12/29/15

Simblissity LevaGaiters Review

If you’ve been hiking you know the pain and suffering that can come from rocks, sand, and stickers getting into your trail shoes; blisters, chafing, and ruined socks are common maladies. However there are a great number of low-to gaiters known as scree gaiters that are designed to block all that stuff and more, keeping your precious feet intact.

 

There are a number of different companies that make high quality scree gaiters with similar functions but a wide variety in their designs. Most common features include an arch strap that wraps around the underside of your shoe and/or a need for a Velcro on the back of your heel to keep the gaiter down. The Simblissity LevaGaiters use neither and they work great on dirt trails and river crossings.

 

Likes:

No straps/Velcro/extra work:

LevaGaiters are slightly stretchy and constructed in a magical way that makes them lay perfectly on your shoes without any need for Velcro or straps. The only adjusting you need to do is the first time you use them with a pair of shoes you adjust the length of the lace-hook stay to get optimal tension. I used these in sand, mud, and in river crossings and they stayed put, not letting any but the most tenacious pebbles into my shoes.

If you are hiking in snow or otherwise decide you want the strap there are steel eyelets for you to run some cord under your foot or use the accessory made by Simblissity.

Water resistant:

When walking through wet grass or mud it’s pretty common to get wet socks and shoes, but these babies are unbelievably resistant, I’ve done river crossings where they came out of the water totally dry, all the water just beads off.

Lightweight:

For long distance hiking people are very worried about weight, especially on your feet since you will expend so much more energy swinging that weight each step. A pair of these weighs in at a scant  1.8 oz.

Colors:

Most gaiters are boring black, these come in several natural colors like forest green or desert tan. I like that since I’m trying to reduce the visual pollution I contribute to the landscapes I visit.

 

Dislikes:

No accessory cord:

While you can buy the cord separately from Simblissity or fashion your own I would really like to see such a low-cost item just come free with the gaiters. When using these to cross snowfields in the early spring they tend to ride up without the cord, letting in chilly snow to melt in your shoes.

 

Best uses:

Hiking, Backpacking, Thru-hiking.

Honestly, I don’t put on my hiking shoes without a pair of scree gaiters on anymore, and I am always reaching for my LevaGaiters. I don’t want to deal with attaching Velcro to my shoe or replacing straps or cords. These work all the time, look good, feel good, and do the job great. I’ve taken them on river crossings, snow fields, desert hikes, and scrambles and they work great for it all. I always have the cleanest socks in the group at the end of a dusty, dirty day.

 

Cost Analysis:

Worth it. I think all hikers need a pair of great scree gaiters and these are pretty cheap, about $30. The cheapest pairs out there are maybe 15, however they usually are not water resistant and/or require installation of Velcro patches on the outside of your shoes. For the best all-around gaiters I always recommend LevaGaiters.

12/20/15

MSR Dragonfly Stove

The dragonfly is a top-shelf stove meant for some narrow applications that it does exceed at. I have owned my MSR Dragonfly for about 18 months now and I’ve used it on all kinds of trips: backpacking in the Wasatch, bike touring in northern Utah, canoeing the Green river, and car camping all over Utah and Colorado. I’m quite pleased with the stove but I have become aware of some serious shortcomings.

With a unique burner system and a highly variable burner control the MSR Dragonfly was designed and built for the backcountry gourmet. With a proper setup the stove can provide highly variable heat levels to allow simmering, boiling, and baking while using any of a wide variety of liquid fuels. The Dragonfly suffers from an inclination to burn food, higher weight, and a noise that sounds like a crop dusting plane flying over your campsite.

Dragonfly_stove

Features (from the MSR website)

  • Unrivaled Flame Control: We pioneered the dual-valve design of the Dragonfly stove, enabling it to deliver precision, simmer-to-boil control.
  • Extra Wide Pot Supports: Wide pot supports hold up to 10″ maximum diameter pots or fry pans for group cooking
  • Multi-Fuel: Burns white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, diesel, and jet fuel.
  • Compact: Folds to 1/3 of its working size and fits in a two-liter MSR pot for easy storage.
  • Efficient: Suspended burner cup enables the stove to burn hot and strong while reducing heat lost to the ground
  • Field Maintainable: Shaker Jet™ technology and smart engineering allow complete cleaning and maintenance in the field.
  • Includes: Fuel pump, windscreen, heat reflector, small-parts kit, instructions, and stuff sack. (Fuel bottle not included.)
  • Pack Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
  • Made In USA: Made in Cascade Designs Seattle Factories

Personal Experience

I took the dragonfly most recently on a four-day canoeing trip down the Labarynth Canyon section of the Green River. It was my first time on a multi-day river trip and I absolutely recommend it to anyone who hasn’t tried it. The Dragonfly performed admirably every morning to boil water in a flash and fry up hash browns and eggs. At camp each night the variable flame made simmering sauces and heating up meals simple. A few times we seriously burned food on despite frequent stirring and low heat. This was apparently from the stove’s tendency to focus heat on dime-sized points arranged in a circle around the burner cup [insert picture].

I am a confident backcountry chef with no qualms about bringing a bag of staples like flour, lentils, cheese, and spices to simply figure it out as I go. However, my cook group preferred the WhisperLite stove we had on hand for the reduced noise and better heat distribution. This was an option for them because their meals were simple enough to not require simmering, aka dirtbag meals.

At the end, no one but myself and the trip leader, an accomplished river runner, wanted to use the dragonfly. My conclusion is pretty simple: the dragonfly isn’t for everyone.

Likes

This stove gives control and pot stability unlike any other that we have tested. The flame can be adjusted from the size of a pilot light to a thundering fire that is hot enough to warp steel pans if left unattended. This wide range allows for a chef to make sauces that require simmering for a long time, as well as the ability to just boil water quickly for a quick breakfast. The boil times are a touch slower than the nearly ubiquitous Whisperlite by a matter of seconds. Best of all, when if paired with a heat diffuser the stove can do a marvelous job baking because pan rotation is so easy on such a stable platform.

The stove is also capable of burning just about any liquid fuel you’re likely to find in your travels: diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, white gas, and good old unleaded gasoline. Very handy for disaster preparation as well as traveling in foreign countries.

Dislikes

Easily the worst part of this stove is the noise. It’s awful, it’s loud, it makes conversation hard even outside. If cooking under shelter you may need to use hand signals it gets so loud. The stove also concentrates its heat in a small circle and can easily burn food that is not stirred often. For a reference point: the heat is so focused on a small area that when we boiled a gallon of water the steel pan was permanently warped.

Another thing that’s really annoying is how short and stiff the fuel line is. The line is packed solid with some substance that presumably allows all those various fuels it can burn to pass through. The problem is that the fuel line is very stiff from that substance. This stiffness, combined with being so short, makes the fuel bottle tend to hug the burner in an annoying way.

Best Use

The Dragonfly is a touch heavier, 4 oz, than a Whisperlite so backpackers may want to think about how much flame control they need on a trip before taking it on any multi-day routes. Also consider that you may want to bring a heat diffuser so the weight grows further. The stove is absolutely suited for places where weight is a lesser concern: river trips, bike touring, horse-packing, base camps, and big groups.

Cost analysis

As of this writing the Dragonfly runs about $130. That is nearly double the cost of a basic backpacking stove. The benefits gained, heat control, are worth the cost for some few people. Most consumers, however, would be better served by a basic stove.

Purchase the stove here at Backcounty, Campsaver REI 

 

12/7/15

Sealskinz Knee Length Sock Review

Summary:

Like many backpackers, I had always knew of Sealskinz but never really knew about them. All I knew was: waterproof socks. I heard some mediocre reviews of how they kept feet dry during events like adventure races; More often I heard terrible reviews along the lines of “expensive, baggy garbage sacks for your feet.”

I am here to tell you the truth, and the truth is that the bad reviews are all dead wrong.

Those people describing bad and mediocre products are probably referring to early generations of the product or cheap knock offs. These socks would probably been worth their weight in gold on expeditions 80 years ago. The new stuff is of the highest caliber: nylon outer, merino wool inner lining, and a waterproof, breathable membrane in the middle that stretches with the sock. You read that correctly: the Sealskinz socks stretch and fit as well as a good merino hiking sock.

I had the chance to test some knee-high Sealskinz socks out while hiking the Paria river, a 38-mile, 5-day trip with about 100 river crossings. I can say with the utmost confidence that they are indeed waterproof, breathable and absolutely amazing.

 

Likes:

Waterproof. That’s the most amazing thing I can say about a knee-high sock in a calf-high river of snowmelt. The waterproofness in a river-crossing means no soggy feet, no chafing, no sand in my toes, and no cold current whisking away the warmth in my second favorite extremities. It also means that in between those desert river crossings my cold, wet shoes feel like a million-dollar A/C unit for my normally sweaty feet.

It’s hard to overstate how amazingly comfortable it is to have dry feet during river crossings; you have to try it to believe it. Even during the times the water was well above my knees and the tops of the socks the snug elastic tops kept most of the water out.

Warm. In a pretty thin sock the waterproof layer provides a great deal of comfortable warmth without being sweaty (at least while wet). On the second morning my group hiked up the famous Buckskin Gulch slot canyon where we were going upstream in 33-degree waterflow up to our calfs. After 4 minutes everyone in the group turned back because they were so cold while I was able to explore further up one of the most iconic locations in the southwest.

I wouldn’t recommend the model I was wearing for situations where you would expect sweaty feet. They do breathe, more on that below, but if the exterior isn’t wet the insides of the socks can get pretty toasty in a desert climate.

Fast Drying. Despite submerging the socks completely on thigh-high river crossings I was always  able to dry them out overnight. Even soaking the inside and outside I could simply turn the sock inside out, squeeze the water out, hang it up and have a dry (interior) sock by morning.

 

Dislikes:

Breathable:” This is a minor gripe given the nature of all waterproof products but it should be mentioned. When you put the sock on it puffs out like the garbage sacks the naysayers say it is. However, give it a few seconds and the air escapes and the sock fits like any other.

Waterproof: The problems with waterproof stuff is that it works both ways. I would often have what felt like a gallon of water sloshing around in my sock. In reality it was always more like a few tablespoons since the elastic tops kept most of it out.

Expensive: The model I used, the knee-high, runs for about $58. Even considering how nice they are that is a hard investment to make for a backpacker.

Best Use:

Sealskinz makes socks in all the different heights and weights from no-show up to knee-high with all different levels of insulation, so there are a wide variety of uses. I’ve leard of runners using the no-shows to keep their feet dry when running in wet grass or muddy trails and I’ve seen other hikers in Utah use the crew socks as a warm sock with wetness-insurance when snowshoeing. The best uses are limited to your imagination.

For my specific model, the knee-high, I would recommend them for cases where either a lot of water will be around, as with the trip I took, or where you can’t afford to be wet, as with skiing. Really, they’re like any other nice merino sock but with a waterproof layer.

Cost analysis:

Sealskinz are completely worth it to keep your feet intact. As a long-distance backpacker, I can’t over-protect my feet from injury or blisters and a pair of waterproof socks is a great tool to do that. I think if you’re considering buying them you should go for it – you won’t regret it.