Gear | A Backpack for All Weather…

Outdoor Products recently asked me to take a look at their weatherproof backpack, the 30 L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack. They were kind enough to send me one of the packs so I could put it through it’s paces on the trail, on the water and in the crazy Arizona monsoons to see just how weatherproof this backpack really is.

The 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack

Arizona summers are oppressively hot and miserable with scorching temperatures reaching above 115 degrees in the lower desert. Most of the summer we avoid the heat and head for water or cooler temperatures. Instead of hiking and climbing as we do the rest of the year, my wife and I usually get an early start and head out to the lake for some kayaking and paddleboarding. On the weekends, we’ll head up north and hike in the shade of the pine forests or along canyon creeks. High country or low country, summer is also storm season and I have yet to have a single trip up north that didn’t rain on me at some point. What’s the common thread here? Wet. Kayaking, paddleboarding, creek hiking and rain storms all end up making it a challenge to keep our stuff dry.

Enter the Outdoor Products Shasta Weather Defense Backpack.

weather resistant backpack

I have a couple of dry bags from my whitewater days, and I’ve picked up a waterproof duffel for my camera gear, but we really didn’t have a casual backpack to handle short day trips with a high potential for getting soaked. Admittedly, the Shasta, at 30L, is a bit big for day trips. The Outdoor Products 20L version, the Amphibian, would be much more appropriate. The Shasta is deceptively huge and can carry a ton of stuff. For a beach day or paddleboarding morning it might be great with extra clothes, beach towels, snacks, etc. all stuffed in it’s generous roll-top main compartment.

The Shasta also has a convenient and sizeable front zippered pocket for quick-access items like a phone, map or sunscreen. The zipper is a nice weatherproof zipper that performed well keeping most moisture from contents inside the pocket.

The bungee cordage on either side, meant for carrying trekking poles, is handy for quickly strapping other items to the pack as well. We found it convenient to tie down wet shoes that we definitely did NOT want inside the backpack with our dry gear.

Dimensions: 20.5in x 10in x 10in / 1,654 cu in

  • Made from 420 Denier fabric with TPU coating
  • Welded seams
  • Watertight, roll top seal
  • Reflective accents
  • Articulated padded shoulder straps with sternum handle
  • Top carry handle
  • Front access pocket
  • Trekking pole holder
  • Padded waist belt

The Test Conditions

Poor Merelyn get’s all the glamorous model work when we have something like this to test out. After spending some time on the trail and on the water with the Shasta backpack she was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable it was to carry. Not loaded to capacity we didn’t really test it with a ton of weight, but with a moderate load it sat comfortably, rested well on the back and felt balanced as a backpack should. Even rock hopping in a wet and muddy creek the pack was stable, secure and kept things dry (and clean).

The backpack comes with a removable padded back support and adds some rigidity to the pack and would make heavier, bulky loads much easy to handle. It also comes with a removable waist belt. We removed them both to test out the pack, but they do offer up a bag that truly fits the backpack mold and isn’t just “another drybag”.

We spent an afternoon in the high country using the backpack for short hikes and playing along the creeks. I’ve had the backpack with me a couple of times as summer storms set in and was glad to have it. We also took it with us for our lake excursions where it stowed in the kayak, on the deck of the paddleboard and on Merelyn’s back as she paddled. We wanted to push the limits of the bag’s intended function to see how far it’s water resistance would go.

weather resistant backpack

weather resistant backpack in creek hike

testing weather resistant backpack on paddleboard

The Good, the Bad and the Wet…

The 30L Shasta Weather Defense Backpack is a really nice hybrid of a classic roll-top dry bag and a multi-use backpack. It has all the features one expects from both with little compromise. It’s roomy, comfortable and (when used properly) does a great job keeping the weather out. The TPU coated 420 Denier with welded seems essentially creates a waterproof bucket and it’s well made. This bomb-proof construction means there aren’t a lot of pockets that would require extra seems and there is only one way in or out of this bag. At about $80 retail, it’s a decent deal for a backpack of this size and comparable to a lot of similar sized drybags.

Being a roll-top bag it suffers the same limitations as any roll-top dry bag: it has to be full to work. Roll-tops require compression to work properly and make a strong seal against the elements. Like all roll-top bags, if you can’t roll the top tight enough and cinch it down, the roll loosens and water slips in. Being a 30L bag, we had to stuff a lot of gear into this bag to get the roll-top to close tightly. Sometimes, for a short while at least, you can trap enough air inside the bag to achieve a tight closure but it’s not an airtight bag and eventually you loose enough air to collapse the resistance you created. This is important to remember when choosing the bag size. Not a lot of gear, consider the 20L instead.

The outside pocket was impressively resistant to water. We had it strapped to the wet deck of the paddleboard as we bounced around in choppy water for a good 2 hours or more before the pocket showed any signs of letter water in. Splashing water and light rain didn’t make it through the pocket, making it a successful and secure weather resistant feature.

The hard part here is that the product description refers to the bag as “water tight” and it’s not. Not without a full load in the pack. Anyone who has worked with roll-tops would know this but many people may not. What it IS though, is weather resistant and and nicely designed and constructed. It serves it’s purpose well and, aside from the roll-top, keeps the water out effectively. I put this pack in my backyard pool, careful not to submerge the roll-top, and it successfully keeps all water out. I’d recommend this bag for paddling, canyoneering and backpacking in rainy conditions with complete confidence.

Just don’t treat it like it’s a sealed waterproof bag and you’ll be very happy with this backpack.


Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard…

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) has been one of the fasting growing and most popular outdoor activities of the last few years. In a 2013 report by “The Outdoor Foundation” stand up paddling attracted 1.2 million people participating in 9.6 million outings, the most participants in an outdoor activity in the U.S. in 2012. This included all ages from 6+ with the most participation being seen in men and women between the ages of 35-44. Wouldn’t you know it, my wife and I are smack in the middle of that demographic so it would make sense that we now own a paddleboard.

Stand Up Paddleboard Tahoe

In the 1940s, surf instructors in Waikiki like the famous Leroy and Bobby AhChoy would take paddles into the surf and stand on their boards to get a better view of the surfers in the water and incoming swells. When Bobby was injured in a car accident that prevented him from swimming or kneeling, he would stand on his board and paddle into the surf zone offering tips and advice to the younger surfers. In the 1980s popular pro surfers like Brian Keaulana, Rick Thomas, Archie Kalepa and Laird Hamilton began using SUP as an alternative way to train while the surf was down and it picked up the nickname “beach boy surfing”.

Even though stand up surfing with a paddle has a long history and has been popular in Hawaii for decades, interest in modern paddleboarding is relatively new outside Hawaii. SUP has grown considerably in the US mainland since it was transplanted from Hawaii to California in 2004 by surfer and Naval Special Forces veteran Rick Thomas. It solidified it’s place in the world of water sports in 2008 when the US Coast Guard officially classified paddleboards as a “vessel” (like a canoe or kayak) requiring use of a personal flotation device (PFD) when paddling outside of surf zones. The attraction is undeniable and the sport has near universal appeal to all demographics. There is something very seductive about the grace, strength and tranquility exhibited by skilled paddleboarders…even if reality for beginners is something very different.

My wife and I had our first SUP experience on the clear, blue waters of Lake Tahoe on her 40th birthday. That short afternoon on the water set the hook and it was only a matter of time before we invested in our own board. Having taken our time to go through the selection and purchasing process, I feel we can offer some sound advice to others looking to buy their first board.

Tips for Buying Your First Stand Up Paddleboard

1. Try Before you Buy

Once you’ve seen those sleek boards cutting smoothly through the water it’s hard not to want one. Before you run out and buy the next board you see, look for a good rental place to test a few boards out. There are multiple styles and sizes of SUPs and your ideal board will vary based on your style of paddling, your size, the type of water you’ll float as well as your skill on the board. Personally, I’m a big guy with a heavy upper body and an aggressive paddle stroke – I need a bigger, more stable board. My wife is half my size, has a Pilates-strong core and a relaxed paddle stroke. If I try to use the SUP my wife is comfortable on, I fall off pretty fast.

We rented several times trying out different board styles to figure out what we were comfortable with. Before we bought ours, my wife tried out a couple of different lengths to make sure she found the right ratio of speed, stability and manageable weight before we settled on the right one. Renting SUPs in most places is pretty affordable compared to other recreational options, so don’t be afraid to rent and rent often.

2. Do your Homework

Classic surf board construction is an art form requiring experience, skill and an instinct for hydrodynamic form. Modern paddleboards are an extension of that tradition and there are a variety of different construction methods used in making them. Just about everything out there will have an EPS foam core with sandwiched layers of fiberglass and epoxy. The number of layers and the quality of the construction materials are generally what will determine the cost of the board. Aside from the typical sandwich construction boards you will find pop-out production boards, made from mold injected polystyrene foam and heat treated epoxy and fiberglass. Pop-out boards are generally lighter and more durable and not a bad choice for the beginner. There are some really amazing custom-shaped, hand-glassed, hand-polished boards that would qualify as artwork and have the price tag to prove it. Since we’re talking about buying your first paddleboard, I would recommend going with something a little more economical that you wouldn’t mind getting a ding or scratch on.

Ultimately, you just want a board that you’re comfortable on and will hold up well as you learn to paddle. However, it is important to understand how construction effects pricing, maintenance and durability when selecting a board to purchase.

3. What Kind of Paddleboarder will you be?

SUP with dog

Stand up boards are used pretty much everywhere these days from quiet paddles on the lake to running whitewater. Different regions offer various SUP opportunities and your activity of choice will have some influence on the type of board you’ll need and how it’s set up. Many of the recreational whitewater SUPs look and ride very different than the sleek, thin boards designed for flat water. Even the paddles for whitewater paddleboarding are different. Having to carry your board into remote areas might lean you toward trying an inflatable version. Planning on boarding with your dog? You’ll want more stability and traction pads so your dog doesn’t slip and slide on the board.

Whatever you end up with should reflect the direction you plan to go with the sport. The activity defines the board type:

  • Surf: shorter boards that turn well and are naturally at home in the waves
  • Family recreation: durable boards with width for stability
  • Cruise: long boards, often with room for cargo; at home on flat water
  • Fitness and race: long, narrow boards built for speed in any water conditions
  • Yoga: wide, stable boards; often made with full deck pads for better grip in various postures

You’ll also need to make sure that your selecting the right sized board based on your experience and size. Longer, wider boards can be more stable and carry more weight, but might be too wide to paddle comfortably or too long to maneuver. Larger paddlers on smaller boards can find them pretty unstable. Think about who will be using the board and where to determine what size will work best. The chart below is a guideline used by many of the SUP dealers to determine proper board size for individuals.

Beginner Advanced
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 10 ft. 6 in.-11 ft.
Width: 28-30 in.
Weight: 120-150 lb.
Length: 9 ft.-10 ft. 6 in
Width: 26-26.5 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb..
Length: 11 ft.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 160-190 lb.
Length: 9 ft. 6 in.-10 ft. 6 in.
Width: 27-28 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29-32 in.
Weight: 200-230 lb.
Length: 10 ft.-11 ft.
Width: 28-28.5 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft. 6 in.-12 ft.
Width: 32-33 in.
Weight: 240-270 lb.
Length: 11 ft.-11 ft. 6 in.
Width: 29.5-31.5 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 33 in.
Weight: 280+ lb.
Length: 12 ft.
Width: 32 in.

4. Budgeting for Accessories

As is the case with many sports, getting into SUP requires a small collection of specialized equipment. While the board itself is the most expensive item ($700 and up) it really can’t be used alone, so you’ll need to take into account all the other equipment needed when planning your budget. Many places will sell a board and paddle combo package, the bare minimum to get started, but you can’t assume your board will come with a paddle. A SUP paddle will cost somewhere between $80 and $250 with the average basic paddle somewhere in the $140 range. Other typical accessories you’ll need are a board leash ($30), a decent low-profile PFD ($80-$200) and a board bag ($150-$250) for keeping your investment protected. It’s also a good idea to make sure you have some good personal sun protection with a high UPF long sleeve shirt and a good hat, maybe even a wet suit if you plan to paddle in the winter. It adds up quick, just be prepared for it.

Once you’ve used your board for a while you might start thinking about other, more specialized accessories like a traction pad (if yours doesn’t have one or your dog needs one), gear storage, spare fins or a helmet (for whitewater).

5. Transportation

Stand Up Paddle Board on Roof Rack

Another logistic and cost to consider is how you plan to get around with your new paddleboard. Inflatables offer a nice, easy option as you can toss the rolled up board and pump in the back of your car and off you go. With a rigid board you’ll need to consider a roof rack setup, preferably with foam padding to keep the board from getting beat up. Long cam-straps work best for lashing your board down to the roof rack, look for padded cam-straps ($20 pair) to reduce the chance of scratches or gouges. If security is an issue consider buying cam-straps with an interior steel cable and locking cams ($90 pair). Having a good board bag also helps with transportation, guarding your new baby from scratches and road debris and keeping it out of direct sun.

6. Care and Maintenance

Luckily, care and maintenance on your new paddleboard is pretty easy and straight forward but there are a few key things you need to keep in mind when you’re buying a new board. Most importantly, do not keep your board in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When you’re not using your board it really should be kept in a shady spot, or covered with a light-reflective material. The extreme heat that builds up inside the layers of your board when in direct sun can cause damage to the EPS foam core and delaminate the board. Many boards have built in valves to help mitigate gas buildup, but direct exposure should still be avoided. Extended exposure to UV rays can also ruin the finish on your board.

It’s important to wash your board after every use, especially when using it in the ocean. Sea water can corrode metal parts and break down plastic seals and o-rings. Be sure to rinse with clean fresh water paying particular attention to any metal or joints in your board and paddle. Even in fresh water it is still important to wash the board down so that you don’t inadvertently carry contaminants to other bodies of water. Lakes like Tahoe have suffered from the introduction of foreign algae from recreational watercraft brought to the lake dirty.

If your board does have a vent plug, it’s important to check it often to make sure it’s working properly. Get in the habit of loosening the vent plug when the board is not in use so the board can breathe. If you store your board in it’s board bag, make sure both are bone dry before storing. Any dampness in the bag can create an environment for mold and mildew which will wreck havoc on your board.

Following these tips should minimize frustration and set you up for maximum enjoyment in your new found sport. Find a good local retailer, get the board of your dreams and get outside!


Essentials for Summer Microadventures

Thank you to Stanley Brand for sponsoring today’s post and encouraging me to get outside this summer with the perfect camping tools!

Stanley summer essentials

Summer is Perfect for Microadventures

When my wife and I first started seeing each other we lived in separate states, me in Arizona and her near Reno, Nevada. Managing our long distance relationship meant short trips to see each other that didn’t leave much time for real travel. So during my visits to Reno to see her we would often take time for small adventures out to the trails, the mountains, the lake or wherever. We spent many of her days off hiking, biking or hanging out at the beach around Lake Tahoe. Those hot summer days at Lake Tahoe have become fond memories. These days we continue our tradition of adventuring together and more often than not our summer adventures include quick trips to the lakes here in Arizona to kayak, paddleboard or hike.

Quick trips generally mean traveling light. No need to pull out the cross-country gear for a day at the beach, right? This summer we’ll be rockin’ out the microadventures with the help of the Stanley Brand Adventure Cooler and Adventure Camp Cook Set. They’re both light, compact and versatile and perfect for summer Microadventures.

Small Cooler with Big Value

Stanley summer essentials

Having a good cooler is essential for hot summer adventures. Our big cooler is overkill for quick afternoon trips to the lake or overnight camp outs at the river. But the 16 quart Stanley Adventure Cooler is the perfect size for keeping things nice and cold on those short trips into the outdoors. The Stanley Cooler’s double-wall insulation and leak resistant gasket help keep items cold for over 36 hours and is big enough for 21 cans of your favorite adventure beverage. It’s rugged construction and high-density polyethylene outer shell make it capable of taking a beating around camp and the sturdy clasps keep it closed tight through the abuse.

The Adventure Cooler is also designed with an adjustable bungee tie-down on the lid to secure other essential gear. It’s a great place to secure a towel for your trip to the beach or your Stanley Thermos for keeping your hot stuff separate from everything else. The adjustable tie-down is a cleaver addition to the cooler that I really like find pretty handy when having to carry a lot of gear back and forth.

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler

Stanley summer essentials adventure cooler detail

Stanley summer essentials - Adventure Cooler

Cool Summer Night Camp Cocktail

A few year ago I was camping near Sedona with a friend of mine in late summer, enjoying the cooler temperatures and amazing scenery around Oak Creek. As night came on and the temperature dropped we pulled our chairs closer to the campfire. I decided I wanted something warm to drink and offered to make up some drinks for the two of us, I had cider and hot chocolate. My buddy agreed that a warm drink sounded good but was more in the mood for a cocktail so I told him I would see what I could come up with.

I decided to warm up some water and mix in the apple cider mix, a good dose of Bourbon and since the only fresh fruit I had was an orange I added a squeeze of fresh orange juice. Really, what could go wrong? Nothing! It was amazing and has been one of my go-to cool evening camp cocktails ever since. I’ve even made it with cold cider and served over ice for a cold cocktail, but I prefer to drink it hot on a cold night around the fire. You can use your citrus of preference (it is good with orange, lemon or lime) but I prefer using orange for a nice sweetness without too much sour.

Stanley summer essentials camp cocktail

Summer Hot Bourbon Cider

This is single serving, double this for two people.

  • 1 package Apple Cider Drink Mix
  • 6 oz hot water
  • 2 oz choice Bourbon
  • Squeeze of Citrus (use slice as garnish as well)

Heat up your water using the pot from your Stanley Adventure Camp Cook Set then mix in the cider. Pour your 2 oz of Bourbon into each cup (hopefully you’re enjoying this with a friend), squeeze the orange into each cup, then fill the remainder of the cup with hot cider. Garnish with a slice of citrus if you want to be fancy. The insulated cups in the Stanley Cook Set are perfect for comfortably holding on to those hot beverages.

What’s your favorite Summer Camp Cocktail? 

Stanley summer essentials at the river

Stanley has been proudly producing quality gear supporting an active outdoor lifestyle since 1913. Stanley products are built to last through a lifetime of continuous use becoming treasured possessions handed down through generations. If you are ready to rock out this summer with some extreme #Stanleyness the Stanley  Cooler and Camp Cook Set are available through REI and could become an essential part of your Summer Adventures for years to come.

Terramar Baselayers in Arizona High Country

Arizona Snow

Keeping warm on the go is about layering. Hiking, climbing, snowshoeing, skiing it doesn’t matter, you body temp is going to fluctuate throughout the day as conditions and exertion changes. Throughout even the shortest window I have worked through being completely bundled up down to a t-shirt and back again because of things like my pace, elevation, sun exposure, shade, wind, wet conditions, etc. So for baselayers to make the grade in my book they have to be dead simple, fit well as a layering system, pack away easily and hold up to some abuse.

Terramar Baselayers

The Terramar Climasense layers I got to try out this season as part of the Terramar Tribe fit all the criteria for no-nonsense baselayers. It hasn’t been terribly cold here in Arizona yet this season but we’ve had a few days here and there where it was a little nippy, the light Thermolator 2.0 layer works well under my everyday wear to fend off nighttime lows. When we headed up north recently to let the dogs run around the forest outside Flagstaff we just happened to be up there for the first snow of the year and I got to see how well the multiple layers functioned together. One think I really like, and don’t see enough of, us thumbholes in baselayers. I hate having the sleeves crawl up my arm as I layer up forcing me to dig up my sleeve to find the lower layer. The Terramar Climasense line has thumbholes on each layer so they don’t bunch up on you as they come on and off throughout the day.

Terramar Baselayers

The material for the against-the-skin layer is nice and soft unlike some of the other baselayers I’ve tried. After a full day of wear and movement it was still as comfortable as when I put it on. In general I really found the Terramar Thermolator and Ecolator fleece to work really well for me in the field and comfortable enough for everyday wear. I have actually been wearing the Ecolator Fleece around town quite a bit.

Terramar Sports provided these products to me as part of their Terrmar Tribe ambassador program in exchange for my fair and honest review and product feedback. My opinions are my own and are not influenced by the brand.


New Stuff from Solo Stove…

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

Solo Stove System

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

Solo Stove Campfire

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

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

Rediscovering Trail Running

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

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

Trail Running Trail 100

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

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

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

Phoenix Mountain Preserve Trail 100

My Tips for Enjoying a Trail Run

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


Trail Shoes

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

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

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

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

Columbia Conspiracy Vapor Trail Shoes

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

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


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: The Mini Mojo Load Out Bag…

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

Voodoo Tactical Mini Mojo

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

Mini Mojo Technical Data:

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

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

Mini Mojo Field Use:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy knots with the LoopAlien…


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

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

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

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

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

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

LoopAlien from Canny Designs

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

Gear Review: Columbia Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket…

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

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

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

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

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

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

Trail Drier Windbreaker Jacket from Columbia

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


Check out other OmniTen opinions on this jacket…

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


Gear Review: Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife…

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

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

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

First Impressions

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

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


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


Field Use

Helle Eggen Outdoor Knife - Sport Hansa

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

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

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


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

Bottom line…I would trust my life with it.