Small Business Saturday Gift Guide

  
I’m a little late to the game this year, but I wanted to remind you all that today is Small Business Saturday and encourage you to support small businesses. To help you along, I thought I’d highlight some of my favorites.

Hiking and Camping Gear

  • Gossamer Gear makes great ultralight backpacks, shelters, and trekking poles. My personal favorites are the Kumo and Type 2 backpacks.
  • ZPacks specializes in all things cuben fiber: Shelters, packs, rain gear, and accessories. I love their stuff sacks anad dry bags. 
  • Warbonnet Outdoors makes high quality backpacking hammocks and accessories. Their Traveler hammock and Yeti Underquilt have worked great for me!
  • Dutchware Gear creates innovative hardware and accessories for your hammock and tarp. You won’t realize how badly you needed their stuff until you try it!

Apparel

  • Purple Rain Adventure Skirts makes high quality hiking skirts. If you’re gonna go hiking, you better be comfortable. I never hit the trail without mine! 
  • Hiker Trash makes T-shirts, hats, and other accessories for the hiker trash inside all of us. Fun designs you should check out. 

Dog Gear

  • TurboPUP produces high quality meal replacement bars for you dog. Never fumble with ziploc bags of kibble again. Just  grab some bars, and you’re set for your hike or road trip. 
  • Groundbird Gear makes lightweight backpacks that are custom fit to YOUR dog. They’re built by an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who focuses on making functional packs without the excess stuff you won’t need.

Disclaimer: I am currently a TurboPUP Brand Ambassador, and was previously a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador. I have also done gear testing for Groundbird Gear and Purple Rain Adventure Skirts. None of these companies have asked to be listed here, and they had no preview nor editorial control of this post. All opinions contained here are my own.

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Purple Rain Adventure Skirts

Until this year, I probably would have laughed at the idea of wearing a skirt. I’m a big, burly man, after all! After hearing lots of good things from hiking friends (including other men), I decided to give skirts a more serious look. 

 

My friends Allison and Liz in their Purple Rain Skirts. Photo courtesy of trailtosummit.com.

 
Purple Rain Adventure Skirts was suggested by friends, so I took to the inter-webs to place an order. Color and fabric options vary based on availability (mine is stretchy and black), but the basic design is constant. The skirts have a simple, yoga-style waistband with pockets on either side. The design is about as simple as it gets.

After getting some input from Purple Rain, I settled on a size “M/L”. I usually fall between a 36″ and 38″ waist in jeans, and the waistband on the skirt fit pretty well. The actual skirt part was a bit tighter than I would have liked, but that was because of my enormous tree-trunk thighs. Since men’s and women’s sizes aren’t really interchangeable, I don’t consider this a flaw in the product. If anything, it was more like mild misuse on my part!
I’ve been hiking in this skirt for a few months now, and I love it. It helps keeps my undercarriage cool and dry in hot weather, but can be paired with running tights or base layers for use in the winter. The skirt also provides an improved range of motion over pants or shorts. You don’t have to worry about splitting your pants when you’re wearing a skirt! This product also makes potty breaks simpler, especially if you decide to go commando!

 

Leg Selfie! Wearing my Purple Rain Skirt with running tights.

 
All-in-all, this is a great product. If you’re a man, be sure to ask questions about the sizing, and you’ll be fine. The biggest question is: Are you man enough to hike in a skirt? 

Disclosure: I purchased this product at full price with my own funds. I was not asked nor obligated to write this review, and all opinions contained here are my own. 

Dog Gear: The Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack “2.0”

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Groundbird Gear‘s Marie “Bobwhite” Sellenrick was nice enough to send me an updated version of her Trekking Pack for dogs. I’d previously reviewed one of her earlier models, which quickly became Pickle’s backpack of choice, so I was excited to see what she did with the feedback she got from me and other testers. Since my last review, GBG has begun offering the Trekking Pack’s saddle bags in a size “Small”, instead of just “Regular” and “Large”. Because variety is the spice of life and Pickle’s current pack was a “Regular”, I asked for the new test pack to be “Small”.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

Pickle in his GBG Trekking pack.

The custom harness from Pickle’s previous GBG pack still fits perfectly, so Bobwhite made a pack to fit on that platform. After the customary 2-3 weeks of lead time (fairly standard in the Cottage Industry), the pack arrived. Pickle and I took it out for testing that very same day.

Top of harness.

Top of harness.

Underside of harness

Underside of harness

The very best improvement on this new version of the Trekking Pack is on the roll-top closure. GBG ditched the zippers on the saddlebags and went with a simpler hook-and-loop (AKA Velcro) closure. Since the bags would be rolled and clipped closed anyway, I always felt that the zipper on the earlier packs was overkill. It seems that my not-so-gentle complaining was heard, and this new closure is exactly what I hoped it would be! The change saves some weight, and even makes the roll-top function better. Without the chunky zipper in there. I think it rolls flatter and looks much nicer when the pack is closed.

One side of the GBG Trekking Pack, unrolled.

One side of the GBG Trekking Pack, unrolled.

Another nice addition was the optional shock cord attachment system, which can be used to fasten a sleeping pad or other small item to the outside of the pack. This was a surprise item that Marie added on for me, and I think it’s a good idea.

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The shock cord attachment system

I’m glad I ordered the small pack! The pack fit 8 TurboPUP bars (2 days worth of food for Pickle), a leash, and dog booties quite nicely. This means it would be perfect for summer weekend trips, when we won’t need the extra pack volume for Pickle’s coat.

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Overhead view of the GBG Trekking pack with the bags rolled closed.

All in all, this pack is a nice improvement on an already good dog pack. The changes listed above, as well as improved stitching and quality of construction, make for a beautiful and functional piece of gear. Coming in at 6.8oz on my scales (without the harness), this pack is about as ultralight as it gets.  If you’re in the market for a dog pack, the Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack is definitely worth a serious look. It’s price competitive with the big brands, chafe-free, and custom made by hands that care.

Disclaimer: I received this pack from Groundbird Gear for free, but I was not obligated to write this review. All opinions stated herein are my own, and GBG had no editorial control over this post.

TurboPUP to Appear on ABC’s Shark Tank

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My good friends (and Pickle’s hiking food sponsors) over at TurboPUP have made a cool announcement! They’ll be appearing on this Friday’s episode of Shark Tank on ABC!

For those who aren’t familiar with the show, people with business or product ideas pitch their plans to a panel of high profile investors (AKA Sharks). Their ultimate goal is to convince one of the sharks to invest in their company.

I wish Kristina and her dog Odin the best of luck on the show, and I urge you all to watch on Friday 1/16 at 9ET/10PT!

The New Gossamer Gear Gorilla Pack

I recently had a chance to try out my new, upgraded version of the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack. Typically a pack like this is a little too big (volume-wise) for my short weekend jaunts, but when colder weather rolls around I end up needing a bigger pack (cold-weather hammocking required a LOT of insulation). With expected overnight temps in the mid-twenties, I thought my 3-night hike on the Loyalsock Trail would be a great test for this pack.

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

My Gorilla loaded to the gills on the first day of my hike

With a Total Pack Weight (Gear + Consumables) of roughly 25lbs at the beginning of the hike, I initially thought that the Gorilla was very uncomfortable. I tried adjusting the hip belt and shoulder harness, but it never really got better. While taking a break near the end of the second day, I saw the problem: I had installed the aluminum stay backwards. This stay is meant to contour your back and transfer weight to your hips, and installing it backwards created a VERY uncomfortable situation. Once I fixed my mistake, The Gorilla became extremely comfy. The stay and padded hip belt kept the load resting nicely on my hips and off of my shoulders.

The new shoulder harness was much softer and more breathable than in the previous version of the Gorilla (the old shoulder straps used to rub my neck a little). The shoulder straps are also a more ergonomic shape. They were designed specifically with women in mind, as an attempt to create a truly unisex pack. I can’t speak to their success in that endeavor, but they did make the harness more comfortable for me (a burly, broad-shouldered, barrel-chested, fat man). My only complaint as a “wide” individual is that there wasn’t enough slack in the harness to give me a great range of adjustment options. I was plenty comfortable, but I had to keep the straps at nearly their maximum length. This made it impossible for me to utilize the rib strap, which was a disappointment because I love using the rib straps on my other GG packs. I did get a chance to briefly discuss this with Gossamer Gear, and it seemed like they were aware of the issue and planning to fix it in future production runs. Even though I was a little disappointed, this was not a deal breaker. I’m an odd shape for a backpacker, and I’ve become used to the fact that 99% of gear isn’t designed for a person of my body type.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile the basic dimensions and shape of the pack remain similar to the previous versions, a few other things have changed for the better. The old shock cord compression system was replaced with adjustable compression straps, which (in my opinion) are much more functional. The cord and LineLoc buckles, which used to secure the Over-The-Top lid, were also replaced with webbing straps. The straps make the pack closure just a tiny bit simpler to adjust.

The new Robic Nylon fabric is a nice improvement over the old Dyneema Gridstop. Not only is the Robic nylon much prettier to look at, but it is also very tough and seemed to be fairly water resistant.

The new Gorilla also features trekking pole holders, which make it easy to secure your poles to the pack when you’re not using them. I used this feature a lot because I don’t use my poles that much. The system keeps the poles very secure while hiking, but you have to be careful when you set the pack down on the ground because the tips of the poles can get pushed out of the holders.

All-in-all, the upgraded Gossamer Gear Gorilla is a fine pack, and I plan on using it through the winter. If you liked the previous version of the Gorilla, you will love this one. It is a much more polished product, which I find to be more comfortable, functional, and aesthetically pleasing. If you get a chance, check it out!

Disclaimer: As a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador, I received this pack free of charge. I was not obligated in any way to write this review, and all thoughts and opinions contained herein are my own. Gossamer Gear had no editorial input into the writing of this review.

Small Business Saturday

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! With Holiday Shopping Season fast approaching, I just wanted to remind everyone to support small businesses this year. There are tons of them in the outdoors industry, and they need and deserve your support! Here are a few of my favorites:

Gossamer Gear – Ultralight Backpacks, Trekking Poles, and Shelters

TurboPUP – Complete Meal Bars for your furry hiking companion

Warbonnet Outdoors – Hammocks and Hammock Accessories

Dutchware – Titanium hammock hardware and other odds and ends

East Ridge Outfitters – My favorite local gear shop, located in Blandon, PA

ZPacks – Cuben Fiber Packs, Shelters, and Accessories

Hikertrash – Apparel for the fashion forward hiker

Ground bird Gear – Custom backpacks for your trail dog

Remember to shop small this holiday season!

Hike Prep: The Loyalsock Trail

Sixteen months after my epically embarrassing bail five miles into the Loyalsock Trail, I’m ready to give it another go. There aren’t any stomach bugs floating around my house this year, and I’m in much better shape. I’m very confident that I’ll be able to finish this hike strongly.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

Trail Markers on the Loyalsock Trail.

For those who aren’t aware, the Loyalsock Trail is a 59.2-mile-long backpacking trail in Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains region. It starts north of Montoursville, PA along PA-87 and ends north of Laporte, PA at US-202, and it’s traditionally hiked Eastbound. Following the trail is very easy as it travels through the Loyalsock State Forest and Worlds End State Park. Yellow plastic discs are emblazoned with a red “LT” and affixed to trees at very regular intervals along the trail. Signs are also available at many road crossings and some trail intersections.

My companions from Berks-Lehigh Hiking & Backpacking and I will be hiking this trail “backwards” (Westbound), with estimated mileage splits of 9/22/17/11. We’re aiming to camp with my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Brian Horst at Mile 11. This will be my group’s final night on the Loyalsock Trail and the first night of Brian’s Eastbound hike with his group from DC UL Meetup.

My Gear Selection

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a test run of my winter kit on this trip. It’s still a little too far out for the forecast to be reliable, but I’d say that overnight temps could end up being anywhere from 25-45F. These temperatures won’t push my gear to the limit, but they will give be a good idea of what things I need to tweak before winter arrives.

For those who are interested in the raw numbers, you can view my complete Gear and Food ListUPDATED 11/5/14 – Added a backup battery for my phone and an extra fleece layer. 11.6lb Base Pack Weight… yikes!

My primary addition for winter will be the Gossamer Gear Thinlight (59″ x 39″ x 1/4″, 9.6oz) pad. This unassuming piece of gear will play a pivotal role in keeping me warm in my hammock.  When slid between the two layers of my Warbonnet Traveler hammock, it will help insulate me against convective heat loss (heat taken away by the air moving beneath you). I plan on using this in tandem with my Warbonnet Yeti and am hoping to be able to push the combination down to at least 10 degrees. to keep me warm on top, I’ll be using my 10-degree Enlightened Equipment top-quilt.

Instead of using my beloved Aquamira to treat water on this trip, I’ve picked up a Sawyer Mini filter. This filter is made to screw onto the top of a flexible reservoir. Once the reservoir is filled, you screw the filter on, then squeeze the reservoir to force water through. Since this fits my 2L Platy Bottle (which I take on every trip anyway), I’m going to leave the Sawyer reservoir at home. To maintain the filter, you just fill the supplied plunger-style syringe with clean water and force it through the filter in the reverse direction of normal flow (called “backflushing”). The filter and syringe combine for a total weight of 2.6oz.

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Sawyer Mini filter with cleaning plunger.

Because we’ll be getting a late start on Day 1, we’re going to have to hike nearly 9 miles in the dark. Even though I love my 1-ounce Petzl e+Lite headlamp, it isn’t bright enough for any kind of real night hiking. That’s why I’ll be carrying my Petzl MYO RXP headlamp. I picked this lamp up a few years ago (for use on night hikes), and it is VERY bright. It does a great job of lighting up the trail, but it is also VERY heavy, weighing in at 6.2oz. I’d never carry this lamp unless I absolutely needed it.

Since I’ll be carrying heavier, bulkier gear and 4 days worth of food(10.4lb Base Pack Weight, 19.6lbs BPW+Consumables), I’ll need a bigger pack to put everything in! That’s where my brand new Gossamer Gear Gorilla comes into play. This pack has 10 liters more volume than my usual pack (the previous model of the Gossamer Gear Murmur), and it also has an aluminum stay to help transfer the weight of the pack to my hips. The Gorilla was completely redesigned this year, and I’m excited to finally get it out on the trail.

Food Selection

Dinner on night one will be an Italian hoagie. It’s heavy to schlep into the woods, but it will be delicious and well worth carrying. The other two nights, I will be enjoying a high-class meal consisting of instant mashed potatoes and Spam prepared and served in a freezer bag.

For simplicity’s sake, I will be eating the same thing from breakfast and lunch every day: a tortilla with Justin’s Almond Butter and Bacon Jerky. This may seem like an odd combination, but it has become one of my favorite trail foods this year. It is easy to prepare, and there is no cleanup at all. To me, those are both trademarks of the perfect hiking meal. Just squeeze the almond butter out of the packet, slap on some bacon jerky, wrap it up, and eat while you hike!

My snacks will include an entire bag of Fritos, a block of cheddar cheese, chocolate covered coconut chips and chia bars. I’ll also be bringing along some of the dietary supplements I use during my gym training (Whey Protein Isolate, BCAA’s, and a Sleep/recovery aid).