15 years ago, Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods became the biggest story about (ish) long distance hiking the publishing world has seen.
10 years ago, Robert Redford dreamed of turning the book into a movie.
Now, A Walk in the Woods will come out in movie theaters on September 2nd and hiking enthusiasts everywhere are wondering “Should I go see this?” As one of the lucky few who got to see the first public screening of AWITW at Outdoor Retailer, here are a few thoughts on the movie (minimal spoilers ahead):
AWITW as a movie is something like the masculine antithesis to Wild. The movie is definitely a comedy—in some cases coming across as slapstick as a Laurel and Hardy skit. It’s not often we get humor like that in movies these days and it speaks well to the sheer joy and silliness of hiking. Sure, AWITW covers some heavy topics: getting older, death, alcoholism, loneliness, place, belonging, the very meaning of life—but in a very masculine way, it never comes across as heavy handed and remains lighthearted throughout the film.
The movie doesn’t stick closely to the book, but in some cases, that’s a good thing. Before anything was even projected on the screen, hecklers (some sitting very close to me…) starting yelling “I stopped reading when Bryson stopped hiking!” The movie only shows Bryson hiking (in addition to the bit of prep work he did beforehand).
The Appalachian Trail’s Conservancy influence on the directors and the way hikers are portrayed is strongly evident throughout the film. The ATC is fully aware how the film may impact use numbers on trail—in fact ATC Executive Director and CEO Ron Tipton gave a speech beforehand imploring outdoor gear companies (representatives of which made up the audience) to donate money with largesse to combat post AWITW trail damage.
Some of the ways the ATC’s hand showed through the film included the constant and frequent sight of a potty trowel on the screen. I think it’s wonderful that the idea of responsibly taking care of solid waste can be normalized on the big screen. However, the much more impact-creating and highly illegal driving of an ATV cruising right on the AT was also in the movie. Hopefully, that won’t be normalized, too.
Certainly some events in the AWITW never occurred in the book—and one long scene in particular occurs in a place that I don’t even believe is anywhere on the AT (but what do I know? I’ve only hiked it twice). Purists who are going to be bothered this and by the fact that he doesn’t finish the trail are better spending their time elsewhere. Nonetheless, I especially enjoyed how some of Bryson’s commentary of ecology, conservation, and natural history was preserved in the movie—a difficult feat for any director.
The highlight of the movie was really the quality of the acting (the cast includes four Academy Award winner/nominees). Nick Nolte was a wonderful Katz, admittedly different than I imagined him, and yet in some ways, a stronger and more complex character because of it. I was stoked that one of my favorite actors, Emma Thompson, plays Bryson’s wife. The rest of the actors have small roles, many incredibly memorable. Nick Offerman’s short role as an REI employee (I believe the character is named “Dave” in the book) left the audience wanting more. Kristin Schaal plays an annoying thru-hiker with the convincing-ness of nails on chalkboard. I wanted to start hiking faster away from her. And Mary Steenburgen as a hotel owner was a welcome familiar face.
AWITW is a feel good movie. It’s not a movie that may attract many people outside of outdoor enthusiasts, Bryson fans, and Redford swooners, but it’s definitely worth seeing. Even my hiking friends who aren’t shy to say the AWITW book makes them angry were pleasantly surprised. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable watching Wild with my family, but very much look forward to taking my folks to see A Walk in the Woods. So if you’re not hiking this weekend, now you’ve got something to do.
The Outdoor Retailer trade show is the place to go when a new food items wants to show itself off to the outdoor market. Foods at OR recently trended towards all natural, low sugar, and low grain/gluten free. While in the past, bars may have focused more on flavor, many bars at OR this season centered on balancing fats-carbs-proteins for optimal performance. Here are a few of the bars that stuck out:
Energy Bars Made with Crickets
Chapul energy bars feature a special ingredient that has 2x as much protein than beef, 15% more iron than spinach, and as much Vitamin B12 as salmon. The secret ingredient? Crickets. Chapul bars (as seen on the entrepreneurial reality TV Show Shark Tank) say that cricket protein is good for the environment and good for humans. 10 pounds of feed can yield 1 lb of beef (40% of which is edible) or 8 pounds of crickets (80% of which is edible). Crickets require less water to raise and emit fewer greenhouse gases than other livestock or even soy, corn, or rice.
Chapul’s crickets are ground into powdered protein that looks the same as whey or soy protein (both of which are common ingredients in bars). As a result, the bar looks and tastes the same as normal bars—you won’t find any legs or antennas in these bars. Chapul comes in four flavors: Aztec Bar (dark chocolate, coffee, and cayenne), Chaco Bar (Peanut Butter & Chocolate), the Thai Bar (Coconut, Ginger, and Lime), or my favorite and the newest bar, the Matcha bar (green tea, goji, and nori).
Four Points energy bars aims to create a balanced nutrition ratio with optimized glycemic load made of entirely raw ingredients. These fig and plum based bars are made in Colorado by outdoor athletes for outdoor athletes. The bar also have other superfoods like hemp seeds, flax seeds, and coconut, as well as most of the bars have whey protein isolate. Among the better tasting bars we tried, Four Points bar has a shelf life of 4 months and come in around 250 calories per 2.5 oz. Fourpoints bars come in Apple Cinnamon, Banana Bread, Mountain Mocha, Dark Chocolate Coconut, and PB&J.
racefood energy bars were a new energy bar from South Africa that debuted at this Summer OR. South Africa is well known for being home to a high number of endurance athletes and adventurers—and this bar was created with the feedback of South African athletes from a variety of outdoor activities and sports. The bar has a nougat base and uses simple and complex carbs to release energy without a spike. There are two varieties: Farbar (for endurance) and Fastbar (for instant energy). Racefood bars come in Cranberry & Almond and Cacao, Cashew, & Coconut.
Picky Bars are based in Bend, OR and pride themselves on being a balance between performance bars and real food bars. They have a 60% carb : 20% fat : 15% protein ratio and 200 calories per 45 g bar (note that some nutritionists believe that thru-hikers should have a ratio higher in fat than normal athletes). Featuring hip art, fun-product names (like Cookie Doughpness, Smooth Caffeinator, and Blueberry Boomdizzle), and sponsoring big name athletes, these trendy looking bars are available in run/bike stores and REIs and are going to blow up on the market soon. They feature a variety of flavors, my favorite being the All-In Almond.
Simple Squares: Sharing a booth with super supporter of the long trails, Salazon Sea Salt Dark Chocolate, Simple Squares showed its new line of 8 ingredient energy bars. Labeled USDA organic and gluten free, these bars are compact and pack in 230 calories in 1.6 oz. These squares had a great flavor and because they were free of the fruit base of many bars, seemed like they would be easy to digest on trail. What I liked the most about these squares were the funky flavors—including some sweet-and-savory bars: Chili pep, Honey Nut Sage, Rosemary, and Cinna-Clove.
Go Chia superfood bites:Totally different than anything else on the market, Go Chia created crispy bite-sized almost cracker-like snacks. The bites have a satisfying crunch that is quinoa and chia seed based and aren’t sweet, but mostly just feel very light and clean (despite having a very respectable 120 calories per oz). Of all the food from OR, they are the ones I wanted to eat the most while writing this article in the media room. GoChia bites are available in Chocolate Chunk or Cherry Chunk.
18 Rabbits: It seemed almost rare to have a traditional grain-based granola bar at the Outdoor Retailer show what with all the Paleo foods popping up everywhere. Nonetheless, 18 Rabbits had a small booth out in the Pavilions and honestly, had probably the tastiest bar I tried at the whole show, which was a granola bar Cherry Dark Chocolate and Almond bar. It was super coconutty and soft and sweet, although it has no wheat or refined sugars.
SkratchAlthough energy chew (aka gummies) aren’t quite energy bars, they can often operate a bit like one, and are usually great ways to deliver sugar to your system quickly before you bonk. Skratch made a name for themselves in the drink mix sector helping people prevent bonking by hydrating, and they are upping their game with Skratch Fruit Drops, vegan based jellies with real fruit powder. Unlike other similar items on the market, these drops do not have wax and are lightly coated in sugar. The flavor is certainly more subtle, which probably means easier to digest while exerting yourself. Considering how many gummies I tend to eat on trail, it’s surprising my stomach doesn’t have a big ball of wax inside. Available in raspberry and orange.
Setton Farms Pistachio bites: The pistachio is a totally under utilized nut in the energy bar industry. As a result, I found the flavor and texture on this bar to be different and refreshing. Setton farms Pistachio bites use all US grown nuts. The mini bite is 20g and has 110 calories, making it a quick pick me up. The best part is the cartoon pistachio bar on the packaging.
New Flavors of Old Favorites
Clif Organic Trail Mix Bar: The super company is rolling out their take on the Kind Bar—a gluten free whole nut bar, minus the weird chicory crisps. Unlike competitors, all the ingredients are organic and there are big fatty chunks of chocolate. Clif attempted a bar similar to this and has renamed it to the Organic Trail Mix Bar line. Their new flavor at OR 2015 was Dark Chocolate Cherry Almond.
It seemed like there was a new meat product around every corner of the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 trade show. With what seems like half the young population in Colorado going Paleo (the other half is the increasingly less trendy but much better for the environment vegan), the market–as exemplified by the health and energy foods that show up at OR– has stepped up to offer fresh, fun flavors.
What this means for hikers is that we don’t have to be stuck with Slim Jims and Walmart Jerky for our backpacking trips anymore and that the market is expanding far away from the fruit-and-nut bar we’ve all eaten a million times. It also means there are more savory bars on the market (check out my series on savory bars). A bunch of these meat bars can also be used as dinner alternatives for the stoveless or dinner supplements for the stoved.
The first meat and veggie bar on the market, Wild Zora uses grass-fed beef, local lamb, and free-range turkey to create moist creatively flavored bars. The bars have no nuts, gluten, soy, grains, MSG, chemical additives, or sugar or sweetners and run under the motto that “fruits and nuts do not make a complete meal” (those two ingredients, of course, being the contents of most of the bars at the Show). Wild Zora bars are 1/3 organic veggies, making one bar a full serving of veggies. This can be useful to hikers to help up our veggie intake. Zora Bars come in Chili Cayenne Apricot Beef, Parmesan Tomato Basil, BBQ Hickory Tomato, Turkey Masala Spinach, and Lamb Rosemary Spinach. My favorites were the lamb (which was among the moistest bars on the market) and the Parmesan Tomato (a really unique flavor for a meat bar.
A mix between Asian-style jerky tenderness and America-style jerky flavors, Fusion Jerky offers meat-eaters funky flavors and new animals to jerky. Fusion Jerky is the first jerky line to offer chicken jerky. They also offer some intriguing flavors including Garlic Jalapeno Pork Jerky, Rosemary Citrus Turkey Jerky, and Basil Citrus Beef Jerky. The only jerky company to be owned by a woman of color (she’s Asian and came up with the idea while hiking Kilimanjaro, so of course I have a soft spot for her), the company uses only US animals and is MSG and nitrate free. Her family has been in the jerky business for 50 years and makes their jerky in Nebraska.
I’ve written about the Epic meat bars before on this blog, so was excited to see that they are rolling our 3 new flavors: the uncured bacon bar, the Chicken sesame BBQ bar, the Pulled Pork Pineapple Bar, the Beef Apple Uncured Bacon Bar, the Chicken Sriracha bar and (get ready for it) the Liver beef and sea salt bar. The company is also rolling out a new line called Hunt and Harvest Mix which includes jerky, berries, fruits, nuts, cacao nibs, and coconut chips to create a sweet and savory trail mix. This is the trail mix meant to appeal to the Hunter and Gatherer Paleo types. Epic also has come out withBites—mini bars essentially—that are a portion-control re-sealable snack (whatever that means). These come in new flavors: bison/bacon/raisin/chia, beef/cranberry/sriracha, bacon, and chicken/currant/sesame.
The next section of the Outdoor Retailer Food and Nutrition Write-up will focus on intriguing options for the stoveless, new caffeine delivery systems, how to eat crickets on the trail, and how to drink less water. That and more…next time!
In his first narrative book ever, long distance hiker extraordinaire Justin “Trauma” Lichter, most recently of Winter PCT Thru-hike fame, tells the standout stories from his experiences on 40,000 miles of hiking trails. Sharing stories from Africa to Iceland, New Zealand to Nepal, and numerous stories from his Triple Crown hikes, Trauma’s new book is a quick and fun read that gives readers a glimpse into the elite thru-hiking world.
Short Stories from Long Trails is split into 6 chapters (plus an afterword) focusing on different themes including Weather & Terrain, Losing the Way, and Animal Encounters. It is almost as if Trauma, ever the instructor, wants to make sure that even though the reader has picked up his book for entertainment, that s/he is still going to walk away having learned something about safety in the outdoors, too.
The first section focuses on tales from Trauma’s childhood, a rare glimpse into the making of a machine. A quote from Outside Magazine on the back of the book calls Trauma “humble and understated” and for a man that in the hiking community that has a reputation as being quiet and shy, the book gives an interesting look into what his hikes have been like.
In the Afterword, Trauma gives one of the longest accounts I’ve seen anywhere of what actually happened on that PCT Winter Thru-Hike. For those of us in the thru-hiking community who followed their hike this past winter with excitement, the 24-page story of the Winter PCT hike is a reason in itself to read the book.
Each section has 3-5 short stories in it, none of the stories coming in at more than 5 pages and most of the stories only 3 pages in length. It’s the perfect book to get a taste of the trail when you’re taking a bus ride or using the bathroom. Never wordy and always to the point, Trauma’s stories drop you right into wherever he is hiking taking the reader to places we can all only dream of going, and places most of us would actually be pretty OK with skipping.
The best part is that in the last chapter, the reader gets to learn the answer to the question everyone has been asking Trauma: What’s next? What is your dream hike? I’m not going to divulge any spoilers here, so you’ll have to find out for yourself.
It seems like the past two months have been nothing but travel, hike, and travel, but this past week, I made another pilgrimage to the biggest outdoor gear trade show in the U.S.
My purpose was to scout out some of the newest, most innovative gear for the ultralight backpacking community. I was looking for big trends, game changing inventions, and incremental improvements on gear that is already out there. Here’s a recap of some of the coolest items spotted on the show floor:
Headlamps for your Shoes:
Winter OR brought us GoMotion lights—“headlamps” that don’t go on your head at all but are worn as sternum straps. This OR brings us “headlamps” that you attach to your shoes to immediately light up the trail right in front of you. Night Runner developed by FresheTech provides 30+ feet in beam distance at 270 degrees of visibility. The water resistant system clips right to your shoelaces like gaiters. Although right now the technology only allows for 4-8 hours of battery life (to keep the weight down, it is charged via micro USB instead of AAA batteries), my mind is blown at the endless possibilities this could have for changing the game of night hiking. A few years ago, the game changing gear trend for backpackers was in sleeping pads. These days, I’m increasingly impressed by what is coming out of the head (and other body part) lamp manufactures.
Removable Backpack Air Core Frame:
For those of you out there who love Osprey’s Air Core frame (a pack frame that allows air to vent between your back and the pack, minimizing back sweat), the Ventra is a BRAND NEW invention that can turn any pack into an Air Core Pack. Debuting at their first Show, you can attach any frameless pack to your Ventra and increase its carry load or just get it off your pack.
Right now, the Medium Ventra frame is weighing in at 11 oz. Considering that a normal frameless ultralight pack comes in at about a pound, by placing your frameless pack on a Ventra, you essentially get a framed Air Core pack for less than 2 pounds. The best part is one Ventra can be used on multiple packs (your pack attaches and unattaches very easily). So, if you have several frameless packs, you can use all of them with one Ventra. I’m really looking forward to seeing how this young company evolves and what great things it will develop (I also really hope that some bigger company doesn’t poach their idea).
Three Breath Inflatable Sleeping Pad:
You heard that right. Where a full length sleeping pad usually takes me 40 breaths to inflate, a brand new valve invention is blowing (excuse the pun) the competition out of the air. Windcatcher valves was developed by what I can only assume is some physics grad student who took aerodynamic application to a backpacking level. Using entrainment, a physics principle I had to look up on Wikipedia, I watched a full length pad inflate after 3 breaths. If you don’t believe me, check out this video:
Unfortunately, Windcatcher claims that a major gear manufacturer (a walk around the Show makes it obvious that company is MSR) stole their design and there is currently a legal battle going on. Windcatcher asks that you support the original inventor.
Put on a Windshirt without Removing your Pack:
For those of you who dreamt of the day when someone would invent a layer that you could put on without requiring you to take off your pack—that day is here! Thru-hiker shoe favorite Altra just announced a new clothing line with its most exciting item being a windshirt that you wear in a pouch around your waist and then can pull onto yourself without having to stop or remove your pack. It is backless—so it won’t get caught on your pack and (extra bonus) means it has less fabric than a normal windshirt (meaning that it is ultralight). In fact, the whole system–which includes a hood, a pouch, and a waistband–is 3.3 oz (the tank top in the photo, by the way, weighs 1.95 oz). Although the Altra windshirt was invented for ultramarathoners whose every minute can count in a race, speed hikers, hikers who get cold and hot easily, or hikers who just enjoy being in their hiking groove and don’t want to stop will all go as gaga over this new item as I did.
Mini Wood Stove:
For the past 20 years, TOAKS has been manufacturing titanium stoves and cookware for the big players like Sea to Summit. In the past year, they’ve decided that they want to start selling their own designs, and their inventor has developed a wood stove that just won Best in Show at the European equivalent of Outdoor Retailer. After hearing from several thru-hikers that the wood burning backpacking stoves on the market were too big, TOAKS developed this stackable woodstove aimed for the solo hiker. It can take a 750 mL cup, but can also be used for larger pots.
Most notably—this wood stove packs down to a really small size, especially compared to some of the uber bulky wood stoves out there that just refuse to fit anywhere in an ultralight pack (too big for the water bottle pockets, bulky in the mesh, annoying to put in the body of the pack). This stove DEFINITELY fits in my Gosssamer Gear Kumo water bottle pocket—a first for a wood burner as far as I know!
Purify Your Water from Pesticides and Chemicals:
In the light of the Animas River spill, hikers are starting to think a little bit more about what may be in their “natural” seeming water sources. That mountain spring that may be free of Crypto and Giardia can still have plenty of Arsenic. I for one have downed more than my fair share of pesticides in my thru-hiking career. A new invention debuted at Summer OR that is a water filtration system that claims to address the usual water hazards while also removing petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, arsenic, lead, and mercury. Solarbug Water Purifier claims to be the first water purifier on the market that changes colors to let you know when your water is “done” (purified). You simply add a drop of chemical to the system and when it stops being blue, your water is ready to drink. The Solarbug system lasts for 500 gallons (when the water stops changing colors, you know you need a new system) and retails at $100. The company also donates a significant portion of its profits to clean water projects in developing countries. Right now, the gallon-to-dollar ratio isn’t quite within thru-hiker realm (and I’m very curious to see how long it takes to treat the water), but I am really looking forward to watching this technology improve in the future.
National Geographic Appalachian Trail Map Book:
In the same spirit of the highly popular John Muir Trail Map book rolled out at Winter Outdoor Retailer, Nat Geo is developing a mapbook set for the entire AT. Right now, the maps for Maine down to Pennsylvania are complete, in perfect timing for the typical southbounders. The thin book’s dimensions are longer than the maps you would print at home, making it well suited for a long skinny trail like the AT. Everything is put together in order including some town data, almost making it suited to be the only info source an AT thru-hiker would need. One downside, as with any long skinny map set, is that not all bail out options and not all resupply options are included. Nonetheless, it’s wonderful to see a major map company like Nat Geo take on thru-hiking in full like this!
Water Resistant Altra Lone Peaks
The Altra Lone Peak, often called the “thru-hiker’s favorite shoe,” is coming out in a new fabric, a waterproof Polartec Neoshell. This breathable membrane has had huge success in outerwear but has never been used in shoes before. I have a feeling that the NeoShell Lone Peaks are going to open a lot of doors for three and four season hiking in trail runners. Furthermore, I run into a lot of people just getting into hiking and backpacking who demand a waterproof shoe, and now I’ll know what to tell them to get. Although I’m going to stick with my Lone Peaks for the summer (the new Lone Peak 2.5s were announced at Summer OR and offer a redesigned upper, improved lacing system, improved upper durability, and slightly firmer midsole over the Lone Peak 2.0s), I’m really looking forward to testing the Neoshell Lone Peaks in some snow later this year.
Hammock that Keeps out Amazonian Mosquitoes
Explorer, Adventurer, and former British Army Officer Ed Stafford set out to walk from the Andes to the ocean, following the Amazon River from its source to its end over 860 days. To undertake such an endeavor, he asked long time thru-hiker favorite Hennessy Hammock to design a special expedition grade double-walled hammock that would prevent mosquitoes from biting him as he slept. After the modern day Dr. Livingstone completed his journey, he cited his double-walled Hennessy as his favorite piece of gear. Hennessy decided to market the special design for others who hate mosquitoes or are traveling in super buggy territory.
The new Jungle Series model marks the first new models of HH’s in a couple years and are a huge addition to the Hennessy line. The Expedition Jungle Zip and Jungle Explorer Zip and Jungle Safari Zip offer different features depending on your height and weight requirements (the Jungle can take enough weight for a couple). While heavy for a typical thru-hiker (the Hyperlite or Ultralite Backpacker models are the most popular among that crowd), I imagine the requirements for jungle thru-hiking are entirely different than back here in the states. If you’re designing a route across Borneo, it sounds like HH’s new Jungle Series hammocks are a piece of gear you may not want to be without.
Bigger “Bear Proof” Bag for Hungrier Hikers:
LokSak, maker of the OP (Odor Proof) bags that so many thru-hikers these days are carrying instead of bear canisters, just came out with a larger size bag. I’ve often carried two LokSaks myself for times when it is 6+ days between food resupplies. This larger bag has twice the capacity of a normal Loksak bag. I’m not sure how it will fit in my pack, but look forward to finding out.
14 g Socks that will Last a Lifetime:
Darn Tough just rolled out a new line of super ultralight socks, the Vertex Series Running Sock, that weigh in at 14 g a piece and still come with the Darn Tough Life Time Guarantee! (I can’t think of anything as ultralight that comes with a Life Time Guarantee). The Vertex Series socks were designed for runners who want the most minimal sock they can wear that will prevent chaffing and provide support just where it is needed, and nowhere else. This could be a great sock for those thru-hikers who enjoy hiking in liner socks or for thru-hikers who like to carry extra pairs of socks but don’t want the weight penalty.
Frog Togg/Driducks Waterproof Fleece Shell
Frog Toggs raingear is so affordable, I didn’t think they’d be able to afford a booth at OR. Nonetheless, they had a booth at the Show and were showing off their newest invention, a supposedly waterproof breathable fleece shell. Although heavy for the typical thru-hiker, like all Frog Toggs items, the sticker price seemed surprisingly affordable. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this item become a new favorite among budget hikers.
Running Coach in a Box
Zero Drop thru-hiker standard Altra has just developed a “smart shoe” that integrates with your phone or Smartwatch when you are running. As you run, it informs you of your cadence (180 strikes per minute being the ideal) and also lets you know where on your foot you are striking. It’s like having your running coach always watching you, except it costs a fraction of an instructor’s time (the IQ shoe retails at less than $100 more than a normal running shoe). It can also be used as a great instructional tool for running coaches to use to have data to show clients about how they run. While only the most data-obsessed thru-hiker would wear an Altra IQ on the trail, you’d be hard pressed to find a thru-hiker who isn’t curious how to make his/her stride more efficient during the off season. Boys and girls, now you know what to ask Santa for Christmas.
Well, this wraps up the GEAR portion of the Outdoor Summer Retailer 2015 write-ups.
Stay tuned for the FOOD section where I describe all the innovative, potentially revolutionary foods debuting at the show including flavored caffeine pills, caffeinated chocolate chews, cricket energy bars, good tasting MREs, and dehydrated cheese!