When I started this blog more than two years ago I had a number of goals. One was to review gear that I would buy. As a trained journalist and avid adventurer, I wanted to test gear objectively and give you as much information on gear as possible before you spend money. Another goal was to stay involved in the outdoor industry while working for a business newspaper, so I could ultimately make outdoor writing a full-time job.
After recently accepting a position at a new online publication focused on the ski industry, I’m at a crossroads. I’ve always said that when I get such a job I’ll, at least temporarily, give up my blog, and that’s what I plan to do. The site will be live at least through June 2011, but after that is still up in the air.
Part of that decision comes because working all day at the business newspaper and then coming home and working all night takes a toll on my wife and me. Laura: Thanks for putting up with me, for not rolling your eyes too much when I geek out on gear, for constantly stopping to take pictures of me, for sitting through a hail storm because I need to see how long it takes water to boil in a new stove, for often giving reviews a second pair of eyes, and for being my biggest support. I love you.
Today I start a new chapter. I’m now working for Bonnier Corp. under the Mountain Group umbrella that, most notably, consists of Ski and Skiing magazines as well as Warren Miller Entertainment. I’m the content director for Skiing Business, a new online-only business-to-business publication aimed at, primarily, retailers and manufacturers.
So please, even as a consumer, regularly check out the new website that we hope to will have live by September Sept. 14, sign up for our e-newsletters and don’t be shy. Send me story ideas even if they are rumors you’re hearing or trends you’re seeing, send me ideas on how to make the site better, and send me ideas on how to make Skiing Business, as a whole, better.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate your questions, feedback and support.
Now don’t be a stranger, and make sure you keep getting out to Explore It Outdoors!
- Pros: Keeps water tight against body; Short bladder hose is a good length; Helps prevent water from freezing
- Cons: Makes shirt ride up in back; Bladder sits high on back making it uncomfortable on chairlift; Left-handed zipper is awkward
- Bottom Line: CamelBak’s PowderBak is a great alternative to wearing a pack, but it doesn’t have any storage, so you’ll have to weigh the options.
- MSRP: $100
Doing away with its ShredBak from last year, CamelBak revamped the product for this fall and made the PowderBak.
Integrating a 72-ounce bladder with a tight-fitting vest, the PowderBak is a skier’s or snowboarder’s alternative to wearing a pack.
The full-zip vest is made from a very thin and breathable polyester/spandex mix.
But beware: the vest fits like a compression shirt and, assuming you wear a base layer with it, causes that layer to ride up.
Minor issues, though, if you hate wearing a pack but like having instant access to water.
The PowderBak, new this fall, incorporates a 72-ounce low-profile bladder with a shorter hose. The bladder presses between your shoulder blades – which uncomfortably hits near the same place as the chairlift when you ride back up the hill.
By incorporating the bladder into a mid layer and using an insulated hose, the PowderBak helps prevent the water from freezing.
On my numerous ski trips, and a snowshoe trek, last winter, the PowderBak worked well. Despite the tight fitting mid layer, with small arm holes, I would have forgotten about the CamelBak layer if it weren’t for my overheating back. It breathed throughout, but with the bladder pressed against my back, that area got hot quickly.
However, it hugged tightly and didn’t flop around like packs (even small ones) do while active. Unlike a pack, though, there’s no storage in the PowderBak. If you want to stash some energy bars or other gear, you’ll be putting your supplies in jacket and pants pockets.
Not a bad trade off for someone who doesn’t like wearing a pack.
Spyder Dolomite down jacket
- Pros: European-inspired style; Virtually windproof; Articulated sleeves
- Cons: Sleeves short; Minimal pockets; Doesn’t stuff into itself
- Bottom Line: Spyder’s Dolomite jacket is unlike most other down jackets in terms of style, but there are other, more technical jackets that have more out-of-the-city features for a similar price.
- MSRP: $185
With a design that resembles a European motorcycle-racing jacket, Spyder’s restyled Dolomite down jacket is both fashionable and functional.
With 750-fill down, the jacket, which will be available in a couple weeks, was more than warm enough this spring and I anticipate it being great all winter too.
Even in 30-mile-per-hour gusts, wind didn’t penetrate the jacket, and it stood up to light rain because of its DWR (durable water repellent) coating.
The outer fabric is made from 30D nylon, which stood up to normal wear and tear – such as snags – while camping in early summer. But it’s not as compact or as light as other similarly sized down jackets on the market.
I was sad to find out the Dolomite doesn’t compress into a pocket or even a pouch at all. And, with only two outer nonzippered pockets and one inner zippered pocket, storage space is limited.
More exterior pockets, though, would decrease the cool look of the Dolomite as they would likely cut up the clean lines and racing look. Another zippered interior pocket would be nice though.
As for fit, the Dolomite was true to size. However, I found the sleeves to be too short.
In full disclosure, I have really long arms, but there was minimal if any extra fabric in the arms to accommodate different wingspans.
But the sleeve length doesn’t impact function, as it’ll perform just as well in and out of the city. However, Spyder seems to have created the Dolomite for kicking around town – and did it well.
Wool boxers sound scratchy.
It conjures up images of old-school wool itching skin and making for an incredibly uncomfortable time in a sensitive area.
But that isn’t the case with popular merino wool that’s as soft as cotton but still contains the beneficial properties of wool – namely antimicrobial, quick drying and wicking.
During the last few months, I’ve tested a handful of wool boxers while running and biking as well as just daily use. Performing as I expected – which included no chaffing unlike many other “performance” boxers I’ve used – no one pair stood out well above the rest. But, if you go this route be prepared to drop a decent bundle of cash.
Here are my thoughts on the merino wool boxers that I tested:
Icebreaker Beast 150 Boxer with button fly – $48
With the heftiest price tag of the three, the Icebreaker Beast 150 Boxer with button fly are made from 150-grams per meter squared of 100-percent New Zealand merino wool.
Indeed, these were soft no matter how long I had them on and no matter how many times I wore them without washing (about three or four at the most).
To my dismay, they smelled like sweat after one day of activity – though if I wore a different pair at night, the Beast’s would air out enough to not stink in the morning.
The semi-lose-fitting boxers have a three-button fly for easy access as well as to make sure everything’s covered when you need it.
But, like the I/O pair, the Icebreaker boxers have a tag attached to a side seam that continually made me itch. Why the company doesn’t put it at the back, I’m not sure.
- Bottom line: While the Icebreakers were comfortable and performed as they should, I wouldn’t pay nearly $50 for them – perhaps $30-35.
SmartWool Microweight Boxer Brief – $45
Just as comfortable as the Icebreakers and I/Os but sans the scratchy hip tag, the SmartWool Microweight Boxer Briefs were perhaps my favorite – albeit marginally.
Made from 150 grams per meter squared of 100-percent merino wool, the SmartWool boxers have a traditional flap-type fly. They also have a fabric-covered waistband that I didn’t find more or less comfortable than the exposed elastic one on the Icebreaker or I/O.
The boxers, at least for me, weren’t too tight nor too lose no matter what I was doing.
As with the other two, they still smelled after a day of active use, but if I gave them a chance to air out, the stench was gone. And these, like the others, also have flat stitches to prevent rubbage.
- Bottom Line: The SmartWools were a hair above the rest in terms of comfort, but I likely wouldn’t spend much more than $35.
I/O Bio Contact Boxer Brief – $35
As the least expensive and loosest fitting wool boxers of the bunch, the I/O Bio Contact Boxer Brief were more boxer than brief.
While the others stretched out a little after the initial wearing, the I/O didn’t because they didn’t hug my legs like a true boxer brief.
Unlike the others, the Contacts are made from 96-percent merino and 4-percent elastane (spandex).
The elastane is there to give it a little more stretch, but I never noticed a difference while wearing them – likely because, as I stated above, they didn’t hug my legs. However just tugging on the fabric, they do stretch more than the other two boxers I tested.
Despite the loose fit, I didn’t experience any chaffing, and there wasn’t too much bunching – a problem some boxers have if there’s too much fabric. I was disappointed, though, when, like the Icebreakers, I found out the I/O boxers have a tag attached to a side seam that made me itch.
- Bottom Line: If you’re looking for something that has the basic principals of wool but don’t want to spend a considerable amount, the Contact Boxer Briefs should be your first look.
Crankbrothers Eggbeater 3 clipless pedals
- Pros: Don’t get caked with mud; Relatively lightweight; Minimal moving parts
- Cons: Difficult to clip into; Too much float; Small surface makes it hard to wear tennis shoes with them if needed
- Bottom Line: If you’re regularly riding in super muddy conditions, the Eggbeater 3s won’t fail. Sans mud, the excessive float (play) when clipped in take them down a few notches as and all-purpose pedal.
- MSRP: $120
Launched nearly a decade ago, it’s still one of the last attention-grabbing pedal innovations in the industry, yet Crankbrothers revamped its popular Eggbeater clipless pedal line for 2010.
In the middle of the line exemplifying the perfect mix of quality and price is the Eggbeater 3 that replaces the old SL version.
The most notable difference between the new pedals and old is that the new ones have needle bearings for the inner and cartridge bearings for the outer instead of cartridge bearings for both.
Needle bearings are typically stronger and produce less friction than cartridge bearings. But, they only withstand force in one direction (in this case vertically), so a cartridge bearing is used for the outer race in order to withstand the varied forces as you pedal.
Hard to clip into (it took me about 150 miles of riding during a three-week timeframe to have a good feel for them after using Shimano SPDs for 10 years), the Eggbeaters have minimal surface area that prevents them from getting caked with mud – historically the pedals’ biggest claim to fame.
During a mountain bike race in June, I pushed my bike through quite a bit of sloppy mud with the intention of seeing how easy/hard it was to clip in afterward. Lucky for me, the cleats snapped into position without hesitation.
But even once clipped, the easily-installed Eggbeaters have a substantial amount of float (or side-to-side play) making it hard to tell whether or not you’re fully clipped.
And because you don’t feel much of a click when clipping in and out, it kept me wondering if I would accidentally clip out if I slightly twisted my foot.
Because of that mud-shedding minimal surface area, don’t expect to take your steed on an impromptu grocery run sans cleated-shoes. With tennis shoes, it’s hard to keep your feet on the pedals.
For the price, the new Eggbeater 3s are a great mix of lightweight and mud shedding qualities that make them perfect for riders in muddy conditions.
CamelBak Flow Meter
- Pros: Monitors water intake; Easy to install; Customizable per person and per bladder
- Cons: Can’t drain water back into reservoir; Inconsistent reading; Only suitable for summer use
- Bottom Line: It definitely has its quirks, and I wouldn’t rely solely on it, but CamelBak’s Flow Meter is a not-too-expensive alternative to playing the guessing game.
- MSRP: $30
If you have a hard time knowing when your hydration bladder is running on empty, CamelBak’s Flow Meter is the perfect answer.
Acting like your vehicle’s fuel gauge, the Flow Meter takes water monitoring even further.
Using an inline impeller, the small gauge tracks the amount of water that passes through your hydration bladder’s hose.
After entering your bladder’s size, your personal weight and consumption goal, the Flow Meter will spit out how much you’ve consumed, how much is left, an estimated time until empty, where you are in relation to your hydration goal and how long it’s been since you started drinking.
But my wife and I found that the readouts weren’t always accurate.
Especially for my wife, who likes to slowly sip her water, the Flow Meter didn’t always sense that she was drinking – despite the inline impeller turning as if it was keeping track.
On one occasion, I kept encouraging her to drink in order to reach her hydration goal, which, according to the Flow Meter, she was drastically behind. It turns out though, that she had consumed at least 40 ounces more than it reported and was well ahead of her goal.
Similar things happened regularly to her after that, but to a lesser extent because she learned to suck harder while drinking so it would record more accurately. (CamelBak does state that if it registers low that you should suck harder.)
For me, the reading was often between 5 ounces and 15 ounces off. So the Flow Meter isn’t entirely trustworthy.
Before getting it out into the field, installation was easy. Cut your bladder’s hose, connect the fluid sensor inline with the hose and you’re done. CamelBak also sells bladders preinstalled with a Flow Meter.
While it’s obviously made for a CamelBak bladder, the Flow Meter can be installed on any system with an inner hose diameter of a quarter inch.
To our dismay, the one-way impeller prevented us from blowing the water from the hose back into the bladder. On a hot day, blowing the water in keeps the water cold, and on a cold day it keeps it from freezing.
And because of the inline meter, you’re pretty much out of luck if you want to install it on a winter-oriented pack with an insulated hose.
However, quirks aside, for a relatively small price tag, the Flow Meter helps you plan when you’ll need water and keep on top of water consumption.
- Pros: Compact; Lightweight; Comes with a foldable heat reflector/wind screen
- Cons: Unstable on uneven surfaces; Heat reflector/wind screen cracks easily; Boils water very slowly
- Bottom Line: The Primus ExpressSpider is a very compact, lightweight stove that’s great for camping or backpacking.
- MSRP: $60
Fitting in the palm of my hand, the ExpressSpider is Primus’ lightest and most compact hose-fed backpacking stove.
The 7-ounce stove has three legs that pivot open around the stove’s center for stability when cooking and rotate back for storage making it incredibly compact.
As with any tripod-like stove, on uneven surfaces the stove sits off kilter making the pot (or whatever you have on the stove) tilt. On one occasion, the stove was so unstable a cup I was using to boil water slid off and the hot water spilled – luckily not on me.
I found the stove to work well though. With a braided metal-hose gas line, the stove has more flexibility in terms of cooking surfaces than stoves that rest upon the fuel canister.
At about 5,430 feet above sea level, it took me so long to try to boil 16 ounces of water in a small, uncovered cup that I nearly stopped trying three different times. Finally, after nearly 54 minutes, I got a rolling boil. That’s an epic fail if you ask me.
But a nearly 10-year-old Primus stove boiled the same amount of water with very similar conditions in 20 minutes.
In previous attempts, while boiling water in a bigger, covered pot, the ExpressSpider boiled water in much less time, but anything more than 20 minutes is wasting fuel and time.
The company claims the stove will boil water in 4.5 minutes – which refers to 32 ounces of water boiled at 68 degrees Fahrenheit likely covered and likely at sea level.
Though I can’t replicate those conditions, I find that time hard to believe.
Regardless of boil time, the stove stood up to moderate wind, and for gusty days Primus includes a heavy-duty metal foil heat reflector/wind screen that folds to the size of an average slice of pie – though I found the reflector cracked easily at the seams.
With its size and weight being the best features, the ExpressSpider, its heat reflector and a 230-gram fuel canister all fit inside a 1.5-liter cooking pot – a perfect cook set for two or three people.