Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Hiking. Show all posts

Video: Traversing the High Sierra with Kalen Thorien

What do you do in the off season if you're a professional skier? In the case of Kalen Thorien, you set out on an 18-day, 270-mile solo traverse across the High Sierra Mountains. In this video, we join Kalen on this adventure as she goes in search of adventure and solitude. She finds all of that, and a lot more, as she makes the hike through some very remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes.

Gear Closet: Eddie Bauer Cloud Cap Flex Rain Jacket Review

Over the past few years there has been a very noticeable trend in outdoor apparel. Most of the big name manufacturers have begun offering products that are less "technical" in appearance in favor of a more natural look that blends in nicely when not on a trail. This clothing offers the same high level of performance and comfort, but it doesn't look like traditional outdoor gear, extending its appeal beyond the traditional outdoor market. When I received the new Eddie Bauer Cap Flex Rain Jacket, my first thought was that it looked like something I would wear around town or while traveling, rather than on a tough hike on the trail. But, as it turns out, those looks were a bit deceiving. While this jacket does indeed give off the appearance of being designed for city slickers, it is actually a solid solution for use in the backcountry too.

Made from 100% nylon, and sporting an athletic cut, the Cap Flex fits snugly without being restrictive. The jacket comes with an adjustable hood, waterproof zippers, secure hand pockets, adjustable hem and cuffs, and pit zips for venting excess heat. Individually, each of those features isn't especially groundbreaking in any way, but together they add up to a nicely equipped jacket designed for use in the rain when temperatures aren't especially hot or cold.

While putting this jacket to the test, I've worn it as a rain jacket while running errands around town, hiking trails, and even running. In most cases, it worked exceptionally well, keeping moisture at bay with its sealed seams and DWR coating. In fact, despite getting caught in some serious downpours, the interior of the jacket stayed exceptionally dry and comfortable, which is a good testament to how well it performs.


The one exception to this was when I wore it on a run in a big rainstorm. The Cap Flex did a great job at keeping the water out, but it unfortunately didn't breathe as well as I would have liked, resulting in a warm and sweaty interior. The pit zips helped to mitigate this somewhat, but if you're searching for a jacket to wear during high-intensity aerobic workouts, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.

Tipping the scales at a mere 11 ounces, the Cap Flex won't bring a lot of undue weight to your backpack. That's definitely a plus in its favor, as is the ability to compress it down into one of its pockets for storage. That's a feature that I love in my travel gear in particular, and I was happy to see it implemented here. Despite the fact that it is a bantamweight, this jacket remains highly durable. I've worn it numerous times, with and without a pack, and it shows no signs of scuffs, rips, or abrasions. That bodes well for its longterm survival.

I'm also a big fan of the Cap Flex's adjustable cuffs, which use velcro to dial in just the right fit. Most cuffs have this feature these days, but I found the ones found here were especially good, and remained comfortable even when cinched up tight. On similar jackets I've struggled to find the exact right dimensions for it to fit my arms without being too restrictive, but on this jacket it was a simple affair to set and forget the cuff fittings, even while on the run.

Perhaps the best feature of the Cap Flex is its price. With an MSRP of $129, this is a rain jacket that performs well without putting too much of a crimp on your wallet. Sure, there are others out there that breathe better or can hold up to more abuse. Some are better suited for use in colder conditions, and others are more versatile and offer higher technical ratings. But all of those are going to come at a higher price point, and in most cases a much higher price. In terms of what this jacket brings to the table it is a real bargain, making it a no-brainer for anyone who is looking for rain jacket that can be used in a variety of settings.

With the Cap Flex, Eddie Bauer has hit on a winner that balances style, performance, and cost very nicely. Find out more at EddieBauer.com.

Outside Shares the 7 Best New Trails in the U.S.

Now that spring is here, I'm sure that many of you are ready to get back out on the trail and resume hiking after taking a break for the winter. But if the same old local trails aren't inspiring you to lace up your boots, than perhaps Outside magazine can help. They recently posted an article that lists the 7 best new trails in the U.S., providing some good suggestions for alternative places to explore on foot.

The seven new trails can be found in places as diverse as California, New York, and even Austin, Texas where a new 30-mile (48 km) urban route is starting to take shape. Other options on Outside's list include the Captain Ahab Trail in Moab, Utah; the Wild Rogue Loop in Oregon, and the Mount of the Holy Cross in Colorado.

No matter what kind of trail you like to explore, chances are you'll find something that will spark your interest here. For example, the Colorado route mentioned above takes trekkers to the top of one of the state's famous 14ers, while the Captain Ahab is built specifically with mountain bikers in mind and reportedly features some epic downhill. The trails vary in length greatly from as few as 4 miles to as much as 750 depending on which one you choose, although most are considerably shorter than that.

Since most of these trails are almost completely new, some of them are not entirely complete yet. That means you can probably expect some rough spots along the way but also less traffic as well. Chances are, some of these will be almost completely empty depending on when you go.

If you're ready for some inspiration to help you get started on a new adventure this year, this article can help. Check out all of the trial options by clicking here.

Gear Closet: Fjällräven Vidda Pro Trekking Trousers

My recent trip to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia wasn't just about sailing between those destinations and hopping a zodiac to shore to play with penguins and seal pups. Both places also afforded some excellent hiking opportunities as well, especially on South Georgia where I was fortunate enough to get the chance to trek a part of Shackleton's route across the island, ending at the old whaling station in Stromness. This of course gave me the chance to test more gear in the wild, which is one of the side benefits of visiting a wild and remote place in the Southern Ocean. 

One of the items that I took with me on the trip was a pair of Vidda Pro Trousers from Fjällräven. For those not familiar with the company, it is a Swedish brand that has been making excellent outdoor equipment for more than 50 years. In Europe, Fjällräven is very well respected and established, but here in the states it remains a bit more off the radar. But, I had always heard that its hiking pants were some of the best in the business, and I was eager to see if they lived up to this lofty reputation. 

Made from Fjällräven's own proprietary G-1000 fabrics, the Vidda Pro have been a staple in the company's line up for nearly two decades. After putting them on and taking a few hikes in them, it is easy to understand why. Comfortable and form fitting, without being restrictive, the pants are extremely durable. I wore them in all kinds of weather conditions on my recent adventure, including bright sunny skies and in cold, windy conditions with sleet and snow, and they came away completely unfazed by the experience. They passed over rocky trails, through mushy bogs, and down cold streams without missing a beat, and after the mud, grime, and sweat were washed away, they looked completely brand new. 

The Vidda Pros boast seven different pockets, including four in the usual places on the front and back. But in addition to those, the pants also have a dedicated map pocket, a knife pocket, and an inner safety pocket for keeping important items secure. While carrying a variety of items with me, it was nice to have all of these storage compartments at my disposal, and it helped to keep items well organized while on the trail. 

Other nice features that I appreciated were the reinforced seat and knees that helped prevent moisture from seeping through on damp ground, and elastic leg endings (complete with buttons) that helped secure the pants around my ankles. In the wet environment of the Falklands and South Georgia this was appreciated for helping keep moisture and mud out of the boot laces. The G-1000 fabrics also bring some natural water resistance as well, which made these pants a great choice for the environment I was visit. But, they also managed to still breathe quite well, so it wasn't often that I felt like I was overheating either. 

As the spring hiking season hits, you're sure to find some wet, muddy conditions out on the trail too. If you're in need of a new pair of hiking pants to get you through those conditions, the Vidda Pro is an excellent option that I highly recommend. That said, at $150 they are a bit pricy for someone who just wants to take a stroll on a local trail from time to time. More casual hikers will probably find other options that are more well suited to their budgets and activity level. However, if you're a serious hiker, backpacker, or climber, these are fantastic trousers to have at your disposal. You're likely to find that this is money well spent based on the level of  performance you'll get out of them. Additionally, because they are so durable and fit so well, you're likely to be wearing them on many adventures to come. To me, the $150 price tag is justified by the quality that Fjällräven has delivered. The company has more than lived up to its reputation as far as I'm concerned, and I think you'll feel the same way when you try them out for yourself. 


Gear Closet: The North Face Apex Flex GTX Rain Jacket

If traveling through the Southern Ocean recently taught me anything, its that the weather there can be incredibly unpredictable and can change quickly. That makes it a great environment for testing gear, and it was the perfect place to put the new North Face Apex Flex GTX rain jacket through its paces. The jacket hit the store shelves while I was away, but fortunately for me I had an advance sample to take with me. It proved to be an excellent travel companion, and became my go-to shell for all kinds of different types of weather.

Believe it or not, the Apex Flex is The North Face's first ever soft fully-waterproof soft-shell rain jacket. The company has made hundreds of different jackets over the years, but this one is marks a milestone in terms of performance and comfort. That's because it pairs incredibly soft stretch-woven fabrics with a Gore-Tex layer to provide a fit that isn't restrictive in anyway, but can repel the worst conditions imaginable.

Completely wind and waterproof, the Apex Flex not only looks good, but feels great when you put it on as well. I personally like the more fitted cut of the design, which hugs the body nicely and stays out of the way when things get active. While wearing it on South Georgia Island and in The Falklands, I used it with various base layers, insulating layers, and even a down puffy, and it worked well in conjunction with all of those items. In fact, it was a mainstay jacket that I wore on numerous hikes, visits to penguin colonies, or whale watching out on the deck of our ship. During that time, it survived rain, sleet, and snow, and even kept me comfortable in winds approaching 50 mph (80 km/h).


The secret behind the Apex Flex is that it uses Gore-Tex 3L shell material and combines it with a soft, woven facing fabric and a knit backer. The result is a jacket that feels a bit like a comfortable hoody, but with the performance of storm shell. That isn't easy to pull off, but it brings a level of versatility to the jacket that is difficult to find elsewhere. It also makes this a coat that you'll want to wear in a wide variety of conditions, ranging from perfect clear and sunny, to heavy rain showers, to near-blizzard whiteouts.

The jacket features two zippered hand pockets, as well as a convenient zippered chest pocket as well. Two additional zippers are found under each armpit for venting purposes. Those came in handy on longer hikes with a lot of vertical gain where I built up excess heat quickly. Once we started down hill, and things began to cool off, it was a snap to close them up again to maintain warmth. All of the zippers – including the main one on the front – are polyurethane coated to be waterproof as well.

In addition to providing a high level of performance, the jacket doesn't take up much room in your duffle bag or backpack either. And since it only weighs about 24 ounces (680 g), it isn't especially heavy or bulky too. That will go a long way towards making it a favorite for future adventures as well, as I see this accompany me on more outings in the near future.

For those that like technical performance in their outdoor gear, but don't particularly care for an overly technical look, this jacket will become a favorite as well. The Apex Flex has a subtle, stylish design that offers a classic look without coming across as "retro" in any way. While wearing the jacket I've had several compliments on its appearance, which is understated in the best possible ways. While for most of us performance is the key factor we look for, it doesn't hurt if the outdoor apparel we wear looks good too.

Priced at $199, the Apex Flex offers a lot of performance for the money. In fact, I was surprised when I learned the final price, as this jacket could easily have sold for more. In my opinion, The North Face has a real winner on its hands here, and this is a piece of gear that is going to have wide appeal. The fact that it offers so much performance at a reasonable price is further testament to just how well built and designed it is. If you need a new rain shell, this one should be at the top of your list.

Buy The North Face Apex Flex GTX rain jacket at REI.

Gear Closet: Mountain Hardwear Thundershadow Jacket

Good rain gear is essential for any outdoor adventure, particularly in the spring when frequent showers make it a challenge to get outside as often as we'd like. The right rain jacket can be a revelation however, allowing you to comfortably and easily enjoy your favorite activities no matter the weather. That's what I found in the new Thundershadow Jacket from Mountain Hardwear, a category-defining product that is a dramatic improvement over my previous rain jacket. 

Before I started writing this review, I stopped to think about the last time I wrote about a dedicated rain jacket. Looking through my notes, I saw that it was exactly seven years ago to the day that I posted a review of the Helium Jacket from Outdoor Research, which at the time was one of my favorite pieces of gear. But times have changed, and fabrics and materials have evolved dramatically over that period of time, providing better all around protection with greatly improved breathability, something that is key to any piece of waterproof gear. I still wear that Helium jacket on a regular basis, and it has accompanied me on trips all over the world. But, as my gear has improved over the years, I've noticed that it doesn't perform as well as I would like. 

With that in mind, I was eager to see how far good rain gear has come since I wrote that review. So when I was offered a Thudershadow Jacket to test, I jumped at the chance. It has been fairly rainy where I live recently, which has provided plenty of opportunity to put the new jacket through its paces. What I discovered was that I could indeed have a rain jacket that provided a protective layer from moisture on the outside, while still allowing the moisture underneath to escape as well. 

Mountain Hardwear used its proprietary VaporDry fabrics when creating the Thudershadow. Those materials have been tested and perfected in other products over the years, and have proven themselves to be extremely efficient at not only keeping moisture out, but venting excess heat and perspiration as well. As a result, I stayed much drier than I did with my old rain jacket and didn't find myself peeling out wet clothes after a particularly energetic hike or run. That couldn't be said about the Helium, which often left me almost as wet as the rain if I wore it for extended periods of time while working hard on the trail. 

Of course, waterproof and breathable fabrics are nothing new to the outdoor industry, even if they have come a long way over the past few years. But Mountain Hardwear also managed to mix its VaporDry materials with a 40D ripstop fabric that has some surprisingly good stretching properties as well. This prevents the Thundershadow from inhibiting your range of motion, which makes it great option for not just hiking and backpacking, but trail running, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities too. And since those same fabrics are lightweight and highly packable (the jacket stuffs into its own pocket), it is a great choice for travelers as well. 

Weighing in at 11.8 ounces, the Thundershadow isn't the lightest rain shell on the market, but it isn't especially bulky either. At that weight, it hits the mark for performance and durability, without adding too many extra ounces to your pack. If you're extremely weight conscious you may want to look elsewhere, but for the rest of us this jacket strikes a nice balance. 

Other features of the Thundershadow jacket include a large, fully-featured adjustable hood that is helmet compatible and a pair of zippered chest pockets that are accessible even while wearing a pack. There are also pit zips that provide even more ventilation for when things really get heated up, although to date I haven't had to use them much. I imagine as temperatures continue to warm into the spring, they'll come in handy though. 

Priced at $175, this isn't a rain jacket for your casual outdoor enthusiast. But for those of us who demand good performance and a high level of comfort from our gear, and frequently find ourselves in the backcountry when the weather takes a turn for the worse, this is a jacket that will prove invaluable. It offers an impressive blend of both protection from the elements and a high level of breathability, two factors that will help to keep you dry. Its stretch properties will make the Thundershadow a favorite with outdoor athletes as well, which makes it very easy to recommend to readers of The Adventure Blog. 

If you're in the market for a new rain jacket this year, this is an excellent option. I waited far too long to upgrade mine, but now I'm very glad to have this one in my gear closet. 

Buy online at REI.com

Gear Closet: Osprey Duro 6 Hydration Pack

Trail runners listen up! There's a great new pack you're going to want to check out, and probably add to your arsenal. The new Duro 6 hydration pack from Osprey delivers the level of quality and thoughtful design that you expect from that company, with a few nice additions that you're definitely going to love out on the trail.

The Duro 6 is just one part of Osprey's new line of hydration products, which also include the Duro 15 and Duro 1.5 packs, the Duro Solo belt, and Duro Hand bottle holder. The ladies version of the packs go under the name Dyna instead, but offer very similar features, just with a more female-friendly design. These packs are designed to be lightweight, comfortable to wear, and offer plenty of storage options for everything from a short training run to a an all-day race.

While Osprey's long heritage of creating excellent backpacks can be easily seen in the Duro 6, one of the first things you notice is that it also includes a design that is closer to a vest-style hydration pack, which have become increasingly popular amongst trail runners in recent years. I personally have come to really appreciate this type of pack as it keeps the bag from jostling around too much while I run, and yet doesn't impede motion in anyway either. Plus, the Duro hugs the body nicely and is so comfortable to wear, that you almost forget that you have it on. That's not something I can say about some of the other running packs I've tested over the years.

Despite it's relatively small size – just 6-liters of carrying capacity – the Duro 6 has plenty of room in its main compartment for carrying an extra jacket, wallet, keys, and a few other spare items for out on the trail. Better yet, the harness itself has a number of well placed, zippered pockets for carrying snacks, gels, and even your smartphone, while larger harness pockets provide room for water bottles too. As if that wasn't enough, there is a larger stuff pocket on the back and two stretch mesh pockets on the sides as well. In short, there are a surprising number of places to carry all of the gear and food you'll need out on your run.


The Duro 6 ships with a very nice hydration reservoir that can hold up to 1.5 liters of water. That reservoir is easy to fill, seals up tight, and slips in and out of its designated sleeve within the pack with ease. It's bite valve offers plenty of water on demand, while Osprey's patented magnetic retention system keeps the hydration bladder's hose out of the way until you actually need to take a drink. This is a feature that another pack I've been testing lately does not have, and I found myself sorely missing it while on longer runs.

As someone who tends to get very warm, and sweat a lot, while on a run, I always worry about how much adding a pack to the mix will potentially increase my discomfort out on the trail. But, I can honestly say that the Duro 6 is so lightweight and easy to run with, that I haven't really noticed much of an impact in this area at all. Granted, I've been running in relatively cooler temperatures so far, but this vest/pack hybrid has been a joy to run in, and has now supplanted Osprey's own Rev 6 as my new favorite running pack.

While this bag is obviously aimed at trail runners, it can also pull double-duty as a mountain biking or light hiking pack as well. In terms of carrying plenty of water and offering a surprising amount of onboard storage, you'll be hard pressed to beat the Duro when you also factor in all around comfort and efficiency. If you're in the market for a lightweight, versatile pack for your favorite outdoor aerobic activities, this is a great choice. And since it comes with Osprey's All-Might Guarantee, you can bet its built to last too.

Priced at $110, the Duro 6 is in my book, a very good value. Osprey has managed to pack a lot of features and design elements into a compact package that trail runners are absolutely going to love. And with spring just around the corner, you know you're going to want a new pack to help you get back up to speed out on the trail. This one will do that, and more.

Buy at now at REI.com.

Osprey Packs | Duro/Dyna Series | Product Tour from Osprey Packs on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Vasque Lost 40 Insulated Boots

February is an odd time of the year. We're still firmly locked into winter, and yet we can still catch glimpses of spring on the horizon from time to time as well. Despite those flirtations with warmer weather, it is far too early to put away our winter gear of course, keeping our down jackets, outer shells, base layers and other clothing close at hand. That includes winter boots that can keep our feet warm and dry, even when playing in the snow.

Recently, I've had a chance to test out a comfortable new pair of boots that certainly excel in that area. The Vasque Lost 40 is a mukluk style of boot that feature a classic look that is intermixed exquisitely well with lots of modern technology. The restful is a unique pair of boots that feel amazing on your feet and perform well in the winter.

The Lost 40 use a waterproof suede and soft-shell uppers to create a boot that is surprisingly supple. In fact, when you first see them, you'll probably question whether or not they'll actually be able to keep your feet warm and dry in inclement conditions. But, I've found that they perform exceptionally well, in all but the most west conditions. In fact, they are built to play outside in the winter weather, and my pair of boots didn't get overly damp inside in any way, even after hours outside.

The soft feel of these boots carries over to the interior as well. On your feet, they feel amazing comfortable. So much so that I didn't really feel the need to take them off, even after a few long hikes. The Lost 40 feel like an insulated slipper that can keep your feet warm, even while playing outdoors for one extended period of time in sub-zero conditions. And because they are extremely flexible, they are comfortable enough to wear around town, hiking a trail, snowshoeing in the backcountry, and more. They are not overly technical however, so don't expect to slap a pair of crampons on them and have them perform the same way as a more traditional boot.


When designing this boot, Vasque created a dual-zone lacing system that allows you to dial in the right fit on both the top and the bottom of the boot. This was a fantastic addition, and something I'd love to see incorporated in other winter boots as well. Basically, you can cinch up the section of the boot around your calf independently of a second lacing system that covers the ankle and foot. I found this to be a nice touch when finding a solid comfort level, particularly since the shoes ride so high up your leg. With a tradition lacing approach it can sometimes be difficult to get the boot cinched up properly in all of the right places.

One of the more common complaints that I've seen about the Lost 40 boot is that they can be difficult to get off and on, and I found that to be true when first using them as well. They do fit snugly, especially with a thicker pair of socks, so you end up working a bit harder to get in and out of them. I did find that they loosened up some after wearing them a bit, which helped in this area, but you'll have to discover a few tricks the help you be more efficient in putting them on and taking them off.

Vasque has incorporated a Vibram Overland Sole in these boots with the IceTrek compound. This gives them plenty of traction on wet, snowy, and icy surfaces, griping the ground like a set of lugs. This makes the shoes a good option for a variety of winter outings, although you may want to use something a bit more technical when wandering up into alpine environments. Other than that however, you're likely to find that you not only have good balance and traction in the snow, but plenty of stability too.

Other nice features of these boots include a soft felt inner lining and comfort and a thermal barrier made of aerogel that is embedded in the sole of the shoe. Both of these materials add extra warmth to the boot itself, making it perform much better than its weight would typically imply. In fact, I've worn these shoes in some seriously cold conditions, and have come away with feet that feel warm and toasty, even without adding extra thick socks.

Traditionally, the Lost 40 boots carried a price tag of $179.99, but as we transition away from the winter season, you can find them discounted online for as little as $142. That's a great price for a super-comfortable pair of winter boots that perform surprisingly well in a variety of conditions. If you find yourself in need of some new winter footwear, or simply are thinking ahead to next season, this is a great pair of boots to have in your gear closet. You'll find that they are quite versatile, feel great on your feet, and look good too.

Backpacker Lists 12 Big Hiking Adventures for 2017

We are almost two months into 2017 already, and I'm sure by now many of you have already made plans for your adventures for the year ahead. But, if you're still looking for a few suggestions, Backpacker magazine is here to help. In a recently published article, the mag suggests 12 big adventures for the year ahead.

This being Backpacker the list contains lots of places that you can visit and explore on foot. Each of the destinations also comes with an estimated cost, so you can get an idea of how much you might have to spend to undertake these excursions. Some of the suggestions that made the list include hiking the Grand Staircase - Escalandte National Monument in Utah, which comes with an estimated cost of $500.

That turns out to be the only adventure set in the U.S., as all of the rest take place in countries like Canada, Peru. Chile, Nepal, New Zealand, and other great adventure destinations. For instance, Backpacker also suggests hiking the Jungrrau Region of Switzerland ($1500) and the An Teallach Traverse in Scotland ($1100).

None of these suggested adventures are particularly expensive. The most costly is a $4000 trek through the Amphu Lapcha Pass in Nepal. Most are under $2000, with a couple trips priced at less than $1000.

All in all, this is a great list for those who like to hike, trek, or backpack their way through some amazing landscapes. And since 2017 is really just getting started, there is still plenty of time to get a few of these options on your list before the end of the year. Personally, there are at least four or five of these trips that I'd love to do, but I'll just continue adding them to my never-ending bucket list.

Gear Closet: Garmont 9.81 Speed III Light Hiking Shoes

Looking for some new hiking shoes as spring starts to inch a bit closer? Looking for something lightweight, but stable, that can offer plenty of protection for your feet? If so, then the Garmont 9.81 Speed III hiking shoe just might be what you're looking for. Recently, I've had the chance to give these shoes a go, and now find myself wearing them almost daily. Although, I wasn't sure that would be the case when I first put them on.

While I had met with Garmont over the past couple of summer Outdoor Retailer shows, this was the first time I'd actually gotten the chance to test a pair of their shoes. I always liked the style and design the company's boots displayed, but good looks don't always translate into a comfortable fit. Still, I was very intrigued with what I saw, and was eager to put them to the test. So, when my test pair of the 9.81 Speed III arrived, I eagerly put them on to get a feel for what they were actually like.

I was immediately impressed with how good they felt on my feet. The polymer heel inserts and EVA midsole gave the shoe a stiff – but comfortable – ride that offered a solid level of protection without much bulk. The wide toe-box was great too, especially when wearing a thicker sock, while the mesh upper was durable and breathable at the same time. The 9.81 Speed III felt a bit like a nice cross-over shoe, straddling the line between a trail runner and a light hiker. For my money, that's not a bad space to fill.

But then, I started to walk around in them and my perception of the shoes soon changed. You see, while I really liked they way they looked and felt, as I wore them around the house and while taking the dog for a walk, I started to notice that the shoes were rubbing against my ankle, creating a bit of a hot spot. I soldiered through, keeping them on my feet for a few hours, before giving up and reverting to something in my closet that wasn't causing me pain.


To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I really wanted to like these shoes, but for some reason they were consistently rubbing my ankles, causing them to become quite sore. Thankfully, no blisters actually developed, but it was annoying and painful to say the least. Still, I was determined to give the 9.81 Speed another chance, so over the course of the next few days I wore them several more times, for shorter periods while wearing socks that were a bit thicker around the ankle. Gradually, the shoes started to loosen up a bit, and over time the rubbing on my ankles lessened. Now, it's to the point that I don't have the same issue any longer.

Regarding this issue I would say two things. First, everyone's feet are different, so it is entirely possible that you could put these shoes on and never experience the same level of discomfort that I did. My ankles just might be shaped in such a way as that they were not immediately compatible with Garmont's light hiker. The other thing to keep in mind is that every shoe requires a bit of a break-in period, and for these it took a few days to get them just right. Now, they feel great with no hot spots whatsoever.

In addition to being very comfortable to wear, the 9.81 Speed IIIs also offer a nice level of traction on a variety of surfaces. Garmont has equipped them with a Vibram Fast Trail outsole that is designed to allow the wearer to move quickly and agilely on mud, dirt, sand, and even light snow. These shoes perform well in both wet and dry conditions, and even though they aren't advertised as being waterproof, I found that my feet stayed dry in pretty much everything short of dunking them in a stream, and even then I wouldn't be surprised if they came out just fine.

As I mentioned, this was my first go around with a shoe from Garmont, and ultimately I came away quite impressed. They are very comfortable to wear, provide a nice level of stability, and seem extremely durable so far. In fact, other than being scuffed up with dirt from the trail, they still look brand new and fresh from the box, even though I've been wearing them a lot over the past couple of weeks. During that time, I've found them to be an excellent walking shoe, both on and off the trail. Garmont says that these shoes were designed for fast hiking, subalpine trekking, and Nordic walking, all of which I think they would be excellent for. I also think they'd make a good approach shoe for those who like to move light and fast, although they are a bit heavy for pure trail running.

Priced at $140, I see the 9.81 Speed III shoe as an affordable and versatile option for use in a variety of outdoor activities and settings. The fact that they happen to look good is a nice bonus too. Find out more at GarmontNorthAmerica.com.

Video: (To)Day Dream - REI Reminds Us to Spend Some Time Outdoors

This video seems highly appropriate as we head into the weekend. It is a a short, but sweet, reminder to get outside and enjoy nature. It comes our way courtesy of REI – who obviously has a vested interest in getting us outdoors – but it is a great message nonetheless. Yes, we're all busy and have very complicated lives. But some time outdoors can help us sort through all of that. So, as the video says find an empty spot on your calendar and find an empty spot on the map. It is as simple as that.

(To)day Dream from REI on Vimeo.

Backpacker Gives Us the Best Comfort Thru-Hiking Gear

A few days back I shared a post from Backpacker magazine that offered readers their picks for the best budget gear for making a long-distance thru-hike. Each of the items on that list were selected primarily because they are affordable, with performance being the second characteristic. Now, the editors are back with some more gear recommendations, but this time their offering options that fall into a different category – comfort.

Backpacker's picks for the best comfort thru-hiking gear includes a fantastic sleeping bag from Western Mountaineering, an incredibly comfy sleeping pad from Thermarest, and a large, quite possibly the most comfortable backpack on the market today courtesy of Osprey. You'll also find selections for the best tent, jacket, trekking poles, and even an umbrella, all of which are aimed at the hiker who doesn't mind carrying a bit of extra weight if it means he or she has some luxuries that help them to stay at home out on the trail.

Obviously this list is not for those of us who count every ounce when we're heading out on a hike. Instead, it is all about keeping your body as strong and comfortable as possible, even when hiking for miles on end day after day. If you're someone who is okay with knowing you don't have the lightest gear around, but that you'll probably enjoy your hike more as a result, this list is definitely for you.

Check out all of the items that made the cut by clicking here.

British Adventurer to Walk the Length of Japan for Charity

At the end of February, British adventurer and photographer Richard Dunwoody will embark on a major undertaking as he sets out to walk the entire length of Japan from south to north. The expedition will see him traveling completely unsupported as he seeks to raise funds for charity.

Dunwoody, who has previously skied to both the North and South Pole, will cover more than 2000 miles (3218 km) as he treks across Japan's three largest islands – Kyushu, Honshu and Hokkaido. The plan is to cover somewhere between 20-30 miles (32-48 km) per day, while spending most nights camping out. The journey should take a little more than three months to complete.

The plan is to set out form Cape Data on February 27 and continue moving north to the furthest point on Hokkaido, a point he hopes to reach by early June. Throughout the trip, Dunwoody – who is also a former champion jockey – will share photos and stories from the road. While most of the journey will be done solo, Richard does hope that some friends will join him throughout the hike as well.

In the past, Dunwoody has raised more than £250,000 ($312,000) for a variety of charities through his adventurous activities. This time out, he's hoping to raise funs for the Sarcoma UK, a nonprofit that provides support for individuals suffering with these forms of cancer. Richard's nephew George has been battling the disease for the past few years, and has undergone a number of therapies in an effort to overcome it. He is just 21 years old, and represented the U.K. Junior World Rowing Championships back in 2014 before taking ill.

If you want to give to the cause, you'll find a Just Giving page has been set up here. The goal is to raise £25,000 and every contribution counts. You can follow Richard's progress through social media on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Video: Thru Hiking the Grand Canyon - Thirst and Threats in the Godscape (Part 3)

Today we have the third – and final – video in the National Geographic series that follows photographer Pete McBride and journalist Kevin Fedarko on 650 mile (1046 km) thru-hike of the Grand Canyon, as they explore the threats that that place now faces. They've discovered that amongst those threats are environmental issues, climate change, encroaching commercial interests, and more. As their journey nears and end, the two men face a challenge of their own – potentially running out of water in a remote corner of the national park. Find out how their expedition wraps up in this installment of the series.

Backpacker Gives Us The Best Budget Thru-Hiking Gear

Thinking about making a long-distance hike, but don't have a big budget to buy all of the gear that you'll need? Never fear, Backpacker magazine is here to help. The mag has put together a list of their favorite inexpensive products to help you get over the budget crisis and head out on the trail.

The list contains some of the most important items that you'll need for any backcountry camping or backpacking excursion, including a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. It also offers some suggestions on a couple of jackets to keep you warm and dry on your adventures as well. Just don't expect any major name brands to make the cut, as there is nothing from The North Face, Mountain Hardwear, or Columbia on the list. Instead, you'll find products from companies that you've vaguely heard of that Backpacker says deliver the best bang for your buck in terms of performance and price.

So what equipment makes the cut? For starters, the magazine says that you should forego the more expensive down jackets from the well-known brands in favor of the Uniqlo Ultralight Down Jacket instead. It costs just $70 but comes from a company more well known for its fashions than its outdoor performance. In terms of a backpack, we're told to go with the ULA Circuit, which is 68L model that costs $235.

The rest of the items on the list fall into a similar vein, offering solid performance at a more affordable price, although I would argue in some cases that there are better options out there for less money – particularly if you shop clearance items and closeouts. This list also doesn't offer the prices for each piece of gear within the story itself, which would have saved a few extra clicks when reading about the gear. And, I take a bit of umbrage with them listing "SmartWater" as one of their lightweight pieces of gear, when I think in reality they're telling readers to use the bottle that the brand of water comes in.

Still, for those of us who want to save a little cash and don't need to have the latest gear from the big boys in the industry, the list does have some all-around solid choices. As we approach spring hiking season, and you find yourself needing some new equipment, you might be able to save yourself some cash and go with these items instead.

30 Scary Trails From Around the World

We all know that there are some truly difficult and downright scary trails to be hiked in just about every corner of the globe. Some climb straight up sheer cliff faces, while others are twisty mazes that are surprisingly easy to get lost in. Some, straddle a line along a narrow knife-edge ride, while the rare trail combines all of these elements into a single adrenaline-inducing experience that no one who ever hikes it can forget.

I'm sure we all know a few trails that match that description, but if you happen to be looking to add a couple more to your collection, Active Junky has quite a list for you. They've compiled a list of 30 terrifying trails, and have included some amazing pictures to back up their claims.

Some of the trails that have earned a spot on this dubious list include the Narrows on Longs Peak in Colorado, the Half Dome Route in Yosemite, and Rover Run, which gets the nod do to the frequent bear activity that occurs around the route. Unsurprisingly, the via ferattas of Italy also make the cut, as does Aokigahara, Japan with a trail that passes through the "suicide forest."

This is just the tip of the iceberg however, and there are plenty of other weird, wild, and down-right scary trails to learn about from this list/slideshow. If you're looking for some suggestions on where to hike some freaky trails, Active Junky definitely has you covered. Check out the full list, and start planning your treks, by clicking here.

Video: Thru-Hiking the Grand Canyon - Between River and Rim (Part 2)

Last week we had the first video in a three part series that follows photographer Pete McBride and journalist Kevin Fedarko as they make the very difficult thru-hike across the Grand Canyon in an effort to explore the challenges that the national park currently faces. In part 2 of the series, we return to the trail, where Pete and Kevin are now 200 miles (321 km) into their journey as winter begins to set in, bringing a new set of obstacles for them to overcome. This is an amazing look at the Grand Canyon as most of us never get a chance to see it, and it is well worth your time to watch in its entirety.

Video: Thru-Hiking the Grand Canyon - A 650-Mile Challenge (Part 1)

Throughout 2015 and 2016, photographer Pete McBride and journalist Kevin Fedarko set off to make a sectional thru-hike of the Grand Canyon in an effort to document the threats that that National Park now faces. Along the way, they faced more challenges than they had anticipated, as the journey was more difficult and dangerous than they had ever impinged. This video takes us along with them into the canyon, to experience much of what they saw while they were there. It is Part 1 of a 3 part series, which promises to be an amazing adventure with some important revelations to be had along the way.

Video: Ultralight Camping - How to Minimize Your Pack Weight

Want to know how to shed some weight from your pack before setting out on your next outdoor adventure? Why not let professional skier and mountaineer Hilaree O'Neill help? In this video, she shares some great tips for how to pack smartly for any trip into the backcountry, conserving weight by bringing items that can be used for multiple purposes and just examining more closely the things that you take with you. Even if you have a fairly light pack already, chances are you can still learn a thing or two from Hilaree's tips and tricks. And while not all of us want to go completely ultralight on our adventures, it never heard to trim some extra ounces from our gear.

Nat Geo Gives Us the World's Best Via Ferrata Hikes

We've all seen videos purporting to be of the "world's most dangerous hike." More often then not, those clips usually show us a terrifying via ferrata – or "iron way" – which has been built onto the side of a mountain somewhere, often in some state of disrepair. But most via ferratas are completely safe and offer unique experiences to hikers looking to visit some beautiful destinations. These paths usually find their way up climbing routes, where fixed ladders, cables, chains, suspension bridges, and other manmade structures offer access to a place that would otherwise be unreachable by all but the best rock climbers. They can be thrilling, exhilarating hikes to say the least, and aren't often for the faint of heart.

Now, National Geographic has compiled its own list of the 10 best via ferrata routes in the world, with locations such as the Italian Dolomites, the Canyon Des Étroits in France, and Catalonia, Spain all represented. Each is accompanied by an equally impressive photo and description of what makes these places so special as well.

Having done a few via ferratas in my travels, I can attest to how they are both scary and exhilarating. Of the few that I've done – none of which are on this list – they have all been more physically challenging that a traditional hike, but had amazing payoffs in the way of outstanding views and a sense of a rewarding accomplishment at the end. That makes them completely unique from any other more traditional hike I've ever done.

If you've always wanted to try a via ferrata for yourself, give this list a look. These are some of the very best in the entire world. I know I want to give several of these a go now.