Roads Rivers and Trails

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Monthly Archives: February 2013

Gear Review: Asolo TPS 520

The Long Term Test
Gear Review: Asolo TPS 520
Written by: Bryan Wolf

My Experience with the TPS is not a short story. This story started almost 7 years ago when I bought my first pair for my very first backpacking trip. If you can buy one thing that immediately makes you feel like a rugged outdoorsman, it’s boots. Heavy on the leather, Gore Tex, mud stomping, ass kicking boots. I think the Asolos gave me mountain swagger. I wasn’t even sure at the time what Gore Tex was, and it didn’t matter, since my buddy Joe was an eagle scout and he knew everything in the outdoor world! Joe picked out all of the gear for my first trip and I forked out the cash. The boots were not cheap then and they are not cheap now, but their value remains consistent.

That first backpacking trip took me on a 2,175 mile journey through the Appalachian Mountains. Not having worn the boots before, we decided to purchase two pairs before the trail, and at the half way point we swapped them out to avoid any trail malfunctions. So, after 6 months of damage each pair had seen about 1,100 miles of hard trail abuse. Like I said though, it’s a long story. The boots were not retired from there, they had only just begun. Through Red River Gorge, constant AT revisits, and Alaska back country, these same 2 pairs of TPS boots remain the same solid, rock kickers that they were 7 years ago. With no sole separation and only a slight gap in the front toe, the boots stay dry and warm still to this day. The tread wear is adding up, especially after 1500 plus miles each so they are due for a visit to Dave the Cobbler, but I would gladly pay a few bucks to revitalize them.

More or Less?
Are you old fashioned or ultra-light?

“TPS” stands for Triple Power Structure; that is the 3 shock absorbing dual density points on the boots midsole at the points of usual wear. If you notice the picture above, the TPS system follows the foot starting with the strike point on the outer heel, it then improves stability supporting the inner heel and ends with a third shock absorber in the front of the foot for pushing off. A “PU Dual Density” sole, is called dual density because it combines a tough outer compound with a softer and more shock absorbing inner compound. The outsole on the TPS is a durable Vibram sole.

The 520 model is the Gore Tex model, versus the 535 non Gore. Gore is a waterproof bootie easily seen on the inside of a boot. The leather has a high weather resistance already so it can be overkill in some models. The Gore can also add insulation but does not breathe quite as well as an eVent fabric or a non-waterproof model. It’s not like you’re pushing perspiration through that thick of leather anyway.

There is no way around it, these boots are heavy. The leather upper is thicker than the sole on some of my Vibram Five Fingers. The boots come in just short of 4 pounds, and a wise man once told me 1 lb on your foot is like 5 lbs on your back. So it is easy to see the perks of going with some Salomon trail runners and bouncing around all nimbly bimbly like a cat. After all, things have changed, carrying 50-60 big lbs on your back was the norm not long ago. Today, further and faster is more of the game and 20-30 pound packs are more the norm. It is not about right or wrong, just about picking your path.

If The Boot Fits…
Finding the right boot for the job

The TPS fit me, and it fit me quick despite its rigid body. I did a few days of urban trekking before the trail to “break them in” and that was it. When we got our second pair we took them straight to the trail with no break in period. Maybe my feet were just rock solid by that point, toughened by the trail? Not everyone will be as lucky, and not everyone will agree. Ask yourself if the boots fit you, and do they fit your trip?

It is easy to say that the TPS is the “BEST BOOT EVER” but that seems a bit generalized considering we all have different needs. What I can tell you is that I enjoy wearing them, they feel great and they make me feel invincible. Not rock, nor rain will stop me in those boots. While I watch other hikers cycle through 10 or 11 pairs of trail shoes, I always feel great knowing the dollar value of my boots far superseded theirs. So what’s right for you?

This is coming from a guy that wears minimalist to backpack, and often. You can however rest assured that when we pack up for Alaska again, or on most of my winter hikes where the remote conditions require dependability over bragging rights of being lightweight, the Asolo TPS 520 GTX will be my pick. Sometimes there is no room for error; deep into Lake Clark Wilderness is not the place to duct tape a boot together (I won’t name names). To get sized for your boots and get a full run down on other boot features stop by Roads Rivers and Trails in Milford, OH.

Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra

A True 4-Season Minimalist
Gear Review: Vibram Fivefingers Lontra
Written by: Bryan Wolf

Just this past fall Vibram Five Fingers released a new model of toe shoes called the Lontra. The Lontra was the answer I was looking for, finally an insulated Vibram so that I could enjoy my barefoot lifestyle all year long. I ordered my first pair and was not disappointed in the least. This “shoe” was hot! The concept was flying off the shelf and my feet were super toasty. I would wear them around town, everyday use, and chilly early morning runs. The Lontra was built for more though; the Lontra was built with the 4mm midsole and TC-1 rubber the same as the Treksport. I needed to take this on the trail and give this a test so it is worthy of the RRT wall.

The test subject: Ice Man. Familiar with winter trekking, I earned my trail name over my winter thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have been wearing minimalist footwear for about 6 years. My first pair was the Vibram Classics and my Vibram collection is now at a very disturbing 9 pairs. I have enjoyed half marathons and week-long backpacking trips with them. I feel ready for the test at hand.

The test would be conducted on Mt. LeConte. LeConte stands at 6,593 feet in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The mountain has the most elevation gain in all the Smokies and is a mere 55 feet shorter than the tallest mountain in the eastern United States. LeConte will typically see 100+ inches of snow fall a year and its icy conditions are typically met with chain or diamond studded boots. How long, how cold, and how winterized is the Lontra really? We would go up Rainbow Falls trail, stay the night at the top, and go down Bulls Head trail the following morning.

You Are The Technology

With minimalist footwear “you are the technology”. That is the slogan used in Vibram advertising. No strike absorbing heel pad, no rounded arch or shifting sole, just you. So what is the Lontra? A Lontra is a North American Otter apparently, fair enough; it is also a minimalist five fingered toe shoe. The Lontra is the only insulated model with a micro fleece lined interior for both wicking perspiration and also added warmth value. It is labeled as water resistant with fully tapped seams. It has an extended neoprene cuff that comes around the ankle as well to keep out debris like snow. As earlier mention they also gave it a thicker sole than other non-trekking models at 4mm and with some more aggressive mini lugs for traction. The 4mm sole will also provide added insulation from the frozen ground you may be traversing. Like many models and activities the Lontra feels best with a wool micro weight toe sock. This will also add warmth and was used in this test.

The Results

The following review is based off of a prolonged trip with continued exposure to the elements.

On many levels these fury fleece finger shoes excelled. On the other hand, I would not choose them for this trip if I were to do it again. While they were plenty warm to start the journey they could not maintain it. The trip started at near 50 degrees, that temperature would drop sharply with elevation gain and we would be in temperatures just below 20 degrees up top. It was a 7 mile journey up the mountain and the top 4 miles of hiking were covered in snow and ice. My feet could not sustain their warmth despite my body burning off heat from a strenuous uphill climb. Once on the way up and once more at the top I would switch to some warm down booties while taking a break. The booties stopped the numb feeling momentarily so that I could put the Lontras back on and the hike could safely continue. On the way down we faced deeper snow and slightly heavier winds to chill the feet. Since we were moving faster down Bulls Head trail I was able to get to warmer temperatures fast enough to avoid a break. My toes I guess were comfortably numb.

Outside of the insulation value of the shoes they performed great! The neoprene cuff fit tight and kept out all debris and snow keeping my ankle and foot warm and dry. The sole of the shoe, although not modified for snow or ice versus other trek models still did well in those conditions. I did not have any issues with slipping and considering I was constantly on ice they did a fair job of blocking off winters chill as well. Given that it was snow and not rain, the shoes seemed waterproof during my test. Walking over streams of ice cold water I would have been in serious trouble if they were not. I would not trust them to be as waterproof as my boots but for these conditions they did great. Any sweat that had built up in the shoe definitely contributed to the struggle to keep warm.

Overall they were fun to backpack in and lived up to their advertised uses. I wanted to push the envelope and find their limits and I think I did that. I would recommend them for temperatures below freezing if the use is less remote and exposure is under 3 hours. I would recommend them for prolonged use at temperatures above freezing with or without winter’s ice and snow. This is a significant improvement from other Vibrams, I previously was not comfortable with prolonged exposure under 60 degrees.

Please remember that I am an experienced outdoorsman and that you need to take use of any gear, especially Vibrams, at your own pace. Vibram has a great guide to wearing your new minimalist shoes on their website. Know your limitations and please be responsible. You can find men’s and women’s Lontra proudly on the Roads Rivers and Trails shoe wall.

“Down” Gear Clinic

Who Wants to get “Down”?
Gear Clinic: Education and Implementation of Down
Written by: Bryan Wolf

A Gear Clinic is the day that everyone shows up to work in the outdoors world. Why? Well that is simple, because we are gear junkies. A gear clinic means two things to a gear junkie: First, we are about to be exposed to the newest and best information in that particular product category. Second, we are going to be offered a sick crazy deal on the clinic of the day.

A sales representative comes in the store and spends anywhere from 1-3 hours reviewing everything about the products, and in this case it would be down. RRT has had clinics over down sleeping bags, jackets, and down treatments.

Here is Your Down Clinic
Behind the Numbers

Like most anything, not all down is created equal. Down, which is typically a byproduct of the meat industry, can be either goose or duck. We’ll discuss the difference between goose or duck, the fill power of down, the contents of down fill, down maturity, and what’s new in down technology.

Think of the feathers around the exterior of a goose, these are tough with large stems. A goose or duck will actually derive its warmth from what is under them, the down feathers or down plumes. Down plumes are the lightest insulation available. The more loft, the greater the barrier between you and the harsh cold. Loft is going to be dependent on both fill power and how many grams of that fill power are being used?

“Fill Power” is the number of cubic inches that are displaced with a single ounce of down. So if we use 700 fill down, it will displace 700 cubic inches of space with just one ounce! That is why the outdoor world loves it! When you compare the additional weight that you can save with higher fill power, it can really add up.

It’s best to look at the fill power and the grams of down used. 100 grams of 700 fill will be warmer than 75 grams of 700 fill. Also, equal grams in a 500 fill jacket will not be as warm as that in a 700 fill jacket. If information is not available on grams or fill power, it’s likely to be of poor quality. In the outdoor industry, most down products will be 500-900 fill.

A typical down sweater may be 650 fill and 100+ grams. The Rab Microlight is 750 fill and 140 grams of fill. The Montane Nitro is 800 fill and 150 grams of fill. A competitors down sweater at the same price uses a 600 fill and a unspecified weight (But it does have a more trendy name sewn on the front).

What Down Is It?
Some Quality Assurance

About a year ago, the adventurous crew at RRT finally fell in love with what we feel to be the best sleeping bags on the market. There are a slew of factors that make Sea to Summit sleeping bags so awesome, but our favorite part is how they test each batch of down product.

This is the IDFL test report. The test details the percentage of down clusters, fibers, feathers, and other impurities. This report also verifies the ratings of fill power promised to the consumer. Most times, the test brings back over qualified ratings! Hopefully, most consumers like me are done buying cheap, unaccountable, and short-lived pieces of gear. You can understand how awesome that each Sea to Summit sleeping bag comes with its own report.

With the cost of goose down on the rise, you can find many companies switching to duck which has been thought of as lower quality down. While goose has its benefits, duck down is not much different. Duck down has more natural oils adding extra weight. The oils also can cause the down to have a slight odor when wet.

Another great aspect of going with a creditable down supplier and manufacturer is knowing the maturity of the down. Each fiber of the down cluster has hundreds of smaller fibers on it, and beyond that even tinier fibers on those fibers. A mature goose or duck plume will develop more and more of those tiny offshoots which act as tiny hooks that keep the down fibers from separating and creating cold spots. Basically, the more mature the bird, the less chance of cold spots through the down. When you apply this knowledge to sleeping bags, lower quality, less mature down will not cling to itself as well as more mature down. The down fill will separate sooner and you will be left with a cold spot in its absence. A cold spot in a sleeping bag that is meant to keep you safe and warm is unacceptable. Mature down will be more dependable and will also have a greater life span.

Using Down, Even When It’s Wet
Where modern technology is taking us.

The buzz is out and everyone is wondering if the technology is ready and real. Through a few innovative processes, down can be treated to become hydrophobic. Down has notoriously been the perfect solution for insulation except for when it comes to a cold kid in a wet down bag. Down naturally becomes very matted down and loses its loft (the only thing that matters) when it is wet. Enter Down Tek.

Down-Tek, besides being a Cincinnati company is also the most environmentally friendly of all down treatment providers. Down Tek treats down to become anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and biggest of all water repellent. Its water repellency is best described as the “Lotus Effect” where water molecules do not adhere to the down feathers. The treatment doesn’t add any weight to the bag either.

I’ve attached a picture for a fun look at this effect, or you can visit Down-Tek for a demo video. Despite being sloshed around in a jar of water the down retains its loft after being strained out which is truly amazing. There is a lot more detail to this as you could imagine, and the truth is, you should take care of your bag and keep it dry anyway with or with-out dry down.

Currently both Sea to Summit and Big Agnes are using down from Down-Tek. This spring unveils all of their respective sleeping bag lines utilizing this technology. Today in-store we have the Talus from Sea to Summit showcasing the Down-Tek. The Talus3 is 700 grams of 750+ fill power goose down, guaranteed to be 90% or higher in full down clusters only. The Talus uses only mature down fibers and has an EN rating of 16/1/-35 degrees.

Now you know what all that means and about the wonderful world of down. Come by the store and speak with a clinic specialist and as always, a product user.