Footwear Frenzy: Salomon Quest 4D Forces Review

Overview

As any other gear junkie I have given up the hope of ever finding that one pair of shoes capable of doing it all. A Jack-of-all-trades does not exist. Your low-cuts will be unable to go into rough or wet terrain; your trekking boots will be unnecessarily heavy and stiff on tarmac or easy trails; and your backpack will become uncomfortably heavy while wearing shoes with too little arch and ankle support. Then there’s the never-ending discussion of waterproof vs. water-repellent – and then I’m not even mentioning mountaineering boots.

I work for an outdoor company and served in the military before that and therefore I have collected my fair share of outdoor footwear throughout the years. I own two pairs of low-cuts, two pairs of mids and two pairs of high-cut trekking boots. None of these are up for anything, and only one pair comes remotely close.

That would be the Salomon Quest 4D Forces. Designed as a full-mission profile boot for military use in warm and dry climates, this boot has a lightweight construction, while still being relatively high-cut and offering enough rigidity and torsional strength for a wide variety of terrain and loads. Its look and build are slightly more aggressive and sporty than many of its German competitors, which has some advantages and disadvantages – but more about that later.

Construction

The main components of the upper are rubber, suede leather and 1000D Cordura. The sole is made from a sandwich of rubber layers, mostly molded EVA and Contagrip outsole material. In the upper, the suede leather and Cordura work together to create a surprisingly water-repellent outer layer. Hiking through very wet terrain in Abisko, Sweden, I was genuinely surprised with the time it took for my feet to get slightly wet. Granted, I was wearing waterproof gaiters at the time but these did not cover the lower front part of my feet. And the lack of Gore-Tex or full leather upper also made sure that my feet could ventilate excess heat and moisture effectively – meaning they were dry relatively fast.

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The sole is sturdy enough to give support and stability on rocky terrain, but flexible enough to be comfortable. The molded EVA and Contagrip outsole give a large amount of suspension without going soft.

Now, there’s one main drawback to how Salomon and many other lightweight bootmakers make their footwear, and that is the lack of cemented construction. This is a very traditional and labor-intensive (and thus expensive) way of constructing boots in such a way that the upper is a completely separate part of the boot. This means that the sole can be replaced, giving the boot longer life and a better fit. With the Quest 4D, this is not possible and that is a true shame. Once the outsole has been used up, it is time to buy new ones and depending on the amount of use that might be quite fast, especially if you happen to be in the military.

Features

There are some important differences between the Forces and regular version of the Quest 4D, as military use often asks for specific details. The lace hooks have been replaced with loops. This ensures no wires, ropes or lines can snag into the boot’s laces – important during fast roping, parachuting or rappelling. The outsole has been slightly altered to make such activities easier. The mesh polyester on the regular version has been replaced with 1000D Cordura, a tougher and more water-resistant nylon variant.

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Other than that it has the same bells and whistles as most other trekking boots. A gusseted tongue, shaft loops to make donning and doffing easier, a rubber toecap to protect the leather against rock and scree, lace locks – and exceptional grip.

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Two features are relatively unique: they’re lightweight and flexible, while being relatively stable. These truly are get-up-and-go and almost as easy to wear in as a pair of running shoes. This is interesting because usually this means that large or heavy backpacks can become uncomfortable and problems with knees and ankles are bound to pop up sooner or later. I’m sure that above a certain weight that will also happen with these boots, but I was surprised at how well they got along with my 15kg backpack in rough Swedish terrain while ascending and descending.

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Fit

These boots have a normal, maybe slightly roomy, fit. My feet are slightly wider than average and with most brands I’m between UK 8 and 9, meaning I usually need an 8,5. I have owned a pair of Salomon boots before, which I got in 8,5. Those turned out slightly too small so I sold them. I got the Quest 4D in a size 9 and so far that seems to be spot on for me. My heels are locked in place and my toes have enough wiggle room without sliding sideways or forward. One thing I will say about the fit: the shaft is very aggressive. After only one day of use I decided to stop using the highest lace loops because I could feel my shins hurting. Skipping them solved that issue. Shin issues aren’t funny and should be avoided at all costs.

Details

Most details have already been mentioned. The most important reason for me to get these was the fact that they are more or less the only full-mission profile boots without Gore-Tex that Salomon makes. Gore-Tex has its drawbacks. It’s waterproof but that often comes at a price, especially in dry and warm weather, as the membrane’s air permeability only allows for so much water vapor to go through. I wanted lightweight and flexible, yet sturdy boots for summer use in the mountains. The fact that these are spacer mesh lined instead of waterproof is great. And when your feet do get wet, they ventilate well enough to quickly walk them dry.

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Usage

So far I have used these on day hikes, training rounds with intermediate-sized packs and a short overnight camping trek in Sweden. They performed well enough on all occasions, although I think they will truly shine during a summer cabin-to-cabin trek in the Alps, which my girlfriend and me will undertake next month. While I was positively surprised with how well they managed wet and rough terrain in Abisko, I would take a heavier boot for a longer trek there. They would offer slightly more stability and durable comfort than these Salomons do, even though they surprised me in the way they were able to handle themselves given the rough and uneven terrain 250 kilometers into the polar circle.

Pros

Lightweight yet sturdy

Flexible

Comfortable

Breathable yet surprisingly water-resistant

Snag-free lace loops

Strong outsole with grip on rough terrain

Ankle support

Cons

Outsoles cannot be replaced

Aggressive cut on the shaft

Lace loops and lacelock system take some time to get used to

Overall

These are a great pair of boots for those looking for shoes strong enough to tackle rough terrain every once in a while, but also like speed and agility. I would not recommend them for full-on mountain trekking but with an intermediate size (say 40-50 liters) pack in summer time or otherwise dry weather these will work great. They offer ankle support, flexibility and ventilation while being reasonably water-resistant and quick drying. A definite recommendation if they suit your needs. They are also available in a Gore-Tex version if you need waterproof boots.

Further reading

http://www.salomon.com/us/product/quest-4d-forces.html?article=381595

http://www.leafgear.com/en/salomon-quest-4d-forces.html

 

Griffin Technology Survivor All Terrain Case For iPhone 5/5s

Toughness for Roughness

Overview

When you’re out in the mountains or in the field, the risks to your precious pieces of high-tech wizardry multiply a thousand-fold. Prone to shattering its glass screen in classrooms, bars and on bathroom floors and what not, the average modern-day smartphone is not built to withstand extreme abuse. Luck would have it that legions of third-party developers and manufacturers have understood the need for tough, thick and protective cases for smartphones and other delicate technology. One such producer is Griffin, and they have established themselves on this market with the Survivor series. Its All Terrain variant is like a Kevlar vest for your phone.

Construction and Design

The Survivor All Terrain case is constructed out of plastic, silicone and foam, all built and molded to comply with military standards. It wraps around your phone in a three-step way. First, you slide your phone in a plastic hardshell. The first couple of times this might take a little bit of time and effort as you’re afraid to damage your phone’s pretty exterior. In the almost two years I have been using this case, that has never happened though. Second, you wrap the thick silicone bumper around the hardshell. This provides the largest part of the case’s protection. Thicker pads of silicone on the edges and sides make sure that the most impact-sensitive areas are well protected. Last up is the screen protector, which is a click-on piece of plastic the size of the phone itself. This makes sure your phone does not get wet or dirty. The materials used are tough enough so they don’t lose their protective capability, but they are also moldable enough so they easily wrap around your phone. The plastic used for the hardshell is bendable but not liable to break. The silicone used for the bumper is pliable and stretchable, but incredibly tough so it doesn’t tear when applying force. The screen protector is simple enough and not entirely scratch resistant, but then getting scratched so your phone isn’t is exactly its job. When you already have a screen protector on your phone, chances are the touchscreen might become a bit less responsive.

Features

Most importantly, you’re not going to lose any of your phone’s features. All ports and buttons are available through foldaway pieces of silicone or push-through buttons. The hardshell contains two pieces of foam to maximise padding for the phone, and a flip-away camera port so you’re still able to take pictures (as most people do when they’re trekking or climbing in the mountains!). Point of annoyance: the camera protector is sometimes hard to open, especially with freshly clipped nails…

Being able to connect your headphones as well is a very important feature, as nothing beats listening to your favorite song watching a sunset in the outdoors. The port though, is rather narrow so some headphone jacks might not fit. My JBL headphones are not a problem though. While the case offers all-round protection and water-resistance, I wouldn’t take it swimming or take it to the shower. Rain is not a problem. Well, maybe a torrential rain would be. But your average European storm is not. iPhone 5s users, such as myself, might sometimes need to get used to entering their access code, as the home button is completely encased and only reachable through the silicone push-through button.

Usage

Due to the massive amount of protection this case offers, its size is, well… massive. You need big pockets to be able to store this big boy. Therefore, I only use it when I go into the field or the outdoors, as then I’m wearing outdoor- or camouflage trousers with roomy pockets anyway. For those wanting to own a phone case with just enough protection and being able to fit it in a jeans pocket, Griffin released the Survivor Skin. This is basically a silicone version of the innards of the All Terrain. I liked my All Terrain so much that I bought the Skin as well and I have been using it almost every day since. Together they are the only two cases I ever need for my phone. They even dictated my choice for the iPhone 5s instead of the 6 the last time I had to buy a new phone (aside from the 6 being way too large for my girlish hands…).

Too long, didn’t read? Here’s the short version!

Pros

Incredibly tough

All-round protection

Almost all features of the phone remain usable

Built to last

Pretty in its own way

Use your iPhone as a beach ball! (Kidding)

Cons

Massive size

Touch ID unusable

Camera cover sometimes hard to remove

Some headphone plugs might not fit

Touchscreen slightly less responsive

Not entirely waterproof

Overall

While this is an awesome case, it really is only meant for extreme usage. This is not something you want to have around your phone all day, every day. Nevertheless, for those days you want to be able to throw your phone down a mountain without it breaking, this is a great case. I’m quite happy with it and use it when necessary.

Further Reading

https://store.griffintechnology.com/iphone-5/survivor-iphone5

https://store.griffintechnology.com/iphone-5/survivor-skin-for-iphone-5

Arc’teryx LEAF Atom LT Hoody Gen 2 Review

A focus on long-term usability

Overview

As an airsofter, outdoor enthusiast, and as an individual who likes nice-looking clothing, finding something that fills all those requirements is often a challenge. While there’s more than enough high-end camouflage clothing and even more flashy-colored outdoor stuff, Arc’teryx, and especially its Law Enforcement and Armed Forces division, really knows how to make stuff that looks good on the street, is non-reflective in the field and is highly usable while out in the wild. I finally bit the bullet about eight months ago and spent 210 euros on this baby. Fair enough, it’s not cheap. But then again, you get what you pay for.

Features

The Atom LT, in both the civvie and LEAF version, is a highly versatile synthetically insulated jacket with a 60g/m2 Coreloft filling. This makes it just warm enough for spring and autumn use on its own. Both sides and armpit areas are constructed from Polartec fleece instead of windproof material, which creates a highly breathable area in crucial locations. The hood, while having only one drawstring, has a slightly roomy fit. Its insulated filling makes it highly capable of retaining body heat, which is great when stationary in colder conditions.

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One of the most important design decisions Arc’teryx made with the Atom LT is to incorporate drawstrings on the hem. This is where the LEAF version really differs from the civvie version. While the civvie version only has one draw adjuster, which is not secured in such a way that it points up, the LEAF version has two, and they are not hanging out from under the jacket. This is a very nice, very well designed detail. Another such indispensible feature is the stretch fabric used for the elastic sleeve cuffs. While perfectly capable of closing off your arms from cold winds, they are never too tight. The fabric used for the outer layer is not waterproof, but it is treated to be slightly water-repellent. Take care when washing, as some detergents will be detrimental to this capability.

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Construction

While being extremely lightweight, I’m still amazed by how tough this jacket is. The stitching is top notch and the outer fabric is not liable to pile, as most fleece material, for example, is. The zipper, while being next to weightless, is strong and responsive. It only very rarely gets caught in the fabric. One issue I have with it is that it tends to run down an inch or so from its top position while in use. Not a really serious problem though.

The fabric is reinforced with rip-stop pieces of polyester on sensitive areas such as the inner pockets and hand pockets and most importantly around the elastic hem drawstring. I have seen enough non-reinforced polyester and/or Gore-Tex jackets to know this is a game-changer in terms of durability. Overall, this is one hell of a tough midlayer. Important to note is that I wouldn’t use it as an outer layer in the bush. I wouldn’t think this fabric is tough enough to withstand bramble thorns, for example.

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Fit

I’m 1,78m at 73kg with a slightly muscular physique and a Medium has a slightly roomy fit for me. Not too baggy though. This is great, because as I have mentioned before, on its own this jacket is perfect for spring and autumn use. In the dead of winter I really do need a good warm fleece underneath and a hardshell jacket on top to keep me warm and, more importantly, dry. Length-wise it just about touches my hips, which is also great as this keeps it from peeking out from under most of my shell jackets. However, most of my fleeces and sweaters are slightly longer which is kind of a bummer as this makes it slightly less usable as a fashion piece outer layer – the operative word being slightly! As said before, the hood offers enough room for the hood of a fleece worn underneath, also great for winter use. Its brim is fairly small so the user will be able to retain as much body heat as possible.

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Details

Some of the details mentioned before are specific to the LEAF version. One other such detail is the holes provided on the inner pockets through which communication equipment wires can be led in order to create a snag-free outer layer. This is a great detail for LEOs or soldiers, but for the average civilian user it is not that important. Of course, you could use it for your headphones. Another nice touch is that the usual reflective Frog Skeleton Arc’teryx logo is replaced with a non-reflective one, as remaining invisible is often important to the intended user.

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Usage

As said before, I use this jacket for virtually everything. It’s great as a mid- or reinforcement layer during the winter months, or as a stand-alone garment on chilly spring days or evenings. Furthermore, its subdued looks make it an extremely nice-looking puffy jacket which does not  make you like a marshmallow. This one is usable in the outdoors, on the city streets and out in the field while airsofting. I have used it almost every day since I bought it and it doesn’t have any signs of wear and tear to show for it.

Time for the bottom line!

Good

Extremely versatile

Good subdued looks

Very well-designed

Top-notch construction

Usable details

Lightweight and packable

Could be better

Fairly expensive

Zipper could use a stronger closing

Hood could use more adjustment possibilities

Overall

Would I recommend this jacket to anyone in the market for a nice-looking and durable midlayer? Yes, yes, a hundred times yes. This is one of my top purchases from 2014 and I intend to enjoy the hell out of it for years to come, whatever the environment and use. Buy if you have the money.

Where to buy

I ordered mine through http://www.leafgear.com, which is a Dutch distributor. Their service and delivery is top notch. But various other webshops, most notably in the UK and US, also sell Arc’teryx LEAF items. While the civilian versions are widely available through outdoor retail stores, LEAF items are generally a niche business for specialised stores.

Further reading

http://leaf.arcteryx.com/product.aspx?language=EN&gender=mens&category=Mid_Layer&model=Atom-LT-Hoody-LEAF