Gear Notes, April 2014

I tried a few new pieces of gear on a trip to the Grand Canyon this month. Three keepers: the Elemental Horizons Kalais pack, Five Ten Aescent shoes, and the Sawyer Mini Filter.

Elemental Horizons Kalais

IMG_3618The Kalais is simply the most comfortable pack I have ever worn. I’m completely sold. While the lightweight pack likely wouldn’t hold up to technical canyoneering for very long, it was a dream for straight up backpacking, including some good scraping and scratching on the Royal Arch route.

Now, I’m a tall guy, and most packs simply don’t fit me. I’ve always made do with the biggest size available. Having a pack that fits? Wow. (I got the XL, rated for a 23-25″ torso.)

The pack is well thought out, and well built. I did have a custom modification, replacing the mesh on the side and rear pockets with solid nylon to better hold up in the Southwest.

The hip belt is wafer thin–and despite my skepticism, it was the most comfortable I’ve ever worn. It conforms to the body very well, and two belts on each side help with that. The belt combined with two optional aluminum stays to help with heavier loads makes for an excellent suspension system. We started this trip with almost five days of food, and five liters of water. With rope and harness, that starting load was about 35 lbs, and I barely noticed it. There was none of the usual fussing with fit that I’ve come to expect with other packs. It was comfortable on a full day of walking with that weight, an absolute pleasure to carry.

Conversely, the volume is very adjustable, and the pack cinches down very well for quick summiting or day hike sized loads. It’s light enough that makes sense, too.  Ten pounds and 15L, or 40 pounds and 50L, this is a pack that can comfortably do it well.

The bottle pockets are deep and useful–but I probably should have gotten the pull-cord closure instead of the standard elastic. The elastic just doesn’t seem like it will last, and I think I’d prefer the security of the pull-cord.

Pack fit, lit shoe fit, can be a very personal thing. And there are certainly a few lighter packs out there. But if you consider a few extra ounces in a sub-two-pound pack with great capacity, it’s worth giving the Elemental Horizons Kalais is worth a try. (They have other interesting packs, too, but I haven’t tried them.)

Elemental Horizons is a cottage industry manufacturer out of North Carolina. Matthew was great to work with. 

FiveTen Aescent

Five Ten AescentSpeaking of shoes fitting, I shared my initial impression of the FiveTen Aescent before the trip. It looked and felt promising, and the promise held.

I appreciated the fit, the light weight, and of course the Stealth rubber sole. Compared with the Savant that I’ve been wearing a lot of over the past few years, I also found it much more stable.

And, interestingly, it seems more durable than the Savant. Normally, the Savants start rapidly falling apart on the first day. Stitches pull, mesh rips, upper rips away from the sole. The Aescents held up to a good beating for five days, and other than a few scuff marks and red dirt, they looked no worse for the wear.

They dried relatively quickly when dunked at Elves Chasm, and I’ll have no problem using these in wet canyons.

Goofy note: the shoelaces! Awesome shoe laces. These things simply stay tied, even without a double knot. Seriously, I didn’t have to retie my shoes once over five days. Can I buy these shoelaces somewhere? I wouldn’t normally think to talk about the shoe laces when reviewing a shoe, but these merit mention!

Now, the Aescents don’t provide the same protection as the Camp Fours, and for carrying bigger loads in rugged, dry conditions, the Camp Fours might still win. But the Aescents worked for me.

Another downside, as expected the low-profile dot sole and absence of a heel made for some slipping and sliding on finer gravel. I wish they have some more aggressive tread and some sort of heel.

Caveats: My foot tends to the wide side–those with narrow feet may not like the fit. The sole doesn’t offer the cushion of many trail shoes. I found this to be a plus, but others might not. The little dots micro tread doesn’t help much in small scree…but then none of the Five Ten shoes shine there.

Follow-up:  (A few months later…) Having used these for 150+ miles now, they’re still comfortable. The micro-dot soles are worn pretty smooth, and while they still smear well, the lack of tread makes the loose stuff more…exciting shall we say. I could resole them, but I’ve decided these just aren’t what I’m looking for. The uppers have held up OK, no tears, but the stitching is failing in a few spots. The suede seems to have stretched a bit with the results that they’re now a bit too loose width wise. My conclusion, is that they’re OK for shortish approaches. They’d be just as good as the 5.10 Guide Tennie (very similar, but I prefered the mesh sides of the Aescent) for walking a lot of slabs where smearing is important. But they’re not a great long-distance shoe, even when sticky is called for. Damn–I wish 5.10 could up their quality, and refine their approach shoe series. I like the Savants, but the felt apart to fast. The new Camp Fours, same deal. 5.10s tend to fit my wide foot very well out of the box, but they tend disappoint me somewhere in the first 100-200 miles. Sigh. Still looking for that right shoe.

New Favorite shoe: (Update April 2016) Check out the La Sportiva TX3, my new go-to shoe!

Sawyer Mini Water Filter

I was already sold on the 2 oz. Sawyer Mini filter for use in streams and potholes. But would it hold up to the silty Colorado? Apparently yes! Now, the 2 oz. figure is misleading, since you’ll want to carry a few extra pieces such as a dirty water bag and the back flushing syringe for most multiday applications, especially where water is murky or silty. But the full system I hauled weighed 7 oz, and it worked like a champ.


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One Response to Gear Notes, April 2014

  1. Mike Rogers says:

    UPDATE: After about 160 trail miles, half of them very rough off-trail, the dots on the forefoot are just about gone. The uppers are still doing great, but these will need resoling to work. Still like these better than the Savants, but would prefer these have the toothier tread of the Savants or Camp Fours. Still in search of the perfect shoe…but the Ascents are current favorites.

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