I’m quite excited to post my first gear reviews here – one for a favorite piece and one for a brand new piece!

Favorite Piece: The Freshette

It’s about time for me to write about this little piece of equipment that goes on every trip.

Uncharacteristically for me, and for climbing gear, it’s very girly and pink. It was odd to use at first, but it’s become my 11th Essential. And I tell just about anyone about it who will listen.

If outdoor etiquette comes up in conversation, I try to sneak in the statement: “I can pee like a guy.”

After quizzical looks, I gleefully explain The Freshette (FUD; female urinary device, etc.). I discovered it while planning a 10-day trip on The Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier in 2006. The idea was appealing – why squat when you can stand? While weird at first, especially tweaking the stance, it is easy to adapt. The cup fits snugly against the body, funnels out the liquid away from the body, so no mess. Give it a little shake when you’re done, stash it away in a Ziploc bag and back in the pack. Wash it out after every trip and you’re good to go for the next outing. I just really like it because I don’t have to moon the world, can just turn around 20 feet away from my partners and business is done.

It goes on every trip – backpacking, cragging, mountaineering (I’ve yet to master it with a harness on though). The web site promotes various uses for different situations, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have one stashed in the emergency car kit next to the jumper cables, especially if you’re long-distance roadtripper.

I know there are others out there, but I’ve stuck with this one for so long, I’m attached to it. Over at www.rockclimbergirl.com, Sara did a great post recently expanding on the Great Bathroom Outdoors for the ladies.

Newest Piece: Six Moon Designs’ Lunar Solo Enhanced Tent

This review maybe a little premature, but I wanted to get some thoughts down about the initial use of my brand new lightweight tent from Six Moon Designs, the Lunar Solo Enhanced.

Given that I’m 4’11”, weigh around 120 lbs and have had the oh-so-fortunate experience of carrying loads on my back that make me groan just thinking about the weight, I decided it was time to start investigating my next round of major purchases with a lightweight mentality.

After a few weeks of research, I chose to go with the Lunar Solo Enhanced for several reasons: all the reviews I read were positive, and it wasn’t too big and not too small (so it seemed). I can’t bring myself to go bivy yet and I’m making the transition essentially from sharing two-man tents to a solo tent. It’s also a non-freestanding system (no poles,  a single trekking pole instead), which I was really interested in trying out. It’s essentially a tarp with a no-see-um netting and a pentagon-shaped bathtub floor attached to the underside of the canopy.

SPECS: I liked the space (88 inches long by 54 inches wide at the midpoint). I chose the ultra lightweight at 23 oz. (30D sil-nylon floor vs the 70D sil-nylon floor). I’m using a piece of Tyvek (the stuff off the roll at the hardware store, thanks to my backpacking guru Kevin) and six Easton aluminum stakes, plus three guy lines. Added a little silicon sealant to the seams and my calculations bring it to just under 2 pounds. It all fits into the tent bag that’s barely bigger than my medium-sized Thermarest pillow, about 15 inches long by 4 inches wide. It fits perfectly in the pack between the pillow and air mattress.

USE: I tried it out Memorial Day weekend 2010 on an overnight in the Olympic Mountains. In a sort of weird way, it was a thankfully moist, damp and misty trip in which to try out the tent.

I’ve never done non-freestanding before, so it was interesting staking and guy-lining it out, plus using the trekking pole. It took me a while to figure out my configuration (mainly because I was so excited to do this and because I was camping on essentially bedrock, thus making staking out a little difficult), but when I figured out my plan, sure enough, in less than 2 minutes, my tent was up and ready. I kept poking at it and pulling it and murmuring comments to myself of fascination. It seemed a little too easy.

Inside, the area next to the door is good for sitting up and I had some headroom. The peak of the canopy can go to about 44 inches. The floor shape is pentagon-shaped, with the non-door side creating an inner vestibule for gear. When I first pulled this tent out of the bag, I was surprised and sort of shocked at how big it really was. Also, I may have not had it staked right or the guylines were too low, but I was surprised by the severe slope of the canopy from the peak toward the inner vestibule. Other pictures seem to show the no-see-um netting not sagging as much. Of course, my site wasn’t completely flat and I had the tent set up in essentially a very shallow ditch. I know that tweaking with tents takes time. Also, in a pinch, two people could squeeze in there.

CONDENSATION: As with most tents, that’s always a concern; even more so out here in the Pacific Northwest. The only real condensation was a faint film of moisture in the morning on the walls and on my bag. Of course, I sleep cool and have a -5 degree down bag, so that could have something to do with it as well. I’d like to see if I can get the canopy off the ground a little more to allow more ventilation through the netting.

Final note: I need to add lines of silicon to the floor so I don’t slide around inside. I forgot to do that.