Escalante Trek, May 2011- Gear Reviews

29 May 2011

This post is a continuation of my post from 27 May, which outlined a recent trek down the Escalante River. In this post I will discuss some of the new gear that I tried out on this recent backpack trip. I should state that I am not paid nor sponsored by any of the companies whose products I am writing about. With the exception of Rokit Fuel, I purchased all products reviewed here and was not contacted by any of the companies. Rokit Fuel is a semi- solicited review- I received the products from the company for free for my own trial use.

Golite Malpais Trinity Rain Jacket
My most important piece of new gear on this trip, based on the cool and sometimes wet conditions that I encountered, was the Golite Malpais Trinity Jacket. In packing I hoped for warm weather, but was prepared for anything- and that is where this jacket comes in. Normally I carry only a silcloth poncho which serves as my rain gear, pack cover, and shelter. I also carry a Golite Wisp wind shirt to add a little more protection if it’s windy. On this trip, based on the potential for cool and wet weather, the amount of time I would be out, and the distance involved, I switched the Wisp out for the Malpais. I pulled the jacket out on about day 3 and I barely took it off until I got back to the trailhead. I even slept in it on one particularly cool night.

Golite Malpais jacket

The Golite Malpais Liteshell jacket.

I make every attempt to travel as light as possible and in doing so I haven’t carried rain gear in many years. But this jacket has changed my way of thinking, and I’ll keep it in my pack. The Malpais jacket weighs only 7 ounces, about 3 ounces more than the Wisp shirt. The jacket is made of Golite’s ultralight 3-layer Trinity material, a waterproof, breathable fabric and is the lightest that Golite makes. Besides the Trinity fabric, to get to such a light weight they did away with pit zips, most of the cordlocks, hood stowage, and made the interior pockets out of a super thin mesh material. After days in the jacket, and hour upon hour of rain on one occasion, I was comfortable and dry underneath. Without question, if you are looking for a lightweight rain jacket that will really protect from the elements, this is it.

OTB DesertLite Boots
Next on my list of impressive new gear is the OTB (Over The Beach) DesertLite boot. I needed strong, comfortable footgear for this trek that would perform well on land and not fall apart being wet for 4 or 5 days straight. These boots were designed by U.S. Navy SEALS and are engineered and manufactured by New Balance. Those two facts made me take a closer look at the boots.

The OTB line has in it two 8 inch boots that I looked at- the DesertLite boot and the JungleLite boot. The boots are exactly the same in every respect, except in color and leather finish. The DesertLite boot is available in a tan upper with suede tan leather finish, the JungleLite boot comes in olive drab or black upper with polished black leather. I chose the DesertLite simply because the color fits in better in my area of operation.

OTB DesertLite boots. Photo by Gerrald Trainor.

OTB DesertLite boots.

The boots feature mesh ventilation holes on the instep and the outside of the boot, 3 on a side. These holes function as drain holes when working in a wet environment. The uppers are mesh and drain extremely well and quickly when stepping out of water. I was concerned that the drain holes might let sand in, either in the water or when walking on dry land. I did find that a small amount of fine silt did make its way into the boot, but the amount was negligible. I was also concerned about drying. But each morning when I put the boots back on they were comfortably dry, enough so that if I were on dry land for the day, my feet wouldn’t feel wet. I did set the boots out in the sun on a slab of sandstone one afternoon to see how long they took to dry completely. In about two hours they were dry to the touch, inside and out.

I wore these boots for 8 straight days, they were wet for 6 of those days, and I traveled just over 100 miles in them. The only visible wear in that time is on the “reinforced climbing rubber” on the inside of the toes. A small piece tore off on the upper corner of both boots- I did do a large amount of scrambling up and down and over sandstone boulders and rocks. Other than that, it is hard to tell that I just put a very tough 100 miles on the boots.

As far as I know there are no other boots or shoes out there that are anywhere near comparable to the OTB DesertLite boot. I have tried other “water shoes” (see the reviews from the first part of the Escalante Trek) and found them woefully inadequate- fine for frisbee in the park, but nothing beyond that. The OTB DesertLite boot gets the job done.

Rokit Fuel Endurance Foods
I am constantly refining, amending, and otherwise changing my packing lists, the gear that I carry, and the foods that I carry and eat while in the bush. I make most of my own meals by the way- see our Backpack Foods pages for more on that. I was recently emailed by a representative of Rokit Fuel, a local, Utah company, and asked if I would try their products. As I am always happy to try any new outdoor product on the market, I heartily agreed.

Crystal from Rokit Fuel supplied me with three of their products in various flavors- Stud Muffin and Cherry Almond Cereal Cups, two prototype Energy Bars (not yet on the market- but coming soon as Booster Bars according to the Rokit Fuel website), and four flavors of their Cereal Pouches. I can summarise my experience with all of them in one word- delicious!

Okay, so good taste is obviously important, but what about the energy part of the foods? I have to admit that it is really hard for me to tell sometimes how an energy bar, or endurance food in this case, actually affects me. I can say that I specifically tried the products at a time when I needed a boost, on longer parts of the walk, and in between meals. Based on this I can say without a doubt that I got the boost that I needed. The highlight of all the products is the fact that they are made with whole foods- grains, nuts, seeds, and fruits- and that these foods in minimally processed form are better for you and are digested and absorbed faster by your body then processed foods. The products range in calorie content from about 250 calories for the Cereal Pouches to about 350 calories for the Cereal Cups. There are plenty of carbs, protein, fiber, and other good things you need when out there pushing yourself. See the Rokit Fuel website for a complete nutritional breakdown of all their products.

On to the products- the Cereal Pouch comes in a small bag and requires water. This could be an obvious problem if you are in a race or on your bike for example, but for backpacking it becomes a non-issue. In fact it only took seconds for me to tear the pouch open, squeeze water into it from my Camelbak tube, mix it up and enjoy it. I was concerned about how it might mix up, how long it might take. But again, it wasn’t an issue. Once the water was in it took a few seconds of massaging the pouch until all the ingredients were saturated. And the outcome- imagine a quick few bites of tasty granola cereal in milk right on the trail. Or maybe a liquid granola bar. Either way, it tasted great and I was on my way in a couple of minutes. My favorites were the pumpkin chocolate and the stud muffin.

The Cereal Cups come in some of the same flavors as the Cereal Pouches. If you are using those oatmeal breakfast packets from the grocery store shelf, the ones that require 3 or 4 to fill you up, and end up being a gooey mess, you should look into the Cereal Cups. I dumped mine into pint Ziplock bags. In the morning I poured enough hot water into the bag to moisten the contents, closed it up for a few minutes, and my breakfast was ready. Each cup makes a decent sized, filling, and not-too-sweet trail breakfast. Give the cherry almond a try.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Rokit Fuel Cereal Cup dumped into Ziplock bag for backpack breakfasts.

Finally, the Booster Bars were a welcome change of pace to my usual peanut butter Clif Bars, not that I will shun them forever. But change is good. The Booster Bars will come in four configurations- two chocolate covered and two without. I try to stick with bars that are not chocolate covered; the desert heat and chocolate in foil always ends up as a mess. But excluding this fact, the chocolate covered bars will please your taste buds and give you the energy to keep moving.

Unfortunately at this time these products are only available at a few outlets and online. But once you give them a try you probably won’t have an issue ordering a big box of them online. And I’ll bet we will see them in stores in the near future.

Part Three
Check back in a few days for part three of  my Escalante Trek post. I’m still planning to touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, discuss a bit of the flora, and relate my methods of getting in some tracking practice while hiking. I’ll also go over LNT, or Leave No Trace principles while backpacking. For more on ultralight desert backpacking and associated gear, backpack foods and making your own meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Escalante Trek, May 2011- Moody Canyon to Coyote Gulch and Back

27 May 2011

Wind, clouds, rain showers, and cool weather- this summarises the eight days I took to “finish” my trek of the Escalante River. I know it is still spring, but I had hoped for more summer-like weather. I began on the 12th of May at the Moody Canyon trailhead, about 20 miles down the Wolverine Loop road from the Burr Trail. The road to the trailhead is well maintained, and if dry it is not really a problem for almost any vehicle, although a high clearance, 4WD is recommended in case bad weather does move in. From the trailhead I walked for 8 days to complete a loop back to my start point. Along the way I saw a few rock art panels, endless geologic marvels, was serenaded by flycatches and towhees, and had an overall terrific experience alone in the bush.

Swimming the Escalante
My first day took me down to the river. On day two I walked up river to 25 Mile Wash and back to “connect” this walk to my 2009 walk from the Highway 12 bridge down to and out 25 Mile Wash. After that the walk really got interesting. The weather grew cooler, wind blew, rain fell, and the river got rougher with every kilometer I walked down it. River crossings- there were at least 25 each day- were deeper, swifter, and colder as I got further down river. I had to swim on a number of occasions, floating my pack alongside me. A note on crossing rivers- as a safety measure when crossing swifter water always unclip your breast strap and waist belt and at least loosen your pack straps, or remove one arm entirely. If you should happen to lose your balance and fall in the current it is far better to swim out of it without a backpack strapped to you, which can become quite dangerous in some circumstances. By the last day of walking down the river the flow had peaked, and as I got closer to the mouth of Coyote Gulch, within a few kilometers, it began to calm and become shallow. This was mainly due to the height of the water in the reservoir below.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch looking up river, photo by Gerald Trainor.

View of the Escalante River below Scorpion Gulch, looking up river. Note the boulders and tight margins along the water that must be negotiated. It gets tougher the further down river you get.

Floating the Escalante
Coyote Gulch is about where the Escalante starts backing up and the flat water below begins, although this year water was still flowing on past Coyote Gulch. I met a few groups of boaters along the way. All were in inflatables and two of the groups were taking the smart way out, floating all the way down and meeting a boat to shuttle them back to Bullfrog. I am told this will cost about 350 dollars or so per shuttle boat. Even if you go solo, you can try to link up with another group and split the cost of the shuttle boat out. The other option is to haul all your gear up and out Coyote Gulch, something not very fun with just a backpack, let alone a boat and river gear. Currently there is only one portage on the lower part of the river, a large boulder jam that has been there for years. Depending on the flows, there may be more than this one. The river was flowing around 100 CFS during my trip according to the USGS website, but apparently that number doubles once you reach Boulder Creek. Current river flows can be found at the USGS website.

The Loop
To finish out the trip I walked up Coyote Gulch to Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch, across the mesa to the head of Scorpion Gulch, back down to the river, up river to East Moody Canyon, and out from there. It all sounds fairly easy, but don’t be fooled. It was a long one, just over 100 miles, and although the bushwhacking wasn’t too bad as compared to conditions on the upper part of the river, the river crossings and negotiating the river banks more than made up for that. Navigation was not much of an issue- follow the water down to Coyote Gulch, walk up, cross the mesa, and so on. Of course there is more to the walk than this, but for the sake of rambling and spoiling the adventure for anyone else who might choose to do it, I will stop the narrative here.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

A pool of fresh, clean water about mid-way down Scorpion Gulch.

Trip Summary
It goes without saying- but I am going to say it- that you should be prepared for this hike. Carry the gear that you will need, don’t overpack, and be in shape. There was really nothing too technical anywhere along the 100 miles of the loop other than a bit of bouldering and crawling though a few cracks here and there along the river. There was no climbing or rappelling, no need for technical gear unless you explore further up some of the side canyons such as Fools Canyon. You can walk up Fools a couple of kilometers before you reach a pouroff that requires rope and harness to get around it. From there it’s anyone’s guess.

In my experience, May is a good time to do this walk, with the chance for cool weather and lower river flows.  Average river flows are around 10 CFS for May- but they could be at 200, 300, 400 CFS or higher. Temperatures should be around 75 or 80 with a sunny sky- they could be 35 or 40 with clouds and rain. Bugs were not an issue, but they certainly could be, especially if you visit later in the summer. A point of note- do keep your eyes open for poison ivy. It is all along the river, and up and down many of the side canyons, especially the lower sections of Fools Canyon and Scorpion Gulch.

Water was not an issue anywhere and excluding the river entirely, there was plenty of water in every canyon, just around every corner at this time of year. I didn’t have to filter any of it, I just filled my bottles and treated the water with the MSR MIOX purifier pen. You can read more about the MIOX at the Desert Explorer website. This fact helped to keep my pack weight down. For the most part I didn’t carry any more than a few liters of water on my back at any given time. Again, the water situation could change dramatically from year to year, and as it gets later in the summer. For more on ultralight desert backpacking, backpack foods and meals, water, and desert adventures, visit the Desert Explorer website.

Part Two
Check back in a few days for part two of this post, where I will review the new gear that I tried out on this trek including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB DesertLite Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods. You can also read our gear reviews from the first part of the trek– we tried out Sea To Summit pack liners, the Sealine HP  map case, and a Drypack case for the digital camera. I’ll also touch on the geology and rock art that you might see while walking down the river, as well as a little about the flora and fauna.

A Quick Post From Moab

23 May 2011

I am in Moab today, heading in the direction of home. I’ve spent nearly the last two weeks in the Escalante, down Moody Canyon to the Escalante River and points south and west of there. The backpack, although windy, cold, and rainy at times, was a complete success. I ended up walking a comfortable 100 miles in 8 days time. I will outline the details in a series of posts once I get back home in a few days. There is a lot to cover and it will take two or three posts to do it. Besides discussing the walk itself, I plan to review a few new pieces of equipment including the Golite Trinity Malpais jacket, OTB Desert Boots, and Rokit Fuel endurance foods that I tried out, and discuss some issues I had in the area once again (involving Leave No Trace policies).

A few quick points of note from Moab this afternoon:

  • On the way through Hanksville yesterday the Dirty Devil River from the bridge looked about as high as I have seen it. Lots of water flowing in Southern Utah right now. I am thinking about getting home as fast as I can and arranging a float trip right away.
  • While driving through Green River this morning I saw that the Green is very high as well, extremely high in fact. There are sand bags piled at the river’s edge at the hotel across from the J.W. Powell River History Museum. I drove down to Crystal Geyser and the water there is up to the geyser’s lower ledges of mineral deposits. Time to float the Green if you can get away to do it!
  • Here in Moab the new recreation center is open. I stopped in this morning and had a look. If it weren’t overcast, rainy, and breezy I would consider going for a swim. The place is truly a gem. Stop in and take a look next time you are in town.
  • Finally, Horsethief Road down to Mineral Bottom is open. Apparently it has been open since late March. Talk is that the drive down is much nicer than it used to be. Now the bad news- the river is currently so high that you might not be able to drive over to Mineral Bottom. I am told the water is up to and covering the road in places. Be sure to check in with the Park Service before finalising any upcoming trips.

That is it from Moab this afternoon. I am off to look at some rock art now. Check back in the next week or so for the first of my post-Escalante Trek posts.

Until then visit the Desert Explorer website for more information on the region.

The SPOT Messenger and Personal Locator Beacons

10 November 2009

Until recently I had never heard of the SPOT. I was familiar with the Personal Locator Beacon, or PLB, but  I had never considered using one.  As we sat around the campfire during a recent North Wash canyoneering trip, people talked of their experience with SPOT- how well it messaged, how they used it for pickup at the end of their treks, how it kept their families happy knowing they were safe, and how it creates an online GPS coordinate database of the ground they cover.

The SPOT sounded interesting, but I have always been one to leave technology behind when going into the wilderness. I have never carried a cell phone, any type of two-way radio, or even a GPS in the bush. For more on my thoughts on the GPS, see my recent blog post . But after listening to peoples’ experiences with SPOT, after doing research for a blog post on rattlesnakes, and after reading recent news articles regarding the use (and misuse) of SPOT and PLB’s  (see Ramkitten’s collection of articles) I have been thinking more about how I could use the device.

The safety of my five year old has also prompted me to take a closer look at the SPOT and PLB’s. In recent years my son and I have been spending more time together in the Utah desert. Rattlesnakes have always been my greatest concern in the bush, and I seem to meet up with them frequently enough. Now that my son is along with me, that concern has become heightened. If keeping him safe means merely carrying another 6 or 8 ounces in my pack, then that is easily done. There is no question that these devices save lives, and are worth their weight and cost during emergency situations.

SPOT,PLB’s, and Avalanche Beacons


The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger (SPOT 2)- 5.2 ounces without batteries (about 6 ounces with lithium batteries), cost- $149.95 at REI for the device and $100.00 per yer activation fee for basic features.

Being relatively unfamiliar with both SPOT and PLB’s, I began by seeing what REI had to offer.  REI carries a number of PLB’s and both versions of SPOT including the new, SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger,  the ACR SARLink 406 PLB, and the McMurdo Fastfind 210 PLB. Both ACR and McMurdo have a complete line of PLB’s and related survival equipment for all types of outdoor activities.  Do not confuse these devices with avalanche beacons, or transceivers, which are a separate device altogether.  Avalanche beacons transmit a homing signal locally, so that others with a transceiver are able to pinpoint a person’s exact location under the snow.

Common Features

In my research I focused my attention on devices for “land-based” activities- hiking, backpacking, floating rivers, and biking for example- where you might find yourself far from help. The information I provide comes from the spec sheets for the respective devices and phone calls to customer service for each.  Speaking of customer service- I spoke to representatives at SPOT and  ACR  immediately after placing my calls.


The ACR SARLink PLB- 8.9 ounces with battery, cost- $399.95 at REI (no yearly activation fee).

For purposes of presenting SPOT and a PLB, I chose to focus on the ACR SARLink and the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.  Should you use either one to call for help, both devices use GPS satellites to find your location and then transmit those coordinates and a distress call to other satellites, which in turn transmit them to a call center. A distress call using the ACR SARLink goes through the government’s SARSAT system, ultimately ending at their control center in Maryland. When you register your ACR SARLink you are given a unique identification code which allows rescue personnel to know exactly who you are so they can seek additional information about your situation. The ACR SARLink transmits a local 121.5 mhz homing signal (line of site), much like avalanche beacons, to search and rescue personnel in your vicinity. The SARLink also has a built in LED strobe.

Unique SPOT Functions

Activating the SPOT S.O.S. function will send your GPS coordinates and distress call through a commercial satellite to the GEOS Alliance, a private company in Texas. In Tracking Mode the SPOT will retrieve your coordinates every 10 minutes and store them on your SPOT personal web page for 30 days. This page can be shared with friends and family. The coordinates can be exported and saved in Excel or Google Earth formats. The Track function continues for 24 hours after the Track button is depressed. You must reactivate the Track function every 24 hours.

Using the Check-in function you can send your present coordinates and a custom message to up to 10 email addresses or phone numbers as a text message. Using the Custom Message function you can create a different message to be sent to the same or other email addresses or phone numbers.  Finally, you can create a custom “Help” message for up to 10 contacts- this can be used to notify contacts that you are at a resupply or pickup location, for example.

Cost and Activation Fees

There is a difference in the initial cost between the two devices. PLB’s are more expensive across the board than SPOT.  But it is important to look beyond the initial cost of the device.  You will spend 400 dollars on the ACR SARLink. You will spend 150 dollars for the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.

To keep your SPOT active and to use the basic functions- S.O.S., Help, Check-in, and Custom  Message- costs another 100 dollars per year. Additionally you can choose to pay $7.95 for yourself and each family member, per year, which covers up to $100,000 for each individual in search and rescue costs (see the GEOS Alliance website for full details). The Track function costs $49.99 per year, Road Assist can be added for $30.00 per year, and replacement insurance for the unit can be added for $17.95 per year.

There is a one-time activation for the SARLink, and that is included in the initial cost of the device.

Batteries and Battery Life

The ACR SARLink uses a proprietary lithium battery that is costly. A replacement battery for the SARLink will cost around 160 dollars, not including shipping. The battery only needs to be changed every 5-6 years, or after emergency use of the device. The battery change should be done by an authorised service center where they will also verify the seal on the unit, reset the battery use indicator, and perform a number of tests on the unit to insure that it is ready for use. Battery life in emergency mode is rated at about 35 hours.

The SPOT uses 3- AAA lithium batteries, available at your local grocery store for about 7 dollars (the first generation of the device uses 3-AA batteries). The use life of the batteries in the SPOT depends on the operation of the device. In tracking mode you will get about 14 days of use on one set of batteries. If you use the message functions- the Help, Check-in, or Custom Message function, you can send up to 1900 messages on a set of batteries.  So if you use the Tracking function and send a message or two a day, you can probably expect to change the batteries every 10 or 12 days.  The SPOT will send a  message every 5 minutes for 7 days in the S.O.S. function.  All of these time estimates are assuming new batteries.

Waterproofing and GPS Accuracy

Both devices are rated waterproof to 5 meters in depth for 1 hour. You could safely swim with either for extended periods, for example making your way out of rapids or swimming across a river.

There is a difference in GPS accuracy in the devices. The SPOT is accurate to about 6 and 1/2 meters.  The SARLink is accurate to within 100 meters.  The homing feature on the SARLink more than makes up for its being less accurate than the SPOT.


According to the SARSAT/NOAA website, there were 282 rescues in the United States in 2008 initiated through SARSAT. Of these, 68 people were rescued in 35 incidents using the PLB to call for help. No further details were given about the rescues. You can read a few ACR PLB rescue stories at the ACR website.  According to the GEOS Alliance website, 400 people were rescued using the SPOT to call for help in 2008. No details were given regarding the number of incidents involved. You can read about some of the SPOT rescues at the SPOT website.

After researching the SPOT and the ACR SARLink, I cannot say that one is a better choice than the other. If you are looking for peace of mind in the form of 6 or 8 ounces, you have found it in either device.  If your goal is to carry a device to call for help in the event that rescue is needed, the PLB will suit your needs.  If you are interested in communicating your location daily, and tracking your progress in the wilderness, then the SPOT is for you.

Ultimately one of these devices may save your life, but they are not a license to act without caution.  A PLB or SPOT is not a substitute for knowledge, preparedness, or common sense.  Recent unnecessary SPOT distress calls may signal the need for a closer look at who pays for search and rescue costs. Proper use of these devices by everyone will keep us all safe at a reasonable price.

Gear Reviews- Sea to Summit, Sealline, and Dry Pak Bags and Cases, Merrell Water Shoes

7 September 2009

In a recent post I mentioned a few new pieces of gear that Robert and I used on our recent trek along the Escalante River. All the new gear had to do with water- waterproofing and walking in water. This included a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner and Dry Sack, a Dry Pak cell phone case, a Sealline HP map case, and the Merrell Waterpro Maipo water shoes. In this post I will give a quick review of each piece of gear.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil bags- Sea to Summit makes a full line of Ultra-Sil Dry Sacks and Pack Liners, and medium-weight and heavier-weight dry bags with various features including air evacuation material.  The bags are available from REI (Pack Liners are available online only), and at Amazon through the links below where they can currently be found a bit cheaper.

STS_packlinerIn a word the bags we used performed perfectly.  Knowing that my gear was safe and dry was worth the extra 4 1/2  ounces that both bags added to my overall pack weight. I used a 50 liter Ultra-Sil Pack Liner, which stayed in the bottom of my Golite Pinnacle pack and had gear packed into it. The 50 liter, their small size, weighs 2.6 ounces and costs about 35 dollars at Amazon or REI. The small is available in orange only. The medium, at 70 liters,  weighs 3.4 ounces, comes in green and costs about 28 dollars at Amazon (lowest price).

STS_drybagOver top of that I packed a 20 liter Ultra-Sil Dry Sack, their extra-large size, which I used for all of my small gear, maps, daily snacks, and essentials.  The Dry Sack came out of the pack for easy access to gear.  The two bags together were perfect for organising and packed easily.  I was in deep water a number of times with the pack submerged and there was no indication that water got into either one.  Of course this has to do with how you pack them- packing gear snugly inside, removing all the air, and rolling the tops tightly is essential to their function.

The 20 liter bag weighs just 1.8 ounces. It costs about 23 dollars at Amazon or REI, although is cheaper at Amazon if you order the orange color.  These bags are available in sizes from 1 liter up to 35 liters, and range in price from about 11 dollars to 25 dollars at Amazon.

The bags are very thin silcloth material and are light in weight. They were perfect for this type of trek. If you plan to be in water beyond an occasional quick swim across a deep pool, such as while canyoneering, you may want to choose something a little more substantial.

Sealline HP Map Case– If you are looking for a map case, look no further. This map case tops my list as my favorite over the years- and I have carried many.  Most recently I have been using freezer weight, one-gallon Ziplock bags as map cases.  These are a great choice for general hiking, but the Escalante with its possibility of swimming at any moment demanded something more secure.

The Sealline HP Map Case is made of very thin urethane material that is strong enough to survive hanging out of your pocket while bushwhacking along the Escalante. The material is crystal clear, the map inside is easy to read. I hope it stays this way- the previous version of the HP map case yellowed and hardened with exposure to the sun. The new version is a completely different material and I think this is one of the reasons for the re-design.

sealline_caseThe new version, just out this fall, has a roll top with a velcro strip that holds the roll tightly together.  I had the case completely under water many times and only once, after a long wade across deep, fast water, was there the slightest bit of moisture in the outer-most roll when I opened the case later.

The case has two buckles and a strip of web to hang around the neck. I removed the web and ran a piece of 550 cord through one of the loops to secure the case to my belt loop.  The case also has 4 tabs, one in each corner for tying onto the deck of your kayak perhaps, or the pack of the man in front of you. As I would never use them, I cut off the tabs straight away (extra weight).

The case is available at Amazon in two sizes, small and medium, at 25 and 30 dollars respectively.  There is also a large size that I have only seen at  They are not sold at REI yet, but should be in the future. (REI sold the older version of the cases.) The small case weighs 2 ounces, the medium 2.5 ounces, and the large weighs 5 ounces. Inner dimensions are 9.5 inches by 12.25 inches for the small, 13 inches by 15 inches for the medium, and 14 inches by 21 inches for the large.

The small size accepts a USGS 1:24,000 mapsheet with the margins cut off. The mapsheet can be folded in half on both axes and slid right into the case. See the 11 January 2009 blog post for more on how and why I trim maps.

Dry Pak Cell Phone Case– This was my first experience with Dry Pak cases.  I needed something for my point-and-shoot digital camera. The Dry Pak Cell Phone Case was the perfect size.  The case performed as I had hoped, keeping the camera clean and dry, and providing a little bit of padding (designed for flotation). The only drawback is the closure-  it is a bit bulky with hard plastic strips at the top and two button closures. Once twisted to open, the button closures could, if pushed the right way, come out of the plastic strip and be lost. They are secure when new, but may be something to keep an eye on once the case is well used. I was worried that the bulk of the closure strips might be awkward in my pocket. But I did carry it in my shirt pocket and it was fine, being no thicker than the camera that I put inside it.

drypak_caseDry Pak cases come in many shapes and sizes to fit nearly any piece of electronic equipment.  All appear to use the same closure device. The Cell Phone Case comes with a lanyard and small snaplink, both of which I removed immediately (extra weight).

The small case which I used weighs 2.4 ounces and is 4 by 6 inches in size.  The material and the seam welds seem strong and durable.  I am guessing I will be using it on many other trips.

Merrell Waterpro Maipo Water Shoes– The final piece of new equipment on the trip was the Merrell Maipo water shoe. Both Robert and I used these shoes, and both of us returned them after the trip because of broken straps. We only put about 70 miles or so on the shoes and expected much more out of them. Since returning them, I noticed that they are no longer available at REI.

In my search for water shoes I read a bunch of reviews and concluded that none were very well designed, at least for our purposes. I ended up choosing the Merrells, based on the fact that they were one of the fullest shoes available, they were light weight, and because of my own positive experiences with Merrell products. I own two other pairs of their shoes at present and have never had an issue with these or any of the many other pairs of Merrell shoes I have owned.


Merrell Maipo water shoe

After using the Maipo shoe I can say with certainty that they need more design work.  The small straps wrapping all around the shoe, while they may add some support and a little bling to the shoe, are a very poor idea for many reasons. The straps are only about 1/4 inch in width. These straps wore through, broke in half, in two locations on my shoes, and the cord that the straps wrap around (near the bottom of the shoes) broke on Robert’s shoes.  On both of our shoes the straps and cord were wearing through in other locations.  I ended up tying the broken straps together to restore the support they offered, and to allow the laces to function (the laces run through these small straps at the top of the shoe).

Beyond the strap issue, the shoes were comfortable, as all Merrells are. They drained well; the mesh is large enough that it drains quickly, but also large enough to allow sand into the shoe.  I think this may be the case with any water shoe that has good drainage.

Merrell Ottowa water shoe

Merrell Ottowa water shoe

Merrell makes another water shoe similar to this one, the Ottowa, seen at left.  I have not used this shoe, but it seems to be a better design than the Maipo. On this shoes they only have the problematic strap at the top of the shoe. There is no cord through it to cause friction and wear through- the laces run through a plastic eyelet.

The mesh seems to be the same however, and there is more of it exposed.  You may end up with more sand in these shoes than the Maipos. But I am sure they would hold up better in the end. You can read more about them at And if anyone from Merrell happens to read this review, I would be happy to try out a pair of the Ottowas and write about them. I am heading back to Utah in early October for a canyoneering trip in North Wash and will need a good pair of shoes.

For more information about our walk along the Escalante River, see our 22 August blog post or the Escalante Trip Pages at the Desert Explorer website. For more on the gear we use and ultralight backpacking, visit our Ultralight Pages.

Escalante and Kokopelli Planning- Maps, Food and Noise and Sight Pollution

11 January 2009

As my planning for the coming summer gets underway, I have been busy with making  the meals I will need for my longer trips- the Escalante trek and the Kokopelli ride, as well as for the Green River float.  I am sticking with many of my standard single-bag meals that require some cooking such as chili mac, rice and beans, campagnola, and ramen in various forms- see the Desert Explorer website for more on homemade single-bag meals.  But considering the length of time  I will be out, especially on the Escalante, and the fact that I will be physically carrying much of the food, I am trying hard to control the weight.  At the same time I am trying to make the menu more diverse while keeping the nutritional value high.  One addition I am considering to my food bag is Justin’s Nut Butters. They are sold in boxes of 10 packets, either peanut butter or almond butter.  The packets are just over one ounce each.  While they won’t take the place of a quart of peanut butter and a spoon, they will add variety to the menu, as well as a little but of protein.

Normally I purchase my maps locally.  But the cost adds up quickly, especially when I am buying 10 or 12 maps at a time.  I recently set up an account on the USGS website where 1:24,000 topo maps are six dollars each.  Of course there is a shipping charge, just five dollars, but in the long run it saves time and money ordering them online.  I have the last of the maps that I will need to cover the Escalante trek sitting in my shopping basket.  Once I receive these 9 maps, I will have all I need for the trip, 16 maps in all!

UPDATE: As of 01 March 2009 1:24,000 maps are now 8 dollars each, 1:100,000 maps are 9 dollars each.  All other maps have gone up in price about 2 dollars each as well.

Escalante river

A view of the Escalante river near The Gulch with a wall on one side and thick brush on the other. This makes walking down the river channel the preferred route.

Sixteen maps adds a bit of weight and bulk to the pack.  As a way of cutting at least a couple ounces of that weight, I trim all the mapsheets down.  I cut the north and east sides off all my maps right along the map’s edge.  The west side is trimmed  about 1/8 inch off the map’s edge, so that I can read the coordinates along the side.  I trim the south side off according to the year of the map- different maps have different, often unnecessary marginal information, along the bottom edge.  While this may seem a bit overboard, trimming 16 maps leaves a considerable amount of scrap paper, paper that I am not carrying on my back for two weeks.

Noise and Sight Pollution
I was browsing through information on the Escalante a few days back and happened across a PDF titled Canyons of the Escalante.  It covers all the more common topics- permits, fires, popular hikes and so on.  But on page six, under Minimum-Impact Camping, I was surprised to read the following:

“CAMPING GEAR: Brightly-colored packs and tents shrink the wilderness by being so noticeable. Use drab-colored gear and camp where your tent will not be easily seen.

NOISE: Loud noises, yelling and radio music disturb others who may be enjoying the quiet solitude of the canyons. Please observe quiet hours after dark.”

I will do my best not to rant, but Finally! This topic has been at the top of my list as long as I can remember, probably 30 years at this point. It become further emphasized for me during my time in the military, where noise and light discipline are stressed, not to mention the importance of subdued colors.  At this point nothing bothers me more than bright yellow jackets, red packs, and deafening voices when I am quietly, stealthily sneaking my way down a canyon. But now my complaints about so many of the folks I run into in the wilderness have been listened to. All those comments I have left in so many ammo cans and at so many trailhead registers have finally paid off! The National Park Service has listened.  Although, quiet hours should be observed 24 hours a day when you are in the canyons, but we will work towards that.

On the topic of bright colors, I  recently looked into a jacket made by Merrell called  The Gatherer.  It is essentially a two-layer shell with zippers throughout the whole jacket allowing it to be stuffed with leaves, juniper bark, newspapers or the like- just imagine a down jacket without the down.  Unfortunately, the jacket comes in white only, with bright orange zippers.  I emailed Merrell to ask about the possibility of other colors, and received a terse reply that this is the only color.  I also asked about the weight of the jacket, as I could overlook the color if the weight was low enough- I was assuming it would be around a pound.  The weight was curiously missing from their website and the few reviews that I read about the jacket.  The reason is because it weighs nearly three pounds, thus not qualifying for a place in my ultralight pack.

Dewey Bridge Page Updated
I recently tracked down a photograph of Dewey Bridge from the 1980’s, when it was still the means for crossing the Colorado River along Highway 128.  I have added this and a more recent photo of the bridge to the Dewey Bridge page on the Desert Explorer website.

Fire Making, Desert Explorer Updates

18 February 2008

Fire Making

This weekend I continued my experimentation using Cottonwood bark for a fireboard. I have had great luck with dry bark that I have found at the base of larger, older trees. It also provides the hairy inner bark which can be used to create a “birdsnest” for fire making. The “birdsnest” is the carefully constructed bundle of bark which receives the spark created by friction on the fireboard. I had never read of anyone using Cottonwood bark for a fireboard, but I am sure it has been done. Typically the board is created from a piece of Cottonwood branch. So far I have made at least the last 10 or 12 fires using it.

Cottonwood bark is rather soft, compared to a fireboard made from a Cottonwood branch. A 1/2 inch thick fireboard from bark is good for 2, maybe 3 fires per hole. Using the inner bark for a birdsnest to receive the spark is not as efficient as using Juniper bark. My birdsnest was a handful of bark with the pieces being about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. About a third of the bundle, in the center where I placed the spark and began blowing, was crumbled to dust. All in all it requires more work. In the case of my latest experiment, this amounted to about 5 minutes of blowing and coaxing the bundle of bark into flame. The same can be achieved with Juniper bark in less than a minute. For more information on building fires and primitive fire methods visit theDesert Explorer website.

cottonwood bark fireboard with cottonwood branch drill for bow and drill firemaking kit

The above image shows a fireboard made from a piece of Fremont Cottonwood bark. The drill is from a branch of the same tree. The hole in the fireboard was used to make three fires.

bundles of inner bark from Fremont Cottonwood and Utah Juniper

This image shows bundles of inner bark from Fremont Cottonwood on the left, and Utah Juniper bark on the right. Both are suitable for use as a “birdsnest” for receiving the spark from a bow and drill fireset. The image shows both types of bark without having been prepared for use. The Juniper bark is the easier of the two to ignite.

Desert Explorer Updates

This week I added a Nevada Page to the trip guides. There is very little to it yet, but it has been started. So far I have a listing of places to visit in and around the town of Fallon, in the Lahontan Valley. Fallon is located on Highway 50, south of Highway 80. Some of the listings include directions and particulars on the sites to see. These include the local museum, rock art and archaeological sites, an historic fort and the Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge which offers amazing birding. I will continue working on this page with all the rest.

I have been working on the Backpacking Foods pages. They are coming along, with about 10 recipes so far. These pages seem to be popular, so I will continue adding to them in the near future as well.

I added some explanations and gear links to the Desert Gear pages and the River Gear page.