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Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 Backpack

 Testing out the Leopard AC 58 has served as my introduction to Granite Gear, and I have to say, I’m impressed. Of course, their Leopard series has been tested by far worthier outdoors-people than me: gear testers Justin ‘Trauma’ Lichter and Shawn ‘Pepper’ Forry took the packs on a trek through the Himalayas. For those of us with slightly more humble itineraries, here’s my take.

Leopard AC 58 backpackThe Leopard AC 58 includes a lot of bells and whistles. I mean, a lot. There are multiple loops and hooks for just about anything you think you’ll need, from gear loops to crampon holders. And with extra ties and buckles, you can customize to your heart’s content. The pack is highly adjustable: not only do you select torso size (regular or short) and belt size (small through XL), but the shoulder straps offer more height options than any other pack I’ve tried.

And the customization doesn’t end there. I’ve never seen a pack with more flexibility in terms of storage space. Hidden pockets and panels abound, and all can be expanded or shortened by the use of clips and ties. The biggest challenge it remembering where you stashed everything. The expandability carries over to the main compartments, too: when you’re hiking light, it’s easy to tighten down the straps and roll down the top compartment opening to utilize a very small space, but all these sections also expand to impressionable depth. This is a pack for the fast and light hiker, that can adjust to carry bigger loads when necessary.

The pack features two sections that allow the greatest capacity-flexibility: the sides and the top. On the sides, clips keep side panels folded almost nearly in half for when you need a streamlined look, and the back panel lies close to the main compartment. Fill the compartment, and the back panel expands and the side panels can be let out. At the top, the pack’s roll-top design works like the closure on a watertight dry bag: fill as much as you want, then roll to close. The extra space is sizable.

The Vapor Airbeam frame offers weight savings (this is where that fast and light hiker is pleased) and the total weight is only 3 pounds, 5 ounces. I was skeptical about the Airbeam frame at first: with a full panel of fabric, would it feel too hot? Nope, it remained comfortable on a long, dry hike for my husband, who kindly tried it out for me. We didn’t need the extra space on our hike, so I battened down the hatches, so to speak, taking the time to find all the nifty pockets and tie-downs. (My favorite is the small zippered pocket at the bottom of the back panel, perfect for a phone or keys.) I was also very pleased with the water bottle holders on each side: I can be picky about this, as I hate having to struggle for my bottle when I need it. Standard water bottles slid into and out of the stretchy pockets easily.

Can there be such a thing as too many bells and whistles? Sure. If you’re not a hiker or backpacker who has differing packing needs for various excursions, you might not need all this flexibility. Ditto if you don’t carry a lot of technical tools and gear. If, however, you have a variety of needs, the Leopard will be all things to you.

The Leopard AC retails for $249 at Granite Gear and is also available at Moosejaw, Backcountry, and Amazon. Interested in the women’s specific model? Check out the Leopard AC 58 Ki.

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STUFFITTS For Gear Odor-Killing Backpack

StuffitsI admit. I do not work out on a regular basis when on the road, but it is always a goal of mine to go for a quick jog in a new city or try out the hotel’s fancy fitness center or health club. It is tough to do that when traveling with a carry-on bag as there is limited space for workout apparel and tennis shoes.

The Stuffitts odor-killing backpack provided me with the perfect opportunity to get more exercise while on the road and minimized my previous excuses of not being able to carry gym gear. This is a lightweight bag that allows me to keep everything from dirty laundry to gym gear separated from the rest of my clothes.

Typically, I do not travel with backpacks, but wearing this bag on my shoulders was a bit liberating as I had less to lug behind me when strolling through airports and train stations. This bag was designed for athletes who may travel long distances to compete and often with wet or dirty gear.

Inside the main pouch is the largest compartment, which is perfect for shoes or a stash of laundry. The mesh top allows the contents to “breathe” without developing any internal odor. Smaller items can be placed inside separate pockets.

Lest you be concerned that the bag itself will eventually start to smell, even when empty, Stuffitts designed it with interior panels that can be removed and washed while also creating more space for bigger items.

Two side pockets hold small items that make this a convenient accessory for going to the gym. I used it to store my phone, keys, and wallet. There is a hidden bottom compartment sealed with a zipper, which is another good place to store valuables.

This is a great option for those that like to work out on the road, but prefer not to mix clean and dirty, smelly clothes (who does?!). It is available for around $100 from the Stuffitts website or on Amazon.

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Keen Marshall Flexible Hiking Shoes

Keen Marshall shoes

If you’re only going to be doing light hiking or walks now and then and want something that’s comfy and flexible right out of the box, Keen’s latest Marshall shoes are a good bet. Just be ready for a trade-off in the cushioning and support.

We’re big fans of Keen shoes here at Practical Travel Gear and between us have tried a lot of different versions over the years. Most have a few characteristics that set them apart: they’re not super-narrow, they have protection for your toes, and they’re built to last.

You get all three of those as expected with these Marshall hiking shoes. They’re also lightweight, so they’re good to travel with, and the mesh allows your feet to breathe well when you’re on the move. I actually took off a pair of leather shoes my feet were sweating in at one point and put these on. When I took off the Keens, my socks were dry.

The Marshalls have a good lacing system to adjust the fit and pull tabs on the back and on the padded tongue. There’s a good tread on the bottom that grips rocks well.

Alas, you’re going to feel every bump and crevice in those rocks because the cushioning on these is quite minimal. The shoes fit like a pair of slippers out of the box, with no breaking in necessary. The downside of that is the flexibility means there’s not a whole lot besides the tread between your feet and the ground. Like barefoot running trail shoes, but looking like something much sturdier from the outside.

Keen Marshall hiking

After wearing these around for a few months, my conclusion is that they’re great for light hikes of a couple hours on flat trails or for navigating cobblestones in the city. I wouldn’t do any serious hiking in them though for long distances with a pack on. They also fit me really well, but I have flat feet. People who need more of an arch support might not be as thrilled with the casual fit as I am.

I do like these shoes a lot and will keep wearing them on trips where the adventures won’t be too challenging. At a list price of $110 though (and $130 for the WP waterproof version), Marshall feels like a shoe that aspires to be a bit more than it really is. Too see all the color choices and check for markdowns, surf a few different options: the Keen website, Amazon, Zappos, or Backcountry. There’s also a women’s version.

See more reviews of Keen Footwear products.

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Deuter AC Aera 22 SL Pack

Deuter AC Aera 22 SLTravelers can make do with a lot of imperfect things. But when something is made specifically for a segment of the traveling population, why not take advantage of it? The Deuter AC Aera 22 SL backpack has a frame designed for women, and is comfortable for day hikes wherever you go.

The pack’s Advanced Aircomfort system provides a balanced load and great air ventilation. It may not be the equivalent of someone else carrying your gear for you, but it does make it comfortable for you to carry it all yourself. A padded hip belt helps add to the comfort, and the padded shoulder straps are anatomically shaped, so they’re not cutting into the wrong places.

The top-loader pack has a lid pocket with a securely zipped valuables compartment. It’s always good to not have to dig for things when you’re out on the trail. There are also mesh side pockets for other items you need to keep up front where you can get to them.

One of the things I like best in this pack is the inclusion of a wet laundry compartment, which is ideal for packing laundry that didn’t have enough time to dry. Even better, I used it for my swimsuit, because you never know when you’re going to come across the perfect swimming hole when you’re traveling.

Attachment loops are placed on the lid, and there’s also a hiking pole attachment for when you want to pack those away. Compression straps are handy for keeping everything nice and tightly packed, and the detachable rain cover lets the pack remain dry in a downpour. Want to bring your hydration system along? No problem at all—there’s room for that, too.

See, gear for girls isn’t always about pretty and pink.

The Deuter AC Aera 22 SL comes in a bright orange color called “papaya-lava” and lists for $109 on Amazon. You can also find this 22-liter pack at Rock Creek and Sunny Sports.

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Dr. Cool Recovery Wraps

If you play hard during your vacations, traveling with a set of Dr. Cool Recovery Wraps isn’t a bad idea. As we like to camp, mountain bike, hike, and ski with three very active and growing boys, we’ve used our recovery wraps multiple times (and we’ve only owned a set for a few weeks).

dr-cool-recovery-wraps

What it is:

Dr. Cool Recovery Wraps are compression wraps with velcro closure that can be soaked with water and frozen for immediate injury treatment. They can be used on just about any body part, and come in a variety of sizes and colors. Apparently, it’s the only product which combines ice and compression in one wrap (though of course it can be used dry if all you need is compression). As a former wilderness EMT, I was taught that cold and compression is the most effective way to reduce swelling in the field, and speed recovery in general. Sure, you can use a standard ice pack, but those are bulky and heavy to pack for your outdoor adventures, and you’ll have to pack wraps separately.

How to use them:

To use Dr. Cool wraps at home or at a hotel or resort,  simply wet the wrap under a faucet or at a sink, then roll it and freeze it for 20 minutes. Tip: don’t freeze for much longer than this, or you’ll end up with a wrap that’s frozen solid for hours. There’s something called Coolcore in the material that keeps the wrap cold longer than average.  When you need it, unwrap and apply. We’ve found the wraps to stay icy cold (but still flexible) for about an hour.

This video gives a good demonstration:

If you’re on the trail or otherwise away from a freezer, you’ll need to wet your wrap ahead of time, and store in an insulated bag or cooler. Dr. Cool sells a bag that fits one wrap, but we’ve found standard insulated lunch bags to work as well. Their cooler is only $10, however, so might be worth picking up along with the wraps.

Wraps come in small ($24), medium ($29), and large ($34). They’re reusable, of course. On average adults and teens, we’ve found the small size to work well for ankle and wrist injuries and the medium to work for other limb injuries (knees, elbows, etc). The large is quite big, and would be used for torso or shoulder injuries (of which we luckily haven’t suffered yet). You get your pick of seven bright colors, and each wrap does have a hole at one end for easier wrapping around knees, elbows, and heels. For now these are hard to find at stores or online retailers, so you’ll have to go direct. Pick up one or more at Dr. Cool for the prices above.

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