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.

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: Zamberlan Boots…

My name is Jabon and I am a wilderness explorer and photographer now living in the Phoenix area. I have spent my entire life exploring.  Starting as a child camping with my family in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, I later relocated to Colorado Springs. Colorado is filled with epic adventures and I quickly got hooked on climbing 14’ers (14,000 foot tall plus mountains). I was deeply bitten by the summit bug and have climbed the highest mountains in Colorado, California, and Arizona. Now living in the warm desert of southern Arizona, I have discovered the mystique of Indian Ruins and petroglyphs left behind by the native tribes of the Hohokahm, Salado, and Sinagua to name a few. I spend hours investigating images and leads to hidden gems of the southwest then plan excursions in to the wilderness to find them.

Zamberlan Boots in ColoradoWhile in Colorado I worked as a fireman and assisted in search and rescue cases.  I also worked a few major wild land fires including the biggest in Colorado’s history. I relied heavily on very diverse and specialized equipment to perform my job with confidence and to explore in comfort. Having used a wide array of outdoor gear, I have learned to become especially critical of my choices before each purchase. This is what led me to the Italian footwear company, Zamberlan.

The first premium hiking boot I ever purchased was a pair of leather Zamberlan boots. I had previously avoided slushy spring time hiking to avoid inevitably cold, soggy boots.  When I was ready to make my purchase, I walked into a local sporting goods store in Colorado Springs and reached to the top shelf for a rugged looking boot named Zamberlan Civetta. This began my love affair with Zamberlan boots.  Over the next ten years, climbing and hiking more than 1000 miles in the Colorado Rockies, these boots always did what I pushed them to do allowing me to focus on the trip and destination. This suddenly changed when I realized I had worn my boots out! The Vibram lugs were worn smooth. The leather uppers, which I had religiously waterproofed every season, had become paper thin from countless scuffs and abrasions. I was in denial and tried to keep these old boots alive with glue but they had finally succumbed to the abuse.

Zamberlan Boots hikingI then began the quest to replace my favorite boots and was impressed with the new features and advances Zamberlan had made. There are many new models to suit any footwear need.  I laid my eyes on the Vioz GT and read through the specs.  The Zamberlan Vioz GT represents cutting edge technology carefully crafted with age old techniques dating back to just after World War I. Giuseppe Zamberlan began shoe production in 1929 after a short time as a shoe repairman and the design and manufacture of these products reflects his love of the mountains. Zamberlan was an early adopter of Vibram soles for his footwear and these technologies come together with time tested synergy. The full grain leather upper treated with HydroBloc and the Gore-Tex lining make these a truly waterproof boot.

True to form, my second pair of Zamberlan boots has carried me to high mountain peaks and scrambled down red sandstone to splash in the rivers bellow. The Zamberlan Vioz GT’s are equipped with the toothy Zamberlan Vibram 3D soles which are made of a softer rubber than the old style Vibram sole, therefore they grip with more assurance.   These new soles bite into any surface allowing me to climb virtually anything that stands in my way, fulfilling my childhood comic book superhero fantasies.

Each and every Zamberlan product is made entirely in Italy and are designed and tested by the Zamberlan family. The modern technology such as Gore-tex membranes, Hydrobloc leathers, and Vibram 3D rubber soles are on the long list of features Zamberlan incorporates in their footwear. User comfort is ensured by minimal torsional flex and a solid heel cup. This is noticeable when walking on grapefruit sized rocks as the stability of the boot reduces stress on the ankle. I have found the factory laces have to be double knotted or they loosen up.  However when replaced with a simple flat lace, they stopped creeping on me.

Zamberlan Boots in snow and waterEven after 14 hours of pounding feet along a trail, these comfortable boots are the last thing I take off before zipping up the sleeping bag. I have now owned the Vioz GT for 3 years and have worn them in 115 degree desert heat, summited Arizona’s Humphrey’s Peak in the rain, and hiked in cold, snowy canyons all in perfect comfort. Every time I lace up my Zamberlan boots and point them towards the next adventure, I can’t help but feel a bit nostalgic, walking on more than 80 years of Italian tradition and quality.

Sharing my Love of Hydroflask…

To my dear Hydroflask,

I am truly blessed to have you in my life.  Since the day we met, you’ve been by my side…through thick and thin, through simmering heat and aching cold.  You’ve always provided comfort, even when comfort was impossible to find.

I am lost without you.

I have forsaken all others for you alone.

Forever yours,

WD

The one that started it all, my 18 ounce Hydroflask in Arctic WhiteI was first introduced to Hydroflask in May 2012, at the Overland Expo near Mormon Lake outside Flagstaff.  The guys from Overland Gourmet had a pile of Hydroflasks for sale at their table and on the last day I decided I would try one out.  So I picked out my favorite: a small 18oz wide-mouth in Arctic White.  The size was perfect for sliding in to the side-pocket of my pack and easily fit in to any cup holder.  Without ice at camp, it wasn’t until I got back to Phoenix that the love-affair began.

May in Phoenix is pretty warm, but really just the beginning of the slow, miserable death-march of an Arizona Summer.  As the average highs quickly soared above 100 degrees, then above 110 degrees, my little 18oz miracle began showing off.

“Ridiculously awesome insulating properties. Large enough for a days worth of fluid.” – from TrekTechBlog.com

Winderness Dave using the 18 ounce wide mouth HydroflaskI’ve been in the desert now for nearly 20 years.  I don’t go anywhere without water.  If I go to the grocery store, I take water…a quick drive to a meeting, I take water…heading across town for dinner, I take water.  For those who have never visited a desert in Summer, you have to understand what happens inside a vehicle in heat like this.  When it’s 120 degrees outside, the inside of your car (with the windows up) can easily blast past 160 degrees.  I know people who have had CDs melt on their dash, and others who have literally burned their hands by touching the steering wheel.  The inside of your vehicle is an inhospitable place during the Summers out here.  Especially for bottles of water…

For many years now, I’ve used reusable bottles.  I try not to use plastic water bottles if I can help it.  I’ve tried most, if not all, the bottles on the market and quickly realized that I needed an insulated bottle if I wanted my water to remain drinkable during the summer out here.  I had tried a few, but they were miserable.  Enter Hydroflask

Assorted Hydroflask bottles

I think the moment I was sold on these little technological wonders was after an especially long afternoon meeting.  I had packed up and headed out, Hydroflask in tow as usual.  The bottle had a half-dozen or so ice-cubes and the rest was filled with room temperature water.  My expectation was simply to have cold water on the way to the meeting and I would get more after.  I drove out to the job site, offering no shade to park under, and left my truck sitting in 115 degree heat.  The meeting ended up lasting over 3 hours (way longer than I like my meetings to last).  When I got back to my truck I could barely stand to be inside of it as I fired it up and cranked the AC to high.

“Unlike other bottles we’ve tested, this thing actually works!” – from Gizmodo.com

my 40 ounce Hydroflask bottle in blueNot expecting it to be drinkable, but needing something after the marathon meeting, I picked up the Hydroflask and heard the tell-tail sounds of ice clinking against the metal interior!  No way!  I unscrewed the lid and there it was, waiting for me…icy refreshment.  After more than 4 hours in a vehicle that surely reached temps well above 140 degrees I still had ice.

Since then, I’ve learned to rely on it.  I’ve left it in the truck for up to 6 hours of brutal Summer punishment and still found icy goodness.  I’ve left it full for 24 hours in 100 degree (daytime) heat and still had ice.  I’ve read some reviews where testers have left the Hydroflask bottles for 3 days in near 90 degree weather and still found slivers of ice in the bottle.  This thing performs above and beyond expectations every time.  The only problem I have had with it is mainly a result of the amount of use and abuse I put mine through.  After about 4 months of daily use, the strap that connects the lid to the bottle broke.  I’ll eventually order another one (or maybe Hydroflask will send me one) and that problem will be solved.  Otherwise, Hydroflask is a Rock Star product.

The Hydroflask collection...

 

“I filled the 18oz bottle with 190ºF water and 4 hrs later the temp was 174ºF at 8hrs it was 161ºF and a full 24hrs later it was 119ºF! Which is still pretty darn warm. As for the cold claims I put 6 regular ice cubes in with cold tap water and 3 days later I still have some small slivers of ice in the bottle. The average temps that the bottles were in hovered around 65ºF. But I will say that we took one of the bottles into a sauna for 45 minutes at 165ºF and the water was still ice cold! All of these number will of course change depending on how often you open the bottles etc… but it should let you know that they really do work very well.” – from Steve “Yeti” Hitchcock at Upadowna.org

A Thank You from Wilderness Dave…

an assortment of Hydroflask insulated bottles

WildernessDave.com has reached a few milestones recently and it’s all because of you guys, my loyal readers (which, thankfully,  has grown beyond my mom).  We all know it’s not about “fans and followers” but I do appreciate that you guys take the time to LIKE my FB page and follow my ramblings on Twitter.  I’ve done some giveaways here and there, mostly with products donated for reviews.  But this time it’s special.  Hydroflask really is my go-to, everyday, never-leaves-my-side gear and I want you guys to have a chance to own one.

So, I reached out to Hydroflask and asked if they would be willing to offer up something for you guys.  And they said yes!  So someone will be winning their choice of two (2) 21 ounce standard mouth bottles (you pick the color) courtesy of Hydroflask.

THEN…I will pick TWO MORE WINNERS and each of them will get a brand new 18 ounce wide mouth bottle (I have one in black with the hydro-flip lid and one in red with the standard wide-mouth lid).

Get your entries in below.  I’ll make it super easy, just be a FB fan or Twitter follower and/or comment on this post below.  Make sure you confirm your entries in the Rafflecopter widget so they get counted.  And if you follow my posts on G+, just leave a comment letting me know (and give it a +1 while you’re at it!).

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Platypus Big Zip Hydration System Giveaway…

The Hydration Summit was a month long content explosion about hydration, hydration systems as well as the dangers of dehydration and untreated water.  Much of the Summit revolved around the major hydration systems on the market including GeigerRig, CamelBak, Platypus and Osprey (and a few more were mentioned as well).  We had 15 popular outdoor bloggers sharing their expertise and experience as it relates to hydration in the outdoors.  The result of this grand experiment was an amazing collection of stories, reviews and instructional articles that all of us who spend time in the backcountry would find useful.

Platypus Big Zip hydration system

For my part, I contributed 3 total articles: A four system comparison of hydration reservoirs, a treatise on the signs and symptoms of waterborne illness and how to treat it, and a product review of the PurifiCup water filter.

The reservoir comparison review required that I actually have all four of the systems I was to review (clearly).  I had all but the Platypus, so I purchased the Platypus for the review.

Platypus Big Zip hydration systemThe abridged version of my review:

The Platypus reservoir is a top-opening design with a Zip-Loc style closure.  The reservoir is clear and has measurement markings along the side to allow you to gauge the fill capacity.  The drink tube is connected with a quick-coupling valve, the same valve used by all of the other major brands (which subsequently allows you to swap tubes if you prefer the drink tube and bite valve from another brand).  The top-opening design, we all determined, was the easiest for filling and cleaning the reservoirs.  I did not use the nozzle (bite valve) but I have heard from others that it is their favorite and one of the easiest to drink from.  For more info on the nozzle, check out Paul’s article here.

Check out this review from RamblinBears-

This specific Platypus was the 70 oz (2.0 L) Big Zip SL Reservoir.  It retails for about $33.

Since I have many (MANY) more reservoirs that I could ever need, I am going to give this one away!

I will be giving this away with all the original packaging.  The reservoir is USED as it has had water in it and has gone through some very mild abuse in testing it’s durability and functionality for the review.  The drink tube and nozzle has never even been attached to the reservoir (I removed it as soon as I brought it home).  I will ship the reservoir as soon as I confirm the winner.  Please use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.  THANKS!
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Hydration Summit – Week 3…

Hydration Summit

Week 3 of the Hydration Summit has come to a close and we’ve got some great new material!  Last week we got in to some great discussions about how hydration needs change as you get old and tips for keeping your kids hydrated.  We also some new perspectives on the hydration systems themselves.  If you are just discovering the Hydration Summit, check out my round-ups of Week 1 and Week 2 then get involved!

June 18th -

Tiffany looks at the GeigerRig pressurized hydration engine from a new angle…what does it offer as a camp tool?  How many jobs would be easier at camp with a little water pressure?  From sharing water, to cleaning, to putting out fires…a good spray of water can be very useful.  Check out her article and chime in with your thoughts on how you would use a pressurized system at camp.

We also got a nice review from Melissa, looking at the GeigerRig as a Family Friendly hydration system.  She looks at how effective the spray technology is in sharing and caring for the entire family on the trail.

June 19th -

Ever the Boy Scout, Adam takes a look at the history and importance of hydration in the Boy Scouts of America.  He takes us back to his early days in the Scouts when old surplus canteens were all the rage.  Now, with hydration system technology so easily acquired, keeping the Scouts hydrated is a less daunting task for Scout Leaders and parents.

Ryan offers us a nice breakdown of the hydration systems and compares them by taste.  Those of you have have been using hydration systems for a while are very familiar with the odd, plastic-y chemical flavor your water absorbs in the reservoir…especially after sloshing around all afternoon.  Adding flavored, sugar drinks like GatorAid also can leave a residual flavor and odor in the reservoir. Ryan takes a look at which brands are the least offensive and gives some tips on how to reduce the offensive flavoring…hint: keep it clean!

June 20th -

We are seeing a huge increase in the over-50 set exploring and enjoying the outdoors.  On my hike up to Kendrick Peak, I would say that the large majority of the people I saw on the trail that day were well over 50.  Many of us have learned to enjoy the outdoors from our parents and quite a few of us still get to enjoy their company on our adventures.  The importance of hydration is amplified for those more experienced explorers and adventurers.  The body’s ability to recover and deal with outside stressers, like dehydration, is diminished with age.  Erika covers this topic well in her article on Hydration for Adventurers over Fifty.

Brian takes his GeigerRig 1600 for a spin and has a chance to test out the main advantages of having a pressurized system.  He walks us through using the GeigerRig to irrigate a wound, wash dishes at camp and share with his awesome trail pal, Coco.

June 21st -

We bounce from worrying about our parents’ hydration needs to considering the hydration of our children in Melissa’s article.  She discusses the factors, besides heat, that can cause dehydration in children then discusses ways to monitor your child and make sure they stay sufficiently watered down.

Katie’s review is a no-nonsense look at whether or not the pressurized system is really all that necessary.  For those of us who have used the traditional systems and the pressurized systems, it’s obvious that there are some benefits…but does it really become a necessity?  Go read Katie’s article for yourself and let us know what you think.

Week4!

Week four is kicked off with another 4-system comparison, this time by Whitney.  Be sure to check out Whitney’s video review of the four different hydration systems.  I agree with her criticism of the Osprey’s tube attachment…I really wish it was a quick-release tube like the others.  About 5 1/2 minutes in she discusses the GeigerRig’s in-line filter and demonstrates it’s use.  (about 12:15 into the video Whitney admits to being a “weirdo”….her words, not mine! hehe)

Go check out the Hydration Summit and keep checking back since new content is being added every day!  Make sure you register and join in the conversation for a chance to win a GeigerRig Hydration System of your own.

 

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.

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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.

 

Gear Review: Eagle Creek Duffel Bag…

Eagle Creek Duffel Bag...As most of you who read this blog know, I travel often.  My fiance and I currently live in different cities and I find myself getting on a plane at least once a month.  Originally, I traveled with an old roller bag but it was too big to use as carry-on.  I then borrowed a smaller roller bag for a couple of trips but it just didn’t hold enough for a week-long trip.  I also HATE roller bags.  I can’t stand using them.  I do, however, love a good duffel.

I am also big fan multi-use items.  So when I started looking for a duffel for my trips, I wanted something that could be used camping, road-tripping, or as a gym bag in addition to air travel.  We found the Eagle Creek No Matter What Duffel bags at the local REI and really liked them.  The price was pretty good ($75) and it’s lightweight (1lb 12oz) and compactable.  I found that the Medium size was plenty big and actually carried more than my larger, heavier roller bag (59L/3600 cu. in. capacity).  I’ve taken it camping and tossed it in the truck for road trips with no worries.  The baggage handlers at the airport would really have to work hard to damage the heavy-duty 420D Helix Ripstop fabric.

Product Features:

  • Medium duffel bag is a travel carry-on
  • Storm flap protected, main compartment opens with two-way lockable, self-repairing zippers
  • Top external compression straps secure and stabilize the load
  • Removable padded shoulder strap adjusts for a comfortable carry
  • Non-slip laminated top carry handle and super durable oversized webbing straps for an easy hand carry
  • End and center haul handles
  • Front exterior zippered pocket for quick access items
  • Reusable “stuff” pouch stores this duffel bag and works as an internal packing accessory for shoes or gear
  • Meets most airline carry-on requirements
  • No Matter What™ Warranty

I use this bag all the time and I love it.  I have packed everything I need for a two-week trip in this bag without too much trouble.  Sometimes I have to strap my jacket to the outside under the compression straps, but otherwise everything I need fits and it’s the perfect size for easy carry.

Gear Review: AMK SOL Escape Bivvy…

I’m hosting my first Guest Post Gear Review!  This review was sent in from Tim B. of the Outdoor Adventure Team.  Tim and his friends explored the Ozette Triangle on the Olympic Coast in the Pacific Northwest, US.  I’d like to thank Paul and Tim of The Outdoor Adventure Team for letting me host this review of Adventure Medical Kit’s SOL (Survive Outdoors Longer) Escape Bivvy.  The Escape Bivvy was donated for review by AMK.  Click here to read more from The Outdoor Adventure Blog.

GUEST REVIEW: AMK SOL Escape Bivvy…

This past weekend a group of buddies and I went on a 9.4 mile overnight backpacking trip to the Ozette Triangle on the Pacific Northwest Olympic Coast. Early Spring is a beautiful time of year to explore the trails that are packed with hikers only a few short months later. When embarking on such adventures it is prudent to carefully asses one’s gear in order to avoid being too cold. Being freezing cold while out on an adventure can not only make one grumpy, but one could get frostbite or hypothermia and ultimately lose an appendage or two. It ain’t pretty. I’ve been that grumpy guy, and no one wanted to hang out with me, and certainly no one wanted to spoon me to keep me warm.  But, not this time. This time I packed the SOL Escape Bivvy.

The SOL Escape Bivvy is a light and compact sleeping bag-like sack, weighing 8.5 oz and measuring 36″ by 84″ rolled out flat.  The proprietary fabric is designed to release moisture created by your body, while external moisture from the elements remains on the outside. The inner lining is created from a reflective type material which helps to retain body heat.  Waterproof seams plus a drawstring hood closure and side zip mean you can seal out the elements entirely or use the bivvy like a traditional sleeping bag. In a survival situation the high-visibility orange exterior makes it easy for rescuers to spot you even in areas with high tree cover.

AMK SOL Escape Bivvy bagBeing an early Spring backpacking trip, I was concerned at first that I would become too cold at night. I’m a Texan boy, who grew up with the belief that 50F was freezing temperatures. While I have toughened up in my last 7 years in the Pacific Northwest, I still usually get cold at night while camping. I have found that I need to wear multiple warm layers in order to achieve any sort of comfort level for sleeping. Because the SOL Escape Bivvy doesn’t take up nearly any room in my pack I still packed my usual brigade of warm clothing just in case I needed them. I doubted something with material that thin could keep me warm at night.

I decided to test out the SOL Escape Bivvy in my usual backpacking setting inside my tent. I wore only one thermal underwear layer, socks, and a beanie and decided if I was cold I could add another layer, and then another if it became necessary. I slid The North Face Cat’s Meow sleeping bag into the SOL Escape Bivvy and slithered inside, zipping up my sleeping bag and the SOL Escape Bivvy once I was all snuggled inside. While the length was great for fitting my 6’5” body, it was a little awkward zipping up as the SOL Escape Bivvy zipper is on my right, while my sleeping bag zipper is on my left. I did not draw the SOL Escape Bivvy pull cord to tighten the hood around my head, as it was too frustrating to manage from inside my sleeping bag. As I lay there I could immediately notice a significant decrease of wind chill that was prevalent in the tent from the large gusts of wind blowing in from the ocean. I then quickly fell asleep.AMK SOL Escape bivvy bag...

I woke up the next morning, having slept well all night warm and cozy in my sleeping bag and the SOL Escape Bivvy. I was then surprised to find out that the others in my group had not slept well at all. My tent buddy is a natural warm sleeper; in fact, there was one trip where he was sleeping on top of his sleeping bag in his boxers, while I shivered and shook in my sleeping bag with every layer of clothing imaginable. There were others with the exact same sleeping bag as me, who also felt a certain chill throughout the night.

I had no condensation build up inside the SOL Escape Bivvy, and there were visible beads of moisture on the external layer from the condensation build up inside the tent. I could see this proving to be a beneficial outer layer for those with down sleeping bags for this reason, especially here in the Pacific Northwest. Instead of packing a silk or fleece liner or excessive layers of clothing, packing the SOL Escape Bivvy would also be a wise multi-use alternative for retaining heat. It is certainly less bulky than my usual brigade of extra items.

When it came time to pack up, I was able to quickly fold and roll up the SOL Escape Bivvy from a standing position and easily slid it back into the little sack. When I came home, I hung it up to dry and found it to be ready to pack away in less than half an hour while my tent and other waterproof items were still drying an hour later.

AMK SOL Escape bivvy bag...The SOL Escape Bivvy is designed as an essential piece of equipment in your survival pack, and I definitely can see where it would prove great benefit in an outdoor survival situation. The Outdoor Adventure team member, Paul Osborn, will be putting the SOL Escape Bivvy to the test in a similar scenario in a few months, and I certainly look forward to hearing his review.

Have you used the SOL Escape Bivvy before? We are interested to hear your experience with the SOL Escape Bivvy, and maybe you have a few tips for Paul before he heads out on his survival trip with this piece of gear. We look forward to hearing from you so please comment, tweet, and share on Facebook!

Gear Review: Brooks PureGrit Trail Running Shoe – Part 2

When I got my PureGrit Trail Runners I started a 3-part review of the shoes.  In Part 1, I laid out the specs and tech on the shoes and my out-of-box impressions.  For this part, I will describe the time, distance and conditions I’ve worn and tested the shoes along with some basic reactions to the performance.  I will write a more in-depth analysis of the performance of the shoe in Part 3.

PureProject – PureGrit Trail Runner

Part 2

These shoes were purchased specifically with trail running in mind.  I really like my Brooks Cascadia trail shoes and I was using them for both hiking, trail running and occasionally street running.  I wanted something lighter and more specifically design with trail running in mind.  When Brooks came out with their PureProject line I was very excited to get my hands on the PureGrit and get more serious about trail running.

Since I got the shoe’s in late January, I have put over 30 miles of trail running on them.  I also started using them for my street runs to see if I could tell if there was a performance difference on pavement (also, I was growing to like them and wanted to wear them more).

The trails out here in Arizona are very hard on footwear.  The Sonoran Desert is littered with jagged, rough terrain and mean, prickly cacti that usually equates to a short life for shoes.  The main trails I’ve been running are the Main Loop at Thunderbird Recreation Area (3.6m loop) and the trail system behind North Mountain (Shaw Butte and Trail 100).  The terrain in both locations is a combination of loose rock, rugged exposed bedrock and sandy washes.

The PureGrit outsole has proven to be incredibly tough against these conditions.  It’s thin, so you can still feel the ground even through the padded mid-sole but I like to have a sense of what’s under me when I’m running.  The unique tread design on the PureGrit is amazingly functional.  It really grabs the trail for traction when pushing forward or climbing uphill.  The impressive part was how effective the reverse tread at the heal of the shoe allows control on the downhill.  I have never once felt as though my footing was compromised in these shoes.  The durability of the outsole is also commendable.  With over 60 miles on varying terrain, I have seen no real wear and barely any scuffing of the tread.  The open tread design also means it doesn’t pick up small pebbles and rock as you run.

The outsole design has two specific features that are part of what makes these shoes unique.  According to Brooks, the Toe Flex (a split in the outsole to isolate the movement of the big toe) and the Ideal Heel (designed to shift your stride forward) are key features of the PureGrit that allow for greater stability, control and better form.  I really have not noticed much benefit from the Toe Flex feature.  I’ve even been wearing toesocks with my PureGrit runners in the hopes that it would allow me to feel more of the intended effect of the Toe Flex feature, but I don’t notice it.  The Ideal Heel design, however, does seem to have altered the mechanics of my stride.  I do feel a difference when wearing these as compared to my other running shoes.

The midsole was one of the pieces that worried me when I initially looked at these shoes.  It’s soft, allowing for fantastic comfort, but I didn’t expect it to hold up to trail conditions all that well.  Luckily, I underestimated the durability of the material.  It’s got a couple of scratches and stains, but otherwise has held up perfectly and has yet to let me down.PureGrit upper...

The main body of the shoe is so super light-weight that I expected to have some problems with it.  I had a pair of Nike running shoes a few years ago with an ultra-light material upper and it began to fall apart after only a few runs.  The upper of the PureProject shoes is remarkably resilient.  It conforms to my foot amazingly well and yet, somehow has really done well against the elements.  The outer material is a mesh, which I feared would let dust and fine sand in to the shoe and create problems in the footbed during runs.  Even running on very dusty trails and through sandy washes, I did not have any issues with small particles finding their way in to the shoe.

The cut of the upper is very low, offering no protection or support for your ankles.  On a trail shoe, this can be a little dangerous.  However, I have never felt unstable or uncomfortable running in these.  Other than my ankles feeling sore and fatigued afterward (something I attribute to my running mechanics rather than the shoe), I really have not had any trouble due to the lack of ankle support.

PureProject PureGrit from Brooks on the trail...