Zeal Optics Brewer Sunglasses – Perfect for the Outdoor Lifestyle

I met with Zeal Optics this spring because let’s face it, who doesn’t like meeting with reps from top of the line companies? It was just slightly more convenient since Zeal is also based out of Boulder, and he suggested we meet at a Biergarten. Ok, fine.

See, just by having Zeals on my shirt makes me look better. Right?!
See, just by having Zeals on my shirt makes me look better. Right?!

After our beer, we headed over to the office where I learned more about the company and the products. Did you know they have ski goggles with built-in 1080p video cameras with wifi? Now you do. Did you know all their products are made from sustainable materials and biodegradable? Now you do. Did you know they’re supplying the NFL with the new helmet-cams to study the game and concussions? Now you do. There’s more to know as well, but I’ve forgotten it. See? I don’t even know. Neither does Scotty.

I left the Zeal offices with their Brewer sunglasses with no expectations or demands of a review and a simple request to keep the conversation going. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s converse like an All-Star . (You see what I did there?) You have yourself a deal, Zeal. A Zeal Deal!

While it is true, these are just sunglasses – they’re not safety rated, can’t stop bullets, and don’t prevent destructive laser beams from shooting out my eyeballs like Cyclops – they performed really really well while hiking 14’ers, spring snowboarding, climbing, extreme downhill trail running, and mountain biking. Also, looking good in public. True story (as hard as that may be to conceptualize).

You see, if I’m going to tell someone to pay a premium price for these glasses ($129), I wanted to make sure I abused them as much as possible before doing so. And I did.

The Pros:

They look good. Really good.

Climbing

I normally HATE wearing sunglasses while climbing. They seem to either get in the way, or the lens somehow distorts the rock in such a way that it messes with my depth perception. If you remember, I said that about my Stage Ideas goggles too. I don’t know what’s going on in the lesser-quality lens factories around the world, but as soon as I step up to a higher-price, higher-quality lens, I don’t have any more issues.

The Brewers made it through this climb.
The Brewers made it through this climb.

While climbing in the Black Hills of South Dakota, I was climbing in a shady area and hung them from my shirt. I was at the end of pitch 2 when I looked down, and bloop. There goes my sunglasses. Fantastic! They fell about 50′ down the pitch and nestled nicely amongst the sharpest granite known to man. I had my follower pick them up as he went by, and there’s just one teeny-tiny scratch. Not bad!

Hiking

Yup, just about anything works here. I like them for hiking because I at least have the piece of mind that if I’m going to lose expensive glasses in the nature, they’ll decompose should no one else find them. Again I reiterate, they look good too. Which makes me look good. And that’s good.

Snowboarding

I don’t suggest wearing simple sunglasses on a bluebird day in January, but then again, I’m just a noob that still falls on his head while launching off sweet jumps. I wore these while snowboarding in May (MAY!!!! – Sorry. That was a first for me. I get a little excited thinking about that.), and I had no issues seeing the terrain. See afore mentioned concern with lesser-quality lenses and depth perception issues.

Anti-Pros:

C’mon, you thought I’d wear these things for 3 months doing everything I do in the mountains and think they were perfect?! Psshhhht

Do I look smug? I think I look smug. I blame the beer and snowboarding in May.
Do I look smug? I think I look smug. I blame the beer and the snowboarding in May.

Looking down

Yup. Whether it’s being active while mountain biking or extreme downhill trail running, or just simply looking down when the glasses are propped up in my head, they have a tough time staying on my face.

Zeal tried to prevent this with their Proflex Design technology, but there is still room for improvement. Looking down with a vibrating face will definitely rattle these off your…face. Before anyone says, “yahsure, that’ll happen to any sunglasses,” hush yourself! I have yet another review for different sunglasses in which this is not an issue.

Should You Buy Them?

Yes.

Maybe.

Depends.

If you’re like me, vanity is a real world concern and issue. I’ve had dozens of $10 gas station  sunglasses that function well enough, but at the end of the day, none of them perform like the Zeal Brewers. On top of that, the Brewers look infinitely better than anything I have ever owned. So, are they a bit spendy? Yes, compared to the gas station. NOif you compare them to other leading brands. In that case, they’re on the low end of the price spectrum AND better for the environment. That’s cool with me.

When it comes down to it, I get a great looking pair of sunglasses that I can wear out on the town to fit in with the hipsters, AND I can wear them doing some of my favorite activities. This is the paramount reason Zeal designed the Brewer: to fit seamlessly with an active urban and wilderness life.

Zeal Brewer on Mountain

Full disclosure: I received a press release from Zeal Optics, contacted them out of the blue, had a beer with their rep, and then we wandered over to their office in Boulder. I walked away with these glasses for the price of free, but there were no expectations, no promises of a blog post, and all the opinions expressed above are my own.

Arc’Teryx Ascent Product Line: An Impenetrable Fortress against the Elements – Part III

Editor’s Note: This was going to be one, all-encompassing post of the entire line, but after I got done writing Part I about the Alpha SV and Atom SV and Part II about the Beta AR pants and Stryka hoody, I was already over 1,000 words each. If you’ve not yet had an Arc’Teryx imposed lobotomy, you’re almost there. This is the last post of the series. You’re welcome.

**********

As with all the products I’ve received from Arc’Teryx, I am exceptionally grateful to have been able to try out all the majorly important elements of their “Ascent” product line. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive them until later in the winter season so I haven’t yet been able to test them in a truly extreme environment. But there’s some good news to that: I’ll get to test them out this summer and next winter, when I have a better grasp on some of the more “extreme” hobbies Colorado has to offer. I’ll update this post and add others as needed.

For now, here are my initial impressions of the Ascent line based on a couple of days at the resort, honing my skill as a noob snowboarder in whiteout and bluebird conditions.

The items I tried:

Zenta AR Gloves

Finally! The gloves! Seemingly, it would make sense that these wouldn’t be my favorite piece of gear. I mean, I can wear the Alpha SV jacket, Beta AR pants, Delta LT zip, and Stryka hoodie all four season probably. But gloves? Probably just winter. I know; it doesn’t make sense to me either. But I have an infatuation with gloves, and I have never ever owned a pair of gloves that I looked forward to putting on. Sure, I’ve had really warm gloves. I’ve had indestructible mittens. Work gloves. Driving gloves. Football gloves. All sorts of types of gloves, but none of them left me wanting to wear them with ever reasonable chance I could. Until now.

Mixed Reviews

Arc'Teryx Zenta AR GlovesI really wanted to get a pair of gloves from Arc’Teryx. Back when I won their monthly subscriber lottery, I almost got a pair of gloves instead of the Altra 75 pack. I wanted a pair of gloves for the reasons I stated above, and I was confident Arc’Teryx would fill that void. But I also wanted them because of all the mixed reviews on their website. I thought, there is no way that they don’t have a single pair of gloves that don’t have overwhelming positive reviews. They were all very mixed. I wanted to get a firsthand experience.

One thing that kept popping up was that the gloves weren’t keeping people’s hands warm. I’m not sure if I’m just very warm-blooded, which could be, or if some of these people had too high of expectations. Yes, if you’re going to pay upwards of $200 for a pair of gloves, you expect certain things. But they are just gloves. Of all my years of sitting in a tree stand while hunting, riding snowmobile without grip warmers, ice fishing, what have you, NONE of my gloves have kept my hands warm for an overly extended period of time without the aid of some external heating source, like hand warmers. So maybe these people were just sitting idle at base camp, but I cannot fathom these gloves not keeping my hands warm while being active.

Performance

Besides the obvious task of keeping my hands warm and dry, there are a few other things that I was demanding of these gloves, and they did not disappoint.

Turning cold, wet hands to dry, warm hands. I once had a pair of mittens that were so good that I could shove my bare hands down an ice fishing hole; barely, kind of, sort of wipe them off on a hard shell jacket; and then stick them back in the mittens where not only would my hands be warm and dry, but the insulation would dry as well. I was very young when I had those mittens, and very sad on the day that I couldn’t find them. I’ve not had  a pair of gloves or mittens that could do that since. I think I might have found their emotional replacement. There were a couple of times that I had to take my hands out of my gloves to adjust this thing or that thing before going down a run, and they would become cold and wet. By the end of the run, everything seemed fine and dandy. My hands were not too cold or too wet when doing this so I still have some apprehension. I’ll likely find out next year.

Dexterity. The mittens I just mentioned were warmest piece of handwear I’ve owned. But mittens are mittens and anything requiring fine motor skills or finger dexterity can just be forgot. I’ve had some driving gloves with great dexterity, but they were either uninsulated leather or some kind of liner. Neither of which provided any warmth or weather-proofing. If I did try to get a pair of gloves that would keep my hands as warm as mittens, they were almost as useful as mittens as well. The leather palm of the Zenta AR gloves allow for quite a bit of precision. You won’t be doing any needle point with them, but I could at least tie my boots, clip a carabiner, strap my bindings, and use a screwdriver with them on.

Features

This is my favorite part.

They have a clip-in loop on the middle finger of each hand. This is becoming very common with any gloves that could be used for climbing, but it’s my first pair. And I am in awe.

In a moment, you will see how great the cuffs are, allowing them to be worn over any type of jacket. I still got some snow inside the cuffs on a couple of falls, but thankfully they dried right out.

And now, the moment I’ve been dying to show you, the supremely easy cuff synch system. Putting your gloves on for the first time over jacket is no big deal. But what about when you’ve already put them on, synched them down, and now you need to take them off again? Off is fine, actually, but what about putting them back on? The opening of the cuff is synched down and may not go over your jacket. Arc’Teryx has fixed this problem, and made it extremely easy to use even with a gloved hand.

Simply grab the nylon webbing with your gloved, and as you pull the glove on, the cinch will become loosened, allowing you to pull the cuff over any thickness of jacket you may be wearing. Then, once your hand is back in, grab the cinch chord and tighten. Here, I’ll demonstrate!

And that, is really what makes me happy about these gloves. Not that this system probably unique to Arc’Teryx, but the fact that they have put that much thought into the design, espcially to make it incredibly easy to use with a gloved hand. Bravo, Arc’Teryx.

an Deireadh

For my last bit of criticism, I offer this:

Why not add a zip pocket for a hand warmer on the top of the hand? I don’t think you’d lose much functionality. You could use the same taped seams that you use on your other products. It wouldn’t add substantial weight, if that’s even a concern. People don’t have to use it, and it would give those that need extra warmth that ability. Other than that, I plan to have these glove for a looooong time.

Arc’Teryx Ascent Product Line: An Impenetrable Fortress against the Elements – Part II

Editor’s Note: This was going to be one, all-encompassing post of the entire line, but after I got done writing Part I about the Alpha SV and Atom SV, I was already over 900 words. So, I will be spreading this out over as many posts as needed so as not to give you an Arc’Teryx imposed lobotomy. You’re welcome.

**********

As with all the products I’ve received from Arc’Teryx, I am exceptionally grateful to have been able to try out all the majorly important elements of their “Ascent” product line. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive them until later in the winter season so I haven’t yet been able to test them in a truly extreme environment. But there’s some good news to that: I’ll get to test them out this summer and next winter, when I have a better grasp on some of the more “extreme” hobbies Colorado has to offer. I’ll update this post and add others as needed.

For now, here are my initial impressions of the Ascent line based on a couple of days at the resort, honing my skill as a noob snowboarder in whiteout and bluebird conditions.

The items I tried:

Beta AR Pants and Stryka Hoodie

These two are a bit odd to pair together, but that’s because

  1. The first two made sense
  2. I’ve used them the same amount of times under varying conditions together
  3. Spoiler alert: I’m saving my favorite for last, all by itself

Stryka Hoodie

Beta and StrykaWhat can I say? It’s a base layer. The things that really stand out to me is how soft and comfortable the Torrent™ material is, its ability to dry quickly, the hood, and the length.

I’ll let you read the full specifications on the Arc’Teryx website about the Torrent™ material, but part of that is about the quick drying ability. Before I had the Alpha SV jacket, I was using my Marmot Fulcrum. It too is a wonderful jacket, but even with the cinch chords…cinched…and the powder skirt buttoned, I still got snow up my jacket when I fell. The two times I wore the Stryka/Fulcrum combination was also the 2nd and 3rd time I’d ever gone riding. I fell a lot. The Stryka would get soaked around my waist, but on the rare occasion I went in for lunch or put together a couple of runs without falling, the Stryka would be nearly dry in that short amount of time. I can only imagine the same would be true if I were using it on a sweaty alpine climb.

The downside of the Fulcrum allowed me to appreciate the long length of the Stryka. It has the ability to fall below my butt when tucked into my Beta AR pants and that at least prevents the snow from getting against my skin.

I like the hood because it’s balaclava style and fits tight against my head. Perfect for wearing a helmet or a warmer hat over the top. And when I don’t wear the hood, it works quite well as a neck gaiter. As I mentioned in Part I, I had two or three different things around my neck so I didn’t really need it, but someday I may. That’s important to me because the back of my neck is my hot/cold zone. In cold temps, my neck better be warm, or the rest of me is screwed. In hot temps, my neck better be cool, or I turn into a bitching and moaning little baby.

Marmot Fulcrum and Arc'Teryx Stryka
This is a powder day at Loveland Ski Area with the Marmot Fulcrum and Arc’Teryx Stryka. Notice the balaclava style hood that fits nicely under the helmet and still keeps my face warm.

Beta AR Pants

Once again, there’s not much to say about these pants. They are waterproof and windproof, and I tend to like that a lot. Once again, I need to turn to my amazing skills as a snowboarder and point out that I was still falling a decent amount when I first got these pants.

Side Note: 1) This is my 1st season snowboarding. I’ve gone a total of 8 times, and I can now do any ‘ol run without falling and have some semblance of style and grace. I fall now, when attempting tree runs, moguls, and jumps and drops. 2) I once heard if you’re not falling, you’re not trying. :-p

Even when a company claims to have “waterproof, breathable” material, I’m still hesitant to sit directly in the snow or water. The material is breathable because there are microscopic holes in the teflon that allow water vapor molecules out, but do not let liquid molecules in. Supposed you’re sitting on a snow/ice covered lift chair for 10 minutes, and the potential to turn some of that frozen liquid to unfrozen vapor becomes something real. So, I’m very hesitant to do something like that on my own free will. Luckily, I didn’t have free will. I either had to sit on the snowy, icy lift or call it a day. Luckily, the Beta AR pants held up, and no soggy bottom for me!

Another thing that stood out to me is the abrasion resistance. One of my favorite falls came on one of my first ever black diamond runs. It was a sunny, bluebird day and there was no fresh powder to be found. The run was steep and icy. I caught an edge turning from toe side to heel side and ended up sliding on my butt for a good 35 yards down the hill, backwards. I was smart enough to keep my head and board up and just enjoy the ride. I was somewhat expecting to feel a rip or tear in the material. None. I was somewhat expecting to feel a wet butt. Dry. This made me happy.

Arc'Teryx Beta AR PantsTwo other features that I really think I’ll get a lot of use out of are the reinforced Keprotec™ ankle insteps and lace hooks to attach to your boots. The powder skirts worked amazingly well, but these are 4-season pants, and I wonder how I will like powder skirts in the summer when I wear these pants in the rain.

Another nice thing, though common in other waterproof pants as well, is the near full length leg zipper, allowing for easy in’s and out’s when you don’t feel like taking your boots or shoes off.

Koniec

As with everything else I own Arc’Teryx, I don’t have much constructive criticism. It feels like they hit the nail on the head once again. The only time I think something could be better is when they update it on their own, and I say to myself, “oh yeah, this is better.”

If I had to nitpick anything, it would be the lack of pockets on the pants once again. With the Alpha SV, there are at least five pockets. How useful they are is up for debate, but on the pants, there is only one. I know, I know, pockets may not be useful at 13,000 ft. on the side of a cliff, but there are times I’m not at 13,000 ft. on the side of a cliff.

For the Stryka, I’d like to see the little thumb holes that hold your sleeves down. I never had any issues with the sleeves coming up, but there is potential, especially if you’re actively doing something with your hands other than just pushing yourself off the ground after you fall. 😉

Featured Product Review: JetFlow Hydration System

Once again I was fortunate to receive some product to test for the manufacturer. This time, it was from the great people of JetFlow. I was a little apprehensive about this one because I’m not much of a “hydration system” guy. I don’t really use my Camelback unless it truly is just a short day hike. I don’t use the bladder at all when I go on multi-day backpacking trips and prefer Nalgene bottles instead. But in the end, I figured that a more objective review would come of it.

JetFlow Hydration SystemJetflow Design

I did a little research on this system before accepting it and was initially very intrigued. The nicest thing about this system is that it utilizes your own, existing water bottles. It will accept a standard, plastic water bottle that you can buy from the gas station, a wide-mouthed bottle such as Gatorade or Powerade, and even your super wide Nalgenes that you’ve collected over the years. This is great because washing your soft bladder is a pain in the ass. It also cuts down on waste by allowing you to reuse any other bottles you may already have.

 

With soft bladders, as the water empties, so does the container. It collapses to the volume of water that’s in it. This would obviously be impossible with a Nalgene. To get around that, Jetflow has developed a valve that allows the air to escape your container as you suck the water through the hose. Color me excite.

JetFlow Tomahawk BagWhen I received the Jetflow, it looked to be everything it said to be. The Tomahawk pack containing the system was even cool. However, for one reason or another, I was under the impression that this was a suck-less hydration system. Rather than biting down and sucking the water out of the bladder through a tube (like a soft bladder), I thought this would flow freely into your mouth after biting the bite guard. Basically, a competitor of the Geigerrig hydration system. It is not. Color me disappoint.

 

JetFlow Widemouth BottleJetflow Testing

The first time I decided to test the hydration system turned out to be a failure on my part. Every single water bottle or water delivery system manufacturer that I’ve seen always has a “please wash before use” sticker, and I’ve ignored every single water bottle and every single water delivery system manufacturer every time I’ve bought one. This time, it backfired. There was a very strong chemically, bitter, plasticy taste to the water. Lesson learned: wash your JetFlow before use!

The next time I decided to test it out (after washing it) was for a short little hike up Boulder’s Flatiron Mountains. I filled my Nalgene, connected it to the JetFlow system, and headed out. It took a little more effort to suck the water through the hose than it would with a soft bladder. I also got a gulp of air with every drink, and the gulp of air displaced that amount of water that should have been there instead. Any bouncing of the pack containing the Jetflow exacerbated the problem.

JetFlow Bottle Attachments

Conclusion

Although my experience with the Jetflow wasn’t all that great, I still can’t bring myself to give it a poor rating. The versatility of the bottles, the ease of cleaning, the reduction of waste….it’s all very attractive. It’s also really great if you like to sip on flavored drinks on your adventures that otherwise may flavor-stain your bladder, even after you’ve washed it. Those reasons alone make it worth taking a look at. I also find the bite guard to be far superior to the few I have from CamelBack.

However, if you’re a mountain biker or avid trail-runner that regularly uses a hydration system, the JetFlow definitely has some drawbacks. In these instances, large amounts of air getting into the line. If you’re like me and don’t have the lung capacity to make an extra effort just to get water, you may want to steer clear. Otherwise, I definitely like the concept of the JetFlow hydration system.