Monkey Pillow Handcrafted Backpacking Pillow Case Review

Let’s face it: it can be tough getting a good night’s sleep in the backcountry. Despite the fact that I generally hike long days, averaging upwards of 20 miles with several thousand feet of vertical climb and descent, even the most comfortable UL sleep system will often fail to provide rest for the weary, particularly in my case when it comes to staying asleep. Such it is that while I’m something of a gram counter when it comes to keeping my kit as light as possible, lately I’ve been heading the other way with regards to my sleep system in an effort to bag more of those crucial ZZZs that can make a huge difference in both performance and mood especially when on the trail for six or seven nights. To that end, I recently purchased an item designed specifically to mitigate the biggest problem* I have when hitting the trail rack, and that item is the Monkey Pillow by HikeBikeDale.

The Monkey Pillow is actually a pillowcase that attaches to your pad

The Monkey Pillow is actually a pillow case that attaches to your pad. Shown here without inflatable insert

The Monkey Pillow is in fact a pillow case with elastic straps for attachment to a sleeping pad, inside of which you supply an inflatable pillow (not included) or spare clothing. There are several sizes and colors from which to choose, which now includes a variety constructed from Momentum 50 fabric; the one I purchased, shown above, is the “Small Monkey Pillow for camping” in the white on white color that weighs precisely 1.60 ounces on my digital scale meeting the manufacturer’s stated weight spot-on. The printed fleece side upon which you will place your weary head directly is very soft, while retaining a sufficiently sheer texture such that the effect is more like a soft baby’s blanket (which I suspect may be the whimsically patterned material’s source) than a pile fleece jacket – something I’ve slept uncomfortably upon in the past.

The reverse side is a thin sheer nylon, with two elastic cords well sewn onto each of the short sides of the Monkey Pillow case, permitting attachment to your sleeping pad of choice: for this test mine was a NeoAir All Season (size Regular) pad suitable for the 23 degree snowy conditions in which I tested the Monkey Pillow last week, and the small sized Monkey Pillow attached to the relatively large NeoAir perfectly. Point of clarification: any pad will do, but pay attention to sizing if you’re using a closed cell pad to avoid bunching. In conjunction with an inflatable pad the Monkey Pillow is a champ.

Deep snow and sub freezing temperatures in Oregon's Mt. Hood National Forest, elevation 4300'

Deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures in Oregon’s Mt. Hood National Forest, elevation 4300′

Attaching the Monkey Pillow to the pad is incredibly easy, which is where my biggest problem* when sleeping outdoors is remedied: this bit of kit will keep your pillow in place overnight. All night. This has been a constant issue for me, particularly when using a quilt: with a mummy bag, such as I used on this overnight, I’ve previously been somewhat able to keep an inflatable pillow in place simply by bringing the pillow into the bag’s hood with me – but that loss of space can lead to discomfort. With the Monkey Pillow, you’re free to roll about – I’m a side-sleeper only – while the pillow remains in place.

Klymit Cush inflatable pillow used for testing

Klymit Cush inflatable pillow used for testing

Again, the Monkey Pillow is actually a pillow case – you still need to provide your own actual pillow, and I have several inflatables from which to choose; you could certainly use spare clothing as well, but as I rarely bring spare clothing particularly in winter (wear em if you got em) I’m unlikely in any season to prefer that route vs. a dedicated, inflatable pillow. Over the years I’ve been moderately satisfied with the stock of BPL FlexAir dual chambered UL pillows (0.98 oz.) I acquired before the BPL store went bye-bye, which are essentially “disposable” hospital pillows, and have been fairly happy with the also now-defunct Kooka Bay pillow (2.2 oz.) I’ve used primarily for the past few years, but I’ve wanted something bigger that would still be light. Enter the Klymit Cush.

The Klmit Cush is designed to be folded in half or in thirds to provide maximum head loft

The inflatable Klymit Cush is designed to be folded in half or even in thirds to provide maximum head lift

The inflatable Cush weighs in at 3.08 oz. and yet is significantly more versatile and substantial for the 0.8 oz. weight penalty than the Kooka Bay pillow or the highly similar Mont Bell U.L. Comfort System Pillow, inasmuch as the Cush design permits multiple configurations for either increased pillow volume under your head – such as we side sleepers enjoy – or for use as a simple camp cushion. In the past, I would have hesitated to employ something this big and oddly shaped simply due to the perceived impossibility of keeping the thing in place overnight. Enter too the Monkey Pillow.

Backside of a NeoAir All Season pad with Monkey Pillow pad straps, attached

Backside of a NeoAir All Season pad with Monkey Pillow pad straps, slid neatly within pad channels

Again, as a disclaimer I was using an ALPS Mountaineering Navajo 20 degree mummy bag and as such did not have my head or face in direct contact with the Monkey Pillow, so I cannot yet speak to that comfort factor directly. I can report however that I had one of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had that very cold night, returning happily to my previously reviewed Rab Summit Superlite Bivi mountaineering shelter, with the Monkey Pillow/Klymit Cush combination working sweet lullaby magic upon me, nearly uninterrupted all night and with nary a pillow issue whatsoever.

An additional note about this pairing as a side sleeper: if you’re like me, at home you likely sleep with an arm under your pillow not only because that down-side arm needs somewhere to go, but because your head requires a little more lift than your pillow alone to keep your head and neck at right angles or better to the bed. Basic bedroom physics! In the backcountry however you probably sleep with your arm tucked in, due to space constraints, cold temperatures, or the simple insecurity of having your arm hanging out from the side of your tarp on the ground. With this combination, and the Cush folded in half and secured inside the Monkey Pillow, I was able to sleep properly on my side with my head level, without my down-side arm and shoulder being contorted into an awkward position. All night long. I’m not sure if the Cush would have remained folded on its own, and I’m quite certain it would have found its way off the similarly slippery NeoAir All Season pad.

Monkey Pillow containing Klmit Cush Pillow, folded in half and attached to NeoAir All Season pad

Monkey Pillow attached to NeoAir All Seaon pad, containing Klymit Cush Pillow folded in half.

The Monkey Pillow is an intuitive and clever solution to a very old problem I’ve had as long as I’ve been backpacking, and designer Wallace Hunter provides the answer for much needed rest with excellent craftsmanship, and a bit of whimsy. Indeed I appreciate that the Monkey Pillow doesn’t match the generic tones the balance of my gear employs, and I expect it will continue to make me chuckle right before I crash for a night outdoors. I’m particularly excited to use the combination of the two, including the Klymit Cush, in warmer weather w/a backpacking quilt, bivy and tarp, when securing a pillow within a mummy bag is impossible. While a bivy like my favorite, the MLD Superlight Bivy, implicitly helps corral you, your quilt, your pad and your pillow, the pillow never stays precisely in place – mine tend to get wedged between my pad and any gap at the bivy’s head, ensuring an instant drop out of sweet, sweet REM sleep.

I may review the Klymit Cush (and perhaps my old pal diphenhydramine) separately but suffice to say I recommend that uniquely designed inflatable sleep aid as well, when used in conjunction with the Monkey Pillow. True, I’ve increased the weight of my sleep system with this combination by nearly 3 ounces, but after returning from a winter weekend fully rested, I’m embarrassed to have even mentioned it.

Note: the Author acquired this equipment at his own expense and was not compensated prior to review by the manufacturer in any way.


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LoopAlien Rapid Cord Attachment Kickstarter Project

Having recently helped back BackpackingLight’s Kickstarter Packrafting video series project (more to generally support BPL than from any personal experience or serious interest in packrafting) I’ve found myself perusing Kickstarter for other things of interest. The Bosavi headlamp that Ploss reviewed previously came to life thusly, as did the Backcountry Boiler which remains high on my wish list. Yesterday, I discovered something I truly didn’t need, but was sufficiently innovative to merit wanting: The LoopAlien “Rapid Cord Attachment.”


Using the LoopAlien sans knots as a guyline tensioner

I’ve been using LiteLine LineLocks for years, and they work well and are generally useful for two big reasons: I’m impatient with knot tying, and I’m expedient when setting up my shelters. (Fine. I suck at advanced general knot tying). They’re small, light, and can be left attached to the Dyneema Ironwire I use exclusively on my various tarps and shelters. (Tip: upgrade to Dyneema Ironwire). They’re also somewhat delicate and can be fussy to work with, particularly in the winter if I’m setting up something UL like a MLD Pro Solo cuben tarp, a SMD Gatewood Cape, or if I need to guy out a mountaineering shelter for wind resistance – all in gloves and/or mitts.

The LoopAlien, constructed from 6061-T6 aluminum weighing a mere 2.6 grams per attachment, appears capable of considerably increasing the speed with which I can pitch and adjust my shelters for a modest weight penalty of about .4 oz per 6 attachments vs. LineLocks. It’s a clever design that utilizes a relatively large loop opening within the 1.25″ x 0.9″ attachment itself that then hooks taught to an outer “peg” rather than the LineLock approach of having small plastic teeth grip the line directly.

These bad boys aren't going to break if stepped on when some genius trips on your high vis guyline

These bad boys aren’t going to break if stepped on when some fool genius trips on your high-vis guyline

While yes, I have committed ultralight sacrilege and have increased the weight of my kit perhaps unnecessarily, I’ve come to appreciate a reasonable trade-off particularly when improving my sleep comfort or, as is the case here, increasing the utility of my gear. The project appears to be a success: it’s currently within $233 of its $13,300 primary goal, with a $15,000 stretch goal to create stainless steel and perhaps larger sized varieties. Personally I’d be interested in a titanium iteration. With 19 days to go, by the time you read this you should be able to either get in on the Kickstarter campaign yourself, or hopefully find some online directly from the designer.

Designer David's sense of humor is equally appreciated

Designer David’s sense of humor is equally appreciated

Go check it out and be sure to watch the video: I’d have embedded it here but our current crappy budget-friendly WP(.com) blog is incapable of such reckless tomfoolery. (Aside: perhaps I should funnel some gear funds towards a blog upgrade. End of aside). I’m happy to have backed this project rather capriciously, hope you will as well and I’ll look forward to reviewing them properly, presumably, when my 6 LoopAliens  arrive this summer.

Update: here’s a rad [#datedvernacular] video demonstrating the LoopAlien construction process. I can’t embed dangerous ubiquitous <iframe> video such as one might find on Kickstarter here, but our crappy gear fund-friendly WP(.com) blog is adequately gratefully (somewhat) YouTube enabled. </fail>


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Rab Summit Superlite Bivi Review

This gallery contains 9 photos.

The previous iteration of the Rab Latok Ultra bivi, this eVENT mountaineering shelter purports 4 season comfort as a single wall, ~3 lb. “two person” tent. Er bivi. Bivvy. Bivy? Before UK mountaineering manufacturer Rab introduced the Latok Ultra bivi … Continue reading

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Indoor Plumbing™

How a simple pee bottle eliminated my most bitter winter elimination complaint

The following is a simply a Public Service Announcement from me to you, as the lone author of this blog who consistently and happily relieves his bladder in the winter without having to leave his shelter. Basically 1) if you’re a man (key to the physics, sorry), 2) if you tend to require relief during the night, and 3) you like to be warm and dry, I cannot recommend this simple addition to your winter kit highly enough.

Say goodbye to frozen Nature Calls. Well one of them.

Say goodbye to shivering Nature Calls. Well, one of them.

The winter pee bottle is hardly a new idea, but IMHO this setup works extremely well. For this project you’ll need:

  1. One Nalgene Wide-Mouth Canteen. 32 oz should universally do the trick. I repurposed an old one as I’ve been using these for years as my SteriPEN container of choice. 2 oz.
  2. One Photon Micro-Light II Pro LED keychain flashlight, red beam (for night vision). I’m able to operate the push button Photon II for illumination and simultaneously hold the Nalgene steady with a single hand. 7 grams.
  3. One Sharpie and/or a strip of duct tape. The Photon Micro dangling from the lid strap should be enough for you to distinguish this from your WATER bottle, but one can never be too safe. Mark it with an X etc. on both sides and use duct tape for texture.

For just over 2 ounces of packed weight you, my friend, can take care of business quickly, comfortably, safely and securely once you’ve mastered the technique: personally I’m able to simply unzip my bag partially and roll over to one side/pad edge; a thick winter pad such as the NeoAir All Season helps provide a little needed height differential, and the Nalgene wide-mouth canteen will unroll itself as you go!

The Photon Micro-Light II LED light (red) ensures accurate delivery and bottle identification

The Photon Micro-Light II LED light (red) ensures accurate delivery and bottle identification

This setup is frankly a must when I’m snow camping in a bivy sack with a tarp, as it just plain sucks to get out of your bivy and bag when it’s dark and below freezing, put on your boots, and seek relief. This is a lot easier to use than you think. When I’m done I tighten the cap of course, put the thing in a safe, distant upright place where it won’t be mistaken for anything else, and unless you’re dealing with temperatures near zero° F you needn’t worry about the contents freezing in the hours before you get up – your body has been wasting energy keeping that liquid at 98.6 degrees. Resist the urge to use it as a hot water bottle, however. Empty contents outside using leave no trace principles in the morning, roll up flat, close lid tight, wash out in the laundry basin when ya get home.

While I’ve made the switch recently from bivy to a full mountaineering ultralight shelter for snow excursions, Indoor Plumbing™ will always remain a key component of my winter kit. You’re welcome. 🙂

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Kalalau Trail Solo Hike – July 25-26, 2012

My family and I regularly vacation in Hawaii, having previously visited Maui and the big island. This year, we decided to repair ourselves to the garden island of Kaua’i, renowned for its stunning geography and fantastic features including the Waimea Canyon, ‘The Grand Canyon of the Pacific,’ and Mount Wai’ale’ale, the wettest spot on earth. It is also known for the sharp features of the Nā Pali coastline located along the NW side of the island, which can only be seen close-up by air, boat or foot. The latter requires travel along the Kalalau Trail, which stretches for 11 miles starting from Ke’e Beach all the way to Kalalau. If you haven’t heard or read about this hike, it’s known as one of the best hikes in the world per National Geographic and also as one of the most dangerous in America per Backpacker.

The Kalalau has been on my ‘to hike’ list for some time. I read about this hike for the first time in Backpacking Light’s final issue #11. Once we had reserved airfare and lodging for our trip back in late April, my wife encouraged me to see whether I could get a permit for an overnight trip to Kalalau Beach. With only months until our trip, I hardly expected that I would be able to get a reservation, but fortunately for me, the cumbersome process of getting a reservation via mail has been replaced by an easy-to-use online reservation system. I was able to check permit availabilty on my desired days, procure a permit for a mere $20, and print it in PDF format. I’ll note that I’m very fortunate to have such a wonderful wife that will allow me to take 1.5 days for myself while on a family vacation–I love you, baby!

The focus of this post will center more on the thought and planning process that I went through for this hike as I found a TON of information available on the interwebz regarding the history of the trail, the features, etc. I haven’t found a lot of information available, however, regarding how to do this without carrying a 40+ lb pack!

In planning to hike the Kalalau, the biggest thing to keep in mind is its tropical location and abundant rainfall, with average daytime temperatures in the 80s and nightime temperatures in the 60s. This would mean that I would not need a sleeping bag, nor would I need anything more than a tee-shirt and a lightweight rain jacket. To cover these needs, I elected to bring an M50 sleeping-bag liner, a merino wool tee and a a short-sleeved cuben fiber rain jacket. I’ll note that once I arrived in Kaua’i I quickly recognized that even lightweight merino would be overkill and that a fabric without insulative properties would be much better. For this trip, I decided to go with a shirt made of bamboo fibers as bamboo is purportedly 3 degrees cooler than cotton.

Given the risk of rain, I decided to bring an UL tarp, an SMD Gatewood Cape. This would require me to suspend the cape from a tree or to use one center pole for the hike, so I’d need to determine whether I’d be willing to travel with hiking poles. I ultimately elected to purchase hiking poles when I arrived in Kaua’i as there’s a Walmart located in Lihue. This turned out to be a great call as they were cheap, they worked well, and the cost @ ~$20 was cheap enough that I didn’t care about leaving them behind for another hiker after I completed my hike. To round-out my sleep system, I would need a bivy sack and sleeping pad. I decided to carry my go-to bivy, the MLD SuperLight, and my Klymit Intertia X-Lite–an uber-minimalist pad that I had not used before.

I also elected to not bring a stove, nor to buy one in Kaua’i. In general, I only have one hot meal per day on any hike in the NW and I could certainly do without a hot meal in Hawaii. I would need to filter, chemically-treat or purify the water in Kauai due to the risk of leptospirosis. Rather than bring a bulky filter, I decided to entrust my steripen to this duty! In addition, I would plan to bring Aquamira should I suffer electronic failure.

I would also need a really low volume, lightweight pack for this trip. I’ll note that I have a lot of lightweight packs at my disposal, but none of them suited my volume needs for this trip . . . that is, extremely minimal volume needs. I could easily get all of my gear into my REI Flash 18 pack, but it lacked side water bottle pockets, a critical feature for a long trip in hot, humid conditions. I ultimately ordered a custom extra-small ‘Zero’ ZPack from Joe Valesko in blue cuben fiber with hybrid-cuben water bottle pockets. Given that I didn’t need a hipbelt, I ordered 2 shoulder pouches for camera and snacks and a water pouch for trips where I desired to carry a water bladder.

Otherwise, I would need a some additional supplies such as minimal first-aid and repair kits, a small towel, a potty trowel, various meds, etc.

For gear worn, apart from my bamboo shirt noted above, I would hike in a pair of Keen Newport Sandals, sport a pair of ExOfficio boxer briefs and REI Sahara cargo shorts, and wear a Kavu Chillba conical hat that is made in the US but is of East and Southeast Asian descent.

For food, I decided to procure my usual assortment of grub. Breakfasts would consist of a fruit pie and a GU20 gel. Snacks would consist of Clif Shot Blocks, Honey Stinger Energy Chews, Tanka bars and Justin’s nut butters. Lunch would consist of several ounces of Fritos. Dinner would consist of a sandwich that I would get on the island and a candy bar. I bought the majority of this stuff before I left at REI, leaving only the sandwich and pies for Kaua’i.

My limited gear list is as follows:

Item Weight Notes
Zpacks Zero X-Small Backpack 4.85 oz hybrid-cuben side pockets
SMD Gatewood Cape/Stakes 13 oz Simple; storm protection
MLD SuperLight Bivy Sack 7.62 oz Bug & ground protection
MLD M50 Quilt Liner 2.80 oz Lightest bag liner formerly avail–rated @ ~60F
Klymit Inertia X-Lite 6.20 oz Lightest inflatable pad
MontBell UL Comfort Sys Pillow 2.40 oz Luxury item
ZPacks Cloudcape 3.40 oz Light rain protection
First Aid/Repair/Meds/Other 9.62 oz Various small items
Petzl e+LITE Headlamp 1.38 oz Minimalist headlamp
Sun/Glasses/Contacts/Saline 4 oz Optics
Nalgene 32oz Canteens (2) 4.20 oz Wide-mouth opening
SteriPen Adventurer Opti w/lithium batteries 3.60 oz Dependable, minimal hassle
MiniDrop Bottles w/Aquamira .36 oz Chemical redundancy
Total Weight 3.96 lb

All-in-all, this would be my first trip with a sub-4 lb base weight. I would have a total carried weight of ~10 lbs for this trip, making an overnight trip of ~26 miles and ~10,000 ft of elevation gain very doable.

As a result of myriad trail reports indicating the risk of vandalism and break-ins at the trailhead, my wife and kids agreed to escort me to the trailhead. It was an approximate 1.5 hour drive from Poipu to Ke’e along the east and north coasts of the island. We left around 6:30am and arrived at the trailhead just after 8am. After eating my allotment of grub for the morning, readying my gear, and saying goodbye to the family, I hit the trail at about 8:30am.

It was a long hike, mostly due to my detour to Hanakäpï‘ai falls. This turned out to be a bit of a mistake as it added a lot of extra time to my hike and stretched my hike to fifteen miles on day 1. This side trip was costly for two reasons: (1) I took a spill after slipping on the wet path — note that Keen’s don’t provide great traction on a slick clay surface — and (2) I pummeled my elbow and watch after slipping when I jumped across Hanakäpï‘ai stream. Fortunately I departed this section without serious injury.

Day 2, by comparison, was much easier at a mere 11 miles and only took 6 hours to complete. Although it was an option, I decided to forego paying for a boat ride back to the trailhead. I returned to meet the family at just after 2pm. Overall it was a fantastic hike and very doable, especially with ultralight gear!

Photo journal of the hike below:

The start of my journey at the Kalalau Trailhead


Epic view of the Napali coastine


The author at Hanakäpï‘ai Falls


The Kalalau sign!


Napali Cliffs


My first view of Kalalau Beach. I was very tired by this point!


Ultralight setup of my Gatewood Cape


Sunset on Kalalau Beach

Parting Thoughts
◾This is a tough hike given the distance and cumulative elevation gain
◾I highly recommend travelling with ultralight gear; other hikers were very inquisitive and envious of my setup
◾The side trip to the falls took a LONG time and the trail was often difficult to follow. Not recommended if hiking to Kalalau Beach in a day.
◾My sandals worked very well for everything but the falls section. I could have used my poles more effectively to prevent slipping.
◾The Klymit Inertia X-Lite was passable, but not very comfortable
◾I only needed the bivy sack for warmth during the night
◾My Kavu Chillba provided great shelter from the sun, but caught wind like a sail during the sketchy cliffs section

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Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry™ Winter Boot Review

Will these lightweight, insulated waterproof snow boots live up to the hype?

Disclaimer #1: I am an unapologetic, absurdly dedicated Vasque Fanboy. With high arches and narrow feet, as an ultralight backpacker I hike almost exclusively in trail runners, year-round. I’ve been moderately happy over the years with Salomon and pretty satisfied with The North Face, but in my experience absolutely nothing compares to the Vasque brand for comfort, fit, arch support, traction, and durability. I ❤ my Vasques so much that I own two pair of Velocity VSTs, with and without GTX, that sit safely in my closet only to be rocked exclusively on week-long 100 milers or if I might be postholing in snow; a third pair of the updated Velocity is reserved for daily/weekly training.

Such it was that I rarely if ever used my favorite pair of boots, the Vasque Wasatch GTX, except for snowshoeing because however comfortable they are, frankly boots are heavy and my pack is light. And then, ahead of a February excursion Vasque provided an early Valentine: the Snow Junkie. [Disclaimer #2: tip of the hat to Ploss who did in fact order em first. I’m sure he’ll share his own thoughts on his pair as commentary.]


The Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry™

The Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry was released last fall and quickly won a Backpacker Magazine Editor’s Choice Snow Award for 2012; needless to say they were immediately slotted into wishlist pole position, and I finally had the opportunity to acquire and test a pair last weekend on a 14+ mile snowshoe overnight near Mt. Hood, Oregon.

Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry review

Stomping out a tent site in 8″ powder

The Snow Junkie UltraDry‘s value lay in the unique combination of weight, warmth, and waterproofing. Weighing in on my digital scale at a mere 2 lbs. 9.4 ounces (1174g) per pair (men’s size 10.5)  they’re in line with the manufacturer’s spec and consistent with a retail spec of 1 lb. 5 oz per shoe for a size 11.5M. They’re also significantly lighter than my aforementioned, comfortable Vasque Wasatch GORE-TEX boots that weigh in at 3 lbs. 5.3 ounces per pair. In the field, they felt highly comparable to the trail runners to which I’m accustomed and sans snowshoes I spent my time in camp essentially unaware of them in terms of weight on my feet.

This, despite the addition of 200g of 3M Thinsulate™ Ultra insulating material that I can attest did an outstanding job of keeping my feet warm not only during a full day of snowshoeing in frequently deep powder, but more importantly back at camp in an evening when temperatures dropped into the upper 20s. This was key. I’m still likely in the market for a pair of Goosefeet Down Socks & over booties for winter camp comfort as I tend to run cold, but I was very impressed by how well the Snow Junkies kept me warm for several hours of standing around in camp, waiting for Franken to boil snow for my dinner. Perhaps I should have brought my own stove…

Where's my 2 cups of water, Franken? I need 2 cups of water, Franken.

The author awaiting 2 cups of boiling water

As for the waterproofing, I could not be more impressed. On neither day did my feet get wet whatsoever despite stomping out a tent area, time spent in camp and significant hours of snowshoeing in often deep powder. For clarity, full lower body compliment:

How does the Vasque proprietary waterproofing technology compare to GTX? Per the manufacturer,  “UltraDry™ construction combines a moisture management lining with waterproof components for dry, long-lasting comfort and performance” and in the field, the results were impressive. The leather/GTX uppers found on the Wasatch and other GORE-TEX footwear I’ve owned do an adequate job of keeping one’s feet dry in wet conditions, but aren’t particularly breathable – after a full day of backpacking upwards of 15+ miles in winter conditions my feet can get pretty cold simply from being damp & clammy. While I didn’t do much postholing in the Snow Junkies, I was astounded to find my socks completely dry when I called it a day earlier than Ploss and Franken would have preferred. It’s a small sample size but for winter backpacking these are quite simply the most waterproof/breathable boots I’ve ever used.

Ploss rocking his Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots with snowshoes

Ploss rocking his Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots with snowshoes

The Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots are not only the lightest waterproof boots the author has ever tested, they’re the warmest courtesy of an ideal amount of thin, light insulation. They provide the ankle height and fit one would prefer in lieu of trail runners in deep snow (particularly with gaiters), exceed expectations for waterproofing and insulation, and perform extremely well with snowshoes in particular due to their crazy light weight. With a 21 lb. pack full of UL winter gear, food and water I was perfectly comfortable traversing 14+ miles of varied terrain, and was equally satisfied back in camp standing about in the snow and cold. Given that I have previously opted for the posthole route when backpacking at elevation in Fall/Spring with trail runners, I’ll update this review again soon as I almost certainly will be wearing my Snow Junkies again instead on my next snowy trip, snowshoes or not.


Update: I did in fact have an additional opportunity to field test my pair of Vasque Snow Junkie UltraDry boots in deep snow in April, once again in the Mt. Hood National Forest, this time without snowshoes – postholing in fresh, often knee-deep, powder for several hours and miles per day over several days. Pretty much worst-case conditions that were unexpected, as my hiking companion Franken believed that warm weather the week prior would leave the trail consolidated, leading me to leave my snowshoes at home (fail.) As before I wore Mountain Hardwear Nut shell high gaiters, smartwool socks, and GoLite Reed pants with the Snow Junkies, and the results were outstanding.

Deceptively compact snow at the trailhead. D'oh!

Deceptively compact snow at the trailhead. D’oh!

The Vasque Snow Junkie is the best pair of winter boots I’ve either owned, or short of plastic mountaineering boots, that I’ve ever heard of. No amount of postholing yielded either damp or cold feet, and once again my feet were sufficiently warm standing about in camp that a dedicated pair of down/insulated camp footwear seems unnecessary. These remain not only an ideal pair of snowshoeing boots, but a perfect way to traverse any non-technical route in the deepest, wettest snow you can find.

Note: the Author acquired this equipment at his own expense and was not compensated by the manufacturer in any way.


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