Gear Review: GearPods Backcountry Kit…

GearPods Backcountry Kit...

If you haven’t heard of GearPods, you’re not alone.  They’re a relative newcomer to the outdoor/survival gear markets.  The company was established in 2008 in Polson, Montana and launched it’s Adventure Series Kits and Connect System in late 2009.  For those of you not familiar with the product, the GearPods Connect System is a semi-lightweight, modular gear storage system comprised of different sized, durable plastic tubes than can be connected in a chain (or used separate) to organize your gear.

James Davies, GearPods CEO, describes the product here:

“GearPods provides the best of both worlds – highly compact yet capable adventure gear but without the weight and bulk downsides you’d associate with traditional backcountry gear.”

With 4 different tube lengths and 7 different colored lids, it is a very versatile and easy to organize storage system.

Using the modular Connect System, the GearPods Individual Kits are pre-loaded with the kind of emergency and survival gear that these containers are suited for.  Individual kits include the Stove system, Shelter, Health and others.  GearPods goes one step further and offers Multi-Kit Systems combining essential Individual Kits into “integrated Adventure Systems” like the Backcountry Kit in this review.

Their Multi-Kit Systems range from $75 to $250 and offer everything from basic emergency shelter to full-scale rescue and survival systems.

GearPods was gracious enough to send me one of their Backcountry Kits to try out in addition to the kit they donated for this week’s giveaway.  I took the  kit with me on an overnight trip out to Lake Pleasant and tested out the stove system.  But first, let’s take a look at what’s included:

The GearPods Backcountry kit:

Size:

  • Weight: 1.25 lbs (20 oz)
  • Dimensions: 3.2″ diameter, 9.25″ length

Features:

  • GearPods Health: Compact but comprehensive first aid kit for treating minor wounds and injuries.
  • GearPods Survival Pro: Range of survival tools for starting a fire, navigating, signaling, purifying water, fishing, and repairing clothes or gear. Includes the GearPods Stove, GearPods CookMug (with snap-in lid), GearPods Windshield and solid fuel tablets for boiling water and cooking.

GearPods Health:

The Health Pod is a basic emergency first-aid kit including all the necessary items to treat most common injuries or ailments on or off the trail.  I was pretty impressed with how complete the first-aid kit is with one-time-use packages of everything from sun screen to sting-relief to burn ointment and a huge variety of bandages.  This kit alone is a very useful and essential part any emergency kit.

GearPods Survival Pro:

The GearPods Survival pro is a combination survival kit and cooking system (mainly for boiling water).  The kit includes an incredible assortment of survival gear including an ultra-light blade and saw, emergency fishing kit, multiple firestarters and tender, a tiny LED flashlight, signal mirror and weather-proof writing pad (see pics below).  With the addition of the small, lightweight, ingenious little stove and cook-pot I couldn’t think of a single thing lacking from this survival kit.

Impressions:

Unpacking the kits for the photos above I was immediately impressed with how much gear is actually crammed in to these Pods.  In fact, there seems to be room for a few more items if you have some specific personal item that you’d want to add (or beef up the medical kit with extra bandages).  My initial thought was, “I want one of these things everywhere!  I’d keep one in the house, one in the truck and have one handy for backpacking trips (at least the medical kit)”.  The size is perfect for stashing just about anywhere and the fact that everything is stored in these durable, water-proof tubes makes them perfect for a variety of different conditions.  I do believe that they are a little bulky for backpacking, especially if you travel light.  But they do pack easily if you don’t mind the weight.  When I took mine out on the trail I initially stuffed it into one of the side pockets of my pack, and on the return I rolled it up with my sleeping pad and strapped it to the bottom of my pack.

In the Field:

I brought the Backcountry Kit with me to camp overnight at Lake Pleasant.  I had a couple of goals in mind.  One, I wanted to test the cooking system and see how easy it is to set up and take down as well as test how effective it is at boiling water.  Second, I wanted to test the firestarters.  To me, those are the most important aspects to a survival kit (fire and water).

This is my field test of the cooking system

The fuel tabs worked well once I got them lit (it was suggested that breaking apart the fuel tab would make lighting them easier). It took nearly a full single fuel tab to heat 9-11oz to boiling.  The cup is still very hot to the touch even with the fabric strip around the top.  The snap on lid worked well and would make for a nice drinking cup if you wanted to make tea, coffee or broth directly in the cup itself.  The  cooking system was very easy to set up and take down and was very lightweight.  As an emergency stove or backup, it’s perfect.  I would even consider it as my primary stove on short trips.

Getting fire started was a snap, the Tender-Quick lit without issue and allowed me to get my fire bundle going easily.

I will admit, in putting the kit back together in the tubes, I did have some trouble getting everything to fit just right.  I had to unpack and repack it several times to get the Pod lids to screw back on properly.  This, more than likely, is entirely a user generated problem.  It clearly fit just fine when I got it.  There is little room for error in the Survival Pro kit though, so pay attention when unpacking it so you can insure that it gets repacked properly.  If the fit is off or you can’t get the lids screwed on right, the Pods are no longer going to keep out water.

When everything is put together properly and the lids are screwed on tight, the Pods feel indestructible.  I felt comfortable tossing the Pod around camp, leaving it out overnight, tripping over it and kicking it out of the way without ever worrying about the contents.  I submerged it at one point in the lake without leaks and had to force it below water verifying that it would float if dropped out of a boat.  This made me think it might be useful to store electronics on boating trips.  The Pods are big enough inside to store a cell phone (even my massive HTC Thunderbolt 4G WITH a case on it fit inside the tube), batteries, cables, etc.

In the morning I played around with making a make-shift fishing pole. Using the line, hooks and sinkers provided in the kit along with a float I found on the beach, I tried my hand at fishing.  The system worked, even if I wasn’t able to land any fish.

All in all, I was very impressed with the Backcountry Kit.  It has nearly everything you would need for most any survival situation or backcountry emergency.  I would put serious thought in to adding the Shelter Kit to make this a perfect, all-around survival system (the GearPods Wilderness Kit includes the shelter kit).  If you spend much time on back roads, or live in areas where the weather can turn bad and  leave you stranded I would definitely get one of these for your vehicle.  They would also make an indispensably addition to your camping, boating or off-roading gear.  Or use the Pods to make your own kit, keeping everything safe, dry and organized!  I am considering getting a Pod to make in to a small tackle-box for creek trips.

As mentioned above, the Backcountry Kit was provided to me from GearPods at no cost in order for me to review the product.  My opinions are my own and are in no way influenced by the company providing the gear.  I have tested the gear under my own standards and offered my free and unbiased opinion based on my own personal experience.

 

Interview: Seth Haber – CEO of Trek Light Gear…

This week’s giveaway will feature products from Trek Light Gear.  As an introduction to Trek Light Gear, I conducted an interview with co-founder and CEO, Seth Haber.  Trek Light Gear is one of the leading companies producing high-quality lightweight hammocks today.  Designed to be used anywhere, the company is built around Seth’s personal revelation,

What better way to get outside, relax and take a break from a busy life than to lay in a hammock? And, what if you could easily take that hammock, that little piece of heaven, with you wherever you went?

Based out of Colorado, Trek Light Gear has made the rounds to countless shows, conventions and festivals to spread the noble philosophy that “no matter how crazy your life is, you are never too busy to take a few moments and relax.”

Trek Light Gear Logo

Interview with Seth Haber, CEO, Trek Light Gear:

Seth Haber CEO

Hello, Seth.  I’d first like to thank you for allowing us to do this interview with you and for generously donating to the Spring in to Adventure Giveaway for Backcountry Expedition Week.

Q:  First, can you tell us a little about the products that you’ve sent in for this giveaway?

We’re giving away one of our Double Hammocks along with our Go Anywhere Rope Kit which makes it easy to hang the hammock anywhere you go.  The Double is our most comfortable and most popular hammock model, weighing only 20oz and holding up to 400lbs.   We’re also including a pair of our ultralight carabiners which can be used to hang the hammock or for anything else – they weigh less than an ounce each and are rated up to 1100lbs.

Q:  The description of the Double Hammock on the website lists it as weighing in around 20 ounces.  About how much space does it take up in a pack?

The hammock itself packs down into its own pouch which only measures about 5”x8”.  And because the material packs so well, that pouch can then be compressed even further when stuffing it into a pack – the entire Double Hammock packs down to about the size of a softball when compressed.  Another great feature is that the carry pouch itself is permanently attached to the hammock and functions as a pocket while using the hammock – a great, multi-use feature that means you’ll never lose it and there’s no extra weight to carry.

Q:  What material are the hammocks made out of?  What made you decide on this fabric?

The hammocks are made out of a nylon material that’s commonly referred to as ‘parachute nylon’.  After checking out a variety of different ways to make a hammock, I found that the parachute nylon offered the perfect combination of the 5 factors that are most important: durability, breathability, strength, weight and comfort.  The material won’t rot or mildew which is a major problem with other woven cotton or cloth hammocks.  It breathes extremely well in the heat and doesn’t stretch during use.

Q:  With so many different styles of hammocks out there, what inspired you to take the direction you have with the design of the hammocks?

I’m a big fan of simple design and the ‘less is more’ philosophy.  When you get into more complicated hammock designs you’ll often find that there’s more to break, repair, etc. and the improvements offered are often appealing to a smaller set of people.  When it comes to the hammock, I discovered that the same basic hammock design that’s been in use for centuries around the world is ultimately pretty perfect in its simplicity.  It’s not something I invented by any means, it’s simply using a traditional design with different materials.

By traditional design, I’m referring to the woven string hammock design found commonly in Central and South America, not the wooden spreader bar style hammock that’s common in many backyards in the US.  Those are an unfortunate departure from what a hammock should be and if you’re curious to know what I mean by that I highly recommend reading this blog post: “These Aren’t The Hammocks You’re Looking For: How You’ve Been Hammock Brainwashed

Even though we’re using a modern material instead of woven strings, the basic design principles of a Trek Light Gear hammock is really as old as the hammock itself.

Q:  In your experience, how long should someone expect their hammock to hold up to regular use?  When do you know it’s time to start looking for a replacement?

The best answer to that question is that we’re still at 9 years and counting for a number of our original customers.  It honestly amazes even me but people continue to stop by our kiosk in Boulder and let us know that they’re still using their hammocks they bought during our first summer in business.

That being said though, I’ve definitely seen hammocks that people have put through the ringer so to speak.  Holes or small tears in the hammock can be pretty easily repaired (we sell a great repair patch through our site) but a growing number of holes or a major tear in the material is a sure sign that it’s time for a new hammock.

What’s most encouraging is that just about every time I hear from a customer who’s worn out their hammock, they follow it up by telling me how happy they are with how long it lasted and the abuse it took and that they can’t wait to get a new one.

Q:  What do you recommend for taking care of our hammocks to insure they last a long time?

The hammock is built tough but the key is really just to remember that it’s made with a lightweight material that needs to be treated with respect.  Be aware of what you’re wearing when you get into it, you don’t want to hop into your hammock with something sharp or abrasive on your clothing or shoes that could tear the material.

If you’re camping, be mindful of how close to the campfire you setup your hammock.  It’s no different than how you would think of any other camping gear in that regard – embers can have a certain knack for seeking out your favorite pieces of gear and burning holes through them if you’re not careful.

Last but not least, the hammock is designed so you can put it up and take it down literally within seconds.   Like flaming embers, UV rays can be gear-killers, so you don’t want to leave the hammock outside in the direct sun for long periods of time.  By no means does that mean that you shouldn’t use your hammock in the sun or that you should ever worry about having it out while you enjoy a fun day in the sun.  It’s long term exposure that does the damage and over time those powerful UV rays are going to fade the colors and eventually weaken the material to the point that it can tear much easier.  A few extra seconds to bring your hammock in when you’re done will likely have the biggest impact on how many years of enjoyment you get out of it.

Q:  I love that your site has a guide to sleeping in a hammock.  Do you find that a lot of people have trouble sleeping in hammocks simply because they don’t know how to properly lay in one?

Absolutely.  The Sleeping In A Hammock Guide has been the most viewed blog post on our site since I published it.  I didn’t start a hammock company because I was a hammock aficionado or expert, I discovered the benefits of a hammock and eventually found myself learning more about it and spreading that message to others.  As part of my job I’m often at festivals and trade shows talking to thousands of people about hammocks and I started to realize that there are a lot of misconceptions about hammocks and how to properly hang them and use them comfortably.  Telling someone how to properly setup and use a hammock may sound ridiculous if you think there’s nothing to it, but it’s amazing how understanding a few simple concepts can make such a big difference in the experience.

It took me a while to funnel what I’ve learned into a guide that I could publish but since I posted it I’ve gotten hundreds of emails and phone calls from people who tell me I’ve literally helped them get the best sleep of their lives – definitely not something I ever expected when I wrote it. Without rehashing it here you should just read the guide!

Q:  How long has Trek Light Gear been in business?

The first event I did was in 2003 at a street festival in Boulder.  At the beginning I felt like I was simply sharing a cool idea with other people and if it earned me some summer beer money I was happy.  It wasn’t until 2005 that I actually formed an LLC, launched a basic website and started focusing on what it really meant to have a business and where it could go.   In 2008, I finally walked away from my full-time job to focus on Trek Light Gear and it’s been a wild ride ever since.

Q:  Your website, and your company philosophy in general, seem to be all about not just getting outdoors, but finding the moments that make being outdoors special.  This is a great message to have woven into the core values of your business.  How does Trek Light encourage this philosophy in their customers and the community?

I love the question because you really nailed one of the important aspects of what the Trek Light brand and the hammock in particular represents to me.

I see our hammock as a vehicle for experiencing life.  When you lay back in the hammock things slow down – you have a chance to breathe, relax, think, and appreciate your surroundings.  You’re suddenly blissfully comfortable and it has the interesting effect of making you feel at peace and lucky to be where you are.  It’s those moments when you can’t help but think ‘life is good’ even when you’ve got stressful things going on in your life.   You mentioned the outdoors and that’s obviously a huge focus, but it doesn’t even have to be outdoors – a hammock setup indoors is incredible and helps you find those moments just the same.

The idea that ‘life is better in a hammock’ is something that I felt early on and it’s woven into every aspect of the company.  I’ve been so touched by the emails and calls I’ve gotten from people who have told me that the hammock has actually changed their lives or made one of their adventures what it was.  It’s incredible when you think about it – a backpack won’t make your life more memorable.  Neither will a tent, clothing or so many other outdoor gear products out there.  But I hear it all the time from people who’ve discovered the effect the hammock has on them and it’s something I’ll never take for granted as a business owner.

Q:  Your site also talks about hammock camping being a more “environmentally friendly” way to experience the outdoors.  Can you elaborate on this a little for us?

It’s hard to talk about all the positive effects and benefits of camping with a hammock without coming across as anti-tent.  I grew up camping in tents and have lots of great memories hanging out with groups of friends in the backyard or in the woods.  Comfort aside, one of the truths about tent camping is that you’ve got a pretty large footprint where you’re crushing the soil and any plant growth underneath you.  There are studies that show that even one night of having a tent on the ground can kill the grass, wildflowers, etc. underneath.  If you’re camping in a group night after night or other people will be camping in the exact same spot when you leave, you can see how much of an impact it can have over time.   Camping with a hammock minimizes the impact that you have on the soil a great deal. Instead of rolling around on the ground all night your only real impact to the ground is your footprints.

I also believe that one of the best ways to get people to care more about the environment is to get them to connect with nature.  It became apparent to me that sleeping in a tent when you’re camping actually disconnects you from your surroundings – you’re in the woods but you’re practically indoors in your tent.  When you’re in a hammock you’re literally sleeping under the stars (or under a tarp if there’s rain) and that ‘life is good’ feeling kicks in quick.  You’ll realize that you feel a much stronger connection to your surroundings and anything that helps you feel that connection to nature is going to help make you more mindful of your impact.

Q:  Would you consider Trek Light Gear a “Green” company?

I don’t let myself get hung up on the whole ‘green’ company thing.  What we do speaks to how important environmental issues are to the brand and me personally.

We’ve got our ‘Buy A Hammock, Plant A Tree’ program which has planted thousands of trees around the country over the last few years for every hammock we’ve sold.  The impact the program has had is incredible, there’s areas all over the world that desperately need reforestation and I’m immensely proud of the difference we’re making.

We’ve been promoting our Eco Totes (reusable shopping bags) since long before all the plastic bag bans started coming about in grocery stores around the world.  I was reading an article one day that opened my eyes to just how bad the plastic bag pollution problem is – learning that something as disposable and commonplace in our culture as the plastic bag takes over 1,000 years to decompose and often winds up in our oceans.  Suddenly I realized I could use the material we make our hammocks out of to do something about it.  Considering the average person uses about 500 plastic bags a year, every single Eco Tote we get out there makes an incredible difference.

My goal is simply to promote the philosophy that if you enjoy the outdoors we all need to do our part to protect it, one small step at time.  I want people to think about their impact on the planet – that’s definitely a big part of what the Trek Light name represents.  It can be overwhelming for people or businesses who feel like they can’t possibly live up to the high standards of doing everything that being considered ‘green’ might cover.  Just do your best – something as simple as recycling a bottle or using a reusable bag on your next grocery trip can have an incredible impact when enough of us simply care enough to do it.

Q:  I think most of us would suspect that selling hammocks for a living has got to be one of the most relaxing jobs in the outdoor industry.  What does the average day look like for the CEO of Trek Light Gear?

Of course the answer is that it’s not as much time spent lying around in a hammock as you’d think.  But, there are lots of perks – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been somewhere hanging out in a hammock, out on a photo shoot or even just talking to someone about hammocks and had that amazing “I love my job” feeling.  Realizing that while I’m relaxing in a hammock I’m actually at work, it never really gets old.

Right now I love being involved in every aspect of running a business – on any given day I’ve got a million things on my plate: marketing, accounting, customer service, graphic design, blogging, business development, you name it.   The CEO in my title stands for Chief Everything Officer and it’s been an incredible learning experience for me.  It can be pretty overwhelming most of the time, but it’s a great feeling to love your job and not have the same work routine to do day after day.

In February, I signed a lease on the first Trek Light Gear office space that isn’t in my living room or garage.  It’s in a funky warehouse space in Boulder and we’re busy turning it into a showroom complete with hammocks hanging from the ceiling and lots of space to demo all of our products.  There’s a few more projects to complete and then I can’t wait to show it off and invite people in.

Q:  What do you look for when you are looking for the right place to hang a hammock?

The view is definitely the easy answer to that one.  There’s something incredible about hanging a hammock with a beautiful view you can take in as you fall asleep or first thing when you wake up.  To sit near the edge of a waterfall or watch the sunrise on the side of a mountain, those are the moments that are hard to beat.  But, the beauty of having a portable hammock is that it also really doesn’t matter where you are.  When you lie back and close your eyes or look up at the sky it doesn’t matter whether you’re on your back porch or on the edge of the Grand Canyon – life is good.

Q:  Your Facebook Page has some great shots of Trek Light hammocks in amazing locations.  One of the recent REI photo contest winners was a Trek Light hammock photo.  Where was your favorite, or most memorable place you’ve hung your hammock?

There are a lot of spots that compete for a favorite in my mind, but if I had to choose it would probably be on the island of Kauai in Hawaii.  Lying in a hammock and listening to the waves crash on the beach as you drift off to sleep, you could call that my happy place.

The hammock has actually created powerful enough memories for me that I can often just close my eyes and put myself back in a particular spot – even around the office I can lie down in a hammock and suddenly remember the sounds or the way the breeze felt during one of those magical hammock experiences.

Q:  I once spent a week camping in my hammock along a creek.  I woke up in the middle of the night with something repeatedly bumping against the underside of the hammock.  When I finally got my headlamp turned on and looked, there were dozens of tiny frogs making their way across my camp and as they jumped, some would hit the hammock.  It was a very strange and memorable experience for me and one you really wouldn’t get sleeping in a tent.  Have you ever had a strange or unique experience that would not have happened if you were NOT in your hammock?

That’s a great example of why I love being in a hammock instead of a tent whenever I can.  One of my favorite experiences is just waking up in a hammock and watching the sunrise.  You don’t have to go to the trouble of getting out of your tent, putting your shoes on or anything at all – you can just float in a hammock and watch nature come alive right before your eyes.   I’ve woken up to see marmots running around my hammock, fish jumping in a nearby lake, bighorn sheep silhouetted on a mountain range – you realize why you’re out there camping in the first place.  When I sleep in a tent, most of my mornings are spent complaining about the rock or root that kept me up all night and not wanting to really get up until it gets too hot in the tent to force me out.

Q:  Trek Light recently added the Eco Totes to the product line.  Can you tell us a little about what inspired the new product?

Contrary to the note on our website that still refers to them as being recently introduced (I need to update that!) they’ve actually been in our lineup for a number of years now.  I talked about the Eco Totes while answering the ‘green’ question but it’s hard to say enough how important they are.

We’re all used to just showing up at the grocery store and getting paper or plastic bags, I definitely understand that the idea of bringing your own takes a little getting used to.  But, we’ve got to educate ourselves on what’s actually happening every time you get a plastic bag – incredible amounts of oil and other valuable resources go into making something that people use once (twice if you’re lucky) before disposing.  You use it for less than 20 minutes and then it sits around as waste for 1,000 years – that’s a no-brainer.

The idea behind the Eco Totes is that they make it easy to make the switch, they pack up into a tiny pouch so you can easily leave them in your car or have them with you when you need them.   They’re also stronger than just about any similar bag out there because they’re made with the same material as our hammocks.  There are lots of examples of things being sold as ‘reusable bags’ that look like they’ll wear out after only a few uses.  I don’t see the point in calling something a reusable bag if it doesn’t hold up for many years of use.

Q:  What’s next for Trek Light Gear?  Any new projects in the pipeline you’d like to tell us about?  Anything exciting coming up?

There’s lots of exciting things happening here right now.  One thing I’m most excited about is a new backpack design we’ve got coming out soon, it’s a small daypack which can pack down into itself just like our Eco Totes and hammocks and it only weighs about 3oz.  I’ve been testing one for the last few weeks and I’m amazed at how much I’m using it on a daily basis.  It’ll be called the PackBack™ and you heard it here first.  Look for it in Late Spring/Early Summer.

There may be a few other exciting product additions this year, but the big focus for me is in spreading the word even more about our current product line and building a strong retail presence in 2012.  I’ve been focusing on grassroots marketing and building the brand through direct sales for the last 9 years and I’m excited to build on that foundation now by getting Trek Light Gear on as many retail shelves as possible.  I’ve got competitors who have focused solely on getting into stores from the start, so there will be some fun challenges there but our passionate fan base speaks for itself in many ways.  I’m looking forward to making it easier for people to discover Trek Light Gear in their favorite outdoor stores.  It’s a whole new direction for the company but it’s really just an extension of what we’ve been doing all along.

Q:  And finally, I have to ask: I noticed in your FAQ page someone has asked “Can the hammock be used as a parachute?”…how often do you really get that question?

You’d be amazed.  

Slideshow from TrekLightGear.com Gallery…

Gear Review: Pocket Stove and Ketalist…

On my most recent trip to Texas, my fiancé and I decided we’d like to go beach camping near Galveston.  I packed a few camping supplies I thought we’d need including an old tent I never use (another story) and one of my extra JetBoil cooking systems.  Once in Texas, we discovered that I only brought the cup portion of the JetBoil…not the stove.  Unfortunately, you can’t buy “just the stove” at retail stores and so we were stuck looking at alternatives for being able to cook.

So at the Houston REI, while I nervously debated buying a brand new JetBoil for the trip, Merelyn found the Original Pocket Stove from Esbit.  At only $10.50 (versus at least $100 for a new JetBoil) it sounded like a halfway decent idea.  For this trip, we really just needed a little something to boil water since we were going to cook our dinner over a campfire (see mini-review at the end of this post).  I, of course, jumped at the opportunity to try out a new piece of gear…especially inexpensive gear!  We bought the Pocket Stove for $10.50 and even though it comes with 6 fuel tabs, we bought an extra pack of solid fuel tabs for $6.25.  Total investment was well under $20 for a stove and 18 fuel tabs (supposedly enough to cook for 3 hours).

The Pocket Stove is basically a small, folding metal stand that will support a cooking receptacle about 1.5″ above the fuel tab.  There are two cooking positions depending on conditions and how focused you want the flame.  It weighs in at about 3.25 ounces without the fuel and, when closed, the stove stores up to 6 fuel tabs inside.  According to the box, the solid fuel works well at any elevation and boasts a boil time of 8 minutes in most conditions.  The REI website specs actually list average boil time at 14 minutes which is probably closer to the truth.

We also purchased the Halulite Ketalist nested kettle and cooking system for boiling our water over the Pocket Stove.  The Ketalist was $34.95 at the Houston REI and comes with a hard-anodized aluminum kettle, two small plastic bowls (one with an insulated sleeve and drinking lid) and a spork.  The total weight is about 11 ounces and is made for backpacking.  I would consider more of a car-camping product because of it’s size.

We set up camp on the beach outside of Galveston and, as it was incredibly windy, I dug out a firepit and built up a wall around it to try to block out some of the wind.  It worked well enough for me to be able to set up the Pocket Stove and light one of the fuel tabs.  I filled the kettle with about two cups of water and set it on the stove.  After 8 minutes, we still didn’t have boiling water.  After about 12 minutes the fuel tab had burned out and we still didn’t have boiling water.  I tested the water and it was plenty hot enough for cocoa, coffee or oatmeal but not boiling.  I wanted it to boil!  I lit another fuel tab and let it run it’s course.  We never did get the water to boil using the Pocket Stove.  I reasoned, after the fact, that if I were to burn two fuel tabs at once I could probably generate the heat I needed to get the water boiling but never had the chance to try it.

I was able to put the kettle on the campfire later that night and got the boiling water I wanted pretty quick.  The kettle worked well and was kind of nice to have.  The wind had really picked up and it had become pretty cold so I made some nice hot tea to take to bed with me.  All in all, I like the concept of the Pocket Stove…it’s a very simple design and it works, somewhat.  If I had limited space and time to wait for hot water, I’d use it again.  The Kettle will probably become a regular addition to our car camping trips, I just don’t see it going backpacking with me anytime soon.

BONUS REVIEW:

Camp Chef Cooking Iron

picture from REI website...

Car camping affords you many luxury items that would normally be too heavy, too big or too awkward to take backpacking.  Large comfortable tents (not something we had), blow up air mattress with powered pump, huge jugs of clean water, etc.  While we were at REI preparing for the trip we came across one such luxury item that we couldn’t pass up.  The Camp Chef Cooking Iron is a cast iron sandwich grilling contraption for making grilled cheese sandwiches (or any number of other things).  It folds open allowing you to put buttered bread on either side of the irons and then fill it with cheese, meat, veggies, etc.  Then carefully fold it back together, lock the arms in place and lay it over the campfire.  You will want to flip it a couple of times so it doesn’t burn one side of the sandwich, but the result is fantastic!!  We had some amazing grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner that night along with some vegetables we pre-marinated and wrapped in foil to toss into the fire.  The sandwiches were nice and crispy on the outside, but the bread was still soft inside and the cheese melted beautifully.  At $17, I would totally recommend grabbing a couple of these to toss into the car for your next outing….or just keep them for cooking in the back yard!

Tradition or Habit…

When I was younger, some of my favorite outdoor excursions were whitewater rafting trips with my Dad. Sometimes it was simply an afternoon trip down a class 2 with my brother and I close to home. Other times we’d be on epic week-long trips with a huge group of river rats floating multiple rafts and kayaks. Usually on the longer trips, the entire group would get together after the trip and, over pizza and beer, add up the trip expenses and settle up on money while rehashing our recent adventures. We often rafted the Illinois and Rogue Rivers in Southern Oregon and our favorite stop was always Wild River Brewing & Pizza Co.  Pizza and beer, after 3 or 4 days on the river, just seems like an appropriate way to end a trip.

Once I had moved away from home, my father and I still found adventure together.  I would often fly back home for river trips or he would travel out to meet me somewhere for a multi-day backpacking trip.  Somehow, without really planning or thinking about it, we would end a long excursion with pizza and beer.  Even in South America after spending 4 days hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu, we returned to Cuzco and found a pizza place where we could end the trip properly.  At some point along the way it just became expected.  I guess that’s how traditions develop.  Slowly, naturally and without planning.  You can’t force a tradition, it just happens or it doesn’t.

These days, I have found myself falling into a similar tradition.  It’s simple really: I don’t like to hike on a full stomach.  That, inevitably, leaves me famished after a long afternoon of hiking.  So, I have developed the habit of stopping in at a local brewery or micro-brew-serving restaurant for lunch/dinner after my hikes.  Any restaurant will do so long as it’s got good local beer and it’s NOT a chain.  I’ve been lucky so far and found some amazing little places to celebrate this extension of an old tradition.  I didn’t really recognize it at first, but as I reconnect with the outdoors and that part of myself that has always loved the outdoors I am also reconnecting with the old traditions that carried me here.  It’s a way for me to give homage to the experiences and traditions that fostered in me a deep and lasting love of Wilderness.

What is even more exciting to me, is the prospect of having traditions that I will someday be able to share with my children.  Traditions that will allow them to have some level of connection with their grandfather.  Traditions that will hopefully encourage the same kind of fondness for nature and adventure that I share with my soon-to-be wife.

I know I’m not the only one.  I want to hear from you guys.  What are your post-adventure traditions?  How do you celebrate a successful excursion?  How did your tradition develop and how will you ensure that it continues?

Gear Review: Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat…

Yoga gear and apparel provider, Manduka (@MandukaYoga) recently started a regular contest on their Facebook Page for 2012.  The nature of their “Happy YOU Year” contest is to “Tell us what you plan to do, or be, in 2012” and every day that week they were giving “a Manduka gift to help that intention become reality“.  An amazing and honorable, well-intentioned promotion that I really thought had a great message behind it.  So I entered a comment explaining my plan to bring Yoga Practice to the hiking and backpacking community to promote better health and fitness.  Well, my story won their attention on that particular day and they announced they were sending me their lightweight travel mat!  This was the perfect choice to help bring Yoga to the trail.

The eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat is made of natural tree rubber and is a 100% “biodegradable rubber that won’t fade or flake” and offers “superior grip“.  The mat is very light for a Yoga mat (2lbs) and is as flexible as a towel or blanket.  It easily folds, rolls or wraps up into any duffel, case or backpack.  They come in a variety of colors and all have the awesome “Upward Frog” Manduka logo.  The mat doesn’t offer a great deal in the way of padding, but it’s the trade-off for having the luxury of being able to take the mat virtually anywhere.

I’ve been able to use the mat several times now, some inside just to try it and some outside. I’ve only had it out on the trail once so far and I loved it.  It was just enough padding to soften the rock outcropping I used it on.  It also packed easily, I simply folded it in half and then rolled it like a bed-roll and strapped it in to the pack where the bed-roll would usually go – perfect!  I imagine being able to use it as an extra layer under an inflatable sleeping pad on overnight trips.  It would protect the inflatable from potential puncture issues and the grip would keep things from sliding around in the tent.  And it would be there waiting for me in the morning for some nice tent-side Sun Salutations!

So far I am really happy with this generous gift from Manduka and would recommend it to anyone interested in making trail-side Yoga a part of their hiking and camping experience.

Manduka eKO SuperLite® Travel Mat – $39

Manduka Sojourner Package – $60 (normally $75)

Yoga Practice for Hikers: The Downward Dog vs. The Cobra Pose…

We all love our outdoor pursuits, but hiking and backpacking can put unique strain on your body.  The forward bending posture and, often, prolonged uphill climbing creates stress in the lower back, glutes, and hamstrings.  Carrying a pack, even of light weight, puts strain on the upper back, shoulders and neck.  Then there’s the usual fatigue in the calves, ankles and arches of the feet that will happen to anyone who is on their feet for long periods of time.  There are two basic Yoga Asanas (Poses) that will specifically help stretch and strengthen all of these muscle groups to help reduce the risk of injury.

Both asanas are found in the Sun Salutation sequence.  If you followed my previous Yoga Practice for Hikers article you are already familiar with the Downward-Facing Dog and the Cobra Pose as they are both an integral part of that sequence.

The Downward-Facing Dog

Downward-Facing Dog Pose...

Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) puts focus on strengthening the upper back while also stretching the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches and hands.  Holding this pose and moving through this pose also work to strengthen the arms and legs.  It is also said to be beneficial for digestion and relieves headaches, back ache, insomnia and fatigue.  For our purposes, we will be focused on the muscle contraction in the upper back at the apex of the pose, and getting as much of a stretch as is comfortable in the hamstrings, calves and arches while maintaining a tight core.

The Cobra Pose

Cobra Pose...

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana) is used to strengthen the spine and stretch out the chest, lungs, shoulders and abdomen.  At the deepest stretch in this pose it will also firm the glutes and stretch your quads.  Proper deep breathing in this pose will help to stretch and open the chest.  Cobra is supposed to stimulate the digestive organs, help relieve stress and fatigue, sooth the sciatic nerve and be therapeutic for Asthma.  We will be focused on keeping shoulders back and chest out, pushing the hips to the floor to strengthen the glutes and get a good stretch in the quads.

Alternate: The Upward-Facing Dog

Upward-Facing Dog Pose...

If you want to add focus to strengthening the arms and wrists, we can replace the Cobra Pose with Upward-Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana).  The benefits and muscles affected are similar but the Upward-Facing Dog requires pushing up and forward, with the hands firmly planted, using the arms, shoulders and upper back to hold the position.  There is a tendency to “hang” on the shoulders in this pose, which compresses the neck and lowers the chest.  Be mindful of your posture here, shoulders should be drawn back toward the tailbone lengthening the neck.  Head should be straight, looking forward, or slightly bent back.

Putting it to practice…

Now I’ll walk you through the sequence.  For those of you who have done Hindu Push-ups, this will be very similar.  As always, you should start in a relaxed position (either seated or standing) and practice proper Yoga breathing until your mind is calm, focused and present.  You can actually use the beginning of the Sun Salutation sequence to get into position:

  1. When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
  2. Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
  3. Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  4. Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge).
  5. In pause between breaths, move your left foot back, both knees on the floor (or into Plank Position – THIS IS OUR STARTING POSITION).
  6. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your feet and your heals toward the ground (Downward Dog Position).  Focus on knitting your shoulder blades together, upper back tight, chest out, shoulders back and arms straight.  Keep your neck in line with your torso (spine straight).  Feel the full stretch in your glutes, hamstrings, calves and arches.  Do NOT force the stretch beyond what is comfortable.  The pose should not hurt.  You may hold this pose for several breaths if you like, but continue proper, controlled breathing with your core strong.
  7. Exhale and slowly lower your chest and nose to within an inch or two of the mat, your hands firmly planted and elbows in close to the body (Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose).  Your knees may touch the mat if you prefer.  You can pause at this position briefly or you can glide through this pose and straight in to Cobra Pose.  If you will be moving into Upward-Facing Dog instead of Cobra, keep your legs straight here and do not let your knees touch the floor.
  8. Inhale and lower pelvis while pushing the chest up, arms supporting the posture and shoulders back (Cobra Position).  Focus on knitting the shoulder blades again with your chest out and shoulders back.  Don’t worry about forcing your back to arch uncomfortably, but focus more on keeping your shoulders back, head up, and pushing your hips to the ground.  The arch should be held using the back muscles, not by pushing with your arms (unless you are using Forward-Facing Dog here).  Feel the stretch in your quads.  If you are comfortable with it, roll off the balls of your feet and point your toes.  This will move you forward a little and deepen the stretch.  Breathe deeply in this position opening the chest and lungs.
  9. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your thighs again and your heals toward the floor returning to Downward Dog Position.  Repeat steps 6 through 8.

To come out of the exercise, reverse steps 1 through 5 until you are back in Mountain Pose.  This sequence is as much a strength training exercise as it is a stretch and I treat it as I would push-ups (Hindu Push-ups).  So, for pre-hike stretch I would maybe do 15 or 20 of these to warm up.  If your breathing becomes too forced and erratic, you are working too hard…reduce the reps or slow down.  Remember to maintain controlled movements, slower is better.  You should not be throwing your body into any of these postures, you should move into them naturally.  As you practice, the postures will feel more natural and comfortable as your strength and flexibility improve.

Yoga Practice for Hikers: Sun Salutation…

Young womanAs lovers of the outdoors, hikers and backpackers alike have a close, almost reverential relationship with the sun.  We love spending our days under the warmth of it’s rays, we use the sun for navigation, we plan our excursions around sunrise and sunset.  Our connection to the sun when we are outdoors is as tied to our survival as the air we breathe and the water we drink.  It is only fitting that the first posture (or asana) sequence we will review for Yoga Practice for Hikers is the Surya Namaskar, or Sun Salutation.  According to many authorities, the Sun Salutation goes back over 2,500 years to Vedic times when it was used as ritual prostration to honor the dawn.  Tradition was to perform the ritual salutation outdoors, facing the sun for a complete 108 cycles.

This is a great sequence for practice outdoors because you are mostly on your hands and feet and it can be practiced with, or without, a mat.  Find a nice quiet place, free from distraction, on relatively level ground with room for the length of your body to stretch out.  Your hands will be supporting your weight at points, so make sure the ground around you is free of sharp objects that may hurt your palms.  If practicing in the morning, it is tradition to face east toward the rising sun.

Sun Salutation

Stand, relaxed, arms at your side and your feet together.  Breathe deeply (breathing should be through the nose as described in the Three Breath Practice.)

  1. When ready, bring your palms together at your chest, thumbs resting against your sternum (Mountain Pose). Exhale.
  2. Inhale and raise your arms stretched above your head, shoulders back and pelvis forward (slight backward bend in your spine) (Forward Salute Pose).
  3. Exhale and bend your knees slightly, bending at the waist and keeping your back straight, lower your hands to touch the mat on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  4. Inhale and move your right foot back, knee touching the floor (Lunge).
  5. In pause between breaths, move your left foot back, both knees on the floor (or into Plank Position).
  6. Exhale and lower your chest and nose to the mat (Chaturanga or Four-Limbed Staff Pose).
  7. Inhale and lower pelvis while pushing the chest up, arms straight and shoulders back (Cobra Position).
  8. Exhale and raise your tailbone, straightening your arms and legs, pushing your chest toward your thighs and your heals toward the ground (Downward Dog Position).
  9. Inhale and bring your right foot forward again, left knee to the ground (Lunge).
  10. Exhale and bring your feet together, hands on the floor on either side of your feet (Forward Fold Position).
  11. Inhale and with a straight back, slowly bring your hands up above your head, shoulders back, pelvis forward (Forward Salute Pose).
  12. Exhale and return to starting position (Mountain Pose).
12 Stations of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

12 Stations of the Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskara)

Repeat these steps with your left foot for one full cycle.  Complete at least 3 cycles.  You can repeat your Sun Salutations for as long as you like, until your body feels warm, relaxed and flexible.  There are many variations of this asana, but the point is to master breathing through the movements and practicing proper form.  Do not move so fast as to allow sloppy posture, or so slow that you can not breathe in sequence with the movements.  You should feel the full stretch of each position before allowing yourself to transition to the next one.

This asana is a fantastic full-body warm up and is often used at the beginning of many Yoga workouts to get the blood flowing, the muscles warmed up and the body ready for more advanced work.  It is also a great sequence to practice first thing in the morning to wake the body and get the blood flowing after your night’s rest.  Consider practicing this sequence in front of your tent after a night camping trail-side, or to loosen up your body after a long car ride to a remote trailhead.

And don’t forget to BREATHE!

Introduction to Yoga Practice for Hikers…

Yoga for hikers

The outdoors is good for mind, body and soul…and so is Yoga…

Hiking  and backpacking is fantastic exercise.  For many, though, it’s also an opportunity for injury.  Hiking over the rugged, uneven terrain we love puts specific strain on the tendons and joints in our legs, causes muscle fatigue and forces a forward leaning posture that is very hard on the long muscles of the back.  The additional challenge of carrying weight in a backpack magnifies our potential for injury.  Creating an even bigger problem, many of us have day jobs that keep us bound to an office chair staring at a computer screen.  This combination of sedentary work mixed with active outdoor pursuits can lead to torn muscles, strained tendons, and pinched nerves.  With a little off-trail conditioning and post-hike stretching using basic Yoga movements, we can reduce our risk of an injury that can force us off the trail for good.

Yoga has, in one form or another, been around for over 5,000 years.  Believed to have been introduced to the West in the 1800’s, it’s gained popularity in recent decades as a way to improve overall health, sharpen mental focus and reduce stress.  Of the 8 steps attributed to Classical Yoga typically physical exercise (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama) and meditation (pratyahara) are the general focus of Modern Western Yoga.  Yoga has been proven to increase physical strength, build stamina and improve cardio-vascular health.  The combination of slow, focused movements and controlled breathing allows us to exercise systems in the body that don’t otherwise see much action.  For all active people, but hikers and backpackers specifically, Yoga offers a great way to maintain the strength we need for the climb, while also improving balance, flexibility and recovery time.

Starting in January, I will make Yoga Practice for Hiking a regular part of my Blog.  I will be introducing new forms and movements with step by step instructions, explanations and some tips and tricks.  I’d also like to include some pictures and video for reference but that part may have to wait.  For those of you who are new to Yoga, I will go over some of the basics here to get us started.

Where to Practice…

Anyplace where it is quiet and without distraction.  I like to have my morning stretch in the backyard on the patio.  I get up early and start my morning coffee, while it’s brewing I take a few minutes to go outside and stretch.  Warming up my muscles, soaking up the morning sun, breathing in the crisp morning air while I wait for my coffee is the perfect way to wake up.  For post-hike stretching, a quiet trailhead or parking lot or even an open picnic area is all you need.

When to Practice…

As I mentioned, I like to stretch in the morning when I get up.  I also try to stretch a few times throughout the say because I spend my days working behind a desk.  So, for me, whenever I start to feel my muscles stiffen up or my back or neck start to ache, it’s a good time to stretch.  It’s also recommended a good stretch after any extensive exercise.

What do I need…

You really don’t need anything special.  I have a very basic Yoga Mat, I make sure I have loose comfortable clothes that won’t restrict movement and a towel.  Other than that, all you really need is a distraction free location, time to complete the routine and a plan.

Why are we doing this…

Very simply put, Yoga will improve performance and reduce the potential for injury.  Athletes at all levels of competition have experienced increased performance with the addition of Yoga to their training regiment.

How do I know if I’m doing it right…

I’m really going to try to make sure I explain the process clearly.  The rest is practice.  The important thing is being aware of your body and paying attention to how you feel.  If something hurts, or doesn’t feel right…stop.  Focus on breathing through the movements and transition slowly from one position to another.  Practicing slow, deliberate movements while keeping your core tight and your breathing controlled will allow us to get the most out of every exercise.

If you follow along with me, we are learning together.  I have some experience with Yoga and have taken several classes, followed a few video workouts and have done a fair amount of research on the subject.  I am, by no means, an expert.  I plan to pursue this subject as a learning process and will be consulting with experienced Yogi’s, Yoga instructors and instructional books to determine which movements and combinations will have the greatest advantage to hikers and backpackers.  I want to try to provide suggestions for basic everyday routines, post-hike routines as well as therapeutic exercises for when injuries do happen.

If you have any specific problem areas or post-hike discomfort, let me know so we can look for a way to work through it.