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!

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)

Gear Review: Brooks PureGrit Trail Running Shoe – Part 1…

Instead of patiently waiting until I’ve been able to put some miles on these shoes to fully field test them before starting my review, I will be breaking the review up into 3 parts.  The first part will focus on the technology behind the shoe and what the manufacturers profess about it’s design and construction as well my personally first impressions of the shoe.  The second part will describe the actual time, mileage and conditions of the field testing and summarize the shoe’s performance.  The third part will layout my final conclusions and pit the actual performance against the manufacturer’s claims.  So, without further adieu…

PureProject – PureGrit Trail Runner

Part 1

Specifications

  • Midsole Height:  Heel (15 mm), Forefoot (11 mm)
  • Outsole Height:  Heel (3 mm), Forefoot (3 mm)
  • Heel-to-Toe Offset:  4 mm
  • Tooling Height:  Heel (18 mm), Forefoot (14 mm)
  • Weight:  8.9 oz (M’s) / 7.6 oz (W’s)
  • Surface: Offroad/Trail
  • Pronation: None/Normal, Mild, Moderate
  • Build: Small, Medium, Large
  • Competition: Trail racing
  • Arch: Flat, Medium, High
  • Performance: Light Weight
  • Category: Trail
Technologies

Design

Brooks designers worked with ultramarathoner Scott Jurek, to develope a unique one-piece outsole that has a concave shape. According to their website, “When forces are applied, the piece splays out to provide a more balanced lay-down.” This dynamic outsole and unique lug design are intended to help the runner find better grip and balance on the trail.  Also built-in to the new outsole is a split toe design meant to allow independent function of the big toe for more natural balance and stronger push-off.  Brooks also boasts their outsole is, “Designed from the most detailed anatomical form…” which is intended to create unparalleled fit and feel.

The PureProject midsole offers a minimal 4mm drop and made of  “earth-loving BioMoGo technology blended with the responsive ride of Brooks® DNA”.  BioMoGo technology is brooks biodegradable midsole composite that “degrades 50 times faster than the standard midsole“.  Brooks DNA is a responsive midsole system that immediately adjusts to the runner’s size and stride as well as offering 30% more cushioning than standard midsoles and 2x the energy return.  Built into the midsole design is a new minimalist heel designed to encourage the runner’s, “contact points to shift forward, aligning your center of gravity for optimal spring.”

The PureGrit upper has had just as much thought put into its design as the rest of the shoe.  The upper is made of an ultralight, breathable mesh over a die-cut conforming foam for a firm fit.  Their Nav Band is an elastic band built into the upper that stretches across the instep to insure a glove-like fit and security while you run.

As for durability, Brooks says, “Just like our core line, we hold PureProject to the industry’s highest weartest and durability standards. Because of their lightweight construction and fewer materials, runners should generally expect shoes from the PureProject line to last approximately 250-300 miles.

First Impressions

These shoes are incredibly light.  This is the closest thing to a minimalist running shoe I’ve tried on.  Brooks did a great job in material selection here, even thought they are lightweight they don’t feel weak.  So many lightweight shoes feel as though structure was sacrificed to lose the extra ounces which just won’t cut it in a trail runner.  The outsole feels like it would chew up the trail, but the soft midsole seems like it might not take the abuse so well.  Especially out here in Arizona where the trail comes at you from all sides.

I have not felt any significant difference in my run experience due to the toe split or the concave outsole, but in all honesty I have not had them on the trail yet.  I’ve had them out for a couple of short jogs around the streets here and they feel very comfortable with really no break-in period.  I have very high arches and typically have to spend some time breaking in new shoes so that they don’t kill the tops of my feet.  My PureGrits were immediately comfortable and after a couple of short runs I did not feel any pain, fatigue or hot-spots related to my arches.

I am, after only a few miles on these, feeling fatigue in my ankles.  My assumption is that the design of these shoes is doing something to alter my natural stride and alignment (hopefully correcting it!) and it’s causing some fatigue as my ankles adjust.

In short, I am impressed so far and can’t wait to get them on the trail.  Look for Part 2 – the Trail Test coming soon…

Follow up: Point6 Merino Wool Socks…

Point 6 wool socks

Point 6 socks before…

One of the major attributes we had factored in to our Sock-Off 2011 testing is Durability.  I think all of us (me, Adam and Bill) pointed out in our reviews that we had a limited amount of time testing these Merino wool socks before writing and so the durability of the product was not really put to the test.  In my review of the Point6 Hiking Tech Merino wool socks I was impressed that the socks looked completely unaffected by a 9-mile hike through rugged desert terrain.

Now, these socks have been through another 60 to 80 miles of hiking, logged a little over 90-miles worth of running, about 60-miles biking and have simply been on my feet more than most other socks I own since my initial review.  I am happy to report that they STILL look as good as they did the day they arrived in the mail.  They have not faded, worn or lost their shape in any way.  They show, literally, NO signs of wear at all.  These tanks can take anything you throw at them.  I am very impressed.

Point 6 Wool Socks

Point 6 after…

UPDATE:

I originally got these socks from Point 6 in 2011. This update is mid-2015 and I am still wearing these same socks regularly, they still look JUST LIKE THIS and have shown absolutely no signs of wear. I have been remarkably impressed with Point 6 quality and have become a huge supporter of their product. I have met a few (very few) people who are not fans but mostly is has to do with personal fit. I don’t know anyone who has had complaints about durability or quality.

Gear Review: Injinji Synthetic Socks – #SockOff2011

 

Injinji Toe Socks

SockOff2011 continues after a long, reluctant hiatus!  Due to the fact that I am still recovering from my injury, the hike was not exactly the same as my last Sock-Off test.  This time I ventured out to the Overton/Go John loop in Cave Creek to log in 6.5 miles with my Injinji Lightweight Ultra-thin Toesocks.  The terrain and hiking conditions were pretty much the same as the last hike with loose rock, gravel, sand and other aggressive terrain conditions.  The shoes were still my handy Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners. The socks revealed some surprises for me and I am happy to release my findings…

Price and availability

Injinji Toe SocksInjinji synthetic toesocks pricing ranges depending on the style you choose.  They range from very light no-show running socks to the heavier, crew-socks to full calf compression socks.  The pricing of the socks mentioned in this review range from $10 to $16 which is very competitive for a specialty sock.  This review centers around the Performance Series Lightweight Ultra-Thin Mini-Crew and the Original Weight Moderate Mini-Crew.  Injinji has also come out with an Outdoor Series Original Weight Mini-Crew which I look forward to trying out.  Injinji socks are available almost anywhere.  Unfortunately, their full line is usually not in stores.  I have found that even though I can buy these socks at almost any apparel store, they typically only carry one or two styles and only one or two colors.  For the full spectrum of what Injinji offers, you really need to hit up their website.

Here’s a little about the product from the Injinji website:

Injinji has embraced the changing world, specifically identifying the need for a biomechanically and medically advanced product that would allow the foot to perform at its best. Makers of “The Original Performance Toesock”, Injinji modified the basic structure, shape, and fiber of the traditional sock. “Optimal foot health is a key part of our overall wellness”, says Jason Battenfield, CEO. “Our toesocks provide each wearer with proper toe alignment which improves posture, gripping and balance, strengthens the muscles in the foot and leg, encourages healthy circulation, manages moisture, and prevents skin on skin friction.”

Comfort and Fit

So, it took me a while to try these on.  I have to admit, they sat for a while as I pondered the strange idea of a sock that wrapped around my toes.  Once I began my recovery I found myself excited to get outside AND excited to test out these socks.  So I took them with me over my Thanksgiving trip and tried them out on some basic, flat running trails.  Initially putting them on is awkward.  That first time slipping them on and trying to get your toes in each little pocket is taxing, but once they are on (properly!) the fit is pretty pleasant.  I actually wore them around the house for a while before taking them out for a spin and I found them so comfortable I almost forgot they were on.  This was not the case with the original-weight socks, you always feel those.  But with the ultra-thin socks, it’s like not wearing socks at all.  The synthetic material does have a lot of stretch to it, so the fit is very nice.  They cling to your feet and conform to the shape of your foot instead of the other way around.  I give them full marks for comfort and fit.

Padding and Support

Here’s where Injinji is weakest in my opinion.  The socks are uniform in padding so they’re either thin all over, or thicker all over and don’t offer any technical support for specific parts of the foot.  It’s a very minimalist concept for a sock.  The ultra-thin would make a great running sock, in the right shoe and with on a paved route.  For me, my trail runners are a little big to allow for padded socks when I hike, so there was a lot of extra room in the shoe with the ultra-lights on.  They seem to fit much better in my road-runners which are a half-size smaller.  They offer nothing for padding making them a very poor trail sock.  The Original Weight socks are much more appropriate for the trail, but still lack the padding and support I like to have on rugged trails.

Durability

Injinji Toe Socks

These socks were put through the paces much more than the Point6 socks I reviewed before.  I took them out for two 6-mile runs and a 6.5-mile hike.  One of the runs was in a rain storm, so I got to see how they handle being wet.  The Light-Weight Ultra Thin’s were already showing signs of wear after the two runs.  They seem to be wearing at the heel and at the top of the toes.  I imagine the Original Weight socks will not wear out as fast, but the thinner socks don’t really seem to be holding up.  They became saturated in the rain very quickly I did notice a little slipping on the foot when they were wet which worried me a little.  When the run complete, I did not have any blisters or hot spots on my feet so I guess they did their job.

Overall Performance on the trail

Injinji Toe Socks

Overall impressions are mixed.  On the one hand, these are very comfortable socks to have on.  The material between the toes is not as invasive or bothersome as I expected it to be.  In fact, if anything, this is what makes the socks comfortable in the first place.  The material is a mix of synthetics (70% CoolMax 25% Nylon 5% Lycra) that makes for a very comfortable sock against the skin.  They are soft, pliable and breathable.  However, they just don’t offer the padding or support that is ultimately desirable in an outdoor trail sock.  This is why I am excited to try their Outdoor Series.  If they can offer the kind of padding needed, these could be a great trail sock.  I don’t even mind the fact that they are 100% synthetic because they do feel nice.  I just don’t expect them to have the lifespan of a well-made 100% wool sock.

I had an extra pair of the lightweight socks when I did the hike so I offered them to my buddy who did the trail with me.  I wanted to see if he would have a different perspective on the socks.  He communicated a lot of the same things I mentioned above: shoe felt looser due to thin sock material, padding was not sufficient for rugged trail hiking, comfort and fit was very nice and the sensation of the sock around each toe was very comfortable once you got used to it.  He speculated as well, that the socks would probably perform much better on pavement in a tighter shoe.

Don’t forget to visit Hiking the Trail and Diary of a Day hiker for their own comprehensive reviews of the Injinji hiking socks for SockOff2011!

Stay tuned for my next SockOff2011 review featuring the  Thorlo-CoolMax Synthetic trail running sock.