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

Jan 06 2015

In Praise of the Headover

Once upon a time, I caught rides to the local community college with a guy named Don, who taught at the college when he wasn’t running the family farm. We passed the time during the 45‑minute drive in the usual way, by talking. Our conversation was the familiar stuff of everyday chat, revolving around the social trinity of weather, family, and sport. Then, one Monday, Don dropped a bombshell. His brother Jim had just had a close brush with death, and Don wanted to talk about it.

Here’s his story: Jim helped out on the farm, and the two brothers had been stowing hay bales in the barn loft. Jim was loading the elevator when the ends of his scarf — it was a bitterly cold day, and he wrapped a scarf around his neck whenever the temperature dropped below freezing — somehow got caught in the machine’s chain drive. In an instant, the scarf turned into a close approximation of a hangman’s noose, choking the life out of Jim. He couldn’t scream. He couldn’t even speak. To make matters worse, he was almost immediately lifted off his feet by the remorseless, clanking elevator. Seconds passed, and Jim’s world slowly faded to black. Meanwhile, Don had no idea what was happening. He was up in the loft, heaving bales into place. But then he came back for the next bale and he saw his brother hanging by the neck in midair. Jim was clawing feebly at his throat, his face already beetroot red. It was a sight Don wouldn’t soon forget.

Luckily, the story had a happy ending. Don jumped down, hit the kill switch, and cut Jim free before it was too late. Needless to say, both brothers learned an important lesson that day about the dangers inherent in wearing loose clothing around machinery. Me? I didn’t need to be reminded. I was a rock and ice climber, and I’d been a downhill skier as a teenager. Flapping garments of any description were an unwanted distraction when I was hanging from an ice screw, halfway up a frozen waterfall, and I’d already seen what happened when a skier’s scarf got caught in the works of an old‑fashioned T‑bar lift. Not for me, thanks! So I kept looking for better ways to keep the warm in and the cold out. And I found it in the simple neck gaiter, which works well for cycling as well as hiking and paddling.…Read more…

It's How You Wear 'em

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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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