Gear Review: Winter Beanie

I was on the hunt for a great winter hiking hat.  Good wouldn’t cut it.  I wanted great.  And great meant warm.  On hikes where the temperature drops below freezing and camps in single digits, I wanted a hat that would allow me to enjoy the winter outdoors.  I didn’t want thin fabric or fleece-lined around-the-ears only or some decorate fru-fru beanie.  I wanted a top-notch warm winter wool hat.  I searched in vain for months, years even . . . until one day I stumbled along a hat so extraordinary that I have taken it with me on every winter hike.  Meet my hat: Bula Aran Beanie.
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  • Pros
    • Super-duper warm.  I have lived in this hat all winter.
    • It is fifty percent merino wool, which does wonders because it is soft, anti-microbial, allows your skin to breathe, wicks away moisture, dries quickly, and prevents feeling temperature changes.
    • It has a velvety-soft liner, which provides additional warmth.
    • I love that it does not have a silly ‘poof’ or whatever-it-is-called at the top.  This hat is simple and wonderful for that reason.
    • Fits snugly to my head and is not super tiny or extra baggy, like other hats I’ve seen.
    • This is minor: While mine is a pretty blue, I wish there were other natural colors, such as greens, browns, or greys.

 

  • Cons
    • I’m going to rant for a moment: Companies do not provide hats, scarves, and gloves sets for serious winter gear.  Therefore, a con I’m going to throw in is that there are sadly no equally-warm scarf and gloves.
    • Other than that — solely looking at the hat — I truly have nothing against it.

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  • Rating: IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas

 

  • Tips for tracking down your own hat

    • If you’re able to track down a full wool hat, I think this is the best way to go.  Wool has more benefits than other materials, such as acrylic ones.
    • I’d recommend one that fits snugly to your head.  Take those slouchy beanies: There’s extra space so it takes longer to warm your head.
    • I’d recommend doing away with hats that have pom-poms and other frills.  It’s one more thing to snag on a tree limb.
    • Also find a tight knit hat.  Andy snagged his hat (pictured below) walking home from a city grocery store — One ity bity tree limb and it pulled.  Imagine what it would do on an overgrown trail.

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Happy trails!

Gear Review: Hiking Boots II

Someone once told me leather boots are like a good relationship: They take a lotta work but they’re worth it so don’t give up on them easily.  This is the perfect way to summarize my Danner Mountain Light Cascade Boots.
Danner Boot.jpgLet me backtrack: I have a pair of (what I’m calling) summer short-distance hiking boots so I was looking for a more serious backpacking boot.  Let’s be honest: I have serious goals, such as thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, which means whatever new boots I found — They needed to hold up their end of the bargain.  I began forming a checklist:

  • The boots needed to backpack long distances.
  • They should be able to cross over multiple terrains.
  • They needed to support a large amount of pack weight.
  • The boots should thrive in various temperatures.

All my research lead me to Danner and their Mountain Light Cascade Boots.  One person said she has had her pair since 1990, another since since the early 90s, and still another since 1988.  I needed this boot.  See, to me there are two hiking items I almost form a relationship with: my pack and my boots.  I want these items to last and physically show the trails I walked, the memories I made.  I want them for a lifetime.

It’s been about four months since I got these boots and, after getting a large amount of interest and questions on my Instagram page, I decided to do a review.  Know in advance, this is an updated review from when I first published this post — At that time I had owned my boots for three months and because I had some issues with them, I wanted to wear them down more to see if the boots improved.  Therefore, I took them on longer hikes, such as the almost twenty mile hike and camp I recently got back from.  It is because of this journey, my rating on these boots has changed — changed so much that I actually returned these boots to REI.  Now, without any hesitation, here is my review on these iconic Danner boots.
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  • Pros
    • They have amazingly thick soles.  I feel I could walk on any terrain and never have sore feet, truly.  Other hiking boots have made me feel as if I was walking on sharp rocks barefoot; I was in so much pain I could hardly continue hiking.  These Danner boots — I’ve never had that problem.  In fact, they have so much support, I often wear them to work where I’m on my feet the entire day.
    • Amazing traction and grip: These boots will grip onto the most wet and slick rocks.  I almost feel invisible wearing them, not even joking.
    • Wonderful ankle support.  I have fallen into holes that come up to my thigh and I have twisted my ankle so that it was parallel to the ground; however, with the support in these boots, I am amazingly able to walk away unhurt.
    • There’s few stitches so water does not get in.  I’ve walked in a good amount of water and snow, and my feet have remained dry.
    • The boots have something called Dri-Lex, which allows them to breathe.  It also provides vapor transport so they dry quickly and resist odor and mildew.
    • They keep my feet warm but never to the point that my feet are hot and sweaty.
    • They can be recrafted, meaning they replace the outsole, rework the leather, and restitch the seams.  Because these should be able to be worn for decades, this is a great idea.
    • They’re a beautiful design.  Not that you’re going for looks when hiking, but people apparently find them so pretty that they buy them solely for fashion.
    • They’re made in the US — Portland, Oregon to be exact!
    • I’ve called Danner a couple times about their products and the people there are so nice — as in really really nice.

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  • Cons
    • The tri-fold tongue creates more problems than solutions.  It was designed to decrease debris and water from getting into the boot, but I had these issues:
      • First problem: It created a significant fold at the bottom of the tongue/above the boot.  That crease cut into the top of my toes with each step.  I read this could be worn out but I put at least seventy-five miles on my boots and the crease only became more severe.
      • Second problem: It prevents the boot from being laced tightly.  Because of this, a large amount of debris does get in often.  Also, as the leather softens from wear, the boots become loose — If they are loose, it decreases ankle support AND feet slide.  (For instance, with a thirty-pound pack magnifying my feet sliding, my ankles, heels, balls of my feet, and toes were so sore — I felt like I had massive blisters and had to stop often.  I honestly debated taking off the boots and wearing my socks to avoid the pain.  It was that bad.)
    • They are super duper expensive. My fiance likes to joke that for this price, they should be able to hike themselves.
    • There’s no shock-absorption, as is with many other hiking boots on the market.
    • The boots are five-inches high and hit at an odd place on your ankle.  Not only this, but the leather takes awhile to break in.  It is thick, hard leather and your Achilles tendon will go through some severe pain before the leather softens.  As one person said, the boot doesn’t wear to your ankle; you will wear to the boot.  He was 100% right.  I have pretty significant callouses on my ankles to prove it.
    • These boots are not waterproof.  I get it: They are breathable . . . but a full-leather boot that isn’t waterproof?  Travesty.

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  • Rating: IMG_2397IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas
    I do believe leather boots take a lot of effort and patience; however, if about seventy-five miles has them showing more problems, they are not the boot to own.  That toe-fold tongue creates too many serious issues so that in the end, there have to be other boots out there that are better.

    Saying that though, I did adore these boots and felt sad returning them.  They do have great positives, which is why I scored them this way.  As I said, my top positive is the sole: It is truly top-notch.  I have spoken with Danner reps and learned their Danner Light family has the same inner and outer sole.  Not only this, but these boots have a regular tongue (so they will lace tighter, preventing feet from slipping and debris getting in), sit an inch higher (so hopefully no ankle-rub issue), are waterproof, and have a Gore-Tex lining (their most breathe-able one).  These sound like my dream boot!  Anyway, I’m going to buy a pair and I’ll do a review on them once I get them and have put miles on ‘um.

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  • Tips when tracking down your own Danner boots
    • Two words: Leather conditioner.  Buy it.  Use it habitually.  Don’t think you can handle this on your own.  Conditioner works miracles.
    • Sizing: People seemed pretty confused about what size to order and I recognize all feet are different.  However, here is what I’ve seen: First, some say the boot is too narrow.  The boot has a medium width so if you have a wide width, this is not for you.  Second, some recommended to size up from what you regularly wear, while others claimed to size down.  Don’t play the guessing game.  Look at what size your other boots are and get that size.  I am a size 6.5, my other hiking boots are a 6.5, I ordered a 6.5, and they fit.
    • Don’t hike Day One in your new boots — Break them in at home some first.  And remember when breaking in boots, wear them with good and thick socks.  If the boots bother you, take them off and give your feet a break.  Condition again then wear again.  Take them off if they hurt once more.  Repeat.  I promise the leather will soften.

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Happy trails!

Gear Review: Winter Vest

This gear review will lead you to one item of clothing I am loving this winter: my down vest.  I hate wearing thick layers when I hike but I still want the warmth and protection.  This is why my Patagonia Bivy Hooded Down Vest is amazing.IMG_0907

  • Pros
    • Incredibly warm without the extra weight
    • Wind and water-resistant
    • Has a hood, which I’ve used many times for additional warmth
    • Amazingly warm flannel-lined pockets.  I had my hands out of the pockets on one hike and my fingers were beyond cold — so cold that it hurt to bend them — but a few moments after I put them inside these pockets, they became so toasty.  I’ve even told other people to feel how warm and soft the pockets are and they were impressed.
    • Vest comes up high to cover my neck for additional warmth
    • The zipper is really nice: It never gets stuck in the fabric and is very sturdy.  Some zippers are crap.  You know it, I know it, we’ve all been there.

 

  • Cons
    • This is a silly one but it annoys me: The hood is very tight which means when my vest is zipped all the way up, I cannot get the hood on or off without unzipping it first.  A hood that allowed me to slip it on and off without unzipping would be incredible!
    • This is really expensive for a vest.  I get that it it amazing but at the end of the day  — simply put — it is still only a vest.
    • Silly con Number Two is everything gets stuck to this vest: lint, hair — you name it, it will stick.  Even lint rolling is challenging because it is so attached.  It just doesn’t make me feel — what’s the word — clean? kept? nice?

 

  • Rating: IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas
    Overall, the cons are minor because this vest is a great purchase.
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  • Tips when tracking down your own vest
    • Determine what season you want to wear it: If you want it for the winter, be aware that you may have on multiple layers so you might want to go up a size to fit all layers comfortably.
    • I’d highly recommend waterproof or at least water resistant vests, and windproof is a plus too.
    • To me, hoods are not necessary on a vest.  In fact, I’d probably prefer to wear a beanie instead of having an attached vest hood.  However, if this is something you’re interested in, be sure to scout for ones with a hood.

Happy trails!