Archives for July 2008

Internal or External, That is the Question

This is one of the most asked question I answer related to backpacking. It is too bad there is not a simple answer. Don’t you hate it when someone answers your question with a question? Well unfortunately I have to ask. What kind of backpacking are you going to be doing? What kind of backpacker are you? There are many variables here. Let me give you the basics of the packs and the design issues involved and hopefully this will help you make a more informed decision. The design of the backpack internal or external is designed to make the load in the backpack more comfortable to carry. One way that these packs do this is to distribute the weight to areas of the body that are better able to carry this weight, like the hips and to a lesser degree the shoulders. This is a challenge for a backpack since it is usually a bag of sorts. Aha..in comes the frame. External frames distribute the weight to the frame and then splits the weight between the hips and shoulders through a waist belt and shoulder straps. The internal frame does the same except it has a frame inside the packs fabric. The internal frame pack design attempts to keep the weight closer to the body than the external frame pack. This makes sense if you think of someone standing with a bowling ball in their hands. If that person holds the bowling ball at arms length (Farther away from the body) the weight of the ball feels heavier than if the person held the ball close to the body. The weight is the same but the position makes a real difference. Thus internal packs can make a payload feel lighter than its external counterpart. However, the internal pack has some downsides. The first is heat and airflow. The pack is directly against your back and this will retain heat and inhibit airflow. Another downside is pockets and accessories. The internal pack does not have a frame on the outside of the pack to tie things onto and designers of internal packs generally try to keep the packs size and shape narrow and slim, usually minimizing the additional pockets etc. There are additional issues about pack design to write about but this is a good start.  Backpacks are a very personal item and is subject to personal preferences. There are some situations like trail running and climbing that the internal pack is obviously a better choice but for general use and backpacking it is to each his own. I will post more on pack design and concepts.

What is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking?

This is the question you often ask yourself while you are huffing and puffing up the trail. This and how do I get rid of some of this weight. So what is the heaviest thing you carry backpacking? It may surprise you to learn it is probably the backpack itself. Most people think about the capacity and the durability of their pack and forget to think about the weight of the pack. Most pack weights exceed 5lb. when empty. I know that doesn’t seem too heavy but it is when you have to carry it all day over extreme terrain. I suggest you reexamine your pack size and see if you can downsize your pack to a smaller size to save some weight. Pack materials have improved and the pack weights have come down as a result. Look for a lightweight pack that fits your needs and try to avoid buying a pack that is bigger than what you really need. Most weekend backpacking trips should not require over 3000 cubic inches. This is a tight squeeze for some but it can be done. Think about what you pack and ask yourself “Am I sure I will use this item this weekend?” If your answer is “I might not” then you should probably leave it out.

Tape Tip!

This is a quick tip about backpacking and tape. Duct tape is a must when you backpack it can bail you out of a tight spot when you need it. It can temporarily fix boots, tents, rain gear and many other creative repairs. This tape takes up room in the backpack and a whole roll is too heavy. So for Duct tape and any other tape like product I wrap a couple of layers of the tape around my water bottle or my stove’s fuel bottle. Hope this tip helps you. Happy hiking!

Flashlight Technology

This is a very large subject to cover in one post so I won’t. The technology changes in flashlights have been amazing. The LED bulbs are showing up every where from tail lights to flashlights. This is a good thing as these bulbs last longer and take less energy so batteries last longer. They are also much smaller, lighter and cooler. The LED has improved the headlamp too. Headlamps were bulky and sometimes too heavy to stay on your head. Now they are light and slim. If you are a backpacker this is a no brainer. When I hiked the Appalachian Trail I chose not to carry a flashlight as it would save weight. Instead I used my Bic lighter for light. If I were to hike it again I would carry the very light Micro LED.
Photon X-Light Micro LED

Potable Water…what’s potable?

The word “Potable” means suitable for consumption. While in the woods you may not have access to clean, drinkable water. To deal with this situation you should carry some method of filtering or purifying the water you find. There are many very good ways to get drinkable water. Let’s start with the least expensive. Just add water and boil, yep that is it. Now your first question is “How long do I boil the water?” the answer is 0 minutes. Just be sure it gets to a boil and you are good to go.  Ok, so the down side to me about boiling water is that it takes time and when it is hot outside nobody wants to drink warm water. There is nothing like getting to a beautiful, ice cold, babbling brook and then having to wait to boil the water to drink it…yuk. There are some other methods to make your water drinkable. One method is to filter the water using a water filter. There are many great filters on the market. Many of these filters filter to .2-3 microns these micro filters are able to filter over a quart per minute. This means ahh…cold, refreshing drinkable water. Now that is what I’m talking about. Another method is the purifier, which usually employs both filtration and a chemical like iodine to kill the water borne virus.  Both micro filters and purifiers are usually pumps where you put the intake hose into the water source and the outtake hose goes to your water bottle. I recommend a micro filter but you should have a bottle of iodine tablets as a backup. Some people use the iodine tablets and don’t use a filter and that is fine too as long as you are willing to deal with the wait for the iodine to work and the taste of the iodine. One way to deal with the taste is to add tank or some other drink mix to the water after the iodine has done its work. Another way is a vitamin C pill crushed and added to the water to counteract the iodine. Be sure to wait the required time for the iodine to work then add the mix or vitamin C pill. The micro filter that I recommend is the Katadyn Hiker. The reason I recommend this over the MSR Sweetwater is simplicity of design and reliability is what you need if you are depending on it for you water. When I sold these products at the outdoor store we had more returns on the Sweetwater than the Hiker due to the pump handle breaking. When reading the descriptions on these micro filters it will tell you that the pump will tell you when you need to replace the cartridge. What this means is that the flow of the water going through the pump will slow down and the pump gets really hard to pump. So be careful not to break the pump when that happens. I am not saying the other micro filters are bad I just like the ease of use and simple design of the Hiker. Please do your own research before buying the pump for your situation. This material is provided by the author for educational use only and is not a substitute for specific training or experience. The author assumes no liability for any individual’s use of or reliance upon any material contained or referenced herein.

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