Sunday, April 4, 2010

Equipment Review

I'm culling through my backpack for the long trip home... backpack itself might just make it, but the cordura fabric is worn sorely on all of the friction points. It's a 30-liter Vaude. It was with me last year to Santiago, too, but it wouldn't likely stand another long trip (even the one home) without blowing out of its frame. I suppose it's held up well for the number of kilometers it's seen, but its demise seems a little premature for the length of time I've used it. If I take another long trek, I might consider something a little smaller and with a sturdier suspension system even if it's a bit heavier. I like that the mesh keeps my back cooler than foam, but it's gotten pretty saggy over the road.
...all of the clothing from EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports) and Under Armor has held up remarkably well; everything from SmartWool and WinterSilks has utterly fallen apart. I don't have any sponsorship so I feel free to say it as I see it. I've replaced some socks along the way - never quite getting the hang of the hot stoves in Ukraine, I burned quite a few pairs - and picked up one European brand more durable to the daily scrubbings and drying. They say 'x-action' on the instep and 'trekking pro' along the side, but I'm not sure which is the company name. Anyway, they're ultra durable and comfortable being made for right and left fittings and sized based on shoe size rather than just small/medium/large. REI Ascent Shocklite walking sticks of course became invaluable extensions of my hands, but the telescopic length locking mechanism became unreliable pretty early on. Ideally, I like to be able to lengthen one or the other when I'm traversing a steep slope or both of them when I'm crossing a deep stream, but because of this locking problem, too often they wouldn't relock in the new position, or in any position and I'd have to spin and spin for 20 minutes before they'd lock again. Way back in Odessa, while looking for new snow baskets after losing both in the ice storms, I considered for a moment replacing the poles themselves. All the other poles I saw were more than twice the weight of the REIs. I value the lightweight feature more than anything else, so suffered through the fixed length without much regret. Still, the poles are the most important piece of equipment.
...I innovated a retractable map case from a clear plastic zip-top 3-ring notebook sleeve and two retractable ID card holders. I clipped the reels of the holders onto loops on the top of my pack and snapped on the plastic sleeve at the corners. With the map inside, I could easily access it without so much wear and tear on the paper map, especially in bad weather, and then let it retract back without having to refold it or unzip anything. Handy. The idea is grand, but the application... well, at this point, there's more clear plastic tape holding it together than the original plastic. I stopped in countless post offices along the way to seek repair help - they always have plenty of clear plastic tape lying around. Before undertaking another trip, I'll look more carefully for a heavier plastic sleeve or somehow reinforce the ones in every Staples or OfficeMax. The retractable ID badge holders, that cost something like $2 each at the local hardware store, work as smoothly as when I brought them home. They were probably pulled and retracted at least a dozen times every day. Never a hitch.
...I mentioned earlier that my boots are on the last of their treads and the leather is rather cracked, the Goretex liners worn and holey, and no matter how much rosemary I stuff them with during the nights, they're powerfully odiferous. They're Austrian, Meindl brand, with Vibram soles. In my three long treks, I've gone through two pairs of boots - that's 9,000 kilometers in total. (The first pair, nearly identical to the Meindl, REI label on Raichle-made boots, again, Austrian.) On the one hand, they get a lot of use - thorough soakings, intense fireside dryings, dust and dirt, snow and ice, rocks, streams, etc... on the other hand, that's what's expected during long distance hiking. It seems to me that they've worn prematurely. Never any blisters, though =) silk sleepsack, down blanket, reflective 'emergency' blanket (never used in an emergency, but to trap precious heat on the coldest nights), helium ditty bags, and sports towel now on their third trips are all as useful and functioning as in the very beginning.


Nadja said...

Hi Anna,

As I was reading your review, I was trying to imagine what you were describing. Sounds like you are on the way to invent a few improvements!

Necessity is the mother of invention-- someone said.

Can't wait to hear you talk about your 5-month experience! Nadja

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a great blog. I have followed you on your last two trip.

About the poles..mine worked well on the spring 2009 from Cahors to Finnesterre. This winter I was having trouble with them retracting as I did my daily walk. I finally figured out it was the -15c temperature. When I warmed them (with bare hands) I could tighten them up.

Best Wishes
Joan Wellswalker