Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nikon 1 System... eh?

The Nikon 1 System is Nikon's version of the mirrorless cameras that have been so popular these past few years and created a sort of revival for the business.  There are two bodies in the system.  The J1 (smaller, lighter, cheaper), and the V1 which comes with a built-in electronic viewfinder, dust reduction system, better battery life but loses the built-in pop-up flash of the J1.  For outdoor use, an electronic viewfinder is almost mandatory, hence the V1 will be of more interest for adventure and travel use.
Nikon V1 (White).  Image courtesy nikonrumors.com
The system has a total of 4 native lenses:

10mm f/2.8
10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
10-110mm f/3.8-5.6 VR
10-100mm f/4.5-5.6 VR PD-Zoom 

The '1' system has a crop factor of 2.7, which means that a 10mm lens has the 35mm or full-frame equivalent of 27mm, which is a moderately wide angle lens.
White Nikon J1 with assorted white '1' lenses


My take:  I don't have a great depth of knowledge about the '1' System, but it seems pretty expensive for what you get, but then again, the micro four third cameras are all pretty expensive too.  But micro four third sensors is bigger than the Nikon 1, and should theoretically anyway, give them an edge over the Nikon 1.  In this respect, Sony's NEX-7 looks very interesting, as it uses an even bigger sensor, about the same size as APS-C or cropped sensor DSLRs.

The Nikon 1 does have promise though.  I'll need to see a native ultra-wide lens before I'll take another look, as well as better video performance.  For now though, I'll pass.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

More Good Stuff

Someone asked me what equipment to get for a trek in Nepal.  This is a continuation of that original list which you can find here.  By no means are these lists complete.  What you choose to bring with you is as much based on experience as it is on personal comfort. 

Montbell Ultralight Thermawrap Ves
Vests are high underrated and seem to fall in and out of fashion trends.  That's too bad, because they are highly versatile - venting excess heat well if worn as an outer layer, and retaining a lot of warmth if worn under another layer, like the MontBell U.L. Down Parka recommended in the last post.  This particular item uses synthetic insulation, which retains it's loft better in wet or damp conditions than down fill.

I actually use the very similar Victorinox Classic SD which weighs just 20g.  The Wenger is just slightly larger all around and weighs in at 22g, looks cooler and comes with better scissors, but loses the quite useful screwdriver on the tip of the nail file.  They both make good choices.  If you don't find the tweezers and toothpick useful, Victorinox also sells the SilverTech Signature Lite which substitutes a pen and a small LED flashlight for them.  Give a careful thought to what you need and you may find that you don't need a humongous knife or over-endowed multi-tool for trekking or adventure travel. 
Wenger Evogrip 81
13. The North Face Venture Pants
There are all sorts of lightweight solutions to keep you dry in the rain - ponchos, rain kilts/skirts, umbrellas.  They all work.  I like to have the rain pants because when worn over my trekking pants they add another layer of warmth, and they serve as a second pair of pants I can use when I do laundry.  On a few warm but wet trips where I only use shorts, these serve as my only long pants.  Get the 1/2 zip version.  You can still get them on and off over hiking boots.  A fully separating side zip makes putting them on and taking them off a breeze, and is a necessity if you're using crampons, but adds considerable weight and bulk.
The North Face Venture Pant


14. Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Pants
If you've never had puffy pants, you don't know what you're missing.  These won't score high on fashion points, but puffy pants are great for when the mercury drops.  I don't bring them on all my treks, but these are recommended for any high altitude or winter trek in Nepal.  The puffy pants back up my lightweight sleeping bag at night, and in the morning, the full length zip allows me to easily remove them before I start walking.
Montbell U.L. Thermawrap Pant
15. Petzl e+Lite Headlamp
This little light is bright enough for predawn starts up Poon Hill or Thorung La on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal.  It uses two Lithium CR2032 batteries which last a long time, but are hard to find in third world countries.  I usually put in new batteries before a trek, and don't carry spares.  Tip: Dump the case.  The light has a nifty lock so it's hard to accidentally turn on, and it's tough enough to store just about anywhere in your pack.
Petzl e+Lite
16. Plastic Bags
Your backpack is not waterproof, and backpack covers aren't really waterproof either.  You'll need an extra large, industrial strength garbage bag to line your backpack.  Try to get a white one.  It makes the inside brighter and things easier to find.  Load your stuff in, then compress to get the air out, and finally seal the top with a couple of twists.  I usually put my rainwear on the top of the garbage bag to help prevent the garbage bag from twisting open, and also for quick and easy access.  You'll also need a couple of gallon sized ziplock bags to store smaller items for the hood/top pocket of your backpack.

17. Camp Xenon 4
Should you bring a pair of trekking poles on a trek?  If you're not sure, just bring one.  It's not much additional weight and one is plenty useful, and it leaves you a free hand to take photos.  These folding trekking poles claim to be the lightest in the world.  They are not, but come close, and are a lot cheaper.  I would be cautious about going too light, as these can be quite flexible.  If you are big, consider going with the slightly heavier, but more stoutly built Camp Xenon Trek.  These come in two fixed, non-adjustable sizes.   If you've got the correct size, your forearm should be parallel to the ground when holding the trekking pole on level ground.
Camp Xenon 4 Trekking Poles
17.  Comfort Food
You may not get a whole lot of protein in your meals during the trek.  A tub of peanut butter goes great with chapatis or Tibetan bread in the morning, and some jerky or dried meat will top off a bowl of noodles or pizza nicely. 

18. Fisher Stowaway Space Pen
If you've got the Victorinox SilverTech Signature Lite with the pen, then you won't need another pen.  I don't.  Plus I'm not allowed to carry my knife on the plane, so I usually carry a small pen, and the Fisher Stowaway Space Pen is my choice.  It's about as small as a pen can get, and is probably a shade bigger than some refills.  Definitely not something you want to use for extended writing, but it's just the thing to stuff in your wallet for making notes, or filling out immigration forms with.
Fisher Stowaway Space Pen
So that's pretty much it.  I use a pair of zip-off pants (yes, just one pair that I wash and wear.  When it's being washed, I use my rain pants).  And on long treks, I carry an extra lightweight fleece layer, and an extra tech tee. 

In Singapore, The North Face can be bought at the TNF Flagship store in Marina Square, Montbell and Camp at X-Boundaries in Velocity,  Marmot at Camper's Corner, and Patagonia at Outdoor Life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Good Stuff

Someone asked me what equipment to get for a trek in Nepal.  While I was thinking about the list, I thought it would also make in interesting post as a lot of this stuff is also ideal for fast and light adventures.  So here's a list of 10 of the best things to get for trekking.  Ray: buy everything on this list.  Seriously.

1. Patagonia R1 Hoody
As a base layer for cold temperatures or as a mid layer, the Patagonia R1 Hoody rules for it's gridded fleece which is lightweight and dries quicker than than merino wool.  The hood and monkey thumbs extend it's usefulness.  I find that one or two lightweight fleeces, like this one, are more versatile than a single heavy fleece layer.
Patagonia R1 Hoody in Black
2. MontBell U.L. Down Parka
I won't even look at a down jacket without a hood, and precious few lightweight down jackets come with one.  This is one that does.  Unlike heavy fleeces which are bulky when packed, this lightweight insulated jacket packs small and lives unobtrusively in your pack until needed in the evenings at camp or the hut.  Cons: lightweight fabric is fragile and prone to down leakage.
Montbell U.L. Down Parka
3. The North Face Kishtwar
I wore this softshell jacket more than any other piece of clothing on Everest.  There are two main types of softshells.  The first is one made out of a tightly woven fabric, like Schoeller.  These are more breathable but less waterproof.  The second uses a membrane laminated to the fabric, like Gore Tex.  These are less breathable but more waterproof.  The Kishtwar uses the latter.  It's almost waterproof and, depending on when and where you go, you may not require a more waterproof shell.  Size up to make sure you can fit this over your layers. 
The North Face Kishtwar Softshell

4. The North Face Prophet 52 Backpack 
Simple, no frills, bombproof.  That's how I like my backpacks.  No extra compartments or zippers or extraneous stitching or details that can fail or come apart.  I carried a Prophet to the top of Mt. Everest.  A pack in the 50 liter range is good for a lot of lightweight adventures.  They come in sizes.  Measure the length of your back to get the right sized harness.
The North Face Prophet 52
5. Buff Original Headwear
I almost never travel anywhere without one.  I did once, and regretted it.  It's not only headwear, but a neck scarf, dust filter, wipe sweat, bandanna, pot holder, towel, etc... There are other versions with fleece or merino wool that are not as versatile.  Buy the original version.

Original Buff (Prayer Flag Pattern)
6. MontBell U.L. Super Spiral Hugger #3 Down Sleeping Bag 
This sleeping bag is rated to just below freezing.  It's compact and light.  They are sized for Japanese people, and the Regular fits people up to 6'.  That's fine by me - less weight and dead space to warm up.  If you are cold, beef up the temperature rating by draping your down jacket over the bag and sleep with a hot water bottle.  In Nepal, you can also ask the tea house for a blanket.

Montbell U.L. Super Spiral Hugger #3
7. Nalgene 16 oz Wide Mouth Water Bottle 
Forget about hydration bladders unless you are doing something highly active, aerobic or need both hands free.  Wide mouth bottles are easier to refill and purify.  Get two smaller 16 oz (500ml) bottles.  They are easier to fit on the outside pockets of your backpack and hence easier to get a drink than a 32 oz (1 liter) bottle which may need to be stored in the main compartment of your pack.
Nalgene 16 oz Wide Mouth Bottle
8. Footwear
I'm hesitant to make specific footwear recommendations.  I think it's better to go down to a store to try them on.  More important than the brand is the fit.  Try them on with the socks you intend to wear.  You can adjust the volume a little by changing the insoles.  More important is the length.  You want very little heel lift, and when you kick your boots, your toes shouldn't be hitting the front of the boot.  I've trekked Nepal in everything from tennis shoes to lightweight hikers.  You'll be happier in a goretex lightweight hiking boot.


9. Marmot Basic Work Glove 
I like leather gloves for working.  Leather gives better feel, grip and is harder wearing than synthetic.  This glove is lined with Driclime and makes a pretty good general purpose outdoor glove.  Leather looks cool too, but needs extra care.  They shouldn't be washed and should be rubbed with something like mink oil to keep the leather supple and enhance waterproofing.
Marmot Basic Work Glove
10.Icebreaker Pocket 200 Beanie
I use this beanie more than any other.  It's light, packs small, warm for it's weight, and, because it's made from Merino wool, doesn't stink even after a month of use.  Combined this with a buff and hooded clothes, and you have a very lightweight, versatile solution for keeping your head warm.
Icebreaker Pocket 200 Beanie

I also trek with a pair of nylon zip-off pants, a tech-tee (or two), puffy pants, rain pants, sun hat, sunglasses, couple of underwear and socks, maybe another lightweight fleece top (the idea is that if it is really cold, I can wear all my layers of clothes).