One of the most important doctrines of ultralight backpacking is the principle of multi-use. If an item can be used for more than one purpose, it means carrying less single-use gear. Simple.
I want to talk about an item that I think best exemplifies this principle, the Hoo-Rag. Hoo-Rag sent me one of these to try out and it’s been a lot of fun finding unique and undocumented ways of using this simple yet versatile item.
The Hoo-Rag is a lightweight, seamless tube-style soft bandana. It comes in tons of different patterns and there are more ways to wear it than I can count. Hoo-Rag shows off their product primarily as wearable (and hop on over to their site to see the numerous ways you can wear it), but I want to focus on how this has become the ultimate multi-use item in my backpacking kit.
Triple Aught Design (TAD) is a brand I became acquainted with several years ago when my husband was teaching nights up in San Francisco. One of his favorite places to drop by when he had extra time was their Dogpatch store. He would bring home military-style gadget organizers – holsters for his knives, pouches to organize his fishing kit, and other items that he took special delight in collecting.
So, when I was contacted about checking out a new line of women’s clothing from Triple Aught Designs I initially didn’t even realize it was the same company. It was only after visiting their website that I realized it was the same San Francisco based equipment manufacturer. Biased by the military-style gear that my husband had brought home years ago, I was rather surprised to browse their site and see some beautiful, functional women’s apparel.
The folks at TAD were kind enough to send me an Artemis Hoodie, a 100% merino wool hooded zip-up top with thumb loops. From the moment I opened the package I was impressed with the feel of this piece. The thick, heavy merino wool top was soft to the touch and fit like a dream – form fitting but not tight (what I would call an ‘athletic fit’). The length is perfect, long enough to pull over the hips and not ride up when moving.
I don’t like carrying around big maps so I’ll often print off small, pocket sized maps before hitting the trail. See that box? It’s full of them. I’ll reuse maps until they fall apart from regular pocket-shoving. The problem is finding them again. When I have a giant pile like this (did I mention it’s not the only box?), how am I going to find that one specific map I’m looking for? Or even know if I still have it? There are two things I’ve wanted to do with this pile to solve these problems:
1. Scan everything into Evernote so that I have a searchable database of my maps
2. Organize the pile by park/location/whatever
This project has been haunting me for a while, but I’ve decided to take it on using my recently acquired Doxie One scanner.
When it comes to hiking in wet conditions there are two approaches you can take to managing your feet: go with something waterproof and hope your feet stay dry, or embrace the moisture and splash through the water without worry. I tend to hike in lightweight shoes and generally prefer the ‘just get them wet’ approach since they will dry quickly. But my water encounters are usually small stream crossings, so I’ve never looked for a shoe intended for sustained hiking in water.
As an outdoor blogger and a Twitter chatterbox, I am on a lot of PR firm mailing lists. I get several emails a week announcing new products and they often ask if I want a sample to review. However, in typical PR fashion these emails go to a huge list of people and the product is frequently irrelevant to me or my readers. Sometimes it’s related but something I can’t honestly review. While many of you might be interested in children’s hiking footwear or a new dog pack, I don’t have kids or a dog. I certainly can’t offer you advice on those products. I end up turning down or ignoring about 95% of the PR emails I get.
Once in a while, however, something interesting pops into my inbox. It’s usually a direct email from someone I know in the industry, or someone who has taken the time to get to know me by looking at my site or Twitter feed. At the very least, I appreciate someone who has done a little homework to know my strengths as an outdoor adventurer and blogger.
One of those popped up last week from one of the folks behind the @Columbia1938 Twitter account, asking if I would be interested in checking out some Spring 2012 gear. Sure! I am a happy owner of several Columbia items, from base layers to hats to jackets, and I’d love to see what new things they have coming out.
After providing pretty generic sizing information I wasn’t sure what I’d get, but when that box showed up on my front porch last Friday it was a lot more than I ever expected! I usually don’t write about gear *before* I’ve had the chance to use it, but I couldn’t resist sharing because they are doing it right.
This was not an ordinary PR firm delivery. The box was carefully designed to deliver and show off three items:
Solar Polar SS Top: This lightweight t-shirt is supposed to cool down as you saturate it with sweat. Can’t wait to get this out on some runs and under some pack straps while climbing mountains to really test it out!
Compounder Shell: A lightweight breathable, waterproof, wicking jacket. That outrageously bright color is already growing on me. The fit is wonderful, actually working with my shape instead of fitting like a potato sack.
Powerdrain Shoes: I do a little bit of kayaking but don’t spend a lot of time in paddle or water sports. That said, these updated lightweight hybrid water shoes are going to make an excellent camp shoe this summer, doubling as a stream-crosser and camp lakeside rock-hopper.
I immediately tried all three items on and the fit was perfect. It was also fortunate timing in that I was about to pack for a weekend in Yosemite Valley – all three items went straight into the duffel!
In the excitement of the gear I hadn’t noticed the included note right away. According to the note, I am part of the #Omniten – a selected group of ten outdoor bloggers and social media influencers that were chosen to try out this new gear (as well as some other awesome-looking perks).
All I have to say is that those Columbia PR folks sure know how to take it to another level. They clearly have confidence in quality product, specifically giving us the freedom to say (or not say) whatever we want about the gear.
I’ll be taking these items along on many upcoming hiking, backpacking, climbing, and running adventures. After a quick weekend in Yosemite I’m already a fan of all three pieces, but I need to get a bunch of use under my belt before I can write a complete review. Guess I’ll have to get out to the mountains more. Oh, the difficult life of a gear tester!
At this point you may think what my husband told me: ”That looks like something out of a meth lab”. Okay, I don’t disagree. Not that I’m familiar with meth labs. Other than what Breaking Bad has taught me, that is.
Turn the sucker upside down, stuff it in a pack, and drink through the hose and bite valve like any water bladder. Here is the thing about water bladders: they collapse. As you drink the liquid from them there is nothing to replace. However, since bottles don’t collapse, they need something to replace the liquid that is being displaced as you drink. This is the job that second hose and jet valve are there to perform – they replace the liquid with air, otherwise the system wouldn’t work.
I’ve taken it out on the trail a few times now and sure enough, it works exactly as it should.
What I liked:
I always drink more water when I’m using a hose/valve system, so that’s an automatic plus.
Despite all the seemingly random pieces it was intuitive and easy to put together.
There are many attachment points (adapter, manifold, hoses, valves) but not a single one of them leaks. The system is very tight and snug, and the gaskets seem to work well.
I’m not locked in to one particular bottle style. I use different kinds of bottles on the trail and I can use this system with all of them.
It looks like a backcountry still, and that is kind of awesome.
What needs improvement:
It’s hard to call out any problems with this system since it is helping me combine all the things I like about a bladder system with the convenience of a bottle system. There are only two things that I don’t like about the system:
The manifold is big enough that I couldn’t stuff my Nalgene bottle in the side pockets of the packs I typically carry. Remember, the bottle has to be stored upside down in order for the system to work, so the manifold will be in the bottom of the pocket. It was just a tight/impossible fit with the packs I’ve tried. That said, I can still stash them on the inside and retrieve them more easily than I can a bladder. Also, it may be easier with a narrower mouthed bottle.
The one meter hose length is not long enough to create both a Jet Valve hose and a drinking hose. I wasn’t sure how long to make the jet valve hose – I wanted it to have access to air so I cut it long enough to poke out of my pack, or at least lay on the top. That left me with a hose that is too short for the bite valve. I have it stretched to the maximum length in the photo below and I could just pull it over my shoulder and tuck it in the strap on my pack. I had to tug and twist my head every time I wanted a drink. This is in my daypack with the bottle at the top, too – in a bigger pack this system is unworkable. Maybe I set up the system wrong, but right now I’m considering buying another longer length of hose.
This isn’t the first water bladder replacement system I’ve tried, but it’s definitely the most well thought out and designed. It is a pretty new product and there isn’t any info on the website yet about where you can get it. But if you, like me, are water bladder averse, this is definitely worth checking out.
I’ve always been interested in Brooks-Range Mountaineering gear and I finally was able to meet with the company and see their stuff up close at January’s Winter Outdoor Retailer Show. Their selection is small but high-quality. There is no “Fall 2011 line” of fashionable new colors or fad-of-the-year bandwagoning. It’s all professional gear for the backcountry adventurer and their portfolio ranges from adventure racing map tools to sleeping bags and rescue sleds. I was familiar with them from an intangible catalog perspective before Outdoor Retailer so it was great to finally feel the gear between my fingers – this is some nice stuff.
So it was with extreme excitement I accepted the opportunity to review the Cirro Hoody Jacket (also available without a hood and as a pullover). The Cirro line are synthetically insulated with Primaloft One® insulation. I won’t go into the details of the differences between down and synthetic insulation here save two points: synthetic insulation insulates better when wet, but generally weighs more than high-quality down. It’s a tradeoff that is largely made based on climate and expected conditions and what works in one place might not be the best option in another place.
As a resident of San Jose, California, with our over 300 sunny days per year, I am usually more attracted to down-filled gear over synthetic insulation. I rarely encounter continuous moisture and when my gear does get wet I can usually dry it out once the storm breaks. That said, there are times when I wish for the security of the synthetic insulation – like when I’m hiking through a downpour and wonder how long that ultralight down jacket will keep me warm once I get it on – and how will I get it on without getting it wet.
At a list price of $189.00 and a weight of 12.4 oz for the small size with a hood (as measured on my own scale) this is competitive with other ultralight synthetic jackets on the market. As my first synthetic jacket I expected it to feel bulkier and heavier, but in fact it is quite compact and light. It isn’t as tissue-like as the ultralight 900-fill down layers I own, but the Cirro feels like a jacket that is all about business – it’s going to get the job done and I don’t feel like I’ll need to baby it. The Pertex Quantum shell certainly feels delicate but I’ve experienced enough of this material on other items to know that looks can be deceiving. I’m not worried about durability.
The only complaint I have thus far is that it is a unisex jacket. Word is that a women’s cut will be available next year, but in the meantime I’m making due with a unisex size small. It actually fits quite well, but it is not exactly a flattering fit. I do have lots of room for layers underneath (which the form-fitting women’s jackets sometimes forget about…) and I’ve thrown it over my shoulders quilt-style while taking a break in the climbing gym (it’s really cold in there in the mornings). I’ve even climbed in it, though the longer arms got annoying and I ended up removing it whenever I was on the wall.
So, how does it perform in the field? That’s to be determined – I just received the jacket and due to some insane weather here in California I regrettably wasn’t able to get it out in extreme conditions last weekend (it sounded like a good idea until I saw the lightning in the forecast). I have been wearing it everywhere, and while dashing between my car and my office/house/store/post office/etc in the pouring rain I’ve been really pleased with the Pertex’s water resistance. It’s been in the climbing gym several times and the chalk dust thankfully doesn’t cling to the Pertex like it seems to with everything else.
I’m carrying it along with me to Germany this week on a business trip, and while I won’t have time to get out much, it is spring here and I wanted a nice compact insulative jacket that I can put on in the mornings and evenings while wandering our company campus and stash in my laptop bag while I’m inside. Following this trip I look forward to bringing it along on all my remaining spring adventures: long hikes, some backpacking (probably in the rain), some peak bagging, and some wine tasting and beach camping in Santa Barbara (that’s an adventure too, right?)
Once I’ve had a chance to put it through some rough stuff I’ll do a follow up post. But in the meantime I want to recommend checking out Brooks-Range gear. It really is some nice stuff, well made with a clear attention to detail. And I’m not just saying that – one of the best things about the Outdoor Retailer show is getting my hands on gear from companies that aren’t necessarily mainstream and sharing that information with other people. In my opinion, most of the best gear is made by the ‘fringe’ companies that focus on the basics. You can find their stuff at the gear shops listed here.