Best Camping Stoves
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Sidebar ambassador Ben wrote up a comparison review of his four favorite camping and backpacking stoves: the Coleman 2-Burner Propane Camping Stove, the Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel Stove, the MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove and the MSR Expedition Stove. Ben lays out in great detail the scenarios that each stove is best suited for:

Best Car Camping Stove

Coleman Triton Series 2-Burner Stove

The longevity of this stove is in its no frills, manual start with match or lighter form dates back over 50 years. If maintained and cleaned properly, you'll get years, possibly decades of use out of it. Fuel is easily available almost anywhere in the USA that sells outdoors equipment. These are car camping and base-camp stoves only; durable, reliable and practical as they are, they are not small enough or light enough for backpacking.

Best Backpacking Stoves

Vargo Triad Multi-Fuel Stove

This is primarily a denature alcohol stove, but has the option of also using solid fuel tabs as well. This stove is VERY lightweight at only 1oz, and very sturdy for as small as it is, I've never had issues with it handling any backpacker sized pots and pans. Once it’s started and the flame ports are fully lit, it will boil water in about 5-7 minutes depending on weather conditions. You can purchase denatured alcohol almost anywhere in the world. It’s also completely silent and great for ultralight camping. Highly recommend using a wind screen. However, there’s no getting around the fact that alcohol stoves can be messy. Also, your burn time is limited to right around 15 minutes max. This is NOT an expedition or extreme weather stove. If it’s pouring rain, high winds, snow, ice, etc there are MUCH better stove options.

MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove

This stove is very light weight at only 2.5oz, and compact even in the plastic case it comes with (I keep two small lighters in mine). It’s very powerful (boils water in about 2 ½ minutes), the simmer option is outstanding; it’s sturdy and versatile (you can use any lightweight camp cookware such as stainless steel, aluminum and titanium). Isobutane-propane fuel canisters are currently easily available in multiple sizes not only in the USA, but several other countries as well, so there’s no messy liquid fuel to deal with. You are limited to canisters (that is your only option), and reportedly it can be finicky at extreme low temps and high altitude. However, I’ve used mine at over 14,000 and temps as low as -2 degree Fahrenheit with absolutely no issues.

MSR XGK EX Stove

This is the stove I’ve owned the longest and have taken on my most extreme adventures (the Smokies, the Superstations, Kilimanjaro, the Alps, the Rockies and Carpathian Mountains). It’s durable and will work anywhere, uses both white gas and regular unleaded gas. It’s VERY powerful and reasonably light at 3.2lbs with fuel bottle. Some cons are that it requires a fuel bottle and you may need to ship one ahead if you’re going out of the country or certain places within the United States. It’s a liquid fuel stove and can be messy; it requires regular cleaning and has no simmer option to conserve fuel, and it’s NOT SILENT (it sounds like a jet engine, no joke)!”

To see what other gear Ben relies on for his adventures, check out his Sidebar profile. If you’re looking for more stove options and reviews, you can find them here!

Sarah Holdeman
Final Straw 2.0 Review
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Currently Americans use 500 million plastic straws a year and most of that plastic eventually finds its way to the ocean. More and more food providers have stopped offering straws and many people are trying to get them banned all together. It’s pretty amazing how quickly the anti-straw movement is happening and gives us hope for much more to be done in the future to reduce plastic waste on earth.

There are all kinds of alternative straws popping up. You’ve probably used paper straws in restaurants but did you know that you can carry your own and use it whenever you like? Besides paper, you can now find straws that are metal, silicone, and even glass for your personal use. Is this something you’d be willing to do to help the planet? Sounds like a great idea to us.

Sidebar ambassador Mark recently reviewed the Final Straw 2.0, an updated version of their original reusable metal straw. At $25 it’s a little pricey for a seemingly banal item, but check out why Mark thinks it’s a small price to pay for sustainability. Below you’ll find a summary of his review, but you can read more at Sidebar:

  • Mark says, “I have a lot of conservative friends who lost their minds when California banned the usage of plastic straws. This really made me laugh and set the stage for my original Final Straw pick up”

  • “When I came across Final Straw on Kickstarter and saw the “Suck Responsibly” catch phrase and marketing video I couldn’t give them my money fast enough.”

  • ”I’ve been impressed with Final Straw. Not only do they help me cut down on the waste I produce but the novelty from whipping one out and letting it flip together in a dramatic fashion is still incredibly satisfying.”

  • ”I’m glad I picked up my Final Straw. I feel good about using it, it’s more comfortable to use than solid plastic reusable straws and fit into most of the lids on my reusable cups… there really isn’t an excuse to not use the Final Straw.”

Read Mark’s full review at Sidebar.

You can check out Mark’s thoughts on lots of other products and read his Blue Coolers 80 Liter Ark Series review, Salomon SpeedCross 4 Trail Running Shoe review, and Jetboil Flash Cooking System review.

Sarah Holdeman
Oru Kayak Beach LT Review
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“Convenience is the name of the game”

Oru Kayak recently introduced the world to “the origami kayak – a craft with the strength and performance of a hardshell boat, the portability of a suitcase, and a mind-blowingly cool way to transform between the two.” What began as a concept on Kickstarter has now taken the world of water sports by storm! If you’re skeptical about paddling out into the water in an origami kayak, check out what Sidebar ambassador Megan has to say about her Oru Beach LT kayak!

“Honestly, I was a die-hard Oru Kayak fan long before I had one. The concept of a foldable kayak?! It’s the dream. When I purchased a new car I was shopping for a new kayak rack for my old hard plastic kayak for nearly a month. When I priced it out, the cheapest I could get a quality kayak rack was $500. Add on top of that the fact that I LOATHE putting a kayak on top of the car; it’s cumbersome, inefficient, and sometimes dangerous. I’ve even had kayak racks bend in windy conditions on the road, which is completely unacceptable. For twice the price of a kayak rack I could have a kayak I never had to load, could pack on my back, and stores easily in my apartment (hello no garage).

I will say that an Oru Kayak Beach LT isn’t ideal for all paddling conditions: heavy wind/waves, rocky rivers, or sharp oysters/barnacles may find you hoping for a different kayak style. But for leisurely to moderate paddles on calm to mild seas, lakes, ponds, or rivers, I highly recommend it. The Oru Kayak Beach LT has a 300 lb weight capacity, which means me and my 60 lb rescue dog can comfortably ride in it. Note: the first few times you fold/unfold the kayak you’re breaking the folds in and it can be tough. I recommend you do it somewhere not in public until it’s broken in and you’ve gotten the hang of assembling the kayak on your own - because these babies do attract a lot of attention at the boat launch :)”

Check out more reviews of the Oru Kayak Beach LT and ask any questions you may have, and see what other gear Megan and her first pup Finn rely on for their adventures!

Looking for a more traditional kayak? We’ve got reviews of Perception Kayak’s Rhythm 11 foot kayak and Venture Kayak’s Easky 15 over on our community site.

Sarah Holdeman
2019 Best Outdoor Gear for Backpacking, Hiking, and Camping
 
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It’s summer and outdoor activities are in full swing. Many of us are using gear from years past and trying to decide if we should keep what we have or upgrade. If you’re stuck, you might want to consider what Sidebar ambassadors are saying this summer about their favorite outdoor products.

We ask Sidebar ambassadors to tell us what their favorite outdoor products are and they add them to their individual lists. They review those outdoor products, and also make themselves available to answer questions about them, which is something unique and helpful.

It’s been really interesting watching which outdoor products have risen to the top in terms of popularity. Here’s a quick rundown of the most loved outdoor products by Sidebar ambassadors to help you decide if you need new gear this year!

#1 MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Backpacking Stove

The MSR Pocket Rocket 2 backpacking stove is the most loved outdoor product on Sidebar for good reason. The backpacking stove’s versatility, reliability, and ease of use is hard to match. Sidebar ambassadors talk about the stove “performing flawlessly in every conceivable condition” and how they “can’t recommend it highly enough.” Based on their feedback, this backpacking stove seems like the overall best stove to use when camping, hiking, or backpacking, for everything from a warm drink to a full meal.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the MSR Pocket Rocket 2

#2 Jetboil Zip Backpacking Stove

Yes, the second most loved product by Sidebar ambassadors is another backpacking stove. This time it’s the Jetboil Zip backpacking stove but for different reasons. Ambassadors are really impressed with how fast the stove can heat up water and food and say how they “absolutely love this piece of equipment.” This backpacking stove is bigger and more expensive than the Pocket Rocket backpacking stove above, but it makes life a little easier when backpacking, which is what a lot of people prefer.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Jetboil Zip Cooking System

#3 Grigri 2 Climbing Belay

According to Sidebar ambassadors who climb, the Grigri 2 Belay Device is a must have. It might be a surprise that the Grigri 2 makes it into the top 3 most loved products since it’s specific to climbing, but that just shows how important of a tool the belay device is. Ambassadors say things like, “any other device should be benchmarked off this” and “this piece is an awesome addition to your rack.” It sounds like you can’t go wrong owning the Grigri 2 if you like to climb.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Grigri 2 Belay Device

#4 Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System

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If you’re going to be outside cooking with your stoves or climbing with your belay device, you’re going to need to stay hydrated. There are a lot of water filter systems available but the most loved by Sidebar ambassadors is the Sawyer Squeeze water filter. The common theme about most loved products is their simplicity and ease of use and the Sawyer Squeeze water filter follows suit. Ambassadors say things like, “it’s a no brainer to keep it in your pack” and “it’s super reliable and very versatile.” The Sawyer Squeeze water filter may not filter as fast as some other models on the market but it’s simplicity makes it a must have.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Sawyer Squeeze water filter system

#5 Hydro Flask 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle

If you’re going to be filtering water for your adventure, you need a vessel to put it in, which is mostly likely why the Hydro Flask 32 oz Wide Mouth bottle comes in as the fifth most loved product by Sidebar ambassadors. There are lots of options out there for keeping your drinks warm or cold, but the Hydro Flask water bottle’s price point and effectiveness push it up to the top. Ambassadors say things like, “ice stays intact for hours” and “it’s just the perfect size.” If you’re looking for a great container for your drinks, this seems to be a good way to go.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Hydro Flask 32 oz Wide Mouth

#6 Jetboil Flash Backpacking Stove

It’s pretty amazing that 3 of the top 10 products that Sidebar ambassadors love are backpacking stoves. But it makes sense since a top priority when backpacking is eating food. The third most popular backpacking stove is also the most expensive, but offers the most ease of them all. The Jetboil Flash backpacking stove gets water boiling the fastest and works well in windy conditions. Ambassadors say things like, “it’s virtually windproof” and “fantastic… and boils super fast!” All three of the backpacking stoves are great, it’s just up to you to decide what extra comfort is worth.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Jetboil Flash cooking system

#7 Osprey AG Aura 65L Backpack - Women’s

To carry all the backpacking, hiking, and camping gear you’re collecting from above, you’re going to need a great backpacking backpack and the Osprey Aura AG 65L comes out on top for Sidebar ambassadors. Osprey has always been loved for their amazing return policy, but the Osprey Aura backpacking backpack stands out based on its (again) versatility and durability. Ambassadors say things like, “I love the design, I love the size, I love the antigravity system.” If you like to get out and backpack, definitely consider this pack to carry all of your favorite gear in.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Osprey Aura AG 65L Backpack

#8 Patagonia Better Sweater Fleece Jacket

You now have your food, water, and pack taken care of so it’s time to think about what will best keep you warm when you’re outside. While the Patagonia Better Sweater isn’t made for backpacking, it’s a favorite for people who like to be outside based on its warmth, durability, and style. Ambassadors say things like, “what an amazing and useful sweater!” and “every member of my family has a better sweater.” Sounds like this is the piece of gear you need to stay warm when camping or back at home!

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Patagonia Better Sweater Fleece Jacket

#9 ENO Double Nest Hammock

When you’re done hiking around and it’s time to relax, you want to do it in comfort. The #9 most loved product by Sidebar ambassadors is the ENO Double Nest Hammock. Ambassadors like the bigger size to fit more than one person and how the ENO hammock so light but still so strong. They say thinks like, “highly recommend!” and “will keep your kids entertained while you make dinner!” It sounds like the ENO hammock can be useful in many different ways.

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the ENO Double Nest Hammock

#10 Osprey Aura AG 50L Backpack - Women’s

The second backpack most loved by Sidebar ambassadors is also one of Osprey’s Aura backpacking backpacks and also a women’s pack. Osprey seems to be the favorite brand and women seem to be the most passionate about the packs they carry. Ambassadors say things like, “feels like a big bear hug” and cite its comfort and size as the reason they love it so much. If you’re in the market for a pack, start with Osprey’s Aura backpacking backpack line first!

Read reviews and ask owners questions about the Osprey Aura AG 50L Backpack - Women’s

Join the Sidebar ambassador community today!

John Hayden
Next Generation Product Reviews

There’s been a lot of recent media coverage about fake online reviews. Fakespot’s recent study found that as many as 52% of reviews on huge trusted sites like Amazon, Walmart, Sephora and others are fake or unreliable. Shoppers have come to rely on reviews to make purchase decisions. They’ve been trained to aggregate information, sorting what’s helpful and what’s not, to get a general idea of a product or company. They’ve known that some reviews should be ignored, but when they have to ignore half of them and it’s not clear which half, things get really complicated.

Some companies are offering reviews by “verified reviewers.” But what does this mean? Generally nothing more than verifying an email address. Somehow, having a working email address allows a reviewer to be “verified.” It may show they aren’t a bot, but not much else. Most fake reviews are written by real people.

Authentication
At Sidebar we believe reviews can be much better. First, let’s start with authentication. Reviews should only be possible by people who have actually purchased products. Then the company should demonstrate to the shopper that this is true by showing labels like “Verified Purchase” and purchase date.

Transparency
Second, transparency. Shoppers should have more context about who reviewers are. Instead of companies asking a shopper to trust an anonymous reviewer called “travelforlife4,” shoppers should be able to see a reviewer’s bio with info such as first name, photo, location, age, etc. Not only does it demonstrate that the reviewer is a real person, it also gives the shopper context about who they’re listening to.

Choice
Third, choice. Shoppers should be able to choose who they ask questions. It’s nice to post a question to a community, but if a shopper has no idea who will be answering and when, value drops dramatically. If shoppers instead see a list of available reviewers to ask questions and get to choose someone they can relate to, engagement and trust jumps exponentially.

Efficiency
Fourth, efficiency. Shoppers have specific questions about products they need answered. Will it last in the rain, will it be good at the office, will their 3 year-old son like it? Today shoppers have to read through a ton of reviews to try to glean the information they need. Shoppers should be able to ask their question and get an answer fast.

Authentication. Transparency. Choice. Efficiency. All of these lead to increased trust, engagement, community, and conversion. And all of these are provided through Sidebar’s real-time review platform.

John Hayden
Bringing Customer Reviews To Life

Love them or hate them, customer reviews have come a long way and become an integral part of the online purchasing process. When Epinions launched in 1999 with one of the first review platforms, they had lots of VC money, a decent amount of traffic, but the new idea had problems making money. Meanwhile, brands and retailers were very skeptical about allowing customers to voice their opinions on their sites. What will they say? What if they say something bad?

For years, fear kept online reviews off sites other than 3rd parties like Epinions. But ever so slowly, the more confident brands willing to trust and openly communicate with their customers started embracing this new method of transparency. As the data came in time and time again showing conversions increasing when shoppers could read other people’s experiences, the tide started shifting.

It hasn’t been all roses. Learning how to manage reviews is a challenge for brands and retailers. How do we get people to write them? How do we deal with negative reviews? Can we delete the ones we don’t like?

Look around and you’ll find lots of different approaches. Some brands want to be fully transparent and respond to all negative reviews. Some actually delete reviews that hurt the brand. Some pay people to write reviews. Some of those are fake.

Where does this leave the shopper now that we’ve become accustomed to using reviews as part of our purchasing process? We’re slowly being trained to be really good data aggregators. The higher consideration we give a purchase, the more sources we seek for validation. We understand now that a lot of what we read isn’t true, but if we read a lot, then the truth should bubble to the surface. We’re given limitless information and have had to learn how to sift through all of it.

But how much time does it take to do all this research? Shouldn’t we be able to have sources we trust to quickly make decisions and get on with enjoying these items we’ve purchased?

We think so. Sidebar’s mission is to connect people with the best possible information sources — real product owners. Gone are the days of relying solely on anonymous reviews to figure out what’s real or what information applies to us. Now shoppers can choose real product owners they relate to, chat with them in real time, and trust the information they’re given.

John Hayden