Archive for the 'Evaluations: Hiking & Camping Gear' Category

Dec 09 2014

Manzella Silkweight Windstopper Gloves: My First Line of Defense Against Cold Hands

I like to keep active through the winter. If I didn’t, I’d emerge in the spring ready for the beach—and I’d be the beach ball. So I motivate myself to get out even in rotten weather by making every trip a photo safari, whether I go forth on two wheels or on two feet. But baby, it’s cold out there! So I keep the cold at arm’s length by bundling up in layers of wool and synthetic (not cotton). My hands are a trouble spot. They get cold. Very cold. So to keep my hands warm on winter photo safari, I follow the same principle as when outfitting my body. I layer. And my first line of defense are Manzella Silkweight Windstopper gloves:

Keeping Cold At Bay

They have textured palms and fingers, a soft fleecy interior, reflective accents, and they fit my hands perfectly. Unlike thick gloves or mittens, Windstoppers allow me to work the camera controls without impediment (they’re not so bad for changing a flat tire, either). I also appreciate the D-ring and snap-link that join the gloves together for times when I stow them inside my pack. Another feature I like are webbing loops sewn into the cuffs. A long lanyard connecting the two gloves and threaded through the sleeves of my jacket insures that I won’t drop one along the trail.

Of course, the Windstoppers alone aren’t enough in really cold temperatures. When the mercury drops below 45 degrees or so, I pull a pair of thick fleece gloves right over them. Then, when I need to free my fingers for fiddly work—using a camera, say, or scrolling through the menus on my GPS—the heavy fleece gloves come off again. But the Windstoppers stay put. And they live up to their name. Provided I do what needs to be done quickly, my fingers remain comfortably warm.

So far, so good. But one of the unhappy consequences of accelerated product development cycles—not to mention manufacturers’ growing tendency to confuse fashion with function—is the short shelf-life of many products. By the time I’ve bought something and used it long enough to form an opinion about it, it disappears from the stores. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered that Windstoppers are still available from some sources even though I got my pair six years ago. Now that‘s something to celebrate.

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Sep 16 2014

Sitting Pretty: Keeping Your Backside Happy Away From Upholstered Chairs

Somebody (I think it was the late Colin Fletcher) once lamented that one of the few downsides to backcountry travel was the scarcity of upholstered seats. And if a former Royal Marine like Fletcher, inured to wartime hardships and privation, thought this lack of home comforts worthy of note, what about the rest of us, who are accustomed to a much softer life? Well, speaking for myself, I spend too much time sitting as it is. But when I have to sit — and it’s hard to paddle a canoe or ride a bike while standing — I miss having a comfortable seat. Of course, one person’s idea of comfort is likely to differ from another’s. When my uncle saw the impossibly narrow (and implacably adamantine) saddle on Farwell’s “amphibious” bike, he prodded it gingerly, then observed that if he were ever forced to sit on “that thing” he’d have to have it surgically removed. So it’s obvious that notions of comfort vary wildly.

Still, there’s no denying that wood‑framed cane seats and granite rocks aren’t conducive to comfort. Not over the long haul, at any rate. And as I’ve just said, I spend a lot of time sitting down, both at work and at play. Moreover, I don’t share Farwell’s taste for the hard life, at least not in fundamental matters. I like my seats to be well upholstered. In short, I find myself keeping company with the spirits of Nessmuk and Colin Fletcher. I go to the woods to smooth it, not to rough it.

This mindset is reflected in my choice of bedding, among other things. And for quite some time I’d followed Fletcher’s lead in using my sleeping pad, suitably folded and trussed, as a lounge chair while in camp. But this was hard on the pad, and it didn’t lend itself to short lunch stops, let alone brief breathers along the portage trail. I needed something handier. And after a little looking around, I found it… Read more…

The Sit Pad

This article was originally published on October 27, 2011.

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Jun 07 2014

The SteriPEN Reconsidered by Farwell Forrest


Some time back (OK, a looong time back), I wrote a piece for that I subtitled “The Virtues of Simplicity.” It concluded with a ringing call to arms, in which I argued that, since “self‑reliance and simplicity lie at the heart of what we [paddlers] do,” we should “heed the warning implicit in the note, ‘Batteries not included.'” The unstated implication, of course, was that we’d all be better off if we left most of our electronic gadgets at home. Good advice, that. Or so I thought at the time. But times change, and change comes increasingly fast. Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine any right‑thinking paddler heading out to the backcountry without a small arsenal of electronic aides: cell phone, GPS, e‑book reader, personal locator beacon

And I’m no exception. Which is why I figured it was high time to revisit another topic from the past — water disinfection. Here, too, change has come fast. A for‑instance: In my most recent foray into the subject, a column optimistically titled “Water Purification Brought Up to Date,” I pooh‑poohed the idea that portable ultramicrofiltration (0.02 μm) systems would soon become available. But now, only five years on, they’re … well, not commonplace, exactly … but widely advertised. It’s true that field reports are mixed, with some users complaining that flow rates are dishearteningly slow. Still, the technology to filter even the smallest pathogens from water has indeed left the laboratory and ventured out into the backcountry.

Me? I’m not likely to embrace this particular advance any time soon. You can put my hesitancy down to impatience, if you like. Or simple laziness. In my experience, filters are fiddly things, and I blanch at the prospect of maintaining an ultramicrofilter in the field. I do use a gravity‑feed microfilter for bulk‑treating water in camp, but even this comparatively coarse (0.2 μm) filter requires a certain amount of coddling. Which is just one manifestation of a larger problem…Read more…

This article was originally published on June 16, 2011.

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