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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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.

IMG_5264

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.

IMG_5263

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.

Dog Gear: Groundbird Gear Trekking Pack

A few weeks ago, Marie (AKA Bobwhite) over at Groundbird Gear asked if Pickle and I would take a look at the custom dog packs she’s been making. I’m always on the lookout for new and potentially better dog gear, so I agreed immediately.

Since the Groundbird Gear pack harnesses are custom made to fit your dog, I had to submit a series of measurements so that Marie could start building Pickle’s pack. This process was explained quite well on the GBG website, and went painlessly (except for getting Pickle to sit still for two minutes). You then have several choices for the harness color. At the time of publishing, 5 colors were available for the harnesses.

For the pack itself (which is removable from the harness), you have the choice between two different models: the roll-top Trekking Pack and the zippered Weekend Pack. Because I had never seen a roll-top dog pack before, I opted for the Trekking Pack. I was given the option to choose between Regular (8″x 9″x 3.5″) and Large (9″ x 11″ x 4″) bags. Customers are able to choose their own color combinations (up to 3 colors per pack), or pick from a series of pre-selected combinations. Since hunting season was approaching, I chose “The Dreamsicle”, which is a mostly blaze orange pack with white accents.

Since these packs are made to order, there was a bit of a wait (2 weeks) for the pack. Lead times like this are the norm for most cottage industry gear makers, so this didn’t take me by surprise and definitely shouldn’t deter you from ordering from small companies like this. The lead times are also posted on the GBG website, so you can’t say you weren’t warned!

When the pack arrived, I was pretty excited. I immediately cornered Pickle and put the harness on him. Instead of the harness just having straps that go around the body, the GBG harness has fabric both above and below the dog. I liked that right away because Pickle is prone to chafing under his pack straps. This also meant that there were no loose webbing ends that could work their way loose and end up dangling under the dog. The fit was pretty much perfect. The adjustments on the four straps that connected the top and bottom of the harness were right in the middle, leaving just enough room for moderate weight gain/loss. The straps on either side of his neck also fit, but had to tightened down all the way. Since Marie nailed the rest of the sizing, I’m going to assume that Pickle wiggled when I measured him and threw things off.

One day, Pickle and I had some free time, so we headed to our local stretch of the AT near Hamburg, PA. I filled Pickle’s new GBG pack with his typical 2-day backpacking gear and food. We hiked 8.7 miles to the Pinnacle and Pulpit Rock vistas. Pickle seemed comfortable in the pack, and there was no sign of chafing after the hike. The pack did show a few minor scratches, but  otherwise it held up very well to Pickle’s rough-and-tumble hiking style.

We got another chance to test the Trekking Pack the following week. Pickle and I headed out to the Allegheny Front Trail in central PA for a 2-day, 42-mile hike. Pickle carried the same load listed above. The pack performed well for us again. It earned a few more superficial battle scars, but nothing serious. It’s still too early to seriously comment on the durability of this pack, but it seems good so far. After two long days, Pickle still seemed comfortable in the pack and suffered no chafing.

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The pack and harness work together flawlessly. It’s lightweight, seems comfortable (Pickle didn’t complain!), and easy to use. Even though it worked well in the field, I feel that the zipper wasn’t really necessary to augment the roll-top. The roll-top would have functioned well without it, and would have been a fraction of an ounce lighter. The leash attachment point on the harness was a bit big and clunky. It did work perfectly well, but something smaller and lighter would be better.

As with most dog packs, it is important to keep the weight balanced on each side, but it seems that the volume of the items is also important with the GBG pack’s roll top. Tightening the roll top to different degrees on the two saddlebags can pull the pack down unevenly to one side. Even though it looked off-kilter, I don’t think that it had any bearing on the dog’s comfort.

Overall, I like the Groundbird Gear Trekking pack a lot, and think that the roll-top closure has a lot of potential. I’ll report back here if any issues arise, but so-far-so-good. I think it is going to become Pickle’s new go-to pack!

Disclaimer: I received this pack from the manufacturer for the purposes of testing at no cost to me. Groundbird Gear had no editorial input over this review, and all opinions stated here are my own.

Pet Gear: Stunt Runner Leash

My dog Pickle is typically pretty darn good when he hikes off-leash, as he sticks to the trail and doesn’t molest other hikers or wildlife. However, there are times when local rules, trail conditions, or other factors may require me to leash him. Since these are rare occurrences for me, I had made a very lightweight DIY leash out of an old collar, some paracord, and a light carabiner. While light, this (and just about every other leash I’ve ever tried) is annoying to use while hiking with trekking poles. If the dog tugs, you could end up swinging that pole wildly. An erratic turn could get your pole tangled in the leash. It’s always bugged me. Enter the Stunt Runner Leash by Stunt Puppy.

This hands-free leash was designed for runners, but I thought it would work just as well for hiking and backpacking. The leash is made up of two parts: An adjustable waist belt and a stretchy, flexible connector. The manufacturer states that the adjustable waist belt fits people with waists from 26″-42″. I wear size 36 jeans. Judging by the remaining slack, there is still plenty of adjustment to get to 42″.

Waist belt with several inches of adjustment remaining.

Waist belt with several inches of adjustment remaining.

The stretchy connector stretches from 35″-51″ depending on how hard your dog tugs on it. At it’s longest (4.25 feet), it more than conforms to the 6-foot leash rule in many parks and municipalities. This stretch also acts as a bit of shock absorption. At the end of the connector nearest the dog’s collar, there is a section of doubled-over webbing that serves as a handle. This is useful in case you need to get close control over your pet.

Hand grip for close control.

Hand grip for close control.

At 7.7 ounces, this is significantly heavier than the DIY leash that Pickle normally carries, but I thought the benefits might “outweigh” the weight penalty in Pickle’s pack. Adding this leash will not overload him in any way, so I thought I would bring it along for a little testing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

I didn’t actually have to use this leash too much, but it did work well when I did. When I hike fast or run, Pickle keeps pace with me, so the leash worked perfectly. When I stopped, he wanted to roam around and pull me, so I ended up having to put a hand on the leash anyway. One night at a very busy campsite, I did use it to tie him to a tree beneath my hammock, so he wouldn’t go “visiting”. It worked OK for that, too.

All in all, I think I will continue using this leash for a while, at least when space in Pickle’s pack isn’t at a premium. I’ll update this review if I discover something I particularly like or dislike about it in the future.

 

Disclaimer: I purchased this item at full price with my own money. I was not asked to write this review. All opinions stated here are my own.

 

Pet Gear: TurboPup Complete K9 Meal Bars

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TpB5bL1LQy8
During a last-minute rush of shopping before leaving for a weeklong trip to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, I stumbled onto Backcountry K9. Since my dog Pickle would be backpacking with me for 3 days of this trip, I wanted to see if there was any new dog gear worth trying. That’s when I stumbled across TurboPup bars.

These bars advertised high quality “human-grade” ingredients in a dense, packable bar form. The bars contain all the nutrition your dog may need and can be fed both long- and short-term.

Packing dry dog food in Ziplock baggies has always irked me to a certain extent. In order to keep Pickle’s pack balanced, I always had to be careful to use equal amounts of food from each of his “saddlebags”. With no exact way to measure in the backcountry, sometimes this was easier said than done. Along the same vein, with no measuring tool on hand, assuring that the dog ate the right amount of food each day was difficult. Ziplock bags have also failed on me in the past, which could mean wet kibble if it was raining.

Dog food in bar form seemed to solve most of these problems. Bars would be much easier to ration and keep balanced than baggies of dog food. The bars are also individually wrapped, which meant an extra layer of protection from moisture.

I turned to “hiking with dogs” guru and fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa to find out some more info. As it turns out, he is a brand ambassador for TurboPup, and he gave me a few helpful notes about the bars. Allgood also put me in touch with TurboPup’s founder and owner Kristina, who offered to send me a few bars for testing. A few days later, a 3-day supply of her K9 meal bars arrived at my door.

I decided that it would probably be a bad idea to go into the woods without ever having fed the bars to Pickle. What if he hated them? What if his typically iron gut didn’t tolerate them? To test this, I arranged a little taste test at home. The bars come in two flavors (peanut butter and bacon), so I sacrificed one of each for my experiment.

I fed half of a peanut butter bar to Pickle (my hard-hiking Brittany Spaniel) and Samira (my non-hiking English Mastiff). They each gobbled up their share and came looking for more immediately. This time they shared a bacon-flavored bar, which they devoured with gusto. After this little test, I felt confident that Pickle would be happy to eat these as his primary food source during our upcoming backpacking trip.

I packed the remaining bars (now a 2.5 day supply) into Pickle’s Ruffwear Palisades pack along with all his other gear for the trip. The bars took up much less volume in Pickle’s pack than my typical Ziplock baggies full of dry food, and also weighed less. 10 TurboPup bars, packaging, and two 1qt Ziplock bags weighed in at 22.7oz (Compared to 30.1oz for a 2.5-day supply of kibble). I attribute this to the higher density of nutrients in the TurboPup bars. Since lightening the load for your dog is just as important as lightening your own, I was beginning to like TurboPup already.

TurboPup bars in Pickle's pack

TurboPup bars in Pickle’s pack

On Friday, Pickle and I hit the trail with TurboPup in tow. Since we used up two bars for the taste test, I fed Pickle a little of his normal food before we left the house. He had one of the bars for lunch on the summit of Mt. Flume and devoured every crumb. He ate 2 more bars for dinner that night. On day 2, he had 1 bar for breakfast, one for lunch, and 2 for dinner. On day 3 he had 2 for breakfast and one when we got back to the car at the end of our hike.

Pickle eating lunch on Mt. Flume

Pickle eating lunch on Mt. Flume

Based on this 3-day trial, I can say that TurboPup bars seem to be the best dog food option that I’ve found for backpacking. They are very nutrient dense, which means that the total food weight in Pickle’s pack is lighter than with his normal food. He definitely loved both flavors, which is also a plus. Pickle hiked strongly all weekend, which tells me that the TurboPup bars were supplying him with enough food energy to keep him going. I even noticed that his poops seemed to be a little more compact than normal, which can be attributed to the bars’ lack of fillers and use of high-quality ingredients. All in all, I’d say that TurboPup bars are definitely worth a look for anyone who hikes or backpacks with their dogs. Check them out!

Disclaimer: I received this bars free of charge from TurboPup for the purposes of testing and review. TurboPup has no editorial control over this review, and the opinions stated here are my own. In fact, TurboPup insisted that I be completely honest and impartial.