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 28, 2014

ThermaRest LuxuryLite UltraLite Cot - Gear Review

For many of the members of Team Paddle Junkie, sleeping on the ground is a thing of the past.  Hammocks have taken over our campsite.  That said, there are times thought when a hammock just isn't practical; no trees, brought the kids along, etc...  So, when setting up a tent, what to sleep on is a major question.  Sleeping pads or inflatable mattresses are an option, but for a truly restful night's sleep a camp cot is hard to beat.  Our man Bob had the chance to test out the ThermaRest LuxuryLite UltraLiteCot.  Here are his thoughts...

First time using this cot, I found it much more comfortable than the old on-the-ground sleeping pad I had come to know on our past trips.  It provides insulation (1 ½ to 3 inches of air) from the ground as well as a softer surface which is very light-weight and seems breathable. Weighing 140 lbs, I found the cot very comfortable for a night’s sleep.  I suspect someone heavier might be less comfortable as suspension bars would be felt especially in the mid-section.  There are choices in where to place the bars, so it is somewhat customizeable depending on the heaviest parts of your body or your peculiar sleeping positions.   

Good directions are provided and once a support bar is assembled, it takes less time than a bite of protein bar to assemble the rest.  Once up, I was amazed at how the cot was able to handle changes in the ground below it without transferring that to the sleeping surface. Say goodbye to the root in your back or the slight slope of the hill you are on.  A sleeve type bag is provided to hold all the pieces (32, but don’t let that deter you—none of them are very big and this is where the genius of this cot truly comes from) in a relatively small volume for the comfort it affords.

All-in-all we give this cot two giant thumbs up.  Light, easily packable, and quick set-up all make for a camp bed that even the fussiest of sleepers can appreciate.  At $219 for the regular length and $239 for the long, they aren't cheap, but your back will thank you in the morning.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sea-to-Summit Tek Towel - Gear Review

Carrying a towel on your camping trip sounds like a complete waste of space in your pack, right?  Well there are times when having something along is an absolute necessity.  Old skool campers may remember the days of bringing a car chamois into the woods.  Light, small and incredibly absorbent it fit the bill as well as anything around.  New materials have made them a thing of the past forever.  Enter the micro-fiber towel, like the Tek Towel from Sea-to-summit.  We had the chance to test these out on our latest BWCA trip and were incredibly impressed, for reasons beyond drying off after a quick dip in the lake.

Packing down to next to nothing, it was almost unnoticeable in my pack.  We tried the 'medium' 20" x 40" size, which was perfect for our needs.  Take a swim, dry off, wring it out, dry off another guy, repeat.  It was amazingly absorbent and felt 90% dry after a good twisting.  What was a real shocker happened on our way out.  All I can say is Wow!  This towel sucked all the moisture out of sweaty nasty clothes at the bottom of  my day pack, placed there after packing out of the BWCA through four lakes and over four portages at the end of our trip.  It performed this well while still rolled up in its own little stuff sack.  Maybe all micro towels do this, but I was thoroughly impressed! I have to admit it smelled awful but washed up admirably. I cannot wait to use it transitioning between the swim and the bike on my next triathlon.  I’ll let you know how that goes.
Retails on Amazon for $23.95

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)