Archive for the ‘ Product Reviews ’ Category

 

Ahnu Mendocino boot review

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Last month I attended the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City where I was introduced to a shoe company I’d never heard of before…Ahnu Footwear. A majority of their shoes are for the ladies, but they have a handsome line for men as well, including a few hiking boots.  I was really admiring the Mendocino boots when the rep showing me around offered to have a pair sent to me to test out. “Heck yeah,” I said.

A few weeks later a black pair of the Mendocino boots arrived. As I was opening the box I was wondering if perhaps it was the namesake that had initially drawn me to the boots, as I once spent several glorious days in the hip northern California town with the same name. I often wonder where the inspiration comes when shoe manufacturers’ name their latest designs. As I took the boots out of the box for the first time and held them in my hands, the distinct scent of leather wafted into the air, the leather was soft to the touch and they were as good-looking as I’d remembered. “Mendocino” seems an apropos name for these boots; they are sophisticated, yet rugged. Refined, yet practical. Like yin and yang of the northern California community, set against a rugged coastline, where discriminating affluence meets the proletariat preservationist…the Mendocino boots reflects a similar synthesis.

I’m a big fan of full leather boots, but one of the typical hurdles is the extensive break-in period. Not so with the Mendocino—these boots are so comfortable straight out of the box, I was amazed. While I would never recommend wearing a new pair of boots from box to trail, I think you might be able to get away with it if they were a pair of Mendocino by Ahnu.  While I have not worn these boots long enough to attest to the following, I would have to guess that the trade-off for the ready-to-wear leather boots would mean a reduction it the sturdy protection one would expect from full leather boots. In other words, these boots are more suited for light hiking rather than a strenuous 5-day backpacking trip through the Andes. This review is more of my initial impressions verses a long-term, in-depth analysis of the overall performance.

Details about  the Mendocino Boots:

While the outside upper part of the boot is soft and supple, it also provides waterproof protection. The inside has an eVent liner that allows for good breathability, and, the nylon mesh tongue provides extra venting. I found the boots to be snug, but not tight…providing enough space to keep my feet comfortable, as well as breathable. The lacing is strung through a combination of open and closed metal lugs and a pair of nylon loops.  The fourth rung from the toe is an offset nylon loop…this design helps lock-in the heel so to prevent rear movement and to minimize the possibility of developing a hot spot (blister) [see image]. There is a fabric tab that comes out of the interior of the boot at the top of the heel; this wonderful design feature eliminates the need for a typical loop at the heel used to assist wearers putting on their boots—it’s almost like a built-in shoe horn.

Bottom line:

The Mendocino boots by Ahnu Footwear are extremely comfortable, lightweight, durable and handsome in their classic design. Quality materials and construction through-and-through. And, at a retail prices of $175, a very good value for what you get. A steal at $145 as I’ve found at some on-line retailers.

Ahnu Mendocino Specs:

Available Colors: The Mendocino comes in black and smokey brown
Measured Weights: Boot size: 10 US = 20.8 oz
Sizes available: 7 to 12 in half sizes, and 13
Price: Retails for $175

Designed for:

  • Traditional Hiking
  • Fast Hiking
  • All Day walking
  • For more information, visit: Ahnu.com

If you own a pair of Mendocino boots by Ahnu Footwear, please leave a comment below and share your experience.

Lowepro Pro Roller x300 review

Saturday, November 16th, 2013

If you’re a photographer and/or videographer like me, there is a good chance you have equipment stowed in multiple bags, often forgetting which bag has your batteries, filters, or other gear you need at a particular moment. As I continue to add to my equipment list, I found that my gear was now being stowed in four different bags. I just couldn’t take it any longer, I wanted one unit where I could easily find everything I needed. From there, I could place equipment into smaller bags as I needed for a particular shoot.

Two of the bags I have are by Lowepro, a Fastpack and a Slingshot, both of which I love—so naturally, I visited the Lowepro website to see what kind of selection they had that might fit my needs. I ended up selecting the Pro Roller x300, which was the perfect choice for my particular usage. As a travel video blogger, I’m always on the go, and the design of the x300 actually helps me be productive rather than hindering the shooting process. The bag is so perfectly designed for my needs that it almost feels as though it were custom made.

Here are some of the features of the Lowepro Pro Roller x300

  • For starters, there is a ton of pockets and adjustable protective slots to stow gear. It took a little while for me to remember where I had put everything, but now (provided I put it back in the same place) I can access everything in a split second.
  • There is a kickstand that allows me to tilt the bag and easily open to gain access to my equipment.
  • The handles on the top and sides are very comfortable, made of a neoprene-type material.
  • There is a padded pocket where I can slide in my  17″ Macbook Pro.
  • The sturdy (and removable) wheels let me tow the bag anywhere I need.
  • Oh, and I love the alchemist-like feature…the x300 is actually two bags in one! The interior compartment becomes a backpack. Check out the video and you’ll see what I mean.
  • In a pinch, when I need a second tri-pod…the handle doubles as one. Again, the video helps illustrate it better than I can describe.
  • Of course, with all that expensive gear inside, it’s important to keep it safe from slippery fingers, so Lowepro has developed a locking system, which is even TSA approved and accessible.

Whether I’m road tripping or flying, I have found the Pro Roller x300 to be an extraordinary bag for my needs. Lowepro is known for their high-quality products, and the x300 is no exception. However, quality does comes at a price…this bag retails for $459, however I found it on Amazon for $320, which I think is a fair price for such a superior camera storage unit.

Pro Roller x300 dimensions and capacities:

  • Overall Dimensions: 18.5 x 11.4 x 26.3 inches ; 14.6 pounds
  • Notebook Compartment: 14.76 x 1.18 x 19.09 in
  • Internal Dimensions: 14.57 x 6.89 x 21.85 in
  • Fits 1-2 Pro DSLRs with grips
  • 1-2 prosumer camcorders
  • 6-8 extra lenses/accessories
  • Up to a 17″ laptop

If you have any questions at all that I may be able to answer, please leave a comment below. If you happen to own a Pro Roller, let my readers and me know what you like best.

Maui Jim: Best driving sunglasses

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

As a road trip blogger, I do a lot of driving.  I also spend a good deal of time outdoors, so having a good pair of sunglasses is essential. While sunglasses can be a fashionable accessory, they are also a vital tool in protecting your vision from harmful UV rays—this is particularly important with folks like me with light colored eyes. As a carpenter who has a tool for each job, it’s a good idea to have different sunglasses for various activities. For example, I have sunglasses for sports such as hiking and biking, but I also have a couple pair that are more stylish for when I’m out on the town.

I have been a fan of Maui Jim for many years now and own several pair. While driving for hours on end, I’ve noticed some of my sunglasses can start to fatigue my nose and ears. Therefore, I thought it was time to look at some new shades that I could use for longer periods of driving that would be highly comfortable, and, provide great sun protection. In the past, I’ve gravitated toward glass lenses…mainly because of the reputation Maui Jim has for producing such stellar optics. Having a good pair of sunglasses for driving is crucial as they provide necessary detail of the road and surrounding conditions. The other reason I like glass is for the durability—less prone to scratches. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped my Maui Jim’s on the ground while they were temporarily affixed to my shirt or hat, and yet they still look as good as the day I got them.

The only drawback to glass…the weight, which for me is what causes my nose/ear fatigue when driving for hours.  I’ve had polycarbonate sunglasses in the past, from such brands as Oakley, but I just wasn’t satisfied with the clarity or the durability of the lenses.  To address my specific issue, the need for more comfortable driving sunglasses, I would have to revisit polycarbonate lenses.

After perusing the Maui Jim website, I selected a couple pair of sunglasses that I thought would be perfect for driving.

The first pair, which ended up being my favorite, is the “Big Beach.” Inspired by a secluded beach on the island of Maui, these rimless wraparound sport style sunglasses feature a durable and flexible titanium frame. The frame is actually hingeless and hugs the head for a snug fit. These sunglasses are feather light and super comfortable. They come with the Maui Evolution® lenses, which are very thin, impact-resistant and have a patented lens treatment that brings out the true colors of life. I am highly impressed with the clarity and brilliance of these lenses. The bridge features non-slip Rabalon nose pads, which add to the superior comfort.  Big Beach sunglasses are not inexpensive, but if you take care of them, they will take care of you for years to come. Plus, it’s tough to put a price on comfort and performance. Retail price: $309

The second pair are a bit more trendy, or fashionable, but equally good for driving. “The Sandbar” sunglasses feature a semi-rimless shield that provides an unobstructed view. The frame is made of a nickel/silver metal alloy and has reverse hinges to improve fit and comfort.  Actually, I think most of my Maui Jim sunglasses have this feature, which is quite nice. The bridge is saddle-style with non-slip silicone nose pads, which are adjustable, as are the “Big Beach.” The lenses on the Sandbar sunglasses are HCL® Bronze, which are my favorite tint color. The bronze lenses are ideal for variable conditions, from full sun to overcast. When I wear them, I almost feel like I have bionic eyes on, as everything is so brilliant and amplified.  The Sandbar sunglasses retail for $289.

Every pair of Maui Jim sunglasses are infused with their patented polarizing process, which wipes out 99.9% of glare and 100% of harmful UV. No one does polarized better than Maui Jim…the view is clearer, crisper, and the contrast and brilliance is simply amazing.

If you’re looking for a good pair of driving sunglasses for your next road trip, have a look at Big Beach or The Sandbar.  If you’re looking for some stylish sunglasses using glass vs. polycarbonate, have a look at my review of the “Big Kahuna.” For high performance sports, you might like the new “Stone Crushers” which are lightweight, durable shades for all-day use.

If you own any of these, or other driving sunglasses by Maui Jim, please share your thoughts and experiences by leaving a comment below.

Lowepro review of the Fastpack 350 and SlingShot 202

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

As an adventure travel blogger who shoots both still and video footage, it’s essential to have access to my equipment at a moments notice. As I hone my skills I continue to obtain more equipment in an effort to improve my work…with that said, I have long since outgrown my default Canon camera bag. While my current bag has served me well, the design and function has not changed in probably half a century, and is not all that conducive to my “run-and-gun” style of working.

After doing a fair amount of research and consulting with some fellow travel bloggers, I decided to check out a couple different camera bags by Lowepro—a company that leads the industry in innovative camera bag design. Through my research I was surprised to find how many bag options Lowepro offers, from top-loading, shoulder bags, slings to backpacks and roller cases. No matter your need, I have no doubt Lowepro can fill it.

SlingShot 202

I chose two different camera bags to review…the first is the SlingShot 202, which is a small, but versatile shoulder strap bag that fits my adventurous needs perfectly. The single shoulder strap allows me to easily swing the bag around to access my camera quickly and easily. The sturdy construction and insulated compartments keeps everything secure and protected from jostling and jarring.

The folks at LowePro must be photographers themselves, or at least really listen to their customers, because the SlingShot was very well thought out. The main compartment is broken into six sections for the body/lens, flash, camcorder, extra lenses, etc. There are two small pockets for memory cards and even a built-in lens cloth. The top part of the bag has interior and exterior zipper pockets for batteries or card readers and there is also space for an additional lens or other equipment. The front of the pack has a larger pocket perfect for filters, and the side of the bag has a strap and sleeve to accommodate a monopod or compact tripod. The bag itself is extremely comfortable to wear and is made of highly durable materials.


SlingShot 202 Specs:

Description: DSLR with attached standard zoom lens; 2-3 additional lenses or combination of flash and other accessories (i.e. video camera), compact tripod or monopod, and personal items.

Size (Interior):
8.9W X 5.5D X 11.0H inch
Size (Exterior):
9.8W X 10.0D X 17.7H inch
Weight:
1.9lbs

Fastpack 350

I wanted a second, larger bag to accommodate all my equipment—using the SlingShot when I go on a hike or just want to carry a lighter load, so I chose the Fastpack 350. The Fastpack 350 is designed as a backpack with all the adjustments you’d expect from a high-end backpacking pack to make lugging your equipment around a breeze. The Fastpack is an amazing bag for travelers. In addition to the same sturdy construction and thoughtful design as the SlingShot, the Fastpack 350 also has a slender compartment that accommodates my 17” Macbook Pro perfectly. Given that a computer goes hand-in-hand with photography and videography, this is a welcomed addition to a camera bag…especially to those like me who do a lot of traveling.

Fastpack 350 Specs:

Description: This bag can accommodate a DSLR with lens attached, 2-3 additional lenses and/or a combination of flash or small video camera and a 17″ widescreen laptop. Additionally, there are pockets and space for memory cards, card readers, batteries, cables, etc.

Size (Interior):
11W X 6.1D X 10.6H inch
Size (Exterior):
12.4W X 9.6D X 19.3H inch
Weight:
4.08lbs

If you own a Lowepro bag or have any questions, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear from you.

Seven Sensational Road Trip items of 2012

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

In addition to exploring those hidden gems of the road, I’m frequently asked to review travel and road trip related products.  I’ve selected seven road trip items that I’ve had a chance to use this past year, most of which you’ve probably never heard of.  Each of these seven items is completely different from the next. So without further ado, here is my list of seven sensation road trip items of 2012.



First up….

1) HoboRoll by Gobi Gear – Nomads will appreciate the HoboRoll with its multiple storage compartments enabling you to sort your belongings, then gives you the ability to compress those items into a single compact carrying case.   Whether needing to make room in your suitcase or backpack, the HoboRoll may be something to consider.

Cost: $28

2) HalfPops – Every good road trip requires an abundance of snack food…this year I discovered HalfPops—a savory, crunchy treat that is in a category all its own. HalfPops are popcorn kernels popped using a special technique that prevent the corn from reaching its normal size.  Currently there are only two flavors, White Cheddar and Sea Salt/Butter, however more are on the way.

COST: $23 for 16 2-oz bags

3) WindowSeat 3 by Griffin – Many states now have laws preventing the use of a mobile device, so the WindowSeat 3 is the perfect solution.  With a powerful suction cup and adjustable frame, the WindowSeat 3 will securely hold your mobile phone so that you can easily see your maps and answer your phone without ever having to hold it.

COST: $26-$39

4) ENO Hammock by Eagles Nest Outfitters – The ENO Hammock is very lightweight and extremely compactable. It’s absolutely a must-have road trip item as you can hang it in seconds to create a comfortable sitting/laying situation where none may be available. No trees, not problem, I’ve hung my ENO using boulders, driftwood and other sturdy obstacles. My ENO is now everywhere I go!

COST: $75 (single with straps)

5) Fenix Flashlights – A good flashlight is another one of those “must-have” road trip items. I’ve been a Fenix Flashlight fan for a couple years now, ever since I first reviewed a few of their products. Fenix makes extremely durable and bright flashlights using high-powered LED technology. The MC-10 (now MC-11) with its swivel head, compact design, strap, clip and flat bottom to set or hang anywhere is the perfect light source to have in the car. This small, but versatile flashlight runs on a common AA battery and has three brightness levels along with strobe and SOS mode.

COST: $45

6) Guppie by CRKT – The Guppie is an innovative, compact multi-use tool from Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) that really packs a punch.  I have counted eight functions, but there may be more…from the adjustable wrench, knife, carabiner, bottle opener, flashlight, belt clip, magnet to a tool kit… the Guppie is a perfect road trip companion that takes up little space. The Guppie may not be able to make every auto repair, but its versatility certainly comes in handy.

COST: $27-45

7) HitchSafe – One of the coolest road trip products I tried this year has to be the HitchSafe.  This ingenious product is super simple to install (Note: requires a frame hitch) and provides a highly secure and discreet place to store a few valuables—for example, a spare set of car/house keys, money, credit card, etc. The solid steel construction and clever installation method makes it virtually impenetrable and far superior to those old magnet key holders. With the dust cover in place, no one would even suspect that you have something of value hidden.

COST: $69

If you’ve tried any of these products, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you think.

Maui Jim ‘Kahuna’ sunglasses review

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

I have been a Maui Jim sunglasses fan ever since my first pair a few years ago. As I was planning a trip to Puerto Rico I thought…perfect time for a new pair of sunglasses.  Maui Jim is well-known for their high quality optics and I really like how the polarized lenses make everything “pop,” especially in a Caribbean-type environment, with bright blue skies and reflections off the turquoise water.

The model I opted for this time are called “Kahuna,” which I thought kind of apropos given that I’m sort of a “big kahuna” myself.  :-)   Some of the reasons I decided on the Kahuna sunglasses include:

  • Perfect for outdoor activities, including the beach…the lenses and frames are saltwater safe (good for my trip to Puerto Rico).
  • The Kahuna model comes in two color combinations, I chose the grey/gunmetal as they are perfect for very bright, direct sunlight (which you’ll find in the Caribbean). The grey lenses are unlike ordinary ones that can flatten light unevenly across various light spectrums…Maui Jim grey lenses have rich color contrast with high light production.
  • Most importantly…the fit! I like how close they come to my brow, which minimizes light from coming in when the sun is directly above. The frames are made with a Monel metal, making them an extremely strong and corrosion-resistant.



My other two pair of Maui Jim sunglasses were made in Italy, the Kahuna is made in Japan.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I do like the feel of the Italian made frames more.  I just think the Italians make the best products. Think about cars, clothes, shoes, leather and glass…the best-of-the-best come from Italy. It might just be a psychological thing.  Regardless, I’m extremely happy with the Kahuna Maui Jim sunglasses.  I should also mention that the lenses are made of glass, not plastic, which I find to be a far superior product for sunglasses.

The customer reviews I’ve seen for the Kahuna sunglasses are very, very good.  Of course, high quality sunglasses do come at a price…these are not inexpensive, but will last you a long time if you take care of them. You can’t put a price on your eyes…it’s vitally important to take care of them while in the sun, especially if you have light colored eyes like I do.

If you have any questions for me about the Maui Jim Kahuna sunglasses, feel free to leave a comment.  Or, contact Maui Jim directly at: MauiJim.com. If you have a pair of the Kahuna Maui Jim sunglasses, drop me a line and let me know what you think of them.

Half popped, but double delicious

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

I recently discovered a savory and scrumptious edible you’ve probably never heard of before….HalfPops.  HalfPops (as the name implies) are half popped popcorn kernels that provide a crunchy and flavorful snack…perfect for road trips!

HalfPops is a newbie to the snack food scene and currently only have two flavors, butter and sea salt and aged white cheddar. However, they do have several other flavors in development and are seeking customer feedback as to which flavor should be next–leading the votes is “Natural Kettle Corn,” which got my nod.

I’m fascinated by how HalfPops came up with this new snack category, and how they’re able to only pop the kernels halfway…so with an air of naivete, I asked a company representative if they could explain the process.  Of course, there is a reason this concept is new–needless to say, the process is a closely guarded secret. All they would tell me is that they air-pop the kernels in a patented process that involves moisture content. I tried.

While HalfPops might not be guilt-free, this snack is more healthful than other choices.  HalfPops have/are:

  • Gluten and nut free
  • Zero grams of trans fat
  • No corn syrup
  • No artificial flavors
  • No hydrogenated oils
  • No preservatives

Suggested retail price is: $1.49 per 2oz package or $3.49 for a 7oz package.  HalfPops are popping up at retails stores near you.  If you can’t find them at your favorite store, you can purchase directly at HalfPops.com.

If you’ve ever tried “HalfPops,” let me know what you think.  If you haven’t had them before, would you’d try them?  Please leave comments below.

Hangin’ in a Hennessy Hammock

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I’ve had an ENO packable Hammock for a couple years now and really enjoy it.  A few months ago someone was reading my review of the ENO and left a comment about another backpacking hammock I should try…the Hennessy Hammock.  After reviewing the Hennessy Hammock system online, I saw that there were some features that intrigued me.  I do a fair amount of camping and backpacking and am always on the look out for innovative new products that will make my road trips and camping experience, that much more enjoyable.

Having my Ultralite Backpackers Hennessy Hammock for a couple months now, I can see why it was recommended.  It’s a high quality, sturdy hammock with features that other leading brands do not have. For example,  all Hennessy Hammock systems have a built-in mosquito net.   And, one of the features I really enjoy is the “SnakeSkins,” which are an instant stuff sack system that collapses your hammock in less than thirty seconds. This ingenious system protects your hammock from ever touching the ground…keeping in clean, dry and debris-free. Backpackers will appreciate the fact that the UltraLite Hammock comes in under two pounds and doesn’t take up a lot of space. It’s about one-third the bulk and weight of a light-weight tent.

Outdoor and hammock minimalists will appreciate the basic set-up, however knot and lashing novices will want to brush up on their tying skills before hitting the field. If you don’t care for knots, I found a helpful alternative for hanging your Hennessy …click here for a video. (Note: the manufacturer does NOT recommend this method due to the possibility of premature wearing of the hammock ropes. If you decide to experiment with the hanging method illustrated in the video, be sure to acquire rings that have no burs and that are extreamly smooth).

42″ webbing straps come standard with your hammock, however I would recommend upgrading to the 72″ or 96″, especially for solo camping/backpacking and/or in areas with larger trees. A rain fly, support ropes and stuff sack also come standard with your Hennessy Hammock.

There are a number of options/upgrades available for your Hennessy, one of which I have. If you’ve ever used a packable style hammock before, you know that in cooler weather an inherent chill can be felt through the fabric.  Hennessy has come up with a solution for this problem…a radiant bubble pad.  I can tell you that it really does make a difference in the comfort level. They also have a “SuperShelter” for extreme cold weather, as well as a number of other items which can be found by visiting their site at: HennessyHammock.com.

If you own a Hennessy Hammock, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what you enjoy most.

Manfrotto Tripod Review

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

As a travel video blogger, I was on the lookout for a lightweight, yet sturdy and high quality tripod with fluid head.  I had done a ton of research and finally decided on the Italian made, Manfrotto 055XDB tripod with 128RF fluid head.  I purchased the tripod with micro fluid head together, however they are often sold separately…I got the package deal for about $250 on Amazon (click here to go directly to the product page on Amazon).

Built on the same ergonomically improved design as the 055XB, the 055XDB is lightweight, sturdy and extremely portable and easy to use. This particular tripod has the same design as the 055XB but with a simpler center column, and, more traditional locking knobs. The leg angle presets allow the camera to reach all intermediate heights from minimum to maximum extension. The legs extend with a wing-nut locking system…a quick half-turn will loosen or tighten the legs for rapid use or packing.



The lightweight fluid head with pan bar and quick release camera plate are ideal for cameras up to 8lbs in weight. It has smooth fluid movement, pan and tilt locks.

I’ve been using this tripod for over a year now and absolutely love it!  Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.

A look at the “Ultima” by CRKT

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I’m no knife expert, but I am an avid outdoor enthusiast and really appreciate having good tools available when I need them.  I recently added a new CRKT knife to my collection that I’m quite excited about…it’s called the “Ultima,” and, I got to use it the other day while out fishing.  The Ultima is an all purpose, tactical/survival, fixed blade knife.  The uniquely crafted, injection-molded black Zytel®handle, is designed to stand up to wet and muddy conditions while providing a sturdy and comfortable grip.

In addition to having an outstanding feel and great performance, the Ultima also has a small pry-bar at the end of the handle for opening cans or other items.  I really appreciate the sheath that comes with the knife; it has belt loops and a leg strap to hold the knife firmly in place on your person.  It also comes with a small pocket for a multi-purpose tool, sharpening stone or flashlight…and, some 550 paracord attached.



If you have an “Ultima” CRKT knife, let my readers and me know what you think by posting a comment below.

CRKT supplied video on the Ulitma.



For more information on the Ultima, including specs, click the following link:  Ultima by Columbia River Knife & Tool.