Gear Review: Osprey Stratos 36

Osprey packs have become some of my favorite for a number of reasons, which is why I returned to them when I was looking for a summit/daypack. They use durable materials, have a phenomenal warranty, and (in my opinion) offer some of the most comfortable carrying technology from amongst the popular brands. The Stratos series (new 2016 design) are no exception. 

The Stratos series offer packs in 24, 34, 36 and 50 liters. This is for the 36 but there are many similarities in design in the series. You should know up front that I swapped the 36 pack out for the 24 but for anyone looking for a pack in the 30-40 ltr. range this pack could be for you. I love it's ergonomics and functionality, it just fell into a weird spot for me since I'm not an ultralight hiker. It couldn't hold my gear for short trips (1-3 nights) simply because my hammock kit is a bit on the heavy side. And it was a big too large for simple dayhikes/summit. So the 24 was what I landed on. Regardless, this is a phenomenal pack. 

First of all, the 210D nylon they use is light and tough. You won't have durability issues with this pack. Secondly the suspension is incredibly comfortable. I love trampoline style suspension but I think Osprey does it best. I have the Atmos 65 AG and bought it for the same reason. Lightest pack? No. Most comfortable (for me)? Yes. 

With 20 lbs this pack felt like I was barely carrying anything. You'll stay cool and comfortable with this pack, no doubt. The mesh backpanel also carries right into the hip belt which is loosely structured, but has enough padding the offer some load support when strapped around your hips. Pockets are nice and large, too. 

The Osprey Stratos series have integrated rain covers on the bottom of the pack, which is a great feature. They are also removable. There is a separate bottom compartment for a very compact sleeping bag or other items. 

Also has side access on both sides of pack. Tool loops. Quick hiking pole storage. Internal hydration bladder. Compression straps. Front vertical zip pocket (not mesh, doesn't expand much). Overall, another winner from Osprey. If you in the market for packs under 50 ltrs. please do yourself a favor and look into the stratos line!

Gear Review: Deuter ACT Lite 65+10

Gear Review: Deuter ACT Lite 65+10

Since our last review of the REI XT 85, I've made some personal adjustments to my gear and philosophy of hiking towards a more minimalist/lightweight approach. By no means do I consider myself an "ultralight hiker" because...well...I don't care much for titles and I also don't have the money to buy in to that camp where every ounce saved costs you $100 out of pocket. That being said, I no longer want to bring the kitchen sink with me into the woods for dayhikes or multi-day treks.

Gear Review: REI XT 85

While this website is geared towards families, it's still an outdoor site and as such, I thought some of you passing through might appreciate a look at a great large-capacity pack.

Backstory: I'm headed out on a 4-day trek on the Appalachian Trail this April and didn't have a large capacity pack for the trip. Most of my packs were about 50 ltr or less and I was looking for something 70 or more. I like to do a lot of research and ultimately found myself cycling through different packs until I found this pack by REI that was on sale for nearly 50% off.

Main features I was looking for:

  • Large capacity (70 ltr +)
  • Lower compartment for sleeping bag
  • External pockets
  • Compression straps
  • No side-to-side sway

After trying Kelty and Teton with weight, and other packs in store, I landed on the XT 85 because it had all of the above features but included the following:

  • Taped seams for additional weatherproofing
  • Side-access zippers to the main compartment
  • Loops with tip-holders for trekking poles
  • Long lashing straps (issue on the other packs)
  • Phenomenal dual back packets that can fit a jetboil flash system plus more.

Honestly, my father brought over his new osprey pack and I compared the features and found the REI to be on par with the Osprey in every respect. 

Lastly, I purchased my pack for $140 (down from $290 only a few months ago). If not on REI's site, I suggest becoming a member to check out their garage sales or hunting on ebay for the pack. Most likely, they'll be releasing a 2016 version of this pack so stay tuned.

This is meant to be a helpful review for people looking for large packs but in complete transparency you should know I've returned the pack in favor of something a bit more compact. I ended up with a Deuter 65+10. The XT 85 is great for the people who aren't super concerned with weight and love all the extra pockets and storage. For people who want a slimmer profile, you'll want to consider some of the other options on the market.

We'll so a post soon on what to look for in a hiking pack but until then, keep adventuring!

Product Link: REI XT 85 on REI Website

Took the XT 85 for a trek during our polar vortex this year.

Took the XT 85 for a trek during our polar vortex this year.

Grayville Falls Town Park: Hebron, CT

Grayville Falls Town Park: Hebron, CT

It's officially Fall, which means we don't have to dodge the midday sun in fear of burning and heatstroke! It means cool mornings and pleasant evenings and the most scenic time of year to take to the woods with your tribe. This hike I can't recommend enough. In fact, it's more of a quick walk, then plan to just hang around for a while.

Day Trippin': Lyman Orchards, "Connecticut's Sweet Spot"

Day Trippin': Lyman Orchards, "Connecticut's Sweet Spot"

Lyman Orchards was only 20 minutes down the road. I went there the first time last year and was extremely pleased, so we put the windows down and let the cool fall air clear our heads while we wound our way to a much larger orchard, where "Pick Your Own" comes with scenic vistas and endless acres of apples for the children to explore.

Bash Bish Falls State Park: Massachusetts/New York

Bash Bish Falls State Park: Massachusetts/New York

When we started hiking together frequently, I quickly learned there are few things more appealing to young boys than waterfalls and rivers. We don't have too many falls in our immediate vicinity so I started a search for these spouts of beauty within driving distance. Time and again, Bash Bish Falls State Park came up as one of the most beautiful and iconic falls in the New England area, so we hopped in the car and made the trip. 

Gear Review: Sawyer Mini water filters and Dehydration

Gear Review: Sawyer Mini water filters and Dehydration

I drank pond water yesterday. Wasn't planning on it but I figured I should probably give it a shot rather than just show you pictures of a product you could just find with a google search. Honestly, wasn't too bad after being filtered through the Sawyer Mini. I grew a third arm today but I heard that goes away after a while.

Mansfield Hollow State Park: Mansfield, CT

Mansfield Hollow State Park: Mansfield, CT

"Daddy, this is a wonderful day"

Eli skips ahead as sunlights shines through the trees, casting long evening shadows. The air is cooler now but still holds some humidity. We're moving slowly, carefree and wandering nowhere fast, soaking the warmth of Summer into our souls.

Day Trippin': 10 Tips for a Great Hike With Kids

Day Trippin': 10 Tips for a Great Hike With Kids

It seems like everyone is on the "get into nature with your kids" kick. Big companies are using it for marketing, mom blogs are applauding it, but it's going to be a real downer when you're running from a bear through the mud wearing flip flops and your children are clinging to your legs. Okay...it won't be that bad but a little preparedness goes a long way in having a great time with your little ones. 

Gear Review: Child Carriers Overview (With Pics)

Gear Review: Child Carriers Overview (With Pics)

I just completed a 6-minute overview of the Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier but wanted to offer some insight into child carriers in general and offer a comparison to an older, more affordable child carrier (Kelty TC 3.0 which is discontinued and replaced with the Kelty Transit 3.0) We're talking $260 vs $89. That's a significant difference so what do you gain by purchasing a newer pack (or what do you lose by getting an older one)?

Gear Review: Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier

After a few weeks of attempting to film an overview of the Osprey Poco Plus Child Carrier, I finally got around to it! There were a few takes early on that were interrupted with kids in underwear and lego jets, but overall I hope that this five minute overview gives you an impression of how the pack is setup and my thoughts on it (hint: I think it's amazing). Also, my plug for REI is just because I love that company, they aren't paying me to say anything. Leave thoughts or questions below!

Day Trippin': Nature Valley Commercial

Why did this video choke me up? I'm fully aware of the money and time that goes into creating viral marketing, but that doesn't change the fact that this pulls at the heart strings. We're facing a real issue in our children's generation and this clip tells the emotional story through a handful of characters who, unsurprisingly, remind us of people we know. This is why we're big fans of #getoutstayout and will happily embrace the Nature Valley hashtag #getoutthere.

What do you think of the video?

Talcott Mountain State Park and Heublein Tower: Simsbury, CT

Talcott Mountain State Park and Heublein Tower: Simsbury, CT

Summary: We took a trip to REI today to upgrade to an Osprey Poco Plus carrier and I ended up getting Eli the REI Tarn 18 pack (phenomenal kids pack I'll review later)...needless to say, even after a morning walk, it made us all want to get back out to the woods. I did a quick search and noted the the Heublein Tower, on the Sky's the Limit list, was a few minutes away. 

Day Trippin': DEEP Sky's the Limit Challenge!

Day Trippin': DEEP Sky's the Limit Challenge!

There are a thousand reasons every day you can think of to keep you and your kids at home. It's the same voice that can keep you from becoming the best you. It's the voice that says It's too hard, You can't do it, You don't fit in, Don't bother.

That's why it helps to have goals.

Day Trippin': Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, NH

Day Trippin': Inn at East Hill Farm, Troy, NH

The first night, a volley of excited words shoots across the room as we recap our first day at East Hill Farm in Troy, NH. We ended up here after a spur of the moment decision to get away for the weekend. We threw the backpacks in the car and drove towards this quaint New England oasis at the foot of Mt. Monadnock and settled in for two days of mountain views, fresh food, and chickens...lots of chickens. 

Sleeping Giant State Park: Hamden, CT

Sleeping Giant State Park: Hamden, CT

This was our first hike in a series of 10 to 14 hikes across Connecticut as a part of the Connecticut State Parks Sky's the Limit initiative, which is a part of No Child Left Inside. I couldn't wait to get started and we had our sights set on Sleeping Giant State Park since I've heard so many great things about it. Overall the hike took us roughly 2 hours from bottom to top and back again, complete with breaks, scrambles and some goofing around.

Day Trippin': Hiking with Little Feet

Day Trippin': Hiking with Little Feet

I know, that title sounds weird. This isn't a post for people with exceptionally small feet. It's for people who have kids who, in turn, have little feet. I'm aware that not everyone is an avid hiker and hitting the trails can leave some questions unanswered, so I hope this post covers some basic essential tips and gear.

Bigelow Hollow State Park: Union, CT

View from where we ate lunch to kick off the hike

View from where we ate lunch to kick off the hike

Name: Bigelow Hollow State Park

Location: Union, CT 

Difficulty (for little feet): Medium

Total Duration: 2 hours

Summary: Hiking with kids at Bigelow Hollow brings back great memories. Over 9,000 acres are available for your hiking (or boating) pleasure between Bigelow Hollow State Park and Nipmuk Forest- this is one of the largest unbroken woodlands in Eastern Connecticut. Great for adults and kids alike, you can assemble your own trek ahead of time by reviewing the trail map

I hooked up with Rob, Director of Young Life, UConn. We did a two hour hike, which included some swimming, and that was just right for our group of kids which totaled six, ranging in age from two to nine. This walk is rated "medium" simply because there is a lot of elevation gain and loss in short spurts. The trail is plenty wide and has good footing, but we made sure to talk frequent water breaks since we had their little legs pumping. 

The trail is often covered in pine needles which makes it soft, but there are some rock gardens too...nothing too ominous. Not too many roots to interfere either. The woods are beautiful and spacious, with lots of evergreen and fern foliage. It's a truly pleasant scene as you make your way towards Mashapaug Pond (we took the white and blue blaze trail and stayed right (looking north on the map), which we highly recommend for kids). 

Spacious woods

Spacious woods

The biggest and most rewarding surprise was the water. We followed the blue blaze to the front of a peninsula to a place where the kids could wade. I only expected some rock tossing but the water was exceptionally clean and warm...warmer than our pools...so most of the kids went for a full-on swim. Note: for anyone looking to swim, bring a change of clothes, towels, or some quick-dry clothing. We didn't do this and regretted it, which led to us walking back on the road in squishy shoes. It was still a blast though (For your reference, we parked at the 3rd parking area in from the park entrance.)

That's me on lifeguard duty for like 90 kids...or 6....same thing.

That's me on lifeguard duty for like 90 kids...or 6....same thing.

You should know that there is a charge on weekends and holidays. So go during the week! Overall, this was a great place to eat, hike and swim and we'll be going back very soon. Next time, we might just drive straight to the boat launch and head over to the swimming area...but there is a lot of great trails so be sure to hit those up, too. 

Quotes from the kids:

"It was awesome!"

"My favorite part was the swimming...and the downhills."

"I didn't like the uphills." 

"My favorite part was riding on my daddy's back."

That's us with two kids. No idea where the other four are. Kidding of course...

That's us with two kids. No idea where the other four are. Kidding of course...

Day Trippin': Buell's Orchards, Eastford, CT

Name: Buell's Orchard

Location: Eastford, CT

Difficulty (for little feet): Easy!

Summary: It's not quite Fall yet (oh so soon!) but a good friend invited me and the boys to Buell's Orchard- founded in 1889- and I thought it would be a great way to spend a hot summer day. When I've come here in the past, it's been on Columbus Day weekend when they have fresh caramel apples, hayrides and fun for everyone.

In the Summer, the scene is slower and more relaxed. The orchard store front is quaint and very New England, complete with pickled veggies, fresh veggies and fruit, and trinkets (and homemade apple cider donuts!) 

Blueberries are in season, so we each got a small bucket and set off down the rows of blueberry bushes, full of large juicy berries. Of course, with the kids, more berries went in the mouth than the bucket, but regardless, we walked away with enough for a whole blueberry pie!

A quick trip to the store for the pie ingredients and in a few hours after fumbling our way around the kitchen, my good friend and I produced exceedingly delicious blueberry pies. We surprised ourselves but really lend all the credit to the fresh blueberries from Buell's. 

The drive out to Buell's is almost worthwhile in itself as you pass by CT woodlands and, depending on your direction, by Bigelow Hollow State Park.  Bring a picnic basket and stop by bigelow before or after to make it a whole day trip!

If you're looking for a great local orchard, be sure to check out Buell's, you won't be disappointed!

Wadsworth Falls State Park: Middletown, CT

Name: Wadsworth Falls State Park

Location: Middletown, CT (721 Wadsworth St, Middlefield, CT)

Difficulty Level (for little feet): Easy/Medium

Summary: This was one of our highlight hikes. Eli and Sam fell in love with the massive waterfall and spent hours playing in the shallows not far from the pounding water.

Though there are a few miles of trails according to their map, we didn't hike much since I ended up parking relatively close to the falls in the first place. That wasn't my intent but after a few hundred feet of woods, we walked down the dirt path that opened up to the base waters which was a broad and shallow river and were hooked. What a great spot! Judging by the thunderous noise from where we parked, I had high expectation (and wasn't let down!)

The kids were totally free to play here and wade up and down the river as much as they wanted. Like I said...it was shallow and safe. We might return at some point to hike upriver but the falls are supposed to be the highlight so if you're looking for a place to plant yourself for a while, this will work just fine. 

Since you're in Middletown, you can make a day of this trip by heading over to a spectacular kids place called Kid City. It's less than 10 minutes away and you'll be greeted with three floors of endless play. For a reasonable fee you can spend hours exploring the fishery, the castle and myriad other themed rooms. There are lots of restaurants in the area so if you find something good, leave it in the comments! I'm a big fan of Eli Cannon's but it's not necessarily a kids place (though I've taken E there before). 

Bring a bathing suit and some bug spray when you go to the falls, you'll probably need them!