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!

Gear Reviews: Backpacking Pack

The temperature is finally warming outside — Flowers are blooming and birds are chirping, and all of this essentially means I desire to go backpacking and camping every single second of every single day.

It also means I have an excuse to lug out my coveted Osprey Aura AG 65 pack, which is why I figured there’s no better time than now for this review.

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My pack is on the left; Andy’s on the right.  He has the Aether AG 70.
  • Pros
    • Anti-gravity system carries weight well (I’ve stuffed forty-five pounds in this pack before then set off for difficult multi-day hikes)
    • One of my favorite aspects: Back mesh panel is truly breathable — My back is never hot or sweaty.
    • The material (therefore the pack) is super durable
    • Comes in various gender-specific sizes with multiple adjustments, making this fit perfectly (For example, there are adjustments at the shoulder, back, chest, and hip areas.)
    • Super easy to move and balance in (Some packs shift weight away from your body so you constantly have to battle feeling like you’re falling backward)
    • Well designed — There are two straps for a sleeping mat and behind that, a compartment to store a sleeping bag.  The large main compartment is roomy and simple, which is all it needs to be.
    • There’s a lifetime guarantee — Any reason, any product, any era.  That’s unbelievably awesome.
    • There’s a flat bottom, making items easy to store (Some packs have a slanted bottom, which drives my OCD tendencies crazy because nothing lays flat)
    • Once in, my three-liter hydration bladder fits perfectly (though there is a con about getting this in and that’s listed below)
    • The sixty-five liter is the perfect size for an overnight camp or extended backpacking trip
    • Top lid is removable, which can reduce weight.  Andy does this when we hike.  (Note: If sold at REI, the top lid can become a daypack too.)
    • This deserves to be listed: I’ve spoken with Osprey representatives a few times and they are super duper nice.  I like buying products from nice people at a nice company.

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  • Cons
    • Biggest and major con: The hipbelt is very painful.  True, I have bony hips but there is an extremely thick seam smack-dab in the middle of the hipbelt followed by a divet in the material.  It literally cuts into my skin like a knife.  Looking online for solutions, I sadly found many forums with people reporting the same painful problem.  Some said they have layers of skin that were rubbed raw; others, abrasions on their hips.  There are quite a few DIY propositions, many of which I have tried, so I put all information below in the hopes of helping others suffering.

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      Here’s the seam I am talking about: It joins the grey mesh with the black.
    • This is a general backpacking pack issue: It is heavy, weighing in at four pounds.  (Look at it this way: If you aim to carry a twenty-pound pack on a backpacking trip, the pack alone is practically a fourth of the weight, which is unnecessary.)
    • The hydration bladder is hard to get in due to the inside plastic back panel.  Mostly I can only get the bladder in if my pack is complete empty, which is annoying.  (Picture filling up your bladder in the middle of a hike and having to empty your pack to put the bladder back inside . . . )
    • It’s near impossible to run a hydration bladder hose through the shoulder straps because the straps are too tight.
    • There are a bunch of “extras”: hip pockets and whistles and ice tool loops and bungee tie-offs and trekking pole attachments.  True, companies are moving to “ultralight” packs, meaning they are doing away with these extras; however, what I see more is that the ultralight packs simply have less support, making them not carry weight as well.
    • Just an annoying note: The packs in the US do not come with a rain covers (However, they do in other countries, like the UK!)

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  • Rating: IMG_2397IMG_2397IMG_2397 out of Five Vistas
    I love this pack — love as in I get made fun of that I’m in a relationship with it because I care for my pack so much.  However, the overall rating is held down solely because of the serious hip-belt issue.

    • NOTE: There is a newer version of my pack available, though it is practically identical.

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  • More on this hipbelt issue
    • I mentioned above there are forums with people offering solutions to the hipbelt-seam pain.  The best Jerry-rigging methods range from wrapping clothing or Ace bandages or gauze bandages or moleskin or elastic wrap bandages or surgical tape around hips . . . to cutting material such as yoga mats or humidifier evaporator pads into chunks under the hipbelts.  It is overwhelming and essentially shows something is fundamentally wrong with this hipbelt.  I’ve tried practically everything and the best solution: Weathersealers.  I’ve used ones used around windows that are sticky backed and I’ve used ones around air conditioners (pictured below where I directly sewed them over the seams to prevent me from feeling it).

      Also it adds padding (another benefit) and the rubber aspect ensures the hipbelt does not move or slip (which cuts down on other hipbelt problems people report).  I know it’s not the most stylish solution but when you’re hiking in the middle of a forest, style doesn’t come into play.  What does is comfort.

    • Before the weatherstripping, I tried wearing my pack higher and lower, tighter and looser than it was meant to be.  It didn’t work.  Plus, don’t do that — The pack is intended to be carried a certain way to reduce stress on your body; don’t put unneeded pressure on it because of a different problem.
    •  Lastly, a note: When people hear a hiker is in pain due to his or her pack, they jump to wondering if the pack is the wrong size or the hiker is wearing it wrong.  I want to make it known I was sized for my pack by several REI reps on different occasions.  Also, I told Osprey about this problem and sent them tons of pictures; they confirmed I am in the right size pack, that I have the pack adjusted correctly, and that I am wearing my pack correctly.

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  • Tips when tracking down your own daypack
    • I mentioned earlier the top lid can become a daypack if you get your pack at REI.  My pack is from the UK so it does not become a daypack.  Be on the look-out for pros and cons of this:
      • Pros: If you do not have a daypack so if you are thinking of getting into camping and backpacking, this is a win-win because you can score two packs for the price of one.  Also, we’ve gone on hikes where we want to wander from the tent with a little pack so this makes that doable.
      • Cons: A lid that becomes a daypack means more weight (additional straps, zippers, and compartments).  If you can ever shed weight, do it.  Plus, if you’re like me, you already had a daypack.

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Happy trails!