Keen Voyageur Hikers

Keen Voyageur Hikers | Practical Travel Gear

I’ve said it before, I really do test out all the gear I get for review. That’s why during the last window of sunshine, I was stomping around in a muddy creek not far from my house. That day I walked five miles in a pair of Keen Voyageur Hikers. My hope was that they’d leave my feet content enough to warrant packing them for an upcoming hiking trip in the Austrian alps.  The verdict?  Oh, so close.

I’ll admit to a bit of skepticism, the Keen sandals that everyone is so, uh, keen on (sorry) have never fit my feet properly. I wasn’t sure that these would either — I was pleasantly surprised. As always, ordering clothing or shoes on line is a bit tricky — fit seems to differ wildly between brands. These hikers were true to fit, the 8 was indeed an 8, the fit was perfect. (Note that the Keen site says they run about a half size small, I didn’t find that to be true.)

Keen VoyageurI was surprised to learn that the Voyageur hikers are not waterproof — this seems like an oversight to me, though in my stomping around through muddy creeks and on the edge of Puget Sound my feet stayed dry. This lighter weight boot is designed for wicking — meaning the moisture is meant to move out of your shoe — it’s more of a hot weather hiker than a creek crosser.

Keen’s Voyageur Hikers come in a low and a mid height. I opted for mid for the extra ankle support, something I appreciated in the scrambling – can’t find the trail head — oops are we lost? — part of my test hike. Fatigue after long walks means my ankles sometimes give out, too, so it’s worth a bigger boot with a little extra weight to save myself from a sprain. The lacing is easily adjustable for a secure fit, too; that’s probably part of why the fit is so solid.

Because the Voyageur is made for warm weather hiking, the uppers are a mix of fabric and leather. This means you get a little color in your earth toned hiker, and hey, that’s kind of cute. That fabric, however, could be tougher, the tongue on my pair started to fray after a few days of city wear and that one long hike. That’s too soon. Keen does have a 30 day “no questions asked” return policy.

As for how the hikers felt on the trail, they were great, just great. I walked on a rocky beach, in sand, on a moss covered tree, in a muddy creek, along a slippery boardwalk… You name it, that big hike covered the range of terrain and the soles were grippy and solid on every surface. My feet were comfortable the whole time, and they weren’t sweaty or damp when I took the boots off at the end of the walk. (Mind you, I was also wearing really good socks.)

Here’s what I want: I want this boot in a waterproof model. And I want it to not show the early wear and tear on the materials. The Voyageur is so trail friendly and such a good fit for my feet that I was genuinely disappointed to find it anything less than perfect. Once more — Oh, SO close.

Keen makes the Voyageur for men or women, in a low or mid height version and in a few different colors. The mid costs $110 directly from Keen, or check prices on

Interested in other trail shoes? Tim reviewed the Viper, here and the Boulder from Wenger, here. (And if you need to waterproof your hiking boots that didn’t come that way to start, check out our review of products from Nikwax.)

Mini GO Styling Iron from FHI Heat

Mini GO Styling Iron from FHI Heat | Practical Travel Gear

At the 2011 Aspen Fashion Week festivities last March, I picked up a Mini GO Styling Iron from FHI Heat, a hairstyling-tool company that was one of the event’s sponsors. While I rarely straighten my hair with the full-size iron I already own (coincidentally also a freebie I received the 2010 Aspen Fashion Week swag bag), I figured that if this tiny straightening iron did the job, I’d absolutely pack it in my luggage for upcoming trips.

Unfortunately, the Mini GO Styling Iron is just way too small to effectively straighten my thick, long hair.

The iron is just six inches long and a half-inch wide, making it the ideal size to pop into a purse or carry-on bag, but not nearly big enough to straighten an entire head of thick hair in one sitting. It would just take a ridiculous amount of time, since a very small amount of hair can fit in between the ceramic plates. It does heat up enough to straighten small amounts of hair — marketing materials say that the ceramic plates reach 410 degrees. But with the volume of hair I have, the process would be way too time consuming.

This product might be appropriate for someone who has already straightened her hair at home with a full-size straightening tool, and just needs to touch up bangs or bits and pieces that have frizzed up or otherwise gone rogue in a humid climate. Or, if you have very fine, thin hair, it might be plenty powerful to do the job. But as the only straightening tool that I’d be able to bring along on vacation… no way.

The Mini GO Styling Iron from FHI Heat comes in several colors, and can be purchased at brick and mortar beauty supply outlets. I also found it online at Missiko for $40 (though the GO Hairstyling website says the manufacturer’s retail price is $29.99). The full-size, 1-inch-wide GO Styling Iron from FHI Heat retails for $49.99 on

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Thermo Soles for Warm Feet

Thermo Soles for Warm Feet | Practical Travel Gear

I’d picked up a package of those stick on throw away air activated foot warmers for a recent trip to a Very Cold Place, but I’m not crazy about disposable goods for the outdoors — I like products that generate less trash rather than more. I do suffer from cold feet, even in fairly mild conditions, so I was psyched to get my toes toasted with a pair of Verseo Thermo Soles. Reusable, rechargeable, and with no pesky wires, they kept my feet warm while I stomped around in icy puddles, on snow, in and out of boats, and in generally less than ideal weather conditions. And they’re very lightweight and easy to pack.

Verseo Thermo SolesYou’ll have to charge the insoles for use — I plugged them in overnight and they were ready to go. Depending on what’s happening inside your shoes, you may need to pull out your standard insoles and replace them with the Thermo Soles. Then, I switched them on with the little battery powered remote — it’s cleverly on a key fob — and almost instantly, my feet were toasty warm. And they stayed warm for hours. While my fellow travelers were complaining about poor boot fit and bulky extra socks, I was quietly comfortable.

There are only a few tricky things about the insoles, and mostly, you just need to remember how they work. First, you turn them OFF to charge them, and )ON to use them. You’ll need to remember to switch the insoles to ON before you put them in your shoes. You need to keep them dry, of course, don’t submerge them in water, though a little bit of moisture from your feet will not damage them. It’s easy to forget to switch them off when you’re not in your shoes, though they do last a good eight hours. And if you lose the little remote that turns them on and off — well, don’t lose it, that’s the best plan.

This pair of Thermo Soles was,without question, an item I was very happy I’d packed. They’re great for skiers, day hikers, people working in cold places, adventurers with access to power at night (does your ship have outlets?). Warm feet go a long way towards keeping a traveler happy in bad conditions. I was in some rather extreme weather, but with the Thermo Soles in my boots, I was a happy — and warm — traveler.

Thermo Soles run about 100 US a pair. You can buy them directly from Verseo, or check Amazon for deals.

Packable Ultra-Sil Sling Bag is Tiny but Strong

Packable Ultra-Sil Sling Bag is Tiny but Strong | Practical Travel Gear 1

We’ve reviewed a good number of Sea to Summit products here because they make a whole lot of practical travel gear and gadgets that won’t bust your budget. Since we also like to bring your attention to travel items that can pack up small, it’s time for their latest Ultra-sil product, the Sling Bag.

Once again, this packs into a tiny little pouch that you can wrap your hands around—that’s a USB thumb drive next to it in that photo. It’s small enough to hook onto a loop on your bag or it can easily stuff into a corner of a backpack. Pull out the insides though—magician’s dramatic flair optional—and you’ve got a useful messenger bag for shopping or sightseeing. Opened up it’ll hold a bunch of fruit or the day’s needs around town: guidebook, camera, journal, and some gadgets even.

The official capacity is 16 liters, and it just may actually be strong enough to hold multiple liters of your favorite beverage, but I wouldn’t recommend testing the limits. The seams are reinforced, but your shoulder is not.

It’s made of strong siliconized Cordura nylon and has a real zipper along the top enclosure so you can close it to keep the snow or rain out. But it weighs all of 2.2 ounces.

The Sea to Summit Ultra-sil Sling Bag is available in Green, Black, Blue, Red, or Yellow. The zipper, strap, and connected pouch are all the same color. The list price is $30 and you can pick one up at Paragon Sports or Sunny Sports. See the Sling Bag product page at Sea to Summit for more.

See more reviews of Sea to Summit products.

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