There are three things I look for in a shirt these days. First off it needs to be comfortable right from the start – there are too many advancements in fabrics to have a stiff, scratchy, or plain uncomfortable, wrinkly fabric. Second it needs to fit well and look good. I am a larger, older guy who likes his shirts to fit a little loose without looking like something stitched on an industrial tent machine or having an outlandish pattern on it. Third, last but not least, I like it to be made of sustainable fabric. I am big into alpaca, wool, organic cotton, and other renewable fabrics. Man-made rayons and polyesters are not real high on my list as I sweat when it gets humid, and these fabrics do not seem to work well for me as they cling to my body when wet but Alpaca and wool wick the sweat away to actually help me stay a little cooler due to their evaporation properties. Now I know cases can be made either way for your choice in fabrics….it may be ethical but most of the manufactured fabrics are really bad for the environment or vice versa. Alpaca is considered to be one of the most ethical and eco-friendly wools. Alpacas are related to camels and most of the world’s alpaca population is still raised in their native habitat. Alpacas don’t destroy their environment in the way that other livestock does, and they’re more efficient eaters, too. Local Peruvian farmers generally respect these animals and raise them more humanely. In return, alpacas support local economies.
Recently I received an All-Paca (yes alpaca, but this is the name on the website) crew shirt (and beanie) from the Appalachian Gear Company. This “Made in the USA” company manufactures their products in their plant (they import the yarn from Peru) which is located in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. Their products are 100% alpaca, NO synthetics. Owning more than one alpaca/wool product my first test consists of taking it out of its packaging (all recyclable and minimalist in this case) and putting it on the body. If I can actually wear it without washing it first, I know it’s a keeper. In this case it has managed to surpass that test. Since alpaca is light weight, odor resistant and moisture managing I have actually worn this shirt 5 times since receiving it and will be doing its first wash this weekend. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite tops and paired with a tee shirt underneath it has handled weather as low as 38 degrees with a light wind and rain (which, although it was wet stayed warm and dried quickly) up to 65 degrees while staying comfortable at all times. The one hike I got to take, with a light tee under it and the weather at 41 degrees I did not need my usual windbreaker and was warm by the end of the last mile of a 3 mile hike. A plus to this is I have been told by three separate people now they really like my shirt. For someone who wears what he wants and doesn’t worry about style points (too much) this speaks well for the fit and look of the shirt.
The overall construction is really good. Seams are well sewn, the fabric lays well and it just looks good. My only complaints are minor but could make a good product great. To start, it is a 2XL as I am a 6ft, 265 pound guy and overall it is a great fit – just loose enough not to cling but it also doesn’t hang off the body. First off, the neck is too large and loose, and it seems to stretch more every time I put it on. I have to wear a shirt underneath, or it looks more like a u-neck vs a crew neck. A band or collar may help that problem. Second the sleeves are about 2 to 3 inches to long. This doesn’t really bother me but when I fold them back a seam shows and detracts from the overall good look of the sweater. I figured after the first wash they would shrink back up, but it really didn’t, I am hoping that it holds its shape after repeated washings so that is something I’ll be watching. I am putting this in the more casual shirt category but for day to day wear around the house and out doing casual things it is becoming my go to shirt. As for hiking in it, I will be watching for pack wear and pilling as the miles rack up.
I am certainly glad I found this company and look forward to going back and picking up a couple of more items and look forward to any new offerings (tee shirts I hope) they offer up. Add to the great gear a company ethic that ensures they source only ethical product and care about the environment and the fact they make their product here in the USA, how does one go wrong?
***UPDATE*** January 2023
Having worn this sweater for 4 more months now I can say what I thought might happen did.... the neck keeps stretching out and is now saggy. The sweater has pilled even though I washed it with Eucalan and air dried it. While I still love it it has been placed in the weekend - knockaround category as it is not dressy enough to wear out for me.
It was a sunny, hot May day, a nice reprieve from the cool, damp days we had been experiencing. The pools of water looked refreshing but were not for us to swim in. Donning the life jackets and emptying our pockets of anything that could fall out the excitement level increased as we got ready to meet some the aquarium residents in Mystic CT. As we walked out to the pool the trainers that were accompanying us explained that we would be able to not only learn and use basic hand commands we would also be able to touch the sleek looking animals we had been waiting for weeks to meet. Finally, we were introduced to the seals!
Since I have come back to the Voice full time and I am not working 2 jobs at 65 hours a week I find I have more time to do things I enjoy doing. One of those things is going to concerts. Usually I pay what I think is big bucks to go see bands I like. Now I understand that there are expenses involved in production, venue etc. but sometimes the dollars spent don't equal the value of the music and show plus the cost of food/drinks is usually a bit on the expensive side. Free usually means a mediocre show but as I found out the other night that is not always the truth.
Over the course of the past few months, (if you read this blog) you will know I have been upgrading my wardrobe to be more up-to date and comfortable by adding new pieces of clothing. One thing I have learned, is love is merino wool. I am, as described by Minus 33, becoming a Merinoholic (someone addicted to wool). When I was very young (dating myself here) my mother used to dress me in a wool outer suit to play outside in the New Hampshire winters. After hours in the snow you may have been warm, but you had little balls of snow all over the suit (think Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story). It was a pain in the rear to take on and off and you could barely move it was so damn bulky. Now I am hot natured and enjoy the outdoors and I hate to sweat – well I don’t mind sweating but hate it clinging to or dripping off me. Cotton socks and shirts would soak up that sweat and hold it and after a couple of hours, wet feet made for a ripe smell and athletes foot and shirts looked like I walked thru a sprinkler. Fast forward to the 2000’s, I started trying those new “man-made wicking fibers” and found them to be sticky on the body and clammy. So I decided to give wool socks a try on the advice of a friend and lo and behold, my feet have never been happier. But shirts made of wool? I think not. They would be itchy and hot, but I did some more research and I discovered that today’s wool is way different.
Wool is measured in microns. Old school wool was 21 microns or larger, 18.5 microns and below ensure a comfortable, non-itch feel against your skin. Merino is breathable, insulating, fire resistant, flexible, resilient and offers UV protection. Best of all, while I was doing my research, I discovered a company right up the road from me in Ashland, NH called Minus 33. So last October when I needed to replace worn out base layers I picked up a long sleeve undershirt to put beneath sweaters and my jackets so I naturally turned to Minus 33 as I know wool is warm. It ended up being my go t shirt day after day. True to its word, Merino wool is warm, dries quickly, is stretchable, looks good and best of all is antimicrobial, meaning it’s odor free! I read where several people had worn their shirts for weeks without washing them and thought “wow I can’t do that”. That is until I wore it 10 times – not days (although close) but times in a row without washing and found it to be fine. So naturally when summer starting to make its way to NH, I called them and picked up a short sleeve polo and tee shirt. Now I know you are thinking wool, in summer, that’s crazy as wool is hot. But as stated above, wool dries quickly….it wicks the sweat away providing you with a mini AC effect while drying super-fast and again, NO ODOR. I have worn said shirts in weather ranging from 55 degrees and raining to 95, 65% dew point and sweltering, the whole time being more comfortable than my old dripping wet cotton tees or sticky in my manmade polyesters and “wicking” shirts. Besides writing this blog, I own a newspaper and represent a beer company, so I am outside 6 days a week, in and out of my car and stores, taking photos indoors and outside, lifting beer cases, writing stories and visiting with store owners and managers. The last thing I like is walking in their business in a shirt dripping with sweat and when we had this 6-day hot spell here week or so ago where it was in the high 90’s every day and dew points were tropical it was miserable outside, I switched the 2 shirts out with a few other summer shirts I own and they came through with flying colors. Each year my wife, myself and another couple attend Brewfest in Lincoln, NH. This year, it poured 4 of the 5 hours we were there, and the temperature hovered around 70 degrees. The day before we left I washed all my wool in Eucalen soap to clean them and by doing this I got an added bonus in the form of a nice water-resistant coating (natural to wool) to the shirts so even though I was wet I was always warm and it shed enough of the water to keep me somewhat dry. At the end of the festival and by the time we arrived at the restaurant for a late supper, it was back to dry and still holding its shape. Two days later I was wearing the polo - the temperature was 96 but the “it feels like temp” was 105 as the dewpoint registered 68%. Now in a cotton shirt I would be dripping and looking like I showered in my shirt BUT in the wool tee, although I was still dripping, it wicked it away fast enough my shirt always looked dry. Since then I have been hiking a few times, played frisbee golf, out to dinner and over to friends for get togethers sharing events between the 2 shirts. The shirts can be dressed up or kept casual depending on what you pair with them and have gotten more comfortable with each washing. I will be adding more items over time.
Minus 33 can be located at www.minus33.com. Here you can find more information on merino wool, care of the wool and of course, their great products.
Being both a small newspaper owner and a photography buff, I am always on the lookout for ways to not only take sharper, clearer pictures but a way to lighten my camera bag. Like all good photographers, I have multiple lenses, a couple of camera bodies and the accompanying accessories. As I get a little older, I am finding that I am not as steady handed as I used to be and lugging 12 pounds of equipment around or using two bodies with different size lenses is tiring, especially when I am out shooting multiple events, such as parades or local area sports. Removing and replacing my lens to shoot close-up and distance shots is an invitation for dirt, dust, dampness and the elements to invade my mirror. I went looking for a way to solve my problems and approached Tamron about trying out their new all-in-one zoom lens. This is how Tamron describes their newest lens:
Go to extremes with the world’s first* 22.2x ultra-telephoto all-in-one zoom.
Introducing the world’s first ultra-telephoto all-in-one zoom lens for the APS-C format. With a focal length range of 18-400mm and 22.2x zoom, it has an ultra-telephoto range equivalent to 620mm in the 35mm format. This brings distant subjects closer, while providing perspective-flattening effects that are only possible with an extreme telephoto lens. Plus, it offers exceptional optical performance across the entire zoom range—from wide angle to ultra-telephoto. With this new lens—and its Moisture-Resistant Construction—Tamron brings the art of photography to the joy of travel. Now you can use the same lens to shoot everything from stunning landscapes and neon-lit cities to detailed portraits and delicate flora. The ultra-telephoto range makes it just as easy to photograph animals and sports. And with a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.9, you can even enjoy tele-macro photography.
Here is how I describe it – Wow, what a lens - lightweight, well built, provides great images with little vignette, the stabilizing feature lets you shoot free-handed a couple of stops below what you normally can without a tripod and the picture quality is perfect for photographers looking for an all-purpose lens and don’t demand the perfection specialized glass does at three or four times the price.
When I originally asked to try this lens, I had five events scheduled to shoot, as well as planning to use it several days out shooting for pleasure. Due to weather (20 - 30 below wind chills for a week, 12+inches of snow one day and heavy rain three other days), four of the events were canceled and as much as I like being out taking pictures, the rain and wind chills kept all but those who had to be outside inside. I did manage to get some shots when I could. Using the lens on a Canon 60D, the event I did shoot was a basketball game where I had a chance to try moving shots as well as group photo’s, all while in a tungsten lit gym. All in all, this lens worked as well as my Canon 200-400 while being much lighter, and it kept me from having to bring my “nifty” 50 or my 18-35mm lenses. Since it was the first time using the lens in this situation, I initially had some problems with settings and getting shots that were not blurry, but after 5 minutes, I figured out the lens was better than I was and dialed my settings in and was happily snapping away.
While outside, I was able to catch some nice action photo’s as well as wildlife without having to change the lens out in the mist or blowing snow. The Tamron’s plastic body is sturdy with a metal mounting ring (unlike some which utilize plastic ones) as well as a rubber ring to help with weatherization. 18-400 meant I could take a landscape shot and then zoom out to 400 to get that close-up of what attracted me to the scene in the first place.
In conclusion, while I had this lens slightly less than a month with only had five shooting days, I know that I will be at my local camera store shortly purchasing one to use for both the paper and myself for those days I can go indulge my hobby. This really is the little lens that can do it all.
*UPDATE* October 3rd, 2019
Shortly after this article I purchased this lens for my paper and since then it has become my go-to lens. I have taken over 3000 photo's with it. From parades to shooting events. Low light, outdoors, rain and clear it has without fail preformed exactly as I wanted it to. No longer do I have to carry 2 bodies with different size lenses or change lens while shooting events. The ability to shoot wide or telephoto allows me to get shots quick, crisp and clean. If you are not a perfectionist and want a lens that can be used for both professional or just fun shooting this is the one.
Recently I have been upgrading my wardrobe, getting rid of old tee-shirts, giving away shirts that don’t fit (translation: ones I have been holding on “till I fit in them again”) and just dressing a little sharper. Off the rack shirts are ok but if it fits my shoulders loosely it is always too long or if it is tight it is usually too short. One of the things I found while cleaning was a custom, tailor made long coat from my late twenties. I remember the tailor coming out, taking our measurements and then the final fitting before he sewed it all together. It fit perfectly and looked great so when I saw this app advertised called MTailor that guaranteed me a tailored fit – their site states 20% more accurate than an actual tailor- for my shirts (they also do sport coats, suits and pants) I was skeptical to say the least. I mean how can the camera on your phone get video good enough that someone 2000 miles away could custom fit a shirt to your body? Well they can and they did. I received two great fitting shirts that are now a part of my wardrobe and I plan to order more.
I have now worn them several times over the past month and am pleased with them. They are comfortable, durable, wash well and look great. Much to my surprise I received an email about a week or so after I received them asking how I liked them and I replied I would have liked an inch more in length and maybe a ½ in in the chest and shortly after my phone rang and I was talking to a representative who wanted to know if I wanted to return those shirts for new ones. I didn’t so they just added the extra inches to my measurements for my next order. That’s customer service.
So, I guess the phones are going to rule the world one day as they are seemingly taking over everything. But this app did what it said. They ship for free, they offer a full money back guarantee, the shirts are priced at a great price point for a custom made, tailored shirt – they start at $60 for short sleeve to $89 for long sleeve, great customer service and it’s easy. MTailor.com is my new go to for shirts and at some point, I will try their suits and/or jeans.
One thing I have learned over the past 15 years is FEET ARE IMPORTANT and the older I get, the more I realize it. I am on my feet a lot. I have tried all sorts of shoes, hiking boots, and sneakers, but with arches so bad you can’t slip a piece of paper under them combined with being a size 11.5 2E, it is hard to find shoes that both look good and are comfortable. Last fall as I was contemplating new sneakers, my daughter looked at me and stated, “well I know you’ll get the dad shoes” - meaning my white cross-trainers. I have worn this style of shoe for the past twenty years. They are considered a classic and fit me well and are comfortable (I love tennis shoes). I also was considering a new pair of boots, as my Timberlands were starting to show their age. As a salesperson, I deal with many different clients. One minute I may be in a CEO’s office and the next, in a field talking to a farmer. On my lunch hour, I may hike a quick trail instead of eating. I am out in rain, snow, and ice and need a shoe that can stand up to it all. Unfortunately, sneakers do not, and hiking boots or winter boots do not look good in office situations. The most important things I need and want are comfort and stability, as well as decent support. Well, I have found a solution – Forsake shoes. These combination shoe/sneakers or boot/sneakers are waterproof, look sharp, and can go from pavement to trail without skipping a beat.
In September, I bought my first pair and anxiously awaited their arrival. The day I received them, I slipped them on and thought wow, I am going to wear them tomorrow. I did not even go through the normal “break them in slowly” routine. The next day, I was up and out of the house at 7:30am, and much to my chagrin, didn’t get back till about 10:30 that night. Now with most new boots, that would mean sore feet, possibly even blisters, but my feet felt just as comfortable as they had when I wore my broken in sneakers. For the next six months, I wore them at least four times a week, including several 16 hour days, and they have not let me down yet, no matter what the weather. I took them on vacation and walked miles over sandy beaches, US Navy ships, zoo’s, and museums in them. This alone convinced me I liked them so much that I ordered a second pair for the summer.
In 2009, Forsake was started by two college buddies, Sam and Jake. They took off for Big Sky and Alta, worked hard and earned their turns on the slopes, but found their footwear was not up to the task of the ski lifestyle. They created the brand because they wanted a footwear option better suited to their outdoor lifestyle and adventures. The two founders were the brand’s first customers, so they named it Forsake; a shortened version of “for Sam and Jake”.
Made of waterproof leathers and ballistic nylon, the shoes utilize metal lace hardware holding flat laces to prevent fraying and sport a reinforced toe bumper. They come in stylish colors that look great, while being super sturdy. Most of all they are extremely comfortable.
To see the full collection of men’s and women’s shoes, go to https://forsake.com. Shipping is free and they come with a full money back guarantee.
Update: I received my second pair (the Banks model) and am happy to report that they are of the same quality and comfort that the Clydes are. I wear them at least 3 - 4 times a week and couldn't be happier with my choice.
I don’t know about you, but I suffer from what I like to call WSG, or “Winter Growth Syndrome”. As an already large guy, that extra few pounds make my belts critical. In the past ten years as the 6 pack became a case and then became a keg, combined with the fact I have NEVER had hips, I have done what every man I know has done - I have resorted to icepicks and other assorted sharp instruments to add holes to the standard leather belt as I shrink and expand. A standard belt usually has five holes in one inch increments, almost always assuring that my belts were too tight or too loose. Add to that the fact that I always carry as a knife, lighter, change, flashlight, wallet, and occasionally a weapon, I find myself with a case of droopy drawers or pants so tight I am uncomfortable. One night, as I was up working with the TV on for background noise, I caught a commercial for a sliding belt that I stopped to watch. What a great idea - a belt that is micro-adjustable. I then came back to reality and thought as with most “as seen on TV things”, I knew it would probably last me a month before I was buying another one. I also knew that if “made for TV” had one, there were others like it. I started looking for an alternative and boy did I find one in a company called Anson Belt Company.
Anson Belt Company was started by Frank and David Ferree, and these gentlemen have come up with a stylish, sturdy, micro-adjustable belt that has interchangeable belts and buckles. The belt’s buckling mechanism offers 30 size choices, spaced one-quarter of an inch apart, covering almost 8 inches.
During a trip to the Orient, Frank found and purchased an adjustable belt. He then immediately began to search for similar belts to add to his collection. He checked every website and belt outlet imaginable, and even called friends and family all over the country to ask them to check out their local men's clothing stores. Nowhere could he find another belt like the one he had brought home from Asia.
After quite a long while of looking for a similar type belt with no success, he realized It was an opportunity to good to pass up and he decided to create his own company. With the help of his son, David, they worked to research, redesign, and perfect this product. After almost four years of consultation with attorneys, engineers, importers, web designers and marketers, they proudly launched Anson Belt & Buckle Company in 2009.
After I found their website, www.ansonbelt.com, and read the story and perused the products, I decided to order just one to try, but ended up receiving three as the price point is too good to pass up – I mean three high quality belts and two buckles or two belts and three buckles for under $100.00 is an incredible bargain. I have paid between $35.00 and $75.00 for just one leather, split leather, canvas, manmade material, or sewn leather belts only to be unhappy with them when they didn’t do the job. I personally like 1.5” belts but they offer 1.25” as well and the buckles come in assorted styles and colors, thus assuring you can go from slacks to jeans in any color you can think of and have a belt for all occasions.
When your belts and buckles arrive, you will find them stylishly packed inside satiny bags in a gift box. If you give them as a gift, the recipient will be pleasantly surprised. The next thing you do is cut your belt to fit…. leave it just a little long as you can cut more off but can’t add any back. Finally, pair your buckle with your belt and clamp it on, slide the belt through your loops, feed the belt into the buckle and adjust. I made sure to order mine in time for my week-long vacation which saw lots of walking and additions of extra things in my pockets as we picked up change, brochures, and goods we purchased in the places we visited. For the first time in years I did not have to adjust my pants 20 times a day. I simply set the desired hold and the belt took care of the rest. At the end of the day or after a large meal, I let the buckle out a smidge allowing me to breathe easier while my pants stayed where they were supposed to. To say these belts are amazing is an understatement and I will be ordering another three shortly. Why am I so confident in these belts? Because in fact, they are so confident that they back all their products with a 100% satisfaction guarantee, as well as a lifetime guarantee.
Want to get out for an easy but peaceful walk? Then the Sewells Falls trail is just what you are looking for. Since it is a mile or so from my abode, it is my go to trail. If I feel rambunctious I walk to the trail from my house if not I drive down to either the Sewells Falls Bridge or the end of Second Street and the whole 3 mile walk is mine to enjoy. Starting from the Sewells Falls end you have the Merrimack River on your left side for the entire trail. This flat walk is enjoyed year round by hikers, dog walkers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers. As you walk down the path the sound of rushing water, birds and the occasional hum of tires crossing the bridge fill your ears. You can stop and sit on a granite bench and just watch the water flow by or continue down the trail. You will soon come to a small bridge crossing over a small feeder brook. At this point you do climb a small hill but shortly after the trail flattens back out until you reach the parking lot at Second St or you can walk down to the beach and view the old dam. Continue to the left (after you reach the parking lot) and the trail makes a small loop for about a 1/2 mile. If you take this loop you can follow it down to a small beach or swim off the several small beaches along the trail. The whole trail can be hiked in 45 minutes at a brisk pace or take your time to watch for ducks, geese, birds, squirrels and the occasional beaver. There is a restroom located on the Sewells Falls side.
For those of you who like to hike Concords offers over 56 miles of trails to walk. From short 1/4 mile jaunts to a 7 mile hike. Some flat, some hilly, some wooded, some open you can choose what you enjoy. A trail map can be found here https://www.concordnh.gov/DocumentCenter/View/9159/Map-25-Swope-Park-Trails
The Marjory Swope trail found on Long Pond Road in Concord is a fairly new trail to the system and has 3 different trails with great views. Starting at the trailhead you can go either right of left as the trail loops around. Starting to the right (blue blaze) takes you uphill right away (going to the left is a little easier) but it follows the side of the mountain making the 300+ ft. elevation change easy enough feet even kids can hike this trail. After about 15 minutes you come to the view you see above. This is Penacook Lake and on a clear day you can see the mountains beyond. Take a quick rest on the bench and then continue on. The trail mellows out from here and after a few minutes you come to a trail blazed in yellow which links back to the blue trail or hooks up with the orange blaze trail. The trails are wooded and well marked. By following either the yellow or orange trails (which runs off the blue trail) you come to Gilfillan Rock. From here you have views of Crotched Mt and Pats Peak. A good challenge is to go left at the trailheads follow the blue trail to the orange trail and go right and follow it up. This trail gives your legs and lungs a decent workout as it goes straight up the side of this mini mountain.. The whole trail system is about 2 miles and can be hiked in under an hour if you push. Or take your time and it can be a 2 hour exploration. Open year round (you have to park on the road in the winter) this is a really nice way to spend a morning or afternoon enjoying the outdoors.
*UPDATE October 2019*
Sunday I decided to hike the Swope trail to Carter Hill Orchard. This 3.3 mile hike (total) can be accessed from either side of the main trail and then you can choose to hike to Carter Hill or Dimond Hill Farm. The hike starts flat but then slowly works its way uphill for most of the hike. It is wide enough to walk 2 abreast in most spots and well marked with Red squares to keep you on track. While not extremely steep it does have some good inclines. Views include a small pond and deep woods with a lot of stone walls.
After a little over a mile you come to District 5 road...take a left and walk down about 100 yards and you'll find the trail going right into the woods (this is private land so please stay on the trail and don't litter as this is a nice gesture from the land owner). The trail again starts uphill for about 3/4 of a mile and then levels out. When you get to the junction you can access Carter Hill 2 ways. To the right you end up in the back of the orchard (go left then right and follow the rows to the store) to the left you end up going by the pond and come up in the backside of the store. A really nice cardio hike and I was the only person of the trail that day. The whole hike took me 2 hours at a leisurely pace. If you have young kids plan on extra time. I parked at Marjory Swope and had my wife pick me up at Carter Hill to return me to my car when I was done.You can park at either end, leave your car, drive another car to the place you are going to start your hike and hike back to the first vehicle.
Rating: Moderate (with some steeper parts), good views and scenery