Summit County Gear Guide: Hiking season comes to the High Country
The snow is finally disappearing from high-mountain passes, bringing a rush of water to the valleys that bathes green everything in its path. Trails can be traversed without the fear of post-holing in knee-deep slush, and wild flowers are popping up everywhere. Hiking season is upon us, but before you venture out into the woods on your favorite light trekking path, make sure you have the right gear to keep you going.
Merrel Chameleon 4
My old Merrels were one of the most durable pairs of shoes I’ve ever owned. They were still holding up well after five years of camping trips, hikes and winters treading through ski resort parking lots. I recently retired them from everyday use in favor of the Merrel Chameleon 4s.
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The Chameleon 4s fit like moccasins. They are incredibly comfortable and lightweight and slip on quickly with their elastic lock laces. It’s a great shoe for around town and light, flat day hikes or car camping. That said, Merrel uses the term hiking shoe a little loosely. While extremely comfortable, it’s not a shoe designed to cover any serious vertical. Tackling a 14er with them is not advisable. They don’t offer the kind of ankle support needed for a steep climb.
Even with the laces tight, you’ll find them easy enough to slip out of, especially walking up steeper more challenging terrain. The non-waterproof version still holds up fairly well to light mud and quick splashes. The shoe also comes in a waterproof model. So if you want a light, comfortable all-purpose shoe to slip on and walk the dogs, the Chameleon 4 is a solid choice. Just stick to the gentler trails.
Retail: $125; waterproof: $145
Camelbak has done a great job with its women-specific Aventura pack, adding all the right details in all the right places to make it comfortable, starting with the straps. The straps are molded in an S-curve to go around your chest. They attach at the top with D-Fit sliders, allowing them to move with your body as you hike.
The chest strap is also adjustable, sliding up and down so you can position it across the top of your chest instead of across your bust. The newest model of the Aventura adds more cushioning to the waist strap, which sits snug on your hips without jostling around. The pack has foam cushioning with venting technology to keep your back from getting sweaty and a shorter torso length to better fit a woman.
The pack holds a 3-liter reservoir in its own compartment, leaving plenty of space in the main compartment for extra clothing layers and trail snacks without the fear of them getting wet from condensation on the reservoir. Alas, Camelbak still hasn’t found a design for its hydration reservoirs to make them easier to clean, and the bite valve will get funky after a while, but it’s worth the hassle of the cleaning kit to have a pack that’s this comfortable.
Lowepro Fast Pack 250
For the amateur photographer looking to bring a digital SLR along for a hike, the Lowepro Fast Pack 250 may be the right choice. It’s essentially half daypack, half camera bag. The lower half of the bag has a well-padded zippered compartment with adjustable Velcro pads that makes it versatile for a variety of lense sizes and extra lenses. It’s possible to fit two larger lenses, along with a detachable flash, and still have room for extra camera tools or even a small camcorder.
The lower segment can be zipped all the way open to access its compartments or partially opened to just access a camera while the bag is still on your shoulder. The Velcro dividers could even be taken out all together to provide additional room. The separate upper section of the bag is big enough to pack a small lunch or maybe an extra layer of clothing. It features a number of small pockets for a cellphone, iPod or other small electronics. There are also two good-sized exterior zippered pockets, good for a map, guidebook or extra camera gear such as filters.
Buckles on the lower section make it possible to strap a tripod to the pack or maybe a light jacket. Additionally, a good-sized mesh side pouch can carry a fairly large water bottle. The 250 model includes an insulated zippered laptop compartment. The Fast Pack 250 is a slightly bulky option, that is, a little more camera bag than backpack. Lowepro also has smaller 200 and 100 models. The 200 is similar to the 250 but without the laptop compartment. The 100 is substantially smaller. Lowepro also offers an extensive line of other camera bag options.
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