A couple outdoor expeditions afforded the opportunity to field test some superb products under a variety of weather conditions and a diversity of terrain. Whether you need to stay warm, stay comfortable or just want a good night's sleep, consider some of these items for your next low-temperature adventure:
BOOTS: COMFORT ON THE CLIMB
Why: Rare is the insulated, leather hunting boot that slips on easily and has a comfortable, broken-in feel right of the box, but such was the case with these boots. The Hunter is a taller, insulated, 10-inch version of Lowa's Tibet GTX.
Lowa boots have been well known worldwide for nearly a century, especially popular with climbers and hikers. This boot is crafted from nubuck leather uppers with a polyurethane midsole and Vibram "Masai" outsole, which has a self-cleaning, mountaineering tread. A high wall rubber rand protects the toe, heel and sides of the boot against abrasion. A Gore-Tex lining, with 200 grams of PrimaLoft insulation, helps your feet stay warm and dry. With leather uppers, though, it's recommended that you apply some sort of moisture repellant spray to protect against water while still allowing the leather to breathe.
Lowa designed the boots for hunters chasing big game in rugged, above-tree-line terrain. I found the boots ideal for climbing and stalking. Ankle fit was superb. My feet stayed warm, including during moderate periods (about an hour) of sitting in temperatures that hovered around freezing. While the insulation level is adequate for mostly mobile hunting scenarios, you may want more if you're hunting in cold weather from a stand.
The boots lace easily, with an "X-lacing" design and a stud on Lowa's "C4 Tongue" – its anatomically contoured for a natural flex and helps promote faster break-in. It's one of the reasons this boot feels so comfortable out of the box.
The European-made boots are compatible with strap-on crampons and snow spikes, and can accommodate gaiters if you're trudging through snow or in areas where water or debris may come in through the top of the boot. The design also enables the boot's toe to work well with stirrups, should your adventure call for some saddle time. Each of my boots weighed a manageable 2.5 pounds.
Cost: $450. Steep, but two points to make: First, better to pay for comfortable boots that'll last almost a decade than get cheap ones that can wear out after a season or two. Second, discounts are available for service members and federal employees (pricing request must come from a government email address).
Guarantee: 12-month warranty against defects
Lowa Hunter GTX Evo Extreme boots and Darn Tough socks.
Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte
SOCKS: WOOL THAT RULES
What: Darn Tough socks
Why: Good boots deserve good socks and Darn Tough socks, made in Vermont, pass muster. The unconditional lifetime guarantee underscores the family-owned company's confidence. If the socks aren't the most comfortable, durable and best fitting socks you've ever owned, return them for another pair. No conditions.
All Darn Tough socks are designed with a blend of merino wool, nylon and lycra spandex materials so they don't slip or bunch up. The socks wick moisture, and wool has natural microbial properties that deter some bacteria growth.
I tried several hunting and hiking models. For overall warmth and comfort, the Hunter Over-the-Calf Extra Cushion model performed well, especially under calf-high rubber boots. These have the company's highest density cushioning and a 77 percent merino wool content. Wool retains warmth even when wet:
When that pair of old rubber boots cracked and leaked, my feet stayed warm even though icy water had penetrated to the sock. I simply wrung them out at night and hung them to dry.
Other favorites included the Hunter Boot Sock Full Cushion, which goes to the base of your calf and has a 69 percent merino wool composition, and the Hunter Micro Crew Cushion – ideal for everything in moderate weather, including lightweight hiking boots and sneakers. The micro crew is a little shorter than traditional crew socks but long enough to reach the top of standard hiking boots.
Cost: $30 for the over-the-calf model, $26 for boot sock, $21 for micro crew.
Guarantee: See above
The Stormy Kromer Original cap. Facing colder climates? Upgrade to the Rancher model.
Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte
HAT: A FALL CLASSIC
What: Stormy Kromer
Why: Any hat style that's survived more than a century can rightfully be called iconic. And few outdoors garments are as iconic as Stormy Kromer hats.
George "Stormy" Kromer was a semi-pro baseball player and Wisconsin locomotive engineer who wasn't fond of cold ears and his hat blowing off. In 1903, he and his wife Ida came up with a new design that incorporated one of the new baseball caps with a pull-down earband that helped keep the hat on and your ears warm. Within a few years, they were making and selling thousands of the new hats.
I've been giving a Stormy Kromer Original in Adirondack plaid a workout this year. This six-panel, hand-stitched, 85 percent wool, 15-percent nylon hat has a cotton flannel lining and the classic pull-down earband. When I showed up at a British Columbia hunting camp, it wasn't all that surprising to see a
Montana hunter there also wearing a Stormy Kromer; his being the Rancher model – also a wool/nylon blend, but lined with 200 gram Thinsulate to increase warmth. Plus, the fleece-lined earband is two inches longer, easily long enough to fully cover your ears.
Cost: $45 for the Original, $50 for the Rancher.
The Alps Outdoorz Crossfire X backpack, in its natural habitat.
Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte
PACK: VERSATILE AND PRACTICAL
Why: This versatile pack was consistently comfortable, whether I was hiking up a hillside or riding on a pack horse. It's a midsize pack (2,325 cubic inches of space) and perfect for trips where you need more than just a lunch and light accessories.
The Crossfire X has a vented back panel that allows excellent airflow, lycra shoulder straps and a punched molded foam waist belt. It's made from strong 1680D ballistic nylon with reinforced stress points.
I really liked the removable accessory pocket. It's designed to be used in three different ways: buckled to the rear of the pack, attached on the front shoulder straps, or without the pack via its own strap. I kept it on the front of the pack where it protected my binoculars and my smartphone, plus carried a couple extra ammo cartridges.
I used the spacious interior compartments. to carry extra clothing as well as a full-sized SLR camera with zoom lens. You can also use a drop-down pocket to carry a rifle or a bow. There are several small accessory pouches and side compression straps, and the unit can accommodate a hydration pack. It comes with a rain cover. It weighs 4 pounds, 5 ounces, and comes in a brushed Realtree Xtra HD camo pattern.
Guarantee: Warranty covers "defects in materials or workmanship," per the website. The company does offer repair estimates for bags subject to other abuses.
The Alps Outdoors Dark Canyon sleeping bag provides both comfort and extra room.
Photo Credit: Manufacturer
SLEEPING BAG: SPACE TO SNORE
Why: Save the mummies for fans of the ancient pharaohs. When it comes to sleeping comfortably in camp, a mummy bag is too confining – I need to stretch out. At 38 inches wide and 80 inches long, this Dark Canyon bag lets you do just that.
The Dark Canyon bag is rated for temperatures to minus-10 degrees and it easily handled nights when the thermometer dipped down to the teens. The bag has a two-layer construction with a soft, "MicroFiber" liner. With a total weight of 8 pounds, 10 ounces, it isn't a lightweight, but that extra comfort was worth a couple pounds. The zipper worked flawlessly.
Finally, it may be a cliché but getting some sleeping bags rolled up and back into their cases is definitely akin to trying to put toothpaste back in the tube. Not so with the Dark Canyon: It rolled up and compressed nicely, easily fitting back into its stuff sack.
Guarantee: See backpack, above.