Showing posts with label Jacket. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jacket. Show all posts

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.

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: Dynafit Cho Oyu Down Jacket

If there is one piece of gear that every outdoor enthusiast needs to have in their closet for winter, it is probably a good down jacket. This is the insulating layer that keeps us warm when the temperature starts to plummet, and it plays a vital role in allowing us to play outdoors longer, even when the weather is less than favorable.

Over the past couple of weeks – as the temperature has been on a roller coaster ride where I live – I've had the chance to test out a new down jacket from Dynafit that I've found to be exceptionally warm and comfortable. In fact, I'd say that the Cho Oyu Jacket is easily amongst the best that I've ever worn, and if you're in the market for something new in this category you'll want to have it on your list.

Made with a durable ripstop fabric covered in a DWR finish, and insulated with DownTek hydrophobic down, this jacket is built for use in a wide variety of conditions. In fact, I've worn in cold temperatures, freezing rain, freezing fog, drizzle, flurries, and even outright downpours, and it has performed fantastically in all cases. The water-resistant down never loses its loft, and continues to perform well even as the jacket gets wet, although the DWR coating also plays a big role in ensuring that you stay warm and dry no matter what's happening around you. 

With its athletic cut, the Cho Oyu – named for the 8000 meter peak – hugs the wearers body snugly, which helps in keeping warm air trapped inside. But, at the same time, the jacket doesn't impede movement in any way, allowing you to stay fully in control on the slopes or on the trail in the backcountry. I personally hate feeling like my layers are restricting my motion in any way, but with this jacket I don't have to worry about that. In fact, aside from perhaps the new Mountain Hardwear StretchDown puffy, this might be the best jacket I've worn in terms of not getting in the way of your natural athletic motion. 

Other nice features of the Cho Oyu include a comfortable hood that is helmet compatible, and an adjustable hem that makes it easy to adjust the fit. This comes in especially handy for keeping cold winds and snow from reaching the interior of the coat, which is obviously something we all can appreciate. The jacket also has four pockets, including two hand-warming pockets and a zippered chest pocket on the front, and an interior pocket that doubles as a stuff sack when packing for a trip. 

After wearing this jacket in a number of different capacities over the past few weeks, I've come away very impressed with how well it performs in pretty much every capacity. Not only is it very warm, but it is super-comfortable to wear too. On top of that, it is also incredibly durable too, shrugging off wear and tear and with ease. I've also found that it is easy to keep clean too, and does a good job of venting excess heat and moisture when things start to get active. 

One of the aspects of this jacket that has been both pleasant and confounding at the same time are the zippers. On the one hand, they may be the smoothest, easiest pulling zippers I've ever used, but at times I've found myself struggling to get the jacket closed too. That's because the Cho Oyu uses a double-zipper system on the front, which is handy when you want to keep your chest warm, but vent out excess heat at the same time. But, when first closing up the jacket, it can be a bit of a challenge to get things started, in part because of the second zipper. Sometimes it works like a charm, and at other times I find myself working hard to get it seal up properly. After wearing this coat many times, I think I've finally got it down to a science, but it was a bit vexing at first. Most of this challenge probably was the result of user error, but it is important to point this out nonetheless. 

The Dynafit Cho Oyu down jacket is an exceptional piece of gear, and one that I recommend without question. But, it also comes with a steep price tag. The jacket sells for $319.95, which makes it amongst the more expensive coats that I've reviewed. That probably puts it out of reach for the average consumer, but if you're an outdoor athlete who doesn't want to compromise performance in the winter, this jacket should be in your closet. It is a fantastic layer for skiers, snowboarders snowshoers, or anyone else who likes to play outdoors in the cold weather. Yes, it is an expensive piece of gear. But it is also worth every damn penny. 

Purchase the Dynafit Cho Oyu at CampSaver.com

Gear Closet: Sherpa Adventure Gear Ananta Hoodie

Last week I took a look at the Tsepun Zip Tee from Sherpa Adventure Gear, and came away very impressed with how comfortable that baselayer is and how well it performed. This week, I'm going back into the Sherpa catalog to take a look at yet another one of their garments, this time putting the Ananta Hoodie to the test.

Where as the Tsepun is a mid-weight shirt meant to be worn close to the body, the Ananta Hoodie is an insulating layer that works best between your baselayer and your shell. Made from Polartec Thermal Pro fabrics, this pull-over is warm, quick-drying, very breathable, and surprisingly light weight. All of those elements add up to a fantastic piece of clothing for use in the outdoors or just around home.

While this hoodie performs amazing well, and is both water and wind resistant, the first thing that strikes you when you put it on is just how incredibly soft it is. The outer fabric on the Ananta feels fantastic to the touch, almost to the point where you think that it can't possibly be durable as well. But, I've been wearing this mid-layer quite a bit recently, and it has held up to daily use in a variety of environments without a single sign of wear and tear. In fact, it still looks exactly the same as when I first received it, which means it should survive quite nicely in the outdoors.

The Ananta Hoodie features a trim, athletic cut that hugs the body closely. This helps it to trap warm air close to the body to provide extra warmth over a form-fitting baselayer. But, if you prefer a fit that is a bit less snug, you may want to move up to a larger size. Personally, I like the way it fits, and since the Polartec fabrics have a stretchy quality to them, it isn't difficult to get it on or off as needed. Plus, the body-hugging design helps it to feel more natural under an outer shell too.


Simple in design, this hoodie nevertheless has some notable features. For instance, the hood is spacious and provides solid protection from the elements. A pair of cinch cords allow you to tighten up the fit as needed, although for the most part it works fine without having to do so. There is also a single zipped pocket on the left shoulder which is handy for stashing small items in pinch. Although I rarely use it for storing anything, it is large enough to fit a smartphone and is nice to have for those "just in case" moments.

Where I live, winter hasn't officially arrived yet, but we've had some cold, damp days already. During this time, I've found myself reaching for the Ananta on a regular basis, both when heading outside and for staying warm around the house. It is extremely comfortable, looks great, and provides a nice layer of warmth too. There have been times however when I've felt my hands instinctively reaching for a front pouch pocket that doesn't exist. If there were one thing that I'd like to see added to the Ananta in the future, it is just such a pocket. It feels like it should be there, even though it isn't.

Just like the Tsepun shirt, this hoodie was obviously built with quality and care. Everything about it feels well made and crafted to a higher level than some of the garments I've seen from Sherpa's competitors. That is once again a testament to its durability, and since it happens to look great and perform well, I know that this will be a regular companion on my future travel adventures.

Priced at $110, I once again see this as another Sherpa product that comes across as a bargain. You'll be hard pressed to find anything like the Ananta Hoodie anywhere else, and its blend of warmth, wicking, and breathability are tough to beat. It makes a wonderful addition to any layering system, or can be worn with a t-shirt and jeans for nice casual look. Just don't be surprised if you're stopped by strangers on occasion asking where you got it, because that's happened more than once to me as well.

Find out more at SherpaAdventrueGear.com. Buy at CampSaver.com.

Gear Closet: ExOfficio Cosimo Travel Jacket

Looking for a lightweight, warm, and comfortable jacket for your cold weather travels? If so, you'll want to give the ExOfficio Cosimo a look. This jacket has everything travelers could possibly want, including a high degree of packability and versatility for use in practically any environment.

For those not familiar with ExOfficio, the company has been designing great gear for adventurous travelers for nearly 30 years. The brand can pretty much outfit you from head to toe in fashionable, high performance clothing that is designed from the ground up to keep us comfortable no matter where we might wander. I'm especially a fan of the company's BugsAway collection – which keeps biting insects at bay – and its underwear, which are the best I've found for taking on active adventures.

But of course, ExOfficio offers a wide variety of shirts, pants, jackets, and other garments as well. One of its newest is the Cosimo, which stylish enough for a jaunt around London or Paris, but performs at such a high level you'll want it with you in the Alps and Pyrenees too. And while it isn't as technical as something you might find from Mountain Hardwear or The North Face, that is actually a major benefit for those times you don't want to look like you just stumbled out of the wilderness.

Make no mistake, the Cosimo is indeed very warm and comfortable, without being thick and bulky. It accomplishes that feat by using Thinsulate, a synthetic insulation that has been around for years but continues to evolve in interesting ways. In this case, this material is put to good use by adding warmth without dramatically altering the look or thickness of the coat, something that every traveler can appreciate when they're packing for an extended trip in a cold climate.


One of the other advantages of Thinsulate is that it is very durable, and as a result the Cosimo shrugs off punishment very well. After wearing mine around for an extensive period of time while running errands, visiting the dog park, and taking hikes, it still looks like it is brand new. Better yet, its outer shell is easy to keep clean, and doesn't show wear and tear, which bodes well for when you want to take it with you on your travels. A jacket that is capable of surviving the rigors of the road, while still looking good, is a nice addition to any wardrobe. And since the Cosimo is also water resistant, you can wear it in inclement weather as well.

As a frequent traveler, I'll fully admit to having a preference for garments that are highly packable. I like clothes that don't take up much room in our suitcases, and can compress down to a small footprint too. The Cosimo performs well in this category as well, since it can be stuffed away into its own storage pocket, which doubles as a travel pillow in pinch. It is this level of versatility that has made me a fan of ExOfficio products for years, and keeps me coming back to the brand year in and year out.

Other nice design elements on the Cosimo include both a zipper and snap enclsoure on the the front, which is adds to the level of warmth in the jacket, and helps provide a higher level of protection against rain and snow. Additionally, all of the pockets – two hand pockets, a chest pocket, and an internal travel pocket – are also zippered, which helps provide an extra sense of security when you're stuffing valuable items – like a passport or smartphone – inside. ExOfficio also added a cinch cord in the hem that can tailor the fit of the jacket and help keep cold updrafts from reaching the interior.

As mentioned, one of the strengths of this jacket is that it looks a bit more fashionable when compared to some of the more technical jackets we review with regularity on The Adventure Blog. The Cosimo is one of those garments that looks right at home when you're exploring a new city, grabbing dinner at a fine restaurant, or heading out for a light hike. This is another aspect of the coat that makes it a good choice for travel, since it will be the only one you'll need to take with you. Sure, if I'm venturing into a place where it is going to be extremely cold, or I'm going to be taking part in some very active challenges, I might choose a different jacket to accompany me. But, for general travel needs the Cosimo will provide plenty of performance even in poor conditions.

The Cosimo is available in three versions: a vest ($145), standard jacket ($180), and a hooded version ($190). I tested the standard model, and obviously liked it very much, but I'd recommend spending the extra $10 and getting the hooded one, that is unless you absolutely don't like having a hood. The extra warmth and protection it provides is worth the few dollars more in my opinion, even if you only use it from time to time.

At first glance, it is easy to think that ExOfficio has priced this jacket a bit too high, after all we've seen other travel jackets that provide a great deal of comfort, warmth, and packability lately for less money. But, wearing is believing, and the Cosimo certainly delivers where you need it most. It is an excellent jacket for the price, and it offers classic good looks that will serve travelers well in a variety of destinations. For me, this is a great option to have at your disposal, and I think you'll appreciate everything that it brings to the table.

Find out more at ExOfficio.com.

Gear Closet: Mountain Hardwear's 32 Degree Insulated Hooded Jacket

It's no secret that Mountain Hardwear has long been one of my favorite outdoor brands. I've always appreciated their no-nonsense approach to making great gear for use in some of the most extreme environments on the planet, and over the year's I've come to rely on the company's commitment to quality and performance. But, as the company grew and found more mainstream success, it also seemed to lose some of its focus. Its products were never out-right bad, but they for a time Mountain Hardwear was no longer delivering top-notch, cutting edge products that we'd all grown accustomed to seeing from them. By their own admission, the company got a bit complacent, which is not something that sits well with its core customers.

Thankfully, that era seems to be a thing of the past, and MH is currently in the process of righting the ship and getting back to the basics that made it such an innovative brand. As a result, over the past six months or so, it has been releasing some fantastic products, including the Dragon hoody I reviewed a few weeks back, and the awesome new StretchDown Jacket that has broken new ground. Better yet, I've seen a glimpse of things to come from Mountain Hardwear, and I can promise you the company has some amazing things in the pipeline for next spring and beyond.

But, if you're looking for something in their current catalog that stands out as a great piece of performance apparel, look no further than the 32 Degree Insulated Hooded Jacket. It is an exceptional piece of gear designed to keep you warm and moving fast on the trail, that also happens to be priced great too. This high-performance soft shell carries a price tag of just $130, making it extremely affordable, even for those of us who have never worn any of Mountain Hardwear's clothing before.

Weighing in at a mere 9 ounces (255 grams), the 32 Degree jacket is meant to be a lightweight option for skiing, snowboarding, winter trail running, or backpacking and hiking. Insulated with Mountain Hardwear's very own proprietary Thermal.Q Elite synthetic materials, it can keep you warm and comfortable on the trail, even when the temperature starts to plunge or precipitation begins to fall.

That said, it should be pointed out that this jacket is not waterproof, and although it does offer solid protection from the elements, it isn't the best option for wearing in a steady rainfall. Instead, it is a lightweight option for those active days out when you want to move fast and light. The cut and design of the jacket is meant to conform to the body nicely, providing warmth without hindering motion in anyway. I've found that it does exactly that, allowing me to move well while running, hiking, mountain biking, and climbing. For me, there is nothing worse than having my range of motion inhibited, but thankfully that isn't a compromise I have to make here.

One of the more interesting design elements for the 32 Degree jacket is its body-mapped insulation, which distributes it to places on the jacket where it is most needed. In this case, most of that insulation has been placed on the chest area to help keep your core warm while outdoors. That leaves the sleeves and lower half of the jacket with less insulation, allowing those parts of the body to breath more and vent out heat and sweat in the process. As a result, you tend to stay drier – and thereby warmer – when wearing this hoody in your active pursuits. The placement of the insulation also comes in handy afterwards, which is often when a chill can set in.

While this jacket obviously performs very well on its own, I've also used it as part of a layering system as well, and found that it works great in that capacity too. Throw a shell over the top, and you suddenly add water and wind-proofing to the mix. Add a baselayer underneath, and you're truly set for cold and inclement weather. This level of versatility makes it a great option for just about any outdoor pursuits, as well as a good choice for adventure travel too. And since it is so lightweight and thin, it won't take up much room in your luggage either.

As mentioned, one of the true strengths of this jacket is its price. You'll be hard pressed to find so much performance out of a jacket that is this affordable. The fact that it has the Mountain Hardwear logo on the chest tells you that you can expect durability and quality as well, which means it will be a garment that you'll be able to take with you on many future adventures. It also happens to be a great holiday gift for that outdoor enthusiast on your list.

Find out more at MountainHardwear.com.

The 2016 Adventure Blog Holiday Shoppers Guide (Part 1)

The holidays are now upon us, and its time to start looking for the perfect gift for the outdoor adventurer and world traveler on your list. If you're looking for the perfect gift for that guy or gal, I have some suggestions that should make them happy this year. Here's what they really want to find under their tree this holiday season.

Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Jacket ($250)
If your loved ones like to spend time outdoors in the cold months of the year, they'll appreciate the new Mountain Hardwear StretchDown Jacket. Not only does is use stretchy material that moves well during active outings, but it employs heat-sealed baffles rather than standard stitches, making it much warmer as well. This is the most innovative puffy on the market today, and one that will be a great companion on many adventures to come. (Buy at REI.com)

Osprey Atmos AG 50 ($230)
There are so many great backpacks to choose from on the market today it is tough to select just once. But Osprey's Atmos AG 50 is still one of the very best, with perhaps the most comfortable fit and suspension available today. Perfect for backpacking, camping, and adventure travel, this pack has plenty of capacity and comes with such additional features as a removable top lid, tool attachments, removable sleeping pad straps, and much more. Best of all, its backed by Osprey's lifetime warranty, which means they'll fix or replace it should anything every happen to the pack. (Buy at REI.com)

Lowa Renegade GTX Mid Boots ($230)
There are a lot of great hiking boots to choose from these days, but for my money it is tough to top the Lowa Renegade GTX in terms of performance, comfort, and durability. This boot is designed for hiking, trekking, and even light mountaineering, with excellent traction on a wide variety of surfaces, plenty of support for the foot, and a classic look that never seems to go out of style. (Buy at REI.com)


Goal Zero Venture 30 Battery Pack ($99.95)
Being able to keep your gadgets charged while on the go is an important consideration these days, and there are many portable battery packs to choose from. But Goal Zero's Venture 30 not only carries a lot of juice (7800 mAh) but its rugged enough to survive just about anywhere you want to take it. Waterproof and durable, the Venture 30 has a high speed USB port that can recharge your mobile devices as quickly as a wall outlet. (Buy at REI.com)

Eddie Bauer Kara Koram +20ºF Sleeping Bag ($449)
When it comes to getting a good night's sleep in the backcountry, your sleeping bag is the most important piece of kit that you can take with your. Warm, comfortable, lightweight, and compact, the Kara Koram +20º bag from Eddie Bauer is a great option to have at your disposal. Stuffed with 850-fill, water-resistant down, this bag is tough enough to go anywhere and continue to perform at an incredibly high level.

Klymit Static V2 Sleeping Pad ($64.95)
Nobody likes to sleep on the hard ground when they're spending a night in the tent, which is why a good sleeping  pad is a must. The Klymit Static V2 is lightweight (weighs 1 lbs), very comfortable, and packs down to the size of a soda can. Its body-mapped pattern is also extremely comfortable too, allowing you to sleep like a baby in the backcountry. (Buy at REI.com)

The North Face Talus 2 Tent ($199)
A good tent provides the shelter you need to survive in the backcountry, and the Talus 2 from The North Face is an excellent option for those who like to travel light but without sacrificing features. Tipping the scales at a mere 3.2 pounds, this tent has plenty of room to sleep two, features double-doors and two vestibules, and comes with both a gear loft and a footprint. It even has a lifetime warranty, which means you can depend on it surviving rough conditions, or TNF will replace it. (Buy at REI.com)

Mountain Khakis Original Mountain Pant ($84.95)
If you're looking for the perfect outdoor pants that can also transition to town without missing a beat, the Original Mountain Pant from Mountain Khakis has you covered. Reinforced in all the right places, and designed for comfort on and off the trail, these pants feature classic good looks, a relaxed fit, and quality fabrics, stitches, and zippers. (Buy at Campsaver.com)

REI Sahara Tech Long-Sleeve Shirt ($36.93)
The REI Shara tech shirt is comfortable to wear, provides moisture wicking and temperature control features, and offers UPF 50+ protection from the sun. It also has classic good looks, is designed for travel and outdoor activities, dries quickly, and packs down to a small footprint. Pretty much everything you want out of any piece of active apparel.

Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec DSS Trekking Poles ($159.95)
A good pair of trekking poles are essential for challenging hikes, and Leki makes some of the very best. Lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with, the Micro Vario TI Cor-Tec DSS poles are perfect for anyone hiking local trails close to home, or flying off to tackle Kilimanjaro. Quick and easy to assemble, with comfortable hand grips, these trekking poles are one of those items you don't know you need until you have a pair. They are perfect for the hiker on your list. (Buy at REI.com)

More gift ideas to come in the second part of my holiday gift guide tomorrow.






Gear Closet: Mountain Hardwear Dragon Hooded Jacket

True fall weather has arrived at long last where I live, which is giving me a chance to finally get caught up on some of the backlog of amazing gear I have waiting to be tested in cooler conditions. That list of products includes several jackets, mid- and baselayers, as well as a few other items that I've been waiting patiently to put to the test. One of those items is the new Dragon Hooded Jacket from Mountain Hardwear, a soft-shell that continues the company's legacy of creating tough, dependable products that you'll want to take with you on your outdoor adventures.

The Dragon is a lightweight, high performance jacket designed for hiking, backpacking, and intense alpine pursuits. It is made from stretchy materials that are designed to hug the body, providing warmth and comfort with a high degree of breathability too. The jacket also incorporates AirSheild fabrics that provide a measure of wind and weather proofing, and while the Dragon isn't waterproof by any means, it does offer some protection from light rain and snow.

Knowing their customers' needs quite well, Mountain Hardwear also included a fair number of pockets on the Dragon jacket as well. In addition to the usual two zippered hand pockets, there is also a zippered pocket on the chest, and another zipped pocket on the interior as well. You'll also find two more spacious pockets located on the interior, which are perfect for keeping important items close at hand, as well as providing warmth to fragile tech devices – such as a smartphone or camera – which can suffer poor battery life in colder weather.

In another nod toward meeting customer's needs, the jacket has reinforced fabrics in certain sections where it could be more prone to wear and tear. Those parts of the Dragon include the shoulders, which could see issues with abrasions generated from wearing a backpack. Fortunately, these areas can handle the added tension that is placed on them and come away without any harm. In fact, after wearing the jacket it regularly both around town and on some outdoor excursions, it still manages to look as good as new. Beyond that however, I get the sense that this will be the case after many future adventures too.


Other nice touches that I appreciate are broad sleeves with velcro cuffs that you can adjust to fit your personal taste, as well as a main zipper that can be opened or closed from either the top or the bottom. This provides a nice way to vent excess heat when you start to get too warm, and lends the jacket a level of versatility that you don't always find in a soft shell of this kind. The Dragon's built-in hood is also nice and spacious, allowing it to easily be worn with a helmet if needed, or cinched down for added warmth in a pinch. These are all small touches for sure, but important ones for those who are looking for solid performance out of their various layers.

One of my favorite design elements of the Dragon Hooded Jacket is its snug – but not restrictive – fit. Mountain Hardwear's designers clearly went with a more athletic cut when designing this garment, and for someone who likes to be able to move quickly and easily without my jacket getting in the way, this was a choice that I appreciated greatly. For me personally, there is nothing worse than having ill-fitting close when I'm being particularly active, but that wasn't something I had to worry about here. Despite its body-hugging design however, it is still easy to wear baselayers underneath the Dragon without worrying about that layer bunching up or creating any kind of discomfort.

Indeed, on the contrary. This jacket is actually quite comfortable to wear. So much so that it has quickly become one of my "go-to" jackets whether I'm heading out to run errands, going to the dog park, or hitting the trail. The fact that it is lightweight, soft, versatile, and warm makes is an amazing piece of gear to have at your disposal. The fact that I happen to think that it looks great too doesn't hurt it's cause either.

In reading other online reviews for the Dragon Hooded Jacket I learned that others felt that the length of the sleeves was a bit too long. As someone who has longer arms, I didn't notice this at all, but it could be a concern for some readers. If you have a shorter arm length, you may want to try this jacket on before ordering one. For me it is perfect, but apparently I could be in the minority with that opinion.

I have to admit, I've always had a soft spot in my heart for Mountain Hardwear gear. When I started acquiring truly good outdoor clothing, it was one of the brands that I found performed well in adverse conditions. Over the years the company has had its ups and downs, but for the most part the tradition of providing products that can be depended upon while traveling or on an adventure has remained at the core of what the company does. The Dragon Hooded Jacket reaffirms that commitment to me, as it easily meets my already lofty expectations from any piece of gear that bears the MH logo on it. I think you'll find that it does the same for you, delivering excellent protection from the wind and cold in an article of clothing that is lightweight, highly packable, and simply a joy to wear.

Priced at $220, this isn't a jacket for just anyone. Don't get me wrong, I find that to be a competitive price for the level of performance that it offers. But if you're looking for a soft shell to keep you warm while running around town, the Dragon is probably overkill and you can find something just as well suited to your needs for less money. On the other hand, if you need a high performance jacket for use in active outdoor pursuits, you're going to love what Mountain Hardwear has to offer here. I have a closet full of amazing jackets at my disposal, but this is one I full anticipated grabbing for regularly for many years to come.

Find out more at MountainHardwear.com. But the Dragon Hooded Jacket online at REI or Campsaver,

Gear Closet: Craghoppers Nat Geo Response Compresslite Travel Jacket

When it comes to picking clothes to take with me on my travels, my favorite gear always have some similar traits. Typically, those garments perform at a high level, are versatile enough to wear in a number of different settings, and are of course comfortable to wear. It doesn't hurt if they look good too, and are highly packable so as to not take up too much room in my bags. Recently, I've discovered a new jacket that fits that description nicely, and while I haven't had a chance to use it as much as I'd like just yet, I can already tell that is will now take its place amongst my "must bring" travel gear for colder destinations.

The new Nat Geo Response Compresslite Travel Jacket from Craghoppers is a fantastic addition to any frequent traveler's closet. Not only is it windproof and water-resistant, it is also incredibly lightweight, which makes it a great option whether you're heading out on the town with friends or flying to the far side of the world. As if that wasn't enough, it also compresses down and conveniently stores in its own pocket, making it super easy to pack and take with you on all of your adventures.

The first time I slipped this jacket on I was immediately impressed with how comfortable it was to wear. It features a trim cut that hugs the body nicely, without interfering with movement or preventing you from adding layers underneath. Often times a puffy jacket can feel a bit bulky and overstuffed, but that isn't the case here. Quite the opposite in fact.


If warmth is what you need, the Response Jacket provides plenty of that as well. While it isn't on par with some of the heavier, more performance oriented downy jackets that I have in my wardrobe, it offers an excellent weight to warmth ratio that makes it a good choice for all but the harshest weather conditions. Add some baselayers underneath, and you have the perfect jacket for traveling in cold-weather destinations where a larger puffy isn't needed.

Craghppers has outfitted the Response with three pockets, all of which have zippers. Two of those are incredibly large and serve to warm the hands, while the third is located on the chest and is perfect for holding a passport or smartphone. Just how big are the hand warming pockets? One of them is the actual pocket that the jacket stuffs itself into for fast and easy packing.

Speaking of which, when the jacket is packed in that pocket, it actually resembles a travel pillow in both size and shape. Craghoppers doesn't market it as such, but I can tell you that I would have no problems using it in that capacity in a pinch. The soft, cushy Response would work great as a pillow when you don't have another one with you or are just trying to save more room in your pack.

Personally, I happen to like the look and cut of the jacket as well, and apparently I'm not alone. On the times that I have worn it around town I've had more than a few comments on it, with several people asking me about the brand. Craghoppers isn't especially well known here in the U.S., but when tell others that they are a U.K. based travel apparel company, they usually want to know more. It is clear from one look at this jacket that is is a great choice for travelers.

As yo may have noticed, the official name of the Response Jacket also includes "Nat Geo." That's because National Geographic has been working with Craghoppers for sometime now to help develop great garments for use on our adventures. That partnership has worked well for both companies, brining the clothing manufacturer a bit of extra recognition in the states, and giving Nat Geo the ability to jump into the apparel market with a credible partner. If this jacket is any indication, we'l hopefully continue to see more co-branded gear coming in the future.

As you can probably tell, I'm extremely enthusiastic about this jacket and getting the chance to use it more this winter. But, I haven't even gotten to the best part yet, and that's the price! Craghoppers sells the Response for just $95, which is a real bargain considering how good it looks, how well it performs, and how light it is.

Whether you're shopping for yourself or looking for the perfect gift for the adventure traveler on your holiday list, this is a fantastic option for sure. It is an unbeatable combination of all the things that travelers look for in their clothing, and priced to be affordable for everyone too. Add the to your gear closet, and you'll be a very happy traveler indeed.

Find out more at Craghoppers.com. But the Response Compresslite Jacket at Campsaver.

Gear Closet: Voormi River Run Hoodie

There is a wonderful company based in Colorado that is quietly making some of the most exceptional gear that I have ever seen. Innovative, social conscious, and incredibly driven, Voormi isn't a name that a lot of people know in the outdoor industry just yet, but I promise you that will be hearing great things from them in the months and years ahead. That's because their products are well designed, feature amazing fabrics and technical breakthroughs, and are made by people who love the outdoors as much as we do. That passion for their work shows through in the clothes that they make, which perform amazing well.

I was fortunate enough to review Voormi's Drift Jacket for Gear Institute this past spring, and found it to be an amazing mid-layer. Warm, comfortable, very durable, and great looking, it set a new bar for the level of performance I expect out of my outdoor clothing. With that impression still fresh in my mind, I was also eager to try out their new River Run Hoodie as well, as it is a completely different piece of apparel from the Drift. I didn't come away disappointed, as this hoodie is now one of my most used articles of clothing, bringing a great deal of versatility to the table.

One of the things that separates Voormi from the competition is that the company uses a special blend of merino wool that is found on sheep living in the Rocky Mountains. That wool plays an instrumental role in some of Voormi's best products, and for good reason, namely it performs incredibly well in all kinds of weather conditions. When creating the River Run – and a line of other lightweight garments – the geniuses at Voormi developed a new type of fabric called Dual Surface UL. This incredibly thin material is incredibly lightweight, but still very durable, and retains the features that we've all come to know and love from merino. That is to say, it wicks away moisture, is highly breathable, wears well, and doesn't collect foul odors. In short, everything we want from our outdoor gear.

The River Run Hoodie puts this fabric to good use, making it a lightweight pullover when you want a layer of protection from the sun, or if you're simply looking to take the chill off when setting out on a crisp morning. Warm when you need it to be, but breathable enough to not be stifling, the hoodie is the perfect choice for use in a variety of activities. I've worn it hiking, biking, fly fishing, and paddling. It has also become my go-to layer for a morning at the dog park or running errands around town too.


With a relaxed-fit cut, the River Run makes a nice pull-over when you want a long sleeve outer layer that you can remove when things start to warm up. But, its incredibly soft fabrics are also comfortable enough to wear completely on their own on those days when you want to avoid to much UV radiation from the sun. It comes equipped with thumb holes to add a bit of warmth to your hands, and the oversized hood is useful when the wind picks up too.

Weighing in at just 6 ounces (180 grams), the hoodie is an excellent option for travelers too. I've taken this garment with me on several trips already, and it earns high marks for its lack of bulk and packability. In fact, I'd say that frequent travelers will have as much to gain by having the River Run in their closet as outdoor enthusiasts. It is just such a versatile piece of clothing that you'll likely discover new ways to use it on a regular basis.

If I had one criticism of the River Run Hoodie it is that I wish it had a pocket or two. It is completely lacking in this category, which is its only fault as far as I'm concerned. I would have liked to have had a pouch on the front for instance, which would be a good place to warm your hands on a cool morning, or stash a couple of small items that you want to keep close at hand. Other than this minor quibble however, I am completely in love with this pull-over. (Note: Voormi does make another hoodie – the Eleven.9 – which does have a front pocket, but isn't quite as lightweight.)

With fall upon us, warm days and cool nights are now the norm. If you're in need of a lightweight hoodie to add a bit of extra warmth without over-doing it, the River Run is a great option. Priced at $129 it is even a great bargain in my mind. Upon first inspection, you're likely to think that it too much to pay for a pull-over that is this light and thin. But after you've worn it a few times, Voormi will make a believer out of you too. This is a great garment to have in your closet, and I think you'll be very happy with how it performs.

Gear Closet: The Cubed Travel Jacket from Clothing Arts

Finding just the right clothing to keep us comfortable in the outdoors can be a real challenge at times. We need garments that consistently perform at a high level, providing protection from the elements, while still managing to feel good when worn. It doesn't hurt if those articles of clothing happen to look good too, allowing us to seamlessly transition from the town to trial and back again. With that in mind, the outdoor industry has invested a lot of time and effort into developing the best products for their customers, giving us a lot of options for out adventurous pursuits.

These same sentiments have been sweeping through the travel industry over the past few years as well, and as a result we're seeing good looking gear made for frequent travelers that also incorporate the latest technical fabrics. This allows those products to also perform at a high level, while delivering all of the functionality that is unique to travelers too. That is exactly what you get from the Cubed Travel Jacket from Clothing Arts, a stylish jacket designed specifically with the needs of travelers in mind, with more than a few features that you didn't even realize you needed until now.

For those not familiar with Clothing Arts, the company makes a line of apparel to keep travelers safe and comfortable no matter where they go. For instance, the Pick Pocket Proof Pants are a must have for any adventure traveler, while the Travel Shirt features classic good looks that makes it feel right at home in any environment. But the Cubed Travel Jacket is the company's first attempt at making outerwear, and the designers behind it have clearly put a lot of thought into what they wanted to deliver. The result is a jacket that not only looks good, but offers Clothing Arts' trademark security features too.

Made from eVent's DVStorm fabrics, the Cubed Jacket is both water and wind proof, without sacrificing breathability. Those fabrics, when paired with taped seams, help to keep all but the worst weather conditions at bay. In fact, I took this jacket with me to Spain a few weeks back, where we faced regular rain showers and the occasional gusty day. But, this jacket performed admirably in all weather conditions, keeping me comfortable and dry at all times.


Despite being made from these highly technical fabrics, the Cubed Jacket doesn't look technical. That is to say that there is nothing about this jacket that screams "outdoorsy." Instead, it is made with a more fashionable look that allows it to blend in seamlessly in urban environments, while still looking good on the trail too. No one will ever mistake this jacket for something from The North Face or Mountain Hardwear, but that is a very good thing for travelers who don't want to look like they just stepped off the mountain. Instead, they'll find a more understated – and again classic – design that won't go out of style by the time the next fashion season rolls around.

In terms of other features, the Cubed Jacket also includes velcro wrist closures and waterproof zippers to further assist in battling the elements and dialing in just the right fit. It also comes with a detachable hood, which is nice to have in rainy conditions but can be removed when visiting a destination where that isn't especially a problem. Personally, I prefer a jacket with a hood, but I also like that you have the option here.

Of course, most of these features that I have noted already aren't enough to help the Cubed Travel Jacket to stand out in an increasingly crowded market. But, what this jacket does better than any other I've worn, is offer you plenty of pockets to carry your items around, most of which are secure enough to ensure that those items remain safe from unsavory characters.

As mentioned, Clothing Arts has made a name for itself by creating travel apparel that offers security options that make those items pick-pocket proof. Those same sensibilities carried over here with a variety of onboard storage options. In addition to two standard hand pockets, you'll also find two Napoleon pockets, and for more stashed away on the interior of the jacket. Those options include compartments that are perfect for stowing away your passport, sunglasses, smartphone, and even a small tablet.

There are a number of small details that help to set this jacket apart from the competition as well, including the ability to access the contents of some of the interior pockets from both inside and outside of the jacket. This is a level of versatility that I haven't found in other travel jackets, and it is something you come to appreciate when wanting to access your smartphone in a rainstorm for instance.

Several of the larger interior pockets also come with patent-pending security clips that add yet another layer of protection from thieves. In addition to having to gain access to the interior of the jacket, and open the zippered pockets, any would-be pickpockets would also have to get around the security clips without being noticed. Not an easy task to say the least, which should provide a nice piece of mind when traveling abroad.

Each of these small elements blend together incredibly well in the Cubed Travel Jacket, making it a must have for anyone who travels regularly. It is a deft combination of convenience, comfort, and versatility, wrapped up in a good looking package. It isn't easy to make jacket that delivers on all of those fronts, and creating one that is both water and wind proof is a nice feature as well.

All of that functionality and design comes at a price however. The Cubed Travel Jacket carries a price tag of $380, which puts it right in line with some of the best high-end technical jackets from the outdoor brands that we love so much. If you think of this product as "just a travel jacket" you'll probably see that price point as being way to high. Indeed, you can definitely find good dedicated travel jackets for less. But, if you take a look at the specs on Clothing Arts' offering, and weigh in its level of performance, this is a jacket that is more akin to something you'd find in more technical outdoor pursuits. The Cubed Travel Jacket hasn't been designed for those activities of course, but it performs on much the same level.

If you need a travel jacket that stand up to the rigors of the road with ease, while also providing a high level of versatility and security, than this is the product for you. Not only does it look good and provide protection from bad weather, it also allows you to carry a full day's worth of gear with ease and security. And when you buy this jacket you can bet that you're investing in a product that will last for years and accompany you on many adventures. It is durable enough to take virtually anywhere, and you'll look great no matter where you. What more could you ask for out of any piece of travel clothing?

Find out more at ClothingArts.com.


The Waterproof Shell Reinvented from Adam Rapp on Vimeo.

Gear Closet: Altra StashJack Lightweight Running Jacket

Fall is here, which means cooler weather and unpredictable conditions that can make it much more challenging to know how to dress for our favorite outdoor activities. On some days you need a jacket, and on others you don't. And then of course there are those times when unexpected rain showers strike, making you wish you had brought a jacket with you even though you didn't think it was needed. That's exactly where the new StashJack from Altra comes in handy. It is a super lightweight option that has been so well designed that you won't ever have to decide whether or not you should bring it on your adventures.

A quick look at the technical specs for the StashJack provides some insights into why it is such a nice piece of kit. For example, it weighs just 3.3 ounces (93.5 grams), provides protection from both wind and rain, and it features a loose, tapered fit that gives your body room to move while taking part in fast-paced activities. It also includes some reflective highlights to help keep the wearer more visible in low conditions, and it is made with trimmed and flat locked seams that make it more comfortable to wear.

But, that is really just the beginning. Because what makes the StashJack so special is its ability to be stuffed into a tiny carrying pouch that comes complete with a built-in adjustable belt. This gives you the ability to wear the jacket around your waist until you truly need it, at which time it can be deployed in a matter of seconds without ever having the need to stop moving at all. The jacket even features an open back that is designed to wrap around your pack so you won't even have to remove it to put the jacket on.


This clever design comes our way from the team at Altra, a company focused on making excellent products for runners and hikers. Already this year I have reviewed both their Superior 2.0 trail running shoes and Lone Peak 3.0 hiking boots. In both cases, I came away very impressed with how comfortable and well made those products are. The StashJack doesn't disappoint in anyway either, only further increasing my confidence in Altra gear.

I've worn the StashJack on several runs this fall when I thought there was a chance of rain. On a couple of those occasions I managed to put in my milage before the bad weather set in, which normally would have annoyed me since I had brought a jacket along for no reason. But in this case, the StashJack attached securely to my waist, and because it is so lightweight, I pretty much forgot that it was even there. The included belt kept the jacket from bouncing around while I moved and it did nothing to impede my natural running movements.

On a couple of other occasions dark clouds did decide to open up and drop some rain on me while I ran. It was at those times that I was very happy to have this jacket along for the ride. I was able to quickly and easily pull it out of its stash pouch and put it on, taking just a few seconds to wrap myself in lightweight protection from the elements. This allowed me to happily continue with my workout without getting soaked to the bone.

It should be pointed out that the StashJack is made to be wind and water resistant, which means in more severe storms it can soak through, and heavy winds will still bring a chill to your body. But considering the fact that it weighs just 3.3 ounces, it performs quite well, even in those more demanding situations.

You don't have to be a runner to appreciate what the StashJack brings to the table. Hikers will certainly find this an appealing product as well. It's combination of convenience and svelte design make it a great choice for travel too, allowing you to wear it where ever you go, and instantly have a light jacket that you can pull on at a moments notice.

Priced at $130, the StashJack is more expensive than many will probably want to pay. But it is surprisingly durable for its size and packs in a high level of performance. If you're a daily runner (like me), you'll find this is a jacket you'll want to own. Having it in your gear closet for other occasions, like going on a day hike or traveling to a foreign city where rain is in the forecast, extends its value beyond just my regular workouts. Yes, it is possible to find a rain jacket at lower price, but you'll be hard pressed to find one that offers such versatility as well. For me, that makes the asking price well worth it.

Get one for yourself at Altra.com. And don't forget to grab one for the runner on your holiday shopping list too.

The Very Best Gear of 2016 Summer Outdoor Retailer

As you can see, I'm back from Salt Lake City and updating The Adventure Blog once again. While there to attend the Outdoor Retailer gear convention I had the opportunity to see all kinds of interesting, ingenious, and downright crazy new gear that is coming our way in the months ahead. Some of that gear I'll actually get to test myself, and share my thoughts with you readers. But there is simply so much to see there that no one person could ever review it all in a single year.

Thankfully, there are a number of websites that have shared their picks for the best new gear that was on display at the show. For instance, Outside magazine has posted its selection of the 5 best pieces of gear that were unveiled at OR with a new backpack from Arc'teryx and a tent from Cotopaxi each earning a nod.

Elsewhere, Popular Mechanics has shared it's picks for best in show as well, with some very interesting products earning a spot on their list. They handed out their "editor's choice" awards to seven new products, including an innovative and eco-friendly jacket from Columbia that was a hit with everyone at the show, and the new BaseLantern camp lighting system from BioLite.

Finally, the Gear Institute – a site that I contribute to and helped picks the award winners for – had posted it's selection of Best New Gear Awards too. We ended up handing out eight awards in total, with winners ranging from an ultra-slim, two fuel stove from Kovea to an innovative new sleeping bag from The North Face.

This is just a small sample of what we can expect in the weeks to come, as the trends that we've expected from the outdoor industry – namely lighter, more efficient, and more versatile gear – continues to be the theme. Your pocket book might not be too happy about all of the great gear that is on the horizon, but as an outdoor lover, chances are you will be very satisfied.

Gear Closet: Rumpl Down Puffy Performance Blanket

When it comes to warmth and comfort in cold weather conditions, it it hard to beat a good puffy jacket. In fact, they are often so cozy that we're sometimes reluctant to take them off, even when we get inside. But what if you had a warm puffy of another kind to help keep you warm after you've pulled your jacket off? That's the premise behind the Down Puffy performance blanket from Rumpl, which is so comfy that you'll want to buy two just to avoid arguments over who gets to wrap up in it.

Much like that down jacket that you love so much, this blanket is made with 20D ripstop nylon complete with a DWR coating to help repel moisture. That same coating also helps it to resist stains and odor too, something that comes in handy not only at home, but around the campsite as well.

Stuffed with 600 fill duck down insulation, the Down Puffy is incredibly soft, warm, and comfortable, without being overly bulky. In fact, it is highly packable, which makes it easy to carry with you anywhere. It even comes with a nice stuff sack to help compress it down to a small footprint when you need to stuff it into a backpack, duffel, or piece of luggage. And since Rumpl uses Dry Down water resistant fill, you literally can take this with you to the backyard, the cabin, or a tent in the backcountry without fear.


Obviously this blanket is very warm and cozy for use in cool and even cold weather conditions, but it can also serve as a sleeping bag replacement for warm weather camp outings as well. Using a blanket allows for more versatility in those conditions, when a regular sleeping bag can feel confining and overly warm, even if it is rated for higher temperatures. You'll also find the Down Puffy to be a great addition to your camp gear when sitting around the fire before retiring for the evening too.

I can tell you from experience that this blanket is so comfortable and warm that you won't want to share, even though it is large enough for two. At my house there have been arguments (mostly in jest of course!) over who stakes claim to the Down Puffy, and I can tell you that I can see us packing it on future travel outings simply because it is so easy to take with you and offers so much versatility.

The Down Puffy is described as a "performance blanket" and it carries a price tag to match. Rumpl sells it for $199, which makes it quite an investment for anyone who wants one. I can tell you that it is definitely worth the money, even if it is a bit of a luxury item for use around the home and campsite. But if dropping that much cash on a down blanket seems like too much, Rumpl also offers other puffy blankets in a variety of colors that start at just $65.

Any of these options are a great investment, and make wonderful gifts too. Find out more at GoRumpl.com.

Gear Closet: Big Agnes Meaden Down Jacket

When you travel to a cold weather destination you quickly learn the value of having good gear. Recently, while visiting Quebec, Canada, the temperatures dipped well below -20ºF/-28ºC, with windchills as low as -45ºF/-42ºC. That's cold, but with the right gear and a good layering system, it is surprisingly easy to not just survive in those conditions, but enjoy yourself too.

To get along in temps that cold, you need warm baselayers, a wind and waterproof shell, and of course a good insulating later in-between. Usually that insulating layer is either a fleece jacket or in colder conditions a down jacket, which provides the best weight to warmth ratio imaginable. On my recent Canadian adventure I took the new Meaden Jacket from Big Agnes, which exceeded my expectations in terms of comfort, warmth, and fit.

In terms of insulation, the Meaden Jacket features 850 fill down from Downtek, which means it is water resistant, virtually eliminating the one fault with using it in an active jacket. In the past, when down got went, it lost its loft, clumped together, and became almost useless. This issue was only exasperated when the down would freeze in cold conditions.

But with hydrophobic down produced by Downtek, this is not an issue. That means the Meaden will continue to perform well, even when it gets wet, which is something that helps to separate it from other jackets that don't bother using water resistant down, and quite frankly if you're in the market for jacket of this type, it is silly to consider anything else these days. Usually it doesn't add much to the cost of the jacket, and what you gain in performance is easily worth the extra money.


The surprising thing about this particular jacket isn't that it is warm, but just how warm it is for the weight. Big Agnes has created an article of clothing that performs incredibly well, and weighs next to nothing. The large version of the Meaden tips the scales at just 11.5 oz. (326 grams), which is incredibly lightweight for jacket that offers this level of performance.

Despite its low weight however, Big Agnes didn't compromise on a durability. The jacket is designed with the active crowd in mind, and so it is built to survive our adventures in harsh conditions. The lightweight ripstop fabrics used on the Meaden are tough, abrasion resistant, and made to last. My test model was used extensively throughout my travels in Canada, and it looks completely brand new.

One of my favorite features of this jacket is its straight, athletic cut. Clearly the designers at Big Agnes know their customers, most of whom are very active in the outdoors. The design of the Meaden is meant to not impede movement in any way, even while serving as part of a much larger layering system. When that design is paired with the lightweight of the jacket, you end up with a garment that you can pull on, feel warm, and forget that you are even wearing it. That's a powerful combination to find in any piece of performance gear.

Big Agnes didn't skimp on the pockets on Meaden either. In addition to two hand-warming pockets on the exterior of the jacket, there is a larger interior mesh pocket as well. This came in handy when trying to keep camera and smartphone batteries warm in the cold conditions, which can zap them of power very quickly. A second interior pocket, located on the chest, is great for stashing small items too, and cleverly converts into a stuff sack for packing the jacket when traveling as well.

The Meaden has a number of other nice features that seem small at first, but add up to make it an exceptional piece of gear. For instance, it has thumb holes that add warmth to the hands and wrists, but also ensure that your sleeves fully extend when donning an outer shell. The main zipper also includes a no-draft flap to help keep the cold winds out, and an adjustable drawcord on the hem helps to lock in warmth too.

With a price tag of $380, the Meaden Jacket is a bit pricier than similar jackets from the competition. But, it also comes with Big Agnes' trademark high quality. To me, that makes the cost of this jacket well worth the price. It is a great combination of thoughtful design, high quality materials, and fantastic performance. That is a rare thing to find in any product, let alone a piece of outdoor gear.

If you're in the market for a new high-performance down jacket, the Big Agnes Meaden is a fantastic choice. it is a bit on the pricer side, but what it delivers makes it well worth the cost. This is a jacket that will be with you for years, and continue provide warmth on even the coldest of adventures.

Gear Closet: 5.11 Tactical Taclite Anorak Jacket

This past weekend was an interesting one where I live. While we weren't caught up in the massive blizzard that hit the East Coast, we did catch the edge of the storm and ended up receiving 8 inches (20 cm) of snow, which was enough to set a new record for my location. For many of my friends and neighbors, this was a good opportunity to hunker down at home and enjoy a few snow days with a break from work and school. But for me, it was a chance to test out some of the winter gear that has been sent my way, and enjoy a bit of winter weather that I don't get a chance to play in as much as I'd like.

One of the pieces of gear that I had the opportunity to try out is the new Taclite Anorak Jacket from 5.11 Tactical, a versatile and surprisingly warm pullover that comes with that company's trademark high quality design and construction.

I've reviewed a couple of products from 5.11 Tactical in the past, including their Rush 12 backpack and awesome Stryke Pants. The company makes products that are popular with the military and law enforcement agents, but have elements that make them a great choice for civilian outdoor enthusiasts too. For instance, the Taclite jacket has a nice, clean cut to it, and is designed to allow the wearer to move unimpeded. That is something we can all appreciate, regardless of what activities we have planned for the day.

Another indication of 5.11 Tactical's focus on versatility for both the military and civilian population is the inclusion of what it calls "Quixip" side vents. For most of us, this is a nice feature that allows us to vent out heat when things get a little active. But for some of the company's other customers, it also provides quick and easy access to a firearm. Not something that most of us have to worry about, but definitely a feature that 5.11's core audience appreciates.


One of the most impressive things about this jacket is just how durable it is. It uses proprietary "Taclite" fabrics which are designed to take a beating and yet not show the wear and tear that you would associate with daily use. This is the kind of jacket you can wear out and about around town, on a trail, or on your daily commute, and it will continue to look good and perform well for years to come. Those fabrics are also treated with a Teflon coating, which helps to repel moisture and makes the jacket easy to keep clean.

Despite its rugged exterior however, the Taclite Anorak has a soft, and very comfortable, cotton liner that feels great against the skin, and provides plenty of warmth too. This helped to make it cozy to wear on chilly days, and when paired with a good baselayer, I was more than comfortable even when the mercury took a plunge.

The Taclite Anorak includes some other nice features too. For instance, its spacious pass-through kangaroo pocket is also quite warm and offers a good amount of storage. Two document pockets located on the chest are also very handy for keeping important items – such as a smartphone or passport – close at hand, while their Velcro seals allow for quick access of the interior. Even the three-panel hood shows that a lot of thought went into the design of this garment, providing extra comfort and warmth where a lot of other gear manufacturers would have just added a hood as an afterthought.

Having used some of 5.11 Tactical's other products in the past, I was already a fan of their gear. They often take a no-frills approach to the design of their gear, but they still manage to put plenty of thought into the fine details and offer high quality construction too. This jacket is no exception, as its uses metal buttons, a YKK zipper complete with a leather pull, and exceptional stitching to hold everything together. The result is an Anorak that doesn't try to be the lightest or most breathable on the market, but instead offers excellent all around performance, durable protection from the elements, and classic good looks that will make it feel right at home just about anywhere you want to wear it.

If that wasn't enough, I was also impressed with the Taclite Anorak's price tag too. At just $140, it feels like quite a steal. Considering everything that went into making this jacket, and what it brings to the table, I wouldn't have been surprised to if it cost over $200. But 5.11 Tactical has managed to deliver a great product at a great price, and if you happen to fall into their core customer base, you're absolutely going to love it. If you haven't tried 5.11 Tactical gear before, this is a great product to serve as an entry point as well. You won't be disappointed.

Gear Closet: Jöttnar Fenrir Hydrophobic Down Jacket

One of my favorite advances in the area of outdoor gear over the past few years has been the introduction of water-resistant down. Before the creation of this type of insulation, anytime a down jacket or sleeping bag got wet, it became practically useless. Wet down loses its loft, becomes clumpy, and can even freeze solid. But with this new type of down insulation that isn't the case, and an increasing number of companies are incorporating it into their products, improving the overall performance in the process. Case in point, the Fenrir jacket from Jöttnar, which uses Downtek insulation to create a warm, lightweight outer layer that is built for alpine pursuits.

If you're not familiar with Jöttnar just yet, it is probably because the U.K.-based company is still relatively new on the scene, and hasn't made a big impact on this side of the pond just yet. But they're hoping to change that in the near future, and considering the line-up of outdoor performance gear that they offer, I think you'll probably be hearing a lot more from them in the future.

The Fenrir is one of the company's flagship down jackets, and is a good example of their approach to design gear for use in extreme conditions. Lightweight and highly packable, the jacket weighs a mere 13.2 ounces (380 g), but offers a level of performance that you might find in a heavier, bulkier product. Stuffed with 850 fill power down, Jöttnar has placed its water-repellant insulation in strategic areas throughout the jacket to help make it as efficient and comfortable as possible. As a result, the Fenrir has been designed to provide protection where it is needed most, without becoming overly bulky.

In fact, one of the things that I like the most about this jacket is its athletic cut and design. This is a precut that has been designed with outdoor athletes in mind, and as a result it hugs the body closely, providing a fit that doesn't impede movement in any way, but also ensures that the warmth is kept inside, close to the body where it will do the most good.


The outer fabrics of the Fenrir include rip-stop nylon that has been designed to keep the howling winds at bay. Those same fabrics are also water resistant and treated with a DWR coating that will repel just about anything short of a serious downpour. That helps to keep the Downtek insulation inside the jacket from getting overly wet as well, even though it is capable of staying dry for up to 10 times longer than traditional down as well.

Other features that are much appreciated include an interior pocket large enough to hold a smartphone, two hand-warming pockets on either side of the jacket, and elastic cuffs that were specifically designed to help keep the heat in. Drawcords along the bottom of the Fenrir allow the wearer to dial in just the right fit, and those same cords have been engineered to avoid snagging them on external objects while on the move.

As someone who is a frequent traveler, one of my favorite features of this jacket is its ability to pack down to a very small footprint. Jöttnar even includes a stuff sack along with the Fenrir that allows you to store the jacket until it is needed, without taking up too much room in your backpack. This will come in handy on many future trips where a warm jacket is needed, but you won't want to sacrifice carrying capacity.

When used as part of a layering system – consisting of base layers, a mid-layer, and an outer shell – the Fenrir truly comes alive. This is a warm, comfortable, puffy jacket, without too much of the puffy part. The fact that it also features a classic, simple, but elegant, design makes it easy to wear around town on cold weather days without feeling like you're out of place. But the Fenrir was designed for performance in the mountains, and that is where it truly shines. The jacket will keep you warm on the trail in incredibly bad conditions, allowing you to keep moving without compromise. What more could we possibly ask for out of our gear?

Jöttnar sells the Fenrir for £200, which roughly translates to $300 at the current exchange rate. That's a relative bargain for a jacket that performs at this level, and offers so much versatility. The biggest challenge you're likely to have is tracking one down here in the States or in North America in general. Hopefully that will change soon, as this is certainly a brand to keep an eye on, and their gear is top notch in every way.