Gear Reviews: Backpacking Boots II

After a frustrating experience with my Danner Mountain Light Cascade boots, I was in search of another pair of backpacking boots.  However, the more I searched, the more I realized I missed one aspect in my Cascades: Their soles were top-notch.  Because of this, I spoke with Danner representatives to determine if they had other boots with the same soles.  This lead me to the Danner Explorer Boots, which met all of my original backpacking requirements.  The boots could:

  • Travel long distances.
  • Cross over multiple terrains.
  • Support a large amount of pack weight.
  • Thrive in various temperatures.

It sounded too good to be true . . . and unfortunately it was.  I owned these boots for only two months before discovering major issues, which caused me to return them.IMG_3441

  • Pros
    • They have amazingly thick soles that can handle any terrain with ease.
    • Great traction that will grip onto the most wet and slick rocks.
    • The boots hit higher than my previous Mountain Light Cascades, standing at six inches versus the five.  This made them more comfortable.
    • Advertised as waterproof, though I did not own them long enough to test this.
    • They can be recrafted so the outsoles can be replaced, the leather reworked, and the seams restitch, which should mean they can be worn for decades.
    • Once again I am beyond impressed with Danner’s representatives.  They are extremely nice and helpful.  They responded quickly to my concerns and stayed with me until the problem was solved.

 

  • Cons
    • The reason I returned them: The boots have a hard plastic insert in the back of the heel.  This insert rubbed so much that it created large blisters on both heels, popped the blisters, then further removed many layers of skin.  I was miserable during the first trail I took them on and used dry sacks over my socks, which allowed my feet to slide rather than rub.
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      I was hoping my boots simply needed to be broken in so I took them on another trail, only to realize less than one mile in — and with a large amount of pain — they were not going to improve.  I contacted Danner and the rep told me they had begun accepting warranty claims on pressure point issues and it was because of this I was able to return them.
    • There is practically no support in the form of padding inside the boot, particularly around the ankle.  What you see is what you get: Leather.  (I’ve worn other full-leather boots that are the opposite so to think back to how little support is offered in these is flabbergasting.)
    • The tongue is massive, causing way too much material to bunch up with an inability to lay flat.
    • There is no toe box room.  I did have the right size and my toes were not hitting the end but there was no breathing or stretching room for my toes.  They felt tight and cramped.
    • I have slender feet but the boots are super narrow, so narrow that I’ve read many people cannot even get their feet inside of them.  According to Danner’s site, the boots should fit snugly at first because the leather will warm and stretch, but I cannot stress how snug these boots are.
    • No ability to insert other insoles because their insoles are sewn into the boots.  On the topic of insoles, keep in mind, thicker insoles wouldn’t be wise anyway because the boots are too snug.
    • The insole material and stitching holds onto debris that gets inside of the boots.  This frustrated me further because I could never get all debris out.
    • The leather is not breathable so it can get hot inside of the boot.  Many people think this is an overall leather characteristic but I’m here to tell you it is not.
    • These boots seem to be ones Danner has forgotten.  I say this because practically all of their boots come in various colors with various colored laces.  (For instance, the Mountain Light Cascades have four beautiful and different  leathers, ranging from light, medium, and dark brown to black.  They also have different colored laces — red, yellow, green, and black.  Further and even more impressive, one of the boots has flat laces while the others have round.  It seems the possibilities are endless.  However for the Explorers, there is one option: Dark brown leather with dark brown round laces.  This was upsetting as I had fallen in love with the appearance of my Mountain Light Cascades, which is why I ordered the flat red laces [as shown above].)
    • The fact that the boots are handcrafted should be a pro; however, the boots noticeably did not have consistent cuts.  I know we are human but if a company prides itself on handcrafted products, there needs to be a higher level of care and attention — mainly when a pair of boots are priced so high.

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      What is odd is the cuts were consistent in the Cascades — they were perfect in fact — but they were far from it in the Explorers, supporting the fact that these boots seemed to be unimportant to Danner.
    • This brings me to my next point: They are super duper expensive.  This is more than likely because you are paying for a handmade American product.  In the end, I was fine paying for the most expensive boots on the market I could find; but the price needs to support the quality.

 

  • Rating: IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas

 

  • Tips when tracking down your own hiking or backpacking boots
    • Trust your gut: If you think your boots need to be broken in, take the time and effort to do so.  On the other hand, if a voice tells you something is wrong with your boots, trust that voice.  There are tons of hiking and backpacking boots out there; it just takes patience to find a pair that fits your feet.
    • Don’t get tricked into thinking expensive boots are the best.  I’ve talked to numerous people who bought unknown brand name boots because they were cheap but they ended up as their favorite pair.  Clearly expensive does not equate to better.
    • Lastly, people are starting to trade in backpacking boots and instead go towards sneakers, which they replace often on backpacks (picture the Appalachian Trail).  I’m still not converted; however, I wanted to throw this out there for those considering backpacking.  Sneakers are lightweight and have tons of shock absorption so they could be a great option, mainly if you have good ankle strength already.
    • For other tips and tricks, visit my other review on backpacking boots!

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Happy trails!

Gear Reviews: Tent

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The moment spring hits, it takes a lot to keep me inside.  If Andy and I could go hiking and camping every day, we would.  (Here’s to hoping our shot on the Appalachian Trail will come eventually!)  Andy is my first camping partner and from the moment we set off, we’ve had the same tent: REI Co-op Passage Two Tent.20160903_195638

  • Pros
    • This tent is extremely durable.  We’ve taken it on every camp for the past two years and it still is as good as new — It’s still waterproof and there’s no damage such as rips or tears.  It’s truly my favorite tent.
    • The price is great: Whenever you buy REI products, the price is dramatically less than brand name ones.  This tent stands at $160 so you’re talking a major price gap for comparable tents that stand at $700, $600, and $400.  No thank you.  This one is just fine.
    • The epitome of a three-season tent: It keeps us super warm in the winter (It has been below freezing outside and I’m lying inside with my sleeping bag fully unzipped).  However, it is also really cool in the summer — Opening the vents, we have never been too hot inside.
    • Never leaked or been remotely wet.  I saw only one review of a person complaining of this: Learn how to set your tent up correctly and this will never be a problem.
    • Incredibly easy to set up: There are two poles of equal distance and they cross over to the corners of the tent.  Simple.  We’ve set this up in pitch black nights in a matter of minutes.
    • Adjustable ceiling vents.  This is a pro for two different reasons: One, they are large enough to release heat inside the tent in the summer.  Two, they are small enough to easily seal to keep us really warm in the winter.
    • Two large doors so it is easy to get in and out.
    • Love the rectangular floor.  I am a symmetrical person.  I don’t want the floor coming in where my feet are supposed to go.  I want as much room as possible.
    • Minor pro: I love the green that we purchased.  It blends in well with nature, which is appreciated when we wild camp, which is just about every time.img_0087
    • This seems silly but really makes me happy: The sack for the tent, the sack of the poles, and the sack for the stakes and rope actually fit.  I have another tent the annoys me to no end because the pole sack is way too slender and short — I have to pray and force and pray some more to get the poles in and even when I do, they still stick out.

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  • Cons
    • It is extremely difficult to get the rainfly lined up.  We have spent way too much time trying to get the rainfly to lay where it is supposed to.  It is as if the fly is one size too small.
    • Super small covered areas for gear storage outside.  It’s so small I’d say it is nonexistent.
    • Could be more headroom for a two-person tent.  If we put a light-weight light in the top mesh pocket, we are constantly hitting our head on it.
    • Mesh pockets are not deep.  We are continuously knocking our small items out of the bottom ones and hitting small items out of the top one.
    • This is more a complaint of all tent-making companies: Saying a tent fits a certain amount of people, literally means lying shoulder-to-shoulder.  Therefore, if you want a one-person tent, go for a two-person; if you want a two-person tent, go for a three-person.  Point blank: What you desire is way too snug so I’d always jump one up.  We cannot fit anything beyond ourselves inside this tent.

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  • Rating: IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas
    Note: This review does not count the footprint.  I chose not to buy it — See more below about what we suggest buying instead!

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  • Tips for tracking down your own tent

    • I’m going to make a bold suggestion here: Do not buy footprints!  Footprints are additional tent material that is placed under the tent to prevent wear and tear on the tent floor.  Instead, buy Tyvek.  Tyvek is a plastic material (made from teeny tiny fibers) that covers buildings when they are erected.  Here’s the benefits:
      • It is extremely strong and impossible to tear.
      • It is paper-thin, which means it is so light (much lighter than a footprint).
      • Lastly, it is waterproof — Again, we are talking about what is used to cover homes and buildings so there are not leaks.
      • Tyvek normally comes in a massive roll for about $60, which is more compared to a $30 footprint; however, you can cut multiple footprints and multiple rainfly covers and whatever else you need to keep you dry against strong rain.  Tyvek will outlast any footprint, positive.
    • When buying your tent, take it apart in the store and set it up before purchasing it.  Some tents are super complex and that’s the last thing you want if you’re trying to put up a tent in the middle of the night or in a storm.  The simpler the better.
    • I mentioned above to buy one-person up than what you think you need.  (Example — Buy a two-person if you aim for one person inside; buy a three-person if you aim for two people inside.)  It sounds like you’ll have an enormous amount of extra room but in reality you won’t.  It will comfortably fit items like shoes, clothes, and other gear inside instead of feeling that you need to lie upon these items when you go to sleep.

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Happy trails!

Hike Twenty-three: Virginia’s Peaks of Otter Flat Top Mountain

It’s warming, which means we had an excuse to hike Virginia’s Peaks of Otter again.  I say again because we attempted this trail a few weekends ago . . . when there was a winter storm advisory . . . when a large amount of snow was expected . . . and when below freezing temperatures were on their way.  Needless to say, the weather won that day because when we arrived to the Jefferson National Forest, we were greeted with thick fog and temperatures so cold that I refused to leave the car after a brief roll-down of my window.
IMG_2493.JPGAndrew didn’t mind either — He had stepped out to look at a map or something and raced back to the car.  I’ve never seen a man run as fast.  Then we drove, forlorn and irritable, back home.  Hike done before it even started.

Sometimes hiking is like that though.  Sometimes you just cannot go — for whatever reason — and I’m trying to learn that is okay.  I’m trying.

So weekends passed until Andrew and I were discussing hiking again.

“Peaks of Otter?” I asked nervous.  Even if it was warmer here, that did not mean it was warmer there.

“Know what?” he hesitated.  I held my breath.  “Let’s go for it.”  I didn’t need more convincing.

So back we drove to Jefferson National Forest where we were greeted with a blue sky, sun, and green meadows.  Essentially, a completely different view from our last visit so I leaned out the window to take pictures as Andrew swirled around the mountain.
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We came for the Peaks of Otter consists of many trails.  However, two of the toughest mountains are also the most well-known: Flat Top and Sharp Top.  We had grand desires to hike both in one day, making it a little under ten miles, but (cut to the end of story) after a pretty good climb up Flat Top, we were worn out, breathing heavy, and ready to relax our legs.  Therefore, here is a breakdown of Flat Top Mountain:

  • Six-point-two miles
  • 1,540-foot elevation gain
  • Level Four of Five Difficulty

We set off on the unblazed trail, which was fine with us because Nature lead the way — She seemed to whisper in yellows as various types of daffodils, unusual dogwoods, and fluffy dandelions spotlighted our path.
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This is the unusual species of dogwood tree that is strangely named Cornelian Cherry.

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Following our path down, we crossed by a calm blue lake located in front of a lodge.
IMG_2759This was the Lake Trail, and it gave a marvelous view of Sharp Top Mountain.
IMG_2765Sharp Top is the most crowded mountain in the Peaks of Otter whereas Flat Top, on the other hand, is more secluded.

IMG_2774.JPGReaching Flat Top a couple miles later, we were warned the first one-point-four miles is straight up, lacking practically any switchbacks.  This made our walk exhausting from the start.
IMG_2785IMG_2804The pops of purple scattered along the path were appreciated not only for their beauty but because they gave me reason to pause on the incline.IMG_2768.JPGIMG_2791
Up and up we continued towards the blue sky.IMG_2794Soon a spur trail appeared on our right . . .IMG_2805This meant we were point-six miles from boulders that were a short distance from our first lookout.
IMG_2808Flat Top Mountain, I soon learned, has a way of teasing hikers — The name sounds dry and mundane, and maybe that is why this trail is more secluded.  However, I’m here to promise you the views are the opposite.  I could see for miles and miles, past the point of vision because land and sky blurred together.
IMG_2837.JPGIMG_2842IMG_2844Each look-out tempted me to stay and I found myself thinking, “Surely the sights cannot get better than this.”   Every time, though, I was wrong in the best way possible.IMG_2841

Crawling down from the boulder, we skipped over white flowers called Blood Root that were sprinkled around the massive rocks.  They popped through the brown leaves and dirt seeming full of excitement.  Their bright white petals stretched, making me think the flowers were awakening from sleep, as their little yellow faces, yawning and reaching further still, absorbed the sun’s rays.IMG_2811IMG_2813IMG_2822.JPGIMG_2819IMG_2820Our summit view was a little over two miles away where we could see the boulders jutting from the mountain in the distance.
IMG_2845.JPGWe set off towards that distant spot until the mountain top appeared to curve before us.
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At the summit, we darted left of the trail to avoid people that were at the main look-out on the right, and I was happy we did — The view all around us was incredible and we sat on the rocks for many moments, talking and eating our lunch.
IMG_2879.JPGIMG_2873IMG_2874IMG_2876IMG_2875IMG_2895IMG_2877Leaving the birds and one view, we walked to the right of the trail where we pass US Coast and Geodetic Survey markers and a sign informing us that the summit of Flat Top Mountain is 4,001 feet.IMG_2903.JPGIMG_2905IMG_2901Next, we stepped through the trees and onto smoothed boulders.  Dangling our legs over the mountain, all was calm and peaceful as we cuddled into one another, looking out at our wide view of Bedford and beyond.  We were reminded Bedford lost more men than any other US city of similar size as it was home to the nineteen men that died in Normandy during the first phase of World War II’s D-Day landings.
IMG_2924Below us, the Bedford reservoir could be seen — a bright turquoise blue — and next to us, red buds slowly swelled on trees before opening.
IMG_2906IMG_2907IMG_2908IMG_2910IMG_2909IMG_2935.JPGStanding to go, we turned to walk back down the mountain and our steep declining trail.  Bits of spring we had missed on the way up rose from the ground in vibrant colors.
IMG_2940IMG_2942.JPGSoon, we were at the parking lot where we decided our legs were too sore to trek up Sharp Top Mountain.  Opening our vehicle’s doors, we got inside — happy with our decision to go home and full of appreciation for even a few hours walk in the woods together.