Monday, December 23, 2013

Muir Woods and San Francisco - California Trip - Day One

Last year sometime my wife and I decided that we wanted to take a trip to California. She had never been, and my parents tell me that I visited as a child but I only vaguely recollect this event. We were excited to spend a few days in San Francisco and several days in the Yosemite National Park area. We were ready for an adventure of good food, iconic sights, and some peaceful trail time. California wouldn’t disappoint.

Muir Woods
 We began our adventure in Sacramento. The first thing we noticed as we strolled towards the rental car kiosk was how nice the weather was. Man, Californians have it all…beaches, mountains, skiing, and amazing August weather. We had just left the scorching, 115-degree heat of a Texas summer. We marveled at how nice it was to need a light jacket. I could get used to this.

Muir Woods
Muir Woods
Muir Woods
Muir Woods
Driving our rental car from Sacramento to San Francisco was underwhelming. We fought the traffic and began to realize there was a small piece of justice in the world. Traffic in our smallish Texas town is having to sit through a red light more than once. We spent hours trying to snake through San Francisco. We quickly realized that we only had 5-6 hours to see San Francisco and snaked back over the Golden Gate Bridge in hopes to catch a small glimpse of Muir Woods.

Light was fastly fading when we arrived at Muir Woods. My wife and I hopped out and walked a quick loop through the forest. This was the best piece of our San Francisco experience. These towering giants of the forest seem to exist only to remind us that we are miniscule. You feel irrelevant standing under their creaking sway. I could have spent hours here. Light was fading and our stomachs were growling, we reluctantly left the woods and headed back towards the city.

Lombard Street - The Straight Side
We were told that we had to eat a bowl of clam chowder with accompanying sour dough bread. I wish we had taken time to research some off the beaten path options, because we ended up on the tourist trap of The Pier. This experience only made us long for the woods even more. However, just like our trek down Lombard Street, The Pier is a piece of San Francisco you can’t help but have.

Sea Lions on Pier 39
By the time we reached our sketchy city hotel room, where I seriously thought I would have to use my bear spray for the first time on some not too trustworthy looking folks, my wife and I were yearning for Yosemite. We thought we would relish the hotel stay, but instead found ourselves bitten by the lure of wilderness. Wishing for a starry sky, we laid our heads down in a questionable section of city, buzzing with the excitement of an adventure lying out before us. The next day we would be in Yosemite, picking up our permits for a backcountry experience that was sure to not disappoint.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

All About The Kayak Skeg

We all know how tough it can be fighting the elements just to paddle in a straight line. We all know that familiar feeling when the wind starts blowing—some of the most experienced paddlers have issues keeping their bow pointed in the direction they want. Of course, there are plenty of ways to prep a kayak to deter the effects of a windy day (for example: distributing weight along your kayak, packing items away, bringing the right shape and size kayak, etc.) but even after doing all of that, there’s one feature to think about when shopping for your kayak—a skeg. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar, a skeg is quite similar to a rudder (learn more here) in a lot of ways. It’s a small blade built in and deployed beneath the rear of the hull. Dissimilar to a rudder however, the skeg does not pivot from side to side. In fact, most skegs only offer two settings: not deployed and deployed. So what good does it do? 

What it boils down to is tracking. Tracking is a word that refers to keeping your bow in a straight line as you paddle. A skeg will you track by lessening the effects of wind or rough waters as they push on the hull by connecting it to deeper, more stable water. Why do only some kayaks have a skeg? 

Not every kayak has a skeg built in. Skegs are usually found on those that are meant for touring or longer distance paddling and for boats that need the extra assistance. Some kayaks offer it as an add-on option for boats that may be used for playing around rapids but may also need help for long distance paddling. If you happen to find yourself without a skeg and in need of one, you aren’t necessarily out of luck. There are plenty of kayaks on the market that do offer optional skegs that can be purchased and installed separately. Another, more common optional feature is a rudder, which can offer even more directional control of your kayak. 

In the end, it’s up to you to decide whether or not a skeg is right for your kayak. For first time shoppers, consider the benefits and for long time paddlers who find themselves consistently frustrated and over exerting oneself just to keep straight, a skeg might be something to consider when deciding on your next kayak. Visit Austin Kayak for more info on some of the different types of skegs available!

All About The Kayak Skeg is a guest post provided by Austin Kayak

Monday, August 12, 2013

Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Double Hammock - Review

I’ve never been much interested in a backcountry hammock. For one, I’m a stomach sleeper (actually I like to flop around) and a hammock just doesn't seem like it would be comfortable for extended sleep. I changed my mind when Grand Trunk offered me the Grand Trunk Parachute Nylon Double Hammock. Well, my wife changed my mind for me. She convinced me to give it a try, after all that’s what reviewing is all about.
Grand Trunk Double Hammock
Grand Trunk Double Hammock
When the hammock first arrived I was excited to try it out. I had my new hammock shipped to my office and didn’t want to wait till I got home to experience it. I popped open a couple of celling tiles and found some nice sturdy rafters. The supplied tree slings where way too short, so I grabbed some 1/4 inch rope and quickly tied a suitable rig. I was a little uneasy to sit the first time, but it was pure heaven. I grabbed my computer and a drink and finished the rest of the days work in the hammock. It is now a permeant (and popular) fixture in my office.

Grand Trunk Hammock in my Office
That is, of course, when I’m not taking it into the backcountry. I recently finished a four day backpacking trip in Yosemite NP and the Ansel Adams Wilderness. At the end of each day my wife and I would string up the hammock and have what we have affectionately come to call "Hammock Time." After a long day on the trail sitting in the hammock was absolutely heavenly. Although we never slept overnight in the hammock, it felt good to be able to rest our sore bones on something other than a rock or the ground. The hammock is a luxury we will never backpack without.

Enjoying Grand Trunk Hammock
The Hammock itself is made of lightweight but strong parachute nylon. It is plenty strong to hold two people. The tree slings are two looped lengths of heavy duty rope (a little thicker than paracord) about 2-3 feet long. To hang the hammock you loop a hitch knot around a tree. The other end of the sling has several knots tied into the end at diffrent lengths. You simply clip the nautical-grade steal carabiners into the desired knot and you are ready to go.
Grand Trunk Tree Sling
The only downside (and it's a big one) is the short length of the tree slings. You really have to find two trees at the perfect distance apart and with small enough trunks that the slings will reach around. Which, even in the middle of thick forest, is pretty difficult. Trees larger than a foot in diameter are two thick for the small treeslings. Our first night on the trail we ended up using some paracord to not only span the distance between two trees but to help the slings reach all the way around the trunks. With two of us sitting in the hammock I was pretty nervous trusting our weight to the paracord, but it held. The next night I found some thicker rope at our campsite. It was long and thick and I used it to tie a long tree sling. It was a mistake to use a rope I found on the ground. With two of us, the rope broke and threw my wife's back against some jagged rocks. After that we didn't use anything but the provided treeslings, which left us looking (for what seemed like hours) for two trees that would work. Needless to say it put a real damper on hammock time. To make the hammock work in the backcountry you need to carry long, sturdy, and heavy rope, which just isn't practical. It definitely makes the hammock a real luxury choice, which may not appeal to every backpacker. 

I had to rig some paracord just to get the tree sling to reach around some trees
Their website says the Grand Trunk Double weighs 20 oz. My scale showed 28 oz with slings and carabiners all packed inside the stuff sack. The tree slings by themselves weigh 3.6 oz together. I think some high quality aluminum carabiners would be a nice upgrade. The nautical-grade steal carabiners weighed in at 2.1 oz each.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received Grand Trunk Double Hammock for free from Grand Trunk as coordinated by Deep Creek PR an Outdoor Industry Public Relations Company in consideration for review publication.

Friday, July 12, 2013

How To Prevent Blisters - WrightSocks Double Layer Technology - Review

This is the one of several posts contributed by my wife. A regular segment on MyLifeOutdoors. A valuable resource to women (and their husbands) who love the outdoors (or who, at least, wish to love the outdoors). This is My Wife Outdoors.

When I think of hiking I am transported to a place where life is simpler. Where all I have to worry about is my survival in the backcountry of some remote and beautiful location. I think of quiet time. I think of conquering physical limitations with pride. I think of mountain breezes. Beautiful pristine lakes without civilization ruling over every foot of shoreline. Summit Views. Sounds perfect? Well, as close to perfect as life ever really gets. There are some realities about hiking that bring me back down to earth from time to time. One particular issue that I have always had is blisters. It seems like I can’t hike more than 4 miles without developing huge painful blisters on the backs of my heels.

Painful Blisters from a 5 day in Glacier National Park
I have done a lot of research on this. Especially after a painful Glacier National Park 5 day backcountry hike. My feet were so blister ridden that I could barely take another step for the last 7 miles. I would put my foot down with tears stinging in my eyes every single step. I am no wimp but foot issues have brought many of tear to my eyes. I have tried different boots, layering socks, duct tape, and all sorts of other foot healing voodoo. I began to question whether my foot was somehow horribly misshapen. I had finally reconciled myself to a lifetime of layering duct tape, hoping for the best, and ultimately suffering. Maybe eventually my heels would become so calloused blisters would become an impossibility?

Two different styles of Wrightsocks we tested. Stride and Escape
As a last ditch effort I finally tried a pair of WrightSocks. I did not expect much. I had lost all hope. My husband and I went hiking in the Pecos Wilderness a month ago and ended up plodding through miles of unexpected snow. After all the stepping in and out of snow I knew for certain that I would develop a hot spot and then a subsequent blister. I kept waiting and waiting for the burning to begin. It never did. After six miles of hiking through snow up and down hill, I never got a single blister. Surely this was just an amazing stroke of luck though. I reasoned that maybe my feet hadn’t been sweating in my boots. So I tried the socks again a few weeks ago in Big Bend. We did a 12 mile hike in one morning, up to the top of Emory Peak and back. I thought for sure that I would have killer blisters for the remainder of our Big Bend trip. To my surprise I was blister free and for the first time ever, capable of enjoying the rest of our trip’s planned hikes without being burdened by mangled feet. I was so relieved.

WrightSock on a 12 mile day hike in Big Bend National Park
I practically begged Steven to let me write this blog post. I can’t say enough good things about wrightsocks. I won’t ever hike without them again! I don’t usually find myself being 100% pleased with many products but wrightsocks have changed my life. They have removed an element from hiking that has brought me so much discomfort. I look forward to wearing them on a backpacking trip to Yosemite later this summer and I have confidence that I can make the trip without failing feet.

A Note From Steven:

My wife and I received these socks for testing purposes from WrightSock. As my wife mentions above, they are truly are amazing. Their genius is credited to the Double Layer technology, essentially two socks in one. The double layer transfers the friction caused by hiking in-between the layers of the sock. Thus the sock rubs against itself, and not against your heel preventing blisters. WrightSock is so confident in their product, they have a No Blisters Guarantee. If you get blisters wearing WrightSocks, you get your money back. I was so impressed with them, that even though WrightSock sent me two pairs for free...I just ordered two more pairs on my own. These socks are the real deal.

WrightSocks Double Layer Techology
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Monday, June 24, 2013

Igloo Yukon Cold Locker - Extreme Cooler Review

What is your favorite part about camping? The scenery? the solitude? Just being outdoors? These are all things I love about camping. But one of my favorite aspects of camping is the food. I love a good camp meal, but lets face it, good food, and solitude are rarely compatible. Freeze dried, and non-perishable foods that make it into the backcountry only taste good because you’re hungry. Car camping allows you to bring a cooler and keep delicious (yet perishable) food, but frequently need to be filled with ice to stay cool. If you want to escape deep into the backcountry, and keep food cold for several days (like my trip to Point Sublime on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon) there aren’t a whole lot of options available.

Igloo Yukon Cold Locker
Igloo has solved that problem with their new Yukon series of coolers. Originally designed to compete against the Yeti, these coolers are tough, heavily insulated, and built to last. They advertise the smaller coolers (like the Yukon 70 I tested) will keep food and ice cold for 7 days, while the larger cooler can do the same for up to 14 days. That’s a pretty tall claim in my mind, so when Igloo approached me about testing the Yukon 70, I was curious to see how it preformed.

Igloo Yukon Cold Locker
My family and I where planning on spending Memorial Day weekend in Big Bend National Park which would be the perfect field test for the Yukon 70. But before we ever started packing the car, I decided to do a little controlled testing. I have a small Igloo 60 quart Cube that I usually take car camping. The cube is about $350 cheaper than the Yukon, so I decided to see how they compare. I dropped 20 pounds of ice in each cooler, and waited to see how long it took it to melt. At first, the Yukon didn’t seem worth it. The ice was gone in Both coolers in about 3 and a half days.

Igloo Yukon vs. the Much cheeper Igloo Cube.
I thought "something must be wrong", so I began reading the little instruction book that came with the Yukon. It has several tips for getting the most out of your cooler. One of those tips was to pre-cool the inside of the cooler. If you don’t, the ice has to overcome heat trapped in the insulation. It recommends leaving the cooler open inside the AC overnight before use. I decided to retest and leave both coolers open overnight in the house. I then put 20 more pounds of ice in each cooler and waited to see when the ice would melt. Not much better. The AC tip may have given the Yukon an extra day (4.5 instead of 3.5 days) before the ice melted. But the Igloo Cube performed about the same. It seemed the Yukon did better, but not worth the price.

Igloo Yukon t-grip rubber closure
I still must be doing something wrong. I decided to just try and replicate their 7 day claim. I did some more reading, and discovered the 7 days is based on .9 pounds of ice per quart of cooler capacity. Igloo then measured from when the ice was placed in the cooler until the inside temperature reached above 40 degree fahrenheit. So I bought 80 pounds of ice, put 40 pounds in the both the Yukon and the Igloo Cube and threw in some thermometers I had. The Yukon performed much better. With the extra ice, and opening the cooler only once per day, it was 6 and a half days before the water temperature reached 40 degrees. The Igloo cube was done in 4.5 days. It seemed the Yukon was at least close to Igloos claims.

Igloo Yukon freezer gasket
Now it was time for a real field test. We loaded up the Yukon for a 4 day camping trip in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. With the cooler loaded full of food and drinks we could only fit one 20 pound bag of ice. We used it like we would any other cooler opening and closing the lid as we needed. The ice seemed to hold up pretty well. During the 4 days we were camping we only added ice once, and I’m not even sure it was really needed. Some friends had a standard cooler in their car and had to add ice everyday (sometimes twice a day).The Yukon seemed to really perform. Had we been deep in the backcountry, the Yukon would have saved the food. If I would have followed some of the other tips, like using block ice, dry ice, etc. I’m sure we could have gotten to Yukon to last even longer.

Igloo Yukon large drain port
All that being said, there are a couple of big cons to the Yukon. For one, the price. Right now the Yukon 70 retails for about $400 US. That is a lot of money to pay for any cooler. The other detractor is the weight. Even empty the Yukon feels like a fully loaded cooler (about 40 pounds), fill it up with Ice and food, and you cant pick it up by yourself. My Igloo cube has wheels that allow it to roll. Seems like igloo could add some nice beefy wheels as an accessory for the Yukon series.

Igloo Yukon large 2 handed handles
Apart from those two detractors, the Yukon has some nice features. 2 inches of Insulation (3 inches in the lid) Beefy stainless steel hinges, large drain hole, freezer gasket lid, sturdy 2 hand handles, and skid or non skid interchangeable feet to name a few. It is a really nice cooler for the money. I have no experience with its competitors, but my money is on the Yukon. You will have to decide if it is worth the price.


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