Category: Travel Reviews

The Best Damn Boots, Ever! 5.11 A.T.A.C

The Best Damn Boots, Ever! 5.11 A.T.A.C

The Best Damn Boots, Ever! – 5.11 A.T.A.C Desert Tan

March 19, 2018 – John Stebbins

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Taken at Singapore Airport prior to my flight back to the US.

 

Walking, Always Walking! –

Well, as the title states, I do fully believe that I have found the best damn hiking/travel boots you could possibly ever wish for. Back in July of 2015, after I had finally decided to put my passport to good use and travel outside of the U.S. for the first time in my life, I went to my local GT Distributors and I purchased a pair of 5.11 A.T.A.C. Desert Tan boots. I bought them early in order to break them in before traveling with them. And I also wanted to be sure that these were the right boots for the requirements I had in relation to hiking, mountains, glaciers, etc. You see, I walk almost everywhere when I am at home or traveling. So, the boots needed to be comfortable enough for me to wear them 10 plus hours a day, every day. I don’t carry any other shoes with me when I travel so I also needed something that could be utilitarian in nature and still look good and these boots fit that bill for me. You can click on the link below that will take you directly to the product for purchase.

5.11 ATAC Desert Tan boots.

Side zipper for ease of taking on and off when traveling through airport security.

Durable Design; constructed with lightweight breathable materials.

Affordable.

Walking the tracks in Tiradentes, Minas Gerais, Brazil late 2015

On a side note, I wear wool socks, exclusively. When you wear a pair of shoes or boots with your feet in them and walk daily in temperatures exceeding a 100 or going below 20 you want to have a pair of socks that help your feet breath, are made of natural materials and are comfortable to wear. You can click on the link below that will take you directly to the ones I have been wearing for the last year.

Late 2015 – Mid 2016

My First International Trip –

In August of 2015, I set out for Iceland. I had never been outside of the U.S. before this and I was trying to plan for every contingency I could think of in terms of gear and food. I had been wearing my A.T.A.C. boots daily in the Austin, Texas summer heat and they were working out amazing! From hikes in the green belt to walking downtown the 5.11 boots did very well.

Relaxing at the Green Belt in Austin, Texas, summer 2015.

Iceland –

I flew out to Boston and walked the Freedom Trail, Freedom Trail Website, prior to flying out to Iceland. The Freedom Trail is full of history and information. I highly recommend you visit it at least once in your lifetime. Once I landed in Iceland, there was a great deal of hiking to be done, and although I did not do nearly as much as I would have liked, the routes that I took were quite spectacular and challenging. The boots stood up very well to gravel, tundra, cold weather, and rain. The 5.11 boots are able to withstand quite a bit of water and unless you stand in water for periods longer than 5 minutes, you should be ok. They dry out overnight as well, as long as there are enough heat and warmth. Hiking up mountains, along town trails, walking between towns, black sand beaches, and inside dormant volcanoes, the 5.11’s never let me down. Keeping my feet warm and comfortable and providing me with peace of mind that I never had to worry about my feet being injured or cold.

Hiked up this plateau style mountain in order to capture photos of the Northern Lights.

Brazil –

From Iceland, I decided to visit Brazil. I have friends there and all I heard from them was come visit and hike the national parks! So, I flew there in September of 2015. For those of you that do not know, September is actually early springtime in Brazil. I went from late summer days in Austin, to pre-winter days in Iceland, to springtime in Brazil all within a matter of a few months. My boots, well, they handled the climate changes very well. This first trip to Brazil, there have been three so far, was quite beautiful and adventure filled. Between my trip in September of ’15 and the following trip in February of ’16 for my birthday, I hiked through Ibitipoca National Park twice! You can find my review of this stunning location here: Ibitipoca Article for Travelicious Rock climbing, trail hiking, waterfalls, nature in beautiful abundance, Brazil has it and my 5.11 ATAC’s never missed a beat.

Hiking and Bouldering to get to some amazing pools below beautiful waterfalls in Brazil.

Alaska –

I ventured to Alaska just after my second trip to Brazil. There was a hike there that I wanted to challenge myself with, Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield. Anchorage is a small town compared to Austin. I easily walked from downtown to where I was staying 6 miles away. In addition to hiking, I also biked along the coastal trail. I did this because the coastal trail is quite beautiful and I received a discounted rate from the bike shop for the Flattop Mountain hike the following day. This hike was only about a mile or so and although I ran out of time, this happens when you are constantly taking photos, I still managed to get most of the way to the summit.

The view from below the summit of Flattop Mountain looking down on the city of Anchorage.

Exit Glacier –

My next step was to drive down to Resurrection Bay, near the small town of Seward, and the Kenai Fjords National Park area about 2.5 hours South of Anchorage. The views along the route are stunning and if you have never been to Alaska, I highly suggest you visit.  Exit Glacier Nature Area is located about 2 miles outside of Seward at the Harding Icefield lies above the glacier field and feeds the Resurrection River. The trail up the side of the mountain is one of the longest and steepest that I have hiked so far. Traversing three climate zones and crossing an ice field in order to get to the summit overlooking Harding Icefield, the hike is tiring, to say the least. I began the hike in 60-degree weather with misty conditions and over 90% humidity. Once I got the ice field the temperature had dropped to just below freezing with minimal humidity and winds in excess of 15 mph. Needless to say, it was quite cold up there. Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield hike travel through gravel, clay, mud, dirt, snow, tundra, wooden steps created from logs, rock, and icy terrain. There are multiple streams to cross as well and my 5.11 boots kept my feet warm and dry throughout the 8 plus hour hike.

There is a great deal of hiking, rafting, white water rafting, kite surfing, mountain biking, hunting and other activities to be completed during your stay in Alaska. Anchorage is a good starting point for any of these trips. I loved my time there, especially in Resurrection Bay. I would absolutely love to go back someday and spend more time in the wilderness.

Standing at the summit. The view over my shoulder is the Harding Icefield.

Flattop Mountain –

As I mentioned above, Flattop Mountain is just outside of Anchorage. There are a few tour groups for both this hike and hiking Exit Glacier. The Exit Glacier hike will take you out onto the glacier itself and allow you experience ice hiking at its best! The Flattop Mountain tour only takes you to the base, you hike up on your own from there. The entire hike is quite peaceful and when I went the berries were ripe and you could see families picking them for pies along with the local wildlife. I caught sight of a couple of Moose (mama with baby) down in one of the valleys on my way to the top. It was so very beautiful and serene. The hike up the mountain was wet gravel and my 5.11’s tackled the hike without any performance issues.

Me, just below the summit of Flattop Mountain. The spirit of Alaska is one that cannot be compared.

 

Late 2016 – Early 2017

Brazil, for a third time! –

I have to say, I absolutely love Brazil! The people, the culture, the beaches and mountains all come together to create a beautiful destination. On my third trip to Brazil, I decided to do some volunteer work in Florianopolis in the little fishing town of Barra da Lagoa (Baja de La-go-a). This quiet little town on the beaches of Florianopolis has some of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. And although I spent a lot of my time here barefoot, I did manage to do quite a bit of hiking in the forest and hills above the town. Rosemary Dream is an empowerment center dedicated to helping you achieve your life’s goals through multiple programs designed to heighten your sense of self and create within you a better human. The center is located on the river in Barra da Lagoa and has some extremely beautiful hiking trails that stretch from the back of the property all the way to Pria Molle. You can find out more information on Rosemary Dream and their current programs here: Rosemary Dream

Taking time out of our busy days from remodeling the Rosemary home to go on an early morning hike. Post-hike massage train.

Northern California –

Ahh, Northern California. Redwoods, coastlines, cold air, log cabins, and wood stoves for warmth all culminate to create a magical forest experience that I had the pleasure of immediately after leaving the beaches of Brazil and before heading off to the Alps of Japan. The forest area surrounding the log cabin was tranquil, wet, and very fun to hike through. My daily trips out of the cabin to gather wood and kindling for the fire along with trips to photograph the area brought me a sense of serenity I had been missing for some time in my life.

Japan –

The Japanese Alps are some of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Beginning in Tokyo and traveling to Nagano Japan, the home of the 1998 Winter Olympics, and the little farm town turned ski resort village of Hakuba took me from city streets to gravel farm roads. I walked everywhere in Hakuba. Once the snow finally sets in in January the roads began to become too icy to traverse safely. Of all of the other climates that I had subjected my 5.11 boots too so far, the ice was proving to be my Achilles heel. I had to eventually buy a pair of ice slip-on ice spikes that helped me safely walk the roads. Traversing through the woods and gravel paths presented fewer problems, however. The 5.11 ATAC boots have a hard sole made of rubber and although they create a comfortable shoe, slippery locations like rocks and icy streets present a problem for the wearer.

One of my many mornings in Japan filled with snow.

Thailand –

City streets in Bangcock, city streets in Chiang Mai and trail hikes in Pai Thailand put me and my boots to the test. I thought it was hot in Texas when I first bought my boots in 2015, it was nothing compared to the humidity and heat that is Thailand. My 5.11’s never gave me a problem handling the heat and helping, along with my wool socks, to keep my feet comfortable and dry. Hiking in an urban setting is hard on the legs and feet. Concrete has no give to it and creates a constant jarring effect on the lower body. The 5.11 boots help mitigate that effect and quite honestly, it is almost like I am still traveling through the forest. Coming from 3 months of freezing temperatures and meters of snow to a city gridlocked with people, traffic, smog, and humidity was a definite adjustment. I am just happy I did not have to worry about my footwear.

Bali –

Beaches, rice fields, mountains, canyons, rivers, waterfalls abound in the Land of the Gods. By the way, can you tell what types of environments I like traveling in yet? I spent three months on the island of Bali and I was able to accomplish quite a lot of goals while there. One of those goals was to hike Mount Batur in the middle of the night in order to see the sunrise over Mount Agung, which was threatening eruption last month. Mount Batur surpassed my previous hike, in both difficulty and height, of Harding Icefield

 

Late 2017 forward – Back to Japan! (My final thoughts)

Well, I finally traded up on my boots to start the next chapter of this long journey. I ordered the exact same pair of 5.11 A.T.A.C. boots and I can honestly say, they only got better. My biggest concern, the biggest con of the last pair, was the sole of the boot. You see, the original pair that I wore had a hard plastic sole on them and although it was very comfortable to wear, they slipped, a LOT! This pair, however, has updated their materials. The boots are still made the same but the sole of the boot now features a hardened rubber composite that has considerably more grip. The true test, my winter in Japan. Last year, 16/17, I had to buy a pair of slip on ice spikes in order to walk around in Hakuba, Japan without falling on my ass every five steps. This year, 17/18, I didn’t need them once. Extremely well made and super comfortable and now they have even fixed the SINGLE issue I had with them! I cannot tell you how happy I am! I am looking forward to many walking miles in these new boots! I highly recommend you buy a pair for your hiking and travel needs! The zip-up side alone makes traveling through airports a breeze! If you buy a pair, I would love to hear your thoughts on them! Drop me a line or send me a message on IG! @onawalkabout

Thinking of Brazil? Try Minas Gerais!

Thinking of Brazil? Try Minas Gerais!

Minas Gerais –

Nestled just west of the coast and the popular destinations of Sao Paulo and Rio de Jeniero you can find the beautiful, National Park filled, state of Minas Gerais. A short flight from Sao Paulo to the capital, Belo Horizonte, puts you near some of the most beautiful National Parks in the state. I recently wrote an article for Travelicious entitled Hiking Ibitipoca National Park: Brazil. Take a look for information on one of the most beautiful parks I have been to in quite some time.

 

Barbecena –

The mid-sized town of Barbecena has some beautiful churches, markets, train stations, and surrounding hillsides for photographers and travelers alike. While there I chose to use one of the local hotels as a base in order to keep my gear safe while taking day trips. If you have an International Drivers License, you can get one from any AAA office worldwide, you can rent a car and drive from there to any destination. There are two types of permits, one for South America and one for Europe/Asia. They are a must if you are driving in another country. If you are in an accident or caught driving without one you will be severely fined and or deported from the country. Day trips from Barbecena can include waterfalls, plantations, horseback riding, climbing, etc. There are two places I highly recommend, Ibitipoca listed above and Tiredentes.

Tiredentes –

Tiredentes is about 3 hours from Barbecena tucked into the mountains and is a jewel of Baroque architecture with multiple churches and hiking destinations. There are a great many shops, local artisans, villas, restaurants, and coffee shops within the town. Food and provisions are inexpensive and the local shopping has some beautiful merchandise made by the local artisans.

For the best cup of Chocolate coffee you have ever had I recommend stopping in to the quaint little cafe Cafeteria Oura Negro, tell them John and Ale send their love!

One of the most amazing things you can do in Tiredentes, among many that is, is ride the steam locomotive still in operation that transports multiple times a day to the neighboring city of São João Del Rei. The locomotive was a site to behold when I first arrived. It was the first time I had ever seen a Steam Locomotive up close.

For a gorgeous villa, try the Pousadium. Extremely comfortable rooms with breakfast in the morning of fruit and cakes. The Pousadium is well in the heart of Tiredentes near the center square and one of the churches yet it is very quiet and quite peaceful. They even have cloth hammocks on the front porch for you to use that are extremely comfortable! See Video below:

Conclusion –

You cannot go wrong hiking through the State of Minas Gerais in Brazil. There is so much beauty to be found there that you could live there for months and still not see it all. If your holiday is in Sao Paulo or Rio I highly recommend buying a cheap flight from either Avianca or Azul to Belo Horizonte and rent a car and just go! If you have any questions, I will be happy to answer them! Stay tuned for my next Brazil post on Florianopolis!

​Southern Iceland in 4 days

​Southern Iceland in 4 days

The Country –

For my very first International trip I chose Iceland. A land I had dreamt of visiting for many years. Iceland is one of the very few countries I would consider moving to permenantly. The people are beautiful and the country itself, is beyond gorgeous. Truly a land of fire and ice with a raw, powerful energy. The countryside is dotted with geothermal vents and hot spring pools as well as warm water rivers that you can swim in during the winter. Mountain ranges inundated with some,of the largest Glaciers in Europe are scattered across the island as well. In addition, the North American and Eurasion fault line runs through the Island and you can swim above it some of the most crystal clear water in the world at Silfra in Icelands only National Park, Thingvellir. Portions of the Icelandic coastline have some of the most beautiful left and right hand surf spots, in the world. Hiking, waterfalls, art, history, beautiful parks, culture, and food; this country has everything, you could want and a whole lot more.

The island is dotted with green countryside and misty mountains due to the abundance of geothermal energy. Nikon D90.

Arriving –

Flying to Iceland can be very cheap and there are two airlines that offer discounted prices capable of making your stay in Iceland as inexpensive as possible. You can fly out of New York or Boston easily on both Wow Air and IcelandAir. Be sure to weigh your luggage prior to heading to the airport as you are only allowed a specific amount on the flight for both carry on and checked baggage. The carry on weight is a maximum of 11kg for Wow Air. I had to reconfigure my bags twice to avoid additional fees because the first checked bag and carry on are free.

There are no prior Visas or e-visas required as you will receive a tourist stamp  upon arrival at Keflavik. Most of the flights arrive on the island very early in the morning and you need to stay in the airport until around 7 am before you can book a shuttle into Reykjavik. There is Wi-Fi in the airport and on most of the major shuttles. As there is absolutely no sleeping allowed in the airport, be sure to catch some sleep on the flight.

Transport –

The shuttle takes approximately an hour to reach the main bus terminal in Reykjavik where you can then transfer to a bus line headed down the Southern coast. The shuttle will also drop you directly at your hotel if you have one in Reykjavik. From there you could rent a car or hire a driver to tour the Southern coast or you could book a tour group that will take you to different  sites along the Southern portion of the Golden Circle. 

The buses in Iceland are not cheap and you do have multiple options for travel while you are on the island. Do not rent a car at the airport, they are very expensive and absolutely require a prior reservation. As stated, you could hire a car from your hotel, utilize the extremely efficient but expensive bus system, hitchhike (Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world to hitchhike and you will not be waiting long for a ride!), rent a motorcycle, or hire a personal guide with a 4×4 vehicle. Driving in Iceland requires you to have an International Drivers Permit which you can obtain before leaving the States from any AAA office for only $25. Also, be absolutely sure that you learn the road signs, know how to read the speed signs in kilometers and which side of the road to drive on. There are multiple apps available to help you discover all of these things. 

The Southern Coast –

Stretching from Reykjavik along the Southern section of the island and making a complete circuit is the Golden Circle. The entire route can be completed in 4 days but you will miss a great deal of beautiful sites. In, order to maximize your time I would recommend traveling from Reykjavik around to either Vik or just north of there and spend some time hiking the many trails along the route.  Along the route are multiple  small towns, each with activities to do and sights to see. I recommend planning ahead of time what you would like to see and experience so that you can avoid back tracking. Some of the highlights from my trip where Selfoss, and Vestmanyjer island but you can easily make it all the way to Vik and see the Jökulsárlón icefields near Vatnajökull National Park.

Remains of an offshore volcano as seen from the ferry crossing from Landeyjahöfn to Vestmannaeyjar Island. Nikon D90.

The travel time between Selfoss and Vik is approximately an hour and half with your own vehicle and you can easily see both in a day. The coastline near Selfoss extending up to Vik has some of the most beautiful black sand beaches and basalt rock formations. In addition there are multiple waterfalls, nature preserves, rivers (the Olfus in Selfoss is very beautiful but extremely powerful as it is fed by glacier runoff), and historic buildings to experience. One of the highlights of my trip was a ferry ride from the mainland out to Vestmannaeyjar island which is a town rebuilt inside the remnants of a dormant volcano. The coastline and islands coming into the island are stunning and there are multiple hikes on the island.

View of Selfoss Iceland at night with a full moon. Long exposure with Nikon D90 as seen from Ingólfsfjall Mountain.

Accommodations-

There are multiple options for accommodations on the island ranging from 5 star hotels to camping. Each town has a range of hostels to choose from and you can find them through apps such as Hostelworld and Agoda. Iceland is one of the best countries in thw world to camp in as over 90% of the country allows free camping. The only places you are not allowed to pitch for free are inside city limits, on privately owned land, and in the National Parks. Any where else you can stop for the night and camp. Just know the rules of open fires and do not litter. Leave the Earth as pristine as you found it and pack out everything.

My suggestion; map out some of the waterfalls and hot springs and spend a night relaxing at one of them along your route. You will not be disappointed. If you choose to stay in any of the hostels, join the International Hostel Association as you will receive a discount on your stay for being a member. You can purchase the membership at any hostel in Iceland or online prior to going.

Cost –

Iceland has an amazing exchange rate for currency but they make up for that rate by charging more for everything you buy. The main currency is the Icelandic Kron and the current conversion rate according to Xe is $1 USD for $110 Krona (check this in Xe) cost is comparable to Hawai’i and traveling through Japan for food. Even the camping spots are slightly expensive. So if you are on a tight or limited budget, your options are packing your own food like I did in your checked baggage for the 4 days or purchasing food on arrival at one of the smaller towns or in Reykjavik. If you choose to eat out you will take a large hit on your budget as the restaurants are quite expensive, even more so if you decide to drink.

Conclusion –

Iceland is the trip of a lifetime and although you can see a small portion of it in 4 days like I did, you will want to visit again, and again, in order to experience everything the Island has to offer. There is so much history and nature here you could easily spend 2 months exploring and not see everything. I travelled during late September at the end of the tourist season. This option provides you with cheaper rates and more choices. And, the Northern Lights are quite active at that time of year with few road closures due to snow in the later months. Enjoy your trip and if you want to go and have any questions I would be happy to answer them. Just find me on Facebook. Enjoy your Journey!

Black sand beaches near Landeyjahöfn ferry landing looking out on Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland.