Category Archives: ProGearReview

posts transfered over from progearreview

Colorado: Indian Peaks Wilderness

This is a video of a backpacking/mountaineering trip I went on a couple years back in The Indian Peaks Wilderness area in Colorado.  Enjoy!

 

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Patagonia Mens Simple Guide Pants review

Material: Stretch-woven polyester (w/ DWR treatment)

Features: Elastic waistband with draw-cord, 2 zippered side pockets, 1 zippered thigh pocket, gusseted crotch, articulated knees, reverse fly zipper, cuff securing tabs

Cost: $99


I’ve wanted to do a review of the Patagonia Simple Guide pants for quite a while now.  I realized that I don’t have a single review concerning pants – this was the catalyst.

On to the review.  The Simple Guide pants are a light-weight, technical softshell pant that will perform in a variety of conditions.  They have well-designed features and an athletic fit that makes them a great choice for almost any outdoor pursuit.

Climbing The Yellow Spur in Eldorado Canyon SP

I’ll start off by saying that I REALLY like the material that Patagonia chose for these pants.  It is surprisingly light-weight, stretchy, and very comfortable.  Breathability is stellar while durability is fair.  Initially water resistance was sufficient but with any regular use, the DWR treatment wears off quickly and will need to be re-applied for continued weather resistance.  Getting back to durability, after 3+ years of use there are no holes, all seams are intact including the welded thigh pocket, and the zippers still function like new.  There is apparent wear on the seat of the pants from glissading, rock climbing, and sitting that has led to faster water absorption.  Bottom line, even when new, don’t expect to stay dry with continued contact with snow or water.  But don’t look at this as a failure – these are light-weight softshell pants, they should only be expected to shed minimal precip at best.  They do however dry very quickly, off-setting the fact that they will get wet easily.

Pockets are on the smaller side, leaving room for small essentials like a compass, lip balm, small camera, or car keys.  Having zippers on all of the pockets helps to keep your items from falling out while climbing, skiing, or hiking.

Out for an early Winter trail ride

The articulated knees, gusseted crotch, and stretch of these pants allows for a wide range of movement (think figure 4’s, high-stepping, and other acrobatic feats of alpinism).  Keep in mind that these have a slim fit and some folks may want to size-up to feel comfortable (unless you like the slim euro look).  The reverse zippered fly is a nice feature, zipping up to open.  This gives you easier access to your ‘delicates’ while wearing a climbing harness.  The cuff tabs have small metal grommets so you can attach your pants to your boots with a piece of cord.  I have never used this feature and don’t really see the point (unless you are performing some extremely acrobatic movements and your pant legs start to ride up?).  The newest version of these pants has a separating waist with a button.  My pants don’t have this feature but it has never been a problem.

All things considered I think these pants are a great buy at $99.  Patagonia has a great warranty to back up their products (in case these didn’t perform well).  Some great thought and design went into creating these versatile pants.

 

Rab Alpine Trek Pants review

Material: Polyamide softshell fabric w/ cordura reinforcements (knees, seat, instep)

Features: Built in belt, multiple pockets (thigh, two side, one back, all zippered), articulated knees, reinforced inseam, UPF 50+

Cost: $80

The guys across the big blue pond know a thing or two about quality gear.  Rab is a UK company that I am coming to appreciate more and more for their well-designed, versatile, and quality items.  I personally dig the ‘techy’ appearance of their gear, allowing function to dictate form (but their stuff looks good too doesn’t it?).  And while I don’t own any super-expensive clothing items (except for stuff that I’ve managed to get for less then retail), I think Rab is appropriately priced for what you get.  After owning the Baltoro Alpine softshell jacket from Rab, I expected that anything else they made would be of similar quality.  I was right.

Getting on to the topic of this review, the Alpine Trek Pants – so far I’m happy with my purchase.  I decided to buy these as a multi-use pair of pants for any outdoor activity.  Based on their design I think they will be most useful for hiking and seem versatile enough to do other things as well.  From the description of Rab’s website I assumed these would be a little stretchier, one of the key defining characteristics of think of when I think ‘softshell’.  I was slightly surprised when I received these pants in the mail (ordered them online) because they have a distinctly nylon feel with very little stretch.  I was a little disappointed that they weren’t what I was picturing although I had never bothered to find a pair at a local retailer prior to ordering them.  Oh well, I decided to try and keep an open mind.

One of the other things about these pants that surprised me on initially receiving them was how light-weight they are.  The polyamide ‘softshell’ material feels exactly light some light-weight nylon hiking pants from Mountain Hardwear that I own.  In addition, when I read the description of these pants noting the ‘Cordura reinforcements’ on the seat, knees, and instep, I imagined a super burly, rough nylon material (similar to ski pants maybe?).  While these reinforcements are more ‘durable’ feeling then the rest of the pants, they are also light-weight.

So my initial assumption of what these pants were going to be was incorrect.  Even though these aren’t exactly what I had in mind, I’m still happy with them.  My initial test was taking my dog for a hike at Settler’s Park down in Boulder.  Temps were in the 60’s with a 10-20mph breeze (would have gotten a more comprehensive and accurate weather report but I haven’t received my Kestrel yet!).  Settler’s Park is pretty much all up-hill from the parking lot (Red Rocks trail).  I busted up the trail without taking a break, until I reached the high point.  Usually I work up a descent sweat on the ascent but I was pleasantly surprised by the breathability of the Trek pants.  No sweatiness, very comfortable.  I was also happy with the wind-blocking ability of the pants and was surprised that I didn’t get overheated wearing pants, hiking in 60 degree temps.

The Alpine Trek pants have some other notable qualities worth mentioning.  First – the waist and fit.  When I initially pulled these out of the box they looked huge (size small).  Upon putting them on I realized that the fit was just right – not too lose and baggy but with enough room to move and not feel restricted.  The waist has elastic built into the sides to help the pants fit snug without having bunched-up material around the fly area.  As I mentioned before, the pants have a built-in belt which works well and is not bulky like a leather belt.  Finally, they are rated at UPF 50+, offering great protection from UV.  This is a worthy design feature if you are planning on spending significant time at high altitude where the suns rays are stronger and more likely to give you a sunburn.

Finally I will mention the main limitation I see with these pants.  Because of the light-weight nature I wouldn’t recommend using them for rock climbing or any activity where they might see significant abrasion.  I may be wrong but the materials seem like they wouldn’t hold up very well on rock, and at $80, I am in no hurry to trash these pants by ripping holes in them.  If you want a light-weight, quick drying, comfortable pair of pants for hiking, trekking, or camping, the Alpine Trek pants will fit the bill.  I’m happy with them and looking forward to putting them through their paces in the backcountry this summer.

 

Two days in the Lost Creek Wilderness

Granite towers!!

Start/Finish:  Goose Creek TH

Route:  Goose Creek Trail to McCurdy Park Trail to Lake Park Trail to Hankins Pass Trail

Mileage:  15.5mi (appx.)

Highlights:  Enormous pink granite domes and spires, caves, historic structures, Rocky Mountain Bristlecone Pines, alpine parks (open meadows nestled in valleys), secluded stands of Aspen.

 

I got back yesterday and my legs are still tired, guess skiing didn’t get me in hiking shape like I anticipated.  After trying to plan an outing for quite some time, I found two days in a row to take a trip down to the Lost Creek Wilderness.  My friend Jason had been praising it for quite some time telling me how it’s a great early season hiking location due to the low amount of snow the area receives.  In addition to accessibility, the area features unique rock formations, huge domes, spires, splitter cracks (crumbly rock though), and house sized boulders.  A portion of the Goose Creek Trail follows Goose Creek (called Lost Creek also) as it winds through a narrow valley disappearing and re-emerging from the depths of huge piles of rock.  There are also secluded ‘parks’, open meadows bordered by aspen, nestled between ridges on both sides.

Hayman burn (a VERY small portion)

When I got home from work I was pleasantly surprised by a package from The Clymb.  I immediately knew that Dewbie would be my companion for this hike.  His dog pack from Mountainsmith (review to come later) had just arrived – perfect timing.  I wouldn’t have hesitated to carry his food and packable bowl, but I was excited at the prospect of lightening my pack just a little bit, while giving him something new to learn.  After putting his pack on and getting it adjusted properly, he just stood there and looked at me.  I knew it was going to take a little while for him to get used to his new gear.

Cave dog

I was also getting ready to test some new gear.  I have had a Granite Gear Vapor Trail backpack (that I also got from The Clymb) that I had received months ago but had never used.  Sure I’d used it for a couple day trips, but never with a full load and for multiple days.  Some other newer items that came with me were my AeroPress to make that coveted morning cup of coffee, Montbell travel chopsticks, and some Mountainhouse dehydrated meals.

He should be a Mountainsmith model

When I camp I am usually more then happy to prepare meals that are more complex them boiling water and pouring it in a bag.  I did however have some sample meals from Mountainhouse that I had been waiting to use on a trip just like this one.  To supplement the two dehydrated meals I also brought some Lara bars, Cliff bars, pepperjack cheese, chocolate, coffee, tea, and some Emergen-C packets.

 

Historic structures

The drive down to our trailhead took about 3 hours so we had packed the night before and got on the road by 5:30.  I always question my sanity when I am driving somewhere at 5:30am and I’m not going to work.  Ultimately the lack of sleep and early start are worth the solitude and spectacular scenery.  Before turning off the highway onto the Forest Service road that would take us to our destination we began to see portions of the Hayman fire scar.  Holy crap – I had heard of this fire being a Wildland Firefighter myself, but the scale of it had never been clearly obvious.  Over 130,000 acres burned, most of it nuked, nothing left.  The last 45 minutes of my drive was in or within view of the burn.

Finding Goose Creek trailhead was fairly easy and there was ample parking.  Upon arriving I gave Dewbie his breakfast and got his pack loaded up.  Strapping it on produced that same look on his face, I laughed a little, “you’ll get used to it,” I told him.  As we started our hike, the trail descended through a portion of the burn, down into the drainage to meet up with Goose Creek.  Towering snags loomed all around us and I was thankful that there was no wind.

Funny tongue

The first mile or so of our hike followed the water with the occasional campsite located just next to the creek.  Then we began ascending into the hills above the water.  Through the trees we would catch glimpses of the rocky terrain we were hiking towards.  Dewbie began to find his stride with the saddle bags that hung on either side of him although he never really got used to the extra clearance he needed, constantly bumping into logs, trees, and rocks.

The further into our hike we got, the greater the view.  Towering domes and towers were visible on the opposite side of the creek.  After having spent so much time in the mountains West of Nederland,

 

View from Refrigerator Gulch

this new landscape looked alien.  We came to a sign on the side of the trail that read ‘historic structures’.  I almost passed them up but seeing how early it was, we decided to hike down and have a look.  We descended to some cabins that were originally housing for people working to construct a dam to harness the power of Goose Creek.  They didn’t succeed.  We followed the trail a bit further and came to the ‘Shaft House’.  All that is left is actually some sort of motor/winch-looking thing.  It made a nice seat for us to enjoy a snack.

The rest of the afternoon we gradually ascended, staying above the creek the majority of the time.  We hiked through Aspens and rock outcroppings eventually descending into Refrigerator Gulch.  The hike in was steep as was the hike out.  In the bottom of the gulch was one of the cooler sights – a cave with Lost Creek (Goose Creek) flowing out.  There were nice looking campsites here but we wanted to camp higher.  We continued on (after some tough route-finding).  The rest of the day got a little tiring lots of uphill – the higher we got, the more snow we encountered.  By the end of the day we were post-holing (and cursing) on every step.  We eventually reached a nice level spot in a small meadow and called it quits for the day.  

Dewbie getting comfortable w/ the tent

This is why it’s called Lost Creek

After dinner out of a pouch (and a good one!) I enjoyed a couple cups of tea and Dewbie and I tucked in for the night.  This was his first experience sleeping in a tent and although he was a little apprehensive to get in, he got comfortable with the idea of having shelter.  The temperature dropped into the 20’s and I woke up to Dewbie shivering next to me.  After covering him with some of my extra layers and playing big spoon I tried to get some more sleep.

Sunrise came too soon, as it usually does when you are comfortable in your sleeping bag trying to get a few more minutes with your eyes shut.  Breakfast helped us warm up.  Hot coffee from my AeroPress tasted pretty damn good (that thing makes great coffee at home too!).  After packing up camp, Dewbie and I got back on the trail and continued ascending.  Within thirty minutes we were at McCurdy Park, an open meadow close to 11k feet.  The center of the park had some rock towers and surrounding us were McCurdy Mountain and McCurdy Park Tower.  The climber in me wanted to get on a rope.

Just past McCurdy park we reached the high point of our circuit and began descending…before heading back up hill to get on the Lake Park trail.  This was supposed to take us down to through Lake Park and then down to Hankins Pass.  Unfortunately, I managed to loose the trail prior to Lake Park due to the snow on this part of our route.

Rock features on McCurdy Mountain

They say that when you get lost you should stay put instead of moving.  If you keep going you risk getting yourself further from where you want to be.  I ignored this.  It wasn’t that I felt I would randomly find the trail, I had a strategy.  My map was of little use because the scale was so large that smaller features were almost non-existent.  This made locating my position difficult.  I was on a ridge looking down at the valley that I had hiked up from the previous day.  I knew roughly where I wanted to end up at the end of the day.  Unfortunately, going through Hankins pass was the easiest way to arrive at my desired destination.  The alternative was a horrible bushwhack.  I followed the ridge I was on to some rock outcroppings to try and get a better view of my surroundings and try to locate Lake Park so I could get to Hankins Pass.  No luck.  With the odds of finding the elusive park, I decided to head downhill, attempting to follow a drainage to Lost Creek  which would then allow me to get back on the trail.

Tower in McCurdy Park

As we headed downhill into the drainage, we encountered snow.  Lots of snow.  Knee deep, unconsolidated, sugar snow.  This is the worst possible kind of snow to try and travel through without skis or snowshoes.  We kept going.  Dewbie surprised me with his energy, literally leaping from one spot to the other and then sinking back into the snow.  The further downhill we got, the less snow we encountered until we were on dry ground.  We kept heading down, eventually encountering those huge rock domes we had scene earlier in our trip.  House sized boulders occasionally blocked our progress and forced us to contour around the drainage to more reasonable terrain.  The whole time we kept heading downhill I had visions of us being cliffed-out within view of the creek below.  Somehow we managed to make it to the bottom of the valley where we crossed the stream and got a much deserved break.  Back on the trail we picked up the pace and made it to the car by two o’clock.

With Dewbie sleeping (instantly) in the back seat, we drove back out through the burn area, happy not to be spending an unplanned night in the woods.  Our trip was fun, with a little unplanned adventure, and amazing sights.  I’ll go back to the Lost Creek Wilderness, and hopefully the creek will be the only thing getting lost next time.

Rab Neutrino 600 sleeping bag review

Material: Pertex Quantum shell, 800 fill power down

Weight: 37oz (+3.5oz if using included dry-bag stuff sack)

Features: Draft collar and hood draw cords, trapezoidal baffles, small pocket near head, YKK zippers

Temperature rating: Comfort = -5c, Limit = -12c, Extreme = -31c

Cost: $420


 

I’m not sure why this piece of gear escaped review for so long seeing as I use sleeping bags frequently.  If you have followed this blog at all, you may have noticed that I have reviewed multiple pieces of gear from UK manufacturer Rab.  As I’ve mentioned before, they make great products at reasonable prices.

Before discussing the design features of the Neutrino 600, lets discuss the temperature rating system Rab uses for their sleeping bags.  Without getting into too much detail, this system is called EN 13537 (Wiki article), and it breaks each bag down by providing 4 different temperature ratings – Upper Limit, Comfort, Lower Limit, and Extreme.  The Comfort rating is going to be the most useful number for anyone planning on using their sleeping bag for a normal night of sleep.  When you get into the Lower Limit and Extreme ratings, there are certain assumptions about sleep position, duration of sleep, and possibility of cold-weather injury (all things most of us do need want to concern ourselves with).  I’ll get back to temp ratings and my personal experience after discussing some of the design features.

Right out of the box, this sleeping bag seemed well designed.  The Neutrino 600 lofted up very nicely within a short amount of time, looking almost exactly like the picture on Rab’s website.  The baffles function well so far, keeping the down evenly distributed and where it belongs.  There is a nice little pocket near the hood for your lip balm or car keys or whatever small item you care to store there.  The draft collar is large enough to actually be functional, especially when you cinch it down with the elastic drawcord.  The hood also has an elastic drawcord to keep it close to your head.  There is a small velcro tab to keep the bag from unzipping during sleep.  Small nylon tabs on the foot of this bag make hanging it up in your closet easier (storing you sleeping bag UNCOMPRESSED is vital for proper loft and product function).

My field test of the Neutrino 600 was a 5 day 4 night fall (or was it winter) backpacking trip in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Northern Colorado.  Temperature ranged from 60F during the day to low teens at night.  Elevations ranged from approximately 9500ft to 12000ft+.  In addition to the Neutrino 600, I used a Silk, mummy-style sleeping bag liner and wore at a minimum, socks,  pants, base layer top, and fleece top during sleep.

Staying warm during some nasty weather at Lost Tribe Lakes

Considering the fact that temperatures were slightly below the comfort rating every night, I was pleased with the warmth of the Neutrino.  It should be noted that I was using a 4-season tent which completely cut all wind and insulated a small amount.  I was able to sleep comfortably (although I did wake regularly – more a personal condition regardless of warmth).  Since I was using this bag closer to the lower limit rating, I opted to put a synthetic jacket over the foot of the bag (which came up to my knees) as well as drape my down jacket over my chest on 2 of the 4 nights.  The Neutrino didn’t feel too confined but did feel snug, especially around the feet.  The draft collar and hood functioned well without covering my mouth and nose or restricting my breathing and also sealing in a good amount of heat.  Condensation formed every night near my mouth where my breath contacted the outside of the sleeping bag – something I have experienced with ALL sleeping bags in colder temperatures.  Even with the below freezing temperatures at night, the Neutrino did absorb a bit of moisture.  This was remedied with a warming fire and sun exposure when the opportunity existed.

Overall I was happy with the Neutrino 600’s performance.  Rab’s temperature ratings seem to be fairly accurate for me.  The design features of this sleeping bag are functional and useful.  Some more water resistance in the shell material would be nice considering this is a down bag.  I feel this sleeping bag is above average in my overall experience and I would definitely recommend it.  If there are any design features I have not addressed or questions you have, please leave a comment and I will be happy to respond!

Benchmade Presidio Auto

Manufacturer: Benchmade

Model: 5000SBK Presidio Auto

Materials: 154cm stainless steel blade, black anodized and machined 6061 T6 aluminum scales

Mechanism: Auto Axis pull-release and integrated safety

Price: $255 (not including laser engraving) 


 

The Presidio line of knives, designed by Mel Pardue and manufactured by Benchmade in Clackamas, Oregon, are solid pieces of art which happen to be sharp.

Obviously, while these knives look fantastic, they are designed to be work tools.  The first thing that comes to mind when I hold the Presidio Auto in my hand is the weight and feel of the metal.  The matte aluminum scales feel secure, not slippery; they face in opposing directions.

I opted for the coated blade, half serrated, half plain edge.  Right out of the box, the knife was razor sharp.  I had previously owned one of the Benchmade Griptillians and I had the same experience with that knife.  The blade holds an edge fairly well but will need to be sharpened regularly if you plan on actually putting this knife to use.  One cool thing that Benchmade offers is their Life Sharp program.  You can send your knife (must pay for shipping) back to Benchmade and they will put a factory edge on your blade for free.  Unfortunately they don’t sharpen serrations.

My job as a Wildland Firefighter during the summer was my primary reason for getting an auto.  I needed an easily accessible and easy opening blade.  I am left-handed so the Axis opening system was very appealing, as was the ambidextrous pocket clip.

Getting back to the auto feature, it functions flawlessly so far.  With an occasional drop of lubricant, the knife opens just as fast now as is did the first time.  There is a safety on the back of the handle, a nice feature to keep the blade from accidentally opening in your pocket (just don’t forget to engage it, ouch…).

The price point on this knife is a bit high, but there are other, less-expensive versions.  The build is robust, the blade sharp, and the auto-open mechanism well-designed.  You do pay a premium for the auto version and, in my experience, Benchmade’s assisted openers open faster then the auto’s…Whatever, there is definitely a cool factor with an auto knife, if you can legally get one.