Wednesday, May 19, 2010

the olympus tough series is...well, tough!

In honor of the upcoming Warrior Dash, and for any Southeasters who may want to overnight a camera that is perfect for running around with that day....

I've been known to participate in Photoshop hijinx here and there, but I assure you the above image is not digitally altered. That is my Olympus Stylus camera after some particularly awesome caving at the SERA cave carnival.

Somewhere in the evolution of point-and-shoot cameras, someone decided that it would be a good idea to make an EB-proof camera. Ok, so they weren't totally thinking of me when they made this. But seriously. After some of the things I've put my camera through, I'd swear they were at least thinking of someone like me.

Waterproof: as deep as 33 feet underwater.
Shockproof: designed to withstand a 6.6-foot drop, bump, or other mishap.
Freezeproof: winterized to perform at below-freezing temperatures (down to 14°F/-10°C).
Crushproof: withstands up to 220 pounds of pressure

After taking the picture you see above, we hosed it down and kept rolling. Seriously. Awesome. Camera. The image quality is great, too. The shake-free setting has given me some great results, as I don't always have the steadiest of hands. (Perpetual motion will do that to you.) It shoots great (HD) video, too. I've basically been beating on this camera for 2 years and it's still working splendidly.

The cons, to be fair:
  • Sometimes, it can respond a little slow with the memory card (other reviewers have noted the same thing)
  • When you've run it through so many mud baths, you start to lose the labels on the back. Then it's sort of a guessing game with the dial, which totally sucks if you're in a hurry and trying to change modes.
  • Sometimes I wish I had fancier settings like I have on my SLR, but that's not really what a point-and-shoot camera is about. 
  • You actually can get mud on the lens and in the lens cover (which retracts when you turn it on)...that's a pain for sure, though I've not personally done this. (One of our readers notes she's glad she bought the extended warranty particularly for this issue. She dropped it off for a cleaning and voila! All better.)

Still, the latest iteration of the Olympus Stylus (the Olympus Stylus Tough 8010 14MP Digital Camera) has moved up in megapixels and awesomeness. I'm, of course, tempted to upgrade :-)

Note: there are several "levels" of this camera available for purchase, with varying degrees of megapixels, toughness...and cost. Dig around on amazon and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

i never take my chest harness off

Technically this is a binocular harness, but nevermind that. Think outside the box and embrace a Nikon 6121 Prostaff Bino chest harness for your digital SLR and your neck will thank you.

I really could end the review there, but I'll give you a little more detail than that....

I actually stole my chest harness from my fiancé a couple of years ago. He wasn't using it because he's got a tiny point and shoot camera, and I wanted a comfortable way to bring my Nikon d50 into the field without stashing it in my backpack where accessibility is, frankly, a pain in the arse. This solved that quite nicely.

The pros are that it takes the weight off of your neck, it centers the camera in front of you, and it's stretchy enough to give you flexibility. The only thing you'll find yourself worrying about when you see a shot you want is setting your camera fast enough to capture it. If I want to slip my camera off of the strap, to pop it onto a tripod for example, there are two easy hooks to unclip it and go.

The con, for me, is that after I've (occasionlly) stretched it out to get a shot I don't always remember to tighten it back to start hiking again. I'm small, and a loose harness equates to my camera bouncing uncomfortably until I pause to tighten the straps again. If I'm walking slower this is a non-issue, but sometimes we're really booking it on the trail so it gets annoying.

Still, I never take it off. I love this thing. When I don't wear it properly around my shoulders, I wear it "messenger bag style" over one shoulder (this works quite well too).

Cabela's makes a similar harness and a friend of mine LOVES hers as much as I love mine. There is also another brand if you google around a bit and want something a little cheaper without the Nikon logo.

They're completely unnecessary for a tiny camera, but for a larger format I can't imagine anything else anymore. Yeah, you can lug around a camera bag but when weight is an issue or when you're going for a long day hike where you know you'll want your camera pretty constantly a camera bag is just not going to cut it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Super-Fast Drying Pants from Columbia ROCK

I nabbed a pair of the Columbia Titanium Omni-Dry Silver Ridge capris on a sale rack last summer, mostly because I happened to find them cheap and they seemed like a good lightweight option for summer hikes and playtime.

WOW. Gotta love that omni dry technology.

I had an unfortunate accident involving spray adhesive and these pants, wherein I (of course) managed to get my pants *and* the object I was trying to apply adhesive to. I'd blame the wind, but many of you know I just happen to be very talented with disasters. So, I took some adhesive remover and applied it straight to the pants (I don't recommend this at home, for obvious potential colorfast issues) ... then I "washed" them while I was wearing them in the sink with the classic cupped-hand-full-of-water-plus-papertowels method typically reserved for quick fixes when you're not home with a change of clothes. My pants happen to be black, so I figured if I looked damp for the rest of the day it wouldn't be *that* noticeable. Damp equated to soaking wet in this instance, and I will attest that my *pants* dried faster than my *skin* did after the generous soaking.

Imagine the implications of that on the trail!!!! Seriously. Awesome. Fabric.

I love that I can roll them up and make them shorter, too, though I'll say the fabric is thin enough that they don't feel too stuffy. Southern heat can be pretty brutal, and these are my go-to pants for the really bad days. (I'm sure they're doing some wicking, also.) I've tripped a few times in them, too, and so far haven't ripped them. Bonus! (I bet that will come later today after I've posted this ;-)

Looking at the Columbia website, they have this to say about them:
Featuring bottom hem adjustability, the Silver Ridge Stretch Capri can be rolled-up into an above-the knee short for serious cooling power. Omni-Dry® advanced evaporation wicks sweat away from your skin and encourages air circulation. With mobility-facilitating gussets and 2-way comfort stretch fabric, this über-comfy capri is perfect for high-octane activities. The rear yoke curves to flatter and harbors hidden vents to keep the cool-air flowing. Plus, you can stow this piece into the zip-closed security pocket for ultimate packability. Sits just below the hip. Active fit.

My pair actually sit higher on my waist than I'd prefer, but it sounds like they may have updated the fit this year to sit a little lower. Try before you buy, just to be sure they're hitting where you want them to. The legs are great; my motion never seems restricted with the cut, even though they are nicely slimming/flattering.

To buy them all over again, I would be ok with full price for the pure awesomeness these hold for summer. If you can find them on sale, even better. (Quick googling says yes, you CAN find them on sale. Just so ya know.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

In an ideal world, you've bought indestructible stuff that's never going to die and stay with you until you're 80. But, if you're like me, you tend to trip on things in a spectacular faceplant that sends you wrapping around trees after a few stumbles, tumbles, and flips. When you get lucky you take others down with you in a pile of laughter without actually breaking anything. Others may call it clumsiness, I call it Skill.

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, instead of buying replacement stuff get yourself some useful skills: get crafty and fix what you've mucked up in the fall:

Fix your bike:
Repair bicycles
Mountain Bike repair
Bicycle Tutor

Fix your torn clothing:
How to mend clothes
10 Clothing Fixes Everyone Should Know

Repair your damaged tent (Because it happens, and it usually involves a setup disaster or some middle-of-the-night bathroom break half-awake haze.)


Timely update: Treehugger just posted a link about Fixing things too. Great minds think alike!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

when the water just isn't fresh enough

If you've ever been on a multi-day trek, you know that after a few days things start to get a little...ripe. Whether you're backpacking, or canoeing, or even just camping, you will eventually find that you and your cohorts just don't smell as good as the first day you set out on your adventure. And sometimes, you get there and the riverside campsite just doesn't smell fresh enough. The water smells too plain, too subtle.

Enter one of my favourite backpacking and kayaking buddies: Air Wick, Fresh Waters scent. I like to throw a bottle of this stuff in my pack, as well as a couple of Stick Ups in my tent to ward off the evil nasty that is often found with outdoor adventure. I've even been known to surprise fellow travelers who just aren't keeping up with smelling clean by giving them a good spray or two.

The Fresh Waters scent captures the freshness of a cool, sparkling stream mixed with the light scent of a summer evening breeze. Talk about camping by the Chattooga neatly packaged in a convenient spray! Seriously, you can't pick a better scent to enhance your experience. And if that one doesn't do it for you, there are so many others: Mountain Breeze, Crisp Breeze, Island Paradise...the possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

fanny packs are cool again. (ok, maybe just functional.)

I come from a generation that openly mocks fanny packs. Truly, not a whole lot could be dorkier or funnier, which is why I chose an NPR fanny pack as my donation "prize" a few years ago. I rocked the fanny pack long enough for a picture in the office, then eventually lost the dust-collected awesomeness in a few rounds of spring cleaning.

However, now that I'm running a lot I kind of regret the loss of my NPR pack. Sometimes on those long runs you just need the ability to carry more "stuff"....cell phone, keys, Gu (and transit card in case everything goes wrong...). If I could just get past the hardwired reaction I have to that Style thing.

Still, my man picked up a nifty piece of gear at a running expo in FL and I'm here to say I've seen the light.

The SPIBelt is pretty darned handy, and quite the upgrade from my public radio prize. It's stretchy, so it's always going to be at its smallest form around your waist. And, it's stretchy so when you want to overpack for your run it can accommodate most requests. I think at max we've gotten a full-sized iPod, a Blackberry (pearl), keys, transit cards, random spare change, and a couple of Gu shots in there. We could have pushed it but you know, that whole packing light to run a half marathon thing got in the way.

So far, it's also quite durable. And, it comes in many colors and varieties. And it's reasonably priced. They have several options on the website, and the one J got has a great system for attaching race numbers.

Embrace your inner dork. You already did with convertible pants, may as well go for the whole ensemble, right?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Needs more juice

I know we're on the tail end of winter, so this is more something to log in your memory for next season than anything else. Or, if you end up traveling somewhere that requires winter gear, this will certainly help you.

I fiddled with a few combinations of glove options this year, and will admit I haven't totally solved it. I really do hate giving bad reviews, but after this pair of gloves was so strongly recommended by someone I feel that I should warn the world. Or something.

I bought the Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch gloves a few months ago, with the idea that they'd be perfect for hiking and backpacking. As advised, I bought them with a simple mitten shell to layer over them once at camp. Sounded like a good idea at the time, and it really is a pretty solid piece of advice. Minus the detail of these gloves.

My hands were never warm. I couldn't feel my fingers after awhile. I was warmer with a much thinner, non-warmth-promising shell by itself than I was with these things. I tested them in wind, not-wind, mist, not-mist... but always cold (duh).

When I went to return them, I was told "but you have to be *active* for them to work properly. [ie. not just sitting around]" Ok.......busting my butt up the side of a mountain with full pack and actively moving trekking poles.... not active enough to activate the power of the Power Stretch? *Rolls Eyes* Whatever. Something's wrong when all of you is sweating, save for your fingers which you can't actually feel.

Search elsewhere, these gloves are not it. They weren't for me, anyway.

Monday, February 22, 2010

awesome + awesome = awesomer

I actually stole that title from a Superbowl commercial and wanted an excuse to use it, yet again, somewhere. But seriously...

I snagged this jacket, the Marmot Essence, from a sale rack in Colorado, and have worn it several times in town and in the field. It won't seem to stop raining in the Southeast, so I've certainly had ample opportunity to test it. Quick internet searching tells me it's only available as a closeout on several sites, as it's officially "last season" (I hate it when they do that) and I can't find one for women in 2010. So, lesson learned, snag it fast! I am curious to see if/when 2010's model for women will come out (so far, a only men's version is showing. LAME.)

Things I love:
  • It weighs 7 ounces, so I don't have to think twice about packing it for any of my trips. Even the salesdude in CO was a little blown away by that detail.
  • It does what it says it will.... repels the rain and keeps me dry, and so far doesn't have me sweating profusely on the inside making that icky, mucky, yucky moist feeling.
  • It has a pocket *perfectly* situated for backpacking. I've read some reviews where folks say it doesn't have pockets; it DOES have a pocket, just not on the sides where one might casually place hands on a city stroll. Pockets at the bottom on the sides would be inaccessible with a pack on, but the chest pocket on the front of this jacket is perfectly accessible when I'm on the trail and loaded down/belted in.
  • It has "wing vents" (under my arms) for days I might be particularly...working hard :-)
  • It nicely layers over my clothing. I've layered it over a thin down jacket (liner from my 3-in-1), and I've layered it over 2 base layers and my Marmot windstopper fleece (also thin, but still) and not felt the least bit claustrophobic or restricted. 
Things I don't love:
  • You're going to have to do a little searching to find it, now that it's considered out of season.
  • When I wear it in the city, I don't have a handy place for my hands (get it? har har).

I'll admit, it's the most expensive rain jacket I've ever owned. But so far I'm quite pleased and feel it was worth the investment for a quality piece of gear.

Monday, February 1, 2010

I. Give. Up.

My art teacher in high school had a rule for all critiques that sometimes proved more difficult than others: However much you struggle, find something nice to say about the piece in front of you before you start in on the negative. Often this helped to soften the blow, and make you think about what you were going to say in as constructive a way as possible.

So, here's my nice thing to say: Camelbak bladders are a pretty blue color. And they're lighter than some other hydration options on the market right now. And it sure is convenient to have a tube with water right by your mouth when you're in the middle of a long day on the trail and you don't want to lose momentum. See, 3 nice things.

And.........I'm done. No, really, I'M DONE. I believe that even might be part of what I screamed as I chucked one of my Camelbak bladders into my back yard Saturday morning with the hopes that I would hit something sharp and metallic.

I've been trying to use their products on backpacking trips and hikes for about 1.5 years now, so i think it's safe to say I speak with experience. We're way beyond the classic "3 strikes, you're out" game. I've had not-readily-evident puncture wounds in a BRAND NEW bladder, I've had to cut a hole in a brand new bite valve so I could use it, I've had slow leaks in the back of the car or down my legs as I hike, I've had gushing waterfalls...the only thing I've yet to experience is a frozen valve, but I'm sure that was coming soon as I've talked to many people who have. Add that to stories of broken bite valves, other varieties of slow leaks, and freezing issues *with* their cold weather accessories, and you'll find I'm not the only displeased consumer. I've talked to many folks who share my distaste, in fact.

I'm sorry, but there's nothing funny about an unreliable water reservoir on a multi-day (or even single day) trek. It is downright dangerous. This doesn't even touch the difficulty in keeping them clean; good times, coming back to find you've got a new science experiment even after you think you've done a great job of drying and hanging it for the next trip.

Grade: F for FAIL.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The curse is broken... Thank you, safety gear!

I am not a snowboarder. I am uncoordinated, and I generally hate snow, winter and the feeling of my feet dangling in the air as I hang from a cable. I grew up 45 minutes from two or more ski resorts, and I never set foot on a slope until last weekend.

Couple this with the knowledge that I know more people who have broken bones on the slopes than engaging in all of the other dangerous hobbies I know combined. In the last two seasons, two of my good friends obtained wrist fractures (including a fellow Adventure Woman). I knew when I decided to try snowboarding for the first time that extra precautions would be necessary...

While discussing the probability that I would be spending the majority of my day on my rear, a friend suggested wrist guards. Obtaining these was not unlike searching for the Holy Grail. I drove around Atlanta for two days hitting every outdoor and sporting goods store on the map, before finally caving and heading to the edge of the city to a specialty ski shop, Rocky Mountain Ski and Patio, where I picked up a $20.00 pair of Dakine wrist guards.

My ultra-cautious two-day quest for safety gear paid off in more ways than one. While I fell a total of somewhere between fifty and a thousand times, my wrists are completely intact, and were not even sore when I hit the climbing gym on Monday. My friends and I watched person after person (all with far greater skill than me - hell, they probably even left the bunny slope!) leave the mountain limping or otherwise damaged, but I was not one of them. The second benefit was unexpected but very welcome - they kept my hands warm! My borrowed gloves were completely saturated from about an hour into the day from all the falling, to the point that they dyed my hands blue, but my hands remained warm. My hands are never warm. This is a big thing.

Cons: They make it slightly harder to put your gloves on. Also, you're that dork among your friends that would rather wear extra safety gear than end up in a cast for 6 weeks. (Wait, that's not a con...)

Overall rating: A.

(Note: While Rocky Mountain did have the item I was looking for, at a price that was not outrageous, I have to point out the lack of knowledge of the staff. The saleswoman who assisted me, when I asked how the wrist guards worked, instructed me to put them on backwards, despite all common sense notions to the contrary. Please be advised, should you choose to wear wrist guards, which I suggest highly, that the plastic piece should be on the underside of your wrist...)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

high country in the not-so-high country (atlanta)

I often speak of my preference for smaller retailers (vs. the Big Box Guys), and try to make it a habit to support smaller companies whenever I can (especially when they happen to be stellar outdoors people). That said, I am admittedly long overdue in reviewing the folks over at High Country Outfitters.

They have, in my experience, exemplified every reason I tend to cite as my motivation for sticking with the locals:
• Great, fantastic, fabulous customer service
• Experienced and honest advice about gear and outdoor activities
• Supportive of, and involved in, the local community
• Solid products that they firmly stand behind

In a nutshell, I trust them to lead me down the right path. But I'm sure you want the long story of it:

I've now had multiple points of contact with High Country: I chatter with them on Twitter, I've shopped in their store, and I've attended their events both in store and elsewhere. I've always had a positive experience with them.

I just bought a chalk bag for my newest activity, climbing, and got tons of advice from two of the salespeople about which one to select. I asked "Why?" many times, and got well thought out, rock-solid advice about what I needed, as well as encouragement and information about where I should go play. When I purchased a locking biner for rigging a vertical cave a few months ago, I got out-of-the-box thinking about which would best suit my needs and I've been quite satisfied (Seriously, try asking for a drunk-redneck-proof biner and see what happens! Not your standard question by any stretch). 

They also tend to host and sponsor great events. (I recently attended their showing of the Reel Rock Tour and a fascinating lecture with Ken Kamler). Cheap yoga on Sunday mornings, gear rentals, trips & instruction, fundraisers...the list is endless.

No, they don't have the same return policy as REI but I've yet to find anyone else who does. Their policy is still what I would consider quite reasonable at 60 days and the suggestion to call them if you still want to talk about it. And, no, they don't carry every brand. I have a friend who was recently looking for a very low end brand of climbing shoe for her entry pair (and could not find it there). This all goes back to them stocking gear they really stand behind, which is what I expect from most boutique retailers. 

Thanks, guys and gals, for showing folks how it's done.

PS> For those folks not in ATL, you can order from them online.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

cozy and warm

Most folks in the Southeast (and elsewhere) are experiencing record lows and brutal temperatures these days. I ran this morning and can tell you it's the kind of cold you feel deep within your bones; I was glad I didn't check the Weather Channel's site until after the run (to find out it was something like 18, feels like 8). BRRRR.

That said, I found a nifty little companion on a recent trip, and after this morning's run I think it's my civic duty to spread the word. Namely, I picked up a "Turtle Fur Neck Gaiter" in a tiny, wonderful outdoors shop in Dillon, CO, admittedly because it was orange and soft. Also because, as mentioned in many other posts, I have a tendency to get and stay cold and I'm always looking for new tricks. (Yes, I also have the tendency to adore products with really strange names.)

That little "neck gaiter" you see pictured above rocks. A lot. The warmest part of my body this morning, by far, was my neck. And it's sooooooo soft. So fabulously, non-irritatingly soft. My sensitive skin was not at all unhappy. And, bonus, this is a cheap accessory. I think we're all glad when we get some relief in the budget department, yah?

I like especially that it's relatively small and lightweight (2.1oz!), and something I can easily take off when I actually get too warm but don't want to shed a full layer. And did I mention how soffffft it is? yeaaah...... :-)

Their company website is about as goofy as their name. You can also use Google Shopping to find these.