Thursday, December 8, 2016

Gear Review: Zpacks Duplex Tent

When it comes to backpacking (or camping in general) nothing can make or brake the experience quite as easily as your shelter. No single piece of equipment has the power to make you feel safe and protected or exposed and vulnerable the way your shelter does. So, when it comes time to purchase a new one, you want to know that what you're buying is going to do what you want or need it to do. That's why it's so important to me that my shelter reviews are effective in helping you get the information you need to determine if a shelter is a good fit. So when it comes to reviewing tents, here are the considerations I will make sure to cover: Design, Weight, Protection, Capacity, Ease of Setup.

ZPacks Duplex Tent:
ZPacks is an innovator in the ultralight backpacking industry. They pride themselves in making the lightest products around. How do they achieve such light weight? By utilizing minimalist designs and using the lightest weight materials available. Enter Cuben Fiber (Now called Dyneema®)

Originally designed for use as sails on racing sailboats, Cuben Fiber is a a high-performance, non-woven, rip-stop, composite laminate made by sandwiching Dyneema® fiber filaments a thousandth of an inch thick between thin outer layers of polyester film. The “sandwich” is then melded together in a high-pressure autoclave. Dyneema® Composite Fabrics are lightweight, highly durable, and are 50-70% lighter than Kevlar, four times stronger than Kevlar, and able to flex without losing strength. They also weigh less than silnylon, float on water, are 100% waterproof and have high chemical and UV resistance. Cuben Fiber is so thin that you can see through it yet doesn't pack down the way woven fabrics, like silnylon do. And should you get a hole it can be easily patched it using Cuben Fiber tape.

The Duplex is a non-freestanding tent with dual doors and dual vestibules. Slightly reminiscent of an old fashioned scouting tent, the Duplex is just as quick and easy to set up as the old classic but has a number of features that provide better protection and greater comfort. This tent breathes surprisingly well for a single wall tent made out of a 100% waterproof material. This is achieved through the large mesh sidewalls on either side. Additionally, the bathtub floors are attached to about 2" of mesh rather than directly to the roof providing an outlet for any condensation that may form on the inside of the tent. Another nice feature is that, the roof overhangs beyond the floor enough that the inside of the tent remains dry even during heavy rains, provided the wind is minimal.

*It is important to note that at base design, the Duplex utilizes trekking poles instead of tent poles to give it structure. Tent poles can be purchase for those who don't use trekking poles (Zpacks also offers a kit to turn the Duplex into a freestanding tent).

The basic model is made from an olive colored .51oz material and weighs in at 21oz. This material is quite transparent which could be good or bad, depending on your preferences. Knowing that Chanda would want some privacy and that there would be times when we shared this tent with our children, I opted for the spruce colored .74oz material which is a little less transparent (you can see out but it's difficult for someone else to see in) and a little sturdier. The upgrade does come with a slight weight penalty though and our tent weighs in at just over 23oz with the included stuff sack.

As stated before, Cuben Fiber is 100% waterproof which means that you are pretty much guaranteed to stay dry as long as your tent is set up properly. I have even heard stories of people seeing small streams form and pass under their tents during heavy rainstorms while they remained perfectly dry and warm inside. The design allows for two average sized adults to sit comfortably and play cards, read, or simply watch the rain, should they find themselves having to retreat from foul weather. The vestibules provide more than enough space for storing packs, shoes, and wet gear, ensuring that moisture stays away from your dry clothes and sleeping bag.

The vestibules attach to a small hook which slides up and down the center guy-lines. It can be tricky (though not impossible) to deploy the vestibules from inside the tent as the hooks are designed to be pulled tight from the outside. This is an instance where simplicity of design does not necessarily equal convenience. If you anticipate having to deploy the vestibules, it's a good idea to attach them to the hook, pull everything tight, and then roll them back up before you get into the tent. That way, when the time comes, you aren't trying to make adjustments while rain poors down on your head and back. Trust me when I say the the two minutes it take to do this in advance are well worth it.

The Zpacks Duplex is easily my favorite tent. It is light, roomy, reliable and easy to set up. I feel it's only fair to point out that, as with all things Cuben Fiber, the cost of this product is substantial. I expect the cost of the materials to decline eventually but right now, only one company manufactures it, and they have no problem demanding a pretty penny for their wonder-fabric. The low weight and spacious design make it an excellent 3 season tent for one or two people. I don't know how well it will perform in deep winter, as we've only had it since late summer but I have no reason to doubt that it will do quite well. I look forward to many years of using this as my primary backpacking tent.

Packed up, lying next to a Nalgene, for size reference

If you have any questions about the ZPacks Duplex tent, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer ASAP!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Presents With a Purpose

I've been thinking a lot about the way our family does Christmas. Traditionally, Christmas is a time of giving  gifts. It's a season set aside for celebrating Jesus' birth and showing people that we care for them through meaningful generosity. Often, it doesn't matter what the gift actually is because it's the act, not the item, that has meaning. Unfortunately, that concept has infiltrated our culture in a way that, I think has devalued the act itself, with parents and children.

Here's what I mean:

In my house, Christmas often consists of carefully choosing one or two gifts for each child that are meaningful. After finding and purchasing those gifts, we then proceed to scour Amazon and Walmart for stuff to make our kids' gift piles look more impressive under the tree. Most of what we buy are things that our children don't really need or even want all that much. It's just fluff - filler. And then on Christmas Eve (Or Christmas Eve Eve) we sort everything into piles and worry that one child has too much and another child, not enough. We spend hours wrapping presents and neatly placing them under the tree in a way that will look impressive when the kids come down the steps and then we go to bed hoping to get 3 or 4 hours of sleep before they wake up and dive in. On Christmas day, the kids are exited to open their presents but often throw them aside without a second look, in anticipation of what might be in the next box.

When all the presents are unwrapped, the focus then switches to trying out as many of their new toys as possible in the limited time they have before we head out to visit extended family. Many packages are opened and items are given a few minutes of attention before they are once again abandoned. Our children don't have a lot of stuff but we have a lot of children, which means that there is a lot of stuff in total. So we never have enough space for all their new gifts and everything has to go back under the tree until we figure out where to put all the new presents. Most of the items don't ever find a permanent home because they were cheaply made and my children are hard on them. By New Years Day, we have usually thrown away quite a few of their presents because they were broken by the recipient or a sibling. By the end of January, half of what remained is also gone leaving the initial items that were so thoughtfully chosen and a few, sturdier toys.

In the month that follows Christmas, we reprimand our children daily for not taking better care of all the items that they didn't actually want or need, as we throw them in the trash. We feel that our children are ungrateful for the hard work and sacrifice that went into acquiring all of these gifts. And they are. They're children. They don't really understand and appreciate what went into "making Christmas happen" because they have never lived it. In their eyes they were good; they made the nice list; they deserve these presents like we deserve our paycheck for working hard. And just like money passes through our fingers each week, these gifts too, are temporary.

But what if they weren't? What if we could give our children gifts that lasted a lifetime? What if we could give them more than a big pile of stuff? Because, here's the thing: I'm not opposed to my children having great memories of waking up and coming down the steps to a pile of gifts under the tree. I'm opposed to that being the only good memory that comes out of it. My kids don't need stuff. They need experiences. They need memories that will have a positive, lasting impact on their lives. They need time with the people they love doing things they will remember. They need presents with a purpose - gifts that will help them become more well rounded adults.

I want my kids to receive books and boardgames, snow pants and sleds, compasses and cutting boards, ballet tickets, zoo passes, and the promise of shared experiences. My kids like opening presents, but they cherish time spent having fun with the people they love so much more. I can see it in their smiles and hear it in their voices when they can't stop talking about their backpacking trip with Chanda, or the movie they saw with Grandma, or getting Jimmy Johns with Uncle David, or playing with the baby goats at Aunt Sherry's farm with She-She & Papa. They might not all be able to express it, but the thing kids want most is for the people they love to invest in them and the things they love. And I'm not just talking about my children. I'm talking about all children.

This year, as you wander the store in search of the perfect gift for your child, look for things you can do together. Make plans as you shop. Give them a fishing pole with the promise of trying ice-fishing. Buy them books they will love and make a plan to ask about it, maybe even read it yourself. Get passes to a zoo, or aquarium, or science center and spend time planning a special day with them. Buy them a pair of boots and promise to help get them dirty by taking them to explore a new patch of wilderness. Our kids are never going to appreciate most of the stuff we give them. But they will appreciate the memories we make with them. This Christmas, lets not just give kids presents. Lets give them memories!