Gear Review: Sun Hoodies

Background

Since I have been 15 years old I have had a condition (vitiligo) that, while it gives me unique white skin, hair and eyebrows, it makes me very suseptible to sun burns. This results in skin damage and can lead to skin cancer. As a result I try to be very careful with sun protection, opting for physical protection (hats, shirts) as much as possible.

Current Gear

I’ve been wearing a button up sun shirt for years – sun shirts have been a staple in my hiking wardrobe.

This strategy has worked fairly well for me. My current sun shirt is a simple MEC one, with no frills, mesh or accessories.

Wearing my sun shirt, trying on some new sun hat options at MEC Calgary while waiting for the Greyhound to go to Pincher Creek

Underneath it I wear a running shirt. Previously I have worn a running shirt I bought on clearance somewhere (the branding has worn off) that has a normal athletic shirt weave on the front and a coarse jersey mesh on the back.

For the GDT I replaced this with a lighter sleeveless Patagonia running shirt mostly due to concerns with gear weight.

In addition to the sun shirt I wear an outdoor research sun hat with brim all the way around.

Finally on the GDT I wore sun gloves to protect my hands from the sun.

How it Performs

The coarse mesh in the back of my old running shirt is great for ventilation and made a significant improvement on keeping my back cool and dry. I still sweat on my back, despite my pack being suspended off my back, so the mesh helps a lot but it isn’t perfect.

The Patagonia shirt I replaced it with was outstanding and even outperformed my old running shirt while being much lighter and more compact. This shirt dries very fast; it really surprised me at how well it performs.

The MEC sun shirt dries quickly and does a great job of keeping the sun off me. I sometimes pop the collar to get better coverage on my neck. However the back still can get wet from sweat and I sometimes need to take it off at lunch to dry off.

Being able to unbutton the shirt on the front and cuffs is nice, as that can let me dial in the ventilation. Simply unbuttoning the cuffs gets a lot of airflow up my arms without compromising sun coverage.

The sun shirt is fairly slim fitting, not baggy, but it still is loose enough that it does not feel restricting. I also find I do not notice when the shirt is dirty or sweaty as it doesn’t cling to me. This has been very nice on long hikes as I tend to only wash my socks and underwear on the trail.

Sun Hoodie

During the GDT it was painfully obvious to me that I just had a lot of items for sun protection, and generally a lot of shirts. In an effort to reduce the number of shirts and items I carry I looked for sun hoodies. I had looked before we went on the GDT but did not find anything and after a half hearted effort I gave up. During the hike we saw a number of people who wore sun hoodies and decided to make a more serious effort when we got home. After the GDT Natasha and I found a number of local options within a day and had each tried them on and selected one each. So I guess it was easier to find them than I originally thought.

My Hoodie

After trying a few on, I selected the Phasic Sun Hoodie from Arc’teryx. Arc’teryx is a local company, so it’s nice to support them (and we get fully stocked storefronts available to us, so it’s convenient).

I liked how the hoodie design had no seams and no pockets, and the front of the hood covered my neck and seemed to have a nicely constructed brim on the hood.

I bought a lightweight baseball cap from Ciele to replace my full brim sun hat. It is a soft trucker hat and didn’t itch or scratch my head, and the mesh is breathable.

How I like it

I like it a lot.

In fact I haven’t worn my other sun shirt since I bought the hoodie. I have worn the hoodie showshoeing all winter as well.

The material is light enough not to make me hot in the trips I’ve worn it so far, but I haven’t worn it much on hot days since we bought it in the fall. The fabric breathes a little more than my sun shirt so I am hoping I will not need as much as much ventilation as I used to. Not to mention the sun hoodie is just one layer vs my old setup of two layers.

So from what I can tell, the fabric seems to breathe well and is very comfortable. I can later on top of it without any discomfort.

The seams are well thought out. The seams on the shoulder are not noticeable and are placed such that they do not become pressure points or irritating below pack shoulder straps.

There are no pockets, no frills or unnecessary features. It’s a shirt with a hood. No zips or buttons. Again nothing to interfere with pack shoulder straps or hip belts.

The hood has good coverage but I am still a little concerned that the side of my face is a bit exposed. Through the winter I have turned my hat to follow the sun but I will need to keep an eye on this and make sure I do get enough protection from the sun.

Final notes

I really like the hoodie so far, and it certainly is better than my sun shirt on shorter trips in cool weather.

I am concerned that I may lose some sun protection on my side of my face so I need to keep an eye on that to make sure I have a solution.

I’m curious to find out if this sun hoodie will continue to feel clean after a week or if it will feel more dirty than my current setup. I do know that I haven’t cleaned it after every day hike and it’s felt fine, do the real test will be multiple days this summer in the heat and sun.

Gear Mini Review: ZPacks ArcHaul

I feel like I’ve been through lots of packs, but on reflection I think I’ve gotten a lot of use out of them.

Previous Packs

I started with a MEC pack; I believe it was a 60 L Cragalot back in 2008. I was a student. The pack was on sale (cheap), available at MEC, fit well enough and was quite water resistant (a benefit on the west coast). I didn’t really know what I wanted at the time and I was just scraping together gear. I bought a lot of gear at the dollar store in those days (nothing to be ashamed of).

The Cragalot, at least the version available at that time, was very heavy and did not have a lot of external pouches or pockets. At the time a lot of external pockets and features were the rage with packs, but I just wanted something I could strap stuff to or strap my own pockets to. So I didn’t like how heavy it was, but I liked how it didn’t have any frills.

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Hiking Cape Scott with the Cragalot

I kept the Cragalot a lot longer than I should have. By the time I wanted a new pack, I got Natasha into hiking and we had to spend our money getting her new gear. She got a Gregory pack that she really liked at the time and I couldn’t admit to her that it cost 2-3x what I wanted to spend. So I didn’t upgrade my pack for a couple years. Admittedly the Gregory was a good investment because it fit her well enough and she got bitten by the bug.. and now that’s what we do together for fun!

After hiking the Bridge of the Gods to Timberline Lodge section of the PCT together, I knew the Cragalot was dead. I had a new pack picked out on the Amtrack Train home.

I ended up getting a Boreas Lost Coast pack. It was also no frills, stretchy, and just good to stuff my gear in. The hip pockets were great (I didn’t have them in my Cragalot) and the Boreas bag was quite a bit lighter.

I’m a small guy, so I do have a bit of a hard time finding gear that fits me (see post about the MEC Scout Pants!). I found after using the Boreas bag on a handful of trips, including the JMT, SCT and JdF that as my waist goes down in size the pack gets uncomfortable. Also, the pack is stretchy and doesn’t compress. I’ve been reducing my gear weight and size quite a bit.. and the pack just couldn’t get small enough.

After the Juan de Fuca trail I basically had it with my pack (at least for longer trips). I went looking for something that fits better, can compress (preferably a roll top) and had the ability to strap things/ addons to it instead of having restrictive pre-set compartments.

The Selection

I’m not going to bore you with the selection process. As I mentioned in previous posts, I built a spreadsheet and poured over options carefully. I looked at everything on the market at the time and considered:

  • Waist size
  • Volume
  • Max weight
  • Style of pack – roll top vs lid; frame vs frameless, etc
  • Material options
  • Mass
  • Options/ compartments
  • Price

Ultimately I had a few options that stuck on the top. I ended up shortlisting:

  • ULA
  • Granite Gear
  • MLD
  • Katabatic Gear
  • Hyperlite
  • ZPacks

I looked at many others, including the VARGO external frame pack (looks cool!) but the above made the short list for various reasons.

We already had a ZPacks Duplex tent, so I had a good idea of how well it was constructed as well as how cuben fibre is.

However I didn’t let that drive me in that decision.

Natasha has a Granite Gear pack and I have seen the others on the trail at times. They are all good packs for different people.

Ultimately I still went with the ZPacks ArcHaul because:

  • The waist size is appropriate for me
  • The pack is quite light (roughly 680 g was listed mass)
  • I prefer a framed pack vs frameless. The suspension system seemed like a good compromise.
  • It’s a roll top
  • ZPacks has a lot of addons you could have them add directly on the pack or you could strap on yourself.
  • The pack came in dyneema (not just cuben fibre) so had some compression/ stretch and is wear resistant
  • The pack could come with straps added on to add compression and keep the pack tight to me. The straps could also let me hang things off my pack.
  • It came in green!

Fit

The pack fits me quite nicely. I take a 27-28 inch waist pant, and this pack has plenty of room for my waist size to grow up and down. I feel like I have a lot of room up and down on the shoulder straps and the waist belt fits me properly on the waist and not too low.

Most of the straps hold up nicely and don’t shift around, but the suspension system loses its tension over time. I find it’s best to readjust it every day. This is both a little annoying as well as kind of a good thing. This means my pack is sitting right EVERY DAY. No matter what I have in it on a given day, or what I am wearing, or how I’m feeling. I am considering using paint pen or coloured stitches on the straps to mark their “normal” spot for quick adjustment but I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Features & Setup

I’ve got several addons:

  • I have gotten two belt pouches
  • Two top side pockets
  • Roll top closure straps (these keep the pack tight and easy to manage)
  • Shock cord lashing

I got the bag in green dyneema.

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Being “Cool” with my ArcHaul

You can read about the standard features of the bag on the ZPacks website. I’ll talk about what I like about the standard features first, then describe how I use the addons.

Side Pockets

In general side pockets aren’t ..revolutionary.. but the side pockets on the ArcHaul are pretty deep and decently sized. On one size of my pack I fit a water bottle (Gatorade or 1 L smart water).

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ArcHaul in Denali. Smart water bottle in the deep side pocket.

On the other side I actually stuff my ZPacks Duplex in. I can’t fit the Duplex in the side pocket if I have the tent stored in the stuff sack that ZPacks provides with the tent, but if I re-roll the tent skinnier and taller it fits in the pocket perfectly (and isn’t too tall for the pack). For the Denali trip I made a custom tent stuff sac out of plastic and tuck tape for added abrasion resistance. For the GDT we made one out of spare ripstop nylon from the MYOG quilt kit we bought.

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ArcHaul at Denali. You can see the Duplex in the side pocket.

Overall quite good. Not very stretchy but they are sturdy and deep enough.

Frame & Straps

The straps are narrow, but sturdy enough for their purpose. I never feel like anything on this pack is undersized for the stresses of the application.

Other reviews will give you a better description and in detailed analysis of how the straps are all set up, but I will just say that there is a lot of adjustment and once you figure that out the straps work quite well.

If you are reading this you probably know that the frame is constructed of round rod for the vertical system, and flat bar for the horizontal system. You then use straps to tension the pack and “arc” the vertical bars to give some tension and to keep the pack off your back. There is a mesh system that sits against your back. You tighten the straps until you get the pack far enough off the mesh panel to be comfortable.

As mentioned in the “fit” section, I find that I need to readjust the pack fairly often. This isn’t a bad thing. however one thing I find annoying is that I have to hold the pack firmly (sometimes pressing down a bit on the top) to tension and “arc” the frame. Sometimes when I do this one of the vertical bars will arc in the wrong direction. Or sometimes I will have the arc in the correct direction, but then when I start adjusting the strap is “flips” around. Because each vertical bar is tensioned separately the pack can also “twist” a bit so it takes some care to have both sides adjusted the same.

The waist belt is a good system. I like how the straps cross over. The buckle is very easy to do up/ undo. The buckle is small, which is nice because I can easily grip it with my my fingers. My Cragalot had a large buckle which was awkward to handle. The waist pads are wide. And the strap/ belt system allows for attachments. As I mentioned in the fit section, there is enough room for me to gain or lose waist size (both through my body weight and clothing) when using this pack. For me it’s a great fit.

Water Bladder System

The water bladder system is simple. There is a strap inside the pack to hang a bladder of your choice. And there are two exit flaps to pass your hoses through.

It works well for me and doesn’t let water into the bag. It took a bit for me to figure out how best to hang my water bladder, but using some cord/ rope and a clip from our “MYOG/ Gear Repair” box in the closet I was able to make it work.

Back Pocket

It’s large, and simple, like my Boreas Lost Coast pocket is. No complaints. Versatile. It’s stretchy so anything that is stuffed into the pocket will not be compressed. With the (optional) shock cable I can add some points of compression as well as hold the gear in position within the pocket. So the shock cable running across the pocket can kind of act like a mechanism to separate the back pocket into different compartments.

Belt Pouches

The belt pouches are optional. These are square, decently sized and they fit over the belt quite nicely.

I have two belt pouches:

  1. One for food and snacks to eat while hiking (and trash, lip balm, etc). At camp I take this pocket off my pack and stuff it in the bear can so I keep all food scents away from the tent.
  2. One for toques, sun hat, gloves, and other gear that I swap during hiking. This stays on my pack all the time and I keep it on my waist for quick access.

Clearly, if I can fit a hat, toque, gloves, sunglasses, etc into a pocket they are a pretty decent size.

The pockets attach with a plastic toggle and cable to keep the ends in place. And an elastic fits around the waist belt.

For the pocket I keep on my pack permanently the toggle attachment system is OK. However for the one I remove every day at camp I need a better system because the toggle is difficult to manipulate every day with your fingers. I am looking at getting a mini s-clip or similar to use instead. So far I’ve been using a plastic clip like the below and it’s been working OK, but could use improvement as it comes undone sometimes.

plasticclip

Natasha also has the same side pockets and uses them on her Granite Gear pack.

Top Pockets

These are mesh, with solid backing. The attachment system is the same as the side pockets: toggles and cable. I replaced one toggle on each with a clip so I could release the bottom of the pocket and reattach it quickly.

On the tent side of my pack I use the top pocket to help retain the top of the tent. This is where the clip comes in handy. I can unclip the pocket and use the bottom strap to strap in the top of the tent. I use this pocket it to contain the tent pegs and footprint. The outside of the pocket is mesh, so it allows the footprint to dry and it also keeps the wet footprint away from the rest of my gear.

The other top pocket is used for my trowel and sanitary supplies (used and new toilet paper). Similarly this keeps these items away from my food and water and helps keep the rest of my gear clean.

Shock Cord

The shock cord is strapped over the outside of the pack. I use this to tighten my pack up, but mostly I use it to keep the gear in the outside pocket a little compressed. I also dry my gear after wearing or washing it by looping it around the shock cord. I can fit a pair of underwear and two pairs of socks quite nicely on the shock cable to air/ sun dry while I hike. I used to use safety pins to attach my clothes to my pack while drying, but those had often come undone so I much prefer the shock cord. I’d rather not lose a pair of underwear on the trail!

Conclusion

I’ve really only been to Denali (9 days), Stein Valley, a section of the SCT and some short overnights with this pack, but I am quite pleased with it. It seems durable enough but time will tell. The style and design of the pack is very compatible with how I pack and hike, and I am very impressed with the list of optional upgrades that Z Packs offers and just how well they integrate with the pack itself.

I will be taking this pack on the GDT and I am sure I will document how well I like it on that trip!

Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux – Trip Summary

Background

We are planning to do the Great Divide Trail this summer and wanted to take advantage of the long weekend to do a quick shakedown trip. The main things we were testing out on this hike were: (1) a new sleep system (MYOG double quilt and Exped Synmat HL Duo); (2) Andrew Skurka’s recipes as dinner options; (3) using my pack (GG Crown) without the hipbelt.

We decided on doing the Lower Stein Valley in Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Park since it was accessible from Vancouver and should be mostly snow free unlike most of the other trails closer to home.

Logistics

It’s possible to do the trip as a traverse (Dan Durston has outlined several trip options), but this early in the year there is still significant snow at higher elevations, so we stuck to the lower valley and just did this as an in and out. Getting to the trailhead is super straightforward – just follow Hwy 1 to Lytton, turn onto Hwy 12, then immediately after turn onto the ferry road and take a cool two car ferry across the river. Once you are across, the trailhead is about 15 minutes down the road – the road is gravel, but very well maintained so you don’t need 4WD or even a vehicle with clearance.

Itinerary

Our initial plan was to do an easy 3 nights/4 days: 13km to Suspension Bridge Camp, 16km to Cottonwood Creek Camp, 22km to Teepee Camp, 7km to the trailhead.

What we ended up doing was 2 nights/3 days and hiked the whole way out to the trailhead on the third day (29km). Up until Ponderosa Camp (at about 21km), the trail is in great condition; after Ponderosa Camp though there are quite a few blowdowns on the trail which slowed our pace quite a bit on the second day.

Most people seemed to stick to the first half of the lower valley – despite the parking lot being relatively full when we started, there was only one other group camped at the Suspension Bridge Camp with us and we were the only ones at the Cottonwood Creek Camp.

More detailed daily reports have been posted previously on our blog.

Shakedown Results

Gear Reviews

MYOG Double Quilt – My partner has a down allergy and there aren’t really any synthetic double quilts or lighter sleeping bag options than what we already have (Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15’s), so after a bit of research I purchased a kit from Ray Jardine to sew our own quilt.

We hadn’t used quilts before, so the first night (which got to be at least 0C as water froze in our bladder hoses) my partner was cold and couldn’t sleep until he figured out to tuck the quilt under himself; I was a bit on the cool side, but was warm enough to sleep. The second night was above freezing and both of us were nice and toasty.

Overall I think the quilt will serve us well on the GDT. I’d rate it to be comfy to 0C with normal base layers and good even lower with more layers.

Exped Synmat HL Duo – Previously we’ve used Neoair XLites with coupling straps. The Synmat Duo is so much nicer as there is actually no gap – if you are on the fence, I would definitely recommend it.

A few minor downsides to the Synmat Duo – (1) It seems to slide around more than the XLites (our tent is a ZPacks Duplex). Our sites both nights were quite flat, but each morning we found the pad moved significantly. (2) Since there is no gap, it is easy for your sleeping partner to invade your space and not realize it. (3) The pad takes up a lot more space in the tent than our XLites (183cm long vs 166cm long).

Dinner Recipes

We tried out the Pesto Noodles and Beans and Rice and would highly recommend both! For Canadians looking for a source of instant beans, we used Alpineaire Spicy Cheddar Bean Dip and it worked perfectly.

No Hipbelt

My pack was at 10kg including 3 days of food and 2L of water. Overall I was fine not using a hipbelt but definitely found that my shoulders were sore at the end of the first 2 days. Do I just need to build up my shoulders’ tolerance? I didn’t really notice any advantages for not having a hipbelt though in terms of how I was walking or anything else, so I think I’ll return to using it.

Photos

Day 1: Trailhead to Suspension Bridge Camp

Day 2: Suspension Bridge to Cottonwood Creek Camp

Day 3: Cottonwood Creek to Trailhead

Gear Review: Ray Way MYOG 2 Person Quilt

Currently, we use two Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15 sleeping bags. Kyle seems to have an allergy to down, so we are limited to synthetic options. At the time we purchased the bags, they were the lightest option I could find (1.2 kg / 2.6 lbs each) and we were able to purchase one left-hand zip and one right-hand zip to enable us to zip them together. Overall they work well, but they are definitely heavier and bulkier than other options.

Synthetic insulation hasn’t had too much innovation in the last few years and current synthetic sleeping bags have comparable weights. There has been a decent amount of design innovation though – namely backpacking quilts are becoming more common as well as dedicated two-person sleeping bags and quilts being available. Unfortunately for us, all the two-person quilt options available to buy seem to be down (which is great for most people!), so I started looking into making a quilt and found the Ray Way 2 Person Quilt Kit. There are also a number of online suppliers that sell the materials on their own. I decided to go with the kit option because it would provide all the needed materials (no worries about ordering too little or too much fabric) and it came with instructions and a pattern. I’d say I’m pretty average at sewing (mostly just use the machine for patching holes in clothing or hemming items) and I really appreciated having instructions and a pattern to guide me.

There’s a number of options when ordering – I went with the Alpine Insulation and Dual Colours.

The first step is cutting everything out – you will need quite a bit of floor space for this, we had to move our coffee table into the bedroom and switch the orientation of our dining table to make enough room.

After cutting everything out, you get to start sewing! I found it easier to use tape to hold things together rather the pins. The nylon is very slippery and it was tricky to get pins in the right spot.

Once everything is sewn (the zippers, gorget, and draft stoppers) it’s time to actually assemble the quilt stack and sew the insulation and nylon together. Since the stack is so thick, the instructions recommend using clothespins to secure everything.

You leave a small section at the bottom of each half to be able to flip it right side out. Then once it is flipped, make sure everything zips together properly and it looks right. Then you top stitch around the edge of the quilt and sew shut the opening at the bottom.

Once everything is sewn shut, you “quilt” the quilt and add yarn at even intervals to hold the insulation in place. The kit provides black yarn,  but I went out and bought some yarn that matched the fabric since I didn’t like the look of the black threads.

Then it is time to sew shut the footbox (if you want). This is the one place I didn’t follow the instructions. The instructions specify to basically fold the quilt in half and then sew the footbox – so you end up with a tall, but narrow footbox. I thought we would appreciate having more width, then height, so I didn’t follow this method. We’ll see how it actually works out after a few nights sleeping under the quilt. We did have enough leftover insulation and fabric that I could make a panel for the footbox to make it 3D and more box-like if we find this design doesn’t work.

Testing it out on our floor, we seem to have enough room under the quilt, but we’ll need to have a few nights outside to see if it’s warm enough. I’ll report back in the spring!

In the meantime, if you are interested in another review – Hiking Hammonds talk about making the quilt and how it worked out in their PCT Gear Review.

Gear Review: MSR Revo Ascent Snowshoes

We’ve had these for a year (we are on our second season with them), so I thought it would be a good idea to review them after we have had a chance to use them a season.

We started snowshoeing a few years ago but had always rented the shoes at the mountain. Doing this we got to try out different styles and brands of snowshoes. We liked the ones from MSR the most and started looking for a pair we could buy.

We selected the MSR Revo Explore snowshoes after checking them out at MEC. We put those on our wedding registry, knowing they were a big ask unless people pitched in. When the wedding came we were blown away and instead of smaller items our friends all pitched in and got us a our ZPacks Duplex (save that review for another post!). So for snowshoes we were left to buying them ourselves.

My coworkers we’re very generous and pooled money for MEC gift cards as a wedding gift prior to me taking holiday that year for our wedcation so that gave us a good pool of funds to use for gear. I also was fortunate to get a small bonus (in a form of prepaid VISA cards) at the end of the year. That left us with a lot of money we not only had to use at MEC but some extra to cover other gear. After listing out the gear we needed that year we were able to buy the REVO Ascents instead of the Explores.

I have to say I’m quite pleased with them!

We each got a pair. Natasha has the purple ones. I have the red.

Mass/ Weight

I can’t remember the numbers and we never did a detailed analysis on mass. We only planned to wear them for day hikes so mass was less of a deciding factor (although still important!).

They are not the lightest, but I really don’t feel fatigued with them on for a day. For how durable they are and how aggressive they are I think they are quite light.  We have used heavier ones and these are much lighter than some of the ones we have rented.  Unless you see carrying them on a multi day trip or a through hike I don’t think the weight is a factor to be concerned about with these. They are light enough for me.

Features

They are quite aggressive, as they are meant for ascents. I have had sufficient grip on packed, icy and powder. I don’t think I have slipped once in these. They have enough surface area to keep me from sinking in deep powder as well. Natasha has had similar experiences.

There is a heel riser in the back that you can easily pop up with the basket of your poles. This makes a huge difference and really reduces fatigue. Natasha’s feet are small and her boots are 3 season boots (with small soles) so her riser is close to the edge of the heel of her boots. It still works but I suggest testing the fit of your boots and snowshoes before going out for this reason. I wear a pair of Salomon X Ultra Winter Boots and I don’t have this issue.

The straps are appropriately placed and have enough stretch to keep them tight and not too tight.  The straps remain contained and don’t come undone and “flap around”.

Durability

It’s too soon to tell but they seem to be holding up. We went on several day trips last year (probably twice a month) and the most that happened are scratches due to my toes clipping. Nothing has broken or worn yet. The only thing we have had to do is wax.

Overall

I quite like them. The only reason I might consider another pair is if we have a heavy snow season prior to hiking the GDT next year and need snowshoes instead of crampons or microspikes.  These would be too heavy to carry. But for a two or three day trip in the winter they would work very well.

JMT Gear Recap: Clothing

Overall Gear Thoughts:

Overall, we were really happy with our gear and any future purchases although they will be nice are ultimately unnecessary. We had no gear failures or issues and everything worked as intended.

Hiking Clothing

Hiking Shirt

MEC Magnolia Long Sleeved Shirt

This worked well, dried quickly and kept the sun off my skin.

Only complaints about this shirt is the only pocket it has is not accessible when my hipbelt was done up and the white gets super skanky looking.

I have no reservations recommending this shirt – it’s a simple no frills hiking shirt that works well.

For future trips I will continue to use this shirt unless I find an alternative with useable pockets & fun colours.

Hiking Pants

REI Sahara Convertible Pants – Women’s Petite

These worked well, dried quickly and kept my legs relatively clean.

I’m quite pale and tend to burn rather easily – so I decided to bring pants on this trip to try and cut down on the amount of sunscreen I would need to use. I brought convertible pants since I thought I might like being able to convert them to shorts and thought it might be useful for river crossings as well.

I ended up never using the convertible feature of the pants. They dry quickly enough that I didn’t bother taking the legs off for fords and I found that I never got hot enough with them on to bother taking them off.

Some minor nitpicks about these pants: the waistband is lined in fleece fabric, which is nice to prevent it from chaffing/rubbing, but it also retains moisture and the waistband was always the last part of the my pants to dry.

The front and back pockets aren’t large enough to be useful – I never put anything in these pockets. The side pockets are decently sized though – I kept my compass, whistle and knife in these pockets so they were always on me.

Overall these are some of the best women’s hiking pants I’ve come across, but they still aren’t quite perfect.

Socks

DeFeet Aireator HT Socks

This was my first trip for these socks and I’m extremely happy with how they worked out. On previous trips I’ve brought traditional wool hiking socks, but I found those can make my feet extremely hot and they also tend to not dry quickly enough to wash a pair everyday.

These socks kept my feet non-sweaty and cool and dried quickly – they even managed to dry while under my packs raincover when we encountered rain one day.

On future trips I am considering trying toe socks out – the one thing I didn’t like was how dirty my feet got with these and the fact that I could feel dirt between my toes. I’d hope that toe socks might be able to eliminate some of that feeling.

Shoes

Brooks Cascadia 9

This was also the second major outing for my trail runners – on previous backpacking trips I have used boots.

One of my major issues with the boots that I previously used was that they always seemed to eventually wet out in rainy/wet conditions and then they took an extremely long time to dry out after this.

I found a pair of Brooks Cascadias in the clearance bin at the local MEC and decided to give them a go – they tend to be very popular with PCT thru-hikers. They are definitely my favourite hiking footwear to date. I had no blisters, footpain or any other foot issues at all on this trip.

The only thing I dislike about these shoes is how dirty they get my feet [insert picture here]

Sports Bra

Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Bra

The icebreaker sports bra worked perfectly for me – enough support and didn’t cause any rubbing/chaff issues with my pack.

Sleep Clothing

Shirt

MEC Merino T1 Short Sleeve Shirt

This shirt was primarily to be my top layer for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold during the day. I found it to be adequate for sleeping in and keeping me warm along with my poofy jacket in the mornings/evenings before heading out.

I would recommend this shirt and will continue to bring it or its long-sleeved counterpart on future trips.

Bottom Base Layer

Icebreaker Sprite Leggings

Again this layer was primarily for sleeping and secondarily an extra layer if I was too cold. Same as shirt.

I would recommend these leggings.

Rain Gear and Warmth

Rain Jacket

MEC Outathere Jacket

This is an extremely lightweight rain jacket. Ultimately when hiking in rain gear there is always the trade-off of getting wet from the rain or wet from sweating under your rain gear. I tend to prefer wearing rain gear since at the very least I’ll be warmer than without it.

We had four days in a row of rain on the JMT and I was impressed with how well this jacket worked. It kept me dry and was relatively breathable.

The reason I chose the MEC jacket over similar offerings from Outdoor Research and other retailers came down to fit – I think the MEC jacket has a far superior (and adjustable!) hood and it has elastic cuffs which I prefer over velcro cuffs that need to be adjusted if you actually want them to be tight.

Rain Pants

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

These are the lightest pair of rain pants I could find – they have a simple elastic waistband and a short zipper at the ankles to let you put them on over your shoes/boots. They also have one small zippered back pocket. Unfortunately these only come in men’s sizes, but they do fit small. I got a men’s size small and overall they fit well, but they are a bit snug in the hips/bum.

Overall though I’m quite happy with these, they kept me dry and were easy to put on/off without taking my shoes off.

Puffy Jacket

MEC Uplink Hoody

A simple synthetic puffy with a hood. This was my go to layer when in camp or occasionally when starting out in the mornings. On previous trips I’ve used a fleece as my warm layer, but I think I’m converted to puffy jackets

 

Gear Review: MEC Scout Zip Pants

I’m a small guy. That’s just how it is.  So when it comes to finding clothing that fits me, either for hiking or for everyday wear, I am just used to more often than not compromising on one aspect (size, style, fit, comfort, colour, etc).  I have a 27-29 inch waist, so finding technical clothing that actually fits me correctly can be a major challenge.

After years of looking for hiking pants that actually fit me, I’ve started thinking out of the box a little.  I mean, it’s not that out of ordinary, but until this past year I never thought to look at youth sizes for technical clothing.  I just never thought they’d be good enough. One day, after being fed up with my old Patagonia pants that never quite fit right and after spending months actively trying on pants from many of the major brands, I stumbled into the youth section and came across the MEC Scout Zip Pants.  I’ve had these since the start of the year so I have put together my impressions of them. I also previously wrote an actual product review on the MEC website a while back, so this review may have a lot of overlap in content.

Summary:

I am an adult male (late 20s) who has a 27-29 inch waist, and am very impressed with these pants. I did not have high expectations for youth technical clothing, but these meet most of my requirements and do not stand out as kids clothes (so I don’t look ridiculous on the trail!).

Fit:

As an adult buying these for myself I can’t say much about whether this fits true to size or not for a child. However, I can say that these fit me very well. I have a 27-29 inch waist and have struggled for years to find a pair of hiking pants that properly fit me. Most men’s hiking pants that I have come across that claim to fit a 28 inch waist are actually a 30 with a belt loop or a snap to cinch it smaller. That can be very uncomfortable on the trail and add extra weight (or extra belts, etc).

The MEC Scout pants fit more or less perfectly around the waist. I have a size 14 and sometimes use a belt, but can get away without one, especially since there are adjustment straps on the inside of the waist that allow for small amounts of adjustment.  You can tighten or loosen the pants waist using a very light, small strap and button. This mechanism is much more comfortable than the ones I typically encounter on adult hiking pants that adjust from a 30 inch waist to a 28. The adjustment straps on the MEC Scout don’t cause any bunching and they tighten the waist band evenly around your waist. There are belt loops, and the belt loops actually will hold a belt comfortably if you need one or prefer to wear one for other reasons. I wear a Patagonia friction belt, partly because the belt itself can be useful to have as an extra strap that can be used in a pinch on your pack or as an emergency tourniquet or to support a splint if you get injured on the trail.

 

Adjustable Waist Allows for Some Adjustment

Waist Band Allows for Some Adjustment

The lower legs are a little wide near the bottom, but that seems to be because they are convertibles. I can unzip the legs and carefully take them off without removing my boots. I am considering taking in around the ankle a bit so they don’t collect mud when hiking without gaiters or rain pants, but that will make it more challenging to remove the legs when I convert them to shorts. I’ve also been thinking about adding a couple straps near the ankles with velcro or buttons to cinch in the outside of the pants. Regardless, these pants do fit under my rain pants (Outdoor Research Helium, Small), but they feel a little bunched around the lower legs. Not uncomfortably so, but enough that I was concerned the first time I wore them together that they would ride up my legs when hiking. Thankfully that did not happen and these are actually quite comfortable under rain pants once I got used to it.

Features:

These pants are a little heavy (approx 390 g for size 14) compared to what I am used to, but they still dry quickly and are just a little warm when it is cool (they block wind rather well, but still breath OK). They are convertibles so when it gets warm enough I can easily zip them off, but so far this (very, very warm) winter I have not needed to convert them to shorts when hiking. Now that warm weather is starting, I have found them just a hint too warm when exposed or when pushing it up a steep hill.  I’ll need to be a bit more proactive about converting them to shorts before I get too warm; I am still getting used to having the option.

Considering their weight, it’s fairly unsurprising that they are actually pretty tough. They are not as fragile as some of my more light weight clothing and gear (and not nearly as fragile as my old hiking pants which had been repaired many, many times) so I don’t worry if I have to scramble up some rocks or even if I just want to sit on a ledge and take in a view. The fabric is fairly stretchy and forgiving. I have not felt restricted at all when hiking or kneeling. The pants are thick and a bit heavy compared to more lightweight options, but I can still pack them up smaller than my rain jacket. Of course, packing size doesn’t really matter if you are just wearing one pair of pants on a trip or a hike.

The pockets are actually very well designed, which surprised me for youth clothing. The front pockets are deep enough to fit a wallet, or a small camera or phone. The back pockets are a little small (maybe a little tight) but can still fit small items. The side pocket isn’t huge, but it is large enough to fit a fairly large, flat-ish object. Small folded maps, phone, camera – that kind of thing. The clasp on the side pocket is well designed. There is only one snap, but the pocket retains whatever you have in it because the opening is a little tight.

Pocket Design Retains Objects

Pocket Design Retains Objects With Only One Button

The bottom of the rear pockets are mesh, allowing the pockets and the pants to breath.  This also provides drainage if the pants become wet (rain, or being submerged).

Conclusion:

Overall, these are pretty stellar pants. I’d get them in a second for a youth and I am very happy with them as an adult. I’ll be wearing these on the JMT this summer and I fully expect these to last me more than a few years and many, many miles. These are not “kids pants”, these are pants that fit kids (and of course, smaller adults). I’ve learned there is a difference. It’s just too bad I didn’t think to look in the youth section for hiking pants a few years ago…

Closing Notes:

Although I have not had much success with Lululemon sizes (most of the mens clothes are giant), I recently found a pair of tights for exercising in that fit me very well. So it’s not all bad.

I am still looking for adult hiking pants that are a little more lightweight than the Scout pants. I love the Scouts, but I am always pushing to get a balance between gear that’s durable and light weight.

I love my Outdoor Research Helium pants.  I haven’t had much opportunity to shop for more OR pants locally, but based on my experience with those rain pants I will continue to look closer at general hiking pants.

If you have any suggestions or success stories for small men’s pants, then let me know in the comments! I’d love to get your suggestions.