Arc'teryx Fly 13: First Impressions

This year for Christmas, we traveled to Ottawa to spend the holidays with my wife's folks. After we got settled in, my wife encouraged her dad to show me his day pack, as she knew I'd be interested. The former RAF member shrugged his shoulders and was pleasantly surprised to see me excited by his Arc'teryx Fly 13. My in-laws are into short-distance hiking, and this bag was aquired to carry the supplies needed to sustain a day on the trails.

The Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) History

The story goes...
In 2002, a member of the Special Operations Forces made a call from a crater in the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan to the SOF Special Projects Team at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass: "Send warm clothing."

Unfortunately for that soldier, but representing quite an achievement by the developers, the Protective Combat Uniform (PCU) was delivered, replacing the Lightweight Environmental Protection (LEP) system less than one year later. PCU is a 16 piece, 7 level clothing system that can be worn "layers-appropriate" for the mission, ranging from -50° to 40°F (-46°to 4°C).

Merrell Sawtooth Review

Living in Canada is amazing. That is, unless you have a military gear obsession for items manufactured in the US. Not only is the MSRP twice as much in Canada, but many items cannot be shipped here. The amount of product that cannot be exported for one reason or another has ranged from Magpul DVDs to thermal fleeces, and from lasers to night vision. And while I can see why certain things have been put on the do not export list, some things really baffle me. Example: Merrell Sawtooths.

Why a boot is exclusive to the US is beyond me, but maybe the challenge and the exclusivity is what draws me towards these crazy gear purchases. I contacted both physical stores and online stores and none of them would ship to Canada. Even if I wanted to have them shipped to a US address, they were asking me for a credit card that was linked to a bank in the US.

After a bit of poking around, I talked to a few friends who knew of a store that would ship to Canada. However, when they went through customs, they incurred a $100 duty charge! Long story short, I had a buddy who was going to NY, and also wanted a pair. We called in advance to put some aside and he picked them up no problem. (Sorry it took three paragraphs to get to the actual review…just wanted to advise you that purchasing these boots was not a quest to be undertaken lightly.)

Garmin Foretrex 101 Review

Going for long hikes many years ago had two guarantees, the first was that it was going to rain, even if the forecast called for sun, and the second was that once I was put on point, we were getting lost...without fail. Well, in the end, instead of doing the right thing and brushing up on my land navigation, I went and bought a Garmin Foretrex 101.

Before investing in one, I borrowed a buddy's to try out on a day hike, and I loved it; it was easy to use, takes AAA batteries, and best of all: I didn't get lost! This allowed me to spend less time off our planned route, and more time traveling efficiently (albeit more time looking at my wrist than at the amazing forest I was hiking through).

Crown Land Camping - Part 2

When we woke up, there were two things that immediately grabbed my attention. First there was frost everywhere. Second, those sticks that I had been moving around to make space for the tent? They were stinging nettle. Luckily, most of it was on its way to ground for the winter. Had it been summer, my hands would probably have been in for a world of hurt.

One of the even smaller ponds we found. 

Matthias was only a few steps behind me and we shot each other a smile. We had done it! Our first night in the cold, and it had been surprisingly painless. In fact, we had been quite comfortable! We cooked up some breakfast on the fire, then spent the rest of the day exploring the area and gathering wood. We were both used to camping in provincial parks and in campgrounds, where everything on the forest floor that could be used for firewood had long been claimed. Here, we didn't have to go further than twenty feet to find nice dry wood - there was plenty to last the weekend.

Crown Land Camping - Part 1

November, 2011
45° 5'23.5"N, 79° 55'35.0"W

My good friend Matthias and I wanted to get away from the city for a weekend and do some camping on the cheap. I called the Ontario Parks number and was told the only campground open in November was Algonquin. Now, there is nothing wrong with Algonquin; we just wanted to try something new. The nice gentleman on the phone recommended we call the Ministry of Natural Resources because camping on Crown Land is available year-round. And the big bonus: it's free for Canadian citizens!

I ended up not needing my 3-Day pack since everything fit into my Large ALICE.

After speaking with the MNR, I went online to Ontario's Crown Land Use Policy Atlas, which has an interactive map that allows you to see all the different land designations. Surprisingly, almost everything north of Orillia is Crown Land, much of which is designated "general use" and is fair game for camping. There were only a few rules: you could stay in the same spot for a maximum of 21 days, after which you had to move more than 100 meters; take everything out that you bring in; don't chop down any trees; bury your poop. They recommended that we call the local municipality to ensure there weren't any fire advisories. As well, as the MNR has many different local offices, I was advised to call the office closest to the area I wanted to stay in, just to make sure everything was all right with our plans. Lesson: if you plan on going on your own trip, make sure you call ahead.

Orc PCU level 5 Review

A number of years ago I got my hands on an ORC level 5 softshell. I had wanted one for a long time to see what the softshell hype was all about. The first thing I noticed about this jacket was how light it was. The Epic Nextec material is very thin, but at the same time does a great job of reducing the effect of wind.

At best, I'd say that the level 5 was water resistant, though definitely not waterproof. After a few years using the coat, and even after reapplying DWR, the jacket had trouble in the rain. For instance, the seams are not taped, but that didn't matter, because the water would seep through the material all over the shoulders and hood. However, the level 5 was never designed to be a raincoat...that's what level 6 is for, right? The idea being: if you are out and it starts to rain, the level 5 will keep you dry while you find somewhere suitable to take off your gear and change jackets. So no real complains in that respect.

The hood rolls up and stows away neatly in the collar, which is then retained by a thin strip of velcro. I had the hood deployed 99% of the time, and never felt like it got in the way. To be honest, the only times I rolled it up was when I was bored and had nothing else to do. If you are using the hood, you will notice that it is very roomy, but not so big that it becomes unwieldy. It's large enough to accommodate a helmet, but is designed so that it never disrupts your vision by hanging over your eyes. The material is also light enough that if you turn your head side to side, the hood will move with you, for the most part.

Petzl Tactikka XP Review

If you've spent anytime outdoors at night, you've probably had the pleasure of fumbling with a flashlight while trying to accomplish a task (like gathering firewood or preparing a meal). It only takes a few seconds to realize that having both hands available is better than having just the one.

I used to rely on flashlights for overnight outings and camping, but after seeing a few people using headlamps, and the freedom and versatility that they enjoyed, I knew I had to have one. After doing a bit of research, I found the Petzl Taktikka XP. One of the things that drew me in was that it was powered by AAA batteries. They are easily purchased at most stores and are very cheap, especially if you use rechargeable batteries.