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G4 Review

   Thanks for sending me the G4 info.  I've been working on airline
resume's and cover letters, so I'd sorta pushed this to the back burner.
But I'm to a jumping-off place now, so this is a good time.  I don't
know how to post this to the right discussions group(s) or individuals,
so could you please forward it to the right folks?  Thanks.  Feel free
to edit, re-format, and/or comment as appropriate.  Particularly, can
you graft in a web-site for the cat stove?
G4 Review

  I recently hiked the John Muir Trail from Yosemite Valley to Mt.
Whitney; 255 miles (including re-supplies) in 19 days, using a G4 on
loan from my brother.  It was my first backpack trip in eight years, and
it sure was nice to return to the wilderness!  This was also my first
thru-hike, and my first foray into ultra-light backpacking.  My
conclusion?  Ultra-light is DEFINITELY the way to go for thru-hikers.  
  My pack weighed about 19 pounds, plus a light camera & journal, heavy
book (sorry), water and food.  I'll talk about equipment further down
the page. 
  The G4 is a good --not great-- backpack.  IMO, it has strayed into the
region of diminishing returns: small improvements in weight have come at
a disproportionate cost in performance.  But hey!  12 ounces IS nice. 
Fair warning:  I have NOT read any other G4 reviews, so I'll probably be
beating some dead horses.  Sorry.  On the other hand, I'm unbiased.
  For those who want to skip ahead, I'm listing: What I Liked; What I
Didn't Like; and Suggestions For The G5.  Then equipment.  Here goes.

What I liked:  
   QUALITY OF CONSTRUCTION.  My first impression was tissue-paper
flimsiness.  Wrong.  I was always careful to lift it by strengthened
loops and straps, and to keep it away from sharp objects.  With these
minimal precautions, I had no structural failures of any kind.  It
looked as good at the end of the trip as at the start.
   VOLUME.  Cavernous.  I believe it could have held as much as I was
willing to lift.  (In contrast, my father (63 years old) carried a Kelty
Vapor that, overall, performed a bit better than the G4 for only a
couple extra pounds and six times the cost.  But it is tall and skinny,
with no external pockets.  He did not have enough room at the top for
everything he needed to get to regularly; i.e. camera, water bottle,
water pump, map, lunch.  So he spent part of every rest stop unpacking
his bag. The G4 provides much easier access as well as higher capacity.) 
   BOAT BAG CLOSURE.  My brother tells me this feature was a nightmare
to manufacture and will probably be discontinued.  I hope not.  It's one
of my favorite features.  A problem with the G4 is that it is basically
a big floppy bag.  (More on that later.)  The boatbag closure is an
excellent way to take up excess slack and fasten it down.  You just roll
up the extra material and velcro it in place.  It takes a few days to
get used to it, but it's a very efficient way to alleviate that problem.
Also, it's waterproof.  Dad's Kelty has a drawstring that leaves a hole
at the top of his pack.  To keep his stuff dry in a downpour, he HAD to
put on his poncho.  I could enjoy the rain and hike myself dry.
   SOCKS FOR SHOULDER STRAP PADDING.  Great idea, but it presents some
logistical challenges.  Wet socks don't dry in there.  So you have to
wash your trail socks as soon as you make camp, and let them dry
overnight.  If they're dry in the AM, you have padding.  This is fine in
the Sierra, where the air is very VERY dry.  But it might not work so
well in the humidity of the AT....  And if you bring a third pair of
socks, or some other form of dedicated padding, then what's the point?
   EXTERNAL WEBBING POCKETS.  Nice to have ready access to oft-needed
items; and a place to dry laundry.

   What I didn't like:
   FORMLESS.  The G4 is a big floppy bag with straps.  The challenge is
figuring out how to fill the thing, hold all your stuff in place, and
take up all the excess slack.  Creative packing is essential.  I stuffed
my down sleeping bag into the bottom, in a plastic trash bag.  Then I
put all my clothes in the sleeping bag stuff sack, compressed it, and
jammed it in horizontally above the sleeping bag to form a sort of
shelf.  Next came the bear canister, set vertically.  (The G4 is not
capacious enough to lay the bear canister on its side.)  Then I packed
in all the rest--lightest on the bottom--around the bear canister to
hold it in place.  Took up the slack with the boatbag closure.  Water
bottle, camera, journal, laundry and munchies outside.  That's the best
I came up with in three weeks.  
  The pack is difficult to balance, and things drift.  I like to pack
the heavy stuff on top, near my shoulders.  But it tends to settle, and
soon you start to walk with a list, weight dragging on one shoulder.  I
used my water bottle as a counter-balance, and on some occasions found
myself thinking, "Well, if I drink my water now, the pack will be
leaning all the way up this hill--might as well wait."  IMHO, it's
pointless to have to carry dead weight to balance your pack and keep it
comfortable.  (See Suggestions.)
   Z-REST PACK FRAME.  I used an 8-section pad, which doubled as
the pack frame.  It was inadequate, and a key part of the G4 Catch-22:
Above ~23 pounds, the pad-frame collapses, putting all the weight on
your shoulders.  Bad.  Below ~23 pounds, there's not enough stuff in the
pack to hold everything in place.  The heavy stuff drifts, the pack
unbalances, and the weight drags on one shoulder.  Also bad.  My
solution was to find a couple slats of cedar along the trail, and tuck
them into the Z-rest.  These acted as vertical supports to hold the pad
rigid and keep the load on the hip strap.  (They were also contoured to
comfortably fit my back.  Nice bit of luck.)  The slats worked great,
but weighed several ounces.  They solved the sagging problem, but not
the equipment-drift problem.  The dismaying result was a pack that was
more comfortable when it was heavy!
   ELASTIC DRAWSTRING CLOSURE.  Useless.  If you use it instead of the
boatbag closure, you might as well be hiking with a Hefty trash bag.  As
installed, the drawstring is dead weight.
   EXTERNAL WEBBING POCKETS.  As installed, you have to take off the
pack to get anything out of them.  Minor quibble.     

   Suggestions for the G5:
   MORE RIGIDITY.  The G4 is TOO light.  The point of shaving ounces is
to save energy on the trail.  But it takes energy to make up for some of
the G4's shortcomings.  For example, we save weight (and energy) by
using the Z-rest as a pack frame.  But it collapses, putting most of the
weight on our shoulders.  Now we use extra energy supporting the weight
with back muscles instead of our bony hips.  Net loss.  Likewise, we
save weight by not having compression straps.  But the load shifts, and
we use muscles again to compensate.  Or we pack the heavy stuff at the
bottom, and hike inefficiently.  Or we carry an extra Thermarest to
serve as an internal frame, and thus carry extra weight.  I believe a
small weight investment in compression straps would be a net gain.
   Here's an idea:  Install an inelastic drawstring at the mid-point of
the pack--midway between the top of the shoulder straps and the hipbelt.
It would serve two possible purposes.  First, it could be a simple
compression strap.  Or, it could be used to completly close off the
lower half of the pack, acting as a shelf.  The lower portion would be
perfect for a sleeping bag, (which shouldn't be tightly compressed in a
perfect world anyway.)  Then the rest of the equipment would sit above
the "shelf", keeping most of the weight up near the shoulders.  It would
be an hour-glass shaped pack, but functional.  Another strap or draw-
string up near the top of the shoulder straps would help this "upper
compartment" keep it's form.  Creative packing would keep it from
flopping over.  Keep the boat bag closure to take up the slack.  
   Of course, for all this to work, there must be a more robust frame
than the Z-rest provides by itself.  Otherwise, all that high weight will
just sag from the shoulder straps.  My cedar slats worked very well.  A
lighter equivalent might be two stiff, lightweight plastic slats,
roughened on the surface like files.  They would hold themselves in
place tucked inside the pad folds, and provide adequate stiffness in the
frame.  Zealots could leave one home to save weight.  (Before I found a
second suitably curved piece of cedar, one slat did pretty well by
   EXTERNAL WEBBING POCKETS.  To make room for a mid-point drawstring,
the center external web pocket would have to be split into two shallow
pockets--one above the drawstring and one below.  (Or maybe eliminate
one of those pockets and just have one shallower pocket back there.)  As
I see it, the two side pockets would remain unchanged, with the
drawstring installed in the body of the main pack.  But the "cinch
point" for the drawstring would be right in the middle of the current
center web pocket, so it will have to be modified.
   Entirely apart from that scheme, it would be nice to be able to get
your water bottle without taking off the pack.  If the top of the side
pockets were angled a bit toward the hikers toes (instead of being
parallel to the ground as they are now) it would be possible to reach in
for a tall bottle.    
   SHOULDER STRAP LOOPS FOR STERNUM STRAP.  This is just a data point. 
I'm 6'3", 185 lbs.  I tried rigging a sternum strap to the loops
attached to the shoulder straps.  I found that the sternum strap
interfered with my breathing if it was tight enough to make any
difference with the rest of the pack.  Eliminating those two little
loops might save several hundredths of an ounce of valuable mass.... 
Maybe other folks have had better luck with them? 

   Okay, here's my equipment list.  I didn't weigh most items, but with
3-days' food my pack weighed 23 pounds.  We re-supplied five times,
never carrying more than 6 days' food at a stretch.

REI hikers' shorts, Coolmax T-shirt, two pairs REI skivvies (one to wear
one to wash), two pairs Ultimax socks (one to wear one for shoulder
padding), one pair synthetic boot socks, Lowa Gortex boots (worked great
for me), bill cap, shades, bandana.
Trekking poles.  Don't leave home without them.
G4 backpack.  My father used a Kelty Vapor, with hipstrap.  Superb pack
      if you have hundreds of dollars you don't need.  The rest of his
      equipment was basically identical to mine, except he carried the
      water pump and I had the bear canister.

10 degree down sleeping bag.  Needed it.  Gets COLD at 12500'.
8-section Z-rest insulation pad.  Doubled as pack frame, with cedar slats.
Midweight capaline leggings skin layer.
Waterproof chaps.  Lighter than waterproof pants, but odd to view.
Cotton T-shirt to sleep in.  Oh the luxury.
Fleece skin layer.
Patagonia Fireball jacket.  (Marshmallow?)
Balaclava.  Doubled as camera case on the trail.
Poncho.  Large enough to cover me and pack.  Doubled as lean-to tent,
       using hiking staffs as poles.  In very bad weather, Dad & I
       shared poles, creating a pup-tent closed at the foot-end.  We set
       the opening away from the prevailing wind, and it worked great. 
       We got SERIOUS wind, rain, and/or hail two nights, but stayed dry
       and comfortable.  Usually slept under the stars.
Mylar Space blanket groundcloth, 6 titanium tents stakes, two lengths of

Cat stove.  Homemade alcohol stove.  1.6 ounces.  2 Tbsp alcohol boils a
       pint of water in less than 4 minutes.  Fits inside your pot.  Oh
       yeah, this one's a keeper.

Plans for it can be found at any of the following sites:
http://public.surfree.com/fountain/alabama.htm Look in "What to bring
The plans for the Cat stove simmer ring are here:

Titanium pot.
Plastic spoon, and REI plastic bowl.  Another luxury.
Garcia plastic bear canister.  3 pounds of peace of mind.  Required for
      most of the John Muir Trail.  We also carried an URSACK, for the
      days when all our food would not fit in the canister.  URSACK needs
      some work. Ours is an early model, so we sent it back to have the
      seams double-stitched.  But our seams split anyway, all by
      themselves, through normal use.  The aramid material itself is
      very slippery.  The fibers do not hold together well.  So the
      material itself pulled apart.  It didn't tear; it just sort of
      unravelled and the seam fell apart.  Very dismaying.  A chipmunk
      could have crawled through the hole that opened, and a bear would
      have had NO trouble pulling the seam completely open.  If they can
      glue the material to hold it together before they sew, or come up
      with some other way to solve this problem, URSACK will be an
      excellent, lightweight "overflow" container.  But it needs a
      little more work.  BTW, we had no bear problems; we usually
      stealth-camped or stayed way above the tree line.  

2-liter Crystal Geyser water bottle.
Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom-80 camera, and journal/photo log.

3+ lb book of FAA regulations.  Heavy reading.  Had to study.

Greg Robinson
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