Monday, February 24, 2014

First Look: Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed

This past weekend I was in an REI store teaching a Wilderness First Aid class. It was a wonderful - if exhausting - weekend. But it started with a surprise. As I was walking around the store on Friday night I stumbled across this:

The Sierra Designs Backcountry bed, that I have been lusting after since it was announced at Outdoor Retailer 6 or so months ago. Let me stress, I didn't buy it, and I haven't slept in it. So this is really just a hands on. But it was a very interesting hands on.

This was the "two season" version - I would want the three season version. The differences are pretty big. There are actually five different versions of this bag. They are 600 and 800 fill down options in both 2 and 3 season, and a women's version. So comparing the 600 and 800 fill down three season versions which is a 17ยบ bag, the 600 weighs 3 pounds 1 ounce, versus the 800 fill weight of 2 pounds 10 ounces. 17 liter packed size versus 12.4 liter pack size. And the price for that 7 ounces? $100 ($319 vs $419)

These are not inexpensive bags. For reference, I am currently using an REI mummy bag that weighs 2 ounces more than 800 fill, $419 version, and it only cost me $159! This bag is more than double the price, with a treated duck down that I am still not sure how it will perform in a wet environment. But the fact is, no one cares about the fill. Or the weight, or the packed size. They care about the fact that this sleeping bag doesn't have a zipper!

So if you haven't read about this before, the Sierra Designs back country bed is mummy in shape, but the top half is very roomy. the feet, not much wider than a regular mummy. Instead of a zipper running down the side, it has a large opening in the front. With a blanket that is connected at the bottom of the opening. You get in the opening and tuck in the blanket and go to sleep. Want to roll over? Go for it, you will sleep in it just like a bed. Before getting in it I checked out all its little odd features, and there are many. Here are a few:

It has these funky mitten pockets in the top of the blanket. You may think it is to keep your hands warm, but really it is to make it easier to tuck in the blanket.

It has a pocket on the bottom to slide a sleeping pad into, so you don't slide or roll off of it. Sort of like a Big Agnes bag, but with insulation.

It has an opening on the bottom, near the foot, so you can open it, and/or let your feet out, if they re too warm.  So how does it feel? That is a good question. It feels awesome! I would love this bag, and I wasn't even in the high priced one. It is beautifully made, clever AND intelligent. It is true out of the box thinking. I would love to give it a shot, but alas, I can't really justify $419 on a sleeping bag, even though a sleeping bag purchase is in my future. There was one nagging thought that stuck with me, as I was taking pictures of it....

Here it is with the blanket pulled all the way back - I do wish the blanket was removable so I could have the options of different weight blankets for different temperatures - As I looked at the bag on the table, it looked somehow familiar. And then it dawned on me. It looks kinda like this guy!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

two fascinating things.

I have stumbled across two fascinating things in the past couple of days. Both of them are environmental in nature. I am posting a lot of environmental things, because as a kayaker there is nothing more important than the environment. I am also thinking about the environment more as I plan for the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project. I can't help but think about all the little impacts that we make without even thinking about.

For lunch I order a salad to go, and the container gets used for 10 minutes, and is hopefully recycled but it is still a tremendous waste. I am also thinking about all the little impacts of the expedition, the plastic bags the food are stored in. The Carbon offsets we have to buy for the drive. The plastic the boat is made out of. At least the boat has a long life.

Speaking of impacts that the expedition will have, one of the things I stumbled across via twitter, was this. The environmental impacts of Sea kayakers. It is beautifully written and very eye opening.  Please pass it around.

Next is a TED talk that was passed to me by little.environmentalist.  About the concept of rewilding.

The section on the reintroduction of the wolves to Yellowstone is fascinating. Well worth your time to watch it. I think it is important to think about the impacts our days have on the world. Give that bottle of soda or water some thought before you buy it. Can you do it with a reusable bottle?

I think - at least I hope - my biggest impact is paper towels. I use them, and I know I shouldn't I guess there is always something to work on.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

< = >

Which means, less equals more.

Is minimalism going mainstream? I hope so. I slid into minimalism 8 or so years ago, but it was always lurking in my background. When I lived in Manhattan I used to pride myself on the fact that I could move all of my possessions to a new apartment by myself, with a rented van.

The success of websites like Zenhabits, and the The Minimalists is proof of a growing movement towards minimalism. I find it interesting. I don't read the New York Times, or watch tv, so I wonder if minimalism is showing up in mainstream media? Or is it just that I am seeing it more because I want to see it more - like when you learn a new word, and then hear the word all the time.

I think one of the reasons I like Kayaking, and in particular kayak expeditioning, is because of the minimalist aspects. Everything I need for a month will fit in two duffel bags. Everything. Food, fuel. Clothes. Everything. It is liberating.

In my non-kayaking life I am pretty strict with myself. Before I buy something I generally think, "do I need this?" And if I do buy something, something else is generally disposed of (disposed doesn't always mean thrown in the garbage). One in, one out. When I get stressed I purge things. I frequently am handing things to people that I think they may like. I tend to give books to people. I tend to offer things out in conversation, "hey, I am never going to use this, would you?"

When I do acquire things I generally get things I need, versus want. I want a Phantom quad copter to shoot video with. But I will never need one. There are a couple of pieces of gear I need for the next Alaska trip. I need a new sleeping pad. I already know who my old one will go to.

I hope minimalism is going mainstream. I hope that people are starting to recognize the benefits of a simpler life. I am also starting to think that mindfulness - which I think is just a non-religous way, or non new agey way to say Buddhism/meditation - is going mainstream, and a big part of it is the cover of Time Magazine. But I am also seeing many online sources talking about the benefits of meditation. Multi-tasking is bad. It has been proven time and again. Focus on one thing, like your forward stroke. or eating. But it is interesting to see these things get more popular and where they may go.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Will this kill GoPro?

No, it isn't a competitor.

What will the effect of an IPO have on our beloved little camera, besides making Nick Woodman a Billionaire? I am very curious. Will the massive influx of cash boost development that much faster? Or will design by committee kill this amazing camera? They are already dominating the market, is this an opportunity for someone else to slide into the product space?

What do you want from future GoPro Cameras? I am a firm believer that the public doesn't know what it wants, but with that said, I would really like better still battery life as well as image stabilization.

What are your thoughts on this latest piece of outdoor tech news?

The Ride(s)

the first vehicle that I purchased as an adult was bought specifically for kayaking. After years of renting boats on weekends - I lived in Manhattan, and couldn't store a boat in my apartment - I finally decided to buy a kayak. I had done a ton of research. I knew the boat I wanted, I had a roof rack picked out. But I needed a vehicle to put under it. I went with a used, 1990's (I think) Isuzu Trooper.

In this photo you can see the truck and the kayak. I loved this truck. This was around 2000, gas was cheap - it cost a little over $20 to fill the tank and I got around 200 miles per tankful. My boat was stored at my sisters and Long Island, and I would go out every weekend, pick up my boat and drive off to some beach and paddle. I paddled every square inch of Long Island and it was wonderful. Trucky, as this truck was called had a catastrophic ending. A seized engine, which was a surprise because the transmission wasn't in great shape and I was pretty sure that was going to be her ending. She was replaced by a mid 90's Toyota forerunner. No one liked this truck. Not even my dog. But it still did big trips down to the Outer banks and up to Maine with kayak on the roof. The death of this truck was rust, and I wasn't sad to see it get pulled out of my driveway. My wife and I shared a Toyota Corolla for a while, but then I got the now famous ride.

A friend of mine - who had lived through several trucks with me - couldn't believe I bought a little tiny car like this. But the answer is I could never manage driving to Alaska in a truck. The fuel alone would cost thousands. Round trip to Alaska in my Yaris is right around $1000. I can't put a 4x8 sheet of ply in the back like a can in a truck, but I have had a ridiculous amount of gear on the roof. Including 4 kayaks at one time. We will probably have three kayaks on the roof coming back from Alaska in June. I am a big fan of cars like this, they are sure footed, hold a ton of gear, are comfortable for long trips, and if you have a subaru you get all wheel drive. Do you have a tiny car with a load of kayaks on the roof? Post a pic of it on my Facebook page.