Boots That I Would Wear Outdoors: The Danner® TFX

us_army_acu_danner_desert_tfx_rough_out_tan_gtx_2_grandeA boot that I would wear outdoors in North America or Europe would be the Danner® TFX boot.[1] I wore this boot from 2006 to 2014 while serving in the military. This boot is one of the finest everyday-wear boots that I have worn. It is made of top grain cowhide leather (roughed out suede). There are two versions of this boot: a Gore-Tex® lined version and a hot weather version. The hot weather version has small drainage holes on the insteps.  This boot appears to be Danner’s tactical version of their Proghorn series.[2] I have worn these boots deployed to Iraq, the rifle and pistol training ranges, and in the office. This boot was comfortable to wear always. It stood up to the rigors of military life both in the field and out of the field.

Is this boot good for hiking and backpacking? Yes. I have worn this boot hiking and it performed in an excellent manner. It provided stability for my ankles while carrying my backpack. It provided comfort and breathability for my feet while on the trail. The boots work best with a good thick boot or hiking sock. I found that athletic socks made for running shoes work satisfactorily for short hikes, but not for multi-day hikes. Maintenance and care for the boot requires minimal effort; however, one drawback is that if the boot becomes water logged or caked with mud, then it will require several days for it to dry after cleaning.  The laces tend to wear out and break with extensive use. Therefore, replacing them with paracord or heavy duty work boot laces should be considered.  If you are planning to have an outdoor adventure that may involve extensive activity in wet conditions or snow, the Danner Proghorn will most likely be the better boot to wear.

Overall, this boot is a joy to own and wear while hiking or backpacking. If you are interested in this boot, you can find it at the links below.

Enjoy and see you on the trail!

[1] “Desert TFX G3 series”, Danner Boots, online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/men/military/desert-tfx-g3-8-coyote.html.

[2] “Proghorn Series”, Danner Boots online. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.danner.com/productfamily/pronghorn/men:hunt/.

Hiking Tip # 3: Personal Safety, Risk Mitigation, and Traveling in Foreign Countries

January 28, 2017

uspassportrenewalsThe following story was chronicled on television recently and the full article on the tragic story of Aubrey Sacco’s disappearance in Nepal while hiking can be read at the following link:

http://www.backpacker.com/gone-girl-aubrey-saccos-disappearance-hiking-in-nepal/destinations/18334

The key safety lesson from Aubrey’s story is never go hiking in a foreign country with someone that you do not know in a high-risk location.  Practicing good personal protective measures and risk mitigation while hiking in a foreign country is necessary.  Aurbrey’s story reinforces the fact that American women are lucrative targets for kidnapping in foreign countries.  Therefore, if you decide to go on a hiking expedition in a foreign country with some friends, you should always be out on the trail with a partner from your group (a.k.a. a Battle Buddy, as the US Army calls them).  You should be wise about who you choose to be your hiking partner if it is only the two of you going out on the trail.

Another safety recommendation by experts is to have a communication plan. Before, you go on your hiking adventure, always have a plan to communicate with others on pre-determined times. For example, you agree to call your family or friends every two to three hours during the hike and once a day when not out on the trail. You should also have several ways to communicate (e.g. cell phone, text messaging, email, skype, etc.).  If you can afford one and the data plan to go with it, I would recommend that you take with you a satellite phone into a foreign country. That way if you have an emergency while hiking in a foreign country and have no cell phone coverage, you can still communicate with the local US Embassy or Consulate or with your family or friends in the United States who can assist on your behalf.

In regards to communication in a foreign country, always have the emergency number to the closest U.S Embassy or Consulate in the area you are going hiking. All United States Consulates and Embassies have a Unites States Marine Corps watch desk that is manned twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Keep their contact number on you and in your phone at all times and do not hesitate to call them if you need to get to the US Embassy or Consulate in an emergency.

Another safety consideration to remember is never give up your US Passport to anyone in a foreign country. Upon entry into a foreign country, the customs officials may take your passport for a few minutes to stamp it, but most foreign customs officials will return your passport.  If a customs official, law enforcement officer, military member, hotel clerk, or private citizen of a foreign country attempts to confiscate your passport, do not give it up.  Immediately make your way to the nearest US Consulate or Embassy for protection and report the incident.  Then as soon as possible, leave the country.

As we are discussing travel in a foreign country, always heed the Official Warnings published by the US State Department, even if one is published after you arrive in a particular country. Do not travel to countries where there is an active civil war going on or there are open hostile feelings towards Americans. I realize that there is a whole world of things to see and do in many countries of the world.  However, if you decide to travel in a country that has an Official Travel Warning published against it by US State Department, you are traveling at your own risk. Do not tempt fate at the expense of having a good time and broadening your cultural horizons. You may regret that decision later and cause your family and friends unnecessary worry or grief.

If you are planning to travel to a particular country, learn as much as you can about that country and its laws before you leave the United States. BBC News online is a great resource to learn about different countries and the latest news coming out of those countries. If it looks like the country of choice for your travels is going to slip into turmoil, cancel your plans to travel to that country.

The next safety and risk mitigation factor is to try to learn about the laws and social nuances of the country in which you plan to travel and hike.  For example, is it a law that hotels must keep the passports of foreigners at the front desk? Is it a law that one must dress a certain way? As a foreigner, are you libel for any accidental harm to local nationals or their property (e.g. in a vehicle accident)? In speaking of driving, memorize the international road sign symbols of the particular country you will be travelling in. Understand that you are in a foreign country and not in the United States, so law enforcement, liabilities, and legal procedures are not probably going to be in your favor. If the police in a foreign country detain you, you may be there awhile.  There is no such thing as due process and Miranda Rights in many countries and you are guilty until proven innocent. So be informed, be aware, and be careful.

Food and drinks in a foreign country can be a risk.  While in a foreign country, try not accept food or drinks from questionable origins. Many drugs are slipped to people through food and drinks (e.g. accepting an alcoholic beverage from someone that you did not see pour or prepare the drink). In some countries, standards for food preparation and handling are not the same as in the United States. This makes eating the local food a potential health risk. So be careful what you eat and where you eat.

When travelling in cities, do not go down alleys and streets that are not on your planned route. Understand where the high crime areas are and avoid them at all costs.

In closing, I have traveled in many different countries.  You can have fun and enjoy yourself in foreign countries.  Be smart, be wise, have a plan, and if it is against the law in America it is probably against the law in a foreign country. If you mind your business, and keep a low profile, you will find your time in a foreign country to memorable and enjoyable. Do not be reckless, foolish, or provocative and you will return to the United States with a mental backpack full of hiking memories and not regret.

Take care, have fun.

See you on the trail!

 

Hiking Tip # 2- Footwear

January 28, 2017

vasque-mens-breeze-gtx-hiking-bootOver the years of my US Army experience, I have had a constant battle to find the best fitting boot. Equally, I have had a hard time winning the war against blisters while on long marches. In my hiking endeavors, I have learned that footwear and blisters are a continuing saga. Because of my troubles, I have developed heal spurs and chronic plantar fasciitis. I have gleaned some practical wisdom in this particular area.  Therefore, I would like to share some of my tips regarding footwear.

The Hiking Boot:

Properly fitting footwear is critical to having a pleasant experience while out on the trail. Granted that most of you will not be lugging around a heavy military rucksack, thus, the wear and tear on your feet should not be as dramatic. As a small man at 64”, my feet can fit into a men’s 6.5 wide military issue boot and the men’s 6.5 wide Altama® Jungle Boot. I also can wear comfortably the men’s size 7, Danner® TFX military boot, and the men’s size 7 Matterhorn® military boot.  The US Army has lost the art of the other essentials to proper fitting footwear—lacing and socks. It has been rather difficult to find commercial hiking boots in the sizes that I require, but it is possible to find them.

One thing that I have learned about boots, that will see a lot of time in the field, is the importance of breaking them in. Boots that fit snug when you try them on in the store will loosen up after a few days weeks in the field. The more uneven and rough the terrain, the more quickly the boot will lose its stiff and snug fit. Humidity, sweat, and wetness will also be factors in how your boot will “break in”.  There are many different techniques to breaking in a new pair of hiking boots.  We will not outline them here, except to say, that the one most often heard is “soaking” the boot. This, however, only works with an all leather (not suede) boots with removable insoles. The military issue all-leather Altama® boot can be done this way, but most reading this article are not going to buy a boot such as this. By the way, I have experimented with this technique and it is not as effective as claimed, so I do not recommend it. With commercial hiking boots with Teflon or Teflon/Leather combination material, breaking them in will require just wearing them for a couple of days or weeks as your primary footwear.

Another factor concerning breaking in the hiking boot is whether it has a Gore-Tex® liner[1]. When you try Gore-Tex® boots on, your feet feel very snug in them. However, over time that “padded” feeling tends to lessen with the use of the boot. There are several reasons for this. First, Gore-Tex® does not have an extensively long lifecycle. Second, the principle material in Gore-Tex, latex[2], will lose its elasticity and other properties over time. Improper care of these type of boots will hasten this process also.  For example, the Gore-Tex liner in the two pairs of Matterhorn boots that I owned while serving in the US Army, lost their moisture wicking and heat retention properties after about 18 months of continuous use. While the sweat from my feet was still being drawn away from my socks and into the liner, in cold weather, the water retained in the Gore-Tex liner became cold and the cold was transferred back to my feet, thus defeating the reason that I bought them to begin with. I have noticed this same problem with my Gore-Tex lined Danner TFX boots as well. The Gore-Tex lined boots break in more quickly than an all-leather boot and do not require as much maintenance, but their fit can be deceiving if you are not experienced with Gore-Tex lined footwear.

Another factor in breaking in new hiking boots is discovered when lacing them up. Boots that have Gore-Tex liners will tend to lace up with a wider gap between each line of eyelets when new. Over time and with use, this gap will decrease between each row of eyelets as the boot material becomes more flexible and you are able to pull the laces tighter for a continuing snug fit.

By contrast, the most comfortable pair of boots that I have worn thus far, have been the all-leather military issue boot produced by Altama®. In the Army, these boots were called “cruit boots”.  I was not fond of these boots either, until I went through Infantry Officer training. However, after much use during the humid summer in Georgia, the leather softened and formed around my foot in a very comfortable manner. With the addition of Spenco® inserts and Vibram® soles, these boots were just as comfortable as my New Balance® Cross-training running shoes. To date, this has been the only boot that really fit me properly. With my growing problem with heel spurs, the Danner TFX boot became the next boot to fit me as good as my all-leather Altamas.  To get a proper fit for your hiking boots, it is best to get them fitted by a knowledgeable person at your favorite outfitter store, such as REI. The links below will help you also.

Another thing to be mindful of about foot wear is the maintenance of your footwear. All-leather boots require much more diligence in keeping them maintained than Teflon material boots. The video links below will provide a good over view on maintenance of footwear. Remember, that boots with Gore-Tex liners cannot be put into clothes dryers after washing. The heat will cause the Gore-Tex liner to break down. You must let Gore-Tex boots air dry. You do this by removing all of the laces and folding out the tongue in order to open up the boot to as much air as possible. If you have a 5 to 8 inch tall boot, then you will need to try to fold down the top of the boot if it is flexible enough. Otherwise, just leave it as is. With Teflon or Teflon/Suede combination material, you can use a stiff, but flexible brush to clean the outside. If your Teflon boots have a Gore-Tex liner, then you can wash them in clear, clean, cold water and let them air dry on your porch or in your washroom.

In caring for all-leather boots (not suede), you can wash them in lukewarm water with a mild dish soap on the outside. Use a soft brush or tooth brush to clean off any excessive dirt. Let them air dry as described above for the Gore-Tex lined boots. You will notice after a while that your leather boots will have some white, chalky residue appearing on the surface of the boot. Do not be alarmed, this is some of the leather salts coming to the surface after being wet. After the boots have dried, you can take saddle soap and clean off the white chalky stuff. If you try to rewash them, you will just get more of the leather salts coming to the surface. Rub the saddle soap into the leather very thoroughly, this includes the boot tongue and seams. After using the saddle soap, you can wipe the boot down with a damp cloth to get the excess soap off. Let the boot sit for a couple hours or for a day to let the soap work its way into the leather. When this process is complete then you can apply the boot polish or, in some cases, mink oil, as a way of waterproofing the boot. However, I have found if your boot leather is not waterproofed already with oils, like the Matterhorn Boot, then a boot polish is the first layer of defense in keeping the leather in top condition. You do not have to polish the boot to a high sheen, put the boot polish is critical in keeping the boot leather from deteriorating. So do not ignore its importance.

As we move on from the hiking boot itself, we will move on to the next important factor in footwear, lacing. I did not understand the importance of proper lacing of the boot until after completing my military career. Lacing is important because properly lacing your boots will reduce foot fatigue, and reduce or eliminate blisters.  Every once and a while, I would notice some Sergeant that would have a unique lacing pattern on his boots. One instance comes to mind, as I witnessed a sergeant with a big gap in the lacing pattern over the crook or bend of this foot. I asked him about it and he told me this was more comfortable to him than the ingrained left-over-right pattern that our Drill Sergeants pushed into our heads.  Since I started hiking, I have come to understand that some lacing patterns are better than others. Since everyone’s feet are different, I cannot recommend a particular lacing pattern here. Like with anything else, you will have to experiment to see which lacing pattern works for you and helps eliminate or reduce blisters on your feet. The video links below can help.

As we move on, let us talk about socks.  Socks are vital to the care and maintenance of your feet. Keeping your feet dry while hiking is important. Getting your feet dry after they have become wet while crossing a stream is equally important. The socks you are wearing are critical to ensuring these two objectives are met. The type of socks you are wearing will also determine whether or not you get blisters.  When it comes to socks, I have not had a good experience with any of them living up to their billings as being blister reducers. On the other hand, keeping my feet dry and warm has been a positive experience with socks. I see the socks and the hiking boot as a unit. Your socks and your hiking boots should be complimentary to each other. Remember, that all things require a little trial-and-error in order to come to the best combination for your feet. So talk to people, talk to experts, and judge the validity of the sock you are wearing on your own experience.

In conclusion, the hiking boot is always a fun and interesting topic to discuss. Remember when it comes to boots and the things related to your boots, what works for you is what is best for you. My feet are not your feet. So have fun with the links below.

See you on the trail!

Fitting Hiking Boots or Shoes

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/hiking-boots.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-how-to-fit-a-hiking-boot.aspx

Hiking Boot Maintenance and Care

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/caring-hiking-boots.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-how-to-care-for-hiking-boots-and-shoes.aspx

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4h-IR-IrfgQ (Dave Canterbury discusses care of hiking boots)

Lacing Hiking Boots or Shoes

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-lacing-techniques-for-better-boot-fit.aspx#

http://www.backpacker.com/april_2003_gear_boot_lacing_tips/gear/5245

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cs-5-DkUJiE (REI Instructional Video)

Hiking Boot Socks

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/backpacking-socks.html

http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/socks.html

http://www.backcountryedge.com/video-choosing-the-right-sock-for-hiking-and-backpacking.aspx

 

[1] http://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/our-fabrics; http://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/footwear-technologies#!

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emulsion_polymerization

 

Gear Review: Kelty Redwing 50 Backpack (M/L)

This is the post excerpt.

January 28, 2017

357caaf2-43bf-4fbb-ab84-5a5b929ed7e0The interest in hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities has grown exponentially over the last twenty years. The growth in materials technology has also contributed to a wider variety of gear that is both durable, safe, practical, and economical. The growth in the survival related programing on television has also helped the outfitter industries. One such company that has enjoyed the benefits of the growing interest in the outdoors has been Kelty® out of Boulder, Colorado. One of their signature backpacks is the Redwing 50. The “50” stands for 50 liters in volume.

I purchased this backpack from Amazon® back in January of this year. The reason for the purchase was that I was wanting to get away from the more tactical looking packs with all of the MOLLE webbing sewn on them along with the military looking color assortments. The pack that I was looking for had to have volume, could carry a water bladder, and carry enough essential gear for a good day hike or an overnight stay in the woods. My research revealed that the kind of backpack required for such a short stay in the outdoors had to have between a 45-55 liter capacity. This is the basic volume for a tactical three-day assault pack. The backpack that I was looking for had to also fit within my budget. Most of the quality backpacks that can be found meeting these criteria were as low as $150 USD and as high as $500 USD, depending on the vendor or retailer. To my surprise, the Kelty Redwing 50 came up on Amazon® under $100 USD. This was not a deal too-good-to-be-true. Rather, I learned later that Kelty® had made some minor design changes to the pack and this particular version was being phased out.

Characteristics

The pack arrived in the typical Amazon® logo delivery box. I was immediately impressed with how light and yet sturdy the pack was after it was removed from its packaging. Its empty weight is about 3 ½ lbs. The material that the pack is made of is 420/450 D nylon. This is a tough abrasive resistant material. It also has some water resistant properties but not completely water proof. It holds a 3 liter water bladder. Because it is considered an internal frame pack, it has one reinforcing aluminum stay that runs the center of the pack behind the torso and hip pads. Kelty designed the main compartment to be accessed either as a top-loader or to open the entire compartment like a suitcase. I found the top-load technique to be the most practical on the trail. The other way to access the main compartment is best suited for base camping or hotel scenarios. The additional pockets for storage are handy for holding your Nalgene® bottle with a GSI® stainless steel cup. I prefer the CamelBak® Chute 1 liter water bottle nested in the GSI® stainless steel cup stored in one of the spacious side pockets. The other side pocket holds my fixed blade knife and sheath. The storage pocket on top of the pack is large enough for smaller items such as a fleece cap, map, or snacks. The admin storage pocket on the front of the main compartment can hold a good selection of items for quick access.

Performance

The first opportunity to use this pack came this spring. Freedom 424 hosted a Run for Their Lives 5k run in my town. One of the professors in my Master’s Degree program encouraged his students in his class to participate. My wife, children, and I participated. I decided that this race for a charitable cause was a good opportunity to try out my new Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) backpack. I packed it as though I was going on a day hike or overnight in the woods. The pack weight about 35-40 lbs. After putting the pack on my back and cinching up the straps, it was quickly evident that this pack was a perfect fit for my back. There was no pressure on my lower back and the weight was distributed evenly along my shoulders and back. It was comfortable to have on. I had the honor of pushing our baby in his stroller. The weight on my back was not overwhelming. I was thinking, “Why couldn’t I have had a pack like this when I was road marching in the Army?”

During the race, in which my family and I walked at a brisk pace, the pack never shifted, pulled, sagged, or rubbed hot spots on my back or shoulders. I was walking at about a 20 min/mile pace pushing the baby stroller over an undulating paved road. The pack held up beautifully. There was a light misty rain off-and-on during the race. The moisture wicking properties of the fabric could be visibly seen. However, by the end of the race, about one hour later, the moisture as beginning to leak through. The contents did not get wet. However, had I been wearing the pack during a torrential down pour of rain, the contents would have eventually gotten wet if not waterproofed prior to an activity. The raised padding on the torso and lower back allowed my back to breath while the pack on being worn. Even though I had worked up a good sweat, the pads did not become overly moist. This is a testament to the engineers who designed the pack for Kelty®. Once the pack was off of my back and out of the weather, it dried out pretty quickly.

Overall, the performance of the Kelty Redwing 50 (M/L) was excellent. It is definitely a great pack for day hiking. It performs in accordance with its design parameters. Abusing the pack by over packing, dropping off of the back on rocky surfaces, or improperly packing objects with sharp edges or corners will cause the pack to fail over time. This is a superior backpack that will last if taken care of properly. I highly recommend this pack for others to consider when looking for a quality backpack for day hikes and overnighters in the woods.

I hope this has been useful for you.

Take care and See you on the Trail!