In For The Long Haul With The Bosun Fleece

Years ago when I was in grade school, Old Navy’s performance fleece was literally, the hottest sh*t in the yard. I also remembered it being shockingly cheap both in price, and eventually, the realization of its performance, or the lack thereof. But hey, hype-driven fast fashion at its finest. 

Admittedly, I haven’t really given fleece another chance since then. I became smitten with water/windproof shells, a Patagonia down jacket, and an assortment of hoodies to go along with my messenger bag. I guess you can say it’s so damn hip San Francisco. 

But I gave fleece another go last November when I saw the Mission Workshop’s Bosun Fleece jacket. While it is not without quirks, it’s darn near close to being the layer for so many reasons. 

At first glance, the Portugal-made fleece jacket is reminiscent of those rugged military fleece jackets that were meant to be worn in all-terrain. With its 305 gram per square meter shearling poly fleece construction and a tailored, fitted fit, the Bosun felt substantial in hand. I wouldn’t say it felt like wearing a boat anchor, but its weight was definitely noticeable. 

I received mine a few days before a wildfire in Northern California and as I was packing for what turned out to be a week-long assignment, I brought it instead of my down jacket knowing I needed something more heavy duty. I ended up sleeping in it for two days in the back of my car and found myself reaching for it during the mornings and evenings when the temperature dropped to the 40s. I even wore it over my Nomex fire suit a few times in order to stay warm. 

Then, along came a trip to Japan weeks later. The fleece on the Bosun is thick and fluffy so it takes up more space in my suitcase, but unlike many low-quality fleece jackets, it stayed fluffy and most importantly warm over time with zero maintenance required. I layered it with Mission Workshop’s lightweight but spectacular Orion waterproof jacket whenever it rained, and it worked out to be a fantastic modular combo. Those nylon shoulder reinforcements? They were great as I was able to trade my camera straps to shouldering a backpack and a Babybjörn all day without worrying about wearing out those areas. I also like the fact that its understated grey color doesn’t garner any attention, and enjoyed the useful zippered rear back pockets to quickly stash maps, baby-wipes, and in one occasion, a can of stone-cold Asahi. 

I do wish there was more give to the non-adjustable cuffs, however. They were tight around my tiny wrists which can be quite annoying if you want to check the time or simply roll the sleeves up a little. 

At $265, the Bosun is competitively priced against, and arguably more urban-looking than many of the hiking-focused fleece jackets currently on the market. With its robust construction backed with a lifetime warranty, the Bosun is built for the long haul for both urban and rural lifestyles plus anything in between. 


Topeak Makes A Stand

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review

What makes for an exceptional bicycle workstand? With many options in today’s marketplace, details make the difference. Topeak’s Prepstand X offers a sturdy and highly portable option with great flexibility, but is this the workstand that works for you? If you like the idea of a one-lever-per-function system that works across an array of standards, read on.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review

The Prepstand X is an 11-pound, three-legged, foldable unit that relies on a front-fork mount system (as in, take that front wheel off). The 6061-aluminum stand can handle bicycles up to nearly 40 pounds, and an array of adaptors make it possible to accommodate many today’s axle standards. This tester found prices for online retailers between $200 and $250.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review height and horizontal rotation levers

Perhaps most notable about the Prepstand X is that each operating lever affects a separate adjustment. Height, angle and rotation are all secured through individual levers. It may seem subtle, but the ability to control only the desired variable is very helpful when manipulating a frame for maintenance. For a hard-working workstand, this is a great feature.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review

Also notable is the Prepstand X’s ability to pack up in to a very manageable size. This full-size repair stand packs down to the size of a small duffel bag, and this sturdy stand appears ready to put in hard work in the field or at home.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review cradle bottom bracket ratcheting strap

The home mechanic using this stand will appreciate the ability to manipulate a frame 90 degrees from horizontal in either direction, all while maintaining stability via a large tray. A ratcheting strap across the downtube holds the bottom bracket well, and with the quick-release fork mount, the two points of contact are more stable than an alternative seatpost-mounted system.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review

The easy-to-manipulate control for angle of the subject bicycle does double duty as the control for sliding the bike tray – the whole arrangement works well, and is very user friendly. A horizontal access lever holds securely to keep the stand from rotating, and the unit rotates smoothly when the lever is open.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review cradle bottom bracket

In short, manipulating the position of the subject bicycle with the Prepstand X is easy, convenient and secure.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review rear dummy hub

Most users would have a rear wheel installed while using this stand, but Topeak does provide a dummy hub insert for cases when a rear wheel is not present. This tester cannot keep track of today’s axle standards, but given the huge array of adapters provided with the Prepstand X (standard QR, 12×100, 15×100, 15×110, 20×110 for the front fork, 5×130/135 QR and 12mm thru axle), this tester assumes that most standards can find home with this workstand.

Topeak Prepstand X bicycle repair stand review fork mount

What’s not to love about this excellent workstand? Topeak does not provide quick releases for standard QRs, but this is a minimal annoyance and understandable amid so many modern axle standards, specifically the rise of thru-axles. Users can simply use the appropriate adapter and whatever hardware came with their hub. This tester noticed some rocking while using the combination of an older quick release and the 12-millimeter adapter, but maintained confidence that this stand is a sturdy, portable platform well-suited for vigorous wrenching at home or in the field.



A Flexible Stash For Your Swig

HydraPak Stash 750 flexible water bottle review

Water-carrying vessels have followed a simple formula since the beginning of civilization: A watertight apparatus plus a cap to secure and provide access to the oft-precious content within. 

Well, I am not here to lecture about the history of water bottles, nor am I writing a punchy “OMG this is the must have bottle of 2019” clickbait.

Chances are you already have a few favorites lying around, and let’s be real for a second here: Finding the right bottle isn’t all that difficult these days since everyone seems to be making a few of their own. There are 385 search results under “water bottle” at REI.com.

HydraPak Stash 750 flexible water bottle review

My current bottle situation consists of a glow in the dark Nalgene, an insulated Camelbak, a screw top Sigg bottle plus a stash of frequently replenished cycling-specific bottles. My latest addition, and the purpose of this rambling, is the $20 HydraPak Stash 750ml flexible water bottle. 

HydraPak Stash 750 flexible water bottle review

Initially, I thought the idea of a flexible bottle was more of a novelty. Rigid bottles have served me and civilization well for years. So I wondered, is it going to be like putting water in a Ziploc bag?

It’s been three months since I started using it and though without it quirks, I am finding myself liking it for what it is. 

Upon arrival, the most obvious feature is its compact size. Measured at 2.6” inches tall, 3.6” in diameter and weighing 84-grams in its compressed setting, the Stash 750ml is about the size of two hockey pucks stacked on top of each other yet is some 50% lighter than its rigid compatriot. 

HydraPak Stash 750 flexible water bottle review

To use, simply unscrew the 42mm cap and pull using the soft pull tab at the bottom of the rigid bottom. Instead of using the pull tab, I find it easier to just unscrew and push the bottom out from the inside – just make sure your hands are clean, though. Once the rigid bottom is released from the top cap assembly, the radio frequency-welded, PVC and BPA-free thermoplastic polyurethane body, imprinted with capacity marks, is liberated from its protective casing to hold fluids on demand. The bottle is approved to be frozen and contain hot fluids up to 140F.

Once filled, the bottle becomes semi-rigid within the TPU wall in such that it will stand fully-extended on its rigid bottom. I would advise strongly against holding anything but the hard top while operating. Putting the bottle inside a pouch/holder does take some time to get used to because you can’t just brute force it into submission given it soft sides. I also can’t seem find a cup holder that can fit the bottom cap. So for those few road trips, the bottle basically lived either on the passenger seat (during normal driving), or, for the most part, the front passenger floor during *spirited* driving. 

Forget about drinking out of one while driving, too. Yeah sure it’s entirely doable, but it’s also a giant pain in the ass.

HydraPak Stash 750 review

The space saving aspect, though, is unbeatable. I wish I had this when I flew to Asia for a work trip earlier this year as more room in my carry-on is always appreciated. I’ve gone on a few more flights, a couple of hikes with a backpack full of camera gear, kayaking in Channel Island and on a dune buggy trip that left my body all banged up, but I am happy to report that there were zero leaks, no unintentionally loose cap (could use a built-in tether) and that TPU body I was unsure about was in fact, durable with proper care (i.e. sharp objects). My Stash is by no means a direct replacement of a hard-sided bottle, but it is a godsend, a valuable tool, in instances where space and weight are at a premium. I am planning to also add the 1 liter version to my troupe of bottles, and you can say that I am infatuated with it. 


Secure Your Steed With The OTTOLOCK Hexband

OTTOLOCK Hexband bike lock element.ly

OTTO DesignWorks saved the world when they released the OTTOLOCK, filling a nearly-neglected security niche between sturdy U-lock and crappy little braided cable. The clever rubbery ribbon and diminutive numeric lock mechanism was a great form factor for low-risk situations, and OTTO has ratcheted up the security dial with the new, beefier OTTOLOCK Hexband.

“But wait, they look exactly the same!” Look under the hood, and the secret is revealed….

OTTOLOCK Hexband bike lock element.ly

The Hexband molds six steel layers plus aramid fiber under its anti-scratch Santoprene ribbon, doubling the amount of steel compared to the original OTTOLOCK. This adds up to a heavier unit compared to the original (375 grams compared to 260 grams for a 60-inch version), but the weight still pales in comparison to a standard U-lock. Like the original, the Hexband coils up into a tiny form factor when not in use.

OTTOLOCK Hexband bike lock element.ly

Three months testing the 30-inch Hexband revealed, through ease of portage, how limiting the classic U-lock actually is. The Hexband slipped easily into a large saddlebag for a couple’s ride to a winery out of town, allowing enough spare room to carry an extra set of shoes and providing enough length to cover two frames. The three numeric dials on the lock cylinder were a little finicky, but the ability to avoid carrying a key was a fair trade-off.

OTTOLOCK Hexband bike lock element.ly

OTTOLOCK still describes the Hexband as predominantly a theft deterrent, not a long-term security solution. Still, the option of a beefier version to the original could add valuable peace of mind during quick stops, bike tours, on a roof rack and a whole host of other creative uses.

The Hexband comes in the aforementioned 60-inch version as well as two additional options: a 250-gram, 30-inch model and a 190-gram, 18-inch spec.


Ornot: A Low-Key Alternative

West Coast riders are likely familiar with Ornot, since they launched in San Francisco back in 2013. But to the wider world, it’s still a relative newcomer and I’ll admit that, prior to their recent European launch, I’d never heard of them.

There’s a lot to like about Ornot. For starters, there was their motto: “You could be a rolling billboard, Ornot.” Intrusive branding has always been a turn off for me, so any company that promises to lose the logos has my full support. I also like the straightforward line-up. They offer a set of classy bib shorts and a few different types of jerseys. By contrast, one of the major Italian brands currently offers 19 different variations of shorts on their website. I like that Ornot are keeping things simple, and just focusing on making the best bib they can.

The first time I pulled said bibs on, the pad felt a little thin. On the bike though, it was plenty comfortable and after a few months riding I now prefer its lower profile. The material used has a nice texture to it and feels a little bit compressive, and the chunky cuffs look cool and keep everything in place.

At €134/$180, they’re not exactly cheap, but they feel like good value. In terms of comfort and ergonomics, they’re as good as any bibs I’ve tried, but crucially, there’s an obvious attention to detail in their construction. They feel more robust than a lot of other high-end bibs in my wardrobe, and with a good warranty and a crash replacement policy in place, you’ll get your money’s worth out of them. And aside from the blue detail on the right leg cuff, they’re neutral style-wise, so they’ll easily pair with any jersey or jacket you fancy wearing.

The Work Jersey I tested feels great, too. It’s comfortable and up close there are some nice little details in the design. The set-in sleeves look a bit retro, which I liked, and the olive colour is an understated alternative to the usual blacks and reds we see so much of in cycling clothing. I’d normally say that white is the only acceptable colour for a cycling sock, but the matching olive numbers that came with the kit really made it pop.

Good stuff all round, basically, and I’ll be keeping a close eye on what they do in future.


Tern GSD: An e-Bike The Whole Family Will Love

Tern GSD e-bike cargo review

I was never a cargo bike kind of guy. I never had an interest or a need for one. An e-cargo bike? You’ve got to be kidding me, and that’s not a knock against e-bikes. In fact, I think e-bikes are cool for all its intended purposes.

But here I was staring at one at the 2017 InterBike. Gosh I don’t know why I am looking at it.

Tern GSD e-bike cargo review
They got my attention with this InterBike elevator pitch.

I’ve just been bombarded with a lot of eBikes that follow more or less the same formula: a heavy boring frame slapped with some equally boring motor unit with triple digit range per charge. You can only hear pitches about the same power unit from people so many times. However, this pastel blue GSD from Tern is different. It’s got 20 inch wells, could stand on its own like the statue of liberty, adjustable to be used by family members (or housemates, bros, whatever) between 4’9” to 6’3”, integrated front and rear lights, can be loaded with panniers, a front rack for a milk crate-type box… and dual baby seats.

Tern GSD e-bike cargo review
Integrated 150 lumens front light

Am I looking at an e-bus then? Despite my reservations, I decided to try one out. Months later, a Tern rep literally dropped one off at my house, fully charged and ready to go.

Tern GSD e-bike cargo review
Bosch Performance Line transmission.

I had three weeks to ride it around town to buy groceries and take my toddler son out for a spin. I am certain it’s the heaviest bike that I’ve ever ridden, save for one of those silly four person tourist trap rental bikes that you instantly regret the moment you pay for it. Tern gave me a model with dual batteries with an extended range up to 150 miles. A range that theoretically would be sufficient to do a round trip down to Silicon Valley and back in one charge, but that also means it’s heavier than the specified 60lbs weight with a single battery to power this aluminum-frame rated to carry up to 400lbs. There’s no fancy carbon fiber handlebar or titanium-bolted stems here. Its stock components tend to weigh a little more for the sake of safety and durability. It’s got a comfortable seat, equally comfortable Ergon grips, and a pair of regular shoe and shin friendly pedals. It’s really a SUV on two wheels.

e_TernGSD030

Comfy Ergon ergonomic grips.

e_TernGSD164

Shoe and shin friendly pedals. Personally I'd go for something grippier such as the Shimano PD-MX80, though.

e_TernGSD050

Durable Schwalbe Super Moto-X tires with reflective piping on both sides

e_TernGSD022

Magura MT5 levers felt solid in my hands and were problem free.

e_TernGSD097

Clutched Shimano Shadow+ rear derailleur to accommodate one very long chain

e_TernGSD037

Release the spring-loaded cord at the bottom and you will be able to reverse the front wheel to save space.

e_TernGSD086

Retractable foot pegs on the rear rack

Following that train of thought, there’s a sense of invincibility whenever I take it out for a “spin.” Yet unlike your below average SUV, the GSD, given its heft and upright geometry, is surprisingly nimble to maneuver. I am sure its low center of gravity and the fact that its wheelbase, despite its elongated appearance, is ever so slightly longer than a standard bike, beefy Boost thru-axles and fat 2.4″ Schwalbe Super Moto-X tires all contribute to its stability.

Tern GSD Cargo e-Bike review
The panniers were great to haul a ton of stuff but access becomes an issue when a child seat, like the excellent Thule Yepp Nexxt Maxi here, is installed.

I love the Bosch Performance Line drivetrain. Power was smoothly delivered whenever I needed it. While I think Bosch can improve user experience by reworking those clunky buttons and display, it nevertheless worked as advertised in giving me five different case modes from gently assisting my walk-a-bike effort (handy to maneuver the GSD to a bike lockup) to full blown turbo mode that gives the most ooomph. I found myself using the turbo mode during my test for the maximum power assist and a more lively, responsive feel, but I did find myself switching to touring or economic mode more whenever I am going downhill or once I am rolling on speed.

Tern GSD S00

One thing that I’ve learned is that the GSD likes to cruise steadily while seated and is a far more enjoyable ride to stay around 20 mph where the power assist cuts off. The power cutoff brings back the abrupt reality that this is one hefty bike, no matter how much power I crank into the clutched Shimano 1×10 drivetrain with a 11-36 cassette. I might not be getting a full human-powered workout, but I can do grocery runs while remaining relatively sweat free. The LCD display also controls the integrated front and rear light, and the four-piston Magura MT5 hydraulic disc brakes were amazing. Paired with 180mm rotors, The MT5 modulated nicely and I was able to stop on a dime considering all that heft with no audible brake squeal. The kickstand takes a bit of practice but it was rock steady while loading groceries.

Tern GSD cargos e-bike review
Plenty of power from the quad piston Magura MT5 hydraulic disc caliper and 180mm rotors.

Besides being a badass grocery hauler, I loved bringing my son out on the bike. The utilitarian racks allowed me to install the Thule Yepp Nexxt Maxi seat much closer to me than a towing trailer ever would be for better handling without the extra distance between me and my son. It’s nice to be able to not have to yell in order to hear each other while riding. My son couldn’t stop smiling and laughing during his first ride, a 15 minute trip, to our favorite grocery store. With a half-mile uphill kicker averaging 9%, I never thought of taking my kid along on a towing trailer, but it was a no-brianer with the GSD. The little dude was actually saddened to see the bike go back a few weeks later and said “why don’t you just buy one.” I don’t know if there’s a better incentive to buy a bike than that.

Tern GSD cargo e-bike review
Front end folded and standing upright for storage.

With a starting price of $3,999, it costs about the same as a very good road bike, a reliable motorcycle, or a child’s daycare expenses and it definitely commands a deeper commitment than a regular bicycle. If you’re in the market for an e-cargo bike, however, the GSD is one well-made machine designed for the long haul. For 2019, Tern will be adding a higher performance model with a higher-torque Bosch Performance Line CX motor along with a higher energy battery, a heavy duty Enviolo N380x cargo hub, and an integrated Abus wheel lock for additional security with a starting price of $4,995.

Tern GSD S00
Photo: Tern


Silca seat rolls – a tidy new take on a cycling staple

Silca Grande Americano

If you’ve been riding a long time, you probably have a fine collection of saddle bags. It’s just one of those things that we keep buying. Like the next one is going to be the one, the bag that fits all you want to fit, that doesn’t bounce around, or weigh a ton, or rub off your inner thighs when you’re high up on the saddle, or, worst of all, look like a Fred accessory on your hot new race machine.

Aesthetically, I’m been a fan of the classic pre-glued tubular neatly wrapped and tucked under the saddle, but that means having a couple of CO2 cartridges and a multi-tool bouncing around in your rear jersey pockets, which can be annoying. A storage bottle that slots right into your second cage is great too, right until you want to go on a long ride mid-summer and find yourself scrambling around for the old saddle bag so that you can carry more water.

I loved Scicon’s Roller 2.1 system where the bag clicked onto a quick release bracket … right until I hit a pothole and my pack went flying. In the middle of a fast descent in a granfondo. And so I gravitated back to the simplest of them all, a beat-up old rectangular pouch that’s secured to the seat posts with a long, wraparound piece of velcro. Hardly bling, but it worked.

Then along came Silca’s Grande Americano seat roll. Same idea – something wraps around it to secure it to the saddle rails – but instead of velcro, it’s a fancy BOA system, that most of you are probably familiar with from your shoes.

It’s exactly what you’d expect from Silca these days: Carefully considered, well-made, and at $58, not exactly cheap. There’s a lot of storage potential and it’s all kept tidy by three interior compartments that fold over onto one another. I had to pack and unpack a couple of times to get it to fold up the way I wanted – ie, as compact as possible – but now it’s a pleasure to use, with easy access to everything I could need on a ride. I carry some CO2, some tyre levers, a spare tube (Silca’s Latex offering is awesome if you swing that way), a mini-tool and a patch kit, but there’s room in there for more if you don’t mind it looking a bit bulkier.

So is it worth it? Well, in a sport where it’s OK to spend $30 on a fancy cream to rub on your crotch, I’d have to say yes. You could pick another saddle bag out of a bargain bin somewhere, and for a fraction of the price, it will do the same job. It just won’t do it as well. And it’s not like tyres or bar-tape that you’ll be replacing once or twice a season. Treat yourself, it will last for years, and if you’re a nerd like me, every time you open it you’ll get a little kick of smug satisfaction looking at how tidy all your stuff is.

 

 

Silca Grande Americano

 


Mission Workshop Orion Jacket: A Lightweight Heavy Hitter

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket

There hasn’t been much rain in San Francisco over the past few months and while the first day of summer is only days away, SF weather is as unpredictable like a tweetstorm out of somewhere nowhere. You see, weather in this seven by seven mile city can fluctuate from sunny 70s in Downtown to a depressingly foggy 50s out in the Sunset. And rain? The weather can be so nice that every single hipster would be out lounging in Dolores Park today and then there can be nothing but pouring rain the day after.

Yea, you get my drift. What you need is a dependable, packable waterproof jacket. My latest favorite? The Orion Jacket from the Mission Workshop.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket
All black everything, low profile, no profile, simply awesome.

Fittingly designed in San Francisco and made in Portugal, the Orion is monotonous. It doesn’t draw much, if any, attention. It’s black like the original Ford Model T, has minimal branding and some glossy black zippers. That’s about it. Or looks to be it. But no, the Orion is anything but another run of the mill shell that would flock a MUNI train stop on any rainy day.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket
The only visible logo. Stealthy.

Its similarity to other black waterproof shell ends there, however. Constructed out of three layers of Toray Entrant fabric, the same Japanese chemical company that supplies carbon fibers to build Pinarellos and Boeing 787s, the Orion is windproof and waterproof against outside elements, yet also permeable to allow moisture from the inside to escape during activities. It’s the jacket one would want to be wearing while dashing to bus stops or riding alongside Karl the Fog. Remember those glossy zippers I mentioned earlier? They are fully taped and waterproof too.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket review
From light spray to heavy downpour, the Toray Entrant fabric is very much the real deal, keeping me dry and comfortable.

Moving upward, the Orion has a removable hood with a built-in visor. Now, the hood is so exceptionally big that I can fit it over my helmet. I suppose that’s the reason behind its size given its intended usage as a do-it-all activity jacket because no one designs a waterproof jacket for indoor usage. Though large in size, the hood can be adjusted three ways so you won’t look like a total doofus using it without a helmet. The hood is also removable by disconnecting seven non-metallic Pyrm Snap fasteners that have proven to be very secure and easy to use.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket Review
The non-metallic Pyrm fasteners are both lightweight and super secure.

Besides having all the major pockets in natural places, the Orion also features a rather useful rear pocket at the lower back. It’s great for stashing gloves, gels, prescriptions from my optometrist, or if you want to go a little extreme, a small first aid kit. Thankfully, there hasn’t been any violent protests around town to cover this year.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket Review
Generous back pocket to fit anything from a Trauma Pak to sunglasses plus a couple of spare inner tubes.

That Entrant fabric is pretty amazing, as well. It’s thin, flexible, and not too noisy compared to other shells I’ve owned in the past. The Japanese-made fabric has kept me dry in the rare nasty thunderstorms as well my children’s barrage of juices and milk all throughout this spring. It did get a bit cozy at times, as all waterproof jackets do in some shape or form, but the zippered vents built under each arm were effective and easy to operate one-handedly even when out riding.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket Review
The sky decided to comply and dump on us during our photoshoot, but it kept our model dry and happy. His pants were soaked in a matter of minutes, poor guy.

The more I wear it, the more I notice the designers’ attention to detail. Its tapered cut fits very nicely, with just the right amount of dovetail to cover my rear while riding. I do wish the angled cuff was a bit stretchier or adjustable to fit my chicken arms better, especially since I am one of those who likes to pull my jacket cuff higher up my arms when I am doing stuff.

It packs down very nicely and weighs like nothing too, which gives me more reason to carry it around town, or when I am travelling. At $445, the Orion is priced toward the higher end of the spectrum amongst notables such as the $419 Noorøna Bitihorn Gore-Tex Shake Dry and the $749 Arc’teryx Alpha SV. Is it worth it? I love mine and it’s a investment I would not hesitate to pull the trigger on.

Mission Workshop Orion Jacket review
One last photo before we called it a day.


You Should Be Rocking These Vasque Clarion ’88

Vasque Clarion '88 hiking boot

“Inspires frequent compliments from strangers” is not a feature I am used to in hiking footwear. Yet the Vasque Clarion ’88 is a retro-stylish hiking boot that manages just that – all without compromising on the core features that categorize it as serious trail kit.

With an upper of waterproof suede and a playful orange, abrasion-resistant mesh, the Clarion ’88 says “fun” right out of the box. The trail-worthy features of this boot reveal themselves on a closer look, but that first impression is unmistakable. Vasque based the new Clarion ‘88 from a style launched 30 years ago, and it’s a refreshingly lighthearted look amid more serious footwear silhouettes.

On to those features –beefy eyelets guide the laces on this boot, and Vasque includes two color options for laces in the box. A dual-density EVA midsole cushions the ride, with a Vibram “Winkler” outsole providing effective and long-wearing traction. An additional plastic heel cup helps stabilize the foot, a welcome feature for backpacking uneven terrain. The shoe features a foam insole and wicking lining that Vasque says is well-suited for warmer and drier climates, and clocks in at an advertised two pounds, 12 ounces.

Vasque Clarion '88 hiking boot

Slapping on these boots for an inaugural stroll around town, I was struck with how naturally they went with a pair of jeans. Portland, Oregon is no stranger to hiking boots as daily wear, but the styling of the Clarion was more akin to my preferred old-school sneaker aesthetic. There’s something about the look that feels very approachable, even a tad goofy, in the way of classic and coveted backpacking gear.

Yet this is a not a vintage shoe, and Vasque brings decades of bootmaking experience to the table for the Clarion. They just…fit…exactly right, with no hot spots or high-friction areas. This is really important out on the trail, where my feet felt well cared-for after several day hikes and one overnight backpacking trip.  On some unseasonably hot days, the wicking fabric kept the inside nice and dry. Everything about these boots feels long-wearing, and I expect they would survive many years of service.

There’s something refreshing about this boot that is hard to exactly define. The styling is bold, yet very familiar. The features are solid, yet not headline-grabbing. It’s a basic​ design, yet it feels impossible to improve on.

Vasque Clarion '88 hiking boot

It’s easy to fall in love with these boots, and I think Vasque has done an excellent job bringing back a classic for more than its looks. Prepare to start reaching for these shoes before your next hike…day at the office…a fancy dinner…your wedding…


Sealskinz Super Thin Pro: Protects Feet And Blows Minds

The Sealskinz Super Thin Pro Mid Sock with Hydrostop is a waterproof, breathable, comfortable sock that protects feet and blows minds. This simple product will totally transform your footwear, adding water-worthy wading to airy trail runners and storm-shedding comfort to your cycling kicks.

I was initially skeptical these socks would live up to their waterproof promise – they seem constructed of a somewhat sturdy yet thin nylon material, not too different than a typical wicking fabric. Yet there I was standing for several minutes in a fast-flowing stream of Mount Hood snowmelt, my feet perfectly dry.

As an avid backpacker, my strategy for wet feet mostly centers on acceptance. To many backpackers, it’s simply not worth it to wear a heavy, waterproof boot on trips where rain and snow come and go. But imagine swapping to these waterproof socks when you hit the snow line on a pass? Or perhaps on a bike tour down the Pacific Coast Highway, when the rain clouds blow in off the ocean? Or maybe before a rainy trail run? These things seriously work, topped off with a grippy “Hydrostop” band at the top to keep out the splash.

You’d think that all this waterproofing comes at the expense of breathability. To test this, I wore the Super Thin Pro during my typical seven-mile bike commute on a sunny, 70-degree day. There was a bit of moisture by the time I’d hop off the bike, but it’s hard to say if it was any more than usual – and certainly less than you’d expect. Sealskinz provides a “thermal rating” for its products, and places the Super Thin Pro, which is also windproof, smack dab in the middle.

The Super Thin Pro feels a bit bulky in the toe box, but that mostly disappears once inside of a shoe. The socks are also heavier than the wicking wool I’d usually wear on a hike – way less, though, than a waterproof ​boot. I can’t speak for the long-term durability, but they seem like they can take a pounding. And with a name like “super thin,” they do indeed slip easily into svelte cycling shoes and whatever else you’re running.

So who’s the target audience of this product? The backpacker or bike tourist who wants dry feet amid changing conditions, or someone who wants to stretch the utility of their warm-weather footwear. If you can imagine a scenario where these would come in handy, just know – they work.