The Murmur's rear and side pockets are tighter than the Kumo's, but are still enough to hold the essentials. Note the translucent material of the pack fabric.

The Murmur’s rear and side pockets are tighter than the Kumo’s, but are still enough to hold the essentials. Note the translucent material of the pack fabric.

After three years of using Gossamer Gear’s Kumo, I decided to try their even lighter pack, the Murmur. All of GG’s packs have been redesigned this year for comfort, style, and functionality, so I was curious about making the switch. The current Murmur is a little smaller than the previous version, and a bit lighter than the Kumo. I’ve used it on several day hikes and overnights this season already, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve seen.

The previous version of the Murmur was essentially identical to the Kumo, but with lighter materials. The new Murmur is a completely different design, starting with a lighter material. The main pack body is made of Cordura Nylon, which is much lighter than the previous Dyneema material, and translucent enough to see almost all of what you’re packing. The material feels very fragile, but I’ve gotten it caught on lots of poking tree limbs already and can’t find any signs of tearing, so it’s clearly stronger than it looks. It is also water resistant, although I haven’t tested that in any more than a light rain.

The Murmur, half full and being used as a day pack in the White Mountains.

The Murmur, half full and being used as a day pack in the White Mountains.

Features that are new in the Murmur (or similar to older versions) include a roll-top closure system, shoulder straps that have no padding, trekking pole carrying loops, and a removable hip belt with very nice integrated pockets. The hip belt, though well designed, is something I removed right away, since I never use hip belts on ultralight packs. The clips to attach the belt took some futzing to undo, so this is probably something you wouldn’t want to detach and reattach frequently, but on the plus side they leave almost nothing on the pack when detached, so the weight savings is almost 100%. The trekking pole carry loops are very useful, and there’s not much more to say about those.

The sit-light pad included with the Murmur is a lighter version than that of other GG packs. Also, note the thin mesh shoulder straps. In this picture, I've taken off the hip belt, and instead use a Gossamer Gear shoulder pocket for my camera.

The sit-light pad included with the Murmur is a lighter version than that of other GG packs. Also, note the thin mesh shoulder straps. In this picture, I’ve taken off the hip belt, and instead use a Gossamer Gear shoulder pocket for my camera.

The unpadded shoulder straps are unusual compared to GG’s other new packs, which have very plush padding. Since the Kumo is the first pack I’ve owned where I completely did away with hip belts, I was a little worried that the lack of padding in the new Murmur would be uncomfortable. While they are somewhat less comfortable than the padded straps when carrying a full pack, the point of the Murmur is to be the pack for experienced ultralight hikers. I’ve carried the Kumo with about 27 pounds of load before without too much discomfort. I probably wouldn’t try the Murmur with much more than 20, which is plenty for a four-day summer backpacking trip. The up-side to the unpadded straps is also that they are fully mesh, which allows the shoulders to breathe more. I’ve had much less shoulder sweat with the Murmur than with my Kumo.

The Murmur at home for the night under my tarp.

The Murmur at home for the night under my tarp.

A few changes in the design to the Murmur will take some getting used to for me– they’re not necessarily bad, but worth noting. First, the side pockets don’t billow as much as other GG packs, and they seem to have Smart Water bottles in mind. I use wider water bottles, and have to squeeze a little harder to get them into the pockets. Similarly, the stretch mesh for the large rear pocket is less stretchy than the previous version, so I can’t cram as much stuff into it unless the main pack compartment is less full.

The roll-top closure for the pack is nice, but so far I haven’t been able to fill the pack to the point where it’s full enough to warrant extending the roll-top’s side compression straps at all. This shouldn’t be an issue most of the time, but considering the load I had in the pack for a four-day backpacking trip still barely filled the main pack body while pushing the limits of the 20-pound load limit, I wonder what I would have to pack in order to really fill out the main compartment. Maybe lots of puffy insulation.

All in all, it’s a very nice pack with a stylish remodeling that doesn’t add significant weight. I’ll probably continue using it for at least three more years.

You can purchase the pack at Gossamer Gear’s website, using this link:

Weight:
Pack without sit-pad, hip belt, or sternum strap: 8.0 oz
Sit-pad frame: 1.4 oz
Hip Belt: 2.5 oz
Sternum Strap: 0.4 oz
Total: 12.3 oz

Disclosure: Gossamer Gear provided me with a pack through their Trail Ambassadors program at my request.

I’ve been using Mountain Laurel Designs’ bug bivy for a little over a year now, and finding it to be an essential piece of my sleeping and shelter kit in spring and summer. I’ve used tarps for shelter for years, but it seems every year that the Maine black flies and mosquitoes have gotten worse and worse, making for several sleepless nights in the backcountry a few years ago. While the 7.3 oz (including cords) bivy offsets a lot of the weight savings from using an open tarp for shelter rather than an enclosed tent, I’ve found it well worth the extra weight.

The bug bivy in action in a Baxter State Park lean-to.

The bug bivy in action in a Baxter State Park lean-to.

The design is simple– a silnylon floor is connected to a no-see-um netting top, with a half-length zipper at the peak for entry. Grosgrain loops at the four corners allow for staking the bivy out, and two more loops at either end of the zipper can be used to hang the bivy from my tarp, or from lean-tos and shelters on the Appalachian Trail. There’s not much space in the bivy, but there’s enough that I can lay on my stomach, propped up on my elbows in order to read before going to sleep.

Setting up the bivy took some getting used to as well, but the learning curve is low. I stake out all the corners so the bivy is taut, then put my sleeping pad and sleeping bag in. I keep my little things (journal, headlamp, maps, and bag of extra things) next to my head inside the bivy. Once I’m ready to climb in for the night, I attach the hanging loops from the top of the bivy to hang loops on my tarp with a pair of stretch cords with plastic hooks (included with the bivy). I’ve placed cord locks at the bivy end of the stretch cord so that I can quickly adjust the tension of the hang before calling it a night. I still have to be careful when getting into the bivy, since it seems to attract dirt and leaves that I accidentally kick onto it, but you can avoid that with a little mindfulness.

The floor of the bivy is waterproof, but in cases where I expect very wet conditions, I’ll add 1.7 ounces with a Gossamer Gear polycryo ground cloth underneath the bivy.

In AT shelters, where staking the bivy to the ground would be a bad idea, I keep my heaviest items at the corners of the bivy in order to keep it weighted to the ground (not as sturdy as stakes, but it works well enough), and attach the hang cords to either hanging nails in the shelter, or I might gently wedge a stake between the logs of the shelter to make a hanging hook.

So far, the bivy has been worth its weight in gold, allowing me to sleep like a baby under my tarp or in shelters next to swampy ponds in Maine. Take that, mosquitoes and black flies!

MLD builds these to order, with wait times in the order of several weeks, so it might be too late to order yours for this year, but put it on your list for the next holiday season.

Disclosure: This bug bivy was a Christmas gift from a family member, purchased at full price from Mountain Laurel Designs.

Last week I had an opportunity to visit a place that is often regarded as one of the highlights of Maine’s public lands. It wasn’t Acadia, with the National Park and massive tourism infrastructure. It wasn’t Baxter State Park, with the state’s high point and the end of the Appalachian Trail. It wasn’t even within a hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail. And I’d venture to say that most hikers who come to visit Maine have never heard of the Cutler Coast. Their loss. This was one of the most wonderful hikes I’ve been on.

Cutler Coast's trail system. The red dot on the inset shows the location of the trail area.

Cutler Coast’s trail system. The red dot on the inset shows the location of the trail area.

The Inland Trail passes beaver ponds and grassy wetlands as well as the dense forest.

The Inland Trail passes beaver ponds and grassy wetlands as well as the dense forest.

Cutler Coast Public Reserved Land is part of the Bold Coast region, which is the easternmost part of the Maine coast near New Brunswick. The Public Reserved Land unit was created 25 years ago and seems to have quickly become a poster-child for the system. In almost all of the recent news articles about the Public Reserved Land system in Maine, Cutler is one of the two land units mentioned as examples, the other being the Bigelow Range, which any Appalachian Trail hiker will tell you is one of the finest places on the AT. Both of these preserves have deep, primeval forests, and relatively quiet hiking trails, but while the Bigelows showcase some of the best that Maine’s inland mountains and lakes have to offer, Cutler shows off the beauty of the rugged coastline.

Rugged inland terrain.

Rugged inland terrain.

Primeval forests of northern Maine.

Primeval forests of northern Maine.

My friends, Angela and Ryan (yes, another Ryan), took a vacation to Acadia last week and finished the trip by heading to Cutler for a one-night backpacking trip. I’d been excited to see this area for years, so I jumped at the opportunity, even though it meant driving 4.5 hours each way for a ten mile hike. So after driving to what many people would consider the end of the world, and then continuing two more hours into the land of blueberry fields (according to Wikipedia, Maine produces 25% of all blueberries in North America, and most of them are from right here in Washington County), we arrived at a very well-maintained trailhead and began our hike.

Day one consisted of the Inland Trail portion of the loop, walking through deep forest and along coastal marshlands. It’s still early spring here, so the leaves were missing and the grass was brown, but that barely diminished the beauty in the area. And even though the trail walks along coastal terrain with no mountains, this was no easy walking– Maine’s forest floor is a jumble of rocks, roots, and moss, keeping you on your toes even in the flattest terrain.

We arrived at the three campsites on Fairy Head, all totally deserted on this mid-week evening, and chose what I think is the easternmost backcountry campsite in the continental US. Each of the campsites here looks out over the Bay of Fundy, the ocean crashing against the rocks just below. We were lulled to sleep by the sounds of the ocean, with a cool breeze coming off the sea. In the morning, I listened to loons and lobster boats in the pre-dawn hour, then watched the sun rise while I rested under my tarp. I haven’t had such a restful sleep in months.

Sunrise over Grand Manan from our campsite.

Sunrise over Grand Manan from our campsite.

Sunrise striking the Bold Coast.

Sunrise striking the Bold Coast.

After a long and leisurely time breaking camp, we walked the Coastal Trail. Again, it was only a short hike on “flat” terrain, but we barely broke one mile per hour. The jagged rocks of the coast require plenty of concentration to walk along without hurting yourself, but the sheer abundance of scenery slowed us down just as much. Cobblestone beaches, sixty-foot cliffs down to the crashing waves, jagged rock formations rising out of the water– we all agreed we could spend weeks here without getting bored.

I’ll let the pictures do the last of the talking, but first I’ll leave you with this thought– Maine’s Public Reserved Lands are managed by the Bureau of Parks and Lands, which is in danger of being dissolved and the lands given over to an agency primarily devoted to logging rather than a mix of logging and recreation, entirely because of heavy-handed politics. The reaction to this plan from both sides of the political spectrum has been resoundingly negative, showing just how beloved the agency and the land it manages is to Mainers. I’ve written about this, and I’ll continue to update that post as the story progresses. Let this serve as a reminder, wherever you are, the public lands that are a benefit to all of us are also in need of constant protection. Visit them often, love them, and take care of them.

Cobblestone beach at Black Point Cove.

Cobblestone beach at Black Point Cove.

Ryan standing on the cliffs next to our campsite.

Ryan standing on the cliffs next to our campsite.

The trail along the coast.

The trail along the coast.

Hiking through another cobblestone beach at Long Point Cove.

Hiking through another cobblestone beach at Long Point Cove.

After leaving Black Point Cove, we climb the cliffs over it.

After leaving Black Point Cove, we climb the cliffs over it.

Rock formations in an unnamed cove.

Rock formations in an unnamed cove.

More clifftop walking over coves and ocean.

More clifftop walking over coves and ocean.

Many inaccessible coves at the bottom of high cliffs.

Many inaccessible coves at the bottom of high cliffs.

The closest overlook to the parking area, with dizzying drops on either side into the ocean.

The closest overlook to the parking area, with dizzying drops on either side into the ocean.

Hi – this is Guthook’s colleague Alice here. Most of us feel helpless in the face of international tragedy. Typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, disease outbreaks… few of us are in a position to do anything other than send some money and our moral support to our fellow human beings. With a few hours of online training, however, you can assist disaster relief workers across the world from your own computer.

HotOSM — or Humanitarian Open Street Maps — is a project of the larger OpenStreetMap project. The HotOSM team identifies areas of the world where there is a current need for accurate maps, and where there are not currently accurate maps in place. An army of online volunteers (you!) then  maps these areas into a master database using high resolution satellite imagery donated by various organizations such as Microsoft (Bing maps) and Mapbox. The maps are used by disaster relief teams on the ground.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage.

Screenshot of the HotOSM Tasking Manager webpage. Mapping tasks are broken into squares.

Right now there is an intense effort by HotOSM underway to map Nepal: you can see the list of projects at the OSM Tasking Manager. Volunteers’ mapping contributions for Nepal are being updated and made available as a FREE offline mapset every 30 minutes for use by anyone, e.g. disaster relief volunteers.

I went through this learning process within the past year, and it took about 5-10 hours of practice and setup via learnOSM before I felt comfortable contributing to a project. I happened to become interested in this project just as the Ebola outbreak occurred, so I spent a lot of time mapping roads and villages in West Africa. And now, thanks to the HotOSM volunteers, vast areas of West Africa are mapped for posterity. (And on a personal note, I can’t believe how much I learned about another part of the world just by looking at satellite maps for hours on end.)

You can do the same for Nepal. A word of caution: to do this right, you need to spend some time going through the learning process outlined at learnOSM or follow the tutorials and advice from the HotOSM team. It can be a little frustrating to learn how to use the mapping tools and how to add data to the master data set, but the payoff is well worth the effort.

For the first time since 2010, I flew out to California last week to attend the Annual Day Zero Pacific Crest Trail Kick Off at Lake Morena County Park. I’d last been there as an aspiring through-hiker, nervously joining hundreds of others to meet new partners, learn about the trail, and check out new backpacking gear. This time I was attending with my partners in app-making, Paul and Alice, and setting up camp in the vendors’ area to show off our apps to through-hikers and visitors.

Setting up the vendor booth in sunny SoCal weather.

Setting up the vendor booth in sunny SoCal weather.

We arrived on Wednesday morning, on a mild, sunny summer day. Other vendors were already beginning to set up, and hikers were already streaming into the campground. We were so busy throughout the Kickoff that we barely ventured past the vendor area. With such great friends as Gossamer Gear, Lightheart Gear, and The Stick Pic, there was no shortage of camaraderie.

Not-so-sunny SoCal weather to show off tents and backpacks in the vendors area.

Not-so-sunny SoCal weather to show off tents and backpacks in the vendors area.

Alice and Ryan

Alice and I getting our game faces on. This is serious business!

Unlike 2010, the Kickoff didn’t seem to be the time when most through-hikers began their hikes. Many such hikers were already as far north as Wrightwood and Agua Dulce, hundreds of miles north. The drought in California has allowed hikers to start much earlier than usual, and to hike further into the north where snow would normally shut them out until much later in the season. Because of the spread, it seems there were fewer hikers at the Kickoff even though there are more hikers overall on the PCT.

Paul and Ryan

Paul and I took shelter from the steady drizzle.

Even with the smaller numbers of hikers, Paul and Alice and I were completely exhausted by the end of the Kickoff, after constantly talking with visitors and demoing our apps to curious hikers for four days. The weather didn’t cooperate, with cold and rain on every day except the set-up day. On our way back to Paul and Alice’s home in Idyllwild, the rain hit harder than it had in months, drenching the parched state and a lot of not-so-parched hikers on the trail.

Hikers stopped by to see the new app features on their way to Canada.

Hikers stopped by to see the new app features on their way to Canada.

Despite the fact that I was a little sick before Kickoff, and the exhaustion pushed my recovery down by a few days, I had a wonderful time out there. Paul and Alice and I have been working together on Guthook’s Guides for almost five years now, but the crazy thing is that I haven’t seen them since 2010 when we parted ways in Manning Park, British Columbia. This was my first trip out to the PCT, and my first time seeing them, since then. We spent the next few days talking plans and programming, coming up with some great ideas for the future. I’m already looking forward to next year, when I’m pretty sure I’ll make a trip out west once again. Until then, Happy Trails to the PCT Class of 2015!

The Class of 2015 getting their picture taken at Lake Morena.

The Class of 2015 getting their picture taken at Lake Morena.