Sweet Gear Review: Patagonia Crosstown Backpack

17 12 2009

Although most of the sweet gear I get is for climbing or running or cycling, there is some awesome gear that I use for my during-the-week life. I know that most climbers out there are like me: we have a “normal” job during the week to help support our climbing habit on weeknights, weekends, and vacations. Many of you probably commute to work in some way, and you might even have a laptop that you commute with, like I do.

Well, if you’re looking for a great solution for organizing your stuff and transporting your laptop to and from work or school, the Patagonia Crosstown backpack is a great choice.

Patagonia Crosstown backpack. Photo from Patagonia.com

For the last many years, including my entire time at Caltech, I used a Timbuk2 bag as my school bag. Although there are some great reasons to use a Timbuk2 bag (they’re awesome, and generally very compatible with getting around by bike), they are not really the best commuting bags, in my opinion, especially if you’re carrying a laptop back and forth. The fact is that the bag is only ever on one shoulder and, well, it doesn’t feel good on your shoulder. So, when I knew I would be carrying my computer to and from the office every day at Stanford, it was time for an upgrade (my parents offered to get me a new backpack as a graduation gift).

I chose the Patagonia Crosstown backpack because it seemed to have a great combination of features, functionality, and style, and that has definitely proven to be true.

Here’s a rundown of the features I love:

  • Laptop sleeve is perfect for my 13″ laptop, and easy to get my laptop in and out even when the main compartment is pretty full.
  • Plenty of room for notebooks, textbooks, lunch, extra jacket, etc. in the main pocket, plus a little internal mesh pouch that’s perfect for my calculator and mouse.

Main compartment, showing laptop sleeve and internal mesh pouch.

  • Just the right amount of organization in the front compartment – my favorite pencil, my favorite pen, my cell phone, and my ZuneHD. Everything a girl needs 🙂  Plus room for my wallet and other small necessities.

Front organizer compartment

  • External mesh water bottle pouch. Because it’s good to stay hydrated.
  • Zippered side pouch. It fits my keys and the “coffee shop” covers for my bike shoe cleats. It is really awesome to arrive at my office or my apartment and not have to take my backpack off to access my keys. I don’t think I can ever be happy with a bag that doesn’t have this feature from now on…

Zippered side pouch (perfect for keys!)

  • The front sleeve is PERFECT for my Chaco Flips, which I wear approximately 350 days a year, including most school days. Since I wear bike shoes to ride my bike, it’s great to be able to easily throw my flip flops into my backpack.
  • Comfortable suspension. To be fair, I don’t have a very long “commute” – 5-6 minute bike ride or a ~20 minute walk – and I have a very light laptop, but I’ve taken the backpack (full of stuff) through airports, too and it’s generally very comfortable.
  • Durable fabric that does a good job of staying clean. I don’t have a rear fender on my bike, so when it’s wet, the spray from the back wheel gets on me and my backpack. But you couldn’t tell from looking at my backpack – the dirt brushes right off.
  • Environmentally friendly: the backpack is made from 100% recycled polyester (except for the lining and mesh).

Flip flop sleeve!

There are a few minor issues I’ve had with the backpack:

  • The shoulder straps have a tendency to loosen – I feel like I have to re-tighten them fairly often. This may be due to the amount of on and off I subject my backpack to – I’ve never had a problem with it loosening while I’m riding my bike.
  • The waistbelt also seems to spontaneously loosen, even though I never use it (just keep it clipped closed so it’s out the way). This could be kind of annoying if you use the waistbelt on a regular basis (I don’t).
  • It might be tricky to fit a large laptop into the pouch, although if you have a computer that big, you’re probably not carrying it to work/school every day.

So, to sum up my thoughts: this is a really great backpack, especially for my (short) commute. It has great tools for organizing my stuff, without going overboard, as it seems many backpacks do these days. And there are many really thoughtful, awesome features like the zippered side key pouch and the front (flip-flop) sleeve.



Alpine Art by Renan Ozturk

11 11 2009

I wanted to take a moment to highlight some climbing inspired art. As climbers we travel to amazing places and often return home with just memories. I have tried to take photographs but they do not even start to capture the brilliance and emotion of places I go. I think Renan’s art shows a very interesting perspective of the mountain peaks he has visited. It seems working in the field can help motivate a new artistic method and bring additional character to the pieces. The raw environment of the mountains allows for a unique studio and puts you in touch with the power of nature.

Renan shows some of the wild environments where his pieces were created.

Alpine Wonderlands” exhibition in the Max Bell building at the Banff Centre

“Samsara” Trailer with Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk trying to climb Meru’s Sharkfin

You can follow Renan’s adventures via his blog or his vimeo account.



Sweet Gear Review: Patagonia DAS Parka

19 03 2009

I’m a pretty cold person, so I’ve had a down jacket almost as long as I’ve been a climber (got my purple TNF down jacket almost 6 years ago). It’s been pretty useful – lightweight and warm as you would expect from any down jacket. But lately, climbing in cold desert winters (I know I’m a total weather wuss, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t deserve to be warm) has made me long for something a little bit better.


My TNF Nuptse down jacket

These are the problems with my standard run of the mill down jacket:

  • no hood = I lose a lot of head from my head and I have way too much hair and a weird shaped head so beanies don’t work out so well for me
  • not perfect for belaying – since it’s a “jacket” it only goes down to waist level, so I can’t easily wear it over OR under my harness, which leads to waist-level coldness while belaying
  • the “stash pocket” is not a very good way of storing the jacket for attaching to my pack, so it has a tendency to get really dirty

So, for my improved insulated belay jacket, I was looking for something with a nice roomy hood that could fit over my climbing helmet, a longer length to help keep me warmer, and a belay zipper to facilitate harness compatibility. The Patagonia DAS Parka was on the top of my list from the start because I love Patagonia clothing and the DAS has synthetic insulation so I would still be warm even if I got a little wet (not that that happens often in SoCal, but it’s good to be prepared).


Testing out the DAS Parka in the snow

I was lucky enough to get a great deal on my DAS Parka – 50% off. I had tried on the XS (the Parka only comes in Men’s for now – do they think women don’t need belay jackets too?) in my local Patagonia store and was pretty happy with how it fit. Sure, it looks a bit big on me, but that means it covers my butt and there’s plenty of room to wear other layers underneath (even my down jacket, but that might be a little ridiculous…).

I got my Parka just in time to get snowed on in December at my parents house in Poulsbo, WA and our bouldering/snowboarding trip to Bishop over New Year’s. In addition to some weekend outings in January and February, the DAS Parka was invaluable on our recent trip to Indian Creek, which featured sunny but windy and chilly weather.


It’s nice and warm in the snow in Utah, too.

The thing I love about the Parka is that it has just the right features and nothing extra. In addition to the zippered chest pocket that’s perfect for some Shot Bloks or a topo, there are two zippered external handwarmer pockets that are very effective at keeping my hands warm. The jacket has two internal mesh pockets that are perfect for keeping your climbing shoes warm before you climb or storing a waterbottle if its genuinely cold out. There is also elastic to help adjust the hood or tighten the jacket at the hem. The cuffs are elasticized, which I prefer over velcro because it can’t come undone by accident. Finally, the jacket has a water repellant finish and has reinforced patches on the shoulders and elbows. And to top everything off, the Parka comes with a perfectly sized little stuff bag that has been very helpful for stuffing the jacket into when I’m attaching it to my backpack on approaches and descents.


A cold morning at the Cat Wall

In terms of fit, the hood is warm and fits perfectly over my helmet. There is plenty of room to wear layers underneath, and the 2-way zipper makes it easy to belay while wearing the jacket. As I said, I have the Parka in XS (I’m 5’5″ and around 110 lbs.). I’ve found the insulation to be simply awesome. If the jacket wasn’t streamlined and lacking in little down feathers escaping at the seams, I wouldn’t know that it wasn’t down. It’s lightweight and, like down, keeps me warm when it’s really cold without immediately overheating me when the sun comes out. Plus it’s quite good at keeping out the wind, another invaluable trait in Indian Creek.

Patagonia’s quality is usually great and I have no doubt that I will continue to wear and love my DAS Parka for many years to come.


Taking a break at Battle of the Bulge

I do have a minor gripe, though. The stuff sack for the Parka is great – very lightweight, but the toggle that came on it was very flimsy. The plastic snapped and became unusable within less than 5 uses of the stuff sack. It was, however, easily replaced.

With spring just around the corner, I know most people won’t be needing the DAS Parka very soon, but it’s not cheap, so if you’re interested, I’d recommend looking around for Parkas on sale for the off-season because you’re unlikely to find them on sale when it starts getting cold next November.

Happy Warm Belaying!

Sweet Gear Review: Patagonia Plush Pants

6 01 2009

Sorry guys, they only make these for the ladies. You should be jealous.

I had the opportunity to try on a pair of Patagonia Plush Pants at Adventure 16 a couple months ago. I immediately fell in love with their great fit and super soft, warm fleecy feel. But it was summer and I really had no need for fleece pants.

But Luke knew that even though I didn’t need fleece pants, I did want them, and so they appeared under the Christmas tree this year. I got the chance to wear them on our recent trip to Bishop and Mammoth and was every bit as pleased with them as I hoped I’d be.

I have the XS pants in black and they fit perfectly – comfortable waistband, nice shape, perfect length. They are soft and warm and feel great against my skin, but I can also wear them over long underwear or tights (which I did, post-snowboarding). They were awesome to wear relaxing in the motel room after a tiring day of climbing or snowboarding and I plan to wear them as often as possible until it gets too warm again.

I do feel that I should point out that these aren’t really “technical” fleece pants – they are great for hanging out, but maybe not the best to actually wear out climbing or anything. I have another pair of (less fuzzy, comfortable, and flattering) wind-proof fleece pants that I still plan to use for more “technical” applications (e.g. really cold day at the crag, snowshoeing, cold/windy camping, etc.).