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Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool Review

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Leatherman Signal Multi-tool
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Leatherman Signal Multi-tool

During any backpacking trip, a reliable multi-tool is crucial to basic responsibilities like chopping food to more complex duties like gear repair and equipment improvisation. The Leatherman Signal multi-tool by Leatherman offers a versatile swath of tools to accomplish it all in the backcountry.

The Test

I tested the Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool during a 15-day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park, Montana. It was mainly used to cut and spread food, saw wood, and cut open bags, among other day to day uses. The other features of the Signal Multi-Tool were tested in the front country for strength and durability.

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Tools featured in the Leatherman Signal

Design

The Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool features 19 different tools. These include needlenose and regular pliers, a saw, a wire stripper, a combo knife, a hammer, a carabiner, regular wire and hard-wire cutters, can and bottle openers, an awl with a thread loop, hex bit and regular bit drivers, two different sized box wrenches, a safety whistle, a fire starter rod, and a sharpener.

The tools are made from 420HC stainless steel, which is a high-carbon form of 420 stainless steel. It is also coated in DLC (diamond like coating) that is applied for scratch and corrosion resistance. The closed length of the tool is 4.5 inches, and the main blade length is 2.73 inches. Its total weight is 7.5 ounces.

Usability

For a newcomer to multi-tools, the Signal is not the most intuitive multi-tool. First of all, most first-time users will not need all 19 tools. Additionally, some of the tools, like the hammer and the two box wrenches are not instantly recognizable without the tool instruction sheet. Users with a lot of experience with multi-tools though will love the endless features. The pliers grip well and with a lot of strength, the saw was able to cut through a 2-inch diameter branch, and the knife needed no sharpening after 15 days of use (just in case, the Signal includes a diamond-coated sharpener, which my expedition partners used!). As a whole, the Signal is easy to open and lock closed, something I have often struggled to find in multi-tools.

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Up close at the Signal pliers, wire cutter, and wire stripper

The Signal also can be disassembled using a small Torx wrench, meaning that parts can be replaced individually if they break. For a nearly $100 product, being able to replace easily one $10 part is a pro.

Weight

Compared to other Leatherman multi-tools with a similar number of tools, the Signal is on the lighter end. For lightweight backpackers, though, the Signal is very heavy. Many of the tools are useful and worth the weight, but others could be eliminated. For example, the Signal features a detachable whistle, yet whistles are found on the chest strap of most packs. Overall, this is not a tool you bring on long backpacking trips where weight is a serious consideration.

Final Thoughts

When purchasing the Leatherman Signal Multi-Tool, you are paying for a reliable tool from a respectable brand. For the outdoors person who enjoys fixing even the smallest defects on their gear, the Signal is a fun and effective multi-tool. Its features are strong, sharp, and durable. For people looking for a simple multi-tool with basic functions, the weight and number of tools are extraneous compared to other, simpler multi-tools.

Break Into Winter With c2 Apparel

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Photo Credit: Corey Kopischke Photography

See if this sounds familiar: It’s wintertime. The alarm has already sounded and been silenced. Kneading your eyelids open while trying to adjust your senses to focus on a harsh, low wintry morning light, motivation loses out (yet again) to the warm dark security of…your bed.

Alas, c2 is here to help drive you up and out of that bed, heeding the call of your active lifestyle, allowing you to face the cold with great confidence and less bulk traditionally offered in the world of winter performance wear.

Originally developed as mountain-bike-specific for frigid conditions, c2 founded their designs upon a simple conclusion: being comfortable and performing at one’s best in freezing temperatures should not be encumbered by heavy, stagnant clothing. Joining with Massachusetts-based powerhouse  Polartec®, c2 has continued to manufacture in the USA by providing a hybrid of Polartec’s Power Stretch® and Powerwool® stalwarts. These technologies have allowed c2 to create a broad line of performance outerwear utilizing thinner, softer fabrics (properties typically associated with base layers) which are abrasion resistant, protected with a waterproof membrane, all while maintaining superior moisture management.

Today we’re introducing c2’s Extreme Tights and Elite Half Zip, respectively. These items could be used separately or coupled and enjoyed during activities such as mountain biking, trail running, nordic skiing, snowshoeing, and essentially anything in-between (for all you snow cave aficionados out there)
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Extreme Tights

Two fabrics in the Polartec® Power Stretch® line adjoined together

Top section is dual velour

Bottom ankle is Hardface® coated for additional abrasion resistance

Ankle cuffs attract less snow

Inside fibers pull moisture away from skin and create a space for air insulation

Short ankle zipper makes them removable over shoes or boots

Fabrics create a snug feeling and stay in place easily when the fit is correct

Normal tights are held up by drawstring or bib suspenders

Elite Half Zip (men and women) Polartec® Powerwool®

Designed to be a multi-activity and comfortable next-to-skin warming layer

Comfortable thin zipper at neck snugs in the warmth without irritating the skin under a jacket, jersey, or sweater

Merino wool is inherently resilient due to a cortex of intricate filaments that give the fiber its soft crimp. These synthetic fibers further enhance the overall tensile stability and resistance to abrasive surfaces.

Polartec® Power Wool™ is a design breakthrough: by isolating a merino wool interior and a synthetic fiber exterior, c2 developed a hybrid fabric with distinct surface features to optimize wicking, breathability, odor resistance, and durability.

Many wool sensitive customers attest this does not feel like any wool they have ever worn. The combination of washing to remove natural bacteria and milling into a soft fiber shape give the merino wool inner layer it’s extremely soft feeling.

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Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag – Gear Review

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For warmth and comfort, down sleeping bags are the obvious choice. Fears of complete saturation and loss of all of those warmth properties prevented me from making the switch from synthetic bags. The Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag eased this fear, keeping me warm and dry in snow, rain, and wind.

Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag

The Test

I tested the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag on two trips and in varying conditions. The first was a 4-day fall trip in the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado where it was first 40 degrees and raining then 15 degrees and snowing at night. The second was was a 13-day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park at the end of September through mid-October. During the latter trip, the weather varied from a dry 50 degrees, a snowy 10 degrees, and a rainy 30 degrees at night.

Design

The Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag is made with 700 Fill Duck DriDown insulation material. The DriDown insulation combines the warmth and insulation of traditional down material with the hydrophobic finish of a synthetic bag. An untreated 15-degree down sleeping bag loses up to 30 percent of its loft over eight hours in an 80 percent humidity environment. In short, a 15-degree bag turns into a 30-degree bag. With DriDown treatment, though, bags lose only 2 percent of their loft, retaining 98 percent of its insulation properties. To say the least, DriDown is pretty innovative.

Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag

To get more into the tech specs, the comfort and lower limit of the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag is 27 and 15 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively. The regular sized sleeping bag fits to a 6 foot tall male with a 62 inch shoulder and 58 inch hip width. There is a full zipper on the left side of the bag and a quarter zipper on the right side. Sierra Designs recorded the stuff size as 8 x 19 inches, but with a compression sack, I was able to shrink it down more than half that. 

Comfort

This bag was one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in. Although it is inspired by mummy designs, I never felt restricted in the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag as I do with other mummy sleeping bags.  I could toss and turn without the whole sleeping bag twisting upside down, I woke up without a twisted liner during sub-15 degree nights, and I could change into my hiking socks and pants in the morning without trouble.

On a more extreme note, the width of this bag prevented my mild hypothermia from accelerating into moderate hypothermia during the Maroon Bells trip. My expedition partner, who was also mildly hypothermic, and I were both able to fit in the sleeping bag to warm each other. Although we could not move around easily, that extra room that most mummy sleeping bags do not provide allowed us to properly address a serious medical concern.

Warmth

The Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag definitely performs according to its 15 degree rating. On nights closer to 50 degrees, I slept comfortably in a t-shirt and shorts. On colder nights between 15 and 40 degrees, I felt just as warm as the 50 degree nights with a fleece and leggings. Even on the colder nights, I did not feel I needed a hat because of the warmth provided by the hood and the insulation flaps covering each of the zippers. Once temperatures dropped below 15 degrees, I needed a sleeping bag liner.

Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag

Because of the DriDown finish, my feet stayed warm and dry even when the condensation from my tent got the bottom of my sleeping bag wet. The hydrophobic properties also allowed for my sleeping bag to dry inside my compression sack during the day.

Size/Weight

The Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag ultimate trade-off is between comfort/warmth and size/weight. Whereas other 15-degree, light weight sleeping bags average about 2 pounds in weight, the Zissou Plus is 2 pounds and 10 ounces. Although it is more compact than synthetic sleeping bags, it is minutely larger once packed than other down bags. For me, the comfort and warmth is worth the extra weight, and, with a compression sack as opposed to a stuff sack, I did not have trouble fitting it into my pack on either the 4-day Maroon Bells trip or the 13-day Glacier trip. For ultralight backpackers, though, this trade-off is a greater consideration.

Final Thoughts

For the backpacker hesitant to switch from synthetic to down, the Sierra Designs Zissou Plus Sleeping Bag offers a great balance between warmth and waterproofness. Despite its mummy design, the bag had plenty of room inside for nighttime tossing and turning or a close-knit cuddle with your expedition partner. Backpackers less meticulous about every ounce of weight will love this bag, whether in the Pacific Northwest or the desert. 

 

Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket – Product Review

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The Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket – So soft and cozy I never wanted to take it off!

When I ordered the Karma Jacket I was looking for a multi-purpose layer to wear under a light rain jacket or parka, depending on whether I was hiking an urban trail or heading up to snow. The Karma jacket really fit the bill!

The Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket
The Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket takes on Mount Rainier. Seams are off the shoulders increasing comfort under pack straps.

Sizing

I typically wear a Medium shirt, and would recommend a Large in the Karma jacket if you plan to wear a heavy sweater or shirt underneath. I ordered a Medium and found the fit roomy enough (jacket provides underarm gussets) to allow athletic movement, even with a long sleeve t-shirt underneath. I have long arms and found the sleeve length to be adequate whether I was using the thumb holes or not.

Features

Since I was planning to layer the Karma Jacket, I appreciated that the jacket fabric, a high performance two-sided fleece, provided a smooth outer surface which slid easily against other layers and didn’t grab or bunch up when I put on my rain jacket. Also, the seams of the Karma jacket are placed off the tops of the shoulders for non-chaffing comfort under pack straps.

There is a medium sized media pocket on the sleeve with an internal access point to plug in headphones. The media pocket was too small for my large iPhone, but can easily accommodate smaller devices. Speaking of pockets, I’m really a big fan, and was pleased to find external zippered pockets as well as roomy internal pockets.

Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket
The Sherpa Adventure Gear Karma Jacket is packed with pockets to keep you organized when you are on the go.

 

Materials

The Karma jacket is 100% polyester two-sided fleece brushed on both sides for comfort and warmth. The fabric wicks moisture away from the body, keeping you dry and cool. I appreciated the wicking as well as the anti-stink Polygiene® antimicrobial technology since I tend to run hot and sweat a fair amount.

Recommendation

The Karma jacket is very versatile. I have worn it on chilly days over a t-shirt, around the house or running errands and love the soft fabric, vibrant color and colorful details. I’ve also worn it during early morning runs on damp grey Seattle days, appreciating the light-weight warmth.  And finally, I’ve worn it as a layer under a heavier coat in cold weather, finding it provided great insulation from the cold.  I highly recommend the Karma jacket and find the combination of features, makes it a valuable addition to an active wear wardrobe. It’s easy to care for and always looks good.

Extra credit: I was especially pleased to see that sales from Sherpa Adventure Gear supported youth programs in Nepal. For every garment Sherpa Adventure Gear sells, a donation is made to provide scholarships to children who grow up in remote Himalayan villages. I also appreciated that the company is environmentally conscious, they are committed to constantly improving the environmental impact of sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, distribution and recycling efforts throughout all phases of their business.

Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent – Gear Review

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Going to wild places with Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent.  When solo camping, I prioritize light weight. For the past couple of years, though, I have compromised on weight by bringing a two-person tent. With most one-person tents, I find myself struggling to sit up even half way comfortably. Sierra Designs has addressed that compromise backpackers oftentimes make with the innovative design of the Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 tent.

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Basic set up on the Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent

Design

The Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent is as unique in design as tents get. It has a rectangular base with a diagonally-sloping top. At its peak, the tent stands at 45 inches tall, allowing for ample room to sit up in that half of the tent. The tent has one door and 3.5 ft2 vestibule. There are three poles, one for the door, one for the ventilation window, and one for the footbed. Five guylines situated at the front, rear, and sides of the tent keep the tent erect and taut. The tent is single-walled, so the rainfly is built into the frame of the tent. Combined with the Polyester Tafetta fly fabric and 20D Nylon body fabric, the materials are quintessential ultralight.

The Test

The Sierra Designs Flashlight 1-Person Tent accompanied me during two trips. The first was an overnight, car-camping trip in Pike’s Peak National Forest, Colo., in mid-September, and the other was a 13-day backpacking trip in Glacier National Park at the end of September through mid-October. As is custom to September in Colorado, the weather during the first test was dry with low temperatures around 45 degrees. During the second test, the weather varied from a dry 45 degrees, a snowy 10 degrees, and a rainy 50 degrees.

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The Sierra Design Flashlight 1 is highly packable leaving you space for the other essentials.

Ventilation

During my first test of the tent and the dry days in Glacier National Park, I experienced little to no condensation on the inside of the tent. In Colorado, this is normal with any tent because of the aridity of the air, but I was pleasantly surprised in Glacier National Park. When the humidity increased, the inevitable ventilation disadvantage of a single walled tent was on full display, and the walls were coated with dew. That being said, when I took out the tent that night to set it up at our next campsite, the condensation had not saturated the tent even though I packed up the tent without having fully dried it.

Usability

Even though the non-freestanding design of the Flashlight decreases its overall weight, it also restricts the type of surface on which the Flashlight can be used: without a surface in which stakes can be hammered in, this tent will not work. Additionally, the ability to make the tent taut depends heavily on how well suited the ground is for stakes. In areas that had very silty or shallow soil, the pull of the guylines coming down from the apex of the tent would either dislodge the stake from the ground or compromise the tautness of the entire tent. Although the guylines work sufficiently in fair weather, rain or snow more easily pooled at areas where the tent had begun to sag.

The vestibule is also very small. Neither my 75 L pack nor my 45 L pack could fit in the vestibule without leaning on the vestibule or tent doors. Although I left my pack outside the vestibule with a pack cover on and my belongings in trash bags, this was not ideal when inclement weather hit.

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Sierra Designs Flashlight 1 Tent tested in unexpected snow.

Set up

The other issue with the Flashlight 1’s non-freestanding design is that it made it difficult to set up alone, which, for a 1-person tent, is a problem. I found myself trying to hold up one of the tent poles at the apex while trying to stake in its corresponding cord. Oftentimes, I would have to re-stake the corners or change the tautness of the top guylines after finishing the initial set up. The inclusion of the 5 guylines does make adjustment substantially faster and more precise.

Final Thoughts

The Flashlight 1 tent is perfect for lightweight trips in dry areas. As someone living in Colorado, I would use this on any late spring, summer, and early fall trip, even if light flurries were in the forecast. It is light, packable, and durable enough to handle any length or trip intensity. The tent is not suitable, though, for wet trips because of limited vestibule space and poor ventilation. Additionally, the tent cannot be set up in places without ground suitable for stakes or populated with heavy rocks or logs to tie-off to.

The only other consideration when buying this tent is about height. I am 5’ 6” and fit comfortably in this tent. My partners on the Glacier Trip are both 6’2” males and did not fit comfortably, especially when there was a lot condensation at the front and rear of the tent.

 

Teva Arrowood Lux Sneakerboot – Product Review

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Teva Arrowood Lux waterproof mid-high sneakerboot for women.  From the minute that I took the Teva Arrowood Lux boots out of the box, I could tell that they were going to be completely different from any of the other waterproof hiking boots I had purchased and worn in the past.

Teva Arrowood Lux comfort and performance test.  The first thing I noticed was how lightweight they felt, and once I put them on, the Teva Arrowood Lux were extremely comfortable – like having your favorite pair of slippers on and the inside was like having a memory foam mattress for your feet!!  I wore them around the house the first day, just to break them in a little before taking them out for a real hiking test.   But, I have to tell you that this was not even necessary, as I learned the next day when I wore them on a 2.5 mile challenging hike.  I put the Teva Arrowood Lux to the test on steep up and down terrain, these boots have excellent tread grip, even on steep uphill terrain that had loose soil, gravel, and rocks – much to my surprise (and happiness) I had no slipping issues.   The comfort level is extraordinary for a hiking boot.

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The lightweight Teva Arrowood Lux has great traction and is sturdy enough to take you over all the obstacles you find on the trail.

The rain test.  Next, I took the Teva Arrowood Lux out in one of our northwest torrential down pours, to see how well the waterproofing worked.  I walked through small creeks, and large puddles on the trail and my feet were 100% dry when I got home.  The only thing that I would recommend, is that if you are going to be hiking in wet weather, is to wear a  warmer pair of socks.  Although my feet stayed completely dry, the coldness of the water did make my feet feel cold.  I loved the new FloatLite technology, it is so much more comfortable and lightweight from my previous boots, that have the eva or vibarum souls.   I am telling you, the FloatLite technology is truly amazing, and a cut above the competition.

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The waterproof Teva Arrowood Lux keeps your feet dry on even the wettest of Pacific Northwest days.

I would recommend the Teva Arrowood Lux sneakerboots to everyone.  They are not only an extremely comfortable and waterproof boot, but they are also so stylish that you could and will want to wear them with jeans, or leggings.

Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 Gear Review

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Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7
Taking the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 to extreme places and testing it against precision instruments.

Tackling high places with the Casio Pro Trek  PRW3500T-7.  With most people swapping out their watch for time keeping on a smart phone, we often forget that a timepiece is not only a way to make sure you make it to your next meeting, it is a tool to make sure you make it home.

I had my first experience with Casio watches in the early 90s while participating in an intensive wilderness leadership program.  My Seiko dive watch fogged over and was unreadable.  I asked a fellow student how he liked his Casio G-Shock.  The man took the watch off his wrist and threw it as hard as he could at a brick wall…not a scratch!  The man said it was bombproof, and it was (is).

So I was intrigued to test Casio’s latest foray into the outdoor expedition market and put the three sensor Casio Pro Trek PRW3500-7T to the test.  The Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 features tough solar power and three sensor technology.  This means that lifesaving and navigational features are more accurate and are continuously powered.  That’s right, you don’t have to worry about batteries or if your altimeter will lose power while peak-bagging.

The Test. To test the durability and functionality of the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7, I took the watch on a recent climb on the nation’s premier alpine climbing test laboratory – Washington State’s Mount Rainier.  In the mountains, accuracy of navigation and decision making technology can mean the difference between life and death.  In addition, the tools you are using have to be robust to extended power challenges, extreme weather, and physical abuse.

Functionality.  The expedition features of the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 include an altimeter, barometer, and compass.  To test the accuracy of the altimeter, I compared the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 data on ascent and decent against a Garmin GPS and a German made climbing altimeter.  I indexed the Pro Trek and German altimeter to the surveyed benchmark at Paradise.  The GPS altitude was low by 60ft from the benchmark.  Over the next several hours and thousands of feet, I repeatedly check the altitude of all three instruments.  What I found was that the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 had the least amount of swing in altitude readings than the other instruments, generally indicating more accurate functionality.  The other instruments would be either significantly high or low compared to the other two.

Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7
The Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 tracking elevation gain while glacier traveling on Mount Rainier.

The barometer function gives both a reading of barometric pressure and a graphic that tracks the barometric pressure over the period of your climb.  The barometer was checked against relevant weather data and found to be very accurate.  In addition, the tracking graphic was great for quickly seeing the weather trend and helping to make weather related climbing decisions.  The temperature reading was accurate within 10 degrees, but was often influenced by body temperature.

The compass function was checked against a military grade lensatic compass.  The Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 user manual alerts the user that the compass is only accurate to +/- 11 degrees.  I found this degree range unacceptable for wilderness navigation.  During the test, the watch displayed azimuth directions dramatically different from the lensatic compass.  The watch compass was also slow to react to changing directions of the user.  Where the compass feature could be helpful is as a back-up compass to indicate general direction.  I always believe in the redundancy rule when in wild country, I would trust the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 to point me in the right cardinal direction if my primary compass became inoperable.

Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7
The Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 compass test.

The Band.  This model of Casio comes with a metal watch band similar to popular high-end dive watches.  A problem I encountered is that the watch needs to be uncovered to allow the sensors to operate properly and for the best accuracy.  However, if you adjust the band for your wrist, it is unlikely to fit over layered clothing (like a puffy or a parka) worn on expeditions.  The models with a rubber watch band don’t have this problem as these types of bands can be adjusted.  A recommendation to Casio is to make the metal bands with an extension, like dive watches do to adjust for wetsuits.

Expedition Features.  Need to know what time the sun is going to rise over a temple in Bhutan?  The Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7 will tell you; this watch is full of nice to have features for when you are adventuring across the globe or just across the country.  Other features include; water resistant to 200m, world time in 31 time zones, sunrise/sunset data, stopwatch, auto calendar through 2099, five daily alarms, battery power indicator,  and an incredible battery that will last for seven months on a single full charge.

Durability.  The durability of the watch was tested through first-rate abuse.  I conducted the throw test against volcanic rock – not a scratch or impairment of functionality.  I wore it rock climbing and it performed without a hitch.  Finally, I used the Casio Pro Trek PRW3500T-7  in extreme weather conditions while ice axing my way across a glacier and it performed like a champ…well, like a Casio.

UCO X-120R X-ACT FIT Headlamp – Gear Review

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I thought my trusty headlamp was comfortable. The elastic strap was snug, adjustable slider adjusted , it was kicked around, dropped in puddles and it still turned on. I also thought sleeping on my foam pad and synthetic bag was optimal as well. Then a great friend of mine donated a mattress to my cause. Thus changing the way I slept indoors. I’m not saying that the addition of this headlamp will aid in getting your life together, but it will open your eyes to a level of comfortable overlooked in many headlamps. The designers at Utility, Comfort, and Originality (UCO) know a thing or two about comfort; It’s their middle name—Seriously.

Based out of Redmond, WA and with over 40-years of experience in products such as storm-proof matches and candle lanterns; UCO is well versed in keeping adventurers out of the dark.

The X-ACT series headlamps uses a two piece design built to allow custom-like fitting right out of the box. Their “X-ACT Fit” system uses a conforming “X-flex” neoprene strap and adjustable strap snaps on each side; setting the fitting ranges between 19-26”. The back of the headlamp incorporates a micro-adjustment wheel, similar to bike helmets, allowing smooth fine-tuning for the perfect fit. In testing, I was able to put the headlamp on and find my perfect fit quite quickly. My only issue was when I was wearing headgear. While my head isn’t big enough to have received playground bullying in elementary school, I was using the last adjustment snaps on the sides. Pushing the headlamp to the max in order to fit it over my wool buff. However, even with the extra bulk, I was able to snug the lamp perfectly with the micro-adjustment wheel.

Piercing the night with 120 lumens and a high quality Cree XP-E LED. Plenty to shed light on the rope puzzle that those rain-fly tie outs turned into. Keeping the torch simple, the designers went with a wheel dial to control the light up front. Turning the wheel to the right engages red light mode; while left turns on flood and spot modes. The dial infinitely adjusts to increase and decrease brightness.

X-ACT FIT Headlamp
The X-ACT series headlamps uses a two piece design built to allow custom-like fitting right out of the box.

The light sits on an infinitely adjustable hinge, allowing for fluid changes in the angle of the beam. While sturdy when hiking it can become a problem when used for trail running or after small jumps. The hinge will allow the light housing angle over 90 degrees. This means if you jolt, jump, or skip with enough force, it will flop down. Turning the light on to yourself and searing your retinas like tuna steaks. This was not an issue when hiking but when trail running the light housing would make its way down slowly.

The manufacturer claims up to 160 hours of battery life with 3 AAA batteries. UCO has the available option for a rechargeable version of the X-120. This includes a micro USB charged battery with the charge port located directly on the battery itself. This was a welcome design as it allows the user to insert AAA batteries, powering the headlamp, then being able to use a power cell to charge the dead battery in your pack.

X-ACT FIT Headlamp
Adjustable hinge allows for fluid movement in the angle of the beam and easy battery changes.

The lamp comes with a semi-hard shell carrying case to keep it well organized in your pack. The case has a bit of extra room for spare batteries, charge cable, and possibly a small power cell. The carrying case is a nice addition and keeps everything cozy, however it is bulky and a bit hefty for what its is intended. Some seasoned adventurers might re-purpose the case for a home use rather than an ultralight pack-list. The zipper is not YKK for you spec junkies.

The X-120R exceeded my comfort expectations for a headlamp claiming to be “headache free.” Thoughtfully designed for comfort as well as having multiple battery power options. Running out of adjustment snaps when wearing headgear is something to be aware of. Cheaper elastic strap headlamps have the advantage of being able to adjust to become necklaces; While on the X-ACT, if you run out of adjustment snaps, you run out. The infinitely adjustable light housing is another area I would change. Locking grooves would be a more secure way to angle the light, allowing the headlamp to be used in more dynamic roles.   Besides minor preference changes, UCO nailed what this headlamp set out to do. To bring exceptional comfort to a vital piece of gear.

Klymit Static V2 Sleeping Pad – Gear Review

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The Test 

The Klymit Static V2 sleeping pad accompanied me on two camping trips, one backpacking in the Mt. Baker backcountry, and one car camping in the Teanaway Community Forest. Setting up site at 5450ft near Park Butte fire lookout, rangers alerted me that temperatures would be dropping below freezing on an already rainy night giving me the perfect chance to test the insulation of the mat. Two weeks later in Teanaway it was tested in much more pleasant late summer/early fall temperatures.

klymit static V2
Taking a closer look at the Klymit Static V2, the V chamber provides excellent support with minimal air movement. Teanaway Community Forest, WA.

Sleeping

In both instances the Klymit Static V2 provided for a comforting night’s sleep. The mat is equipped with side rails that cradle the body and provide extra support for those who experience back problems. During its time in the near freezing temperatures at Mt. Baker, the mat provided sufficient insulation from the wet cold ground. Similarly, the mat provided top comfort in Teanaway where temperatures only reached a low of about 48 degrees. The V shape design and oversized sleeping area of the mat provides support for those who like to change sleeping positions constantly through the night like myself. So if you are a side, back, or stomach kind of sleeper, this sleeping pad will be a good fit. Lastly, with past mats I have noticed they can be quite noisy while changing sleeping positions through the night, and the V2 is pleasantly quiet for toss and turners.

klymit static v2
The Klymit Static V2 provided a great night’s sleep. The V2 left me well rested and ready for a day full of mountain biking in Teanaway.

Packability

This sleeping pad was designed with backpackers in mind. Trading this out for my older, larger mat has saved me considerable room in my backpack thereby making it lighter as well. This to me was surprising because when rolled out, the mat itself is larger than my old mat, so it is the best of both worlds. The weight of the pad is a little over 1lb which is reasonably less than other pads of this size and thickness. Additionally, the storage bag has a built-in patch kit for any emergency repairs that can come in handy in those type of backcountry setbacks.

Drawbacks

As it is an oversized mat it can be slightly more challenging to roll up than other mats. For me it required rolling it up beforehand in order to get all of the air out before folding it into fourths to roll up for packing into the storage bag.

klymit static v2
Rolling up the Klymit Static V2 in Teanaway Community Forest.

Overall

Overall this mat has been a great addition to my backpack. The fact that it is lightweight and easily packs into small places comes at no sacrifice to nightly comfort. And for the price of $65, this mat goes above and beyond in comparison to competitors of similar weight, material, and size.

G-Shock RANGEMAN Master – Gear Review

in Community/Gear by
User guide.

The G-Shock RANGEMAN Master or G-GW9400-3 is definitely a niche watch in today’s smartwatch world. Let me start by saying I put this watch through the gauntlet over the past three months, this watch has been with me on some hardcore downhill MTB rides, several triathlons, ice climbing, and a proper backpacking trip in Alaska. Also, as a quick note to give you a better idea of my impressions/judgments, I also currently own a Samsung Gear 2 and a Garmin 735XT.

g-shock rangeman
The G-Shock RANGEMAN took me into the wilds of Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains and helped me get back again.

I broke this review down into five categories, which will give you a good idea of where this watch fits into your collection.

g-shock rangeman1.Style. For a watch built for toughness it is a darn good looking watch. My first impression was it might look like a beast but it isn’t too big and I really do like the look of this watch. I will always choose comfort over style, especially with a piece of gear I need to depend on in the backcountry. Luckily, I don’t have to make any sacrifices with this watch. Casio did a great job making this watch look the part and still be stylish while packing in all the capabilities it has to offer. I especially like the look of the digital compass in the top left-hand corner, that little touch of gold in the face is a subtle accent of style in this rugged build.

2. Features. This is the real reason you’re going to spend the money on this watch: Casio packed this watch full of some very useful and important capabilities. Here are my top five functions on the watch since there are too many functions to cover in detail.

  • Tough Solar Power: You will never need to charge or replace the battery with this watch! How awesome does that sound in today’s world of always looking for somewhere to plug in. Even if you were living in a cave this watch would still last you seven months on a full charge. Having the solar power really makes this watch stand out, especially in the smartwatch era that we are approaching. The last thing I would want is my watch to go dead if I was lost in the wilderness and it isn’t a worry with this watch.
  • Triple Sensor (Altimeter, Barometer, and Thermometer): Super important features to have when you’re headed out on an “epic” in the backcountry. For me, knowing the temperature, altitude, and weather are deciding factors for going forward on a big objective and having that information to make the right decision can be priceless if not life saving in some situations. I found all three functions to work well in the backcountry, the thermometer, of course, got a more accurate reading when off my body.
  • Shock/Mud/Water Resistant: Another strength of this watch is you can beat it up without worrying about it handling your adventure. I took a brutal fall on the downhill bike where I went over the handlebars and the watch didn’t even get a scratch but the rest of my body couldn’t say the same. I also grinded the face against a glacier while ice climbing and the same thing happened, I got some cuts but the watch was good. As for water resistance, I did a lot of open water swimming during triathlons and there was never any issues. I wore this watch when I knew my other watches would not be able to withstand the punishment I was going to be dishing out.
  • Memory Capacity: To be honest, this is a function I didn’t get to dive very deep into but I could see it being a very useful tool on longer trips into the backcountry. Up to 40 records (shared storage with date/time, bearing, and barometric pressure/temperature records). The main reason I did not get too deep into this is because in today’s smartwatch world it is not as simple to use as I would like. It just doesn’t have the technical ecosystem that we’ve grown a custom to.  
  • Digital Compass: A pretty common feature in watches these days but the G-Shock RANGEMAN did a great job of making it clear and easy to use on this watch. It measures and displays direction as one of 16 points with a measuring range from 0 to 359 degrees and a graphic direction pointer with bidirectional calibration and magnetic declination correction. On my last backpacking trip we were off trail and route finding almost the entire time so having a spot on compass was invaluable.

3. Comfort: An important part of every watch and one this one does well. The watch fits great with a ton of length options on the band and it actually feels pretty light. For backpacking, I would rank this watch very high on the comfort level. For the day-to-day use I rank it as just OK. As I mentioned before it got through several triathlons but wasn’t the most comfortable watch I’ve worn for endurance sports. Although, this watch was not made for triathletes and belongs at home in the backcountry.

4. Durability: Another one of the key traits to this watch is it can just take a beating. On the durability side, I don’t know if there is anything I would change, it is a beast.

5. User Friendliness: Here is where the G-Shock RANGEMAN looses a lot of points. I know Casio did not build this watch to compete with all the smartwatches out right now so it’s probably a little unfair to put them in the same category. But with that said, if you are into everything being super intuitive like your smartphone then you might get a little frustrated when setting all the functions up with this watch.

The manual alone might cause some fear but to be fair it wasn’t terribly hard to get the necessary features dialed in.

g-shock rangeman
The user guide for the G-Shock RANGEMAN looks thick, but is easy to navigate.

Should You Buy This Watch? Yes, but only if you plan to be in the backcountry a lot. Sadly, I feel the G-Shock RANGEMAN is a bit outdated when it comes to the intuitive technology we’re accustomed to today. So if you’re looking for an everyday watch, I don’t think this watch is worth the money. For my own personal use, I am excited to have the Master of G-GW9400-3 in my collection but I think it is most likely going to be on the shelf and only come out on the big adventures because that is where this watch shines.

 

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