Thursday, August 27, 2009

the Wake Up Call (part 5)

The sleeping bag, or sleeping *system* as it is sometimes called, is another part of the Big Three. The sleeping bags I carried before were always bulky and had 4 or 5 pounds of loft. I also carried an inflatable camp mattress that weighed 6 or 7 pounds. HEAVY. BULKY. did I mention it was HEAVY? In the Beyond Backpacking book, Jardine describes an ultralight sleeping "quilt." It is not a quilt in the sense that your grandmother made for a bedspread. Using the new ultralight synthetic insulations available today, Jardine describes how they constructed a two person *quilt* by laying the insulation between two sheets of 1.1 ounce un-coated nylon material. It has to be UNCOATED so it will breathe. With the two sheets sewn together, a loop of knitting yarn is threaded through at 12 inch to 18 inch intervals, to hold the insulation in place. It was easy to make one for myself, after I ordered some specialty insulation and fabric. I didn't need the two person model, so I guess-timated about 84" by 60" wide. My wife sewed the perimeter of the two sheets together, after we had them sandwiched over the double sheets of insulation. Then, as shown in the diagram in the book, we laid a ruler over each location to be sewn. The loop of yarn went through the layers, out the bottom, back around the bottom, back up through the layers, then was tied off on the top layer. This helps to hold the insulation in place. The first few times I attempted to use this quilt on a trip, I had to also use a fleece sleeping bag to supplement. I didn't realize that the quilt had to be CLOSED at the foot end in order to keep the feet warm! I think it says that somewhere in the book, but I must have missed it! It wasn't too hard for my wife to retro-fit the quilt with a footbox. We simply folded two corners in towards the center, then used an extra piece of fabric to sew them together. The result is a MUCH warmer and highly useable piece of gear for about a pound. This quilt has now served me for many backcountry nights over several seasons, and is still going strong.

Friday, August 14, 2009

the Wake Up Call (part 4) now I'm an ultralight hiker, I have this new ultralight backpack that only weighs 14 ounces, I've got it made! Right? Well, umm....not exactly. The pack fit great, since my wife pinned the straps in place before sewing. It is a custom fit for me. Loaded with 25 to 30 pounds of gear, it feels comfortable on my back, although after several miles my shoulders would start ache-ing. Therein lies the main consideration, something that I had to learn by hard experience. When you switch to an ultralight pack, most of the other gear items also have to switch to ultralight as well. I was using my ultralight backpack to carry most of my old items, most of which were heavy and bulky. The ultralight pack should be loaded with no more than 15 to 20 pounds to carry comfortably on your back. I was still loading up with 30 to 35 pounds, sometimes even 40 pounds. With only two straps and no hipbelt, this placed a very heavy load on the shoulders. Not only that, but I also experienced two failures of a strap, on separate hikes, and a complete rip of the backpanel from the main body of the pack on another hike. It really sucks to carry all your gear 7 miles back to the trailhead, loaded in a garbage bag that you carry out in front with your arms! It was a painful learning process, and subjected that backpack to an enormous amount of abuse that it was not designed for. Each time I have torn it up, my loving wife has patiently sewn it back together. But the failures taught me the hard lesson, that all my other gear has to change with the pack in order for the ultralight system to work as it should. Now the stage is set to talk about the next items in the Big Three triad of backpack, sleeping bag, and tent. In the next installment, I will discuss the creation of an ultralight sleeping *quilt* with specialty synthetic insulation, that weighs about 1 pound.

Monday, August 3, 2009

the Wake Up Call (part 3)

Silnylon lightweight backpack made by my wife.

This was the first piece of ultralight gear that we made.

This was a learning process, not only in making the pack, but in purchasing the specialty fabrics needed to make it with. These fabrics are typically not carried by craft stores like JoAnn Fabrics. We found this out by stumping several employees with our inquiries. We did find several online retailers. We selected Seattle Fabrics. I bought 2 yards of maroon 1.3 ounce silnylon fabric, and 1 yard of 330 denier coated nylon in navy blue for the side of the pack that goes against the back, and for the bottom of the pack that touches the ground. The mesh fabric for the 3 pockets also came from the specialty fabrics. For the padding in the straps, we found a thick spongy green 3/4" foam at JoAnn Fabrics.

Using the pattern from the "Beyond Backpacking" book, I cut out the pieces for the sides, front, back, straps, pockets, and top extension cover. I didn't have a real sewing pattern to work from, I just used the dimensions suggested in the book and eye-balled it. The pack roughly measures 24 inches height x 12 inches width x 9 inches depth, with a 12 inch tall extension collar at the top. My wife, an experienced sewer, shook her head at my rough cuttings but was able to make it work. I had made 1/2" allowances at the edges for sewing the seams. But I did not cut the extension collar piece correctly. She made it work by adding an additional piece of the silnylon fabric. I also screwed up with the mesh pockets. She said it would have been better for her to sew the pockets on the side pieces and the front piece first, THEN sew the big pieces together to form the pack. My other rather glaring error we found out after the pack was sewn together. I had her put the coated side of the fabric, which is supposed to face the internal side, on the OUTSIDE! Oops...

Pictures of the finished product can be seen above. It turned out very nice, thanks to my wife's expert skills, and despite my errors with rulers, scissors, and getting the fabric wrong side out!

More on the loading and carrying of the backpack in the next posting.