By Mike Deme and Alex Strickland
When the small box from Sea to Summit arrived with a sleeping bag, liner, air mattress, and inflatable pillow, I expected to find “1 of 3” emblazoned on the size somewhere. Nope, this astonishingly compact and lightweight setup was all there — and the sleeping bag wasn’t even in it’s compression sack.
For starters, the Spark Sp1 bag ($299), packed with ultra-dry down and encased in a translucent shell, isn’t for cold weather camping or high altitudes in anything but the peak of summer with a rating of 46° F. But if conditions are right, the bag packs up not much bigger than a soda can and barely heavier at just 12.3 oz. That incredible weight does come with some caveats, the main one being that this bag is snug. A trim cut combined with a 1/4 –length zipper makes getting in and out of the bag a bit of a challenge. Once in, room is at a premium, but unless you’re extremely claustrophobic the experience isn’t much different from most mummy-style bags. My biggest complaint was that considering this bag comes out for warmer nights, not having a full-length zipper made temperature regulation tough. That quibble was quickly forgotten every time I packed up, though.
Sea to Summit also included an ultralight insulated sleeping mat (pricing TBD), which is new for 2015. The mat’s design uses ridged “air cells” that were very comfortable and inflated quickly. In fact, inflating and then packing up was a pleasure thanks to the easy-to-use and very effective two-stage valve that made deflating a cinch. Like the Spark bag, the ultralight mat was cut trim, so wider cyclists or active sleepers should look toward the company’s other options that sacrifice a bit of size and weight for comfort.
Finally, a simple CoolMax liner ($48) for the bag and a clever and super-compressible inflatable pillow added virtually nothing to packed size and provided some nice additional warmth and comfort. I’m a big fan of using a liner to keep sleeping bags clean and add a bit of warmth, and the Sea to Summit liner was an ideal size and weight. I’ve never been one for pillows, but when packed the Aeros ultraight pillow ($35, seatosummit.com/products/display/233) was barely larger than a film canister of old, so it’s worth bringing along. –AS
When Canada Goose — known for their expedition-weight goose down outerwear — invited me by their booth at this year’s Outdoor Retailer summer tradeshow, I was skeptical about how their polar reputation fit into most cyclists’ gear closets. When a product designer met me decked out in a Rapha cycling shirt, I quickly began to reconsider.
Well, they’ve won me over with their new Timber Shell, a high-end, highly technical shell that was clearly designed with a cyclist in mind. Their Durance fabric is a three-layer, waterproof, and stretchable shell that proved able to shed heat and water as well as any other hard shell I’ve used. The difference in the Timber was the fit, which was practically bespoke for me. First, it’s trim. And while plenty of brands say their apparel might be “slim,” Canada Goose means it. Post-holiday season meals, the Timber might be utilizing a little more of the fabric’s stretch capability. But a drop tail and long arms with angled cuffs made this jacket perfect for cycling, and the “Amber” color I tested was practically safety orange and full of highly reflective strips.
Waterproof zippers on a variety of pockets kept important items close by and dry, and a stellar collar/hood interface meant that even with the hood down, my neck was protected from cold Montana winds. And though it’s far from scientific, more than a few people have stopped me in the office and in town to ask who makes this slick-looking shell, which is high praise in an outerwear-conscious town like Missoula. –AS
A quick trip to Schwalbe’s website presents an array of tire options that can only be described as dizzying. The company’s off-road options alone number into the 20s, ready to tackle conditions from World Cup cross country courses to icy winter commutes. But when it comes to one tire to rule them all, the venerable Nobby Nic reigns supreme.
With wide, fairly fast-rolling knobs distributed from the center deep into the sides of the tire, the Nic gives reasonably quick performance and massive, predictable grip in a variety of conditions. I tested the wide, 2.4-in. model in a 27.5-in. diameter in late-fall conditions that ranged from the loose over hardpack dirt of summer’s last gasp to tacky hero dirt and even a few bits of mud. Predictability in the corners is the hallmark of the Nic, and when you do reach the limits of adhesion, the tire begins a controlled drift rather than the abrupt snap that some more aggressively treaded tires can deliver when pushed past their limits.
In folding bead spec with tubeless ready technology and the company’s thin but durable LiteSkin sidewalls, the Nics aren’t cheap. And Schwalbe’s mountain rubber is known far more for its performance than long tread life, but if you’ve gotta be ready for anything, I can’t imagine a better option. –AS
Let it be said that flattery will definitely get you somewhere with this reviewer. And so Clement’s Xplor MSO tires started out with an advantage thanks to the gravel-grinding rubber taking it’s name from Missoula, Montana’s airport code. In fact, Clement claims the name is a nod to the town being Adventure Cycling’s home base. Stop it; you’re making us blush. The company also worked with a local shop owner to develop the tread pattern.
So how does it ride? Well, the mixed-condition tread has proven practically perfect on some dirt road jaunts, pothole-filled urban commutes, and even some early season snow. A smooth-ish center combined with small, aggressive lugs on the sides provided consistent, predictable traction on a variety of surfaces. I spent the majority of my time on the 40 mm version (also available in 32 mm) and found the ride quality exceptional. In fact, I think it’ll be tough to ever go back to smaller rubber. –AS
Sometimes riding in the rain is unavoidable, and when the heavens open and it’s anything less than midsummer out, good rain paints are a necessity. Pearl Izumi’s Barrier pant is up to the task, with a polyester twill and charcoal membrane, the semi-fitted pants are easy to move in, fairly breathable, waterproof and, and this is the surprising part, not half-bad looking. Unlike many more plastic-y options that can be heard shuffling from a block away, the Barrier pants felt more like a pair of nice ski pants that, with their tapered fit, weren’t screaming to be taken off the instant I walked in the door. –AS
Whether it’s bad circulation or just a lack of insulation on my clearly gym-averse arms, my hands are prone to freezing as soon as the weather takes a tiny turn. As such, I’ve long been a believer in lobster claw mitts or full mittens to allow my fingers to keep each other toasty, even at the expense of natural braking and shifting feel. So I was skeptical that Pearl’s Softshell Glove could sway me back to five-fingered winter cycling. But through some early winter testing — including a week of wind chills dipping into the negative double digits — the gloves haven’t let me down.
Insulated with Primaloft One and covered in a wind-resistant softshell, the gloves cut wind and shed moisture, while a fleece liner was soft to the touch and toasty inside. The fit isn’t too obtrusive to work brake and shift levers and smartly located fleece for wiping a runny nose is a welcome touch. Pearl claims their gel padding reduced pressure on nerves in the hand, and while I rarely have issues in that regard, they are comfortable. –AS
Take a certain turn at the outdoor or cycling industry tradeshows and you’d be excused for thinking you’d wandered into a sock convention. Turns out, the active lifestyle crowd is pretty particular about their socks, and they certainly don’t hurt for options.
And while you can choose based on material, thickness, cut, manufacturing location, and about a million other factors, sometimes you just want something that looks good. That’s why I find myself reaching past more expensive options in favor of Sock Guy’s breathable, no-frills options with designs from rockets and flames to tartan plaid. With everything from 6-in. tall wool crew socks to no-shows and the classic 3-in. cuff in between, there’s a model that slides into nearly anyone’s preferred configuration. And they have on thing in common — they’re always eye catching. –AS
The POC Octal helmet is one of the Swedish company’s efforts to make cycling safer. While the debate continues to rage about the effectiveness of cycling helmet use in some corners, as evidenced by British Olympic Gold Medalist Chris Boardman’s recent foray into the sometimes controversial topic of cycling safety (see road.cc/content/news/111258-chris-boardman-helmets-not-even-top-10-things-keep-cycling-safe), helmet manufacturers continue to improve the products, and POC is in the forefront of this movement. The Octal offers plenty of ventilation, weighs less than 200 g (7 oz.), an excellent size adjustment system, temperature-regulating Coolbest padding, and an “eye garage” to keep your sunglasses in place when not covering your eyes. In the future (scheduled availability is March), POC will employ the MIPS brain protection system. The MIPS system consists of a shell and liner that are separated by a low-friction layer so upon angled impact this layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head. In essence MIPS aims to reduce rotational forces on the brain caused by angled impacts to the head. Instead of only testing vertical impacts, MIPS testing includes angled impacts, which is more likely to happen during a bicycle crash. We hope to review the MIPS version when it becomes available.
For more information about MIPS, visit mipshelmet.com. For more information about POC’s Attention, Visibility, Interaction, and Protection (AVIP) efforts, visit pocsports.com/en/92/road-avip-collection. For more information about helmet use, visit bhsi.org, where there’s also an article about MIPS. –MD
Yup, you read that right, this is not just a bike light, it’s also a portable energy station. Now, you’re probably thinking the same thing I first thought, which was, “Huh?” Well, it’s simple really, the Ridemate is a bike light that has a 5-volt USB out port from a 2500mAh battery which allows you to charge smartphones and other similar devices. Considering the wide range of uses our mobile devices offer these days, it’s a pretty good idea. Say your out riding when it dawns on you that you forgot to return an important call or text. You stop and pull out your hand-held and, crap!, you forgot to charge it as well and it only has 3% left. Suddenly, you realize that your Satechi Ridemate is fully charged and on your handlebars. Yeah, it’s farfetched, but you get my point. You just never can anticipate when having a bike light/mobile charger might come in handy.
And in addition, it’s a pretty good bike light, offering 500 lumens of bright white radiance in a somewhat rectangular pattern, and there is very good side lighting so you can be seen as well. The Ridemate provides four light modes: high/medium/low/flashing with runtimes of 2/4/8/120 hours respectively.
From full capacity, I charged my iPhone 5s from 8% to 100% and then left the light on high for 45 minutes before only the last of its 4 LED indicator lights was illuminated. If I reduced the light to the low mode, a second light came on, which is enough to get you home in an emergency. –MD
Light & Motion makes a variety of lights for all types of usage but, if you’re looking for the perfect commuter light, this may be it. At 121 g (4.27 oz.) and dimensions of 1.2 x 1.2 x 4 in., it’s quite small. It offers side lighting and 4 modes: high/medium/low/pulsing with runtimes of 1.5/3/6/ hours. (There is no official runtime given for the pulsing mode but we can reasonably assume it’s at least 50 hours.)
Other useful features include: 180 visibility, FL-1 certification for waterproofness and impact resistance, 4-level battery status indicator lights, advanced electonics, and custom engineered reflectors. The yellow-white light pattern is a diffuse sphere with most of the beam concentrated in the center.
As with all Light & Motion bike lights, the heavy-duty rubber handlebar attachment is connected to the light’s body. This can be a bit frustrating if you’re wearing gloves but it’s also very handy in that you can attach it to any bike without the need for separate hardware. –MD
The Volt 1200 is a super bright bike light. So bright, in fact, the manual expressly states, “WARNING!!!: Do not use this light on a public road.” It also says, “This light emits an extremely powerful beam equivalent to [an] automobile headlight so it may cause a hazardous situation depending on the beam angle used.” A bit odd for sure, but I didn’t hesitate to use it on a public road, although as I would with any other bike light, I kept the beam pointed well below an oncoming driver’s eye level.
Now that we’ve got that bit of confusion squared away, the Volt 1200 is, no doubt, a beast of a self-contained bike light. It features 2 very bright LEDs that can be employed in 5 modes: dynamic/normal/all-night/hyper constant/flashing with runtimes of 2/5/17.5/14.5/100 hours. In dynamic mode, it’s amazingly bright and provides plenty of light for singletrack riding, but when riding on public roads, it’s best to keep it in normal mode, which is plenty bright for that application. Depending on lighting from street lights, you may find the all-night mode to be perfectly adequate. The light isn’t exceptionally white and the pattern is very wide and uniform.
While it may not be the lightest bike light (220 g/7.75 oz.) and it takes between 8-14 hours to fully charge, The Volt 1200 is feature packed: the 3.6V-6200mAh battery is replaceable, the low battery indicator lets you know when you’re down to about 20%, it has memory mode so when you turn it on it returns to the same mode as when you turned it off, a protection circuit will lower the brightness level if the light becomes too hot, and you can use it on your handlebars or on a helmet. One feature that is missing and should be added to the next version is side lighting.
If you partake in all kinds of cycling, especially during winter when light is rare, the Cateye Volt 1200 is a light that will keep you on the road or trail for many hours at a time. But remember to follow the instructions and “Do not stare at the light when it is illuminating.” That’s certainly advice I think we can all agree on. –MD
The Coast A8R is a super lightweight pen light that can be charged via USB, AC, or DC power via its Pro-Flex charging cap. It features a Lithium Polymer battery, and with a length of 10.2 cm (4 in.), a weight of 11.34 g (0.4 oz.), and a diameter of 9.40 mm (0.370 in.), you’ll barely notice you’re carrying it. If you’re already carrying a mobile phone, portable charger (see options here: adventurecycling.org/resources/blog/geared-up-holiday-gift-guide-edition), and a GPS unit, you’ll be glad it’s so small and light.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a beam quite like the one cast by the A8R — it’s perfectly round but illuminates beautifully. The beam carries surprisingly far for a 12 lumen light and is perfect for reading books or maps. The casing is aluminum and it includes a pocket clip. If you're careful, you can pull the pocket clip off and turn it around so that you can clip the A8R to a hat brim. The on/off switch is at the end of the light so it's easy to operate with one hand. The only negative is that the A8R is so small and light, you might lose it!
If you're thinking it makes more sense to have a battery-powered light on a bike trip, check out coastportland.com/led-flashlights for other options. –MD
If you're going to be cooking in camp on your next tour, you'll need some utensils. Blue Sky utensils are an inexpensive, lightweight, and useful set of tools for cooking and eating in camp. Made of corrosion-resistant stainless steel, the set feartures a spoon, fork, and knife in a neoprene carrying case. All together the set weighs in at 76.5 g (2.7 oz.), pretty light and much cheaper than titanium utensils.
The spoon has a bottle opener at the end and the fork a can opener. The knife comes with a protective plastic tip, so you'll want to keep an eye on that if you don't want it damaging your carrying case. –MD
If you ride a lot during the winter — whether you commute to work, are a utilitarian cyclist, or just go for bike rides regardless of the weather — you may not need sunglasses but you should still protect your eyes. You could pay quite a high price for some high-end clear lenses but you might try a non cycling-specific solution first.
I recently lost the pair of clear lenses I typically wore while cycling when it's cloudy or dark and I was wondering what I'd replace them with. I happened to be at the Home Depot shopping for odds and ends when I spotted a pair of safety glasses. They looked like a pair of glasses I might pay over $50 for so I wandered over to see how much they cost — $15, so I bought them. Turns out it was a pretty good deal. The lenses are very clear and they're impact resistant up ANSI specifications. In addition, they absorb 99.9% of UV light and reduce glare. On top of all that, they're pretty darn comfortable. I guess sometimes it pays to look outside the activity-specific bubble for a bargain. You can find these inexpensive glasses at the Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart, and many places online. If you like shopping at your local hardware store, if they don't have these particular glasses, I'm sure they've got somethinig similar. What do you have to lose. Well, possibly $15, but I'm guessing you'll be as happy as I've been with this bargain purchase. –MD
I love to camp, but cooking under the open sky can be a drag. Sure, if you’re on an extended bike trip, carrying pots, pans, plates, and utensils can save you a bunch of money, but if you’re on a shorter trip — say a week or less — packing pre-prepared food can be a good option. The problem is, the options aren’t usually that good, but Good To-Go is one of the exceptions.
Along with her husband, Jen Scism founded Good To-Go based on the idea that eating doesn’t have to be a chore, nor unpleasant when you’re on an adventure. Scism is an accomplished chef who has been employed by four-star restaurants in New York City and even bested famed chef Mario Batali on the TV show Iron Chef, so she knows food. According to their website, “Each recipe was developed with one goal: to elevate your expectations of what trail food can taste like.” Well, they’ve done it.
I taste-tested three of the four flavors offered by Good To-Go: Smoked Three Bean Chili, Herbed Mushroom Risotto, and Thai Curry. The fourth is Classic Marinara with Penne. (I didn’t try this one because, as an Italian, I’m a snob about my ancestral food. Sometimes you just have to admit certain truths about yourself).
Each is very simple to prepare. You boil 300 ml (10 oz.) of water. While it’s boiling, you open the Good To-Go food pouch. Once the water has reached its boiling point, you pour the water into the pouch (yes, boiling water goes directly into the pouch). You then stir the contents, seal the pouch, and wait 20 minutes. Then comes the hard part: waiting. When you’re hungry, this can be torturous, but with Good To-Go, the wait is worth it.
My least favorite was the chili, but, had I been trail hungry, I would’ve devoured it and smacked my lips. But I found both the risotto and curry to be quite delicious, by far the best trail food I’ve ever slid down the ol’ gullet. If push came to shove, I’d go with the curry as my favorite because it had a bit of zing to it and I like spicy food.
All Good To-Go meals are gluten-free vegetarian meals, while the chili and risotto are vegan. Plus they are made in Maine. You can purchase two sizes: single serving (3.4 oz., $6.75) or double serving (6.6 oz., $10.75).
If you’re planning an outdoor adventure anytime soon, do yourself a favor and be Good To-Go. –MD