For the Tahoe Rim Ski Tour I will be relying on 3 of Ron Bells hand made designs. Ron Bell runs a company out of Virginia aptly named Mountain Laurel Designs. I have been using MLD products since my first speed record attempt in 2007 on the Arizona Trail. I have never looked back to the shoddy workmanship of other ultra light pack manufacturers. To many folks ultralight is synonymous with non-durable. MLD stands this notion on end.
|Ron Bell at MLD Headquarters Roanoke, Virginia|
The MLD Ark pack is new for me this year. I basically needed to up the volume of the packs I use in the summer to support the bulkier loads I need to transport in winter. Winter clothing and sleeping systems are bulkier by design as you need more loft to keep warm in the cold. The Ark swallows winter gear loads without any hassle and then some. I especially like the fact that it comes with a padded hip belt. The winter loads being heavier it is nice to have a padded hip belt that helps distribute some of the load on the hips more comfortably. The shoulder straps are just slightly wider than on my Prophet or ZIP and this is good as well for the heavier loads. There have been some recent design tweaks to the MLD packs that are welcome additions. The side pockets now have a cordlock on them so that the volume of the pocket can be adjusted. This is true for the big rear pocket. This allows more versatility as to what size bottle can be crammed into there or the ease of sliding my snowclaw (shovel blade) in and out without damaging stitching in the pack. The one feature I would stress doing without in the winter is hydration ports. These allow snow into the inner pack in winter, so I would prefer to go without and be more secure keeping the contents of my pack dry. There are a number of lash points on the pack so one can really customize it for their needs. The craftsmanship in this pack is unparalleled in the ultra light pack world. You will not find better stitching, fabric, trims (cord locks, buckles) or design anywhere, period! I have seen all the offerings out there over the last 8 years of long distance hiking. I have even tried some of MLD’s competitors in the past to poor results. A pack for the long distance hiker or skier must be solid and reliable. All MLD packs fits this bill and Ron Bell knows his products inside out and can make appropriate suggestions based on intended use. He can even do custom work if necessary for a additional fee. A quick glance at the MLD website reveals tons of custom options which is a result of Ron’s open minded approach to feedback from the ultra light community. Ron stands behind his warranty and has always been available to do repairs. His repairs come back to the customer in a timely fashion and usually result in strengthening the problem area. These repairs never look shoddy or rushed. So feel comfortable knowing that all MLD products are backed by a solid warranty. I don’t believe most folks will need to take MLD up on their warranty though as I haven’t had any failures that weren’t a result of misuse. MLD is all hand made in the USA so the quality goes up much the same as Western Mountaineering sleeping bags.
|MLD Superlight Bivy|
The MLD Superlight Bivy is killer. I practically lived in this on the PCT last summer. It kept me safe from biting insects. I have now used this bivy for 3 seasons winter and summer. No signs of wear and tear. Obviously MLD makes much lighter bivys, but I like the ruggedness of the silnylon bottom. I also like that it has a full side zip. I am 6 ft 2 inches tall and need the extra zip so I can exit and enter the bivy easily. Traditional bivys are nice and light, but I have to take extreme care getting in and out not to damage the zipper. Not a issue with the long side zip of the Superlight Bivy. It also comes equipped with a small rectangle of bug mesh over the face area. Obviously this bag isn’t 100% waterproof as it has a zipper that isn’t waterproof and the seams aren’t taped. This is ok as I use it both in winter to keep spindrift off and in summer to keep rain splash off when used in conjunction with my poncho tarp. I seam sealed the bivy anyway for a little extra protection. The top fabric is DWR 90 which is silky smooth and breathable. I have found the DWR90 to be waterproof and highly breathable. I have actually slept a down bag part way dry in the summer in this bivy. It also has a little hooptie on either side of the zipper near where your face would be so that you may tie the hood up off of you or the torso to help it breath better. The hoods on every MLD bivy I have used are huge which is killer for storing gear and items one wants to keep dry. It also helps me keep centered on my pillow at night. I have slept thru some pretty killer storms in the Carson Range in this bivy and even found the bug mesh to keep spindrift from falling in on my face all night. I purchased a MLD Superlight Bivy for my partners’ birthday a few years back and she has quickly become more comfortable with cowboy camping. I feel the bivy really opens up more options for camping. I have even slept out several mild nights in the winter in just the bivy. Couldn’t imagine being out in the winter without this bivy to keep my bag dry and me happy. It adds about 5-10 degrees to the warmth rating of your bag as a result.
|MLD Mini Biner|
Again huge thanks to Ron Bell at MLD for making such bomber gear. Also for dispelling the myth that ultra light means non-durable. I almost forgot, make sure and get your order in early. Most of the bigger items like shelters and packs take 6-8 weeks to ship. Remember this is all hand made here in the USA, not on a assembly line in China. So get your order in early. This time frame can get longer during peak season like in the spring before all the thru hikers start their trips. I always want a chance to get out and practice using my new equipment before starting a long trip. So get your order in 3-4 months before your start date.