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Gear Review: Rab Alpha Direct

image000000No matter what winter outdoor activity you participate in, the main challenges are always to stay warm and dry.  It can be quite the struggle to achieve this equilibrium given the environmental conditions that are thrown at you on the mountain, the slopes, or even the trails at the Nature Center.  Everyone wants to be warm and toasty when they hike in winter, but if you become too warm, your body needs to start sweating in order to keep cool.  Of course, the first instinct is to shed a layer which helps if you’re slogging up the relentless uphill pitch of your favorite mountain or large hill. In other situations though, you just start to get doggone chilly! I have definitely been “that guy” on many a winter hike or snowshoe trip that has to stop every 5 minutes to keep putting on the layer I just took off the last time I stopped.  Ever since I was a young lad working on the potato farm on the Emerald Isle, I have long dreamed of a jacket that would be both breathable enough to expel the heat created while working hard and insulating enough that I would not freeze my fanny off when I stop to take a break.  Well, my fine feathered friends, do I have good news for you: I finally was able to experience such a magical coat this winter!  It’s the Alpha Direct Jacket from our good friends over at Rab.

The jacket gets its name from the Polartec Alpha insulation.  This is a synthetic insulation that is highly compressible, made of highly lofted knit fibers (almost feels like high pile fleece on the inside) that keeps moisture vapor moving freely throughout that increases overall air exchange and speeds up drying time.  This allows the insulation to keep from over saturating and turning into a sponge which I have experienced while using traditional synthetic insulation material.  It is definitely the most water repellent of any insulation material I have ever used.

Jacket at First Glance

-Maybe the best fit I’ve ever found in a synthetic insulated jacket. I’m 5’8”, 170 pounds with an athletic build and the medium fit me like a glove.  It is trim enough that it layers easily underneath a hard shell when needed, but not tight to the point that I can’t wear it out in public.

-One chest pocket on the16178743_10158003463420005_8905867791651398461_o outside with two hand-warmer pockets high enough to be used when wearing a backpack hip belt or a climbing harness.

-Insulated under the helmet hood. Great because over-the-helmet hoods look huge and barely stay on your head when not wearing a helmet (plus not everyone wears a helmet when doing winter activities!)

-Rab chose to forego an inside liner for this jacket. At first I was skeptical, but then quickly changed my mind after I noticed how soft and warm the Polartec Alpha material feels directly on the skin.  I think this helps expedite drying time and moisture release even more so!

-It may have the best length sleeve with thumb loops I have come across.  The thumb loops are fleece lined and great when putting sleeves through another layer or for extra hand warmth, but are still a good length that the sleeves don’t bunch up when you’re not using the loops.

-May seem silly, but I like the two tone blue that my jacket came in.  I really like blue and this made it seem less in your face

The Alpha Direct out in the “Field

I first used this jacket back in December on a three mile run on a windy day with temperature in the teens.  Beneath it I wore a short sleeve Ibex wool base layer that was all! When I first stepped out of the car I immediately feel the teeth chattering kind of cold creep into my shoes.  If only they made Polartec Alpha socks! (Heath, if that catches on, I’d like 1% of all sales worldwide.)  Anyway, despite not advertising any wind resistance, I found the Pertex Microlight outer fabric does a fine job with this.  I honestly finished the run sweat-free despite running at a good pace for all three miles.  A couple times I had unzipped the front of the jacket about halfway to let some heat escape, but overall I was very comfortable the entire run.

Over the course of December and January, I wore this for a good number of shorter day hikes, ranging from 3-6 miles depending on the day and what I had time for.  Most da16299599_10158003585010005_6874443317420259073_oys, when the weather was in the 20’s and 30’s, I was totally fine wearing just my short sleeve base layer underneath.  I prescribe to the hiking style of finding a sustainable pace that I can maintain with ease in an effort to just keep moving and to minimize breaks.  So when I would stop, it would only be for a minute or two, but even when on these short rest breaks, I never noticed any drop in core body temperature like you can find when taking a hike stop without adding any additional layers. Again, still amazed at how dry I would be when finishing up these short hikes. Even when hiking near zero degrees my body still finds a way to sweat if I work hard enough.  I would sweat some while wearing the jacket, but the moisture was always able to escape through the jacket and keep me from soaking through my base layer(s).

Now for the real reason I got this jacket: my winter trip to summit Mt. Washington with the University of Cincinnati Mountaineering Club! The three previous times I have summited this mamma jamma, by the time I reached the top, my base layers were either soaked, near soaked, or down right icy which is terribly dangerous in that type of winter alpine environment.  This time however, I was actually dry when I reached the summit! Like they always say, fourth time is the charm… I’m sure someone has said that.  I started my hike with my Ibex merino wool short sleeve base layer and a Rab long-sleeved Merino/polyester blend (MeCo) hooded base layer because I know that I needed to start cold to keep off sweating as long as possible.  When starting a winter activity in which you know your body will warm up after some from exertion, don’t be afraid to start a little chilly. You will warm right up.  Eventually, I needed a little more warmth, so I threw on the Alpha Direct Jacket and chose not to zip it up seeing as we were still hiking uphill.  Once we reached tree line, we met some icy winds so I threw on my Gore-Tex shell jacket and that layering combo kept me warm enough without overheating all the way to the summit! (If you are more interested in Mt. Washington during winter, I wrote a blog about it this time last year! It will be in the blog archives from February 2016.)

Since then, I keep wearing it on my little winter sojourns to commune with the trees and listen to the babble of the brooks in my free time.  Whether it’s near zero and I wear it with a hard shell, or it’s in the upper 40’s and I can get away with just a t-shirt underneath, there is such a wide range of conditions and acti16300059_10158005272260005_1705066003377294848_ovities for which I can wear the Alpha Direct jacket.  I plan on definitely continuing to use it as my go-to winter mid-layer and looking forward to chilly spring and fall days where I can use it as a standalone jacket.  This summer I am taking a 4 week road trip out west and I plan on bringing it as my “just in case” jacket if we run into any 40 degree or lower nights while in the mountains or on the chilly Pacific Coast.  The versatility of this jacket is what makes it worth its weight in gold (which is actually only about 17 oz.!) Given the right conditions, I think I will end up using this bad boy for about 8 months out of the year.  That’s pretty darn worth it in my mind, especially if the trend of having warmer winters continues and you find yourself reaching for that giant puffy less and less.

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The Triple Bottom Line Part 2: Social Sustainability

By: Mackenzie Griesser

The first blog of this series discussed the most obvious factor when determining a company’s sustainability: their environmental awareness.  Another important element that contributes to the triple bottom line of sustainability is social sustainability. This can be defined many ways, but for the purposes of this blog we will define it as a company’s efforts to give back to the communities in which they operate. This can be done several ways. Some companies organize fundraising events and donate the money to local environmental groups while others send volunteers to help with ongoing projects. No matter their level of involvement however, every brand we carry invests in their community in some way. Part two of a three part series on sustainability in the outdoor industry, this blog will highlight some of the social sustainability initiatives that different brands we carry at Roads Rivers and Trails have to offer.

Patagonia definitely takes the cake when it comes to community involvement and outreach. They work closely with several environmental organizations and donate 1% of all profits to nonprofit groups across the globe. Another way they raise funds for these groups is by organizing the Salmon Run, a 5k community “fun run” in Ventura, California. They also created an environmental internship program for their employees, which is one of the best internship programs I’ve ever seen. Not only do they allow the inteexte842rns to work with whatever environmental group they want, they continue to pay and offer benefits for the duration of the internship, which can be up to two months! Patagonia also takes steps to give back to its namesake, Chilean Patagonia, by sending employees at the company’s expense to help create a new National Park from a former sheep and cattle ranch. Volunteers help remove non-native plants and restore grasslands, build trails, and even built a visitors’ center and other necessary infrastructure. When it is finished the park will span 173,000 acres and be a home for over a hundred species of native fauna, including the four-eyed Patagonian frog and the near extinct huemul deer.

While Patagonia’s community outreach and dedication to environmental protection is truly astounding, Arc’Teryx is right behind them in giving back to communities and protecting beloved wilderness areas. However, they differ from Patagonia in that most of their involvement and outreach is through partnerships with other organizations. For example, they partner with the North Shore Mountain Bike Association to help maintain and protect mountain biking trails on Canada’s North Shore. They are also a sponsor of the Trail Builders Academy, which utilizes both on-site and classroom settings to teach proper trail building and maintenance techniques. They are also members of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, which requires a membership fee that directly funds projects that Arc’Teryx employees regularly volunteer time towards, and the Conservation Alliance, which engages businesses to fund and partner with organizations to protect wild plaArcteryx_BirdNestCape_Delivery_Day_1ces. The membership fees for this organization also go towards funding projects that are voted on by members. One project that Arc’Teryx created and organizes itself is the Bird’s Nest Project. Staff members volunteer time to sew discontinued Gore-Tex fabrics into garments for homeless citizens in Vancouver, which are distributed by local police departments and homeless shelters.

Another brand that invests a lot in their community and organizations across the country is Osprey. Like Arc’teryx, many of their social sustainability initiatives are through partnerships with other organizations. They helped Conservation Next organize and execute an event where volunteers spent the day removing invasive species and performing much needed restoration work on trails in Eldorado Canyon State Park. They also act as a sponsor for Telluride by financing renewable power for Lift 12, as well as sponsoring the Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival. On their own, they donate $2 of every pro deal sale to non-profit organizations, including the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and Continental Divide Trail Alliance, and donate 5% of profits from their biannual community “Locals Sale” to nearby non-profit organizations. Donations from these two fundraisers totalled around $7,000 in 2009. Financial donations aside, they also allow employees to do 8 hours of volunteer work on their clock, racking up 200 hours of paid volunteer work in 2009 alone.

These three companies definiteindexly do the most when it comes to social sustainability, but all of the brands we carry give back in one way or another. Rab and Prana contribute to multiple service projects, including restoration work at Peak District National Park (UK) and sending aid to natural disaster sites. Big Agnes and Sea to Summit support Leave No Trace, an international organization that teaches outdoor ethics. These two also support several other environment-focused organizations such as the Conservation Alliance, the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education, and the Outdoor Industry Association.

Some businesses see giving back to nearby communities as a great PR move, but it’s incredibly important to account for how their operations affect local people. Companies benefit from these communities and everything they have to offer, so it is crucial that they invest in them to ensure their longevity. Social sustainability is often overlooked or assumed, but the brands we carry here at RRT do an awesome job of making sure local neighborhoods and the organizations that support them are taken care of. However, they cannot truly be sustainable unless they follow the criteria of the triple bottom line, which includes social as well as environmental and economic sustainability. You can read about our apparel brands’ environmental sustainability here . Stay tuned for the final blog of this series, which will discuss the thrilling world of economic sustainability, coming soon!

Outdoor Apparel Companies and Environmental Sustainability

by Mackenzie Griesser

As an environmentalist in a capitalist society, I can’t help but think about how the gear and apparel I purchase are manufactured. It would be super disappointing if the companies making products that are meant to be used in the great outdoors were actively contributing to unsustaiimagesnable practices that harm the planet! I was curious to see just how sustainable the brands we carry are so I did some research and was happy to find some great information. When we talk about how sustainable a company or product is, we have to consider the “triple bottom line”: social, economic, and environmental sustainability. If the company or product does not meet all three of these qualifications, we can’t call them truly sustainable. In my research, I found that there is way too much information to discuss all three of these components in one blog, so this is the first of a 3-part series covering each factor that makes up the “triple bottom line”. The following is a brief summary of the environmental sustainability initiatives of some of the brands we carry, specifically outerwear and apparel companies.

When we think about the sustainability of apparel, there are a few questions we must ask ourselves: Where did the raw materials come from? How were they obtained? What processes do they go through as they are made into a garment? How long can they be used before being thrown out and added to the ever-growing landfill? Luckily for us, most of the brands we carry answer all of these questions directly on their websites and are great at providing consumers with transparency concerning all of their processes, from cradle to grave. Mountain Hardwear even goes as far as to publish lists of the manufacturers that produce their materials every year for the public to polybag-herosee! Most other brands, including Arc’Teryx, Ibex, Patagonia, and Prana, perform Life Cycle Assessments regularly, following products from manufacture to disposal to ensure that they are doing everything as efficiently and sustainably as possible.

When it comes to raw materials, the brands we carry are pros at finding the most sustainably procured materials at a reasonable price. Both Patagonia and Prana use several recycled and re-purposed materials, including down from old bedding that is washed and sterilized, wool from old sweaters and scraps from production, cotton also from production leftovers, nylon, and polyester made from pre- and post-consumer recycled plastic. They both also utilize hemp, which leaves the soil it is grown in healthy enough to grow food crops directly after harvest, as well as organic cotton, which is not genetically modified and does not require fertilizers or pesticides.  Patagonia takes it a step further and also utilizes Tencel, a branded lyocell fiber that comes from the pulp of trees grown on farms certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, yulex and guayule rubber, which together make a more sustainable version of neoprene, and undyed cashmere.

Chemical management is also very important to consider. The big “bad guy” often used in outdoor apparel is perfluorocarbons, or PFCs, which are used in waterproofing materials. However, several brands now use more sustainable alternatives including single polymer polypropylene and short-chain PFCs, which biodegrade much easier than other chemicals and take less energy and resources to obtain. Arc’TeryxPatagonia also adheres to a strict Restricted Substances List to ensure the materials they are using are safe for both the consumer and the environment.

The last thing to consider when determining the sustainability of a garment is what will happen to it once it wears out. Several brands, including Patagonia, Ibex, Chaco, and Arc’Teryx, encourage customers to send back worn-out or damaged products to be recycled or repaired in order to prevent adding waste to landfills. In general, however, all of the brands we carry make super hardy and durable products, so they will last a long time.

Another thing to consider is ensuring that the animals that materials are sourced from are treated well. Every brand we carry that utilizes down in their products (Sea to Summit, Rab, Patagonia, Outdoor Research, Arc’Teryx, and Prana) are certified under the Responsible Down Standard. To be accredited under these standards, the farmer and company must adhere to some standard principles. First, birds are never live-plucked or force fed. Also, the welfare of the birds is respected from birth to death. This means injuries and illnesses are prevented as much as possible and treated in a timely manner they cannot be prevented. Companies that are accredited under these standards are randomly audited multiple times a year by third-party companies, usually with unannounced visits, and only products with 100% certified sustainable down can carry the RDS label.

While down is utilized in many products we sell, we can’t forget about good old merino wool (AKA Miracle Fabric.) Ibex definitely leads the way when it comes to wool that is harvested sustainably. They only use ZQ merino, which has a pretty intensive certification process. Any farmer can be accredited if they meet the 5 freedoms granted to animals by the Animal Welfare Act. First, the sheep must be properly fed with wholesome foods that meet all nutritional requirements, as 24well as be provided with limitless water. Next, they must be given appropriate shelter. Another freedom granted is the freedom from unnecessary pain and distress, which means the farmer must know how to handle them to avoid distress and maintain their property so that there is little risk of injury. Also, mulesing is prohibited under this category. Mulesing is a surgical procedure where sections wool-bearing skin that are susceptible to retaining bacteria that attracts flies are removed. While this procedure does decrease the chances of flystrikes, there are more sustainable ways to deal with this issue, including regular inspections and cleaning and shearing of the vulnerable areas. The next requirement is that the sheep must be allowed to exhibit natural patterns of behavior, which essentially means they must be given adequate space to roam and interact with one another. Finally, the farmer must be able to provide prevention, rapid diagnosis, and treatment of injury, disease, and parasite infestation if any of these were to occur. If a farmer meets all of these conditions, they can be accredited under the ZQ merino standard. Every 3-5 years unannounced audits are conducted, usually by a veterinarian.

Environmental sustainability is such a. important thing to consider when investing money in a company by purchasing their products, especially when it’s a company that specializes in outdoor gear! While some brands offer more sustainability initiatives than others, every apparel brand we carry does a great job of being environmentally conscious when sourcing materials for their products and when manufacturing them. I always feel much better about supporting companies that consider these sorts of things, even if it costs them a little more money, than companies that are only out to make a profit regardless of what effects their processes have on the environment. However, environmental sustainability is only one third of the triple bottom line! Stay tuned for more info on the social and economic sustainability initiatives offered by the brands we sell here at Roads Rivers and Trails.

 

 

Demystifying the Modern Rain Shell

By: Goatman

Autumn hiking: the trees blazing from inside out, the air purified by chilled winds, the campfire smelling like it should. Autumn seems a beautiful time to spend your time wandering around the woods. And then the rains come. Unlike a nice, refreshing summer shower, the rains of fall don’t play nice. They bite and they seep into your bones and set teeth to clacking around. Getting caught in the wrong storm this time of year can be dangerous. Enter the rain shell, an autumn hiker’s best friend. Not to disparage the storms of other seasons, of course.

Much like the shell of our turtle friends from whom we take much advice, a rain shell means protection from harm. Whether it be rain, snow, wind, or cold, modern shells are designed to keep you alive, dry, and moving. There are times when staying in the tent, playing cards, and drinking hot cocoa sounds marvelous. The reality of the situation is that hikers don’t often have that sort of luxury. Hikers gonna hike and, more often than not, moving through a storm means moving to safety. So we throw on a rain shell and move, down the ridge, away from the menacing black clouds and the lightning on the balds.

When you hike (or bike or kayak or whatever you’re doing out in the wild) you sweat. So what’s the use of keeping the rain off if you’re just going to swim in your own slop? So, waterproof, yes, but breathability is also a major issue when choosing a rain shell. The purpose of this blog post is to help you find the right shell for the right purpose. This process can be confusing for a few reasons:

1: “Waterproof” does not mean waterproof. Confused? Good. A little confusion is good for the brain. Makes for good learning. A truly waterproof shell would be a terrible choice for the trail. To be truly waterproof, the material would have to be impermeable, meaning that no water can get in, but no water escapes either. That’s no good. That’s a sweaty plastic sack. So what we’re looking for is more accurately called “highly water resistant” but “waterproof” sounds shorter and sweeter so that’s what they call it. And there are levels to this, of course. To be called waterproof, a material must meet certain criteria. The measure of waterproofing is called Hydrostatic Head, which is fancy talk for how much water they can stack on top of a material before it starts to leak. 1,000 mm = “waterproof”. Will a 1,000 mm rain shell keep me dry if Zeus decides to unleash his fury on poor Goatman for looking crossways at a thunderhead? No. Serious weather rain shells rate more along the lines of 10,000 to 20,000 mm (that impermeable sack we spoke of earlier would be 40,000+). That’s about as technical as this article is going to get. I’ll throw some links down at the bottom for those who want to delve deeper into the science behind it all. What I’m getting at here is that a tag that says “waterproof” on a jacket can mean a variety of different things. Gore-tex vs eVent vs Pertex Shield+ vs H2NO? Here at RRT, we can tell you the difference in waterproofing between our styles of rain shells. Come in and ask. I dare you.

2: But can we tell you about breathability? If you liked the slightly complicated nature of waterproofing, you’re going to love the absurdly complicated nature of breathability! At least in this case, breathable means just that: allowing the passage of air and moisture. You hike, you sweat. Best case scenario, your sweat evaporates and, water vapor being smaller than raindrops, escapes from your rain shell through the tiny holes in the “waterproof” fabric. So there must be some way to test how much water vapor escapes from the material. Of course there is. There are a few ways actually and not one standardized test across the industry. Different companies, different materials, different tests. Do different tests test the same thing? Sort of. They all tell you how much water vapor passes through material. Do any of them simulate wilderness conditions in which you are bouncing off of trees and rubbing bellies with granite and sweating at different rates, in different humidity, on a different mountain, in a different country? No. Nature isn’t a controlled laboratory (thank goodness). So we leave the lab and go out in it and let our skin do the testing. And the companies would agree. They all have their labs but they also have their athletes out in the bush, getting it done.

As I mentioned before, we carry a variety of rain shells at RRT. Below, I will break down the differences, similarities, and various uses of each shell. Remember: these are words on the Internet. If you really want to experience the thing itself, come in and talk to one of us, try on a couple of styles, and see what is going to work for what you want to do.

rab-latokCompany: Rab Style: Latok Alpine

Waterproofing: eVent   Layers: 3   Weight: 18 oz.

 We’ll start with the big boy: Rab’s Latok Alpine, store favorite for keeping you dry in the worst conditions. Designed, as the name suggests, for protecting you on exposed alpine climbs, the Latok Alpine is serious protection. It boasts the highest breathability and is rugged to boot. Going on a mountain-climbing trek where you’re guaranteed to get dumped on for days and want a shell that won’t give out on you, no matter how much punishment you put it through? This is it. At 18 oz., this is also the heaviest shell we carry. Perhaps overkill for an afternoon hike with 50% chance of rain.

 

rab-xiomCompany: Rab   Style: Xiom

Waterproofing: Pertex Shield +   Layers: 3   Weight: 15 oz.

We go lighter from there with Rab’s Xiom. Great jacket to throw in your pack on a long backpacking trip. It’s still Rab and still 3 layers, so the durability is there, but at less than a pound the Xiom won’t weigh down your pack when the sun comes out. Added pit zips make this a highly waterproof and breathable design. Pertex Shield + is Pertex’s highest end fabric for weight and performance.

 

 

 

bergenCompany: Rab   Style: Bergen

Waterproofing: eVent   Layers: 3   Weight: 19.6 oz.

Think of the Bergen as the Latok Alpine’s big brother. It weighs more because it’s bigger and more roomy for more fully fleshed out individuals. If you find the athletic cut of modern rain shells restrictive, fear not! The Bergen is here. All of the advantages of breathability and waterproofing of the eVent liner are still apparent in this jacket. For a couple of ounces more, you simply have more room to be comfortable.

 

 

 

 

zetaCompany: Arc’teryx   Style: Zeta LT

Waterproofing: Gore-tex   Layers: 3   Weight: 11.8 oz.

Arc’teryx doesn’t mess around. A three layer shell at less than 12 ounces, cut to fit the body in motion, with heavy duty Gore-tex lining. Arc-teryx construction is unmatched in the business and, despite its low weight, this shell can take a beating. Though not as breathable as eVent or Pertex Shield, this shell is still a contender for lightweight backpacking in any condition you can throw at it. If you’ve never tried on an Arc’teryx piece, do yourself a favor. These guys know exactly what they’re doing and they do it very well.

 

 

 

or-forayCompany: Outdoor Research   Style: Foray

Waterproofing: Gore-tex   Layers: 2.5   Weight: 16.3 oz.

OR makes some great gear and the Foray is no exception. Gore-tex is big papa when it comes to waterproofing. They were there first and they still do it like they mean it. Sheds water as well as the Latok Alpine and, while losing a bit of breathability, also loses a few ounces. Any advantages to that? Sure. A bit warmer of a jacket can be a good thing in the cold. This is another shell meant to handle whatever you throw at it. They add two way pit zips to compensate for the loss in fabric breathability.

 

or-aspireCompany: Outdoor Research   Style: Aspire

Waterproofing: Gore-tex   Layers: 2.5   Weight: 13.7

The Aspire is the women’s specific OR shell that is much like the Foray for men, but fit specifically to a women’s curves. Gore-tex knows not gender, so you’re still getting a heavy-duty severe weather jacket with the Aspire.

 

 

 

 

or-heliumhdCompany: Outdoor Research   Style: Helium HD

Waterproofing: Pertex Shield +   Layers: 2.5   Weight: 9.1 oz.

We are dropping ounces here. The Helium series from OR, much like the noble gas for which it is named, floats compared to the beefy shells we’ve been learning about. This is a long-distance backpackers’ jacket, truly: extremely breathable, lightweight, and immensely packable. Able to shrug off all but the most extreme rains, this is the sort of jacket you throw on when you’re in for the long-haul, need to keep moving rain or shine, but can then forget about on the nice days. While not the jacket I would choose for alpine excursions or deep winter treks.

 

 

or-helium2Company: Outdoor Research   Style: Helium II

Waterproofing: Pertex Shield +   Layers: 2.5   Weight: 6.4 oz.

I have eaten candy bars that weigh more than the Helium II. A stripped down little brother in the Helium series, this is a minimalists dream. Ultra-light, ultra-breathable, ultra-packable. If you’re the type of backpacker that cuts your toothbrush in half, removes your zipper pulls, and doesn’t bother cooking food on the trail, here you go. Also a great shell for trail-running, mountain biking, or any other high-intensity outdoor activity where you might run into unwelcome rain.

 

 

patagonia-torrentCompany: Patagonia   Style: Torrentshell

Waterproofing: H2NO   Layers: 2.5   Weight: 12.2 oz.

The stylish choice, Patagonia’s Torrentshell is not as waterproof as eVent or Gore-tex and not as breathable as Pertex Shield +, this one lands right in the middle on every scale. Great for everyday wear, in town or on the trail, the Torrentshell will keep you dry as you go about your business. Not an alpinists shell and a bit heavier than our lightweight options, this one is a good all-around jacket with Patagonia backing it up, so you know it is greener than grass (in the environmental sense).

 

finderCompany: Mountain Hardwear   Style: Finder Jacket

Waterproofing: Dry Q Core   Layers: 2   Weight: 14.3 oz.

The most affordable jacket in our line up, Mountain Hardwear’s Finder Jacket is a great starter shell. Though a bit heavier than our lightweight options, this jacket will breathe better than some of the sturdier Gore-tex options, though will not take quite the soaking. Great jacket for layering or to shrug off quick storm, not as useful in serious weather when staying dry is crucial. For the price, however, the Finder is a good all-around jacket.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helpful, technical links for your perusal:

www.evo.com/waterproof-ratings-and-breathability-guide.aspx

www.ellis-brigham.com/advice-inspiration/guides-and-advice/buying-guides/waterproof-fabrics-buying-guide

 

Links to the companies mentioned above:

www.patagonia.com

www.outdoorresearch.com

www.mountainhardwear.com

www.us.rab.uk.com

 

Technology Links:

http://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/our-fabrics

http://pertex.com/fabrics/shield-plus/

http://eventfabrics.com/technology/

 

RRT’s Live Inventory now on Locally.com

 

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Down and Dirty: How to Clean Your Down Gear

Greetings RRT Adventurers! The Bear here with another gear update.

We know that the thought of your down gear is probably the last thing on your mind in the dead of summer, but that is precisely why we thought it would make for a good blog topic. We neglect our gear for months, cramming it into a closet, bag or stuff sack until we need it in the colder months and climes. What better time than now to give your down some TLC than when you know for sure you won’t need it immediately.

The following directions are geared mainly toward sleeping bags, as they are normally the garment we need to clean most often. However, down cleaning rules apply to any down garment (puffies, etc.) and will keep your gear feeling like it did the first day you bought it for years to come.

Before we dive into the bathtub of down-wash, let’s cover a few basics. First, make sure you have a down drying bag handy for any piece. Most jackets don’t come with a laundry bag, so keep a cotton pillow case around to use in its place. Remember to tie it shut before throwing it in the dryer. Second, if you notice your plumules (down feathers) sticking out of the garment, make sure not to pull them out. You are increasing the diameter of the hole each time you pull one out, and it is the nature of a down garment to have at least a few quills poking through. Instead, grab the protruding culprit from the other side of the garment, like the inside sleeve or bag liner, and pull them bag into the baffles. Finally, regarding storage, many sleeping bags and garments don’t come with store sacks. Kelty sleeping bags, for instance, come with a stuff sack but no storage sack while Sea to Summit and Big Agnes come with both. This isn’t an issue; it just means you need to store in hanging up. This will prolong the life of the bag and/or garment by allowing the down to maintain its loft.

Now, onto the nitty gritty…

Hand-washing

1. Fill tub with water.

2. Soak down garment in tub.

3. Pour an amount of down wash into the water; different washes will have different measured amounts, be sure to consult the specific wash you are using.

4. If bag or garment is heavily soiled, let it soak for up to an hour so the down wash can work its way through the soiled fabrics and plumules.

5. GENTLY knead the bag or garment from top to bottom while it is still submerged in the water. The goal here is to press loose dirt particles through the cloth into the water. Depending on the amount of grime, you may need to repeat this process a couple times. DO NOT pick the bag or garment up while it is wet.

Down companies have many variations on filling their products, but they are typically all done via a wand blowing down into the baffles, one by one, until the garment is full. Down, when it’s dry and fully lofted (fluffy) cannot push back through the openings the manufacture used to fill them. However, when wet (as you have seen in our dry down vs. standard down video on YouTube), down clumps together, and gravity and/or centrifugal force will pull it through the baffle openings. This results in uneven distribution as your down dries, sometimes in whole baffles being empty. So how do you avoid this?

6. Drain the tub, press the garment flat against the floor of the tub and roll it tight toward the drain.

What you will be accomplishing here is flattening the down inside the garment while simultaneously wringing the water out. This flattened down will not move, so long as you keep tension on the rolled garment. Think of it like wringing out a rag; the tighter you squeeze it, the more water it sheds. Be sure not to let up on it when you move to the next step.

7. Take the still coiled-up garment out of the tub and place it immediately in the laundry bag supplied with your down bag.

DO NOT dry your bag without one of these laundry bags. Gravity + Loose, Wet Down (even the compacted stuff mentioned above) + rapidly spinning cylinder = bad news. Set the drier to medium, and make sure to periodically stop the cycle and break up clumps from the washing process. Keep it in the bag, dry it until it is completely dry, like hot, fluffy dry. No moisture. Period.

8. You’re done! You know that awesome feeling you get from clean sheets? Exactly. If you’re going to store it, put it back in its storage sack (the bag you bought it in.) Otherwise, cram that thing back in your sleeping bag compartment and get yourself outside!

***

Machine Washing

DO NOT USE A TOP LOADING WASHER!!

Trust us on this one, front-loading only.

1. Follow the same rules for soaking as in hand-washing, spot treat directly with down wash to heavily soiled or stained areas and soak for up to an hour.

 

2. Turn the garment inside out prior to washing. Water will push through the lining material on the inside of the bag or garment more easily than it will through the shell as the shell is designed to be water repellent. Hence, if it won’t let water in, it won’t let water out either.

 

3. Use the normal, cold water cycle, with a cold water rinse

 

4. Run through a complete second cycle without soap. This will make sure the soap has completely washed out.

 

5. Wring as much water out of the bag as possible before attempting to pull it out of the washer.

Push and squeeze it into the bottom of the drum a few times; just make sure the bag isn’t sopping wet when you take it out of the washer. The baffles are sewn on with either a single or up to a triple stitch per baffle, but neither the thread nor sewing techniques are designed to support suspended weight. If you’ve picked up wet clothing, you know how drastically different the weights are. Water is heavy.

6. Follow same steps for drying as hand-washing. Wring out, put in drying bag, hot and fluffy, etc.

There you have it! Now, stop reading and go outside!

 

More Gear Reviews?     Next

Rab Strata Hoodie

Alpha test alpha
Written by: Bryan Wolf

If you have been to Roads Rivers and Trails then you know that we are big fans of Rab technical wear. To date there has not been a piece of gear that left us disappointed or that failed to out-perform our expectations.  While this gear test is on the Rab Strata Hoodie, the real test is on the new technology that is Polartec Alpha.

If you visit the Polartec web site as it is linked above you’ll find scientific proof along with reviews, backing, and support of our military forces that this technology works. This all has great substance and while hand selecting the gear that we use and sell in our store we find that the better gear has that substance. I want to know ratings for breath-ability and warmth, that is how you compare things. How do I know one piece of gear is better than another if not for the credibility of testing and user performance reviews.

That being said I am more skeptical than most when it comes to reading reviews on a website that is self promoting. We have personally found that certain pieces, while maintaining their claims, fail to be the most practical piece for our applications. For example, a high alpine piece created for ski may not be the best for an Eastern United States Appalachian hiker. With this exact issue in mind I wanted to get a little use of the Strata and the new Polartec Alpha technology before bringing it in to the store.

Off to my favorite gear testing stomping grounds; the Appalachian Mountains and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The plan as it is now is for a few nights atop Mt. LeConte via the Boulevard Trail. Recent nights have been as low as -9 degrees with about 10 inches of snow on trail. The weekend forecast will most likely add to the snow and it doesn’t look to get warmer than highs of mid twenties. I plan on having proper layers on and will wear the jacket both in motion and while still. I’m a pretty fast hiker so I hope to mostly test the breath-ability of this piece. Since I previously have reviewed a competing technology with a Primaloft jacket (Generator) I feel I’ll be well suited to compare the leading brands and discuss the differences.

I can’t wait, I’ve been needing some mountain time!!  Review coming soon:

Rab GeneratorThe Mountain didn’t disappoint. Upon arriving at the Sugarlands visitor center we were immediately detoured in our plans. The roads were closed at 441  so there was no hope for the Alum or Boulevard Trails, furthermore it meant that we had to make alternative plans for that night. We grabbed a tent site at Cades Cove Campground and enjoyed the solitude of being absolutely the only people staying at the typically bustling site.  The next morning we checked again for changes in road conditions and things had only gotten worse. Cherokee Orchard was now closed half way to the Bull Head Trail. The rangers questioned if packing up the mountain was something we wanted to do with the nights forecast, we of course assured them that we would be just fine.Strata Hoodie

We had to hike up 1.5 miles of road before hitting the 7.1 mile trail to the shelter. Road walking was too easy of course and my pace up the mountain wasted no time in building up some heat. I started with the Strata jacket and some wool base layers. When we got to the trail head it was time to remove a layer and the jacket got packed away. I didn’t ever expect the jacket to last during a 3+ mile pace uphill.  Temperatures were under 20 degrees all day and as you may know they can change rapidly as you hike higher in elevation, or in and out of different ridgelines.winter trekking

It was around mile 4 (including the road) that we stopped for a short break and lunch. The pack comes down and before anything else the jacket hat and gloves go on to retain what heat I had built up. The break was only 20 minutes, but it was very comfortable. When we started hiking again enough heat had escaped that I wasn’t willing to lose the Strata yet. As the trail steepened and our feet slowed, I realized I was not going to take the jacket off for the rest of the hike. At this point I had on Ibex Woolies 150 base, Patagonia R1 Base and the Strata Hoodie. I can tell you that without a doubt the Generator would have been way too hot after even a half mile in this scenario. If you read my Generator Review, that is not a knock on its performance at all; it is a top layer piece for breaks and at camp. The Strata however had a very noticeable difference, it is built as more of an in action piece. Other then the occasional unzipping of the jacket for a quick vent, I had the perfect layer system for what was soon nearing 0 degree hiking.Mt LeConte view

You could assume that changing my layers, say excluding the Patagonia piece would have made this jacket comfortable for backpacking at temperatures closer to 15-20 without incident.  As a stand alone piece there are plenty of puffy jackets to retain more heat, however this is the first that I have comfortably hiked in. The test of the Polartec Alpha in my opinion passed and stood out for all the reasons that they claim. At the shelter that night we would reach -7 degrees while cooking dinner and melting snow. Overnight we would see -12 as a low. While moving around camp I sure was glad that I had my generator, was layered appropriately and had my shell for protection. There is no way the Strata was up for that test.  My suggestion would be to use the Strata as more as a mid layer in extreme cold of negative temperatures to the teens. From mid twenties and up you could probably use the Strata as a camp puffy.Frozen Rainbow Falls Ice Cone

*There are always other factors to consider when picking appropriate layers for your trips conditions, please feel free to comment or call for advice.

You can expect to find the Rab Strata Hoodie and other “approved” cold weather gear here at Roads Rivers and Trails

 

Rab Generator

Generating Serious Heat
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Outside of arctic sub zero situations there are few of us that want to wear a bulky marshmallow puff jacket in everyday use. Even in the backcountry, warmth can be achieved without high bulk; the Generator, despite its slim size, can pack a dependable punch in holding in your precious temperature.  I’m now entering my third winter with my Rab Generator Jacket and through backcountry use and everyday wear I have found the perfect all purpose jacket.

In an urban setting I like something that looks clean and is free of lines or eye popping style. The Generator has little stitching on the face and since it has a Primaloft fill it doesn’t need a lot of baffling to keep the insulating fill in place. I’ll get to the technical uses of this jacket but what was immediately important to me was its usefulness keeping me warm everyday. We all know know a Cincinnati winter isn’t the worst that can be thrown our way but it does get cold and can be unpredictable. This jacket was my winter jacket.  With sweaters, long sleeve wool tops, sweatshirts, cotton waffles, or hoodies I could layer up with what ever style I needed and be warm enough for all my Christmas parties, festivals, walks in the park, or runs to the grocery store. I know that my time waiting for my car to warm up is less painful and I couldn’t be more comfortable. With an everyday or urban jacket you want to feel good walking out the door but also walking in the door.  This is a tech jacket that looks less like a tech jacket.

Now what about outside the treacherous winter of Cincinnati? Well if you are looking at this piece as a active outdoors man/woman than you’ll like it even more. This jacket has been to the tops of several peaks in Maine with snow sticking to my face, and traveled with me to the Alaskan wild. The jacket has 100 grams of Primaloft ONE in the body and 60 grams in the sleeves.  That is almost twice as much fill in the body as other major brands. Primaloft ONE is the lightest weight synthetic fill on the market, and it is also the most resilient toward getting wet.  That means that when it gets wet, you’ll stay warmer. The jacket packs to the size of a softball and better yet does so in it’s own chest pocket (stuffed up it can be your camp or airlines pillow). Who has time for a separate stuff sack or who has the room for a big heavy jacket on top of your already cumbersome backpack?  When it comes to synthetic winter wear, Primaloft is the only way to go.rab wins

When on the trail the only way to really keep warm and dry is with an adequate layer system. This jacket as a stand alone piece could come up short if your looking to stay warm at the top of your favorite peak, but you’ve already lost the war if that is what your plan is. An active piece means that you are on the go, constantly moving and most likely changing in elevations and with it temperatures. If you haven’t already learned this, your ability to add and subtract layers as you move is crucial to your comfort.  The Generator is a flexible fitting, quick throw on piece that is going to hold your heat in fast and stuff back in your pack even faster.

Feature wise the jacket has tight elastic wrist cuffs to keep the temperature in. For the same reason they add a drawcord at the waist to block off one more exit for your life force. The jacket is cut a little longer too to protect heat loss from your lower back.  The neck comes up to the chin but not past (this is nice for those urban events so you don’t have a big goofy tech collar). The zipper is covered and lined at the top to be soft on the chin if it rubs. There are three pockets, one on the chest (the stuff sack) and two hand warming pockets. The insulation is on the inside next to the body when using the pockets. It would be nice if the fill was split between the top and bottom of the hand pockets to hold more hand warmth but that would add some lines and some dollars I presume.

The entire jacket is warm and sleek, and is also a good guard against mother nature. The Pertex outer material seems to be impossible to snag and has a DWR finish as well.  DWR is the water repellent finish put on the material.  This kind of thing needs rejuvenated every so often but when light snow or rain hit I’ve stayed dry much longer than I ever thought I would, and thanks to the Primaloft I didn’t notice a difference in my warmth either (synthetic fibers retain heat when wet). This has to be the single most complimented feature in our store too; I’ve had several Generator users amazed at the protection it provided from wind and rain.Bryan and Generator (This does not replace a shell however)

Altogether it takes a beating from mother nature, from Cincy streets, and from the shove and go backpack life all to keep me happily warm.  My name is Bryan Wolf, I am a gear junkie and outdoor enthusiast, and this is my favorite piece of gear! You can pick up the Rab Generator and other top notch Rab gear at Roads Rivers and Trails in downtown Milford, OH.