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[pct-l] VB Gear: Stephonson tent & sleeping bag

>Hi Ben,
>     Last month you sent me email on VB (attached below) that I would like
>to follow up on now that I have more information on the subject and have
>contacted Stephenson.
>     Stephenson advocates a VB system using his tent and warmlite bag
>together for maximum efficiency (and minimum weight).  For example, if you
>go with his lightest tent (the "extra light" as compared to the "regular
>double wall" version) he says you should use a VB bag since the single walls
>are not as condensation resistant.
>     My thoughts were that his bag and tent could be carried for the whole
>PCT thru-hike.  Based on Stephenson's literature you should be comfortable
>for temps of 60F and below in his sleeping bag.  For warmer temps you would
>leave the bag open (or sleep on top) to stay cool; although you don't prevent
>condensation the weather is warm so this is a minor inconvenience.  I plan to
>use a tent the length of the PCT and so using Stephenson's lightweight gear
>would be desirable.
>     Per the first paragraph of your email you state that you used one of
>his tents and bags on the PCT, but in your last paragraph you recommend only
>using VB socks on the PCT.  I was wondering if you clear up my confusion on
>this.  Also, I was wondering what configuration of his tent you would
>recommend (e.g., double wall vs. extra light).  Finally, I would appreciate
>your comments on my idea of bringing his bag and tent for the whole PCT.
>(email: kevin.oleary@tempe.vlsi.com)
>>From benschif@sonnet.com Wed Feb  5 19:15 MST 1997
>Mime-Version: 1.0
>Date: Wed, 5 Feb 1997 18:16:18 -0800
>To: kevin.oleary@tempe.vlsi.com
>From: Ben Schifrin <benschif@sonnet.com>
>Subject: Re: [pct-l] VB
>There's actually lots of VB clothing out there- it just isn't called VB.
>Any coated nylon waterproof clothing is VB. Stephenson Warmlite- possibly
>THE original (highly vociferous) promulgator of the VB concept- still makes
>EVERYTHING VB: Tents, sleeping bags, etc. He had very light, close-fitting
>VB shirts. Call 603 293-8526. (parenthetically, he makes absolutely the
>lightest tents that money can buy- I used my 1st Stephenson tent (and bag)
>on the PCT in '73, and have used 3 more since. I'll use the 4th tent of his
>that I've owned, on the CDT this summer). He is pricey, but worth every
>Any kayak jackets are excellent VB- Patagonia makes the ones I love. But
>many companies make cheapo coated nylon pull-overs. If they fit snugly over
>some polypro underwear- presto, you have VB.
>I ALWAYS use total-body and sleeping bag VB on the kinds of expeditions or
>ski tours where temps will hover around freezing, and I can't afford to get
>my sox or other gear even a teensy bit wet. But I don't know that I'd take
>anything but VB socks on the PCT- they only weigh a fraction of an ounce,
>and would sure be useful in wet Sierran snows.

Kevin: I think you're on the right track!

A.Stephenson Sleeping Bag:
I used a Stephenson sleeping bag for the whole PCT, and many trips since,
including a very cold climb in the Himalaya. It does have terrific
versatility. I used the whole bag (2x + 1x top, plus bottom), in the
Sierra, but just the 2x top plus bottom, on the rest of the trip- save a
pound, and was plenty warm. In fact, I probably could have just carried the
1x top plus bottom through northern California and Oregon, but, as always,
I was unsure of the weather. But if you really want to go light, you could
just go with the 1x top, and hop in the tent, or wear clothes in bed (which
I hate).

TheStephenson bag has the advantage of the built-in foam bottom- this is
also its disadvantage. It is bulky. I actually didn not take his built-in
open-cell foam bottom- I cut out a piece of 3/8" closed-cell foam to fit,
and subtituted it. Significantly less bulky. But, then, I also like to
sleep on a hard surface (I still don't own a bed- sleep on the floor).
Another problem was the bulk, itself- we carried our bags on the outside of
our packs, since everone used frame packs in those days. We had to do a few
miles of trailless brush thrashing virtually every day, since the PCT
really didn't exist, then. The stuff sack took quite a beating, and I did
puncture the bag, itself, a few times. But I don't think that would be such
a problem now, that most bags are carried inside the pack-but it is NOT as
versatile a fit as a separate bag and foam pad. (I have not tried his newer
inflatable foam mattresses-I've tried Therm-a-Rests and I don't like 'em).

B. Stephenson Tent:
I took a 9' x 12' coated nylon tarp and parachute cord on the PCT from
Mexico to Walker Pass, then from Tahoe to southern Oregon. I had initially
planned to take my Stephenson tent thru the Sierra and in Washington only
(for late season rain and some snow), but I ended up taking it in Oregon,
too, since it was a wet year, and the August mosquitos were driving me
nuts. It is so warm in Oregon, that even at night, temps aren't cool enough
to keep down the mosquitos. I did have a mosquito head-net, which I often
used, but it bothered me too much at night to have those damn parasites
flying around my head, and biting my hands.

My 9x 12 nylon tarp and parachute cord was from REI-it weighed just under 2
pounds, and took up hardly any space. It was extremely versatile, and I
used it in rain, and snow, and heavy dew situations before, during,  and
after the PCT. The reason I stopped taking it (still use the same one for
car-camping), was that the Stephenson tent gave me everything it did, and
more. My Stepehnson tent, with 3 plastic pegs and a 2-mil plastic
drop-sheet-ground cloth to go under it, WEIGHED EXACTLY the same!!
Virtually every night, I just slept on the ground sheet. But when it was
raining, snowy or buggy- into the bombshelter. True, it takes up a LITTLE
more space, but it is still tiny, when rolled up.

I can see why people do a lot of soul-searching, when comparing the
advantages of carrying a tarp system versus the "standard" lightweight
tents from Sierra Designs, Garuda, Bibler etc. At best, they weigh in the
mid-4 pound range, and have 5-6 times the bulk of a tarp & cord. This is a
considerable difference. The only option, if you don't know about
Stephenson's gear, is with a bivy-tent, but these are much more
claustrophobic, and have few of the advantages of a real tent.

I would strongly recommend taking a Stephenson tent for the WHOLE PCT. You
can actually get loads of rain & snow in So Cal, early, and every night in
the Sierra, even though clear, will put dew on your bag- the drier you are,
the faster you're on the trail in the morning. Bugs are the consideration
farther north, and the rain & snow at trips' end. So you never know when
you'll use it. I took his double-wall tent, without side-vents. As I said,
it weighed 2 pounds, "real" total weight. I would not take it now- I'd
bring his lightest, single-wall tent, with side-vents. Why:
1) Why carry 4-6 extra ounces?
2) You don't need the warmth- the PCT is a warm trip, and a warm bag is
more logical than a warm tent you don't need so often.
3) Both tents condensate more than trad models, but the double-wall really
is not much better in this respect than his single-wall model. (Both are
slightly worse than a Bibler or Marmot single-wall GoreTex).
4) The side-vents are heaven- better views, better air circulation,
especially when you're just using it for a bug-shelter.

C. Summary:
1). Stephenson stuff is great- warm, light, functional. I'd carry it again.
In fact, I'm doing the Colorado portion of the Continental Divide this
summer (sigh- another great trip, sacrificed to my career)-and I'm taking
Stephenson gear.
2). Stephenson gear is pricey. (So what, this is the best trip of your LIFE!).
3). Stephenson gear is unnecessary on the PCT. Most people do fine without
this degree of hightech. Sure, I think it is the best, but you do not NEED
it. VBL blah, blah, blah- you can simply wear an extra capilene pullover.
4). Stephenson stuff is a little fragile. This is the worst rap, and true.
Because his stuff is so light, it punctures a lot easier. So, if you are an
oaf, your'e going to tear it. But if careful- no problem. His stuff has
been to both Poles, the South Col and North Col on Everest, and in 140 MPH
blizzards on Denali. It will, with proper care, easily outlast a PCT trip.

Have a great time!

Ben Schifrin
Wilderness Press
2440 Bancroft Way
Berkeley CA 94704
Home: (209) 586-5767
Work: (209) 526-4500 ext 6911

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