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Packing Tip: Cheap Stuff Sack Alternatives

Many of us want to try things before we buy them and see what others are using before investing our hard-earned money in a product. Others of us know what we want, but do not have the money to buy everything at once. When I began backpacking, I found myself in both of these categories. I was looking to save money anywhere I could and slowly grow my collection of gear over time.

As I near the end of this process, I thought I ought to take a moment to share some knowledge and experience regarding stuff-sack alternatives. There are two similar alternatives that I have become fond of, each with its own set of advantages.

Zip-Lock Bags offer the distinct advantage of being waterproof, if sealed well. This is not likely to often be a necessity, but in the situations of a leaky dry-bag going overboard or a downpour without a pack-cover while backpacking, a 100% waterproof container for your clothes and other essentials can be a life-saver (literally).  Zip-Lock bags can be purchased in various sizes, making it easy to tailor to your specific needs for a trip. I find 2-gallon slide-lock bags to be the best for clothes. It is very easy to sit on them while closing to purge air and make the clothes pack extremely small. These bags can be found in packs of 10-12 at many one-stop-shopping style centers for $5-10 which is cheaper than a single stuff-sack or dry-bag of good quality, and these bags can often be used for multiple trips before needing to be replaced.

Why I like them

  • 100% waterproof, if sealed correctly
  • Cheap
  • User able to see the contents without opening the bag
  • Easy to purge air for efficient packing
  • Multiple sizes available
  • Very lightweight
  • Pack in a rather flat, sheet-like shape rather than the impossible to pack “ball” like commercial stuff-sacks tend to

Drawbacks

  • Not breathable
  • Zippers may burst if bag is over-stuffed

 

Mattress Sheet Packaging is another great alternative to stuff sacks. They make a plastic ‘packing brick’ that easily fits into larger packs and can be used as a pillow. These typically zip-shut and are very easy to use. Because of the zipper, the bags are not entirely waterproof, but just like a typical stuff sack, everywhere but the opening is waterproof. This “mostly waterproof” attribute is sufficient in nearly every situation I have encountered, since the stuff-sack should only be a secondary protection and is primarily used for organization. I really like these for backpacking because of their box-like shape and ability to be stacked. They are also typically a throw-away part of packaging, so it is very nice to be able to repurpose these before throwing them in the recycle bin. If someone else went through the hassle of making it, I might as well get as much from it as possible.

Why I like them

  • Mostly waterproof
  • Free – assuming you, or someone you know, buys a mattress cover
  • See the contents without opening
  • Very lightweight
  • Makes boxes/cubes of things rather than the impossible to pack “ball” like commercial stuff-sacks tend to

Drawbacks

  • Not very breathable
  • Zippers may burst if bag is over-stuffed
  • Not entirely waterproof

 

Conclusion

Nearly anything can be used as a stuff-sack. I have seen harness packages, empty water bottles, and pant-legs sewn together at the wide end, all used for packing. The key is to find things that will be lightweight and serve the purpose you need (Waterproof? Breathable? See-through?). If you keep your eyes open, things that can be used should start jumping out at you. If you have any tips/tricks of your own or other alternatives gear for any outdoor sports, please comment them below! I would love to learn the tricks you have and I am sure other readers could benefit from them as well.

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GSI collapsable Fairshare Mug Gear Review

GSI collapsable Fairshare Mug

.

Specs:

Color: Green or Blue

Material: Silicone/Polypropylene

Width: Collapsed: 7.1 x 5.4 x 1.7

Open: 10.8 x 5.5 x 4.5 inches

Weight: 7 oz

Features:

  • Collapsable mug
  • Folding handle
  • Tight-sealing lid
  • Ring to allow clipping to pack when not in use
  • Internally marked gradients (Metric and U.S.)
  • 2-position locking handle

My experience:

I was in need of a mug (to drink and eat out of) for a backcountry trip months ago and picked this up at the local store. It looked decent, and has lived up to that expectation in every way. I don’t by any means love it, but I don’t hate it either. The mug holds a perfect serving-size for a hungry me and the lid locks tight my mug to prevent spilling while I rock-hop to a better seat or throw the dirty mug in my pack to be cleaned later.

The Fairshare Mug does not receive all positive marks, however. I cracked the handle after only a month of backcountry use. The handle is my least favorite part of this contraption—It is bulky and completely ruins the packing size. I wish it had arced handles that would just fold around the top frame like some of MSR’s pots have. That would be great! I also wish it was easier to clean. The Fairshare Mug loves to hold bits of food in the ridges and keep itself covered in greasy films from food. The only way I have found to successfully clean the mug in such scenarios is to first scrub it with dirt, then clean it. This method is actually quite efficient for all backcountry cookware.

Performance:

The silicone of the Fairshare Mug is thick and (barring the handle) is quite durable, I anticipate a long life (no signs of wear after 60+ days of backcountry use). The handle, however, is weak and must be treated more carefully. You will be grateful to have the handle when the mug is scorching hot because the silicone does not insulate. The lid seals the mug very well on the Fairshare Mug and allows liquids to be shaken and the mug to flip without spilling. I was happy with most aspects of the mug, but would prefer something else for my backpacking excursions.

What I liked

  • Not terribly heavy for its size and functions
  • The lid turns on tight and stays put
  • 2-position handle
  • Has gradients marked inside the mug for measuring (Metric and U.S.)
  • Dishwasher safe (nice for post-trip cleaning)

What I didn’t 

  • Mug does not insulate at all (hot things will burn your hands if you hold it from anywhere other than the handle)
  • I cracked my plastic handle way too easily
  • Doesn’t compact as small as I would like and the handle pokes out quite a distance making it difficult to fit in my backpack
  • The ribs that fold can be a challenge to properly clean

 

Bottom line

The GSI Fairshare Mug is a good all-around mug/bowl for car-camping and some backpackers, but may be too heavy/bulky for some. I am satisfied but not thrilled with my purchase.

 

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5000 hits! and Some Updates

Thank you to everyone who has been reading my blog, today I had my 5000th hit since I started this blog. It has been great to see and hear feedback from both friends and strangers as I share my experiences and often hear about yours in response. I thought I would use today to give some updates with changes I have made in the blog that may otherwise go unnoticed and also announce the upcoming material.

1. Top Navigation – I have been updating the top navigation bars to include organized links to all of my posts. If you have not been following from the beginning, feel free to check out what is there!

2. My Portfolio Page – I put up the pictures from Costa Rica that I thought belong in that page. I have not watermarked or edited those [yet]. Feel free to use my photos for non-commercial things (if you do, I would love for you to leave a comment saying what you used them for, I love comments!).

3. Upcoming Material – I plan to do reviews for a lot of the gear I have been using. Part of the reason for this blog is to have a portfolio prepared to begin being a gear-tester should the opportunity arise. I also will be sharing pictures and stories from my spring break rock climbing trip and from may first day on the water in my new kayak. In about 6 weeks, I leave for Alaska. I will have a lot of posts about that when I get back (and hopefully some while I am there as well). If any of this material interests you, please don’t forget to subscribe!

5. Bucket List Publications and 72&Rising have both featured my work! there are links to both their sites in the right bar of my blog. I would encourage you to check them out if you have some time.

6. Other Links – In the side bar to the right there are also links to my YouTube account with has many videos from my life. If you want to see some material that hasn’t made it to my blog, go check that out! There is also a link to TheClymb.com, they offer great deals on outdoor gear of all types and the inventory is constantly changing. If you like gear, it is a great site to keep an eye on. You can sign up under me!

7. Did you notice – that this list doesn’t contain a #4? If you did then you win! there is no prize, but at least you can have the satisfaction of being a winner. If you didn’t notice, don’t be heartbroken, the winners didn’t really get anything.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on 4 April 2012 in Misc.

 

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Light My Fire Spork Gear Review

Light My Fire Spork

Specs

Color: Many options (green, yellow, pink, orange, blue, grey, etc)

Image from SmallPlanetSports.co

Material: Copolyester (Heat-resistant plastic)

BPA Free: Yes

Width: 1.5 in

Length: 6.6 in

Weight: .2 oz

Features

  • One end Spoon, other end four-tine fork + knife
  • Easy to clean

My experience

After seeing many of my colleagues eating around the campfire with these Light My Fire Sporks, I had to try one. That was a year ago. I have used the spork on multiple trips but am not thrilled with it. Teeth have broken and the Spork feels clumsy in my hand when I eat. I will probably replace this with fast-food utensils until I can buy something else.

Performance

The Light My Fire Spork lacks durability. While the spork has not snapped, the teeth have broken off from the knife part—rendering it useless. The handle feels clumsy because I must always grip wither a fork/knife end or a spoon bowl. I only get to use one utensil per meal and that is rarely optimal.

What I liked

  • Light
  • Compact utensil set
  • Great color options
  • Since it is only one piece, nobody asks me to “Borrow the part I don’t use” because they forgot their utensils.

What I didn’t

  • Knife teeth keep breaking off (I think I have 3 teeth left)
  • How do you use the knife part without a separate utensil to hold the food that needs to cutting?
  • Must choose whether to use the spoon or the fork for an entire meal or else it has to be washed to keep hands from getting extremely messy

 

Bottom line

The Light My Fire Spork works just fine, but I would not recommend it. It is not very durable, and is inconvenient for eating.

 

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Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus Gear Review

Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus

Specs:

 

Prolite Plus Large in use

Top Material: Polyester

Bottom Material: Nylon

Fill Material: Urethane Foam

Foam Type: Diagonal Punched

R-value: 3.8

Thickness: 1.5 inches

Color: Pomegranate

 

Size: Small, Regular, Large

Width: 20 in, 20 in, 25 in

Length: 47 in, 66 in, 77 in

Packed Dimensions: 4 in X 11 in, 4.8 in X 11 in, 5.1 X 13 inches

Volume: 1410 cu in, 2052 cu in, 2656.5 cu In

Weight: 1lb 1oz, 1lb 8oz , 2lb 1oz

Features:

  • Bottom grips to better keep from sliding on the sleeping surface
  • Top is textured to help the sleeper remain on the mat
  • Interior foam to decrease air circulation and increase warmth factor

My experience:

After many uncomfortable nights on Ridge-Rest foam pads (The most comfortable foam pad I have tried to-date), I decided that sleep was a luxury I wanted on my excursions in the backcountry and camping in general. I bought a large Prolite Plus shortly before a canoe trip in Canada and was pleasantly surprised at the small volume on the pad when deflated and rolled. Upon inflating the pad, my experience became even more pleasant, I was astounded by that fact that with a little extra air pushed into the pad, I could sleep on top of roots without feeling they were there. I knew I had a good purchase. After spending multiple nights on slopes and precarious placements, I am confident that this sleeping pad lives up to its price-tag and would be a good investment for anyone who spends time in the outdoors. I Have used the Therm A Rest Prolite Plus on many trips now (Including Backpacking in Michigan, North Carolina, and Costa Rica) and tend to bring it with me whenever I stay over at someone’s house. I know that no matter where I go, this pad will guarantee me comfort no matter where I lay it.

Performance:

The Therm-A-Rest Prolite Plus is a 4-season pad with a sufficient r-value for typical outdoor activities. The Prolite Plus feels very durable and has shown no signs of wear (I have slept on sharp rocks and on hard roots without any issues) in the time that I have owned it. The pad deflates easily, but there is a trick to it (fold it and sit on it, close the valve, unfold, roll). Deflating the pad and rolling it can be done in about 1 minute. The valve is strong and easy to use. This pad is well-constructed.

What I liked:

  • Well-built. Shows no signs of wear after months of use (and abuse!)
  • Very insulating (R-value 3.8)
  • The pad doesn’t slide on the ground and I don’t slide off the pad
  • [mostly] self inflating
  • Large size fits me (6 foot, 180lb) with plenty of room to spare
  • Adjust air pressure to fit to preference and terrain

What I didn’t:

  • The stuff sack is sold separately, and the rated size does not fit well (see my review) 

Bottom line:

This is a backpackers dream bed and a guaranteed good night sleep whether used on the trail of in a friends basement. The Therm A Rest Prolite Plus is one of my favorite pieces of gear. It is worth the price.

 

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Drinking Goodbye to Friends – Costa Rica day 22

We awoke for a day on the beaches of Costa Rica. The group spent the morning helping the government-employed workers tend the ground where we stayed. We picked up the debris that had fallen from trees and tore down the turtle sanctuary for the season. The last nest has hatched that morning and the sand needed to drift around and re-organize the nutrients before the next season’s horde of turtles would come to lay their eggs.

Everyone enjoyed releasing baby turtles one last time at Playa Hermosa. It was the third nest to have hatched while we were there. While the turtles struggled through the sand, everyone picked the turtle they thought would be fastest. We cheered and bantered over whose was best. Mine did well, but it didn’t pick the quickest path to the water.

A sudden bit of excitement beckoned me over to a group that was forming around a student. I rushed over to see what the commotion was all about and found a very large starfish in one of the guy’s hands. It had bright orange legs that were feeling around in all directions. It was beautiful. After everyone had a look, it was returned safely to the water.

The day was spent hanging out, playing soccer and football on the beach and trying to catch waves in the bad surfing conditions. After playing some football, I waxed my board and paddled out between sets. I waited a long time before finally finding a wave worth riding, but when it came, I hit it and got everything I could from it. I did this several times before the sun had crossed the sky and began to set.I had been surfing for hours and only found a few waves, but I didn’t care. I was moving with the warm ocean waters rather than shivering in a jacket as I would be 24 hours later. I didn’t let myself take any of this for granted.

When the sun was low in the sky, the other surfers and I caught our last waves back to shore and rejoined our respective sub-groups who we had been with for the last weeks. In the groups, we discussed the experiences we had and shared what we appreciated about each person. It was very nice to hear the uplifting talk and each person was affirmed for his or her contributions to the group.

When the meeting was over, we were taken to a restaurant to eat wonderfully prepared meal and taste the only alcohol we were allowed on the trip. Those of us who indulged were faced with a choice between Pilsen or Imperial Beer. I chose Imperial after a suggestion from one of the guides, but after trying a sip of each, I determined Pilsen to be the better brew. After weeks of sweating and being grungy much of the time, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to sit in a restaurant with clean clothes and enjoy my Cajun mahi-mahi and beer.

I found myself enjoying the company of friends in a paradise I knew would not last and I was in the best mood I have been in for as long as I can remember. It was a magnificent feeling. I knew I would not see the guides again unless there was a very fortunate turn of events. As I drank my beer, I felt like I was drinking goodbye to friends.

After dinner, the group went back to the beach at Playa Hermosa. We gathered in the sand and were given a show of Fire Poi by one of our members. It was beautiful to watch the fiery orbs dance around our member’s head while hearing the whoosh of the fast-moving flame. It put me in a trance.

When the show concluded, Felipe’s daughter of 6 years wanted some attention of her own. With a headlamp in each hand, she danced around and twirled the lights while performing her own dance. Everyone applauded for the adorable girl and watched as her face lit up from the attention.

Once the show was over, everyone began to prepare for bed. My group members and I walked down to the water to dip our toes in the Pacific Ocean one last time. We would be leaving early in the morning and would not get to touch the ocean again before we left. The water was warm and everyone was happy enjoying their last bit of paradise before heading home in the morning. I went back to camp and crawled into my hammock to sleep in the warm Costa Rican air.

 

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Releasing Baby Sea Turtles and Surfing – Costa Rica day 21

Shortly after lying down in my hammock, a hard rain began to fall. I quickly rolled out of my hammock and threw my belongings sloppily into one of the tents that had room for an additional guy. Everyone scrambled to put the rain flies on the tents because we had chosen to sleep without them during the trip due to in the Costa Rican heat.

Around 5:00 AM came the almost daily interruption of our morning. This time, however, it was not a rooster, goose, or other fowl, but rather a new bird with a far more annoying call than any had previously made. It literally made the Dolby Surround Sound warm-up noise repeatedly for the entire morning. We were not amused.

Upon leaving our tents in the morning, we were greeted with a wonderful surprise. In the night, one of the turtle nests had hatched in the sanctuary and we were going to release them before breakfast.

A full bucket of baby sea turtles (they were carefully places in their by a man with a glove on) was brought to the beach and the turtles were poured out in a line on the sand. Some had not yet woken up from their slumber and were put back in the bucket so they could be released later that day when they become conscious. The rest began their long journey down the beach with us protecting them from the birds.

We had to release the turtles high on the beach because their journey across the beach is crucial for them to be able to return to this specific beach in order to lay eggs in successive years (The turtles have glands that learn the exact sand composition of the beach and the turtle will return to the same beach for the entirety of their life).

When all of the baby turtles had made their struggle into the vast waters of the Pacific Ocean, I took a walk down the beach. I was amazed at the variety of shells and lack of trash on the beach. It was so clean and natural looking.

Eventually, I wandered back to our camp for breakfast. The waves were not yet sufficient for surfing, so everyone helped do community service around the grounds where we stayed. Some helped with the turtle hatchery while others removed debris from the ground. Coconuts were thrown into the jungle and fallen branches stacked at the edge of the jungle.

When the waves had built enough for surfing, everyone went to the storage room and grabbed boards. Since I had previous experience surfing and have done nearly every board-sport imaginable, I was permitted to forego the padded noob boards and take a hard board. The instructor was really cool about this and took time to teach me how to properly wax a surf board and what to look for should I ever be in the market to purchase one.

After waxing my board, I joined the others in the surf and began catching waves.  I found the board to be a lot of fun and began practicing my turns. It was challenging, but I was successful in making a few turns and was happy with the speed at which I was picking up the sport. I don’t know what it is with myself and water sports, but we just work well together.

Consumed by hunger, we took a break from the waves and went in for lunch. We had fresh pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, coconut, and sandwiches. It was healthy, filling, and delectable. Everyone left the meal with full stomachs and bodies tired from surfing (which is a lot more work that it appears to be!).

I went and laid in my hammock while the rest of the group grabbed their sleeping mats and lay in the shade around me. It was siesta time as the afternoon sun turned the sand too hot to stand. Several members of the group talked and laughed quite loudly, so none slept, but it sure was nice to rest in such a warm beautiful place. It was 88 degrees in the shade with a light breeze. Life could not be better.

Eventually, the group grabbed their boards, I grabbed mine, and together we headed down to the water. We surfed non-stop for hours. As the gigantic sun began to drown into the aquatic horizon, it painted the canvas of the sky a luminescent watercolor of every pink and purple hue imaginable.

Having paddled myself beyond the breakers, I laid half-submerged with my back atop my surfboard in order to watch as the glowing bauble in the sky sank below the horizon. I had never seen the sun so large. Viewing it from a surfboard that was gently bobbing in the warm, Pacific Ocean water made it an unbeatable experience. I found myself having one of the few moments of my life that stand above the rest. Life was pure – Pura Vida.

Upon returning to the beach, we were informed that the other group from our college would be arriving soon. We were all a little nervous as our group had formed a very tranquil atmosphere and the other group was much louder and outspoken. Their arrival, with shouts and song that could be heard from far down the road only made us more nervous. Fortunately their energy did not stay too high for very long and the two groups quickly blended together as they had in the first day of the trip.

Later that evening, everyone was asked to sign up for a one-hour shift watching and protecting the turtle nests during the night. I signed up with a girl whom I had been friends with for a long time but rarely spoke to outside the trip. We got along very well and had many things in common. It was fun to sit and catch up on the last few years where we had been near to one another, but so few words were exchanged.

While everyone got ready to go to bed, our surf instructor broke out his guitar and began to serenade the camp in his Costa Rican accent. He was a well built man with dark complexion and gnarly dreads. The girls all melted when he played “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson, but I rather preferred his renditions of “Jammin” by Bob Marley and “The General” by Dispatch.

I quickly fell asleep because I had essentially been up since 5:00 AM thanks to the Dolby-Surround-Sound-bird and had signed up for a turtle-watch shift in the middle of the night. My hammock was comfortable and I was happy to be in it again (if only for a while).

 

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