Month: February 2014

A Quick Look: Western Mountaineering HQ

Western Mountaineering is one of those names that’s synonymous with quality. When I found out that they are based in San Jose, CA! Naturally, I had to come say hi.

I’ve never seen what a sleeping bag factory looked like, or any factory really. Their headquarters are located in a more industrial area of San Jose. I opened the doors and it was a flurry of whirring machines, crinkly material, and stray down feathers fluttering about.

I got a quick tour of the place and a rundown of how the sleeping bags are made. All of Western Mountaineering’s bags are handmade here in San Jose! (And some jackets too!) Each bag takes about six hours to make and only touch two people’s hands in the creation process. Limiting the number of people working on one bag helps to keep quality very high. Not to mention, each bag goes through two quality control check points: once before it is stuffed, and once after it is stuffed. If there’s an errant stitch or the like, the bag does not leave the factory.

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It was very cool to stop by. Thank you to Gary and Gary at Western Mountaineering for having me!

Western Mountaineering Headquarters Western Mountaineering Headquarters

And just for kicks, pictured above is one of the first Western Mountaineering bags ever made. It is still a usable bag to this day, a great testament to the longevity and quality of one of their bags.

Intro to Snowcamping with the Sierra Club

The San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club holds an introductory snowcamping course every year. Members and non-members go out in the backcountry to get some hands-on experience with seasoned snowcamping veterans.

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The course was… an interesting experience. I’m not sure if I would do it again. It’s definitely a great learning experience if you’re looking to transition from three-season backpacking to backpacking and camping year-round. However, the course could be infinitely more organized.

The course is taught in groups of thirty people, with about a 50:50 ratio of instructors or assistant leaders to students. Students spend one day in the classroom and two trips in the backcountry. The classroom day is meant to give you a brief overview on what to expect, how to prepare, and what you need. Then you go out on two trips to practice your skills: map and compass, snow shelters, digging, etc.

The Sierra Club Snowcamping version of backpacking is incredibly different from what I’m used to. I’m all about traveling long distances, eating fast dinners, crawling into my bag when darkness falls, and sleeping until the sun rises. I consider backpacking a nice “reset button” when everything gets thrown out of whack and I need to slow down on life. Not on this trip. The group had a five course (yes, five) meal that began around 5pm that was supposed to last well into the night.

Though everyone was great, friendly, nice and knowledgeable, the amount of anecdotal information everyone had to share was overwhelming and time-consuming. All the assistant leaders had something to say about everything; everyone had an opinion on what was right and what wasn’t. Oftentimes, the more seasoned folks repeated stories over and over again. It lead to a lot of sitting around and listening.

All in all, the instruction and knowledge were great. I got a good refresher in map and compass and route-finding. And I built an igloo-snowcave hybrid with a gear closet. I’d say the latter alone was worth it all.

If you’re interested in taking this course, please visit the Sierra Snowcamping website here. The 2014 season is almost over, but you can start prepping for 2015!

REI Intro to Mountaineering Course

Mountaineering is one of those things that I’ve been trying to get into for a while now. I mean, who can resist gr1m, frostbitten, kvlt ice and spikey things and tall peaks?

For the boyfriend’s Christmas present, I got him an intro to mountaineering class for the two of us through REI’s Outdoor School.

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We woke up well before the sun was up and drove to the REI in Roseville. The other option was to meet at the Donner Pass Sno Park next to Boreal. We arrived at the trailhead at around 10AM due to a freak bus fire accident on the side of 80.

Our instructors, Dakota and Ryan, handed out ice axes, crampons, helmets and gaiters. Students were free to bring their own gear if they had it. Then, we set off across the road towards Castle Peak. It had snowed a bunch the week before, and without snowshoes, we were mostly postholing in the snow.

Did a lot of practice of walking in balance up and down hills. Spent some time practicing kick stepping and the French technique. We spent an absurd amount of time practicing self-arresting in various ways. Did some self belaying up and down the side of a powdery hill. Practiced some “real” mixed climbing up a rock formation.

And then glissaded all the way back down (mostly) to the trailhead, which was awesome. I want to glissade my life away.

If you’re looking for a glimpse into mountaineering, I highly recommend this class, though your mileage may vary. Dakota and Ryan were super, nice, friendly, patient and informative. I feel like I have a decent grasp of basic mountaineering techniques that I can practice on small, less technical peaks.

See ya this summer, Rainier!

This class is available through REI’s Outdoor School website. The cost is $125 for members and $145 for non-members.

Have you taken a class through REI before? What did you think?

Pictured above are the Outdoor Research Women’s Valhalla Pants, Outdoor Research Women’s Riot Gloves, The North Face Women’s Kira Triclimate Jacket, Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet, Icebreaker BodyFit 260 Compass Leggings – Girls’, Icebreaker BodyFit Oasis Crew Long Sleeve, Black Diamond FrontPoint Gaiters, Camelbak Aventura pack, and Triple Aught Design Artemis Hoodie.

Outdoor Research Valhalla Softshell Pants

The Outdoor Research Valhalla Softshell Pants are awesome. I haven’t tried these for snowboarding or skiing yet, but I took them on a mountaineering course and some snow frolicking. Then I fell in love.

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At 20.1oz, they’re not the most lightweight pants, but you’ll be wearing them, so the weight is pretty negligible. Made of GORE® WINDSTOPPER® X-FAST Soft Shell, they’re a highly breathable pant for winter activities. Zippered thigh vents allow you to ventilate accordingly. The fabric is extremely stretchy so your range of motion is not limited by your pants. The GORE® WINDSTOPPER® sheds snow super easily and is water-resistant, so you can move quickly through the backcountry. I put the WINDSTOPPER® to work this weekend on a snowy mountain; it lives up to its name.

These pants have four zippered pockets: two hand pockets and two thigh pockets. One also doubles as an avalanche beacon pocket with a key clip attachment. They also have an internal stretchy gaiter with slots for boot power straps.

The cut is standard, and on the roomier side, so no need to size up. Your regular size should be fine.

I don’t really have any negative things to say about these. They’re primarily a ski/snowboard pant, so they are a little baggier, especially around the ankles. If you have snow gaiters to wear over them, you might have some trouble fitting them on. However, can’t take points away from the Valhalla since they’re not meant to take snow gaiters.

If you are in the market for a pair of softshell pants, these might be for you! Lightweight, breathable, and super easy to move in… would definitely recommend!

Buy through Outdoor Research or Moosejawfor $299.

These come with a matching jacket, so check out my Outdoor Research Valhalla jacket review here.

The Outdoor Research Valhalla Softshell Pants were sent to me for review.

CamelBak Aventura

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The CamelBak Aventura backpack is a nifty little backpack that’s great for long day adventures.

This bad boy is a 21L backpack with a 3L water bladder. There are four zippered compartments: a tiny one for tiny items, one small one for small items, a main compartment for larger items, and a separate compartment for the water bladder. Side slip pockets allow you to hold water bottles, map, or if you’re like me, all the wrappers from Clif bars that you eat. And there’s a nice and large slip pocket that can easily fit a Nalgene and readily accessible items like hats. The outside of the pack has attachments to keep your trekking poles handy.

The pack has a sternum strap and a padded waist strap. It also has high abrasion mesh covering channeled EVA injected foam pods for extra ventilation your back won’t get sweaty as quickly.

The right shoulder strap conveniently has a little hook for your bladder hose. However, the hose doesn’t come with a Bite Valve Cover. You’ll need to pick one of those up for $6.

This pack has been my day hike BFF since I first got it in August of 2012 for a trip up Half Dome.. It has lasted weekends of endless abuse, squeezing in tight spots and being thrown over and around obstacles.

I don’t have much to complain about this bag, other than little plastic doohickies are starting to fall off now. And sometimes, if the bag is stuffed to the brim, I think I look like a turtle. This bag is wider at the base and narrows up to the top, so aesthetics look a little funny if you’re hauling a big load.

This pack is now discontinued and on clearance through Camelbak. I’m going to be extremely sad when my pack is on its last legs.