I have been using the The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves since November of 2019. Since then they have become my go to gloves for the widest variety of temperatures. I have pairs that are meant for colder or warmer weather but The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves go on almost every hike that needs gloves.
I purchased my pair of The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves from REI on a slight sale for $45. Normal retail is $55 but when I last checked REI was running a great sale on the 2019 version I have for $26. My pair is black but for 2020 they are only available in a heather grey. I went with a men’s size small and they fit true to size given I have small hands. After I got my pair the other half of this site liked them so much that she also got an identical pair and she likes them almost as much.
Overview The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves are a softshell style fleece glove made of polyester with an elastane soft shell with a DWR coating applied. The North Face doesn’t provide temperature ratings for their gloves but instead uses a progressive scale of “Cool to Cold to Very Cold”. The Apex+ Etip gloves are at the warmer end of the “Cold” range. I have found them to be comfortable in temperatures of around 32 degrees F up to the low 40’s. The other half has found them comfortable from the mid 20’s up to about 38-40. I should have prefaced this section to say I tend to have colder hands than most people and these temperature ranges are for while actively hiking. I have seen several online reviews where people complained these gloves are cold. I personally don’t see it but maybe if you are just sitting still in the cold weather and not moving.
Fit wise I find The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves to be comfortable to wear and I’ve had them on for hikes upwards of 4-5 hours. The fingers have a natural position that is comfortable. Some gloves can have too much finger curl or too little which can’t be felt at first but after a long period of wear can tire the hands especially when holding items like trekking poles. These aren’t the thinnest gloves out there but neither are they the thickest. I feel like they fit comfortably in a middle area which is reasonable for the temperature range that they are functional in. With the natural finger position and the thickness The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves are pretty dexterous. I can put on crampons with them on and work carabiners but I would have problems doing any complex rope work.
The palm is covered with silicone gripper dots which provides a solid grip for trekking poles. However, there is no additional grip on the fingers due to the Etip material. I had no issues on minor scrambling sections but took The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves off to climb sections on our scramble up Cabezon Peak because I wanted more grip. The cuff extends nicely down the wrist so that the gloves can be tucked down into a shell but there is not any sort on bungee to tighten up the cuff. One little feature I really like on The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves is the little clip that holds the gloves together. Instead of the more traditional ring and clip they use a little button system. It doesn’t seem like much but I find it easier to use and a nice little touch.
A few online reviews by customers also mentioned that The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves are not very waterproof. I’ve seen no issues even with snowy hikes. That being said I didn’t exactly just play around in the snow with them and at the end of the day they are only softshell gloves. But they definitely handled getting some snow on them or sticking my hands down into the snow for short climbs over obstacles. I can definitely not see them lasting very long in rain or wet conditions though. The North Face does claim the Apex+ Etip gloves are windproof and they definitely seem to be. Trust me, New Mexico can be a very windy place. Weight wise on my scale The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves come out to 102 grams.
Etip The North Face calls the screen compatible feature of the Apex+ Etip gloves; Etip. This is also one of the best features of these gloves. They are 100% compatible with touchscreens and that includes all of the fingers and the thumb. I have had absolutely zero issues using my phone with The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves and this feature was part of why I chose them. I don’t need to work as hard to keep my hands warm if i’m not taking my gloves off every time I need to check the GPS or take a picture. It might not seem like much but it really does make a difference.
My only slight gripe, and I mean slight, with the Etip system is that although the thumb pad area is phone compatible the side is not. So monitors like pinch to zoom don’t really work using the thumb and index finger. It is actually easier to zoom using the index and middle fingers.
Pros: Warm when moving Windproof Etip works really well Good Dexterity Clip that holds gloves together
Cons: Wish side of thumb was Etip too
Summary: For a person who can be pretty finicky about gloves I found a lot to like about The North Face Apex+ Etip gloves. They fit true to size, are comfortable, are compatible with my iPhone, and work in a really nice temperature range for me of 32ish to 45ish. Because of these features they come along on every hike with temperatures below 45 degrees. I know this is a rather short summary but I really haven’t used another pair of gloves that I liked as much for under $50.
The second big item in my COVID-19 fueled Patagonia order was the Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoody. I ordered the R1 Pullover Hoody in a size small and in Fire (aka bright as hell red). The R1 Pullover Hoody retails for $159. For reference I am 5’11” and weigh 160lbs with a slim build. I ordered a small because I plan to use the Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoody as a middle layer over a t-shirt or base layer long sleeve but under something heavier like my Patagonia R2 Techface Hoody so I didn’t want any excess fabric. On first appearances I am happy with the fit and it is not too tight or too loose.
I already had the Patagonia R2 Techface Hoody which is the heaviest and least breathable technical fleece that Patagonia offers. My new R1 Pullover Hoody is all the way at the opposite end as the lightest and most breathable. I love my R2, it is stupid warm, but I really wanted something a little more breathable and flexible to deal with the variable conditions of New Mexico. The R1 Pullover Hoody and the R2 Techface Hoody combo is also going to make for a great layering system in all but he absolute coldest temperatures.
A couple of features that really drew me to the R1 Pullover Hoody is the breathability. Patagonia actually used different levels of fleece for different areas. You can see the lighter panel that run under both arms and the bottom third of the torso so that it is lighter when wearing a climbing harness or with hip belt straps. I like the extra long torso length in the whole R1 and R2 line. I have a longer torso so I like the extra length but it is also very comfortable under backpacks and harnesses. The R1 Pullover Hoody is also nice for wearing under those items because it has a 2/3 zipper and not a full. So it can sit comfortably under a harness while still providing enough zipper to vent.
I also love the thumb loops which is a unique feature to the R1 Pullover Hoody. I think they are extremely nice for an item that will be layered so that you don’t have to worry about the sleeve getting caught and bunching up when putting other layers on. I also wanted a hood because I really like the hood on my R2 a lot more than I thought I would. I really prefer to wear a baseball cap opposed to a beanie. But having a hood to throw up for exposed sections kind of bridges the gap. Just a heads up thought the R1 Pullover Hoody’s hood is a literal balaclava. When it is fully zipped up the only thing exposed are the eyes. On the pocket front there is one chest pocket on the left side but no other pockets. I like this as pockets add bulk and will be covered by a harness or hip belt. However, it is good to know there aren’t any before ordering.
The Patagonia R1 Pullover Hoody is available in sizes from XXS to XXL and in black, red, and blue. I will post a detained review of the R1 Pullover Hoody after several months of use which at this point means it’ll probably be late fall before I can get enough use to feel comfortable reviewing it.
I have been using the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket since I got it back in October of 2019. Since then I have used it as my primary insulating jacket, affectionately known as the puffy, all throughout the winter and on a variety of activities. In the middle of winter I also used the Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket as my daily jacket. Overall, I have to say I am really happy with this jacket but that does come at a caveat-price.
I purchased my Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket on sale for around $140 from Columbia’s website. I checked last week and Columbia had the Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket on sale for $144 online. However, full retail price for the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is $240. My jacket is a size medium in black. The Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is offered in black, azure blue, and slate gray from sizes small to XXL. The Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is pretty true to fit. I am 5’ 11”, 160lbs, with a slim build. The medium has plenty of room for layering underneath but doesn’t have a too baggy fit when worn by itself.
Overview The Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is a down insulated jacket which utilizes an 800 fill water resistant down. The shell of the jacket is Nylon and the lining is Polyester. The inside lining of the jacket utilizes Columbia’s Omni-Heat 3D technology which basically looks like a space blanket. It is soft and very comfortable directly next to skin but does have a rather unique appearance. Given the name this jacket does include a hood which Columbia categorizes as a “scuba hood”. It is pretty roomy and I was able to squeeze a helmet underneath it and get good coverage with just a little pulling up on the shoulders. Without a helmet the hood is actually a little too roomy but not a major issue. It is almost like the hood is in between styles.
Feature wise the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket has two zippered hand pockets, a hem drawcord, and a hood drawcord. The zipper runs the full length of the jacket and has a little zipper garage or covering at the top so that when the jacket is fully zipped up the zipper doesn’t rub against skin. The two hand pockets do create internal stuff pockets that can be used to for gloves to keep them warm. The whole Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is packable into the left pocket to keep the jacket in a more condensed form.
One feature I really like on the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is the cuffs. It might sound like a really small thing but they are just comfy. The cuff is stretchy so you can get small gloves through but keeps the jacket in place even when the sleeves are pushed up the forearms. A small but nicely done feature.
Columbia doesn’t have a claimed weight for the Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket on their website. On my scale the jacket weighed 387 grams. That is definitely not what I would consider “heavy” for a fully featured jacket but it is almost 140g heavier than a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisper which to me is kind of the industry standard for a puffy jacket. To be fair, the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is still about 30g lighter than Patagonia’s Down Sweater Hoody.
Warmth I found the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket to be a pretty warm jacket. I actually can’t think of a single time I was cold while wearing it. Typically I use the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket as a summit jacket and it does a phenomenal job even in temperatures down to the 20’s. Now, I had proper layers on for those conditions so I wouldn’t consider the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket to be a miracle worker but it does the job it was designed for.
Packability By using 800 fill down Columbia was able to make the Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket pretty packable. I usually just stuff it straight down into my pack so that the jacket can fill up all of those little empty spaces in my pack. I have not had a hike yet that I didn’t bring the Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket with me because I couldn’t fit it. When stuffed into the pocket the jacket is about the size of two Nalgene bottles in a squarish shape. I think this is pretty good for a down jacket but at the same time competitor’s jackets will usually pack down somewhat smaller.
Value when on sale
800 fill down
Cuff’s are nice
A little heavy
Not the most compressible
Full retail is a bad value
Summary There is a lot to like about the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket! It is a fully featured 800 fill down puffy jacket with a hood. For the record I definitely prefer jackets with a hood as they are more versatile. Whether or not I can recommend it comes down completely to price. Basically, this is a great jacket and doesn’t leave much to be wanted but it does lack a little of the polish/finish from other brands.
I don’t think the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is as good as a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, flat out. And at full retail the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket is $240 versus $325 for the Ghost Whisperer which isn’t insignificant but I don’t think that covers the quality or longevity difference. However, at the $140 price point that the Columbia Alpha Trail Hooded Jacket can reliably be found at it is way more than half the jacket for less than half the price.
On a sale price, like the current $144, Columbia delivers a hell of a budget puffy jacket that provides the must have features but does sacrifice just a little in weight/packability when compared to the high end of the industry. At full retail the price I would opt for one of those high end industry brands that are comparable in price at $240.
I recently made a COVID-19 derived big order from Patagonia when they brought they store back online. One of the items I purchased was the Patagonia Quandary pants in a size 31x32, in Forge Grey, which retail for $79.00. I picked out the the Patagonia Quandary pants to be a sort of mid level or all around hiking pant. I have a pair of Patagonia Simul Alpine pants which are a soft shell pant as well as a pair of Columbia fishing pants that are super lightweight.
I chose the Patagonia Quandary pants because they checked a lot of the boxes in what I look for in a hiking pant. They are a mix Nylon and Spandex fabric with a DWR coating which means they are both stretchy and somewhat water repellent. Inside the waistband is a pull tie for tightening but the Quandary pants also have belt loops. Pocket wise you have your normal hand pockets and a small coin pocket up front. On the right leg is a zippered pocket. The back has two pockets with the left one being zippered. All of the zippers have zipper garages to keep them from flapping about.
Overall the fit is what I would call on the slim side. I typically wear a 31-32 waist depending on the brand. The 31 waist on the Patagonia Quandary pants is great but they are slim through the thighs. I like the feel around the legs which cuts away excess fabric but the thigh might be a smidge tighter than I would prefer in a perfect world. However, in my initial wear around the house the stretchy fabric meant I still had a full range of motion.
Patagonia claims the weight of the Quandary pants to be 284g and I got 293g on my scale but I hadn’t removed the tags yet so definitely close enough. They are available in four colors: Ash Tan, Forge Grey, Industrial Green, and El Cap Khaki. Sizes run 28 to 40 waist with short, regular, and long options.
I will follow this up with a more a detailed review of the Patagonia Quandary pants after several months of use in variable conditions. The link below is directly to Patagonia’s page on the Quandary pants. It is not an affiliate link: Patagonia Quandary Pants
We’ve had the Osprey Daylite 13L pack for almost 9 months and although we are big fans of Osprey neither of us want anything to do with the Daylite 13L.
Our Use We purchased the Osprey Daylite to be a lighter pack for smaller days or to supplement one of our more technical packs that are in the 20-24L range. We have used the Daylite for a bunch of the hikes over the last 9 months. I think the Daylite might be a solid everyday use pack for work, gym, school, etc. but we have not used it in that capacity, but instead as a hiking pack. We got our Osprey Daylite from REI here in Albuquerque for $50 which is the retail price. There are a plethora of color options available now, 8 to be exact, but ours being a 2019 model is no longer available. I would call it a blue and black model. This review is not paid and we have not been compensated in anyway for writing it.
Overview The Osprey Daylite has a capacity of 13 liters. The pack has two main pockets and a separate water bladder pouch. A water bladder is not included with the Osprey Daylite. The water bladder pocket sits right behind the mesh back panel which makes it very easy to take a bladder out to refill while the pack is full. The large main compartment has a stretchy pocket that is pretty similar to most packs water bladder pouch but is there to help keep gear somewhat organized. The smaller of the two main pockets has two small mesh pockets for organizing small items like Clif Bars or a headlamp. There is also has a bight red clip for keys which is one of the features I love, but it is a common Osprey feature and hardly unique to the Daylite.
On the outside there are mesh water bottle pockets on either side and two straps for cinching down the pack when not completely full. The Osprey Daylite 13L has a removable waist belt and a siding sternum strap with a whistle integrated into the buckle. Osprey claims 1 pound exactly for the Daylite and it came out to 1.01 on my scale.
Good zipper pulls
No outside shovel pocket
No trekking pole attachments
Water bottle pockets don’t hold bottles in
Summary I feel like Osprey meant for the Daylite to be an accessory pack to larger packs or an all around school backpack that can be handle short to medium days on the trail. In a lot of ways on paper the Daylite hits everything you would look for in such a pack. It is lightweight, relatively cheap, comfortable, and 13L is a solid size for such use. But this is where long term reviews have a HUGE advantage over shorter periods; the flaws with the Osprey Daylite only show themselves after repeated use.
The Osprey Daylite just doesn’t work well compared to the competition. The water bottle pockets won’t hold a bottle in for anything. Literally even a small bend over and your bottles will probably go flying. We’ve taken to running one of the compression strap through the lid of a Nalgene bottle to try and keep it in place. Size wise I think 13L is a great place for short to medium hikes in decent weather. But the Osprey Daylite lacks a few technical features that are in Osprey’s product arsenal to round out the size. Some great examples would be an external shovel pocket for a rain jacket or even a mesh or bungee strap system. There are no attachment points for trekking poles or tools. I love the stow and go trekking pole system on my Osprey Stratos 24L pack. Even just a few lash points on the bottom or sides of the Daylite would make it more versatile. Although the Daylite is lightweight it is not a particularly compressible pack for stowing it in a larger overnight pack to be utilized for short summit bids.
Overall, the fundamental problem of the Daylite is a functional pack but there are just other packs that fit into a similar space and do it better. For example, the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole 20L Pack (Link to our Review) or the REI Flash 18 or 22L. We can’t really comment on the Osprey Daylite as an all around everyday backpack but when it comes to hiking it leaves quit a bit to be desired. We have basically replaced this pack in our lineup with the 16L Ultimate Direction Adventure 4.0 Hydration Vest on the low side and the Patagonia Black Hole 20L Pack on the higher side.
The below link is a direct link to Osprey’s page for the Daylite so you can check it out if interested. It is not an affiliate link: Osprey Daylite 13L
The amount of gear we have bought during the COVID-19 crisis is really starting to add up, but I’m pretty happy with this one. Our local climbing gym, Stone Age Climbing Gym, has beefed up their online store due to the actual gym being closed. Stone Age has also been running special daily deals. They recently had a deal on the Petzl GRIGRI for 30% off!
We started climbing a couple of months ago and are looking to keep advancing our skills. At Stone Age you have to use an assisted belay device to lead climb so a GRIGRI was a purchase we planned to make at some point in the future. However, when Stone Age offered them for 30% off it seemed like a great way to get a good piece of gear we would eventually need while being able to offer at least some support to our local gym. So we ordered the Petzl GRIGRI in blue which was on sale for $76 down from the usual retail of $109.
For those who are unfamiliar with the GRIGRI it is an assisted breaking belay device. All belay devices are basically friction creation devices that allow the person belaying the climber the mechanical advantage to easily hold the rope when the climber falls. Since we started climbing we have been using a Black Diamond ATC, one of the most popular belay devices. The Petzl GRIGRI is an assisted belay device in that it has a cam inside of it. When the climber takes a fall the GRIGRI pivot and hold the rope. The device doesn’t replace an attentive belayer but is an additional layer of protection. The GRIGRI is one of the most popular assisted braking belay devices on the market.
The Petzl GRIGRI is available in Blue, Orange, or gray. Petzl has a claimed weight of 175g for the GRIGRI and it came out to 177g on the home scale, pretty close.
We are a little sad that we will just be sitting on this piece of gear until this crisis is over. But rest assured as soon as we can we will be back at Stone Age Climbing Gym! After some extensive use we will let you know how we like the Petzl GRIGRI.
Affectionately known as a butt pad, the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is one product that is all positives with almost no downsides. The Z Seat is simply a section of closed cell foam padding that folds out as a quick seat. It’s is basically the same as Therm-a-Rest Z Lite sleeping pad just in seat form.
Originally, I was just going to cut up an older Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad to make myself a butt pad. But honestly, there is no reason when Therm-a-Rest offers the Z Seat for only $15! So I got one and then a second from my local REI. Both of ours are yellow/silver but there is also a blue/silver combination online.
Overview As mentioned earlier, the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is made of closed foam padding. The Z Seat folds up accordion style and has a built in bungee cable to keep the seat folded up. The Z Seat is 0.75 inches thick and unfolds to be 13 x 16 inches. Folded up and fully compressed it is 12 x 2.5 x 2.75 inches. Therm-a-Rest claims the Z Seat weighs 60 grams but on my home scale it actually came out to 57g. It is always nice to see a weight claim that is honest and not inflated.
The whole purpose of the Z Seat is to provide a minimalist seat for the outdoors. The biggest thing I can say about the Z Seat is that there is really not a way to explain how surprisingly comfy a little bit of foam padding can be. It doesn’t seem like it should make much of a difference but a mid-hike snack on the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is much comfier than just sitting on the ground or a rock. It can really help in cold or snowy conditions. I could pull the Z Seat out and just plop down on snowy ground without being cold or getting wet. I have also found other random uses for the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat like changing socks in the snow. I could take my shoes off and step onto the Z Seat so that I didn’t get my socks wet.
Honestly, I don’t get how this product isn’t more popular outside of the backpacking community. I can’t help but think of high school baseball or football bleachers getting way more comfortable on a Z Seat. Basically, any unpadded seat could benefit from a Therm-a-Rest Z Seat and they are so portable.
Bungee for compression
Takes up a little space
Summary Really I can’t say enough good things about Therm-a-Rest Z Seat. It is comfy, keeps my butt warm/dry, and weighs almost nothing. I stick it in one of my external water bottle pouches for almost every hike which also keeps it easily accessible so that every summit break I can quickly grab it and have a quick rest.
The only reason not to take the Z Seat is space. It does take up a little space but being closed foam it can ride on the outside of a pack no matter the condition, closed foam doesn’t absorb water. I bought one and went back for a second after one hike so the other half of this site could have one too. It seems like such a small product but it really makes a difference. And the Therm-a-Rest Z Seat is a cheap enough package with some nice features, the Z fold pattern and bungee strap, that getting a Z Seat is a better option than destroying an old sleeping pad.
The link below is to Therm-a-Rest’s page for the Z Seat. It is not an affiliate link: Therm-a-Rest Z Seat
The Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L is a stuff sack style ultralight backpack. The pack has a single main compartment that closes using a drawcord and a daisy chain hook. Inside the main compartment is a medium sized zippered pocket on the back panel. The entire pack can stuff into the pocket for storage similar to rain jackets that can stuff into one of their pockets. When stuffed into the pocket the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L is roughly the size of a Nalgene bottle. On the top of the lid is a small zippered pocket. On the outside there are two mesh bottle pockets. That is really all there is to the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L; simple and no frills.
Given the name it’s no surprise that the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L has a storage capacity of 20L which I have found to be a good place. So far I’ve used this pack mostly on short hikes, sub 6 miles, or on scrambles like Cabezon Peak. 20L might not sound like a lot and the pack looks rather small but it doesn’t manage to swallow up about all the gear you really need for shorter trips. This summer I also plan to use the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L as a summit pack for overnight trips were we have backpacked in and set up a base camp.
Patagonia claims a weight of 310g for the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L. On my scale it actually weighed 291g. You definitely can’t complain when the actual weight comes out below the manufacturers. The Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L is offered in three colors: Black, Blue, and Red.
Size is perfect for short trips or scrambles
Fits way more gear than you would expect
Exterior water bottle pouches and daisy chain have room to increase load carrying ability
Supper simple pack with all you need and no frills
Stuffs super small
Surprisingly comfortable and stable to wear
Padded back panel is comfortable but be conscious of how you pack gear
The shoulder straps are too close together at where they meet the pack
The pack carries kind of funny and really high up on the back (not bad, just odd feeling)
I wish the daisy chain had an extended strip so that the pack lid could secure “overflow” loads
A little pricey at $80, REI has a similar pack for around $50
Summary There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L just like the pack itself. It delivers what you really need without any of the frills. The Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L just works and works well for short hikes, scrambles, and as a secondary pack carried on a backpacking trip. The ability to stuff the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L into itself and make it pretty small is to me the key selling point of the pack. I do think adding the additional daisy chain would make carrying a rope at the crag or overflow loads possible. I would also like to see the straps widened at the attachment point to the pack which I think would improve the feel of the pack on the back. It isn’t really a problem but definitely an odd feeling.
At $80 retail I do think the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L is a little overpriced but it does the job it was designed to do almost perfectly. If you need a compressible pack there aren’t many better ones out there. I purchased the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L in BRIGHT red for purposes of this review and my personal use. I was not compensated for writing it.
The below link is to Patagonia’s page for the Ultralight Black Hole Pack 20L, it is not an affiliate link: Patagonia.com
I have been doing a lot more running over the past month due to the limited options currently. With more running I’ve been doing more distance and in New Mexico water becomes a bit of a concern. I used to run with a hydration belt but after an uncomfortable 8 mile run a couple weeks ago I decided I needed an upgrade. So, I did some COVID-19 influenced shopping and ordered the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 from backcountry.com. It definitely didn’t hurt when Backcountry had the Adventure Vest 4.0 on sale for $75 down from it’s regular price of $169.95.
I chose the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 because I was looking for a running vest to fit a wider range of activities. I wanted to use it for longer runs when I carry water, which for me is anything over 6 miles. But I also wanted something that would work for fast and light hikes in the summer when I don’t have to carry a lot of gear. The Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 has a total storage capacity of 16.4 liters. So it seemed like it would check all of the boxes.
Now although the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 has a capacity of 16.4L keep in mind that is counting ALL of the pockets not just the main compartment. And I should mention this thing has a LOT of pockets and by a lot I mean exactly 16 pockets or stuff locations! That literally blows my mind. The back has one main compartment that can hold a water bladder with routing for the tube but a bladder doesn’t come included. Then there are two stuff pouches on the back, a small wallet pocket, and stretchy cable system for oversized items like rain jackets. Each side has a small zippered pocket ideally meant for gels or snacks.
On the front there is the main water bottle pouch and a 500ml soft bottle comes included. On the other side is zippered pocket that can fit another bottle, not included, or a phone nicely. There are several more zippered and stuff pockets located around the front.
For stability the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 has two sternum straps that slide up and down and a stretch cord suspension system in the back that tightens down to snug the vest up. Ultimate Direction claims a weight of 302 grams for an empty vest without bottles.
Initial impressions on my first run of 10 miles with it today were pretty positive. I have to figure out how exactly I want to distribute my stuff among the myriad of pockets. However, the fit was comfortable with no rubbing or hot spots. There wasn’t much bounce at all even with water up front and the back compartments completely empty. I will post a detailed review of the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vest 4.0 after I get some solid time in using it for runs and hikes.
The La Luz hiking trail in the Sandia Mountains right outside of Albuquerque is one of, if not the, most popular hiking trail in central New Mexico. We have been on this trail two times before. The first time we hiked up and then across the mountain to take the aerial tram car back down. The second time we went out to hike to the Sandia Crest (10,678’) and then back down. However, we severely underestimated trail conditions and hit fresh snow that was almost a foot in drifts. So, we turned around and headed for home.
We wanted to start our 2020 hiking year off with a bang, Ladron was a dud on New Year’s day, so we came back to our nemesis from 2019 and accomplish the whole monster of La Luz in one go. This time we were not going to let a lack of preparedness be our downfall. We anticipated snow/ice towards the top so we brought our trail crampons and rented some MSR snowshoes from REI. It took a little playing around to get the snowshoes strapped to our packs the night before but we figured we would be ready for any conditions we might encounter.
Knowing it would be a long day we woke up a little after 6am on Sunday. The alarm was set for 6 but the snooze was hit once or twice before we managed to get up. We threw all of our gear in the Jeep and made a quick stop at Starbucks for some much needed caffeine. We started our hike about 15 minutes before 8am. So much for a semi-alpine start. The first four miles are a gradual uphill that covers about 1,200’ of vertical gain which we managed to do in right at one hour and 30 minutes. We have a spot on the trail right at the 4 mile mark that we like to take a little break. Within the next mile the snow started to become more consistent and had thawed and then re-frozen as ice in places. I might have taken a solid slide right onto my ass on one such section.
At 1:50ish into the hike we hit the 5 mile marker. At this point La Luz has a warning sign that beyond that point the trail may be impassable in winter due to snow/ice. For some geological reason, probably the lack of sun on this section, the rest of the trail has a lot more snow than the lower section; It’s almost like a line has been drawn across the mountain with that white crayon no child ever uses. Unlike our last time the trail seemed much more packed down so we put on our hiking gaiters and started up the 17 switchbacks that make up the next 2 mile section that gains 1100ish feet. We just kept going back and forth and it never seemed like it would end. The snow made for slow going. The trail was so chewed up and the path so narrow that we decided against the snow shoes and just walked it. Most of the snow would hold our weight however every so often we would punch through an air pocket and fall up to about knee high. So bumbling like a bunch of drunks we slowly made our way up to the 7 mile marker.
The 7 mile marker was our previous high point. There are two options there: the path across the mountain to the tram or the path up to the Sandia Crest. This time we were dead set on making it to the crest. I was also dead set on using the snowshoes that I had carried for the better part of 3 hours so far. So I started breaking trail up the crest trail in my fancy snowshoes. I had fun in my snowshoes for about a whopping 20 minutes before we hit a staircase in the trail that was completely frozen over. So off came the snowshoes and on went the our trail crampons. Snowshoes were fun while they lasted.
After we managed the frozen staircase we had to do some traverses that definitely pushed the limits of our experience. There were sections of trail across ice chutes that hadn’t been hiked since the last slide. They were pretty steep in the area of 35 degrees and the runout was long and treacherous. Man, the one time I didn’t bring my sweet ice axe and I could have actually used it. Luckily the snow was pretty soft with an icy crust so we could kick in steps across the chute. We covered three such chutes in our journey to the crest. One of those chutes was an accident because we had gotten off trail by continuing straight instead of making the switchback that we couldn’t see at all under the snow.
A little bit of sketchy snow hiking and a total of 8.5 miles in 3:45 of moving time we reached the Sandia Crest. It was a pretty surreal achievement that we legitimately worked hard for. Slightly undermined due to the crowds taking pictures at the top, you can drive up the backside of the mountain. So we didn’t spend much time at the top but went a little ways back down the trail to gather up our gear and start the return trek. The thought of taking the tram down was seriously debated but it would only cut so much off of the hike as we would have to hike back across the base of the mountain from one trailhead to another. Plus, we had really set out to do the whole trail, the shebang of going up and then coming back down.
The going on the way back was noticeably easier on the stamina but really beat up the body. We stayed on trail so we didn’t have to cross one of the chutes and we had already kicked the steps in on the way up so the way back was easier work. It really was an uneventful trip down that we just wanted to finish. Once the motivation to summit was gone it was more of an effort to gut it out to the finish. Especially, as the pain and soreness of a long day. Achy knees due to a long list of previous injuries started to make their discomfort known and feet felt like they had been hit with a meat tenderizer. Even though there was a little discomfort we made it back down to the car in some semblance of one piece. It really was a great feeling to get all the way up and back down under our own power. It was also more about setting a goal and achieving it even if we failed to do so twice before.
All told according to Strava run on my Apple Watch we covered 16.72 miles with 4,732’ of elevation gain with a moving time of 7:05. It was our biggest day by mileage, elevation gain, and time. I remember our first backpacking trip back in Arkansas of the Butterfield Hiking Trail. We did an overnight to cover the 15 miles of the trail and I wondered back then if I could ever do that in a single day. Well we managed to cover a little extra with three times the elevation for good measure. We’re going to have to make a trip back to Arkansas just to do the Butterfield in a single day now.