Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anatomy of a backpacking trip - Torres del Paine

My wife and I/Josh made a two week visit to Chile a little over 2 months ago, with 7 of those days spent backpacking at Torres del Paine. I have had a few questions about how much stuff we took and why, so here is a small breakdown of what we took, as well as some impressions on a few items.

On the couch
Exped Gear (In picture)-
Orion tent (Grey MD Compression Bag)
Dreamwalker 450 (Red SM Compression Bag-it fits, barely)
Synmat UL 7 M (Yellow stuff sack)
Chair Kit M (Long skinny grey stuff sack)
Explorer 130 poles (Orange, self-explanatory)
Shrink Bag 20 (Multiple, yellow stuff sack on left)
Schnozzel (Packed inside with mat)
Compression Bags S, M (as noted above)
Backcountry 65* (backpack, center)
Skylight Lux* (Cannot see in pic, attached to pack top pocket)

clothes (shell jacket & pants, spare hiking pants and shirts, socks, etc.)
gloves (in Shrink Bag 20)
hat (same)
stove and fuel (fuel purchased locally for obvious reasons, in silver cookset)
water filter (yellow stuff sack on right)
freeze dried food (in second Shrink Bag 20)
cookware, utensils and cups (in silver cookset)
matches (in above cookset)

swiss army knife of course (in pack top pocket)
water (bladders 1.5L each)
red wine (not pictured above)
small first aid kit (red pouch)
headlamp (red case)
general toiletries (plus towel,sunscreen, green zip sack)

TP (not pictured)
camera (not pictured for obvious reasons)
iphone (wonder what the stars you're looking at are? There's an app for that)
kindle (in gold envelope, back)

On the trail. Cuerno Principal in the background.
Weight (with water) - 32.2 lbs
We are recreational backpackers and are not as hard core as some of our readers, but we get out when we can. This is my pack; my wife had a similar assortment, except she had a Dreamwalker 650 and more food since I carried the tent and cookset. Nearly identical weight. We could have probably gone lighter, but with the weather unpredictability of Patagonia, we opted to be prepared for storms with full rain gear, warmer clothes, etc. Plus, sometimes you just have to have some wine. I didn't think to take a picture of the contents during the trip, but have re-created it in the photo above for you, the Exped home viewer.

A few notes on specific products-

Orion tent at Camp Britanico, Valle Frances.
Orion tent- As someone who works for a tent company, I have a few tents at home to choose from. Patagonia has a reputation for unpredictable weather, as we all know, and early summer can be harsh with high winds, storms, occasional snow in early summer, etc. If all that dies down, then there are a few places where the mosquitoes and flies live it up. Anyhow, with all these variables, I didn't have to think too hard about taking the Orion. Its a freestanding four season tent with true six-footer sit up room inside and two separate, large vestibules and entrances. Effective ventilation with two large mesh doors. And it got a little bit of everything on the trip. The days were mostly dry and we even got some sun for a few days. Two of the nights were buggy enough where we had to retire early into the tent to escape. With the tall ceiling, chair kits and headlamps, we could sit up, relax and read our kindles in comfort, just closing the mesh doors to allow for ventilation. Two nights of rain showers. And our last two nights were windy, the last night especially so. I guyed the tent out, which really makes an exoskeleton tent like the Orion strong as you are guying directly to the pole, and was glad I did. The forecast for the evening was sustained 50 kph winds, with higher periodic gusts. After waking up and going outside the next morning, I saw a well known brand's tent completely flattened, no exaggeration. I saw at least two snapped poles, despite being still fully staked and guyed out. I was happy to have the tent.

Chair Kit/Synmat UL 7/Dreamwalker trifecta - This combo is all about versatility. I know serious gram counters would question the chair kits, but they offered us a lot of options: mat protector, mat coupler and lounge-capability. Wash them at the end of the trip and keep your mat clean. And it is so nice to sit and lean back in the tent and read when its nasty outside. It was worth it to us. Besides, we saved a lot of volume thanks to the Synmat UL, with a pack size roughly the size of a liter bottle. One Dreamwalker opened up and draped over us like a comforter and we were very comfortable. The lowest the temps got on our visit was upper 30's; we had a second Dreamwalker just in case the freak winter storm hit as it occasionally does there, but never needed it. And had it really been cold, we could have worn them in camp as parkas. Summer trip in the Sierras? Only one required for two...that's a lot of pack volume saved!

Shrink Bag 20, clipped below.
Shrink Bag 20, as hip pack.
Shrink Bag 20 - Where to start with something that appears to only be a stuff sack? Here's how we have used it: travel packer in suitcase for air travel where its half organizer/half compression bag while keeping your shirts folded. I like to roll it down and clip it below itself so that it makes a flat surface to stack things atop (see photo). Used as a wash basin around camp when reversed inside out. Seat cushion with clothes inside. As a daypack/waist pack...yes I'm serious (see other photo), and valve makes it water bladder compatible. Can combine with Schnozzel to inflate mats quickly and with no moisture. You can also use it as a stuff sack. Really - the wide mouth makes it ideal for sleeping bags, and the valve allows the air to be purged.

Not Exped content-
Gravity feed water filter - Love it, love it, love it. Go get one.

In closing, we had a set up that worked well for us, and allowed us to really enjoy our trip, which is really what it is all about in the end. And keep an eye on airfare to Chile, it is a fabulous place to spend time.

*European market items. We are testing/considering these items for the North American market in the future.