Author: RT

[REVIEW] L.L. Bean Primaloft Mountain Pro Hoodie

I’ve been gearing up for a cold Minnesota winter, and decided it was time to update my everyday-wear hoodie. I did a couple weeks of research – scouring blogs and online stores for good reviews, good deals, and high quality hoodies. I ended up being overwhelmed by everything out there (and some crazy prices, too). My past experiences led me back to L.L. Bean. The outerwear I have had from them fits well and is consistently made with high quality materials. Here is my review of their new Primaloft Mountain Pro Hoodie:

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Fit: After taking a few measurements, I went with the small (I am usually a small or medium, depending on the cut and style.) Upon receiving it, I am thankful I went with small, it fits my 5’11” frame about as nicely as I could hope. It even has a bit of slack so that I could still wear a baselayer or long sleeve shirt underneath it – but not too much slack that it is baggy.

Warmth: I chose the Primaloft hoodie because I knew it would give extra warmth without being heavy or bulky. It does exactly that – I can confidently wear this hoodie in the mid 40s and still be warm. If there is a sharp or cold wind, however, you’ll want to bundle up a bit more. The prima loft is in the front and back of the jacket, as well as the hood. This leaves the sleeves and the section down the sides of your body. with just a fleece lining. This means it will provide a bit of ventilation, but also lets in wind and cold if you aren’t dressed for the weather.

Style: I am a big fan of the way this hoodie looks. I chose the Gray Heather/Chartreuse because it looks outdoorsy, yet also appropriate to wear at work in a casual setting. It’s “slightly fitted” (according to L.L. Bean), which means it conforms nicely to the body and moves with you, making this great for being outside and being active. A great part of this jacket is the amazingly fitted hood. It hugs the head, and the primaloft inside in it will keep you warm and cozy.

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Quality: I am not totally blown away by the quality of this. I have had far more frayed ends of stitching than I would expect, and have also been having some light pilling on the forearms (easily removable, though). This hoodie is definitely not a “buy it for life” hoodie, but I also realize it’s not priced as such.

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I have no regrets on this purchase, and am sure I will get many years’ use out of this. I give it five out of five stars. It’s currently $129.00 and can be purchased directly from L.L. Bean HERE.

[Review] WoolX Explorer 1/4 Zip Baselayer

Living in Minnesota, there are quite a few months out of the year where having a good base layer is a necessity.  I have always been a big fan of layering to stay warm (and to make it easier to stay comfortable walking in and out of buildings during the winter). Having a quality baselayer like this Merino Wool ¼ zip makes even easier than ever.

Quality: Although I had never heard of WoolX before testing out this baselayer, I can honestly say that it has a build quality that is just as good as the top outdoor brands. One of my favorite things about this shirt is that it is durable and warm enough to wear while hiking, hunting, camping, working outside, etc, yet it also looks professional and I can wear it to work. The logo is hidden near the right cuff, which is refreshingly different from the many outdoor companies that plaster their logo on the front of their clothing. The merino wool is great at staying cool and dry, even if you happen to get a bit sweaty under your jacket. Because of this, it also retains less body odor than other fabrics tend to.

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Fit: Well, it’s a baselayer. This is something I overlooked a bit when I ordered mine.  90% of the time, I am a Men’s small, especially in athletic clothing that often runs large. Occasionally, a medium will fit me perfectly. So this baselayer in a size small is a very athletic fit on me, which is not always a bad thing, as I will be wearing this in very cold temperatures and it will provide a very warm and cozy fit. In a perfect world, I would own this is a size small and medium to have one to wear strictly as a baselayer and one to wear as a shirt.

Other things to note: I learned very quickly that Merino Wool attracts dog fur like a magnet, so if you have a dog in the house, you might want to get a lightly colored baselayer (or just make sure you have lots of lint rollers on hand!).

All in all, this is a very versatile baselayer that I will wear regularly from October – March. Although it’s a bit expensive, it’s a piece of clothing that will make the cold months far more comfortable and, in turn, more enjoyable to spend outside! I give this five out of five stars.

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Price: The WoolX Explorer ¼ Zip baselayer is $89.00 and can be purchased directly from WoolX HERE. Their shipping is quick and their customer service is helpful and friendly!

 

[Review] Urban Amor Gear Metropolis Case for iPhone 7

I have been using Urban Armor Gear cases for years, so I didn’t hesitate to order this folio case to protect my new iPhone. Actually, I had a folio case for my iPad Mini 4 that I absolutely loved, and this case seemed like a mini version of it. 

I have been using it a while now and wouldn’t want any other case. It is surprisingly lightweight, yet gives it full protection, with bumpers that stick out from the four corners. 


The buttons press easily and firmly. The flip cover has a nice magnetic latch, so it doesn’t ever flip open on accident. It doesn’t have the “Wake/Sleep” feature that smart covers do on iPads, so opening the folio doesn’t turn your screen on. It’s great to know that the closed folio cover keeps my phone that much more protected when it’s in my pocket, a backpack, on the counter, etc. It also provides the added benefit of breaking my addiction of checking my phone for notifications so often (if you can’t see them, they don’t feel as important).


As with some of the other cases I have used by Urban Armor Gear, one of my only complaints is the large and shiny logo they put on the front and back of the phone case. I’d prefer it to blend in with the rest of the case (or be smaller, or not there at all). I would hope, with UAG becoming more popular, that they will allow their recognizable product designs speak for themselves rather than making their logo so large. 

I give this case 5 out of 5 stars.

Like it? Buy it HERE. Expect to pay about $40. This case is also compatible with the iPhone 6 and 6s.

[Review] Hydro Flask 12 ounce coffee and tea flask

 Several years ago, I bought the 18 ounce coffee and tea flask with the flip top lid and said that it was close to perfection. One of my recommendations was for Hydro Flask to shrink it down to 12 ounces for those of us who want a smaller portion of coffee or tea. (or possibly have limited bag/backpack space to fit a bottle on your daily commute). Either way, this bottle completely answered what I wanted!

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So, after a year of use, here we go:

 I bought the white bottle because the powder coat paint job looks awesome. The little ‘hydro flask’ man logo and the hydro flask font are small enough that I think they look decent and don’t’ stick out too much. The white does, however, scuff a lot and show dirt easily (of course). Wash it regularly, though, and it’ll stay looking like new. If anything, the white forces me to keep it cleaner because I see the dirt. As for the inside, I clean it every other couple months or so to erase the coffee or tea stains that build up on the inside. Sometimes I scrub it with baking soda and a wire brush, sometimes I use some CLR (Calcium, Lime, and Rust) cleaner. With a little effort and a few grunts, you’ll have the inside of the bottle shiny and like new.

My biggest (and only) gripe with this bottle is the cap. In our family, we’ve actually had 5 of these 12 ounce bottles, and we’ve had to contact Hydro Flask warranty service because 3 of the caps either arrived faulty or broke within the first few days of use. This has me question whether Hydro Flask’s quality control is lacking. I have owned about 5 different varieties of Hydro Flask bottles and haven’t had problems with the caps until this 12 ounce version.  Another annoyance with this cap is that the small air vent always seems to get ‘clogged’ with a little bubble of liquid. This prevents your coffee or tea from flowing out freely until this clog is poked or blown out.

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All in all, I would absolutely continue to purchase from Hydro Flask. Their bottles are a bit more expensive than other brands, but they also consistently perform better (keeping cold drinks cold and hot drinks HOT) than other brands and are durably built. They also are backed with the great customer service that Hydro Flask gives. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to review 10 or so other brands of double walled, insulated bottles, and Hydro Flask is up at the top.

I give this bottle 4 out of 5 stars. It would be an easy 5 stars if I haven’t had so many problems with the caps on these.

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Buy it directly from Hydro Flask HERE. Expect to pay around $22.

[REVIEW] ‘loop’ ninja loop

Recently, I was able to try out a cool little strap to protect your phone. It’s made by a little company  in Quebec called “Loop”. Essentially, it’s just a piece of fabric (your choice of satin, twill, or grosgrain) that loops under and through your phone case, giving you a handle or something to slip your fingers through to ensure steady one-handed use of your phone.

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at first. How often will I actually use it? But it’s been said that people check their smartphones about 85 times per day. Whether you are just checking it on a table, taking it out of your pocket, or slipping it out of a backpack, there will always be the chance of the phone tumbling to the ground. And with phones getting thinner with every new release, they can be harder to hold on to. This little loop is adjustable, so it allows you to choose how much slack it gives and how much of your hand or fingers can get through it to get a handle on your phone. You can also put the loop at a diagonal angle, or just straight down the back of the phone.

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The only ‘drawback’ of the loops is that they only work with a case, since they rely on the case to hold them on. The ends of the loop have tape applied that allows you to stick them. Because of this, you probably won’t be switching them out between phones or transferring over to a phone after you upgrade (unless you get crafty with your own way to tape or secure the ends of the loops down under the case.) Either way, they are about $5 each – and loops can make custom loops for gifts or your business.

I rate the Loops Ninja Loops five out of five stars. At only $5 Each, they are a virtually weightless thing to strap onto your phone that will also add some function. And if they only prevent one fall or drop the entire time you own it, it could save you a lot of money in costly repairs!

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[Review] Buddy & Co Denim Leash/Collar Set

Recently, Buddy & Co (read my previous reviews HERE!) sent me one of their newer products to try out. Being a fan of their last leash, I was happy to try it out and share my opinion. Here’s what I thought!

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First, the collar. It’s tough collar. It’s nice to find a collar that looks nice, is tough, and also complements my dog’s fur.

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This collar is unique because the buckle end goes through the ring in order to secure. Because of this, it does feel stronger and like it provides an extra layer of protection in case something were to break, tear, or snap. However, it also makes that section of the collar very bulky, as the fabric is doubled up in that section.

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Besides wanting a metal buckle (some of my favorite dog collars have this), my main suggestion is that it would be nice if there was more than one ring on the collar – a dedicated ID ring would make the collar a bit quieter (less jingling and jangling) and tidier.

Secondly, the leash. It’s a really attractive and comfortable leash. It has a padded handle to allow for a comfort grip if your dog pulls. At first, I was turned off by the red color on one side of the leash. The denim just looks so nice that I wanted both sides to be denim. But then I realized that the flashy red side allows for better visibility while walking – which is a priceless thing when walking around busy city streets.

The leash itself looks great, but it’s not the finest construction I’ve seen. After a couple of walks, the stitching seems kind of shoddy (see photo). The leash is lightweight, which means it’s best for small or medium sized dogs (or large dogs that walk well). Either way, lightweight leashes won’t stand the test of time and use and abuse like a more heavy duty leash would.

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Overall, I was expecting better quality, tougher products from Buddy & Co. When I see “denim” in a product listing, I think of the tough fabric of denim jeans. Unfortunately, the leash and collar are essentially made of red nylon with a layer of denim style fabric sewn onto the top. So it’s not quite what I expected, but of course, it still looks great, and I really think that this leash, along with the matching collar, would make a fantastic gift for a dog owner.

I give this matching leash and collar set by Buddy & Co four out of four stars.

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[Review] Vava Voom 20 Bluetooth Speaker

Back in April of this year, I had the chance to review a Bluetooth speaker from an up and coming company in the portable speaker business. I reviewed their flagship model, which is now known as the Vava Voom 21. Read my review HERE.

After some great success, they have expanded and have introduced another speaker to their lineup – the Vava Voom 20, an ultra compact version similar to their first model, yet it is also has IPX5 waterproof protection.

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So what do I think of the new speaker from VAVA?

Well, first of all, I do a lot of outdoor work at my home, and I often worry that I will forget to bring an expensive bluetooth speaker inside at the end of the day only to find it has been ruined in a rainstorm overnight. This speaker has IPX5 protection. Not familiar with the IPX scale? Well, IPX5 means the speaker can withstand a 6.3 mm spray of water (12.5 liters per minute) in any direction for at least 3 minutes. It also offers a higher degree of dust protection than a normal bluetooth speaker would offer. This gives me some assurance that the speaker will not get damaged in the occasional rainfall that it may be exposed to.

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How does it sound? 

Well, the original speaker has exceptional sound quality. This speaker offers a very compact, yet full sound. It puts out a surprising amount of bass – and you’ll find that you can accentuate it even further by placing the speaker on a hard surface, in a corner, on a wooden shelf, etc. For the small size of this speaker, it really pumps. I previously owned the Bose Soundlink Mini, yet I sold it after finding out about the VAVA lineup. These speakers provide all the bass, portability, and acoustics that I need to throw music around my small, single family home.

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Things I really like about this speaker:

The size is just about perfect, in my opinion. It’s compact, yet hefty. The buttons are under a layer of silicone, and they press firmly. The speaker has a small tone for powering on and off, but doesn’t have any other annoying indicators. It charges with a standard micro USB cable and can also double as a phone/tablet charger. (I also use this speaker to power a small USB powered fan while I camp!) I also like that the speaker can rest on the bottom, or can stand up on either end to save space on a desk or small countertop.

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Suggestions:

I’ve noticed that the VAVA speakers connect easily to my iPhone, yet they don’t display the amount of battery left in the speaker (as many other bluetooth speakers conveniently do). While I like that the speaker doesn’t have any annoying ‘low battery warning’, it would be nice to be notified of a low battery somehow so I can prepare for more music playback during the day.

At the end of this day, this speaker gets two huge thumbs up from me. After using it for a while, I am still impressed by the bass. I have had it playing in an upstairs bedroom and heard the bass from the first floor. The design of the speaker (as well as the packaging) is sleek and attractive.

I give the Vava Voom 20 five out of five stars.

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[REVIEW] Dalstrong Shogun Series Knives 

The shogun series that Dalstrong makes are one of the finest crafted knives I have ever seen or used. They have an amazing balance and weight to them. This boning knife feels far heavier than you’d expect a 6″ knife to feel, yet it just feels “right”. The handle is slightly rectangular, yet feels ergonomically comfortable to hold.

Of course, the knife is also beautiful – with the “Tsunami Rose” pattern polished into the blade. And the included sheath is a nice addition in case you’d like to take it on a hunting, camping, or fishing trip.


I am fortunate enough to own the Gladiator series and also the Shogun series of the Dalstrong bread knife. While they are both amazingly crafted knives, the shogun series knife is a large step up in quality – you can feel it immediately in the weight of the knife. It is a touch longer than the Gladiator series knife, but it doesn’t feel longer than it needs to be.

My favorite part of the knife is the rectangular handle – it’s sleek, yet still comfortable to hold.
Clearly, this is a pricey knife, so you should either have a pressing need for a beautiful and well made bread knife or also use a bread knife for other things, such as cutting fruit and shredding veggies.

(Note: I was able to purchase this at a discount in exchange for my honest review.)

[Review] Dalstrong Gladiator Series Knives

You don’t realize how crappy your $15 bread knife from Wal-Mart is until you are able to wield a proper bread knife! Dalstrong’s recent releases in their gladiator series remain the same incredible quality as their other knives and will be in my collection for years and years.

I recently tested out their Gladiator series bread knife and their Gladiator series Boning knife. They both seem limited at first – the bread knife strictly to slicing bread, and the boning knife to cutting steaks and fish fillets, but I was surprised at the versatility of both knives.

The bread knife has a nicely weighted, beautiful Pakkawood handle and a 10″ serrated blade that is great for slicing melons, bread, cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and more. Keep this blade sharp and clean and it’ll never let you down!

The boning knife has surprised me the most. I don’t eat much meat, but I still find plenty of uses for it. It makes eating, coring, and skinning mangoes, apples, and pears simple. The blade is just flexible enough to bend with the curves of the fruit and is sharp yet delicate. It’ll effortlessly cut your fillets and is still versatile enough to grab while slicing fruits and veggies.

I give both of these knives (as usual, with the amazing quality that Dalstrong consistently puts forth) five stars.

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[REVIEW] Blokpod Lego Sorter

With two young boys in the house, we spend a lot of hours playing Legos – and this also means a lot of hours digging through them to find pieces to go along with old manuals, cleaning up, and trying to find the elusive “specialty pieces” that have been lost for months or even years. I have looked into the Lego branded sorters, but have never been too impressed by the design or useability of them. When Blokpod offered to provide me one of their sorters/organizers for review, I was thrilled to give it a try.

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Blokpod claims that this sorter can handle up to 2400 pieces, which is a pretty large collection. Although some people use this as a container for the Legos, as well, I have found it is easier to pour them in different “sorted” containers, since it’s not so easy to dig around in these bins to look for certain pieces.

So, after a week or so of use, here are my pros and cons of the Blokpod sorter:

PROS:

The plastic is very strong and durable. I don’t foresee it cracking under normal everyday use. Oh, and Blokpod backs this up with a 15 year warranty!

The sorting is amazingly consistent. Of course, you’ll get some larger pieces that fall through the filters the ‘long way’ and make their way down, but for the most part, this sorter does exactly what you’d expect.

It’s really nice that Blokpod also includes clear pieces that can be used instead of the filters in case you’d like to use this purely as a container and not as a sorter.

CONS:

Since each level twists to lock into the other pieces, they move around a lot and unlock quite easily as you shake the Blockpod back and forth to sort. The locking mechanisms are basic, but still tough for kids to manage on their own every time without needing help.

The clear plastic bottoms are tough to remove since there is nothing to hold onto – you’ll need two sets of hands to get them off to put the filter back on.

So, at Blokpod’s selling price of $45, I’d absolutely recommend this for families with large Lego collections. If you can relate with digging through immense amounts of Legos to find that certain piece with your child, you will be absolutely amazed at how easy finding pieces and building creations becomes with the aid of the Blokpod sorter. And when you consider that many Lego sets are more expensive than two Blokpod, the $45 doesn’t seem like too much to ask for how much organization it will bring to your creativity time!

Check it out at http://www.Blokpod.com and follow their links to purchase it from Amazon.

Expect to pay around $45 – and keep an eye out for new parts and extensions for the Blokpod this year!

I give the Blokpod 5 out of 5 stars and wholeheartedly recommend it!

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