We have a SOL emergency blanket that has been lingering in our gear for a while now - my mom probably gave it to us. Never opened (thankfully) and hopefully would never need to be. But, this past week, as we watched the temperatures start dropping for a backpacking trip we had been planning for few weeks, I thought it might be a good idea to see just how useful the SOL blanket could be. After all, we all know cold weather, ultralight gear (and just gear in general) can get expensive. So, I figured if we could find a practical use for a SOL blanket we might have a hack for backpacking on a budget.
An alternative wedding band for carpenters, climbers, sailors, hunters, CrossFit junkies and just about anyone living an active lifestyle - game changer. Here is our review of the Groove life silicone ring.
Silicone rings had been on my gear radar for a while. I hadn't been sold, though. I wasn't sure they were actually practical. I wasn't even sure they were something we would wear. From there, my thoughts wandered into - What company makes the best silicone ring? Is anyone making a quality silicone ring or is everyone just trying to put a price tag on a piece of plastic?
Our best friend, in the sailing community, told a story once of a time that his wedding band almost cost him his life. One afternoon, he was alone in the water, cleaning the hull of his boat. Like usual, he took a deep breath and dove down to scrub the barnacles and grim from the underside of his floating home. He stayed under, working until he had no choice but to swim to the surface and refuel on oxygen. A big gulp of air, back under, scrub, repeat. As he made his way to the stern of the boat, he cleaned around the prop, putting in some major elbow grease, until he was finally out of breath again. He pushed his body away, toward the surface. Instantly, he felt his arm being jerked back downwards. His wedding band had wrapped around a cotter pin. He jerked away - the ring wouldn’t budge. “I remember thinking,” he told us, “great! My wife is going to come find my body floating just underneath the surface.” Finally, though, as he pulled one last time, the cotter pin came undone and he was freed. Stretching upward, he surfaced choking for air.
By the end of the story my husband, Joel, and I were online, researching alternative ring options. Of course, you can just take your ring off for certain activities or get a tattoo backup. But, for us, that would mean going all day, or for a week straight, without our wedding band. Between Joel’s carpentry and our pastimes of surfing, sailing, backpacking and climbing - we needed another option. So, we started looking into silicone rings.
When it came to silicone rings, the one thing people seemed to complain about was that the rubber ring traps sweat, turning the skin underneath into colors resemble something from Davy Jones locker. Wrinkly, green ring fingers didn’t sound appealing.
Luckily, after some research, I landed on Groove Life. They make silicone rings designed, specifically, to let your skin breath. Grooves, on the inside of the ring, minimize the actual surface area that touches your skin and provide sufficient airflow. Problem one - solved. But, would we actually want to wear them? Groove Life managed to solve this concern as well. They offer a selection of colors and widths to ensure not only function, but style. Bingo.
What They Say:
Breathability: Groove Ring's patent pending breathable features make it the first active silicone ring that keeps air moving in and allows moisture out. The infinity loops, air-ports, and inner arch lessen the contact of your finger with the ring, allowing it to "breathe".
Lifetime Warranty: If Groove Ring breaks, stretches, tears or if you lose it, we have you covered.
Low Profile: Groove Ring is super low profile and designed to be worn close to the skin since it "breathes". Having your active ring snug on your finger is essential to prevent your finger from snagging on objects your hand comes in contact with.
Liquid Poured: Groove Ring is also the first type of ring to be liquid injected. This process gives Groove its perfect look with limited mold lines, checks, or flaws!
Groove Life founder, Peter Goodwin, is a father, fisherman, and lover of the outdoors. He created the Groove Life ring design to match his active Alaskan lifestyle. Peter and his team are constantly working to make a quality products that is functional, stylish and durable. For that reason, we give Groove Life a ten out of ten.
I gave my husband his first Groove Ring for Christmas and he hasn’t taken it off.
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MSR Titan Titanium Kettle review - Life Upgrade! Alright, that’s a tad dramatic, but Titanium might be one of the best camp cookware upgrades we have made in awhile. Why? Well, when your kitchen and sleeping arrangements are loaded on your back, every ounce counts. Cutting weight on heavy cookware means you can bring that chocolate bar for dessert, and even still, maintain a lighter pack. But, is Titanium reallllly worth it?
What They Say:
"Versatile enough to be a pot, mug or bowl, this ultralight titanium kettle complements the Titan 2 Pot Set perfectly. The Kettle holds .85 liters of liquid and comes with a tight-fitting lid and drip-free spout for smooth, easy pouring. Team with Titan Tool Spoon or MSR® Folding Utensils (sold separately) for a bare-minimum "solo" cookware kit."
- Ultralight: Weighs just 4.2 oz. (118 g).
What We Think:
Titanium is not the most economical option. You can get a good, long lasting pot that takes up minimal space and holds your stove for around $30. Or, if you're really trying to cut costs, you can go stove-less and munch on endless amounts of trail mix. But, if you backpack often or long enough, titanium cookware might be worth the high ticket purchase. It was for us; but, then again, it wasn’t our first backpacking pot.
Handle: The Titan Kettle has two folding handles that extend away from the pot for use and wrap back around for easy storage. Some reviews mention having a problem with the handles getting too hot to touch. We didn’t have a problem – until, we forgot to unfold the handles before heating the kettle. Not recommended.
Spout: The kettle, true to its name, has a lip for easy pouring. Works great and is a game changer when it comes to pouring boiling water for meal prep. (Our previous pot wasn’t kettle style)
Lid: A small handle, covered in rubber, is semi-useful for not burning your hands. The size of the handle helps maintain the ultralight status of the kettle. However, it proved hard to remove the lid when the kettle was scorching hot. Which, might have been due to the lid, in general, being hard to remove. Nothing, though, that a little adjustment in use couldn’t fix – we learned quickly to just leave the lid cracked half open.
The Kettle is perfect for boiling water. For a diet of dehydrated meals, coffee and oatmeal breakfasts the Titan kettle gets the job done. However, if you’re a more versatile camp cook, this is not your “all in one” pot. Anything other than water and ramen noodles might call for a wider / shorter pot.
Weighing in at a mere 4.2 ounces, the Titanium pot earns its worth by being truly ultralight. The kettle goes unnoticed, as far as weight in your pack.
Eggplant. That’s what the Italian word Melanzana translates to in English. One of the many reasons this homegrown outdoor company won my heart. They nonchalantly make quality gear – not taking themselves too seriously, but putting their whole hearts into their products. Eggplant, their original name before a trademark issue required them to use the Italian translation, was an effort to be “the opposite of every ultra-cool outdoor company.” If you haven’t heard of Melanzana, make sure to check them out. They hand make their clothing right here in the good ol' U. S. of A - out of Leadville, Colorado.
This past week, between hiking and snowboarding, I got in a few good cold weather test trials of my “Micro Grid Hoodie” and I have nothing but good things to say about this company and product.
What they say: "Lightweight Polartec Micro Grid fleece has a tight thermal-style grid of open channels that greatly enhances breathability. Breathable enough to work as a base layer, or wear over a wicking layer for hard active use. 100% Polyester.
Women's Medium = 259.4 grams (9.15 oz)
Men's Large = 345.86 grams (12.2 oz) "
With a few fun color combinations, the Fabric and Micro Grid texturing gives a stylish, but functional, feel to the Micro Grid Hoodie. Which makes it an ideal layer for transitioning from running down a mountain to grabbing dinner in town. Actually, I barely took mine off for the first week. The polyester fleece is soft, cozy and does a great job keeping the heat trapped up close to your body. However, I will say that for the first day of wear, the loose fleece sheds - so when you see little colored balls all over your car, don't fret it's temporary.
What they say : "Fairly close fit for easy layering and multi-sport versatility. Men's sizes have a slightly boxier fit with a shorter torso and longer sleeves. Women's are contoured to fit close. Women's XS - XL and Men's S - XXL. "
Personally, I usually go for a Medium - I'm 5'11 and Medium is my normal sizing. However, my Micro Grid Hoodie is a Large which leaves it fitting a tad loose. As a result, I mostly wear it as a mid-layer. Really it's up to preference. If you want to layer underneath - order one size up. If you would rather it be tight fitting - order true to size.
What they say: Our ever-popular Micro Grid fleece combined with our simple yet highly-functional hoodie design. The hood tightens up close around the face and over the chin for awesome protection. It also opens up wide enough when worn down to provide good ventilation without any bulk to get in the way. This versatile top can be used as a light-but-warm mid layer under a shell, or a as highly breathable outer layer.
The fit of the Micro Grid fleece hood (which is a component in several other Melanzana products) is my favorite aspect of this mid-layer. The long neck and cinched hood give a little extra fabric for keeping as much face surface area as possible nice and warm. It easily pulls and stays up over your nose. Helping to minimize frozen snot and burning lungs- always a plus.
Sunset over the open ocean promised a cold, wintery night. An overnight passage, at this time of year, meant my turn on deck, for watch, would be in freezing weather. My Marmot sleeping bag had been tucked away in the cabin where it was moderately protected from the salty air and any other elements that might tamper with its down. This particular sleeping bag had accompanied me on many previous excursions but with several cold weeks onboard a sailboat with no heat, it had recently become a dearly beloved friend. That night, with the waves knocking at our bow, I reached into the cabin to pull my Marmot Sawtooth out onto deck - its promise of comfort and warmth was too irresistible.
After two years of owning and testing the Marmot Sawtooth down sleeping bag, we have put together our review based on value, weight, compact size, comfort, durability and most importantly - warmth. Both my husband, Joel, and I own Marmot Sawtooth bags and therefore offer a his and hers review perspective.
Insulation Fill : 650+ Fill Power Duck Down
Bag Temperature Rating: 15 degree F
EN Rating: Comfort: 27.1°F / -2.7°C | Lower Limit: 15.6°F / -9.1°C
| Extreme: -17.5°F / -27.5°C
Interior Length : 83in
Weight: 2lbs 7.5 oz
Comfort - 10 out of 10
Let's start with comfort. Joel and I are two very different sleepers. He could fall asleep probably anywhere and anyway. Where, I am a tossing, turning, sleeper, who hates to feeling constrained - a mummy style sleeping bag would seem to be my worst nightmare. We also are both rather tall folks ( 5'11" & 6'2"). Needless to say, both having the same bag and finding it comfortable (which we do - incredibly so) is one of the reasons we were impressed by the Sawtooth. This bag, though a mummy style - is perfectly comfortable. The wider mid-section gives just enough space to move around without compromising warmth.
Weight & Compact Size - 4 out of 10
The provided compression sack does the trick - but in terms of backpacking, space and weight are commodities and the Sawtooth is rather selfish with both. With encouragement, it fits into the sleeping bag section of my Osprey Woman's Aura pack. However, it is a tight fit and expands to take up room which could be used otherwise in the main compartment. Weight wise, the Sawtooth comes in with almost a whole extra pound when compared to other bags on the market.
Value - 10 out of 10
What the Sawtooth takes in weight and compression, it makes up for in value. You could consider the Sawtooth an economic option - good gear at a great price. If in stock, the Sawtooth bag is usually on sale around $200 on Backcountry.com .
Durability - 8 out of 10
Two years is not the longest time to review on durability. However, for the two years we have had the Sawtooth, it has seen a lot of use and some rather unfriendly conditions. Of course, part of anything lasting is maintaining a proper record of care - down compresses but it doesn't love to stay that way. We have had to make a few duck-tape patches here and there, but have been overall impressed with how well the bags have held together and the down has remained fluffed.
Warmth - 7 out of 10
The Marmot Sawtooth sleeping bag is rated for 15-degree F - however, to our memory, we have only used it in down to 20-degree weather. Our opinions differ for the warmth rating (which I noted below) but we both agree on a few features being particularly useful when it comes to keeping warm. First off, the Sawtooth's mummy style keeps the down as close to your body as possible without compromising comfort. The hood and drawstring cinching feature along with the multi- baffle design help trap the heat inside. Toss and turn all you want without losing sleep over lost heat.
His Review - Warm sleeper critiques the Marmot Sawtooth as being true to the 15-degree rating. He has been hot sleeping in below freezing temperatures with the Sawtooth bag.
Her Review - Warm (ish) sleeper (but usually cold when not sleeping) critiques the Marmot Sawtooth as being bearable but not comfortable at 15-degree. When temperatures dip below freezing my feet, in particular, will get cold in the Sawtooth bag.
Let's talk gear, shall we? It just so happens to be one of my favorite topics and after mentioning, in my post on returning home, about how I believe there are some names that represent quality - I figured I'd round the thought out a tad. Plus, nothing can make winter worse than having the wrong gear.
Here are my, personal, top five favorites when it comes to gear you can trust to "get you there". Names that I have found, over years, to produce gear that won't leave you hanging off a cliff with a broken strap or half way up a trail with a hole in your sock. These are my tested and true "go-to" names in the Outdoor Industry for all around quality and longevity - okay - and a tad of practicality and style. More specifically, these five brands have become my top picks for cold weather gear. Learning how to stay warm in the winter can add a whole new season to your Outdoor adventuring.
Anything with the word wool in the name gains my immediate attention when it comes to winter clothes. Woolrich is another one of those, but, I promised to cut myself off at a solid five. Dressing in layers is essential for cold natured folk, such as myself, and wool is a match made in base-layer heaven. Down with cotton - if it's cotton, you WILL be cold. Not only does SmartWool make a few of my favorite baselayers, but I'm slightly obsessed with their wool socks. They put the fun back in functional (My mother has a coffee mug with that phrase, it always cracks me up) SmartWool's use of patterns combined with Merino wool technology has them high on my list. Their gear is comfortable (not itchy as wool has a reputation of being), breathable and KEEPS YOU WARM.
Outdoor Research really should come last if we are talking about how to dress in layers for cold weather - because, the gear I want to highlight is their shells. However, in terms of good gear on a budget, Outdoor Research ranks pretty high. They make all kinds of gear and offer relatively affordable pricing. Personally, though, I think they really excel when it comes to shells. Wind is warmth's worst enemy. You can have as many stellar base-layers and down jackets as you want, but the wind and rain will eat right through them. A quality shell will make all the difference.
Those down jackets I just mentioned? Talk about Game Changer. There's something about a feather and a little bit of air that can make a world of difference. Patagonia does best when you let them -base layers and technical jackets. Style is their downfall when it comes to warmth, though not when it comes to wrangling in customers (some might call it Patagucci). I have a Snap-t pullover, it stays buried in one of my trunks with a few other sweatshirts - cute, but useless. My Patagonia Down Sweater Jacket, though, is an all time favorite winter piece - 800-fill without being too big and puffy.
From dressing in layers to staying snug and warm in your tent (or even inside for that matter) both Pendleton and Marmot have a good thing going. I mentioned my weakness for patterns - Pendleton is one of my favorite companies for such, however, there's more to them than just good looks! Quality and warmth are synonymous with "Pendleton." Again, with the WOOL!! Growing up, our family Pendleton blanket was a staple of warmth and was always at the top of the packing list for winter trips to the mountains. Now, Joel (my husband) and I have our own and for us, it is an everyday necessity when winter sets in.
Last, but not least, for my list of five favorite outdoor brands when it comes to winter gear - Marmot. My deep appreciation for my Marmot sleeping bag deserves a post of its own and may be the sole reason Marmot made the list. They make a wide variety of outdoor gear and hit a middle mark when it comes to certain pieces. However, their pricing makes them a great option for quality outdoor gear on a budget. The Marmot Sawtooth Sleeping bag has never left me disappointed or cold (and it has carried me through below freezing nights).