Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Ultimate Direction Ultra Vesta Review

I recently received an UltraVesta vest from Ultimate Direction to try. Also known as the “Jenny” Vest it is designed by Jenny Jurek for women runners. I've been using UD vests and other products for years, long before I became one of their ambassadors. However, I've always used the men's vests, primarily the Peter Bakwin Adventure Vest.

Rockin' the PB Adventure Vest on Black Peak

I had seen countless friends rocking the UltraVesta at races and on fun runs in the mountains. I saw even more reviews and raves on social media. Finally, I decided to try one for myself.

About me sizing: At 5'8” and about 140 with narrow hips and wide shoulders I didn't notice this pack fitting me extraordinarily well in comparison to the men's packs. I would imagine that smaller framed individuals would find the maximum benefit from wearing this pack. However, the concession in capacity (water and gear) definitely isn't worth it for me as a go-to pack.

I pulled it out of the box and looked at the included hair elastic that was clipped on. I felt a little insulted. They don't include a free doodad on the men's packs. Why should I get a little purple hair elastic just because I'm a woman? Most of the guys I run with have longer hair than me. Does the Anton Krupicka Vest come with a blue hair elastic? I bet not...sheesh.

Regardless, I headed up Mt. Si.

Here's what I thought:

PRO: Like most UD vests, it is quite comfortable. I definitely noted that it rode higher on my body than other packs. However it stayed in place without swaying or restricting movement throughout the run and scramble.
CON: I felt like it rode too high. Most women have a low center of gravity and I am assuming that the UltraVesta is designed to counteract that. For me, I felt like it was making me top heavy in a way that the men's packs haven't done.

PRO: Super minimal pack that covers all the bases. There was room in the pack for a jacket and some snacks and the two 10oz water bottles and not much else. This is great if you're looking for a very minimal pack, but in general if I don't need very much stuff I skip the pack altogether.
CON: I ran out of water before I was even halfway through the run. I don't care if the 20oz bottles on the men's vests do look stupid perched on my boobs...I need to drink! I might consider carrying a handheld or a water bladder on particularly hot days if I'm using this vest.

Smaller water bottles ride more comfortably

PRO: Cute! CON: As stated above, I felt a little condescended too with the hair elastic.

PRO: It's certainly much lighter than other packs I've used. Mostly I felt like I wasn't wearing anything. That was a nice change from lugging a heavier pack with me.

The UltraVesta provides an easy, lightweight way to carry a few essential items. Excellent for long days in the mountains when you need just a tad more than a water bottle or want your hands free for poles. You will want to take into consideration the smaller water capacity when planning your route and either bring a treatment for the backcountry or plan a route that passes by fountains. The UltraVesta is comfortable and I will use it for races where frequent support is available.

Top of the Haystack!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Salazon Chocolate Bar Review

I am solar and chocolate powered. That's no secret. I discovered Salazon Chocolate a couple years ago while working at a food co-op. The bars boast gorgeous mountain scenery on the wrappers as well as the logo's of conservation and trail alliances that they support with the proceeds. I bought one and was hooked...salty, delicous Dominican chocolate...that helps support the wild places I love. Sold!
2% of profits of their Trail Series flavors go to support the "big three" AT, PCT, CDT
A chance exchange with a friend got me in contact with Salazon and soon I had several cases of chocolate to give away to people I meet hiking and to fuel me on my hikes. Did you know that a bar of chocolate fuels about 1 hour of hiking? Now, an hour of every day on the trail is fueled by Salazon :)

One of the main differences between Salazon and other chocolates is that all of their bars are salted, but not overwhelmingly so. Just enough. I sprinkle just a dash of salt on my Coconut Bliss ice cream too because a tad of salt compliments sweetness incredibly. If you have never expereienced salted chocolate, especially when hiking, then you might not understand how amazing this is. Not to mention after a long day of sweating, salts and carbs are critical to replace. Hence, salted chocolate is truly the best recovery food you can imagine...!

Ok, so enough with the justifying of why I enjoy chocolate so much. Here's the basics about Salazon that I love:

Fair Trade

And all of those components inevitably lead to incredible flavor.

I haven't had a bad chocolate from them yet, but since I tend to like darker chocolate (I munch on raw nibs) these are my favorites: 72% with Almonds, Coffee, Cayenne

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Heath Warrior Chia Bar Review

I've been eating chia seeds for many years. Despite the tendency to get stuck in the teeth they are tasty, versatile, and nutritious. In my egg free days I used chia to bind my baked goods together. I also love to put it in smoothies, and make puddings from. 

Doling out bulk chia for PCT 2013

I remember a few years ago when I discovered HealthWarrior Chia Bars. They were delicious little bite sized bars of chia goodness. Unfortunately, they were far too pricey for me to afford.

Fast forward to a chance meeting with the HW reps at the Winter OR. I sampled some of their newest flavors and mentioned how much I loved their bars and that I'd eaten lots of chia on my PCT hike in 2013 (see pic above). Soon, I had an email offer to send me some HW chia bars for my AT hike.

I received a couple of cases of bars in the mail a few days before I was ready to tape the resupply boxes shut and mail them off. I was stoked to be able to add these treats to my supplies. I was even more thrilled to see a couple of cases of their new product–a chia protein bar–in there as well. I, of course, opened one and ate it on the spot. Two thumbs up!

One of the great things about the Health Warrior Chia bars is their compact nutrition and caloric density. In one .8 oz bar there are 100 calories, 3 grams of protein, and 6 grams of long burning fat fuel. Not to mention 1000mg omega 3's! The protein bars boast an additional 7 grams of protein derived from peas as well as ~200 calories all for 50 grams. The flavors are great too.

I mixed the regular and protein chia bars into the boxes fairly evenly. The 10g protein bars will be a nice change from the soy based ProBar Balance bars (reviewed below) and won't be too heavy to consume at once. Since I eat 200-300 calories per hour the 100 calorie Chia Bars are ideal to mix with Fuel Bites or some other small snack for variety.

My Favorite Flavors:

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Pro Bar Review

ProBars have been around for a long time. The orange wrappers are easily identifiable in nearly any hiker box or health food store. I tried one many years ago (probably the Original flavor) and was not impressed. It wasn't until I met Adam and he gave me a Coconut Chocolate one that I realized that these are pretty darn good for a bar! I subsequently tried many different flavors as well as their additional products Bolt Blocks, Fuel, Balance, and Bite bars.

I've been impressed by the flavor and obvious quality of the ingredients. As someone who will probably never be able to choke down a Clif bar again the ProBar lineup has given me a new way to supply my eat on the go methods. I like simplicity, and nothings much more simple than a meal in a wrapper that you can eat while hiking.

My daily food strategy consists of a ProBar Meal bar for breakfast. That's 390 calories weighing in at only 3 ounces. During the day I have a ProBar Balance (protein) bar that I will eat in portions. Too much protein at one time while hiking tends to give me a “gut bomb” which leaves me nauseous and sluggish for a while. The Balance bars have 20 grams of protein, 290 calories and weighs 2.46 ounces. This means that I can take a bite every few hours to help keep my macro nutrient balance intact without overwhelming my digestive system while I'm exercising. In addition, I have Fuel and Bite bars as well as Bolt Blocks thrown in to provide variety. I like the real fruit chunks and chia seeds in the Fuel Bars and the real fruit flavor of the Bolt Blocks.

Cons: I don't like that there is canola oil in ProBar products. I generally avoid canola in everything, but in this case I believe the benefits outweigh that detractor.

My Favorite Flavors:

Meal: Oatmeal Raisin, Strawberry, Koka Mocha
Fuel: Strawberry, Cherry, Cran-Raspberry
Bite: Peanut Butter Chocolate, Peanut Butter Crunch, Mixed Berry

Bolt: Raspberry, Strawberry (noticing a trend??)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Bogg'sTrailButter Review

One of the greatest weaknesses I had on my PCT thru-hike in 2013 was the lack of good quality food. I funded my hike on a meager budget which basically meant a steady stream of cookies and candy that I'd bought in bulk and repackaged for myself at home with a food saver. I drank my dinners each night (a Vega protein shake–my biggest splurge). I ate nearly 300 Clif bars that were leftovers from a race that I'd volunteered at a few months prior. It was certainly no wonder that I was emaciated and passing out after 2,000 miles of 40+ mpd on a scant diet.

Now, on the brink of my next huge endeavor, I have even less of a budget than I had for the PCT. However, I have been blessed with discounts from several companies that have made it affordable for me to eat better. I have also realized the importance of fueling with high quality foods and not ignoring my gluten intolerance as I did in the past. I am spending far more money on food this time than last, but I believe the dividend will be immense.

There are five main nutritious food companies that comprise the majority of my resupply boxes. They are:
Salazon Chocolate (yes, chocolate is nutritious!)

In addition, Fuel Bites provides an excellent electrolyte staple that is a cross between whole food and supplement. Read my review of their product here.

I've enjoyed products from each of these companies for a long time and am thankful that they've assisted me in my fueling needs in 2015. I'll be reviewing the products I've been loving most in the next few Review Tuesday posts.

I'll start today with Trail Butter.

Trail Butter is a small Portland, OR company founded by brothers Brad and Jeff. Both avid adventures themselves they have a great idea of what's essential to fuel endurance. I have always been a huge fan of nut butters and coconut oil as fuels both on the trail and off. Many of you may remember this photo from PCT 2013...

Desperation Dinner Pre-Trail Butter Days
I've come a long way from the desperation of oreos tortilla wraps. In fact, I hope I never eat a single oreo on this hike. Or a tortilla for that matter, now that I know that gluten is the source of many of my problems.

Jeff and Brad have made several delicious blends of nuts, oil, and honey sweetened spreads. My favorite is the Expedition Espresso, hands down. I love the chocolate and coffee flavor and the kick it gives me from caffeine and simple carbs combined with the long term fueling of the slow burning fat calories. It's gotten me up many mountains, including Rainier, through long trail pushes, and through 2+ loops at the Barkley Marathons. It's in all my resupply boxes for the rest of the summer.

I also enjoy some of their other blends at home and on the trail. I like to balance caffeinated and non-caffeinated foods throughout my day. The variety in flavors is excellent for that and keeping me from getting bored.

The convenient pouch packaging is now available in single serves (Look for it at REI!!) as well as the 5.4 oz size. This makes it simple to use on an adventure of any length. The jars are nice for use at home or when car camping/racing.

The one con to this product (aside from it not being suitable for those with nut allergies) is that the coconut oil tends to get very hard in cold temps. I've learned to carry the Trail Butter in my pocket at night or when it's cold out to make sure it's ready to eat whenever I need it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rainier: Take Two!

Almost exactly 4 years after I attempted to climb Mt. Rainier I found myself again making the long trek up to Camp Muir.

Unlike 4 years ago, however, I actually harnessed up...and ascended away from Camp Muir.

There were six of us sitting around, watching the weather and trying to decide the plan of action. Weather was supposed to be coming in and we worried that our planned 10pm departure would land us on the summit in a whiteout.

Finally we decided to begin our climb at 6pm.

Not much was said as we fussed with our gear, roped up, and readied ourselves. We'd heard that the route was already in rough shape, more like September than July. We anticipated five crevasses open so wide that they were bridged with ladders. We hoped none had fallen in that day...or that any new ones had opened beyond our ability to jump.

Our two rope teams headed across the Cowlitz Glacier. My rope team pulled away and we waited on Cathedral Gap for our second to rejoin us.

Once they arrived the group made the decision to continue on independently. Our rope was moving much faster, the other was struggling with altitude.

Shortly after Ingraham Flats we entered a world of twisted ice and yawning chasms. We crossed our first ladder. It was dizzing and my stomach flip flopped as I stared down into it.

The Disappointment Cleaver was completely melted out and we scrambled through loose volcanic rock until we once again got onto snow.

We traversed toward Gibraltar Rock crossing yet another ladder. Sun set and we clicked our headlamps on. We encountered our fifth ladder. I can't even describe it's precarious nature and the way it was resting on the lip of an undercut. We all felt relieved when we were safely past it. In the back of my mind I thought, "Ok, I only have to do that once more on the way down."

To our surprise we encountered a 6th ladder, slanted upward not long after. I wasn't looking forward to descending it. The sky was clear. I watched the Milky Way and stars and planes. In the far distance I saw a flash of lightning. I listened closely, but heard no thunder. We continued onward.

By now it was cold. I was happy with my layering choices which I had deliberated for hours before leaving home. As someone who is frequently cold I had been incredibly concerned about staying warm on the notoriously cold peak. For the climb I wore Icebreaker baselayer pants, a pair of Sherpa hiking pants on my legs (I have an older version that I LOVE. Hard to find now). On my torso I wore my Seven Hills singlet layered with two light fleece shirts and my faithful Patagonia Houdini. Seal Skinz hat, gloves, and socks were perfect in keeping me dry and warm. I wore a buff around my neck as well to round it out. I was completely comfortable throughout the night, only adding my Feathered Friends down coat at the summit (and wearing it back to the Disappointment Cleaver).

We reached the crater rim around 12:30am. The wind was whipping as we searched for a way down into the crater. There seemed to a large moat open between the rock and the snow. We slipped off our harnesses and circled the crater arriving at the true summit at 1am.

We clicked a couple of pictures and returned to our gear. As we were roping up I watched a blood red crescent moon rise through wispy layers of clouds. It was eerie to watch while standing on the rim of a huge volcano.


This dude was very altitude sick...doesn't show one bit!
As we descended I noticed that there were far less stars. Clouds had thickened.

As we reached the severely broken glacier we began encountering the myriad teams on their way up. We had to wait several times in precarious locations as they labored upward. I felt frustrated that they wouldn't step aside for a clearly faster team. The anxiety of hanging icefall above me in the darkness knotted my stomach.

At the bottom of the Cleaver, we stopped to put our crampons back on. Just then a large icefall plummeted from above...cascading over our route. We looked at one another and agreed to "run" to Ingraham Flats.

Contemplating the dash through that mess

We finally dropped into Camp Muir not long after sunrise. There we slept for a couple of hours before descending with the rest of our team. We were back to the parking lot by 9am.

A few days later as my plane rose above Seattle and turned eastward I gazed out my window. Rainier's bulk filled it. I felt a smile curve across my face, despite my sadness at leaving Washington. I had stood there on that snowy dome one cold, dark night at the top of the world around me.

Whenever I see that mountain, whether in life or in pictures, I will never feel the same again.

Special Thanks to:
 Grant Larsen for leading our rope, 
Ryan Minkle for taking great pics, 
and Doug McKeever for bringing it all together!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fuel 100 Electro Bites Review

I have been using a product called Fuel 100 Electro Bites for several years now. In prior hot weather races and hikes I relied primarily on S-Caps and salty snacks at aid stations for my electrolyte needs.

I always felt like a capsule was less optimal than a real food source, however, as someone who is unable to eat gluten there are not always salty snacks at aid stations that I can have. It's also volume prohibitive to carry bags of chips.

So, when I discovered Electro Bites, a real food electrolyte supplement I was pretty excited. Not only do Electro Bites supply your electrolyte needs: Sodium (190mg) , Magnesium (46mg), Potassium (55mg), but also calories (100 for 23 grams).

More nutritional information here.

As an electrolyte supplement these are very salty. So, be prepared for that. However, I have found that it's a good gauge of whether I need electrolytes or not. The less saltier (better) these taste, the more I need them!

Part of this balanced summit snack!

Enjoy a discount on your first order, use ANISHSENTME.