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The problem with a lot of bicycle hitch racks is that they don’t fit 5″ fat tire widths or you can only get them in a 2″ truck-sized size hitch. I recently bought a new car with a towing hitch, so I could get a hitch rack capable of carrying a fat bike. Fat bikes are heavy and can bend the arms of a trunk-rack anchored by webbing straps. That was the fate of my last bike rack, which had also been getting on in age and was starting to rust.

I knew I wanted to replace it with a hitch rack, so I shopped around and bought a Thule T1 9041 Single Bike Platform Style Hitch Rack, which is compatible for wheels up to 5″ wide and can fit both one and a quarter and two inch car hitches. I’m super happy with it, as I explain below. I thought about getting a rack that could hold two bikes, but the price difference between a one-bike and two-bike fat bike compatible rack is significant and I didn’t want to pay for something I’d only use occasionally.

Specs at a Glance:
  • Weight: 29.1 lbs
  • Capacity: 1 bike
  • Max carry capacity: 500 lbs
  • Max tire size: 5″
  • Hitch compatibility: 1 and 1/4 inch or 2 inch
  • Security locks: 2
    • Lock hitch to car
    • Lock bike to rack
Advantages of Hitch Racks

If you’re on the fence about getting a hitch rack, they have many advantages over roof racks or trunk racks, especially for fat tire bikes. I wish I’d had a hitch on my old car. It would have made my life a lot simpler.

On the Thule T1 Rack, your fat tire bike is held onto the top of the rack by an adjustable hook that wraps around the front wheel and by a ratcheting rear wheel strap. They form a surprisingly secure anchor, even on horrendously bumpy dirt roads.Better for heavy bikes

Hitch mounts have been around for years, but a lot of people still use roof racks to transport their bikes or the kind that mount over your car trunk using straps. Those are both good solutions for conventional bikes, but fat bikes are too heavy to lift over your head and can bend a trunk rack because they’re so heavy. The Thule T1 Single Bike Hitch Rack is a platform style rack that has a capacity of 500 lbs (which you’re unlikely to ever exceed) and its low height, just above bumper height, makes it easy to load or unload a heavy bike.

Disk brake alignment

There’s also the subtler issue of disc brake alignment. If you’ve carefully adjusted your disc brakes so that they spin freely and *don’t* rub against the wheel rotor, you’re going to want to keep them that way. The best way to do that is to keep your wheels on their hubs. Hydraulic or mechanical disc brakes can be a real pain to adjust at trail heads (or at home), so save yourself some grief and get a Thule T1 hitch rack that lets you keep your wheels on.

The Thule T1 has a security cable that lets you lock your bike to the rackStability

The Thule t1 rack has a padded swing arm that hooks over your bike’s front wheel and clamps it to the rack in a vertical position. The swing arm is designed like this so it won’t scratch your frame. It’s surprisingly reliable and stable, even in wind at highway speed. I’ve also driven down many horrendously eroded and bumpy dirt roads in my car and the rack and attached fat bike haven’t budged. I’m not sure I understand why the swing arm keeps the bike so secure, but it does the job. The rear wheel is secured by a ratchet strap.

Portability and security

The Thule T1 hitch mount rack is also easy to put on and take off your car. It simply slides onto your hitch receiver and locks in place with a restraining bolt for transport. When you want to take it off, you unscrew the bolt them and slide the rack off. The rack has a handle that makes it easy to carry, so you can store it in your garage or house.

Why would you take off a hitch mount? Better gas mileage is one reason, but security is another. When you’re not carrying a bike, you don’t want the hitch stolen. While the Thule T1 rack I bought does have a lock that you can secure over the restraining bolt to prevent theft, it’s not that substantial. While it’s a fine deterrent for highway rest stops and the trailhead, I wouldn’t trust it to protect the rack overnight in an urban area.  That’s a good time to take the rack off and store it indoors.

There’s enough clearance between the car and the rack, that I can still open the rear hatch even with a bike strapped onRear lift-gate access

While it’s not a sure thing on all cars, I can open the rear hatch of my Subaru Crosstrek with a bike on the T1 hitch rack. I need to do this often to collect roadkill for the stew pot (just kidding), so this is a handy feature in my neck of the woods.

Road surface clearance

Another advantage of a Thule T1 hitch rack over a trunk rack is road clearance. With the T1, you always know that the bottom of your tire is resting on the rack platform, which is level with your rear bumper. If you have a high clearance vehicle, you get to use all of the clearance it provides. Worst case, you’ll drag the rack platform on the ground, but your bike will remain safely on top of it.

That’s not the case with most trunk and some hitch racks, where your bicycle wheels can hang below the level of the rear bumper. Driving down bumpy dirt roads with your wheels hanging low is a good way to bend the rims or destroy them. With the Thule TI, your wheels remain safe because they sit on top of a steel beam, which protects them from road rash.

Installing the T1 yourself is easyThule T 1 9041 installation

Assembling and installing the Thule T1 9041 Bike Rack takes 30-45 minutes. You can do it entirely yourself without having to take it to a shop. Thule’s assembly instructions are very good, although you’ll want to double-check the spatial orientation of certain parts to make sure you’ve assembled them properly. The product includes all the tools you need for installation (mainly Allen wrenches), although I found a flat head screwdriver useful as well.

Wheel compatibility

The Thule T1 rack is compatible with bike tires up to 5″ in width. While that’s immediately evident with the front wheel, you do need to readjust the rear wheel strap to fit larger tires, since the factory installed position is the shorter of the two. Simply remove the strap and re-thread it higher up on the rear wheel chock. This will give you another 6″ or so of strap length, plenty long to accommodate 5″ and even larger tires. There’s also nothing to prevent you from using the T1 rack with bikes that have narrower tires,


The Thule T1 9041 Hitch Rack is a great rack for hauling fat tire bikes with wheels that are up to 5″ wide. It’s easy to install by yourself, and take it off or put it back on again between trips. After years of hauling bikes around on a trunk rack, I cannot believe how convenient it is to haul a bike that on a platform-style hitch rack. Getting a rack like this has made it far easier for me to get out on weekday rides because there’s so much less overhead involved it attaching it to my car and lifting a bike onto it. I’m also more confident about the level of protection that the rack gives my bike, even when I drive down horrendously eroded forest service roads for a some wheeled wilderness exploration. Highly recommended.

The author purchased this bike rack

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post Thule T1 9041 Fat Bike Hitch Rack Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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The Red Ridge Loop is a 10 mile loop hike located just outside North Conway, New Hampshire that climbs the steep and rocky summit of North Moat Mountain before descending the Red Ridge Trail down a series of open ledges with awesome views of Mt Washington and the lesser summits of the Mt Washington River Valley. With close to 3000 feet of elevation gain, this is a moderately strenuous hike, but well worth the climb for the views. Hikers finish near Diana’s Baths, a famous White Mountains waterfall and swimming hole, that’s perfect for a refreshing dip at the end of the hike.

Recommended Waterproof MapDistance and Difficulty Rating
  • 10 miles with 3000′ of elevation gain
  • Moderately strenuous
Trailhead Directions
  • The Diana Bath’s trail head is on the Upper West Side Road about two and on half miles from North Conway Village. A daytime parking fee or White Mountain season parking sticker is required. Illegally parked cars are towed. Click for USFS trailhead information and GPS coordinates.
  • This is a very popular trailhead, so get there early in the day to get a parking space.
  • April – mid November
  • Bring plenty of water on sunny days, when the open rock ledges of the Red Ridge Trail radiate heat
Printable Trip Plan Map and GPX FileTrail Sequence
  • Follow the Moat Mountain Trail for 4.2 miles to open summit of North Moat Mountain
  • Continue on the Moat Mountain Trail for 1.1 miles to the Red Ridge Trail Junction
  • Turn left onto the Red Ridge Trail and follow it for 2.1 miles descending across open rock ledges
  • Dropping below treeline, continue on the Red Ridge Trail for 1.5 miles until you reach the Moat Mountain Trail
  • Turn right onto the Moat Mountain Trail and follow it for 1.1 back to the trailhead parking lot
On the Trail

This hike runs counter-clockwise along the route shown above, climbing North Moat Mountain first, before descending along the Red Ridge Trail.

Follow the Moat Mountain Trail from the Trailhead, passing through a developed recreation areas that leads to by Diana’s Baths, a popular waterfall and summertime swimming hole on your left. This is a great place to stop at the end of the hike for a refreshing dip on a hot day.

Diana’s Baths is a popular waterfall and swimming hole at the bottom of the Moat Mountain Trail

Continue along the Moat Mountain Trail which runs along Lucy Brook. At 1.2 miles, you’ll pass the southern end of the Red Ridge Trail Junction where it crosses a brook and rejoins the Moat Mountain Trail. Continue past the junction and stay on the Moat Mountain Trail which crosses several small brooks.

At 2.4 miles, you’ll arrive at a trail junction with the Attitash Trail. Veer left here, following the Moat Mountain Trail and begin to climb, passing through mixed scrub, which gradually gives way to open ledges as you climb toward the summit of North Moat Mountain. This is the steepest section of the hike, so set a comfortable pace as you climb.

You’ll pass through open areas with views of North Kearsarge Mountain as you climb toward the open summit of North Moat.

At 4.2 miles, you’ll reach the open summit of North Moat Mountain (3196′) which has 360 degrees views that include Mt Washington and Mt Chocorua. There many good places to sit at the summit, which is a fine place to take a break and admire the views.

If you look to the southeast, you can also make out the open ledges of the Red Ridge Trail as they descend to the valley below.

The open rock ledges of the Red Ridge Trail are visible from the summit of North Moat Mountain.

Leaving North Moat, continue southeast along the Moat Mountain Trail, dropping down a series of ledges that require a bit of scrambling. After passing another open viewpoint, you’ll enter a wooded stretch, climbing again towards the junction with the Red Ridge Trail at 5.3 miles, turning left to follow it.  There’s a good chance you’ll encounter wood grouse guarding their nests at the top of the trail who may screech an alarm as you approach. There’s no need to fear them. They’ll run away as you approach, although they may be agitated.

North Moat Mountain

As you descend, take a moment to admire the profile of North Moat Mountain over your right shoulder.

Descent the terraced ledges of the Red Ridge Trail

Follow the cairns that mark the Red Ridge Trail carefully, while admiring the grand views that of the Mt Washington Valley that open up before you. Hikers in the White Mountains yearn for these grand expanses of open ledge and the vistas that they offer.

Pay close attention to the cairns and painted blazes that mark the trail’s route

After approximately a mile, the trail drops down below treeline again, descending steeply down open ledges that require careful footwork. After passing once again through forest, it rejoins the Moat Mountain Trail at 8.9 miles after a brook crossing, which is often rock hoppable in low water. Turn righ tonto the Moat Mountain Trail at this junction (which you passed early in the route) and continue for 1.1 miles, once again passing Diana’s Baths on the way to the trailhead parking lot.

About Philip Werner: Philip is the 36th person to finish hiking and backpacking all of the trails in the White Mountain Guide (1440 miles). He's also finished hiking many of the region's peakbagging lists including the White Mountain 4000 footers, the 4000 footers in Winter, the Terrifying 25, the RMC 100, and the Trailwrights 72. Philip is a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a member of the executive committee for the Random Hikers, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He also teaches several compass, GPS, and off-trail navigation courses each year, listed on Outdoors.org.
Safety Disclaimer This trip plan can not alert you to every hazard, anticipate your experience, or limitations. Therefore, the descriptions of roads, trails, routes, shelters, tent sites, and natural features in this trip plan are not representations that a particular place or excursion will be safe for you or members of your party. When you follow any of the routes described on SectionHiker.com, you assume responsibility for your own safety. Under normal conditions, such excursions require the usual attention to traffic, road and trail conditions, weather, terrain, the capabilities of your party, and other factors. Always check for current conditions, obey posted signs, and Backcountry Camping and Wilderness Area Regulations. Hike Safe and follow the Hiker responsibility code.  SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post Great Hikes in the Whites: The Red Ridge Loop appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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REI’s Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants are a surprisingly good value compared to name brand rain pants which cost two to four times as much.

I’m a big fan of REI’s clothing because it’s affordable, good quality, and virtually indistinguishable from the other name brand products they sell. This includes their Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants (the latest update has been renamed “Essential Rain Pants”) which are a steal at $60/pair (often available for less), and are available for both men and women. A comparable pair of Arc’teryx Rain Pants costs $199 or four times as much and provides very little added value, other than the fact that they use branded “Gore-Tex” and not REI’s knock-off waterproof/breathable membrane.

Some people don’t like rain pants or don’t need them and I get that. Personally, I wear them as much for wind protection as rain protection and view them as an important thermal layer, even if I sweat under them in warmer weather. I’d rather be warm and damp, than shivering on the brink of hyperthermia and soaking wet. I also frequently wear my rain pants for winter hiking and prefer having a pair that I can use year-round.

When choosing rain pants, there are a few things I always look for:

  • Price
  • Features
    • Does the draw string wrap around the entire waist or is it sewn in?
    • Can I pull on the rain pants and take them off without removing my shoes?
    • Are the ankle cuff openings adjustable?
    • Are they available in shorter and longer lengths?
    • Are the legs reasonably slim and not overly baggy?
    • Are they quiet when worn?
    • Do they have any external pockets?
    • How good is the breathable membrane/factory DWR?
  • Weight

REI’s Rain Pants are almost half the price of other value-oriented rain pants like Marmot’s Precip Rain Pants ($100), Patagonia’s Torrentshell Rain Pants ($99), or Outdoor Research’s Helium Rain Pants ($119). I destroy 2-3 pairs of rain pants per year, so I always look for less expensive ones that won’t break the bank if I happen to rip them up.

Large zippered ankle openings let you put on and take off the rain pants without taking off boots or shoesFeatures

REI’s Rain Pants have a draw string waist band that wraps around your entire waist, so it won’t pull out like draw cords that are sewn in and impossible to replace without sewing when they come out. God I hate when that happens!

They have ankle zippers with a large enough opening that you can pull them over your hiking boots or hiking shoes without having to take them off. The pants have an adjustable velcro cuff so you can snug them around your ankles, with a protective flap to prevent the zippers from leaking, and a heavy-duty YKK snag-resistant zipper. I not a big fan rain pants with full zippers down the sides, because they tend to be very baggy, and the zipper takes a lot of fiddling to stay closed if it runs all the way up through the waist band.

The size range is great with 6 sizes in men’s (XS, S, M, L, XL, and XXL) and 6 sizes in the women’s pants (XXS, XS, S, M, L, and XL). Equally important is length, since I prefer shorter rain pants over longer ones, so I don’t trip over them In addition to the regular 31-32″ length, REI’s Rain Pants are available in SHORT (2.5 inches shorter) and TALL lengths (2.5 inches longer), so you can dial in the type of fit your prefer.

The pant legs of REI’s Rain Pants are reasonably slim, but flair a bit below the knees and ankles for better range of motion. I think they run a bit long and that you’d be better getting them in a shorter length.  They also have one zippered side pocket lined with mesh that’s super convenient for carrying car keys and can serve as a stuff pocket for the pants. The exterior fabric is surprisingly quiet when worn, while the interior is lined with a while colored nylon backer. The interior seams are all taped for waterproofness, while the factory DWR and breathability is perfectly adequate for occasional use.


At 12.4 oz in a men’s size large, REI’s Rain Pains are on the heavy side, weighing about twice as much as ultralight waterproof/breathable rain pants…that cost 2-3 times as much. That’s often the tradeoff, with opting for a less expensive pair of rain pants. If your intended use is for day hiking or wearing these on a commute on rainy days, the weight of the pants is far less important than if you plan to backpack 2000 miles with them. Even then, the durability of a heavier pant can trump a lighter weight one. It just depends on what your priorities are.

Waist drawstring runs all the way around the pants for better durabilityWrap Up

REI makes a few pairs of pants that I think are excellent values if you’re looking for less expensive technical wear. In addition to these Rain Pants, I’d recommend checking out their Soft Shell Cycling Pants for cold weather riding and their Activator Soft-Shell winter hiking pants. They’re often on sale during the off-season and you can pick up great bargains on them.

See Also

REI provided rain pants for this review.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post REI Waterproof/Breathable Rain Pants Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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Sawyer’s Select Water Filter and Purifier Bottles combine a Sawyer’s 0.1 micron absolute hollow filter membrane filter (same as a Sawyer Mini, just smaller) with a foam purifier to remove contaminants found in fresh water. Labelled S1, S2, and S3, you can purchase different purifier bottles which remove different classes of contaminants. These are best used for emergency preparedness and not something you’d want to carry on a backpacking trip because they’re heavy, awkward to carry when assembled, and only produce low volumes of filtered or purified water. On the other hand, these Purifier bottles provide a level of protection against chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals that goes beyond that provided by other microbiologically-oriented water purifiers like the MSR Guardian, General Ecology First Need, or Grayl Water Purifier Bottle.

Sawyer sells the bottles for three levels of contaminant protection, labeled S1, S2, and S3, as follows:

  • S1: Bacteria, Protozoa, Chemicals, Pesticides
  • S2: Bacteria, Protozoa, Chemicals, Pesticides, +Viruses
  • S3: Bacteria, Protozoa, Chemicals, Pesticides, +Viruses, + Heavy Metals

How do you know which level of protection to get? It’s best to do some research about your local water conditions or travel destination to determine which contaminants you need to worry about. (The CDC is one of the best places to research these issues.) The S1 is generally adequate for agricultural areas; the S2 is suitable for international travel to undeveloped countries, while the S3 would be preferred in areas with heavy industry or mining.

Each water bottle unit comes with a foam-filled bottle, a screw-on filter, a syringe for back-flushing the filter, and a cleaning coupling. The screw-on water filter is responsible for removing bacteria and protozoa, like giardia and cryptosporidium, while the foam is responsible for removing smaller contaminants like viruses, chemicals, and heavy metals.

Unlike the filter, the foam in the bottles is not removable and has a limited lifetime of use, so you have to throw away the entire bottle after its lifetime expires (although the screw-on micro filter can continue to be used.) How do you know when that is? It’s not that obvious, because the unit will still process some water even after the internal foam becomes increasingly clogged.

  • S1: 1600 uses, cost per use: $0.04
  • S2: 800 uses, cost per use: $0.09
  • S3: 400 uses, cost per use: $0.22
Each bottle has a black collar, a white cap, and screw-on microfilter

Each bottle has a white plastic cap and a black collar with holes in it. Do not remove the black collar ever! Doing so will compromise its seal with the bottle, leading to the possibility of leaks and cross-contamination. To fill the bottle with “dirty” water, remove the white cap, and pour it into the top opening up to the max fill line. You will have to alternately knead the bottle by squeezing it while pouring in water, to force out any air, and fully fill the unit. Be careful to keep track of the white cap, which is very easy to lose.

Next, screw on the black micro filter and vigorously squeeze the bottle in an alternating motion for 10 seconds. You can then pour the water in the bottle (with the filter still screwed on) into another “clean” container or drink it directly from the filter. If you drink from the filter, be careful not to touch your mouth to its top spout if it’s come in contact with “dirty” water.

While the bottle as a 32 oz capacity, you’ll only be able to fill it with half that much water since the rest of the volume is displaced by foam. Despite its fast processing time, you’ll need to repeat this process approximately 2-3 times for each liter of water processed. It’s a pretty slow process and would be pretty untenable in group situation when backpacking. Further, since each “use” only processes a fraction of the bottle’s total capacity, the costs per use listed above don’t equate with liters, but fractions of liters, making this a quite expensive solution.

Each of the sawyer bottles is filled with foam which removes pesticides, tiny viruses and heavy metals

When dry, each foam-filled water bottle weighs 7.7 oz, but this isn’t the weight you’d carry if you’re on foot because you can’t evacuate all the water trapped in the foam between uses. No matter how much you squeeze, the weight of a wet water bottle is 12-14 ounces, almost double its dry weight.

Each Sawyer Purifier Bottle is the size of a liter bottle and fits snugly into a backpack side pocket.Assessment

I’ve used the Sawyer Select Filter and Purifier Bottles on trips and don’t feel that they’re well-suited for general backpacking or day hiking use because it takes multiple passes to process one liter of water. I also don’t like the idea of using a product that has to be thrown out completely after such limited use, even though you can keep using the included filter as a standalone product almost indefinitely. If all you need is to remove or neutralize microbiological contaminants like bacteria, protozoa, or viruses, I’d recommend using a conventional purifier like a Steripen or an MSR Guardian.

On the other hand, if you need to backpack internationally off the grid or need clean drinking water after a natural disaster, the Sawyer Select Purifier bottles offer an additional level of protection from chemicals, pesticides, and heavy metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic that few consumer-oriented mechanical, UV, or bottle-based water purifiers can match….at least according to Sawyer. This is a murky area where EPA recommendations, independent lab testing, and manufacturer marketing can and do obscure the complexity and limitations of test results. Buyer beware. Some of the test conditions used in laboratory settings don’t match reality.

While the Sawyer Select Purifier Bottles are an interesting application of foam technology to the problem of water purification and could be useful as a last resort in an emergency, nothing will beat having a supply of safe bottled water on-hand if you’re traveling internationally or need to survive a natural disaster.

Sawyer provided sample purifier bottles for this review. Published 2018.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post Sawyer Select S1, S2, S3 Water Filter and Purifier Bottles Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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Big Agnes Onxy Tarp is a square tarp designed for ultralight backpacking and bikepacking. Weighing 8.1 oz, it’s seam taped and fully outfitted with guy lines and tensioners out of the box, so you don’t have to buy anything extra to start using it. The tarp also includes a short pole which is useful for pitching the shelter if you don’t carry trekking poles, and can also serve as a spreader bar to create more headroom if you use the use the tarp with a hammock or for two people. Tarp camping is ideal if you want to minimize the weight and bulk of your gear for ultralight backpacking or bikepacking.

Specs at a Glance
  • Type: symmetric square tarp
  • Weight of tarp: 8.1 oz (including guylines, cord tensioners)
  • Weight of optional pole/spreader bar: 1.6 oz (length – 40.5″)
  • Dimensions: 8’6″ x 8’6″
  • Number of guy-outs (5 per side), 16 total
  • Material: PU coated, silicone-treated nylon ripstop, 1200mm
  • Seam-taped: Yes

The Onyx is a square tarp meaning that the sides have equal length and the corners are right angles. Square tarps are relatively rare compared to rectangular tarps or catenary cut tarps which have curved ridgelines or edges to save weight and reduce flapping. Square tarps are however wonderfully versatile and can be configured in all kinds of different pitches or shapes, although it requires considerable practice and skill to make them. Most of the time, people still set them up in an A-frame configuration, which is easy to master, and very fast to set up.

The corners and center guy out points have additional Hypalon tabs that are cut to accept the accessory pole / spreader bar.

While the Onyx is made with PU coated silicone treated nylon, it is still very lightweight, even when compared to a similarly sized square tarp made with Dyneema Composite Fabrics (formerly called cuben fiber). It also stuffs up quite small, a bit smaller than a Nalgene bottle, making it very easy to carry in a low volume ultralight backpack or in a bikepacking bag, where space is at a real premium.

All of the guy out points on the Onyx are made with short lengths of green webbing which is bar-tacked and reinforced on the seam, in addition to external panel guy outs to help expand interior volume. The corners and centers guy outs on each side also have separate Hypalon tabs, also bar-tacked to the hems, that are laser cut to accept the optional pole tip. There are four additional Hypalon tabs attached to the interior panels of the tarp, that can accept the tips of the spreader bar, if you want to increase interior volume. This can be especially helpful if you use the Onyx as a hammock tarp (on the diagonal) or as an A-frame shelter for two people.

The pole can also be used as a spreader bar if you use the Onyx as a hammock tarp or to provide more headroom for two people

The Onyx comes pre-guyed with lightweight cord and triangular guy line runners, so you can start using the tarp right away without having to outfit it. The center seam is also taped, so there’s no seam sealing required.

Comparable Square Tarps
Make and ModelDimensionsWeightMaterialPrice
Big Agnes Onyx Tarp8'6" x 8'6"8.1 ozsilPU$280
Hyperlite Mountain Gear8'5" x 8'5"8.85 ozDCF$355
Mountain Laurel Designs Supertarp10'x10'19 ozsilnylon$245
Yama Mountain Gear8'5" x 8'5"13.9 ozsilpoly$140
Square tarps can be pitched in many ways depending on the weather and how much space you have. They also take up minimal space when packed.Recommendation

The Big Agnes Onyx Tarp is an ultralight square tarp that can really hold its own in terms of price, gear weight, and versatility, even when compared to ultralight tarps made by cottage manufacturers. Suitable for backpacking, hammocking, and bikepacking, the square Onyx is large enough for use by one or two people and even includes an optional pole for setup if you don’t carry trekking poles. It’s also outfitted for immediate use with a seam-taped ridgeline, guy lines, and line runners, which is a nice touch you don’t often see when purchasing a tarp and adds a lot of value.

Compare 3 Prices
Last updated: 2018-07-16 02:31:04

Big Agnes provided a tarp for this review. Published 2018.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post Big Agnes Onyx Ultralight Tarp Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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Taking in the view from the Sachem Peak Ledges, Acteon Ridge, New Hampshire.

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Backpacks are popular with thru-hikers and backpackers because they’re light weight, streamlined, and durable. Their 2400 Southwest backpack (40L) is my personal favorite and the pack I’ve been using for most of my backpacking trips, day hikes, and bushwhacks for the past 3 years.

While my HMG Southwest 2400 is buttery-soft and sweat-stained from use, it’s lasted far longer than any other ultralight backpack I’ve owned because it’s made with Dyneema Composite Fabric and it doesn’t have any external mesh pockets (which rip quickly). While the HMG Southwest 2400 isn’t the lightest 40L backpack you can buy, I’m willing to take the small weight penalty for a durable pack that I can count on when I have to bash through dense spruce or scramble up avalanche slides.

But the first generation Southwest 2400 wasn’t perfect because it had very small hip belt pockets that were difficult to use for much more than carrying a pair of Aquamira bottles or a small bottle of bug dope. I eventually trained myself not to depend on them as external storage, even though I do like packs with big hip belt pockets.

Hyperlite’s new backpack pockets are large enough to store cell phones, POS cameras, or even PLBs

But HMG recently upgraded their backpacks by increasing the volume of their hip belt pockets by about 20%. That might not sound like much, but the pockets are now substantially deeper so you can store larger objects in them and get your fingers in and out without the risk of amputation. For example, you can now store a point-and-shoot camera, a cell phone, or an inReach Explorer+, which is a big improvement.

Hyperlite doesn’t offer an pocket upgrade for packs made with the smaller pockets though, at least not yet.

Pre-bent aluminum stays

Hyperlite has also started shipping pre-bent aluminum stays, instead of flat stays. Backpack frame stays prevent a backpack from collapsing on itself when you load it up and help transfer your gear weight to the hip belt.  The advantage of aluminum stays over a frame is that you can bend them to fit your exact body shape and personalize the fit like a custom backpack. But learning how to bend aluminum stays can be intimidating if you’re not familiar with them (See How to Bend Backpack Frame Stays) and the new pre-bent stays included with Hyperlite’s packs often fit without any adjustment needed.

Strap and hip belt fabric

Hyperlite has also switched from covering the inside of their shoulder straps and hip belts from spacer mesh to a softer, more densely woven fabric that’s the consistency of softshell. There’s no noticeable change in how the new fabric grips you or wicks sweat, but it’s much softer to the touch.

Wrap Up

Those are the biggest changes I’ve noticed in this latest generation of Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Backpacks. None of them are huge modifications to the form and function of the packs, just incremental refinements that make them more comfortable and easier to use. While innovation is good, I shy away from backpack companies that are always changing the design or look of their backpacks from year to year. I take some comfort in knowing that I can probably replace my HMG Southwest 2400, if I ever wear it out, with a backpack that’s nearly identical to the original. Change is inevitable, but for the moment, my Southwest 2400 is dialed-in and I like it that way.

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Last updated: 2018-07-14 02:24:07

Hyperlite Mountan Gear has provided the author with several backpacks.

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The post Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s Ultralight Backpack Updates – 2018 appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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The CNOC Vecto 2L Soft Water Container is a roll-up soft bottle that’s compatible with the Sawyer Squeeze and Sawyer Mini water filters (which 80% of backpackers use). Like the Platypus Big Zip, one side opens up completely, by removing the bottom slide, making it easier to fill from water sources that don’t have a current, like ponds, lakes, puddles, and cattle troughs. The bottom slide also makes it easy to hang in gravity filter mode or roll up and squeeze to force water through a Sawyer filter.

Specs at a Glance
  • Weight: 2.7 oz
  • Volume: 2L
  • Material: ePTU (BPA free)

The Vecto has three components: a 2L soft bottle, an orange cap, and orange slider which seals the bottom. The easiest way to fill it, is to remove the orange slider along its base, and dunk the wide end into flat water or into the current of a stream. In flat water, like ponds or lakes, you’ll need two hands to fill it, one to dunk the bottle under the surface and the other to hold it open so it fills up. While you can drag it along the surface, it’s hard to fill up one-handed. You’ll also want to find a place where the water depth is sufficiently deep so you can submerge most of the bottle in order to fill it. If that isn’t possible, you’ll need some kind of water scoop ( a plastic sandwich bag can work) to fill the Vecto.

The soft Vecto bottle is easy to roll and squeeze water through Sawyer Water filters

Once full, you fold over the base of the bottle once, before sliding the slider back on to seal it. If you want to filter, you remove the orange cap, and screw on a water filter like a Sawyer Squeeze. That’s pretty much it. The slider makes it easy to roll up the base of the bottle as the water empties and force it through the filter. If you lose the orange cap, a smart water bottle cap fits it perfectly or you can buy a replacement from CNOC through their website.

It’d be nice if the orange cap was secured to the bottle, like it is on Evernew’s soft water bottles or the slide was attached to the bottle like it is on the Platypus Big Zip. But neither of these omissions is a show stopper if you’re careful about where you place these two components when you take them off the Vecto water container.

The slide handle also makes it easy to use the Vecto in a gravity configuration, when suspended from a tree. You just need some kind of lanyard or ‘biner to hang it from. When filling the bottle, be careful to wipe it off before hanging it in a gravity setup, since you don’t want “dirty” water dripping down the exterior surface of the bottle to contaminate water that’s run through your filter.

The CNOC Vecto packs up compactly with your water filter between usesRecommendation

The CNOC Vecto 2L Water Container makes a great “dirty” water container in a backpacking hydration system, when coupled with a screw-on Sawyer filter and water bottles for carrying your “clean” filtered water. I’ve found that seal between a Sawyer filter and the Vecto to be nice and tight without any leaks, although you need to thread them together carefully and not put too much pressure when screwing them together. I don’t use the Vecto as my primary “clean” bottle, although there’s no reason you can’t. I just find it easier to drink from hard sided soda or Smartwater bottles.

While I haven’t had any issues with the durability of the Vecto soft bottle in the field, the first version of this product I ordered was defective, with a torn seam where the soft material meets the cap. While the company was quick to send me a free replacement and has excellent customer service, I’d still caution you to test all of your backpacking equipment before taking it on an extended trip so you can be confident that it will perform as expected (see Shakedown Trips).

Sorry, no prices available at this time.

The author purchased this product. Published 2018. Klaatu Barada Vecto.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post CNOC Vecto 2L Soft Water Container Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent Review

The Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent is a spacious single-person A-frame style net tent designed to be used under a tarp. While it’s frequently bundled with Hilleberg’s Tarp 5 Backpacking Tarp (see review), it can be used with any rectangular tarp to form an well-ventilated and insect-proof shelter, ideal for camping in warm weather.

Specs at a Glance
  • Weight 15 oz (13.2 oz tested, including guylines)
  • Person: 1
  • Height (front): 95 cm/37 in
  • Height (rear): 55 cm/22 in
  • Length: 210 cm/83 in
  • Width (front): 120 cm/47 in
  • Width (rear): 70 cm/28 in
  • Floor: Waterproof

The Mesh 1 Tent belongs to a class of shelters called Net-Tents, which are the equivalent of the inner tents packaged with double-wall tents, but can be mixed and matched with a variety of rectangular tarps.

While the Mesh 1 is a single person net-tent, it’s quite spacious inside, with plenty of extra space to sit up in or store your gear at night. While the floor is tapered from front to back, it’s not claustrophobic to sleep inside because the front peak is so tall. The front entrance also has a bi-directional zipper and zipper pulls on the interior and exterior, making it easy to get in and out.

The Hilleberg Mesh 1 Net-Tent can be used with any rectangular tarp

Setup is very easy. The Mesh 1 comes with two long reflective ridge-line guy lines with line tensioners, pre-installed. The lines are attached to metal rings over the front and rear of the shelter, which are easy to fit over trekking poles tips if you use them to pitch the shelter. Simply stake out the four corner webbing loops and attach the ridge-line guy lines to trekking poles, trees, or branches that you find lying on the ground. If you use trekking poles and want more clearance to get in and out of the front door, extend your poles and move them farther away from the front door, before looping the guylines over them, and staking them down.

Comparable Net Tents
Make and ModelWeightPrice
Atwater Carry Insect Dome w/Insect Shield12.1 oz$36
Bear Paw Minimalist 19.0 oz$125
Borah Gear Ultralight Bug Bivy6.5 oz$80
Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent13.2 oz$210
Mountain Laurel Designs Bug Bivy6.5 oz$125
MSR Thru-Hiker Mesh House14.0 oz$200
Paria Outdoor Products Breeze Mesh Bivy24 oz$65
Sea-to-Summit Escapist Inner Bug Tent13.6 oz$199
Rab Element Solo Bug Shelter20.0 oz$75
Six Moon Designs Serenity Net Tent11.0 oz$125
Yama Mountain Gear Bug Shelter12.6 oz$145
Metal rings attached to the guyout points make it easy to use the mesh 1 with trekking polesRecommendation

At 13.2 oz (actual, tested), the Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent is not the lightest weight net-tent available today. But like all of Hilleberg’s Tents and other shelters, the sewing and materials that go into their tents and shelters are exceptionally high quality. A case in point is the lightweight mesh used on the Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent, which is woven rather than knitted, so it has a soft hand and fine mesh structure, that provides superior insect protection. While Hilleberg is best known for their strong and wind-worthy double-wall tents, it’s great to see them expanding their range to include lightweight backpacking gear like the Mesh 1 Tent.

Hilleberg loaned the author a tent for this review. Published 2018.

SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The post Hilleberg Mesh 1 Tent Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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The Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag is a bikepacking bag that sits in the unused space on your bike below your top tube. It’s called a half-frame bag because it doesn’t fill the entire space in front of your seat post, leaving space underneath for bottle mounts. Frame bags are a great place to store a mini-pump, tools, tubes, CO2 cartridges, snacks, tent poles, tent stakes, and your personal effects. I use one on every ride I take and on every bike I own. I like them better than handlebar racks because they don’t block my front tire visibility, something I need when I ride on gravel or off-road.

Specs at a Glance
  • Sizing:
    • SM: top length 17.5″, overall height 4″
    • MD: top length 19.75″; overall height 4.5″
    • LG: top length 21″; overall height 6.5″
  • Weight SM 7.3 oz; MD 8.8oz; LG 11.9oz
  • Volume SM 3.5L; MD 4L; LG 6L
  • Materials VX21 XPAC; 1050 denier domestic ballistics nylon; 420 denier diamond ripstop lining; closed cell foam padded tube sections.

The Tangle is available in different lengths to fit different bikes, so you need to measure the length of your top tube before purchasing one (see specs above). It’s a heavy duty bag, but made with ultralight waterproof XPAC fabric, with snag-free waterproof zippers down the sides. The interior volume ranges from 6L down to 3.5L depending on the size bag that will fit your bike.

The Tangle is great for storing tent poles mini-pumps, tools, and tubes

Frame bags, like most bikepacking bags, have to have their own attachment system to hold onto your frame. This requires extra durable anchor points and straps, which is why so many bikepacking bags are sewn with XPAC and heavy-duty, high denier nylon.

Urethane straps prevent damage to your frame

The Tangle also has a fairly elaborate attachment system to hold it secure with straps on three of its sides. It has beefy velcro straps on top that can accommodate a wide variety of top tube diameters, with front and rear urethane straps that won’t absorb water or damage your frame. The top of the bag also has an exterior daisy chain, so you can loop the straps of a top tube bag through it if you choose to use one.

The other side has smaller pockets for tire levers and patches

The interior of the bag is brightly colored so you can see inside it with several tire lever and food bar-sized organizational pockets, in addition to long side compartments which are ideal for storing a pump or spare tubes. This being a bikepacking bag, you can also store your tent poles in the long pockets if they’re short enough, or tent stakes, to protect your other gear from their sharp points. When packing for overnight trips, you do need to avoid overstuffing the Tangle too much to avoid leg rub, but it’s not usually a problem for me.

Leg rub is minimal even when the Tangle is packed full

The Tangle also comes with a hydration and wire port if you choose to store water in it or music. Water is pretty damn heavy, so I’d personally avoid that as it will put stress on the bag’s attachment points, by YMMV.


I’ve been using the Revelate Designs Tangle Frame Bag for over a year on all of my bikes and consider it an essential for bikepacking trips and everyday training rides. The Tangle uses space on my frame that would otherwise go to waste and provides super handy access to items, like food and gels, while I’m riding. For bikepacking, the Tangle also provides a convenient place to store tent poles or tent stakes where they won’t get in the way. I also use panniers on my gravel and fat tire bike to hold the bulk of my camping gear. If you’re trying to decide between bikepacking bags or panniers, I’d encourage you to consider a mixed approach. See Bikepacking Bags vs Panniers: How to Choose.

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Last updated: 2018-07-09 21:31:42
SectionHiker.com receives affiliate compensation from retailers that we link to if you make a purchase through them, at no additional cost to you. This helps to keep our content free and pays for our website hosting costs. Thank you for your support.

The author purchased this product.

The post Revelate Designs Tangle Bikepacking Frame Bag Review appeared first on Section Hikers Backpacking Blog.

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The SPOT X is a two-way satellite messenger that can send and receive SMS messages and emails with friends and family or search and rescue services anywhere in the world. It is a big step forward from SPOT’s Gen 3 satellite communicator that could only send SOS or pre-defined text messages, but could not have a two-way conversation with recipients to determine if sent messages been received or not. The SPOT X (weight 6.7 oz) also has other functions including tracking, a digital compass, GPS waypoint navigation, and social media sharing of your GPS coordinates on Facebook and Twitter.

But the SPOT X doesn’t quite cut it in my book because the user interface is hard to use and provides little feedback to let you know if the device is doing what you’ve commanded it to do. With patience, you can get the SPOT X to function close to spec, but the learning curve is steep and there are some major pitfalls along the way.

Let’s take a closer look at this new device and you can decide for yourself if it’s worth buying.

Subscription Plans

The SPOT X requires a subscription plan to use, in addition to the one-time device purchase price.  SPOT X offers two different service subscription options (click for listing). You can choose either a monthly Flex Plan or an Annual contract plan, with multiple service tiers available in each.  The biggest difference between the tiers are the number of ad-hoc messages you can send per month or the frequency in which tracking pings the satellite to record your current location. Flex Plans are best for seasonal use and only require a one-month subscription. Annual plans are perfect for year ’round use by outdoor junkies with an added benefit of monthly payment.

SPOT X Web Portal and Account SettingsWeb Portal

The SPOT X requires access to a website to activate the device, enter emergency contacts, and specify pre-defined messages so you don’t have to type them every time you send a check-in update. You need to be able to synch this information to your SPOT X using a USB cable connected your computer every time you update this information (along with device software updates), using either a Macintosh or a Windows computer. You can’t use a phone to do it however, since the synchronization application requires a computer to run.

SPOT X User Interface and KeyboardUser Interface

SPOT chose to develop a new user interface for the X with its own look and feel so they could make a standalone device, without providing users the option to use a simpler, more familiar user interface like a Smartphone connected using Bluetooth. While SPOT does offer an app for download, it can’t be used to control the SPOT X device or interact with it, so it’s pretty worthless.

SPOT Directional Pad

The SPOT user interface is raw and inconsistent, which is what you’d expect in a first release on a new device. It’s basically a set of icons that let you navigate up and down through a hierarchical menu system, pointing at different options using a directional pad with a selector button on the middle. However, the navigation mechanism is jerky and often jumps to a different menu item than the one you intended. The most important button on the interface is the “back” button so you can get back to the previous interface item and try again.

When you select a top-level item using the directional pad, you never really know how the SPOT X is going to react. Some commands like the Check-in button  create icons in the top status bar to show you that they’ve been initiated, like a check mark in a waypoint icon, footprints to let you know that tracking has been turned on, or an inbox with a number in it to let you know that new messages have arrived for. But there’s no visual notification or audible beep to tell you that whatever command you’ve triggered has actually completed and the status bar icons are quite difficult to see because they’re so small. Some commands are also mysteriously delayed and undocumented status messages are displayed on the screen instead.

A cryptic undocumented status message

The front of a SPOT X has a full QWERTY keyboard like a blackberry, but the keys are tiny. I have the nimble and thin fingers of a violinist (fiddler, actually) and even I mistype characters because the keys are so small. While the keyboard is smart enough to capitalize letters at the beginning of sentences, there are certain characters, like the “@” that can only be entered into address-specific fields if you enter a special, undocumented mode where the special character keys work. Seriously?

There are two methods to activate an SOS MessageSOS Messages

The SPOT X provides the ability to send SOS message to rescuers in an emergency along with your GPS location. There are two ways to activate an SOS message. The first is a red button, protected against accidental activation, behind a dedicated door on the front of the unit. The second is top-level user interface item at the bottom right of the front screen, which is very easy to select by accident using the jittery user interface. While it requires a second interface selection to activate a rescue, and there’s an adjacent button to cancel it immediately, I can’t fathom why this item isn’t similarly protected behind a physical panel. My advice, be careful to keep this device away from small children who like to press buttons or you’re likely to have a helicopter land at your campsite unexpectedly.

Check-in Messages

Most of the time, you’ll probably send loved ones check-in messages to let them know where you are and that you’re ok. Called predefined messages, you have to define these in the Web Portal and download to your Spot X unit using the SPOT synchronization application and a USB cable.

Here’s an example of a typical check-in message.

Sample Check-in MessageSMS Messages and Email

You can also send and receive un-canned (not predefined) SMS messages or Email messages via satellite using the SPOT X. When you activate a SPOT X, you also get a dedicated mobile phone number so people can send SMS messages to it from anywhere in the world. This includes phone spam and unwanted messages. The Spot X web portal includes a setting that let you white-list the phone numbers of a small set of people, so you’re not bothered with spam messages using the device.

SMS messages are generally sent promptly from the SPOT X and recipients can respond in turn. Email message delivery is far less predictable and generally much slower, ranging from 16 to 30 minutes for each message that you send. The reason is that the SPOT X sends three copies of your message to their mail server for redundancy to make sure that your message is received by their mail server. Your SPOT X device must remain on while the repeated sends take place. You can check periodically to see whether the messages have been received by the SPOT mail server by looking at icons next to your outbound message list, but you can’t tell whether they’ve been received by their intended recipients.

Email recipients can reply to messages that you have sent, but all email messages have a fixed character limit of 140 characters. People can only respond to your emails. They can’t initiate an email thread because your SPOT X doesn’t have a dedicated email address.

Ad hoc (not pre-defined) email messages are limited to 140 characters. While recipients can respond to email messages, they cannot initiate them since the SPOT X does not have an email address.

The SPOT X also does a curious thing if someone sends you a message and you’re offline for more than 72 hours. It deletes the messages, which is a very odd thing to do. Email is supposed to be a “reliable” messaging system that stores messages on a mail server indefinitely, until they’re downloaded by an email reader.

“While SPOT X is powered off or has not communicated with the SPOT Satellite Network, incoming messages will not be delivered to your device. All incoming messages will be queued for up to 72 hours from the time they were sent and will only be delivered if your SPOT X device turns back on within that time period. After 72 hours, if the SPOT X device has not powered on, all queued messages will be deleted permanently and will not be delivered to your SPOT X device.”

This is not email as we know it…it’s SPOTTY email. My recommendation would be to avoid using the ad hoc email functions on the SPOT X and only use its SMS capabilities, because they are far faster and reliable.

The SPOT X lets you share tracking data with friends or family.Tracking

The SPOT X has a tracking capability that lets you record your current location at set interfaces during a trip. This is handy if people want to check on your progress during a trip or you want to document that you took a certain route. The tracking intervals available are every 2.5, 5, 10, 30, or 60 minutes and the frequency may depend on the service plan you’ve selected. Frequent tracking uses up your battery more than less frequent tracking, which can be a consideration if you’re trying to preserve power. To share a track with friends and family, you send them a link to a SPOT Share Page (shown above), which gives them a virtual breadcrumb trail of your adventure. My wife really likes this feature…


The SPOT X has a rudimentary navigation capability that has a digital compass, lets you record trip statistics, or enter a list of waypoints and navigate to them on as-the-crow-flies bearings. There’s no way to specify these waypoints graphically on the device itself  and you must type in their lat/lons by hand. \ I’d recommend that you keep using whatever Smartphone GPS app or GPS device you’re already using instead of the navigation functionality included in the SPOT X because it is so primitive.

The SPOT X navigation capabilities are inferior to the Gaia GPS navigation app or any recent Garmin GPS device which includes maps.Battery Life

Battery life on the SPOT X is directly proportional to how much you use it. If you only turn on the device to send check-in messages once or twice a day, the battery will last for many days. But if you turn up the tracking frequency to every 2.5 minutes, you’ll burn through a battery charge in a day.

Recharging the unit is another issue entirely. In two weeks of near constant use, I was never able to fully recharge the unit from a handheld battery pack using the USB cable, even during all-night-long charging attempts. The only way I could recharge the SPOT X was to plug it into a wall and let it charge overnight. You’ll definitely want to carry a battery if you use the SPOT X on extended trips and if you use the tracking capability.


The SPOT X is not ready for prime time and I can’t recommend this device to anyone. It’s difficult to use, it’s buggy, and not well documented. This product would be so much better it was just a streamlined satellite-based two-way SMS (only) messaging device with an SOS capability, pre-defined messages, ad hoc text messaging, and tracking, that didn’t require a computer to activate and use. I think SPOT underestimated how difficult it is to implement a new graphical user interface from scratch on proprietary hardware. They’ve also missed the boat in not integrating the device with Smartphones, which have become the defacto single device that most backcountry users and travelers want to use instead of a proprietary unit.

If you’ve been tempted by the lower price of the SPOT X, I’d encourage you to take a hard look at the Garmin inReach Two-way Mini Satellite Communicator instead. The inReach Mini is much easier to learn and use, fully tested and documented, and sends messages faster and more reliably despite being slightly higher priced. See my recent Garmin InReach Mini Review for more a more detailed analysis of its features.

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Last updated: 2018-07-08 21:03:06

SPOT provided the author with a loaner unit for this review. Published 2018.

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