Subscribe Contribute Advertise Facebook Twitter Instagram Forums Newsletter
Starting out.
Display Avatars Sort By:
Damon Cavanagh
(wukkie) - F
Starting out. on 01/18/2012 11:20:13 MST Print View

Hi All

I am new here. Done some backpacking a few years back, and looking to get into lightweight backpacking.

I am looking for some ideas on what items and option I should consider to purchase. i will be travelling to the USA in may and would like to take the chance to purchase some of the goods there. The reason for this is that alot of the stiff cost quite a bit more here in South Africa.
I mainly plan to hike in the Drakensburg, in South Africa. The berg, has been know to change weather very quickly, so one would always need to be prepared to go from full Sun, to cold and raining in a few hours. We do get soem snow in the winter months. But I would like to start off more focus on what I have read has rather 3 seasons.

So looking for info, on pack, sleeping gear, cookware, tent/bivy.
so bacily looning for a start up list, pro and cons for each.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Starting out. on 01/18/2012 14:20:30 MST Print View

Climate wise you can probably consider the Drakensburg similar to the Rockies or Sierras in 3 season.

Gear wise I would spend the $25 to a get a membership and peruse all the articles on the site. They pretty much cover exactly what you're asking for. Also the "Gear" forums or looking at others' gear lists for the Rockies will give you a great starting point to make your own decisions.

Andrew Jennings
(breaktheshoal) - MLife

Locale: West of the Mississippi
My Two Cents on Packs on 01/18/2012 15:11:47 MST Print View


Let me start by saying that I, like you, am still in the process of assembling my backpacking "setup" and am by no means an expert relative to some of the contributors/members of this forum. With that said, I am already well on my way to where I want to be; however, it has taken quite a bit of research (not to mention trial and error).

For me I got the backpacking bug while studying abroad in Argentina for a semester in college, but it wasn't until I moved to the LA area that I began to hike regularly. When I first moved to California I was borrowing gear from friends, but quickly realized that I needed to get, at the very least, my own backpack. Simple enough right?

My first stop was the local REI to get sized for my new pack. To my surprise I found out that I am considered a "small" when it comes to the mainstream manufacturers that REI carries (Gregory, Osprey, Arc'teryx, etc.). The reason this caught me off guard is due to the fact that I haven't fit into "small" in years. At six feet tall and 185 pounds I figured I would be a "regular" at a minimum, but one of the early mistakes I made was to assume that my height had something to do with the length of my upper torso (hint: it doesn't). With this newfound piece of knowledge I ended up going with a Gregory Palisade 80 and was looking forward to trying my pack out in Inyo National Forest.

On that trip I quickly realized that something was seriously wrong with my pack, but I wasn't sure what my problem was. Had I thrown in too much weight? Was it not adjusted properly? Another trip to REI and another backcountry hike in Death Valley and my suspicions were confirmed: the pack, while technically my size, was the wrong size. Like a t-shirt that fits great except for the fact that it rides up your armpits, my pack was destroying my hips and leaving my shoulders sore.

I turned to the Internet to help me figure out a solution, and the first place I came to was Trailspace. In the process of researching other options I came across a review where someone mentioned "... is a great pack, and unless you've got the money for a McHale it's the best you can buy." Frustrated with my search I decided to find out more about these McHale Packs.

Now before you go any further, I need to warn you that this community seems to be rather divided when it comes to Dan McHale and his backpacks. Some seem to think they're too heavy, others balk at the price (they're not cheap), and some seem to just not like Dan the person, but I was running out of options at my local REI and I thought that the custom fit of a McHale Pack would solve my problem. I went to Dan's website and was immediately overloaded with info. After failing to figure out what pack suited my needs I decided to write Dan an email and have the expert steer me in the right direction.

When it comes to your pack you really need to ask yourself "what am I going to be using this for?" Are you more of a weekend hiker? Or are you looking to do multi-day trips in remote areas? For me, I was/am looking to do quite a bit of international travel in the near future, so not only did my pack need to be sufficient for my more ambitious hikes but it also needed to have the capacity to hold my everyday clothes, laptop, and camera gear. The camera gear was particularly problematic because my gear not only takes up a large footprint, but it is also extremely heavy - my cameras weigh more than most people's base weights (two Canon 5D MK II, 16-35mm F2.8, 85mm F1.2, flash, tripod, accessories). For me it was this unique aspect about me and what I carry that made going with an internal frame pack a no-brainer, and considering the sheer weight, McHale a best buy.

Dan was extremely helpful in making sure that the pack I went with would suit my needs, and after going through the various characteristics I chose to go with a Critical Mass MB II Bayonet. What I loved about the CM MB II was that I could get the pack with his patented "bayonet" system. Essentially Dan uses removable titanium rods, which can be inserted into the pack to extend the volume to its maximum capacity. For me this one feature made the McHale the only choice. Take a hypothetical trip back to Argentina as an example...

Let's say I returned to Buenos Aires and need to carry everything I own on my back. Great, I just throw in the bayonets and ta-da! I've got a 7,500 cubic inch pack. Now let's say I travel out to El Calafate and I want to do a three-day hike around the Perito Moreno Glacier. Well 7,500 cubic inches is going to be cavernous even for a three-day, so what do I do? Take out the bayonets and I'm back down to 3,500 cubic inches.

For me having the luxury of multiple packs to handle different situations/hikes wasn't an option, and because of this I had to find a pack that could handle everything. For me, the answer was a McHale CM MB II Bayonet. Now if you're only going to be visiting the states for a short period of time going with a McHale probably won't work out for you (unless you're going to Seattle), but there are still two lessons to be learned from my experience:

1. Make sure the pack you go with suits your needs (capacity, accessories, panel loader vs. top loader, etc.).

2. Make sure the pack fits.

My short torso, camera gear, and need to live out of my backpack made my decision-making process relatively easy in that it created a very short list of options. So before you get here start thinking about what your needs are and which packs are the most capable at satisfying them. Now as far as what you put in your pack (sleeping bag/quilt, pad, tent, etc.) I’m going to be hard pressed to help you there (still trying to figure that out myself), but I have no doubt that others can help you return to South Africa with some great gear.

Damon Cavanagh
(wukkie) - F
Gear thoughts so far on 01/19/2012 06:46:24 MST Print View

Pack Go Lite Men's Pinnacle
Sleeping Bag Western Mountaineering HighLite's
Shelter MSR Hubba
Shelter MSR E-Bivy

Thank you for the feedback so far guys. Above are some of the items I like so far.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Gear thoughts so far on 01/19/2012 07:22:25 MST Print View

I have a Pinnacle and it's really worked well for me. I can do simple overnights or go out for 2 weeks if I want. I wanted one pack to everything though I didn't have the "live out of" or huge camera gear Andrew does. I think you will need to augment the foam backpad if carrying more than 30 pounds (14 kg). I added a corrugated plastic sheet at one point, but ended up removing that and the original pad and just adding a thin foam sleeping pad, which also helps protect my Neoair.

Can't go wrong with WM bags either.

I'd go for a tarp/tarptent, especially if you're also getting a bivy. You can definitely go lighter than MSR, too.

Even though it's a Gear Primer for Scouts, you might find it useful. As such it focuses on lower-cost items, but you can easily find which items (like WM) fit your budget.

Conner D
(cdipaolo) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Gear thoughts so far on 01/19/2012 08:18:15 MST Print View

If I am right the E-bivy has a silnylon upper. That means that 1)You technically dont even need another shelter because it is waterproof, and 2) that it won't breath, an issue with a down bag. I might be wrong but you might want to check up on that and possibly return the bivy and get a either WPB upper, or breathable windproof upper (such as Also, if you get the O-ware bivy, you can choose whether to get a WPB or breathable upper. If you get the WPB upper, you can seal the seams and only bring a tarp big enough to cover your head. I agree with the poster above me that the Hubba could be replaced for a lighter setup.

Damon Cavanagh
(wukkie) - F
Shelter selection choices on 01/19/2012 10:32:36 MST Print View

Thank for all the feedback so far.

Shelter MSR Hubba
Shelter MSR E-Bivy

I am still doing a lot of research on all teh different products.
The reason I went with the Hubba, tent was that it was the light freestanding tent.
I am looking for a tentm that does not need to be peged down. As most of teh place to camp teh ground is hard, and can't really get stakes into the group. The Bivy is an option I am looking at, for when I need extra warmth, or when i know that I will be sleeping in caves. So don't really need a water proof one, just looking for a light option that will assist with warmth if needed.
I am open to other tent options, but must be free standing.

I think I am set on going with the go-lite pack at this stage.

Dustin Short
(upalachango) - MLife
Re: Shelter selection choices on 01/19/2012 11:54:25 MST Print View

Instead of the WM Highlite, I would suggest the summerlite. The highlite uses sewn through baffling and will lead to cold spots around freezing temperatures, but the summerlite uses baffles so will feel warmer. I find sewn through bags are really specialized for warm weather and not as great for 3 season use. Also the Summerlite has continuous baffles at that, so you can transfer more down to the top half of the bag making it warmer (add more ground insulation) as necessary.

Conner D
(cdipaolo) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Shelter selection choices on 01/19/2012 15:20:23 MST Print View

The shelter choice is understandable given your reasoning. Z-Packs is making a cuben freestanding tent if you have all the money in the world (probably will cost a lot) and want to wait for it to come out (it was announced in the most recent article on this website). Also on the O-ware bivy, it is not the lightest bivy in the world for the breathable version (9oz). I made a bivy myself and it weighs 5-6 oz (full featured). Look at the Mountain laurel designs superlight bivy ( It has a lot of great reviews and was used by Andrew Skurka on his 4800 (correct?) mile Alaska trip (look at his website for details). Making your own can also save you a lot of money. the materials for mine cost $50 instead of 170+ for the MLD bivy, even though the quality is great.

As for the Pinnacle, I have a Jam and love it. The volume is perfect for me to do a 10+- day trip without lashing anything on the outside. The frame is excellent. I dont know if you need the volume of the pinnacle but 50 L should be plenty without having to compress that much. Each to his own but 70L seems really large for a year round pack. Look on for their current sale. The pinnacle costs $80 and the jam is $70 as well as almost all their other gear.

Thanks, Conner

Edited by cdipaolo on 01/19/2012 15:27:02 MST.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Shelter selection choices on 01/20/2012 15:25:26 MST Print View

Might look at the Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1, which is lighter than the Hubba.

Diana Nevins
(artemis) - MLife

Locale: Great Plains
You might also want to conside the Copper Spur UL 1 on 01/21/2012 15:24:16 MST Print View

Campmore's currently got the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL 1 on sale for a terrific price. If you're at all interested in this tent, now's the time to snatch one up!

Edited by artemis on 01/21/2012 15:25:14 MST.

Damon Cavanagh
(wukkie) - F
Tents on 01/21/2012 15:36:46 MST Print View

Thank you for the info guys, it has been great. It has made me look at other options.
At this point I would say that the Big Agnes Fly Creek 2 Person Tent seems to be a winner so far. I know it is a 2 man tent, but the wife seems to think that she will enjoy coming with, so might as well get a 2 man tent. plus this tent seems to be only 2lb 10oz which seems to be lighter than the MSR that I was looking at. I know that they have the Fly Creek 2 Platinum which only weights 2lb 3oz. Which is teh same weight as the 1 man tent.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Packs on 01/21/2012 15:45:38 MST Print View

Before you buy a pack figure out your other gear and how much it needs to carry. A Golite Jam will carry 30 pounds at most IF you pack it right. Personally it would not be my first choice if I was carrying more than 20 pounds very often. An important question will be how much water and food you'll be carrying. Some people here have very light gear but they use a bigger and heavier pack for all the water they have to haul in dry areas.

If you want to be Ultralight (i.e under 10 pounds of gear before food and water), you want to keep your "big three (shelter, pack and sleeping bag) under 2 pounds each or not much over it. But if you have to carry more water don't be afraid to use a heavier pack. Trust me you will be much better off with a 4 pound pack thats comfortable than a 1 pound pack that doesn't fit right or that isn't sturdy enough for a heavy load in it.

Golite has some good deals right now and I believe their return policy is good. Do you have friends in the USA? If so see if it would be possible to order stuff and have it shipped to your friends. When you get there you can check it out and mail it back if it doesn't work. Lightweight gear isn't always available at regular outdoor stores so you might need to plan ahead if you want to be able to see something in person.

Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Re: Shelter selection choices on 01/22/2012 10:20:42 MST Print View

See this thread for some opinions on some of the tents you're looking at. You may end up preferring the Hubba after all.