We recently put a neat little bow on our annual, 200-plus-page Buyer’s Guide and sent it off to the printer for mass production (it hits newsstands on 8/29, just FYI). The mag-making process is a grueling one, as you might imagine, so when the project was complete I craved some good ol’ fashioned R&R. Naturally, I headed to my beloved Aspen, home to gorgeous, beastly mountains; an incredible downtown and nightlife scene; and also some of the finest accommodations and dining options anywhere on Earth.
The goal this time around: Crush a 17-mile round-trip hike in order to soak up a big, beautiful, high-alpine hot spring for three days, then cap off the outing with a one-night stay at the plushest hotel in “A-Town” (more on that, below). And even though my head was still spinning from writing about hundreds upon hundreds of new products in the Buyer’s Guide, I used the opportunity to put even more gear through the wringer. ‘Cause someone’s gotta do it, right? I’m pleased to highlight my findings, below.
And if y’all have any questions about how to get yer booties up to Aspen and Conundrum Hot Springs, feel free to holler at me. For now, though, on to the gear!
This 15-degree, three-season sleeping bag offers serious warmth, compressibility and major comfort at a very fair price point. The warmth factor is attributed to two elements: First is the utilization of responsibly sourced, 800-fill ProDown—that’s TNF’s proprietary down solution that retains its loft even when wet. Second, ThermoBaffle construction entails baffle chambers being woven by one single piece of fabric without traditional stitched or welded seams. The end benefit to you is increased warmth and durability, and reduced weight. A streamlined cut and two-third-length side zip save even more weight, while a hood-cinch and draft collar prevent even more heat loss. A stuff sack and storage sack come included. This beaut’ kept me warm n’ cozy through two nights of unexpectedly cold temps at 11,200 feet and also damp, raw conditions. I’m 5-foot, 9-inches or so and I recommend the “long” fit.
This stretchy three-layer shell provides outstanding protection from wind and rain and also dreamy ventilation (30K/26K waterproof/breathability rating). A sleek fit is backed by a fixed, three-way adjustable hood, easily-accessible chest pockets and ventilation openings at the sides. It’s also incredibly lightweight, at just 524 grams. As a cherry on top, the “Eco-Shell” branding denotes the product is made of recycled polyester.
There are times when an iPhone camera just doesn’t do the trick. When we crave that perfect, high-res summit selfie, we turn to the GoPro HERO5 Black. This tiny camera makes capturing ultra-high quality footage (4K video and 12MP photo) a walk in the park. It’s waterproof up to 33 feet without a housing unit (an upgrade from its predecessors) and its two-inch touchscreen enables speedy and intuitive operation as well as instant playback. It has voice control capabilities allowing for hands-free operation and it also works seamlessly with the GoPro and Quik apps, allowing you to quickly create video edits for mobile viewing and sharing.
The Endurus Hike Mid Gore-Tex is all about comfort. It’s incredibly lightweight and plush as can be, thanks to “XtraFoam” midsole technology. Broken down: This tech entails a softer-density foam underfoot for cushioning and a firmer-density EVA compound around the perimeter for stability. Round it all out with a highly waterproof and breathable Gore-Tex membrane and “sticky” Vibram soles and you’ve got a true winner for just about any and all hiking scenarios.
The Wind Jacket 2.0 is a big-lensed, snug-fitting pair of shades with heaps of retro flair. These puppies come with a removable strap and PRIZM lenses that enhance color and contrast. We sport ‘em while skiing, hiking, biking, paragliding, rollerblading, river-rafting, boating, soaking in the hot springs, you name it. Rest assured, they’ll remain squarely in place through all of these activities, block wind and generally enhance your experiences thanks to the power of PRIZM. The Wind Jacket 2.0 comes in six colorways. Extended review, here.
I’m deferring to my female hiking partner, here; the experienced backpacker has been using the Ariel AG 75 all summer long and says she’s never experienced a more awesome pack. She credits the overall awesomeness to five key attributes: First and foremost, the pack boasts excellent fit thanks to a suspended mesh harness that wraps your body and also a wide, plush hip belt. Both the harness and hip belt are interchangeable to provide a custom fit. “No sore shoulders nor back after extended use with heavy loads,” she confirms. Second, a full peripheral frame coupled with that rockin’ fit allows for excellent load transfer, and thereby easy-breezy walking. Third, a removable top-lid converts into a day- or a summit-pack. Fourth, zippered hip belt pockets provide quick access to things like chapstick, a phone, sunscreen and Snickers while hiking. Lastly, access to the main compartment is made easy via top and front entry. This pack also comes complete with additional features galore, including the spacious stretch-mesh front panel pocket, hydration compatibility and more. Summer, winter, all-day-trip or five-day trip, rest assured this thing has you very well covered.
Deferring to my hiking partner again: This technical tight is ideal for those who spend a fair amount of time getting cozy with rocks, trees and shrubs while out on the trail. Durable reinforcements in the seat and the knees keep you protected from sharp edges and moisture just like a pair of trekking trousers would, but in this case, that rock-solid character is complemented by the full freedom of movement that’s afforded by four-way stretch. The wide waist panel is “comfortable AF.” Additionally, leg and hand pockets provide storage for most of your goods—the leg pocket on the righthand side even has room for a decent-sized map. For the serious trekkers, it’ll be tough to find equal comfort and protection in a package as sleek as this.
The Men’s Progressor Insulated Hybrid Hoodie is thin and lightweight as can be, yet delivers absolutely awesome protection from the elements; it’s an ideal piece for late summer and early fall adventures before the temps start to plummet. Thanks to 100 grams of PrimaLoft Gold insulation in the body this piece will keep you warm during early-morning and late-evening hikes, runs, climbs, bike rides, walks from the hot springs back to the tent, etc. Stretch-weaving in the hood and sleeves ensures excellent mobility while partaking in said activities. Laser-perforated underarm venting brings about noticeable and greatly appreciated breathability, as well. Whether you use this piece as a mid-layer during high-energy scenarios or simply sport it for a night on the town (like I did in Aspen after having spent three days adequately soaking in the “tub”) you’ll appreciate its look and performance 100-percent of the time. I might also suggest pairing it with a lightweight, three-layer shell for a nice combo of warmth, breathability, wind protection and water protection, too.
Hiking 17 miles RT to Conundrum Hot Springs. Working up a stinky sweat while playing ice hockey. Rollerblading up a storm around my hometown of Boulder, CO. Crushing H.I.I.T at the gym. Or sitting on an airplane for 11 hours. These are just a few of the times when I’m thankful to be sporting the Quest 2.0 Long Leg, by Saxx. Because this thing is highly breathable, moisture-wicking, anti-bunching, stretchy and soft to the touch. And once you wear ‘em for the first time, you’ll shun all of your other undies. That’s right, I’m enjoying the Quest 2.0 so much that I’ve accumulated multiple pairs and I’m looking all McKayla Maroney-like when regarding my old, inferior underwear. Extended review, here.
Registering just 1.3 ounces, this bad boy is not even noticeable when it’s clipped to my pocket. I use it frequently during camping outings, around the house and also around the office as a box opener and letter opener for snail mail. In addition to its 2.6 inch blade it also features a bottle opener, allowing me to be at the ready when the clock strikes Beer:30. And like all of Leatherman’s tools, it’s backed by a 25-year warranty.
This lightweight pant boasts a fit that’s somewhere between slim and regular; snap closures at the ankle so you can roll ’em up neatly when desired; a 75-percent cotton, 23-percent nylon and 2-percent elastane construction for a very typical-pant-that-you-can-wear-to-town look, but with plenty of stretch for activities from hiking, to climbing, to chillin’ in the tent when it’s pouring rain. Additional features includes mesh pockets that are ultra-smooth against your skin; zippered rear pockets so you won’t lose your wallet; and a reflective component on the ankle for increased visibility in low-light settings. All told, it’s a fantastic summertime- and fall-centric option for the outdoors lover who lives life on the move.
Protect your skin from nasty UVA/UVB rays while upping your Vitamin E game thanks to this moisturizing sunscreen from Sun Bum. As a reminder, your friend Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals, which bring about premature skin aging. This product is water resistant for up to 80 minutes (great for the hot springs) and is also gluten free, paraben free, oil free, PABA free, cruelty free and 100-percent vegan. It won’t sting your eyes, it won’t stain your clothes in the washing machine and no monkeys were harmed in the making of this product. All good things.
This tent is ideal for backpackers and avid campers who hit the trail no matter what the weather forecast is calling for. (After all, “You don’t know, if you don’t go.”) Lightweight (1,650 g) yet burly, this four-season tunnel tent has served me well time and time again. Three weeks ago, while camping at 11,000-feet on Colorado’s Mt. Princeton, I endured pouring rain and howling winds and the Abisko Shape 2 held mighty tough through the night, keeping me warm and dry as can be. This past weekend at Conundrum Hot Springs, same thing… this tent stood tall in the face of one particularly torrential downpour, and strong winds at night. Highlights include a massive vestibule, big enough for two persons to comfortably cook underneath in the event of high winds or wet conditions; serious warmth yet ample ventilation when you wish to cool off; color-coded tent poles for pain-free pitching; a spacious interior complete with a clothesline for drying or hanging whatever you please, plus mesh pockets for storage; a super-durable flysheet; and a mighty packable character, great for outings where weight and pack-space are at a premium. For the frequent go-getters who are seeking a dependable option, the Abisko Shape 2 comes highly recommended.
Boulder, Colorado’s Avery Brewing Company understands that there’s nothing like cracking open a cold beer as you slip into a bubbling-hot, natural hot tub. Crafted with two types of Noble German hops, Joe’s Pils boasts a crisp, nutty flavor and extra-hoppy character with subtle floral notes. At just 4.7-percent ABV it’s light and easy to drink—just right for nature’s jacuzzi where it’s all too easy to get a bit (read: very) dehydrated if you’re not careful. Up at Conundrum, we soaked these brews in a stream adjacent to the hot springs; the stream was fed by glacial run-off ensuring our bevvies were icy-cold come drinking time. And yes, the extra weight in your backpack is worth every sip.
This trench coat is insanely lightweight and packable and it comes complete with top-notch water protection and breathability. With its slim n’ long fit, this stunner was utilized for in-town Aspen adventures on a rainy Saturday. Features include oversized pockets; a “cape vent” on the back for airflow; a stowable hood; waterproof zips and a DWR finish. All told, it’s a smooth, stylish option that’ll turn heads while also keeping you protected from Mother Nature’s nastiest tantrums.
What do you call a crocodile with GPS? A navi-gator. Be your own navigator and direct the course of your proverbial ship straight into the warm, calm seas of Conundrum, and do so in this ever-so-manly short-short, by Chubbies. This trunk boasts a comfortable, elastic waist; 100-percent polyester construction; 5.5 inch inseams; a back pocket and “secret” inside pocket; and a stretch-mesh liner.
I have socks for all occasions: Some have hot dogs on ‘em. Some have sushi rolls on ‘em. Some are 80s-esque neon. Some have Boston Bruins logos. One pair even has a cartoon drawing of Rob Gronkowski plastered on the front. I can go on and on. I love socks. And the quarter-length Light Hiker, by FITS, has become my go-to hiking sock. There’s cushioning in the heel, toe and arch for comfort and support; a skin-tight fit ensures you won’t experience any bunching (and thereby blistering); the thickness is just right, not too thin nor too thick; and a 70-percent Merino wool construction is smooth to the touch, moisture-wicking and odor-free.
I’m an avid supporter of trekking poles; in addition to helping me balance while navigating scree fields or fording rivers, walking poles also help to reduce pressure on knees and joints and tone the upper body. Studies show that you use up to 90-percent of your skeletal muscles while hiking or walking with poles. Additionally, by some measures you can burn up to 46-percent more calories walking with poles than not. So, if that all sounds like gravy to you, then the Halite 7075, here, is one to strongly consider. Durable 7075 aluminum allows these poles to stand up to rocks and longterm use. A cork and EVA handle coupled with a padded wrist strap provides comfort. The height adjustment system (48 to 54 inches) and locking mechanism are both intuitive and reliable. The poles also come complete with removable hiking baskets, replaceable rubber boot tips and carbide tips for fantastic traction across all terrain. Then, it all folds up into a tiny 16-inch unit for easy stowage.
Up above, I mentioned that we planned to shack up for a night at the finest hotel in town. And we did just that. Now, for someone in my tax bracket this sort of thing qualifies as a splurge, 100-percent. But, YOYO, right? I was so impressed with our stay at The Little Nell that I’m compelled to share a few words about the hotel, just in case you are ever considering an Aspen-based R&R-centric retreat of your own.
As Aspen’s only Five-Star, Five-Diamond hotel, The Little Nell boasts impeccable rooms and amenities, as you’d expect. But it’s the service that sets this place apart. The staffers remember your name; they greet you with a smile and a, “Hello, Mr. Lampert,” at nearly every turn. And by golly, they’re always opening doors for you, they’re giving you rides all over town… they’re just doggone awesome. Speaking of dogs, “The Nell” pretty much loves dogs more than any other hotel, ever. Which is nice.
Additional draws: The Nell is situated smack center in town, next to all of the hottest bars and restaurants and just a stone’s throw from Aspen’s Silver Queen gondola. Whether it’s summer or winter, a stay at The Nell means you’re in the heart of the action.
Can’t decide what sort of action you’re up for? The Nell’s Adventure Center will get you dialed with activities like biking, fly fishing, off-road touring, stargazing, Ride & Dining, mountaintop yoga-ing and loads more. Come winter time, you can expect things like private, guided snowcat skiing, etc.
There’s even a cellar packed with over 20,000 bottles of wine for those interested.
When you’re Aspen-bound and feel like livin’ it up… choose well and head for The Nell.