Headlamp Analysis

How many straps do you need to hold the light onto your head? Do you want to see up close or far into the distance? What’s actually the deal with the red, green, blue.. why not just a simple white light? Is the strobe-light function really just for ‘dance-party-mode’? How can a person choose between disposable Lithium batteries, rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries, or sticking with solar power to re-fuel your headlamp?

Convenience, reliability and some degree of comfort are key not only when traveling in absolute darkness through chilly alpine terrain or the dense night forest, but also when you are stranded on the side of the road at 3am and need to change a flat tire. While I always recommend carrying a spare headlamp, the first step should be starting with a reliable, powerful headlamp in the first place!

So while I will try to answer all of your questions and make the arduous task of choosing a headlamp an easier one for you, let it be known – I’m not going to sell you to any one particular brand, my goal here is not to review a certain headlamp that I’ve used, but to review features that I have found helpful or even perhaps detract from the overall user experience; so if you have an allegiance to one particular brand, great! That’s a fantastic place to start and see what they are doing with the available technology, but I have found that when you really want to keep your options open to finding what works best for your needs, throw that brand-favoritism right out the window!

Where is a good place to even start? Fish around online – most companies have online sales going in rotation, so it’s actually hard to not find a deal these days! Try an outfitter such as REI.com, or visit a local store to check out your options in person!

Cost

The first thing to keep in mind is that as the price of a headlamp increases, this does not necessarily translate to ‘more-power’, ‘more-features’, or even that the headlamp will out-perform a cheaper headlamp – it really depends on what you need your headlamp for; some folks need a headlamp that is sealed to the highest standard for the roughest conditions, some need to see further or in a more broad are, while others want to know their headlamp will last for several nights of a multi-day outing or event.

Maybe you have heard the term ‘lumens‘ tossed around, this is a great start to figuring out if a certain headlamp is just right for your needs. Typically, a headlamp that is listed as higher in lumen power will illuminate a bigger area and give you a brighter light output.

Brightness

This is good to keep in mind because if you are not running mountain tops in the darkness, you may do just fine (and save yourself quite a bit of that hard-earned cash!) with a headlamp lower on the lumen scale. If you dig around enough you can find headlamps ranging from 25 – which may be great for lighting up camp or reading in the tent, all the way up to a bewildering 1000 lumens – which may be great if you need to be spotted from the space station!

While you may think “bigger is always better”, one thing to keep in mind is that if you use a headlamp with higher lumens, your battery will be drained much faster than a lower light. One way to avoid this is to stay mindful while using your headlamp, if you don’t need the extra illumination.. think about dimming your headlamp by switching through output modes to conserve battery life, saving the full blast of power for when you really do need it.

Turning your light output down certainly helps preserve your night vision too; once switching from a bright light to complete darkness, for most people it takes the rods and cones of their eyes anywhere from ten up to thirty full minutes to completely regenerate and become sensitive to darkness once again.

Beam color

One ingenious feature of the modern headlamp is the varying color modes; fortunately these red, blue and green filters are not just for your backwoods dance parties any longer!

  • red light – excellent for reading at night or for seeing short distance like getting up to use the privy at night because the red does not dilate the pupils, thus preserving your hard earned night vision
  • blue light – mostly used for map reading at night, but also great for seeing in foggy conditions
  • green light – also excellent for night vision around camp and for those hunters out there, it has been said that the green light does not scare away fish and wildlife as easily, however, I have found that the green option is not as common the red or blue, so you may need to narrow your searches if green is a must!

Another feature that is finally common on most headlamps that you’ll want to keep an eye out for is a lock. Too many times I have been told that my pack is lit up while I had been walking down the trail at night, completely unaware! This is a great way to render your headlamp completely useless, if it turns on unintentionally draining your batteries – so I always make sure my headlamps can lock, and that I do actually set them to lock-mode when stashing them away in my packs!

Size & weight

The size and weight of a headlamp is an important element to keep in mind also – no one wants their neck to strain from having a weighty piece of metal and plastic on their heads, plus the heavier your headlamp is chances are you’ll have to keep your strap tighter just to keep it in place!

Do some digging if you are questioning why similar size headlamps vary several ounces in weight and it is not obvious why: perhaps the shell is thicker or made of different materials to absorb the impact of being dropped or smacked into overhead rocks while caving, maybe it has a regular (old school) light bulb instead of a newer LED bulb, perhaps the headlamp is designed to tolerate harsher conditions, or fully sealed to go diving with it!

Don’t be afraid to ask the “why” questions!

Headlamp straps & comfort

Whether you are in the market for your first headlamp or just an upgrade, you have probably seen the different strap set-ups available. This is very important because if you are going to wear a piece of equipment around your head for many hours overnight, you’ll want to ensure it is as comfortable as possible! Manufacturers offer headlamp straps made with different materials, greatly varying their elasticity.

I find that for wearing a headlamp on a climbing helmet, generally the one horizontal strap will suffice – especially if your helmet has the handy tabs to clip the headlight strap into! Lately, I have grown incredibly fond of a certain headlamp that has a strip of ‘anti-slip’ gel laced into its’ strap, helping to keep it in place while not needing to crank the strap super tight.

One downside to many one-strap headlamps is that during the use, and exacerbated by sweating, the headlamp will begin to slip down your forehead.. this can be infuriating, especially if you are trying to concentrate on critical foot or hand placement; one remedy for this is the addition of another strap that runs vertically over the head – all of these straps should always be easily adjustable.

But if you cannot find a headlamp that will fit your needs or budget with three straps, it never hurts to wear a beanie or Buff under your headlamp; while not perfect, this prevents the strap from sliding down your forehead – and adds a bit of padding to the whole set-up!

Bulbs

That brings me to the actual light source itself! The weight of headlamps has been greatly reduced since the proliferation of LED bulbs – which have a much longer lifespan and longer burn time due to consuming far less battery power than conventional light bulbs.

How many bulbs do you need? Each bulb is included in the headlamp for a reason, and most of the time numerous bulbs won’t fire up all at one time either; some are aimed for distance while some bulbs act more as a flood light for improved near-vision, you may even notice the red bulb off in its own dome of housing – it all depends on the R&D team at each manufacturer!

It has also become standard for headlamps to have some adjustability in aiming the actual beam housing, allowing the user to point the beam up or down without straining your neck constantly.

Batteries

Here is where headlamps differ the most: how do you want to power your torch?

There is nothing wrong with a headlamp that strictly runs off a swath of AAA or AA batteries – in more recent years I have converted all of my standard headlamps to run on rechargeable AAA batteries, the only downside is that rechargeable batteries just do not last as long for one use as something like a lithium battery.

I have had lithium batteries last for a full year in the harshest of conditions (sub-zero winter frosts, roasting summer heat, drenching springtime rainstorms, etc.), these batteries certainly outperform most others in cold wintery conditions – so if reliability is what I crave.. lithium is more expensive but really an excellent choice.

Rechargeable batteries are great for my running headlamps where I know the duration should not be more than two or six hours of use, then I can put them back on the charger to top off – but honestly, taking them out and putting them back in every time I want to use them gets tiresome real fast!

Several companies now make headlamps that can be recharged via USB cable; I feel as if I had been secretly asking for this ever since doing my last 9-day thru-hike. Having the ability to top off batteries with an external battery pack is priceless (I charge the battery pack via solar panel while I hike or camp).

Features

Or better titled: sequential button-pushing.

For me, simple is better. I have owned too many headlamps that require the user to commit a Morse code-like sequence of “hold that button and tap this button”, or “press three times quickly” – when my fingers grow stiff from cold temps, a series of button clicks seems like the most difficult task, and I’ve certainly been there in a panic because I had difficulty even pressing a button once!

While easy is nice – pressing a button once to turn a light on or off may be the preferred method for most, it goes without saying that having options of beam strength or light brightness is absolutely key to unnecessarily draining your batteries prematurely.

Not all headlamps give the option of picking your own brightness settings, some have a preset several options while others allow the user to press and hold to choose just the perfect setting.

I suppose what it really comes down to is taking your headlamp out before you set out on your adventure and get to learn its settings, play around with what the buttons do – and for those truly tech-savy nighttime adventure seekers – there are headlamps now on the market that allow you to set all of your headlamp settings via an app on your smartphone, which is great.. as long as you have the juice left in your phone to power all of these apps!

So is there really one best headlamp? No, not really – like I said, it depends on your intended use, your needs and what environment that you will be using your headlamp in.

I only hope this helps you make an educated decision on your next purchase – it is surely an important one – and a piece of equipment that will hopefully be in your pack for years to come!

 

Got a question about any of the headlamps that I’ve used or need any specifics?

Let me know! Email, IG, FB, or leave a comment on here and I’ll be happy to help ya!

 

Have fun, hike safe, climb smart and stay bright!

Erik


Snowshoe Analysis: Tubbs Flex Alp

Where to begin?? With a plethora of colors, shapes, sizes, materials, traction and binding systems along with countless additional bonus features – how the heck can we be expected to interpret what kind of snowshoe will best fit our adventures?

Coming most recently from a background of 21″ Dion running snowshoes, and more historically my old Tubbs 36″ tubular framed snowshoes for years prior (I roamed the backwoods with these massive Tubbs until the plastic straps literally wore out and one could watch a sizable crack stretch and grow with each mile trekked in the backcountry), I have certainly used a wide array of snowshoe sizes and styles over the years!

Most recently I have added the Tubbs Flex Alp to my arsenal of outdoor winter adventure tools. While this model is still fairly new to the snowshoe market – how do they size up, you may be asking yourself.. well it’s probably a good thing you found yourself reading this then!

Engineered for Winter Fun

Listed as “backcountry use”, the Flex Alp is Tubbs answer to steep and icy terrain.

The Flex Alp is offered in two sizes:

  • 24″ model: 120-200lbs
  • 28″ model: 190lbs and up 

I opted for the 24-inch model as I knew right off that living in the northeast, 90% of the time I would probably not be breaking trail in over a foot of the fresh fluffy stuff.

Naturally, the larger the footprint of the snowshoe the more flotation it can offer to the user; one also has to factor in hiker weight too – although I feel this rule is not as adhered to as in past years.. like 20 years ago when different (non-synthetic) materials were in use.

Not only did I factor in weight (I am hovering around 140lb or so without a full pack..) while considering my two size options, but also the conditions, as mentioned earlier – at the moment, my Flex Alps will be used primarily in the White and Adirondack mountains – which I can safely assume will be packed powder, realistically nothing more than 12″ of powder; maybe several times in their lifetime I can assume they may find their way into snow depths deeper than 12-16″.

I opted for the 24″ for not only my weight but knowing that a shorter snowshoe would give me a smaller, tighter turning radius – just remember back to the first time trying on snowshoes and stepping on the back deck of the opposite foot while trying to turn, this puts my bum straight into the snow everytime!

However, if I thought I would be breaking trail or bushwhacking more frequently, I probably would have strongly considered the 28″ model. The trails I have put the 24″ pair through so far, leave me highly content with my decision for the shorter snowshoes. As I mentioned, I am most recently coming from Dion 21″ racing snowshoes which I did carry over into the White Mountains because their maneuverability was top-notch, traction also stellar (while going forward, unfortunately they had no grip laterally), but quite honestly they were constructed for groomed trails, not the rocky ancient paths of the higher elevations!

Fresh out of the box

What did I notice first upon unboxing these gems? Naturally, the color: black and orange for the mens version, black and light blue for the womens.. solid black tail with orange or blue on the nose, seems unique enough and stands out in a white-wash sea of fresh fallen snow, I dig it!

Let’s strap these puppies on and rip some trails!

One thing that seems quite clear with snowshoe manufacturers, is that they are in an ‘arms race’ to create the most unique, comfortable and functional binding (with some recent designs looking pretty darn funky!).

I can get on board with some of the dial binding set-ups (I have not tried any yet.. but would!) and all the new technology being fed into the snowshoe market but I have to admit, I have always had good luck with my ratchet-style bindings – they never got clogged with ice or snow, and always easy to step out of.

So how do the Tubbs Flex Alp bindings compare to the ease that I expect from a company who has been designing and producing snowshoes for over 100 years?

99% bullet-proof.

Complete with the normal back strap we have come to expect in most set-ups, the Flex Alp has a dual ratchet strap funky-business securing the toe of the boot.

So… what do I really think about this?

To be honest, I love it.

Just pull on the color-coordinated orange (for mens) or blue (for womens) ‘quick-release’ strap to unlock the Active Fit 2.0 binding – which opens symmetrically and effectively enabling the user to adjust either side of the binding and thus minimizing hot spots while exploring the forest (or walking your puppy dog on local trails!).

After the first trek in these snowshoes, and tugging on the ‘quick-release’ strap, I have gotten myself in the habit now of using my other fingers to be more gentle, removing the strap from the securing anchor pin before opening the binding fully. I predict there will be an instant where the straps will sooner-than-later fail (hopefully not anytime soon). When they do, all the tugging on these straps will likely cause micro-fractures and ‘creep’ in the plastic, that over time will speed up reaching their breaking point.

This is interesting because directly on the Tubbs website, they advertise these cinch straps as replaceable… perhaps they already know what fate I am speculating for these bindings!

However, the bindings are super quick and easy to cinch or tighten down, possibly the easiest set up to remove and step out of on the market – even while using just one hand!

What isn’t perfect about the bindings?

Worth mentioning also, while I am extremely happy with this binding and snowshoe set up thus far in the month or so that I have had them, the one kink that I still need to work out is descending steep grades with the Flex Alp. Occasionally the binding ‘rides up’, or seems to tighten down on the top of the foot. This is absolutely not caused by the boot, I can assure you of that (Asolo mountaineering boots with ~550 miles on them, otherwise super comfortable!).

Speaking of Traction

I’m a sucker for good traction in the high hills, so how do the Flex Alp hold up?

The best grip I’ve ever felt from a snowshoe! While some snowshoes that I have tried feel insecure while moving laterally or while standing on a slope, the Viper 2.0 (what a serious name for a serious little snowshoe crampon!) is rock solid, but for the size of the overall system – there are no extraneous pieces of metal that dangle or drag, tripping the wearer up.

The aggressive crampon directly under the ball of the foot articulates well and stays directly under the boot where you would want any uphill traction to be. My prior snowshoes did not have side rails, which made me feel extremely out of control on any sideways slope – one of the primary selling points for trying out the Flex Alp.

I have taken the Flex Alp on some decent grades on Mount Washington this winter following fresh powder, prior to the line of hikers kicking in a ‘shelf’ sidewalk into the side of the mountain. Again.. these snowshoes felt super stuck to the snow. I have only used the Flex Alp in combination with trekking poles or an ice axe, basically something to create that third point of contact, extra security to lean into while traversing a steep grade, never once feeling as if I would slip. ………now had I been on a 30% grade on powder, my tone may have been a bit different, but so far the traction has been impeccable!

One downside to having no tubular frame is that the ‘deck’ of the snowshoe comes into direct contact with any rocks that may be sticking up out of the snow. Unfortunately, I have ventured into areas while treading softly as to avoid rocks as much as humanly possible, the plastic does seem soft and is showing scratches and some fraying plastic from maybe 50 or so miles so far – another observation that I will be monitoring closely.

I will let you know how they hold up into the spring months!

Why call them “Flex”?

While maybe not obvious from the get-go, the masterminds at Tubbs created this snowshoe from such materials as to allow for some give, some ‘flex’ in the decking – all in efforts to reduce strain, impact and stress in the users’ joints while romping around the wilderness.

Does it work? Is it noticeable?

Do the Flex..actually.. Flex?

I can tell you, the one thing that I have noticed is that the Flex Alp snowshoes feel extremely light. It is likely that the pliable material contributed to the early wear that I’ve noticed, I suppose we will see how the Flex decking holds up to use over time.

Bonus feature!

One feature that I was deeply saddened to trek without during the past several years while using Dion racing snowshoes was the “televator”. There was a time not long ago when I thought that I had coined the term, but have since heard others refer to ‘televator’ in their own reviews, so I will keep the tradition alive!

There was a time when I thought of this little three sided pop-up bar as “cheating” while ascending a steep hill, back then I preferred to not use it! Well I am happy to say, I am back using and enjoying the heck out of this added feature – any time I can make the climbing easier on my leg muscles, I know this will translate into helping my body last longer over the unforgiving terrain encountered during a long hike!

This little piece rests right under the heel of the boot while not in use and can be flipped up either by hand or (I am super pumped about..) with the help of a trekking pole! I have seen some models that are resting so dang tight in the deck construction of the snowshoe that it literally takes all my strength to engage the uphill aid – thankfully not with this set up -perfect amount of tension that stays in place while either up or down.

And yes, there is a noticeable relief in ascending a steep hill with the ‘televator’ engaged; the user can essentially feel the direction of power transition into the side rail crampons, thus aiding uphill travel and conserving energy! I love it!

Are they really worth it though?

My short answer: Yes. One thousand times, yes.

For someone who spends their time in iffy, challenging terrain high in the mountains, always unsure of conditions until finding ourselves knee-deep powder along the ridge – I have constantly felt in control of my every step with the Tubbs Flex Alp, I love, love, love the binding set up (while, yes.. I need to work out the kinks as far as securing my boot and avoiding the top of my foot feeling squished during very steep descents), the maneuverability is top-notch for a smaller sized snowshoe.

On several occasions I have been on both powder and packed, windswept alpine areas and the traction has not let me down; in fact, just yesterday while bushwhacking Big Jay in Northern Vermont, I felt what I assumed could be the closest I would experience to “skinning up” a hill with… well.. skins on skis (I have never skied..yet!)! Just one step at a time, no backward slipping – 100% secure on the side of the mountain, ascending quite easily!

Worth the hard earned paycheck?

Again, I strongly feel that they are worth the steep ticket price: $239.95 before any sales.

I have absolutely no qualms with paying a little bit extra for a piece of equipment that is going to not only keep me safe in the wilderness, but last a many, many trips into the woods.

I am super hopeful that with being a bit more gentle on the binding system, and unhooking the strap from each peg securing it in place before completely letting it loose, that I will keep cracks from forming in the straps.

Also, by trying to avoid rock travel, I am hopeful that I will keep the wear and tear on the flexible plastic decking to a minimum and have these snowshoes longer than I had my 36″ Tubbs (4 years with aggressive abuse during their lifespan!.. until the plastic webbing/decking literally grew cracks from stretching in extreme cold temps).

I hope this helped to answer as many questions as possible – but inevitably, I’m sure it helped further questions arise in your mind.. no problem! Please feel free to comment here, email me, or find me on social media if you have any questions about the Tubbs Flex Alp!

With that being said, I am fairly certain that I will make note of even more pros and cons and as I continue to hike with the Flex Alps – I’ll check back here often, updating my post as needed to keep you all up to speed with how they are holding up, etc.

Where can YOU find these black and orange beauts?

I prefer to support a company whom I have entrusted for years. REI (Recreation Equipment, Inc.) with their one-time membership purchase of $20, customers (did I say it’s a life-time membership?!) typically receive 10% back on all of their gear, to be used on anything! REI even offers a side-aisle of their online and retail stores of ‘gently used’ or slight-factory-defect merchandise, which is always in perfectly good working condition!

By using any of the links here in this post, or found anywhere on my website.. you can tell the folks over at REI corporate who sent you – and in doing so (with NO added cost to you, of course!) REI will kick back a bit of loose change in order to help fund my own adventures and keep great content and trail reviews coming your way.

So tell yourself, tell your friends – help make the world a better place by simply clicking on the images and links found here prior to making a purchase – no matter how big, or how small! That’s all you have to do – NO discount codes, just click the link/image to open up REI.com and shop away.

Thanks in advance for all the help – of course, my Subaru’s gas tank naturally thanks all of you also!!

You can always find me here or out on the trails with any Tubbs Flex Alp questions, or photos – if that’s what you desire!

As always, happy climbing, happy snowshoeing and a very happy winter wonderland to you all!

– Erik

 


 

What makes the Altra Superior 4.0’s so… superior?

Having been running at a leisurely pace for a little over the past decade, I always saw sneakers as a kind of tool – not dissimilar to the shorts or shirt that I would pick to wear; long-sleeves for a chilly day, shorts for the summer heat. Originally, I picked out my running footwear exactly how most other runners out there choose theirs: part Cool-factor combined with part Comfort-factor.

I had always been led to believe more cushion was the way to go to protect frail joints against harsh heel strikes, leaving the flat soled trainers for the real hardcore track runners. Early on, I cycled through my fair share of brands and styles before settling on the notion that Salomon trail runners were just “for me”, perfect in every way. In fact, they did treat my feet wonderfully! Propelling me through my first races – everything from 5K’s to 50K’s, with hundreds of miles of trail running and mountain scaling dispersed throughout these years.

I wanted to do a kind gesture which included jumping on the purchase of Altra sneakers for Ciara that she had sitting in my REI shopping cart for so long. I knew this brand from all of the crazy endurance and ultra-runners that I followed on social media; it seemed the further folks ran – the more of them I saw committing to this new-to-me Altra brand.

By now, if you’d heard the name tossed around, you are probably familiar with their wider toe boxes and the ‘zero-drop’ mentality – this means the heel and toe hit at the same height from the ground, for a more ‘natural’ approach to running.

I liked the idea of strengthening the legs, ankles, and toes by use of a tool: the sneaker, not trying to mask discomfort and to focus leg compensation to other muscles – in my mind at least, it always seemed like doing anything unnaturally is just asking for trouble, pain, and more damage down the road!

Finally after several months of Ciara using her Altra’s to run trails and commute to and from work, I finally had the opportunity to try on my first pair after running an event together in Burlington, VT – we made the stop into Skirack (they are seriously super friendly and have a ginormous selection – check ’em out next time you’re in town!).

First off – the staff actually offered to measure my feet.. what? I thought this was a lost art! No shoe connoisseur had measured my foot since I was a wee-tiny kid buying my yellow Converse high-tops! As it would turn out, I had been wearing size 11 daily for the preceding 8 years or so.. when they actually measured my foot at a size 9.5 – I was shocked.

I loved them! I seriously enjoyed them very much, but I didn’t feel like I was at the running store to actually buy shoes.

I didn’t need shoes – I had my Salomons that proved to be still quite comfortable during the Leprechaun 10K earlier that morning!

I took my Altra’s to the SkiRacks treadmill and.. man, they still felt good! 

Just to talk myself out of an unnecessary sneaker purchase that I would later regret – I tried on a $180 pair of Salomons, knowing I would undoubtedly fall in love with something high end and forget my new zero-drop loves.

Well that didn’t happen. I was unimpressed – to say the least!

The Altra’s felt thin enough to sense whatever surface irregularities were underfoot, but cushy and grippy enough to be comfortable and protective for the long haul. There was a certain rocking under the ball of my feet, somewhat similar to being propelled forward.. but it felt almost like using different areas of my feet, muscles that had never been tapped into before – in a good way!

I left that day with my first pair of Altra Superior 4.0’s under my arm.

In short, I never once regretted my decision to buy those shoes!

End of story. 

Alright, the review is over – time to throw on the Altra’s and go for a run, right?

Not quite yet mister! …I’m sure I have left you with so many unanswered questions. What about transition time from Salomon to Altra? Comfort and durability over the course of a 154 mile (abuse-fest!) thru hike? Grip and the sense of security on wet vs dry surfaces? Cost worthiness? Changes from prior generations of the Superior?

Let’s tackle that last one first since I know the answer to that quite honestly: I don’t really know! I have had zero experience with the Superior 3.5 (or older) version. Why? Because I never had a need to! I love the 4.0s – they are what I know, they are what my feet and legs currently enjoy! Sure I have read and watched reviews of prior models, and I have heard so many make claims that this model has updated fabric, softer this and that, but as of 397 miles (as of writing this 6/2019) I have only found zero reasons that make me want to go pick up and try out a pair of 3.5s, despite them being often times incredibly on sale.. just about everywhere!

Next please… how about the ‘transition time’ from my Salomon Speedcross 4’s (which were also the wide-model, chosen simply because I knew feet swell after some time being stuffed into the shoe and now, I would never return to a ‘regular’ narrow sneaker) to the Altra zero-drop line up? I hear people recommending tapering, slowly transitioning to a zero-drop shoe. I honestly think: Yes, most people should consider trying any Altra on a shorter run first or even start with a walk, or even wear them to work to get the feel for how you walk and feel so refreshed in them, because you probably will feel it in your shins, feet, ankles – most people I know with Altras have to some degree! But that doesn’t last long – just listen to your body and don’t over do it, play it safe!

I intended to taper slowly into higher mileage.. that is, until the day came when that simply did not happen.

Two days into owning my Superiors, I went for a light run on asphalt which promptly spat me onto rustic dirt roads – 5 miles turned to 10, 10 to 15 and before I knew it – I had put down an 18 miler that morning and felt fantastic! My feet felt super light and it’s misleading to say that I grew to know every pebble and crack in the road, but in a sense, I did! I felt like I knew where my feet were landing, what they were landing on and how to best propel myself off of every surface! – This was a good observation!

At the time of writing this review I have logged just under 400 miles on my first pair of Altra Superior 4.0s – and what could that possibly mean? YES! They are so comfortable I picked up a second pair to wear around work for a few weeks until those too are transitioned to my next pair of mud puppies!

As so far with my first pair of 4.0s though – they have seen just about everything I can think a shoe would experience in its’ lifetime!

I wear them to work, which consists of a 1 1/4 mile walk in each morning, and a 1 1/4 mile light jog back to my car each day. I used and abused them on the Run-a-muck 50K race which took place on both asphalt and the hilly dirt roads of Vermont. They were the only footwear that I took on the 154-mile Northville-Placid Trail located in the Adirondack mountains of New York – where they experienced everything from snow, rivers, knee-deep mud, leaves, roots, bare rocks, more asphalt and gravel!

Most recently (like.. two days ago!) I took my Altra Superior 4.0s on the ~15 mile Chocorua Mountain Race put on by RockHopperRaces. Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, they saw more mud, four knee-deep streams, countless roots, slick bare rock, billowing mounds of leaves. I can now say that, with nearly 400 miles of love and abuse on these Altra’s, they actually slowed me down tremendously on this run. They slipped on the up-hill and running down-hill any of the leaf-covered or wet slab rock sections was downright brutal!

But, in their defence, I should have known better.. I should have invested in those Lone Peaks that I had my eye on! But overall, they are still crazy comfortable! Nothing hurt from running in them, they are still super soft and cozy on my toes and ankles despite needing to tie them slightly tighter than when I first got them – but they still feel super precise on each toe-off.

Overall, I still feel secure in these shoes despite the grip faultering a bit. They may soon become resigned to simply dirt road sneakers moving forward, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I love them any less!

As for the wear and tear? The fabric on the upper does feel thin, like.. it scares me how thin it felt! But after the daily abuse of catching toes on roots and rocks – we cannot believe how well our Superiors have held up during the Northville-Placid Trail!

During our thru hike in the Adirondack mountains, I wore them during one of our waist-deep river crossings, the algae-covered boulders on the bottom reminded me of buttered up bowling balls… absolutely terrifying! The grip held up (despite being scared out of my mind that I would dunk all of my backpacking and camping gear on the first day at mile 9), we made it through that raging river, my Altra’s dried out super quickly in the abundant sunshine, and also for the record: with snow, mud and icy water daily – I never ended up with any blisters!

So.. are the Altra Superior 4.0s truly worth the $110 price tag? Heck yeah, I sure think so! I mean.. if you can wait until REI.com has another one of their 30% off sales and catch them that way – well that is just ducky! Unfortunately, I bought my second pair two days before they went on sale, but anyway found out my size was not offered once the sale hit.. so no real loss to my wallet!

I would definitely recommend trying them on just to get the most satisfaction out of them – I can assure you, there would be a much different review of these shoes had I simply opted for a size 11 as I self-prescribed myself prior the years.

Once again, I am thrilled that my awesome friends have shown me the trail to the Altra spectrum – and I cannot wait to eventually try on other varieties in their line of zero-drop foot attire! Superior 4.0s are here to stay in my mountain trail running arsenal and I’m amped to someday (soon.. I hope!) lace up a pair of their Lone Peaks – and rest assured I will share my epic adventures with you!

Do you rock a pair of Altras? Let me know what you think of them in the comments below!

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out some race reviews and accounts of crushing adventures in my Altra’s!

 

You can also check out Part 1: the first fantastic 100 miles on the Northville-Placid Trail right here!

Have an epic day and go crush some veggies & vert! 🙂

 

-Erik

 


Salomon Speedcross4

Only a handful of years ago, back when I knew next to nothing about shoes and what all the fancy new terminology indicated, I assumed the prescribed ‘500 miles’ was the ultimate cut-off point. I assumed once this magic number of miles were reached, threads would begin to hang loose by design, toes would have been long jammed through the toe box, the soles wore down so far that my own fleshy heel would see daylight. I quickly found out this was very much not the case with my Salomon Speedcross 4’s, that they were built for abuse, if given the chance – they would survive hundreds of miles with not a fret for what the trail ahead was constructed of – all they wanted was the loving caress of your foot inside of its plushy fabric.

When I bought my first real trail running shoes I knew literally nothing regarding what I should be looking for other than these puppies looked like grippy monster truck tires for my feet, by definition they looked sweet. I went shoe shopping with my lovely girlfriend Ciara who was getting reimbursed for ‘work shoes’ – we picked our pairs: one for me, two for her. Not knowing in the store what each other had decided on, we got home to unbox and share our little shopping sprees with each other; we each picked up a pair of Salomon X-Mission3’s, but she had another pair, one of the most rad color combinations I had seen in footwear to date, sea foam green Speedcross 4’s.

My X-Mission3’s worked great for the next several months both on road and light trail, with an average run distance of 5-10 miles. I watched Ciara run completely ecstatically in her new Speedcross4’s, so when I was given the gift of the Western New Hampshire Trail Running Series for my birthday – I knew I would need to upgrade, I wanted to experience the sure-footed joy of trail running that I saw coursing through her veins. The day came when I found myself at our local Eastern Mountain Sports, who carried a surprisingly impressive selection of Salomon running gear. I knew exactly what I was there for so in my typical shopping fashion, I simply stared at the shoes for what seemed like all afternoon.. trying to decide: “wide toe box, normal toe box”? After running thousands of scenarios through my head and being asked by just about every associate in the store if I needed help, I decided that I may down the line prefer something on the wider side, giving me the option to ramp up my sock thickness for all the 100 milers that I had been day dreaming about, or whatever the case may be.

About the shoes? Yeah, they were friggin’ sweet.

Of course, I was super reluctant to wear them, wanting them somehow to last forever, remain clean forever.. well, that didn’t last long! My first race found me shin deep in thick, black, stinky mud.. only to bake in the sun, then dunked into a river (while on my feet of course), needless to say, they were broken in quite quickly!

Now, about 12 months of use later (as I write this) and with a total mileage teetering into the 800 range, what I have dubbed my 2018 Speedcross shoes still see the packed dirt roads and pavement regularly, now limited to shorter 5-20 mile distances these days (as of writing this, my longest run in the Speedcross4’s was 33.5 miles, and loved every mile of it!). Naturally, with some hefty lugs found on the underside of these beasts, I initially tried to keep the shoes off-road and glued to trail. This worked for a month or two during the running series and the special evening sessions with Ciara and the doggos. I began to become lax on the care side of the equation when I took my Speedcross4’s up Mount Mansfield over the summer (2018), and for those who have never been on these trails – they are beautiful dirt and grass, completely lush trails with moss on either side of the single track down at 1,800 feet but once you start reaching for 3,000 then 4,000 and finally peaking out at 4,400 feet above sea level, you find yourself running on jagged granite, bare rock, and a few wood planks along the Long Trail portion – it can be rough going in a few spots, but incredible.

The shoes held up fantastic while climbing their first real mountain. I retained all of my toe nails on the descent, the grip was outstanding even with loose sand and gravel, I even found water crossings to be totally comfortable. The model that I was rocking clearly was not fitted with Gore Tex (it would be some time before I understood the idea of Gore Tex shoes, laughing all the while thinking..won’t the water and ice just go down my ankle?), but I could sense that it sacrificed all it could in order to defer water from reaching my toes.

Regarding grip – this was the first pair of shoes where I felt like I could really ‘sense’ objects around the toe area, it was as if I could feel details like an individual gain of sand with the tip of my toes, yet they were completely rigid and structurally stable enough that this stretch over an object never resonated into my joints, I always found my bones to be in a comfortable position. Stubbing my toe of course happened in the White Mountains over microwave sized rocks and hefty roots sticking up, but with the thick lugs wrapping their way up and almost over the toes, I was never agitated or worried about my toe nails!

My Speedcross4’s have been on excursions into the 4000 footers of Vermont, New York, Maine and all around the White Mountains of New Hampshire – even excelling in the Presidential Range as I ran Mount Washington. Anyone who has even seen pictures of that terrain knows that the boulder field ascending from Boott Spurr and Tuckerman Revine is all jagged, sharp – as I like to call “snap-your-ankle” types of rocks, well I am happy to report – I found out just why the pro’s prefer these shoes in the French Alps, they are absolutely rock stars on bare granite, even mossy rock they do much better than some alternatives that I have taken to the trails! I always feel completely safe with the deep, grippy lug pattern on all surfaces!

But are they light? That is all the rage these days.. right? Yes and no, how’s that for an answer? For the grip and protection and comfort especially, I don’t think the Speedcross 4’s are necessarily heavy or bulky at all.. (“yes.. do go on..” the reader thinks.. ) but I have had some trail running shoes by other manufacturers that are about half the weight – I am also inclined to remark – these lighter alternatives also feel like they offer half of the support and grip as the Salomon’s as well, but that’s just what I’ve noticed. I mean, it’s clearly not like putting on the Speedcross is like wearing bricks or anything – the experts will call these 11oz, I will call them “just right”, light enough that your legs easily get used to the extra 11oz, sturdy enough that I don’t feel like I will flex fracture my foot over a boulder, and I try to kindly think of the alternative – I won’t be found anytime soon bare footing my way through the Presi Range!

And quite possibly the best part of this whole set up? My hats are all off to their lacing system, easily my favorite feature of these shoes (okay..maybe that is taking it a bit far, but seriously awesome!) It is a synch sort of system, no tying required! Just get your tongue all in place, slide the plastic do-dad thinger fandangler on the QuickLace system down the stand of lace, which instantly locks into place and tuck the whole set up seamlessly into the hidden compartment on the tongue. The tension quickly evens out, I have never had a ‘hot spot’ or unevenness, over-tight in the toe area with too loose anywhere else? Nope, it just works wonderfully in my experience! Nor have I been on the trail (or anywhere at all for that matter) and had the QuickLace system loosen up unexpectedly – I seriously wish that all footwear came with this excellent little feature. Such a small detail can seem to make all the chaotic puzzle pieces of life fall that much easier into place!

One detail that I absolutely have to point out to anyone who owns these shoes already and says “oh heck yeah, the same thing happens to me!”, or just awareness for any potential buyers out there: the tongue does not stay straight over the foot. Now, I am not the type to contact Salomon and voice my complaints or this and that, I love love love these Speedcross4’s! So I have dealt with it (for the record, Ciara has stated that she has never had this issue with the womens model), I have fixed my issue and now it is nothing to me, the problem does not cross my mind anymore! What am I talking about? Every other pair of Salomon’s that I have owned – running, hiking or whatever it may be, has come with a stretchy elastic mesh fabric attached to the tongue to ensure it doesn’t slide all around mid-run. Why don’t these? Forgotten or intentionally disregarded? Either way this is the one and only detail of the shoe that makes me cringe, I could go on and on about how my ankle was rubbed raw by the lace system at mile 15 of a long run. What did I do? I fixed it (when I got home). No longer an issue. I grabbed a needle and some thread and attached that sucker right to the medial side of the upper, BAM – problem solved.

So how much abuse have these trail runners sustained? Dozens of mountain runs, a series of snowshoe (yes, I have strapped my Dion racing snowshoes to the Speedcross on more than one occasion!) running events, both my first real 26.2 marathon (Mount Desert Island Marathon in Acadia National Park), and my first 50K (Nor’Witch 50K with Nor’East Trail Runs), now they see mostly dry packed dirt and pavement. With well over 800 miles these shoes have been through it all and still beg for more action, aside from the lugs (which, honestly are worn dang near flat at this point) they show minimal signs of wear and tear – in fact, nothing is torn on them, the fabric all holding up impressively well.

So, what is in store for the Speedcross4’s for 2019? I’ve had a second pair (currently holding clean at ~40 miles, 31 of which was put on during the Merck Forest Snowshoe 50K) which I am waiting to break out once the soil is visible on the trails once again. Salomon has produced a variation of the Speedcross that I picked up on a whim many months ago while it was on a 1/2 off sale – the SpeedSpike. These are basically ramped up, more solidly constructed Speedcross with steel spikes (..think cleats..) sticking out of the lugs. I have grown to love them over this past winter, they have been on my feet on flowing sheets of ice, winter storms which have produced feet of snow (..add gaiters for maximum comfort!!), most recently they joined me on a 12+ mile packed snow trail run through the White Mountains here in New Hampshire, gaining roughly 6200 feet of elevation gain, they remained comfortable – but for the record: they tolerate wet conditions very comfortably, they are in no way a water-proof GoreTex material!

What’s this..? Plot Twist?!

Now, I feel I must add before I end this, the little jaunt to Burlington, VT that Ciara and I took not long ago, we went for a race and to explore some shops in our down time. Long story short – we all came home with bright red boxes with bright white text Speedspikes in the whitesslung down the side, these boxes all contained Altra running shoes! Not her first pair, and she has loved what she has run in thus far, but these Superior 4.0’s are my very first pair of Altra’s ever. First impression? Love Them.

I was told that Altra’s take some time to get used to, a sort of ‘break in’ period, if you will. I loved mine so much that the day after I began wearing them I threw down a very comfortable 21 miles. Absolutely love these shoes so far…

Looks as if my commitment to the Speedcross family is not as cut and dry as I had once imagined years ago when I walked out of that store in sandals, holding my first pair of Speedcross 4’s.

I’ll do a more in depth review of the Altra’s. It is only fitting that I put them through the Runamuck 50K (31+ miles of packed dirt and a brief taste of blacktop – more than likely snow – this is the Northeast after all!) this weekend, and then let you know how they fair up to everything else I know about shoeology!

Altra Superior 4.0

As always, thanks for reading and following along with me!

Got a shoe that compares that I need to know about? Let me know in the comments below!

Want more tasty running/hiking fuel recipes? More running and hiking adventures?

Sign up on the email list in the column on the right and never miss a post!

Have an awesome time out on the trails, roads, snow covered roads, whatever you do – make it awesome!!

– Erik

 


A Most Delicious Recovery: RecovHERB Plus+, by Runners High Herbals

Sometimes after a run, I like to treat myself.

RecovHerBanana Plus+

And sometimes after a really long run, I really like to treat myself! During certain times of the year, Ciara and I can be found splitting a whole juicy melon or four (watermelon is our go to when in season!!), or popping a colorful handful of grapes – this is our favorite way to rehydrate, while coconut water is of course – a very close runner-up!

While it might feel the most refreshing to gulp down 15 liters of cashew milk (I’m sure someone out there reading this is thinking to themselves “Whaaa? PshhhH!!! Give me all the colas!”), our bodies need more than just liquids after a hard run or hike, we crave fuel to help rebuild our torn, but ‘lovingly’ abused muscles.

Most folks know that shortly after ending a strenuous work out, we need to replenish our muscle reserves (with sweet potato, cucumber, melon, bananas, raw nuts & seeds), but also a “not-so-often-thought-of” powdered superfood supplement can help boost recovery rates post-exercise.

Once again, Runners High Herbals came through!

In a whirl-wind of their herbal wizardry, all of the finest superfood powders were exquisitely blended together into one shiny silver tin – mess-free and conveniently small to transport to your post-event celebration!

While the names of these all-natural ingredients may prove to be a mouthful, the benefits they have to offer the body are remarkable:turmeric

  • Turmeric Root Powder – used for over 4000 years to aid in digestion – perfect after pounding out miles on the trails (or perhaps on the anti-climactic treadmill, if that’s all the weather outside will permit!), this relative of ginger also crushes inflammation throughout the body, just what your achy muscles and joints crave after an afternoon of punishment on the pavement!
  • Ashwagandha Root Powder – also known as Indian Ginseng for the previous 3000 ashwagandhayears, has been known as an ‘Adaptogen’ by helping the body manage stress, reduce cortisol, fight symptoms of depression and anxiety, boost brain function, and also beat the heck out of inflammation (also being studied in breast, lung, colon, Maca Rootand brain cancer by promoting destruction of cancer cells!! Woohoo!).
  • Maca Powder – this cruciferous veggie root (yes.. related to broccoli, cabbage and kale) has been known for many years as the Peruvian Ginseng! Growing in ranges from 7000’ to 13,000’, the medicinal root works marvelously to improve mood, reduce blood pressure and fight those pesky free radicals, previous studies of the plant have shown suggestions of increased libido – helping to make your post-ultra-marathon an eventful one!!
  • Ceylon Cinnamon – the best dang cinnamon out there! Most folks don’t even know there is a cinnamon“true” cinnamon, as opposed to the commonly consumed, widely distributed Cassia Cinnamon. Both varieties of cinnamon come from strips of the dried inner bark, after the woody parts have been removed. This powerful anti-oxidant also protects the body from free radicals, reduces the risk of heart disease by reducing LDL cholesterol and stabilizing HDL cholesterol levels. This form of cinnamon has also been known to lower fasting blood sugar. While Ceylon is on the pricier side of the two cinnamon varieties, Ceylon is currently being studied for cancer prevention and Alzheimer’s by inhibiting protein build up in the brain. Everyone needs some Ceylon Cinnamon in their day!!Ginger Root
  • Ginger Root Powder (as gingerly mentioned above) is a relative of turmeric, also containing many astounding health benefits in fresh or powdered root (the RecovHerb Plus+ powder contains ginger in the powder form..)! Dating back to ancient Greeks, ginger has also been used to aid indigestion, reduce nausea and inflammation, and has been shown to inhibit the growth of pathogens in the mouth that cause inflammation of the gums! The lady runners out there can also benefit from gingers’ ability to act as effectively as Ibuprofen, reducing pain and cramping due to menstruation!
  • White Pepper – also has a slew of health benefits which can help any outdoor enthusiast – similar to black pepper as they White Pepperare both ‘fruit’ of the pepper plant, white pepper is yet another ingredient from Runners High Herbals that helps digestion (really important when taking in fuel during a long race, or trying to refuel after a big run!), promotes weight loss, this variety of pepper while being known as having a trace increase in “heat” Hemp Extractfrom black pepper, has also been administered to folks with weak eyesight and helping to prevent the advancement of cataracts.
  • 12.5mg Hemp Extract packed into each teaspoon – of which there are many in this little silver tin!

Having used standard Golden Milk concoctions, there is a clear difference to be noticed – best described as a calming, soothing effect on the muscles and joints – I have used after long runs, high elevation gain/loss hikes, crossfit and yoga days: it works wonders so you can continue moving your body when you want to!

I cannot simply list the limitless benefits of the meticulously chosen ingredients in RecovHerb Plus+, so if I left you with more questions than I actually answered, please feel free to comment below, let me know – or even do some research of your own – all of these ingredients are actively being researched, so known benefits are constantly expanding and coming to light. Also, like I have stated in the past – I am clearly not a professional nutritionist or dietitian – I just enjoy doing research on topics that pique my attention, leaving me searching for answers – and in return, I love sharing what I learn with you, to get you questioning everything also!Plant Based Recovery

Let’s get to making the deliciousness happen!

If you are like me, you may or may not have taken a spoonful of Runners High Herbals recovHerb Plus+ and turned your mouth into an ‘off-the-grid’ blender, mixing almond milk and the recommended 1-2 teaspoons of powder, free of all electrical appliances! I have tried other varieties of Golden Milk in similar fashions (just had to get the job done..), and I can honestly say that the RHH blend is the most satisfying – comparable to a home-made ginger snap cookie, soooo good!

But with minimal prep time, a super soothing, cookie-like hug for your taste buds can be made very, very easily (even I can do it!) – and if you have an insulated travel mug, this latte-inspired warm recoverage (recovery+beverage) can be brought anywhere – to the end of your run or the summit on your hike.

  • 8oz of cashew milk (if you are a dairy milk enthusiast, your taste buds – and body – will thank you by using a much healthier “milk” alternative!) I always have Almond, Oat, Cashew or Coconut milk on hand (in the fridge actually) simply because they are the most velvety liquid a glass or mug can hold!* *this may actually not be supported by any scientific evidence what-so-ever
  • 8oz French Press coffee (espresso beans from my local co-op is my daily go to, but Four Sigmatic is a wonderful substitute all day, any day!

(does your travel mug have room to spare? Add more coffee or milk to taste! You’ll be glad you topped it off later!)

What else can I do with my recovHerb Plus+?

Add it to a smoothie or dairy-free “nice cream” with frozen bananas, frozen fruit, and nut milk!

Sprinkle it on your recovery cookies/pastries!

Add it to some warm hot cocoa after doing some outdoorsing!

One epic suggestion that I just got from my girlfriend (she is the brains in the kitchen, I help make things awesome with her!) was using RecovHerb sprinkled into Chia Pudding, which is no-bake, easy to make and super protein-packed (did I mention that we make our Chia Pudding in the fridge – which makes it probably one of the most refreshing treats after a hot run!!).

The benefits of the ingredients Runners High Herbals chose to include in their version of the ancient Golden Milk should be enjoyed daily by everyone, not just mountain folks or ultra-runners! With benefits such as heart health, stabilizing blood sugars, reducing inflammation (naturally!), and overall support for your immune system –

everyone can gain from supplementing their day with a dash of recovHERB Plus+!

If you have any favorite ways of using RecovHerb (or Golden Milk powder – if you haven’t gotten around to trying the Runners High Herbals take on it..seriously, pick some up!!) please throw it in the comments below – I’d love to hear about some fresh, new ideas! And as always feel free to ask away if you have any questions about anything here!

You can also try the Runners High Herbals RecovHerb as well as any of their other epic balms, salves, recovery aids 10% off when you use my discount code at the check out! (Yaaaay!!) And that code would be… ehamilton10

Don’t forget (if you like what you see/read!) sign up on the right column over there –> to receive email updates for new food/nutrition/running/hiking anything kind of posts!

Thanks y’all, have an awesome day!!

Erik

 

Coros Pace: The Ultimate Altitude Mapping GPS Watch

There was a time when the only electronic gadget that I ran with was my Sony Discman it had the best anti-skip technology of the day; Twenty seconds was the grace period where it could be shifted, turned, shaken – otherwise it was an all-out battle (and good shoulder workout) to absorb any shocks. I was a silly sight I’m sure, but it worked.

That’s basically how my life of adventure revolved around new technology: if I had something that worked – good enough, let it ride. I was late to the game getting my first smart phone, years after all of my friends had switched – and of course this came with listening to them rave about their excellent decisions every moment of the day to upgrade their technological devices.

Smartphones brought apps, and new apps brought maps. Map apps meant that I could track how far I ran, how much elevation I climbed – it was always a fun game to push further and higher!

For years, I was content having 4 apps to cover what I needed for the outdoors:

a running app, a hiking app, a map based app (fantastic as long as it had a WiFi connection), another app for an on the go compass (until I bought a real compass!). I tracked my journey summiting the 46 high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains, as well as everywhere we ran and hiked on the West Coast – always feeling limited to how much service and battery life my phone had – I made it work.

I never saw myself becoming interested in wearing a watch to track my outdoor activities, but I started seeing just how powerful the Garmin’s and Suunto’s were. I spent some time researching what was out on the market in my downtime at work, generally thinking “Yeah not anytime soon, how can anyone put $600 on their wrist – plus look at the dang thing.. it’s so bulky!!”

I secretly admired the look of a big, chunky pastel colored band on a wrist of someone up in the mountains.

I continued comparing the options and decided that IF I ever did go for one it must have a barometric altimeter – much more accurate than a phone app ever could be (unless it was built in, which was not the case with my IPhone 5c).

I found a watch that retailed for about $650 and thought “if I am going to get one, it is going to be top in its class and not become outdated in the next 365 days”. It had everything I wanted in a watch, and then some.. as in a lot of extra features that made me wonder “is this why it is so expensive?”, many of the watches that came with an altimeter also included too many “bonuses” (like the ability to download or stream music from my wrist – not a requirement in my mind!).

Then during the cloud of time surrounding the Javelina Jundred, a 100-mile ultra marathon which takes place annually in the Fountain Hills of Arizona – I heard about a trio of running brothers who had made the switch from a big name watch company to one that I had never heard of before; who was this COROS? – I was interested! They raved that they were able to track the entire desert-based course on one battery charge and then had power left for several more days. The detail that really made my eyes wide was that it came with a barometric altimeter!!

The watch was from an up and coming, growing company who also specialized in “smart” bike helmets. So, they took a stab at the watch market and so far were accomplishing great things! I read very satisfied reviews – raving about the updates that COROS had made earlier in 2018. By this time it was nearly the end of 2018, so my hopes were high that the updates and bugs had all been resolved.

COROS was offering a trial of their Pace watch with a deposit up front of the entire cost of the watch, which was a moderate $300 (considerably low when I compared its’ features with other brands!). I took a day at work to think it over, went home and jumped on the opportunity, knowing it was only a trial (a $300 trial, I reminded myself!).

I went ahead with ordering the trial knowing that unless something went very wrong or it was just plain trash, that I was probably going to keep it!

Several days passed and I kept checking the mail, tracking my package. When it finally did arrive (maybe 3 days – not bad at all), I leisurely opened the package knowing that it was late in the night and I didn’t have time to charge and set it all up. Here is where I was wrong – it shipped with enough of a charge to fire up and cruise through the brief set up. I had to select which wrist it was on, age, weight, download the COROS app, and within only a few minutes it was calibrating for elevation and compass direction and reading my heart rate (ooh how I’ve missed technology!!).

Set up wasn’t as immediate as I had hoped (chock it up to ‘user error’.. I was still learning!) to connect to my Strava account, I had to search the “how-to” research online and I finally found the answer right on their web page FAQ. Once connected however, the COROS Pace and Strava are inseparable – as long as a WiFi signal is available the upload to your Strava account is near instantaneous (and in the case of no cell service, I found out that going into the COROS app and pulling down to refresh will sync your tracks right into Strava).

There are minimal button clicks (which I think is awesome!!)

to start a new track, with the options of running, indoor running, biking, indoor biking, pool swimming, open water swimming and triathlon-modes. I bought my Pace watch for running and hiking outdoors, and so for this review I can only say that I have used the ‘Run’ mode.

At the beginning of a new track, the watch alerts the user when it links up to both a satellite service and senses a heart rate. There are many customize-able options here in the screens prior to starting your workout; they are all greatly helpful, but I will not be going into detail – other than the option of which of 3 GPS satellite services you would like to use; At the time of writing this, I can only say that I have utilized the stock GPS setting and have had no issues with it – no need to use the higher-tech options but I plan to experiment!

My Pace has followed me with great detail through some of the deepest forests of New Hampshire, where there is no cell phone service for miles.

Back-tracking a bit to before a work out: discovered after several tracks and feeling that I was missing some information during a track, I found that the four stock screens that I can cycle through with either button located on the right (basically like Up/Down arrow buttons), all of which are customize-able – and I could make additional screens, which I did with battery life remaining, total ascent/descent, current time, etc – a very awesome feature indeed!

One feature, which is very important to me, and that I had no idea did not come standard these days (on some of the pricier options out there) is water-proofness of a watch. This is one of the most important must-have’s for a watch (I was stunned to hear that a certain Garmin that I know out there recommends NOT getting wet!) and again COROS came through – as this is a ‘triathlon watch’, it should be resistant – but with a rating of up to 50 meters, this watch gladly enjoys some shower time to get clean after it sits against my sweaty skin for 16 hours running and hiking in the mountains!

The first real ‘abusive’ test that I put my COROS Pace through was at the end of a chilly and snowy November last year,

I was destined for the high peaks – nearly 5000 feet above sea level in the White Mountains of NH. It was a chilly 10 degree morning that I chose to begin, dressed warm in layers, breaking trail for 23.5 miles in the back country with 5118′ of elevation gain and summiting 5 peaks over 4000′ that day. Despite the cold air, high winds and being stuck against my sweaty body, and tracking for a constant 10 hours and 33 minutes – the battery that I assumed would be on its last legs (the reason I brought my USB charger along for the car ride!), had only dropped to 63% – WHAT!! could absolutely not believe my eyes when I saw that.

This test came under 1 week from the time I placed my “trial” order – the very next day I emailed COROS and told them to please keep my money, and that I was not going to be sending my watch back. I loved this new addition to my outdoors-ing!

The app does things that I would expect from a fitness tracking app: allows customization of your watch interface via the COROS app, view your recent workouts (in great detail, if I may say so!), view your day in real time with Active Energy, Exercise Time, Steps, Heart Rate over time, even the latest addition – sleep – which I have found to be remarkably spot-on since it has been tracking me! There are also newer additions for the hardcore athlete that I have payed some attention to such as Resting Heart Rate, VO2 Max, Threshold Pace, Lactate Threshold, Stamina Level – while obviously not a make-or-break feature for someone such as myself – I think it is truly fascinating to now be able to see how I progress from day to day, or month to month!

Moving onto the features of this watch that stood out: the reason I was hooked!

The COROS Pace allows the user (you or I) the option to calibrate the Elevation and Compass direction by either GPS (must do this outside), or manually if you know that you are beginning at a certain elevation. But even without doing this – the Pace is extremely accurate – yesterday when I stood atop Mount Lafayette in the Franconia Mountains, the previous Geological Survey marked the summit at 5240′; when I checked my Pace’s screen, it read 5246′.

After an ascent of 3,816′, running around the summit boulders, and coming from a barometric altimeter – I found this to be absolutely mind-blowingly accurate!

Even charging the battery on this little gem of a watch is quick, the funky connection from watch to USB gets me back to a full charge in about 30 minutes, in two months of having my COROS Pace, even despite all of the running, hiking and event tracking that I have done – my Pace has never dropped below 50%, and I only charge it when I find it convenient (such as sitting at my lap top typing this blog post!)

Being that this is basically an intro into why I decided to put a COROS Pace watch on my wrist, I’ll add an updated post as needed (a few months or so!) as my COROS Pace continues to grow on me and I learn more of the incredible capabilities that it has!

I am looking forward to using my watch on more of my up-coming 50K ultra marathons and of course – in the White Mountains for the ~32mi Pemi Loop coming up soon!!

Naturally, new tricks and certain functions of tools on the Pace are being discovered, constantly customizing, making the ultimate GPS/altitude tracking device – and most importantly, make it feel like my watch!!

While the Pace is epic right out of the box, COROS puts a fresh, new watch interface on your wrist with each of their updates (every few months), I have found nothing but improvements thus far from my techy friends at COROS!

Please feel free to comment below and ask me anything about my watch if I didn’t answer your questions!

Shoot me a message either on here, email or DM on Instagram for 10% off if you are interested, let’s chat!!

Don’t forget to sign up with your email on the menu to the right –> for my hiking/running/plant-based nutrition updates!!

Have an awesome day – and of course – Happy Trails out there!

 

– Erik

 


Favorite Gear of the Day!

 

 

Portable Plant Based Nutrition: Muir Energy!

Have you ever been a few miles into a trail with a heavy pack on, maybe you found a way to strap your snowshoes onto your pack without them smacking your spine bones with every step, completely dreading the moment you have to stop and remove your pack just to get a snack? Or, perhaps you found yourself running through a zig-zag of mountainous single track, leaping like a gazelle over roots and My desk as I pack for my first full marathon Oct 2018rocks, dipping and dodging like a trained boxer to avoid those pesky tree limbs. When you finally come to a halt at the side of the cliff to take in some water, sustenance, and of course – those epic views, a friend offers up a pouch of birthday cake flavored energy to try, “thanks for the maltodextrin bro!”

I too, was consumed by the “energy-on-the-go” fad that over took the outdoor enthusiast world several years ago,

aimed at runners, hikers, bikers, anyone that moved their body and needed an extra jolt of energy. To me, it was frustrating shelling out so much money for such a little packet of sugary goo. While it is simple to argue that all of this added fructose, leucine and potassium citrate is essentially ‘plant derived’, all of these ingredients are so highly refined and processed that they don’t function the same as their friendly plant based cousins.

I never enjoyed reading what was actually stuffed into my gel packets, and honestly I consumed them extremely sparingly for this reason (I still had one of my original packets of GU in my hiking emergency first aid kit that I recently gave to a friend, sorry friend – but thanks for helping me not waste! 🙂 ). Initially I purchased these energy gels for hiking before the thought of running further than 15 miles had ever occurred to me – I actually don’t recall ever consuming a GU energy gel while on a long run for fear that the bright, artificially colored, highly processed,

sticky goo would immediately send me into the bushes, urgently needing to tear away my running shorts.

Taking a Muir Energy break on the ascent of Mount Adams 2018Every weekend as I repacked my gear, I remember discussing with Ciara how grand the day would be when we finally commit to making and packaging our own “all natural” source of energy, if even only for ourselves. We (she, with me trying to help in the kitchen) would make our date balls (dates, chia seeds, chopped cashews, maple syrup, coconut, etc.) but we always wanted something that we could keep in place of these gel packets for backup/“emergency situations”.

Thanks in part to the myriad of Instagram advertisements and my life-long desire to know all things outdoors, the purple packet displaying two-tone mountains and the bold, all caps word “Muir” caught my attention (ironically, I was reading The Life of John Muir by Donald Worster at the time!).

I had to discover why they named themselves after the same fine fellow that I envied so dearly.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical when I navigated over to their flavors and saw what they use for ingredients, thinking all the while “hey man, this is exactly what I would use had I been making my own ‘on-the-go’ energy!!” We use Muir in all types of recipes, here are peanut butter balls with Red Raspberry Muir

Like most perishables out there (Muir claims 9mo shelf life), Muir Energy offers some excellent and unique seasonal flavors (until they enter their production lines full time!) with sustainable energy sourced from kale and sweet potato, combined with real nut butters made using almonds, hazelnuts, and the creamiest (if you can’t tell, also my favorite of nut butters!) of them all: cashews!!

The mad scientists tinkering away in the kitchens at Muir Energy use the most taste bud satisfying bananas and cacao, while other varieties feature the most mouth wateringly tart

(kind of like eating.. uhmm.. real fruit… because that’s what Muir specializes in!!)

red and black raspberries, pineapple and even a new addition to the year round Muir atop Hurricane Mountain in the NYS Adirondack Mountainsmenu: passion fruit! Even mixed in perfect harmony and delicacy are the essential oils of vanilla, peppermint, oregano and thyme (incredibly satiating when your mouth is dry and tasting like road dust at the 22mile mark of anything!!).

Every hand filled packet contains just the right amount of raw coconut nectar, which has a low glycemic index,

which is good news for us outdoorists and means that these ingredients will be absorbed and metabolized slower than other sugars out there, which may prevent that “shock” burst of energy we may be used to, also means that a crash later on may be avoided more easily! So not only does every packet make your taste buds tingle, performing a supercharged happy-dance, you can also sleep well (literally and figuratively!) knowing that you ate nothing but real ingredients while you busted out the best mileage yet!

With all these honest and raw ingredients in our hand, it is hard to say how our digestive tracts will react to such a delicious treat after being force-fed chemicals and being scolded to obey our commands with white-knuckled fists of ibuprofen. It is too easy to say “take one every hour and you will complete 100 miles, no worries”, I had to experiment with Muir before I trusted to take it on my first full marathon last October (I had never used anything while on a run in the past, swore for years that the only way I could run is in the morning, on an empty stomach after a bit of black coffee). My initial thought was “muscle it down and keep a slow, steady pace”, easier said than done; I was headed down a dirt road 10ish miles into my morning Taking a break in Acadia National Park - the location of my first ever full marathon, heck yeah I had some Muir in my vest!outing, so naturally my body wanted to jam out some effortless, free flowing miles! I had to slow way down, I wouldn’t say a full on cramp happened, but I felt the beginnings of doom brewing.

Next attempt was on the day I had trained for; race day.

Nervous for a repeat, I reminded myself to sip (literally a drop – increasing to a half mouthful) coconut water, priming my fuel tank slowly. Then, around mile 16 it became time for my first packet of Muir, I had stashed one of my savory favorites – Cacao Almond with Mate alongside one packet of Red Raspberry with Mate (more on this Mate deal soon!).

I had discovered during that first 26.2mi adventure just how to fuel myself with Muir, realizing all bodies are different, mine more accustomed to eating raw (<90% raw during the work week and more like 75% raw on weekends) and entirely plant based for quite some time now, I had to let the gooey Muir goodness dissolve in my mouth completely and consume it that way!! Muir helped fuel our long traverse along the Presidential's in July 2018Easy enough for me now that I found the magic sequence of events – my body craves routine!

So… yes yes! Like I mentioned previously, Muir Energy offers several of their recipes with the addition of a Yerba Mate boost, 90mg to each packet indeed! Some folks reading this might interject with “what’s with this hippy trash – give me all the Monster energy!” Well, good news! Not only does mate give you a boost of plant based caffeine, the tea supplement is also jam-packed with antioxidants which promotes a bad-ass immune system (needed when we are constantly suppressing our immune systems through the rigors of distance running!), mate has also been scientifically proven to improve mental focus (perfect for those monotonous miles we all encounter).

If you feel like I left anything out here, please let me know – questions, comments, or concerns!! But you’ll definitely want to scope out the real deal Muir Energy website.

But I am super stoked that Muir helped me run my best race during the Mount Desert Island full marathon and then two weeks later – I had Muir on deck again for the Nor’Witch (Vermont) 50K Ultra – no upset stomach, no crampy nonsense, no The crew, taken moments after I completed my first 33.5 mile ultra, fueled with the finest Muir Energy!regrets, nothing but real fuel in my belly!! I remember coming up to the course photographer at mile 33 (a 50K technically is 31.06 miles, but my GPS tracked me on this winding course at 33.5 miles) and yelling to me that the finish tent was just around the corner – to my delight, here I was thinking I had at least another 3 miles to go!

Muir Energy supplemented with coconut water in my hydration vest had given me more than enough sustainable energy to destroy my first 50K –

leaving me super stoked to run distance again soon (Runamuck 50K in Vermont with Ciara!!)

Muir Energy is a small nutrition company based out of California where their nutrient dense fuel is crafted and packaged all by hand, with love by a few rad folks!!

Keep your fuel tanks topped and keep doing what you love best!!

Much love and happy trails!

Erik