Gearing up

I’ve never been into gear reviews, in part because there are so many out there. I’m not about to switch gears and spend a lot of time on gear; I do, however, realize the value of chatting up a good piece of gear when I find it. So today, we launch Gearing Up, a new feature in which we, well, chat up a good piece of gear that we’ve found.

Here are our first three finds. If you miss an installment, Gearing Up will have a permanent home on our home page in the left column.

Oboz Firebrand II BDry day hiker
Great handling in sloppy conditions

My wife thinks I’m nuts because I love hiking in the rain.
“As long as I’ve got the gear to stay dry,” I say in my defense. And as long as I’m not slipping and sliding all over the place.
Staying dry, especially in a cool rain, hasn’t been an issue for years, thanks to layering and advances in rain shells with waterproof membranes. The slip-sliding-away, though, has been a challenge, especially on North Carolina’s rocky, rooty, icerink-slick-wet-red-clay trails.
Which is why I was intrigued when I happened across the Oboz Firebrand II, a day hiker whose wrap-around Gripster™ rubber outsole is the hiking shoe equivalent of Monster Truck tires. I was further intrigued when I picked up a pair and discovered they didn’t come with a monster weight tariff. And what was the deal with this “waterproof B-Dry™ membrane” on the uppers?
One recent cold, rainy Sunday I got a chance to find out, hitting a favorite local lake trail that has a little of everything: rocks, roots, slick wooden footbridges, swampy low spots in need of boardwalk and lots of rain-slimy red clay.
The Oboz delivered the level of grip and projection that the Grave Digger would demand, yet with the performance of a low-profile sports car tire. As a result, I was far less timid than usual on the slick stuff, hopping, skipping and jumping my way down the trail. While I don’t know the scientific specifics behind the B-Dry membrane, I did figure out how they came up with the name: at the end of the hike, my feet be dry.
Best of all, the Firebrands let me think less about the sloppy trail conditions and more about the intimate experience of exploring the outdoors in the cold and rain.

More on the Oboz Firebrand II here.

Fits Light Hiker merino wool hiking sock
Glove fit minimizes blisters

Scott Wood likes to keep his offering of technical socks as simple as possible. While some outfitters stock a dozen or more brands of socks, Wood, a buyer for Great Outdoor Provision Co., limits himself to two or three. To make it into that august inner circle a sock has to be pretty special. So Wood was skeptical when the sales rep from Fits Sock Co. in Chattanooga, Tenn., started bugging him about carrying their line. That was until the rep left a few pair for Wood and crew to test drive.
“We loved ‘em,” said Wood. What Wood & Co. loved most was the fit. The highly technical sock uses Y-shape stitching in the heel to create a “heel lock” (it does), and special stitching as well in the toe cup to keep the sock from slipping about (it doesn’t) and causing blisters.
Marketing mumbo jumbo? I tried a pair with new hiking shoes on a recent hike, was so smitten  by the snug fit I decided to put them to a tougher test and try them on a taxing trail run.
Even better.

More on Fits hiking socks here.

Osprey Raptor Hydration Packs
Papa bear, mama bear and baby bear size meet your various needs

In the winter, you don’t mind a big day pack. It’s gotta be big to hold your extra layers, your shells, your food, your survival gear. But in the summer you don’t need as much gear space, you like to travel light. Enter the Osprey Raptor 6  (for short mountain bike rides, trail runs, light hiking), the Raptor 10 (longer mtb rides and hikes) and the Raptor 14 (epics). The differences are in storage capacity and bladder size. The similarities are in snug fit, a suspension system that keeps the pack off your back (most appreciated on hot days), and pockets that make for quick, easy on-the-go access (a favorite are the easy-to-reach-but secure hip pouches that holster easy-to-pop gels). Little touches make a difference, too, such as the hydration mouthpiece that snaps to your chest-strap via a magnet. Genius.

More on the Osprey Raptor here.

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