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The North Face Stormbreak

The North Face Stormbreak 1
Review after an expedition to Kamchatka, Russia

The North Face Stormbreak 1

The little tent that could below a smoking volcano in Kamchatka (Kamchatka, Russia)

While planning for an expedition to the volcanos of Kamchatka in the Russian far east, I was on the look out for a lightweight (sub 1.5kg) three season one person tent. I considered a number of very worthy options such as the  MSR Hubba NX 1, Macpac Microlight, Big Agnes Fly Creek Ultralight and the Marmot EOS. I was very impressed at the range of lightweight one person tents on the market. After much agonising I decided to go for the The North Face Stormbreak 1.

The North Face Stormbreak 1 is a little bit heavier than the others but makes up for this in a number of its features. The two main reasons I decided to go for this tent were: the two pole design which gives it a lot of structural integrity and the amazing price of $129. While all the other tents are around the $300 or $400 price North Face has done an amazing job of providing a tent that is nearly as light but considerably cheaper. The extra pole does add some weight but I wanted to have a solid tent that would stand up in strong wind and heavy snow.

The other good feature I liked was the mesh inner tent has a generous band of material near the floor making it considerably less draughty than other lightweight tents. Some of the tents I have used in the past save weight by having the mesh of the inner tent come down till a couple of inches above the tent floor. When the wind blows it gets under the fly and blows straight through the mesh. This makes sleeping in these kinds of tents very draughty. The wind also blows dust straight under the fly and through the mesh.

On a pervious expedition, we were camped in a very dusty place and the mesh interior of another tent I used provided no protection from the wind-blown dust. All my gear, including my camera equipment was covered with a film of dust; an experience I don’t want to repeat. I had no such issues with the The North Face Stormbreak 1.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

My little yellow home. I lived in that tent for 16 days during the expedition.

The tent held up very well in the exposed windy plains of the Kamchatka peninsula. It has lots of guy ropes which allow you to secure it very firmly and as long as you orient it right the tent stands up very well in high wind conditions.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

There was enough space to lie down and sit up comfortably

I found the interior of the tent had enough space to lie down, sit up and get ready. There was enough room for my gear at the foot of the tent. I kept my boots and pack outside under the vestibule. I spent 16 night in this tent on an expedition to Kamchatka. I felt very comfortable and cozy in my tent. Most of the others shared tents and predictably, half way through the trip started complaining about the sleeping and dressing habits of their tent mates. I had no such issues and was very glad that I had opted to take a tent for myself. Having a bit of time to yourself and getting a good nights sleep are very important on long trips away.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

Spectacular view over the mosquito infested taiga to the remote mountains of the Vostochny range (Kamchatka, Russia)

The two pole design gives the tent a lot of structural integrity and I was confident the tent would stand up to the testing conditions I was going to experience on this expedition to this remote corner of the world. On pervious expeditions to Kamchatka I have seen the wind snap poles and shred tents. The wind can get very strong in this exposed landscape as there is very little cover out on the tundra.

The North Face Stormbreak 1

The North Face Stormbreak well guyed out amoung the lava rocks (Kamchatka, Russia)

The North Face Stormbreak 1 proved to be a very good choice for this expedition. While the other tents I considered had their advantages, The North Face Stormbreak 1 punches way above it’s weight. The price meant I could spent less money on gear and more money on having an adventure. I would highly recommend this tent to anyone looking for a rugged lightweight single person tent.

The North Face Stormbreak

Cheap heavy metal tent pegs are supplied with the tent

Any downsides?

Yes, I was very surprised at the bad quality of the tent pegs that are supplied with this great tent. The pegs are the cheap, heavy iron pegs at you get with bottom of the line tents at a discount store. I replaced these with some lightweight pegs. But when you consider the price difference between this tent and others in the same range you understand that compromises have to be made. Anyhow, this does not take away from the fact that The North Face Stormbreak 1 is a great tent that I look forward to using on many adventures in the years ahead.

The North Face Stormbreak 1 Specifications

  • Fabric:fly: lightweight polyester taffeta, 1200mm PU coating, water-resistant finish,
  • Fabric: canopy: breathable polyester taffeta, water-resistant finish
  • Fabric:mesh: polyester “no-see-um” mesh / floor: lightweight polyester taffeta, 3000 mm PU coating, water-resistant finish
  • Trail Weight:3 lbs 1.4 oz (1.4 kg)
  • Floor Area:18.13 ft2 (1.68 m²)
  • Capacity: 1 Person
  • Total Weight:3 lbs 7 oz (1.56 kg)
  • Fastpack Weight:2 lbs 4.6 oz (1.04 kg)
  • Vestibule Area:3.02 ft2 (0.28 m²) / 6.04 ft2 (0.56 m²)
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Sunset over the mountains of fire, Kamchatka

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

We climbed a small dormant volcanic cone to watch the final sunset of our expedition

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” John Muir

On our final evening amoung the volcanos, we climbed a small dormant volcanic cone a short walk from camp to take in the grandeur of the scenery we had been trekking through. We were treated to this amazing scene as the sun set over the jagged peaks of the remote Sredinny range. The skies lit up in reds and yellows over Tolbachik in a perfect allegory of the angry past which created this volcano aeons ago. Her active cone from last year’s eruption was silent now and while the lava remained hot all activity had ceased.

Being treated to an etherial scene like this is what it’s all about. One experience like this makes all those rough kilometres of trekking, burdened with spine crushing packs, all the while being harried by thousands of bloodsucking mosquitos, seem like nothing.

We soaked in the scene and stood on the top of the volcanic mound, rugged up in our down jackets, till the chill of the cold wind got to us. We scrambled down and walked back to camp over the black ash of the lava plain in silence. That night we slept well knowing we would be back in civilisation the next day and were going to treat ourselves to a hot bath and meal that wasn’t rehydrated in a plastic bag, for the first time in over two weeks. And lets not forget, our first ice cold beer.

 

 

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MSR stove fuel burn rate

Kamchatka Russia

Dining out in Kamchatka. The best seats in the house

When planning a 16 day trekking expedition to the volcanos of Kamchatka I was not sure how much fuel to take on the trek. So I made a few calculations, ran a couple of tests and went with our best estimate. Here are the results

We had the following requirements for this trek:

  • 10 people
  • 1 dehydrated breakfast – 450ml of hot water
  • 2 Mugs of tea/ coffee – 500ml
  • 1 Cup of soup – 300ml
  • 1 dehydrated dinner – 450ml

We carried two MSR Whisperlight International stoves and used locally bought benzine for fuel. We had two five litre cooking pots and found that we boiled 2 pots in the morning and three pots in the evening to cover our requirements. This added up to 25 litres of hot water per day for the entire group.

We calculated approximately 50 ml of fuel per person per day; you need to double that incase you need to melt snow.

One liter of fuel lasted us about 2.5 to three days.

Using my calculations I figured out we required about seven litres of fuel for 10 people for 15 days. We carried 10 litres just to be on the safe side incase we lost any fuel bottles or accidentally spilled some fuel. The fuel was carried in plastic 500ml soft drink bottles. We had a lot of spare fuel left over at the end of the trip. The next time I would go with just seven or eight litres.

MSR Whisperlight International stoves were very fuel efficient and robust. They gave us no trouble whatsoever. We had to be careful not to get any grit in the fuel lines and had to give the stoves a clean now and again. I would highly recommend using these stoves as they were perfect for the job.

 

Cooking with mosquitos

Cooking with mosquitos, Kamchatka, Russia

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Expedition Photography – Sony Rx100

Sony RX100

My camera gear for the 16-day Kamchatka expedition

On my recent expedition to Kamchatka we were going to be carrying very heavy rucksacks. When we had finally loaded all out food, fuel and gear the packs weighed over 30kgs. Luckily most of the weight was made up by food and fuel so the packs would get lighter as we consumed our supplies.

With this in mind I very reluctantly left my Nikon D700 and 24-70mm behind and opted to take my small but capable Sony RX100 on the expedition. I bough four extra batteries and lots of memory. I took about 3000 photos on the trip as well as a few short videos and had nearly two batteries left after the trip. This setup weighed about 450g. (Yes, I know the tripod is pink; it was in the bargain bin and going cheap. And it weighed next to nothing.)

Trekking in Kamchatka

My pack weighed in excess of 30kgs

The camera performed very well, even in the cold but I have say it provided a very different shooting experience when campared to my trusty D700. I missed the precision and control I am used to when using my D700. Using an LCD rather than a view finder is also a very different experience. While the RX100 is a great camera it is no where as good as the D700 in low light conditions.

That said, I am very pleased with the photographs from the trip. I will post a full report and gallery when I am done editing the photos.

 

 

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Kamen volcano, Kamchatka Russia

Trekking in Kamchatka

Crossing the Shmita Glacier below the north face of Kamen volcano.

Making our way down from the Volcanologists Pass at 3300m to the valley below. We had to descent 2000m knee jarring vertical meters that day. Luckily our packs were a lot lighter than when we had started the trek.

Trekking in Kamchatka

Making our way down from Volcanologists Pass (3300m) between Kamen and Klyuchevskaya volcanos

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One of the grandest vistas in Kamchatka

Kamchatka camp

Imagine waking up to this: From the left Bezymianny (2882m), Kamen (4579m) and Klyuchevskoy (4750m)

We woke to this stunning view after a few days of seriously hard trekking. This was the day after we had descended from the Volcanologists Pass (3300m) which can be seen between Kamen and Klyuchevskoy. This involved over 2000m knee-jarring vertical meters of descent.

Two days ago we had ascended the same route, climbing the same 2000m of ascent in an 11 hour push. We were shattered by the time we reached the pass late in the evening. Just as we thought the  worst was over Klyuchevskoy sent out a welcoming committee to meet us in the form of rock fall. Massive boulders came smashing down the gullies we had to cross. We stood on the edge of the gully, donned our helmets, said a couple of Hail Marys and made a mad dash for the other side. Spotters kept an eye out for any falling rocks.

Once we reached camp we watched in horror as huge fridge sized boulders continued to cartwheel down the volcano at regular intervals. This was the mountain we were supposed to be climbing the next day.

 

 

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Tolbachik – active and inactive

Here are two views of the active cone of Tolbachik volcano on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia. The first photograph I took on during the 2012 eruption, on 1 July 2013, a few months after the main eruption took place. As you can see the lava lake was visible and there was a lot of activity. Lower down the slope rivers of lava ran down towards the plains and two more vents continued to erupt with lava and spew gas.

Looking into the crater

The devil’s cauldron: Tolbachik volcano 1 July 2013

The second photograph I took on 20 July 2014 during my 150km trek around the central group of volcanos. As you can see the lava lake was no longer visible and the activity had ceased. Lower down the slope, while the rivers of lava had stopped running, the lava was still hot – too hot to touch in some places. There were a few vents still spewing very hot gas into the air. We had to approach these vents with great care as if the wind direction changed you had to jump to get out of the way as the blast of hot air was extremely hot. We saw no evidence of red hot lava though.

We came across a number of volcanologists clamouring over the rubble with their gadgets and instruments conducting research.

Tolbachik volcano Kamchatka

The devil’s lair: Tolbachik volcano 20 July 2014

We walked around the edge of the caldera and collected lava rocks as souvenirs. Wisps of gas continued to flow from cracks in the ground and much of the rock was still hot to touch. Tolbachik erupted last year after a gap of nearly 40 years. I wonder when the next eruption will be.

 

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