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

Patagonia Field Pants Review

For this review, we sought out Beau Gaughran, an up-and-coming photographer and videographer living in Bellingham, Washington. Check out his portfolio here.

He writes:

I threw on the Patagonia Field Pants as soon as they arrived at my home in Bellingham. Three fantastic days later, I took them off. To properly test the pants, I wore them through days of outdoor photography and recreating. As in:

  • Sliding on ice patches on variable terrain
  • Climbing trees to get that special angle while shooting mountain biking
  • Practicing yoga
  • Climbing every route in the bouldering gym
  • I even slept in them.

Weight:

The first thing I noticed about the field pants was how light they are. I worried about how they would hold up through shrubs and while climbing, because the fabric is nowhere near as stiff as my Carharrts or Dickies. (More on that later.)

The pants are so lightweight and stretchy that freedom of movement is maximized. The loose fit allowed for funky moves in the gym. It was as if I was climbing in my underwear. They also allowed me to chase after bikers with my camera on the Galbraith trails and throughout the Chuckanuts. I felt nimble with zero restriction in any part of the pants.

Durability:

The perfect test for durability was conducted during a mountain bike shoot. Shortly after hiking up an icy road, we ducked into the woods and scrambled up some single track which had less snow on the ground. We found a part of the track that swerved under a huge boulder and through some old growth trees.

I scrambled up a fallen tree and saw no good hand or footholds as I got closer to that optimal spot for shooting. I dug in with my feet, hands, and knees and scooted up the log to get there. My other pants would have likely shredded on the thick, spiny bark of the felled old growth.

Later in the day, as we made our way down the icy gravel road, I tested the pants’ backside. This material seemed much less durable and more intended for straight-up maneuverability in the hips. I found a good patch of ice, worked up some speed, and launched into the sledding position with heels up, butt down, and my hands acting as the outriggers.

I got going much faster than anticipated, and I heard an “oh sh*t” from behind me. I flew over ice, onto variable snowpack, then onto gravel. I was sure the bottom of the pants would be ripped. To my amazement, there wasn’t the slightest sign of wear or tear. Most normal pants would have been wet, but the DWR (durable water repellent) coating left me completely dry.

Functionality:

The field pant design is simple. Two normal front pockets, a zipped right leg pocket, and a zipped back pocket. Because the pants allow for such movement, my phone would sometimes fall out of my front pocket. And so the zipped pockets proved quite useful and I assume were a key strategy in their design.

Comfort:

At the end of a long day of taking photos, hiking, climbing, scrambling, and sliding, I rested but with no real intention of falling asleep. I am a light sleeper and only get comfortable if I take time to nest. Boxers only is my preferred sleepwear. But on that day, I slept in the field pants, comfy and unnoticeable.

The Patagonia Field Pants: heckuva of a piece of equipment for any outdoor wanderer.

“Landmarks”: A Book to Savor

Check out one of the most impressive non-fiction books I’ve read in years: Landmarks by Robert MacFarlane.

Robert MacFarlane

Robert MacFarlane

Landmarks is full of precious moments for engaged readers: Ah-ha moments and passages that you immediately have to read again, not because they confound you but because they lift you to a deeper place of understanding and appreciation. Those are passages where I turn down the top corner of the page. My copy of Landmarks must have three dozen turn-downs or more.

MacFarlane refers to and pays homage to many American essayists, including Wendell Berry, Barry Lopez, and John Muir. His book is a celebration of language, time in nature and wilderness, and a deeply thoughtful conversation about the junction of those elements.

Although focused on the how the English are losing nature-centric words specific to the British Isles (peat, fog, mist, etc), he even writes of Keith Basso’s work with the Apache of western Arizona:

“The Apache understand how powerfully language constructs the human relation to place, and as such they possess, Basso writes, ‘a modest capacity for wonder and delight at the large tasks that small words can be made to perform.’ In their imagination geography and history are consubstantial. Placeless events are inconceivable, in that everything that happens must happen somewhere.”

A worn, saddlebagged copy of Landmarks

A worn, saddlebagged copy of Landmarks

Other books to consider, with leanings toward books of the western U.S.:

Hole in the Sky: A Memoir, by William Kittredge

Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West, by Wallace Stegner

Desert Solitaire, by Edward Abbey

All the West that Remains, by David Gessner. Read a three-part interview with Gessner here.

Where Rivers Change Directions, by Mark Spragg

Send us your favorites!

Salomon fits the hill

Glory days as a top Maine high school runner and Division I athlete are long gone and thankfully, so are the shoes I used. Back then, we were still calling them “sneakers” and the industry had yet to diversify much from running shoes to racing shoes, road shoes, trail shoes, trail shoes for mud, trail shoes for soft terrain, etc.

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 12.30.03 PMShoes are now lighter, more supportive, and better all around. They make it easier to train for the Mancos Half Marathon without the specter of injury.

Since my running is entirely on and off trails and dirt roads, trail shoes fit the bill. I have been wearing two Salomon models: Fellraiser and SpeedCross 3.

I have a wide foot and in the past have needed to order men’s sizes. No need with these Salomon shoes. They were true to size and had a yummy fit, like a snug slipper thanks to the stretchy layer of fabric stitched permanently under the laces. Salomon calls it their Sensifit System. Kiss those floppy, shifting tongues goodbye.

Both models have the QuickLace system which, in my many off-road miles proved especially functional:

DSC00180No burrs, grass seeds, or thorns stuck to the laces (on more conventional laced shoes, this is sooo annoying. Seeds stick to the laces and invariably work their way like chiggers towards the foot. Extracting them takes time and focus. No thank you.)

Laces do not snag or come untied by twigs and briars.

The Speed Cross 3 has more cushioning and a wider footprint. The Fellraiser is lighter and lower. I’ve been favoring the Fellraiser lately, but plan on swapping out for the Speed Cross pair as I add mileage.

Folks say you need hiking boots when things get rough and sideways. I disagree. You need strong ankles, a nimble gait, and a pair of Salmons.

And here’s a surprise benefit: you’d think that the more aggressive tread would mean the shoes would track more dirt into the house and car. Not so. In my wearings, the “Contagrip” actually brought in less.

DSC00173

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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