Gadling Gear Review: Keen Emerald City Sandals For Summer

Keen Emerald City Ankle Wrap SandalI like my sport sandals a lot. I’ve tried a few different brands – Chaco, Keen, Ahnu – and truthfully, they’re all great for what they do. I’ve yet to develop a brand preference. But when you pair them with something dressier for those beach side cocktail hours, they still look like sport sandals.

Keen makes a whole line of sport sandals. I’m a fan of their footwear; it’s comfortable and sturdy. But they’ve got a new line that’s cuter and dresses up nicely, plus, they are comfortable enough for long walks. The Emerald City Ankle Wrap Sandal packs away nicely too, taking up less space in your bag than a pair of flip-flops.

I struggled with getting the straps wrapped correctly at first; if you go this route you’ll probably need to find the way that feels best for you. On my first wearing, I wasn’t sure at all that they would be comfortable. I knocked around the house in them for an afternoon before I was convinced. But after just a few hours and a few times fussing with the straps, I got them just right and hey, cute new sandals for traveling! Here’s to that.

The sandals are leather with a padded foot bed. You’re not going to want to go beach combing in them, as they’re not designed for water, but they’re perfect for those city picnics, museum dates and dressing up to go for umbrella drinks after your day at the beach. I’ve walked around my fine city in them and they lost that stiff new leather feeling almost immediately. The other Keen shoes I have are built to last – I’d expect nothing less from these sandals.

Shoes are, for me, the hardest part of the packing equation. I’m not a slave to fashion, but I like good shoes, and I see the value in the right shoes for the job. Lately, I try to limit myself to two pairs, but I want to take them all. I’m probably going to toss the Emerald City sandals in my bag for all my summer trips. They’re cute, lightweight and comfortable – all good qualities in a summer travel sandal.

Get them from Keen for $85.

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: Keen Harrison 15 messenger bag

Keen Harrison 15 Messenger bagWhen setting out on any trip these days, a good carry-on bag is one of the best items that you can have at your disposal. Considering we rarely leave home without our laptops, tablets, iPods, and various other gadgets, the ability to carry all of that gear comfortably and safely is a high priority. It doesn’t hurt if that same bag can help us quickly and easily navigate through airport security checkpoints while still managing to look good in the process.

The Harrison 15 messenger bag from Keen meets all of that criteria and then some. Designed from the ground up for travel, this bag has plenty of options that frequent fliers will definitely appreciate. It not only features two large compartments for carrying a laptop, iPad, or file folders, but also includes an interior mesh pocket and a larger exterior pocket located just under the lid. All of those storage options come in handy and are extremely helpful in keeping us organized while on the go. The bag’s wide shoulder strap allows travelers to carry large loads with aplomb, while its high quality zippers and Velcro fasteners keep interior items safe and secure as well.

Built from water resistant fabrics and sporting heavy duty buckles, the Harrison 15 is also designed to handle the rigors of day-to-day use without showing too much wear and tear. I’ve been using the bag on an almost daily basis for a number of weeks now, and it still looks like it just came off the rack. That speaks well for the overall build quality of the Harrison, which should prove to be a loyal and sturdy travel companion for many years to come.
Keen Harrison 15 messenger bag - interiorPerhaps the best feature of this bag is that it doesn’t require travelers to remove their laptops for inspection by airport security. The Harrison 15 conforms to new TSA specifications that allow computers to stay safely inside their protective sleeves while passing through the x-ray machine, keeping them well away from prying eyes or a potentially tragic fate on the airport floor. As someone who rarely travels without his laptop, this was a major selling point in favor of this bag. There is an undeniable sense of satisfaction that comes with breezing through security as quickly and effortlessly as possible, and the Harrison 15 can help accomplish that.

Traditionally I prefer to use a small backpack as my carry-on bag, but I found some nice benefits in going with the messenger style instead. For starters, it provided more convenient access to the various items stored inside the bag and kept everything well organized too. The shoulder strap design also provides hands-free access to the interior, which is much appreciated when juggling passports, boarding passes, and a cell phone while standing in line.

The Harrison 15 won’t completely replace my backpack however, as I found that it doesn’t carry larger loads quite as nicely as I’d like. For instance, while it was great for hauling my Macbook Air and iPad, along with other basic travel items, adding a DSLR camera to the mix made the bag overly bulky and less comfortable to wear. This may simply be a personal preference of course, but for me, the messenger bag was much better suited for lighter tasks.

That said, the Harrison isn’t just for travel. Commuters will find that it is an excellent bag for general day-to-day use and I’m sure that more than a few students will enjoy using it on campus as well. This is a durable and versatile bag that helps keep you organized and provides plenty of space to carry all of your gear. With a price tag of $110, it is an affordable option for someone looking for a high quality carry-on for their next trip, that can also pull double-duty while at home.

Gadling gear review: Keen Howser Wool Shoes

The Keen Howser slipper is a sleeping bag for your feet.Have you ever wondered what it would be like to wear a sleeping bag on your feet? That’s exactly how Keen bills their Howser Wool slippers, which are designed to be comfortable and warm, both at home or while out and about around town. The shoes more than live up to that billing and make an excellent option for travelers as well.

In designing the Howser Wool slippers, Keen incorporated recycled quilted felt on the outside and super-comfortable microfleece on the inside. The former gives the shoes a unique look that is all their own, while the latter plays a big part in making these slippers something you’ll want to wear everywhere you go. Of course, no shoe dubbed a “slipper” would seem like something you’d want to wear out in the elements, but the Howser’s rubber outsole gives them an unexpected ruggedness that makes them perfect footwear for all kinds of environments.

Travelers will appreciate that the Howser slippers are lightweight and very packable, making them a great choice whenever you’re hitting the road. Better yet, they are very easy to slip on and off, which is much appreciated when passing through TSA checkpoints at the airport. The fact that they are warmer than their weight would imply only adds to their versatility, and the memory foam footbed molds itself to your feet, making them more comfortable over time.

In my mind, Keen has built the perfect pair of casual shoes. After all, who wouldn’t want to wear a pair of comfy slippers all day long? I love how lightweight these shoes are, while still keeping my feet warm and dry in winter weather. Because of this fantastic combination of qualities, I find myself regularly slipping into my pair of Howsers without even thinking about it. Whether I’m running to the store to pick up groceries, or heading to the airport to catch a plane, these slippers have become a favorite option for footwear.

With a price tag of just $65, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more comfortable shoe for the money, and I think you’ll discover that it won’t take long for them to become one of your favorite pair of shoes too.

Lessons from a Year of Travel Gear

Truth: Writing gear reviews is fun. I get to play around with a lot of different toys, try on clothes that are polar opposites of what passes for my personal style, and most of the people I meet in the outdoor gear industry are great fun. They’re just like you and me; they like to travel and camp and be kitted out nicely while they’re doing it.

The tough part about being a gear head is that you actually have to try the stuff out to say anything meaningful about it. This means finding the right situation for that one thing in your review pile, putting on some shoes, and heading out into the world to get dirty. I’ve ruined some stuff this way and while it’s all in the purpose of research, it makes me feel kind of bad when something doesn’t hold up. I want to like everything, but I just don’t, and sometimes, maybe I like it but it’s just not good travel gear.

Through testing and laundering and using and carrying and schlepping every single thing I review, I’ve come to a few broad conclusions about what works and what doesn’t. As this year closes and next year’s new stuff starts to appear in my review pile, I’ll share with you my lessons of this year in travel gear.

It’s got to be able to survive the washing machine. Yeah, I know it says dry clean or hand wash only. It doesn’t matter, everything I test goes into the laundry. I ruined a really nice cashmere blend sweater from Horny Toad because I washed it. I’m bummed, but if it can’t survive the laundry, it can’t survive my travels. Cashmere, you are staying home.It’s got to be wearable for the duration of a long haul flight. I don’t care how hot those boots make you look or that you can’t wear that top without that one bra. You have to be able to survive the indignities of coach in it for 10 hours without suffocating or screaming “Get it off me! Just get it off me!” Whatever it is, it can’t bind, be itchy, be too tight, cause your extremities to swell… you get the drill.

It’s got to fit in the overhead bin. If it can’t be carry on, it’s not going. Oh, I’ve checked a bag (then prayed for its safe arrival) but I want to know that if I have to carry it on, I can. I avoid any luggage that’s too big to take on the plane. Aside: I’ve got to be able to heft it up there myself, too. Sure, I can often find help, and people take pity on me because I’m short. But I need to be able to haul my own gear.

I’ve got to want to take it along. I’m looking at you, TSA approved luggage locks, weird camera mounting system, and a few other odds and ends kicking around the office in the “to be reviewed” pile. If I’m not excited about it from the get go, I’m probably never going to be.

You have to try it on in the store, then order online… mostly. Sizing is all over the place. I think I’m a pretty standard medium. Columbia Sportswear thinks I’m a large. (They’ve never ridden the bus I take downtown, clearly.) Sometimes you get lucky, other times, you hope you’ve chosen a company with a generous returns policy for their online shopping.

If I’ve totally ruined it in the test, I did my job. Turns out bug repellent totally eats the plastic those packing cubes are made of, go figure. If I broke a zipper, it means that the hardware isn’t up to snuff. Busted seams, torn fabrics, dirt stained fabrics… that’s the stuff. If I manage to really drag something through the wringer and am still packing it, I know I’ve got top notch gear in my hands.

You absolutely have to try the stuff out to know if it’s any good. I got my hands on a couple of things that I really loved this year. The Keen McKenzie hybrid sandals, a terrific roller bag from Gregory (you can carry it as a backpack and it’s tough, too), SmartWool base layers, to name a few. But I know I like this stuff because I’ve used it over and over and over again, three four trips out.

You can’t have too many pairs of really good socks. You can, however, have too much polar fleece.

I’m looking forward to see what stays in my bag for whatever adventures 2012 throws my way. And I’m curious — what’s your favorite piece of gear from 2011? Anything you think I should check out?

Photo: By Smath. via Flickr (Creative Commons)