Backcountry Transportation Review – Pendleton the Horse

Whilst we’re in Wyoming, we took some time out to review one of the local transportation options. The equine sports-tourer, more commonly known as the “Horse”, whilst far from a new concept, seems to be gaining popularity amongst purists and tourists alike, so we jumped at the chance to try a couple out for ourselves.

My single-seater test model known locally as “Pendleton” made an immediate impression with its blend of stylish good looks, effortless handling, class-leading road-holding and enviable efficiency. Powered by a modest 1HP motor, it can still reach speeds of 40mph although we didn’t get chance to validate this on our test route. Fuel consumption on our test run was about 10 mouthfuls of grass per kilometer. Emissions were considerably higher than expected though, particularly from Krista’s.

The automatic gearbox is a bit clunky, and the transition from first gear “walk” to second gear “trot” is akin to being punched repeatedly in the man-satchel, although this may improve as the driver gains experience in the saddle.

Steering, braking and reverse gear are operated via a novel twin-cable arrangement known as reins. Pull left to go left, right to go right, and back to brake. Continually pulling back engages reverse gear. The steering has no power assistance, yet feels light, responsive and completely intuitive. It’s almost like Pendelton knows where you want to go without needing to be told.

Standard equipment is very minimal, with only a single saddlebag for storage. No radio. No air conditioning. Heating,, if required, is by means of rather dated “blanket” technology. However the single drivers seat is high quality leather, and the elevated driving position gives excellent all-round visibility to the point that rear view mirrors aren’t even needed. In this age of electric-everything, the lightweight minimalist approach seems refreshing.

Overall, Pendleton, like other models in the “Horse” class, show a glimmer of hope for those who are looking for simple, classy, minimalist transportation.

Bang for your buck?

Piggy BankLet’s face it folks. We, the public, are always looking for a deal. A bargain, a 2 for 1 special, discounted prices. Anything to make it a little easier on the wallet, right?

Base layers, mid layers, fleeces, down filled jackets, boots, gaiters, trekking poles, snow shoes, back packs, Patagonia, Marmot, MEC, Outdoor Research, North Face! Yes, my head is spinning as well. My first base layer top I bought was a Patagonia product at $52.00. I have two of them. I have gloves that have cost me over $100.00 (liner and outer shell) My Goretex MEC jacket was over $300 dollars (and luckily a gift from someone who is awesome). Bib pants, a mere $260.00. The most recent piece of equipment I am looking into is a new sleeping bag. YUP. I’ve been borrowing one of Matt’s summer bags for the season. Our recent trip in November, Matt was gracious enough to let me sleep in his MEC Hybrid Sleeping Bag (rated to -12c). It was warm cozy and cost him $146.00.

Unfortunately I don’t carry as much heat as Matt does. I need something a little warmer. We are talking a bag that can stand up to -20. That lovely sleeping bag is at a cost of $168.00 (for the short version). I tried it out a few weekends back. It was cozy, SO warm, and comfy and pretty much bang on what I am looking for.  I went online to see if there were other sleeping bags out there. I stumbled on a site which ends with a “MART” and is a massive chain throughout North America, claiming to have a sleeping bag that starts at a +5 and goes up to -15… for… wait for it… $20.00 (on sale from $25.00)!!! I am officially sounding the BS horn on this one. Adding insult to injury they call this amazing product the Everest Mummy Sleeping Bag!

Everest Mummy sleeping baghttp://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=2581360

It is filled with 3.5 lbs of Micro Tekk Z1 fill, what the heck is that? Upon further research, I’ve found out that it is “performance insulation”, i.e. BULLCACK.

The best are the reviews of this wonderful piece of equipment. Like this one for example:

“If you like the toxic chemical smell of new tires, you’re going to love this! I wouldn’t say the texture is exactly greasy but you will have trouble getting the odor off your hands for hours. I would recommend letting it air for a few weeks in the sun. Having trekked with $300 bags above 14,000 feet many times, I was intrigued with the stats and thought I would be happy if it would do 30F even at this weight. Don’t let the picture fool you, it does not loft at all after 24 hours and lies pancake flat like your Coleman bag from Boy Scouts. To be quite honest, I can’t speak to the performance although I doubt I will take that chance given my observations thus far. It is quite comfortable in a 70F house (my other bags are not). Is it worth twenty dollars? Absolutely. Could make a great gift for that special person who thinks they want to go hiking with you.”

Now some of you may look at these prices, cop out and go on the cheap for stuff like this. I implore you not to! The difference between a warm night in a tent vs. an uncomfortable and cold one is huge. The difference between Capilene and Cotton could save your life. Goretex vs. weatherproof could make or break a vacation in the Rockies.

These prices are high and this is just a small peek into how much I have accumulated in the past 6 or so months. My head hurts when I look at the numbers. My advice to any person that is up for exploring the wilderness is suck it up! Take the time to buy the right products, the proper material for you and your buddies to have a great time. Even if that means holding off for a season. I guarantee the products you buy will determine how often you actually go out and use them. Trust me! I am begging for snow at the moment just so I can throw on my gaiters.

My advice is annoying I know and somewhat parent-like. I can guarantee you that you will thank me in the long run for it and will enjoy your outdoor adventures that much more because of it.

Winter traction devices – Yaktrax vs Stabilicers vs Microspikes

Winter is late arriving in Southern Ontario, so rather than going out to play in the snow (e.g snowboarding, winter camping, tobogganing, hiking) I’m spending way too much time planning future trips and reading equipment reviews. In anticipation of snow and ice arriving pretty soon I’ve been reading up on the various spikes, cleats and mini-crampons on the market that make going for a stroll at the weekends that much safer and more enjoyable. Note: The comments below are based partially on personal experience, partially on other people’s opinion, and partially from scrutinising reviews and poking around in stores.

Yaktrax ProYaktrax Pro – Around $30

The Yaktrax are a lightweight flexible design that uses coiled wire rather than spikes. Hence the people who get on well with these tend to be runners who want light weight and an unobtrusive design but don’t need the ultimate in traction. They’re also quite popular with people who use them around the city for clearing the driveway, walking the dog etc. Winter hikers and those who go off trail don’t seem to rate them very highly. They’re slightly fiddly to put on, but once on they stay put well. Lots of people seem to have problems with these breaking too, so durability is a bit of a concern for someone like me who tends to be quite rough with equipment. I’ve seen a number of broken ones abandoned at the side of trails. Overall they’re probably best suited to occasional use around the city or on trails that are only partially covered with snow.

 

Stabilicers SportStabilicers Sport – Around $40

I’d read about Stabilicers a lot online and seen them in stores but the descriptions I’d heard didn’t match up with the product I’d seen. That’s because Stabilicers actually make two different styles, one called the Sport (which I’d read about) and one called the Lite (which I’d seen). The Sport are the beefier of the two and essentially have a bunch of protruding screwheads around the outside of the foot. Hence they’re easy to walk in but give good traction too. There’s generally a trade-off between how easy cleats are to put on, and how well they stay put. These are more geared to staying on well and some people find them hard to put on. They’re a popular all round option, but in a “jack of all trades, master of none” sort of way.

 

Stabilicers LiteStabilicers Lite – Around $20

These are the cleats I’d been fiddling around with in my local MEC store recently. These are super-lightweight and the cheapest product of its type on the market. They’re pretty decent if you’re likely to encounter a mix of ice and bare pavement (ie in the city) and you don’t want to have to constantly take them off and put them back on again. People find them easy to put on (as did I when I tried them out) but they have a tendency to pop off if they’re not a perfect fit or your footwear doesn’t have a defined welt.

 

Kahtoola MicrospikesKahtoola Microspikes – Around $55

The chain and spike design of the Microspikes makes them the most suitable for packed snow that you come across when you’re out on the trails. The same features that give these great traction on packed snow or ice make them a real struggle on pavement as the spikes stick out quite a long way. Hence you find yourself putting them on and taking them off a lot if the trail is only partially snow-covered. Fortunately I find them really easy to put on and take off.

 

 

So what’s the conclusion? Well, as with many things in life, it’s about the right tool for the job. For the sort of weekend hikes that I do through the winter (on fairly rugged but well-used trails) the Microspikes suit me best. Typically they’re the most expensive! I also have a pair of Yaktrax for around the city, winter trail running, and “mixed” trails (ie partially snow-covered).

Battling colds, trek prep and another day of shopping

Beautiful Saturday here in Toronto!

Matt, who is under the weather after completing his first marathon, and I got up and out into the sun and started off in search of our day packs that will be our second skin for a good month. The plan was to hit Coast Mountain Sports, MEC and Europe Bound. Coffee in hand we hit up Coast Mountain. The staff there were just incredible. Michael took the time to go over several day packs with Matt and went as far as filling it with weights so he could get an idea as to what it would be like. Granted he was only walking and jumping around in the shop (I blame his cabin fever for it) with it. Comfort is the number one concern. After a few packs, several jumps and adjustments so the pack could fit his torso nicely he found it.

Off to MEC in search of a pack for myself. MEC is an awesome shop, but I felt a little overwhelmed by the options there and my attention span was losing momentum due to the fact that I was getting hungry. I lasted 10 minutes before calling it quits. Fingers crossed that Europe Bound has a good selection. Got there and WTF… the place is rammed with equipment and needless to say it isn’t very organized! Rummaging through the packs, Matt found one and suggested I give it a shot. The pack was super comfy and it sat well on my hips. Sold.

After a bite to eat, a bit of play with our new purchases and Matt announcing that I am no longer to call him by his name but by Snot Boy, we were back at MEC in search of hydration packs.

A walk around the shop, trying out carbon hiking poles (which are on the list), sporting bright orange down-filled jackets and looking at granny pants, the hydration packs were picked up. Matt opted for a 3L while I got the 2L.

Overall, a very good day of shopping! Next? Socks and durable hiking boots.

Shopping for books at MEC

Krista went shopping yesterday at MEC and came home with, amongst other things, a book about trekking in Nepal. If you’re interested, it’s called “Trekking in  Nepal, A Traveler’s  Guide” and it’s by Stephen Bezruchka. I haven’t managed to get near it yet but apparently it’s absolutely fantastic. Amazon reviews would seem to bear out Krista’s opinion too, so hopefully I’ll manage to wrestle it from her this weekend and find out for myself. One snippet that was shared with is the following quote which we both thought is rather poignant.

Nepal is there to change you, not for you to change it. Lose yourself in its soul. Make your footprints with care and awareness of the precarious balance around you. Take souvenirs in your heart and spirit, not in your pockets. Nepal is not only a place on the map, but an experience, a way of life from which we all can learn.

From “Trekking in Nepal, A Traveler’s Guide” by Stephen Bezruchka