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Pakems Packable Boots

In my quest for the perfect apres ski boot and all-round, packable outdoor travel shoe, I gave Pakems a trial run. This brand new product designed by a single mom is marketed as a lightweight, compressible shoe designed for use after a ski day. Pakems come in two styles (for both men and women): a high top for winter use and a low top for summer. Both are made from water-resistant ripstop fabric with an insulated, DWR-coated upper, and EVA midsole, and a rubber outsole. Both tighten with a very simple single-pull lace system.

pakems-footwear

The shoes are undeniably simple, but that’s the point. They’re meant to get you from Point A to Point B in comfort, after changing out of your technical footwear (ski boots in winter, hiking boots in summer). The sole is quite flat, and you don’t get a terribly secure fit, which for me means I won’t be walking in them too far. However, they’re comfortable, and after a day of exercise, they’re certainly a relief to slip on.

How small do they pack down? My size 8 Pakems measure about 10 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 2 inches thick. They weigh about 13 ounces (a size 10 weighs 15). They come with a small compression bag, but I ditched that pretty quickly in favor of simply squishing my Pakems down into my backpack or bag. If you do use the compression bag, it comes with a strap designed to attach to a backpack or even your waist…I found this overkill, but the strap does also work as a ski boot carrying device when you’re wearing your Pakems, which I’ll admit is pretty nifty.

In most cases, I have room in my ski boot bag for a standard pair of snow boots to change into, but for the days I don’t want to (or cannot) secure a ski locker and opt to carry a small backpack all day, the Pakems fit nicely. They’re also nice to keep in the car to slip your feet into for the drive home (from winter sport days or summer hikes). I’d also bring mine along for river rafting days in the early summer or late fall, when my feet get cold after being wet.

Pakems boots

My Pakems are comfortable, but not very breathable…again, these are not designed for long-term wear or long distances. They’ll easily get you from the ski lodge to the parking lot or village, and look decent on your feet while grabbing that apres ski drink, but aren’t meant to go the distance. The low top version is ideal for backpackers who like to bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes for evenings around the campfire; I now favor them over my sandals for this purpose, as they keep my feet dry and clean in addition to giving them a much-needed hug after a day of hiking. Think of them as slippers for the backcountry.

The only difference between the high top version and the low top version: the high top covers to just above the ankle, whereas the low top is cut below. You’ll want the high top for winter wear. At the time of my review, Pakems came in only black, but they have now come out with a variety of fun patterns and colors. Pick up a pair at the Pakems website for $70 (high top) or $60 (low top) or Amazon for as low as $47 for the high top. They’re also available at Moosejaw.com.

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Sigg Thermo Classic Bottles

Sigg-thermo-bottle‘Tis the season for steaming drinks after outdoor excursions! I’m something of a collector of thermal bottles and mugs, as evidenced by the disarray in my cupboards, but given that I use thermal containers nearly every day of the winter, I feel justified.

The new Thermo collection at SIGG includes four sizes of bottles ranging from 0.3L to 1L, and come in teal, classic white, and smoked pearl. They look as good as they sound, with a sleek minimalist design characteristic of SIGG. I really like the tall and thin style, as I find the bottles fit better in my backcountry pack (even in the water bottle pocket) and take up less room in my soft-sided cooler. However, both the .75L and 1L are taller than any other thermos style bottle I own, so adjustments to my packing style are sometimes necessary.

The bottles are sized at 0.3L (personal tea or coffee bottle), 0.5L (could be big enough for individual soups), 0.75L (my personal favorite for hot water to serve 3-4 people a warm drink) and 1.0L (tall and lean…ready to keep a group in hot coffee). The two smaller sizes come equipped with a tea filter, if that’s your bag (sorry about the pun). The two larger models come with adjoining cups that serve as lids, and while I’ve certainly seen this done on many other thermal bottles, none I own are as generous in size (see photo below). The SIGG lids are big enough to serve as a genuine bowl for that cup-o-noodle you’ve been packing across the slopes all day.

It’ll come as no surprise that SIGG Thermo bottles are made of high-end stainless steel that is both odor and taste neutral and are of course BPA and Phthalates Free. They’re advertised as able to keep beverages hot for up to eight hours; I tried this out after sealing in boiling water at 7 am and opening it again at 1 pm. Our water was warm enough to heat our drinks and soup packets, but not piping hot (after six hours). The Thermo performed as well as our other thermal bottles, but I did hope for a little more heat retention. More importantly to me, however: I experienced zero leakage from the Thermo while it remained packed in my pack during those six hours.

sigg-thermo-cup

All in all, the SIGG Thermos are a solid pick for your thermal liquid needs this winter. They range in price from $24.99 to $39.99, depending on size. Grab one on the SIGG site, or find them at Eastern Mountain Sports for a little less.

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8 Great Camping and Outdoor Stocking Stuffers

Whether you’re playing Santa for an outdoor enthusiast in your life, or just want to fill a stocking full of camping gear for yourself, the following nifty products make for great additions to your holiday shopping list.

Coghlan’s LED tent pegs: We love Coghlans! And I’ve tripped over my tent’s guy lines more times than I care to admit. Coghlan’s 10” heavy duty tent pegs now feature a single LED light for visibility at night. Just twist on, and you’ve got a nice glow around your tent. Just $3.99 for a pack of two at Amazon.

Light My Fire knifeLight My Fire Swedish Fire Knife: I don’t know about you, but I definitely want something called a fire knife in my stocking. Light My Fire’s unique fire-starting knife really is all that: this camp knife comes with a plastic sheath and a high-friction rubber handle, and it creates its own spark via a FireSteel Scout, which twists into the knife’s handle when not in use. Get it on Amazon in one of five fun colors for $28. I also love Light My Fire’s meal kits, perfect for young backpackers.

Arka LED rechargeable lantern: This camp lantern by Industrial Revolution is compact, lightweight, and collapsible, perfect for camping and overnights in outdoor shelters like yurts and fire towers, where electricity may be scarce or nonexistent. Recharge the lantern via USB cable to your smart phone. Can be used as a flashlight or strobe light, too! Pick it up for $69 on Amazon. (See Tim’s review from earlier in the year here: Uco Arka lantern.)

Dublin Dog KOA collarsFor the outdoor-loving dogs in your life, how about outfitting them with waterproof collars that don’t stink? Not even after months and months? Our two dogs have been sporting designs from Dublin Dog’s Trout line since summer, and I am sold! They won’t ever wear another type of collar. The KOA material repels dirt and grime, and the collars really do stay fresh-smelling. Pick one up at Amazon for under $30, depending on size.

grayl water filtration cupIcebug ArchFlex Insoles: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! I’ve been running and hiking with Arch Flex insoles since July, and while I’ve tried many insoles over the years, these are the ones I reach for. They’re slim, easy to get in and out of my shoe, and provide the right shock relief for my repetitive running and hiking movements. Pick high arch or low, plus shoe size. Find them on Amazon.

GRAYL Water Filtration CupIf you have someone headed to a part of the world lacking potable drinking water, the new Grayl makes for a nice gift. Like other water purification bottles, the Grayl has its drawbacks, but is overall a solid choice for travelers who need access to filtered water all day, every day. The cup, which looks and feels more like a bottle, features a duel cylinder construction wherein the user filters water through the bottom of the inner cylinder via a carbon filter. Once you’ve given it a few practice runs, it’s easy to use, though be advised: until it’s well ‘worn in’, the cylinders can be hard to pull apart, due the the vacuum seal. (As I said, not without its drawbacks.) However, the Grayl is sleek and shiny, heavy but definitely portable, and features a nice open-close design. If using abroad, you’ll need to upgrade the filter to the ‘purifier’, but once you’ve done so, you’re good to go for 300 uses. Buy the Grayl on REI for $69.

Liberty bottleCocoon Ultralight Microfiber terry towel: I love Cocoon travel products! I have used their travel pillow and packing cube, but by far my favorite product is their microfiber towel. Perfect for backpackers, campers, and round-the-world travelers, the Cocoon is small, thin, and light, but still actually does the job intended…you know, actually dry your body. Set it outside to dry afterward, and it will be good to go again in no time. Pick it up for your travel or backpacking friend for under $35 on Amazon.

Liberty Bottle Works Topo bottle: I would say I use this 100% recycled aluminum USA-made bottle every day, but I can’t: the minute I got it, my teen son took it. I think he loves the topographical map design best (ours features Mt. Rainier) but it may be the straw or the easy to open and close flip top lid with carrying handle. Pick out the map your hiking loved one can relate to most for as low as $12 on Amazon. It’s also available at Backcountry.com.

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Cool Gerber GDC Pocket Tools for $12

Gerber key tools

Here’s a nice little travel tool you can buy for yourself, buy for a friend, and buy for a Secret Santa gift and still be out less than $40 after tax.

Gerber is best known for seriously gnarly survival and hunting knives, but they also put out pocket multi-tools that fold out to be pliers, saws, screwdrivers, and more. These GDC pocket tools aren’t as serious as either of those, but they won’t get you stopped at security and they’re super-light.

I took that photo at the top to show how the two I’ve been using size up to some other items you probably have in your daypack or work messenger bag. The GDC Zip Light is something like you’ve seen before: you press a button and the LED flashlight guides you on your way to the bathroom or helps you find the light switch. But it’s double-duty gear because it also has our favorite accessory built in: a beer bottle opener. As you may have noticed, we like items with beer bottle openers built into them.  Gerber zip driver

Little LED lights like this usually last for years before the power runs out, but if it does before you lose it, the batteries can be replaced. You probably won’t lose it though because it’ll attach to your bag. You don’t have to wrestle to remove it though: there’s a quick-release connector with all these Gerber GDC items. Get it direct from Gerber or at Amazon for $12 or less.

The Gerber Zip Driver is there for you when you need some tightening or fixing along the way in your travels. Like the light it’ll clip to your bag or daypack, which is good since the four screwdrivers just rotate around—they don’t tuck away. You get two sizes of flat screwdrivers and two sizes of Phillips ones. They’re made of strong stainless steel and the small one is small enough to work on some precision things like eyeglasses or the damned battery cover on my Franklin Spanish translator that I otherwise love.

This tool is also $12 or less from Gerber, Amazon, or REI.

There’s another version that has hex wrench tools rotating around and one that has a small blade that folds in. These would be great stocking stuffers because they fit the original intent of stocking stuffers: small and inexpensive.

Find out about deep discounts and coupon codes through our Insider Travel Gear Deals newsletter and get a free report: “10 Travel Gear Gifts for $20 or Less.”

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Transpack ski and snowboard boot bags

Alternate title: OMG, I’ll never carry my ski gear in a shoulder bag ever again. Transpack specializes in backpack-style ski and snowboard boot bags, with several distinct models to choose from. What they all have in common: high quality construction, intelligent design, and comfort.

Transpack calls its design the ‘isosceles storage system’, which reminds me unpleasantly of high school geometry but, unlike my math education, turns out to be something I can actually use in the real world. What an ‘isosceles storage system means: the interior design of most Transpack bags is such that the toes of the boots meet together in the front of the pack, away from your back when you carry the load. The weight of the pack is distributed to the sides, which equals happy shoulders and neck muscles.

Go on the Transpack site, and you’ll be faced with a dizzying array of options. While they only make a few main styles of backpacks, there are several models in each category. To break it down and identify the main differences in styles, my skiing and snowboarding family and I tried out four different Transpacks. (We try to be helpful like that.)

For starters, no matter what your boot bag needs, Transpack has you well taken care of with backpack straps for an impressively comfortable carry. The question you have to ask yourself is: how big a bag do I need, how sturdy does it have to be, and where will it be traveling with me?

Transpack boot bags

Transpack breakdown (clockwise from top left): Compact Pro, Sidekick, XT1, and Edge Jr.

Transpack Pro:

This is the pack you need if you’re an every-weekend, all winter long kind of skier. I tested this out for myself, as I ski at least once per week all season long. The Pro comes in a standard size or a compact size, features the Isosceles Storage System (so it’s triangular shaped), and is made of super tough, treated 1680 ballistic nylon with a water resistant TPU tarpaulin bottom. You get reflective piping on the sides, a roomy central compartment for gear, side zippered pockets for ski or snowboard boots (with drainage), and many internal and external pockets, including a soft fleece-lined goggle pocket. There’s a stabilizing waist strap in addition to the shoulder straps, and a mesh padded back panel that you’d expect to see on a hiking day pack, not a boot bag. I found the compact Pro to be plenty big enough to store my helmet, my boots, gloves, two pairs of goggles, an extra shell, and all the little items that get lost in the bottom of a standard bag: sunscreen, car keys, screwdriver and binding adjustment tool, ski pass, sunglasses, and lip balm. I’d only opt for a standard for men with very large ski boots. The Pro is $119 through Transpack retailers like REI and $109 on Amazon, and comes in a variety of colors.

Transpack XT1:

If you plan to use your pack a little less often (say 2-3 major ski trips per season), you can save some dough downgrading from a Pro to an XT1. The main difference: the XT1 is made of water resistant coated 600 denier polyester instead of the higher grade ballistic nylon. There’s no major difference visibly. You still get the rubberized water resistant TPU tarp bottom, and because the XT1 is one of the more popular styles, it comes in a greater variety of colors and prints. The design is the same as the Pro, including the patented Isosceles Storage System. Our 12-year-old is using the XT1, and he’s been swapping out his ski boots and snowboard boots in the boot pockets, finding that they fit both easily. You get mesh zippered size pockets and a top pocket on the outside, perfect for ski passes, keys, and other small items. Like with the Pro, helmets, gloves, and other larger items fit in the main compartment. The XT1 retails for $90 at Transpack and can be found on Amazon or Sun And Ski Sports for as low as $69. (Your other economical option is the Edge, found on Amazon for under $50.)

Edge Jr:

For kids under 10, the Edge Jr is a manageable size. We’re big fans of kids carrying their own gear, but our eight-year-old really struggled with a shoulder-strap style bag. It kept slipping off his shoulder or thumping against his legs as he navigated the parking lot. With the Edge Jr, which is pretty much identical to the XT1 but smaller, he can easily carry his bag and his skis and poles. There’s plenty of room for a kid-sized helmet, gloves, boots, and outer layer, though this bag is missing the dedicated goggle pocket. I guess Transpack (correctly) assumes that kids have already scratched their goggles beyond repair anyway. The Edge Jr is $49 at Amazon, a bit less at Paragon Sports, and comes in fun prints, like gray camo.

Transpack Sidekick and Sidekick Pro:

The sidekick is the alternative to the Isosceles Storage System style. This backpack carries boots on the outside of the pack, using a Delta strap boot system with optional, stowaway boot covers to protect boots against the elements. Personally, I prefer for my boots to be zippered into an interior dedicated pocket, but the Sidekick is perfect for my 14-year-old, who wants a more versatile bag.

How is the Sidekick different? In addition to the exterior boot carry, this bag has a traditional backpack design, complete with hydration sleeve, laptop sleeve, and an exterior zippered helmet compartment. Our teen uses his bag to and from school ski trips, so he uses the laptop sleeve to stow homework and books. He also likes that he has the option of the hydration sleeve for use as an on-mountain pack. The Sidekick Pro is made from the same ballistic nylon as the regular Pro, and the regular Sidekick sports the polyester. The pack appears pretty bulky and cumbersome loaded up with ski boots on either side and helmet strapped in the outside pocket, but in fact, my son and I were both amazed by how well the shoulder and waist straps support the weight, and how well that weight is distributed. Like the other bags, you get plenty of interior and exterior pockets to keep your gear organized. The Sidekick Pro retails for $120 through Transpack retailers or as low as $99 on Amazon, in a good variety of solid colors.

Outfitting your entire family in quality boot bags is an investment, but we don’t plan on needing to replace our Transpacks for a long time. I can’t say the same of the cheaper shoulder strap bags we’ve used in the past. A set of Transpacks might make for a great holiday gift to the whole family under the tree this year. Just saying.

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