One of the best parts of working in the outdoors (other than the obvious joy of working in the outdoors) is the people that you meet. I described my somewhat random meeting with Mike from Hyperlite Mountain Gear in a previous post. He recently sent me their flagship Windrider pack to test, and while it came at the end of the Wyoming hiking season, I have taken it out skiing a couple days to get a feel for it while I try to find some time to get down to the canyons or someplace a tad warmer than the Winds are right now. This will be a long term test, so here are my initial impressions.
The pack is definitely light. The websight has a claimed weight of 1.6lbs (25.5 oz.) and on my scale I found the actual weight of my size large pack to be only one pound, over a half pound lighter than claimed. This is pretty remarkable, considering most manufactures understate the weight of their gear!
The pack is a brilliant white and pretty loud out of the box and really loud when cold! I’m not sure if the Cuben/nylon hybrid fabric softens up and will get quieter over time, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
The fabric is Cuben fiber laminated to a light nylon and feels very durable. Shoulder straps and waist belt are built from Dyneema X or a similar spectra grid rip stop fabric with relatively thin spacer mesh at all contact points. The exterior has super spacious mesh pockets and hip pockets on the waist belt. An emergency whistle is integrated into the sternum strap.
The top compression system looks to also double as load lifters and this is actually really slick, most ultralight packs forgo load lifters, which severely compromises their ability to carry heavier loads at the beginning of a trip. In addition to the load lifters, the pack has a foam frame sheet and actual aluminum stays that run vertically along the inside. The stays are removable (awesome to shave even more weight – 2 oz. on my scale!), though the foam frame sheet isn’t, which I don’t think matters at all.
The pack has a velcro and roll top closure, providing excellent water resistance. The roll top clips into vertical compression straps that pull the load down and towards the hips to further stabilize the load. There are two additional compression straps made from lighter grosgrain webbing that lift the lower load into the small of the back. Finally, there is the top compression strap which runs as a “V” or a “Y” (depending on how loaded the pack is) from the shoulder straps to just above the rear mesh pocket. A neat feature of this strap system is that it has an adjustable side release buckle both at the base of the “Y” and at the top of one arm of the “Y”. This allows easy acces to whatever you have lashed down on the top of your pack. I can see this being very useful for those hiking in bear country with a bear canister, or for securing a packraft.
Keep an eye out for the long term review of this pack!
The shelter I’ve been playing around with is the Echo 1 system, a super (dare I say Hyper?) light tarp with slick modularity. It is comprised of the Echo 1 tarp, an optional bug shelter/bathtub floor and the optional “beak” vestibule. One of the striking things about this shelter is the unique use of different materials. The trap and beak are made from a lighter cuben fiber with reinforcements in appropriate places, while the bug shelter/bathtub floor uses a combo of lighter cuben on the sidewalls, and a more durable, but slightly heavier Cuban fiber on the floor with really light mesh for bug protection. The bathtub floor is clipped to the tarp using shock cord, which allows the user to drop the bug net into the floor when bugs are not an issue, while retaining a full bathtub floor with high sidewalls.
The Echo 1 shelter is a solo system and as such is a tight fit. I’m 6′ and fit perfectly but taller users may find it somewhat coffin like. There is ample overhang on both ends of the tarp to provide weather protection, and the foot box of the bug insert is all cuben to prevent rain from wetting out your down quilt down there. For more protection from the elements, you can quickly attach the beak, providing an extremely storm worthy shelter.
The Shelter sets up using trekking poles, it seems most ultralight backpackers really like trekking poles, so this makes sense for most users, I however have found that with such a light pack trekking poles are an extraneous addition to my system and I choose not to carry them. This is a chronic problem for me with ultralight shelters, as most are designed with trekking poles in
mind. I’ve been building my own shelter support poles out of various broken and discarded poles at work, and this worked well for the Echo as well. To save even more weight, you could pretty easily use a stick, flyrod case (though mine is made from a fluorescent tube protector and probably isn’t rigid enough – mental note to self, test this out!) or lengths of a four piece paddle.
I recommend that folks set up any new shelter at home prior to going into the field. This helps you find the tricks to a proper pitch that is taunt and secure. The Ehco is no different, and for folks more familiar with more traditional backpacking tents will be critical to field success. For me, I found it to be finicky on my first set up, the second time went smoother, and the third was easy and effective, now I can pitch the entire system in a few minutes. The small foot print of the shelter will allow the ultralight backpacker to hide off trail and find optimal camping even in tight trees or high winds. Almost any tree or decent sized boulder will provide additional shelter from gale force winds in that unexpected mountain storm with this shelters foot print.
I’ve used the word slick a couple times in describing the Hyperlite gear, and this carries over for the shelter too. The Echo uses slick tensioners in place of hitches, and unlike some of the plastic line locks found on other shelters, these are integrated into the shelter and work really well! They are easily adjusted from inside the shelter, which means that you don’t have to brave the cold wet world outside if you need to adjust the tension in the middle of the night.
Stay tuned for long term reviews of both of these pieces, as I get more time in the field with them.