping to an alcohol stove would save a bit here. There's a great backpacking light article that shows that although the energy density in alcohol is lower, that difference is made up by the weight of the canister, and the fact that you rarely can exactly use up a canister on a trip. Mine (with pot etc.) weighs 5.57 ounces. So -5.63 ounces
  • Sponge: I've never in my life carried a sponge, I use my finger and a bandana. -0.4 ounces
  • Food storage sack and hanging kit: This is *mostly* his JMT kit, but that particular point clearly isn't. He'd be swapping that out for a bear-can
  • Water filter: The JMT has unusually clean water. I won't push people to drink water straight, just point it out as an option. For my opinions See: http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2013/08/in-defense-of-drinking-unpurified-water.html. That said, my friend is thinking of switching to a sawyer squeeze. I have several friend's with them and they seem quite good. I believe you can even rig them as gravity fed. Lets say we go to the sawyer, that's -11.63 ounces
  • Water bottle: Nalgenes and a fancy GSI thing are heavy and overkill here. Two 1L soda bottles are much lighter, and you probably don't need the hot-water ability on this trail anyway. If you really need the extra capacity (hint, on the JMT you don't), a squashed 2L bottle works great, and it's light, cheap, and at least as trustworthy as most of the bladders out there. A 1L soda bottle is 1.5 ounces. Lets call a 2L 3 ounces, so -11.4 ounces
Total cut: 29 ounces = 1.8 lbs
 
Accessories
Trowel GSI, plastic 88 3.10411 0.19401
Toilet Paper 43 1.51678 0.09480
Soap Dr Bronners, .25oz 78.5 2.76901 0.17306
550 Cord 45 ft 90.9 3.20640 0.2004
Baggie Assortment 65.4 2.30692 0.14418
Repair Kit
157.1 5.54154 0.34635
Camera cards, batteries, case 0 0
Multi-tool Leatherman Juice 130.6 4.60678 0.28792
Headlamp
0 0
PLB?

0 0
First Aid Kit
0 0



0 0
SUB-TOTAL : 653.5 23.0515 1.44072
 
  • Trowel: sticks and rocks work great, -3.1 ounces
  • Toilet paper: sticks and rocks work great (no, that's not a typo), -1.5 ounces
  • Repair kit: We talked about this a bit. Because he's carrying a self-standing tent with bending poles, he's also carrying a pole-sleeve to repair a broken pole. One of the downsides of more complex gear is that repairs are also more complex. A torn tarp is just torn, you push a rock against it to fake a tie and use it anyway. (jess' old tarp has been missing a gromet for years, it doesn't really matter). -5.5 ounces
  • 550 cord. He's already got bearbag code, and tent cord, 45 feet of 550 is probably unnecessary. We could also go with something lighter like triptease, between the two we can cut most of it. -2 ounces
  • Camera: I'm only so-so on camera's in the woods in general, but on the JMT, this is *really* worth the weight and the mental cost of taking photos. I have so many amazing photos from that trip. Maybe it's not what matters to you, but whatever you are out there for, don't ruin it trying to cut weight. Your pack feels lighter when you are happy then when you are sad about the 2 lbs you came out there to use but left at home. +5 ounces
  • Multi-tool: A bit excessive, but reasonable. I like to carry a leatherman PS2 (or PS4 since PS2 is no longer available). It's a very small multitool with plyers and screwdrivers and the like. -2.6 ounces

total cut:  9.7 ounces = 0.6 lbs

Emergency

pouch
7 0.24692 0.01543
Space Blanket SOL 73.1 2.57853 0.16116
Matches UCO Waterproof (15ct) 16.9 0.59613 0.03726
Duct Tape ~2yds 21.4 0.75486 0.04718
Wire
74 2.61027 0.16314
Sparker Light My Fire Scraper 28.4 1.00178 0.06261
Knife Gerber Mini Paraframe 41.7 1.47092 0.09193
Iodine+ 1 qt baggie 39.7 1.40038 0.08752
Tinder Plastic case w/ waxed cotton balls 32.6 1.14993 0.07187
Band-Aids 2.1 0.07408 0.00463
Mirror SOL 16.4 0.57849 0.03616
Whistle Fox 40 Mini 5.5 0.19401 0.01213
Lighter Bic Mini, waterproofed 11.9 0.41976 0.02624
Safety Pins 3.3 0.11640 0.00728
Compass REI keychain-type 9.9 0.34921 0.02183
Headlamp Petzl E-lite 26.2 0.92418 0.05776
Emergency food
0 0





He and I have talked quite a bit about this section. About what sort of things Jess and I carry. An emergency git is *very* personal, it reflects not only the level of risk you are willing to take, but also your personal knowledge and skills with various tools. Carry things you know, and will use. Also, your emergency kit isn't for emergencies. It's for *avoiding* emergencies. You should be perfectly willing to pull out any piece of gear in there if it will help you with your situation, before you are in any trouble. Because of these two properties, the gear you've used in the past should weigh very heavily on what goes in your kit. My advice is based on my experiences, skills, and other gear, keep that in mind.

  • Space blanket: I highly recommend the small bivies instead, they are far nicer to use, and the same weight. The exact model is listed here: http://smalladventures.net/store/Emergency_Kit.html
  • Matches: I asked him, and these are the real ones that light underwater. Again, like the ones listed in the URL above.
  • Knife: I carry 2 or 3 knives usually as non-emergency gear. I have a knife-blade I made from a file some time ago that I carry as emergency gear, the idea is that I can haft it if needed. Carrying a real knife that's nice and light like this makes a lot of sense though.
  • iodine+: For this particular trip I'd say backup water treatment is excessive, but I can't fault the idea in general.
  • band-aids: I never use them, I use duct-tape instead if I'm trying to stop from bleeding on things. Direct pressure and patience works well otherwise. On the other hand, I don't get heal blisters.
  • headlamp: I'm comfortable hiking without a headlamp in most circumstances, so a spare headlamp seems excessive to me. If you really want one, maybe switch to a photon to save a little more weight and bulk.
Total cut: 0

Conclusion:

So, first pass, relatively easy, our total cut is: 5.46 lbs

I was trying not to spend much money, or change the style much with this breakdown. There are a number of things you could do to keep going lower.
  • Spending more on sleepingbag could easily cut 1lb. 
  • Dropping the xtherm pad in favor of gossamer gear's closed-cell foam 3/8" pad would cut 10.29 ounches or 0.64 lbs. 
  • Going to a 1/8" like I carried, cuts another 0.28 lbs
  • Dropping the puffy jacket, and rain pants would cut ~1.1lbs
  • Swapping the rain jacket for a poncho like I did would cut ~0.3 lbs
  • A more expensive tarp would save 0.75lbs
  • Dropping the tarp for just the poncho would save an additional 0.8lbs or so
  • Dropping the water filter would cut 0.18 lbs
  • Dropping the bulk of the emergency kit would cut ~0.6 lbs
  • He has a nav kit I didn't include in the breakdown, none but the map is not srictly needed. That could cut 1.1 lbs
For another 6.65 lbs
That's over 12 pounds cut.

I would be willing to hike the JMT with every one of the adjustments listed above. It takes some knowhow, but that gear would be sufficient for me.

I'm noticing as I read this gear-list over and over, that I can't quite get the weight as low as I'd expect. I think there are two reasons for this. One is that I don't want to stare at this list that long (which I would for myself). The other is that at some point it's a lot of smaller things that get hard to see quickly. To keep cutting weight you get to weighing different pieces of gear, and trying to replace each each with something lighter. Do I want those shorts, or those other shorts? This is part of why I tend to end up in the 12-14 lb range myself, at some point it gets expensive, and I just don't care that much. As an example, on the AT I wore a pair of women's running shorts for decency over my compression shorts. They were much much lighter than normal men's shorts would've been.

Remember that my friend *asked* for this breakdown. Hike your own hike, bring what you want and have fun out there. I backpack many different ways myself, a blanket around my waist, classic ultralight gear, or heavier weight with an axe and guitar. The things I'm suggesting are not intended as a judgement in any way on any of those items, or people who carry them. The point is to give advice on how to cut weight where that's someone's priority (as it is for my friend).

Anyway, I hope people find this breakdown useful. Happy hiking!