Professional percussionist and music educator, bread baker, rabid DC sports fan, YLEO wellness advocate, avid hiker and lover of all things outdoors, husband and proud father of two awesome kids. Shenandoah is my happy place.
REI Stormbolt GTX Jacket - Men's
I really wanted to love it...
This jacket was nearly perfect, but I ended up returning it after nearly a year. It was durable, water and wind proof, and had thoughtful and well-designed features like the hood and pockets. Unfortunately (and it only took me nearly a year of deciding) I returned it because the fit was just a little off. The pit zips - which are great features in general - were cut way too high and the jacket often dug into my armpits. I thought I could overlook that discomfort, or just wear the jacket with the pit zips open all the time, but that seemed silly to me. I loved everything else about this jacket and I was very disappointed to return it. Perhaps it's just my body type...but if you're looking for a shell don't bypass this one simply because of my review. Try it on because it might fit you perfectly. If REI ever redesigns the pits to allow more room I'd buy this jacket again in a heartbeat.
Vasque Monolith Hiking Boot - Men's
Going on three years!!!
I’ve had my Vasque Monolith hiking boots for almost three years. They’ve been punished through all types of terrain - rocks, mud, dirt, water, snow - and they’re still going strong. They are comfortable and durable, light, waterproof, and breathable. They have been a terrific all-terrain, all-purpose hiking boot and I wear them on every hike, no matter the season. They’re light enough to wear in the summer and can stand up to winter weather, too. They’re perfect for the all the hiking I do in the mid-Atlantic region. Hiking shoes should be the most important piece of gear in every hiker’s arsenal. If you’re looking for a durable, supportive, and comfortable hiking boot, I highly recommend the Vasque Monolith.
Gregory Zulu 30 Pack - Men's
I tried on many, MANY packs (and needed multiple trips to my local REI) before finally pulling the trigger on the Zulu 30. (I bought mine two years ago so this review is based on the last generation model.) Bottom line, this pack is rock solid! I love the size and locations of the pockets - they are thoughtfully designed and easy to access. It’s incredibly comfortable - so much so that sometimes I forget I have it on! My most recent hike with this pack was on the Presidential Traverse and it was stuffed to capacity but still seemed light and sat comfortably. It wasn’t quite big enough for a sleeping bag, tent, and two days worth of gear in the Whites, but it was close. It’s big for an overnight adventure where you don’t have to pack for various weather conditions. The trekking pole cinch straps are simple and secure. The hip belt pockets are more towards the front which I appreciate - I’m able to access them easily without taking off my pack. The mesh back panel creates adequate breathability during warm weather hikes (it’s since been upgraded on the newest model). The Zulu 30 has been the perfect combination of size, durability and comfort. Great pack!
REI Flash Carbon Trekking Poles
So far so good
These poles came highly recommended by a sales associate at my REI (of course) when I told him I needed something for my upcoming Presidential Traverse hike. I tried a bunch of different poles from REI and Black Diamond, but settled on these partly because of the gentlemen’s recommendation, but also because they felt comfortable in my hands and I liked the design of the height adjustment clamps. These poles are incredibly light (feather light!), and so far, rock solid! My one complaint is the little snow baskets that are supposed to *somehow* fit securely to them come off way too easily. It’s a curious design flaw that could have been avoided. I don’t remember how the Black Diamond baskets secure to the poles but it’s gotta be better than the REI design. That being said, I still like these poles a lot and despite being some of the pricier poles on the market ($150) I’d still recommend them.
Black Diamond MidWeight ScreenTap Gloves
Solid mid-range gloves
Initially I bought these to be used as a base layer underneath larger mittens when hiking in the winter, but they’re great by themselves, too. I’ve used them in temps from 50° down to about 30° and my hands are always comfortable. At temperatures colder than 30° I’d recommend gloves that can withstand colder temperatures, especially in wind.
The North Face Borod Hoodie - Men's
My go-to fleece
This was a spontaneous purchase at REI last year and proved to be a great decision. It’s light but warm, durable, breathable, and I appreciate the athletic/tailored cut. I’m 6’1” 170 and a M fits me perfectly. The sleeves are a good length and the hood is appropriately sized. (Most likely big enough for a climbing helmet though I haven’t tried.) The one curious feature is the chest pocket which isn’t big enough for a cellphone...but fits an ID or lip balm. The one drawback is that there’s no zipper garage so when it’s zipped all the way (and it comes to the base of my chin) it occasionally gets caught in my facial hair. If you’re a dude who likes his beard, I’d suggest trying this on in a store to make sure this won’t be an issue. I’ve been pleased with every North Face item I’ve ever purchased, and this is no exception.
Smartwool Merino 250 Balaclava
This balaclava came highly recommended to me by my brother so I bought it without thinking twice. I wore this in negative wind chill and it totally saved my face from frostbite. It lives in my winter pack for times like that. It’s lightweight - it’s much warmer than it feels like it should be given its weight. Another quality product from Smartwool!
REI Flash 22 Backpack
Solid no-frills pack
I’ve had this pack for about two months and overall I like it a lot. I wanted something lighter and smaller than my 30L pack - something I could use for quick day hikes where I don’t need to pack a ton of gear. This pack is, like most REI brand products, extremely well designed. It’s solidly built - despite its lightweight construction - and I like the sizes and locations of the pockets. It’s plenty big for the necessary gear you’ll bring on a typical day hike. The side pockets are deep enough for a tall water bottle, which is something the Osprey Daylite Plus (another pack I was considering) lacked. The water bladder sleeve is big enough for a filled 3L bladder and doubles as a laptop compartment when I use it for travel. The chest compression strap (with whistle) and belt strap are welcome features as well - and both straps were slightly wider and felt more sturdy than the straps on the Osprey pack. The pack even has a cinch strap for trekking poles which you don’t get on many other packs this size. The back panel is OK - it’s not all that breathable but it’s surprisingly comfortable and supportive for what it is. If you’re looking for a simple, lightweight daypack, this one hits all the marks. And for around $50 it’s tough to beat. Well done, REI.