Gear Review- AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes

It’s no secret I have a thing for approach shoes. I’m lucky that I get to demo so many models each year. Occasionally a pair really stick out to me as a well designed high performing standout. The Italian made AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes are this season’s stand out and I’m excited to finally share my experiences and thoughts on this shoe and brand!

Let’s start with how I tested:

Test period: Early May – Late August

Use: Day hiking in the White Mountains, approx. 50 miles and 16,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Summited Mount Washington, Cardigan, Jackson, and Mount Chocorua wearing these.

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

Manufacturer Description:

The DFS Rock collection uses a ground breaking Dual Fit System (“DFS”) to give you both maximum comfort during your approach and high performance fit while climbing and scrambling. The Rock DFS has two separate lace zones that utilize lightweight webbing that wraps around and under your foot which enables you to customize your shoe for the fit you want. The Rock DFS midsole incorporates a lightweight EVA foam for cushioning and a polyurethane heel for durability and support. The midsole is then wrapped with sticky climbing rubber to protect your shoe and to provide extra grip. Together with a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip, the resulting Rock DFS offers a high-performance approach shoe for all day comfort.

DUAL FIT SYSTEM
AKU’s DFS collection of approach shoes allows for optimum enjoyment and maximum confidence over the most demanding terrain. Whether you’re on flat trails or going vertical, AKU DFS shoes will take you there in comfort.

VIBRAM APPROACH
The VIBRAM Approach sole is designed to make quick work of trails while giving also giving you the confidence to edge and smear on your climb.

AKU ELICA TECHNOLOGY
ELICA Technology ensures an anatomical fit to provide better stability and weight distribution across your boot sole to reduce pressure points and encourage better hiking form.

  • Upper: 1.6mm Suede Leather, Air 8000 & Microfiber
  • Lasting board (stiffness): Soft Flex
  • Footbed: Ortholite Hybrid
  • Midsole: Dual Density EVA & PU
  • Outsole: VIBRAM® Approach
  • Upper protection: Rubber Rand
  • Weight Per Shoe: 380 Grams

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

Opinions:

It is hard for me to pick the attribute I liked the most out of these shoes so I’ll randomly start with…

Comfort

Out of the box these fit my feet perfectly. AKU suggests to order a half size smaller than your “normal AKU boot size” for a “performance fit”. I’ve never worn an AKU boot before so this suggestion wouldn’t help me. I went with my normal US 8.5, EUR 42 that works well for me for LaSportiva boots and shoes and the fit was perfect. The toe box had plently of room while still maintaining a slim profile, and the heel cup was shaped perfect for my feet with zero slippage while ascending granite slabs. The footbed and midsoles offer great cushioning over our rocky and root ridden trails. The soft flex lasting board also kept my feet from feeling sore after many above tree line miles.

Advanced Lacing

The two separate “lace zones” definitely helps these shoes standout in the category. There is a typical toe to top of ankle style lacing system then a shorter quick lace system on top of the lower part of the foot. The idea is you can have them laced comfortably for a long approach and then crank the quick pull system tight for more technical scrambling. While it might sound gimmicky at first in reality this system works great! I wore them comfortably laced up the famous Huntington Ravine Trail (often referred to as the most dangerous hiking trail in the White Mountains) then tightened the secondary lacing system for the 1000 foot semi-technical scramble out of the ravine. The snug more precise fit was comforting both on these section and while technical rock climbing YDS 5.5 face climbing across the road at Square Ledge.

Traction/Grip

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

AKU uses a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip and with a “soft flex” lasting board I found the traction of these to be excellent. I tested them on wet rock slabs and steep muddy trails around Ripley Falls. The performance in this category is excellent.

Durability

The thickness of the outsole combined with the full circumference rubber toe rand gives me confidence in the overall durability of these. It is sometimes difficult to talk about durability after just a few months of use but close inspection of these inspires confidence in all levels of construction. They truly look and feel “Italian” made and I would predict these easily lasting over 1k miles.

Company Values/History

Liking a product a company makes is already a bonus for me, but when that company is authentic and socially responsible that’s icing on my cake! If you’d like to learn a little more about AKU’s history and philosophies check out this five minute YouTube video:

Summary

This is the first AKU shoe I have ever demo’d and I’m highly impressed with the brand after this experience. I’ll definitely be trying one of their mountaineering boots, hopefully this winter. If you are shopping for a new pair of approach shoes or a great below the ankle day hiker this is an Italian made model that performs as advertised and doesn’t break the bank. I plan on summiting many more of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers in these (between finding time to test other brands/models). I highly recommend trying a pair of these.

Purchase: You can purchase these directly from AKU. The men’s models come in both the regular version and a Goretex model, as well as a Mid version for those who desire more ankle support. The women’s model is currently only available in the Goretex version.

The author purchased these for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start. Thank you.

Gear Review- Osprey Poco Kid Carrier

This is a different kind of “review” than I normally post as both my kids have now outgrown our beloved Osprey Poco Premium Kid Carrier that we used for over 7 years and close to 250 trail miles in the White Mountains. In fact this item was probably the most important item I owned when I first started blogging with my “Adventure With Alex” blog… a father/son hiking journal… If you scroll through some of those older posts of the now suspended blog you’ll see this iconic backpack all over the place, including probably our most memorable which was Alex’s first 4000 footer, Mount Washington!

Plus

While our days using this pack have ended seeing Osprey continue to improve the design and create what I felt was the best kid carrier on the market 10 years ago, including a new “LT” model that is about 3 pounds lighter than our older “Premium” model, has inspired me to share this with other newer adventurous parents who might follow me!

If you’re looking for the best kid carrier backpack available consider one of these three models…

Osprey Poco

Osprey Poco LT <- lightest and most affordable

Osprey Poco Plus <- deluxe with removable kid sized day pack and most storage

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

How to Prepare for a Winter Hike in the White Mountains

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains

A quick look at hiking forums online confirms what I am expecting… unprecedented new winter hikers will be visiting the White Mountains this winter. In order to help these newcomers more safely enter the sport of winter hiking I’ve compiled a list of resources and advice below.

Weather

Likely the single most over-looked piece of information prior for a first winter hike is obtaining an accurate regionally specific weather forecast. If you are planning a winter hike in the White Mountains you should consult the Higher Summits Forecast for a few days before your planned hike and the morning of! Things change fast in the mountains and the forecast is published around 4am which should be in time for you to get an accurate update before you leave the car.

Gear

The second most likely mistake to make is not bringing the right equipment. Every one on the hike should at a minimum carry “The Ten Essentials“. I’ll list some of my personal recommendations below and add some opinions/advice.

Cell Phone– While this one isn’t officially on the list it should be. The mistake is thinking this can replace any of the other 10 essential items. You should not rely on having service or any battery life left. A mapping app does not replace a physical map. The phone’s flashlight does not replace a real headlamp. Cell phones are susceptible to cold weather, so they should be kept warm, inside a chest or thigh pocket. Most importantly, leave the car with a fully charged phone and immediately put the phone on AIRPLANE mode! While on airplane mode you can still take pictures and use the phone’s GPS chip to track your hike if you are using pre-downloaded mapping apps. If you are not on airplane mode your battery we die quickly as your phone searches for a signal in out of service areas.

Personal Locator Beacon– With cell phone service not guaranteed many experienced hikers are choosing to invest in a personal locator beacon (PLB). While a bit expensive (what insurance isn’t) a PLB works through a satellite network so you can request help, or let worried family know you are just running a little late, from virtually anywhere. The best kind of PLB’s allow for two way communication and custom messaging. It’s much easier for search and rescue to respond when we have a message about what the actual emergency is. One of the most popular models on the market that can do that right now is the Garmin InReach Mini.

Headlamp– You might think you can finish the hike before dark but everyone in the group should carry their own headlamp. For serious winter hiking I like headlamps that can really throw some light and perform well in the cold, like the Petzl Swift RL Headlamp. A more budget friendly option would be the Petzl Actik Headlamp. I actually stuff a Petzl Zipka Headlamp into my first aid kit as a back-up headlamp for when someone forgets theirs. I also use lithium batteries in all my headlamps for long life and excellent cold weather performance.

Map– The AMC publishes 6 great maps that cover the entire White Mountain National Forest. You could also learn how to make your own custom maps for free on a website like CalTopo.com, if you have your own quality color printer (or have UPS Store/Staples print them for you). Do not solely rely on your cell phone app to keep you from getting lost. Battery life can quickly drain in cold temps and we do reach temperatures below the operating range of the phone display’s.

Compass– Figuring out direction is the most basic part of wilderness navigation and there is no better way to do that than to use a compass. A solid basic model is the Suunto A-30L Compass. My personal all-time favorite professional grade compass is the Suunto MC-2 Pro Compass. Don’t know how to use a map & compass together to properly navigate? Take a quality Wilderness Navigation Course and/or get a good book on the topic!

First Aid Kit– There are lots of commercial first aid kits of various sizes and quality. For the last two decades I’ve started with the Adventure Medical Kit Ultralight and Watertight Series, the .7 size, and supplemented it a little. I’m also happy with a new My Medic Solo First Aid Kit I’ve started carrying. Any first aid kit I grab I usually stuff some extra medications in it, a spare Petzl Zipka Headlamp, a small knife, a fire-starter, and some chemical hand warmers.

The rest of the list includes; extra clothes, food, water, sun protection, etc.

Timing

Many rescues, accidents, and near misses share something in common… late start times. Darkness comes quick in the winter months so an early start increases your overall safety and leave wider margins for unexpected mishaps. Many experienced winter hikers prefer to hit the trail right at dawn. Starting a 4000 footer at 11am is riskier than starting a 4000 footer at 7am.

Knowing when to turn back

One of the hardest skills to develop as a new winter hiker is determining when to turn it around and head back towards safety. We want to be challenged and meet success on our hiking trips but we must be careful to always balance the delicate risk vs reward scale. Many books and articles have been written on the topic of lost life in the Presidential Range and greater White Mountain Region. You can learn from these tragedies and remember to stay humble… we are all prone to making mistakes. Some books on the topic worth checking out:

Not Without Peril

Where You’ll Find Me <- my short blog post about this event is here

The Last Traverse <- currently reading to review

Guided Instruction

For many the best way to get into winter hiking is to do so with people who are already experienced at winter hiking. The Appalachian Mountain Club has a very long history of helping people learn to recreate in the mountains safely and responsibly. They have tons of courses and guided hikes designed for the aspiring new winter hiker.

If you’re goal is to travel above treeline in the winter there are a host of well established guide services that offer quality programs and can rent you the specialized equipment you might not want to purchase yet as you’re just dipping your toes into the sport of winter hiking (like plastic mountaineering boots, crampons, mountaineering axe, etc). Better yet their guides will teach you how to properly pack, adjust layers during the day, walk with crampons on, self arrest, with an axe, etc).

Here’s is a list of some of the most known companies that run trips in the White Mountains;

Northeast Mountaineering <- disclaimer I work for this company

EMS Schools

International Mountain Climbing School

Ragged Mountain Guides

Synnott Mountain Guides

Redline Guiding

Chauvin Guides

Acadia Mountain Guides

REI Adventures

(if you are a guide service that leads winter hikes in the White Mountains and were not included in the above list please contact me to be added)

Get Educated

Other than the knowledge you can gain from the above guided experiences there are two skills every hiker should obtain early on in their hiking career, Wilderness Navigation Skills and Wilderness First Aid Skills. While you can learn some of these skills from sources like YouTube nothing beats hands on training with quality instructors.

More Info

Check out the Hike Safe website. It has great information to help you plan your hike including “The Code“. Also please consider purchasing a Hike Safe Card from New Hampshire Fish and Game. This purchase adds crucial funding to a very tight budget for search and rescue in NH and might help you avoid incurring the cost of a rescue should you need one.

From NHFG website:

It is important to note that people may still be liable for response expenses, if they are deemed to be reckless or to have intentionally created a situation requiring an emergency response.

Summary

Winter hiking is an amazing sport and one I have enjoyed for over thirty years. It can be magical, beautiful, spiritual, exhilarating, and grandiose. It can also go from a fun outing to dangerous and deadly quite quickly. My best advice is to start off slow, read some books or articles on it, seek advice from quality outdoor retailers, join a hiking group, start with smaller hikes and save Mount Washington or the Franconia Ridge for when you’ve got some experience under your belt. Maybe hire a guide or instructor and take a formalized course. Most importantly though… please come home at the end of your hike.

Winter Hiking Tips White Mountains
The author enjoying a cold day up on Mount Washington a few winters ago

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. If you make a purchase through one of them the author receives a small commission at no additional cost to you. The author is also a guide who works for Northeast Mountaineering, which was listed alongside other guide services in the area. You are responsible for your own safety. The use of any information in this post is at your own risk.

Gear Review: Hoka One One Sky Arkali Hiking Shoe (and GIVEAWAY!)

Hoka One One Sky Arkali ReviewHoka One One (pronounced Hoka oh-nay oh-nay) released their new multi-use hiking shoe, the Sky Arkali, back in March of 2019. Over the last few months I’ve hiked a few dozen miles in the White Mountains with them and I’m ready to share the results!


Buy on Backcountry (Men’s and Women’s)

Buy on REI (Just Men’s)

Buy on Moosejaw (Just Men’s)


First here is the manufacturer’s description of the shoe:

The Arkali continues to challenge what’s possible in a hiking shoe. There’s off-road, offtrail and then there’s off the map. HOKA ONE ONE® has just gone vertical with the Arkali. A combination of running shoe innovation (light and comfortable), climbing shoe technology (exceptional grip and traction) and hiking boot engineering (rugged and protective), the Arkali looks ready for anything. And with a MATRYX® upper, high-abrasion toe cap and adjustable heel and ankle straps, it is. It features a PROFLY™ midsole, which has a softer heel and more responsive toe-off, plus 5mm multidirectional Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs. The Arkali is waiting to take you to the top of the world.

FEATURES

  • MATRYX® upper featuring high-tensile synthetic fiber strands across the midfoot for unparalleled strength and durability at minimal weight
  • High-abrasion rubber toe cap extends to the midfoot for increased protection
  • Ankle and heel straps offer structural and proprioceptive support on uneventerrain
  • PROFLY™ midsole for a cushioned landing and propulsive toe-off
  • EVA top midsole for running shoe cushion at an incredibly light weight
  • Rangi™ bottom foam offers durable cushioning and a responsive feel
  • Vibram® Megagrip hi-traction outsole with 5mm lugs
  • Multidirectional lugs for supreme grip
  • 100% Vegan
  • RN 88276

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

Now let’s get into how they performed!

Out of the box the first thing I noticed was these are much more of a shoe then the ultra-light approach type shoes I typically review. I had heard a lot about the comfort of Hoka One One shoes and was looking forward to seeing what all the hype was about. The most obvious characteristic of the brand is the noticeable amount of “cushion” these shoes employ. From out-sole to insole I measure a full 1.75 inches of cushion. This is easily double the amount of cushioning in all other brands of hiking and approach shoes I have reviewed and a brand trait that has made Hoka One One quite popular in the running world.

Despite the bulk of the shoe I was impressed to see that Hoka was able to keep the weight down to just shy of a pound per shoe. I will mention that Hoka does not specify on their website that they are not listing the “per pair” weight, but actually listing “per shoe” weight. That’s a little odd in my opinion as almost all shoe manufacturers list weight “per pair”. Regardless, the shoe is noticeably lighter than many hiking boots on the market especially when considering the amount of comfort and support I will get into in more detail below. But first let’s go over fit and sizing…


Fit and Sizing

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

I wear between a US men’s size 8.5 and size 9 depending on the brand and for these I went with the 8.5. I have a medium width foot with a slight Morton’s tow and average arch. These fit my feet quite well with plenty of width if my foot was a little on the wider side. The approach shoe style lacing made it easy to snug them up for a semi-technical descent and I had plenty of wiggle room on the spacious toe box. The lacing and Velcro system easily held my feet in place while descending so I had no issue with “toe bang” while moving fast downhill. To help with sizing Hoka has collected this feedback from purchaser’s:

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review


Comfort

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

While the fit was great the true test came on a rugged and heavily rooted trail on Mount Chocorua. After each mile I became aware of how well the extra padding in these shoes was keeping the bottom of my feet for getting the least bit tender. When I test thinner approach style shoes I often search for smoother surfaces while hiking to avoid late day foot soreness but these hiking shoes are so protective under foot that I stopped looking for the ideal foot placements and just cruised along.

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

They are not waterproof, which doesn’t bother me at all as I prefer breath-ability over waterproof for all my non-winter adventuring. That said they did feel a little on the warm side, which was perfect for the crisp Fall hikes I’ve been using them on but they did feel like they might be a little warm for hot weather trips.


Traction

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

The Hoka One One Sky Arkali boosts one of the most aggressive soles I’ve tested in this category. 5mm Vibram® Megagrip rubber lugs tore up and down multiple wooded trails and performed well on low angle wet and dry slab. I would not push these into low 5th class terrain like some truly dedicated approach shoes as the amount of space between your foot and the footholds, along with the style of out-sole, do not inspire confidence in technical terrain. For 95% off the White Mountain trail system these have more than enough traction!


Summary

My first test run of a Hoka One One shoe went quite well. I can see how adding a bit more cushioning might remove some of the sensitivity of the shoe but it goes a long way at keeping your feet happy after pounding down a dozen miles of rough trail. So who are these for? They are a bit bulky for rock climbers to use as an approach shoe. I think these are a great choice for day hiking, fast hiking, and trail running if your prefer more padding over saving a few ounces. Long distance ultra-light backpackers will find this a solid choice as well. Ultimately anyone who has ever had sore feet after a long hike might benefit from trying the Hoka One One brand, and the Sky Arkali is a great place to start!

Buy on Backcountry (Men’s and Women’s)

Buy on REI (Just Men’s)

Buy on Moosejaw (Just Men’s)


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Hoka One One Sky Arkali Review

Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot every footwear review I do this year will include a chance to win a two bottles of the best damn foot deodorizer on the planet! I seriously use this stuff daily and my wife reminds me if I forget (my feet used to stink really bad). There are multiple ways to earn entries so just click the Rafflecopter link below and good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created here.

Gear Review- Mammut Saentis Low Hiking Shoes (And Friendly Foot Giveaway!)

Mammut Saentis Low Review

A few months ago I received a pair of Mammut Saentis Low Hiking Shoes to review. I’ve since logged over 100 miles of White Mountain mileage in them and am ready to share my thoughts in a review. Let’s start with the manufacture claims then get into how they faired on the trail!


Manufacturer Description:

Extremely light and flexible: the Saentis Low Men is a reliable multipurpose shoe for a range of applications. It performs excellently on fast-paced narrow forest trails but will also be an essential favorite lightweight shoe for the mountains. Its Michelin® sole gives it excellent grip and an optimum sure-footed step on uneven terrain. The outer material impresses with an extremely breathable mesh as well as robust properties for pleasant comfort and durability. From ascent to descent – the Saentis Low Men will take every situation in its stride and prove its great versatility.

Mammut Saentis Hiking Shoes Review

Features:

  • Last index: mtrTech
  • Flex index: A4
  • Vent Mesh
  • Hybrid Shell: Blend of supple inner and tough outer materials for enhanced comfort and good adaptability.
  • Pre-shaped tongue construction
  • TPU toe cap
  • Cushioning Strobel construction
  • Michelin® rubber compound
  • Weight (UK 8.5) [g]340 <- my home scale put a pair of size UK 8 at 694 grams
  • Cut Basic

Sizing/Fit

I went with a men’s US 9, EUR 42, UK 8. This size fit my feet perfectly with more room in the toe box than I am accustomed to since I most often wear more technical approach shoes. The heel cup and forefoot width felt perfect with plenty of stretch to accommodate a wider foot. These might not be ideal for someone with a very narrow foot.

Mammut Saentis Hiking Shoes Review

Mammut Saentis Hiking Shoes Review


Performance

  • Breathability– The feature I most noticed during testing was the extreme breathability of these shoes. I wore them on multiple hot and humid hikes through July and August and my typically hot feet stayed much cooler than some other shoes I’ve tested in this category recently. While the vent mesh is super breathable this is not a water resistant shoe so you should hop over those puddles rather than plow through! If you do get them wet they dry quite quickly!

  • Traction– The Michelin® sole on these performed extremely well on dirt, mud, sand, and typical forest duff. On wet rock traction performance was a bit diminished over some softer approach shoe soles but still better than the types of soles found on most hiking boots.

  • Comfort– As I mentioned earlier these fit my feet quite perfectly. The stretch mesh lining would easily accommodate a wider foot but my medium width feet stayed secure while traversing low angle slopes and the lacing system was very sufficient at keeping my feet from sliding forward during descents. The midsoles have plenty of cushioning for long days on the trail and the excellent breath-ability made wearing them a pleasure on multiple warm/hot hikes!

  • Durability– While I can’t comment too much on durability after just 100 or so miles I can attest that the appear to be holding up quite well. Close inspection of the stitching and junctions of the outer materials reveals these are crafted with the attention to detail Mammut is well known for! I have no doubt these could last for 800-1000 miles!

Mammut Saentis Hiking Shoes Review


Summary

Mammut Saentis Hiking Shoe Review

These are a great choice for trail running, hiking, and ultra-light backpacking. At $129 MRSP they offer an excellent value in a high quality hiking shoe. If you put a high priority on breath-ability, low weight, and comfort you should take a look at these!

Buy from Mammut

Buy on Backcountry

Buy on Moosejaw

Buy on Amazon


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer
Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

Thanks to my friends at Friendly Foot I’ll be giving away two bottles of the best foot deodorizer ever made! I’m not kidding my wife notices right away if I haven’t been using my Friendly Foot powder! See for yourself how you and your loved ones need not suffer smelly feet by entering to win a bottle of the powder and the spray at the RaffleCopter link below!

Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Comment below!

What’s your favorite hiking trail or trail run? Let me know in the comments below for an extra entry into the giveaway!

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links support the content created at Northeast Alpine Start. 

Personal Gear List

I often get asked what gear I personally use so I’m creating a more permanent post that I will update when ever I upgrade something in my kit.

The Essentials

Hydration: My standard day trip hydration strategy starts with a 32 ounce wide mouth Nalgene bottle. I will occasionally supplement with some Nuun Electrolytes + Caffeine tablets and often add a 25 ounce Thermos filled with hot tea or an espresso style drink.

Nutrition: Left over pizza from Flatbread Company is hands down my favorite food to carry in the mountains but can strain the food dollars a bit. GrandyOats is the best granola I’ve ever tried and is almost always in my pack. I’m currently reviewing some tasty offerings from Patagonia Provisions and will share that experience soon! I also occasionally carry some soup or homemade chili in a Hydroflask Food Flask.

Navigation: I make my own custom maps using CalTopo and import them into the Avenza app on my iPhone. I’ll also print a hard copy to use in the field and carry the Suunto MC-2 Compass. I currently use the Garmin 3 HR Watch but wish to upgrade to the Garmin Fenix 5X Sapphire GPS Watch.

First Aid Kit: I start with an Adventure Medical Ultralight .7 First Aid Kit and supplement with with a few extra pairs of Nitrile gloves, extra medications, iodine tablets, and a sam splint. I also stuff my backup headlamp and knife in my first aid kit so if I have my kit the next two items are definitely with me!

Headlamp: I currently use the Petzl Actik Core Headlamp and a Petzl Zipka Headlamp stuffed in my First Aid Kit as a back-up. I would like to get the Petzl Nao+ Headlamp for night skiing and riding.

Knife: A simple folding knife is always in my first aid kit, like this one.

(much more coming soon)

 

Gear Review- Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review

The Five Ten Access Knit approach shoes are a stylish super breathable cross over between casual kicks and performance approach shoes. I’ve been testing a pair on trails and climbs for two months now and will share my impressions in this review. First the manufacturer details and specifications.

Buy from Adidas (Five Ten)Backcountry or REI


Manufacturer Description and Specifications

The Stealth® PH™ outsole on the Access Knit features a climbing zone for added durability, technical edging and smearing performance. The lightweight EVA midsole has a high rubber content which increases shock absorption and adds durability. The knit upper provides a snug, sock-like fit and added breathability.
  • MATERIAL: Polyester Textile/Synthetic
  • BENEFIT: Stealth
  • WEIGHT: 12.1 oz (343 gm)
  • Breathable & snug, sock-like knit upper
  • Rubberized exoskeleton lacing system for added torsional support
  • Reinforced toe cap protection
  • Injection-molded EVA midsole
  • Stealth® PH™ non-marking outsole
  • Recommend ordering 1/2 size larger than your standard shoe size

Fit and Sizing

I went with a US Men’s size 9 (EUR 42) and the fit is pretty generous for my medium width feet with slight Morton’s toe. At first “try on” they feel pretty similar to the fit of a pair of NRS Water Shoes. There is definitely enough width for these to be an option for folks looking for a wider fit. Narrow feet might need to size down or risky sliding around a bit. The heel cup is well sized with a rubberized stiffener providing a secure hold. The toe box is also generous with plenty of wiggle room. I’ve worn these both with and without socks and had no discomfort after 8+ mile hikes.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes- Roomy casual fit


Hiking Performance

These are pretty ideal for long distance comfort, especially in hot weather. My feet are notoriously warm and sweaty and probably the greatest strength of this model is the high breathability due to the almost all knit upper. The EVA Midsole is thick and provides plenty of cushion on the most demanding descents. They are not waterproof but do dry very quickly when you mis-step while rock hopping over that stream. Most hikers will be overly impressed with the performance of the dot pattern Stealth® PH™ non-marking outsole when it comes to walking up wet slabby rock but miss a more aggressive lug pattern in muddy or very soft trail conditions. The torsional rigidity falls in the middle of the spectrum, offering more rigidity and support than the softer LaSportiva TX2 but not as stable platform as the Five Ten Camp Four.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Sock like design does not have a traditional padded tongue

The lacing unfortunately does not extend further down the toe so you can’t really snug them up for a “performance lace”. In fact lacing them too tight led to some uncomfortable pressure on the top of the foot as the model does not really have any padding in the seamless tongue (similar to a neoprene wet shoe). Overall these are quite comfy on flat and moderate trails. The casual fit is most noticed on steep descents where the lack of form in the upper is noticed as the foot moves around a bit in these moments.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Legendary Five Ten Stealth Rubber Outsoles!

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Supportive heel cup with ample EVA cushioning in the midsole


Climbing Performance

To test their climbing ability I took a lap up Upper Refuse (5.6) on Cathedral Ledge and Sea of Holes (5.7) on Whitehorse Ledge. As expected they smear great with that legendary Stealth rubber! Edging performance was a bit lacking due to the very rounded edges on the toe portion of the outsole. There is a heel loop for clipping them to your harness when it’s time to switch to actual rock climbing shoes and the knit upper is quite crushable for storing in a small pack though the heel stiffener that provides a nice hold on the heel resists crushing so they will take up a little more room than the LaSportiva TX2, but much less room then the Five Ten Camp Four. I did not test them much in cracks as I think it’s obvious the knit upper would take a real beating if they were used in such a manner. Overall these climb “ok” but I would stick with models like the Five Ten Guide Tennie or LaSportiva TX4 for more serious technical climbing.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Casual toe design, the outsole smears great but doesn’t edge as well


Summary

This new model is an interesting addition to the Five Ten line. If thought of as a casual lifestyle type shoe that can handle a mellow or moderate approach they fit the bill. People with hot feet who don’t mind trading a little overall support for awesome breathability should take a look at these. Hikers and climbers with wide feet may find this model to live up to its “sock like fit”.

Buy from Adidas (Five Ten)Backcountry or REI

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclosure: The product links provided in this post are affiliate links. Purchases made using these affiliate links go to support the content created here at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

 

GrandyOats Granola Review- And Contest!

Honestly I’ve never been a fan of granola, GORP (Good Ole’ Raisins and Peanuts), or trail mix preferring an eclectic mix of cured meats, hard cheeses, left over Flatbread, and home-made trail sushi. That is to say until I met some folks from GrandyOats during this past April’s Wild Corn event. They handed me a sample as I passed their vendor table and while chatting with other attendees and munching on my sample I discovered what good granola really is.

GrandyOats Review

Since 1979 these real life Granola’s have been making wholesome organic hand mixed food in Western Maine. Their business philosophy is rooted in a sustainable life-style where good business is just not profitable but environmentally and socially responsible.  You can read more on their story here.

Having been convinced that this quality of granola was changing my long held belief that granola is bland and boring I swung back around to their vendor table for a conversation and asked for a larger sample to take with us on our upcoming Iceland trip. They obliged with a 6-pack of Chocolate Chunk Coconola- Coconut Granola.

GrandyOats Review
Photo by Erik Howes

Here’s the official description of this tasty blend of goodness:

Chocolate Chunk Coconola is the delicious evolution of granola. This paleo, gluten-free, organic granola is vegan and loaded with coconut chips, seeds, nuts and dark chocolate. It’s made by hand in small batches at our solar-powered bakery and just like the sun, Coconola provides you with sustained energy to power your adventures.

  • Certified Organic
  • Certified Gluten-Free
  • Grain-Free & Certified Paleo Friendly
  • Non-GMO Verified
  • Kosher
  • Made in Small Batches at a Solar-Powered Baker

Ingredients: Organic Unsweetened Coconut, Organic Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Sunflower Seeds, Organic Coconut Nectar, Organic Dark Chocolate (organic cane sugar, organic cocoa liquor, organic cocoa butter), Organic Sesame Seeds, Organic Pecans, Organic Cashews, Organic Maple Syrup and Organic Vanilla.


What struck me as different from the admittedly low amounts of granola I have eaten over the years is how light this granola feels while munching. This is not only impart due to GrandyOats using the highest quality ingredients they can source but also the perfect level of minimal process baking. With other granola’s I would need to mix them with yogurt, drown in milk, or constantly wash down each bite with some water. This granola goes down easily handful after handful with out feeling heavy or too dry.

While I’ve already admitted I’m not a granola connoisseur quite a few of my friends and fellow mountain guides are. Each time I’ve shared some of my stash with them the feedback is consistent. They love it. I’ve also been able to share this tasty snack with multiple guests while out guiding and I have yet to find someone who didn’t take that first bite and pause before saying something like “That’s good granola!”.

The 9 ounce bags have 8 servings, 170 calories per serving (1,360 total), and cost $8 each when bought in a 6-pack from their website. That’s 1$ a serving for something that was literally hand-crafted, sourced ethically, baked and mixed perfectly! It doesn’t just stop at granola though. GrandyOats has a while line of trail mixes, roasted nuts (Organic Turmeric Ginger Cashews!), and hot cereal.

If you are a granola or trail mix fan you got to try these guys out. I am grateful I got to discover I actually do like granola, especially when it is made like this!


CONTEST

Win a free 9 ounce bag of Chocolate Chunk Granola! Just click the Rafflecopter link below for ways to enter the drawing and you might find yourself munching on some seriously good granola soon! Contest ends 6/30.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

GrandyOats Review

 a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclaimer: Product samples were provided for purpose of review. All opinions are my own. Affiliate links help support the content created at this blog at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

 

Wilderness Navigation

This past weekend I took three students on a field trip to practice skills we had learned in evening classroom sessions the week prior as part of the MWV Career & Technical Center Adult Education Program.

Wilderness Navigation
Participants learn how to use Terrain Association to located their position then confirm their beliefs with solid Resection and Triangulation compass skills

This comprehensive 8 hour course goes far beyond a basic map & compass skills clinic. Classroom sessions cover such topics as “Survival/Improvised Navigation”, reading topographic maps, understanding the many uses of a compass, triangulation, magnetic declination, with emphasis on practical real life use!

Our field session includes a short easy/moderate hike to practice skills learned in the classroom; bushwhacking, single point resection, using hand-rails, creating a white-out navigation plan, all with plenty of 1 on 1 coaching and modeling.

Wilderness Navigation
My favorite compass, the Sunnto MC-2 <- Full review of this compass here

Wilderness Navigation
Plotting a bearing on a map can help you “stay found”

Wilderness Navigation
With a solid foundation of map and compass skills is paramount I also share available modern tech like this app “PeakFinder AR”

Wilderness Navigation
PeakFinder AR

This course is available year-round rain or shine! You can book directly here.

See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

P.S. Two giveaways still have some time left to enter! Learn about upping your bug defense kit here and enter to win some sweet bug dope and compare some of the best climbing cams on the market and enter to win one here!

Gear Review: Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack

This past September I was excited to receive the new Cassin Eghen 22 backpack to review. This alpine style pack had won “Editor’s Choice 2017” from Climbing Magazine who called it a “super tech summit pack”. Indeed this relatively small pack has a long list of features designed with both practicality and convenience in mind.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Huntington Ravine Trail, Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Buy on Amazon


How I tested

Over the Fall I took this pack rock climbing in both crag settings and alpine. I was able to get over 30 pitches of climbing in with it before switching gears to ice climbing and have since tested this pack in Huntington Ravine (Pinnacle Gully), Mount Willard, and Cannon (Black Dike). I’ll share the manufacture specs and description then get into my personal test results.


Specifications

  • 22-liter technical pack for rock, ice and mixed mountain ascents
  • Very strong fabric with reinforced Cordura bottom
  • Technical ice axe holders with a head-locker system on the bottom and Velcro straps on top
  • External helmet carrying system can be stowed away when not in use
  • Frameless back is lined with a removable 6 mm rigid pad that can be used as an emergency bivy pad
  • Connection points for the bottoms of the shoulder straps is higher for better weight distribution while climbing
  • External rope carrying system
  • Innovative new fast pull cord closure system has been optimized for use with gloves
  • External waterproof pocket for maps, phones and other essentials
  • Zippered inner pocket for valuables
  • Inner gear loop for organizing
  • Fixed daisy chains with compression straps for securing gear to the outside of the pack
  • Buckles are optimized for use with gloves
  • Removable waist belt with two adjustment points
  • Removable chest strap is height adjustable
  • Burly handle on top for hauling and clipping
  • Hydration compatible
  • WEIGHT

    915 g, 32.3 oz

    SPECS

    ID: 2446
    Volume: 22 L

    Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
    Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle, Huntington Ravine Mount Washington, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli


Description

Pizzo d’Eghen is the wildest and most remote mountain in the Grigne group in the Central Alps above the town of Lecco, the home of Riccardo Cassin. In 1932, Cassin first climbed one of his great routes on the Pizzo d’Eghen, ascending the huge chimney in the middle of the wall. The Eghen 22 is a tribute to this historic climb, the very kind of adventures it has been designed for. Elite alpinists and multi-pitch climbers have long been asking us for a purpose-built pack with the Cassin touch. It is here with the Eghen 22. The Eghen 22 is designed for fast and light missions on multi-pitch rock and ice routes. The bottom is constructed from super strong Cordura 500D and the side walls are constructed from strong, lightweight PU coated 210D HD Ripstop nylon. Maxed out, the Eghen 22 has 22 liters of capacity. When not full, the pack is designed to be compressed so it maintains a trim profile. The frameless back gets some rigidity from the removable 6mm rigid foam pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad. Other cold weather features include a new fast pull cord closure system and new buckles all designed for ffective use with gloves, and streamlined technical ice tool holders that can be stowed away when not in use. Essential multi-pitch climbing features include a removable waist belt, external waterproof pockets for the route map, an external rope carrying system that allows the rope to be carried on the top or bottom of the lid and an external helmet carrying system that stows away when not in use.

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Fairy Tale Traverse, Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle , Huntington Ravine Mount Washington New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli


Review

Durability: While difficult to gauge long-term durability when I’ve only put about 20 field days on the pack I can attest that some of those days were quite rugged with tight chimney squeezes and others had plenty of exposure to sharp pointy things (ice axes, screws, crampons). As mentioned in the description the bottom is built from a strong Cordura but not called out is the added durability gained from the innovative external waterproof pocket on the top “lid” of the pack. This favorite feature of mine makes the top of the pack feel as durable as the bottom and gives me a bit of confidence if I need to haul this pack up through a tight chimney. At the end of the test period the pack still looks great with no punctures, abrasions, lose seams, etc.

Comfort: For a 2 pound summit tech pack this one rides really well. That’s due in part to the nicely contoured gel-like shoulder straps and the 6 mm removable foam back pad that doubles as an emergency bivy pad (or a great splinting aid). Since this is a frame-less pack I wouldn’t chose to remove the back pad for any reason other than a first aid/bivy need as you would feel and rigid objects quite acutely. The thin waist belt (also removable) helps keep the pack centered when rock hopping the shifting talus field below Cannon cliff, and the sternum strap fully stabilizes the load.

Features: For a pack this size the list of features is incredibly long. I won’t relist everything already mentioned in the specifications and description but want to draw attention to both my favorite features, and what I feel might be missing or need improvement.

Waterproof Pocket

High on my list of favorites is the waterproof pocket. Interestingly Cassin calls this “external” but it is only accessible through the top draw-cord closure system so I think it should be considered “internal”. Regardless I don’t always carry my iPhone in a waterproof case and having this pocket that easily fits my phone, field book, headlamp, and lighter, has provided a nice bit of assurance that stuff that shouldn’t get wet won’t. If they made it accessible from the outside it would be even better and could actually be called “external”.

Helmet/Ice Tools Lashing

With multiple options for strapping on this equipment it took me a couple trips with my Cassin X Dream ice axes to figure out how to properly use the bottom straps. If you don’t run the straps through the “eye” on the head of the ice axe they can feel a little awkward when attached. However the redundancy of both a Velcro and a shock cord fastener for my ice axes assures even if I don’t use the bottom attachment correctly I am unlikely to lose my axe while glissading down off a climb. The shock cord fasteners also make a quick helmet attachment as the stoppers easily fit through the ventilation holes on my Petzl Sirocco helmet for quick securing.

Pack Closing System/Access

There is only one entry point to this pack and that is through the top via a type of “fold over” lid that covers a draw-cord “tube” style entrance. The draw-cord closure works well with gloves on both while opening and closing. Where I could see improvement would be the fastening strap that secures the “fold over” type lid. It’s upper attachment is at the bottom of this lid so if you strap a rope under this lid it carries pretty far away from you. If this strap was attached closer to the back panel I could carry the rope closer to my body, where I prefer.

UPDATE: Soon after posting a reader clued me in to the fact that the internal strap that I hadn’t found a use for could be threaded through the hydration port hole and provide an excellent way to keep the rope closer to the back, and directly over the waterproof pocket. I can now see this works great and wish there was more instruction either included with the product or available online!

Compression/Bells & Whistles

The pack comes with two compression straps and a helmet strap not installed and the literature with the pack provided no instructions on how to install these straps so they have sat unused in my gear room. None of the manufacture photos show these straps in use and I could not find any direction on their website, so that could be addressed! And while I don’t like “bells” on my backpacks I certainly like having a sternum strap whistle on all my technical backpacks. It’s come in handy to often to not always look for it!

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon

Cassin Eghen 22 Backpack Review
The Black Dike, Cannon Cliff, New Hampshire- photo by Peter Brandon


Summary

The Cassin Eghen 22 is a remarkable backpack. It’s not a true “bullet” pack and is more featured than your typical minimalist “summit” pack making it quite versatile. Designed for “alpinism, rock climbing, multi-pitch climbing, and ice climbing” this pack certainly performed well when tested during all these endeavors. If you are in the market for an advanced technical climbing pack take a close look at this one!

 Buy on Amazon

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above help support this blog at no cost to you!