Articles about Gear

New Stuff from Solo Stove…

If you guys remember, I reviewed the SoloStove a while back and was pretty impressed with it. It’s a pretty nice, lightweight, found-fuel backpacking stove that works really well. There is a self-reliance side of me that really likes the idea of not having to rely on, or carry, a commercial fuel source for my stove.

Solo Stove System

The SoloStove guys have developed a couple of new stove options since my last review and they have a new Kickstarter campaign to draw funding for production. The new Campfire Solostove is designed for larger-scale cooking for friends or family around camp. The larger size, and weight, makes it more of a basecamp/car camping cook stove but allows for a greater degree of cooking.

Solo Stove Campfire

The new design comes from customer feedback on the original Solo Stove asking for larger capacity cooking ability in the same compact, super-efficient, found-fuel design they appreciated in the original design. If this is something that interests you, check out their Kickstarter campaign and help them get this new design funded. As usual, kickstarter allows you to buy into these new products early at a (usually) reduced price.

If you really want to get set up, they are offering a complete Campfire Cook Set that includes 2 pots with lids, the Campfire Solo Stove and a Tripod for cooking above the fire for under $200. Everything nests together to save space and it’s a pretty nice little set.

Rediscovering Trail Running

The hard part about getting back into running after a long time away is the shortness of the runs.  It usually takes me a mile or so to get into sync and find my rhythm.  Another mile of decent running and I’m starting to feel fatigued and tired enough that I have to really pay attention to form.  These short distances usually mean I’m doing quick, boring loops on the streets or at the park in my neighborhood.  I miss being able to run 6-8 miles on an average run and really get to see some stuff, vary the route, make it interesting.  That’s what I’ve missed about trail running.

It hardly seems worth it to drive out to a trail for a run if I can only pull off a couple of miles.  But I finally started to get some strength back and the knee is holding up really well.  I’ve been (very) slowly adding on distance to my runs and bike rides.  Saturday, I decided I wanted to get a little bit of a longer run in and thought that hitting the trail would be the way to do it.  Getting out on the trail I would have more to look at, a chance to vary the route if I wanted to and I would be away from the familiar “track” I usually run.

Trail Running Trail 100

I drove out Saturday morning and lucked out to find one spot left in the tiny parking lot at the east end of Trail 100 through the Phoenix Mountain Preserve.  As I got my stuff together and got on the trail I was disappointed to realize I forgot my headphones.  Running on pavement I usually have music and had planned listening during my trail run.  As I began running though, I remembered that I gave up music on the trail a long time ago.  Sound is one of the big draws to trail running for me and I almost ruined it for myself out of thoughtlessness.  I really enjoy hearing the crunch of rock under foot, the chirp of birds and insects, the wind blowing through rocks and trees as I run.  Most importantly, I rediscovered, is the importance of hearing the mountain bikers coming up behind me so I can move off trail for them.

I also forgot about how trail running effects pace, especially out here in the rocky, thorny desert trails we have.  Settling in to a slower pace allows me to go further and enjoy the run much more.  Rather than running on a long flat surface where I can get distracted and complacent about my run, the trail is varied and interesting with hills and washes, obstacles and debris, wildlife and scenery.  I can run more naturally without feeling like I am over-thinking the mechanics of running.

A runner friend encouraged me to run by feel, not paying attention to the “data” as I run.  Trail running is where this makes the most sense to me.  I am out for the joy of the run and the beauty of the trail, I should be worried about pace, distance or calories burned.  I wanted to get 4 or more miles in on my run this Saturday but I didn’t want to pay attention to the GPS.  I wanted to just run a comfortable run at an enjoyable pace.  I actually ran a little under 4 miles, so I didn’t hit my goal (unless you include the short warm up walk).  But really, I felt the run was successful and comfortable and it felt great to get back out on the trail.

Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 100

My Tips for Enjoying a Trail Run

  • Lose the Tunes – Connect with the outdoors and the trail by losing the music and allowing yourself to experience the sights AND the sounds of the trail.
  • Slow it Down – Be OK with the fact that you probably won’t run the same pace on the trail that you do on pavement.  It’s a very different experience, adjust accordingly.
  • Just Run! – Running on the trail for me is more about the trail and less about the performance.  Get the run in and make it fun without the constant GPS obsession.

 

Trail Shoes

I recently picked up some new shoes for running as most of my other shoes are old and beat up from before my injury.  I had just purchased a new pair of running shoes before I broke my foot, but didn’t like them and gave them away so I was still in need of new shoes.  I picked up some light trail shoes from Columbia to try out in hopes that they would do the job.  I really liked the Conspiracy Outdry trail shoes I got from columbia but they’re a little bulky for running so I ordered the lightweight Conspiracy Vapor.  They are a low profile, lightweight, multi-sport shoe with well thought out reinforcing and a nice low 3mm drop.  I was starting to run in zero drop shoes before my injury and I do like the low angle of the Vapors.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

Like the other Conspiracy shoes I’ve worn, there were pretty comfortable right out of the box, although they don’t have the same awesome shape of the original.  I liked the wide toe box on my original Conspiracy’s and they felt great, the Vapor was narrower through the toe box and took a little time to break in.  The weight is nice and about 9-10 oz. per shoe and the tread has a nice grip to it.

I’m not terribly happy with these shoes when running on pavement.  Unfortunately, I can’t really explain why.  They just seem to be harsh on my feet running on pavement compared to other running shoes (I have been running in my Altra Zero Drop shoes as well).  Once I got the Vapors on the trail, it was a different story.

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

On the rocky, dusty desert trails around here the Vapors performed great.  The sole/midsole assembly is rigid enough to protect my feet from the sharp rocks on the trail, but flexible enough to be agile on the technical terrain.  They breathe well and the reinforced outer provides some nice protection.  I was pleasantly surprised at the difference in how these shoes felt on the trail vs. the pavement.  They are a “trail shoe” and not a true running shoe and it shows when I run in them on different surfaces.

I just started using them so we’ll see how they hold up.  If the other Conspiracy shoes are any indicator, they’ll do fine and at $80 they’re cheaper than any running shoes I’ve ever had and most trail shoes I’ve purchased.

SOCKS!

I also wanted to add a note about the socks.  I have been using a variety of socks over the last couple of years to try out new brands, styles, materials and fits in an attempt to find a great sock.  I have a few brands that I really love including Point6, Ausangate and Smartwool.  The first gear review I ever wrote was for the Smartwool PhD hiking socks that I wore for a month on the Colorado river in 2007.  I was really impressed with how the socks held up to daily abuse in and out of water day after day.  Smartwool recently sent me the socks shown above to try out as one of their Fan Field Testers.  They are the NEW and improved ultra-light PhD micro running socks and I love them.  They quickly reminded me of why I was so enamored with Smartwool in the first place.  The socks fit well, hold their shape and take a ton of abuse without the slightest whimper.  The only other socks I have that have held up as well are my Point 6 socks (which I really do love) but the PhDs are much thinner which I really like for running socks.

Review: Pronto Cafe Coffee…

Every once in a while a brand (or rep) will contact me about testing gear.  A lot of times it just doesn’t fit with what I do, sometimes it fits but I’m kinda settled with the gear I have.  Point being, I tend to turn away a fair amount of stuff throughout the year because I don’t feel like I can do it justice.  But when someone offers me coffee, I’m in!

I started working a little with Sport-Hansa after talking to them at the Outdoor Retailer Winter Market in January.  They’ve been a cool company to work with and represent and distribute several European brands here in the US.  I’ve been experimenting with coffee lately in the field (instant, French Press, Aeropress, Grower’s Cup, etc.) so when Sport-Hansa asked if I wanted to try a new lightweight, portable coffee brewing product I, of course, said “absolutely!”

I first saw Pronto Cafe mentioned at HikinginFinland.com earlier in the year.  Pronto Cafe is a French product with coffee roasted in Italy and packaged in Switzerland.  I didn’t expect to find it in the US, so didn’t give it much thought.  With Sport-Hansa now bringing the product to the US, I was happy to be able to try it.  Each package weighs in at only 8 grams and delivers about 8oz of fresh brewed Arabica coffee.  In the sealed package they are supposed to have at least a 12 month shelf life.  Pronto Cafe seems to be available in a 3 pack sampler (for $3.87) or a 10 pack box (for $12.29) which calcs out to a cup of fresh brewed coffee for about $1.25 each.

Pronto Cafe Field Test…

Pronto Cafe Coffee

Recently I had a chance to do a quick day hike with some awesome Twitter friends in the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix.  It was a cold, rainy weekend perfect for desert hiking and fun (dangerous) creek crossings.  As is my usual custom, I brought a Jetboil with me on this day hike so we could warm ourselves up with a hot beverage when we stopped for lunch.  Among the assorted beverages was the new Pronto Cafe packets.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeWhen we stopped I was able to offer up coffee, tea, hot chocolate and hot apple cider.  We tried several of the options including the coffee from Pronto Cafe.  The packets are pretty simple, a bit of ground coffee in a small brewing pouch with built in support arms on either side to allow it to rest at the rim of your cup while you pour water over the grounds.  The water seeps through, delivering hot fresh brewed coffee.  We set everything up and began to pour the heated water through but it poured through very fast not allowing much of a steep with the grounds.  As expected, this gave us pretty weak coffee and left me wondering if there was something that could be done.

Pronto Cafe CoffeeLater I decided to try it again, but this time I tried to compact the grounds a little in the pouch before pouring the water in.  I also deliberately slowed the rate of pour (previously I simply filled the pouch then let it drain out, filled again etc.).  I also made sure I delivered a measured amount of water so as not to dilute the brew.

This method seemed to deliver a better, richer cup of coffee.  The trick seems to be to create a little more of a condensed layer of grounds, then trickle the water through.  It still filters through quickly, but you do seem to be able to control the strength of the brew in this way.

All in all, not a bad cup of coffee for a single-serve lightweight option.  It certainly is lighter and creates less waste than many other brews I’ve tried for the backcountry.  Outside of bringing your own instant coffee, Pronto Cafe seems to be the most compact, lightweight and low waste product on the market.  Given the luxury of space and weight, I still prefer my french press…but this is a good alternative for those lightweight scenarios.

Gear Review: The Mini Mojo Load Out Bag…

In addition to being a gear guy, I can also be sort of a Tactical Geek.  I like the heavy ruggedness, versatility and modular nature of much of the gear designed for the military.  So when the guys at TopSpecUS.com reached out and asked if I’d like to review one of their utility bags I was more than happy to take a look.

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo

I’m a sucker for a good bag.  I especially like duffel bags with a lot of versatility in storage and carry options.  The Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag is that bag.  Don’t let the “mini” part fool you, this is a huge bag.  It’s a smaller, more manageable version of the full sized bag which, in my opinion, is too big to be usable for anything but light gear like clothing.  Once you start packing hard gear into a bag, you want a realistic size and the Mini Mojo is just about right.

Mini Mojo Technical Data:

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo Load Out Bag 15-9684 Features:

  • Available in black, olive drab or coyote brown
  • Measures 25″L x 15 1⁄2″W x 14″H
  • 11 exterior pockets for storage
  • MOLLE / Universal compatible
  • Plenty of “D” rings for attachments
  • Secure double-zip main compartment
  • Double compression straps on both ends of the bag
  • Removable, padded shoulder harness and backpack straps for comfortable traveling
  • Wrap-around carry handle feature

Mini Mojo Field Use:

I initially wanted to try the Mini Mojo as a range bag, but quickly found that it’s just too big for that.  Loaded with a couple of pistols and a pile of ammo the generous 24″ main compartment still had tons of room left, way more room than necessary for a range bag.  I would want an even smaller version of this bag if I were to use it for the range.

If you live in a place where you’ll pack a bunch of extra light gear to head to the range, especially an outdoor range, then this might suit you well.  The bag is certainly rugged enough to carry a ton of ammo as long as you can hoist it yourself.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoOne of the features that I really like about this bag is the removable (and hidden) backpack straps.  This feature alone makes me think this bag would be an excellent 72-Hour Bag (Bail-Out-Bag) to keep around for emergencies.  It has super strong, heavy duty handles and straps to carry a substantial load but with the backpack straps you can manage that load over greater distances in the case of an emergency.  We keep a couple of Bail-Out-Bags around the house and I loaded up the Mini Mojo with the gear we have to see how well it would manage our setup.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoI unloaded our existing duffel bag of supplies into the Mojo Mini including spare clothing, canned goods, cook kit, water, toiletries, first aid kit, flashlight, multitool, etc. and despite being smaller than our original duffel everything fit.  Not only did it fit, but I found I had extra room to stuff in 4 or 5 MREs.  With all the outer pockets I was also able to organize the gear better instead of it all just lumped into one compartment.  And I still had extra room.

Altogether the load weighs close to 50 lbs, considering it’s a Bail-Out-Bag, it’s not really tailored to be lightweight.  I really wanted to see how the backpack straps worked out under some weight so I tossed the loaded bag on my back, adjusted the straps and wandered around with it.  I can’t really say it’s the most comfortable backpack I’ve had on my back.  The straps do cut in and the balance of the load isn’t managed the way it would be in a traditional backpack.  Being as it’s NOT a traditional backpack, but the straps are just a carry option I can overlook this.  I’d much rather carry an awkward load on my back than have to carry it like a traditional duffel.

Voodoo Tactical Mini MojoThroughout the use and testing of the Mini Mojo I was continuously struck by just how much crap you could stuff into this bag.  Between the huge main compartment and all the outer pockets, it’s hard to fill this thing up.  I couldn’t imagine trying to load up the larger version.  I really like the pocket configuration on the bag and the MOLLE system on one side for adding your own modular components if necessary.

This is the kind of bag you could load heavy and toss around in rough conditions and not have to worry about the bag getting beat up.  It’s tough, rugged and versatile and would be good for any variety of conditions where you’d wanted a pre-loaded bag ready to grab and go.  The backpack straps are especially handy and I really like that they can be stashed away in a hidden compartment on the bottom of the back when not in use.  This is a fantastic option especially if you’ll be traveling with the bag at all.

You can find the Mini Mojo Load Out Bag for yourself at TopSpecUS.com for about $100.  That’s a pretty fair price when you look at comparable bags on the market.

Easy knots with the LoopAlien…

LoopAlien

A little while back I was contacted by Claire over at Outdoor Trail Gear to take a look at the LoopAlien for creator David Burrell.  David developed these cool lightweight gadgets a while back and I’ve seen them around, but never had the chance to play with them until now.

I am not an Ultralight guy when it comes to hiking and backpacking, but I do like to keep things as light as reasonable.  So lightweight, versatile gadgets like the LoopAlien are interesting to me to see how they fit into my overall kit.  This is especially when the weather permits me to do some hammock camping.  Hammock camping has some unique challenges because most of your setup is suspended (sometimes all of it) and that means a fair amount of rope work, small rope work where knots and adjustments can be challenging.  If you’ve ever tried tying a knot in a 2mm line and then untying it…it’s like trying to untie fishing line.

In my setup I’ve got some Dutchware that I use to fasten line, tie things down and string ridgelines and they’re great but somewhat limiting.  The LoopAlien can do the same thing, with an insignificant weight difference, and much more.  I’ve used them to tighten tie downs, secure loads on the backpack, hang gear, etc.  They’re light enough (at 2.5 g for aluminium and 2.9 g for titanium) that the weight doesn’t even factor in to my overall load.  They’ll work well with the 1.75mm and 2.2mm Dyneema chord but also work easily with paracord.

In a pretty nasty little storm we encountered in Arches National Park, I used the LoopAliens to rig my tent to a tree to reduce the shaking from heavy wind.  In the cold, windy conditions at night the LoopAlien made it easy to secure the improvised tie down line without having to fumble around in the dark and cold with a knot.

I’ve also used it to add secure attachment points in line that’s already tied down.  Pushing a loop of line through the large hole and wrapping it around the outside of one of the smaller holes allows me to secure a tight attachment point for tying off another line or hanging something from a ridgeline.  I’ve only been using these for a little while, but it seems like the potential uses are endless if you work with small line a lot.

David was just successfully funded at his kickstarter for a new LoopAlien design that will prove to be even more versatile that the original.  Check out the design at the kickstarter page to see the new design and info on when they might be available.

LoopAlien from Canny Designs

At only $4 for the Aluminium LoopAlien is pretty affordable to add to any gear set.  The most expensive version (heat anodized Titanium) is $10 and is still not a bad price for something like this if you are going to be using it often.  They’re nice to have around and a set of 3 or 4 of these would be a sweet stocking stuffer for the hammock enthusiast or lightweight backpacker in your family.

Gear Review: Columbia Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket…

I’m going to keep this one short and sweet – I really dig this jacket!

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from ColumbiaThe Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket is one of the pieces Columbia Sportwear sent this season’s OmniTen.  I remember when it first showed up I immediately put it on and liked the weight and fit.  It’s perfect for light use like hiking and running and compacts down to nothing making it easy to stow.  It weighs in at about 7 oz and packs into it’s own chest pocket to about the size of a softball.

It doesn’t rain a whole lot here in Arizona, but when it does it’s pretty serious about it.  I’ve been caught in a few rains now where I’ve been able to use the jacket including a monsoon here in Scottsdale, a storm at the Grand Canyon, a rainy afternoon at Mono Lake in California and a monster thunder storm on top of Mount Graham.  In each, it performed well – kept me dry and comfortable without being stuffy.

The Omni-Wick built into the jacket makes it a breathable jacket.  I put it side-by-side against a lightweight packable rain shell from Sierra Designs and it performed WAY better.  The Sierra Designs jacket didn’t really keep me dry and was a sweat box – maybe I’ll use it when I am trying to cut weight.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

All in all, a really successful weindbreaker/rain jacket for hiking and running.  I now pack this thing with me every time I go out if there’s even the slightest chance of rain.  The only thing it needs is a good base layer.  When I’ve worn the jacket in colder rains without anything more than a t-shirt it can get cold real quick.  When the rain gets on the jacket, you feel the cold through the thin material.  But a simple base layer to insulate against that direct skin contact makes a huge difference.  Here in AZ, the rain doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cold out so I like not having an overly warm rain jacket with it’s own insulation.

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

At $90 retail, I think it’s a good deal.  I hope the jacket holds up over time.  I haven’t really tested it’s durability in tough terrain so I’ll have to update this review later after I’ve abused it more.

OmniTen…

Check out other OmniTen opinions on this jacket…

Eric seemed to like it, “Columbia claims omnishield keeps out ligbt rain… I can tell you from a serious testing that it keeps out heavy rain as well.”

 

Gear Review: Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife…

I consider myself a knife guy.  Not like the guys that have an obsession with collecting every knife out there, but in that I always have one with me and I really appreciate a quality knife.  Over the years I’ve moved from fixed-blade knives to folders and back to fixed-blades.  In the backcountry I definitely appreciate the reliability and sturdiness of a good fixed blade knife.  Others have reviewed knives from Helle and they usually get pretty positive reviews, so in my search for a great outdoor knife for backcountry use I really wanted to get my hands on one to see what the hype was about.  I wasn’t disappointed.

I met with the guys from Sport Hansa at the OR Winter Market in Salt Lake City last January, they are the distributor for Helle Knives in the US.  I talked to them in length about the knives and what makes them special.  I followed up after the show and asked if they’d be willing to send one out for review and they graciously sent me the Helle Eggen…one of Helle’s most popular all around outdoor knives.

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

First Impressions

Out of the box this is a gorgeous piece of hardware.  The Curly Birch handle is very attractive and fits nicely in the hand in any position.  The blade is a beautifully executed, polished steel and is easily the sharpest knife I’ve ever had without taking it to a stone myself.  At about 4oz it’s a light knife but doesn’t feel flimsy or weak like a lot of lighter knives.  The leather sheath is a really nice addition as well.  It’s well made with some simple yet attractive tooling on it.

I’m no major collector but I’ve had (have) probably 40+ knives in my time and this blew away a lot of the competition straight out of the box.

Specifications:

  • Blade Material: Triple Laminated Stainless Steel
  • Handle Material: Curly Birch
  • Blade Length: 3.9 in
  • Overall Length: 8.3 in
  • Weight: 4.2 oz
  • Knife Style: Fixed Blade
  • Blade Style: Drop Point

 

Field Use

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

Over time you get used to handling knives.  I admit I underestimated the blade on this knife and cut myself the first time I took into the field.  It was barely a nick, but that blade is so damn sharp it didn’t matter.  I learned to be more aware when handling the Eggen.

I look for a couple distinct things in an outdoor knife.  First, how does the knife handle?  Knives are multipurpose tools and they are never held or used in a single specific way.  It has to be comfortable in many positions, cutting from different angles, in varied conditions.  The Eggen performs well all around.  The handle is shaped well for any grip position and the Curly Birch performs dry or wet.  The blade is the perfect length and wide enough to give you leverage without being so wide as to compromise precision.  I like the drop point blade design and the slight overall curve of the knife.

I also look for durability.  I’ve only had the knife for about six months and had it in the field with me on a little over a dozen trips.  I’ve used it to cut rope, leather, rubber, plastic, wood and food (I’ve even used it to shave).  The edge has held up amazingly well and the handle and blade look brand new.  It will take a lot more time to really judge durability but I’ve had much more expensive knives that have shown wear and tear earlier and faster than the Eggen.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a nice fixed blade outdoor knife you can’t go wrong with the Helle Eggen.  If all Helle Knives are produced as well as this one then I see a few more of these in my future.  I have been extremely happy with the performance and handling of this knife and it’s a beautiful piece of equipment.  All Helle Knives are made in Norway with the same attention to detail and quality they’ve maintained since the Helle brothers started production on their farm 1932.

Bottom line…I would trust my life with it.

Test Run with a Teardrop Trailer…

The Wilderness Wife and I like to travel.  We talk a lot about trips we’d like to take and places we’d like to see.  I like to run pretty lean when it’s just me, but the wife likes just a little creature comfort when we’re out road-tripping and camping for multiple days.  A few years ago we saw a couple pull into a camp ground hauling a small teardrop trailer from T@B.  That began our obsession with teardrop trailers.

This past May we took a few days off and drove to the Overland Expo outside of Flagstaff, mostly to see friends, but with the secondary motive of checking out the trailer options for overlanding.  The Expo proved fruitful and we came home with a stack of brochures for all the trailer and gear options.  There were a few stand-outs that we really liked.

The Moby1 Teardrop Trailer…

teardrop trailers- Moby1 trailerOne of the first trailers we saw that we really liked was from Moby1 Expedition Trailers, LLC.  We liked that it was light, clean and simple with high clearance and plenty of options.  A very versatile trailer that we could take anywhere and probably tow with any vehicle.  They have a variety of configurations ranging from super light, bare bones trailers to heavy duty, cross country, off-road trailers with tons of amenities.  A viable option, but we wanted to see more…

 

So-Cal Teardrops…

teardrop trailers- so-cal trailers

We looked around and saw a few others, most of which just didn’t fit us.  Then we found the setup from So-Cal Teardrops and really liked what we saw.  These teardrops were pretty sweet and have a TON of optional upgrades (more than we could ever afford).  They fit most of what we were looking for – off-road capability, solar options, water storage and pumping options, kitchen setup, optional bike racks, awnings, etc.  As with most of this kind of equipment, there is some sticker shock when you start asking.

Even so, we had the bug after the expo and just couldn’t let it go.  The wife was shopping for used trailers looking for deals.  I wasn’t sure if she’d really be as comfortable as she thought in one of these.  I mean, they look like they could be stuffy and cramped…it’s a tin can in the desert, what’s comfortable about that?

So we had to try one.  That was that.

When my foot injury kept me from flying off to California to tough out two weeks on the JMT, we decided to spend her birthday camping.  We settled on the Grand Canyon and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try out a teardrop trailer and see if it was something we really thought we would use.  Luckily, she found a local outfit renting Little Guy Trailers under the name Old School Teardrop.

Old School Teardrop Trailers…

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

I contacted Old School Teardrop via email after checking out their site and Facebook Page.  The wife had pretty much decided already that she wanted to try to rent one from them if it was available…and it was her birthday so I had to see what I could do.  Jose, the owner of Old School Teardrop, got back to me and we slowly hammered out the details via email.  Jose was very accommodating and actually let us pick the trailer up the night before our rental so we could get an early start with it.  He has two trailers he rents out and has plans to get another one.  Both trailers are kept very clean and he has rules against allowing pets or smokers use the trailers.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

My giant truck barely knew the trailer was there.  The one we rented was pretty light weight and stripped down.  Jose had it outfitted with a bed, storage pockets on one wall and a set of old-school metal lunchboxes on the other wall for storage (pretty cool!).  We got the trailer up north and made our first night’s stop at Bedrock City.  The trailer was still holding some of the heat from the valley and took a while to cool off inside.  Even with the roof vent wide open, the two side windows open and the back left wide open all night it was still a little stuffy until about 4 in the morning.

Old School Trailer- teardrop trailer

After that first night though, it stayed cooler and was much more comfortable.  We spent three more nights camping at the Desert View Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The trailer gave us a nice spot to chill out, nap, crash at night, change clothes in privacy and a secure place to stash our stuff while we were out exploring.  The most important part: After 4 days on the road and camping the wife was not ready to go home!  WIN!  Four days in and she was ready to keep going and a lot of that had to do with the trailer.

Teardrop trailers - Old School Teardrop

So, it sounds like a trailer of some kind is in our future.  It’s just a matter of figuring out what we can afford vs. what we need to make it worth while.  Renting the trailer was a great learning experience and gave us a lot of information to work with in making a decision.  I also think Old School Teardrop will continue to be a great resource for us until we find one of our own.  Jose seemed pretty excited about having Wilderness Dave take one of his trailers out.   We’ve already talked about renting one again for an extended trip out to Joshua Tree National Park in the near future.

 

When I mentioned online that we had rented a teardrop for our trip I had a TON of responses from people on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram asking about the trailer and what I thought of it.  The teardrops seem to be really popular right now.  If anyone has any questions about the trailer or our experience that I didn’t cover here, just hit me up in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

Testing Columbia’s Omni-Freeze Zero…

Being #OmniTEN has it’s perks.  One of the awesome parts of this experience has been the opportunity to dig a little deeper than usual into a brand’s technology.  Usually, I get to test one or two pieces from a company and give my opinion.  Columbia has sent us a pretty wide sampling of pieces hosting a collection of technologies.  The big focus for us, as Spring/Summer Omniten, has been on the Omni Freeze and Omni-Freeze Zero fabrics that are featured this year.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero Technology

Omni-Freeze Zero Products I’ve used…

Between the products that I’ve received as part of the OmniTEN welcome package, pieces I’ve asked to test and a couple of pieces I’ve purchased I have quite a collection of Omni-Freeze Zero products.  Here is the list of what I’ve worn:

Omni-Freeze Zero Technology…

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyOmni-Freeze ZERO is the culmination of a four-year development effort including Omni-Freeze, the short lived Omni-Freeze Ice and now Omni-Freeze Zero.

The basis of the technology is to use the sweat (moisture) we produce during exercise or in extreme heat to cool the fabric.  Omni-Freeze Zero fabric is embedded with thousands of little blue super-absorbent polymer rings that trap up to 300% more moisture than normal fabric then use that moisture to physically drop the temperature of the fabric for an extended period of time.

Excerpt from Popular Science Magazine about the technology:

“The human body already has a highly efficient cooling system: As perspiration evaporates, it draws heat away from the body. Wicking fabrics facilitate this process by distributing sweat evenly over the fabric, so that it dries more quickly. Despite devising cheats, such as menthol-like chemical coatings added to fabrics, companies have never actually improved upon the body’s natural cooling process. Designers at Columbia Sportswear have now made a fabric that does.

Omni-Freeze ZERO shot with a thermal camera

image taken with a thermal camera that displays, when it was moistened with steam, darker blue areas signify colder temperatures

The wicking polyester base of the Omni-Freeze ZERO T-shirt is embedded with thousands of 0.15-inch hydrophilic polymer rings (a men’s medium has more than 41,000 of them). As the base spreads sweat, the rings absorb moisture and expand into three-dimensional doughnuts. In order to swell, the rings require energy, which they gather as body heat. In tests, the shirt was up to 10 degrees cooler against the wearer’s skin than shirts made from any other material.”

Typically coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Wick EVAP and Omni-Shade, these new garments are tailor made for adventures in the heat.

Omni-Freeze Zero Performance…

It’s hot in Phoenix, there’s no getting around it.  A clothing product that can cool itself sounds like a desert dweller’s dream.  So when Columbia sent me the first batch of Omni-Freeze Zero stuff I was anxious to try it out.

I decided to do the first test mid-day on the bike with a brisk 20 mile ride in the Trail Dryer Hat and Freeze Degree 1/2 Zip long sleeve shirt.  I didn’t sweat.  This told me two things: I need try harder and the light, breathable fabric with Omni-Wick kept me pretty dry.  Halfway through the ride I poured a little water on the headband of the hat and did feel some cooling, but it wasn’t significant.

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero TechnologyLater, I took the Terminal Zero shirt out for a hike.  It was over 100 degrees and I did 6 hot miles on a rocky, exposed trail to work up a sweat.  I could tell that certain areas where the sweat was accumulating I could sense the cooling in the fabric.  I never really built enough sweat to get larger sections of the shirt to cool so I sprayed some water on my neck, shoulders and arms to give the fabric a little boost.  BAM…there it is.  Initially, there’s the immediate natural cooling effect you would feel in any shirt when you splash it with water, but then the fabric cools down and goes well beyond anything water would do alone.  Even spraying it with warm water, the fabric cools below the temp of the water.

There is a tipping point where the fabric saturates enough to activate the cooling of the material.  I decided to see if more water meant more cooling and later put on the Freeze Degree Long Sleeve shirt and jumped in the pool.  It was well over 100 degrees in full sun.  I got out of the pool and sat in the sun with the shirt on.  The shirt didn’t seem to significantly cool until it had dried out a little, then the technology kicked in and I felt a significant sensation of cooling where the shirt was touching my skin.  This cooling effect slowly dissipated as the fabric dried out.

Coupled with complementary technologies like Omni-Shade (50 SPF UV protection) and design features like a vented back panel (in some shirts), the clothing performs well outdoors.  I do feel like I was more comfortable on my warm weather hikes in the Columbia clothing I tested.  Like most technical fabrics, it doesn’t take much use to build up some stink, there’s something about tech fabrics that really amplifies body odor. The Omni-Freeze Zero materials are best used next to the skin so wearing something underneath defeats the purpose.

Room for improvement…

I’ve heard some complaints about Columbia having inconsistent fit and sizing with their garments.  That makes it difficult sometimes to order things online especially when you’re sort of in between sizes like I am.  I don’t think it’s so much that the sizing has been inconsistent as much as they sell different cuts and some styles are more fitted than others.  I found most of the sizing true to convention.

It would be nice to see Columbia develop an Omni-Odor Block technology of some kind.  All of the tech fabrics in athletic wear seem to amplify body odor and these shirts are no different.

Other than that, I like the styling, fit and weight of the garments.  I do wish they made the Terminal Zero in a black or dark gray color but I seem to be in the minority lately about acceptable clothing colors…and I like the blue.  There’s not a lot I would suggest beyond what they’ve done.  I think Columbia does a pretty thorough job in designing clothing that works well in the outdoors.

Bottom Line…

It works.  If you’re like me and you don’t sweat buckets when you’re exercising, you might need to add a little moisture to activate the cooling but the fabric works.  We did get free samples to test as part of OmniTEN, but I felt confident enough in the products after using them to purchase more pieces with my own money AND buy some for my wife.  A little cooling help in Arizona means an extra month or so of enjoying the outdoors before even Omni-Freeze Zero can’t compete with the heat.

 

More from The OMNITEN…

For more Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero talk…check out the reviews from fellow #OmniTEN bloggers Kristie, Eric and Erika.

Kristie:

“I decided to put my long sleeve 1/2 zip top on myself and throw Rainy in my Freeze Degree short sleeve top.  We then took a dip in the water, and it was instant relief and disbelief for me.  I felt unbelievably cool in the water, but once I stepped out of the water (after dunking my Trail Dryer hat in the water), I stayed cool for a couple hours without going back into the water!”

Eric:

coming soon!

Erika:

“Here is the main reason I’m in love with this shirt, it adapts to the temperature of my body, avoiding those too hot, too cold, moments so common in spring. I can put the Omni-Freeze ZERO long-sleeve shirt on and wear it all day comfortably from sun to shade.”

 

Columbia’s #Omniten 2013…

#OmniOutlaw banner

This is the #OmniOutlaw graphic banner I created when the the first #OmniTen were announced.

My deep seated #OmniEnvy began in early 2012 when Columbia Sportswear launched the first #OmniTen campaign. Ten Social Media influencers in the outdoor community were selected to participate in a 6 month experiment with Columbia. Some of them I already followed on Social Media channels, the others I quickly followed so I could watch this new #OmniTen thing unfold. So began my #OmniObsession and the exercise of following, friending, stalking and generally creeping out the original #OmniTen…and so began the #OmniOutlaws.

I was not alone, the #OmniOutlaws grew into a small group of less-than-influential individuals on Twitter. The one thing that brought us together was a fondness for Columbia Gear and an acute case of #OmniEnvy. Columbia makes some great gear and it was fun to watch and interact with Columbia and their #OmniTen as they featured new gear and posted about their adventures. I have had the opportunity to meet and create friendships with most of the original #OmniTen and they are a great group of people.

Then the Winter #OmniTen were chosen. Once Columbia proved that they would be choosing a new set of ten for each season, envy turned to hope. It now looked like there may be a chance in the distant future for an #OmniOutlaw to turn #OmniTen.

Well it happened! Columbia has made my year by inviting me to the 2013 Spring season of #OmniTen! I’m still stalking the #OmniTen, it’s just not as creepy because I’m one of them. It is now time to lower the #OmniOutlaw flag and point my ship toward a new adventure proudly flying the #OmniTen colors.

There’s still a few people that haven’t checked in yet, but if you’d like to join me in following the adventures of the new 2013 #OmniTen I’ve provided links to their Twitter profiles below.  This is an awesome opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.  Columbia has promised it will be amazing!

#omniten invitation box

My #OmniTen invitation box…

Columbia #OmniTen Spring 2013

David (me!)
Adam
Aleya
Anne
Tori
Justin
Eric
Julie

more to follow!

You should also be following Columbia Sportswear on Twitter and the #Omniten hashtag.