This year, our New Year’s resolution is to get back to “fighting” shape. That means more running, more skiing, and more just-plain activity. But training takes its toll. Whether it’s the bonk after a ten-mile run, or post-gym exhaustion from hours of weight training, sometimes it takes us longer than we’d like to shed that muscle pain and general fatigue. Firming up and dropping ten pounds is a great goal, but face it, we need all the help we can get. We love GU Energy Gels for a mid-workout boost, and now we have their new Chocolate Smoothie Recovery Brew, a tasty treat designed to help your muscles recover and energy levels return. It tastes surprisingly good (not too chalky or artificial), much better than the average muscle milk and protein supplements we’ve relied on in the past. It’s made with premium ingredients, including whey protein isolate, for a boost that’s tastier and nutritionally more sound than our stand-by Snickers bar.
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The REI Flash 18L takes simplicity to the limit at a great price, without sacrificing too much functionality. While REI introduced the original Flash 18 more than a year ago, a couple of upgrades make this pack worth a second glance. A zippered mesh pocket inside the pack is roomy enough for a headlamp, sunglasses, wallet, keys, and electronics. Also inside is a hydration bladder pocket that now includes a connection loop at the top, so there’s no sagging. For people unfamiliar with the ultra-light Flash 18, it’s a simple, lightweight bag with lots of well-considered features. The framesheet is a piece of dense foam that can be removed and used for a seat on snowy or wet days. Or turn the pack inside out and use it as a stuff sack (the ripstop nylon coating repels water, but the drawstring, lidless closure is definitely not designed for wet conditions). We carried the bag to the climbing gym, library, and on day hikes—the 18-liter capacity easily swallows a lunch and water bottle, or climbing shoes, chalk bag, and harness, but not much more. The hip belt and sternum strap are easily removable, but they are so lightweight, we don’t see why anyone would ditch ‘em. The shoulder straps are an airy cut-out foam and mesh that breathe well and didn’t pinch on a day hike up Tumalo Mountain with about ten pounds of food and rain gear. This sub-one-pound pack is ideal for short day hikes in the front country, carrying as a stuff sack and day pack while backpacking, or loading up with your kit for a day of gym climbing or outdoor bouldering.
Lightweight shoes are fine for most hiking and scrambling, but when loads and landscapes get heavy, or the weather goes psycho, then a waterproof trekking boot becomes a beautiful thing. And if said boots prove stable, comfortable, durable, lightweight—and they fit—well, you might even fall in love with ‘em. Which is how one tester feels after spending a month of serious trail time in the new version of Mammut’s all-leather Mercury boot, which has been upgraded for 2012/2013 with a taller Nubuk/Velours leather upper and a grippier, bouncier sole package.
Comfort is the most important factor with any boot, and to test that, we walked these out of the box and onto two weeks of trails in Montana’s Beaverheads, Beartooths, and the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness; a three-day off-trail backpack excursion in southern Utah’s Capitol Reef; and another two weeks on the steep trails of Zion and Bryce.
In their first 72 hours we hiked the boots 37 miles with zero hot spots in the heel pocket, forefoot crease, or tongue fold. The boots proved supple and cushy enough to pad against stony trail, and we could easily lounge around camp in them, even after a long trail day. This welcome performance came thanks to a snug heel cup and mid-foot section for secure foot positioning, combined with a high-volume toe box to allow for long-mileage swelling and foot squish under loads. The combination also proved to be a versatile last that fit several sets of tester feet, from standard D width to one tester’s EEE paddles.
The Vibram ‘Scale’ sole features lugs with a beveled forward edge, and sharp rear edges. They provided excellent forward traction and the EVA midsole gave foot-strikes a refreshing poofy, rubbery feel, even near the end of one 14-mile, 40-pound, stony-trailed day hiking to Johnson Lake in the Anaconda-Pintler. Downhill braking proved secure, even on muddy track, thanks to a pronounced heel block. At 2 pounds and 5.4-ounce per pair they’re only a half-pound heavier than many trail runners.
We confess to feeling some skepticism when we first saw the Adidas Terrex Swift Solo hiking shoes. The mega-brand already makes award-winning shoes for practically every sport that requires footwear, and we worry that hiking might be their Achilles heel. Thankfully, these day hikers stride confidently into the market. After six months of testing, the shoes continue to excel. The wear-resistant textile mesh uppers were durable and breathable during mid-summer hikes, but they offer enough warmth to work well in cooler autumn temps, especially when paired with a nice pair of merino wool hiking socks. The toe cage protects the feet from rocks and roots on the trail without adding too much stiffness, and the heel-to-toe cushioning offered out-of-the-box comfort. We also like the molded tongue, which rested comfortably against the tendons and never slipped, even after a ten-hour slog through the trails of Shenandoah. The tread is fairly modest compared to other day hikers, but the front outsole is climbing-specific and the proprietary Traxion grippy rubber held up well in easy rock scrambles. You won’t be doing any serious climbing in these shoes, mind you. But they may become your go-to approach shoe.
Note: we tested the early model, which had a slightly different look. But the difference between our tester and the new models are purely aesthetic.
As you might’ve noticed, we’ve got a thing for merino wool. It does us proud in the winter—but in hot, sunny and humid climates, it really shines (and yes, we also have a thing for apparent paradoxes: Wearing wool in the summer?). The Hopper Lite has become our go-to Tee for hiking, backpacking, and biking in hot conditions. The smooth-to-the-touch fabric is the lightest in Icebreaker’s line, with raglan sleeves that allow for unencumbered range of movement. The off-the-shoulder seams also assure that you won’t get rubbed raw with an irritating shoulder strap-seamline issues. You’ll love the all-natural wicking ability; wool isn’t as quick-drying as many synthetics, but its natural thermo-regulating properties keep you cool when you start to heat up and warm if you start get chilled. And—unlike synthetics—it’s naturally odor-resistant, which is a huge boon for go-light adventurers (and their tentmates). The clean lines and athletic fit also makes the Hopper as at home in a pub or on a plane as on the trail.