Ben Reff

Ben Reff

Southwest Montana - Southern Minnesota - Front Range Colorado

Benjamin's Passions

Hiking & Camping
Running
Paddling
Snowshoeing

Benjamin's Bio

I'm a native Montanan exiled to Colorado by way of Minnesota. I love mountains and snow and cold weather and outdoor adventures, and I look forward to returning permanently to MT after I complete my postgraduate studies.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on December 20, 2011

5 5

I used to be a die-hard G-Shock fan, until I came across this watch. I've had the Ironman Shock for only a short time so I can't speak to its longevity or durability, but the user-friendly features and functionality are miles ahead of G-Shocks in the same price range. The watch guides you through settings by providing blinking "next," "done," "+" and "-" markers to indicate which buttons you need to push in order to do what you actually want to do. No more guesswork or fumbling about with a manual.

The dial is simple, uncluttered, and easy to read, with larger digits than some digital watches. The buttons are large and easy to push but have plastic lips that help to prevent them being pushed accidentally. The band is a comfortable polyurethane and includes a notch that will hold the keeper in place and prevent it from sliding around. The watch is a good size, slightly smaller than most Gs and more comfortable on the wrist. It also wears better under a shirt sleeve or jacket because it isn't so oversized.

I also prefer the Indiglo of this watch to the backlight of a Casio G-Shock. A G-Shock lights up the entire dial. The Ironman Shock only lights up the digits - that saves energy on the battery, and it's gentler on night-adjusted eyes.

One minor concern is that I've heard that the lighter-colored versions can become discolored over time. So you might consider staying away from the white, pink, and yellow versions and sticking with the darker blue, black, and purple ones. G-Shocks are known to have this problem as well, especially the ones with "matte" (rather than "glossy") resin. I got the watch in basic black, though, so I'm not worried about it.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on March 15, 2011

5 5

For the price, this is an excellent headlamp. I'm a bit of a night owl: I enjoy late-night walks and runs through my semi-rural neighborhood, and the Tikka 2 is my constant companion. I find that the lower power setting is perfectly adequate in almost all cases. I usually only turn it brighter when I see some kind of animal and I want to get a closer look. (Night-walking exposes you to a whole variety of wildlife that usually stay well-hidden during the day.) The intermittent flash mode is good for when you need to be seen. I'm fairly sure I've already exceeded the maximum expected battery life and it's still going strong. Very lightweight. The button is easier to find and the adjustment system easier to operate than the comparably-priced and -sized Princeton Tec Fuel I recently acquired. My only complaint is that you can't remove the lamp from the headband - after spending so much time on my sweaty forehead, the headband could probably use a good wash.

Even if you don't think you need a headlamp, you should buy one like this or the cheaper Tikkina and keep it in your car, your backpack, your junk drawer, or even your nightstand. A headlamp is like a knife - you never even think about it until the one moment you desperately need one and don't have it.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on March 15, 2011

4 5

I think I must have this headlamp in an older model - same name, same general appearance, but only 3 LEDs instead of 4. It's a nice little headlamp for the price. I already owned a headlamp (Petzl Tikka 2) when I got this one for free, so this puppy stays in my car with fresh batteries or gets lent out to friends. The lamp is cheapish and you get what you pay for, so I'm not surprised to hear of other reviewers' problems with the battery cover breaking. I've yet to encounter any problems with mine - though admittedly, I haven't used it in particularly trying conditions. From a side-by-side comparison it's fairly easy to tell that the Tikka 2 is a higher-quality product, but the Fuel has its advantages, like the fact that you can remove the headband from the lamp (which makes it easier to clean or replace).

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on March 15, 2011

5 5

If you're a multi-sport enthusiast like I am, you've probably encountered the frustration of trying to find gear that can do it all when the top products seem tailored to niche markets and highly specialized pursuits. We don't want to waste money buying an expensive niche jacket for each activity we do: We need one solid, simple jacket that will repel precipitation, block wind, and survive wear-and-tear through everything from backcountry skiing in the pow to bicycle commuting on a stormy summer day.

For me, the Furio is "the one," a real Renaissance jacket. It's got strategically-placed Gore-Tex Pro for durability and Paclite for breathability and weight. It has what I would call a "relaxed technical" fit - relaxed enough to allow for comfortable layering, but not saggy or boxy like a more generically fitted product from TNF or Columbia. The full-length torso zips are a great touch - they are two-way zippers, so you can just open up the pit areas if you want, or you can completely open up both sides of the jacket and wear it poncho-style. It also provides for quick and easy access to underneath pockets. Outdoor Research seems to be a real innovator in the area of jacket ventilation. While most companies are resting on their pit-zip laurels, OR is really expanding functional ventilation with products like this, and those that feature their Torso Flo (or whatever) ventilation systems. I appreciate that, although this jacket doesn't have a lot of "technical" features, the ones it does have are genuinely functional and useful.

They say that a jack(et) of all trades is a master of none, and so depending on your needs, you may find that the Furio is not specialized enough. It doesn't have a powder skirt. The pockets are a bit low for a climbing harness. It's not as breathable as a dedicated summer rain shell. It's not as lightweight or packable as a minimalist backpacking jacket.

But as the product video dude says, if you're looking to invest in just one technical waterproof/breathable shell that will do it all, the Furio definitely deserves your consideration. I've hunted through every brand from Marmot to Patagonia to Mountain Hardwear and this is the most versatile shell I've found. The fact that it's $50-150 cheaper than comparable items from other brands doesn't hurt, either.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote an answer about on March 5, 2011

Brad,
I think you'll find that the Torrentshell is similar in waterproofness and breathability to other jackets in its general price range. From short afternoon hikes in the rain to summitting some of Colorado's Fourteeners in driving hail, I can tell you that the Torrentshell material is completely waterproof. The only weaknesses in its waterproofing are the front zipper and pit zips, which have storm flaps, but are not waterproof. So if you find yourself in genuinely torrential downpours for hours at a time, you may find that water enters in those areas. It's the cheaper storm flaps that put the Torrentshell in its current price range - the Patagonia Rain Shadow jacket is essentially identical to the Torrentshell, but at $60 more expensive, it also comes with waterproof zippers.

From what I've observed, breathability ratings (even moreso than waterproofness ratings) are essentially manufacturers' attempts at objectifying things which are inherently subjective. 20,000mm and 5k certainly sound "sciencey." But the cute little lab tests they perform in order to ascertain their "ratings" are so far removed from practical application that they are next to useless except as very broad generalizations. There are dozens of variables that affect how well a given material will perform, from how well you clean and maintain them, to what the specific weather conditions are like, to your own personal "climate" in terms of the heat and moisture you generate and your personal humidity tolerance. For one thing, not all manufacturers use the same testing standards. Helly Hansen, for example, tests its materials after 5 wash cycles... which is nice for them, but sort of ruins their results as a measure of comparison. Gore, on the other hand, doesn't release waterproof or breathability ratings at all. Additionally, the manufacturers typically only test the waterproof membrane itself - not the fabric it is later applied to, much less the garment made from that fabric. The best that we, as consumers, can presume is that no material is both totally waterproof and perfectly breathable. And cheaper materials sacrifice breathability, or waterproofness, or both, to at least some degree. Aside from that, you will have to rely on the experiences of your fellow outdoor enthusiasts, as well as your own, to determine a jacket's breathability.

Having said all that, I would still recommend the Torrentshell for a low-price rain shell. H2No is just as good as other brands' similarly-priced materials. But Patagonia's quality of construction, attention to detail, and dedication to the environment all contribute to a piece that compares very favorably to similar products from other manufacturers.

I realize this is probably way more info than you wanted, and it doesn't directly answer your question, but in general I think you should avoid relying on a manufacturer's own ratings as absolute indicators of a product's quality or performance.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote an answer about on March 5, 2011

Hi jac,
I'm close to your size, 1.75m with a 36/37 chest, and I wear S in all my technical outerwear. The Torrentshell has a slightly athletic cut, with just enough room to comfortably fit an insulating layer like a midweight fleece. It's not skin-tight but it's not boxy or oversized like comparable TNF or Columbia products.

In my experience, you'd be hard-pressed to find a rain jacket or technical shell that is more fitted than this. Luckily, if you do find the S too baggy, Patagonia is one of the few technical outerwear brands that offers men's size XS, though you might have to go directly to their website to find them. http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/patagonia-mens-waterproof-torrentshell-jacket?p=83800-0-722

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote an answer about on February 20, 2011

If you can't find Hestra-specific balm, or don't want to order it online, keep in mind that any waterproofing leather conditioner will accomplish the same thing. You can buy leather treatments at virtually any sporting goods store. I use Sno-Seal and Schnee's Premium Leather Conditioner, they both work great.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on February 8, 2011

4 5

(I'm cross-posting this review from the boy's version of this coat, which is what I own. I thought the review would be more useful here where there are probably more buyers. But take it with a grain of salt - there are probably some minor differences between the kid's and men's version.)

At 5'9", which is the statistically average height for an adult male, you wouldn't think I'd be able to foray into children's clothing particularly often, and yet, here I am. I'm a fairly slender adult male, normally a men's size small or a 36R jacket. But since I pretty closely match the measurements for a kid's size XL/18-20, and I know TNF products tend to run large, I decided to see if this coat would fit. (The fact that the kid's version is 2/3 the price of the adult's might have figured into the equation....)

Anyway... the kid's XL in the McMurdo fits me surprisingly well. I can't always get away with a kid's XL, but it seems that TNF's tendency to run large is true for their children's stuff as well. The coat is obviously warm, though in comparing it to my old L.L. Bean one, the McMurdo has significantly less loft. The Bean jacket is so stuffed with down that its baffled compartments look like they've been inflated - not so with the McMurdo. It's a warm coat, but not nearly as warm as it might be, with either higher loft down, or simply a larger amount of down. The fake fur ruff is disappointing - not because I'm a big proponent of wearing fur in general, but because in an extreme weather parka, a genuine fur ruff can really make a difference between a warm face and a frostbitten face. Real fur wicks moisture, resists freezing, and retains warmth - fake fur is purely aesthetic. I'm also a little disappointed that the hood is not a true snorkel hood, ie, it doesn't cinch up all the way to form a small tunnel of warmth around your face. The fake fur ruff does at least fold out to offer some protection.

Having said all that, though, I recognize that this parka is designed more as a lifestyle garment than a true extreme weather parka. From that perspective, it's not a bad value for your money. In fact, if you're an adult like me, getting the kid's version is a GREAT value for your money. ;-) The only way to get what I would really want in a parka - high loft down, genuine fur ruff, snorkel hood - would be to plunk down $600 or so for a Canada Goose product. Like most people, I'm simply not in a position to do that for a coat I only need to wear a handful of times each year. For most climates, particularly in the US, this jacket should be more than enough.

I should mention that while I currently live in balmy Colorado, I spent the past five years living in Minnesota, and I grew up in the mountains of western Montana - so I'd like to think I've got a pretty good perspective on what is important in cold-weather gear.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on February 7, 2011

4 5

At 5'9", which is the statistically average height for an adult male, you wouldn't think I'd be able to foray into children's clothing particularly often, and yet, here I am. I'm a fairly slender adult male, normally a men's size small or a 36R jacket. But since I pretty closely match the measurements for a kid's size XL/18-20, I decided to see if this coat would fit. (The fact that the kid's version is 2/3 the price of the adult's might have figured into the equation....)

Anyway... the kid's XL in the McMurdo fits me surprisingly well. I can't always get away with a kid's XL, but it seems that TNF's tendency to run large is true for their children's stuff as well. The coat is obviously warm, though in comparing it to my old L.L. Bean one, the McMurdo has significantly less loft. The Bean jacket is so stuffed with down that its baffled compartments look like they've been inflated - not so with the McMurdo. It's a warm coat, but not nearly as warm as it might be, with either higher loft down, or simply a larger amount of down. The fake fur ruff is disappointing - not because I'm a big proponent of wearing fur in general, but because in an extreme weather parka, a genuine fur ruff can really make a difference between a warm face and a frostbitten face. Real fur wicks moisture, resists freezing, and retains warmth - fake fur is purely aesthetic. I'm also a little disappointed that the hood is not a true snorkel hood, ie, it doesn't cinch up all the way to form a small tunnel of warmth around your face. The fake fur ruff does at least fold out to offer some protection.

Having said all that, though, I recognize that this parka is designed more as a lifestyle garment than a true extreme weather parka. From that perspective, it's not a bad value for your money. In fact, if you're an adult like me, getting the kid's version is a GREAT value for your money. ;-) The only way to get what I would really want in a parka - high loft down, genuine fur ruff, snorkel hood - would be to plunk down $600 or so for a Canada Goose product. Like most people, I'm simply not in a position to do that for a coat I only need to wear a handful of times each year. For most climates, particularly in the US, this jacket should be more than enough.

I should mention that while I currently live in balmy Colorado, I spent the past five years living in Minnesota, and I grew up in the mountains of western Montana - so I'd like to think I've got a pretty good perspective on what is important in cold-weather gear.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on January 18, 2011

2 5

I already own more jackets than any sane human being needs... but when I saw this pop up on SaC, I decided I needed to give it a look. Gore-Tex for under $200 always catches my eye. I was also attracted by the ski-friendly features like the pass pocket. And the chest-to-hip zip seems like a no-brainer improvement over the traditional pit zip, as it both provides greater cross-ventilation as well as being easier to operate.

I'm sad to say, however, that this jacket did not quite live up to my expectations. The flaw that bugs me the most is that the main zipper is woefully designed. There is the tiniest amount of excess shell material on the inside of the jacket, just next to where the zipper is. It gets stuck in the zipper. A lot. A LOT a lot. Completely annoying, and unfortunately, this one small flaw renders the jacket almost useless. What is the point of wearing a jacket whose main zipper gets stuck literally every time you try to get it on and off? Serious design flaw. Also, as another reviewer mentioned, it would be nice if the powder skirt zipped off. Some people get their panties in a bundle over zipped-in vs. fixed hoods, but in my opinion, the powder skirt is a much bigger deal, as the inability to remove it seriously limits a jacket's off-slope function and comfort (as well as making the wearer look like a bit of a d-bag).

I also can't say I'm particularly fond of the Diablo color - I was hoping it would be a bit brighter in person, but in reality it's fairly pumpkin-ish. But that's just an issue of taste, so it's neither here nor there.

OR has got an interesting concept going with their sidecountry line. Hopefully they will address these design flaws in their next iteration.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on January 1, 2011

3 5

I have this boot in last year's model. They're exceptionally comfortable for a pseudo-pac boot, and they've done ok for me in moderate winter hiking in terms of grip, support, and flexibility. They're also significantly lighter than traditional pac boots.

Unfortunately they are not nearly as warm as advertised. The labeling makes the dubious claim that they are comfortable to -60 degrees. Personally, I've gotten icy-cold toes in these boots in 15 degree weather with multiple layers of high-quality socks. Even when I've got my heart rate up from snowshoeing, walking, or otherwise working, my toes have still gotten painfully cold in single digit temps and below. I mostly feel the cold in the toe box area - the rest of the foot seems to be fine. Perhaps there's a design flaw in the sealing of the insulation. I don't know.

I picked these up on clearance for less than half retail, so I'm not too bummed. These boots work well in moderately cold temperatures, as long as you're active. But you may be disappointed if you think these will keep your feet warm in sub-zero temps.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on December 10, 2010

5 5

This is pretty much the best medium-sized knife you can get for everyday carry (without going into the three-figure price range). Flawless construction, perfect balance, easy open and close, not too big or too small. If you like quality craftsmanship, then you'll find the Mini Grip a true thing of beauty. The photos here on Backcountry don't really do it justice. It's a good-looking knife, and I'm not even into the whole tactical look.

The only thing I hate about this little guy is the pricetag. Nearly $100 for a knife is pretty steep. And it's definitely true that there are much cheaper alternatives out there that will do the job. They won't do it with the same effortless style, though. If you're looking for quality and can afford to drop a big chunk of change, check out the Mini Griptilian. As an added bonus, you'll know you're support manufacturing jobs here in the US.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on November 30, 2010

good so far - only time will tell
4 5

There's not a lot to say about these snowshoes - they do the job of keeping you from sinking to your eyeballs in white fluffy stuff. They're relatively lightweight and comfortable to use. I've had the opportunity to use them several times and they've kept me afloat in 2-3 feet of fresh, light powder in the mountains of western Montana. Some snow does accumulate on top of the deck, but the majority of it passes through the openings between the deck and frame.

I do have two complaints: First, the binding system, while touted as simple due to the single continuous strap, is actually unnecessarily complex, in my opinion. It would help immensely if Atlas provided illustrated instructions with the product tags. The included written instructions were basically useless. Also, while the written instructions referred me to the Atlas website for an instructional video, I was not able to find any such video (perhaps it exists, but it was far beyond my patience to locate it). That kind of oversight in customer support is more than a little irritating. On the bright side, the binding is at least functional, as they never felt loose and I never had to stop to readjust them. It just took me slightly longer than I would have liked to figure them out.

Second, I am concerned about the durability of the nylon deck material. After owning the snowshoes for just a few short weeks, there is already visible wear to the nylon. The wear has occurred where the bottom of my boot makes contact while walking, and near the front part of the binding where it rubs against the edge of the nylon. The latter is pictured.

I'm hopeful that these minor wear issues, which are currently purely aesthetic, will not worsen or affect the function of the product in the long term. If they do, I may have to return them (I got my snowshoes from that other gear company with an infinite return policy....).

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