Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec Trekking Poles

Logan here with a review of my Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec trekking poles. Spoiler alert, I love them! (From here on out, I will just refer to them as “Micro Varios”)

Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec Trekking Poles in Their Stuff Sack.

I got the Micro Varios as a replacement for a pair of REI Carbon Exp Vario Trekking Poles. So before I go into my review, let me say a quick word about those. The REI poles were a great idea: folding, extendable, carbon poles, with an aluminum bottom section. This struck a great balance between price, weight, and durability (the bottom being the most likely piece to break, and aluminum being stronger than carbon fiber). They also had quite comfortable foam grips, and very plush wrist straps. Unfortunately the poles had a few fatal flaws that undermined the brilliant idea. Firstly, the cord that bound the pieces together was fabric, with no rubber coating, meaning that it was bound to fray and break over time. More immediately though, the sections screwed together. Not only was this a bit of a pain, but they would constantly loosen over the course of the day, and this eventually stripped the threads, thus leading to their sad demise and subsequent return to REI.

Size and Weight

The most immediate difference I noticed after exchanging my old poles for the Micro Varios is just how micro they are! With a collapsed length of just 15 inches, they were nearly two inches shorter than the REI poles, but being fully aluminum they are able to be much skinnier without sacrificing strength. This leads to them being between one half and one third the size of the REI poles as a bundle, when broken down. In fact, they break down to about the same size as Michole’s Women’s Black Diamond distance FLZ adjustable poles, which are a bit shorter and are known for being extremely packable. And at just 18.3 ounces, they are only about 3 ounces heavier than the carbon poles from REI. As for adjustability, the Micro Varios can be used from 110 to 130 cm.

Women’s Black Diamond Distance FLZ on the Left, Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec on the Right.

Comfort and Usability

The Micro Varios boast a cork grip, something usually reserved for poles above their price point. The grip is definitely smaller than the REI poles, but they are very ergonomic and even in my fairly large hands, they are quite comfortable. Furthermore, they have a wonderfully designed rubber pommel on the top of the grips, and a foam grip under the actual grip. When using an ice axe and crampons, I like to keep a trekking pole in my off hand. In these situations, I never wear the wrist strap on my pole, so that I can easily discard it if I need that hand for a self-arrest. Descending steep snow and ice in this way, the pommel is a godsend, allowing me to constantly get the few extra inches I need, to use the pole as a cane, providing great reach for a third or fourth point of contact. When I am using the wrist straps, they are extremely comfortable, and quite easy to adjust. In fact, the wrist straps were a key feature, along with the cork handles, that set these poles apart from the Black Diamond Distance FLZ poles, when choosing my replacements.

Leki Micro Vario Poles Extended.

Break Down and Assembly

The Micro Varios use a very effective tensioning cord, with a beefy rubberized coating to keep the poles together, a huge upgrade from my old REI poles. The “Speedlock 2” system used to adjust the length is another bonus. It allows you to tighten or loosen the locking mechanism with a hand, even a gloved one. This is a huge bonus compared to most adjustable poles, which typically require a coin, knife, or some type of tool to adjust the tension on the locking mechanism.

Assembling and breaking down the poles is also, quick, simple, and efficient, using metal button that locks into place after extending the upper section of the poles. This in turn locks the lower sections. No more fumbling around screwing sections together, only to have them come unscrewed a few miles later! When it is time to stow the poles, simply push the button, and the poles collapse.

Leki Micro Vario Poles Break Down. Notice the red levers for adjustable length, the coating on the cord, and the adjustable wrist straps.

Overall

All in all the Micro Varios are a great set of poles. While average in weight among their most closely related competitors, they proved above average at virtually everything else. Their packability is second to none, their locking systems are easy to operate and adjust, and never came apart, even when used in snow, ice, and mud. Their comfort also sets them apart from other poles in their price range, with cork grips, a great pommel for caning down hills, and a long foam grip under the grip to choke up on the pole for violent inclines. A plush wrist strap only adds to this advantage, setting them apart from the Black Diamond distance FLZ poles, in particular.

I would definitely recommend these poles to anyone in the market for a pair of folding, adjustable poles. I have put them through enough rigors already to make me confident that they will not need replacing for quite sometime, but I strongly suspect that when the day comes to retire these poles, I will replace them with another pair of the same.

Want more info on trekking poles? Check out our trekking pole how to/buyer’s guide, and Michole’s review of the Black Diamond distance FLZ trekking poles.

To Trekking Pole or Not To Trekking Pole

To Trekking Pole or Not To Trekking Pole

Should I use trekking poles? How do I use trekking poles? Are trekking poles worth the money? Which trekking poles should I use?

 

Here, I will try to help you answer these questions. Naturally, some of these are rather subjective, so in those cases, take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Should I Use Trekking Poles?

 

Lets first address whether or not you should use trekking poles, because the answer to that question could undoubtedly render all the others irrelevant. For me, the answer is a resounding YES! This answer is not without some qualifications, but we will get to those.  Michole and I use our trekking poles on literally every hike we do. Granted, our hikes are almost uniformly over 10 miles, cover in excess of 1,000 feet of elevation, and cross difficult terrain. If you are doing leisurely two-mile walk around your local park, you could probably do without trekking poles. But in that case, you are probably not reading this article. Trekking poles come in handy in numerous ways. Mainly, they offer you four points of contact with the ground. This is invaluable in so many instances: mud, loose dirt/scree, steep hills, boulder hopping, or just walking on uneven terrain. Don’t think that having four points of contact is a big deal? Just ask yourself when is the last time you saw your dog take a bad step and sprain his/her ankle?

How to Use Trekking Poles?

 

This is a big one. This is probably the biggest caveat to whether or not you should use poles in the first place. Even if you are using them wrong, I still don’t think they really hurt, but why not get the full benefit? The three keys to using trekking poles efficiently are: choosing the correct pole length, properly adjusting the wrist strap, and swinging the poles effectively.

 

Length

 

Most people agree that your arm should be bent roughly 90 degrees at the elbow, when gripping your trekking poles, standing on flat ground. If your poles are adjustable, you can then adjust them shorter when going uphill and longer when going downhill, to keep that roughly 90 degree angle. This part is obviously rather subjective, and I use my poles much shorter. I typically adjust my trekking poles to 115 cm, and only adjust them when I am going down a steep grade and really need to reach out with them. This is significantly shorter than the standard90 degree angle recommendation, which would put my poles closer to 125 cm.

 

Wrist Straps

 

This is where most people go wrong with trekking poles. It is not at all uncommon to see people with their straps far too loose, or even forgoing the wrist straps completely. This is the main time when some might argue that the poles are a net disadvantage, though I believe that is a bit extreme. The wrist strap should be tight enough that when you put your hand through it from the bottom and grip the pole, you can release your grip and still lean on the strap. The tension this creates will also allow you to swing the poles simply by flicking your wrist. Getting this right will give you the benefit of four points of contact, with very little help from your arms. Then, when you do need to lean more on your poles, going up a loose or muddy hill for example, you still do not need to grip the poles tightly, saving still further fatigue.

 

Swinging  Your Poles

 

As mentioned above, proper wrist strap use will allow you to swing the poles with minimal effort by simply flicking your wrists. Now, you can swing your poles three ways:

 

  • With the nearest leg: Provides maximum relief to the knees. Personally, I find swinging each pole with its closest leg to be awkward and slow. I typically reserve this for going uphill in mud, scree, etc., where I am mildly mistrustful of my footing.

 

  • With the opposite leg: Provides greatest balance. I spend the vast majority of my time swinging my poles this way. This maximizes my balance, and while it allows for the least amount of lower to upper body weight transfer, I find it far by far the most efficient for keeping a fast pace.

 

  • Both poles at the same time: Provides greatest transfer of the load from your lower to upper body. I mainly use this when going up extreme inclines with very suspect footing. I often use a variation of the rest step this way, locking my back leg, and resting my front leg, while leaning on my poles. Alternatively, when running down hills, I use my poles this way to vault myself forward, essentially getting every third step from my poles, rather than my legs.

“Are trekking poles worth the money?” and “Which trekking poles are best for me?”

 

These questions are closely related. Basically, poles with more versatility and less weight cost more. Poles with fewer features and more weight cost less.

Features

 

This debate revolves primarily around telescoping vs. folding poles. And, within the folding category: adjustable vs. non-adjustable length poles.

 

  • Adjustable vs. non-adjustable poles: I’ll take the easier debate first. In my opinion, adjustable length is a feature that is absolutely worth the extra cost, and tiny bit of extra weight. If you are hiking solely on flat ground, this may not be an issue, but with any significant up or downhill, the adjustability becomes a huge boon. Even in the flats, you will likely be glad to have a pair of poles that you can dial in to your exact preferred length, rather than getting the non adjustable pole closest to standard for your height.

 

  • Folding vs. telescoping poles: Folding poles are almost uniformly more expensive than their telescoping counterparts, but they also tend to break down to nearly half the size of telescoping poles. So if packability is much of a factor for you, then folding poles are undoubtedly the answer. If you don’t see yourself needing to pack your trekking poles for any reason (flights, bus trips, stowing them out of the way when not in use), then you will probably be safe with telescoping poles. Telescoping poles are also universally adjustable by their nature, so that is a plus.

Parting Words

 

If you are ready to start researching particular poles head over and check out my review of the Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec trekking poles, and Michole’s review of the Black diamond Distance FLZ women’s pole.

 

As you can see, I am a huge fan of trekking poles, and find that they have many subtle uses beyond the obvious ones. For example: when descending hard packed snow using crampons and an ice axe, I love to use a trekking pole in my off hand. I forgo the wrist strap (so I can easily discard the pole should I need two hands to self arrest) and palm the top of the pole, using it as a long cane to help my balance and better distribute my weight. You can also use them as part of a makeshift shelter, or to hold up non-freestanding tents.

 

Do  have any out of the ordinary uses for trekking poles? Did you find this article helpful, have anything to add, or have any further questions? Drop us a line in the comments and let us know! And if you don’t, just drop us a line and tell us about your awesome adventures, with trekking poles or without! We hope to hear from you soon!

Valentine’s Day – Sport Climbing

Valentine’s Day – Sport Climbing

Valentine’s Day Sport Climbing

 

Happy Valentine’s Day! Actually, by the time this gets posted it will no longer be Valentine’s Day. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, I hope you are spending Valentine’s Day in a place you love, surrounded by people, or a/the person, that you love. We spent ours together learning to sport climb.

 

Michole and I have been wanting to get into sport climbing for a while now, so that we are not limited to strictly bouldering when we get to climb outdoors. Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it to any of the sport climbing classes that Hangar 18 offers, due to Michole’s crazy work schedule. We had kicked around the idea of paying the extra money for private classes, but never could bring ourselves around to spending the money.

 

Anyway, I decided to get us the classes as a Valentine’s Day gift (always give a gift that benefits you too, am I right?). I love surprising Michole, and I totally pulled it off. We were supposed to go climbing this morning anyway, so she was definitely surprised to find out that we were actually going for our first of three sport climbing classes.

 

The first hour or so was spent mostly going over different ways to clip, and the dos and don’ts that accompany clipping. Finally, we roped up to top rope, but also roped into a second rope, which we carried up to do a mock lead, clipping as we went. Given the fact that we were doing it at a location that does not regularly hold lead classes, there was no super easy route, and we used a combination of two routes, a 5.11a and 5.11d, climbing up past the bouldering area, where the wall begins to overhang, clipping four times up to the ceiling. It’s not very high, no higher than the regular top rope walls, but heights and overhangs are definitely my two weaknesses. I know I know, fear of heights aspiring rock climber… haha

 

I went first, but managed to skip the first bolt, having to backtrack for it, getting super pumped, and only ended up managing to get in two clips before my screaming forearms demanded that I be let down. Michole went next, and of course, she crushed it. Whereas I struggle to make the next move without a balanced three points of contact, Michole scrambles forward, making the routes she is most afraid seem to be her easiest ones.

 

I roped in again, arms rested, and this time clipped the first bolt as I passed it, making it all the way to the fourth one. I stalled, surprised by how difficult it was to maneuver the rope, unable to get a comfortable rest for my 6 foot one inch frame on the scrunched over hang. But finally, I managed to switch hands and clip it. I did it a second time with much less difficulty, then Michole had one last go before we had to rush off so she could get to work. This time she tried it only climbing the 5.11a. She sent it, making it look easy.

 

It blows my mind at how different our fear responses can be. Michole is terrified of the ocean, often choosing to stay on the beach for anything above waste high surf, while I take getting worked by overhead surf in stride. Heights on the other hand are completely different. Michole thinks nothing of them. Me? I don’t really care for step ladders. Whatever our strengths, our weaknesses, our fears and desires, we try to support each other. I know she makes a huge difference for me, and I hope I do the same for her. She is not only my partner in adventure, but she gives me the strength to do them.

 

So wherever you are this Valentine’s Day, or the next day or the next day for that matter, surround yourself with the people you love, the ones who support you going to the places you love, doing the things you love. Then go to those places, do those things, love those people. Have a grand adventure.

Backcountry Camping in Joshua Tree

Backcountry Camping in Joshua Tree

Logan Here!

 

Michole and I just returned from two amazing days at Joshua Tree. We stayed in Jumbo rocks campground, sent a few boulder problems that hung us up our first time at Joshua Tree, and both got our first Joshua Tree V0 (after many onsite V2s, consistent V3s, and occasional V4s in the gym). We hiked to the Lost Horse Mine, enjoyed a massive full moon that looked so close you could touch it, and a patented Joshua Tree sunrise. It was really a great trip all around, spent exploring beautiful wild areas of the park in complete isolation with my favorite person.

 

Michole Celebrating a V0 at Joshua Tree.

Logan’s V0 at Joshua Tree.

It also made me reflect on our first trip to Joshua Tree, another amazing experience, but with one extremely unsettling departure. This is the story of that trip.

 

We had been trying to get away more, spend more time outside of Huntington, in a tent rather than in our apartment, backpacking, climbing, surfing, anything! But with Michole almost never having consecutive days off, it was proving nearly impossible: enter Thanksgiving! With three days off, we planned for a two-night stay in Joshua Tree. Our first choice having been Yosemite, and our second choice having been Bishop, but the snow moved in literally days before our trip, so we scrambled. It all ended up for the best though, as I was introduced to the beauty of the desert, something Michole already appreciated from her time in New Mexico, but for me, it was my first time to experience it.

 

Naturally, there were no camping spots, but we planned to get our climbing in for the day, and make our way to a backcountry board for some backcountry camping (Joshua Tree rules state that you must park at a designated backcountry board, hike at least one mile from the road, and 500 feet from the trail to set up camp.). Our first night, we snuck into the last spot in a backcountry board parking lot, located along the famous California Riding and Hiking Trail, and spent a fun, peaceful night of backcountry camping, before hiking back to our car, and spending the next day hiking.

Sunrise from the Tent After our First Night in Joshua Tree.

A few hours before dark, we started making our way toward another backcountry board. This time, rather than fight for a spot at one of the more populated ones, we opted to head down the four wheel drive only geology tour road, to a very secluded spot in the middle of the desert, miles from any paved road, campground, or otherwise remotely inhabited spot.

 

Ours was the only car at what was hardly a parking lot, but rather a large dirt shoulder on the side of the bumpy dirt road. We filled out our information, and began making our mile hike into the desert, feeling as though we were the only souls on Earth. There was virtually no trail to speak of, and we followed what looked like a runoff from the ridge that we hugged on our left. To our right and ahead was nothing but flat desert landscape. Now this was backcountry camping.

Our Tent Pitched Against the Side of the Mountain.

We found a spot; tight against the ridge to block the wind, set up camp, made dinner, and watched a spectacular sunset. It was dark by 6:30, so before 8:00 we had turned our lantern off, settled into our sleeping bags, cozy in the below freezing night. Not 30 minutes later we heard something we didn’t expect: voices. At first we weren’t even sure that it was voices. I whispered to Michole, “Did you hear that?” “Yes.” Shit. If there had been any doubt in our mind, it was erased when a flashlight swept across our tent. Once, twice, again.

 

My mind raced. I felt my pupils dilate, as adrenaline seemed to flood through me. We couldn’t make out what the voices said, but they were close, and the flashlight continued to play across our tent, first from the direction of the road, then parallel, and finally from beyond our tent. Even with my adrenaline pumping, straining my eyes, I could make out next to nothing in the moonless night.

 

It was one of the most helpless feelings I’ve ever experienced. I fumbled clumsily in the dark for a flashlight and my knife. I dared not turn the flashlight on. I thought about calling out, but thought better of it. I didn’t want to alert whoever was outside that we were awake, aware of their presence. My own heartbeat pounded in my ears like a thunderous bass drum. The tiniest movement against my down sleeping bag seemed to echo, like the noise of shredding paper amplified a thousand times. Who was outside? Just a group of hikers? Why would they be hiking here: miles from the nearest paved road, in the middle of a below freezing night? There is barely a trail here, hell; I don’t even think there is a trail here. Is this something illegal? A drug deal? A body disposal? Are we the innocent bystanders, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time? Maybe it’s someone out looking for a victim, in the right place at the right time. I didn’t call out.

 

The voices seemed to stay too near for too long. The flashlight had made a three quarters lap of our tent, but eventually the flashlight was no longer visible, and the voices disappeared. Had they moved on? Were they outside, waiting for us to give away that we’d heard them? Were they just waiting for us to come out? A million thoughts poured through my mind.

 

When it comes to survival instincts, I tend to think of myself as pretty primal. I like to sit with my back in a corner, seeing things before they see me. This was the exact opposite of that. I knew as I struggled into my boots that anyone outside the tent would be aware of my movement. Even if they weren’t, the obnoxious sound of the long zipper would let them know, and they could leisurely shoot stab, bash or anything else they wanted as my feet came through the doorway. At least they wouldn’t have a clear shot at my head yet.

 

Finally, I burst out of our tent as quickly as I could, shining the flashlight, knife clutched in my right hand, trying to gain a 360 degree awareness as quickly as possible. Nothing. There was no one there. I made a lap of our tent and shined my feeble light in all directions. You would think you could see forever in the desert, but it was too dark to see far, and a slight rise 100 yards away could have hidden an army.

 

The freezing cold biting at me through my long johns, I made my way back into the tent, Michole was near tears, but I assured her that everything was fine. Certainly just a group of hikers passing by. To my astonishment, she seemed comforted by these words, and fell asleep almost immediately. Meanwhile, I remained far more skeptical of my own words, for I knew just how empty they had been. So while she slept, I spent the next 9 hours lying on my back, clutching the flashlight in one hand and the knife in the other, listening to my heart beat. Every movement against my sleeping bag a step on the ground outside.

 

Perhaps I would have relaxed and eventually fallen asleep, but some time later, voices, footsteps. Surely I was imagining it, then a flashlight. Like before, it came from the direction of the road. Closer and closer until they seemed an arms length from our tent, before eventually passing by and fading into darkness. It happened a third time. The third and final time I heard two girls’ voices, and could make out some of what they were saying: something about a cell phone plan. Odd though it may have been, this allowed me to relax a bit. It just seemed too innocent.

 

Eventually, I rose and went outside about 30 minutes before sunrise, after one of the longest nights of my life. The adrenaline dump had seemed to last all night, to the point that, while I would be exhausted later, I was still wired despite the last nine tense, sleepless hours.

 

The story has a happy ending, we were not the couple who goes missing while camping never to be seen or heard from again. We even shared a great laugh over the fact that Michole had completely believed that I had been calm and not the least bit worried. She figured if I wasn’t worried, then she shouldn’t be either.

Logan and the Sunrise After the Sleepless Night.

I’m not sure what that night says more about: the safety, or lack thereof of our backcountry camping situation, or me, by virtue of my response to it. I do feel that I lost a bit of something that night. I grew up in a place where life was lived fast, and many I grew up with lost their lives the same way. I have always been wary, on guard, ready to fight or fly at the drop of a pin. I carried a knife from around 16, bought a handgun at 21. I used to keep one in the drink holder of my truck, with a stuffed animal hiding it, for quick access. Michole now laughs about the fact that when we moved in together I had the gun in the cup holder of my truck, and two under the edge of my mattress.

 

Now let me take a minute to explain, I’m not a gun waving, second amendment preaching, “the government wants our guns” kind of guy. I never have been. I think I was just a product of my environment. I had seen so much violence done to so many, by so many, I was acutely aware of the dangers that lurked in the place I grew up, and I had been determined to leave that place. I certainly had no intentions to die there. It took time for that to fade, and I had to actively fight it. It felt like a turning point in my life when I quit carrying the gun in my truck, and an even bigger one when we didn’t even bring a gun on the move to California.

 

I was happy to leave that life behind, and start one where I didn’t need to live in such a primal state of preparedness for fight or flight. It’s something I rarely think of anymore, and something I had never thought of while in the backcountry. The backcountry, the wild places, these are the places where I feel most free, completely removed from the deaths and struggles that seemed to define my life from the time I was 15 years old. That night changed that a little bit. Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe I was wrong to ever feel completely at ease, or maybe I’m just a little crazy for even considering the need to worry, perhaps that is just a scar left on my psyche from my younger days. I think it’s impossible for me to say. I am well aware that people almost always assume that their strange beliefs and behaviors are shared by more people than they really are, so I don’t make the assumption either way.

 

At the end of the day, the wild places are still where I feel the freest. They are a place of joy and wonder for me, enhanced only by the fact that I get to share them, and my love for them, with the person I love most in this world.

Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack Review

Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack Review

Hiking, Trekking, and Backpacking with the Osprey Stratos 36 Backpack

 

If you have ever thought it would be a great idea to throw some gear in your trusty old backpack from college and go on a hike, there is a good chance that you quickly realized it was not such a good idea after all. You wouldn’t go for a run in your dress shoes (at least I hope you wouldn’t), and you shouldn’t try to go hiking with a bag made for carrying books around a college campus. Not to mention, your doctor would probably tell you that the typical book-bag is not good under any circumstances. With this in mind, I figured it was time I follow my own advice and invest in a real backpack. Enter the Osprey Packs Stratos 36, small enough to easily double as a personal item when flying, but large enough to get Michole and myself through a day hike, or me through an overnighter.

Ridgeline Between Bighorn and Ontario Peak.

Comfort

The comfort level for this pack is through the roof. Osprey “airspeed suspension” keeps the pack just off of your back, allowing you to keep your back cool, and shifting the weight firmly onto your hips, and off of your shoulders.

Carry capacity

At 36 litres, the Stratos is not really a backpacking pack, but it served me well for two overnight trips, using compression straps (bought separately) to hang a tent and other necessities off the sides and back of the pack.  While there was plenty of sway from the load being too far away, the weight stayed on my hips, and the hikes were not unbearable, though admittedly they were both only a few miles. In short, it’s a great daypack for two, and a solid overnight pack for one. Anything longer and you might venture into the realm of the Stratos 50, unless you are an ultra lightweight camper.

Accessibility

The dual entry system, front and top, allows for easy access to gear. Though perhaps not quite as convenient to pack and unpack as a true front loader, it really does a great job of combining top loading stability with front-loading ease of access. The Dual sleeping pad straps worked well, though they may come up a hair short depending on the size of your pad. They worked well with my Thermarest Prolite long. Anything larger might be a stretch though, as they are fully extended for my pad. The “stow on the go trekking pole” attachment did not work for my Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec trekking poles. They were too short to reach from one to the other. With that said, they did fit well in the dedicated ice axe carry loop. This was convenient, but obviously doesn’t work if you are also carrying an ice axe, as unlike the Osprey Atmos or Aether, the Stratos only has one ice axe loop. For these instances, I was grateful for the stuff sack that Leki includes with the poles, as I would store them in my main compartment.

Would I Recommend?

ABSOLUTELY! This is a fantastic pack, and though it lies at a somewhat awkward size between daypack and backpacking pack, it fills that middle ground with grace. If money’s no object, perhaps a Stratos 24 and 50 could round out your kit perfectly, but for a hiker on a budget, the Stratos 36 is about as well rounded as they come.

One Word of Warning

The pack fits me perfectly in a large, but I am told that for those few who fall between sizes, the patented airspeed suspension that is such a boon for most of us is quite uncomfortable. With this in mind, it might be worth trying the pack on if you can, or ordering the pack from REI, who has a one-year no questions asked return policy. If you wear it a few times and decide it doesn’t sit well on your hips, just return it for a full refund.

On the Way to Ontario Peak.

 

Igneo Sleeping Bag & Women’s Version Joule

Igneo Sleeping Bag & Women’s Version Joule

Igneo Sleeping Bag & Joule Sleeping Bag

Choosing a Sleeping Bag Size

 

Logan – Igneo: So you are ready to make the jump from car camping to backpacking, only to realize that your blow up mattress, sheets, and quilted blanket don’t fit in your pack? It’s time for a real sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Such was my situation when I purchased the Igneo from REI. At 6’1, I purchased the long, and Michole at 5’6” opted for the long in the female version, the Joule.

 

Michole – Joule: I was between the regular and long Joule and opted for the long, so I can store some clothes in the bottom to keep warm for the morning!

Comfort

 

Logan – Igneo: It’s a mummy style-sleeping bag, what do you want from it? Seriously though, I found this bag to be quite solid when it comes to comfort. The long claims to be good for someone up to 6’5, and at 6’1 I had plenty of extra room in the bottom, though I’m not sure a 6’5 individual could say the same. One complaint that I have heard with the bag is that it is not quite as wide at the feet as some, but I think being on the small side for a long alleviated this problem for me. My shoulders had plenty of room, allowing me to turn with the bag, if not inside it, as I tend to be a side sleeper.

 

Michole – Joule: I thought this bag was very comfy! I remember getting into it in the store the very first time and thinking, “there is no way I could sleep in this!” I felt so claustrophobic that I had Logan help me out of it. Once I got used to the idea that I was going to have to sleep in a mummy style sleeping bag, I had no problems getting in it. In fact, I was thankful for the style when it was cold at night, and I cinched the face opening nearly closed to sleep for the night. I am also a side sleeper and had no problems turning with or inside the bag.

Logan on his side in the store.

 Michole feeling claustrophobic.

Warmth

 

Logan – Igneo: The Igneo is rated quite warm for a three-season bag, all the way down to 19 degrees Fahrenheit for its lower level, and 30 degrees Fahrenheit for its comfort. The coldest I have used this bag is about 30 degrees, but that was quite windy in a not so wind-stopping tent, and I was more than warm enough. Take this with something of a grain of salt, as I tend to be a warm sleeper, but I found myself often not fully zipping the zipper, and taking off my beanie to sleep (this was wearing a full wool base layer, with no bag liner). This is probably obvious, but we found that zipping it together with the Joule to form a double bag dropped the temperature a solid 5 degrees Fahrenheit or so, which is probably fine on 40 degree Fahrenheit plus nights. Also, the full zip is quite convenient for warmer nights.

 

Michole – Joule: The coldest I have used the bag is about 30 degrees as well. For me, the bag was warm enough, although I slept with a full wool base layer, a beanie on my head, and the face opening cinched nearly closed. I tend to be a colder sleeper, and might add a liner in colder weather.

Weight

 

Logan – Igneo and Joule: There are definitely lighter sleeping bags out there, but for a bag of similar price and warmth, this bag comes in nearly a full pound lighter than many of its nearest competitors. If you compare bags of similar weight and warmth, this bag is in the range of $200-$300 less than many of its similar competitors.

Packability

 

Logan – Igneo: The Igneo packs down quite small, coming in a 6-litre stuff sack.

 

Michole – Joule: The Joule packs down into a 6.8-litre stuff sack.

Overall Impression

 

Logan – Igneo: The Igneo has been a great first backpacking bag for me, and I would highly recommend it. For its warmth, ultralight weight, and low price, I don’t think there is a comparable bag on the market. This bag is light enough to forget you are carrying it all day hiking, but you will be glad to remember it when you slide inside it at night.

 

Michole – Joule: I love this sleeping bag, and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone looking for a lightweight, warm, bag!

Logan’s Story – Adventure, Travel, Nature

Logan’s Story – Adventure, Travel, Nature

My name is Logan Greenwood, and this is my story.

 

I was born and raised in Anniston Alabama. Anniston is a town that few people leave. During my childhood and teenage years, I often talked with my friends about leaving Anniston. For the most part, we all wanted to and said we would, but few did. Anniston reminds me a bit of the town “specter” from the book Big Fish, where all those who had attempted to leave the town ended up living a sort of half life in a shadowy existence in a town that mirrored the one they had left.

 

I wanted to join the military or go away to college, and my mom begged me to hold off on the military until after college. Being home schooled, I had no idea how to go about getting into far away colleges, so I ended up starting my college career at Jacksonville State University, near my hometown.

 

It was during my early college career that my restlessness and wanderlust really started to show. I suffered through living at home and commuting to school through my freshman year, but as a sophomore, I landed a job as a resident assistant. The job paid very little but came with the perk of a free dorm room on campus. Step one of adventure (moving out of my parents house) complete. Little did I know then, I wouldn’t live in the same city for more than six months until I was 24.

 

I enjoyed my time on campus, but I knew there was more to the world than the bits I had seen, and I was desperate to discover them. Fortunately, I had great grades over my first three semesters, and this allowed me to transfer to the University of Alabama for the spring semester. Now two hours from home, I had finally escaped the greater Anniston area.

 

Unfortunately, one of my closest friends was killed in a car crash shortly before I transferred to UA, so the move was much harder than I had expected. It seemed that most students had established groups of friends as freshmen, which left me as something of an outsider, dealing with the death of my friend alone, removed from those who were going through it as well. This made my first semester at Alabama more difficult than I expected, but it was still a great time in my life, at least in retrospect. I found a love of academia for academia’s sake, making great connections with several professors, and becoming deeply involved in the cycling community, racing both mountain and road bikes.

 

So there I was at the end of my first semester at UA, finally getting into the swing of things, thinking that it was where I would be for the next two years. I was studying for finals when a once in a generation tornado destroyed the city of Tuscaloosa, and came less than a football field away from taking out the building I was in. This is one of the most insane experiences of my life. I managed to get out of Tuscaloosa the next day, and finals ended up being canceled due to the damage. Not the end of the semester that I expected, but at least I didn’t have to take finals. I guess I always wanted a life of adventure.

 

A month or two later, I was at a mountain bike race when my mom called to tell me that they were taking my dad to the emergency room after he had lost consciousness and suffered a seizure. This wasn’t terribly surprising, because my dad and I both developed hypoglycemia in our childhoods. So losing consciousness, while unusual, is not something that would be completely unexpected. Unfortunately, my dad had another seizure while at the hospital, and this one left him unconscious for several days. We would be at the hospital for the next 10 days, my father having brain surgery to remove what turned out to be a highly aggressive form of brain cancer called a glioblastoma multiform. While the tornado had been traumatic, and left me feeling almost as if I were watching life from third person, this was the event that would define the course of my life for the next several years, and to some extent forever, although I didn’t know it at the time.

 

I left UA to stay at home and be with my father (who regained full quality of life after surgery), working and taking part time classes back at JSU. We had a great few months, taking trips, going to Disneyland and Panama City Beach several times. Things went so well that in the spring, I returned to the University of Alabama, falling back into my old routines, racing bicycles, maintaining my cherished 4.0 G.P.A., and coming home most weekends to be with my family. In retrospect, I remember the year after my dad’s diagnosis as one of the best in my life. Unfortunately, that ended near the end of the semester, when I received a call that my dad had suffered another seizure, and had been rushed to the hospital again.

 

This surgery was less successful than the first, and resulted in my father needing 24/7 care, so I packed my bags and left the University of Alabama for the second time, this time losing credit for most of the classes that only had a few weeks remaining, and all of which I later found out, I had been the top student in. The next few months were the most challenging in my life. I spent them caring for, and spending time with, my father, until he passed away on June 14, 2012.

 

Before the reemergence of my father’s illness, I had applied for a scholarship, and admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a transfer. With so much adversity in my life outside of school, I felt that I just needed a fresh start, away from the memories of Tuscaloosa. I received news that I had been admitted, and awarded a full scholarship while my father was in the hospital. When he passed, I had only a few days to make the decision to leave my family in August to go to UNC, or take a year away from school, deferring my scholarship and admission until the next fall.

 

I decided to go, but it was an incredibly difficult semester. While I excelled academically, I was again in a place removed from my support system and dealing with the loss of my father away from all the others who were affected by it. After struggling to find my place at UNC, and dealing with a great deal of emotions, I decided that I couldn’t go back after Christmas break. I made some calls, put my scholarship on hold, and spent the spring semester and the following summer living in Panama City Beach, Florida with my father’s cousin.

 

This summer allowed me to turn the corner emotionally after the adversity of the previous few years. It also set a precedent for doing the extremely unconventional, and it culminated with my uncles taking me on a two-week whirlwind European vacation, that included Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and the Netherlands. This summer set a precedent that I believe this blog and many of my future aspirations are the culmination of. It set a precedent for walking away from conventional wisdom in the name of happiness and adventure, and it introduced me to my first experience traveling abroad.

 

Following this, I made my eighth city to city move in three years, back to North Carolina. This time I would finally break the pattern, and stay put for more than six months. I finished my undergraduate degree at the ripe old age of 24, and met the love of my life (as a random roommate match!). I proposed just before graduation, and afterwards, in the summer of 2015 we sold everything, and moved to Southern California with no jobs and no place to live, taking only what we could fit into my pickup truck and a 4×6 U-haul.

 

This move was a huge adventure in and of itself and I have loved living in Huntington Beach, learning to surf, and working as both a teacher and a personal trainer, but we both promised ourselves when we came here that this move was the beginning of our adventures together, not the end. Michole had been a diver at UNC, training for the 2016 Olympic trials. She continued training after the move, so we had to stay put for the next year for her training, as her diving career wound down, I began to feel the restlessness that has been with me for my entire adult life. (She didn’t make the Olympic team, but did win a bronze medal at nationals, YAYYYYYY)

 

We were married on September 2nd, and spent an amazing honeymoon on the beautiful island of Kauai, Hawaii. The trip allowed us to gain a bit of clarity, stepping away from the grind of our daily lives and reconnecting with nature, something we are both extremely passionate about. We felt a connection to the Earth and to a more carefree life than we had for most of the previous two years of our life, at school and here in California.

 

We made a decision not to let the rat race hold us down. We are determined to explore the wild places of the Earth, to discover other cultures, to learn from the Earth and the innumerable different people who inhabit it. At times we will no doubt do this in spite of the rat race, and at other times, like when I left UNC, we will simply turn away from it entirely.

Mount Baldy

Mount Baldy

,

Distance

11.3 miles

 

&

Elevation

3,985 feet

 

f

Difficulty

Strenuous

 

Time

5-7 hours

Mount San Antonio, better known as Mount Baldy is one of the more well-known peaks in Southern California. At 10,064 feet, it is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountain Range, and is one of SoCal hikers 6 pack of peaks. If you are into peak bagging, or you are just looking to experience some of Southern California’s natural beauty, Mount Baldy is a must.

 

There are a number of different ways to reach the summit, the most popular being via Ski Hut Trail and the Devil’s Backbone/Baldy Notch. When combined, these make for a great 11.4 mile loop, though you can cut a mile or two off the fire road by taking the ski lift to or from Baldy Notch (depending on direction) for about 12 dollars per person. Admittedly, the fire road you would miss out on by taking the ski lift is not the reason for going in the first place, but faced with a paid ride and a free walk, it’s an easy decision for the budget adventurer and aspiring dirtbag.

 

We took the Ski Hut Trail up, and descended along the Devil’s Backbone. This route offers a shorter, steeper climb, gaining about 4,000 feet of elevation over roughly 4 miles. From the trailhead just passed Manker Flats campground, proceed up the paved trail, which will quickly turn to dirt fire road. About half a mile in, the single-track Ski Hut Trail branches off on your left. It is not particularly well marked and would be easy to miss. Take this trail, and begin your ascent!

 

Easy to miss split from the fire road to the Ski Hut Trail.

The climb to the Sierra Club Ski Hut offered some great views, though nothing compared to what comes after. These first 2.5 miles seem to start off extremely difficult, and get easier as they go, but this could have been the result of an extremely aggressive pace to start that nearly killed Michole :/. Anyway, it’s a great place for a snack, a rest, or just to take in the view, before finishing the last two miles or so to the summit. Things definitely get steeper from here, and at times the trail diverges into several small paths across rocky terrain, but fret not, they will all merge before depositing you on the summit.

Michole doing a handstand at the Ski Hut.

Be prepared, it is likely that the summit will be much colder and windier than the parking lot. We started at 7am, reaching the summit around 9. When we left, the temperature was in the 40s, but warmed throughout the day. On the summit and for about a mile on either side though, things were uncomfortably chilly with a howling wind, so as always, be sure to bring layers, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. That extra few ounces for your jacket and gloves will absolutely be worth it if the summit conditions are anything like they were for us.

 

At the summit!

After taking in the panoramic views and getting the obligatory selfie with the summit sign, begin your descent down the Devil’s Backbone, or just retrace your steps the way you came. We chose the Devil’s Backbone. The first half-mile is composed of very steep switchbacks on loose, rocky terrain. Trekking poles will be appreciated here whether climbing or descending. The views of San Antonio Canyon from the Ski Hut Trail climb are rivaled by the views of Baldy Bowl on the Devil’s Backbone Descent. Crossing the narrow ridge with the ground falling away to each side was definitely one of my favorite things about the hike, and the desire to enjoy this rather than suffer climbing up it is the main reason we chose to hike the loop in this direction.

Logan Approaching Devil’s Backbone.

After about 2.5 miles, you will reach a ski lift (not operational when we were there), and from here it is only about half a mile down to Baldy Notch, where you can use the restroom, grab food or a souvenir from the restaurant there, and take the ski lift down, if you so choose. If you are like us though, you opt to finish off the hike by, you know, hiking. You will have about two and a half miles of fire road to descend, eventually passing the turn off you took earlier onto Ski Hut Trail, and finally back to the parking lot above Maker Flats!

 

We greatly enjoyed this hike. It took us about 5 moving hours, and 6 including rests and stopping to eat. To be safe, plan for at least 7 just in case, especially if you are not in the best of shape, or not experienced hiking at this altitude.

 

Update!

 

Surrounding peaks stole our attention away from Mount Baldy, but we finally returned to attempt a winter out and back on Ski Hut Trail.

Mount Baldy Trailhead Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground:

Manker Flats Campground – Mt Baldy Rd, Mt Baldy, CA 91759

Parking Just Past Manker Flats Campground

Gear We Used on This Hike


 Men’s Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX

Like the Altras, these boots have an exceptionally wide toe box. As someone with wide feet, this is an absolute must for me. The give me plenty of room in the tow, but the awesome lace locker keeps my foot secure so I don’t bang my toe when kicking steps in crampons. The “4D chassis” keeps my foot from twisting even over the most rocky terrain, and the gore tex lining has kept my feet dry after a full day in the snow without gaiters.


 Salomon Women’s Quest 4D 2 GTX

These are the exact same boot as the men’s, but in a different range of colors.


 Men’s Leki Micro Vario Ti Cor-Tec

Another pair of lightweight, adjustable, folding poles. I use these and feel that they are the perfect pole for me. I am confident that if/when these poles are retired, I will replace them with another  pair of the same. If you would like to read my full review of these poles, you can find it here.


 Black Diamond Distance FLZ Women’s Poles

A great, lightweight, adjustable, folding set of poles. Michole uses these poles and loves them. In fact, she wrote a full length review on them. If you would like more info on these poles, you can read it here.


 Osprey Stratos 36

This is a great daypack, and will likely serve you on overnight trips, depending on how lightweight and compact your gear is. It features Osprey’s “Anti Gravity” suspension system. This lets more air flow to your back and, more importantly, shifts the weight of the pack from your shoulders and back to your hips. I love the “Anti Gravity” suspension so much, it’s hard for me to imagine ever buying a pack without it. I wrote a full review for this pack, you can find it here.


 Osprey Manta AG 28

A great women’s daypack, the Manta is a dedicated hydration pack that comes with a 2.5 litre reservoir. This has been an extremely solid day pack. Like the Stratos, it features Osprey’s patented “Anti Gravity” suspension. The external mesh storage compartment, as well as several divided compartments with easy access make this a great pack for storing snacks, gloves, hats, or anything else you might want on the go.

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