GearToons

Hiking gear reviews for hikers with short attention spans.


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Borah Gear Stuff Sacks

Just a quick post here about stuff sacks. I know it may be odd to see a blog post about stuff sacks, but when I find a good deal on something, I want to share it with others. Is that so wrong???

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So, anyway, I picked up two Borah Gear cuben fiber stuff sacks about a week ago from Borahgear.com. I got a Small (4″ x 8″/1.5 grams/ $4.50) and a Large (6″ x 12″/3 grams/ $5.50) for only $10, shipping included. They make stuff sacks in cuben fiber, silnylon and no-see-um mesh. The silnylon and mesh stuff sacks are cheaper ($3.25 for small, $4.00 for large) but weigh more. I was surprised to find the cuben fiber sacks priced so low, since similarly priced CF stuff sacks are at least twice that on other sites. The seams are double stitched and are not waterproof, just so you know. Also, the bottoms are flat.  The drawcord is nylon and pretty thick. It’d be great if they came with a cord lock, but fortunately,  I had a couple medium sized ones I bought from Zpacks a while back. I slipped one on and it worked great.

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I was able to squeeze my Sawyer mini filter kit (seated inside a cut down water bottle) into the small bag.

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And I decided to store my Goosefeet Gear medium down pillowcase and small NeoAir pillow into the large one. I’m sure I could have stuffed more down into it, but I didn’t want to compress the pillowcase too small.

I inquired about custom sizes, since I wanted something smaller than the 4″ x 8″ small sack, to use as a bag for my Ti tent stakes and also something that would fit my cook kit a little better, since the large size was just a little too tight. They told me ‘Custom sizes? No problem!’ So, once I figure out exactly what dimensions I want, I’ll place an order.

So, anyway, to sum up this invigorating review of stuff sacks: They’re dirt cheap and they seem to be made well.


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Joby GorillaTorch Switchback

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Is the Joby Gorillatorch Switchback an alien hunter/killer robot from another world?

No, it’s not. It just looks like an extra-terrestrial weapon of mass human extermination.

I’ve had this little gadget for over a year and have taken (most of) it on every backpacking trip.  I say ‘most of it’ because it actually is three separate pieces:

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Firstly, the piece that I use the most is the headlamp. The elastic headband is adjustable and fits even an oversized melon like mine. Also, the lamp tilts downward so you don’t get neck cramps from looking down while you read or write in your journal before bedtime. The headlamp has 5 LEDs, one powerful ultra-bright light in the center (130 lumens), and two on each side – two soft white flood lights (14 lumens) and two red lights (3 lumens) to help with your night vision. (The red lights could cause you to be mistaken for a Jawa, I should point out. )The center light has a high beam which will dim just a bit with the push of a button. The two flood lights provide just enough light for me to fix dinner in the dark and eat without draining the batteries and, in my opinion, is the best choice if I’m just sitting around talking. The ultra bright spotlight is a great tool for night hiking but will blind everybody you look at. It uses two AA batteries by the way. The highest setting will eat batteries like candy, so be sure to bring extra.

On high, the batteries will last you only about 3.5 hours. On low (20 lumens), you’ll get about 16 hours.

Red floodlights only (3 lumens) – 72 hrs; White floodlights only (14 lumens) – 35 hours.

Be forewarned: Using the red lights could get you mistaken for a Jawa.

Be forewarned: Using the red lights could get you mistaken for a Jawa.

The downside to this headlamp is the weight. It’s 4.7 ounces. Not exactly the kind of thing a guy who is trying to cut weight where he can would normally be carrying, but I really love the light this thing produces and I don’t want to lose it just to save two or three ounces. Don’t judge me. (But if I can find a Zebralight dirt cheap, the ol’ Switchback may find itself not getting much use. Just sayin’.)

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Secondly, is the lantern. It’s actually a hard plastic case that the headlamp snaps into (with some effort) that lets you fill up a larger space with soft light. ( Kinda like those pictures you see of somebody putting a small flashlight inside an empty plastic milk jug. ) The headlamp snaps into the bottom, then the top of the lantern telescopes out. The bottom of the lantern will fit onto the included tripod and there is also a fold-in hook on top so you can hang this up in your tent, on a nail in a shelter, on a branch, blah blah, you get the picture. However, it’s also a bit heavy. 4.6 ounces. I rarely need to illuminate a large area for several people, so this hardly ever makes it into my backpack.

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Lastly, there is the GorillaPod (tripod). I like this almost as much as the headlamp, since it goes with me on every trip. The legs of the tripod are super flexible, which lets me wrap them around branches and even the grip of my trekking pole, in case I need to get creative with my photography. I’ve only used small cameras, such as my Fujifilm XP60, so I’m not sure how it’d do with larger DSLR types. ( My guess is that it wouldn’t work that well. ) The tripod is small enough that I can stick it in my pants pocket and carry it without feeling like I’m carrying a brick. Best of all, it’s only 1.7 ounces.

The batteries are housed in a separate compartment that is seated on the back of your head. Both the lamp and the battery compartment are watertight, so if you hike in the rain or if it accidentally drops it into your cup of ramen noodles, you ought to be okay. There is a button for turning on the spotlight and dimming it, and another for turning on the floodlights. There’s also a small battery life indicator light to let you know when you need to install fresh batteries.

The Switchback comes with a 1 year manufacturers warranty. I had a problem with my headlamp, as the snap that keeps the battery compartment shut fell off during a backpacking trip. I sent Joby an email with a picture, explaining the problem and asking if they could send me a new piece to fix it. What they sent me was an entirely new unit. That’s like asking Honda to send me a replacement A/C button and having a new Civic delivered to my house. I have to say, I was pretty pleased with their level of customer service. According to the Joby website, the Switchback has been discontinued, but there’s still plenty of places to buy them at the time of writing this review.

Overall, I think this thing is probably not something most ultra lighters would be interested in, but if you’re not too concerned about an extra 11 ounces (!) and really need something to light up your six person tent so everyone can see all their UNO cards, I’ll recommend this to take care of any and all of your ‘illumination-related needs’.


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My Primus LiTech TREK kettle

This is the LiTech Trek kettle, from Primus.

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The Trek kettle is the pot/pan combo, (not to be confused with the LiTech kettle, which is best suited for boiling water only. ) The Trek is made of hard anodized aluminum and has a non stick, scratch resistant coating inside. That makes cleaning it a lot easier. You also have a small pour spout to help reduce the risk of spilling stuff everywhere while pouring.  This is  especially helpful when you’re dealing with hot liquids. Spilling boiling water all over yourself while trying to just pour a little into a freezer bag so you can get your Ramen noodles cooked is a whole lot of no fun.

The fold-out handles have  insulated grips, to help prevent you from burning your hands. The kettle will hold up to a liter of water. Also,  the lid functions as a small frying pan. I suppose this would really come in handle if you are cooking pancakes for breakfast, since the pan is sized just perfectly for them.  The pan is 1″ deep, with a diameter of 4-9/16″.  The pot diameter is 4-13/16″ at the top, 4-1/2″ at the bottom and the pot height is 4- 3/8″.

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Unfortunately, there are no measuring marks on the kettle, so you have to measure out your water with something else. For me, that’s a huge mark against it. I don’t want to have to bring an extra vessel just to measure my water for cooking. The kettle itself weighs in at 6.7 oz, while the lid is 2.6 oz. I’d say that on 99% of my trips, I’d leave  the pan at home. The total weight of the kettle and pan lid is 9.3 oz., so its not the lightest pot of it’s size you can find and likely not the best choice if you consider yourself an ‘ultralighter’. (Unless you’re an ultra lighter on a budget, then you may feel that carrying an extra 3 or 4 ounces is better than spending all that extra $$$ for a titanium pot/pan version.)

It comes in a stuff sack that’s half nylon, half mesh. The stuff sack weighs around a half ounce. (0.6 oz) Although it’s not a huge pot, I was able to fit a 100g Jetboil fuel canister, my Olicamp Vector stove, a small box of matches and a small square of cleaning sponge in there. Also, I noticed that the kettle cools off fairly quickly after use, so you won’t have to wait long before you can pack it and get moving.

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For me, the bottom line is: it’s a decent pot that won’t break the bank. It’s not as light as a titanium pot of the same size, but also not as expensive. The lid doubling as a small pan is bonus, but the lack of measuring marks is a bit of a buzzkill.

I would probably be more likely to bring the LiTech Kettle on a car camping trip than a backpacking trip, honestly.


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Therm-A-Rest Ridgerest SOLite: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

A while back,  when I first decided to start looking for ways to reduce my pack weight, one of the first places I figured I could cut weight was my sleeping pad. When I looked at my Big Agnes Air-core pad, I was sad to see that it weighed a staggering 27 ounces. It was like carrying a brick. A big, comfortable, intoxicatingly wonderful brick. So, I decided to seriously downsize to a closed cell foam pad.

The Ridgerest SOLite is one of the most popular foam sleeping pads in the history of the whole entire universe. Well, maybe. I hear it’s pretty popular, though.

Big S. Big O. Big L. I hope that SOL doesn’t mean what I think it does.

The Ridgerest SOLite weighs in at 14.4 ounces. That’s quite a weight reduction for me. Hard to believe I cut close to a pound off my pack weight just by changing out my sleeping pad.

One thing I noticed right away is how bulky it is. I don’t usually strap things to the outside of my pack, so I was concerned about durability. I’ve read that this pad is nearly indestructible. I don’t know about that, but it didn’t rip or tear when I walked through thick brush and briars. You can cut down the size a bit to save bulk and weight, which is what I may do.

I chose the Regular size, which is 20 inches wide by 72 inches long. Same size as my BA pad.
I’m about 5 ft 9, and I had a couple extra inches that I could trim off.

The thickness of this pad is 5/8 of an inch (0.625 inches). The Aircore was a hefty 3 1/4″ thick.  Quite a difference. I was concerned that I would be miserable going from such thickness to such thin…ness.

Better make sure there aren’t any rocks or sticks underneath this pad when you lie on it, or you’re gonna feel every one of them. Because it’s so thin, side sleepers will probably have a bad time on this. Very little support for your hips. This pad is best for those that sleep on their backs, like me. That’s the only way I could get comfortable on it. I have back pain from time to time, so I have to be picky about what I sleep on. Strangely, I didn’t find myself waking up a lot through the night, trying to get comfortable, which was nice. I’d give this maybe a 5 out of 10 on comfort.

One side of the pad is aluminized. Somehow the sleeping pad scientists at Thermarest managed to add a thin sheet of reflective material to this pad without adding weight. This causes your body heat to be reflected back at you. Also, those little valleys are there to trap warm air, helping you to stay even warmer. The pad has an R-value of 2.8. Pretty decent.

You can just throw this pad down flat and it’s all set up and ready to use. One thing I won’t miss about my Big Agnes pad is all the work it takes to blow it up. A quick set up is nice when you’re tired and just want to sleep.

So here’s the Good, Bad and Ugly about the SOLite:

The Good: It’s very lightweight, durable and you can cut the size down to suit. It’s inexpensive and warm.

The Bad: it’s bulky. It’s not terribly uncomfortable, but if you have back problems, you may want to find yourself something softer.

The Ugly: The pad is thin, which makes it very uncomfortable to sleep on your side. If you’re a back sleeper, you’ll have better luck.
I’m gonna miss the thickness of my Big Agnes pad, but I’m saving nearly 13 ounces and I can still get a decent amount of sleep with the Ridgerest SOLite.

(Update: I  originally  did this review several months ago, for the TGG blog. Since that time, I’ve upgraded my sleeping pad from the RidgeRest SOLite to a Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Xlite inflatable pad. A wise, wise move. Not only do I get a more comfortable night’s  sleep (especially on my side), but I actually saved an ounce or so . I cut my Ridgerest  down to a 3/4 length pad and used the smaller section as a seat cushion. I stuck it into the pad holder area in my G4 pack to help give it a little shape, too. I may end up using it again in warmer weather as a torso pad, just to see how it feels, but now that I’ve seen how great an Xlite can be, I don’t anticipate going back to a foam pad)


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My Salomon Gecko trail running shoe

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I’m no shoe scientist, but I know a comfortable shoe when I wear it.

If you put a pair of trail running shoes and a screen door in opposite ends of a Hadron collider, then pushed the button, this is what would emerge from the smoke and debris cloud. It’s a shoe that is really comfortable, breathes well (to say the least) and is built to drain water like a sieve.

I walked through icy streams much deeper than this for several days and couldn’t believe I had no blisters.

Previously, I had always hiked in waterproof boots. I really liked my pair of Keen Targhee II boots, because they kept my feet warm and ‘mostly dry’ and were comfortable to walk a long way in. However, it was hard to keep my feet from getting sweaty in them. I wore Smartwool socks, which helped to keep the blisters down, but still, I wanted to try trail running shoes instead of boots after reading so much about what a great choice they are for ultralight backpacking. I had previously owned a pair of Merrell MOAB ‘waterproof’ shoes, which after a testing trip, were exposed as being ‘not so waterproof’. I looked around at other footwear options were and found the Gecko. The ‘user reviews’ seemed mostly positive, so I got them.

They are relatively lightweight, and certainly not as heavy as my Keen boots were. Each shoe weighs in at 11.0 ounces. (That’s a Mens size 10).

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Easy to pull on and off.

The upper is a bit stretchy, with an elastic collar, making it easy to slip your foot into. The pull loop on the heel helps, too. The lining is made of Neoprene lycra, which aids in providing a form fitting design, but also assists in making it breathable. One thing I haven’t had a problem with, is sweaty feet.

The proprietary ‘Contagrip’ construction is another feature. In a nutshell, the outsole is built in such a way that it’s designed with tougher and more durable materials on areas of your foot that will likely get the hardest use, but uses more lightweight material in areas that are likely to get less impact and abuse. From what I understand, this allows the shoe to cut weight and even out tread use without sacrificing durability.

Also found in Salomon shoes, is the ‘OS Tendon’ technology. Salomon describes this as: “a band of stretchy Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that improves the shoe’s transition from heel strike to toe push. It connects the forefoot to the midsole and heel for a smooth and springy feeling foot strike.”

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I was happy with the amount of tread on these shoes. They gripped the trail well and I rarely ever slipped, even when on wet surfaces.

There’s sufficient grip on the tread for my tastes, as I haven’t had any problems with the shoe slipping or feeling terribly unstable while walking on slick surfaces like wet logs or mossy rocks. However, since these are low cut shoes, the ankle support I normally enjoy with my Keen boots is noticeably absent. I’ve almost turned my ankle over a few times when walking on uneven terrain, such as a trail plagued with roots and rocks. I hike with trekking poles, so they played a role in keeping me from having a swollen ankle.

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Protective toe cap.

There’s also a nice little protective toe cap, as you can see here. My feet don’t slide around in these shoes, since they are so form fitting. I tried these on when I got them, while wearing lightweight Smartwool socks and found them to be uncomfortably tight. I wear a size 10, and these are sized to fit. I ordered some Injinji toe socks and was really, really happy with not only how well the shoe fit with them, but also how well they protected my feet and toes from blisters.  If you plan on wearing socks thicker than a wicking liner or toe sock, you may want to get a half size larger. I took big gamble by ordering these online without ever having tried them on, but fortunately, I didn’t regret it.

The primary reason I wanted the Gecko is its ability to drain water quickly and stay somewhat dry. Besides a few short walks, I have worn these on a very wet 13 mile hike through the Sipsey Wilderness (in Bankhead National  Forest) and an even wetter 25 mile AT section hike, where I just crashed right on through bone-chilling streams as the water level rose above my ankles, which was a strange experience. I normally try to avoid water by hopping rock to rock across creeks, like a game of Frogger. I was genuinely surprised how fast the water drains out of these. I walked mountain trails in North Carolina with wet feet for three days and never had any problems at all.

Seriously. I stomped through streams with ice cubes floating in them and within a minute or two of being out of the water, my shoes were drained and my feet remained a comfortable temperature. The Injinji toe socks didn’t soak up much water at all, which really complimented the Gecko’s ability to dry my feet out.

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The molded grooves in the heel made it very difficult to affix the velcro strip for Dirty Girls gaiters. Mine fell off while hiking, so I will have to super glue them on, I suppose.

The small screened ports along the sides help keep large debris out of my shoe, but I had a little bit come in over the top of the ankle. Small gaiters will help prevent this, and I had even planned on using my Dirty Girl gaiters with these. Unfortunately, the adhesive on the Velcro strips didn’t stay on very well, so I couldn’t attach the gaiters to my shoes. I think this may be because of the small grooves on the heel. Using super glue to affix the Velcro strip may solve this problem. Silty mud won’t stay out of the shoe, I have found, but I just moved my foot back and forth in the water and it washed out easily. Also, the Gecko has quick laces, which I like. No more worrying with my laced coming untied. Yay! There’s a little flap up on top of the shoe that you can stuff the laces under, to keep them from flapping around while running and getting on your nerves.

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Store your Quicklace system under this little flap. These laces can get on your nerves flapping and popping against your foot while walking.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with these shoes. I have definitely changed my mindset on the benefits of ‘waterproof’ versus ‘quick draining’ shoes after taking these out on a few long hikes. I may keep the boots handy for situations like hiking in show or something, but I predict that these will be my go-to shoe for most hikes now.

(P.S., If my ‘Hadron Collider’ illustration was way off base from how one of those thingies is really supposed to work, please don’t tell me. I’d rather remain blissfully ignorant and think my joke was funny. Thanks.)


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Outdoor Research Halo Sombrero Review 2.0

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I took my Outdoor Research Halo Sombrero out on a very rainy trip recently. I hiked for about 5 hours in a steady downpour wearing this hat and was really happy with how it performed.

First, let’s cover the most notable points:

Construction:

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The Halo Sombrero is constructed of ripstop nylon, so I didn’t have to worry about tearing a hole in it when I brushed up against thorns and limbs. The brim is lightweight foam, which helps it retain its shape after you crush it a time or two. Also, this makes it light enough to float in water. (Supposedly. I didn’t try this out since the currents were kinda swift and I didn’t want to be waving ‘bon voyage’ to my hat.)

Weight:

The Halo weighs in at 3.1 ounces. It’s light enough for me to carry just in case I think I’ll need it and not feel like I’m suffering a huge weight penalty.

Features:

It has two magnets on the brim to let you flip up the sides and keep them there. I had a problem with the brim snapping back up onto the magnets at first, but I solved this by just pulling the brim down a little further, then holding it there for a bit. I’ll admit that I was strangely compelled to flip up just one side of the brim and scream ‘Yo Joe!’, as if I were channeling Recondo, the GI Joe jungle trooper.

There is a small air vent in the rear of the dome, which helped increase air flow and cool the top of my head well.

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There’s also a brushed  headband to wick sweat away and keep it from dripping down into your eyes, a mesh liner to help airflow (working with the air vent)  and a cord to help adjust the fit if your head is a little small. (Note: The drawcord will not adjust it down a size smaller. In other words, an XL size can’t be adjusted down to a Large fit using this feature. )  I don’t have a ‘my hat is too big’ problem. My head is so big, it has it’s own Congressman. But despite having a huge noggin, the Large size was plenty big enough for me. (FYI, my cranial circumference is over 23 inches. I told you it was huge. It’s probably because my brain is so huge.)

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Also, there’s a chin cord to help keep the hat secured to your head, in case it’s a big windy. This also makes it a lot easier to strap onto my pack when not in use.

OR says this is both waterproof and breathable, but I’m always a skeptic when I hear those two words put together. When I hear ‘waterproof’, I immediately think ‘Yeah, but for how long?’ Anything breathable seems like it leaks sooner or later. However, after 5 hours of rain,  the top of my head was remarkably dry. The headband was a little wet, but that was from sweat, mostly.

I was wearing this with my TNF Venture rain jacket but without the hood pulled up. My glasses always get spotted up when I’m wearing just the hood.  The brim of the jacket hood isn’t enough to keep my glasses dry, but the wide brim of the Halo sure does the trick.  Also, I noticed the Venture seemed to feel damp inside before my hat did.  This was probably due to sweat, if I had to guess. I’m thinking I may modify my Dri Ducks rain jacket a bit by trimming the hood off and just leaving it with a ‘high collar’, so I can have a decent rain jacket that I can wear with the Halo. The only bad part about wearing a rain jacket with a hood still attached, I found, was that you have to put the hood somewhere. I was able to get mine kinda bunched up so that it didn’t catch water like a bucket. However, a time or two, I felt like it was helping to funnel water down the back of my shirt.

If you’re a fan of Gore-Tex, check out the OR Seattle Sombrero. It’s very similar to the Halo, but features Gore-Tex in the construction and is two toned.

There’s something about wearing a brimmed hat in the woods that makes me feel dangerous, like a true adventurer.  They could probably turn that into an effective ad campaign.

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Also, I tried taking my hat off and throwing it like Mortal Kombat’s ‘Kung Lao’, but I’m happy to report no fatalities.

-Keith


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Marmot Kompressor Ultra backpack

I’ve been using this for day hiking for years. Its very lightweight, weighing only 24 ounces ( or 614 grams).  It has a capacity of 22 liters, or 1350 cubic inches.

The waist belt is removable, and you can also adjust it for comfort. But you better swallow your pride, because it can really accentuate that gut, son. Up top, you’ve got an adjustable sternum strap, with a loop you can feed your hydration tube through. Also, the shoulder straps are easily adjustable.

These straps are  what Marmot calls ‘Airmesh’. They’re made of lightweight contoured foam and have lots of tiny holes, so they really breathe.

Technically this is a frameless pack, but the molded foam padding on the back is rigid, yet comfy, and really gives it some shape, so you don’t feel like you’re wearing a garbage bag on your back. But it doesnt allow much airflow, so your back is gonna sweat.

In the front, there’s a big mesh pocket perfect for storing your ‘quick grab’ items, like a map or water filter or a snack. There are water bottle pockets on each side, made of stretchy elastic. There are three points of compression on this pack, one on each side above the water bottle pockets. And the third is in front that also holds the top lid down.There are also two sets of loops to hold a pair of ice axes or trekking poles. The top set is adjustable. I use them to secure my trekking poles when I’m not using them. Inside, there’s a sleeve built in for your hydration bladder, and the backing for it is removable. And the main compartment has a lockable draw string closure up top.

The Ultra Kompressor is constructed of double nylon ripstop material, so its very durable. I haven’t had one rip or tear in two years of use.

The top lid holds a zippered compartment that I store things like an survival blanket, personal first aid kit and a headlamp.  Theres’ also a mesh pocket for with a snap lock hook inside to hold your keys and your sweet mooolah.

I was asked once how this packs down as a summit bag. I believe the intention of the question was to ask if this will pack into a larger bag easy, so you can pull it out and continue further from camp, carrying only a minimal load. The Ultra Kompressor is about as easy to roll up and pack as a large, thick strip of cardboard. It won’t crush down very easily, so you’re better off packing it flat. However, I was able to get this down into a small 10 Liter stuff sack, so it’ll get smaller, sure, if you really need it to.