The time to start testing and dialing in your finalized John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail gear list is now! Finding the right tent, backpack, clothes, and trekking poles can be tough, but nothing seems to give prospective hikers more issues than footwear. Like tires on a car, your shoes and trekking poles are the only pieces of gear that come into contact with the actual trail. You’ll be relying heavily on your footwear over many miles to provide grip, traction, comfort, and protection. Choosing the wrong pair for your feet can easily make for an early exit from the trail. I hope to help you prevent such occurrences with this list. Here are the 14 best pairs of trail shoes for the John Muir Trail and Pacific Crest Trail in 2018!
To get started, let’s lay out the factors that helped determine my choice of footwear picks for the JMT and PCT in 2018:
It’s a mostly non-technical trail, with possible snow and ice over high passes in late spring and early summer. This will be especially important this year with the late storms we’ve been getting through March.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range has a lot of granite, so shoes need to be durable and offer good underfoot protection.
It will be warm in the summer months.
There will be stream crossings and thunderstorms. Expect powerful flows at stream crossings this year with all of the late snow.
Most hikers will cover 15-30 miles a day, so all-day comfort is very important.
On long and hot days, your feet will swell and your skin will dehydrate.
Many hikers will carry a pack with a base weight of 20-35 lbs. Hiking with a lighter pack will make your trail shoes much more comfortable. Pack light!
Given these conditions, I can rule out any option that is a hightop boot and/or has Gore-Tex. Why? Boots are too heavy and most do not breathe well. This will cause blistering and other foot problems. Gore-Tex (GTX), from my anecdotal accounts alongside many others, drenches your feet from the inside out. GTX will trap heat into your shoe or boot, causing you to sweat through your socks. If you get GTX footwear wet, good luck drying them out. It could take days. GTX might keep water out, but it will also keep it in. If you’ve ever been in prolonged rain with GTX boots on, you’ll know they will eventually get wet. I don’t want to go too far on this point, but GTX is sold like crazy, and doesn’t do what people think it does. Skip it.
Now that we’ve ruled a few choices out, here is what I do look for:
Lightweight: under 14 oz.
Breathable: must let feet breathe and dry quickly
Forefoot Protection: Must protect my feet from the rocky trail with a rockplate and/or ample cushion
Low Drop: I like a 4-8mm drop for stability
Fit: I prefer shoes with a foot shaped toe box and no slop in the heel or midfoot
My Foot: My foot is not your foot! Try on multiple shoes and go with the one that fits your foot shape.
Durable: Shoe must be able to handle 400 miles per pair or more
Comfortable: No hot spots or rubbing points, with a nearly seamless interior upper
Stable: Not necessarily with inserts or built in support, but I’m not a fan of narrow or flimsy shoes with a pack on
Drainage: With thunderstorms and stream crossings, I need the shoes to drain and dry quickly
Affordable: When you factor in the amount of miles a hiker will cover on the PCT, and/or the number of miles a hiker will cover on the JMT including training, the price of a shoe is important. The price of trail shoes has gone up recently, with some shoes sold for prices that can’t be justified for what they offer.
Availability: This is more of an issue for those on the PCT and not on the JMT. JMT hikers only need one pair of shoes for the actual hike, and probably one or two for their training miles. PCT hikers are going to need at least 3-6 pairs while they’re hiking the actual trail. Some hikers will buy all of their shoes ahead of time and ship them to resupply points. For those that don’t, they need to be able to find shoes in their size at places like REI on their zero days.
New for 2018!
I’ve broken down my recommendations into four main categories: traditional shoes, stability shoes, max cushion shoes, and minimal shoes. The order in which I’ve ranked these selections is how a relative newcomer to hiking in trail shoes should look at the list. For those with experience, and those that already know what they like, feel free to jump ahead to the section of your preference.
I consider a traditional shoe to have around 20mm of cushion in the forefoot of the midsole, a neutral platform, and a standard outsole. Traditional used to mean a 10-12mm drop in the midsole as well, but the popularity of low drop and zero drop shoes are starting to change that.
1.) Altra Lone Peak 3.5 (4)
Drop: 0mm (20mm to 20mm)
Weight: 10.2 oz
The Altra Lone Peak is the king of the JMT and PCT. That title was once held by the Brooks Cascadia, but the Cascadia’s had some fit and durability issues for model years 2015 and 2016. The Lone Peaks have gotten better with each version and have spread like wildfire on the trail. The Lone Peak is now on version 3.5, with a slightly updated v4 due out this summer. The Lone Peak offers adequate underfoot protection with 20mm of cushion and a stone guard. I wish the outsole was a little grippier, but the harder compound makes the 3.5 more durable than previous models. If you’re looking for a trail shoe that fits and feels like a slipper, the Lone Peak is for you.
Best For: Hikers and fastpackers prone to blisters and foot swelling.
Pros: Wide toebox, comfortable fit, affordable, wide availability Cons: Zero drop platform requires an adjustment period
2.) Brooks Cascadia 12 (13)
Drop: 10mm (27mm to 17mm)
Weight: 12 oz
The Cascadia may have lost it’s PCT/JMT crown to the Altra Lone Peak, but it’s still a very popular shoe. The 10mm drop platform offers a more familiar underfoot feel for many hikers, while keeping the feet protected with a very good rock plate. The Cascadia 10 and 11 had durability issues with the upper, but the 12 seems to have fixed that. The Cascadia is a bit too narrow for my foot, but my foot is a little wider than average. The Cascadia outsole is very durable, but a little slick on smooth or wet surfaces. If the Cascadia fits your foot, you’ll love the awesome protection and durability it provides.
Best For: Hikers and fastpackers seeking bombproof protection in a runable platform
Pros: Underfoot protection, wide availability Cons: A little narrow
3.) Salomon XA Elevate
Drop: 8mm (26mm to 18mm)
Weight: 10.6 oz
As many of my readers know, the Salomon Sense Ride was one of my favorite shoes from 2017. I just can’t recommend it for the PCT and JMT because it lacks the underfoot protection I think is necessary. The Salomon XA Elevate provides the comfort and feel of the Sense Ride, but with way more protection. The XA Elevate is a “new” shoe from Salomon for 2018. The shoe isn’t completely new though, as it’s really just the Salomon XA Enduro without the bootie.
I just started wear testing the XA Enduro in January, and am liking it so far. The XA Enduro is narrow in the midfoot and toebox, but the underfoot ride and protection allow me to forgive that a little. The outsole is the star of the XA Enduro, using Salomon’s wet traction Contragrip and very well designed lug pattern.
Best For: Hikers and fastpackers with narrow feet seeking lots of protection without a stiff platform
Pros: Underfoot protection, smooth ride, incredible grip and traction from the outsole Cons: Too narrow from the midfoot to the toebox
I just received the Salomon S-Lab Ultra last month, and I have to say that they are probably my favorite pair of trail shoes ever. So why aren’t they number one on the list? Well, they’re $180 and not very easy to find in stores. This is the shoe that Salomon athlete Francois D’haene wore for his win at UTMB 2017 and his 2017 FKT of the JMT. Fancois completed the JMT in 2 days, 19 hours, and 26 minutes wearing these shoes! The fit, comfort, and underfoot protection are unbeatable in this shoe. I can’t wait to start putting more miles in with them. If I were hiking the JMT tomorrow, this would hands-down be my shoe of choice.
Best For: Hikers and fastpackers with no budget limitations seeking the very best trail shoe on the market
Pros: Protection, comfort, fit, grip, traction Cons: Price and availability
Stability shoes are very similar to the traditional shoes above, but are built on a much more rigid platform. Some of these stability shoes use a plastic shank or a midsole chassis to provide torsional support and structure. These shoes also have a ton of underfoot protection. Although stability shoes can be heavy, they’re my preferred shoe choice when hiking with a heavy pack and/or on highly technical terrain.
5.) La Sportiva Bushido
Drop: 6mm (26mm to 20mm)
Weight: 11 oz
The Mekong Delta is a region of Vietnam that’s a two hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). This large swath of land covers 15,600 square miles and is made up of rivers, swamps, and islands with villages and floating markets throughout. Many of the inhabitants of the Mekong Delta rely on boats as their primary form of transportation. The Mekong Delta makes for an amazing day trip for travelers making their way through Southern Vietnam, especially those staying in Ho Chi Minh City. On our day trip we enjoyed local foods and treats, a canal boat ride, a visit to a coconut candy factory, a horse drawn carriage ride, and more!
Our day started early for our outing to Mekong Delta with a 7:30 pickup at our hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. We were once again in the hands of our amazing guide, Tino, from My Odyssey Tours. To break up the length of our drive to Mekong Delta, we stopped along the way at the Vinh Trang Temple in My Tho.
Vinh Trang Temple in My Tho
Ving Trang Chua is a Buddhist temple located in the city of My Tho. The temple was constructed pretty recently, having been completed in 1850.
The main hall of the Ving Trang contains various Buddha statues, including Amitabha, Gautama, and quite a few bodhisattvas.
The outside temple gardens of Ving Trang Chua have a pagoda, two massive concrete statues, and a multitude of beautiful potted plants.
Bee Hives And Dried Fruit
From Ving Trang Chua, we drove to our boat dock launching point on Mekong Delta to begin our exploration on the water. The old motor boat we took along with our skipper set the mood for what was to be an incredible day.
Our first stop for the day was at a beehive farm where honey and other honey based products are manufactured. It was incredible to see the number of bees going to work to produce the goods we were consuming
After seeing the bees at work, we sat down to enjoy some tea, plantains, and something that had the look of a honey based granola bar. After tea, we met back up with our boat skipper and made our way over to a Quoi An fruit orchard where we would get to eat locally grown fruits while listening to traditional Mekong music.
Quoi An Fruit Orchard With Traditional Music
When we arrived at the fruit orchard we got to walk around and relax for a bit before being seated to a table of fruits and tea. The pineapple, dragon fruit, jackfruit, banana, and papaya were simply out of this world delicious. I almost never get to eat fruit this fresh at home, so it was a real treat.
Johnson’s Pasture is a 180-acre plot of land in the foothills of Claremont that’s a part of the larger Claremont Hills Wilderness Park. This 4-mile loop hike gains a respectable 860-ft of elevation, and provides some of my favorite views of the San Gabriel Mountains. In this guide, I’ll provide directions, a map, photos, and a detailed hike description for the Johnston’s Pasture Gale Mountain Loop.
The Johnson’s Pasture loop hike is located just east of the more popular ‘Claremont 5-mile Loop‘, and just south of the ‘Marshall Canyon Loop‘. Once you’ve tried out this hike through Johnson’s Pasture, you can do like I do, and mix sections of all three for days when you want to go for big miles.
Getting There: Directions And GPS Track
The trailhead for the Johnson’s Pasture Loop is located in the north of Claremont on Indian Hill Blvd. There is no Indian Hill exit, so you’ll need to exit Baseline from the east or Towne from the west. Once on Indian Hill, head north until the road dead-ends at Armstrong Dr. There is a parking lot across from La Puerta Sports Park: 2599 N Indian Hill Blvd, Claremont, CA 91711
0.0 Miles- Starting from the parking lot on Indian Hill Blvd, pass the yellow posts and take a left hand turn onto the asphalt Thompson Creek walking path.
There is a dirt path that parallels the asphalt Thompson Creek walking path that I prefer to take for this short stretch of trail.
0.2 Miles- You’ll reach a gate that welcomes you into the Sycamore Canyon Park. Take a right hand turn and enter Sycamore Canyon. Keep your eyes open, as the Thompson Creek trail sign is just ahead to the right.
Just after entering Sycamore Canyon, you’ll see a sign for a trail that leads to Johnson’s Pasture. The trail is fairly steep, but wooden posts have been added to help with footing.
As you look back, views of Claremont and the Inland Empire will begin to open up.
This hiking trail is dog friendly and a great place to bring the pups since traffic is usually minimal.
The Julbo Explorer was an iconic pair of sunglasses built for adventures in extreme outdoor environments. The Explorer, at it’s core, was a pair of mountaineering sunglasses that could handle anything from alpine treks to extreme class 5 climbing. I used the Explorer with Spectron 4 lenses for a few years, and they were easily one of my favorite pairs of sunglasses. Last year, Julbo released an updated Explorer 2.0, and I’ve been wear testing them ever since their release.
The major changes for the Explorer 2.0 come in the design of the frames. The original Explorer was stuck somewhere between a heavy pair of sunglasses and a light pair of goggles. The Explorer 2.0 weighs the same as the original, but leaves the bulky frame design behind for something that looks and feels more like Julbo’s trail running performance lineup. The Explorer 2.0 still offers plenty of coverage and protection for harsh glare and direct sun, they just feel more comfortable while doing so. For people seeking their first pair of alpine hiking and/or mountaineering sunglasses, the Explorer 2.0 is a must buy. But is the Explorer 2.0 a worthwhile upgrade for those of us that already own the original Explorer? You’ll have to read this review and decide for yourself!
The Julbo Explorer 2.0 are 130mm wide with an 11mm nose bridge and 135mm ear stems. The lens sockets have a width of 61mm. The dimensions on the Explorer 2.0 are the same as the original, but the shape of the frames is much improved. The original Explorer had a bit of a ‘bug-eye’ look to them. The top line on the bridge of the Explorer 2.0 is now straight across. This improves the looks and keeps more light from seeping in from above. I had an issue with the original Explorer where light would seep in from above the frame. This is no longer an issue with the 2.0. The nose guard clip on the top of the nose bridge remains, but it is now flatter and more low profile. The overall coverage of the Explorer 2.0 is superb, with the frame and attached side shields mapping the contours of my face to prevent any light from getting in.
The Explorer 2.0 comes in at a weight of 44g or 1.5 oz. Although this is the same weight as the original Explorer, they seem to feel lighter on my face. I think this can be attributed to the rubberized nose grips that allow the frame to sit in a better position on my nose bridge.
The Explorer 2.0 has adjustable ear stems that are less malleable than the previous version. I like the more rigid ear stem structure, as they don’t bend out of place so easily. I’ve worn these sunglasses for long days on and off the trail and have never felt any unwanted throbbing or pressure points. The Explorer 2.0 gets top marks for comfort.
The Explorer 2.0 comes with detachable side shades like the original Explorer. I’m glad julbo got rid of the bright green accents on the side shades in favor of a matte grey. The green accents on my old Explorers always bothered me. The new side shades on the Explorer 2.0 disappear and go unnoticed, just as they should.
The Julbo Explorer 2.0 comes with a detachable neck lanyard, and is the same one found on my original Explorer and Bivouak model. This lanyard is a no-fuss accessory that allows me to drape the Explorer 2.0 from my neck when I need to take them off while on trail.
On my previous pair of Julbo Explorers I opted for the Spectron 4 lenses. For the explorer 2.0, I paid a little more and got Julbo’s photochromic Camel lenses. I fell in love with the Camel lenses on my Julbo Bivouak, and have a hard time using any other lens option now. The Spectron 4 is still a great choice and superb option for those looking to save a little money. For those not familiar with lens features, functions, and terminology, I’ve put together an entire post to help you get accustomed. For those that just want a quick overview, I’ll cover the main points here.
The first thing to look for when picking a lens to wear for hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering is that they offer complete and full spectrum UV protection. Most expensive sunglasses will have this. From there, you need to look at the protection standard category. For most outdoor activities, you’ll want a Category 3 or 4 lens. This means they’ll only permit a maximum of 18% of visible light. For activities in the shade and fog, Category 2 is fine (18% to 43%). If you plan on spending anytime in exposed mountains, on glaciers, or on snowy trails, you’ll want to block much more light.
The Julbo Spectron 4 lens is Category 4 allows for 5% light transmission. The Julbo Camel lens ranges from Category 2-4, adjusting to light to allow anywhere from 5% to 20% light transmission. The Camel lenses are also polarized. You can find the light transmission range and features of each Julbo lens offering in the tables below.
Most adventurous outdoor parents can tell you what a challenge it can be bringing toddlers along for camping and backpacking trips. Before having kids, cold weather, bad food, and the discomforts of camping and trail life were a part of the romance and pageantry of each outing. With a non-verbal toddler, those minor discomforts can quickly become a big issue. After a few rough nights of winter camping in a tent, I started looking for alternative sleeping options. My goal was to find a trailer that would allow us to enjoy the outdoors without having to brave the cold winter nights and powerful winds we often get here in the California desert.
After looking around online, I discovered a company called Off The Grid Rentals. Poking around on their website, I found that they specialize in providing off-road ready Teardrop trailers and roof top tents to adventurous outdoor families. They have two pickup locations in Southern California, and I really lucked out since I live 12 miles from one of their locations. They also have pick-up locations in Utah and Arizona. From there, Julia got in contact with Off The Grid Rentals, and we were embarking on a California desert road trip only two days later.
After a 3-day weekend road trip covering more than 500 miles, I’m a Teardrop trailer convert. It’s going to be pretty difficult getting my son to hop back into a tent after this experience. This trip was a game-changer for sure. With that being the case, here are 5 reasons our family road trips will never be the same!
1. Bad Weather Is Only A Mild Inconvenience
At the tail end of our road trip, a pretty big storm blew into Southern California. The wind on the storm front packed gusts in the 40-50mph range. This all started at around 3:00 AM. I only realized this because I went outside to use the restroom and almost got blown over. I was amazed how well insulated the Teardrop trailer was from cold and wind noise. My son was sleeping like a champ and had no clue what was going on outside. Had we been in a tent, that night would have proceeded in a radically different fashion. Sleeping in a trailer will allow us to safely camp in colder locations and higher elevations without having to worry about my son’s comfort and health. I can’t wait to bring this camper up to Grandview Campground in the Ancient Bristlecone forest once the road is open.
Since the Teardrop has such a small profile, it’s very easy to tow. Even in high winds, I could hardly feel that I had a trailer attached to my 4runner. Having never really towed anything before this Teardrop, this was an issue that had me concerned. I still have a lot of work to do in regards to learning how to backup with a trailer. Driving forward, however, couldn’t be easier.
2. Sleeping Gets A Lot More Comfortable
When the nights are cold, windy, and rainy, even the most steadfast adventurer can struggle sleeping outside. Having slept in those conditions on more than a few occasions over the past few years, the inside of this Teardrop is downright luxurious. This makes me feel a lot better (and safer) when bringing my 20-month old toddler on camping trips in the middle of nowhere.
The full size mattress comfortably fits 2 adults with one child in between. This Teardrop also had shelves, a stereo, and USB chargers for our phones.
On the top of the Teardrop we had a pop-up tent. This isn’t a standard feature for all rentals, but is an extra option by request. The pop-up tent provides sleeping space for three more people, and is an awesome place to relax and nap once you’ve found a place to camp.
3. There’s No Need To Set Up Camp
When we take road trips, we often leave on Friday night after work. In the winter months with shorter days, that means arriving to campsites in the dark. Pitching a tent, blowing up sleeping pads, and preparing dinner in the dark can be a real chore at times. Having a ready-to-go camper alleviates all of these issues as your bed is already made and the entire trailer unit has bright LED lighting.
Leaving one campsite and heading to another in the morning is easy work with a trailer, as there is no tent to break down and no sleeping pads to deflate. We simply made our bed, shut the doors, and we were off and running.
4. The Teardrop Krawler Can Go Virtually Anywhere My 4runner Can
When I first started looking at trailers I was worried about whether or not I’d be able to take them on some of the rutted fire roads we usually drive on to get to dispersed campsites. This Teardrop model is called the Krawler and it’s built for off-highway adventures. What makes the Krawler special is it’s Old Man Emu leaf springs under a 3500 lbs axle, 20″ of ground clearance, 10″ electric brakes, and 9-way adjustable shocks. The kit is finished off with Method race wheels and all-terrain tires. On our first night we made our way out to Afton Canyon, home of the famous Mojave Road, and had no problem on the steep, sandy, and rutted roads in.
5. Cooking And Cleaning Off-The-Grid Isn’t An Issue
I have such an aversion to cooking and cleaning while camping that I almost always bring dehydrated meals and my Jetboil for dinner. This is even the case at established campsites! The Teardrop we rented had such a nice kitchen that I had to break from tradition. The Krawler comes with a full propane stove, pots, pans,..
The Terraventure is a neutral trail running shoe from Topo Athletic with a foot shaped anatomical last, breathable upper, and a dynamic underfoot ride. The Terraventure strikes the right balance of providing a lightweight shoe with just enough underfoot protection. As a light hiker, the Terraventure is a pure joy to wear and has become one of my favorite pairs of shoes in my rotation. I’ve put the this shoe to the test on a variety of trails, and will detail my experience in this review.
To many of you, the Topo Athletic brand may be new. Founder Tony Post (To-Po) started the company in 2013 with a desire to make a “natural” running shoe that maintained the benefits of traditional running shoes. You may not know Tony Post by name, but you probably have heard of the company Vibram USA, where he was CEO for 11 years. Tony helped oversee the explosion of barefoot running with the Vibram Five Finger shoes. When he left Vibram, he launched Topo with a mission to create shoes that “amplify the body’s natural and intuitive abilities”.
Sizing and Weight: The best part about wearing a shoe with a foot shaped last is that I don’t have to size up or play any strange lacing games to get a proper fit. I wear a ‘true-to-size’ 12 in the Terraventure, and that size 12 comes in at a very respectable 12.52 ounces.
Toebox: The toe box has a wide foot shaped last, but doesn’t feel sloppy. There is a welded overlay making up the rand and toe guard that provides good structure and protection without causing any discomfort. There is an average amount of volume in the toe area, which works well with this shoe’s slight toe spring.
In use, I don’t think I could ask for a better toebox shape for my foot. On longer hikes, there is plenty of room for my toes to splay and feet to swell. Even on long steep downhills, this shoe just refuses to cause any hotspots. I can see the Terraventure catching on with the thru-hiking crowd for this reason especially. Altra has been completely dominating that market of late with the wide toe boxes on their Lone Peak, Olympus, and Superior models. I find the midfoot and heel of the Altra models a little off for my foot shape, and their lasts seem to change in every update to a model. The Terraventure will be a great thru-hiking option for the lightweight hiker.
Midfoot: From past experience, I’m conditioned to assume a shoe with a foot shaped or anatomical last will also have a loose fitting midfoot and heel. Not so with the Terraventure. The toebox has substantial width and a relaxed fit, but things dial in very nicely as you move into the midfoot. The lacing system wraps the midfoot nicely without causing any unwanted pressure points.
Heel: When I first tried on the Terraventure, the heel felt a little off due to the padding. There are two pods of cushion that sit on either side of each achilles and my heel couldn’t sit firmly into the heel cup. After a few miles the cushion started to pack down, and now the heel feels like it’s custom fit. The heel has a flexible counter that doesn’t get in the way of your foot, but provides a nice amount of lateral support on uneven trails.
The upper of the Terraventure utilizes a flexible heel-to-toe polyurethane overlay on top of a layer of nylon mesh. Despite the full coverage overlay, the Terraventure runs cool and breathes well. There’s an additional overlay on the forefoot for an adequate toe guard. I’ve kicked a few rocks with this shoe, and my toes were well protected.
The tongue on the Terraventure is fully gusseted, and stitched in a way that keeps the seem away from your foot. I haven’t had any issue with dirt or debris finding it’s way into these shoes. The one thing about the upper that is a little off for my taste is the short tongue. The tongue barely goes up past the laces and could use a little length.
Topo uses a Ghillie lacing system with offset loops that work with the shape of each person’s foot. This design is top notch and allows me to get things dialed in perfectly.
The Topo Athletic Terraventure is built on a 3mm drop, with 25mm in the heel and 22mm in the forefoot. The level platform provides a lot of stability on the trail, and the 3mm drop is a little more forgiving on my calves and achilles than a 0mm drop shoe.
It feels like the Terraventure uses a dual density EVA midsole, with the black top layer a little more dense than the lower green layer. I haven’t been able to find any information online to corroborate that though. The midsole has a wide flared heel with a chamfered lateral edge, which helps provide smooth and easy downhill miles.
The on-trail ride and feel of the Terraventure is on the firm side which is what I prefer in a trail shoe. The midsole has a responsive and stable platform that has worked for fast day hikes and with a light pack. The Terraventure can handle any distances you want to throw at them.
In the forefoot of the midsole, the Terraventure uses a flexible ESS rock plate for protection from stones and sharp objects. This stone guard is definitely on the light weight side in regards to protection. It does the job when called upon, but leaves me wanting a little more protection on rough and rocky trails. The midsole has enough cushioning to soften the impact on most trails, but on longer days that flexible stone guard lets a little too much push-through make it to my feet. I think the flex grooves and exposed EVA on the outsole could contribute to this as well. By trading a little protection, the Terraventure does maintain the natural feel and and uninhibited flex. That’s a trade-off shoe designers have to make.
The outsole on the Terraventure uses a series of multi-directional 6mm carbon rubber lugs. As I mentioned above, this outsole is not full coverage. There are sections of EVA in the midfoot and on flex grooves in the forefoot. These exposed sections help maintain shoe flexibility and also keep the overall weight down, as outsole rubber is heavy. On my first few hikes and runs, the exposed EVA appeared to start wearing down quickly. That rate seemed to asymptote rather quickly though, and the shoe is no worse for the wear. The black carbon rubber has been holding up very well.
The Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 is the best super-wide angle e-mount lens available for Sony mirrorless cameras today. The Batis 18mm is incredibly sharp from corner to corner, and provides high contrast images with deep color saturation. As an avid hiker, backpacker, and traveler, I’ve found the Batis 18mm to be a lightweight ‘do-it-all’ lens that always gets the job done. I’ve been using this lens non-stop for the last few months now, and will share my experience with sample photos in the following review.
Lens Construction, Handling, And Build Quality:
The Zeiss Batis family of lenses includes this 18mm f/2.8, as well as a 25mm f/2, 85mm f/1.8, and 135mm f/2.8. The Batis range is for Sony e-mount only. For those wondering what ‘Batis’ means, it’s a genus of passerine birds in the wattle-eyes family. Zeiss uses this bird family nomenclature for each family group of it’s mirrorless lenses, ie. Touit and Loxia.
All of the lenses in the Batis family share a minimal tulip bulb design that I find very attractive. There is a simple elegance about the Batis design that really makes this 18mm lens stand out when compared to my other more utilitarian lenses.
The Zeiss Batis 18mm is constructed using a combination of metal and plastic, providing a durable and robust build in a light weight 11.6oz package. In the middle of the Batis 18mm is a rubberized infinite scroll focus ring that feels great in hand on the rare occasions I need to focus this lens manually.
The Batis 18mm is 3.94″ x 3.15″, but grows substantially in length and width when used with it’s flower pedal lens hood. With a 77mm filter thread and a front element that’s a little susceptible to flares, the lens hood is a must while shooting out in the sun. Make sure not to lose your lens hood, because a replacement will set you back $77!
The Zeiss Batis 18mm f/2.8 has a metal bayonet and is weather and dust sealed. As someone that shoots 95% of my pictures outdoors in occasionally very harsh weather, this quality weather sealing is a major bonus. When attaching the Batis 18mm to my Sony a7rii, I can feel the blue rubber ring create a seal with my lens mount. This keeps much more dust out than my other lenses, which means less sensor cleaning.
I switched over to Sony full frame cameras with an A7ii and A7rii last year after owning an APS-C a6000 for three years. I would have switched over sooner, but couldn’t find a suitable replacement for my super wide angle Sony 10-18mm lens. That zoom lens is lightweight, takes incredible images, and is perfect for adventures when I’m looking to pack light. My first full frame wide angle was the Sony 16-35mm zoom lens that I brought with me along Iceland’s Ring Road. It was a nice lens that helped me capture some memorable images, but I hated using it due to it’s weight and size. At 11.64oz, the Batis 18mm is 7oz lighter than the 16-35mm, and doesn’t give up anything in build quality or weather sealing. I do miss the added range of the zoom, but I’m willing to trade that flexibility for the size and weight savings.
The Batis 18mm was designed via collaboration by Sony and Zeiss, and manufactured by Sony in Japan. Quality control is then done by Zeiss to ensure that the high Zeiss standard is met and held.
This lens is constructed using 11 elements in 10 groups. The elements are coated using the superb ZEISS® T*. This anti-reflective coating minimizes flares and other aberrations. The T* (T-star) coating can sound like a bunch of marketing talk, but I’ve found this 18mm to be extremely resistant to flares. The color rendering, contrast, sharpness, and resolution is also second to none. This is the same T* used on my superb Sony Zeiss 55mm.
One very unique feature on the Batis line of lenses is the use of an OLED display for focus distance and depth of field readouts. The design is intended to assist users in poor lighting conditions, but I’ve found this feature to be more of a gimmick. The autofocus on the Batis 18mm is near perfect, and the only time I use manual focus is for long exposures. In these cases, I only need to set my focus once and then I’m done.
If you skipped the first half of this review and jumped straight to this sample image section, I don’t blame you! I’m guilty of doing the same thing when researching lenses. Nothing shapes my opinions on a potential lens purchase quite like the images captured by other photographers. Below you will find a wide range of images that I’ve captured in my 8 months of owning the Zeiss Batis 18mm.
As an avid hiker, backpacker, and traveler, landscapes make up the vast majority of the images I capture. For this reason, I tend to shoot with a wide angle lens on my camera far more often than not. I’ve found that 18mm provides the perfect field of view for the desert and mountain landscapes I photograph most. At first, I thought I might miss the extra 2mm from my Sony 16-35mm, but that has never been the case. The corner to corner sharpness of the Batis 18mm has really been amazing, capturing every detail in frame.
Hiking and travel pants are an incredibly important piece of kit, especially since most of us “lightweight packers” will only bring along one pair for a multi-week trip. Hiking and travel pants have to keep me cool when it’s hot, warm when it’s cold, shed rain, and dry quickly. They also need to move, flex, and breathe just like my body since I cover many miles a day. Finally, my hiking and travel pants need to be durable. When I’m on the go or on the trail, I don’t have the time to stitch torn seams or patch holes.
I’ve seen a few of these “best pants” posts on other travel and hiking blogs, but they all seem to just be a copy and paste from REI’s best seller list. My post is going to be a shorter list than most, but I’ve actually worn and tested each pair of pants I will list. I’ve gone through quite a few pants that didn’t quite make the cut, but the four on my list have endured the test of time.
Before getting into my list of top hiking and travel pants, I just want to cover what I look for when searching for a pair of new pants. The pant options I have listed in this post might not be a perfect fit for you, but if you know what to look for while shopping, it will make it much easier to find a perfect pair for your frame.
Stretch Fit: This is a key factor for comfort, flex, and range of motion. Look for a pant with ~ 10% spandex. This hampers dry time and water shedding, but it’s a worthwhile trade-off in my opinion.
Gusseted Crotch: This is when the pants have a full panel of fabric in the crotch area. This improves range of motion and fit. I can’t wear pants without this.
DWR Coating: DWR is a Durable Water Repellent coating. This allows pants to be breathable, yet still provide protection from a light rain. DWR coated pants with a rain kilt is all I need while hiking in a storm. Be mindful that DWR coatings fade quickly from wear and washing, so a Nikwax application will be necessary with time.
Quick Drying: I usually only travel and hike with one pair of pants. For this reason, I need to be able to wash them in a sink and have them dry by morning.
Good Ankle Fit: I like my pants to fit slightly close around the ankle. This keeps out cold, snow, and dust.
Nylon or Polyester: Polyester pants will breathe better than nylon, but don’t offer as much protection. In times where I’d like a lighter polyester pant, I find myself wearing shorts. For this reason, I tend to only purchase nylon pants. Nylon pants better protect my legs from the elements and bugs, and are more durable long term.
These are my favorite pair of pants for tough outings in cold weather. The OR Voodoo pants use a thick nylon fabric that stays very comfortable due to the spandex stretch and a gusseted crotch. I’ve worn these pants on the John Muir Trail, through Utah’s Mighty 5, and on countless local hiking and backpacking trips. These fit true to size, with my standard 32×32 needing no adjustments.
The OR Ferrosi pant has been a part of my kit since 2012 when I picked up a pair for Camino de Santiago. This is the perfect pair of pants for walking and hiking in warm or humid weather. The fabric is much thinner than the nylon used on the Voodoo, and the 14% spandex blend makes the a very stretch and comfortable pant. I often wear these pants as pajama bottoms because of how comfortable they are. They were my primary pants for a 10-day trip around Japan and on a recent trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. These pants fit a bit long, so I opt for the 32×30.
The Kuhl Radikl is slowly becoming one of my favorite pair of pants because of how well they handle both hiking and travel. Many of my hiking pants look like hiking pants. I can wear the Radikl around town and then hit the trail without missing a beat. The Radikl also has a breathable knit panel that runs on the outside of each pant leg, making them very breathable. I wore these pants a lot on my recent trip around Iceland’s Ring Road. These pants fit true to size.
The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles are one of the highest value pieces of gear I’ve ever reviewed. The poles come in at 15.2oz with carbon fiber shafts, cork handles, quick lock adjusters, and tungsten carbine tips. Best of all, they only cost $45! For a ‘name brand’ comparison, the Black Diamond Carbon Cork poles retail for $170. The Black Diamond poles use higher quality components from top to bottom, but is that noticeable in everyday use for the average hiker? I’ve been using the the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Poles for a year now and will answer that question and detail my experience in this review.
Build and Specs:
The Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Poles come in at 7.8oz per pole. The poles have an adjustable height range of 23″-53″. The adjustable poles are a must for me, as I use them on some of my backpacking shelters (ie. Tarptent Double Rainbow). I also like to adjust my trekking poles based on the grade of the terrain, something I wouldn’t be able to do on a fixed length pole.
There are three carbon fiber shafts that are adjusted using two flick locks on each pole. The adjustable flick locks are the cheapest part of the pole construction, and almost prompted me to send them back when I first held them in hand. The lever and screw head of each flick lock are made of plastic, but have so far held up incredibly well. I’ve been using these poles for a year, and I see no signs of chipping or cracking on the locks.
Cascade Mountain Tech offers these carbon fiber poles with a cork or EVA grip. I much prefer cork, as it feels much better in my hand while hiking in hot and cold weather. The cork felt a little plasticky at first, but has aged and molded to my hands very nicely over the past few months.
Below the cork handles you’ll find an EVA extension. I like having these extension grips on poles when I want to quickly use a shorter pole length without having to make a full adjustment. I use these a lot on ridge routes or really steep hikes like Falling Rock Canyon.
The CMT carbon poles also come with adjustable wrist straps. The straps don’t offer the nice neoprene pads found on more expensive trekking poles, but this isn’t something I’ve noticed in use. The important thing is that the straps stay in place and keep the poles attached to my wrists. I used to remove the straps on my trekking poles to save weight, but now that I always have my camera with me, I like to be able to dangle my poles while taking photos.
The tips on these Cascade Mountain Tech trekking poles are made of tungsten carbide and have thus far held up incredible well. They also come with the small cone mud baskets, larger cone snow baskets, and rubber ‘boot’ tips. I used the snow baskets once, but prefer to keep the poles as light as possible for most hikes.
I’ve used the Cascade Mountain Tech Carbon Fiber Poles as one of my primary hiking poles over the past year. They’ve seen fast packing, trail running, backpacking, and hikes with a heavy kid carrier on my back.
I first picked up these carbon poles for the days when I mix a little running in with my hikes. I like to use my trekking poles while hiking uphill, then store them away on runable sections of the trail. These poles are nice and light, and store away easily on my pack.
These Cascade Mountain Tech poles have also worked well with a heavy pack. They provide great stability, and the cork grips have yet to slip from my hands. Early on, I had a few shaft collapses when I placed my full weight down on the pole, but I was able to adjust the flick locks to prevent this from happening in all but the most extreme cases. I weigh 185lbs, and can put a lot of force down on a pole when heading downhill.
For $45, the CMT Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles are a “must buy” for anyone looking to add a budget friendly pair of high performance trekking poles to their kit. These poles are lightweight, adjustable, have great grips, and have proven to be very durable. If you’re looking for a pole with better locks and slightly more rigid carbon fiber shafts, you might want to look at the Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Corks. If you need a lightweight pole that packs up smaller and are okay with a fixed length, the Black Diamond Distance Z Poles are worth a look. If you’re not in either camp, the CMT Carbon Fiber poles will be more than enough for all of your adventures.
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Halong Bay is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is becoming one of the most popular stops for tourists visiting the north of Vietnam. The major draw of Halong Bay is the never ending views that are sure to leave all visitors speechless. The bay is filled with nearly 1,600 limestone islets jutting up out of the water, and most are covered with a dense green vegetation. A few of the islets are hollow with massive underwater caves. If that isn’t enough to get you excited, Halong Bay also provides hiking opportunities, water sports, fishing villages, and more.
Halong Bay is a three hour car ride from Vietnam’s capital city of Hanoi. Aspiring visitors can plan for a long day trip, or slow things down a bit and take a one or two night cruise. I would highly recommend that visitors opt for the overnight cruise and will explain why in this post. I’ll also provide a list of agencies that aspiring travelers can book with.
Best Time To Go
Halong Bay has a tropical climate with hot and moist summers and cold and dry winters. In the summer months you can enjoy the beaches and warm weather, but might get a few summer storms. The winter months will be cold, but usually have less precipitation.
We visited during winter in the month of December and had cold, overcast, and rainy weather. It was a bit disappointing to have such poor visibility, but the gray sky gave the bay a quality of it’s own. The cool weather was perfect for hiking and cave exploration, but too cold for any beach lounging or swimming.
Day Tour vs Overnight Cruise
If you’re visiting Halong Bay from Hanoi, I strongly suggest you don’t try to visit in one day. The drive out to Halong Bay is 3-hours each way, which would leave very little time for enjoyment or exploration on a day trip. On an overnight cruise, you’ll have time to enjoy the bay and all it has to offer. Your cruise provider will prepare food and a scheduled itinerary with stops at many of the bay’s most popular points of interest.
There is no shortage of amazing cruise operators in Halong Bay. For a well reviewed company, you can plan on spending anywhere from $120 to $200 per person. We traveled through Vietnam with tour operator My Odyssey Tours and they booked us on La Vela Premium. This was an incredible agency that really specializes in family travels. I will detail the La Vela experience in my itinerary write up below. In the following list you will find five other companies to look at. Keep in mind that many companies offer a standard and premium experience tier for those on a budget. Most of these cruises are all inclusive and include all meals, entrance fees, use of kayaks, transport from Hanoi, and on board insurance.
As I mentioned above, it’s a 3-hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay. My Odyssey Tours provided us with a private car and driver for our visit to Vietnam. For those not traveling with an agency, most of these cruise companies have a shuttle that leaves from Hanoi. This shuttle ride is usually included in the overall cost.
Our 2-Day 1-Night Itinerary With La Vela Cruise
Halong Bay via Tuan Chau Island
After a three hour drive from Hanoi we arrived at Tuan Chau Island, which is the main entry and access point for Halong Bay. Tuan Chau Island has an estimated population of 1,500. It is from here that we checked in, boarded our cruise ship, and began our journey.
After settling in to our very nicely appointed room, we made our way up to the main hall dining area for a lunch and introduction. It was here that we first met the incredible staff at La Vela Cruise. If you haven’t heard this before, you need to know that the Vietnamese people love children. Owen felt like such a little celebrity everywhere we went, but nowhere was this more noticeable than on our cruise. Every staff member was so kind and accommodating for our needs as a family. They always had the high chair ready to go, and were willing to prepare dishes that were optimal for a toddlers needs and wants.
Sung Sot Cave
Our first stop on our cruise along Halong Bay was at the Sung Sot Cave. Our cruise ship had an old motorboat moored to the cruise ship, and this is what we took to each island-bound point of interest.
Sung Sot Cave was “discovered” by a group of French explorers in the early 20th century. The cave is an incredibly popular spot due to the views it provides of Halong Bay looking out, and the depths of the cave network accessible by foot. Sung Sot Cave is also called Surprise Cave because of the wondrous stalactites and stalagmites formation within.
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