From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.
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From desert, to rain forest, to alpine, to rock, 2014 brought me to familiar, beloved landscapes and new territories. This year challenged me and gave me new skills. Here are some photo highlights of my year.
As we get closer to Christmas, choosing a present that is easy to get or ships-in-two-days (or is available instantly online via e-books) is important. These books are loved and used by hikers all months of the year, and won’t break the bank. Ranging from “how-to” books, to narratives, to guidebooks, to nature books, there’s something for everyone here–even if that person already has a ton of hiking books.
This is perhaps the most desirable book for a hiker to find under the tree in 2016. PCT Trail Angel Barney Mann and PCTA Communicator editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Larabee carefully researched and compiled this chock-full-of-information coffee table book. Anyone who loves the PCT (who isn’t living in a tent or van) will love this book. More than just a coffee table fluff, this book captures the history of the trail–packing the fascinating story of how the PCT came to be along with photography so beautiful it will make you ache for hiking season again.
This new book for 2016 could change the lives of the hiker in your life. It is written for hikers looking to build strength, endurance, or heal/prevent injury. It identifies common hiker injuries and shows what you can do on and off trail to prevent them. This is the book I wish I had found in 2010 (or prior) when I was struck with a hiking injury on the CDT. You can read my full review of it here.
The advice you need to figure out most backpacking problems, all in a small (4 oz) book that easily fits in a pack. It’s short enough it can easily be read on the plane to the terminus of any long hike. Great, easy-to-read, straight forward intro for newbies, and an awesome refresher for the seasoned vet to read before the beginning of a new hiking season. You can read
I recommend this book along with its sister book, Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips: 153 amazing and inexpensive tips for extremely lightweight camping, to every person I know getting into hiking, whether long or overnighting. These books are the gold standard for me because they are easy to read and filled with hilarious drawings. The writing is entertaining, insightful, and profound, making it the best primers to backpacking that a “non-reader” can use. Before I long distance hike with someone, I make sure they’ve read this books and carry them with me on every Walking Backpacking Clinic I teach.
The classic granddaddy of outdoors skills got a facelift and update. This book is a must-have for any outdoor adventurer. While it features mountaineering skills that long distance hikers pray to never have to use (e.g., mixed rock and ice climbing, crossing crevices), it also has tons of practical skills that apply to anyone going in the outdoors. This book belongs on every outdoors person’s shelf.
Just because your friend lives in a city doesn’t mean that s/he doesn’t want to go on an adventure. These two books will get the adventure juices flowing and will encourage even the most urban dweller to go on an adventure. The urban explorations outlined in these books highlight areas of LA and SF that even seasoned natives may have never explored. History lovers will enjoy the reading the history of different neighborhoods and art and architecture lovers will adore the walking tours outlined in these books.
I bought Yogi’s handbook two years before I hiked the PCT, just because I wanted to know everything I could about the trail. Yogi’s Books are the gateway drug and the means to dream for a PCT, CDT, Colorado Trail, or John Muir Trail hike. If you know someone who wants to hike any of those trails, buying Yogi’s guide turns that wish from a dream to real. This book is a must for new thru-hikers or those who are hiking any of those trails for the first time. (Note: Yogi will probably appreciate me mentioning this book will not ship before Christmas, but if you want to give this book, give your friend/family member a nice card saying this book will arrive soon, and the hiker will have a lovely book to read all through dark and dreary January).
The recent coffee table book will wow a hiker of any skill level. This book is a great means to scout out what the next hiking season will bring. Put out by the Partnership for National Scenic Trails, this beautiful photo book features 40 long trails in 49 different states. America’s Great Hiking Trails is every hiker’s bucket list in book form.
*Updated for 2016*
Fifty bucks isn’t a lot of money to spend on a gear gift, but if spent on the right piece of gear, can rock a hiker’s world and change their life. In my hiking career, I’ve had a lot of fifty dollar gear that’s just ok. The gear in this list is paradigm changing, mind rocking, world altering-ly awesome stuff. Included with each piece of gear are a few sentences about how this piece of gear transformed my hiking life. I hope it can make you and your friends’ hikes even more awesome, too!
**PLUS: a bunch of these are handmade in the USA by hikers for hikers.**
There’s a reason why everyone from myself to triple-Triple Crowner Lint uses an umbrella:it’s worth its weight in gold. I use mine to protect from sun, rain, hail, snow, wind, and sandstorms, and most recently walked across an entire bsain during 45 mph winds in a snow storm to save an umbrella that the wind snatched after I slipped on mud. I couldn’t imagine living my life without an umbrella, and your hiker friend will feel the same way, too. Plus, if they hate hiking with it, they’ll still love using it in town because it easily fits into a purse or messenger bag. There’s lots out there, but I suggest supporting the Continental Divide Trail Coalition Logo-ed Montbell Umbrella to get a functional gift that gives back to the trail community. $50
This is the ultralight water filtration system that revolutionized the long distance hiking world. There isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t blow someone’s mind with the existence of such an amazing product. The best $25 Christmas present you could get someone (who doesn’t already have it—good for the hiker/bad for the present giver: they last FOREVER.) $25
Titanium Potty trowel
Like a lot of long distance thru-hikers, I NEVER wanted to carry a potty trowel. It seemed like a lot of weight and just the idea of one would make ultralight guru Ray Jardine roll over in his tarp. Until now. My titanium potty trowel might be the best 0.4 oz I carry. Pooping in the woods used to be my least favorite part of the day, and this 11.3 grams of genius makes every single hiking day a lot better for me and significantly reduces the chance I’ll feel guilty about doing a crappy job on digging a cathole. There’s lots of brands out there (as I write in this longer article about why hikers should carry potty trowels), but I like the QiWiz Titanium Potty Trowel, designed and handmade in Ohio by hiker Rob “QiWiz” Kelley $30
I hiked 5,000 miles before I first bought Darn Tough socks on a whim when I saw them on sale at Campmor. Once I tried Darn Toughs, I never looked back. Darn Tough hiking socks last a lot longer than other athletic socks and fit better, preventing a lot of unnecessarily foot problems. These socks are the gold standard of thru-hiking sock. Designed and made in Northfield, Vermont. $15
You can’t beat beanies for price-weight-warmth-functionality ratio. I’ve been wearing them for years. But no matter how much I pull down on it, with my long head, this style never seems to keep the ears totally warm. This summer, while hiking the GDT, my hiking partner Naomi had a beanie with ear flaps. Nothing fancy, nothing heavy weight, just functional. “Where did you get that??!!!” I demanded. Turns out Montbell makes them and even though I’m one of their athletes, I didn’t know. The Montbell Chameece Cap with Ear Warmer double layers at the ears to keep them super warm. It’s such a minor difference in design, but my life was changed. $19
This simple piece of gear is so amazing that I remember exactly when and where I was when I first saw the Gram Cracker—Next Adventure gear store in Portland, OR! Weighing in at THREE grams, this is the world’s lightest stove. I didn’t know it was possible for a stove be that light and my mind was blown. Since then, the Gram Cracker has become my main stove system and I never tire of its simplistic efficiency. Designed and handmade in San Jose, CA by backpacking mechanical engineers, Russ and Rand. $15
These Odor Proof sacks are a safe place to keep your backpacking food overnight. I first started carrying this on the CDT to lessen the chance that grizzlies could smell my food. The grizzly never did get my food, but I can speak for sure that the sack keeps animals away: when I hiked in the Pacific Northwest, I left some food in a normal ziplock and some food in my Lok Sak and kept them right by my head as I slept. The ziplock was torn to shreds but the food in my Lok Sak was safe. After that, I stopped carrying a food stuffsack altogether and now exlsuively use the Lok Sak as my foodbag. $13
Who knows how many thousands of miles I complained about rocks in my shoes until I discovered these funky gaiters. Lightweight, quick drying, apply-able to any trail runner or running shoe, these gaiters are made in the US and come in great designs (and boring designs, too, for your less adventurous friends). Plus, this summer on the snowy CDT and on the Great Divide Trail, I learned that these gaiters are great for helping you save your shoe after you posthole into snow or mud. Designed and handmade in Green Valley, Arizona by Xy “Dirty Girl” Weiss and her running goddesses. $20
Designed by women engineers Anna and Andrea to help hospitals in less developed countries and during natural disasters, this lightweight solar-powered lamp makes a great Leave No Trace alternative to a campfire. It can make a great in-tent lamp or a gathering spot for ghost stories with a group. I’ve used the Luminaid on group trips when camping in sensitive alpine areas or in the desert where there is no wood. Major plus is you can doodle on it in multiple colors and make a backcountry discoball. This is such an awesome luxury item that ultralight gear master Glen van Peski is even known to carry it. $20
I’ve hiked over 15,000 miles with a short titanium spoon and every time I eat a meal, I wish I had a long handled titanium spoon. Let’s just say that with a short handled spoon, I’ve been known to get a lot of Mac N’ Cheese on my hand and fingers every night. At this point, I don’t have the heart to dump the short-handled spoon who has done the Triple Crown with me, but I can’t wait to lose it so I can replace it with this long handled spoon. $11
Described by my friend videographer Miguel “Virgo” Aguilar as what Quiksilver and Billabong were to surfing, Hikertrash may just be the next big brand to go big when thru-hiking goes mainstream. Hikertrash is made by hikers for hikers with the idea that hikers can wear cool stuff with the proceeds supporting the trails that we love. The hot new item this year are Saufley Electric shirts and hoodies with proceeds going to support the famous PCT trail angels. Created by Bend, OR based design gurus Renee “She-Ra” Patrick and ULA and Six Moon Designs designer Brian Frankel, Hikertrash stuff is priced for the individual trying to save for his/her next thru-hike and is the hottest off-season commodity in the hiker world. $1 to $15
Designed by a thru-hiker for thru-hiking, this practical, stylish, quick-drying, water-resistant skirt was designed so that lady hikers never have to wear ill fitting, dumpy, cargo pants again. The Purple Rain Skirt is flattering, yet utilitarian. It features four pockets (including two big enough to fit fit a phone or Nat Geo maps). Plus, with a chic yoga-style spandex top, this skirt won’t slip off your waist as you pull big miles. Designed and handmade in Portland, OR by an amazing hikertrash lady, Mandy “Purple Rain” Bland. $50-$60
This weekend, I was lucky enough to see Wild the Movie with three other thru-hikers, Pi (who I met on the PCT), Twinkle (who I met this year on the PCT), and Mr. Gorbachev (who has section-hiked Washington PCT). Here in Denver, Wild is only showing on one screen at a one arthouse theater, making us luck to score tickets, but the movie should be out in mainstream theaters soon. (Had we not been able to finagle tickets, our plan was to claim that as Real PCT Hikers, FoxSearchLight had commissioned us to be pre-show entertainment for opening weekend).
I liked Wild the Book, although my one complaint was that as a hiker, I wasn’t feeling the anxiety and suspense that most readers must have experienced. For the normal Oprah book club reader, there must be thrill in reading about crossing snowfields or climbing over boulders. As a hiker, my reaction while reading the book was “well, I know what she has to do to get out of this situation,” and “Yeah, that happens.”
However, in movie form, Cheryl’s outdoor troubles were pretty fun to watch. The other theater-goers must have found us hikers twisted when we laughed at some of her most harrowing hiking moments (note that we showed appropriate emotion towards her non-hiking troubles). One example of a time when we got some looks from the audience was when we chuckled at Cheryl’s pack bruises and scars on her shoulders and waist. What the others moviegoers could not have guessed was that we weren’t laughing at Cheryl, but we were laughing with her.
As hikers, our joy in Wild came as laughs of triumph. In watching Cheryl, we knew that we too had been in that position. We, too, had once been that scared and frustrated. What made Wild a joy to watch was that we now know exactly how to get out of that situation (and in fact, now that situation isn’t a big deal anymore).
Before I saw Wild, I had been warned by Barney “Scout” Mann, who saw a pre-screening at the Telluride Film Festival, that PCT hikers may find the inaccuracies of the landscapes in the film distracting. Specifically, the movie was shot on private land in Oregon and there were questions about whether the director could have done a better job making Ashland look like Southern California. After seeing the film, to the contrary, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the landscapes were more-or-less accurate to the trail (with the exception of Northern California—which, really, if they filmed in Ashland, they could have done a better job making it look like 11 miles south of where they filmed). I was specifically pleased to see how much the stretch from Highway 58 to Kennedy Meadows looked exactly like the trail—in fact, after watching the credits, I suspect they may have been able to film on the PCT or pretty close.
I was also satisfied by how accurately Wild portrayed hikertrash life. In a scene where Cheryl camps with other hikers, I was so impressed with the actors playing thru-hikers that I wondered if the casting agent just decided to find real thru-hikers instead of SAG cardholders. Furthermore, early viewers of the film had cautioned me that Cliff De Young doesn’t quite look like Meadow Ed, but I thought Hollywood did a great job of finding a guy who is pretty close, and making him look as he may have in the 1990s. Indeed, the casting on this film in general was phenomenal with even bit parts stealing the show.
It shouldn’t have surprised me, but I was shocked by how Wild evoked my memories and emotions related to the PCT. As always, whenever I see a photo or video of the PCT, I’m always surprised by how well I can identify where it was filmed. Even though we as thru-hikers cover thousands of miles, somehow landscapes stick in our minds and bring out memories and emotions in a way contrary to how the brain normally stores information. What alarmed me though, was at the end of the film, Cheryl makes it to Bridge of the Gods along the Columbia River. For a thru-hiker, BOG is a beautiful site—the end of a state, the lowest point on the trail, a place where food can be purchased at Cascade Locks. Yet, when I watched the movie, that landscape lost its beauty when separated from my own emotions (including hunger). Instead, BOG was a sad spot along the trail, because it meant the movie was going to end.
Every hiker has started a long trail with a story similar to Cheryl’s, or knows someone like her. While I enjoyed Wild the Book for Cheryl’s writing style and the parts not about hiking, I enjoyed Wild the Movie for the parts about hiking.
This weekend, I climbed Goat Mountain with four other thru-hikers: Steven Shattuck (trail name: Twinkle), Brian Davidson (trail name: Mr. Gorbachev), Bill Murphy (Pi) John McNeedy (Cactus)—representing 40,000 miles of trail experience. We taste tasted the Epic Bison and Cranberry Bar as part of our summit snack.
Weight: 1.5 oz (45g) Calories: 200 Protein: 11 g.
Interesting notes: Grass-fed bison, Paleo, Gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free with no artificial ingredients. High in Vitamin B12.
Ingredients I’m intrigued by: grass-fed bison, uncured bacon-no nitrites or no nitrates, dried cranberries (that’s pretty much it for ingredients)
Price: $2.50 a piece, which is pretty standard for jerky and other preserved trail meats.
Overall thoughts: Despite the bro-ly name of this bar, we all were blown away by this bar’s incredible taste. It had a great, moist texture that made it far superior to any jerky or other meat-based trail food I’ve had. The bar is pretty tiny, but an incredible treat. Pi was all but using his phone to order a case from the summit.
Where to get: Amazon, Epic’s website, Whole Foods, Sprouts, Natural Grocer’s, Vitamin Shoppes, Coops, REI, local natural food stores, local gear outfitters, and Crossfit gyms. Available in all 50 states and online.
Nothing like watching 5 experienced long distance hikers try a bacon bar….
Unless you’ve been on trail for the last two years, you likely know that today, the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s book WILD comes out (in select theaters, sorry Bend, OR). Cheryl’s story of her 1996 section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail is one of few major blockbuster films about long distance hiking. Not watching movies in theaters is one of the ways that I save money for thru-hiking every summer—but I think with WILD, I’ll make an exception.
There are a lot of WILD haters on the Internet and in the hiking community. Sure, Cheryl is not the best hiker in the world, but I can guarantee that whatever hiker is bemoaning her hiking skills can’t write anywhere close to as well as Cheryl. The way she uses words in the book is an art form such that even when I knew what would happen next in the story—in the hiking world, when a problem befalls someone, there are usually limited options, only one of which won’t end in the author dying—I still wanted to read on.
In movie form, I was worried that the poetic nature of Cheryl’s writing would disappear, but everything I hear from those who have seen it already is that the beauty remains. With the exception that that the landscape scenery is sometimes distracting to thru-hikers (who know that “hey, that background is clearly the Oregon High Desert, not the California High Desert”), the storytelling and acting in the movie is supposedly quite moving. The word being thrown around is “Oscar Bait.”
A big concern many hikers worry about is that if a million people watch WILD and even 0.1% of them decide to go hike the PCT as a result, that’s 1000 extra people hiking on the PCT. Skeptics of WILD claim that these people likely think that Cheryl is a backpacking expert. These people are going to crowd the trail, not practice Leave No Trace, and leave trash and toilet paper everywhere along our pristine wilderness.
I find the views of these haters to be too extreme.
First, the Pacific Crest Trail Association has been incredibly active about capturing the interest in WILD as a discussion started to practicing responsible hiking. With the PCTA as the starting point for all information about the PCT, prospective hikers will likely get the information they need to reduce their footprint on the trail.
Second, the Class on 2014 PCT thru-hikers certainly had their share of WILD aficionados, and for the most part, the ones I met were 30-60 year old women who were eager to learn about how to hike better, safer, and more responsibly. Those who are going to be least responsible (who am I kidding—it’s clearly men 18-24 I’m talking about here) are not really the target audience for WILD.
Lastly, I strongly believe that every person who does a long hike is going to come out better on the other side. Any person who is willing to enter a place and a lifestyle that lets them live authentically—without the distractions of electronics or pressures of money and status—is going to change their world perspective.
Despite the ecological pressures that increased hiking use may have on a narrow PCT corridor (especially the desert), I believe that every hiker who walks the PCT is going to have a changed environmental ethic. Walking a long hiking trail has the power to change how a person votes in elections. It has the power to change how a person spends dollars in the “real world.” It has the power to change what causes people put their energy behind supporting. And, as WILD shows, it has the power to heal.
Each person who hikes the PCT comes off the trail spreading an environmental message and a message of healing to dozens of family and friends who follows their journey. I’m not saying that a bunch of WILD-watching hikers are going to change the world overnight, but the potential impact WILD could have on our communities, our lifestyle, and our world as a whole is certainly not nil.
If WILD has the power to bring us closer to a world of healed, whole people who value natural places of beauty, (and tell a story that will entertain for 2 hours while eating popcorn), I think it’s certainly worth $10 to see it in the theater.
Got someone on your list who is a hiker? These are 10 simple, practical, and useful items that are bound to get used by anyone who is thinking about going on a long backpacking trip. I’ve used everything here and keep buying them over and over again because they really spruce up a backpacking trip. Many of these items are things that hikers have to buy anyway (like hand sanitizer), but for gift giving, these particular items add a special touch that will help your loved ones remember you when they’re hundreds of miles away from home. Throw a couple of these goodies into a stocking with some chocolate, and you’ll literally have a happy camper.
1) Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender hand sanitizer: I am a STRONG advocate for using hand sanitizer during backpacking trips and believe it can significantly reduce trail-borne illnesses like Norovirus and Giardia. The Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Hand Sani smells so good that I use it on trail during the tough part of the day just to boost my mood. Now that’s a multi-use item everyone can love.
2) Mini dice: If you’ve got a lot of hikers to give presents to this year, dice makes a great cheap novelty gift for hikers. Five mini-dice weigh in at grams and provide hours of entertainment for hikers trapped in a tent or shelter on a rainy or snowy day. Good for Yahtzee, Farkel, and anything else you can make up. Weighing in at 2 g, I can count the times I wish I had this in my pack and never am sad to have carried them.
3) Wet Ones Single Packs: Nothing will elicit a cry like “Thank you!!” than a stinky hiker opening a resupply package and finding some Wet Ones singles. Weighing in at less than 0.5 oz, one of these can really spruce up a hiker’s mood (and smell) at the end of a backpacking day. I like the singles since they maintain their moisture until I need them. With a box of the singles (as in the link), I can put a few in every resupply box or have a fresh one every day at less weight than the bigger packs.
4) Photon Freedom: The lightest light on the market, this version of the Freedom can be attached to your hat to use as a headlamp or be worn around your neck for easy-to-find-at-night convenience or as a backup light to use in camp. I use the Photon exclusively on trips where I won’t be doing a lot of nighthiking, but I have friends who have nighthiked hundreds of miles with nothing but the Photon. It can also be used as a keychain so is a great backup light when I head out into the woods and realize at the last minute that I forgot to pack a headlamp.
5) Rite in the Rain Waterproof Notebooks: Some of my most treasured memories in my life were hiking journals written in these notebooks. Give the hiker in your life a private place to write about his or her adventures
6) Mini bottles: Hikers can never have enough of mini-bottles and it is HARD to find the really tiny ones. In the past, I’ve used these bottles for Dr. Bronner’s soaps, toothpowder, Aqua Mira, and have hiked with people that use them for contact lens solution. I love the bottles sold at Gossamer Gear and Mountain Laurel Designs online stores.
7) Animal-Shaped Gear Aid Patches! After piercing a down jacket and lancing a cuben fiber tent
in the field, I never go on a trip without Gear Aid patches. These badboys have saved me in the woods multiple times. With these insta-fixes, I patched my holes and spent the rest of the day focusing on my hike instead of worrying about my gear. They stick better than duct tape and look a lot cooler, too.
8) WetFire: Every backpacker has had a night where she really wants a fire…NOW. Wetfire won’t let wind or water prevent you from making your fire. This works great for making campfires and for making sure that your fuel to cook dinner doesn’t go out.
9) Down cleaner: There’s a lot of power behind a present that is actually a backhanded commentary on a person’s odor. If you’ve ever asked to borrow a friend’s sleeping bag, and then immediately regretted it, Nikwax Downwash or Gearaid Down Cleaner will make a perfect gift for that friend. That hiker should get the message.
10) Food items! Anything from this list of best treat food stocking stuffers for hikers and backpackers