School Backpacks: Why it’s time to purchase a quality pack for your children.

This past week, my niece and nephew excitedly showed me their backpacks full of school items in preparation for the upcoming school year.  Upon looking at their bags full of supplies, I was shocked: the fully loaded bags weighted a ton.  Even though both are still in grade school, the bags easily tipped the scale at over 15 pounds.  That’s a lot of weight to be put on the backs of our children.  According to a study conducted by Consumer Reports, the average American sixth grade student’s backpack weighs 18.4 pounds.  That’s a big factor to consider when purchasing a new backpack for this upcoming school year.

There are plenty of reasons to purchase high quality packs over cheap bags, but to save time, I’ll cover the top three reasons:

1.  Comfort.  By far, this is the number one reason to spend a few more dollars on a well designed, quality backpack.  As mentioned earlier, our children are carrying heavy loads, often for extended periods of time if they commute to school on foot.  With anatomically designed straps, high density foam padding, dedicated lumbar support zones, and moisture wicking fabrics, bags from brands such as The North Face and Patagonia do a much better job at carrying heavy loads.

A Patagonia pack versus a lesser quality bag.  Notice the lack of padding and anatomical straps.   Photo: Michael W

A Patagonia pack versus a lesser quality bag. Notice the lack of padding and anatomical straps.
Photo: Michael W

2. Quality.  The old adage of “you pay for what you get” is never truer than when buying a backpack.  High quality packs use nothing but the most robust materials: Cordura ripstop nylon, ballistic nylon, heavy duty zippers, etc.  In comparison, cheap bags are almost always constructed of polyester, a material that is both thin and prone to premature wear.  Seams that should be sewn with heavy duty threads are instead sewn with flimsy thread, and are often the first things to go with very little use.  Other features nice packs have that poor quality bags don’t?  A warranty!  Most of our backpacks from The North Face and Patagonia have lifetime warranties.  Further, most offer light rain protection, reflective safety features, and are produced by companies that promote fair labor with safe working conditions (for an example of this, click here –> http://www.patagonia.com/us/footprint)

3. Value.  Value you say?  How can a $80 backpack be a better value than one you can get from a big box store for $20.  Simple.  Spend $80 on that good quality bag and it’ll likely be the last bag you’ll need to buy for multiple school years.  I recently sold an old North Face bag to my wife’s brother I purchased in the 1990’s and it’s still going strong.  Alternatively, you can spend a minimum of $20 each school year, and hope you don’t have to buy a second midway though the year.  You’ll be money ahead by purchasing the nicer bag, and you won’t have to spend extra on Ibuprofen nursing sore backs either.

We currently have a great selection of back to school bags to prepare your child for a happy and comfortable return to school this fall.  Swing down and check them out today!

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Fun things to try on the 4th!

The 4th of July is almost upon us, and with that comes planning to make the most out of summer’s favorite holiday weekend.  But if you’re like many struggling to make old traditions fun year after year, why not give some new activities a try?  There’s tons to do outdoors in the summer in Wisconsin, and Shep’s has all the latest gear to get you on your way to a new favorite outdoor activity.  Here’s a few suggestions:

Disc Golf3

1.  Disc Golf:  There are disc golf courses popping up all around Wisconsin, and with the start-up cost so low, people of all ages are heading out to throw some discs.  Shep’s carries hundreds of discs from Discraft, Innova, and Disc Mania along with bags and other accessories to get new players started and seasoned players restocked.

You can find a local course here –> https://www.discgolfscene.com/courses/Wisconsin

biking2.  Biking:  With hundreds of miles of city, country, or forest trails available for biking, Wisconsin is one of the best places to get out on two wheels.  And with bikes for people of all ages and abilities, Shep’s is your biking headquarters.  Comfort, fitness, or mountain bikes – we have it all, and we have all the accessories available too.  Already have a bike?  Our mechanic Pete is here to get your bike running smoothly and safely in time for the 4th of July weekend!

Interested in finding a new trail?  Start here –> http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/activities/bike.html

wakeboard23.  Water Sports:  Living in Wisconsin and being on the water go hand in hand, and even if you’re a seasoned water goer, chances are there’s a new activity you’ve yet to try on our beautiful waterways.  Love to kayak?  Why not give stand up paddleboaring a try?  Are you a local pro on a slalom ski?  Wake boarding, wake surfing, and more will give you an awesome new skill to master.  Or if you’re simply heading to the beach for a quick dip, Shep’s has a great line of men’s and women’s swimwear from Prana, Patagonia, Roxy, Quiksilver, United By Blue, Kavu, and more!  Lastly, don’t forget your Sun Bum sunscreen before you hit the water!

Don’t forget to look and feel great this holiday weekend wearing great new apparel for men and women from Patagonia, North Face, United By Blue, Krimson Klover, Prana, Kavu, Toad & Co, and so many more!

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Our Staff’s Favorite Summer Gear! Sep’s Picks.

Each week, we’ll be highlighting a few staff picks of our favorite gear around the store. After all, we don’t just sell great clothing and equipment here at Shep’s; we also buy our great clothing & gear and use it for our own outdoor adventures! This week, Sep wanted to share a few items he just can’t live without.

1. Patagonia Arbor Pack – This 26L is one of my favorite backpacks of all time. It’s cool retro styling combined with easy entry and a bulletproof build make it perfect for a day of hiking or a place to stash your books. Plus, because it doesn’t have any built in padding along the back, it’s easily packable and hugs my body like a glove when I’m out exploring the outdoors.

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2. Chinook Superlight Mummy 45 Bag – I have the older version of this bag, and it’s been a champ for years. This one have been upgraded with Insufil 1 making it lighter and warmer than it’s predecessor, costs a mere $49, and is one of the best 45° lightweight bags I’ve ever used for any money. These are a true bargain in the camping / hiking world for sure!

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3. Patagonia Wavefarer Engineered Board Shorts – I’m kind of a Patagonia junkie, and for good reason. As a company, they continue to push for environmental causes to keep our world clean and renewable. They haven’t lost sight of the fact that people buy their clothing to be used outdoors, in tough conditions, with the highest demand for performance. Their fit and quality is amazing, and pretty much everything they design looks great! I picked these board shorts up before a recent trip I took to Oregon with my wife, and I never wanted to take them off. These shorts are super comfortable and built to last for years.

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You can swing by our Downtown Wausau location to check out our full line of backpacks, sleeping bags, and swimwear for all your outdoor needs!

Sneak Peak: 2016 Ski and Snowboard Staff Picks!

This past month members of our shop crew got the chance to go to Afton Alps and demo the 2016 ski and snowboard lineups. They each took a look at the new product, and pegged different aspects that stood out to each of them. Each of their notes on the new product lineups are as follows.

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2016 Skis

Sep’s Notes:

It’s always hard to pick a favorite ski in today’s offerings – technology has come so far and nearly every ski performs great.  That said, I did test a few that seemed to perform at a level above the rest.  Before I share though, a little about me.  I’m just shy of 6’0, weight 145 pounds, and ski very aggressively.  I prefer medium radius turns to short ones and primarily stick the groomers.  That out of the way, here are my top picks:

Overall favorite ski:  Salomon MTN 95, tested length 177.  If I could only buy one ski next year, this would be it.  It’s light but stable, wide but quick in the turns, and carves extremely well.  This was one of only three skis that made me laugh out loud with enjoyment.

Best sub $500 ski: Salomon X-Drive 80, tested length 177.  We carried this in the store this season, and it’s returning unchanged for 15/16.  Still, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this ski all day long.  While it’s great for cranking up the speed, what I loved about it is it’s versatility: fast, slow, long turns, tight turns – it simply does it all.  And it does it all really well.  (For a sub $500 ski!!!)  Unlike last year with no real contenders though, Head’s new Natural Instinct gave the Salomon a run for it’s money at $449.  Minus top end speed stability, it performed wonderfully and was a joy to ski.

Race ski recap:  Both Volkl and Head return for the following season unchanged, and like I mentioned last year, both are amazing race skis.  Torn between which to purchase?  Pick a color.  They’re both equally good.  I only give the nod to Head in the junior race department with their Worldcup iRace.  With sizes available down to 100cm, we love having a true race ski to offer our junior racers for their early racing development.

Women’s ski recap: While none of our women staffers came to the demo, we still made a point to ski as many women’s skis as we could.  Why?  We sell a lot of skis to women, and we want to provide the best advice and information to our women customers as well.  And let me tell you this straight away: women’s skis have come a long way!  Want something that simply rips? It’s out there.  Want something that practically skis itself?  Easy.  There are a ton of skis waiting for you.  So my favorites?  K2 nailed it with their new women’s skis, and the Luv Sick 80Ti is going to be a favorite for sure.  Super quick edge to edge, very easy to turn, stable, and light weight.  It’s really the perfect on piste ski.  For those looking for something even move versatile, the Nordica Belle to Belle skied great and would be a wonderful ski for that beginner to intermediate gal looking for one ski to do it all.  Head’s Joy line of skis continues to surprise me with great looks, low weight, and killer price, and I had a blast on their Absolut Joy.  Lastly, Volkl remains the ski to choose if carving is your thing.  Even their entry level Aurena carved a great turn at moderate speeds, and felt racey from turn to turn.  With nearly all the skis I tried, it was easy to forget I was skiing women’s specific models halfway through each run.  They’re that good!

Other favorites:  Without going into more detail other than saying they were a blast to ski (which usually means they carved really well, felt lively underfoot, didn’t have a speed limit, and would likely be very versatile in all conditions), I have to say these skis topped my list of favorites and very well may make their way into my ski arsenal next year:

-K2 Pinnacle 95
-Nordica Enforcer
-Armada E-Dollo (rename of this year’s El Dente)
-Head Instinct Ti
-Volkl 90Eight

Lastly, I was able to use a pair of Leki poles with the Trigger system during the demo, and while I always like how they worked when I tired them in our store display, I’ve never actually skied them. GAME CHANGER. They are without a doubt worth the money, and will really change the way you think about poles.

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Brian’s notes:

(6’3″, 220 lbs, skis like his hair is on fire! Loves to be aggressive.)

Salomon MTN 95 184cm: Ski that has no limit. Extremely light carbon and wood built ski that pushes like a GS ski or slides right around like a fat powder ski. Absolutely fabulous. This ski had no limit and had no end. When I wanted to take fast quick turns it reacted, yet when I wanted to slow it down and slide my turns or even take slow long turns it did it all. Awesome looking snow camoish cosmetic and definitely a ski I recommend for anyone looking for that one ski quiver. Old or young, this ski will make skiing bring an even bigger smile to your face.

Head Monster 88 177cm: light easy cruising ski. This is the new all mountain ski that was spun off the old rev series skis. This ski gives you the stability of being a true groomer ski while acting and playing like a powder ski.

Head Instinct 83 184cm: This ski was the most like a “beer league” race ski. The ski will toss you and is very strong. The ski turned quick and held an edge like you would expect a race ski to do. The beauty of it all, though, is that it’s not a race ski, just an awesome groomer ski. Super cool looking cosmetic to this new ski as well.

Volkl RTM 84 177cm: Sleek new look for the RTM series this year. Volkl cut off lots of weight and added UVO plates to dampen the ski in the 84, 86. Ski (of course) is fast and quick and an absolute power house for that skier looking to take fast, hard turns.

K2 Pinnacle 95 184cm: K2 has a new look and a new shape, and it’s looking good. The cosmetics look awesome with the bright green top sheet you’re for sure going to be looking good out on the slopes. The weight felt balanced and the turn initiation was tight and quick. Great do-it-all versatile ski for anywhere from intermediate to far advanced level skiers.

Nordica NRGY 80 184cm: Ski is light and fast. Still the traditional 80 underfoot and completely rips just like a GS ski. Swing weight is fast and this ski will toss you around if you give it enough energy. Anyone with a race background who is now retired from racing, please jump on one of these!

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Tony’s notes:

(5’8″, 150 lbs, loves short, fat skis and making a ton of turns. His very favorite, though: tree skiing.)

Volkl RTM series-This series from Volkl now has a new shape and lighter design. These skis deliver precise edge control while still allowing you to explore the mountain. Volkl always makes some of the best skis out there.

Salomon MTN Explore 95-This brand new series of ski from Salomon is amazing, definitely a staff favorite. This ski is super lightweight, while still giving you the control needed to conquer the whole mountain. Can be used as a mountain charger or as a touring ski.

Head Monster 88/98/105-Head replaced the Rev series with the Instinct and Monster series of skis. The Monster, being the larger of the series, starts with the 88 waist and goes up to a 105. Ski handles nicely, giving nice easy turns while handling the crud and groomers. Great for intermediate to advance skiers looking for an all mountain ski.

Nordica NRGY Series. The Nordica NRGY series is still one of my favorite newly designed skis from all the companies. These skis can ski anywhere on the mountain, including the race course. Definitely try these out if you have the chance.

Volkl Racetiger and Salomon XMAX- looking for a “beer league” race ski or just some of the tightest turning skis on the hill, look no further. These skis will amaze even the most advanced skiers.

K2 Pinnacle Series- K2 has a new series of skis in the Pinnacle. These skis not only look good but ski great. Both the Pinnacle 95 and 105 skied hard, while being playful enough for the rest of the mountain.

Armada Edollo- the upgrade to the Al Dente, this ski looks good and is super soft in the tip, while still being a playful all mountain ski.

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Bob’s notes:

(5’11”, 155lbs, an ex-racer who skis like one.)

A new ski from Salomon, the MTN 95 was the hands-down favorite.The MTN 95 is extremely lightweight and at 95 underfoot it should provide excellent performance in the soft stuff. We tested this ski on hard-pack conditions where it held an edge as well as anything else that I’ve skied and had virtually no chatter.

My second favorite ski of the day was Volkl’s Racetiger SL. A very different animal from the Salomon, the Racetiger SL is a pure race ski. The Racetiger is quick, agile, and aggressive; you have to stay on top of them but as long as you do they will deliver you quickly and precisely from turn to turn.

Coming in third was the Volkl RTM 8.0. This is one of our entry level package skis and very little has changed from previous years. I was surprised at how well this ski held an edge and how aggressively it could carve. Upon completing a turn, this ski does not have as much pop its higher-performance brethren, but that makes it easier to handle for beginner to intermediate skiers.

On a side note, it was good to see that Salomon had not changed the Q-Lab except for the graphic; because why mess with perfection.

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2016 Snowboard

Josh and Jay’s Notes:

Lets be honest. Every snowboard company out there has some cool technology, but K2 continues to stand out with some unique new arrows for your quiver. While introducing some all new board shapes as they head into their 27th year of snowboarding, K2 is shaping (in more ways than one) the growth of snowboarding. With the 2015/16 season they are continuing to not only advance board technology, but shapes as well. No aspect of the mountain is overlooked as focus was put into a variety of areas from the pow to the park and of course with a variety of styles.

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There are two new faces this season in the CoolBean and the Carveair. Their shape may standout like a sore thumb in the lift lines, but your riding will standout ten-fold the whole way down the mountain. Both of these boards have been designed with powder in mind. Even with that said they have the ability to simply turn hard pack into a wonderland of hard carves, that after performed will have you scratching your head and asking yourself “did I just do that on a snowboard”. These boards are a step back to early days of snowboarding when all of the board shapes were created to maximize the surfy feel and weren’t the cookie cutter true twin that we are used to with today’s board line-ups. While they are a step back into the past they are also a giant leap into the future. These boards are a nod to the future of snowboarding as a sport and showcase just how far board shape can be pushed.

If you’re interested in trying out these new products “before they will be on the market”, come visit us at Granite Peak this upcoming Saturday.  Registration starts at 9:00 am in the main village (a $5 donation is requested with all proceeds going to support Wausau area youth ski programs).  Demos go out from 10:00am to 3:00pm.  Stop by, say hi, and ride something new!

It’s Birkie Time!

Photo: Tom Lynn

Photo: Tom Lynn

Next weekend, thousands of nordic skiers from all corners of the globe will find their way to Northern Wisconsin for the annual American Birkebeiner ski race.  While it’s famously know for it’s draw of elite skiers, most people are surprised to find out it’s grown into so much more, offering four days of races, festivals, demos and expos, family fun programs, and more!  Did you know they even offer child care for participating parents where children can visit museums, partake in outdoor activities, and learn amazing things about the environment?!

Maybe you’ve always been interested in checking it out, but nervous you’re not the best skier out there or not interested in competing.  Don’t let that stop you!  You can participate in on-snow demos to familiarize yourself with all the new gear, swing by the expo to chat with industry professionals and racers about getting involved in the sport, and even give racing a try in a shortened 12k race geared for newbies and recreational skiers.  And with hundreds of volunteers and super friendly supporters along the way, you’ll find the help and encouragement to get to that finish line!

For our more experienced skiers heading back for another year of racing, remember to stock up on the race day essentials you can find right here at Shep’s!  With a full line of Swix tuning products and a certified ski technician working in our state of the art tune shop, we’re here to get your skis performing at their best.  And don’t forget we’re also a multi-line nordic ski shop able to outfit skiers of all abilities.  So whether it’s some temperature specific wax and a scraper or a new pair of racing skate skis, Shep’s is the place.  Be sure to stop in and chat with our friendly and knowledgable staff today, and be sure to check out our race day gear list below to help you prepare for race day!

Clothing
-Base layer (top and bottoms)
-Outer layer (top and bottoms)
-Wind briefs
-Hat/Headband
-Gloves
-Socks
-Neck warmer
-Glasses
-Warm jacket and pants for pre/after race activities

Gear
-Skis
-Boots
-Poles
-Waxes and tuning supplies
-Energy food and water
-Sunscreen/Chapstick/Dermatone