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With Fathers Day just days away, it’s time to grab a quick gift for dear old dad. To help make your last-minute decision easier, we offer a few suggestions.

Post-It Note Extreme XL

While traditional Post-It notes given as a gift might scream “last-minute grab from the office’s supply cabinet”, the new Post-It Extreme XL pads are ideal for outdoor dads. The heavy water-resistant paper is ideal for leaving meeting notes on trailhead vehicles for hiking and climbing companions, or for posting reminders about chores needed to be completed before launching a boat (i.e., “replace the scupper plugs!”). We’ve even used the notes during volunteer trail maintenance outings (with Washington Trails Association) to mark trail sections needing attention (after the work was initiated, the notes were always collected and disposed of properly). The notes stick securely to a variety of surfaces, including rough wood, rock, and textured paint/decking. $7 per 2-pads of 25 sheets. Buy now

Costa Broadbill polarized sunglasses

Any father who fishes will appreciate a new pair of polarized sunglasses – polarized glasses make any fishing adventure more enjoyable (and productive!). But while dad will certainly enjoy the gift of a pair of Costa Broadbills, the gift-giver gets the benefit of also giving dad a bit of a style boost as well. So, everyone wins: Dad sees better and looks better! Named for the broadbill swordfish, these glasses feature a sleek style with a slight wrap-around effect to seal out sun infiltration from the sides without looking like 90s throwback blades. The large frames fit snuggly on the nose and above the cheeks for a comfortable fit suitable for all-day wear. Available in a variety of frame and lens colors. $269. Buy now

REI Flash 55 backpack

When hitting the trail for a weekend getaway, the first gear to grab is a backpack. But this is also one of the last items most dads bother to replace. A new lightweight overnight pack like the REI Flash 55 backpack will be a welcome relief to shoulder-sore dads. The Flash 55 weighs just 2 lbs, 10 oz (size medium) but swallows a 55-liters of gear – plenty of volume for a 2- or 3-night adventure with the family. When loaded with up to 35 pounds, the pack carries comfortably, thanks to well-shaped shoulder straps and a contoured hipbelt. A ventilated back panel helps sweat evaporate easily. Available in three sizes to fit torso lengths of 17-21 inches. $199. Buy Now

The post Quick Gifts for Outdoor Dads appeared first on Gear Institute.

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The Thomas & Thomas Zone rod series fills a significant niche in fly fishing: The all-purpose rod trout. During extensive field testing of the 9-foot, 5-wt Zone, we found a lot to love about the rods.

The medium-fast action of the Zone proves ideally suited for both gentle dry fly placement, and delivery of heavy weighted nymphs and streamer rigs. Thomas & Thomas designed the Zone to be a strong all-around performer at a reasonable price. The Zone features the same StratoTherm resin as the Avantt series (see review here), and sports anodized aluminum reel mounting hardware and titanium stripping guides – both elements help keep weight down without adding significantly to the price. In short, the T&T engineers designed the Zone to have a high-performance body with utilitarian components, making a workhorse of a rod.

In casting the Zone, we found the rod loads easily and quickly for a med/fast rod. The rod features a smooth mid-flex feel that provides power and accuracy that’s very similar to what I experienced in casting the higher-end Avantt. That’s understandable, given that both rod series start with the same composite elements at their core.

I found the 5-weight Zone to be a perfectly suited for covering water in the 20- to 60-foot range, with great dry fly presentations achievable (i.e. gentle placements with good accuracy) out to 45- to 50-feet.

With fish on, the rod proved adept at controlling big trout, and even bigger carp when we tied into them. There’s enough power in the butt to yard-in big depth-charging carp, but enough finesse throughout to protect delicate tippets when playing aerobic rainbows hooked on tiny dry flies. To further test the Zone’s versatility, we cast everything from #22 midge dries to #2 Pat’s Stones under big plastic indicators. We fished streamers and three-fly nymph rigs. Through it all the Zone kept our lines straight and headed where we wanted them.

Like the Avantt series, the T&T Zone 5-wt earned its place as the ideal jack-of-all-trades, quiver-of-one rod. Unlike the Avantt, the Zone is moderately priced at $495. Buy Now.


  • Medium/fast action (up to 5-wt. For lines above 5-wt, the rod is rated as “fast action”).
  • Natural finish carbon appearance.
  • Clear anodized premium aluminum hardware.
  • Blue fiber reel seat hand rolled at T&T.
  • Composite reinforced premium-quality cork grips.
  • Titanium frame stripping guides with Zirconium inserts.
  • T&T Blue thread with silver accent wraps.
  • Includes aluminum rod tube with Thomas & Thomas Zone logo.

The post Rod maker is in the Zone: Field testing the new rod series from Thomas & Thomas appeared first on Gear Institute.

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Finally, a braking assisted belay device that can do it all!

The variety and use of braking assisted belay devices are continuously expanding. Edelrid got into the game with the original Mega Jul in 2012 and the simple, effective, and durable device won many fans, including this author. Braking assistance with the Edelrid Jul system requires no cams or springs; it uses the geometry of the device and a belay carabiner notch to jam the rope in the device. These devices are lighter and offer more options, such as double rope rappelling and guide mode, than most cam-actuated belay devices.

What’s the problem?

Edelrid’s minimalist yet flexible approach to braking assistance in the Maga Jul and other Jul units has many desirable traits but it isn’t perfect. Scenarios common to multi-pitch and alpine climbing exposes these shortcomings. Guide mode involves a potentially confusing reversed rope direction and pulling the ropes through the device is often challenging. Rappelling can be tricky as overcoming the braking assist can be difficult and pulling up close to the anchor can cause inadvertent locking (it is possible to rappel with the device upside-down, nullifying the braking assist). Finally, giving a dynamic, anchor saving belay is problematic.


The Giga Jul became available in April and Edelrid’s solution to the issues in other Jul units is a simple yet elegant mechanism. A slider moves across the device to block the notch that allows the belay carabiner to jam, and you flip the device around so that standard V-notches engage the brake side of the ropes and keep the Jul thumb loop out of the way, transforming the braking assisted device to a tuber.

The ability to act as a standard tuber improves functionality in all the situations where less friction is advantageous and a braking assist mechanism would be problematic including dynamic belays and rappels.

The Edelrid Giga Jul accepts ropes from 7.1 mm to 10.0 mm, with an optimal single rope diameter of 8.6 mm to 9.7 mm for braking assisted mode. The MSRP is $50.

First impressions

Firstly, the device is much larger and heavier than any of the other Juls. Our sample’s verified weight is 4.4 ounces and it is roughly twice as big as a Mega Jul.

The device shares the durable and sustainability-oriented composite construction with many of Edelrid’s hardware; aluminum for weight savings and stainless steel for resistance to rope induced wear.

Belaying from below with braking assistance was similar to the other Edelrid Jul units; the braking assistance wasn’t as static or as quick to lock as many camming devices. Disengaging a rope lock was similar to other Jul units, and lowering was smoother than a Mega Jul.

Rappelling in assisted mode felt a bit freer than the Mega Jul, but it’s still wasn’t as smooth or easy to manage compared to tubers. Belaying from below and rappelling in tuber mode, felt like, well, a tuber. Dynamic belays were easy to perform.

Set up for the non-assisted guide mode was simpler than the Mega Jul as the bights enter in the “normal” direction. Feeding rope felt similar to guide mode on other tuber devices, which is a large improvement over the Mega Jul. Swapping leads at the belay station in assisted mode does require rope removal from the device; continuing in tuber mode does not. The Giga Jul can also be used in assisted braking mode to belay off an anchor. I didn’t get to catch a fall off an anchor for this First Look.

Is the Edelrid Giga Jul the ultimate belay device?

The Giga Jul lives a double life of a braking-assisted belay device and a tuber, providing versatility that is especially valuable in alpine and multi-pitch climbing. It is heavier than other Jul devices but still weighs significantly less other braking assisted devices. The one main concern with the device is that dirt or ice could interfere with the slider.

Is it the ultimate belay device? For this tester, it the current device of choice for alpine and multi-pitch for all the mentioned reasons. I still prefer cam assisted devices for single pitch applications, but the Edlerid Giga Jul potentially simplifies my gear choices for more complex climbing situations. Continued testing and use will determine if the Edelrid Giga Jul becomes the permanent go-to on alpine and multi-pitch outings.

The post First Look: Edelrid Giga Jul appeared first on Gear Institute.

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Let’s say you have decided that you want to reduce your pack weight for an upcoming multi-day backpacking trip, and you have made a commitment to an ultralight backpack. Now what? In order for an ultralight backpack to be comfortable, it requires skillful packing, and more importantly ultralight gear to go inside of it. An ultralight pack doesn’t work with bulky and heavy gear. So now you need to reconsider all of the items you will carry with you.

When reducing pack weight, the most important items to reevaluate for weight and function are known as the “big 3” items: backpack, sleeping bag, and shelter or tent. But let’s not forget the sleeping pad! A sleeping pad is also a crucial part of a camping kit, and pads come in the full spectrum from huge and heavy to small and light.

This year Therm-a-Rest released a new sleeping mat: the NeoAir Uberlite. In the past, the NeoAir XLite was a popular, consistently award-winning sleeping pad because of its unrivaled combination of low weight, small packed size, and high R-value. With the introduction of the UberLite, Therm-a-Rest has created something even smaller and lighter, almost mind-bendingly so.

Here are some stats for comparison: for the exact same size of 72-inches by 20-inches, the XLite weighs 12 ounces, the UberLite weighs 8.8 ounces. The XLite’s R-Value is 3.2, the UberLite’s is slightly less, at 2.0. The XLite rolls into a small 9-inch by 4-inch tube, while the UberLite folds into a minuscule 6-inch by 3.3-inch pouch.

The tiny Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite on the left and the NeoAir XLite Women’s on the right.

When compared to the NeoAir XLite Women’s, which is shorter, lighter, and warmer than the standard XLite, the Uberlite still packs smaller and weighs less. (The women’s version is 66 inches long and weighs 11.8 ounces. The women’s model has a higher R-value than both of the other models, 3.9.) For those interested in lightening up their backpacking kit, the UberLite is an ideal solution. We have not seen another sleeping pad as lightweight and as packable. Plus, it maintains an impressive R-value while shedding weight.

The size Regular Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite on the left and the shorter NeoAir XLite Women’s on the right.

So how does this shiny, oil-slick black, ultralight product work in practice? Well, if you are already used to sleeping on an XLite, you won’t even notice a difference. It offers the same plush 2.5 inches of cushion as the XLite, and it has the same drawbacks: a noisy surface that can feel like sleeping on a balloon if it is too inflated. And they both take what feels like an eternity to inflate.

It takes a lot of air and several minutes to inflate the UberLite, but the low weight and small size make this inconvenience worth it.

Our preferred method of sleeping on any NeoAir is to inflate it all the way, lay on it, and then open the valve to release a squirt or two of air. This lets the body sink into the mat a tiny bit rather than remain bouncing on the surface. This method allows for spongier comfort and pleasant night’s sleep.

The NeoAir UberLite on the top and the NeoAir XLite Women’s on the bottom. Both models feature 2.5 inches of cushion when inflated.

Like any delicate, ultra-light piece of gear, the UberLite needs to be treated with care. We used the UberLite for several nights in a row during bad weather, and we experienced no punctures or problems. Then one tester accidentally sat on his inflated UberLite while it was folded. One of the interior baffles popped, making the pad lumpy and uncomfortable. It never popped all the way, so it continued to function, but was less desirable to sleep on. The lesson here: treat with care. Someone who is typically rough on their gear will most likely want to choose a more durable product. For those interesting in carrying lighter loads, this sleeping pad is incredible.

Comfortable camping with the UberLite and the Therm-a-Rest Vesper quilt during a stormy summer backpack into the Wind River Range, Wyoming.

The UberLite is not uber wallet-friendly. The XLite costs $170 for a size Regular, the Women’s version costs $160, and the UberLite costs a whopping $180. However, the high cost is typical for elite-level ultralight products. The technology and materials required to reduce weight and size while maintaining function and performance are pricey. But we think losing almost 4 ounces and 3 inches in length is worth an extra $10 over the XLite.

For lightweight backpacking, we highly recommend the impressively ultra-light UberLite.

After testing the UberLite in the Wind River Range, the High Sierra Backcountry, and even on remote, rocky glaciers in Patagonia, we feel confident that we can recommend this product. Some activities demand the lowest weight gear possible: alpine climbing and mountaineering and thru-hiking and ultralight, long-distance backpacking. This is the sleeping pad for those experiences. Buy Now

The post Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite: Is Lighter Better? appeared first on Gear Institute.

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Imagine if a jacket could be designed with only one layer of material. Now imagine that jacket operated like a dog’s fur to keep you warm.

Most insulated clothing requires at least three layers to function properly: insulation sandwiched between a shell material and a liner fabric. Depending on the insulation type, quilting or baffling then needs to be employed to keep the insulation distributed throughout the garment. Using only a single material would allow for a flexible, breathable jacket, something much lighter and freer than anything else on the market today.

Flexible, breathable, and warm? Primaloft claims it has developed a unique hybrid fabric.

Primaloft, Inc. is claiming to change the standard with the release of a new material: Primaloft Next. This textile combines insulation and fabric into a single material, which allows for thermal regulation in addition to flexible comfort and breathability. It can still be paired with shells and liners or it can be worn as a standalone, next-to-skin fabric. The company states that Primaloft Next is durable enough to be dyed the full spectrum of colors, and its hybrid nature eliminates fabric pairing and quilting requirements, meaning apparel designers are free to innovate garments with fresh feeling colors, silhouettes, textures, and designs.

Combining the best qualities of both insulation and stand-alone fabric, Primaloft Next could allow for unique apparel designs.

The first product family in the Primaloft Next line is the Primaloft Evolve series. This textile is inspired by the efficiency of nature and mimics the insulating properties of animal fur through the use of fibers of different lengths and deniers. Like fur, this design allows for airflow when moving and heat capture when at rest. Also like an animal, this efficient design eliminates the need to wear layers. Instead, Primaloft states that the wearer can get away with a single, lightweight, insulating garment.

The Primaloft Next Evolve series mixes fibers of different lengths and thicknesses to recreate the insulating properties of animal fur.

With some consideration towards environmental impact, Primaloft Next is composed of 100 percent polyester. This make-up allows it to be chemically recycled without a reduction in performance. The material will be made available in options containing between 51 and 78 percent post-consumer recycled content, reducing the need for fresh raw materials in the production of this product. Though this product is still a new item that requires energy and new materials to produce, this is at least a step towards a circular economy that reduces the use of new resources.

Primaloft Next Evolve Series, a new insulated fabric coming out in summer 2020.

Primaloft Next will be available beginning summer 2020, and the first apparel line featuring the furry, animal-like Primaloft Evolve Series will be available for purchase at that time from Schöffel, a European brand.

The post New Fabric Mimics Animal Fur appeared first on Gear Institute.

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In the last decade running packs have come a long way. Some barely resemble backpacks at all, built more like clothing with streamlined storage than a bag with straps. The best packs these days are lightweight, have pockets and storage options right where you need them and carry enough water for your race or all-day summit bid.

This test covered hydration packs specifically designed for running with less than 14 liters of storage. We combed the internet for the best available today and put them through their paces. Below are the results of this testing.

Best Overall Running Pack Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set

Capacity: 12 liters

Weight: 9.7 oz (15.3 ounces with included soft flasks)

Hydration: 2 16-ounce soft flasks included, 1.5-liter bladder compatible

Front Storage: 2 flask pockets, 2 large stretch pockets, 2 large zipper pockets with small stuff pockets

Back Storage: large bottom kangaroo pocket, 1 large main zip pocket, 1 large bladder pocket

What we like:
  • Flask and bladder compatible
  • Fits close and moves with the body
  • Many pockets on the front and back
  • Bladder hose can be routed under the arm or over the shoulder
What we don’t:
  • Flasks sit low to drink from
  • Sternum strap clips are hard to attach

The Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set design is more like clothing than a pack. It carries water and small loads well and moves easily running without chafing. The fabric and pockets are well ventilated throughout and wick moisture.

The 12 liters of pockets and liquid storage are easy to access and well distributed. Two included 16-ounce soft flasks fit into the front vest pockets but are a little challenging to insert without squirting water as the tops don’t lock. Bottles that were not completely full did not provide enough rigidity and were hard to push into the pocket. Rigid or semi-rigid bottles slid in easily. There are no additional straps to hold longer bottle straws in place. Without straws, the bottles are a bit of a stretch to drink from.

Sizes in the ADV Skin Set 12 are 2XS, SX/S, M/L, and XL. We tested a Medium/Large which fit very well on a 40-inch chest leaving several inches of sternum strap adjustment tighter or looser. The sternum strap is stretchy and very comfortable but takes a bit of fiddling to attach the clip to the opposite strap.

With its exceptional fit, multiple hydration options and many pockets, the Salomon ADV Skin 12 Set earned our Best Overall Pack award in the running hydration category. MSRP: $180 Buy Now

Best Storage Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 4

Capacity: 13.27 liters

Weight: 9.24 oz (12.7 oz with included bottles)

Hydration: 2 included 16-ounce flasks, bladder compatible

Front Storage:  2 flask pockets, 2 small velcro pockets above flasks, 4 stuff pockets on flask pockets, 2 zip and stuff pockets below flasks and 2 zip pockets under arms

Back Storage: 1 large compartment with bladder pocket and small zip pocket inside, stuff pocket on the outside, bungee on the back

What we like:
  • Impressive storage options
  • Many combinations of compression
  • Comfort Cinch for fit adjustments on the fly
What we don’t:
  • The bottom end of sternum strap rails press into the stomach on short torsos

The Ultimate Direction Mountain Vest 4 is our runner up for Best Running Pack taking the award for Best Storage with 16 pockets, as well as a bungee and hiking pole straps. The included 16-ounce Body Bottles fit well in the front pockets. Above, below and on top of the flask pockets were other stuff and zip pockets, large and small, for gels, bars, and phones.

The fit was very close to the body. We tested a medium that should fit 30-39 inches around the bottom of the ribs with testers that had 38- to 39-inch measurements. The Comfort Cinch can adjust the measurement around the belt of the pack 2 to 3 inches increasing the range of testers that can use each pack size. Inside the pack, a mono-filament mesh breathes very well and does not absorb any moisture.

On the front rigid rails allow users to customize the height of the 2 sternum straps. The bottom of the rails dug into users stomachs if they had a shorter torso and bend over slightly. The back the large main compartment held a lot of gear but testers were still able to use the bungee and assortment of clips to cinch down the pack tightly. MSRP: $155 Buy Now

Best Large Running Pack Arc’teryx Norvan 14 Hydration Vest

Capacity: 14 liters

Weight: 9 oz for pack only

Hydration: 2-liter bladder included, fits 12-ounce flasks

Front Storage: 2 flask pockets, 2 small stretch pockets, 2 small zip pockets

Back Storage: 1 large roll-top compartment with a small zip pocket inside

What we like:
  • A large amount of weatherproof storage
  • Bladder and flask options with 2-liter bladder included
  • Comfortable vest
What we don’t:
  • Minimal compress options
  • Rigid bladder top presses into the back
  • Bladder feels inexpensive

The Arc’teryx Norvan 14 Vest is a comfortable, large running vest for long runs or fast hikes. We tested the 14-liter version but a 7 is available. A large weather-resistant compartment is attached to a breathable, mesh-like Warpknit vest with 6 front pockets. 12 -ounce flasks fit well in the front pockets, but 16-ounce versions are a bit big. Elastic straps hold them down well. Poles can be stashed on either side. The large main compartment can be rolled down further for smaller loads. Aside from the rolltop, the Norvan has no other compression which allowed smaller loads to bounce slightly.

For hydration, a 2-liter Source-brand bladder is included. It’s clipped into a dedicated bladder pocket. The hose comes out the bottom of the pocket and runs under either arm. The top of the bladder feels inexpensive compared to other brands. When the hose port is facing away from the tester’s body, a rigid top handle pressed into their backs. The mouth-piece easily locks with a twist.

The Norvan 14 Vest could use an upgraded bladder but is very comfortable for runs and fast hikes with larger loads. It takes our recommendation for Best Large Running Pack. MSRP: $189 Buy Now

Best Small Racing Pack Nathan Sports VaporZach

Capacity: 2.5 liters

Weight: 4 oz (7.2 oz with flasks)

Hydration: 2 included 12-ounce flasks

Front Storage: 2 12-ounce flask pockets, 2 small velcro stuff pockets

Back Storage: 1 medium size main compartment, 1 small bottom kangaroo pocket, 1 small zip pocket

What we like:
  • Bottle pockets with straps work well
  • Included bottles feature straws and stiffeners
  • Easy to use sternum strap clips
  • Lightweight
What we don’t:
  • Hard to use shallow side pockets under arms
  • Limited storage.

The Nathan VaporZach was designed with pro runner Zach Miller. It’s compact, lightweight and only has the essentials. 2 flask pockets on the front easily hold the included 12 oz ExoShot flasks with straps for long straws. The 16-ounce soft flask fit as well but have less room for long straws. The ExoShot flasks are soft but have a light stiffener so you can push them into pockets and work very well with the long straws. Two Velcro pockets on top of the flask pockets can fit a couple of gels each.

Large, open pockets below the arms lead into the medium-sized kangaroo pocket on the back. The underarm pockets are so shallow that testers didn’t trust items to stay there. They mostly used the pockets to guide their hands into the kangaroo pocket for extra bottles or layers there.

Sizes include XS, S, M, L, XL. The large is designed for a 43- to 45-inch chest but still fits well with a 40-inch chest.

With only 2.5 liters of storage, the VaporZach won’t be holding much for long runs but works very well as a lightweight essentials holder and is our pick for Best Small Race Pack. MSRP: $124.99 Buy Now

Best Multi-Sport Running Pack CamelBak Octane 10

Capacity: 10 liters (8 with 2 liters of water)

Weight: 13 oz (20 oz with bladder)

Hydration: 2-liter bladder included

Front Storage: 2 flask pockets, deep zip pocket on left, small stretch pocket on right

Back Storage: 1 large top-load compartment with 2 small mesh pockets inside, 1 large mesh stretch pocket, 1 large zip bladder pocket, 1 small zip pocket on right

What we like:
  • More traditional pack with straps works well for hiking or biking
  • Bladder, nozzle and hose clips very easy to use
  • A large amount of storage in the main compartment
  • Flask and bladder compatible
What we don’t:
  • Straps don’t wrap body as well as vest style
  • No quick access pocket on back
  • Minimal compression

The CamelBak Octane 10 is a great small pack for running, hiking and mountain biking as well. It’s a good mix of a traditional backpack with straps and vest with storage options up front.

On the front, 4 pockets can hold 2 flasks, iPhone 7-sized phone, and a few gels. The main storage is on the back with a large top-loading compartment. A mesh stretch pocket can hold wet gear or quick access items when the lid is clipped. 2 bungees on the left side can hold poles. Aside from the lid, there were no compression options for smaller loads.

CamelBak knows how to make bladders. The 2-liter Crux bladder is easy to disconnect at the hose. The large opening has an integrated handle which made it easy to fill and clean. 2 hose clips on the shoulder strap held well while running and the nozzle was easy to unlock with one hand and provided more flow than any other bladder.

Testers liked how well it worked for running, hiking and biking. The CamelBak Octane 10 takes our pick for Best Multi-Sport Running Pack. MSRP: $100 Buy Now

Other Recommended Packs Cotopaxi Veloz 6

Capacity: 6 liter

Weight: 13 oz

Hydration: 2-liter bladder included, fits 12-ounce flasks

Front Storage: 2 zip pockets

Back Storage: 1 large zip compartment with a small zip pocket inside, 1 small zip pocket, 1 small stuff pocket, 1 bladder pocket

What we like:
  • Unisex Cruz harness
  • Unique design
  • High-quality bladder included
 What we don’t:
  • The learning curve to the chest clip
  • No hiking pole holders

Like everything Cotopaxi builds, the Veloz 6 has a unique design. The chest harness comes together at one aluminum chest clip. After a bit of a learning curve, testers were easily able to attach the clip and go. The lower belt webbing pulls forward to adjust.

A 2-liter Hydrapak bladder is included and routes over either shoulder. The front harness has 2 long zip pockets that can hold 12-ounce soft flasks. On the back 1 large and 1 small zip pockets are the bulk of the storage. Testers wanted more compression on the large compartment when the loads were small. A stuff pocket at the bottom can hold small jackets and has a small light pocket showing out the back. MSRP: $140 Buy Now

Montane VIA Fang 5

Capacity: 5 liters

Weight: 9.5 oz

Hydration: 2 500ml soft flasks, bladder compatible

Front Storage: 2 flask pockets (1 open, 1 zip), 2 small pockets, 2 stuff pockets under the arms

Back Storage: 1 large zip pocket, 1 small zip pocket, bungee on pack

What we like:
  • Polygiene odor control
  • Bladder hose can be run under-arm or over-shoulder
  • Quick trekking pole attachments
What we don’t:
  • Main zip on the back runs under a bungee
  • Large velcro strap reduces breathability

The Montane VIA Fang 5 running pack is a small, comfortable pack with a velcro closure on the front. The upper sternum strap clips to one of 4 webbing loops to either side while the lower strap is a large, stretchy velcro strap that is very adjustable. The strap is comfortable but reduces breathability. We tested a small/medium and found it slightly on the small side for users with 40-inch chests and above.

The right side has a stuff pocket for the flask while the left has a zipper. Both were easy to use with the included 16-ounce soft flasks. The flasks were not as easy to open with cold or wet hands and did not have locks on the nozzles.

The lightweight mesh breathed well during testing. With its anti-bacterial Polygiene coating, it resisted picking up smells that other packs did. MSRP: $145 Buy Now

The post Best Hydration Packs for Runners appeared first on Gear Institute.

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When considering trout reels, the term ‘absolute precision’ doesn’t usually come up. But we’ve heard that term a lot this year from our testers who have used the new Orvis Mirage LT reel.

More often than not, a trout reel’s primary function is simply line storage. Anglers will strip out the line they need for a cast, work that out to the fish, then if they manage to make a hook-up with a hungry trout, they’ll strip in the line by hand to land the fish. Getting a trout “on the reel” tends to be the exception rather than the rule.

But when exceptions happen, and the more time an angler spends on the water, the more frequently their reel will play a vital role in controlling a hooked fish. Those hard-charging, dedicated anglers are the ones Orvis engineers had in mind when they developed the Mirage LT.

The drag system features a sealed ball-bearing system that provides precision drift-free adjustment to help ensure you can provide just the right amount of pressure when fishing thin tippets and light lines. That drag goes from free-spool loose to ‘stop-a-truck’ tight in a single rotation of the control knob. And it does not drift. That is, the drag tension stays exactly where you set it until you change that setting.

We had a chance to see the intense level of engineering that went into this drag design and, without delving into technical details, we can honestly say intense attention to minute details can’t be fully appreciated when looking at the seemingly simple end result. But while the reel looks simple and elegant to the eye, its performance proves it is engineered to perfection. Our test sample was the Mirage LT III – suitable for 5- to 7-wt lines.

Then again, it is an elegant design as well. The reel is a true work of art, made from precision machined aluminum with a slick anodized finish.

The Mirage LT utilities many of the design features and tight production tolerances as its bigger sibling, the Mirage reel (see our review here), but in a lighter, more compact package. The LT is 30 percent lighter, and 30 percent narrower than the same line-size Mirage reel. Like all the other Mirage reels, the Mirage LT is made in New Hampshire by American craftsmen.

Though the price is significant for a trout reel, I call honestly say it is the best-performing trout reel I’ve ever used. Available in five sizes to cover lines from 1-wt to 11-wt, the Orvis Mirage LT sells for $349 to $429 from www.orvis.com.

The post Orvis Mirage LT: Redefining Trout Reels appeared first on Gear Institute.

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Gifts for dads are tough. Guy gifts just sort of blend together in a sort of golf-flavored, grill-smokey haze of shave-kit blandness. You can do better.

How about this? A knife with tattoos.

Deejo makes gift-priced and premium ultralight knives you can customize with dozens of artistic, laser-cut blade graphics and handle material combinations. Like totally customize. Like you pick the finish, you pick the handle wood, you pick the length, and you pick the engraved blade designs.  And you get the knife in less than a week. 

And the blade designs are awesome. By my count, there were 84 to chose from, ranging from nature-porn to motorhead motifs. Check these out:


There’s a specific designs collection for outdoor geeks like us. Here are some of the highlights:

Most of the Deejo knives are extremely light–ranging from 0.5 to 1.3 ounces–and very thin and pocket-friendly. They are designed for effortless everyday carry without taking up much space in your pocket or on a belt. The steel comes in three finishes–a polished mirror, matte grey titanium and a black titanium.

The handles come in a range of colored and stained woods, as well a range of Skittles-toned plastic colors.

The prices vary depending on your combination but generally range in the $45 – $70 zone.

For big spenders, there’s the splurge-ready Deejo “Exception Collection”, like the $450 Damascus-steel Snakewood handle combo below:

There’s also the big-boy Deejo Black 390g Olive Wood with Art Deco pattern, with a 7.4 inch blade ($230).

You can have the company engrave 35 characters of custom text to the base of the handle, which, mercifully, is enough room to say: “Happy Father’s Day 2019 u old fart!”

If you want to write a longer or more personalized message to Dad, there’s a cool engraving kit that will run you $160. You can have the whole family sign.

The classic Deejo knives come in three sizes. The largest is a 3.7-inch blade (4.3 inches closed) and weighs 1.3 ounces. The blade is easily long enough to sub-in for a steak knife in a pinch, although at its length, it’s a bit more comfortable to have on a belt than in a pocket when you sit.

The smallest, lightest, and most pocket-friendly weighs half an ounce and has a 2.7-inch blade.

The blades all feature an easy-to-operate frame-locking mechanism and an elongated drop-point shape. The designs are all laser engraved and permanent. You can get the knives “naked”–without the handle piece–if you want the design to continue on down the handle. And you can customize any particular design or style you want.

I found the Deejo customization and ordering interface and ordering experience to be really smooth. The blade selection tool is intuitive and lets you mix and match blade combination’s easily and save your ideas.

Here’s what my knife looked like before I ordered it:

Deejo promises to ship in less than 48 hours. I ordered late on a Friday, the knife shipped on the following Tuesday, and was in my hands two days later.

The blade is low profile and slim enough to wear in the city discretely and without feeling like it fills up your pocket. The slimness means it’s a little less ergonomic in the hands but that’s fine–this is not the knife you’ll be doing heavy chopping tasks with.  The smaller ones probably double as a nice money clip.

I am not usually a knife carrying kind of guy, but I found myself bringing the Deejo with me a lot more because it feels so personalized. The juniper wood and topo design I picked bring back memories I won’t bore you with but which I like keeping close to me. Picking the design makes this knife feel like less like a knife and more like a piece of you.

Choose wisely, and your dad will probably feel the same way.  

The post This Custom Knife Will Own Father’s Day appeared first on Gear Institute.

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For a real knife and tool-hound like myself, the anticipation for the new Leatherman “Free” series of multitools was almost too much to bear. After all, I’ve known “a new and revolutionary” tool series was coming from Leatherman for three years now, but was given very little detail. Then, in January, when SHOT show came around, I finally got that first taste of “Free” through some internet digging — my child-like excitement was almost uncontainable. So, thanks go out to the folks at Leatherman for getting one of the first test samples of the Free P2 sent to me to fawn over.

That said, I didn’t want to shoot from the hip and hurriedly post a review through rushed testing and very little day-to-day, spontaneous engagement. Heck, I’ve even been avoiding my editor for over a month, in fear that he would want this review up ASAP. No, this had to be handled with care, over days of an amalgamation of every-day use, adventuring, and Gear Institute testing processes. So please forgive us if the following isn’t your standard “Gear Review”. This has been an evolutionary and revolutionary experience and I feel the need to explain certain facets of this tool — because, after all, this IS the next big thing.

Leatherman Free P2 Multitool — photo: Nick Lefort

Additionally, though I haven’t had the chance to test out the P4, most of what’s going to be shared below, could be said for it as well both the Free P2 and P4 are the same size, with the P4 adding an ounce, as well as a dedicated serrated blade and saw. So keep that in mind when you’re considering which one you want to buy. And you will be considering buying one. Trust me.

Let’s dig in.

Free P2, $119.95
Closed Length: 4.25 in
Weight: 7.6 oz
Number of Tools: 19


  • Needlenose Pliers
  • Regular Pliers
  • Wire Cutters (Replaceable)
  • Hard Wire Cutters (Replaceable)
  • Electrical Crimper
  • Wire Striper
  • 2 ¾” 420HC Combo Edge Knife
  • Scissors
  • Package Opener
  • Awl
  • Can Opener
  • Wood / Metal File
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Extra Small Flathead
  • Small Flathead
  • Medium Flathead
  • Pry Tool
  • Ruler
  • Pocket Clip
Leatherman Free P2 onboard tools. Photo: Nick Lefort

The Leatherman Free “P2” is a multitool that is as familiar as it is different. It features the prerequisite multitool components: pliers, an assortment of screwdrivers – big and small; Phillips and Flathead. Scissors. Knife, awl, and file. But it also has magnets. Magnets? Of course it has magnets – but who would think to use them to streamline and improve the overall function of a multitool? Leave it to Leatherman, the people who invented the multitool.

True One-hand use
Enhanced ease of use and safety
Aggressive Lock Mechanism
The Magic of Magnets
Pocket Clip

No spring in the pliers
420HC Blade Steel
No Pocket Clip (P4) [Editor’s Update: the Free P4 now comes standard with a pocket clip.]

Out of the box, the Free P2 was a little stiff and the tools didn’t open and close as smoothly as I had seen in videos from SHOT show where those lucky ducks were spinning and flipping the tools around as if they were riding on ball-bearings. But within a day, the stiffness subsided and, in the course of the past three weeks, the P2 has not only become my goto EDC pocket tool, but it’s also something of a fidget spinner. I find myself swinging it open throughout the day, as well as engaging and disengaging the onboard tools. Having owned nearly every tool Leatherman has produced, the P2 is the easiest and most adaptable tool they’ve ever made. Even with the insane amount of gear testing I do, I have never paid this much attention to — or spent this much time — focused on a multitool.

Leatherman Free P2 onboard tools. Photo: Nick Lefort

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: How are those magnets?
When I first saw that Leatherman was going to rely on magnets for smooth and secure operating in the Free Series, I worried about their effectiveness after getting all gritty and grimy from day to day use and riding along in my pocket.

I am happy to report, that after almost a month of abuse, the magnets still work as intended without any interruption in function. I even made sure to NOT clean the tool after a few intense and dirty moments, which were totally outside the realm of normal use, and the magnets still performed exceptionally.

In short: they’re a pure joy and an asset to the functionality, safety, and overall performance of the tool.

Leatherman Free P2 pocket clip. Photo: Nick Lefort

Nine times out of ten, if I need to use a multitool, I’m already in a compromised position – like under my truck on the side of a trail, or while hoisting up a nest of wires in my new-to-me house; so I need a multitool that I can easily deploy. However, it also needs to be something that requires a little effort to disengage.

The P2 offers that balance of access and security. It’s designed for one-hand operation, but Leatherman also beefed up their already substantial lock system. Leatherman carried this theme into the plier arms as well, which have a substantial slip-lock that requires more effort to engage and disengage. Oh, and yes, all of this works with a gloved hand.

The shining star here, at least in terms of access, is the pocket clip. Standard on the P2, but available for the P4 as an add-on, the pocket clip keeps the P2 at the ready, riding on the rim of my pocket and not lost inside of it. For years I have been bolting or welding on pocket clips to my Leatherman tools — this is a real treat for me. [Editor’s Update: the Free P4 now comes standard with a pocket clip.]

Leatherman Free P2 pliers. Photo: Nick Lefort

Many multitools on the market today suffer from flex under duress – a situation where the arms of the pliers begin to twist under torsion. Though there is some give when you squeeze the arms, there is no twisting under strain. This can be accredited to the pliers themselves, which were completely redesigned to combat this issue as well as to be more streamlined to access tighter spaces.

One notable difference in construction is use of standard Torx bolts instead of security Torx bolts. This allows the end-user to perform routine maintenance on the tool, but also opens the doors for repair as well as modification (which would totally void the warranty, but we’ve all done it to some extent.)

Leatherman didn’t stray too far from the norm when it comes to the onboard tool assortment. I will be honest when I say that I am glad that they didn’t choose this tool to rely on bit drivers, as they’ve done in the past. I can appreciate the versatility of a bit driver, but nothing beats the long neck on a Phillips or Flathead screwdriver. The one stand-out here, and it’s an odd-ball, is the package opener that is ground into the large flathead. It’s not sharp enough to cut you, and it doesn’t take away from the function of the flathead – but it does add the ability to open up packages, as well as making score lines for cutting lumber, etc.

Leatherman Free P2 knife blade. Photo: Nick Lefort

Though I rarely rely on the knife blade included in the majority of multitools — it is there, and I will use it. That said, being that this is a total reinvention of the tool they invented, this would have been the prime opportunity for Leatherman to step away from their marriage to 420HC for their blade steel. It’s a fine steel that holds up in both corrosion and edge resistance, but there are better options out there that wouldn’t impact the price. Even more coveted steels like S30V, a premium steel, wouldn’t have had that much of a financial impact, since it’s so widely used nowadays.

Leatherman Free P2 onboard scissors. Photo: Nick Lefort

In the course of compiling this diatribe, I had the opportunity to bounce reactions off a good friend of mine and I came to the conclusion that the P2 is the PST (or PST II considering the scissors) of the 21st century. It’s a tool that will serve as the foundation for future multitools.

Both the P2 and P4 tools are a much needed update in a stale EDC tool category and feature everything you need in terms of a pocket survival tool. As we evolve and technology evolves, who knows where Leatherman will be in twenty-five years? But you can bet people will still be using and talking about the Free P-Series, just like they are the PST and PST II.

The post The Leatherman Free P2: The Foundation for Future Multitools appeared first on Gear Institute.

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This week, Peak Design, a Bay-area innovator of photographic accessories, launches an entirely new line of products to shake-up the old guard of the photo industry. Ironically, the product that is going to shake the foundations of the photo world’s static design is something built for stability: A unique tripod.

The new Peak Design Travel Tripod launches on Kickstarter Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Last week, we had a chance to meet the designers and – more importantly – get our hands on an early sample of the new tripod. We came away impressed.

Peak Design founder and CEO Peter Dering said the Travel Tripod concept has been in the works for more than a decade. The motivation behind the Travel Tripod came from a desire to eliminate all the negative space within the envelope of a closed traditional tubular-legged tripod. Even the most compact traditional tripod has a lot of air space between those tubular legs, making the unit bulky and hard to carry in modern, sleek backpacks and travel bags.

“During my travels in 2008, I began wondering why on Earth my tripod was so big. The thing was full of negative space and knobs, and I felt like something designed for portability could do much better,” commented Peak Design CEO, Peter Dering. “I quickly realized that anything short of a complete design overhaul would fail to meet my criteria of the perfect travel tripod. It took years of development, but the outcome is a camera tripod that seamlessly integrates into all aspects of travel and adventure.”

The Peak Design engineers reimaging the legs as angled wedges that fit snugly together to form a slim cylinder enclosing the triangular shaft of the center column when packed. To further complement the sleek design, PD’s engineers rejected the traditional concepts of a ballhead and created a brand-new product.

During a week of shooting around San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest, I found that the Peak Design ballhead works better than any other tripod head I’ve ever used. Cameras sit flush on the low-profile head and a single gnarled perimeter ring controls the movement of the camera. This allows one-handed operation of all angles of motion of the camera, meaning one hand can stay on the camera controls while the other allows pan-and-tilt to follow the action in front of the camera. The camera mounts securely onto the head using Peak Design’s patented plates. These are the same plates used to secure cameras to Peak Design’s award-winning Capture Clip carry system (see GI Review here) and are fully compatible with Arca-Swiss style tripod mounts. Conversely, Arca-Swiss plates are compatible with the new Peak Design ballhead.

We tested the carbon version of the Travel Tripod, though an Aluminum version will also be available. Performance-wise, the two models are nearly identical – the only real differences are in weight and price. (Carbon is lighter, and more expensive – $599.95 vs $349.95).

The Travel Tripod proved capable of holding a Canon EOS dSLR body and 100-400mm L-series lens stable in gusty winds while shooting at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. But if added stability is needed, a backpack or weighted bag can be hung from the integrated hook at the bottom of the center column. With the center column fully extended, the tripod stands 58.5 inches tall. But when packed for travel, the unit is a mere 15.25 inches long, and just 3.5 inches diameter!

The launch of the Travel Tripod marks Peak Design’s 9th Kickstarter campaign, and the previous 8 proved wildly successful, starting with the company’s inaugural product, the Capture Clip, and continuing through their unique pack and travel luggage designs. Though unique and innovative, those previous products did not radically alter the landscape of a well-established market. The Travel Tripod has the potential to do that. The Peak Design team has completely reimaged dual – and competing – issues of camera stability and compact design/portability.  The PD Travel Tripod is stable and secure, but also lighter and more compact than any other carbon fiber tripod out there.

The post Peak Design’s Travel Tripod: A New Level of Stability for Photographers appeared first on Gear Institute.

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