REVIEW: Marmot Zion Softshell Jacket


This is a technical jacket. The core specifications – Polartec’s new NeoShell fabric, taped seams, storm hood – are impressive. But most importantly it performs well. As with anything new, it’s a little stiff when you first put it on, but that concern quickly fades away as the totally bomber nature of the Zion is realized. While you’re still standing in the store trying it on, you are transported to icy crags and powder days.

This is a winter jacket. The insulative nature of the soft shell is such that during any sporty activity you will want to be in the near freezing/sub-freezing temperatures. The NeoShell fabric is totally windproof. I was impressed when bombing down ski slopes, dead into the wind, and though I felt the pressure of the wind against my body, the cold never seeped through.

The hood, with the jacket zipped all the way up, stayed on my head keeping my forehead warm – something I noticed as a concern earlier in the season before I had the Zion. Even in the wind, this jacket is quiet. While taking a phone call on my iPhone ear-buds, using the iPod port, the microphone tucked inside the jacket didn’t pick up any of the wind or rustling outside. The caller was impressed to know I was on a windy mountain slope and claimed it sounded as if I was inside somewhere.

GEAR: Portable Power – Solar Charging on the trail

Back in 1999, I traveled to Nepal to study mountain ecology in the Himalaya. Part of our trip was a 14-day trek in the Annapurna region. Digital cameras were far from popular then, but somehow I managed to get one loaned to me. Since this was the era before proprietary rechargeable batteries the camera took a whopping four AA’s. Not knowing how fast the camera would use up the batteries and not wanting to cary a bag of AA’s along with me, I looked into rechargeable batteries and a solar charger. Looking back at where the technology was then, I’m amazed that I found a solar charger that held 4 AA batteries. So, I brought 8 batteries – 4 for in the camera and 4 to get charged in the charger that I strapped on the top of my pack to absorb the sun while we were trekking. No shortage of sunshine and the system worked great.

For a number of reasons, one being that there haven’t been many electronic items that people would need to charge on the trail, the idea of harnessing solar power while on the go hasn’t come about until fairly recently. While at the 2011 Summer Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City, it’s obvious that with all the little electronic gadgets made to go on our adventures with us (cameras, GPS, iPods, lights, etc.) saving weight on batteries (not to mention the waste) has driven a number of companies to invest in providing portable solar charging options. It should also be noted these devices are not recommended for use with something as large as a laptop, but exceptions and alternatives may exist. Here’s what I found:

Outdoor Retailer Show – Summer 2011

The North Face: Phoenix 3 TentI’m in Salt Lake City for the next few days checking out the latest and greatest of outdoor recreation gear that will be hitting the markets in the very near future.

The show started at Jordanelle Park where participants could try out many of the new paddleboards, kayaks and the various accessories that go along with them from sails to clothing to booties and more.

Next, we head to the Salt Palace convention center in downtown SLC where hundreds of outdoor brands have set up shop to display their goods. I’m tweeting about what I find as I go at @offyonder and below are the videos I’m producing for Elevation Outdoors magazine each day. I’ll also be doing a recap writup for Snowshoe Magazine.

Click on the title of the post, above, to check out the videos.

Review: CamelBak Stoaway

Hydration is a key part of any adventure. When bladders with hoses first started to come out, I was skeptical and held out for a while, perfectly content with my Nalgene bottles which nested nicely in the nook above my hip between me and my Gregory Pack. I could drink on the go, no problem. Or so I thought.

Review: K2 Work Stinx Telemark Skis (2006)

Like the rest of my ski equipment, I’ve had these skis for about four years now. Though, they’ve really only seen two solid seasons of skiing, mostly in Colorado, though they have skied in California, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and even Illinois!

This is a great all-mountain ski. K2 has been making skis since 1961 and they make a quality product, these skis being no different. They are a little heavy, by design, to punch through any crud and avoid chattering on groomers while going fast. They are fat enough to float nicely in deep powder and turning on them is always a pleasure.

The only problem I’ve had with them have related to keeping climbing skins on them and K2 would argue I’m using the wrong skins. They have the hole at the tip for clip in skins, but I use a pair of Black Diamond skins with the D-ring that goes over the tip. Only once has the D-ring worked it’s way off the tip and a little adjustment has fixed it fine since.

This ski takes to edge extremely well and once on edge it arcs into a beautiful turn be it in powder, on groomers or going through the bumps. Icy slopes and super hard snow is never easy to edge into and undoubtedly my skill set could be improved to better manage those conditions even though I’ve wanted to blame the skis for the chattering and scraping along.

I’ve skied a few other skis since being on the Work Stinx and I’m always happy to come back to them.

Review: G3 Targa Telemark Bindings

G3 Targa Telemark Binding. See https://offyonder.com/?p=917 for the review.To be fair, these are really the only kind of Tele bindings I’ve ever used. In a way, that’s a good thing as I’ve not been driven to replace them.

Review: Crispi XP Telemark Boots

After trying various Garmont and Scarpa tele boots I found Crispi, an Italian brand that fits my feet perfectly: wide and high volume. I ordered the XP’s as they were described to have the broadest versatility, especially for a relatively new telemark skier. Medium weight to help punch through any crud snow and plenty stiff for tight response. These boots have served me well in all conditions from crusey groomers to earning turns in the backcountry. Most importantly they are very comfortable and my feet are totally secure in them. My heel stays in place and I’ve never had any issues of rubbing, blistering or cramping. I skied on them for a full season before I baked the thermal liners. After molding the liners to my feet I found a whole new level of comfort and control. The boots are also plenty warm which is very important when on a backcountry lunch break between climbs and runs sitting around in the snow. I have yet to take these boots on a multi-day tour to see what it’s like to put them on after sitting out overnight in the cold, but hopefully that will come soon.

The Crispi XP’s soft rubber Skywalk sole grips the snow well when walking around on compact snow and the duckbill is strong and stiff enough to punch enough of a lip to step on when booting it up sections too steep to make it worth while to skin up.

My few concerns stem from how easily the tongue under each of the upper buckles sometimes mesh the wrong way. I usually catch this when it becomes ridiculously difficult to lock the buckle down and after catching this the first time I know to keep an eye out for this. Also, the power strap is way too long. It makes me wonder how fat of a leg it can accommodate. Maybe it’s that long to work as a shoulder strap when strapping the boots together to carry them, but I’m not sure as I have a boot bag for them. Another little annoyance is having to flip up the D-ring where the leash attaches. I don’t really have a well thought out solution in mind, but if the D-ring could somehow stick out some and not just rest right up against the boot, it would make it easier to attach the ski leash.

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Review: OR DryComp Ridge Sack

This waterproof backpack from OR did just the job I wanted it to on the river. Check out more about it in the Gear Review section at offyonder.com.Most river trips are not limited to just being on the river. Sure, on some trips there is plenty of time to make the transition from being on the river to exploring the land along the river. But sometimes you want to hit the ground running right as you’re pulling your boat onto the shore. For both of these scenarios OR’s DryComp Ridge Sack fits the bill.

I have a nice little Mammut backpack that I love and use for the majority of my terrestrial trips. For it to come on my river trips it needs to be stored in a dry bag taking up valuable waterproof room. Enter the DryComp Ridge Sack.

Review: Kokatat Meridian Dry Suit

Photo by Nathaniel Wilder - nathanielwilder.comPhoto: Nathaniel Wilder

After wearing a Kokatat Dry Suit for 15 days in the Arctic, it’s no wonder why Kokatat is the leader in the paddlesports attire field. This suit performed superbly, as expected: it kept me dry and warm, it was easy to put on and take off, and it was plenty comfortable.

A group of friends and I embarked on a 15-day journey down the Kongakut River in the far northeastern corner of Alaska from the Brooks Mountains to the Arctic Ocean in packrafts and inflatable kayaks. Granted, we didn’t hit much (if any, really) whitewater. At most we paddled through a very mild Class III. So, the risk of getting totally immersed in the water was slim – though, it did happen to 3 of the 4 packrafters. Ironically not to the one wearing a full dry suit (me)! The others on the trip were wearing various combinations of dry bottoms, dry tops and neoprene. As long as they stayed in their boat, they remained plenty dry, save their feet. Another score for the dry suit with booties: dry feet snuggled in toasty wool Teko socks for the whole trip.

Review: OR Lateral Dry Bags

These 45L lateral waterproof bags worked great for the 15-day river trip in the Alaskan Arctic. Check out more about them under the Gear Review section at offyonder.com.Lateral access to my gear was a phenomenal convenience on my recent 15-day river trip in the Arctic. The biggest concern anyone has regarding the functionality of a dry bag is “does it keep my gear dry?”. In short, yes. Granted, I never tipped my boat to have it mauled by massive rapids as a potential test. But everything I put in those bags for days on the river stayed totally dry – guarding against full over-the-bow waves and a few squalls of rain.