Tag Archives: gear reviews

Goal Zero’s Light-A-Life Solar Accessories: The Ultimate Way to Illuminate Adventures

When Goal Zero officially became one of the Simply Adventure trip sponsors, I was beside myself with excitement about powering the van through solar equipment. It is incredibly valuable to be able to charge my laptop and camera while I’m on the road, but my favorite piece of Goal Zero gear isn’t a heavy duty generator or sweet portable solar panel: it’s a small, simple LED light.

The Goal Zero Light-A-Life is a modestly sized solar lantern that we currently power from our Extreme 350 generator. These incredible 3-watt LED lights turned my dim van into a bright home. We use it when we’re cooking, lounging in the evenings, and on those frequent occasions when we’re frantically searching for something we lost in the van.

Niko uses the Goal Zero Light-A-Life to illuminate our kitchen space in the van while cooking at night.The Goal Zero Light-A-Life powers our van cooking adventures every night.

The first time I plugged in a Light-A-Life, I was blown away by how powerful they are. We used the van’s cabin lights on the first night of the trip, and once we finally opened up the Light-A-Life, it was like entering a whole new world.

We use two linked together in the van, but a single Light-A-Life easily lights up the main interior. You can link up to eight lights together. A small carabineer located on top of the Light-A-Life makes it easy to hang up no matter where you are.

The Goal Zero Light-A-LifeAnd they’re durable. Before realizing we needed a better way of securing them to the beams along the van roof, our Light-A-Lights took many hard falls while we were bumping up and down dirt roads in Joshua Tree. One dirt road was shaky enough to eventually dislodge the LED bulb from the lantern, but it was completely fine even after taking a tumble onto the floor. According to Goal Zero, they aren’t quite waterproof, but will still work even in a steady downpour.

The only thing I would change about the Light-A-Life LED solar lantern is making them comptabile with a Guide 10 battery pack. I’m no engineer, but since the Light-A-Life takes up so little energy, it seems like it should be able to be powered by something more accessible than a big ‘ole generator. We lugged ours out to a picnic table the other night, and the Extreme 350 is so heavy that it almost made taking the lights out too much of a chore.

Overall, I would highly recommend the Light-A-Life LED laterns to anyone with a Goal Zero solar set-up – and retailing at $39.99, they’re surprisingly affordable. They’re the perfect accessory for your solar gear, and make life on the road so much more convenient. We use ours every day, and would be totally in the dark without it.

The AVEX Travel Mug Review: A Spill-Proof, Van Life-Approved Tool for Road Trippers

If there’s one thing I’ve learned within the first week of van-dwelling, it’s this: Things bump around, a lot – and when they bump around, they are quite prone to spillage. And spillage, my friends, is not very fun when you’re living in a tiny mobile space. Thus far in the trip, we’ve spilled instant mashed potatoes, coffee, white gas, and flecks of pizza cheese all over the van. It ain’t pretty, folks. 

Enter the AVEX travel mug. I recieved mine right before the Simply Adventure trip began, and have been using it religiously ever since. These stainless steel beverage containers feature vacuum-sealed insulation and incredible auto-seal technology that renders your drink vessel 100% spill and leak-proof. Seriously.

My AVEX travel mug got buddy-buddy with the cacti out at Pace Bend Park in Texas.

I’m always skeptical when products make absolute claims, so I put my AVEX travel mug to the ultimate test: I gave it to Niko to use. I watched him carelessly knock it off countertops, throw it across the padded flooring at the rock gym, drop it numerous times, flip it upside down, you name it. And much to my surprise, not a single drop of water was shed from the bottle. Instant approval in my book.

Shake it upside down, toss it across a room, knock it off a shelf, the AVEX travel mug holds tight onto your liquids.Beyond its impeccable sealing powers, the AVEX travel mug offers a handful of additional features that bump it to the top of my drink-container gear list: it’s BPA-free, dishwasher safe (top rack), fits perfectly in the van’s cup holders, and keeps beverages both hot and cold for hours. The AVEX website gives the skinny on the exact insulation statistics: it keeps drinks hot for 5 hours, and cold for 14 hours. 

The best part? It’s affordable. I hate when a brand comes up with an ingenious product, then spikes up the price because they know their stuff is good. The folks at AVEX deliver a great product at a price even a van-dwelling dirtbag can jive with: the 16 oz. Highland Autoseal travel mug retails for $22.99. Not too shabby for such an impressive product, eh?

Now all I need is a sweet portable coffee-making set-up like the one Katie posted on Adventure Inspired and I’ll be set for endless days of caffeinated adventure on the road.

Bottom Line: I would highly recommend the AVEX travel mug to anyone who is constantly on-the-go and likes to bring a beverage along for the ride. This product lives up to the promises, it’s durable, and it has survived van life thus far. Mine was complimentary, but I would absolutely buy it any day.

The easiest tent you’ll ever own: Review of the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent

Here’s the first full review from my Holiday Gift Guide for Outdoor Adventurers.
Check it out, and stay tuned for the rest of the reviews!

Picture this: You’ve finally arrived at your campsite – and it’s now 2:30 AM. You’re exhausted from the drive, but your car is too jam-packed with adventure equipment to allow for sleeping comfortably in it. What’s the last thing you want to do right now? Spend ten minutes fumbling with tent poles and hooks in order to snag a wistful few hours of sleep before waking up and deconstructing your tent all over again.

Major bummer, dude.

Now picture this: Same late-night camping scenario, same levels of I-just-want-to-sleep, but now you’ve got a Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent. You grab the bright yellow sack that holds your tent, unroll it, and within about 45 seconds, you’re ready for bed. You snuggle up in your sleeping bag while your buddies fumble around with their clunky tents.

Niko sets up our Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent at Grandfather Mountain Campground in NC.

Major victory, dude!

When Niko and I received our Outfitter XXL Quick Tent, we were elated – even more so when we managed to go from a sealed package to a set-up tent in less than three minutes. And that was our first time EVER setting it up. We were both instantly impressed, but the real test came when we took the Teton Sports tent on its first adventure to North Carolina for the Hound Ears Triple Crown climbing competition.

After keeping us cozy through misty mountain mornings, light afternoon rain, and some pretty gnarly wind gusts – the Outfitter XXL Quick Tent passed our camping test with flying floors.

Here’s what I love about the Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent:

  • It is the easiest tent I have ever camped with. Both set-up and take-down are simple tasks that take less than a minute.
  • It packs down extremely easy, and the roomy stuff sack doesn’t require a battle to get the tent packed away. With a weight of only 4 lbs, it’s light and easy to carry.
  • The tent was designed as a topper for camping cots, but the waterproof base and sturdy structure makes it an ideal tent for ground camping as well (I have only used it directly on the ground).
  • Where many tents offer a small window or two, the Outfitter XXL is entirely wrapped with see-through mesh, so if the weather allows you to go without the rain-fly, you can wake up surrounded by natural beauty.
  • When the rain-fly is up, there is an ample vestibule area for keeping your dirty hiking boots sheltered from the elements without dragging them into the tent. Plus, the rain-fly is easily assembled with four simple clip-ons.
  • While a larger person may find this to be a one-man tent, Niko and I fit perfectly together in it. This is a great tent for adventure couples.
  • It’s my favorite color – and it totally matches my big yellow van.

Peek-a-boo, that's me creeping inside my Teton Sports Outfitter XXL Quick Tent.There is only a single caveat I have with the world’s easiest tent: there are no pockets. But what I love about Teton Sports is their amazing receptiveness to user feedback. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if their next tent release features a pocket.

The bottom line: I would highly recommend this tent. It retails at $100, but could easily sell for upwards for $200. The value can’t be beat, but it’s the impossibly simple set-up that will win you over instantly.

Don’t believe my rave reviews about how quickly this tent sets up? Check it out for yourself:

Want more from the folks at Teton Sports?
Send ‘em your thoughts on Twitter, or check out the Teton Sports Facebook page
– they’re always hosting giveaways and posting great outdoor content!

The Ultimate Jacket: Review of Triple Aught Design’s Valkyrie Hoodie LT

Everyone has it: that piece of gear that you just can’t imagine life without. It’s your go-to for every occasion – the least washed, and most worn item in your closet. Like a safety blanket, it offers comfort, shelter, and a trustworthy companion for adventures. For me, this item is the Triple Aught Design Valkyrie Hoodie LT.

The Valkyrie Hoodie LT From Triple Aught Designs (TAD Gear)From the moment I opened up my first package from TAD gear, I was smitten with the Valkyrie jacket. It’s softer than butter, loaded with clever little details, and offers the perfect combination of function and style. I was instantly in love, and instantly crushed to realize that I wouldn’t be able to wear my jacket for months (I received it in June, when it was still reaching 95º on a daily basis – not exactly jacket weather).

My first trip with my Valkyrie jacket was to the Hound Ears Triple Crown Bouldering competition in North Carolina during early October. The light, yet thick, jacket kept my upper body warmly bundled throughout the chilly evenings, and on the final day of the trip, the integrated Polartec Wind Pro fabric treated with water repellent offered a cozy haven while I was apple picking in brisk rainy weather in Hendersonville.Rockin' the Triple Aught Designs Valkyrie Hoodie LT while apple-picking at JH Stepps Hillcrest Orchard in Hendersonville, NC.

Since our first trip together, my bond with the Valkyrie jacket has continued to blossom. We wake up together in my sleeping bag, we snuggle up during long road trips, and we always enjoy a roaring bonfire together. While the overall comfort and form-fitting style of the jacket is lovely, it’s the little things that really keep me coming back for more. Seriously, I wear it on a near daily basis.

Rockin' the Triple Aught Designs Valkyrie Hoodie LT while apple-picking at JH Stepps Hillcrest Orchard in Hendersonville, NC.

Here are a few of my favorite things about the Valykrie LT Hoodie:

  • The hoodie features a structured hat shape that keeps the hood up even in windy weather.
  • Thumbholes places perfectly on the sleeve seams offer superior usability while adventuring.
  • Armpit vents create breathability for hiking or long approaches to climbing areas.
  • Pockets! I’ve never been so stoked about pockets. Two big standard front pockets, which offer dual purpose with a ‘secret’ storage pouch accessed from inside the jacket. Plus two additional discreet upper arm pockets – all with D-Rings and media portsfor ear buds.
    • Speaking of ear buds, there are two little clasps along the main zipper designed to help keep your ear bud cords in place. Genius.
  • All the zippers have little “zipper garages” they are tucked into when zipped, keeping them in place and out of sight.

There’s only one negative comment I can make about these jackets: they come with little cords knotted on each of the zippers, and I’ve already lost half of them. Not really a big deal, in my book.

Triple Aught Design logoOverall, this jacket has become my favorite piece of cold weather apparel I have ever owned. With a price tag of $215, it’s definitely an investment – but it’s 100% worthy of the cost. This is the kind of jacket you have for the rest of your life. It’s sturdy, durable, adventure-worthy, and I actually look good in it.

The Valkyrie Hoodie LT would be the ultimate present for any adventurous lady. Unlike most gifted sweaters, the Valykrie won’t spend the season hanging in your closet; it will be put to good use, time and time again.

Stay tuned for my thoughts on TAD’s heavy Merino wool Vesper sweater! Triple Aught Designs also makes a heavier version of the Valkyrie LT, and I can’t wait to test it out and compare it to the lighter hoodie.

*Note: The Valkyrie Hoodie LT was provided by Triple Aught Designs for review purposes,
but all opinions expressed are entirely my own. 

Review of Columbia Sportswear’s Reactor 35º Sleeping Bag (and Niko’s first guest post!)

Folks, by now most of you have realized that Niko is a man of few words. He’s not quite the Twitter type, and only just started making his first Facebook page posts (like this one about Access Fund’s Holy Boulders project), so when he told me he was going to write his first product review, I knew he must have really fallen in love with a piece of outdoor gear.

During my trip to Havasu Falls with Columbia Sportswear’s OmniTen team, we were gifted the most packable sleeping bags I’ve ever witnessed. It was so light that I hardly noticed it on my back while trudging up 10 miles of desert terrain to the rim of the Grand Canyon. Since then, I’ve taken my mummy-style sleeping back on trips to Rocktown in Georgia, and the Triple Crown Bouldering Series competition in Hound Ears, North Carolina – and it’s always provided me a vessel of cocooned body warmth and superior snuggle-ability. So really, it was no surprise that Niko decided to write his first gear review about it.  

Here’s what Niko had to say about the Reactor 35:

This summer when Katie returned from her OmniTen trip to Havasu Falls in Arizona, she brought back one of my new favorite pieces of gear, the Columbia Sportswear Reactor 35º sleeping bag (a special thanks to Will Rochfort for hiking it out of the Grand Canyon for me).

I’ve had the opportunity to use the bag over the last couple months on a couple of climbing trips here in the southeast, and despite the hot temperatures, this bag has been exceptionally comfortable to sleep in.

The Reactor 35 is an extremely light 100% nylon mummy bag that packs easily into one of the smallest stuff sacks I’ve seen. The dimensions are a mere 7.5”x17” – plus, this bag only weighs 2 pounds, making it the perfect companion on long multi-day hikes.

Don’t let the lightweight nature of this sleeping bag deter you – the Reactor 35 uses Columbia’s Omni-Heat thermal reflective technology to line the inside of the bag, which regulates your body temperature, providing a warm, dry night in the outdoors.

A few weekends ago Katie and I drove up to Pigeon Mountain to do some climbing at Rocktown. We arrived late and decided to spend the night camped out in the car. In the middle of the night, I woke up to find Katie hogging the entire hatchback, so I abandoned the car in favor of sleeping outside on a crash pad. I woke up expecting the familiar damp feeling from the southern morning dew, but I was surprised to find that the Omni-Shield outer coating kept me dry throughout the entire night.

Since having Columbia Sportswear’s Reactor 35, I have only been able to test it in temperatures around the high 40’s. I am looking forward to seeing what it can do when temperatures drop down here in the south and the climbing season really gets moving. Overall, I would highly recommend this bag to anyone who wants a light, functional, and generally well-designed sleeping bag.

It’s a miracle: I no longer loathe metal water bottles – Eco Bottle Review and Giveaway!

Let me make one thing very clear before I begin this review:

I have always hated metal water bottles.

They taste like metal, smell like metal, feel like metal (does the feeling of metal ever make anyone else’s teeth cringe?). When I was first approached by Eco Bottle to sample one of their products, I was extremely skeptical – but they were so stoked about their BPA-free, dishwasher-safe bottle that I was convinced to give it a shot.

I stuck to my stubborn anti-metal convictions even as I opened up my Eco Bottle package, but was instantly softened when I unwrapped what remains as my favorite feature of this water bottle – a thick, bendy straw attachment. I love straws for their superior sip-ability, and adore this genius little bonus feature. Opening and closing water bottles is one of the reasons I’ve begun to lean towards hydration packs, so it’s refreshing to see a bottle brand looking to solve the issue of needing to grab-gulp-n-go while you’re out and about.

My emerald green bottle took its maiden voyage on a bike ride from my house to the Tallahassee Rock Gym on a mild evening. The body fit perfectly into my water bottle holder, and I was pleased that my water remained a pleasant temperature throughout the duration of my ride. My perception that metal water bottles are always an inferno was debunked. I’d chalk it up to the inner body coating, perhaps that aids in temperature regulation? I think the liner also attributes to the lack of a metallic taste in the bottle; I left my water sitting in the bottle for an entire week and it never tasted funky.

There was just one issue I ran into during my first adventure with the Eco Bottle – it’s not a no-brainer to open up. I naively filled it with water, screwed on the top, stuck on the mouthpiece attachment, and sped off on my road bike. Halfway through a monstrous hill, I paused to hastily gulp from my bottle – and was unable to suck out even a drop of water. Oops. 

I hadn’t properly opened the top piece, which was not something I was able to accomplish until after my parched ride. Once I realized the very easy screw motion necessary to open it up, the water was flowin’. So make sure you actually open your bottle before you head out! I also noticed a few little dents on the bottle’s body from my bike’s water bottle holder – but as an adventure gal, I like it when my gear bears the marks of being well loved.

Overall, I am a woman converted. I really love this metal bottle.

Read More…

A harness disguised as khaki shorts, and a climbing skort for ladies?

I was recently approached by fellow lady adventurer Amy Jurries of The Gearcaster to assist her with a new product review – which led me to a few truly unusual (and maybe awesome) discoveries in innovational climbing gear.

I’m usually a pretty verbose gal, but I think I’ll let the images do the speaking before I get all wordy – check out these two pieces of Mammut apparel:

Seriously – WHAT?!

Personally, my mind is most blown by the Realization shorts; a fully-functional harness disguised as a pair of casual khaki shorts. Is this real life? I was immediately impressed, but when I showed my male housemates, they didn’t seem as convinced. We dove into a discussion about all the areas where this seemingly fantastic concept might fail: How comfortable would it be to wear that the entire day? Does the butt part of the fabric bunch up while you’re climbing? (As a climbing photographer, that is actually a legit thing to consider; I don’t want saggy asses ruining my shots!)

When it comes to the women’s Refine skort, the boys all giggled at the idea of a skirt built for climbing – but you’ll just have to wait for my review to come out on The Gearcaster to find out how it really works out! I’m still pretty wowed by the little velcro straps in the front of the skirt designed to let you pull your harness leg straps up while maintaining the skirt-y shape – pretty darn interesting idea!

What do you think about the Realization harness shorts,
or the Mammut women’s climbing skort?

Would you wear either one of these? 

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