Monday, July 20, 2009

SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker

Yes, busy bee I am, but slacker? Ouch! Good thing I LOVE burpees. By the way, I too give the Syngery Vest a 5 out of 5 rating.

For my birthday last year (yes, my 29th or so) my husband bought a SPOT for me. A what, why?

My gear maven partner and I spent many weekend days of the 2008 summer going on trail running/hiking adventures in the Wasatch. We'd each spend time searching Google Earth satellite images of the Wasatch for new routes. This is how we devised the infamous "your house to my house by hooking into the Black Mountain trail" adventure. The mileage seemed doable. It should've only taken a few hours. Any idea where this story is going? There really wasn't a trail (code for no FRIKIN' trail) from the far northeast end of the Black Mountain ridgeline to the Smugglers trail - where we decided to end the Black Mountain ridge bushwack and drop into City Creek. The first 5 miles of our route took about 1 1/2 hours. The next 5 miles took us about 3 hours! This is understandable, though, progress slows considerably when you have to bushwack through a dark primeval forest, nasty leg-shredding scrub oak, and scramble over rocky outcroppings. Before leaving for our adventures, my husband would ask me, and rightly so, if I was bringing my cell phone. Well, I could, I'd say, but I don't think I'll have coverage. In comes SPOT.

SPOT is about the size of my hand and is a handheld satellite communication and safety device. You buy the device, then activate it and purchase a service plan. The basic yearly service plan includes these features: Alert 9-1-1 (notifies emergency responders of your location and indicates you need assistance); Ask For Help (notifies your contacts of your location and that you need assistance); and Check In (lets your contacts know where you are and that you are okay). You can also upgrade the service package to include other features like SPOTcasting, (allows your contacts to follow your route in real time or you can save waypoints for review later). I don't have this because it's an additional $50/year and I already have a GPS.

We took SPOT with us on several adventures last summer. At first I thought of it as another thing to carry, but I'm glad I have it - and my husband is too - for the peace-of-mind it offers. I have yet to experience, however, consistent performance. On any given excursion, at least 1 to 2 out of 5 or 6 "Checking In" messages I sent were not received by my contacts. Granted, some messages may have been sent from within a canyon. These are canyons like City Creek, however, not narrow. You are instructed to follow the precise directions in terms of device position, time holding the button, etc. Regardless, I have had inconsistent performance. One time Sue brought her husband's SPOT and we sent messages from the same locations at the same time. All her messages were received, not all of mine were. Operator or device error? To be determined. Of note, an email to SPOT customer service about this inconsistency yielded no response.

Do you buy it? You can plan and prepare, but not for everything. S--- happens. If your excursion will take you out of cell coverage, you will be on your own and/or the location doesn't see much foot traffic, or getting help could be a challenge, this could come in handy. Another bonus is that it may help to mitigate the "spousal worry factor". I would recommend purchasing SPOT if your excursions are anything like ours - and ours are really benign compared to what many others do. It doesn't come with a stupid meter (code for don't go on an excursion without water, food, appropriate clothing, etc...). But as Sue says: You can't fix stupid. I hope I'll never need to use it for help, but what if?

According to GPS Business News a newer version of SPOT has been introduced at the 2009 Summer Outdoor Retailers show. The newer version offers enhanced features and is 30% smaller and lighter than the original device.

I give it a 5 out ot 5.
Rating: 5
Where to buy: Check out the Dealer Locator or Buy on Line on SPOT's Website
Price: ~$150 for the device (check for coupons) and ~$100/year for the basic service plan (not cheap, but, what if?)

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nathan Synergy Pack

Well, Martha the slacker had plenty of time and she didn't write her review. Honestly. She is just such a busy person that she couldn't find 10 minutes to write something. Since my time is OBVIOUSLY less important, here I am, writing a review.

And, yes, she's been working on her burpees.

I purchased a Nathan Intensity vest pack a few years ago after trying other options for carrying lots of water for long runs. I almost chucked my Camelback pack into the river one day...neck rub and excessive bounce. My Nathan waist pack--which I love--doesn't allow me to carry enough water, let alone gear. So a love affair with the Intensity was born.

But even the Intensity has its limitations. We found last year when we were going on our who-knows-where-this-trail-really-goes and who-knows-how-long-we-will-be-out adventures that is was difficult to carry everything in the Intensity. SPOT, a steri-pen, GPS devices, food, raingear, big bags of bandaids, get the idea. So we started looking for other options.

We both have the Osprey Talon 11 pack which is very lightweight and can carry a lot of gear but it's really just too big for a small person to wear running. And bouncy. And I got the dreaded neck chafe when I tried to run with it. We gave it a shot, but didn't find it suitable for for the activity. It joins the other packs in the "hiking pack" corner of the closet. (Note that this year Osprey has a Talon 5.5, which is a little smaller and probably more appropriate for a small person to wear running.)

We tried on a couple of potentially suitable packs at least year's summer outdoor retailer's expo here in Salt Lake. Inov-8 had a couple of packs they were marketing for running and Nathan had the Synergy pack on display. The Inov8 packs seemed big and didn't fit as closely to the body as I would have liked. My impression was that it was just OK...I wasn't sure I would want to spend the money on it (these packs are not cheap).

The Synergy, however, made me say "wow".

The Synergy is not women's specific like the Intensity but fit my small frame pretty well. It has lots of adjustment points and is really lightweight. It has several separate pockets and pouches. Unlike the Intensity, the Synergy wears more like a pack than a vest. Martha had some reservations about the wear of the Synergy because of this different "wearing style". Turns out any reservations were unfounded. We wore them for a couple of days of running Zion and I've worn mine a couple of times since then. Plenty of storage. Very comfortable. Wears nicely--no bounce. The water bottle pockets on the side are perfect for my video camera. The dual chamber bladder is a nice feature (we call it the gin + tonic dual chamber bladder). This pack will get lots of adventure miles this summer.

So I give it a 5 out ot 5. Not sure what Martha would have given it. We might not ever know, given her very busy schedule.

Rating: 5
Where to buy: online at (not available in REI stores)
Price: $130 (told you these things aren't cheap!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Visor Preference

Some time a couple of years ago I discovered visors. I've been a fan of lightweight, running-specific caps like the Patagonia Arius cap (which they appear to have replaced with the Velocity cap) for several years but one day when I was at Salt Lake Running I tried on a Nike running visor.


It was lightweight. It was soft. It was designed to curve over the ears just a wee bit. I could throw it in the washing machine. After using it for a while I decided I also loved that it kept the sun (and rain) out of my eyes while still allowing my head to stay cool-ish (I am a big-time "overheater").

So I started to collect visors. I have visors that I use just for running, others that I wear out on the town (yeah, I get fancy), and still others that I wear when I'm doing yardwork. I am completely converted (although I do still wear caps in the winter, along with an earband if needed). I shall write about the ones that I wear running. All of these visors are made of some sort of synthetic petroleum-based material that wicks sweat. I have thrown each of these in the washing machine as well (and they all come out just fine).

Adidas Ultra Marathon Visor: This visor is what I call "traditional" mesh. It has a stiffer bill than the other two visors I discuss below which probably makes it a tiny bit heavier (as in about 1 ounce heavier). The front of this visor is a little tall and I would call the fit "just ok," which means that it fits and stays on my head but isn't one of those hats that I forget that I am wearing. This visor has two major drawbacks for me. The first is that it stretches out when it gets wet. A lot. And the second problem? The velcro closure on this hat sucks. It's some sort of new-fangled velcro with really small hooks and loops that doesn't really work when wet. Because of the stretching problem (sometimes the velcro pieces completely overlap and thus don't hook-and-loop into each other) and the bad velcro, I tend to avoid wearing this hat if it's going to get wet (as in it's raining or so hot that I will be dipping my hat in the nearest stream). It's cute, and functional, and light, but not my favorite. It gets a 4 out of 5.

Nike Dri-Fit Visor: OK, Nike took a good thing and...changed it. I admit that I haven't tried the new version, but I loved last year's version. Last years' version (or maybe it was year before last?) curved over the ears, resulting in a nice fit. This year's version is straight (no contour) and while it's the same material and is also light, it lacks the fit feature that I love so much about the old one. This visor doesn't stretch when wet, has a closure that works in all conditions and is super, super comfortable. I forget that I have this hat on when I am wearing it. Worth every full price penny (that means it gets a 5), but I can't even find the old version on Amazon. Bah. I might have to go buy the new one if I find myself in need of a visor (or in need of miscellaneous retail therapy at Salt Lake Running).

Adidas Harmony Visor (pictured below): It appears that Adidas doesn't make this visor any longer. That's too bad, because it's a close second to the Nike visors that I have...which Nike does not make any more. The Adidas Harmony visor was originally made for tennis, I think, but it's a pretty nice running visor, too. This visor does not have any sort of closure in the back; it's just stretchy and is stated to "fit most". Well, I have a pin head and while it did feel a little loose when I first put it on, it does not move or jiggle or anything while running. It's also a little "fitted" in that it curves over the ears. One caveat: I haven't worn this one wet, so I have no idea if it suffers form the same stretching problem as the other Adidas visor. I purchased the Harmony Visor at the Adidas store in Park City (which is a so-called "outlet") and they only had one color: pink. I am not a big fan of pink, but I would definitely buy this hat again in a different color. Well, I would if they still made it. I give it a 4.5 since I don't know how it works when wet.

I hope none of my Nike visors die any time soon!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Please Stay Tuned...

Martha owes a review of the Nathan Synergy Pack, which we tested in Zion National Park in the middle of May. I've given her until Friday, June 26 to complete her review. If she does not complete the assignment on schedule, she owes me 100 burpees. Yep, 100. For time. And she doesn't get to drop her knees to the ground. I might do 50 of them with her, but that would be the first 50. I'd watch the second 50.

For a preview of the pack in action, check out this movie of us running in Zion (make sure you watch it in HQ). And watch for Martha's review before June 26!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Oboz Burn Trail Running Shoe

I'll start by describing my feet: Wide but not flat. Tall but I don't really have high arches. Bony and kind of skinny but not narrow. Totally neutral.

In order for me to proclaim true love for a shoe, it must not make my left foot go numb, it must not cramp my delicately painted toenails, and it must not rub in any uncomfortable manner. For me, this describes the GoLite Trail Fly. But for some reason I still can't justify, I decided I wanted to try something else.

Usually the something elses turn out to be just OK when compared to my true love, the Trail Fly. In the last year I've also been through:
  • Brooks Cascadia: because of the "tall foot" issue, I have to wear my shoes loosely tied. The Cascadias do not have a gusseted or attached tongue, which means that it slides around and puts pressure on the top-side of my foot. Yep, this makes it fall asleep.
  • Merrell Overdrive: this shoe has an attached tongue but it has those silly quick laces that tighten all on their own even if you leave them loose. Yep, this makes my foot fall asleep. I wear it to Crossfit. Seems to be good for that.
  • North Face Rucky Chucky: these don't have an attached tongue but I was able to lace them such that the tongue stayed where it was supposed to. I liked these. A lot. Problem with these is that they were completely dead after only about 200 miles. I want at least 300 miles for that kind of money.

Last year Martha got the Oboz Ignition. I'd read a lot about this shoe and was really excited to try it on at (we regularly crash the warehouse to try on shoes and look at gear since it's in our beloved City of Salt) but alas! It was far too narrow for my Fred Flintstone feet. I like the bootie concept, but I suspect that if it was wide enough it would probably...say it all together now...make my foot fall asleep.

I got excited again this year when I saw that Oboz introduced a new trail running shoe called the Burn. The Oboz website describes the shoe thusly:

The Burn ($100) is designed to be a lightweight, all-around trail running shoe that will excel in conditions when a breathable shoe is desired. Its all-synthetic upper features mesh is overlaid with welded panels that help hold the foot and give structure to the upper. The shoe has a traditional tongue design and the toe area is well protected by a synthetic leather toecap. The Burn offers protection and stability suitable for most trail conditions. The midsole is configured with two densities of EVA and has a full-foot sheet of TPU for underfoot protection. Additionally, A TPU heel clip helps keep the foot in a neutral position upon heel strike. Finally, the Burn’s non-marking, high friction outsole is surefooted on slick surfaces and loose trail debris. A hallmark of all Oboz shoes is the high quality footbed inside. The three-density insole in the Burn is designed for running, giving resilient cushioning in the heel area, support along the arch and inside of the foot, and soft cushioning for impact under the forefoot.

I picked up a pair at REI and was able to use my REI Anniversary 20% off coupon so the hit wasn't so big. I agree, it is nicely ventilated and has good traction. And the tongue is attached, which the description does not state. HOWEVER, I beg to differ on the "soft cushioning for impact under the forefoot." Not that it's like running in Vibram Five Fingers or anything like that, but "cushion" is not a word that comes to mind for this shoe.

It's fine for non-technical singletrack that doesn't have a lot of rocks. I figured out pretty quickly that I needed to avoid stepping on anything that resembled such geologic specimens. It'll be great for short runs on buffed trail in the heat of the summer. I am going to give myself some time to get used to the increased sole flexibility (when compared to the Trail Fly) because I think it will probably be good for my lower leg inflexibility issues. However, I don't see running anything farther than about 10 miles in this shoe. I wish that wasn't the case, but it is.

Rating: 3
Where to buy: Oboz Footwear Retail Outlet Locator
Price: $100