Tentrr Review- The “AirBnB of Camping”- and chance to win $100 Tentrr Gift Card!

Tentrr Review
The Famous Colorado Wall Tent

My family and I just returned from a 4 day camping trip to beautiful Camden, ME. We camped there last year and decided to repeat the trip this season, albeit in a slightly different style. A few months ago I heard about this somewhat new company “Tentrr“. If you have ever used AirBnB then the concept really isn’t that new. Tentrr partners with local land owners and some state parks to offer a convenient way for people to get out and enjoy nature in a semi-“glamping” style.



This really is a clever idea and the growth of the company shows it is catching on! Launched in 2016 two years ago the company only had a couple dozen sites all located in New York (the company was born in NYC). In less then three years there are now 735 Tentrr sites located in 38 states! Over 15,000 campers have used the service.

How it Works

Campers can search by zip code or town on either the Tentrr website or app and see what sites are in the area they wish to visit. Most of the sites sit on private land and are maintained by the land owners called “CampKeepers”. Like AirBnB hosts you’re likely to find a spectrum of personalities but most of the sites I browsed on the website sat on working family farms near rivers, beaches, or on hills with nice mountain vistas.

Tentrr Review
A quick search on the App shows nearby Tentrr sites

Basically there are four different types of Tentrr sites.

Backcountry– These are rustic campsites ranging from $25-$100 a night, but most are in the $40 range. This is a great option if you own your own tent and camping gear.

Signature– These are the backbone of the Tentrr concept and come quite equipped for a comfortable camping experience and range from $65-$200 a night with most sites listing in the $80-$120 range.

State Park– These are pretty much the same as a Signature Tentrr site except that it sits within a state park instead of on private land. This is the style we went with to take advantage of the state park facilities and playground for our kiddos. These currently are only located in Maine and cost $100 a night.

Curated– Tentrr also has a list of partner sites ranging from $45-$300. Many are luxury style yurts and larger tent style accommodations.



The easiest way to search the entire database of sites is from here.

We used the online booking service to locate one of two State Park sites in Camden Maine and it was easy to select the dates we wished to stay and check out. Confirmation emails include links with directions to the site along with helpful lists on what to bring camping with you if you are a bit new to the sport. A few days before our trip reminder emails are sent with the same info.

So what is included in a Tentrr Signature/State Park site? Let’s start with the obvious, the classic made-in-the-USA Colorado Wall Tent. This iconic tent is made in Denver, CO and the deluxe model used retails for $1,699! Some important features:

  • It has a 10 x 12 floor plan with a minimum 6 foot height reaching an apex of about 8 feet.
  • Screened windows on three sides and a large screened front door allow for plenty of ventilation.
  • In cooler temps they can be closed up to trap heat or keep out sideways rain.
  • A small wood stove made us want to come back for some cooler Fall camping trips.
  • Two queen sized inflatable mattresses set on a bunk bed offered plenty of room for our family of four. A foot pump stored under the beds quickly brought the mattresses up to our preferred firmness.
  • Two wooden storage crates worked well for us as nightstands, along with the stove providing a small table.

Tentrr Review
Inside left- Tentrr uses custom made Colorado Wall Tents
Tentrr Review
Inside right- Tentrr uses custom made Colorado Wall Tents
Tentrr Review
The wood stove was unused as the site is fairly new and the weather has been warm, but we would like to come back for a cooler late Fall trip!

Outside there is a size-able raised porch with two comfy Adirondack style chairs. Down a few steps off the deck brings us to the table/kitchen set up with a pantry and raised cooking area. A 37 gallon steel trash can is provided with a full box of trash bags in the pantry and a pair of grilling tongs. A well made fire pit nearby had a brand new cooking grate over it.

Tentrr Review
Comfortable outdoor seating for story time!
Tentrr Review
37 gallon steel trash can with bags provided
Tentrr Review
Kitchen and dining area with fire pit and steel cooking grate
Tentrr Review
Never camp with out my AeroPress and some Good To Go food! Also snuck in some yummy Patagonia Provisions Salmon!

So how did the family like this experience? What were the ups & downs? We were happy to not have to pack the tent this trip and have this deluxe one ready to go which meant we could kick back and relax quite quickly after arriving. A quick sweep with the provided broom and we were ready to move it!

Tentrr Review
Getting set up

The mattresses needed a quick top-off with the provided foot pump but are the higher end inflatable style that get and stay firm. We did not need to add any more air over the three nights we camped. One note on the mattresses though… they are extremely “squeaky”. The rubber rubs loudly when anyone moves on the bed. We tried to mitigate it by getting some blanket material in-between the bed and frame with limited success. We still slept really well once everyone stopped adjusting!

Tentrr Review
Just before lights out

Another note to be aware of is the fact this is not a fully sealed tent. We had a pretty healthy colony of daddy long legs squatting on the property and had to constantly remind the kids that they are not spiders (though we did have to evict a few of those from time to time).

While not 100% bug proof we did find the tent to be quite weather tight as we experienced heavy rains twice during our stay, luckily both in the middle of the night. Everything stayed completely dry and we were happy we weren’t in our large family tent that would likely have seen a breakdown in it’s liquid defense program.

We definitely enjoyed the cooking and dining area set up having two dinners and breakfasts at camp during our stay. I used some p-cord to tie off “the pantry” but it would be nice if it could have an animal resistant latch added to it. Despite having a late night raccoon visit nothing got into our pantry or trash can.

Tentrr Review
Yummy grilling at camp

Summary

All in all this was an awesome experience! I’ve seen comments online trying to compare the value to a local AirBnB and that’s not a really a fair comparison. This is a service for people who want to be a bit closer to nature than staying in someone’s well kept in-law apartment. This is an option for folks who want to go camping occasionally but don’t want to invest or store camping gear. This was a great option for us even though we own tons of expensive camping gear because we could just show up and skip set-up and go right into chill mode. We are already thinking of finding a new Tentrr spot to explore later this Fall so we can make use of the internal wood stove and enjoy some classic New England foliage!



Finally I’ve reached out to a few friends who own land where a Tentrr site might be a good fit. If you own land with potential camping sites consider becoming a Tentrr Campkeeper and make $$$ sharing your land!

$100 Tentrr Gift Certificate Giveaway!

Here’s your chance to win a $100 Gift Certificate to Tentrr! You could use it for a couple nights at a beautiful rustic campsite or a free night at one of the fully equipped Signature or State Park sites located in 38 states! Just click on the Rafflecopter link below to see how to get entries in the giveaway which ends at 9 PM EST on 9/9/2019!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Affiliate links support the content created here

Review- Gnarly Nutrition (and Giveaway)

I’ve never really been into nutritional supplements that much. In fact I’ve probably actively avoided them to some extent due to over ambitious creatine supporters during my military years (so long ago!). I am however a big fan of hydration supplements and when I heard of a pro-deal opportunity from Gnarly Nutrition through my membership in the AMGA for some powdered sports drink mix I decided to place an order. I was so impressed with the drink mix I decided to reach out to the company to see if I could sample some of their other products. A few days later my sample kit had arrived!

Gnarly Nutrition Review

I’ve now been using these products for over 3 months and feel I can share my impressions of them. We will start with the first one I was introduced to…


Gnarly Hydrate – Everyday Hydration

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Hydrate

Gnarly’s Hydrate sports drink mix is much more than another version of powdered Gatorade. Developed to replace what you lose in sweat I was attracted to the low sugar amount used in the mix, only 4 grams per serving. This low amount of sugar helps transport water across the gut, where-as higher sugar amounts can lead to gut distress. Packed with a full spectrum of B-vitamins (100% B6, 167% B12) and healthy amounts of Magnesium (23%), Niacin (34%), and Riboflavin (100%).

What’s not in the mix can be as important as what is in it. In this case Gnarly uses NO artificial colors (yay no red dye #40!), no artificial flavors or sweeteners (sugar is organic cane sugar), no GMO‘s, no gluten (got some friends who are happy about that!), no soy, and 100% vegan.

But how does it taste?

I’ve only tried the Ruby Red Grapefruit flavor but I find it to be quite balanced on the sweet vs tart scale. I typically use just under two scoops for my 32 ounce Nalgene. The flavor is good whether I drop some ice in there on hotter days or finish the last swig after the bottle has been sitting in the sun getting warm at the end of the climbing day. Finally the mixture has excellent solubility and the mix dissolves completely without much agitation.

But how much does it cost?

Retail price for the 400 grams (14.10 ounces) bag is $25.95. That’s enough for about 40 12-16 ounce servings. That comes out to $.64/serving. That’s $.06/serving cheaper than the Nuun tablets I was using before. I will be joining the monthly subscription plan which brings the price down to $20.76, or $.52/serving. This makes Gnarly’s Hydrate one of the best values in the category market-wide!

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Hydrate Nutrition Facts


Gnarly BCAAs – Reduced soreness and recovery time

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly BCAAs Branched Chain Amino Acids

Now we get into the world of “Branch Chain Amino Acids” or BCAA’s for short. I admit I didn’t have a clue as to what these were but don’t worry, it’s not too complicated. The following is an explanation from http://www.healthline.com:

The branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are essential, meaning they can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained from food. BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and alleviate muscle soreness. They have also successfully been used in a hospital setting to prevent or slow muscle loss and to improve symptoms of liver disease.

But how does it taste?

I’ve been using the caffeinated version of “Strawberry Lemonade” and like the Gnarly Pre-Workout option I found the flavor a bit on the tart side. This one however does not have the beta-alanine so it seemed to have 100% solubility. If you have an issue with any “texture” in your sport drink you might prefer this one over the Gnarly Pre-Workout.

But does it work?

Like the Gnarly Pre-Workout I definitely noticed an energy boost on days I used this vs days I went pure water/food. I marked noticeable reduced soreness after quite a few 7+ hour back-country ski days. After one particularly high mileage/elevation week towards the end of the winter I was almost surprised on my next day off when I felt like I could easily crush another day without taking a rest day.

But how much does it cost?

Retail price for the 368 grams (12.98 ounces) drum is $39.95. That’s enough for about 30 12-16 ounce servings. That comes out to $1.33/serving. The monthly subscription plan brings the price down to $30.36, or $1.07/serving.

Gnarly Nutrition
Gnarly BCAAs Supplement Facts

Gnarly Pre-Workout – Get primed for performance

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Pre-Workout

The Gnarly Pre-Workout has the recovery benefits of BCAAs plus beta-alanine to help with muscular endurance (by buffering acid), citrulline malate to increase blood flow to and from working muscles AND caffeine/ginseng for that extra energy boost. If you want to read up more on how these things work take a look at this article. With only 6 ingredients the advantage of Gnarly’s BCAA mix you know everything going into your body. Some competitors have “proprietary” blends so they don’t disclose the full ingredient list.

But how does it taste?

This one only comes in a “Strawberry Lemonade” caffeinated or decaffeinated version. I’ve been testing the caffeinated version. I found the flavor a bit on the tart side. Not crazy pucker your face tart but tart. It is a “lemonade” flavor after all so that can be expected. One thing I noticed is the mix is not 100% soluble. The beta-alanine is “extended release” which means you will still have some texture in the drink and some settling will occur. Best practice is to do a little swirl when you’re getting to the bottom so you don’t miss out on any of those non-essential amino acids!

But does it work?

I definitely noticed an energy boost on days I used this vs days I went pure water/food. That shouldn’t be a surprise as it has caffeine, ginger-root, and all the BCAA’s previously mentioned! Gnarly has won over a skeptic in the supplement arena!

But how much does it cost?

Retail price for the 420 grams (14.82 ounces) drum is $37.95. That’s enough for about 30 12-16 ounce servings. That comes out to $1.265/serving. The monthly subscription plan brings the price down to $30.36, or $1.01/serving.

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Pre-Workout Supplement Facts

 


Gnarly Whey – Protein Supplement

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Whey– Protein Supplement

Last but not least is Gnarly’s flagship protein supplement, Whey. Not all Whey proteins are created equal. Gnarly makes its whey from the milk of grass fed New Zealand cows, free of GMOs and hormones. Packed with digestive enzymes and probiotics that help break down protein and increases assimilation this mix definitely has helped my digestive system. Lactase is used which helps break down lactose, and while I’ve never felt lactose intolerant I can see this being helpful for most consumers.

But how does it taste?

I recalled trying a Whey shake many years ago and finding the texture to be close to water-logged cardboard. This stuff is so different from that memory. With almost 100% solubility I’ve been making smooth morning chocolate banana shakes a couple times a week and they are so yum! Both my 7 year old son and 3 year old daughter find the flavor to be excellent!

But does it work?

There is no doubt here, that’s a hard yes! Whey is one of the most researched and published supplements out there. I’ve definitely been feeling the benefits over the last few months and have become a believer. If you want to do some reading on how it works and link to many medical and factual studies check out this article from Healthline.com

But how much does it cost?

Retail price for the 900 grams (32 ounces) drum is $59.95. That’s enough for about 20 8-12 ounce servings. That comes out to $2.99/serving. The monthly subscription plan brings the price down to $47.96, or $2.40/serving.

Gnarly Nutrition Review
Gnarly Whey

Summary

I’m really happy I put my skepticism aside and went all in to test these nutritional supplements. While at the end of the day a healthy diet and regular exercise keep me relatively healthy I can feel that these products are making a difference in both my energy level, and, to a greater extent, my recovery time after long days in the mountains. If you’re a supplement person already you’re probably not surprised. Maybe you’ve been with one brand for awhile and would like to try something new? If you’re new to using supplements here is an awesome place to start! Gnarly has put together an excellent article to help you decide which supplement is right for you! Check it out here!


Giveaway!

Gnarly Nutrition Review

Here’s your chance to try almost all the Gnarly products for free! Just click the RaffleCopter link below to enter!

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Affiliate links support this blog at no cost to you! Thank you!

Gear Review- Salewa Wildfire Edge Approach Shoes (and Giveaway)

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The new Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve since logged a dozen or so days hiking and climbing in them. The obvious feature that intrigued me is the so called “Switchfit” system that promises a select-able performance orientated “climbing mode” and a comfortable casual “hiking mode”. I’ll go into how this “tech” lives up in reality but first let’s cover some of the less “edgy” features of this higher end approach shoe.


Fit/Comfort

Out of the box these felt great. I went with a US men’s size 8 after Salewa recommended downsizing a bit. In a US Men’s Shoe I typically bounce between a 8.5-9 and since I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the “climbing mode” downsizing felt appropriate. The size 8 was the right call and the width was perfect for my medium width feet. The toe box is sufficiently snug without being too snug. This might not be the right choice if you have a very wide forefoot. The heel cup is also the right proportion for my foot and feels quite secure without having to lace them up excessively tight. An interesting feature of the removable foot bed is that they can be customized to adapt to different volume feet. I left them assembled for a “medium” fit and they feel great!

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- Options for a narrow or medium volume foot.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The outsole and midsole offer a fair amount of torsional rigidity and underfoot support. Forefoot flex is on the stiffer side for approach shoes which is advantageous for reduced foot fatigue on long rocky treks, security while edging in technical terrain, and a bit negative for smearing on slab.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Well sized heel cup
Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- ample room in toe box

Traction

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Salewa uses a Pomoca sole which has one of the nicest tread patterns I’ve seen on a trail shoe. I found traction to be excellent in dirt, mud, and forest duff. The diamond shaped lugs are about 3 mm raised in the forefoot which make for great traction while fast-hiking up dirt trails during our “mud season”. On the heel 5 mm raised lugs made descending dirt/mud trails feel quite secure if I needed to pump the brakes.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Under the big toe the lugs have been suppressed to create a climbing zone, or “EdgePlate” which is becoming popular in this specialized shoe category. The idea here is to provide more surface area for technical rock climbing. These felt somewhat secure on dry 5th class rock that was edgy. They were definitely adequate for 5.5 featured face climbing, but 5.6 slab quickly felt in-secure. The rubber compound used is noticeably denser than something like 5.10 Stealth rubber. The advantage is I feel this sole will easily outlast a softer higher friction sole, at the cost of friction on slabby dry rock. On one test hike I encountered a very low angle wet section of granite bed-rock where I found the soles to really struggle with decent traction. This was a very un-traveled spot and my suspicion is I was walking on some Spring thin lichen that will pretty much make any shoe slip but friends who had joined my fared a bit better on this short section with their softer sole compounds.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

For the most part these shoes provided excellent traction for what we encounter hiking and scrambling in the White Mountains, handled featured low fifth class rock well as long as it wasn’t too slabby, crushed muddy steep trail runs both up and down, and only came up short on wet “licheny” slab.


SwitchFit

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Left shoe is laced tightly to engage “climbing mode” which forces the foot forward in the shoe. Right shoe is left laced casually for “hiking mode”.

Time to talk about the elephant in the room! What is SwitchFit? Salewa says these shoes have a “hiking mode” and a “climbing mode”. At first look it might appear that the difference between these two “modes” is simply lacing the shoes tighter to activate “climbing mode”, and that’s not too far off from reality. However it you look a little closer there is some actual effective design in this system that changes how these shoes feel when you crank them tight. The last eyelet the laces run through functions like a 2:1 pulley attached to a Spectra type cord that runs around the heel. When you snug up the laces for technical climbing and pull the laces forward the snugger heel pushes your foot forward in the shoe. In this mode my foot felt completely stable while edging on 5.5-5.6 face climbs. To switch to “hiking mode” you simply loosen the lacing which opens the toe box up and makes for more comfortable hiking. It’s a pretty simple system but it does what it claims to do!


Durability

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge performing well on a 5.6 face climb at Square Ledge, New Hampshire

While I’ve only put a month or two of mileage on them I’m confident they will be be one of the longest lasting approach shoes I’ve tested. I base this on the thickness and relatively denser POMOCO outsole and the way Salewa wraps a substantial rubber rand up and over the big toe on the toe box. Close inspection of seams and eyelets reveals every point of potential stress has been appropriately re-enforced.


Summary

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The Salewa Wildfire Edge is a well built durable approach shoe suitable for rugged trail runs, 4th and low-5th class scrambling, and fast & light backpacking. While the “SwitchFit” system might seem a bit gimmicky at the end of the day it does exactly what it claims. Durable and comfortable this is one of the best approach shoes I’ve tested. Nice work Salewa!


Purchase

Buy on Backcountry.com <- 20% off with coupon “TAKE20MAY”

Buy on Moosejaw.com <- 20% off with coupon “FLIPFLOP”

Buy from REI.com

Buy on Amazon


Other media


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer
Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

Every footwear review I run this summer will be an opportunity to win some of the best damn foot deodorizer ever! I’m been a die-hard fan of this stuff for at least 5 years now. My wife takes notice if my stock is getting low as it is the only thing that works on my funky feet! Climbing shoes, ski boots, approach shoes… it doesn’t matter! A sprinkle of this in my socks and my feet smell great after any full day adventure. Enter for a chance to win a bottle by clicking the Rafflecopter link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Other big deals right now!

EMS “Upgrade Your Gear Sale” ends today!

REI “Anniversary Sale” ends today!



A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links support this blog. Thank you!

How to: Surviving “Bug Season”

After a long snowy winter many climbers and hikers are chomping at the chance to get on some dry Spring rock and trail. Unfortunately right around this time many insects are chomping at the chance to chomp on us! Namely:

Black-flies

Gnats

Mosquitoes

Ticks

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review
Black flies try to fly away with my climbing partner Tom on White Ledge in Albany, NH. How many black flies can you count?

In this post I’d like to share some of my favorite strategies to keep the dreaded “bug season” from keeping you from enjoying what it is you do in the mountains! To combat these four little buggers we will use a four-pronged approach! First…


Clothing

Step 1: The first line of defense should be clothing. Everyone knows long-sleeves and pants are preferable for bug protection but they seem so hot when the temperature and humidity is high right? Well some long-sleeve options actually feel cooler than going shirtless! Here’s my current favorite tops when dealing with an onslaught of bloodthirsty insects and warm temps!

Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody
The Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody

Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody (Women’s Here)

I have a detailed review of this staple of my outdoor clothing kit here, but the gist of it is every New England climber (and possibly every climber/traveler everywhere) should own this piece. Solid UPF protection and bug protection in a super comfy hoodie. Win win win.


Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody Review

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket (Women’s Here)

This ultralight ultra-breathable hooded “wind-shirt” is an excellent physical barrier for Cannon Cliff’s renowned alpine tough black-flies. You can see my detailed review of this piece here.

As for pant protection there are a ton of solid choices out there so a lot of it comes down to personal preference/style. I’m a fan of the Black Diamond Modernist Rock Pants but there are so many good options out there as long as you treat them with Step 2:


Permethrin

rock climbing bug protection

Step 2: I’ve used this stuff on my clothes from Peru to Okinawa to my home-state of New Hampshire with a season blatantly called “bug season” and I’m 100% convinced it is the most effective and safe option for true bug protection. You can Goggle all the research in the world on this product but I’ll just leave the highlights here:

  1. It is for clothing/gear/shoes… not skin.
  2. It dries in a few hours after treating and is then 100% safe to humans, no “leaching” into your sweaty skin
  3. It lasts for weeks even with washing (I only treat my “bug season” outfit once a year each Spring)
  4. While safe for almost all mammals it is not safe with cats for some reason. Do not spray your cat with this.

Pro-tip: treat your approach/hiking shoes and you will likely never find a tick crawling up your leg unless the grass you walk through is higher than your shoes. Treat your hiking pants and shirt and wade through fields of ticks with little worry. You can pick up a bottle cheap on Amazon here.


Timing

Black Diamond Vapor Helmet Review
The author topping out the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Mount Washington. Photo by Brent Doscher

Step 3: Generally bug season in the US is from early April to early May but in the White Mountains it’s a usually a little later, and Spring we’ve had some prolonged late season cold and snow that has pushed it back a bit further than normal. I’ve only seen two ticks on my so far and haven’t seen my first mosquito yet, while southern NH is probably getting into the thick of it as I type this. Also biting things are most active an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. Climbing mid-day might help reduce bloody interactions.


DEET/PICARIDIN

rock climbing new hampshire bug season

Step 4: I have long carried a small 4 oz bottle of DEET as a last resort when all the above measures fall to protect from an onslaught of thirsty flying things. Both products are effective, but Picaridin is showing more appeal as it is definitely less toxic to both us and the plastics/nylon we come in contact with. Regardless of which you use, I recommend trying the first three steps on my list and carrying a small bottle of this as a “last resort”.


Summary

Protecting yourself from biting insects and the diseases they can carry should be more thought-out then just stepping out of the car and soaking yourself (and your kids) with an aerosol can of bug dope. Hopefully some of these tips can help keep you bite-free while you are out doing what you do!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



Affiliate links support this blog.

Top 3 Backcountry Ski Backpacks

A reader recently asked for my opinion on one of my favorite back-country ski backpacks which has motivated me to share by top three choices for back-country skiing! Here they are!


First Pick: The Ortovox Haute Route 32L Backpack

Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack Review
Ortovox Haute Route 34L Backpack- photo by Cait

I now have two full winters with over 70 days of back-country touring with this pack and it is my over-all favorite. I find it to be the perfect size for day trips in the White Mountains and last April’s ski trip to Iceland. The dedicated avalanche safety pocket fits my shovel and probe perfectly, and outer vertical pocket holds some of my oft used tools in an easy to get to spot; I stick my snow card, compass, Rutchsblock cord, and snow thermometer in there. The “goggle pocket” is where I stash all my food for the day, and I’m able to carry a bivy sack, large puffy, and usually fit my goggles, buff, facemask, and ski gloves inside my helmet inside the pack, though there is an external helmet carry option. Finally the back panel full access to the main compartment is super convenient!

This pack is also available in a 30 and 38 liter short torso size, and a 40 liter size here.


Second Pick: The Patagonia Snow Drifter Backpack

 

I reviewed this pack back in 2016 and having tested quite a few packs since this one has stayed in my memory of being one of the best designed ski packs on the market. It shares a lot of the same features as my first pick like a well designed avalanche gear pocket and back-panel access. Unfortunately it is either discontinued or simply out of stock at almost every retailer. There are a few left on sale here.


Third Pick: The Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review
Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack Review

This is actually my first pick if the ski mission is technical, i.e. I’ll be carrying rope, harness, a couple screws, a technical ice axe, crampons, etc. I got the ski modification on this pack and while it is the priciest of the three the materials used in construction made this a pack that will survive a decade or three of heavy use in the mountains, where as I would expect to wear our my first two picks after 5-7 seasons of heavy use. While this pack gives up some convenience features like the dedicated avalanche gear pocket it gains pure rugged simplicity. As I said in my detailed review back in 2016 this is the pack I would choose for a ski focused trip to Katahdin or a ski mountaineering day in Huntington Ravine (up Pinnacle down South or the like).


Did your favorite make my list? Let me know in the comments if it did or didn’t! I will be looking to review 2019/20 back-country ski packs early next season!


See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Disclaimer: The author is an Ortovox Athlete and all packs were provided for review. Affiliate links help support this blog.

Gear Review- BightGear Caldera Down Parka

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
BightGear Caldera Parka Review- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

I’m fortunate to be able to review about a half-dozen of the industry’s best belay jackets each winter. Chances are from December to April I’m spending 5-6 days a week climbing frozen waterfalls or teaching avalanche courses up on notoriously cold Mount Washington. This gives me a lot of field time to put these jackets through the ringer and form some opinions which I am happy to share with you to help you navigate the myriad of choices out there!

A month or so ago a fellow guide introduced me to BightGear, a new brand born under the prestigious umbrella of Cascades based Whittaker Mountaineering. At its core this brand is an authentic “Guide Designed & Tested” label. Before a product is even released it must be tested for over 100k of vertical climbing.

Some impressive numbers from BightGear that speak to this process:

WEAR TESTING BY THE NUMBERS

  • 2016 – Over 1.2 Million vertical feet of wear testing by our guide team of primary fabrics used in 76 sample prototypes to build 19 different styles.
  • 2017 – Reached over 48 million vertical feet of wear testing and use of 143 prototypes by our team of 60+ guides, and thousands of RMI climbers on Mt. Rainier.
  • 2018 – On target to reach over 100 million vertical feet of testing with the launch of the Bight Test program on mountains and outdoor playgrounds around the world.
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Guide designed and tested on the slopes of Mt. Rainier- photo courtesy of RMI/NEM Guide Jordan Cargill

Pretty cool right? Having learned all this I was more than happy to receive the BightGear Caldera Down Parka for a demo. After a month of testing in a variety of conditions I feel I can fairly share my opinion on this piece. In the realm of down insulated belay parkas the Caldera easily competes with the best in class options out there! Let’s start with the most noticeable then finish with the minutiae.


How Warm Is It?

BightGear stuffed this parka with over 6 ounces of 850 fill power HyperDRY™ Goose Down. That’s a lot of high loft quality down, and the result is a parka that feels like a nice sleeping bag for your torso. By using more I-beam baffles in the construction of the parka (vs sewn through) BightGear completely eliminates cold-spots. The arms and hood feel just as lofty as the torso which I prefer in this “over all” type parka. I’ve worn this over my other layers down to -16 Fahrenheit while demoing snow pits at 4,400 feet on Mount Washington. Even after an hour of standing relatively still while teaching the basics of snow-pack evaluation I was kept toasty.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Using the volcanic capabilities of the Caldera to dry out after attempting to climb a full shower Black Pudding Gully- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

How Dry Is It?

The BightGear Caldera uses a silky 20D nylon rip-stop with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. Most of the days I tested the parka were in temperatures well below those where I would encounter any liquid precipitation. I did expose it to a rather drippy ice climb a couple weeks ago and noticed water beads off as expected with a DWR finish. I also wore it over a soaked soft-shell jacket following a deluge of an ice climb and it dried me out quite quickly without feeling like it absorbed to much of the moisture. I’ve become a huge fan of the DWR treated down used in this parka as I believe regular down would quickly become a wet lump of non-insulating feathers under similar conditions.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Legit testing by one of the most renowned guide companies out there! Photo courtesy of Jordan Cargill

How Light and Pack-able Is It?

BightGear lists the weight of a size large at 646 grams (22.8 ounces). My home scale weighed my large in at 640 grams (22.6 ounces). This is within an ounce of other similar style/priced options. It easily stuffs into my Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack and if packing space is at a real premium I can use my extra small compression stuff sack to get this down to the size of a 32 ounce water bottle!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Easily stuffs into my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultralight Stuff Sack
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Gets even smaller in my XS compression stuff sack

Minutiae

BightGear included a lot design choices to further make the Caldera one of the best down parkas I’ve ever tested. The hood fits perfectly over my climbing helmet and is well stuffed with down making it a comfortable place to retreat in the harshest conditions. The brushed tricot lining on the inside collar is super cozy when in “full turtle” mode. This same lining is in the well positioned hand warming front pockets. Articulated elbows make this jacket fit great over my other layers and the PowerStretch cuffs seal out cold and snow while playing in deep snow. There are also two stretchy inside stash pockets that can hold gloves or a water bottle.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Be warm and toasty hood easily fits over my climbing helmet

Summary

It is clear that the BightGear Caldera Parka was designed by working mountain guides. It has everything you want in a big down “puffy” and nothing you don’t want. Of all the down parkas I have tested this one stands out as a top-pick for many reasons, not the least of which is the “half-sleeping bag” type feeling you get when you slip this on over your other layers. If you are looking to upgrade your belay jacket this one would be an excellent choice!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Essentially a nice puffy down “sleeping bag for your torso”… with the right layers and a bivy sack this is a great option for a bivy sleep system.

Exclusive 30% Off Discount!

I am super excited to be able to offer my readers a 30% off discount on ANY thing from BightGear’s Website! While I can not post the code publicly here all you need to do is shoot me a DM through Instagram, a PM through Facebook, or go old school and shoot me an email at nealpinestart@gmail.com! This discount is only good until April 1st, 2019 so don’t delay!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. 

 

Creating Recreational Maps With Modern Tools

I finally finished the curriculum for a 4 hour course designed to teach outdoor enthusiasts and professionals how to create, print, and use custom maps that are better than any map currently available from an outdoor retailer or publisher. Monday night I held the first course in partnership with the Kennett High School’s Adult Education Program. In attendance were some members of Granite Backcountry Alliance and the Conway Police Department.

map example
This map show some of the features available when making maps on CalTopo like DEM Shading (red is possible wind slab issues based off avalanche bulletin data), range rings (no camping .25 miles from AMC hut, creating routes, decision points, and run lists, in addition to using polygons to mark “open” and “closed” terrain based on snow-pack conditions. This is purely a fictional example meant to illustrate what is possible with the tool.

Feedback from participants was quite positive and I’m ready to offer this course to the general public. Unlike my 8-hour Wilderness Navigation Course this course is 100% indoors. Participants need a laptop, IOS or Android smartphone, and the Avenza and GuidePace apps to take full advantage of the content.

Wilderness Navigation Course
Being able to determine a bearing from physical map and then follow it in real life is a critical skill for traveling in the mountains. Here students are putting morning classroom instruction to practical use while trying to hit a target half a mile through dense forest

Yesterday I offered an abbreviated version of this course in conjunction with some of my Wilderness Navigation content for a couple members of the Durham and North Conway, NH Fire Departments. With some adaptation this content is quite suitable for professionals who participate in search & rescue efforts.

After positive feedback from today’s participants I will be reaching out to Fire Departments around the state to see if they would be interested in this training. If you belong to an outdoor group or organization that might like to include this in your training regime please reach out to me for more details at nealpinestart@gmail.com.

My Compass

Every course has participants asking me what compass they should get. I’ve been a fan of the Suunto MC-2 for almost two decades! I wrote a long review on this compass here!

See you in the mountains (hopefully not lost),

Northeast Alpine Start