Monday, March 30, 2015

Bright is Life: The Ultimate Reflective Coating for Your Bike

Part of an ongoing series on Northeast-based gear companies. Hub Powderworks of Boston is now offering the only high-visibility product I've ever truly coveted: An ultra-reflective, ultra-durable coating for your entire bike frame.

Specifically, the coating is retro-reflective, which means that it reflects light directly back at its source regardless of the angle of the incoming light. Put another way, it's reflective from any direction when illuminated by a car's headlights or other source. (Or as the delightful Hub Powderworks web site puts it: "Retro-reflectivity: Magic Disguised as Physics.") Read: Awesome night-time visibility.

Magic disguised as physics. Photo: Hub Powderworks.

The coating is also different—and considerably more durable—than something you simply paint on. Instead it's sprayed on the frame as electrostatically charged powder particles which are then baked into the frame itself in an oven. The result is a very tough and durable coating ("Industrial Strength = Wicked Strong").

Developed by Halo Coatings for highway and mining applications, the coating is currently only licensed for application to bicycles by one vendor: Hub Powderworks. The company has even given it a suitable Boston name—Zakim Gray—in honor of the city's nearby Zakim Bridge.

Drool factor does meet reality check, however. It's an expensive process ($329 local, $419 shipped), requires you (or your bike shop) to disassemble the bike down to its frame, and you have to get it to Hub Powderworks by shipping it or dropping it off directly. It's also no substitute for bike lights, front and back, which are legally required in many areas.

For the serious urban cyclist or bike commuter, however, or for anyone seeking to seriously up their night-time cycling safety (read: me on both counts), it sure is tempting.

For more on this young start-up company, check out this recent Boston Globe article.

Support your Northeast gear companies! This post is part of an ongoing series on Northeast-based gear companies. Here are the 27 companies I've profiled to date:

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Buy Shoes Online? A 3D Scan Might Make All the Difference.

Problem: You can't try on shoes when you shop online. Solution? Shoefitr of Pittsburgh, Pa., makes a three-dimensional scan of the shoe and produces a color-coded image showing where the shoe runs shorter, longer, wider, narrower, tighter, and/or looser than the shoes you typically wear.

I've fitted hundreds of hiking boots and running shoes over the years and am perpetually amazed at the multitude of foot shapes, sizes, and dimension. And let me tell you: Finding footwear that best fits your own unique foot shape is by far the most important thing to consider. Period.

The best option is always to try shoes on before you buy, but if you can't drag yourself away from the online world, Shoefitr offers some of the best virtual fit information you can get.

Here's an example of the information you get from REI's online store, which added Shoefitr information to most of its footwear selections late last year.

Shoefitr has partnered with dozens of other retailers and brands, and was also recently featured prominently in Backpacker Magazine's 2015 Gear Guide. Its distinctive fit profiles are poised to become a much more common element of your online shopping experience.

Support your Northeast gear companies! This post is part of an ongoing (though recently dormant) series on Northeast-based gear companies. Here are the 26 companies I've profiled to date:
“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Forget the Apple Watch. Put a Multi-tool on Your Wrist Instead.

I have long held great respect for Leatherman. The company created the entire genre of multi-tools more than 30 years ago; continues to produce durable, high-quality tools today; and does it all right here in the USA at its factory in Portland, Oregon.

On top of all that, Leatherman continues to innovate in new ways. Their latest creation is the Tread (pictured above), a bracelet composed of interconnected steel links, each one featuring a different set of tools, including multiple screwdrivers, hex wrenches, a small cutting hook, and more. All told, the Tread contains 25 individual tools and weighs in at 5.3 ounces. It can be adjusted in quarter-inch increments to fit your wrist and, unlike other Leatherman multi-tools, the Tread is airplane safe.

Available in both black and stainless steel, the Tread isn't an inexpensive fashion accessory—it runs $150 to $200, depending on style—but it is distinctive and provides an industrial counterpoint to the teched-out smart watches rolling out from Apple and the like.

You can see it in action in the video below:

 “Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Turn Your Trekking Poles into Snowshoe Poles

There's only one meaningful difference between a trekking pole and a snowshoe pole—and it costs as little as $7 to upgrade your summer poles for snow-tromping fun. The key item you need? A snow basket that prevents your poles from piercing deeply (and uselessly) into the snowpack. 

Time for a winter upgrade. Photo: Jennifer C./Flickr
Most trekking poles come with a small basket just above the tip. While this diminutive accessory is helpful at keeping your poles from sinking into soft dirt, it is close to worthless in all but the most hard-packed snow.

Fortunately, it's easy and inexpensive to replace these standard hiking baskets with a larger snow basket. The only annoyance is that you have to buy a set of snow baskets separately. What's more, every brand uses a different attachment system for baskets, which means you must purchase the ones specific to the brand of poles you own.

Here are the three most common:
Leki Snowflake Basket
I strongly recommend using poles with snow baskets while snowshoeing, especially if you're new to the activity or if you'll be traveling over a mixed snowpack that alternates between harder and softer sections. They greatly aid your balance, plus they make it much easier to right yourself if you take a tumble in soft snow.

Lastly, note that you do occasionally see poles marketed as "snowshoe poles." They come equipped with snow baskets, but many feature only two collapsible sections, which makes them more cumbersome to pack and carry when not in use.

Stomp on!

Learn more:
  “Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Grippiest Shoes on Ice? Icebugs.

Sure, you can don any number of winter traction systems, from Yaktrax to crampons, microspikes to Stabilicers. But none of them have the built-in convenience of Icebug footwear.

Sweden-based Icebug produces a line of footwear with steel carbide studs integrated directly into the sole, which provides excellent traction underfoot when walking on ice and snow. If you spend significant time outside in the slip-sliding days of winter, or you're a dedicated runner looking to run year-round, then a pair of Icebugs is worth considering.

For maximum grip, Icebug offers a line of shoes with "BUGrip" technology. 15 to 19 steel studs
are built into the rubber sole and placed strategically to provide grip in key locations underfoot. Unlike most other traction systems, they don't move around when you move your feet aggressively—an advantage for running. The studs are also slightly dynamic, extending outward when pressure is applied to provide additional traction where it's most needed. Plus they are relatively low-profile compared to other traction systems, making them much less noticeable when you're off the ice and walking on hard pavement instead.

Icebug integrates steel studs directly into the sole for always-on traction.
While I've not had the opportunity to test out a pair myself (sizes stop at men's size 13, too small for my size 15 flipper feet), overwhelmingly rave reviews at Amazon speak volumes for their quality and effective grip (nearly every Icebug model earns four stars and above, with most earning 4.5 to five stars).

The Icebug Creek: Midweight winter hiker and urban ice trekker
Prices range from roughly $100 to $200 depending on the style, which includes everything from the Certo BUGrip, a studded trail running shoe (sole pictured above), to the Creek, a warm and beefy urban walker.

There's a tradeoff, of course, to having steel studs on your shoes at all times. Unlike other traction devices, which you can switch among different shoes, the studs stay where they are on a single pair of footwear. Icebugs are also less versatile; once the ice melts for the season, you no longer need (or want) them on your feet. And you certainly don't want to go traipsing indoors over hardwood floors with them on (unless you want to profusely scratch and dent the wood).

But if you're a regular ice-walking (or ice-running) winter warrior, you may want to become an Icebug as well.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

How to Protect Your Face from Bitter Cold and Wind

Your face is at risk for frostbite in bitter cold and freezing wind, especially in above-treeline winter conditions. To fully protect it, you need two things: a facemask and goggles.
  • A good mask fits snug against your face and nose with no gaps whatsoever; the smallest exposed sliver will rapidly frostbite in severe winter conditions. 
  • Be wary of facemasks integrated with a fleecy neck gaiter or balaclava. They seldom fit well. 
  • Larger goggles offer a better field of view and good ventilation that minimizes fogging; higher-end models feature double lenses that further reduce fogging. 
  • A variety of anti-fogging products are available. They all help, but none work perfectly. 
  • Amber, orange, or yellow lenses enhance contrast; gray lenses provide true color transmission. 
  • In strong winds, placing the goggle strap over your jacket hood helps keep the hood securely in place. 
  • Test your face system before you crest treeline. You will have no time to fiddle with it once you enter the winter alpine zone.
This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "Warm Thoughts: Protect your head and neck from the cold."

(Photograph by iStock.)

Monday, February 16, 2015

If Eight Feet of Snow Instantly Melts, How Deep is the Puddle?

Things you think about while shoveling out more than a foot of snow. (Again.) How high can I consistently throw snow while shoveling? Will it clear the summit of Snow Planet, the mountainous pile next to my driveway? And if all this snow around me instantly melted, how much water would I be standing in?

Answers: 8 feet. No. And roughly half a foot.

The Boston region is currently buried under a monumental amount of snow. The snowpack is 3 to 4 feet deep. The sidewalks are like the Himalayas, with snowy shoveled peaks rising above hidden driveway canyons. With nearly 8 feet of snow falling in less than a month, and with little of that melting, there is a lot of frozen water blanketing the landscape.

It's easy to see how much by taking a look at NOAA's current snow water equivalent map, which models the estimated amount of liquid water contained in the snow. For much of eastern Massachusetts, the current map shows roughly half a foot.

NOAA's Snow Water Equivalent Forecast for February 17, 2015

All that got me thinking. My grandfather always told me that the rule of thumb for snow to water was 10 inches of snow per inch of water, which would mean something closer to 9 inches of water given the amount of snow (roughly 90 inches) that has fallen without any significant melting.

Turns out Grandpa was right. And wrong. The snow-water equivalent varies substantially with temperature, as this straightforward chart from NOAA shows.  Yes, if the temperature is around freezing, 10 inches of snow roughly equals an inch of water. But if the temperatures are 15 to 19 degrees, it's double that—1 inch of water generates 20 inches of snow. And so forth.

Given the cold nature of these insane February snows, clearly we've gotten a lot of depth per inch of water. And, oh yeah, 6 inches is still a lot of water. It's going to be a very wet and soggy spring this year. We'll see how long it takes to return Snow Planet to its watery origins.

Snowpack in Boston area: three to four feet. Unreal. 
Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.