5 Stars: Perfection
4 Stars: Almost perfect, but not quite. A great piece of gear.
3 Stars: Got the job done, but might consider replacing next time around
2 Stars: Serious issues, but functional
1 Star: Not functional
0 Stars: Why would I have this in my pack?
Used for: Entire trip
2 person Tarp (with batwing): 20 oz, $75 (for kit), $22 for batwing (kit)
2 person Net-tent (urethane-nylon floor): 18.5 oz, $70 (for kit)
Tyvek groundcloth: 6 oz $11
Aluminum Stakes (10): 5 oz $12
The Ray-Way Tarp is an A-frame sil-nylon tarp with beaks and side lifters. It is available only as a kit that you must sew yourself. (You can find more info about it on Ray Jardine’s website HERE.)
Before the PCT, neither I nor Dirtnap had ever tarp-ed. I liked the idea of DIY gear, and Ray managed to totally convince me in his book Trail Life that a tarp was the way to go. I decided to go all in and ordered the kits for tarp, net-tent, batwing, and stowbags. At this point in my preparations I was still planning on hiking the PCT solo, so I ordered the 1-person spit-fire net-tent and sewed the tarp for 1-person size.
Sewing the kits:
The tarp took me around 40 hours to complete, the same with the net-tent. Maybe another ten hours for bat-wing and stowbags. Although I have a reasonable amount of sewing experience, I had never sewed with these type of materials before, and found the slippery sil-nylon to be a new challenge. A lot of the time that it took me to sew the kits was just the perfectionist/engineering/slightly-OCD side of myself exhibiting itself. That said, I was very pleased with how everything came out. Right about the time that I finally finished the sewing, Dirtnap decided that he was going to come along this summer after all. “Well,” I said. “You get to sew the next one!”
Dirtnap had no sewing experience whatsoever, but he was a good sport and got to work on the second set of kits. I gave him a sewing machine tutorial and set him loose. I would get periodic texts (“So, if the sewing machine starts making this chk-chk-chk noise…”) and an occasional consultation, but otherwise left him to it. It came out great. It also took him around 40 hours. We slept under Big Blue aka The Palace aka The Spaceship for our entire trip. The plan was for him to sew the net-tent as well, but we started running out of time. My mom came to visit, and we sat down and sewed the batwing, 2-person net-tent, and stow-bags in a single, very long day. The only change I made to the kits was to replace the black guylines that came with the kit with orange guyline with reflective glowire. (I still tripped on them all the time, but less so.)
Using the tarp:
It was great, at least once we got the hang of it. Learning how to properly set up and tension the tarp during the height of the Santa Ana winds (and a couple 80mph wind advisories) made for a steep learning curve. There were some nights in the beginning with nighttime adjustments and re-staking, but no collapses. We eventually honed our skills and tarp-setting became a smooth routine instead of an argument over whose side wasn’t tensioned properly. About 1000 miles into our trip I looked at Dirtnap and said, “you know what? I think we finally got the hang of this thing.”
Once we got past the Santa Ana winds of Southern California, we had great weather almost until the end. The thunderstorms that hit around Lake Tahoe were no match for the tarp. When we finally had a stretch of bad weather in Washington (four days straight of rain) the tarp proved its true worth. I don’t know about snow, but I’ll never go back to tent-camping for three-season weather ever again. Its spaciousness, light weight, and flexibility simply don’t compare. The net-tent was a sanity-saver in the Sierras and through Northern California, but it was great to have the option of sending it home in Washington when it wasn’t needed.
Light weight. Incredibly spacious. Flexibility in pitching. Modular, so you can leave the net-tent at home when it’s not needed. Easy to do a 30-second quick-pitch for some shelter if you want to eat your lunch out of the rain. Good ventilation – helps mitigate condensation and the side effects of eating too many rehydrated beans. Durable. One of the least expensive shelters on the market.
I never stopped tripping on the guylines when I had to get up and pee in the middle of the night. Not as easy as pitching a tent at first. More room for user error.
Ray-Way Sleeping Quilt
Used for: Entire trip
The Ray-Way sleeping quilt has synthetic insulation, a foot-box, a draft-stopper, and contouring around head and neck. It is also DIY kit sold on Ray Jardine’s website.
Sewing the kit:
Sewing the quilt took maybe 25 hours to complete. I ordered the two-color option, then had the terrible, terrible idea to put a diagonal stripe across it to fancy it up. Not only that, I decided to make it diagonal, which meant that it cut across the bias. Dealing with the issues from this easily doubled the amount of sewing time for the quilt. I mean, it looks awesome, but if I were to do it again, I would do a vertical stripe lengthwise down the quilt. Or maybe forget the stripe altogether.
Coupled with extra clothing layers, I managed to stay warm every single night I was on the PCT. It turned out to be very durable, working as well in Washington as in Southern California. It’s jazzy purple stripe across the bright blue body of it brought me joy every night. I love my quilt.
I had always used a regular mummy bag before the PCT, but found that I really liked having a quilt instead. I like to toss and turn and I sleep on my front or my side, but rarely my back, and with a quilt this was actually comfortable. I cut the quilt long enough to pull it entirely over my head, and on cold nights I loved being able to shut out the cold night air entirely without feeling claustrophobic. It also has the best design of any quilt I saw on the PCT. The draft-stopper that was built into the pattern made a huge difference in the comfort and functionality.
Ray Jardine also has a stow-bag designed for the quilt, which I ordered and sewed. However, it is designed to not compress the bag – in other words, it was huge. I ended up sewing a smaller one which I used for about 400 miles until it started to give out at the seams, then bought an Outdoor Research compression bag, which worked out great. I prefer being able to compress my quilt when I want to. The original stow-bag made a perfect food bag.
Comfortable and warm. Customized to my preferences. Resistant to damp. Very inexpensive as compared to similar quality sleeping bags/quilts.
On the heavier side (as compared to the top of the line down bags/quilts). Somewhat bulky. These are both due to it being a synthetic sleeping bag. A down bag would have been lighter and packed smaller, but more affected by damp conditions.
This model of NeoAir appears to be some sort of beta-version of the NeoAir trekker. It was the cheapest NeoAir that I was able to find online at the time. Dirtnap ended up buying the NeoAir trekker, and they are almost the same… but not quite. The NeoAir EXP is a few ounces heavier and very slightly shorter and narrower. It also comes in the reflective silver coating that is usually only found on the NeoAir XTherm. According to the internet, it also has a slightly lower R-value. The internal baffling is different from the NeoAir trekker – my EXP was slightly harder to inflate and deflate. All-in-all, they are still nearly identical.
I was a bit worried about using an inflatable mattress for a thru-hike, but it performed very well. In 157 days of use I had only one slow-leak that patched easily. (Dirtnap had no leaks with his Trekker.) It kept me warm and comfortable all summer. I’ve never had a good night’s sleep on a foam pad, but 2 inches of air between me and the ground did the trick. I could have saved 7 ounces by switching to a NeoAir ultralight, but it would have set me back another $70.
One thing I didn’t know I was going to like about my pad was that it was rectangular. I sewed bathtub corners onto my Tyvek groundcloth, and when I placed my pad in it along with Dirtnap’s NeoAir Trekker (also rectangular) they fit snugly, like a raft. Although we chose to use separate sleeping bags (unless you are Ray Jardine, you probably want your own bag too), this made it so that we could snuggle up next to each other on the cold nights. No gaps!
Gossamer Gear Mariposa G4 (miles 0-440)
ULA Ohm 2.0 (miles 440-2150)
Gossamer Gear Mariposa G5 (miles 2150-2660)
Three packs! For full disclosure, I bought the G4 Mariposa and the ULA Ohm 2.0 myself, but I was given the G5 Mariposa for testing/review.
The Mariposa G4 is a lightweight, 70L pack, rated to carry up to 35lbs. It has a main compartment, 3 side pockets, 1 large front mesh pocket, and with two small pockets on the optional hipbelt. The S-shaped aluminum stay is also removable. The back padding is a foam egg-crate sort of pad that is held in place by stretchy mesh panels, and can be swapped out for a full-length foam pad folded or cut to size. The shoulder straps are minimally padded but extra wide.
This pack was ok. Obviously it wasn’t ok enough, because I purchased a new one after using it for a couple hundred miles. It had a lot of great features, but my dissatisfaction came down to two things: first, the pack was not supportive. The internal structure of the pack failed at transferring the weight from my shoulders to my hips, so I really felt the weight I was carrying. The second failing was that the shoulder straps were uncomfortable. If it had been either one thing or the other, I probably would have carried the pack to Canada, but it was a double-whammy.
The problem with the shoulder straps was mostly that they were designed for someone with a body type that is the exact opposite of mine – that is, someone with large, wide, burly shoulders. I have very narrow shoulders. The extra width of the straps, to compensate for the thin padding, meant that the straps extended all the way out over my shoulders, actually obstructing my arms’ range of motion and chafing as well.
And as for the pack – it just sagged. Everyone I saw carrying it had a saggy pack too. In my very unscientific survey of fellow thru-hikers, there were six of us who changed packs by the halfway point on the trail, and only one who carried it all the way to Canada. Almost all of us had also chosen to use some other pad for the back than the default egg-crate sit-pad. I bought the ¼” full-length foam pad, which I folded to size. When folded up it was approximately the same size as the sit pad, same thickness, etc., but it wasn’t as stiff. I sort of wonder if having a pad that was less rigid contributed to the sagginess.
Great pockets! Definitely the best pockets of any pack I’ve seen. I love having the full-length side pocket on one side and then two half-size pockets on the other. The front mesh pocket makes it easy to keep gear accessible, and I like the top closure of the pack too. I liked having a sit pad included as part of the pack. Little luxuries go a long ways on the trail. It’s a really roomy pack, and very light-weight.
Unsupportive. Saggy. The hipbelt pockets were just a little too small, and one of the zippers on them broke after just a few hundred miles. I got a small hole in the bottom of the pack on the first day on the PCT. The shoulder straps were terrible for my body type.
The ULA Ohm 2.0 is a lightweight, 63L pack, rated to carry up to 30lbs. It has a main compartment, 2 side pockets, and stretch mesh front pocket. It has a built-in carbon fiber stay and a very thin foam pad on the inside of the pack. A noteworthy feature is how compressible this pack is – it has corset-like cording on both sides of the pack that make it possible to cinch down your pack no matter how much or how little you have in there.
I really liked this pack, but it had a bit of a learning curve. I got this pack to replace my Mariposa G4, so the first things I noticed about this pack was that it seemed a lot smaller. According to the manufacturing specs, it is a difference of only 7L (63L vs 70L), but I had to make some major changes in how I packed. This pack was also less forgiving of how you packed it. Because the foam pad for the back is so thin, it is absolutely critical to pack this backpack correctly, using your own soft gear items to create the cushion you need. When I started carrying a bear canister in the Sierras, I packed it badly for four days, and the bruising/wounding of my hipbones from those four days lasted for several weeks. If I had experimented with different packing styles more on my first day I would have saved myself a lot of pain.
Once I learned how to pack this thing, I really loved it. I liked to create a soft, firm base across the bottom of the pack to help it ride correctly and comfortably at the base of my spine. I did this by squeezing in my sleeping quilt, sleeping pad, and the tarp. I slid my bear canister (the black Garcia canister) upright onto the base, then used my clothes to fill in the gaps around it and create a soft cushion for my back. Miscellaneous items slid in around the front of the bear canister or on top. (I carried a water bottle in one of the side pockets, then tied my 2L platypus to the outside of my pack on the other side, instead of putting it inside my pack. This made refilling my platypus 300% easier, made it easy to check how much water was left in there, and eliminated fears about leaks inside my pack.)
I liked how the pack carried, I felt that it distributed the weight nicely onto my hips. The hipbelt was more comfortable than the Mariposa G4 too. I also liked the taller, narrower profile of the pack, which I felt fit my body type a lot better – I have a longish torso with very narrow shoulders.
I did feel that I was pushing the weight limits a bit – ULA recommends a <12lb base weight, and I was clocking in around 18lb when I had to carry a bear canister. If I wanted to use this pack for another thru-hike I would probably work to shave a couple pounds off my base-weight, and I’d switch to a down quilt for the extra space in the pack.
The only real flaw in the pack was the mesh material that made the front pocket. It was getting pretty shredded by the time I got to Washington. I wish it was made out of the stronger mesh that ULA uses for the front pockets on the Catalyst and Circuit.
Carried well, compressible, slim profile.
Front mesh pocket is sort of delicate, pack is prone to user error.
The Mariposa G5 is a revamp of the G4. The basic pack design is exactly the same. The hipbelt and shoulder harness are completely different – the shoulder harness has much thicker padding, narrower straps, and a narrower cut to the straps. The hipbelt has much thicker padding and bigger pockets. The aluminum stay is exactly the same. The G5 pack uses the same egg-crate foam with stretchy mesh panels holding it in place for the back panel as the G4 did. All the materials of the pack have been changed, with the G5 sewed out of a new, custom-designed nylon instead of the grid-stop dyneema of the G4. Also of note – the new material is an attractive silver. Combined with silver mesh for the front pocket and royal blue accents, it’s a sharp-looking pack.
This was also a really good pack. Switching back to this pack after the ULA Ohm 2.0 felt like switching from a race-car to a Cadillac. After learning how to make the most out of every inch of space in the Ohm, the G5 felt huge! (The Mariposa G5 is the same size as the G4.) The padding of the straps felt down-right sumptuous. I’m not sure what exactly they did to the internal structure of the pack, but unlike the G4, the new model transferred weight beautifully to my hips and carried very smoothly. I really liked having the double layer of padding at the base of my spine with the padded hipbelt behind the foam sit-pad. I also enjoyed having my sit-pad back. (The ground was very cold (and often wet) in Washington.) Even better than the sit-pad though, on the Mariposa I get to have an entire side pocket dedicated to my poop kit (trowel, TP, bag with used TP, and hand sanitizer). It felt so much more sanitary to have that segregated from the rest of my gear while still being super accessible.
One concern that I do have about the pack is durability. In just five hundred miles I managed to put two tears in one of my side pockets. I had absolutely no problem with abrasion, but the material seems prone to slicing, especially when it is pulled very tight. The side pocket with the tears is the same pocket that I keep my mug and water bottle in, so the material is very taut. The pack has two different weights of material used in it, with a heavier weight used for the bottom of the pack. I wish they had used that for the side pockets as well, it would have been worth the extra ounce. However, because they were clean slices, both tears mended easily with a piece of tenacious tape.
My other issue with the pack is that it has zero compressibility. This pack was actually more comfortable with a full food bag because it rode better. This seems like it could be easily solved by moving the buckles for the top closure farther down on the pack. I did experiment with using some extra cord in the built in loops on the pack to compress it better, but never worked out anything great. Not compressing my sleeping quilt, just packing it into the bottom of the bag, helps as well.
Still best pockets around. Very comfortable and easy to pack. Roomy, with space for your 7-day food supply. A great ultra-light pack for a lightweight (12-20lb base weight) hiker, especially if you have bulkier gear. I like the sit-pad. Great padding for shoulders, back, and hips.
The material is a little delicate. Doesn’t carry as well with smaller-volume loads. The large size makes it tempting to overpack.
G4 vs G5
My experience with the G5 was a 180 from my experience from the G4. When I got home I took both the packs out to try and figure out why. The improvements seemed like more than just improved straps and a thicker hipbelt (plus using the default egg-crate pad with the G5). Was the improvement all due to the new pack design, or was I perhaps just packing it much better this time around?
A close inspection showed that the aluminum stays were exactly the same. The hipbelt, although changed, had the exact same method of attachment to the pack. The straps were changed, but attached the same way and at the same place on the back. The only difference I could find (that seemed like it would have an impact) was the sleeves for the aluminum stay. In the G4 the two prongs of the stay slide into sleeves that widen outwards from the top to the bottom of the pack. In the G5 the stay sleeves are parallel, like the stay itself.
In conclusion, in recommending the Mariposa G5 as a great option for a long-distance hike, I’d like to add that the way you pack your gear and your choice of foam pad (I recommend the default egg-crate sit-pad) may have a significant impact on the pack performance. (I’m going to experiment with my old G4 on some future backpacking trips, I’ll come back and report.)