Monday, August 25, 2014

3/4 vs. Full-Length Sleeping Pad

Opting for a three-quarter length sleeping pad allows you to carry less weight and bulk in your pack, but it also comes with some notable drawbacks. Is it worth it?

Full-length Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite
Though there's an increasing array of sleeping pad lengths, shapes, and sizes, most 3/4-length sleeping pads (often listed as size small) are right around 4 feet long, give or take an inch or two. Full-length pads are usually 6 feet long (slightly shorter for women's-specific versions). 

Depending on the pad, the weight difference between 3/4-length and full-length can be anywhere from 4 to 5 ounces (for ultralight pads like the classic Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest or high-end NeoAir XLite) to as much as 8 ounces or more for heavier versions like the inexpensive Trail Scout. 3/4-length pads also pack down smaller than their larger brethren, a boon for smaller packs.

I've used both lengths over the years. Here's my personal take on the two options.

First, I've found there to be no meaningful difference in sleeping comfort between the two. 
The most important places to have padding for a good night's sleep are beneath your shoulders, hips, and knees. Even for a tall guy like me (6 feet, 5 inches), a 3/4-length pad provides sufficient knees-to-shoulder coverage. You don't need a pad under your head, since you'll be using some sort of other padding for a pillow (here's my recommended pillow solution); or under your ankles and feet, which don't create much in the way of pressure points.

There's one important caveat to this, however. I have noticed that thick 3/4-length pads (2 inches or more) create a distinct drop off below the knees that is uncomfortable. For me, this often results in sleeping discomfort and noticeable soreness in my knees the next day. Consequently, I generally don't recommend thick 3/4-length pads. If you want that amount of cush, go for the full-length.

Second, 3/4-length pads require that you put something else under the tail of your sleeping bag.
You don't want the end of your sleeping bag lying directly against your tent floor or, worse, against a shelter floor or directly on the ground if you're sleeping outside. Doing so exposes your sleeping bag to moisture, dirt, and abrasion.

It's an easy problem to deal with—you can place a garbage bag or lightweight tarp or ground sheet beneath your feet, or use your pack or rain gear if you want to go minimalist—but it does require a small amount of hassle. 

Third, I personally use a full-length ultralight pad.
I continue to use a full-length Z Lite pad (pictured above), which has been my go-to three-season pad for nearly two decades. For me, the extra 4 ounces and coverage of a full-length vs. 3/4-length version is well worth the small additional weight.

I will grant, however, that the thin padding of the Z Lite is not for everybody. If you need a thicker, cushier pad for a good night's sleep that doesn't leave you feeling like a sore and creaky Tin Man the next morning, the weight and bulk differences between a 3/4 and full-length pad become more striking—and require more careful consideration.

Sleep well!

Learn more:
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Do You Hike with Trekking Poles? Avoid this Common Mistake.

Trekking poles offer a slew of advantages—increased hiking stability, reduced knee compression, easier river crossings, ultralight shelter support, and more—but if you aren't using them correctly, you're not taking full advantage of their strengths.

One of the most common mistakes—and one of the simplest to correct—has to do with how you use the trekking pole straps. With rare exception, every trekking pole features those dangly straps that emerge from the top of the grip. Used properly, they take considerable pressure off of your hands and transfer it instead to your wrists, allowing you to effectively use the poles without the need to tightly clench them with your hands. Used improperly, they do little more than serve as a leash for your poles.

Here's the error many people make. They insert their hands through the top of the straps and then grab the pole grip with the straps dangling loosely around their wrists.

The correct way is to insert your hand through the bottom of the strap and position it so that the strap runs across your palm and then up between the thumb and index finger. The final step is to tighten (or loosen) the pole straps so that they are snug yet comfortable—adjust them so that they connect to the grip slightly above the top of your hand.


The same advice applies for ski poles as well. Happy hiking!

Learn more:
Sticks and Stones: The Pros, Cons, and Uses of Trekking Poles

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid. 

Photos: Courtesy of

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Paddler vs. Wind: The Effects of Increasing Wind Speeds

Wind speed and wind direction have significant implications for paddling safety and enjoyment—and it doesn’t take much to affect the paddling experience.
  • A light breeze (4 to 7 miles per hour) is sufficient to alter the movement of most kayaks; paddlers will need to compensate to keep moving in a straight line.
  • A gentle wind (8 to 12 miles per hour) easily pushes kayaks around, generates waves 2 to 3 feet high in open water (taller than the sides of a kayak), creates a headwind that reduces typical paddling speeds by roughly a third, and can be challenging for novice paddlers.
  • A strong wind (13 to 18 miles per hour) builds waves 3 to 5 feet high with numerous whitecaps, generates a headwind that reduces typical paddling speeds by half or more, and is generally only safe for intermediate to advanced paddlers.
  • Paddling in wind speeds above 19 miles per hour should only be attempted by experienced paddlers with the skill and fitness to handle waves that can quickly exceed 6 feet.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "What's the Best Kayak? It depends on the paddling adventure."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Need Gear? Got Gear? Rent It Out.

GearCommons is the latest manifestation of the so-called "sharing economy," where individuals can rent goods or services directly to other individuals with the help of a dedicated online platform—think of Airbnb (for lodging) or Lyft (cars).

Now GearCommons is applying the same concept to outdoor equipment. Here's how it works.

Photo: Flickr Commons, cdamlan
Are you a gear owner interested in making some money off all that gear that is otherwise just sitting in your basement or closet? Post it to GearCommons for rental; you set the per day rental price.

Are you in need of gear for an upcoming adventure? Browse the site—you can search by item and location—until you find what you need. Next send a message to the renter via the site's messaging system to arrange the rental, including duration and pick-up and drop-off times.

Once the rental has been arranged, the borrower picks up and returns the item(s) directly at the renter's house or other designated location. Payment is done through the site, which takes a 10 to 25% cut of the transaction.

What happens if the gear is damaged during the rental? As the site's detailed FAQ page indicates, this is clearly a significant concern. You can browse the nitty-gritty info on the site, but the short story is this: Gear owners can set a required deposit for each item of gear as potential collateral for damages. Once the item is returned, the gear owner has 24 hours to determine if any damage has occurred. If so, the owner has complete discretion to determine how much of the renter's deposit should be withheld to cover the damage.

It's an interesting concept, though also one that requires a certain threshold of participation (and effort) to work. The site is currently in its early phases and has limited participation in many locations, though it does have a decent selection of Boston-area offerings (its founders are based there).

Whether it succeeds will likely depend on whether people like you use it. I'll be keeping a curious eye on it myself in the months ahead.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Turn On Your Tent: Big Agnes Set to Release mtnGLO Line with Integrated LED Lights

Last month, Big Agnes announced its new mtnGLO line of tents, which will feature LED lights built directly into the tent to provide ambient lighting at the flick of a switch.

Available in early 2015, the tents' details are scant at this point, though early product images (see below) show a line of LED lights that follow some of the roof seams of the tent. To power them, the tent will feature a small, lightweight, and rechargeable power pack developed by Joey Energy, which can also be used to recharge tablets, phones, and other portable devices.

The Big Agnes Gilpin Falls 4 mtnGLO features LED lights along the roof seams and will retail for $599.
The company has yet to release full product specs—including the additional weight of this technology—though it has announced that the lighting technology will be featured in a range of styles, including both backpacking and car camping tents. (More details will be forthcoming soon, I'm sure, given that the tents will be prominently featured at the summer Outdoor Retailer show later this week.)

While it's easy to see the potential utility of this technology in large, car-camping tents, it's somewhat surprising to see its inclusion in the lightweight backpacking end of the spectrum. This is especially notable given Big Agnes' well-deserved reputation for shaving every possible ounce from many of its designs to create some of the best, ultralight tents out there. All of which would seem to indicate that the added weight of the LEDs is likely not that significant (though the battery pack will almost certainly weigh several ounces.)

Regardless, however, there's no question that this technology is a (likely expensive) frill and not an essential, especially for backpacking. You're still going to need to carry a headlamp or flashlight, so no matter what the additional weight, it's still going to be extra ounces you won't need.

Big Agnes Tumble 2 mtnGLO. Note LED lights along the roof line. 
 “Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Cookware and Accessories: What you need, what you don’t

Cookware and Accessories: What You Need, What You Don’t

The essentials
  • Pot
  • Pot lifter (if your pots don’t have handles)
  • Cup or other drinking vessel (potentially your pot or water bottle)
  • Lightweight eating utensil (fork, spoon, spork, chopsticks)
  • Small knife
Very useful, not absolutely necessary
  • Small sponge for cleaning
  • Windscreen for the stove and pot
  • A plate or bowl if you don’t want to eat from your cook pot
  • A coffee-making device
Somewhat useful, definitely not necessary
  • Biodegradable soap
  • Spice containers
  • A small rubber pot-scraping tool
  • Insulated mug for hot drinks
  • Spatula for pancake makers
  • Waterproof “kitchen sink” container or tote bag for cleaning and carrying water.
Marginally useful at best

  • Miniature cheese grater
  • Micro cutting board
  • Collapsible whisk
  • Ultralight garlic press

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "Pot Luck: How to choose the right backcountry cookware."

(Photograph by Ryan Smith.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Emergency Sun Protection for Your Face and Neck: Bandana and Hat Required

I just returned from a trip to Northern California, where I completed a high-elevation overnight hike in Yosemite National Park. Unfortunately, the broad-spectrum sunscreen I had in the car failed to make it into my pack, which I realized only when I entered the open landscapes above 10,000 feet, where UV exposure is much greater than at sea level. (UV levels increase approximately 10 percent for every 1,000 meter increase in elevation.)

What to do? To protect my face and neck, I relied on two items I always carry: a visor and bandana. (Any snug-fitting hat would work, I'm just partial to visors.)

Bandana in action. Photo courtesy of
To accomplish it and gain maximum coverage, I took my bandana and positioned it so that one corner was directly above the center of my forehead, the opposite corner hung down my neck, and the other two corners extended down over my ears and along the sides of my neck. (I folded the corner under above my forehead to keep it from dangling between my eyes.) I then put my visor on over the bandana to hold it in place and, voila!, I was spared one of the worst sunburns of my life.

Bandanas are inexpensive, lightweight, and useful for many things in addition to emergency sun protection—I definitely recommend carrying one. Personally, I pack a bright orange version that provides me with extra visibility during hunting season and in potential emergency situations.

There's a better option, of course, to keep harmful UV rays at bay. Don't leave your sunscreen in the car!!

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.