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Soquel Small Hydration Pack from Hydrapak

hydrapak Soquel review

If you like the idea of a hydration pack but don’t want to be loaded down, this Hydrapak Soquel one might be the ultimate.

It seems to me like hydration packs are the runner/hiker/biker version of packing cubes. People either think they’re the greatest gear invention of the past two decades or…they yawn and ask how much it’ll cost to just put another water bottle holder somewhere instead.

small hydration packWe’ve covered quite a few hydration packs though, including a recent round-up from Amy, but here’s one I’ve been trying out on multiple bike rides to see if it’s worth strapping something on instead of relying on bottles. This one’s two liters, which is about what you’d be carrying if you had three large 22-ounce filled bottles along with you.

That’s a lot of water, but in a little pack. This Soquel is small and lightweight, to the point where you might forget it’s there. You don’t get a lot of padding of course, but the hydration pouch area is fully insulated and it’s all made of lightweight, water-resistant nylon. The hydration area opens with a zipper that goes around to the size, plus the bladder is reversible, so it’s quick and easy to fill and replace.

The hose goes in and out with a snap—literally—with the quick-release connection. In my tests it was surprisingly spill-free.

My main complaint is that there’s hardly any place to put your stuff. If I’m strapping something on my back, I feel I’ve got a right to stuff my belongings in it. With this minimalist pack, that’s not the purpose, so the only other pocket is the small one on the front for keys and a wallet. And maybe a music player.

But hey, this is not a backpack meant for the long haul. It’s for shredding a mountain biking trail that would rattle your water bottles loose and spray them with mud. Or for those travelers who would rather carry a bladder on their back for the day and stop thinking about where they’re going to get more water come 3:oo in the afternoon.

This small hydration pack comes in five colors and lists for $70 at the company site. You can find the Hydrapak Soquel at many running and bike shops or you can get it online at Amazon for around $55.

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Sony POV Action Cam

Sony’s answer to the Go Pro, the Sony Action Cam with Wi-Fi is quite the fun toy to bring with you in the backcountry or during travel days to capture on-the-go footage of a variety of activities and sports. The Action Cam is completely hands-free, rugged and waterproof (with casing), and very simple to operate. Its Wi-Fi model comes in well under the Go Pro price, and it packs easily for travel.

Sony Action Cam Wi-Fi

How the Action Cam compares to the Go Pro:

HD video quality? Check. WiFi option? Check. Waterproof casing and durable camera? Check. Accessories galore? Check. The primarily difference between the Action Cam and the Go Pro is found in the design and usability. You don’t get a screen with the Action Cam, though it mounts via helmet or headband in a similar manner. (See Tim’s addition below on the handlebar mount.) Instead of a screen display, the Action Cam can sync directly to your smart phone, where the camera view is displayed. There are pluses and minuses to this: on the pro side, you don’t have to remove your helmet or take the camera off your pole or bike bar to see what you’re filming. On the negative side, I found the camera-to-smart-phone syncing to be testy with my iPhone. Often, syncing the camera view to my screen takes multiple attempts at connecting Wi-Fi (even though it’s supposed to work anywhere, anytime). Because I don’t like fiddling with a camera or a phone while I’m in the outdoors doing something active, I simply skip checking my display and film away: what I get, I get.

Action Cam usability:

Aside from the pesky Wi-F connection with smart phones, the Action Cam is a breeze to use. There’s only one main button, easily accessed at the back of the camera (even with ski gloves on). Because the same button is used to stop filming, I always have a buddy check to make sure I’m rolling film when the camera is mounted on my helmet (instead of stopping it). When not mounted, it’s easy to scroll through camera options using a second button on the side of the camera, in order to pick between filming, syncing to the phone, charging, etc.

You can upload video directly to your smart phone, but I find it easier to load video onto my laptop with the USB cable or memory card, and edit video on the larger screen. I do try to take multiple short videos instead of a few lengthy ones, to assist with editing.

Specs:

The camera weighs 2 ounces, has a Carl Ziess lens, an aperture of F2.8, and auto exposure settings. It takes a micro memory card, and produces JPG video. It’s wifi enabled, and offers HD 1920×1080 resolution video.

Examples from the Action Cam:

Below are three very raw examples from the Action Cam, taken by me in the past few months. None of these videos are edited in any way.

biking clip

ski clip

rafting clip

Accessories:

The Action Cam comes with a waterproof casing to use in snow or water, plus two sticky mounts for helmets. Also of use: the headband (for use when the sticky mounts may not cut it), a bike handlebar mount, a tilt adapter, and extra helmet mounts. Also invest in fog strips to keep moisture out when using the waterproof casing.

Tim tried out the Sony Action Cam too and after a lot of fiddling with the rubber adapters to make it fit the bike handlebar properly, he set off on a ride along the water in Tampa Bay. Consider this footage a zen-like alternative to the usual gnarly action vids. He got home, put the microSD card into an adapter, and transferred footage to a laptop for editing.

Note that this was compressed for YouTube editing so it wouldn’t take hours to upload. The original would display in full HD on a large TV screen.

Pick up an Action Cam with WIFI on sale at Sony for $219. If you, like me, don’t use the wifi often, preferring to wait to edit video at home, the standard model may be for you though you don’t save much. Pick up the standard HD model for $199.

If you miss the Sony sale, pick it up on Amazon for $236 and it’s also available at REI.

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Geared up for Bike Rides with Pearl Izumi

biking clothes

Some of the biggest outdoor clothing companies try to do it all, but Pearl iZumi likes to do two things very well instead. One of those things is cycling apparel, for serious Tour de France types or casual riders like me who want to look normal when they dismount.

I did a seven-day biking trip in Portugal a couple months back, so I got to try out some Pearl Izumi biking clothes in real conditions. I wore outfits 8-10 hours at a stretch, on two wheels and in cafes and museums along the way. My wife got to go along with me on this trip, so she tried out some of the items for women and gave me her feedback on them.  Pearl iZumi canyon jersey

Here’s the skinny on what we put through its paces, besides the cool (literally) Rev Shorts I reviewed in May.

Canyon Jersey

This “entry level trail top” lists for $45, but it’s a keeper for me that I keep going to first when I’m heading out the door for a bike ride in hot weather. It’s tight enough to show I’m in shape, but not so tight I look like Mr. Spandex. It wicks moisture as well as any 100% polyester shirt will, but also has ventilated sections in the right places to let out some extra heat. Apart from being a little longer in the back, this just looks like a good workout shirt—a big plus for me.

It’s a cycling shirt, yes,  but it’s really aimed at mountain bikers, who don’t need a bunch of pockets on their shirt because they’ve got stretchy shorts with no pockets on the bottom like road cyclists. There is one zippered pocket though, which is handy if you just need to make sure you’ve got a key or a credit card on you.

You can get it at the Pearl Izumi site or at Backcountry.

Select SL Jersey

Sometimes you do need a real cycling jersey with a longer tail in the back and pockets back there where you can grab what you need in a hurry. This Select SL Jersey for women (pictured further down) is sleeveless and comfortable, form-fitting enough to show off a well-toned body but with plenty of give for when you’re on the move. In my tester’s experience the moisture transfer properties worked like a charm when the weather heated up and she’s continued to wear it on workout bike rides around town. It’s got a really well-hidden zipper for venting.

If you’re out after dark, this cycling jersey has some reflective trim elements to keep you visible. It looks stylish and expensive, but won’t hit the wallet too hard at $50 list. Get it direct from the company or at Altrec.

Pearl iZumi Elite Gel gloves

Elite Gel Gloves

I’ve reviewed Pearl iZumi Gel Gloves before, with and without fingers, but this is the first time I’ve actually worn them for six to eight hours of cycling at a time. For both of us these gloves made a huge difference. It’s easy for your hands to go numb or get fatigued on a bike, even if you’re holding your hands in the right position. There’s just more weight on them than you usually have and they’re not used to being in one spot for such a long time.

These gloves keep your hands warm on chilly mornings, but more importantly they put a layer of gel between your hands and the handlebars that acts as a shock absorber. It sounds a little gimmicky, but it really works wonders. These new Elite Gel ones seem to come on and off a bit easier then the fingerless ones we highlighted before too, which is handy when you’re already worn out at the end of the day. They’re a mix of leather, stretchy fabric that wicks sweat, and Velcro. These come in a variety of colors and four main versions: full-fingered for men or women, and half-fingered for men and women. Expect to pay around $35-$40.

 

Women’s Superstar Skirt

cycling clothing review

Superstar Skirt and Select SL Jersey

This skirt was a true superstar in my wife’s eyes because it was the best double-duty item on this list. Because the padded chamois liner is detachable, she was able to wear it out as a regular skirt when not biking. One the bike though, if functions more like a skort—the best of both worlds. The polyester and elastane fabric wicks moisture well and provides some stretch as well. She wore this for days on the bike and was comfortable. When we parked the bikes and went somewhere for lunch, she looked like she had a regular skirt on.

Right now the Pearl iZumi Superstar Skirt is on sale for $60 at the official website. You can also shop for it at Backcountry.com.

 

What else?

If there’s some type of apparel you’ll need for competitive or casual cycling, there’s a good chance you’ll find a well-made version of it at Pearl iZumi’s site. And pretty much all of it you can wash in a sink at night and have dry clothes again by morning.

We also tried a few of their lightweight baselayers that are not real exciting or sexy, but are quite helpful when you’re starting out at 45 degrees F and will be at 80 a couple hours later. At the beginning I said the company does two things well. The other is serving runners. In both pursuits, keeping you comfortable and looking good despite sometimes dramatic temperature changes is not an easy task, but they have been pulling it off for 60 years.

Have some tw0-wheeled travel in our future? See our other biking gear reviews.

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Native Sunglasses for Active Travelers: Eastrim and Andes

 Native Eastrim sunglasses

These high-performance Native sunglasses occupy that sweet spot where superior functionality comes in a package well shy of $150.

For the last few years I’ve lived in two places that get warm sunshine well over 300 days a year (no I’ll never live in Seattle), so even when I’m not traveling I’m wearing sunglasses nearly every day. When I’m going boating, biking, or skiing though, it’s good to try something meant for more than running errands and driving my daughter to school.

On a recent 8-day biking trip through sunny Portugal, Donna and I were sporting some new sports shades courtesy of samples from Native Eyewear. This was my first experience with the brand and I was quite impressed. Neither of us will be putting these back on a shelf to collect dust.

review Native Eastrim suglassesThe Native Eastrim ones I wore for all eight days of the trip, plus some kicking around in Lisbon time. They were super-comfortable thanks to the adjustable nosepiece and frame design, and lightweight due to the polycarbonate lenses. When I was on the bike speeding down a hill, I really appreciated the venting at the top so the air could flow through. This also minimized the fogging up when I left an air-conditioned hotel. Thanks to the grippy ear stems, they stayed in place too without being uncomfortable.

The Native Eastrim sunglasses come in five frame colors and various lens styles, listing from $129 to $149 depending on if you go for polarization or not. Check prices at Backcountry, Zappos, and Moosejaw.

Native Andes sunglasses

These days there are some “table stakes” features you’re probably going to get with any pair of quality sunglasses: well-made lenses, polarization if you want it, frames with some give to them, and some kind of carrying case or pouch. Native Eyewear glasses come with all that but up the ante. Each pair comes in a hard case, but also has a soft pouch (that doubles as a lens cleaner) inside. But wait, there’s more! You also get a second set of interchangeable lenses.

Andes sunglasses extra lensesMy riding companion especially liked that feature in her Andes sunglasses. That’s because one day it was cloudy out, so we didn’t need dark sunglasses. I just took mine off for a while, but she switched into the lighter second set of lenses because she wears contacts and needed to keep then wind out of her eyes when zooming downhill. She also didn’t get any bugs in her eyes that way.

These are more conventional looking than the Andes ones from the front, but on the sides there are venting holes that let the air flow through. There’s a daunting list of tech specs with funny names and big trademark signs adjoining, but the sum of all that is what matters when they’re on: great fit, they stay in place, they’re flexible where they need to be, and the lenses are high quality.

Both these styles of travel/sports sunglasses come with a limited lifetime warranty: free replacement or repair within one year, a bit of processing cost after that.

The Andes sunglasses from Native Eyewear also list from $129 to $149 depending on style and lens, a good value for high-end shades with all these features. Check prices at Zappos, Backcountry, or REI.

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Cycling Without Spandex: Ibex Merino Wool Shirts for Men and Women

cycling clothing

We went bike riding for a week straight, but in these Ibex merino wool shirts, we felt comfy and smelled good.

Earlier this month I took my wife on a cycling trip in Portugal with Bike Tours Direct and rode along mostly empty roads in the Alentejo region. It’s a farming area full of vineyards and olive groves, wineries and cork trees. We rode on hybrid bikes because usually it was paved roads, but sometimes dirt paths.

Ibex Giro Full Zip

I brought a few different shirts along, some just synthetic workout shirts, but the one I wore the most was this Giro Full Zip Jersey. Made in the USA from New Zealand merino wool, it kept me cozy on cool mornings and wicked the sweat away to keep me nice and comfortable when the sun hit high noon. It fits snug but is stretchy, a zipper with a locking tab running the length of it.

I didn’t use all three pockets on the back, but the divider did make it easy to find the phone I stashed there when the Portuguese tour operator called to make sure everything was going fine. I could stash my sunglasses back there too when going inside to get something to drink. Like most cycling jerseys it’s longer in the back than in the front, useful even when you’re not hunched over like a road racer.

merino wool cycling Giro zipbiking shirt merino

In the end I wore this Giro FZ jersey through three days of hard cycling in the sun and it still didn’t smell like it needed a wash. That’s a big advantage when you’re away from home and don’t have a lot of time to mess with figuring out laundry. When it is time to wash it though, you don’t have to treat this shirt with kid gloves: toss it in the washer and then hang it up to dry.

The shirt comes in three color choices on the Ibex Wool site and lists for $140. You may find it for a bit less at Amazon.

Indie Freeride cyclingIndie freeride shirt

Women’s Indie Freeride

My biking companion for the week wore another one from Ibex, the women’s Indie Freeride with a half zip.

This was the first time she’d ever worn something made of merino wool and her first time in something from Ibex. She was really impressed by the feel of the fabric and how uncannily it worked for temperature regulation. “I never got chilly and I never got sweaty.”

She also liked the fit of it and how the zipper is so well concealed in the design. You can’t see where the zipper stops and the regular seam begins. This model doesn’t have the full cycling pocket set-up across the back, but it does have one zippered stash pocket if you want to use it for running or other active pursuits.

Nothing in the Ibex line is cheap, but nothing ever feels cheap either. Plus I can attest they’ll stick to the promise that comes on their tags: “Exchange or get a refund for your garment for any reason.” That’s not something you see very often.

This model comes in three colors with a design on the back on the Ibex Wool site, listing for $120. The one my wife wore was red with a design on the front though and that’s the one still showing up on Amazon for slightly less.

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