Ben Reff

Ben Reff

Southwest Montana - Southern Minnesota - Front Range Colorado

Ben Reff's Passions

Hiking & Camping
Running
Paddling
Snowshoeing

Ben Reff'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 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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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on November 9, 2010

5 5

You must understand a few things about this jacket before you buy it, or you may be severely disappointed.

First - This is not a standalone winter jacket or a replacement for your knee-length down parka. If you plan on wearing this over a t-shirt to stand around in northern Minnesota, you will wind up severely disappointed and/or dead.

Second - This jacket is not designed with a generic, boxy fit for boxy-shaped bodies. If you're carrying a little extra weight, or you're built like a linebacker, this jacket probably isn't going to fit very well on you. This jacket is designed for folks who are on the long and lean side. They're not kidding when they say the fit is athletic... and by that, I mean that this is the best-fitting, most comfortable soft shell I have ever encountered (on my slim frame, anyway).

What this jacket IS is incredibly, ridiculously versatile. Wear it by itself as a windbreaker in spring and fall, or even on a chilly summer night. Wear it as a light rain jacket in moderately damp conditions. Wear it in winter for aerobic activities like jogging, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or biking. Wear it over a warm mid layer as a perfectly-fitted shell for skiing or boarding. Wear it under a hard shell for that extra bit of comfort and warmth when a hard shell isn't quite enough.

I like what a previous reviewer said about this jacket feeling like a new skin. It's true. The material is soft and supple but strong enough to take a beating. The fit is perfect, with no excess material hanging around the arms and gut like so many other shell jackets. Wearing my normal size, I've still got enough room for a substantial fleece mid layer, but the jacket isn't baggy, boxy, or bulky when I wear it on its own. If you're between sizes and you plan on layering this jacket over something, I'd suggest sizing up. Thanks to the fit and the material, this jacket is substantially more comfortable than nearly any other technical garment I've ever encountered. Additionally, as the name implies, it affords you an incredibly free range of motion for all your outdoor activities.

As I said before, this jacket won't replace a heavy winter parka or a hard shell if you really need them. But for physically active outdoorsmen, this jacket offers great versatility and function in a wide variety of circumstances at an affordable price. Get it, you won't regret it.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on October 29, 2010

4 5

I just picked up these bad boys on sale from Department of Goods.

I've got a 31" waist and usually wear a 32" inseam (sometimes 30"). I've noticed that TNF pants tend to run really large in the waist, so even though their size chart says that the small is 28-30", I went ahead and got that anyway. I'm glad I did. The two-part adjustable waistband is a brilliant touch, as you can customize your own fit with much more comfort than an ordinary belt (the pants have belt loops, too). As someone with thunder thighs and a ghetto booty, but a relatively slim waist, that's perfect for me. There is plenty of room through the seat and legs but I can still cinch the waist down for a secure fit.

The pants themselves are good-looking and seem well-constructed. I don't know how waterproof they actually are, as the material feels more like a softshell to me. One reviewer over at the non-insulated version claims that they aren't waterproof at all. I tend to do my playing in frigid temps and "dry" snow, though, so in my case it doesn't really matter. Water-resistant snowpants are the most I really need. If you live in the NW or somewhere else that tends to have warmer and wetter snow conditions, you might think twice about this pant.

Overall, like most TNF products, the Freedom Pant seems solid and functional. The adjustable waistband and the side vents are both thoughtful touches. Also like most TNF products, though, these pants are probably a bit over-priced. But they're a pretty solid purchase if you can find them on sale.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on June 14, 2010

5 5

This jacket offers a nice balance between waterproof performance and cost. This is obviously not the burliest of shells, but for hiking or bicycling in the rain, and for carrying around when the skies look dark and dreary, the lightweight Torrentshell is more than up to the task. As you might imagine, it's pretty devoid of features, which is fine for the most part. But I do wish Patagonia had included some kind of cinch for the hood adjustment system. You really need to have the hood tightened down to shield your face when it's pouring, and without cinches the only way to do that is by tying the little adjuster strings together under your chin. That's a little annoying, especially if you're already outside and you find yourself in a sudden downpour. Plus, the material does feel a little clammy next to your skin when it's cool out... but if it's actually cold out, there's no reason you shouldn't be wearing long sleeves under a rain shell, anyway.

But all in all, this is a nice little 3-season jacket for its intended purpose... to stuff in your backpack or day bag if there's a chance of rain while you're out and about, or to wear on your daily commute. I wouldn't use it as a winter hard shell, but that doesn't mean it wouldn't do a pretty good job of it in a pinch. I took this jacket on a mid-August hike on one of Colorado's Fourteeners. When an unexpected hail storm moved in on us, the Torrentshell, layered over a mid-weight fleece, kept me dry and relatively comfortable as temps plummeted from the 50s to the 20s with blasting winds and freezing precipitation. While everyone else on the mountain retreated to the trailhead, I was able to weather the storm and continue on to the summit after the hail cleared off. Not too shabby for a "just-in-case" rain shell.

Runs true to size, with a slight athletic cut.

[Addendum] As has been pointed out, this jacket actually does have (well-hidden) hood cinches! Rejoice, good people!

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on May 1, 2010

4 5

I've been a big proponent of minimalist footwear and natural running technique for a while now, but my three fallback options of choice - barefoot, Nike Frees, and Vibram Fivefingers - simply weren't cutting it on the razor-sharp gravel roads surrounding my family's cabin. I've spent the better part of 6 months looking for a trail running shoe that could offer some trauma protection without getting in the way of my foot's natural mechanics.

So far the New Balance 100 is the best thing I've found. They're extremely lightweight (lighter than my Frees) and basically function like a more protective racing flat. The upper is basically a thin mesh with a few "strapping" features, and the sole is very flat and very low-profile. Despite the rock stop in the forefoot area, I haven't found forefoot flexibility to be compromised. The rock stop is only in the area where your forefoot actually makes contact with the ground, and thus the parts of the sole that need to flex still can. The heel rise is negligible, and my heel rarely ever makes full contact with the ground so it doesn't seem to matter anyway.

Of course, the shoe isn't exactly perfect. The plastic support around the heel is poorly designed and tends to dig into your skin, and might cause blisters if you don't protect yourself with a band-aid or give the shoes a sufficient break-in time. This problem is so universal among users that it's one of the reasons they are discontinuing the 100 this fall and releasing an updated 101. Additionally, the rubber outsole smells to high heaven. I'm not talking foot stink... I'm talking industrial-strength chemical smell. Don't make the mistake of leaving a brand-new pair in your closed-up room like I did the other day. It took a full day of airing my room out for the smell to disappear. Hopefully that goes away in time.

If you're looking for big, clunky, cushioned shoes to swaddle and pamper your feet, look elsewhere. If you're a mechanically efficient forefoot- or midfoot-striker looking for a decent trail runner to grip the ground and protect from sharp intrusions, the New Balance 100 might be the shoe for you. I've been shopping around for low-profile trail runners for quite some time and this is the closest I've found to my ideal trail runner.

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on December 10, 2009

1 5

On my first (and only) walk to work with the Caribous, I started noticing that the boots were rubbing against my lateral malleolus (the bony protrusion on the outside of your foot/ankle). After just a couple blocks the rubbing stopped being annoying and started being painful - the skin was getting rubbed right off. This occurred with both boots.

After a while the pain was such that I was having to walk creatively - i.e., on the balls of my feet to elevate my heels within the boots themselves, to prevent more rubbing. What a miserable experience. Although the snow was over a foot deep on the sidewalks and the temps were well below freezing, I still opted to wear my "indoor" work moccasins on the way back.

In addition to the lacerations they caused, these boots are a pain to walk in, literally. I'm in pretty good shape, but my quick mile walk to work in these puppies was dreadful. They are too heavy and too inflexible to be comfortable for walking in.

I really can't imagine what people wear these for. They are too heavy and uncomfortable for walking, and certainly far too cumbersome for even the mildest of hikes, the treads don't grip on ice, you can't drive in them because the soles are so wide they hit both the gas and the brakes and you can't feel either of them anyway. These boots are well and truly the most non-functional "gear" I have ever come across. If all you do is shovel your tiny driveway in these, you've wasted your money. I bought these boots because my dad wore them when I was growing up and we always had kid versions too. I don't know what happened but these just aren't the same quality boots they used to be. Even the cheap, Chinese-made Columbia boots I just bought are far superior to these, and Sorel is owned by Columbia!

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Ben Reff

Ben Reff wrote a review of on November 3, 2009

4 5

TNF Apex Bionic is not as expensive as some softshell jackets, and there's a reason for it: It lacks a lot of the fancy features that many jackets include. But for the price, I actually like the Apex Bionic a lot (and that means something, coming from someone who normally avoids TNF products). It's a no-nonsense jacket, simple and solid. As other posters have commented, it's a good jacket for "medium" conditions - medium wind, medium wetness. But it's warm enough to layer under, and waterproof enough to layer over, other things, which makes it pretty versatile. The jacket has a somewhat roomier fit than my more technical jackets, but it actually fits comfortably over a hooded sweatshirt or several mid-layers, unlike the others. It is also noticeably longer in the body - something I appreciate, since I have a longish torso and no desire to expose it to the elements. I would describe the fit as "casual," pretty firmly between technical and boxy.

Like other reviewers, I like that it doesn't look freaky-techy. It's functional and simple and looks as good on the street as it does on the trails because of that. And of course, the upshot to how mind-numbingly well this jacket sells is that you get a lot more color selection than with many softshells.

My only major complaint is the fact that TNF decided they needed to put a logo on both the front and back of the jacket... c'mon, seriously? Do the people walking behind me really need to get an eyefull of brand name?

This jacket isn't the warmest and it isn't the most weatherproof. It's also not the most technical of outerwear. And of course, if you're looking for a unique jacket that will make you stand out on the street or in the mountains, TNF is probably not what you want. But for everyday use in cool climates, its versatility makes it a winner in my book.

Worn on its own, this jacket can probably keep you comfortable between 30 and 55 degrees F, or even as high as 60 if you aren't moving much. As an outer layer it could probably take you down to 10 or 15, but for extreme cold temperatures I would probably use it as a midlayer because of its lack of a hood.

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