Let’s say you’re interested in ultra lightweight backpacking, but aren’t quite ready to sleep in a cocoon of a bivy shelter. Or let’s say you’re not an extremist, but want to allocate your pack pounds to other comforts besides your shelter. For the sake of argument, let’s also say you’re willing to budget big for this experience.
Enter the Sea to Summit Duo Specialist. This little wonder looks and feels like a tent–you can actually sit up in it, imagine!–but carries like a bivy. In fact, it’s lighter than most extreme lightweight tents out there, weighing in at only 22 ounces. Yes, really. And did I mention you can sit up in it?
Here’s the nitty gritty: The Duo weighs in at 846 grams (there’s also a Solo weighing 625 grams…more on that later), making it the lightest fully-enclosable shelter in its class. (Now I sound like a car commercial, but no matter.) The Specialist comes with a set of two poles and six pegs made out of 7075 alloy, but can also be erected with a pair of trekking poles and natural anchors if you want to achieve low-weight nirvana (633 grams for the Duo).
The shell is made of Pertex Endurance, which is basically an ultra lightweight waterproof breathable nylon fabric. It’s seam sealed throughout, which means it’s waterproof enough to act as its own rain fly. The mesh doors (there are two) offer much-needed ventilation (I’ve found moisture to be an issue with most lightweight shelters) and keep the mosquitos and other little critters outside where they belong. I slept in the Duo during an all-night rain storm in May, and stayed very snug and dry. With the outer zipper on one door unzipped partway (leaving the inner mesh door zipped entirely), I had no condensation problems. Gear has a space tucked beside either door, protected by the outer flaps.
Setting up the Specialist is as easy as you’d guess, considering it’s a very simple design. It does not stand on its own: the guy lines need to be staked. Spread out the shelter and stake it first, using the pre-measured loops to ensure they’re taut. Then enter the tent and attach the two poles. The pads where the poles rest are reinforced so you don’t have to fear a tear; if you’d rather use trekking poles to set up the tent, this comes in handy, as the tip of your pole rests on the reinforced material. This instructional video shows the trekking pole process very well.
There is are no less than six internal pocket compartments to store valuables inside the shelter. The guy lines which attach the stakes are advertised as reflective, so you won’t trip over them headed to nature’s bathroom at night, but I didn’t find this to be true. I tripped over them repeatedly!
Now for the size: in my experience, the Duo does not comfortably fit two people. You knew there had to be a sacrifice for that low weight somewhere, didn’t you? This fact comes as no surprise to me, as I’ve always reduced the capacity number by one for every tent ever made. Here’s how the math breaks down for the Duo: one regular-sized adult will take up 2/3 of the footprint space inside. Add a pad and sleeping bag, and maybe a pair of hiking boots protected from the elements, and you have a roomy shelter for one. If you leave gear outside and want to be very cozy, it will sleep two (somewhat overlapped). We tried it out with two adults (myself at 5’4″ and my husband at 6′ 2″, and while the Duo was long enough for him, it was too cramped in width. My eight-year-old and I fit fine, however, so one adult and one child will fit more comfortably. If you’re looking for a Solo shelter, I’d upgrade to the Duo and have lots of space for your stuff.
Overall, I was very pleased with this shelter. I didn’t experience any condensation problems, I had enough space for myself, I was never cold or wet on a cold and wet spring night, and it was easy to set up. The only downside: the Duo relies on staking and guy lines to erect. If you’re backpacking in very hard or rocky soil, you won’t be able erect the shelter unless you’re skilled in using natural anchors like rocks and roots, and even then, the lines have to be quite taut. If I knew I’d be camping out in rocky soil, I wouldn’t bring it.
The weight of the Specialist does not include the groundsheet, which is sold separately (or use one from your gear supply). The Duo comes in one color, a nice gray and yellow, and sells for just under $500 in most gear stores. Find it at Backcountry for $498 or Amazon for the same price.
The Snugg iPad 3 case features a classic leather cover that switches on your iPad 3 when it is open. While not as important when opening it, the switch to sleep mode once closed is a wonderful battery-saving tool.
Quick to clean, the cover does not scratch or scuff easily, which is a blessing with things like keys, sharp pens, or other rugged-shaped items inside a briefcase.
It is wrapped up by a sturdy fabric and secured with Velcro. Of course, all of the needed features are accessible so that switches and the camera lens are not obstructed. There is no need to remove the case to charge it or take photos. Some iPhone cases that I have used required me to remove the case to use some charging docks (often found in hotels).
This became a major hassle when I was in a hurry and needed a quick charge because it was tough to get it back on quickly. It also started to peel back the plastic screen shield on my iPhone. While there are no iPad docking stations, the thought of having to remove my iPad cover every time I needed to charge it would be enough to make me not purchase a certain type of case.
There is an elastic strap that clumsy travelers like me can use to secure to your hand if you need one extra layer of security if juggling multiple bags and items. Inside, no worry for scuffs as there is a soft nubuck lining.
The cover, as expected, folds back so that it can act as a sturdy vertical or horizontal stand for watching movies or using at a trade show booth.
With a fair price of just under $30, Snugg makes numerous versions of these durable cases that will fit any iPad model including the iPad mini. The choice of colors comprises the entire rainbow. It is also available on Amazon. Snugg allows returns within 28 days, and sells a variety of cases on its website. Many iPad cases these days are costing a significant fraction of the Apple device itself, but the Snugg case gives a fine crafted leather look without overdoing it on the price tag.
Jill has gone gaga over a few Athleta items before on this gear blog, reviewing their Bettona Boyfriend Pants and Whatever Skort. Most fitness freak women I’ve met have a lot of love for this brand, which is owned by The Gap.
I’m not qualified to judge a travel dress, but my personal trainer guest reviewer in the house is, so take it away Donna!
When the weather is warm and I am packing for a trip, the first thing that comes out are my travel dresses. The newest one I am adding to my collection and putting into high rotation is the Dhara Dress by Athleta. True to form for Athleta, the dress is flattering, comfortable and very durable while still being stylish. It is a pretty mix of two patterns and comes in a choice of four colors. I have it in the Earth Green, the hue of which is more earthy than green.
Body skimming without being snug around my tummy and hips it creates a flattering silhouette for most figures. Coming to just above the knee is also a nice length. The poly/cotton blend makes it breathable, airy and very lightweight. It washes well and even after being balled up in a suitcase overnight, my dress came out relatively wrinkle free.
The added details of V-neck, purl-edge hems and cap sleeves up the stylish factor for sure. While this is not a dress that can transition to fancy evening attire, it can easily go from a casual daytime look with sandals or cute sneakers and a sun hat to a low-key evening out paired with little heels, a wrap, and some jewelry.
My only complaint is that it is a little small in the bust. I am not overly chesty but I still find it a little snug. A bustier woman may have a problem with this dress because of that. (The photo on the right gives you a look at the cleavage.) The dress comes in regular, tall and petite sizes and runs from XXS-XL. I’m not sure who would wear the XXS though seeing that the dress does already run on the small side up top.
You can get the Athleta Dara Dress direct from the company or at their stores for $84, or check prices online at Amazon, where some colors are much less, even though they’re still coming from Athleta, with free shipping even.
Have you noticed how much the technical gear you buy is about temperature regulation? The Freeze Degree items from Columbia Sportswear I’ve been checking out go further than most: they actually lower your temperature when they get wet.
The Columbia Omni-Freeze Zero technology is part of a wave of new items introduced lately that go beyond just wicking and evaporation. They’re meant to react to your sweat (a sign you’re overheated) and cool you off. Here’s the rundown on three items I’ve been checking out in my travels.
Freeze Degree Zip Polo Shirt
I’ve worn this 1/2 zip short-sleeve shirt with Omni Freeze quite a bit since I got it, but really gave it a workout while biking through Portugal, where this photo was taken. It’s an ideal shirt for hot weather as it really did make me noticeably cooler when I’d barrel downhill after a steep climb that worked up a sweat.
It’s extremely comfortable and fits well. Naturally it gives you sun protection and will dry quickly when you sink wash it after a sweaty day. It lists for $65.
Cooling Neck Gaiter
This thin and lightweight neck gaiter with Colombia’s Omni Freeze Zero technology showed off the properties better than the shirt because I got it wet and wore it on my head when I was kayaking. I instantly went from overheated to cool and comfy. So I give this item the prize for value: you can use it as a bandanna, a headband, a head covering, or a neck covering, cooling you off and keeping you protected from the sun.
The $30 list price is a bit daunting for what feels like a stretchy piece of polyester, but it has a UPF 50 rating and keeps your sensitive parts from the neck up nice and cool. You can sink wash it or toss it in the washer & dryer, but as with the other Omni Freeze items, no stain remover or fabric softener in the mix.
This technology is also baked into various t-shirts, long-sleeve shirts, hats, and other items for men and women. Go to the Colombia site and look for “Omni Freeze.”
Battstation Tough Dual Pro is a great travel companion for people who are on the go with multiple devices and minimal time to charge things in between use. It features dual USB output for the simultaneous charging of two devices and a carabiner so even backpackers can attach it to their side straps without taking up interior baggage space.
The power bank is designed to withstand impacts and has sealed ports to protect against liquid spills. It turns off automatically when devices are fully charged so as not to use up additional power.
I wish my company would invest in one or two of these and loan it out to travelers who are heading to places that may not have convenient outlets everywhere.
LED lights show the charge level and also indicate if the battery should be checked. This is especially helpful if being used in emergency situations where external lighting may not be available. This could be a real life saver in a natural disaster or in a location where electricity is regularly spotty. A separate LED flashlight can be illuminated as well highlighting its intention for use in emergency situations.
Many people who drive a lot should invest in one of these iBattz chargers to keep in their car if they are ever concerned to be stuck somewhere without power. The outer casing is great for keeping it protected from outside knicks and bangs, but it can be removed to make it less bulky. Without its case, it is simple to slide it into any carry-on bag or briefcase.
Included in the package is a USB cable, Apple pin connector, and Samsung Galaxy connection making it easy to use right off the bat. The USB power source allows the actual charging device itself to recharge via a laptop or other USB-compatible source increasing productivity. When I am in an airport on a quick connection with only one outlet, this makes my life much easier.
The uses for this Battstation are endless from being in a meeting with no immediate plugs accessible to using it on an airplane. Campers and outdoorsmen will find it a great addition to their gear while worry warts should add this to their emergency supply kit and be sure to check its power level periodically.
Included in the iBattz charger package is a charging cable and 30-pin Apple and Samsung Galaxy Tab connector. It is available for under $50 on Amazon.