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TrailGroove Blog

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  • Aaron Zagrodnick 157
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Gear | Trips | Food | Technique | Reading

Entries in this blog

The Backpacking Mug: Choices and Considerations

A key component of any practical backpacking kitchen setup is a cup or mug suitable for morning coffee or your hot drink of choice, and of course we need something light and packable while still working well for the purpose at hand. While the best backpacking mug choice may vary a bit from hiker to hiker, like any other piece of gear there’s a few key points worth consideration. A selection of titanium backpacking mugs Backpacking Mug Materials & Features A multitude of

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Hiking Wind Shirts and Patagonia Houdini Review

In recent years the popularity and availability of wind shirts or ultralight wind jackets have both increased, and as many have found, these pieces often fit in very well with active outdoor pursuits including backpacking and hiking. These specialized jackets focus on light weight, simplicity, full or mostly single layer construction, and have a design focus on performance in a layering system and in the outdoors. The Patagonia Houdini offers ultralight wind protection combined with w

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks

Keeping your feet comfortable in the backcountry is a big step towards an enjoyable trip, and after hiking and backpacking in various socks from Darn Tough for the past decade, they definitely deserve a closer look and review. I’d always heard good things about the Darn Tough brand – Made in the USA and with a lifetime warranty that you might not even need since they supposedly last forever. However, I never really expect socks to last quite that long, and other than that fact it was difficult t

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Best Backpacking Utensils and Trail Cutlery Strategy

Although your local or online retailer likely carries an array of backpacking and camping utensils sure to satisfy even the most advanced culinary ideas, most of us that don't work as a chef for a living can attain backcountry mealtime prowess with the simplest of choices and without cluttering or weighing down our pack. Here are my thoughts on the main players in this department and what I've found has worked best over the years. A selection of backpacking utensils The Backpacki

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Helinox Chair Zero Review

After an introduction to lightweight backpacking chairs a few years ago, my philosophy on this admittedly somewhat superfluous (but many times well worth the weight) camp comfort item has generally remained unchanged; on longer trips where I’m moving daily and pack weight is of more concern the chair stays behind and any rock or log will do. For the amount of time that you’re actually in camp – and not inside your tent – carrying the weight is simply not worth it. But mental and physical comfort

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Review: Gossamer Gear LT5 Trekking Poles

As far as hiking gear goes, trekking poles are one of the most utilitarian and least flashy pieces of gear out there. Whereas sleeping bags, tents, backpacks, down jackets, and rain shells all seem to have copious amounts of energy and ink expended in marketing campaigns to promote them, trekking poles seem to have a much lower profile. Trekking poles can help with your hiking efficiency, and can often be used for shelter setup while backpacking as well. Trekking Poles and Backpa

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Backpacking Gear Lists and the T.R.I.P. Process

The gear list. It might be written on a piece of paper, typed into a spreadsheet, read from a book, or all in your head. But most of us probably have one somewhere. In its simplest form, a gear list can really help with those “I can’t believe I forgot that” moments when you’ve just hiked 20 miles from the trailhead and are setting up camp in dwindling evening light. In other forms, a list can help you identify things you really don’t need, help you reduce your pack weight, and help you identify

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Garmin InReach Mini: Battery Life with Basic Messaging

Although I’ve been a user of an InReach SE for years – which always met or exceeded my battery life expectations in the backcountry, when the InReach Mini was released – and despite its obvious advantages in the weight and size department over previous InReach devices, I had a few reservations in regards to a possible upgrade. While the weight and size factor would be a step up, custom messaging would be a downgrade – the InReach SE’s message composition already reminded me of text messaging on

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Kahtoola EXOspikes Traction System Review

The EXOspikes Traction System is a product from Kahtoola designed to enhance traction in wintry terrain, and is suited both for hiking and trail running. Sharing some similarities with the popular Kahtoola MICROSpikes, the product is available in multiple sizes, each fitting a range of footwear sizes. A stretchy elastomer harness fits over your footwear, and underneath you’ll find a grid of trekking pole-like metal carbide tips on the forefoot and heel – 12 on each foot to be exact. My size XL p

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Tarptent Interiors: Mesh and Solid Fabric Options

Tarptent offers a wide array of 1-4 person shelters that all offer a nice blend of weight and functionality, and once you’ve decided upon the best model to suit your needs one additional factor will need to be considered if you’re going with one of their double wall models (now most of their lineup) – as these models are offered with your choice of interior tent type. Mesh, solid, or partial solid interiors may be available depending on the specific model and the conditions that particular tent

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Sea to Summit Aeros Pillow Review: Premium & Ultralight

Now nearly a prerequisite before I head out on any backpacking trip, an ultralight backpacking pillow is an item that will add just a few ounces to your pack but might just be at the top of the list when it comes to a weight to comfort ratio. While the choices on the market are almost endless, Sea to Summit’s Aeros inflatable pillow line has become a popular choice. In this review, we’ll take a look at the Sea to Summit Aeros Premium and Aeros Ultralight backpacking pillows. Sea to Su

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Buzz Away Extreme Insect Repellent Review

No matter if it’s a low snow year or not and even during summer drought conditions, mosquitoes tend to maintain a strong foothold here high in the mountains of Wyoming. As I’ve migrated from DEET to Picaridin to natural insect repellents over the years, I’m always on the lookout for products that either work better or have better ingredients. While I’ve been using Herbal Armor for several years, the best version of their product – the pressurized continuous spray has recently become hard to find

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

MSR Titan Kettle Review

Some of the best things in life are the simplest. For backpackers, there is a pleasure in sipping hot coffee, tea or cocoa from a sleeping bag that borders on the divine. And behind such a simple pleasure is a simple piece of a gear: a kettle, pot or some other means of warming water. I upgraded from a lidless, stainless steel pot leftover from my brief time in Boy Scouts to the MSR Titan Kettle fairly early in my backpacking days and it has proven to be one of the best gear-related investments

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Solarpad Pro Ultralight Solar Panel Review

Now having tested several solar panels over the years that are marketed towards outdoor use and use on the trail – most of these stay stashed in the back of my gear closet, and are more likely to be something I might use during a power outage at home rather than actually depend on out on the trail. For hiking and backpacking purposes most of these panels are too heavy, just don’t perform well enough, or have significant drawbacks like compatibility with one device, while not being compatible wit

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Altra Lone Peak 4 Mesh Mid Hiking Boot Review

For the last several years, I’ve primarily backpacked in low-top trail runners with Brooks Cascadias and Altra Lone Peaks being the ones most often on my feet. I’ve used both waterproof and non-waterproof models and, after much experimentation, have pretty much decided that in three-season conditions non-waterproof works best for me in the terrain and conditions most common on my backpacking trips. While trail runners have been preferable to me for a variety of reasons – breathability and comfor

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Altra Lone Peak Youth Kid's Shoe Review

When it comes to backpacking with a kid, many challenges will need to be addressed. While most of these challenges come in the form of intangibles such as proper trip planning for their particular age, motivation on the trail, and figuring out the best way to answer “how much farther” type questions, when it comes to hiking gear for kids, good shoes (as with adults) are critical. Unfortunately, decent footwear that is durable, lightweight, and comfortable for actual hiking distances i

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Altra Lone Peak 4.5 Trail Running Shoe Review

Since moving to the Lone Peak line as my 3 season hiking and backpacking shoe of choice in 2014, I’ve followed along as the shoe has matured across various versions as I’ve worn out each pair along the way. Now that it’s 2020, the latest version is all the way up to the 4.5 model that is quite different from very early versions of the Lone Peak, but very similar to more recent versions like the Lone Peak 4.0. In fact, the new Altra Lone Peak 4.5 is so similar that after wearing out my

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

REI Co-op Minimalist GTX Mittens Review

When you inevitably find yourself getting miles in during cold and wet weather on any hiking or backpacking trip, we all of course reach for our rain gear to stay warm and dry. One item that can be overlooked however is protection for our hands: which are especially susceptible to getting chilled quickly. Of all options I’ve found a lightweight waterproof rain mitt to be the best option in these situations, which can be worn over liner gloves for a complete 3-season layering system that will kee

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Brooks Cascadia 13 Trail Running Shoe Review

After making the switch from hiking books to trail runners a few years ago, I’ve been fairly loyal to various iterations of the Brooks Cascadias. At any given time during the hiking season, there is usually at least one Gore-Tex pair of Cascadias and one regular pair on my feet or in my gear room. Alternating between the two based on trail conditions or the season has kept my feet happy for well over a thousand cumulative miles of backpacking and trail running. I’ve found both version

Mark Wetherington

Mark Wetherington in Gear

Exped Synmat UL Sleeping Pad Review

A lightweight, inflatable 3 season sleeping pad from Exped, the Synmat UL features synthetic insulation that takes the r-value up to 3.3, with Exped subsequently rating the pad warm down to around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The Synmat UL is available in 4 sizes: small, medium, and the medium wide and long wide – the latter 2 offering a width of just over 25 inches, compared to the standard 20 inch width of the small, the medium, and most other sleeping pads on the market. The sleeping pad

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Exped REM Backpacking Pillow Review

The Exped REM backpacking pillow is a newer pillow from Exped that's a hybrid air pillow with a layer of foam above. The REM foam layer (That's recycled extracted modules, not the band or the sleep you'll hopefully get) consists of chunks of soft foam that make this pillow a little closer to a non-backpacking pillow you might find at home. The foam layer is all contained in a soft pillow case, with an inflatable air chamber underneath than can be removed for washing or even if you wanted to use

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Casio Pro Trek PRW3000 Watch Review

For several years, I’ve been using Casio watches in the backcountry – specifically the Pathfinder PAW1300 Reviewed Here, and most recently the newer Pro Trek PRW3000. Compared to my older model, the 3000 features an updated sensor promising better usage of power and more accurate readings and a few other convenient features. The form factor is smaller than many multi-function watches and will fit nearly any wrist well, and best of all in my mind it’s a nearly set and forget watch: Aut

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Altra Lone Peak 1.5 Trail Running Shoe Review

The Lone Peak 1.5 is the latest generation of a zero drop, moderately cushioned trail running shoe from Altra, a company dedicated to zero drop and biomechanically correct footwear. For most of this year, I‘ve transitioned to the Lone Peak 1.5 and so far have about 400 miles of mixed hiking, backpacking, and running use on my first pair. I say first pair, because I like them so much that I actually have a second pair already waiting in the closet for the day that my original pair is r

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

ZebraLight H52w Headlamp Review

After using the H31w from ZebraLight, (Reviewed Here) which uses a single CR123A battery, I eventually made the move to ZebraLight’s H51w. The lights are fairly similar, but I decided to make the move to the H51 series since it operates off a single, more easily sourced AA battery. The H51w worked well, and an update to the light was recently released – The ZebraLight H52w. For me, the best thing about the H51w, and now the H52w is their ability to run off Eneloop batteries – No more

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

Powermonkey Explorer Solar Charger Review

After reviewing the PowerFilm USB+AA solar charger back in Issue 7, I thought I’d take a look at a different lightweight solar charging solution, this time from Powertraveller - a UK based company that offers an assortment of solar and other electronic products. Their Powermonkey Explorer kit consists of 2 main parts – The battery (Powermonkey) and the solar panel itself (Solarmonkey). The solar unit is comprised of two separate solar panels encased in plastic that fold together in a clamshell a

Aaron Zagrodnick

Aaron Zagrodnick in Gear

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