Outdoor Retailer Bestuvs

Imagine you’re at a mall on the weekend before Christmas and all the crowds around you are fit, driven, and over-caffeinated. That’s pretty much the scene at the Outdoor Retailer at the Salt Palace convention center. Thousands of vendors and tens of thousands of buyers, managers, and working media types (like me) are meeting. It’s easy to be overwhelmed.

Among the offerings, there are a lot of technical pieces (specialized climbing rope, specialized paddle boards, specialized watches, specialized phone chargers, etc., etc.) bright, snappy clothing, and the latest on how to bring domesticity into the back country. We managed to whittle through the morass and find some excellent (and perhaps overlooked) products:

Good to Go – this Maine-based company, led by an accomplished and adventurous chef, takes the same ol’, same ol’ out of camp meals.

Pull Start Fire – taking the wishing and finger-crossing out of campfires, even in the rain.

Rite in the Rain – notebooks and writing implements that work, even in the rain.

Duckworth Wool – wool from Montana, crafted into fabulous clothing in North and South Carolina. We’re verrryy keen on this new company. Review of their Vapor t-shirt coming soon.

Benchmade – we found some female-friendly knives from this Oregon company. Review coming soon.

Green Goo – natural salves from this women-owned Colorado company. We love their Travel Packs, which come with lip balm, first aid and pain relief salves, and bug spray.

Adventure Medical – We love their Me and My Dog first aid kits. An essential for your barn, truck, or camper.

Bullfrog – horse riders sweat, too! We dig their sweat-resistant, sunscreen/bug repellant combination lotion.

And it was fun to visit with Bullfrog’s celebrity kayaker Nick Troutman, too. Read more at UtahOutsider. 

Klean Kanteen – this company sets the bar for doing the right thing in a complicated market. It’s a B Corporation and is especially innovative and transparent. “We adhere to the triple bottom line: People, Planet, then Profit,” said one representative at the OR. Aside from that, we love their new colors and kits. Check out there starter Coffee Kit here. 

Stanley – the company’s Switchback mug gets the prize for no-spill, no-drip To Go mug. It’s also pretty easy to clean between uses.

OsanaBar – a new, awesome-smelling, mosquito repellent soap that works! The company also has an excellent charitable arm. It supplies soap to communities threatened by malaria, the sometimes deadly disease carried by mosquitos.

LL Bean – the Maine company continues to introduce fun, tough, not-your-gramma’s clothing. The colors and fabrics are perfect for us horse riders. We love their Back Cove Heathered tee, their Luna jacket, and their Whisper Lodge flannel. 

Whisper Lodge flannel shirt from LL Bean

The Perfect Shoe for Back Country Wanderlust

Editor’s Note: We hear this week from guest columnist Aidan Gaughran. The ColoradoOutsider played four seasons of NCAA soccer at Dickinson College before joining the Peace Corps and heading to Panama. Now back in the States, he’s busy catching up on hikes and treks in southwestern Colorado.

Gaughran writes:

Most of the time I go outside, I do not travel on predetermined routes. One moment I can be on a well-traveled trail; the next I can be bushwhacking through the woods; the next I

Salomon Odyssey Pro

could be climbing over rock debris.

I never know precisely where the adventure calls, nor the precise terrain my feet will pass over. I value spontaneity and the ability to change course on a whim. In this regard, the Salomon Odyssey Pro makes an ideal partner-in-crime.

The first thing you will notice is that these shoes are ready to go right out of the box. They seemed already broken-in to my feet, an impressive feat considering a) my wide feet and b) that the shoes are advertised as Hiking Shoes.

Most hiking shoes require a get-to-know-you period. Not these ones. They weigh a slim 11.6 ounces, and with the Ortholite impressions (soles) and mesh/nylon upper layer, it feels as if you are wearing a light, athletic sneaker.

Out on the trail (wherever that may be), you start to notice the shoes’ hiking attributes. The Odyssey has a thick midsole – but not thick so as to be chunky or unsavory on the eyes – that keeps the feet cushioned and supported for those longer, higher-mileage days.

It has an outsole that whisks away small debris and that seems to grip whatever terrain the trail throws at it. The marriage between the support and the light, athletic upper is the shoes’ defining quality, and is the main reason why I love it.

I’m not sure how the shoe would handle extended, multi-day trips, but if I was leaving tomorrow, I would probably take the Odyssey Pro over other options.

I recently ran a half-marathon, in which half the terrain was pavement and the other a mix of dirt and gravel on uneven, up-and-down terrain. I wore the Odysseys. The next morning, most everything in my body ached – except for my feet.

Sturdy Salomons Make for Happier Hiking

Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX

I live at about 7,500 feet elevation. If I’m not walking north and south on a flat gravel road, I’m heading up steep climbs to the east and west. The ridges rise quickly to 8,500 feet and the terrain is variant, with plenty of sandstone boulders to navigate.

I try to scramble up to these ridges several times a week for the rich reward: views of the LaPlata mountains in the San Juan National Forest, Mesa Verde National Park, and even Shiprock, the impressive monolith on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico.

The Salomon Speed Cross trail shoes have suited me well, but when I found myself sometimes switching to heavier hiking boots, I knew a swap was in order.

Enter the Salomon X Ultra GTX (which, if ColoradoOutsider had any say, would be renamed Happy Hiker).

Up and away with the Salomon X Ultra 2 GTX

At about one pound for the pair, the X Ultra GTX is five ounces heavier than the SpeedCross. Here’s what you gain with those added ounces:

– greater stability in the heel

– more toe protection

– tougher, more durable and waterproof coverage.

The X Ultra GTX is still a quarter the weight of most leather hiking boots and as I rarely carry more than 10-15 pounds in a daypack, this shoe was the perfect middle ground between the more serious, clunky hikers and the less solid trail running shoe.

Those of us with iffy ankles will love the protective heel cap which keeps the back of the foot stable, especially when moving along the sides of ridges.

The Quicklace system is easy and capable except when you want to snug up the toe area for steep descents; the thin cords tend to work less well than traditional, thicker laces. But thick laces also attract burrs, seeds, and thorns which can work their way aggravatingly to your feet over the course of a hike and make plucking them out of the shoe an unwelcome daily ritual. Not so here. The X Ultra GTX virtually sheds sticky vegetation.

These shoes are built with GoreTex and therefore shed water. This feature might not be so vital here in southwestern Colorado, but is an excellent feature for wetter climes.

Excellent grip on boulders

Review: Cotopaxi’s Toliman Hoodie

For this review of Cotopaxi’s Toliman Wool Hoodie, we sought out WashingtonOutsider, Natalie Lord. The Toliman is made in Portland, Oregon, just 170 miles south of Lord’s home base.

Cotopaxi Toliman

The 20-something spends more time outdoors than most of us even hope for. The talented skier graduated from St. Lawrence University where she was active in the Outing Club and has enjoyed many outdoor adventures from surfing to skiing. Since landing in Washington, she’s explored much of the state’s western region.

She writes:

I pulled the Cotopaxi Toliman hoodie out of the box, put it on, and got in the car for a weekend trip to the Outer Coast of Washington. The trip was a perfect way to get to know my new layer, as I used it on a rainy hike out to Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park, and after a cold surf session in the Pacific Ocean.

During the hike out to Shi Shi, I ended up taking off the pullover because I was too warm, hopping over logs and trekking through giant mud pits. Yet once we got out of the rainforest and onto the beach, with wind whipping and a rainstorm headed our way, I quickly put it back on and was comfortable again.

One of my favorite features of this pullover is the hood. Finally, a pullover with a hood that isn’t too small for my head!

While scrambling over rocks and collecting marine debris, the stretchy fabric allowed for flexible movement without the typical restrictions from layering. The Power Wool portion of the pullover did an excellent job wicking my sweat on the hike.

Photo by Beau Gaughran

It really came in handy the next day after my surf session when I threw it on over my bathing suit for the walk back to the cabin. Normally, I freeze during these walks, but this layer used my body heat to my advantage and the hood made a remarkable difference!

Since I had such a great experience with the Toliman pullover out on the coast, I decided to bring it backcountry skiing near Mount Baker for the next weekend adventure.

When traveling in the backcountry, weight is highly stressed factor. The Toliman is a perfect layer to bring because it’s light, packable, and warm.

Growing up skiing in Maine, I’ve been used to the tight synthetic layers. The Toliman pullover is my first wool layer. It manages moisture and breathability perfectly for ski touring.

On this particular outing, it was a ‘blue bird’ sunny day, though with the wind the temperatures remained chilly. Once again, the hood came into great use, providing an extra level of warmth. For the ski down, I decided to keep on the pullover as my outer layer instead of add on an additional puffy. At the end of a long day of skiing, this is the layer I don’t need to take off immediately.

The Toliman Pullover has become my perfect mid-layer for any outdoor excursion.

Photo by Beau Gaughran

Glamping in Patagonia Baselayer

Perfect weather for glamping

Perfect weather for glamping

Don’t get me wrong. I love camping of all sorts. But truck camping, one form of glamping, is what I’m doing lately. In a truck camper, you can:

  • Sleep on a real mattress
  • Overnight at highway rest stops with a locked door
  • Carry and cook a week’s worth of meals
  • Change clothes in privacy and standing up, even in a crowded parking lot
  • Take dogs cross country with impunity (as in not worrying about leash laws and paying extra at pet friendly motels)

Call it practical, fun, and luxurious.

Patagonia’s Merino Air Hoody is to baselayers what truck camping is to tent camping or backpacking. Both might be pricey dsc02809at the outset, but they pay off many, many times and in many, many ways.

I wore the itch-free, half wool/half Capilene top over a recent weekend of gathering cows in the San Juan National Forest in southwestern Colorado. One day was sunny and fine. The next day was rainy and raw. (To be clear, on this weekend, I stayed in the gooseneck of my horse trailer.)

After five hours of moving cows through scrub oak and conifers, we returned to the trucks to swap out soaked chaps, soaked jeans, and soaked gloves. I was cold but my core was warm (in the Air Hoody and a few other layers). It was easy to head back out.

This top has the look and feel of luxury. I’m quite sensitive to the itchiness of wool, but the rich purple knit was soft and comfy on my skin. It’s incredibly light (just six ounces) and easily outmatched comparable synthetic baselayers.

Wool has a natural ability to deal with body odor which meant I could head to bed without smelling me, wear it (with its partner Merino bottoms ) as pajamas without smelling me, and use it the next day without smelling me.

DSC02766 (1)

What of the hoody?

Hokey and inappropriate in a base layer? Au contraire.

When it’s down, the hoody sits like a cowl neck but is cooler in the fashion sense and warmer in its usefulness. At night, us campers often resort to digging out a hat and wild rag to keep our heads and necks warm. No need here.

After a hard-working weekend, I washed it (Even with the wool, the Air Hoody’s care instructions are still simply machine wash and tumble dry.) and wore it to a nighttime dance performance in Durango. What other base layer can play dress up?

Details of the Merino Air Hoody

Alpine Houdini Review

“Weather permitting…”

patagonia alpineReal trekkers hardly acknowledge a phrase like this one. It rains. We’re either prepared and comfortable or unprepared and grin through it.

I prefer the former.

During the lovely monsoon season here in Colorado, it might rain every day for a few months. Most afternoons, though, clouds gather, skies darken, and rain threatens heartily before moving on.

On my many miles of hiking and riding in the mountains and canyons of Colorado, I’ve learned to pack lightly and consider the likelihood of rain. I’m too old and smart to suffer proudly through cold and wet. But, gotta say, rain coats were a hassle.

I take:

Water & snacks

Tiny first aid kit

patagoniaCell phone (maybe)



Rain jacket

My new rain jacket weighs as much as my phone. It’s Patagonia’s Alpine Houdini.

The Alpine Houdini (not to be confused with the Houdini, which weighs even less and is more like a wind breaker) is not even six ounces and stuffs easily into its own pocket or a plastic sandwich bag. It has a nifty adjustable hood which Patagonia made with helmet wearers in mind. I found this mid-skull, elastic drawstring feature excellent for adjusting coverage depending on the ferocity of the precipitation: pulled back and snugged for a sprinkle or released and extended for a deluge.

It comes in gorgeous colors, like “Arbor Green” and “Concord Purple.” I’ve been wearing a “Sulphur Yellow,” which is perfect for hunting season. Like most Patagonia women’s items, a medium Alpine Houdini is slimly-styled and true to size. I’m 5’7”, 130 pounds, and the medium left a little room for one or two layers.

It’s a lightweight, but no sissy. Moving through scrub oak and juniper, the Alpine Houdini held up fine. Not a single rip, pull, or tear. I might see more game, too, since it’s fabric (1.5 ounce 20-denier nylon ripstop with a water repellent finish) is close to noiseless.

The only issue I can foresee? Given it’s it humble nature and size, I might forget I packed it.

A worthwhile inVESTment

When it comes to gear, I veer towards minimalism. I like products that look good, fit brilliantly, and last for years.

altiI also like to feel good about my purchases. Maybe that’s why our connection with Cotopaxi, a young Utah company, has been so fortuitous. Cotopaxi makes stylish, classy, durable apparel and donates a sizeable chunk of each purchase to help fund charitable projects around the world.

Read more about Cotopaxi’s perfect barn coat, the Kusa lightweight jacket, and the Cusco backpack.

Delight would describe my trial of the Altiplano vest, a sleek, highly packable piece with a slimming, attractive fit that will, if you let it, become your new favorite layer. It happened to me. It can happen to you. (Enter “nickernews” at checkout and receive 20 percent off.) Click here.

Vests are valuable layers for those of us working in variable temperatures and moving a lot, especially with our upper bodies (think tossing hay, shoveling, hauling water, skiing, hiking). The Altiplano is thin, warm, and styled perfectly to stay out of the way of those upper body exertions and look good doing it.

IMG_1366My vest experience prior to wearing the Altiplano was this:

— If it was light and utilitarian, then it didn’t look nice enough not to stay hidden under another layer.

— If it was more finished and stylish, then inevitably it was too bulky or uncomfortable to be much use outside of a dressy occasion.

With Polartec Alpha insulation, the Altiplano worked great as a layer under a barncoat while riding and working with horses in 30 degree whether. It also got compliments on a warmer day when I used it as a last layer (over a long-sleeve shirt) on a trip to town.

The ripstop shell feels like velvet and the heather-ish stretch fleece on the back adds an interesting contrast, distinguishing it from those aforementioned utility vests.

Each Altiplano purchase helps provide primary and secondary schooling to kids in Ecuador.

Cotopaxi recently became a B Corporation (like our partner, Eco Lips). B Corps are for-profit companies certified to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.


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