Ricoh GR Digital

If you’re serious about blending photography and mountaineering, you’ll know that the list of cameras suitable for professional quality photographs that can withstand the rigors of mountain life and weather is extremely short.

The criteria are simple: pocketable, reliable, fast, easy, weather resistant, and exceptional lens quality.

To that end, the short list pretty much ends with the Ricoh GR, Contax T3, and for those on a budget, the Yashica T4. The latter’s build quality means that it’s not going to last you through a lot of banging and hacking, so it’s the former two models that really grab the fame. Of those two, it’s the Ricoh GR that garnered cult status among the pros, due to its more comfortable form factor and rubber grip: a nice feature when one hand is hanging from an ice tool shaft and the other is left to snap a photo of your belay partner.

The pending release of the Ricoh GR Digital, then, is bound to create excitement among those who appreciate these minute details that make for high quality mountaineering and backpacking photographs.

I’ve been using the Ricoh GR Digital for a bit now, and it feels great in hand and pocket. Solid build quality, metal case, and light. It’s very fast (‘on’ to ‘record’) which means I won’t lose a lot of shots, and the most important functions seem to be managed by a button and not buried in a menu nest: flash, self timer, exposure compensation, aperture control, macro mode, and more.

I’m sure the pro-lab reviewers will have critiques about those nether portions of the image field as the Ricoh GR Digital hits the US market this winter (uhhh, when is that again?) but the lens quality is good enough to create crisp, well-saturated mountain images that are nothing short of stunning on the web for print journalism. We don’t really need this camera to do gallery prints, but at 8 mp and the f/2.4 GR lens, its enlargements do well.

I’m writing the review for the Ricoh GR Digital for Backpacking Light Magazine, so if you have an online subscription there, stay tuned for more: I’m putting the camera through its paces in an outdoor wilderness context, and I have plenty to say about durability, weather resistance, and ease of use.

The short version: it’s money well spent. This one’s a beaut. And Japan’s got’em.

Holler if you can’t figure out how to convert the menus to English…

Gnarly Mosquitoes and Combat Gear

I actually know hikers that refuse to go certain places at certain times because the mosquitoes are "bad". I know, crazy, isn’t it?

The worst I’ve experienced was on the Thorofare River south of Yellowstone Lake, in late July. But the fishing was good. Not going there because of mosquitoes would have been unthinkable.

So why do folks avoid bugs?

Because they will drive you absolutely insane if you don’t know how – or simply don’t want – to deal with them. I can’t help you too much with the latter, other than to say that whatever brings you out into the wilderness needs to be more important than some petty little nuance like dealing with biting insects. But there are some gear bits you can hang on to to help you "how".

  1. Use permithrin. Spray it on every bit of external clothing you have. Hiking pants, socks, shoes, shirt, cap, bandana, gloves, hat, the netting on your tent door, the inside of your tent/tarp/bivy sack, and for goodness sakes, yes, your headnet: anything a mosquito can jam its probiscus through or land on in your proximity. Worried about toxicity: you better stay home then, because there is no substitute.
  2. Use DEET, high roller style: 95% is your only option for serious bugs, but 35% long release is OK for tourist season. Worried about toxicity: you better stay home then, because there is no substitute. Save the Avon and so-called ‘natural’ products for your back porch. They won’t work in Yellowstone or Alaska as the snow is melting.
  3. Long pants. Long sleeve shirt. Neck protection. Maybe gaiters. A good wide brimmed hat covered with a headnet (make your own out of Tulle mesh, you can’t see out of or breathe through anything that costs more than six bucks at an outdoor specialty retailer). Worried about being too hot, because it’s summer? Slather yourself in DEET, then repeat immediately. Frequently.

BuggytentsendDo these things, and use an ultralight bivy sack with a tarp and wear earplugs. Camping in Yellowstone’s worst bogs all of a sudden becomes a reality, any time of year. And your pack stays light without losing your sanity.

Bugylegsend It also seems like everyone from California, Montana, Michigan, or Alberta thinks they have the worst populations of mosquitoes in any backcountry found anywhere. See the photos (right) from Peter Vacco from a bushwalk way up north.

We don’t know what bad mosquitoes are down here.

Titanium Trike

I’m no expert in, nor do I closely monitor, the bike industry.

But I love seeing weight reduced.

I have been researching road bikes lately, and would love to build a Litespeed fixie with the lightest components. Between the Ghisallo frame, carbon post & bars, etc. etc., it would be outrageously ultralight. Can you imagine a 10-pound bike?!

Recumbents are bizarre bikes, but incredibly efficient. Perhaps the ultimate long distance road machine? Check out the Kettweisel TT, in titanium of course. I wonder who will be the first to blend an ultralight approach to gear with an ultralight recumbent to ride Sea-2-Sea unsupported? How about without resupply? Cross country bike tours are old news, but this one is ripe for the taking.

What’s next? There’s a market for really cool, ultralight bicycle-like gear, I’m sure (ahem). Kid’s trikes, jogging strollers, unicycles, the list goes on.

Keep your eyes peeled: bicyclists and manufacturers are figuring all this out as fast as we are.

Ryan’s Winter Day Hiking Essentials

Every item in my day kit is chosen based on the simple reality that
I just may have to spend the night out there. This is not all
inclusive, but this is what I recommend at minimum for winter
backcountry travelers in the deep snow of mountainous areas.

  1. SnowClaw. 6 oz. For building an emergency shelter.
  2. Foam Sit Pad. 1 – 2 oz. 3/8" thick minimum, with enough surface area for sitting.
  3. Firestarting Kit. 2 – 3 oz. Esbit tablets, in combination with a Spark-Lite and some Tinder-Quick and a Bic lighter.
  4. Insulating Parka. 8 – 24 oz. Something as simple and light as a Cocoon can go a long way, something like a Patagonia DAS can be a true survival piece in fierce weather conditions.
  5. Navigation. 1 – 6 oz. Map and compass at minimum, but the addition of the tiny Garmin Geko GPS can dial you back to your car in the darkest of nights.

But none of these things will do you a bit of good if you don’t know how to use them. Equip your brain, man.

When Good Design Doesn’t Get Fouled Up

Case in point: camping flatware.

I mean, seriously, how many different ways can you really make a fork? or spoon? or even a spork?

Nobody really thinks out of the box in this space. “We cut holes in the handles!” they say with pride, presumably to reduce the weight.

Do titanium backpacking utensils really need to be ultra-durable so you can pass them down to your grandchildren? When we designed our titanium mini-spork, we just took really thin walled titanium and bent it into a channelized cross section for strength. It’s not rocket science. Sure, we put a hole in the handle,  but that’s for the geeks out there (here?) that want to hang it around their neck with a tenth-gram piece of Spectra cord.

Then, with our long handled titanium spoon, the design philosophy was far less complicated. Make the handle long so it fits into the bottom of the big sized Blizzard cup. Lo and behold, it’s useful for eating out of freeze dried meal bags, too. Sometimes, design needs to incorporate a little off-trail lifestyle. Now, if we can only figure out a way to bring the Blizzards to the backcountry, we’re golden.

Real design incorporates aesthetic beauty, uncompromising function, and for us ultralighters, maximum utility in minimum weight.

Enter stage left: the Light My Fire Spork. Spoon, fork, knife: 0.35 ounces. Why can’t American outdoor industry designers do this?

A: Marketing departments.