Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Backpacking Gear Reviews

Before we embarked on our backpacking trips this year, we decided we should invest in some quality gear. Our last trip had involved a leaky tent, uncomfortable packs, and less than desirable sleeping conditions. We tried to remedy those things this time around as well as a few other minor elements. This is what we've found from our testing so far.

I love this tent. There are so many details on it that make it a great piece of equipment. It is meant to be a 3 person tent, but I thought it fit 2 people perfectly with just enough room to spare for small items (3 people would be a bit of a squeeze).  The main reason I went with the 3 person tent over the 2 person, was this one has 2 doors, one on either side. Let me tell you how awesome this was. Each person having their own door and vestibule rocked. No more climbing over people in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. No tracking dirty feet across the tent. This tent also comes with it's own footprint tarp and has a small gear loft inside (great for keeping items easily accessible). I also liked that the zippers and tie-down cords were reflective so you could see them in the dark. The tent was incredibly easy to set up and the orange color makes it highly visible when you're trying to find it in a clump of trees. Now as a disclaimer, we haven't seen any adverse weather (no strong winds or rain), but knowing Marmot, that won't be a problem.

I tried on every single women's pack at REI before I found this one. I couldn't find a pack that didn't put pressure on my hip bones or one that didn't squish my bewbs and make them look weird or rub on my neck. Or that just felt comfortable. This pack met all of those criteria and I'm happy to say it was just as comfortable on the trail. I liked that the hip belt was wider and flatter than the other packs I tried. It also has cutouts that align with your hip bones so there is no pressure on them. I was able to put 100% of the weight on my legs which meant my arms and shoulders never got sore from the weight. It does not come with its own water pack, but the 3 liter water bag from my day pack fit great into it and there were openings and straps for the hose to be easily routed to my shoulder strap. The bag had plenty of room for all my gear and an adequate amount of pockets and exterior straps for things like water bottles, jackets, and my fly rod. This was an incredibly comfortable pack and I am extremely happy with it!

I was so excited to get this sleeping bag. I always sleep cold when I'm camping and thought this was the solution for sure. Night time temps on the 2 trips I took this on were probably around 35-40 degrees, so not too cold... nowhere near the 0 deg. temp rating of this bag. While I did like that my sleeping pad didn't move around while I slept (or didn't sleep...), it also prevented me from closing my bag in around me, thus making the bag feel drafty and cold. Maybe this would be better if you were a little bigger and filled out the bag more. The pad seemed to let a lot of cold air up from the bottom as well, making me think that the complete lack of down on the bottom of the bag wasn't such a great idea. So, the bag was comfortable, but not warm. The pad was suitable and worked well... I liked that it was extra thick at 2.5", plus it packed down super small. Seth's pad actually leaked however... so not sure if mine will end up with the same problem. Ultimately, I had one of the worst nights out backpacking I can remember. Too bad, I really had high hopes for this combo.

I have a love/hate relationship with pants. I love wearing them, but hate shopping for them. The junk in my trunk, though quite spectacular, doesn't lend for easy fitting in the pants department. I also have this problem where the length of my legs doesn't quite conform to standard sizing. A "regular" inseam usually measures 32", a little too short. "Long" inseams are typically 34" or longer... too long (if you can actually find long pants...). So as you can imagine, shopping for pants isn't usually a fun activity for me and I usually have to try on at least 10 pair of jeans (usually double that) before I find something that fits, and even then it's not a home run. So when I went to REI to find some new convertible pants (or Adventure Pants as Seth and I call them) I wasn't surprised when after trying on about 10 pairs, I still hadn't found one I was in love with. But, somehow on my way into the dressing room, I'd found another pair of adventure pants and thrown them on top of the pile. This was the last pair I tried on. And I loved them from the moment I put them on.

These Mountain Hard Wear pants are so amazing in so many ways. First of all, they fit me. Like a glove. Ample room for my butt and thighs without being tight. No gaping at the back. And get this... their regular inseam length must be 33" because they were long enough to cover my boots without being slouchy and sloppy. WOOHOO!! They have 2 snaps and a zipper to close as well as a drawstring to give that extra tightness if needed... thus eliminating the need for a belt. The fabric is super light and stretchy so it moves really well while hiking. And as is a common problem with adventure pants, the zipper at the knee doesn't rub when I bend my leg. The pants have 2 zipped cargo pockets, easily unzipped and zipped with one hand. I would like to have had the two hand pockets at the top, but I can overlook that because of all the other amazing traits. I can't recommend these pants enough.

Several years ago Seth and I each bought his and hers Danner 453 GTX boots to wear for our more serious hiking excursions. While Seth has always really liked his, mine just never seemed to cut it. My ankle area/lower calves are not dainty like most women and my feet are really wide. While the Danners were plenty wide enough, the back of the boot was too high and always hurt the back of my leg, especially when walking downhill. The boots were also too stiff, not allowing them to conform to my foot. I could never get them tight enough and when I did, it caused the pain on the back of my leg to worsen. The last straw was when I wore these on our 10 mile backpacking trip. My feet came away sore and blistered. All I wanted to do was take the stupid things off. They made the trip miserable. So when another backpacking trip was on the horizon, I made the demand that I HAD to get new boots beforehand. That's where these Keens come in.

I did a lot of research online before purchasing these. I was pretty sure this was the boot I wanted, but went into my local REI to try them on first, just to make sure they would work. I immediately loved these boots. They were really comfortable and fit my foot really well. The back of the boot didn't put pressure on my leg and there was a ton of room in the toe box for my wide feet. They were a little stiffer than a tennis-shoe type day-hiker boot, but not near as stiff as the hard-core backpacker boots available. The perfect mix. Add all that to the cute factor, and I was sold. But the true test would be in the hiking.

I hiked about 5 miles in these boots without even thinking about them. They provided great traction and my feet felt super comfy the whole time. No hot spots. No blisters. I actually LIKED wearing these and that's saying a lot. Now I haven't tested out the waterproof-ness or durability of these yet, but if all goes well, I'll be using these babies for years to come.


Rachel said...

If I ever get to go anywhere fun ever again, I shall certainly refer to your recommendations.

I giggled at the "bewbs" and your love/hate relationship with pants.

Also, have you looked into Levi's "curvy boot cut" pants? Apparently they're amazing for the bootylicious among us.

heidi said...

This has got to be one of your wittiest (and most informative!) posts to date. I enjoy your writing so much.

I know you and Paul shared backpacking culinary recommendations: I wanted to add my two cents' worth. I heartily enjoyed the "Oriental Chicken with Rice" and the "Pasta Primavera." Paul confirmed liking these, too. And I know he mentioned "Chicken and Dumplings" being good but needing extra work. (I've never done that work but I understand it primarily consists of having to make the dumplings in their own bowl and then clean that bowl.) I have very positive associations with that meal--my daddy LOVES it. I swear he'd eat it at home if it didn't cost so much!

Also Paul introduced me to a trick of his family's: bringing normal food that's dehydrated, like instant oatmeal. I added my own twist to this: COUSCOUS! Huge epiphany when I thought of bringing this: cheap and easy and so delicious. (I bring those boxes of variously spiced couscous... I think they sell them near Rice-a-Roni and such?)

Collette Smith said...

I DO love your product reviews, Karen!