Gear Review: Columbia Women’s Vixen 22L

I’ve been trying to find a good day pack over the last year or so. My beloved Jansport is starting to show wear in the shoulder straps and I decided to leave it packed away in Colorado. I’d begun to use my Teton Sports Summit 1500 as a default daypack after I got it in August but gave it away to a friend in need leaving me essentially daypack-less. When I opened my duffel bag of Columbia Sportswear goodness in Park City and found the Vixen, I was delighted.

Over the last month or so, I’ve been using it on all of our hikes. I’ve never had a pack that had an air gap between the back and the pack and was excited to try it. The gap is supported by two metal rods. This does create a pretty narrow tunnel to the pack which I find a bit annoying sometimes. The gap is nice but I still sweat plenty at the hip strap & support. Inside the body of the pack is a pocket for a hydration bladder. Beyond that, it’s one big space which is plenty of room for my day hiking needs.

The hip belt is too big for me. I wear the pack with the straps all the way tightened and it’s still not quite snug enough around my hips with just a t-shirt. Similarly, the straps on the shoulder straps are really long—I’m planning on cutting them down next time I’m around a sewing machine.

Signal Peak

The outside water bottle pockets are the perfect size to hold a Nalgene; too many packs have pockets that are too small to hold one well. If I really want to I can reach around and pull them out without taking the pack off. It also has a large open front pocket. I wasn’t really sure what I would use this for but Sprocket’s trail bowl lives here so it’s always available (and if it’s still a little damp it doesn’t get my stuff wet). At the very top of the pack is a small pocket that I use for keys and a cell phone.

One of the biggest downsides I can see to this pack is durability of the light stretchy material that makes up the water bottle and front pockets. Mine has numerous “snags” from being dragged through desert brush—although for primarily trail hikers this would not be a concern. The low profile does do well when it comes to scrambling around through the brush though!


This pack was provided by Columbia Sportswear to me as part of the #omniten program for review. All opinions are my own.

Gear Review: Exped SynMat UL 7

F and I don’t sleep in a tent too often because we do most of our travel in one of a variety of vehicles and it’s a bit more comfortable for Forrest than the tent. However, I really like backpacking and would take Forrest along sometimes so I insisted that he find a sleep system that works for him, regardless of the cost.

Having picked out his sleeping bag, he turned his attention to a sleeping pad. The 3/4 length REI self-inflating pad wasn’t doing enough to keep his hips off the ground and made sleeping really uncomfortable. On the way back from the wedding we stopped at the Missoula REI and tested everything they had but kept coming back to the Exped SynMat UL 7.

Retailing at $165 for the medium (Forrest’s choice at 72″ x 20″), this isn’t a cheap sleeping pad. However, it is really comfortable (I know, I stole it for my trip to Behind the Rocks) and almost 3″ thick. When I used it, the temperatures fell into the high teens and in combination with my 15 degree bag, I was cozy and comfortable.

One of my reservations was a mat that had to be blown up but it really doesn’t seem to be a problem. Plus, since it tips the scales at a scant 16.2 oz, blowing it up seems like a small price to pay. It isn’t the easiest thing to fold back into its stuff sack but it seems to be getting easier with practice (I think the trick is to make sure you really roll all the air out of it before trying to pack it away). The stuff sack measures in at 9″ x 3.5″.

Is the pad worth the $165 price tag? Maybe. If it’s the difference between being happy sleeping in your tent or choosing to stay home on the couch, absolutely. If you’re okay on what you’ve got and just want a bit of a comfort upgrade, I’m not sure: I’m coveting a comfy full length pad now but am happy enough that I’m not sure I need to spend the cash on a second one (but I’m taking this one when I go solo!).

I’d love to hear more about someone’s experience with the REI Stratus Insulated pad at $79.50 as a comparison!


Ruffwear Grip Trex

A few weeks ago, I was tweeting with Heather about dog booties and mentioned we’d put a Ruffwear set on our wedding registry. I thought it was pretty cool to get a tweet back from Ruffwear asking when our big day was. When I received an email from their marketing department that said they wanted to be the ones to send us a set of boots I was  totally astounded!

They sent them in red to match his pack!

When the package arrived in the mail, we couldn’t wait to test them out. Sprocket wasn’t so sure to start but he warmed up:

Sprocket finally got a chance to try wearing them for about four miles last weekend. I should have put them back on when we were playing around in the rocks but for just walking down the trail he didn’t seem to mind at all! (Nor did the boots seem to spin around like they did when we were taking the video…I must have been too gentle when I put them on the first time!)

Thank you so much Ruffwear! Sprocket is excited to put these to good use; he’ll be especially happy to have these when we get to Moab in a couple weeks, his poor paws took some cacti abuse last year!

Big Agnes Sleeping Bags? Advice Needed

F and I have been looking around for some new sleeping bags. His bag is only a quarter zip which he really dislikes and mine is rated to about 40 degrees. This is ridiculous because I am always cold. 

Our plan for now is to find f a different bag and let me give his a try although I suspect that eventually I will want one warmer yet (see: I am always cold). We’ve been sort of interested in the Big Agnes sleeping bag system for a couple of years now. These sleeping bags don’t have any loft on the bottom but have a sleeve to hold your sleeping pad in place. The theory is that your body compresses the loft on the bottom anyway so it is better used on top as insulation and if your sleeping pad is held in place you should stay warm enough.

After talking with a salesperson at REI we discovered that Big Agnes appears to be the only major manufacturer that doesn’t use the EN rating system to quantify how warm their sleeping bags are which made us a little bit nervous. From what I can tell there isn’t any reason that would prevent these bags from being put through the same paces as Marmott, REI, Kelty, North Face, and others.

Yesterday, I put a query out on Twitter yesterday seeking real people who have used a Big Agnes sleeping bag system hoping to get a better idea of the bad and the good things about these sleeping bags and haven’t heard anything back yet. Do you use them? Do you know anyone who has?