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CDT Gear Review

CDT Gear review

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A complete CDT gear review for my Thru Hike of the Continental Divide Trail. My base weight was around 6kg (13lb), but this depended on where I was hiking.

When hiking in the snows of Colorado my base weight was closer to 9kg (20lb) due to the excess clothing and snow gear I carried. So I can’t call myself an ultra light hiker.

This is my longest and most detailed post to date. Hopefully, it might helps somebody with their choice of gear. Please feel free to ask me a question or make a comment about any of the gear I used.

Table of Contents

Nemo Hornet 1 Person Tent850 Gram.

Overview – What a surprise package. This is one of the lightest freestanding tents on the market at the moment. The only lighter tents are the tarp style shelters that use trekking poles as support. The Nemo Hornet was big enough for me without feeling cramped. I loved the side entrance which allowed me to lay in my sleeping bag while cooking meals in the vestibule. I suspect in coming years this tent will be a very popular tent on the long distance trails as hikers search for a functional, lightweight tent.

Pros – Very Lightweight. Quite large for a 1 person tent. I loved the side entry and vestibule. Easy to set up.
Cons – Nothing negative to say about the tent, except maybe the tent pegs are easily bent when hammering them into hard ground. Maybe that is a good excuse for me to buy titanium tent pegs.
My CDT gear review, Very Highly recommended.

Read more: Best Lightweight Tents for Thru Hiking

Osprey Packs Exos 48900 grams (minus the brain lid).

Overview –I used the Osprey Exos 58 on my hike of the PCT last year and was impressed. I wanted something smaller for the CDT. The natural choice was the 48 litre model of the same pack. It was very comfortable with padding in all the right places. When carrying lighter loads below 10kg (22lb) the pack was super comfortable and a dream to hike with. When hauling heavier loads above 15kg the pack was still comfortable with little excess strain placed on the body. As a framed backpack there were no pointy objects in the pack sticking into my back, as can happen with some other lightweight packs on the market.

Pros – Super comfortable. Lightweight. A loop for an Ice Axe. Good sized pockets on the outside. Great for carrying heavy loads when needed. Lifetime guarantee from Osprey.
Cons  – The mesh on the side pockets is not very strong and ripped due to excess wear and tear.
My CDT gear review – Very Highly recommended.

Read More: Best Lightweight Backpacks

Nemo Nocturne 15F / -9C Down Sleeping Bag = 1060 grams.

Overview- This sleeping bag took a little to get used to it. It is not a tight fitting mummy style sleeping. It is a wide and spacious bag. Wide enough for me to cross my legs while inside the bag. I am a side sleeper, so for me the extra width enabled me to stretch and curl up into various positions while inside the bag, something I am unable to do with ‘Mummy Style’ sleeping bag. I am a cold sleeper. At temperatures below 20F I noticed the cold. Unfortunately the CDT is a cold trail and temperatures below 20F happened on several nights. I only had one sleepless night due to cold weather that got down to about 10F.

Pros– It is a wide bag with plenty of room inside to stretch out. Material is resistant to the damp. Lots of loft. Flap for a pillow inside the hood.
Cons – For me (I’m a cold sleeper), the bag is rated closer to 20F. 700plus down.
My CDT gear review, Recommended.

Read More: Best Lightweight Sleeping Bags and Quilts

Nemo Astro Insulated Lite 20R755 Grams

Overview – This was a heavy luxury item. At 755 grams it is much heavier than its competitors. That extra weight meant it was comfortable and warm thanks to the added insulation. It was also silent. Similar mattresses from competitors make a lot of noise as I toss and turn during the night. As a slide sleeper the mat was super comfortable. I never used a ground sheet under my tent to protect from sharp objects like thorns and I never got a hole in my mat. I did have a problem with the mat when one of the internal baffles failed, causing a bubble to appear. The mat was promptly replaced by Nemo but the replacement mattress failed in the same way on the last days of the hike. Despite being extremely comfortable it did fail twice. I will try a different model in the future.

Pros – Possibly the most comfortable mattress on the market. Added insulation material. Quiet when I roll over. Good resistance to punctures. A great mattress for slide sleepers like myself.
Cons – The mattress is a little heavy. It failed twice.
My CDT Gear review, I would recommend trying another other Sleeping Pad. Check out this review: Best Lightweight Sleeping Pads

Therm-a-Rest Stuff Sack Pillow77 Grams

Overview – This is a reversible stuff sack with nylon on one side and soft comfortable fleece on the other side. During the day my sleeping bag is stuffed inside this sack, during the night I simply stuff my down jacket or spare clothes into the sack to make a comfortable pillow. This has served me well for several years and has covered many thousands of miles of hiking and cycle touring.  Some ultralight hiking pillows are not comfortable for me as my beard (or stubble) will rub against the pillow and make a loud noise that keeps me awake.

Pros – When stuffed with a down jacket it makes for a very comfortable pillow. Doubles as my sleeping bag stuff sac, or spare clothes stuff sac during the day.
Cons – A luxury Item. A little heavier than other stuff sacs. Not 100% waterproof.
My CDT gear review, Recommended luxury item.

Pack Liner/Garbage bag  – 60 Grams. Light and functional. I replaced them regularly during the hike as they started to wear out and develop holes.

Vasque Men’s Inhaler II Low Hiking Shoe with custom orthotics – 790 grams.

Overview – I used these shoes in the desert of New Mexico and from Wyoming north to the Canada border. Most hikers only get about 500 miles out of their shoes before they are worn out, I was able to get about 1000 miles out of these shoes. They are comfortable and a great fit for my wider than normal feet.
Pros – Lightweight. Strong. Long wear life.
Cons – Either my feet have grown or they feel about 1/4 size smaller than other brands.
My CDT Gear Review – Highly recommended for a breathable long wear life hiking shoe.

Vasque Inhaler II Gore-Tex Hiking Boot860 grams.

I liked these boots a lot. I have slightly wider feet than normal and my feet fit nicely into these boots, though they seem to be about 1/4 size smaller than other brands in their sizing. For the snowy mountains of Colorado I needed a boot that was waterproof. Previous experience taught me that my feet get really cold when I’m hiking through snow for extended periods. The waterproof layer prevented the cold water and snow from entering into my feet. This boot also worked well for me in the hot weather.  The boot lasted me 1300 miles before they wore out, that is exceptional wear life. I liked them so much I will be using them again to hike the Appalachian Trail in 2017.

Pros – Lightweight. Waterproof. Long wear life. They wore out after 1300 miles. Worked well for me in hot weather.
Cons – I wore a hole in the Waterproofing layer after about 500 miles. Either my feet have grown or they feel about 1/4 size smaller than other brands.
My CDT Gear Review – Highly recommended as a lightweight waterproof boot.

Darn Tough Merino Wool Socks 48 grams

Overview – The Gold standard in socks. These are the most popular socks on the trail for a reason. The merino wool blend resists the funky foot smells quite well. They are comfortable and super tough, just try and put a hole in them, if you do they will be replaced by Darn Tough for free. That means you have a pair of hiking socks for life!
Pros – Comfortable. Lightweight. Tough
Cons – Nil
My CDT Gear Review – Very Highly recommended. If you only take one piece of advice from me, BUY DARN TOUGH SOCKS.

Patagonia Down Jacket 371 grams

Overview – From the cold windy mountains of Tasmania to the high Arctic tundra of Alaska this jacket has served me well. Three very hard years of use has worn it out and now it has too many holes to be of much use anymore. It served me well on the CDT.
Pros –
Lightweight. Warm.
Cons –
Nil, except there are other lighter and warmer jackets on the market.
My CDT Gear Review – I Highly Recommend this jacket but I am looking to upgrade

Read more: Best Lightweight Down Jackets for Thru Hiking

PrAna Stretch Zion Convertible Pants430 grams.

Overview – I bought these convertible pants on Amazon half way through my hike. What a surprise. They fit great and have just enough stretch to make them super comfortable to hike in.
Pros : I like the convertible option. Stretch material. Strong.
Cons : A little heavy. Expensive.
My CDT Gear Review – Highly recommended (so far).

Smartwool Base Layer Pants 150 grams

Overview – I wore these comfortable, lightweight pants to bed almost every night. This helped keep me warm and prevent my sleeping bag from getting dirty. I also wore them on cold mornings as part of my clothing layers.
Pros –
Lightweight. Comfortable. More practical than a sleeping bag liner.
Cons –
My CDT Gear review – Highly recommended

Smartwool LS Shirt 255 grams.

Overview – This shirt lasted me half of the PCT last year and it fell to pieces half way through this hike. It worked great in both the hot weather and cold weather. It also did a great job at combating the funky smells that I produced after many days and weeks between showers. If it was able to withstand a bit more wear and tear it would be the perfect hiking shirt. I will continue to use a similar shirt in future hikes.
Pros – Lightweight. Worked well in both Hot and Cold weather.
Cons – The material doesn’t have a long wear life. Expensive.
My CDT Gear review – Recommended but I’m going to look for a harder wearing thermal hiking shirt.

Reebok unpadded Cycle Shorts85 grams.

Overview – I made a last minute decision to change to a lycra / polyester blend stretch underwear. It turned out to be a great decision. I suffered from very little chaffing for the length of the hike. My anti-chaffing cream (Vagisil) was rarely needed.
Pros –
Lightweight. Comfortable. Strong
Cons –
My CDT Gear review – Highly recommended

Merino Wool Midweight Balaclava60 grams

Overview – I needed this for the brutal cold of Colorado and Montana. It worked great. I swapped between this and a cheap fleece beanie.
Pros – Light. Cheap. Warm
Cons – Nil.
My CDT Gear review – Recommended for the cold weather

  • Patagonia Shorts 119grams – These shorts have served me well for many miles of hiking and cycling. They died a slow death on the CDT. I replaced them with a cheap pair for the duration of the trip.
  • Gloves 65 grams – A pair of fleece gloves given to me by Leki. They worked well, although I have always suffered from cold hands so I would have liked a thicker pair, the CDT can be a very cold trail.
  • PCT Sunhat 55 grams – A great lightweight sunhat
  • Sunglasses 50 grams

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket 180 Grams

Overview – This jacket survived its second thru hike. It served me well on the PCT last year and again it served me well this year. The jacket is very light, it folds up very small into its own pocket and is waterproof, windproof and just breathable enough. I learned another great use for this jacket. When worn inside the sleeping bag it traps heat very well. It needed to be washed often to remove my oily, dirty, sweaty residue.
Pros – Lightweight. Packs to a small size. Waterproof. Windproof. Lifetime warranty.
Cons – Not breathable enough in humid weather.
My CDT Gear Review – Highly recommended.

Outdoor Research Helium Pants 153 Grams

Overview – This is the second pair of these pants I have used. The last pair were ripped after only several days use last year on the PCT. They are covered by a lifetime warranty and were replaced. They are lightweight, waterproof, windproof and just breathable enough to work in all but the hot and sweaty environments.
Pros – Lightweight. Packs to a small size. Waterproof. Windproof. Lifetime warranty.
Cons – Not breathable in humid weather.
My CDT Gear Review – Highly recommended.

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles 413 grams (pair)

Overview – These are some of the lightest, highest quality trekking poles on the market. They are comfortable to use. Probably the best feature for me is the small folding size. As somebody who travels with their hiking poles this is a necessary option.
Pros –
Lightweight. Folds to a small size. Great for the traveling hiker.
Cons –
My CDT Gear review – Recommended. Highly recommended for the traveling hiker who needs a trekking pole that folds to a small size.

Black Diamond Raven Ice Axe with Grip = 485 grams

Overview – I used this Ice Axe for several weeks in the mountains of Colorado. I used a 65cm shaft on my Ice Axe. I think the longer the shaft the better, I think something around 75cm or larger would have been a better choice for me.
Pros – Lightweight. Strong.
Cons – I used a 65cm Ice Axe, I should have used a 75cm-80cm
My CDT Gear Review – Recommended, the longer the shaft the better.

Kahtoola MICROspikes = 340 grams

Overview – The Gold Standard in ultra light spikes for Thru Hikers. They performed as expected and I felt safe when hiking in the snow and ice of Colorado. A much better option than heavier crampons.
Pros –
Lightweight. Easy to use.
Cons –
My CDT Gear Review – Highly Recommended.

MSR Lightning Ascent Snowshoe = 1800grams

I planned on purchasing these for the snow in Colorado but a friendly local lent me his snowshoes to use, so I am unable to review these. Other hikers reported that they worked well.

Petzl – TIKKA Headlamp85 grams

Overview – The headlamp was mainly used for early starts in the snow of Colorado. Other than that, it spent most of the time in my bounce box. Rarely did I hike at night. The light on my phone was all I needed most of the time.
Pros – Lightweight. Rechargeable battery.
Cons – I rarely hiked at night so most of the time it was a wasted item of gear.
My CDT Gear Review – Recommended. Worked great when I did use it.

Evernew Ti DX Stove Titanium 86 Grams.

Overview – A good lightweight, Titanium stove. It works great but can take 5-7 minutes (or more) to boil water. At times I wish I had a Jetboil so I didn’t have to wait so long for water to boil.
Pros – Lightweight. Simple to use. Easy access to alcohol fuel.
Cons – Slow to boil water, 5-7 minutes.
My CDT gear review, Recommended as an alcohol stove and lighter than a Jetboil.

Snow Peak Trek 900 Titanium Cookset with homemade aluminum foil lid 114 Grams.

Overview – A good reliable pot that has served me well for many years of hiking and cycle touring. I use the lid when cycle touring but make a lightweight lid from Aluminium foil when hiking to save weight.
Pros – Lightweight. Simple cooking pot.
Cons – Food can burn easily and stick to the inside of the pot.
My CDT gear review, Recommended.

Sea To Summit X-Mug78 grams

In many ways this is a luxury item. I could have dispensed with this item and used my cooking pot as a cup when needed.  I loved how it folds up into a small, flat profile for easy storage.
Pros – Packs up small
Cons – A heavy luxury item, I could have used my pot as a drinking cup
My CDT gear review, Recommended luxury item.

  • Titanium Spoon 12 Grams  I managed to break the Titanium spoon while using it as a screwdriver. I will replace it with a similar item.
  • Gerber STL 2.0 Knife 28 Grams – Lightweight and functional. I rarely used my knife, I almost question if I needed it.
  • Bic Lighter – 20 Grams – A necessary item, obviously.
  • 600ml Coke Bottle to store alcohol for stove – 27 grams – Another necessary, lightweight item. Lighter and cheaper than any item available at a gear store.

Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System 85 Grams

Overview – The Sawyer Filter is the most common method of filtering water among Thru Hikers. It is lightweight and simple to use. The squeeze bag that comes with the filter is fragile and didn’t last long before developing a massive hole. Luckily, the filter thread fits nicely onto a Smart Water Bottle which is available in most Gas Stations and Grocery Stores in USA. There is a rumour that if the filter freezes it will break and the hiker will not know it is broken until they get sick. I’m not sure if there is truth to this statement or it is just hiker talk. I didn’t take any chances when my filter froze in Northern New Mexico, I replaced it. I also back flushed it regularly to remove the dirt and debris from the filter with syringe that was supplied when I bought the filter.

Pro – Lightweight. Effectively filters debris and all the nasty waterborne diseases.
Cons – The squeeze bag that comes with the filter is poor quality and breaks way too easily. The filter can break without the hiker knowing about it if it freezes overnight (maybe). It is easy to loose the rubber washer on the thread.
My CDT recommendation, Recommended.

Steripen rechargable140 grams

Overview – I have had a love / hate relationship with the Steripen over the years. I think it is great to use in the clear, flowing mountain streams, or in third world countries with poor urban water supply. In other water sources I suspect its not so good. It will not filter debris from the water. I used the Steripen in the mountains of Colorado and got Giardia. I used the Steripen in the mountains of Wyoming and got Cryptospiridium. Maybe it was user error, maybe I didn’t boil my water enough when I made my coffee in the morning. Either way, I got sick under the Steripens watch. I will limit my future use to hotel room water supplies in third world countries. Many years ago my Steripen failed, I contacted customer service for repairs, I was treated poorly.

Pros – An effective method for treating water. Rechargeable. A cheap method in the long term for treating hotel water in third world countries.
Cons – I still got waterborne diseases while using the Steripen. Poor customer service.
My CDT gear review – Recommended to treat clear water, not recommended for the CDT.

Katadyn Micropur Water Purifier Tabs 20 Grams.

Overview – I didn’t use them on this hike. These were my backup in case of emergency. I’ve used them in the past, they have been great, but there are cheaper methods for treating water such as bleach.
Pros – Effective water treatment
Cons – Expensive. Does not remove debris from water.
My CDT gear review – Recommended as a back up, but consider cheaper options such as bleach as a backup.

2 x Platypus Bottle 2-Litre 72 Grams

Overview – I used these as my large capacity water bottles. They are a great, lightweight option. I posted them ahead in my bounce box when I was in areas with lots of water.
Pros – Lightweight. Collapsible.
Cons – Not the same thread as a Sawyer water filter but with care it can be threaded onto the filter.

Nalgene Water Bottle 1 litre178 grams

Overview – I like the fact that I have a strong water bottle. The best feature is the fact that I can fill it with boiling water and stuff it into my sleeping bag on cold nights, an instant hot water bottle. I can also wrap my wet / damp clothing around the hot water bottle to dry them. But it is heavy in comparison to other water bottles.
Pros – Strong, virtually unbreakable. Can be used as a hot water bottle.
Cons – Excessively Heavy for a Water Bottle. Expensive
My CDT recommendation, Recommended when traveling in very cold weather where it can be used as a Hot Water Bottle. In warmer weather, Not Recommended.

Apple iPhone 5S 16GB + headphones + cable + LifeProof Case 149 grams.

Overview – My phone was possibly the most important item in my gear list. I downloaded maps onto the phone and used the iPhone GPS for navigation. I also used it to write my blog, listen to music, audiobooks, podcasts and more. For protection it was housed in a LifeProof Case
Pros – A necessity for the modern lightweight hiker. The lifeproof case served me well.
Cons –
If my phone broke while on the trail without paper maps I might be in trouble.
My CDT gear review – Highly recommended to have the smartphone and Lifeproof case.

Canon PowerShot G16 + spare battery + case + spare memory card 473Grams.

Overview – Taking great photos is important to me. The G16 is a great balance between quality photos and lightweight. I’m very happy with it, but, although my ideal camera would be the new Sony Rx 100v – 299 grams.

PowerGen 12000mAh External Battery 425 Gram.

Overview – I need an external battery to power my phone. If my phone dies, I lose my GPS and navigation aids. I have used this battery for 3 years without problem, but it is heavy. There are now lighter and cheaper versions of external batteries such as Anker 20000 mAh Battery which is my current pick for the best lightweight external battery.
Pro – Reliable. Cheap
Cons – Heavy
My CDT Gear Review, I would recommend a lighter option such as the Anker 20000 mAh Baterry – 354 grams

Anker 24W Dual USB Wall Charger + Cables 65 grams.

Overview – Provided  a quick charge to my phone and External battery while I was in town.
Pros – Lightweight. Reliable. Fast charging.
Cons – Nil
My CDT Gear review, Highly recommended.

What gear will you carry on the CDT? 
Let me know in the comments section below

Everything you need to know about hiking the CDT:
Complete Guide to Hiking the Continental Divide Trail
CDT Resupply Guide
CDT Gear List

Enjoy the trail.

Cheers Shepherd – PCT15, CDT16, AT17, TA18-19 and still hiking.

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About the Author:
Brad is an Australian who has completed the hiking Triple Crown after he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail and Appalachian Trail. He has hiked on every continent (except Antarctica) and has cycled from Alaska to Ecuador. He is an expert on outdoor gear currently living in Chile.

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31 thoughts on “CDT Gear Review”

  1. The aluminium lid of a 1.1 kg tin of Milo makes a perfect light weight lid for the Snow Peak 900. It is a perfect fit.

    And I really enjoy your blog. It’s awesome.

    • I use a Garmin 810 GPS, but most of my navigation is done with a combination of paper maps, Gia Roji (Mexico), Google Maps or my iPhone app called Pocket Earth Pro. Soon I will be experimenting with free maps offline from opencyclemaps.org which I can load onto my Garmin, so we will see how that works. On the Thru Hiking trail I use the GPS maps from GutHook which is another phone app based map and GPS combo.

  2. Came back to read your osprey review and loving the new look blog! Looking fresh and updated! Nice stuff. Went with the nemo sleeping pad, on its way to me here in Perth now. Slowly getting my gear together for my first overnight hike next year – the Cape to Cape here in SW oz. Cheers mate.

  3. thanks for the gear tips. I’m a side sleeper and was going to go for the thermarest since every hiker/blogger has one, but your nemo mat does sound promising. A bit bad about failing twice though. I’ve got a decision to make it seems….

    • Yes a hard choice. Both have advantages and disadvantages. I’ll be trying a different mat while cycling in Mexico. We shall see

  4. Thanks for the write-up. I’m impressed you wrote your blog on a iPhone. I have a hard enough time just sending a text.

    • Yeah, my fat fingers don’t help. But with a little practice I was able to get it done. Hope you enjoy the winter cycling this year in Alaska.

  5. Thank you for sharing your great reviews! Enjoy your time of rest and then hiking and cycling in Mexico. What are you looking most forward to about hiking the AT?

    • I think I’m looking forward to the people I will meet on the trail. I hoping to start with several of my PCT and CDT hiking buddies. I’m also looking forward to some detours from the trail like Washington DC and New York. And of course completing the triple crown. Until then I’m very busy doing nothing in Mexico. I should be finished doing nothing in a week or so.

  6. Congrats on your successful finish! Great blog posts as usual and nice to have a great wrap up. I shared a few days with your CDT comrade Limey when he finished. My external battery died so great timing with your post. FYI the Patagonia nano puff is synthetic. I had one years ago and it doesn’t breathe like my MHGH. Never could hike in it. Keep us posted on finding the perfect mattress. I too am a side sleeper and am noise sensitive. Can’t tolerate the neoair.

    • I met Limey in the PCT last year and we were rarely more than a couple of days apart on the trail. He finished one day ahead of me. Thanks for the info on the Patagonia jacket. I knew it was synthetic and heard great reviews from fellow hikers, hence why it is in my list. I do like a bit of breathablity in my jacket so maybe I’ll choose another for next year. Both are great mattresses. Just a shame the Nemo failed twice otherwise it was perfect for side sleepers like us.

  7. Informative and terrain tested !

    Do you think freestanding is mandatory for the CDT ?
    I think the sleeping bag is heavy. Is the temperature rating for a naked user ? Is using a down jacket enable to search for a lighter bag ?

    I will check the power gem ultralight. Thanks for googling for us.

    You don’t bring any PLB ? Some may be used as a spare gps if the smartphone fails.

    Thank you for sharing your gear experience.

    • Thank you fir the kind words. A freestanding tent is not mandatory, in fact, many people use non freestanding tents, the trekking poles are used to hold the tent up. The rating for the sleeping bag is a standard system for all companies, in not sure how it works. On very cold nights I slept with my down jacket and rain clothes, they helped keep me warmer.
      No PLB for me. Often I was not more than 1 Day from other CDT hikers. If my phone died I could just wait for other hikers. I was always aware of a backup pan or second option.

  8. Your superb photos initially attracted me to your blog on the PCT, now the CDT. Your honest & intelligent description of trail life keeps me intrigued – look forward to future entry’s.
    We might …….cross paths on the AT next year…..?? Thank you Shepherd

  9. Thank you for your review. The jacket is interesting: lighter and warmer versions are available now, so they ‘evolve’ quite quickly. Something to keep in mind to save weight… As for the Steripen, Carrot Quinn was also using it and got sick (I think Guardia), also on the CDT last year. I would never switch any Sawyer device to a Steripen while on trail (even for much shorter hikes). Totally agree that Steripen is for the ‘urban’ traveller rather than hikers… Have a nice trip down to Mexico, cheers :-)

    • Lightweight jackets seem to be evolving quickly. Almost every quality outdoor manufacturer has a good product. I made a mistake with not using the sawyer. Live and learn.

    • I’m happy you agree. Darn Tough are the winners in the sock category. Every hiker should be using them. They are that good.

  10. You are correct on the frozen filter. It’s not rumor as Sawyer warns of this as the ice will destroy the micro filters. They also say very hot water can also damage it (like when back flushing). I believe the max is about 140 degrees F so that’s something to be careful of too as some may think “the hotter the better” when backflushing which in this case is not true. Nice write up. I have the vario carbons too and really like them.



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