Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 16, 2012

When I first decided to purchase the Osprey Manta 30 hydration pack, I was skeptical on the worth of all its gadgetry. The salesmen swore by its features and versatility, but I was used to something simpler.

My North Face Hot Shot served me well since I first moved to Aspen four years ago. Simple and light, it was with me when I hiked my first 14er, when I decided as a rookie Aspenite to hike to Capitol Lake and back in a day as I was getting over the swine flu, and it was my sole solace when I committed a day last year to packing Highland Bowl.

During my last hike to Cathedral Lake, I realized a power bar had melted inside my beloved pack creating a thick chocolate membrane in the corners. I decided it was time to retire the old thing and invest in something new.

That led me to the Osprey Manta 30 hydration pack. It caught my eye in the store because of its small size and water system, a feature my old pack notably lacked. Still, its hefty price of $149 was less than enticing. Easily $50 more than its nearest competitor, I wondered, “As a day pack, what could it really offer that was worth the price?”

As it turns out, plenty.

While it’s not the lightest pack out there — coming in at  3 pounds, 2 ounces without water — its strength is in the added amenities elegantly designed into the pack. They serve as a bonus, once you realize they’re there.

Its main feature is the water storage bladder, which is trademarked as the “Osprey Hydraulics” system. The trademark is more than just a fancy name for a day pack with a reservoir. It’s designed to conform the reservoir to your back even when it’s full, so much so that you almost forget your carrying 6.5 pounds of water on your back when you rest against a rock or tree.

The reservoir is also designed well enough to warrant a trademark, which is dubbed the HydraForm. With a handle, it is built so that the bag slides in and out of the pack easily, even when it’s full of water, making cleaning and refilling a breeze.

Inside the reservoir, Osprey used the antimicrobial technology called AquaGuard (also trademarked). AquaGuard is a medical company known for using moisture barriers to protect surgical incisions from dangerous bacteria. The clever designers over at Osprey decided to use the same technology that keeps wounds clean to keep bacteria and mold out of your drinking pack. Genius.

For neat design features you can actually see, the water valve has a 180-degree on/off switch and a magnetic piece on the back of the bite valve that buckles easily to your left strap for easy access when not in use.

And then there are all the pockets and cleverly placed straps. There’s a main compartment for a small amount of food, clothing and gear; a small pocket lined with soft material for fragile items like sunglasses; large and small pockets on the outside for quick access and pockets on either side with zippers. There’s also a bonus raincover hidden in a pocket at the bottom of the pack, which I admittedly didn’t discover until about a month after I bought it. There’s even a spot for a blinker — although it’s not included.

One other important feature of the Osprey Manta that other packs don’t have is a lightweight alloy frame with struts and a tensioned mesh back panel for better support and flexibility on long hikes.

At the end of the day, the pack’s bevy of trademarks and design features remind you that the extra money your spending on the pack is for the time and thought put into the pack by Osprey’s design team.

Plus it looks pretty cool on, which always earns bonus points.

Get your own
Osprey Manta 30 Hydration Pack
$149 at the 
Ute Mountaineer

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on June 29, 2012

If you’re regularly on the river, be it in a kayak, raft or ducky, you can probably appreciate a good water shoe when you find one and that’s exactly what the Fila Skele-toes are. Although the shoes look as weird as their name sounds, don’t let that scare you off.

My first introduction to the strange-looking shoe was when I was in the middle of the brutal two weeks it takes to train as a raft guide. One of the more eccentric rookies pulled out a version of the shoe and began showing off his new gear — a typical custom of new guides. My first reaction was ridicule. The shoe made him look like some kind of a man-frog with individual slots for each toe. It looked less like a sleek bootie and more like a weird sock/glove hybrid. That season he took the relentless criticism from us guides like a champ and faithfully defended his shoe, swearing by its versatility and warmth.

Four years later, almost all of the guides who once made fun of him have converted from the sneaker-like watershoes to the Skele-toes. Part of the problem is that most watershoes are made by companies that are better known for their hiking and walking shoes than their watershoes, which tend to be just waterproof versions of their dry-land counterparts. The same feature that makes the shoes look strange is what makes them better than their competitors.

Any guide knows you can’t predict when you’ll end up stranded in the middle of the river with only one way out or when you’ll need to jump from rock to slippery rock for one unfortunate reason or another. It helps to have a good watershoe that can grip a variety of surfaces, wet or dry, and that’s exactly what the Skele-toes does. By allowing each toe its own slot, the shoe gives you that primitive ability while allowing you to go from a slippery boat to gravel-covered land without second a thought.

The Fila Skele-toes  comes in different colors and materials. As a rule of thumb, water shoes made out of neoprene are better than others because they keep your feet warmer. As for color I go pink — which is partly because they’re easy to identify if a river rat happens to “borrow” them in between runs and partly because they like totally go with my pink and gray Astral life jacket.

Get your own:
Fila Skele-toes are available at http://www.fila.com. 
Prices start at $49.99