I had a chance to do a weekend trip with my new SMD Essence Pack and have a few words to say about its performance in the field.
The plan was to hike for 3 days in Henry Coe State Park just east of Morgan Hill/Gilroy CA. We hiked in from the Hunting Hollow entrance and spent time exploring Kelly and Coit lake, Pacheco camp and quite a few of the trails in the southern portion of the park. This was lots of up/down climbing (some trails going straight up a mountain ridge) and we worked hard to keep a 3.5 mile average (as per GPS) the whole time. Temps ranged from high 60's to last nights 30 degree night.
I packed the Essence with about 17 lbs of gear (including 3 lbs of photo gear - oh the price we photogs pay for medium format):
Shelter & Sleeping
x Equinox Tarp/Poncho w/ 6 stakes 10.3
x Mantis Bug Net 4
x Ti Goat Bivy 5.7
x SMD Essence Pack 12.5
x Pacific Crest Bag (+45) in Silsac 22.4
x Gossamer NightLight Pad 3.4
x Gossamer ThinLight Pad 1.6
x Polycro Groundsheet 1.1
x Windscreen/Base 0.5
x Sterno Pot/Foil Lid 0.4
x Mini Bull Elite Stove 0.3
x Ziplock Bag Cozy 0.8
x Packtowel Ultralite 0.4
x Bottle Cup 0.3
x Platypus 2L 1.2
x Platypus 1L 0.9
x Platypus Hose 2.5
x TP (4x4 Shop Towels - 6)/Trowel in Ziplock 2
x First Aid Kit w/ Tikka XP 18.75
x Optio WPI in Case 5.4
x Wallet 0.2
x Zen Nano w/ ear phones 1.6
x Bronica 645 in Case 50
x Gossamer Gear Liner Sac 1.7
x Patagonia SW Capeline LS Shirt 5.8
x Smartwool RBX Socks 1.9
x Serius Gloves 1.5
x Montane Windshirt 3.3
x Montbell UL Down Jacket 7.2
x Zeo-Line Tights 3.9
x Montbell Balaclava 1.1
Base Pack Weight 172.65 oz
x Platypus Little Nipper 1/2 full 6
x Food 54.98
x Water 1L 35.5
Total 269.13 oz or 16.8
I loaded up at the parking lot and had room to spare. I put my Optio WP camera on the left strap, the right hip pocket held a journal, Tikka XP headlamp and an energy bar.
The top held my kitchen, ziplock with trowel/tp and windshirt.
The left big pocket help my poncho/tarp, and platypus bladder. The right side held my lil'nipper fuel bottle, the ground sheet and in the lower pocket a map.
The rest went inside the pack.
- Once loaded, I had room left over, but the pack didn't feel clumsy or under-filled.
- I used a Gossamer Gear Nightlight pad as the frame and it sat nicely on my back. It wasn't that hot out, but I can tell I'll sweat it out here a bit more than my old pack due to more contact area - seems to be par for the UL course.
- I felt no lack of a sternum strap and the hip belt was comfy and I didn't need to wear it very tight.
-The pack was felt great the entire trip. No pinching, or other bothers. It fit my frame pretty much to a T.
-the big pocket for stuffing the tarp poncho was superb. The mini pocket on the right was accessible for grabbing the map.
-At Coit lake we unloaded most of the gear and headed to Pacheco camp for a visit and even with only a few items (emergency kit, bladder, windshirt, gloves, balaclava, pad frame) it felt fine and didn't flop on me.
- I was the envy of my partner who had this crazy overbuilt Dana Designs Raid Z adventure race pack that must've weighted 5 lbs.
- The shoulder straps - my main concern - seemed to handle the stress just fine. The look a bit weak to my eye, so I'll keep watching.
- The buckles on the flap never popped on me.
-The inside closure toggle held firm for me.
-I didn't use the left hip pocket much, but no issues with either binding.
- I used a gossamer gear pack liner for rain protection and it was easy to get at the pad for sitting - open, pull out bag, detach pad.
- the only drawback I saw to the front loading is that it required me to load it sitting down, giving the back part more exposure to wet ground than Im used to with a top loader. I'm ambivalent about top vs. front loaders, to be honest, although the pad would be much harder to add from the top. I just packed in on the groundsheet. No biggie.
Confessions of a first time Ultralighter:
This was my first true UL outing. I'd done lightweight stuff for years, but really got serious about shaving pounds this past fall and after hours of research, this is what I came up with. I was pretty much pleased with everything I came up with except two items:
1) The Ti-Goat bivy sack - I bought a bivy to keep my bag dry. The first time I used it I inadvertently stuck my leg out to the side and off the pad/groundsheet and it let water thru onto/into my sleeping bag. The bivy has a sil-nylon bottom with DWR nylon top - I expected the sil-nylon bottom to be waterproof, but it seemed to fail what I asked it to do, which was keep my bag dry. No direct rain on it, just condensation and some ground moisture. Im afraid it would totally fail used without a groundsheeet. Finally, it also feels a bit short - even for a guy only 5' 8" tall.
2)The GG Nightlight/Thinlight just wasn't enough padding for me. My sides are seriously bruised (grin) and I plan to go back to either the BMW pad or even my Prolite 3 Short. I might try two Nightlights together first though.
Other than these items, my new UL system worked perfect. I'll probably only carry the medium format camera on occasion, but this was a trip to somewhere I don't get to go to often, so it merited the large camera.
Other UL System Notes:
- The Sterno pot worked great for ultra-light weight ziplock bag food I brought. I didn't like the wire-bail method for holding it, but it does work. Maybe some more thinking here.
- The mini-bull designs elite stove was perfect and miserly on fuel. I used about 3 oz the entire trip (that was 3 hot meals).
- The Equinox tarp/poncho (with sewed in ridgeline loops) worked great in two different pitches. I used it as a poncho for about an hour with great results too.
-The food, as garnered from "Travel Light, Eat Heavy" (a book by a BPL'er Bill McCartney) was amazing. I modified it some to add more healthy items instead of the normal run-of the mill grocery store food but it worked great. (heath food store and trader-joe mostly - oatmeal, couscous, mashed potatoes, cheeze etc).
-The bag was a bit too cold for the 30 degree night. I woke a few times, but managed to sleep till 5. My feet got cold at 4 and by 5 I was up ready to hike. My hiking buddy was in a bit warmer of a bag, but wasn't comfortable either. I missed my Marmot Arroyo, which would have been perfect. I did sleep in all my clothes, which saved me from a sleepless night.
-the Equinox Mantis bug net was great for keeping bugs off and worked flawlessly. I probably can make one lighter, however, so I might try.
-The Optio WPI was ok. I'm barely satisfied with its performance, but no overly pleased with it from even a PS digital perspective. The results are a bit less spectacular than from my previous Konica G500, but *BEEP* if it isn't waterproof and light. Output is a bit fussy, molted and the auto-focus is touchier than I'd like in low light. That and the lens is slow and merits the flash a lot more than other cameras. As a Leica guy, I love fast primes and this aint that. However, the flash never burns the highlights out, so its not as bad as it sounds, if you can stand the flash effect on many pictures that wouldn't require it with a 2.8 or 2.0 lens.
-The Montbell trowel is awesome - light and doubled as a tent peg one night.
-The zen-nano plus is a great Audible book platform - much better than my Ipod shuffle and lighter than my ipod video.
So thanks for reading, thanks for the tips I've gleaned over the past few months. I'm hooked. It was a pleasure to cary such a light pack and it showed in my sprightly step.
A picture of my pack here: