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Category: Gear Reviews

All of our reviews are 100% honest evaluations of our real-life experience with gear. This is all stuff we actually use, test, and photograph during hikes we do.

Some of the gear we write about is purchased by us and some of it is sent to us for free. Our commitment is to give you truthful, useful, and practical info on the products we review.

Our readers are our number one priority, not our relationships with brands. In other words, we don’t mind burning bridges to bring you great content.

Review: Funwater Inflatable Paddle Board SUP Cruise

This summer, Funwater sent us one of their best selling paddle boards to review.

Use code FORMAX15 to receive a 15% discount at checkout: funwaterboard.com

Kim poses next to our Funwater board at Snooks Bottom
Kim poses next to our Funwater board at Snooks Bottom

Between all of the hiking, rock climbing, and RV’ing we’ve done over the past few months, we haven’t gotten out on the paddle board as much as I’d like. That being said, the few times we’ve taken it out have been dreamy.

Max (the author) having fun on the water
Max (the author) having fun on the water

Back in June, we camped at Bear Lake for three nights and took the paddle board out every day. The unboxing experience was exciting and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get the SUP (stand-up paddle board) inflated and ready to take on the water.

Max (the author) gets his pump on
Max (the author) gets his pump on

This was our first time owning a paddle board and only our second time using one, but we had no problems getting the product to work as it should.

The paddle board is easy to deflate and stash in its carrying case
The paddle board is easy to deflate and stash in its carrying case

The SUP came folded up in a tidy backpack case with shoulder straps. A manual pump was included, along with a 3-piece paddle, ankle leash, three removable fins, a waterproof dry bag, and a waterproof case for the beach.

Funwater hooks you up with all the accessories you need
Funwater hooks you up with all the accessories you need

Although I was impressed by the paddle board’s stability, the lake’s waves tested my balance, even though they were small by Bear Lake standards. This SUP definitely performs best on smooth, glassy water.

Kim paddle boards on a satiny lake in Colorado
Kim paddle boards on a satiny lake in Colorado

This morning, Kim and I took turns paddle boarding at Snooks Bottom in Fruita, Colorado. The water was as flat as a pancake and we had a wonderful time! We made friends with a pointer mixed dog who wasn’t camera shy. He wanted us to take him for a float, but his owner decided to continue walking him instead.

Funwater SUPs are canine-approved!
Funwater SUPs are canine-approved!

For beginner paddlers that are looking for an affordable SUP to take out on lakes, I can’t recommend this paddle board enough. Funwater has made a quality product at a low price, which is why it doesn’t surprise me that this paddle board has the “Amazon’s Choice” designation.

Closer view of the Funwater paddle board with desert cliffs in the background

The only accessory I wish I had was an electric air pump. The manual pump gives your arms a great workout, but it is a bit laborious. Maybe I’ll pick one up down the road.

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

A few months ago, Isobaa gave me a pair of their Merino Blend Trainers to review.

I know what you’re thinking – “But Max, isn’t Back o’ Beyond a hiking blog? These shoes don’t look like hiking shoes.”

Well, you’re right. Contrary to what you might assume based off my posts, I don’t spend 100% of my time hiking. Sometimes my wife makes me do other things, like go to nice restaurants, bar hops, and wineries.

My Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers in their natural habitat
My Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers in their natural habitat

Kim and I are longtime fans of wearing merino wool, but I can’t say that I’ve ever owned shoes made of the stuff. Almost all of my socks and t-shirts are made from the sheep fiber, for two reasons:

  1. Merino wool doesn’t stink as quickly as cotton or synthetics. This comes in handy when we’re boondocking in our RV and can’t take as many showers.
  2. Merino wool wicks sweat and retains its insulating properties when wet. This is great for hiking and sitting in an 85-degree fifth wheel on a hot summer day (our single A/C doesn’t always keep us cool).

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

As you can tell, I’m already sold on merino but had no idea that there were wool shoes on the market. Anyway, I decided to give them a try.

Ultimately, Isobaa has made an extremely comfortable shoe that looks more expensive than it is. I’ve worn them a handful of times now and they match well with my button up Patagonia Bandito Shirts.

I normally wear size 10.5 US shoes, but Isobaa ships from the UK so I ordered size EUR 45 in smoke. They fit perfectly!

Max (the author) poses at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction, CO
Max (the author) poses at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction, CO

I love the fact that they source merino from farms that don’t use a technique called “mulesing”, that hurts sheep.

On top of that, the shoes use recycled Polyester. Since they’re a “merino blend”, Polyester makes up 30% of the shoe’s fabric.

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

These are seriously the most comfortable, best looking shoe I’ve ever owned. I’ll definitely bust them out anytime Kim asks me to hang up my hiking shoes and do something fancy. I don’t think I’ll even complain! 😉

More Minimalist Footwear Reviews

Review: InsideTracker DNA Kit and Blood Test

In May 2016, my wife Kim (an ICU nurse) convinced me to get bloodwork done. I was 26-years-old and it seemed like the adult thing to do, so I booked an appointment at the Salt Lake InstaCare and went in.

When I got my results back, I was surprised to find that my cholesterol was high. I seem to remember the doctor saying, “you’re too young to have this problem” or something along those lines. He told me to go on statins.

To me, the thought of bowing to Big Pharma and taking a pill to fix the problem seemed like a cop-out. Couldn’t I make a lifestyle change in order to get this thing under control?

Queue epic training montage! I bought a Withings smart scale and blood pressure cuff. I took Yoga with Adriene’s 30-day challenge on YouTube. I cut my proportions and dropped 10 lbs. On days that I couldn’t get out for a hike, I hit the elliptical at the gym.

At some point, I plateaued. My stubborn body wouldn’t shed more fat! It was time to level up. I went on a keto diet and started Stronglifts 5×5. Thankfully, I shed another 15 lbs and felt the best I had since high school.

When my daughter Maia was born, I had bloodwork done again. By this point, I was trail-running and doing calisthenics to stay in shape. This time, my cholesterol came back normal. Hooray, my hard work had paid off!

Our Experience with InsideTracker

ExamOne Woes

Fast forward to November 2020… InsideTracker offered to give Kim and I the chance to try their product/service. They set us up with their top-tier plan, sent us a DNA kit, and got us in touch with their mobile blood draw partner, ExamOne.

I’ll be blunt, ExamOne completely dropped the ball. InsideTracker needs to find a new partner. We played phone tag for a few weeks and when I finally got a hold of them, the lady I talked to was incredulous when I explained that we lived in an RV.

I was simply trying to figure out how to get someone out to our campground to draw blood. She kept suggesting that I needed to talk to someone else about it and rudely hung up on me. I called back and was put on hold for 20 minutes. I gave up for the day, then called back 4-5 times in subsequent days. They never answered.

When I explained what happened to InsideTracker, their director of marketing set us up with a local lab where we ultimately had our blood drawn successfully.

How InsideTracker Works

It took about three weeks for our DNA + blood analysis to be ready. The real value of InsideTracker is the powerful software tool(s) it gives you to analyze your data and make informed decisions about your health.

When you log in, you can see your bloodwork broken down by biomarker (e.g. lipid group, vitamin D, sugar group, liver enzymes group, testosterone group, platelet group, etc.) Results are broken down into three categories: At Risk, Needs Improvement, and Optimized.

Your InnerAge seems to be calculated based on where you fall within these categories. I was happy to see mine at 26.5, even though my actual age was 31.2. To be honest, this feature seems kinda gimmicky but maybe you can use it to motivate yourself.

InsideTracker dashboard

Under the bloodwork tab, I noticed the option to add test results. I dug up the PDFs from my previous bloodwork labs and uploaded them. Within a few days, InsideTracker’s automated system had parsed the data and uploaded it to my profile.

This is huge for me, because it means I can continue to get bloodwork done on the road at various labs and track my results over time.

The great thing about seeing and tracking your data within InsideTracker is it gives you actionable feedback on how to improve next to each of your biomarkers.

For instance, my lipids are high again so InsideTracker recommends healthy foods that are known to reduce high LDL and increase low HDL. It also suggests blog posts and videos that I can use to educate myself on the subject.

InsideTracker biomarkers

InsideTracker even has recipes for snacks and meals that incorporate the nutrition you need to get healthier. One day, I made the Chia Seed Pudding and Almond Bran Bar. Not bad at all!

The DNA component of InsideTracker brings context to your blood test results by showing how they connect to your genetics. As a low-key data nerd, I find this information to be fascinating.

As an active, physically fit person I’m often frustrated by the fact that I struggle with high cholesterol. It’s oddly reassuring to know that I’m genetically predisposed to this condition. I will have to work harder than average people do to keep this in check.

I was also surprised to find that I had low Vitamin D levels. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the sunshine, how could this be possible? Again, my DNA test shows that I have an elevated genetic risk for lower levels. Ever since I found out, I’ve been taking a Vitamin D supplement daily.

InsideTracker DNA analysis

Our Next Steps

Going forward, I plan to retest my blood at a lab and upload it to InsideTracker with the goal of having zero biomarkers in the At Risk category.

Since my last blood test, Kim and I have taken up rock climbing! It’s been the funnest, most challenging fitness activity I’ve ever tried.

Kim’s first time climbing as an adult
Kim’s first time climbing as an adult

We also got Whoop bands and have been using them to not only train harder but smarter by measuring sleep and evaluating recovery to inform how we build strain.

I could be better about following InsideTracker’s food recommendations, but I have been intermittent fasting… intermittently, haha. There’s always room for improvement, right?

Overall, I’m glad I discovered InsideTracker, I’ll continue using it, and I think it’s worth the money if you’re serious about getting healthier.

Review: Women’s Viakix Acadia Hiking Sandal

Overall Rating: 9/10

Introduction

Viakix’s founder Elissa created her adventure sandals with one goal in mind: to perfectly unite beauty, function, and affordability.

The company was created in the United States and manufactures their footwear in China.

Viakix was kind enough to send me a pair of their Acadia hiking sandals in return for feedback.

The shoes are reminiscent of Teva’s more feminine models – namely the Tirra and Verra, but they come with a much smaller price tag. They are comfortable and sturdy enough for a mellow hike without looking out of place in a casual restaurant.

Overall, these chic sandals are a welcome edition to the women’s hiking shoe market.

Viakix Acadia

View at Viakix

View on Amazon

Methods

Viakix reached out to us in August of 2020 to see if I would like to try a pair of their sandals. They touted them as being versatile hiking sandals with excellent arch support. I had just worn out my umpteenth pair of Tevas, so I figured I’d give them a try.

As a desert rat and full-time RVer, I’m always looking for something that can keep my feet comfortable and cool in dusty environments. I love a shoe that I can cross a rushing stream or a city street in.

I wore the Viakix for several months in the central Arizona desert near Sedona. They carried me over dust, river crossings, slick rock, and sidewalks as we explored the towns of Sedona, Jerome, and Cottonwood, and hiked in the surrounding desert.

Here are a couple of the hikes we did:

So far, I have taken my Viakix about 40 miles.

Hiking Sedona in Viakix sandals

Features

Rating: 10/10

The Acadia’s sole is about 1 cm thick and made of lightweight, flexible rubber. The midsole is manufactured with cushioned EVA foam that makes for a nice bounce. A slight pebbled texture to the midsole prevents your plantar surface from sliding around.

Five hook and loop straps can be adjusted for a better fit, further ensuring that your foot stays exactly where you want it to be. I found these extra straps gave the shoe a lot more comfort and stability than similar sandals I have worn in the past.

I also love that I can leave the back strap off and use them as slides for a quick trip outside.

At 1 lb 1 oz, they they are a bit too heavy to be considered minimalist footwear (like the Earthrunners Adventure Sandals we have reviewed in the past), but the extra weight is worth it for the added comfort.

Continue reading for more about how they feel.

Comfort

Rating: 10/10

I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable the Acadias are. As advertised, the arch support was great. I have suffered from plantar fasciitis in the past, and good arch support is a MUST for me. Fortunately, the Viakix deliver.

The straps have soft cushioning underneath them that wicks sweat away and keeps blisters from forming. There is extra cushioning around the ankle joints, which is a big difference maker when you’re hiking several miles.

Viakix Acadia ankle straps
Soft cushioning lines the undersides of the Viakix Acadia ankle straps

Durability

Rating: 8/10

After 40 miles in desert and city terrain, I’m pleased with how well they have held up, especially for their low price.

The treads are still in great shape. There has been no separation in the rubber and foam components. The midsole is still supportive and comfortable.

I have noticed a few areas where threads have lifted on top of the straps. Additionally, the hook and loop patches have slightly frayed in some areas. Overall, however, the straps are still in solid shape.

Several threads have lifted on the Viakix Acadia straps after 40 miles of wear, but they still look pretty good

Style

Rating: 7/10

Okay, so I don’t think the perfect union between form and function has been achieved here. They are cuter than a pair of Chacos, but this shoe would still look out of place with a cocktail dress.

The multitude of straps adds comfort and stability, but they don’t give the Acadia any points for fashion. The appearance of this shoe still says “hiking” to me.

Limited color choices of black, grey, tan, and navy reinforce the utilitarian feel. I hope Viakix adds more colors in the future. I would love to have this shoe in mint green or violet.

Viakix’ other sandals are slightly more feminine. I was particularly drawn to the dainty Samara, but ultimately chose the Acadia because it seemed like a better choice for hiking.

The Viakix Samara in navy blue

Value

Rating: 10/10

The price point is excellent for a well-made, stylish shoe. Their durability and comfort is comparable to footwear from larger brands, but the price is lower. The value is a no brainer!

More Footwear Reviews

Review: Merry People Bobbi Rain Boot

Overall Rating: 9.8/10

Introduction

The Merry People Bobbi Rain Boot is a hard working yet stylish waterproof boot that can accompany you almost anywhere.

Australian entrepreneur Danielle Holloway created the Bobbi Rain Boot in 2014. After ruining many pairs of shoes on rainy commutes to her office job, she realized there was a need for fashionable, weatherproof boots that would be equally at home at a farm, festival, or fashion show.

She partnered with a family-owned Chinese factory to bring her vision to life, and Merry People was born. They began manufacturing Bobbi Rain Boots out of natural rubber and 4 mm neoprene.

Danielle began selling her boots at local farmers markets in Australia, and over the years her business grew until the boots entered the U.S. market as well.

I just love hearing about successful women-owned businesses, don’t you?

After looking for a pair of rain boots for some time, I was disappointed in the quality of the boots I found in stores. I needed something totally bomb-proof for our hectic lifestyle traveling the United States in an RV.

I saw an ad for the Bobbi rain boots on Instagram and decided to ask Merry People if they would send me a pair in return for an honest review. To my delight, they agreed.

View at Merry People

Kim (the author) looks up at giant coastal redwoods in her Bobbis

Methods

Merry People shipped boots for both Max and I to a post office in Port Angeles, Washington, where we picked them up on our way to explore the Olympic Peninsula.

We put the rain boots to the test in one of the rainiest regions of the United States. Parts of the Olympic Mountains receive almost 200 inches of precipitation each year (to put that into perspective, the Amazon Rainforest receives an average of 120 inches of rainfall annually).

I wore them almost every day for a month in heavy rain and mud. They accompanied me in the Olympic Mountains and Quinault Rainforest, on beach walks, and on shopping trips in town. The rain followed us on our travels around the peninsula, down the coast of Washington and Oregon, and into California. I had plenty of opportunities to put them to the test.

Max wasn’t able to wear his much as his were too small and we need to exchange them. Oops.

Durability

Rating: 10/10

I was looking for bomb-proof and I found it. These boots are exceptionally good quality.

The rubber upper portion is thick and scuff resistant. The care instructions actually say that you can wipe them off with a baby wipe if you need to (which I did, many many times).

My boots are still looking sharp after a month of abuse. The lugs, also natural rubber, are beefy and solid. The 4mm neoprene is secured with heavy stitching that won’t be budging any time soon.

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about the genius of using neoprene for the lining. Neoprene is the same material used for wetsuits and fishing waders.

It is soft, comfortable, odor resistant, resists degradation in extreme environments, and stays warm even when wet. It is the perfect material to use inside a gumboot, but it is difficult to find outside of men’s hunting boots.

A topdown view of the Bobbi's brilliant neoprene lining
A topdown view of the Bobbi’s brilliant neoprene lining

As far as I can tell, Merry People makes the only short rain boot on the market that uses neoprene lining, which is why these rain boots are in a completely different class of quality than most similar boots.

Hunter makes a comparable rubber boot at the same price point with a polyester lining, and I think time will show that neoprene will last much, much longer.

The care instructions cautioned us to take care on slippery surfaces due to the shallow tread, but I found they actually performed quite admirably while climbing up wet logs and crossing muddy bridges.

Kim (the author) walks across a log in her Bobbis
Kim (the author) walks across a log in her Bobbis

Fit

Rating: 9/10

Merry People boots use unisex sizing. My feet are 9 inches long from heel to toe and 3.5 inches wide at the widest. They are narrow to average width with narrow ankles, and I generally wear between a size 8.5-9. I followed the size chart on the Merry People website and ordered a size 39, which is a half size down for me.

My initial impression on putting them on was that the heel feels wide while the toe box is narrow, but the fit is secure without any danger of my feet sliding out. I can wear them barefoot or with a liner and wool sock comfortably. Rear and front pull loops make them a breeze to pull on and off.

Max’s feet are 10.5 inches long and 4.5 inches wide at the widest. They are extra wide, and he usually wears a size 10.5 in mens. He followed the suggestion of the size chart and ordered a half size down as well. The size 41 boots were too narrow around his toes, and he will be exchanging them for a larger size.

Kim (the author) put her Bobbi Rain Boots through the ringer
Kim (the author) put her Bobbi Rain Boots through the ringer

Comfort

Rating: 10/10

I suffer from achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, so I am extremely picky about my footwear (don’t even get me started on blisters!). The thick insoles and arch support in the Bobbis kept my feet comfortable even after long days of exploring.

I generally prefer very lightweight boots, so I was initially concerned that these heavy rain boots would be hard on my knees. They were, however, so comfortable I hardly noticed them.

Style

Rating: 10/10

The Bobbis are currently available in 7 colors. I loved the indigo hued “Oxford,” but I ultimately decided to go with the mustard yellow so I could match my 2-year-old.

Maia (left) and Kim (right) stomp in a mud puddle with impunity
Maia (left) and Kim (right) stomp in a mud puddle with impunity

She has a pair of absolutely fabulous bright yellow Croc rain boots that she wears almost every day. You should have seen how she lit up with delight when I put on my own yellow rain boots to go out and stomp in puddles with her!

Although the Bobbis are heavy duty, they have a slim, classic profile that pairs perfectly with skinny jeans, leggings, and even skirts. Everywhere I went, I received compliments on my shoes.

Indeed, Danielle really has achieved the perfect footwear for going from the backwoods to the boardroom.

Value

Rating: 10/10

While there are plenty of cheaper rain boots on the market, none will last season after season like the Bobbi.

The Bobbi Rain Boot is priced fairly for the quality of craftsmanship and materials that go into it.

Additionally, Merry People offers a 1-year warranty on manufacturing defects.

The aforementioned Hunter boot is more expensive, but it does come with a 2-year warranty.

Review: Katadyn BeFree 3L

The feeling of freedom is why we love backpacking. With the Katadyn BeFree water filter, you’ll feel light and free knowing you always have safe drinking water!

Intro

A quality water filter is an essential piece of backpacking gear. Fortunately, there are so many lightweight options out there today and many of them don’t require a minimum of 20 minutes of tiring “pumping” to fill a one-liter Nalgene.

Over the years, I’ve used a variety of different water filtration systems from top brands like MSR, LifeStraw, and Sawyer Products. The Katadyn BeFree 3-liter filtration system is one of my favorites because it’s easy to use and 3offers a better flow rate than many other gravity-fed filtration systems.

katadyn befree 3l - hanging on aspen
Hanging the BeFree On A Nearby Aspen. PC Tucker Ballister

Methods

I’ve been using this Katadyn system for a little over three years now. In that time, I’ve taken it on multiple backpacking trips and overnight paddle adventures. But it has also come in handy when car camping with larger groups or guiding overnight hikes for my local guide outfit here in the Tahoe area.

Throughout these trips, I’ve been evaluating this filter for flow rate, ease of use, and overall effectiveness. The last of these criteria is only really measured on whether or not I’ve suffered from the ill effects of giardia or cryptosporidium after drinking water from this filtration system, and I’m very happy to report that this has never been the case!

Features – 8/10

This water filtration system offers a three-liter capacity. Throughout my testing, I found the flow rate to be about two liters per minute. The filter medium uses hollow fibers to remove protozoa and bacteria from your drinking water and the bladder has a convenient loop handle on top.

katadyn befree 3l - carry handle
The Handle For Carrying or Hanging The Bladder. PC Tucker Ballister

I typically use this loop handle to hang it from a small tree branch in order to more easily filter into my drinking bottle. But it can also be transported using this handle and I’ve also used it to strap the bladder to the outside of my pack when hiking in climates with minimal clean water sources.

katadyn befree 3l - hanging filtration
Hanging the BeFree At Our Filtration Station. PC Tucker Ballister

The filter membrane itself is easy to clean and maintain. The process simply involves filling the bladder with clean water, screwing the filter in place, and vigorously swishing the bladder to move clean water through the filter fibers and remove any bacteria, protozoa, or debris leftover from your previous filtering efforts.

Additionally, the 0.1-micron microfilter is tested to EPA standards and rated to remove up to 99.99% of protozoa and up to 99.9999% of bacteria. And if you’re ever in a position where you have to fill from slower moving water rather than a fast-moving stream, the 43-millimeter wide mouth makes it easier to drag the bladder through the water two or three times to fill it completely.

Durability – 9/10

The bladder that comes with the Katadyn BeFree is made of thermoplastic urethane. This material is thick enough to be durable while still being super lightweight. It also has UV-resistant properties to help it hold up for long-term use.

The microfilter itself is rated for up to 1,000 uses, but the longevity of this filter will ultimately depend on the water quality you use it with and how well you maintain it. It will undoubtedly last longer if you clean it after every trip and tend to use it in cleaner alpine lakes over more stagnant ponds or streams.

katadyn befree 3l - ez clean options
The Katadyn’s EZ Clean Options. PC Tucker Ballister

Functionality – 9/10

While you might not need a three-liter filter for a longer backpacking trip, this selection weighs only 3.5 ounces. So it won’t add a whole bunch of weight to your ultralight hiking set up and it will fit seamlessly in one of the best lightweight backpacking packs. It has dimensions measuring 15.2” x 9.1” when laid out fully, but it collapses down significantly smaller when you’re not using it.

If you’re anything like me and you’re tired of having to get an upper body workout to pump water every time you’re empty, I can personally vouch for the easy-to-use style of this gravity-fed system. And for group camping, the BeFree makes it super easy to set up a water station for everyone to refill their bottles with ease when needed.

Value – 10/10

The Katadyn BeFree is a great value. In terms of your bottom line, it’s right in line with other lightweight filtration systems but it also has a minimal amount of added components. While these components sometimes sound great in theory, they also create more opportunities for breaks or malfunctions that render your filtration system useless.

The BeFree is field-cleanable and BPA-free as well. And from experience, you can reach out to Katadyn directly to get a new microfilter or reservoir if just one of those two components is compromised. This allows you to only replace what’s absolutely necessary rather than having to completely purchase a new filtration system.

katadyn befree 3l - safety and specifcations on bladder
The Bladder’s Specifications. PC Tucker Ballister

Final Word

In my experience, I haven’t found many water filtration systems that are easier to use than the Katadyn BeFree 3-liter filtration system. And even if you don’t quite require this capacity, you can always opt for the smaller, one-liter Katadyn BeFree!

Review: Sawyer Products 1-Gallon Gravity Filtration System

With gravity, there’s no need to work hard to get clean water in the wild. For group camping, check out the Sawyer One-Gallon Water Filtration System!

Intro

As a backpacking guide in Northern California, securing water for my groups is always the top priority when we get into camp. In the old days, we used to have to take turns “pumping” using the old MSR MiniWorks EX that I used to carry around.

And while that pump came with the added advantage of getting an arm workout while refilling your bottles, it meant a lot of time spent pumping that could have been used covering more miles or just relaxing in camp.

So when I finally bought the Sawyer Products SP160 One-Gallon Gravity Water Filtration System, I was super excited by the idea of allowing gravity to do the work for me! It should be noted that this system is available in either a single-bladder or dual-bladder design, but I have the single-bladder version, so I’ll be speaking strictly on my experience with that one in this review.

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - filling the bladder
Filling the One-Gallon Bladder with the Wide Mouth Opening. PC Tucker Ballister

Methods

I’ve now tested this Sawyer Filtration System on several personal camping trips as well as for two backpacking trips that I guided in the summer of 2019. I’ve now used it for group sizes up to 11 people to test its flow rate, ease of use for group camping, and overall safety and effectiveness.

On that last point, the hard part about truly putting a water filtration system to the test is that the only way you’ll know if it doesn’t work is if you get sick. And I’m quite happy to report that no one that’s been on a trip with me and drank from this filtration system has been sick to date!

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - mini filter attached to water bottle
Using the Mini Filter With Smart Water Bottle. PC Tucker Ballister

Features – 8/10

This system obviously has a one-gallon capacity and it comes with a dual-threaded Sawyer Mini Filter as its filtration component. This allows you to screw the filter right onto the smaller hole on the bladder itself or attach the hose coupling accessory to give you an extra hose length for easier filling.

The 0.1-micron inline filter weighs a total of just two ounces and is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It can also screw directly onto the top of a Smart water bottle, which means that this filtration system can actually be a dual-purpose solution.

The entire package with all the included components is great for short group camping trips, but you can only take the Mini Filter along if you want to cover more distance on a lightweight backpacking trip.

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - mini filter compared to hand size
The Mini Filter Size Reference. PC Tucker Ballister

In terms of those other included components, the Sawyer SP160 comes with a cleaning plunger and coupling, a two-foot rubber hose, and all the adapters needed for multi-purpose use.

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - included components
All the Components: Filter, Plunger, Hose, Adapters, and Handle. PC Tucker Ballister
sawyer one gallon water filtration system - cleaning instructions
Filter and Bladder Cleaning Instructions. PC Tucker Ballister

Oh, and the hard plastic handle on top of the bladder makes it easy to carry it when full and it also gives you a hard point to help secure the bladder to your pack if you need to carry more water for dry trail sections.

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - full bladder
Trying Not To Spill The Bladder Once Full. PC Tucker Ballister

Durability – 7/10

This entire system is rated to filter up to 100,000 gallons of water and it’s triple-tested to remove protozoa, bacteria, cysts, and microplastics from your drinking water. The rubber hosing is ¼” in diameter and the filtration membrane uses hollow fibers to remove particulates.

From my experience, I would be very careful with attaching a full bladder to any pack for an extended carry. I had an unfortunate accident involving a full bladder strapped to a pack and, when it accidentally made contact with a sharp branch, the bladder suffered a small puncture hole.

Other than that, the bladder material feels like a relatively thick plastic and I have no doubt it would’ve lasted longer if I had been more careful with its use.

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - empty bladder
One Gallon Bladder Empty. PC Tucker Ballister

Functionality – 7/10

If you need a good water filtration solution for group camping or emergency prep, it’s pretty tough to beat the Sawyer SP160. For groups, I love the fact that we can set up a central area for everyone to refill bottles on their own time. And whenever the bladder runs out, the wide mouth opening makes it easy to refill with just a few swoops through the water.

Flow Rate

With a flow rate of about 7 minutes per gallon (0.5 liters per minute), this filtration system is a bit slower than comparable models. But I’ve found that it does flow much faster if you slightly unscrew the wide mouth lid to allow extra air flow through the bladder. That being said, you’ll have to remember that you unscrewed it when you take it down or you’ll risk spilling your water everywhere (been there, done that!).

sawyer one gallon water filtration system - the filtering process
Filtering From the Sawyer Bladder Into Water Bottle. PC Tucker Ballister

Value – 8/10

On a final note, the single-bladder Sawyer Filtration System is super affordable. And because it can serve as the center of a group camping water station or the compact filtration solution to shove in the side of a lightweight backpacking pack, I think this system offers tremendous value!

Review: Solo Stove Bonfire

Intro

This past New Year’s Eve, Kim and I experienced the Solo Stove for the first time. We spent the night hanging out on our friend’s back patio in SLC next to their Bonfire. It was cold outside, so we bundled up, lit a fire, and stayed warm (with the help of some beer and tequila).

The Solo Stove left a lasting impression. Aesthetically, there’s something about that austere stainless steel drum that can’t be ignored. It reminds me of an Apple product or an Airstream. Is it a stretch to call it downright sexy? I mean, at the end of the day it’s just a fire pit, right?

Its allure doesn’t stop at good looks though. The Solo Stove’s entire chassis is engineered to maximize efficiency and minimize smoke. That means no more smoke in your face, and you know that campfire smell your clothes soak up? That’s a thing of the past.

When Solo Stove asked us to review their best selling fire pit, the Bonfire, we jumped at the opportunity! Our campsite next to Bear Lake in Utah, was the perfect time to bust it out.

Solo Stove Bonfire

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Overall

Rating: 9.5/10

At 20 lbs, measuring 19.5 inches at the base and 14 inches tall, the Solo Stove is portable and perfect for our full-time RV lifestyle. Many RV campgrounds only allow fires if you bring a self-contained fire pit, so our Bonfire is a great way for us to continue enjoying campfires on the road.

I’m glad we went with Solo Stove’s medium-sized fire pit, the Bonfire. It makes it easier to fit larger logs which make the best coals for cooking brats, hot dogs, and roasting marshmallows.

Teaching my 2-year-old daughter Maia how to roast a hot dog
Teaching my 2-year-old daughter Maia how to roast a hot dog

I can’t believe how few ashes collect at the bottom of the Solo Stove after a burn. At Bear Lake, there was a fire pit at our campsite, so we were able to dump the ashes there, put the Bonfire in its drawstring bag (included free) and stow it in the truck bed for next time.

A top down view of the Solo Stove in action.
A top down view of the Solo Stove in action.

With the stand (sold separately), I worry a lot less about leaving marks on whatever surface I set the Solo Stove on.

As technologically advanced as Solo Stove is, it hasn’t defied the laws of physics to create a “smokeless” fire experience. However, it’s much less smokey than a normal fire.

Kim gets her Solo Stove on after a fun day at Bear Lake
Kim gets her Solo Stove on after a fun day at Bear Lake

Features

Portable

The Bonfire weighs 20 lbs and comes with a black nylon portable drawstring bag. It’s 19.5″ wide x 14″ tall.

All Solo Stove fire pits come with a drawstring bag
All Solo Stove fire pits come with a drawstring bag

Log Friendly

We opted for the Bonfire instead of the Ranger because it’s 2.5″ taller and 4.5″ wider. This helps accommodate bigger logs which generate more heat.

Max (the author) chops wood for a fire
Max (the author) chops wood for a fire

Low Smoke

The Solo Stove’s top and bottom vent holes create air movement that results in a hotter, well-oxygenated fire that produces less smoke.

Solo Stove's air vents make for low smoke fires
Solo Stove’s air vents make for low smoke fires

Durable

Because it’s made from 304 stainless steel, the Solo Stove is highly heat-resistant and virtually indestructible.

Value

Solo Stoves aren’t cheap, but they’re worth the money. If you look at other portable wood fire pits, you’ll see why. I love how our Bonfire is fully enclosed, low smoke, and prevents embers from flying away. When you light a campfire, the last thing you want is to start a forest fire because hot ash is floating everywhere.

Kim and Maia enjoy an evening next to the fire
Kim and Maia enjoy an evening next to the fire

Review: Earth Runners Cadence Adventure Sandals

Overall Rating: 6.8/10

Introduction

In an attempt to fortify his adventure flip flops, Founder Mike Dally came up with his first Earth Runners prototype using athletic tape from his hiking day pack.

As his interest in trail running sandals grew, Mike learned about the Tarahumara, an indigenous people native to Copper Canyon in Mexico.

The world was effectively introduced to these barefoot running legends by Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, released in 2009.

The Tarahumara are able to run long distances across steep, unforgiving terrain wearing minimalist “huaraches” (Spanish for sandal).

If you follow McDougall’s premise, then the closer you are to barefoot running, the better. The idea is that your feet have a more natural pattern of movement when they’re not bogged down by modern running shoes.

Earth Runners sent Kim and I their latest adventure sandal, the Cadence.

While we were impressed by the sandal’s look, quality of craftsmanship, and the protection offered by its Vibram sole, we couldn’t get past the discomfort caused by its abrasive toe strap.

Kim's foot after a couple hours in Earth Runners
Kim’s foot after a couple hours in Earth Runners

To see if it was just us, we gave several of our friends the opportunity to try them before our recent backpacking trip in Southern Utah.

All of them agreed that the lace between your first and second toe is rather uncomfortable.

I had initially planned on hiking portions of the 20-mile loop in my Earth Runners, but decided to pack my lighter weight, more comfortable Xero Shoes Z-Trails instead.

Earth Runners

View at Earth Runners

Methods

Earth Runners reached out to us in March 2020 offering Kim and I two Earth Runners Cadence Adventure Sandals to trial and review. Content Director Aimée Coustier wrote:

Max, I see you are quite familiar with the primal pursuits of trekking and trail running. Our founder shares this passion with you and has found his vocation in making the most capable sandals to help facilitate this lifestyle.

We agreed to try them out. Aimée took our order and we received a confirmation email the next day. A couple weeks later, we were notified that a shipment was on the way. A few days after that, they showed up.

I started by wearing them indoors all day to get used to them. Later that day, I went for a short evening walk around the neighborhood.

Our first hike in Earth Runners was at Little Black Mountain Petroglyph Site, a trail on the Arizona Strip near St. George, Utah.

Me (the author) in Earth Runners
Me (the author) in Earth Runners

Kim’s second toe fared worse than mine, but the sandal lace left a noticeable imprint on both of ours.

Maybe after continual use, a callous would form here and make the sandal less painful to wear, but why suffer through this period when you don’t have to?

For the time being, Kim and I will stick to our Teva Hurricane XLTs and Xero Shoes Z-Trails.

Features

Rating: 8/10

The Cadence Adventure Sandal comes with a thick 9mm Vibram sole that protects your feet and provides good traction.

According to Earth Runner’s website, a men’s size 9 weighs 5.9 oz and the footbed is made from a “heavy duty cotton canvas”.

The laces are made of a hydrophobic polyester webbing core and anchored into the sole with a copper ground plug.

Looking down at Kim's feet in Earth Runners

Durability

Rating: 9/10

We’ve only put in a few miles with our Earth Runners so it’s hard to give an accurate assessment of durability.

Based on the materials and craftsmanship, they seem like they could handle more abuse than our Z-Trails.

Earth Runners sandals come with a warranty that lasts for the lifetime of their Vibram sole.

Kim in Earth Runners from behind

Comfort

Rating: 0/10

As I’ve mentioned a few times in this post, we found the lace between our first and second toe to be quite painful.

We tried adjusting the straps to get a better fit, but there wasn’t anything we could do to get around the disagreeable tension.

I find it hard to believe that an authentic huarache (made by a Tarahumara native) could be this uncomfortable. Perhaps their toe strap is made from a softer, more agreeable material like leather?

Notice the imprint in Kim's second toe from the lace
Notice the imprint in Kim’s second toe from the lace. Ouch!

Style

Rating: 9/10

Personally, I think Earth Runners look awesome! If you check their Instagram account, you’ll find a lot of hip, adventurous people wearing them. I can understand why there is so much hype around the product.

Even Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter wears Earth Runners. For a tech billionaire, he’s about as stylish as they come. After all, he takes ice baths and dates models, but what do I know.

Kim rides a ZiZZO bicycle in Earth Runners
Kim rides a ZiZZO bicycle in Earth Runners

Value

Rating: 8/10

If you can get past the toe strap of doom, these sandals are a decent price. For $84, they’re a well-made minimalist sandal that should last for many adventures.

More Minimalist Footwear Reviews

Review: ZiZZO Via Folding Bicycle

Overall Rating: 8/10

Introduction

On April Fools’ Day 2020, ZiZZO offered to send us a folding bicycle to review. I read the email twice, just to make sure it wasn’t a prank 😜

Their outreach coordinator wrote:

This might be great for the back of the trailer when we’re all allowed to hit the road again. ZiZZO folding bikes out of California. Built for all-terrain and city fun. Comes assembled and ready to roll. Folds small and rides big.

Before COVID-19 hit, we were traveling around California. When we were forced to cancel our reservations in Yosemite, we decided to press the pause button and shelter-in-place with our families in Utah.

As you might have guessed, we have limited storage space in our RV. That’s why I figured we’d give the ZiZZO a shot. At 27 lbs, it’s lightweight and folds up small, so it will be ideal for our life on the road when the country opens back up.

ZiZZO Via Folding Bicycle
ZiZZO Via Folding Bicycle

View at ZiZZO

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Methods

The ZiZZO arrived in a heavy 33 x 13 x 28″ cardboard box and was folded up. Without reading the instructions, I got it out and assembled it within a minute or so. Talk about EASY!

The fully assembled ZiZZO (toddler for scale)
The fully assembled ZiZZO (toddler for scale)

I don’t know if it’s because we’ve been cooped or what, but we’ve been loving this thing. Right away, Kim’s 66-year-old mom jumped on, giggling like a little school girl.

My younger brother kept asking every day, “Can I ride your bike?” Finally, I told him, “Yes, and you don’t have to ask.”

For the price, it’s a surprisingly capable bike. We even rode it on a dirt trail to some nearby petroglyphs. It’s no mountain bike, but you can take it off-road if the trail is mellow.

Riding the ZiZZO off-trail
Me (the author), riding the ZiZZO on a dirt trail

Features

Rating: 9/10

I’m no bike aficionado, so I won’t even try to get technical about the Via’s features.

What I can tell you is that this bike rides great, is highly adjustable, and it’s easy to do on the fly.

Both the handlebar and seat have quick-release clamps that allow you to adjust ride heights. Our families have a lot of different sized people, so this has been really convenient.

The ZiZZO all folded up
The ZiZZO all folded up

The max-load weight is listed at 240 lbs. Kim’s dad is 6′ 3″, 220 lbs and he was able to ride it no problem.

In combination with the rear derailleur, the shifter cranks between the 7 speeds smoothly (they’re both Shimano).

We haven’t ridden in the rain yet, but there are front and rear fenders to help prevent splash-back.

The frame and stem locks feel sturdy and safe and are purported to have “vice grip” strength.

Durability

Rating: 9/10

It’s hard to assess durability after only a few weeks, but the Via seems like it’s built to last. All of its parts and mechanisms are solid.

ZiZZO - close up of logo

Comfort

Rating: 6/10

The saddle is extremely uncomfortable, so we’ve been keeping our rides short. I’d like to replace it with something more cushy for the tushy. Nobody wants a bruised fanny!

Kim and I both agree that the seat hurts our bums real bad
Kim and I both agree that the seat hurts our bums real bad

Style

Rating: 7/10

Personally, I think the Via looks kinda goofy. It’s got smaller wheels and you sit up high off the ground. That being said, you don’t buy a foldable bike to look cool.

This is a practical option for someone that wants an ultra-portable bike that doesn’t take up a ton of space.

Kim still manages to look cool, in spite of the ZiZZO
Kim still manages to look cool, in spite of the ZiZZO

Value

Rating: 9/10

Given its great build quality and highly specialized use case scenarios, I feel the Via is priced appropriately.

ZiZZO Via Folding Bicycle