Tuesday, December 1, 2015

AT Gear Review: ZPacks Soloplex Tent

I purchased my tent from ZPacks and am not affiliated with the company in any way, although they did generously offer me a discount. This review was not requested by them and is my own experience with the product. You can see my full AT gear list here.

I used my ZPacks Hexamid for several years, including my PCT thru-hike in 2013. It was starting to show the 4000 miles I'd put on it though and so I knew I was going to need a more stormproof shelter for the AT. I chose the ZPacks Soloplex.

I used to say my Hexamid was my favorite piece of gear. Now, it's a toss up between that and the Soloplex. Basically, I think no matter what shelter you choose from ZPacks it's going to be awesome.

Getting the tension just right
Footprint: The Soloplex takes more space to set up than the Hexamid, although I was still able to cram it under rhododendron and even on the trail a couple times. It takes practice to get the pitch right, but eventually you'll be able to set it up quickly and in a variety of less than ideal locations.

Vestibules: The overlapping vestibules tended to gap, but that was probably because I didn't have the pitch perfected. Evenso, water never came in, even in heavy rain. They provided lots of room for storing gear.

Condensation: I did get minimal condensation, but nothing more than I would expect with a single wall tent, and far less than I've had with other types. The higher dew point may have played a factor in this.

Set-up: It's a bit tricky to set up. Just like every other minimal shelter I've ever used. There are tricks and finesse unique to each type of tent and it takes a few pitches to get the hang of it. I strongly recommend watching the set-up video a few times and practicing at home. Even doing that I forgot a detail that I accidentally remembered in Virginia...and suddenly the tent was perfect...d'oh!

Setting up in the North Cascades

Space to Weight Ratio: This tent is huge. I felt like I had my own palace at night, not that I was awake very long to enjoy it. There was ample room for my gear and me (I'm 5'8"). Even when everything was wet there was enough room to shove the wet gear to the end of the tent and not touch it with my down bag while I slept. In fact, though this is certainly a one person shelter my boyfriend and I used it on our backpacking trip when I got home. He's 6'2" and we both used full length Thermarest NeoAir mattresses. Our gear had to stay outside and the zipper had a six inch gap, but we fit. That gives you an idea of how spacious this tent is...for only less than a pound. Mine weighed exactly a pound with stakes and the optional poles. Having broken and lost trekking poles I don't trust my tent set-up to them!

Highly recommended to any thru-hiker!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Food for the Long Haul: Appalachian Trail Food Review

Throughout the summer reviews of the food I had stocked my boxes with were published here using the scheduling feature so you'd have something to read while I was out hiking :) My pre-reviews were written based on my experiences with the products in the months leading up to the AT. Despite eating everything in a variety of situations (from sitting on a plane to hiking in Death Valley to climbing Rainier) it's still hard to predict how exactly it will be to eat those things for weeks on end while thru-hiking.

So, here it is my final review of how these things stacked up on a thru-hike...

My original review of Navitas Naturals Products:
What worked: Goji Berries, Mulberries, various flavors PowerSnacks.
What didn't: Ziplocs of Coconut Water powder absorbed moisture rendering it unusable. Not Navitas fault, but a poor packaging choice on my behalf. Green Coffee powder wasn't strong enough in the later stages of my hike. I got tired of the Coconut Pepitas.

My original review of Salazon Chocolate.
What worked: It all did. Chocolate, Nom.
What didn't: I wish I'd brought 2 bars of chocolate per day.

My original review of Health Warrior Chia Bars.
What worked: The chia bars were awesome, but not enough. Could have eaten 4 at a time.
What didn't: I got tired of the protein bars. They had a pea protein aftertaste that started to become obvious when I was on the trail.

My original review of ProBars
What worked: The meal bars were perfect for breakfast. The Base bars were an excellent post dinner protein and chocolate treat. Bolt and Fuel products were nice variety.
What didn't: Nothing. I'm still eating Base bars for snacks at home...

My original review of Bogg's Trail Butter
What worked: The caffeine, fat, protein and overall awesome magic of Trail Butter fueled me throughout my hike.
What didn't: I wish I had brought 2-3 times as much.

My original review of Electro Bites
What worked: These saved me so many times. The humidity of the East was draining. Having these really kept me from getting into some serious problems.
What didn't: My distribution. I should have had more in the mid-Atlantic and less down south.

So there you have it folks. Most of what I predicted to be perfect for the hike was indeed. So, if you're looking for some new variety I can fully recommend these products.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

AT Gear Review: ZPacks 35 Degree Sleeping Bag

I purchased my sleeping bag from ZPacks and am not affiliated with the company in any way, although they did generously offer me a discount. This review was not requested by them and is my own experience with the product. You can see my full AT gear list here.

When I first opened the package containing my ZPacks 35 degree bag 3 days before I left for the AT I had a moment of panic. I could literally see the feathers through the fabric and the 1 pound bag felt like nothing in my hands. As someone who sleeps cold I was terrified it wasn't going to be warm enough.

I was wrong.

First of all, most nights on the AT were uncomfortably hot and humid. Often the bag was only over my legs or used as a blanket. But on the nights when the temps were actually in the 50's or below, it was completely warm enough.

Temperature Rating: As I said, I sleep very cold, so most nights I was wearing my clean fleece sleep clothes. These kept me warmer and kept the bag cleaner. I also wore a fleece balaclava (rolled up to just a hat). In conjunction with this outfit, the 35 degree rating was sufficient.

However, the night before I went into Damascus the temperatures dropped into the upper 30's. I was cold that night, despite wearing everything and cinching the bag tight. So, for me, the 35 degree rating is definitely a survival rating and not a comfort rating. This is true of almost every single sleeping bag.

DIY Down Jacket on a cold morning

Warmth to Weight: In the past I have used a 20 degree bag for my summer bag and been happy with it. This ZPacks bag was just as comfortable in the same temperature range and saved me an entire POUND off of my base weight. You can also order the bag with more (or less) fill for a negligible increase in weight.

Durability: The zipper and draw cord are very tiny. The fabric is very delicate. It may not be as durable in the long run as another brand, only time will tell. However, after an entire thru-hike there are no visible signs of wear or damage.

Major Drawback: No attached hood. Even with a hat I would have stayed much warmer if the bag had a hood. ZPacks makes a separate hood that is designed to make a functionally modular hat and sleeping bag hood (I assume). However, my personal preference would be to have it attached to my bag since I'm going to be carrying a different hat anyway. But, that's just me.

Keeping Dinner from freezing on a very cold night

Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who is thru-hiking. I know I'll be buying another one when this one dies. Or, maybe before with more fill for winter adventures... :)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

AT Gear Review: Nightlight Sleeping Pad and Klymit Inertia Sleeping Pad

I used the Gossamer Gear Nightlight Torso Pad for my 2015 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You can see my full gear list here. I am a brand ambassador for Gossamer Gear and they generously provided this pad to me at no cost. The following review was not required by them however, and reflects my experience with the product. I coupled this with an inflatable Klymit Inertia Sleeping Pad for added comfort.

In the past I have used a single Thermarest ZRest size small with two sections cut off. I had toyed with the idea of using an inflatable pad on my AT hike, but was unwilling to trust my already compromised sleep to something that could leak.

I decided to combine two very light pads for an overall weight of around 8oz.

I was completely satisfied with this combination. I slept with my feet propped up on my odor proof food bag or my backpack depending on the regulations of the area I was in. The comfort of the two pads enabled me to sleep very comfortably in any condition and was much warmer than the ZRest. I will use this combination again.

The Klymit pad did not puncure or deflate. The Nightlight pad seems indestructible (as do most closed cell foam pads). The Nightlight also did not seem to compress and lose insulation over the duration of the hike as my ZRests have done in the past.

I did not do a side by side comparison, however it seemed like the Nightlight might be more insulating as a single layer than other closed cell foam pads.

The Gorilla Pack is designed with an external pad sleeve. It was an excellent way to carry a non-collapsible pad without sacrificing interior pack capacity.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

AT Gear Review: Gossamer Gear Gorilla

I used the Gossamer Gear Gorilla backpack for my 2015 thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. You can see my full gear list here. I am a brand ambassador for Gossamer Gear and they generously provided this pack to me at no cost. The following review was not required by them however, and reflects my experience with the pack.

I was very happy with this backpack! I made a few modifications to it, namely removing the aluminum stay, cutting off excess webbing and straps, and replacing the backpad with my closed cell foam torso pad (also by Gossamer Gear).

Just before climbing Mt. Katahdin on August 1st 2015

Sizing and Fit: I wore a size small pack and hip belt. I prefer my pack ride higher rather than lower and have found that despite my 16" torso length a medium is far too long for me. The pack straps were comfortably padded and narrow enough to not fall off of my shoulders.

Capacity: The Gorilla may seem large for an FKT attempt, however, even traveling the way I did I often went 3-4 days between resupplies. Therefore the Gorilla was an excellent choice to carry everything comfortably. On shorter carries I could pack out high volume food, such as chips or popcorn, without having it awkwardly tied to the outside of my pack.

Start of a 4.5 day carry
Comfort: I mentioned already that the pack straps were comfortable. This was imperative for me considering that the last time I did a hike like this with another brand of pack it was not comfortable. I still have scars on my shoulders from it. I did get small pack sores on my shoulders and lower back again this time, but they were not as severe. I think when wearing a pack for 18 hours a day for two months some sores are inevitable. A good fitting pack will make them manageable.

Back after PCT
Back after AT

Durability: My Gorilla showed almost no signs of wear at the end of the hike. However, the airline ripped one of the straps off on my return flight home :( If you're checking your backpack, always put it inside something else! I tried to put it in a bag and they removed it. So, best to put it in another suitcase or carry on.
At the ATC in Harper's Ferry, WV

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Product Review: Navitas Naturals Coconut Chips and the Superfood+ Snacks

A while back the folks over at Navitas Naturals sent me some products to try out. I received Caramel Coconut Chips, Coconut Hemp Pepitas, Cacao Hemp Almonds, and Cacao Goji Power Snacks. Here are my thoughts:

I'm solar and chocolate powered, so I was extra stoked to see Cocoa in two of the three products. I also love coconut. However, I'm not really a fan of pepitas, so those got sifted to the bottom of the hiking food box. One by one I devoured enjoyed the products on a range of activities from the Barkley Marathons, to plane rides and car trips, from peakbagging in Death Valley to a dayhike on a sunny spring day in Washington. 

  • Caramel Coconut Chips: These are a delicious sweet treat. I've enjoyed sweetened coconut chips from Costco, and Dang! before, but these didn't have a "these-have-had-flavors-added" aftertaste to them. I'm pretty sensitive to flavors in food, so I generally try to avoid them. Since these have three ingredients (coconut, coconut nectar, and sea salt) they tasted more "real" and not just sweet. Warning, it's hard to set the bag down.
  • Cacao Hemp Almonds: I don't know if the almonds used here are soaked/sprouted, but the texture seemed like it. The cacao coating was just sweet enough to overcome chocolate's natural bitterness, but not so much that you lost the flavor. The main problem with these is that the coating came off in the higher temps. Although, that didn't stop me from inverting the bag and licking it clean...
  • Cacao Goji Power Snacks: I've had similar products to this before. The flavor and texture are great, not too dry. I ate these on hikes and at the Barkley because of their calorie density. They were excellent.

And what about the pepitas you ask?

I finally opened them on the plane coming home from Barkley. And...
I ate the WHOLE BAG in about 3 handfuls.

For someone who isn't a pepita fan, I don't know what they did, but these are delicious. End of story.

Overall, if you're looking for clean burning, whole food, calorie dense, nutritious snacks to fuel athletic adventures and daily life these products are excellent choices. I'm looking forward to ordering more of each for my summer adventures! 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Barkley Part 2: The Experience

Ever since I stood in the shower at 2 am in Frozen Head State Park last year bawling my eyes out I have wanted to return. I knew I hadn't fully had a chance to test myself on that course, quitting because of the cold in loop 2. I spent the last year training primarily off trail and acquiring the gear pieces I felt I was missing while "out there". Even so, I was surprised to receive condolences.

I arrived in Knoxville on Tuesday and met up with Nicki who was also running the race. We carpooled to the park and set up camp. The next two days we spent running the "candy ass trails" in beautiful spring weather. I could feel the energy of the forest readying itself to burst into leaf and blossom. Still, rhodies and saw briar stood out against the brown as emerald patches that would both be our guides and our nemesis in a few days time.

I was more calm this year leading up to the race. I was not, however, any more confident. Once again as I met and chatted with the other participants I was reminded that I was so out of my league: runners who I could never hope to keep up with, orienteers who have been on their national teams, Barkley vets who have accumulated more time in that little state park than most locals. I crawled into my tent Thursday night and cried. What in the world was I thinking coming back here? I will never be fast enough, strong enough, or good enough to even finish 3 loops.

Yet, once Laz appeared on Friday and I had my bib in hand I felt a little better. At the very least I was going to go run around in the woods all day (and night and day and maybe night). It would be good to see if my navigation and my time training off trail had helped at all. My feet would be warm in my Seal Skinz socks. I focused on the positives and tried to forget the colossal feeling of being an impostor in a campground full of elites.

I laid awake in my tent all night. A light wind was shaking the canvas tent nearby, and even with earplugs, my light sleeping tendency won. I dozed intermittently, but when I finally crawled out at daybreak I knew I'd be in trouble. The sleep deprivation had already begun to accumulate.

The conch blew late--later than ever I heard. We started running around 11 I believe. Time is fairly irrelevant at Barkley and so I didn't even bother to keep track. I hiked up the first climb with Nicki and Jodi. Most of the field pulled away from us. Last year I had hustled to keep up, but this time, no. I was more honest with myself and my lack of ability to run up a steep climb.

We found the first book easily and navigated to the bottom of Jaque Mate ridge nearly flawlessly, but at the bottom we went downstream instead of crossing and had to backtrack. Jodi was fighting a lingering chest cold and Nicki and I pulled away gradually.

Up, down, up, down. This is the rhythm of the Barkley. There is essentially nothing flat and when there is you have an eerie sensation that you are surely off route. Nicki and I caught up to two virgin runners who accompanied us for most of loop 1. Our navigation was excellent with very few errors.

We saw Jodi on the out and back portions and at the New River. His dedication to training was evident, despite being very sick he was moving at a 10ish hour pace. We traveled as a loose group of 6 from the New River to Rat Jaw, but the steep briar shrouded slopes easily space people out. It was getting toward evening when I am strongest and I surged up the climb. I remembered what a mess it was with mud last year and was thankful for dry "trail".

On our way down Rat Jaw we saw Jodi one more time. He wished us a safe night and I could see in his face that the Barkley had used his illness to win. Barkley is never fair, never bold. It takes whatever weakness you have and it crushes you with it. I thought about my cold hands last year and the anger I'd felt. "This is not FAIR! I am able to go on so much longer. Taking me out with COLD HANDS?! Really Barkley? That's the best you can do?"

The four of us pressed onward, sloshing through the prison, climbing up Indian Knob. It was there that I laughed aloud in the growing gloom: the book was titled "Another Bullshit Night in Suck City". Yes. Yes indeed.

We reached the Beech tree just at dark. Big Hell seemed to go quickly and soon we were racing down switchbacks destined for camp. Our turnaround was swift due to an excellent crew, Leon, Mike, Keith...Thank you all. I can't have asked for better assistance!

The second loop is still "fun," but it is certainly where you begin to feel the enormity of the endeavor. As we climbed Hillpocalypse for the second time I repeatedly said aloud, "We have to almost be at the top." Sorry Nicki! As we slipped and slid down and up the Buttslide in the dark I realized how thankful I was to be with others there. Finding these books in relatively unremarkable terrain is an incredible challenge.

It was here that the wheels began to fall off of our little group. Nicki was ill and vomiting. My water and primary calorie source were both frozen in the near 0 degree weather. As a whole we were moving slower. Another experience Barker caught us and he pulled our virgin along with him. Climbing to Hiram's Pool and Spa Nicki and I watched their lights grow smaller and eventually be swallowed by the forest and the night.

Navigating Stallion was not too hard. In fact we were impressed at how well we traveled down the mountain under the conditions. We reached the New River just before dawn. We found a place to cross and practically crawled up the steep embankment to the highway. Nicki sat down and announced she was done and going to walk back on the roads/trails. We consulted the map together to figure out where we were (about 1/4 mi upriver). Reluctantly I left her after repeated assurances that she was ok. She turned and started walking up the road and I turned and headed down.

A humongous wave of apprehension washed over me. I was alone on the Barkley course for the first time since I'd come down Quitter's Road in a bitter snowstorm last year. I whispered a prayer that was more of a statement, "Well, God, it's just you and me and the mountains now." Somehow, uttering that gave me confidence and assurance. God, me and the mountains is, afterall, my preferred arrangement in life.

The sun rose, drenching the forest in reds and golds. I saw deer and rabbit and birds sang. My water hose finally thawed as did the Trailbutter I'd stuffed in my jacket. I sucked down my first fluids in hours and sucked on the Trailbutter as I hiked. I washed it down with Perpetuem. I finally felt my energy returning.

The navigation presented no problems. Rat Jaw was actually lovely in the morning light. I arrived at Indian Knob after surviving "another bullshit night" and soon was cresting Chimney Top. It was afternoon and I looked at my watch. I did the math over and over, my mind turning sluggishly. If I could get to camp and back on the course in an hour I could still start a third loop.

The first few switchbacks I jogged in disbelief. I could not wrap my mind around the fact that I was not only going to finish a second loop, but I was going to do so in the cut-off. The hopeless feeling from the past few hours faded and I began to run in earnest.

I came running up to the yellow gate with 12 minutes to spare. I handed Laz my pages and declared with a 5-year-old-in-a-candy-store smile that I wanted to go out again. Karine whisked my very out of it self over to Mike's camp and I swear there were 10 people feeding me food and packing my pack. I ripped off my layers that I hadn't stopped to remove for the sake of time, even though it was a warm day. As Laz yelled, "3 minutes!" I said, "Just throw it all in there anyway you can. I'm going to stop and repack it in a little while." Then I was at the yellow gate taking my third bib and running the counterclockwise direction away from camp.

I stopped a short ways down and dumped my pack. I repacked it while eating as much as I could manage. I realized that Jodi, who had been packing it, had been right. I probably had too much stuff. But, I knew that if I were going to be out all night I'd rather have too many clothes than not enough. I would not quit because I was cold again!

The climb up Chimney Top seemed long. I laughed at myself. My body was pretty jacked. I was sore and tired...and gleeful. I was on my third loop!

I gathered my page and set out on my bearing. I went about 2/3 of the way down Big Hell and suddenly nothing seemed right. I felt like I was in a gully instead of on a ridge. I didn't remember the cliffy rocks. I couldn't see tracks in the leaves. I began hallucinating. I felt waves of hunger. I stopped for a few minutes and studied the map. I began to shake and got very cold. I recognized the signs of depletion. I climbed back up Big Hell convinced I'd done something wrong. At the top, I realized I hadn't, but yet nothing looks the same in reverse. I thought back to the JMT last summer when I had argued with my compass and GPS because my vision and mind told me one thing and they another.

I should have followed my bearing to the river and used the remaining hour of daylight to find the beech tree. With that tricky maneuver complete I'd be able to continue on in the dark.

However, I made the race-ending mistake of sitting down. I thought I was only sitting for a few minutes trying to figure out the best course down the mountain. But, when I finally pulled my  mind away from the hallucinated backpackers and monkeys and back to reality I realized the sun was almost setting. I have no idea how long I sat there with my mind wandering into another realm, but it was long enough that I knew I would never finish the loop in the cut-off, and likely I'd be wandering around the river for a long time before I found the beech tree.

And so, in a seemingly logical choice I allowed my mind to turn my body around and I walked back to camp.

I do wish I had gone on, at least to Indian Knob. However, I feel like I did more than I really thought possible. And, the fact that I quit where and when I did leaves me with an agonizing wonder, "Could I actually finish a 3 loop "Fun Run"? 

Before I boarded the plane for Tennessee I had told myself and everyone who asked that this would be my last Barkley. That whatever I did this year would be the best that I could do. That I was out of my league on this course and that I would never be able to do well there and I was done with futile attempts.

But as I drove away from Frozen Head I looked up at Chimney top and thought to myself, "Until next time, Barkley."

Monday, April 27, 2015

Barkely Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

Last year's dismal performance at the Barkley left me sitting on a plane jotting notes onto my phone of what to do differently. Different gear, different training, better weather.

Only two of those could I actually do anything about this year. On the third front, I was lucky.

I've spent the last year foregoing trails for the most part to climb rough, rocky, steep, bushwhack-y peaks. I've mapped and compassed my way through a wide array of off trail terrain. This year at Barkley, that showed. I moved faster through the steep, off-trail, saw briar infested slopes. The steep grades left me non-plussed, except for Hillpocalypse which does me in every time. Just ask Nicki... (The trail has to be just ahead, right? This is almost the top, right?)

Unfortunately I still wasn't fast enough to complete a third loop within the cut-off. So, for this year, I will have to dedicate myself not only to covering rough terrain sans trail, but also work on my speed and agility in the wild and in the gym.

Gear was a different story. I came to the race this year with the things I had lacked last year:
Trekking poles (Black Diamond...sturdy as all get out) with snow baskets for the mud
5 pairs of mittens/gloves of varying thicknesses. These ranged from thin wool liners to thick synthetic mitts that my boyfriend used to climb Aconcagua
Sodium Acetate hand warmers that would function at altitude and in the rain
Many light layers and multiple sets so that I could change in between laps if it was pouring
Seal Skinz waterproof socks that were knee high
Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest (for day)
Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20 (for night)
Seal Line Waterproof map case
Ultimate Direction Body Bottle Plus (Excellent for pre-measured Perpetuem!)

The net result was that I was never cold, even though it was certainly in the single digits and maybe even 0 at night. I didn't lose time and waste energy on slippery climbs because of vastly improved traction. My packs were comfortable and kept my food accessible. My map and compass were readily accessible with no fumbling. Best of all, because of the Seal Skinz my feet were warm and dry despite fording the New River and wading under the prison in extremely cold water. My Altra Lone Peak 2.0's performed perfectly yet again with regard to comfort, traction, and breathe-ability.

I still made mistakes. I used a water bladder and the water in the hose froze. Because I was warm I failed to realize how cold it was outside until I tried to drink. I went most of the first night without fluids. I left the Seal Skinz on during the day even though it had warmed up. I had very badly creased feet that were painful from the trapped sweat moisture by the time I removed them. But these issues were minor in the scheme of Barkley.

Lighting was greatly improved as well this time around. I used a GoMotion sternum strap light almost exclusively, but I also combined it with my Princeton Tec headlamp when I needed a lot of light. I carried an UltraFire flashlight for cutting fog (although I didn't use it) and a Black Diamond Storm headlamp as a backup.

Fueling was not something I thought much about last year until I reached the point where my hands were too cold to eat and I was badly depleted. This year I came with less calories per loop and consumed them all. So, in that respect I was better prepared because I carried only what I needed. However, I carried about 8 gels per loop and by the middle of the second loop I was aware that they were an inadequate fuel source...I was starving. While I knew that they wouldn't be able to sustain me, my main calorie source for the night had frozen due to my forgetfulness to put it inside my jacket.

Fueling done right:
Trailbutter. It froze at night, but once I thawed it in my jacket it was my savior. I sucked down the whole 700 calorie packet in the last half of loop 2 and felt my energy skyrocket. I will never attempt Barkley again without Trailbutter, but I will remember to keep it in an inside pocket!
Fuel 100 Electro Bites. It was "hot" this year and having these salty tidbits helped me stay balanced between water and electrolytes.
Health Warrior Chia Bars. These 100 calorie bars are a mix of protein, fat, and carbs. When the Trailbutter froze I was thankful to have 4 of these to chain-eat. Definitely a great alternative to other bars.
Hammer Perpetuem. I'd never tried this before. Yeah, yeah, yeah...I know, don't try new things on race day, but, this was perfect. The end of loop 2 found me washing down Trailbutter with Perpetuum and feeling strong. Next time, no gels, just this.

I had Tasty Bites and Amy's soups for in-between laps. They were good, but not a significant calorie source. Next time I'll figure out a more calorie dense option. Even though it isn't hot, I think the Greenbelly bars will be just the ticket here. As it was they were excellent for pre-race breakfast.

Stay tuned for the next installment, the Barkley Experience.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

MaskIT Feminine Product Disposal Review

At the 2015 Winter OR in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago I got the opportunity to see a lot of great products. By far the one I was most excited about were the MaskIT pouches. Not only are they a great product, but they are a long over-due solution for us outdoor women who aren't using Diva Cups.

Shallan, the founder, inventor, and CEO is also a source of entrepreneurial inspiration. This is an Ashland, OR based company and the products are made in Covina, CA. I love that it's a made in the USA product. Shallan gave me a few samples to try out, which I did on my recent hiking adventure. I was stoked to find that they lived up to their claims.

The MaskIT pouches are indeed easy to use, don't leak, are odor proof, and opaque. They come in different sizes, one for tampons and one for pads. They are easy to use and help make changing out products much more sanitary.

While these are great for disposal in both the front country and the back country, I am beyond stoked to use them backpacking for the following reasons:
  • The glove-like pouches keep things sanitary when changing out products. They keep dirty hiking fingers away from your delicate bits and keep menstrual blood off your hands. Win-win.
  • You can flip and seal everything off with ease. The closure is sturdy and doesn't leak. In the past I used a triple plastic baggie method that was cumbersome. This is so much easier.
  • No leaks. Nada. I just tossed it into my trash bag with my other trash and forgot about it. No worries.
  • The fact that these are odor proof is awesome for a couple of reasons:
    • When you're accumulating a bunch of used feminine products on a multi-day trip it's hard to keep them from getting stinky. Even in my old triple baggie days you still had to open the bags to add more. With the MaskIT's you don't have to open anything. Once it's sealed you don't even notice it. 
    • Secondly, you don't have to worry about your trash attracting animals or insects. I discovered once quite by accident that ants love blood...eew! And, while the validity of the statement that menstruation attracts predators such as mountain lions or bears is unproven, using the MaskIT can definitely put your mind to rest if you are concerned about it (as many women are).
  • These are opaque, yay! Nothing more gross than seeing your used products in your trash bag.
  • I also like the fact that they can accommodate whichever product you use.
  • Lastly, although not intended for this use, I think they'd be perfect for back country condom disposal as well.
This is a small company and growing. Right now you can find the products on Amazon as well as Gossamer Gear

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greenbelly Bar Review

A few weeks ago Chris over at GreenBelly Bar contacted me about his product. A fellow thru-hiker, he has taken the personal lessons learned about nutritional needs of endurance athletes and turned them into the crafting of the GreenBelly Bar. He asked me if I'd be willing to review his products if he sent me some samples. I agreed.

And boy was I glad.

GreenBelly currently has 3 flavors: Cranbery Almond, Peanut Apricot, and Dark Chocolate Banana. All three flavors were excellent. As someone who is essentially solar and chocolate powered, I of course was partial to the Dark Chocolate Banana flavor. My hiking partner, who dislikes both apricots and peanuts even agreed that that one was "OK". That's how you know these are well balanced flavors. We both agreed that the Cranberry Almond was an excellent "trail mix-y" flavor.

So what can you say about yet another bar? A few things:

  1. Texture: This is not a dense bar. It has a light crunchy texture akin to a rice crispie treat. This is a welcome change to most other bars on the market.
  2. Caloric content: In my adventures I am usually looking for the most calorie dense food items I can find. Anything approaching 100 cal/oz is ideal. Weighing in at just over five and a half oz and over 600 calories these babies are the bomb!
  3. Nutritional value: When I am on an adventure I seldom stop. This includes eating. Therefore, I like to find nutritious foods that I can eat easily while walking. GreenBelly Bars supply 1/3 each of your daily requirement for calories, protein, fat, fiber, carbs, and sodium.
  4. Taste: This is perhaps the most important factor. I pretty much lived on bars on my 2013 FKT on the Pacific Crest Trail. I got really sick of eating the same two flavors all the time. GreeBelly Bars taste like real food. There is NO weird vitamin aftertaste. I love that. The other taste factor is that they are not overly sweet. Most snack items and bars rely too much on sugars for palatability. These are a nice balance of sweet and salty, especially the Peanut Apricot.
  5. Satiety: I can pack away two Snickers bars easily (440 calories, full nutrition info here). But, I'll be hungry again in an hour or so. I ate the GreenBelly two pack (600+ calories) and wasn't hungry for the rest of the day. Five hours. Seriously. That NEVER happens to me. I was stoked!
All things considered, GreenBelly Bars are a delicious way to improve the nutrition of your trail food as well as add variety. In addition to that they are dedicated to impacting the world positively; donating a meal bar to the Atlanta Community Food Bank for every bar that is sold.