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GEAR REVIEWS

GEAR REVIEWS OUTDOORS TRAVEL

2016 Gift Guide

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I wanted to put together a list of stuff I use and love, not because it’s sponsored by anyone, but because I thought you’d like it. I describe my style as refined grit– and so, this list is for the sophisticated explorer in your life. Someone who gets after it outdoors but enjoys little luxuries too.

This list includes stuff from companies that I work with and companies I have nothing to do with. Whatever you choose to buy this holiday season, remember that you are voting with your dollars.

$25 OR LESS

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Burt’s Bees Lip Balm / $9.01 for two at Amazon
Burt’s Bees has been my go-to chapstick for a while now. Lately I’ve been digging the tinted lip balms, but the original is still great too. A solid choice for a stocking stuffer.

Bananagrams / $12 at REI
Bananagrams is like Scrabble but better and you can play it anywhere. A great game to have and bring on trips!

Topo Designs Accessory Bags / $13-17 at Topo Designs
Full disclosure: I modeled for Topo a year ago and got a bunch of swag. My favorite things from them? These bags. I have one for makeup, one for stationary supplies, and one for memory cards & tech. They are also super durable and Colorado made.

Moleskine XLarge Soft Cover Cahier Journals / $14.69-$19.95 for three on Amazon
The only journals I use. I have been writing and sketching in these for ten years– they are durable and slim so they can go anywhere.

SugarSky Bandana / $22 at SugarSky
A few months ago, SugarSky sent me a couple of headbands, and I haven’t come across any bandanas that I like more! Their patterns are awesome– you are sure to find something for every style.

$50 OR LESS

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Tarteguard 30 Sunscreen Lotion / $32 at Sephora
Give the gift of SPF! I have been wearing this for months as my daily moisturizer and really dig it– I was surprised to see that it only has 4 stars on Sephora! The packaging is annoying for travel since it’s in a pump bottle, but I have been really happy with the formula. I only buy cruelty-free cosmetics and this product is vegan.

Goal Zero Switch 10 Portable Recharger / $39.95 at REI
I don’t actually own this, but I really want one. I’m always running out of juice. There are plenty of portable rechargers out there, but Goal Zero makes durable stuff so I trust that this is no exception.

BioLite Powerlight Mini Light / $44.95 at REI or Amazon
BioLite gave me one of these to try over the summer, and it’s pretty darn handy. It keeps me visible on the trail and it’s a great light to have for reading or hanging out inside a tent. It has multiple modes and is super slim so you can pack it anywhere.

Ethnotek Chiburi Travel Organizer / $50 at Ethnotek
My friend Tiffiny works for Ethnotek and gave me this to try. I have never been one for travel organizers– they just always seemed uncool and over-the-top. I was shocked that I not only continued to use this, but I liked it a lot! This is like a bigass wallet that fits your phone, passport, cards and money. Plus it has a zip pouch for coins.

$80+

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America The Beautiful National Parks Pass / $80 at REI
Access to every National Park in the USA for a year. Pretty sweet.

Ubuntu Made Canvas Shopper / $149.99 at Ubuntu Made
I first found out about Ubuntu Made at a Kammok event this fall. I love their product line– canvas and leather is a combination I will always rock, and this bag is classic. Ubuntu Made celebrates the artisan work of makers in the Maai Mahiu community in Kenya. They have recently partnered with (RED), the global fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Blundstone Boots / $169.95 on Amazon
I got these boots as part of a collaboration with Zappos and fell in love. These are comfortable, durable, and stylish and I wear them every day. Adventure ready for sure.

Cotopaxi Kusa Bomber Jacket / $189.95 at Cotopaxi
So that “refined grit” style I was talking about above? This is that. It’s made from sustainably sourced llama fiber insulation and I could not make that up if I tried. I love that this jacket looks seriously good but also works. Fashion meeting function: yes please. For 15% off, use discount code “ERINOUTDOORS15”.

ANY AMOUNT

Donate to an organization that can use the funds for something you believe in. Here’s where I am giving:

I hope this post gave you some ideas! What is on your list?

 


 

This post contains affiliate links. If you buy something using the a link above, I may receive a commission at no cost to you. That’s not the point of the post. Just wanted to let you know.

GEAR REVIEWS OUTDOORS

The Deal with Those Folding Kayaks

I present to you, A Skeptic’s Review of Those Foldable Kayaks You May Have Seen on Instagram.

I mean, these things were everywhere. I couldn’t walk two feet in social-media-land without seeing one gracefully gliding across some super blue lake in Canada.*

I went on a trip to Mexico in April, organized by photographer Ali V. and filmmaker Aly Nicklas. There was an Oru Kayak involved.

On our second night of the trip, we found ourselves camping on the beach of a calm bay. I sipped a beer and looked over at the Oru Kayak and thought, I’m gonna set that sucker up.

Turns out we forgot that little thing called the instruction manual. But I figured it out sans instructions and went for a paddle. And it was freaking awesome.

So then, when Oru approached me to see if I wanted to be an ambassador, I said yes. I figured that if they could convert a skeptic like me, it was really a good product.

The first time I took my kayak paddling on my own, I hiked it 2 miles uphill to a lake in Colorado. Everyone I passed wondered what I was doing carrying a box up the trail.

I have to say, it’s pretty cool to get a kayak to a lake that you otherwise wouldn’t paddle on.

oru-dream-10Some talking points:

PACKABILITY

This is my favorite feature. Being able to hike a boat somewhere beautiful by myself is so cool. My boat weighs 28 pounds and goes into its own backpack. It fits on top of my platform bed in my CR-V so I don’t have to think about putting it on a roof rack or doing a really amateur job trying to tie it somewhere. And it’s easy to find a space for it in my garage because well, it’s basically just a box.

EASE OF SET UP

When I first got my kayak, I could set up the Bay+ by myself in 30 minutes. Now it’s more like 20. It’s easier with another person. Taking it down takes me 10 minutes or less. There are, of course, some parts of the boat that are easier to set up than others, but once you understand the process, it’s pretty easy and intuitive.

PRICE POINT

There is no question that these are not cheap, so I think it all depends on your budget and your usage. For me, the biggest reason to buy an Oru is to hike it to remote places, plus it fits in my car. Another thing to consider is how often you’ll be using it. I think it all depends on what makes it worth it for you, but having my kayak in my car makes it way easier to go on spontaneous water-related adventures.

snapped by Nate Luebbe

If you are planning on joining the Oru Kayak family, Oru is providing a 15% off discount code for readers of this blog. Use code “ErinOutdoors” at checkout on OruKayak.com.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below!

 


 

I am an ambassador for Oru Kayak, which means my kayak was free. My opinions, as always, are my own.

*Just an assumption that it was Canada. Probably. Anyway.

GEAR REVIEWS

I Tried Period Underwear

This is a post about period underwear, so first of all, if periods gross you out, you’re gonna need to get over that. The majority of uterus-owners that you know have experienced menstruation for much of their lifetime, so I encourage you to read this review even if you don’t think it applies to you. | Photos by Ali V.

So, let’s talk.

Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing ads on my Facebook about period underwear called Thinx (read: very effective target marketing). Period underwear is exactly what it sounds like– it’s underwear you wear on your period. It’s designed so that you don’t have to wear a pad, tampon or cup, though you can absolutely just wear them as backup.

I’d seen a couple of reviews on Buzzfeed and another website that starts with B. I wanted to review Thinx to see if they’d hold up to my adventurous lifestyle (and yours). I wanted to know if they felt gross. I wanted to know if this would forever change my period routine. I emailed Thinx and they agreed to be best friends forever (or to send me a couple of pairs of underwear).

Two pairs of Thinx came in the mail and I was never so excited to get my period. They suggest on their packaging that maybe I have actually been more excited to get my period. And on second thought, they’re right.

Anyway, I got a hiphugger and a thong style, thinking that I’d have a pair to try on both heavier and lighter days.

Once they arrived, I obviously rushed to try them on. This underwear is soft, kinda silky, sexy and feels awesome. You can tell there’s a little something in terms of padding, but no, it doesn’t feel like a diaper.

DAY 1

The first day of my period was pretty light, and I didn’t change into Thinx until I got home. I decided to wear the hiphugger overnight.

Usually I wear my Lunette cup around the clock on my period, so it was nice to not have to worry about leaks. It seemed counter-intuitive to just…wing it… but sure enough I woke up and the Thinx did its job.

let’s pretend I look like this when I wake up.

DAY 2

The second day of my period is typically heavy, and since the hiphugger was now in the wash, I wore the thong as backup for my cup. The padding on this is so light that I forgot I was wearing it. Backup you don’t even know about is a WIN!

At this point, I think to myself that I could wear Thinx when I’m not on my period… just ‘cuz they’re comfy.

DAYS 3 & 4

Once I had the general idea of how Thinx were going to work for me, I rotated wearing the hiphugger and the thong-as-backup.

When I wore just the hiphugger, I didn’t feel like I was sitting in soggy underwear, but I didn’t feel totally dry– and this isn’t a negative thing, just something I want to mention. This should not deter you from trying these!

I wore the thong to yoga and hiking without backup. It went great. It’s a strange feeling knowing that I’m on my period and knowing that I’m not wearing a pad/tampon/cup. It reminds me of skinny dipping or wearing a maxi dress. Anyway, the thong was definitely enough coverage for a few hours of activity. This depends on your flow.

DAY 5

Typically my periods only last 5 days, so today was a lighter day. Once the thong was dry from washing it, that’s all I wore. I went to work, walked around, sat down, stood up, did things. Thinx has my trust.

BUT ARE THEY GROSS?

well played, Thinx, well played. (via shethinx.com)

 

Nope. Not gross. They explain it well.

 

 HOW DO YOU WASH THEM?

(via shethinx.com)

 

It’s pretty simple really. I will probably pick up a few more pairs so I don’t have to think about dry time, but they do dry overnight if you need ’em for the next day!


VERDICT

Believe the hype!

I will continue to use my Lunette during the day, but will switch to the Thinx hiphugger at night, plus the thong for activities like yoga and hiking on lighter days. It’s really, really nice to have a pair of underwear that does the job of a pad. It’s really nice to not have to worry about it. And it’s really nice that those underwear happen to be comfortable and beautiful looking as well.

Thank you, Thinx, not only for creating this innovative product, but for opening up a conversation about periods that needed to happen, and that needs to happen every single day. We have been taught that periods are a shameful thing, something we shouldn’t talk about. What Thinx (and the people behind it– lookin’ at you, Miki Agrawal) is doing is incredibly important. Let’s have the damn conversation already.

here I am conversing with a lamp, but would love to converse with another person about periods.


Other things I recommend for your period:

THERE ARE PERIOD APPS

Generally, if something is not in my calendar, it does not exist. This would include my periods, however my body doesn’t sync up to my Gmail, so Kindara is a great app to help me pay attention. I use Kindara to track my periods. It’ll also show you your most fertile days, plus you’ll never have to say “two weeks ago” to the gyno again. Unless your last period was actually two weeks ago.

MENSTRUAL CUP

A menstrual cup is a re-usable silicone cup to use as an alternative to tampons. I have been using a DivaCup or Lunette for five years due to rumors and eventually scary facts about tampons. Give it a couple of cycles to get used to it and be patient. This is also what I use when I’m camping– beats packing out a bunch of tampons. Plus, you save money and there is no waste. Party time! There are two sizes, so make sure you get the right one for you. Amazon has ’em at a good price here, or pick one up at REI here.

 


 

As always, I love to hear from you, so feel free to let me know what you think about this review!

Photos by Ali V. Find her on Instagram at @alisonvagnini.

GEAR REVIEWS

Gearhead Diaries: My USA Road Trip Essentials

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I recently spent six weeks living out of my car, visiting the National Parks, and doing anything that sounded vaguely interesting or fun. Living out of your car isn’t as convenient or easy as having a heated house, running water, a kitchen, a bed or a bathroom that doesn’t require you to go outside. Anything that made my life more fun or convenient on the road was a huge bonus, and is definitely worth sharing.

Here are ten of my favorite road trip items.

1. National Parks Pass 

Considering that each national park costs between $10-30 per vehicle, at $80, this pass is definitely worth it if you plan on visiting a handful of the parks. Having the pass has also encouraged me to check out places I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, since it doesn’t cost me any more money. If you’re planning to road trip the US, this pass is great. ($79.99. Buy through the National Parks, or REI has them here.)

Lake Powell, Arizona. If I didn't have a parks pass, I wouldn't have gone, and would have missed this sunset.

Lake Powell, Arizona. If I didn’t have a parks pass, I wouldn’t have gone.

2. MSR Mugmate

I only buy coffee in cafes if I need to use wifi, so usually, this is my method for making it myself. It’s essentially a pour over, using a super durable filter. I get up, boil some water, and filter coffee into my Hydro Flask. I also use the Mugmate for backpacking trips. Get one! ($16.95 on Amazon)

coffeecoffeecoffeecoffee

Hello gorgeous.

3. Playlists & Podcasts

Listening to something great definitely improves a long driving day! I make playlists using Spotify and download them to my phone when I have wifi. I also love podcasts: specifically, I have loved Serial and This American Life. It was especially nice listening to podcasts because I was alone. They gave me something to think about, and often I learned something new.

It's helpful to have something good to listen to when you're seeing a whole lot of this.

It’s helpful to have something good to listen to when you’re seeing a whole lot of this.

4. Comfy Bedding and Pillow

Yes, seriously. You’re not backpacking, so bring a pillow and blankets. Bring five! Having a pillow is such a luxury item for me, and it makes a huge difference. Mountain Standard came out with a huge fleece blanket and it is excellent for naps, summits and just being really cozy. ($90 at Mountain Standard)

Being the coziest.

I also recommend using this blanket for staring at stuff. (Photo by Nate Luebbe)

5. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Castile Soap 

Dr. Bronner’s is the soap I use for everything. It’s great for dishes, body soap, and even laundry soap in a pinch. (Multiple sizes available on Amazon)

It might not be necessary to own a 40oz bottle.

It might not be necessary to own a 40oz bottle, but I’m not ashamed.

6. Non-Adventure Shoes

When I wasn’t hiking, I wore sandals everywhere on this trip until it got too cold. Comfortable shoes that you can hang out, drive, and do some light hiking in are great to have! I alternated between the OluKai Hema and my Birkenstock clogs. Easy to slip on and off and super cozy with a thick pair of wool socks. In general, it’s awesome to have a pair of shoes that feel great and aren’t necessarily for hiking or climbing. (Hema sandals, $125 from OluKai)

These sandals have seen a lot of cool stuff.

7. Aqua-Tainer 7-gal Water Container

Never thought a huge water jug would make it onto any favorite-things post of mine. But here it is. Having water with you all the time is extremely convenient. You can fill up at many visitor’s centers or campgrounds every few days. I have been very surprised at how many people I’ve seen using plastic water bottles. Having a big water container means you can fill up your re-usable Nalgene or Hydro Flask at any time, and is way less wasteful. ($17.95 on Amazon)

Water is never a bad thing to have on hand.

8. Watch with Alarm 

I definitely don’t have service everywhere I go. Having a watch means I know I’m going to wake up on time (or at least that my alarm will go off!). Many folks I know have come to rely on their phones as a clock. Being able to turn off your phone and still know the time is great, especially in areas where you don’t have service anyway. I have a Timex– I found it on Amazon for $25 here.

Thanks to this watch, I never missed a sunrise! Thanks to cozy bed, sometimes I did.

9. Patagonia 90L Black Hole Duffel

It’s just a duffel, right? Yes, but it’s really durable. This is where I’ve been keeping all my clothes, and believe me, it truly is a black hole. I have never tried to organize it. I really like how big this bag is, and that it can handle all the dirt, dust and water I seem to always be spilling on it. ($149 from Patagonia, though you can sometimes find older colors on sale)

“organized mess”

10. Bureau of Land Management & National Forest Land

This land has been my best friend. You can camp on BLM or NFS land for free. It’s called dispersed camping, and most tourists don’t know about it. It means no toilets, no picnic table, and often no fires, so if you try dispersed camping, make sure you know how to Leave No Trace and camp responsibly. Local ranger stations are great places to ask for maps and to make sure you’ll be camping somewhere you are allowed to. Look up the area you are going to and ensure you know the regulations specific to that area.

Camped here for free!

$0 campsite!

Sure, not all of these things are pieces of “gear” necessarily, but each one of them has made my experience way better in some small (or big) way.

What would you consider essential for a road trip? What cool stuff do I not know about yet? Let me know!

GEAR REVIEWS OUTDOORS PACKING LISTS

Gearhead Diaries: My Backpacking Essentials

These are a few of my favorite things: The stuff I gush about that vastly improves my life outside.

 

1. PACK: OSPREY ARIEL 75
This thing has been everywhere with me! It’s comfortable and durable. In my opinion, a 75L pack is perfect for most activities. It’s got room for all your backpacking gear (especially important if you’re not an Ultra-Lightweight Superhuman), and it’s good for a long time on the road as well. I honestly find it a little big for travel, but cinching it down has never bugged me and I always have room for souvenirs.
Very nice, how much: $309.95 (you can find older models on sale too. yay!)
Extra Tips: These backpacks come in different torso sizes, and size is vital! A pack that is too small or too big will not be comfy cozy, and you will have a bad time. REI or any reputable outdoor store will be able to fit your backpack just right.

 

2. BOOTS: VASQUE BREEZE
I’m on my second pair of these. They’re waterproof, breathable, and lightweight. These are my go-to backpacking boot year round. I have used them both in summer and winter weather and they have held up well and kept my feet dry.
How much: $170

 

3. TENT: BIG AGNES JACKRABBIT SL2
I upgraded to this tent last year and I love it. At 3lb 9 oz, it’s lightweight, easy to assemble, durable and has convenient pockets everywhere I want them. This is my first purchase from Big Agnes, and I’m impressed.
That sounds expensive: You’re right. $299.95

glamour shot

 

4. PACK COVER
I never thought I’d use one of these! As a certified dirtbag, I always thought I’d just line my pack with a garbage bag. But one time I used a pack cover, and now I am hooked. IT’S SO EASY! Mine is a Large Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil Packcover, which fits packs 75-90L.
How much: $44.95 for dry stuff and convenience

Pack covers are awesome and my mind is blown

 

5. TENACIOUS TAPE
This stuff is the gear fixing tape from heaven. You can find it on pretty much every fabric I own. It’s super durable, idiot proof, and comes in many colors.
And it’s super cheap: $4.95 for a 3 x 20in roll.

 

6. ICEBREAKER SPORTS BRAS
I love wool sports bras AND underwear because they don’t retain odor, they still insulate when wet and they breathe really well. Super duper. Wool underwear is definitely more expensive than synthetic, but it’s worth it! I’ve heard great things about Smartwool’s bras/underwear as well, but I haven’t tried them myself. In terms of support, this bra doesn’t have a ton of it if you’re big busted. If support is what you need, there are definitely more supportive wool bras, and even underwire wool bras available!
How much: $50 each

 

7. SLEEPING BAG: MOUNTAIN HARDWEAR ULTRALAMINA 0
Sooo cozy. Warm and lightweight for a synthetic bag. This is no longer the lightest synthetic bag on the market– in fact, it’s a few years old (cue “Never gonna give you up”). It looks like Mountain Hardwear has moved on to different models like the Lamina 0. If you are thinking about buying a sleeping bag, down vs. synthetic are your two main categories. Down is much lighter and very warm, but will get gross and smelly (and not keep you warm) if it gets wet. I recommend a synthetic bag if you’re looking for a solid year-round option.
How much: $295
Tip: Even though this bag is rated to 0º, I would only use it down to around 15º. Knowing if you are a hot or cold sleeper will help you pick out the right sleeping bag!

 

8. HYDROFLASK
Aka the best thermos ever. If I could marry this thing, I would. Between the hours of approximately 7 and 10am, you can find this glued to my hand. It keeps coffee hot forever, which keeps me caffeinated, which keeps me stoked.
Please buy one: $25.99

Also highly recommended for porch sitting.

 

9. SLEEPING PAD: THERMAREST Z REST
I used to use self-inflating sleeping pads, but no more. The Z Rest can’t pop, which is awesome. I use it everywhere- both outside and in my tent. It can also be used as a splint or other handy medical prop in an emergency.
How much: $34.95 + no holes

 

10. TEVAS
Chaco who? I prefer Tevas, and I’m not sorry about it. I wear the Zirra– they are super lightweight, comfortable, and worthy of the socks and sandals combination. I’m also loving how Teva is bringing back their Originals line, and will definitely be picking up a pair for this summer.
Buy em for: $70

 

Other stuff I can’t live without when backpacking: lots of socks, a Swiss Army Knife, a Kindle, and my journals.

These are my go-to items that you can always find in my pack, but I love gear and I’m always up to try out new stuff! Is there something amazing not listed here? Let me know!

What are your backpacking essentials?