Saturday, November 28, 2009

good, not great, entry into the world of trekking poles

I never learned to hike and backpack with trekking poles, so when my fiancé insisted I start using them I fought him pretty hard on it. Anybody who has ever seen me walk on level ground will understand why he made such a recommendation: I'm downright dangerous, especially when I'm in a hurry! I admittedly do better on uneven, rocky terrain, but the klutzy tendencies still hold pretty strong. Face plants, we go way back.

That said, I was loathe to spend any money on my entrée into Trekking Poles Land because I was sure I'd hate the whole shooting match. (And, to start, I did.) So, I picked up my first trekking poles at Target from their illustrious Eddie Bauer section. They were cheap, and that was pretty much my only requirement.

Fast forward some time later, and I'm still using them. They've survived being shipped across the country for our Yosemite trip (no snapping in half!); more importantly, they've withstood many, many, many trips, plunges, slides, and spectacular falls all over the country (because sometimes even a trekking pole can't save you). Only recently have I noticed my heavier-than-average usage starting to take its toll. Overall, they've held up beautifully. Much more beautifully than their price would imply. Additionally, I like their handles and the way they easily rock in my hands.

Some will consider these heavy, and I'm sure there are other entry-level trekking poles on the market set at a reasonable price. Still, for an entry trekking pole they are a-ok by me. I'm about to make a serious upgrade, but will certainly hang on to these as my backups. If you are curious about using trekking poles, but don't want to invest big money, take a look at these. When you're ready to upgrade, you'll have the motion down and can start to get more technical with your specs.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A quick, easy fix... (And cheap!)

I hate being cold, but I love winter backpacking. How does one reconcile these two things? Gear!

Having already spoken of the miracles of the Capilene 3 Baselayer, sleeping in a coffin tent, etc., I will now switch gears and tell you about my non-essential, supplemental, juuuuuuuust-in-case method of ensuring my feet don't turn into little blocks of ice while I am snuggled up in my mummy bag on a 15 degree night in the mountains - the Mylar Blanket.

Our #1 fan/naysayer might reply with a comment about how these "blankets" (it's more like a piece of plastic with a shiny side) are not the best option, they cause a buildup of moisture, etc. This is correct. It's definitely something that can happen, though I haven't considered it bad enough to stop me... Don't get me wrong, this is no substitute for appropriate winter gear!

The mylar blanket, known most often as a "safety blanket" or "emergency blanket", or, for the nerds out there, "space blanket", is given out for free at the finish of most half marathons and marathons, or can be purchased at Walmart or Target for a whopping $1.00. It weighs almost nothing, so I say, "Why not?" I usually bring one or two of these on a trip "just in case", and I would never know it was there...

Its use? When you are curled up in your mummy bag in your coffin tent in your Capilene 3's, and your feet are still cold and your teeth are still chattering... Throw one or two of these bad boys over the sleeping bag, reflective side facing your cold body. This lightweight, free to one dollar, "blanket" will reflect your heat back on you, and the blocks of ice on the ends of your legs will thaw nicely...

So, as I repeat my disclaimer that this is no substitute for appropriate winter gear, I will also repeat my sentiment, "Why not?" This may just be something you carry that adds virtually no weight to your bag, or it might be something that you consider a life saver on that cold night when your feet just can't seem to get warm. Would you rather take the chance?

Friday, November 13, 2009

another funky name for ya

I'm not a big fan of most sports drinks, as their sugar content often far outweighs any benefits they may hold for the average person—often, too, they have ingredients that just scare me with their names. The same holds true for any of those packets you can buy in the grocery store (Lipton, Crystal Light, etc.)...if you skip the sugar, you pick up a nice helping of aspartame or other scary artificial sweeteners (Acesulfame anyone?).

But lets face it: it can get boring just drinking water on the trail, day in and day out. When we stumbled across Nuun in a climbing store in Seattle, we thought we'd try it (especially after reassurance from my friend and the clerk).

I give it a mostly thumbs up:

The taste is pretty great for a portable tab you dump into your water bottle. They have a wide range of flavours, including banana and kona cola. I like the berry flavour, but a friend of mine hated that one enough to mail it to me (thanks M ;)

The portability is pretty awesome, too. Nuun comes in tabs in a plastic tube, so you aren't left with little packets when you use one. The tube is not large, and easy to throw in the side pocket of cargo shorts (or an outer pocket on your pack, or your bike bag, or whatever).

Nuun tabs contain electrolytes (salt), potassium, and calcium. The calcium is an added bonus over others, and something both men and women should be paying attention to. (Go Nuun!) They do not contain sugar, for those folks who need to watch that kind of thing.

Which brings me to the sugar: these guys are low-cal, which is great. But they do use sorbitol, which is apparently "naturally occurring in stone fruits" but is made artificially for food. Sorbitol is very safe and as far as I'm reading not a carcinogen; still, it's artificial. For a great comparison of the artificial sweeteners, refer to this chart. Note: sorbitol can, in very large quantities, cause *ahem* lower digestive distress; Nuun tabs don't have enough to cause problems—unless you ate several tubes at once, I'm assuming. Then you're on your own for being a weirdo.

They have something else called polyethylene glycol which adds experience (a richer feeling in your mouth), not nutrition. For the purists out there, you don't want to jump on that one and probably want to stick with water. I really dislike that they added this when it's so unnecessary.

So, negative points for the artificial stuff. Still, a good choice for mixing it up with the water. Bonus points for adding calcium.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bugaboo... Goofy name, awesome cookset

I got my Bugaboo cookset for Christmas a couple of years ago from my parents, per my request. I hadn't done a lot of research, but felt in my gut that this one would be a good choice. It's turned out to be a great choice.

As you see above, it has five main components: two pans, two pots, and one handle. All of the pots and pans have a nonstick surface.

I have taken my set backpacking and car camping, and it's performed well for both. Bugaboo is much larger than your typical backpacking cookset, but I'm ok with that. When we are packing for space and need the extra few ounces, we simply take our other fancy backpacking set (which I'll review later). Total weight is 1lb 7oz, so it's not designed to appeal to the UltraLight folks out there anyway. Occasionally I leave the larger pan and pot at home to conserve space, but really they fit nicely together thanks to their "nesting" design so that gets to be nitpicky.

The main advantage of the size is the cooking area: we've made pizza, quesadillas, and bacon on the trail with relative ease. (Just remember a tupperware for the bacon grease!) We also tend to eat a lot, and the pot accommodates a hearty meal for two ravenous eaters.

The other advantage for the size: I am able to fit my stove, a small can of fuel, lighter, matches, small spoons & cooking utensils, and a small towel inside the smaller pan/pot combination. This makes it so easy to know exactly where all of my cooking "stuff" is when it's dark, I'm tired, and we're scrambling to get set up and eat.

The cleanup is easy with the nonstick surface, and there has been little need to carry oil/spray/whatever to cook with because I've taken good care of the surface. When it starts to deteriorate I'll replace it (I'm not interested in eating teflon, thanks). As the manufacturer notes: Non-stick cookware should be used with heat-proof nylon or silicone utensils to prevent damage to the non-stick surface. In other words, don't grab your metal fork to cook with (just like at home)!

The main disadvantage with Bugaboo is my unwillingness to throw it on a fire as I would with an aluminum cookset. However, I bring heavy duty foil when I anticipate cooking on the fire and don't bother with my pans. The only other issue I've noticed is really a matter of user error: occasionally I screw up with the handle and drop things. Not fun.

Overall, I give this set an A. I've been quite pleased, and perhaps more importantly we've been the envy of many on the trail with the amazing food we've been able to whip up on the trail. Bonus points for being relatively inexpensive and widely available.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

One Size Doesn't Fit All, But We're Working On It!

It's hard to be outdoorsy in an electronics age. Heck, it's hard to live in an electronics age, period, where you have a gadget for everything, and a different battery and charger and memory card for every gadget. It's an exhausting, expensive, and dare I say... cluttered existence.

And if you want to carry all that crap with you when you go somewhere? Forget it. Thank goodness today's designers are making electronics more universal - one device, multiple functions, yay! (Bless you, Blackberry and pals.)

I can't tell you how happy I am to finally have a phone with email and media and a really great camera function. There was a time capturing a breathtaking view I'd spent hours hiking to was worth hauling the weight of my best SLR up the trail, but no more. Since I got a phone with a decent camera feature, most of the time my heavy SLR - heck, even my pocket-sized Canon - stays at home.

My phone is lighter, and has significantly better battery life. And let's face it, I'm carrying it with me already.

Surprisingly, I'm more than happy with the quality of the the photos produced by my 2-megapixel phone. I just haven't been happy with the lengths I've had to go to to get them off my phone. Bluetoothing them over one-by-one is a pain-in-the-neck, and MMS/email isn't really an option for me, based on my data plan and the snap-happy way I approach creating a visual record of an event.

Which brings me to my latest, neatest purchase. (You knew I'd ramble there eventually.)

I bought a Duracell Micro SD Universal Bundle. For less than fifteen bucks, I got a 2GB Micro SD card I can insert in my phone, greatly expanding storage space for photos, mp3s, etc., plus three adapters: Mini SD, full-sized SD and USB. It also came with a hard plastic clamshell case just big enough to hold all three adaptors, which I've found to be suprisingly resilient, sturdy, and water-resistent. (Don't ask how I know this - I'm rough on sensitive electronic equipment.)

Moving photos now is a breeze! I just eject my Mini and slide it into whatever adaptor best suits my needs, and use the adaptor as I would a regular version of that size card. So far, I've found the USB adaptor to be the most versatile, enabling me easily connect to my PC, my laptop, my printer, and just about any photo kiosk in retaildom.

Recently, I ran out of space on the full-sized card in my good camera while at my sister's wedding. I ejected my Mini SD from my phone, plugged it into the full-sized adapter, and voila, it got me through the reception.

Fifteen bucks was a small price to pay to achieve a sort of harmony between all my gadgets and necessaries.

Now, if I could just get a universal car charger for my phone, my iPod, and my GPS...