Gear: Skin 4 Hydration Vest

As the summer runs get longer (and hotter) I’ve picked up a new bit of gear to assist with the ever-present runner’s dilemma: hydration.

I don’t think I need to write too many words on the subject of why water is important to … um … being alive, but certainly the effort of carrying enough fresh water (or other fluids that both fuel and hydrate) on a long distance run is a complex challenge for anyone who is out there on the trails.

Water, of course, is heavy and clumsy.

A bottle in the hand is something that needs to be carried, balanced, and on the trails two free hands are more useful than one might realize. On a short run taking a small bottle along is just fine, but an hour into a longer run the last thing I want to be carrying is a half-full plastic bottle that’s sloshing around in my hand.

I’ve used water belts in the past, but sloshing along with a couple plastic containers on your hip is a moderate inconvenience. And I have yet to do a race a not see multiple dropped belt-bottles littering the course, usually in the first five hundred meters of the race when someone’s carefully planned hydration plan is now just garbage and an obstacle for the next hundreds of people who run by.

I’ve tried a couple hydration packs in the past, the key differences from a hydration vest being the kinds of shoulder straps and the location of pouches. A pack is basically a light backpack with a water pouch. And my biggest problem with my previous pack solution was that usually within ten kilometers into a run I was running with my thumbs hitched up under the thin straps to limit the whole apparatus from that chafe-inducing jostling that was already well underway.

Last week I pried open my wallet and ordered myself what is probably the sports-car-equivalent of hydration solutions: a Salomon Skin 4 Hydration Vest, a snug fitting, light-weight, multi-pocket four-liter backpack-slash-vest designed to hold water bottles, a water bladder, gel packs, cell phones, car keys, and whatever else a distance runner might need quick access to while on the trails.

The new pack arrived yesterday and I wore it for our regular Wednesday evening adventure run.

The advantage of this pack, or so the logic of the purchase goes, is that it is snug. I have no honest comparison, but I assume it’s a little like wearing a sports bra overtop of a running shirt. This tight fit is both deliberate and a feature. It keeps the whole system from moving, shaking, jostling, and rubbing, and is meant to wear comfortably and securely for hours of running while keeping the hands free for trail navigation.

Our adventure run took us deep into some rolling river valley trails, the kind of terrain where your legs are slapped by branches as bumble through the trails and as you scramble up over steep dirt paths, grabbing onto tree stumps and protruding roots. I only carried a bit of water, as it was a short sub-ten kilometer run, but a set of car keys, my wallet and an iPhone tucked neatly into the pack and

… well … success!

I barely noticed the pack after the first few minutes.

A better test will come this weekend, as temperatures creep into the mid-30s Celsius and our distances move into the longer-than-a-half-marathon slogs through that same heat. I can’t say I’m not nervous about both the heat and the mileage, but at least now I’m pretty certain I won’t die of thirst.

*This is gear I've purchased for myself and not a paid endorsement of this product.

Beaver Watchers

We run hills on Wednesday evening, and in a prairie city full of creeks and a river valley, the only proper hills are where the roads and paths cross the water.

It is not surprising then that our hill training brings us close up to nature, the bottom of our training hill being a bridge that crosses one of those creeks.

The creeks are still a little frozen, but nature never really stops working.

Last night we paused our multiple running repeats to watch this big guy, a beaver, paddling around the murky thaw of a spring creek still partially iced.

This is the same creek where in the winter we did a small snowshoeing adventure.

It’s amazing to me though, how even for people who routinely encounter nature on our runs, crossing paths with the likes of anything from birds, squirrels and hare to more substantial critters like coyotes and moose, we’ll all just stop what we’re doing to spend a few minutes admiring a lonely beaver in a creek.

Nature captivates… or at least you know you hang out with the right people when you are all captivated by similar things.

Local Adventures: Social Distancing at Spray Lakes

International travel is still something that hasn’t quite come back to normal, but fortunately we happen to live in a province of Canada that has it’s share of tourist destinations.

We’re spending some more there time over spring break returning to the spot where we took our first local pandemic weekend getaway back in July of 2020.

for whatever one photo is worth:

We had gone for a drive.

Kananaskis Provincial Park is a sprawling mountain nature preserve on the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, touching the foothills and playing peekaboo with the city of Calgary just a few twists of the highway away.

There are thousands of kilometers of hiking trails wending their way through bear country and hundreds of lakes, rivers, streams, waterfalls and spectacular mountain scenes speckle the landscape.

You can see a respectable sampling of it by driving for a bit, then hiking for a while, then driving some more. Our ultimate goal was to drive the full loop around the hundred and fifty kilometers (give or take) back to our hotel. The route led past a number of stops, from a trailhead for a full morning strenuous hike to a couple spots where we could step out of the car for a few photos and snack at a nearby picnic table.

Sparrowhawk Day Use Area fell into the latter category.

A small ten-car parking lot was virtually empty as we pulled off the gravel road. A five minute wander down to the shores of the Spray Lake Reservoir led us passing by an eerily quiet assortment of empty picnic tables and cold campfire pits. On a summer day like this in any other year there would have been cars lined up along the road for lack of parking, and dozens of motor-less recreational boats exploring the lake. The din of families enjoying this place would have hidden the absolute stillness with which we were instead greeted.

We walked along the shore for a while The kid skipped some stones into the still water. A canoe, far across the water, almost tracing the distant shore, was the only human movement besides us.

I took some photos of the lake, and this one too, looking North towards where the dam sits, up past the bend and at the foot of those faraway mountains. The water almost like glass in the late morning calm.

The ultimate in socially distanced places where no one else seemed to even exist.

Can I use a cast iron pot or pan to boil water?

One of the adages of cast iron cooking is that to improve your cast iron cookware, just use it.

What is not necessarily clear in that basic advice is that to make any cast iron seasoning better, stronger, and more resilient, the use of your cast iron should follow a couple basic principles about how it should be used. Simply:

Heat and oils are good in that they improve your seasoning.

Soaps and acids are bad in that they degrade your seasoning.

So, where does water fit into these rules? And what do we mean by boiling water?

For example, a lot of recipes call for a portion of water (or broth or wine or other neutral liquid) and instruct bringing it to a boil. Is this bad for the pan?

Or, when I first started using my cast iron dutch oven I was unclear on if I could use it to, say, cook up a big pot of pasta or if I should stick with the steel pot we’d been using for years.

I did a lot of reading on this a number of years ago and the best advice anyone gave me on this topic is simply that the strength of cast iron is not boiling water: there are better tools.

Boiling water is not necessarily going to ruin you cast iron, but it’s definitely not going to improve it. In the same vein of thinking, adding liquid to you recipe is fine, though these are not the dishes that build up the seasoning nor make it better. Water in your pan or pot does not follow the basic principle that heat and oils are improving your seasoning. And some have argued that boiling water alone (or with salt or pasta) can actually loosen the seasoning on your pan and cause it to flake off.

In a pinch (say out camping with a single pot) sure… heat up that soup, steam your veggies over the fire, and just use your iron. That’s what you’ve built up that legacy seasoning for, after all. But know that you’re withdrawing from the seasoning bank you’ve been saving into.

So again, there are better tools. Keep and use a steel pot, and save your cast iron for what it does best. Not boiling water.