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Nothing’s Worse than Wearing Wet Socks…

When backpacking, the weight of my pack is inversely correlated to my enjoyment of the trip. The heavier my pack is, the more tired and grouchy I become, complaining to my companions about my aching shoulders and quivering knees. So I’m always on the lookout for ways to lighten my load.

Of course, some things are simply necessities, either because we cannot survive without them (e.g., water and food), or because we make a conscious decision that we absolutely must have them. For me and many others, it boils down to having clean underwear and socks – one pair for each day we’ll be gone. That’s fine for a quick overnight trip, but if you’re planning a longer adventure, those extra undergarments can add a lot of bulk and weight to an already bulging pack.

Washing clothes along the trail or in a hostel bathroom is an obvious solution, but it doesn’t work so well in wetter climates. In humid, rainy areas, it’s virtually impossible to get those undergarments (and especially heavy socks) to dry overnight. And few things invite discomfort and blisters more than the squishy feeling of wearing wet socks inside your hiking boots, whether you’re enjoying the great outdoors or pounding the pavement in a foreign city.

quick-dry-underwear

Fortunately, new, quick-drying synthetic fabrics are a vast improvement over cotton and wool. The latest fabrics are easy to wash and dry in just a few hours, even when it’s cold and damp outside. And although I normally prefer good old-fashioned cotton for my tidy-whities, I must admit that the new lines of quick-dry undergarments are surprising comfortable. They never itch, snag, or tear – and these are all critically important if you’re bringing only one or two pairs for a long trip.

quick-dry-socks

I haven’t tested all the products that are out there, but ExOfficio basics seem to be a great product line. They are a bit pricy, but you can save some money by taking advantage of sales (this one, 25% off, ends on March 31, 2009) or visiting the clearance section on the manufacturer’s website. You can also find a lot of quick-drying undergarments at bricks-and-mortar sporting goods stores.

A Tent, Jacket, and a Bag All in One

If you’ve ever marveled at how snails, turtles, and various marine species carry their homes on their back in a compact shell, then you’ll definitely appreciate this latest invention in self-sufficiency.

 

A young designer named Justin Gargasz recently unveiled the Vessel, which is a beautiful, creative, and innovative tent, jacket, and bag all in one.

 

First and foremost, the Vessel serves as a medium-weight jacket to protect you from the elements on a cool or wet day. The jacket is reversible, so you instantly have a jacket in two colors for those who are more fashion-conscious in their outdoor adventures. As the weather heats up, you can easily convert the jacket into a sling bag where the arms tie around your body so that you can keep your hands free.

 

But the coolest part of the Vessel is that when you’re ready to retire for the evening, the jacket magically transforms into a cocoon tent just large enough for one person. The body of the tent is mostly opaque, meaning that you can perceive light and hear and smell the great outdoors from within the confines of your cocoon. The door also has a one-inch mesh strip, letting you see what’s happening in the outside world.

 

Naturally, a tent that can be worn as a jacket will never really compete with a full-sized tent that you can carry on the bottom of your pack, but the designer has something else in mind. Although the tent could be used for camping, Justin recommends using it “whenever one feels the need to escape interactions in their present environment.”

 

He continues, “Individuals feel the need to escape interactions in their environment every day. Whether it be interactions with excessive technology or other people, this psychological and physical need to get away is where I began my investigation.”

 

In other words, if you’re traveling through downtown New York and begin to feel overwhelmed by all the sights and sounds, just take off your jacket, convert it into a tent, and you’ll have instant peace and solitude – just kidding, we don’t think that’s really the best use for the Vessel. But we do think you’ll enjoy owning one, considering all the benefits it has to offer for your next backpacking or urbanpacking adventure.

 

Pants or Shorts? Why Choose?

On these unpredictable spring days, when cloudy skies can just as easily turn into warm weather as torrential downpours, sometimes it’s difficult to know what to wear for outdoor activities. Pants can become uncomfortably warm if the weather heats up, but shorts can leave you shivering if those clouds don’t burn off.

 

A good pair of zip-off cargo pants are the ultimate solution, especially when they’re made from a durable, water-resistant fabric. From a distance, they look like regular pants, usually in a beige, khaki, or green color. But look a little closer, and you’ll see a covered horizontal zipper that goes all the way around the thigh. With one quick zip, the leg of the pants separates, leaving you in a fine-looking pair of shorts. And, if the shorts have cargo pockets, the pant legs can be folded up and stored in there if you don’t have room in your pack.

 

Even later in the summer, when the weather is more predictable and you plan to wear shorts, zip-off cargo pants can be a lifesaver if you find yourself traipsing through fields of poison oak or scratchy blackberry vines. Just zip the pant legs back on and protect your skin until it’s safe to zip them back off again.

 

Zip-off cargo pants pack down better than jeans, and they can be much more comfortable. They’re not quite as warm as jeans, but that can be one of their greatest advantages during the hot summer months. This piece of clothing has become a hot commodity in recent years and you can find it in almost all outdoor stores and sporting-goods retailers, as well as traditional department stores and even Wal-Mart.

 

I recommend the Helly Hansen Cargo Zip-Off Pant, because it’s made from a comfortable, breatable, water-repellent fabric and comes in a variety of colors. You can find a great deal on them here.

A Sunny Day for iPhones

How many times have you been at a coffee shop, in the airport, on a plane, or just walking around when your iPhone or iTouch starts flashing a “low battery” warning and there’s no electrical outlet in sight? It happens to me all the time, and since I’m pretty much addicted to the devices, it’s a major problem.

Fortunately, SolLight has come out with a simple and relatively inexpensive solution – solar charging. Now we can harness the power of the sun to make sure that we always have access to the information and entertainment we crave. Plus, the energy is absolutely free and leaves no carbon footprint whatsoever.

The SOLiCharger is a “solar-powered backup/emergency iPod charger.” It’s small and light at just 1.4 ounces, so it’s easy to take wherever you go. Unfortunately, it’s not very fast and needs up to 16 hours (!) of exposure to the sun to reach its maximum charge. That’s enough to charge the iPhone only halfway, but that’s sure better than nothing when your alternative is a dead battery. A 50% charge should last for at least a few hours, and of course you can always charge it again as long as there’s some sunshine to be found. Plus, you can charge your iPhone while you’re using it.

The really nice thing about the SOLiCharger is that it plugs directly into the iPhone or iTouch, so you don’t have to worry about losing or forgetting cables. And it comes in either black or white, so you can get the one that matches your other gadgets.

If you live in a place without much sunshine, or if you need extra battery power at night, you can charge the SOLiCharger from your laptop or desktop computer and use it like a back-up battery, but obviously the main idea is to charge it with sunlight. Fortunately, charging it through an Apple USB cable is faster and takes just under two hours.

Check out the online slideshow for more information and then decide whether you’d like to buy it. SolLight is currently sold out of the $39.95 device, but you can use the company’s website to find retailers near you.

Easier than Rubbing Two Sticks Together

Do you have an emergency-preparedness kit? According to the U.S. government, we should all have a basic emergency-preparedness kit complete with clean drinking water, nonperishable food, a radio, a flashlight, a first aid kit, a whistle, maps, basic tools, and some plastic bags.

But they left out one important thing – something that you can use to build a fire for heat, light and/or cooking.

I don’t know about you, but my outdoor-survival skills are a bit rusty. I’m not sure I could create a fire by rubbing two sticks together, or even with a piece of flint. I think I’d rather have a little book of matches in my kit. Of course, if the matches get wet, then I’ll be out of luck. And a cigarette lighter, although handy, is useless once you’ve used up all the lighter fluid. Something that reliably produces sparks is a much better solution.

Today’s gadget is a great addition to any emergency kit for just this reason. The ToolLogic Firesteel Knife has not only a reliable fire starter, but also a fantastic 3-inch stainless steel blade and an emergency whistle. The sharp blade locks into the black handle, but it can be opened and used with just one hand. There’s a special notch on the blade made of a magnesium alloy that produces a shower of sparks, even when it’s wet. You’ll always be able to produce a fire with this handy tool.

This is a also a great device to take along when you’re out hiking, backpacking, or camping – especially since it weighs less than three ounces. And at just $29.99, it’s definitely an affordable companion for your outdoor adventures – and emergency preparedness.

Mountain Biking with the Mountain Monk

I love mountain biking. It’s such a great way to combine nature, adventure, and adrenaline all at the same time. But to be honest, I should admit that I really only enjoy half of the experience – the downhill half. Biking up steep inclines is a major pain in the you-know-what that leaves me winded and exhausted. I’d much rather hike up. The promise of a wind-in-your-hair, full-speed downhill descent is usually worth the effort to bring the bike uphill, but even with that in mind, sometimes I can’t make it all the way without stopping to walk alongside my bike or awkwardly hoisting it into the air as I stumble over rocks and tree branches.

Fortunately, a nifty new contraption called the Bergmönch, or “Mountain Monk” in German, is the perfect solution for mountain bikers who are only interested in the downhill part of the journey. It’s a bicycle (actually more like a scooter) that’s made just for going downhill. True, there aren’t any pedals or gears, but who needs them if you’re flying down a hill at full speed? (Don’t worry, there are brakes!)

The major downside is that, because there aren’t any pedals, the Bergmönch can be used only for going downhill. If you run into even the slightest incline, you’ll need to step off the bike and walk back up until you can cruise downhill again. Nevertheless, on the right mountain terrain, this could be a fantastic piece of equipment.

The Bergmönch and its fully integrated helmet fold up into a handy backpack, leaving space for food, equipment, and everything else you want to pack. At just under 21 pounds, it’s pretty easy to sling it over your shoulders for an uphill hike. Then, once you reach the top, you can unfold and reassemble the bike, take a deep breath, and let the fun begin!

Check out the video where the Moutain Monk himself takes the Bergmönch for a spin, or learn more about it here. Yes, the site’s in German, but the pictures are worth a thousand words.

A word of warning: when you start using your new Bergmönch, you’ll probably get some strange comments from other hikers who are intrigued by your odd-looking backpack, but just treat it as an opportunity to tell them about the joys of hiking uphill and biking downhill. Chances are, they’ll groan with envy and ask to take it for a spin themselves!

Kindle: Books On The Go

Amazon Kindle 2

Amazon Kindle 2

The promise of e-books took a long time to truly manifest. I’ve long pulled large bits of reading material down to a portable device suchas my n800 for reading on the go. However, this method comes with a few drawbacks. First, there’s a technology hurdle most folks may not want to endure. Second, the solution is technically sloppy. By sloppy, I mean I am using a device with a relatively low resolution color screen to read basic text. On top of that, the device uses a fairly large amount of power – meaning I won’t finish War and Peace before the battery dies.

Things have changed and there now exists a powerful solution for E-Books: Amazon’s Kindle. At just over $350, the device is a bit expensive. However, for the money, you get an amazing tool. The screen is high resolution so the text looks clean. The tech works in such a way that you use very little battery power. There are hundreds of thousands of books availble. Best of all, the device is very easy to use. So if you want a lightweight way of taking and entire library of books with you, the Kindle is the way to go.

But wait, there’s more. Rumor has it, the Kindle 2 is on the way. In little more than a week, you can enjoy the next generation of this snazzy device. What I find more exciting is the way the technology may be impacting our culture – at least in Greece. George Papandreou seems to think it would be a swell idea to repalce school text books with these devices. This seems like one of the best ideas I’ve heard in a long time. Hey Obama, are you listening?

Carabiner Mugs Are Handy Little Cups

I first spotted a carabiner mug clipped to a stranger’s pack at a social gathering in the woods. When I ran across the same mugs in a hardware store later, I picked one up. You can find them around the internet for less than 8 or 9 bucks. I don’t recall what I paid for mine, but I believe it was even less.

The cup is simply a stainless steel double layer (air inbetween the layers) cup with a carabiner attached to the side. I’ve seen some with the carabiner soldiered on, but mine was attached using two small screws.

I frequently clip my cup to my packs for both urban and primitive trips. I’ve sipped morning coffee from my cup more than once. I also found another extremely useful place for this cup – Burning Man and related gatherings. Oftne times, at these events, folks provide free beverages; however, you’re expected to bring a cup.

The carabiner itself can be pretty useful. If you find yourself needing one more carabiner to clip something to your pack with – just use your cup! It seems like such a simple little solution, and it is… but wow, I’ve found it very useful.

The Guppie and Lil’ Guppie Multi-Tools

I was at one of my favorite gear shop / army surplus stories the other day and I ran across the neatest little multi-tool I’ve seen in a while. Under the glass counter, they had a Guppie and a Lil’ Guppie by Columbia River. Both were amazing, but the Lil’ Guppie (shown in the photo with this post) impressed me the most.

The Lil’ Guppie is under 2oz and is extremely compact. It sports a flathead, phillips, knife, c-wrench, bottle opener, and handy little holes and clips all over it. Guppie, the big brother, has a slightly broader range of tools and sports replaceable driver bits and an led flashlight. Both tools are made of high quality metals and are both strong and lightweight.

Personally, the only reason I didn’t snag one immediately is the c-wrench. I currently have a multi-tool with a c-wrench that I rarely use. Typically, I find pliers to be more universally useful. This is more of a “what do I typically do” concern. As such, if you find yourself handling a lot of nuts, this is an excellent lightweight tool.

Black Friday: Trek Light Hammock For 30% Off

Thanks to Seth at Trek Light for passing along word of a special on their fabulous hammocks, here’s the scoop:

Save 30%!!

Usually a one day sale only, this year we’ve decided to go a step further and begin our Cyber Monday sale on Black Friday and give you 4 full days to take advantage of our big savings.

You no longer have to worry about sneaking in some online shopping when you’re back at work on Monday, just visit our site anytime between Friday November 28th to Monday December 1st, enter the coupon code CRZYSALE08 and you can save big!

Get your holiday shopping done early this year and enjoy the great savings!

The coupon cannot be combined with other offers and can only be used once per customer.

So this Friday, head on over to the Trek Light Store and pick up your hammock!