16 Dec 2013


As you may have seen in my gear list, I have been using the Mont Bell blow-up pillow (68g) for a couple of years. This Xmas trip I am trying out the Zpacks stuff sack pillow (47g). Basically this will drop the Mont Bell pillow weight off my pack weight, bar the weight of a small square of fleece. 

Joe at Zpacks has taken the normal cuben stuff sack that I use for holding clothing and sewn soft micro fleece to one half on the inside. You just flip the dry bag inside out as shown below and fill it with your spare clothes and gear to use as a pillow! 

The fleece is more comfortable on your face than the plastic feel of a normal stuff sack. It has the same normal roll top and the seams are all taped, as usual. As with my blow-up, I'll use two strips of velcro to keep the pillow from slipping off my mat (see earlier post on the NEO ultra light mat).

Joe makes these in two sizes for around $US30. See http://www.zpacks.com/accessories/dry_bags.shtml

I will report comfort rating, verses blow-up pillow after Xmas trip.

UPDATE - Following Xmas trip pleased to report pillow worked great. Depending on your clothing inventory, you may want to investigate the larger size? I am OK with medium. I will stick with this configuration for my PCT trip.  

How to Blow Up Your Air-Mat Without Passing Out

Guys - came across this today via Jolly Green Giant's blog replies. It's a classic!! And you don't fill your mat up with condensation. See a video on how to do this at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzBb5oBBd3E&app=desktop

9 Dec 2013

New Web Address For Rob McKay's Blog

Hi Guys - Finally mustered up the skill to get a shorter web address. This blog now links to www.lightweightrob.com

This makes for a more memorable, easy to communicate address. The current address will still work OK.

7 Dec 2013

My Hiking Gear for 2014 Wish List

Yesterday John Abela's Hike Lighter blog posted his gear wish list for 2014. Two items on his list peaked my interest and has motivated me to work up a similar post whilst I soak up the scenery from my apartment window here in Brunnen, Switzerland - eat ya heart out!

In 2014 I am heading back to the USA to complete the Pacifc Crest Trail North of Tuolumne (already done the JMT with my hiking buddy, Lee, covering the PCT South from Tuolumne to Mt Whitney). This time I will be solo.

When I read John’s post, I really could not immediately think of what more gear I needed right now. I am pretty happy with my current set up (see my gear list tab) but with the big PCT hike coming up in a different country and weather conditions I have based my 2014 “want list” on this.

Suntactisc Scharger5- As I will be solo and be a few weeks on the trail, communication is important for safety, re supply and gear support (order on the trail to be delivered at next supply drop). Many PCT hikers report good cell phone coverage in many areas along the PCT. A draw back of the cell phone is power supply. A portable charger will also support my GPS, camera and headlight (but probably use an iPhone App as I only need location coordinates). I could also have music and email off my iPhone. 

The Suntactic 5 get rave reviews from hikers. It is only 227grams ($US126) and charges any unit with USB connectivity. I would convert my old Tikka plus2 to their new core power supply. This whole set up will make batteries totally redundant.

Zpacks Sleeping Bag- I love my ultra light Western Mountaineering Highlight sleeping bag (455grams +2c rating), but I can drop even more weight with the Zpacks bag (428grams +1c rating). I would get the longer length as Joe recommends (no hood on these bags) made with the new outer fabric and water resistant down. The price is good at $US380.

Railriders Equator HT Top - I love my merino! On the JMT I used a long sleeve 150 merino base Tee with mini stand-up collar and ¾ zip. I did get a bit hot sometimes, but the shirt wicked really well with no stink. I have been toying with trying a long sleeve shirt out for a while. I did get a Kathmandu one and didn't like it - clammy and smelly. 

These Railride shirts are nylon (no wicking) and do stink after a days use, but dry quick allowing a nightly rinse out. The are also bug protective. Another draw back is lack of multiple use. A shirt is one layer full-stop and provides no really warmth (not it’s intended use - used to give better sun protection). Where as the merino 150 base tee shirt can be over-laid with my 250 merino 2nd layer. Add to this my Mont Bell Ex Light insulated jacket and I have never needed more in 3 season hiking warmth.

Ursack is a bear resistant food sack made in the USA from lightweight, flexible, "bullet proof" fabric. It's a 179g alternative to traditional canisters. I need to carry a bear barrel in Yosemite park (they will not accept the Ursack) but will return it after I leave the park and pick up the Ursack at first supply dump at Echo Lake. I used the Bearikade barrel set up on the JMT - rented for about $US50. 

The carbon fiber barrel weighing in at just under a kilo - ouch! I was a good product and the park law gave me no choice. Outside of Yosemite I don't want to lug another half a kilo for the entire trip. Ursack also has the optional aluminum liner, adding this it weighs less than half hard-sided canisters. Do I need the aluminum liner? More research need and opinions welcomed.

So my list is small for 2014, but hey a manufacturer will come out with yet a lighter version of his/her product and being a “gram freak” I will get sucked into more spending. I am interested in your thoughts especially if anyone has had experience with Railriders shirts and Ursack bear bags.

13 Oct 2013

Teva Barracuda Sandals

I needed a lightweight and waterproof pair of sandals to wear in the raft during my Grand Canyon trip. After some research I settled on the Teva Barracuda. 

In  NZ these retail for $99. I purchased them for $US36 from Zappos in the US and had them delivered free to my hotel to collect on arrival - what a bargain! 

These sandals have an injection-molded upper of EVA with footbed channels and drain holes. Open toe construction allows for water to drain quickly.

They are designed for surf and sand versatility and have adjustable hook-and-loop straps at ankle and toe for a preferred fit.

Superlight foam in the midsole for added comfort and flexibility with a Durabrasion™ rubber outsole providing superior grip and lasting tread.

These sandals performed very well. I'd love to use them as "camp" shoes, but although very light at 340 grams (total weight of the pair) I will stick with my current set-up (see gear list) or Teva thongs and toe socks - 255 grams. If I took these sandals I would still need to include the spare socks weight.

Mont Bell Tychon Wind Jacket

Just back from my US trip, always a good excuse to pick up some gear without getting slugged for the freight.

A wind jacket is my most used piece of additional clothing. They are great to pop on when you stop for a break, particularly if you have been sweating. Also ideal when on the tops if you are exposed to the wind.

This is Mont Bell's brand new jacket. They have really concentrated on shaving off the grams on this 2013 model - no pockets and no additional fabric strip behind zipper.

This baby weighs in at 49 grams!! The size I have on is medium. Cost was $US75. I am wearing a 200 Icebreaker merino 3/4 zip top under this.

I worn it daily on my Grand Canyon trip both when hiking and in the raft. It is not waterproof (not intended to be) but is very windproof (It's intended use).

On the river I worn my 150 Merino top and popped this windjacket over the top. In every rapid we got drenched but I remained warm as the jacket blocked wind preventing coldness with the wet merino top against my body. Combined with low humidity and hot sun, drying out was quick.

Note also that this new version has vented arm pits. Sorry photo doesn't show detail. It is not the entire black panel - just mesh under the armpit area, but you get the idea.

I can highly recommend you pop a wind jacket into your pack's outer pocket - this rolls up smaller than a tennis ball.

If I had to be picky I would add a couple of centimeters to the length.

John Abela at Hike Lighter has a very good review - http://hikelighter.com/2013/07/01/montbell-tachyon-wind-jacket-2013-edition/


9 Oct 2013

River Rafting and Hiking the Upper Grand Canyon

Hi - Here are some shots of my GC trip - no rapid running photos as it was impossible to shoot these and hold on at the same time, plus water doesn't mix well with digital cameras!

We spent 7 days in the upper canyon. We were on the river 2 days when the US Govt shut down and closed all US parks so we had the whole GC to ourselves including the South Rim. When we got out it was like a ghost town.

Enjoy the all the pictures at: https://plus.google.com/photos/110150820322034133105/albums/5932255747553953025?banner=pwa

25 Sep 2013

The Grand Canyon

My hiking mate, Lee and I are off to hike and river raft the GC tomorrow. Pictures in two weeks or if the shit hits the fan it'll be news at 6 :-)

PS: I'll report on new gear - Mont Bell Tachyon Wind Jacket, the new Inov8 315s and Teva Barracuda sandals

23 Sep 2013

Backpacking Tights

I love tights! I have never been a fan of rain pants. I would rather wear my merino 150 tights with shorts over the top. This is an article from Backpackinglight.com reviews - "tights options" - enjoy.

Hey if you ever get sick of tramping you can always take up ballet :-)

Backpacking Tights - Part 2 @ Backpacking Light

PS: Just click on "continue" in the top right subscription box. This should give you access to full review.

16 Sep 2013

The Pureora Range

Last w/e I joined the Auckland Tramping club on a section of the TA trail - the Pureora Range. Trip report and photos posted on my "Trips" page

4 Sep 2013

The 5 Skills for a Successful Hike

I really endorse John Abela's philosophy on a successful hike: Manage Core Temperature + Proper Preparation + Proper Sleep + Proper Food + Proper Gear = A Successful Trip! Everything you learn about hiking should be founded on those 5 skills! ~ John Abela. Checkout his excellent blog at http://hikelighter.com/

14 Aug 2013

The Worlds Biggest Outdoor Gear Expo

Over 1000 exhibitors and 25,000 attendees – and it’s the go-to place to find out what’s coming in the outdoor gear pipeline, this time for Spring 2014. Trail Ambassador for Gossamer Gear, Will Reitveld and Janet Reich post an insiders view to this huge exhibition. Checkout their report at:

1 Jul 2013

Montbell EX Ultra Light Jacket

It's arrived - my new Montbell Ultra Light, 800 fill power, goose down jacket. It weighs in at just 225grams.
When I say new, I am a little disappointed as I thought this was the newer EX version (that has no pockets or inner zip insulation flap and is 158grams). Note to self read, instruction carefully!

I was tossing up waiting for the new 'Plasma" model to be released this month (1000 down fill - same weight as the EX), but at $US225 plus around $US45 shipping it is a bit steep. The EX on Montbell's US website is $US199 (plus shipping), so lets say around $US240. I got this jacket from the NZ online gear company, iClimb for $NZ255 plus $NZ10 shipping. It's 67grams heavier than the EX or plasma, but cheaper.

This jacket is specially designed to replace heavy and bulky fleece garments carried by most hikers. I love the way Montbell positions this jacket - "It's what you need when warmth is critical, minimal weight is paramount, and space in your pack is at a premium."

Montbell gets the weight down in three critical areas:

Fill - This is the volume that 1oz of down can occupy. The higher the fill power the more insulating value per weight. When using 800 instead of 650 down you get the same thermal capability with an overall lighter garment.

Shell - Montbell uses Ballistic Airlight Nylon. One and a half times more abrasion resistant than fabrics of similar weight, while boasting three times the tear strength. They also use Polkatex, an elite water-repellent technology retaining 90% of its water repellency after 100 washes. Ballistic is ultra light and ultra thin and offers high wind resistance performance but feels smooth and silky.

Single Quilt Construction - Sew through construction reduces weight while keeping down from migrating  (clumping).

The jacket packs to the size of a soda bottle (pump bottle for us Kiwis).

I have included some pictures so you can see fit. I was tossing up between medium and large. I am pleased I went for the latter. This jacket has a fitting style. But in large you can see I have plenty of room to layer underneath. I expect to only need my 200 Icebreaker Merino top (worn under jacket for these shots) under this for 3 season use.



19 Jun 2013

New Header

Just posted a new header on my blog that features my daughter and I when we tramped into the Cobb River area (Diamond. Ruby Lakes) in NW Nelson. This was an incredible dry season, note the lake level. This is an old picture, she is now 21. Hiking with Dad is not cool now! It would be if it was Leonardo Dicaprio!!!   

4 Jun 2013

Zpack Blast 22

Just complete 3 day tramp of the Lake Waikaremoana circuit  testing my new Zpacks Blast 22 - A great pack for up to 3 to 5 day trips - light, tough and carried well on the hips.

My only negative comment - and an important one - was the stays. These are not part of the original Blast 22 design, but are optional extras. I have a MLD Burn in Dyneema, but decided to change for the Blast cuben hybrid fabric and get the stays, not for load support (only carrying around 5.5 Kgs), but to keep the bag ridged when packing/unpacking.

This concept works great, but I found occasionally the stays would "knock" on my shoulder blades. I think this is because the Blast 22 has a narrow back panel profile (say compared to the Blast 30+), this puts the stays closer together on a larger male back like mine.

Maybe the pack, not being totally full, pulls the stays in at the top causing them to touch the shoulder blades when swinging the arms when using 2 walking poles? Note the first photo below how close the stay is to the shoulder blade.

I am going to talk to Joe (Zpacks) about whether a spreader at the top would elevate this. Failing that, take out the stays. The pack will still work well, just not "stand-up" when packing. unpacking - Lightweight is full of compromises!

Here are some photos - I note Zpacks website now label this as the "Zero" with options.  I opted also for the 2.92oz Cuben Hybrid with side pockets. I added the old hip pockets from my Arc Blast pack, now using the new hip pocket design from Zpacks. 


Rob on top of Panekiri Bluff - we started at the inlet far left of picture

24 May 2013

Cuben Fiber Rain Jacket

At last weeks Tramping Club meet many members asked about my Zpacks Rain Jacket. For those members and my blog subscribers, once again John Abela answers all your question in this very good article.


23 May 2013

Dried Food Packaging

Following on from my last post my paper bags have arrived. Pretty impressive.

100% unbleached greaseproof paper
Totally Chlorine free (TCF)
Made from Scandinavian spruce trees
Natural barrier - not chemically treated
No petroleum products

The size is 19cm (7 1/2") x 16.2cm (6 3/8") x 5.7cm (2 1/4")

I did a weight comparison. 20 paper bags weigh 97g - verses 83g for the same sized zip lock bags I use.

However, the plastic bags must be carried out and the paper ones burnt as I go. Plus environmentally friendly.

Here's the link for NZ purchases 

Box opened ready for use
Here are a couple of pictures:

Gives you an idea of size

Note the greaseproof look

19 May 2013

Re-packing Your Food

I use Backcountry freeze dried food. I repackage their food into small zip lock bags as their packaging is in heavy foil. I have done a calculation on weight savings and on a 10 day trip this dispensed with 450g of weight.

Last week I was at our Tramping Club's monthly meeting - the theme was lightweight gear. Several members "exposed" their pack and pack items.

The best tip I picked up that night was from Hideo who said he does the same, but repackages into paper bags. Even lighter but more environmentally friendly as he doesn't have to "pack in pack out" - he just burns the packaging as he goes! Another simple idea.

No sweat about bags breaking or splitting if damp as they all go into the waterproof/mouse proof Zpacks cuben fiber Blast Food Bag

Thanks Hideo   

Re-designed Hip Belt Pack Pockets

During my stint as a "trail angel" for Joe Valesko from Zpacks (he and his wife hiked the length of NZ recentlyon the TA Trail) I mentioned his hip belt pockets, whilst having waterproof zippers, still leaked.

During his trail hike experiencing NZ weather, he agreed. Joe's theory was the water was entering from the top sewing seam of the zipper. On returning to the US, Joe tinkered with some new designs. He came up with a simple solution that works well.

Not only are these new pockets waterproof (Joe tested them in the shower!), but much easier to use. I always found the zippers a bug to open and close as they sat on a horizontal plane.

These are not on his website yet, but if you are interested, I am sure Joe will make these for you. To explain - these are like a tube with an elastic opening, much like side pack pockets. To close, you just fold over and clip shut.

Here are a couple of pictures.

Pocket open
Pocket closed

18 May 2013

Pack Liners

I remember the days when we used those huge yellow pack liners in our 2.5kg Macpacs. Many a hiker I see on the trail still uses these weighty items. For those of you who have gained significant weight loss through lightening your major items like tent, shoes, sleeping bag, pack and cooking gear, now is the time to concentrate on shaving off the grams on the "bits and bobs".

If you have a reasonably waterproof pack - like my Zpacks Arc Blast (seam taped cuben fiber) and use a waterproof pack liner there is no need to use stuff sacks for sleeping bag, tarps, insulated jacket. I see may a hiker fixated into this practice. Most of these stuff sacks are a heavy grade silnylon.

I save valuable grams (and space) by stuffing all the above items into my cuben fiber pack liner  loosely. This also decreases pack volume used as there are no gaps. I use a Zpacks cuben fiber pack liner with valcroe roll top - it's about 15g, but comes at a price - $US16.95

For the budget conscience, have a look at LiteTrail NyloBarrier Packliners. Made from a plastic film that is much more durable than common packliner material, 50% thinner and 35% lighter. Designed to fit a wide variety of backpacks, NyloBarrier packliners provide plenty of room for most lightweight gear kits.

You can purchase these HERE 

29 Apr 2013

Cuben Fiber Jacket and Pants

Just back from the Hump Ridge Track - Had two hours of very heavy rain climbing to Okaka Hut - the Cuben Rain Jacket (127gms) and pants (48gms) were great. I know I reported this after my Fiordland trip, but thought you'd like to see a pic of yours truly on Stag Point. I am now known as the "Grey Ghost" :-)
PS: The pack is my MLD Burn 

17 Mar 2013

Cuben Fiber

Hosting Joe and Sheryl from Zpacks gave me some great insights into cuben fiber. This is the only material Joe uses. I am convinced it is the way of the future in outdoor gear. I am now totally cuben! Note spelling with "e" not "a" so I haven't turned into a commie rum drinker yet!

To help you understand this fabric's pros and cons check out Jacob's blog at http://hikeitlikeit.com/2012/cuben-fiber-roundup/

14 Mar 2013

Super Ultralight Tarp

Ok, I draw the line here. Check out GOLD Tarps. Can you imagine parked under one of these above the bush line in NZ? This is Polycro folks. I've used it for a groundsheet, but a tarp, that's brave!

Joe and Sheryl - Zpacks Owners Finish TA

Yahoo and a big congrats to Joe and Sheryl. They finished the Te Araroa trail today. They are now pigging out on oysters and beer in Bluff :-) Well done guys, 120 days and the length of NZ - 3054Ks. Jez, that's 25ks a day, pretty good going. This was Sheryl's first full long distance through hike - didn't she do well. They fly to Auckland on Saturday. I will pick them up and deliver them back to AKL International airport on Sunday for the flight home. Now what do I throw on the BBQ on Saturday night?

19 Feb 2013

Hexamid Twin

I recently sold my SilNylon Trailstar tarp - a tough decision. This tarp is bullet proof, but in bug areas one needed to use a bivy bag with mesh face cover. I used the 185 gram MLD Superlight. A great bivy bag. But when traveling with two you had to rely on your partner to take some bug protection. The inner bug tent for the trailstar (made by Oookworks and Bear Paw) is too heavy. I would recommend the Trailstar in .75 cuben - but bug protection and ground sheet remains the weight compromise. You could use the option cuben floor on the Superlight biv but then you are in a claustrophobic space inside a bivy bag. So, having great success with the Hexamid fully screened solo, I went for the Hexamid Twin. To give it NZ robustness I got the team at Zpacks to make this (like my solo) out of .75 cuben (not standard .51). Enjoy the slid show. See more at Zpacks.com

Ben Nevis trip

Lee and I just spent 3 days climbing Ben Nevis (Richmond Range - Nelson) and traversing along ridge to link up to the Te Araroa Trail on Mt Ellis Saddle then down to Wairau Hwy via Hunters, Porters and red Hills Huts. We camped both nights, firstly at the saddle on track intersect with Mt Ellis and Right wairoa tracks and then Maitland River - site of old hut. Great weather, fabulous country. A lot of up and down and ridge scrambling - Loved it - really recommend.
Enjoy the photos

28 Jan 2013

Update Joe Valesko Te Araroa Hike

Just heard from Joe - He and Sheryl are at Hamner Springs today doing a resupply before attacking Harpers Pass. I guess next update will come in a week when they arrive at Arthur's Pass.

When Sheryl was pulling out (now continuing) Joe had an Olive Hexamid Solo tent w/ beak, and a Regular width, Long Length, -7C sleeping bag shipped to me for him to continue solo. If you live in NZ and want either of these great items call or email me (0274 500 552 rob@assess.co.nz). A great opportunity to save on freight and GST.

23 Jan 2013

Up Date on Joe's Te Aroroa Hike

Great news - Joe is now in St Arnaud (Nelson Lakes).

Sheryl has decided to stay on. I knew the South Island would capture her (and Joe's) heart.

They leave tomorrow for the push south through the Nelson Lakes and Lewis Pass. Some of the worlds best vista.

I will be in the lower Richmond Range with my hiking buddy, Lee in a couple of weeks, so I look forward to seeing their comments in the hut books.

Now what to do with the solo tent and sleeping bag Joe had shipped out from his workshop? May be I can make a bob on the side here :-)  

15 Jan 2013

News of Joe from Zpacks on Te Aroroa Trail

Joe just emailed to say Sheryl (his wife) has decided to go home. After a sterling effort of walking NZ's North Island she's had enough. What a pity as the best is yet to come. Joe will continue alone and Matt is sending new solo tent and bag. 

More Fiordland Photos

Hi - One of my tramping party (Marg Law) sent me her photos of our Xmas trip - Great shots that I thought you'd like to see.


13 Jan 2013

Zpacks Arc Blast and Rain Gear

Here are a few shots of the Zpacks Arc Blast in action on our recent Fiordland Coastal trip. Also pictures of Kathy and I in Cuban Fiber rain jackets and yours truly in custom made Cuban shorts by Joe at Zpacks. The miserable look on my face on the 4th photo explains the typical Fiordland weather - Wet!
3 little Zpacks all in a row...
Rob with Arc Blast. Note track markings - Fishing buoys!

The Gorge River in a very tame mood

Rob in Cuban rain wear - Note shorts Joe adapted for me

Ian crosses stream - Arc Blast

Kathy on Burma Bridge in Cuben Rain coat

8 Jan 2013

Fiordland Gear Check

I am just back from 8 day in NZs lower South Island - Fiordland. We did the Coastal Route from Mathyrs Homestead to Gunns Camp via the Hollyford River. We had good weather the first and last two days, but inbetween the heaviest rain the area has seen in two years!

We managed to get across the major rivers (Cascade, Gorge, Hackett and McKanzie) before flooded. However our second party got blocked at the Pyke River and had to retrace their steps (5 days - yuck).

My Zpacks raincoat performed wonderfully. I also had a chance to test my new rain shorts Joe made. I wore these over my undies (as shorts) on the days the rain was bucketing down. They worked well. However the waist bungy cord is too light. I will replace with heavier cord.

My Zpacks Arc Blast pack also performed well. Coupled with the cuben inner linner I had no water issues. However, the side hip pockets are not fully waterproof. Granted, we had unusually heavy rain. I found small pools of water in the pockets at the end of the day. Luckily I had my camera in a zip lock bag. I will suggest to Joe to put a small drain hole in the middle bottom of eack pocket. I am getting my "seamstress" daughter to do this.

Go to Trips page to see link for photos.