Showing posts with label Snowshoeing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Snowshoeing. Show all posts

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.

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

Gear Closet: Osprey Mutant 38 Backpack

Looking for a great lightweight, versatile backpack for your winter adventures? Than look no further than the new Mutant 38 from Osprey, a pack specifically designed for ice climbing, snowshoeing, and ski mountaineering that offers everything you need and nothing you don't.

I recently carried the Mutant 38 with me on my trip to Canada, where I got the chance to put it through its paces while dogsledding and snowshoeing in subzero conditions. Before I set out I knew that my visit to Quebec would be an active one, and I wanted a pack that would offer plenty of capacity to carry the various gear, extra clothing, and supplies that I'd need for a busy day in the backcountry. The Mutant met that description nicely, and ended up exceeding the expectations I placed on it.

As the name implies, this pack has 38 liters of capacity, most of which is found in its spacious main compartment. I poured all kinds of gear – including camera and lenses, extra layers, food, and more – into it, and it still never felt like it was close to running out of space. That brought a nice level of confidence as we'd head out for the day, as I knew that I had all of the things I needed, and a pack that could carry it all quite comfortably.

When designing the Mutant 38, Osprey was looking to go as light as possible without compromising comfort or durability. Out of the box, the pack weighs about 2.5 pounds, but it gives the wearer the option to shed items they might not need in an effort to cut ounces. For instance, the pack's lid can be removed completely, as can attachment and side straps, aluminum stays, the helmet carry, and framesheet.

With all of that out of the way, the Mutant transforms into an ultralight minimalist pack that weighs next to nothing. Surprisingly though, it is sill capable of comfortably carrying lots of gear for those quick dashes to the summit or fast hiking on a trail. This level of versatility also allows you to dial in exactly what features you need, and do away with the ones that you don't.

At first glance, the Mutant looks like it might not be all that comfortable, particularly when you fill it to its 50 pound (22 kg) capacity. The shoulder straps and hipbelt are thin and lightly padded, and look like they wouldn't provide a lot of support. That is misleading however, as once you have the pack on, it feels great, even with a heavy load. The fact that Osprey has managed to pull off this minimalist approach to design, while still delivering a very high level of performance, is impressive indeed.

Other nice features of the Mutant 38 include two handy bungie tie-offs for keeping your ice tools close at hand, reinforced ski carry loops, crampon attachment loops, and compression straps for maintaining a well balanced load. The hipbeilt is also designed to wrap away from the body so as to not interfere with a climbing harness, while an integrated hydration sleeve can accept reservoirs up to 3 liters in size, and doubles as an adequate laptop sleeve when used for travel.

It is important to point out that the Mutant isn't loaded with a lot of pockets or organizational stashes. The removable top-lid does have two other zippered pockets built into it, but other than that the design of the pack would best be described as spartan. This isn't a knock on the backpack at all, but something to be aware of. If you're looking for a bag that has lots of places to store small items and keep your gear organized, this probably isn't going to work for you. On the other hand, if you know this going in, and organize your gear accordingly, the Mutant will work very well for you.

While putting this pack to use in the Canadian backcountry, I was extremely pleased with how it performed. It was comfortable enough to wear all day long, with the ventilated backpanel helping to keep the air flowing, which was useful even in the cold conditions. The Mutant allowed me to carry everything I needed for a full day of adventure, without even really noticing that it was on my back, and since it is designed for use in the winter, everything inside was well protected from moisture and cold.

I'd be remiss in my review if I didn't mention that this pack is also backed by Osprey's awesome All Mighty Guarantee. That means that the company will fix or replace the pack if it becomes damaged for as long as you own it. It's tough to beat that kind of service, and it is just one of the reasons I happen to love their packs.

The Mutant 38 is just $160, which strikes me as a great price for a technical pack of this quality. It is a very comfortable and versatile bag that has a lot of nice touches that winter warriors will definitely love. That said, it is so well designed, you'll be able to use this pack all year long, no matter what the season.

Canadian Adventures: Snowshoeing in the Valley of Phantoms

It's pretty widely known that Canada is a great outdoor adventure destination. From the amazing national parks of British Columbia, to the mountain biking and kayaking opportunities that Vancouver has to offer. But as I discovered on my recent trip to Quebec, the opportunities for adventure aren't limited to the western part of this expansive country. In fact, just the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region alone has plenty to offer the intrepid traveler.

A few days back, I wrote about my experiences dogsledding and encountering wolves at a very special place in the Saguenay region. And while that was a fantastic day, it was just one of several unforgettable adventures that I was lucky enough to have while there.

Perhaps my favorite day while visiting Quebec was when I had the chance to go snowshoeing in the unbelievably beautiful Valley of the Phantoms. I've been fortunate enough to snowshoe through some great environments in the past, but none of them came close to the Valley of Phantoms. This very special place is covered in a blanket of 5+ meters (16.4 feet) of snow each year, thanks in part to a unique microclimate that creates extra moisture in the air. When temperatures drop, that moisture turns to snow, which falls almost continually throughout the winter. As a result, the snow is deep, powdery, and fresh. It also tends to cling to the trees of the dense forest found in the valley, shrouding them in white. Those trees are referred to as "ghost trees" or "mummy trees" and walking amongst them is something you won't soon forget.

Our day in Valley of the Phantoms began at the visitor center of the Parc national des Monts-Valin, in which this unique landscape is found. Shuttles depart twice in the morning, taking guests into the starting point of the trail that winds through the valley. With so much snow on the ground, it is impossible to drive to the trailhead yourself, but fortunately there are some special vans equipped with treads that are more than capable of navigating the snow-covered roads.

After collecting our gear, securing are permits, and meeting our guides, we were soon off on the 40 minute drive to the start of the trail. Along the way, it became evident what makes the Valley of the Phantoms so special, as the road you take to the start of the hike is surrounded by thick forests which already prominently displayed the ghost trees that the region is famous for.

Before long, we reached the trailhead. Hopping out of the van, we each grabbed a pair of snowshoes and poles, and went to work getting geared up for our trek. That day it was roughly -23ºC/-10ºF without the windchill, so it was important to get bundled in layers. Proper boots and gloves were necessary too, and even then it was cold enough that when you stopped moving, the chills set in pretty quickly.

The trail through the Valley of the Phantoms winds upwards, constantly climbing as you go. While it is a fairly easy ascent, being in good physical condition will certainly make it less of a challenge. Thankfully, the main trail is groomed all winter long, which makes it a comfortable walk. In fact, if you stayed on the trail it would be possible to hike to the top without the use of snowshoes. But wander off piste at all, and you'll be glad you have them. Even with the snowshoes, every member of my group still managed to fall through deep holes int eh snow, sometimes ended up buried to our chests.

Hiking up the trail, the trees provided good shelter from the wind, and brought a sense of solitude to our walk. When walking alone, the place was nearly silent, with just the sound of your snowshoes in breath breaking the silence. Despite the cold, it was a truly memorable and enjoyable day in the outdoors, with breathtaking scenery around just about every bend.

About halfway to the summit, we stopped to take a break in one of the valley's warming huts. On that day, it was crowded in the small hut, but very warm too. We allowed our toes and fingers to thaw a bit while enjoying a tasty lunch. It was a nice respite from the cold temps just outside, but once we had finished our meal, we bundled up to head back outside in the elements.

From the warming hut, it was just 1 km (.6 miles) to the summit, and with recharged batteries we soon topped out on the 984 meter (3228 ft) peak. The winds at the top were much higher than they were in the shelter of the valley itself, which caused temperatures to drop sharply. Still, the cold was far from our minds, because the incredible views that were found there trumped everything else.

We picked a great day to visit the Valley of the Phantoms. Throughout most of the winter, the skies are cloudy and snow falls almost constantly. But when I was there, it was a clear day with bright blue sky, and the sun shining overhead. That translated to breathtaking views from the summit, allowing us to see for miles in all directions. The ghost trees stretched out around us, showing us the boundaries of the microclimate that make them possible, while offering enticing views of the wilderness beyond. In a word, it was spectacular.

After spending quite a bit of time on the summit taking photos, we decided it was time to begin our descent at long last. But, our guide took us off the trail and into the more remote areas of the park. Here, the snow was deep and treacherous, and far different from the nicely groomed trail. It was during this part of our trek that we all discovered how well hidden holes in the snow can be, as everyone of us plummeted into the deep powder, which acted a bit like quicksand, even with snowshoes on our feet.

Those occasional obstacles only added to the fun though, and exploring off piste was a great adventure. If walking on the trail showed us the beauty of the valley, getting into the heart of the forest displayed its wild side. Walking amongst the trees was real joy, although if you do wander away from the hiking route, it would probably be good to do so with a guide. It is easy to get lost in the forest, and there were plenty of times I was happy that someone else was taking the lead.

By late afternoon we arrived back at the main trail and finished our descent back to where we started. It has been a tremendous day in this amazing place, and we were all reluctant to leave it behind, despite the very cold conditions. Thankfully, that evening was spent in a cabin that overlooked a frozen lake, giving us a chance to experience this pristine wilderness after dark too. We took advantage of that opportunity by heading out in the evening to catch a peek at the stars overhead. By then, the temperatures had dropped even further, but we didn't mind at all. We knew a hot fire was waiting for us back inside, and the view was well worth it.

Next up, ice fishing on Lac-Saint-Jean!

Gear Closet: North Face Ultra Extreme II GTX Hiking Boots

Finding the right boot for winter activities can be a real challenge sometimes. You obviously want something warm and comfortable that can provide good traction on snow and ice, but all too many times that comes at the expense of weight and bulk. That isn't the case with the new Ultra Extreme II GTX boots from The North Face however, as this is footwear designed for the cold and snowy season that doesn't have to make compromises for the sake of performance.

One thing is for certain, these boots definitely know how to make a first impression. Taking them out of the box for the first time, I was struck with just how lightweight they are, but was a little dubious about how well they would perform as a result. The boots look great too, and feature TNF's signature high quality build construction.

Last week I took these boots with me to Utah for a little pre-Outdoor Retailer adventure in the mountains near Park City. With plenty of snow on the ground I figured that would make a great test for this lightweight winter boot. I discovered that they performed better than I expected in most areas, particularly when taking part in winter activities such as snowshoeing and fat bike riding.

The boots feature a Gore-Tex liner that provides not only warmth and insulation, but a layer of waterproofing as well. My winter camping trip began with an evening of outdoor cooking and dinner shared with other writers and media folks, which ended up with most of staying out in the cold for more than four hours. Throughout that time, my feet stayed warm and dry, although by the time we were ready to call it quits for the night, my toes were starting to get a little frosty. But that is to be someone expected when you're standing around in cold weather conditions for extended periods of time. The next day when I set out on the trail for some snowshoeing, my feed remained plenty warm throughout the hike. Better yet, they also stayed dry, despite the fact the snow was quite deep.

Because these boots are so lightweight, they are also incredibly comfortable to wear, even on active excursions. Prior to setting out for Utah, I had only taken them out of the box and worn them around the house for a bit, but that was enough to tell me they wouldn't take long to break in. That turned out to be true, as after only wearing them for an hour or two, they were pretty much ready to go once I reached my destination. By the time I strapped on my snowshoes they already felt completely natural on my feet.

To give the Ultra Extreme II GTX boots plenty of grip on a variety of surfaces, The North Face uses a Vibram Icetrek outsole. This helps the shoes to stay stable in a variety of conditions, ranging from completely dry, to soaking wet, to frozen solid. Hiking in these boots on snow and ice, even without snowshoes, was a breeze, and I never once felt like they weren't up to the task. If anything, the grippy nature of the soles provided more confidence when tackling those conditions.

One of the the things that I like most about these boots is that they don't actually feel like you're wearing boots. The fit and comfort levels are more akin to an athletic shoe, albeit one with lots of ankle support. In fact, the UE II GTX's felt so good on my feet that I didn't bother to take them off for hours after we had left our snowy campground. Because they felt so great on my feet, and provided a nice level of warmth, there was simply no need, even after I had returned to Salt Lake City for the start of the convention.

If you're in the market for a lightweight hiking boot for active winter sports, these boots are more than up to the task, and with a price tag of $150, they are also quite a bargain in my opinion. Winter boots aren't cheap, and a good pair will generally set you back more than what The North Face is asking here. But as comfortable as these are on your feet, and as lightweight as they are in your pack, it is easy to recommend them for anyone who enjoys winter outdoor activities.

That said however, the Ultra Extreme II GTX is probably a bit too lightweight for extremely cold conditions. I used them in temperatures hovering around 20ºF (-6ºC) and had absolutely no problems, particularly when I was on the move. But if the temperatures dropped below 10ºF (-12ºC) I would have definitely wanted warmer socks at the bare minimum, and possibly warmer boots all around. Aside from that however, they performed exceptionally well, and I found myself truly falling in love with them. This is a great boot not just for winter sports, but cooler weather hikes as well, and I have a feeling I'll be getting a lot of use out of them in the weeks to come.

30 Fantastic Things To Do In Winter

We're now less than a week away from the official start of winter, and for many people that means shutting down their outdoor adventures until the arrival of spring. But for those of us who don't see a little cold weather and snow as a barrier to being outside, it is just another time of year to pursue our passions. To help us in that area, Outside magazine has compiled a list of the 30 best things to do in winter, giving us a bucket list for the season ahead.

Most of Outside's suggestions are approachable, even if they seem like something that would be tough to accomplish. For instance, they start the list by recommending we all go skiing with Chris Davenport, one of the most accomplished ski-mountaineers ever. At first glance, you're apt to ask yourself how that would ever be possible, but it turns out Davenport is going to be guiding on Aspen Mountain in March, and if you have enough cash you can join him.

Other suggestions are a bit more reasonable. For instance, they offer suggestions on where you can drive a snowcat or go fat tire biking. There are also options for soaking in a hot spring, going heli-skiing on a budget, and climbing and skiing a volcano. In short, there are so many possibilities on the list that you'll likely need ten winters to accomplish them all.

I like this list because it eliminates the excuses that many people make for not enjoying the winter season. Sure, its cold and windy, but that's also part of the fun. With the right gear however, you can spend all day outdoors and still be very comfortable. Besides, as an avid lover of the outdoors, why would you ever want to spend an entire season avoiding the elements, when you could be embracing them for an even more fulfilling experience. Winter is nearly here. Enjoy it to the fullest!