Gift Guide for Cold Weather Adventurers

Tis the season to give (and okay, get) good gear. And in the northern hemisphere, tis this season to not give up on playing outside, on traveling even though it’s cold and rainy or cold and snowy or just plain cold. Help the cold weather adventurer on your gift list by giving gear that extends the season. Here are a few picks, all field tested by Gadling gear heads, that make adventures easier when temperatures drop.

Vacuum mug: You’ve got dozens of these kicking around the house too, but how many of them keep your drink hot for four hours, or more? Stanley’s vacuum mug is the bomb. Not only does it keep your coffee at tongue burning temps, it’s nearly impossible to spill, it’s designed to fit in the water bottle cage on your bike, it’s got a grit guard for street spray, it’s top notch. Bike commuter, cross country skier on your list? Get them this. About $26.00.

Warming insoles: Warm feet go a long way towards having a great day out in the cold. No matter how great my shoes, how excellent my socks, I still get cold feet. I really dislike those throwaway single use chemical warmers. There’s an alternative. Thermasoles heated insoles are rechargeable and last for about eight hours, a full day of playing outside. Your giftee might think they’re dorky at first, but one use in wet and cold and oh, it’s all gratitude. About $99.00.

Merino wool underwear: My all purpose packing list includes merino wool long underwear, regardless of climate and destination, great outdoors or urban winter. There are a bunch of brands, SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker… I’m not brand loyal, but I am materials loyal. Get merino for your beloved (or yourself) and you’ll have a base layer that lasts for many years. Between $75.00-$100.00 per piece and totally worth it.Snowshoes: Your hiking friend gets cranky when snow curtails the season? Put them back at the trail-head with a pair of snowshoes. There are dozens of brands — look for bindings that are easy to work in gloves and cleats that won’t get choked with snow and ice. I like MSR’s Lightning line and the recreational snowshoes from Crescent Moon. Up to about $200.00.

Down sweater: When you add a down sweater to a rain proof shell, you get to extend your temperature range to “Man, it’s cold out!” Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line is a great choice and not too shockingly priced. Patagonia makes a pullover version that packs into a tiny stuff bag, that’s a bit pricier. A great gift for travelers in transitioning seasons, a down sweater takes up very little room in the pack. From $85.00-200.00, depending on the brand.

Great winter boots: I’m crazy for my Bogs, they’re great for stomping around in the snow or on cold beaches, they keep my feet warm and dry. Teva makes super cute insulated boots that are great for city wear in cold or wet places. If your giftee is more of the back country kind, try Keen’s Summit Country, recommended and field tested by fellow Gadling gearhead Kraig Becker. Up to $200.00

Four season sleeping bag: If the adventurer in your life doesn’t quit camping when the seasons turn to snow, a good winter bag is something they want — need, really, so they sleep warm when they’re sleeping out. GoLite’s Adrenaline Four Season Mummy was also field tested by Kraig (on Everest, no less) and he swears by it. $475.00

Photo: Snowshoeing in Altaussee, Austria. Courtesy of Nerd’s Eye View

Young climber falls to his death in the Adirondacks

Climbing in the Adirondacks turned deadly last weekA young climber by the name of Matthew Potel was leading a group of college classmates on a hike through the Adirondacks last week when he slipped and fell to his death. Potel, who was the co-president of his university’s outdoors club, was assisting two other hikers past a waterfall when he lost his footing on slick rocks.

The seven-person group, all from Binghamton University in New York, were climbing up Trap Dike, a popular route on Mount Colden, when the accident occurred. That approach is a steep and challenging, non-technical, climb to the top of the 4715-foot peak that can present some challenges to inexperienced hikers. Potel reportedly helped one of his classmates negotiate a particularly tricky section, then turned to assist another when he lost his footing and fell 25-feet. The 22-year old, who was not wearing a helmet, died from an injury to his head.

Potel was an experienced outdoorsman who loved the Adirondack Mountains. In fact, he had recently become a member of the “46ers,” a term given to anyone who has climbed all 46 of the mountains in that range that are at least 4000 feet in height. He had also served as a camp counselor and was majoring in environmental studies.

This is a sad story that underscores the importance of safety in all of our outdoor endeavors. Matthew wasn’t climbing an especially tall or dangerous mountain, and yet he still lost his life while on the trail. According to his father however, this is exactly how the young man would have wanted to go – doing something he loved.

Our condolences to his friends and family.

New Mid-Layers from Triple Aught Design

Can you have too much polar fleece? I’m struggling with the answer to that question as I eye the gear that’s coming out for fall. I’ve got a lot of it, some of it quite old, as it seems to last longer than I expected it too. Even while I’m switching out a lot of my wardrobe for natural fibers, I’m looking at new polar fleece mid-layers with much better design than my old stuff.

I’ve been trying out hoodies from Triple Aught Design; one fleece, one wool. Packing a hoody is essential for this traveler; it’s perfect airplane wear and you need some kind of warm, versatile mid-layer when you travel.

The fleece version is the Valkyrie. It retails for over $200.00, a steep price tag when you’re used to getting your fleece as corporate swag like I am. It’s made from Polartec Wind Pro — that’s their breathable wind stop fabric. You’ll need a rain shell if it’s really wet, but for a little damp weather, it’s just fine.

The Valkyrie is covered in pockets — hand warmer pockets at the waist, biceps pockets on each side for your mp3 player or phone (with pass-throughs for your headset cables), and a key or lift ticket pocket on the left lower arm. There’s a pass through pocket in the back, too, There’s no interior wallet pocket, though — that’s what I’d add.

There’s a fitted hood — the shape is great and there’s some heavier weight stuff around the outside to help it keep that shape. When the zipper is all the way up, the tab tucks into a finished slot so it doesn’t scratch your face; a nice details. The underarms are vented with button holes rather than zips; kind of a nice change to the usual pit zips, plus, because the pockets are mesh lined on the inside, you can open them for venting. There’s a drawstring at the waist to keep the wind out.The truth? It’s a really nice mid-weight moderate weather sweater-type layer. It’s made in the US, and how many companies can you say that about? I’m struggling with the price tag, though, American made apparel or no. I did a little comparison shopping; the prices are comparable with other similar items made out of the same material. My sticker shock might be due to the fact that my older wind-stop fleece jacket is office swag.

I’m less stressed by the 159.00 price tag on the Artemis hoody, a streamlined merino wool version of the classic sweatshirt hoody. This thing looks great and feels great. The cut is super stylish, fitting, with a soft draping hood and thumb loops in the sleeves. You can absolutely wear this as a base layer in the outdoors, but it’s great on its own too. It comes in black or gray, so it’s appropriate as your evening formal hoody though you’ll be perfectly happy wearing it with those flannel jammies while you wander around with a cup of coffee in hand. The sweater bears a “Made in China” tag, that may explain the more mid-range pricing.

Triple Aught Design has a full line of outdoor gear — if the stuff I’ve been trying out is any indication, their clothing is cut quite nicely and they’ve got a keen eye for materials and detail. I kind of like their travel porn inspired Flickr feed, especially this one featuring their packs.

Want your own Triple Aught Design gear? Check their website.

Images courtesy of Triple Aught Design.

Apoc Neoshell Jacket from Westcomb

At the intersection of breath ability, waterproofing, and lightweight material lies the holy grail of outer wear. It’s the quest for that fabric that brought us Gore-Tex and Triple Point Ceramic and any number of branded fabric names.

Now there’s NeoShell by Polartec, a breathable waterproof fabric that claims to be “100% more breathable than the best waterproof breathable on the market in active conditions”. Westcomb, a Canadian outerwear company is using NeoShell for their not yet on the market Apoc jacket, and at first blush, it looks to be good stuff. Here’s a little more propaganda, directly from the NeoShell site:

Waterproof technology has remained about the same since the very first hard shell. Breathability is achieved through diffusion: moisture and heat create enough pressure that moisture vapor finally passes through the fabric.

Soft shells trade waterproofness for greater breathability by making use of convection: a constant exchange of air allows more moisture vapor to escape. Now, Polartec® NeoShell® delivers the best of both worlds.

I noticed the difference in weight right away — the Apoc is absolutely a few ounces lighter than my Goretex shell, I could feel it. The fabric is slightly softer, slightly smoother, it’s got a little bit more drape. The jacket folds up to very small; you can easily stuff it in your pack or suitcase.

There’s just one thing missing from this very nice jacket. I prefer two way zippers, that way you can open the jacket from the bottom, too. That’s all I’ve got for criticism — I like everything else, the feel of the fabric, the cut of the jacket, the sharp acid green color. Don’t want the green? You can get it in blue, gray, red, yellow, or black.

The rest of the Apoc jacket shows a really nice attention to detail. There are deep zippered pockets for your stuff. There’s a bicep pocket for your lift ticket or lip balm. There’s an inside pocket for your wallet and phone; it includes a pass-through for your headsets. All the seams are taped and lie flat. My favorite detail is that the collar is lined with a very light, fleecy material where it hits your face when it’s zipped all the way up.

Pair this jacket with a lightweight down sweater or shirt, and you are set for almost any weather. It’s not on retail racks yet, look for it as the the 2011 summer wanes.

The ten essentials of hiking and why you need them

The ten essentials of hiking that we shouldn't leave  home withoutHikers and backpackers are no doubt already familiar with the “Ten Essentials”, which is a list of important items that we should always carry with us when heading out on to the trail. The list has had several iterations over the years, but the original can be traced back to a Seattle based outdoor club in the 1930’s. The club, known as the Mountaineers, came up with the list of items that were most important to our survival while in the backcountry and over the years it spread to other outdoor enthusiasts across the country. Since those humble beginnings, the list has grown to almost mythic status, and while times may have changed, it is still as relevant today as it was when it was first created.

Here are the ten items that everyone should carry with them on a hike of an significance.

Navigation can be vitally important while in the wilderness and it is important, even in this day and age, that you have a good quality, and up to date, map with you when you hit the trail. Sure, a GPS can provide much of the same information, but any good outdoor enthusiast will tell you that you shouldn’t rely too much on those electronic devices. They can fail to get a signal under thick tree cover and when their batteries are dead, they are only useful as a paperweight for your map during a wind storm. It’s not enough to just carry a map with you however, you must also be able to read it properly too. That is an important skill that should be developed before heading too far off the beaten path.

Compass (or GPS)
Being able to use a compass is an important aspect of navigation as well and being able to use one properly goes hand in hand with being able to navigate with a map. A good compass is inexpensive, small and lightweight and could potentially be a life saver if you ever become lost in the woods. That said, this is the 21st century, and despite what I said about GPS devices above, they are certainly a worthy addition to your pack, provided you don’t become too reliant on the device and also know how to use one properly. For instance, you can learn to conserve battery life by using your map to navigate and simply switching on the GPS from time to time to check your direction and plot a course. Personally, I’d recommend having both with you, but given a choice, the good ol’ reliable compass is your best bet.
Sunglasses and Sunscreen
Sunglasses and sunscreen are important for staying healthy and comfortable on the trail and are useful in all seasons, including winter. While we all understand how important protection from the sun can be during the warm summer months, the reflection of the sun off the snow in the winter is just as hazardous. Sunglasses can help prevent snow blindness and protect the eyes from flying debris or errand tree branches. Sunscreen keeps the skin from being fried by the suns ultraviolet light, but remember to apply it well in advance, as it isn’t much good after you’ve already been scorched.

Extra Clothing
This is one of those items that most people tend to forget about, but once again it can be a potential life saver. Carrying extra layers can help protect against hypothermia and allow for some versatility should weather conditions change unexpectedly or some odd accident occur. For instance, you could be hiking along a river bank, slip and fall in, and suddenly find yourself soaked to the core. Depending on the weather conditions, and the distance you need to hike back to safety, extra clothing could quite literally be the difference between life and death. Many climbers caught on a mountain during a freak storm have learned this lesson the hard way while others have survived because the brought seemingly unnecessary gear with them on their trek.

Don't leave home without the ten essentials of hiking!First Aid Kit
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but it is surprising the number of people who hit the trail without even some simple band aids in their daypack. Your personal medkit will likely vary depending on the length and nature of the hike, but it should have, at the minimum, the ability to treat simple cuts, abrasions, insect bites, and burns. I personally have several different first aid kits of varying sizes that slip into my pack on a moments notice when I’m heading out on an adventure that is more than a couple of hours in length.

Having a source of illumination may be the last thing on your mind when you start out on a hike in the bright morning sun. But once again, unforeseen consequences could prevent you from making it home before dark, and if that should happen, you’ll be glad you packed a light to help find the way. A headlamp works best as it leaves your hands free to help guide you along in the dark or to carry other things, but a flashlight will do nicely in a pinch as well. Modern lights are efficient, bright, and inexpensive. Add a small one to your pack and chances are you won’t even notice that it’s there, but you’ll be glad it is should the need arise.

Matches (or Lighter)
Depending on weather conditions, the ability to start a fire could potentially save your life. Bring either a set of matches or lighter along on your hike just in case. If you do bring matches, be sure they are either the waterproof variety or stored in a good waterproof container, lest become useless in a sudden rain storm. The ability to start a fire might not be just for warmth however, as it can be used to signal a search party as to you whereabouts should you become lost or injured in the backcountry.

Matches or a lighter are only part of the equation when it comes to building a fire, as you also need something that can help you quickly and easily ignite whatever it is you’re burning. Once a match is struck, the best firestarters will burn easily and for more than a few seconds, while providing plenty of heat to get things going. There are a number of good firestarters available, including dry tinder but one of the best that I recommend is a few cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly. This is an easy, cheap, and very lightweight solution that also happens to be highly effective.

A knife has always been an a very versatile tool to have with you on any extended hike. They can be used to shave wood for the fire, cut through cloth or rope, perform minor field surgery, or even slice the evening meal. Modern multitools, such as the Swiss Army Knife, can do all that and a lot more thanks to the fact that they often incorporate multiple blades, screw drivers, cork screws, scissors and more. Those tools can be used to repair gear on the go and offer more options for when those unexpected occurrences crop up once again.

Extra Food and Water
Finally, you should never head out on to the trail without bringing some extra food and water along with you. Even if it means simply throwing a couple of energy bars or an extra sandwich in your pack, you may be glad you have them should your day on the trail extend longer than expected. Hydration packs and good water bottles have made it easier than ever to bring plenty of water with us as well, but you may also consider packing some kind of water treatment option too. A bottle of iodine tablets can make most water drinkable, even if it doesn’t help the taste or a device like the Steripen Traveler, can be invaluable in this area too.

So there you have it it. The classic list of the ten things you shouldn’t leave home without on any hike. There are a few other recommendations that could be added, such as insect repellent or an emergency blanket, as well, but this is the list in its purest form, and the one that most hikers and backpackers follow when preparing for their next trek. Perhaps you’ll consider each of these items carefully before preparing for your next trek too.

What other “essentials” do you put into your pack?