Friday, July 6, 2012

Austin Kayak Summer Gear Giveaway

Want to win some free gear? I sure as hell do. Nothing better than free. The good folks at Austin Kayak are giving away free gear throughout the summer. Go to for details. Good Luck!!

Austin Kayak is a trusted dealer by Thrifty Gear. Remember the Kelty Lakota 65 review?

Stove Review: Ultralight Backpacking Canister Stove by JOGR

A lot of the time, good quality gear on the cheap can be hard to find. I wanted to purchase a small canister stove but didn't want to pay a lot for a little gadget. I was beginning to research making a homemade alcohol stove for just pennies when I found this gem on Amazon... The Ultralight Backpacking Canister Camp Stove (UBCCS) by JOGR. This stove is currently selling for $12.45 on Amazon. At the time of this review it has garnered 4.5 stars on 91 reviews.

The list weight for the stove is 3.9 oz. with the case included! It has piezo ignition and a HIGHLY adjustable flame. You can get a small flame for a slow simmer or dial up a rager to lift a hot air balloon. I used the UBCCS on a couple of weekenders this spring and it worked great. As seen in the pictures, I primarily used my 1.1L MSR Stow-Away pot with the stove. The flame spreads evenly across the bottom of the pot which lends to even cooking provided you're on a level surface.

Is this stove rugged enough for an Appalachian Trail thru-hike? Probably not. There are more rugged and expensive models for that. Will this stove work great for fun weekend trips? YES! You can pay $34.65 for the MSR Pocket Rocket or $69.95 for the Soto OD-1R for better quality products, but for $12.45 the Ultralight Backpacking Canister Camp Stove by JOGR suites me just fine. Buy the UBCCS here. Visit JOGR's Amazon product page here.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Water Filter Review: Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System - 4 Liter

This system is a 4 liter gravity feed water filter that consists of two water bags, one to fill with unfiltered water and a second to collect the filtered water.  The key is to simply keep the clean bag lower than the unfiltered bag, and gravity takes care of the rest.  The two bags are connected by a three-foot long hose and an in line filter.  Both bags have built-in handles, which you can secure with the included Nite Ize S-Biner loop.  The dirty bag has a screw on cap and the clean bag provides two methods for dispensing water – either by using the built-in spout with on/off valve or with the included drink tube and bite valve (not included).  The filter can be field maintained or at home with the included faucet adapter.  The pack weight of the system is 18 oz. and the filter itself has a million gallon guarantee by Sawyer.  As far as filtration effectiveness, this system physically removes particles, protozoa, and bacteria down to 0.1 micron in size, including giardia, salmonella and cryptosporidia. 
While my experience with this filter is limited at this point, my initial impression is very good.  While camping just above Sandy Creek at Enchanted Rock Texas State Natural Area, this filter provided a constant supply of running water for two of us during an overnight trip.  With the large four liter capacity, we didn’t feel like we needed to be ultra conservative with our water consumption.  After filling the dirty bag with water from the creek we hung both the dirty bag and the clean bag from a tree limb, keeping the dirty bag a couple feet above the clean bag.  This allowed for plenty of gravity-powered flow.  The four liter bag was full in roughly five minutes and the filtered water tasted great.  We were able to easily fill Nalgene bottles, fill pots for cooking, and rinse our hands with the spout on the clean bag.  This worked great, it was like we had a camp faucet on our backpacking trip!  The spout has a nice valve which allows you to control the flow of water.  After we drained the first four liters, we headed down to the creek for another fill-up.  This time, taking both bags to the creek, we decided to fill the dirty bag and filter immediately, and fill the dirty bag again before heading back to camp.  Setting the dirty bag on a large rock provided a nice gravity-powered flow while filtering at the creek.  By filtering 4 liters immediately at the creek and then refilling the dirty bag, this provided us with a whopping 8 liters of water (after the remaining 4 liters in the dirty bag were filtered later back at camp).  This ended up being way more water than we needed, but I’d rather have more than I need than not enough when it comes to water.
Maintenance for the system is pretty simple.  There was no need to backflush the system during this short trip, but if this was necessary, it can be done by pushing clean water back out of the clean water bag with the filter attached.  Before storing the unit long-term, Sawyer recommends running a few capfuls of bleach and water through the dirty bag and filter.

Once I decided on a gravity filter, next I had to figure out which one to get.  The Platypus GravityWorks filter interested me, especially because it’s a bit more affordable than the Sawyer system.  In the end, there were several features the Sawyer 4l system had that the GravityWorks did not have, which helped make my decision easy.  Most of this I’ve already mentioned, but to recap, I love the fact that both of the bags are made of sturdy nylon and have built-in handles.  This makes it easy to hang the bags on a tree limb, line, or even your pack. 
Also, since the dirty bag has a screw on cap, I don’t have to worry about the bag opening up on me unexpectedly.  This is especially important if I need to put the full dirty bag in my pack. 
 The adjustable spout on the clean bag is a great feature, which proved to work just as well as I anticipated (again, like having your kitchen faucet with you). 
The filtration ability of the system is impressive too - 0.1 micron level filtration is better than many competing systems, especially with Sawyer’s million gallon guarantee on the filter (might as well call it lifetime!). 
Also, because of the large filter surface area, Sawyer claims this unit has a backflush requirement of 1:20 when comparing it to a traditional pump type filter, which means that for every 20 times a pump type filter needs to be backflushed, the Sawyer system will only need one backflush.  I can’t speak to validity of this, but I haven’t noticed any flow reduction after filtering 12 liters of water.  The included faucet hookup for backflushing is a nice addition too, which should make backflushing at home a breeze.
There are a couple potential drawbacks to the system that should be pointed out.  At 18 oz. pack weight, it’s not the lightest filter on the market.  This large 4 liter capacity would be great for a group of several backpackers and the weight could certainly be justified.  If you’re going by yourself and are trying to stay ultralight, you may want to look at alternatives.
Another consideration is the size of the system.  It wraps up reasonably small, but there are certainly smaller alternative water filtration/purification systems available.  The water bags collapse to be flat, but with the screw-on cap, water spout, filter unit, and hose, it will occupy a bit of your precious cargo space.
Lastly, this isn’t unique to this Sawyer system since many filters are the same way, but it’s important not to let the filter freeze as this can damage the filter itself and impact its effectiveness.  Some folks have suggested snuggling up with you filter in your sleeping bag at night to keep it warm if it’s expected to freeze.
All things considered the Sawyer Complete Water Treatment System – 4 liter has been a delight and is certainly Thrifty Gear recommended.  It has a large capacity, impressive filtration capability, some great features, and effectively a lifetime filtration guarantee.  I waited for my spring 20% member coupon to arrive from REI and ordered this online since it wasn’t available in my local store.  The great thing about shopping at REI is of course their satisfaction guarantee.  It’s nice to know that if I ever have any issues with this filter, I can simply pop in to my local store to get help.  Plus, with the 20% off coupon, I couldn’t go wrong.  I paid $109 ($136 less $27 with the coupon) plus tax.  This wasn’t the cheapest gravity filter available, but with its features, I felt it provided the most bang for my buck.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Backpack Review: Kelty Lakota 65

Weekend camping trips are my thing. Sometimes though I would like the flexibility of extending my trip a day or two. I need a backpack that would serve both purposes. I need a backpack that is well constructed, well priced, and larger framed. The Kelty Lakota 65 fits the bill. Kelty is a brand that is usually my go to for camping gear. My favorite backpacking tent that saw me through sand and dust storms in West Africa was the Kelty Tao 2 (I wore that tent out!). I researched several other brands and did find some that I thought were really well made, but the price just wasn't right for me. I initially tried out the Kelty Coyote 80 and really liked it. After some thought, I felt it was a little too big for what I needed. The comparable but smaller style pack but is the Kelty Lakota 65. After some price searching, I found a heck of a deal (more on the buying experience later). 

Back and Suspension
Close Up of Suspension and Air Channels

The Lakota lists at 65L, but the m/l size comes in around 67L/4000 It weighs approx. 4lb 1oz. The pack is made out of rugged polyester. I recently went on a weekend trip with this pack to Enchanted Rock State Park in Texas and encountered some rough brush and rock. No snags or tears. I have no concerns whatsoever about the durability of this pack. The back panel is constructed so that air is channeled across your back. It won't lay flat on your back and absorb sweat. I felt that I had good air flow across the back. I didn't get that sopping wet feeling that you get with some older packs. I have a long torso so I bought the m/l size (17.5-21in). The suspension for the Lakota 65 is fixed, therefore it is not adjustable. Even with the fixed suspension, the load felt comfortable and the pack transferred the weight to my hips. I carried about 35 lb. of gear with no problems.

Front Panel Entry
Top Entry

Bottom Entry

The pack has three points of entry pictured above. The bottom entry has a panel of fabric that will attach/detach from the pack to create a separate compartment for your sleeping bag. Besides the lid, the Lakota 65 has only one other storage compartment: a pocket attached to the front panel of the backpack (see below).

Front Panel Pocket

Without going into too much detail, I was able to pack enough for a very comfortable weekend hiking/camping trip. If I needed something in the bottom of my pack, I just unzipped the bottom. If I needed something in the middle of my pack (ie. fuel canister or first aid kit) I just unzipped the the front panel. I had my rain jacket and pants at the top of the pack. Our crew did encounter rain on the second day, and I will say it was fairly easy to get to my rain gear at the top of my pack with no problems. The lid is fairly roomy and easily held my essentials (map and compass, sunscreen, snacks, iphone, paperback, leatherman) with ample room to spare. 

Mesh Pockets

The only complaint I have about this pack is the depth of the mesh pockets on the sides of the pack. I don't feel they are deep enough. When the pack is full it is difficult for the pockets to retain a water bottle. The contents on the inside of the pack will squeeze the bottom of the water bottle from the bottom of the pocket and will eventually work itself out of the pocket. If the pockets were just a little deeper, it would allow for your container to stay put inside of the pocket. One of my skinnier water bottles did stay put, but my Nalgene bottle did squeeze out a couple of times. 

I purchased the Kelty Lakota 65 for $113 from Austin Canoe and Kayak located in Austin, TX. ACK has a really great website with very competitive prices. Kelty lists ACK as a trusted retailer. Because I live a stone's throw from Austin, I decided to walk into their store to see what they have. While they dont have a huge selection of their camping/hiking gear in store, I was able to tell them what I wanted from their website. Their online warehouse is located right around the corner from their store. I paid for my pack at the shop and drove to their warehouse where my pack was waiting for me. I got the online price without the hassle of shipping. Their customer service was great. I am certain that if I'm ever in the market for a kayak, I will be seeing these guys for any of my needs. 

The Kelty Lakota 65 is a smart choice for a moderately sized backpack. Its rugged, fits great, and priced just right. Overall the pack is awesome and the buying experience with Austin Canoe and Kayak put this backpack over the top. The Kelty Lakota 65 is Thrifty Gear Recommended.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Book Review: The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail by Andrew Skurka

Have you ever been in REI looking at sleeping bags, clothing, boots, and shelters and found yourself overwhelmed with the different materials and options? What is the difference between this polyester shirt and this nylon shirt? Should I go synthetic or down on this sleeping bag? How accurate is this temperature rating? It can get overwhelming fast especially if you aren't an impulse shopper and want to make a really informed decision on your purchase.

National Geographic has just recently published a book entitled The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail. Andrew Skurka is the author. If you are unfamiliar with this dude then let me introduce: Adventurer of the Year by Outside and National Geographic Adventure magazines; Person of the Year by Backpacker magazine; over 30,000 miles of trekking. Needless to say, the honors speak for themselves and his knowledge of current techniques, gear, and materials are invaluable. He has tried to condense this knowledge into the Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide.

This book is very informative and easy to read. It has great pictures and an awesome index for referencing. Topics include: clothing, footwear, sleeping bags and pads, shelters, navigation, trekking poles, food, cooking systems, water systems, packing, and small essentials. Skurka provides excellent comparisons of the different materials that comprise today's hiking and camping gear. These comparisons help provide making a better informed decision on what to purchase and the correct purpose to apply you acquisitions. What I found really helpful are the Tried and True sections of the book that include topics on foot care, packing, and finding the right camping spot. Skurka also details his choices in the various topics covered. These are called Skurka's picks. There is also a comparison chart at the end of the book providing packing essentials for the different terrains and climates of the USA and what to pack for those differences.

Overall this is an excellent guide and one that will last for a while. You can pick this book up at for $19.99 and any books purchased from the author's website will be signed by Andrew Skurka. If you want to go a cheaper route, you can get it from for $13.01 with no signature. You can follow Andrew Skurka on Twitter @andrewskurka or suscribe to his YouTube channel: