Marmot Super Mica Review

I’ve made MANY purchases for the 2010 backpacking season, including significant purchases of gear constructed of cuben fiber. I’ve not yet chronicled a single item thus far, due to the simple reason of not wanting to review anything I haven’t adequately tested . . . in the field. The first purchase that I feel able to properly review is the Marmot Super Mica, an ultralight jacket that I purchased in early February. This purchase was intended to fill a void in my UL collection for a full-featured jacket that I could don as both a windshirt and storm-proof jacket given its low stated weight of 9 ounces from the description @ Marmot.

Introducing the Marmot Super Mica!

Prior to my purchase, I was intrigued with its manufacturing specifications, which fully met my needs:

Marmot MemBrain® Waterproof/Breathable Fabric
Micro-Stitched and 100% Seam Taped – for maximum waterproof protection
Gale-force Hood with Laminated Wire Brim
ERG Hood Adjustment System
Water-Resistant CF Zipper
PitZips™ with Water Resistant Zippers
Pack Pockets™ with Water-resistant Zippers
Duralite Zonal Reinforcements
Asymmetric Cuffs with Velcro Adjustment
Integrated Cooling Vents
Reflective Logos
Elastic Draw Cord Hem – For Adjustability in Serious Weather
Angel-Wing Movement™ – Allows Full Range of Motion in Arms so Jacket Doesn’t Ride Up

The features are a significant upgrade over the prior generation, the Mica, in the areas of an upgraded hood with wire brim, reinforcements on the shoulder strap and hip belt areas, pit zips, and pockets that are placed above the hip belt area (that, I’ll note, also operate as additional vents).

Size/Weight:
I was happy to find, upon throwing this jacket on the scale that it weighed only 8 oz in size medium. At 5’9″and ~165 lbs, the jacket fits me perfectly and is suitable for layering over base and insulation layers as appropriate. This was key for me as I didn’t want too athletic of a fit given my intent to use this as my primary shell for backpacking.
 
Testing:
I performed testing of this jacket with 3 separate packs, in myriad weather conditions including torrential downpours, heavy wind, and wind-blown snow, for greater than 60 miles of backpacking. I found the breathability of this jacket to be excellent, other than in my forearms. Given multiple venting options, I was able to address this by loosening the cuff appropriately. I found it to be extremely weatherproof as well, withstanding a multiple hour downpour with nary a drop inside. That said, the cuffs, the only area that isn’t fully seam taped, got pretty wet, but not enough to soak through (and it was raining really, really hard).

One of the tests that I performed was to walk through a waterfall in the trail to determine whether any water would penetrate the pack. I’m happy to say that the jacket passed this test with flying colors and other than a cold rush of water between my pack and the jacket, I escaped unscathed!

On top of Camp Smokey . . ..

 Conclusions:
  • This jacket is expensive @ $200, but is extremely light and fully-featured providing a ton of options without a significant weight penalty.
  • It withstood significant pounding from the elements (rain, sleet, snow, wind) while keeping me completely dry.
  • This provides a level of function that I wouldn’t have with a poncho-tarp combination and is similar weight when combined with a UL tarp (to be reviewed separately).
  • The hood is very adjustable and keeps the elements OUT. The wire brim is flexible enough to be used without a lid or visor.
  • The pockets are easily accessible when using a hip belt.
  • The rear of the jacket is slightly longer than the front, keeping one’s “coin slot” under wraps (if only Franken would buy one of these . . ..)
  • We’ll see how the reinforcements fare over time, but at this point there’s no apparent wear.

I’ll plan to perform significant additional testing over the coming months, but at this point, in spite of the number of miles that I’ve put on it, the jacket still looks brand new.

EDIT: Given a comment below, I’ve added an additional photo of the Super Mica when loosely rolled up for storage.

Size when loosely rolled for storage

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if you see me packrafting…

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BPL Stix Mod: Redux

This is merely an addendum to Ploss’ post BPL STIX Mod: Aftermarket Tips from July 2009, which details how to properly add Leki aftermarket tips to these UL trekking poles. I’ve been resisting implementing this mod despite my fear of wrecking these apparent collector’s items (no longer offered from BPL as of February ’10) because, frankly, they were perfect – at 120cm they offered the sweet spot of length both uphill and down (McLovin is a hair over 6′ tall). Tough to mess with what’s not broken – yet!?

Reality was that the mod was much less punitive than I feared, both in added length and the completely negligible weight, and the process itself was as simple as Ploss suggested.

Length added: 3.8 cm exactly to 123.8 cm
Weight added: 0.2 oz. (5.7g) to 4.7 oz (per pole)

Before and After - er, After and Before (L to R)

This length will actually be closer to what I have used previously with my collapsible Black Diamond poles for use with the Gatewood Cape (shelter pole), and I’m looking forward to testing them on trail later this week. – MCL

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BPL Firelite Esbit Wing Stove Review

Can this titanium solid fuel stove compete with the blogger’s favorite, the White Box Stove? Can it boil enough h2O for two? A (non-field) full test and comparison.

Goal: boil 16 oz. (2 cups) of water using one .5 oz. Esbit cube AND/OR .5 oz. denatured alcohol
Conditions: 54 degrees, light wind at 860 feet

The kit. Not pictured: GSI Hae Tea Kettle (used w/White Box)

The plan: see how the 0.40 oz. Backpacking Light Firelite Titanium Esbit Wing stove + a single .5 oz. Esbit fuel cube fared against the 2.5 oz. White Box Stove + .5 oz. denatured alcohol for boiling 16 oz. of water.

Unwrapped Esbit smells like low tide. Pelican alert!

Observations: the Firelite Esbit Wing Stove is crazy light, and is perfectly designed to do one thing: deliver burning Esbit solid fuel. Esbit comes in foil packages reminiscent of that 70’s era liquid center gum your Mom used to rock, and immediately you’ll notice two shortcomings vs. an alcohol stove: first, these things stink. Not in the package so much, but in bear country I’d definitely bag & hang ’em – think pickled herring. Second, you’ll need matches or a lighter to get it burning – not a deal breaker certainly, but a far cry from the ease of lighting an alcohol stove with a firesteel tool like the Spark-Lite Firestarter, as I did with the white box for this test.

Firelite SUL-900 Titanium pot fit on the stove like a glove

It was a little breezy so I added a windscreen – specifically the one that ships with the White Box stove. I felt like I was cheating on my White Box stove – you know I love you White Box baby! – but as my experience has been that the White Box rarely if ever needs a windscreen, chalk this up as another “knock” against the Esbit Wing Stove.

Get on with it. How long did it take? Virtually everything I’ve read about Esbit fuel cubes is based upon boiling 8 oz. of water, making it essentially a solo stove, but as the burn time was listed as “up to 15 minutes” I was hopeful that it would be capable of bringing 16 oz. to boil. Which it did, in 9 minutes 10 seconds. Success! It furthermore had a total burn time of 15 minutes 45 seconds, leading me to conclude that, at least under today’s conditions and altitude, one Esbit cube with this particular kit could boil at least 18 ounces or more. By comparison, the White Box stove + the GSI Hae Tea Kettle, sans wind screen, brought 16 oz. of water to a boil in 6:45 (m:s)  and consumed ~.5 oz. of denatured alcohol in 9:42 of total burn time – again, more than enough time to boil at least 18 oz. of water under similar conditions.

Stove Weight
Fuel Cookware Boil
Burn
Requirements:
BPL Firelite
Esbit Wing Stove
0.4 oz. 0.5 oz. Esbit cube BPL Firelite SUL-900
32 oz. pot
9:10 15:45 Windscreen;
lighter/ matches
White Box Stove 2.5 oz. 0.5 oz. denatured
alcohol
GSI Hae Tea Kettle
(1 qt.)
6:45 9:42 fuel container

Conclusions: While I still have to give the overall nod to the White Box Stove for performance and reliability – it hasn’t FAILed me yet – I was quite impressed with the ability of the solid fuel stove to deliver 2 cups of boiled water with a single cube. Given its reputation for superior cold weather performance vs. alcohol stoves, the Firelite Esbit Wing Stove will undoubtedly find its way into my winter kit as a backup stove at a minimum, and with a total weight savings of ~3 oz. (including fuel bottle) it will likely find its way into my regular kit mix as well. Grade: recommended.

Update: went vertical eh like 3 weeks back, up to about 4100′ with the idea of firing up Ploss’ BushBuddy stove + titanium grill to rock some trail steaks. Foot of snow and nothing even close to burnable tinder/wood later…thank Jah I brought the Esbit wing stove. Operating in roughly 30 degree conditions the Esbit worked it, boiling 2 cups of water easily for some backup freeze-dried chicken & potatoes handily. That is to say I made my beotch Ploss make my effing dinner for me. Good Ploss. But I digress. Setup on the snow on top of an inverted titanium sierra cup w/foil windscreen, this stove moved ahead of the White Box Stove as a candidate for week long trips, especially given the opportunity to cache Esbit tabs along with my food in cacheable areas.

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Best of the Best

Kicking off the 2010 gear season with the annual list of my current favorite gear, along with some special awards:

1. Gear of the Year: SMD Gatewood Cape

Winner: best overall; best mulitpurpose; best shelter

As was the case last year, Six Moon Design’s Gatewood Cape earns my distinction as the best single kit addition to any gear collection. Ultralight, versatile, feature-rich and simply my favorite shelter, ever. Combine with chaps and a bivy sack and be prepared for 3 seasons of weather both on and off trail. Other shelters/raingear in the collection replaced/superceded by the Gatewood Cape:

Works well with:

Rest of the best:

2. Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pad. Fantastically light, stowable and consistently comfortable; one of the few things in life that live up to the hype.

3. Tech4o TraiLeader 2 watch: I love this thing probably more than I should. Accelerometer provides mostly accurate distances. Mostly. Needs semiregular calibration to known distances and altitudes for best performance. Delivers everything else you could possibly want in a non-GPS wrist device including an excellent digital compass, altimeter, speed, calories, etc.

4. White Box Stove. Expertly designed to deliver the best (alcohol) fuel efficiency this stove collector has yet to find.

5. BPL Stix. Simply awesome ultralight trekking poles; you’ll forget that you thought yours needed to be telescoping. If you can find them.

6. SteriPEN Adventurer. For me it’s the only way to hydrate; safe, effective, reliable, light, easy, QUICK. Ace that pump/gravity/chemical thing you’re using today – this thing really works. You can count on it. Bring a few iodine/Aquamira anyway.

7. TiGoat Ptarmigan Bivy. Favorite of the 5 bivy sacks McLovin has owned. Incomparable size to weight ratio; couple with tarp or Gatewood Cape for maximum 3 season versatility.

8. BPL Pro 90 Quilt. When combined with outerwear such as Mont Bell down jacket and pants provides an incredibly light and versatile sleeping blanket/bag with a good sized footbox and foot-to-shoulder covering.

9. Petzl e+LITE headlamp. 1 ounce. Red and white bulbs. Comfortable, simple and efficient.

10. GoLite Jam2 Pack. Moving down the list as I’ve needed to add 3 belt and shoulder strap bags to increase the 2008 model’s usefulness; 2010 model includes these features but at a more punitive weight expense than those I’ve incorporated. Carries up to 30 lbs. framelessly; durable, simple, roomy and affordable. Ploss will see this list plummeting as a sure sign I’m going Cuben fiber this year.

Honorable Mention:

GoLite Virga jacket. Discontinued but awesome light weather shell. Comfortable and breathable, excellent rain wear. Runner up: Dutch Key. Perfect tightening tool. Miss Congeniality: Simblissity Unslack Pack. Keep your Dutch Key, camera etc. close at hand. (I wear mine on the left hand side).

FAIL of the Year:

Repeat FAIL champion Aquamira Frontier Pro filter. This thing still sucks. Need backup? Carry up to 72 Aquamira Tablets instead! Runner up: nylon/spandex knee brace. Nearly constricted the quad right off McLovin near Panhandle Gap. Miss Fortune: a last place tie between dry oatmeal and Pro Bars. Because I can find enough ways to fill my grill with dust on the trail for free. Will be employing the Ploss Fruit Pie method.

Top of the Wish List:

BushBuddy Stove. What can I say, I have a serious stove jones. Runner up: BPL Stealth NANO UL Backpacking Tarp. Why, you might rightly ask, would I need this if my favorite gear ever is the Gatewood Cape? Gear harlotry is a sick, sick disease. And, it’s only 5 ounces. Kali Ma! Miss Take: the as yet to be released 2010 MLD Revelation pack. Like I wasn’t going to get a Cuben fiber pack. Der?!

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Training Hike: Herman Creek to Casey Creek Camp Out/Back

Bagged my January training hike in the Gorge today. Mola Ram sula ram!

Easiest 'trailhead' ever. Except you're not quite there yet...

HERMAN CREEK TRAIL #406 to CASEY CREEK CAMP (OUT and BACK)
DISTANCE: 8.5 MILES (AS DESCRIBED FROM LOWER LOT) | SCENERY: 7 | DIFFICULTY: 6

The weather has been absolutely killer – unless you’re a skier, snowboarder, snowshoe’r, run a ski resort,  work for a ski resort, are a snowman, yeti, meteorologist, dam administrator, farmer, fisherman, fish, tree or user of electricity – so I took advantage to head up Herman Creek for a training hike. I was tempted to abuse myself on the  Rickely Rickrollerly Ruckel Creek trail but Ploss helped steer me towards something that wouldn’t be so… demoralizing. The Heeunk Ruckel trail is gorn freaking steep!

Getting to Herman Creek Campground is easy, westbound on I-84; the road up to the campground remains closed this time of year however, so I had to walk an additional .3 miles to the trailhead. My (turnaround) destination was Casey Creek camp, about 4.2 miles from the road and 3.8 miles from the trailhead.

From here 8 switchbacks await you over the first mile, gaining about 700′, which includes crossing a jeep track/fire road about 1/2 mile up, then generally levels off to begin a long, steady ascent. Note: the jeep track sports an extraneous Trail 406 junction sign. Continue forward to the second/upper Trail 406 sign and trail. You’ll have  4 opportunities  from the campground onwards to head NE to the Nick Eaton ridge on spurs I’m looking forward to exploring on future hikes.

Take this upper Trail 406 route at the .5 mile fire road

Along this next mile you’ll flatten out and encounter several of the aforementioned opportunities to explore the Nick Eaton ridge to the east; feel free, or stick to the main trail to continue towards Casey Creek camp. Water is plentiful in this section, specifically via 4 good sources. You’ll reach the first source, a narrow but beautiful cascading falls, approximately 1.8 miles from the trailhead. The second source is spectacular – a 100+’ falls that’s just about the most beautiful the blogger has ever seen, roughly .2 miles ahead from the first source – 2.0 miles from the trailhead

The sound itself compares to the remarkable beauty

The third source is Camp Creek, .5 miles from the falls and 2.5 miles from the trailhead, and today it was really swollen – so much so it required a minor ford. Not Rich Ford. Nor Rich Guy. But I digress. My boots worked it and my feet stayed relatively dry.

Last call for worthwhile-a-haul. Not a more peaceful location in the entire vicinity

The fourth & last source is about .5 miles from Camp Creek – picking up the pattern here? – and is another beautiful water cascade and a great place to fill up. A really great place. You are almost exactly .9 miles from Casey Creek camp here, and if your destination is said camp, your best options for water are, well, here; a mile past Casey Creek camp at Hazel Creek; or down Trail 407, aka The Fail Trail. Do yourself a favor and fill up at this last source to your heart’s desire; the blogger will consider throwing an extra platy in his pack next time for this purpose only vs. a trip down Trail 407. I reached my destination almost exactly at my hard turnaround time, and my spirits were high. Spirits only. Elevation per my Tech4o: 1545′.

Overlooking the East Fork Herman Creek across to Benson Plateau

Observations:

  • Total time: 3 hrs. 5 minutes
  • The trail was in fantastic condition – only 1 blowdown and it was really simple to cross. No snow, nor any visible snow even across the Herman Creek gorge to the hilltops on the PCT, Tomlike Mountain etc.
  • This would likely be a good snowshoe trail with limited wayfinding challenges despite the lack of tree trail markings/diamonds a la the PCT. Navigating I-84 when conditions permit snowshoeing up here can be tricky, but given the right sweet spot of snow and ease of travel this would fit the bill
  • The first half- to full mile of any hike remains a real mental struggle for me; physically it takes about that long for me to get warmed up typically, during which I really battle to stay mentally tough and embrace what I’m doing. After that I’m usually golden, but it’s something I continue to be aware of, and work to defeat.
  • GoLite Virga jacket worked it – was not overly sweaty, was protected from the several downpours I experienced, and was generally warm and comfortable in 40° January weather.
  • BPL Stix are awesome. This was a perfect terrain test for their versatility, and the best endorsement I can give them is that I was almost unaware of them: they simply behaved as an extension of my movement. Will be employing the Ploss Mod.
  • Spaced filing my toenails down to the skin, leading to Boot Toenail Fail. Will be a pretty good backpacker for a guy with 9 toenails in about a week.
  • Ran into a single dude, training for the PCT – Mexico to Canada baby 🙂 He’s looking to see us @ Rainier in September. Big props.
  • Said dude gave me an excellent idea for my next training hike: Herman Creek to PCT. Ploss will remember this as the 4000′ descent from Benson Plateau over about 6.5 miles. Who needs the Gorn Ruckel Creek?

I made excellent time. Excellent photography? Not so much.

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