The Gear Junkie Scoop: Report from Patagonia, Part III

Mar 12, 2010
Outside Magazine

Patagonia Gear

By Stephen Regenold

It took a van loaded with gear to get from my house tothe airport. Then in the terminal, I juggled a cart stacked with three rollingduffel bags, a carry-on suitcase, and a daypack to wear on the airplane (andsurreptitiously stuff down by my feet on the flight to Chile). And didI mention the hard-side plastic bike case with my Giant Anthem X1 inside? DeltaAir Lines charged me $300 -- each way! -- just to get the mountain bike from Minneapolis to Tierra del Fuego.

Thus was my gear nightmare en route to last month'sWenger Patagonian Expedition Race, where team faced a week ofwilderness competition in kayaks, on bikes, rappelling cliffs, and trekkingungodly distances across lands few humans have seen. The good news is that wefinished the race, nabbing a fourth-place prize. The gear, from headlamps tokayak paddles, was key in helping us move fast and stay safe for days on end.

In a previous column, I covered a few standout productsin some detail from the race. This article takes a wide look at several gearpicks I packed along and employed during the weeklong event.



Of all gear items, shoes are among the most important. InPatagonia, as in many other races in recentyears, I wore the Inov-8 Roclite 285s, which are lightweight and flexible shoesmade for off-trail use. They have a mesh upper that breathes well but onpurpose does not keep water out. The feathery shoes -- they weigh about 11.8ounces apiece in my size 13 -- has minimal support, at least in a traditionalsense. There is almost no padding in the midsole and scant protection for thetoes. But the "barefoot-style" of the shoe is something I love. Itlets your foot flex and absorb the terrain. Mile after mile in the race, theshoe felt fast -- and just supportive enough -- to never let me down.


On the long bike sections of the race, the aforementionedAnthem X1 from Giant Bicycles was a solid ride. The cross-country legs in therace -- almost 200 miles total -- were mainly dirt roads. The Athem X1 is thespeediest mountain bike I have ridden. It was perfect in Patagonia,where it took in the bumps but allowed me to ride fast with almost zero bouncewhile pedaling.


The far-south latitudes of the race required specialnavigational tools. Namely, compasses had to be set to a different magneticsensitivity than northern-hemisphere models. I turned to Brunton and its $40Eclipse 8096 model, which is a compass designed specifically for adventureracing. It has UTM scales on its baseplate and markings to work with othertypes of cartographical coordinates. But to tune the Brunton to the southern hemisphere,the company had to rebalance the needle, which required a special order andsome in-house recalibration at the company.

An easier solution is Suunto's M-3 Global Compass, whichcosts about $55. It comes with a "global needle" that is designed towork with the magnetic spectrum anywhere on the planet. I tested both theBrunton and Suunto models on the race. Both needles pointed the same way, whichis to say straight at magnetic north. They were equally accurate for more than300 miles of navigation in the Chilean wilds.


Another Suunto product provided time, altitude and analarm. The $329 Vector HR watch has in total an altimeter, barometer,electronic compass, time, alarm, and a heart rate monitor. Its functions allperformed with aplomb in Patagonia -- exceptfor the alarm. The small beep emitted when the alarm clicks on to ostensiblywake a team of racers is too quiet. Like many watches in this category, alouder beep would be welcome.


Running tights -- not pants -- were my leg-wear ofchoice. Salomon's WS II Tights were most impressive. I wore the durable WS IIsfor four days straight, including while bushwhacking in deep, thorny forestsand while mountaineering. The tights, which cost $110, have a Gore WindstopperSoftshell on the front of the legs to provide protection from big breezes incold climates. But the tights breathe well. My legs felt comfortable in tempsfrom about 30 to 55 degrees F on the race. Bonus: The material never ripped orsnagged. I have had problems with tights and durability in past races, but theSalomons did not let me down.

Big, cold ocean water -- in the guise of the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel -- were venuesin the race. As such, our sea kayaking equipment was top end. Like all theteams, we paddled two-person Necky Amurak kayaks, comfortable and stableplastic-hull boats. We were outfitted head to toe by Kokatat Watersports Wear,which leant Team demo dry suits, PFDs, skirts, gloves andbooties.


Overall, the GORE-TEX Front Entry Dry Suits from Kokatatwere bomber. At $899, they don't come cheap. But in big water the extraprotection is needed. In a pre-race kayak test on the Strait of Magellan, the Wenger race staff required a boat evacuation andself rescue. As such, we capsized our crafts out from shore in the frigidwater. We swam in our dry suits and clambered back into the boats, bailing themout before continuing on. It is amazing the amount of protection a thin suitcan provide. In the icy water, my team felt fine bobbing in waves and rightingboats as a large sea lion swam by.

We had less luck with the company's GORE-TEX Deluxe SeaSkirt. The $167 spray skirt was difficult to attach to the cockpit on the NeckyAmurak kayaks. Its fit was too tight and would pop its seal if not meticulouslysecured with two hands pressing and kneading the elastic fabric in place 360degrees around the cockpit edge before leaving shore. A different size skirt ora sharper edge on the Necky Amurak would have made it an easier task.


Other kayaking gear of note included the Orbit Tour PFDfrom Kokatat, a $142 low-profile life vest that was great while paddling. Towsystems were required gear, and our team chose the $99.95 QR Rescue Tow Linefrom North Water Ltd. A quick-release mechanism at the rescuers end of theline, a brass eye hook for anchoring, and 55 feet of floating polypropylenerope made it a perfect choice for our tow-line needs. But fortunately, despitethe big water and wind, we never employed the North Water gear during theevent.

North Water Tow System

For team paddles, we picked a wing-blade set from Lendal.The company's Kinetik Wing and Kinetik Wing S are similar models, though ofslightly different size. They provide a unique wing blade that adds efficiencyto each stroke. At more than $500 apiece, the Lendals are top-end carbon tools. 


But in a big race where any efficiency gain can be had through gear, sometimesthe extra cost is worth the speed. On the Beagle Channel, we nailed a 29-milesection with waves, swells and big wind. The Lendal paddles gave us confidenceas well as enough speed to pass several teams on the section.

Sea to Summit’s eVAC

A couple small but indispensible items on the courseincluded Sea to Summit'seVAC Dry Sacks and the Platy SoftBottle water containers from CascadeDesigns Inc. The dry sacks -- which are waterproof storage bags in which I keptall gear inside my backpack -- have an eVent fabric bottom that lets air out. Youroll up the top like a regular waterproof bag. But instead of having tocarefully get the air out, you can simply pressure the bag to force air insidethrough the eVent fabric. (It lets air out but keeps water from coming in.) Iused the 13-liter ($22.95) and 20-liter ($28.95) size sacks.


For carrying extra water, instead of bottles my team got PlatySoftBottles, which are lightweight, flexible plastic bladders with screw-shutcaps. They hold one liter of water apiece and then roll up to almost nothingwhen empty. Cost is $13 per Platy bottle.


Illumination at night came from two main sources. The ULTRAheadlamp from Petzl, a ridiculously bright unit that costs $500, is rated toshine at 350 lumens. It sends a cone of white light from your forehead into thenight, creating a virtual window of daylight. The battery pack, a beefyrechargeable unit, is connected via a long cord and must be stored in a pocketor backpack pouch. We used the ULTRA on several nights while racing, and thePetzl's beam provided a huge range of vision when it was pitch black.


The smaller Princeton Tec EOS headlamp was my primarylight source. It is a "normal" headlamp, meaning it'll light a trailand the surrounding area enough to hike and move in a dark woods, though itwon't burn the trail like the ULTRA. It is a lightweight unit that runs off ofthree AAA batteries. I have used previous generations of this model and loveits efficiency and comfortable fit on the head. It's rated to produce 70 lumensof brightness. Cost is $44.99.


Two gadgets we had in our packs the whole trip -- butwere not allowed to use in less there was an emergency -- were a satellitephone and a GPS unit. The race organization provided the sat phone. Each teambrought their own GPS, and we went with the Earthmate PN-40 from DeLorme. The $349.95unit was never used on the course, but my team got to know the GPS unitpre-race. It has a solid build and easy operation. A bonus with DeLorme: Thecompany has a huge selection of maps and aerial imagery available to downloadonto its GPS units. Some of this would've been nice when we were stumbling in Patagonia. But on the race, only a map and compass wereallowed.

Finally, my helmet: The Kong Scarab has become a hugelypopular lid with adventure racers because it is certified for multiple disciplines.Racers can use the helmet, which costs $149.95 and is distributed by Liberty Mountain in the United States, for biking, climbing, and kayaking. (Thecompany has also had it certified for sports like skateboarding and horsebackriding.) In Patagonia, the plan was to haveone helmet the whole trip. We'd use it in the mountains climbing as well as forbiking legs.

KONG Helmet

Though its do-all build makes some compromises -- e.g.,it's not as vented as you'd like a bike helmet to be -- the Scarab fits welland feels solid. It weighs about 255 grams, which is so light as to be almostunnoticeable strapped on a pack. But the best part with the Scarab is its usabilityamong various sports. In the Patagonia race, wherecontrolling an overflow of gear was a serious task, one piece of gear that tookthe place of two or three was a small blessing from above.

--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor Go to for additional reportsand photos from the 2010 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race.

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