Essential Kit 2010

by Christian

This time of the year is always about reflecting on the passing year. For me, I’d like to share my thoughts on what pieces of kit have been my essentials for 2010. And what better topic for my first post here, right?

As an avid outdoor walker and gear fanatic there sure has been quite a few purchases in 2010. Some were quality items, some not so much, and a few stood out from the rest.

Shelter: Terra Nova Laser Competition

My number one essential kit item of 2010 was the Terra Nova Laser Competition tent. Just a terrific tent, superb quality, thought-out design and features and light. The Laser Comp packs away small, weighs almost nothing at around 2 pounds and is just a joy to use. You can set it up in a matter of minutes, just 4 guy-lines, plenty of room in the porch for shoes, pack and cooking and it can take weather, no problem.

A couple of nights I had a bit of condensation crossing over from the fly through the inner which is to be expected in certain conditions but hooking up the fly to the poles on either end to get some more ventilation going, helped drastically, I found. This great tip I read about on Blogpackinglights excellent website. The other Laser mods he did are also something to consider, and are certainly fun projects if you like to hack your things.

They say it is an 1+ shelter and can fit two persons if necessary but I am not so sure of that though. I am not even sure I want to squeeze our Labrador in there with me, but for one it is quite spacious. I like the height, I can sit up easily, dress, getting in and out is not a problem either and it feels roomy but protective. If you know what I mean. My last solo shelter was a MSR Hubba and that was nothing like that. Very open with the mesh everywhere and the fly not really going to the ground, tiny porch, tiny living space, and weighing about 1.4Kg if I remember correctly.

Great little tent, the Laser Competition. I was even considering getting the regular Laser for outings with my girlfriend because it has this unique venting system that pulls up the fly and should fit two persons but is still light enough for solo use.

Shelter II: Shangri-La 3

My next essential kit item of 2010 and it’s also in the shelter category (I love shelters, I guess that’s my “thing”..): the GoLite Shangri-La 3. Just love it. We use it as our 2 person shelter with the dog. Space-weight ratio is just outstanding, especially just using the fly. But even paired with the nest, it is still ok, coming in at under 2Kg for a palace.

I can almost stand up in it, plenty of space to store and pack gear, the dog has her own corner when she is wet or just wants some alone time or what and you don’t have to worry about condensation as it just runs down the walls anyway. Weather worthy it is, too, and versatile. You can set it up with the pole or hang it from a tree, set it high for maximum ventilation or low to the ground and lock it up for storm protection. Neat stuff, I like that.

When used with the nest, some people complain that it rains right on the floor as soon as you open the fly. Technically this is true, but in heavy rain you can just remove on corner of the nest and fold it back, so you have an entry way and area to put your wet shoes or cook. That said, I am thinking about a new MYOG project for the wintertime to sew a new inner, which would leave a porch space at the entry and be completely out of silnylon. As the stock nest is completely mesh it does vent beautifully for the summertime but is somewhat drafty for the shoulder season or winter. Such a silnylon inner would be a good compliment for the Shangri-La 3. We’ll see how it goes, if I try myself on this project. All in all this is a great shelter that we pick for whatever trip we are taking.

Stoves: BushBuddy Ultra

Up next? No question, the BushBuddy Ultra. Man, I have been through lots of different stoves and stove types the last two years:

  • Trangia setup, Meths and gas burner
  • MSR Whisperlight
  • MSR Pocketrocket
  • Primus express gas stove
  • Caldera Cone with the meth burner
  • BushBuddy Ultra

Now, each stove has something going for it. The gas stoves are minimum fuss and very effective. The gasoline stove works always, regardless of temperature, in the rain or wind, but you have to deal with potentially dangerous fuel, priming, soot. I like the Caldera Cone, very effective little system, light too. You set it up, light the alcohol, set the pot on the windscreen and no matter what, in a couple of minutes you will have boiling water, but simple it is not. You have to deal with multiple parts, fold the somewhat delicate windscreen and make sure not to loose that as almost happened to us this spring in Mallorca as the wind blew it away.

The BushBuddy Ultra. Now this is just a joy to use. It couldn’t get any simpler. Collect some twigs, put them in the chamber and light them, that’s it. Don’t worry about fuel, half empty gas cylinders, just grab some twigs or something from the bushes around you and light it up. It has been said numerous times and I have to fully agree, this stove is just an immensely satisfying piece of kit. It’s not for everybody, you will smell of smoke – true for every camp fire – and there will be soot on your pot. But it is also one of the simplest and fail resistant setups you can use. And I like fail safe.

I have used the BushBuddy on my trip to Scotland this year, wondering at the time if it was a sound choice to bring a wood burning stove to a notorious wet and windy country but it performed beautifully. I brought some Esbit for firestarting and to fix my coffee in the morning when it was raining and I didn’t want to leave the tent and look for wood but those were the exceptions. Otherwise I always used twigs and wood that I found under or around trees or higher up, above treeline, dried and dead bushes or roots that burned just as well. One added benefit for Scotland: the smoke kept the midges at bay. I totally forgot about midge protection, didn’t have a lotion or a head net. The BushBuddy was my emergency midge deterrent tool before I jumped into the Laser. I believe it is an excellent choice for all 3 season backpacking trips. For car camping or winter camping, I will stick to the Whisperlight or a gas stove.

Kitchen: Starbucks Via

As a coffee aficionado I have tried numerous iterations of wilderness coffee options. Any fellow coffee lover will know what I have been through: all coffee brands and their product types, from fresh to instant coffees and the different possibilities to prepare these coffees like traditional cowboy coffee or the french press method. Nothing stuck. Then came Via and I stopped fooling around. Hot water and Starbucks Via, better coffee taste then my machine at home. The only negative is that it’s a tad expensive and unfortunately not available here in Germany, where I live. But luckily this is supposed to change, soonish, a little bird told me.

Clothing: Patagonia Nano Puff Vest

 I am not overly fanatic with clothing items, though I do have some kind of fetish with jackets and vests, so I do feel competent enough on this sub-category. The 2010 piece of kit in the clothing category was the Primaloft vest from Patagonia. It is called the Nano Puff vest, I believe. I had it with me all the time. Warm, light, no problem if it gets wet or compressed, I loved wearing it. I layer it over a t-shirt or under the wind jacket, or rain shell, wear it at night for some extra comfort. It performes without getting in the way and unlike down you just don’t worry if it gets wet or dirty, just works.

Finally: Scotland

Not quite a piece of kit, but 2010 I was there for the first time and fell in love with it right away. Just for a quick autumn trip, I walked from Blair Atholl to Tomintoul, a short stint into the Cairngorms, if you will. The views of the hills with all their fall colors were amazing and I loved the green glens with plenty of water rushing down from the mountains. Absolutely marvelous. Just as the people I met, folks you just have to like. Sometimes hard to understand for my american trained ears and lets not even start about a whole new set of outdoors vocabulary for lakes, mountains, valleys and what not. But I certainly hope to do some more walking there in the future, especially in the Cairngorms as I feel that I missed out on some spectaculary scenery when I turned to Tomintoule instead of Aviemore through Lairig Ghru.

Minimalism in backpacking

I smell a trend here. Having tried lots of different pieces of gear and stuff I am now leaning to the most simple and reliable tools. Last year we were using a tunnel tent in Sweden. A superb weather resistant tent with a big spacious porch. I like that tent but it is also fairly involved to set up and down again. There are three poles to insert, and I always feared of braking one. And, sure enough, one night, I did break one of the poles. It was not properly fitted in one of the metal connectors and broke when I flexed the tent in shape. Next night the same pole broke again a little bit further up under stress, although I had repaired it with the metal repair thingy. Not good.

I much prefer the Shangri-La 3 that sets up with one solid pole. In the unlikely event of that pole failing, you can substitute it with a piece of wood or trekking poles.

Likewise, we had a NeoAir fail on us while out on a camping trip. This just resulted in one night of discomfort but I don’t like this to happen on a multi day trip out on the hills. Here I focus on the simple and fail safe Evazote pad – currently coupled with a short Thermarest pad for comfort. The BushBuddy as my stove of choice reflects the same line of thought. Simplifying our gear results directly in a more enjoyable and safe outdoor experience. Sure, there was a morning in Scotland when it was pissing and I didn’t see myself getting out in the rain yet to look for dry wood. So I dropped a whole Esbit tablet into the BushBuddy instead to heat the water for my coffee. No Problem. Often though I just looked for some extra wood in the evening and stashed it in the porch for the next morning.

Minimalism is a hot trend on the Internet right now, but for Ultralighters it is not a new concept. Simpler setup = less fuss and maintenance = less headaches, less weight = more fun and safer, too. I like Ryan Jordans thoughts on this topic.

I am very interested on what you consider the Essential Kit items of 2010. Leave a comment here or better even, write up your thoughts on your blog and let me know the link, and I will add it here.

Update Jan, 3 2011:

Since I posted this quite a few other established outdoor bloggers have posted their 2010 best of lists. Quite interesting to see what the others liked best.

Chris Townsend also enjoyed a wood burning stove, though his favorite one was the new Caldera Inferno Ti-Tri Sidewinder cook system. I can see where he is coming from, probably a very good cooking set as well. Especially since you can use meths or Esbit in addition to the wood.

When PTC talks about gear it is always worthwhile to listen. He liked the Garmin Oregon 450, the NeoAir, the new Evernew Titanium pots and some other things.

The Backpacking Light staff also listed their favorite gear and stuff of 2010. Always a good read and a wide range of different items.

The Journeyman Traveller notes what he liked and what he didn’t like.

Martin Rye liked the Scarp 1 and named it as one of the gear items that made the year just a bit nicer.

Sam has quite a diverse list of his top 10 items of 2010 and you can find it at his blog http://ultralightbackpacking.blogspot.com/.

One nice compilation from Carsten at Fastpacking features the favorite three picks of numerous bloggers.

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