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The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide 2nd Edition – Book Review

A couple years after National Geographic released Andrew Skura’s first edition of the ultimate hiker’s gear guide, they’ve come out with a fully updated Second Edition. Having reviewed the first book, and having heard good things about the updated version I eagerly said, “yes” to the opportunity to review it.
What’s the book about?

This book is more than a gear guide. It’s goal is to increase your enjoyment of the “hiking” component of your outdoor adventures, and as such it provides easy to digest advice, tips and gear recommendations based on Andrew Skurka’s extensive experience. Here’s a list of the major themes covered:
• Why, When & Where – Solid tips on how to prepare for your adventure by looking at your goals, destination and expected climate
• Tools & Techniques – What to bring and how to use it: clothing, footwear, sleeping gear, shelters, navigation, trekking poles, food, cook systems, water, essentials and packs. Check out his “Core 13” pieces of clothing – a mix and match set of every piece of clothing you’d need for every environment you could face.
• Sample Gear Kits – How to pack and what to pack depending on the climate and time of year.

 

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What did we think?

It’s Fantastic. Targeting the beginner and intermediate backpacker, this book goes into a LOT of detail on everything from how to choose a good campsite to the science and performance of various fabrics used in backpacking gear to how to choose the right gear without bringing too much or too little.

One thing I like about this book is that while Andrew speaks from experience, he doesn’t speak from personal preference; he takes a scientific approach. For example, Skurka used to be skeptical of the role of hammocks for backpackers, but after researching the subject and testing it out himself, he includes a section on their benefit in certain climates. I appreciate that kind of objectivity.

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Another thing that I really like about this book is how he takes the argument away from ultralight versus… and makes it about the knowledge you need to carry in your head and why you should bring what you should bring. He makes use of clear and informative charts listing the features, pros and cons of various gear options. For example: Boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners? Polyester, merino wool, or nylon? Wool, fleece, synthetic or down? Double, single, or mountaineering tents… or tarps, Bivvys or hammocks?

 

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It’s not a book trying to sell gear, either. Check out page 166 for a tutorial on how to make your own alcohol cookstove, one of the lightest and cheapest stoves on… or should I say off the market. One of the thing that becomes clear when you speak with the author is that he’s there to give you advice, not sell expensive gear. Despite having worked with specific brands, his recommendations cover everything from DIY to cottage manufacturers to mainstream pieces of gear that have proved themselves and have made it into his own kit.

It’s hard to know how much detail to go into, but let’s just say it’s 240 pages of well indexed, well organized and well written advice with no waste or unnecessary weight.

 

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Summary

If you’re looking for tips on how to make your outdoor adventures more enjoyable you need this book. Nowhere have I seen the topic covered so comprehensively and in a down-to-earth and objective way. There are practical tips here that I constantly refer to and recommend to others.
The Second edition adds more knowledge and advice based on the experience he’s gained since the last book was published, including knowledge gained from marriage and backpacking with his wife.

One more time: If you haven’t read this book then buy or borrow a copy and read it. If you’re looking to gear-up for this summer then buy a copy of the book first and check out the tips. It’s bound to save you money and make your trips enjoyable, not just memorable.

Local Lion 50L Backpack

This unlikely package arrived on my doorstep a few months ago from Gearbest.com, an online retailer, since then, I’ve used it a lot. This 50L dufflebag / backpack cross packs a punch at $32 shipping included.

Check out the details below and see what we think.

 

Features

  • 600D water resistant nylon
  • 50L capacity
  • duffle bag strap
  • side access
  • front pockets
  • Molle straps
  • Zip shut back that hides the backpacking straps
  • weight: 2.57 lbs
  • Price: $32 shipped to the USA

Testing

This backpack has been used for canoeing, day packing, fishing and even as a primary suitcase on a recent trip to Indiana.

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What do we think

I’m a firm believer in evaluating gear on a what you get your money basis. This pack is an economical and versatile pack. If you’re looking for something that you can take on a weekend trek, as a Bug out bag, canoeing, fishing or a road trip, this will do it all if treated nicely.

The capacity is good for 2-3 days of lightweight backpacking or a weekend travel adventure.

The construction quality will handle average use.

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There are enough pockets to manage regular storage. The main pocket is accessed from a side zip, which is a-typical for a backpack, but normal for a suitcase. The front pocket is slim but sizeable – handling hatchets and hand saws with ease. A smaller external zip pocket is good for all your pocketables… that you don’t want to keep in your pocket.  The Molle straps are good for attaching external items if you’re into that too.

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The backpacking harness is neatly hidden in a zip pocket on the back, making it convenient for flights. Typically backpacking straps are at risk of getting ripped off on the conveyor belts, so this is a great feature.

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After a few months use, the shoulder strap gave in. When I had the pack loaded with 30-40 lbs I tried jumping down a drop-off using only the shoulder strap (not the backpcaking harness) and pulled the strap out of the stitching on one end. This would not have been an issue had I been wearing it as a backpack, but for full disclosure I thought I’d let you know. I wasn’t a fan of the shoulder strap anyway!

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Conclusion

Let’s be clear. A high end backpack this is not. For $32 though you get a fully functional, versatile backpack that will handle typical use well and better. Because of it’s price point, it’s something that I reach for a lot when I need something to carry my clothes or gear in that I don’t mind getting damaged. Take a look at the video of the Local Lion 50L backpack above to see it in action and let me know what you think.

Feel free to shop GearBest for the pack. (affiliate links)

Gander Mountain Northern Lights 10-person tent with Vestibule

Setting up camp for a few days and need a bit of luxury? Check out Gander Mountain’s Northern Lights 10-person tent and vestibule. If you’re looking to go big on a budget then this tent is worth a look.

Gander Mountain asked us if we were interested in checking out some gear from them so we took them up on their offer. Our thoughts on the tent are below. Let’s look at the features and then talk about our thoughts.

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Features

  • 12′ x 12′ Floor
  • 6′ x 12′ Net Vestibule
  • 6′ 8″ Center height
  • 1-person setup (see the video above)
  • Quick-clip partial rain fly
  • External pole and hub frame
  • 2x Gear storage shelves
  • 1 room divider
  • 2 doors
  • Covered Mesh Vestibule
  • “E-port” Electrical Plug access port
  • Weight: 43 lb 14 oz
  • Wheeled storage bag
  • MSRP: $399 – on sale for $249.99

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Testing

This was our primary car camping tent for the summer. We tested this thing in hot weather, wet weather and even some torrential deluges (lots of rain). We used this for 2 dults and 4 children on multiple occasions, including a week long trip (and all the belongings that one needs to make that happen).

What are our thoughts

Ultralight this is not, and yet every piece of gear has a purpose.  The Northern Lights 10-person tent is designed for light car camping where space is important and average weather is expected.

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What we loved:

This tent has a ton of room. Even with 4 kids, we were able to keep all our belongings for a week in the tent and still have tons of space for walking, working and changing.

I say walking because the tent is 6′ 8″ in the middle and close to 6 feet tall even at the edges.

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The divider splits the tent into 2 – 6′ x 12′ rooms. That was enough to keep the kids on one side and our two cots and double sleeping bag on the other. The two entrance doors meant that the kids didn’t have to walk through our side of the tent to get out.

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The Vestibule was ample to setup chairs for when the bugs came out. The fact that it’s waterproof means that you can take off all your rain gear before you step into the tent.

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Despite that this foot offers 216 square feet of space, every time I’ve set up the tent by myself. It’s straight forward with colour coding on the poles and hubs. The quick connect vestibule makes it easy to attach and adjust.

The E-port was nice as it allowed me to easily run our Solar Lighting System wiring inside the tent. The flat room of the tent allowed me to just toss the solar panel on top – where it stayed for the week.

This tent has 3 large mesh windows that you can zip up for privacy. They provide plenty of ventilation for the hot days, which combined with a high ceiling made it comfortable to be in during the day.

Room for improvement?

As a primer (and this applies for pretty much all car camping tents) one should always seal seams. Now almost all of the seams of the tent and fly were already seam taped out of the box… except for where the bathtub floor met the walls. I didn’t notice that… and probably wouldn’t have had we not face a storm that left foot deep water, soaking wet 5th wheels and many other campers feeling like drowned rats. This one seam was rolled and stitched and it held out well in average rain, but a massive, persistent (3-hour long) storm proved too much. some water got in, which we were able to wipe up with a towel, but that didn’t soak any sleeping bags. Never fear, a bead of silicon seam sealer on the outside will fix that before our next time out in the tent.

My other recommendation to Gander was to use a heavier duty floor. The site we used had a stone that I missed during setup and over the week it wore a tiny hole in the tent floor. Which leads to another point ALWAYS use a ground cloth or tarp when car camping. Camp ground sites are designed to drain well, which means they have lots of stones that will make short work of any tent floor.

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Conclusion

All-in-all this tent is a solid and spacious car camping tent. If you’re tired of cramped tents and want to have a few more creature comforts next summer then check out the Northern Lights 10 tent with vestibule.

We’ll be sealing that one seam before our next trip and expect to use it for years to come.

Take a look at the video above to see how easy setup and hear our first hand review of the tent.

Do you have a favourite car camping tent? We’d love to read your comments below.

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Woolpro 100% Merino Wool Layers

We’re always eager to try out Merino wool layers, so when WoolPro reached out to us with not just an offer for some clothing, but with a 178 year old story that went with it, our interest was piqued.

WoolPro (Est. 2012) is the brainchild of Charlie and Owen Merrow, 7th generation owners of the Merrow Sewing Machine Company  – US maker of industrial sewing machines since 1838. One of the features that sets them apart is what they call “Activeseam stitching” we’ll talk about that below.

Owen was the one that personally reached out to me, and that reflects something special about the company. They’re down to earth, connected and current. One of their main marketing avenues has been reddit of all places. They started and maintain a thread there (inluding a special reddit discount).

We were sent a couple layers that we’ve had the pleasure of testing out and we’re happy to share our experiences. Let’s look at the products and their features. We tried out:

  • Women’s Juno T-shirt in Carolina Blue
  • Women’s Helios in Navy Blue
  • Men’s Skylark (long sleeve) in Carolina Blue
  • Men’s Helios in Navy Blue

Just as a starting point, we should mention that not all Merino wool is woven equally. Fabric comes in different thread size, different tightness of weaves and different quality of preparation. All of that will result in a different stretch, different warmth and especially a different level of comfort. Woolpro uses 18.5 micron wool, which is finer and more comfortable.

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Women’s Juno T-shirt

  • Lightweight Merino Baselayer
  • 135 gram 18.5 micron 100% Merino Wool
  • ActiveSeam Stitching
  • Athletic cut
  • V-neck collar
  • Raglan Sleeves (no shoulder seams)
  • Side panel seams
  • Drop Tail
  • MSRP: $59.99

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Activewear needs to be just that. It has to allow you a good range of motion for activities likes running, cycling, backpacking, etc. The Woolpro Juno held up perfectly for that. On a recent trip we travelled 10 miles up a rough mountain trail into the snowy alpine. It was at times a scramble across creeks and down slopes. Even with a pack on, there were no sore spots or discomforts. This layer fits really well.

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This top uses WoolPro’s ActiveSeam technology. ActiveSeam Tech is designed to be low profile (to reduce discomfort), is meant to stretch more naturally to compliment merino wool properties, and be stronger than typical seams.

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It’s lightweight enough to handle warm weather and it does a fantastic job of handling the cold. When you’re moving in the mountains it’ll keep you warm until you get to camp, where you’ll want to add another layer (like the Helios).

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Men’s Skylark

  • Lightweight Merino Baselayer
  • Crew (long sleeve)
  • Raglan Sleeves (no sholder seams)
  • 135 gram 18.5 micron 100% Merino Wool
  • ActiveSeam Stitching
  • Athletic cut
  • V-neck collar
  • Side panel seams
  • Drop Tail
  • MSRP: $64.99

I’m a fan of long sleeve tops when hiking, so the Woolpro Skylark was for me. Even when working up a sweat on the trail, I was never uncomfortable with this top. I’m a stock medium and the dimensions were perfect for me. The cut is perfect. I can access a full range of motion without seams catching or feeling like it’s tight across the back, under the arms or anywhere else.

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Raglan sleeves are essential when backpacking for avoiding hot spots from seams rubbing against your skin. They also allow the shirt to hang better. We were also fans of the ActiveSeams. They seem to be doing their job and we’ll report back in time with how they’ve held up.

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Even when it got soaked from fast packing, I felt comfortable and warm in this top (one of the benefits of merino wool). When I got to camp I was able to hang it up and it dried overnight, even in cold weather.

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Do note that 135 gram merino is a more delicate fabric and won’t take the abuse of a heavier duty, heavier weight merino. We’re noticing a small amount of wear from backpack straps, but nothing to be concerned about yet.

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Helios Hoodies

  • Midweight Merino layer
  • Hoodie Style
  • Zipneck
  • 250 gram 18.5 micron 100% Merino Wool
  • Athletic cut
  • Temperature Range: 20 – 60 F
  • Drop Tail
  • MSRP: $129.99

The Helios Hoodie is a great cold weather active layer and fantastic for wearing around camp after putting down a couple miles on the trail. The hood is comfortable, while spacious enough to fit a helmet inside. The high zip collar is great for blocking out cold breezes when you need to as well.

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The 250 gram merino will keep you comfortable in cold weather and when used with a lighter weight base layer, should keep you warm until the sun goes down (at least in the Canadian Alpine).

We’re fussy about the length of our layers – we don’t like cold breezes… or mosquitos tickling across our back – so it’s nice to have the drop tail feature.  The zip pockets are great for all your small items around camp too.

 

Oh, and they look sharp too. You’d look pretty good wearing this around town – and definitely at your favourite BBQ joint after you climb off the trail! The odour eating qualities of Merino will ensure that you’re smelling fresh too!

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Conclusion

We’ve be very impressed with the construction, fit, overall quality of WoolPro layers. The company was relatively unknown to us and we weren’t sure what to expect, but we’re glad we checked them out. The quality and fit rival that of other high end merino companies, so you can expect these layers to perform.

Prices are in-line with other higher end merino wool, but what sets this brand apart is the down-to-earth feel we got from dealing with Owen and the Woolpro team. Any brand that is happy to head out into the storm that is reddit and comes back unscathed is a brand that you can expect great service from.

Check out WoolPro and let us know what you think of their layering options.

 

Paleo Meals to Go – The Best Freeze Dried meals we’ve tasted

I don’t follow a Paleo diet, but if it tastes as good as these meals I might. Paleo Meals to Go sent us 3 of their gluten free, grain free, milk free, soy free, nut free, shelf stable, and protein-rich freeze dried meals to test out and they were all fantastic. They are seriously the best freeze dried meals that I’ve tried – and it takes a lot to knock the Pad Thai off its throne.

We’ll look at each meal in a moment, but first I’d like to talk about what we liked so much about them.

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Clean Tasting. Most freeze dried meals get goopy and give you a heavy feeling after eating them. It may be because they’re grain free, but the Paleo Meals to Go that we tried tasted fresh, flavourful and yet didn’t give us that heavy in your stomach “I need a nap” feeling.

Lots of meat. These meals had 32 to 42 grams of protein in them. The Beef meals had chunks, literally chunks of beef. There was no ground beef or chicken in these meals. They were loaded with tasty, glorious, and copious amounts of protein. When you’re putting in the miles, protein is important for muscle regeneration. These meals will bring out the cave man in you.

Fresh Ingredients. Bright green and orange vegetables await you. seriously, look at the photos. They use coconut sugar and sea salt to sweeten and flavour the meals too, which taste delicious.

Now, on to the meals. First off, we loved each of them and would take them on any trip in the future. Two of our kids avoid gluten, so these would be ideal for them too. Check out the video of the trip we taste tested them on to see our reactions.

Bedrock Beef Chili

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Mrs. Adventure loved this one. Lots of big chunks of beef, fresh tasting. This mild chili had a perfectly balanced flavour and wasn’t overpowered by tomato. The Sweet potatoes were a delicious addition. Beef is the first ingredient! 5/5

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Ingredients: Beef (Beef, Salt), Sweet Potatoes, Onions, Tomato Powder, Seasoning Blend (Chili Powder [Chilies, Salt, Spices], Spices, Granulated Garlic), Carrots, Coconut Sugar, Red Bell Pepper, Green Bell Pepper, Tomatoes, Sea Salt.

Caldera Chicken Curry

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I’m not a huge chicken fan, but this one was surprisingly my favourite. The Coconut sugar and Pineapple were what did it for me. Pineapple slays me and that, with the curry spices were absolutely fantastic. Chicken is the first ingredient! 5/5

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Ingredients: Chicken, Pineapple, Spinach, Coconut Sugar, Red Bell Pepper, Seasoning (Garam Masala, Spices, Curry Powder), Onions, Celery, Sea Salt.

Mountain Beef Stew

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We ate this for breakfast, overlooking the mountains… and fought over the last spoonfuls. This good ol’ fashioned stew hits the spot. This may have been Mrs. Adventure’s favourite. The mushrooms were big, juicy and fresh. The celery was plentiful and green. Beef is the first ingredient! 5/5

Ingredients: Cooked Beef (beef, salt), carrots, onions, mushrooms, celery, spices (spices, granulated garlic), sea salt.

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Conclusion

You don’t have to be a Paleo adventurer to enjoy these meals. Even if you’re not you need to check these meals out. The fresh ingredients, delicious recipes and abundance of protein will leave you full, energised and ready for adventure. Check out Paleo Meals to Go and tell us which meal looks most appetising to you.

 

Full disclosure:

Paleo Meals to Go supplied us with these meals free of charge for review. All opinions are our own and reflect what we would tell family and friends.

The North Face Talus 3 Tent

The Talus 3 is a tent that can take abuse , protect you from the elements and is still packable enough to take on your backpacking trip.

Live Out There contacted us, asking us for our honest opinions of this tent by The North Face and we are happy to do so.

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Let’s take a look at the features and then break into our review:

Features

  • Dimensions
    • Floor area – 38.94 sqft
    • Vestibule area – (9.27 sqft per)
    • Height – 46”
    • Packed size – 8” x 23”
  • Features:
    • 3-person
    • Dual Vestibule
    • Dual Door
    • Gear Loft
    • Ground Cloth
    • Ventilation
    • DAC Shepherd’s Crook tent stakes
    • guylines
  • Materials
    • Rainfly – 75D Polyester with 1200 mm PU coating
    • Canopy (inner tent) – 68D polyester
    • Floor – 70D nylon with a 3000 mm PU coating
    • DAC featherlight NSL poles
  • Weight
    • Trail weight – 5 lbs 6.7 oz
    • Fastpack Weight – 3 lbs 12.6 oz (Ground cloth, poles and rainfly)
    • Total
  • MSRP: $329 – $269 on Live Out There . Com

That’s a lot of detail, so let’s get into it.

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Let’s start with the big questions: Weight and packability. The Talus 3 is marketed as a cross over tent – light enough for backpacking, but durable enough for car camping. Ultralight tents tend to use the lightest, most modern fabrics and a smaller floor are, which means a much higher cost and less durability. Car Camping tents tend to use more economical fabrics, have more space, take up a lot of space when packed and weigh a LOT. The Talus 3 bridges that gap, while leaning more to the lightweight scale – a 3-person tent that weighs 5 lbs 7 oz and packs down to an 8” x 23” tube… smaller if you have experience packing it, and lighter if you leave the ground cloth behind.

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The Tent offers 3 configurations:

  • Using all components (ground cloth, tent, poles and rainfly)
  • Using the tent, poles and rainfly
  • Using just the ground cloth, poles and rainfly

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The lightest option is ideal for fast backpacking trips (3 lbs 12.6 oz), while the full setup with ground cloth is fantastic for car camping where camp ground gravel can beat up your floor.

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The Talus 3 opts for Polyester for the rainfly and canopy. This fabric is more durable than siliconized nylon and also holds up better to rain and sunshine. Sil nylon tends to sag when wet and it is not recommended that sil nylon tents are left setup during the day time due to the effect of the sun on them. We are happy throwing a handful of kids in this tent and letting them wrestle and play in it – whereas our ultralight sil nylon tent has a “no playing policy”.

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To save weight, the Talus 3 has a typical backpacking tent sized floor (39 square feet) and backpacking tent height (46” at the peak). The tent can fit 3 adults side by side with gear stored in the amply sized dual vestibules, or 4-5 kids facing the other way, with their gear stored inside the tent.

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Dual vestibules offer great access for entry and exit, especially if all your gear is kept in one vestibule and provide enough space for footwear and typical backpacking kit. The gear loft and pockets will hold all the gear you’ll want on hand (watches, phones, headlamps, meds, etc).

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This tent is fantastically simple to setup. My 8 year old can set this up easily. The design has all poles connected, so there’s no confusion of which pole goes where (a common problem with lower priced, car camping style tents).

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The attachment system is easy and intuitive, and once setup offers a solid, tensioned tent. Poles are DAC (anodized aluminum) a high quality, lightweight aluminum that is the standard for high quality tents.

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The North Face opted for heavier duty DAC shepherd’s crook poles for stakes. They’re stronger and less likely to bend than the typical stakes that are included in backpacking tents. I’m guessing this choice was for the compacted ground found at car camping campsites.

 

The full sized rainfly stakes down tightly and includes extra guylines to setup during a storm. The Talus 3 doesn’t come with enough stakes to setup the tent, rainfly and guylines, but the tent sets up so well without them that you’d only need them during a pretty strong storm. You can also remove the stakes used to stake down the inner tent to attach the guylines.

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One challenge tent designer’s face is ventilation. A full size rainfly is great for keeping rain out, but it can inhibit airflow needed to remove moisture from breathing – the moisture that builds up on the inside of your tent walls. Even when we tested this with 4 boys on a hot, Eastern Washington weekend, it held up to the test. In the morning, even with no breeze, there were no problems with moisture. The rainfly has two vents that seem to do the trick. If you were to stake out the guy lines, ventilation is even more improved.

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Conclusion

The Talus 3 is a solid tent that we intend to use a lot this summer. The durability, weight and packability make it ideal for canoeing, car camping and even backpacking. 5 lbs 7 oz is not in the ultralight range, but isn’t overly heavy, especially if you divide the tent components between 3 people. When using the Fastpacking option (just over 3.5 lbs) you’ll be cruising. What ties it together is the price. For $329 ($269 on live other there) you’re getting North Face quality and reliability and at a very respectable weight.

If you’re looking for one tent to handle all your outdoor adventures, the North Face Talus 3 should be high on the list of prospects.

 

Teton Sports Adventurer Cot & Comfortlite Sleeping Pad

Over a year ago we picked up two Teton Sports Adventurer Cots and Regular Comfortlite Self Inflating Sleeping Pads (2″) and boy are we glad we did.

We bought them for car camping and they have been awesome. They’re easy to setup, incredibly sturdy and and built to last.
Let’s take a look at the Features and then talk performance

Features:

Teton Sports Adventurer Cot

Teton Sports Comfortlite Self-Inflating Sleeping Pad

  • Packed size: 26″ x 6″ x 6″
  • Bed Size: 72″ x 25″ x 2″
  • Top: ComforTech™ Stretch Microfiber Top
  • Bottom: Grey Non-Slip Bottom
  • Insulated with open cell foam
  • Storage Bag: 70D Stuff Sack with Offset Shoulder Strap
  • Velcro Strip for attaching two pads together
  • Weight: 2 lbs 12 oz
  • MSRP:  $95 on Amazon (affiliate link)

Testing
We’ve used them on multiple week long car camping trips, as beds during moves, separately and together. We’ve loaned them out to family and friends and they’re still going strong. Everyone has been impressed with how easily they setup and how comfortable they are (even without the optional sleeping pads) and how well they’re constructed.
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Performance

Disclaimer: these are not for ultralight backpacking. They are for car camping, canoe camping, base camp camping, or anywhere you want a fantastic, luxurious night’s sleep.

The 600D Poly Canvas used on the Cot is fantastically durable. You may have seen the Teton Sports video of 11 guys standing on their XXL cot… do a search it’s quite impressive. It’s also breathable, so you’ll get a decent amount of airflow.

The stainless steel frame performs great. It adds to the weight (20 lbs) but It’s a small price to pay for the durability you get from it.

I did have two of the plastic spacers in the frame break when I opened it incorrectly one time, but they didn’t affect performance and Teton Sports was quick to send me replacements and thank me for the feedback.

One thing I love about these cots is that they give you plenty of room to store all your gear underneath. That opens up your tent floor a ton… especially when you have 4 kids!

The spreader bars on the cots are offset to allow two cots to be placed closer for two people – ideal when you use the comfortlite sleeping pads which velcro together.

We purchased these sleeping pads to go with our Teton Sports Adventure Cots. While not necessary, they provide a whole ton of comfort to an already luxurious sleep setup.

The Comfortlite Sleeping Pads that we purchased were the Regular 2″ version. They’re insulated which makes them self inflating. They are 26″x6″ when rolled up and weigh 2 lbs 12 oz. They offer two inches of padding when inflated and are spacious (75″x25″x2″). The insulation means they’re great for winter camping and, if you use them on the ground, will provide plenty of protection from heat loss.

They can be used by themselves or with the Teton Sports Cots. Either way you’ll get an incredibly comfort night’s sleep.

Oh, and the awesome bit: the sleeping pads velcro together, which is perfect for couples! We have used these for week long trips with our cots. velcroing the pads together meant it was easier to use both normal bedding and double wide sleeping bags without cold breezes coming up between the pads.

Conclusion

If you want to enjoy the outdoors, but get a good, comfortable night’s sleep at the same time, check out the Teton Sports Adventurer Cot and Comfortlite Insulated Sleeping Pads.

These cots and sleeping pads are an excellent investment. They will give you an excellent night’s sleep in the outdoors and serve double duty as luxurious guest beds for when you have company.

Everyone that we’ve loaned them to has been impressed… and a little reluctant to give them back!

 

Tubbs Flex VRT Snowshoes

Lightweight snowshoes with easy fastening binding and great traction is what you get from a set of Tubbs Flex VRT Snowshoes. Verde PR asked me if I was interested in reviewing a pair of FLEX VRTs from Tubbs, and I took the opportunity. We’ve had the Flex Juniors for our youngest for a few years now and I wanted to try something lighter and more agile than my 36″ Tubbs Mountaineering Snowshoes. Let’s talk features and then go into what we thought about them.

Tubbs Flex VRT

Features

  • Torsion Deck
  • Dynamic Fit Bindings
  • Boa Lacing
  • Traction Rails
  • Viper 2.0 Toe Crampons (Carbon Steel)
  • Flex Tail
  • Rotating Toe Cord – Rotation Limiter
  • Heel Riser
  • Weight: 4.5 lbs
  • Length: 24″ or 28″
  • Warranty: Manufacturer Limited Lifetime
  • MSRP: $249.99

Testing

We took these out snowshoeing on packed ice as well as deep powder. We tested these in temperatures well below freezing.

What do we Think?

Where the Mountaineer Snowshoe is heavier, slower and suited for rugged untravelled wilderness, the Flex VRT are light and fast, excelling on trails where snow isn’t as deep. As such, we found the Flex to be more versatile, easier to use and better for recreational snowshoeing.

The Torsion Deck is build to allow the snowshoe to twist and contour to uneven terrain. We found this to work fantastically well on varied terrain with lots of undulation. The flex allowed the crampons and traction rails to get a better bite.

Tubbs Flex VRT

The Traction Rail concept is great. Not only is there a toe crampon under your foot, but along the length of the snowshoe itself there are zig-zagging rails that stop you from slipping when going up and down hills. It’s a great addition and gives you that much more security on sloped landscapes.

The Flex Tail is supposedly Biomechanically designed to decrease stress on your body by absorbing shock from heel strike. It’s one of those things that I’m sure you probably wouldn’t notice unless it wasn’t there. I’m sure it’s measureable on machines, and I’m glad it’s there, but it wasn’t something I could emphatically say, “hey that’s way better” about. That said, less stress on your body is a good thing, and I trust that there’s science behind it.

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By far the coolest thing about these Snowshoes are the bindings. The Dynamic fit binding allows you to step in and spin the boa to tighten. As one solid unit it presses against the top of your foot giving a well distributed amount of pressure. Because the dynamic fit spreads the pressure out, they’re much more comfortable and secure. There’s no sore spots from pressure points. I wish these were on the Flex Juniors as I’m constantly having to adjust them until they’re “just right”.

 

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The Boa is a great addition. They’re easy to tighten and loosen. Just pull out the boa knob and it releases the cable tension, allowing you to step with ease. It’s also great as I’m usually the last one into the snowshoes after helping all the kids out with there’s. I don’t have to run to catch up any more!

Like some of the other Tubbs models, these VRTs include the Heel Riser. The heel riser puts your foot in a comfortable position when ascending steep hills. Check out the Mountaineering review here for a demo of them.

The Rotating Toe Cord – Rotation Limiter sounds pretty technical doesn’t it? What it means is this: When you take a step, the front of the snowshoe lifts up, so you don’t catch the tip in the snow, but it stop before tipping too far. It causes the snow to slide off the back of the shoe, lightening the load, but prevents you from bumping your shins on the front of the snowshoe. Pretty cool, AND it works.

The design is slightly slimmer than the Mountaineering Snowshoes, meaning you sink a bit more into deep powder, so if you’re expecting to go venture into deep powder, go with the 28″ VRTs or the 36 Mountaineering snowshoes.

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Conclusion

We were impressed with the Flex VRTs by Tubbs. The biggest points that impressed us were the Dynamic Fit Bindings with Boa lacing, the Traction rails and the flexing Torsion Deck. These are fantastic all-round snowshoes great for recreational snowshoeing. They’re incredibly comfortable, great for all terrain and are built to last. The $249 MSRP of $249 may put them out of your price grade if you’re going once or twice a year, but if you plan to hit the snow covered trails on a regular basis, you won’t be disappointed when you invest in a pair of these.

The only sad thing now is having to pack them up and send them off to the next reviewer!

Let us know about your experiences with Tubbs Snowshoes. Do you own a pair? Would you buy these? Leave your comments below.

 

 

Full disclosure: I was lent a pair of Flex VRTs to review by VerdePR. All opinions are my own and what I would recommend to family and friends.

Timberland men’s 6 inch insulated boot (waterproof)

Meet one of the most multipurpose boots you will ever put on your feet. Timberland’s Premium Waterproof boots are considered to be among the best outdoor work boots available, and after working on a few backyard garden projects combined with a variety of walks and hikes, I consider these to be among my most versatile outdoor footwear.
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Pulling the Timberland boots out of the box, the first thing I noticed is that they are heavy duty. The leather is solid, the soles are thick and the lugs deep. I enjoy that they remind me of traditional hiking boots, and almost make me feel like John Muir might have worn a pair.
I was given the opportunity to test a pair of boots through KicksUSA, and selected the black Timberland Premium 6 inch boot.
Here are the features:
  • Premium full-grain leather upper for rugged durability
  • Primaloft insulation
  • Waterproof seam-sealed construction is guaranteed to keep feet dry in any weather
  • Rustproof hardware for durability and an authentic Timberland look
  • Padded collar for a comfortable fit around the ankle
  • Textile lining and footbed cover for breathability
  • EVA footbed for lightweight cushioning, shock absorption and all-day comfort
  • Rubber lug outsole for traction and durability
  • Steel shank for arch support
  • MSRP: $190
Although not mentioned on the KicksUSA website, Timberland’s website notes that these boots come with Primaloft insulation. This was welcome news as I was planning to take them with me for a trip into the snow.
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When you first put the boots on, they are stiff and pretty difficult to walk around in. However, within a couple weeks (depending on how frequently you where them) they start to become more comfortable. As tempting as it might be to break them in on a hike, I’d much rather recommend short walks around the neighborhood or a stroll around the yard initially as the first few times can be uncomfortable.
Having broken them in, the comfort level of the boots goes up dramatically. In the pacific northwest where I’m normally found, we have gone out on a few walks in the pouring rain, and the Timberland boots don’t let a drop of moisture through. In fact, when the boots are clean they shed a fair amount of water, looking like they’ve hardly been outside. My feet stayed comfortable even on fairly warm rainy days, which made me wonder about how effective the insulation was. To find out, we joined Mr. Adventure up in the Okanagan and spent a long weekend in the snow. Going sledding and snowshoeing, my feet were very comfortable despite wearing only slightly heavier socks than normal. Going up to my ankles in snow I didn’t feel the slightest chill. This was quite a surprise to me, especially while in the midst of a group wearing thick socks in boots clearly designed for the extremes of winter. Perhaps these boots wouldn’t do quite so comfortably in the extremes, but they’ve definitely covered the vast majority of outdoor conditions I’ve ever faced. Its still a bit early to get a long term feel of their waterproofness, but they look promising.
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When we’ve been at home, I have worn these Timberland boots for the majority of my outdoor garden projects. One of my earliest projects was digging a drainage path under one of our downspouts in the middle of a downpour. I was completely soaked… except my feet. The heavy duty sole was very useful in maintaining foot comfort while digging out a space for our raised garden bed, building the garden box, and helping the family fill it up with soil. Perhaps the best way to describe these boots in the yard is that they are so stable and comfortable, that I think about my task more than I think about my feet. As a note these boots do not have any specialized toe protection, though timberland does have a line of boots with toe protection specifically in mind.
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No boot is perfect though, and I have found one condition where I find the Timberland premium waterproof boots uncomfortable, and that is walking fast on a paved surface. They feel just fine when walking at an easy pace on pavement, but my feet felt a bit sore when I needed to pick up the pace over a 1/4 mile.
Timberland’s boots have a couple of foibles that are worth mentioning. They aren’t hard to manage, but its information that’s good to know. Because the sole is significantly wider than your foot, I have found it very difficult driving while wearing them. They are not very forgiving if you don’t place your foot quite right an on one occasion I found myself pressing both the brake and gas pedal at the same time. The second challenge is the laces. When taking the boots off, I find I need to loosen the laces quite a lot and have the laces come out of the top two eyes. In and of itself that’s not a problem, the laces still do not touch the ground and it’s easy to slip on the boots for around the camp or doing a quick job in the garden. However, over time the laces have been progressing out of alignment and I feel like I’m going to be redoing the laces  much sooner than I’ve ever done with my other shoes.
Depending on the color you get, Timberland’s boots offer one extra benefit not considered in your typical boots. If there is a call for slightly more formal attire (not a black tie dinner, but more than jeans and a t-shirt) or smart attire in snowy weather, then you have a pair of rugged boots that look good too.
For work or for walks, for rain or for snow, the Timberland waterproof boots are about a versatile as you can get, tackling a variety of outdoor conditions with hardiness, stability and comfort that will let you focus on the fun and not on your feet.
The strengths of these boots are such that when our family of 5 goes backpacking this summer, I’ll be reaching for my Timberland premium waterproof boots because their solid construction and high ankle is helpful for me as I carry the lion’s share of the gear making sure that the whole family has a pleasant experience outdoors.
In summary then:
Pros:
– Waterproof
– Insulated
– Durable
– Looks
Cons:
– Heavier
– Hard to put on without entirely loosening the laces
– Shoelaces get out of position
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These are excellent boots to have when working or playing outdoors. Your feet will stay comfortable through just about any weather condition that you could face (particularly in the Pacific Northwest) while moving at a moderate pace.

Columbia Bugaboo Plus Omni-Heat® kids boots

Canada gets cold in winter, so cold, that the kids complained when out snowshoeing. What’s a family to do? We bought the kids new Columbia Bugaboot Plus Kids boots. With a -32 C rating, these boots have been an excellent purchase. They’ve proved themselves through two kids and many cold adventures. Were they worth the investment? Definitely.

Features

  • Omni-Heat thermal reflective, insulated
  • Waterproof suede and PU coated leather
  • Waterproof seam sealed
  • 200 grams insulation rated -25F/-32C
  • Molded EVA with nylex cover
  • Injection molded rubber shell/outsole
  • Weight: size 1, ½ pair = 14.6 oz/413.9g
  • MSRP: $70 USD (I paid $32 new)

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Testing

Winters snowshoeing, sledding, hiking and doing the paper route. These have hit 20 below (Celsius) on more than one occasion. After two years and two winters in the great white north that is Canada, I can’t think of much more we could put them through.

What do we think?

200 grams of insulation combined with the omni-heat reflection is fantastic.  If you want to get outdoors in cold weather your kids need good footwear. Kids don’t complain until their feet are already icy, and that’s a risk. When we switched from lower quality insulated boots to these the winter experience became fun for everyone.  Seriously, fun. We didn’t have to cut trips short, or sit there massaging frosty toes in the cold. We were only limited by the energy they had.

The seam sealed, waterproof suede still looks good after 2 winters of use. We expect to pass these on to Jr. Adventurer #3 next year.

The injection molded rubber performs well in cold weather meaning it stays pliable and allows great traction on ice and hard ground.

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Conclusion

What’s more to say? These Columbia Bugaboot Plus boots are a fantastic investment for an outdoors family. They’re not cheap, but they’re worth it for two reasons:

  • The Quality – You won’t have to replace them as often as low-quality boots
  • The Performance – They keep the kids’ feet toasty warm, enabling more outside time in cold weather

If you want to get outdoors in winter and need some new boots for the kids, check them out. We have the Bugaboot Plus II, and will definitely be taking a list at the Bugaboot Plus III for next year.

Have you bought Columbia kids’ boots before? What did you think?

Stio Women’s Environ Pants – Gear Review

For a lot longer than I really want to admit, I have been on the hunt for the perfect pair of snow pants. I also don’t want to fess up to exactly how many pairs of snow pants I’ve bought on the hunt that have found themselves in the “I’ll keep this to lend to someone”, or the giveaway pile. Let’s just say it’s a lot. Given my body shape (short with a string bean torso and mountain loving thunder thighs) and lifestyle (tough on gear, frequently clumsy, and usually being pulled by a neurotic and over enthusiastic husky) – not much survives.

So, when a few things came together and I found myself with the chance to test out the Stio Environ Pant, I went into it with my fingers crossed. Could these finally be “the pants”? Would they survive me sliding (unintentionally) down the icy slopes of New England with a snowboard on my feet? How would they fare when my snow deprived husky decided to drag me head over heels into a wall of snow with micro-spikes on? And uhm… would my thighs fit?

Yes. Heck yes to all of the above.

 

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Let’s talk about some of the nitty gritty details before I dive into why I’m in love with these pants.

Features

  • TORAYDELFY™ 10,000mm 3L Stretch Waterproof/Breathable 50D 1743 g/m2 DWR Polyester
  • Abrasion proof schoeller® dynatec kickpatch and scuff guard
  • Fully Seam Sealed
  • Adjustable waistband
  • Zippered front fly
  • Hidden MaxVent™ thigh vents at inseam
  • YKK® water-resistant zippers at back pockets, thigh pocket and hand pockets
  • Internal boot gaiters
  • Custom silicone zipper pulls and metal snaps
  • Inseam length: 31.5”
  • Weight: 20 oz
  • Regular Fit
  • MSRP: $350 USD

 

What are we talking about? Pants. To be super specific, the Environ Pant in Black Iris… which basically goes with absolutely everything.

Who makes ‘em? Stio, an awesome little company based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (where I’ve never been and I’m sure if I go I won’t be able to leave). Their philosophy is you should be able to enjoy great gear both when the going is super tough or a stroll in the snowy park.

How much? The Stio Environ Pant retails for $350. I’ve tried several pairs of competitor’s badly designed snow pants that retailed for about $800, so clearly I should have gone with Stio a long time ago.

What do we think?

So what exactly made the Environ Pant perfect?

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Fit. Many of the pairs of snow pants I’ve retired just didn’t fit right. Given my more athletic shape, I often found I was cursed with a super tight fit around the thighs, the notorious bubble butt (even in shell pants like these), and battered hip bones from low waist fits. These pants are made for women who want to be able to do more than stand around at après-ski. I hiked, snowshoed, snowboarded, cross country skied, and kept up with my husky in these… and looked good while eating sugar waffles après-ski. Win.

 

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Material. The snow pants that haven’t been retired due to fit usually met their demise with some type of material failure. I’m the cool kid who has in fact managed to stomp on herself with crampons and micro-spikes, and most snow pants can’t take that. Stio was brilliant and included a real abrasion proof kickpatch and scuff guard right where I’m usually stabbing myself with traction devices. And uh… I tested it. It worked. Yay! As for the rest of the pant, they chose to use this cool TORAYDELFY material that is surprisingly forgiving to movement, unexpected downpours and slush puddles… and that drink I spilled on myself.

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Features. The Environ Pant is loaded with little features that make a big difference. My favorites were definitely:

  • the MaxVent thigh vents (seriously well placed and highly effective),
  • a wonderfully adjustable waistband to accommodate changes in layers and fit,
  • all the fantastic lined pockets with waterproof zippers,
  • And that kickpatch/scuff guard of course.

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So was there anything I didn’t love?

The only things I didn’t love were such incredibly minor details that they’re easy to overlook or work with. For example, the internal boot gaiter is shorter and tighter than I’m accustomed to and was a bit tough to get around my snowboard boot. I also wish there was somewhere convenient to clip a season pass to, but that’s a non-issue.

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Bottom Line

I’m full out in love with these pants. Not only do they look great, they function at the level I need them to and they handle my abuse like they were made for it. And yes, I’ll admit the price tag can seem a bit daunting at first. But I know I’ll be wearing the Environ Pant for many more winters and good gear is always worth the investment. Basically, you need some Stio pants in your life.

About the author:

Jillian Bejtlich is a lifelong New Englander plagued by severe wanderlust and a serious love of the outdoors . She’ll try any relatively sane thing at least once and is obsessed with getting more people (and dogs) outside. Find her on Twitter (@JillianLaura), Instagram (@jillpoke), and explore more of her New England adventures at Tails from the Trails.

 

 

Full Disclosure: This item was received free for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own and reflect what we would recommend to family and friends.

Columbia Sportswear Rope Tow II Kids’ Boots

If you plan on taking your kids out in below freezing temperatures, you need to invest in a good set of boots. We bought two pairs of Columbia boots for our older kids last year and this year they are in use by their siblings. They’ve handled winter camping, snowshoeing, and hiking in  -15 degree Celsius weather and our kids never complained. The feet were warm and dry. These were not freebie items for review, they were investments on our part… and they paid off. Here’s a look at the first pair: Columbia Sportswear Rope Tow II Kids’ boots.

 

Columbia Sportswear Rope Tow II (Now updates as the Rope Tow III) – Rated for -25 degrees F (-35C) comfort

  • Waterproof rubber foot
  • Quilted, abrasion-resistant nylon and suede shaft and tongue
  • Cozy fleece lining
  • Comfort rated to -25°F (-35 C)
  • Bungee lace closure system
  • Omni-Grip® traction rubber outsole with multidirectional lugs
  • Insulation: 200g insulation
  • Upper: Suede and nylon
  • Lining: Textile
  • Midsole: TechLite®
  • Outsole: Omni-Grip® non-marking rubber
  • Height: 6″
  • Weight (pair): 1 lb. 4 oz.
  • MSRP: $60 USD – We paid $24 off season at the Sierra Trading Post

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Testing

We are on our second year in these boots and they are still performing strong. We expect to pass them on to the third kid next winter too.

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What do we think?

Let’s just start with what inspired me to write a review of these boots. Today we wanted to go snowshoeing as a family in -10 C weather (14 F for our american readers). Today we got 100 yards before the kid without the Columbia boots complained of the cold. That’s right, the no-name felt lined boots we bout for Jr. Adventurer #4 started complaining that his feet were cold. Again. This was the second day this week that he complained about his feet being cold. So, I’m already looking for another pair of Columbia boots, because otherwise we won’t be getting out any more this winter. Le Sigh.

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Last year we went snowshoeing in -20 C weather (-4 F) and the kids didn’t complain about the cold at all, even after a couple hours in the mountains. The boots are excellently warm and incredibly comfortable. The 200 Gram of insulation does the trick. In wet snow the waterproofing keeps the kids’ feet dry and cosy, which just adds to the comfort.

The fact that these boots use a Bungee lace system is a bonus. They get a better fit, and we don’t have to help our boy put them on.

The grip is fantastic as well. the omni directional lugs on the Omni-grip outsole do a great job of keeping traction on the sledding hills as well. And that’s essential.

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Conclusion

If you’re looking for boots that will last and that you can pass on next year, check out the Rope Tow II (or the newer Rope Tow III) by Columbia. They have been a great investment for our kids. Nothing ends a winter adventure quicker than cold feet, so exchange the discomfort of cheap winter boots for a solid pair of Columbia Rope Tow IIIs, or wait for our review of the Bugaboot Plus IIIs for older kids.

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