Aarn Natural Balance
The Aarn Natural Balance (NB) is the big brother to the Aarn Featherlite Freedom (FF), I recently wrote a review on the FF and many of the design features are also the same for the NB. Perhaps the major differences are;
- Vertical bars form part of the frame on the NB as shown in the picture below
- The NB has 2 compartments one accessed at the top of the pack and the other at the bottom.
For this trip I used the lower compartment of the pack for my sleeping bag and dry clothes, the upper section included all my food along with the GoLite SL2 and other odds and ends.
Similar to the FF the NB includes watertight inner sacks and thus there is no need for a pack cover.
For the trip I attached the Expedition pockets on the front, and the starting volume of the pack was 83 litres, which is similar to many packs seen on the Kungsleden. This volume enabled me to easily pack all my required gear and food in the main pack whilst the front pockets contained everything required during the day such as food, camera, stove, navigation equipment.
The starting weight of the pack was approximately 23kgs, which was heavier than I prefer but once the fit had been adjusted I found it to be comfortable with none of the sore shoulders or hips that can come from carrying big loads. By the end of the trip, the pack was too large but I was able to compress the pack to a smaller size as shown below.
Sleeping and Shelter
GoLite Shangri La 2
The GoLite Shangri La 2, was in my view perfect for this trip and no matter whether it was windy or rainy or there were mosquitos I was always happy to get into my shelter later in the day. The only downside of the shelter is if the wind changes direction and comes from the side, which happened to me on one occasion, interestingly it took little effort to get out of bed and rotate the shelter 90 degrees and using Dondo's technique of angling the Pacer Poles towards the centre of the ridge line it was amazing to see how tight a pitch could be had once the shelter had been rotated. All in all this will be my shelter for longer trips for the foreseeable future.
I used Easton pegs (8" and 4") and at no time did they move once inserted.
Coupled with the SL-2 I used an MLD Solomid Innernet, whilst this may not have been the optimum set up, it worked. I had complete protection from the mosquitos, and it provided me with a “dry space” within in which to sleep, relax etc. I am considering having a custom made inner net that will utilise the design of half the SL 2 more efficiently.
PolyCro ground sheet
I used the PolyCro ground sheet (available from TrekkingLite ) under the inner net as I knew I would be camping on wet ground, the ground sheet had one small tear in it and was repaired with duct tape. Otherwise it was perfect and I will use this ground sheet for many more trips.
I used the Exped SynMat UL 7 and though it was a little heavy (460 gms) it was sooo..... comfortable as a consequence there were mornings where I could have easily stayed in bed. The Exped Pump Pillow made inflating the mattress easy. The pump pillow does have an advantage, it has self inflating foam inside and as a pillow it was better than pillows which are best described as shaped airbags. As a lighter alternative to the pump pillow there is the Exped Schnozzel (scroll down), which could be used in conjunction an Exped Shrink Bag thereby reducing the need for one of the bags in the pack.
Cooking and Hydration
Jetboil Sol Ti
The Jetboil was a star it worked perfectly and with a fuel consumption of 9 gms. per litre of water boiled I was very happy. This stove will be my gas stove of choice for the future. During the cooler weather the efficiency was decreased a little and as the canister empties it does burn slower but I was able to use the 100 gm canister effectively till the final drop of gas was used. However, I do not understand why there is a handle on the cozy, it is pretty much useless in my view. On a happier note the cozy fits nicely around a Fuizion freeze dried packet, so it does double duty.
A more detailed report on the Jetboil Sol Ti can be found at Lightweight Outdoors
For those interested in using wood stoves, I kept a note of the availability of burnable material and in my view 50% of the time a wood burning stove could be used, so with a back up fuel source it would be possible to use a wood burner such as a Back Country Boiler.
I used the Kupilka 21 and the Kupilka long handled spoon for the entire trip and whilst there are lighter options, the kuksa in my view is ideal. The spoon is a joy to use, it does not have that cold feeling of Titanium and weighs the same as a long handled Ti spoon. The Kupilka spoon is long enough to be scrape every last mouthful out of a Fuizion Freeze Dried food packet. If you have not used one, give them a try.
Clothing Worn or Carried
Inov-8 Roclite 370
These boots were very comfortable and I had none of the foot and leg problems I experienced last year with heavier boots, but sadly after 200 kms, the instep of both boots was coming away. Fortunately I was able to sew them back together which I did twice before the end of the trip. Whilst doing this I recalled a Roman Dial comment about another brand of shoe where seam sealing before a trip ensured that the shoes held together, something I will do in the future. I will be having the boots repaired and expect to get many more kilometres out of them before they are finally retired.
Rab Demand PullOn
This eVent jacket was ideal for the wet and windy conditions experienced. When wearing the smock I never felt damp inside and as I have previously stated when there is a breeze blowing I find it cooler than the windshirt. The hood on the smock fitted well no matter whether I was wearing my Outdoor Research Radar Cap or a Possum fur beanie.
Montane Featherlight Pants
These pants are perhaps a little too minimalist for a trip like this, but it does depend on the amount of wet weather experienced. I wore them for 3 days when there was wind driven rain all day and at other times as wind protection. Overall, they were fine, though in extended rain periods they do wet through resulting in wet and possibly cold legs. However, once it stops raining they dry quickly and allow your body heat to dry you pants underneath. Probably on another trip such as this I would choose one of the following Rab Drillium trousers, GoLite Tumalo pants or the new Montane Minimus pants.
Silkbody Polo Shirt
Before I left home I realized that I would be spending about 24 hours on a train, so I decided to wear a Silkbody Short Sleeve Polo Shirt. This was a blessing in disguise. I wore this shirt several days as it was cool to wear in the warm sunny weather, it was easily rinsed out, dried quickly with no evident odour. I will use this shirt more often on summer walks.
Columbia Titanium Long Sleeve Shirt (Fossil colour)
There is no doubt that this shirt limited the number of bugs buzzing around my upper body, it was comfortable to wear, dried quickly and did resist odour build up. Some days I wore it over the Silkbody shirt as a windshirt, I found this arrangement comfortable and warm enough without recourse to windshirt.
Montane Terra Pants
Lived in them for 3 weeks, tough, quick drying comfortable pants.
Socks, I started off wearing Smartwool Adrenaline socks with Teko Liner socks, but found after 3 days of continually wet feet I was getting rub marks on my toes. I removed the liner socks and just used the smartwool socks for the rest of the trip. This worked perfectly for me and as I had two pair I would rinse a pair out and dry them on the side of the pack, I would then swap pairs every second day, occasionally I was able to start the day with dry socks.
One evening whilst relaxing after a long day I was reflecting on my gear I was using for the trip. I realised that I was very happy with my set up whether it was for this trip or for shorter trips. For me there was a right mixture of comfort and lightweight and the minimal amount of gear carried ensured that packing and unpacking was easy and could be completed efficiently with a minimum of fuss.