Product Testing - Backpacking with the New Capilene® 3
We test our gear on a variety of levels. Our Athletes & Ambassadors are responsible for putting the latest designs and fabrics through the paces before we'll add a new product to our lineup. But just because something reaches our shelves doesn't mean testing is over. Once a new item shows up in our catalogs, our Customer Service staff gets busy ground-truthing the latest offerings. They know the questions our customers will be asking, and turn that attention to our gear.
Conditions: Rain, then Sierra sun.
Product Tested: Capilene 3 Midweight Crew
This season we’ve revised our Capilene® Midweight Baselayer, long our most popular cold weather Capilene. It’s now made from Polartec® Power Dry® 5.4-oz polyester, a double-knit fabric with 65% recycled content. The bi-component fabric matches an absorbent inner layer with an outer layer designed to spread moisture quickly, and the new fabric also has improved stretch and durability. But the first thing users of the new Capilene® 3 might notice is the feel; it is much softer against the skin than the old stuff. And it doesn’t just feel better, the new fabric dries 130% faster and wicks 38% better as well. Along with the new fabric, it gets new seaming and fit, making what we think has always been the best baselayer on the market even better.
So, you might be saying, “It all sounds good, but what does this mean for the person in the field? Are these changes really noticeable?” Good question, questions we have asked ourselves. Our products have always been tested by our Ambassadors and product testers. These folks no doubt give outstanding insights but most are elite athletes, a far cry from the rest of us. So some of us Reno folks are giving our only slightly biased field reports on some of the new fall gear. We may not have a fabric lab but we have lots of mountains. Like most of you, we’re not pros, but still love to get out there…
[Finally, Old School takes in the Ionian Basin. Photo:Sally Loomis]
Lying just to the west of the Evolution region is the Ionian Basin. It has a reputation for being rocky, stark and untrammeled, much like the hundred or so other high-altitude basins throughout the Sierra. Unlike these other basins, the Ionian has remained, for me, repeatedly out of reach. After four failed attempts to visit it, I began to think there was a force field keeping me out. Of course this made me want to go even more.
My first denial was back in high school when a friend and I had planned a 2-week trip that would take us through the basin before continuing on through the Enchanted Gorge all the way to the Middle Fork of the Kings River. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) we couldn’t get a wilderness permit for Paiute Pass so we elected to go in over Lamarck Col instead. This meant we would hit the Ionian Basin way earlier in the trip than we initially planned. Because the trip down Enchanted Gorge is reputed to be one of the hardest cross-country routes in the Sierra we opted to change plans. We didn’t want to attempt it with such heavy packs, so we followed the hordes on the John Muir Trail instead.
I got even closer on my next two attempts, less than a mile as the crow flies. Both times were spring ski tours where we reached Muir Hut in the middle of a storm. Muir Hut is one of only a few huts in the Sierra and while it is certainly a welcome shelter in inclement weather it’s not exactly a 10th Mountain Hut. It’s a bare-bones stone shelter sitting at nearly 12,000’ right on top of Muir Pass. Although it has a fireplace, the nearest tree is at least 1000 vertical feet below the pass. In the olden days of Sierra backpacking it was a tradition for summer backpackers to carry up a piece of firewood to leave in the hut for winter travelers. I remember doing this in my Boy Scout days but I bet it’s been a long time since anyone has left so much as a twig up there. With absolutely no heat the hut is a lot like staying in a walk-in refrigerator only colder and less comfortable. Still it’s a difficult place to leave in a storm and beats a tent (just barely). Both times we had planned to layover a day at the hut so we could day tour to the basin but instead we spent the day fighting boredom while the snow piled up outside. But at least these trips happened. The last trip I planned to the Ionian was over before it even started, curtailed by a broken collarbone after a crash on my road bike.
Back in July we decided to try again. Armed with my new Capilene® 3 and a plan to make the Ionian Basin the focus of the trip, my friend Sally & I were off. We decided once again to start at North Lake and go in over Lamarck Col. As luck would have it we started off on pretty much the only rainy day of the summer so I got to try the new Capilene right away under my rain jacket. We had planned to go all the way over the pass on the first day but with thunder and lightning all around, we decided to camp before we got too high. We found a scenic protected spot overlooking Upper Lamarck Lake and set up camp.
I can’t say the difference between the old Capilene and the new is huge, which is a good thing, since I’ve always liked Capilene® 3. But there are few noticeable differences, the first being the new Capilene® 3 really is softer against the skin. And while I can’t exactly vouch that it really does dry 130% faster or wick 38% faster than our old Capilene® 3, I can say that I never felt clammy and it never got wet from sweat. In typical Sierra fashion, the weather turned warm and beautiful once it stopped raining but I continued to wear my top on cool mornings and evenings both with and without a pack. I noticed, too, that the new fabric is really abrasion-resistant. I purposely wore my hip belt over it and so far there is absolutely no sign of wear. Ditto on the shoulders under the straps. I’ve always thought that the best technical clothes are the ones you never think about while you’re wearing them and so far for me, the new Capilene passes with flying colors.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult to visit the Ionian Basin is that it takes a few days just to get there, but by our third night we were camped at Martha Lake, just north of the basin itself. All we had the next morning was a 1000’ climb over an unnamed pass and boom! We were there. Finally, I had made it to the Ionian Basin. It certainly lived up to its reputation of being a desolate and lightly traveled area. Not only did we have it all to ourselves, there weren’t even any ducks (the kind made of rocks) or the use-trails so common on Sierra cross-country routes. And even though it was late July, most of the lakes were still at least partially frozen over. And it was plenty rugged; it took us all day to go a bit over five miles. Like most high Sierra basins it was devoid of trees, just a vast expanse of lakes, peaks, rock and snow. The northern end is composed of dark fractured metamorphic country rock, which slowly transitioned into the more typical smooth white Sierra granite as we made our way south. We spent one night in the basin at Lake 11592 right at the base of Mount Solomon. The next morning we exited the basin by following the outlet down to Chasm Lake. Since Chasm Lake is the jumping off point for the Enchanted Gorge we just had to walk to the other end and peer down. I often wonder what might have happened had we actually dropped down that gorge all those years ago. From our vantage point there was certainly nothing that would have stopped us from going on. But of course the tricky stuff is well beyond what we could see.
This time our route out was much easier; we followed an inlet creek to the south and climbed out over Black Giant Pass. Two miles of bolder hopping dropped us back to the Muir Trail just south of Muir Pass. From there, it was still another three days of spectacular hiking down Le Conte Canyon, up over Bishop Pass and then back to the car at South Lake. Hmmm, I wonder how hard Enchanted Gorge really is...
[Above, left - Ken crossing Evolution Creek. Above, middle - Looking for camp on Martha Lake. Photos: Sally Loomis. Left - Leaving the Ionian Basin. Photo: Ken La Russa]