Following my review of the Garmin Fenix 2, I asked Suunto if I could test their Ambit2 GPS watch as a comparison. Happily, they agreed, and for the last month I've been spending some time getting to grips with it.
Tents and shelters come and go; designs get updated, modified, messed with; fashions and desires change. Sometimes classic designs disappear, only to be revived by another manufacturer years later. In the case of the Eureka! / Nigor WickiUp 3 SUL, the story is a little different.
Has Backpacking North found the lightest one-person, summer shelter on the planet? Read more to find out how the Sea-to-Summit Nano Pyramid Mosquito Net can you get a good night's sleep in bug season.
As an active hiker and outdoors person, I naturally want to share my love for the wilder places with my daughter. Of course, a 12–18 month old can't really be expected to walk very far, and while our Bob Revolution Stroller is excellent for on-trail trips, most of my daily walks are on far more uneven terrain. While we were in Minneapolis, I started looking at the available child carriers, for something that would last a few years, and allow me to comfortably carry the little one into the hills.
There are a bunch of very similar-looking child backpacks on the market, and they all perform much the same functon. I asked around on twitter and amongst friends, and received several recommendations for the LittleLife Voyager S2. After finding it on sale in REI (where it sadly seems to no longer be available), we decided to buy one – even though Enni was only 3 months old: we knew we'd be using it plenty by the time she was 6 months and we were back in Finland.
The Voyager S2 a very sturdily-built, internal frame carrier with a few design features that set it apart from the (ahem) pack. Most immediately visible is the lack of an aluminum stand to support the pack while on the ground; instead, the S2 has an "anchor point" - essentially a hole in the base where you stick your foot.
Some may see this as a weak point in the design, but in use I've found it to be quite practical, and the carrier stands on it's own with the child in it anyway. I wouldn't leave Enni in it unattended, of course, but neither would I do so in any of the packs with the stands, as none of them seem much safer with a wriggling child inside.
From the carrying perspective
The Voyager S2 is specced as weighing a very competitive 2.9kg (6lb 6oz) – but mine weighs around 3.2kg (7lb) with all the bits and bobs. It can carry up to 20kg (44lbs), and is described as being suitable for ages 6 months to 3 years. I'd say that's about correct, although the starting age will depend a lot on your child.
The pack is fully adjustable for different torso lengths, and fits people from 5'2" to 6'4" (155 - 194cm approx.). The hip belt pivots, and is well padded. The shoulder straps are comfortable and feature load lifters. The sternum strap has an integrated whistle. For the carrier, it has all the features of a well-designed "serious" backpack. It is extremely well constructed, with solidly sewn seams, durable straps and materials, and ample, even extravagant, padding. There are also additional features which I'll cover later.
From the perspective of the person doing the carrying, I can say it is extremely comfortable 90% of the time. On odd occasions things don't seem to sit quite right, but I put this down mainly to the positioning of the child in the pack; with a growing child you have to make slight adjustments to maintain the most comfortable carry, but once you achieve this, the S2 is extremely comfortable, and never feels less than 100% secure – I can jump, stagger, shimmy and wriggle (all to the immense enjoyment of the passenger) safe in the knowledge that the pack, and the passenger, will remain in place.
From Child's perspective
The pack features an easily adjustable seat for your little critter, as well as well-padded shoulders traps that include a sternum strap of their own. The sides are also heavily padded, and once you pull the side straps to bring baby closer to your back, he/she is absolutely secure, but is able to move around quite happily.
The pack also comes with foot stirrups (useful for when the child gets a little taller/heavier to raise the legs a little), and a soft and cheerful little padded chin guard (which is removable, for washing, in case your darling dearest decides to projectile vomit on your head).
Once you have the little tyke installed, you have the joy of hauling 12kg of child, 2.5kg of backpack, plus whatever you have stored inside, onto your back. Child carrying is not an ultralight activity – although there is some joy to be had in realising that your typical ultralight backpack weight less than your daughter or son. And of course, carrying your child makes for excellent backpacking training.
Fortunately, LittleLife have made lifting the loaded pack quite easy with some intelligently placed lifting handles. You simply place your arm through one strap and grab the handle near the base (rejoice – the handles are on both sides, so lefties or righties are equally well-catered for). With your other hand, grab the shoulder strap and heave-ho. I can't say it's an entirely smooth motion for the precious fruit of your loins, but Enni at least seems to enjoy being tossed around while shouldering the pack.
I think it's fair to say that Enni has no complaints about the pack. In fact "backpack" is one of her favourite words at the moment, alongside "out". She'll often come running to find me, grab my finger and take me to "backpack". She even eagerly starts to climb in, so I count that as a success.
Additional child-friendly features include loops for attaching toys or other items that might inadvertently get dropped.
There's a sun shade / rain cover included, that attached easily by slipping into two pockets on the back (visible in the top left of the above photo). This, I feel, is a little bit of a weak point in the design as it feels more of an afterthought. It's adequate, but I suspect with extended use the seams may tear. The aluminium poles you insert into the pockets also stick a little on the way out. It's okay - it gets the job done.
Incidentally, the wording on the LittleLife website seems to suggest that the rain cover and sun canopy are separate ("Sun Shade & Rain Cover included") – unless the design has changed, this is not the case; they are one and the same, and as you can see above, rain protection would be pretty minimal.
There is also a handy, compact changing mat included for for when the wee nipper needs a diaper change. After he/she graduates to pull-ons, the pad becomes less necessary, but I've found it makes an excellent sit pat for winter use. There you go - a multi-use item!
Last but not least, the left hip-belt pocket houses a rear view mirror so you can check that your progeny has fallen asleep finally, just as you are about to get back to the car.
It could theoretically also be used to signal rescue aircraft in emergency situations! More multi-use items! This just keeps getting better and better!
The base of the pack has a fairly large storage capacity (claimed 20l), and there is also a detachable front pack, which can be used as a small (8l) day pack. There's ample room between the two for snacks, diapers, a small blanket, or an improvised, spooky mosquito net.
There are two additional pockets on each side of the base, one of which is insulated for carrying, for example, milk/formula. I've never found these particularly useful.
Lastly, the pack has a lot of reflective detailing making it visible at night – a good feature for those dark backcountry roads, or even urban night hiking.
All-in-all, I've been very happy with the Voyager S2. It's lasted very well, and is still in excellent condition even after using many times a week for over a year. Enni is very happy in it, and if it helps to engender an appreciation of the outdoors in a 19 month old, it's been a very worthwhile purchase. Packs like these are something of an investment, but hopefully, in another 18 months when it's time to sell it, it will have retained some of its value.
You can read more about the
We bought ours from REI, but unfortunately they no longer appear to carry them. In fact, un the USA at least, they seem to be a little hard to find at the moment.
In Europe they are much easier to find (LittleLife is a UK company). You can find them at
stock them, as does
There are many competing products in the child carrier marketplace. You can find many of the different models on
My friend Bob swears by his
– but I found these also a little hard to locate outside the UK (or New Zealand, where they originate).
Deuter and Osprey are the major competitors:
(Similar in spec to Voyager S2, weighs 3.5kg, but has a free teddy bear.
Ever since making the transition to lightweight, non-waterproof, minimal trail runners for three-season hiking, I've been using inov-8 shoes exclusively. My Terroc 330s are great for fairly even, average trails, while the Roclite 295s – my current favourite – are excellent in wet slippery conditions.
With sole featuring three types of rubber to help maintain grip, I was intrigued whether inov-8 might have come up with something even better in the Trailrocs. The promise of a shoe for all conditions, perfect for hikes over mixed terrain, able to cope with wet rock and gravel, mud and duckboards, all in one, stylishly hyper-efficient piece of footwear. It seems like an impossible dream...
I contacted inov-8 and asked if I could test a pair. After a few emails and a couple of weeks waiting for the delivery service to get their act together, a smart new pair of 255s landed on my doorstep.
You've got to admit, inov-8 have really upped their game with designs recently. While the 330s and 295s are nice, they look a little grey next to the sporty red accents on the 255s.
I'm not usually much of a one for branding, but I like the little touches...
But let's face it, we're not here to look at a bunch of pretty pictures of shoes, are we? What we want to know is: how do they handle on the trail?
I've spent the last three weeks wearing them constantly while mapping out trails for a guide book, which has given me the opportunity to test the shoes on about 120 km of extreme and varied terrain, including compacted, forest trails (soil, roots, brush), rugged, rocky trails (boulder hopping, open flat rock, rocky paths), mires (swamp, march, forest wetlands, mud), stream crossings, sandy ridges... pretty much everything except snow and ice.
But before we find out how they coped, let's get to grips with the sole.
The Trailroc 255s use a new compound called Tri-C, which combines three of the best materials featured individually on other inov-8 lines into one sole. Inov-8 say it provides "the optimum balance of durability and grip" and believe "it's the smartest outsole ever made".
The toe area has a soft sticky compound, inov-8's "most grippy rubber". The ball of the foot and main (largest) area of the sole is Endurance rubber – hard wearing, with good all aound grip. In the arch area, a hard sticky compound has been used that protects you from hard rocks and stumps, giving "maximum grip and stability on even the most demanding trails".
Roll over the thinglinks on the image below to illustrate.
It's a neat idea. It makes sense. I've often wanted something exactly like this: a sticky rubber shoe for wet rocks and duckboards, a less knobby shoe for flatter trails, and a harder compound for reliable hiking over long distances.
So how do they cope? In short, pretty well – with some caveats.
General grip on average trails, as you'd expect with those wraparound lugs, is excellent. You feel a solid confidence with every step. But that kind of trail is easy – earth trails, small rocks and stones, mud and puddle slip by unnoticed.
On trickier, wet terrain the results are a little more variable. Most of the time, on all surfaces the grip was good. On wet rocks they gripped very well – most of the time. They handled wet roots remarkably well, too – with the odd exception. The hard sticky arch area seemed to grip the roots better than I'd expected – usually. On wet duckboards, there was a definite grip – much better than, say, the Terroc 330s which I often find a little scary, or many of my other shoes which feel downright terrifying. Only occasionally – typicallly while walking on wet leaves on duckboards – did I start to notice any slipping, but wet leaves are notoriously unpleasant on duckboards: only studs are likely to overcome that problem.
In fact, I only encountered one surface on which the 255s failed completely, and that was a surface which, in all fairness, is almost impossible for any show to deal with: wet, lichen covered rock.
The photo above shows a particular type of lichen common to these parts which groves on and around moss. This kind of lichen was actually no problem for the Trailrocs as the moss creates a grippable surface traction. But there are other lichens that smother rocks up here that create a kind of greasy film when wet. When I stepped on these it was like walking on ice in football boots – utterly terrifying, with no grip whatsoever.
As I said, I doubt any shoe could deal with that, but for some reason the 255s dealt with it less well than the 295s. I walked over endless boulder fields in Kasivarsi with the 295s, bounding from boulder to boulder with gay abandon. I wouldn't feel comfortable or confident doing the same in the 255s. This lack of confidence based in not quite knowing how the shoe would perform soiled the experience of an otherwise excellent shoe. I suspect that the culprit is the Endurance compound used on the main part of the sole, but the result was occasionally disconcerting: I wasn't always sure if the shoes would grip, so I found myself tensing muscles to over compensate for any unpredictability.
Now, that might sound a lot like a damning condemnation of the Trailroc soles, but it really isn't. On all but the most difficult surfaces I encountered, the shoes gripped very well indeed, coping with almost everything the trail threw at them. it was
difficult surfaces, like wet rocks covered with a particular type of lichen, that the shoes had difficulty. So all-in-all, it shoudl be clearly stated that I think inov-8s attempt to create a shoe for all surfaces has been remarkably successful. The caveat I mentioned is that it's performance on wet, slippery, surfaces is
, rather than
And if you're trying to be the shoe for all situations, being
, is probably the best you are going to achieve, and the 255's are definitely good enough.
But that's enough sole searching, what about other aspects of the shoes?
Perhaps it's a good idea to make some more direct comparisons with the Terrocs and Rociltes. Here are some stats which I'll refer back to:
The astute among you will be thinking,
hang on a moment, they're all different sizes.
Well, shut it, clever clogs, because you're wrong. Or partially wrong. The 295s (left) are a size 46.5 (UK 11.5), but the 330s and the 255s are both 45.5 (UK 11).
If you're thinking,
those Trailrocs look small
, then I'd have to agree with you. Compared to the same-sized Terrocs, they felt smaller. My left big toe was noticeably under pressure, and the right shoe, near the bottom of the laces, was definitely tight. This is partially my fault, as I should know better by now and size up. I'm a UK 11 / EU 45.5 - 46 usually, and I find the larger Rocilte 295s just about perfect; the additional room of a larger size allows my toes to move, give my feet room to breath, and allows me to wear thicker, waterproof socks in them if I choose. I'd be hard pushed to fir a pair of SealSkinz in the Trrailrocs in the current sizing I have. But this is my bad – I should have asked for one size up. The apparently smaller size compared to the Terrocs is interesting though, and probably down to the different fit, from "comfort" in the other shoes, to "anatomic" in the Trailrocs. Apparently an anatomic fit "provides space for the toes to spread and adapt to the ground". Well, it was tight for me – I much prefer the 295s. YMMV.
Many people complain that inov-8s are narrow. I've not found that to be the case personally, but I would say this: definitely size up with the Trailrocs, unless you're going barefoot.
Talking of barefoot, here's another comparison. By pure chance, and to my complete and utter surprise, I discovered my local Prisma supermarket selling Trailroc 245s (note to foreigners: it is completely normal for Finnish supermarkets to have extensive clothing and other general department store-like sections. I say this because I knew another English guy who was shocked at the idea: "Buying clothes from a supermarket??? I just can't go there."). Anyway, I digress:
s in my local supermarket, as I live and breathe:
As you can see, the toe area of the lighter 245s has some very minimal protection. Hardly protection really, more a kind of taped, water resistant reinforcement (or perhaps an attempt to tone down the garishness). Here's a comparison with the 255s:
The 255's have a rather nice foam padding which extends around the exterior from toe to heel, at which point the stronger plastic visible on the sides ("protective rand", in inov-8 speak) extends to give extra support.
Now, the Terrocs and Roclites also have circumferential protection, and it's very much needed in a hiking shoe. But I rather liked the foam of the 255s. It's enough to stop sharp prods from roots and rocks, and it keeps annoying chuff you encounter on trials out of the mesh. As you can see from the shot below, it extends higher than the protection on the Roclites. In fact, in the photo below, you can see that an area of mesh has worn away which would not have happened on the 255s.
Let's compare lugs next. As anyone who has worn them will tell you, Terroc 330s pick up grit faster than a Dyson. Although the 255s share some of the Endurance sole characteristics (notably less than ideal performance on wet wood), they also share the 295s more widely spaced lugs, which is good. It means less stones embedded in the sole. It's a minor point, but an improvement nonetheless.
As far as sole thickness goes, they all share a 6mm footbed, but the 255s are have only a two point shoc-zone, compared to the Terroc and Roclite's three. All this means is that the sole is a little thinner. I honestly couldn't notice much difference. I'd say the Trailroc sole lies, in the feeling of stiffness, somewhere between the Roclite 295s (in which you are aware of what you walk on) and the Terroc 330s (which are distinctly harder/stiffer). The Trailrocs are very flexible, yet firm. Again, a good all-rounder.
Another area of difference is, a-ha-ha, differential. The Terrocs and Roclites have 9mm difference from heel to toe, while the Trailrocs have 6mm. As with most inov-8 shoes, you need to get used to this less supported style of shoe, but once you do, your feet will feel stronger and happier. The 3mm difference in differential seems small, but it is noticeable. I'd say that over long distances, the 295s or 330s might still have the edge.
The uppers are all mesh, all non-waterproof, all very breathable and fairly quick to dry. I sometimes think that the Roclite 295 mesh is a little more padded, and slower to dry than the Terrocs, but it could be my imagination. The 255s seem a little less spongey when in comes to absorbing water than the 295s, but again, it could all be in my head.
So many shoes, so little time... If you walk on mixed, loose, or eroded terrain, with small rocks and roots amid lengthy earthy trails, the
s pretty much hit a sweet spot. The protection, differential, and shape make them a very comfortable shoe for long distance walking – provided you size up. However, iIf you are hiking in very wet wilderness areas, or using them for slippery stream crossings, you might be better off with a full sticky sole, such as that on the
, which still remains my preferred shoe for longer hikes. For even more sticky grip, the
is highly regarded.
Inov-8 trial runners are available from Backcountry.com in the US, and trail running stores in Europe (like Prisma, Rovaniemi!).
The Trailroc 255s were provided to Backpacking North for testing free of charge. The Terroc 330s and Roclite 295s were bought with money earned through nefarious skullduggery.