National Geographic BioBlitz – Saguaro National Park

by frank Thursday, October 27th 2011

On October 21st, Saguaro National Park hosted visitors, scientists, researchers, volunteers and students from across the country in an effort to inventory as many species as possible inside the park. I was able to participate in the event as a “Photo Ambassador” – which was fancy BioBlitz-speak for “guy with a camera”. As I made my way to BioBlitz on Friday morning, I was incredibly excited and inspired by the number of children participating in the event. There was bus-load after bus-load of kids enjoying displays of gila monsters, bugs and other desert creatures!

Basecamp, which is known as the Saguaro National Park Visitor Center the other 51-weeks of the year, was an amazing arena of science, discovery, festivities and camaraderie. At 11:30am they had an opening ceremony featuring Billy B – the “Natural Science Song and Dance Man” – singing and dancing with the kids. The ceremony also had speeches from the director of Saguaro National Park, a VP from National Geographic, and other dignitaries.

After the ceremony I made my way to the Science Tent to check in with the photo team. I skimmed the schedule for the next inventory and saw an insect team was heading out at 12:30pm. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, I was not all that excited about going on a quest for tiny insects – it wasn’t as glamorous-sounding as tracking large mammals. However, I ended up having an amazing time – thanks, almost entirely, to the scientists on our team. Our crew consisted of 13 people. Four children, three volunteer adults, a writer from National Parks Magazine, two professional photographers, myself and two scientists from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago – Doug Taron and Celeste Troon.


As we set out through a wash behind Basecamp, Doug and Celeste’s passion was quite apparent – as was the exuberance of the children! The kids had a great time running up and down the wash pointing out every little creature they could find. We came across some spiders, grasshoppers, ants, butterflies and more – all of which Doug was spouting off fancy-sounding names for as Celeste jotted them down on the list.


Throughout the day the scientists used several techniques to identify each specimen. Some were kept in jars for further research, some were photographed, and some were sufficiently identified in the field. When they were placed into containers, they were passed around the group so everyone could get a better look. Doug and Celeste were incredibly patient with those of us who know nothing about bugs and were more than happy to answer questions about everything from bugs to what they do in their jobs back in Chicago.

After about 3 hours of wandering the desert in search of bugs, we made our way back to Basecamp. There, we indulged in an incredibly tasty Prickly Pear Eegee (for those of you not from Tucson, it’s a delicious frozen fruit drink that doesn’t usually come in Prickly Pear flavor). I checked back in at the Photo Ambassadors table and uploaded my photos and made my way back to town.

The results of the inventory are still being finalized but at this point there were over 800 species inventoried, over 400 of which were new to the Saguaro National Park species list, and a few of those were potentially never-before documented. It was incredibly special to be a part of this great event. It was put on by an exceptionally passionate and dedicated team of hundreds from National Geographic, the National Parks Service, Friends of Saguaro National Park, and other supporters. Then there was the huge number of scientists and an impressive number of volunteers. Thanks to everyone who was part of this effort and I hope those of you that participated had as great of an experience as I did!


Tilley Hats

by Jonathan Thursday, October 27th 2011

In the great Southwest, sunshine is one of our greatest natural resources. Here, hats are not an accessory, they are a necessity.

Over the years, I've collected a couple of dozen hats, but when I go afield or a float these days, I always grab a Tilley.

Backpacking in southern Arizona

My general purpose “go to” hat is the venerable LTM3. It's a lightweight nylon fabric hat with a medium brim and the ventilated crown. The brim also snaps up “Aussie-style”. This hat works anywhere, and for just about any occasion. The width of the brim is a good balance between sun protection and wind resistance. It is so light, I often forget that I am wearing it.

Climbing Weaver’s Needle in the Superstition Mountains

For those summer days when the cicadas are singing, and you can't see the horizon for the heat aberration, I pull out the trustee T2. This wide-brimmed hat is made from a breathable cotton duck. The “natural” color is actually an off white that does a good job of reflecting much of the sun's energy. Wearing this hat is like wearing a beach umbrella.

A hot day on the A.B. Young trail north of Sedona

Both of these hats, have a dark olive underbrim (to minimize reflected light), and they are washable. In fact, you can machine wash them on the gentle cycle. Tilley recommends washing them often, because it does prolong the life of the products, and in my opinion, makes them much more pleasant to wear. Sometimes, even the nylon fabric LTM three will shrink some; however, by hooking the hat on your knee, you can tug it back to a perfect fit.

Once I was sailing near the mouth of San Diego Bay. A wind gust came around point Loma, separated me from my LTM3, and overboard went the hat. This was a case of operator error, as the hat had retention cords both for the chin and the back of the head which I failed to employ. We gave up the search after about half an hour and turned back toward the bay. A few minutes later, we spotted it dead ahead, waterlogged but still afloat. It was still floating thanks to the layer of closed cell foam in the top of the crown–a feature immune to operator error.

Sailing out of San Diego Bay. Point Loma in the background

The features, the quality materials and manufacturing, make Tilley a superb line of products. As if that were not enough, the warrantee includes normal wear and tear. If your hat wears out, send it to the Tilley folks and they will replace it free of charge. Dude, that's awesome!

Try a Tilley hat. You will love it, and it may be the last hat you ever buy.


Review: F-Lite 195 & F-Lite 230

by Charles Wednesday, October 19th 2011

I really enjoyed doing some trail running and hiking in the TrekSport, Bikila and Trail Glove during the first part of this year - even trails that I have been on for a decade were a new experience in 'barefoot' footwear. But lately I have been looking for a different compromise - something with a bit more protection, even if it means that it is slightly heavier. Two of the models that I have been trying are the Inov-8 f-lite 195 and f-lite 230.

NOTE: The pictures with this review shoe the f-lite 230 in Blue – but we decided to carry the f-lite 230 in black at the Summit Hut.


Fit: These shoes are slightly narrow in the front of the shoe - but a very soft/forgiving upper means that - depending on the shape of your foot - they should accommodate a D width foot like mine (wider and you may have problems). The TPU overlays that connect with the laces do a decent job of holding your foot in place during technical and downhill trail sections, especially considering how lightweight the shoes are.


Mesh Upper: The mesh upper is quite breathable and dries quickly. The openness of the material does mean that it is quite easy for thorns, cactus needles and other plants to come thru the material, on a recent run on miles of overgrown trail I found myself stopping several times to clear off/out my shoes – but overall the breathability of the upper may be worth it. I have not tested these long enough to report about the durability - but so far (about 2 months) I have not had any problems.

Outsole: The outsole design has fairly flat lugs of sticky rubber. The rubber seems sticker than many other trail running shoes I have tried - but it does not feel as sticky as the rubber on approach shoes such as the Five.Ten Guide Tennie. There are situations where a deeper, more aggressive, lug pattern can help with grip - but I found that for both on and off trail in the Santa Catalina Mountains the lug pattern/depth worked well.

The fit, upper and outsole are very similar between the 195 and 230. The most important differences between these two shoes are the amount of cushion and forefoot to heel differential. Inov-8 uses a 0 to 4 'arrow' system to describe the cushioning and protection in their footwear - a higher number means more cushioning and protection.


f-lite 195: The 195 is a 1 arrow shoe - minimal cushioning/protection and a 3mm differential between the heel and forefoot. These shoes have a feel that is just one step above 'barefoot' footwear like the Vibram FiveFingers. Footwear as minimal as the 195 is certainly not for everyone, especially on rugged trails! But if you are looking for something one step 'more' than Vibram FiveFingers or Merrell Trail Glove this may be a great option.


f-lite 230: Blindfolded there is a good chance that you would have trouble telling the weight difference between the 230 and 195 (Inov-8's names refer to the weight, in grams, of the shoe) - but the 230 is a 2 arrow shoe (6mm differential and slightly more cushioning) and the difference is immediately evident on the trail. The 230 feels noticeably firmer and more protective than the 195s and, while still very light, provides a different class of protection and support on the trail.

I like both of these shoes - the 195s for their minimalism, the 230s for the combination of weight and protection. I think I am likely to use the 230s more this fall, for long day hikes I am in love with the compromise between weight, support and protection that they offer!


First Impressions - Inov-8 Men's Evoskin™

by Charles Thursday, October 6th 2011

The number of footwear choices for minimal footwear - spurred in large part by the success of Vibram FiveFingers - has increased in the past few years. The latest offering at the Summit Hut is Inov-8's Evoskin - which are essentially a silicon glove for your feet!

Inov-8 Evoskin

The stretchy medical grade silicon is a bit tricky to get on the first time - but the reward for for your effort is a second skin of thin, flexible material wrapped around your feet. The first thing I did with the Evoskin on was walk out the front door of the Summit Hut - I could immediately tell the difference between the inside carpet, the cement sidewalk (and between the cooler shaded cement and sun warmed cement!) and the paved parking lot black top - the Evoskin offers more feeling for the ground under your feet than I have experienced in any other footwear! 

Inov-8 Evoskin

The strength of the Evoskin is their incredible sensitivity. It was fun testing these outside and having such a great connection to, and feel for, the ground under your feet. But on technical terrain and steep uphills the silicon, even with the internal texture, slipped disconcertingly around my feet. While I may still need to dial in the sizing and top strap my initial impression is that I will limit my use to easier terrain. My feet do get damp fairly quickly from sweat when I wear the Evoskin - I have certainly worn more breathable footwear. Breathability and slippage seem to be issues for some reviewers - but not for others, so your experience may be different.

Inov-8 estimates that - depending usage - that the Evoskin will last about 150 miles.

All footwear offers different trade-offs, if sensitivity is your primary concern these are definitely worth trying! And don't be surprised by the smell of these when you come in to try them - the blue color that we are carrying has a berry smell out of the box...


The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!