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.


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.

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.

Testing Columbia’s Omni-Freeze Zero…

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

Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero Technology

Omni-Freeze Zero Products I’ve used…

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

Omni-Freeze Zero Technology…

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

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

Excerpt from Popular Science Magazine about the technology:

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

Omni-Freeze ZERO shot with a thermal camera

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

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

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

Omni-Freeze Zero Performance…

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

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

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

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

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

Room for improvement…

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

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

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

Bottom Line…

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


More from The OMNITEN…

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


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


coming soon!


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


Hydration Summit – Week 4…

Hydration Summit

Last week was the final week of the Hydration Summit.  Hopefully you’ve been following along and keeping track.  If you’re just find this post, you can see what the Hydration Summit is all about through my recaps of Week 1, Week 2 and Week 3 or just go to the Hydration Summit directly and pick up some great information about hydration in the outdoors.  This has really turned in to a useful collection of tips and education about how to safely stay hydrated when exploring the outdoors.

June 25th-

Terry chimes in from across The Pond and gives us his review of the GeigerRig Hydration System.  He addresses his concerns with pushing water too quickly through the in-line filter arguing that it will reduce the effectiveness of the filtration process.  He also gives some simple tips for cleaning your non-GeigerRig hydration reservoirs (it’s really not that tough folks).

I led off mentioning Whitney’s review in last week’s post.  Make sure you check out her in-depth video review of the big 4 hydration systems.  She shows us a nice side-by-side comparison of the GeigerRig, CamelBak, Platypus and Osprey systems and gives us her pros and cons of each.

June 26th-

Our good buddy Adam breaks down the use of the GeigerRig Hydration Engine in various off-brand backpacks.  He tosses his 3L GeigerRig in to 3 different packs (the REI Alpine, REI Flash 18 and the Ultralight Adventure Equipment Catalyst) and shows us how each one worked to accommodate the two hose system and pump.

Jake looks at hydration supplements from the manufacturers point of view with his interview of Steve Born the Senior Technical Advisor for Hammer Nutrition.  Find out how a company looks at hydration from a marketing, R&D and manufacturing standpoint and see what Steve has to say about hydration.

 June 27th-

Our official South American correspondent, Paul, offers his review of the GegierRig 700 backpack and Hydration Engine.  He’s had his pack all over Bolivia from hiking high mountains in the Andes to trudging through thick rain forests to biking down the most dangerous road in South America.  His time with the pack in so many different conditions has led him to a very detailed review.

Katie brings us part 2 of her interview with hydration expert John Seifert.  This time she asks John about how to increase the effectiveness of water for hydration and how flavored drinks may improve hydration.  Go check it out.

June 28th-

On the final day of the Hydration Summit I submitted a quick, abridged version of the review I’m working on for the PurifiCup Water Filter.  I pulled some lab data from a review done by The Omega Man, showing how the filter worked in eliminating solids, color, chlorine and the ability of the nanosilver membrane to kill bacteria.

Hendrik closes the Hydration Summit with a exploration of where hydration technology might be headed.  He delves into some conceptual ideas and offers some very possible advances in the way we use hydration systems.  Some of his very right-now ideas include apps that remind you to hydrate and reservoir monitoring tied to a watch or phone to let you know how much fluid you have left.  It’s a thought provoking article that gets you thinking about where the technology might be in 5, 10…20 years.

What advancements would you like to see in the hydration system technology?

Winners of the GeigerRig Hydration Packs will be announced some time in the next couple of days.  So if you participated in the Summit, stay tuned for information about who won.