Shaba VS-12C Mini Bluetooth Speaker

One of the things I LOVE about doing product reviews is the chance to expand the horizons of my readers through the discovery of products of new or relatively unknown brands.  I have found some really great products out there simply by digging a little deeper.  My latest find is the VS-12C mini bluetooth speaker from Shaba Audio.  Shaba’s parent company is also a manufacturer and exclusive distributor of Sherwood Audio in China.  Shaba’s product line is focused on portable audio devices, such as the VC-12C.

The market today is flooded with choices when it comes to bluetooth speakers, which can make it hard to find one that balances cost and quality.  You can go out and buy one for $100+ and get something that sounds good, is waterproof, etc., but aside from being pricy, products in this price range generally aren’t the type of thing that you would walk around with.  On the smaller side, you can spend less money, but most of them that I have run across either have poor sound quality, are cheaply made, or both.  I found the Shaba VS-12C to be a pretty solid middle ground.  Let’s take a look.

For its size, it provides surprisingly good quality audio output, both in terms of quality and volume.  The VS-12C is about the size of an egg, which you can see in this picture:

In terms of audio quality, it packs a decent punch too.  For comparison purposes, I would say that the audio volume output is about 75-100% more than that of an iPhone and the quality is considerably better.  Whereas sound quality can often degrade as you approach max volume on most devices, the sound quality is pretty consistent on the VS-12C.

Aside from just playing audio via bluetooth, it has some other pretty cool features as well.  Here are some highlights:

  • A selfie button, that allows you to prop your camera up and take a picture using the VS-12C as a remote.
  • A speakerphone capability that allows hands-free communication through your phone.
  • LED lights, that make it easy to use in the dark.

I could see a number of uses for this little guy.  For example, if you want some music while out hiking, walking, running, etc., it is the perfect size to carry in your hand, fasten to your pack, or hang it around your neck.  Really, it is pretty convenient for any situation where portability is a main concern.  Here is a basic pro/con list of highlights:

Pros:

  • Size makes it super portable for just about any situation.
  • Sound quality.  I am not going to use it to DJ a party anytime soon, but the sound quality was well above my expectations for something of that size.  It is perfect for personal, portable needs.

Cons:

  • I don’t like it hanging around my neck and would have much rather preferred if they built a clip onto the back of it so I could clip it to things instead.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

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Product Review: IceMule Pro Cooler

My family loves to hike.  As a low maintenance trail runner, it is easy for me to stuff a few things in my pack and head out the door, but family hikes tend to require more planning (especially when it involves a six and eight year old).  We like to take our time and enjoy nature on our adventures, which comes with its own set of challenges.  We need to pack enough food and drinks for everyone for a long day outside.  I can’t tell you how many times we have thought to ourselves, “man, it would be great if we could have a real picnic” while reaching the half way point of our hike at one of the many remote alpine lakes in Utah.  This is a challenge because by the time you actually get there, your drinks are warm and your food is smushed and gross.  Well, I finally found a solution with the IceMule Pro Cooler.  Take a look!

Disclaimer: IceMule provided me with the Pro 20L for free for the purposes of this review (and perhaps after a little salivating on my part at Outdoor Retailer).  As always though, my objectives are to help you with your buying decision and help the company improve upon their products, so I will strive to be honest and unbiased.

Product Overview

The model I have been using is the 20L Pro model, which is a soft-sided, insulated cooler designed to be worn as a backpack.  I was interested in this model because it could be worn backpack style and I felt it offered the right balance between capacity and weight and would be perfect for my anticipated use.  Here are the specs from their site.

Dimensions & Capacity

  • 17″ tall, 14″ wide, 11″ deep (when closed)
  • Capacity = 18 cans plus ice
Features
  • TriFold DriTopTM System. Foolproof seal to keep ice in and air out.
  • MuleSkinETTM and MuleSkinEVTM. Tough 1000 denier Outer layer for exceptional strength and durability; heavy-duty inner layer 2X thicker than most soft coolers.
  • ComfortCarryIMPTM System. Reinforced back-straps and plus ventilated back pads provide ultimate comfort for long-range excursions.
  • PolarLayerTM Insulation. Keeps contents “IceMule Cold” for up to 24 hours.
  • IM AirValveTMAllows for insulation layer air removal so the cooler can roll up for storage in its stuff sack.

Price: $99.95 on Amazon.com (click to view)

Field Test

I have used it a few times so far, but I will focus my review on my recent trip spent hiking with my family in the hotter conditions of Southeastern Utah’s Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.  Many of the trails in these parks are pretty exposed.  Knowing that we would be moving slow with my kids, I wanted to make sure we had enough cold drinks and some food for when we got hungry.  I figured this terrain would be the perfect test for the IceMule. Here is a picture of me wearing it near Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

I was focused on reviewing it in two key categories, comfort and performance.

Comfort

This was perhaps my greatest concern before using it.  My initial thought was, “how could wearing a cooler on my back be comfortable?”  At the end of the day, I was beyond surprised at how comfortable it was. When loading it about 2/3 full, it weighed in at around 15lbs; a manageable weight for most grown ups.  The padding on the back and shoulder straps was so comfortable that I didn’t feel burdened with the weight and didn’t feel any awkward weight distribution at all.  When all was said and done, I never got sore shoulders or any sign of chafing.  In other words, it was pretty comfortable.  In addition, it was pretty breathable.  Sweat on by back was very minimal, despite being about 85 degrees Fahrenheit out.

Performance

Ultimately, the biggest test for me was how long it would keep the ice, otherwise, what would be the point of carrying a cooler up a mountain.  🙂  With a small 8 lb bag of ice, about 8 bottles/cans, and some food, the ice melted about half way over the course of 4 1/2 – 5 hours.  This included several times opening and closing the cooler along the hike.  I am sure with more ice, it would have kept even longer, although I felt the amount I used was typical of how I will use it.  While it didn’t seem like the ice would last anywhere close to a full day, it would have been good for 8+ hours in the heat of the day, which is likely perfect for most uses.  Additionally, I plan to test out other use cases to see what effects it has on ice longevity.

When done, it is easy to clean as well, just requiring a quick rinse and air drying.  It also has a air release valve so that you can release the air used for insulation for quick and compact storage when it is not in use.

Conclusion

One other nice thing about this pack that I haven’t mentioned yet are the rip cords on the back of the pack that is perfect for cinching down a jacket or two.  It is perfect if you are expecting it to be rainy or chilly and would like to pack accordingly without having to carry another bag.  I will say, I don’t believe there is anything else on the market that compares to the IceMule.  It fills a huge gap that I have had as it relates to hiking, particularly as a family.  I could see this having so many applications too, day trips to the park/zoo/etc., a day out on the boat or at the beach, you name it!  For $100, this is definitely worth picking up and keeping handy.

Pros:

  • Ice lasts more than long enough for a day full of activities.
  • Comfortable and breathable.
  • Plenty of room (with some to spare) for drinks and food for my family of four.
  • Easy to clean and store.

Cons:

  • In addition to the rip cords on the back, it would be great to build in some pockets or storage up front for quick access to essentials.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Gear Review: Topo Athletic HydroVenture

Ah, Spring…the time of the year when the snow starts to melt and rain begins to fall from the sky.  No matter where you are at (with some exceptions — I am looking at you Arizona!), Spring typically means copious amounts of mud and rain on the trails.  Despite this annual occurrence, it has always surprised me that there isn’t a wider selection of waterproof trail running shoes on the market.  Sure, there are a few, but a majority of waterproof gear comes in the form of a hiking boot and other clunky footwear.  Well, that is no longer the case.  Just in time for the wet weather of 2016, Topo Athletic released their waterproof shoe, the HydroVenture.  As a member of the Topo team, naturally I was going to try it out…so I did and now I want to share my thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo athlete team and this pair of HydroVentures was provided to me for free.  However, my goal with every product review is to provide an unbiased review so that you can make informed decisions and I can help the company improve on their product.

Overview

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The HydroVenture follows the same design principles as all of the other shoes in the Topo product line:

  • A wide toe box allowing for freedom of movement and natural splay of the toes.
  • A narrower mid foot and heel that provides a more snug fit throughout in order to provide a secure feeling without slippage.
  • A low heel drop to promote natural foot motion.

In addition, the HydroVenture incorporates some additional features to round out the shoe and make it the lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market.

  • A partnership with eVent incorporates a waterproof membrane that keeps water out without sacrificing breathability.
  • A rockplate to promote underfoot protection in the front of the foot.

Specs

Release Date: March, 2016
Price: $130
Weight: 9.7 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 23mm/20mm (2mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size to 1/2 Size Small

Design/Fit

The HydroVenture uses the same outsole lug pattern as the MT-2 and the RunVenture.  After using both of these shoes extensively over the past year, I say if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.  The outsole has proven to be an extremely durable, multi-purpose choice for all types of terrain.  The stack height, ride, and responsiveness are all very similar to the MT-2.  In other words, it is a mid-cushion shoe that provides ample protection underfoot without sacrificing too much responsiveness.  The upper is similar in appearance to other Topo trail shoes, but adds the eVent waterproof membrane.  The special thing about this membrane is it gives you true waterproofing without a significant addition to the weight or without sacrificing breathability.  In fact, the HydroVenture weighs only about a half ounce more than the MT-2.

As far as fit, I did notice a slight difference here.  Whereas the upper on the MT-2 seems to have a little bit of stretch, the HydroVenture, likely because of the waterproofing, didn’t have as much give.  As a result, the shoe felt just a slight bit tighter in the upper mid foot.  I accommodated this by loosening the laces a little bit, which seemed to do the trick.  Another option for some may be to go up a half size.

Performance

Light

The shoe comes in at 9.7 oz for a Men’s 9, which is middle of the pack for a mid-cushion trail shoe.  I personally did not see this as an issue as the shoe still felt pretty light and responsive.  Also, considering the trade-offs, dry feet are more important on some runs than a little bit of (barely noticeable) added weight.

Waterproof

Prior to trying on the shoes, I made a video illustrating the waterproof capabilities.  I put a paper towel in the shoe and poured water over it.  The end result, a dry paper towel.  You can find the video here:

Now that is all fine and dandy, but how about real world application.  I purposely delayed my review of the shoe until I could put it through the ultimate test; the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  During the race, we crossed more than a dozen waterfalls and just as many stream crossings.  While the race didn’t go as planned performance wise, my feet did not get damp in the least.  Furthermore, the shoe provided great traction over the wet, mossy, rocky surfaces.  Lastly, the shoe didn’t seem to sacrifice breathability.  Most hiking shoes that I have that are waterproof trap in the heat…not these.  My feet stayed cool the whole time.  Honestly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance of the shoe on the course.  Here are some pictures and a link to the run on Strava:

Gorge Waterfalls 100K on Strava

Comfortable

My longest run in the HydroVenture was the 50 race miles on wet, rocky terrain through the Columbia River Gorge.  During this run, I felt the shoe had more than enough cushion.  Even on the pavement sections, they provided a smooth, comfortable ride.  As is typical with Topo, my toes had plenty of room to move freely.  What is even more important is that I experienced no blisters or hotspots thanks to the secure fit.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Topo no doubt, but putting that aside, these are a game changer in my opinion.  I clearly favor the the Topo design methodology, but beyond that, to release such an effective waterproof trail shoe in such a lightweight package is truly an accomplishment.  If you haven’t found a reason to try out Topo yet, this should be it.  As I said, most of us are in grave need for a waterproof trail runner that feels great and works without feeling like we are running in cement shoes.  This is that shoe.  I see these playing a key role in my shoe rotation anytime I am running in wet conditions.  As far as pro’s and con’s:

Pro’s

  • Definitely the waterproofing…it works!
  • Lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market!
  • Topo design more closely aligns with my foot shape and the natural mechanics of humans.

Con’s

  • The upper is a bit more restrictive than their other shoes.  You will want to loosen the laces or size up a half size.
  • Speaking of the laces, they were a bit short.  Double-knotting them was a bit iffy in a standard lacing configuration.

If this review wasn’t incentive enough to try the HydroVentures, how about a 10% off code at TopoAthletic.com.  Just use TOPODEAN10.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!