Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Of barefoot shoes and suffocation hazards

I’m a very reluctant shopper but had to bite the bullet and get some new camping gear. I’m also a reluctant reader of gear reviews and have never written one before. But I imagine you, gentle readers, to be an outdoorsy crowd, and so I’m biting yet another bullet by sharing how the new barefoot shoes, bug bivy, tarp and tent performed.

Barefoot shoes – already the name is an oxymoron. They are basically very lightweight and flexible sneakers without the raised heel “normal” shoes and boots have, the idea being that the human body evolved to walk without shoes and certainly without the need for stiff soles and the constant wedge of a raised heel underneath our feet.
I’ve been wearing homemade moccasins for the last two summers and figured barefoot shoes in all their plastic glory would be great to switch to when the going gets wet, because my moosehide moccasins turn into amorphous leather bags in rain and on wet ground. I found Vivobarefoot’s hideously coloured Trailfreak on sale and from all the hype out there about how barefoot shoes enable your feet to actually feel the ground you’re walking on, figured they’d be quite similar to my moccasins.
But when I put the Trailfreak shoes on, my first (and lasting) impression was: “Huh. Feels like plain old shoes.” Lightweight and flexible shoes, to be sure, but definitely shoes. My moccasins, on the other hand, feel like I’m wearing socks and actually do let me feel the ground, including the temperature.
The Trailfreak’s sole is pretty slippery on wet rocks and roots – not good at all. On the upside, they don’t turn into loose baggies like my moccasins when wet and dry out fairly quickly, so in that regard they serve their purpose. But if anyone out there wants shoes with a true barefoot feeling, sew yourself a pair of moccasins – it’s quite easy to do.

Bug bivy. I got the Outdoor Research bug bivy for short excursions or trips where paring down pack weight is important, and I love it! Summers are bug-filled in the north and because the sun only dips below the horizon for a couple of hours here, tents can get very hot. Sleeping in the bug bivy felt totally different than sleeping in a tent. You get the whole outside experience of looking at the sky, feeling the breeze and enjoying the summer smells without being sucked dry by mosquitoes.
It weighs only 454g (16 oz) and can be used without a groundsheet. The only thing I’m not too crazy about is that you have to worm your way into it from the head end. A zipper along the side would make getting in and out much easier.
The warning label seems a bit of a joke:

Now who would defeat the whole purpose of a bug bivy by leaving the zipper open and letting the bugs in? I’m happy to report that I didn’t suffocate and can’t imagine how one would go about it in there either.
Tarp. The colour of MEC’s silicone Scout Tarp (see bug bivy picture above) is super ugly, but that is the only drawback I have found. The 2.9m x 2.1m size (roughly 9’x6’3”) makes for a fine one person shelter and it weighs in at 515g (17 oz?). Apart from reinforced tie-out grommets along the edges there’s a reinforced centre patch with a loop, so you can suspend it or prop a stick or paddle up under the middle. The silicone-coated fabric allows lots of light to seep through so you’re not sitting in the dark.
And last, but not least – the tent. Sigh.
I love my ancient Moss Outlander tent fiercely. I’ve babied the increasingly stretchy tent fly and failing zippers for as long as I possibly could, but this summer had to face the unsavoury fact that I needed a new tent. Alas, Moss is a long defunct company that made incredibly high quality, beautiful tents, so I had to look at other options and after much humming and hawing decided on MSR’s Nook.

I wanted a glorified one person tent that can accommodate two if necessary, and I wanted something lightweight of good quality. The Nook’s material, as that of most new MSR tents, is whisperthin and light, and its size is exactly what I wanted.
What I found somewhat shocking and can’t understand: the rain fly is about 3” too short at the end. The inner tent sticks out below it, will get wet in rain and develop condensation there because the foot end is only single-walled thanks to the short rain fly. It’s a mystery to me why MSR skimped on the length of the rain fly and also why the tent reviews don’t mention this. Coverage is fine everywhere else on the tent. I was torn between returning the thing, but there’s not really another model out there I could sufficiently warm up to, so I grudgingly decided to extend the fly myself – a sad state of affairs when you have to modify a $450.- tent from a renowned company.
The Nook was put through its paces this summer with very strong wind gusts, heat and rain. With every guy line employed it can weather the wind, though it still shudders and complains – but unlike my beloved Moss, this is not a 4-season or mountaineering tent, so that’s to be expected. I really like the two vents on the rain fly, they greatly help with ventilation. While the light grey fly and canopy colour aren’t up my alley, they do make for a bright tent interior.
The Nook weighs in at 1.46 kg (3lbs 4 oz). If it wasn’t for the too short rain fly, I’d call it a decent tent.
Since I’m pretty underwhelmed with the MSR Nook and have acquired a sewing machine, I’ve decided to try sewing a new rain fly for my Moss Outlander. I primarily got the sewing machine to make fleece pants, an article of clothing we wear for 7 months of the year and which for some mysterious reason is not available anymore – so why not revamp this old tent?

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