Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gear Review: Osprey Aether 70 gen 4 Backpack

With my boys old enough to start backpacking and really getting into it, I've been eyeing a few of the higher end packs out there. I've used crappy rucks for so long that I'm used to getting sore shoulders and abrasions on my collar bone area after day 2. Now that I'm a bit older and can afford a better pack, the options are endless. My quest started online, looking at backpacking blogs, trail blogs, manufacturer sites and REI. There were so many options that I was a bit bewildered.I've been on a lightweight backpacking kick for a while so I looked at many lightweight bags but decided to buy a big multipurpose bag instead. Nothing heavy, but big enough and tough enough to take on a winter trip for a few days.

The next thing I did was to measure up all the gear I would take and get it together to see what size pack I needed. It seemed like 65 liters without food is enough for a good winter trip, so I looked at maybe 80 liters with a nice heavy bag and extra clothes would be optimal. After looking around and checking out the packs I spotted that fit my needs, I decided that a 65 or 70 liter pack would fit just fine. My lead choices were the REI crestrail 70, Arc'teryx ultra 65, North Face Terra 65, Granite Gear Blaze and the Osprey Aether 70.

The Osprey had the largest capacity, the Granite gear was the lightest, the Arc'teryx was the toughest material and the REI was a good blend of all the others. I didn't choose the Arcteryx due to it's hip system being a bit too lightweight for such a big bag. I dropped the Granite Gear because it's just not stable enough for me with an HDPE frame. I chose the Osprey due to it's stellar customer service reputation and the well built suspension system.

With 50+ nights of camping over 2 years  and backpacking "in the bag" so to speak, it's been a very good, serviceable bag. The price is very commensurate with the quality. Even after stuffing this thing to the gills for a 3 night trip in weather down to 10 degrees. I've hiked several double digit days with it while hosting scouts and with my family out in rough terrain. Once you get the belts set for you, it's a simple task to get up and go.

The bag is a single cavity system with a lower adjustable divider. The divider is perfect for someone who changes out their sleep system routinely. In the summer I use a fleece liner. It's good down to 50 degrees or so in the hammock. If I pack properly, I can fit my entire summer sleep system minus the pad into the lower cavity of the pack. The pack has a zipper at the lower end for removing your sleeping bag without removing the gear from the top.

The top cover is also a single cavity unit. That can be frustrating at times, but once you ziplock bag things up it gets easier. Everything on the pack is industry standard, side compression straps, cinch top for the main pack, side and back elastic pockets, wire backplate and padded straps. Some different things you will find on the pack are double keepers on the front straps, pole keepers on the front and back, side pockets and a stiff moldable hip belt, a separate pocket for a hydration system, and a built in whistle on the chest strap. The area that is against your back is very comfortable without getting too hot. Air channels pump air along your back with every step. The pack's frame is adjustable to fit many different torso lengths.

The pack has been extremely durable. I've bushwacked through briers, fallen into rocks, had mice in it and stuffed it to it's breaking point. There isn't a single tear, rip, hole or abrasion on the pack. It had a thick base material that keeps it from getting holes when you set it down. My youngest dragged the pack on my concrete driveway for 30 feet before I stopped him. No marks. The zippers works like the day I received it. It's never hitched up or had to be reset.

The good: Comfortable. rugged for it's weight, good zippers and buckles, bottom and side feeding as well as top feeding, adjustable.

The bad: Rather heavy for the size, topper is single cavity, side pockets are a bit small.

The ugly: None.

I'll post up my full kit at another time.

Recreational Backpacking Kit- 2015

As much as I've been in the woods this year, it's been great for refining and updating my gear. Without a doubt, I've gone through quite a bit of gear I though was "good enough" for the task, only to find it hampered my ability to enjoy my time in the outdoors.

My biggest issue has been the weight of the gear. I've been steadily dropping pack weight all summer. At the beginning of last summer ('14) here was my system's contents

-Sleep system
6x8 camo tarp, ridgeline and steel stakes, tarp paracord, Grand trunk ultralight hammock, Stansport hammock straps, Alps mountaineering regular lightweight pad, Surplus MSS intermediate sleeping bag, Cocoon inflatable pillow
-Cooking kit
Primus Litech 10oz pot and pan, Backpacking Isobutane fuel pod, MSR pocket rocket stove, Olicamp stainless cup, Sea to summit 3 piece utensils, Stansport mess kit, Sponge scrub pad, campsuds soap, Lighter,
Princeton tech Byte headlamp, aaa batteries, Pocket knife, Altoids tin med kit, flashlight/flood light, GPS, Compass, 6oz Bug Juice, 16oz water bottles, zippered shower kit, tech towel, Katadyn hiker pro filter, water purification tabs, Kindle Fire tablet.
Osprey Aether 70, 100oz camelbak waterbeast, sealine pack liner.

Currently (Fall 15)

-Sleep system
12x9.6 Aqua quest Nysil tarp, Technora .08 tarp cordage and ridgeline, lightweight 6" aluminum tent stakes, ENO atlas straps, Grand Trunk Skeeter Beeter hammock, alps pad, Cocoon inflatable pillow, Browning Yellowstone 20 degree bag (spring/fall), Coleman fleece liner (summer), Both bags in winter.
-Cooking kit
Primus litech 10oz pot and pan, butane fuel cell, lightweight backpacking self igniting stove, Oilcamp aluminum cup, Titanium long spoon, light my fire plastic mess kit, 1/2 spong/scrubber pad, lighter, MSR Ti 10" pan
 Princeton tech 3aaa headlamp, Eneloop batteries, Jockery 12000mah charger, Pocket knife, Small plastic med kit, Hemostats, streamlight stylus 2aaa light, Compass, 1.5oz 100% deet, 32oz Nalgene water bottle, maxpedition first aid pouch with limited toiletries, Sea to summit light weight towel, synthetic buff washcloth, Sawyer squeeze water filter with 2 64oz bags and bladder fill kit, kindle fire tablet, Keen shoes.
Osprey Arther 70, 100oz camelbak waterbeast, Osprey rain cover, Maxpedition glasses case.

Clothing is another thing that has changed. I was trail walking in cotton Blackhawk pants, but have gone to Kuhl renegades as my go to trail pants. They don't snag on briers or twigs and give me 100% flexibility while drying quickly. I wear an SOE trouser belt with zippered pocket. My socks are always Vermont American padded trail socks. Shoes used to be Brooks Cascadia 8's, but I've since worn those out and went to my fall back Merrill trail shoes. The newer style soft synthetic shirts are amazing. The feel like cotton but wick like regular synthetic. I wear Under Armor compression underwear to guard against chafing as well.

I always change as soon as I get set up for the night. My clothes get hung up to dry and I will use some wet wipes to clean up. Keeps you fresh and from getting chafed in places you don't want to be raw.

Friday, September 4, 2015

It's Been a Busy Summer for Us

I've kind of taken the summer off due to obligations I feel are more pressing than the blog. Nothing personal, just attempting to juggle a bunch of trips and my wife's accelerated global travel. She's gone a bunch to foreign lands while I'm responsible for the household and manchildren. It gets a but busy when you struggle working and getting the kids on and off the bus.

The wife and I have discussed quite a few things regarding our security. She's on board in the mindset that soon America will be a very dangerous place to live in the near future. We considered leaving but I just can't bring myself to do it unless we have ready transport to get back here in the event of something serious.

We've been considering moving overseas and that just isn't going to fly for a while, so the next best option would be to have a 2nd home and a retreat. For a retreat, I'm talking a cabin in the woods pretty far from civilization. My current retreat is shared and I'm just not willing to bet the farm that I can cohabitate with a few of the people that are in the group.

As far as a second home, the wife and I have found an area in the Keys that we really like. It's not touristy, nor is it too expensive. The idea is that when the kids get older we can snow bird at will. Once that's completed, we would sell out current house and buy a cheap condo in town and only hang out here in the summer for family, and develop the cabin as a full time abode. Once the retreat is fully functional, we can sell the condo and be back to 2 places to do upkeep.

That's the idea anyway.

I've tested a TON of new gear this summer. I've spent so much time in the woods that I quit storing my backpack and just leave it out for the next event. I've spent the last 6 weekends in the woods and will spend the next 3 out there as well.

New Equipment:
Backpacking stove
Nysil tarp
Technora cordage
Kuhl pants
Tech charger
Rain gear
Hammock straps

I should be a while getting it all sorted, but it will happen as time permits.

I did recover both my Caches. The minuteman cache was jeopardized by an impending divorce and my grey man was pulled due to the company changing hands as the owner retired and took a buyout offer. Back to square 1. I'm making changes to them while they are here. I've become interested in bushcrafting skills and have found some items to be extraneous. I've also found some cheap kit hacks that you will like for lightening the load.

We've also had some setbacks this year. The house has been in need of some upgrades so we've invested some cash into that. Our HVAC system will be getting replaced next week as well. I've pulled some of the cash from my kits to make the repairs more affordable.

This summer has really been a good one for the family. I've spent more time with my boys in the woods and it's been a really good thing.

 One of the camp sites we spent time at over the summer.