Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Retrospective: The gear that made it and the gear that didn't

I'm pretty easy to please. I don't expect heroic efforts and extraordinary performance from people or gear, just enough to get the job done. That said, being alone in the wilderness for a week requires reliable gear and whatever doesn't meet the standard can result in a very uncomfortable if not dangerous experience. Being the optimist that I am, I’ll start with the gear that exceeded expectations.

All of my Fjällraven stuff.
It’s no coincidence that basically everyone here in Sweden wears Fjällraven clothing. They’re comfortable, durable, and keep both stink and mosquitoes at bay. For the entire trip I lived in a pair of Barents Pro trousers and a Skogsö jacket and they showed no wear or damage in any way. I waxed the jacket and pants before the trip, and I also brought along a block of greenland wax to reapply in case the rain was particularly heavy, fortunately it wasn't as wet as we had feared. Mark spent all his nights in the Abisko 3 tent and couldn’t have been happier, it stood up to the heavy wind, rain, and mosquitoes with aplomb, and it packs down neatly into a small package.

The Fjällraven Abisko 3 tent in its natural environment.

The Hennessy Deep Jungle hammock. The true star of the trip. I brought it along in the hopes I could use it but half expecting to share the 3 person tent with Mark. It ended up being the perfect choice for the trip. We passed literally hundreds of spots where I could have hung the hammock while looking for dry level ground to pitch Mark’s tent. Along with a underquilt and a sleeping blanket, it kept me perfectly warm and comfortable down to the coldest nights of our trip, which were a windy 4C/40F. It’s no secret that there’s a vocal group of Hammock campers on the internet, and they tend to be sort of fanatical about hammocks. I can honestly say that I can see why after this trip. I have no desire to ever sleep in a tent again if I don’t have to. I don’t know why, but I’m much more comfortable and happy in a hammock. The hammock I chose for this trip is the Hennessy Deep Jungle XL hammock, one of many offered by Hennessy. I chose this one because it has an integrated mosquito net, and a double bottom that prevents mosquitoes from getting to you through the fabric. Swedish Lappland is legendary for its mosquitoes, and our trip was no exception. I’ve never experienced anything like it, we had to keep ourselves covered at all times, even lifting the mosquito netting from your face long enough to take a sip of coffee often resulted in a few bites. Yet in the hammock, I was safe. The material is very strong, and has unique and very comfortable feel to it. Like practically everyone else who hammock camps, a little experimentation is part of the game. At first I tried the hammock with a bubble pad in cooler weather, but found that an underquilt was more comfortable. I’ve since added some new suspension options from dutchwaregear.com to make setting up and adjusting both the hammock and the tarp more quickly. I definitely recommend trying a dedicated camping hammock, but if you do, I can’t stress enough how important it is to spend a few nights outside testing things out before it really counts.

Hennessy Deep Jungle XL with a silnylon hex tarp and a DD hammocks underquilt.

The Hex tarp from above.

MSR Pocket Rocket  and General Ecology First Need Filter. These two items worked great, nothing particular spectacular except when you consider that I bought both of these things around 20 years ago and they work as well as they did on day 1. I’m a big buy it for life guy, and these items definitely fit the bill.

Orvis Silver Sonic Zip Front Waders. I’ve had these for two seasons now, and I abuse them. Seeing how miserable Mark was with leaky waders on our recent trip to Sweden only served to reinforce my opinion that going cheap on waders is likely to be a bad idea. I spent most of the week in Sweden wearing my silver sonics, I tripped and fell while wading, slid down rocks, and spent hours bushwhacking and dragging a kayak through waist high shrubs, yet my legs stayed dry and warm the entire trip and I had no tears or punctures.

The Hall of Shame:

I’m quite easy to please and not picky, but some items struck me as massive failures, particularly the
Korkers Buckskin Wading boots. I bought these 3 years ago for 130 bucks. I do a good deal of wet wading as well as fishing from the bank without waders so I’d say as a wildly optimistic estimate, I wore these 10-20 times a year. They’ve failed me in almost every aspect. Both shoes have multiple holes as well as multiple spots where the stitching has come undone, the laces are disintegrating, and the interchangeable soles have come off randomly twice. (I found them the first time, but on my most recent trip to Sweden the attachment knob for the soles came off and the sole is gone for good. It made wading an already dangerous river even more hazardous). To see a pair of boots in frankly unusable condition after a maximum of fifty wears in unacceptable. Never again.

I hate you, boots.

Fiskars X10 hatchet. Looks cool, feels good in the hand, and is lightweight. Unfortunately, normal use (chopping dead branches for a fire) chipped and dented the blade to the point where it looked like I had been hacking at stones. Come on. I really don't want to spend hours and hours grinding all this damage out, but my choice is either that or buy a new hatchet because this thing is completely unusable in its current state.

That'll take a while to fix...

North Face Base Camp Duffel – Though not quite as egregious a failure as the other two, I was really surprised to see a small hole in the duffel on its maiden voyage, a short commercial flight from Zürich to Stockholm. I’ll patch it and move on, but I have shitty no name duffel bags from Walmart that cost 95% less than the Base Camp duffel and have been through far worse without a puncture and that stings a bit. Maybe there's some disgruntled ex-north face employee working the luggage belts in Stockholm stabbing every TNF bag with an icepick. Who knows?


  1. Good read. My brother in law had Korkers and he had the same problem with the soles falling off. I'd recommend Simms. I have had mine for 3 years with no problems. Tightlines!

    1. Thanks! I order a pair of the Orvis Boa boots, we'll see how they hold up!

  2. if the duffel ends up rubbing on a conveyor belt then any duffel will wear through..
    I have identical Samsonite duffel bags, worked well for several years, one showed up after the last trip with an abraded hole in one corner.

    thanks for the Fjallraven recommendation, have been looking at that for waterproof gear. US outdoor gear tends to be made in California where they don't understand weather very well.

    1. Thanks Douglas. The jacket and the pants definitely won't be the last of the Fjällraven gear I buy. I'm eyeing their packs for our next big backpacking trip..