Gadling Gear Review: REI Kimtah Rain Jacket And Pants

REI's Kimtah JacketWhether you’re hiking a local trail or trekking through the Andes, nothing can ruin your day more quickly than a sudden and unexpected rainstorm. Worse yet, being wet and cold on a trail, hours from shelter can be a recipe for disaster. That’s why it is so important to have a good set of rain gear in your pack at all times. The Kimtah jacket and pants from REI make a near-perfect combo for travelers facing the possibility of inclement weather where ever they go. Both offer great performance in a highly packable and lightweight package, although their price tags may be a deterrent to some.

In the world of outdoor gear, clothing that is both waterproof and breathable is somewhat akin to the Holy Grail. For years companies have tried to create fabrics that can keep the foul weather out while allowing moisture from within to easily escape as well. By their very nature waterproof fabrics tend to be on the warm side, which can cause the wearer to sweat underneath. Early attempts at waterproof fabrics managed to keep the rain out, but the person wearing them would get so hot and sweaty that it almost didn’t matter.

With that in mind, REI has employed a relatively new fabric known as eVent, which was designed to overcome the previous problems with non-breathable fabrics such as older versions of Gore-Tex. After putting the Kimtah jacket and pants through their paces in the warm Texas spring, I can say that the company has honestly made great strides in creating clothing that is comfortable to wear in a variety of weather conditions. I wore both of these pieces of gear in temperatures that ranged from around 50 degrees Fahrenheit all the way up to the upper 80’s, and while there was a noticeable difference in warmth inside, particularly when hiking a more physically demanding trail, I didn’t become nearly as hot and sweaty as I did with other rain gear in the past. That can make all the difference in your level of comfort and enjoyment while traveling.REI's Kimtah PantsAs impressed as I was initially with this rain gear, I really had the opportunity to put it to the test last week when a series of thunderstorms rolled across the Austin area on successive days. One evening it was raining so hard that some parts of town were getting as much as six inches an hour and marble sized hail was reported throughout the area. While most of my friends and neighbors smartly stayed huddled inside their homes, I donned my Kimtah jacket and pants and wandered out into the darkness to see how they would really perform. Amidst 50+ mile winds and horizontal rain, I was happy to find that I was comfortably warm and dry inside my gear. If this rain suit can manage to fend off those conditions, I had little doubt that it would perform well just about anywhere.

REI put a lot of thought into the design of the Kimtah jacket and pants. Both are generously cut, which helps to accommodate layers underneath without bulking up. They feature large, zipped pockets for keeping small items dry and close at hand, and the jacket even has an interior pocket with an earphone port, making it a great place to store a cell phone or iPod. Both are rated as windproof for up to 60 mph and both allow for unrestricted movement while on the go. The fact that these pants and jacket are also thin, lightweight and highly packable is just icing on the cake for backpackers and travelers.

All of these features and functions put the Kimtah jacket and pants squarely in the high performance outdoor gear category and as such they are priced accordingly. The jacket costs $239 while the pants will set you back an additional $189. Backpackers and other outdoor enthusiasts are likely to find that to be a reasonable price to pay for gear that can take a beating and keep on performing at a very high level, but many travelers will find the price tag a bit high for their tastes.

Personally, I feel that REI’s offerings are worth every penny, as you not only get top of the line performance, but a durable product that will last for years. Yes, there are less expensive options on the market, but you’re likely to have to replace them sooner and they probably won’t offer the same level of performance. Those cheaper options may be suitable for day hiking or organized tours that aren’t particularly demanding, but for the traveler or outdoor enthusiasts who requires something more reliable, the Kimtah jacket and pants are a fantastic option that won’t let you down.

Gadling Gear Review: Keen Turia Sandals

Keen Turia SandalsShoe manufacturer Keen is well known for making comfortable and sturdy footwear for travelers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. Their catalog includes shoes for hiking, trail running and even cycling, all of which manage to remain both durable and stylish at the same time. Perhaps their most iconic offering is their line of sandals which continues to evolve and improve while retaining the core elements that have made them a favorite with many for years. This legacy continues with the new Turia Sandals which are a great travel shoe for warm weather destinations.

Lightweight and breathable, the Turia Sandal provides plenty of coverage for the foot while remaining comfortably cool even in the warmest of environments. A synthetic mesh wraps the top of the foot while a closed-toe design proves to be both protective and pragmatic for travelers visiting demanding locations. The shoes use a zip lacing system that holds them snugly in place for hours on end and an aggressive sole manages to provide solid traction on a variety of surfaces including those that are both slick and wet.

Sporting anti-bacterial fabrics, Keen has designed these sandals to be worn for days while still resisting odors, fungi and and stains. On top of that, they’re easy to keep clean and quick to dry, which is greatly appreciated on short summer escapes and extended journeys alike.

All of these features make the Turia an excellent choice for travelers who are looking for a versatile and comfortable shoe to take with them nearly anywhere. Their compact and flexible design make them easy to pack and their stylish good looks keep them appropriate for light hiking, visits to the beach or just kicking around town. In fact, that versatility is perhaps my favorite feature of these sandals, which were one of just two pairs of shoes that I took with me on a recent visit to the country of Jordan, where they proved to be equally adept at both trekking in the desert and visiting the beaches of the Red Sea.

As with all sandals, the open design of the shoe does allow for dirt, sand and small rocks to collect inside at times. This issue is further exacerbated by the closed toe on the Turia, which can prevent that debris from escaping, causing irritation on the foot and toes. While this is more of an issue with these type of shoes in general, and not a design flaw of the Turia itself, I did feel it was worth noting. While wearing these shoes, there were times when I needed to stop on the trail, pull them off and empty out the offending materials before continuing.

Available in four different colors, the Keen Turia is an excellent choice for travelers looking for a lightweight and versatile shoe to take with them on their next adventure. They are comfortable, durable and packable, which makes them a great option for just about any escape and with a price tag of $100 they remain affordable as well.

Gadling gear review: V-Moda Crossfade M-80 headphones

V-Moda Crossfade M-80 headphonesIn the age of MP3 players, smartphones and iPads we now travel with more technology than ever before. Those gadgets can come in very handy when we’re trying to pass the time on a long flight or when spending hours waiting at the airport. But one piece of gear that is often an afterthought is the headphones we use. Many of us are content to simply use the stock earbuds that come with our devices, but for better sound quality and enjoyment of our music, videos and other media, it is often worth investing in a better set of headphones such as the Crossfade M-80 from V-Moda.

When purchasing a pair of headphones there are two things that are of the utmost importance to me – sound quality and comfort. In the case of the Crossfade M-80, you get both of those wrapped up in a very nice, durable package that is perfect for travel. In terms of comfort, these on-ear headphones are great for extended use, although I did have to adjust to the feel, which is very different from over-the-ear or in-ear models. The memory-foam cushioning is soft and molds itself well to our ears over multiple uses. Better yet, it is great at isolating outside noises, which comes in very handy when you want to listen to your music over the engine noise of a plane.

Similarly, the M-80 headphones offer excellent sound across a broad audio range. The two speakers are surprisingly small but still manage to pump out high quality sound that includes solid basses and great high and low end tones as well. In fact, these headphones were so good I was actually picking up new elements in music that I had listened to many times in the past. That same excellent sound also carried over to videos and games on my iPad, which confirmed the M-80’s usefulness across a range of different media types.Unlike most other headphones, V-Moda has built the Crossfade out of metal instead of plastic. The company claims that this gives them “military-level” durability and it is hard to argue with that assertion. Designers have put the M-80 through a series of tests to help ensure that they are rugged enough to take the rigors of travel and continue operating at the high level that we expect. As a result we get a product that is head and shoulders above the competition in terms of durability. Whether we’re using these headphones on our daily commute or a round-the-world adventure, that is something we can all appreciate.

V-Moda has included a few extras that help make an already high quality package even better. A specially molded hard case helps protect the headphones even further and two different, interchangeable, audio cables provide compatibility with a variety of devices. One of those cables is specifically designed for use with Apple’s iOS devices while the other is more universal and works with Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry devices. Both cables provide an inline remote and microphone as well. These additions, which some competitors would charge extra for, are impressive and maintain the same level of quality that you find in the headphones themselves.

These headphones are on the higher end of the consumer spectrum and so is their price tag. With an MSRP of $230 they certainly aren’t for everyone. But if you appreciate great sound quality and want a set of headphones that can withstand the rigors of travel then V-Moda has you covered. The Crossfade M-80’s provide all of that and more in one compact package that is sure to impress. The company even offers a full two-year warranty as well as a 50% lifetime replacement option that helps protect your investment for years to come.

If you’re in the market for a new pair of headphones, or you’re finally ready to upgrade from the cheap pack-in earbuds that came with your device, the V-Moda Crossfade M-80 may be just what you’re looking for. The sound quality is fantastic and the build quality is even better. For travelers looking to extend the enjoyment of their other gadgets, I can’t think of a better complimentary addition than a pair of these headphones.

Gadling gear review: the new iPad

The new iPad from AppleIn what has become an annual rite of spring, Apple has released an updated iPad to much critical and financial success. The third-generation iPad, which hit stores last Friday, brings some excellent updates to the device, which has managed to become a true favorite with travelers over the past two years.

The list of improvements in the new iPad includes an amazing new screen, an updated processor and the option for 4G cellular data services for the first time. Each of those is a game changer on its own, but together they represent a dramatic improvement to a device that was already well ahead of the competition. Apple also saw fit to add more memory and a much-improved camera as well, which only helps to round out an already great refresh to the product line.

The most highly touted of these updates is easily the new display. Apple says that it has the highest resolution of any screen ever put into a mobile device and when you see it in action it is difficult to argue against that point. Images and colors pop off the screen like never before and the text on websites and e-books is sharp and clear. Reading on the new iPad is a joy and apps that have been updated to take advantage of the display are beautiful to behold. The “Retina Display,” as Apple has branded it, is so good that it is nearly worth the price of the upgrade alone.

In order to drive that new display, which has four times the number of pixels as the first and second-generation iPad, Apple had to develop a new processor with improved graphics capabilities. That processor allows the new iPad to continue operating as smoothly and quickly as we’re accustomed while still generating much more advanced 3D graphics and images. This is evident in all operations on the device although games are where we’ll most likely see the new processor flex its muscle the most — particularly once developers have had a chance to code their apps to specifically take advantage of the new graphics system.The one new addition that will likely be of most benefit to travelers is the option to add 4G data services to the device. Previous iPad models had a 3G data option and while it was great to have the ability to connect to the Internet while away from a Wi-Fi network, the speeds weren’t always great for doing anything more than checking email. 4G LTE service is a serious upgrade in speed, on par with many home Internet services, and it makes the iPad even more useful while traveling. Better yet, the tablet can now be used as a Wi-Fi hotspot, which allows the data connection to be shared with laptops and other devices as well. While testing out the new iPad with 4G, I was impressed with how fast it brought up YouTube videos, webpages and even movies on Netflix. The only downside is that 4G service isn’t available everywhere yet, which forces the device to fallback to 3G in those areas.

The iPad’s new camera is also a nice upgrade. With a 5-megapixel sensor the camera is now capable of taking high quality images and shooting video at 1080p quality. While the iPad wouldn’t be my first choice for use as a camera, it is at least a decent option now if it is the only device you have close at hand. More intriguing to me, however, is the ability to shoot HD video then edit it directly on the device using Apple’s revamped iMovie app. When finished, you can even upload it directly to YouTube without the use of a computer of any type. I haven’t had the chance to try this functionality out just yet but it really does open up the door for content creation on the tablet.

The new iPad isn’t without a few small issues of course. For instance, in order to power the new processor and screen, Apple had to use much larger power cells in order to maintain the same ten-hour battery life. They’ve managed to achieve that goal but the larger batteries have made the device slightly thicker and heavier than last year’s model, and recharge times have grown substantially as well. Additionally, the high-resolution screen is forcing many apps to improve their graphics and that is causing them to grow in size as well. As those programs continue to improve and upgrade, storage on the device could become an issue too. These are minor nit-picks for the most part, but definitely worth pointing out to would be buyers.

Speaking of which, all of these great updates to the iPad have many consumers wondering if they should upgrade or take the plunge on purchasing the device for the first time. Personally, I think that this is the best iPad yet, and by a considerable margin. If you’ve been toying with the idea of buying Apple’s tablet, now is the time to pull the trigger. Likewise, if you’re a first-gen iPad owner looking to improve performance, this is a more than worthy upgrade as well. On the other hand, iPad 2 owners will need to decide if they think it is worth the investment after purchasing their devices within the past year. My guess is that once they get a look at the screen, they’ll be convinced that this isn’t just a minor adjustment to the product line.

As someone who purchased the original iPad on the first day it was available, and was traveling with it just a few days later, I have found the device to be an invaluable travel companion. The ability to carry books, magazines, games, music and video on a single lightweight device with great battery life is a fantastic option. Add an Internet connection to the mix and you have a fantastic communications tool as well. The new iPad does absolutely nothing to diminish its value to travelers and the inclusion of 4G Internet and the improved display could actually make it more valuable. Either way, Apple has set the bar even higher with their latest device and the competition is continuing to play catch-up. Quite honestly, in terms of the tablet market, there is the iPad and then there is everything else, and the gulf between them just got bigger.

Gadling Gear Review: Heat Holders Socks

I suffer terribly from cold feet; it’s why I don’t cheap out on socks. It’s also why I have one of those electric heater mats on the floor under my desk (a gift from my mate who sometimes just nails the gift giving with weird yet supremely likeable prezzies). Socks are way low on the scale of glam gear down with quick-dry underwear and refillable three ounce bottles, but they’re essential, and having warm feet can really make the difference between a lousy day or a good one.

Because of my terminally chilly paws, I was keen to see if Heat Holders are any better than the merino brands that stuff my sock drawer (SmartWool, IceBreaker, Dahlgren, and Darn Tough Vermont) at keeping my feet warm. (I am a fan of good socks, you may have guessed.) The short answer? Well, sort of.

I have a strong preference for natural fibers, it’s a “less plastic stuff” thing. I’m not totally naive; I do know that sometimes, the synthetics are the way to go. I’m just not that keen to spend a couple of hours waxing a canvas raincoat because I want to go with heavy cotton over far superior modern materials like GoreTex or PolarTech. Heat Holders are an acrylic poly blend; there’s nothing particularly natural about them.

They feel fine, though. They have a deep pile fleecy inside, they’re kind of cuddly, furry, even, a little bit like the inside or your lambswool slippers. (No, I don’t have those. The husband does and they’re sweet.) Outside, they’re, uh, a little plastic-y. I’ve been spoiled by merino, which I tend to prefer. But it’s the outside of the sock, who cares?

Here’s my issue with these socks. They’re really bulky. All that fluffy really does work to keep your feet warmer, and they’re great for sleeping in. But I couldn’t get them in most of my shoes. I’m not totally sold on the idea that adding bulk is the best way to stay warm. I get it — loft is how you hold heat and the loft that these socks somehow manage to provide, even after a full day’s wear, works. They worked great in my wellies, which are a little big, but I couldn’t wear them with many of my other winter boots. I’m wearing mine around the house and with my rain boots out in the wet, but for travel? Nope, too bulky.

The marketing text on the elaborate packaging says that these socks are “seven times warmer than your basic cotton sock.” That’s probably true. But I’m not sure they’re seven times warmer than some of the wool or alpaca fiber socks I’ve got, and that’s a more useful comparison.
Heat Holders socks come in a few styles: stripey, long, and in a slipper sock. Their original sock goes for just just under $20.00.