Enchroma Color Blind Glasses

As someone who’s mildly red-green colorblind the Enchroma glasses have a subtle effect on my color vision, particularly for greens; when out hiking that’s no small thing

I’m mildly red-green colorblind, as are around 8% of males, and far fewer females. The human eye typically has 3 types of color sensing cones which roughly correspond to blue, green, and red light. Colorblindness sets of these cones being “defective” or absent altogether, so the palette of colors visible to a colorblind person varies from person to person. The green and red cones have the most overlap, and so the most common type of colorblindness is red-green, which means the cones overlap more than they should.

According to the colorblindness test on the Enchroma website I am a “mild protan” which means the red cones in my eyes are shifted slightly towards the green cones. This results in darker reds starting to become indistinguishable from blacks and at the low-end of the green light my red cones firing too much.

I first read about Enchroma glasses a few years ago but because my colorblindness has never really presented me with a problem, I’m only made aware of it very rarely, the price at the time seemed prohibitive. But this year I got the itch to try them out. Enchroma has a 60 day money back guarantee as they don’t work for everyone (depending on the type of colorblindness you have), so earlier this year I ordered a pair.

I wasn’t expecting a huge effect from them, unlike some of the more dramatic videos online of some people’s first time experiences. And as my colorblindness was caused by my red cones being shifted I was expecting them to have the biggest effect on the range of reds I could distinguish.

The way the Enchroma glasses work is they filter out bands of light where the cones overlap the most, which blocks out a lot of the excessive overlap from the shifted cones. As they are just blocking out certain bands of light you’re not able to see more colors, but it helps your brain distinguish colors by removing a faulty signal.

The first time I tried on the glasses was during a pretty gloomy rainy afternoon (California had a historically wet winter) and the effect was, as I expected, pretty subtle. But what surprised me as that it wasn’t the reds that stood out more, but the greens. I first noticed this in the traffic lights, where the green light looked a lot greener than usual. I think what is happening is that because my red cones are shifted towards the green, by blocking out the overlapping band of red the greens start to look a lot more pure and, well, green.

I’ve had them for about two months now and worn them on my regular (bicycle) commute, out and about, and hiking. The effect when out hiking is easiest notice, especially this time of year in California when everything is temporarily green during the Spring. If I wear the glasses all day and then lift them off I can see the reds start to seep into grass that was previously green, and without them the greens all seem duller.

The glasses are not cheap, but, seeing as being out in the California sun glasses are necessary anyway, I’m pretty happy with a small upgrade to my color vision, particularly when out and about in the green landscapes.

Suunto Ambit for Hiking and Backpacking

I never go hiking without my Suunto GPS watch, having accurate distance and altitude on your wrist helps with navigation and on the long days can be satisfying to see

I first got a Suunto Ambit2 for use hiking and backpacking a few years ago and I’ve since replaced it with Suunto Ambit3 Peak which is functionally identical. The core feature of both watches is GPS tracking and they also have a barometer and temperature sensor. For hiking the two most useful pieces of information (besides telling the time) are the distance and altitude.

Suunto Ambit2 at the peak of Mount Diablo showing the time, altitude, and total ascent

The distance is tracked by GPS; Suunto is known for its accuracy and fast to acquire GPS. The frequency of logging can be configured per “activity” with intervals of 60s, 10s, and 1s. The higher the frequency the more accurate the distance and recorded tracks but the more drain on battery life. For hiking 60s is usually more than adequate however I usually use the 1s logging for day hiking as the battery will easily last and it provides for more accurate routes.

My activity home screen shows the distance in the main section with the time above and altitude below

The altitude is tracked by combining both the GPS and barometer sensors, which Suunto calls “FusedAlti”. GPS by itself is much less accurate for altitude than it is for longitude and latitude so having the barometer significantly improves the accuracy. The reading is accurate to within 3ft (1m) and in my experience it’s very accurate (in the photo above at the peak of Mount Diablo the altitude reads 3,835 and Mount Diablo is actually 3,848 so it’s only ~10 feet out).

In addition to providing the distance and altitude the watch will also calculate extra of data from these; the activity time, current and average speed, and total ascent and descent, which are all useful to know as you go. The temperature sensor will show you the current temperature.

One of the activity screens can show a graph of the recent altitude change

The watch comes preprogrammed with a set of activities but you can configure your own to show whichever information you want. The watch face is capable of showing three lines, one enlarged one in the center, a smaller one above, and a paginated smaller one below which can be toggled using the view button over 4 different metrics. For hiking I have 3 screens configured to show:

  1. Time; Distance; Altitude, Average speed, Current speed, Battery
  2. Time; Altitude; Ascent, Descent, Temperature
  3. Altitude graph, which also includes activity time

I find more screens than this a little unwieldy to manage.

Showing the altitude, time, and ascent at Monument Peak in Fremont

The battery estimates that Suunto provides are pretty accurate, it will easily last two days entire days without recharging at the highest frequency. Having a watch that’s designed to record GPS is far more battery efficient than doing so on my phone.

The recorded tracks, or “moves” as Suunto calls them, are synced via a USB cable that clips onto the watch’s side and saved to Suunto’s Movescount website which then displays the tracks on a map along with trip statistics.

The watch also has the ability to preprogram a route and provide simple directions on-screen although I’ve never used this functionality, preferring instead to use the GPS on my phone with offline maps and regular old paper maps for navigation.

The Suunto Ambit range has a plastic nub on the underside that houses the GPS antenna, and the watch is pretty bulky, however it fits comfortably on my (small) wrists. The newer Suunto Traverse, which I believe has all the same functionality and is more targeted towards hiking, now has the antenna built into the body of the watch.

I love my Suunto Ambit and am addicted to it now, I would feel naked without it. It’s really satisfying to be able to glance at your distance and ascent and is a really useful navigational aid.

Gossamer Gear Type II 26 Summit Pack

The Type II pack is my favourite day hiking pack, it’s comfortable, lightweight, and easily swallows a day’s worth of gear for a long jaunt in mountains.

The Gossamer Gear Type II is a 26 liter day pack in Gossamer Gear’s ultralight pack range. It’s the perfect size for day hiking and large enough to hold the 10 essentials, extra layers, lunch, water, and other stuff for a hike into the front or back country. It’s also light enough to not feel overkill when only hauling a few items on a short walk on a local trail.

The main compartment features a simple drawcord closure and the lid folds over and buckles, and there’s a grab loop on the top. On either side are two stretchy mesh pockets which hold water bottles and any other items that you need quick access to on the go (I tend to have a water bottle in either side, my phone, a map, and a mini tripod in the side pockets). The side pockets are a little high when reaching back, especially when compared to my backpacking pack, but this is a much smaller pack.

There are two zippered pockets integrated into the pack, one in the lid and one against the front of pack (which Gossamer Gear refers to as a “Napoleon” pocket). Both are very flat and pretty small, I tend to put my wallet and headphones in the top pocket and map or permit in the front pocket. You could probably put a phone in one of the pockets but nothing bigger than that.

The hip belt and shoulder straps are both backed by a spongy mesh which is comfortable and doesn’t heat up

The back of the pack has a very thin foam pad on the inside and I find that the pack naturally sits off of my back (when using the hip belt) so I haven’t had any issues with getting too hot with contact between my back and the pack, despite the fact there’s no mesh. The shoulder straps have a padded air mesh which is all day comfortable to wear with the loads this pack can hold. The sternum strap keeps them in place.

The zippered hip belt pockets are made of the same stretchy material as the side pockets and are large enough to fit a couple of energy bars each

The hip belt has two stretchy zippered pockets integrated, one on either side. The backs of the pockets are lined with the same mesh as the straps and are very comfortable. The stretch material is similar to that of the side pockets and they are well sized, I can easily store a few bars and snacks in the pockets to eat on the go without having to take the pack off. The belt is removable, it’s attached via a slider, although I always hike with it on.

The pack has a couple of loops sewn into either side designed to allow lashing additional gear to the outside of the pack. When I ordered the pack I also got some shock cord, hook clips, and cord locks to thread on the sides to compress the bag a little when empty and secure extra layers if the bag filled up. My previous daypack frequently ran out of space and I had to stash my jacket under the lid but in practice the Type II easily holds all the gear I take on a day trip and I’ve never needed to use the shock cord.

The lid buckles to a purple strap which is attached with a daisy chain stitching, it definitely adds a splash of color to the pack

The features I haven’t used are ice axe loop or the hydration bladder pocket/routing loops on the straps (I prefer to use water bottles so I know how much water I’m drinking/have left).

I bought this pack for the extra space and side pockets compared to my previous pack and it hasn’t disappointed, there’s very little that can be improved on this pack for day hiking, it’s my go anywhere and everywhere pack, I take it on hikes from a few miles to 20+ miles. I love this pack.

TheTentLab MoonLight 3

The MoonLight 3 backpacking tent, a product of passion from TheTentLab, is well made, incredibly spacious, and rock solid.

TheTentLab is a cottage industry company run by Mike Cecot-Scherer out of his home in Colorado. He’s a veteran tent designer and more recently has decided to design and manufacture his own tents to his own requirements and sell them directly using crowdfunding.

The tents Mike has designed are very high quality, very sturdy, very very spacious, and light enough to be used for backpacking (but we’re not talking fast and light). The first attempt was called the RugRat and came in 3 and 4 person variants, but the project didn’t reach its crowdfunding goal so Mike went back and tweaked the design into the MoonLight series which come in 2, 3, and 4 person variants that weigh and cost less than the RugRats. This time the project won enough backers that Mike was able to manufacture the tents, and almost a year later my MoonLight 3 arrived on my doorstep.

I bought the MoonLight as a motorcycle camping tent. As with backpacking, packed size and weight are issues when loading a motorcycle, and internal space in a tent is really useful to be able to stash everything off the bike overnight, including my riding gear. I tend to ride somewhere, like a National Forest or a State Park, set up camp, and then use that as a base to go day hiking.

The day my MoonLight tent arrived I put it up in my apartment. I was blown away by how much space there was inside, the near vertical sidewalls all the way around makes the usable space massive. The tent also has a number of novel features which make it rock solid once pitched. The polls interlock, and the inner attaches to the poll connectors which produce solid anchor points. The outer has little velcro loops at each guy point that wrap around the polls which not only keeps the outer aligned but reinforces the entire structure.

The interior of the MoonLight 3 tent with the outer off

Last weekend I took it on its first trip up to Salt Point State Park off Highway 1. It had rained the previous day and was drizzly on the ride up but it wasn’t forecast to rain once I arrived. It did end up raining overnight and the rain on the tent woke me up (although sleeping with the sound of the rain on the outside of a tent, wrapped up in a warm sleeping bag, is one of my favourite things, being brought up on summer camping trips to the Welsh coast you get used to the sound of rain on tents :-). One of the notable features of MoonLights is that the tent fabric is entirely a waterproof polyester which does not stretch when it gets wet like the nylon fabric almost every other tent is made of. This means when it rains the tent stays as taut as it was when pitched, and the fabric doesn’t sag. The tent lived up to this promise and was rock solid all night (although admittedly this was mild a California shower).

All in all the tent is great, a huge upgrade from my previous motorcycle camping tent. The inside is almost embarrassingly large, and it packs down to easily stow on my motorcycle. The tent is definitely at the high-end, but I expect this tent to last, so in terms of value for money, if you intend to use it frequently, this tent will pay for itself over time. Pitching the tent takes a bit of getting used to, in particular the eye-poll. I look forward to many trips to come, and this tent makes me much less afraid of getting caught in the rain.