Product Reviews

Good equipment is one of the most essential parts of any successful outdoor journey, be that on foot, bicycle or motor vehicle. Backwoods Equipment Company offers some of the best in products, pre-tested and found worthy of our adventures. Here are a few of my observations.

Osprey Karve 11 Snowpack
Oklahoma missed the cue for winter this year. My new Karve 11 was at risk of going into hibernation without being touched by a single snowflake. With no ski trips on the horizon, I decided to strap it on for our Norman Backwoods hike in March, before the summer heat rendered the prospects for testing a seasonal faux pas. The Karve 11 was created with skiers and snowboarders in mind, but I discovered its value as a day pack for hiking.
Three zippered compartments, small, medium and large are graced with molded finger loops, making them easy to open with or without gloves. The largest compartment has ample room for a rain jacket, a Tilley hat, spare gloves or all of the above. A durable nylon bulkhead facilitates use of a hydration bladder and a sturdy, well placed loop keeps it from sagging. The drinking hose zips snugly inside a full length tube within the right harness strap, which helps prevent freezing and keeps the mouthpiece from becoming contaminated. The middle section is almost as large and sports an expandable pouch for isolating smaller items within its surprisingly roomy interior.
The smallest compartment is insulated against cold or impact. The insulation layer provides sufficient support to help the pack keep its shape whether empty or full. Total capacity is 10 or 11 liters depending upon pack size, S/M or M/L. External draw cords and a removable belt make hands-free ski-toting a breeze and torpedo-tube style pockets on either side offer safe, vertical pole stowage for ski or hiking poles. I found the Karve 11 surprisingly comfortable with its form fitting foam pad and well designed harness system. The straps stayed put even without buckling the chest strap, which can be adjusted up or down for best fit. It keeps its shape whether empty or full. Snow or dirt egress is minimized by the fact there are no outside pockets or drinking hose ports.
The Karve 11 has more than snow in its DNA. It will serve you well through spring as a small daypack, but needs more ventilation against the back for outright summer use. In all fairness, as a product designed for one season, it would work fine for at least three and if you ski…? Enough said.
It comes in Whiteout, Double Black and Redline colors with hip graphics. $89.00 at Backwoods

Be Warm, Look Cool! Marmot does both with their Gravity jacket and Alpinist Half Zip pullover…

I remember the first time I heard the term “technical” used as it relates to weather gear. I was two days out of Bar Harbor, Maine headed for Washington State, pedaling a loaded bicycle. The sun rose before 5 a.m. and it was cold, even in June. I had only brought summer gear, so I wheeled into an outdoor outfitter to purchase something to stave off the chill. The salesman explained the difference between the conventional fleece vest I was considering and a super lightweight and highly acclaimed vest he said was more suited to my needs. I went with the technical version and have never looked back. Marmot has come a long way since the early days of making products worthy of being called technical, which I now understand means a garment which uses functional, high performance fabrics often incorporating hidden components that increase the wearer’s comfort, be that warm, cool, dry or any combination of the above.
Marmot Gravity Jacket
This February our Backwoods hike took our hardy group to the top of Pontotoc Ridge in southeastern Oklahoma, with The Nature Conservancy. Temperatures ranged from 19 degrees with 16 mph winds at the start, to 22 degrees a few hours and several miles later. I had chosen to laminate my body with an Under Armour base layer followed by an Icebreaker 260 wool shirt and Marmot’s Alpinist half-zip pullover. The Alpinist’s polyester grid construction was surprisingly warm as a mid-layer and, even with my outer shell partially unzipped, the built in wind flap kept my neck warm. I wrapped the whole affair in Marmot’s Gravity jacket, a lightweight, soft-shell that utilizes several innovations to increase comfort range. Marmot’s M1 technology combines Gore Windstopper with nylon and polyester in such a way that wind and water infiltration just don’t happen. The Gravity weighs in at about a pound, further increasing its utility as part of a system adaptable to the ever changing climate and variable physical effort commonly encountered when outdoors. The Gravity is sometimes considered a mid-layer, but I found it a perfect outer shell during this hike in less than friendly conditions. Dri Clime, Marmot’s ultra soft material for sensitive skin contact areas, lines the inside front and collar and prevents the chafing so often associated with active weather gear. The Gravity could hold its own in a shower as well, but it would be advisable to add a full-on rain shell in a downpour.
Alpinist Half Zip Pullover
I found the whole package comfortable, with plenty of freedom of movement, thanks in no small part to Marmot’s Angel Wing Technology, their proprietary jacket cut which allows a stylish fit but still leaves plenty of room for a full range of arm motion. The Gravity’s shoulder pocket and Alpinist’s left vest pocket were handy places to stash a compass or a snack and they look cool too. The Gravity also sports a convenient draw string extending into the pockets for snugging up the bottom, further sealing out any draft.
Technical gear is worth its weight, or lack thereof, when the need arises to keep the elements in check while functioning at a high level outdoors. Thanks, Marmot and Backwoods, for keeping us well outfitted!
Teva Forge Pros, Better’n Advil… for my feet!
Plantar Fasciitis stinks worse than my old leather Raichle hiking boots. It also takes the fun out of hiking. My affliction, the foot pain I mean, comes on with the regularity of a bran-fed Basset hound. Finding a pair of hiking shoes that doesn’t exacerbate the situation is a blessing beyond relief. My Teva Forge Pro eVents are fast becoming my favorite hikers. That is tall praise from a guy who has run the gauntlet from the aforementioned Raichles, circa 1977, to some of the best technical shoes I could afford.
The Forge Pro cradles my heel in a comfortable, even springy compartment that Teva calls the blended Polyurethane/EVA Shoc-Pad heel. Much of the support falls to the rest of my foot, effectively suspending the heel a bit and preventing the full impact of each step from falling on the tender plantar area. Consequently much of what seems to cause the pain when I walk is eliminated. I also like the eVent technology that effectively works as a check valve, letting moisture from sweat pass through, while keeping out the dew from wet grass. I haven’t tried them yet in a full-on rainstorm but so far, shallow creek crossings with partially buried rocks have netted dry feet.
Traction on boulders is excellent for a hiking shoe. Teva’s Spider 365 rubber compound makes the grip of Vibram feel almost leather-like by comparison. It’s tacky, but not so much that you are likely to turn an ankle pivoting on a dry rock. It will release well enough to shift or twist without undue force. The reverse cut heel tread offers excellent braking on downhills and climbing is as secure as it gets this side of barefoot. I am eager to test them on extended hikes and even tougher terrain, but at first blush, the Teva Forge Pro’s are working their way into my heart and to the front of my closet.

Exofficio Underwear Pack it Light, Pack it Tight!
There aren’t a lot of washing machines in Swaziland, but that’s no reason for a guy to smell bad. Packing light is essential and there isn’t much room for spares. Exofficio underwear truly does travel well and yes, a pair or two is all a guy really needs. They dry in a jiffy and it takes longer for the funk to take hold in the first place. I’m sold. I guess you could say they have become one of my closest travel companions.

Osprey Vector 28” 75L Lightweight Wheeled Travel Luggage & Osprey Porter 46 Adventure Travel Pack
Airports can be enough fuss without having to fight with your luggage. Add a balky handle retractor or tiny plastic wheels that refuse to cooperate and your handy-dandy rollie-cart could become the last straw.
Osprey has put a lot of thought into their luggage and succeeded in making life easier for the traveler. The Vector 28 boasts a 75-liter capacity and oversized, sealed bearing wheels to tackle rough pavement, carpet or even dirt and mud. I typically like to pack light, but when flying I might choose a few more clothing options than when say, riding my BMW R1200GS Adventure out west or down to Mexico. I must admit I find it desirable to carry the extras with some semblance of ease whenever possible. I have used a variety of vanity brand luggage with mixed success, but nothing yet has compared to Osprey’s tough, lightweight 6061 aluminum High Road Chassis system and bombproof 1680D Ballistic nylon shell for pure durability and function. The frame maintains just enough shape in the pack to keep things tidy, yet provides enough flexibility to squeeze it into the trunk where the typical square bags just won’t fit. Rough baggage handlers aren’t as likely to rip the Vector open and spill your personal items onto the tarmac either. A densely padded cover protects fragile belongings from direct impact and a roomy liquids pocket makes it easy to present your Ziploc bag to the TSA agents without frantically digging through everything.
Smooth, lockable zippers, mesh and pack cloth inner pockets, a long outer pocket plus separate stowage for dirty laundry are just a few of the features making the Vector my go-to bag for grab-and-run travel. An innovative stowed strap near the handle simplifies stacking a smaller messenger or computer bag piggyback for scooting across the parking lot or airport without losing it to the laws of physics. Strategically placed, padded handles help with the ergonomics of loading or grabbing the bag off the luggage conveyor. Osprey has their act together with the Vector 28.
The Vector is available in 30, 46 and 75 liter sizes. The 75 liter as tested runs: $239.00 and comes in Charcoal, Earth and Pepper. Get yours at Backwoods Equipment Company:

Osprey Porter 46 Adventure Travel Pack
When toting gear, the perfect companion to any wheeled luggage is a substantial backpack built for the occasion. We have all been stuck dragging dueling rolling bags in our wake, but it can be like herding cats going up stairs and downright dangerous on an escalator! Osprey has come to the rescue with the Porter 46, a versatile, 46-liter luggage system that incorporates a strap and harness to help shoulder the load where it won’t be in the way.
On a recent trip to Las Vegas with my wife, I used the Porter 46 backpack along with the 75-liter Vector 28 rolling bag and found the combination just right. Our week not only involved her convention and a costume party which required a good deal of cumbersome foolishness in the form of leather and boots, but our day hiking gear as well. It all fit nicely into both bags with room left over for slacks and shirts so we could at least pretend to be there on business. The carry-on sized Porter 46 works like a compression bag with two cinch straps crossing over to engage your choice of two pair of clips, making it easy to scrunch contents down to a minimum. Padded sides help protect fragile bits and make it easier to slip the bag into an overhead compartment. Osprey’s padded harness system is comfortable and adjustable down to the waist strap and load-lifter straps which allow you to tug the load forward and tight against your shoulders. A laptop, books or more clothing will fit inside a second large zippered compartment in the top flap, although there is no padding there, so be careful. Four D rings accept Osprey’s “Excessory” packs if you need a little extra storage and a shoulder strap is also available if desired.
A handy liquids compartment near the upper handle helps get you through security and a key lanyard inside minimizes excuses for not finding the car keys when you get back home.
The Porter is available in both 46- and 65-liter sizes and comes in your choice of Charcoal, Earth or Crimson colors. The Porter 46 as tested is priced at: $99.00 and can be purchased at Backwoods Equipment Company:

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