Hammock Underquilt Showdown;

Hammock camping is no longer reserved for just warm weather.

The Paddle Junkie's - Base Layer Buyer's Guide

Prepare for the cold! We run down our picks for the best base layers around.

Pentax K30 Rugged DSLR

The world's first DSLR that can take all Mother Nature has to offer

Shell Jacket Showdown

We test the most bomber shells on the market, here are our picks...

Gear of the Year 2012

Our picks for the best gear of last year.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sanborn Canoe's Buck Saw - Gear Review

When heading out into the woods, a campfire is one of our favorite pastimes.  Whether cooking over it, or just sitting around it with good friends, it is a vital component to any camping trip (at least in our opinion).  One problem that this creates is the need for a solid wood pile.  Hacking away at wrist size sticks with a hatchet is one way to get you through, but it's exhausting and you never seem to have enough wood.  The right tool for the job is a buck saw.  A serious wood cutting tool for any back country adventure.  We had the chance to test out the J.A. Fallman Bucksaw from our friends at Sanborn Canoe, where they once again demonstrate their passion for making beautiful objects from wood to make any canoe camping trip more enjoyable.  Our man Bob shares his thoughts.

This saw surprised and delighted us in the BWCA!  In its disassembled form, it comes wrapped in a canvas roll with a protective pouch for extra blades and is easy to store in a pack and transport. Disassembled and arranged for packing it measures roughly 24 inches long by 2.5 inches wide.  It is sufficiently intuitive that my son and I were able to put it together in about 5 minutes without looking at the directions provided.  It has a comfortable handle on both ends and can be gripped with both hands, even by two campers at the same time for larger logs. 

I know very little about the geometry of saw teeth, but this one easily bit through anything we put it up against.  The wood available to us was pine and poplar in a range of aged conditions from freshly fallen to soft but still burnable.  The largest log we cut through was probably eight inches in diameter, and we accomplished that in about two minutes.  The teeth on this saw were extremely sharp. 

The one drawback is that the single handle below the saw blade (on only one end) does not have a guard to protect your hand.  The teeth are sharp enough to pierce light-weight gloves.  A guard in that spot or even just eliminating the teeth at the end of the saw blade would make it a safer instrument for use in the backwoods.  I would definitely recommend this saw if you plan to stay warm and enjoy hot meals.

MSRP: $80  Available in Hickory and Walnut

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bearskin Lodge and Nova Craft Canoes - Review

This year our annual BWCA excursion took us to a new outfitter and new lakes.  We were invited to come stay with the folks at Bearskin Lodge for the night before our canoe country voyage began and to test their new fleet of Nova Craft Canoes.  We took our time in getting from the Twin Cities to Grand Marais, the last populated city before turning up the Gunflint Trail and into BWCA territory.  9 hours to be precise.  We made stops along the way, with our stop in Duluth at Frost River and Bent Paddle Brewing as highlights of our journey north.  Nothing more Northern Minnesota than checking out waxed canvas canoe packs and a tap room to get you in the proper mindset.

Upon arriving at Bearskin, we quickly realized that the crew there had given up on us and headed home.  They left a nice note and the door open so we made ourselves at home in a georgous two-story, three bedroom condo attached to the main lodge.  Our crew of 8 guys had just enough room to crash, only after we made sure we finished off the growlers we picked up back in Duluth and that our gear was all properly packed (though maybe not in that order).

The next morning we loaded up our gear and we were off to the woods.  Entering at Swamp and Lizz lakes (EP 47), we paddled and hiked south through Caribou and Horseshoe lakes then headed west into Gaskin Lake where we were able to snag a beautiful campsite on the island.  This was our home for the next 4 days, a huge sprawling site where we were able to find hangs for 7 hammocks and a nice pad for the one guy still holding on to a tent.  The setting was pristine and aside from our inability to catch fish, it could not have been better.

One of the primary missions of this particular adventure was to test out the new line of Nova Craft Canoes recently added to the Bearskin Lodge fleet.  As the only dealer in Minnesota, they have a unique opportunity in Canoe Country.  First impressions of these boats were incredibly high.  The finish was impeccable and the gel coats were so glassy you could practically shave in them.

We took out two of Nova's 17 foot Eagles and two Souris River Quetico 17's, simply for comparison purposes. We are very familiar with the Souris River boats, so it was a good baseline to work from.  Just as the guys from Bearskin had said, they looked and carried almost identically.  Weighing in around 48 pounds, the Nova was a tad heavier but very well balanced.  Once loaded down and in the water you started to really see the differences.  The Nova rode higher in the water, as did the paddlers within the boat.  This made them faster than the Souris Rivers, when hauling gear, while not sacrificing tracking or maneuverability.  It was nice being in the Nova on our way in, as we were able to keep pace with the more "rigorous" paddlers without issue.

Once we got to camp and emptied the canoes, we started to notice more ride differences between the two. The Nova canoes felt a bit more unstable when empty.  Fishing from them was the true test, an exuberant cast or hook-set nearly sent us for a swim on more than one occasion.  It was definitely a trade off.  While sitting higher in the boat had the effect of bringing the center of gravity up making it more tippy, it was more comfortable to sit for long periods of time and helped me to see into the water to try and spot fish and structure.  After a few days in the Nova Craft Canoes we had become accustomed to the differences and felt completely at home.

If you are in the market for a new canoe, DO NOT BUY ONE until you've had the chance to paddle the line of Nova Craft Canoes.  From the "Eagle" to "Bob's Special", there is a perfect canoe for whatever you want to do.  Give the folks up at Bearskin Lodge a call, book a room, rent a couple canoes.  Seriously, can you think of a better test drive?
8 dirty dudes, immediately post paddle.
Special thanks to the folks at Bearskin Lodge for their hospitality.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Carhartt Force Equator Jacket- Gear Review

It's summer and that means a heavy dose of rain on what is quickly becoming a regular basis. Every person needs a rain coat, I'm not talking about your poncho that you received when in the scouts, but a rugged, durable and extremely comfortable coat. This is where the Carhartt Force Equator Jacket comes in.

I have thrown on this coat with even the smallest threat of rain. It's extremely light and surprisingly good at regulating temperature. Put a sweatshirt on underneath and you are perfectly content to stand out in the coldest of rains that the season can throw at you. The waterproofing is exceptional, walking through campus with absolutely no fear of my electronics getting wet underneath. Once inside, a simple flick of the shoulders and the water has practically disappeared from sight. 

Carhartt has always had the reputation of making excellent and rugged products and this jacket lives up to that. One thing that drives me crazy is having the zipper get stuck, absolutely no threat of this and zero signs of failure. This jacket can be worn anywhere, with the ability to blend from the work site to the bar. With the monsoon season they call summer, this rugged but fashionable men's rain gear has become a staple in my daily fashion.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Gramicci NPT Organic Tee - Gear Review

Packing for a week in the wilderness could be stressful when you have to consider wearing a new shirt every day. I’ve tried all sorts of sports shirts on previous trips but most of these shirts tend to feel more like jerseys and less like your favorite cotton tee. The last thing I want when throwing  a 100lb food pack on my back is an itchy uncomfortable synthetic fabric digging into my shoulders rubbing them raw. We all know the shirts I’m talking about- normally they have trademarked terms for their synthetic technology like “WispVent Technology” or “BreathSpine Ability” and other combinations of words more fit for car interiors than clothing. These shirts don’t last long in the woods.

Gramicci makes it simple- the NPT Organic Tee is almost half hemp and half organic cotton. This combines to make the best shirt for an outdoor trip. This shirt has the ability to wick away sweat, keep you at an optimum temperature (like most sports tees), AND eliminates odor build up while being super comfortable. The shirt is perfect for paddling with a lifejacket on, carrying a pack over terrain or lounging fireside at dinner time.

For this year’s BWCA trip I packed a few shirts for 5 days in the wilderness, but only wore one- the same NPT Organic Tee.  So whether your planning a trip to the woods, the canyons, the ocean, or a Saturday music festival a Gramicci NPT Organic Tee will keep you focused on the scenery and not your sweat.

MSRP: $32.00 (currently on sale at Gramicci.com for $19.20)

Monday, June 23, 2014

GSI Glacier14 Cup Coffee Percolator - Gear Review

This year our BWCA crew was as large as it has ever been.  We had 8 guys paddling, camping, fishing and testing all kinds of gear.  When planning for a trip of this magnitude having the right tools for the job becomes paramount.  Nothing makes rolling out of a hammock more inviting than the smell of fresh coffee cooking over the campfire and we're not talking Sanka.  Enter the Stainless Steel Glacier 14 Cup Coffee Percolator from GSI Outdoors, clearly one of the most prized pieces of gear in camp.

Boiling 12 ounces of water over a camp stove and adding instant coffee to you cup is camp coffee blasphemy.  Nothing compares to a cup of Joe that was slowly brought to a boil over the glowing orange embers of a campfire.  The GSI PERC is made completely out of their Glacier Stainless Steel, meaning it can take a beating and keeps on cranking out barista level java.  As with anything used over a campfire, soot builds up fast and thick, but cleans off with ease from the smooth stainless surface.  A little dish soap and a sponge and in seconds it was shining the way it did fresh out of the box.

Regulating the strength of the coffee takes a bit of practice, but is by no means rocket science.  For our crew the recipe was basically stuff as much grounds in the little basket as possible, while still being able to get the lid on.  One helpful hint to keep the grounds out of your coffee is to have your beans ground for a percolator style brewer.  Standard, "off the shelf" grounds will work, but tend to be small enough to slip through the holes in the basket and find their way into your mug.  The chunkier "perc" grind helps keep that to a minimum.

Being that we had as many guys on this trip as we did made hauling this large of a coffee pot more than practical, it was the only way to crank out enough coffee to keep up.  Not built for the ultralight thru-hiker, but for the base camp breakfast fit for kings. Coming in at around 9" tall and just under 9" across at the bottom and weighing a little over 2 pounds, it is a substantial piece of gear.  Stuffing your coffee inside for transport was a great way to save space in the food pack though. Breakfast burritos and a tall cup of hot coffee were the perfect way to start the day looking out over Gaskin lake.  A set-up I simply can't wait to use again soon.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Wolverine - Spoke Waterproof Composite Toe EH Work Boot - Gear Review

It's that time of year again where dodging puddles on your way to work is becoming a necessity. After having worn mesh running shoes to work for the last five years, transitioning to work boots has come at exactly the right time. No longer necessary is hiking your pants up and tip toeing through the rivers that seem to endlessly flow through the parking lot. Sloshing through without a care in the world has become my pre-work routine and the new Spoke waterproof work boots from Wolverine achieve this feat with no trouble at all.

Incorporating the (previously reviewed) ICS comfort technology, a gel disc in the heel which allows for adjustment to the cushioning and impact dampening to match your personal preferences. Personally I chose the setting which allowed for the most cushion due to walking on concrete all day. This setting allowed my feet to feel refreshed even after a long day. In addition to the waterproof ability, these boots protect against electrical current and have slip resistant soles for worry free maneuvering.

Having worn these on the regular for over a month now I can happily say they are holding up beautifully. With zero fraying of the stitches and having fully broken in these boots sure make for happy feet. Wolverine has always made excellent products in my opinion and these boots only solidify that. Buy a pair for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

MSRP. 142.00