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Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX Approach Shoe – Gear Review

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Garmont DragonTail
The Garmont Dragontail handles all the varieties of rugged terrain found on the long approaches in Pacific Northwest climbing.

Approach any challenge with the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX.  If you are climbing on one of the Pacific Northwest’s magnificent peaks, you might find yourself on long approach hikes that take you through rain forests, scrambling over sketchy rock outcroppings, and through numerous creeks and snowfields.  One solution to this problem is to wear your alpine boots during the entire ascent – and many do this.  While this may seem like an easy solution, additional hours in heavy alpine boots can tire your legs and create friction points on the foot as the boot negotiates terrain it was not made to handle.

In my search for the perfect PNW approach shoe, I first looked at a light approach version by Scarpa.  The lightweight construction didn’t provide much support on mixed terrain under a moderate to heavy climbing load.  The smooth rock-climbing type sole also wore out and became slick in just over a year of use and was not good in the mud and wet forest floor found in the PNW.

Fortunately, I found the Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX.  This Gortex approach shoe has traction Vibram soles and a sturdy construction that is perfect for the wet mixed terrain approach found here.  The Vibram traction sole and sturdy construction gives great support under the heavier load of an alpine pack.  In the wet conditions of the Pacific Northwest, dry feet are important.  This was no problem for the Gortex Garmont Dragontail, the shoe kept my feet dry over several streams and hours in soggy snow melt.  Another great feature is the oversized toe box; the toe box was super comfortable with plenty of room for my toes without squishing them together and allowing room enough for mid-weight socks.

Garmont Dragontail
Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX is sturdy enough to handle kick-stepping into moderate glacial terrain.

 

Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX has an extended rubber toe box and rubber heel backstay to protect the upper and provide traction while scrambling.  In addition, the shoe has heel lock features that reduce heel slip and prevent blisters.  Garmont uses a proprietary moisture and odor management in the footbed to reduce odor after long treks.  Be sure to check the size when purchasing, I normally wear a size 10, but took a size 11 in the Garmont Dragontail.

Garmont Dragontail
The Garmont Dragontail tackles mixed terrain and rock like a champ.

Scrambling over tough approaches is easy with the versatile Garmont Dragontail MNT GTX.  The sole and extended rubber toe box provided excellent traction on rock.  One downside of the solid construction is additional weight.  The Dragontail is a little heavier than other approach shoes, light hikers, or trail runners.  For those that like ultralight shoes, this may not be for you.  For me, the versatility and the Garmont Dragontail’s ability to crush all the terrain I threw at it make it well worth the few extra ounces.

SunRidge Farms Trail Mix – Product Review

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SunRidge Farms
SunRidge Farms Trail Mix, a fueling adventure. Photo by S.B. Patlan

Fueling outdoor adventures with calories is usually a bland task occasionally punctuated with a minimal spice kit and your choice of hot sauce.  Nothing is more of a staple in outdoor adventures than a bag of trail mix.  In 16 years of outdoor excursions, I have tasted many types of mixes that were all pretty much the same; nuts, M&M’s, and the occasional dried fruit.  Earlier this summer, I was able to try several new mixes by SunRidge Farms.  They pride themselves on environmental sustainability, variety of flavors and quality, but are not widely distributed.

SunRidge Farms takes sustainability seriously.  Their products are non-GMO, both USDA and International Quality Assurance certified organic, kosher, fair trade certified and come in reusable packaging.  Even their distribution center is run on the energy of 2500 solar panels.  This is clean eating for the conscience.  I tried three of their regular mixes and two custom mixes on a variety of outings such as long distance cycling, rock climbing and hiking.  The regular mixes were well balanced with dried fruit, nuts and seeds.  Seeds are a great source of nutrition and not found in many mixes. Their trail mixes often include roasted and seasoned nuts and seeds to spice things up such as tamari roasted almonds.  However,  the real story lies in their seasoning options.

When you customize a mix, that is where things can get really interesting.  I tried a number of exotic spicy and sweet flavors from New Mexico Chimayo Red Chile Lime Cashews, which were actually spicy, to Dark Chocolate Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Almonds.  The best things I tried was a Pomegranate Coconut Chew.  Think of a cube twice the size of a sugar cube made out of coconut with pomegranate seeds in the middle.  I would serve that at a dinner party for dessert.

SunRidge Farms
The goods from SunRidge Farms. Photo by Kelley Goetz

The catch is that SunRidge products are not widely available.  They are only available at Whole Foods Markets and Simply Bulk.  There is a wide array of products available online, but they are also only sold in bulk. The verdict: it is worth finding a Whole Foods to check out simply because of the range of flavors you can get in a trail mix and the sustainable way in which it is produced.  For someone that ventures out regularly the online bulk option is appealing and what I plan on doing since I have already eaten all of my samples.

Adventure Medical Kit – Product Review

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Adventure Medical Kit
Adventure Medical Kit, this compact versatile kit gives you all you need to handle minor outdoor emergencies. Photo by S.B. Patlan.

Earlier this year, I completed a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) certification. I took the course to better equip myself to handle the inevitable blister, falling rock, bug bite or broken bone that many of us face in the backcountry. While the course was helpful in providing some of the basics for safety in the outdoors, I realized my “do it yourself” hodgepodge of a First Aid Kit, was woefully inadequate. Enter the Adventure Medical Kit.

The ultralight and watertight kit weighs only 8 ounces, and fits into the top of my backpack where it is easily accessible. The bag is also completely waterproof, which is critically important for any hiker in the Pacific Northwest. To keep the kit dry, there are two layers of protection with the medical supplies stored in a DryFlex liner inside of a silnylon layer. The two systems work well, but having two layers to open your kit can be a nuisance if you’re trying to quickly access your pack.

Adventure Medical Kit
The Adventure Medical Kit two bag system ensures that your supplies stay dry even in the worst weather. The kit comes with all the necessary supplies for most First Aid emergencies. Photo by Kelley Goetz.

On any trip, you never want to use your First Aid Kit, but if you do, this one should have you covered for the most common injuries, scrapes, aches, and pains. I am confident this medical kit will improve my ability to help myself or others should my WFA skills be needed.

The kit includes over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, antiseptics, antihistamines, gloves, and a lot of bandages for orthopedic injuries. It even includes things that would be helpful in your Emergency Repair Kit (always remember your 10 Essentials) with safety pins and duct tape. I wish the moleskin were a heavier gauge, but that is a personal preference.

Elite DriDown Hoody

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Finally, a down jacket that is dressed to impress on the trail; not just the city sidewalk.

Avid outdoors enthusiasts flock to down coats because of their exceptional compressibility and impressive warmth-to-weight ratio. However, the age-old issue with down has been that it’s useless when wet. Sierra Designs offers a DriDown alternative that excels in the Northwest’s rainy and humid weather. Fit for summer and winter trips alike, you’re probably not enjoying your hiking or backpacking trip to the fullest until you’ve tried their Elite DriDown hoody.

Sizing.

Like most jackets, I recommend getting a size up. If you’re using the Elite DriDown hoody in the outdoors, more room to move will help you enjoy your trip. Although I’m 5’6’’ and typically wear small shirts, I tested a Medium. It fit perfectly to accommodate athletic use with light layering. I recommend following Sierra Design’s sizing chart, it won’t steer you adrift! Arm length is generous (34.5 inches, but who’s counting) to accommodate reaching forward or up above your head with thumbs in the thumb holes. Unlike a few competitor jackets I’ve tested in the past, the Elite DriDown Hoody won’t shortchange you in length.

Elite DriDown hoody
The Elite hoody in its natural environment.

Function.

The Elite DriDown Hoody is fitted for function rather than fashion. With a back length of just over 26 inches, I could pull the coat comfortably down to my upper thighs to keep out the chill. Unlike the fashion-focused jackets, the Elite DriDown Hoody features a subtle elastic waist that prevents it from riding up when seated. Sorry, fashionistas — functionality over fashion is always a win in my book.

Features.

In typical Sierra Designs style, the manufacturer slips in a few clever features. The generously sized thumb holes are lined with stretch nylon flaps that seal the hole when not in use. This means no chilly breezes down your sleeve when you’re not using the thumb holes. The fitted hood is lined with a knit nylon fabric for a comfortable, moisture-reducing contact against your forehead and chin when fully zipped. The hood is fully convertible, and can easily be tucked down inside itself to form a draft-resistant collar. This adaptable feature makes your Elite DriDown hoody ready for even the most intense adventures.

Elite DriDown hoody
Draft-free thumb holes and fitted sleeves for increased insulation.

Materials.

One of the biggest benefits of the Sierra Designs Elite hoody is that it features 850 fill power duck DriDown. If you aren’t familiar with DriDown, here’s the rundown: it’s a backpacking game changer. DriDown is conventional down that is treated with a molecular-level polymer to give each individual down plume a hydrophobic finish. This allows DriDown to stay dry 10 times longer than regular down and dry faster than your conventional down jacket. If you hike and backpack in a wet area like the Pacific Northwest, this can make the difference between a fun or miserable trip (and it could even save your life). To seal the deal, the nylon ripstop is treated with a polyurethane finish for additional water resistance.

The Test.

I put the Sierra Designs Elite DriDown hoody through an extensive series of tests that all started with the same letter, but wildly ranged in activity and utility: biking, boating, and backpacking. From the Palouse to the North Cascades, from land to lake, the Elite hoody didn’t get an out when it came to testing.

Biking: The Sierra Designs Elite hoody followed me on a week-long road biking trip up the rural roads of Eastern Washington. Even in the desert and Palouse, warm days result in cold, humid nights and mornings. The Elite hoody stayed dry and warm throughout the trip, and remained my go-to source of warmth when even my fleece was saturated. Those who are interested in bike camping can rely on the Elite hoody’s packability.

Backpacking: When it comes to the mountains, Elite hoody is unarguably in its element. The Elite DriDown hoody weighs in at around 11 oz and packs down to about the size of a 20-oz water bottle. With its 850DriDown fill, this small jacket packs a punch when it comes to warmth. Ultralight and ultra compact, the Elite hoody is an essential for any Northwest backpacking trip.

Elite DriDown hoody
The Elite Hoody’s relaxed fit makes it easy to move, no matter what you’re doing.

Boating? No, not the sophisticated kind. I took the Elite DriDown hoody along on a 22-mile overnight canoe trip that mostly consisted of fighting downwind currents or paddling against gusts of winds as the rain closes. Not picturesque at all. Let’s just say that the Elite DriDown hoody was about the best decision I made on that trip. With its hydrophobic down and water resistant nylon shell, I felt comfortable using the hoody without a rain jacket. The DriDown allowed a semi-saturated jacket to fully dry out within two hours. Because I could rely on it to dry quickly, I find the Elite hoody to be a reliable comfort (or survival) tool in my pack. In the Northwest, it’s arguably one of the ten essentials.

Elite DriDown hoody
I may be incapable of making fire the old fashioned way, but the Elite DriDown Hoody will keep me warm nonetheless!

Final thoughts.

Before reading my final recommendations, please keep in mind that I run cold. Because the hoody is designed to be light and compact, the Elite hoody can suffice as a main layer for late spring-early fall, depending on elevation. I estimate it to keep me warm down to about 50 degrees. While I designate it mostly as a summer backpacking coat, I do think that the Elite DriDown hoody is a great jacket for year-round layering. Pacific Northwesterners can rejoice in its hydrophobic nature and resilience to nature. If you’re looking for a light, compact and completely functional down jacket, I recommend adding the Elite DriDown hoody to your arsenal.

Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks – Main Floor Review

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Outdoor Retailer 2016
Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks from Seattle Backpackers Magazine. Photo by dutch franz.

The Outdoor Retailer 2016 Summer Market was a chance for some of the biggest manufacturers in the business to show what is new in the outdoor gear industry.  Read Seattle Backpackers Magazine Editor’s picks and get the inside scoop of what’s to come.

If you have never been to the Outdoor Retailer exposition,”OR” for short, then you can’t imagine the sheer size and volume of gear, clothing, and accessories available.  Being an OR virgin, I had not anticipated what I would find when I went to Salt Lake City for my first OR experience.  What I found was both inspiring and a little overwhelming as marketing and marketers attempted to define and shape the outdoor experience for profit.

The floor space at OR is mostly segregated by company size.  Large, or well-funded, companies have exhibits on the main floor.  Smaller companies, or companies that don’t want to spend the cash, have booths in pavilions adjacent to the main convention center.  This bifurcation of the industry seems like a natural place for me to segment my Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s picks.  This review will focus on gear found on the main convention floor from mostly larger companies.  Since there is just way too much gear to conduct a comprehensive review, I will focus on gear that stood out as exceptional or unique.

Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s Picks  

outdoor retailer 2016
Arc’teryx

Multi-Day Backpacking Packs.  Arc’teryx Bora AR50.  This pack is large, solidly constructed, and built to carry heavy loads a long way.  The revolutionary RotoGlide moving hip-belt allows the hip-belt to twist as your torso twists and moves up and down as you stride or ascend steep inclines.  The durability of the hard-plastic components is still suspect and needs testing, but the concept is revolutionary and could improve balance while reducing fatigue and lumbar and hip discomfort.  No other pack on the floor was thinking that far out of the box.

 

 

outdoor retailer 2016
Mountain Hardwear

Alpine/Mountaineering Pack

Mountain Hardwear continues to make the best expedition mountaineering pack on the market.  The South Col 70 OutDry Backpack is substantial and build to take a beating that only crampons and ice axes will give a pack.  The pack uses innovative OutDry construction that bonds a durable waterproof membrane to the main compartment so that your gear stays safe and dry in even the wettest conditions.  The pack keeps all the convenient features that mountaineers have come to expect and rely on.  My favorite feature is the outside reinforced crampon stash pouch.  This pouch allows me to quickly stuff my crampons into a pocket without fear of punching a hole through the pack, a simple design that has yet to be copied.

 

outdoor retailer 2016
Osprey Packs

Multi-Use Pack

Osprey leads the industry in versatile lightweight packs for trekking, day hikes, or trail running.  Osprey showcased a new ergonomic line of multi-use packs designed to be better fitting and functional on the move.  Osprey packs are full of features like Bio-Stretch technology, the Ergo-Pull hip belt, and the Airspeed suspension and spacer mesh harness system that will keep the load stable and comfortably positioned off your back while assisting in ventilation.  Many packs also include an integrate rain cover.  Osprey has a large selection of packs for all occasions, I recommend finding an authorized dealer and taking the time to find the right fit and features for what you like to do.

 

Outdoor retailer 2016
Hilleberg Tents

All-Season Tents

The best tents on the convention floor were made by Hilleberg.  Forget the more well-known tent manufacturers, Hilleberg makes the most bomb-proof, best designed all-season tents in the consumer market.  The tents are relatively lightweight and easy to put up, even in a storm.  The integrated rainfly allows you to pack-up the tent under the fly keeping the tent and you dry.  I also encourage you to take the Hilleberg challenge and try to rip a swatch made from the tent material. The swatches are cut nearly in half and you are challenged to try and rip the fabric further…good luck.

 

outdoor retailer 2016
North Face

Outdoor Clothing Systems

Nobody makes, or markets, an integrated outdoor clothing system like North Face.  From base layer to parka the North Face Summit Series uses high-tech material and design that ingeniously integrates each layer into a performance system.  Other expedition clothing companies attempt to integrate layers as well, but North Face simply does it better, and more importantly, they knew how to display it at the expo.  The Summit Series at the expo was on active manikins showing each layer as it would be combined and used in the outdoors.  Other manufacturers left the clothing on racks making it difficult to identify how the clothing systems worked together.  It may be only marketing savvy, but give it to North Face for helping customers understand how the clothing system is integrated into the activity.

 

Outdoor Retailer 2016
Garmont USA

Boots

Garmont is entering the U.S. market again with an innovative line of hiking and climbing boots.  The boot design breaks new ground with unique anatomical construction for greater comfort and performance.  Bigger toe boxes and heel lock technology add to comfort and the Intelligent Flex System accommodates natural forefoot flex and shin mobility.  Check out the entire line of hiking boots and fast hikers, Garmont has much to offer your outdoor pursuits.

Next week be sure to catch Outdoor Retailer 2016 Editor’s picks for the smaller innovative outdoor companies that are changing the industry.

Sierra Designs Flashlight 2 FL

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Ultralight. The word doesn’t necessarily invoke comfort or luxury, does it.

When shopping around for an ultralight two-person tent, I typically find myself sacrificing comfort to save ounces, losing valuable square-footage until I’m essentially left with a very expensive tarp for one. Not really the investment you want to make. But Sierra Designs challenges the conventional ultralight tent with a unique design that saves weight without sacrificing room and comfort.

Flashlight 2 FL
“Unconventional” doesn’t even begin to describe the Flashlight 2 FL’s unique design.

The tent.

The term “unconventional” doesn’t even begin to describe the Flashlight 2 FL. The tent stands 46X50 inches at the head and 24X46 inches at the foot. Spanning 90 inches, the Flashlight 2 may look small but offers a staggering 30 square feet of interior space. The two-doored tent features two small gear “closets” by each door, which range from 3.3 to 4.9 square feet depending on where the closet is clipped. To save weight, the tent also features 8-inch awnings above each door, rather than conventional vestibules.

Let’s get technical. The Flashlight 2 FL is a single-walled tent, featuring a 20D Polyester Ripstop, Silicone/1200mm PE fly. The floor and zip-up interior walls are made from a 30D Nylon Ripstop, WR/3000mm PE material, while the rest of the tent’s body is 15D Nylon No-See-Um mesh. The three DANC NSL Pressfit poles weigh in at less than 12 ounces. What does this name-dropping have to do with anything? Well, it means the Flashlight 2 FL is made from the best of the best ultralight materials on the market. You’re getting quality.

Flashlight 2 FL
The Flashlight 2 FL comes in a compact stuff sack — poles and tent separately.

As with most ultralight tents, the Flashlight 2 FL is not freestanding. The basic structure is derived from three poles – two for the head of the tent, and one curved to lift the footbed. To save 6 oz of weight, the head poles can easily be swapped for trekking poles. The tent relies on tension from 8 stakes to hold it upright, and comes with three guylines for additional security during wind. String locks on each of the stake points offer quick tension adjustment.

The set up.

In my experience, freestanding ultralight tents can be a pain to put up. With help from the exquisitely detailed instructions, I was able to set up the tent in less than 5 minutes. After a week of practice, setup was down to three minutes and tear-down was around three. Why? Besides the fact that single-walled tents are always significantly easier to manage, the design is just intuitive and user-friendly.

The test.

My SO and I stayed in the Flashlight 2 FL for about a week total, as we rode our road bikes up Eastern Washington. I chose to submit this non-freestanding tent to everything from high winds to dew and rain. Frankly, I was a bit skeptical about the wind. While brilliantly designed, the tent doesn’t look wind-tolerable at first sight. However, the tent’s intelligent design and multiple staking points allowed it to survive gusts up to 20 mph with no wear and tear.

Flashlight 2 FL
A view from the head of the tent.

Durability. Because Sierra Designs doesn’t offer a footprint for the Flashlight 2 FL, the product was tested without one. The 30D Nylon Ripstop withstood the test, although the tent was always pitched on grass or soil. Even in dewy and rainy mornings, the Nylon base held up to the water.

Weight. Coming in at 2 pounds 14 ounces, this is one tent you won’t notice in your pack. I’ve carried the Flashlight 2 on multiple backpacking trips as an emergency shelter.

Comfort. Although the tent looks like a squeeze from the outside, it feels remarkably large inside; considerably larger than most ultralight tents. There was ample space for two sleeping pads, and the extra length allowed for some interior gear storage. We managed a week without feeling claustrophobic.

Outside storage. The gear “closets” are large enough for a 65-liter bag or stuff sack, but won’t fit a 65-liter backpack. Unfortunately, the lack of exterior gear storage would make me think twice about bringing this tent on a wet weather trip.

Flashlight 2 FL
One exterior pole lifts the footbed. Gear closets closed in this shot.

Usability. Similar to all Sierra Designs products I’ve tested, the manufacturer sneaks in an innumerable amount of bells and whistles for such a small package. Two snaps to allow for different vestibule coverage/gear storage sizes. The doors allow easy access to gear in the vestibule, while the awning provides some shelter from rain and morning dew. Quickly add insulation or shelter from the elements by zipping up the nylon interior walls over the mesh.

Ventilation. While the tent is waterproof, its biggest adversary is condensation. The single-walled build inhibits necessary ventilation, especially when the nylon doors are zipped up over the mesh. This means dramatic condensation build up by morning. While I didn’t have any condensation issues in the drier regions of Eastern Washington, I saw significant moisture buildup as we traded desert for the wetter regions of the Palouse and the North Cascades.

The Pros.

Ultralight and ultra compact. The Flashlight 2 weighs in at 2 pounds 14 ounces and the tent storage bag is a mere 8X3.5 inches, meaning I barely noticed it in my backpack. The tent is actually designed to easily accommodate trekking poles with clever pocket design.

Roomy. You can’t argue with 30 square feet of space for a two-person tent. The 46-inch max height adds a “lofted ceiling” feeling of luxury.

Ease of set up. A quick set up and tear down means more time enjoying nature. Who can argue with that?

Flashlight 2 FL
The Flashlight 2 FL compacts down to about the size of two Nalgene water bottles.

The Cons.

Condensation. Unfortunately, this is a typical battle with single-walled tents. Because the roof is shared with the tent, on cold or dewy days your gear is wet by morning.

Small vestibules. In the Pacific Northwest, vestibules can be the difference between a good second (or third) day and a bad one. The vestibules were slightly too small to completely shield a 65-liter backpack, making me wary of taking this tent out in inclement weather.

Final thoughts.  The Flashlight 2 FL is labeled a 3-season tent, but in the Pacific Northwest I might limit it to two seasons. Due to the limited vestibule space and condensation issues, I do not recommend the Flashlight 2 FL for wet trips. That being said, with its compactness, durability and low weight, the Flashlight 2 FL is an exceptional tent to have on hand for fair weather trips and minimalist bike camping trips. Slightly larger than my 32-OZ water bottle, and weighing less than my sleeping bag, the Flashlight 2 FL is a perfect choice for desert trips and Eastern Washington adventures.

Women’s Mobile Mummy 800 3-Season Sleeping Bag

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Backpacking is all about versatility. If one piece of gear can serve as two, you’re saving weight and keeping your gear consolidated. Sierra Designs tackles the age-old backpacking problem: should I bring more layers for hanging out around camp, or go light and forgo the fireside conversation? As a cold-blooded backpacker, I typically carry an unnecessary amount of clothing so I can enjoy the evenings while still feeling my fingertips. But the Mobile Mummy offers an innovative solution.

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 9.47.16 PMFirst off, you’ll notice the innovative design. Sierra Designs took the conventional sleeping bag and just threw it out the window. Rather than making the customer commit to either a left or right zipper, the Mobile Mummy features a central two-way zipper that runs from hood to the foot box. Gone is the oversized drawstring hood, replaced by a jacket-like hood that actually fits your head. Small shoulder-height flaps allow you to easily fit your arms through the sides of the bag for mobility or to accommodate any sleeping position. Of course, the bag features 800-fill DriDown, making it a superb choice for temperate environments.

The Test

Melissa - Sleeping Bag Product Review-5I tested the bag at both 5300 feet and 1500 feet, in two very different conditions. I camped at 1500 feet for several days with rainy nights and misty mornings to see if the bag would saturate. I toted the bag to a higher elevation at Pilchuck Lookout for the second test and used it to lounge around the lookout deck in the wind and rain. While the EN-rated 20 degree bag works exceptionally well in the colder temperatures and at high elevations (arms in or paired with a down jacket), the arm holes and two-way zip offer superior ventilation for warmer nights or lower elevations. Because of the hydrophobic DriDown fill, I wasn’t hesitant to walk around in the bag in dense fog and drizzling conditions. The bag remained dry and insulating, even after days in the Washington rain forest.

Sleeping

Screen Shot 2016-07-12 at 10.26.19 PMWhile most sleeping bags are engineered for back sleepers, the Mobile Mummy’s design accommodates any sleeping position. Slip your arms through the arm flaps or unzip the bottom of the two-way zipper to poke a leg out. The central zipper, fitted hood, and slightly slimmer hip and foot box means that the bag actually stays oriented to your body as you move during the night. I tested the bag with my arms both in and out, and found that the shoulder width (a roomy 3 inches wider than Sierra Design’s comparable mummy bag) easily accommodated my arms inside the bag. The ability to customize the bag to my desired sleeping position allowed me to get a more comfortable night’s sleep than in a standard mummy bag.

Mobility

mobile mummy
The mobile mummy is versatile, arm holes allow the bag to be worn around the camp site. Photo by KPHorizons LLC

It’s not called the Mobile Mummy for nothing. The bag quickly converts from a sleeping bag to a warm garment to wear in the tent or around camp. Zip up the hood and slip your hands through the arm flaps. Simply unzip the bottom of the bag (I found that about 2 feet was just right for me) and secure the foot box using a pair of plastic toggles. There are toggle loops located 2 and 3 feet from the bottom of the bag, letting you customize how high the footbed is gathered. Note: the toggles did take some time to fasten at first. Now you’re ready to move! But after some tweaking and personalizing, the bag is surprisingly unrestricted. The arm holes make it much easier to move gear around the tent, or cook without leaving the comfort of your sleeping bag. On cold mornings it’s usually a challenge to leave your sleeping bag, but now you don’t have to.

mobile mummy
The two-way zipper and toggle cords allow you to open the bottom of the mobile mummy and hem the footbox up making the bag fit like a coat. Photo by KPHorizons LLC

What Are the Sacrifices?

I know you’re wondering it. With all the added features and versatility, what are we going to sacrifice? With a trail weight of 2 pounds, 7 ounces the Mobile Mummy 800 is actually 6 ounces lighter than Sierra Design’s 20-degree mummy equivalent. What about compression? The accompanying stuff sack is 15 X 8 inches, but I was able to easily compress the sleeping bag to 10 X 8 using a compression sack. Admittedly, not as compact as some competitors, but completely acceptable given the advantages. Insulation issues? I didn’t notice any drafts from the arm flaps, even as the temperature dipped below freezing.

Style? Well, I’ll leave that to the fashionistas.

mobile mummy
Can you jump for joy in your sleeping bag? Photo by KPHorizons LLC

Overall
I have to admit that I was skeptical at first about forgoing my mummy bag for this wildly unconventional sleeping bag. At just over $400 the Mobile Mummy 800 3-season bag is a bit of an investment, but let me tell you it’s worth it. A bag that doubles as a down garment is enough utility to warrant the price. It’s rare to find a 2-pound, 7-ounce 20-degree DriDown women’s bag in that price point — typically you either sacrifice weight, warmth or compressibility.

The Sawatch 15 Sleeping Bag – A New Way to Look at an Old Design

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Sawatch 15 sleeping bag
The Sawatch 15 sleeping bag received high recommendations in recent gear testing by Backpacking Light.

Katabatic Gear takes a new look at the traditional sleeping bag with the Sawatch 15.  The Sawatch 15 sleeping bag features a unique quilt style design that attempts to keep the insulation where you need it most for increased warmth at a lightweight.  The design also eliminates the zipper to allow for versatile use as either a blanket or mummy.  Another innovative feature of the bag is the attachment system that allows the Sawatch 15 sleeping bag to be attached to your sleeping pad so you don’t roll off in the middle of the night while maximizing thermal capacity.  In addition, the Sawatch 15 sleeping bag uses a differential cut that keeps loft (warmth) even when the bag is pulled tight against the body on chilly nights.  The roomy trapezoidal overstuffed foot box allows for extra warmth around your feet.  Continuous baffles help to move insulation around the bag as needed.  The bag is also equipped with an overstuffed down collar for added warmth and comfort.

Swatch 15 sleeping bag
The Katabatic Gear patented Cord Clip attachment system keeps you on your pad and maximizes the thermal qualities of the bag. Simply tie the cords around the pad, and attach your bag!

The Sawatch sleeping bag is rated to 15 degrees, but the added features and design will keep you warmer than most bags rated to this temperature. Katabatic Gear uses premium goose down that is treated to be moisture resistant.  At around 24 ounces, the Swatch sleeping bag is lightweight and an ideal three-season option for most backpacking trips.

Deuter Gröden 32 Hiking Backpack Review

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Upon first inspection of the Gröden 32, the thing just screams German engineering. It doesn’t have the streamlined cut or traffic-stopping color scheme of many American-designed day packs. With a muted, earthy color scheme and a fascinatingly bulbous design, the Gröden behaves more like a Volkswagen than a Mustang.

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As far as day packs go, I’m more accustomed to something akin to a stuff sack-like design, maybe with a couple of smaller pockets for mobiles, hiking snacks, or a map. The Gröden, on the other hand, acts like a condensed backpacking pack. Much of the volume is split between several isolated pockets, adding up to 32 litres of packing space total. I chose to test the packing limits of the pack, fitting in a couple of changes of clothes, a book, water bottle, a pair of sandals, and a couple of smaller items such as a headlamp and a phone charger. There’s lots of room for the Deuter to expand, so packing it to maximum capacity wasn’t an issue.

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Like a German automobile, the Gröden has an incontrovertible exertion of Eurocool. With the Vintage-inspired design and a classic European minimalist flair, I never stopped feeling like I wasn’t hip enough to wear such a collector’s item. Deuter does well in drawing on inspiration from backpackers in the 1980s and 1990s.

The Gröden boasts the Deuter Aircomfort System, which features a steel frame, a mesh back for ventilation, and padded shoulder straps. The suspension design is practically a benchmark in most packs nowadays, intended to keep most of the weight directly off the back and weigh it more effectively to be dispersed, preventing that notorious back sweat from making a rather unpleasant and chaffing packing experience. My 50 litre Osprey pack has similar technology. I didn’t find the shoulders as luscious and comfortable as Deuter advertises, but they weren’t particularly uncomfortable either.

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Regardless, this is a reliable pack. Hip strap problems aside, it fits pretty comfortable on the back, and the air ventilation system is a godsend. At $129, it’s not the cheapest small pack I’ve tried, but the engineering and design certainly justify the price tag. This pack is best for hikers who require slightly more than the fundamentals of a day pack and are looking to upgrade to something that can pack more without adding significant weight.

Specs:

Weight: 2 lbs 9 oz
Volume: 32 litres
Material: Deuter-Ripstop-Polytex
Waterproof: Yes, includes rain cover
Price: $129

Surviving a Bear Attack

in Community/Gear/Skills by

In my wilderness survival class, I am frequently asked what kind of gun would be the best defense against a bear attack.  I am asked “Is a rifle better than a pistol or what about a shotgun?”  Rarely does anyone ask about bear spray.

Early Saturday morning I was listening to Nothwestern Outdoors Radio.  The show’s host John Kruse interviewed a representative from bear spray manufacturer Counter Assault.

After listening I did some research and verified some of the statistics brought forward on the radio show.  I focused on an article from May 2012 in Outside Magazine by Nick Heil (“Shoot or Spray, the Best Way to Stop a Charging Bear.”)  The studies evaluated pertained to bear encounters in Alaska.

As it turns out, bear spray may be the backcountry traveler’s best option.

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Here are a few “take-aways” from Heil’s article:

Over the period from 1883 to 2009, there were 269 bear close encounters.  Bears inflicted injuries in 151 encounters and killed 17 people.  Statistics showed that aggressive bears were repelled or killed 84% of the time with handguns and 76% of the time with long guns.

Bear spray was first introduced in 1985.  From 1985 to 2006 there were 83 close bear encounters involving 156 people. Heil reports that “In all the incidents involving spray, there were only three injuries and none of them were fatal: a 98% success rate.”

In regards to folklore (ie. wearing bells on your boots), an associate professor in Plant and Wildlife Sciences at Brigham Young University, Tom Smith, was asked to provide guidance on how to be safe in bear county.  “But all the information I could find was based on no data at all or just misguided impressions.”

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So, what should you do in bear country?

  1. Before going on your outing watch Counter Assault’s video on their website.
  2. Keep bear spray in a holster readily assessable and out of the backpack.
  3. Get the spray out in front and get ready to activate. Spray has a limited volume.
  4. Stay in a group and group up when a bear is seen.
  5. Initially, stand your ground and make noise and then slowly back out.
  6. Don’t make eye contact.

Please keep the following in mind:

  1. Bear Spray has a shelf life of about two years.  Check the bottle’s label.
  2. Bottles of spray are not allowed to go into your luggage for air travel.
  3. Bear Spray can be purchased at many parks, Cabelas, Sportsman’s Ware House, REI and other stores that cater to hunters.
  4. At the end of a trip the bottles can be recycled.  I left an expired bottle on my last trip with the park rangers.
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