First Look: Zpacks Custom Flat Tarp (My Birthday Presents!)

My birthday was in April and I usually do a birthday post since I almost always get backpacking gear, but this year it’s a little late with a good reason.  On my birthday my wonderful husband came to me and said I could put in the order for my custom cuben fiber tarp that I’ve been planning and thinking about for over a year now.  So the order was placed with Joe of Zpacks and I waited, but our missions trip to Kenya happened a day before the post office could get the order to me.  I spend the entire month and a half knowing I had this big and wonderful Zpacks order just sitting at home, waiting for me.  It was killing me!  Finally several months after putting in the order, I had my brand new tarp in my hand and now (after weeks of playing with it) I’m sharing it with you!


My New Zpacks Tarp!

My new Zpacks tarp!

A look from the back

A look from the back

It is a single panel of cuben fiber fabric and it is 51″ x 96″ (4.25′ x 8′) and I had Joe put 8 tie outs on it so I could do fun pitches like this pyramid pitch.  The weight for the tarp came to 3.2 ounces, making this not just a great 3 season tarp, but also a really sweet SUL/XUL shelter!  I can’t even begin to tell you how happy I am with how this tarp turned out.  I have been worrying over the size for over a year now because it was a real gamble.  For my 5′ 3″ size it works really well though and I’m happy I went with the 8′ instead of 9′.  I went with 8′ based on the fact that most people out there using 9′ or 10′ long tarps are typically 6′ or taller and since I’m barely 5′, I figured I could cut a foot off without too much change in function.  I was right.100_2394 This is not a great picture because I was trying to take it by myself with the camera’s timer (it’s hard to get the camera set up and get into a shelter in the 10 seconds that my camera’s timer allows), but you can see that if I had scooted up a bit more it would be a perfect fit.  As it is, my shoes are touching the side, not my feet at all.  This combined with my natural sleeping style which has me on my side and slightly curled up, it’s a rather roomy fit for me.  Unfortunately, while we were in Africa, our yard was taken over by a few plants that are releasing their seeds right now and the seed pods (as with most things in Arizona) are more like stickers that are very sharp and can punch through even the thickest materials.  So this is one of only two pitches I’ve gotten to try in an effort to preserve my beautiful new tarp.  I’m hoping to take it out on an overnight shakedown run somewhere north of here where the environment will be much more like what I’m going to experience on the JMT and the other areas I tend to hike in.

100_2408To this, I added 10 6.5″ Titanium stakes and a stake bag (I spent my birthday money from my mom for these).  I have MSR Groundhog stakes that I love, but they do not work in the hard, packed soil that we have here.  The long and skinny shaft of the Zpacks stakes work much better!  I am still debating as to whether I’m going to take all 10 or leave two at home for the JMT trip.  I’m thinking my standard trips will have me bringing just the base 8 but on a longer trip like the JMT, I don’t want my whole trip derailed because I lost one stake.  I am also pairing this with a Mountain Laurel Designs UL Ground Cloth that I cut down for my ground sheet.  I’m hoping to exchange this out for a Zpacks Groundsheet Poncho in the future for summer/SUL/XUL trips.

My weights for a typical trip:

  • Tarp – 3.2 oz
  • Zpacks Zline Guylines – .7 oz
  • 8 6.5″ Titanium Stakes – 2.16 oz
  • Stuff Sacks – .2 oz
  • Cut Down MLD Ground Sheet – 1.6 oz

Total Shelter Weight – 7.86 oz


My New Sleep System

For all my readers, I’m very sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted.  I was in Kenya for a month and didn’t realize that I wouldn’t be able to use WordPress while I was there.  So it’s been a long time coming, but I’m happy to say that I have finally started getting all my first looks posted for all the new gear I’ve gotten, starting with my sleep gear.  Thanks to the awesomeness that is the BPL Gear Swap, I have recently been able to change out my entire sleep system for my JMT hike!  I’ve had my reservations about paying the $5 for the forum membership, but in this case it was worth it.  I picked up two new things: A Enlightened Equipment Revelation X 20 Degree Quilt and a Thermarest Neo Air Original.


Enlightened Equipment Revelation X 20 Degree Quilt

I’ve been using my old Kelty Cosmic 35 Synthetic Bag for the better part of three years and it has served me well, but I felt like it was high time that I upgraded to something warmer and something with down.  If you’ve read this previous post, you know how much I love saving money on backpacking gear, so when the time came for me to look for a down quilt, I wanted to see what I could get used first.  I don’t do that for just any type of gear, but when it comes to down, it can last forever if you care for it properly.  So if I find something that is in good condition and the previous owner didn’t compress it for long periods or wash it improperly, it can be a really great buy with some great money savings.  I was choosy.  I had time to be, my trip isn’t until the end of August and I went looking in April.  I still ended up with a quilt that was a little different than what I would have gotten if I had bought new, but I’m thinking it’s going to be a good thing.

100_1182I snagged an older Enlightened Equipment Revelation X quilt with the karo baffles.  It’s a 1-2 year old 20 degree quilt with one once of extra down and since I sleep cold, I’m thinking that I’m going to really appreciate that extra ounce of down.  The thing I wasn’t really planning on having so much of, is length.  It’s a regular all around and that means it’s made for a 6′ tall person.  At 5′ 3″ it’s a bit of overkill for me, but it could be a real advantage too.  My quilt covers over my head and I still have some room to stuff extra clothes in the foot box.  While that means I’m carrying extra weight, I may find it’s worth the weight.  I could also choose to take a row off the top, but I’ve learned that before you alter any gear, you want to take it on a few trips to make sure you’re not going to miss something and sorry you started cutting.  The down in it is 850 fill and I’m amazed at how much it lofts and how much it compresses compared to my synthetic quilt.  After this, I really can’t see myself carrying anything but down unless the conditions warrant it.  I love the way the strap system works on this quilt as well as the foot box closure.  It does have a small gap in the foot box that may create some draft, but it is very small and is easily plugged up with a spare shirt.  100_1194The weight of the quilt with the pad straps and stuffed inside the Zpacks Medium Pillow Dry Bag weighs 25.2 oz (1lb 9.2 oz) or 23.6 oz (1 lb 7.6 oz) without the dry bag.  This is a major weight savings compared to my old synthetic bag which weighed 38 oz (2 lb 6 oz).  That’s a difference of 14.4 oz, not quite a full pound.  My old bag was a 35 degree bag and this is a 20 degree quilt with an extra ounce of down.  Not only am I cutting almost a full pound of weight off, but I’m adding an absurd amount of extra warmth!  I’ve only used it once or twice, but I think it’s really going to be one of my favorite things I’m taking with me on the JMT.


Thermarest Neo Air Sleeping Pad

This was actually a bit of an impulse buy.  I wasn’t looking for a new pad at the time, but the price was right and knowing how hard it can be to find the old Neo Air with the squared corners that I wasn’t willing to let this pad get snatched up by anyone else.  10154960_580298765402777_3839287149991887208_nI had been wanting to replace my small REI kids pad with something a bit more comfy and lighter weight, but I wasn’t planning on doing it this trip.  Now that I have it, I’m so glad I got it.  When I got my Neo Air on the scale, I found mine weighs 12.5oz which is a weight savings of 6.5 oz off my old REI Kids pad and 1.5 off my Thermarest Zlite pad.  One of the things I was concerned about was the crinkle factor.  So far, I haven’t had too much trouble with it, but I think I’ll have a better idea of it after my JMT trip.  I have to say I didn’t think I’d care about the extra space that a bigger pad would give me, but I really love having the space to stretch out.  It’s not much more, but it feels like a lot when I lay on it.  The size when it is all packed down is also a really big positive for me.  I’m not as attached to this pad as I am my new quilt, but I’m very excited to see how well it performs.


100_1195Putting the whole sleep system together, I’ve been really happy with not only the items that I’ve got, but the weight and space savings has been really nice.  On my whole kit that I was going to take with me I started out with a total weight of 53.6 oz (3 lbs 5.6 oz).  Not too bad, but not super ultralight and I was very concerned about taking a 35 degree bag since the Sierras have been known to get snow as early as late September/Early October.  With my new setup, my sleep gear weighs in at 37.7 oz (2 lbs 5.7 oz), almost a full pound off my original system and this will get me down much lower in night time temps than previously.  The weight and size savings are great, but I think the thing that makes me the truly happiest about my new setup is the boost in temperature ratings.  I’m going to be really excited to get back and have 20+ nights of use to review!!100_1185

The Liebster Award

It’s another round of Blog Stickies with the Liebster Award!  I was given the award by Stick.  The Liebster Award is given to bloggers, by bloggers and how it works is I will answer the 11 questions that Chad came up with and then have to come up with 11 bloggers that I love to give the award to and 11 questions I want to see them answer.  The word liebe means love in German and that gives a pretty good idea of the main goal of the award as we are trying to spread the word about blogs we love and get them a bit of exposure as well as having a good time reading and writing all the answers!  I love the idea and the name as I’m madly in love with German, Germans, and Germany, but I digress.  It’s not going to be easy to come up with 11 blogs that have not been tagged already, but the questions are not only easy, but also really fun to answer as I love talking about my outdoor hobbies.  It’s actually one of the biggest reasons I started blogging.  I love talking about backpacking, but not everyone I know loves listening. 🙂  So without further ado, my 11 answers!

  • What made you get into backpacking?

I have always loved outdoor activities and spent my childhood camping, hunting and primitive camping throughout the entire Southwest USA.  The first inkling that I had that backpacking would be fun came from an unlikely place.  I was about 15 and was watching a movie on TV called White Wolves: A Cry in the Wild II.  An Oscar winner it was not, but it was the first time I remember seeing people put backpacks on and walk into the wilderness and they were going to places I’d only seen in National Geographic magazines.  I didn’t have a word for it then, but I knew I wanted to do it.  I was 23 before I finally learned the name and figured out that I could in fact have those kinds of adventures.  It was the day I walked into my very first REI and saw the wall of backpacks.  I looked at Richard and asked “can we do that?!”  A few questions to an REI employee later and I had learned a little about backpacking and had decided that it was definitely the hobby for me!  I had a bit more to learn before I could get started and even more before I found out about ultralight backpacking, but it was then that I was bit by the bug, before I ever stepped foot on a trail, and I’ve not stopped ever since.

  • What other outdoor activities do you participate in?

I started in archery when I was very little and I still love to shoot when I have the time and I surfed some in high school, but as an adult I’ve really gotten into kayaking and bushcraft.  While we were living on Catalina Island, I found I loved sea kayaking and kayak camping.  I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finalize all my needs for backpacking this year so I can start saving up for my own boat, which has been a dream of mine for some time now.  It’s the next step I’d love to take in getting out more and trying new things over the next few years.

  • What is the longest distance you have backpacked?

The longest distance I have backpacked so far has been 20-30 miles at a time, but I’m looking forward to getting my first long(ish) trail under my belt this fall on the 211 miles of the JMT!

  • What is the longest amount of time you have spent outdoors?

A week has been my average so far and it’s not been while backpacking.  Work has always found a way to get between me and long trips.  Of course after September, I’ll have a very different answer! 😀

  • What is the most interesting backpacking trip you have been on?

The most drastically different backpacking trips we took have to be the weekenders we got in on Catalina Island.  You can go from sea level to 1,000 ft and back again in a day and there are no switchbacks.  It’s some of the craziest hiking I’ve ever done!

Though the craziest day hike I ever took was when we post-holed through 4ft snow in the San Bernadino Mountains last winter.

  • Where was your last backpacking trip?

This is also Catalina Island.

  • How much was your pack weight on that trip?

I can’t be 100% certain because we couldn’t weigh our packs.  Catalina is a near desert Island and so my pack weight was close to 20lbs with all the water we had to carry.  BPW was around 9.5lbs.

  • What is your favorite (alcoholic) beverage on the trail?

I’ve yet to take an alcoholic beverage on trail, but I am planning on adding a bit of my favorite spiced rum to my pack on the JMT, Sailor Jerry.

  • What is your favorite meal/snack on the trail?

That has to be beef jerky and fruit leathers!  It’s one of the few foods I could eat the rest of my life if I had to pick just one meal.

  • What is one piece of gear that you never leave without?

Right now I’d say my Mora Knife.  It’s the least UL thing I own but it is always on my hip belt.  I carry it because if my pack somehow gets lost, I have the skills to make do with a knife if I needed to.  In the desert, it can be the difference between finding the basics, like clean water.  I love using wood stoves and having fires where it’s allowed as well and my knife makes that so much easier.  If all that wasn’t enough it makes my mom feel better to know I have it with me, especially on trips I have to leave Richard at home.

I have a feeling that might change soon with all the new stuff I’ve gotten recently.  I just may find something new I can’t leave home without.

  • What was the worst piece of gear that you have ever used?

Hiking boots.  No particular brand, but I’ve had several pair and, compared to my trail runners, they were the biggest waste of money and the biggest hassle of anything I’ve ever used.


So there are the 11 questions Stick asked me.  Now I get to come up with 11 of my own!

  1. What is your favorite trail?
  2. What weather do you love hiking in?
  3. What gear item is first on your wish list right now?
  4. What is your favorite thing about backpacking?
  5. Where is your least favorite place to hike and why?
  6. What is your biggest backpacking success?
  7. What is your biggest backpacking failure?
  8. Favorite book that makes you want to get into the woods?
  9. What’s the one outdoor thing you’ve always wanted to try?
  10. What is the coolest piece of gear you own?
  11. What is one place you would hate to die without having visited?

And for my 11 Bloggers:

  1. Erin Hikes
  2. Banana Buzzbomb
  3. Jason’s Outdoor Blog
  4. Guthook Hikes
  5. 3Up Adventures
  6. Terry bnd
  7. Rambling Hemlock
  8. Lightweight Rob
  9. Our Favorite Adventure
  10. Trail to Summit
  11. Renegade Pilgrim

What’s Ultralight All About, Anyway?

As I have been talking to many other backpackers from all walks and styles, I have run up against this question a few times now.  Okay so the question most often is “How did you get your pack so light?!”  But the root of how I did it is what UL is all about.  I thought I’d take a post off from my JMT prep and just talk about why I chose to be an ultralight backpacker and the philosophy behind the whole movement.

A Change of Necessity 

Looking back at my very first post, my reasoning for going UL are pretty much the same now as it was then; I just can’t enjoy myself with that much weight on my back.  More than that, I want to be able to pick up my pack and head out into the wild places when I’m 60 or even 70 and I know that if I take 40-50 lbs now, I won’t be able to do it then.  I know my body and I know myself and for me it’s a necessity to go light.  Beyond that, it has been really amazing and empowering to learn skills that allow me to leave some things behind.  After going UL, I just don’t understand why someone would take more weight if they didn’t have to and I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit that getting all nerdy about gear is a lot of fun for me. 🙂

Take Knowledge, Not Gear

I don’t know where I first heard that phrase or who even told it to me, but it has been the root of everything I’ve done in backpacking for a while now.  I take a quilt instead of a sleeping bag because I know that putting insulation underneath me and then flattening it with my body weight doesn’t add anything to my night and adds pointless weight to my back.  I take a tarp instead of a tent because I know how to optimize the natural protection of the wilderness I’m in and the best ways to set up a tarp to protect me from whatever I might encounter.  I also know how to read the sky during my trip and a weather report ahead of time to get a complete picture of what I might be in store for each night.  I don’t take a GPS because I work really hard to keep my map and compass skills sharp.  I test and try out my clothing in all kinds of situations so I can know with absolute certainty what I can leave at home and what really has to be in my pack.  Because of all the knowledge I have gained, I am more confident and self reliant not just when I’m out in the woods but in every area of my life.  I’ve gotten to do things I would have never had the guts to do if I hadn’t found that strength and confidence in myself.  For me this is the heart of what it means to be an ultralight backpacker.

There it is.  It’s as simple as that for me.

Gear Closet Cleaning – SALE

If you follow my Facebook Page, you’ll know I’ve picked up a few new to me pieces recently (first looks coming soon!) in preparation for my JMT hike.  Well there is one more thing I really want to pick up before I go and it’s a biggie.  Therefore to afford the last big thing I want, I’m selling off some things I don’t use/need anymore and one thing that I’m sorry to part with.  So the first people to post a comment saying they want one of these items, will get it.

1. REI Kids Sleeping Pad – *SOLD*

100_2287This is a 19 oz self inflating sleeping pad.  Measurements are 18″ x 60″ x 1″ with a 2.5 R value.  I picked this up when I first got started.  It was inexpensive, fairly light for the price, and pretty comfortable.  It fits well for medium to small women and pretty much all kids and would be a great first pad for someone wanting to start their kids off.  It’s still in perfect condition.  Used maybe 20-30 nights.  REI’s Page for this pad.






2. Kelty Cosmic 35 Women’s Synthetic Mummy Bag – $50 (shipping included)

100_2286This one I want to say right off the bat, has one thing wrong with it, the zipper pull fell off.  I’ve been using it opened out as a quilt so it never bothered me, but it’s a really simple repair or someone with some sewing skills could pull out the zipper, cut off the hood and turn it into a proper quilt very easily.

It is listed on Kelty’s website as maxing out at a 5′ 6″ woman and weighing 2 lb 6 oz.  I found that to be fairly accurate though the weight is off a little (It comes out to about 5-6 oz more on my scale).  The temp rating is fairly accurate but I always wore long thermals when it was going to be below 40 degrees.  This is again a good beginner piece for someone.  Used about 100 nights.



3. REI 16L Compression Sack – $10 (shipping included)

100_1196Weighs 3.1 oz and held the bag posted above.  Still works and is in great condition, just don’t use it anymore.  REI page for this item.






4. Sierra Designs Microlight Wind Jacket – $25 (shipping included)

100_1197They recently updated this jacket and so this particular model isn’t in stores anymore, but it seems identical to the newer version (can’t figure out what they changed).  This is a Women’s Large and is still in like new condition.  This is the new REI Page, but the sizing chart is still correct.  Weighs 8.7 oz in stuff sack.







5. Sierra Designs Microlight Wind Pants – $18 (shipping included)

100_1198This is the same situation as the jacket, it’s the older version but I still can’t figure out what they changed because it’s identical to this one listed on REI.  I’m going a bit lower on these because there is some paint that got on the leg.  It’s purely cosmetic and they still work perfectly and I can’t find the stuff sack.  Size is a Woman’s XL.  Weighs 6.6 oz sans stuff sack.  If I find the sack, I’ll add it in.





6. REI Sahara Long Sleeved Shirt – *SOLD*

100_1199This shirt saw minimal use, but is one of the first things I bought 4 years ago.  It has some very minor pilling on the shoulders and one of the pockets is loose on one side on the inside.  Still a very serviceable shirt that I’ve replaced with a newer shirt.  Women’s L with a UFP of 30.  REI Page.







And now for the Big Item!

7. Six Moon Designs Swift Backpack Medium – *SOLD*

This is the pack that Stick sold me and has been a wonderful pack for the best part of two years worth of trips.  It joined me on Catalina Island, in the woods of Georgia, and even a few times here in the deserts of Arizona.  This pack has been phenomenal through it all.  So why am I selling it?  Thanks to all my new purchases, it’s now too big for my gear.

100_1179 100_1180It is in the same condition that Stick sent it to me, aside from one minor tear in the mesh pocket put there by a less than kind airport employee.  Stick had replaced the side compression lines with I think it was orange Glow wire and that has worked very well.  I’m selling it with the Medium hip belt and the metal stay.  I’m also throwing in a blue CCF that Stick had made for a padded back frame.  The pocket that it goes in fits a Thermarest Zlite Small perfectly.  I used a regular cut down to the small size and then used the other length as a sit pad, storing it in the long side pocket.


The sizes and weights as listed on Sticks post about this pack are accurate and the same as my scale.

Swift Pack (medium): 14.7 oz

Wing Belt (medium): 4.1 oz

Aluminum Hoop Stay: 4.6 oz

You can check out Stick’s Post and Videos to get some more details.  Here is SMD’s info page with the measurements and details as well.  SMD recently stopped making this pack so if you really wanted one, here it is.


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