Review of the Mountain Hardwear Compressor Jacket & Pants

There have been very few moments in my lifetime when I wished I had a pair of down pants. The exceptions have been skiing at Mont Tremblant in Quebec during a -30°C spell and snowshoeing in Manitoba in -40°C weather. I suppose if I was scaling Everest or mushing dogs in the Yukon then I’d purchase a pair but usually a good set of thermal long john’s and a shell will see me through most backcountry excursions. A down jacket on the other hand is a part of my daily wardrobe in the winter months and for a lot of the shoulder season too. I’ll wear one belaying, skiing, hiking, climbing in the alpine, walking around town and, inevitably I’ll stuff one in my backpack for a mt. bike or fat bike ride as well, just in case. Needless to say I was excited to try out the Mountain Hardwear Super Compressor Hooded Jacket, with it’s Thermal Q Elite insulation that the company says is “designed to mimic the structure of down to create the highest warmth-to-weight ratio available in synthetic insulation.” (In other words it’s supposed to be as warm as down but will retain its loft and perform well in damp conditions.) As for the company’s insulated Compressor Pant that were also sent to review, well, let’s just say I wasn’t as keen to try them out. But, wow, was I ever surprised.

To read the full review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Black Diamond Element 60 Backpack

Backpacks are a tricky thing – you don’t want too many bells and whistles because they’ll just increase the weight, but you don’t want a garbage bag either. I tend to prefer those packs that fall into the middle of the road: just enough straps to keep everything in place but without dozens of pockets, external cords and an espresso machine. Utah-based Black Diamond offers about 70 different packs so most likely there’s something for everyone in its quiver. (And that doesn’t include the Gregory line of backpacks, which parent company Black Diamond Inc. owns.) In the case of the newly launched Black Diamond Element line, the company is looking to appeal to the “minimalist-minded weekend backpacker” who is looking for a “streamlined and lightweight top-loader.” The Element comes in a 45-litre and a 60-litre option and the equivalent line in the female-specific category is called “Elixir.” Both models feature Black Diamond’s proprietary “reACTIV” suspension system and “SwingArm” shoulder straps that the company says articulate and move with you while you’re hiking over uneven terrain, thus reducing fatigue. When I looked more closely into this system, I learned that what the company is trying to do is have certain parts of the pack move with your body rather than remaining static so that when you bounce and swivel over rocks and roots, the entire load of the pack isn’t forced to move with you. The SwingArm straps have a stainless steel cable running through them that ensures they remain relatively friction free while allowing for greater movement and the waist belt isn’t affixed to any part of the frame, which means it too can move freely without bringing the entire weight of the pack along for the ride.

To read the full review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the RAB Neutrino 200 Down Sleeping Bag

I’m a hot guy in bed. That is, my body is like a 6-foot furnace when I’m horizontal for the night. And when I sleep outside, that furnace seems to kick into overdrive. I’ve spent more than one evening lying in a tent wishing I could just tear a hole in the fabric to increase airflow. Suffice to say, I’m really picky when it comes to sleeping bags – I don’t want a quiver of them so I’ve spent 25 years searching for the perfect one. It has to be comfortable but streamlined; breathable but not drafty; light and small when rolled up; and (here’s the kicker) it needs to be warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That last point is a big ask but I have faith. When I was asked to review Rab’s Neutrino 200 down sleeping bag recently, I knew it wasn’t going to fulfill all those qualities (it’s meant for lightweight use such as cycle touring in moderate climates) but I respect the company and I kept an open mind. The Rab brand was started in 1981 by its namesake, British alpinist Rab Carrington and, four years ago, the business expanded into the North American market after opening an office in Boulder, Colorado. Today, Rab offers everything from clothing and packs to tents and, of course, sleeping bags.

To read this entire review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Chrome Buran Messenger Bag

There was one point while reading the “manifesto” of Chrome Industries when I couldn’t help but scoff. “Chrome is not about fashion” the all caps prose read, “We make gear that protects people and their things from the elements without looking like you came from the mountains. Tools for living the city (sic).” Well, I live in the mountains and I have to say I think we’re a fashionable bunch. In fact, there are those who would argue Nelson, British Columbia, is the epicenter of functional fashion in Canada because of all the adventure guides, mountain bikers, professional skiers and other outdoor athletes who live here and who actually care about how they look when they walk down Baker Street. What we don’t have a lot of is bike couriers and hipsters, though, which is the main target market for Chrome I think, given the plethora of tatoos and skinny jeans in their marketing shots.

To read the entire review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Voilé Charger and Voilé Charger BC Skis

Despite a name that incorporates an accent aigu, Voilé is not from France. In fact, they’re a small company based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and they’ve been making backcountry specific hard goods since 1980. Today, they manufacture five different kinds of skis and three splitboards and in this review, we’ll be looking at two of their offerings – the Voile Charger and the Voile Charger BC skis. A slimmer version of their award-winning Drifter design, the Voilé Charger adheres to the company’s ethic of light but strong. It has an aspen core with a cap construction, a traditional sidecut and camber underfoot. Its tip is tapered and rockered as is the tail, although less so. (The dimensions of the 181cm model are 137mm, 112mm, 126mm.) The only difference between the company’s Charger and Charger BC skis is the latter has an extruded fish-scale pattern on the base which allows you to ascend slight rises without the need of skins.

Read the full review on Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Exped Ultralite 500 Down Sleeping Bag

In 2009 Exped completely changed my backcountry sleeping experience. Until that time I had endured innumerable nights on a well-known brand name sleeping pad, which was like sleeping on a slice of tissue paper. No matter how tiny the rock, root or rodent underneath me, I could feel every poke and prod the second I lay on my back. Then along came Exped’s Downmat 7 and suddenly I was sleeping on what felt like a warm, queen-size mattress. And I didn’t have to sacrifice that much weight! So when I received the Exped Ultralight 500 sleeping bag to review, I was curious to see if the company would further transform my backcountry snooze experience – and I wasn’t disappointed. The Ultralight 500 is comfortable, cozy and, above all, light. In fact, this bag is all about gram savings: by incorporating a super light-weight fabric, a 3/4 length zipper and 840 fill Down, Exped has ensured the Ultralight is indeed well named.

To read the full review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Exped 40L Mountain Lite Backpack

Exped’s tagline is “Maximum outdoor experience with minimal means” and their Mountain Lite backpack series definitely lives up to the mantra. These packs eschew any of the bells and whistles in favour of the bare essentials wrapped into a comfortable hiking pack. Before I continue, however, I should be clear that while the Mountain Lite 40 backpack I reviewed is very good, it’s not ideal for a backcountry ski experience. I used this pack on both a day trip and an overnight hike into the Valhalla mountain range but I’ve not taken it skiing. The reason for this is, because it’s a minimalist pack with one main pocket, the Mountain Lite doesn’t comfortably store everything I need for a day ski into the backcountry. No matter how I tucked my shovel into the bag, for example, it simply did not feel good against my back and there aren’t any outer straps to affix it to. That said, because of its light weight and small size (when the two aluminum back stays are removed it can be compressed to the size of a rolled-up pair of jeans) I could imagine taking the pack along on a multi-day tour and using it for short summit runs rather than humping a large touring pack to the top of a bowl. What the Mountain Lite 40 is ideal for, though, is short hikes whether on foot or on snowshoes. At only 1100g (or 2.4 lbs) it barely registers on your back and yet its robust design ensures you don’t have to be gentle with it out there.

For the full review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Five Ten Freerider Danny MacAskill Shoe

Since his sleeper hit debut on YouTube in 2009, Scottish freerider Danny MacAskill has become a household name. If by some rare chance you haven’t heard of him, then you obviously are not one of the 31 million people who have seen his Inspired Bicycles’ video where he rides a chainlink fence and pops inverted aerials off a tree. Since that video went crazy viral, MacAskill has been picked up by Red Bull, he’s designed his own bike frame, and Five Ten has had him create his own shoe, appropriately called the Freeride Pro Danny MacAskill. I was recently given this shoe to demo even though I have never, and will never, ride a fence. Nor will I ever throw down a tail whip or a back flip – at least not intentionally. Which is unfortunate because that’s exactly what these shoes were designed for, not for downhill or cross-country riding, which is what I prefer. Five Ten claims these shoes are good “from urban trials to freeriding…and ripping your favorite trail” and I agree with the first two points but definitely not the third.

To read this entire review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the Five Ten Anasazi Arrowhead Climbing Shoe

Before I begin this review I’ll confess that I’m an Anasazi aficionado. I’ve worn Five Ten’s VCS version of this shoe for the past six years and used it on everything from overhanging sport routes in Kalymnos to multi-pitch alpine epics in the Valhallas. The VCS is, in my opinion, the best all-around climbing shoe on the market and the Stealth™ Onyxx™ rubber on its sole is the stickiest on earth. So when Five Ten announced they were making a high-performance version called the Anasazi Arrowhead, I was keen to try it out. The main difference between the VCS and the Arrowhead is the latter has a more aggressive, down-turned toe which maximizes the power you can extort from your forefoot. This translates to two things: firstly, the Arrowhead is a better shoe for tackling hard projects and secondly, it will take longer to feel comfortable in them.

To read this entire review, log on to Backcountry Skiing Canada.

Review of the SteriPEN Freedom

When I got my first SteriPEN four years ago I was so excited I almost gave away my old-school, pump filter system. Never again would I have to lug the ungainly pump with all its tubes and parts into the backcountry, I thought. Sadly, I was mistaken. I owned the SteriPEN Classic and on my first multi-day foray forgot to pack batteries. (Thankfully I had my emergency iodine tablets.) On the next trip I realized I hadn’t read the instructions well enough to discern what the intermittent flashing red LED light meant. Finally I perfected its use only to have it break (the UV lamp stopped coming on) soon after it’s one-year warranty expired. I went back to lugging around my pump until last month when I was given the SteriPEN Freedom to review. And I’m happy to say they’ve made a lot of improvements over the past few years. Firstly, the Freedom comes with a 3-year warranty. Secondly, it’s powered by a sealed lithium polymer battery that can be recharged from an AC Adapter, USB port or solar charger. (No more forgotten batteries.) Thirdly, it’s so intuitive even I remember how to use it: immerse in 0.5 litres of water until the green LED light turns solid. Easy.

For more about the SteriPEN Freedom, read the full review at Backcountry Skiing Canada.