Last weekend I headed up to the Uintas to test some gear from the OR show. A short (fine, really short – only 5 miles) backpacking trip in the Uintas was the perfect testing grounds for several new products. Not venturing too far from the trailhead allowed me to carry more than I normally would and the ability to play with shiny new gear. Here are the best products I was lucky enough to try out:
Reactor Watches Gamma Ti. How many times have I taken off for a lunch-time bike ride or post-work climbing session only to realize minutes in I am still wearing my watch that matches a suit-and-tie dress code rather than softshell? Too many. Enter Reactor Watches. The look is professional and works with dress clothes, but don’t let it fool you: these timepieces are built for the outdoors with backlit displays and enough bells and whistles to keep you on time. You won’t want to, or need to, take it off for your evening, weekend or expedition adventures. Built tough – in fact, the rep had a 30lb weight hanging from the watch band at their OR show booth – these watches belong on from dawn patrol through the work day and out on the town at night. When night fell in the Uintas I appreciated the ability to glance at my wrist in the pitch black and being able to clearly see when it was either time to turn in or still beer-thirty. Speaking of beers, the cylindrical packaging doubles as a bomber koozie.
Freewaters Scamp. For years, I’ve kept a 10” square Therm-A-Rest in my car to rest my feet on when driving. It’s road trip luxury! I’ve even gone so far as to cut footbeds out of old pads and use them in winter booties. Why? Because if a Therm-A-Rest of comfy enough for sleeping, this magic foam is equally comfy on feet. The smart folks at Freewater had the same idea and incorporate the patented ridged foam into their sandals. I honestly couldn’t wait to hike into camp to change into what has become my new favorite footwear option; Freewater Sandals are more than light enough to toss into the pack and not worry about a few extra ounces. At their OR booth, the rep spent more time focusing on – and was clearly more proud about their humanitarian work in building wells in Africa – than the amazing in its own right product itself. Definitely a brand with a conscience you can feel good about getting behind.
Guideline Swell / Guideline Alpine (pictured above). My new favorite one-two punch for go-to shades. The Swell is a flatter fitting lifestyle choice, perfect for commuting to work and happy hours. The Alpine, featuring the same clear frame and light lenses excel on trail. They never budged once scrambling over rocks and have been on several sweaty mountain bike rides this summer with me and stayed put the entire time. Bonus: price point on these quality sun glasses is half of some other name brands for equal quality.
Grand Trunk Double Hammock. Another camp “luxury” item I would consider bringing on longer trips simply because the weight to enjoyment ratio is so high. About the size of a Nalgene bottle, this hammock comes with everything you need to pitch a cozy rest between two trees. Once up, two people fit comfortably laying down, as well as sitting for when you want to chat with other camp mates. Fair warning though, once you lay down, it is difficult to muster the courage to leave the gentle feeling of suspension and if you do, someone else is bound to jump right in. Definitely a must pack.
Coghlans Power Pack. I always forget to switch my iPhone to airplane mode, usually resulting in about 30% battery power when I reach the trailhead after the phone has been looking for a signal the past hour. Smart phone? Yeah, right. If not for the Coghlan’s Power Pack, I wouldn’t have been able to take many photos on my trip – especially this sunrise panoramic. Providing a portable (read: light) source of power to charge all sorts of devices away from home, this is another must pack. About the size of a hard drive, the pack is charged up at home from a USB or by solar in the field or dynamo (essentially hand cranking) and allows a smartphone to be fully charged three times. LIfesaver? Quite possibly. Photo saver? Absolutely.
Brunton Torpedo. At first glance, the Torpedo looks like a fairly ordinary 12 volt charging station for a vehicle which plugs into the cigarette lighter (do people even still call it that?). While plugged into vehicle power charging phones, GPS’s, cameras and other compatible electronics and is not the groundbreaking feature that makes this product shine. Once away from vehicle power the Torpedo holds an additional charge, allowing you to continue powering and charging devices in the field. Had I forgotten my other auxiliary power source (see above) the Torpedo would have gone into my pack or lent it to a friend. Instead, it was waiting dutily on the dashboard to charge phones and itself back up while playing tunes on the drive home.
Stanley Vacuum Pint. The envy of every outdoor concert I attended this summer, this 16oz tumbler found it’s way into my pack. Knowing I had packed a few cans of micro-brews, why not drink out of insulated stainless steel, which keeps drinks cold for over 4 hours AND doesn’t condensate? Exactly my thinking. The lid ingeniously has a bottle opener built right in.
Stanley 1.1 Liter Vacuum Coffee System. What’s the best part of cool mountain mornings? Truly the best and necessary part of every morning: coffee. This all-in-one pot, press & insulated bottle keeps the java hot for 24 hours, and can also keep drinks cold for 24 hours. The integrated pot fits comfortably on a stove and the press readies a bottle’s worth of coffee, then nests to save space, while the lid separates into two cups for sharing, should you be so inclined to share. There is also a storage stopper that holds coffee grounds for the next morning’s cup o’ joe. The included pot can be used for all your other water boiling needs, so this system could be all you need to pack. Plus, stainless steel looks damn cool.
Boreas Topaz. Part backpack, due to the shoulder straps & part stuff-sack, featuring a rolling top closure, as well as incredibly lightweight, this storage vessel will be making it on every backpacking trip I take from now on. On the hike in, I was able to stuff and compress a cold weekends worth of clothes in the Topaz with no weight penalty – at mere ounces it’s a negligible difference from my normal stuff sack. Once situated in camp, I had a suitable pack for peak-bagging around camp, as well as short walks to pump water that necessitated a pack to haul half a dozen bottles and bladders down the trail. Once back at home, it has been my go-to bike commuting pack due to its simplicity, comfort and size.
Clothing Arts P^cubed Convertible Travel Pants. Convertible pants (legs that zipper off to become shorts) have long been popular with backpackers. For one, you only have to pack a pair of pants to have both pant or short options, but secondly for temperature control. This brand, however, takes things a step further by adding secure pockets. Now, for routine backpacking trips, pickpockets are not much of a concern, minus a few really creative bears. But for overseas trips, backpacking in Europe or travelling ports on a cruise ship for example, pickpockets are a legitimate concern. In order to get into a side pocket, you have to unloop a button, then unzip the pocket. That’s simply not happening on a crowded street or bus station, which keeps your phone and money, well, yours. On my weekend trip, I wore these pants mainly to test comfort – and to keep my hiking partner from putting her things INTO my pockets – chapstick and the usual accessories. The pants had zero rough spots and were not weighed down given the number of features. I left the pockets unzipped and buttons open for easy access, but look forward to the security next time we head into less friendly zones.
While the next few products didn’t make it on the backpacking trip, I’ve had the opportunity to test these as well:
PahaQue Green Mountain 5. Taking a backpacking tent car camping is as silly as using a collapsible stove and single pot cookset when you can have the luxuries of home, such as tabletop burners, pots and pans with handles and sleeping should be just as comforting. This spacious den sets up quickly and easily sleeps 5. For smaller groups, such as a couple with a few dogs, the Green Mountain is like the Taj Mahal compared to our usual sleeping quarters that require crawling and more than one accidental elbow to your partners head trying to get zipped in for the night. Ample sleeping options, such as room for adding raised cots, is a welcome change and maximizes floor space for the fur-kids and keeps them from sleeping on my head. The ability to bring in camp chairs and a table in inclement weather for card games or reading makes a downpour quite relaxing. Lastly, due to waterproof walls and taped seams, a fly is only necessary at roof level, saving weight, bulk and set-up time, while maximizing airflow to virtually eliminate condensation.
Eagle Creek EC Lync. Hitting the shelves in early 2015 this new series of rolling duffels is revolutionary in design and function – especially for those of us without much storage space in our homes. Three sizes (22, 26 & 29L) completely disassemble in mere minutes, allowing luggage that would take up all of your under-bed storage space (be honest – we all stuff suitcases under the mattress) fit neatly into a stuff sack. The process is simple enough you may even opt to break the luggage down on the road in smaller hotels or couch surfing. The duffels can be put back together in a snap thanks to the handy photo directions on the product itself. Now, with all that extra space cleared up under the bed, whatever is keeping the closet doors from being able to shut is free to be relocated under the bed!
Pats Backcountry Bev’s. Beer. Who doesn’t want a cold beer after a day of hiking? It’s one of nature’s rewards. The weight, even in canned micro brews, can be quite the deterrent. Pat’s Backcountry Beverages has solved this problem, after over a decade of R&D, by removing the weighty water from the equation. Using a proprietary bottle/pump mechanism, all that is required is a small pack of brew concentrate (about the size of an energy gel) and activator packet and some elbow grease. Mix the packets with purified water and “pump” in the carbonation. Brilliant! Two styles – a black ale and pale ale – are currently available.
patsbcb.com/ $9.99 4-pack
Rider Pier – Everything to come out of Brazil is beautiful: World Cup venues, people, food and these sandals are no exception. As comfortable as they look to be durable and sporty, thanks to a fabric toe divider and dry foam insole, I expect to wear these snazzy from sand to street for years to come. Riders are recyclable, typically into playground materials and are made from 30% recyclable materials. Better yet, 99% of the industrial waste created in their manufacturing is recycled or reused.