Grand Canyon Backpacking Tour – Gear Retrospective

I don’t have a lot to say about gear because, for the most part, all functioned as expected. Of course, this was only a four day, five night hike so, while the function can be judged, the quality or lack thereof won’t really show up without a longer trip and wear and tear. However, I do have a few things to talk about.

Sleep System

My sleep system planned for this trip was the Klymit Inertia X-Wave sleeping pad and the Marmot Nanowave 45 sleeping bag. Given that we knew we were going to face temperatures in the 30s (F), I was worried about this combination. I took Under Armour long underwear, but made a last minute decision to pick up a sleeping bag liner at the REI on our way out of Phoenix. It is a Sea To Summit Reactor Plus Thermolite Liner. According to the advertising and even many of the reviews I’ve read, it is supposed to add 20F to any rated bag. The claimed weight is 263g or 9.3 oz. and, in reality weighs 262g plus 14g for the stuff sack. Compare this with 16.4 oz for the Under Armour.

I used the liner on the South Rim where it was 35F, on the North Rim where it was 45-50F, and in the Coconino National Forest where it got down to about 50F. I’m not sure about that 20F claim, but it certainly helps. I also think it adds flexibility since you can sleep on top of your sleeping bag while inside the liner.

The Klymit pad did well for what it is; which is a pad that fits under your trunk only. To compensate for this, my plan was to bring my pack into my tent and put it under my legs. I did not do this the first night on the South Rim and paid the price. For the other cold/cool nights, I employed this workaround and did fine. Ok. So the Klymit performed as expected, but I think they have a better option in the O-Zone. This is a full-length pad with built-in pillow for little additional weight. Plus, it’s slightly thicker at 1.75 in versus 1.5 in.

Cook System

I took along the Esbit Alcohol Trekking kit, which was not a gamble since I took it on the Emerald Coast Bike Tour last year. However, I did have a minor issue with the burner that has only shown up with time. The O-ring in the burner seems to have shrunk and the burner will no longer hold alcohol. This resulted in a spill in my pack, which is not a big deal since it evaporates so easily. But it is an annoyance and I had to compensate by either burning off the fuel totally with each meal or attempting to pour the remainder back in my bottle with a lot of spillage. This won’t stand so I’ll have to find a new O-ring or switch back to the Trangia burner.

Camera

My biggest gear regret is the Fujifilm FinePix XP60 camera. It is a ruggedized camera that claims waterproof, shockproof, and temperature proof. Since my plan was to carry this mounted to my trekking poles with the TrekMount, I thought this would be a great option.

It certainly is nice not to have to worry about the camera when mounted on the trekking pole. If you need to lean your poles against a tree or rock, do so. If they slide off and onto the ground, no problem. When we were hiking Rocky Top and Thunderhead, it rained almost the entire day and it was great to have the camera available without worrying about it.

Unfortunately, this camera takes horrible photos. And I’m not really sure what it is that is the problem. Sometimes, I think that the depth of field is so small that everything else is blurry. Other times, I think that there is so much optical distortion on the edges of the lens that only what is in the center is sharp.

In addition, the auto-focus on the video recording can be so slow at times; especially if you’re moving. You can see entire sections of my videos that are out of focus due to this. That’s really maddening.

And finally, the so-called intelligent auto mode is ridiculous. It seems to select macro-mode about 90% of the time no matter what you’re focused on or the shooting conditions. Just ridiculous.

I will say one, good thing about this camera. The panorama feature works very well and is very easy to use. That’s a joy.

Maybe it is a good camera and I just need to work around it’s limitations. But I’m over it. I trusted a once-in-a-lifetime trip to it and it failed me. I mean it, y’all. This is a bad, bad camera. I think it is possible to take a good photo with it, but let’s put it this way: It is too easy to ruin moments with bad photos and way too hard to capture moments in good photos. What you want with a point-and-shoot is to be able to point-and-shoot and get a decent photo without thinking about it. It’s going on ebay as soon as possible.

What I Wished I Had – Part 1

There were only two things that I did not bring, but wished I had. The first thing was a Kindle. IMO, you must bring some form of entertainment because, unless you’re going to bike or hike for 16 hours per day, you’re going to have a lot of downtime. On our longest day, we were finished by 4:00, which leaves 3.5h of daylight left and you’re probably not going to crawl in the tent as soon as it’s dark. The same is true with a bicycle tour.

I decided not to take the iPad unlike the Emerald Coast Bike Tour. Instead, I chose to take a real book; the first I’ve read in years. That actually worked fine and I got quite a bit of reading in. I might has missed the iPad had I found WiFi at the Phantom Ranch Canteen or the North Rim Lodge, but I didn’t and I didn’t. But I actually wish I had a true Kindle for two three reasons.

First, they are lighter than the book that I took. Ok. It’s only two to three ounces difference so no big deal.

Second, the Kindle Paperwhite includes backlighting so you can read at night without additional lighting. This would have been nice. In some cases, I was able to find a branch to hang my Snow Peak Snowminer headlamp, but in some cases not.

Finally, I finished the book that I was reading. If I’d had a Kindle, I’d have been able to carry as many books as I wish. Luckily, I was in the Phantom Ranch Canteen when I finished and they have a very small lending library from which I swapped out my book.

What I Wished I Had – Part 2

The only other thing that I did not have, but wished I had was some form of camp shoes. I have a pair of Croc flip flops that are lightweight (at 272g or 9.6oz) and I’m sure there are even lighter options. For half a pound and around a liter of volume, it’s an easy decision to leave camp shoes behind. But I can tell you that was a mistake on this trip; especially in Bright Angel Campground. The sand in that campground became so, so hot during the afternoon and getting down to creek to cool the dogs was tough in bare feet. You really had little choice but to put the hiking boots back on to get around most anywhere.

After the sun went down, the sand cooled quickly and it wasn’t uncomfortable walking around camp in bare feet unless just having dirt all over your feet and anything they touch bugs you. However, there is another problem. In such an arid and dusty climate, my feet became very, very dry and began to crack. Upon returning home and seeing the condition of my feet, my wife ordered me into bag-balm therapy. Now, flip-flops wouldn’t have solved that problem completely, but they wouldn’t have hurt. And certainly, they would have helped get around in the heat of the day while giving the feet a rest from the hiking boots. Lesson learned.

Summary

Besides these few niggles, my gear served me very well. I’ve got a lot of thoughts to say about quite a few of these products so I plan detailed reviews. Stay tuned.

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2 Responses to Grand Canyon Backpacking Tour – Gear Retrospective

  1. Brad Balsters says:

    Gleaned a lot of good information from your posts. How did you handle the transporting of your backpack and gear with air travel? Anything learned from the luggage transportation and inspection aspect?

    • dellwilson says:

      Brad

      Thanks a lot for stopping by. I packed most of my gear in a large suitcase that I checked with the airline. I made sure to empty and air out the Trangia burner and alcohol bottles as I’ve read they can reject them if they smell of fuel at all. The suitcase also had my food. I was also able to get my trekking poles within by compressing them and laying them diagonally. I took my back pack on the plane containing my clothing and a few other odds-and-ends. We flew into Phoenix so we stopped by an REI on the way out to pick up the alcohol/fuel. There was really no trouble at all using this strategy.

      Dell

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