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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel

Cornelius, Oregon

Jim Hamel's Passions

Hiking & Camping

Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on June 15, 2016

5 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer

I have a really big head (I'm talking physically, not mentally) and it is SO hard to find a hat that fits comfortably. The size L/XL Horizon hat fits the bill. Not only can I comfortably fit the headband, but the volume of the hat is large enough to fit over my head rather than just laying on top of my head. I have now bought a total of 4 of these hats, I know from experience how aggravating it can be when you find a hat you like and then they discontinue it. I'm pretty thin on top so I wear a North Face Horizon ball cap EVERY day. And it's so comfortable that I usually don't even realize I'm wearing it.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on March 9, 2016

4 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer

This was my second of three Banchee purchases - first I bought the Banchee 65, then I bought this Banchee 50 as an option for shorter trips, and I just bought the Banchee 35 to replace my Gregory Z30 day pack. It's offseason but I'm walking every day on the treadmill with a full Banchee pack (alternating the 50 or 65) and have logged more than 85 miles with them. The suspension on the Banchee is exactly the same on the 35, 50, and 65 and it has the best carry and suspension any pack I've owned and I've owned a lot. Both the hipbelt and torso length are adjustable but the real strength is the hipbelt, which has two lumbar pads (not the usual one) that along with the adjustable forward hip pads do an excellent job of transferring and distributing the weight on your hips. There is none of the feeling that the hipbelt wants to slip downward that I get with other packs. I've loaded this pack with more weight (using dumbells) that I would ever want to carry, and the suspension can clearly handle more weight than I can.

The weight transfer on this pack is outstanding but there are two reasons I'm giving only 4 stars instead of 5. First, if you have a long torso (I do) and you have to extend out the shoulder harness (which is held by velcro), there is a ridge on the flap where the shoulder harness goes into the backpanel. That ridge can be a little bit of an irritant against your back - it's not a major problem but you can tell it's there.

The second issue is that all 3 packs are a bit heavy for their capacities, and those capacities feel optimistic on the 50 and 35. The size L/XL Banchee 50 weighs 3 lb 8.9 oz on my postal scale and I can't pack any more gear into it than my Osprey Exos 46 which weighs more than a pound less at 2 lb 8.2 oz.. The difference is entirely in the suspension but based on the ability to transfer the load to my hips, I think the extra pound is worth it. I thought I should be able to load my minimalist ultralight overnight gear into the Banchee 35, but it clearly won't work for anything more than dayhiking.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on February 3, 2016

5 5

Familiarity: I've used it several times

I bought this pack from Backcountry last summer and hung it in my gear closet for months without using it. For the last 16 days I have been walking every day on the treadmill with a modest load (25 pounds) and I have come to really, REALLY like this pack. The reason I bought the pack was because of all the organizational features and the adjustable hip belt but when the boots hit the trail, the only thing that really matters is how comfortable the suspension is. And this suspension is VERY comfortable.
I've owned a lot of packs (mostly Gregory and Osprey) and I think this pack has the best hip belt I've experienced. It's got two things going for it: first, the length of the hip belt pads is adjustable. I've got a large waist and I pulled the belt out so the tips extend just past the front of my hipbones so when I really cinch down the hip belt, it doesn't press into my belly like most hip belts do. Second, the lumbar pad has a very pronounced shelf (as you can see in the picture of the suspension). This pad fits into the small of your back and braces the hip belt as you cinch it down. So the hip belt can be cinched down tight, is very comfortable, and the design really carries the weight well with no slippage on your hips as you add more weight to the pack.
The shoulder harness has a velcro panel to adjust the torso length and there are two additional adjustment features so set up the harness. First, the load lifter straps attach to the shoulder harness with sliders so you can adjust the point of attachment. Second, you can adjust the sternum strap up and down to the most comfortable setting for you. It did take some experimentation but eventually I was able to attain what seems to be an almost perfect balance of weight between my hips and shoulders. As I'm walking it is very easy to adjust the weight between hips and shoulders by tightening and loosening the shoulder straps and load lifters.
In summary, this pack has a lot of adjustability that allows you to custom fit the pack to your body. It takes some trial and error but when you get it right, the carry is VERY comfortable. Bonus: it's loaded with pockets and organization options but the reality is, it doesn't matter how many bells and whistles a pack has if it doesn't carry comfortably. This is one of those cases where a pack that is supremely comfortable also has an outstanding pack bag. For those reasons I highly recommend the Banchee 65.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on October 14, 2014

5 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer

I now own 3 Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil compression stuff sacks. Or I should correct that and say I now own two, I "loaned" one to my hiking buddy to use as a stuff sack for his Marmot sleeping bag. Somehow I don't think I'll get it back.
There are three things I love about these Sea to Summit stuff sacks:
1. They are incredibly light compared to other similarly sized stuff sacks and lighter than the "claimed weight" - on my postal scale the size small weighs 2.2 ounces and the size medium, 2.6 ounces.
2. The workmanship is impeccable. Although made with lightweight fabrics and webbing, I've never seen so much as a frayed stitch on any of my stuff sacks.
3. They start large (bigger than you expect from the specs) and easy to cram your "whatever"* in (*clothes, sleeping bag, etc) - then you can leverage the straps to compress the load down to the smallest possible size (i.e. when what's inside is compressed to where it's as hard as a rock).
I use the size "small" compression sack for my Nemo Nocturne 15 sleeping bag and I recently purchased a size "medium" sack for my Mountain Hardware Big Bang SL -20 bag, which is a HUGE sleeping bag. The Sea to Summit sack compresses down to little more than half the size of the stuff sack that came with the bag (and that stuff sack also weighs more than 5 ounces).
All in all this is a great product, very typical of all products I have owned from Sea to Summit.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on October 3, 2014

2 5

Familiarity: I've used it once or twice and have initial impressions

This would be a great tent for solo use. I could see using this tent with a spouse or significant other with whom you have a romantic relationship. For two adult friends-only males, this tent is unacceptable. For two adult males holed up in a rainstorm, this tent is a nightmare.

The tent floorspace is tight - two mattresses barely fit side by side because once past the front tent opening (which is spread wide by the front semicircular pole), the walls slope in from the side very rapidly. The effect is like being in a burrow and you really can't use the full floorspace.

Getting in and out of the tent without disturbing your sleeping tent-mate is an exercise in futility. You have to go head first into the tent (using only your side of the front door) to your knees, then pivot to sit on your butt to take off your boots to keep from bringing dirt and mud into the tent. Once your boots are off you realize the problem: your feet are at the head of the tent but need to be at the foot of the tent. The side walls are closing in so you can't rotate your feet to your side, you have to rotate them through the center of the tent - over your partner. All of this while you are hunched over because the wall on your side of the tent is sloping in on top of you. If you are having trouble following my description, let's just say the actual act is more difficult than trying to desribe it.

I bought this tent directly from Sierra Designs and went hiking with my buddy to Jefferson Park on Mt. Jefferson in the Oregon Cascades. We spent one restless night and at 6 in the morning it started raining. Although the weather forecast was for clearing, by 8AM we realized there was no way we could be holed up in this tent for any period of time waiting for the rain to stop - when two people are in the tent your only option is to both lay down. We packed up and hiked out in the rain. A week later the tent was sold on ebay to the highest bidder.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on September 23, 2014

A darn good tent for two - I like it!
4 5

Familiarity: I've used it several times

Over the past 7-10 years, floor space has gotten stingy as manufacturers race to claim lower weights for a given tent category. The modern 2 person tent is only suitable for one person or a VERY friendly couple, and it takes a 3 person tent (like the Limelight 3P) to comfortably house two non-amorous adult males. The Limelight is competitive on space and has some nice features:
1. The brow pole is longer than usual which makes the tent more upright at the doors and gives some needed extra protection if rain is falling; you can have the vestibule open and won't get water in the tent as long as the wind isn't blowing the rain sideways.
2. The pole geometry creates upright walls and a wide, almost flat ceiling so the tent has a higher useable height than other tents with a more domed ceiling. You do have to crouch a bit to get into the tent (no more than with competing tents) but once in the tent, you can sit up and it is very spacious; you never feel the walls closing in on you.
3. The door design is an improvement over tents I've owned from REI, Big Agnes, and Sierra Designs. The zipper is shaped like a horizontal horseshoe; you can completely open the door to one side and secure it with two toggles so it doesn't lay or flop on the ground where it can get dirty or muddy if it's raining. This makes it comparatively easier to get in and out of the tent when nature calls in the middle of the night (which is the biggest shortcoming of some other tents) and the vestibule brow keeps you relatively protected from the rain as you get in and out.

The Alpenglow color is aesthetically pleasing and blends well with the environment. The Limelight has small reflective patches at the guy-out points so it is easy to find your way back in the night - a really cool safety feature. And it's stoutly made which adds to the weight but makes it appropriate for 4 season use. Marmot, cut a pound off the weight and I'd increase my rating to 5 stars.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on September 21, 2014

3 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer

I bought the Primus ETA lite thinking it would be a step up from my Jetboil Sol, which had a problem with a loose lid that made it difficult to pour boiling water. I have used the Primus ETA Lite on 3 multi-day backpacking trips and have arrived at the conclusion that the Jetboil Sol is a better stove for the following reasons.
1. Boiling times: the Primus ETA is significantly slower to bring water to a boil. I have not measured the actual boiling times but don't need to because the difference is so dramatically obvious. The Jetboil boils water almost immediately - it seems like you just turn it on and the water is boiling - but with the Primus ETA, you repeatedly spend time just sitting and looking at the stove, wondering when the water will boil. Huge advantage to the Jetboil
2. Ergonomics: Both stoves have issues with their stove lid. The Jetboil lid is soft plastic that is can come loose and easily fly off when water comes to a roiling boil. The lid gets very hot which makes it hard to hold the lid down to pour boiling water. The Primus stove has a strap that holds the lid down and it works very effectively. But, the Primus stove is difficult to pour because the pouring hole is recessed, an awkward designed that makes it hard to pour water into your cup. Advantage: the Primus, but not by much.
3. Weight: The Primus ETA light weighs 15.8 ounces for the pot with lid, stove, and canister legs (which I consider mandatory on both stoves for stability). The similarly sized and equipped Jetboil Sol weighs 11.8 ounces. The Jetboil uses lighter materials yet doesn't seem in any way flimsy except for the lid.

In conclusion, the Jetboil boils water faster than the Primus ETA Light and is a quarter pound lighter to boot - so I'm retiring the Primus and putting the Jetboil in my pack instead.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on September 21, 2014

5 5

Familiarity: I've used it several times

I like to establish a base camp and explore on dayhikes, and bought this pack with that specific use in mind. However, I've found that this is a true multi-use piece of gear.
1. This is a perfect compression stuff sack for my 4 season Mountain Hardwear down sleeping bag. The Kompressor has 3 straps on the lid pocket - equidistantly spaced - that make this a very effective compression stuff sack.
2. Of course, I use the Kompressor as dayhiking pack. I put some clothing (typically a shirt) in the hydration-compatible sleeve to cushion my back from sharp objects.
3. At night I stuff the Kompressor with all my contingency clothing (rain jacket and pants, spare socks, puffy down hoody) and it makes a great pillow.
It gets even better. Gear often weighs more than the manufacturer's claimed weight but in this case, the Kompressor only weighs 9.2 ounces verses the 10 ounce claimed weight. Since it has allowed me to leave out a compression stuff sack and blow-up backpacking pillow, I've effectively added the Kompressor to my pack with virtually no increase in the weight I am carrying.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on September 2, 2014

4 5

Familiarity: I've used it several times

I am an ultralight ounce counter and I bought a set of the Air Zippdity stuffsacks to use as a lighter ditty bag alternative to the Outdoor Research Zip Sack. Originally I ordered the 104 cu in, they were so small I returned them and exchanged for the largest size (146 cu in). Even then, I found I have to use both Air Zippditty sacks to carry the same items as I did with one size small OR Zip Sack. So I didn't gain anything by going with the Granite Gear sacks and in fact it's a little more complicated when I try to remember which items are in which sacks. While I wish they were available in a larger size, I will say that the Granite Gear sacks are VERY well made with waterproof zippers (cool), attractive colors, and impeccable stitching. Note: the claimed weight for the 146 cu in sack is 0.78 oz, the actual weight on my postal scale is 0.6 oz.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on May 26, 2014

5 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
Fit: True to size

I really struggled before putting out the money to buy this jacket in late 2013. Since then I've been on 3 backpacking trips in cold to very-cold weather and am SO happy how this parka has kept me warm and reduced my pack weight for two reasons - first, it is amazingly light (12.8 ounces including stuff sack for men's Medium) and second, I don't have to carry as many layers.
This parka packs down nice and small in its included stuff sack, but lofts up quickly after I pull it out, shake it and set it on my sleeping bag. I just LOVE the box-baffle construction - no cold spots! This parka just fits really comfortably and I haven't felt cold in freezing temperatures (I haven't really tested its lower limits). All in all, this is a warm and comfortable parka that will remain firmly on my list of go-to gear.

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Jim Hamel

Jim Hamelwrote a review of on May 15, 2014

3 5

Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer

I previously owned a Jetboil Flash, bought the Jetboil Sol about 2 years ago and have used it many times. I am not a fan because when I boil water (which is all this stove is really useable for), I can't keep the lid on. The lid is barely stays on when cold, then when it gets hot the lid must expand, because it gets looser than a politician spending tax money. It's really awkward pouring just-boiled water because you have to hold the lid down and it gets really HOT. I've burned fingers more than once. I'm on the Backcountry.com site now looking at other stoves because I just don't want to deal with it anymore. I'm giving the Sol 3 stars because it boils water faster than anything else on the market, but someone needs to go back to the design drawing board.

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